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ASUS Zenfone 3 ZE552KL Unboxing And Initial Review: Bring On The Hype

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Around a month ago we visited ASUS’ home country of Taiwan to witness the announcement of their new Zenfone 3 family, including the Zenfone 3, the Zenfone 3 Ultra and the Zenfone 3 Deluxe. Since we already published our hands-on of the three new devices (with video), all that was left for us to do was wait for the retail version of the phones to arrive.

And our prayers have been answered, sort of. Roughly two weeks before the official release of the new Zenfones in the market, ASUS sent us the retail version of the Zenfone 3, complete with packaging. Today we’ll be taking a look at what the phone comes with when you buy it from stores, and take a looksie at what has changed in the design since we last saw it in Taipei.

ASUS Zenfone 3 ZE552KL specs:

  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor
  • 4GB RAM
  • 5.5-inch full HD IPS display, Corning Gorilla Glass protection, 2.5D glass, 1920 x 1080 resolution
  • 64GB of expandable storage
  • 16-megapixel rear camera, Sony IMX298 sensor, f/2.0 aperture, 4-axis OIS, 3-axis EIS, 6 element largan lens, laser AF, phase detection AF, continous focus
  • 8-megapixel front camera, f/2.0 aperture
  • 3G, LTE
  • Dual-SIM
  • WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, A-GPS, Fingerprint scanner, USB Type-C
  • Android 6.0 Marshmallow
  • 3000mAh battery

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Packaging and contents:

ASUS didn’t just change the design philosophy for their new batch of Zenfones, transitioning from plastic to metal and glass – they’ve also changed the look of the packaging of their newest devices. Gone is the bright colored boxes with the photo of the phones in the front and cutouts in the side that show you the features, replaced by a very minimalist and elegant black box with gold lettering in the front.

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Once you open the box, you’ll see the phone inside, along with the requisite user manuals, headphones with spare silicone tips, a USB charger and a USB Type-C cable.

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Initial impressions: as beautiful as we remmebered it, but bloatware is back, with a vengeance

The examples we were able to handle of the Zenfone 3 back in ASUS’ home country were more or less engineering units. As with any engineering unit, they gave you a good idea of what the final product would be, but lacked the polish of the final product. In our case, the phones lacked the final Gorilla glass backing and didn’t have a functioning fingerprint scanner (at least for one of the models) that the retail examples would come to possess.

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That’s no longer the case with the phone that ASUS sent over though. The 5.5-inch variant that we have in our hands is simply stunning to look at. ASUS has forgone the less than premium plastic exterior of the previous generation for metal and glass, and it absolutely looks lovely. Both front and the back of the phone sport Gorrilla Glass panels, sandwiching the lovely metal frame of the device. The traditional Zen-inspired chin of the previous iteration is no more, though the phone still has a small chin at the bottom that houses the physical Android navigation keys.

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The power and volume rockers have been moved to the right side of the phone, which means there’s no longer a rear key at the back. That’s been replaced by a long rectangular fingerprint scanner. The 16-megapixel rear camera has a slight bump which means the phone won’t lie flat on a table, unfortunately. Rounding off the physical features, the USB Type-C connector is located on the bottom, while the 3.5mm jack is on top.

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Overall the phone’s design is a massive improvement over its plastic predecessor. Probably our only complaint is that the phone doesn’t have a curved back, which makes it a little akward to hold one handed.

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Our review sample is the ZE552KL, which is the bigger 5.5-inch version that has 4GB of RAM and 64GB of expandable storage, along with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 625 processor. The display looks great, and is capable of up to 500nits of brightness, making it easily readable under the noon sun. While the full HD resolution pales in comparison to the QHD panels of other phones, it’s still a great display to look at, with the thin bezels giving the phone a 77.3% screen to body ratio.

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Like we said earlier the phone sports Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 625 processor, along with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of expandable storage. The smaller 5.2 variant has 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, as well as a smaller 2800mAh battery compared to the 3000mAh one in the 5.5-inch model. The SD625 is a curious processor since this is the first time we’ve ever gotten our hands on it. In AnTuTu the phone managed to score 56828, which is good enough considering the devices’ mid-range target.

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Just when we thought ASUS came to their senses regarding pre-installed software (AKA bloatware), they’ve managed to pre-load the Zenfone 3 with all manner of useless junk that most of us would probably uninstall. This is probably the worst part of the Zenfone experience, and while the phone’s hardware is more than enough to ensure the phone powers through all of the RAM-eating software that comes with it, we really hoped that they would calm down already when it came to bloatware. Oh well.

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Right now there’s no pricing yet for the Zenfone 3 – we’ll all know that when the Zenfone 3 along with its other siblings once the Philippine launch on August 14 comes along.

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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