If you're looking for a mid-range phone that feels high-end, the Asus ZenFone 5 is a very good option. If you have a flagship phone that cost you £700 two years ago, the ZenFone 5 will be just as good if not better. It doesn't struggle with graphics-heavy games and it is very responsive.
Incredible sound, very nice display, long-lasting battery, responsive UI, good handle on processor-heavy tasks.
The notch, the vomit-inducing rear-design, the fact the screen doesn't quite reach the bottom, ZeniMoji.
THOUGH YOU DON'T SEE many people walking with an Asus phone, you may be surprised by the quality of its mid-range ZenFone 5 flagship.
Coming in at just £349.99 on the Asus website (though you can find it much cheaper elsewhere), the ZenFone 5 features an octa-core Snapdragon 636 processor, 4GB or 6GB RAM, 64GB storage and a whopping 3300mAh battery. The storage is expandable via a microSD card up to 512GB which fits into the SIM 2 slot in the dual-SIM tray.
The display is a 6.2in LCD edge-to-edge touchscreen that stretches to the top end of the device, resulting in the dreaded notch. Thankfully, the notch is quite thin, but what really bugs us is the fact the screen doesn't quite reach the bottom of the phone, but that's the price you pay for a 3.5mm headphone jack.
The rear of the phone features a 12MP dual camera setup. The front-facing camera is only 8MP, but that's plenty for your hideous selfies (yes, we've seen your private photos - even beauty mode couldn't correct that).
When we took the ZenFone 5 out of the box, we were blinded by the amount of light that reflects off the flat rear side of the phone. The brushed metal pattern that circulates around the fingerprint sensor (which is on the back) is possibly one of the worst designs we have ever seen for a phone. It looks like the Asus' chief designer has taken a brushed chrome lampshade, crushed it flat with a hydraulic press and cut it into a rectangle.
However, the phone god has been merciful and we can revel in the fact we don't have to look at the back of the phone to use it, and thankfully, the front of the screen is incredibly clean and stylish. Asus has adopted curved corners on all sides of the phone, giving it a smooth, gentle look.
The notch is slim and somewhat unnoticeable, but we do wish that the screen could somehow be made to extend all the way to the bottom, as it makes the phone looks a little unbalanced. There's no physical home button for those who like that sort of thing, as the buttons are all on-screen. This means the screen is completely flat. Delicious.
The volume buttons and power button are on the same side, but unlike a lot of phones, the power button is not textured, so you may get mixed up between the two. We're sure this problem would disappear after a couple of weeks of use, but we haven't got there yet.
The ZenFone 5 has absolutely no IP67/68 rating, which is a must-have for some, but this can quite easily be disregarded by those of us who actually try to care for our phones.
The ZenFone 5 has a 6.2in Super IPS+ touchscreen with 16 million colours. It has a 2246x1080 resolution at 404ppi with a 19:9 aspect ratio, and the colours are amazing. After comparing it to a first-generation Google Pixel, the LCD screen on the ZenFone is as bright as the Pixel's AMOLED screen and the colours are almost as good. Obviously, the contrast isn't anything to shout about, but it certainly doesn't detract from the experience.
If you don't choose to hide the notch at the top within Android, the ZenFone 5 boasts a huge 90 per cent screen-to-body ratio. All in all, for a £350 phone, the screen is a wonder to behold.
Performance and battery life
The first thing you'll notice once you've set up the phone is just how responsive it is. It is easily on par with high-end flagship phones like the Samsung Galaxy S9 and the iPhone X. Sometimes it can be a little slower with WiFi connections, but we've only had finicky WiFi on which to test it.
The fingerprint scanner is quick but doesn't provide any sort of haptic feedback on unlock. It'll buzz a little if your finger is not recognised, however.
As far as benchmarking goes, Geekbench 4's CPU test came back with a single-core score of 1518, which is comparable to a Samsung Galaxy S7 or a Moto Z, and a multi-core score of 5244 (think Huawei Mate 8 or Samsung Galaxy S8). Most of this seems to be focused around the graphics processor, which makes a lot of sense considering the ZenFone 5 houses a 12-core GPU.
Geekbench's RenderScript test gave a score of 4997, which is between a Galaxy S7 and a Lenovo ZUK Z2 Pro. We tried playing some CSR Racing 2 and the ZenFone took it in its stride and did not struggle one bit, which is more than can be said for a host of other £350 phones.
The battery is where the ZenFone 5 really shines. It has a 3,300mAh capacity and would be in third place of all tested smartphones on the Geekbench website. Under stress, the battery discharged just 24 per cent in almost two hours, whereas a Google Pixel went from 91 per cent to 13 per cent in the same time, and though the Pixel is two years older, this is like the difference between the obesity rate of the Philippines compared to that of America.
As you would expect with the majority of Android smartphones nowadays, the ZenFone 5 is pre-loaded with a number of applications. The default launcher is Asus' very own ZenUI Studio, and it's actually quite sleek. It's pretty simple to use, though the icons are not the clearest.
The ZenFone 5 comes with its very own Themes app, which allows you to install free and paid themes at the touch of a button. Some of the themes are animated; some are not. You can customise your phone by choosing the icons from one theme and the live wallpaper from another if you're really that picky. It gives a degree of customisation that just isn't available within stock Android.
