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ASUS ZenFone 3 review

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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.

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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.

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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.

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ZenFone 2 (left) and ZenFone 3 (right)

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.

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This year’s ZenFone (above) has a USB Type-C port sans fast charging

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.

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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.

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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.

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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”]

Accessories

adidas Ultraboost 20 review: Great just got better

The ISS National Lab collab is straight 🔥

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It’s almost a new year, and here’s the Ultraboost 20 — the latest version of my favorite sneakers.

Ever since they were announced in 2015, the Ultraboost has always been my go-to everyday sneaker. They’re just so comfortable to wear and they look so darn good as well.

Adidas has been making small changes to the shoe every year but they were mostly just changing the pattern of the upper which wasn’t really that big of a deal.

A sudden design shift

It wasn’t until 2019 when Adidas redesigned the Ultraboost to create the Ultraboost 19 (UB19) which was a huge change in the line.

Initially, the Ultraboost was more of a casual lifestyle pair first then a performance running sneaker second. This changed with the UB19 when Adidas decided to focus on making a performance running sneaker.

It was a controversial change at the time since the aesthetics of the shoe really changed. Some fans of the line didn’t receive the news well.

UB19 (left) and UB20 (right)

Admittedly, I was one of those people. But then the reviews started coming in and everyone kept talking about how comfortable they were — much more comfortable than they have ever been which makes them a better performance sneaker overall.

Design-wise, I still prefer the Ultraboost 1.0 more than the 4.0 but the new ones are definitely way more comfortable — an all-out performance running sneaker.

With the 2020 version, Adidas decided to make a few more tweaks. Somehow they took something already great and made it even better. As an aside, I’m happy these were minor tweaks because I don’t think we would have survived another dramatic overhaul.

One of the best things about Ultraboost back in the day were the collaborations, so I’m happy to see Adidas trying that out again.

Ultraboost X ISS National Lab

I got the ISS National Lab collaboration to check out, which is the official collaboration to launch the Ultraboost 20.

First thing you’ll see is the Light grey Primeknit upper. This is usual with Ultraboost and it does get small tweaks every year. This time it feels like there’s more give in this version vs the UB19.

One major difference in the upper this year is the addition of the Tailored Fiber Placement technology or TFP. It’s the thick embroidered looking details around the edges of the toe box area which gives you more stability and durability.

These areas aren’t as flexible and stretchy as before but they do a better job at containing your toes. So the upper is still stretchy and soft, but holds your foot in place better.

There’s still a sock-like fit but it’s slightly thicker and less flexible than the older ultraboost 1.0 to 4.0 uppers. I really like the arrow shaped ventilation pattern in the toe-box area which is a very subtle throwback to the ‘ol Ultraboost 1.0.

There’s the white or light grey Ultraboost laces going through an updated midfoot cage. I definitely like the new midfoot cage, I think it’s better looking than the UB19 cage. It’s a cleaner, better look vs the mesh used on the 19. This also has some TFP detailing as well to help contain your foot better.

At the top of the tongue is the ISS National Lab collab tags which says ISS National Lab Adidas CRS Boost in Space. ISS stands for the International Space Station and this is a collab with their National Lab. Adidas is apparently going to send some Boost up to the National Lab in space — which is crazy but hey maybe those hypebeast astronauts will appreciate it.

In the ankle area of the shoe you see another big difference vs the UB19. There’s still a prime kit tongue, but in the back you have a padded neoprene material which is really appreciated because it really adds to the comfort.

This extra padding around the heel feels great against your foot but also makes your foot feel more secure in the sneaker as it pushes it forward. Apart from that, your foot is up against primeknit for a very sock-like fit.

It does feel a little bit more snug than the UB19. This helps make it more performance oriented than before which is definitely helpful for runs.

If you’re going to want this for lifestyle wear as a shoe sneaker I’d advise going up a size. Same is true if you have wide feet like I do. It’s always best to try the shoe on in a store first to make sure you get the best fit possible.

