We review the ZenFone 4!
ASUS’ ZenFone series of devices has gone through quite a transformation in the past few years. While ASUS’ company line is still “empowering luxury for everyone”, they know that they’ll had to evolve their philosophy, design and prices to remain competitive and profitable. The move to more premium designs and higher price point for the ZenFone series of devices hasn’t sat well with everyone, and the ZenFone 4 is probably the most divisive of them all. Sporting a more premium design, a strong focus on dual cameras and a substantially higher price point compared to last year’s model, the ZenFone 4 promises to be the best of the series yet. Does it deliver?
ASUS ZenFone 4 specs
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 octa-core processor
- Adreno 512 graphics unit GPU
- 6GB of RAM
- 5.5-inch Full HD AMOLED display, 1920 x 1080 resolution, 2.5D curved glass, with Corning Gorilla Glass
- 64GB of expandable storage, up to 2TB via microSD
- 12-megapixel Sony IMX362 primary rear camera, f/1.8 aperture, 1.4µm pixels, with Dual Pixel AF, OIS, EIS
- 8-megapixel secondary rear camera, f/2.2 aperture, wide-angle
- 8-megapixel front camera, f/2.0 aperture
- Dual SIM, with 4G LTE, LTE-A
- WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, A-GPS, GLONASS
- Fingerprint sensor, USB Type-C port
- 3300mAh battery, with fast charging
- Android 7.1.1 Nougat, with ZenUI
Design: Glass and metal feels great in the hand
The overall design of the ZenFone 4 is pretty familiar to anyone that’s been following the releases of other brands lately. It’s an amalgam of metal and glass, with the device using a metal frame sandwiched between two layers of Gorilla Glass.
Button layout is pretty similar to last year’s iteration: the power and volume buttons are on the right, with the fingerprint scanner located on the front. The USB Type-C connector is on the bottom, along with the 3.5mm jack and speaker grille.
Most of the members of ASUS’ new ZenFone 4 family have two rear cameras, and the ZenFone 4 is no exception. The primary rear camera has a 12-megapixel Sony IMX362 sensor, f/1.8 aperture, 1.4µm pixels, with Dual Pixel AF, OIS and EIS, while the secondary camera is a 8-megapixel shooter with f/2.2 aperture and a wide-angle lens. The ZenFone 4’s camera arrangement allows you to take regular photos and wide-angle ones without having to re-position, much like LG’s G5 and G6.
The phone’s glass rear isn’t as slippery as say, HTC’s U11, and ASUS includes a soft silicone case to keep that rear glass scratch free as you use it. The glass rear is a bit of a smudge magnet as well, which is annoying AF when you’re trying to show it off to people.
Display: Good enough for a flagship
Since the ZF4 was announced and released before the 18:9 craze, the phone sports a rather pedestrian 5.5-inch, 16:9 aspect ratio display with full HD resolution. ASUS has an obsession with full HD panels on their phones, and only the ZenFone AR has a QHD display resolution to conform with the requirement of Google when it comes to Daydream-enabled devices.
ASUS argues that you really don’t see the difference in quality when it comes to FHD and QHD when it comes to 5.5-inch displays and lower, and we kind of agree with them.
We did notice a bit of reddish tinge in the IPS panel which was easily solved via ASUS’ Splendid screen app which allowed us to manually tweak the colors of the phone.
Power: Snapdragon 660 is fast, plus a decluttered Zen UI!
The new ZF4 is armed with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 660 processor, which is a definite step up from the Snapdragon 625 that was present in last year’s offering. This is the first time that we’ve encountered this particular chipset, which use custom Kryo cores – four 2.2Ghz Kryo 260s and four 1.8GHz Kryo 260s. It’s paired with an Adreno 512 GPU, running at 850GHz. Qualcomm notes a performance increase of 20% compared to the SD653 which the 660 is replacing, and a 30% increase in GPU performance. The use of custom Kryo cores in the 600 series of chipsets is a first for Qualcomm, since it’s been utilized mainly on their flagship 800 series of chips previously.
Despite the Snapdragon 660 chipset being leveraged at mid-range devices, it delivers flagship-like performance from our use. Benchmark scores via AnTuTu is impressive, and combined with 6GB of RAM the phone felt extremely fast during that time we tested it. More detailed testing with performance hungry games like Asphalt 8 and Modern Combat 5 reveals that the Snapdragon 660 is every bit a flagship-level chipset during our tests. Gamebench showed a consistent 30FPS on both games, without any frame drops happening below 29FPS.
We’ve consistently bitched about ASUS’ boatware-ridden ZenUI for much of its existence, and while the company hasn’t completely removed that particular overlay in their new phones, they’ve taken steps to minimize its impact on phone performance. ZenUI 4.0 is much faster and cleaner, with many of the offending, duplicate ASUS apps removed. There’s also an Android Oreo update planned in the future, though there hasn’t been a solid date announced as of yet.
The dual stereo speakers are loud but lose definition on higher volumes. Wireless connectivity is top notch, and there’s no issues at all with GPS or LTE performance.
Camera: Dual camera works well, but stumbles a bit with low-light
ASUS put a different focus on the cameras of their new batch of phones, namely stuffing in a dual-camera in every model. Each SKU offers something different, and for the ZF4, it’s a dual-camera setup that has a wide-angle camera. The primary shooter is a 12-megapixel deal, with a Sony IMX362 sensor behind it. It’s paired with a f/1.8 aperture lens with Dual Pixel AF, OIS and EIS. The secondary camera is a 8-megapixel sensor and a wide angle lens.
Shots taken with the phone look great, with plenty of definition and detail. The camera is extremely fast to take a shot as well, and color accuracy is pretty spot on.
Things start to go south when lights start to dim though, as some of our low-light shots exhibited a fair amount of noise. The wide-angle 8-megapixel secondary camera is also very dependent on light to capture good images.
Battery: Good enough for a day’s use
Qualcomm’s mid-range chips have always been good enough to last you a day’s of use, and the Snapdragon 660 chipset is no exception to that. With brightness set halfway and data on, we managed to run down the ZenFone 4’s battery at the end of the working day. Your mileage may vary of course, but if you manage your use (and not use the phone as a PSP) it’ll give you more than enough juice to last you the day.
Verdict: A strong offering from ASUS, but it’s beset at all sides by stiff competition
ASUS’ newest ZenFone 4 is a big step up from the previous iteration in terms of performance, design and camera. Despite just having a mid-range Snapdragon 660 processor, the phone is still able to deliver flagship-level performance without having to sacrifice battery longevity.
Unfortunately, the ZF4 doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Priced at Php 28,995, it has a lot of stiff competition from several flagships offered by other companies, chief of which is Huawei’s P10, LG’s G6, and the OnePlus 5. If the ZF4 was priced a little lower, then it might have an easier time trying to convince consumers to get it, but at its current price range, it’s a tough sell.