Review | Asus Zenfone 3 smartphone

By Charlemagne Losaria

Taiwanese tech firm Asus is looking to build on the success of its Zenfone series by recently launching in the country the third iteration of their most popular series of smartphones.

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I was given a chance to “unbox” the new Asus Zenfone 3 Z012D version, and after using the phone for two weeks, here is my take on the Zenfone 3 5.5 version.

What’s in the box

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• Unit
• USB Type-C cable
• Fast charger
• Headphones and ear plugs
• SIM eject pin
• Manual and leaflets

Design and build

The Asus Zenfone 3 looks familiar. You can be forgiven if you have mistaken the Zenfone 3 for the iPhone 6 as the resemblance is striking, but it is given away by the presence of the non-lit capacitive keys at the bottom.

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The side of the phone ‘hugs’ the front and back glass panel and is made of a two-tone aluminum alloy (silver and grey). Asus may have borrowed a couple of design elements from Apple but the comparison stops when you flip the device over to its back.

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The back has an elegant glossy glass finish with their concentric circular pattern design which is especially noticeable when you view it at an angle. The color of the back may appear black or dark blue, depending on the angle you view it. The back is a fingerprint magnet and you might find yourself using your shirt to clean it up from time to time.

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The Zenfone 3 is equipped with a protruding 16MP camera, a laser auto-focus, dual-LED flash, and a fast fingerprint scanner.

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The volume rocker and power button are located on the right edge, while the hybrid dual SIM-MicroSD slot is located on the left edge. The top edge features the 3.5mm jack and a noise cancelling mic, while the bottom edge houses the single speaker grille, the mic, and a USB Type-C port.

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You read that right. The Zenfone 3 is one of the first smartphones to launch the USB Type-C port. Will this spearhead a new generation of smartphones with this new type of connection port? Only time will tell. Like the lightning cable port by Apple, the Type-C is reversible so even in the dark, you can simply plug the cable without having to worry if you’re inserting it the right way. The bad news is, if you have invested Micro-USB accessories like Micro-USB cables or Micro-USB OTG, then you may need to buy adapters.

Display

The Zenfone 3 has a 5.5inch, 1080×1920 resolution IPS display with 401 ppi. The front and back panel of the phone is made of Gorilla Glass 3, making it more scratch resistant.

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The Zenfone 3 display speaks premium. The display is very sharp, bright, and readable even in direct sunlight. The color representation is on point. In my opinion, this is one of the selling points of this device.

Performance

For the ZenFone 3 5.5 version, Asus went for the more affordable Snapdragon 625, Adreno 506 GPU, and equipped it with a 4GB worth of RAM. This octa-core device has all cores clocked at 2Ghz. It also has an built-in storage of 64GB but can be expanded by inserting a microSD card.

All in all, this translates to a fast phone capable of delivering even under heavy load. I did not experience bogdowns in performance at any point while I was using the device.

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To test the maximum load it can handle, I, along with an officemate whose hand is in this picture, benchmarked the phone by subjecting it against performance heavy games like Modern Combat 5, NBA Live, Implosion and Pokémon Go. As expected, it was able to perform without any hiccups.

In my two weeks using the Zenfone 3, I noticed that the device almost does not heat up on normal use. I’ve tested phones in the past where, even just browsing Facebook, generates noticeable heat. This one does not, and if it does, it’s not as hot compared to other phones I have tested.

Camera

The Zenfone 3 has an 8MP wide angle front facing camera ideal for groufies. The 16MP camera at the back has an aperture size of f/2.0 and utilizes Sony’s IMX298 sensor.

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As you may have guessed already, the camera captures great still especially with good lighting.

When you’re done capturing stills in Auto mode, you may want to try other shooting modes like Manual, HDR Pro, Low Light, Panorama, GIF Animation (functions like the Boomerang app), Time Lapse and Slow Motion, among other modes.

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One of the things that impressed me with the camera is that the manual mode of the Zenfone 3 behaves fairly similar to a modern DSLR camera.

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Adjust the parameters like the ISO or shutter speed and it will give you a preview on what the image may look like with the settings you chose. This is especially useful in low light conditions and works great with a tripod.

Below are sample shots from the Zenfone 3.

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User interface

The Asus Zenfone 3 ships with Android 6.0 Marshmallow. The ZenUI is a heavily skinned Android OS by Asus. They also published some of the ZenUI native apps on the Google Playstore.

Upon activating the device, I immediately received two minor software updates and some incremental updates on the native apps, so it’s quite nice of Asus to be active in software development.

Here are some screenshots of the ZenUI:

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Battery life

The Zenfone 3 has a non-removable battery rated at 3000mAh. On my normal use, usually with me being always connected on WiFi, doing some calls, sending a few texts but heavy in using social media apps, it lasted for a day. When the juice runs out, don’t fret as the phone comes with a fast USB Type-C charger, which charge the device fully in less than two hours.

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Conclusion

The Zenfone 3 is a great follow-up to the popular Zenfone series. However, unlike the previous releases, it does not come at a budget tag. Zenfones usually cost between P5,000 to P10,000 and this particular Zenfone 3 variant fetches for more or less than P18,000.

However, Asus did step up its game, more so on the looks and hardware department. The ZenUI is intuitive and has a mix of serious and play to it. The phone does not heat up as much and the camera is great at capturing stills.

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The only thing I did not like about this phone was the non-lit capacitive keys, which made using the device in darkness quite cumbersome and may need getting used to. However, overall, the phone performs well and the experience was nothing short of great.

The Zenfone 3 is now available online and at your local Asus distributor.

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