Last year, the Asus ZenFone 2 was one of the best value buys in the Android smartphone market — with mostly premium specs and a $200 price, it was hard to ignore if you didn’t care about having the absolute latest and greatest. The ZenFone line might have gotten a little more upscale this year, but it’s still at just the right price to make a lot of people think twice about springing for a more expensive Samsung or LG phone, despite there still being a couple sacrifices made on the spec sheet.
The ZenFone 3 Deluxe is the most enticing of the trio — it’s Asus’ first real shot at a premium smartphone, although they’ve managed to keep the price reasonable. The jump to premium comes from three places — build, camera, and processor. In line with most of the rest of this year’s premium Android phones, the ZenFone 3 Deluxe runs on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 SoC, a departure from the mobile Intel processors Asus had been relying on. Along with the ZTE Axon 7, the ZenFone 3 Deluxe is one of the first premium smartphones to have 6 GB of RAM — arguably excessive, because while it is impressive, the ZenFone 3 Deluxe is not a VR-ready phone. We’re not sure anyone’s going to be running enough background apps to take full advantage of 6 GB, but the price is still low, so why not? The battery capacity is 3,000 mAh, and while that’s not the biggest we’ve seen this year, it does work with QuickCharge 3.0. The ZenFone 3 Deluxe uses a USB Type-C connector for charging, moving on from Micro USB.
Asus has moved from a plastic case to a unibody aircraft-grade aluminum build for the ZenFone 3 Deluxe. It gives the phone a premium feel, with a hardness to it that makes it more similar to the HTC 10 than the soft-touch LG G5 and Huawei P9. Like LG, Asus has pulled off the trick of hiding antenna lines on a metal body — it certainly helps the aesthetics of the phone, although we’re not sure how much that sways anyone’s purchasing decisions. Regardless, credit to them for pulling the trick off. The ZenFone 3 Deluxe has a slightly curved back, which helps make the large 5.7″ phone a little more comfortable to hold, although we’re of the opinion that those slightly rounded backs don’t do that much for ergonomics. At its thinnest, the ZenFone 3 Deluxe is 4.2 mm, which is another pretty respectable engineering feat. Another nice addition is an elongated fingerprint sensor on the back of the device.
The main cost-cutting sacrifice on the ZenFone 3 Deluxe is the display. It’s a 1920 x 1080 AMOLED display, and it actually looks terrific — colors are vivid, and the screen can get very bright. Any other time, we’d say the display is fine as is, but there’s the matter of VR. While Asus didn’t say much about it at today’s Zenvolution event at Computex 2016 in Taipei, Asus is making their own VR headset. There’s probably not much about it to say — it’ll likely be compatible with the new ZenFones and will probably go for around $100. The problem is that 1080p doesn’t look great on a VR headset, which puts Asus behind the game along with Huawei. Granted, I don’t think VR is guiding any purchasing decisions yet, but playing from behind on emerging tech is never a good look. On the plus side, Asus has implemented an always-on display similar to what LG and Samsung used this year, faintly showing time, date, weather, and notifications.
Cameras have by far been the biggest focal point for new phones this year, and that’s no less true for the ZenFone 3 Deluxe. The rear camera has a 23 MP Sony IMX318 sensor with a f/2.0 lens — Sony is always a great choice for optics, and while we’d need to do our own tests to see just how good this camera is, we’re confident that it’ll impress. But, we’re mostly excited about all the premium features Asus crammed in — four-axis image stabilization for photos, three-axis image stabilization for 4k video recording, and Asus’ own TriTech autofocus system. The camera can use laser, phase detect, or continuous autofocus, with the phone automatically using the one best suited for the shot you’re taking. The result, according to Asus, is autofocus as fast as .03 seconds.
The phone sounds great, too. Asus used a five-magnet speaker with a dedicated smart amplifier from NXP. That boosts sound, but does so safely so that the speakers don’t get blown out. It’s also hi-res audio certified, although you’ll need an equally good pair of headphones to take advantage of that.
Oh, and there will absolutely be some stylish options. In addition to the standard black, blue, white, and gold options, Asus also has an Expression series of cases with aqua, nebula, and glaze patterns. Asus will have a handful of flip covers available, as well.
Next page: ZenFone 3 and ZenFone 3 Ultra