Asus launched the ZenFone 4 series in India on 14 September with three phones: ZenFone 4 Selfie (single camera), ZenFone 4 Selfie (with dual cameras) and ZenFone 4 Selfie Pro. While there are more phones to come in the lineup, it is evident that Asus wants to focus on addressing the selfie-enthusiast crowd across a variety of price points first. Over the last couple of years, we have seen the likes of Oppo and Vivo really take that segment by storm and the strategy has clearly worked for them, which is seen in its sales numbers. Will Asus put a spanner in their works with the Selfie series phones?
I got the ZenFone 4 Selfie Pro for review and have been using it as my primary device for a while now. So here is the full review, as promised.
Build and Design: 8/10
The Asus ZenFone 4 Selfie Pro is a well built device. It is encased in a metal unibody and the rear surface of the phone has a matte finish. Chamfering is seen on edges on both the front and the back, which adds a glossy chrome layer to the design. Two horizontal antenna lines are prominently seen on the rear side at the top and bottom.
While the camera section occupies the top half, the centre portion sees the Asus branding. It is quite slim at 7 mm thickness and weighs around 145 grams. There is minor camera bump. It feels good in the hand and the rounded edges make sure the grip is good on the otherwise slippery device.
Going around the edges, you have the power/standby and volume rocker buttons on the right hand side. The volume rocker is a single button, but it has a depression in the centre to help you demarcate the volume up from volume down and the power standby button has a textured finish. These are minor details, but show the attention Asus has paid. On the top edge, you just have the microphone.
At the top you have the earpiece speaker, ambient light and proximity sensors. To the right-hand side of the earpiece speaker lie the two front cameras and on the left, you have the front-facing softlight flash unit.
Coming to the left hand side, you get the hybrid dual nano SIM card tray. Finally, the bottom edge houses the 3.5 mm jack, microphone, microUSB 2.0 port and the speaker section. There’s a rounded rectangular fingerprint sensor on the front, which has a haptic feedback. The phone is pleasant to look at, but the design is quite generic and nothing stands out as such.
Asus ZenFone 4 Selfie Pro comes with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 chipset which houses an octa-core Cortex A53 processor clocked at 2.0 GHz along with Adreno 506 GPU. This is paired with 4 GB RAM and 64 GB of internal storage. This has become a standard spec listing for most mid-range devices this year.
It has a 5.5-inch FullHD AMOLED display with soft buttons on either side of the fingerprint sensor. On the rear you have a 16 MP camera and on the front you have a 12 MP + 5 MP camera setup for selfies, along with a softlight LED unit.
The Asus ZenFone Selfie 4 Pro houses a 3,000 mAh Li-ion battery. In terms of connectivity, you get a hybrid nano SIM card slots which can take in either two 4G SIMs or one SIM and one microSD card. There's support for Wi-Fi b/g/n. Wi-Fi Direct, Bluetooth v4.1 LE, GPS with A-GPS and GLONASS, FM Radio among others.
Asus ZenFone 4 Selfie Pro comes with a 5.5-inch full HD AMOLED display. It is protected by 2.5D Corning Gorilla Glass which ensures the display surface is smudge proof. The quality of the display is really good. Brightness levels are optimal, text and app icons are sharp and thanks to the AMOLED panel, the contrast is really good. While watching videos, just ensure there isn’t a reflective surface behind you as the display can tend to be a tad reflective. Gaming was a pleasure on the sharp display as well. Sunlight legibility can be an issue at times, and you will need to adjust the brightness accordingly.
OS and Software: 7.5/10
With the Asus ZenFone 4 series, Asus has revamped its ZenUI which is seen atop the Android 7.1.1 Nougat OS. The ZenUI 4.0 looks quite clean as compared to the previous version. According to Asus it has brought down the number of preinstalled apps from 35 to 13, which is welcome. While there is bloat on the device, it is thankfully less as compared to what we had seen with the ZenUI 2.0 and ZenUI 3.0. Facebook, Instagram and Messenger are pre-loaded. There are surprisingly limited number of proprietary Asus apps, which is refreshing to see.
