Asus Zenfone 3 Deluxe review

This is the Zenfone 3 you want – now with Android Oreo

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Specs and performance

  • 6GB of RAM keeps more than 30 apps open without slowdown
  • Power & Boost app quickly shuts down memory-eating apps
  • A few cheaper Android rivals that prove to be faster in our tests

The Asus Zenfone 3 Deluxe specs – not the display – are what really pop. Its performance nearly matches the Google Pixel and Pixel XL, even though Asus runs the older Snapdragon 820 chip.

Its 6GB of RAM gives you more breathing room to open apps and multitask without lag. It's quick all around, even with the weighty Asus-themed Android Oreo (it launched with Android 6.0 Marshmallow but the got the update in March 2017. 

Asus's software skin makes it obvious that it’s is geared to powers users. They’ll go OCD on the Power & Boost app that’s right on the home screen and instantly frees up memory to really juice up this phone’s performance.

That said, there’s little reason to need 6GB of RAM on a phone right now. We also found that a few phones with 4GB  of RAM beat the Zenfone 3 Deluxe in our benchmarking tests.

Zenfone 3 Deluxe was so close to breaking the 4,000 score ceiling when we tested its four-core processor through the Geekbench 4 benchmarking app, averaging a 3,946 multi-core score.

The Snapdragon 821 version does more than that with 5,000-plus multi-core scores. It beats the power Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge (non-US Exynos edition) in raw tests.

Fitting in between these two scores are the OnePlus 3 (3,898), Google Pixel (4,030), OnePlus 3T (4,313), Samsung Galaxy S7 US edition (4,635), Honor 8 (5,207) and ZTE Axon 7 (5,393).

What’s surprising is that cheaper phones like the ZTE Axon 7 and Honor 8 are able to beat the Zenfone 3 Deluxe in our tests. The good news is that this handset feels snappy enough outside of Asus’s sometimes overbearing interface.

Apps and interface

  • Asus once again fills its phone with loads of customizations
  • It has too many useless apps and an awful default keyboard
  • Updated to Android 7.0 Nougat in March from Marshmallow

That may not matter to you because Google’s mobile operating system has been reshaped by the minds at Asus, giving power-hungry users access to all sorts of new apps and menus.

The interface can be overbearing, as good as the intentions. In addition to the Power & Power app to clear memory right from the home screen, we dig the customization options.

Asus has consistently put Android customizations at your thumb tips, so you can tinker with the home screen without rooting or diving too deeply into the system settings.

This is more than updating the wallpaper and adding widgets. You can get down to editing icon sizes and their alignment, altering scroll effects and changing font sizes. It can look messy if you’re not up to spending a little of timing learning the software’s many ins and outs.

The Zenfone 3 Deluxe is choke full of unnecessary apps, too: Do It Later, FM Radio, Laser Ruler, MiniMovie, PhotoCollage, QuickMemo, Share Link and Splendid to name a few.

That’s not the entire default app roster either. Some are moderately helpful: AudioWizard, File Manager, Mobile Manager, ZenCricle, ZenFone Care, ZenTalk and MyAsus Service Center.

Some are doubles of Google apps you probably already have: Calculator, Clock, Contacts, Sound Recorder, Weather, Flashlight and Backup. It spans three pages in the app drawer.

While most of these can be uninstalled, until you do that, they’ll all want to update periodically and that really taxes both your phone’s resources and cellular bandwidth.

Here’s another way Asus wants to be too helpful for its own good: the Zenfone 3 Deluxe has what may be the world’s worst default Android keyboard. 

The keyboard is cramped with so many options that it ends up with ridiculously small keys. If you don’t immediately switch to the way-better Google keyboard, you probably work for Asus and deserve the employee of the month award – every month.

Call quality and reliability

Zenfone 3 Deluxe is an overachiever when it comes to Android tweaks and camera modes, but it misses out on too many simple tasks, like making clear phone calls.

The earpiece is really to blame, as the speakerphone improved call quality a little bit on our end. But switching the same SIM card to other phones always allowed us to hear our callers better. 

You should also know ahead of time that the Zenfone 3 Deluxe uses a micro SIM card, which is a larger SIM than the nano SIM card used by almost every other Android phone these days. We had to get a SIM card adapter on Amazon to make it work.

The other reliability concern we ran into had to do with the fingerprint sensor. The oddly shaped rectangular pad only recognized us quickly when our fingers stuck the landing. It’s too small and narrow to be consistent and it lead to a bunch of frustrating rejections. 

Movies, Music and Games

  • Big, bright display makes casual movie-watching feasible on a phone
  • Advanced audio’s usefulness is limited from a mono speaker
  • Headphone jack is here – albeit at the top of the phone

The expansive 5.7-inch Zenfone 3 Deluxe screen makes watching movies and playing games a worthwhile experience on a phone. The Super AMOLED display really shines – in the right way.

Unlike the duller Zenfone 2 screen with Gorilla Glass 3, Asus upgraded its phone with a brighter panel and Gorilla Glass 4, making way for easier to view in all sorts of environments and angles.

When it comes to listening to music and other multimedia, the Zenfone 3 has Hi-Fi audio and the speaker gets plenty loud. That doesn’t help the fact that it still uses a mono speaker.

There’s a lot of high-end audio tech behind the phone, with Asus touting a five-magnet speaker and the 192kHz/24-bit standard that’s supposed to be four times better than CD quality.

It sounds good at all but the highest levels, at which not even high-resolution audio can save some TV shows and movies when it tends to also amplify background noise and distortion.

Bonus points for including a headphone jack, but not as much as it could have had – the jack is at the top of the phone. That makes is inconvenient when watching something on the screen and a wire is dangling in the way.

Matt Swider