While the latest flagship processor from Qualcomm, the Snapdragon 845, was announced back in December, it was only in May that we got to see the first smartphone powered by the powerful SoC in India in the form of the OnePlus 6 (review). But that’s set to change now as we’ll be seeing quite a few offerings utilising the SD845 chip in the month of July. The first among these comes from ASUS’ stable – the ZenFone 5Z (first impressions). With the aggressive starting price of Rs 29,999, there’s no doubt that the 5Z is aimed squarely at the OnePlus 6. Does it succeed? Is it another compelling smartphone that can prove to be great value for money? Answers to all that and more in this review.
Specs at a glance
|Resolution||1080 x 2246 pixels|
|CPU||Quad core, 2.8 GHz + Quad core, 1.8 GHz, Snapdragon 845|
|Internal memory||64 GB|
|External memory||Up to 2 TB|
|Capacity||3300 mAH, Li-ion, Non removable|
|Primary camera||12 MP|
|Secondary camera||8 MP|
|Network support||Dual SIM 4G|
|Other options||Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0, GPS|
|Operating system||Android 8.0 Oreo|
Design and display: blocky and glassy
Dimensions: 153 x 75.6 x 7.8 mm
Weight: 155 grams
Glass is the new black… so it seems. After seeing quite a few metal-clad unibody smartphones, we are now encountering many phones using glass-sandwich builds. The ASUS ZenFone 5Z is no different as it comes with glass panels on the rear and front, held together with a metal frame. Add to it the fact that the handset’s screen extends to the corners, leaving room for the notch up top and a slim bezel at the bottom, and phone catches your attention from the get-go.
Available in Meteor Silver and Midnight Blue hues, the phone looks classy and stands out from the black and gold colours of most other smartphones these days. Thanks to the use of glass at the back, the light bounces from the surface, which makes the device all the more pleasing. Sadly, just like most glass-back phones, the smartphone is a smudge fest. It’s quite slippery too, which is why, I’m glad that the brand has bundled a transparent case inside the box.
The rear panel features vertically-stacked dual cameras, a fingerprint sensor and ASUS branding towards the centre. The fingerprint sensor is accurate and unlocks the ZenFone 5Z in a jiffy. The device also comes with face unlock functionality, which also works well. It’s fast and seems to be quite secure too, although it struggles to unlock the phone in low light.
In terms of the buttons and port placement, the ASUS ZenFone 5Z doesn’t hold any surprises. You’ll find both the volume rocker and power switch on the right and a dual-SIM tray on the left edge, with the base sporting a 3.5mm audio socket, a USB Type-C port and a speaker grille.
Overall, the 5Z has an attractive build with clean design considering the antennas are placed at the top and bottom. The handset is slim too at 7.7mm and feels lightweight, although it tips the scales at 165g. If I had to nitpick though, then the smartphone seems blocky and not as ergonomic as thee phones that feature curved backs or tapered edges. Another problem that I noticed is that the palm rejection of the smartphone isn’t good. So if you’re using the phone single-handedly without the case, then the touchscreen picks up actions on the lower part of the screen when it gets touched by the palm.
The ASUS ZenFone 5Z is yet another smartphone with a notch display. The device is fitted with a 6.2-inch IPS screen, which has a slightly unusual aspect ratio at 18.7:9 and bears a resolution of 1,080 x 2,246 pixels. Even though it’s an IPS panel, the colours pop out really well, and the screen is bright enough to be read outdoors. You also get options to fine tune the display as per your liking, be it by changing the colour profile or temperature. Another thing worth mentioning is that the device scales the apps till the notch, but it gives an option to enlarge it even further for individual apps. And if you dislike the cut-out, then you can disable it too.
Cameras: giving you a wider perspective
Primary camera: 12 MP
Flash: Dual-color LED Flash
Secondary camera: 8 MP
A 12-megapixel f/1.8 + 8-megapixel f/1.8 dual camera setup adorns the rear of the ASUS ZenFone 5Z. The primary shooter comes with the usual features such as dual-pixel autofocus and 4-axis optical image stabilisation. What’s interesting is how the brand has made use of these two cameras. Instead of providing optical zoom capability, the secondary snapper offers a wide angle of 120 degrees. Of course, you get the ability to capture bokeh shots as well. For selfies, the phone offers an 8MP front camera with a f/2.0 aperture. Additionally, there’s a healthy dose of AI, which aims to improve both the photography experience as well as album management. AI Scene Detection helps the camera intelligently detect the scene being captured, matching it to one from over 16 categories to offer the best output, while AI Photo Learning adapts to your editing habits to enhance your clicked photos automatically.
