The ZenFone 3 Deluxe brings a whole lot for a $399 price tag, including an amazing camera
After the massive success of the ZenFone 2 last year, ASUS is back with the ZenFone 3. Instead of offering just one version, ASUS has a slew of different models out there. Unfortunately the ZenFone 3 won't be coming to the US, but the ZenFone 3 Deluxe is (a higher-specced model), and that's what we have been using for the past week or so. It's a great looking smartphone, with some pretty impressive specs, but is it really worth the money? Does ASUS have another winner on their hands with the ZenFone 3 Deluxe? Or does it fall flat against the competition? Let's find out.
The ASUS ZenFone 3 Deluxe is one of the few smartphones to come with 6GB of RAM. Joining the likes of the OnePlus 3, and ZTE Axon 7. That 6GB of RAM is paired with the Snapdragon 820 (or the Snapdragon 821, depending on which variant you pick up), and a the Adreno 530 GPU. Additionally, there is 64GB of internal storage, along with options for 128GB or 256GB of storage. There is a micro SD card slot, that does support Adoptable storage. There's a 5.7-inch 1920x1080 resolution Super AMOLED display, that has Corning's Gorilla Glass 4 on top to protect it.
When it comes to optics, we're looking at the Sony IMX318 sensor (which is being marketed as the "ASUS PixelMaster 3.0 camera). It's a 23-megapixel shooter with phase detection auto-focus, laser autofocus, 4-axis optical image stabilization for pictures and a 3-axis electronic image stabilization for video. ASUS also has a color correction sensor, and dual tone LED flash. Finally, the aperture is f/2.0 allowing for some great low-light shots. Now the front-facing sensor is a 8-megapixel wide angle camera.
ASUS has Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow running on the ZenFone 3 Deluxe, with their own custom skin overlay. The retail price of the ZenFone 3 Deluxe is $499.
In the Box
The unboxing experience of the ZenFone 3 Deluxe is pretty unique actually. Lift up the top and you'll find the ASUS ZenFone 3 Deluxe inside. There is a drawer below it that houses all of the other peripherals and documents. Inside the box, you'll find a USB Type-A to Type-C cable, a wall adapter, and a pair of headphones. These are ASUS-branded headphones, and they actually look really nice. They are wired headphones and ASUS includes three pairs of eartips with them. Allowing you to choose the pair that fits your ears the best. Of course, you also have all the paperwork that comes with every smartphone, in the box.
ASUS, whether it be smartphones, tablets or laptops, has been known for their build quality and that's still the case with the ZenFone 3 Deluxe. The ZenFone 3 Deluxe has a 5.7-inch display, so it is a fairly large smartphone, but in the hand it doesn't feel like a large smartphone. This is thanks to the curved backside, but also the fairly small bezels all around. The curved back is something that not everyone loves, but it does make a difference in how the smartphone feels in the hand. It's not as curved as say the Nexus 6 was, but it has a subtle curve to it. In fact, most people probably wouldn't know it was curved without actually looking at it.
The ZenFone 3 Deluxe uses an aluminum unibody build, so not only does it look great but it also feels great. What's interesting is that ASUS has almost no antenna lines here. You can see two small ones on the bottom and the top, on the front of the device. Making them very minimal, and it's a look we really like. The sides are also slightly curved, this means that you're not feeling corners in your hand. Again making it feel nicer in the hand than some other smartphones, like the Galaxy S6 Edge.
Over on the right side of the ZenFone 3 Deluxe, we have the power button and volume rocker above it. The left side houses the SIM card and micro SD card slot. It is a dual-SIM device (nano and micro) but the nano SIM slot can double as a micro SD card slot. Allowing you to expand the 64GB of on board storage even further. At the top, you'll find the 3.5mm headphone jack, definitely a nice surprise on the ZenFone 3 Deluxe, with most others getting rid of it. Finally, the bottom houses the USB Type-C port and the speaker. There is also a microphone hole on left-side of the Type-C connector. The backside of the ZenFone 3 Deluxe is pretty minimal. You'll find the fingerprint reader in the center, with the camera, dual flash and laser autofocus above it. There is a camera bump here, but it's fairly small, compared to the competition.
The front of the device is nice and clean as well. There's your 5.7-inch display, along with a small forehead but a larger chin. The chin is likely larger due to the capacitive buttons. It looks clean, even with the gold top and bottom bezel. Having small bezels helps the large screen feel smaller. The build quality is top notch here, which we expected nothing less from ASUS.
