First impressions of the ASUS ZenFone 3, ZenFone 3 Ultra and ZenFone Deluxe

ASUS announced its third generation of ZenFones at an event in Taipei today. Post the event we had a chance to try out the three phones and here are our first impressions of the devices.


ASUS announced its third generation of ZenFones at an event, called the Zenvolution, in Taipei today, just a day before COMPUTEX 2016. ASUS announced three new ZenFones—the ZenFone 3, ZenFone 3 Deluxe. Also announced were the ZenBook 3 and Transformer 3 and Transformer 3 Pro devices. If that wasn’t enough, Jonney Shih, Chairman of ASUS, also gave us a demo of ASUS’ home assistant robot—Zenbo—that was announced at $599 at the Zenvolution event.

Post the event we had a chance to try out the three phones and here are our first impressions of the devices.

Build and Design

First impressions of the ASUS ZenFone 3, ZenFone 3 Ultra and ZenFone Deluxe

ASUS ZenFone 3 Deluxe

The ASUS ZenFone 3 Deluxe comes with an all-metal body which looks elegant, thanks to the matte finish on the rear. ASUS has also ensured that the antenna cuts are not visible, thereby calling it the first phone with invisible antenna lines. We could not see them anywhere on the rear. The phone, despite having a metal build, does not feel as heavy as expected.

The volume rocker and power/standby buttons are located on the right hand side and the SIM Card tray is on the left. There's a 3.5mm audio jack up top and the USB Type-C connector at the base. The speaker grille is on one side of the USB Type-C port. On the rear, you have the ASUS branding in the lower half. And on the top half you have the 23MP rear camera module, beside which are the dual LED flash units and the laser AF mechanism. Just under the camera module is the fingerprint scanner, which is like a standing rectangle. Your index finger naturally rests there.

ASUS ZenFone 3

The ASUS ZenFone 3 is the more mid-range offering and comes with a metal frame body which is complemented by 2.5D Corning Gorilla Glass on either side. The phone has a very glossy finish on the rear, which makes it a smudge magnet—something that is very evident on darker phones. ASUS has also released some interesting design covers such as Aqua, Nebula, Glaze. The phone is notably thicker than theZenFone 3 Deluxe and feels heavier. Having said that, the ZenFone 3 is quite a departure from the plastic back toting ZenFone 2 series.

The ZenFone 3 Ultra is more of a tablet replacement thanks to the massive 6.8-inch display. It comes in a metallic build and is the first among the three ZenFone 3’s to sport a dedicated home button. The ZenFone 3 Ultra is targeted more at the content consumption audience. It also sports a fingerprint scanner on its rear and a USB Type-C data transfer and charging port. It only has the power standby button on its right hand side and there is no dedicated volume rocker button.

Display

ASUS ZenFone 3 Deluxe display

All three phones sport a Full HD resolution. The ZenFone 3 Deluxe has a 5.7 inch display with Corning Gorilla Glass 4 protection, ZenFone 3 has a 5.5 inch display  with 2.5D Corning Gorilla Glass protection and the ZenFone 3 Ultra has a massive 6.8 inch display with Corning Gorilla Glass 4 protection. Of the three, the display on the ZenFone 3 Deluxe is worth a second glance for its gorgeous SuperAMOLED screen. The other two devices only have LCD displays. However, the ZenFone 3 and ZenFone 3 Ultra do have displays with good viewing angles. The use of a Full HD panel on the ZenFone 3 Ultra seems a bit odd in this era and we expected a QuadHD display.

Chipset, RAM, Storage

The ASUS ZenFone 3 Deluxe sports a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 chipset along with 6GB of RAM and up to 256GB storage. The ASUS ZenFone 3 comes with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 chipset along with 3GB RAM and up to 64GB of storage. And finally, the ZenFone 3 Ultra sports a Qualcomm Snapdragon 652 chipset along with 4GB of RAM and up to 128GB storage. All phones offer you the chance to expand the storage using a microSD card slot. Keeping in mind that all the phones were in their factory state, we observed that the operations were smooth, with fast transitions. We will need to use it in real life to get a complete idea of how the specs hold up.

Camera

ASUS ZenFone 3 Deluxe Camera

ASUS has paid a lot of attention to the cameras on the three phones, with the ZenFone 3 Deluxe and the ZenFone 3 Ultra sporting 23MP Sony IMX318 sensor-based cameras. The ZenFone 3 has a 16MP sensor. The ZenFone 3 Deluxe and ZenFone 3 also support 4-axis optical image stabilisation (OIS) for shooting stills and 3-axis electronic image stabilisation (EIS) for shooting videos. All smartphones support 4K video recording. All the three phones come with 8MP front-facing cameras.

OS and Battery Life

All the ZenFone 3 models announced today come with Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow OS with the ZenUI 3.0 skin atop it. Right off the bat, we can say that the interface looks a bit cleaner than the older versions, but bloatware is still present. In fact opening the app drawer shows around three pages full of apps. We are not sure if you can uninstall unwanted system apps, we will need to try this out for ourselves. But the previous generation ZenUI interface only let you disable unwanted pre-loaded apps. ASUS has added some new features to the ZenUI, such as parallax motion wallpapers, vivid weather information and much more.

In terms of battery life, the ZenFone Ultra comes with a 4,600mAh battery and the ZenFone 3 and ZenFone 3 Deluxe both come with 3,000 mAh batteries.

Conclusion

The three ZenFone 3 models that were announced today are quite different from the ZenFone 2 models we had seen last year, which were identical except for the specs. The ZenFone 3 Deluxe brings in an all metal design, which is different from the dual-sided glass design of the ZenFone 3. The ZenFone 3 Ultra comes with a dedicated home button, which is not seen on the other two phones.

ASUS has also employed current generation Qualcomm Snapdragon chipsets for all the three phones. Also, the camera department seems to have received some love considering that all the phones are sporting high resolution cameras with two of them sporting OIS/EIS as well. We will still have to test the cameras in real life usage scenarios to get an idea of how they perform.

Now, although the phones come in multiple variants, here are the base prices for each. The ZenFone 3 Deluxe starts from $499 (approx Rs 34,000) for the 6GB RAM + 64GB storage variant; the ZenFone 3 starts at $249 (approx Rs 17,000) for the 3GB RAM + 32GB storage variant and the ZenFone 3 Ultra starts at $479 (approx Rs 32,500) for the 4GB RAM + 64GB storage variant. Of course these are not the official Indian price points.

The Indian smartphone market has already seen a phone with Snapdragon 820 (Xiaomi Mi5) chipset. So ASUS will have to keep that in mind when pricing the new ZenFone 3, specially with the OnePlus 3, LeEco Le 2 Max and other Snapdragon 820 phones expected to his the market soon. Phone such as the ZenFone 3 and ZenFone 3 Deluxe, if they begin at a reasonable starting price point based on the multiple variants, can really add some spice to the already crowded smartphone market. But regardless of that, the ZenFone 3 smartphones seem like ASUS has gone back to the design table and have tried to offer more than just another iteration.

The ZenFone 3 Ultra seems like a huge device, but we saw Lenovo launching a PHAB Plus last year and Xiaomi’s Mi Max, expected this year, also sports a 6.8-inch display. We are not sure how well this category of products is doing, it is too early to say if they will replace the 7-inch tablet category any time soon. At the moment, sadly, there's no information on when these phones will launch in India.

Disclaimer: Our correspondent was invited for Computex 2016 by ASUS India. All travel and accommodation expenses have been take care of by ASUS India.

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