It’s been a while since our phones had just one job to do. As we’ve come to rely on them for communication, entertainment, and photography, we’ve gravitated towards larger devices that offer more screen real estate. But screen size has always been limited by the most important factor in a phone’s design: its portability. Though the latest high-end phones represent an influx of devices with skinny bezels that aim to increase screen size while keeping things compact, they’re expensive. The budget aisle is rife with chunkier devices that struggle to balance screen size with overall portability.
Priced at $229 USD and $299 CAD, the ZenFone Max Plus offers the best of both worlds by cramming a roomy 5.7” screen into a much smaller chassis without breaking the bank. Measuring 152 mm tall and 73 mm wide, the ZenFone Max Plus is scarcely bigger than the 5.2” ZenFone 4 Max. It’s compact enough to stash in your pocket, but its stunning exterior is begging to be shown off. The smooth glass of the display melts into a metallic body that’s colored in either Deepsea Black or Azure Silver with a brushed matte finish that’s easy to hold onto. While today’s metal and glass phones often feel cold and slippery, the ZenFone Max Plus feels almost warm, like it’s an extension of your hand.
Curved edges and rounded corners make the phone comfortable to hold, whether you’re hanging onto both ends as you watch videos, or have one hand wrapped around the entire body during a marathon Reddit session. Shiny accents run across the top and bottom, matching the delicate border that surrounds the perfectly round fingerprint sensor and giving the phone a subtle edge. The concentric circles synonymous with our Zen line add some flair to the power button and volume rocker. Though they’re really tiny, the texture is easy to feel with your thumb and offers reassuring friction for quick volume adjustments when listening to music. The buttons themselves are gloriously satisfying to press, offering distinct clicks that aren’t at all mushy or shallow.
The Max Plus’s small footprint is made by possible by thin side bezels that measure just 3 mm thick. We also reduced the top bezel and bottom chin, shrinking them down to 9 mm and 11 mm, respectively, to achieve the increasingly common 18:9 aspect ratio that’s dominating the high-end phone space. If you’re used to the more common 16:9 aspect ratio, the taller screen can feel a little strange, but it’s really hard to go back once you’ve tried it. Narrow enough for one-handed use, this elongated shape is perfectly suited to split-screen multitasking because it adds more vertical real-estate, and it’s awesome for endless-scrolling apps, like Facebook and Instagram.
Switch to landscape, and you’ll be able to view content from services like Netflix as intended. Popular shows like Stranger Things and The Crown are shot in 2:1, and watching them on the ZenFone Max Plus is as immersive an experience as you can get on a phone. Because there’s still a little bezel up top and on the bottom, you can still grip either end of the phone while you watch videos.
The taller display also allowed us to squeeze in more pixels. The Max Plus’s 2160×1080 resolution packs a whopping 423 pixels into each square inch for more clarity in pictures and videos, and crisp, clear text when browsing the web. Colors are bright and vivid, to. I spend a lot of my time watching dark, moody shows like House of Cards, but the ZenFone Max Plus does just as well, if not better, with polychromatic cartoons. Endless running game Temple Run 2 uses every color of the rainbow, popping off the screen in a candy-like wave that is a true feast for the eyes.
Two speakers on the bottom pump out more sound than is reasonable for a such a small device. If you’re one of those terrible people who likes to crank your music in public places, the Max Plus is the perfect tool for torturing those around you who are really honestly just trying to commute in peace. Decent human beings are rewarded with a 3.5-mm headphone jack on the top edge, so you can use any earbuds or over-ear headphones you already own.
Beauty and brains for days
The gorgeous display is a showstopper all on its own, but it’s what’s on the inside that counts, and the Plus is the perfect blend of powerful and pretty. With eight cores and 3GB of RAM, the phone is capable of running more demanding apps like Dead Trigger 2, and switching between apps is as easy as double tapping the recent apps key in the bottom right to view all the running apps you’ve got on deck.
You start out with 32GB of onboard storage, but support for a further 256GB via the microSD slot on the side gives you the flexibility to expand your storage as time goes on. The ability to swap out cards quickly and easily means you don’t have to sit around and wait for movies and music to download when you need offline entertainment. Alongside the microSD slot is space for a second nano SIM, allowing you to ditch your work phone completely and just carry around one device that covers business and personal calls. It also saves you the hassle of purchasing a local SIM for making calls while adventuring abroad.
