Asus Zenfone 3S Max ZC521TL Smartphone Review

The latest smartphone from Asus in their Zenfone 3 Max series, Asus Zenfone 3S Max was launched in January this year. We covered the smartphone back then and also uploaded a first look hands-on video on YouTube, you can read the coverage here. Asus Zenfone 3S Max boasts a bigger 5000 mAh battery than the original Zenfone 3 Max which sports a 4100 mAh battery but when it comes to display, the Zenfone 3S Max comes with a slightly smaller display at 5.2" inches than Zenfone 3 Max, which comes with 5.5" Inch display. There are a lot of similarities, differences, improvements and even disappointments, we'll take a detailed look at them today through this write-up. Asus sent us the new Zenfone 3S Max about two weeks ago and since then we performed a lot of tests on it & even monitored it closely. Today we're going to share our experience here, so let's get started.


Asus Zenfone 3S Max (ZC521TL) Review 


Asus Zenfone 3S Max comes in a compact rectangular box, similar to the other Asus Zenfone 3 smartphones. On opening the box, you'll find the smartphone lying there, under which you'll find the accessories. You get the handset, a Charging adapter, a MicroUSB cable, earphones, a Sim ejection tool and some documentation. Unlike Asus Zenfone 3 Max, the Zenfone 3S Max did not come with OTG cable but instead, it came with earphones, which Zenfone 3 Max didn't. You can watch the unboxing video on our YouTube channel.

Build & Design

Asus revamped the design of the Zenfone 3S Max and it stands out in the whole of Zenfone 3 series, the new smartphone is slightly thicker than the Zenfone 3 Max but weighs the same at 175 grams. It 8.9 mm in thickness and since it has a smaller footprint, it appears quite bulky in hand, but we can't overlook the fact that it packs a massive 5000 mAh battery in such a small body. The smartphone is available in two color options, Black & Sand Gold, the one which we have with us is the Sand Gold model and trust me, it does not look as premium as other Gold color smartphones in the market look.


Talking about the new design, The Zenfone 3S Max boasts a full metal body design which comes with its own set of advantages & disadvantages. Asus chose to go with a front fingerprint sensor, which was installed inside the home button, one thing which I noticed here was that there were no capacitive navigation keys on either side of the home button, instead, you now get on-screen navigation buttons. I found this weird and since the front fingerprint sensor is also a button which works as a home button, you now have two home buttons (one physical & one virtual) - How cool is that? actually, it isn't. The section above the display contains the front camera, earpiece, proximity sensor, LED notification light and an ambient light sensor.


The right side contains the Volume rocker, along with the Power button. The buttons are made up of metal and the power button comes with a texture, which makes it easy to distinguish, when not looking. The left side contains the hybrid SIM tray, which can hold either two SIM cards (Micro+Nano) or a SIM & MicroSD card.


The top section contains the 3.5 mm audio jack, while the bottom section contains the MicroUSB port, loudspeaker, and microphone. The back of the phone is made up of metal, the antenna strip on the top & the bottom is made of plastic, to allow network reception. The back contains the Camera, LED flash and a secondary microphone. Asus Zenfone 3S Max comes with curved edges, which somewhat help in gripping the phone, but still, the phone is quite slippery and one should be careful when holding it. Overall the design looks good & weird at the same time, but it does stand out.


Asus Zenfone 3S Max packs a 5.2" Inch IPS HD Display, which comes with a resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels and pixel density of 282 ppi. This was a bit disappointing since nowadays mostly all smartphones in this price range come with a Full HD 1080p display, even the Zenfone 3 Max came equipped with the 1080p display but with 3S Max, Asus took a step down. The display comes with a 2.5D curved glass but the existence of Corning Gorilla Glass is still unknown. 


Coming to the quality of the display, according to me, this was by far the worst display I've seen on a smartphone in the Zenfone 3 series, and trust me I've reviewed most of the smartphones from the Zenfone 3 series. The color reproduction wasn't accurate, the viewing angles were again average (seriously, other Asus Zenfone 3 series smartphones are much better). The colors had a slightly warmer tone and unlike other Zenfone 3 series phones, Asus did not include their usual color calibration tool on this one. However, the display looks good under direct sunlight and is bright enough for outdoor usage. 

Hardware & Performance

As we all know that the main highlight feature of Asus Zenfone 3S Max is the battery, and it comes with a massive 5000 mAh one, but let's talk about that later. Coming to the hardware, Asus Zenfone 3S Max comes with a MediaTek MT6750 chipset, Octa-core 64-bit processor, where four cores are clocked at 1.5GHz and four cores clocked at 1.0GHz. You get 3GB RAM onboard along with Mali-T860MP2 GPU and 32GB Internal storage. As I mentioned earlier, Zenfone 3S Max comes with a hybrid slot, with the help of which you can expand the storage using a MicroSD card up to 2TB or 2000GB. The specifications look good on paper for a budget friendly smartphone, but in reality, the performance wasn't that great. Blame the hardware or the bloatware, the phone consistently feels sluggish & laggy. It comes with a lot of bloatware which takes a chunk of memory & also slows the system down. Though it comes with 3GB of RAM which helps in multitasking but the CPU performance is not up to the mark and is a bottleneck in this case. To get a better idea of the performance, we ran some popular benchmarks on Asus Zenfone 3S Max and here are the results. 


The AnTuTu score was 39422, the Geekbench 4 score was 585 for single core and 2426 for multi-core and The Quadrant score was 18383. The 3D Mark score for slingshot extreme was 303. So by looking at these scores, you can easily get an idea of the performance. 


