Asus Zenfone 9 review: An iPhone mini alternative for Android lovers

Positives

  • Small size is refreshing to use
  • Uncompromising in build quality and performance
  • Simple and bloatware-free software
  • Essentials like a 3.5mm headphone jack and charger are included

Negatives

  • Speakers come off as small
  • The adaptive refresh rate is overly aggressive
  • Poor video recording
  • Only two years of OS updates

When you market a device as having key features in a small size, there are high expectations. What was once a familiar form factor, compact phones have since eclipsed the “Ultra” and “Pro” phones, with screens that stretch from 6.5 inches and beyond. (Let’s not even talk about aspiring foldables for tablets.)

We’ve seen this story before: Manufacturers try to satisfy a niche customer segment by being different, unique and Just Bold enough to pick up a few nostalgia points along the way. In the end, the demand is not there. Why settle for a smaller, short-handed phone when you can just buy a bigger, safer, no-compromise Goliath?

Asus is doing something different with the new Zenfone 9. In this story, David is equipped with high-end specs and features, with less obvious flaws than other compact phones — Apple phones included. After two weeks of testing the phone, here are my pros and cons to help you decide if your Zenfone is worth picking up.

Determine

Healer Qualcomm Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1
Show 5.9 inch AMOLED, 2400 x 1080 pixels, 120Hz refresh rate
Weight 169 g (5.96 oz)

RAM / Storage

8GB/128GB, 8GB/256GB, 16GB/256GB

cameras

50MP main camera with 6-axis Hybrid Gimbal OIS, 12MP wide camera (113° FOV), 12MP front camera

battery 4300 mAh with 30W fast charging
Connection 3.5mm headphone jack, USB-C, Bluetooth 5.2, Wi-Fi 802.11ac

The operating system

Zen UI based on Android 12

Colors

Black midnight, white moonlight, starry blue, red sunset

price Starting at $699


design

Without a doubt, the outstanding feature of the Asus Zenfone 9 is its size. The screen size is 5.9 inches, which makes it well below average in terms of 2022 flagship. However, adapting to the smaller format is much easier than you might expect. For example, Asus has molded the Zenfone with an aspect ratio of 20:9, which means that it is taller and narrower compared to traditional 18.5:9 devices (such as iPhones, Samsung Galaxies, etc.). Secondly, the AMOLED panel supports FHD resolution (2,400 x 1,080 pixels) and a refresh rate of 120 Hz, which makes the transition from other high-end phones very smooth.

Comparison of the Asus Zenfone 7

The 5.9-inch Zenfone 9 stands out by today’s pioneers.

Jun Wan / ZDNet

In the hand, the Zenfone 9 greets you with its soft-touch rubber back cover. It’s non-removable, which I was surprised to discover after seeing all the fun colors and poppies that Asus had on display, but it does a surprisingly decent job of resisting any fingerprints and smudges. The extra grip is easy to appreciate from the textured support, and it’s pursued by the soft-touch aluminum fender that surrounds the machine.

Along the edge is a power button – get it – that triples as the fingerprint scanner and slider switch. Here’s what I have to say about the two: they’re almost too reliable. In many cases when I just want to see my notifications from the lock screen, even the simplest tap of the power button unlocks the phone, bypassing the lock screen instead of just waking it up. There is no “double tap to wake” feature on the Zenfone either.

As for the slider switch, it’s very useful for scrolling through web pages and pulling down the notification panel, but again it’s very sensitive. I often find myself browsing apps unintentionally due to the way I was holding the phone. You can of course turn off the slider switch (which Asus calls the “Smart Switch”) in the settings.

Asus Zenfone 7 Design 2

Midnight Black wouldn’t be my first choice but it looks elegant and feels great in the hand.

Jun Wan / ZDNet

However, I found it easy to ignore the sensitivity issues because the rest of the Zenfone is undoubtedly enjoyable. Considering the sleek design, dual speakers, and a 3.5mm headphone jack, Asus managed to get the device certified for IP68 water and dust resistance, which is reassuring for people who buy the phone under warranty. I had no problem receiving 4G LTE and hints about 5G connections on T-Mobile sim. Your mileage may vary.

With compact phones, we usually see manufacturers shrink the sizes of the batteries to accommodate the smaller form factor. not here. Instead, Asus has made the Zenfone 9 thicker than its predecessor, putting a healthy 4,300mAh battery under the hood. More on battery life later.

Asus zenfone fish 7 sides

The thickness of the Zenfone 9 is 9.1 mm. This is before you hit the case.

Jun Wan / ZDNet

Programming

The Zenfone 9 runs on Asus’ own Zen UI, which is layered on top of Android 12. It’s simple, clean, bloatware-free (except for the Asus Data Transfer app), and a must-have for Android enthusiasts. Of course, the brand took a few core elements from Google’s Pixel Launcher like the expanded always-on clock, and notification toggles. Coming from a gaming phone I tested alongside Asus, I appreciate the minimalist approach to Zen UI.

Also: Best smartphones to buy in 2022

Asus Zenoy software

Zen UI is clean, easy to use and fully customizable.

Screenshot: June Wan / ZDNet

My main drawback with the Asus software is its longevity. Right now, the company is only committing to two years of operating system (OS) updates, which means the Zenfone 9 will end software support after Android 14. While that won’t come until 2024, if you expect to use the phone for more than two years — which Many of you will probably be – then the short-term commitment by Asus should be one of your main concerns.

