Back in 2014, ASUS debuted its own line of smartphones amid declining PC sales. And despite being the new kid on the block, the Taiwanese electronics maker managed to do relatively well in a market that has tripped up so many others, some of which had been in the business for decades and were considered infallible.
And it did so without reinventing the wheel like Apple or trying lots of different things and learning from what works like Samsung; ASUS instead took a page from its playbook on selling computers and parts and focused on undercutting the competition for the lowest-priced phone with decent specs. The effort paid off to the tune of 8.5 million ZenFones.
The following year, in 2015, ASUS adopted a similar strategy for the ZenFone 2 and sold over 20 million units. Not quite iPhone numbers, but not bad for a first and second run. The success of the ZenFone range put ASUS on the map as a serious alternative to the usual mainstream suspects and a brand to watch for 2016.
Now on its third iteration, the ZenFone is back, better than ever, as smartphone sequels tend to be. The game plan hasn’t changed — the ZenFone 3 base model is about as specced out as it can get under a reasonable price ceiling — but the competition has improved dramatically. In particular, Chinese OEMs have improved to the satisfaction of Westerners and the international tech community.
So the question now is: Has ASUS done enough to keep the momentum on its side, or has it fallen behind the curve? We’ll get to that later.
First, let’s get one important thing out of the way: The unit we have carries the model number ZE552KL; it has a 5.5-inch screen and a Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 system-on-a-chip with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of expandable flash storage. That said, our observations only apply to the said variant, and that your mileage may vary depending on which ZenFone 3 version you purchase.
The biggest change to the third-generation ZenFone is also the most obvious; the exterior has been tweaked and refined for 2016, with ASUS ditching plastic for a slab of glass and metal that’s begging to be touched and cradled in the hand. The ZenFone 3 is by far the prettiest smartphone the company’s ever created — and possibly the prettiest in its class.
It’s thinner and lighter than its predecessor; the polished, precision-cut aluminum frame that holds the two parts of the enclosure together is a thing of beauty; antenna bands that may otherwise detract from good design are almost inconspicuous. And to make it stand out even more, the concentric-circle detailing — a signature feature of ASUS smartphones — has been pushed to the back of the device, along with the ASUS branding.
Speaking of the back, there’s a pill-shaped fingerprint reader that looks like a home button but isn’t. The hardware isn’t as accurate as the one on the iPhone 6s, and isn’t as fast as the Vivo V3 Max’s. But it works surprisingly well enough on its own merits. Not to mention, you can use it to answer a call or quickly fire up the camera app for candid, casual shots.
There’s nothing ostentatious about the phone’s front, except for maybe the thickness of the bezels; it’s plain, like the set of non-backlit touch buttons below the 5.5-inch display. The screen is bright and vibrant and evenly lit, which translate to good visibility outdoors or in a well-lit environment.
Colors are rendered with fidelity, and images and text appear sharp despite ASUS’ decision to turn down a 2K panel at a time when 1080p is no longer the gold standard. And to be fair, the screen is one of the better ones we’ve seen all year. Besides, it’s a big ask for the untrained eye to genuinely care about the extra pixels.
Audiophiles may be pleased to know the ZenFone 3 has a five-magnet speaker for improved audio clarity and quality. It’s also capable of playing uncompressed music at higher-than-CD quality. At least, that’s what we’ve been told.
We tested a couple of high-res tracks using the provided earphones, then compared the audio quality to that of a premium Samsung phone. Both sounded pretty decent, though we probably could have come up with a winner had we slipped on a pair of studio headphones. Still, that the ZenFone 3 can hang with a product twice its retail value is reason for cheer and optimism.
Deeper inside the assembly sits an octa-core Snapdragon 625 processor, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of flash storage that can be expanded using a microSD card. At this point, it bears noting the microSD expansion slot doubles as a cutout for a nano SIM card, meaning you’ll have to choose between having two mobile numbers in one phone or providing more space for your apps and files.
The ZenFone 3 runs smoothly on Android 6.0 Marshmallow and the latest ZenUI overlay that’s been updated with new icons and wallpapers and the Game Genie app. The latter allows you to record game clips or stream games directly to YouTube or Twitch. Bloatware is still very much alive in ZenUI; thankfully, ASUS gives you the option of deleting or disabling almost every app that comes preinstalled.
Gaming performance is top-notch; AAA games like Asphalt 8 and Modern Combat 5: Blackout play at optimal frame rates; even NBA 2K16 for Android runs without a hitch when settings are toned down. More impressively, even during a prolonged gaming session, the phone remains cool to the touch, which is something we can’t say about the Intel-based ZenFone 2. ASUS made the right move switching to Qualcomm’s chips.
You get a megapixel bump on the ZenFone 3, too; the rear-facer steps up to a 16-megapixel sensor, while the selfie camera now goes up to 8 megapixels and can record 1080p video.
