Asus Zenfone 3 ZE520KL Review – Premium Smartphone at Perfect Price


Asus started its Zenfone series back in 2014 with the introduction of Asus Zenfone 4, Zenfone 5 and Zenfone 6. Later next year, Asus launched plethora of smartphones under the tag of Zenfone 2 with different processor and RAM configurations. Following the legacy, last year at Computex in Taiwan, Asus announced the next iteration of Zenfone series called the Asus Zenfone 3.

If you follow Asus closely, you might be aware that each new Zenfone series include dozens of different smartphones with same numbering but different title like the original Zenfone 3 – which is further available in different RAM and storage configurations, Zenfone 3 Deluxe, Zenfone 3 Ultra, Zenfone 3 Laser, Zenfone 3 Max and the newly announced Zenfone 3 Zoom.

Soon after the announcement at Computex 2016, Asus launched the Zenfone 3 series in India. I was present at the launch event and what affected me the most during the announcement was the price tag of Zenfone 3 series in the Indian market.

Asus is well-known for delivering quality devices at perfect pricing, but with the introduction of Zenfone 3 series in India the pricing of budget-friendly Zenfone series went all the way up to Rs. 21,999 for the base variant of the smartphone. Considering Asus’ previous pricing, the pricing of Zenfone 3 seemed to high. But this thought did change after using the Zenfone 3 for around two weeks.

Today, I will be reviewing this new Zenfone series by Asus. Asus Zenfone 3 ZE520KL to be specific. The variant I was reviewing was the base model which comes with 3GB RAM and 32GB internal storage and is priced at Rs. 21,999. Without much ado, let’s see if Asus Zenfone 3 justifies its price tag.


Before starting the review, do have a look at the specifications of the Asus Zenfone 3 ZE520KL –
  • 5.2-inch Full HD Super IPS+ display
  • 2GHz 64-bit Octa-Core Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 14nm processor
  • Adreno 506 GPU | 3GB RAM
  • Zen UI 3.0 based on Android 6.0 Marshmallow
  • 16MP rear camera | 8MP front-facing camera
  • 32GB internal storage with up to 2TB microSD card support
  • 2650mAh battery
  • 4G LTE with VoLTE, WiFi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.2, GPS, USB Type-C
  • Fingerprint scanner | dual-SIM support (Hybrid slot)
  • Dimensions: 146.87 x 73.98 x 7.69mm | Weight: 144 grams

Box Contents

Asus Zenfone 3 ZE520KL box is no exception, as it also houses a rectangular design with minimal prints and Zenfone 3 logo on top. The moment you open the box, you will be treated with the gorgeous looking Zenfone 3 on top. Beneath the phone, you will find user guide, warranty card, SIM slot ejector tool, USB Type-C data cable, charging adapter and premium quality in-ear earphones with some extra ear plug caps (Yes, finally someone included earphones along with the phone.)

Design & Build Quality

All Asus smartphones launched prior to the Zenfone 3 came with plastic build and average design. But, with the introduction of Zenfone 3 series Asus jumped from plastic body to an all glass design. No doubt, Asus Zenfone 3 is one of the best-looking smartphone available in the market at the moment. The smartphone comes with premium glass unibody build paired with great design.

The front of the device is covered with 2.5D curved glass with the back consisting of the same. The glass used is Corning’s Gorilla Glass 3. Both the front and back are sandwiched between metal frame. Icing on the cake is chamfered edges all around the metal frame.



2.5D curved design along with metal frame do help in holding the device comfortably. On the front, above the display, there’s an earpiece with sensors, front-facing camera and notification LED surrounded. Below the display lies non-backlit three navigational capacitive buttons including back, home and menu key. As the buttons are non-backlit, using the device in dark is somewhat difficult, but not a major deal breaker.

On the right-side you will find volume rockers followed by power button, both made up of metal with concentric ring design. Hybrid SIM tray sits on the left side with USB Type-C port, speaker grill and microphone on the bottom. Unlike other manufactures, Asus has included the 3.5mm headphone jack on the top of the device with antenna bands placed nicely around the metal frame.

Finally, on the back there’s the primary camera which lies in-between the laser autofocus and dual-tone LED flash. The camera is protected with sapphire crystal lens cover. Beneath the camera, Asus has included a rectangular shaped fingerprint scanner, which is also made up of glass. The camera does protrude out of the body. Asus branding is embedded on the back-bottom of the device.



