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Asus ZenFone 5 (2018) Review: Hands-on

Asus ZenFone 5 (2018) Review: Hands-on
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If the Asus ZenFone 5 sounds familiar, it probably should - Asus released a phone called the ZenFone 5 way back in 2014. Unsurprisingly, this latest version has had a few upgrades - not least a very familiar notch.

Asus announced the phone at Mobile World Congress 2018, but we’ve already had the chance to spend some time with the new device. Here’s what we think so far.


PRICE AND AVAILABILITY

So far we don’t have any official price for the ZenFone 5, or a firm release date. The ZenFone 4 started at £449/$399, so we’d expect to see something similar from the 5 though.

It’s also worth noting that Asus has also announced the ZenFone 5Z and 5 Lite - the 5Z is expected to come to the UK later this year, but the 5 Lite probably won’t. The 5Z is essentially identical to the 5 however, except with a faster processor, so all of our hands-on reactions here will apply to that phone too.

DESIGN AND BUILD


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 is one of the first of the major Android manufacturers to incorporate that iconic notch into its own display design, allowing the corners of the screen to reach the very top of the device.

Unlike the iPhone X, the 6.2in display doesn’t quite reach the very bottom of the device, but the bezel is so minimal you’re not likely to mind too much - it's hard to complain about a 90 percent screen-to-body ratio. Beyond the display you get a very slim metal-framed body, and a glass back, all of which looks and feels great - even if it is all-too familiar.


Unlike the iPhone X you do get a fingerprint sensor - here on the back of the phone - though the vertically aligned dual cameras in the corner are another touch of definite familiarity. Still, the ZenFone 5 has one big advantage over the iPhone: a 3.5mm headphone jack.



There are other concessions to budget of course. Despite the glass back there’s no wireless charging here, and waterproofing is totally absent too.

At launch the ZenFone 5 will be available in two colours: Midnight Blue and Meteor Silver.

Overall, it’s hard to argue - looking an awful lot like Apple’s flagship device is no bad thing in a phone that costs less than half the price.

SPECS AND FEATURES

So, for all that the ZenFone 5 looks like Apple’s latest, it’s understandably not packing quite so much power inside.


First up, the 6.2in display is Full HD+, and IPS-style, in a 19:9 ratio that's even thinner than some of its rivals. In person it looked bright and vivid, with great colour reproduction. Sure, it isn’t OLED, but this is undeniably a great looking display for the price - as long as you’re a fan of the notch.





The ZenFone 5 is also one of the first phones to use the Snapdragon 636, Qualcomm’s new mid-range chip designed to offer support for FHD+ displays. The 636 will be backed up by 4GB of RAM and 64GB built-in storage, with MicroSD support as you’d expect. The battery is 3300mAh, which should be enough for a day or two of typical usage.

It’s worth remembering that later this year the ZenFone 5Z will release, boasting the exact same design but powered by Qualcomm’s latest flagship chip, the Snapdragon 845, 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.

As for cameras, you get dual lens on the back: the main shooter, powered by Sony's new 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 wide-angle 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.

Those cameras also boast new AI-driven software to get even more out of your shots - more on that below.


udio has been amped up too. The built-in 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.

SOFTWARE

Beyond that notched screen, the most exciting things about the ZenFone 5 are all about the software.

Android 8.0 Oreo, the most recent version of the OS, is driving everything, with Asus ZenUI 5 on top - and that’s where the real improvements lie.

For one, there’s that notch. Google is expected to add official support for notches to the next version of Android, but until then Asus has built its own solutions into ZenUI, claiming that the notch will never intrude on your content or get in the way of apps.

The OS as a whole has also been cleaned up, bringing it a bit closer to stock Android: there's Gboard as the default keyboard; no duplicate browser, email, or messaging apps; and Facebook and Instagram are the only third-party apps that come pre-installed.


You also get the option to unlock the phone with your face, though as with other Android phones this isn’t based on the infrared TrueDepth camera tech in the iPhone X, so don’t expect quite the same level of sophistication or security. One neat touch is that the phone will keep the display on as long as it can detect that you're looking at it.

Asus has also borrowed Animoji, with its own take dubbed ZeniMoji. We weren’t able to test this ourselves, but without the TrueDepth camera you should probably expect something a bit less polished than Apple’s version - though they do have the advantage of being usable in video chats and live streams.

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 thinks it’s cracked how to use artificial intelligence to improve your experience.

The camera follows in the footsteps of the Honor View 10, using AI to recognise 16 scenes and objects - from sunsets to dogs - and automatically adjust to the optimum settings on the fly. The gallery app will then also sort those photos by their recognised scenes to make it as easy as possible to find all your pet pics.


More than that, it will also learn from your behaviour. If you routinely go into your photos after taking them to tweak light levels or add a filter, the phone will remember your choices and do its best to automatically edit future photos to suit your tastes - preserving the original, unaltered photo too, just to be safe.

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.

SPECS
  • Android 8.0 Oreo
  • 6.2in Full HD+ 18:9 IPS-Style display
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 636
  • 4GB RAM
  • 64 internal storage
  • Micro-SD card slot
  • 12MP rear-facing camera with f/1.8 + 8MP wide-angle with f/2.2
  • 8MP front camera with f/2.0
  • Fingerprint scanner (rear mounted)
  • Headphone jack
  • USB-C with Smart Charge

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