By today's standard, having a 1080p display is "mid-range". But that didn't keep ASUS from using one. On smaller displays, 1080p is still just fine, but when it comes to a 5.7-inch panel, the pixel density drops down to 386 pixels per inch. That's still plenty high, and it means that the battery life won't suffer as much as a Quad HD display would. We didn't have any issues with the resolution of the panel here, however if you are going to be using the ZenFone 3 Deluxe for virtual reality, then you'll dislike the resolution. Full HD displays look pretty bad in virtual reality, which isn't surprising, given the fact that the display is much closer to your eyes.
ASUS has followed the crowd here and added a "Blue Light Filter" for their display. There is a toggle in the quick settings that allows you to turn it on. This way you can still use your smartphone at night without burning your retinas with a white screen. Unfortunately, you can't schedule the Blue Light Filter to come on by itself (for example, on Huawei smartphones you can schedule it to automatically come on from 11pm to 7am). Speaking about the temperature of the display, though, ASUS does allow you to change up the temperature. By default, there's the Super Color and then Standard modes. But everything is customizable. You can adjust the temperature from warm to cool. But in the "Customized" mode, you have the ability to change the Hue and Saturation as well.
There aren't many options for the display here, but we do have automatic brightness which appears to work fairly well. Unlike some smartphones where automatic brightness or adaptive brightness appears to be a bit to aggressive, the ZenFone 3 Deluxe adapts to the lighting in the room fairly quickly. Brightness in general is pretty good as well. Going from a pretty dimly light display to nice and bright. Making it easy to still use the display when you are outdoors.
Inside the ZenFone 3 Deluxe, we have the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 running the show. This is a processor that has been in just about every high-end device this year. So we're quite familiar with it, and it's a great chipset. The Snapdragon 820 continues to perform incredibly in the ZenFone 3 Deluxe. Paired with 6GB of RAM, there's nothing to worry about, performance-wise. Running through all of the usual apps, the ZenFone 3 Deluxe performs beautifully. Add in the 6GB of RAM, and there's plenty of memory to keep apps in memory. And to top that off, ASUS isn't aggressive in closing apps like Samsung is.
When it comes to gaming, the Snapdragon 820 performs just as you'd expect, however the 6GB of RAM didn't really give us any difference in gameplay. This is largely due to the fact that Android is not optimized for 6GB of RAM, and it's a bit overkill right now. However, it is great to see some smartphone makers making their smartphones future-proof. So that in another year or two, the ZenFone 3 Deluxe is still one of the best on the market.
The ZenFone 3 Deluxe is marketed as a high-end device, even though it doesn't have a Quad HD display. And with the Snapdragon 820 inside with 6GB of RAM, it is definitely a high-end smartphone. Coming in at under $400, it's competing directly with the ZTE Axon 7 and the OnePlus 3. Both of which are pretty impressive in their own right. But the ASUS ZenFone 3 Deluxe has a lighter skin on top. Making performance just a tad bit better. Although most people won't notice, anyways.
Like many smartphones today, the ZenFone 3 Deluxe has a speaker at the bottom of the phone. It's located on the right side of the USB Type-C port. Now many people don't like having the speaker on the bottom of the device, and this is due to the fact that when you're holding the phone in landscape (like when you are gaming), you'll likely cover the speaker and won't be able to hear the sound. However that is not the case here. You can cover it, and it'll sound a bit muffled, but you'll definitely still be able to hear it. This single speaker is plenty loud, even without turning on the "Outdoor mode" which makes it even louder.
The speaker is pretty loud, and in some situations, perhaps too loud. But the sound quality isn't perfect. To the untrained ear, it'll sound perfectly fine, but for those that are audiophiles, you'll notice that this is definitely not HiFi audio or even close. The lows are nice and full of bass, while the mids are crystal clear. But the speaker can sometimes struggle with the highs here.
If you're looking to purchase the ZenFone 3 Deluxe, the speaker is definitely not a reason to skip over it and buy something else. Perhaps the only phone with a better speaker is the HTC 10, and that's due to the dual speakers that it is running with.
Typically, fingerprint sensors are either circular or a square with rounded corners. The one that ASUS is using here on the ZenFone 3 Deluxe is just a rectangle. It looks a bit odd, on the backside of the ZenFone 3 Deluxe, but it works well, and that's really what matters. During our time with the ZenFone 3 Deluxe, the fingerprint sensor appeared to work basically flawlessly, in terms of recognizing our finger. However, it was a bit slow to unlock the device. There were a few times where you could feel the fingerprint sensor recognize your finger, but the screen would remain off for a few more seconds. Hopefully this is just a software issue and it's something that can be fixed in an update.
Manufacturers are increasingly doing more and more with the fingerprint sensors on these devices. Using them for launching the camera, browsing through photos and such. ASUS has done the same thing here. There are three touch controls that can be enabled on the ZenFone 3 Deluxe. The first one is to tap and hold the sensor to answer an incoming call. Next up is the ability to double-tap the sensor to launch the camera, when the device is unlocked. Finally, with the camera open, you can use the sensor as a dedicated shutter button. All three of these can be turned on or off separately. So if you like the two camera controls but not the one for answering a phone call, you can leave that one off.
