ASUS ZenFone Selfie review - How to take a better look at yourself?

Rating:
4 out of 5 stars

Whenever you think of ASUS, the first thing that comes into your mind might not be their line of smartphones. Although the Taiwanese electronics company is mostly known for their notebooks and computer hardware, they manufacture smartphones and tablets as well. We managed to get our hands on one of their latest mid-range smartphones, the ASUS ZenFone Selfie, an Android device created mostly for teens and the selfie-generation. Let's see how good a job ASUS did with this smartphone, in this review:

Hardware specifications and packaging

The smartphone comes in mostly standardized ASUS packaging: it is a white cardboard box, featuring the manufacturer's name, the smartphone's branding and some of its most important features printed on its side.

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The box slides open to reveal its most important contents: the smartphone itself. On a more personal note, I was a bit surprised upon opening the box, as I ha d not read anything about this smartphone before and, based on its name, I expected a much smaller device. It was a pleasant surprise to see a rather elegantly designed smartphone, with sleek curves and a rather large screen - it seems that buyers of mid-range devices are getting their share of quality as well, which is a welcome fact.

The ZenFone Selfie is available in Leather Black, Pure White, Chic Pink, Aqua Blue, Glacier Gray and Sheer Gold color variants - this is more than enough. We are sure that anyone can find a color he or she likes, whether they want a more playful, colorful variant or an elegant style is preferred. We had a Glacier Gray device for testing, which should appeal to almost everyone, as it is a more low-key color.

Under the smartphone and a cardboard lid, one can find the user's manual, a warranty slip, the charger head, a microUSB cable and a pair of wired headphones as well. The addition of the headsets is a very nice bonus, mostly because it's not very frequently seen along mid-range devices. And we're talking about in-ear ones with a set of additional earplugs as well - thanks for the bonus!

Regarding the smartphone's specifications, the ASUS ZenFone Selfie (also known by its model number, ZD551KL) has a huge, 5.5" IPS capacitive touchscreen with a resolution of 1080 x 1920 pixels and a pixel density of 403 ppi, all this protected with a Corning Gorilla Glass 4 oleophobic coating. This size makes the ZenFone Selfie more of a phablet than just a smartphone - if you have big hands, that's surely an advantage, when dealing with this baby.

The smartphone is 156.5 mm (6.16 in) tall, 77.2 mm (3.04 in) wide, has a thickness of 10.8 mm (0.43 in) and weighs 170 grams (6.00 oz).

Under the hood there is an octa-core Snapdragon 615 (MSM8939) chipset with two quad-core Cortex-A53 CPU's, each ticking at 1.7 GHz. This processing power is further enhanced by an Adreno 405 GPU with DirectX 11.2, OpenCL 1.2 and OpenGL ES 3.0 support. As for RAM, you can get 2 or 3 Gigabytes, depending on the exact model (we had one with 3 GB of memory), while the storage space can be 16 or 32 GB. Our test device has 32GB of storage space, with 24.88 GB being free for user data and additional applications. If that's not enough, the ZenFone Selfie has microSD support and you can install a memory card with a maximum of size of 128 GB.

The device also has two micro-SIM slots, working in dual standby mode, meaning that while you're talking on one SIM card, the other one is in standby, not able to receive calls. Both SIM slots support 3G and 4G networks as well, although only one can connect to these high-speed networks at a time. Still, it is especially good that both slots are 4G-compliant if you want to use a microSD card, as this needs to be inserted in the first SIM slot.

The smartphone's battery is a 3000 mAh Li-Polymer model, which is replaceable - this is something very rare with high-end smartphones and is hugely welcome here, as this way one can always have a backup battery, if need be.

Both the front and rear camera on the ZenFone Selfie have 5-prism Largan lenses, a resolution of 13 MP, Toshiba sensors, blue glass filters, and dual-tone LED flashes, the only difference being their aperture size: the rear camera has an f/2.0 aperture, while the front camera's aperture size is f/2.2 and also has an 88-degree wide-angle field of view.

As for connectivity, the smartphone supports 2G (EDGE/GPRS/GSM), 3G WCDMA (850MHz/900MHz/1900MHz/2100MHz) and 4G LTE networks, the theoretical maximum speeds being 5.76 Mbps for upload and 42 Mbps for download on HSPA+ and 50 Mbps for upload and 150 Mbps for download on LTE networks. The smartphone also has 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac WiFi support and can connect to both 2.4 GHz and 5GHz wireless networks. Besides a 4.0 Bluetooth module (with A2DP and EDR), the ZenFone Selfie has GPS, A-GPS and GLONASS support, an NFC chip, and a microUSB 2.0 port as well. Another feature that is disappearing from most smartphones nowadays is the FM radio - the Selfie has it and it works if you plug a headphone in the 3.5 mm jack port.

The full set of hardware specifications can be found here: ZenFone Selfie (ZD551KL) specifications.

The ASUS ZenFone Selfie's technical specifications reveal a solid mid-range device with some noteworthy bonuses that are not that frequently seen in this price category. Also, the small extras like the replaceable battery or the in-ear headphones make the smartphone an even better choice in the mid-range area.

Design and build quality

The ZenFone Selfie inherits most of its main design features from the ZenFone line of smartphones: this means an elegant and stylish look, with a rather minimalistic design pattern. The most obvious feature is of course the very large, 5.5" screen, which takes up most of the smartphone's front: this has a small frame, so there aren't many unused areas here.

Right above the screen is the 13 MP front camera, the signature feature of the ZenFone Selfie. This is of course unusually large for a front camera, which suggests a higher than usual image quality. The camera is supplemented by a dual-tone flash, and besides these we can also see the front speaker.

