Back in 2014, ASUS made quite a splash in the Indian smartphone market when it launched the ZenFone 5 at a price that was unheard of for a device of its calibre. It was around the time that Motorola had made a comeback with the affordable Moto G and Moto E, redefining the concept of ‘budget smartphones’ as we knew it. Fast forward to 2016, and the situation is a very different one. Powerful phones from a variety of brands populate the budget segment, and affordable flagships are cropping up to satisfy users who want performance without bank-breaking prices. Which is why we admit we were surprised at ASUS’ pricing strategy for the ZenFone 3 range. The company has done a complete U-turn from its pricing policy the last couple of years, with the top-end ZenFone 3 Deluxe priced higher than Samsung’s S7 flagships. The mid-range ZenFone 3 on the other hand, has been brought in to compete in the Rs 20,000 – Rs 30,000 segment, with the brand betting on a combination of premium design and solid performance to make the smartphone a success. The ZenFone 3 comes in two variants – one with a 5.2-inch display, 3GB RAM and 32GB storage, and the other with a 5.5-inch display, 4GB RAM and 64GB storage. We’ve been using the former as our daily driver over the past two weeks, and here’s the lowdown.
Specs at a glance
|Resolution||Full HD (1080 x 1920 pixels)|
|CPU||Octa core, 2 GHz, Snapdragon 625|
|Internal memory||32 GB|
|External memory||Up to 2 TB|
|Capacity||2650 mAH, Li-ion, Non removable|
|Primary camera||16 MP|
|Secondary camera||8 MP|
|Network support||Dual SIM 4G|
|Other options||Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2, GPS|
|Operating system||Android 6.0 Marshmallow|
Design: glass with class
Dimensions: 146.8 x 73.9 x 7.6 mmWeight: 144 grams
Dimensions: 146.8 x 73.9 x 7.6 mm
Weight: 144 grams
The ASUS ZenFone 3 is one of the best looking phones in its segment, rivalling even more premium options. Gone is the plasticky exterior of previous ZenFones, and in its place is a sleek metal and glass combo that oozes sex appeal. The lightweight metal frame measures 7.7mm in thickness, and is sandwiched between two layers of 2.5D glass. Both the front and rear feature Gorilla Glass protection to withstand against scratches and minor knocks. Our review unit was black, but you can also pick it up in gold, white and blue hues. The phone features ASUS’ trademark concentric circle design at the rear, making it stand out from other smartphones with similar designs. We should also mention that one of the key features of the ZenFone 3 (and the ZenFone 3 series as a whole) is that it doesn’t feature any antenna lines at the back. Instead, ASUS has been able to hide them from sight almost entirely, barring two strips at the top and bottom edges. The polished metal chamfers on the front and rear are a nice touch too. While the back panel is completely flat, the rounded edges make it comfortable to hold. The flip-side of the design is that the phone is slippery – we were terrified of dropping it, and we would recommend a case, which unfortunately would take away from the looks. While a glass rear panel does make phone’s more susceptible to smudges, on the ZenFone 3 they weren’t as visible as we’d expect.
Coming to the port and button placement, the ZenFone 3 features the front camera, sensors, notification LED and earpiece above the display. A row of Android navigation keys are lined up below, but surprisingly don’t feature any LED backlighting, which we think is pretty stingy considering the phone’s price. The right edge is where you’ll find the power button and volume rocker, both featuring a textured finish that feels nice to the touch. The left spine is home to the SIM card tray, which accepts a micro-SIM and nano-SIM, with the latter doubling up as a microSD card slot. The bottom edge is arrayed with the USB Type-C port, primary microphone and loudspeaker grille, while at the top you’ll find the 3.5mm audio jack and secondary microphone.
The rear panel gets the primary camera module, dual-LED flash, autofocus sensors and fingerprint sensor on top, and ASUS branding at the bottom. Our only real qualm with the ZenFone 3’s design is the protruding camera lens, which could get scratched over time. That’s another reason why we recommend using a case.
Display: curvy clarity
Size: 5.2 InchResolution: Full HD (1080 x 1920 pixels)Display Type: IPS LCDPixel Density: 424 ppi
Size: 5.2 Inch
Resolution: Full HD (1080 x 1920 pixels)
Display Type: IPS LCD
Pixel Density: 424 ppi
With a full HD resolution, the ZenFone 3’s 5.2-inch display offers crisp visuals and good clarity. It features high brightness levels of 600 nits, making it easy to view under bright sunlight. The viewing angles are also great, and watching videos and gaming on this phone was a treat.
