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Hands-on Asus Zenfone 3 review: budget metal?

The Zenfone 3 was announced in May of his year, and, without yet reaching US shores, it is one of the most anticipated devices for many Android users in the US. With the opening of IFA 2016, the Berlin Technology Fair, I had the opportunity to use the device for the first time. Find out my first impressions of Asus’ 2016 flagship, the Zenfone 3.

ASUS ZenFone 3 release date and price

The Zenfone 3 was launched during Computex on 30 May 2016. The new smartphone has reached the international market for the suggested price of $249.

The Asus Zenfone 3 is not yet available in the US, but is expected to arrive in the fourth quarter, so sometime between October and December. We will update this review when we know more.

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The Zenfone 3 comes with support for dual SIM. / © AndroidPIT

There are two other variants in this range of devices: the Zenfone 3 Ultra with 4 GB of RAM and 4.600mAh battery costing $479, and the Zenfone 3 Deluxe, with 6 GB of RAM and 128 GB of internal storage, for $499.

ASUS ZenFone 3 design and build quality

The Zenfone 3 is all glass with a metal frame. In fact, it is quite reminiscent of the Galaxy S6, but it is impossible to confuse them, since both Asus and Samsung clearly brand their devices.

Like the Moto X Play, the Zenfone 3 has a 5.5-inch screen, which also the same as its predecessor, the Zenfone 2. I had the chance to use the Zenfone 2, and can say that, when it comes to the design, Asus has made marked improvements.

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The glass used on the back of the Zenfone 3 is a magnet for fingerprints. / © AndroidPIT

Asus has chosen to stick with capacitive buttons, but it has moved the power and volume buttons the right side of the frame. Now, the line has a fingerprint scanner on the rear panel, precisely where the volume buttons where on the Zenfone 2.

The Zefone 3 e so light and fragile that it feels a little cheap at first

The main camera has a square design, with a small bulge, making the similarity to the Galaxy S6 all the more obvious.

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The capacitive buttons are found on the front. / © AndroidPIT

Visually the Zenfone 3 is a clear positive evolution from the design of its predecessor, and the changes can be felt in the hand, too, but in a less positive way. The device is so light and fragile that it feels a little cheap at first, weighing just 155 g. Honestly, that left me very frustrated. When I tried out the Xiaomi Mi 5, which weighs 129g, while it's very lightweight, the device never impressed upon me the same feeling I got from the Zenfone 3, which felt soulless in the hand, despite its robust specifications.

ASUS ZenFone 3 display

Like the Moto X Play, the Zenfone 3 has an LCD screen of 5.5 inches, so it can be uncomfortable for those with small hands. The display is Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 pixels) resolution, offering a density of 401 ppi.

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The screen quality is good, and the you can identify app icons almost at right angles. / © AndroidPIT

My first impression of the screen quality was really good. The saturation and brightness are consistent and the experience with media content was pleasing during the time I spent with the device. Also, on the front of the device, there’s scratch-resistant 2.5D Gorilla Glass, which is the same found in the new Galaxy S line and the Xiaomi Mi 5.

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Unlike on the Zenfone 2, the new Zenfones come with the volume rocker and power buttons on the right side of the frame. / © AndroidPIT

ASUS ZenFone 3 software

The Zenfone 3 runs on Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow, modified with the ZenUI 3.0 interface. The device actually comes with a Snapdragon processor, which makes me feel very positive about the software updates this model will receive in the future. It seems fairly certain that the Zenfone 3 will be updated to Android 7.0 Nougat more rapidly that the Zenfone 2 was to Marshmallow.

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ZenUI could offer more options to users who do not want all the preinstalled Asus apps. / © AndroidPIT

Although Asus has reduced the amount of bloatware, there are still a lot of apps that can only be disabled and not uninstalled. As a user, I want to have more control of the system and not be a hostage to it.

ZenUI has a lot of fat it needs to burn

Of course, I still have to spend more time with the device before reaching any certain conclusions, but the 64 GB of internal storage should be sufficient to carry the weight of the bloatware and still have room for things I actually want, but ZenUI still has a lot of fat to burn before it can be judged a healthy system.

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The Zenfone 3 leaves the factory running Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow. / © AndroidPIT

ASUS ZenFone 3 performance

Regarding performance, the Asus Zenfone 3 comes with an intermediate processor from Qualcomm, the Snapdragon 625. In fact, to call this an intermediate CPU does not seem fair, due to the work of Qualcomm to provide support for advanced network connections and the above-average RAM capacity. However, this is a market definition.