No matter how far you travel, you can be assured the ZenFone Max Plus won’t leave you high and dry with a dead phone. The ZenFone Max line is known for its battery life. Last year’s ZenFone 4 Max ekes out an impressive three days on a single charge! Despite packing a much larger display, the ZenFone Max Plus stays true to its roots with a massive 4130mAh battery that’s built to outlast even the most demanding users and liberate you from the shackles of the normal nightly charging routine. It easily lasted me a full weekend on a single charge, and that included a bunch of photo and video testing with the brightness set to max. ASUS PowerMaster offers a suite of power management settings to further extend battery life, and support for reverse charging means you can even top up a buddy’s phone via the included OTG cable if you’re feeling charitable.
Following in the footsteps of the ZenFone 4 family before it, the Plus boasts a dual camera setup for more flexibility when you’re taking photos. The primary camera utilizes a 16MP sensor with lightning fast phase detection autofocus to ensure you never miss a moment. It’s complemented by a second 8MP camera with a 120° wide-angle lens that is tailor-made for group shots and scenic photos where you want to capture as much of the landscape in front of you as possible.
For both cameras, you can toggle between aspect ratios, skipping from 18:9 to 16:9, 4:3, or even a perfectly square 1:1. Just keep in mind that only 4:3 uses the entirety of the camera’s sensor. Shooting in 18:9 gives you the bonus of using the display as an awesome full-screen viewfinder, but the 16MP camera will only be able to produce 10MP images, and your 8MP wide-angle camera will be cut down to a 5MP shot.
An array of dedicated camera modes are on hand to help you fine tune your photography, including a Super Resolution mode capable of taking highly detailed 64MP images, and Beauty mode to brighten skin, reduce the appearance of blemishes, and even out skin tone in portrait photos. These and the other modes are revealed by swiping left. Pro mode is pinned to the bottom right when shooting in Auto, so you can easily switch between a point-and-shoot and full manual camera experience. If you’d prefer to switch out Pro for Beauty mode, or any of the others, you can adjust your pinned mode by holding down your preferred selection until the little yellow pin appears on top of it. Check the gallery below for some sample shots taken with the ZenFone Max Plus.
Of course, no smartphone would be complete without a front-facing camera for selfies. Like the rear-facing shooter, Beauty mode is on deck for the days where you’re not feeling your best. It can add a youthful, rosy glow, slim your cheeks, enlarge tired eyes, and smooth over uneven skin. You can adjust each modification to make it as intense or as subtle as you like.
But the Max’s front-facing camera is no one trick pony. It also facilitates the ZenFone’s Face Unlock feature. Setting it up is really easy, although it goes without saying that you should find reasonably good lighting and pick a day where you look most like your normal yourself. The front-facing camera will register your mug, and you can activate Face Unlock as your preferred method for unlocking immediately after. My ZenFone Max Plus knows I’m me with or without my glasses, and didn’t have to capture both versions of myself for it to allow access to my phone. I still prefer the speed and enhanced security of fingerprint unlock, especially when I’m out and about, but Face Unlock is just as fast and comes in handy on cold days when I don’t feel like taking off my gloves.
|Processor||MediaTek MT6750T SoC
8 x Cortex-A53 CPU cores, 1.5GHz
Mali T860 Graphics
|Display||5.7" Full HD+ IPS
1080 x 2160
Micro SD support (up to 256GB)
|Secondary Camera||8MP with 120° wide-angle lens|
2 x Nano SIM (1 x 2/3/4G, 1x 3G/2G voice)
802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi
|Operating System||Android N with ZenUI 4|
|Dimensions||73 x 152.6 x 8.8 mm|
|Price||$229 USD / $299 CAD|
|Availability (USA)||Azure Silver
|Availability (Canada)||Azure Silver
Maxing out on value
The ZenFone Max Plus is budget smartphone built for users looking to supersize their smartphone without adding bulk. Narrow bezels allow for a phablet-sized display inside a 5.2” body, while the sleek chassis keeps the whole package lightweight and stylish. Not content with just looking the part, the Plus squeezes in the latest must-have features, like dual cameras and Face Unlock, and still manages to add a few extras that are hard to find on any phone at any price, like microSD and dual-SIM support. The ZenFone Max Plus is priced at $229 USD and $299 CAD.