The insole comes in black with Adidas and ISS National Lab branding in white and orange. Each insole is different which is a nice touch.

Coming to the heel counter, it seems to be just an outline just like the UB19. Adidas calls it their “3D Heel Frame” which cradles the heel and holds it in place. I like that the heel counter spills over onto the boost midsole and gives you more stability because it really keeps the boost in place.

At the back of the shoe you have a nice padded neoprene material instead of primeknit. I definitely like the way it feels against my foot vs just primeknit in this area.

Another new addition is the bright orange accent. It definitely stands out but ties in nicely with the ISS collab.

Speaking of eye-catching — moving downwards, you have the good ol’ white Boost mid-sole. The ISS collab Ultraboost 20 actually comes in seven colorways, four of which have an iridescent boost midsole which looks pretty neat.

It’s really flashy, and you’ll either love it or hate it but I actually like the implementation here on my Dash Grey colorway.

UB20 iridescent midsoles

Instead of the iridescent boost midsole, this colorway has an iridescent heel frame and midfoot cage, which I think looks much nicer. It’s minimalist and more my style.

Either way it definitely looks very space-like. I guess it’s meant to make you think of outer space and it definitely does that. If you’re wearing them out, people are definitely going to ask you about your sneakers.

Coming to the outsole, it is the usual Stretchweb outsoles with Continental rubber for multi-surface traction and the usual lightweight Torsion Spring construction for support when the foot lands to propel runners forward.

Still a top-tier midsole cushioning

Boost is still boost — it is still the best midsole cushioning tech that I love. There’s 20 percent more boost in this shoe than the older UB 1-4, just like the UB19.

The Boost feels the same, but that’s okay. If it ain’t broke, why fix it, right?

In case you haven’t tried out a sneaker with Boost yet, I encourage you to go on over to an Adidas store and try one out as soon as possible.

The big deal here is the cushioning and energy return. You can feel it absorb the impact as you run, and then spring back to return some of that energy to help you take off.

It’s this reason why Boost and the Ultraboost series in particular are so popular amongst runners and gym goers. They’re not only some of the most comfortable shoes around but it also really helps with running and aerobics. I even wear Ultraboost for my dance fitness and boxing classes. I totally recommend it.

Is the Ultraboost 20 your Sneaker Match?

The UB20 is an iterative but meaningful improvement to the Ultraboost line in comparison to the UB19.

It is even more performance oriented, and even more comfortable at the same time. Honestly just go into an Adidas store and try them on — I’m pretty sure you’ll walk away impressed.

The ISS Collab is really exciting, and while it may or may not all just be marketing hype, it is definitely an exciting way for Adidas to launch the UB20.

While I’m always going to be a fan of the aesthetic of the older Ultraboost 1-4 more, you have to admit the new Ultraboost 20 definitely looks crazy futuristic. It’s the best performance sneaker out there, and I can’t recommend it enough.

SEE ALSO: Asics Gel Cumulus 21: Your everyday training sneaker

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Huawei Freebuds 3 review: Best value wireless earbuds

Everything works as advertised

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True wireless earbuds with noise-cancellation sprouted like crazy in 2019. Not to be outdone, Huawei, along with a few other wearables, launched the Freebuds 3. And these earbuds are actually pretty darn good.

Comfy fit, on the fence about the look

Let’s get it out of the way before anything else. The Huawei Freebuds 3 looks a lot like Apple’s Airpods. In fact, the entire Freebuds line has looked like this since it’s first iteration.

But is it fair to reduce it as simply an AirPods knockoff? Not quite.

Looks-wise, I kind of get why they went with this design. Not everyone’s a fan of in-ear earbuds. Some feel they are too invasive.

I can definitely say that the in-ear ones feel more secure but the Freebuds can cling onto your ear just fine. The only time I saw one fall off was during a Huawei demo but that was only because a dancer wore it and she was moving pretty intensely.

