Overview
Introduction
Design
Display
Hardware
Software and apps
Camera
Audio and video
Performance
Battery
Conclusion
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ASUS ZenFone Selfie

The selfie phone whose rear camera grabs more attention than its front facing camera
By Ershad Kaleebullah on 2015-10-07
Key Features
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 chip
  • 13MP front and rear cameras
  • 3 GB of RAM
  • 3000mAh battery
What we like
  • Good display
  • Good rear camera performance
  • Decent battery life
What we don't like
  • Bulky design
  • Very clustered UI
  • Selfie Panorama mode is unintuitive
7.3
Our Score
Introduction

The word selfie has become ubiquitous so much so that today it is a part of the Oxford dictionary and is used in pop culture quite often. Have you heard the #Selfie song yet?

Traditional camera manufacturers have already started to come up with innovative methods like tilting the LCD screen to capture better selfies. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that phone companies too are going the same route with smartphones that have insanely powerful front cameras.

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Asus is the latest brand to jump this bandwagon. Its latest flagship device, the Zenfone 2, is now available in a selfie variant called the Asus Zenfone Selfie. It packs a powerful 13-megapixel front camera with dual-LED flash, a beautification feature, and a Selfie Panorama mode to accommodate more number of people in a single frame. Read on to find out what we think of this device.

Design
7

If you have seen the Asus Zenfone 2 and all of its variants, you will find that the Asus Zenfone Selfie also follows suit in terms of design. The only two differences in the ZenFone Selfie are the colourful back covers and the huge front camera with dual-LED flash. Talking about the colourful back covers, you get options such as Pure White, Chic Pink and Aqua Blue. Our Aqua Blue review unit looked really attractive and managed to grab some eyeballs.

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The problems that existed with the Asus ZenFone 2 continue to plague the ZenFone Selfie as well. For example, the power button is still placed on the top and considering the phone’s ergonomics it takes a bit of an effort to reach it. Thankfully, there is a software tweak that allows you to double tap the screen to put the screen to sleep or to wake it up. While it is easy to get used to this technique, we were left to wonder - why have the power button in the first place? Thankfully, the 170g weight of the phone is distributed evenly across the phone which makes it easy to hold. 

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The phone is made entirely of plastic with a strip of metal at the bottom. The rear of the device is curved which makes it easy to hold. For a phone with a 5.5-inch screen, the Zenfone Selfie is difficult to use with one hand because of its large bezels. Moreover, the volume rocker is present on the back as on LG’s flagship phones. This placement is slightly inconvenient to use initially, but one eventually gets used to it. 

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Along with the power button on the top, one can also find the 3.5mm audio port and a microphone. Another microphone, and a Micro-USB port are present at the bottom edge of the phone. The rear cover is removable, and underneath it you can find two Micro-SIM card slots and the battery compartment.

Display
8

The ZenFone Selfie has a 5.5-inch display with a resolution of 1080x1920, which translates to a pixel density of 403 PPI. The display is dense with pixels; the text looks crisp and images are vibrant. Despite being an IPS panel, the screen is rich with colours and it is easy to mistake it for a Super AMOLED display. 

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The blacks on this display are not very deep, but the whites are fairly neutral. The viewing angles are pretty good on this display, and so is the sunlight legibility. The display is protected by Corning’s Gorilla Glass 4 technology and Asus claims that it has a layer of oleophobic coating on top. However, we noticed that the screen was still susceptible to smudges.

Hardware
7

The ZenFone Selfie uses an octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 SoC which has an Adreno 405 GPU for graphics. This is unlike the hardware on the ZenFone 2, which uses an Intel chipset instead. The phone is available in two storage and RAM variants: one with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage and the other with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage. Asus also allows users to extend the storage to up to 128GB using an external microSD card. 

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As mentioned earlier, there are two 13-megapixel cameras. Both the cameras use a dual-LED flash for low light conditions and the rear camera uses an additional laser autofocus mechanism. The phone uses a Dual SIM setup and accepts two Micro-SIM cards. Both the SIM cards can connect to 4G networks. The other connectivity options include Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac,Wi-Fi Direct, and Bluetooth v4.0. The sensors on the phone include an accelerometer, gyroscope, proximity and a compass for GPS.

Software and apps
6

One of the reasons Samsung’s TouchWiz was criticised by many in the past is because a lot of bloatware came bundled in its software. Thankfully, Samsung pulled its socks up and TouchWiz is much better now. We are talking about Samsung and TouchWiz here because we are alluding to the fact that Asus seems to be following Samsung’s footsteps with ZenUI. Asus’ ZenUI is cluttered and full of bloatware. That said, we are glad that all this bloatware doesn’t pull down the niftiness of the UI. 

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The phone runs Android 5.1 Lollipop with Asus's in-house ZenUI on top. The lock screen offers shortcuts to the camera, phone and messaging apps. It also displays notifications. ZenUI also offers you the flexibility of either using the app drawer or not. The app drawer bunches together apps in appropriate folders. The notifications slider is a little too clustered with all the quick settings options. 

