This is the ASUS ZenFone 5 – not the ZenFone 5 back in 2014 that has Intel chipsets. With change of naming scheme from screen size to numerical increments for each generation after the first generation, it’s bound to go back to ZenFone 5 once again – and it’s happening here, today. ASUS even acknowledges this by making a hashtag #BackTo5 for its launch event at MWC2018.
All jokes aside – is the all-new ZenFone 5 worthy to take on the helm of what the ZenFone has built upon and known for? Let’s find out in this in-depth review.
So here’s the thing – with every generation of ZenFone thus far, ASUS has redesigned how the box looks. ZenFone 2 was an ambitious one that had everything printed in landscape view. ZenFone 3 and the ZenFone 3 Zoom on the other hand, went for a classy look with a black box with the logos and texts debossed in gold. ZenFone 4 saw 2 different colors, but was generally the same style with debossed logo and texts.
As for the latest ZenFone 5, ASUS continued the same trend – debossed logo. This time, instead of gold color, ASUS chose to stick with a strictly blue hue throughout the box. For some reason, the box feels really heavy compared to other phones.
Here’s a short unboxing video that we have to show off the new, beautiful box that holds the beautiful ZenFone 5.
As for the contents, it’s the same as many other smartphones in the market – a charger, USB-C cable, and earphones with a 3 different sizes. The earphones that came with the ZenFone 5 is actually a ZenEar Pro that is certified for High-Res Audio.
ASUS included one extra – and that’s a TPU case. It shares the same dimpled insides like its Max brethren, the ZenFone Max Pro (M1).
Alright – the design. At first glance, the notched display is a very 2018 phone design. ASUS is now on track with the latest “trend” – which is good since ASUS got into the FullView display bandwagon very late last year.
The phone is reminiscent of the ZenFone 3 and ZenFone 4 as it is indeed a glass sandwich design. It’s a design that works – but please use the included TPU case to prevent the phone from sliding off the table and dropping onto the floor. Also, it obstructs some buttons to be pressed – which is unfortunate.
The ZenFone 5 that we have here is in the Meteor Silver color. Though it might sound like it’s a color that we’ve all seen before, I can assure you that the silver here is somewhat on the beige side. Even ASUS’s product page shows you its not entirely silver. The only way you can see the silvery beige color is at the frame of the phone. that’s because the back is just way too reflective to see.
Continuing the 2018 trend is vertically-stacked cameras. Hooray, I guess?
ASUS also included a TPU case, and it has dimples as mentioned earlier. These dimples prevent direct contact of the TPU with the case, which is beneficial as particles that got stuck inside the case won’t scratch your phone that easily. With my personal experience, a little salt crystal can cause a deep scratch.
[nextpage title=”Connectivity & Ports”]
ASUS has learned their lesson. For some reason, the ZenFone 4 series didn’t have AC-WiFi. I mean, for someone like me, I want to transfer large files via WiFi. Especially pictures. That’s where the 802.11ac WiFi comes in to the rescue. It’s not big of a deal to wait a little longer for the transfer, but it surely is something nice to have.
And hey – it has NFC too! We thought ASUS has forgotten about it!
Speaking of which, the ZenFone 5 comes with the usual SIM1 + combo slot. I’m guessing that ASUS wants the dedicated triple slots to be a ZenFone Max exclusive feature.
Instead of having a notification that it’s connected with an aptX-compatible wireless audio device like its predecessor, a notification appears in ZenUI 5.0. However, I can’t see what’s the battery level of my Bluetooth earphone as compared to the ASUS ZenFone Max Pro (M1) which has the pure Android 8.1 Oreo experience.
For physical ports, the ASUS ZenFone 5 has a 3.5mm audio jack, a USB-C and a loudspeaker. Standard array of ports thus far but it has triple microphones. Yes – triple.
The standard microphone setup is one at the bottom and another one at the top. There is a benefit in having triple microphones – and that’s to further cut the environmental noise down and capture your sound better.
Keep in mind that this microphone setup is not meant to record stereo audio. The only one microphone that records voice is at the bottom, beside the USB-C port.
As for the speakers, ASUS also has another not-so-new trick up its sleeve. The earpiece functions as a loudspeaker as well – thus the ASUS Zenfone 5 technically has stereo speakers. The earpiece speaker is optimized for mids and highs. The bottom speaker is more towards the lows, but it can do lows, mids, and highs as well. More on this later on the software part.