Also, perhaps the only way to put all the tech that Huawei managed to pack in the Freebuds 3 is to have them look the way they do now. I’m personally not too wild about it, but that’s just me.

Noise-cancelling all star 

Speaking of “all the tech” in these earbuds, at the heart of it is the Kirin A1 chip. Made specifically for wearables, this is what enables a lot of what makes these earbuds great.

Chief of those features is the intelligent noise cancellation. I’m quite skeptical about noise cancellation claims especially on wireless earbuds, but the Freebuds 3 performs just about as good as advertised.

It doesn’t quite shut you out of your environment the way noise-cancelling headphones do. However, it does it well enough that your attention won’t easily be taken away when you have these on even when you’re in a crowded area.

The noise cancellation is still a tier and a half below the Sony WF-1000XM3 which I consider to be a superstar in that department. That said, the Freebuds 3 still does an awesome job and should be more than enough for most users.

Surprising bass, fantastic sound quality

The default bass setting on the Freebuds 3 is such a pleasant surprise. Coupled with the noise cancellation, it gives you such a full sound that if you close your eyes you’d almost feel like you’re surrounded by the music you’re listening to.

I wasn’t even playing bass heavy tracks when I noticed this. I was in a bit of a slow jams mood while trying these earbuds out and listened to tracks like Nice and Slow by Usher and I Wanna Know by Joe and man, the bass was really banging in a really good way.

This level of bass can be achieved in other true wireless earbuds but they’re usually not turned on by default. On the Freebuds 3, there isn’t any option to tweak the sound quality but I don’t imagine anyone needing to do this.

There is significant leak out of the audio though when you turn the volume to maximum. But I never felt the need to do this. Only tried it for the heck of it.

Easy pairing and controls

Pairing these are pretty straightforward, you only need to hold the button on the case for about two to five seconds to enter pairing mode. Make sure the case’s lid is open.

It’s even easier when your using a device that already has EMUI10. It’ll automatically find the Freebuds 3 once you pop the lid open. Similar to how Samsung Galaxy phones quickly detect the Galaxy Buds.

Controls are straightforward. Double tap on the left to turn on/off noise cancelling, tap on the right to play or pause, and double tap to skip to the next track. You can switch this up on the Huawei AI Life but that’s about the level of tweaking you can do on these.

I paired our review unit with both the iPhone 11 Pro and the Huawei P30 Pro. It’s worth noting that at the moment, you won’t be able to make these control changes on the Huawei AI Life/Smart Home app on iOS. Then again, if you’re using an iPhone, you’ll probably just get an AirPods or AirPods Pro anyway.

Is the Freebuds 3 your GadgetMatch? 

There’s a lot to love with the Freebuds 3. The noise cancellation is pretty good, sound quality is superb, and the carrying case is small enough to be pocketable but not too small that they’re easy to misplace.

The battery is also pretty darn good. I’ve only had to charge it once in my week with the device. Speaking of charging, you can do so through a USB-C cable which comes with the device on the box or through wireless charging.

My only real gripe is how it looks. I’m still not a fan of how Apple has normalized wireless earbuds with stems sticking out. I find it frustrating that it’s now somehow considered trendy and fashionable.

That said, if you like rocking these types of earbuds, that’s completely fine. Live and let live, right? But part of me is hoping the next version has a different look. These do come in two colors: Ceramic Black and Carbon White so you can at least go with the black one if you think the white looks too much like a knockoff.

The Freebuds 3 is priced as follows: UK (GBP 147), Singapore (SG$ 238), Philippines (PhP 8,990), Malaysia (MY R679). That’s very competitive considering everything you get. These might just be the value upper tier true wireless earbuds with noise cancellation. Everything works as advertised and that is truly satisfying.

If you’re looking to splurge a little for a better audio experience, either for you or as a gift for someone else, then it’s hard not to recommend the Freebuds 3.

