The ZenFone 2 was the phone that put Asus on the map in India. Being the first smartphone with 4GB RAM was enough to get people in line for it. This was also the reason why other manufacturers put more RAM in their smartphones. Naturally, making a successor to such a phone isn’t a very easy job.
When the ZenFone 3 was announced the pricing failed to impress the media. Asus launched the ZenFone 3 in two different screen sizes – 5.2-inch and 5.5-inch – priced at Rs 21,999 and Rs 27,999 respectively. The smaller phone gets 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, whereas the bigger one gets 4GB and 64GB of storage. The pricing puts it in a territory currently dominated by the OnePlus 3. The ZenFone 3 then, has a competitive environment to begin with.
The spec sheet of the ZenFone 3 is very modest. A Snapdragon 625 octa-core processor, 3GB/4GB of RAM, 16-megapixel camera and 32GB/64GB of internal storage. These specifications seem pale on paper but using the phone in real life is a completely different experience.
I got my hands on the 5.5-inch variant also known as the ZE550KL. The ZenFone 3 is a beautiful device, the metal glass sandwich design gives it a premium feel. A lot of people did confuse it with a Samsung device at first glance and the similarity is uncanny. The protruding camera on the back, the glass back and the color matched what the Galaxy S6 and the Galaxy S7 offer. The rectangular fingerprint scanner is positioned just below the camera and is very quick to unlock the phone. Having glass on the front and back the device makes it prone to smudges very easily. Also, the Gold color variant shows off these smudges more than any other color that the ZenFone 3 comes in. Clean the phone well and it shines beautifully.
Asus has opted for Gorilla Glass 4 protection on the front and the back of the device. But you should still be little careful as this device is a bit slippery and a drop may result in either glass cracking. One other problem with the glass sandwich design is that it is near impossible to distinguish front and back when pulling the phone out of the pocket.
The 5.5-inch display on the ZenFone 3 is an LCD panel unlike the AMOLED panel on the OnePlus 3. While this isn’t much of an issue, I prefer the punchy contrast that an AMOLED offers. Asus does offer users the option to tweak the display and make it produce a vivid output, the power-saving features of AMOLED, however, are missed.
The phone is a decent performer, the specs on paper don’t seem very impressive but it all just works. Asus has managed to tune the phone well for going through regular tasks like checking emails, responding to WhatsApp and taking phone calls. The phone shows no signs of slowing down while playing casual games. It is only when I loaded up heavier games that it showed slightly longer load times. Asus uses its own ZenUI on top of Android Marshmallow and is close to stock with a few design changes. The smartphone comes preloaded with a lot of apps which most of us consider as bloat. Asus gives you an option to uninstall a few while others can only be disabled. That said, the overall experience of Zen UI on this phone is brilliant making it my second choice after stock Android.
The device is powered by a Snapdragon 625 octa-core processor which isn’t as powerful as the Snapdragon 820 in the OnePlus 3 and the Xiaomi Mi5. But, the SD 625 is very frugal when it comes to power consumption — making the ZenFone 3 an all-day phone. The phone managed to run for more than one day on a single charge providing over 6 hours of SOT (Screen-On-Time). This battery backup is impressive considering the 3000mAh battery pack in the smartphone. And to me, it looks like a combination of the processor, Android’s Doze feature and some aggressive app management by Asus. In a time when we alter our smartphone usage based on the remaining battery, the ZenFone can soldier on without breaking a sweat. In case the battery does run out, the provided charger is fast enough to charge it up. Do remember to carry the cable as the Type C port still isn’t as common as we think it is.
While the power management was impressive, the 16-megapixel camera on the phone was only above average. The ZenFone 3 uses a Sony sensor with OIS (Optical Image Stabilization) and a Dual Tone LED flash. The performance in daylight resulted in a decent output which was a little grainy for my liking. The camera struggles to focus in low lighting conditions, resulting in a few blurry shots. The ZenFone has an 8-megapixel selfie camera which performs similarly.Good during the day, but needs some work in low light. It also has a ‘beautify mode’ on by default which alters the output. I personally don’t like the beautify mode on any camera and couldn’t find a way to switch it off. Overall, the phone is good for casual photographers and to upload on social media. It somehow falls short on delivering on its tagline “Built for Photography”, but is definitely better than the older Asus smartphones.
The ZenFone 3 is a Dual SIM device and also happens to be the first phone from Asus with VoLTE support. There is support for 4G and VoLTE on the first SIM slot while the second one is restricted to 2G and 3G only. The phone performed really well when tested on Vodafone and Reliance Jio network. The voice quality was good and the phone managed to hold on to the network at all times. I also used the ZenFone 3 as a hotspot, using the Jio network to connect my laptop to the internet. Asus pops up a notification displaying the amount of time the device can run as a hotspot and the amount of data consumed, something I found to be very useful. The default setting shuts the hotspot if it is not used by any hosts for 5 mins. That’s a welcome feature to save battery.
There are very few phones in the market that offer more than what is mentioned on the spec sheet, and the ZenFone 3 happens to be one of them. The phone isn’t going to blaze benchmarks registering a high score for others to beat, but, will cater to your needs all day long. Good design, good performance and good battery life, if these are your checkboxes then the ZenFone 3 ticks all of them.