The camera app on the ZenFone 5Z is quite feature-rich with all the options neatly present in the main screen itself. In the vertical orientation, you’ll find the shutter button, video recording button, the option to switch to the Pro mode, a toggle for the front camera and the option to preview previously-clicked images at the bottom. Above that, there’s an option to quickly switch between normal and wide-angle shots. Up top, there’s the flash toggle, option to enable the timer, turn on the portrait mode, change the aspect ratio of the image, active HDR and a settings menu. You can swipe right to access modes like Super Resolution, Slow Motion, etc. One interesting thing is the option to pin your favourite mode to the main viewfinder by long-pressing it (by default, it’s the pro mode). Swiping left brings up various filters, though strangely enough, you can’t see their effect real time. Well, the real question is how is the imaging quality of the smartphone. In one word – impressive. The ASUS ZenFone 5Z is a capable shooter that’s able to do justice to all sorts of situations. From capturing high level of details and reproducing natural colours in landscape images, to offering a bokeh effect while capturing close-ups, the smartphone offers pleasing results. There’s minimal noise even when you view the pictures at the original resolution. The HDR mode is quite effective too and adds more contrast to the same scene without compromising on sharpness. Images taken in low light are good too with the cameras ensuring the output isn’t grainy. While the shutter speed is good, the autofocus doesn’t seem to be quick enough, and it’s better if you use tap-to-focus on the intended area you want to focus upon yourself.
Coming to the selfies, while the 8MP resolution doesn’t seem much, the shots are really good with skin tones being captured quite well and vibrant colours overall. Sharpness does take a hit however, if you zoom in or capture selfies in dim environments. There’s a software-enabled portrait mode too, which offers good depth-of-field effect, though it’s not perfect (notice the blurry arms in the image samples below).
Lest I forget, the secondary camera on the 5Z offer great-looking portraits as well with the subject being in focus and background being nicely blurred. The shooter is able to detect the edges of the subject, and doesn’t seem to struggle with things like hair, etc. Of course, you get a wide-angle mode as well, and as I’ve said before, it’s by far the best implementation for dual-camera setup on phones. Switching to the mode is instantaneous and you can capture a wider frame in the same shot. The good thing is that there’s no fish-eye effect, which is a common problem with wide-angle cameras. Take a dekko at the images taken in the normal and wide-angle mode.
Talking about videos, the ZenFone 5Z maxes out at 4K @ 60fps, which is same as other flagships. There’s no super slow-mo mode however, and the device can capture a 720p / 1080p video at 240 fps. Thanks to the OIS, the footage is quite smooth.
All in all, the ASUS ZenFone 5Z won’t disappoint you in any situation as far as shooting prowess is concerned. Comparing the phone to its rival OnePlus 6 (camera review), there’s not much difference between the two. While ASUS’ handset seems to offer sharper results with accurate colour reproduction, the OP6 offers saturated images which look pleasing to the eyes.
Performance: the fastest phone on the track
CPU: Quad core, 2.8 GHz + Quad cor…
GPU: Adreno 630
RAM: 6 GB
Memory: 64 GB + Up to 2 TB
SIM Slots: Dual SIM , GSM+GSM
Battery: 3300 mAH
As mentioned in the beginning, the ASUS ZenFone 5Z is the second smartphone in the subcontinent to come powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845. The octa-core chipset offers custom Kryo 385 cores with a clock speed of 2.8GHz and comes with Adreno 630 graphics. There’s no doubt that this chipset can easily handle any tasks thrown at it. And if you couple that with 6GB / 8GB RAM, you’ve got yourself a performance powerhouse. During my week-long stint with the 6GB RAM variant of smartphone, there was not one instance of lag. From simple navigation to scrolling through heavy documents, from switching between multiple apps to gaming – the 5Z zips through them all effortlessly. Playing PUBG and Asphalt 8: Airborne was a joyous affair on the phone. On the flip side however, the phone gets heated up in no time, especially when its performance is pushed to the limits.
The unit I reviewed ships with 64GB UFS2.1 storage onboard, though you can also opt for 128GB and 256GB models. After accounting for OS and other resources, users will get around 44GB space. The interesting thing is unlike the OnePlus 6, ASUS’ offering lets you extend the storage further up to 256GB with the use of a microSD card.
Although, if you wish to expand the storage, then you’ll need to give up on the secondary SIM functionality. Otherwise, the ZenFone 5Z offers all the connectivity options, including 4G VoLTE (both SIM slots are supported), dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC and GPS. The call quality is crystal clear too, thanks to triple noise-cancelling microphones.
ASUS has always placed special emphasis to sound, and the 5Z is no different. The smartphone comes with dual NXP Smart Amplifiers and 5-magnet speakers (one at the top and the other at the bottom) along with support for DTS and Hi-Res audio playback. While the placement of the speaker grille at the bottom means that the sound gets muffled when the phone is held in landscape orientation, the output is quite loud. The sound is rich too, and if you want even louder output, then you can enable the outdoor mode, though keep in mind that it does lead to a loss in quality. Unlike the OP6, the ZenFone 5Z also ships with a pair of earphones in the form of the ZenEar Pro Hi-Res, though I found their build quality to be quite flimsy and the audio quality wasn’t anything to write home about either.
