When the Asus Zenfone 3s Max reached my desk, I was pleasantly surprised. I had recently reviewed the Zenfone 3 Max, so why this? I mumbled to myself. It looked like Asus did a OnePlus or Apple by adding a letter to its ongoing model. So does the added ‘s’ make a lot of difference in the Zenfone’s case? That’s what we find out in our review.
Design & Display
Pick up the ZenFone 3s Max, and the first thing you notice is that the fingerprint scanner has been moved to the front of the device. Asus made a major design overhaul when it launched the Zenfone 3 series, but the 3s Max showcases an entirely different approach. Why would ASUS change the design so much yet stick to the old naming scheme I thought. The camera has been moved to one side where it sits along a Dual Tone LED flash, and there is no Laser autofocus.
No, I’m not saying that the design is bad, it’s just different. The metal body has plastic bits on the top and bottom, and the size is in the “perfect for one-handed use” category. The plastic bits aren’t symmetric as the one on the top blends in like the antenna on the iPhone 7 while the one on the bottom simply sits there. That peeve aside, Asus has done a brilliant job at cramming in a 5000mAh battery in its tiny body which feels solid in hand despite its 175gms weight.
The 5.2-inch HD display is gorgeous to look at and has a 2.5D glass on top. There is no mention of any protection so you might want to be careful with it. Brightness levels are well in check, and the display can be viewed under direct sunlight. Even when we moved indoors the phone was quick to adapt. Brightness levels go low enough not to strain my eyes when using the phone in the dark. For a soothing experience, Asus has also thrown in Bluelight Filter, which when enabled makes viewing the screen at night a less strenuous exercise.
The Zenfone 3s Max isn’t a camera focused smartphone. There is a 13-megapixel camera at the back that has Phase Detection Autofocus, and a Dual Tone LED flash. Double tapping the volume rocker button can quickly launch the camera. There is also a gesture that can be enabled to launch the camera with the screen off. I like the fact that you can draw a ‘s’ to launch the selfie camera and draw a ‘c’ to launch the primary camera. These are default gestures but can be customised further. Once launched the UI of the camera app is quite basic. There are lots of modes (12 to be precise) to choose from including a manual mode that lets you take complete control.
The camera performance of the Zenfone 3s Max is average. It clicks better images outdoors than it does indoors, but there is still considerable noise present in both these images. The camera performs better for close-ups, but it does take some time to get the phone to focus. Coming to the front, the 3s Max has an 8-megapixel front facing camera. It is quite good to use and is a little forgiving to those tiny shakes while clicking. The selfie camera has the beautification mode on by default which makes the images look, well artificial. It can be switched off by putting it in auto mode, but it needs to be done every single time which can be quite annoying. There are quite a few modes to choose from including Asus’ Low Light Mode and the Super Resolution mode that allows images up to 52-megapixels.
The software trickery aside, the camera on the Zenfone 3s Max isn’t the best in the segment. I had to keep a very steady hand to click blur-free photos using it. One small nudge and I had to re-click the image. The images are still good enough to be shared on social media, but the phone does urge you to click a lot of photos.
The Zenfone 3S Max gets a MediaTek chipset that runs the show. The phone is powered by a MediaTek MT6750, an octa-core processor along with 3GB of RAM. It performs well in the phone, and I encounter no lags or stutters during normal use. The phone did get warm when we played a few videos but soon settled down. The phone sports a Mali-T860 graphics chip which is one of the high-performance models.We did run a couple of benchmark tests putting the phone through Antutu and Geekbench.
On Antutu, it managed a score of 39122, which is slightly lower when compared with other mid-range phones currently available in the market. On Geekbench, the 3s Max managed a score of 583 for the single core while the multi-core score was 2406.
The phone is somewhere in the middle when it comes to performance, I was expecting a higher score for the price Asus is demanding. We also tried a couple of graphic-intensive games, and we are happy to conclude that it doesn’t lag or heat whatsoever. The Zenfone 3S Max is a good performer for day-to-day use but push it through its paces and you are left expecting a little more.
The software bit is where the phone is quite sorted as it gets Android 7.0 Nougat out of the box. Asus has also layered it with ZenUI which, according to me is one of the best out there in the market. It is quite basic and adds usable features on top of stock Android. With the 3s Max, Asus has finally made the shift from capacitive touch buttons to onscreen buttons.
The clickable fingerprint scanner sits solo under the display and doubles up as the home button. I must also add that the scanner is quite accurate and quick to respond. Simply pressing the scanner from the screen off state is enough to wake the device up and unlocks it. Asus has put in gestures which can be used to wake the device up quickly. More gestures can also be configured to launch apps quickly. Asus has taken RAM management quite seriously and it always had over 1GB of RAM free. This enabled me to switch between apps seamlessly without the phone having to kill a background process.
The crux of the Asus Zenfone Max series is the battery, which is something Asus has taken seriously even this time with the 3S Max. It sports 5000mAh battery, and yet the device is slim at 8.9 mm thickness. To talk about the battery life of this phone, it easily lasts a day with over 40% battery remaining. On top of such a massive battery, Asus has put in 5V 1A charge that takes over 3 hours to charge the device completely.
The Asus Zenfone 3S Max is more than a one-trick pony. Yes, the big battery is the highlight of the phone but it gets the design and the size spot on this time. To add, Zen UI is quite good and clutter free. The phone, however, does fall short in terms of camera and performance. Asus didn’t help the case by putting a sticker price of Rs 14,999, making it a little hard to recommend. A lower pricing could’ve given the phone a chance to fight it out but at the current price, it goes up against the likes of the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4, the Lenovo P2 and the recently announced Honor 6X. The Note 4 and Lenovo P2 have big batteries along with a highly efficient processor. If it is good camera performance that you want, the Moto G4 Plus is pretty much the go-to smartphone for, in this price range.