ASUS ZenFone 5 Review - 2018's Mid-range All-rounder?

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The ASUS ZenFone 5 generated a lot of hype due to its great design, good specs for the price, improved cameras, wide-array of A.I. features.
ASUS ZenFone 5 Review - 2018's Mid-range All-rounder?
ASUS ZenFone 5 Review

In our first impressions article a month ago, we even dubbed it as the "possible mid-range phone to beat" today.

Why? On paper, the ASUS ZenFone 5 is a highly competitive device.

Now, let's check if it is worth all the hype! Here's our full review!

Display Quality

Notched screen
Notched screen

Unfortunately, this device has a notched display. But, it is a big good one. ASUS used a 6.2-inch FHD+ "Super" IPS panel with sharp enough 402 pixels per inch, good overall color reproduction, and viewing angles.

Brightness level is good enough to be quite legible for outdoor use. It has one of the better looking panels at this price point.

On the display settings, ASUS will also allow you to use the standard mode and customize it to your liking. It also has wide color gamut option if you like punchier (yet artificial) looking colors.

According to ASUS, they also have an A.I. tech to adjust the color temperature of the phone depending on lighting condition and tasks. Quite cool right?

Going to the notch, it has no option like the Huawei P20 series to forcefully hide it. But, ASUS has a clever method of automatically making the notch invisible when your are watching videos or playing games.

Lastly, this phone has 10 points of touch as expected.

Audio Quality

The ASUS ZenFone 5 is one of the very few with a stereo speaker setup at this price point.

It has a primary speaker below and a secondary speaker on the earpiece to help phone provide a stereo audio experience.

To our surprise, it is a very loud one. It can even get louder than our iPhone X. It also maintained great clarity, separation of details, and highs. The mids and lows are still lacking (like most phones), but it is forgivable overall.

Why? It sounds better than most at this price point.

Only the Mate 10 Pro, P20 Pro, and the Galaxy S9+ arrived with the better overall speaker audio quality.

For headphones, it's a mixed bag. Yes we know that it has Hi-Res audio and DTS Headphone: X for 7.1 channel surround sound, but some may like it and some may not.

The sound signature of our ZenFone 5 could be a bit too dark and bassy for audio purist. 

Fortunately, mids are respectable, it can produce good separation of details, and soundstage, and it has STRONG driving power.

The highs are just okay. There's nothing special about it though. Overall audio output via headphones or earphones is decent.

For Bluetooth, we like that it has aptX HD audio tech to deliver sound purer and better than other phones without that type of tech.

On the microphone part, this device has a good dual microphone setup. It is good for calls and decent for video recordings. We like that it was able to record our voice without that much background noise.

Battery Life

Almost 11 hours of battery score

ASUS loaded the ZenFone 5 with 3,300mAh of battery capacity. In our test, it clocked 10 hours and 59 minutes using PC Mark's work battery life test. That score is on the above average side of things.

In our actual usage, it can last for around 10 hours under heavy usage on a single charge. Our usual daily task include 4G LTE data or WiFi all the time, watching tons of YouTube videos, taking lots of photos and few videos, social media use, and playing some heavy games.

On the software side, ASUS improved its PowerMaster technology. It now has A.I. to help manage battery life automatically better.

Charging speed is decent at around 2 hours. ASUS also noted that it even has A.I. charging to dynamically adjust the charging rate based on your previous charging behavior. It will perform fast charging at day and normal charging speed when you sleep at night.

Camera

Improved dual cameras!
Improved dual cameras!

Behind, the ZenFone 5 boasts a dual camera setup. It goes with a 12MP f/1.8 Sony IMX363 regular lens paired with an 8MP f/2.0 OV8856 120-degree wide-angle lens. ASUS also paired it with Tri-tech AF, Dual Pixel PDAF, OIS, EIS, and dual tone LED flash.
Camera UI
Camera UI

In terms of features it goes with auto HDR, face beauty, several filters, portrait mode (depth effect), super resolution, panorama, pro mode, and the 120-degree wide-angle mode toggle.
Camera modes
Camera modes

The pro mode is extra robust. It is the only pro mode that we know that can go as low as ISO 25. It also has up to 32s shutter, manual focus, white balance and EV control.
The pro mode
The pro mode

ASUS also boasts that it is now A.I. assisted. It now has what they call A.I. scene detection and photo learning. Basically, it knows if you are taking a photo of a dog, plant, food, and other subjects and it will apply the right camera settings for it. ASUS also noted that they improved the portrait mode and face beauty.

Focus speed has close to a high-end smartphone and it can do 3-inch close-up shots easily on daylight. Photo saving speed is also way faster than the ZenFones in the past. It is still not as fast as the iPhone X and the P20 Pro in saving, but the improvement is noticeable.

Way better camera performance than the average cameras of ZenFone 4 last year!

In terms of picture quality, this is WAY BETTER than the cameras of the ZenFone 4 last year. It is very clear that ASUS dramatically improved its overall picture quality for ZenFone 5.

Most of our daylight shots are well exposed! Details are mostly on point. You will get sharp photos 9 out of 10 times. Color accuracy is great and it can get vibrant shots when needed.

Exposure of this phone is actually better than most that we tested at this price point. Dynamic range can compete with some high-end phones last year.

Though there are times where its HDR won't work that well.

