Asus has had something of a mixed ride in India, where it enjoyed earlier success before being overtaken by rivals such as Xiaomi and Oppo. Last year, the company returned with the ZenFone Max Pro M1, a solid handset that was something of a minor success.
Just a few months later, Asus thinks it can do better with the ZenFone Max Pro M2, a device that retains the huge battery, impressive performance, affordability, and stock Android experience of the first model. However, can the Max Pro M2 build on those positives and make a truly noteworthy smartphone?
Asus has managed to build on the qualities of the Max Pro M1 with a modern design, beefier CPU, and some improvements to the camera. That said, the ZenFone Max Pro M2 faces a market where competition in the budget-mid price range has increased rapidly.
So, while the ZenFone Max Pro M2 betters the original version and on paper looks an excellent device, it needs to do a lot to stand toe-to-toe with other smartphones from the likes of Samsung, Huawei, and Xiaomi.
Asus ZenFone Max Pro M2 Specs
- Device: Aluminum frame, plastic backplate, Corning Gorilla Glass 6 screen protection
- Display: 6.26-inch, 2280×1080, 19:9 IPS LCD, selfie camera notch
- Chip: Qualcomm Snapdragon 660, 4x 2.2 GHz Kryo 260 Gold + 4x 1.8GHz Kryo Silver CPU, Adreno 512 GPU
- Memory: ¾/6GB LPDDR4X RAM, 32/64GB storage, microSD support up to 2TB
- Rear Camera: 12MP Sony IMX486, f1.8, 4K30 video with EIS, a single LED flash, 5MP depth sensor
- Front Camera: 13MP, f2.0, LED flash, 1080p30 video
- Battery: 5000mAh, 10W charging
- Connectivity: Dual SIM, dual VoLTE, Wi-Fi 802.11n 2.4GHz, Bluetooth 5.0, microUSB, GPS/GLONASS/BDS/BeiDou/QZSS
- Operating system: Stock Android 9.1 Oreo
- Other: a Fingerprint sensor, face authentication, FM radio
Asus launched the ZenFone Max Pro M2 just eight months after it rolled out the original, which is surely annoying to people who bought the M1. However, there are some notable changes in the design of the device, and this is one area where Asus seems to have made a compromise.
At first glance, the M2 looks almost nothing like the M1. The original model boasted an all-aluminum body, including the back panel of the smartphone. This time, Asus has retained the aluminum frame, but decided to craft the backplate from plastic. That feels like a compromise, but at the same time the plastic still makes the ZenFone Max Pro M2 look and feel premium.
Big changes have also happened around the front, where the M2 has adopted a notch display and removed the thick top bezel from the M1. Yes, the notch is a love it/hate it design element, but what it does here is allow the edge-to-edge screen to look more expansive across the front of the ZenFone Max Pro M2. Sadly, Asus has decided to keep the thick bottom bezel, which breaks the bezel-less illusion of the device a little bit.
The Asus ZenFone Max Pro M2 is a large device, which is all down to its 6.26-inch display. This screen fits into its price point well with a 2280 x 1080 Full HD resolution. With a 19.9 aspect ratio, the IPS LCD panel delivers 1500:1 contrast ratio, 450 nits of brightness, and a 94% color gamut.
Color performance is obviously important, and we think the 1080p display on the M2 is a little weak in reproducing colors accurately. Everything just seems too cold, which is obviously more problematic on colors such as blues and greens. It is worth noting Asus lets you head into settings and adjust the color temperature, but we found the tool does not really do a lot to change the blueish tint on the screen.
If that was the only issue with the display then we could live with it, but it isn’t. Asus has decided to feature a permanently enabled backlight (dynamic contrast), which dims the screen for dark content and increases brightness for light content. Essentially, you are removed from choosing the screen experience you want because this feature is a default and cannot be turned off.
Why is this a problem? Well imagine looking at a something dark on the screen with the panel dimmed through dynamic contrast. However, you need to pull down the notification bar for a second. The bar is light, so the screen automatically adjusts to being brighter for the split-second you have the notification bar down. The result is the screen is constantly moving between darker and lighter hues and it is frankly annoying.
This is especially evident when watching video, with constant dimness changes happening all the time. We can’t believe Asus has included this feature without an option to turn it off, but luckily a simple software update down the line should be able to solve this problem.
