[Review] Asus Zenfone Max Pro M2 ZB631KL – Deux ex Machina

[Review] Asus Zenfone Max Pro M2 ZB631KL – Deux ex Machina

Intended as the successor to the Zenfone Max Pro M1, the Zenfone Max Pro M2 is a modest upgrade of their titular budget workhorse phone while keeping the price tag within similarly affordable levels.

Externally, the Zenfone Max Pro M2 comes in the usual cardboard box with everything nestled into cardboard cut-outs. Slide out the outer protective casing and you get access to all the kit that comes with the phone. Asus is rather generous this time around as the package comes with a soft TPU casing, a charger along with a paired USB cable as well as a set of earbuds that let you make and take calls. Our test unit lacks a UK-style charger and earbuds but we were assured by Asus that they will appear in retail units for the Malaysia market.


The Max Pro M2 itself is protected within a protective sheaf of plastic to keep it pristine. Sliding it out revealed a very good looking phone that has a polycarbonate chassis covered in a multi-layered laminate that gives it a fetching looking mirrored finish along with a notched touchscreen up front.

On paper, the Zenfone Max Pro M2 improves on almost every aspect of its predecessor  – it is faster, tougher and has better cameras to boot – while retaining the same Olympian endurance in regards to battery life.

Asus Zenfone Max Pro M2 box contents

So, what’s different with the M2 over the M1?


When placed side the side to its predecessor, the M1, the external differences are rather obvious with the M2 looking much more like a higher end, pricier phone than its predecessor on account of its mirrored finish and more rounded design with slightly more pronounced curves that made it easier to wield versus its blockier, plainer looking and more angular sire.

Mirrored backplate aside, the other obvious difference is the inclusion of a larger notched display. Gone are the chunky top and bottom bezels of the M1 which only had a 6.0-inch Full HD+ display and in its place is a nigh bezel-less 6.3-inch Full HD+ notched display with a generous a 90% screen-to-body ratio and the capability to display close to 94% of the NTSC colour gamut.

What is impressive here is that the Max Pro M2 also integrates the new Corning Gorilla Glass 6 protective glass to protect the display, making it one of the few phones currently available in the market in its price range to do so.

Under the hood, the Max Pro M2 upguns the hardware to a beefier Snapdragon 660 octacore processor with a built-in AI engine over the Snapdragon 636 processor in the M1. Both the 660 and 636 have a 64-bit architecture built on a 14nm process.

Both processors also run on Kryo 260 cores but where the 660 differs is that it is slightly more powerful with its Kryo 260 cores clocked at 1.95 Ghz this time around versus the 636’s cores which are clocked at 1.8GHz. Oddly, the M2’s 1.95GHz clock speed is still a bit under the maximum rated 2.2GHz that the Snapdragon 660 can run at to reduce cost and to also ensure optimum battery life.

The Snapdragon 660 processor is paired with 4GB RAM and 64GB of storage. Another higher end variant with 6GB RAM and 64GB of storage is also available. This storage can be further augmented via a triple card slot which lets you simultaneously use two nano SIM cards and a microSD card up to 256GB in size at the same time.

Button and camera placement is quite similar as well with a rear mounted fingerprint reader and a vertically oriented dual camera array in the upper left of the phone. The M2 also has a power button and volume rocker in similar positions on the right side of the phone while the base also retains a 3.5mm audio jack and a micro USB port. You can check out our prior review of the M1 here.

The main attraction here for the Max Pro M2 as with the M1 is its massive 5,000mAh battery which has been quoted to offer about two days of heavy use and about a week or so with casual usage which is on par with its predecessor. In a straight match-up, the M2 is an improvement across the board but performance is always the decisive factor as we’ll soon find out. 

Asus Zenfone Max Pro M2 performance

Our test unit of the Max Pro M2 ran a mostly clean version of Android 8.1 Oreo bereft of the usual bloatware festooning Android phones. Asus did install a few critical additions like a sound recorder, an FM radio app and a calculator app but by and large, the phone is mostly bloatware free so you’ll need to get about online via the Chrome browser, browse images through Google photos and get work done with Google Docs.

