ASUS Zenfone 5 In Depth Review: Revitalising the Zenfone
The flagship series of phones from ASUS – that’s what the Zenfone series is. However, the series has been struggling under its own weight for the past two years. That said, the newly released Zenfone 5 could possibly be the return to form that the Zenfone series has been needing.
In a nutshell, the Zenfone 5 is the total package which ASUS has been chasing for quite a while. It hits all the right notes while excelling in a few categories. It’s a step in the right direction, but the Zenfone flagship has a few blemishes it needs to sort out before it can become a go-to flagship.
The first thing you’ll notice with the Zenfone 5 is its shiny disposition. ASUS has opted to go with a glass back with metallic colours. The combination does give the device a more premium look which is definitely a plus. But, it is undoubtedly the second impression that it gives that will stick to most people: it looks like a certain fruity smartphone. It takes quite a few design queues from it; from the position of the dual camera module to the now infamous notch. While it doesn’t detract much from the overall feel of the device, it does take away that unique, signature of any device when you look at it. You won’t be recognising the Zenfone 5 at first glance; and that might be one of the biggest hurdles that ASUS has to face when it comes to branding the Zenfone in the mobile space.
Even so, the Zenfone 5 is still a good looking phone. In fact, the overall feel of the device is really good. ASUS has managed to stride the line of weight and heft really well with this phone. It hits that sweet spot where it isn’t too light that it feels like a toy but it is heavy enough to feel substantial. That feel in hand is one of the highlights of the design of the Zenfone 5. The overall build quality of the smartphone is pretty good. The phone has quite a sturdy build and it substantiates the heft of the device. That said, I would advise against throwing it around due to the glass on glass construction.
It also has relatively ergonomic edges and doesn’t feel like you are holding a brick in hand. The rounded sides make handling the phone comfortable even when handling it one handed. The positioning of the buttons on the right side of the phone is pretty natural. Your fingers fall into place pretty naturally and it isn’t positioned too high up that you need to struggle to maneuver and trigger them. Even the positioning of the fingerprint scanner on the back fits your natural inclinations pretty darn well.
While the Zenfone 5 is a flagship device, it is not playing ball with the super flagships out there. Instead, it looks to perfect the mid-range flagship formula; balancing performance with overall value. To be frank, aside from the camera performance, they’ve got quite the package.
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 (8 Cores)
Octa-Core @ 1.8GHz
Expandable with MicroSD (Up to 2TB)
|Graphics Processing Unit (GPU)||Adreno 512|
|Display||IPS LCD panel
6.2-inch (~402 ppi)
Full HD+, 18:9 ratio (1,080 x 2,246pixels)
|Operating System||Android 8.0 Oreo with ZenUI 5.0|
|Battery||Non-Removable 3,300mAh Li-Ion
Fast Charging (Quick Charge 3.0)
|Connectivity||Dual SIM (Hybrid Slot)
Wi-Fi IEEE802.11 b/g/n/ac
Bluetooth 5.0 LE
12-Megapixel (f/1.7, 24mm, 1/2.55″, 1.4µm)
8 Megapixel (f/2.0, 12mm, 1/4″, 1.12µm)
Gyro Electronic Image Stabilisation
Phase Detection Autofocus
4K Video recording (30fps)
24mm focus length
1.12µm pixel size
Gyro Electronic Image Stabilisation
Full HD video recording (30fps)
The Zenfone 5 runs on Android 8.0 with ASUS’s ZenUI skin on top. ZenUI has been one of the skins on Android more focused on self-expression and customisability. That does not change with ZenUI 5. The extent of customisablilty in the new iteration of ZenUI stays true to its roots; You’ll be able to customise everything but the kitchen sink. Why not the kitchen sink? Well, you’ll need root access for that type of customisations and we’re talking out of the box functionality.
