Back at CES, Asus showed off a follow-up to the not-so-old Zenfone 4 Max, which was a phone that ultimately disappointed me. Attempting to capitalize on the love for big batteries, the Taiwanese company decided to spin off the Zenfone Max line into its own device family. These phones will offer large batteries and many of the latest smartphone trends for budget prices.
So here we are with the first, the Zenfone Max Plus M1. Besides the ridiculous name, this phone sports a 4,130mAh battery, an 18:9 display, dual cameras, face unlock, and so on. But, as you, dear reader, probably know, ticking all of the specification and feature (read: buzzword) boxes doesn"t always make for a good phone, especially since nothing exists in a vacuum. In the end, the Zenfone Max Plus M1 is nothing special— simply, a big battery alone doesn"t necessarily mean that the phone will be good, nor does it always make up for the other shortcomings.
|Build quality||Overall, the Zenfone Max Plus M1 feels well-constructed without the loose pieces and creaking from the ZF4 Max.|
|Display||Decent colors, good viewing angles, and adequate brightness.|
The Not So Good
|Software||Oh, come on, Asus. Android 7.0 Nougat... really?|
|Performance||The phone hangs on even the most basic tasks like making calls, replying to texts, reading long email threads, and switching apps.|
|Camera||It"s not good, producing washed out photos, a tendency toward a warm white balance, slow focus, and poor dynamic range. Low-light performance is just bad.|
|Fingerprint sensor||It"s slow, tiny, and mostly inaccurate.|
|Face unlock||Don"t use this. It barely works.|
|Build quality (again)||While the phone itself feels solid enough, the seam between the glass and frame likes to catch and pull facial hair.|
Design and display
The Max Plus M1 looks and feels quite similar to the Zenfone 4 Max. The body is mostly metal, with plastic pieces at the top and bottom of the phone. This time around, the phone doesn"t feel so cheap, so kudos to Asus for addressing that. The ZF4 Max had a lot of flex in the metal back, which would creak and sometimes crack under pressure (like sitting down with the phone in your pocket).
Asus once again created a generic-looking device, which isn"t necessarily a bad thing. Looking at the Zenfone Max Plus M1 (ZFMPM1????) doesn"t evoke any feelings of awe at the design, sure, but at least it isn"t ugly... unlike the Zenfone AR.
Though it might look like a OnePlus 5T, to a degree, the shortcuts and compromises to hit the $229 price become readily apparent very quickly. The metal picks up grime, smudges, and other such things immediately upon being touched or set down; basically, like the ZF4 Max and Honor 7X, the metal seems to be of a lower-grade quality (which makes sense).
Following on that, the construction itself still feels a bit suspect. On several occasions, my facial hair would catch in the seam between the 2.5D glass and the frame, leading to frustration and a minor statement of pain. This happened on both the right and left sides of the phone.
The power button and volume rocker on the right side of the phone feel cheap and soft, with barely any travel and hardly any tactile response. Squishy is how I"d describe them, often getting accidentally pressed without me realizing it (until I noticed the screen turn on/off).
The fingerprint sensor is nothing short of abysmal. Its first issue is that it"s way too small and recessed into the phone; I had a hard time placing my finger just right to get it to read properly. On the times that I managed to succeed, I ran into a frequent failure to read. Accuracy and general speed– it is unbelievably slow, sometimes taking several seconds to unlock the phone– severely limit the usefulness of the Max Plus M1"s sensor, and while I have not had the best luck with Asus" sensors in the past, this one takes the cake for being the worst. In the end, I often elected to not use it.
Another smartphone trend lately is the resurgence of face unlock. Though some companies, like OnePlus and Huawei, are managing to implement it quite well (certainly better than it"s ever been on Android since its inception back in the Ice Cream Sandwich days), Asus didn"t quite make it. Setting up face unlock on the Zenfone Max Plus M1 was a chore, more cumbersome than registering my fingerprints. The front camera is so bad, it can barely see my face in many dimmer lighting conditions (environments where my OnePlus 5T does just fine). Like the fingerprint sensor, I stopped using this after it started to hamper my ability to use this phone.
One area where Asus did a decent job is the display. The 5.7" 2160x1080 IPS LCD produces nice colors and sports excellent viewing angles. Brightness, even outdoors, is good, too; though like most phones with LCDs that I get in, I wish that this display was a bit dimmer in the dark. Even at the lowest setting, it feels a bit too eye-searing for use in bed or other dark rooms. Of the budget Asus phones that I"ve tested so far, this is by far the best display.
Asus talks a big game about its phones" camera performance, and it usually is all just hot air. While not bad, per se, the Zenfone family doesn"t typically hold well against most of the competition. Poor dynamic range is the typical complaint, though I distinctly recall slow and soft focus and white balance issues, too.
Once again, Asus has failed to impress with the camera on the Zenfone Max Plus M1. The biggest problem is that the 16MP main lens produces photos that look washed out, even in scenarios where something like the Honor 7X takes pictures with good color reproduction. When colors are captured well, which often requires just the right scene, detail is sorely lacking. The secondary 8MP sensor sits behind a 120° wide-angle lens, which defaults to shooting in 18:9 at 5MP. If you choked at that, I understand— the camera app lets you go up to 4:3 8MP.
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It also flops in low-light. Though well-lit performance could sometimes redeem itself, I could not get a single decent shot in dim rooms or other nighttime environments. Each photo was noisy with very soft focus.