Asus Zenfone 9 assessment: one for the small cellphone superfans


Unboxing the Asus Zenfone 9 was like assembly somebody new and studying that you just like the identical obscure films or went to the identical highschool. I may inform instantly we’d get alongside. “You’re IP68 and you have a headphone jack? No way! I love headphone jacks!”

A variety of the attraction has to do with its dimension. As it did with the Zenfone 8, Asus has got down to reply the query “what would a small (read: reasonably sized) flagship Android phone look like?” The reply begins with a 5.9-inch display — not almost as small because the 5.4-incher on the iPhone Mini. But so far as the Android ecosystem goes, it’s downright tiny.

“Small and runs Android” isn’t the one factor going for the Zenfone 9: it affords top-shelf elements like a Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 processor, a smooth-scrolling 120Hz show refresh fee, and a 12-megapixel foremost digital camera with a one-of-a-kind stabilization system. It begins with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage for $799 and can go on sale within the US straight from Asus in mid-September. Introductory pricing can be decrease — $699 — and you could find world variations of the cellphone on Amazon proper now for a bit lower than MSRP. However, there’s good cause to attend till it’s formally on sale: Asus offers a one-year guarantee with the cellphone if you buy it straight, and the imported variations floating round now don’t embody that.

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Even if you’re using excessive since you met your new finest good friend, you must come again right down to actuality ultimately. The Zenfone 9 isn’t the proper small cellphone: it lacks wi-fi charging, which most telephones at this worth embody. There’s additionally no telephoto digital camera, which isn’t a given in a cellphone below $1,000, however the (additionally $799) Samsung S22 does embody one. The Zenfone 9 doesn’t work with each US service, both. It capabilities on AT&T and T-Mobile’s networks, however you’re out of luck on Verizon. Trust me, I attempted.

Then there’s software program help. Asus is committing to 2 platform OS updates and a paltry two years of safety patches. A cellphone at this worth level ought to actually get extra years of software program help. This makes it arduous to broadly suggest the Zenfone 9, particularly with the excellent, five-years-of-security-updates, works-on-every-carrier Galaxy S22 in the identical worth bracket. But like sure genres of cult basic films, it’ll actually hit the spot for a particular form of particular person, and I’m one among them.

The Zenfone 9 embraces 2022’s return to flat rails slightly than the period of rounded edges that the iPhone 6 ushered in. This exterior body is aluminum, and the show curves ever so barely the place it meets the perimeters. The entrance panel is glass, however the again is a composite polymer materials with a textured, smooth end that makes the cellphone simple to grip one-handed. The complete factor feels sturdy, and it’s rated IP68 for strong water and dirt resistance.

Asus Zenfone 9 on a table top

It’s small, however the Zenfone 9 options top-shelf {hardware}.

Did I point out it’s small? It is, and I like it. There’s an assortment of high-end telephones on my desk as I write this, they usually’re all very succesful. But after I maintain the Zenfone 9, it simply looks like a sigh of aid. It takes up so little house that after I put it within the pocket of my yoga pants, I’ll hold doing that factor the place I believe “oh crap, I left my phone in the house” after which uncover with aid that it’s really in my pocket. This will not be one thing that occurs after I’m carrying a 6.4-incher just like the Google Pixel 6 in my pocket. The solely cellphone extra snug to hold in my pocket actually folds in half, so nicely executed, Asus.

The energy button on the facet of the cellphone does triple responsibility as a fingerprint sensor and a “Smart Key.” The latter affords a customizable interplay if you swipe your finger throughout the button from prime to backside. By default it’s set to tug down the fast settings and notification shade; it’s a pleasant method to examine notifications one-handed with out having to succeed in as much as the highest of the display, which remains to be a stretch, even on a cellphone this small.

The function works nicely. Too nicely. Whenever I used to be utilizing the cellphone with two arms, my proper palm saved unintentionally pulling the shade down. This was annoying, and I turned the Smart Key function off. On the intense facet, I respect that Asus doesn’t make you bear in mind a button mixture if you wish to flip off the cellphone — you simply long-press the facility button like within the good previous days.

