Hands On: Asus ZenFone 3 and ZenPad 3 Lineup

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Asus has a phone for every price point this year. At a product line launch event in New York last night, Asus dropped five new phones for the US market, along with a sleek 10-inch Android tablet that's coming to Verizon Wireless. We played with all of them, and they bring some key strengths to our market—most notably, enhancing the options for quality, affordable dual-SIM smartphones.

The fanciest, most powerful entrant is the Asus ZenFone 3 Deluxe Special Edition. It's a $799, 5.7-inch phone, and it seems to mostly be a way for Asus to get points for being one of the first manufacturers to use Qualcomm's speedy new Snapdragon 821 processor. It was impossible, within a short period of use, to find a performance difference between the Special Edition and the $499 Zenfone 3 Deluxe 5.7, the otherwise physically identical Snapdragon 820 unit, although the more expensive model also has 256GB of storage as opposed to the $499 unit's 64GB.

Both of the Deluxe 5.7 units are slim, all-metal phones, which feel great in the hand. The screens go right out to the edge of the phone, so they don't feel gigantic. Both have 1080P AMOLED screens that are flush with the front of the phone. A 1080P screen in a 5.7-inch device is lower-resolution than we're used to seeing from flagships; that will play out with longer battery life but fuzzier small text on Web pages.

They're running Android 6.0 (a Nougat upgrade is coming) with Asus's unfortunately heavy ZenUI skin. The ZenUI launcher has some perplexingly slow animations in it; the good news is that, of course, you can replace it with the Google Now launcher.

I tried the 23-megapixel camera, which promises quick laser autofocus. It lived up to the promise, although I'd expect low-light images on the f/2.0 lens won't be quite up to Galaxy S7 standards.

Step down to the $399 Zenfone 3 Deluxe 5.5, and the screen pops out of the phone. No, not really, but instead of the flush AMOLED panel, you now have an LCD screen under "2.5D" glass, which you can see over the edge of the phone. The phone also now steps down to a Qualcomm 625 processor, 16MP and 8MP cameras, 64GB of storage and 4GB of RAM. It's a metal body, but no longer unibody. This looks and feels like a pretty standard midrange phone.

The $199 Zenfone 3 Laser and $149 Zenfone 3 Max keep stepping down. The Laser has a 5.5-inch 1080P screen, a Snapdragon 430 processor, 2GB of memory and 32GB of storage; the Max has a 5.2-inch 720P screen, a Mediatek processor, 16GB of storage, and 5MP and 13MP cameras. It also feels like a $149 phone—it's thicker, with a rounded bottom and visible antenna lines.

All the devices are dual-SIM, where one SIM slot can be replaced by a MicroSD card. They all work with AT&T, T-Mobile, and carriers that use those networks, and they'll all be available at Asus, Best Buy, and probably B&H and other stores like that.

zenfone 3 family

The most striking thing about this lineup is how clear it is. LG, Samsung, and Motorola all have top-to-bottom lineups like this. But they make their lineups, and their options, confusing. LG's and Samsung's lineups have a jumble of names, and Motorola decided to sell its lower-end phones unlocked, but its higher-end devices through Verizon. With Asus, you can step up and step into whatever unlocked price point you want.

The cherry on top of the Zen sundae is the ZenPad 3S 10, a new high-end Android tablet from Asus. We don't see many higher-end Android tablets any more, so it's a welcome surprise. The specs don't startle: it has a 9.7-inch, 2,048-by-1,536 IPS LCD display, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage plus a MicroSD card slot, 8MP and 5MP cameras, dual speakers, and it's running Android 6.0 (yes, 7.0 is coming) on a Mediatek 8176 processor. It's slim and feels cool in the hand (temperature wise, but also, classy.)

zenpad 3s 10 front

The exciting thing about this tablet, though, is that it's going to follow the Zenpad Z8 to Verizon. That means you should expect an LTE-sporting unit at that carrier with a reasonable price. There will also be a Wi-Fi-only unit for folks who don't want to connect to Verizon.

The ZenPad 3S 10 will cost $299 when it comes out in early November, and that's a great price for this tablet, which feels nicer than other Android devices at this price point. Asus has generally done a great job with affordable Android tablets in the past.

All of the Asus phones will appear on the market over the next few weeks, and we'll try to review all of them.

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