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Asus ZenFone 3 Max ZC553KL Review - Bigger And Better!

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The smaller Asus ZenFone 3 Max is a good looking and decent handset for its price, but left us craving for more. Fortunately, Asus came up with an upgraded variant with bigger screen and meatier specs without the need of hiking the price that much.
Asus ZenFone 3 Max ZC553KL Review

As a matter of fact, we were very impressed with what this phone offered even just on first look and try. Now after a month, we were able to gather the data we needed to check if our praise and claims about this handset is accurate. Let's start!

For the review part 1: Asus ZenFone 3 Max ZC553KL Unboxing And First Impressions - The Midrange All Rounder You Need?

Display Quality

Checking the screen of this Zen 3 Max variant, we enjoyed that it now has a bigger and sharper 5.5 inch FHD screen w/ 401 pixels per inch.
Multitouch test, 10 points!
Multitouch test, 10 points!

Colors are also fine and pleasing to the eyes even if it doesn't have the same amount of color pop or saturation found with other Zen handsets we tested in the past. Deepness of blacks are also decent. It even have a Bluelight filter toggle to protect our eyes from that harmful element especially in the dark. It doesn't color tone adjustments.

We also enjoyed that it can go really bright even for outdoor use, has an accurate adaptive display sensor, and comes with 10 points of multitouch for better touch experience.

Audio Quality

The single speaker found with this handset is fairly nice overall. It can provide decent amount of details with bright and energetic sound signature with acceptable level of bass response for a small phone speaker. It is also quite loud on max level with minimal grains or distortion.

For the headphone out, we liked its more balanced output unlike their ZenFone's with bassy and darker sound signature in the past. To excite you guys further, it is analytical enough for average listeners with clear vocals, decent instrumental separation, and not that sibilant highs. The audio output and soundstage of this device is very acceptable for a smartphone.

Note: Asus included their usual nice sounding ZenEar as a freebie.

Checking its audio recording capabilities, this edition of the Zen 3 Max has good microphone quality for calls due to its noise-cancelling ability. For video recordings, its acceptable, but it isn't as detailed as we wanted and noise are very audible.

Battery Life

14 hours and 31 mins at PC Mark's battery test

Going to the highlight of this device, it still has the same large amount of 4,100 mAh of battery capacity found with the 5.2 inch variant. Logically, due to its bigger screen and resolution, this handset should have lesser battery life compared with its smaller sibling.
Even better battery life than its smaller sibling!
Fortunately, it is the other way around. We were surprised that this handset was able to best the smaller Zen 3 Max (13 hours 20 mins) by more than an hour in our PC Mark battery test result at 14 hours and 31 mins. What's even more remarkable is it was able to last for 2 days on a single charge with our average daily use. As a matter of fact, the battery life of this handset is good enough as our all day WiFi hotspot on the go.

On top of that, Asus included their usual good battery saving app with super saving mode. You can also use the handset as a powerbank with its reverse charging mode via USB OTG. Charging time is still at around 2 hours and 45 mins using its 2A wall charger. However, this handset wasn't able to take advantage of the Quick Charge 3.0 support of its Snapdragon 430 chip.

Camera

Main camera w/ Tri-tech AF behind!
Main camera w/ Tri-tech AF behind!

At the back, this phone is loaded with an even bigger and better main camera, a 16 MP f/2.0 sensor w/ Tri-tech AF, 720p video stabilization, and dual tone LED flash. It has a good type of auto, panorama, HDR, HDR pro, super resolution, night, low light, and filter modes. Then it has a QR code reader, selfie detection, and time lapse. However, the depth of field mode of the regular Zen 3 model is still nowhere to be found.
Manual camera mode
Manual camera mode

The manual mode was missing with the smaller 5.2 inch model, but fortunately, this 5.5 inch variant has that option. It's even complete with manual focus, up to 32 seconds shutter speed, ISO 1600, exposure value adjustment, and white balance up to 6500K. It also has levels and grids for guides. It just lags when saving photos, so patience is a must.
The manual camera isn't perfect, but it can do wonders if you are patient!
Moving to its shooting capabilities, this handset has very fast focus speed thanks to its laser autofocus. It's shutter speed is also speedy, but you have to have steady hands or some of your images will be blurred. For close-up shots, we liked that it can focus closely at around 2 inches near. However, producing background blurs is inconsistent.