The 5.9-inch OLED on the Zenfone 9 affords a prime refresh fee of 120Hz, which is kind of customary within the flagship class now. It makes for a {smooth} scrolling expertise, and the flagship-grade Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 processor paired with 8GB of RAM makes the cellphone really feel lots responsive for on a regular basis and even heavy duties. The display’s peak brightness of 1,100 nits means it may be comfortably used even in very vibrant situations. It’s a comparatively small cellphone, so it’s most likely not the way you wish to watch an entire season of tv, however the built-in stereo audio system are surprisingly good in the event you do use it to look at video. You may even hear one thing like bass coming from them! And there’s extra good audio news: the Zenfone 9 nonetheless has a headphone jack. A headphone jack! That’s simply considerate. It all checks out as top-tier {hardware}.

The software program is beautiful, too. It’s a lightweight contact on Android 12 that stays out of your approach. When it does request my consideration, it’s very well mannered, like with pop-up textual content within the digital camera app recommending that I shoot in brighter situations or that I activate battery saving if I wish to use the gimbal stabilization for a very long time. Otherwise, it’s a heck of quite a bit like utilizing a Pixel cellphone. But one factor that’s not Pixel-like is the help. Asus is committing to 2 OS platform upgrades and solely guarantees two years of safety updates. For the identical $799 worth, the Galaxy S22 comes with a promise of 4 OS model updates and 5 years of safety patches. The Zenfone 9 simply isn’t an awesome choice in the event you plan to maintain your cellphone longer than a few years.

It’s not totally clear whether or not the Zenfone 9 will help 5G within the US, both, though it has the proper {hardware}. As of this writing, Asus spokesperson Ester Suh advised us that 5G on AT&T was “in progress.” I checked with T-Mobile, and its official stance is that it hasn’t licensed the system — the Zenfone 9 helps the proper bands, however T-Mobile considers it a “bring your own device” state of affairs and says it may’t assure efficiency. I haven’t been in a position to check it myself, and in any case, it’s a good suggestion to examine along with your service everytime you purchase an unlocked cellphone whether or not it’ll work on its 4G and 5G networks.

Battery life is often excessive on the record of small cellphone issues; they have an inclination to have smaller batteries that wrestle to ship a full day’s price of utilization. The Zenfone 9 doesn’t; its mixture of a 4,300mAh battery and the power-efficient 8 Plus Gen 1 processor will get it by way of a day of average use (clocking round two hours of screen-on time with the always-on show enabled consistently) and not using a drawback. By default, the cellphone operates on a “Dynamic” mode for battery optimization. You can go for “High performance mode,” which Asus describes because the “best choice for demanding apps.” There are two modes under dynamic that preserve extra battery life, however I discovered the default mode supplied a great stability of efficiency and battery stamina.

There’s good news and unhealthy news on the battery charging entrance. The unhealthy news, as talked about above, is that there’s no wi-fi charging. It’s kind of a given on high-end telephones today, so it’s a disgrace that the Zenfone 9 doesn’t embody it. It’s arduous to think about that this can be a tradeoff to maintain the cellphone dimension down for the reason that smaller iPhone 13 Mini consists of it. In any case, the nice news is that the Zenfone 9 helps quick 30W charging and even consists of the 30W charging brick within the field. That’s particularly helpful in the event you do push the Zenfone 9 with quite a lot of battery-intensive duties like streaming video and gaming — upward of 4 or 5 hours of screen-on time. In that case, its comparatively small battery would profit from a late-afternoon enhance to make it by way of the tip of the day.

Asus Zenfone 9 lying on a table with rear panel facing up

There’s simply a regular extensive and an ultrawide on the Zenfone 9’s rear panel.

Asus didn’t festoon the Zenfone 9 with ineffective depth sensors and macro cameras, and for that, I’m grateful. There’s only one 50-megapixel customary extensive digital camera with some critical stabilization (extra on that in a second) and a 12-megapixel f/2.2 ultrawide with autofocus so it may double as a macro, plus a 12-megapixel selfie digital camera. There’s no telephoto lens, which form of stinks. Image high quality is nice, usually talking, although the Zenfone 9 typically will get into hassle with some aggressive over-sharpening. It’s not disastrous however not my favourite.