ZenUI 5.0 cuts back on a lot of the clunky, cartoony aspects of its previous iterations and focuses on delivering a more streamlined user experience. Think of it like ZenUI went on a much needed diet which has resulted in a more responsive, quicker overall experience. The new ZenUI skin is a lot lighter on RAM and processor resources. This has made the interface a lot more snappy and quicker. The better response also means that you’re not constantly battling for apps and functions to launch.
That said, the hallmark feature of ZenUI is the extensive customisation that you’ll be able to do. You can customise everything from your lockscreen wallpaper, notification lights, icons and even the fonts. You have so much leeway with ZenUI to express yourself. If you’re not up to doing everything yourself, you have the option to download pre-configured themes from the theme store.
The overall aesthetic of ZenUI 5.0 has also a very minimalist approach to the icons and interface design has made the interface more aesthetically pleasing than before. It’s easy to look at and also looks a lot more matured compared to the childish icons of ZenUIs past.
As always, we’re presenting the benchmark data here for your reference. Keep in mind that the actual performance of the device has little to do with benchmarks. That said, the Zenfone 5 performed relatively well on benchmarks besting about 50% of devices in the market. It scored well over the average marks and falls well into upper mid-range territory.
The Zenfone 5 is no slouch when it comes to actual day to day performance. In fact, the device is one of the better all rounders in the market. It performs well in nearly every aspect. However, it does have slight issues when it comes to the camera performance and also more taxing applications and games. That said, it has one of the best battery life performance among the flagships in today’s market.
Call Quality & Connectivity
The Zenfone 5 comes with a whole slew of connectivity options including Bluetooth, WiFi 802.11ac and 4G+. In general, the smartphone is able to seamlessly transition between the connectivity options. When it comes to Bluetooth connectivity, the phone is able to connect easily to any Bluetooth enabled device. It can also maintain a stable bluetooth connection for up to 5 meters in situations where there is a lot of potential interference. Otherwise, it’s able to go up to 15 meters easily. Even on WiFi connectivity, the Zenfone is able to maintain a stable connection even on weaker networks.
Be that as it may, a smartphone spends most of its time connected on the go. The Zenfone 5 is capable of connectivity on 4G LTE, HSDPA and GSM networks. During the duration of the review, the Zenfone 5 was mostly on LTE and GSM networks. Throughout this duration, the mobile connectivity of the Zenfone 5 was stable provided the infrastructure was sufficient and stable. Connection speeds peaked at about 50-60Mbps on 4G connectivity.
Call quality on the device was also good. The person on the other end was always clear and there was little static. However, in loud environments, it became hard to hear the person on the other end. This could be due to the quality of the earpiece of the Zenfone 5 but it’s not a problem that makes the phone a “do not buy”. The mics on the phone do a commendable job with call quality. People on the other end of the phone were able to hear me without much problem. There was no tinny distortions and the people on the other end said that I was clear and crisp.
The Zenfone 5 performs commendably when multitasking. At the most taxing, I ran Pokémon Go in split screen with Google Maps. Yep, that pretty much sucked my battery dry. That said, there was little to no lag or staggering when this insane multitasking was happening. The only issue was the increase in temperature; but this was expected with the graphics, GPS, Sound and screen running at the same time. Aside from this insane multitasking, the Zenfone 5 was able to handle the stress without much problem on regular multitasking.
In fact, the Zenfone 5 has some of the best automated optimisation for multitasking I’ve seen on an Android device. The algorithm isn’t overly aggressive and allows messaging apps like WhatsApp and Telegram to run without interruption in the background. I never needed to continually relaunch the apps to get my messages. Other overlay apps are also able to be optimised without much disruption.
Gaming on the Zenfone 5 is quite an enjoyable experience. While the Zenfone 5 may not be able to run more robust games on the maximum settings, it does perform commendably. It was able to handle games such as Pokémon GO without much problem. More robust games such as Player Unknown’s Battleground (PUBG) mobile also ran with nearly maximum settings. That said, mobile gaming at this time isn’t that resource intesive.
