While we stand by our review of the 5.5-inch Zenfone 3 we doled out a few months ago, a lot of people balked at the idea of paying for an essentially mid-range smartphone at near flagship prices. And while we don’t necessarily agree that the Zenfone 3 is overpriced, we do understand people’s hesitation at paying top dollar for a brand that’s supposed to be “empowering luxury to everyone”.
That’s why the Zenfone 3 Laser might just be the sweet spot for many people still looking for a decent, mid-range smartphone without having to use up their 13th month pay. Sleek, svelte and powerful, the ZF3 Laser may just be the compromise that ASUS fans have been waiting for.
ASUS Zenfone 3 Laser specs
- 1.4GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 430 octa-core processor
- Adreno 505 GPU
- 4GB of RAM
- 5.5-inch full HD IPS display, 2.5D glass, 1920 x 1080 resolution
- 32GB of expandable storage
- 13-megapixel rear camera with Sony IMX214 sensor, EIS, 2nd generation laser AF, LED flash
- 8-megapixel front camera
- Dual SIM
- 3G, LTE
- WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, A-GPS, Fingerprint scanner
- Android 6.0, ZenUI 3.0
- 3000mAh battery
(Almost) all metal, all sexy
Just like the ZF3 Max, the ZF3 Laser receives ASUS’ new, updated design language. No more cheap-looking plastic bodies – the ZF3 Laser sports a full metal body construction that makes it feel more expensive than its supposedly mid-range price tag. Put the ZF3 Laser and the ZF3 Max together, and you’ll see the similarities in their design – the ZF3 Laser sports the same curved edges and corners like its smaller, more affordable brother, though it’s slightly larger in size thanks to its 5.5-inch display.
The main difference between the ZF3 Laser and the ZF3 Max’s body can be found in the rear. The ZF3 Laser has a laser autofocus system on the left side of the camera module that the ZF3 Max lacks. The ZF3 Laser also sports a more rectangular fingerprint scanner compared to the square-ish one that’s on the ZF3 Max.
Just like its brother, the ZF3 Laser is easy on the eyes and is quite comfortable to hold, thanks to its curved body. But despite appearances, the ZF3 Laser doesn’t use a unibody aluminum construction (it’ll probably cost much more if it did), evidenced by the two plastic strips located at the rear of the phone, on the top and bottom. These strips contain the antennas needed for wireless connectivity.
The power button and volume rocker is located at the right side of the phone, while the microSD/SIM tray is located on the left. The 3.5mm jack is located on the top of the phone. The USB port is located at the bottom of the phone, flanked by a single speaker grille.
Moving to the rear, you’ll see the slightly protruding 13-megapixel, Sony IMX214 rear camera with EIS, 2nd generation laser AF, EIS and dual-tone LED flash, with the rectangular fingerprint scanner right below it.
The front of the device is dominated by the 5.5-inch, full HD IPS display. That display has 2.5D glass layered on top of it, and is protected by Gorilla Glass 3. Physical capacitive keys located right below the display handle navigation.
The display of the ZF3 Laser is good, with accurate and punchy colors as well as generous viewing angles. Just like most mid-range smartphones, we really can’t find anything wrong with the display of the ZF3 Laser. Probably the only thing we don’t like with the display is the black bezel that borders it.
Snapdragon 430 performs well
The ZF3 Laser is outfitted with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 430 octa-core processor, paired with 4GB of RAM and 32GB of expandable storage. The Snapdragon 430 chipset is starting to become a more common sight in mid-range phones, due to its excellent balance of performance and power efficiency.
The Snapdragon 430 might not score high marks in AnTuTu, but we found it to be quick enough for the occasional Android game (or two). Navigating through the phone’s UI is fast and fluid, and the phone uses Android Marshmallow along with ASUS’ UI overlay dubbed ZenUI.
Much of the same issues we had with the software of the ZF3 Max is present on the ZF3 Laser. It suffers from an almost unbearable amount of bloatware, thanks to ZenUI. When we first connected the phone to our local network, it auto-updated a whopping 30+ apps from the get go. We’ve always maintained that ASUS needs to trim down the amount of pre-installed bloatware on their phones for the sake of their users, and our opinion only gets reinforced every time we review a phone from them.
Moving on to the other parts of the phone – the speaker is unexpectedly loud for something that small. Audio clarity was also surprising, and while it distorted on higher volumes, the sound quality from that tiny speaker caught us off guard.
The rectangular fingerprint scanner is pretty good, and despite having less surface area to read your finger because of its shape, it still managed to do a respectable job, unlocking the phone in less than a second.
Better camera than the original Laser
The ZF3 Laser’s main appeal is the laser autofocus system that’s positioned beside the main camera module. A common misconception is that the laser AF is the only focusing tech that’s responsible for making sure all your photos are in focus.
That’s not the case – the laser AF on the ZF3 Laser is useful when taking photos up to 150cm. Any more than that, and the regular focusing tech takes over.
That means close up and macro shots benefit from the laser AF, allowing close in shooting.
The Sony IMX214 camera module does its job well, producing photos with good clarity and color.
More than enough juice to last you the day
Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 430 processor has managed to impress us with its number crunching capabilities and relative power efficiency. While we didn’t manage to get a good read of the phone’s performance in PCMark’s battery benchmark because of software issues, we did manage to get around a day’s worth of battery with moderate use on a single charge. The 3000mAh battery and relatively power efficient SD430 chipset is a great combo, delivering excellent battery endurance to last you through the day.
Verdict: An excellent alternative to the ZF3
At the end of the day, the ZF3 Laser is a great mid-range phone that’s not out of reach for most working class Juans out there. It’s a solid performer, and can handle most, if not all, Android apps you throw at it. It has an impressive camera as well, and as long as you do your part, it’s capable of producing really good photos in a pinch. At Php 11,995, it’s slight more expensive than the ZF3 Max, but the extra cash you spend for it is worth it.