During our review phase with the ZenFone 3 Deluxe, we used the device on T-Mobile USA. It had LTE just about everywhere we went (except for a few black holes where T-Mobile typically drops from 4G LTE down to HSPA+ or lower). The particular model that we have, the ZS570KL does work on AT&T and T-Mobile completely. But there's no support for CDMA networks like Sprint and Verizon. Below are the supported bands.
GSM 850, 900, 1800, 1900
HSDPA 800, 850, 900, 1700, 1900, 2100
LTE bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 17, 18, 19, 20, 26, 28, 29, 38, 39, 40, 41
Keep in mind that the ZenFone 3 Deluxe does not support WiFi Calling on T-Mobile or AT&T. Which is quite common, when it comes to unlocked smartphones that are not sold by these carriers - with a few exceptions like the Nexus 6P, Google Pixel and iPhone 7.
There is support for WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, so you'll get fast WiFi wherever you go. When on WiFi, the ZenFone 3 Deluxe performed similar to other devices on the same WiFi. Which means that the WiFi chip inside the ZenFone 3 Deluxe is doing its job. Additionally, there is Bluetooth 4.2 included. We used the Jaybird X3 headphones with the ASUS ZenFone 3 Deluxe, and had no issues with it disconnecting from the X3's at all. So there doesn't appear to be any issues with Bluetooth, of course a future software update could change that.
When it comes to benchmarks, it's important to remember that the scores that any smartphone receives does not mean that the experience with that smartphone will reflect the score. For instance, if it receives a high score on AnTuTu, it doesn't necessarily mean that it'll be a fast smartphone. But benchmarks do typically show if there is anything funky going on with the hardware and/or software. So having said that, we ran AnTuTu, 3D Mark and Geekbench 4 on the ASUS ZenFone 3 Deluxe, which you can see the full results below.
When it comes to AnTuTu, the ZenFone 3 Deluxe scored a 138,550 which puts it at number 11 on the rankings, which is in the midst of all the other Snapdragon 820-powered smartphones. With 3D Mark, it scored a 2580. And finally with Geekbench 4, we're looking at a 384 single-core score and a 1046 multi-core score.
There's a 3000mAh battery inside the ZenFone 3 Deluxe, which actually appears to be a bit small, compared to the size of the device (remember this sports a 5.7-inch display). But the battery performs quite well. We're looking at 4 hours of on-screen time or longer on each charge. Standby time on the ZenFone 3 Deluxe is really good as well. That is largely thanks to Doze, as this is running Android 6.0 Marshmallow. So if you were worried about the ZenFone 3 Deluxe having bad battery life, or not lasting you throughout the day, don't. The ZenFone 3 Deluxe has repeatedly lasted us the entire day and then some. In fact, we've had a hard time killing it in a single day. Part of this is due to how energy efficient the Snapdragon 820 really is.
Now since it is running the Snapdragon 820 processor, that means it supports Quick Charge 3.0. And that is absolutely right. This means you can charge up to around 80% in about 60 minutes or so. That's a pretty quick charge, you can fully charge the entire smartphone in around 105 minutes (an hour and 45 minutes). That's similar to the times we've seen on other smartphones like the LG G5, LG V20, Nubia Z11 and more.
Battery life is definitely a strong point here for the ASUS ZenFone 3 Deluxe, which is a good thing as it was a selling feature on the ASUS ZenFone 2 last year. While it would have been nice to see a larger battery in the ZenFone 3 Deluxe, especially given its larger battery, the existing battery works just fine.
On board, there is Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow with ASUS' own ZenUI software overlay. It's running the September 1st, 2016 security patch. Which is a bit dated at this point, but it is newer than some of the other smartphones that are launching at this point in the year, so we can't get too upset. ASUS isn't well-known for pushing out updates quickly, so don't expect to see them fairly fast. But we should at least see a few security patch updates coming soon. They have also promised Android 7.x Nougat for the ZenFone 3 Deluxe, but there is no estimated time of arrival (ETA) for that update just yet.
Here we have ASUS' own custom skin on top of Android 6.0 Marshmallow, and if you've used an ASUS smartphone or tablet recently, you'll know exactly what to expect here. And that's a whole lot of white and light colors. Normally, we don't talk to much about the colors used in the UI of a skin, as different people like different things. But when it comes to the ZenFone 3 Deluxe, having all this white space makes it tough to use in a dark environment, as it'll fry your retinas. On a personal level though, it does make the phone look a bit dated as well.
