Home Opinion ASUS ZenFone 3 (ZE552KL) Review

ASUS ZenFone 3 (ZE552KL) Review

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With every smartphone manufacturer doing away with plastic and moving towards metal and glass, it’s no surprise that ASUS did the same. The ZenFone 3 was introduced not so long ago, and it wowed the crowd and excited the masses. With a great new design plus better specs, the ZenFone 3 is meant to excite. I took it for a spin with me in Cambodia to test out if this stunner delivers its promises.

Here’s a quick look at the ZenFone 3 (Z012D) unit that we tested.

  • 2.0GHz Octa Core Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor
  • Adreno 506 graphics
  • 4GB RAM
  • 64GB internal memory expandable via MicroSD up to 256GB
  • 5.5-inch Full HD IPS LCD display (1920 x 1080 pixels)
  • Corning Gorilla Glass 3
  • 16 megapixel rear facing camera with TriTech Autofocus system, 4-axis OIS, 3-Axis EIS and dual LED flash
  • 8 megapixel front facing camera
  • 4G/LTE, WiFi, Bluetooth, Fingerprint scanner
  • GPS, A-GPS, GLONASS
  • 3,000 mAh battery with Fast Charging Technology
  • Android 6.0 Marshmallow with ZenUI 3.0
  • Price: P18,995
  • Status: Available at ASUS stores and retailers

DESIGN

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ZenFones have always been targeted to the masses with decent mid-range specs and unique designs that are unmistakably ASUS. This year’s iteration is no exception. ASUS decided to go the metal and glass route with the ZenFone 3, and they went there hardcore. The phone’s front and back are 2.5D curved glass panels over sheets of texturized metal, while its frame is aluminum. It’s also relatively thinner and less curvy than last year’s version which is a welcome change, except if you’re clumsy and your hands tend to sweat. I actually dropped our test unit twice (Oops!) which caused small dents on the metal frame before I decided to get a case. The glass panels didn’t crack, but  I didn’t want to risk it further.

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The ZenFone 3 is a looker. Our gold unit is so attractive (and reflective) that people can’t help but notice. Most of them actually pointed out the similarities it had with the Samsung Galaxy S7, and I actually agree (Sorry, ASUS). What I appreciated, though, was the attention to detail and the consistency. ASUS’ infamous concentrix design is all over this phone. Both the front and back panels show it, and even the volume rocker and power buttons have it. Nice touch and, I must say, it gives this phone something to differentiate itself with Samsung’s.

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There’s a slight camera hump at the back, but it’s nothing to worry about once you get a case for the phone, which you will most probably do. Below it is where the volume rocker used to be in the old models. It’s now a fingerprint scanner. I have to say the shape is odd, and they could have just made it a rounded square or a circle. But then I realize, they’re really trying to differentiate here, so maybe it’s not a bad idea. Like the camera and the rest of the phone, it has a mirror-like finish that attracts fingerprints like crazy, so you better have a microfibre cloth with you if you have this phone.

PERFORMANCE

With 4GB of RAM and a Snapdragon 625 processor on board, the ZenFone 3 already feels fast on paper but is actually faster in real life. Overall performance is smooth, with minimal to no lags and app crashes. The phone also runs Android 6.0 Marshmallow, so features like Doze and Google Now on Tap are present here.

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Switching between apps is a breeze, and with that RAM, apps didn’t need to reload every now and then while switching. Navigating through the interface is also not a problem. I didn’t get the chance to install a graphics-intense game or do anything power-hogging on the device. I was able to put it through its paces, though, with whole-day photo taking and constantly checking for Wi-Fi while I was in Cambodia. Even after all of those, the phone did not bog down.

On the flight to Cambodia, however, while I was trying to entertain myself with a movie saved on the device, there was an instance where the video and the audio stuttered. It wasn’t a simple lag. The video kept playing, but it was as if there was a glitch in how the phone processed the video file, almost like the “drowning” sound you get when you call someone over a really weak signal. I didn’t see it as  a deal-breaker as simply locking and unlocking the device fixed the problem.

The phone also supports a Micro-SD expansion up to 256 GB if the already on-board 32GB or, in our review unit’s case, 64GB storage isn’t enough. Like most phones today, it uses the 2nd SIM slot as a Micro-SD card slot.

