[Review] Asus Zenfone 5 – Workhorse Wonder

[Review] Asus Zenfone 5 – Workhorse Wonder

The Asus Zenfone 5 is the latest and ultimate expression of the brand’s vision to come up with a premium flagship phone that does not cost an arm and a leg.  Previously, we took a look at the Zenfone 5’s design, build quality and what it had to offer out of the box in terms of accessories. This time around, we go down to the nuts and bolts to see what thrums beneath its machined silver hued chassis.

Externally, we found that it was sturdily built with exceptional quality to its machined metal chassis, giving it a look and feel that would not be out of place on higher priced phones. It also had quite a generous assortment of accessories too including a casing and a pair of headphones to go with the whole package.

Under the hood, the Zenfone 5 runs Android Oreo 8.1 overlaid with their Zen user interface on a Snapdragon 636 octacore processor. This is paired with 4GB RAM and 64GB of expandable storage via a hybrid SIM card slot.

A midrange octacore of recent vintage, the Snapdragon 636 is a power efficient processor built on a 14nm FinFet that integrates four 1.8GHz Kryo 260 cores and another four Kryo 260 cores clocked at 1.6GHz to offer about 40% better performance than its predecessor the Snapdragon 630. It’s a reliable workhorse of a processor that sees service on many midrange phones.

Granted, the Zenfone 5 has the same processor as the much more affordable Zenfone Max Pro M1 but where it justifies its loftier price tag is in the form of a host of AI-enhanced benefits to beef up performance and in taking better pictures too via the rear cameras. The AI feature that offers the most tangible benefit so far is their AI Boost mode that can be toggled on for enhanced overall performance be it for work or gaming. It can also be turned off for longer battery life.



In Antutu, the phone got a combined score of 139,056 points with AI Boost on and 124,401 with AI Boost off. In 3D Mark Sling Shot Extreme’s Open GL ES 3.1 test it got a score of 961 and in Sling Shot Extreme Vulkan it got a score of 768, both with AI Boost on. With AI Boost off, it got a slightly lower score of 948 in the OpenGL ES 3.1 test and 754 points in the Vulkan test.

In Geekbench, it got a single core score of 1,505 and a multi-core score of 5,494 with AI Boost on. Without AI Boost, it got a single core score of 1,334 and a multi-core score of 4,871. In the PC Mark Work 2.0 benchmark, it got a score of 6051 with AI Boost on and 5691 with AI Boost off.


Unlike the Zenfone Max Pro M1 that runs on a minimally reskinned Android Oreo, the Zenfone 5 offers a more comprehensively modified ZEN user interface on top of Android Oreo 8.1. Granted, there’s still some bloatware but you get a fair blend of practical features too and a far better designed camera interface. There’s bloatware lying around though nothing major – you get a theme manager, a Mobile Manager that helps monitor and clean up your memory and keep an eye on data usage as well as a proprietary Selfie Master app that lets you beautify your selfies. Getting about is a straightforward task and most settings were within easy reach.

To determine how it performs under actual field conditions, we subjected the phone to the usual round of standard usage scenarios. The Snapdragon 636 processor with AI Boost activated offered a smooth experience using all manner of apps and for enjoying other content though the most tangible difference is when playing demanding games which enjoyed faster loading times between levels and noticeably slicker overall performance.

Multiple browser windows opened without lagging, Google Docs and a host of spreadsheets fired up swiftly and games like Asphalt 8 Airborne, Hitman Sniper and Player Unknown Battleground ran in a silky smooth fashion on medium settings without keeling over. In general, the phone has more than enough pixel crunching power to handle all but the most challenging tasks without issue.

The display on the Zenfone 5 is truly a thing of beauty. Instead of using a conventional IPS LCD panel, Asus has upped the game by integrating a larger, brighter and more vibrant Super IPS+ display that offers superb colours with a vibrancy almost akin to an AMOLED display. On paper it’s rated to offer a full 100% of the DCI-P3 colour gamut. Like many phones of recent vintage, it also has a notch. You can electively opt for apps to use fullscreen mode or not with varying degrees of success though most apps worked just fine.

Colours are, to the naked eye, as bright and as vibrant as an AMOLED Panel with truly vivid hues, deep blacks and stunning whites. This is truly one of the best displays that Asus has ever crammed into a phone and then some. If the colours don’t quite appeal, you can go into settings and tweak it to be warmer or colder though the default settings are excellent to begin with.

All this would have been sufficient to top a good chunk of existing midranged phones out there but Asus goes one better as it integrates stereo speakers into the Zenfone 5. One forward firing speaker is set in the notch section of the display while the other is a downward firing one emplaced at the base of the phone. It sounds odd but in practice the phone delivers a surprisingly balanced soundstage.

