The ASUS Zenfone 9 is a brilliant small smartphone, with an obvious focus on performance at the cost of camera quality.
If you’re someone who doesn’t take a lot of photos, then it’s hard to look past the ASUS Zenfone 9. The internal performance of this phone is on par with the best from Google, Samsung and OPPO, however its cameras are how the cost is kept down.
As a small phone lover, here’s what I think.
This phone was made for me. I am a massive fan of small phones and I don’t take many photos. My standard phone is the iPhone 13 Mini, which is smaller than the Zenfone 9, but ASUS’ new premium handset is far more powerful.
I prefer smaller phones. If I can’t use it one-handed, then I’m not interested. It’s not that I have small hands or anything, it’s that I like the convenience of a smaller device more often than not.
This is why I was so in love with the ASUS Zenfone 8, and why I’m so happy with the Zenfone 9: because it’s everything I want out of a phone. It’s small, it’s beautiful, it has terrific performance and it’s not riddled with software I’ll never use.
My criticisms of the phone are few and far between. As you’ll see in the cameras section, there’s a fairly annoying blur when using the 1x zoom (for standard photos, I’ve been using 0.9x). Moreover, there’s no wireless charging, which isn’t essential, but it’d be nice if it were there, as the feature is becoming synonymous with premium handsets.
Size doesn’t matter
The ASUS Zenfone 9 is the smallest premium Android smartphone in the market at the moment, smaller than its predecessor and a bit smaller than the recently released Google Pixel 6a.
Despite its size, ASUS has slapped on a beautiful 120hz AMOLED display and built in a Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 processor. This is supported by an Adreno 730 GPU, making for some of the best specs you can get in any phone at the moment.
This translates incredibly well to day-to-day performance. Using my standard assortment of apps, which includes the full Google suite (Drive, Docs, Gmail and the like), along with Twitter, Instagram, Messenger, Slack and Discord, I don’t think I noticed the phone lag once.
For my battery test, where I chucked on Avengers: Endgame at full brightness and volume, the phone was down to 93 per cent in the first hour, 86 per cent by the second and 79 per cent by the third. This 4300mAh battery can fast charge very efficiently, and I was able to go from 7 per cent to 100 per cent within half an hour. It’s a similar performance to the ROG Phone 6.
For gaming it’s just as impressive, managing to retain high frame rates and great performance for several matches on League of Legends: Wild Rift and Call of Duty: Mobile.
If you’re of the mind that the best Android performance means a requirement for a big screen, then you have been misled. This phone is as powerful as you’re likely to get from juggernauts like Google and Samsung.
Its only problem is the camera, which ASUS has never really gotten right.
ASUS doesn’t really care about camera tech, despite the protruding lenses on the back of this phone taking up quite a bit of space (it’s quite a distinctive design).
Really, I can let these photos speak for themselves, but I’ll add some context. I’ve compared them to the two other leading compact phones available right now, the iPhone 13 Mini and the Google Pixel 6a.
Check out the ugly blur on the wide camera test above (this is a standard 1x lens test). I wasn’t able to shake this blur throughout my testing with the ASUS Zenfone 9, but I was able to counteract it by using the 0.9x lens instead. It’s a shame that the 1x lens is just this bad, but again, I would never recommend an ASUS product for the cameras.
The Pixel 6a, which retails for $749, is the right pick if you’re after a small and cheap phone with great camera performance, but I want to reiterate that the ASUS Zenfone 9 is the likely pick for internal specs. If you want a good camera, look elsewhere.
This year, the ASUS Zenfone 9 is directly competing with the Google Pixel 6a in the Australian market as a small phone (a market that includes the iPhone 13 Mini and the iPhone SE). The Pixel 6a beats it on price and camera performance, easily, however, the ASUS Zenfone 9 packs a 120hz AMOLED screen and much more capable internal specs.
With this comparison, even though the ASUS Zenfone 9 is still arguably affordable, it’s an uphill battle against the Google Pixel 6a. Considering just how well the Pixel 6a has ASUS beat on price and photos, it’s difficult to say that this is the best phone for every small lover.
Come next year, ASUS may need to start actually focusing quite a bit on the camera technology – I don’t want to see the Zenfone brand be discontinued for not keeping up with competitors. It doesn’t have to be the best, but what we’ve been given this year is below average.
That said, this is likely my favourite phone of the year. Again, I’m no photographer, but I do like having a powerful and small handset.
I believe in you ASUS.
Where to buy the ASUS Zenfone 9
Retailers of the ASUS Zenfone 9 haven’t been announced yet. It’s expected to be priced similarly to the ASUS Zenfone 8, which started at $999.
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