Asus took a bold step this year with their third generation Zenfone series by going premium and deciding not to succumb to the pressure of aggressive pricing war some of the companies are into. Instead, it opts to fight it out with the likes of Samsung, LG on more grounded terms. It signals a matured business mind-set but it also comes with a huge risk. Only time would say if the risks pays off.
For its part, Asus has made sure the new line up of Zenfone 3 clad in metal body and new design language looks premium and thus marking a paradigm shift from the earlier generation of plastic bodied offerings.
Armed with a laser sharp quick auto focus, the new Laser is priced at Rs 16,999 (US$ 248) and can this be a hot cake like the Zenfone 2 laser? Or set it apart from the competition? Let’s find out.
Design – Display
Measuring 149x76x7.9mm and weighing 150 grams, the Zenfone 3 Laser inspite of the 5.5-inch body feels quiet comfortable at hand (let me confess, I personally love all big screen phones to the extend that even the Mi Max with 6.44 inch display was fine for me!) . I have both the Zenfone 3 and the Laser with me but the Laser looks more compact in hands while sharing the similar display size due to its 73.6% screen-to-body ratio compared to the 70.6% of the Zenfone 3.
Unlike the Zenfone 3 but similar to the Zenfone 3 Max, the Laser too is dressed in metal barring the plastic caps on top and bottom of the rear which gives a better antenna reception. Asus says that this phone has a fingerprint- and smudge-resistant oleophobic coating. On the lines of the other Zenfone 3 devices, there is a slight camera bump at the rear. Next to it, you find the dual-LED flash and Laser autofocus sensor.
The fingerprint scanner is placed right below the camera, and Asus branding can be seen at the bottom. The power and volume button are placed at the left and the concentric circles, a now trademark of Asus design language can be seen on the metal buttons. The left side houses the hybrid-SIM tray.
The top features the 3.5mm audio jack while the bottom has a standard Micro-USB port and speaker grille.
The fullHD display on an IPS panel reproduces natural color with good color reproduction but if you seek for that extra bit of saturation level like in AMOLED displays, it doesn’t. The brightness level is quiet good and even the blacks are better at. There is no concern over sunlight legibility and viewing angles. The display setting offers adjustment to the color temperature using the Asus ‘Splendid App’.
Overall, the display is neat with no room for any complaints in this segment.
Bloatware aside, the Zen UI in my opinion is a consumer friendly user interface offering ease of operation. It offers a good package of features some fancy, some very practical to use. There are nifty customization controls over the fonts and icon colors and labels , touch and motion gestures, one hand mode and a simplified home screen mode and kids mode. I have done a video listing 25 features of the ZF3 Laser, take a look at it for a complete spin on the UI.
Asus has bundled a bouquet of it’s own apps like Themes, Photo Collage, Mini Movie, ZenCircle, ZenSync, Weather, Do It Later, Game Genie, ZenFone Care, and Cover. There are also some third-party apps including Amazon Shopping, Saavn, TripAdvisor, Instagram, Amazon Kindle, and Facebook. While the puritans might fret over the extensive pre-installed apps , my interaction with the regular users gave a different picture. Many of them appreciated these apps that made their easier and not search or look for similar apps. For example, a carpenter who owned a Samsung device was totally in love with the calendar app of my Laser which showed the local festivals. For a regular consumer, these things matters.
The phone is smooth on a normal use and even handles multi tasking well. Things might slow down, if too many apps gets piled up in the background. It also handles the gaming fairly well, with a bit of heating while playing graphic intensive games. While the call quality and other tasks are at usual good, what was disappointing was the poor speaker. I am not sure if it was only the unit which I received but the speaker quality was poor.
The fingerprint scanner on the back works accurately most of time, and it can be used to pick up incoming calls as well. Another bummer is the lack of option to secure the apps with finger print sensor and it can be done only via a PIN or pattern.
As stated at the beginning, the ZF3 LAser uses a hybird-SIM tray as is norm with most phones these days, so you can opt for two SIMs or sacrifice one SIM and replace it with a memory card. When using the dual-SIM, any one of the SIM and not necessarily the SIM 1 can be used for 4G, though only one works on the LTE at a time.
The 3000mAh battery is enough to sail through the day but it lacks fast charging capabilities.
When Asus stresses the model on the Laser autofocus, there is an expectation for the camera to deliver a little bit more than the rest of the phones in the market in the segment. Does it deliver? Honestly, the Laser does not have anything spectacular to talk about its camera. The best we can say is it takes decent pictures, so does most phones in this range too. So it doesn’t stand out in the camera front.
The camera app is user friendly again offering various modes for easy shooting for amateurs. There are range of options like low-light, beautification, HDR Pro, Super resolution, Depth of field, GIF animation, Panorama, Slo-Mo, Time lapse etc. There is a manual mode too where you can tweak the image if you know how the manual operations work.
Selfies also come good and by default beautification mode is turned on. It also has Electronic Image Stabilization (EIS) that offers stability to the video recording and it can shoot in 1080p.
Its a big leap of faith Asus has taken this year with the pricing of their devices. With a Snapdragon 430 SoC , it has priced the ZF3 Laser at Rs 17,000 while similar devices like Redmi 3S Prime are below Rs 10,000 level. What might work for Asus though is it is bringing the devices to offline channels where it is a different set of scenario and with a push in aggressive marketing, Asus could be in a vantage point. Then there is the likes of Le Max 2, Lenovo Z2 Plus and offline hot selling models like Oppo F1 series, Vivo V5 and Samsung J7 Prime, amidst all this it makes the case tough for Zenfone 3 Laser.
Pricing apart, the Zenfone 3 Laser is not a bad phone, if you buy you won’t be disappointed. It has a decent mix of everything and a good phone for every day use.