I have been testing the Zenfone 3 Max (ZC520TL) over the past weeks. It is a mixed bag of experience. I love the overall design: it has the premium aluminium unibody feel and in a size so compact you would never have imagined it having a 4100 mAh battery. I am pretty sure once you hold one on your hands, you would be as impressed.
In case you are not aware, the product code that ASUS assigns for each Zenfone variant easily identifies the make, screen size, and chipset. The Zenfone 3 Max is ZC520TL where ZC refers to the entry-level smartphone series, 520 refers to 5.2-inch screen first version, and TL is Mediatek chipset. The Zenfone 3 5.5-inch is ZE552KL, where ZE is the mid-tier level, 552 refers to 5.5-inch third version, and KL is Qualcomm chipset.
The phone feels really comfortable on my hand. The back body is made of aluminium-alloy which curves around to the sides in a single piece. The front display glass is slightly curved at the sides in 2.5D fashion.
It is very subtle compared to the Zenfone 3 ZE552KL, but it adds to the overall premium look when the phone rests on the table. The screen is 1280×720 but display is brilliant. The Zenfone 3 Max has upped several notches in the design compared to the utilitarian first-gen Zenfone Max ZC550KL.
The fingerprint sensor requires a little more than half a second to verify and unlock the smartphone, much slower than the Zenfone 3, but it works reliably.
The power and volume buttons have the signature concentric ring cut, though it does not feel as smooth as the pricier models. The placements are within the reach of my fingers when held.
Smallest 4100mAh Smartphone
I am not sure if I can claim that the Zenfone 3 Max is the smallest 4100mAh smartphone, but for certain that with its huge battery capacity, I am impressed that the smartphone size remains no bigger than other smartphones.
Battery Life and Charging
Naturally, with 4100 mAh, the battery life would be above average compared to other smartphones that average 3000 mAh. But unlike the predecessor of 5000 mAh, the additional 1000 mAh offers no significant benefit. As a heavy user, I am able to use the phone from 7am till almost midnight at 15% remaining.
This is with liberal display on time, where I set to high brightness, 10 minutes sleep timer. It is really a luxury to be able to leave the screen display on without fear of battery drain. To me, since the phone cannot last me for 2 days, I would have to charge it every night, so there is no difference if I conserve battery life.
I do find that the Zenfone 3 Max is rather picky with the type of charger. When I use QC-certified charger to charge, the charge current is really slow, sometimes taking over 5 hours. Also, the LED indicator turns green after it reaches 90%, which gives the wrong impression that charge is complete. It is probably how ASUS manages the charging logic to prevent overcharging. You can say I am spoiled by Qualcomm QuickCharge technology that lets me charge phones by 50% in 40 minutes.
To get the best charging speed, charge with the included charger that is rated 2A 5V.
1.5A Power Bank
Like the predecessor, the Zenfone 3 Max has the ability to offer its battery as a power bank to charge other USB devices connected to it. When OTG cable is plugged in, the screen prompts to select whether to connect as standard OTG mode or Reverse Charge mode.
The OTG mode will charge the connected device at 0.5A, a standard current for OTG. The Reverse Charge mode will charge the connected device at 1.5A, in true power bank style. This is the paper specs, but when I tried it, the current meter did not reflect the outcome.
The ZenUI 3.0 is identical to the Zenfone 3, and also runs on Android 6.0. It is disappointing that the smartphone, running on Mediatek MT6737T 1.4GHz quad-core chipset, is unable to keep up with my demands. I have reviewed a lot of budget smartphones and many of them seems to optimise the UX with the low-spec processor, such that they run generally smooth, just that they are not super fast. The Zenfone 3 Max does not appear to have achieved that optimisation, resulting in overall response lags in terms of interaction, and occasional screen stutters while the phone attempts to process the amount of tasks. The Antutu benchmark score is higher than the predecessor Zenfone Max, yet I thought the Zenfone Max performed better on the UI.
The Zenfone 3 Max is only fitted with 16GB internal storage, but fortunately, you can expand the storage with micro SD card. But if you need to use 2 SIMs, you have to give up the micro SD slot. The SIM tray is designed such that you can use either one micro SIM or one nano SIM.
Despite humble processor, the Zenfone 3 Max with Mali-T720 display chipset seems to be able to optimise the game flow at the right places. For instance, when playing the pre-installed Need for Speed “No Limits”, the pre-game screens and menu animations are a tad laggy. But when it comes to the main racing game, the graphics are smooth and without lag.
Like the Zenfone 3, the Zenfone 3 Max supports Game Genie which loads a floating in-app toolbar icon when playing games. This toolbar allows ease of linking to external resources like help videos as well as on-screen recording of game play. This feature is a fantastic workaround for screen recording, and you can enable the Game Genie on any app via the settings.
The Zenfone 3 Max camera quality is average. Due to the slower processor, the camera operation feels slow. The front glass element causes light blooming when there are strong light sources. And like most average smartphone cameras, the shadow areas are often lacking in details while the bright areas have tendency to be overexposed.
Better images are achieved if the dynamic range of the scene is not so wide.
The Zenfone 3 Max speaker produces average volume for a budget phone, not very powerful. The speaker faces behind and so it can be hard to hear at loud places.
Thankfully there is a new Outdoor mode that greatly enhances the audibility. The sound is heavily compressed but at least it is loud for me to hear at outdoors. The best part is that I can easily enable it when adjusting volume.
In the first Zenfone Max, ASUS fitted the Qualcomm Snapdragon 401 chipset which proves to be pretty smooth. The new-generation Zenfone 3 Max uses MediaTek chip, and it appears ASUS has not optimized the ZenUI to work as smoothly as Qualcomm chip. In addition, the battery size is smaller at 4100 mAh compared to 5000 mAh on the Zenfone Max, which I feel does not do justice to the “Max” branding.
What the Zenfone 3 Max lacks in specs, it makes up with the design. For a S$248 smartphone (16GB, 2GB RAM), the Zenfone 3 Max looks and feels great. Here are the reasons why you should get it:
- Large battery
- Premium design feel
- Compact size
If you are a casual user who do not mind the phone taking a little longer to perform tasks, needs a bigger battery but not a bigger phone, the Zenfone 3 Max will be a superb choice.
Official product website: https://www.asus.com/sg/Phone/ZenFone-3-Max-ZC520TL/