It has been a while since Asus created any sort of impact in the budget segment and to do so, after a bevy of leaks, it finally unveiled the ZenFone Max Pro M1, partnering with Flipkart. The intent from Asus was very clear, it wanted to beat Xiaomi at its own game of making a phone that ticks all the right boxes but at an affordable price.
Despite being priced lower than most of the other mid-rangers in the segment, the ZenFone Max Pro M1 was definitely made with the Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 Pro in mind. In fact, when it boils down to specifications, the two phone's go almost neck-to-neck. At first, you might think Asus is being a little too optimistic here, but with Xiaomi going through supply woes, this could be the perfect time for Asus to steal the budget mid-range crown away from Xiaomi.
Build and Design: 7/10
The ZenFone Max Pro M1 may look dull and subdued on first glance, but considering the size of the display and the package overall, it feels well built and snug in the hand. The buttons are well positioned and are slightly on the stiffer side but it feels fine given the price of the phone.
Asus even managed to cram in a mammoth 5,000 mAh battery into this package which will leave you baffled considering the phone is just 8.5 mm thick. The phone is not all metal, with the frame of the phone being made of polycarbonate but it does feel sturdy enough to deal with a few knocks without a problem.
The no-frills design outlook is also followed by a very curvy build overall which is a breakaway from Asus' general design language. It helps with the grip in many ways. It is not the lightest phone at 180 grams but the larger battery does justify the weight a fair bit. The back of the phone comes with the Asus branding in the middle and the fingerprint scanner on top of it. Kudos to Asus for leaving a camera bump out for a nice typing experience when left lying on the table.
The Asus ZenFone Max Pro M1 has a 5.99-inch FHD+ display with an aspect ratio of 18:9. Under the hood, the phone is powered by the Snapdragon 636 SoC, which includes an Adreno 509 GPU. The phone has been launched in three variants which are 3 GB RAM + 32 GB storage, a 4 GB RAM + 64 GB storage and finally, a 6 GB RAM + 64 GB storage. In terms of software, the phone runs on Android Oreo 8.1.
In the camera department, the phone has a dual-camera setup featuring a 13 MP sensor and a 5 MP one. The front camera is an 8 MP unit. There is also a rear placed fingerprint sensor just above the Asus logo. In terms of connectivity, the phone has dual-SIM slots, at least one of which supports 4G VoLTE.
Thankfully, you get three slots, so you can use two SIM cards as well as a microSD card. The entire setup is powered by a massive 5,000 mAh battery, which supports fast charging. Asus also throws in a software-enabled face-unlocking feature in addition to the fingerprint scanner.
The display is certainly one of the biggest plus points of the ZenFone Max Pro M1. It's sharp, adequately bright even under direct sunlight and is just wonderful to watch videos on or play games. The 5.99-inch IPS LCD does not shift much colour when viewed at different angles and there are also no visible signs of backlight bleeding either. On paper, Asus says the display has a pixel density of 403 PPI but in my experience, it's just as sharp as any other good LCD display that there is in the market. Reading long articles is not painful on the eyes either.
Contrast levels are just right, colours are vibrant and the saturation levels are also not too over the top. It's certainly not comparable to an OLED panel but for the price, it's certainly as good as it gets. Asus does throw in the ability to adjust the white balance if you like.
Compared to the Redmi Note 5 and even the Note 5 Pro, the ZenFone has a display that is at par, if not better, and I could go on to say that it certainly trumps every other display under the Rs 15,000 price bracket.
After years of indecision and continuous experimenting, Asus has possibly made its biggest departure from a feature-heavy, animation laden, bloat-heavy Zen UI to a clean, almost stock-like experience. What has changed you may ask? Well, almost everything from the last we saw of Zen UI on the ZenFone 4 Selfie Pro.
At first glance, you would almost think its running on Android One. The home screen, lock screen, animations, icons, settings menu, the app drawer to even the notification shade is identical to that on any phone running on Android One or stock Android.
Asus has also kept all of Android One’s stock animations making everything feel as smooth as it gets. There’s is also very little pre-installed bloatware, though I did have Messenger, Facebook, Instagram and a wallet service named Go2Pay pre-installed.
The best part, however, is the fact that the ZenFone Max Pro M1 runs on Android Oreo 8.1 running the April security patch. The software would generally be an issue why most users would refrain from buying Asus phones, but it definitely is not the case this time. For those worried about updates, I received as many as four software updates in less than a week of using this phone. So if Asus is really this prompt with its software updates then it’s definitely great news for those who’d be looking for an update to Android P as and when it arrives.