It also supports Twin apps which lets you have two instances of the same app. The quick settings menu has features called Audio Wizard (for audio settings adjustment), Power Boost (to clear RAM), a multi-window feature and more.
The bundled keyboard is a nightmare to use and I ended up making a lot of typos, so I promptly downloaded GBoard and used that as my primary keyboard. When you go to the browser, Asus ZenUI 4.0 throws up an overlay called a Page Marker, which lets you download webpages, highlight important sections of a webpage and create tags for future searches. This is a nifty feature. There is a split screen mode as well, but some apps such as Audio Wizard do not support it.
There’s a ZenUI Safeguard which is an emergency contact feature letting you send an SOS message or your locations to around four of your closest contacts. You can add in custom preset messages which can go with a map link to your trusted contacts. You can keep this activated as long as you like and the software will continue to track your location. This is a good feature implementation.
I liked the overall design language that Asus has gone with in the ZenUI 4.0 interface. It is minimal, has some interesting live wallpapers and is just generally responsive. The camera app was where lag was noticeable, when it came to powering it on. There wasn’t any noticeable lag when switching between applications or adjusting the settings. As compared to the ZenUI 3.0, this is much improved overall user experience.
Day to day usage of the Asus ZenFone 4 Selfie Pro did not throw up any major issues. The phone worked as is expected of one with a Snapdragon 625 chipset along with 4 GB RAM. Call quality was excellent and the earpiece speaker loud enough to hear things properly.
The Audio Wizard function is interesting and adds some value to the music you are listening to. Bundled earphones, though not the best I have heard on, still get the work done. This phone supports Hi-Res audio, so you can enjoy that if you have compatible headphones. On higher volumes there is definite distortion that is noticeable.
Gaming was a pleasant experience, with the phone performing well even on highest settings on Asphalt 8: Airborne. Heating wasn’t much of an issue while gaming with temperatures barely crossing 31 degrees Celsius. Benchmarks are pretty much in line with what we have come to expect from Snapdragon 625 and 4 GB RAM phones. Nothing out of the ordinary there. Fingerprint scanner is quick.
The primary camera on the ZenFone 4 Selfie Pro is a 16 MP unit with a Sony sensor with phase-detect autofocus (PDAF). It comes with Electronic image stabilisation (EIS) for the 4K UHD video recording it supports. The image processing on the rear camera as well as the two front cameras is done by the Asus SuperPixel engine. The rear camera also lets you shoot images in the RAW format. The camera user interface has also undergone some design changes. It comes with features such as beauty mode, Pro mode, super resolution mode, GIF animation mode, portrait mode. You also get slow motion and time-lapse modes.
The highlight of the ZenFone 4 Selfie Pro is the front-facing camera, rather the dual front facing cameras. One of the cameras comes with a 1/2.55-inch 12 MP Sony IMX362 sensor with an f/1.8 aperture and a pixel size of 1.4 microns whereas the other is a 5 MP Omnivision sensor wit a 120-degree field of view. Asus claims that the front 12MP camera uses the DuoPixel technology to extrapolate the 12MP images to 24MP size to give you more details. I didn’t really see much value in keeping the DuoPixel mode on always, as it takes some time to process and doesn’t add that much of an improvement to the image which would otherwise be a 12 MP shot. The Sony sensor is a dual pixel sensor which allows Asus to get a 24MP image. The image processing task is divided between the Asus SuperPixel chip and the Snapdragon 625 chipset.
The front camera comes with a 120-degree wide-angle lens that lets you take group selfies with ease. It also lets you shoot 4K videos. The camera interface has been refined. On the top panel you have the toggles such as settings menu for global settings, an HDR mode, aspect ratio, portrait mode, self timer and flash unit. There are modes such as Auto, Beauty, GIF, Super Resolution, Panorama, Slow motion, Time lapse and Pro mode. The Pro mode lets you have manual control of the camera over settings such as focus mode, shutter speeds, ISO, exposure and white balance. Swiping to the right most screen brings up the various filters.