The ASUS ZenFone 5Z draws power from a 3,300mAh battery. Even though the capacity might not seem much, the company’s battery optimisations coupled with SD845’s power efficiency means that the phone can last really long. Despite my heavy usage, the smartphone never gave up on me in the middle of the day. Charged at 7 am in the morning, it was easily able to last the entire working day with the mobile data, GPS and Bluetooth turned on the entire time. My usage involved streaming podcasts, watching videos, surfing the internet and little bit of gaming. I usually got more than 5 hours of screen-on time, which is impressive. However, in the battery test, the results weren’t in sync with our real-life usage. The phone drains almost 10 percent battery within an hour of HD video playback, with both the volume and brightness levels at 50 percent and everything else turned off except the cellular networks. The ASUS smartphone also comes with fast charging support, and charges the handset in less than two hours.
Software: Zen meets Artificial Intelligence
Operating System: Android
OS Version: 8.0, Oreo
The ASUS ZenFone 5Z boots ZenUI 5, which is layered on top of Android 8.1 Oreo. While I was quite glad when the brand opted for stock Android with the ZenFone Max Pro M1, I understand why its flagship comes with the proprietary custom skin. To make full use of the dedicated AI chipset in the Snapdragon 845, the Taiwanese company has enabled AI across different aspects. Some of these features might have been tagged with an ’Artificial Intelligence’ label just for the sake of it, but there’s no doubt that they enhance the overall experience of using the device.
AI Ringtone, for instance, is a very simple idea, but it’s quite useful as it listens to the ambient sounds to ensure that the phone doesn’t ring loudly in a silent environment like a meeting, and makes it louder when you’re out and about. Similarly, the Smart Screen on feature doesn’t let the phone go to sleep as long as you have your eyes on it, although we’ve seen this capability on Samsung smartphones and others even before AI became a cool buzzword. Then there’s OptiFlex, which speeds up app launch times depending on the apps you frequently access (you can select other apps too), though I wasn’t able to discern any perceptible difference in opening times. But this might be useful in the long run when the handset is loaded with a ton of apps. I also liked AI Charging, which ensures that the device is protected against overcharging. The feature tracks your charging behaviour and juices up the smartphone quickly till the battery level reaches 80 percent, and then charges slowly to 100 percent to extend the battery life in cases when you’re keeping your smartphone plugged in for extended durations. Sadly, we couldn’t test this out properly as the phone didn’t really sense my charging habits during the review period.
Interface-wise, the ZenUI 5 is by far the most refined iteration of the custom skin from the brand. There’s not much bloatware apart from some preloaded apps like Facebook and Messenger, and the UI feels smooth too. The skin never took a toll on the hardware and I didn’t come across any app crashes either. You will find the usual features such as an all-in-one Mobile Manager, which presents the phone’s info and lets you access granular controls like data usage, app permissions, etc. Game Genie is useful too, as it ensures that notifications don’t distract you while you are playing your favourite games.
Let’s be honest here – none of these features would be impressive enough if the pricing wasn’t right. And that’s where ASUS has pulled a Xiaomi. While OnePlus has made a name for itself for affordable flagships, the Taiwanese brand has taken the fight right to the Chinese upstart by pricing its offering considerably lesser. The base model of the ZenFone 5Z carries a price tag of Rs 29,999 as compared to the OnePlus 6, which costs Rs 34,999 for the same 6GB RAM + 64GB storage model. If you consider the highest-end 8GB RAM + 256GB storage variant than the difference is even more significant, as the 5Z is priced at Rs 36,999 versus the Rs 44,999 asking price for the top-end OP6.
Related read: ASUS ZenFone 5Z vs OnePlus 6
For the price, you get a great design that follows modern aesthetics, a capable IPS display, top-notch internals, powerful rear cameras and a reliable battery life. While the selfie camera might not be as good as the competition, the AI features will definitely aid the user experience. And if you’re still on the fence about the smartphone, the brand has ensured that the package is made even more lucrative. With the use of ICICI debit or credit cards, buyers can get an instant discount of Rs 3,000. This brings the effective cost of the base model down to Rs 26,999, which is a similar price point as the Nokia 7 Plus (review). Then there’s Complete Mobile Protection too, which is available for a discounted rate of Rs 499 and protects the handset against all sorts of damage, including liquid spills and screen crack issues.
In sum, while the OnePlus smartphones, including the OnePlus 6, have been the de facto choices in the affordable flagship genre, the ASUS ZenFone 5Z stakes a solid claim for the throne and doesn’t seem to be missing out on anything that will bring it down.
Editor’s rating: 4 / 5
- Gorgeous display
- Powerful hardware
- A wide-angle camera setup that delivers impressive results
- AI features add to the user experience
- Solid pricing
- Heats up in hotspot mode and while gaming
- Selfie camera struggles in dim settings
Photos by Raj Rout