ASUS ZenFone Max Pro M1

Xiaomi has consolidated its position in the Indian handset segment over the course of the last 12 months by rolling out a wave of budget phones that offered great value for money. The Redmi Note 5 Pro, for instance, is the first device in the world to be powered by the Snapdragon 636, and the 4000mAh battery easily delivers two days' of use between charges.

ASUS is now looking to emulate Xiaomi's success by launching the ZenFone Max Pro, which has similar specs and offers pure Android. The latter is interesting as it signifies a shift for ASUS on the software front. The Taiwanese manufacturer has mentioned that it decided to offer pure Android after receiving a lot of feedback from the Indian community, and the switch is certainly a welcome one.

The ZenFone Max Pro isn't lacking on the hardware front either, with the device also offering the Snapdragon 636 chipset along with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. Then there's the 5000mAh battery, which is easily one of the largest available in this segment. And starting at just ₹10,999 ($165), it is more affordable than Xiaomi's offering.

So at a first glance, the ZenFone Max Pro looks like it's the real deal. The hardware holds its own next to the Redmi Note 5 Pro, and the uncluttered interface is a far cry from what's on offer with MIUI. I've been using the ZenFone Max Pro M1 for just over two days now, and here's what I think of the device.

If there's one word to describe the design of the ZenFone Max Pro, it'd be generic. The phone is made out of metal, but the plain back and the plastic antenna inserts at the top and bottom make it feel like a device from 2016. In short, there really isn't much to get excited about on the design front.

The build quality seems fine, but it doesn't have the same sturdiness as the Redmi Note 5 Pro. And coming in at 180g even after packing a 5000mAh battery (the Redmi Note 5 Pro weighs 181g), it doesn't look like the metal used in the construction of the chassis is as durable as you'll find on other budget phones.

The 5.99-inch 18:9 FHD+ display covers 85% of the NTSC color gamut, and the phone goes up to 450nits. I haven't faced a lot of issues with screen legibility under sunlight. However, the ambient brightness mode was finicky under low-light conditions, and I had to manually boost brightness at night.

Furthermore, the screen doesn't have any Gorilla Glass or Asahi Dragontrail protection, so you'll want to invest in a screen protector to give it some sort of resistance to tumbles.

The ZenFone Max Pro M1 is one of the fastest phones in this category.

Internal hardware is where the ZenFone Max Pro M1 truly shines, as the phone is one of the fastest devices in this category. Combining a Snapdragon 636 with pure Android makes the device fly, and while the software isn't still fully optimized, it's easy to see that the M1 has a lot of potential.

The phone will be available with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, and there's also a version with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage. ASUS has also stated that it will launch a model with 6GB of RAM and 64GB of storage at a later date.

ASUS has thankfully retained the 3.5mm jack, but the phone still has the older MicroUSB port and not USB-C. What's great though is that the Max Pro M1 comes with a dedicated microSD slot in addition to two SIM card slots.

The arrival of Jio has catalyzed the 4G market in India, and with the carrier essentially giving away date for most of last year, a majority of the internet-connected populace in India has a Jio SIM. So it's good to see that the M1 has a provision for two SIM cards as well as a microSD slot to extend storage. That said, the secondary SIM card slot defaults to 3G if you already have a SIM in the first slot — there's no way to use 4G data from both SIM cards.

ASUS ZenFone Max Pro M1

ASUS has switched away from its ZenUI interface for a pure Android skin on the ZenFone Max Pro M1. There are just three ASUS apps that come pre-installed — calculator, sound recorder, and FM radio — and the uncluttered interface is generally a breath of fresh air from ZenUI. All customers picking up the ZenFone Max Pro M1 will receive 100GB of Google Drive storage for two years, which is a nice touch.

The day-to-day usage was fluid for the most part, but the phone is lacking in optimization — I noticed lag when switching between apps. While there aren't a lot of ASUS apps installed out of the box, you'll see a mobile recharge app called Go2Pay.

The sound out of the single speaker located at the bottom is decent, and ASUS includes a MaxBox accessory that amplifies the sound by up to 1.7 times. The cardboard accessory is held up by magnets, and you slot the phone inside vertically, effectively creating a chamber that directs sound outward. The accessory is included in the box.

The ZenFone Max Pro M1 is a winner when it comes to the battery side of things, with ASUS touting 1080p video playback times of over 25 hours from a full charge. I'll go into more detail on the battery front in my review, but thus far, I'm loving the battery life on offer. I got a screen-on-time of over six hours spread over two days — including the initial configuration — and I still have over 30% charge left.

The massive 5000mAh battery delivers over 25 hours of 1080p video playback.

As good as the M1 is in a few areas, it has its share of drawbacks. The fingerprint sensor in particular is the slowest I've seen on a phone in the last two years. It failed to authenticate two times out of three, and even on the rare occasion it detected my fingerprint in the first try, the authentication was nowhere near as fast as other phones in this category. The phone comes with Face Unlock as well, but that particular feature wasn't live just yet.

As for connectivity, the phone is limited to Wi-Fi b/g/n, so you won't be able to connect to 5GHz networks. The phone works over VoLTE, but you won't see the symbol in the status bar (ASUS says it'll be added in a future update).

Then there's the camera, which is strictly average — the Omnivision 16880 imaging sensor itself isn't quite as good as the likes of the Redmi Note 5 Pro, and that is clearly evident in the photos. The phone takes its time to focus, and even in well-lit scenarios it doesn't do as great a job as other devices in this category.

ASUS ZenFone Max Pro M1

Considering ASUS decided to go with pure Android, it would've been a smarter move to just launch the phone with Android One. The manufacturer said that doing so would have pushed back the launch date, and it's clear that ASUS wants to capitalize on Xiaomi's availability issues. And it looks like launching as soon as possible was the key factor with the device.

Therefore, the ZenFone Max Pro M1 feels half-baked. There's clearly a lot of work that needs to be done on the optimization front, as the camera needs to be tuned as well. Sure, the hardware is the same as what you get on the Redmi Note 5 Pro, but the overall user experience isn't quite as good yet.

ASUS is dominating the field when it comes to value.

But what could ultimately seal the deal in the M1's favor is pricing and availability. Xiaomi has shown that it is not yet able to compete on the same level as Samsung, or even OPPO and Vivo when it comes to making its phone available for purchase, and ASUS can use that to its advantage with the M1.

ASUS also has the edge when it comes to pricing. The ZenFone Max Pro M1 with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage will go on sale starting May 3 for just ₹10,999 ($165), which is a stellar deal. The model with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage will set you back ₹12,999 ($195), and ASUS is also set to release a version with 6GB of RAM and 64GB of storage for ₹14,999 ($225).

ASUS has effectively managed to undercut Xiaomi in this segment, and you don't usually see that. The M1 still needs some work, but the pure Android interface combined with the hardware on offer makes it a viable alternative to the Redmi Note 5 Pro, and that's great news for consumers.

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