[Review] Asus Zenfone 4 Selfie Pro – Upping the Selfie Game

[Review] Asus Zenfone 4 Selfie Pro – Upping the Selfie Game

A plethora of flagship phones abound in the market, many of them with impressive specifications as well as powerful rear cameras though many place the quality of the front-facing camera as a pleasant afterthought. In the case of the newly launched Asus Zenfone 4 Selfie Pro, selfies are the phone’s raison d’etre as it packs a front-facing dual camera with some interesting algorithmic tricks up its sleeve.

Out of the box, the Asus Zenfone 4 Selfie Pro comes with a relatively complete selection of accessories. On top of the phone, you get the obligatory SIM card slot pin, a user manual, a microUSB cable and a USB charger to juice it as well as a pair of earphones with an optional set of silicone ear buds to offer a better fit. A particularly pleasant bonus is that the package also throws in a transparent soft silicone casing so you can start using the Selfie Pro straight out of the box.

On top of the commercial packaging, we also had the privilege of unboxing a highly customised special edition package of the Zenfone 4 Selfie Pro that comes in a humongous box that is as impressive as it is imposing. Rather than opening in a conventional fashion, the box yawns open with each side sliding down to reveal the phone cradled in a transparent holder alongside Gong Yu’s autograph.

The left receptacle of the box holds the packaged handsfree set that comes with the phone while the right comes with the power cable and charger neatly inset in foam-cut inserts. There is also a slide-out drawer at the base of the box that hides access to documentation like the reviewer’s guide, user manual and the like. It’s unfortunately not for sale but it by Jove it’s one of the most impressive phone boxes that we have seen in aeons.

In terms of build and design, the Asus Zenfone 4 Selfie Pro has relatively contemporary aesthetics. It sports unibody aluminium casing with a metallic finish along with a differently coloured fascia depending on which of the three available colours you get. Our test unit came in a shade of Sunlight Gold and had a corresponding white fascia on the front. The edges are gently curved with diamond-cut chamfering on the edges that makes it look really classy.

The rear backplate has a matte finish that repels fingerprints and has a pair of unobtrusive antenna bands on the top and bottom with the rear 16-MP camera perched just on top of the emblazoned Asus logo. The left side of the phone comes with a hybrid SIM card slot while the right has a volume rocker and a power button. For better tactility the power button has been given some slight knurling to differentiate it from the volume rocker.

The top is otherwise unadorned though the base of the phone has a microUSB port for charging and docking duties as well as a 3.5mm audio jack. The choice of using a microUSB port is a pragmatic one seeing the large existing supply of microUSB  chargers lying around though this may change later on as the industry marches onwards to using USB Type C as a standard.

The front of the phone has slim side bezels around the left and right sides 5.5-inch Full HD AMOLED display though the top and bottom are still a bit on the chunky side as to make space for the dual selfie camera and the fingerprint reader at the base.

In terms of build quality, the Selfie Pro fits its intended price category well with a beautifully finished backplate and has an even heft when held while the rounded edges and slim bezels make it ideally sized for one-handed use. The plasticky looking front white fascia on the gold coloured version detracts somewhat from the overall classy finish though it’s still a good looking and well built phone nonetheless.

Performance
In terms of hardware, the Zenfone 4 Selfie Pro runs a power-efficient Snapdragon 625 2.0GHz octacore processor running Android 7.1.1 Nougat upgradeable to Oreo when it rolls out later, 4GB RAM and has 64GB of expandable storage via a hybrid SIM card slot. Minus all the firmware and whatnot, you get about 52GB or so of space to work around with to store pictures, movies and the like. The processor is otherwise reliable though it’s the same used on the Zenfone 3 and their impressive Zenfone 3 Zoom that was launched earlier in the year.

Overlaying Android Nougat on the Zenfone 4 Selfie Pro is their latest revamped version of their Zen user interface and it’s a far sight from its predecessors as they’ve mercilessly pared down the bloatware to only the bare essentials without any app overlap. All you’re getting this time around is Chrome as a browser, their stock gallery, Facebook, Instagram and Facebook Messenger pre-installed and their Selfie Master beautification app. As an added bonus they also toss in 100GB of free storage on Google Drive too for two years.

Booting it up is a relatively swift affair after the usual registration and Google account rigmarole and the phone feels fast and zippy when going about the usual like browsing the web, emails and the like. Light casual gaming like Clash Royale and Candy Crush was handled without issue and the phone runs smoothly for otherwise general use.

This is borne out when subjected to benchmarks. Under 3DMark’s Sling Shot Extreme, it clocked in at a modest 470 points, which makes intensive 3D gaming somewhat of a challenge.