The Zenfone 3 comes in two versions: one with 4 GB of RAM, and 64 GB of storage; and one with 3 GB of RAM and 32 GB of storage. And, when it comes to performance, there’s a good deal of difference to the Zenfone 2, which came with an Intel CPU Atom Z3580 / Z3560 and, on the basic model, 2 GB of RAM.

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The Zenfone 3 introduces USB Type-C. / © AndroidPIT

The Zenfone 3 GPU is the Adreno 506 and the graphics quality seemed very strong to me upon initial impressions. Indeed, this is the same graphics card that is found inside the Moto Z Play.

During my hands on, I didn’t notice any lag or similar problems that could harm the user experience. Once I am able to spend more time with the device, I will able to say with greater clarity how well this device really performs, but first impressions are strong: it operated very fluidly.

It is worth mentioning that the Zenfone 3 also comes with USB-C 2.0 input, which allows for faster data transfer and charging times.

ASUS ZenFone 3 camera

The main camera on the Zenfone 2 came with a 13 MP sensor and an f / 2.0 aperture. It was fast and the software very complete, but it resembled what we have in smartphones like the LG G3 and Galaxy S5. Now, its successor comes with a 16 MP sensor and the same f / 2.0 aperture, as well a laser autofocus and a dual LED flash (dual tone). It can capture video at 1080p @ 30fps. The front camera is 8 MP, with the same f / 2.0 aperture and it, too, can capture videos in 1080p.

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Here we have the 16 MP rear camera, laser autofocus, LED flash, and, below, the fingerprint scanner. / © AndroidPIT

The image quality during my hands on seemed good, when zooming in on a photo on the screen, details prevail and do not become noticeably grainy. At this point, I can say that the camera on the Zenfone 3 was my favorite aspect.

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The Zenfone 3 camera offers a 4K video option. / © AndroidPIT

ASUS ZenFone 3 battery

The Zenfone 3 has a 3,000-mAh battery, slightly smaller than the Ultra variant, which packs in 4,600 mAh. Asus has made the battery non-removable. Asus also offers Quick Charge 3.0, which promises to charge the device to 60 percent in 39 minutes. I'm really excited to see how this 5.5-inch device performs in our battery tests.

What caught my attention here is that despite the 3,300-mAh battery, the Zenfone 3 is as light as feather, weighing just 155g.

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Besides 3,000 mAh of power, the Zenfone 3 comes with a power-saving mode and quick charging. / © AndroidPIT

ASUS ZenFone 3 technical specifications

    • Type:
    • Phablet
    • Model:
    • ZE552KL
    • Manufacturer:
    • Asus
    • Dimensions:
    • Sorry, not yet available!
    • Weight:
    • Sorry, not yet available!
    • Battery size:
    • 3000 mAh
    • Screen size:
    • 5.5 in
    • Display technology:
    • Sorry, not yet available!
    • Screen:
    • 1980 x 1080 pixels (410 ppi)
    • Front camera:
    • 8 megapixels
    • Rear camera:
    • 16 megapixels
    • Flashlight:
    • Sorry, not yet available!
    • Android version:
    • 6.0 - Marshmallow
    • User interface:
    • ZenUI
    • RAM:
    • 4 GB
    • Internal storage:
    • 64 GB
    • Removable storage:
    • Sorry, not yet available!
    • Chipset:
    • Sorry, not yet available!
    • Number of cores:
    • Sorry, not yet available!
    • Max. clock speed:
    • 1.4 GHz
    • Connectivity:
    • HSPA, Bluetooth 4.2

Early Verdict

Last year, Asus created a real buzz around the Zenfone 2. When I had the chance to test one out, I was quite surprised with the 4GB of RAM version. However, the Zenfone 3, despite looking much better on paper, feels cheap in the hand.

Perhaps the fact that Asus has staked all its money on the Deluxe variant comes at the expense of the other variants, this one included.

I know this early review may seem overly critical, especially to Asus fans; however, my first impression of the Zenfone 3 is that visually it is beautiful, but in the hands feels shoddy. But I'm looking forward to giving it a more thorough test drive to see if some more time with the device can change my opinion.

So, after reading this hands-on review of the Zenfone 3, do you believe that Asus may have placed all its chips on the Zenfone 3 Deluxe and let the other variants suffer?


Write new comment:
  • Ian 1 month ago Link to comment

    None of the Asus phones are worth their asking price if you compare it to other brand's phones, specifically, the Xiaomi Redmi Note 3.

    • Dvo 3 weeks ago Link to comment

      Except the Xiaomi phones need to be imported and that takes a while... Not worth it if you live near South America or the Caribbean. Not sure about the US though.

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