Mobile Phones Guide

ASUS ZenFone 6 review

ASUS ZenFone 6 - Big phone, big performance

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Launch SRP S$329

Overall rating 8/10
Design:
8
Features:
8
User-Friendliness:
7
Performance:
8.5
Value:
8.5
THE GOOD
Solid build quality
Good imaging performance
Long battery life
Affordable
THE BAD
6-inch form factor too large for some people
No 4G LTE support
More Awards:
Best Valued for Money


Performance Benchmarks, Imaging and Conclusion

Performance Benchmarks

The ZenFone 6 is powered by an Intel Atom Z2580 dual-core 2.0GHz processor with HyperThreading technology, which allows it to process up to two threads in one cycle (as long as actual hardware resources such as suitable registers within the processor are available at any one point of time). To find out more about HyperThreading, we've summarized it in this article

It's worth stressing again that unlike the majority of the smartphones in the market, the ZenFone 6 does not run on ARM processors. There are only a few mobile devices that are powered by Intel processors, and the more prominent ones are the Acer Liquid C1, ASUS Fonepad Note 6, and Fonepad. Since both camps have touted their superiority in performance, it will be interesting to see how the x86-based Intel Atom processor fares against the ARM processors in phones targeted at the same market.

We will be comparing the ZenFone 6 against the ZenFone 5, HTC Desire 816, Huawei Honor 3X and Xiaomi Redmi Note.

ASUS ZenFone 6 vs the Competition
  ASUS ZenFone 6 ASUS ZenFone 5 HTC Desire 816 Huawei Honor 3X Xiaomi Redmi Note
Launch SRP
  • From S$329
  • From S$249
  • From S$498
  • From S$468
  • From S$199
Latest Price
  • From S$430
Operating system
  • Android 4.3 Jelly Bean with ASUS ZenUI (Upgradeable to Android 4.4 KitKat)
  • Android 4.3 Jelly Bean with ASUS ZenUI (Upgradeable to Android 4.4 KitKat)
  • Android 4.4 KitKat with HTC Sense 6
  • Emotion UI based on Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean
  • MIUI V5 (based on Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean)
Processor
  • Intel Atom Z2580 dual-core 2.0GHz
  • Intel Atom Z2560 dual-core 1.6GHz
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 quad-core 1.6GHz
  • MediaTek MT6592 octa-core 1.7GHz
  • MediaTek MT6592 octa-core 1.7GHz
Built-in Memory
  • 2GB RAM
  • 1GB RAM
  • 1.5GB RAM
  • 2GB RAM
  • 2GB RAM
Display
  • 6-inch / 1,280 x 720 pixels / IPS+
  • 5-inch / 1,280 x 720 pixels / IPS+
  • 5.5-inch / 1,280 x 720 pixels
  • 5.5-inch / 1,280 x 720 pixels / IPS
  • 5.5-inch / 1,280 x 720 pixels / IPS
Camera
  • Rear: 13-megapixel with f/2.0 aperture and PixelMaster technology
  • Front: 2-megapixel
  • Rear: 8-megapixel with f/2.0 aperture and PixelMaster technology
  • Front: 2-megapixel
  • Rear: 13-megapixel rear with BSI sensor and f/2.2
  • Front: 5-megapixel with wide angle lens and BSI sensor
  • Rear: 13-megapixel BSI with F2.2 aperture, autofocus and LED flash
  • Front: 5-megapixel
  • Rear: 13-megapixel with aperture of F2.2, 28mm wide angle lens and LED flash
  • Front: 5-megapixel
Connectivity
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0 (EDR + A2DP)
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0 (EDR + A2DP)
  • Bluetooth 4.0 with aptX enabled, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, NFC, DLNA
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0 LE + Bluetooth 3.0 HS, GPS + GLONASS, A-GPS
Storage Type
  • 16GB internal storage
  • microSD support up to 64GB
  • 8GB internal storage
  • microSD card support up to 64GB
  • 8GB internal storage
  • microSD support up to 128GB
  • 8GB internal storage
  • microSD support up to 32GB
  • 8GB internal storage
  • MicroSD expansion up to 32GB
Battery
  • 3,300mAh
  • 2,110mAh
  • 2,600mAh
  • 3,000mAh
  • 3,100mAh
Dimensions
  • 166.9 x 84.3 x 5.5~9.9 mm
  • 148.2 x 72.8 x 5.5-10.34mm
  • 156.6 x 78.7 x 7.99mm
  • 149.5 x 77.4 x 8.9 mm
  • 154 x 78.7 x 9.45mm
Weight
  • 196g
  • 145g
  • 165g
  • 161g
  • 199g

 

Quadrant Results

Quadrant evaluates a device's CPU, memory, I/O and 3D graphics performances.

