ASUS ZenFone 5 (ZE620KL) Review: Long Awaited Comeback

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They’re finally back on track

ASUS’ first ever ZenFone devices launched 5 years ago signaled the arrival of a new value-for-money king. By the second generation, the Taiwanese company had a small, but rabid (and loyal) fanbase. Drawn in by the promise of “empowered luxury”, their second generation devices defied the pricing and performance norm of the period, and unsurprisingly expectations were high for the third generation of ZenFones. Unfortunately, the company’s higher pricing for the two succeeding generations of Zenfones left many of their fans angry and disappointed, and many jumped ship to competing brands.

ASUS’ launch and subsequent pricing of the Zenfone 5 family showed us how serious they were in regaining the trust of their current and former fans. The company certainly nailed the pricing of their Zenfone 5, but does the phone deliver the performance that their fans are looking for? Let’s find out:

ASUS Zenfone 5 Specifications
  • AI-powered Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 processor
  • Adreno 509 GPU
  • 4GB of RAM
  • 64GB of storage (expandable via MicroSD)
  • 6.2-inch Full HD+IPS display; 19:9 aspect ratio, 2246×1080 resolution, DCI-P3 wide color gamut
  • 12-megapixel main rear camera, Sony IMX363 sensor, f/1.8 aperture, Night HDR, OIS, Dual Pixel PDAF, RGB sensor
  • 8-megapixel secondary rear camera, 120-degree wide angle view
  • 4G, LTE
  • Dual SIM
  • WiFi, Bluetooth
  • GPS, A-GPS
  • Fingerprint scanner
  • Facial Recognition
  • USB Type-C port
  • 3300mAh battery with BoostMaster and Smart Charging
  • Android Oreo with ZenUI 5.0

A design inspired by the iPhone X, with a few ASUS improvements

If the past two years was the era of metal, unibody designs this year’s bandwagon design trend is all-glass backs. ASUS isn’t the sort to be left behind, with the ZF5 sporting a glass rear along with a vertically arranged camera module. The camera module is raised a few mm from the body which is a concern, though ASUS does supply each ZF5 with a silicone soft case for that reason. The fingerprint scanner is at the rear too, which is far better than a front-mounted solution, at least if you ask us.

ASUS has gone through a lot of trouble to make sure that their design stands out from the pack, at least visually – the body that sits behind the glass panel is finished using zircon-sandblasting technology and an intricate eight-layer optical coating process gives that trademark Zen-inspired concentric-circle pattern an extra luster.

The frame of the phone is made out of metal (aluminum to be precise) and the physical controls are all located on the right side. The hybrid SIM tray is on the left, while the 3.5mm jack, USB Type-C port and speaker grille are all located on the bottom of the phone.

Display looks great, but the notch is unhide-able

The ASUS ZF5 uses a 6.2-inch, full HD+, 19:9 aspect ratio IPS panel that has a screen-to-body ratio of 90 percent. Just like its contemporaries, the ZF5 has a notch at the top that houses the earpiece, sensor and the 8-megpaixel f/1.8 front-facing camera.

We’ve spoken about the notch before, and while it is a polarizing design element for sure it’s something you’ll have to get used to if you want a new shiny smartphone to use. Unfortunately the ZF5 doesn’t have a way to “turn off” the notch by putting black bars in either side of it like Huawei’s implementation on their P20 family of devices.

As for the actual display, it looks pretty nice. The FHD+ panel looks crisp, and viewing angles are pretty generous. Color reporduction is pretty good, though we really didn’t see a lot of difference in the color temperature with the AI-assist feature on.

Snapdragon 636 is a beast and more than enough for the price

The ZF5 is equipped with Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 636 octa-core processor, which is paired with an Adreno 509 GPU. That’s plenty fast for the phone’s mid-range audience, as the chipset is capable of running most Android games on high without any issues or problems. The Philippine variant of the ZF5 is equipped with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of expandable storage as well.

PUBG sessions won’t be an issue as the phone manages to record stable frame rates even on high settings. That notch also isn’t a problem when you’re consuming content or playing games, as either side of the notch is covered up by black bars shrinking the aspect ratio down to 18:9.

There’s a face unlock option to the phone, though we found the fingerprint unlock option faster and more intuitive. The sound produced by the speakers are loud and well defined as well, which was a surprise.

ZenUI isn’t as cluttered as before, but still needs some work

Anybody who has read our reviews of ASUS’ previous ZenFones know how much we hated (past tense) ZenUI, their own take on the Android operating system. Previous iterations of the ZenUI were a hot mess, replicating many of the same features and apps that Google offered as standard with their own take.

ZenUI 5 built on top of Android 8.0 thankfully has fixed many of the issues but not all. There’s still a few additional features that we think the phone could do without though admittedly there are a few things that are pretty useful. The Power Master feature for example will be able to manage your use of the phone and can turn off non-essential apps that drain your battery. Power Boost manages the ZF5’s performance, adding an extra oomph when it’s needed.

Both rear and front cameras does great work

Just like its predecessors, the ZF5 is equipped with two rear cameras, along with a single front camera. The dual rear cameras are composed of a 12-megapixel main shooter with an IMX363 sensor and an aperture of f/1.8. The secondary camera meanwhile is a 8-megapixel deal with a wide angle 120-degree lens.

ASUS has always hyped on the performance of the cameras in their phones, and the ZF5 thankfully delivers on the promise. The images captured by the camera looks pretty good for the price, with excellent color reproduction, sharpness and exposure. Dynamic range is sometimes wonky, but for the most part it does its job. Night shots taken with the phone are surprisingly good as well, though obviously you’re going to see a bit of noise in there, but overall it’s not so bad.

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ASUS says its camera is AI-powered, and is able to sense multiple scenes and adjusts the camera settings depending on what you’re shooting. Point it at food for example, and it’ll turn on food mode which bumps contrast and exposure levels to show off whatever you’re about to munch on.

Front camera is a 8-megapixel deal with a f/2.0 aperture. If the ZF5 has a weakness, it’s certainly the front-facing camera as it’s not as good as the ones we’ve seen in similarly priced competitors. That’s not a dig at the ZF5’s selfie prowess, it’s just that competition has been extraordinarily fierce in the selfie space.

Beauty mode is sometimes too aggressive, resulting in artificial-looking selfies but the good news is that you can tone that down to your preference if you want to.

Battery is good enough for a day and fast charging is great

The ASUS ZF5 has a larger than average 3300mAh battery. From our use with the phone (PCMark battery benchmark kept crashing for some reason) we found that it had enough juice to plow through a day’s use, but barely. We routinely saw our battery levels drop to around 10-15% at night before we turned in, which is suprising. It’s a good thing that the phone has fast charging enabled, which allows us to quickly top off our phone before going out.

Verdict: ASUS is back

After two years of pricing mis-steps, ASUS finally has a solid mid-range offering in the ZF5. Retailing at just under 20K/$382.41 at Php 19,995/$382.31, the ZF5 is worthy comeback phone for the Taiwanese brand that has managed to rekindle the old flame that many of its previous (and current) users felt when they first announced the ZF2 and ZF2 Deluxe. The design may have been heavily influenced by a more premium brand, but there’s no denying the value that consumers get at the price point.

ASUS is finally back. We’re hoping that they stay the course this time.

(unbox.ph, http://bit.ly/2Hlp9Uf)

 

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