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Asus ZenFone 3 review: Too good for wallet-watchers to pass up

A premium design and high quality materials make this a brilliant, affordable phone.

Aloysius Low Senior Editor
Aloysius Low is a Senior Editor at CNET covering mobile and Asia. Based in Singapore, he loves playing Dota 2 when he can spare the time and is also the owner-minion of two adorable cats.
Aloysius Low
2 min read

After two generations of plastic phones, Asus is finally returning to its premium roots. The ZenFone 3 houses midrange specs in a beautiful body that's surprisingly affordable. With a starting price of $249 for the model with 32GB of onboard storage -- around £170 or AU$350 -- this phone is a fantastic deal for markets in Asia like India and Singapore. Those in the US and UK will have to wait till the fourth quarter before the phone launches there, unfortunately.


Asus ZenFone 3

The Good

Asus' latest ZenFone 3 packs a premium design and materials into a brilliant, affordable phone.

The Bad

Its cluttered user interface nags you with notifications until you turn them off. The glass rear is also a fingerprint magnet.

The Bottom Line

The ZenFone 3's beautiful looks, premium build and satisfying camera give it an advantage over other inexpensive phones -- it's worth your time and attention.

The ZenFone 3 looks like an iPhone and Samsung Galaxy S7 hybrid and feels especially premium compared to other phones that stick with metal or even plastic builds. And its USB Type-C port brings the handset into the growing ranks of phones that switched to the new standard.

Asus ZenFone 3 gets a beautiful new glass design

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The 5.5-inch full-HD display is bright and vibrant, and the Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor is snappy. It's not as powerful as flagship phones packing the Snapdragon 820 chip, of course, but it's powerful enough to play Asphalt 8 and Pokemon Go without issue. The phone scored well in our diagnostic benchmark tests, easily proving its chops as a midrange handset. Battery life was great, lasting around 16.5 hours in our looping video tests. Most phones hold up for around 11 to 12 hours, while those with bigger batteries can easily go up to 20 hours or more.

USB Type-C has taken over -- here are the latest phones to prove it

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Camera wise, the 16-megapixel rear lens with its four-axis optical image stabilization does a good job with lowlight shots. Check out the gallery below for some of the shots I took. If you have jittery hands, this feature will definitely be useful. On the front, the 8-megapixel shooter has the Asus Beauty Mode, which, when used on me, doesn't really do much, but selfie addicts might enjoy controls that can slim the face and enlarge your eyes.


The ZenFone 3's glass rear can be a fingerprint magnet.

Aloysius Low/CNET

Despite the ZenFone 3's strengths, I have a major complaint. Zen UI, the custom skin that Asus uses over the Android software, is a cluttered, kitchen-sink feature that overwhelms you the first time you use it. You'll have to spend some effort taming the chaos, turning off the annoying naggy notifications that pester you from the get go, before the ZenFone 3 is in a nice place to live. I do like some of the new features though, such as a blue-light filter for night time use (it gives the screen a softer orange glow), and a feature that snaps a photo when you tap the fingerprint sensor on the back of the phone.

Camera test shots from the Asus ZenFone 3

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Asus finally has a winner in its hands to compete with rival Chinese phones, especially in emerging markets with a penchant for cheap-but-good handsets. Like previous ZenFone models, the 3 will probably sell unlocked in the US when it finally arrives-- you'll just need to pop in a SIM card . For penny pinchers, it battles the Motorola Moto G4 and G4 Plus, and comes in even cheaper than the top-rated OnePlus 3.

Hardware specs comparison

Asus ZenFone 3Motorola Moto G4Motorola Moto G4 Plus
Display size, resolution 5.5-inch; 1,920x1,080 pixels5.5-inch; 1,920x1,080 pixels5.5-inch; 1,920x1,080 pixels
Pixel density 401ppi401ppi401ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 6.01x3.05x0.3 inches6.0x3.0x0.39 in6x3x0.39 in
Dimensions (Millimeters) 152.6x77.4x7.7mm153x76.6x9.8 mm153x76.6x9.8 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 5.47 oz; 155g5.47 oz; 155 g5.47 oz; 155 g
Mobile software Android 6.0.1 MarshmallowAndroid 6.0 MarshmallowAndroid 6.0 Marshmallow
Camera 16-megapixel13-megapixel16-megapixel
Front-facing camera 8-megapixel5-megapixel5-megapixel
Video capture 8-megapixel1,080p HD1,080p HD
Processor 2Ghz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 6251.5GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 6171.5GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 617
Storage 32/64GB16GB32GB
Expandable storage Up to 256GBUp to 128GBUp to 128GB
Battery 3,000mAh (nonremovable)3,000mAh (removable)3,000mAh (removable)
Fingerprint sensor Back coverNoneBelow screen
Connector USB-CMicro-USBMicro-USB
Special features Laser/phase detection autofocus, OIS (4-axis), fingerprint doubles as shutter buttonWater-resistantWater-resistant
Price off-contract (USD) $249$199$249
Price (GBP) converts to converts to £170£169£229
Price (AUD) converts to AU$350Converts to AU$26016GB: AU$399; 32GB: AU$449

Asus ZenFone 3

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 8Camera 8Battery 10