Asus had a successful 2018 with popular smartphones like the Zenfone Max Pro M1 and the Zenfone 5Z. The recently launched Zenfone Max Pro M2 has also raised the bar for mid-range smartphones, and with the Zenfone Max M2, Asus is looking to repeat the same. Launched just two months after the Zenfone Max M1, the successor brings in key upgrades to the table.

It is offered in two variants – 3GB RAM with 32GB storage for Rs 9,999, and 4GB RAM with 64GB storage for Rs 11,999. They can be purchased exclusively via Flipkart. At its price point, the smartphone will closely compete with the Xiaomi Redmi 6 Pro, Realme 2, Moto G6 Play, and Honor 7C to name a few. With the upgrades that the Max M2 brings, is it worth buying? Let’s find out.

Watch: Asus Zenfone 5Z First Look

Display and design

The Zenfone Max M1 featured an 18:9 HD+ display with thick bezels on the top and bottom. With the Max M2, Asus has sliced some of those bezels to offer more screen real estate. You now get a 6.26-inch HD+ 19:9 display. There is a wide notch at the top that houses a front camera, LED flash, earpiece and sensors. The company has fitted an IPS LCD panel which is quite good when it comes to brightness and color reproduction, especially at its price point.

The frame is made from thick plastic, and the back features a metal plate with smooth metallic finish. On the top left, you have vertically placed dual camera modules, and an LED flash. A circular fingerprint scanner sits at the center in the top half, followed by Asus branding. Overall, it comes with a good design, nothing new or out of ordinary, but sticking to the basics.

Stock Android OS

One of the strong points of recent Asus smartphones is that they run stock Android OS, and the Zenfone Max M2 is no different. It runs Android 8.1 Oreo with October security patch, and is due to get Android 9 Pie update sometime next year. Asus has installed three apps that include Sound Recorder, FM Radio and Calculator, and three third-party apps that include Facebook, Instagram and Messenger. Unfortunately, you cannot uninstall them.

Overall, the software experience is good and clutter free. There are nifty additions such as the ambient display that wakes screen when you get notifications. Asus has also added ZenMotion that lets you double tap the screen to turn off and wake up the display.

There are, however, a couple of things you would miss on stock Android. In case of custom skins, you get features like dual messenger for WhatsApp, Telegram and more. But the same isn’t available here. Thankfully, there are apps such as Parallel Space, App Cloner, Multiple Accounts among others that let you have that feature.

Performance and battery life

The smartphone is powered by a Snapdragon 632 SoC, which is a big upgrade over the Snapdragon 430 on the Zenfone Max M1. Made on 14nm process and featuring a Kryo 250 octa-core CPU, it offers over 40 percent improvement over Snapdragon 626, and some more over Snapdragon 430. Asus made a good choice going for a capable processor, unlike other OEMs that go for a less powerful chipset.

I had the 3GB RAM with 32GB storage variant for review, and the performance difference was visible. I did not come across any lag when using the smartphone during the day to day usage. With a few Chrome tabs open, switching between apps like Facebook and Twitter was effortless. Even gaming performance was decent. I played casual titles like Monument Valley 2 and Alto’s Odyssey and they ran fine. Even Asphalt 9: Legends and PUBG were playable at low graphics settings. The rendering wasn’t sharp, but you can play them without any issues.

Battery life on the Max M2 is good too. The 4,000mAh battery takes about two hours to fully charge with the 10W adapter bundled in the box, and with normal usage, the battery lasts close to a day and a half. If you have more heavy usage, it will still let you sail through a working day, and be left with some juice at night.

Cameras

Now, while I had no complaints about the design, software and performance, I am disappointed with the camera performance. Daylight shots are decent, and good enough to share on social media channels. But most photos lack details, the dynamic range is iffy at times. And in low-light, it struggles even further, right from taking a couple of seconds to lock focus, to saving photos in camera roll, Asus needs to fine tune the software to take advantage of the chipset’s capabilities.

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Most times, the night shots came out blurry, and when I did get some right, they looked smudgy. The primary 13-megapixel sensor has f/1.8 aperture, but it doesn’t do justice to photos. The secondary 2-megapixel sensor doesn’t work too well. The portrait mode makes the background dark at times. The 8-megapixel selfie snapper on the front is good outdoors, but starts losing quality indoors. It does offer AI portrait mode, and it does a decent job outdoors. The camera also supports 4K video recording, but let’s not be too ambitious.

Verdict: Should you buy the Zenfone Max M2?

The Zenfone Max M2 brings strong competition in the affordable segment by offering stock Android, smooth performance and long battery life. However, if you are looking for a smartphone with a dependable camera in under Rs 10,000 price range, you may be a bit disappointed. Taking the camera out of the equation, the Zenfone Max M2 is a good value for money proposition.

If you can extend your budget by Rs 3,000, you can go for Realme 2 Pro or Zenfone Max Pro M2, both of which are good devices. Otherwise, if you want stock Android, premium looking glass design and decent cameras, the Nokia 5.1 Plus is worth looking at. And if you don’t mind MIUI interface, the Xiaomi Redmi 6 Pro is not a bad option either.

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