The Asus Zenfone 5 is a bit like the OnePlus 6. It looks and feels similar to a more expensive phone and has impressive tech inside, but is fairly affordable.
You get a rich 6.2-inch screen, a mid-range Qualcomm chipset and generally capable cameras that let you take normal and ultra-wide shots.
Its night shooting performance could be better, and it needs some stability fixes, but this phone represents great value. However, given that the OnePlus 6 and others exist it has got some competition.
Asus Zenfone 5 price and availability
Costs £349.99 in the UK
Other prices and availability TBC
We don’t yet have worldwide prices for the Asus Zenfone 5. In the UK it costs £349.99 (around AU$620). That’s the same price as the Nokia 7 Plus, a little less than the Honor 10 and significantly less than the OnePlus 6.
Based in the US? Importers will sell you the phone for around $410. Again, it sits in a similar position relative to competitors from other brands.
We think this is probably the most attractive phone in Asus’s new line-up, but there’s also a more powerful version, the Zenfone 5Z. It's set to cost £500 (around $700, AU$885), but swaps the Snapdragon 636 chipset for a high-end Snapdragon 845.
Dual-lens camera is good but not great
A big 6.2-inch screen with a notch
Asus talks up the Zenfone 5’s camera as its key feature. It has a 12MP main rear sensor with an 8MP wide-angle secondary lens. This sits in place of the zoom camera many high-end phones offer.
The main sensor is large, and it’s stabilized with optical image stabilization (OIS) too. This is a good camera, just don’t overload your expectations. The Zenfone 5’s night images are not much better than the best at the price, including the Nokia 7 Plus.
Elsewhere, you get a mid-range Snapdragon 636 chipset, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. There's also a 3,300mAh battery that lasts a solid day, or a day and a half if you go easy on the Zenfone 5.
Its screen is large at 6.2 inches, but as it has a notch this handles like a traditional 5.5-inch phone. It is big rather than gigantic, and those extra screen inches make games more enjoyable.
Metal and glass build
Relatively slow fingerprint scanner
ZenBook-series design touches
The Asus Zenfone 5 is, like so many phones of 2018, a mix of aluminum and toughened glass. There’s glass on the front and back, metal along the sides.
All edges are smooth, rounded-off, but the Asus Zenfone 5 is not all that curvy. It’s a 3D rectangle, with no major tapering on either side.
This is not bad as such, but does make the phone feel a little larger than some, particularly as the screen is big too. We switched from the LG G7 ThinQ to the Asus Zenfone 5, and the Asus feels, and is, substantially bigger.
There’s nothing to complain about in the numbers, though. The Asus Zenfone 5 is 7.7mm thick. As it has a slim border and notched design, it’s very pocketable and easy to handle for a device with a 6.2-inch screen. 6-inch phones used to feel like phone-tablet crossbreeds. This is definitely a phone.
It also has a design touch or two used in Asus’s ZenBook laptops. A layer that plays with reflected light sits under the rear glass, making it look as though beams fire out of the back fingerprint scanner in all directions.
This is a shiny, almost dazzling finish, but it’s nowhere near as reflective as the Honor 10, another top pick at the price. The glass blurs reflections, avoiding the mirror-like finish some phones have.
It’s a good look. The Zenfone 5’s rear design has a characteristic Asus appearance, while maintaining the standards set by other top-end phones.
It also doesn’t try anything too off-putting. There’s still a headphone jack, there are no superfluous buttons, just a volume rocker and power button, and while 64GB of storage is enough for many of us, you can also add a microSD card to the SIM tray.
The fingerprint scanner is one of the Asus Zenfone 5’s weak points, though. It sits on the back, a slightly recessed circular pad.
It’s unusually unreliable. Sometimes it works fine and is just a little slow compared to the best. At other times it repeatedly fails to recognize your finger, making you input your PIN or password instead.
The Zenfone 5 likely uses scanner parts similar to those of other mid-range phones, so this is most likely a problem with the software rather than the hardware. However, it is annoying. And as you’ll see through this review, all of the phone’s issues are down to similar lapses in optimization.
6.2-inch 1080 x 2246 IPS LCD screen
Larger than average notch
Customizable color profiles
The Asus Zenfone 5 has a 6.2-inch 19:9 screen with a notch. This is a great screen, for the most part.
It’s a 1080 x 2246 LCD, with great sharpness. You can see the mildest bit of pixelation if you look very close. But you do have to try.
The Asus Zenfone 5’s default color mode is very well-saturated, but this is because it aims for the deep DCI-P3 color standard, used by video color graders. We find it just slightly too punchy, but switch to the 'Standard' color mode and the overexcited look is gone completely.
Some of you may find these two modes a bit too rich and undersaturated respectively. Standard is an sRGB mode, the screen equivalent of 'no added sugar' chocolate. We like it, but many of you will want some more energy.
A custom screen mode lets you choose the exact saturation level, along with the color temperature. It’s a near-perfect spread.
However, the main issue we found is that there’s no compensation for parts of the phone that need accurate color. Choose a saturated color mode and your photos will appear oversaturated, even though they won’t when you upload them to Instagram.
