What we liked about it:
- Good display
- Well-constructed body
- Affordable price tag
- Respectable cameras
- Immersive Audio experience when plugged
- Good variety of UI features
- Dedicated microSD card slot
What we didn’t like about it:
- Fingerprint magnet back panel
- Unoptimized Facial Recognition
- Poor battery life
- Noticeable Heat in prolonged heavy sessions
- Subpar speakers
ASUS’ first Zenfone of the year, the Zenfone Max Plus, just debuted earlier today and while it’s not the company’s newest flagship, it is their first contender in the 18:9 display market. They also did their best to create a lot of hype for the device as we received countless of different teasers since the year begun.
Does the device warrant all that hype and can it live up to its “Battery King” title? Let’s find out in our full review.
Disclaimer: ASUS will be providing a day-one patch to address software issues and improve battery life and general performance.
Design and Construction
The Zenfone Max Plus dons a new yet familiar design largely due to its 18:9 display. Although that different design language can only be seen and felt at the front, as the back of the device shares similar cues from previous ZenFones. It is relatively thicker than most smartphones, and it maintains a slim aura and feel thanks to the thin side bezels. It is one of, if not, the slimmest devices to sport a large capacity battery. In fact, its form factor and weight will make you think that it’s equipped with something far less. The overall design doesn’t bring anything new to the table, but it is simple, clean, and almost elegant.
Up front, we’re greeted by the 5.7-inch FHD+ 18:9 IPS Display, 8MP f/2.0 front shooter, LED notification light, loudspeaker, and light sensor. The bottom is devoid of any buttons as the device uses on-screen navigation but we do appreciate the presence of a bottom bezel, as it makes for easier landscape operation and gives your thumb a place to grip.
On its right side, we have the volume rockers and the power button, while on the left we have the dual SIM and the dedicated microSD card slot and tray. It was a good call for ASUS to abandon the hybrid setup, as this enables users to use two SIMs without sacrificing storage expansion.
Flipping on its back reveals the dual 16MP 80° FOV standard view + 8MP 120° wide-angle cameras along with the LED flash, and a fingerprint scanner. Found at the bottom is a silver ASUS logo. The antenna bands at the top and bottom also add a little flair to the device.
Up top, are the 3.5mm headphone port and the secondary mic, while at the bottom are the microUSB port, the mono speaker, and the two audio grilles.
The phone has a metallic unibody finish and gives off the aura of a premium device thanks to its 18:9 display and relatively sturdy build. However, the device is quite slippery due to its smooth finish, and the back is a fingerprint magnet. Thankfully, ASUS included a silicon case in the package to address that pesky problem. Nevertheless, it’s still easy to grip, is relatively lightweight and feels good in the hands.
Display and Multimedia
ASUS was a little late in joining the 18:9 party but they did make a good entrance as the ZenFone Max Plus’ 5.7-inch FHD+ IPS display checks the right boxes. It has vibrant colors, excellent viewing angles, and good color reproduction and accuracy. Not to mention, the screen is able to push out more pixels due to its smaller size and higher resolution. The company made the right move equipping the device with a Full HD screen rather than an HD one. This allows users to have a more immersive and full viewing experience, which the phone rightfully delivers.
As for audio, the speakers can pretty much cover the entirety of a small room at max volumes although audio quality leaves something to be desired. Mids and Highs are average at best, but Lows are nowhere to be found. ASUS did include their famed Audio Wizard to give users some audio customizations although it only provides minimal gains when you’re using the mono speaker. The software shines, however, when you start using earphones as each customization can be felt more, allowing the creation of a truly immersive audio experience.
The best mix of settings we found is maintaining a relatively high treble with toggled dialog enhancement while balancing the bass to avoid audio cracks, the audio experience with this setting is superb. You can even further customize the sound levels with the EQ settings, although we found it best to just leave it even most of the time. Speaking of the included earphones, it provides quite an audio boost and is comfortable to use. In any case, the Audio Wizard + earphones combo is an audiophile’s dream come true.
The Zenfone Max Plus is equipped with an 8MP f/2.0 front camera and a dual 16MP standard view + 8MP wide-view rear. It has all the features we are familiar with today — Beauty, Pro, Super Resolution, GIF Animation, Panorama, Time Lapse, Portrait and a set of 9 filters for the rear and Auto, Beauty, Selfie Panorama, GIF Animation, Portrait, and a set of 9 filters for the front. It also has ASUS’ Selfie Master app, which includes Beauty Live, Collage, Slideshow and a shortcut to Video recording.
Auto (Main Camera)
Low-light without flash
Low-light with flash
Images produced by the rear cameras are quite good, especially in brightly-lit conditions. They have good sharpness, color reproduction, and clarity although they do lose vibrancy once you shift to dimmer and warmer light sources. Macro shots are good with enough background blur to allow for creative shooting and the wide-angle lens does its job as intended. Low-light performance though, is only decent at best as background noise and grain becomes noticeable.
Auto (without beauty enhancements)
Beauty settings set to 5
Beauty Settings Max
The front camera is actually quite the performer too. Selfies taken in brightly lit environments have great quality, sharpness, color reproduction, and accuracy. Not to mention, you have at your disposal the Selfie Master app and different beauty customizations that aren’t overly face-erasing, then again maxing everything out does make you look like a Barbie doll. Low-light performance, on the other hand, isn’t the best as images now have evident noise and grain.
As for video quality, it maxes out at 1080p, 30fps, in MP4 format. Quality is average with stable autofocus and decent audio. Watch sample video below.
OS, UI, Apps, and Storage
The ZenFone Max Plus uses ZenUI 4.0 on top of Android 7.0 Nougat. The only pre-installed apps present, apart from a few homebrew apps and the default Google apps, were Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger. This leaves users with 22.65GB of storage out of the initial 32GB.
