ASUS Zenfone Max Pro M1 review: ASUS is back with a bang!

Rating: 8/10

Yay

  • Crisp and color accurate Display
  • Ample sound via single speaker
  • Performance beast
  • Beefy battery
  • Stock android 8.1

Nay

  • Uninspiring design
  • Average camera performance
  • Slow charging speed
 
If you have ever spent any amount of time looking for a laptop or a computer, then chances are you’ve heard of Asus. The hotshots of Windows machines are behind the beefiest motherboards in the business, suave looking ultrabooks, and more.
 
However, after a staggered attempt at introducing quality smartphones starting with the original ZenFone 5 in 2014, ASUS is back again for a second inning. Their latest – the Asus Zenfone Max Pro M1 – is stuffed with class-leading specifications and carries a humble price tag. It is being touted as the Redmi Note 5 Pro killer. I’ve used it for over two weeks now and here’s my full review of the phone.
 
ZenFone Max Pro M1
  
Asus Zenfone Max Pro M1 design: average design, but functional
 
The Asus Zenfone Max Pro M1 looks like a safe bet when it comes to design and wears the budget-smartphone badge with pride. Just like most phones in this price range you get a similar metal back – separated by plastic caps for better antenna reception – and a dual camera setup. The plastic caps, however, have been rather uniquely designed where the top and bottom along with the entire frame is a single piece of brushed plastic. And don’t be fooled by the word plastic, because it feels seamless and I always felt like I was holding a full metal phone in my hand. That’s probably the best part of the design. 
 

The deep blue paint job gives it a  stealthy look

The metal does make the phone a bit slippery and the back is generally covered with smudges. The darker version also tends to show those smudges quickly, so if you don’t want it to look like that, buy the lighter shade. I love the buttons on it, they are very responsive and feel sturdy. I dropped it twice accidentally and that resulted in tiny scratches on the body. Nothing serious, though. This phone can handle a few drops and hence sturdiness is something you don’t need to worry about. 
 

Volume and power button both sit to the right

I dig the deep blue color a lot, and I think among the bevy of Gold and Black smartphones the blue definitely stands out. Overall, the phone has a pretty nondescript design but makes up for it by being sturdy and functional. 
 
 
Asus Zenfone Max Pro M1 Display: tall and crisp 

Our smartphone’s display is our window into the digital world and that window should be crisp and clear right? Well, this one surely is. The LCD panel used on the ZenFone Max Pro M1 is of premium quality. The full-HD+ resolution makes it one of the sharpest displays under 20k and you’ll enjoy every moment of it. The clarity is on point and so are the viewing angles. The colors on the Zenfone Max Pro are also extremely accurate. Now, I said this in my first impressions too, I am not a fan of the color accuracy.
 

It sports the trendy 18:9 aspect ratio

A lot of reviewers and tech enthusiasts or tech purists, tend to love color accurate displays but not me. Well, I prefer saturated OLED panels like the one Samsung uses. I personally don’t care much about how real the colors are and prefer a punchier look.
 
This display has slightly muted colours. The white point is good and there is no issue with the colour temperature either Comparing it to other smartphone displays, the Max Pro 1 is right up there with the iPhone X. However, the brightness is where it lacks. This is also why I didn’t have the best time watching shows or movies on this thing outside. It’s still perfectly usable, and it’s only the dark images or videos on the screen where you’ll have a problem.
 
Zenfone max pro m1

Curved corners of the display look aesthetically pleasing

The glass on top is also quite good and it doesn’t come with Gorilla Glass protection. But even after using the phone for a prolonged period as my primary device I managed to keep scratches at bay. And, this is without me using a single screen protector on the phone.
 
Asus Zenfone Max Pro M1 software: the secret android one phone
 
Here’s the thing ASUS has its own custom fork of Android called ZenUI. It has vibrant colors, characteristic Asus Wallpapers, funky looking app icons and customized settings. ZenUI has always been one of the better OEM skins with very few funky customizations and a lot of utility features.
 

