Asus ZenFone 5 (2018)

Price: £349 inc VAT from fave.co/2J5ILYN

Tech Advisor - - Contents - Do­minic Pre­ston

If the ZenFone 5 sounds fa­mil­iar, it prob­a­bly should – Asus re­leased a phone of that name way back in 2014. Un­sur­pris­ingly, this lat­est ver­sion has had a few up­grades – not least a very fa­mil­iar notch.

It was first an­nounced the phone at Mo­bile World Congress 2018, but Asus has un­usu­ally de­cided to wait un­til July to ac­tu­ally re­lease the phone. We’ve spent some time put­ting the phone through its paces, and here’s what we think of the firm’s lat­est at­tempt to crack the smart­phone mar­ket.

De­sign

If you thought the ZenFone 5 sounded fa­mil­iar, that’s noth­ing com­pared to how it looks.

No, that isn’t an iPhone X, but you’d be for­given for mak­ing that mis­take. Asus was one of the first of the ma­jor An­droid man­u­fac­tur­ers to in­cor­po­rate the notch into its own dis­play de­sign, and even though other notched phones have beaten the ZenFone 5 to mar­ket, few have stuck quite so closely to Ap­ple’s orig­i­nal de­sign, right down to the ver­ti­cally stacked dual cameras in the cor­ner of the phone’s rear.

It’s not all the same though. For one, the 6.2in dis­play is larger than the iPhone’s 5.8in screen, though doesn’t quite reach the very bot­tom of the de­vice. Still, the chin is so min­i­mal you’re not likely to mind too much – it’s hard to com­plain about a 90 per­cent screen-to-body ra­tio, es­pe­cially since the notch here is ac­tu­ally a bit smaller than Ap­ple’s. Other dif­fer­ences in­clude the fin­ger­print sen­sor – here on the back of the phone – along with the wel­come in­clu­sion of a 3.5mm head­phone jack.

Beyond the dis­play you get a very slim met­al­framed body, and a glass back, all of which looks and feels great. At just 7.9mm thick, this is com­fort­able to hold de­spite the large screen, helped in part by the even-thin­ner-than-nor­mal 18.7:9 as­pect ra­tio. And with a weight of 155g, it’s light too, de­spite all that glass and metal.

There are con­ces­sions to bud­get, of course. De­spite the glass rear there’s no wire­less charg­ing here, and wa­ter­proof­ing is to­tally ab­sent too. It would be un­rea­son­able to ex­pect ei­ther in a sub-£400 phone

though, and they’re still the sort of lux­u­ries that most users can very hap­pily do with­out.

The phone is avail­able in two colours: Mid­night Blue and Me­teor Sil­ver. This only af­fects the colour of the back of the body – the sides are black metal ei­ther way. Fi­nally, you get a sim­ple clear case in­cluded with the phone, along with the charger and a pair of wired in-ear head­phones.

At the end of the day, the ZenFone 5 looks a lot like a larger iPhone X. Still, that’s hardly a crit­i­cism. Ap­ple’s hand­set is a beau­ti­ful phone, and the Asus’s offering is just as beau­ti­ful, for es­sen­tially a third of the price. By any stretch, that’s a re­mark­able achieve­ment.

Dis­play

First up, the 6.2in dis­play is Full HD+, and IPS-style, in an 18.7:9 ra­tio that’s even thin­ner than some of its ri­vals. It’s im­pres­sively bright and vivid, with great colour re­pro­duc­tion, helped by the in­clu­sion of a full suite of colour and dis­play options, let­ting you tweak hue and sat­u­ra­tion in­de­pen­dently, change the colour tem­per­a­ture, and set up a blue light fil­ter to ease eye strain late at night.

Sure, it isn’t OLED, but this is un­de­ni­ably a great­look­ing dis­play for the price – as long as you’re a fan of the notch. At 6.2 inches it’s also one of the largest notched dis­plays out there – no­tice­ably big­ger than ei­ther the iPhone X or its clos­est midrange ri­val, the Honor 10. Paired with the notch, it means the dis­play feels ab­so­lutely mas­sive, which is yet an­other rea­son it’s all too easy to for­get how af­ford­able this thing is while you’re us­ing it.

Pro­ces­sor, mem­ory and stor­age

The ZenFone 5 is one of the first phones to use the Snap­dragon 636, Qual­comm’s new mid-range pro­ces­sor de­signed to of­fer sup­port for full-screen dis­plays. The 636 is backed up by 4GB of RAM in the UK (though some other mar­kets will get a 6GB op­tion) and 64GB built-in stor­age, with mi­croSD sup­port up to a mas­sive 512GB.

In real-life us­age, the re­sult is a phone that’s per­fectly zippy, with fluid, re­spon­sive per­for­mance across the board. The bench­marks are ar­guably less im­pres­sive than that though – in line with slightly cheaper phones, and well be­low the re­sults of the Honor 10 (re­viewed last is­sue), which is only £50 more in the UK. Still, we think you’d have to be a se­ri­ous power user to ever de­scribe this phone as slow.

