As a sub-$500 phone, the Asus ZenFone 3 punches well above its weight in terms of both looks and performance. What lets it down is not hardware, but software that is unintuitive, coupled with a frustrating battery of pre-installed apps.
While many mid-range phones are made out of plastic and can feel flimsy, the ZenFone 3 is solid and looks elegant. Asus has sprung for full 2.5D glass front and back for the device, with a matte metal frame and chamfered edges.
The 5.5-inch review model came with silver accents around the edges, as well as around the camera and fingerprint sensor, with a subtle silver Asus logo low down on the phone's back.
The ZenFone 3's excellent performance belies its $498 price tag. It runs on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 announced in February, and has 4GB of RAM, which is still a rarity among mid-range devices.
This chipset is the successor to the popular Qualcomm Snapdragon 617. It is purported to be more battery-efficient, and the improvement is quite significant. I found that the 3,000mAh battery lasted me a day and a half.
The Full HD (1920 x 1080 pixels) screen is bright and sharp, which is definitely a plus for media junkies. Asus says it has a screen-to-body ratio of 77.3 per cent, which means that the bezels, while reasonably slim, are not seamless.
PROCESSOR: Qualcomm Snapdragon 625
DISPLAY: 5.5-inch Full HD
CAMERA: (Rear) 16-megapixel, f/2.0; (front) 8-megapixel, 84-degree FOV
OPERATING SYSTEM: Asus ZenUI 3.0 based on Android Marshmallow 6.0
MEMORY: Up to 64GB of storage and 4GB of RAM
BATTERY: 3,000 mAh non-removable
VALUE FOR MONEY: 5/5
BATTERY LIFE: 5/5
With the 16-megapixel rear camera, users can manually control exposure, ISO and shutter speed. The pictures that I took in bright light both outdoors and indoors showed good detailing and reasonable contrast. The camera software also comes with features such as Time Rewind and GIF creation which are fun to play around with.
However, the camera suffers quite badly under low-light conditions. Using the camera indoors on a rainy morning, I was unable to even focus on my dog, which was sitting still.
While the ZenFone 3's hardware is impressive, the same cannot be said for its software.
The phone comes with Asus' ZenUI, which is not the most stylish or intuitive interface. For example, when you pull up the multitasking menu, three indecipherable buttons appear: Two squares and a settings icon, a thumbtack and a settings icon, and a rocket taking off.
Opening up the app drawer only pulls up nine icons at a time in a three-by-three grid, which means the pre-installed apps alone give you five pages to swipe through.
And these pre-installed apps are the biggest sin of all. The list ranges from Asus apps (ZenFone Care, ZenTalk, ZenCircle, MyAsus) to third-party apps (SimCity, Lazada, TripAdvisor, Amazon Kindle).
Having them there is bad enough, but users will also have to suffer a constant bombardment of notifications prompting you to use them.
• Verdict: A great-looking phone with top-notch hardware for the price, but my enthusiasm for it is killed by a frustrating UI and naggy apps.