There’s a lot riding on the new iteration of ASUS’ Zenfones. Their mantra of offering the best mix of design, performance and price has allowed the company to amass legions of fans and quite a chunk of the local marketshare. That mantra has also resonated with price-sensitive pinoy buyers since they entered the smartphone market a few years ago – a mantra that thousands and thousands of their adoring fans expect the company to stick to with their newest iteration.
Many of them won’t be disappointed. The Zenfone 3 looks and feels like a smartphone that should pack quite a massive price tag, and not the under 20K pricing we’re expecting for the biggest 5.5-inch variant that we’re reviewing today. While the top tier ZE552KL may be more expensive than the one released last year, it’s definitely one of the best bang-for-the-buck phones released so far this year.
ASUS Zenfone 3 ZE552KL specs:
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor
- 4GB RAM
- 5.5-inch full HD IPS display, Corning Gorilla Glass protection, 2.5D glass, 1920 x 1080 resolution
- 64GB of expandable storage
- 16-megapixel rear camera, Sony IMX298 sensor, f/2.0 aperture, 4-axis OIS, 3-axis EIS, 6 element largan lens, laser AF, phase detection AF, continous focus
- 8-megapixel front camera, f/2.0 aperture
- 3G, LTE
- WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, A-GPS, Fingerprint scanner, USB Type-C
- Android 6.0 Marshmallow
- 3000mAh battery
Premium glass and metal body makes it feel like a flagship
ASUS has ditched the all plastic build of the previous Zenfones and settled with a more premium looking glass and metal build, and it absolutely looks incredible. The original engineering units impressed us when we first saw them in Taipei, and when we got the final review sample, we were blown away by the premium quality of the design. The phone is slim and sleek, measuring at just 7.7mm thick. A metal frame sandwiched in Gorilla Glass 4 gives the device that undeniably premium feel that makes it feel like a phone that carries a hefty price tag.
With the new materials come a new design language, at least for the Zenfone 3. Gone is the rear key setup of old, replaced by a more traditional side-mounted power and volume keys. Instead of the rear key, there’s now a fingerprint scanner located right below the 16-megapixel rear camera. That camera protrudes slightly from the body making it impossible to lay the phone completely flat on a surface.
ASUS has removed the trademark Zen-inspired finish that previously graced the chin of their phones and relocated it on the back, though it’s only really noticeable when light hits it the right way. Up top you have the 3.5mm jack, while down on the bottom of the phone you’ll see the new USB Type-C connector.
Overall the new design direction for the Zenfone 3 gives the phone a very premium feel, despite being harder to hold on to because of its completely flat body. It’s a head-turner for sure, and can easily go head-to-head with other offerings of more premium brands as far as design is concerned.
The 5.5-inch full HD Super IPS+ display has been lovingly coated with 2.5D Gorilla Glass 3. There’s also a smaller variant of the Zenfone 3 that sports a 5.2-inch display dubbed the ZE520KL. No matter what version you get, the display is vivid, has excellent saturation levels and color reproduction. Viewing angles are very generous as well.
Snapdragon 625 processor makes short work of everything you throw at it
No matter what screensize of the Zenfone 3 you get, you’ll be getting a phone that’s powered by Qualcomm’s newest Snapdragon 625 octa-core processor paired with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. Now there’s a little controversy regarding the perceived performance of the Snapdragon 625 in AnTuTu – the phone received lower than expected marks, especially considering the performance of possibly cheaper smartphones like the Helio X20-powered M1.
Now while that may be true, synthetic benchmarks aren’t the only measure of a phone’s performance. That holds true for the Zenfone 3 as well – while it doesn’t top AnTuTu’s benchmark scores, the Adrenon 506 GPU on the 625 is more than enough to take your Android gaming experience to the next level. No matter what game we installed on the Zenfone 3, it handled it like a boss, giving us buttery smooth gameplay without any trace of lag. Remember, synthetic benchmarks aren’t the be-all and end all metric of a phone’s performance – real world use always trumps synthetic benchmarks.
If there’s one thing we absolutely hate with ZenUI, ASUS’ overlay for Android, now in its third iteration. While ZenUI adds new functionality to vanilla Android, it usually comes with tons of bloatware that slowdown the phone, and that’s still the case with the Zenfone 3. Before we even installed our favorite apps, there were already a bunch of unwanted apps on the phone when we got it, which is mildly infuriating.
The fingerprint scanner is quick and easy to use, and the rectangular shape gives even more real estate for the phone to accurately read your digits. Sound from the speaker is good, but distorts a little bit on higher volumes. Call quality is excellent, and radio performance of both the LTE and GPS is phenomenal.
The camera has never been this good
One of the biggest weaknesses of the Zenfone series of phone was the camera. That’s no longer the case – the Zenfone 3 comes packing a 16-megapixel Sony IMX298 rear camera with an f/2.0 aperture, 4-axis OIS, 3-axis EIS, 6-element lens, laser AF, phase detection AF and continous focus. That’s a heck of a lot of technologies thrown in, and the overall result is better for it.
Photos shot in less than ideal lighting came out great, with plenty of details. With so much focus tech built into the phone the Zenfone 3 locks onto subjects rather quickly, ensuring clear photos.
The Zenfone 3 also has image stabilization technologies built-in that eliminates the shakes from videos. Since the electronic image stabilization needs extra pixels in the image to crop and stabilize, the feature is not available to use while shooting in 4K.
Overall the Zenfone 3’s camera prowess is impressive, and is certainly a huge upgrade.
Battery life that’s off the charts
Battery life is increasingly one of the biggest things that most users look for a phone nowadays, and the Zenfone 3 manages to exceed our expectations in that regard. While the phone only has a 3000mAh battery, in our battery tests it performed beautifully, lasting an astounding 11 hours and 16 minutes in PCMark. That amounted to more than a full day of use, with a little left over once the working day ends, which hasn’t always been the case with other, more expensive phones.
Verdict: The mid-range phone to beat this year
After all that’s said and done, ASUS’ upcoming Zenfone 3 is one of the best phones they’ve ever produced. It’s easy to make a great looking, great performing phone, but to make one with a price tag that’s under 20K – that’s the real challenge. While ASUS hasn’t released pricing for the Zenfone 3 yet, IF they follow international pricing then there’s a lot of value to be had for the phone (it’s expected to retail at right around 16K-17K for the larger 5.5-inch variant) despite its higher street price compared to last year’s model.