Asus is always hard at work and they keep bundling out smartphones in an already expansive market. They have just launched the newest member to the Zenfone 3 series, the Zenfone 3S Max as a mid range phone for a price of Rs. 14999. The device acts as a successor to last year's Zenfone 3 Max which had a battery capacity of 4100 mAh and was priced at Rs. 17999. We reviewed the Zenfone 3 Max (ZC553KL) sometime earlier. The latest one, the Zenfone 3S Max (ZC521TL) receives a battery bump at 5000 mAh but has a smaller display at 5.2 inches. The phone is available in all online and offline channels in black and gold colors. Today, we are going to review the Zenfone 3S Max to see if it has the guts to compete in the overflowing mid range market of smartphones.
Buy Asus Zenfone 3S Max (ZC521TL) - Gold
We had the gold version of the unit for review and it is a beautiful phone undoubtedly. The build quality of the device is top-notch and it feels wonderful in the hand particularly due to the curved edges at the back. Even though it carries a 5000 mAh battery, it does not seem very thick, which is again due to the well rounded edges at the back. The 2.5D contoured glass on the front makes swiping in and out a breeze. The 5.2 inch display has thin bezel on the sides and equally sized head and chin. The head carries the LED light, the proximity sensor, the loudspeaker grille and the camera lens along with the brand's logo. The chin has a rectangular home button along with the embedded fingerprint sensor. The home button happens to be a clickable one and is not touch sensitive. The smaller size of the display makes the device highly pocketable.
The edges have a somewhat unique design. The top antenna has been moved to the top edge which also has a 3.5 mm audio port. The left edge has the dual SIM hybrid slot, the bottom carries the microphone, microUSB port and loudspeaker while the right edge has the volume rocker and power button. The buttons provide a great tactile feedback but are very hard to press.
Its the back of the phone that adds immensely to its its good appearance. The back maintains rounded contours and only the bottom antenna is visible as the top cap has been moved to the top edge. This gives Asus far more space to place the camera and the LED flash. The camera has a squarish lens and finds a place on the top left, with a microphone hole and a dual tone LED flash placed just at the right end of the lens. The Asus logo in the upper central area completes the back. However, its the shining matte glow of the back that lends an extremely pretty finish to the phone's design.
All in all, the build quality and design on Zenfone 3S Max are superb for its price point.
Zenfone 3S Max is a metal body device with 2.5D contoured glass that sports a 5.2 inch HD (720p) IPS display. It has a built-in bluelight filter to prevent eyestrain during dark. The phone is fuelled by an Octa-core 64 bit MediaTek 6750 SoC clocked at 1.5 GHz coupled with 3 GB RAM and Mali T860 GPU. The internal memory available on the device is 32 GB which can be further expanded to 2 TB via a microSD card. As a pain point, the phone features a hybrid dual SIM slot (Micro SIM 4G + Nano SIM 4G) which means you'll need to give up either your second SIM card or your microSD card. VoLTE support is available now as well through a FOTA update. We don't get a USB Type-C port as yet and have to contend with microUSB 2.0 port for data transfers and for charging.
In terms of cameras, there is a 13 Megapixels PixelMaster 3.0 rear camera with dual LED real-tone flash and an 8 Megapixels front camera with 85 degree wide field of view. The 5000 mAh battery phone also has a home key mounted fingerprint sensor as well as connectivity options like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth v4.0, GPS and AGPS. For audio enthusiasts, there is ICEpower enhanced 5-magnet mono loudspeaker. But the biggest feature happens to be its operating system. Zenfone 3S Max sports Android 7.0 Nougat out of the box along with all its goodies including split multi-window app multitasking. The OS is layered with ZenUI 3.0 on top along with its customisation options.
Zenfone 3S Max carries a 5.2 inch HD IPS display delivering a resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels. The 282 ppi pixel density and ~400 nits brightness might not seem enough on paper but the display does maintain enough brightness with adaptive brightness switched on. But there is this little nag with brightness on Asus smartphones. Like the Zenfone 3 Max we reviewed before this one, the brightness level sometimes changes very discretely and not smoothly which can cause a headache for people with even slight motion sickness. This mostly happens when getting out of the camera app.
The viewing angles are fairly deep and the screen is not very reflective which we welcome with both hands. The color reproduction is natural but lies towards the cooler blue side of the spectrum. You'll enjoy watching Youtube videos and playing games on this smartphone as the color reproduction remains real. The bluelight filter comes in quite handy when you wish to use the device during later hours of the day or during the night. As an additional brownie point, the display is completely usable under direct sunlight.
Zenfone 3S Max runs Android 7.0 Nougat out of the box which is highly commendable since there are very few smartphones that can boast of doing so currently. In terms of availability of Android 7.0, many phones out there are still weeks to months away from being updated to the latest and greatest version of Android. As is the norm by now, Asus has bundled a lot of bloatware in the device most of which is particularly not useful at all. The only significantly useful app we found is the Mobile Manager which can assist you with data usage, battery modes, notification handling, privacy and security settings and applying permission settings. We found ourselves using the app quite a bit through our testing.
There is a system wide search facility available by swiping down anywhere on the home screen, which is reminiscent of the one available on iPhones.
Due to the use of Android 7.0 Nougat, the settings now show a little piece of data below them which can be quite useful in saving time. However, you still cannot customise what little nibble of data you wish to see for each setting. Touch and motion gestures from ZenUI are available in their full glory. Notifications can be customised at a per app level along with the ability to deal with each notification from the notification bar itself without moving inside the app.