On the bottom of the front part, just below the screen, the smartphone has the default Android softkeys: the Back, Home and Recent Apps keys. We were very sorry to see that these don't have any backlight, which makes them much harder to use in low-light areas. Below the touch keys there is a brushed metallic finish, which is a nice addition to the design, and, just like in the case of the ZenFone 2 Laser , we would really like to see this finish on more parts.

The top edge of the device houses the power key - it is common to place it here, but due to the ZenFone Selfie being a rather large device, it might have been wiser to put the power key on one of the sides, as it can be a bit hard to reach it when using the smartphone in one hand. We can also see the 3.5 mm jack connector and a microphone near the key.

On the bottom of the device there is another microphone, accompanied by the microUSB 2.0 port that is used for connecting the Selfie to a computer and also for charging. The two sides are completely empty, although there is a small notch on the right, which you can use to take off the back panel.

While we're at the back panel: there is a prominent ASUS logo printed right on its middle, while the word Zenfone is on the bottom, just above the rather large back speaker. It's interesting to note that the brand name is spelled Zenfone on the device and the packaging, while it's written as ZenFone , with a capital F on the ASUS website.

The most important features of the back panel are in the topmost area, where we can see the 13MP rear camera, the dual-tone LED flash and the laser autofocus sensor. Below these we can see the volume keys, which are quite ergonomically placed and are easy to reach, but hard to press accidentally. Also, the rear camera is really close to them, you will surely be touching it a lot - keep a cleaning cloth at hand.

As for the smartphone's general build quality we need to praise the main screen: the Gorilla Glass 4 is great for keeping away scratches, and - surprisingly - the touchscreen is no fingerprint-magnet either. The IPS panel has decent contrast, very nice colors and a good viewing angle too.

The back panel has a curved design, which we really liked, as it sets it apart from many other, really flat smartphones, even though it makes the device a bit more bulky. The panel is made of medium quality plastic, has a matte finish and it looks a bit fragile, so we don't recommend taking it off, unless necessary. Aside from that, the device is rather well assembled, we couldn't really hear any squeaks or creaks while handling it.

The ASUS ZenFone Selfie has a good-looking and fairly unique design, specific of the ZenFone line. The materials used in the smartphone range from really good ones on the front to medium quality plastics on the back, but the overall impression is rather good, thanks to the device being properly assembled.

The smartphone experience on the ASUS ZenFone Selfie

When taking a mid-range smartphone into our hands, we usually tend to have some lowered expectations: mediocre screen quality, a bit slow or somewhat outdated software, lags here and there, not a very good camera and so on. Fortunately, the ASUS ZenFone Selfie fares much better in almost all areas of use.

First of all, let's see the display: the colors are very nice, not overly saturated like on many other manufacturers' devices, but more natural in a way. We might even say that the image quality is perfect: the high resolution and pixel ratio make the screen very good to look at, you might get the feeling that you're using a much higher priced smartphone.

As for speed, we really don't have very much to complain about. The Selfie had no problems in our day-to-day tasks, it wasn't sluggish at all: web browsing and apps were all performing well and we didn't experience major slowdowns. Sometimes, when browsing more complex websites, there was a noticeable, but not annoying lag during scrolling. Also, installing and updating apps took an unusually long time - this was quite strange, compared to the otherwise okay speed. There were no major stability issues, although the device once turned off unexpectedly - we don't know the reason for this, as it never happened again.

During calls the sound quality was good, but it was missing that certain crystal clear sound feeling you might expect when talking on 3G and 4G networks. This is more of a note than a complaint, as we always heard the other party perfectly, there were no volume problems and we were also heard well by others.

Connection to 2G and 3G networks worked flawlessly, but there were some places where the ZenFone Selfie didn't switch to 4G, although other devices did. When using it outside at even better 4G coverage, the smartphone had no problems connecting to the 4G network. It's good to know that both SIM slots support 4G LTE networks, so if you plan on using the first slot for a microSD card, you won't have to give up on using 4G.

An interesting bonus the smartphone offers is the ability to record calls. Although we have previously seen apps do that by putting all calls on the loudspeaker, the ZenFone Selfie actually records both talking parties without using the loudspeakers. This feature is probably very useful to journalists when making phone interviews, but it can be really handy for others too. However, keep in mind that in some countries you are obliged to notify the other party prior to recording a call.

We tried using navigation too, and the GPS module worked flawlessly: it connected rapidly, even when used indoors, and never lost connection. This, along with the really large screen, makes the ZenFone Selfie a good navigation companion.

Being a kind of multimedia-centered smartphone, one might expect awesome sound quality too: the built-in speakers are loud enough, but of course the plastic casing doesn't really allow for any spectacular parties. Still, the bundled earphones are of a rather good quality: if you want to listen to music, you should stick to them, or use your own pair of headphones.

Based on the smartphone's specifications, we should expect about 23 hours of talk time or 255 hours of standby time with one full charge from the 3000 mAh Li-Po battery. We have been using the Selfie as our only smartphone during the test period, and just the way we use our own: with automatic brightness, always-on WiFi, Bluetooth turned off, location set to battery saving mode, an average number of phone calls, SMS messages and emails, and a bit of browsing as well. With this usage we managed to finish a day with about 30-35 percent of battery life left in the Selfie: this means that we could have easily started the next day without charging the battery again, but it wouldn't have lasted two days. This is mostly due to the 5.5" screen, and I think we can say that this is a really acceptable battery life: even if you live and breathe with your smartphone, it will still keep going for a day. You can also get it to work for two days, if used sparingly.

Both its main features, the battery life and its communication capabilities make the ASUS ZenFone Selfie a mid-range smartphone, which has its ups and downs, but it surely is a strong contender in this price category. Also it has a much more elegant design than most mid-range smartphones.