For the most accurate read of your photos, use Standard screen mode.
The Asus Zenfone 5 has a screen similar to the OnePlus 6. It’s 6.2 inches across, but as it has a notch and a 19:9 aspect ratio it’s nothing like the 6-inch screens of years ago.
This is a larger phone, but not a gigantic one. Its notch is also larger-than-average too, though. The difference is clear, swapping between the Zenfone 5, LG G7 ThinQ and OnePlus 6.
Part of this is just a thin visual issue. However, it also means fewer notification icons fit in the notch alcoves. You end up with a '…' icon, meaning you really have no idea of what your notifications are. You just know they are there.
The clock display also isn’t well-optimized, seeming to get too close to the edge of the display. However, like the OnePlus 6 the Zenfone 5 also lets you block-in the notch with black, so you can only tell it’s there in a dimly lit room. This solves the clock issue, if not the notifications one.
We class these issues as little quibbles, not major disasters, in a phone that focuses on value and camera tech above other concerns.
3,300mAh battery offers all-day stamina
Fast charging with BoostMaster
No wireless charging
The Asus Zenfone 5 has a 3,300mAh battery. It’ll last a solid day off a charge. On days when we don’t punish the phone too much, it ends up with around 30% charge left by bed time.
That includes a few hours of podcast streaming, some photo-taking, a couple of streamed YouTube videos and regular checks of WhatsApp.
It won’t challenge the Huawei P20 Pro, but the Zenfone 5’s stamina is respectable.
Left to play a 90-minute video at maximum brightness, the battery level drops by 16%. The OnePlus 6 loses 15% in the same test. As in general use, the Asus and its OnePlus rival are similar battery performers.
The Asus Zenfone 5 also supports fast charging, using the Asus BoostMaster standard (which is based on Qualcomm Quick Charge tech). It uses 'AI' charging too. This prevents overcharging, which can reduce your battery’s lifespan. There’s no wireless charging, though.
Relatively advanced camera hardware
12MP main and 8MP wide-angle secondary cameras
Asus says the camera is the Zenfone 5’s focus. It is home to some of the phone’s best and most disappointing parts.
The hardware, for the rear cameras at least, is excellent. Its main sensor is a Sony IMX363, a great 12MP f/1.8 sensor with large 1.4-micron sensor pixels and 1/2.55-inch size.
It has 4-axis stabilization, for better low light results. You can see this in action even when you simply hold the Asus Zenfone 5 with the camera app running. Movement appears smoothed-out.
The second rear camera has a 120-degree wide-angle lens. It’s most similar to the LG G7 ThinQ in this respect. This second sensor is 8MP f/2.0 and lets you shoot a wide view of a large object, even if it is close up.
The geometric distortion the lens causes can be used to dramatic effect too. Straight lines in the architecture of buildings become curved, particularly near the edge of the frame.
The best part of the Zenfone 5 aside from the flexibility of dual-view shooting is its HDR optimization. This phone has very effective high dynamic range processing.
It’s far better in this respect than the more expensive LG G7 ThinQ, which frequently blows out the brightest parts of an image. The Zenfone 5 does not, usually.
At times it can seem a little unrealistic, bordering on fantastical, as if bright cloudy skies have been rendered by a computer game. But photos are often striking.
There are two problems with the HDR. At times it can cause ghosting, where you can see movement in the scene overlaid on top of the original exposure. This is usually an issue when there’s too much of a time gap between the shots.
And at times the HDR just doesn’t kick in. On several occasions we shot multiple images of the same scene. Some ended up as nicely exposed HDR photos, others were labeled HDR but had dramatically overexposed areas.
The Asus Zenfone 5 camera is a little flaky. You see this throughout. Sometimes the shutter button refuses to respond when you press it. Switching between the standard and wide cameras takes too long.
Asus improved the camera performance a little with a mid-test update, but there’s clearly more work to do here. We have hope, though, because when the Asus Zenfone 5 behaves there’s minimal shutter lag. Right now, it misbehaves too often, though.
Other aspects of image quality are slightly disappointing given the great tech inside too. Despite OIS and the high-quality sensor, night photo quality is not that great. Low light shots are noisy, much more so than the OnePlus 6, it’s still quite easy to blur night photos and they are just not that detailed.
The Asus Zenfone 5 also routinely over-saturates color. Using Photoshop to tweak the resulting files, reducing saturation by as much as 30% often results in more natural-looking images.
There’s also a tendency to increase exposure too much for dark scenes with moderate levels of light contrast, making them look washed out. This camera is inconsistent.
Asus says the Zenfone 5 uses AI to aid its camera, although unlike the Honor 10 it doesn’t advertise its presence as you shoot. It may be to blame for our oversaturated shots.
The phone does use its smarts pretty well for very low light shooting, though. It can make photos of very dim rooms seem brighter and clearer. The resulting detail isn’t too impressive, but there’s stuff going on behind the scenes we weren’t able to replicate with the Pro mode.
