Will the Zenfone 3 live up to the hype? Find out in our Zenfone 3 review!
The Asus Zenfone 2 was a pretty badass device. It sure did please a lot of people during its reign, mainly because of what it offered for the price. The Zenfone 2 is one of the best smartphones in its category, so its successor sure has big shoes to fill.
Now we have the Asus Zenfone 3, the company’s latest crown jewel. The company promises that it “brings premium design and empowering performance to everyone”, which proclaims that they are still sticking to line-up’s philosophy – which is to offer the best possible product at the lowest possible price.
Asus went a completely different route in creating this device. But is it a great smartphone? Let’s all figure that out in our review.
Design and Build Quality: Premium
To start, the variant that we have here is the Asus Zenfone 3 64GB Shimmer Gold. The device is also available in Aqua Blue, Sapphire Black, and Moonlight White. Yup, due to the new materials used, this new Zenfone smartphone is now also being offered in Gold. The third iteration is now being sandwich with Corning Gorilla Glass 3 and beautifully wrapped in an aluminum alloy frame. This thing is surely an eye candy with the circular pattern that’s laminated beneath the Gorilla Glass that reflects beautifully with light.
The device looks far more attractive than its predecessor until it gets bombarded with fingerprints. Zenfone 3 is also quite slippery, which can be alarming to those users who have butterfingers. All these hurdles are can be addressed just by skinning or resting the device in a protective case, but that route means that you’re sacrificing the chance of being able to glance at the phone’s stunning design and prevents you from having to caress its exquisite material. In my opinion, it’s best to just wipe the fingerprints off from time to time.
But nonetheless, The Zenfone 3 feels like it’s built like a tank. This smartphone feels solid and well put together.
At the front, we have a large 5.5-inch 1080p display, together with the earpiece, proximity and ambient light sensors, LED notification indicator and an 8-megapixel front-facing camera. We also have the capacitive buttons at the chin of the device, which oddly doesn’t have backlighting, thus making it hard to use when you’re in a dark room. Anyway, you can easily get used to it after days of usage so no need to worry about it. It helps save precious battery charge, too.
The left side has the hybrid tray for two SIM cards and a microSD card slot capable of up to 256GB. Unfortunately, you can only have a second SIM card or an expandable storage loaded as the tray only has two partitions.
The right side now has the lock/power switch and the volume controls. They are now no longer at the back as that area is now occupied by the new fingerprint scanner. These buttons have a pretty tactile feeling when pressed. However, it wobbles a little bit when you try to play with it.
The top has the network antennas, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and the noise-cancelling microphone.
The bottom also has the network antennas, the primary microphone, the loudspeaker and a USB Type-C port. Yup, Asus now supports the Type – C revolution, which means that this thing is ready for the future. Although, prospected users should really give extra care to the included USB cable as there is still not a lot of them available in the market today. But nonetheless, the cord that’s included in the package seems well-built, far sturdier than the likes of the lightning cable that comes with Apple devices.
The loudspeaker, before we forgot, delivers impressive performance. The volume is loud with good clarity and well-balanced sound. However, its placement can be easily covered by hands when using the handset on landscape mode, thus completely muting the speakers.
At the back, we have the 16-megapixel camera with LED flash, fingerprint scanner, and the Asus logo.
Overall, the Asus Zenfone 3 is a stunning and well-built device. The company really stepped up from the usual all-plastic build from their previous releases.
Display: Sharp, but not too sharp
The Asus Zenfone 3 has a 5.5-inch Full HD Super IPS+ display, which has a 1920 x 1080 resolution and 401 pixels-per-inch. The panel also boasts a high 600nits of brightness, better than last year’s iPhone.
Needless to say, display quality on the Zenfone 3 is really astounding. Colors are pretty accurate, which can also be tuned in the settings menu depending on the user’s liking. Contrast is also okay, with deep blacks that aren’t known in IPS panels. Sharpness is also on point, you can see every text in a written article even when zoomed all the way out.
At 600nits, the Asus Zenfone 3 can also get extremely bright, which makes outdoor visibility really good. However, the auto-brightness feature tends to overcompensate when the device is in a dark place, which ended up with me turning it off and adjusting it myself. It’s not a problem specific to Asus though, as Android is known to have subpar auto-brightness feature.