It has a few distinct features like One hand operation, Multi-window, Easy mode, Kids mode, ZenUI safeguard, the aforementioned Audio Wizard and a few more under the ASUS customized settings menu. The UI is actually really clean and has its own app drawer which users can easily access by swiping upward. The notifications tab, accessed by swiping downward, offers a wide variety of shortcut toggles. Not to mention, it also features reverse charging, making it a phone and a power bank in one.
Other than that, ASUS also equipped the device with facial recognition. Although we encountered a few hiccups with it and it became more of an annoyance than a feature as during setup it would either register your face instantly (even if you’re not yet ready), or it won’t register at all unless you reposition yourself or restart the setup. When you finally do get to register your face right, recognition fails 80% of the time. Thankfully, ASUS provided a day-one patch for the device and, while not yet at 100%, facial recognition is now somewhat usable. It still misses from time to time, especially when you are in dark areas or wearing glasses and other accessories, but when in the right conditions it gets the job done.
Performance and Benchmarks
Under the hood of the Zenfone Max Plus is a MediaTek MT6750T Octa-core processor, Mali T860 GPU, and 4GB of RAM. Mundane tasks such as texting, home screen navigation, browsing, and general media consumption won’t be a problem for the device. Even multitasking is a breeze thanks to the hefty 4GB RAM. Heavier workloads though, such as gaming and other graphical activities will take a performance hit, but that’s not to say that the device isn’t capable of doing such tasks. Check out the device’s benchmark scores below.
- AnTuTu – 42,201
- Sling Shot – 545
- GeekBench – 655 (Single-Core), 2,600 (Multi-Core)
- PCMark – 3,186 (Work 2.0)
- Vellamo – 1,850 (Multicore), 1,119 (Metal), 2,360 (Chrome)
- AndroBench – 270.39 MB/s (Read), 73.07 MB/s (Write)
Speaking of gaming, light to moderate games such as Candy Crush, Zombie Tsunami, Vain Glory, and Mobile legends are playable with enjoyable framerates and minimal lag. Heavier games though, like Iron Blade: Medieval RPG and Asphalt: Airborne suffers from frame drops and pushes the device a bit. Even so, heavy gaming is still somewhat possible although don’t expect to be able to run every game you throw at it. Heat, on the other hand, can be felt throughout the entire back of the device after prolonged gaming sessions, so be sure to take a few breaks in between games.
Connectivity, Call Quality, and Battery Life
The device covers connectivity quite well as it’s equipped with Wi-Fi, LTE, Bluetooth, and USB OTG. Call quality and signal reception are good and GPS is quite accurate. It’s also worth noting that the smartphone comes with a dedicated microSD card slot, allowing users to take advantage of having two SIMS without sacrificing storage expansion. We also appreciate that ASUS included a USB OTG cable right out of the box.
ASUS is touting the device as a “Battery King” and as such equipped it with a very respectable 4,130mAh battery. On paper, that kind of battery capacity should provide ample screen time and device operation of at least a day or two. Sadly, the ZenFone Max Plus falls short of that expectation, by a large margin. During our standard 1080p video loop test (Airplane mode at 50% brightness and 0% volume) the phone only lasted a mere average of about 11 to 11.5 hours. Even PC Mark’s battery test (Work 2.0) rates it at such low numbers– at about 8.5 to 9.5 hours. Charging time isn’t that bad though for a 4,130mAh battery, as it took about 2 hours and 3 mins for it to go from 0-100%.
We used PC Mark Work 2.0 here as opposed to our traditional Work 1 test since the first version kept crashing on the device. Although the difference is only about 20 to 30 minutes and we did it just to have a means of a synthetic test since we were quite surprised with our video loop test results. We even repeated our tests a few times and did a factory reset of the device just to make sure we were seeing the numbers right.
There are a number of possible culprits here: the main one is the MT6750T which is known for being a power hungry and hot CPU but it could also be due to software optimization and the 18:9 display as the device is now powering a larger screen. Either way, this was with our initial testing of the device and, as mentioned earlier, ASUS has already provided an update. So, stay tuned for the results of our second testing.
The Zenfone Max Plus is certainly a strong contender despite its late arrival to the 18:9 train, although that late arrival also brings with it missed opportunities and a few hiccups. The device offers decent performance along with an above average display, respectable cameras, a clean UI with appreciated features, and an immersive audio experience when plugged. Not to mention it also has a thin, light and sturdy frame.
It is, however, riddled with a few annoying problems such as an unoptimized facial recognition software (even with the day-one patch), a fingerprint magnet back panel, and a failure to deliver its title as the “Battery King”, unless it can redeem itself with this new update. Even so, if you could get past those problems, or if ASUS fixes a few of them, then you are left with a decent performing device with good viewing experience, excellent audio customizability, and nice features at an affordable $239 price tag.
ASUS ZenFone Max Plus specs:
- 5.7-inch FHD+ IPS display @ 2160 x 1080px, 424 ppi
- 2.5D curved glass
- 1.5GHz Octa-core 64-bit MediaTek MT6750T
- Mali-T860MP2 GPU
- 4GB RAM
- 32GB internal storage
- expandable via microSD
- Dual 16MP f/2.0 + 8MP f/2.4 wide-angle AF rear cameras w/ LED flash
- 8MP front camera w/ screen flash, Face Unlock
- 4G LTE
- Dual SIM Dual standby
- Bluetooth 4.0
- GPS, A-GPS
- Fingerprint scanner
- ASUS ZenUI 4.0 (Android 7.0 Nougat)
- 4,130mAh battery
- 152.6 x 72.7 x 8.8 mm
- 160 g
- Colors: Black, Silver, Gold