Asus is making a serious push in India with its new Zenfone series of smartphones, packaging good hardware for attractive prices. The Zenfone 5 especially looks like a winner, as we found in our full review. But is bigger better?
Specs: 6″ IPS touchscreen (1280×720 pixels, 245ppi) with Gorilla Glass 3 | 1.6GHz Dual-core Intel Atom Z2580 processor | 2GB RAM | 16GB internal memory, expandable microSD slot up to 64GB | 13MP rear camera with LED flash, 2MP front camera | Dual-SIM (GSM+GSM) | 3G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, microUSB 2.0 | 3300mAh battery | Android 4.3 (upgradable to Android 4.4 Kit Kat) with Zen UI
Price: Rs. 16,999
With a big screen, the Asus Zenfone 6 is naturally a behemoth. You can hold it in one hand, but you can’t use it with just one hand—no matter how much Asus wants to make that easier with a built-in one-handed mode that shrinks the screen. The matte finish on the back lets you get a good grip, but for most people it’s going to be too big to hold naturally. You better have big hands if you want to use this one.
In terms of how it looks, the Zenfone 6 looks good but not especially striking. Then again, there’s nothing about it that’s an eyesore either. Sometimes, non-descript isn’t such a bad thing.
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The 6-inch screen is the main feature of the Zenfone 6 and the reason anyone would want to consider it. It displays accurate colors, has decent viewing angles, and you’ll be able to view it clearly in direct sunlight too. If there is a complaint, it would be the resolution: if you’re coming from a screen with a higher resolution, you’ll notice that text doesn’t appear as sharp in the Zenfone. It’s not a deal-breaker though and it’s only while reading text that you notice it. But again, with a 6-inch device, you are looking to get a little bit of the tablet experience, so reading is an important part of it.
Asus claims you can use any pencil or most pens as a stylus with the Zenfone 6, but there are lots of caveats in that. You need to use it at a certain angle to register the input perfectly; you need to not press any other part of the screen with your hand; you need to go slow, it can’t take really fast input without the screen lagging far behind what you’re doing. It’s just not a good experience.
The Zenfone 6 is up to most tasks that you throw at it, from quick multi-tasking to playing high-definition games. It plays movies smoothly, but its built-in “SonicMaster” technology boosts deeper tones. It’s great when you’re listening to a thumping track, but not for movies with a lot of explosions and dialogues at the same time.
The 13MP sensor captures clear, detailed photographs that are good enough for most uses. We noticed that reds were duller than what we saw with the naked eye, but that’s a small miss. While we were impressed with the Zenfone 5’s camera and its night mode capabilities, that doesn’t seem to replicate on the Zenfone 6. You do have a special night mode for shots to be taken in the dark, but the amount of noise in them is a put-off.
With 12.5GB of memory available to the user and the ability to add a microSD card, there is no complaining about the storage here.
Asus has developed a custom user interface for the Zenfone series called the Zen UI. It includes a lot of gimmicks and small additions, like an enhanced lock screen with shortcuts to popular apps and a heads-up display for notifications, a “quick memo” app to draw and take notes with your finger, a scheduler to tell you what’s next on your agenda, and much more. None of it is something you can’t find on the Play Store, but it’s nice to have it built-in. Most importantly, it’s good-looking and doesn’t feel like a bloated addition—it actually makes you use the phone better.
However, none of the software really aims to make you take advantage of the 6-inch screen. Bigger space should ideally mean you get to do more with it, like Samsung’s TouchWiz UI for its stylus, but Asus hasn’t taken any significant step in that direction. So what’s the point of a 6-inch screen then?
The one software tweak that Asus has got right, and which you can’t easily replicate on your phone, is PC Link. Download PC Link on your computer, connect your phone to it via a USB cord, and your phone will be mirrored on the PC. It’s fantastic, and enough of a differentiator to be worth it alone. You can operate your phone from your PC directly then. Granted, a keyboard and mouse are not as smooth an experience, but if you want to have a long conversation with someone over text message or Whatsapp, this is the super easy way to do it!
The 3300mAh battery isn’t replaceable, even though you can remove the back cover. However, there’s little need to do that. It easily lasts a day for most users, and even for power users, you can get around 16-18 hours on a single charge. It ran for 9 hours of pure video playback.
There are some problems with the Asus Zenfone, but if you’re in the market for a 6-inch phone, then it’s a good purchase. It gets it right in the things that matter: a good screen, good battery life, good performance. The extra internal memory helps and the PC Link app is the cherry on top.
That said, there is the bigger question of why you would want a phone that you can’t use with one hand. Asus offers no stylus and no compelling software to get the most out of that 6-inch screen. Don’t get caught up in the numbers—this phone might be too big for you, in which case, there are better options like the Xiaomi Mi3 and the Asus Zenfone 5, the latter of which has all of these features and a better camera in a smaller package for just Rs. 10,000.