After two years in making a flagship with the plastic body, ASUS has changed the game with this year flagship offering. The company has been working heavily on bringing affordable flagship smartphone at an affordable price tag. But they eventually received very vague reviews. Thanks to many wrongs which gets crossed this year. In our short time with ASUS Zenfone 3 [ZE520KL], we tried to put it under heavy testing and here is what is the outcome.
The Zenfone 3 [ZE520KL] version which we had got for a review is a cheapest amongst the bunch of Zenfone 3’s launched this year. It is a 3GB RAM and 32GB Storage Black color variant which is priced at Rs. 21,999. Though they call it black, it looked more like a Navy Blue color.
ASUS Zenfone 3 – In the Box
Inside the box, the ASUS Zenfone 3 [ZE520KL] will come with following things,
- Mobile phone
- Power/Travel adapter
- Data cable
- SIM eject tool
- Quick Start Guide
That’s similar to any other phones these days.
Build and Design
One thing that really impressed me about Zenfone 3 is, the way ASUS has crafted it. It is perfect from all the angles. The device comes with a metal and glass panels. The rear part of the device holds a 2.5D glass and the rims are made up of metal. The metal rim is in a curved shape for better hold and avoids hurting your hand. It also houses a shiny bar towards its edges.
The device looks too beautiful to flaunt around. Looks more like a hybrid of Samsung Galaxy S7 and an iPhone. But feels premium compared to its predecessors.
The ASUS has placed all the buttons onto the right side of the device. They are raised enough with a textured design and are very tactile. Totally satisfied with the response. We have a fingerprint reader with a unique rectangular shape on the rear and placed below the camera. It works really well and was able to recognize my fingerprint 9 out of 10 times.
The rest of the phone is pretty straightforward:
- USB Type C and speaker on the bottom
- Headphone jack on top
- SIM tray on the left, which you need a pin to pop out.
Very slippery. Obvious across all the device which houses a smooth metal with a curved look. Maybe a textured look would have prevented it from this issue. Also, the rear glass is a fingerprint magnet and gives you a unique design when you have a too much of fingerprints on them. [Pun intended]
Capacitive touch buttons below the screen have no backlight and so they are impossible to see in the dark.
The ASUS Zenfone 3 comes with a 5.2 inch with full high definition resolution. The 2.5D IPS display comes with a 75.6% Screen-to-body Ratio. It is bright and vibrant. With a 600 nits brightness, the display looks crisp and clear under the normal light conditions.
Good, but not great while viewing directly under sunlight. The display takes a while to get adjusted. Sensor issue maybe?
User Interface and Software Experience
One of the main drawbacks of Zenfone’s from their inception is having a bloatware OS under-the-hood. This has been a show stopper for the company. The ZenUI didn’t get the appreciation it had expected. Thanks to all those Zen-apps and ugly look.
But ASUS has taken a cautious step with Zenfone 3 by minimizing the bloatware. But yet carries some ugly patches from last iterations. There are 8 pre-installed 3rd party apps on the phone and can be uninstalled. Nearly 25 ASUS labeled apps that can only be disabled (but not uninstalled).
Some areas of the OS like settings screen has got a UI uplift. Icon size has been reduced. But ZenUI has a lot more inside. I particularly liked three things which are really useful.
1. Multi-purposing Buttons: The navigation buttons hold more functionalities rather than just doing what is expected. Some of the very useful shortcuts are,
- Double tap home to enter one-hand mode
- Long press the app switch button to take a screenshot
- Double tap the fingerprint sensor to open the camera; single tap to take a picture
- Double tap the home screen to sleep / wake
- Double-click either volume key to jump into the camera from sleep
- Customizable “ZenMotion” touch gestures for launching apps from the wake.
2. Mobile Manager: An ASUS version of Android housekeeper is a very handy application to have. This particular application is common across Chinese UI and is on Zenfone 3 as well. This application helps us with cleaning up all the junk that builds up on a phone over time of usage. It can help us in clearing the RAM, clean up apps that spam your notifications, apps that start on boot, apps that take too many permissions, or apps that eat too much mobile data.
