Asus ZenFone 3 Laser Review – A High-end camera in a Mid-range phone

Taiwanese mobile manufacturer Asus launched ZenFone 3 series of Android phones in 3rd Quarter of 2016. ZenFone 3 Laser is the successor of ZenFone 2 Laser with many upgrades and improvements. As the name indicates, it is equipped with fast Laser Autofocus camera module. While Laser AF in smart phones is not new and unique, it is still a rarity in mid-range segment. Besides Laser AF, ZenFone 3 Laser also has 4 GB of RAM which is another high-end specification. With these feathers in the cap, does the ZenFone 3 Laser live upto expectations? I try to find out in this review.

Asus ZenFone 3 Laser Review

Asus ZenFone 3 Laser

(click an image to see full size) –

To start with here is a snapshot of some pros and cons we noted –

Pros

  • 4 GB RAM
  • Slim and very lightweight
  • Stylish metallic body
  • Good camera in well-lit conditions
  • Smooth and polished ZenUI – with a lot of useful options and customization settings
  • Very good battery performance
  • Overall lag-free performance (except in very intensive and heavy apps/games)

Cons

  • Entry-level processor (Snapdragon 430) – should have been SD635 or SD650 at this price
  • No USB Type-C and fast charging support
  • Priced a bit on the higher side considering the specs and competition

Asus ZenFone 3 Retail package

ZenFone 3 Laser retail box is a decent package with a good-quality earphone bundled (which have become a rarity in budget segment now). Besides handset and earphone, the box contains USB cable, power adapter (sadly with just 1.0 Amp output), SIM-tray ejector pin and user manual.

ZenFone 3 Laser Specifications

  • 64-bit, Octa-core 1.4 GHz CPU and Adreno 505 GPU (Qualcomm Snapdragon 430 SoC)
  • 32 GB internal memory (upto 256 GB microSD card support, uses SIM-2 slot)
  • 4 GB RAM
  • 5.5 inches Full HD IPS display protected by 2.5D curved-edges Gorilla Glass 3
  • 13 MP f/2.0 main camera with Laser AF, dual LED (dual-tone) flash
  • 8 MP f/2.0 front camera with real-time beautification function
  • Android 6.0.1 MM with Asus ZenUI 3.0
  • Full Metallic body with smudge-resistant oleo-phobic coating
  • 3000mAh battery (non-removable), 4G and VoLTE support (after software update), dual SIM (micro + nano, only one SIM can use 4G at a time)

Design and feel

ZenFone 3 Laser sports a contemporary metallic design (the iPhone-ish design at it’s best). It not only looks but also feels premium in hand. Unlike many other similar full-metal-body phones (Redmi Note 3/4, Coolpad Note 5, Oppo etc) which feel like heavy bricks in hand, ZenFone 3 Laser is surprisingly feather-light (150 grams). Despite big (5.5 inches) screen it is pretty comfortable to hold in hand. With beautifully crafted metallic curves and 2.5D (curved-edges) glass front, it’s definitely a head-turner. The only down-side of smooth metallic body is the increased possibility of slipping from the hand.
ZenFone 3 Laser’s full HD display is pretty good with crisp and vivid color reproduction. There is a Blue-light filter On/Off option; if turned ON, it cuts-out the blue-light emitting from the screen which causes eye-strain on long exposures. Color temperature of the display can also be changed via Display settings or by in-built Splendid app. Maximum display brightness is impressively high – I did not have any difficulty using the phone even in direct bright sun light. Touch response is very smooth and accurate. Touch sensitivity can be increased further by turning “Gloves mode” On. The only negative with the display is that it easily attracts finger prints and smudges (no oleo-phobic coating)

ZenFone 3 Laser Camera

ZenFone 3 Laser is pitched primarily as a mid-range, camera-centric phone with Laser Auto Focus as the main USP of it’s camera. It is claimed to lock focus very fast even on moving objects. We tested this and the results are pretty good indeed. As expected Laser AF works well upto a certain distance, it is especially functional in close up shots and near objects. There are a whole lot of settings and modes to tinker with in camera settings. We took hundreds of photos with Zenfone 3 Laser camera at various available settings and in different lighting conditions. Here are some sample shots (Click the image to see full size) –