Asus Zenfone 3S Max is the first Asus smartphone to come with Android 7.0 Nougat out-of-the-box, topped with Asus ZenUI 3.0 custom launcher. The Nougat update did bring many new features like quick replying to messages from the notification menu,. the notification menu comes with the new Nougat interface, you can now get five quick toggles which you can access directly in notification menu, without opening toggles menu. 


The toggles come with new design & animation. Since Asus Zenfone 3S Max runs Nougat, you get the split window feature, where you can access two apps simultaneously. 


There are many other Nougat features available along with some Asus features, you can use Touch gestures, motion gestures, themes, simple mode, kids mode and much more. The software performs well but comes loaded with bloatware (as usual), they do take a lot of space but can be useful to some people. You'll find Facebook, Messenger, Instagram etc, pre-installed along with some more third-party apps, which can't be uninstalled easily. 


Asus Zenfone 3S Max packs a 13 Megapixel PixelMaster 3.0 Rear camera with f/2.0 aperture, Autofocus, Dual LED (Dual-tone) Flash and capability to record HD 720p videos at 30 frames per second. The front camera is an 8 Megapixel camera which records TV resolution 640 x 480 videos. The camera interface is similar to other Zenfone 3 series smartphones, the Top section contains Settings, Camera switcher, and Flash toggle, the bottom section contains the Modes menu, Video recording key, Shutter key and Quick gallery shortcut key.


The camera output is decent, not as good as the previous Zenfone 3 series smartphones but still looks fine. The colors were decent with good amount of contrast, the images lacked detail and on closer inspection, the images looked blurred. An article on the internet told me that this happens due to the noise reduction algorithm used by Asus, which reduces noise by blurring out the image. The camera did perform well in daylight conditions and was average when it came to low light, the images looked washed out and blurred most of the time. Another disappointment was the video recording part, the rear camera at max can record 720p HD videos (No Full HD 1080p video recording support) which when compared to other smartphones in the market at same price segment, was not up to the mark. The front camera can only shoot 640 x 480 resolution videos, which again is a down-point in our opinion. The front 8 Megapixel camera, however, took decent selfies. Using beautification mode, you can enhance your selfies on the go.


As usual, you get quite a lot of modes; Auto, Manual. HDR Pro, Beautification, Super Resolution, Low Light, Night mode, Effects, Selfie Mode, QR Code, Panorama and Time Lapse. 

Battery, Connectivity & Fingerprint Sensor

The main USP of Asus Zenfone 3S Max is the massive 5000 mAh battery, and it stays up to your expectations. The battery performance is really good and with moderate usage, will easily last two days or even more. Unfortunately, there is no fast charging support, which is a shame since it comes with such an awesome battery. The phone also supports reverse charging, using which you can charge other smartphones with Zenfone 3S Max. 


You get various connectivity options with Zenfone 3S Max, the phone supports 4G LTE Cat-4 with VoLTE support. Other options include Bluetooth v4.0 with A2DP & EDR, Wi-Fi, GPS with A-GPS, BDS & GLONASS support, MicroUSB v2.0, OTG support and FM Radio. You get the accelerometer, proximity, gyro and compass sensors on board. The phone comes with a front-mounted fingerprint sensor. The fingerprint sensor is not up to the mark, it fails to recognize fingerprints many times, especially when using at different angles. Many times you'll have to try different angles for the phone to recognize your finger, which is annoying at times. Also, the fingerprint sensor is not awake at all times, you'll need to press the home button for it to recognize your finger and unlock the phone. 


So coming to the conclusion, Asus Zenfone 3S Max definitely packs a lot of battery power under the hood, thanks to its massive 5000 mAh battery, you won't run out of juice every now and then, plus you can even charge other devices using the reverse charging feature. The plus point here is that in spite of having a massive battery, the phone is still quite compact but unfortunately battery is the only thing it can offer, battery aside, there is nothing much to write about. The display is quite average and this disappoints me since other Asus Zenfone 3 series smartphones had a much better display with higher resolution, this one doesn't stand a chance against them. The hardware performance is again quite poor, the RAM does help in multitasking but there's only so much the RAM can do, while the processor is the bottleneck. 


The camera is decent but not at all good, Asus has made better camera phones in the past and Zenfone 3S Max ain't one of them. The camera clicks decent pictures in daylight but they lack detail. The video recording mode only offers 720p HD videos on the rear and TV resolution 640 x 480 on the front, which again is a down point since the rivals are offering Full HD video shooting and better specifications. I liked the fact that Asus Zenfone 3S Max is the first Zenfone or Asus smartphone to come with Android Nougat installed, but bloatware & certain weak points of ZenUI ruined the experience. Finally, my rating for Asus Zenfone 3S Max will be:

My Rating: 2.5 Out of 5

Asus Zenfone 3S Max is priced at Rs.14,999 (INR) and is currently available at Amazon India, Flipkart, Snapdeal etc. The price tag of Rs.14,999 makes Asus Zenfone 3S Max a bit overpriced and it's really hard for me to recommend it when you can go for Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 which offers better specifications, performance, display and decent battery life at a much lower price than Zenfone 3S Max. I really hope that Asus makes the software experience a little better with future updates. If you're looking for a smartphone with a massive battery, running on the latest Android Nougat with sturdy built quality & decent camera, then do take a look at Asus Zenfone 3S Max.


About Jimmie Luthra

Jimmie Luthra is a Mariner, Tech enthusiast, Blogger and Gadget reviewer. He is fond of technology and is usually found playing with some piece of tech. He is also a Guitarist, Music lover & fitness freak.
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