Asus, the company that once was known to make computer hardware made a sharp turn to manufacture Android smartphones in 2014. Asus has been known for its complicated product names and unfortunately, this nomenclature also carry forwards to its smartphone lineup. As a matter of fact, the first Zenfone that was launched was dubbed as the Zenfone 4 (A400CG). Three years down the line, Asus has decided to launch a new set of smartphones — all of them starting with “Zenfone 4”. As confusing as it may sound, this is the reality we have to deal with, many thanks, Asus! We had a chance to test drive the Zenfone 4 Selfie, which again is subdivided into two products – one with a dual front camera and the other with just one. The phone we received is the Zenfone 4 Selfie Dual Camera (DC) — it has a dual front camera setup and bears the product name ZD553KL.
The part of this post where I rant about Asus’ product nomenclature is now complete. I appreciate your patience.
Speaking of the Zenfone 4 Selfie Dual Camera, the device was launched alongside its other two siblings, the Zenfone 4 Selfie Single Camera variant and the Zenfone Selfie Pro. The device we reviewed sits right in between the other two, both in terms of price and features offered. The devices were launched in New Delhi on 14 September 2017, marking the arrival of the fourth generation of Zenfone devices in India.
Design: Hey! Is that an iPhone?
That’s the very first reaction most people would give you whilst you’re holding the phone, provided you’re holding it right. That’s owing to the fact that the phone shares some resemblance to said phone from Apple. The build of the phone is strikingly great too. It sports an all-metal unibody design with antenna lines running at the back. It’s also surprisingly light as well – weighing in at just 144 grams it almost feels like a dummy piece you’d see in one of the retail stores.
Despite it being light, the phone is super sturdy and in no way feels cheap. To add to its look and feel, the Asus branding and antenna lines feature a 3D etching which gives an illusion of depth, brownie points to Asus for the great design. Kudos!
Display: Mediocre at best
Just a few moments later, after the phone booted up and I was done admiring the build quality of this device, I had a look at the display on the phone. The display on the Zenfone 4 Selfie DC sports an HD display! Yes, you heard that right. In 2017, when budget smartphones are offering Full HD displays, the one on this smartphone misses the mark.
Although the device sports a resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels, it has made up with some software compensations like neat animations which make it border-line acceptable.
However, you begin to notice what the phone lacks on the display as soon as you launch the YouTube app, or any video for that sake. Let’s consider YouTube here; the video will appear just unpleasant and the first thing I did was check if the video was running at the highest resolution. Unsurprisingly, it was running on 720p, the max the phone’s display could support.
This experience wasn’t the end of this problem as I went ahead to use the smartphone for a couple of more days, the issue was quite prominent and made me switch to my Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 everytime I wished to stream content. As it appears, once you’ve used any device sporting a Full HD display or better, the 720p display on Zenfone 4 Selfie DC will just make you feel like you’re streaming content over a really slow internet connection. And who among us likes a slow internet connection, in the era of Jio, right?
Well, not all is bad per-se, if you’re one who has been using a phone with a 720p display or lower, the phone will feel absolutely fine, perhaps even better, owing to its bright display which is legible even on a bright sunny day.
Camera: Not one, not two, but three Individual Cameras
The Zenfone 4 Selfie features three cameras – two on the front, hence the name and one on the back. The dual camera system integrated on this device is the unique selling point of this phone. The front camera setup sports two sensors, separated by the earpiece grill so as to position them on either side of the phone’s forehead. The primary camera on the front sports a whopping 20-megapixel sensor and the images it captures are fairly decent, however, don’t do justice to the 20 million pixels it is expected to capture. It could definitely have been better.
On the other end of the device’s forehead is an 8-megapixel wide angle sensor which is aimed to capture group selfies. The camera can be switched using the toggle the bottom of the viewfinder in the camera app. And yes, the quality of this camera is even worse than what the 20-megapixel sensor would capture, but oh well, you’ve got to lose some clarity if you need to fit more people in the frame. Partly this is ironical as all of your friends in your group selfie might not appear as clear, especially if you upload the image to a social media site which further compresses the image.