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Battery life is where the ZenFone 3 really flies. The 3000 mAh battery easily lasts a whole day without the need to plug. If that’s not enough, it comes with a Quick Charging feature that tops up the phone’s battery from 0% to 100% in a little less than 2 hours. It’s also important to note that the ZenFone 3 is one of the few Android devices that are starting to adapt a USB Type C interface, an expected move but still bad news for people who still own a bunch of micro-USB cables and accessories.

INTERFACE

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On top of Android is ASUS’ new ZenUI 3.0, which in my opinion cleans up some of the mess that the previous versions had. There are built-in performance optimization apps for RAM and battery management. The notifications panel is the same, but the quick access panels are now cleaner. I always look for less clutter on a smartphone interface, so I couldn’t help myself and install the Google Now Launcher everytime I review an Android phone.

What ASUS has to improve on though is the keyboard design. It’s too cluttered and there’s a lot going on. More often than not, I press the button I didn’t really want to press. I end up slowing down my typing and constantly pressing backspace.

Bloatware is also present on the device, and it’s something that turns people off. Regular users won’t mind, but I do. There are too many apps that I didn’t even open once.

CAMERA

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This is where it gets interesting. Previous ZenFones had “good enough” cameras and ASUS is trying to change that this time around with fancy features like TriTech Autofocus system and 4-axis OIS. It’s the real world use though that’s going to dictate how good the camera is.

The camera launches really quickly. You can access it from the locks screen by swiping from the lower right corner. Tapping on the Camera app icon also quickly launches it with minimal lag time. It helps that the processor and RAM of this phone is powerful and plenty enough that you do not miss an important moment.

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The camera interface is similar to previous versions of ZenUI, and I have no complaints about it. It’s clean and easy to understand, albeit some improvements on interface design. There are still 3D elements in the camera interface like the shutter button itself, one that is inconsistent with the flat, minimalist look of the entire ZenUI 3.0 interface.

Taking a photo is quick, too. There’s little to no shutter lag, and with plenty of sunlight, photos are sharp and color-accurate. It struggles in low light like most phones even with a f/2.0 aperture and OIS, but the output isn’t as bad as what you would get from phones with smaller apertures. Autofocus is also somewhat good as it has laser and phase detection autofocus built-in to help it, but it’s not as fast as what you would get in, let’s say, a Samsung Galaxy S7.

Image colors tend to either be washed in really bright sunlight even with exposure adjustments and darker than what it’s supposed to be in settings with less light. Some textures also tend to be flattened, erasing the intended tactile feel of the images. In our trip to Angkor Wat and other temples, I took a lot of stone and temple shots. In person, they’re really rough given that they’re old and worn, but in the images, the roughness was a bit tamed. It would probably be favorable for portrait shots, but not for shots where you’d really like to show texture. Turning on HDR, however, somehow fixes the issue, adding more contrast to the photos and bringing out more of the textures. Check out our sample images below to see what we mean.

P_20160828_065859_vHDR_On P_20160828_063633_vHDR_On P_20160828_063159_vHDR_On P_20160828_063035_vHDR_On

P_20160827_160256_vHDR_On P_20160827_155553_vHDR_On P_20160827_082857 P_20160826_231812_vHDR_Auto

CONNECTIVITY

It was too late when I found out that the model I was reviewing (Z012D) wasn’t the international version. The Cellcard (Cambodian Network) Data SIM that was given to me had 8GB of data in it for 30 days, but I wasn’t able to activate it as the phone did not support the bands. I was able to use it for calling and texting and I had no issues there. I would have loved to have data anywhere around Cambodia so I really could have tested how the phone handles cellular data outside Philippine networks. Back here, though, I was able to use my Globe LTE SIM on it, and data speeds were actually faster than what I would get on my iPhone 6 in some areas. Maybe it had something to do with the chipset? I really can’t tell.

VERDICT

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Is the ASUS ZenFone 3 (Z012D) a good buy? ZenFones used to be really cheap at less than P10,000, but at P18,995, this year’s version’s price point is quite steep. A little more buck and you can already get a OnePlus 3 from grey market suppliers. However, ASUS offers different sizes of the ZenFone 3, and I’m guessing the smaller 5.2-inch version is a better buy than this. The specs are almost the same and the experience is similar but you pay less for a slightly smaller screen. But if you’ve got the money to spend and you like the design of the ZenFone 3 (like I did), why not? Decent specs, the latest operating system, a decent camera system, a big full-HD display and LTE? Who could say no tho this?

What do you think of this device? Let us know in the comments below!