Performance is where the ZenFone Max Pro M1 was really allowed to shine, and if anything, the M2 improves on its predecessor. Asus has used Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 660 CPU paired with 3GB of RAM for the 32GB storage model and 4GB or 6GB RAM for the 64GB storage model.
Yes, that’s all standard mid-range stuff, but Asus has optimized the hardware for some truly impressive performance. Let’s not forget the device is also available in India for less than Rs 10,000, making it one of the most powerful smartphones in its class.
Part of the reason why the Asus ZenFone Max Pro M2 is such a capable handset is because it runs Stock Android (9.1 Oreo). As you know, Google’s platform typically runs smoother in its stock form because it has not been weighed down with software enhancements from OEMs. Sure, Asus has added some apps, but the bloatware here is at a minimum and the device is better for it.
Apps open quickly and switching between tasks is smooth and rapid. In terms of everyday performance, the ZenFone Max Pro M2 will probably be all the phone you ever need. So, how does it deal with more intensive tasks, such as 3D gaming?
Well, like most mid-range devices, the M2 is a mixed bag. Popular mobile games like Fortnite and Asphalt 9 deliver different results. For example, Fortnite worked fine, while Asphalt 9 caused problems because the accelerometer seemed to struggle to keep up. Frame rate on a device using a Snapdragon 660 will never be amazing, but the ZenFone Max Pro M2 delivered solid frames-per-second rates without ever being wholly impressive.
Of course, the camera is where most smartphone manufacturers make or break their device these days. Asus has crafted a dual camera system on the rear of the ZenFone Max Pro M2, featuring a 12MP f/1.8 primary camera that can capture 4K video and a 5MP depth sensor.
We mentioned earlier that the company has included minimal bloatware on top of Stock Android Oreo, and the camera app is one example. The proprietary Asus app has improved a lot since the back-to-basics experience of the Max Pro M1. Still, it is not the same app as Asus ships with smartphones running it ZenUI interface.
The app has most the features you would expect, but still feels too basic and even old-fashioned next to the camera apps Asus’ rivals are creating. Some software decisions are hard to understand, such as the constantly hidden navigation keys, which means the app requires two steps every time you use it.
Image quality delivered by the ZenFone Max Pro M2 can be filed under, good but not impressive. The double-lens array can produce excellent color reproduction and accurate white balance, while we found there is little noise in images. However, there are problems with how the camera handles low light, with backgrounds often blurred beyond recognition.
On the video side of the camera app, 4K shooting is available on the ZenFone Max Pro M2, and the results are good. Detail is largely maintained, and motion remains consistent and smooth. This is despite Asus not including EIS for 4K mode, retaining it only for shooting in 1080p. For what it’s worth, videoing in Full HD is also a nice experience thanks to that electronic stabilization.
One of the winning aspects of the ZenFone Max Pro M2 was its excellent battery. Asus has not messed around too much but has placed a 5000mAh juicer in the ZenFone Max Pro M2. It is easily the biggest battery in its class and something Asus is banking on users valuing.
With a 5000mAh battery on a mid-range smartphone, the results for battery life are excellent. You will be looking at two days of normal use, with 10 hours of active screen time. Asus deserves credit for delivering this kind of battery performance without compromising on other aspects of the handset.
Asus struck a minor success with the ZenFone Max Pro M1 thanks to its battery life, performance, and stock Android experience. The company has not changed too much of a good thing on the ZenFone Max Pro M2, which also boasts amazing battery performance, rapid CPU speed for everyday tasks, and a clean Android interface.
However, we expected the ZenFone Max Pro M2 to make improvements in areas the M1 struggled, such as display and camera. Sadly, Asus has failed to do that by delivering another poor camera app and a screen with its fair share of issues. We like the results from images, but the camera software experience needs work.
In fact, we would argue the ZenFone Max Pro M2 could become an excellent smartphone if Asus rolls out a software update that fixes some screen options and adds more to the camera app. At the moment, it is just a good handset.
- Pleasing design
- Good performance
- Solid image quality
- Stock Android experience
- Amazing battery life
- Aggressive display dimming
- Poor camera app
- Strange software choices
- Average screen