“Is that the new Samsung phone?”
That question, addressed to us by at least four different people, sums up the new Asus ZenFone 3‘s visual impact on people. Mind you, a couple of years ago, reminding people of Samsung would have meant “plasticky and predictable.” Today, however, things are different. Samsung has upped its design game with gorgeous devices like the S7, S6, and a comparison with the Korean giant is more flattering than flattening.
A less flattering comparison with the Korean giant is the fact that like it, Asus too seems to be in a “release a slew of devices” mode. The launch of the ZenFone 3 saw a number of devices being released, leading to a confusion that is alas, rapidly becoming a given with some brands. Only two phones, however, came with the ZenFone 3 branding with no additional words (ultra, laser, deluxe, etc.). This was the ZenFone 3 with a 5.2-inch display, 3 GB of RAM and 32 GB of storage, and the slightly larger ZenFone 3 with a 5.5-inch display, 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage.
We got a unit of the former – with 5.2-inch display – in Sapphire Black. And placing it face down on the table got the reaction that started this piece.
For, there’s no doubt that with the ZenFone 3, Asus has definitely upped its design ante. No, we are not saying that the ZenFone 5 and the ZenFone 2 were decent looking devices but did not exactly scream “premium” at you. The ZenFone 3 does so, thanks to its glass front and back, chamfered edges and metal body. The Sapphire Black edition is particularly striking – keep it on a table and after a while the display switches off and becomes jet back, and the chamfered border around it shines, reflecting light. Classy.
Asus has even tried to trim the bezels at the side of the 5.2-inch display, below which are three touch navigation buttons. The 2.5 D Gorilla Glass front does give it a very curvy feel and at 146.9 mm in length, 74 mm in width, and about 7.7 mm in thickness, it is very palm-friendly, if slightly larger than the Huawei P9 and the Xiaomi Mi 5. And at 144 grammes, it is actually as light as the P9. Just for the record, the Galaxy S7, with which many confused it, comes with proportions of 142.4 x 69.6 x 7.9 mm, and at 152 grammes, is a notch heavier, although it does have a smaller display (5.1 mm).
The volume rocker and power/display buttons on the right side are metallic (Asus seems to have bid goodbye to the LG styled volume and power on the back UI that it had tried with the ZenFone 2), the left has the SIM card tray, the top the 3.5 mm audio jack and infra-red port, and the base a speaker grille and a USB Type-C port. The back is glass again, and comes with a slightly protruding square shaped rear 16.0-megapixel camera with dual LED flash and a laser focus module, which we suspect has played a role in those “is that a Samsung” queries. Below these are a fingerprint scanner that is rectangular in shape (a bit odd given that most fingerprint scanners on phone backs are circular or square). The back itself is glass and notwithstanding all assurances to the contrary WILL pick up smudges and stains, so we would recommend getting some sort of cover on it. It will, however, also look very stunning as the light falling on it creates patterns that are rather pleasant to see. The edges of the camera and the fingerprint scanner have also been lined with metal, so once again you get that shining metal on jet black effect that we saw on the front.
And within this frame lie specs that are well, middling at some places, good at others. The display is a full HD one and delivers a pixel density of 424 ppi, which is pretty good, but similar approval has not been accorded to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor under the hood, which many feel is notch below the Snapdragon 652 and a far cry from the Intel power house that ran the ZenFone 2. The 3 GB RAM and 32 GB storage (expandable if you sacrifice one of the two SIM slots) are par for the course at this price point, although many will feel that the 2600 mAh battery could have been larger (3000 mAh and above is becoming increasingly expected at this price point now, and is available on the 5.5-inch edition of the device). Asus has tried to highlight the camera on the device claiming the ZenFone 3 is “built for photography” (why no dedicated camera button then, some would wonder, but then that is a sin committed by the even more camera centric Huawei P9) and on paper does deliver a fair bit – a 16.0-megapixel Sony IMX298 sensor with f/2.0 aperture and optical image stabilisation, with subject tracking, and support for 4K video. On the front is a 8.0-megapixel camera, but we think that its cousin on the back will hog the headlines. Connectivity wise, the phone has 4G, Bluetooth, Infra-red, GPS and Wi-Fi – pretty much the usual suspects, minus NFC, though.
But for once all of this is likely to be overshadowed by the design of the new ZenFone. After focusing on substance for two years, it seems Asus has now opted to turn on a bit of style. Whether the switch works enough to justify the Rs 21,999 price tag that accompanies the device (the 5.5 inch display edition with 4 GB RAM and 64 GB storage comes for Rs 27,999), will be revealed in our review in the coming days. But as of now, we think the ZenFone 3 is definitely dishy for those who value phone-tic eye candy.