[Review] Asus Zenfone 3 - a sleek device

[TL;DR - it's a sleek looking and feeling device yet the software makes you feel like it's something from the 70s]

There is a turning point lately.  An exhaustion from the flagship battles.  The rising costs, the elitism of picking a 'side' of a brand ... people are hungry for a real choice sometimes.  An option to look for something besides the big 3 brands (Apple, Samsung, LG ... heck, maybe Moto or HTC) can be refreshing.

If that brand is something from that might already be facing you on your computer, it makes it easier to buy into it.  Asus is a brand that's synonymous with computers.  I used to have several netbooks of them.  My first tablet was an Asus because it was a brand I trust for quality.  My Android TV Nexus Player is Asus and it's still a solid streaming box for us.

So they've been a good choice for quality, but for phones they've not been a top choice.  The production run of the devices were pretty small and availability in North America has been limited, but it's still a very viable option.

The Zenfone 3 is the latest in this line up of choice, and at $400CDN, it is a very good option for the money.  

Here's my take on whether you should part with your money and make this as an option for your daily driver:

So, for $400, that's not a lot to pay out, so what are we compromising on:

  • 5.5" 1920x1080
  • 2.0GHz x8 Snapdragon 625
  • 4GB RAM
  • 64GB storage + microSD
  • 16MP / 8MP
  • 3000mAh
  • Android 7.0
  • USB-C
  • dual SIM

One of the biggest things you'll notice is the omission of NFC, which is a shame, but until Canada really starts to adopt the whole mobile payment most may not be noticed.  For me it's a hard pill to swallow even tho' I don't use it often.  It's the first compromise for $400.

The other thing I have to give to them off the hop is that they've updated the device several times in the week that I've had it.  It started on marshmallow 6.0 and it's now on 7.0.

Turning the device over in your hand it's very sleek.  It's thick, but just thick enough.  It's not too thin and it's not a brick.  It's sleek with the glass makes it feel very cool and the curves are subtle enough to feel just right.  Hard to explain without it being in your hand.

The device I have has had a little bit of wear and you can see the scuffs it's had via other reviewers.

You'll notice that this also comes with USB-C now.  So welcome to the new realm of cables.  Which is good (one step forward with C, one step back without NFC).

All controls are on the one side, with the sims/SD tray on the other.  The headphone jack is on top and the speaker on the bottom.  The fingerprint scanner is a skinny sensor on the back.

On the back there's a little bump for the camera, but not a heck of a lot noticeable.

On the front are the soft navigation buttons.  Some people like 'em as it ensures you have a full screen for whatever it is you want to do.  

Overall, the hardware FEELS like it's a premium device.  It's definitely bound to impress some folks.

So, let's turn it on.  You can do so by the power button (but who does that), by double tapping, or tap the fingerprint sensor.  It's nice how it works nearly flawlessly.  The drawback is that there's no sort of vibration to say it registered (it'll vibrate if it didn't) and then it just turns on.  There's a tad bit of a delay so you're not sure if it did or not so you have just about enough time to question and then hit it again while it's turning on.

Screen's on now and you're met with ZenUI.  And for a few folks out there who love stock Android, it's not that far off the mark. There's just some Asus apps about.  Now there's a lot of apps you could install from setup, but that's up to you.

What you don't get a choice on installing is a fair bit of features and apps they throw in.  And it's a lot.

Not only are there enough there to have their own screen, but the UI of them makes it feel as though the graphic design was from the 70s.  Very big blocky letters and colourful... it's not bad, just not what I've been used to in design.  Just swipe down from the top to see

So, let's go over some of the added in features.  See if you like them or not (personally, there's not a lot for me here).

First up, and I'm sorry to feel like I'm picking on it is ShareLink, a way to send files wirelessly to another device.  Neat.  But until an update recently it wouldn't work on Android 7.0.  Took Asus about a week to realize that.

There's a mobile manager app where it'll assess how much battery you've got, what apps are draining it for you, RAM usage etc...  There's even a shortcut on the screen for the "Power & Boost" where it'll automatically clear a bunch of apps and say it 'released xMB memory'.  Not sure how really helpful that bit is sometimes because if you know how memory management works some of those apps will have to just reload themselves and actually burn up some more battery.

There's a Themes app to let you customize the look of your device.

There's a ZenFone care app, which lets you connect with customer service options, and then there's a ZenTalk app which is like the same kind for a forum discussions, and for another way to have the same type, there's a MyAsus Service Centre app.  So 3 apps that could be consolidated into one.  And all 3 look differently.

You can enable a Game Genie mode so that it recognizes when you're playing games that it'll have options to record gameplay or adjust settings, etc...

ZenMotion allows you a few gestures, and one of them allows for a One Hand Mode, which makes a smaller screen - but what I found funny was that it then brings on screen navigation buttons.

Just don't take a screen shot as it gets a little weird.

There are a few more apps that deal with camera features, like the Laser Ruler, which is supposed to measure distance, but it has been pretty inconsistent for me.  But it's quick.

Then there's a MiniMovie app which lets you take videos and photos to make a clip, and then there's a PhotoCollage app where you can make a ... well, a collage, and last but not least, ZenCircle which is a way to create and share your 360 photo shots.

Actually the ZenCircle is more than just 360 panorama, as it can make VR 'scenes' with photos put in it, like as if it's looking at your photos in a museum or in space etc... It's pretty neat.

Whether they should have been 3 separate apps or just one ... that's open for debate.

Speaking of the camera it's got a lot of features actually.  For someone who likes control of the camera, this is handy.

There are just a lot of options:

So, of course, it's got the manual controls and it gives you a lot of ways to adjust the photo that we're all used to by now.

There's a 'super resolution' mode which lets you take essentially 4x the resolution.  I didn't see the real difference, to be honest.  But it's neat to see some cool features, like GIF, children mode (where it adds in sound effects).

When it comes to the quality of the shots, at 16MP, are pretty good.  It's not the best out there, it's not the worse, definitely better than I thought I'd get out of a $400 phone.

Overall, the device handles pretty well.  The 3000mAh battery lasts a very long time.  There is a little bit of lag loading up some apps, not really noticeable, but running the app is very smooth.

The most overlooked feature about this is the fact that it has 2 SIMs.  Especially for those of us who tend to travel where we need a roaming SIM card.

There's a bunch more features that I didn't cover, and I'll put some below.

Yeah, it's got some 'bloat', yeah, it's not perfect.  But for a solid device at less than flagship prices, it's well worth it, and it's pretty easy to throw the apps you won't use in their own little folder and never look at them again.  Did I forget to mention my favourite feature of the phone?  It's got 64GB of storage!  Plenty of space to throw around and not worry about how much space the extra apps are taking.

 Audio Wizard settings

Adjusting home screen settings

editing what you can allow 'auto start'