Nevertheless, the large and sharp display on the Zenfone 3 makes it perfect not only for web browsing and media consumption but also for productivity.
Hardware and Performance
The Zenfone 3 is the first device from Asus that now hosts a fingerprint scanner, which is one of the many reasons why this is a huge upgrade from its predecessor. The sensor is conveniently placed at the back, where your index finger usually rests – making it really easy to reach.
Performance wise, this thing is one of the fastest and most accurate readers I’ve used. It instantly unlocks the device in a flash, even when the screen is off. Setting up this feature is fairly easy, thanks to Android Marshmallow’s built-in integration of fingerprint scanners. You can register up to five different fingerprints. It can also be used to secure certain applications.
The Asus Zenfone 3 is also the first handset to house the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 625, which has a 2.0GHz octa-core processor, 4GB of RAM, and Adreno 506 GPU. This powerful combination makes the smartphone really snappy.
Check out these benchmark test results:
Browsing through the home screen, social media applications, and other day-to-day activities are seamless. Also, with its large display and 4GB of RAM, productivity junkies can be really pleased. Switching between applications is a breeze. It can also open different applications without causing them to force close. The unit we have here is the 64GB/4GB RAM configuration, but there’s also a 32GB/3GB RAM variant.
Gameplay is also impressive. From fighting titles like UFC, racing simulation like Real Racing 3, and a processor-hungry game like Sim City – this thing handled all of them very well with only occasional frame drops. It’s nothing serious and it doesn’t impact the gameplay at all.
Another impressive thing is the thermal system. I’ve never experienced any overheating throughout my test, even during my stress tests.
Software and User Interface: Good, but still bloated
There’s one thing that hasn’t changed on the Zenfone 3 when compared with its brothers, and that’s the bulky interface. This device is being run by Android 6.0 Marshmallow which is accompanied by the company’s own ZenUI 3.0 on top. However, the scenario here is pretty much just like what happened to Samsung’s TouchWiz interface years ago. The company learned a lot from its previous iterations and now led to a more refined, and lightweight skin. Unlike its previous versions, the ZenUI 3.0 now feels more refined. No more nonsense clutters, just straightforward useful stuff.
It will take us all day just to talk about this proprietary interface, so let me just name a few that I really liked. For starters, the lock screen now looks simple and informative. It provides useful information at a glance, and it even features a 3D animation of the weather. Parallax motion on the desktop is now also present, and the app drawer is now displayed in a friendly manner.
Asus has also introduced GameGenies, which is basically a gaming app that automatically pops-up as a discreet floating icon when your start a game. This allows the users to live stream their gameplay in an instant to different streaming apps like YouTube and Twitch. It can also provide an in-game browser for finding tips, walkthroughs, cheats and guide videos.
Android Marshmallow also compliments the device with its features. And knowing Asus, we can sure expect them to give an Android 7.0 Nougat update soon.
I have created a separate article about the camera’s performance, but we’ll still cover it here.
To sum it up, the Asus Zenfone 3 boasts a 16-megapixel Sony Exmor RS IMX298 sensor on its primary lens. It ships with an aperture of f/2.0, laser autofocus, 4-axis Optical Image Stabilization and dual-tone flash.
Colors do pop a lot, but not too much, which makes everything still look natural. Contrast is also impressive. The depth of field is just spectacular. And sharpness, as expected, is really on point. Every detail is crisp. Pictures taken at low-light scenarios are also usable, although grains and noises are quite visible. But still, it’s incredibly good for a smartphone.
Probably the only weakness of the camera that I have noticed is the dynamic range. Dark areas can go completely pitch black just to compensate the highlights. However, it can be easily fixed by enabling the HDR mode.
The OIS also works pretty well. You can take low-light shots without gaining noise by doing long exposures. It also works on video, but only if you’re shooting at 1080p.
Speaking of videos, this thing can shoot of up to 4K resolution, with almost the quality same as the stills.
The front-facing camera sports an 8-megapixel sensor, with a 64-degree wide-angle view, perfect for group shots. Enabling the front camera also triggers the beauty function, which basically tailors the image to make faces look finer (read: remove pimples and the like).