There’s still a few odd bits of additional bloatware this time around, including a bizarre preinstalled app calling Caping that seems to be intended for the Indonesia market but we’re chalking that up as an erroneous quirk with the firmware in our test unit. The one thing they did customise was the camera UI, which has had some improvements over the M1 though it still remains clunky to navigate.

On the bright side, the mostly stock Android Oreo user interface makes getting about a zippy affair. On paper, there are improvements to performance over the M1 but it’s not something that you can detect with casual use. It was able to open Chrome and other apps in seconds and experienced users will take to it like a duck to water. We tested it with the new Command and Conquer: Rivals along with Player Unknown: Battleground. Both ran relatively smoothly though the latter was capped at medium settings. It was also able to adroitly tackle split windowed apps with smooth window resizing and nary a bit of lag as well as other tasks like Google Sheets without issues.

Under synthetic benchmarks, the phone offered slightly better performance compared to its predecessor with better scores in 3D Mark’s Vulkan test and in Antutu 3D over the M1 and its Snapdragon 636 processor. In PCMark, it got a score of 6091. In 3DMark’s Sling Shot Extreme – Open GL ES 3.1 test it got a score of 1,218 points while in Sling Shot Extreme Vulkan it got a score of 959. In GeekBench 4.0, it got a single core score of 1,469 and a multi core score of 4,930. In Antutu 3D, it garnered a score of 128,224.

The display was able to keep up with the intense micromanagement required in Rivals which required an inordinate amount of tapping in short periods of time and responded well in regards to precision in PUBG when tasked with shooting up some hostiles silhouetted on the horizon. Colours were a touch more vibrant than its predecessor with details remaining similarly crisp though the notch portion of the display is primarily relegated to notifications; there’s nothing in the settings that allows you to eliminate the notch entirely from the display and it defaults to a rectangular view by lopping off the edges in videos and games. It’s not a major quibble but Asus will be bringing Android Pie to the M2 sometime in January 2019, allowing it to handle notches without undue trouble.

Movies were a pleasant treat as well thanks to the 19:9 aspect ratio of the display with the bright 1500:1 contrast ratio offering pretty good blacks and good colour rendition when subjected to reference footage. On the audio front the phone did a decent job and was able to play tunes and games at maximum volume without distortion at a volume sufficient enough to fill up a small room.

Taken as a whole, there’s little to quibble about the Zenfone Max Pro M2’s performance. It can tackle most tasks without faltering and the clean install of Android Oreo makes getting about a swift, intuitive affair. The provision of a larger, crisper and more vibrant display one-ups its predecessor by quite a margin.

Asus Zenfone Max Pro M2 Camera

On paper, the cameras have been improved in the Max Pro M2 over the older M1. The rear consists of a 12-MP camera using a Sony IMX486 sensor that has a larger 1.25µm pixel size for better low light performance, an F/1.8 aperture, phase detection autofocus and video electronic image stabilisation paired up to a 5-MP depth sensor. The front has a 13-MP F/2.0 selfie camera paired up with a front-facing flash which is a rarity in a phone. Where the M2 tops the M1 is the inclusion of AI Scene Detection to intelligently select from one of 13 different scenes and to optimise settings for best results. Videos are capped at 4K for the rear along with electronic image stabilisation capped at 1080P and 1080P video for the front camera.

The camera user interface in the new M2 is Asus’ own interpretation on how a camera UI ought to be and is mostly sound for the most part. You have the obligatory Auto mode, a Sports mode, a Night mode, a HDR mode and a Pro mode. Pro mode is a lot easier to find now and grants you access to manipulate exposure value, IS and white balance. Oddly enough, the camera is missing panoramic mode. Other additions to the Max Pro M2’s camera UI include a selectable beauty mode that lets you dial facial beautification on a subject from zero to terrifyingly unnatural levels, a dialable depth of field mode and, interestingly enough, an anti-banding toggle.

The camera also has AI Scene Detection capability that detects what you’re shooting and optimises camera settings accordingly based on 13 different predefined scene settings that include people, food, cats, dogs, sunsets, oceans and text, among the several they have on offer. This ‘data model’ gets regular updates when they push out new firmware and Asus was keen to emphasise that no personal images or data is uploaded to their servers; their data model relies on stock photography and images from their photography ambassadors.