Even when cranked to maximum, the speakers served up a good bit of volume without any distortion and a fair amount of detail too. The phone also supports Hi-Res audio and when we plugged in a pair of third party earbuds with Hi-Res audio support, the phone was a real treat to listen to with rich depth and audio quality. In terms of performance and overall functionality, the Zenfone 5 truly exceeds our expectations.


Zenfone 5 Camera

The Asus Zenfone 5 offers a vertically oriented dual camera array with a primary 12-MP camera that has an f/1.8 aperture, 4-axis optical image stabilisation and Dual Pixel imaging tech. This is paired with a secondary 8-MP camera that has a 120-degree wide angle lens and an f/2.2 aperture for wide angle shots and for creamier bokeh snaps.

When taking most shots, the camera defaults to the primary 12-MP with the 8-MP providing depth data but you can also electively select a wide-angle mode that primarily uses the 8-MP secondary camera and its wide angle lens. Combined, the whole affair lets you capture snaps in JPG or RAW format as well as 4K video too. Unlike the cheaper Zenfone Max Pro M1 or many other midrange phones, the Zenfone 5 lets you set HDR mode on auto and the built-in AI is competent enough to know when to use it.

The user interface for the camera is a marked improvement over its predecessors and has a full swath of controls that let you finetune your shot in Pro mode.

Even in auto mode, the rear camera yields very pleasing shots under all but the most challenging light conditions. Backlit shots were tackled in a very competent fashion with enough details in the shadows and without highlights being blown out either.

Colour reproduction by default is pretty accurate though HDR mode is slightly on the aggressive side with more vibrant greens though this isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it adds more zing to scenery shots. Macro shots are pretty good too and shots under low light were pleasantly illuminated and perfectly serviceable for posting on social media when taken with a steady hand though pixel peepers will note some grain in shots.

The front camera is a fair hand at selfies too if you’re of that ilk with the SelfieMaster app allowing you to add a level of beautification to your portrait shots or you can use their ZeniMoji feature to turn yourself into an anthropomorphised owl, fox or, in the case of the latest update, a talking croissant.

Over time, the AI in the phone will gradually learn your preferred settings via a set of prompts so that it will automatically use them when it encounters similar situations in the future. During the course of two weeks of testing the AI was still learning our aesthetic preferences so it will likely take some time for it to bear results. That aside, we were pleasantly impressed with the image quality that the Zenfone 5 was capable of delivering, all the more so for what you pay for.



Zenfone 5 Battery Life, Price and Conclusion


The Zenfone 5 comes with a 3,300mAh battery juiced by a USB Type-C port in the base of the phone. Under normal conditions with AI Boost on, the phone yielded enough endurance to last the better part of a day. A combination of gaming, texting, emails, calls and movie watching yielded a good ten hours of so of battery life which is enough to last you through a work day with a bit extra to tide you on the commute home. If needs must, you can disable the AI Boost and kick in their PowerMaster saving mode which helps to eke out just a bit more battery life.

To ensure a longer battery lifespan, the phone also has what it calls an AI Charging mode. Essentially, this learns your charging patterns to extend the life of the battery. Rather than charging it at full tilt all the time, the AI Charging mode tops up the battery to near full when you’re still sleeping and just before you wake up, it will charge it to full capacity.

After being put through its paces, the Asus Zenfone 5 proved to be a truly exceptional phone. For RM1,299, you’re scoring a phone with a large and vibrant display, a solid array of hardware and an excellent rear dual-camera array, all of which is crammed into a well made chassis that has plenty of accessories to go with it. All told, the Zenfone 5 is truly an exemplary example of a midrange flagship phone that offers performance exceeding what you pay for it. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more capable phone with better value in its price range.


What we liked Has dual speakers, impressively vibrant display, excellent build quality, good camera with OIS for price
What we didn’t A larger battery would be nice, casing lacks water resistance, AI boost mode markedly reduces battery life
We say The Asus Zenfone 5 is one of the best phones in its price range and offers outstanding value. For your money, you’re getting a superb display, decent stereo speakers, solid all-round performance and a seriously good rear dual camera array.  

ASUS Zenfone 5 (ZE620KL) Specifications

Price RM1,299
Display 6.2-inch Full HD Plus Super IPS+ display, 2,246 x 1080 pixels, 550 nits
Processor Snapdragon 636 octacore
OS Android Oreo 8.1
Memory 4GB RAM/ 64GB +microSD card Camera 12-MP w/ f/1.8, 4-axis OIS + 8-MP w/f/2.2 + LED flash (rear) / 8-MP w/ f/2.0 (front)
Battery 3,300mAh
Size/Weight 153 x 75.7 x 7.9 mm / 155g
Review unit courtesy of Asus Malaysia

 

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