ASUS Zenfone 3 Max ZC553KL Review: Mid-range Dilemma

ASUS Zenfone 3 Max ZC553KL Review: Mid-range Dilemma


When we reviewed ASUS’ Zenfone 3 Laser a few weeks ago, we found that it was the perfect compromise between the bigger, glass-encased ZF3 and the budget, mostly all-metal 5.2-inch ZF3 Max. But just as people were gearing up to drop the cash on the ZF3 Laser, the Taiwanese company suddenly announced a far better phone by comparison: the 5.5-inch ZF3 Max. The new phone presented a problem for prospective buyers because it had relatively better specs, almost the same design and a significantly larger battery than the ZF3 Laser already on the market. The biggest question that’s on everyone’s mind: is the updated ZF3 Max a better buy than the ZF3 Laser that came before it?

ASUS Zenfone 3 Max ZC553KL specs

  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 430 octa-core processor
  • Adreno 505
  • 3GB of RAM
  • 5.5-inch full HD IPS display, 2.5D glass, 1920 x 1080 resolution
  • 32GB of expandable storage
  • 16-megapixel rear camera with LED flash, laser AF
  • 8-megapixel front camera
  • Dual SIM
  • 3G, LTE
  • WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, A-GPS, Fingerprint scanner
  • Android Marshmallow 6.0, ZenUI 3.0
  • 4100mAh battery


Identical-all metal design

ASUS has made a concious effort to give each segment of the Zenfone 3 lineup their own design aesthetic. The high end ZF3 Deluxe and Ultra for example, both sport unibody designs made from a single block of aluminum and invisible antennas. The regular ZF3 has a body crafted from a combination of metal and glass. For the mid-range and low-end ZF3 Max and Laser, the company has taken to using metal bodies that have bits of plastic in them.


If you put the 5.5-inch ZF3 Max and the ZF3 Laser side-by-side, they look identical, at least on the front. Turn both over though and you’ll spot subtle differences in their design – the laser autofocus module on the right instead of the left, the camera module that sits flush with the body and the square fingerprint scanner are all subtle hints that tell you you’re holding a ZF3 Max and not the earlier ZF3 Laser.


And despite the ZF3 Max’s substantially bigger 4100mAh battery compared to the ZF3 Laser’s 3000mAh pack, the ZF3 Max is only chunkier by a few millimeters (8.3mm versus 7.9mm).


Just like its smaller brother, the 5.5-inch ZF3 Max sports curved corners and sloping sides for better ergonomics and one-handed use. Two strips on the top and bottom at the back of the phone hides the antennas and omits the need for unsightly antenna lines. Both the power and volume buttons are on the right of the phone, while the 3.5mm jack is located on the top. The hybrid microSD/SIM slot is on the left, while the bottom holds the USB port and the single speaker grille.


Aside from having a bigger display compared to the ZF3 Max released earlier this year, the 5.5-inch version also ups the resolution, moving away from HD to full HD. The phone still uses non-backlit Android capacitive keys for navigation located just below the display.


As for the display – it’s alright, and provides excellent color and contrast, and is perfectly readable under the noon sun.


Better processor under the hood

If you bought the 5.2-inch ZF3 Max earlier this year, you’re probably a little upset that the 5.5-inch variant has way better chipset under the hood. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 430 octa-core processor is superior to the MediaTek offering that’s found in the smaller version. To make matters worse, aside from the slight RAM difference (3GB VS 4GB) the hardware on the 5.5-inch ZF3 Max is virtually identical to the ZF3 Laser.


Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 430 is currently our favorite budget chipset, as it has the perfect mix of power, price and power efficiency among the budget SoCs currently in the market today. We’re not surprised that it’s showing up in more budget-oriented phones as of late. Performance-wise the Snapdragon 430 is capable of handling most Android apps and games well, even at high settings.

Just like the rest of the ZF3 family, the 5.5-inch ZF3 Max comes packing ASUS’ ZenUI overlay layered on top of Android 6.0 Marshmallow, which is still as bloated as ever. It’s a good thing that the Snapdragon 430 chipset is as zippy as it is, as it’s able to cut through most of the clutter without too much issue. There’s 32GB of storage on tap, which can further be expanded via microSD storage if you desire.

The single speaker on the bottom provides okay-ish sound for its size, and the rest of the package is what we’d expect from the Snapdragon 430 chipset. The fingerprint scanner unlocks the phone quickly, though it’s not as accurate as we would have liked.

Takes much better photos than the smaller ZF3 Max

The bigger ZF3 Max comes packing a 16-megapixel rear camera that comes with an f/2.0 aperture lens with PDAF and laser AF. It’s certainly a better shooter than its smaller brother, but does it match the supposedly more expensive ZF3 Laser?

Well, yes and no. For some shots the ZF3 Laser still managed to deliver nicer, clearer photos, though casual users might not notice much of a difference. In short, the bigger ZF3 Max delivers much nicer photos than its smaller brother, and is enough for its intended audience.

4100mAh battery is the bomb, no fast charging though

The main selling point of the Max family of phones have always been their above average battery endurance. While 4100mAh is less than the original’s 5000mAh rating, it’s still higher than the usual 3000mAh that you see on typical phones today.

While we’re still looking for a replacement app to accurately benchmark phones moving forward, seeing as PCMark has been unreliable with their new update, we recorded around two days of battery life with the 5.5-inch ZF3 Max on a single charge. The phone even managed to stick around until the late hours of the second day, despite moderate use.

If there’s one thing that we don’t like with the ZF3 Max, and really the budget offerings of ASUS in general is the lack of quick charging. That big battery takes quite a while to be charged (around 1:45 minutes to 2 hours), so plan accordingly.


Verdict: A great phone that makes the ZF3 Laser obsolete

If you’re looking to grab a member of the ASUS ZF3 family and have limited funds, then you can’t do any better than the 5.5-inch version of the ZF3 Max. It has many of the same features that both the ZF3 Laser and the smaller ZF3 Max have – big battery, fast performance and insane battery life – at a price that’s hard to beat.

Curiously enough, it puts the more expensive ZF3 Laser in a precarious position. While it delivers slighty better imaging performance, more users prefer better battery endurance even at the cost of slightly lower image fidelity. What’s the use of having a phone that takes nicer photos when it can’t go the distance, right?

At the end of the day, we think that the 5.5-inch ZF3 Max offers the most bang-for-your-buck of the entire ZF3 lineup. At Php 10,990, its price is hard to ignore. Earlier ZF3 Max and Laser buyers though might not be too happy though that a better phone has come along just a few weeks (days even for some) after their purchase. Oh well – live and learn.



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