The Zen UI here is near stock android

Well, this time Asus went the stock Android route and I’m elated. With Mi A1 being the only stock android device in this budget, I was hoping for more manufacturers to join the Android One program. Well, turns out you don’t need that partnership and can just tone down your own skin. This move by Asus has certainly been well appreciated.
 

Quick settings panel changes color with a light or dark wallpaper

Well, what can I say about the software, I just love stock Android. It’s clean, light, and gets the job done with zero hassles. The settings page still says ZenUI but believe me it couldn’t have been any closer to stock android. Basically. it’s the complete opposite of TouchWiz.
 
My unit came with Android 8.0 and now has been updated to Android 8.1 Oreo. You get a smooth OS experience with the least possible amount of lag. The power menu now pops up near the power button which looks very intuitive. The quick settings panel and app drawer change colors based on a dark or light wallpaper. Asus is also one of the very few companies where you don’t void your warranty if you unlock the bootloader.
 
You get all the standard Oreo features, with Autofill being one of my most favorite ones. Another favorite is the bubble created by the Dialer app when you get out of a call. All these things have made my life that much easier. I think it’s safe to say that there is not one thing I hate about the software experience on the Asus Zenfone Max Pro M1.
The fingerprint scanner sits at the back of the phone and works quite well. It’s accurate and unlocks almost every time. While it’s far from the fastest fingerprint scanner I’ve used, it is really good for the price that it’s being offered.
 

Face Unlock Update 

When we first received the Max Pro M1, it didn’t come with Face Unlock, but the latest update has brought this feature to the Zenfone. The Face data is quite easy to register, it doesn’t take more than five seconds and the accuracy is just fine. It recognizes my face most of the times but is quite slow to unlock. Hopefully, this feature will get better with time and we’ll let you know with further updates.
 

The latest software update brought Face Unlock to the table

Asus Zenfone Max Pro M1 Performance: could be your next gaming phone
 
You probably must’ve read a lot of reviews, but I bet you haven’t heard this before, I think the Asus Zenfone Max Pro M1 is very well named. The ‘Max’ and ‘Pro’ define the phone very well, we’ll talk about the Max later, but let me tell you, it justifies the Pro. That is primarily because it uses one of the best mid-range processors currently available – the Qualcomm Snapdragon 636. This processor carries flagship grade Kryo cores inside and boasts high power efficiency.
 

The variant in ‘Red’ is not available currently

The gaming experience on this thing is crazy good with excellent frame rates and smooth gameplay. The overall experience was more than I could ask for. The everyday performance, on the other hand, is a mixed bag. The Snapdragon 636 and 3GB RAM inside are, on-paper, supposed to be very smooth, but it doesn’t come through in real-world usage.
 
The device we have is a pre-production unit and has very early software on it. So the experience was far from ideal. We did receive a few updates and the performance has certainly improved but I feel it’s still far from ideal. I think if you are buying this phone, I’d suggest you to skip the 3GB variant and go with the 4GB variant instead. 
 

It’s 3GB RAM variant scores slightly higher than the Redmi Note 5 Pro’s 4GB RAM variant

The Antutu Score for the 3GB RAM variant was about 110,397 which is unheard of at its price range. In our review of the Redmi Note 5 Pro, we got an Antutu score of 105, 470 and this was the 4GB RAM variant.  I’m sure the 4GB and 6GB versions of the Zenfone would score much higher and hence at least on a benchmark scale, be way better performers than the Redmi Note 5 Pro.
 
The storage isn’t limited to 32GB or 64GB. The Zenfone comes with a dedicated microSD card slot which will let you bump the storage all the way up to 2TB.
 
Overall, if performance is your focus, close your eyes and buy this. Or…you know…keep them open to make sure that you at least get the 4GB variant.
 
Asus Zenfone Max Pro M1 Camera: an average performer and an  unreliable shooter
 
Well, coming back to the point that Asus named it perfectly, there’s a reason it’s not called “Asus Zenfone Max Pro Dual Camera”. That’s because the cameras on this phone aren’t really something to be proud of. The specifications for the cameras read 13MP + 5MP dual camera setup at the back and an 8MP sensor on the front for selfies and they are very average. Cameras seem to be the part where Asus compromised. The camera struggled to focus more often than not and the camera app clearly didn’t help. The colors in these images are also a bit on the saturated side, but they generally stay away from an unnatural look and push the saturation to the appropriate amount.
 

