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ASUS ZenFone Max Plus M1 Review - The Battery King?

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The ASUS ZenFone Max Plus M1 is the first of the "Battery Kings", a new and separate line of phones from the main ZenFone series that focuses on battery endurance.
ASUS ZenFone Max Plus M1 Review

In our initial impressions with the Max Plus M1 with early software, we saw that it had the battery life endurance but had a hit or miss camera performance.


For our review part 1: ASUS ZenFone Max Plus M1 Unboxing and Initial Impressions


Display Quality

Nice quality screen
Nice quality screen
The display is a 5 point multi-touch, 5.7-inch FHD+ IPS 2160 x 1080 resolution w/ 2.5D curved glass at 424 ppi.

It's maximum brightness and 1080p resolution is on par if not slightly better than the phones in this price range. It's plenty bright enough to be visible under direct sunlight but it the glass above it is highly reflective. ASUS probably did not add a high performing anti-reflective coating or element so it can be a bother for some.

FHD+ IPS goodness!

It is an IPS display so it won't have the jaw dropping eye popping saturated colors and deep blacks of AMOLED but it comes close. It is impressive given at its price.

What surprised us is the 5 points of multi-touch. It is good enough for most tasks but it would limit the type of games that you can play on it. We find this a missed opportunity given that this phone has the potential to be a phone for extended hour gaming phone.

It is an 18:9 aspect ratio but the upper and lower bezels remain to be large. For comparisons, the Cloudfone Next Infinity Quattro has a similar sized battery capacity and similar 18:9 display but maintains minimal bezels.

This could bother some people but we don't mind it. It's actually functional because you have an area to rest your fingers to have a better grip when viewing videos in landscape. This is a matter of preference.

Audio Quality

The audio game of the Max Plus M1 is under advertised. The single bottom firing speakers gets loud. One of the louder ones of recent memory. The details are defined with strong and meaty tones. There is some distortion at the high volumes but it is minimal. The mids and trebles are good while the bass is strong. We like it.

Audio game is under advertised!

For headphones and earphones, we used the stock earphones and our RHA S500i. The stock earphones is good. There is good noise isolation with a large sound stage. The tones are powerful, meaty and have a weight to them that adds to the audio experience even though we were using Spotify and YouTube only.

Our only gripe is that even though the dynamic range is wide, at higher volumes the different tones tends to muddy each other. The sweet spot is at 80% volume. I think ASUS can tweak the definition of sounds with firmware. I hope they do. What more if you were playing FLAC or Hi-Res audio?

The microphones are clear and clean enough for calls and recordings. We never had an issue or a caller comment that our voice had concerns during calls.

Battery Life

Strong battery score
Strong battery score

In our daily use of email, texting, calling, social media interactions, YouTube streaming, we were getting 8 to 9 hours of on screen time with LTE and LTE hotspot. We would unplug the phone at 8AM and end our day at 6PM at 20 to 25% battery left.

Great battery life, but we expected more!

In our usual PC Mark battery benchmark, it was rated for under 12 hours. It is good but we've seen phones like the V7 and V7 Plus with smaller battery capacities but are able to reach 14 to 17 hours results in the benchmark.

Without LTE, we were getting around 10 to 12 hours of on-screen time. The battery is good, but it isn't the king yet. This we think this is a software concern. Give ASUS a few months and we think they will be able to refine the software to be more battery optimized.

It has the standard battery saving modes where it lowers performance and background tasks to improve longevity. It includes a regular power saving mode that will darken the screen and disconnect you to WiFi, data or Bluetooth and smart-saving that consumes less power.

Charging time is under 120 minutes from 0 to 100! The charging plug is a 2A charger.

Camera

Dual cam!
Dual cam!

The rear camera is a combination of a 16MP f/2.0 + 8MP f/2.4 wide angle lens w/ both having AF and LED flash.
Camera UI with normal and wide angle switch showing LOFT Coworking in Ortigas
Camera UI with normal and wide angle switch showing LOFT Coworking in Ortigas

There is a pro mode where you can customize metering, white balance ISO, shutter speed, focus and exposure compensation. The ISO starts at 100 up to 1600 while the shutter speed starts at 1/1000th of a second up to 10 seconds So no long exposures. It also has auto HDR and depth of field mode
Pro mode
Pro mode

The autofocus of the main camera is not the best. We found that even though we would use tap the subject to focus, it would hesitate and is jumping from one object to another 3 out of 5 times. This is true for the 16MP standard lens sensor and the wide angle lens sensor.

In daylight, the images have acceptable resolution, good color, decent dynamic range and decent contrast.

There is a depth of field mode that works mostly well. Our only concern was that it tends to blur most of the person's hair. Otherwise it is good for its price.

In low light, grain and noise is noticeable and a lot of detail is lost because of noise reduction.

Our only gripe with the images in both good lighting and low lighting is that when you zoom into the image full size, the images are softer than they would seem when viewed otherwise. BUT, this is far better than the images from the ZenFone 4 Max which was softer and nosier.

The LED flash is there for the main camera if you need it. You can seamlessly transition from one camera to the next and to video mode quickly.

