The ZenFone 5 comes packing a Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 processor
ZENFONE 5 REVIEW • £356
- PROS – Premium build, unique wide-angle camera lens • all-day battery life • incredible 1080p screen • Unbelievably cheap
- CONS – Annoying software bugs • Battery charging issue • Lacklustre main camera • Questionable longevity
Unfortunately we have to use the word “almost” because the ZenFone 5 is ultimately hampered by software issues that tarnish the phone and make it incredibly frustrating to use at times.
The Asus ZenFone 5 is the company’s mid-tier smartphone that sells for £350 and on paper appears to pack enough punch to challenge the likes of the more expensive OnePlus 6.
The most striking thing about the ZenFone 5 is just how premium it looks – there are no ugly asterisks to be aware of on the design front and it even includes a headphone jack – something that can’t be said for many of its more premium rivals which now lack this popular port.
In typical Asus style the back of the phone glows exuberantly in bright sunlight thanks to an ever-so-subtly rounded pattern.
The ZenFone 5 comes packing a Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 processor, an Adreno 509 GPU and 64GB of storage.
Although the internals don’t boast anywhere near as much horsepower as a OnePlus 6, Galaxy S9 or an iPhone X, after using the phone for just over a week we can’t help but feel the ZenFone’s hardware isn’t being pushed to its limits.
Instead Asus’ ZenUI software running on top of Android Oreo appears to be at fault for sluggish performance at times.
During testing there were multiple occasions where we went to open the camera app only to be greeted by a black screen.
The user interface of the app remained on-screen, but the shutter never opened like it should, meaning we missed out on plenty of photo opportunities.
Experiences like this occur in other apps across the board and are incredibly disappointing because there is a ton to like about this phone.
Software bugs aside, performance is generally snappy and the latest games on the Google Play Store hold up surprisingly well.
The ZenFone 5 is ultimately hampered by software issues that tarnish the device
Performance is generally snappy and the latest games on the Google Play Store hold up well
We have to recommend users hold off on the ZenFone 5 and opt for the slightly more expensive OnePlus 6 instead
Call quality is good – during testing the person on the other end said they could hear me loudly and clearly.
Unfortunately the Asus ZenFone 5 is not water resistant in any capacity, however such a feature can be forgiven for the incredibly low price tag.
But an area that never failed to impress us is the 6.2-inch display Asus is dubbing a “Super IPS+” panel.
Technical jargon aside, this is the best 1080p screen we’ve ever laid eyes on.
While colours are clearly exaggerated, the display consistently looks like a sticker slapped on the front of the phone – consuming content or just browsing the web is an absolute treat.
Asus opted to include a notch on the ZenFone 5, but it doesn’t seem as well thought out as the OnePlus 6 or even Apple’s iPhone X.
When watching video on the ZenFone 5 you have the option to watch in full screen or to leave black bars on the side of the display.
If you choose to fill the screen the notch is cut off, but for some reason Asus decided to curve the very far corners of the display that lead into the notch.
Once you notice the odd design choice it is incredibly difficult to un-notice it.
Such a strange move is one of many features that leave the ZenFone 5 feeling half-baked and make us believe Asus should have focused its efforts on key features rather than trying to mimic other flagships on the market.
The phone has a camera feature dubbed ZeniMoji that feels like an incredibly cheap copy of Apple’s popular Animoji software.
The feature struggles to keep up with facial movements, only serving to highlight the stark differences in front-facing camera technology between itself and a leading flagship.
But instead of throwing frustrating-to-use features onto the ZenFone 5, Asus should have refined features users are going to need most, such as a reliable camera application.
The Asus ZenFone 5 features a dual camera setup on its rear with a 12-megapixel f1.8 aperture lens doing the majority of the heavy lifting while an 8-megapixel f.20 wide angle lens accompanies it.
The main shooter manages to capture a good amount of detail and photos are pleasing to look at on the 1080p screen.
However, conditions in darkness or bright sunlight are ultimately the ZenFone 5’s downfall in the camera department.
The most striking thing about the ZenFone 5 is just how premium it looks
We took pictures on a bright summer day and for the most part the sky was massively blown out as the main sensor struggled to cope with the vast amount of light.
Although images look decent enough from afar, zoom in and you will ultimately see washed out colours and grainy details.
At night the camera quality really takes a dip – any lights in a backdrop for instance can ultimately ruin a picture.
Images are marred with grain on the main lens and look worse on the wide-angle camera.
Asus appears to be aware of the second lens’ shortcomings as the phone actively advises you not to use it for low-light photography.
Overall the wide-angle lens is one of the most unique features about the ZenFone 5’s camera setup and it has us wishing the Samsung S9+ came packing the same functionality.
Being able to cram more into a photo is much more useful than a better quality zoom in our opinion and Asus should be applauded for putting the feature in such a budget device.
The ZenFone 5 is also capable of capturing Portrait Mode shots on both the front and rear cameras.
Lighting in the background can ruin photos taken on the ZenFone 5
Sublime conditions are required for the phone to accurately apply a bokeh effect
However these require sublime conditions for the phone to accurately apply a bokeh effect.
During our extensive testing the phone struggled with hair and even covered arms, showcasing the hit and miss nature of the technology.
The Asus ZenFone 5 packs an audio punch thanks to a dual speaker setup.
While the listening experience is not as crisp as leading flagships, it is a premium feature to have on such a budget device that is greatly appreciated.
A sizeable 3300mAh battery sits inside the ZenFone 5 and allows you to easily get through a day of use.
The phone’s detuned processor and lower resolution screen surely play a huge part in giving users tons of juice.
That is when the phone actually charges properly – we initially attempted to charge the phone with a USB-C cable and compatible brick that works with all our devices that require it.
The phone told us it was charging, but when we came back to it about an hour later it had stopped and had less juice than when we first plugged it in.
The issue reoccured using the same cable and put an air of doubt in our mind when using any wire other than the official one provided in the box.
Asus has made a valiant effort with the ZenFone 5 – the company has managed to cram a litany of flagship features in a phone costing only £350.
But ultimately software issues and a lacklustre camera hamstring the ZenFone 5, especially when its higher-speced OnePlus 6 rival is only £119 more.
Although technical hiccups could be addressed by Asus in a software update, the fact the phone is hampered by them from the outset means our confidence in the phone’s longevity is severely questioned.
Your smartphone is now the device you look at and use more than any other, and for that reason alone we have to recommend users hold off on the ZenFone 5 and opt for the slightly more expensive OnePlus 6 instead.
Express.co.uk has asked Asus whether any of the issues noted in this review are expected to be addressed in a future update.