The dual camera setup sits flush with the back

The pictures when done right come out well and the instabilities have definitely reduced since the update. The performance has been inconsistent is all I can say.
 
Click this image for full-sized camera samples
It’s not the most reliable smartphone camera, but yes you can get some good shots out of it. Videos are equally average. Focus hunting is under control but the appeal isn’t simply there. EIS is also nowhere to be seen, hence it is not the best option if you want to shoot videos. If you are someone who edits their pictures and videos a lot then you might just be able to get good pictures and videos post processing but for an average person, the phone’s cameras don’t cut it.
 
Portrait mode
 
The portrait mode on the Zenfone Max Pro M1 is ok-ish. The edge detection is done well enough in most cases, however, you can clearly see leaks and blemishes in almost every picture. The front bokeh also works very similarly and despite being a single camera delivers a good enough performance. It’s not the best portrait mode camera but you do have the feature in-built.
 
Silver lining
 
The HDR shots on this phone come out really good looking. Like some other phones where HDR effect is a lighter work, this one is very aggressive and while the images generally look unnatural, they don’t look half bad.
 

HDR on the left, Non-HDR on the right

Low light performance too doesn’t try hard to break the pattern. My sample shots had lost details, excessive noise, and blurry shots in most cases. If you are buying a phone for its camera, I think I have made it pretty clear that this shouldn’t be your first choice.
 
Asus Zenfone Max Pro M1 Battery: the next marathon champion 
 
This is where the Max part in the name comes from. It has a 5000mAh battery inside, which on paper should last at least a day and a half of casual use. But how does it perform in real life? It is one of the longest-running batteries on any phone that I have reviewed. It doesn’t last you more than a day mostly, but if you own this then you can be sure that it would last you a full day, no sweat.
 

The 5000mAh battery makes it a wee bit heavier than other competitors

Talking about the charging, the brick that comes in the box is not a fast charger but there’s nothing to worry about. It charges the phone from 0 – 100% in under two and a half hours, which is quite good considering that it’s a 5000mAh unit. 
 
Asus Zenfone Max Pro M1 Price and Variants
 
The Asus Zenfone Max Pro M1 comes in 3 variants:
 
3GB RAM + 32GB ROM – 10,999
4GB RAM + 64GB ROM – 12,999
6GB RAM + 64GB ROM – 14,999 – Coming soon….
 

Should you buy the Asus Zenfone Max Pro M1?

Summing it all up, the ZenFone Max Pro M1 offers a durable build quality but in a bland looking package; an exquisite display with crisp details and accurate colours; a clean stock android with the latest software; powerful performance with excellent gaming experience; an average camera performance with even poor low light pictures; and finally, a long battery life. 

If you are a performance junkie and want to try out every new game and want something to play hours of PUBG on, then this is your go-to phone. I would again suggest you go for the 4GB RAM variant if you want to do all this. If you are just an everyday user and enjoy casual gaming, then the 3GB variant should work out well for you. 

However, if the camera is one of the important things you look for in a phone, then you should look elsewhere. The Mi A1 and the Redmi Note 5 Pro are all excellent camera phones, and should be your pick if the camera is your priority.

That said, I think Asus hit a home run with the Zenfone Max Pro M1 and is hands down one of the best Android phones to buy under 20,000.

Our Latest Videos

Prev 1 of 89 Next
Prev 1 of 89 Next


Sreehari
sree.hari@u2opiamobile.com

Sreehari is in love; in love with technology. His enthusiasm for new gadgets can be seen in his videos. He single-handedly built Mr. Phone's YouTube channel and continues to persevere with Nitesh in making world-class tech videos. Sree - as everyone calls him affectionately - is also a big fan of Artificial Intelligence and Industrial Design. If he is not working on gadget reviews, Sree is a trained Carnatic singer. When you meet him, do to request for his rendition of Kabira by Arijit Singh.