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ASUS ZenFone Max Pro M2 Review - Strong hardware, half-baked software

Huawei Nova 5T
The ASUS Zenfone Max Pro M2 aims to build upon the success of the successor earlier this year but with updated internals and stunning design!
The new ASUS ZenFone Max Pro M2!
The new ASUS ZenFone Max Pro M2!

The ZenFone Max Pro M1 was one of the best phones for under 10K. A few months later, ASUS aims to build on the M1's specs while transforming the outer appearance of the M2 to be consistent with the main line of ZenFones.

The result is the new Max Pro M2 with an underclocked Snapdragon 660, Adreno 512, 4GB RAM, 64GB ROM, the same 5,000mAh battery, and stock Android.

Will it be a hit like the previous one? Let's find out!

Disclaimer: ASUS Philippines sent us a pre-production copy of the ASUS ZenFone Max Pro M2. The experience may change once the retail unit arrives.


Unboxing/Accessories

Inside the box! In the retail version, the case and the earphones are included
Inside the box! In the retail version, the case and the earphones are included

We received a pre-production copy that did not include the earphones and the polycarbonate case.

Inside is the phone, sim ejector tool, documentation, 5V/2A charging brick and the USB Type-A to micro USB port cable.

Build Quality/Design

The back is clearly inspired from the main ZenFone series
The back is clearly inspired from the main ZenFone series

The Max Pro M2 comes with different materials compared with the Max Pro M1. It now has an all polycarbonate frame and shell instead of metal. Though the 3D glass-like back almost fooled us until it was mentioned that it wasn't glass.

Back cover is not real glass, but it is the cheapest with Gorilla Glass 6 in front

While the 3D glass-like back and frame are a bit underwhelming, the inclusion of the latest Gorilla Glass 6 panel in front is impressive. It is the probably the most affordable with Gorilla Glass 6 technology in town.
A single microphone on top
A single microphone on top
At the bottom is the 3.5mm headphone jack, microphone, microUSB port and speaker grills
Add caption
SIM card tray on the left
SIM card tray on the left
Volume rocker and power button on the right
Volume rocker and power button on the right

Design-wise, it is neat. The model we received had this tint of black that absorbs light. It looks and feels like a more premium phone with a higher priced tag.

In front, it goes with a 2.5D curved  6.3-inch 19:9 screen with a small notch to house the selfie camera and the earpiece. The bezels on the sides and top are slim, but the chin bezel is quite thick.

At the back, it has a dual-camera setup with flash and a fingerprint reader in the middle. On the top, it has the microphone only. The bottom has the 3.5mm headphone jack, micro USB port and speaker grills.

It measures at 157.9 x 75.5 x 8.5 mm which is quite small and slim for a phone with big screen and battery capacity.

The SIM card tray is on the left. The M2's SIM card tray has a dedicated slot for two SIMs and a microSD card slot.

The power button and the volume rocker are on the right side and there is just enough resistance and dampening that they give a satisfying but plastic-y feel to each press.

It is however a fingerprint magnet and a slippery surface. The curved glass-like back adds to the ease of holding the phone in one hand. It has decent heft at 170 grams.

Display Quality

The display of the ZenFone Max Pro M2's display!
The display of the ZenFone Max Pro M2's display!

The display is a 6.3-inch 2.5D curved IPS screen w/ FHD+ 2280 x 1080 resolution at 400 ppi. It gets bright enough for indoors and some outdoor situations but it may struggle when directly under the sun. The colors are vibrant and the text is sharp and readable. It is on par with most phones of 2018. 

This is a nitpick but if you look closely at the notch, you will see the curve around it isn't smooth. There is an awkward sharp turn. You will also notice a gap between the screen and the outer glass that when considering the price could be a downside for some.
There is a light sensor and a setting that allows for the phone to adapt the brightness depending on the ambient light.

It also has a "smart screen on" feature that extends the screen on time while the user is looking at the device upright. There is also a screen color option that allows you to make the colors warmer or colder.

It also has the option to turn off the notch. As expected, it has 10 points of multitouch.

Audio Quality

The Zenfone Max Pro M2 has a 5 magnet speaker at the bottom and it is one of the loudest speakers we've encountered in this price range.

Loud and great audio!

It has a decently wide range and a noticeable sound stage. The sound distorts at maximum volume and we recommend to keep it at 80 percent volume for the best sound quality where the separation is good and the notes are crisp. It is an improvement over the M1.

There is a 3.5mm headphone jack but our review unit did not come with earphones.

We tried our trusty RHA 450i on it and surprisingly the experience is great! The sound is powerful and immersive. The sound stage and separation is very distinct. The bass, mids, and trebles were strong that I felt like I was in front of a large speaker system.

Its ear speaker quality is decent. The two microphones are work while recording video but the resulting audio quality is only okay. Its muddier than we would like and the volume isn't that high.

Battery Life

An improvement over the previous model
An improvement over the previous model

Inside is the signature 5,000mAh battery and it scored 1 hour more than the previous M1 in our standard PCMark battery test. 

After a normal day of texting, calling, social media, YouTube and Spotify streaming, messenger, Waze and Grab rides, the Max was able to go through nearly twenty-seven hours of use with 22 percent left on the battery.

Still the battery king?

The 5V/2A USB wall charger can fill up the 5,000mAh battery in under 3 hours. We recommend charging your phone every now and then to top up to reduce the full charging time.

Camera

The dual rear cameras
The dual rear cameras

The Max Pro M2 uses a 12MP f/1.8 and 5MP dual rear camera set up that both support PDAF with LED Flash.

The pre-production model uses a similar barebones camera app from the M1 with minor changes.

ASUS says the retail model will come with the AI scene detection.

