Asus Zenfone 3 Max 5.5 Review
Asus is at it again — releasing multiple versions of similar looking phones. When we thought the confusion brought by Zenfone 2 was over, we’re wrong. This time around, they have a bigger version of the Zenfone 3 Max or maybe a cheaper version of the Zenfone 3 Laser? Here’s our review of the Zenfone 3 Max 5.5 or more specifically the ZC553KL model.
Design and Construction
The look of the ZF3 Max 5.5 is more akin to the ZF3 Laser rather than its smaller variant. Like most mid-range smartphone of the year, the ZC553KL boast a premium aluminum material choice along with a bit of plastic and glass on the front.
The whole front is occupied by the contoured glass topped with an oleophobic coating as per Asus’ listing. They did not specify if they used Gorilla Glass for protection but it’s safe to think that it’s scratch-resistant. The display stretches 5.5-inches diagonally with the earpiece, front-facing camera, and a couple sensors are placed above it. Like the ZF3 Laser, Asus graced the phone with capacitive keys rather than on-screen buttons. Unfortunately, they don’t light up in the dark.
The body is treated with a common combination of polycarbonate and aluminum. Located on the right-hand side are the physical buttons for volume and power/lock. The buttons are textured with the concentric circle pattern Asus puts on their devices. A little nitpick though is that you can’t simply tell which button is which in the dark since both has the same texture with only their length differentiating them.
The left is where the hybrid card tray is at which you can easily eject using a pin. The device accepts two SIM cards (Micro + Nano) or a microSD card on the second slot. This gives users either the dilemma of not having two networks at once or the opportunity to have more storage space.
The 3.5mm headphone jack is placed on top with the secondary microphone while down at the bottom are the main microphone, micro-USB port, and the loudspeaker.
Flip the phone and you’ll see the flat back panel of the phone. This is the part where the characteristics of the new Laser and Max meets. The main camera module is sandwiched by the dual-tone LED flash and the laser sensor. Situated just below them is the rounded square fingerprint scanner which is the same as the Max 5.2 rather than the rectangular one found on the Laser variant. The ‘ASUS’ branding is nicely printed down at the base.
If you’d noticed, the device is mostly rounded and curved. This makes the phone easier to grip despite its industrial design. Also, the top and bottom portion of the phone, which is nicely separated by chrome linings, is plastic for better reception. No worries as it doesn’t give away the overall quality of the construction and aesthetic.
Display and Multimedia
This new ZF3 Max variant gets an upgrade in the display department. It now has a larger 5.5-inch IPS LCD with a Full HD resolution. Props to Asus for putting in more pixels as they increase the screen to not sacrifice clarity. With that, it’s a sharp screen at 401ppi pixel density and extremely bright even outdoors. Although, we noticed that the panel is not as saturated as we like it to be and there’s no available tweak for it in the settings.
As for the down-firing speaker, well, it’s okay. It does get in the way when playing games but it’s better than having it placed on the back. The quality is good with a good amount of volume and clear output.
OS, Apps, and UI
The handset boots up Android 6.0 Marshmallow and like other ZF3’s it’s skinned with Asus’ latest take on the operating system. The Zen UI 3.0 has more features than stock Android but the problem lies in the pre-loaded applications. There’s just too much bloat out of the box. Good thing you can uninstall these apps. The space available for apps and other personal files is at 22.51GB.
There’s a mixture of Google-made and Asus apps tasked to function on the phone. It’s what Asus did to lessen the dependence on their home-baked apps as we do prefer using Google apps. We do hope they also take action on pre-loading the device with big games like SimCity and Need For Speed: No Limits plus Amazon Kindle, Puffin, and others. Our unit has pre-loaded apps in Mandarin since it’s a unit from Taiwan but these will not be included in the local retail package.
All Zenfone 3’s will receive an update to Android 7.0 Nougat early next year and since the ZC553KL is the latest addition to the group, it should be included in the list.
In the camera department, we have a 16MP rear sensor paired with laser AF and an 8MP front-facing camera. Based on these specs, you’d expect the handset to perform well. It does but not always.
