Asus announced the ZenFone 3 series during Computex 2016. The company launched three devices, and the Zenfone 3 Laser was announced after Computex. We have already reviewed Asus ZenFone 3 Max and Asus ZenFone 3 Ultra, and in this review, I will be talking about the Asus ZenFone 3 Laser.
As expected from the announcements, ZenFone 3, ZenFone 3 Max and Zenfone 3 Ultra, all cater to a particular subset of the audience and work well for what they offer. You can check out the detailed breakup of the three smartphones in the reviews done for the devices.
Asus Zenfone 3 Laser is pegged to be the camera-centric smartphone with Laser autofocus mechanism and the stresses on delivering good image quality.
Build and Design: 6.5 / 10
Asus ZenFone 3 Laser comes with an inspiring design, and the philosophy follows the general guidelines set by the ZenFone 3 series, going with an all metal body. You get the physical navigation buttons on the bottom which can't be reassigned and are not backlit.
There is no textured back or fancy design element to make it stand out in the sea of smartphones in the same or even lower price bracket. According to the website, the smartphone weighs 150g with dimensions of 149 x 76 x 7.9 mm. The overall feel of the device is sturdy with no squeaky or loose parts, thereby giving it a durable feel.
You will find the volume rocker and the power button on the top right side of the smartphone with the SIM tray located on the top of the left side of the smartphone. One thing to note is that the Sand Gold variant gives the smartphone a dull look which is not the case in the Asus ZenFone 3, ZenFone 3 Max, ZenFone 3 Ultra or even the ZenFone 3 Deluxe.
The fingerprint sensor comes on the back of the smartphone, and it does not come in the circular form factor as most smartphones have these days. Instead, the fingerprint sensor comes in a narrow rectangle with rounded corners. This form factor of the fingerprint sensor makes it difficult for the users despite the increase in the surface area, as the increased yet restricted surface area reduces the accurate detection of the fingerprint.
You will find the speaker grill along with the microUSB 2.0 port on the bottom edge of the smartphone with the 3.5mm headphone jack on the top.
Features: 7 / 10
Asus ZenFone 3 Laser packs an Octa-core Qualcomm MSM8937 Snapdragon 430 processor clocked at 1.4GHz with Adreno 505 GPU. I got the 4GB RAM with 64GB internal storage variant for review. But the phone also comes in 2GB RAM and 32GB internal storage option. If you are running out of storage space, then you can add a microSD card up to 256GB in the second SIM slot. Laser has a 5.5-inch IPS LCD with an effective resolution of 1080x1920 at 401ppi pixel density covered with Gorilla Glass 3 for additional protection.
Asus has added a 13MP camera module along with laser autofocus with f/2.0 aperture dual-tone LED flash on the back. This camera module is capable of shooting video at 1080p resolution at 30fps. Also, the phone sports an 8MP camera module with f/2.0 aperture on the front.
ZenFone 3 Laser is equipped with Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Wi-Fi Direct, hotspot, Bluetooth v4.2, GPS with A-GPS, GLONASS and BDS, microUSB v2.0 port with fast-charging support (sort of depending on the max current supplied by the adapter) and USB On-The-Go support. The smartphone also provides 3.5mm headphone jack on the top side of the smartphone, IR port and FM radio support along with hybrid dual SIM slots (one nano SIM + one micro SIM or one nano SIM + one microSD).
The company has added fingerprint sensor on the rear side of the smartphone right below the camera module along with an accelerometer, gyroscope, proximity and compass sensors. You get a 3000mAh Lithium-Ion non-removable battery in the device which performs decently.
Display: 6.5 / 10
Asus ZenFone 3 Laser has a respectable 5.5-inch FullHD IPS LCD display. The display seems to hold on its own during daily usage. The screen is reflective, and you will face discomfort while working in direct sunlight and will need to re-adjust your viewing angles. One thing to note is that the screen brightness seems to be strangely low.
The LCD IPS display provides decent viewing angles despite seeming a bit dim when viewed from sides. But overall, I had a good time while reading, web browsing, gaming or watching videos on the display. The colours, contrast and vibrancy of the display was fairly decent at all times. There is no special mode for outdoors, and I wish that Asus had added something for the direct-in-sun workflow which could make working easier.
Software: 7 / 10
Asus ZenFone 3 Laser runs Android Marshmallow 6.0.1 out of the box along with the custom ZenUI 3.0 on the top of the OS.
There are elements like the three quick-launch options on the lock-screen and the folder-style on the home screen that could have been better. Thankfully ZenUI does give you the option to turn the quick-launch options off which helps it give more AOSP like experience.
Asus has packed 'Mobile Manager' as part of its ZenUI which gives you information on data usage, power saving modes, notifications and privacy and security. This works amazingly in principle, giving you quick access to everything important that you need to take control of. But also, they have added 'Cleanup' and 'Boost' options on the 'Mobile Manager' which doesn't make sense to me.
