ASUS has been making some gains in the smartphone market, and although they’re one the biggest manufacturers globally and a notable option considering how much attention LG and Samsung get, they’re somewhere in the middle among buyers. So, if something like the Zenfone 5Z can’t beat the competition on brand recognition, then there’s always the potential of undercutting the likes of the newest iPhone or Galaxy S.
Bezel, Aluminum, Glass and Notch
This is supposed to be a flagship phone in a broad sense without the price being prohibitively expensive. Based on looks alone it certainly has a sharp appearance that closely mimics an iPhone X, almost to a fault. Many others—including myself—are not fans of the downward notch for no other reason than that it’s a design characteristic for design’s sake, but ASUS attempts to mitigate this trait by making it slightly less intrusive into the 6.2-inch display.
Because the front of the 5Z is mostly screen with some bezel, the necessary bits occupy the side and rear area. A fingerprint sensor is prominently situated directly on the back, while a dual camera sensor sits off at the top left corner, with the flash module sitting right below the lens instead of inside to be different. As you’d expect the USB-C and a headphone jack connectivity sit at the bottom, while the right edge houses the power button with a volume rocker above it. The left side is where the SIM cards (yes, this is a dual/world phone setup) and SDXC memory card holder resides.
The external layout of the Zenfone 5Z is straightforward but it’s really the fit and finish that’s well done. The body is machined in aerospace-quality aluminum and enveloped in glass, finished in what they call zircon-sandblasting and a eight-layer optical coating process. Of course, that decadent sheen is achieved by applying a varnish undercoating for a technologically precise style. The appearance alone makes a stellar first impression—and ASUS knows it will get scraped up, so they thoughtfully included a transparent cover to preserve its beauty.
The 5Z is impressively loud by smartphone standard thanks to its dual speakers and certified to play Hi-Res Audio and aptX HD support for discerning audiophiles, who may also tweak sound profile to their exact liking with an AudioWizard equalizer. These customization options also extend to headphones and incorporated DTS:X Headphone compatibility, which is still an uncommon feature for most mobile devices. Again, ASUS was kind enough to provide in-ear headphones in the box.
ASUS didn’t skimp on the internal components with its flagship because the 5Z packs Qualcomm’s current Snapdragon 845 CPU, Adreno 630 GPU, 64GB storage and an ample 6GB amount of LPDDR4X RAM. You shouldn’t go wanting for smooth performance considering its lower price. It’s incredibly fast and made short work of some benchmark rundowns and operate pretty darn close to other competitors in this category.
Optimization features such as AI Boost which can give you an increase in power by allocating more resources for resource-heavy apps, and OptiFlex technology that prioritizes frequently used apps faster. Battery usage is smarter too, with the phone incorporating charging presets—as well as an option to customize and adapt power habits based on your schedule, allowing you to choose how you would want to optimize the battery drain.
The AI charging is interesting in that its smart enough to adjust itself to avoid charging stress and diminished health, a very real problem that prolonged charging can inevitably cause. During my daily activities the 3000mAh battery was able last for most of a standard weekday of 18 hours with another 21% to spare, good work ASUS.
How does all of this play out when using the 5Z every day? Well, it’s a nice phone to live with and Android Oreo 8.1 handles the everyday grind like a champ. the display is an 2246×1080 Super IPS LCD with a 19:9 aspect ratio that sports protective Corning Gorilla Glass 3, and although it’s not technologically advanced (like say an AMOLED) the image quality and viewing angles are relatively detailed. The blacks are respectfully deep and the colors tend to pop with agreeable range, this probably has a lot to do with the active color temperate sensor and it’s better-than-average response to ambient light. So yeah, the screen seems to work wonders when it needs to.
The camera is solid with a 12-megapixel lens and f/1.8 aperture, and a wide-angle 8-megapixel lens with an f/2.2 aperture. Focus happens quickly and gets the exposure just right in most scenarios, even standing toe-to-toe against the Samsung Galaxy S9 and Xperia XA2. The photos look great, capturing good detail and stellar color accuracy. The edge detection is noticeably accurate. In some instances, and night photos with the AI Scene feature does a excellent job, decreasing shutter speed along with night view and minor visual noise.
A lot of this clarity is sourced from Sony and their IMX363 sensor with optical image stabilization, it’s a fantastic lens and does great things when HDR is enabled. It’s not quite perfect elsewhere when wide-angle shots are taken as pictures exhibit a blurring effect with weak contrasts, and a decent reproduction of selfies in portrait mode. You can always take matters into your own hands and switch over to the Pro settings with plenty to customize, but the navigation and slider menus means a lot more work than your Instagram pictures may require.
It’s apparent that premium smartphones are reaching higher platitudes in price if people are willing to pay for the brand, which is why the ASUS Zenfone 5Z is refreshing in its approach. It’s a flagship choice in specifications, performance and style, but manages to escape the snob appeal normally associated. That alone could be worth looking into.