There’s also something called AI Ringtone where it automatically adjusts the ringtone volume according to the environment noise level. Very cool feature to have.
Its 6.2-inch 19:9 aspect ratio Super IPS+ LCD display with 2246×1080 resolution is just beautiful. 90% screen-to-body ratio too. ASUS made a smart choice with its wallpapers as well. Upon starting the phone the first time, the brightly colored wallpaper shined through the screen with utmost brilliance.
In terms of color reproduction, the ZenFone 5 looks absolutely fantastic. Its color temperature is good and can be adjusted according to your own personal preference. There’s also an “auto” option where it will automatically adjust the color temperature for you according to the place you’re at.
When placed beside its cousin – the ASUS ZenFone Max Pro (M1) – it is very apparent that the ZenFone 5 has better contrast. The two phones are similar in brightness, but in terms of viewing quality, ZenFone 5 is obviously the winner here.
For those who liked Samsung’s Smart Stay feature, ASUS has implemented a similar feature here too called Smart Screen On. The screen timeout will be prolonged.
Alright, let’s talk about the camera here. The ASUS ZenFone 5 comes with a vertically-stacked dual-camera design, like any other smartphones released this year. According to Apple, vertically stacking the cameras allow the phone to “see” better, thus resulting in better depth of field (a.k.a. bokeh) effect. Logically speaking, it makes sense since I take pictures in landscape mode. And in landscape mode, the cameras align horizontally.
The ASUS ZenFone 5 is using a hybrid dual-camera system with a wide-angle lens, following its predecessor’s footsteps. Again, it’s up to your personal preference on whether you like a wide-angle lens or a telephoto lens. Learn more about dual-camera systems here.
As for the specs of the ASUS ZenFone 5’s cameras:
- Sony IMX363 12MP sensor; f/1.8 24mm with PDAF, 4-axis OIS and EIS
- OmniVision 8856 8MP sensor; f/2.0 12mm fixed focus with 120° wide-angle
- Selfie camera
- OmniVision 8856 8MP sensor; f/2.0 24mm fixed focus
It’s quite unfortunate that ASUS has decided to ditch their very own TriTech autofocus technology that combined continuous autofocus, phase-detection autofocus, and laser autofocus. The new ZenFone 5 just couldn’t focus as fast as the ZenFone 3 Zoom.
What about that AI camera?
It has a total of 16 different scene modes to detect – including one for cat and another for dog. There are also common scenes like sky, sunset, food, night view, and surprisingly, tripod scene. The night view is pretty much just detecting that it’s in low-light condition. We’ve seen this on older ZenFones as well.
ASUS promises that none of your data are sent to ASUS themselves. The photos used to improve their AI camera program is by using third party stock photos or contributed by ASUS ambassador photographers. Once the AI camera program is improved and refined, an update will be sent to us users through a firmware upgrade.
There are AI Photo Learning where it automatically recommends you effects to apply to pictures that you’ve taken, AI Gallery where it automatically sorts all photos you’ve taken according to people and/or scenes, and AI Scene Detection where it automatically tunes the image captured to better suite the scene.
To view the images below in full size and to look at the EXIF data, click here to go to our Flickr album here.
It’s worth mentioning that the ZenFone 5 scored a DxOMark photo score of 93, and through our very own test, the ZenFone 5’s camera does perform really well. It surely is better than the ZenFone Max Pro (M1) that we reviewed here.
First of all, the white balance. It’s surprisingly good and the pictures are always true to its colors. Secondly comes the color reproduction. Colors of pictures taken by the ZenFone 5 really does pop. It has enough contrast and saturation to help bring the picture to life. The picture with all the old and new shop signages really shows the ZenFone 5’s color reproduction.
Lastly, the exposure. For some reason, the ZenFone 5 tends to be a little underexposed when it comes to indoor shots. Outdoor shots – no matter day or night – is automatically adjusted to have a good exposure.
Then comes the AI part of things. I honestly don’t know what the AI does since there’s no way to turn the AI on or off to do a comparison. However, from what I can see, the picture taken outside of McDonald’s does look fantastic with the clear blue sky.
