Yep – you read that right. This is the review of the non-Pro version in the latest iteration of the ZenFone Max series – the (M2). This is a smartphone that essentially is the real replacement of the ZenFone Max Pro (M1) that we reviewed here, but with a few different changes although with the same price.

Is the ASUS ZenFone Max (M2) worth your money? Check out in this – hopefully short – review here. And we’ll be comparing with the ASUS ZenFone Max Pro (M1) since it is priced the same. Spoiler – it is not worth your money.

ASUS ROG Zephyrus G14 NVIDIA

Unboxing

Once I got my hands on the ASUS ZenFone Max (M2), the box itself is nearly identical to the ZenFone Max Pro (M2) that we reviewed here. Still, I have no idea what’s up with that lightning bolt.

ASUS ZenFone Max (M2)

Behind the box we can see the quick summary of the specs of the ASUS ZenFone Max (M2) alongside with the color of the phone at the bottom right corner.

ASUS ZenFone Max (M2)

Opening up the box, we were greeted with the accessories box right away. The phone, charger, micro USB cable, and earphones are inside the box itself.

ASUS ZenFone Max (M2)

The phone does come with a TPU case as well – which seems to be the norm these days.

Holding the ASUS ZenFone Max (M2) actually feels a lot thinner than the original ZenFone Max Pro (M1). The edges are obviously much sharper and honestly, it does feel better overall in terms of grip and usability.

ASUS ZenFone Max (M2)

The overall placement of the rear-facing cameras, flash, fingerprint scanner, and even the ASUS logo is placed around the same position as before. The top and bottom plastic sections that houses the antennas are identical in design too.

ASUS ZenFone Max (M2)

However, the overall size of the phone is a little tinier too. Even with a bigger display than the Max Pro (M1), the size was shrunken a little because they have a notched display now.

ASUS ZenFone Max (M2)

The ASUS ZenFone Max (M2) also comes with a TPU case with the little dots to prevent direct contact between the case and back of the phone.

One nice addition here is the pre-installed screen protector. It means that you can start using the phone fully protected when you take it out of the box. Neat.

The one part that ASUS redeems itself partially here is the connectivity that it offers. For a budget smartphone like this, I was not surprised that ASUS neglected the AC-WiFi like they have already been doing for the past 2 years or so since the ZenFone 3 Zoom.

ASUS ZenFone Max (M2)

At the left side of the phone is where the card tray is found. Ejecting it, I found that the ZenFone Max (M2) has the same versatility as over ZenFone Max series smartphones – dual nano SIM card slots and another microSD card slot – all independent from each other.

All of the buttons – the volume rocker and the power button – are located at the right side of the phone at the exact same location as the Max Pro (M1).

ASUS ZenFone Max (M2)

At the bottom however, we see a single microphone port, a micro USB port, and also a speaker grill. The 3.5mm jack has been moved to the top, beside the secondary microphone.

ASUS ZenFone Max (M2)

It also comes with a pretty slow fingerprint scanner at the back. The reliability is rather poor as well.

ASUS ZenFone Max (M2)

As mentioned earlier, the ASUS ZenFone Max (M2) comes with a larger display than its predecessor thanks to the utilization of a notched display. The ASUS ZenFone Max (M2) comes with a 6.26-inch IPS LCD display with 1520×720 pixels in resolution.

ASUS ZenFone Max (M2)

That is quite a step down from the Max Pro (M1)’s 5.99-inch 1080p display. To add salt to injury, the ASUS ZenFone Max (M2)’s display is just hideous. Sorry ASUS, the display quality on this phone is just… bad. The colors appear to be washed out. And there is no option to fix it through settings menu either.

ASUS ZenFone Max (M2)

When compared with its predecessor’s display, there is a very noticeable difference in color saturation. The differences are most prominent when viewing yellow/orange and green colors. The ASUS ZenFone Max (M2)’s display is just bad.

Let’s not forget about the notch. While it is considered a budget smartphone with a budget price tag, the notch is humongous compared to others. The slightly higher priced HONOR 10 Lite has a waterdrop notch, better colors, and 1080p in resolution.

