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The ASUS ZenFone 3 Ultra (ZU680KL) Phablet Review

The ASUS ZenFone 3 Ultra (ZU680KL) Phablet Review

The ASUS ZenFone 2 family of smartphones and phablets was notable for its use of Intel Atom processors, as well as their ambidextrous design. While the Intel Atom processors were powerful, they guzzled power and had trouble gaining traction in the smartphone market.

Hence, it comes as no surprise when ASUS revealed in Computex 2016 that the new ZenFone 3 series would be powered by Qualcomm processors instead. That decision probably contributed to Intel’s decision to quit the smartphone market for good.

You may have already seen our sneak peek of the new ASUS ZenFone 3 models at Computex 2016. Today, we are going to take a look at the big daddy of the ZenFone 3 series – the ASUS ZenFone 3 Ultra (ZU680KL) phablet!

 

ASUS ZenFone 3 Specifications Comparison

Here is how the ASUS ZenFone 3 Ultra compares against the other two ZenFone 3 models :

SpecificationsZenFone 3 Deluxe (ZS570KL)‏ZenFone 3 Ultra (ZU680KL)ZenFone 3 ‏(ZE552KL)‏
Display5.7" Super AMOLED
(1920 x 1080 pixels, 386 ppi)
79% screen-to-body ratio
3,000,000 : 1
contrast ratio
ASUS TruVivid technology
Bluelight Filter
6.8" IPS display
full-screen lamination
(1920 x 1080 pixels, 324 ppi)
79% screen-to-body ratio
178˚wide-viewing angle
ASUS TruVivid technology
Bluelight Filter
5.5" Super IPS+ display
(1920 x 1080 pixels, 401 ppi)
500 nits brightness
77.3% screen-to-body ratio
2.1mm slim bezel
ProtectionCorning Gorilla Glass 4Corning Gorilla Glass 42.5D contoured Corning Gorilla Glass
Operating SystemAndroid 6.0 Marshmallow
ASUS ZenUI 3.0
Android 6.0 Marshmallow
ASUS ZenUI 3.0
Android 6.0 Marshmallow
ASUS ZenUI 3.0
SoC PlatformQualcomm Snapdragon 820
(MSM8996)
Qualcomm Snapdragon 652
(MSM8976)
Qualcomm Snapdragon 625
(MSM8953)
ProcessorQuad-core Kyro (2.15 GHz)4 x ARM Cortex-A72 (1.8 GHz)
4 x ARM Cortex-A53 (1.4 GHz)
4 x ARM Cortex-A53 (2.0 GHz)
4 x ARM Cortex-A53 (1.4 GHz)
Graphics ProcessorQualcomm Adreno 530 (624 MHz)Qualcomm Adreno 510Qualcomm Adreno 506
MemoryUp to 6 GBUp to 4 GB LPDDR3Up to 4 GB LPDDR3
StorageUp to 128 GB (UFS 2.0) internal flash storage
microSD slot (Supports up to 2 TB)
Up to 128 GB internal flash storage
microSD slot (Supports up to 2 TB)
Up to 64 GB internal flash storage
microSD slot (Supports up to 2 TB)
Front Camera8 MP, f/2.0 aperture
85˚ wide-viewing angle, Auto Focus
8 MP, f/2.0 aperture
85˚ wide-viewing angle, Auto Focus
8 MP, f/2.0 aperture, Fixed Focus
Rear Camera23 MP Sony IMX318 sensor
0.03 second TriTech auto-focus
6P Largan f/2.0 aperture lens
4 Stop OIS (Optical Image Stabilization)
3-Axis EIS (Electronic Image Stabilization)
Dual-LED real tone flash
Sapphire lens protection
23 MP Sony IMX318 sensor
0.03 second TriTech auto-focus
6P Largan f/2.0 aperture lens
32 second long exposure
4 Stop OIS (Optical Image Stabilization)
3-Axis EIS (Electronic Image Stabilization)
Dual-LED real tone flash
16 MP Sony IMX298 sensor
0.03 second TriTech auto-focus
6P Largan f/2.0 aperture lens
32 second long exposure
