ASUS Zenfone 3 review — the Sexy All-Rounder
+ Sexy design! The Zen concentric circle pattern under that rear 2.5D glass panel is perfect
+ Manageable size with a 5.5" 1080p IPS display, with a decent 77.3% screen-to-body ratio
+ Tactile buttons with Zen finishing
+ Excellent mutli-core performance
+ Superb battery life!
+ Rear-mounted fingerprint sensor is decently fast
+ ZenUI 3.0 is better than some skins by the competition
+ 16MP camera is great; fast real-time HDR mode
+ Display goes up to 600 nits for excellent visibility under sunlight
+ Mono speaker is loud enough for most practical purposes
+ Reasonably priced
- Nothing major
I really like the glass-metal-glass sandwich designs. While I know they may be slightly impractical — glass backs are yet another slab of glass to shatter in a drop — I really can’t deny that the way they feel in the hand and the way glass reflects light is something else. All metal phones are great, but I would definitely take one with a glass back if we are talking about looks. Well ladies and gentlemen, I have the ASUS Zenfone 3 with me, and it is love at first sight.
For the ASUS Zenfone 3, we managed to get the complete retail packaging. And I really gotta say ASUS has really put some thought into upping the ante starting from the packaging itself.
The packaging here is a nice grey-blue color with a metallic finishing. The “Zenfone 3” labeling is done in gold, really giving off a premium air right off the bat.
Opening the box, I was kinda surprised it doesn’t lift off totally, but flips up to the reveal the ASUS Zenfone 3 sitting prettily there. I have the Sapphire Black variant with me, but we will get to that later.
Taking the device out of the box, there was a little envelope hiding the SIM tray ejector pin and manual. Lifting that out of the box revealed the charger, USB Type-A to Type-C cable and the earphones. The charger is not of the fast charging variety here, but it should do just fine to juice the 3000 mAh battery in the ASUS Zenfone 3.
I did say it was love at first sight, right? Well, the glass panel on the front is a 2.5D curved one, looking way more premium than ANY Zenfone that came before it. The bezels are black, just the way I like them, and are a little thick for a device launched in 2016, but the decent screen size makes it still very manageable for one-handed usage. The ASUS Zenfone 3 features a screen-to-body ratio of 77.3%, which is good.
Take a look at this fine chamfered edge! Whatever prejudice I had against the Zenfone series as premium devices melted away when I saw this. It looks so clean, and blends perfectly with the 2.5D curved edges of the glass panels! Sure, this isn’t a new design by any means, but it does look good.
Over on the back, the glass also sports 2.5D curved edges You can’t see it here, but the rear panel actually a dark blue hue with a fine Zen-concentric pattern. We have the center mounted camera flanked by the laser autofocus sensor and the real-tone dual flash. Under the sizeable camera hump is the fingerprint sensor, just where I like them.
Well under much stronger lighting than my room affords, we can see the effect of the finishing UNDER the glass panel. The Zen concentric circles under it creates a look that even this image fails to truly portray its real elegance.
On the left edge we have the lone SIM/microSD slot, while the physical power and volume rocker keys are over on the right. The buttons also feature the signature Zen concentric circles finishing. While you won’t often see the buttons, you will definitely feel the pattern every time you press those keys. Users of the Zenfone 2 series may be shocked to find the volume controls here instead of on the back, but I believe no one else will be surprised.
The bottom is home to a lone mic hole, the USB Type-C port in the middle and the speaker grille to the right of the port. I wish ASUS hid the mic under a grille similar to the one the speaker is behind as I really love my symmetry.
The top is home to the 3.5mm audio jack, and the secondary microphone. The ASUS Zenfone 3 didn’t get the invisible antennae its pricier brethren got, and feature four discreet little plastic strips at the top and bottom edges. The color of these strips match the color of the rest of the device perfectly, so they really look miles better than what the fruity company tried to pull off.
