[Review] Asus Zenfone Max Plus M1 – The Budget Powerhouse

[Review] Asus Zenfone Max Plus M1 – The Budget Powerhouse

Specifications and performance of the Zenfone Max Plus M1

 

The Asus Zenfone Max Plus M1 represents a watershed moment for the brand as it attempts to trailblaze a new lineage of affordable endurance-oriented phones distinct from their mainstream Zenfone line.

According to Asus, the M1 suffix on the phone is to show that this will be the first of a new lineage of phones. The Zenfone Max Plus builds on the core design aspects of its predecessors: exceptional battery life at an affordable price and throws in quite a few flagship-class features in for good measure.


Previously, we unboxed the Zenfone Max Plus M1 and took an up-close look at what it had to offer. It threw in a lot of goodies – a soft polycarbonate casing, headphones, a reverse charging dongle and the obligatory charging cable too.

The build quality of the phone belies its asking price. A rounded aluminium chassis offers excellent tactility. When inspected up close it’s a mere 8.8mm thin and a relatively light 160g in weight despite the huge 4,130mAh battery built-into it.

The phone feels surprisingly light and wieldable one-handed. The fact that it mounts a widescreen 18:9 aspect ratio display up front while sporting ultra slim side bezels makes it a marvel of design, more so for the fact that it’s just RM899.

In terms of hardware, the phone is equipped with a modest array that is optimised for day-to-day performance as well as endurance. The large 5.7-inch, 18:9 aspect ratio display is short of a Full HD experience at 1,440 x 720 pixels which puts it slightly north of HD resolution though on the bright side this means that it has less pixels to push and thus less drain on the battery.



The phone runs Android Nougat 7.0 overlaid with their Zen user interface on a MediaTek MT6750 64-bit octacore processor that comes with a quartet of ARM Cortex-A53 cores clocked at 1.5GHz for heavy duty tasks and a quartet of similar cores clocked at 1GHz for general grunt work.

Paired with this is an ARM Mali-T860 GPU. To keep things humming along, the phone integrates 4GB RAM and has 32GB of expandable storage. One key advantage it has over many contemporary phones and even a few flagship phones is that it has a triple card slot with two dedicated SIM card slots and a microSD card slot so you can have your proverbial cake and eat it too.



Asus’ Zen user interface overlaying the phone is a significant improvement over prior incarnations and has eradicated much of the bloatware bar a few rather unusual stock apps such as their Selfie Master and Themes manager. The Themes manager is fairly straightforward with downloadable themes that are both free and paid-for available for download while the Selfie Master app is designed to work with the  selfie camera and has the ability to dynamically beautify your face even when you’re doing a video or are streaming on Facebook Live. Of note is that the phone also throws in a free 100GB of space on Google Drive for a year too.


To keep the phone secure, users have the option of the usual fingerprint reader, a pattern unlock and, as a unique novelty, a face unlock feature that scans your mug in lieu of the prior two methods. Setting up all three security features is a straightforward affair and the phone booted up swiftly into the home screen.

The face unlock feature works as it says on the tin though it mostly works consistently under brightly lit conditions. Unfortunately we didn’t have a pair of identical twins on hand to field test further test its reliability but it doesn’t work consistently in low light or if your face is obscured in some fashion with a hat or sunglasses. Most of the time, you’re better off just using a pattern unlock.



In terms of synthetic benchmarks, the phone yielded a score of 39,130 in Antutu. In Geekbench, it yielded a multicore score of 2,523 which is somewhere on par with flagship phones from a couple of years back and a singlecore score of 613.

In PCMark, it got a score of 3,319. The phone lacks Vulkan support so it was tested in 3DMark’s Ice Storm Extreme where it yielded a modest score of 5,436 while in the standard Sling Shot test it got a score of 451. All this generally paints it as a phone with very modest aspirations outside of general use scenarios.

When put through its paces, the Zenfone Max Plus M1 performed general tasks in a competent fashion. Emails, web browsing and the odd YouTube video or two and social media were handled without issue. Where it falters is in gaming with intensive offerings like Hitman Sniper taking several minutes to load and lag issues. It’s a minor luxury that can be overlooked, more so for the price you’re paying for the phone and the other features that it offers.

