Behind its very classic design, its very generous battery and its large IPS screen, we didn’t expect much from the ZenFone Max Pro (M1). And yet, here is a pleasant surprise from Asus, who doesn’t lack much to shine.
Officialized in April 2018, the ZenFone Max Pro (M1) is available in France since September only. Five months is a long time to wait for a smartphone. Especially since, in the meantime, Xiaomi has arrived on the French market, with his big hooves and a Redmi Note 5 positioned right in front of him. The ZenFone Max Pro (M1) needs to play more elbows to make itself known. Was it worth waiting for him and turning a blind eye to this ambitious and aggressive Chinese competition? This is the question we will try to answer throughout this test.
A technical sheet that hides its game well
First of all, let’s take a tour of the owner, starting with the data sheet. As you can see below, the platform of the Asus ZenFone Max Pro (M1) is positioned mid-range. This means that it uses relatively little energy on a daily basis, but can occasionally draw on a few extra resources (at the cost of a small reduction in autonomy, of course). Here are all the details:
- weight: 180 grams
- Aluminium shell
- 5.99-inch Full HD+ IPS display (404 pixels per inch resolution)
- screen format: 18/9e
- screen to area ratio : 76 %
- mineral glass cover
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 chipset (Kryo 260 octo-core up to 1.8 GHz)
- Qualcomm Adreno 509 graphics chipset
- 3 or 4 GB RAM
- 32 or 64 GB internal storage (expandable by microSDXC up to 512 GB)
- 5000 mAh battery (non-removable) with quick charge
- compatible LTE category 4, WiFi n, Bluetooth 5.0, GPS (Glonass and Beidou), FM radio
- microUSB 2.0 port, dedicated microSDXC port and 3.5 mm jack port
- fingerprint reader on the back
- 13+5 megapixel dual photo sensor with f/2.2 aperture lenses, LED flash and phase-detecting autofocus, HDR compatible
- 8 megapixel webcam with f/2.2 lens and front flash
- dual SIM (nano SIM)
- Android 8.1 Oreo with lighter Asus interface
- accessories included with: wall charger, microUSB cable, hands-free kit
Our test version is equipped with 3 GB of RAM and 32 GB of internal storage. As you can see, the ZenFone Max Pro (M1) from Asus is very close to the Redmi Note 5 from Xiaomi available in France (the version with a dual photo sensor). The Asus model stands out with a larger battery, but its photo equipment (front and rear) is a bit behind. We will see at the end of the test what happens to the pictures.
A somewhat conventional design
But before that, let’s take a little tour of the owner. Physically, the ZenFone Max Pro (M1) is based on a very classic design, perhaps even a little old-fashioned. At the back, the technical elements are positioned on the top of the phone, the dual photo sensor is wedged in the left corner, above the flash, and the fingerprint reader is positioned in the center. The index finger finds this biometric sensor relatively easily, as you can see in the photo opposite that the shell is made up of a central piece that covers almost the entire back. This part is metallic, certainly aluminium.
Above and below this metal back you can see two other parts of the hull. In fact, it is a single piece of polycarbonate that covers the ends of the back of the phone, as well as all the edges. Thanks to the use of polycarbonate, Asus did not need separations to insulate the antennas. And the use of metal helps reduce fingerprints. On the other hand, the mineral glass at the front offers a very satisfying glide.
Pay attention to finger placement
Like other brands, notably Chinese (Xiaomi for example), Asus has chosen to concentrate the hardware keys on the right side of the smartphone. The power on is therefore placed below the volume. Due to the size of the phone, it is not always easy to position your hand so that you can touch the power button and the fingerprint reader on the back with your thumb. A habit to get into… On the other side edge you will find the drawer for SIM and microSD cards. On the bottom edge, we find the eternal main microphone, speaker, 3.5 mm jack port and USB port. Here it is a microUSB port, a format still present on low cost segments.
At the front, the ZenFone Max Pro (M1) features a 5.99-inch notchless panoramic touchpad. This is an IPS type slab. It displays Full HD+ images at a resolution of 403 pixels per inch. It is a figure in line with the customs and habits of the mid-range market. Not only is it enough, but the chipset certainly couldn’t have handled more.
Visually, the screen offers good clarity with a high level of brightness. The viewing angles are very wide and daylight readability is good. The colors are rich. Maybe even too much, since the default setting is rather saturated. If you don’t like the saturation of Samsung’s AMOLED screens, you might be embarrassed here.
An almost naked interface
Once the phone is switched on, we arrive on a particularly clear Android interface. We are all the more surprised by this, as we have often, in the past, criticized the Taiwanese brand’s propensity to multiply pre-installed (and impossible to uninstall) applications, even going so far as to produce duplicates. Nothing like it here. In addition, Asus preferred to take over the design language of Android AOSP, without making big changes. A huge simplification effort has been made (similar to that of Samsung, Sony or LG a few years ago). And we welcome the approach (especially as it will logically facilitate the development of updates).
