2016 was an interesting year for the big boys of smartphones.

Apple’s iPhone’s failed to set the records that its predecessors did, and Samsung’s debacle with the Galaxy Note 7 is likely to have deeper repercussions in 2017. Meanwhile, the HTC 10 came and went without any fanfare.

On the other hand, Xiaomi scored some great publicity with its Mi Mix, while Oppo came in from out of nowhere to become one of the more popular smartphone brands of the year. And rather quietly, Asus launched the Zenfone 3, one of the most underrated smartphones of 2016.

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Like Huawei and Lenovo, Asus has been trying hard to come up with impressive devices in the last few years, but the nature of the industry meant that few consumers would give them the time of day. With the recent trend of high-end devices, or rather, high priced devices proving to be too much for consumers to invest in year after the year, there was an opportunity for second tier brands to excel and that is what Asus did.

In fact, it is remarkable how Asus has lifted pages of Samsung’s rulebook, in its attempt to dominate the smartphone market. The Zenfone 3 sees a return to the brand’s premium roots and the use of a metal chassis, after two rounds of plastic frames. That’s what Samsung did with its Galaxy S6, after years of using plastic polycarbonate in its earlier phones.

In fact, the rounded edges and flat design of the Zenfone 3 comes across as a hybrid between the Galaxy S6 and iPhone 6 Plus. One choice difference is in its adoption of the USB-C standard, which is something a few phone makers are switching to, so it’s great to see Asus taking the leap here.

Powering the 5.5-inch Full HD display is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor, and while it might not pack the power of Snapdragon’s latest 820 processor, the pricing of the Zenfone 3 gives Zenfone 3 users the best that money can buy.

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Another nod to Samsung is its development of the 16MP camera. Both Samsung and Asus did not start out with great camera phones, but Samsung caught up with the impressive shooter on the Galaxy S7. The camera on the Zenfone 3 is the best one that the company has yet, with image stabalisation that produces great photos in lowlight conditions.

But even as Asus picked some great Samsung tips on how to improve it phones, it could not help but copy some unwanted ones as well. The Asus UI, while decent, is packed with a series of irrelevant and annoying native Asus apps. And no, there is no way to get rid of them. You can turn off notifications of course, but it means wasting precious time managing these third party apps, when their presence can be easily avoided.

The Zenfone 3 is not likely to set any sales records, but with an impressive camera, as well as a design and construction direction aimed in the right direction, the Zenfone 3 the start of something wonderful from the Taiwanese tech giant.

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Sherwin Loh

Sherwin Loh

Sherwin once held the Matrix of Leadership, but wisely passed it on to the rightful leader of the household.