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ASUS ZenFone 4 Max Review - 2017's Battery Beast?

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Living up to the greatness of the ZenFone 2 has been difficult to do, but it seems that ASUS is determined with the latest ZenFone 4 Max with 5,000 mAh battery!
ASUS ZenFone 4 Max review

Is it as good as advertised? Let's see!

ASUS ZenFone 4 Max (ZC554KL) Specs

Display: 5.5 Inch HD IPS 1280 x 720 resolution w/ 2.5D curved glass and Gorilla Glass protection at 267 ppi
CPU: 1.4 GHz 64 Snapdragon 430 octa core processor
GPU: Adreno 505
RAM: 3 GB
ROM: 32 GB expandable storage via micro SD card slot up to 128 GB
Main Camera: 13 MP f/2.0 + 5 MP f/2.2 w/ AF, 120 degrees wide angle lens, and LED flash
Selfie Camera: 8 MP f/2.2 w/ LED flash
Battery: 5,000 mAh
OS: Android 7.1.1 Nougat OS w/ ZenUI 4.0
Connectivity: WiFi, 3G, LTE, Bluetooth 4.1, GPS, A GPS, GLONASS, dual SIM
Sensors: Accelerometer, compass, gyroscope, proximity, light
Others: Fingerprint sensor, dual mic, Colors: deepsea black, sunlight gold, rose pink
Dimensions: 154 x 76.9 x 8.9 mm
Weight: 181 g
Price: PHP 9,995

Disclaimer: This is a loaned unit from ASUS Philippines. Rest assured that our review will be honest and unbiased.

Unboxing / Accessories

The box and accessories
The box and accessories

ASUS has stepped up their box game with new colorful but minimalist design language that immediately catches your eye. This is good branding because you know right away just by seeing the box you know it's an ASUS phone.

Inside is the phone, documentation, USB to micro USB cable, earphones, 2A power brick, jelly case and the micro USB to USB dongle.

Build Quality / Design

The phone has this solid feel to it and the textured finish adds to the premium feel that is now common with ASUS's products. The mid backplate is metal while the plate above and below it are plastic for better connectivity.
Mic and headphone jack slot on top
Mic and headphone jack slot on top
Speakers and micro USB port!
Speakers and micro USB port!
Dual SIM and dedicated micro SD card at left
Dual SIM and dedicated micro SD card at left
Power button and volume keys at right
Power button and volume keys at right

The 2.5D curved glass at the front is brilliant and beautiful. It adds that extra layer of elegance to the phone. We just wished that they added a little something more to differentiate the ZenFone 4 design language from the ZenFone 3 Zoom design language that is evident on this ZenFone 4 Max.

The phone is fairly comfortable to hold. It is just thicker than expected and could be slippery at times.

Display Quality

Only 720p
Only 720p

We were surprised when we found out that ASUS decided to go from last year's 1080p screen to a 5.5 Inch HD IPS 1280 x 720 resolution w/ 2.5D curved glass and Gorilla Glass protection at 267 ppi. I suppose they wanted to further extend the battery life by using a less demanding screen.

720p from last years 1080p! 

It is sharp, saturated, and bright with a lot of punch and decent blacks! The adaptive brightness, night and reading mode are present. It's pretty good and may be one of the better 720p panels out there.

It has 10 points of touch anyway.

Audio Quality

The ZenFone 4 Max has a two speaker grills but only one works. One at the bottom and one on the earpiece. The sound is loud, clear, crisp and full. It is not the loudest single speaker device we've had. My one true gripe with it is the shallow range from highs to lows.

For headphones audio output is good. We used the stock earphones and our trusty RHA S500i and we were happy with the result. A small sound stage can be heard with decent power, meatiness and clarity that we can't complain given the price of this thing.

The Max has multiple microphones that work for noise cancellation during calls or audio recording.

Battery Life

Battery benchmark score

The phone is equipped with 5,000 mAh battery with fast charging powering the 5.5 720p HD display is overkill which on paper solidifies this phone as a battery powerhouse. In our PC mark battery benchmark it was able to reach a staggering 15 hours score!

Asus advertises that it has Reverse Fast Charging so another phone can be charged using the ZP4 Max’s big battery. In our tests, the ZF4 Max outputted 1A which is twice the power of a regular OTG but it won’t replace a dedicated power bank.

ZF4 also a feature called 2x lifespan which is not well explained. It reduces the battery capacity by around 30% so that the damages to the battery are lessened, thus the battery life over time will decrease less. The phone then has to be discharged and recharged for the change to apply.
Added battery features!
Added battery features!

There are some evidence to say that not fully charging the battery and not fully draining the battery leads to longer overall health. However, the reduction of battery to be effectively 3,500 mAh, means the ZF4 Max loses one of its key selling points. Ultimately this is the consumer’s option. If you do not need the extra battery and see using the phone long term, then they can use 2 times Lifespan, and turn it off when needed.

In our experience the battery life is ridiculously long. We would get a minimum of 2 full days with this phone where we would use the phone for calling, texting, instant messaging, social media, youtube streaming, web browsing, e-mailing and uber continuously.

