Asus Zenfone 9 evaluation: a compact Android flagship

Asus Zenfone 9 evaluation: a compact Android flagship

Unboxing the Asus Zenfone 9 used to be like assembly anyone new and studying that you simply like the similar difficult to understand films or went to the similar highschool. I may inform in an instant we’d get alongside. “You’re IP68 and you’ve a headphone jack? No means! I like headphone jacks!”

A large number of the appeal has to do with its measurement. Because it did with the Zenfone 8, Asus has set out to respond to the query “what would a small (learn: relatively sized) flagship Android telephone seem like?” The solution begins with a 5.9-inch display — no longer just about as small because the 5.4-incher at the iPhone Mini. However so far as the Android ecosystem is going, it’s downright tiny.

“Small and runs Android” isn’t the one factor going for the Zenfone 9: it gives top-shelf parts like a Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 processor, a smooth-scrolling 120Hz show refresh charge, and a 12-megapixel primary digital camera with a one-of-a-kind stabilization gadget. It begins with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of garage for $799 and can cross on sale in the United States immediately from Asus in mid-September. Introductory pricing shall be decrease — $699 — and you’ll in finding world variations of the telephone on Amazon at this time for a little bit lower than MSRP. Then again, there’s excellent explanation why to attend till it’s formally on sale: Asus supplies a one-year guaranty with the telephone whilst you acquire it immediately, and the imported variations floating round now don’t come with that.

For more info on our scoring, see How We Fee.

Even whilst you’re using excessive since you met your new very best good friend, you need to come backtrack to fact in the end. The Zenfone 9 isn’t the easiest small telephone: it lacks wi-fi charging, which maximum telephones at this worth come with. There’s additionally no telephoto digital camera, which isn’t a given in a telephone below $1,000, however the (additionally $799) Samsung S22 does come with one. The Zenfone 9 doesn’t paintings with each US service, both. It purposes on AT&T and T-Cellular’s networks, however you’re out of success on Verizon. Accept as true with me, I attempted.

Then there’s instrument improve. Asus is committing to 2 platform OS updates and a paltry two years of safety patches. A telephone at this worth level will have to in reality get extra years of instrument improve. This makes it arduous to widely counsel the Zenfone 9, particularly with the excellent, five-years-of-security-updates, works-on-every-carrier Galaxy S22 in the similar worth bracket. However like sure genres of cult vintage films, it’s going to in reality hit the spot for a selected roughly individual, and I’m certainly one of them.

The Zenfone 9 embraces 2022’s go back to flat rails reasonably than the technology of rounded edges that the iPhone 6 ushered in. This external body is aluminum, and the show curves ever so reasonably the place it meets the perimeters. The entrance panel is glass, however the again is a composite polymer subject matter with a textured, cushy end that makes the telephone simple to grip one-handed. The entire thing feels robust, and it’s rated IP68 for tough water and mud 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’s, and I adore it. There’s an collection of top-end telephones on my table as I write this, they usually’re all very succesful. But if I grasp the Zenfone 9, it simply seems like a sigh of aid. It takes up so little house that once I put it within the pocket of my yoga pants, I’ll stay doing that factor the place I believe “oh crap, I left my telephone in the home” after which uncover with aid that it’s if truth be told in my pocket. This isn’t one thing that occurs once I’m wearing a 6.4-incher just like the Google Pixel 6 in my pocket. The one telephone extra relaxed to hold in my pocket actually folds in part, so neatly completed, Asus.

The ability button at the facet of the telephone does triple accountability as a fingerprint sensor and a “Good Key.” The latter gives a customizable interplay whilst you swipe your finger around the button from height to backside. By way of default it’s set to tug down the short settings and notification coloration; it’s a pleasing solution to test notifications one-handed with no need to achieve as much as the highest of the display, which remains to be a stretch, even on a telephone this small.

The function works neatly. Too neatly. On every occasion I used to be the usage of the telephone with two fingers, my proper palm saved unintentionally pulling the coloration down. This used to be aggravating, and I grew to become the Good Key function off. At the shiny facet, I admire that Asus doesn’t make you be mindful a button aggregate when you wish to have to show off the telephone — you simply long-press the flexibility button like within the excellent previous days.