Rear Camera Samples

Normal
Normal
Wide
Wide
Flatlay 1
Flatlay 1
Flat lay 2
Flat lay 2
Close-up with background
Close-up with background
Depth effect
Depth effect
Lowlight 1
Lowlight 1
Lowlight 2
Lowlight 2
Lowlight wide
Lowlight wide

On the other hand, it carries the 8MP f/2.0 w/ portrait mode and screen flash in front. It does have a portrait mode. The customizable settings are the same with the rear camera.
Single selfie cam
Single selfie cam

It has a 10 levels for each beauty setting: soften skin, brighten skin, enhance eyes and thin cheeks. They were but at the higher levels they look artificial.
Selfie camera UI
Selfie camera UI

It uses an auto-face recognition autofocus. It works 9 out of 10 times which is an amazing experience whenever we don't have to struggle with using both hands or one hand while trying to balance the phone and tap the shutter button. The autofocus on the selfie camera however is good compared to the main camera. 

The selfie camera performs similarly to the standard angle main camera lens where the it has acceptable resolution, good contrast, decent color and dynamic range.

It also suffers the soft images from low light as the main camera because of the noise and noise reduction.

It has screen flash for the selfie. The selfie display flash isn't that powerful though. 

Selfie Camera Samples

Daylight selfie
Daylight selfie
Well lit indoor selfie
Well lit indoor selfie
Indoor selfie
Indoor selfie
Lowlight portrait
Lowlight portrait

For videos the rear (standard and wide) and front selfie cameras shoot up to FHD 30 fps for video

The settings however is almost non existent. You only have the toggle for the flash/torch for both rear and selfie camera. You can not select the resolution nor the framerate.

There is no OIS or EIS so there is noticeably wobbling or jitters when taking a video while walking. The video for both are similar characteristics. Both have high detail and saturated color for all resolution but the noise is noticeable especially in low light. 

It is in video where this phone's dual lens cameras excel. The 1080p footage from both lenses are sharp with little noise in daylight conditions. In low light the images soften but it is better than most video options out there. The autofocuses is quick but jumps abruptly sometimes.

The selfie camera produces video that are softer than the main dual camera's video with noticeable magenta cast in dark areas. It also loses autofocus. It is good enough for video calls but may need some software tweaking.

Video Samples


Performance

Benchmark scores

The phone packs the improved 1.5GHz 64-bit MT6750T octa-core processor with the Mali-T860MP2 plus 4GB of RAM makes this phone perform well.

We think however, that ASUS should have kept the Snapdragon 430 from the ZenFone 4 Max because of its power and battery performance. Or any Snapdragon with quick charge compatibility for both endurance and fast charging.

Respectable overall performance!

The result is smooth minor tasks, good multitasking and good gaming performance with almost no hiccups. This isn't going to be the high quality graphics though. Which we think is acceptable as this phone is meant to be the phone that lasts you through a couple of days.


We were able to play NBA Live 2K18 with super smooth gameplay but at low settings. The graphics isn't the prettiest but it is smooth.

The handset is equipped with the latest Android 7.0 based ZenUI. We are happy with how light weight it is compared to older iterations and how minimalist it has gotten.

It is the prettiest ZenUI it has ever been!

ASUS added features that can be found in the ASUS customized settings tab in the settings menu. There are features like Twin Apps (Clones an app so you can have multiple accounts), Page Marker, Game Genie, Glove mode, Gestures, Quick Launch, and improved screenshots.
Other ZenUI features

The fingerprint scanner is fast! Not as fast as the One Plus 5T but faster than some of the competition in its price range. It is accurate too! We only had one instance where it misread my registered fingerprint.

The face unlock feature however is a mixed bag. It would accurately detect and unlock the phone with my face 3 out of 5 times. The times it failed was when we picked up the phone from our pocket and quickly held it in front of our face. Quick movements confuse it which we never found on the OnePlus 5T, Vivo V7 and the OPPO F5. Otherwise, it works when you're not in a hurry to put it in front of your face.

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. It even supports 700MHz LTE!

Pros - Pretty and solid build for phone and accessories (especially the earphones), new Zen UI is prettier and faster, audio game is stronger than the competition, 18:9 display is good, fast fingerprint sensor, 12 hours battery benchmark test, Ggreat video from dual lens cameras
Cons - thick bottom and top bezels can be good or bad, main cameras are better than the ZenFone 4 Max but still needs improvement, face unlock is inconsistent

Verdict

The ZenFone Max Plus M1 is the first of a new line of Battery Kings from ASUS. Battery life is not the best, but it is great. 

It also offers great build, stunning audio, beautiful dual lens camera videos, and acceptable gaming performance.

The images from the cameras may not be as soft as the original ZenFone 4 Max but it needs to catch up with the competition. Otherwise, the other cons can be fixed with a software update.

Thus we recommend the Max for people who want a phone under 12K with amazing audio game, beautiful design, good battery life and a 18:9 display and are willing to accept that it make take a few updates before the concerns can be addressed. (given that ASUS has one of the best track record for OTA updates)

Build / Design - 4.25
Display - 4.25
Audio - 4.5
Battery - 4.25
Camera - 3.75
Performance - 4
Average - 4.167 / 5
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