Hands on: Asus Zenfone 3 Deluxe review

This is the Zenfone 3 you want

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Our Early Verdict

Asus Zenfone 3 Deluxe is a much better Android phone than its predecessor thanks to its full metal body design and industry-leading specs. It'll take more testing to see if the 6GB of RAM and new 23MP camera truly amount to a better phone.

For

  • 6GB of RAM onboard
  • Slick antenna-less metal design
  • Starts at 64GB of storage

Against

  • Unclear how it uses the 6GB of RAM
  • 1080p display unfit for VR
  • Single, bottom-firing speaker

Update: The Asus Zenfone 3 Deluxe is now available in the US, and it's the souped-up version of the Android phone with 6GB of RAM you want. It also has the Snapdragon 821 chipset, in line with the new Google Pixel, Google Pixel XL and OnePlus 3T. Check back for our full review soon.

Original hands-on review follows below.

Zenfone 3 Deluxe represents a major upgrade to Asus' spelling-challenged smartphone series with a component design and specs you won't find on any other Android today.

The phone is making a name for itself with 6GB of RAM. All but one (the OnePlus 3) of the best phones in 2016 so far top out at just 4GB of RAM. You should be able to open more apps on its 5.7-inch display without slowdown.

Yes, the ZTE Axon 7 has a 6GB of RAM variant, but it wasn't shown off at its Beijing launch event next to its still-very-promising 4GB version. I could test the Asus Zenfone 3 at Computex 2016.

It also debuts the Snapdragon 821 processor, starts with 64GB of internal storage (going up to 256GB) and includes a 23MP camera, all of which are impressive numbers on paper. It'll just miss Android Nougat, but does run Android 6.0 Marshmallow. Note: the Snapdragon 820 will still be around for a cheaper price.

But do these Asus Zenfone 3 Deluxe specs compute into anything meaningful? The Taiwanese release date is set for the end of July, while the US release date isn't for several weeks, according to Asus. So I went hands on with the forthcoming phone while in Taipei, Taiwan to determine more in the meantime.

Design

The Asus Zenfone 3 Deluxe is being touted as the world's first full-metal unibody phone with an invisible antenna design, and that's technically true.

Asus Zenfone 3 Deluxe review

It beats Apple's iPhone 7, rumored to be anti-antenna lines too, by three months, and the new LG G5 has a gap meant for modular add-ons; it isn't really unibody. Samsung Galaxy S7 is made of glass.

That leaves the Zenfone 3 Deluxe to steal some thunder with a sleek look of its own. I like the full-metal body and the seamless unibody design, and the invisible antenna lines are a nice perk.

What's more important to me than any of that, though, is the fact that the phone does away with the plastic that made last year's Zenfone 2 design downright unlikable. I dug the specs and the software customization, but it felt cheap. Like, not even good plastic. This new design begins to right that wrong.

Asus Zenfone 3 Deluxe review

It measures 156.4 x 77.4 x 7.5 mm, which doesn't make it as thin as the Nexus 6P (7.3mm thin), but it's close and, when testing it, it felt better than the thicker, non-Deluxe Zenfone 3 (7.7mm thin).

The power button and volume rocker are now on the right side (instead on of the back), but there's an oddly shaped rectangular fingerprint sensor on back. You don't actually press it in. There's still capacitive soft buttons for home, back and recent on the front, going against the trend of using purely on-screen buttons. I tend to like my buttons always being at the ready like this and not sometimes vanishing at the worst possible moments.

Asus Zenfone 3 Deluxe review

A slight camera bump and top-mounted headphone jack

I had a big problem with Zenfone 2's top-mounted power button, which I described as "squishy." I'm happy to report than while the Zenfone 3 Deluxe side-mounted buttons feel a bit shallow, they're at least clicky. This is all the more important now because the Deluxe camera can be launched by hitting the volume down button twice when the phone is asleep.

Like a lot of phones in 2016, it pivots to USB Type-C, sticks with one speaker (but of course promises stellar audio, according to the company's marketing efforts) and comes in three colors: Titanium Gray, Glacier Silver and Sand Gold.

Display

Asus Zenfone 3 Deluxe has a spacious 5.7-inch screen that competes with the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 in size. Even more relevant, I fully expect the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 to be the same size, too.

Its large Super AMOLED panel takes on a 79% screen-to-body ratio. That means less bezel on the sides and more screen space to work with. The capacitive buttons on the bottom do eat into significant screen space.

Asus Zenfone 3 Deluxe review

A better screen, but still 1080p

Under the Computex lighting, it also appears to be brighter, fixing be biggest issue I had with the Zenfone 2. Taking last year's phone outside snap photos was a headache due to its dull screen; I couldn't see what I was shooting and just hoping the photos turned out okay (they didn't, last year's camera was also mediocre).

I'll have to test it outdoors in a full Zenfone 3 review soon, but the brightness seems to have been ratchet up thanks to the new AMOLED display.

Asus Zenfone 3 Deluxe review

Clearly still a prototype, as you'll read I was reminded of on the next page

What remains, though, is the same is 1080p resolution. You won't find a pixel-dense quad HD (aka 2K) panel like the Android rivals that Asus is trying its best to mimic. That new Snapdragon 821 processor sports 4K displays, but this one is far from that spec.

I'm okay with Full HD 1080p displays on phones of this size, but the company does appear to be working on an Asus VR headset.

As I experienced with the Huawei VR headset, 1080p can be problematic when the screen is sitting two inches from your face.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Matt Swider is TechRadar's gadget-savvy, globe-trotting mobile editor in Los Angeles. As an expert in iOS and Android, he owns over 120 phones that someone keeps setting the alarms on – simultaneously. He received his journalism degree from Penn State University and is never seen without his TechRadar headphones.

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.

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