4 Stop OIS (Optical Image Stabilization)
3-Axis EIS (Electronic Image Stabilization)
Dual-LED real tone flash
Sapphire lens protection
ConnectivityFDD Band 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 7 / 8 / 12 / 17 / 18 / 19 / 20 / 26 / 28 / 29 / 30
LTE Cat. 13 (600 Mbps / 150 Mbps)
UMTS:
Band: 1/2/4/5/6/8/19
GSM: 850/900/1800/1900
Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac
USB 3.0 Type-C, BT4.2 + A2DP + EDR
GPS/A-GPS/GLONASS/BDSS
FDD Band 1 / 3 / 5 / 7 / 8 / 18 / 19 / 20 / 26 / 28
LTE Cat. 6 (300 Mbps / 50 Mbps)
UMTS: B1/B2/B5/B6/B8/B19
GSM: 850/900/1800/1900
Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac
USB 2.0 Type-C, BT4.2 + A2DP + EDR
GPS/A-GPS/GLONASS/BDSS
FDD Band 1 / 2 / 3 / 5 / 7 / 8 / 20
LTE Cat. 6 (300 Mbps / 50 Mbps)
UMTS: B1/B2/B5/B8
GSM: 850/900/1800/1900
Wi-Fi 802.11ac/USB 2.0 Type-C
BT4.2/GPS/A-GPS/GLONASS/BDSS
Dual SIM capabilityDual SIM Dual StandbyDual SIM Dual StandbyDual SIM Dual Standby
SensorsAccelerator / E-Compass / Gyroscope / Proximity sensor / Hall sensor / Ambient light sensor / RGB sensor / IR sensorAccelerator / E-Compass / Gyroscope / Proximity sensor / Hall sensor / Ambient light sensor / RGB sensor / IR sensorAccelerator / E-Compass / Gyroscope / Proximity sensor / Hall sensor / Ambient light sensor / RGB sensor / IR sensor
Fingerprint SensorYes, rear mounted below camera bumpYes, integrated with Home buttonYes, rear mounted below camera bump
Audio Capability5 magnet speaker
ASUS SonicMaster 3.0
Dual 5 magnet speakers
ASUS SonicMaster 3.0
FM Radio
5 magnet speaker
ASUS SonicMaster 3.0
Battery3000 mAh4600 mAh
Talk time: 34 hrs (3G)
Wi-Fi browsing (14.5 hrs)
Video Playback (12.5 hrs)
3000 mAh
Fast Charging18 W (9V, 2A) Adapter
Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 technology
BoostMaster Fast Charging : 60% battery capacity in 39 minutes
18 W (9V, 2A) Adapter
Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 technology
BoostMaster Fast Charging : 60% battery capacity in 45 minutes
10 W (5V, 2A) Adapter
Size156.4 mm tall x 77.4 mm wide x 4.2 ~ 7.5 mm thick186.4 mm tall x 93.9 mm wide x 6.8 mm thick152.59 mm tall x 77.38 mm wide x 7.69 mm thick
Weight170 g233 g155 g
Available ColoursMetal finish:
Glacier Silver
Titanium Gray
Shimmer Gold
Metal finish:
Glacier Silver
Titanium Gray
Metallic Pink
Glass finish:
Sapphire Black
Moonlight White
Shimmer Gold
Aqua Blue

 

Unboxing The ASUS ZenFone 3 Ultra

The ASUS ZenFone 3 Ultra comes in a very premium black cardboard box, with a drawer for the accessories! Check it out!

Inside the box, you will find the following items :

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  • One ASUS ZenFone 3 Ultra (ZU680KL) phablet
  • One set of ASUS ZenEar earphones
  • One set of ASUS ZenFone 3 Ultra Quick Start Guide and warranty card
  • One 18W ASUS quick charger (supports Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0)
  • One Type C USB cable
  • One SIM tray ejector pin
  • Two serial number and IMEI stickers

ASUS is marketing the ZenFone 3 Ultra as a premium phablet, and they sure made sure it came with premium accessories. Very nice!