|CPU:||Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 (8 x A53 @ 2.0 GHz)|
|Display:||5.5″, FHD (1080p) IPS display|
|Storage:||64GB internal (expandable with microSD up to 128GB)|
|Camera:||16MP f/2.0 rear camera (Sony Exmor IMX 298) with TriTech AF technology (Laser AF, PDAF, CDAF), OIS, dual real-tone LED flash, RGB color correction sensor
8MP f/2.0 front camera
|OS:||Android 6.0 Marshmallow with ZenUI 3.0|
|SIM:||microSIM (dual SIM support, one nanoSIM slot doubles as microSD slot)|
|Battery:||3000 mAh (non-removable)|
The Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 is kinda new to me, as I have not held any devices featuring this SoC. From the specifications, we know that it features 8 ARM Cortex A53 cores, with ALL 8 cores capable of going up to a lofty 2.0 GHz. Yep, I did not make a mistake, all 8 cores can hit 2.0 GHz thanks to the new 14 nm process node it is based on. The GPU is an Adreno 506, which means that it should be a bit slower than the Adreno 510 in the Snapdragon 652. Well, let’s run the usual benchmarks on the ASUS Zenfone 3 to see how the Snapdragon 625 fares.
Antutu judges the overall performance of the device, with a heavier emphasis on the GPU’s performance. A score of 62352 isn’t groundbreaking by any measure, but it is definitely faster than the previous Qualcomm octa-core offerings like the Snapdragon 615.
In single-core mode, the Snapdragon 625 does quite poorly, as the A53 cores aren’t meant for high performance anyway. In multi-core mode, the Snapdragon 625 blows even the Snapdragon 652-equipped devices like the vivo V3Max out of the water!
In PCMark, the Snapdragon 625 in the ASUS Zenfone 3 once again trounces the vivo V3Max, and even the higher end ASUS Zenfone 3 Ultra, both of which are equipped with the Snapdragon 652 SoC. Checking out the graph, it seems that the Snapdragon 625 is able to reach and hold its maximum clocks of 2.0 GHz, giving it an advantage over the Snapdragon 652-based devices.
3DMark is a graphics benchmark, and notably the Adreno 506 doesn’t do all well here. The scores are quite abysmal but still it is miles ahead of the Adreno 405 GPU, which doesn’t even support OpenGL ES 3.1. All in all, we should be seeing sufficient graphics performance for most games.
Battery life of the ASUS Zenfone 3 is absolutely amazing! I expected this when I saw the Snapdragon 625 was based on the 14nm process, but I didn’t expect 9 hours of screen on time on WiFi! That is amazing by any measure, and even more so when you consider the ASUS Zenfone 3 only comes with a 3000 mAh battery! The ASUS Zenfone 3 doesn’t sport fast charging capabilities though, but a bit more than 2 hours to get from 15% to full is pretty acceptable in my book.
The much more “normal” size and nice curved edges help with holding the phone, and it definitely doesn’t feel like it is going to fall out of my hand anytime, unlike the much larger ASUS Zenfone 3 Ultra. It is also usable with a single hand, simply due to its rather compact size. The glass back also helps with grip, offering a sureness in my hands that all-metal phones of all sizes have never offered.
The ASUS Zenfone 3 supports dual-SIM functionality, but surprisingly the main slot takes the older and larger microSIMs instead of the new nanoSIMs. The second SIM shares its slot with the microSD card, so you will have to make a choice whether you want to use two SIMs or expand the memory with microSD cards. Still, with 64GB of internal memory, I am actually not sure if you actually need more storage.
The rear-mounted fingerprint sensor is recessed into the glass back, and it does not seem to feature any oleophobic properties. It is quite a fingerprint magnet, ironically, which mars the sleekness of the ASUS Zenfone 3. It is quite responsive, with a single vibration indicating it has successfully identified a saved fingerprint or two vibrations to signal that it failed to recognize an authorized fingerprint on it. The fingerprint sensor is quick, but I have used faster ones.
Let’s talk about the UI. ASUS slapped their latest ZenUI 3.0 skin over Android 6.0 Marshmallow, and I have to say it does look better than the older versions of ZenUI I have used. Looking at the homescreen, the first thing I noticed was the rather large icons both on the homescreen and also in the notification bar. While the icons on the homescreen can be resized at will, the ones in the notification bar can’t. I feel that that they could have gone with a lower DPI for slightly more effective screen area, or at least offer an option to change the DPI.
Speaking about the screen area, ASUS has placed the navigation keys off the screen, in an array of capacitive keys. ASUS has also forgotten to backlit them. Bummer. The buttons can be set to vibrate upon touch too, ensuring that you will be sure that you have actuated them. Take a look at the UI of the launcher as well as other built-in apps on the ASUS Zenfone 3.
