After a string of successful entry and mid-range smartphones, including last year's ZenFone 2, which won our 'Best Mainstream Smartphone' award, ASUS has now set its sights higher with the new ZenFone 3 Deluxe, a premium flagship smartphone that ASUS believes can challenge the likes of Apple and Samsung.
Compared to the mid-range ZenFone 3, the Deluxe version sports a number of premium touches, including what ASUS is calling the world's first aluminum alloy unibody invisible-antenna design, as well as an upgraded 23-megapixel rear camera with Sony's IMX318 sensor, and a more powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor with 6GB RAM.
These upgrades come at a price though: the ZenFone 3 Deluxe costs twice as much as the ZenFone 3, coming in at a hefty S$998. That puts it in the same price range as LG's V20, and makes it a lot more expensive than the Xiaomi Mi5, OnePlus 3T and Samsung's new A7 (2017).
Does the ZenFone 3 Deluxe offer enough to justify its high price tag? Let's find out.
Note: There are actually two versions of the ZenFone 3 Deluxe, one with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor, and a more premium model powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor. Unfortunately, only the 820 version is available in Singapore.
|ASUS ZenFone 3 Deluxe|
While the regular ZenFone 3 is a mix of metal and glass, the ZenFone 3 Deluxe is all metal, with a sleek unibody design that comes in either Shimmer Gold or Glacier Silver (there's also a Titanium Gray model, but it's not available locally). Like ASUS' other ZenFones the Deluxe has a slightly curved profile, which makes it comfortable to hold in hand.
At first glance the phone's design looks quite similar to many other Android phablets out there, such as Huawei's Mate 9, but upon closer inspection you'll notice it's actually unique because it has no visible antenna bands on the back of the device.
If you look closely, you'll spot three breaks in the front bezel where the antenna peeks out, suggesting that ASUS has managed to build the antenna into the frame of the device. Obviously if you put your phone in a case, you won't be able to appreciate this, but it's a nice feat of engineering nevertheless.
Polished chamfered bevels run all long the frame of the phone. It's a tried and tested look that helps make the frame look slimmer but it's getting a bit dated now. Consider this: Apple was the first to popularize chamfered bevels, and the iPhone moved on from them three years ago.
Like previous ZenFone devices, the Deluxe features ASUS’ signature pattern of concentric circles above and beneath the display, and also on the power button and volume rocker, which can both be found on the right-hand side.
On the left-side is the dual nano-SIM card tray, with the second SIM slot doubling up as a MicroSD card slot.
On the back of the device there's a square camera module with a moderate-size camera bump and beneath it an oblong-shaped fingerprint scanner. The skinny fingerprint scanner is a strange bit of hardware. It's substantially narrower than circular fingerprint scanners and only scans about half the width of your finger, which makes me wonder if it's less secure than a full-size fingerprint scanner. It is longer than most fingerprint scanners, but that just means you have to line up your finger perfectly along its length to get it to scan correctly.
The reason most fingerprint scanners are round is so that you can place your finger on it at any angle. I asked ASUS if there was any benefit to an oblong-shape scanner and was told it looked better.
On the bottom of the phone there's a USB 2.0 Type-C port, and on top there's a headphone port.
The ZenFone 3 Deluxe has a 5.7-inch, 1,920 x 1,080 (386ppi) AMOLED display. Other than the iPhone 7 Plus, most of the phablets at this price level use QHD resolutions. Additionally, while colors on the display are quite vivid, the ZenFone 3 Deluxe display isn't as bright as similar size phablets and, as a result, under bright sunlight it's not easy to see clearly.
The ZenFone 3 Deluxe is preloaded with ASUS' comprehensive Splendid app, which provides a more detailed set of software color controls than you'll find on most other phones. With Splendid, you can choose between four major color modes: Super Color, Bluelight Filter, Standard and Customized. You can manually adjust the color temperature in all but Bluelight Filter mode.
Audio on the ZenFone 3 Deluxe comes from a single downward firing port on the bottom of the phone. The speaker is quite weak and there's some noticeable distortion when you turn up the volume. Fortunately, you do get a headphone port on the top of the phone, so you're much better off using that.
The ZenFone 3 Deluxe runs on Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow with ASUS ZenUI 3.0 on top. ZenUI comes with quite a lot of extra functionality, including a theme store that lets you download and choose from a variety of designs, complete with their own wallpaper, icons and menu colors.
There's quite a lot of bloatware included in ZenUI, but there are some interesting features that are quite useful including: the FM radio app, which lets you tune into local radio stations. You'll need your headphones plugged in if you need this function to work though (since it uses the your headphone wiring and jack as an antenna).
Mobile Manager, which gives you fine control over notifications, security settings, and various power-saving options
Share Link, which lets you easily send files to your PC wirelessly.
I also enjoyed playing with the Laser Ruler app to measure distances using the rear camera's laser autofocus. Of course there are other apps that can accord this function to any phone, but it's nice to have this handy on the ZenFone 3 Deluxe out of the box.