When we reviewed the ASUS ZenFone Max Pro (M2), we realized that the camera did improve from its 3GB and 4GB RAM variant predecessors. As for the non-Pro version, it seems to be using the same sensor but with a different lens. Here are the camera specs for the ASUS ZenFone Max (M2):

  • Dual rear-facing cameras
    • 13MP f/1.8 with PDAF
    • 2MP depth sensor
  • 8MP f/2.0 selfie camera with fixed focus and front-facing flash

The new ASUS ZenFone Max (M2) does come with a bigger aperture for both the rear-facing camera and the selfie camera.

ASUS ZenFone Max (M2)

Without further ado, here is the picture samples of images taken with the ASUS ZenFone Max (M2). You can check out the full album of picture with all the metadata over at our Shutterfly album here.

Rear-facing cameras

Let’s first take a look at our usual picture spot – between the two apartments. We took the picture with auto mode first, which turned out rather okay. The white balance is surprisingly good and the overall exposure is decent.

Review - ASUS ZenFone Max (M2) 1

Once we switch over to HDR, we can see that the superpositioning of multiple images of different exposures on top of each other is not clean, and the software tries to blend it all by blurring. And the image does appear to be grainier too. Also, the color saturation is cranked up way too high.

Review - ASUS ZenFone Max (M2) 2

Then onward to the night shots. In auto mode, it is very noisy and the image turned purple – a telltale sign of super ridiculously high ISO and the sensor just couldn’t keep up. Hence, the image… noisy and has a purple tint to it.

Review - ASUS ZenFone Max (M2) 3

Turning on HDR does make it usable in some ways. But the dark sky turned into 16 bit graphics.

Review - ASUS ZenFone Max (M2) 4

When we turned on night mode, the colors of the pictures… are gone. Everything is desaturated.

Review - ASUS ZenFone Max (M2) 5

For indoor shots, the camera is somewhat disappointing too. The focus is slow and jumpy at times because of the terrible camera software.

Review - ASUS ZenFone Max (M2) 6

When the portrait mode is turned on, the blurring is somewhat accurate but once again, it is very, very slow.

Review - ASUS ZenFone Max (M2) 7

Selfie cameras

As for the selfie camera, there is a front-facing flash for the selfie camera. However, the quality turned out really, really bad.

Review - ASUS ZenFone Max (M2) 8

Camera UI

The camera UI is actually exactly the same as the ZenFone Max Pro (M2). It is still based on the Snapdragon camera app but with a few of ASUS’s own twist.

ASUS ZenFone Max (M2) camera UI

The camera UI is made to be simple to use for point and shoot purposes. Hence the lack of buttons other than a few to toggle the portrait and beauty modes. This camera UI is also made specifically for taking pictures only since video mode is hidden at the top right button.

ASUS ZenFone Max (M2) camera UI

As for the manual mode, you can go down to ISO 100 and shutter speed to 1/2000s. Not too bad, and the quality of the RAW image is pretty okay.

Review - ASUS ZenFone Max (M2) 9

ASUS’s software update approach is surprisingly similar to other big smartphone manufacturers – it’s always slow but steady. After using ASUS smartphones for so long, I have come to realize that ASUS is indeed one of the slowest when it comes to updates – but their software is stable.

ASUS ZenFone Max (M2)

Just like the other ASUS ZenFone Max series of smartphones, it comes with pure Android experience as well. There is absolutely zero bloatware with the ASUS ZenFone Max (M2) – and that is a good thing since the phone only has 32GB of internal storage after all.

However, the ASUS ZenFone Max (M2) does have some unresolved issues. Launching the camera app from the lock screen will result in the notch not being hidden completely.

ASUS ZenFone Max (M2) camera UI

While on the subject of the camera, there was an issue whereby I kept pressing the shutter button and the picture-taking animation played – but no picture was taken. I had to restart the camera app so that it takes pictures for real.

Also, the touch screen can sometimes fail to register presses entirely. I had to lock and unlock the phone again for the touch screen to regain consciousness.