It uses a 5 volt, 2 amp charger that allows for around 120 minutes to 150 minutes of charging depending on how much battery is left on the phone.

Camera

720p from last years 1080p!
The most affordable ASUS dual cam yet

The ZenFone 4 Max sports a new dual camera setup composed of a 13 MP f/2.0 and a 5 MP f/2.2 w/ AF which an effective 120 degrees of field of view!

You'll find the regular Auto photo, HDR, panorama, PRO, beauty, super resolution, GIF animation and time-lapse modes. It does not have the blur / bokeh mode that dual cameras have popularized this year. What we like is a quick access to either the Auto or Pro mode on the bottom left side of the camera app.

In Pro mode you can only have a max ISO of 3200 but you can have a max shutter speed of 1/40,000th of a second and up to 3 seconds which makes this great for high speed action or super bright conditions. 

In the camera settings you have the option to add geotagging and an anti-flicker feature that can be used when taking pictures under fluorescent or high refresh rate displays.

The GIF animation is great for when you want to create live GIFs which is a lot of fun when used in social media. The time lapse mode is rather limited and the autofocus turns off when you do this which is a bummer.

The images of the 13 MP camera is good with sharp images and decent color reproduction but with some noticeably grain even in day light. The second wide angle less isn't any better with soft details and noticeably more noise even in day light. We feel that we would have been happier with an updated version of last year's single camera from the ZenFone 3 Max. It is clear that to keep the price down but have a dual camera, ASUS had to compromise.

When you turn on the main camera flash, the post processing tends to create a very warm / yellowish image.

Rear Camera Samples

Daylight normal camera
Daylight normal camera
Daylight wide camera
Daylight wide camera
Wide close-up
Wide close-up
Lowlight
Lowlight
Flash
Flash

In front, it has an 8 MP f/2.2 camera for selfies. It has selfie flash and beautification features. It even has this selfie panorama where you hold your phone vertically and move it side to side to complete the panorama. It works well outdoors when the lighting is even. When indoors we would notice different exposure levels with each image that were stitched together. This can probably be fixed by a firmware update.
The 8 MP selfie camera performs similar to the main where it is sharp and the vivid in colors but with some grain.

The images softens and the grain increases in low light. The selfie flash confuses the camera processing and the results of the pictures with flash are extra warm or extra yellowish.

Selfie Camera Samples

Daylight
Daylight
Indoor
Indoor
Yellowish flash
Yellowish flash

For videos the main camera can shoot up 1080p but with no control of the frame rates. The images from the video are softer than we would like. The colors on the other hand are decent but could use some more punch. Otherwise it's okay, but other phones perform better than this around the same price.

The selfie camera video is noticeably too grainy and soft indoors and out doors. It's a little disappointing.

Video Samples


Performance

Good performance
Good performance

The phone packs the 1.4 GHz 64 bit Snapdragon 430 octa core processor with 4 GB of RAM and the Adreno 505 GPU. What's interesting is that the Snapdragon 430 and 505 were made for 1080p phones but the display on the ZF4 Max is only 720p which results in speedier gaming performance! Decent tasks also run well with out hiccup.
This is a nice gaming phone for the price
This is a nice gaming phone for the price

Snapdragon 430 + Adreno 505 + 4 GB RAM!

We barely had lags or stuttering with our time with the phone. In fact almost everything is seamless.
ZenUI
ZenUI

Equipped with the latest Nougat Android 7.1 based ZenUI, the interface looks the almost the same from last year but with some polish. We still find the ZenUI's notification menu cluttered with those huge circular toggle icons. The icons of the apps feel dated and we wished the settings was less cluttered. Otherwise It works well.
100 GB extra for G-Drive!
100 GB extra for G-Drive!

There is some ASUS Software like Beauty Live which removes face blemishes while live streaming, ASUS Webstorage which is similar to Dropbox, and ASUS Customer support apps.

The ZF4 Max comes with 100 GB 1-Year bonus storage for Google Drive (PHP 889 yearly) which is somehow not being advertised.

Fingerprint scanner is fast, accurate and seamless. We have no problems with other than the fact that it is misleadingly small.

Telephone connectivity is good with strong signal and steady 4G data connectivity. There's the usual WiFi, Bluetooth and GPS as well that never failed us.

Pros - Polished metal design, 5000 mAh, can be used as a Power bank, capable gaming performance, with free 100 GB from Google Drive for a year
Cons - 720p from 1080p from last year, wide camera of dual camera is too soft, ZenUI is still cluttered

Verdict 

The ZenFone 4 Max is a powerful smartphone with amazing battery life, and amazing power bank features that can play demanding games for the price.

Sure the screen is now down to 720p and the camera isn't the best in class, but the amount of convenience saved by having this as your backup or even as a main smartphone that you can use is outstanding!

But, the cameras aren't as great as advertised. We are hoping for a software update to improve its performance.

Build / Design - 4
Display - 3.75
Audio - 4
Battery - 4.75
Camera - 3.75
Performance - 4.25
Average - 4 / 5
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