Aside from the rather bright interface, the skin does everything you'd expect it to do. Starting with the lock screen, you'll have your notifications appear there, as well as shortcuts for phone, messaging and Chrome. Now these shortcuts can be customized. Now I changed the icons to be Hangouts (because I use Google Voice), Gmail and the Camera. Having that camera shortcut available is really nice, believe it or not. However, the double-press of the volume key is definitely faster and easier to access the camera.
When it comes to the launcher, ASUS has put the "Clear" button for clearing away all of your notifications where it should be. And that's at the top, just below the gear icon for settings. This is the preferred place for clearing away notifications because by having it at the bottom of the notifications means it's tougher to tap on. ASUS does also have a slew of quick settings available, if you swipe down once again. These are also all customizable. There's a brightness slider included, which we mostly kept it on Auto anyways. There's also a "Power & Boost" button available, which clears everything out of its memory. Another interesting quick setting was the shortcut for the calculator. I'm still not sure if that's more or less useful than just opening the app drawer and opening the calculator - but then again I don't use it all that much. Speaking of the app drawer, ASUS is still doing a horizontal scrolling app drawer. And we're looking at a 5x4 grid, so you're getting about 20 apps per page. This is customizable as well, up to a 5x5 grid. But this still means that if you use a lot of apps, then you're going to have a ton of pages.
ASUS does have a few tricks up its sleeve with ZenUI here. One of the cooler settings is the ability to press and hold the recents key to take a screenshot. Now like most features, this can be disabled, or you can opt to have that bring up the menu instead. ASUS has added in a glove mode, which is definitely helpful for those that live in Northern countries where there is actually a winter season. ASUS also has a slew of touch gestures. Including the ability to double-tap to turn the device on or off, swipe up to wake the device and then letters for different apps. Like drawing a "w" on the lock screen would open up the Weather app, or an "s" for the camera. Now the apps are customizable but the letters aren't.
The software on the ZenFone 3 Deluxe will take some getting used to, if you are not used to ASUS' ZenUI feature-set, but it is full of plenty of great features. It would be nice for it to look at least a bit more like stock Android or darker at least, but there's very little to complain about with ZenUI. However, we will complain about the fact that the ZenFone 3 Deluxe did launch without Android 7.0 Nougat. They did promise an update, but it should have been here by now, especially with their competitors releasing devices with the update at the same time as updating their current flagships. ASUS really needs to get on the ball here.
ASUS isn't using the same sensor that's in the Xperia XZ, but it is fairly close. This is the Sony IMX318, which is a 23-megapixel shooter, and it has taken some pretty incredible shots, during our review period. But before we jump into the quality, let's take a moment to talk about the picture-taking experience. The camera app here is full of loads of goodies. But the main screen is nice and minimal, that is something that we always like to see around here. When holding in landscape, you have the flash toggle, front-facing camera toggle, HDR toggle and settings shortcut on the left side with the different modes, video shutter, picture shutter and a shortcut to the gallery available. The modes that are included in the ZenFone 3 Deluxe are Auto, Manual, HDR Pro, Beautification, Super Resolution, Children, Low Light, QR Code, Night, Depth of Field, Effect, Selfie, GIF Animation, Panorama, Miniature, Time Rewind, Smart Remove, All Smiles, Slow Motion and Time Lapse, so there are plenty of goodies to choose from here.
When it comes to the camera quality, the IMX318 does work pretty well. As is the case with most cameras on smartphones, it does struggle a bit in low-light situations. But in situations where lighting is even halfway decent, the ZenFone 3 Deluxe's camera works great. Pictures are nice and sharp, colors are almost completely accurate, of course that color correction sensor has a big part in that. Overall, the camera works well. The shutter is nice and fast and pictures come out nice and sharp. Now the ASUS ZenFone 3 Deluxe won't replace your DSLR, and likely won't replace your point and shoot camera, but with this in your pocket, you can walk around without needing to take another camera with you to be sure that you can get a perfect shot if you need to.
Software & Updates
The ASUS ZenFone 3 Deluxe had some pretty big shoes to fill. After all, the ZenFone 2 last year was one of the best smartphones of the year, especially at the aggressive price point ASUS launched it at. The ZenFone 3 Deluxe is an improvement over last year's model, but there are still some improvements that need to be made. In a world where mobile virtual reality is becoming a big deal, ASUS really needed to step up their display to a Quad HD display. While 1080p is still great for most things, it's not great for virtual reality. The fingerprint sensor does also have its quirks, which hopefully ASUS can fix in a software update.
Should you buy the ASUS ZenFone 3 Deluxe?
If you like "large" smartphones and don't mind not having the very latest version of Android, then sure go ahead and pick up the ZenFone 3 Deluxe. It's a solid piece of hardware, with some great software included. At 5.7-inches, it's definitely not for everyone.