We take a closer look at the newest addition to the Zenfone family – the battery-focused 3s Max.
With a focus on day-to-day usage and battery life, the Max-tagged devices have always been the ‘sensible’ chaps in the Asus Zenfone family. The Zenfone 3s Max carries on with that legacy – it’s got a 5000mAh battery, with mid range specs and a pocket-friendly price tag.
Pocket-friendly in more ways than one
There was a time when displays over five inches seemed too darn big. But that was a long, long time ago. Today, the 3s Max’s 5.2in screen seems ‘sensible’ and (relatively) pocketable. It’s not the slimmest device around, but we’ll let that slide as the extra heft (and it’s something you get used to) has a valid reason (there’s a meaty, 5000mAh battery inside) and the curved back makes it easy to grip.
Overall, the Zenfone 3s Max is a good-looking device, and in no way betrays its ‘budget’ price tag – the metal body and 2.5D glass at the front take care of that.
Quiet and unassuming
A MediaTek 6750 processor and 3GB RAM make the 3s Max perfectly equipped for average, not-too-heavy usage – and even light gaming. It’s not a power user’s device, not by a long stretch, but users who won’t look beyond email, WhatsApp and Facebook will be satisfied. Even with heavier, ‘look ma, so many apps’, multitasking, the Zenfone 3s Max manages to keep its head up (mostly – though you’ll have to put up with the occasional stutter and slow app launch).
Meanwhile, its HD display has balanced colours and works well outdoors. Unfortunately, the competition offers Full HD displays at this price point and while you’ll get used to the 3s Max’s 720 resolution soon enough, there’s no getting away from the fact that text doesn’t look as crisp as you’d want it to.
As for the other specs, there’s 4G, 32GB storage, with memory card support (up to 2TB) via a hybrid SIM-microSD slot, Bluetooth 4.0 and 802.11ac WiFi.
This is where the 3s Max shines. The power-sipping hardware combined with the massive battery make this a real two-day device. That’s right. We managed to go through two days of heavy usage with ease, and still had some juice left. If battery life tops your set of concerns, this newest Zenfone should serve you well. In fact, it’s immensely liberating to be out and about town with a phone that you know will have enough juice to call up an Uber from a dodgy part of town even rather late at night.
The 13MP, f/2.0 rear camera does an adequate job in well-lit conditions, with balanced, true-to-life colours and a decent level of detail and contrast. It falters a bit in low-light, and has to resort to heavy handed noise reduction (and slow shutter speeds). Focusing speeds also go down a lot when it’s really dark and you’ll need to have a steady hand since there’s no OIS. Still, in daylight, the Zenfone 3s Max delivers as well as you’d expect a sub-15k device to.
Meanwhile, the 5MP, wide-angle camera at the front does an acceptable job, but goes a bit too heavy on the image processing.
It’s nice to see a budget-to-mid-range device come with Android Nougat pre-installed at a time when most rivals are still on Marshmallow. Still, the ZenUI skin comes off as a bit too bright and chunky compared to other skins (why can’t OEMs stick with stock Android!).
But even if it might not be the best looking skin around, we’re glad Asus hasn’t messed with ZenUI’s functionality that much – it’s perfectly usable without any weird eccentricities. Nope, that’s okay – what annoys us is the plethora of apps that come pre-installed. A few might be handy, but most either duplicate the functionality of other, better apps or worse, are plain bloatware.
The Asus Zenfone 3s Max offers fantastic battery life with rather ordinary performance and features. Heavy users might be better off served looking around for better specced devices at the same price but if your phone’s a no-nonsense, no-flash, ‘work’ companion for you, with battery life mattering more than benchmarks or a high-res display, this just might do.