The Asus ZenFone 3 has officially arrived here in Canada, and after two generations of mediocrity, the ZenFone brand may finally be worth your attention.

At first glance, the ZenFone 3 is a sleek device that is more than capable of holding its own among other budget smartphones. Asus has come a long way since the original ZenFone launch, and are now in a position to be taken seriously as a smartphone manufacturer.

The ZenFone 3 is available now at various Canadian retailers, read on to see why it could be a major player in the mid-tier smartphone market and what may prevent it from doing so.

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ZENFONE 3 SPECIFICATIONS
Display 5.5″ 1920 x 1080 IPS+, 401 PPI
SoC8-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 @ 2.0 GHz
RAM4 GB
Storage64 GB
Battery3000 mAh
Speakers Up to 24-bit, 192kHz Hi-Res Audio
Rear Camera 16 MP, f/2.0, laser/phase detection autofocus, OIS (4-axis), dual-LED (dual tone) flash
Front Camera 8 MP, f/2.0, 1080p
LTE BandsBand 1/2/5/7/8/34/38/39/40/41, Cat 4:UL 50 / DL 150 Mbps
Connectivity Wi-Fi direct 802.11b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth V 4.2
Build Materials & Colour Glass finish and Gorilla Glass 3.

Available in Sapphire Black, Moonlight White, Shimmer Gold

I/O Ports USB-C port 2.0, 3.5mm audio jack
Biometrics Fingerprint
Dimensions & Weight152.6 x 77.4 x 7.7 mm (6.01 x 3.05 x 0.30 in), 155 g (5.47 oz)
OS Android 6.0, ASUS ZenUI 3.0
Availability & Pricing $429 at Best Buy Canada, Canada Computers, Memory Express, NCIX, Newegg.ca, and Staples.

What we like

At first glance, the ZenFone 3 looks fantastic. Asus has succeeded in releasing a sleek and elegant phone that leaves a great first impression when opening the box. It isn’t directly competing with the powerhouses that are the Samsung Galaxy S7 and Apple iPhone 7, but it looks like it could belong in that upper echelon with its beautiful exterior.

The display itself is bright and crisp, easy to use under all sorts of daylight, and just easy on the eyes in general, and the ZenUI that the device uses is clean and easy to manage (after you initially clean it up that is, more on that later). While there is more than its fair share of pre-installed uselessness, apps like the Mobile Manager are extremely useful. From the Mobile Manager you can manage your data usage, battery life, and quickly cleanup apps running in the background to maximize performance. It may not qualify as a necessary app, but it certainly is a nice addition.

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Out of the box, the ZenFone 3 responds quickly and without any issues. The fingerprint sensor just under the rear camera is responsive and made taking photos a little easier, especially selfies. However, due to the size of the phone, I didn’t find the sensor to be in the most comfortable area, and I imagine users with smaller hands will struggle with it.

On the camera side, I was shocked at how clear of an image the rear camera could produce. It may not be as great as the Galaxy S7, but it sure is close considering it’s only half the price. Likewise, the front camera was similarly impressive, but the difference between it and higher end smartphones is certainly more visible. The ZenFone 3’s 4K video shooting capabilities are a nice added touch.

I would be remiss if I didn’t write about the price. Considering the ZenFone 3 is half the price of high-end smartphones, it packs a heavy punch. You won’t find a phone that can match the Galaxy S7 or iPhone 7 at this mid-tier price point, but the ZenFone 3 isn’t so far behind those powerhouses that you will feel like you sacrificed too much to save on the cost.

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Benchmark Results
Overall System: Antutu v662,525
Overall System:
PCMark
4,655
CPU: Geekbench 4 Pro Multi-Core4,039
GPU: 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited13,976
GPU: GFXBench 1080p Manhattan Off-Screen9.9 fps
PCMark Battery Life Test 11 h 44 min

Performance wise, the ZenFone 3 isn’t much to marvel at, with our benchmarks indicating that it is about as powerful as similar mid-tier smartphones. I had no trouble playing popular games like Pokemon Go, but I did notice that it started to heat up as early as 10 minutes into a session. Out of the box, you won’t see any real noticeable performance issues, but the real test will be to see how it handles itself in a few months, especially if it already heats up so quickly.

Asus kills it with the battery life on this device. For someone looking for a solid and reliable smartphone to use for business, this is an important factor. Our battery life test keeps the screen on continuously, so you can expect 12+ hours of battery life in actuality. Additionally, it only took about an hour to go from 15 per cent to 83 per cent, with a quick charge of 20 per cent taking just 15 minutes.

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What we don’t like

While the ZenFone 3 may look spectacular, the glass back is less than ideal, especially for users who find themselves constantly dropping their phone. I found the phone to be relatively slippery, as I almost dropped it while taking pictures. The front and back of the phone can both completely shatter if dropped, and these glass phone parts aren’t the cheapest to replace. The glass back is also a fingerprint magnet. Just using the phone for 10 minutes left enough smudges to cancel out any of its beauty out of the box. For those looking for a durable phone, the ZenFone 3 may not be the best option.

I heard that the sheer amount of pre-installed clutter on the ZenFone 3 was impressionable, and boy was that correct. Asus has pre-loaded the ZenFone 3 with 25 Asus apps in total, all of which can only be disabled, not removed. Considering I only kept a few of them around (the notepad, for example), these apps continue to feel unnecessary. Asus shows a disconnect with its audience here, as other Android makers have stopped loading up their devices with bloatware.

This is most noticeable with the ZenCircle and ZenChat apps, Asus’ attempt at making a Facebook and Facebook Messenger equivalent. Considering how many other social media apps there are out there, I don’t have any desire for another one that only connects with other Asus phone users.

What I found to be the most annoying feature of the ZenFone 3 is the standard keyboard. It is cluttered with an unnecessary amount of space directed towards selling different themes to you for your device. This can be changed by downloading a different keyboard, but it ties into Asus’ lack of awareness of what smartphone users want from a budget device. Spending 30 plus minutes cleaning up the device out of the box isn’t ideal for many users on the go.

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Rising to the top of the mid-tier market

Asus hasn’t hit a home run with the ZenFone 3, but it has certainly become an important part of the conversation when talking about budget smartphones. I was impressed with how great it looks, and how it handles the average smartphone workload for the price of $429. However, the cons may be enough to deter some users away, especially if they don’t feel up to the task of dealing with the unnecessary app bloat.

Regardless, the ZenFone 3 should be taken under consideration when shopping for a smartphone on a budget.

The ZenFone 3 is available now starting at $429 at Best Buy Canada, Canada Computers, Memory Express, NCIX, Newegg.ca, and Staples.

Highs: Beautiful glass design, camera, battery life, and that sweet, sweet price.

Lows: Fragile glass back, fingerprint magnet, and bloating of pre-installed apps.

Our Rating

Design and Hardware: 8

Performance: 7

Battery life: 9

Software:6

Camera: 8

OVERALL SCORE:  7.6

This review is based solely on the ZenFone 3, and not the Deluxe or Laser editions.

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