The rear camera of the ASUS Zenfone 3 is a 16 MP Sony Exmor IMX 298, compared to the 23 MP ones in the ASUS Zenfone 3 Ultra and Zenfone 3 Deluxe. While the resolution may be lower, it doesn’t lose out on the TriTech auto-focus technology, which combines phase detection autofocus, the laser autofocusing system and the good old contrast detect autofocus. All this should culminate in lightning fast autofocusing in 0.03 seconds. OIS is also not left out, which should promise better images in low light conditions. And if you are after insane resolutions, Super Resolution mode will give you 64 MP shots to scrutinize. Well, that’s all to be said, now let’s take a look at using the camera.
The UI of the camera has not changed much from its predecessors. Well, this is not a bad thing considering the older UI was perfectly usable for taking quick snaps. ASUS also threw in a manual mode for those who want to take their time with adjusting the parameters to get the perfect shot. The camera also features real-time HDR, which can be toggled on the left side of the camera UI. Selfie fans can get their fix via the 8 MP camera up front, and if they are looking to enhance their looks, there is the Beautification mode which now offers 6 options to choose from with varying levels of intensity. Not really a fan of selfies here, but some will find it useful.
Well I am glad that the ASUS Zenfone 3 features a great camera too despite it having a lower resolution sensor compared to its bigger brothers. The camera works great, and everything is really quite quick. I am not sure if it is because of the lower resolution or the finalized software, but it does process HDR Pro and real-time HDR images faster than the ASUS Zenfone 3 Ultra that I was testing at the same time. By faster, I mean real-time HDR images are instant, like they should be, and HDR Pro takes around a second of processing, and the ASUS Zenfone 3 is ready for the next shot. I really like the output of the ASUS Zenfone 3’s camera, but it does have a tendency to default to slower shutter speeds than necessary to properly expose an image, resulting in shaky shots despite the optical image stabilization. For more samples at full resolution, head over to our Flickr album.
The 5.5″ display is pretty, with punchy colors and deep blacks. It features a pretty common 1080p resolution, which gives it a nice PPI count of 401. It can go up to 600 nits so you will never have to worry about visibility under sunlight. The ASUS Zenfone 3 uses an IPS panel, so viewing angles is not going to be an issue.
Audio is pumped out of the single 5 magnet speaker on the lower edge, and it can go pretty loud, but bass definition is definitely its weakness here. Plugging in the bundled earphones, the sound quality wasn’t really that great. Swapping over to my own pair of Mi In-Ear Headphones Pro gave me a better experience, and I am very satisfied. Music was crystal clear as it should be, with no undue changes to the sound. The ASUS Zenfone 3 is Hi-Res Audio certified too, so 24-bit/192 kHz playback is possible on it. Some people call it a gimmick, but it is better to be able to do something than have a limitation to live around, right?
AudioWizard on the ASUS Zenfone 3 doesn’t offer tuned profiles for specific earphones or the different soundstage modes, but it does offer you the option of selecting presets that adjust the audio output to better suit the media you are listening to. You can also customize the output manually with the 5-band equalizer.
The ASUS Zenfone 3 is a pretty great phone. While I had my reservations upon seeing that the Snapdragon 625 CPU is in it, I am more than satisfied with the performance offered during my usage. Coupled with that 9 hours of on screen time that I managed on it… If you are looking for more performance, there is the ASUS Zenfone 3 Deluxe, and if you want an exceptional video-watching experience, there is the ASUS Zenfone 3 Ultra for you. The ASUS Zenfone 3 does its job as a smartphone, and does it well. ASUS deserves a clap on the back for bringing us a smartphone with just adequate performance for most users, and a superb battery life that everyone can enjoy. The ASUS Zenfone 3 is a true all-rounder in a premium shell, and I did enjoy using it. What about pricing? Well, the one here costs RM1699, which means that it isn’t really an affordable smartphone like its predecessors. The ASUS Zenfone 3 doesn’t have the great performance-to-ringgit proposition working in its favor here, but it is definitely quite worth the price you pay. For me? One look at that shimmering glass back, and I am sold.
The Asus Zenfone 3 is now available for purchase from Asus Online Store. Click on the following button to be redirected to the purchase page (opens in a new window):