ZenUI also offers a One Hand Operation mode in which the screen can be resized to make it easier to use with one hand, as its name suggests. In a new update for the phone, Asus introduced a Power Saver app, which we thought was a little too intrusive because by default updates from this app kept popping up in between. While some might appreciate the flexibility that the software provides, we feel that it is unnecessarily crowded and could do with a little clean up.

Camera
6

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We are letting the cat out of the bag here by saying that the 13-megapixel front camera is an average performer at best. We captured many selfies in multiple scenarios and noticed that the 88-degree wide angle view of the front camera causes a lot of barrel distortion, and images look warped and unnatural. Focussing on the subject is also quite iffy at times. Furthermore, the software does a lot of processing to reduce noise and as a result causes smudging of details. The colours were on the natural side. Some might find it a little too bland for their taste, but we think it looked good.

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Using the volume rocker to capture an image feels intuitive but what feels really unintuitive and frustrating is the Selfie Panorama mode. We struggled to capture a single decent image using the Selfie Panorama mode because it was cumbersome to hold the device while using this feature. Additionally, the beautification mode can be used to enhance your pictures but in our opinion, this mode is just silly and fosters a culture of vanity. We aren’t fans of that feature. The dual-LED flash is a little too harsh in our opinion. 

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On the other hand, the rear camera was a revelation. While our sample images had some over-sharpening at many places, the colours produced were really good and there was no ungainly barrel distortion either. The camera managed to focus really fast, even in low light, thanks to the presence of laser autofocus module. The images captured in low light also had decent amount of details. 

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One can also use the dedicated Low Light mode to capture brighter than normal images, but do keep in mind that the image resolution is capped at 3-megapixels in this mode. The Depth of Field mode wasn't that impressive. There is also a Super Resolution mode, in which the camera stitches a few images together to capture a 38-megapixel image. The images captured using this mode looked nothing out of the ordinary. In our 1080p video sample, while the details were intact, we noticed that the edges were underexposed. 

Audio and video
8

The phone’s default music app has most of the features you’d expect and it does the job fairly well.  It has a fairly neat design as well. There is a radio app which allows you to tune in to the various radio stations. The loudspeaker is underwhelming as the sound doesn't go too loud and the quality of audio is not that great either. Asus doesn’t bundle earphones in the box, but the phone could power our reference earphones without any issue. The default video player could not handle the 4K videos we played. However, you can use a third-party app if you want to play 4K videos. That said, our 1080p sample videos played without skipping frames or interlacing.
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Performance
8

In daily usage, despite the presence of a bloated UI, the ZenFone Selfie didn't stutter too much and had a generally smooth performance. The Snapdragon 615 SoC is notorious for heating up, but we didn’t face any such issues with this phone even when we played graphically intensive games. We tried the new Need for Speed No Limits and Modern Combat 5 on the ZenFone Selfie, and both the games ran on medium graphics settings without skipping frames. We are not surprised with this performance because Asus phones are generally stable. For those who care about numbers, in our AnTuTu test the phone scored a respectable 35,627, which is what we’ve generally come to expect from phones using the Snapdragon 615 SoC. The ZenFone Selfie’s call quality was also impeccable and the earpiece is fairly loud. Moreover, we didn’t face a single call drop even in areas with high network congestion. asus_zenfone_selfie_review_cameraperformance

Battery
8

The 3000mAh battery inside the phone is a better-than-average performer. If you are a moderate user, you can expect the battery to easily last you a day. We were a bit more brutal with our usage just for testing purposes. Our review unit was constantly on 4G, we made at least two hours worth of calls, we played games for at least half an hour, and we spent an incessant amount of time on WhatsApp, Telegram and Facebook. All this was apart from running benchmark tests and some audio/video playback. Despite exerting such pressure on the battery, it managed to last us around 14 hours of use, which is not bad at all. Our only concern is that since there is no fast charging feature on this device, it takes a long time to charge. It took us almost 3 hours to charge from zero to 100.

Conclusion

The Asus ZenFone Selfie is a peculiar phone because unlike what its name suggests, the rear camera is actually what impressed us more. This is not to say we were expecting miracles from the front camera, but considering its powerful specifications we expected it to perform better. In fact, the Micromax Canvas Selfie that was launched earlier this year with a similar 13-megapixel front camera captures some really detailed self-portraits. 

Having said that, the phone by itself is a decent buy because it doesn’t disappoint in most other aspects. It is generally stable, gets most of the basics right, and doesn’t cost too much either. At Rs. 17,999, it is worthy of consideration. However, we really cannot recommend it for the selfie camera. If a phone with a powerful selfie camera is what you are looking out for, some other phones to consider in this price range would be the Nubia Z9 Mini, Xiaomi Mi 4i, and the Motorola Moto G (3rd Generation).

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