Asus Zenfone 5Z Review: A Flagship Slayer From Asus?

The Asus Zenfone 5Z was among the first few Android devices to embrace the ‘notch’ design. It was first unveiled at the MWC 2018 event this February and was launched in India just a few days back. With this device, Asus is aiming at what OnePlus does with its bi-annual flagships. The Zenfone 5Z packs in the best of hardware specifications at a surprisingly low price. It starts from a mere Rs. 29,999, a few thousand less than its competing phones and its arch rival, the OnePlus 6. It is surely the lowest priced flagship there is but does it matches up to what it takes to be a budget flagship? Or can it be a flagship killer that others try to be? Let’s find out.

Display: A Full HD Display, because, why not(ch)!

Let’s start with addressing the elephant in the room – The Display! The Zenfone 5Z features a 6.2-inch Full HD+ display having a resolution of 2246 x 1080 pixels. It also has an aspect ratio of 19.5:9 and includes a notch on the top. While I’m not a huge fan of it and feel smartphone manufacturers could put in some more thought to get around the whole eliminating all the bezelsdilemma, I got used to the notch on the Zenfone 5Z after some time.

I can also say this for most people that the notch is something you can definitely get accustomed to unless you hate it from the bottom of your heart. Asus, however, has added an option to hide the notch, which is a neat trick but I’d recommend getting used to it instead and making most out of the display.

Not all about the notch is great though, there is a couple of times where I came across applications where the notch hid vital content. I could blame app developers for not making their applications compatible with the notch, but I came across some native Asus applications as well that performed similarly. We can hope this gets fixed with upcoming updates.

With the notch rant out of the way, let’s talk about what’s good. The display, although being an LCD display, performs splendidly. The colours are vivid and the content is legible even when the phone is used in bright daylight. Asus has done a great job with ZenUI as well that takes full advantage of the display’s wide colour gamut. If you are still not satisfied with the colour reproduction, you can switch between standard or customised colour gamut from the display settings as well.

Performance: What a Beast!

The Asus Zenfone 5Z is a total beast when it comes to raw performance and for good reason. It is powered by the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 chipset which is also found on the latest flagship phones including the OnePlus 6, Samsung Galaxy S9 and Xiaomi Mi 8. With that being said, we never faced any lags whatsoever, no matter how heavy an application we put the phone through, it aced through them all. The smartphone will be available with either 6GB or 8GB of RAM. The 6GB variant will come with either 64GB or 128GB of internal memory. The 8GB RAM variant takes it a step further and comes with 256GB of memory. The version we tested out had 6GB of RAM and 64GB of storage

With normal day-to-day usage pretty much flawless, the phone performs exceptionally well with gaming too. With the recent addition of online games like PUBG and Guns of Boom, we couldn’t resist testing the phone with them. With most PUBG matches lasting over the 20-minute mark, there were no frame drops or lags. We did notice the phone to heat up a bit after playing two matches consecutively (guilty as charged!) Since we’re still on the topic of gaming, the phone has a dedicated gaming mode that bumps up the performance output of the phone. For obvious reasons, this comes with more heating and faster battery drain. Make no mistake, the phone blows every game out of the water even on normal modes. ZenUI smartly alerts users during gaming if they’d like notifications to be blocked during that period.

Hardware and Design: Aesthetic Build with Tricky Ergonomics

The Zenfone 5Z with its bezel-less notched display in no way looks anything less than splendid and bold. But, this is right after you pull it out of the box. Over just a few minutes of use, the glass back was covered with fingerprints and if you are someone like me who likes to have squeaky clean, you will have to run around with a microfiber cloth. Up next on the design rant is its fingerprint sensor. The Zenfone 5Z has a fingerprint sensor which has a glass coating. The fingerprint sensor is where you’re going to place your index finger multiple times a day and need some friction to lodge it in place. The fingerprint sensor on this phone is slippery and requires you to focus to get it right, which I found a bit tedious after a while. A matte finish is what I ask for in a fingerprint sensor. Nonetheless, the face unlock system that comes with this phone is pretty quick and I opted for that for the most part.

The slippery design of the phone doesn’t end with the fingerprint sensor, unfortunately. While the phone looks really pretty, if you have butter hands, you better put on a case on it, heck Asus also bundles one in the box to save you the hassle. The metal ring around the phone does add some grip, but the weight of the phone and the glass back still make it one phone that is looking to fly off your palms.

Apart from that, the Zenfone 5Z has clicky and tactile buttons, all of which are located on the right edge, improving ease of access. On the bottom, there is a USB Type-C port, a speaker grill and primary microphone. Audio and microphone output from the phone were pretty decent and the phone performed well with calls as well as music playback through the speakers. If you wish to keep the music to yourself, you can do this by connecting a pair of earphones through its 3.5mm jack. There is also a decent pair of earphones bundled in its retail packaging to further sweeten the deal.