Coming on to performance, the ASUS ZenFone Max (M2) comes with an inferior chipset compared to its predecessor, the Max Pro (M1). Here is the full specs list:

  • 6.26-inch notched IPS LCD display with 1520×720 pixels in resolution
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 632 chipset
    • 4x Kryo 250 Gold @ 1.8GHz + 4x Kryo 250 Silver @ 1.8GHz
    • Adreno 506 GPU with 96 ALUs
  • 4GB LPDDR3 RAM
  • 32GB eMMC 5.1 storage (expandable with microSD)
  • 4,000mAh battery
  • Pure Anroid 8.1.0 Oreo

Knowing all of these specs, here are the benchmark results of the ASUS ZenFone Max (M2) with the lesser-known Snapdragon 632 chipset.

ASUS ZenFone Max (M2) 3DMark benchmark ASUS ZenFone Max (M2) VRMark benchmark ASUS ZenFone Max (M2) Geekbench benchmark ASUS ZenFone Max (M2) Antutu benchmark

From here, we can see that the graphical performance of the Snapdragon 632 chipset that is used in the ASUS ZenFone Max (M2) is the worst out of all the phones that we reviewed in the past, particularly in 3DMark and VRMark. That brings us to our gaming experience with the ASUS ZenFone Max (M2).

Gaming

ASUS promotes the ZenFone Max (M2) as a gaming smartphone – but how exactly does it actually perform in games? We set out to test it with our 3 usual games.

First off, Honkai Impact 3. The game itself actually recommended graphical settings level 2, but that did not turn out well since it lags beyond imagination. I turned off all fancy effects, turned the resolution to lowest and it still cannot maintain a smooth 30FPS gameplay. It is playable if you can stand the choppy graphics during intense battles.

Then comes Asphalt 9. This game’s graphical settings is either in “default” or “high” only. I turned it down to “default” and played a race match. It actually plays out pretty well with only occasional drops to below 30FPS, but the game looks absolutely hideous. Everything has jagged edges and the nitro tank looks like blurry staircases.

ASUS ZenFone Max (M2)

As for PUBG Mobile, it is playable with the absolute lowest settings. The frame rate is acceptable and managed to sustain a smooth gameplay.

Here’s the kicker – I experienced the ASUS ZenFone Max (M2) for myself and I can say that it is not a gaming phone. Not by a long shot. The Snapdragon 632 just isn’t powerful enough.

With a 4,000mAh battery, one would expect great battery life out of it. However, from our test, it is somewhat below our expectations. Take a look at the result of our battery life test here.

ASUS ZenFone Max (M2) battery life benchmark

The ASUS ZenFone Max (M2) that is equipped with a Snapdragon 632 chipset and a 720p screen scores only an hour more compared to the ZenFone 5 and the ZenFone 5Z, where both of them have 3,000mAh batteries. The Snapdragon 636 on the ZenFone Max Pro (M1) and the ASUS ZenFone Max Pro (M2) with 5,000mAh battery scored much better while providing much better performance.

All in all, in terms of battery life, the ZenFone Max (M2) is below the line of best fit.

Charger

The ASUS ZenFone Max (M2) comes with a 5V 2A charger which is very standard. ASUS has changed the design of their chargers now, making it smaller than the ones included in the previous generation of ZenFone Max phones.

ASUS ZenFone Max (M2)

As for the charging speed, check out the graphic below.

ASUS ZenFone Max (M2) battery charging curve

For the relatively 4,000mAh battery, it takes about 41 minutes to reach 50% charge and a total of 69 minutes to reach 75% of battery charge.

On paper, the ASUS ZenFone Max (M2) is catered towards the even lower end market that does not need the performance that its Pro variant offers. However, when compared to the ZenFone Max Pro (M1), the novelty of the ASUS ZenFone Max (M2) wears out.

The ASUS ZenFone Max (M2) has an inferior chipset – the Snapdragon 632 – which under-performs in games, making it unsuitable to be called a “next-generation gaming” phone. The 720p display is not only low in resolution, but the colors are washed out too. It does have an extra gigabyte of RAM and has better camera lenses compared to the Max Pro (M1), but the quality is still poor.

ASUS ZenFone Max (M2)

For the price of RM699, I highly recommend you to buy the ASUS ZenFone Max Pro (M1) while you still can. Bigger battery with better performance and a much better screen. but one less gigabyte of RAM. Or splurge a little more to get the HONOR 10 Lite.

Where to buy?


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