• Vibrant glossy display
• All metal build, looks chic
• Cameras capture accurate colors
• Interface embellished with bloatware
• Slippery ergonomics
• Unlit soft keys
Asus launched its next iteration of Zenfone back in August, revealing a bunch of smartphones of various sizes running the ZenUI over Android Marshmallow. From what we knew just after the launch was Asus shifting their price range by around Rs 8,000 with no significant change in the internal hardware. The Zenfones had gotten sexier with a metal and glass body, premium look, a fingerprint sensor and OIS enabled cameras, but they had also gotten costlier to own.
About a month into use, we can confirm Zenfone 3 is a step in different direction compared to idea behind the first Zenfone and the Zenfone 2 series, though little has changed on the interface front. They were more of budget-friendly devices and offered great value for money for higher-end variants as well. They didn’t look very beautiful as such, but were build solid and aptly so for our Indian use case.
So how much value does the Zenfone 3 offer at its price of Rs 22,000 (3GB, 32GB)?
Design and Display
The new Zenfone 3 has a very symmetric design carved out of metal and topped with a 2.5D curved glass, both at front and back. In fact it’s so symmetric that you wouldn’t know which side is the display sometimes when you casually pull it out to use. The gold variant we received for review has a shiny and reflective finish to it. It looks nothing short of a well-rounded luxurious piece of equipment. After certain time of use, smudges ruin it all.
The edges are curved like the iPhone but due to back surface being glass, the phone feels slippery to use. Its big screen size (5.5 inch) and unlit soft keys at the bottom add to the confusion and there has to be a lot of getting-used-to before you would come to grips with its ergonomics.
The Samsung Galaxy A7 2016 sports a similar design (both-side-glass design) in this price point, but has a more practical build. For its flat edges and a slightly smaller form factor the phone is able to maintain handier ergonomics and feels comparatively less slippery.
The rear camera on Zenfone 3 protrudes out of the body and protrudes well beyond what we have seen on recent smartphones. It’s definitely more than Galaxy A7 2016 or OnePlus 3, both have OIS. The fingerprint sensor is place just below the camera and is an elongated shape rather than squarish or circular. Though you won’t have problem using it, it’s not a better fingerprint sensor shape than the other two for sure.
The speakers are placed at the bottom edge, the only best placement you can have without increasing the dimensions or jeopardizing the sound. It does however pose a hindrance during gaming.
Zenfone 3 has a type C USB port for charging and connection to PC. It ships with a fast charging travel charger, filling up its 3000mAh battery within 90 minutes.
The phone can house two SIM cards or one if storage is to be expanded via micro SD card. The SIM card try is covered on one side with a metal sheet to keep the chips from falling. It accepts two different sizes of SIM cards, a nano SIM can take place of the micro SD slot while other SIM needs to be of micro size.
Performance and Interface
Asus Zenfone 3 is fitted with this year’s mid-range Snapdragon 625 chipset that brings better graphics capability money can buy, Cat. 7 LTE, quick charging and 60fps display output. The processor has eight Cortex A53 cores all clocked at 2GHz which means power won’t be an issue with a decent 3GB RAM.
We ran a few benchmarks, after we played Asphalt 8 in full graphics to know some numbers. Gaming performance is kinda super on the Zenfone 3. The response time is amazing, you feel the game fully under control and running smooth. Though the benchmarks don’t show it among top-most for the chipset is a premium mid-level category. But that wasn’t a problem, the touch is extremely responsive and coupled to the display it has, you feel like playing on a mini gaming console.
Though the chipset on Asus Zenfone 3 has quite a powerful mid-range processor, no amount of processing power or memory can handle apps and interface outlay the ZenUI continues to carry.
It’s the same, highly customizable UI Asus has been offering on its Zenfones with some changes incorporated from Android Marshmallow OS. Which means there are several ZenUI UI apps and some third party apps already waiting for you after your first boot (45 to be precise, spread across three pages in the app drawer). If not segregated or removed, you might need a minute or two at finding the app you were looking for.
I don’t know if Asus knows or not, but there’s work to be done all over the interface, making an app for everything won’t do. To cite a simple example, in the call logs, the numbers are arranged date-wise. There are times when you don’t remember the date but the day you called up a number and need to dig that out of your phone book. The previous phone I was using had phone numbers arranged day-date ribbons segregating calls I made that day under a separate tab, but still put within the list.
If I need to edit the dropdown menu, I am shown a tightly bound list of toggle names that can be shifted up or down. How does the toggle position changes in the menu I won’t know. It can easily be shown on graphically at the dropdown menu itself, employing touch and hold gesture to shuffle them around.
The clock app has weather information on the first page; there is a settings menu on every corner apart from various other view/custom view/search and other options; the settings menus are crowded with options; there’s the kids mode, the easy mode and the one hand mode; there are preference settings for folders, icons, downloadable icon packs, search settings and what not. The soft key for back function is on the left which I want on the right but it can’t be customized. I want to quickly launch the camera app using physical buttons, couldn’t find a way to do it.
And I also couldn’t understand why camera app fires automatically while browsing/texting!
After shifting gears and doing its rev, I found the Asus ZenUI still in the same spot. And that takes off a big competitive edge the company could have had, mating it with its purported hardware prowess. The phone has been embellished on the outside, but I see a big way it could be done on the inside as well.
Zenfone 3’s cameras have been bestowed with 4 axis optical image stabilization, not very common in this segment. This probably explains the protrusion of the 16MP rear camera, which is mated to a phase detection laser auto focus.
In bright light, indoors or outdoors, the camera keeps a sharp focus and capture good amount of details. We were able to capture some good portrait, macro and group photos with sharp object definition.
But its real test was in low light situations when the camera struggles to keep a balance. HDR shots take a while to manifest and the usual auto mode wouldn’t get the best results expected from a phone at this price. OnePlus 3 and iPhone 6 certainly have a better camera.
Final Verdict Asus Zenfone 3 has been given a big design makeover and makes a late but slipping entry to the list of phones that use glass and metal for a beautiful look. But it does look like a fine device – shiny, glossy and premium, it looks everything. Only, in process, it becomes a slippery device to use. I would surely like my phone to be smooth in feel, but not a wet round soap. Asus Zenfone 3 has also gotten a great deal smoother on the inside too but the ZenUI is still a crowded space like it used to be and a lot needs to be done to make the smoother looker cleaner and leaner. The changes have given it huge cost jump though, while the camera, despite having beefier specs, doesn’t compete so diligently in the segment. Apart from good looks, Zenfone 3 offers little to capture the hearts of the market it could with the previous generations.