In the display settings, you can choose between Balance, Bluelight Filter (cuts out the blue light to become easier on the eyes), Vivid and Customised colour modes. The display is fluid and responsive, and you can also enable a Glove mode by going into Settings > ASUS customised settings. Our only gripe with the display – and this has to do more with the 2.5D curved glass, is that it gets easily activated when you’re holding it while watching videos, often taking you away from the app you’re currently using.
Cameras: consistently good
Primary camera: 16 MPFlash: Dual-color LED FlashSecondary camera: 8 MP
Primary camera: 16 MP
Flash: Dual-color LED Flash
Secondary camera: 8 MP
The ASUS ZenFone 3 features a 16MP rear camera with f/2.0 aperture, a 6P lens and a tri-tech autofocus system which uses a combination of laser, phase detection and continuous autofocus. The smartphone also features four-axis OIS (optical image stabilisation), and adds EIS (electronic image stabilisation) for videos, which it can record in up to 4K resolution. The front camera on the other hand, hides an 8MP sensor that comes with f/2.0 aperture and views the world through an 85-degree wide-angle lens.
As always, the ZenFone 3 comes with ASUS’ PixelMaster 3.0 tech that brings a range of hardware and software optimisations. Coming to the camera app first, you’re greeted by a viewfinder flanked by controls on either side. The app offers a range of shooting modes, which include Auto, Manual, HDR Pro, Beautification, Super Resolution, Children, Low Light, QR Code, Night, Depth of Field, Effect, Selfie, GIF Animation, Panorama, Miniature, Time Rewind, Smart Remove, All Smiles, Time Lapse and Slow Motion. On the viewfinder, you can easily toggle the HDR mode, and enable auto HDR if you prefer. You’ll also find controls to access the flash, Manual mode and video mode. While the camera locks focus quickly, you can also long press on the viewfinder to lock the focus, exposure and white balance. When you do this, a slider pops up as well, letting you adjust the exposure further.
The ZenFone 3’s primary camera delivers consistently good image quality – whether it’s close ups, landscapes or even low-light photos. In fact, low-light photography is one of the camera’s best features, and you can get some great, blur-free shots at night. We advise you stick to the auto mode for this though, because the low light mode tends to over expose brighter areas. While you can get decent macros in the auto mode, the Depth of Field mode can give you better results if you want a nice background blur.
The front camera delivered surprisingly good results, both in daylight and low-light conditions. Selfies we captured with the snapper turned out sharp and detailed with natural skin tones. The Beautification mode on the ZenFone 3 is overkill though, letting you do everything from lighten your skin tone to thin your face.
Here are some image samples taken with the ZenFone 3’s primary camera. You can also check out our ZenFone 3 camera review for more.
Software: not-so Zen
Operating System: AndroidOS Version: 6.0, Marshmallow
Operating System: Android
OS Version: 6.0, Marshmallow
The ASUS ZenFone 3 runs Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow with ZenUI 3.0 on top. ZenUI has come a long way since the ZenFone 5 days, and overall, the look is much closer to stock Android. The similarities end there though, because ZenUI 3.0 is packed with extra features, and unfortunately, a fair bit of bloatware too.
ASUS has really gone to town with the pre-loaded apps, which include a range of third-party apps as well as native ones – over 20 in fact. While some of these you can uninstall, others you can merely disable.
ZenUI 3.0 features an app drawer, and drop down notification bar and quick settings menu. One great feature in ZenUI is the inbuilt search, which you can activate by swiping down on the screen, iOS style. Apart from doing an online search, you can also view results of apps and contacts, and view frequently used apps as well.
ZenUI offers touch gestures like double tap to wake and turn off the screen, and swipe the screen to wake it up from idle mode. You can also draw gestures when the screen is locked to launch specific apps, although you can’t customise which apps to access. There are also some motion gestures, like flipping the phone when you get an incoming call to enable silent mode, and lifting the phone to your ear to answer calls. You can enable a one-hand mode by double tapping the home key as well. From settings, you can enable both an Easy Mode and a Kids Mode. One feature we really liked in ZenUI was the ability to program the recents key to take a screenshot by tapping and holding it. You can enable this option in ASUS customised settings.
ZenUI allows for a fair bit of customisation through the Themes app, with a broad range of themes across categories. You can also download icon packs and wallpapers.
For gamers, ZenUI features something called Game Genie, which pops up automatically when you start playing game. You’ll see a small gaming controller icon on the side when you start playing a game, and you can tap on it to record your gameplay and broadcast it live on YouTube and Twitch, search for tips or boost performance.
