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Asus ZenFone Selfie review: Soars on selfies, sinks on substance

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Camera

  • 13-megapixel rear and front cameras
  • 1,080p HD video
  • Dual-LED flash on rear and front
  • Laser-assist focus on rear

With the photos the main highlight of the ZenFone Selfie, Asus has put plenty of work into the camera features. The rear camera comes with the Asus signature Low Light mode that uses pixel binning technology -- combining four pixels into one -- for a smaller image output that's capable of reading more light data for a better low-light shot. It's a lot brighter, as you'll see in my test image below. You can also take pictures with a simulated depth-of-field effect, but this mode is clunky to use, as it takes up to 5 seconds for the phone to render the effect when you're adjusting the amount of blur in the background, making it a game of patience if you want to see how different each setting is.


The rear camera comes with laser-assist focus. Aloysius Low/CNET

For the front camera, the default mode is Beautification, which smooths out wrinkles and hides blemishes to help you look good. You can also increase the size of your eyes and thin your cheeks in real time to see how you look before you snap a shot. Other interesting modes include a Selfie Panorama, though I couldn't seem to get it to work by myself -- perhaps it needs more faces in the shot, but it would have been useful for capturing yourself with a scenic background.


asuszenfoneselfiess01.jpg
The Selfie has plenty of camera modes for you to play with. Screenshot by Aloysius Low/CNET

Image quality seems to be great. You'll have no issues taking pictures outdoors, but if you zoom in too close you'll find that details can be a little bit fuzzy. Indoor photos were generally all right, though expect some noise to creep into your images, especially if lighting is poor.

If you're shooting video with this phone, remember, you can do it with either the front or the rear camera, since both feature the same number of megapixels. Quality was generally good, and videos taken in the bright outdoors looked decent. The phone doesn't really handle backlit scenarios well, but then again, neither do most phones.

While the Asus ZenFone 2 seemed to do well in our camera tests, I'm not too impressed with the Selfie. Indoor lighting is quite the mess, and I tested the camera twice to double-check my results since the first round seemed off. However, you should have no issues outdoors or in places where there's bright light. Furthermore, the included software modes add a fair bit of functionality, though you'll likely just stick it on Auto mode and the occasional HDR mode more often than not. Check out the test images below for our analysis.


I tried using the front camera to do a HDR selfie, and ended up looking really odd. The background sky, however, does have nice contrast. Aloysius Low/CNET


The beautification mode, if used liberally, will end up making you look weird. Aloysius Low/CNET


This macro shot was taken with HDR mode on -- and you'll need to do so, because otherwise the end result is a dark-looking shot. That said, details of the flower were captured -- you can see the lines of stamen, though there's some trade-off with noise at the edges of the flower. Aloysius Low/CNET


The Selfie seems to handle the colors well and matches what the scene looks like. However, it is a tad darker than I remember, possibly due the phone adjusting the exposure as the background is quite bright. Aloysius Low/CNET


The camera's flash also fails to properly fill up the image, leading to a shot that's muddy and lacks detail. Aloysius Low/CNET
Even the very good low-light mode doesn't help -- though to be fair, this mode works best when there's hardly any light; we left a bit of light on for the sensor to focus here. Aloysius Low/CNET

Performance and battery life

The Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 is now an established midrange processor, and while the benchmark scores aren't comparable to the high-end phones, the ZenFone Selfie doesn't fare too well against similarly equipped phones either. Compared to say the Oppo R7, the scores are considerably lower, reflecting the performance I've been experiencing in day-to-day use.

I use Asphalt 8 as my go-to choice for games testing, and the ZenFone felt choppy -- something I didn't experience on the other Snapdragon 615-powered phones.


Benchmark tests comparison

Asus ZenFone Selfie
6,737
618
2,438
Oppo R7
8,002
667
2,638
Xiaomi Mi 4i
7,721
699
2,926
Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3
7,588
NA
2,548

Legend:

3DMark Ice Storm (unlimited)
Geekbench 3 (single-core)
Geekbench 3 (multi-core)

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Battery life

The 3,000mAh removable battery means as long as you have a charged spare on hand, you'll never have to worry about your phone dying. I managed to get through a full day of heavy use, and on our CNET Labs Video Test the phone lasted a good 12 hours and 29 minutes, which mirrors my anecdotal usage. You won't have to worry about running out of juice with this phone.

Call quality and data speeds

I found call quality to be very clear, even in noisy environments. Voices sounded crisp, and the volume was loud. You'll be able to hear the phone ringing even if it's in your pocket in noisy places, and the strong vibration means you'll feel it buzzing even if you can't hear it.

The phone supports mainly LTE networks in the UK, Asia and Australia -- this means UK networks such as Three and EE are supported, while in Australia, Optus and Telstra users will have no problems with 4G on the phone. There's no word yet on whether a US version will be made available, especially given that Asus has said there are no plans for the Selfie in the US. However, the phone will work on GSM networks, so you'll still be able to use the phone on 3G in the US with compatible networks such as AT&T and T-Mobile.

I tested the 4G speeds on the SingTel network here in Singapore and found that it matches well within the range I get with other devices; around 90Mbps download and 45Mbps in uploads.

Conclusion

Given my experience with the Asus ZenFone Selfie, I'm still hesitant to recommend this phone unless you really love taking selfies or group pictures with the front camera. The phone has plenty of potential, but the software bloat and the sluggish performance leaves me somewhat cautious.

At its non-contract S$285-ish price, the ZenFone Selfie is around the average price for a midrange device, which doesn't really help me to overlook its faults. However, I suspect these software issues can likely be fixed via an update. That said, it's still not as expensive as Oppo's R7 , which retails for around $400.

If you're looking for something cheaper, there's always the Xiaomi Mi 4i and its S$200 price tag, while the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 at S$250 isn't too bad a deal as well. Lastly, do note that the phone isn't available in western markets, but you can likely get one through third-party online retailers with an added premium.


The Asus ZenFone Selfie is a phone designed for selfie lovers, though performance is something the company needs to work on. Aloysius Low/CNET

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