In Geekbench, it score a 876 single core score and 4,360 points for their multicore processor test. On a single core, the phone isn’t as swift by a significant margin compared to the prior generation Galaxy S7 though it’s a lot more respectable in the multi-core comparison test with a closer margin to flagships though it’s still pipped to the post by other flagship phones. In the PCMark work test, it scored a modest score of 5,629, making it a decent option if you need to post-process some shots on the phone and otherwise hammer out emails, work on Google Docs and the like. In Antutu, it got decent score of 65,115 points, edging out its generational predecessors by a slight margin. In practice, it’s sufficiently speedy enough for general use though it’s not the fastest phone available.

The display on the phone is bright and crisp with pin-sharp text and luscious colour rendition even under direct sunlight. It also has an interesting trick up its sleeve with the provision of an Always On mode that pops up a constantly lit clock and other app notifications even when the display is off akin to the Galaxy S7.

Camera
The 16-MP rear camera comes with an F/2.2 aperture, auto HDR and has the ability to capture snaps in RAW format as well as 4K video capture. Shots are serviceable under daylight conditions with good colour reproduction and decent detail with Auto HDR mode helping to tackle backlit environments.

The lack of OIS and the F/2.2 aperture lends itself to below par low light performance though this can be compensated for somewhat with the LED flash and taking shots in brighter lit environments. Shots taken with the rear camera are highlighted in the gallery below with larger versions available after you click on an image.

The front facing dual camera is an interesting affair with a primary 12-MP Sony IMX362 dual pixel image sensor which packs larger 1.4µm wide pixels for better low light performance. This primary 12-MP camera also has an F/1.8 aperture and what they call ASUS DuoPixel imaging tech to produce 24MP resolution images. Right next to it is a smaller secondary 5-MP camera with a 120-degree wide angle lens for wide-angle wefies. The front dual camera array also comes with a soft LED flash for more natural skin tones when taking self portraits.

On paper, Asus’ DuoPixel tech comes with twice the number of light-capturing photodiodes on the image sensor. Once the front camera takes a shot, the DuoPixel tech then stitches the captured sensor data together via an algorithm to create a 24-MP image.

If you need to take a wide angle shot, the front-camera array defaults to a secondary 5-MP camera with a wide angle lens. In keeping with many selfie cameras, the phone has a Beauty mode that lets you dial in a number of factors to get the ideal selfie including cheek thinness, eye size, skin brightness and whiteness and even skin softness so you can end up looking like a doe-eyed, milk-white, rosy-cheeked vision of aesthetic perfection. It’s also pleasantly light handed about it and male subjects can benefit somewhat from what Beauty Mode offers. The following are test shots taken with wide angle and auto mode as well as with Beauty mode dialled in for selected shots where indicated. Click on each image for a larger picture in gallery below.

In field tests, the front-facing camera offered accurate face tracking and fast subject acquisition.Selfie shots taken with the front facing camera on auto settings even under dim light conditions did pretty well with generally accurate skin tones and good detail even in challenging settings like a dimly lit room. The front-facing dedicated LED flash did a good job, delivering good portraits.

Unfortunately, wide angle mode leaves something to be desired as the phone swaps entirely over to the secondary 5-MP camera. In brightly lit conditions, it’s pretty good but anything beyond that ends up with grainy imagery though you do get a slightly wider 120-degree field of few so it does have some utility for group shots though a panoramic shot mode on the primary front camera would have been a more expedient option.

Battery, Price and Conclusion
In terms of endurance the Zenfone 4 Selfie Pro’s combination of an efficient Snapdragon 625 processor and 3,000mAh battery offers enough juice for average all-day usage. With sporadic usage of selfies, the rear camera, e-mails, social media and web browsing throughout the day, it still had enough juice to leg it home though your mileage may vary as setting the screen brightness higher, constant usage or heavy gaming may drain it at a heavier rate.

As it stands, the Zenfone 4 Selfie Pro achieves what it sets out to do for the most part. It’s an otherwise decent workhorse phone with a serviceable rear camera and good battery life. Its main calling card, the front facing dual camera delivers pretty good self portraits though the grainy results from its wide angle mode are a downer. At a price tag  and with hardware that puts it squarely as a midrange phone, the Zenfone 4 Selfie Pro has its charms if you prioritise selfies over other concerns though the Zenfone 3 Zoom, which has a similar processor and a better rear camera with OIS may be a better option for those with less narcissistic tendencies.

Specifications
Price RM1,799
Display 5.5-inch Full HD AMOLED, 403ppi
Processor Snapdragon 625 2.0GHz octacore
Memory 4GB RAM/64GB + hybrid SIM card
OS Android 7.1.1 with Zen UI 4.0
Camera 24-MP w/ F1.8 aperture + 5-MP, LED flash (front) / 16-MP rear w/ LED flash
Battery 3,000mAh
Size/Weight 154 x 74.8 x 7 mm /145g
* Review unit courtesy of Asus Malaysia

What we Like Decent battery life, has 3.5mm audio jack, Free bundled casing, Good selfies with excellent skin tones, Always On display
What we Didn’t Middling wide angle selfie camera performance, average rear camera, no dedicated selfie camera button
We Say A midrange option that is worth exploring if you prioritise selfies over other concerns in a smartphone

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