ASUS has, once again, released a swarm of ZenFones with a variety of configurations. Having choices is great and all, but the question on everyone’s mind is: Which model is the best bang for one’s buck? If we had to pick one, it would likely be the ZenFone 4 Max.

Quick to jump the gun? Hardly. If you look at both the design and specifications, you’d notice a striking resemblance to the highly praised ZenFone 3 Zoom, except the ZenFone 4 Max is a lot cheaper.

Let’s take a look:

The 5.5-inch LCD is nothing out of the ordinary 

Its 1280 x 720-pixel resolution isn’t that sharp

Yes, the home button houses the fingerprint sensor

I prefer this over the rear-mounted scanner of the ZenFone 3 series

Its all-metal back adds durability to the heft

The design is really clean until you get your fingerprints on it

A hint of blue along the metal bands adds a nice touch

Notice how the otherwise dark color glistens when seen up close

Here we have a pair of 13-megapixel cameras with their solo LED flash

Camera hump is minimal and doesn’t make the phone wobble much on a table

Good news: There’s a 3.5mm audio port

This is slowly becoming a rarity in newer phones

Bad news: You have to settle for an older micro-USB port and single speaker

USB-C would’ve been a lot more convenient, and only one of two speaker grilles actually functions

Best news: We get a triple-card tray!

Having two nano-SIM cards and a microSD card at the same time is possible

So, how well does it perform?

Let’s get this out of the way: The ZenFone 4 Max is still stuck on the cartoonish ZenUI even though it already has Android 7.1 Nougat. It’s not too surprising since the Nougat-equipped ZenFone AR, which launched just recently, has the exact same interface. Still, this being the fourth generation, I was hoping to see something fresh after the same old design over and over and over again.

The silver lining here is that the rest of the ZenFone 4 lineup is already on the newer version of ZenUI, which is significantly better with space management and looks a lot more professional. It also has far less bloatware, to the delight of… everyone. We can only hope that ASUS will roll this cleaner version to ZenFone 4 Max users in the near future.

Otherwise, the Snapdragon 430 in use is good enough for scrolling through the heavily skinned interface. You can also get by with the 32GB of storage since there’s a microSD slot ready for additional space, but the 3GB of memory might hold you back. Apps running in the background close soon after you open heavier software, especially the likes of Facebook and graphics-intensive games.

Speaking of which, the ZenFone 4 Max isn’t designed for gaming. After numerous sessions of NBA 2K17 and Asphalt Xtreme, I had to accept that even medium visual settings is too much for the phone to handle. While low settings are fine, you can definitely see the jaggies on the 5.5-inch display’s 720p resolution and low pixel density.

Does it take nice pictures?

It’s about time we talk about the dual-cam setup. What exactly does the second lens do? Unlike the ZenFone 3 Zoom which closes in on subjects, the ZenFone 4 Max can go wider, similar to the LG G6. This is great for photographing architecture, landscapes, and large groups of people.

The results for each rear camera are different, though; if you look closely, the wider lens provides brighter photos with more pop to their colors. In contrast, the supposed main camera doesn’t absorb as much light into the image sensor, producing slightly darker images with inaccurate white balance.

Take a look at some of our best shots:

And here are more direct comparisons with the wider, 120-degree secondary camera:

 

When the conditions are right, the pictures are golden. When you challenge the cameras, it gets noisy. But that’s to be expected; we’re looking at a US$ 200 phone that prioritizes battery life over camera performance. In fact, we should be grateful to even have a double shooter at this price point. Plus, ASUS’ signature BeautyLive mode is back for smoother selfies, so it helps hide both your flaws and the camera’s.

Interestingly, ASUS decided to include an LED flash for the front-facing camera, just like on the ZenFone 4 Selfie pair. I found it a little too harsh and ended up leaving it turned off for the most part, but it’s nice to have in the worst of lighting situations.

Can it last more than a day?

Asking this question is an understatement. The ZenFone 3 Max (both the 5.2- and 5.5-inch variants) did fantastic with their 4100mAh battery capacities, lasting up to two days if you moderate your wireless connections and background apps. The ZenFone 4 Max’s 5000mAh is a guaranteed upgrade.

Like the original ZenFone Max which also had a large 5000mAh battery, the ZenFone 4 Max can reach up to two full days of usage and then some. You can even go as far as using this handset as a powerbank to charge other smartphones. ASUS includes a micro-USB to full-sized USB adapter in the package, so any modern-day device can connect to it.

While that’s all well and good, one major drawback is the lengthy charging time. It can take over three hours to charge the ZenFone 4 Max from zero to full, and that’s with the phone turned off for the whole duration. I’d say that’s a fair trade-off for all the juice you get in one go.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

The 5.5-inch ZenFone 3 Max was a solid phone in itself; its successor does everything better and more.

This is the phone you’d want for a long weekend up in the mountains with no electric socket to plug into. Not only will the battery endurance keep you happy till you get home, you’ll also have perfect framing for landscape shots using the wide-angle lens of the rear cameras.

Its weaknesses are mostly negligible: The screen isn’t that sharp for its size; its older micro-USB standard is so 2016; and the interface is still stuck on the bloated iteration of ZenUI. Fortunately, that last one can be resolved with a software update.

For its surprisingly complete feature set, it’s amazing how the ZenFone 4 Max is the most affordable of the fourth-gen ZenFones. While pricing hasn’t been finalized yet — and it’s highly dependent on where you reside — a price not exceeding US$ 200 would make this an incredibly attractive deal. [Update: It retails for only PhP 9,995 in the Philippines, which is US$ 200 when converted.]

Unless you’re an absolute camera whore and must have higher-quality selfies, I’d definitely choose this over the next-cheapest model, the ZenFone 4 Selfie. Going up the ranks, you could opt for the plain ZenFone 4; then again, you would lose out on the massive battery and front-firing LED flash, both of which are remarkable on a smartphone this friendly to one’s budget.

SEE ALSO: ASUS ZenFone 4 launches with Pro, Selfie, and Max models

SEE ALSO
ASUS ZenFone 4 launches with Pro, Selfie, and Max models