- 5.5-inch, FHD, IPS screen
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 630 CPU (UK)
- 4GB RAM (UK)
- 64GB storage
- 12-megapixel Sony IMX362 image sensor with a secondary 8-megapixel, 120-degree wide-angle lens, rear camera
- 3300mAh battery
- Android 7.1 Nougat with Zen UI
Asus Zenfone 4 hands-on: A possible contender for mid-range phone of the year
Since Huawei launched its Leica-branded P9 flagship two years ago, pretty much every smartphone maker has rushed to add a dual-lens camera setup to their top-end handsets – and for good reason.
The tech has a variety of benefits, helping phones capture more light, sense depth, reduce noise and shoot at wider angles. As a result, key handsets, such as the Galaxy Note 8 and newly unveiled LG V30, have featured the best cameras we’ve seen on a smartphone.
But to date, outside of a select number of Honor phones, the benefits of a dual-lens phone camera have remained a perk of the well heeled, with most flagships setting you back north of £600/$780. Enter Asus with its Zenfone 4, a phone it hopes will offer buyers on a budget a ‘true’ dual-lens camera-phone experience.
With pricing starting at £450/$585 the Zenfone 4 is more expensive than the £399/$519 Honor 9, but that’s because it has slightly spruced-up camera tech.
Unlike the Honor, which has a mixed RGB and monochrome sensor setup, the Zenfone combines a 12-megapixel Sony IMX362 image sensor with a secondary 8-megapixel, 120-degree wide-angle lens. The setup is similar in strategy to the Galaxy S8’s, and in my experience yields better results.
Asus has made all the standard marketing camera claims you’d expect for a dual-lens phone. Specifically, the company’s boasting the setup means the phone can take “five times brighter and clearer photos in low light” and offers a “200% larger” field of view than competing handsets, such as the Honor 9.
I’ve only had a chance to test the Zenfone 4 in regular light thus far, but from what I’ve seen it is a pretty darned decent camera for the money, and easily competes with big names, such as the OnePlus 5 and Honor 9.
Quick shots taken in the Zenfone 4’s automatic mode in regular light look sharp, don’t suffer from noise and don’t appear to be over processed. Colours also are pleasingly well represented and don’t have the over-exposed look you get on many competing camera-phones. I was also particularly impressed by how fast the camera is. The Qualcomm Spectra 160 image signal processor (ISP) performed well over the last 24 hours, and I’ve never once found myself waiting for the camera to keep up with my commands. Focus speeds are also solid and, all in all, I’m yet to have any issues with the Zenfone 4’s camera performance.
You can see some sample shots below.
My only minor quibble is with the Zenfone 4’s camera app. The custom app has all the bells and whistles you’d expect, including various pro controls for things like ISO and white balance, plus colour filters for people who like to tinker. But its UI is slightly clunky compared to competitors. It took me longer than I’d like to admit to find key controls, such as how to capture in RAW, for example.
This is a little sad, as Asus has otherwise done a stellar job of toning down its traditionally heavy-handed approach to mobile software. Though the phone’s Android 7.1 Nougat OS has been skinned with Zen UI, it’s noticeably freer of bloatware and duplicate apps than past Asus devices I’ve tested.
You will find some Asus applications installed, but most of them can be deleted and outside of a few tweaks to Android’s settings menu I haven’t spotted too many annoying additions.
The Zenfone 4 also looks a lot more expensive than it is, featuring a similar mixed metal and glass design to the iPhone 8 and Galaxy S8.
The Corning Gorilla Glass 4 feels premium and has a pleasing, subtle pattern that in my mind makes the Zenfone 4 look significantly nicer than many more expensive phones, like the HTC U11, which has a glass back with a horrid slippery feel.
Build quality also feels solid, although, as with all glass-backed phones, I’m not convinced the Zenfone 4 will survive an accidental drop crack-free unless it’s protected by a case.
Outside of the camera the Zenfone’s hardware is pretty par for the course at this price point. On the front you’ll find a fingerprint scanner, which during my initial tests worked a treat, and on its bottom you’ll see a bog-standard USB-C charging port.
Under the hood you’ll find a Qualcomm Snapdragon 630 (UK) and 4GB of memory. The combo doesn’t match the specs of the moderately more expensive OnePlus 5, which features an 8-series CPU and more robust 6GB of RAM, but it’s more than good enough for most users. Multi-tab web browsing runs smoothly and the Zenfone 4 ran 3D games, like Riptide GP2 and Grand Theft Auto, fine during my tests. My initial round of synthetic benchmarks also put it on a level with pretty much every other 630-powered phone I’ve tested.
The 5.5-inch screen’s 1080p Full HD resolution isn’t the sharpest around, and doesn’t match top-end handsets, which generally have made the jump to QHD, but it’s more than good enough. Unless you really try, you’re not going to spot individual pixels.
The use of an IPS panel means the screen’s not as vibrant and doesn’t display blacks as deeply as the OnePlus 5 or Galaxy S8’s AMOLED displays, but whites are nicely clean. Colours in general look fairly accurate, albeit a little cool for my taste, and can be easily adjusted using Asus’ Splendid screen tech, which lets you manually adjust the Zenfone 4’s screen temperature.
My only minor quibble is that the screen’s maximum brightness seems to be a little low. Even cranked to its maximum setting the screen wasn’t anywhere near as bright as the HTC U11 I had on hand, which could make it tricky to use the Asus in very bright sunlight. This is a little odd, as Asus quotes it as having an impressive 600 nits max brightness.
Hopefully the lower brightness will help the 3300mAh battery last more than a day’s use off a single charge, but I’ll need more time with the Zenfone 4 to confirm this.
Featuring a beautiful design and dual-lens rear camera setup traditionally reserved for significantly more expensive smartphones, the Zenfone 4 looks like great value for money. Over the last 24 hours I’ve had zero issue using it as my primary work and personal smartphone.
The only big question yet to be answered is battery performance, an area past Zenfones have struggled in. If it can deliver here, the Zenfone 4 could be a contender for best-value smartphone of the year.