Stylish phone with great camera
ASUS ZENFONE 3
The ZenFone 3 is pretty, with curved edges and sleek silver lines running through its glossy exterior.
Despite having a large 5.5-inch screen, it is quite easy to grip with one hand because it has a high screen-to-body ratio. If you have smaller hands, using the one-handed mode lets you shrink the screen to the bottom-right or bottom-left corner of the smartphone so that all parts of the screen can be accessed single-handedly.
The fingerprint sensor at the rear of the ZenFone lets you unlock your device easily even when the screen is off.
Double-tapping on the fingerprint sensor also launches the camera from any screen so you can quickly capture that special fleeting moment.
The camera is perhaps the ZenFone 3's strongest point. For phones at this price range, few smartphones are capable of competing with it. The 16MP rear shooter has a remarkable resolution and shots in low-light condition are captured well, with noise kept to a minimum.
Capturing the Sydney Opera House and the night lights at Darling Harbour presented clear shots with little distortion. The colours, however, were a little oversaturated.
The front 8-megapixel is also a decent shooter, with built-in beautification filters that lighten the skin colour and offer stronger contours for better-defined cheekbones.
Speed-wise, the ZenFone 3 performs well for a phone under $500. The Snapdragon 625 is a nifty upgrade from the old 615.
Handling day-to-day tasks is not an issue, but running multiple intensive applications such as Photoshop and Asphalt 8 at the same time taxes the device.
That's where it definitely starts to feel more choppy compared to flagships like the iPhone 6S or the Samsung S7.
Its 3000mAh battery lasted a full work day, from morning to night, even with extensive texting and web-browsing, so no portable battery is needed with this powerhouse, unless you are actively playing Pokemon Go.
The Auto-Start Manager, designed to help auto-kill applications to improve speed and battery life, can start to become annoying when it kills apps like Google Maps that is trying to navigate in the background.
There is also a fair bit of bloatware, with unnecessary applications like ZenCircle that provide little value to the average user and can't be uninstalled.
For $498, the ZenFone 3 is a mid-range smartphone that shines in terms of its design and camera quality. Its battery life and performance is also above the industry average for this price and it is a cut above the rest if you are looking for a budget device that looks and feels premium.
PROCESSOR Snapdragon 625
GPU Adreno 506
INTERNAL MEMORY 64GB
SCREEN SIZE 5.5"
REAR CAMERA 16MP f/2.0
FRONT CAMERA 8MP
XIAOMI MI MAX
The Xiaomi Mi Max is the latest 6.44" device that blurs the line between smartphones and tablets. This behemoth has a clear display alongside a remarkable battery that is capable of running for days on end.
At only $349, the Mi Max is affordable.
It is built with a metallic chassis, which makes it feel very sturdy.
And for a 6.44" device, it is surprisingly thin, at 7.5mm, which is thinner than Asus' latest ZenFone 3.
However, the large screen size is not for everyone since it presents some portability issues and it definitely makes using the Mi Max a two-handed affair. So carrying a shopping bag in one hand and trying to reply to a text simultaneously is a no-go.
Trying to fit it into some pockets on skinny jeans might prove to be a challenge as well.
On the rear of the device is the fingerprint sensor, which is a rare sight for devices under $400. The Mi Max sports a full-HD display and the colours are vibrant.
The Mi Max holds a Snapdragon 650 processor, the same one in the popular Redmi Note 3.
You would expect a smartphone with such a huge display to consume battery really quickly. However, the 4,850mAh battery does its job well, giving the phone exceptional endurance.
Even with fairly extensive usage, it lasted around 1.5 days without needing a recharge, and that was with six to seven hours of active usage, evenly split between watching videos, surfing the net and texting.
The Mi Max's camera is not its strongest point. The rear 16MP shooter does a fine job when the surroundings are well-lit, but in low-light conditions, in a darker room or at night, details begin to fade and image noise becomes noticeable.
The front 5MP shooter is all right for general selfies, but don't expect detailed shots from it.
PROCESSOR Snapdragon 650
GPU Adreno 510
INTERNAL MEMORY 32GB
SCREEN SIZE 6.44"
REAR CAMERA 16MP f/2.0
FRONT CAMERA 5MP f/2.0