 

Due to its slightly higher clock speed for its CPU and GPU, the ZenFone 6 is able to perform 20% better than the ZenFone 5. However, both Intel Atom dual-core processors are no match for the quad-core (Desire 816) and octa-core processors in the Honor 3X and Redmi Note.For example, the Redmi Note trashed the ZenFone 6 in the Quadrant benchmark by about 61%. However synthetic benchmarks like these don't tell the whole story. Read on and you might be surprised.

 

3DMark (2013)

Originally developed as a PC benchmarking tool, 3DMark is now expanded to support multiple platforms including Android OS. The Ice Storm benchmark is designed for smartphones, mobile devices and ARM architecture computers.

For an in-depth understanding of 3DMark for Android, do head over to our article, "3DMark - Android Device GPU Performance Review." In a nutshell, 3DMark consists of three test sections:

3DMark Ice Storm is an OpenGL ES 2.0 benchmark test that uses fixed off-screen rendering at 720p then scales the output to fit the native display resolution of your device. Ice Storm includes two graphics tests designed to stress the GPU performance of your device and a physics test to stress its CPU performance.

3DMark Ice Storm Extreme raises the off-screen rendering resolution to 1080p and uses higher quality textures and post-processing effects to create a more demanding load for the latest smartphones and tablets.

3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited is used to make chip-to-chip comparisons of different chipsets, CPUs and GPUs, without vertical sync, display resolution scaling and other operating system factors affecting the result.

 

The ZenFone 6 emerged top in the respective 3DMark test sections; it had a 25%, 6% and 5% lead over the runner up in all three tests. 

 

SunSpider JavaScript

SunSpider JavaScript helps measure the browsing performance of a device when processing JavaScript. It not only takes into consideration the underlying hardware performance, but also assesses how optimized a particular platform is at delivering a high-speed web browsing experience.


The ZenFone 6 clinched another win in the SunSpider Javascript benchmark; it is the only phone of the lot to have a score below the thousand millisecond mark. In fact, the ZenFone 6 performed better than some recent flagship smartphones such as the LG G3 (982.6ms) and Sony Xperia Z2 (940.8ms). So far, it's looking to be a stellar performer.

 

Real World Usage Experience

Synthetic benchmarks aside, we are glad to say that the ZenFone 6 did not suffer from the occasional stutters and freezes that we experienced on the ZenFone 5. User navigation was smoother and more responsive, although there is still room for improvement. As mentioned in our review of the ZenFone 5, the ZenUI is ASUS's first attempt at developing a new interface for its mobile devices and it will probably take some time for the company to refine it.

 

Imaging Performance

One of the key features of the ZenFone series is the PixelMaster camera technology running under the hood. We've done a dedicated article on the PixelMaster camera technology, so remember to check that out. Improving upon the ZenFone 5, the ZenFone 6 comes with a 13-megapixel rear camera sensor with an aperture of f/2.0. Let's see how the 13-megapixel shooter performs in our standard imaging test below:

And how does the 13-megapixel rear camera of the ZenFone 6 fare against the other phones of its class? We threw in the HTC Desire 816, Huawei Honor 3X and Xiaomi Redmi Note for comparison's sake.

As you can see, the photos taken by the ZenFone 6 and Desire 816 turned out to be more pleasing. You would also notice that both phones captured a good level of details, as evidenced by the more legible words at the top and bottom (next to the dice).

  

Low-light Performance

For the past two years, we've seen how phone makers shifted their focus to improving low-light photography on their mobile devices. Two notable brands, HTC and Nokia, have developed innovative camera technologies - UltraPixel and PureView - for their high-end smartphones. Starting with the ZenFone 5 and 6, ASUS also developed a unique shooting mode, the Low Light mode, in its suite of PixelMaster camera technology.

In a nutshell, ASUS' Low Light mode combines four adjacent pixels into one and image processing algorithms are applied to increase the light sensitivity by up to 400% and color contrast by up to 200%. In terms of hardware, the f/2.0 aperture will let in more light to the camera sensor, which is essential in low-light photography. It is important to note that photos taken in this mode are at 3-megapixel resolution.

 

As expected, the ZenFone 6 performed better than the rest in low light photography. If you zoom in, the image taken by the ZenFone 6 isn't as sharp as the rest because the Low Light mode results in a 3-megapixel shot, whereas the other photos are taken at a higher resolution. It is important to note that the usage of this mode post-processes the shot to gather data from the adjacent pixels to recreate one pixel and this robs the native image resolution to be downsized to just a 3MP shot.

What about the ZenFone 6's low light performance against the ZenFone 5? Are there any differences between the two when it comes to using Low Light mode? Let's check out the photo below:

Due to the slightly higher megapixel count (3MP vs 2MP) of the low light shots, the ZenFone 6 has a slight upper hand in low light conditions. Colors are more vibrant (e.g. look at the color of the strawberries) and the image is also less 'noisy'. 