The portrait mode of this phone is also one of the best for the price. It has clean edge detection and close to natural looking bokeh effect. Sadly, it won't be adjustable like other phones with bokeh effect.

The wide-angle mode via its 8MP secondary shooter is not as great as the primary 12MP shooter though. But, it can be good enough to take detailed daylight wide shots. The wide-angle mode still has some distortion, but it looks cleaner and better than before. 

Indoor camera performance is also decent. The lowlight camera performance of this device is also quite impressive for the price.

The lowlight performance of the wide-angle mode is usable, but again, it won't be as good as the primary camera.

Rear Camera Samples

Normal HDR
Normal HDR
Wide HDR
Wide HDR
Wide daylight
Wide daylight
Close-up lechon
Close-up lechon
Wide lowlight
Wide lowlight
Lowlight normal
Lowlight normal
EV -2 (ISO 25, 1s)
EV -2 (ISO 25, 1s)

On the front, it boasts an 8MP f/2.0 OV8856 sensor with wide enough 83-degree field of view and screen flash.
Selfie cam
Selfie cam

Like the primary camera, it has auto HDR and 10-level face beauty mode. The face beauty mode is even customizable. Moreover, it has a nice type of portrait selfie mode for selfie bokeh effect.

The ASUS ZenFone 5 only has an 8MP shooter which is way below the 20MP and above found on other mid-range phones. But as we all know, higher is not always better. The 8MP selfie shooter of this handset is just a step below.

It can take well detailed daylight and indoor selfies. At times, colors are also natural looking. It also has good enough dynamic range. The portrait bokeh mode also has cleaner edges than what we expected. Lowlight selfies are also respectable.

However we have few gripes. First, the face beauty mode is still very aggressive. Second, color accuracy is far from perfect. There are times where it'll take soft and whitewashed selfies and there are times where you'll get a reddish oversaturated tint. Lastly, the screen flash tends to overexpose your close-up selfies.

Hopefully, ASUS can seed an update to fix those minor problems.

Selfie Camera Samples

Daylight selfie
Daylight selfie
Well-lit selfie
Well-lit selfie
Indoor selfie
Indoor selfie
Lowlight selfie bokeh
Lowlight selfie bokeh

For videos, the ZenFone 5 is impressive for the price! It can shoot up to 4K quality with 30 frames per second. Yes it has shake, but it is well detailed with good colors and decent contrast most for daylight videos. At 1080p, stabilization is much better.

By the way, it can also shoot wide videos at 1080p 30 fps with good stabilization.

For selfies, it can record up to 1080p in quality at 30 fps. Quality is still decent, but expect it to be lesser in detail versus the primary cameras.

Performance

Benchmark scores
Benchmark scores

The ASUS ZenFone 5 is snappy phone for the price! It goes with a mid-range grade Snapdragon 636 octa-core chipset clocked at 1.8GHz with gaming capable Adreno 509 GPU. They even paired it with ample 4GB RAM and 64GB of expandable storage.

Snappy mid-range grade performance!

As a result, the performance that we got is mostly great. It was able to load most of our social media apps like Facebook and Instagram with ease, it can play 1080p videos and up without hiccups, and switching from an app to another is breeze.

ASUS also claimed that it has A.I. Boost which allocates device resources to optimize system performance and improve gaming performance. With A.I. Boost, the AnTuTu benchmark score of this device can go as high as 140K! A.I. Boost can drain your battery a bit faster though.


For gaming, it can run NBA 2K18 on high settings with cloth simulation. PUBG is also playable on max settings. There are few times where you'll experience a bit of lag, but overall gaming is respectable for the price.

It gets warm on heavy gaming with 4G LTE data on, but this type of heating is just fine.
ZenUI 5.0
ZenUI 5.0

On the software part, this handset loads with Android 8.0 Oreo out of the box. ASUS's ZenUI 5.0 skin is on top. Like stock Android Oreo, you will need to swipe up to view the rest of your apps.

It still has bloats, but thankfully it is fewer than ever. Most of them are Google apps. ASUS retained the important pre-installed apps like the Mobile Manager to optimize your device and Themes

The Selfie Master app is still there for those who needs to go on live with face beauty mode.


The ZenFone 5 also has the Game Genie streaming, Twin Apps for multiple accounts, OptiFlex for faster app launch, and ZenMotion gesture for shortcuts.

The fingerprint scanner at the back is snappy and accurate. The face unlock is hit or miss though. It works 7 out of 10 tries.

For the rest of the telephony experience, we never had an issue. It has dual SIM mode, call quality is great, sending SMS is fine, Bluetooth works, and 4G LTE data is strong in areas where the signal is strong.


Moreover, it has OTG for file transfer and other OTG devices. It also has gyroscope for VR apps.

Pros - Premium build, snappy performance, good battery performance, better cameras than ever, wide-angle mode is usable, accurate fingerprint reader, powerful speakers, affordable price tag
Cons - No water resistance, face unlock is hit or miss, selfie cam needs improvement

Verdict

The ZenFone 5 is an excellent mid-range all-rounder. It has good design, actual performance, battery life, and cameras at a reasonable price tag of PHP 19,995. It is one of the must check phones at this price point.

It is not perfect, but ASUS is finally back on track with the ZenFone 5.

Again, this is the ASUS we know!

Build / Design - 4.5
Display - 4
Audio - 4
Battery - 4.25
Camera - 4.25
Performance - 4.25
Average - 4.208 / 5
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