At the interface reception, we find three screens. A first switchboard, with Google applications (including Play), phone applications, access to the camera, a Google Search widget and an Asus folder in which there is only a calculator, radio and a dictaphone. That’s it, that’s all. On the right-hand screen, there are three partner applications: Facebook, Facebook Messenger and Instagram. And the screen on the right is dedicated to Google Now (if, you know, the ancestor of Google Assistant that monkeyed Siri).
When you open the application drawer, there are no unpleasant surprises. We see some system applications missing from the home screen, as well as MyAsus, an access to the brand’s customer service. Again, it’s light. We have the same impression with the settings menu, which has been very slightly enriched with a few display and interaction options (notably the ZenMotion which opens applications by drawing letters on the screen when the screen is off and which you won’t find curiously in the “accessibility” section, but in the “system” section). Another weakness is that the French translation is not always good (with words missing in some headings), or even missing altogether in some cases.
With such an interface, cleaned of everything that could slow it down, the ZenFone Max Pro (M1) is very pleasant to use on a daily basis (we won’t go into details of multimedia uses here, we’ll come back to that). The system is fluid. Applications open quickly. We would almost forget that there is only 3 GB of RAM in this phonebook (two thirds of which is usually monopolized by Android). In fact, the ROM “only” weighs 7 GB. Which means you have a little over 15 gigabytes of free space when the phone starts up.
And of course there is the chipset. A Snapdragon 636 that offers a judicious balance between power for gaming and video and energy savings for everyday use. That doesn’t mean that the chipset gets smothered by heavy tasks when the need arises. You can find here the results we obtained on Geekbench, 3DMark and AnTuTu. And they’re pretty high. Compared to the Redmi Note 5 marketed in France, the ZenFone Max Pro (M1) performs even better in almost all tests. Like, simplicity is good.
Another positive point, the ZenFone Max Pro (M1) is equipped with a 5000 mAh battery that can easily provide a day and a half of autonomy, even two if you are not too much of a gamer (in all senses of the word). Note that it takes you a good three hours to charge it from 0% to 100%, despite the fact that the phone is “theoretically” fast charge compatible. In our opinion, this is due to the charger supplied in the box (which is not really fast charging) and the microUSB connection.
Surprisingly good in play…
Let’s move on to multimedia. First very good surprise: despite the presence of only 3 GB of RAM and a Full HD+ screen, our benchmark game, Dead Trigger 2, has positioned itself on the best graphic quality: 60 frames per second and high detail. And the telephone clearly assumes that ambition. Some newer games (and therefore less well optimized for mid-range platforms) will certainly require you to be a little less demanding. But we’re pretty satisfied.
On the video side, it’s not the same song. The pre-installed video player is the default Android player, which has not been improved by Google for a long time. Accepted file formats, as well as compatible audio and video codecs, are not very numerous, even among the market standards. With such a big screen, it’s such a shame. Luckily, a quick trip to the Play Store will quickly correct this nasty flaw. Note that the loudspeaker sound, which is quite loud, is qualitatively average. Prefer a good helmet (especially since the 3.5 mm jack port is present here).
… but not in the picture
Finally, photography. The ZenFone Max Pro (M1) therefore benefits from a dual 13+5 megapixel photo sensor. The former, equipped with an f/2.2 aperture lens and phase-detecting autofocus, takes the pictures, while the latter provides support. All this is controlled by a custom application with several settings, filters and the usual shooting modes, including the famous portrait mode that will create a background blur. There is no professional mode with access to the usual settings (white balance, etc.).
The result is mixed. Like all cameras, when the light conditions are good, the result is rather good with well reconstructed colors and a good balance between dark and light areas. However, when the conditions worsen, the ZenFone Max Pro (M1) no longer responds. The grain appears quickly. Focusing (and shooting) is slow. The warm colours are too much out. And the autofocus works on the side, even in portrait mode. We had to go over it several times to get some presentable shots.
A good alternative to Redmi Note 5
In conclusion, the ZenFone Max Pro (M1) is a nice smartphone, especially if you are looking for a mobile with a large screen, a very large battery and a mid-range platform capable of offering you a qualitative multimedia experience. Of course, this phone has some defects on the photography, some small corrections to be made on the location and some limitations due to the platform. No need to wait for a flagship performance. But if you’re not as demanding, there’s one candidate you shouldn’t necessarily rule out.
At the time of writing, the ZenFone Max Pro (M1) is available for 199 euros, or even a little cheaper in some stores. A price positioning that is not insignificant, since the Redmi Note 5 is sold for the same amount. So, which one would you like to lean towards? More autonomy and a gain in reactivity? Go to Asus’s instead. Better photo quality? Let’s meet at Xiaomi’s instead. Everything else is white hat and white hat.