Primarily because anyone who is familiar with Android architecture and the changes done since Android Kitkat 4.4, the OS has evolved sufficiently to make sure that user experience remains unaffected in the long run. The 'Boost' mode, in particular, does not provide any benefit and may indeed worsen the battery life and break cross-app operations. The company has even added a shortcut for the same labelled 'Power & Boost' which claims to 'Boost' your smartphone.
Asus has added other apps like ZenTalk, Themes, Puffin, MyASUS Service Centre, ZenFone Care also in-house apps like Gallery, Contacts, File Manager, MiniMovie, PhotoCollage, Weather, Do It Later, Clock, Calculator, Flashlight, Share Link and WebStorage. One thing that I continue to love about the ZenUI is the option to turn off the screenshot notification in the settings menu.
Performance: 6 / 10
Asus ZenFone 3 Laser's performance was quite average, without any significant device freezing, lag or stuttering for the majority of the review. The experience turned rocky immediately after I ran any high-level benchmark apps where the entire system came to a crawl. I had to manually kill some benchmark apps to return to usable system conditions. I also regularly suffered from micro stutters while using the phone where the UI seemed sluggish while scrolling through long list of Google Play Store apps.
It's not clear if Asus purposely included the slow animations to make sure that users don't detect the stuttering and slowness from the animations. Apart from the occasional micro-stutters, Snapdragon 430 coupled with 4GB RAM performed decently during all the tasks, music, gaming, web browsing and photo editing. But at these price points, you need to have a well-optimised software user experience. Asus needs to fix these issues in future updates.
The smartphone scored 3481 in the PCMark 'Work performance 2.0' benchmark along with scoring 642 in Single-Core and 2026 in Multi-Core benchmarks in Geekbench 4. Laser did decently and did not heat up considerably during extended gaming sessions and held admirably to heavy games like DeadTrigger 2, Modern Combat 5 and Gear Club.
It scored 9398, 5569 and 9590 in IceStorm, IceStorm Extreme and IceStorm Unlimited benchmarks. The smartphone scores 22779 in Quadrant and 44525 in AnTuTu benchmark that I ran during my testing.
The call quality of the ZenFone 3 Laser is decent with good clarity and volume of the sound. The audio quality of the speaker grill on the bottom side of the smartphone is decent with no surprises. However, the volume should have been more as in large halls or noisy rooms, the audio quality goes for a toss.
Camera: 6 / 10
ZenFone 3 Laser is supposed to be a camera-centric smartphone which should take decent if not great photos. But I am sad to report that the photos taken by the ZenFone 3 Laser are not great. The 13MP camera on the rear and the 8MP camera on the front are equally bad with most of the images full of noise in anything less than ideal lighting situations. Some turn to be a blurry mess in the auto mode.
The camera like all the ZenUI running smartphones provides sufficient options regarding shooting modes ranging from Auto, ZenFlash, Manual, HDR Pro, Beautification, Super Resolution, Children, Low Light, QR Codes, Close-up among others.
Asus needs to step up their camera game, and the camera needs to take better photos in anything less than perfect lighting conditions. One cannot name the smartphone 'Laser' to signify the Laser Autofocus system of the camera and then deliver such ordinary photos throughout.
Battery: 8 / 10
ZenFone 3 Laser performed great in the battery life department. During my extensive testing, the smartphone performed admirably well coping to my heavy usage. It lasted a little over 11 hours during my typical day which consists of always being connected to the internet through Wi-Fi, Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp throughout the day in addition to 1 hour of music, 35-40 minutes of gaming and installing and testing new apps.
However, two major things are missing in the offering are the USB Type-C port and fast charging. It is almost criminal for people to wait for more than two hours to wait for their smartphone being charged from 0 percent to 100 percent in 2016.
I could not figure out what it was that was causing the PC Mark for Android battery life test benchmark to crash constantly. I tried running the test four times, but all the times PCMark would crash as the test reached 50 percent.
Similarly to other ZenFones, the Mobile Manager has a "Power Saver" which gives us Performance, Normal, Power saving, Super saving and Customised power saving modes to improve the battery life. The smartphone also offers to reserve battery for calls, and you can set the conservation mode to kick in once the battery drops to a certain percentage. Even though the performance drops once the Power saving mode is activated, the fact remains that I would much rather use my smartphone in a reduced performance state rather than have a dead smartphone.
Verdict and Price in India
Asus ZenFone 3 Laser is a decent smartphone in the whole ZenFone 3 series. But despite the decent attempt at going with tried and tested way, there is no way that I would suggest this smartphone to anyone for the Rs 18,999. I would never pay this much money for a smartphone that has issues such as micro stutters and lags in operation, average camera and does not have essentials such as USB Type-C and fast charging in 2016.
It is better that you look elsewhere like the Xiaomi Mi Max or you can get Xiaomi Mi5 with the exchange of your current smartphone. Looking at other smartphone offerings even Moto G4 Plus or Lenovo Zuk Z2 Plus is better than what Asus is offering here both in terms of performance as well as the value for money. Even if you are Asus loyalist, I would recommend you to save up and look for something else like Asus ZenFone 3 Ultra or ZenFone 3 Max or ZenFone 3.
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