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ASUS ZenFone 3 Laser review

ASUS ZenFone 3 Laser review

by Bailey SteinMarch 8, 2017

With their latest refresh to the ZenFone lineup, ASUS is offering consumers several different options to choose from. We already reviewed the ZenFone 3 Deluxe and ZenFone 3, and have also covered the more recent and less traditional ZenFone 3 Zoom and ZenFone AR.

Now, we’re taking a look at ASUS’ entry-level ZenFone 3 Laser. So does the ASUS ZenFone 3 Laser bring enough to the table to stand out from competing options? Let’s find out with our comprehensive ASUS ZenFone 3 Laser review!

Design

What’s perhaps most interesting about the third generation of ZenFones is ASUS’ sudden departure from their past design language. When we thought about the ZenFone lineup previously, we thought of metallic plastic, ergonomic curves, and rear-facing volume buttons, features which were showcased excellently on the ZenFone 2 Laser.

Unlike its predecessor, the ZenFone 3 Laser is constructed of an aluminum body with plastic top and bottom caps, presumably to help with wireless reception. We’ve seen designs quite similar to this countless times in the past, but it remains difficult to ignore the high-quality in-hand feel of aluminum.


While the rear curve isn’t as dramatic nor ergonomic as it was in the past, we’re happy to see this bring the replacement of practically awkward slim side edges with larger curved side continuations of aluminum, which makes the phone easier to grip, especially with a single hand.

It’s not just the materials and shaping that make this a nice design, however, as other components like the satisfyingly tactile side buttons and seemingly engraved antenna lines are also quite nice. Of course, there are some minor compromises too, like the three capacitive navigation keys, which are ugly and do not illuminate. The rear camera hump can also be annoying when using the phone on a flat surface. Still, this design is well on par with what we expect to see from an entry-level device.

The Zenfone’s reader is in the form of a tall rectangular cutout

ASUS has placed a fingerprint reader on the back of the Zenfone 3 Laser, just below the camera module. Unlike traditional circular fingerprint readers, however, the Zenfone’s reader is in the form of a tall rectangular cutout. In fact, the Zenfone 3 lineup seems to be the first to feature this unique design. With that said, we didn’t notice a difference in speed nor accuracy when using the phone; overall, the reader performs well enough for the price.

Display

For the display, we’re looking at a respectable 5.5″ 1080P IPS panel coated in Corning Gorilla Glass 3. Color reproduction is great, viewing angles are decent, and the display is generally fairly good. It’s worth mentioning that you’ll be hard-pressed to find something significantly better at this price. With that said, we still have some notable criticisms.

Our biggest complaint has to do with maximum brightness, as it can be frustratingly difficult to use the phone outdoors. The auto brightness feature also tends towards lower settings, effectively requiring manual input for appropriate levels. ASUS has consistently failed to impress us in display brightness, and it’s a shame that the Zenfone 3 Laser continues that trend.

A much more insignificant issue, but surely a point of contention, is the black border around the display. Evidently, this grinds gears for people at varying levels, so we’ll keep this as objective as possible: the borders are reasonably small, unnoticeable day-to-day, but clearly don’t contribute to a stylish look. And with that, we’ll let you make your own judgements.

On a positive note, ASUS’ standard color customization options are included with the Zenfone 3 Laser. These options allow you to make adjustments to color temperature, enable a bluelight filter or “night mode,” or customize hue and saturation for a different look. These options are always nice to have, so we’re happy that ASUS has included them.

Performance


Although it’s not going to wow anyone with its benchmark scores, the Zenfone 3 Laser still performs well day-to-day. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 430 is, of course, an entry-level processor, but that hasn’t prevented ASUS from offering a well optimized experience. For example, some system animations have been sped up to give the illusion of a snappier device.

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Unfortunately, the Zenfone 3 Laser is only available with 2 GB of RAM, which is a major bottleneck when attempting to multitask. Consider this situation: you’re listening to some music on Spotify and would like to do a quick Google search. Unlike virtually every device with more memory, the Zenfone 3 Laser will likely stop your music once you load a webpage.

We would have liked for ASUS to step up its game here

This can be quite frustrating, but it’s important to keep in mind that many competing options also skimp on memory. Still, we would have liked for ASUS to step up its game here, especially considering ASUS launched the very first smartphone with 4 GB of RAM just a couple of years ago.

All things considered, the Zenfone 3 Laser is quite tolerable to use in the real world. It’s far from the best out there, but if you manage your expectations and recognize the compromise, this should be absolutely fine day-to-day.

Hardware

The ASUS Zenfone 3 Laser is an unlocked dual-SIM smartphone, meaning that you can use it with up to two different GSM carriers simultaneously. We rarely see this feature here in the U.S., so this could be a major selling point for some prospective buyers. Since it’s being sold officially, you can expect it to work with 4G LTE on both AT&T and T-Mobile, with support for band 12.

You can use the Zenfone with up to two different GSM carriers simultaneously

If you only plan on using one SIM card with the Zenfone 3 Laser, you can take advantage of the other slot’s microSD card expansion option, which supports cards up to 128 GB. For most users, however, the 32 GB of onboard storage should be enough.

Similar to many other options in this price range, the Zenfone 3 Laser does not include NFC, so you won’t be able to use tap-and-pay apps like Android Pay. Considering that over half of our readers polled said they used mobile payments at least occasionally, this is a pretty big omission. Combined with a lack of support for 802.11ac, it’s understandable how ASUS was able to keep the phone’s price down.


Don’t throw away your existing wired headphones just yet, as the Zenfone 3 Laser includes a 3.5mm headphone jack. This is still wonderful to have, and although the output volume is slightly low, many users will appreciate not having to make a transition to alternative options.

Sadly, we were very disappointed with the Zenfone 3 Laser’s speaker. I have personally reviewed over fifty (primarily entry-level) smartphones, and I can say with complete certainty that this is one of the worst I have ever heard. It’s not only relatively quiet and distorted, but also flat and tinny. Audio quite frankly sounds awful with the Zenfone 3 Laser, so you’ll definitely want to keep your headphones close.

Battery Life


The ASUS Zenfone 3 Laser is packing a 3000mAh battery, which translated to excellent battery life during our testing. Even when using the phone for more than twenty-four hours, we were still able to achieve over four and a half hours of screen on time. When we used the phone more heavily, we were still able to achieve twelve hours of use with six and a half hours of screen on time.

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Although the Snapdragon 430 can support Quick Charge 3.0, ASUS has failed to implement it, meaning that you’ll be stuck with some relatively slow charging speeds. The charging port is also a reminder that microUSB is still a thing, despite the newer USB Type-C standard largely taking over the Android smartphone market. We do understand that some users do not want to make the transition, so we’ll let you decide whether this is an advantage or drawback.

Camera

The Zenfone 3 Laser’s 13 MP f/2.0 camera captures images that are about average in terms of quality. Excellent cameras are pretty much unheard of at this price, so we can forgive many of the shortcomings here.

We can forgive many of the shortcomings here

ASUS Zenfone 3 Laser camera samples