Did you know that ASUS re-entered the Indian smartphone market in July 2014 – same time when Xiaomi forayed in the subcontinent? Both the brands have achieved tremendous success, albeit on different scales. While Xiaomi has continued to focus on the budget and mid-range segments and has grown quite popular with its flash sales model, ASUS has slowly and steadily managed to become a go-to choice for consumers with its value-oriented smartphones. However this time around, the Taiwanese giant’s aspirations are to move up the value chain, which is evident from its latest range of phones introduced under the ZenFone 3 branding.
The mainstay of its latest range is the ZenFone 3, which unlike its affordable predecessors, is priced upwards of Rs 20,000. We’ve already reviewed the compact version of the phone (ZE520KL), and now it’s time to take a look at its bigger, and pricier sibling – ZE552KL.
Before we delve any further, let’s check out the specifications boasted by the smartphone.
As one can see, the 5.5-inch variant of the ASUS ZenFone 3 is extremely similar to its smaller sibling, so we will keep this review crisp to focus on the differences, and see if it’s worth the price increase.
In the design aspect, the ASUS ZenFone 3 siblings are exactly the same – except for the difference in terms of their size. The smaller of the two is based around a display measuring 5.2-inches, while the one we’re reviewing today is fitted with a screen sized 5.5-inches. This results in slight increase in weight as the bigger brother tips the scales at 155g (vs 144g). However, the thickness remains the same at 7.6mm.
Otherwise, the handsets are similar – built with the beautiful fusion of glass and metal. The glass at the front and back makes the ZenFone 3 glisten, along with lending a premium look and feel to it, whereas the metal frame around the edges offers a solid feel. The placement of buttons, as well as the ports, remain same in both models of the ZenFone 3.
We got the gold hue of the ZenFone 3, and needless to say that it attracted attention everywhere we went. Unfortunately though, that’s not the only thing it attracts, since the glass panel at the rear collects fingerprints and dust rather easily. While the reflection of light from any angles due to the patterned back is cool, we’d suggest you keep a microfiber cloth handy. Furthermore, thanks to the glass, the phone is also quite slippery.
The smaller sibling of the ZenFone 3 is ideal for one-handed use, but even the bigger sibling can be held easily in a single hand. We didn’t find any issues with unlocking it (thanks to the thoughtful placement of the fingerprint scanner at the rear), using the controls or reaching the corners.
Overall, the design of the ASUS ZenFone 3 is surely classy, though our grouse is its fingerprint magnet of a back panel and protruding camera, which makes it wobbly when kept on a flat surface.
Coming to the display, the 5.5-inch screen on the smartphone features the same 1080p panel like its smaller brother. With a pixel density of 401ppi, the 2.5D curved display offers sharp colours and the IPS technology ensures true-to-life colours. The brightness levels and viewing angles are quite good as well. Protecting the display is a layer of Corning Gorilla Glass 3.
In the software department, the ASUS ZenFone 3 comes with Android 6.0 Marshmallow, with its proprietary ZenUI 3.0 skin on top. The customisation rethinks Android as a whole, hence you won’t find it conforming to Google’s Material Design ethos or the idea of keeping things bloat-free. Instead the device is choc-a-bloc with options on offer – right from the lock screen to the homescreen, the notification panel to the app drawer. You can customise the way apps are laid out, and you can also search for apps through the search bar quickly. Taking cues from iOS, the search bar can be displayed with a downward swipe, and if you ask us, its use becomes necessary due to the sheer amount of apps that are preloaded on the phone. The device comes with apps ranging from Amazon Kindle to Instagram, SimCity, and TripAdvisor, among others. That’s not to say that ZenUI isn’t useful, as it does feature some interesting options such as support for off-screen gestures, motion gestures, Easy mode, Themes, and more.
Even on the camera front, the ASUS ZenFone 3 siblings are exactly the same – a 16-meg sensor at the back, and an 8MP selfie snapper. The device is loaded in terms of options with the ability to quickly focus on the subject (0.03 seconds) thanks to the use of TriTech mechanism (combination of laser, phase detection and continuous autofocus), triple-tone LED flash and ASUS’ PixelMaster 4.0 technology. The front shooter gets some interesting abilities as well to help you capture good selfies. We love the low-light mode on the phablet, which offers well-detailed images in poor lighting, although at a lower resolution. In terms of videos, the ZenFone 3 can record 4k content as well as slow-mo.
The camera interface is also packed to the brim, giving you a variety of options up front, as well a number of modes when you click the modes option. In our experience, the ASUS ZenFone 3 ranks among the best smartphone cameras under Rs 30,000. You don’t have to take our word for it, as the images embedded below will help you make your own judgment.
By now, you must be wondering if there’s anything really different between the two ZenFone 3’s apart from their screen sizes. Well, there is – on the hardware front. Instead of 3GB RAM powering the smaller model, the 5.5-inch variant of the ASUS ZenFone 3 features 4GB RAM. Supplementing that is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor, which is the star of the show in both models.
While the Snapdragon 625 chip might not attract spec nerds, especially considering the flagship Snapdragon 820 processor powers some other rivals, the 64-bit octa-core chipset impresses us by offering a nice balance between performance and battery life. The ASUS ZenFone 3 zipped through anything thrown at it, be it basic navigation or 3D-heavy games like Badland 2. Never did the phone break into sweat, and interestingly, didn’t heat up even with extended usage. Having said that, the RAM management could have been better, since there were several instances where there was very less memory available to spare.
Along with the increase in RAM capacity, the pricier ASUS ZenFone 3 also enjoys double the amount of internal storage, which stands at 64GB. Users will be able to access around 51.3GB for their personal use. It can also be extended further with the use of a microSD card of up to 2TB.
With the use of the power-efficient chipset, the smaller ZenFone 3 amazed us with its battery life even with its 2,650mAh pack. The 5.5-inch version goes a step further, as it draws fuel from a 3,000mAh unit. In our day-to-day usage, the phone easily lasted more than a day of use without requiring a charge. Even with heavy usage of 4G, Wi-Fi tethering and GPS navigation, it managed to go on for an entire working day. It ran an HD video continuously for more than 12 hours and 30 minutes as part of our battery rundown test, which is splendid. The best part is that even if the battery is low, it can be juiced up quickly as the ASUS ZenFone 3 boasts fast charging support. And, you can also enable different battery-saving modes in a crunch.
When it comes to connectivity, the ASUS ZenFone 3 is fully loaded, as it offers hybrid slots with support for 4G VoLTE (on the first slot), Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi.
When we reviewed the 5.2-inch variant of the ASUS ZenFone 3, we proclaimed it as a mid-range champion. Its bigger sibling also deserves the same title, even though it’s priced higher at Rs 27,999. Its biggest competitor is the OnePlus 3 (review), which has become the benchmark against which not only the sub-Rs 30k smartphones are compared, but even super-premium offerings. But the ZenFone 3 still manages to stand out on its own. ASUS’ bifurcation strategy for the ZenFone 3 also deserves a mention, as the brand is able to target both the compact smartphone lovers as well as phablet aficionados, with the two models.
The ZenFone 3’s distinctive design language, impressive cameras, reliable performance, and long-lasting battery life debunks one of the biggest myths in the smartphone industry today – specs aren’t everything. It might not be a perfect choice, but if you are looking for a reliable option, then the ASUS ZenFone 3 deserves a place on the top of your shortlist.
Expert’s rating: 4 / 5
- Gorgeous display
- Powerful cameras
- Good performance
- Long-lasting battery life
- Glossy design
- ZenUI is full of bloatware
Photos by Raj Rout