ASUS Zenfone 3
Price: USD 359+
ASUS Zenfone series has had a shaky history. Last year, they released the decent Zenfone 2 along with several other variants that made their lineup confusing. This year, ASUS released three models once again – the Zenfone 3 Flagship, Zenfone 3 Ultra and Zenfone 3 Deluxe – and with these releases the company has polished their flagship and made a budget phone worthy of competition with premium handsets.
ASUS Zenfone 3 Flagship – Design
Previous Zenfones were housed in a cheap looking and feeling plastic chassis. The Zenfone 3 Flagship, however, has a lovely metal and glass body reminiscent of the Samsung Galaxy S7. On the back of the phone, beneath the camera, is a fingerprint reader (much like the one you would see on handsets like the LG V10 and Nexus 6P). The 5.2-inch screen boasts a 1080p display – which is the standard for midrange phones now.
The volume rocker and power key are located on the right side of the phone, which is a significant improvement over the power key’s placement on the Zenfone 2. The Zenfone 3 also comes with Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow, and it is one of the only (if not THE only) midrange Android phone boasting USB Type-C. Despite running the latest Android, though, the phone is bogged down by the Zen UI, which is still a clunky, annoying mess. You would be wise to turn off all the notifications the UI automatically turns on unless you like checking your phone every 20 seconds.
Despite the premium look and feel, though, the Zenfone 3 doesn’t do anything to stand out. The phone mimics the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy series, but it does nothing to make itself a unique handset.
Camera, Specs, and Battery
The camera on the ASUS Zenfone 3 is also one of the biggest improvements. ASUS has upgraded from a 13 MP to 16 MP shooter, with an 8 MP front-facing camera perfect for selfies. The camera does well, recreating colours naturally, and it does surprisingly well in low-light settings. The camera’s optical image stabilisation also does an excellent job taking the shake out of videos.
The Zenfone 2 was the first phone to introduce 4 GB of RAM, and ASUS correctly decided to keep the feature for the Zenfone 3. The standard model holds 32 GB of internal storage and 3 GB of RAM, but you can upgrade to 64 GB and 4 GB RAM for just $50 more. If you want to go all out, you can spend your money one the Zenfone 3 Deluxe with its ridiculous 6 GB of RAM when it releases.
The battery life on the Zenfone 3 is also quite surprising. In a CNET battery test, the phone lasted about 16 hours, which is well above the average for even premium smartphones. That’s pretty impressive, and it may be one of the best things about the Zenfone 3.
The Snapdragon 625 is also a snappy and responsive processor. It may not have the killer performance of the Snapdragon 820 found in premium handsets, but has more than enough power to handle Pokémon GO (which is the only thing that matters to Millenials these days, right?). While the phone is capable, it falls behind the performance of the Moto G4, the closest handset it is competing with.
While the Zenfone 3 has a nice premium aesthetic with midrange features, the Zenfone 3 Deluxe packs all the premium it can into one device. The Deluxe is entirely metal – aluminium, actually – just like its competitor, the iPhone. Unlike modern iPhones, though, the Zenfone 3 Deluxe has no plastic band to let the antenna signals through. It is the first smartphone to make a solid metal body without antenna bands.
The phone is also packed with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 821, the latest and greatest processor which also happens to be embedded in only this smartphone to date, and can supposedly outperform the iPhone 6s and its many cousins. The phone is also equipped with 256 GB of internal storage and 6 GB of RAM. The storage is just truly impressive, and while the 6 GB of RAM seems nice, it is hard to tell whether or not the phone maximises all of it. The camera is also a killer 23 MP shooter with laser focus, continuous auto focus, and phase detection. Essentially, this is a beast of a camera that can easily compete with the latest premium phones. The only thing the phone seems to lack on the premium front is its Full HD display (and the near miss to launch with Android Nougat). In my opinion, anything beyond 1080p on such a small screen is just a battery drainer. The iPhones still don’t have the 1080p display, so you are still getting a better experience with the Zenfone 3 Deluxe’s 5.7″ FHD display.
If any other company made this phone, you would be paying close to $800 (at least) for it. Asus is charging $500. That is a lot of premium for quite a price.
If you want something more in the middle of the Zenfone 3 and the Deluxe, but are still looking for something a tad ridiculous, then you may be interested in the Zenfone 3 Ultra. The phone sports an utterly ridiculous 6.8″ FHD display and the same full metal body as the Deluxe. The Ultra also rocks the Deluxe’s 23 MP camera, though it is still sporting the original Snapdragon 625.
The phone also has a slightly different design. For one, there is a physical home key on the front of the device. The camera is also placed to the side of the camera, much like the modern iPhone.
The screen size may be unruly for most, but if you are looking for a hybrid smartphone/tablet device, this may be the handset for you. You can grab it for $479 when it releases later this year.
ASUS has polished the Zenfone line into a robust and worthwhile handset experience. The Zenfone 3 is a great looking and (mostly) smooth operating phone that has a great camera and plenty of storage. The Zen UI may be annoying and similar handsets may eek out better performance, but the ASUS Zenfone 3 is one of the best midrange handsets of the year. And, of course, if you are looking for something more, you can pick Zenfone 3 Ultra and if you need more wow features, get yourself the Zenfone 3 Deluxe.