The big battery formula is working well for budget smartphone manufacturers in India. Battery capacity excesses are certainly reassuring and are something which high-end smartphones can’t quite match, for they are designed to be slick and premium and consequently have very little room to spare.

So, what about the midrange segment? Judging by the demand in the budget price range, there ought to be consumers looking for mid-range options with hulking batteries. Moving forward with the same train of thought, Asus raises the ceiling for its Max series and tunes it for a higher price, in line with the offline market dynamics.

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The result is a slimmer, sexier Zenfone 3 Max (ZC553KL), that also promises to wipe out all your battery woes. But does it deliver? Let’s find out.

Asus Zenfone 3 Max ZC553KL Specs and Features

Model Asus Zenfone Max ZC553KL (5.5-Inch)
Display 5.5-inch, Full HD, IPS LCD display
Processor 1.4GHz octa-core Snapdragon 430, Adreno 505 GPU
RAM 3GB
Internal Storage 32GB (23GB Available), Expandable up to 128GB
Software Android 6.0 Marshmallow based ZenUI
Primary Camera 16MP sensor, dual-tone LED Flash, Laser AF, PDAF, contrast AF, 3-axis EIS
Secondary Camera 8MP
Battery 4100mAh
Others 4G VoLTE, Fingerprint reader, Hybrid Dual SIM
Sensors Gyroscope (supports VR), Magnetometer, Linear acceleration, rotation vector, orientation, Gravity, pedometer, ambient light, proximity
Price 17,999 INR

Design and Display

The Zenfone 3 Max (ZC553KL) design takes after the recently launched Zenfone 3 laser. Save for the difference in the shape of the rear-mounted fingerprint reader, both phones are nearly identical in appearance.

There is 2.5D Gorilla glass on the front, a metal back plate that folds to form side edges, and plastic strips on top and bottom extending to form the curved top and bottom edges. Asus has got the ergonomics right, and the new Max feels very comfortable to handle in spite of its large display size. It looks cool too.

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Since I am accustomed to back key being on the right, I kept inadvertently taping on the Recent Apps button in the dark. It would have helped if the capacitive navigation buttons were backlit.

There is a 5.5-inch Full HD panel that’s crisp and can get bright enough to be suitably legible under direct sun, even though the touch glass is a bit reflective.

Another positive is that Asus has provided with an oleophobic coating on the touch glass, so you won’t be wiping it off very often. That is, if for some reason you decide to live on the edge without a display protector installed on it.

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The display isn’t adhering to sRGB gamut but it doesn’t have ghastly blue tones dominating the hue either. you can toggle blue light filter on from the quick-settings panel if you prefer something that’s light on your eyes. We are quite satisfied with the colors and contrast on the Zenfone 3 Max (ZC553KL) display panel.

A major peeve point is the erratic Auto brightness. When it’s turned on, the Zenfone 3 Max (ZC553KL) relentlessly keeps shuffling between brightness levels which is irritating. Needless to say, we ended up turning it off for good.

Performance and Software

The new Asus Zenfone 3 Max (ZC553KL) is powered by Snapdragon 430 octa-core processor, a decidedly entry-level chip unmatched to the asking price. Day-to-day performance is noticeably slower than what we experienced on phones running, say, Snapdragon 652 and Snapdragon 820, which are also available in the same price bracket. Apps take their sweet time loading and the phone sometimes stutters during prolonged gaming sessions.

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Having said that, the chipset is quite power efficient. Performance might not be the forte of Zenfone 3 Max (ZC553KL), but it should still suffice for people with basic and moderate needs who aren’t particularly interested in gaming. It isn’t that the Zenfone 3 Max (ZC553KL) is completely terrible at playing games either. In fact, we could play Asphalt 8, Leo’s fortune, OverKill and Nova 3 quite conveniently without temperature touching 40-degree celsius. Games take their time loading, but once you are past that they are very playable. It is just that there are faster gaming options available in the same budget.

