Choosing a smartphone that suits your style, has the features you need and fits your budget is like searching for a particular needle in a haystack full of needles. The sea of smartphones doesn’t make your buying decision any easier, but hey, thank your lucky stars we are here to save the day.
We pick the best features of the phone that justifies buying it over other phones that come just as close. For example: if you desire speed and processing above all in a phone, go for a OnePlus 6, or you might want a smartphone that looks like it could win the smartphone beauty pageant, easy, go for a Samsung Galaxy S9. But what if you need battery life and a quick processor on a budget?
The Asus Zenfone Max Pro M1 with its 5000mAh battery and Snapdragon 636 processor may be that power-packed device.
DESIGN & BUILD: SIMPLE YET ELEGANT
Well, let’s be realistic and honest here. There isn’t much smartphone manufacturers can do when it comes to design. And we do not expect radical design changes either. As far as looks are concerned, the Asus is pretty standard and does not do much to stand out from the rest of the crowd.
There is no getting away from the fact that the Asus is a large device with a 6in Full HD display dominating the front. It does not break any records when it comes to slimness as well, but that's expected considering the large battery inside. It’s important to note that it's not exactly thick and the curved corners make it sit comfortably in one hand while using it.
The screen has curved corners as well, very akin to what you see in most 2018 “bezel-less” smartphones, but it lacks the notch and has quite the forehead and chin. While on the subject, the display is quite sharp which makes browsing on the large screen quite pleasurable, but you are left wanting a bit more brightness.
Despite its size, the Asus is quite usable with one hand. The power and volume buttons can be reached easily and extreme corners of the screen can be accessed with a minor grip adjustment.
At the price, the Asus is quite well built with a subtle, understated design. There is really not much more you can ask for or expect here.
PERFORMANCE: ON PAR
On the hardware front, the Asus Zenfone Max Pro M1 comes with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 636 chipset with either 3 or 4GB of RAM. We tested the one with 3GB and 32GB of internal storage. The tried and tested Snapdragon 636 chipset does a brilliant job of striking a balance between power and performance, with nothing to complain about. Combine that with a near-stock version of Android 8.1.0 and you are left with a device that runs smooth and without hiccups. The new M1 marks a clear departure when it comes to Asus’ approach to smartphone software. With the M1, Asus has gone with a lightly skinned near-stock experience, compared to earlier smartphones which pushed a heavily skinned version of Android that were slow with software updates.
Apps and games open and work smoothly as you might expect from the 636 chipset and 3 GB RAM. It’s reasonably fast but if you are coming from a higher-end device, you might feel a distinct reduction in speed. Again, it is important to consider the price here. It performs at par, if not better than most smartphones under 15K.
The most important aspect of the Asus though is the 5000 mAh battery which puts it ahead of the competition. It easily lasts a whopping two days with reasonably heavy use, comprising of a bit of gaming, streaming music, texting, calling and general browsing. This goes without saying but the unusually long battery life makes the M1 ideal for those travelling too much with long durations between top-ups. A small niggle with that great feature though is the slightly long recharge time. The 10 Volt charger takes a bit longer than 2 hours to charge the device to 100%.
CAMERA: BETTER THAN WHAT YOU'D EXPECT
In recent years, the camera has become one of the most important aspects of a smartphone, partly due to the rise of social media and partly due to the need to console one's vanity. The cameras on the Asus Zenfone Max Pro M1 look great on paper with a dual lens 5MP and 13MP rear camera setup and a 8MP front camera.
The dual lens setup on the rear camera does not offer 2X zoom but utilises the second camera to improve depth perception. It does a fair job in well-lit conditions with decent amounts of detail. We did notice that shades of red often looked a bit blotchy, but the rest of the colour spectrum remained nice and reasonably detailed.
Things take a dive when the sun goes down though, with slower focusing and a grainy look plaguing pretty much all the images. To be fair it’s not any worse compared to other devices in this price bracket, but we expected better considering that dual lens camera.
As with the rear camera, the front camera works reasonably well in good lighting conditions, but fumbles slightly in less than ideal conditions. It would be a good idea to leave the portrait mode alone as we haven’t tested any smartphone that gets it right all the time and it would be unreasonable to expect the Asus to do well with it when phones costing seven to ten times more have trouble with it. We should however add that the M1 does better with portrait mode than others in the same price range, but it's still not something you would use regularly.
Video recording on the Zenfone is once again better than what you might expect from a phone that is priced at under 15K. The front camera can shoot at 1080p at 60 frames per second while the rear is capable of shooting 4K at 30 frames per second. Fair warning though, 4K recording is not the smoothest, making 1080p the best resolution to shoot at.
VERDICT: BUDGET FRIENDLY
The Asus Zenfone Max Pro M1 (say that fast three times) is a budget phone. There is no getting around the fact that it is built keeping a price tag in mind. What’s surprising though is that it does not seem budget once you are face-to-screen with it. The build quality is really quite nice. It seems like it can take a few drops and handle some manhandling as well. It’s a large phone but can be used with one hand at least most of the time. The display is sharp and the camera does just as well and sometimes even better than other phones in this price bracket. Where the Zenfone shines though is in the software and performance department. We have always maintained that stock Android is the best way to experience Android and the Asus delivers just that with its near stock experience.
The most important feature of the Asus though, the feature that would get you to pick the M1 over the scores of smartphones in the sub ₹15K price range is the 5000 mAh battery. Pack all the state of the art features into a phone but without power, it might as well be a slab of glass and metal. And that’s where the Asus pulls ahead. It does all the things smartphones in that price range can do, but in some of the other areas, like battery life and the stock Android experience, Asus simply hits the ball right out of the park.