As the device is made up of glass, it is very slippery. Also, it is a fingerprint magnet and might get scratches at times due to carelessness. The moment you hold the device, your fingerprints are grabbed by the glass design. I will definitely recommend using a cover for extra protection. The fingerprint scanner on the back is fast and responsive but because of its unjustified shape you might face some issues at times.

Pros
Cons
Premium Glass & Metal Build
Fingerprint magnet
Best Looking Design
Slippery



Display

The unit I was reviewing had a 5.2-inch Full HD Super IPS+ display with 75.6% screen-to-body ratio. According to me, 5.2-inch is a perfect size for any smartphone until and unless your hands are gigantic. The display panel used is Super IPS+ and offers 600 nits in terms of brightness, which is one of the brightest display from Asus. The Full HD (1920 x 1080 pixel resolution) display of Zenfone 3 has 424ppi pixel density.

The viewing angles, color reproduction and touchscreen response are very good. If you are not satisfied with the color reproduction, then you can easily tweak the same by going to Display settings. For night power users, Asus has included a Bluelight filter mode for eye care.

Outdoor visibility is impressive, despite the display being highly reflective because of glass. You won’t face any problem using the Zenfone 3 under direct sunlight. Images, text, icons, graphics are sharp and watching media is a delight.

Pros
Cons
Color reproduction
-
Brightness under direct sunlight

Viewing angles



Software

Asus Zenfone 3 runs on Android 6.0 Marshmallow with Asus’ proprietary ZenUI 3.0 out-of-the-box. ZenUI is another highly-customized version of Android, but with great enhancements. Asus’ ZenUI is sleek and simple to understand, but the only issue with proprietary software is inclusion of Bloatware, or say hell lot of Bloatware.

Unlike other Chinese vendors forked version of Android, ZenUI do come with an app drawer. After setting up the device, you will find three pages full of pre-installed apps from Asus. To give you an estimate, you will find around 25-30 apps from Asus pre-installed. Some are good enough to get uninstalled, others you have to disable them to keep your app drawer clean.

Besides having so much of bloatware, the UI is very smooth and responsive. I never experienced any lag or crash during our two weeks of testing. The biggest issue with bloatware is use of storage space. You can get rid of unnecessary bloatware by rooting your device and uninstalling them.


Another feature of ZenUI is customization in every field like lockscreen, notification panel, homescreen and even native pre-installed apps. You can customize almost everything in ZenUI from changing the font style, font size, icon alignment, icon size, scroll effects, icon label color and much more. On visiting preferences setting of ZenUI, you will be welcomed with every customization option available.

Due to unnecessary apps, the notification panel is flooded with push notifications which aren’t really worth reading. ZenMotion settings include Touch Gesture, Motion Gesture and One Hand Mode.


Touch Gesture setting include double tap to sleep and wake up, and gestures on dark screen in which you can open any application by drawing specific characters (W, S, e, C, Z, V) on dark screen i.e. when the device is locked draw W to open Weather app by default.

Motion Gesture setting include shake shake feature to take screenshot and create a new task when using an app, flip down feature to turn an incoming call into silent mode by flipping the device upside down and hands up feature to automatically answer calls by lifting the device to your ear.

One Hand Mode, as the name suggest lowers down the interface size to help user reach the complete screen with one hand. This feature can be activated / deactivated by double tapping the home button.

Other common settings include glove mode, easy mode, kids mode and screenshot settings. You can also capture game screenshots, record game sessions and even broadcast live gaming videos to YouTube and Twitch using Asus’ in-built Game Genie feature.

Pros
Cons
Smooth & responsive UI
Unnecessary bloatware
Dozens of customization options



Camera

Talking of camera, Asus Zenfone 3 ZE520KL comes with a 16MP PixelMaster 3.0 rear camera with dual-tone LED Flash. The 16MP rear camera is a Sony IMX298 sensor with f/2.0 aperture, 1/2.8” sensor size, 1.12 µm pixel size, 6P Largan lens, HDR support, 4 Stop Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) and 3-axis Electronic Image Stabilization (EIS).

Asus has paired the rear camera of Zenfone 3 with TriTech Autofocus technology which makes use of Phase Detection Auto Focus (PDAF), 2nd Gen Laser AF and Subject Tracking AF for capturing and focusing images in just 0.03 seconds. The camera is capable of shooting 4K 2160p videos at 30 frames per second and Full HD 1080p videos also at 60 frames per second. Do note that 4K video does not support OIS.