SEE ALSO: Huawei Freebuds 3: Give the gift of freedom this holiday season

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Huawei Watch GT 2: Two-week battery life is real

You’ll forget that you need to charge it

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Having a smartwatch that shows you notifications and tracks your activities are all well and useful, although the fact that you need to charge them daily could be tedious for some. This is because most models only have batteries that are good for a day’s work.

Sure, you have hybrid watches that last longer but with limited features. What Huawei did with the first Watch GT was to offer a smartwatch but with a battery life that can last you two weeks. They intend to keep this up with this new model but with more useful features. Let’s take a look at what it now offers.

It comes in either 42mm or 46mm variants

Bigger model has more features and longer battery life

Has a double crown design…

Sports an AMOLED touchscreen

And a number of available straps

No extra tools needed to change straps

Watch faces are available for personalization

Feel like going digital or analog for the day?

For the design department, the Watch GT has a sporty look going on but is also sleek enough to be worn during meetings and even semi-formal gatherings. In addition to the different watch faces you can select, its interchangeable strap makes it even easier to complement your look so you can mix and match depending on the occasion.

If you’re looking at the Watch GT 2 to help track your activities, then you’d want to go for the bigger 46mm model since it’s loaded with more sensors than the 42mm variant.

Your personal workout tracker

Detects your workout and logs your personal records

Real-time heart rate monitor

Know when your workout is effectively burning calories

Scientific coaching for running courses

No need for a personal coach!

Sleep tracker identifies common sleep-related issues

Huawei Health even provides suggestions to help you sleep better

Stress/pressure monitoring

Maintain a balanced lifestyle to keep stress levels on the down-low

Take it out, get it wet

Water-resistant up to 50 meters for 10 minutes

Multiple sport modes

Since you can take it for swimming, it has its own multi-sport modes that come in handy for serious athletes. It has Triathlon mode that records data from swimming, cycling, and running. It even calculates your personal transition time from one activity to the next.

If you’re into hiking, you’d be glad to know that the Watch GT 2 has a barometer to measure your altitude and a built-in compass to help you navigate your way and conquer the summit.

And for the cyclists out there, the watch provides an assessment of your trip — including calories burned, speed, and accumulative climbing and falling during the ride.

Whether running a course, hiking up a mountain, or setting a personal record on your bicycle, this smartwatch can track your location and route with GPS. This way, you have precise positioning anywhere you go to give you better feedback about your activities.

Battery life

Just like its previous model, the Watch GT 2 claims a 2-week battery life even with heart rate monitor running 24/7. And just like the first iteration, it still delivers the same performance and that alone is a feat not commonly seen on other smartwatches.

Charging is done through a proprietary magnetic dock and it takes about an hour to hour and a half to completely charge the watch. Although because of its lengthy life, I sometimes forget that I need to charge it and I get surprised when I see the battery warning. It’s a good problem to have, really.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

In terms of features, I wouldn’t disagree that the Huawei Watch GT 2 is armed to the teeth. You have all your trackers that know exactly what you do, where you are, and even how long your nap was. But then again, just like in our previous review, we feel like it’s more of a fitness or activity tracker than a smartwatch.

One of the main reasons we say this is that it still has the same issue as before about pairing with a smartphone. Sometimes it gets disconnected so notifications don’t push through the watch so you miss certain messages or calls. It’s supposed to notify the user of phone calls and alarms, and it wasn’t always the case during our time with it.

So ask yourself: Do you need a helpful tracker so you have a full overview of your performance in one glance? Because this watch certainly delivers in that aspect. Whether you’re a casual runner or a dedicated athlete, you’ll have access to your records complete with sound advice and tips to ultimately meet your goals.

Plus, it wins in the design aspect — being able to live two lives as a sporty companion and a compatible pair for your formal events. Just change the watch face, swap in some alternative straps, and you’re good to go!

 

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