Per­for­mance is strong­est in the Geek­bench CPU test and JetStream browser test, which cor­re­late the best with the per­for­mance you’ll see across most apps, though the ZenFone 5 strug­gled slightly more in the GFXBench graph­ics tests – sug­gest­ing that big dis­play might have an im­pact on per­for­mance in high-end games. It’s worth re­mem­ber­ing that later in the year Asus is set to re­lease the ZenFone 5Z, boast­ing the ex­act same de­sign but pow­ered by Qual­comm’s flag­ship chip, the Snap­dragon 845, along with more RAM and stor­age – so if you love the look of the ZenFone 5 but want it to come with a lit­tle more oomph, you might want to hold out for the 5Z.

Cameras

As for cameras, you get dual lenses on the back: the main shooter, pow­ered by Sony’s flag­ship IMX363 sen­sor, is 12Mp with an f/1.8 aper­ture, paired with an 8Mp, f/2.2 wide-an­gle lens. Asus has opted for widean­gle this time, af­ter pre­vi­ously us­ing a zoom lens, which it claims al­lows it to take even bet­ter por­trait mode shots in low light. On the front, you get an 8Mp, f/2.0 selfie cam­era.

The cameras fol­low in the foot­steps of the Honor View 10, us­ing AI to rec­og­nize 16 scenes and ob­jects – from sun­sets to dogs – and au­to­mat­i­cally ad­just to the op­ti­mum set­tings on the fly. This does well at spot­ting ob­jects, with a lit­tle icon to let you know what it thinks it’s look­ing at, but it’s hard to tell how ef­fec­tive the set­ting ad­just­ments are as there’s seem­ingly no op­tion to turn the fea­ture off, short of switch­ing the much more com­plex ‘Pro’ mode in­side the cam­era app.

AI aside, cam­era per­for­mance is strong, if not quite best in class. Colours are bright, and es­pe­cially im­pres­sive in low light tests, where our pho­tos came out crisp and vi­brant de­spite what was clearly a lot of

soft­ware work to brighten things up. The cam­era also does a good job pick­ing out de­tails, in both land­scape and macro shots, though the aut­o­fo­cus strug­gles a lit­tle when things get too close.

As for video, you can shoot in Full HD at up to 120 frames per se­cond, or up the res­o­lu­tion to 4K, but with a cor­re­spond­ing frame rate drop down to 30fps. Videos come out pretty well, but any­one with se­ri­ous video am­bi­tions will have to spend more than this. Con­nec­tiv­ity, au­dio and bio­met­rics Au­dio has been amped up, too. The builtin speak­ers are se­ri­ously pow­er­ful – among the loud­est we’ve ever heard in a smart­phone – while main­tain­ing good tone. Else­where there’s DTS Head­phone:X sup­port for vir­tual 7.1 sur­round sound, along with Blue­tooth 5.0 and aptX HD. Plus, as we’ve said, you get an ac­tual 3.5mm head­phone jack, which is still the only way to get the best au­dio out of a phone.

Beyond au­dio, the phone uses USB-C for fast charg­ing, and in­cludes NFC for con­tact­less pay­ments through Google Pay. We’ve al­ready men­tioned the fin­ger­print sen­sor on the rear – as fast and sim­ple to use as you’d ex­pect from a 2018 de­vice – but there’s also the op­tion to un­lock the de­vice with fa­cial recog­ni­tion.

With only a sin­gle front-fac­ing cam­era, the tech here cer­tainly isn’t as com­pre­hen­sive as the iPhone X’s Face ID, and as a re­sult is likely a bit less se­cure. It’s a lit­tle less re­li­able, too – it mostly works fine, but does tend to re­quire you to look at the de­vice pretty much straight-on, and se­ri­ously strug­gles in low light.

Bat­tery life

The ZenFone 5 is pack­ing a 3,300mAh bat­tery, which has be­come fairly typ­i­cal for the price point. It lasted al­most ex­actly seven hours in the Geek­bench 4 bat­tery test, with a score of 4036 – roughly in line with the re­sults we saw for the OnePlus 6 and Galaxy S9, which is no bad thing. Real-world us­age has been sim­i­larly im­pres­sive: it’s been re­li­ably last­ing for at least a day and a half of typ­i­cal us­age, and can just about man­age two days at a push – though it was get­ting very low on power by that point.

Soft­ware

Beyond the notched screen, the ZenFone 5 features that Asus has put the most work into push­ing are all about the soft­ware. An­droid 8.0 Oreo, is driv­ing ev­ery­thing, with Asus ZenUI 5 on top – and that’s where most of the changes lie.

For one, there’s that notch. An­droid OS and app sup­port for the notch has im­proved over the last few months, and so for the most part its seam­less here. Gen­er­ally speak­ing app no­ti­fi­ca­tions ap­pear on the left, while sys­tem no­ti­fi­ca­tions are on the right. Tap­ping on the notch opens a slightly ex­tended no­ti­fi­ca­tion area to re­veal any that don’t quite fit, while swip­ing down from the left brings up all your no­ti­fi­ca­tion cards, and swip­ing on the right ex­pands the con­trol cen­tre short­cuts.

