It was just a while back that Asus launched the Zenfone 3 series of phones in India. Following the flagship, we saw the Zenfone 3 Ultra, the Zenfone 3 Deluxe, the Zenfone 3 Zoom, the Zenfone 3 Max and now, yet another Zenfone. Dubbed the Zenfone 3s Max, it is a bit more powerful and packs a ginormous battery into a not so large shell. While we work on bringing you the full review of the phone, here’s our first impressions after spending a couple of days with the hardware.
Design & Hardware
As is typical of most smartphones these days, metal unibody is the key design term here. The front has a glass display that gently curves over at the edges and merges into a raised edge. The edge helps enhance the grip of what is a pretty slick and slippery device.
Above the 5.2 inch display lies the proximity sensor, the ambient light sensor as well as the front facing camera. There’s a front mounted fingerprint scanner below the display. The scanner is pretty slow compared to the competition and we were a bit disappointed that it isn’t always on, requires to press the power button before activating it. That said, the scanner also doubles up as a home key despite the fact that the back, menu and home buttons are represented as on-screen controls.
The display is a 5.2 inch 720p panel. Okay, so this certainly isn’t the most dense panel around. Most of the competition has moved on to 1080p panels even in the entry – mid range segment. However, there’s a point to be made about the battery life gains to be made from a lower resolution. For a phone so focussed on getting extreme battery life, we’d wager that it is a good tradeoff and for what it’s worth, the panel is quite good and we never really noticed the lower resolution in day-to-day use. Sunlight visibility is decent and the color shift is minimal. More on this in our full review.
Moving on to the right side of the phone, there’s a volume rocker and power button placed here. Made of metal, the feedback is fantastic and we loved the feel of the button movement. Similarly the left side is where you’ll spot the dual SIM tray. The second slot is a hybrid slot and you can choose between the SIM card or a memory card.
Flip the phone over and you’ll notice the camera module and dual LED flash placed on the top left corner. Antenna lines are minimal and overall the Zenfone 3s Max is a very clean-looking handset. It might not have the most striking design but the curved corners, high-end build, density of construction make it feel decidedly premium.
Performance & Software
Asus has opted for a MediaTek MT6750 Octa-Core chipset on the Zenfone 3s Max which is a perplexing choice. Clocked at 1.5Ghz, the performance is good enough but we’d have definitely preferred a Qualcomm chipset here. Paired with 3GB of RAM, there wasn’t anything to complain about from day-to-day use but games took a smidgen longer than expected to start and every now and then, it would drop a frame or so. Connectivity options range from the usual WiFi 802.11 b/g/n/ac as well as Bluetooth to GPS/GLONASS support. There’s 32GB of build in storage of which approximately 23GB is available at launch. You can use a microSD card to expand storage but because of the hybrid SIM slot you’ll have to choose between the secondary SIM and extra storage. You can also use a pen drive via USB OTG.
On the software front, the phone now runs Android 7.0 Nougat but the heavy-handed Zen UI is still around. The number of pre-installed apps too hasn’t changed much and this remains one of our biggest pain points with the interface. We’ll take a deeper dive into the software in our full review.
The Zenfone 3s Max is equipped with a 13MP rear camera and dual LED flash as we’d mentioned earlier. As expected from a mid range device, the photography capabilities are rather average. Good lighting can help you get some decent shots but often the colors look quite washed out. Additionally, the camera had significant issues with getting a focus lock.
Close up shots, when it does manage to get a focus lock, look fairly sharp but there’s a distinct lack of details when you zoom into the shot 1:1. We’ve included some test shots below but expect a lot more on this in the full review.
The pièce de résistance of the Zenfone 3s Max is it’s battery. A massive 5,000 mAh unit fit into a body that is surprisingly compact. Predictably, the battery life proved to be amazing. We easily got two full of days of usage out of the device. This was without cutting any corners and included streaming music, taking pictures, social media use as well as phone calls. You can also use the Zenfone 3s Max to charge up other devices.
Asus hasn’t yet revealed the price for the Zenfone 3s Max which makes it a bit hard to put it in perspective. But let’s assume that it will compete with the likes of the newly launched Redmi Note 4. The Zenfone has the definite upper hand in terms of battery life. We also really liked the build quality here and found it to be superior to most of the competition.
Unfortunately the comparatively slower MediaTek processor, lower resolution display and slow fingerprint scanner work against it. As it stands, the Zenfone 3s Max has the potential to be a very successful device in its category but it all boils down to how competitive Asus wishes to be with pricing. We’ll revisit the phone and have a full review out for you soon.