The rear camera performs well when there’s enough light to capture, otherwise, quick snaps comes out blurred even with little movement. It’s good to see stills to come out vibrant and sharp for social media posting. The Laser AF helps a lot in focusing of subjects but the shutter doesn’t want to cooperate. When it comes to selfie, Asus’ custom camera launcher give a number of options to help you take a beautiful self-portrait. Here are some samples that were mostly taken in auto mode.
Video recording is maxed at 1080p with a decent amount of captured details. As with most smartphones, the quality of audio recording are lacking. You get stereo recording though and everything is in .mp4 format.
Performance and Benchmarks
Aside from the screen size and camera, the silicon running the new ZC553KL gets an update too. Asus threw in an octa-core Snapdragon 430 chipset clocked at 1.4GHz with the Adreno 505 as its GPU. This is the same processor used on the ZF3 Laser, however, the local variant of ZC553KL to be released will only have 3GB RAM.
There’s a slight increase in performance on benchmark tests but there’s nothing noticeable in real world performance. It’s still smooth and responsive like before plus switching apps is a breeze given that there’s nothing choking on the ample RAM. The change in chipset mainly benefits those who are more into mobile gaming. The Adreno 505 handles its task better compared to the getting old Mali-T720MP2. Even benchmark tests give it a better score (3DMark Slingshot 3.1: 287 vs 177). NBA 2K17 runs fairly smooth even on high settings while other intensive games can also be set to medium to high.
Here are the benchmark scores:
- AnTuTu Benchmark — 43056
- Quadrant Standard — 19163
- PCMark — 4850 (Work 1.0)
- Vellamo — 2435 (Chrome), 1211 (Metal), 1792 (Multicore)
- 3DMark — 287 (SlingShot 3.1), 569 (SlingShot 3.0)
Call Quality and Connectivity
If you plan to have a phone for long calls, the combination of good call quality and big battery of the Zenfone 3 Max 5.5 is ideal. The earpiece has good volume and clarity while the noise-cancelling microphone performs pretty well even in loud environments. What’s concerning though is our observation of weak signal reception when in tight places. Whenever we have multiple phones around, the Zenfone 3 Max 5.5 has the weakest signal.
Radios on the phone are plentiful including LTE, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi. No NFC though or IR blaster, just in case you want them around.
Despite the increase in phone size, the larger Zenfone 3 Max still has the same battery capacity at 4100mAh. With the same screen size, its predecessor has a bigger 5000mAh cell inside. It’s indeed disappointing not to get more numbers especially for a phone marketed for such. Without additional juice, the bigger display and increased screen resolution will take a toll on the battery life.
We ran PCMark battery test (Work 1.0) on the phone and we got 15 hours and 27 minutes. It’s definitely an improvement from the smaller variant. The use of Snapdragon chipset also helped in achieving this. Although, it’s more than 4 hours shy from the 2015 model. As with daily use, we can easily get through a full day of use with a little more to spare when going out late at night. You can keep your data connectivity on throughout the day.
There’s no quick charging feature onboard the device but Asus included a fast-charging 5V 2A rated charger. Our test shows a 9% charge in 15mins and 44% in an hour while a full charge will take more than 2 hours.
The Asus Zenfone 3 Max 5.5 (ZC553KL) is yet another quality smartphone from Asus. Although, it’s already above the Php10k mark making it a bit difficult to suggest among budget consumers who prefers long battery life. At Php10,995, it’s a good balance for what you’re getting and this makes it the second cheapest Zenfone 3 member you can purchase.
Asus ZenFone 3 Max (ZC553KL) specs:
5.5-inch Full HD IPS display
2.5D contoured glass
64-bit Qualcomm Snapdragon 430 octa-core CPU
Adreno 505 GPU
32GB internal storage
up to 128GB via microSD (uses SIM2)
16MP rear camera w/ Laser AF, LED flash
8MP front-facing camera
Bluetooth 4.1, A2DP, EDR
GPS w/ A-GPS, GLONASS, BDSS
4100mAh battery with reverse charging
Android 6.0 Marshmallow
151.4 x 76.24 x 8.3mm
- Premium design and build
- Better graphics performance
- Long battery life
- Same battery capacity as smaller variant
- Signal reception issues