The ZenFone 5’s HDR mode really does make a huge difference to the picture too. I took three outdoor shots to compare with and without HDR – and they can all be seen in our Flickr album. To be honest, the HDR mode is aggressive enough to bring up the contrast and the details of the subject – especially tree leaves – and equalizes the brightness but not to the extreme.
In manual mode, the ZenFone 5 can go down to ISO 25 with a shutter speed ranging from 1/10000 second to 32 seconds. With this humongous range to play around with, light painting photography can be more flexible.
ASUS’s very own ambassador photographer, Peter M Tan, schooled me by showing me the picture he took with the ZenFone 5 at the heart of KL. I have to admit, this shot really accentuated the colors and brought the picture to life.
For more amazing pictures which I have no idea on how he took it, follow Peter’s Instagram account here.
Secondary 120° wide-angle lens camera
As mentioned, the ASUS ZenFone 5 employs a hybrid dual-camera system. The secondary camera here is used to take wide-angle pictures. 120° to be exact. I personally prefer to have a telephoto lens like the ZenFone 3 Zoom, though.
The wide-angle lens has fixed focus, but not to worry as you’ll probably be taking image of subjects from a far distance. The wide-angle camera on the ZenFone 5 does have manual mode, just like its predecessor.
It can take some decent indoor wide-angle pictures too. If you have a tripod, then you can also take wide-angle shots with manual mode.
I’m not much of a selfie person – but throughout my test, the selfie 8MP selfie camera is okay. The picture was taken indoors and while it’s not the best, it’s surely better than the ZenFone Max Pro (M1). Still no autofocus.
Camera UI & Other Features
In terms of the camera UI, there isn’t much change from the ZenFone 4. There are some additional features like slow motion recording. The ZenFone 5 can record 240FPS at 720p or 120FPS at 1080p.
Additionally, ASUS added some icons at the top left corner to signify what scene is detected by the AI. Once again, I have no idea why my keyboard is detected as food.
For pictures that have been taken and the AI Scene Detection actually worked, the photos will be categorized in folders. Since the AI Scene Detection isn’t exactly flushed out now and it detected my keyboard picture as food, it categorized that picture into the food album as well…
Other camera-related feature like ZeniMoji was also added in ZenUI 5.0, but it’s stashed under the Selfie Master app. Features found in the Selfie Master app isn’t exactly selfie-exclusive too. I mean, the app can make collage and slideshows with screenshots and other pictures too.
Back to ZeniMoji. If ASUS wants to do it right, then there is quite a lot of work to be done here.
There are only 3 emojis to choose from – ASUS’s very own Zenny the owl, a fox, and a blue bear. It’s really slow and has lots of delays as of the time of this review.
[UPDATE]: A day after the review was published, ASUS pushed a new firmware update for the ZenFone 5. The new update brings more ZeniMojis to the roster. With human faces and more cartoons – including horses – and a croissant monster too. Yeah, a croissant monster.
I think it’s a feature that ASUS just added to get on the hype train since iPhone announced their own AR Emoji gimmick. While it’s a nice feature to have, how many of you actually went back in there and actually make use of this feature? Except for Kizuna Ai, of course.
ASUS is really taking AI to the next level by implemented AI to just about everything. There’s AI Gallery, AI Photo Learning, AI Scene Detection, AI Boost that we’ve mentioned earlier, and even AI Charging.
ASUS has stated really clearly and highlighted over and over again that they do not store or transmit any of your data. Everything happens in your phone only. This is especially important since the new ASUS ZenUI 5.0 has AI for camera, gallery app, battery charging, ringtone, sound output, and even screen color temperature like we mentioned earlier.
ASUS also added one of my favorite features into ZenUI 5.0 – and that’s fingerprint gesture. Swipe down on the fingerprint sensor and you can bring the notifications panel down. What took you so long?
ASUS also included features found in ZenUI 4.0. The settings for page marker, twin apps, Game Genie, ZeniMoji, and OptiFlex can be found in Settings –> Advanced. Actually, who uses these apps anyway?
The new Audio Wizard app that ZenUI 5.0 has is certainly one to take note of. The UI is clean
er than before and now has a feature where you can tune the frequency response to your own liking. There’s also a database of audio devices with customized frequency response as well. Just load it up and it works straight away.
