A year ago, we reviewed the ASUS ZenFone Max, it was a smartphone with insane battery life. On the same year, ASUS launched the ZenFone 3 series in Malaysia, which also included the ZenFone 3 Max. The company later then launched a new variant of ZenFone 3 Max — the ZC553KL to be specific, with a bigger screen, faster processor, and better camera setup. After using the device for around 3 weeks, here’s a full review of the upgraded ASUS ZenFone 3 Max (ZC553KL).
ZenFone 3 with Metal Back
I mentioned before that the front of the device looks a lot like the ZenFone 3 in our unboxing and first impressions article. If you didn’t know about that, please read our unboxing and first impressions article before you continue.
Flipping to the back of the phone, gone is the glass backing with concentric circle pattern. Oh, and also the protruding camera! I actually prefer aluminum material instead of the glass material as it isn’t fingerprint magnet.
Below the camera lens is the fingerprint sensor, which is now in more squarely shape instead of the rectangular one on the ZenFone 3. The fingerprint sensor is easier to feel and more accurate than the ZenFone 3 due to the different in shape. Additionally, it didn’t pick up any scratches as it used the metal material, and you still get the same functionalities as the one on the ZenFone 3.
Once again, the Android buttons aren’t backlighted buttons. The bottom of the device houses a MicroUSB port instead of a Type-C port, that’s a bit disappointing. To cheer you up, there’s a 3.5mm audio jack on the top of the phone.
The ZenFone 3 Max sports a 5.5-inch Full HD IPS display, an upgrade over the ZC520TL model (5.2-inch HD IPS display). However, the colors aren’t as vivid as the ZenFone 3. The ZenFone 3 Max has a flat color profile, which is pretty average, not too good nor too bad, the display is sharp, though. Well, the reason why the ZenFone 3 Max colors aren’t as vivid as the ZenFone 3 is because the device doesn’t support ASUS Splendid app. The only color profile I can switch to is the Bluelight Filter mode. I did try to download the APK file of the Splendid app, but it crashed every time when I switched to the vivid mode.
Unlike the ZC520TL, which is powered by a MediaTek quad-core processor, the ZC553KL variant is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 430 octa-core processor with 3GB RAM and 32GB storage.
Obviously, the performance won’t be as good as the ZenFone 3 (Snapdragon 625 SoC + 4GB RAM) due to the lower-end processor and lesser RAM, but it handles day-to-day tasks well, with some hiccups here and there. It is possible to play some games with smooth frame rate, but don’t expect that demanding games like F1 2016 and Modern Combat 5: Blackout will run smoothly.
Same User Interface, Slower Speed
Like the ZenFone 3, the ZenFone 3 Max is running on Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow with ZenUI on top. As usual, there are a few unwanted pre-installed apps when you first setup the phone. Most of the system apps like ASUS Browser, ASUS Calendar, ASUS Messaging and ASUS Music are now replaced by Google apps (Chrome, Google Calendar, Google Messaging and Google Play Music). You can download those ASUS apps if you really want.
Game Genie remains the only new feature I found in the latest ZenUI, which lets you record and broadcast the gameplay live on YouTube or Twitch.
As for the ZenUI keyboard, it allows you to save have multiple copies to the clipboard in case you want to paste it again. That’s a pretty neat feature actually, but ASUS seriously needs to improve the keyboard performance as it is still laggy like before.
16MP Camera with TriTech AF
Camera setup is a little bit same as the ZenFone 3 — 16MP rear shooter with TriTech AF (Laser AF, PDAF and Continuos AF). The ZenFone 3 Max doesn’t have OIS, though, which affects the low-light performance.
Image quality generally is good enough for you to upload to your social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, especially when the image is edited. Its camera struggles quite a bit when it comes to the low-light conditions due to the lack of OIS. The noise level is pretty high and there are some lost in details because of the noise reduction.
Impressive Battery Life, but Was Expecting More
The main selling point of the ZenFone 3 Max is its 4,100mAh battery, which is said to be able to last through the whole work day and long into your playtime. Based on my usage, the device is able to last through a day easily without recharging, but I was actually expecting more from the device. The device has a screen-on-time of nearly 6 hours, which isn’t bad at all, but I was expecting it has up to 8 hours of screen-on-time (the ZenFone Max has 9 hours of SOT), turns out that I was wrong. Don’t get me wrong, 6 hours of screen-on-time is seriously pretty good, even the ZenFone 3 has only 4 hours of screen-on-time.
One more thing, the device doesn’t support fast charging, it took me more than 3 hours to charge the battery to 100%. What I really like about it is the reverse charging feature allows you to charge other devices, ASUS even included a USB OTG cable in the box.
Pricing at only RM999, the ASUS ZenFone 3 Max (ZC553KL) once again proves that you don’t need to pay much to get a smartphone with a decent camera, impressive battery life, and also premium build quality. True, it doesn’t offer the best display and performance in the class, but it accomplishes everything that most people needed for their smartphones. Trust me, having a good battery life really makes you one less thing to worry about. We all live in a stressful life, right? So, it’s good that you have one less thing to worry about, especially it’s a thing you spent to own.
- Improved build and design
- Impressive battery life
- Average display
- No USB Type-C port
- No fast charging