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Asus ZenFone 5 review: A mid-range smartphone with plenty to prove

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
350
inc VAT

Asus’ ZenFone 5 builds on last year’s successes, but struggles to compete in a market filled with excellent mid-range phones

Pros 
Dazzling design
Decent pair of dual cameras
Well-priced
Cons 
Performance isn't as good as its rivals
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Last year’s ZenFone 4 took us all by surprise. With a cracking set of dual cameras and long-lasting battery life, 2017’s mid-ranger was a much easier sell than Asus’s flagship phone, the ZenFone AR, with its silly augmented reality gimmick haphazardly slapped on. The new ZenFone 5 also does well to steer clear of this AR silliness, and looks to build on its predecessor’s flagship-killing success.

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Rather bizarrely, this isn’t the first Asus ZenFone 5 we’ve reviewed. Back in 2014, when the Scots wanted to leave the UK, the Taiwanese tech giant launched a cheap 5in phone with the same name, although it hardly blew our socks off. Thankfully, this newer ZenFone 5 is a completely different animal.

Asus ZenFone 5 review: What you need to know

The ZenFone 5 is Asus’ latest mid-range smartphone. Destined to undercut the likes of the Galaxy S9 and iPhone X by a wide margin, the phone is powered by Qualcomm’s fresh-faced Snapdragon 636 chip – marking the processor’s debut appearance – and includes 4GB of RAM and 64GB of expandable storage via microSD.

On the front there’s another of these new-fangled bezel-less 6.2in Full HD (2,246 x 1,080) screens, with a pair of dual-cameras on the back. The main f/1.8 12-megapixel shooter sits above an 8-megapixel, 120-degree wide-angle secondary sensor.

Asus ZenFone 5 review: Price and competition

Asus’ newest ZenFone launches in the UK for £350, and is available to preorder right now. For those that rush to the checkout before the phone officially launches on 8 July, you’ll receive £50 off.

The ZenFone 5 is well-priced, too, given its internal specifications. Last year’s phone launched for £450, the Honor 10 costs £399, Nokia’s 7 Plus is the same price, and if you’re willing to spend a few more pennies for our current favourite, the OnePlus 6 will set you back £469.

Asus ZenFone 5 review: Design

This has to be Asus’ best-looking phone to date. It’s available in “Midnight” blue and “Meteor” silver, and the concentric circle finish on the rear of the phone has a subtle shimmer that catches the light rather nicely. The chamfered edges feel nice in the hand, and the rounded corners are more pocket-friendly than the harsh-edged Razer Phone from last year.

In terms of the practicalities, there’s a sensibly-sized circular fingerprint reader in the centre of the rear panel, with a vertically-aligned dual-camera arrangement on the left. The left edge of the phone houses the microSD and nano-SIM tray, and on the right you’ll find the volume rocker and power button. On the bottom is the USB Type-C port for charging, flanked by the solitary speaker grille and 3.5mm headphone jack.

But, there’s one feature that’s sorely missed: dust- and water-resistance. Mind you, the OnePlus 6 doesn't have this either.

Asus ZenFone 5 review: Display

The ZenFone’s display has an impressive list of specifications, too. It measures 6.2in across the diagonal, has an aspect ratio of 19:9, at a resolution of 2,246 x 1,080, with an iPhone X-like notch at the top.

In a further nod to Apple, Asus has also included automatic colour temperature adjustment. Like Apple’s True Tone tech, the ZenFone is able to monitor its surroundings and adjust the white balance of the screen to match, so that when you’re working in artificial light, reading the screen is a more comfortable experience. It also has glove touch support, so you can use the screen without getting your hands cold in the winter weather.

As for the actual quality of the display, well, things look rather good. When put to the test, the IPS panel is cable of reproducing 99.7% of the sRGB colour gamut, with an average Delta E of 2.46 on the phone’s default “wide colour gamut” display mode. Colours do look a touch over-saturated across the palette, but contrast is up to snuff at 1,771:1 and brightness is capable of reaching a sunlight-friendly 564cd/m2.

Asus Zenfone 5 review: Performance and battery life

The ZenFone’s internal specifications aren’t particularly mind-blowing, but they’re actually rather generous given the phone’s budget price. Inside, you’ll find Qualcomm’s latest octa-core mid-range processor – the Snapdragon 636 – clocked at 1.8GHz. This works with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, expandable up to 400GB via microSD.

The ZenFone’s performance is decent, but it isn’t quite as speedy as some similarly-priced rivals. It loses out in both single- and multi-core GeekBench 4 CPU tests, and its GFXBench GL Manhattan 3.0 GPU scores aren’t so great, either. You might not be ripping your hair out in frustration in everyday use, but this phone is far from the speediest in its class.

When it comes to battery life, it’s a much better story. In our video rundown test, which plays a looped 20-hour video with the display set to 170cd/m2 brightness, the ZenFone 5 lasted 14hrs 27mins before needing to recharge. That’s over two-and-a-half hours longer than the Honor 10, and an extra hour longer than with last year’s model.

The phone also does some AI optimisations to help keep your battery life in top condition for the long run. Essentially, the phone learns when you usually go to sleep and wake up, and charges the phone up to 80% overnight between the two, holding it at that level up to an hour before you wake up. As the battery isn’t left charging at 100% for long periods, it should hold charge better over years of use.

Asus ZenFone 5 review: Camera and software

On the rear is a dual Sony IMX363 camera setup with phase-detect autofocus and four-axis optical image stabilisation. One is a regular 24mm equivalent camera and the other a wide-angle shooter, similar to the setup on the modular LG G5, which launched at MWC in 2016.

As with the Huawei Mate 10 and Mate 10 Pro, this uses the AI elements of the phone’s Qualcomm chipset to dynamically detect scene-types and tweak the camera settings accordingly. It can recognise up to 16 different scene types, includes both dog and cat modes and, it works rather well for the most part.

I’m quite impressed with the camera’s quality, too. Achieving similar results to last year’s model – which is no surprise, given the identical specifications – the ZenFone 5 is capable of capturing detail-rich images, provided you have plenty of light, with well-balanced exposures and accurate colours. You’ll begin to spot a few hiccups as the light dims, but even there visual noise and compression artefacts are kept to a minimum.

Asus Zenfone 5 review: Verdict

While Asus might not be a big name in the smartphone race, last year’s ZenFone 4 proved the Taiwanese firm has the credentials to create a phone that really stood out. Now that Asus is building on its smartphone lineup, it's pushing those credentials even further.

The ZenFone 5 is better than last year’s phone in almost every way; it’s faster, longer-lasting and its design is fancier, too. It’s just that, in a world where the OnePlus 6 and Moto G6 are the flagship-killing kings, being “better” is no longer good enough to excel.

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