[nextpage title=”Performance & Gaming”]
When it comes to performance, it’s a funny thing. It has the same chipset as the ZenFone Max Pro (M1) that we reviewed here, but comes with 4GB RAM and 64GB storage. Let’s first talk about its core specs.
- 6.2-inch 19:9 aspect ratio IPS LCD display with 2246×1080 resolution
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 chipset with 14nm FinFET technology
- 4x 1.6GHz Kryo 260 LP + 4x 1.8GHz Kryo 26 HP
- Adreno 509 GPU
- 96 ALUs
- 4GB LPDDR4X RAM
- 64GB storage
- 3,400mAh battery
ASUS has really put a lot of effort in improving the software side of things when it comes to gaming optimizations. Bringing down the notifications panel reveals a brand new button called “AI Boost”.
ASUS is really trying hard to make everything intelligent here, but does the AI Boost really work? Let’s take a look at the charts.
Clearly, the AI Boost works. By comparing the ZenFone 5 itself with and without AI Boost, a clear distinction can be seen. There’s also a big leap when it comes to CPU performance but not so much in terms of 3D graphics as shown in 3DMark benchmark.
In terms of gaming performance, it’s very similar if not identical to the ZenFone Max Pro (M1), as I can play Honkai Impact 3 with the same graphic settings. Everything is turned on and at 60FPS, but with the resolution at medium. It ran at or close to 60FPS with no stuttering at all. Great job.
Other games such as Injustice 2, Tekken, and Transformers: Forged To Fight ran smoothly with zero hiccups.
Turning on AI Boost for Honkai Impact 3 yields no difference, in case you’re wondering.
[nextpage title=”Battery & Charger”]
The ASUS ZenFone 5 comes at a more modest 3,400mAh battery instead of the humongous one that its brethren is equipped with.
We tested the ZenFone 5 in two scenarios – with and without AI Boost. In our section where we talked about the performance of the ZenFone 5, we realized that AI Boost did affect the performance – but does it affect the battery life of the phone? Take a look at this chart.
For some reason, the ZenFone 5 has a shorter battery life when AI Boost is turned on. That’s an interesting point to take note of.
When it comes to the charger, we also have two scenarios – with and without AI Charging feature. It is something that “learns user’s charging and usage patterns” so that the phone’s life span can be preserved as it doesn’t enter trickle charging that quickly.
How it works is quite simple. For example, if you leave your phone plugged in from 10pm to 7am everyday, then it’ll charge as usual at 10pm. However, it won’t continue to charge once it reaches 80% battery. It’ll idle until about a given time, then continues charging to achieve 100% battery at 7am.
Of course, the AI Charging will definitely take time to learn the user’s charging behavior. The more days you use it consistently, the better it gets. From what we can test, it did show some changes in the charging curve.
With the 5V 2A charger that is included in the box, this is the charging curve where we compare with and without AI Charging. Honestly, we’re charging it really inconsistently now since we’re testing the ZenFone 5 in an aggressive manner. Perhaps we’ll revisit the AI Charging again in the future.
[nextpage title=”Wrapping up the ASUS ZenFone 5 review”]
We know that this is a very lengthy review. The ASUS ZenFone 5 is a big step forward from the previous generation, and ASUS is heading to a better future now. Many more features are developed and further refined for ZenUI 5.0 too.
While the AI implementation is still rather new, ASUS told us that they’re committed to improving it and updating the algorithm in the future. Of course, this is a test of time and we can only put our trust in ASUS.
There are a lot of undocumented differences between the ASUS ZenFone 5 and the ASUS ZenFone Max Pro (M1) that we reviewed here. The only similarity that they have is the they’re both equipped with Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 chipset. For the list of differences between these two smartphones, click here.
For the price of RM1,299 (0% GST), it’s a really big difference compared to what the ASUS ZenFone 4 was asking about 9 months ago. ASUS has finally learned from their mistake, and the ZenFone series is back to the path to greatness again.
Between the ZenFone Max Pro (M1) and the ZenFone 5, is the RM1,299 really worth it? Depends on your personal preference. I like the extra features on ZenUI 5.0 because it actually helps me out in my daily smartphone usage experience. It’s a game of trade-offs.
For the list of differences between the two phones, check out this post.