Next Page > Hands On The ZenFone 3 Ultra, Hybrid SIM, Fingerprint Sensor, Cameras

 

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The ASUS ZenFone 3 Ultra (ZU680KL) Phablet

With a 6.8″ display, the ASUS ZenFone 3 Ultra is a large phablet. It is just a little smaller than the ASUS ZenPad 7.0 tablet, albeit thinner at 6.8 mm. The large screen is just perfect for watching movies, because it has a screen resolution of 1080 x 1920. Flip it horizontally for the ultimate full HD movie player on-the-go.

Thanks to its metal chassis carved out of aerospace-grade aluminium alloy, it has a very premium feel. It has a significant heft at 233 g / 8.2 oz though, so calls are best made with a Bluetooth earpiece.

The ASUS ZenFone 3 Ultra places the Power button on the right, but retains the centrally-aligned Volume buttons at the back from its predecessor, the ZenFone 2 Laser (ZE601KL). We would still consider it an ambidextrous device.

Incidentally, it boasts two powerful 5-magnet speakers. However, they are both located at the bottom, so you can’t really enjoy stereo sound when you watch movies on the ZenFone 3 Ultra horizontally.

 

Hybrid SIM & Fingerprint Sensor

The ASUS ZenFone 3 Ultra has Dual SIM, Dual Standby capability. The two nano SIM card trays are located along the right edge, just above the Power button. The second SIM card tray is a hybrid SIM tray though. It supports either a second nano SIM card, or a microSD card, but not both at the same time.

The ZenFone 3 Ultra boasts a fast fingerprint sensor, integrated into the Home button. ASUS did not quote a specific detection time, but we can confirm that it is a fast fingerprint sensor. It takes 18 finger presses to train the fingerprint sensor though.

 

Cameras

The ASUS ZenFone 3 Ultra sports a decent 8 MP front camera for selfies. While not as good as the 16 MP front camera of the OPPO F1s “Selfie Expert” smartphone, it has a higher resolution than the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge, and is capable of recording 1080p videos. The only downside? It doesn’t even support screen flash.

The killer feature of the ZenFone 3 Ultra is its new PixelMaster 3.0 camera at the back. It features a 23 MP Sony IMX318 sensor, which boasts new features like fast hybrid autofocus and 3-axis electronic image stabilization.

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ASUS paired it with f/2.0 Largan lens with 4-axis, 4-stop optical image stabilization, and a second-generation laser auto-focus sensor.

What all that means is you can capture very high resolution photos and videos in poorly-lit conditions. Any blurring that occurs due to hand shakes and wobbles will be greatly reduced or eliminated.

Focusing is also much faster, thanks to the new laser sensor that accurately detects the range of objects in low light at up to 1.5 m away.

In addition to 1080p videos, the PixelMaster 3.0 camera can also shoot 4K videos. To top it off, it encodes the 4K videos using HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding) to keep the file size small while maintaining a high level of image quality.

Next Page > Setting Up The ZenFone 3 Ultra, It’s Alive!, Available Memory & Storage

 

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Setting Up The ZenFone 3 Ultra

The ASUS ZenFone 3 Ultra runs on Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow, which should be familiar to many Android users. It is very easy to setup. If you are setting it up as a new device, it should take you only 5 minutes to finish the setup process.

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It’s Alive!

When you power it up for the first time, you will revel in how sharp the 6.8″ IPS display looks. This is partly because the screen is laminated with the Gorilla Glass 4 cover. This not only makes the display thinner, it also increases contrast and reduces internal reflections.

Holding the ZenFone 3 Ultra in one hand is possible, but the weight means you will end up hooking your little finger around the bottom to prevent it from slipping. There is a One Hand Operation mode you can enable, but the ZenFone 3 Ultra is best used with two hands.