The Asus Zenfone 3 has a good set of connectivity options. It has WiFi 802.11ac, up to category 7 4G LTE and MiMO WiFi, and Bluetooth 4.2. All of them worked as expected in my tests. The WiFi connection with our home router didn’t experience any signal drops, and connecting the smartphone to a Bluetooth speaker was seamless.
Probably the only step back in this department is the lack of NFC. It can switch the preferred mobile data SIM. You have to set a “Primary SIM’ in the settings menu to use it for connecting to mobile data networks.
As a phone, it works well. I’ve never had any dropped calls during my review time with it. Calls are crystal clear and I didn’t have problems hearing the person I’m talking to even in loud environments. Sending (SMS) texts is straightforward and it works as expected as well.
Battery Life: Surprisingly great
The Zenfone 3 has a 3000mAh, a battery capacity that’s pretty usual nowadays. However, I’m seeing some unusual results during my tests and they are really quite impressive.
During light to moderate usage, the device lasted me a whole day, with still some juice left to service me even through the half of the next day. That result was attained by casually receiving and sending SMS, browsing through social media, listening to music and watching several episodes of my favorite TV shows while I’m commuting on my way home – a routine that a lot of people are facing in their daily lives.
Meanwhile, heavy usage lasted for up to 7 hours. That’s almost twice as the usual 4-hour mark that we get in other smartphones. That test consists of non-stop streaming videos online, playing games, and browsing the web.
Probably the missing feature here is the fast charging capability. The battery juice can go back to 100% at around 2 hours of recharging with its included 2-amp charger, which is still pretty acceptable considering the battery longevity that you will be getting on this thing.
And just like its predecessor, the Asus Zenfone 3 also left us impressed. Even more so because of its huge leap on everything. The Zenfone line-up is aimed for consumers who are looking for a good bang-for-the-buck product, and the third iteration from this series still carries that philosophy.
Despite the price tag, Asus was still able to match some of the characteristics that high-end smartphones have. A glass and metal combination on its build, large and beautiful display, powerful processor, capable camera, and an impressive battery life.
However, I still wish that Asus would just the drop the ZenUI interface. Sure, this in-house interface has been improved very well since its release, but the ZenUI 3.0 still feels a bit bloated, especially when compared to other manufacturer’s interface.
Also, the beautiful design made the device fragile. The Asus Zenfone 3 is sturdy, but the metal sides and thin profile made it slippery. But you know what? That’s okay. Every premium smartphone out there has its own shortcomings in the design standpoint.
If I’ll be real honest, I’m just nitpicking about the handset’s weakness. The Zenfone 3 is really an impressive smartphone for its price. The competition in the mid-range category is now really tough, but Asus was still able to remain on top.
ASUS Zenfone 3 ZE552KL Specs
- Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow, Zen UI
- Dual-SIM, Dual Standby
- 5.5-inch Full HD Gorilla Glass 3 Display, 1920×1080 resolution, ~401 ppi
- Qualcomm MSM8996 Snapdragon 625
- Adreno 506
- 3GB / 4GB RAM
- 32GB / 64GB internal storage
- expandable up to 128GB via microSD
- 16-megapixel rear camera, laser/phase detection af, f/2.0, 4-axis OIS, dual-LED flash
- 8-megapixel front camera, f/2.0
- Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi hotspot
- HSPA+, LTE
- Bluetooth v4.2, NFC
- GPS, A-GPS, GLONASS
- USB Type-C reversible connector
- Fingerprint scanner
- Dimensions: 152.6 x 77.4 x 7.7 mm
- Weight: 155 g
- Colors: Sapphire Black, Moonlight White, Shimmer Gold
- 3000mAh non-removable battery
Video Review of Asus Zenfone 3
A lot of people criticized Asus for pricing the Zenfone 3 more than its predecessor, but it’s well justified in my opinion. The high-end and elegant design that was missing in last year’s model found its way on this smartphone, and that’s all I ever wanted.
So, should you buy the Zenfone 3? Yes, definitely. If you’re not convinced, go ahead and check it out in person.
Asus Zenfone 3 is available nationwide for a price of Php18,995.
For the full Zenfone 3 series price list, check it here.