Other somewhat useful apps include Mobile Manager (basically CCleaner, works well) and WebStorage (Asus Cloud access, stick to Google Drive for the time being). The Google Lens app also comes preinstalled, along with Facebook, Facebook Messenger and Instagram. Unfortunately, the clock app icon isn't animated in the ZenUI theme, but you can't have everything.
There are some… less useful apps included by default. For example, the Asus equivalent of Apple's Memoji - ZeniMoji - is clunky and unpolished, and the worst part is that you're stuck with it forever. That's not all though. The ZenFone 5 also comes with an app named Selfie Master, which essentially provides shortcuts to various camera features and offers nothing unique bar the collage and slideshow features, because we all know how much use they're going to get.
Some of the other bloatware is actually useful and may actually have some real-life application. Unfortunately, these features don't have app icons, so you're left trawling through the Settings app to find where they came from.
Game Genie is a simple, but effective game-enhancing tool. It lets you record gameplay as well as stream your gameplay directly to YouTube or Twitch. It also has a nifty feature where you can lock the navigation buttons so you don't accidentally close out of a game mid-fight. There's more to explore with Game Genie, but we think it'll be fun to watch you crawl through the labyrinth of features on your own.
The final reasonable app is AudioWizard, but we'll cover that in a bit more detail in just a second.
Overall the software isn't too bad, and the phone isn't as heavy with bloatware as, say, a Samsung device or an Apple device (how can we ‘Find Friends' if we don't have any?). It's a neat little UI, but the app drawer could do with a little more polishing.
The sound quality on this phone is… bloody brilliant. The single speaker is so loud, but so clear at the same time, and is comparable to a standalone Bluetooth speaker. We compared it to a couple of other phones (a Google Pixel and a Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge) and it didn't just blow them away - it took a 50-calibre rifle, loaded it with armour-piercing incendiary rounds and unloaded a full magazine into each phone separately.
You could say it's powerful.
Within the AudioWizard app, there are four audio profiles you can choose from - Normal; Pop; Rock; Vocal - as well as an option to create your own custom equaliser preset. However, if you plug in a pair of headphones, this number jumps from four to seven, with the added inclusion of the Jazz, Classical and Dance options.
The AudioWizard also allows you to change between modes for the speaker. Mono is… fairly plain, as you would expect, and you'll probably have a far better time using Stereo.
There is a third mode officially called Outdoor mode, but we at INQ refer to it as the ‘tin switch'. It's intended to be used outside (duh) and it attempts to make the sound a lot louder. While it does do this to some degree, it mostly succeeds in increasing the high end to the point where you could get a better sound quality using the cup-and-string phones you played with as a child.
If you really want to use the ZenFone 5 as your garden party hi-fi system, you can. You just need to make sure you place the phone on some sort of table to boost the bass somewhat, or your guests are going to be running home with bleeding ears before the night is out.
AudioWizard also allows you to set up a personal audio profile for use with headphones. It'll play a bunch of sounds at you with varying frequencies in order to gauge which ones you hear best and which you don't hear much at all. It'll then equalise all audio accordingly. We've had a couple of tries with this, but it hasn't yielded any amazing results so far. Of course, it's entirely dependent on the ability of your dry, flaky ears to pick up sound, though we can't recommend this particular feature too highly.
Don't let it put you off though, because the incredible sound quality combined with the Vocal audio mode makes for some really great binge-watching of all seven seasons of Game of Thrones.
The camera setup features a dual-lens system with a dual-flash accompaniment. There are eight in-built modes, but we all know you'll only be using beauty mode. Just in case, the others include your usual time lapse, slow mo and panorama as well as a GIF animation mode and a ‘Pro' mode that allows you to manually adjust your ISO (indie song options), EV (edibility variant) and WB (whininess of background) if you so desire.
Asus claims the ZenFone cameras 'Think For You' with AI-powered ‘Photo Learning' technology. In essence, the camera can recognise 16 different scenes and automatically adjust the exposure, focal length and so on based on what it sees in front of it. The camera can reportedly recognise dogs, cats, snow and stages amongst other things.
As always, we are rather sceptical of anything AI-powered here at INQ, so we decided to take a picture of someone's stolen lunch to test out the ‘food' scene on the camera.
While the camera hasn't magically transformed this fairly plain chicken and chorizo wrap into a Michelin Star-worthy culinary masterpiece, it recognised that it is, indeed, a piece of food, and has adjusted settings accordingly. The photo is fine, but it's nothing to lose your mind over.
The second lens on the ZenFone 5 is a 5MP wide-angle lens that you can switch to very easily within the camera app. It's nothing that special really, but it's fine for taking close-ups of any sort of mid-sized object.
There are a couple of little things that may nag you with the ZenFone 5, but overall, you'll get a lot of phone for your money. The sound is better than some Bluetooth speakers, the camera is reasonably good and the display is bright and colourful.
If you're looking for a mid-range phone that feels high-end, the Asus ZenFone 5 is a very good option. If you have a flagship phone that cost you £700 two years ago, the ZenFone 5 will be just as good if not better. It doesn't struggle with graphics-heavy games and it is very responsive. µ
Incredible sound, very nice display, long-lasting battery, responsive UI, good handle on processor-heavy tasks.
The notch, the vomit-inducing rear-design, the fact the screen doesn't quite reach the bottom.