 

Available Memory & Storage

The ASUS ZenFone 3 Ultra comes with either 3 GB or 4 GB of LPDDR3 memory. Our review sample came with 4 GB of memory. Only 3.5 GB is usable, of which 1.5 GB is used by the Android operating system and background apps. This leaves only 2.1 GB of free memory to use.

The ASUS ZenFone 3 Ultra also comes with generous storage capacities of 32 GB, 64 GB and 128 GB of flash memory. Our review sample came with 64 GB of flash memory. Out of the box, just under 52 GB is available for use. That should be plenty enough for most users, but is expandable via a microSD card (up to 2 TB).

Next Page > PixelMaster 3.0 Camera Performance – Photos & Video Recording

 

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Camera Performance – Photos

The resolution of the new PixelMaster 3.0 camera is amazing. The full 22.5 MP resolution is attained with the 4:3 aspect ratio. Each picture has a resolution of 5488 x 4096 and a file size of 4-7 MB.

The noise level is remarkably low for such a high resolution sensor. The edges can get fuzzy at the edges, but only noticeable when you fully blow up each picture. The biggest issue is probably the camera’s tendency to blow out the highlights. You can see that in the clouds that lack definition, and light reflecting off the fruits and rubber balls.

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Camera Performance – Video Recording

The ASUS ZenFone 3 Ultra is capable of recording 1080p and 4K videos, with both 4-axis optical and 3-axis electronic image stabilization enabled. To test its video recording capabilities, we recorded a piano performance and a koi pond in both 1080p and 4K resolutions. Check them out!

As the videos show, the optical and electronic stabilization worked very well, greatly reducing the amount of hand shake. Remember, this is a rather heavy and large phablet, so the user will tend to shake more.

The amount of detail captured, especially in the 4K videos, is amazing. However, you can also see how the highlights are blown out. This is especially noticeable in the bright background behind the pianist, and the surface of the koi pond.

Until ASUS fixes this propensity to blow out the highlights, you will lose the details in the bright areas of any image.

Next Page > Work Performance, Battery Life, Battery Recharging Performance

 

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Work Performance – PC Mark

We tested the ZenFone 3 Ultra‘s performance using PCMark, which simulates work applications like web browing, playing video, writing text and editing photos.

ASUS ZenFone 3 Ultra HTC 10 honor 5C Samsung Galaxy S7 edge
Work Performance Score
(Average)
6313 6105 5357 4892
Web Browsing 6257 5782 5643 6908
Video Playback 4287 3321 4487 3218
Writing 7166 7463 5944 4629
Photo Editing 8262 9694 5469 5563

The Qualcomm Snapdragon 652 processor powering the ZenFone 3 Ultra did very well in this test, beating even the Snapdragon 820 processor used by the HTC 10, and the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge‘s Exynos 8890 processor.

 

Battery Life – PCMark

We then tested the ZenFone 3 Ultra‘s battery performance using PCMark. It basically ran the PCMark work tests until its battery capacity dropped to 20%.

Thanks to its 4,600 mAh battery, the ASUS ZenFone 3 Ultra lasted almost 11.5 hours in this test. This is twice the battery life of the HTC 10 smartphone! Of course, the ZenFone 3 Ultra has 50% more battery capacity, but it also has a much larger display that uses more power.

It was not the best battery life we have seen in a phablet though. The Samsung Galaxy A9 Pro still has the most exceptional battery life at 13 hours, albeit with a slightly larger 5,000 mAh battery and a longer recharge time.

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Battery Recharging Performance

The ASUS ZenFone 3 Ultra comes with an 18W fast charger that supports Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0. What this means is you can recharge 60% of its battery in just 45 minutes.

It actually took the ZenFone 3 Ultra just under 114 minutes (1 hour 55 minutes) to recharge its battery from 16% to 100%. That’s a battery life : recharging ratio of 6:1 – very impressive!

As the chart shows, the fastest charging happens up to about the 80% point. It took only 60 minutes to recharge from 16% to 80%.