In case you’re wondering, both cameras offer a maximum aperture opening of f/2.0. The main shooter combines optical image stabilization and digital image stabilization to reduce the annoying blurriness caused by shaky hands. Its improved autofocus system, on the other hand, allows it to lock onto subjects in a fraction of a second in ideal situations.
Under a bright sun, the ZenFone 3 provides plenty of detail and some shallow depth of field. In low light or challenging light conditions, it’s capable of producing serviceable photos and video where other midrange devices would flounder.
The stock camera app offers a Manual mode that lets you tinker with the finer points of photography, such as ISO, shutter speed, and white balance, but that’s not to say ASUS’ intelligent Auto mode isn’t dependable. There are several other camera modes to help you get the right shot, like HDR, Low Light, and Panorama; there’s even one for creating GIFs, the internet’s favorite medium of expression.
Battery life is another massive plus. We found the 3,000mAh cell can stretch to a day and a half of moderate to heavy use. Even the most demanding users should be able to get at least a full day out of the ZenFone 3.
In our testing, we ended up with a screen-on time of 7 hours and 40 minutes, or almost double the average of some Android phones we’ve used in the past — including the ZenFone 2. And that’s without even activating Power saving or Super power saving mode.
We’re overly impressed with the longevity of the battery — to the point that we’re willing to overlook the fact it takes between 100 and 120 minutes to get it to 100 percent capacity, and that the new Type-C port on the bottom doesn’t support quick charging, unlike last year’s model.
What a difference a year makes: 2016’s ZenFone is an across-the-board improvement over what came before. It’s not perfect, but the shortcomings are easy to overlook this time around. The ZenFone 3 is prettier and nicer to hold and more capable and longer-lasting; in short, it’s everything you want in a sequel.
ASUS hasn’t released pricing information in most countries where the ZenFone 3 will be sold. We do know the 5.5-inch version officially sells for 9,990 Taiwanese dollars, the equivalent of $320, in its country of origin. That’s excellent value for a phone of this size and caliber.
However, despite that glowing endorsement, recommending anything north of $300 is getting harder and harder these days, as companies like OnePlus and Xiaomi continue to weaken the influence of established brands and rock the market to the core with products that are as cheap and as pleasurable to use as possible. The ZenFone 3, however exceptional it is, is not insulated from this reality.
If you can wait a bit to see what else comes out in the next couple of months, you may be rewarded with something better, say, a discounted OnePlus 3.
[irp posts=”12232″ name=”ASUS ZenFone 3 Zoom review”]
Lenovo Yoga C930 Review: It could have been the best
It’s just missing one thing…
It was during IFA 2018 when Lenovo introduced their latest premium convertible for consumers — the Yoga C930. It doesn’t have a good name, but it does offer everything a Yoga should, especially in media consumption.
Notebooks with flipping displays, like the Yoga lineup, are not just designed for typing. Most manufacturers market their convertibles to be perfect for entertainment, yet they largely fail in one aspect where they should shine — audio.
When Lenovo introduced the Yoga C930 with the rotating soundbar and Dolby Atmos, I hoped that it was not just a marketing ploy. But, is it? Let me share my thoughts about Lenovo’s newest convertible.
No fuss design
The Yoga C930 has a metal shell with a familiar aesthetic from Lenovo. My unit has a dark finish that’s aptly named Iron Gray. If you want a lighter shade, Lenovo is also offering the notebook in Mica, which is close to white. Everything about the body of the Yoga C930 screams premium; nothing here looks cheap or ugly.
To make it more special, the sides and the hinge of the Yoga C930 have a brushed finish. It’s a minor touch, but it’s highly noticeable whenever you’re checking where you should plug your peripherals. I also think that it helps hide unsightly scratches and gives the notebook a bit of shine.
While we’re at it, the available ports on the Yoga C930 are generally okay. It’s got two Thunderbolt 3 ports that fully support PowerDelivery, DisplayPort, and USB 3.1 functions. Both Thunderbolt 3 ports employ 4x lanes for PCIe, so you can connect the Yoga C930 to an external GPU, which is good because this laptop doesn’t have a dedicated graphics unit.
Apart from a couple of versatile USB-C interfaces, there’s also a classic full-size USB that we all know and love. Thankfully, Lenovo knows that this is still a widely used port and bringing a dongle just to read a thumb drive is a hassle. The 3.5mm audio port is also available when you need to plug in a pair of wired headphones.
All of the ports on the Yoga C930 are on its left side, leaving the right with just the power button. There are no volume buttons, either.
While I appreciate that Lenovo provided both USB-A and USB-C ports, I was still hoping for more; another USB-C with PowerDelivery on the right and a full-size SD card reader would do. The Yoga C930 is slim, but it’s not ultra-slim like the fan-less MacBook which got away with having one port (or maybe two if you count the headphone jack).
The Yoga C930 has a fairly large 14-inch display (13.9 inches according to Lenovo), but with minimum side bezels. Since this is made for watching videos, the aspect ratio is still stuck at 16:9.