The 5.9-inch OLED at the Zenfone 9 gives a height refresh charge of 120Hz, which is kind of same old within the flagship elegance now. It makes for a comfortable scrolling revel in, and the flagship-grade Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 processor paired with 8GB of RAM makes the telephone really feel masses responsive for on a regular basis or even heavy duties. The display’s top brightness of one,100 nits method it may be very easily used even in very shiny prerequisites. It’s a moderately small telephone, so it’s most probably no longer how you wish to have to observe a complete season of tv, however the integrated stereo audio system are strangely excellent in the event you do use it to observe video. You’ll be able to even listen one thing like bass coming from them! And there’s extra excellent audio information: the Zenfone 9 nonetheless has a headphone jack. A headphone jack! That’s simply considerate. All of it tests out as top-tier {hardware}.

The instrument is beautiful, too. It’s a mild contact on Android 12 that remains from your means. 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 prerequisites or that I activate battery saving if I need to use the gimbal stabilization for a very long time. Differently, it’s a heck of so much like the usage of a Pixel telephone. However something that’s no longer Pixel-like is the improve. Asus is committing to 2 OS platform upgrades and solely guarantees two years of safety updates. For a similar $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 ideal choice in the event you plan to stay your telephone longer than a few years.

It’s no longer totally transparent whether or not the Zenfone 9 will improve 5G in the United States, both, although it has the correct {hardware}. As of this writing, Asus spokesperson Ester Suh informed us that 5G on AT&T used to be “in growth.” I checked with T-Cellular, and its respectable stance is that it hasn’t qualified the software — the Zenfone 9 helps the correct bands, however T-Cellular considers it a “carry your personal software” state of affairs and says it may’t ensure efficiency. I haven’t been in a position to check it myself, and in spite of everything, it’s a good suggestion to test along with your service each time you purchase an unlocked telephone whether or not it’s going to paintings on its 4G and 5G networks.

Battery existence is normally excessive at the record of small telephone issues; they generally tend to have smaller batteries that combat to ship a complete day’s price of utilization. The Zenfone 9 doesn’t; its aggregate of a 4,300mAh battery and the power-efficient 8 Plus Gen 1 processor will get it via an afternoon of reasonable use (clocking round two hours of screen-on time with the always-on show enabled continuously) with out a drawback. By way of default, the telephone operates on a “Dynamic” mode for battery optimization. You’ll be able to go for “Top efficiency mode,” which Asus describes because the “top choice for hard apps.” There are two modes under dynamic that preserve extra battery existence, however I discovered the default mode supplied a excellent stability of efficiency and battery stamina.

There’s excellent information and unhealthy information at the battery charging entrance. The unhealthy information, as discussed above, is that there’s no wi-fi charging. It’s kind of a given on high-end telephones at the present time, so it’s a disgrace that the Zenfone 9 doesn’t come with it. It’s arduous to consider that it is a tradeoff to stay the telephone measurement down for the reason that smaller iPhone 13 Mini comprises it. In spite of everything, the excellent news is that the Zenfone 9 helps rapid 30W charging or even comprises the 30W charging brick within the field. That’s particularly helpful in the event you do push the Zenfone 9 with numerous battery-intensive duties like streaming video and gaming — upward of 4 or 5 hours of screen-on time. If so, its moderately small battery would take pleasure in a late-afternoon spice up to make it in the course of the finish of the day.

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

There’s simply a normal broad and an ultrawide at the Zenfone 9’s rear panel.

Asus didn’t festoon the Zenfone 9 with unnecessary intensity sensors and macro cameras, and for that, I’m thankful. There’s only one 50-megapixel same old broad digital camera with some severe stabilization (extra on that during a 2d) 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 roughly stinks. Symbol high quality is excellent, in most cases talking, despite the fact that the Zenfone 9 infrequently will get into hassle with some competitive over-sharpening. It’s no longer disastrous however no longer my favourite.

