This year we saw Asus stepping up its game by competing on the high-end market through the Zenfone 3 series. The flagship of the lineup is the Zenfone 3 Deluxe that is priced below its competitors such as the Galaxy Note 7 and iPhone 7 while still packing the latest hardware in Android platform.
With Asus failing on their first high-end attempt through the camera-centric Zenfone Zoom this year, the only chance that’s left for them to prove they still could play in the high-end market is with the Zenfone 3 Deluxe. So in this in-depth review, we find out if it is considerably worth it for the price or if this is the last hooray of the Taiwanese company in the high-end foray.
Unboxing of Asus Zenfone 3 Deluxe SD820 edition
The Deluxe carries similar packaging as to the phablet Zenfone 3 Ultra. There’s drawer underneath the phone that houses the latest ZenEar earbuds, Quick Charge 3.0 adapter, USB Type-C cable, and a few set of papers.
Design and build
The Asus Zenfone 3 Deluxe is like no other Zenfone we’ve encountered. It’s the first time we see such aesthetics knowing the company favors power over design. This time around the Deluxe carries the flag not only in internal specs but it exterior hardware too.
The overall build of the device is metal with a smooth aluminum finish and reflective chamfered edges. The back is a slightly familiar affair with its fingerprint sensor and camera bump squarely shaped as to the vanilla Zenfone 3 we’ve reviewed a while ago. All physical keys at the side are made of metal are very clickable.
But upon handling the Deluxe, the difference in feel is easily noticeable. The phone is just way slicker and easier to hold despite the slippery finish. It felt thin because of the slightly tapered back and overall slender form.
Unlike on the curved glass of the Zenfone 3, the front panel on its more expensive counterpart is flat but looks more exquisite, thanks to the metal layout behind the Gorilla Glass 4 glass and the backlit capacitive keys.
The Deluxe still gets the usual exterior features such as the LED notification light. Meanwhile, the new USB Type-C port is present, which is the only one with USB 3.0 speed in the current Zenfone lineup. What we’re happier to report is the present of a 3.5mm audio jack while supporting high-res audio upscaling.
The highlight of the design of the Deluxe is the invisible antenna lines considering it’s an all-metal unibody smartphone. It’s really not invisible as we see a few very thin strips across the sides but that’s only it. Much of the phone’s exterior is metal and there are no spoiling obvious lines like on the new iPhone 7 or HTC 10.
Overall, the Asus Zenfone 3 Deluxe really stands as the most luxurious Zenfone we’ve ever met and that’s actually premium as other major brands’ offerings.
Asus has skipped the Quad HD and 4K screen real estate this year as the Zenfone 3 Deluxe sports a 5.7-inch Super AMOLED panel with 1080p or Full HD resolution. It’s still technically above and within the acceptable Retina resolution.
It’s neither spectacular in terms of dpi or pixel density but it’s really a pretty good display with one of the best outdoor clarity and brightness levels over the usual oversaturated colors of AMOLEDs.
The new 23MP main sensor on the Deluxe is paired with a laser focus assistance, phase detection, OIS, and shoots up to 4K video. This is the same camera setup to the massive Zenfone 3 Ultra while quality is pretty close with a few differences in post-processing algorithms.
For the Deluxe alone, the camera takes really good still photos in both daylight and low light scenarios using the auto HDR mode. The detail preservation is smooth while dynamic range handling is middling for its sensor size. However, the color reproduction tends to be on the saturated side but still pleasing overall.
It’s not as bright as other high-end cameraphones in night shooting but the amount of noise is noticeably controlled. Perhaps, the algorithms side could still use some tweakings to add extra crispness through software updates. But overall, the still photos are considerable of top-class quality.
What we also like using is the manual mode on the Zenfone 3 Deluxe camera. This is the same as to the wide array of Asus camera phones, but with a more capable sensor on Deluxe, the quality of photos are considerably better over its siblings.
Up front is an 8MP sensor that shoots wide angle and vivid selfies at daylight. In low light selfie shooting, however, the beautification control outputs weird and too soft skin toning forcing us to turn off beauty mode. We just hope that Asus will fix this one too on the next update. Nonetheless, the selfie camera is a solid performer.
