Asus ZenFone Live ZB501KL Review: A failed attempt

Detailed Review Asus ZenFone Live ZB501KL

When Facebook first announced its live streaming ambitions, many hailed the move as revolutionary. It’s true, live streaming on the internet is without a doubt the fastest way to get information out into the world, and live streaming on Facebook or YouTube can make television a lot of money. And that’s what Taiwanese OEM Asus is betting on. The company’s new phone, the Asus Zenfone Live, is the “world’s first live streaming smartphone”.

Now, before we get to the Asus Zenfone Live review, there is an important question to answer:

Why/How is this a live streaming phone?

The “livestream” part of the Asus Zenfone Live starts and ends at one app in the phone. It’s called Asus BeautyLive and it does what many beautification apps have done before. As the name suggests, the app beautifies your face when you go live. It has a simple interface, with a slider that allows you to choose beautification levels between one and 10. The BeautyLive feature is also available for videos shot with the front camera.

To start an embellished video, open this app, choose the embellishment level and tap the Facebook or YouTube options to go live. Tapping on these options will actually open the app in question and the rest of the live streaming process will be as it usually is. Asus is now launching with these two apps, but plans to add support for Instagram and Periscope as well.

Beautification on this app is the same as any other beautification app. There have been such apps before, albeit not for live video. It aims to brighten up photos and make skin tones look better.

Does it help?

In a word, the answer would be no. Asus’ algorithm(s) softens skin tones to hide imperfections and slightly brightens the background. There is a slider that allows you to choose between 1-10 beautification levels. Each increases the overall brightness a bit and softens skin tones more. But in doing so, the phone loses almost every detail on your face, making it look rather unnatural.

Frankly, that’s disappointing. For the only gimmick the phone offers, I expected a lot more. Asus’ BeautyLive app is essentially a beautification app that doesn’t work very well. Other than the fact that this connects to Facebook and other apps, there’s really nothing new or innovative here. On the other hand, live videos are often shot through the rear camera, while Asus’s app only extends to selfies, meaning its usefulness is limited at first.

Camera

Asus has mounted a 5MP front camera for selfies and videos. The pixel size is quite large here, but the image quality is nothing special. In fact, with Oppo, Vivo and other companies putting in dual cameras
on the front this makes no impression at all. Of course, the Zenfone Live is much cheaper, but even the Nubia M2 Lite (which is in the margins of this price) has a better camera. Asus added a “soft light”
flash in the front for good measure, but as with any flash, it doesn’t make much of a difference.

Asus Zenfone Live

Images look blotchy and unnatural even with the Beautification levels set to 0. Pressing them to 10 removes virtually all detail. Color reproduction is also limited, meaning the overall impact of selfies is nothing special. Again, you would expect the front camera to be more advanced on such a smartphone.

The same goes for the 13 MP rear camera. It can take usable photos in good light, but often stutters. There is too much noise and loss of detail in low light, and colors almost always look bleak. We saw coarse grain, even when clicking in well-lit conditions, and contrast levels are below ideal. The rear camera is quite useful when shooting with plenty of time on your hands, but often loses focus even if you tap to focus.

Build and design

The Asus Zenfone Live has a plastic housing, but it is well designed and light. The power button and volume rocker are on the right side, while there are capacitive buttons for Home, Back, and Recent below the screen. It’s a traditional candy bar design, yet one that impresses. The Zenfone Live is easy to operate with one hand and does not feel uncomfortable in your pocket. It would even qualify as attractive.

On the other hand, we found some build quality issues. First, the body has a small amount of flex, if you try to press on it. More importantly, the SIM slot (at least on our review unit) wouldn’t be ejected. Inserting the pin unlocked the SIM tray, but it sat there wiggling, instead of sticking out like it should.

Performance
Now, this is where things completely fall apart. You would expect a phone intended for live streaming to support the best possible LTE standards and provide the fastest user experience. The last thing I want when I go live is a phone being left behind or Facebook’s already heavy app feeling heavier. But that’s exactly what happens on the Asus Zenfone Live.

The Zenfone Live runs on the Snapdragon 400, which Qualcomm now classifies as a wearable chipset. The two-year-old chipset supports up to Cat 4 (downlink) speeds, meaning it’s not really up to modern standards. Not that you will feel the difference in practice.


AnTuTu benchmark


Geekbench 4 Single Core


Geekbench 4 Multi core

However, what you will feel is regular use. The Asus Zenfone Live is stuttery and lags quite easily. It only has 2 GB of RAM, which again puts it behind phones in this price range. Multitasking isn’t his forte, of course, but whether it’s gaming or using the phone for simple tasks, it doesn’t feel as fluid and fast as today’s smartphones. There are no heating issues, but the phone feels sluggish when browsing Google Chrome, scrolling through your Facebook news feed, or launching apps sequentially.

Screen
Many things about the Zenfone Live feel two years old, including the screen. On the one hand, colors and sharpness are adequate, but poor viewing angles make it difficult to use. I often stream movies on my phone and put it against something. That’s hard to do here, because colors look pretty easy.

On the front, the screen looks neat and the colors are well balanced, as with other Asus smartphones. Personally, I would have preferred a deeper black, but color tones look natural and noticeable. The display is also dim, meaning sunlight visibility isn’t optimal.

Battery

On paper, the Zenfone Live’s battery isn’t very big, and you wouldn’t expect much here. However, with normal use, the phone will last about a working day. With an hour or so of streaming on Amazon Prime, some social networking, lots of IMs, and about five calls, the phone lasted about 10-12 hours on a full charge. It lasts just under 8 hours on the PC Mark battery test, meeting current industry standards.

bottom line

In short, the Asus Zenfone Live fails to achieve the goals that Asus had in mind. The BeautyLive app is nothing special and there are many smartphones with better front cameras available. Likewise, the rear camera isn’t great either. That, and the fact that the phone is noticeably slow means that the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4, Redmi 4, Lenovo K6 Power and most other smartphones are better smartphones than these, even for live streaming video.

Plus, the Zenfone Live only has 16GB of storage, which is always a deal breaker in our books. It also doesn’t have a fingerprint sensor and nothing that makes it worth considering against competitors.

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