3. Modes: The ZenUI packs three modes.
- Normal Mode: which can be found as soon as one turns on the device. An actual version of Android with ZenUI
- Easy Mode: This mode can also be called as Elder person mode. One who wants bigger icons and will have very little app usage. With this mode, one can place maximum 9 applications on the screen.
- Kids Mode: We will always be worried when any kid starts playing with our mobile. This mode helps us in locking applications and taking calls. Rest of it is just like Easy mode.
One other feature which is worth noting is, locking applications. Very useful. Isn’t it?
Well, ZenUI still carries a lot of bloatware. That painful notification saying “Updates found for 30+ application” as soon as you switch on the device. So irritating.
Another frustrating part of the OS is quick launch buttons. They are big and ASUS forces you to use maximum apps that in-turn looks ugly. It is divided into two sections, tools (in green color icons) and items (in blue color icons). You are forced to have exactly 4 “tools” (one row) and either 8 or 12 “items” (2 or 3 rows). This is very stupid and you can’t have your own combo. Also, these quick launch buttons eat up full screen with big icons resulting in bad UX!
In terms of the camera, the ASUS Zenfone 3 [ZE520KL] comes with the 16MP rear camera with four-axis optical image stabilization. And there is an 8MP front camera for selfie freaks.
Talking about the rear 16MP lens, the Zenfone 3 pulls out some great pictures. Color reproduction at its best. Though auto mode minimizes our effort in clicking quick point and shoot images, manual focus, exposure, and shutter speed allow us to click better images. Autofocusing is fast, but manual focus takes time.
Daytime or pictures clicked under normal light conditions turned out to be very good. However, night time or super low light pics were bit grainy and noisy. I loved the super-resolution mode, which gave some high-resolution pictures and they were good even when zoomed.
The photos were taken with the HDR mode on being easy to guess as it was suffixed with HDR_On with the file name. Altogether, the device could produce some good pictures.
About video, couldn’t spend much time with the camera on video segment. Heard it is good.
Bad image quality clicked during night times. Slow manual focusing.
ASUS Zenfone 3 has got a slot for headphone if that’s what comes to your mind first. The device was able to throw a good amount of sound. It was loud inside the walls and was decent outside. Pretty impressed with the loudspeaker which was producing decent bass and treble.
The headphones came inside the box was really good. It had a better noise cancellation that helped while on calls. Music output was really good.
With an Octa-Core Snapdragon 625, Adreno 506 and 3GB of RAM, this device was smooth as hell! Never came across any lag or neither, it showed any signs of slowing down. With more than 30 apps opened in behind and played a game, the device was smooth and very responsive.
I must say this, Snapdragon 625 should be called as a high-end processor at a midrange smartphone segment. It is very powerful and performance is buttery smooth. I played Asphalt 8 in high-performance mode on this phone and never faced any issue.
There is also an interesting feature called Game Genie built mainly for the gamers. One can use this as a screencasting tool that allows you to simultaneously record the screen, the front facing video camera, and microphone in a single video. What to showcase your interesting moves in any game? This is a very handy feature!
Well, the Zenfone 3 packs an average 2650mAh battery. That’s really low compared to the price segment right? But wait, this is more than enough for heavy usage. I used the phone extensively for playing games, watching videos, listening to music and constantly checking social media and instant messenger apps. The device ran for one full day and gave nearly 5hours of Screen-on-time. And all this when on complete 4G network and not on wifi.
This device is not just beautifully crafted but also built for amazing performance. One can this the phone is overpriced by looking at specifications. But wait, the premium feels it gives and the performance can make you fall in love. For those who are wondering how much does this device cost, the ASUS Zenfone 3 [ZE520KL] with 3GB RAM and 32GB Storage costs, Rs. 21,999. It is available on top eCommerce websites like Flipkart and Amazon.
I can’t be your decision maker, but this device does the justice for the price you pay for it!
ASUS Zenfone 3 [ZE520KL]
"ASUS Zenfone 3 [ZE520KL] is a flagship device from ASUS for 2016. The ZE520KL variant carries a mid-range hardware but performance way ahead of the price tag it is priced at."
- Battery Backup
- Zen Apps
- Fingerprint magnet rear glass
- Build and Design 95%
- Display 90%
- User Interface and Software Experience 80%
- Camera 95%
- Sound 95%
- Performance 95%
- Battery 95%