Back in 2014, Asus kicked off its Zenfone journey in India with the Zenfone 5 which went on to become one of the highest selling budget smartphones. Asus thinks it can recreate that magic and is launching the phone again with a 2018 makeover in a hope to revitalize its trembling position in the market.

The new Zenfone 5 that Asus has launched today at the Mobile World Congress is nothing like its younger self. It’s moving out of the affordable segment to play with the big, premium guns. Being a high-end product, the Zenfone 5 features every bell and whistle from face unlock to an edge-to-edge screen. We got to spend a brief time with the phone and here’s what we think of it.

The Android iPhone X

The first thing you will realize as soon as you pick up the Zenfone 5 is that it’s an unapologetic ripoff of Apple’s iPhone X right from the rounded corners to the notch to the camera placements. The company thinks it’s the best manifestation of the bezel-less design so far and hence, decided to borrow it. In a way, Asus is right.

[first cut] asus zenfone 5 (2018): banking on the x-factor - asus zenfone5 rear

The Zenfone 5 looks spectacular and more importantly, unique in its own league which doesn’t consist of the iPhone X. It’s all glass with an aluminum frame that adds a bit of grip to the otherwise slippery body. The front is largely dominated by a massive 6.2-inch screen with a resolution of Full HD+ and brightness of 500 nits. In spite of that, however, the Zenfone 5 isn’t all that inconvenient to hold which is nice. Although it would have been much better if Asus had implemented the iPhone X gestures. The display has a rather unorthodox aspect ratio of 19:9 which is a minor issue for content consumption. It’s also surprisingly lightweight and comes with a USB Type-C port on the bottom.

One of the key highlights of the new Zenfone 5 is stereo speakers which are paired with dual smart amplifiers that ensure the output doesn’t distort at higher volume levels. It also supports DTS Headphone:X for 7.1-channel virtual surround-sound over headphones. We couldn’t test it out in depth but it did sound better most phones we’ve tried.

The phone comes preloaded with Android Oreo and Asus’ custom ZenUI 5.0 skin on top. Asus says it is their “cleanest ZenUI” yet with no duplicate apps for browser, email etc and just two third-party apps preloaded. It’s loaded to the brim with artificially intelligent smart features such as the screen can automatically adjust the color temperature based on the ambiance, the camera can fine tune for various settings for you, the gallery app suggests filters and more.

Of course, being an iPhone X clone, the Zenfone 5 lets you manipulate digital avatars with your expressions which the company has intuitively named “ZenMoji” and can be also unlocked through facial recognition in addition to the rear-mounted fingerprint sensor. The face unlock feature, however, was quite inconsistent and didn’t work unless we stared at it from a specific angle. Asus did mention that the unit we were using was on beta software, so it’s possibly just a bug.

Underneath, the Zenfone 5 is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 636 quad-core processor, 6GB of RAM, 64GB of internal storage, and a 3300mAh battery. Asus has also bundled a nifty charging feature which will be a boon for people who plug their phones overnight. Jargon aside, it essentially ensures the battery doesn’t overcharge and based on your sleeping schedule, tops it up in sessions. So for instance, if you wake up at 6 AM, the software will pause the charging process as soon as the phone hits the 80% mark and will resume it sometime around 5 AM.

Decked Out Cameras

[first cut] asus zenfone 5 (2018): banking on the x-factor - asus zenfone5 1

Among the many variations of dual-camera setups, Asus opted for a secondary wide-angle lens for the Zenfone 5. There’s a primary 12-megapixel lens paired with by an 8-megapixel sensor that has double the field of view. Together, they also let you add bokeh effects in your shots. The 12-megapixel lens also features Optical Image Stabilization which will help you click better pictures in dimly lit scenarios and record more stable clips. Asus advised us not to comment on the camera samples for now since the phone was running on an early build. Although considering the hardware, we expect the phone to be an above average snapper.

The Zenfone 5 is meant to be the phone that will bring back Asus its lost glory in the smartphone market. However, even with a rich set of hardware, it won’t be easy. Like always, it will come down to how competitively Asus prices it especially in countries like India.

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