ASUS ZenFone 3 ZE552KL Review – the Best 5.5-inch Midrange Phone Right Now [Video]

The ASUS ZenFone 3 ZE552KL is the only midrange 5.5-inch spec’d phone with an impressive mix of physical build, tactile feel, stylish looks, camera image and video quality, multitasking speed, and gaming performance with a sub-20k price tag. Don’t let the midrange Snapdragon 625 CPU fool you, the ZenFone 3’s smooth performance, from experience, is indistinguishable from flagships’. If you want a gaming phone that shoots awesome food shots, low light portraits, selfies, and 4K video but with a 14-hour battery life and in a premium glass on glass body that turns heads, get the ZenFone 3.

Now, the price of the ZenFone 3 is higher than that of the ZenFone 2, but we think that given all that you get for P19k, the price is worth it.

Above: Sample low light evening shot – moonlight and a distant lamppost were the only sources of illumination. 

Here’s a rundown of what we liked and what could be improved. (Scroll down for our video review and camera shot samples if you’re in a hurry.) But first, the specs.

ASUS ZenFone 3 ZE55KL 5.5-inch Full Specs

5.5-inch Full HD (1920 x 1080) IPS LCD display, 401 ppi with 2.5D Curved Glass, Corning Gorilla Glass 4
2.0GHz Octa-Core Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor | 4GB RAM
Adreno 506 graphics
64GB internal storage, up to 256GB via via MicroSD
16MP Rear Camera with TriTech Autofocus system, 4-axis OIS, 3-Axis EIS and dual LED Flash
8 MP Front Camera with Wide Angle Lens
3,000 mAh battery with Fast Charging Technology, USB Type C
Android 6.0 Marshmallow with ZenUI 3.0
4G/LTE, WiFi, Bluetooth, Rear Fingerprint Scanner
Dual SIM (one slot for micro SIM or micro SD)
Comes in Sapphire Black, Moonlight White, and Shimmer Gold
Price: P18,995

To see what’s in the box, check out our unboxing and first thoughts. Here we go.


The Surely Good

Premium build though and through

You can see in the slider above and in our unboxing and our full review video below, the ZenFone 3 is worlds away from the plastic body design of the ZenFone 2. A full-on metal body may have been sturdy but not necessarily stylish. Glass on glass seemed to the right approach instead of, say, a polycarbonate build, if ASUS wanted to go premium. It’s not as slippery as it looks, though we noticed it’s something of a fingerprint magnet.

Above: you can’t help but play games on a phone that won’t choke on graphic heavy titles, and is this comfy to use.

Awesome mutitasking and gaming performance

It’s not enough to say that we’ve installed on the ZenFone 3 some of the popular graphic heavy games on Android, loaded them one after the other, and switched between them and other apps, including streaming video (Netflix) and video saved in a Type C USB OTG flash drive.

You have to see the ZenFone 3 in action to believe it.

Here’s our stress test video.

Because of what you’ve seen in the video above, you’d know that benchmarks aren’t the measure of pleasure. But here are two anyway:

Calls are crisp on the ZenFone 3, by the way (the person on the other end of the line can hear me despite being in a noisy heap). And although the 64GB internal storage is hefty enough, you can still add more via the microSD card and even via a Type C USB OTG drive.

It needs to be said that the rear-mounted fingerprint sensor is flawless and super fast, with no issues at all. Although adding that feature in the ZenFone 3 line up is a first for ASUS, the implementation was spot on.


Best cameras on a ZenFone yet

It’s best to be precise about these things. The 16MP laser auto-focus rear camera is fast (capture speed, preview after taking a shot, and shot to shot speed), offers an intuitive and improved UI (but has deeper settings, including manual), doesn’t choke in low light scenes (it has Optical Image Stabilization and Low Light Mode), and offers 4K video. See sample shots and sample 4K video below.

Above: intuitive rear camera UI. Even without digging into deeper settings, the default auto mode gives amazing results.