The foremost rear digital camera consists of what can finest be described as “gimbal stabilization.” It’s not only a lens ingredient transferring, and it’s not simply the sensor, so “optical” or “sensor-shift” stabilization aren’t the proper phrases. Virtually each different flagship cellphone consists of both optical or sensor-shift stabilization.


All stabilization off (left) versus gimbal and digital stabilization turned on (proper).

On the Zenfone 9, every little thing strikes collectively — lens and sensor — to compensate for digital camera shake, which is extra strong than the everyday strategies. Asus says it may higher compensate for larger actions than a standard, optical-only system: as much as three levels of movement on six axes — vertical, horizontal, and forwards and backwards — versus one diploma. It’s coupled with digital picture stabilization, too, which smooths out movement even additional and provides a “predictive” ingredient because of Asus’ algorithms.

It’s critically spectacular. For starters, in the event you look carefully, you can actually see the camera and lens moving around below the principle housing if you activate video mode. That’s wild. More importantly, it really works rather well. It’s most helpful for video recording. With stabilization off, footage recorded whereas strolling down a gravel path is a shaky, jumbled mess, similar to you’d anticipate. Turning it on transforms the motion to a barely perceptible swaying. You’d often want an precise gimbal mount, just like the DJI OM 5, to get footage this regular, and the Zenfone 9 simply does all of it in-camera. That could be very cool.

It’s not fairly a killer function, although. I’m not a fan of the colour processing utilized to my video clips — it appears to be like over-brightened and too flat abruptly. There’s additionally an intense crop in the event you use each digital and gimbal stabilization that makes it very troublesome to movie something in shut quarters. Gimbal stabilization can also be solely accessible for 1080p HD clips, not within the 4K or 8K (lol) recording modes.

The advantages for nonetheless images aren’t as vital. Better stabilization ought to make it attainable to make use of slower shutter speeds in low mild and nonetheless get sharp images of static topics. This appears to be the case, however that solely makes it about pretty much as good because the Pixel 6 and its mixture of OIS and computational tips. It’s additionally not going to do something for transferring topics. You’re nonetheless on the mercy of, you already know, how mild works.

Anyway, it’s cool, and I’m dying to take it out on a hike to report some video of the journey as much as the highest of a summit. With the IP68 ranking, I wouldn’t even have to fret concerning the mud on the path or how a lot sweat it’ll be uncovered to in my yoga pants pocket. As a lot as I really like taking footage with the Galaxy Z Flip 4, that’s one surroundings I don’t really feel nice about exposing it to, and the Zenfone 9 would actually excel there.


Clean software program and a compact type issue? Music to my ears.

If you’re on AT&T or T-Mobile and also you desire a really compact Android cellphone with flagship-grade efficiency, that is the one to noticeably contemplate — supplied you’re snug with the sadly quick software program help lifespan. It’s simply beautiful to make use of. I don’t miss the glass panel on the again one bit as a result of the smooth texture of no matter composite plastic that Asus has used is so beautiful. It has digital camera capabilities that make me wish to go away my home and shoot video. To be clear, my home is the place the (softest) smooth pants and espresso machine are. This is a critical barrier to beat.

That pleasantness extends to the expertise of utilizing the cellphone to do day-to-day issues. It feels responsive and polished. The built-in audio system are higher than common. If I overlook to cost my wi-fi earbuds, I can simply plug in wired headphones. The energy button even does what it’s imagined to if you maintain it down for Pete’s sake!

Realistically, the Zenfone 9 is destined for cult basic standing within the US. It doesn’t work on all carriers within the US, and the American public has spoken loud and clear that it needs large telephones. For not way more cash, the Samsung Galaxy S22 is a more sensible choice for most individuals, with broad service help, a telephoto digital camera on each mannequin, and a stable five-year safety help coverage to again all of it up. I simply hope that one thing just like the Zenfone 9 can stay an choice in our present duopoly for small cellphone superfans like me.

Photography by Allison Johnson / The Verge





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