Checking its overall quality, images come out vibrant and sharp enough as long as you are in a well lit environment. It has good dynamic range and its HDR mode isn't grainy in daylight. Most of the shots we took are acceptable to great in quality. It's definitely an upgrade over the smaller Zen 3 Max.

In lowlight, expect grains on your stills. We recommend the use of its night mode, manual mode, or good type of flash on those occasions.

Rear Camera Samples

HDR Pro captured the right colors in this scene
HDR Pro captured the right colors in this scene
Another HDR Pro mode shot that corrected blow-out details on auto mode
Another HDR Pro mode shot that corrected blow-out details on auto mode
Natural light on auto mode
Natural light on auto mode
Grains in lowlight condition
Grains in lowlight condition
Manual mode at night is very useful!
Manual mode at night is very useful!
Flash test
Flash test

Selfie quality is also now better and sharper. It now comes with an 8 MP module w/ f/2.2 aperture and wide angle lens. It has a nice type of beautify mode, filters, HDR pro, lowlight, night, and can even do time lapse in front. However, there's still no screen flash mode for selfies in super lowlight conditions.

Selfie Camera Samples

Beautify selfie w/ natural light
Beautify selfie w/ natural light
Grainy selfie at night on HDR mode
Grainy selfie at night on HDR mode
The night mode captured the sharper selfie in this scene
The night mode captured the sharper selfie in this scene

For videos, the main camera shooter is capable of shooting up to 1080p with decent amount of detail. At 720p mode, it even has stabilization to lessen shake. Without its use, steady hands or use of tripod is a must. In front, it has a decent 1080p shooter. Obviously, it won't just be as decent compared with its main camera.

Video samples


Performance

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The other notable upgrade of the ZenFone 3 Max ZC553KL is found inside. Coming from the MediaTek's 64 Bit MT6737T quad core chip, Asus embedded this device with a much better and more efficient 1.4 GHz 64 Bit Snapdragon 430 octa core processor. It's also the same chip found with Vivo's Y55, and CloudFone Next who performed very well in our previous reviews.

Checking what it can do, performance is both responsive and smooth. Then thanks to its 3 GB of RAM, we rarely had problems in switching from an app to another, and opening multiple apps at the same time. The device also barely heats up even when charging or use of data connection. It also has 32 GB of expandable storage for your apps, images, and other files.
NBA 2K17 is playable in mostly high-settings!
NBA 2K17 is playable in mostly high-settings!

In gaming, budget gamers will like this as it is a capable one. Running Asphalt 8 on all high settings is breeze, NBA 2K17 is playable in all high-settings, and super smooth in mostly medium settings. It proved that Adreno 505 GPU is a great budget gaming chip.
This handset is a dream come true for budget gamers due to its capable GPU and long battery life.
Moving to its Android 6.0 Marshmallow OS w/ ZenUI on top, it still has most of the usual features and customizations found on the newer Zen handsets. The the usual Asus bloats are still there. Fortunately, most of them can be uninstalled.

Its fingerprint scanner is now more accurate as well. It can also be used to answer calls, shutter button, or camera app shortcut.

There are several reports that some units have weak signals, fortunately, our recently updated unit has decent signals for SMS, LTE, and calls. OTG also works and there's gyroscope for VR / Pokemon GO's AR mode.


Pros - Near top notch aesthetics and build quality, sharp full hd screen, great specs for the price, good cameras, longer battery life
Cons - No quick charge, manual camera mode lags when saving photos, no depth of field mode, usual Asus bloatwares

Verdict

For its suggested retail price of just PHP 10,995, the Asus ZenFone 3 Max ZC553KL is a steal. In particular, we definitely enjoyed its long lasting battery capacity on top of its good overall performance.

As of this writing, we are so sure that there are few phones that's officially available in the country that can match its level of bang per buckness.


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