Asus’ new ZenFone 3 lineup is very interesting, to say the least. Unlike most manufacturers, which opt for relatively similar screen sizes and design, the ZenFone 3 comes in three – almost drastically different – variants: there’s the affordable standard ZenFone 3 with a 5.5-inch display, the ridiculously huge 6.8-inch ZenFone 3 Ultra (it can easily pass off as a tablet), and of course, the flagship ZenFone 3 Deluxe with a 5.7-inch screen.
We got to spend some with these three devices at Asus’ press conference in Taiwan, and after three generations of ZenFones, we asked ourselves: is third time’s the charm for the Taiwanese company? And do you really need 6GB of RAM on a…smartphone?
First, we have highest-end of the bunch: the ZenFone 3 Deluxe. Packed with a whopping 6GB RAM, it has more RAM than many modern PCs today, which still ship with 4GB – or even less – RAM. The Deluxe is hardly the first smartphone with such RAM capacity (that goes to the vivo Xplay5), but it does signify that smartphones with 6GB RAM is a thing now.
RAM capacity aside, the ZenFone 3 Deluxe also has a 5.7-inch 1080p AMOLED display, and the contrast ratio of the display is impressive. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor powering the device provided a very snappy user experience, and ZenUI 3.0 based on Android Marshmallow both feels and looks better than previous iterations of it, although bloatware still remains an issue.
Other specifications of the ZenFone 3 Deluxe include an equally ridiculous 256GB UFS 2.0 storage, a microSD card slot, a 3,000mAh battery, a 23MP rear camera with four-axis optical image stabilisation and TriTech autofocus system (it combines phase detection, laser, and continuous autofocus), an 8MP front-facing shooter, as well as a rear fingerprint sensor.
One-tier down in terms of processing power is the ZenFone 3 Ultra. Packed with a slower – but still quite capable – Snapdragon 652 processor paired with up to 4GB of RAM, the Ultra also has a sizeable 6.8-inch IPS display. Personally, I’m more comfortable referring to it as a tablet than a phablet; at 6.8 inches big, it’s definitely approaching tablet territory.
Aside from that, the Ultra also has up to 128GB of expandable storage, the same 23MP rear and 8MP front-facing cameras of the Deluxe, a generous 4,600mAh battery, a fingerprint sensor integrated into the home button at the front, and 4K video recording; the volume rocker is also on the rear of the device, like most previous iterations of the ZenFone lineup.
And then we have the ZenFone 3; it feels very premium despite being the most affordable of the bunch. Unlike the former two ZenFone 3 smartphones, which has an all metal unibody design, this particular variant has front and back 2.5D Gorilla Glass panels. It also features a Snapdragon 625 processor with up to 4GB of RAM and 64GB of expandable storage, a 5.5-inch IPS+ display, a 3,000mAh battery, as well as a fingerprint sensor – this appears to be a standard feature across the ZenFone 3 range.
Another common feature all of these devices share is 4K video recording – yes, even this US$249 (about RM1,025) ZenFone 3 is capable of 4K video, not to mention the fact that its 16MP rear camera comes complete with the four-axis OIS and TriTech AF system as the other two ZenFone 3 variants. It’s also worth mentioning that all three devices in the series have USB Type-C ports.
The major design highlight of the ZenFone 3 series is definitely the “invisible antenna design,” which was emphasised on the ZenFone 3 Deluxe and Ultra – devices with metal chassis usually have antenna lines to eliminate any signal issues. Asus did not elaborate how exactly it has accomplished this, but no matter how hard I’ve looked, the ZenFone 3 Deluxe and Ultra definitely do not have any visible antenna lines – this in itself is quite a design achievement, especially in the looks department.
I first laid my hands on the ZenFone 3 when I went to the experiential zone, and in comparison to the ZenFone 2 with its liberal use of plastic, the ZenFone 3 feels very, very polished. This is thanks to the rounded metal frame and glass back of the device; I’m so impressed with the build quality of the ZenFone 3, I actually prefer it over the other two higher-end variants.
In contrast, the ZenFone 3 Deluxe and Ultra have a matte metal back finish instead. While this may look aesthetically pleasing, the back panel isn’t as grippy as the standard ZenFone 3’s glass back; this is part of the reason why I prefer the latter over the former two. That said, the Deluxe and Ultra do feel premium, although I’m not a big fan of the Deluxe’s funky-looking swirls on the top and bottom bezels of the device.
The Ultra, on the other hand, is definitely too big to qualify as a smartphone – to me, at least. It feels a lot like a small, compact tablet, and its size definitely dwarfs the other two ZenFone 3 variants. That being said, it feels really good and solid to hold in my hands; I’d even go as far to say that it is one of Asus’ most premium tablet yet. (Yes, tablet.)
After spending some time with the Asus ZenFone 3 series, I was left…impressed. Really impressed, actually. The Asus ZenFone 2 was one of the most value for money Android smartphones when it was launched in Malaysia, but certain things such as build quality and performance had to be sacrificed. Now that Asus has moved on to Qualcomm chipsets and improved immensely in the design and build quality department, the ZenFone 3 series shows a lot of promises.
That being said, the public’s perception of the ZenFone lineup will be a difficult one to overcome; it had always been targeted at budget-conscious consumers, with the ZenFone Zoom being a notable exception. Whether or not this perception can be altered depends on a few factors, but most importantly, it will rely on just how good the ZenFone 3 series really is, and it’s a question that can only be answered in a full review.
Well, that, and the retail prices of the devices will play huge roles in determining the success of the ZenFone 3 series.