ZenUI as a whole has also been cleaned up, bring­ing it a bit closer to stock An­droid: there’s Gboard as the de­fault key­board; Google’s own browser, email, and mes­sag­ing apps; and Face­book and In­sta­gram are the only third-party apps that come pre-in­stalled. There are a few of Asus’s own apps, like the clock, con­tacts, and cal­cu­la­tor, but none of these are too ob­jec­tion­able, and

you can al­ways in­stall your pre­ferred Google or third­party vari­ants if you have strong feel­ings about them.

With a sense of thud­ding in­evitabil­ity, Asus has also cre­ated its own take on an­i­mated emoji, here dubbed ZeniMoji. You have to ac­cess the fea­ture through Asus’s Selfie Mas­ter app, but can then share the re­sults across your pre­ferred mes­sag­ing and so­cial me­dia apps. The re­sults are fun, and Asus wins points for in­clud­ing an an­thro­po­mor­phic crois­sant as one of the options, but the an­i­ma­tions are less de­tailed than Ap­ple’s, and there are none of the cus­tomiza­tion options in­cluded in Sam­sung’s ver­sion, or on their way for iPhone users in iOS 12.

The rest of the big soft­ware features are, on trend for 2018, all about AI. From the cam­era to the charger, no­ti­fi­ca­tions, and even your ring­tone, Asus claims it’s cracked how to use AI to im­prove your ex­pe­ri­ence.

We’ve al­ready dis­cussed the cam­era features, but else­where the phone will do its best to al­ter your ring­tone vol­ume to suit am­bi­ent noise – crank­ing it up if you’re in a busy bar, turn­ing it down for a quiet of­fice – tweak the colour tem­per­a­ture of the dis­play based on light lev­els, and even tweak the text colour on no­ti­fi­ca­tions based on your wall­pa­per im­age.

Then there’s AI Boost – es­sen­tially over­clock­ing by an­other name, let­ting you crank the pro­ces­sor up for in­ten­sive tasks. This will in­crease bat­tery drain, but Asus claims it will give you power equiv­a­lent to a Snap­dragon 660 – still mid-range, but def­i­nitely more pow­er­ful than the 636 nor­mally is.

Fi­nally, there’s AI Charg­ing, which will learn from how you charge your phone to help pre­serve the

bat­tery in the long term. For ex­am­ple, if you of­ten keep your phone plugged in overnight, AI Charg­ing will top it up to 80 per­cent and keep it there un­til early in the morn­ing, be­fore bring­ing it all the way to full just be­fore you wake up, which Asus claims could as much as double the bat­tery’s life­span.

These are all the sort of qual­ity of life features that are hard to test, and which most users won’t even no­tice are qui­etly im­prov­ing their ex­pe­ri­ence – though that only makes it all the stranger that most of them are turned off by de­fault, and buried deep in the An­droid set­tings menus. You’d only ever dis­cover they were there if go look­ing for them, and we sus­pect most users won’t bother, and so will never en­joy the ben­e­fits – a shame, as there are some gen­uine im­prove­ments here.

Ver­dict

The mid-range An­droid mar­ket gets more com­pelling – and com­pet­i­tive – ev­ery year, so it’s re­mark­able that Asus has man­aged to come out swing­ing with a hand­set that of­fers a £1,000 de­sign with a third of the price tag. The AI features are mostly mar­ket­ing hype, and the av­er­age user won’t even no­tice them, but the de­cent cam­era, smooth per­for­mance, and big, beau­ti­ful dis­play mean the ZenFone 5 should be se­ri­ously tempt­ing for any­one look­ing for a full-screen phone that won’t break the bank.

Spec­i­fi­ca­tions

6.2in (2,246x1,080; 434ppi) IPS LCD ca­pac­i­tive touch­screen

An­droid 8.0 Oreo Qual­comm SDM636 Snap­dragon 636 pro­ces­sor Octa-core Kryo 260 CPU Adreno 509 GPU 4/6GB RAM 64GB stor­age (mi­croSD up to 512GB) Dual rear-fac­ing cameras: 12Mp (f/1.8, 24mm, 1/2.55in, 1.4µm, PDAF, 4-axis OIS); 8Mp (f/2.0, 12mm, 1/4in, 1.12µm), gyro EIS, dual-LED (dual tone) flash 8Mp front cam­era: (f/2.0, 24mm, 1/4in, 1.12µm), gyro EIS, 1080p 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi Blue­tooth 5.0 A-GPS, GLONASS, BDS NFC Fin­ger­print sen­sor (rear mounted) USB 2.0, Type-C 1.0 3,300mAh non-re­mov­able bat­tery lithium-poly­mer bat­tery 153x75.7x7.9mm 155g

The ZenFone 5’s dis­play is im­pres­sively bright and vivid, with great colour re­pro­duc­tion

Macro shot Low light shot

Wide-an­gle shot

ZenUI as a whole has been cleaned up, bring­ing it a bit closer to stock An­droid

The soft­ware lets you cus­tom­ize which short­cuts ap­pear

The fin­ger­print scan­ner on the rear of the phone is quick and easy to use

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