The Asus Zenfone Max Pro M1 is the latest addition to their Zenfone Max line-up that epitomises battery life over other concerns. This time around, they’ve attempted to cram in as many features as they could at multiple price points, which leads to the quaint fact that there are not one, but three different sub-variants of the Zenfone Max Pro M1 available for sale in Malaysia.
All of them are somewhat similar bar several notable differences. They all have the same display, a similarly massive 5,000mAh battery, use a new Snapdragon 636 octacore processor and have the same external chassis and colour options – black and gold. Where they differ slightly is in terms of RAM, storage and cameras.
The highest end variant has 6GB RAM, 64GB of storage and a rear 16-MP + 5-MP dual camera as well as a front-facing 16-MP selfie camera. The midrange and entry level model both have a slightly lower specced camera setup in the form of a 13-MP + 5-MP rear camera and an 8-MP selfie camera. Where the entry and midrange variants differ is that the midrange model comes with 4GB RAM and 64GB of storage while the entry level model, which we had the privilege to test has a very modest 3GB RAM and 32GB of storage.
Out of the box, Asus has included quite a comprehensive assortment of goodies. On top of the obligatory charging cable and power plug, Asus has thrown in a soft polycarbonate casing as well as a pair of headphones too. Some vendors also throw in a pre-applied screen protector but Asus nixes that option here though it’s not a major downer. In any case, screen protectors are usually a matter of personal taste as some prefer matte or gloss protectors and it’s not something particularly pricey to purchase separately.
The Zenfone Max Pro M1 officially comes in one of two colours – a dark matte black finish or a burnished gold. Our test unit came in the former. Externally, the backplate is made of aluminium covered with a fingerprint resistant matte finish.
The left side is otherwise bare save for a triple SIM card, which is quite a bonus. This means that you are able to pack two SIM cards as well as augment the storage all at the same time unlike hybrid SIM cards which force you into a Faustian choice of either two SIM cards or one SIM and a microSD card slot. The right side sports a volume rocker and a power button.
The base of the phone comes with a 3.5mm audio jack, a grille for the mono speaker and, oddly enough, a microUSB port for charging the huge 5,000mAh battery. According to Asus, the majority of potential buyers shopping for a budget phone have yet to hop on the USB Type-C bandwagon and still have a plethora of microUSB accessories, hence why they’ve retained the older port.
Up front, the Max Pro M1 eschews any buttons and goes for a huge 6-inch FHD+ display with an 18:9 aspect ratio and a bright 1,500 to:1 contrast ratio sheathed in 2.5D glass. The side bezels are wonderfully thin with only a small wedge of plastic on the top and bottom containing the 8-MP selfie camera and a mic.
The overall build and finish isn’t anything revolutionary but it ticks all the right boxes for contemporary smartphone design: ergonomically rounded edges, a gently tapered and rounded back that makes it easier to grip, the aforementioned fingerprint resistant finish and a reassuringly sturdy heft and feel. The fact that they’ve managed to do this while cramming in one of the largest capacity batteries seen on a phone is quite an achievement indeed.
Asus Zenfone Max Pro M1 Performance
The Asus Zenfone Max Pro M1 comes in three variants with the most affordable variant sporting a 6-inch FHD+ 18:9 aspect ratio display, a Snapdragon 636 octacore 1.8GHz processor, 3GB RAM and 32GB of expandable storage.
The mid-tier and highest end model are mostly similar with the midrange variant possessing 4GB RAM and 64GB storage and the highest end variant packing 6GB RAM and 64GB storage. The key point here is that the most affordable variant at RM699 still gets you the same display, a similar workhorse SoC and huge battery as the pricier ones which comes in handy if you are on a tight budget.
Under the hood, the phone runs a mostly clean install of Android Oreo 8.1 bar a minimal reskin and an absolute bare minimum of additional apps – a voice recorder, calculator and FM radio. The vast majority of Asus’ bloatware has gratefully been removed and the phone opts for Google’s existing apps like their Chrome browser and Google Photos though the biggest omission, or addition depending on your perspective, so to speak is their camera UI which is different from the stock Android version which we’ll cover in the relevant section later.
For the most part, the phone, even the entry level variant that we tested, proved fairly responsive and swift though unlocking it via the face unlock function or the rear-mounted fingerprint reader proved a bit on the slow side, with responses measured in seconds.
In terms of benchmarks, the phone yielded a 3D Mark Sling Shot Extreme Open GL ES 3.1 score of 930 and a Sling Shot Extreme Vulkan score of 758. In PCMark, it yielded a work performance score of 6,177. In Antutu, it got a modest score of 115,176 points. In GeekBench, it snagged a single-core of 1,332 and a multi-core score of 4,931.
In comparison with a similarly Snapdragon 636 processor equipped phone such as the Redmi Note 5, it yielded almost equivalent scores and edged out in some respects, in particular its PC Mark work performance score, presumably on account of firmware optimisation due to its more recent release date.
When put to the test in practical usage scenarios, the phone proved up to the task.