For app multitasking, there is support for multi-window to be able to run 2 different apps simultaneously in split windows on a single screen. Due to the small size of the display, this way of multitasking is usually not very useful and it can become quite cumbersome to go through an app in only half the area of the display. Moreover, the entire operating system seems a bit too overloaded with features and the amount of information you see and need to handle can actually get on your nerves at times. Asus should start looking towards some sort of simplicity and minimalism when it comes to software design.
The phone carries a 13 Megapixels PixelMaster 3.0 rear camera with PDAF, f/2.0 aperture and dual LED real-tone flash. The camera interface is a very basic one but does provide all the required settings, modes and options. The shutter and autofocus is fast in good lighting conditions which means you'll enjoy taking quick multiple photographs in broad daylight. However, things tend to get a little murkier and slower as the lighting dims down. Here are a few sample pictures we clicked with the rear camera.
The rear camera images are usable but do not exude excellence. The color reproduction over blows and over delivers basic colors during image post processing. But the main problem lies in the lack of detailing that a 13 Megapixels camera should actually capture. And the problems magnify in low lighting scenarios much further. If we use low light mode in the camera app, then the noise gets reduced but a lot of detailing is lost and if we click low light images in auto mode, then there is a lot of noise that seeps in to the images. Moreover, focus lock time and shutter lag is very prominent in low light scenarios which we mentioned above.
The front selfie camera again over processes the basic colors and over saturation is quite visible in the images. There is a lack of detail in selfie images too. Video quality is fine but a lack of stabilisation can act as a deterrent to record videos without a tripod in stock. Videos also tend to feel a bit more shaky than they actually should be with newer frames tending to jump over the previous ones discretely rather than through smooth transitions.
Asus has bundled in an Octa-core MediaTek 6750 processor running at 1.5 GHz on this phone along with 3 GB RAM. These specifications should impart a decent performer in theory. And that is exactly what this smartphone ends up being, a decent performer. Multitasking is quick and peppy but the apps themselves take a moment or two to fully load after the successful switching takes place. Moreover, we had more than one episode of the camera app crashing and then not being workable anymore without a reboot of the device. At that moment, the phone actually becomes slow as well. But that should get rectified with future firmware stability updates.
The phone scorches through Asphalt 8 Airborne and there are no hiccups while playing the game for a prolonged time too. Non 3D intensive games like Subway Surfers are in any case handled well by the phone. We did not experience any heating issues while playing games though the back becomes understandably warm during battery charging. But the warming is very slight and there is no need to raise an alarm.
The loudspeaker at the bottom of the phone is loud enough at high volume levels. Though the bass is slightly muffled, the frequency distribution is even otherwise and the phone sounds good to the ears. Quite refreshingly, the bundled earphones produce wonderful sound with even sound distribution across all frequencies and its a pleasure to use earphones with the device.
The call quality using VoLTE on Jio 4G was loud and clear. However, our review unit was not able to maintain Jio Wi-Fi tethering hotspot for even a couple of minutes even after a number of retries. And that too at the same place where Lyf Flame 1 sustained a hotspot with the same Jio SIM card for a long while. We tried digging in the Mobile Manager app to find if some setting in the app was causing it to break but could not find any.
The fingerprint sensor quality is sluggish at best and tends to be slower than some other devices that we have tested it on. You can use the fingerprint sensor to answer an incoming call.
Here are the phone's scores on some benchmarks:
Antutu - 38783
Geekbench 4 CPU - Single core - 574, Multi core - 2404
Geekbench 4 Compute/GPU - 1394
Here is the USP of Zenfone 3S Max, its huge 5000 mAh battery. And it manages to impress us with around 2 days of moderate usage though intensive use tends to bring the usage time down. The good part is that the device almost always runs for more than a day no matter how hard you try to push it. The included Mobile Manager app has 5 modes to help you setup the battery usage the way you want, but we don't think you'll use it much with an already high juice device.
The bundled 5V/2A stock charger took precisely 3 hours 45 minutes to completely recharge the battery from 0% to 100% while the phone was in standby mode but without any downloads or activities running. We wish they had some fast charging option too for a battery this big a size.
Reverse charging though works successfully, can be painstakingly slow for a few devices. However, that also depends on the battery capacity and charging limitations of the device to be recharged using reverse charging. We reverse charged Samsung Galaxy Note 1, which worked quite fast but reverse charging Coolpad Note 3 Plus was excruciatingly slow even though the smartphone showed that the battery is getting recharged.
Asus Zenfone 3S Max is a capable device in terms of performance and with its stellar battery life. But it just falls short in the camera department. The competition at the mid-range level is fierce. Zenfone 3S Max has to compete with the likes of Redmi Note 4, Coolpad Cool 1, Honor 6X and Lenovo P2. All the four mentioned rivals are slightly more well rounded devices and some have dual cameras but lesser battery life. So the buying decision merely depends on whether you can compromise a little on the camera quality for excellent battery life or whether you are looking for a device which is better suited for all needs than just the battery. If its the battery that entices you more, then Zenfone 3S Max is a perfect choice, but if you can compromise a bit in the battery department for a better camera, then Redmi Note 4 or Honor 6X might do the trick for you.
You can buy Asus Zenfone 3S Max (ZC521TL) in Gold color from Flipkart here:
Buy Asus Zenfone 3S Max (ZC521TL) - Gold