Rome wasn’t built in a day and the same holds true for Taiwanese brand Asus who has been plugging away at the Zenfone line since it first made its debut sometime in 2014. This time around with the Zenfone 5, the fifth generation of the marque, they may have finally struck gold as their new flagship phone is easily the best phone they have ever made and then some.
The phone comes in an extremely sturdy cardboard box that comes with the works. The whole package includes a transparent polycarbonate case for the phone proper, an UK-style charging plug and USB Type-C cable as well as a pair of earbuds that can also double as a handsfree set. That’s a pretty generous assortment of kit to go with the phone and bar the inclusion of a screen protector, you effectively have everything needed to get started on using it straight out of the box.
Since its first incarnation, Asus has constantly experimented with a variety of different form factors and designs, with varying degrees of success including some quaint examples like rear-mounted volume rockers, optional externally mounted flash units and more. For the Zenfone 5 aka the ZE620KL, they’ve gone back to the drawing board with a contemporary design that won’t look out of place next to this year’s flagship phones from even pricier brands and that’s a statement as to the amount of detail that they have lavished on the design.
Externally, the Asus Zenfone 5 bears aesthetics that look almost unabashedly straight from Cupertino though it’s only upon closer inspection that you can see that the phone unequivocally bears Asus’ own unique design traits. The rear of our test unit was a mirror-polished slab of metallic silver paved over with glass to lend it a wonderful tactility.
While it looks like a straightforward reflective looking mirrored finish like that on many other smartphones, it actually bears Asus’ ‘concentric circle’ aesthetic with a circular mirrored polish centered around the rear fingerprint reader. It’s a subtle but unique detail that distinctively identifies the phone. Unfortunately, the finish is also a fingerprint magnet that requires frequent wipedowns. A vertically mounted dual camera system and LED flash completes the proverbial picture.
The sides of the phone are finished with a similarly matching silver trim with chromed chamfering framing the front and back panels. A power button and volume rocker take up the right side of the phone with the left packing a hybrid SIM card slot. The top is otherwise unadorned save for a pair of antenna bands while the base integrates a 3.5mm audio jack, a USB Type-C port and a speaker grille.
Up front is where Asus masterfully showcases their craftsmanship as they have managed to cram in a 6.2-inch FHD+ Super IPS+ display into a 5.5-inch casing by nixing the side bezels and incorporating a notch to accommodate the front-facing 8-MP selfie camera and speaker. Like many phones of recent vintage, the Zenfone 5 ditches any physical buttons and getting about is purely via the luscious looking touchscreen which has a huge 19:9 aspect ratio.
The display itself at first blush served up impressively vibrant hues that are lusciously deep and with crisp detail even outdoors under direct sunlight. You’d reckon it’s an AMOLED panel but according to Asus, it’s actually a Super IPS+ display, a liquid crystal display panel that has additional backlighting which helps the Zenfone 5’s panel offer up a respectable 550 nits of brightness and, on paper, be able to render 100% of the DCI-P3 colour gamut.
Yhis effectively means that, on paper, the panel is able to display every colour in a given set of content with full accuracy as the director intended. A cursory skim through the opening scene of Gravity revealed beautifully deep blacks and spot-on whites with starlight in the background.
When held, the Zenfone 5 offered a level of polish and the kind of build quality that would not look out of place on a phone costing twice its price tag. Despite the large IPS+ display, the even heft and slim sized bezels made one-handed use, even for those with small hands, a possibility.
Unlike many phones in its price range, and for the matter, pricier ones too, the Zenfone 5 has dual speakers with one emplaced in the upper earpiece and the other a downward firing one with both of them boosted by an NXP smart amp. The retention of a 3.5mm audio jack means you can use the bundled earbuds for music listening and the phone supports the Hi-Res audio playback and the aptX standard for wireless headphones too.
While the lush IPS+ display and better audio go quite some way to justifying its price tag, the Zenfone 5 attempts to earn its keep on account of its impressive rear dual camera array. The rear dual camera array consists of a primary 12-MP camera using Sony’s IMX363 sensor and a bright F/1.8 aperture as well as Dual Pixel PDAF paired with a wide-angle 8-MP F/2.2 camera with an Omnivision 8846 sensor for wide scenery shots and for data to take bokeh snaps.
The inclusion of a Sony IMX363 sensor is of note, with large-sized 1.4 micro wide pixels, allowing the sensor to capture more light. The camera array also integrates 4-axis optical image stabilisation too for judder free shots, allowing you to capture snaps as well as 4K@30fps video. At this price point, it’s a huge bonus to get OIS in a phone and our first initial run-through was extremely promising indeed with pretty darned good shots under all light conditions. To wit, DxOMark has even given the Zenfone 5 an impressive 93 score for photo tests. In the hands of a master, the Zenfone 5 is capable of some exceptional shots. Check out Asus ambassador Peter M. Tan’s shots on his personal site in the link here to see what a professional can get out of the phone.
In terms of the rest of the hardware under the hood, the Zenfone 5 runs Android Oreo 8.1 on a respectable Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 processor which is a solid workhorse processor that’s also used in the Redmi Note 5 and the Asus Zenfone Max Pro M1. Paired with this is 4GB RAM and 64GB of expandable storage via a hybrid SIM card. Where it attempts to top the competition though is that it includes a variety of artificial intelligence assisted wizards that help users to capture easier, better pictures, enhance battery endurance and beef up overall performance. And yes, it has animated emojis too if you’re of that ilk.
In Malaysia, the Asus Zenfone 5 retails for RM1,299 and comes in your choice of either silver, like our test unit or a darker shade of black. Both look extremely fetching. While we have yet to put it through its paces, the Zenfone 5 certainly shows exceptional promise. It has a pleasantly comprehensive array of accessories out of the box, sports superb build quality and has a solid array of hardware to boot. Stay tuned for our full-on review!