Update 7 Aug 2018: a full hands-on comparison is published. Read the review here.
The smartphone war has recently shifted from the flagships to the premium midrange. Now, another war is brewing at the budget midrange. The twist: these two budget midrange smartphones have premium midrange specs.
1. ASUS Zenfone Max Pro M1
ASUS is no stranger to premium midrange at budget prices. The Zenfone 2 series propelled them to great success, only to lose ground when their prices went up north for later releases. It seems that the Zenfone Max Pro (M1) could re-establish them as strong contenders to the midrange market.
I attended their product launch and ASUS was enthusiastic about the latest midrange smartphone with an astounding retail price of S$348. Price alone does not say much, since there are plenty of budget smartphones that are cheaper than that. But let me dwell into each of the features that ASUS confidently claims are simply unbeatable. Are they right?
The Zenfone Max Pro M1 (ZB602KL) runs on Snapdragon 636, one of the better midrange CPU in the market, 1.5X better than Snapdragon 625 which was one of the better CPU last year.
The Snapdragon 636 can achieve a score of about 11685 on AnTutu, while the Snapdragon 660 delivers about 14000 to 16000. Many premium mid-range smartphones like OPPO R15 Pro run on the 660.
The Zenfone Max Pro runs on stock Android 8.1 Oreo, a first for ASUS. Users who dislike the ZenUI will finally be able to own an ASUS phone, if they like the rest of the features.
The smartphone has a 5000 mAh battery, one of the largest in the market. But the phone size remains compact and at 180g light. The battery supports fast charging, from 0 to 100% in less than 3 hours. Heavy users can rejoice.
The Zenfone Max Pro has a 6-inch 2160×1080 display on a 5.5-inch body, with high 1500:1 contrast ratio, 450 nits and 85% NTSC colour gamut. Some competitive budget phones also have such similar specs, but at least the display specs are good and you don’t have to feel short-changed.
The rear primary camera is 13MP f/2.0 with a secondary 5MP lens for depth sensing. The front camera is 8MP f/2.2 with LED flash. During the event, Andrew Chan from ASUS shared the photos he took with the prototype unit which he had since March. He claimed that the phone HDR mode is able to retain the dynamic range, achieve accurate white balance, and pushes exposure well even for low light situations.
Additionally, the phone can shoot 4K Ultra HD (DCI) resolution, with the ability to capture still photos during video recording.
Like may other Zenfones, the Max Pro has a speaker with 5 magnets that technically offers louder audio quality.
Zenfone Max Pro supports 2 nano SIM and 1 micro SD card slots all at once. This is a very critical feature, more so when the Max Pro only comes with 32GB internal storage, so you can insert a micro SD up to 2TB size and use 2 SIMs (only 1 can connect to 4G at any time).
Other specs worth mentioning:
- Bluetooth 5.0
- Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n
- FM Radio
- 3GB RAM, 32GB Internal Storage
The phone supports fingerprint sensor and face recognition unlock.
All of the above at S$348 (1 year local warranty) sounds really attractive, but that’s not all. There will be a special launch sale from 25 July, and an even lower price will be made available across all the retail sales points. How low can it go? Scroll down for the price!
2. Huawei Nova 3i
Huawei has been focusing on their premium range smartphones over the years, but this year, they decided to catch up on their market share for the midrange model, Nova series. The Nova 3i retails at S$398 and the specs are also quite competitive. Let me break it down.
Performance: Kirin 710
It’s the latest CPU from Huawei designed for midrange devices, and I assumes it will be better than Snapdragon 636.
Battery: 3340 mAh
A commendable battery size that should comfortably last an entire day.
Display: 6.3-inch 2340 x 1080
Large display with the notch for better user experience.
Camera: dual front and dual back
Huawei takes claim that the Nova 3i is the first smartphone with front-facing dual cameras with AI support. The specs are:
- Front: 24 + 2 MP f/2.0 fixed focus
- Rear: 16 + 2 MP f/2.2 autofocus (phase + contrast detect)
Powered by AI, the cameras can detect over 200 scenarios across 8 categories to optimise the photos to the best result. The second camera will perceive depth better to simulate more authentic bokeh effects.
It also supports 3D Qmoji, the equivalent of iPhone Animoji.
Gaming: GPU Turbo
Huawei claims the GPU Turbo is a graphics processing accelerator technology to improve software-hardware integration. It will gradually be supported by more games, but currently it supports PUBG MOBILE and Mobile Legends.
- 4GB RAM, 128GB Internal Storage
- Bluetooth 4.2
- Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n
- Dual nano SIM +hybrid micro SD card slot
- 169 g
- 2-year local warranty
Launching at S$398 from 28 July, 11am to 9pm, customers can receive a Casio G-SHOCK watch worth S$199 with every purchase at the Waterway Point Shopping Mall, East Wing Atrium, Basement 2.
Which Smartphone Do I Recommend?
That’s a tough one. Without any hands-on review (update 7 Aug: review is up!), I can only compare their specs. Looks-wise, Nova 3i is more stunning especially the Iris Purple. It has larger RAM and storage, and comes with 2 year warranty. The Zenfone Max Pro has an enormous battery life, runs on pure Android 8.1, fits 2 SIMs and 1 micro SD cards altogether, and much cheaper.
The other rival brand at this price range would be Xiaomi. The pure-andriod Mi A1 is below S$300, but runs on the older Snapdragon 625, smaller 5.5-inch display, poorer camera, smaller battery. Mi Max 2 is also below S$300, Snapdragon 625, larger 6.44-inch, larger 5400 mAh battery, but a poorer camera and display quality (plus, I’m not a fan of MIUI). Redmi Note 5 is closely benchmarked during the ASUS launch event, and seems to be bettered by the Zenfone Max Pro, except price (comparing to 3GB/32GB model).
If your decision is solely on price, then get the cheapest you can afford (Xiaomi inclusive). If design matters and you like the glass back (which is prone to breakage), then Nova 3i is the best looking. If you have a preference for brand, then get the brand that you like.
Me? Honestly, today is my Dad’s birthday, and I intend to get him a new smartphone after his recent complains. Despite not able to test any of these models, I am inclined to get him the Zenfone Max Pro M1, for 3 reasons:
- Stock Android 8.1
- Large battery
- Expecting launch price to be lower than any competitors
Update 25 July 2018 The launch price special for Zenfone Max Pro M1 is S$258, till 30 July while stocks last!
Update 1 Aug 2018
The launch price is over, but many places are selling the Zenfone Max Pro M1 at a promotion price of S$278, still not bad!