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Asus Zenfone Max Pro (M1) Review: Less Is More

I love stock Android. I love phones with big battery too (who doesn’t?) Based on these two criteria alone, the Asus Zenfone Max Pro (M1) already seems like a phone that I would use as my main daily driver. Oh and let’s not forget the price too. At a starting price of RM699 to RM999, the phone has huge appeal and potential.

Long being the bane of their smartphone lineup, ZenUI is not exactly the fastest nor the prettiest mobile operating system out there. The chief criticism has always been the excessive bloatware no thanks to the dozens of unnecessary apps. With stock Android, Asus flipped their own malaise on its head to offer a simple, fast and no-frills experience that happens to be what many people have been asking for.

The Android experience on the Zenfone Max Pro (M1) is what you have come to expect of pure Android. Its unadulterated and minimalistic at its best. Swipe up to bring up the app drawer, swipe left to access Google Now and long press on the home button to launch Google Assistant, motions that are instantly familiar to stock Android purist. You will also find that most of the  preloaded apps are Google native apps – from essentials like Clock, Calendar, Messages to services apps like Google Photos, Google Duo, Google Drive and the likes.

Stock Android would also mean that the Zenfone Max Pro (M1) is positioned to receive major software updates in the soonest time possible, avoiding the pitfall befalling many an Android phone with third-party skin integration.

Even so Asus has managed to sneak in some of their apps but they are not too bad as 1) they are kept to the minimum with only three apps and 2) they are actually useful apps like a calculator, sound recorder and FM Radio – not exactly bloatware material. I also like the fact that Asus has included their ZenMotion gesture features in the operating system, which allows for, among others, the ability to wake and turn off the screen by double-tapping on the surface – a very handy feature for a pretty large device to navigate around on hand. There’a also a face unlock feature that I’m not too sure will be more useful than the fingerprint sensor in everyday usage but it’s nice to have it nonetheless.

Now onto the device itself. The Zenfone Max Pro (M1) is unapologetically a midrange smartphone and for the most part it feels like a phone stuck in the better part of 2017 and 2016 – An overall uninspiring design, a “slightly outdated” metal back instead of glass, no bezel-less notch display and the use of microUSB instead of USB Type-C. Alas, on the good part, the headphone jack is kept alive.

It is also a decent multimedia device. A big, bright 18:9 screen that is good for browsing, video-watching and game-playing with a reasonably-loud single unit speaker. As much as 6GB RAM and Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 make for a good gaming performance combo. Mobile games like PUBG Mobile, Free Fire and Asphalt 8: Airborne hold up pretty well. Still, gaming is only as good as it lasts and there is no question that the Zenfone Max Pro (M1) will be able to provide the mileage for long gaming marathon sessions with its 5,000mAh large battery.

I was immensely impressed with the battery performance of the Zenfone 3 Zoom (5,000mAh) when I had the chance to review it and I had no doubt that the Zenfone Max Pro (M1) will be as good, if not better. I consistently get more than a day’s worth of battery usage during my week-long time spent on it. Its a shame that the phone doesn’t have any fast charging technology to make it a truly remarkable package as a whole.

Like many Android phones today, Zenfone Max Pro (M1) packs dual lens camera at the back. The overall impression of the camera is one of okay-ish, nothing great. For obvious reasons, it is not as featured-packed as the higher-up Zenfone models and on paper it is already left behind in the race among Android phones to shoehorn as many AI features as possible into their cameras. Interestingly though, Asus does include a portrait mode so users will not be missed out on the bokeh craze, which is what the secondary camera is for.

Despite the rather lack of features compared to what is available today in smartphone camera, the Zenfone Max Pro (M1) does allow users some degree of control with the ability to tweak the ISO, exposure level, white balance, white balance and red eye reduction – short of a full “Pro” mode. For selfies, there’s a pretty standard beautify feature that offers three levels of beautification – low, mid and high, together with custom skin softening and whitening tweaks.

Take a look at some of the photos snapped with the Zenfone Max Pro (M1).

It is probably easier to point out what the Zenfone Max Pro (M1) lacks than what it has to offer and for that reason it is easy to nitpick. The phone could be so much better had it had things like USB Type-C, fast charging and a stereo speaker for a better gaming experience, just to name a few. What it does have, however, are the two things that matter more to the everyday smartphone users which will shape their user experience in a big way. At sub RM1,000 pricing, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better-priced phone that offers the latest pure Android experience and a much longer-lasting battery than some of the best flagship phones out there.

This is no doubt the most powerful smartphone for its price. It also serves as the perfect entry point for those who wanted to try untainted Android but who found the Google Pixel line to be a tad too steep for their wallets. The Zenfone Max Pro (M1) drives the point that sometimes we don’t need all the flashy features to make a good phone. Sometimes all we need at the end of the day is a reliable phone – a phone that has a proven software that does not fail us, a phone that lasts the distance so it can keep up with us from day to night as we go about our daily routines uninterrupted. In this case, less is definitely more.

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