Performance: plays smooth, lasts long
CPU: Octa core, 2 GHz, Snapdragon 625GPU: Adreno 506RAM: 3 GBMemory: 32 GB + Up to 2 TBSIM Slots: Dual SIM , GSM+GSM
CPU: Octa core, 2 GHz, Snapdragon 625
GPU: Adreno 506
RAM: 3 GB
Memory: 32 GB + Up to 2 TB
SIM Slots: Dual SIM , GSM+GSM
The ASUS ZenFone 3 is powered by a Snapdragon 625 processor, a 64-bit octa-core chipset clocked at 2.0 GHz. Now the Snapdragon 625 isn’t a flagship processor, but it’s the first mid-range chipset to be manufactured using the 14nm FitFET process, the same used on the flagship Snapdragon 820 chipset. This allows the processor to offer up to 35 percent less power consumption compared to previous gen chipsets.
The ZenFone 3 model we’re reviewing is the 3GB RAM one, and in our experience, we found the smartphone to be zippy and smooth throughout. In fact, during our two week usage of the device we didn’t encounter any freezes or lags, and we think the ZenFone 3 is one of the most reliable phones in its segment. Whether running multiple apps, or playing games like Suicide Squad: Special Ops or Need for Speed: No Limits, the smartphone kept its cool and didn’t throw up any frame drops or overheating issues. Graphics render smoothly on this device, and it’s a great option if you’re looking for a smartphone for gaming or watching videos. The audio quality on this phone is crisp and loud enough that you won’t need to use headphones unless you want to.
Our unit came with 32GB of storage, out of which around 23.5GB was available out of the box. If you opt for the 4GB RAM variant, you’ll get a higher 64GB of storage. The storage is expandable up to 256GB via microSD. Additionally, you also get 100GB of free Google Drive storage for two years with the smartphone, which is useful.
The fingerprint sensor on the ZenFone 3 located at the rear works very well, and can unlock the phone from sleep. It rarely missed recognising our fingerprints, although the thin profile did result in a few misses when our fingers weren’t placed properly. Apart from unlocking the phone, you can also use the sensor to answer an incoming call (tap and hold to answer), launch the camera (double tap when the phone is unlocked) or take a photo (tap when the camera is on).
The ZenFone 3 comes with a 2,600mAh battery (3,000mAh on the 4GB RAM variant), which on paper might look disappointing. In real life though, the ZenFone 3 offers impressive battery life, and this is a welcome change given that the previous-gen Intel-powered ZenFone models fared poorly in this department. We got an average of 5 hours of screen on time consisting of a few phone calls, using social media and messaging apps as well as streaming on Netflix. This result was based with both SIM slots in use, and data used only on Jio’s 4G network. In real life, this means the smartphone can easily get you through the day with heavy use. In our video loop battery drain test lasted for just over 13 hours. However, the flipside is that the ZenFone 3 doesn’t support fast-charging, taking over two hours to charge from 0 to 100 percent.
The connectivity options on offer include dual-SIM, 4G (Cat. 4), dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11ac, Wi-Fi Direct, Bluetooth 4.2, USB Type-C and GPS with A-GPS. In case you’re wondering, the ZenFone 3 comes with VoLTE support, so you will be able to make HD calls on Reliance Jio’s network.
Let’s forget about price and specs for a moment. We’ve been using the ASUS ZenFone 3 for a couple of weeks now, and we’ve found it to be a very reliable daily driver. The eye-catching design aside, the smartphone is fast and smooth, capable of running multiple apps and heavy games without breaking a sweat. The cameras are good, and the battery life is highlight too. If you’re worried that the smartphone doesn’t feature a Snapdragon 820 SoC, which the competition like the Xiaomi Mi 5 (review), OnePlus 3 (review) and the upcoming Lenovo Z2 Plus offer, we can bet that you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference unless you’re running benchmarks. Unfortunately for ASUS, the ZenFone 3’s price at Rs 21,999 (Rs 27,999 for the higher-specced 5.5-inch variant) puts it out of reach of several potential buyers. For the ZenFone 3 to have been truly competitive in the market, we’d have expected the price to be lower by Rs 3,000 – Rs 5,000 at the very least. That said, if you can afford a smartphone in this price band, we think the ZenFone 3 is one of the best you can buy. Just don’t forget the case.
Editor’s Rating: 4 / 5
- Smooth performance
- Gorgeous design
- Excellent battery life
- Good cameras
- Very slippery
- ZenUI is cluttered
- Expensive compared to the competition