In our pre-launch build of the Asus Zenfone Max Pro M2, the camera proved very capable with the revamped menu proving to be a lot easier to navigate when you’re in a hurry. Some bits still remain wonky though as there’s often no indication what settings you are allowed to tweak in each mode. Turn on depth of field mode and beauty mode as well the flash gets grayed out. Turning on HDR mode means depth of field mode gets disabled. There’s a learning curve involved in mastering the nuances of what the camera offers but it’s a darned lot easier than its predecessor.

Under daylight and brightly lit conditions, the phone offered excellent colour reproduction and detail though the depth of field mode is occasionally hit and miss with it fudging fine details. HDR mode offers richer and lusher hues and better contrast though having it as a dedicated mode rather than having a Auto HDR setting means that it will likely see less actual use.

Low light snaps have enjoyed some improvements this time around with slightly better details and hues compared to the M1 on account of the brighter aperture and larger pixel size on the camera sensor though it still experiences some shutter lag and the lack of OIS is telling, which means you’ll need a very steady hand to deliver decent shots. Of note is the built-in EIS as it smoothens out 1080P video footage surprisingly well.

Like before, Asus is committed to delivering constant updates to tackle any existing camera issues and to add additional functionality to it later on after launch. For what it offers, the Max Pro M2’s camera is a notch up over what the M1 offers especially in terms of better low light camera performance on top of otherwise solid performance for its price range though the camera UI still needs work.

Zenfone Max Pro M2 Price and Battery Life


The Zenfone Max Pro M2 sports a 5,000mAh battery, the same as its predecessor that is also charged by a microUSB port and a 5V/2A charger. On paper, it is rated to offer 23 hours of WiFi web browsing, a staggering 45 hours of 3G talk time and about 7 plus hours or so of PUBG gameplay before it needs a charge.

This time around, the battery has also been enhanced with several battery safety technologies to make it much safer to charge and use in the field. From a dry battery, the phone was able to charge to full in about two hours via the provided 5V/2A charger which is on par with others in its class.

Under practical field conditions, the Max Pro M2’s lofty claims worked as advertised and it easily managed, even with heavy use and a couple of hours of gaming per day and constant web browsing as well as acting as a wifi hotspot, to last nigh on two days.

At launch in Malaysia, the Zenfone Max Pro M2 will come in two configurations and two colours. The 4GB RAM/64GB storage version which we tested will retail for RM859 and is a Lazada preorder exclusive. The higher end 6GB RAM/64GB variant is a Shopee exclusive that retails for RM999. Both variants are exclusive preorders for their respective platforms from 11-17 December 2018. In terms of colour choices, you can have either one in Cosmic Titanium or Midnight Blue.

As it stands, existing users of the M1 may find it worth an upgrade on account of the larger screen and improved processor and rear camera. If you haven’t hopped onto the Asus bandwagon just yet and need an affordable phone with a large display. monumental battery life and a clean install of Android,  the Zenfone Max Pro M2 is a sound choice for what you pay for.

What we liked Amazing battery life, large and crisp display, good gaming performance, uses pure Android, decent performance to price ratio
What we didn’t Archaic camera menu, notch implementation needs improvement
We say The Asus Zenfone Max Pro M2 brings to the table several desirable enhancements which include a larger notched display, better hardware and one of the largest batteries ever crammed into a smartphone to make it a solid workhorse that’s well worth your consideration.

Specifications
Price RM859 (4GB RAM/64GB) / RM999 (6GB RAM/64GB)
Display 6.3-inch, IPS LCD, 2,280 x 1080 pixels,
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 1.95Ghz
OS Android Oreo 8.1
Memory 4GB RAM/ 64GB storage
Camera 12-MP w/ Sony IMX486 & LED flash + 5-MP depth sensor (rear) / 13-MP f/2.0 (front)
Battery 5,000mAh
Size/Weight 157.9 X 75.5 X 8.5 mm / 175 g

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