The only thing I longed for was a Gallery app, the lack of which really makes it difficult to browse through images.
Performance on the ZenFone Max Pro M1 is absolutely a breeze. The phone sports the same chipset that we saw ease through tasks on the Note 5 Pro and the Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 does the same here. Asus’ choice to go with a clean, stock-like UI also helps with that as the phone did not display any hiccups even when I pushed the phone to its limits.
I played mostly titles such as Lost Journey, Alto’s Adventure, Tekken, Asphalt 8 and PUBG on the phone and could run all the games at max settings. The only game where the phone did exhibit issues with was PUBG where the game was laggy when played at the highest setting.
The audio experience was also decent with good audio output through the 3.5 mm earphone jack and an adequately loud single bottom-facing speaker. The speaker does get covered while playing games or watching videos in landscape mode but that’s the case with most phones in the price range anyway. Call quality was excellent as well.
If there had to be one category where you really could pick faults with the Asus ZenFone Max Pro M1, then it has to be the camera. The ZenFone Max Pro M1 sports a dual-camera setup on the back with a 13 MP camera with a f/2.2 aperture, supported by a 5 MP camera with f/2.4 aperture. On the front, you get an 8 MP selfie camera. Shots in daylight are decent when shot in adequate amount of light, but there is a tendency to oversaturate the colours which result in slightly darker shots than expected. The photographs are otherwise pleasant to look at and the sharpness levels are also quite comparable to those of the Redmi Note 5 Pro which still are best in class at the sub-Rs 15,000 price range.
The camera interface is otherwise easy to pick up on and start shooting. Asus has thrown in a number of dedicated shooting modes which include — HDR, portrait, landscape, sports, flowers, candlelight, sunset, beach and even a night mode. While most of these are modes you will not find yourself using, the HDR and night modes are the ones which still seem to work. While daylight shots are more or less comparable, it's the low-light shots where the ZenFone really loses out to the Redmi Note 5 and Note 5 Pro. There is noticeable noise in most of the shots and a noticeable loss in clarity and colour. The night mode holds the shutter for a little longer but you would still struggle to get any decent shots.
The 8 MP front camera improved a fair bit after the last software update, but it still fails to click impressive selfies. The pictures are average, at best, even under bright lighting conditions. The portrait mode does a good job in separating the subject when shooting through the rear as well as the front camera, so you do get decent shots there. But again, when compared to photos taken with the Redmi Note 5 Pro, the ZenFone Max Pro M1 just falls flat. The images are comparable to that of the Honor 9 Lite in most cases, but if you are a shutterbug then definitely try out the Note 5 Pro before making a decision.
In terms of video recording, the phone is capable of shooting at a maximum resolution of 4K at 30 fps. However, shooting at that setting, you do tend to lose out on a lot of details because of the lack of any stability. Asus also lets you mute the audio while shooting which could be handy in certain conditions.
It is quite amazing that Asus managed to cram in a mammoth 5,000 mAh battery into the phone. With a 14 nm chipset inside it, the ZenFone Max Pro lasted me two days with at least 35 percent juice left. This was with the brightness set to auto and performing daily tasks such as email, WhatsApp, Telegram, Slack, Instagram and roughly two hours of gaming and video consumption.
The battery also lasted us an impressive 11 hours and 13 minutes on our standard PC Mark Work 2.0 Battery Life test. With the supplied charger, it took me a little under 1 hour and 50 minutes hours to charge the phone up completely from 4 percent. That too is quite impressive considering you would typically need to charge the phone not more than thrice a week.
Verdict and Price in India
Going by specifications, the Asus ZenFone Max Pro M1 ticked all the boxes to make for a worthy competitor to the Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 Pro as well as the Honor 9 Lite. Well, it does not beat the Honor 9 Lite in terms of sheer looks, neither does it give the camera prowess of the Note 5 Pro a run for its money.
But for a phone that is priced at Rs 12,999 for the variant we had for review, there just is no beating Asus in terms of overall value. You get a great 18:9 display, great gaming performance, a breezy no-frills software experience and a two-day battery life. The only area where it does fall short of great is the camera performance and a dull overall look. But if you are someone who can look past these two qualms, then there just is no looking past the ZenFone Max Pro M1.
In the end, the choice is quite simple, if you are looking for a Redmi Note 5 Pro alternative for whatever reason, the ZenFone Pro Max M1 definitely does come recommended. If you still want a phone with the best looks under Rs 15,000, the Honor 9 Lite is still your pick. If you're looking for a good performer and a phone with long-lasting battery, the Pro Max M1 is the one to go for under Rs 15,000.