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printed November 18, 2017
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Hands On with Asus ZenFone 4 and ZenFone 4 Pro

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Nov 8, 2017, 12:46 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   @phonescooper

Asus' mid-range ZenFone 4 and high-end ZenFone 4 Pro may look alike, but they differ quite a bit under the hood. Where the former is an affordable handset, the latter is closer in price to today's flagships. If you're looking for a finer Android phone from Asus, the ZenFone 4 and ZenFone 4 Pro are where you should start. Here are our initial thoughts.

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The ZenFone 4 and ZenFone 4 Pro may look nearly identical, but they differ significantly when it comes to internal components. The ZenFone 4 is a sub-flagship handset with mid-range specs while the ZenFone 4 Pro is a full flagship with top specs. Telling them apart from a distance may be difficult, but you'll know which is which once you pick them up.

The ZenFone 4 is a fine piece of hardware. The phone's shape is similar to that of the ZenFone 4 Max series, but it is larger and made from different materials. The phone has a classy aluminum chassis that is sandwiched between two glass panels. Curved Gorilla Glass forms the front and back surface of the phone and fits into the metal frame seamlessly. The frame has a diamond-cut chamfer along the edges that gives the phone a classy, high-end look. The overall look of the phone is minimalistic in a good way.

ZenFone 4  

It's a fairly large device, standing more than 6.1 inches tall and sitting 3 inches wide. Some people may find it is too big for them. It's close in size to the iPhone 7 Plus and Google Pixel XL. The rounded shape helps improve hand feel and it feels comfortable when gripped. I was pleased with the general weight and experience of using the phone. The profile will help the device slip into pockets quite easily.

The materials are very, very good. Asus did a great job matching the glass and metal components, which fit together flawlessly. I have absolutely no misgivings about the phone's quality.

Asus kept the ZenFone 4's face simple and in-line with the appearance of the ZenFone 4 Max series handsets. The screen has a 16:9 aspect ratio and fairly good-sized bezels above and below. In the forehead you'll see a slit for the earpiece and the user-facing camera, while the chin holds the combined home button / fingerprint reader and capacitive back/switcher controls. The home button is indented a bit and is capacitive, not physical. I liked the overall effect of using it. The back and app-switcher buttons that flank the home button are easy to find and use and functioned well.

The buttons, ports, jacks, and trays are about where you expect to find them along the phone's side edges. The screen lock button is on the right edge, positioned about in the middle. It has a nice profile and good travel and feedback. The longer volume toggle is located just about the screen lock button. It's profile could be better, but travel and feedback were great. The USB-C port and 3.5mm headphone jack are both on the bottom edge, as are the cutouts for the speakerphone. The SIM/memory card tray is located high up on the phone's left edge.

I really like the phone's rear panel. It's made of glass, sure, but Asus created a radial pattern under the glass that looks amazing when it catches the light. I love when phone makers do this sort of thing. It gives the phone a nice visual pop. The entire panel is flat, even the dual camera module in the upper-left corner. The two-tone flash is just to the right of the twin cameras. Asus' logo is painted on in chrome in the middle of the glass. It goes without saying that the glass cannot be removed, nor can the battery.

The LED screen measures 5.5 inches across the diagonal and offers full HD resolution. I thought the display looked really nice. It's plenty bright and viewing angles were quite good. The size/resolution work well in delivering a sharp experience.

Let's talk about specs for a second. The phone is powered by a Snapdragon 630 processor with 4 GB of RAM. It has a 3,300mAh battery and 64 GB of internal storage. The phone runs Android 7.1 Nougat with a new version of Asus' ZenUI. It looks pretty slick and modern, and less chromey than older versions of ZenUI. The ZenFone 4 costs $399, which I think is reasonable considering all the phone offers. It includes decent support for AT&T/Cricket and T-Mobile/MetroPCS, though it lacks Bands 66 and 71 for T-Mo. The phone is already available from Amazon.com and Asus.com. It's a fine option if you're looking for something a bit different.

The ZenFone 4 Pro differs mostly under the hood, but there are a few hardware changes worth discussing briefly.

ZenFone 4 Pro  

You'll notice that the design is practically indecipherable from the that of the ZenFone 4. The 4 Pro has a metal chassis with glass panels on front and back. Where the 4 has Gorilla Glass 3, the 4 Pro has Gorilla Glass 5 on both surfaces. The size is slightly different at 6.17 inches tall and 2.96 inches wide. It also weighs a bit more. The hand feel and build quality are at about the same level as the 4, though the 4 Pro feels a bit more sleek to me.

Perhaps the most obvious design difference is the 4 Pro's rear panel: it lacks the awesome radial pattern of the less-expensive ZenFone 4. Asus offered no explanation for this design change. The 4 Pro's rear panel is a solid color with no snazzy effects. That's a bit of a bummer, but obviously not a dealbreaker of any sort. The 4 Pro is still a fine, fine piece of hardware.

The 4 Pro's AMOLED screen measures 5.5 inches across the diagonal and offers full HD resolution. I thought the display looked really nice. There's no question that it pops a bit more than that of the ZenFone 4. It's very bright, and I was pleased with viewing angles. The size/resolution are a good combination to ensure the screen looks sharp.

ZenUI  

As far as the specs go, the 4 Pro steps up to a Snapdragon 835 processor with 6 GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage. The battery is slightly bigger at 3,600mAh, and the ZenFone 4 Pro adds camera features such as laser and phase-detection autofocus. The 4 Pro also tosses in support for a few more LTE bands, though it still lacks Bands 71/66.

You'll pay more for these improved specs. The Asus ZenFone 4 Pro costs $599, which puts it squarely in the flagship zone. Even so, it costs less than competing top phones from Apple, LG, and Samsung.

The Asus ZenFone 4 Pro is available unlocked online. It is a pretty alternative to what you'll find at your local wireless ship and may be worth considering if you're looking for a flagship experience at a slightly more affordable price point.

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