 

Battery Performance

Our standard battery test for mobile phones includes the following parameters:

• Looping a 800 x 480-pixel video with screen brightness and volume at 100%

• Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity turned on

• Constant data streaming through email and Twitter

 

 

For a 6-inch device to last as long or even slightly longer than some of its 5.5-inch counterparts is an impressive feat. The ZenFone 6 lasted more than 8 hours in our standard battery test, which is about 10 minutes longer than the Desire 816. In fact, the ZenFone 6 managed to last 48 minutes longer than the Redmi Note! In the context of the ZenFone 5, the larger ZenFone lasted 50% longer.

Its power consumption is also relatively high compared to the Desire 816 and Honor 3X; the ZenFone 6 drew about 20% more power. Nonetheless, ASUS managed to keep the power consumption on the ZenFone 6 below that of the Redmi Note and is in fact just about the same levels as the ZenFone 5. Considering that the ASUS ZenFone 6 is the only 6-inch device compared here, its results are commendable. 

 

Portability

We measure the portability of a device by calculating its battery life to (weight x volume) ratio. Since it is the only 6-inch phone in this comparison, the ZenFone 6 obviously has a bigger footprint than the other phones and did not fare as well despite its better battery life. For those curious, the 6.1-inch Huawei Ascend Mate managed just 0.31 in this index, while the Sony Xperia Z Ultra only clinched an index of 0.22. Comparatively, the ZenFone 6 is far better. And as reported in the graph here, you just have to look at the 'smaller' Xiaomi Redmi Note's standing to appreciate that the ZenFonce 6 offers a pretty good portability index.

 

 

Real World Battery Performance

But benchmarking gives only one view to the above assessment. To give you a more realistic understanding on how the ZenFone 6 fared under real world usage conditions, we included screenshots of the usage and history graphs based on this reviewer's usage.

As seen from the graphs above, the ZenFone 6 could last close to 24 hours (1 day) before the battery hit 10%. Screen-on time is about 4 hours and 18 minutes. Some notes:

  • The device logged onto the 3G network because the phone does not support 4G LTE connectivity.
  • The device logged onto Wi-Fi connections from time to time.
  • The typical usage for this reviewer includes making some voice calls, texting via WhatsApp, capturing some photos and sharing them on social networking sites, the occasional web browsing via Pulse News Reader, and emailing.

Do note that battery mileage varies depending on your usage patterns. Compared to the ZenFone 5 with a 2,110mAh battery, the ZenFone 6 could last twice as long (in battery mileage and screen-on time). This is mainly attributed to the large 3,300mAh battery of the ZenFone 6 and that its display capabilities hasn't differed between both variants.

 

Conclusion

Retailing at S$299 (promotional price on ASUS Online Store) or S$329 at physical retail stores, the ZenFone 6 is one of the most affordable all-round capable phablet you can get in the market at the moment. Being more affordable doesn't necessarily means its performance is compromised.

On the contrary, the ZenFone 6 is capable of holding its own against other phablets in its category and in fact, has an edge over them in design, build quality, benchmarking performance, imaging performance and battery life. The biggest friction point about the ZenFone 6 is its massive form factor, which may be a deal breaker for some consumers. While the implementation of one-hand mode addresses the problem to some extent, it is hard to overlook the challenges in handling a 6-inch device.

Making a choice

If you are considering between the ZenFone 5 and ZenFone 6, we would say it depends on whether you want a form factor that is easier to handle or a larger device with more screen real estate and better battery performance. If handling a larger device isn't an issue for you, we recommend the ZenFone 6 as the additional cost of S$80 (based on the listed prices in ASUS Online Store) is a small sum to pay to get better overall performance and double the battery mileage.

We obviously cannot ignore the elephant in the room, which is the S$199 Xiaomi Redmi Note that's going up against both the ZenFone 5 and 6 products. Its price tag will be the main reason for attracting consumers over to its camp while it delivers an acceptable performance for its value. Taking into account the better handling and endless software customizations offered by MIUI, the Redmi Note can be seen as the better deal for many consumers. 

However, there is a catch; if you want the Redmi Note, you probably have to count on your lucky stars to grab one of the 5,000 units that will go on sale every week. So far, it has proven to be a frustrating affair for many consumers as the phones typically get sold out in less than a minute. The first batch took only 42 seconds for stocks to be depleted while the second batch took 75 seconds. The most recent sale saw 5,000 units snapped up within 55 seconds.

If lady luck is not on your side, grabbing an ASUS ZenFone 6 off the Online Store may be a feasible option. In any case, the ZenFone 6 delivers a smoother usage experience, better overall performance - be it in benchmarks, imaging quality, even under low light, battery life - and a much larger screen. In essence, the ZenFone 6 is a much more polished phablet. Given the price differential you need to top up for the ZenFone 6, these improved attributes easily make up for that cost.

So apart from the size differential, the main question you should ask yourself is, would you settle for an average phablet at the cheapest price possible, or a good phablet at a reasonable price? The choice is yours.