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Asus Zenfone Max Pro (M1) Review: Taking the Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 Pro head-on

Regarded as one of Asus’ best smartphones in recent times, the Asus Zenfone Max Pro (M1) is an impressive offering on paper. We review to find out if it lives up to its credentials.

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Asus Zenfone Max Pro (M1) 4 5
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  • The Asus Zenfone Max Pro (M1) starts at Rs 10,999 and is available exclusively on Flipkart.

  • The device is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 SoC, with up to 4GB of RAM.

  • The USP of the phone is its near-stock Android interface, based on Android 8.1 Oreo.

Asus has been present and active in the Indian smartphone market for a while now, but it hasn t succeeded in making a significant mark in terms of numbers. Perhaps the blame for it can be pinned on a confusing product strategy that has involved various similarly-named variants, along with pricing that makes the company s devices seem needlessly overpriced. I ve always felt that Asus smartphones cost too much, unlike the company s impressive laptop line-up that is priced much more realistically.

However, the latest Asus smartphone is a departure from everything the Taiwanese company has done so far. It s a fresh approach to the smartphone space, and one that has a lot of potential to succeed. The Asus Zenfone Max Pro (M1), despite its classic Asus name, is a smartphone like nothing else that the company has made so far. It s biggest change is its departure from ZenUI, the company s traditional user interface. Instead, you get a light near-stock interface, meant to offer you the better performance that a light skin offers.

There are also impressive specifications, features and strong pricing. The Asus Zenfone Max Pro (M1) pricing starts at Rs 10,999 for the 3GB RAM / 32GB internal storage variant, going up to Rs 12,999 for the 4GB RAM / 64GB storage option, with the phone available exclusively on Flipkart. It s designed to squarely take on the successful and highly-rated Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 Pro. We review the Asus Zenfone Max Pro (M1) to find out if it can challenge the current sub-Rs 15,000 champion.

First things first the software

The biggest talking point of the Asus Zenfone Max Pro (M1) is its software. While Asus has typically pushed its ZenUI interface on its devices, it s often criticized for having far too much bloatware on it. There is typically an Asus-built app for every possible function on the phone, and updating these apps can also be a troublesome affair considering the frequency and size of these updates. With the Zenfone Max Pro (M1), Asus seems to have taken this criticism very seriously, and launched the phone with near-stock Android 8.1 Oreo on board.

To be clear, this isn t stock Android, or even Android One. The Asus Zenfone Max Pro (M1) doesn t come with any assurances of enhanced software support, as is the case with Android One devices that have a bit of backing by Google itself. It s still Asus providing any software development and support, simply going with a light and simple skin that does away with the bloatware.

Indeed, there are just four non-stock apps on the device, with three of them being Asus-built system apps for the calculator, FM radio and sound recorder. The rest of the functions use Google stock apps such as Google Photos, Chrome, Calendar, Contacts and more. The general look and feel of the interface is also as clean as it gets, and it is assuredly an interface that comes fairly close to stock Android 8.1 Oreo. Asus also promises regular updates to the software, and we ve seen one software update package delivered during our time with the device.

However, it s worth noting that the software, despite being fairly capable, isn t perfect. We did have some trouble with connecting to a hidden Wi-Fi network at our office, with the settings app crashing on every attempt. Connecting to normal Wi-Fi connections wasn t an issue though, and it s admittedly a small fault. However, its presence indicates that the software isn t entirely polished on Asus end.

The latest software update also enables face unlock on the Asus Zenfone Max Pro (M1). It isn t the fastest among devices that allow you to unlock your smartphone just by looking at it, but the functionality works well enough. The phone unlocks fairly quickly, but there is a definite visible time gap between waking the phone and it going onto the home screen. There is also a fingerprint sensor at the rear which can be used when the face unlock doesn t come through, as is usually the case in low-light conditions.