In terms of video, the Deluxe shoots up to 4K and gets a backing with 4-axis OIS. The quality is the same on still photos with a slightly warmer or saturated colors but pleasing overall. In night scene, you have to manually switch to the low light or night mode before getting a good exposure.
With continuous camera software improvements, the Deluxe will certainly make a promising and reliable flagship camera phone. But right now it is just as few notches better over the more affordable Zenfone 3 shooter.
Running on the latest Android Marshmallow OS and Zen UI, there’s very little premium feel on the software side of the Deluxe at least basing on our personal experience after using latest Android phones and iPhones in the market. Some usual bloatware known on Asus devices are even present here.
Some usual bloatware known on Asus devices are even present here. And sadly you cannot remove them. For the slide down menu and notification panel, the overly large rounded icons spoil the luxury feel of the hardware though we did not experience any noticeable hiccups.
Performance and benchmark
Perhaps that’s because of the latest Snapdragon chip and ample amount of memory that power the Deluxe.
As introduced by Asus, there will be two variants of the Deluxe. One is the standard model, in this review, with a Snapdragon 820 processor and up to 128GB storage and 6GB RAM. The other is yet to be released Special Edition that is powered by a faster Snapdragon 821 and up to 256 storage and 6GB RAM.
We haven’t tested the Special Edition variant yet, but we’re expecting there will be a slight speed difference in actual and benchmark.
But for the standard model, the Deluxe did not leave us hanging in most of the time. It handles graphics-intensive games and apps we throw at it without stuttering while topping our Antutu benchmark score. Performance-wise, the Deluxe is undoubtedly a powerful hardware to beat much more on the Snapdragon 821 variant.
Battery and charging
The battery life on the Deluxe with 3000mAh non-removable juice is fairly an average experience. After the battery testing, the Endurance side shows about 28 hours or close to 4 hours screen on time using both cellular and WiFi connection. Overall, the cell is just enough to keep you running for the whole day use which is still a good output with such powerful hardware.
In terms of charging time, the Deluxe could be easily tapped from 0% to 100% in less than 1 hour and 20 minutes using the proprietary Quick Charging 3.0 adapter.
The NXP-driven mono speaker on the bottom outputs crisp bass and clear vocals. The volume level is considerably loud for its size. Meanwhile, internal high-res audio provides up to 24bit upscaling using accessories.
Pricing and verdict
Despite missing a premium software feel, the Asus Zenfone 3 Deluxe pretty nails most of our checklist as a flagship phone. And with an attractive pricing at P34,995 pesos or about $700 USD and with chart-topping performance, this makes the Deluxe more compelling flagship Android phone to buy. Although we’d still wish Asus should had fixed some of the software glitches before they’ve released it. Nonetheless, we’re really glad to see more takes from Asus on what’s a premium phone should be.
Pros and cons of Asus Zenfone 3 Deluxe
+ Solid build
+ Premium design
+ Beastly performance
+ High-res audio
– Software of front camera needs a fix
Asus Zenfone 3 Deluxe full specs, official price, release date in the Philippines
- Display: 5.7-inch Full HD 1080p Super AMOLED, 386 ppi
- Design: Metal body, Gorilla Glass 4, Always on
- Chip: Snapdragon 820, 821 for Special Edition
- CPU: Quad-core processor
- Adreno: 530 graphics
- RAM: 6GB
- Memory: 64GB/256GB internal storage, microSD up to 128GB
- Camera: 23MP PixelMaster, f2.0 aperture, 4K video, dual-LED flash, laser focus, phase detection, focus tracking, OIS, EIS, HDR
- Selfie: 8MP f2.0, wide-angle, 1080p video
- Connectivity: 4G LTE dual-SIM, GPS, WiFi a, Bluetooth 4.2, NFC
- Ports: USB type-C with USB 3.0 speed
- Audio: High-res Audio, NXP smart amp drive loudspeaker
- Security: Fingerprint scanner
- Battery: 3000mAh, Quick Charge 3.0 of Qualcomm
- OS: Android 6.0 Marshmallow, Zen UI 3.0
- Colors: Titanium Gray, Glacier Silver, Sand Gold
- Price: P34,995 ($700) for 64GB/6GB RAM model, P44,995 ($950) for 256GB/6GB RAM model with SD 821 chip
- Release date: August 14, 2016 availability in the Philippines