The principle rear digital camera comprises what can very best be described as “gimbal stabilization.” It’s no longer only a lens component shifting, and it’s no longer simply the sensor, so “optical” or “sensor-shift” stabilization aren’t the correct phrases. Just about each different flagship telephone comprises both optical or sensor-shift stabilization.

All stabilization off (left) as opposed to gimbal and digital stabilization grew to become on (proper).

At the Zenfone 9, the whole lot strikes in combination — lens and sensor — to atone for digital camera shake, which is extra tough than the everyday strategies. Asus says it may higher atone for larger actions than a conventional, optical-only gadget: as much as 3 levels of movement on six axes — vertical, horizontal, and from side to side — as opposed to one level. It’s coupled with digital symbol stabilization, too, which smooths out movement even additional and provides a “predictive” component because of Asus’ algorithms.

It’s significantly spectacular. For starters, in the event you glance intently, you’ll if truth be told see the digital camera and lens shifting round below the principle housing whilst you activate video mode. That’s wild. Extra importantly, it really works in reality neatly. It’s maximum really helpful for video recording. With stabilization off, pictures recorded whilst strolling down a gravel trail is a shaky, jumbled mess, identical to you’d be expecting. Turning it on transforms the motion to a slightly perceptible swaying. You’d normally want a real gimbal mount, just like the DJI OM 5, to get pictures this stable, and the Zenfone 9 simply does all of it in-camera. This is very cool.

It’s no longer somewhat a killer function, despite the fact that. I’m no longer keen on the colour processing implemented to my video clips — it appears over-brightened and too flat unexpectedly. There’s additionally an intense crop in the event you use each digital and gimbal stabilization that makes it very tough to movie anything else in shut quarters. Gimbal stabilization may be solely to be had for 1080p HD clips, no longer within the 4K or 8K (lol) recording modes.

The advantages for nonetheless pictures aren’t as vital. Higher stabilization will have to make it imaginable to make use of slower shutter speeds in low mild and nonetheless get sharp pictures of static topics. This appears to be the case, however that solely makes it about as excellent because the Pixel 6 and its aggregate of OIS and computational methods. It’s additionally no longer going to do anything else for shifting topics. You’re nonetheless on the mercy of, you realize, how mild works.

Anyway, it’s cool, and I’m demise to take it out on a hike to file some video of the adventure as much as the highest of a summit. With the IP68 score, I wouldn’t also have to fret in regards to the mud at the path or how a lot sweat it’ll be uncovered to in my yoga pants pocket. Up to I like taking photos with the Galaxy Z Turn 4, that’s one atmosphere I don’t really feel nice about exposing it to, and the Zenfone 9 would in reality excel there.

Blank instrument and a compact shape issue? Song to my ears.

In case you’re on AT&T or T-Cellular and you wish to have a actually compact Android telephone with flagship-grade efficiency, that is the only to significantly believe — supplied you’re ok with the sadly quick instrument improve lifespan. It’s simply beautiful to make use of. I don’t omit the glass panel at the again one bit for the reason that cushy texture of no matter composite plastic that Asus has used is so beautiful. It has digital camera features that make me need to go away my space and shoot video. To be transparent, my home is the place the (softest) cushy pants and coffee gadget are. It is a severe barrier to triumph over.

That pleasantness extends to the revel in of the usage of the telephone to do daily issues. It feels responsive and polished. The integrated audio system are higher than common. If I disregard to rate my wi-fi earbuds, I will simply plug in stressed out headphones. The ability button even does what it’s meant to whilst you grasp it down for Pete’s sake!

Realistically, the Zenfone 9 is destined for cult vintage standing in the United States. It doesn’t paintings on all carriers in the United States, and the American public has spoken loud and transparent that it desires giant telephones. For no longer a lot more cash, the Samsung Galaxy S22 is a better option for the general public, with extensive service improve, a telephoto digital camera on each type, and a cast five-year safety improve 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 telephone superfans like me.

Images by means of Allison Johnson / The Verge

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