Asus is no stranger to the smartphone industry’s unforgiving flagship segment. The Taiwanese phone maker has tried its hand at the higher end market by releasing a medley of more expensive variants. However, that didn’t pan out quite as the company hoped it would. Affordability was the key reason Asus’ phones took off and that image didn’t sit well as Asus shifted gears towards the premium league. Now, with a budget hit (ZenFone Max Pro M1) at its back and a seemingly better strategy in place, Asus is ready to make a comeback. And its kicking things off with the new ZenFone 5Z.
On paper, the Asus ZenFone 5Z comes with nearly everything you would expect from a modern smartphone at a price that even significantly manages to undercut even the OnePlus 6. For a starting cost of Rs 29,999, the ZenFone 5Z offers a big notched screen, an all-glass design, a shedload of “AI-powered” features, and more. But can it deliver on those promises? Let’s find out in this in-depth review of the Asus ZenFone 5Z.
The Zenfone 5Z, right out of the box, inarguably looks and feels like a ZenFone. It carries a familiar all-glass design a concentric circle pattern on the rear which has remained the company’s signature for what it feels like ages now. It’s certainly the kind of loud aesthetic which would have no troubles standing out in a dense crowd. But that has also led a few downsides.
For starters, the phone feels surprisingly lightweight and lacks the heft you would normally find on glass builds. That heft is imperative to why glass bodies are considered premium. The weight offers a rich satisfying sense of density. The Zenfone 5Z when held together with the OnePlus 6, as a result, seems a bit cheap. Of course, for a few others, this might be seen as an upside. Second, the back has been kept way too flat because of which the 5Z feels a tad inconvenient to hold as there are no curves to supplement your grip.
Even though for a new buyer, the Zenfone 5Z’s exterior will come across as exciting, I think it’s time Asus moves on. Hopefully, it won’t pull off a “Sony” and will come up with a new design language next time.
One of the aspects where Asus seems to have cut costs is the absence of any sort of waterproofing unlike a couple of its competitors such as the OnePlus 6 and Samsung’s Galaxy A8+. There’s no wireless charging either. The fingerprint sensor also could have been a tad quicker but the good thing it never failed to recognize my finger. Sure, there’s a software-based face unlock present as well that works fine but for obvious security concerns, I wouldn’t recommend employing it.
However, Asus does score a few points with the rest of the build. The stereo speakers sound better than the majority of phones out there and the company has even managed to bundle a pair of in-ear earphones which again, are pretty good. The phone is compatible with MicroSD cards as well, although you will have to pick between two SIM cards or expandable storage. Call reception is excellent and yes, Dual 4G VoLTE is available as well.
The ZenFone 5Z has a 6.2-inch 1080p screen on the front which produces accurate colors and can be can be easily viewed outdoors. Unfortunately, it’s not an OLED panel. Instead, Asus has opted for LCD because of which you won’t find features such as ambient display and deep blacks.
For software, the Zenfone 5Z comes preloaded with the company’s own ZenUI skin which, sadly, is still running on Android 8.0. Asus says it is their “cleanest ZenUI yet” which is true, but it’s still not the cleanest custom skin around. While the software runs smoothly, it’s laden with unnecessary bloatware such as Facebook’s entire suite of apps that you cannot even uninstall in addition to the company’s own suite of apps like Themes, Selfie Master, Mobile Manager.
Clearly, unlike its younger sibling, the Zenfone Max Pro M1, the 5Z’s software is far from clean right now. Plus, Asus has also included a plethora of “AI” features which might sound superficial, but to my surprise, a lot of them do function as advertised.
One of them is designed to ensure background apps don’t eat up your battery life and resources are assigned appropriately. That shows, for instance, when you’re playing games such as PUBG. While on other phones, a single session takes about 25-30% of the juice, the 5Z shed only 10% which is quite commendable.
Moreover, there’s an AI charging feature which is a boon for users who want to charge their phones overnight. Jargon aside, it essentially makes sure 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.
Navigation gestures, which we’ve seen on even $200 phones now, are oddly absent on the new ZenUI which is also one of my major pet peeves with it. As I said, these features didn’t bog ZenUI down in my week’s use but how will they fare in the long term, we don’t know yet.
The more critical concern here, however, is the fact that Asus still hasn’t updated its “flagship” phone which was announced way back in February to Android 8.1 which again, is vastly disappointing. At a time when companies like OnePlus are promising three years of updates, Asus certainly needs to take it up a notch (pun might be intended).
One of the key reasons why the Zenfone 5Z is being hailed as THE OnePlus 6 alternative is because it’s powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845 chip and that too for Rs 5,000 less (in India at least). The rest of the specifications are right at the top of their league too — at least 6GB of RAM (up to 8GB), 64GB of internal storage (up to 256GB) which is expandable through a hybrid slot, and a 3300mAh battery with Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0.
I’m glad to report these specifications translate well in real-world use as well. Whether it’s regular multitasking or playing high-end mobile games, the Zenfone 5Z doesn’t break a sweat. The battery life is equally impressive as the phone was consistently able to produce a minimum 5 hours of screen on time which if you’re a casual user, means more than a day of juice. Charging the phone takes about ninety minutes which is certainly on par with the competition.
Now coming to the Achilles Heel of most of the “affordable flagships” out there — the cameras. The Asus Zenfone 5Z carries two camera sensors on the rear — a primary 12-megapixel f/1.8 primary shooter paired with a secondary 8-megapixel f/2.0 wide angle lens and a single 8-megapixel sensor on the front.
Post an OTA update Asus recently rolled out, the Zenfone 5Z’s cameras seem to have gotten a lot better. For starters, as far as stills are concerned, the 5Z outpaces the OnePlus 6 in quality. Pictures shot on it turn out more detailed and accurate when it comes to the colors. Even in low light, the Zenfone 5Z takes the lead with lesser grain and a more balanced contrast.
Regular selfies come out detailed and well balanced but the Portrait Mode tends to just shoot up the exposure to hide its flaws. The depth-of-field effects for the rear cameras function as intended only in a limited set of scenarios such as on a sunny day outdoors. Video recording, while overall is decent, can be a little choppy and undersaturated.
The wide-angle lens is perhaps my favorite feature of the 5Z’s camera setup as it does serve a purpose apart from just bokeh effects. It comes in handy when you’re clicking shots such as sprawling landscapes. The quality is impressive too as long as there’s ample lighting. Although it does have a fish-eye effect which you may or may not like.
The ace card Asus is primarily betting on, however, is the price. At a starting price of Rs 29,999, it is by far the most affordable smartphone to be powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor and it is at least Rs 5,000 cheaper than the OnePlus 6. It comes with great performance, a long-lasting battery, stereo speakers, decent bundled earphones, expandable storage, better still photography, and a pack of AI features which do work. Apart from the lack of the navigation gestures, an LCD screen, and an older version of Android, I don’t have any major complaints with it. Therefore if the software is something you don’t necessarily prioritize, the Zenfone 5Z certainly won’t let you down. In case you’re stuck between this and the OnePlus 6, here’s a link to our detailed comparison.
Asus ZenFone 5Z Giveaway
We are happy to announce that two of our lucky readers will get a chance to win an Asus ZenFone 5Z smartphone. Check out the details below.