Phones

Mid-range phone big on performance

The latest mid-range phone in Taiwanese electronics brand Asus' line-up, the ZenFone Max Pro M1, might have a small price tag, but it is big on performance, display size and, most importantly, battery life.

The Max Pro is Asus' attempt to compete in the mid-range phablet space, gunning primarily for rival Xiaomi's Redmi Note 5 Pro.

The $348 smartphone is tempting just on price alone and does provide lots of value for money and features considering how cheap it is.

Its large 6-inch full HD screen is clear and crisp and is easily one of the nicer screens on a mid-range phone today. Colours are bright and vivid, although the display could go a little brighter.

The phone's top and bottom bezels and its metal unibody are similar to Google's Pixel 2 XL smartphone, both in looks and feel.

I do not mind the bezel so much and like how clean the design looks, with no notch that cuts the screen off at the top. Its metal body also gives the relatively large phone a good grip, making it easy to hold and use, unlike, say, glass-backed smartphones.

  • SPECS

    PRICE: $348

    PROCESSOR: Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 (Octa-core 1.8GHz)

    DISPLAY: 6-inch Full HD+, 2,160 x 1,080 pixels, 404 ppi pixel density

    OPERATING SYSTEM: Android 8.1

    MEMORY: 32GB, 3GB RAM

    REAR CAMERA: 13MP (f/2.0) and 5MP (f/2.4) depth sensor

    FRONT CAMERA: 8MP (f/2.2)

    BATTERY: Non-removable 5,000mAh

  • RATING

    FEATURES: 4/5

    DESIGN: 4/5

    PERFORMANCE: 3/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 5/5

    BATTERY LIFE: 5/5

    OVERALL: 4/5

The Max Pro is named mainly for its huge 5,000mAh battery, which Asus managed to squeeze into a slim body. This battery is a game-changer - I go through an entire day surfing the Internet, watching videos and catching up on social media, and still end up with around 45 per cent battery life.

While all that battery life is great, Asus did drop the ball a little by not integrating fast charging in the phone. It takes close to three hours to charge the phone from near 0 per cent to full, which is long in today's world of fast, sub-one hour charging speeds.

The local version sold here comes with 3GB of RAM and 32GB on-board storage, which are abysmally low specifications even for mid-range phones. You will need a microSD card to boost storage space, as 32GB does not cut it anymore.

The 3GB of RAM becomes noticeable when you swop between resource-intensive apps, such as games, with some slight stuttering and lag when you pull up new apps. But the slowdown is not drastic and is offset somewhat by the efficiency of the new Snapdragon 636 chipset in the phone.

The Max Pro ditches Asus' ZenFone UI skin and runs on pure Android 8.1, which I'm a bigger fan of as it provides a lighter, more streamlined experience.

Stock Android makes the Max Pro look and feel cleaner on the software front, with none of the smartphone bloat that is usually bundled with Asus phones.

Its dual camera set-up takes some gorgeous photos for a mid-range phone and I am pleasantly surprised by the sharpness, detail and colours of the photos.

The Max Pro's depth effect mode, which blurs the background and leaves the subject in focus, produces really pleasing photos, with the transition between the sharp and blurred areas looking natural and smooth.

However, all that is marred by slow camera software, which often takes a while to process pictures after they have been shot. Snapping away in auto mode results in a slight millisecond lag before your photo is ready and the lag increases when shooting in low light.

I wait almost two seconds for my depth effect photo to be processed, which is a huge drawback if you want to take multiple photos of, say, a group of friends and have to make them wait.

• Verdict: The ZenFone Max Pro M1 is big on performance and has a long battery life in a phone with a low price tag. It heats up the budget mid-range phone market as a serious contender that shows off what budget phones are capable of.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 08, 2018, with the headline 'Mid-range phone big on performance'. Print Edition | Subscribe