As for the software, if you have used an Asus phone before, you know what you are getting into. The ZenUI still feels cluttered. If you give it a try, you will find a rich set of customization options which can help you tune it to your specific needs. For instance, setting the grid size to 5x 5 and sorting apps in order of frequently used makes our life simpler.

The quick-settings panel desperately needs a makeover, though. Those circular icons feel confusing and there is a moments’ hesitation before you locate the one you were looking for.

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If you are a user who likes to constantly dig into the phone software and customize stuff, you will love the Zen UI that has a lot to keep you engaged. If you like to keep things simple and efficient, the Zen UI will take some getting used to. And you can always install a custom third party launcher.

Camera Performance

The Asus Zenfone 3 Max (ZC553KL) uses a 16MP rear camera which captures 12MP 16:9 aspect ratio images by default, and full 4:3 16MP images. There is no OIS. And you can record up to 1080p videos.

The performance is nowhere close to Zenfone 3‘s camera, but again compared to other phones selling under 20,000 INR, there isn’t much reason to complain.

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The tri-tech focus works and the camera can lock focus in no time. But that’s only in good outdoor lighting. In low lighting, the camera consistency deteriorates.

The Auto mode works reasonably well, but sometimes gets confused with white balance in tricky lighting. The camera app seems to be over sharpening images resulting in loss of details, evident when you zoom in.

The Manual mode offers granular controls and comes in handy at times, but it feels a bit choppy.

Asus has provided a handful of modes in the camera app which you would rarely use, save for HDR. HDR mode can recover highlights and salvage quite a few shots but is hardly a cure-all. Let’s check some camera samples.

Asus Zenfone 3 Max (ZC553KL) Camera Samples

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All in all, an average camera that keeps surprising you with great shots time and again.

Battery, Call Quality And Others

If you are reading this review and have made thus far, we are sure never to worry about loosing charge ranks high on your priority list. The Zenfone 3 Max (ZC553KL) comes with a relatively smaller (compared to other Max’s) 4100mAh battery, but yes the backup is just as advertised.

With moderate to heavy usage in performance mode, you can easily last for 2 days. Which is more than what you can expect from any other phone in this budget. The battery takes about 2 hours to charge when you are using the bundled 10W charger.

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For additional backup, you could always resort to Normal Mode or Power Saver mode in critical times or on days you know you won’t have access to a charging point.

Call quality on our review unit it excellent. Alas, the handset doesn’t support 4G VoLte as of now. This is something which can be rectified via an OTA update.

The fingerprint sensor is reasonably fast and accurate. You can also double tap it to fire camera app (once the phone is unlocked, so 3 taps in total).

The mono loudspeaker present on the bottom does the job, but yes there is a big room for improvement here. The outdoor mode further boosts to offset the ambient noise. The phone supports USB OTG and reverse charging (which isn’t something we need or aspire for. And its slow).

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Should you buy it?

I can understand that Asus will receive a lot of flak for using the Snapdragon 430 at a price point of 17,999 INR, but that shouldn’t be the reason to write off the handset. Performance isn’t stellar but it’s just fine.

All smartphones under 20,000 INR today come with grave compromises, and the Zenfone 3 Max (ZC553KL) has its own. However, the overall experience it offers is good enough to justify its existence.

If you value a long lasting battery above all else, are looking for a phone that feels premium and that gets the basics right, are not a heavy gamer or if you will be buying from offline stores, the handset is worth considering.

Price and Availability: The Zenfone 3 Max (ZC553KL) will be available by the end of this month for 17,999 INR. A low-end model with a smaller 5.5-inch display is selling right now, but that one makes several compromises.

Also Read: The Two Asus Zenfone 3 Max Variants And Choice Between Them

Pros

  • Runs cool
  • Good Design and Build
  • Excellent battery backup

Cons

  • No VoLTE
  • Hybrid SIM slot
  • Capacitive Keys are not backlit

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