Reviewing the ASUS ZenFone 3 Max - Affordable and good-looking

3 out of 5 stars

ASUS has a good thing going on with its smartphone business, and one of the reasons for that is the fact that they have created a wide variety of smartphones, for all budgets. One of their smartphones is made for people who don't necessarily want a very powerful smartphone, they have a limited budget and need a device that has a generous battery life. The ZenFone Max is ASUS's smartphone for this audience and we received for testing the latest revision of this model: the ASUS ZenFone 3 Max ZC520TL. We tested it for a week, we ran several benchmarks, took lots of pictures and used it as our daily smartphone. Read this review to see our opinion about this device and whether it is a good choice for you:

Hardware specifications and packaging

The ASUS ZenFone 3 Max ZC520TL comes packaged in a good looking box, made from a cardboard with a silky finish. On the top side, there's an illustration of the smartphone, its name and an ad bragging about its "Long life 4100 mAh battery". Turn the box to one of its sides and you'll get to see its main features - Pixel Master Camera, Bluetooth 4.0, HD Display, WLAN, 4G and 2.5D Glass. Then, turn it upside down to see your smartphone's serial number, exact model name, and main hardware specs.

Where To Buy

Open the package, and you'll get to meet the ASUS ZenFone 3 Max ZC520TL, sitting on top of a paper stand, under which you'll find the charger and its detachable USB to Micro USB cable, a pin that's going to be useful to remove the SIM card tray, a Micro USB to USB cable that can be used to transform your smartphone into a power bank and charge other devices, and also all the ordinary papers holding the smartphone's documentation. It's worth noting that there's one thing missing from the package: ASUS doesn't bundle any headphones with the ZenFone 3 Max and you need to purchase them separately.

The ASUS ZenFone 3 Max ZC520TL is available in three different color variations: Titanium Gray, Glacier Silver, and Sand Gold. As you can see in the next pictures, the model that we received in tests, was Titanium Gray.

The ASUS ZenFone 3 Max ZC520TL has a 5.2 inches IPS display with an HD resolution of 1280x720 pixels and a 75% screen-to-body ratio. Because the display uses an IPS panel, it means that the smartphone's screen should have wide viewing angles, good color reproduction, and a high contrast. The display is protected by 2.5D contoured glass, meaning that its edges are fading into the case gradually.

If you're wondering about its processing power, you should know that the ASUS ZenFone 3 Max ZC520TL is powered by a quad-core 1.25 GHz Cortex-A53 processor made by MediaTek, while the graphics are handled by Mali-T720MP2 video chip. You also get 2GB or 3GB of LPDDR3 RAM memory, depending on the exact model you buy. The internal storage space available also depends on the exact model of your ASUS ZenFone 3 Max ZC520TL: you can buy it with 16GB of internal storage space, or you can buy it with 32GB of internal storage space. Either way, if you need to, you can extend this space with the help of a MicroSD card of up to 32GB. And you also get 100GB of free space in Google Drive for 2 years. The model we tested came with 2GB of RAM memory and 32GB of internal storage space.

The main camera on the ASUS ZenFone 3 Max ZC520TL has 13-megapixels, autofocus, and flash, and can shoot photos with HDR. On the front side of the smartphone, you get a basic 5 megapixels camera with beautification effects.

In terms of connectivity options, you should know that ASUS ZenFone 3 Max ZC520TL comes with a Micro USB 2.0 port, a 3.5 mm audio jack, a Bluetooth 4.0 chip and a wireless network chip that's capable of connecting only to 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi networks that use the 802.11 b/g/n wireless standards. That means that you won't be able to connect to a wireless network broadcast on the 5GHz radio frequency.

The ASUS ZenFone 3 Max ZC520TL is a Dual SIM smartphone and the downside is that although both SIM card slots support 3G WCDMA/4G LTE network bands, only one SIM card will be able to connect to 3G/4G services at a time. The other SIM will support only 2G voice. It's also important to be aware that this smartphone works in a Dual SIM Dual Standby implementation, which means that even if you have two active SIM cards, they are both active only as long as you're not using them. Once you take a call on one of the SIM cards, the other one becomes inactive. It's not ideal but the technology is less expensive and more widespread in today's smartphones. Also, if you intend to add a MicroSD card to your smartphone in order to increase its storage space, you should know that it will occupy the slot of the second SIM card - which means that you won't be able to use two SIM cards on your smartphone.

The ASUS ZenFone 3 Max ZC520TL also comes with a variety of sensors installed. It has an accelerometer, a compass, a proximity sensor, an ambient light sensor, and also a fingerprint scanner on the back of the device, which you can use to unlock the smartphone, launch the camera app, or even shoot a photo.

The most important strength of the ASUS ZenFone 3 Max ZC520TL is its battery, which is a non-removable lithium polymer battery of 4130 mAh. It's a big battery, so you should expect it to offer very good autonomy.