By default, the camera resolution is set at 12MP rather than 16MP. You can change the same by going to camera settings. When it comes to quality and performance, the Zenfone 3 camera is good but I won’t tag it great. When in daylight, the camera performs really well by capturing detailed images with right colors and saturation. But is not the same in lowlight.



In lowlight, you will definitely see noise grains and not that sharp images. At times, the camera did struggle focusing in low-light. Asus has stuffed the Zenfone 3 camera application with plethora of camera modes for every scenario like low-light, night, slow motion, time lapse, smart remove and more.

One of the best feature of Zenfone 3 camera app is manual mode. Using manual mode, you can easily play with white balance (WB), exposure value (EV), ISO, shutter speed and focus to capture perfect image or even record professional video. If you aren’t camera geeky you will definitely be using Auto Mode all time, but some of the modes which are worth discussing are Super Resolution and Night.

Super Resolution (SRES) mode takes several shots and stitch together to form a 60MP shot. Images clicked using SRES mode are more detailed and less noisy. Night mode on the other hand, is a nice touch to camera app when clicking images at night. Images clicked at night using this mode are more detailed than auto mode and are less noisy too.


On the front, there’s an 8MP camera with f/2.0 aperture and 88-degree wide-angle lens. The front camera is also capable of shooting Full HD 1080p videos. Honestly speaking, the front camera of Zenfone 3 is just decent. Selfies aren’t that sharp and do include lot of grain when clicked in low light. Beautification mode is turned on by default, so if you don’t want to look artificial then make sure you turn this mode off. You will find the same set of above mentioned modes when using front camera.

Pros
Cons
Daylight images & selfies
Lowlight images & selfies
Super Resolution & manual mode
Noise and grains
TriTech Autofocus Technology
Plethora of modes
4K video support



Performance

Housing 2GHz 64-bit Octa-Core Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor based on 14nm fabrication method paired with Adreno 506 GPU and 3GB of RAM, Asus Zenfone 3 ZE520KL is a great performer. RAM management in Zenfone 3 is superb when compared to its predecessors. Application opening and switching was snappy. I never faced any issue while multi-tasking.

None of the graphic centric games lagged during game play. The device did heat up warmly during heavy gaming, which is quite common. All in all, when it comes to performance Asus Zenfone 3 is a great device.

Pros
Cons
Smooth, Lag Free
Multitasking
-


Battery

Depending on the variant of Zenfone 3 you buy, you will be treated with different battery stats. Asus Zenfone 3 ZE520KL comes with 2650mAh battery. As the device has unibody design, the battery is non-removable. In numbers, you might find battery capacity less and think it won’t last long, but when it comes to real-time normal usage and battery management the device can easily last a complete day.

When it comes to heavy usage like gaming, video playback, calling, camera and Wi-Fi full day, all with 100 percent brightness, the device was able to last till evening giving around 3.5 to 4 hours of SOT. With fast charging support, you need not worry about battery charging. The device charges from 0 to 100 in around 1.5 hours.

Pros
Cons
Battery management
USB Type-C Fast Charging
-


Verdict

Asus Zenfone 3 series is no doubt the best Zenfone series by Asus. The smartphone has improved in many key areas including design, build, performance, camera and battery. The series has got a major overhaul and can now be termed as a premium smartphone series from Asus at mid-range price.

There are two variants of Zenfone 3, one with 3GB RAM and 32GB storage (ZE520KL) and another with 4GB RAM and 64GB storage (ZE552KL). The former is priced at Rs. 21,999 and the latter is priced at Rs. 27,999. The 4GB RAM variant is directly competing with OnePlus 3, which is no doubt the best budget-Android smartphone anyone can buy today (personal opinion).

If your budget is at around Rs. 22,000, then I would definitely recommend the Asus Zenfone 3 ZE520KL smartphone. Keeping fingerprint magnet - slipperiness (which can be overcome by using a case) and low-light images and selfies aside, Zenfone 3 ZE520KL is a steal deal.

If you are interested in buying the Asus Zenfone 3 ZE520KL, then you can head over to Flipkart or Amazon by clicking below links –

Asus Zenfone 3 ZE520KL – Flipkart | Amazon



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