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ASUS Zenfone 3 Ultra Review: Is That Gigantic Screen Worth It?

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Phablets are here to stay and despite the ergonomic drawbacks of phones with big screens, people still buy them. The allure of big screens have always driven manufacturers to make bigger and bigger phones. ASUS takes that logic to the extreme, which has resulted in a device that’s more tablet than phone. The Zenfone 3 Ultra is undeniably one of the biggest phones that you’ll ever set your eyes on, but is its big screen enough to compensate for its gargantuan size and premium price tag?

Read: ASUS Zenfone 3 Ultra Unboxing and Initial Review

ASUS Zenfone 3 Ultra

  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 652 octa-core processor
  • 4GB of RAM
  • 6.8-inch full HD display, Gorilla GLass 4, 1920 x 1080 resolution
  • 64GB of storage, expandable via microSD
  • 23-megapixel rear camera with f/2.0 aperture lens, laser AF, PDAF, OIS, dual LED flash
  • 8-megapixel front camera with f/2.0 lens
  • Dual SIM
  • 3G, LTE
  • WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, Fingerprint Scanner, USB Type-C
  • 4600mAh battery

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Almost as big as a tablet, and as ergonomic as a brick

It’s hard to convey in photos, but the Zenfone 3 Ultra is huge. There’s few phones out in the market right now that’s capable of eclipsing the size of Samsung’s Galaxy A9 Pro, but the this phone is one of them. With an overall size of 186.4 x 93.9 x 6.8, it’s one of the biggest phones we’ve ever handled. And because of that size, it’s as ergonomic as a brick. One handed use is almost impossible, since the phone’s width is almost 4 inches. Two handed use is the way to go with this phone for sure – it’s sure to slip from your grasp if you try to one-hand it.

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Despite being a humongous phone, the ZF3 Ultra looks good. The body is milled from aluminum, though ASUS didn’t bother with ergonomic curves on the back for better handling – what would be the point? There’s a slight chamfer on the edges of the frame, and the corners are rounded just like most smartphones today. You’ll see the volume rocker on the rear of the phone, a throwback to their ZF2 rear key setup (and an acknowledgement of sorts of the size of the phone). The 21-megapixel camera and its laser AF and dual LED flash is tucked on the upper left side of the ZF3. Aside from that, the back of the phone is pretty bare – aside from the requisite logos on the middle and bottom of the phone, there’s not much to see.

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The ZF3 Ultra also sports the same invisible antenna design that’s present on the ZF3 Deluxe. The only visible parts of the antenna are the two white strips on the top and bottom of the frame.

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The power button is located on the right side of the phone, at the middle of the frame. Its placement, along with the rear key setup, somewhat allows you to use the phone one handed but barely. Anybody without bigger than average hands will have a lot of trouble reaching for that rear volume key and power button one handed, and risks the phablet dropping to the ground if they attempt it.

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The bottom of the phone has the USB Type-C port and the dual speakers, while the top holds the 3.5mm jack. Moving on, you’ll see the two nano SIM slots, with one doubling as the microSD expansion slot. We’re a little confused why ASUS didn’t just include a seperate microSD slot since there’s more than enough space on the frame of the phone anyway.

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Moving on to the front, you’ll see the 6.8-inch full HD IPS display with Gorilla Glass 4 protection. Located right on top is the 8-megapixel front camera, LED notification light and the earpiece. Below the display is the physical home button where the fingerprint scanner sits, which is flanked by backlit Android navigation keys.

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The biggest appeal of the ZF3 Ultra is the display. Is it worth the extra bulk and size of the phone? It depends on your needs. Pixel density isn’t the best, since you’re stretching that 1920 x 1080 resolution across a surface that’s 6.8-inches diagonal, resulting in a ppi of just 324. But despite that, images look sharp, colors are vivid and rich and viewing angles are very generous. Sunlight legibility is great as well.

If that wasn’t enough, there’s also Tru2Life+ 4K TV-grade processor in the ZF3 Ultra, as well as VisualMaster 3.0. There’s also a Blur Free Motion feature that smoothens videos, which makes them feel like they’re running 60FPS.

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Solid performance all around

The ZF3 Ultra is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 652 mid-range processor, helped out by generous 4GB of RAM and 64GB of expandable storage. As far as performance goes, the ZF3 Ultra is very fast, and while it’s not powered by Qualcomm’s latest and greatest, the phone still felt plenty fast, and is easily able to play whatever game you desire on its spacious 6.8-inch display at max settings.

Just like ASUS’ other Zenfone 3s, the ZF3 Ultra has Android Marshmallow on board as well as their ZenUI overlay. And just like their other phones, the ZF3 Ultra has a massive amount of bloatware pre-installed. ASUS really needs to take a look at the software agreements that they have with other companies, and terminate them. If they can’t, we suggest that they make the bloatware optional, and ask users first if they really want those apps in the phone before they install them.

The ZF3 Ultra has the loudest speakers we’ve ever heard on a mobile device. Seriously, the dual speakers on the phablet is even louder that the ones that are in notebooks. ASUS also throws in a pair of high-end, Hi-Res Audio certified ZenEar in-ear headphones in the package as well if you don’t want to annoy people around you while playing or watching movies.

As for the rest of the package – there’s no issues at all when it comes to call connectivity and quality. GPS and LTE performance are spot on, no issues whatsoever.

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Good camera for a phone this size

We usually dismiss the cameras in phablets, since the whole point of the device is the bigger than normal display. Well, the one in the ZF3 Ultra is better than most, as the camera has most of the features present in the snapper inside the Zenfone 3 Deluxe. That includes the 23-megapixel rear camera with f/2.0 aperture lens, laser AF, PDAF, OIS and dual LED flash.

Capturing images is fast and easy, and the camera locked onto subjects quickly thanks to the multitude of focusing tech inside. Image quality is good, though we did see blown highlights in some of the photos. You’ll see a bit of grain in low-light photos, but that’s not really surprising. All in all the camera in the ZF3 Ultra is more than enough for casual snappers.

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Battery life is good, but we were expecting more

With a phone the size of the ZF3 Ultra, you’d expect it to pack quite a hefty battery. Unfortunately, that’s not the case – yes the 4600mAh battery is substantially bigger than what’s on tap for most mobile devices, we feel that the phone could have packed in a little more. Consider its main big-screen rival, the Galaxy A9 Pro, which is substantially smaller but has a bigger 5000mAh battery pack inside.

PCMark’s battery benchmark gave us a result of just 9 hours and 31 minutes, which isn’t what we were expecting from the phone. That’s with the device on medium brightness settings, which is the standard that we use for all phones. That battery performance certainly is surprising, considering the big battery but then again the phone has to power a display that’s considerably larger than most phones out in the market today.

In normal use though the phone managed to stay alive for around a day and half on a single charge.

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Verdict: A multimedia phablet that’s not for everyone

The Zenfone 3 Ultra is the biggest phablet that we’ve ever encountered so far this year, and its size is both its strength and weakness. On the upside, the phones huge display is a boon for people who watch a lot of movies and play games on the go. The downside is that it’s difficult to use as a daily driver, even if you have big hands. Its price too, is a limiting factor – at Php 32,995, it’s already going up against high-profile flagships that have better (but smaller) displays with nicer cameras and features.

John Nieves

John is a veteran technology and gadget journalist with more than 10 years of experience both in print and online. When not writing about technology, he frequently gets lost in the boonies playing soldier.

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4 Comments

  1. If the battery can survive for a day at least without wanting and rushing to the wall socket, that’s good enough for me. But its price is a deal breaker.

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