Next up the aesthetics and performance

The Asus Zenfone Max Pro (M1) isn t a high-end device and doesn t quite have the top-quality design that we re been seeing on smartphones priced above Rs 20,000. Instead, it sticks to the basics, achieving what you d expect from a device in the sub-Rs 15,000 price range. You get a metal rear panel, plastic sides and a muted rear that s available in two color options black and grey. It s a simple, but competent approach to design, with very little flash on offer.

At the front, you get a 6-inch full-HD+ 18:9 aspect ratio IPS LCD screen. The screen is decent enough, and the screen-to-body ratio is increased to allow the screen to fit onto the device without much impact to the size of the phone. In terms of size and form, the Asus Zenfone Max Pro (M1) feels similar to the Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 Pro and Nokia 7 Plus, both of which are positioned similarly in terms of specifications and features.

The Asus Zenfone Max Pro (M1) is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 SoC, along with either 3GB or 4GB of RAM and either 32GB or 64GB of storage, which is expandable using a dedicated microSD card slot, alongside dual-SIM connectivity. Asus does also have a 6GB RAM / 64GB storage option on the cards, which will be launched in the coming weeks at Rs 14,999. There s also a massive 5,000mAh battery with a 10W charger.

When it comes to battery life, you ll naturally get close to two days of use on a single charge. However, charging is slow, since a 10W micro-USB charger is anything but adequate for a big-battery phone like this. It takes over two hours to fully charge the phone, which isn t ideal, even for the price. While the earlier argument of micro-USB being more universally available applied, there s no reason to not have USB Type-C on a smartphone priced at over Rs 10,000 anymore.

General performance is excellent, thanks to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 chipset and 4GB RAM under the hood. This is a capable chipset that has proved its performance on the Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 Pro, and indeed the Asus Zenfone Max Pro (M1) boasts of good performance for a device priced at under Rs 15,000.

The chipset offers a good balance of power and energy efficiency, and is good enough to handle most tasks including gaming on the phone, multi-tasking and more. It s among the better mid-range chipsets available today, offering the most competent performance among phones in this price range. Along with the light near-stock Android UI, this ensures good performance on the Asus Zenfone Max Pro (M1).

Third the camera

The Asus Zenfone Max Pro (M1) sports a dual-camera setup at the rear, with a 13-megapixel primary sensor and a 5-megapixel secondary sensor. The front camera is an 8-megapixel shooter with full-HD video recording capability, with the rear camera capable of shooting 4K video. The dual-camera setup uses the second camera to enable depth-effect for portrait mode shots.

Camera samples shot on the Asus Zenfone Max Pro (M1)

The camera is decent enough in good conditions, and the portrait mode works well enough when you re taking pictures of people. The depth effect isn t perfect, but I don t think I ve come across a single phone that actually gets it perfect, let alone a device that is sold at Rs 10,999. In regular light, you get pictures that are accurate enough in terms of colors and details, and fairly sharp as well.

Low-light images aren’t the best, with pictures losing quality in the absence of proper lighting. The pictures we took had liberal doses of wash-out, and detail suffered as well. While you’ll be able to take somewhat decent pictures in low-light if you concentrate on composure, the camera is largely average when it comes to photography in the dark. Once again, at this price point, it’s unrealistic to expect too much, and the phone’s USP remains its focus on software and performance.

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The Asus Zenfone Max Pro (M1) is a smartphone with a lot of potential, purely because it builds on the strengths of Asus while doing away with some of its biggest weaknesses. While the near-stock Android software is its biggest USP, the Zenfone Max Pro (M1) also offers solid specifications, good build and a dual-camera setup, all for a price that is aimed squarely at taking on Xiaomi s dominance in the Indian smartphone space.

While the software isn t quite perfect, it s flaws are small enough to overlook. The camera does a good enough job for the price, and performance is as good as you can expect from an affordable smartphone such as this. The Asus Zenfone Max Pro (M1) is definitely worth your attention if you re looking for a new smartphone at under Rs 15,000 right now. However, the flash sale model and online-only availability means it isn t too easy to buy right now, and that might be a problem.

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  • Published Date: May 10, 2018 9:24 AM IST

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