Camera: That Wide Angle Mode Has Me Sold!

The cameras, just like most flagship phones, performs great. Starting off with the technicalities, the phone sports a dual rear camera setup comprising of a 12MP + 8MP combination. The primary 12-megapixel Sony IMX363 sensor has a f/1.8 aperture and an 83-degree field of view. The secondary 8-megapixel camera aids in capturing wide images with its 120-degree field of view. With this, you can fit in a wider image without having to step behind. To aid in video and low-light photography, the cameras also come equipped with optical image stabilisation and electronic image stabilisation. The two camera setup on the back also means that the phone captures bokeh photos and wow does it excel at it! The edge detection is great, barring a few occasions where the phone’s camera missed the focus. Apart from that, we noticed something rather unusual. The colour balance seemed a little off in some images when we used the burst mode.

Coming to the front, Asus has done a good job in squeezing the selfie camera and sensors in the tiny notch. The front-facing camera comprises of an 8-megapixel snapper. The camera although having a relatively low megapixel count when compared to some flagship smartphones performs really well. With help from the software department, the camera really excels. It is a great camera if you are looking to capture a solo selfie or even with group-fie. Let’s consider the solo selfie: ZenUI has equipped the front camera on the Zenfone 5Z to capture normal as well as portrait mode selfies. The portrait mode selfies we captured came out great and edge detection was on point barring one or two occasions.

Software: More AI-enabled Features, Less Bloatware

Asus has been notorious in the past for offering a custom UI filled with bloatware and gimmicky features. However, it recently launched a stock Android phone, the Zenfone Max Pro M1. And with this one, the brand has done a huge favour by cleaning up its Zen UI that is layered on top of Android 8.0 Oreo in the Zenfone 5Z. It is definitely quite impressive and the software now seems more usable than before. If you’re a stock Android lover, there won’t be much to despise in this new, cleaner Zen UI 5.1.

To start with, the phone packs in a lot of Artificial Intelligence prowess. This muscle power of the phone can be visible in multiple sections of the phone’s interface.

AI charging and AI Ringtone are the two features I found very useful and makes me wonder it’s still something other smartphone makers haven’t adopted yet. With AI charging, the phone learns and adapts to how you charge your phone. Basically, what the phone does is log the duration of time the phone is plugged in and adjusts the charging accordingly. So if you are someone who keeps the device to charge during the night, the phone will charge the device up to a certain percentage before you wake up and then charge the rest a couple of minutes before you wake up. With this, the Asus Zenfone 5Z puts to rest all the myths of charging phones overnight and damaging the battery.

With AI Ringtone, you can rest assured of not grabbing any annoyed eyeballs when you are in a roundtable meeting or miss a call when you are on the public transport. The phone automatically adjusts the ringtone volume based on the ambient sound levels; if its a noisy place, the phone will ring at max volume and it will switch to low volume in a quiet room.

Another fun thing in the Zen UI is Zenimoji, a rip-off of Apple’s Animoji. There are several characters that you can play with and it’s pretty fun. You can also use them while video calls or recording a video from the front camera. We are expecting it to become more refined in the days to come and since it’s a software thing, Asus might improve it in the future.

Price: The Deal Breaker

Saving the best for last, let’s talk about the damage this phone is going to make on your savings 😉

While you may be wondering if this pretty looking phone is going to cost you a kidney and a limb, it actually isn’t. In fact, for the specs, features and accessories Asus is offering with this phone, the device is almost a steal. The top variant of the Zenfone 5Z carries a price tag of Rs. 36,999 which is Rs. 7,000 cheaper than its closest rival, the 8GB + 256GB OnePlus 6. The Zenfone 5Z also comes in two other variants viz. 6GB+64GB and 6GB+128GB priced at Rs. 29,999 and Rs. 32,999 respectively. With this, the only reason the phone leaves you to opt for the OnePlus 6 is if you’re a fan of OxygenOS which offers a clean and stock Android experience coupled with quick updates.

Read also: Asus Zenfone Max Pro M1 Review

With the Zenfone Max Pro M1 you can get a stock Android Experience, a massive battery and quick updates, all while saving a lot of money.

Verdict: Flagship Killer of The Year 2018

With this phone, it really seems like Asus is taking on the smartphone market by a storm and bringing up the competition to brands like OnePlus, Honor and Xiaomi. The Zenfone 5Z has a lot going for it, the phone is a performance beast, its cameras are pretty decent and even the software is toned down to match stock Android. If you are looking for a good all-around phone in the sub-30k pricing, the Zenfone 5Z is a phone definitely worth considering ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Image Credits: Sunny Sharma | Viraj Gawde