Multiple browser windows opened swiftly without discernable lag. Videos and the like ran smoothly and games, for the most part, ran in a competent fashion albeit with a minute or two of loading time for more graphic intensive offerings. Player Unknown: Battleground was playable in a smooth fashion on the Zenfone Max Pro M1, albeit at medium settings as was the likes of Planescape: Torment and Hitman Sniper. The higher end variants of the Max Pro M1 will presumably render faster, smoother gaming though this entry-level configuration proved serviceable with more than playable gaming performance.
The display itself did an otherwise bang-up job. While it eschews the notch so beloved of newer smartphones, the existing wide 18:9 aspect ratio screen serves up bright hues and a good amount of detail. Audio was pleasantly loud as well and offered up excellent volume without tearing when dialled to maximum as well as a fair amount of detail sufficient for gaming and viewing the odd video or two. The fact that you’re getting all this in a phone at this price point is quite a feat indeed.
Asus Zenfone Max Pro M1 Camera
The rear camera consists of a 13-MP f/2.2 camera paired with a secondary 5-MP f/2.4 camera to capture depth details as well as an LED flash. The user interface for the camera is Asus’ own, with a number of modes on offer including the obligatory Auto mode, HDR mode, a Portrait mode, Landscape, Sports, Flowers and more.
There isn’t exactly a Pro mode available as it’s nested deep in the menus and only works in conjunction with the other modes, allowing you to selectively manipulate ISO, Exposure and white balance, depending on what mode you use; not all settings are activated except if you use Auto mode. The phone also offers a beautification mode with four predefined settings ranging from Off all the way to High.
In our existing pre-launch build of the phone, the rear cameras offered pretty good detail and colour reproduction under brightly lit conditions though the obtusely hidden manual mode means that the shooting experience is primarily geared towards casual shooters.
The phone does contain a HDR mode but it can’t be set to auto – you’ll have to manually enable the setting as a dedication option every time. Using it, especially under low light conditions offers better contrast, more vibrant hues and it helps retain a bit more detail in dark spots at the tradeoff of some shutter lag. To its credit, the Max Pro M1’s secondary camera captures good depth detail such that bokeh shots offer a convincingly defocused background.
Unfortunately, the cameras perform in a lackluster fashion in low light conditions with soft and grainy shots and slow subject acquisition. You’ll need a steady hand for best results if you’re aiming to take anything past sundown or in dim light. This also holds true for selfies using the camera up front.
Another point of contention is the fairly poor design of the camera user interface that feels archaic and unintuitive with modes seemingly hidden in odd places and with fairly odd placement of important settings all about the place.
Fortunately, Asus has announced that they’ll be releasing a downloadable update shortly after launch that will address all the camera performance issues and juice it up in a convincing fashion. As it stands, the cameras deliver serviceable performance under most scenarios out of the box.
Zenfone Max Pro M1 Battery Life and Conclusion
Crammed into the 8.5mm thin casing is a whopping huge 5,000mAh battery powered by a microUSB port. The sheer size and capacity of the battery means that you can skip having to diligently charge it every night though you’ll need a couple of hours for a full charge. Combined with the fairly efficient Snapdragon processor, the Zenfone Max Pro M1 was easily able to last just shy of two days of heavy, constant use.
This involved significant heavy gaming with PUBG, Clash Royale and Planescape: Torment to the tune of several hours, a combination of constant data and wifi usage, several hours worth of social media, texting, emails and web browsing as well as a few phone calls over the course of a full day left more than enough juice to go well past midday the next day. One particular bonus that few phones can match is that it has reverse charging, allowing you to juice up other devices in a pinch though this time around, they have not provided a cable with the phone to take advantage of this feature though it isn’t difficult to find.
Our test unit of the Zenfone Max Pro M1, which was the lowest configuration model at RM699 punched a notch above its weight class with a bright, crisp display, serviceable performance for everyday use and modest gaming and, above all, exceptional battery life.
Where it falters somewhat is middling camera performance though the announced update from Asus aims to sort that particular problem out in a handy fashion. As it stands, the Asus Zenfone Max Pro M1 entry level variant offers excellent value for what you pay for and is well worth your consideration if you’re on a tight budget.
What we liked Phenomenal battery life, sturdy build, large and crisp display, runs near-stock Android Oreo, triple SIM card
What we didn’t Uses a dated microUSB port, casing not water resistant, middling camera performance
We say The Asus Zenfone Max Pro M1 is an example of a budget phone done right with multiple variants at reasonable price points with all of them offering sturdy build quality, a crisp FHD+ display, a fair blend of features and performance for price and, above all, phenomenal battery life.
Price RM699 (3GB RAM/ 32GB ), RM849 (4GB / 64GB), RM999 (6GB RAM/64GB)
Display 5.99-inch, IPS LCD, 2280 x 1080 pixels, 403dpi
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 1.8GHz processor
OS Android Oreo 8.1
Memory 3GB RAM/ 32GB + triple SIM card
Camera 13-MP w/ f/2.2 + 5-MP w/f2.4 & LED flash (rear) / 8-MP w/ f/2.2 w/ LED flash (front)
Size/Weight 159 x 76 x 8.5 mm / 180g
Review unit courtesy of Asus Malaysia