The wide 18:9 aspect ratio display itself was a delightful experience, offering bright colours and good clarity under all but direct sunlight though the mono speaker at the base of the phone was merely serviceable at best. While it is loud enough to share your taste in music (or lack thereof) with fellow commuters on the MRT, it doesn’t fare too well at maximum volume with rather tinny sound. Fortunately, the bundled headphones with the phone offer a decent listening experience for what you pay for.

 

Zenfone Max Plus M1 Camera

 

The Zenfone Max Plus comes with a rear dual-camera array which a surprise for a sub RM1K phone. A primary 16-MP camera with an F/2.0 aperture paired with autofocus and an LED flash is teamed up with a secondary 8-MP camera with a wide-angle 120-degree lens. Rather than combine data from both cameras, the Zenfone Max Plus swaps between them with the smaller 8-MP wide angle camera used for when you want to take in more of the scenery or a large group shot.

In terms of features, the rear camera user menu comes with the usual panorama mode, a GIF mode that lets you create short looped clips, a beauty mode, a time lapse mode and a rather comprehensive Pro mode. The pro mode comes with the works and lets you tweak white balance, exposure, metering and ISO. It also features a spirit level as well as a histogram too if you’re so inclined. Video capture is capped at 1080p.

In good lighting conditions, the primary rear camera is capable of good shots with decent amounts of detail and colour accuracy. Bringing it into play is relatively swift and there’s minimal shutter lag though there’s a distinct pause when you swap to the secondary camera.

The secondary 8-MP camera offers poorer performance with a lack of detail in shots and muted hues; it does offer a wider angle in snaps which makes it useful in certain scenarios like getting a huge group shot or a scenic vista. Both the primary and secondary camera perform poorly in low light with discernible noise, especially for pixel peepers though it’s usable for social media.

Up front, the phone has a front selfie camera that consists of a single 8-MP camera with an f/2.2 aperture and in lieu of a dedicated flash, the camera flashes the display white for illumination. Selfie shots are serviceable and the screen flash helps to offer softer, more even lighting for portraits.

What elevates the front selfie camera above many of its peers is that it is able to, combined with the Selfie Master app, offer beautification on the fly  when you’re on Facebook Live or taking a selfie video.

While the Selfie Master app is able to whiten your skin, sharpen your chin and enlarge your eyes, it’s advisable to only dial it halfway through; maxing out all the beauty sliders in the app creates an unrealistic effect that’s very apparent on male subjects.

 

Asus Zenfone Max Plus M1 Battery Life, Price and Conclusion

 

True to its name, the phone offers phenomenal battery life. The modest screen resolution works in its favour and combined with its massive 4,130mAh, the Zenfone Max Plus M1 is able to comfortably last upwards of a day and a half with average use.

This includes phone calls, social media, data and texting along with very modest gaming on the lines of Clash Royale and aught else. While it is unlikely, you can use it via the provided dongle to charge other devices too which can come in handy in dire circumstances.



As it stands, the Zenfone Max Plus M1 is, within its price range, a pleasing compromise of features and performance. Granted, there are a few niggles – middling camera performance in low light and some compromises in performance with intensive gaming among them – but the price tag and features outweigh these by quite a bit.

Serviceable overall performance combined with a widescreen HD display and superb battery life, all of which clock in at at under RM900 (and even cheaper if you take advantage of etailer or trade-in discounts) make it a delightful proposition for bargain hunters or a those seeking a budget workhorse.

What we liked Exceptional battery life, great display for price, superb value for money, lots of accessories, face unlock
What we didn’t Middling processor unsuited for high-end gaming, poor camera performance in low light
We Say The Zenfone Max Plus M1 is a solid entry level phone that offers a fair compromise of value and performance. It integrates desirable features such as a widescreen HD display and superb battery life at a very affordable price tag.

Specifications
Price RM899
Display 5.7-inch, 1,440 x 720 pixels, 281dpi
Processor Mediatek MT6750 1.5GHz octacore
OS Android Nougat 7.1
Camera 16-MP w/ f/2.0 + 8-MP w/ F/2.4 (rear) / 8-MP w/ f/2.2 & screen flash (front)
Memory 4GB RAM/ 32GB via dedicated microSD card slot
Battery 4,130mAh
Size/Weight 72/7 x 152.6 x 8.8mm / 160g

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