Next Page > Overall & 3D Performance, Our Verdict

 

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Overall Performance

AnTuTu is a nice benchmark for testing various performance aspects of Android devices.

ASUS ZenFone 3 Ultra HTC 10 honor 5C Samsung Galaxy S7 edge
TOTAL SCORE 76096 113813 53417 131246
3D SCORE 18816 50700 9842 40824
– 3D (Marooned) 10864 34778 5795 23336
– 3D (Garden) 7952 15922 4047 17488
UX SCORE 26794 30890 19297 42765
– UX Data Secure 5077 6319 5577 8169
– UX Data Process 4198 3379 2706 5966
– UX Strategy Games 7503 5433 4109 10745
– UX Image Process 6879 9521 3144 13878
– UX I/O Performance 3137 6238 3761 4007
CPU SCORE 23689 21915 19254 37882
– CPU Mathematics 6950 8494 4198 11831
– CPU Common Use 6311 5931 5947 10875
– CPU Multi-Core 10428 7490 9109 15176
RAM 6797 10308 5024 9775

The ZenFone 3 Ultra was fast in 2D graphics and CPU performance, but it did rather poorly in the 3D tests. It was far slower than top-of-the-line smartphones like the HTC 10 and the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge, but it was also twice as fast as the Kirin 650-powered honor 5C.

 

Gaming Performance – 3DMark

We tested the ZenFone 3 Ultra’s gaming performance using 3DMark, using the Ice Storm Unlimited test.

ASUS ZenFone 3 Ultra HTC 10 honor 5C Samsung Galaxy S7 edge
Gaming Score 17719 23171 11560 28650
Graphics 21124 27512 11067 33685
Physics 11328 14925 13698 18810
Graphics Test 1 115.2 fps 136.6 fps 63.4 fps 162.9 fps
Graphics Test 2 76.3 fps 106.4 fps 38.8 fps 133.1 fps
Physics Test 36.0 fps 47.4 fps 43.5 fps 59.7 fps

The ASUS ZenFone 3 Ultra did better in this test, coming in just 24% slower than the HTC 10, and 38% slower than the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge.

 

Our Verdict

Make no mistake – the ASUS ZenFone 3 Ultra is a large, weighty phablet. You will either love it, or hate it.

If you want a large phablet to replace the cumbersome tablet + smartphone combo you have been using so far, you will love the large, beautiful 6.8″ display, and appreciate how solid and premium it feels. No cheap plastic for ASUS’ premium phablet. It even comes with the best earphones ASUS makes.

But if you want something svelte and light, the ZenFone 3 Ultra is definitely not for you. You will never fit it into a pocket, or actually use it with a single hand. That’s why ASUS made the ZenFone 3 and ZenFone 3 Deluxe models. The ZenFone 3 Ultra is meant for those who want a large phablet, period.

As far as performance goes, you are unlikely to be disappointed. It may not do well in 3D games, but it’s speedy enough in everything else. And it is absolutely fantastic as an entertainment device. Videos look great on the 6.8″ display, and the audio output is remarkably clear and loud.

It also has a long battery life, and recharges quickly – something you will appreciate if you are always on-the-go and have little access to a power point. Heck, it even supports reverse charging, allowing you to play the hero to your friends when they forget to bring their power banks.

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The PixelMaster 3.0 camera is really quite something. With 22.5 MP of resolution with a fast lens and advanced optical and electronic image stabilization, it can really deliver great photos and videos. The blown-out highlights are a disappointment though. ASUS should really work on correcting it.

The ASUS ZenFone 3 Ultra is, no doubt, the best phablet ASUS has ever made. A premium phablet, made out of metal and glass. It represents a massive upgrade in features and build quality over its predecessor, the ZenFone 2 Laser (ZE601KL). ASUS is definitely trying to move up the value chain.

However, such premium features come with a premium price. ASUS actually priced it at a premium over its nearest competitor, the Samsung Galaxy A9 Pro. You will have to decide if that the better PixelMaster 3.0 camera, larger storage capacity and screen size are worth the price premium.

 

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