We got the barebones camera app from the M1 with minor improvements. There are no extra modes other than photo and video.

There are options for red-eye reduction, count down timer, anti-banding and face detection.

It has no manual or pro mode though.

Camera badly needs improvement

The rear camera setup produces images with soft images with okay contrast. The colors are less vibrant than we like. It is an improvement over the M1 but it will fall short with competition.

Supposedly, the f/1.8 aperture lens will produce better images in low light. However, images in low light are still lacking in details, colors, and dynamics range.

Rear Camera Samples

Daylight rear camera
Daylight rear camera
Indoor rear camera
Indoor rear camera
Indoor rear camera with Ciara of TeknoGadyet
Indoor rear camera with Ciara of TeknoGadyet
Bokeh
Bokeh
Indoor close-up
Indoor close-up
Low light rear camera 1 with Kim of Yugatech
Low light rear camera 1 with Kim of Yugatech
Low light rear camera 2
Low light rear camera 2

The selfie camera is a 13MP f/2.0 shooter with barebones options as well. It does add a portrait/bokeh effect with decent edge detection. There is also a beauty mode that allows for softening and whitening of skin.

The images that come out of the selfie camera have decent sharpness but the contrast and the colors are lacking. The colors never feel right or accurate. 

The pre-production software of the app had a bug that didn't allow for me to turn off the bokeh effect so most of our samples have bokeh effect.

It is clear that the software needs improvement in both the selfie and rear cameras.

Selfie Camera Samples

Daylight selfie
Daylight selfie
Indoor selfie
Indoor selfie
low light selfie
low light selfie

In video, the Max Pro M2 can shoot up to 4k 30fps without stabilization. 1080p 30fps has stabilization though it doesn't say if its OIS or EIS. There is no option to choose the frame rate as well.

The camera app allows for up to 10 minute max recording time for each video. It has options for white balance and image stabilization. There is also an option to use the built in LED flash and to mute audio while recording.


Video Samples


Performance

An underclocked Snapdragon 660 produces these result
An underclocked Snapdragon 660 produces these result

Like the M1 before it, the Max Pro M2 uses stock Android 8.1 with the underclocked 1.95GHz 64-bit Snapdragon 660 AIE octa-core processor, Adreno 512, 4GB RAM and 64GB ROM.

If we compare in AnTuTu the previous M1 scored 112K while the M2 scored 127K.

Strong benchmark scores, but actual performance is a bit laggy due to its software

We received a Max Pro M2 model with pre-production software and it shows. We experienced lag from our touch inputs and from using day to day apps. It is clear that the software needs some work because Snapdragon 660 AIE worked really well with other phones equipped with it.


We were able to play NBA 2K19 with the same delayed touch input responses but it plays well good like the M1. There isn't a great difference though.

The phone did become slightly warmer after more than 30 minutes of play. It didn't get any hotter after that.
No bloatwares
No bloatwares

It runs on the Android 8.1 Oreo with no bloatware. It is barebones which makes me wonder why we were experience the aforementioned lag.

It features a fingerprint scanner and a face unlock feature. Setting-up is easy and straightforward. Once set-up we never had a misread in both the fingerprint sensor and the face unlock.

It worked right out of the box and was quick and responsive. Our only concern with the face unlock is that it had a minimum distance from the face to work which is understandable. Otherwise, the implementation is good here.

The telephony experience is good. The GSM, and LTE signal has been consistently good. WiFi, Bluetooth, and GPS work well and reliably. There is an LED notification light. It supports OTG and it has dedicated slots for two sim cards and a microSD card.

Pros - Pretty design, Gorilla Glass 6, great battery, surprisingly good speaker and earphone experience, pretty design
Cons - Plasticky frame, pre-production software has caused laggy experience, stills and video performance could be improved, charging time takes under three hours

ASUS ZenFone Max Pro M2 (ZB631KL) Specs

Display: 6.3-inch 2.5D curved Gorilla Glass 6 protected IPS screen w/ FHD+ 2280 x 1080 resolution at 400 ppi
CPU: 1.95GHz 64-bit Snapdragon 660 AIE octa-core processor
GPU: Adreno 512
RAM: 4GB/6GB
ROM: 64GB expandable via microSD card slot (dedicated)
Back Camera: 12MP f/1.8 Sony IMX486 sensor + 5MP w/ PDAF and LED flash
Selfie Camera: 13MP f/2.0
Battery: 5,000mAh
OS: Android 8.1 Oreo
Connectivity: WiFi 802.11b/g/n, 700MHz 4G LTE, Bluetooth 5.0, FM Radio, OTG, NFC, GPS, A-GPS, GLONASS, BDS, dual SIM
Sensors: Accelerometer, light, orientation, proximity, gyroscope, sound, magnetic
Others: Fingerprint sensor, face unlock, NXP Smart AMP, Colors: midnight blue, cosmic titanium color
Dimensions: 157.9 x 75.5 x 8.5 mm
Weight: 170 g
Price: PHP 12,995 (4GB RAM), PHP 14,995 (6GB RAM)

Verdict

On paper, it looked great. The ZenFone Max Pro M2 improves upon the M1.

It is one of the few with this design, Gorilla Glass 6 protection, and Snapdragon 660 AIE chip for the price.

It also retained the great battery life with significantly better audio experience. Few phones gave us the audio experience this phone gave in its price range.

However, it falls short in actual performance. It is not as polished as other smartphones with stock Android. The camera performance needs improvement as well.

It may fall short with the competition. 

Hopefully, ASUS can fix these issues as soon as possible.

Build/Design - 4
Display - 4
Audio - 4.5
Battery - 4.5
Camera - 3
Performance - 3.75

Average - 3.95/5
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