Does this mean you can no longer use the phone after 2024? no. But the lack of operating system and security updates can (and will) make your device more vulnerable to viruses and attacks.

Also: Comparing Samsung, Apple and Google’s Software Upgrade Policies

Asus Zenfone 7 Show 2

Jun Wan / ZDNet

performance

Regardless of future talk, my experience using the Asus Zenfone 9 has been great. As you’ve noticed with the screen, switching to the Asus was smooth and didn’t require much tweaking. This means that my usual routine of surfing the web, streaming shows and movies, taking photos, and doing general things over the phone has not changed.

Zenfone 9, like its gaming sibling, is powered by the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 chipset, allowing it to run most of the apps, games and services you offer to it. Although I would advise mobile gamers to check out devices with a larger battery and a larger screen, the Zenfone 9 still manages to play a lot. There were moments when the phone felt warm when running Jinshin effect And the Maine CraftBut it never got to the point where I needed to relax. For a phone that’s compact with 8GB of RAM and not much internal space to cool itself down, I was impressed.

asus-zenfone-7 screen

Viewing angles are great, too.

Jun Wan / ZDNet

The sound quality on the Asus is fine. I found the dual stereo speakers’ output to be minimal and lacking in bass, which made the experiences less than desirable for watching movies and gaming. The speaker system is also not as loud as I would have liked. As someone who loves to play music while cooking, I’ve heard sizzling more than anything else.

Finally, it’s worth noting that Asus gives you four refresh rate options with the Zenfone 9: 120Hz, 90Hz, 60Hz, and Auto. I’m a big fan of manufacturers that allow you to dial up to 90Hz and not just jump from 120Hz to 60Hz, so that’s a plus. However, the Zenfone 9’s refresh rate is noticeably too aggressive in automatic mode. Depending on the app you’re using, the phone switches between the three values ​​so quickly that it gives the impression of stuttering. For me, leaving the screen at 120Hz made for the smoothest user experience.

also: Hands-on with the Asus ROG Phone 6 and 6 Pro

camera

The Zenfone 9 isn’t the most expensive phone by any means — it starts at $699 — so I was happy to see Asus with just two cameras and nothing more. (We often see phone makers put in low-end additional cameras to meet the “quad-camera” marketing jargon.)

Asus Zenfone 7 cameras

The two cameras are large but identical in size

Jun Wan / ZDNet

By putting more effort into the 50MP main lens and 12MP ultrawide, photos captured with the Zenfone are full of vibrancy and sharpness. Check out the sample below, which was captured by the ultra-wide lens. While the camera was sunny, she was able to keep the Brooklyn Bridge in focus, balancing the tones and colors of the sky – and the buildings across the river.

Asus Zenfone 9 Camera Sample 1

Afternoon drive over the Brooklyn Bridge. Captured with an Ultra Wide Lens.

Jun Wan / ZDNet

I’m a little more than that when it comes to video recording with the Zenfone 9. Asus is touting a 6-Axis Hybrid Gimbal OIS that makes shots look more stable, shake-free, and smooth. While this is certainly the case when recording in motion (see video below), the camera appears to have problems balancing its exposure, with gradual transitions between darker and lighter tones. There’s also a noticeable lack of detail, though the HyperSteady feature limits you to 1080p video.

battery

Getting into this review, I was skeptical about the Zenfone 9’s battery life. My previous experiences with the iPhone SE (2020) and iPhone 13 mini have led me to associate sub-par endurance with smaller phones. You simply cannot fit the same battery capacity as the larger alternatives.

But by making the Zenfone 9 even thicker, Asus has proven that all it takes is a small design change. The Zenfone’s 4,300mAh cell averaged five and a half screen time (SOT) per day, hovering around the 12% mark at the end of each night.

For charging, Asus includes a 30W USB-C charger in the box that can charge your Zenfone within an hour. However, there is no wireless charging on the device.

minimum

Asus has done it again. The $699 Zenfone 9 is a small phone that delivers great performance. By making clever sacrifices (if you consider the thicker phone to be one), the latest flagship phone packs similar processing power, battery life, and software features to its larger counterparts.

What should you pay attention to? The dreaded software update policy, average video and audio output, and excessive variable refresh rate are my main callouts. Here’s the thing: Besides the small speakers, all of these issues can still be resolved via future updates. For now, it’s just about showing consumers the demand and Asus following through on it.

Alternatives to consider

Besides the ASUS Zenfone 9, here are three worthwhile alternatives that you should consider:

Due to its wider dimensions, the Samsung Galaxy S22 is about the same size as the Asus Zenfone 9, although it has a larger 6.1-inch screen. The phone doesn’t have the same Qualcomm processor, but the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 is still a formidable chipset and the S22’s camera system is arguably better than the Asus. You can also expect up to four years of operating system updates with Samsung.

For the small phone enthusiast, the Apple iPhone 13 mini should be at the top of your bucket list. It’s the smallest iPhone powered by Apple’s latest chipset and offers a reliable dual-camera setup for capturing photos and videos. Battery life is affected, but the security and longevity of your iOS devices may be something to consider.

Technically a compact phone when closed, the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 brings back the days of the old clamshell with a foldable AMOLED display, 5G support, and all the benefits of One UI software. The phone is easy to pocket, has a durable hinge, and is IPX8 rated for water resistance.

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