The ZenFone 4 Max is the entry-level phone in ASUS' huge ZenFone 4 lineup and, like its name suggests, emphasizes battery life over everything else thanks to a huge 4,100mAh battery. Unusual for this price range, the phone also boasts a dual rear-camera setup, but is that enough to separate it from the deluge of other entry-level smartphones out there? Let's find out.
N.B. It's worth pointing out that in most other regions, the ZenFone 4 Max comes with a 5.5-inch display, and a 5,000mAh battery, but in Singapore that variant is called the ZenFone 4 Max Pro.
|ASUS ZenFone 4 Max|
The ZenFone 4 Max has a safe but forgettable generic design. From the front, its huge bezels, rectangular fingerprint scanner and mirrored capacitive navigation keys make it pretty much indistinguishable from any other entry-level phone from the past five years.
Speaking of that fingerprint scanner, unlike pretty much every other phone out there, pressing the home button won't wake the phone, you need to press the side power button to turn it on first, then scan your fingerprint to unlock it. On the plus side, the fingerprint scanner itself is fairly fast and seems accurate enough.
Turn the phone over and things aren't much better. My review unit is a Deepsea Black color, which is probably the most interesting thing about the phone - it's actually a very dark indigo blue. ASUS describes the phone's build as a 'premium metallic finish', which is just a nice way of saying it's plastic, and there's nothing premium about plastic. The plastic build is a real disappointment, especially when last year's ZenFone 3 Max had an aluminum build. If you want actual metal and not just 'metallic' this time around, you'll have to top up S$100 for the ZenFone 4 Max Pro.
The dual rear camera setup is positioned at the top left corner and sits almost flush with the back of the phone. Before you congratulate ASUS for getting that rear camera to sit flush, it's worth pointing out that the phone itself is quite thick. At 8.7mm, it's one of the fatter phones out there and, for an entirely plastic phone, it's also quite heavy, coming in at 156g.
Both the power button and volume rocker can be found on the right side. The buttons have ASUS' signature concentric circle design on them, and they're actually surprisingly firm, with a satisfying click.
There's a 3.5mm headphone jack on the top of the phone, and a micro-USB port at the bottom. There are speaker grilles on either side of the micro-USB port, but sound only comes out of the right port - the left one is purely decorational.
Overall, the ZenFone 4 Max doesn't look bad, but its thick, hefty plastic build, generic design, massive bezels, and outdated micro-USB port all make it look and feel like a much older phone.
The ZenFone 4 Max has a 5.2-inch 1,280 x 720 pixels resolution (~282ppi) IPS LCD display. With many entry-level phones now coming with Full HD panels, the HD resolution on the 4 Max doesn't really cut it, especially with a screen of this size. UI elements are noticeably jagged around the edges, and the low resolution is especially obvious when reading text. This will likely be worse on the Max Pro edition which also sports a 720p resolution for its larger 5.5-inch screen.
The display itself is also a little dim, with a noticeably blue tint. Colors look washed-out and contrast is also quite poor. Viewing angles are also bad, and there's a pretty bad color shift when looking at the screen off angle.
Audio from the ZenFone 4 Max comes from the single downward firing speaker at the bottom of the phone. As mentioned above only the right speaker is functional - the left one doesn't do anything. The speaker is reasonably loud at max volume, but there's noticeable distortion and a complete lack of bass. Sound quality actually isn't bad at lower volume levels but I would still use the headphone jack for any serious listening.
The ZenFone 4 Max is running on Android 7.1.1 Nougat with ASUS' ZenUI skin on top.
ZenUI is a pretty big departure from stock Android and seems to complicate a lot of things unnecessarily. It actually reminds me of Samsung's old TouchWiz UI. The notifications shade for example is a mess of icons - the default shade actually has two pages of them (you have to swipe right to see them all). You can manually edit it to show only what you want but it's annoying that you have to do so.
The UI is frustratingly inconsistent too - font sizes change in different menus for no reason, some icons are massive and round, others are square with rounded corners, and ASUS has moved quite a few settings around so they don't always appear where you expect them to be.
Finally, it's worth pointing out that the phone doesn't support 802.11ac Wi-Fi, which means you're stuck with b/g/n bands. The phone also lacks NFC connectivity, so you won't be able to use it with most mobile payment services.