In terms of size, if you're accustomed to the imperial system, the ASUS ZenFone 3 Max ZC520TL is 2.9 x 5.9 x 0.3 inches in width, depth, and height. If you use the metric system, its dimensions are 73.7 x 149.5 x 8.55 mm. The ASUS ZenFone 3 Max ZC520TL weighs 5.6 ounces or 160 grams.

If you would like to see the official specifications of this smartphone, visit this page: ASUS ZenFone 3 Max (ZC520TL) - Technical Specifications.

The technical specifications of the ASUS ZenFone 3 Max ZC520TL aren't impressive in any way, but its large capacity battery is, which is this smartphone's main selling point.

Design and build quality

The ASUS ZenFone 3 Max ZC520TL looks good and its build quality is better than the average smartphone you'll find with a similar price tag. This smartphone has a unibody design, meaning that its back can't be taken apart. That, together with the fact that the case is built from an aluminum alloy, makes it feel sturdy and reliable.

On the front of the ASUS ZenFone 3 Max ZC520TL you will find the 5.2 screen, surrounded by average sized bezels, the front camera, the earpiece grille, a small LED light on the top for notifications and ASUS' logo on the bottom. It's worth noting that you won't find the Back, Home, and Recent apps buttons here, because the ASUS ZenFone 3 Max ZC520TL displays them on screen, in their software implementation.

The back of the smartphone is home to the rear camera, its flashlight and the fingerprint sensor on the top. Towards the bottom, you'll find the loudspeaker grille and another company logo. Similarly to its big brother - the ASUS ZenFone 3 - the fingerprint sensor has a rectangular shape and is slightly sunken into the case. These two features make it easy to spot and use with your finger, even if you don't look at the back of your smartphone.

The bottom edge of the ASUS ZenFone 3 Max ZC520TL is where you'll find the Micro-USB port, and the top of the right edge is where you'll find the power button and the volume rocker. Which is the safe placement of these three buttons on any Android smartphone, if we can say that. It's an intelligent choice because it makes these buttons easy to press with only one hand, and even if you're in a call with the phone pressed to your ear.

The top edge of the ASUS ZenFone 3 Max ZC520TL is home only to the audio jack, and the left edge is the place where the SIM cards tray is found. To get this one out of the smartphone, you'll have to use the pin you received in the packaging.

The ASUS ZenFone 3 Max ZC520TL smartphone doesn't disappoint when it comes to its design and build quality. From this perspective, it is better than you'd expect to see at a smartphone with such an affordable price.

The smartphone experience on the ASUS ZenFone 3 Max ZC520TL

The first thing we have to talk about is the audio quality you get during phone calls. I have been using the ASUS ZenFone 3 Max ZC520TL as my daily phone for a week and, during that time, I've noticed that although I could hear the people with whom I've spoken on phone clearly and loud, they didn't hear me the same way. Most of them said that my voice sounded muffled and "far away". That's not to say that we didn't manage to understand each other, it's just that the audio quality could be better during phone calls.

Unfortunately, ASUS didn't include headphones in the smartphone's default package, which means that you'll have to either buy them separately or make do with the loudspeaker. Unfortunately, the loudspeaker is of low quality. It will do its job decently in phone calls, but don't expect to be satisfied when you listen to music or watch videos on your smartphone. The sound it offers is just too low-level and high-pitched to be pleasant.

When I first met the ASUS ZenFone 3 Max ZC520TL, it felt pretty snappy and I thought "yay, the hardware inside might not be high-end, but it's enough for me!". Unfortunately, it didn't take long for this impression to disappear. The quad-core 1.25 GHz Cortex-A53 MediaTek processor and the 2GB of RAM memory are not enough to run your apps smoothly. It will at first, but after a few days and a dozen common apps like Facebook, Messenger or Whatsapp, the ASUS ZenFone 3 Max ZC520TL will turn increasingly slower. Even making a call will take a bit of patience for the Phone app to load. You can imagine that the performance you'll get from the ASUS ZenFone 3 Max ZC520TL is even worse in games. Its whole hardware configuration, including the Mali T720 graphic chip are not enough for this smartphone to run games at high settings. They will run, but demanding games will stutter and their visuals will not be at their best.

The main attraction of the ASUS ZenFone 3 Max ZC520TL remains its big battery, which does indeed offer a pretty good autonomy. I've used the smartphone like I normally do and it managed to keep me away from the power outlet for 2 days in a row. By normal use, I'm thinking about a dozen phone calls a day, some web browsing, a bit of YouTube and regularly checking emails and Facebook. On one of the days I tested this smartphone, I also used it to have very long video conversations on Skype, which took about 3 hours in total. That day, I had to charge the smartphone before going to bed. But, in normal conditions, its battery should last you for up to two 2 days before having to charge it.

ASUS ZenFone 3 Max ZC520TL offers low performance, which negatively impacts the user experience you get. It's definitely not built for demanding 3D games and you should use it only for usual smartphone apps like Facebook, WhatsApp or YouTube. The biggest plus is the battery, which, in normal conditions, should last up to two days of use.

Read the next page of this review and you will find out more about the camera experience, the software installed on the ASUS ZenFone 3 Max ZC520TL, its performance in benchmarks and our final verdict.