There are two resolutions available for the Lenovo C930: Full HD or Ultra HD. The one I have here is just the Full HD variant, but it still has the key feature: Dolby Vision. The best way to fully appreciate the display is to play an HDR or Dolby Vision-enabled title. You can find some on Netflix if you’re using the highest-tier plan.
The display gets bright enough to be used outdoors and really dim when you need it to. It’s vibrant and has deep blacks even if it’s only an LCD panel.
When watching a video, I prefer to use the Yoga C930 in Tent mode. It can also be used in Stand mode with the keyboard facing down, but for some reason, Lenovo didn’t put little rubber feet to protect the keyboard when placed on a surface. You have to be cautious where you place the notebook or you risk scratching it.
The integrated soundbar of the Yoga C930 is designed to always face the user. That’s another advantage of watching videos in Tent mode; the speaker is facing upwards. I get to hear the sound directly without any muffle. I must say, the Yoga C930 has one of the clearest speakers I’ve tried on a notebook. It gets really loud, too.
It even has Dolby Atmos to enhance it further, but it’s not as immersive as advertised. To be fair though, I get to hear the stereo effect better than on other notebooks.
The device is least useful (for me) when it’s in Tablet mode. The Yoga C930 is too heavy to be a tablet, plus the 16:9 aspect ratio makes it feel like I’m reading from a really tall magazine. But, this is where the built-in pen comes in handy. The integrated stylus makes it easy for doodlers to annotate on screen.
Fast but not incredible
Let’s talk about power. The Yoga C930 I have is powered by the latest 8th-gen Intel Core i7 processor paired with 12GB DDR4 memory and a 256GB M.2 PCIe SSD. Configurations may vary in some regions, so the Yoga C930 in your stores might be more powerful or inferior.
There’s one thing that’s missing though, and it’s not an option anyone can get either: discrete graphics.
As mentioned, the Yoga C930 is not an ultraportable. It has nowhere near the portability of Dell’s XPS 13 or even Lenovo’s own Yoga Book. It’s big enough to house at least a modest NVIDIA GeForce MX150 — just like the latest ZenBook from ASUS.
My usage includes multiple tabs on Chrome, some slight editing on Photoshop, and hours of binge-watching on Netflix. I primarily used the notebook for typing and browsing, which are not heavy tasks.
So far, I had no major performance issues during my time with the Yoga C930. I didn’t bother to install games because it lacks discrete graphics.
Of course, the notebook runs Windows 10. I got the October 2018 update just last week, and it made the dark mode better. It matches the gray motif of the device.
It’s ideal for my own use
Putting all the technical specifications aside, the Yoga C930 has been a great companion.
Aside from the soundbar, I also fully appreciate the notebook’s keyboard. It’s not as great as the one on ThinkPads, but it’s good enough for me. It’s well-spaced and has a good amount of key travel.
The touchpad uses Microsoft Precision drivers and it fully supports all the gestures of Windows 10. It has a glass surface and picks up all the inputs. A responsive touchpad and a good keyboard is the combo I need for work.
There’s also something about the craftsmanship of the Yoga C930 that gives assurance that it’s a well-built device. Perhaps it’s the balance between weight and dimensions.
Lastly, the webcam has a physically cover — just like a ThinkPad’s. It’s nice to see nifty features of Lenovo’s business laptops on a consumer device. I don’t have to cover the webcam anymore with a piece of tape.
Great battery life
I am generally impressed with the longevity of the Yoga C930. Lenovo promises all-day battery life, but we all know that is somehow a stretch. Based on my usage, I get around eight to nine hours. I also experience about the same when watching Netflix non-stop.
It’ll not beat records, but I am always assured that even if I leave my charger at home, I know I can rely on the Yoga C930 to get me through a full day.
Is this your GadgetMatch?
You probably already think that this is my GadgetMatch, which I’ll not deny. I had a good time with the Yoga C930, despite its shortcomings. It’s a premium convertible that managed to meet my expectations. I’m hoping Lenovo will soon have an option with discrete graphics. For now, you can maximize the device by plugging in an external GPU.
The Yoga C930 has a starting price of US$ 1,399. It’s a bit pricier than I expected from its specs, but it’s a premium convertible that offers more versatility than regular laptops.
DJI Mavic 2 Pro Review: 1 month in
Not a perfect drone, but…
We won’t bore you with a rundown of its specs, but instead, we’ll give you the lowdown on DJI’s new drone — what works, what doesn’t, and what’s there to love. This is our DJI Mavic 2 Pro review.
Apple iPad Pro (2018) Review: Not just a laptop replacement
It can be so much more
Apple’s new iPad Pro is more beautiful, more powerful, and more useful. In this review, we answer the question in everyone’s head: Can it replace your laptop?
To see the iPad Pro as merely a possible laptop replacement is an injustice to the purpose it serves. It’s already a given that this is a great tablet, but this is a pro device and is more than just that. Its premium price tag can be justified by what it can enable creative professionals, business people, and even journalists to accomplish.
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It's just missing one thing...
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