In well-lit conditions ZenFone 3 Laser took good quality pics with accurate focus, appreciable details and accurate color reproduction. Even in low-light the results are impressive – I was able to click some amazing shots at night. Though the details are missing in low-light clicks but that is the case with most phone cameras. Overall ZenFone 3 Laser camera results are on par with (or even better than some) other phones in this price range and the “Laser” moniker justifies its name. However don’t expect it to compete with high-end flagships – for obvious reasons (hardware and price difference) you won’t get as much details, sharpness and overall quality.

One more thing I noticed with ZenFone 3 Laser camera is that unlike focusing (which is pretty fast) it takes long time to click pictures (sometimes 2-4 seconds). In this age of instant shots it is unacceptable from a camera-centric phone. Asus needs to fix this issue via software update and in future devices.
Front camera of ZenFone 3 Laser is an 8 MP f/2.0 unit with many selfie-centric software enhancements. It has real-time beautification function turned on by default. Overall selfie clicks are above average in quality.

Software & Performance

One thing that impressed me most in ZenFone 3 series of devices (including the ZenFone 3 Laser) is the wonderful new ZenUI. It embeds so much productivity in the core Android system, you will feel like using many third party apps. There are themes, gestures and hundreds of useful functions built in under settings and individual apps. For example the regular “Gallery” app has so much more in it – I bet you won’t find anywhere else (except Asus phones) –

Zenfone 3 Laser gallery

There is a “Trash” (just like “Recycle Bin” of Windows) – the deleted item moves to Trash first from where it can be recovered if required
You can also manage your cloud media storage right inside the Gallery
A plethora of options under Gallery settings (see pic below)

Besides there are many proprietary in-built Asus apps like Mini Movie, Mobile Manager, Photo Collage, Splendid, Themes, Share Link, Audio Wizard, FM Radio, Torch Light, Laser Ruler, Web Storage, Weather, Zen Circle, Zen Talk, Zenfone Care, MyASUS Service Center etc which are useful in many scenarios.

There are some negatives too –

  • Bloatwares like Puffin Browser, Amazon Kindle, Trip Advisor, Instagram
  • No in-built music player
  • The video player is pathetic to say the least (no on-screen volume or brightness controls)

All the software optimizations and 4 GB of RAM makes Zenfone 3 Laser a speedy performer. Despite so many in-built apps (and bloatware) the UI is buttery smooth and you won’t find it lagging in day to day usage. Kudos to Asus for making such a wonderful UX. It also handles multitasking pretty well. However it stutters in intensive gaming and when multiple apps are running at the same time. Heating is not an issue at all. Benchmarks scores are not that impressive though (partly due to the slow processor) – AnTuTu turned 43400 which is a bit on the lower side. But I believe more in real life performance rather than artificial benchmarks and Zenfone 3 Laser scored high in the former.

Asus has also optimized battery usage in ZenFone 3 Laser. During review period I grilled the phone with mixed usage (mainly web browsing, video playback, social networking and camera) and it comfortably lasted whole day most of the times. To further decrease battery consumption, Asus has also provided a “dark-theme” option under settings. It changes the default white background with black color – an option rarely found in other phones. One thing I missed sorely in ZenFone 3 Laser is fast charging, may be this SoC does not support it. This means that a full charge takes ages (2-3 hours), sigh!

Final words

ZenFone 3 Laser was launched for about 20K in India which is at least 5K higher than other similar phones. Now the price has dropped to Rs.16,999 (US$250 approx.) which is still on the higher side. There are several phones (Moto G5 Plus, Coolpad Cool1, Redmi Note 4 etc) with better specs in this price range. It is the only factor which prevents us from recommending this phone. Otherwise if you don’t care about little price difference and want an all-rounder phone with above average camera, lag-free performance and plenty of options/customizations then ZenFone 3 Laser is the perfect choice.

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