While using the 20-megapixel camera, the phone has some additional features to offer as well. The portrait mode which was first seen on the iPhone 7 Plus makes its way to the Zenfone 4 Selfie DC’s 20-megapixel front-facing camera, yay! Well, as much as I hate to be the harbinger of bad news – it really isn’t that great. Yes, it works sometimes, but it is pretty inconsistent. On most occasions, it would blur out the subject’s hair or ears. Thankfully, this feature is restricted only to the better selfie camera on this phone.
The rear camera on the phone features a 16-megapixel sensor, comparing this to the 20MP sensor on the front you can see what the company is aiming with this device – a phone for selfie lovers. The images captured by the rear camera turned out fairly decent in good lighting but average in low lighting. This camera is also capable of recording videos in 1080p which, unfortunately, won’t play pixel-for-pixel on that 720p display.
Performance and Software: Hit and miss
The phone shines in terms of hardware, on paper, however, still lags when compared to its competition. The selfie centric phone from Asus’ fourth generation lineup packs in an octa-core Snapdragon 430 processor manufactured by Qualcomm which is clocked at 1.4GHz, similar to the Nokia 6. For all intents and purposes, the SD430 is a good processor for a sub-10K smartphone. Thankfully, the phone also features 4GB of RAM to keep most of its processes smooth and lag free. However, there happens to be a shortcut to clear RAM, common to Asus smartphones that annoyed me, more on that in a bit.
In terms of storage, the offering from Asus ships in a 64GB variant which can be expanded up to a whopping 2TB through a microSD card. The card slot is not a hybrid slot giving it an edge over its counterparts, whereby the Zenfone doesn’t make the user compromise between operating two SIMs or expanded storage.
On the software front, the Zenfone sports a neat user interface dubbed as the ZenUI 4.0 built over Android Nougat. Right out of the box, the unit provided to us had a software update waiting for us; although just a security patch, it was quite reassuring. Asus has also claimed that the device will receive Android Oreo soon enough.
The interface that ZenUI 4.0 had to offer was a mix match of productivity features and unnecessary gimmicks. For one, the phone packs in a ton of settings you could tweak and make the phone feel exclusive to you. The feature I liked the most was the double tap to switch ON and OFF the display and the gestures you can make to quickly launch an app. Some of the unnecessary features that could have seen some trimming is the RAM cleaner toggle. The toggle is accessible from the notification drawer. My problem with that is the animation time it consumes. The animation takes up the whole screen and lasts a good two seconds before it disappears, making me wonder if it was even required in the first place.
Battery: The biggest drawback to the phone
Lastly, the hardware feature that I found was the most troublesome – the battery and its charging. The Zenfone 4 Selfie DC draws its power from a 3000mAh battery pack that is non-removable and how I wish it were! Not to be mistaken, the battery provides enough juice to last you through the day, however, once it has been drained, that’s when the problem arises. The phone isn’t equipped with quick charge capabilities but is awfully slow even when compared to a standard charging phone such as the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4. The phone takes well over 3 hours to charge from 20% to 90%.
The charging pattern of this phone is not only abysmal but also inconsistent. We tried multiple chargers and the result was pretty much similar – requiring close to 4 hours for the device to charge it up to the brim.
The second feature which baffled me was its fingerprint sensor. The fingerprint sensor is placed on the front of the phone and also doubles up as a home button. Interestingly, it doesn’t physically click, which is a nice improvement saving a couple of bucks in the event of the button going bad. However, the fingerprint is not even close to how fast Asus claims it to be. It often took me two attempts for the phone to register my thumb-print. This may be a software issue as it takes a bit for the screen to light up after it has registered the fingerprint. We hope this improves with a software update.
Verdict: A well-built device with cameras that work, mostly but worrying battery issues.
To summarise, the Zenfone 4 Selfie Dual Camera version has a well built body which packs in all you need in a smartphone to carry around on a daily basis, coupled with cameras that can suffice for most occasions – be it a quick selfie for your social media followers or capturing a group-fie to encapsulate your priceless memories. If you are a power user, the phone just might not be a one you should opt for, owing to its inbuilt slow charge capabilities (sarcasm intended).