Asus ZenFone 3 full review

The new ZenFone 3 family from Asus has a number of members, with this standard ZenFone 3 sitting beside the ZenFone 3 Max, ZenFone 3 Laser, ZenFone 3 Ultra and ZenFone 3 Deluxe. It’s available with a 5.2- or 5.5in screen, 3- or 4GB of RAM and a 2650- or 3000mAh battery. We tested the ZE552KL model with a 5.5in screen, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage and a 3000mAh battery. It costs £284.05 ($361.69) from GearBest at the time of writing, from which it will ship at the end of the month. Also see: Best mid-range phones

While that's quite a bit more than the ZenFone 2, Asus now has its eye on a different market. And at this price the ZenFone 3 undercuts its similarly Snapdragon 625-powered rivals, the 429 Euro (£384.50) Huawei Nova Plus and £379.99 Moto Z Play. It does so without compromising on spec, making it a great-value alternative to either of those phones.

Do keep in mind, though, that if you buy the ZenFone 3 through GearBest you may need to pay import duty upon its arrival to the UK (though it will still be cheaper than the Nova Plus and Moto Z Play). Read our grey-market tech buying advice for more information.

You should note that the Chinese version of the Asus ZenFone 3 we have reviewed here does not support 80MHz 4G, meaning it won't offer the faster connectivity on O2's network and those that piggyback it, such as GiffGaff. We understand the ZenFone 3 will be made available in the UK and US in Q4 2016, however, which means a solution may soon be available, though possibly at a higher price.

Asus ZenFone 3

Asus ZenFone 3 review: Design and build

If you're a ZenFone 2 owner you won't recognise the ZenFone 3. Available in moonlight white, shimmer gold, aqua blue and sapphire black, we reviewed the latter model which appears to have an attractive blue tint in certain light. Also see: Best smartphones 2016

Asus has flattened out and added 2.5D glass panels to the phone's front and rear, resulting in a design not overly dissimilar to Samsung's Galaxy line-up and one that feels very smooth in the hand. This mirror finish appears to radiate light from around the camera and fingerprint sensor in an eye-catching way, though it also makes the ZenFone 3 very slippery and a magnet for fingerprints.

We found that on several occasions having left it sitting on top of its box the ZenFone 3 would jump off and thud on to our desk (thank heavens for Gorilla Glass 3). It could have been sitting there days, and with no obvious nudges to the table it surprised us every time. This Asus very much has a life of its own, though fortunately it doesn't appear to consume much battery life in doing whatever it's doing - standby runtime is very good.

Asus ZenFone 3

A sandblasted metal trim front and back adds to the ZenFone's appeal, but while we like the coloured edges of the chassis it does look more plastic than metal.

You'll notice some obvious changes in the layout of the ZenFone. Where previously there were rear controls is a fast and responsive fingerprint scanner, while the power- and volume buttons now reside on the right edge. The rear speaker has also been moved beside a new USB-C port on the phone's bottom edge, and though it's still a mono model the ZenFone 3 now benefits from 192kHz/24-bit hi-res audio, a five-magnet speaker construction, metal voice coil and an expansive sound chamber powered by Smart Amp.

Asus ZenFone 3

The rear camera is one of the key selling points of the ZenFone 3, up from 13Mp in the ZenFone 2 to 16Mp here and accompanied by a tri-LED flash. The front camera has also received an upgrade from 5- to 8Mp. See all smartphone reviews

We like the 5.5in Super IPS+ display on the front of the ZenFone 3. It's bright (up to 600 nits) and clear (with a full-HD resolution of 1920x1080, 401ppi), with rich colours and strong viewing angles. A blue-light filter is ideal for use at night, while it's reassuring to know as we approach colder weather that the display also supports glove touch.

We've seen slimmer bezels, but the 77.3 percent screen-to-body ratio could be worse. As it stands the ZenFone 3 is comfortable to hold in a single hand, though it's taller than we'd prefer with capacitive buttons sitting below the screen. And though we appreciate how their permanent labelling makes the phone easier to operate while you're getting used to it, they do detract from the overall design when the display is on standby.

Asus ZenFone 3

Asus ZenFone 3 review: Core hardware and performance

On the whole the ZenFone 3 is a good-looking phone, but many of the changes come under the hood. And here's where it really impresses at this price point. Also see: What's the fastest phone 2016?

Asus has upgraded the ZenFone 2's Intel Atom Z3580 processor and PowerVR 6430 graphics to the Snapdragon 625 processor and Adreno 506 graphics used by the more expensive Huawei Nova Plus and Moto Z Play. We haven't been able to properly benchmark the Moto Z Play, though as you'll see below the Asus trumped the Huawei in our performance benchmarks. The extra gig of RAM could be a factor here, since the model we reviewed came with 4GB of LPDDR3 RAM.

This might be a mid-range phone, but performance is very decent. The ZenFone 3 is sufficiently capable for most daily tasks, and should satisfy all but the most demanding of users. The only thing that slows down use of the Asus is the sheer amount of bloatware you must wade through to find your way around.

In order to measure general processing performance we use Geekbench 4 and AnTuTu, and the ZenFone 3 made light work of both benchmarks recording 4,055 and 62,061 points respectively.

For graphics benchmarking we turn to GFXBench, and the Asus' 22fps in T-Rex and 10fps in Manhattan denote a phone that's quite capable of playable framerates in most mobile games. 

JetStream is our final benchmark, a measure of web browsing JavaScript performance, and the ZenFone's 30.6-point result is in line with the Nova Plus and other mid-range phones.

Asus ZenFone 3

Storage is a highlight for the ZenFone 3, and our review sample came with 64GB built-in and a microSD slot that can accept cards up to 2TB in capacity. Few users will struggle to manage this amount of storage, though a down side is that the Asus uses a hybrid SIM slot that forces you to choose between microSD support and dual-SIM functionality. The fact you get 100GB free Google Drive storage for two years goes a long way to compensate.

In our experience battery life from the 3,000mAh cell is good, particularly when the phone is on standby. Depending on your usage you will get somewhere between a day or two of runtime. We also like the fact the battery supports accelerated charging over USB-C, which allows the Asus to charge from zero to 100 percent in an hour and a half. It also claims a five-minute charge will net you an additional two hours of talk time. Also see: Best Android phones 2016

NEXT PAGE: Asus ZenFone 3 Connectivity, Camera, Software and our expert verdict