Speaking about performance, well it is a mixed bag. Let us start with the rear camera first. The 16 MP unit offers good photos in daylight. Last week Mumbai was pretty overcast on most days I went outdoors, but the camera was still able to show enough colour details, although on zooming in you would notice slight amount of noise creeping in. While shooting under the archways of CST, which were a bit dark due to the overcast weather, the noise was quite prevalent, although it was luminance noise. I liked how the structure was intact and there wasn’t too much noise around the edges. There were no noticeable jaggies with structures such as wires or strings in the frame. Photos shot after sundown turned out to be noisy, but still better than what we had seen with the Zenfone Zoom S.
Using this smartphone camera outdoors at night will give you an image quality that is below average. The rear camera supports 4K video recording and the quality was good in daylight. The FullHD videos shot with the ZenFone 4 Selfie Pro were not that impressive. Coming to the front-facing camera, which is the USP of the device, I must say at the outset that there is still scope for improvement. The extrapolation of the 12MP sensor into 24MP really shows in the prominent noise when you shoot selfies in low lit conditions. When switching between the selfie and wefie (Asus’ nomenclature for a group selfie) when using it just for my photo, the differences aren’t that prominent, except or the barrel distortion around the edges. But when you are in a group, the 120-degree front-facing camera does make sense. In terms of quality though, there is definitely an issue with exposure and metering.
When shooting a selfie video in 4K, while the detail on the face was excellent and in focus, I was not too pleased with the washed out surroundings. It is fine if it’s just yourself you want to shoot, but say if I go to an exotic place and want to shoot a video diary, I will not be able to see my surroundings at all even if there is a minor possibility of sky being in the frame. In low light, noise is prominent in the selfie videos. There is definitely work that needs to be done on the software processing with the selfie cameras, because the potential is definitely there and it retains lot of detail on the face.
There’s a Selfie Master app which lets you adjust the beauty mode in photo, video or live streaming mode. It wasn’t to my liking, as the beauty mode just tends to add a waxy layer to your face while adding fairness, and this effect tends to reflect on the background as well which tends to get washed out. The light boost looks unreal and I don’t see myself using this feature a lot.
Also, the portrait mode is a hit and miss with selfies. I had to struggle to ensure that the feathering was consistent when shooting selfies indoors. I noticed that there was a lot of noticeable overexposure in daylight or well-lit indoor shots.
Battery Life: 7.5/10
Asus ZenFone 4 Selfie Pro comes with a 3,000 mAh Li-ion battery and has a USB charger supporting fast charging. It is will last you for a regular working day which involves three emails on sync, constantly buzzing Slack and Telegram apps, bit of gaming and listening to music and some video viewing. But don’t expect a really long-lasting battery, specially when you are using the selfie camera to do video shooting and using other camera-related features, as the processing takes a hit on the battery. The PC Mark for Android showed a time of 8 hours and 43 mins which is pretty decent.
Verdict and Price in India
Asus ZenFone 4 Selfie Pro is a well made smartphone and at Rs 23,999, the price may seem a slight bit more than competition. Dual-front facing cameras with wide-angle option and a softlight LED bulb means that it is a boon for the selfie enthusiasts. However, I must add the caveat that the exposure can be off at times with the front camera. If Asus could resolve this shortcoming with a relevant software patch, then the ZenFone 4 Selfie Pro could easily achieve some of the objectives it has set out to. Overexposure of surroundings in daylight with the front camera shots is annoying.
In terms of build quality, there isn’t much to complain and even the ZenUI 4.0 interface atop the Android 7.1.1 was a pleasant surprise. Battery life could certainly have been better.
Long story short, the ZenFone 4 Selfie Pro has a lot of potential, and terms of details it certainly offers a lot more than the Vivo V7+. Between these two smartphones, unless you are absolutely sold on the 18:9 display, the Asus phone makes a lot more sense even though it is Rs 2000 more in price. 4K vlogging is something that is hard to resist.
If you are not really looking for a selfie-focussed smartphone, there are many other alternatives which offer a much better value proposition.