The ZenFone 3 is one of the fastest, most versatile, and easiest to use camera phones we’ve used – we keep telling people we only add watermarks and resize the images, we don’t try to improve them.

Above: this was taken without choosing a focus point. We merely framed the shot and tapped on the shutter.

Photo above taken under medium to low yellowish lighting. Note that many parts of the dish are already yellow, and yet the ZenFone 3 handled the white balance well, without oversaturation.

The ZenFone 3 is also a great close up camera (macro), so foodies and pet lovers won’t be disappointed.

Above: portrait-orientation selfies: left side without beautification, right with default level beautification, which is just right: you don’t look too Photoshopped. 

The 8MP front camera delivers good selfies even in challenging lighting scenes – indoor yellowish restaurants, pubs with low blue or violet lighting, the ugly yellow light of lampposts.

And all these (above slider) were taken without adjusting anything in the front camera UI settings. Just frame the shot, smile, share online, and tag people.


ZenFone 3 4K Video Sample


ZenFone 3 Full HD Video Sample

Note though that only Full HD video and not 4K is supported by in-camera stabilization. Despite this, we’re happy with the results.


ASUS ZenFone 3 ZE552KL Video Review


Great display and audio plus 14-hour battery life make for a video marathon phone

Not only is the ZenFone 3 ZE552KL great for games, but it can serve as your video marathon hub – you’ll be glued to it at home, at work, on the bus, or during the long and surcharged Uber ride home. The 5.5-inch Full HD display delivers punchy colors, crisp details, and great side and vertical viewing angles. The speaker is adequately loud, so you can still make out dialogue even in a slightly noisy room. That’s great for sharing trailers and cat videos with friends.

The 14 hour battery life means you don’t have to worry about the phone dying by your fifth episode of Stranger Things.


The Maybe Bad

Non-backlit capacitive keys. But then the haptic feedback is enough, and, over time, you won’t miss seeing backlit capacitive keys at the phone’s chin.

Pricey compared to the previous ZenFone. Despite this, we think that the improvement leaps in build (from large-bezelled plastic body to thin bezelled glass on glass), camera output (crisper and more detailed shots, OIS, 4K video), gaming performance (the ZenFone 3 plays any game you throw at it, with no problems), added security via rear fingerprint sensor, noticeable refinement of the ZenUI, plus a Type C port and a 14-hour battery life all make that P19k price tag worth it.

Fingerprint and smudge magnet. The glass on glass design, while awesome to look at, requires wiping now and again. We never dropped our review unit, but if you have sweaty hands, we recommend a protective case that gives you some grip, and peace of mind.


The Verdict

If you want a 5.5-inch phone that rivals the premium build, gaming performance, and image and video quality of other flagship Androids, but at a midrange P20k price range, then you can’t go wrong with the ASUS ZenFone 3 ZE552KL (5.5 inch). It has no deal-breaking flaws.

Remember, there are already smartphones with better CPUs and benchmarks, like the P17k Vivo V3 Max and P12k Cherry Mobile M1 (deca-core). But neither offer the camera image and video quality, nor the stylish glass on glass build (the V3 Max is metallic and the M1 is plastic) that the ZenFone 3 offers.

With the design, performance, and camera output the ZenFone 3 offers, it’s getting hard to justify the P30k-and-up price tags of other smartphone flagships.

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Irwin Allen Rivera loves his wife's cooking so much he's now twice the man he used to be. His English essay won a Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Award for Literature in 2012. His philosophical-horror story appeared in Philippine Speculative Fiction 8 (2013). He was managing editor and lead writer of Sites and Symbols 2 (2005), a coffee-table book about buildings in UP Diliman - his alma mater (BA Philosophy; MA Creative Writing continuing). He worked at the UP Diliman Information Office before shifting to web content writing. His sudden fiction, "Notwithstanding Pigs," initially a Friendster testimonial, appeared in Philippines Graphic (2006) and in Very Short Stories for Harried Readers (2007). He used to write for