24 Hours in Hong Kong & Macau: Zenfone 3 vs Zenfone 3 Max 5.5

How much difference does $200 make?

While I love taking photos while traveling, soaking up the experience will always be my top priority.

I’m fine with quick snapshots knowing I can always go back and post-process my photos later. When you’re traveling, you don’t have the time to fiddle with manual controls, so when it comes down to it, shooting on auto is a compromise worth making.

For me a good smartphone is one that can quickly churn out photos that barely need any tweaking. This especially rings true when you’re on a holiday in one of the most fast-paced cities in the world: Hong Kong.

On a recent trip to Asia’s World City, I brought along both the ASUS Zenfone 3 and Zenfone 3 Max 5.5, to see how much the $200 premium of the former makes.

Morning walk in Tsim Sha Tsui

There are several hotel options for any budget in Tsim Sha Tsui, making it the perfect place to stay. If shopping is your thing, you will want to set aside plenty of time for perusing the numerous shops and malls the area has on offer.

Right from the start of the trip, it was clear that the Zenfone 3 produced more balanced highlights and shadows compared to the Max; see how bright the light hits the top of the bus on the right. The sky is almost washed out on the photo taken with the Max, although the clouds are barely visible in the Zenfone 3 photo, as well.

Avenue of Stars is one of Hong Kong’s must visits. It was under renovation during our visit, so we had to settle for this view a few meters away from the usual photo spot. The Max’s photo seems to have undergone VSCO editing with its natural greenish tint, but really it has #nofilter.

Zenfone 3 photos are generally brighter and much more balanced overall, but the way the Max processes the greens and blues is probably how I would want my photos to look like on Instagram. I like how rich the blues are, and the deeper contrast makes for a little dramatic effect.

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Ferry ride to Causeway Bay

By lunch time, we were hungry. For a change of scenery (or more scenery), we opted to take a quick (and cheap) ferry ride to Causeway Bay instead of the MTR. The Zenfone 3’s dynamic range is the star in this photo; you can even see the skyline!

While the Zenfone 3’s colors are more accurate, it needs to be pointed out that the letters HKT on the ferris wheel are legible in the Max photo, while it’s barely there in the photo shot with the Zenfone 3.

Macau street art

We took another ferry ride, although a much longer one to the autonomous region of Macau. While the city is famous for casinos, Portugese egg tarts, and to a certain extent, replicas of European landmarks, there’s a lot more to the discover in the place.

We took an afternoon stroll along the busy streets of San Malo, going from shop to shop to try every possible food sample. One turn and we found this esquina of Instagram-worthy street art.

The yellow-green tint produced by the Zenfone 3 Max is visible in these comparison photos from Macau.

Focusing was also difficult for the Max, even if these were taken in broad daylight.

The Zenfone 3 also captured more detail compared to the Zenfone 3 Max. You can clearly see the depth of the dents on the concrete in this mural.

What’s a trip to Macau without a visit to the Ruins of St. Paul’s? Fair warning: No matter how long you wait, your Instagram will have to settle for a shot with the thick crowd, or you can get creative and frame it another way.

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Celebrity sightings at Victoria Peak

After sunset, we decided to head back to Hong Kong and take the tram up to the famed Victoria Peak. I tried to take photos of the view from 500 meters up using the two Zenfones, but it was too cold and windy. Wax museum Madame Tussauds was just a few floors below though, so I didn’t let this chance pass to get closer to famous people and characters.

Check out how on fleek those eyebrows are on the left! The Zenfone 3 did a great job capturing the details, while the Max seemingly gave Holly Golightly unwanted jaundice.

Yayoi Kusama’s exhibit-slash-wax-figure was actually closed to the public, but I managed to sneak a photo of the renowned artist from the exit. The difference in the photos is negligible, but this is where I had the hardest time focusing on the Max. All photos except this one had Yayoi’s face blurred out. The Zenfone 3, meanwhile, gave me a lot of good options with minimum effort on my part.

Lady Gaga’s poker face aside, I like the way the colors turned out more on the Zenfone 3. While I tend to up the contrast when editing my Instagram photos, I’m not a fan of how pink my face looks on the Max selfie. I was NOT born that way.

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Last stop: Mongkok

With its neon signs that light the streets, the smell of street food cooking from three feet away, the bustling crowd of tourists and locals alike, endless shopping options, Mongkok is probably the best place to go to for that authentic Hong Kong experience when you’re pressed for time.

The Zenfone 3 captures the red tiles of Mongkok station nicely while the Max’s yellowish greenish tint is quite prominent.

What’s a Mongkok experience when you can’t capture those neon Chinese signs the way they appear in real life? The Zenfone 3’s dynamic range makes a world of difference in these photos. In the Max’s case, the crowd is already too dark, and the signs don’t look very sharp because the lights are a bit washed out.

Verdict

The Zenfone 3 has a clear advantage over the Max. It’s faster, consistent, more reliable, has better dynamic range, and takes good photos you wouldn’t mind showing off online, even if it’s on auto mode. The photos that came out of the Zenfone 3 Max had a yellowish greenish tint making colors evidently inaccurate.

Although I wasn’t able to show it here, it took more tries for the Zenfone 3 Max to focus properly even when there was ample light on my subject. Its camera also launches much slower, so I actually missed a lot of great photo opportunities for the comparison.

While for its price it takes good photos — and in certain scenarios, even better than the Zenfone 3 — the Zenfone 3 Max 5.5 is built for people with a lot of patience and not a lot of cash to burn.

In several instances, it felt like the Max took forever to launch and took too long to focus, just to get decent shots worth comparing to the Zenfone 3. Although that shouldn’t really be a problem if you’re not in a hurry, I personally wouldn’t choose to use it on my next trip even if I had two weeks to explore a city.


24 Hours is a series on GadgetMatch.com where we showcase our travels through a smartphone camera’s perspective. It’s also a documented guide on things to see and do in a city in case you happen to plan a trip there.

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