My experience playing PUBG mobile was actually pretty good on the Zenfone 5. The phone was able to handle the graphics at the highest settings and it hardly dropped any frames while rendering. There was little tearing between frames and the performance was good. Of course, the high graphics setting did tax the processor which meanth that the phone did get a little warm. Other than that the phone performed commendably when it came to gaming.
One of the major highlights of the Zenfone 5 is the battery life. I used this phone as one of my main drivers during Computex. The Zenfone 5 outlasted my other red leaf flagship device nearly everyday without fail. At times this was with WiFi tethering to the multiple devices. That said, while the battery endurance is commendable. The better battery life can be attributed to the larger battery capacity as well as better battery management by the ZenUI interface itself.
On average, the Zenfone 5 managed about 10-12 hours of battery life with regular use. When I’m talking about regular use, I mean day to day calls, messaging, email synchronisation, browsing of social media and the web and some light gaming. The device performed commendably when handling these minneal tasks.
The display on the Zenfone 5 is a FullHD+ Super IPS+ LCD panel. The colour reproduction on the panel is good but slightly more yellow than professionally calibrated displays. While the nerd in me screams bloody murder for the lack of colour accuracy, the slight yellow tinge actually results in a more comfortable viewing experience. It tones down the blues and makes the colours less jarring on the eyes. The blacks on the display are also deeper than other IPS displays and details aren’t lost in dark images.
Be that as it may, the notch on the display can be one of the most irritating things in the world. At times, the notch intrudes into the content being displayed on the screen. This holds true for apps like Netflix which haven’t been natively optimised for the abomination. Can you tell I’m not a fan of the notch?
However, I have to give props to ASUS for optmising ZenUI for the notch. Notifications and status symbols are displayed in the spaces to either side of the notch. When the notification badges overcrowd the area beside the notch, new notification icons appear and slide down into the notification shade. This animation repeats each time there is a new notification. This work around actually made the notch slightly more bearable.
Other than that, the media consumption and gaming experience on the Zenfone 5 is definitely an enjoyable one. The dual speaker set up on the device makes the sound more immersive and enjoyable. It also makes the sound seem louder on the device. This also meant that I didn’t have to strain to listen to the dialogue on Midnight Diner or Altered Carbon when I was watching on the device.
The Zenfone 5 has a good camera setup. The dual 12-megapixel and 8-megapixel setup allows the camera to perform well under good lighting. Even under low light, the camera can perform well. However, low light conditions also result in pictures with a little more noise. But that isn’t really a downside. The camera performs well otherwise. The images are crisp and clear; colours area vibrant and true to life.
Perhaps where the camera fumbles is in the implementation of the wide-angle sensor. The wide angle sensor seems to be very limited in comparison to the regular 12-megapixel sensor. In addition, the narrower aperture results in noisy pictures under acceptable lighting.
The front facing sensor is also one of the better sensors on the market. It takes clear pictures and colours are not blown out like some of the other selfies shooters out there. However, the low light performance of the front facing camera leaves a lot to be desired. The pictures are noisy, lack detail and, to be frank, may be better off not taken. That said, while the lowlight performance is disappointing, under the right conditions, the pictures are pretty decent; even with the beatuify filter on.
One of the main features ASUS touts in the Zenfone 5’s camera is the AI camera technology. This worked pretty well and optimised the settings on the camera to adapt to the item being shot quite quickly. It made the point and shoot experience on the Zenfone 5 a lot more intuitive and easier to use.
All the right notes, but still missing a little something
All in all, the Zenfone 5 is nearly the perfect package. It hits all the right notes for any user. It also has one of the most compelling flagship prices on the market. Aside from the mediocre camera experience, ASUS has got a winner when it comes to the Zenfone 5. It’s a step in the right direction but needs a little more polish to really stand out. Another thing that weighs the Zenfone down is the lack of uniqueness which will make the Zenfone 5 a standout. The design queues and overall feel make it blend in with the rest of the crowd. If ASUS is able to polish the experience further and give the next Zenfone a signature look, they’ll be a force to be reckoned with.
Also published on Medium.