Pro mode lets you take control of parameters like shutter speed and focus, and can also capture RAW+JPEG images. The auto mode just shoots JPEGs.
The Asus Zenfone 5 offers some of the best camera hardware you can get for the price. However, thanks to less-than-stellar processing and flaky software the results are variable.
Sometimes it takes excellent photos. Sometimes it looks as though something has gone a bit wrong in the process, or the app just gets on your nerves with its inconsistent performance.
As long as Asus continues to update the Zenfone 5, this will improve. But it won’t challenge the Samsung Galaxy S9 or OnePlus 6.
The front camera has a very good 8MP sensor capable of rendering plenty of fine detail, and once again the HDR mode works wonders on balancing the exposure of foreground and background.
There are two separate selfie apps too. Selfie Master has a beauty slider that smooths your skin, although doesn’t make the same HDR tweaks as the main camera app.
And ZeniMoji is a take on the Animoji feature of the iPhone X. This replaces your face with that of a 3D cartoon character that mimics the movement of your eyes, mouth and so on.
However, unlike the iPhone X there’s significant delay, and the effect isn’t anywhere near good as Apple’s when you play back the recorded clip either. But, hey, this stuff is for fun. It should please the kids, if not 30-year-olds begging for some tech infantilization.
For video you can shoot at up to 4K 30fps, or Full HD at up to 120fps, for slo-mo shooting. The Asus Zenfone 5 stabilizes footage even at 4K, but you’ll get the smoothest footage at 1080p.
ZenUI software with Android 8.0
Not the neatest software, but highly customizable
The Asus Zenfone 5 runs Android 8.0.0 and the ZenUI software. This is Asus’s Android skin, renowned for being jam-packed with extra fluff no one ordered.
There’s still more than some manufacturer interfaces here, but we don’t get the sense of being immediately submerged in additional apps. The look of the software is clearly different from standard Android too, but after a couple of days we were used to it. ZenUI is fine.
What changes does it make? Unlike standard Android, the Asus Zenfone 5 has horizontal pages of icons in its app drawer rather than a vertical scroll.
There’s also a dock of frequently used apps that sits at the bottom of the apps screen.
As usual ZenUI also offers loads of customizations. Dig deep enough and you can change fonts, use (slightly questionable) animated Asus wallpapers, alter the scale of the UI, turn off the apps menu completely and change the transition animations.
ZenUI is not an immediately impressive interface. However, its wide-ranging tweaks are well-suited to the slightly geeky audience likely to pick up an Asus phone. And it has shrugged off most of the stiffness of earlier versions of ZenUI.
Movies, music and gaming
Loud speakers and a headphone jack
Game Genie feature
Large display is great for games
The Asus Zenfone 5 is also one of the best phones for movies and games at the price. Aside from a simple sound recorder app Asus has stayed out of these areas, but the hardware is perfect for the enthusiast on a sensible budget.
Its screen is fairly large, plenty colorful, and games automatically scale to fit the Zenfone 5’s screen. You won’t suddenly see games flood the notch area, blocking off vital bits of game interface.
The phone’s speaker is remarkably good too. Most of the sound comes from the driver on the bottom, but the earpiece on the front plays additional higher-frequency audio. This makes the Zenfone 5 sound 'stereo', rather than just leaving all sound coming from one end, pointing away from your ears.
These speakers are louder than average, and they have a solid amount of mid and upper bass 'body'. We tend to use the Zenfone 5 at about 70-80% volume when listening to a podcast. It’s usually 100% all the way with other phones.
This is in part because it sounds just a little brash maxed-out at close quarters, but the extra volume is welcome when, for example, you’re cooking or listening to something while in the shower.
This phone is louder and fuller-sounding than the OnePlus 6.
There’s also an 'outdoor' mode. This makes the Asus Zenfone 5’s speakers thinner and harder sounding, but the audio travels better.
The Zenfone 5’s headphone jack is perhaps the biggest win for the way we play games, though. You don’t have to own a pair of Bluetooth headphones, or use an annoying adaptor.
If you like you can use Asus’s Game Genie feature too. This is part of ZenUI, accessed through the soft key bar when running a game. You can record footage, take screenshots, block notifications and 'speed up' gameplay. However, this seems to amount to purging RAM memory, so don’t expect dramatic results.
You can also force apps to fill out the whole screen, meaning the notch may block some interface elements. There’s not much reason to do this.
We noticed a few fractional moments of slow-down in Asphalt 8 (High graphics), but nothing that remotely spoils the fun. PUBG runs at Medium graphics rather than the High graphics setting the OnePlus 6 defaults to, though. This is because the Asus Zenfone 5 has a mid-range CPU, not a top-end one.
However, you can switch to High and the frame rate is perfectly sound.
Performance and benchmarks
Mid-range Snapdragon 636 chipset
4GB of RAM
The Asus Zenfone 5 has the Snapdragon 636, the latest mid-range Qualcomm chipset at the time of the phone’s launch. It has eight Kryo 260 cores clocked at 1.8GHz and the Adreno 509 GPU.
This is much less powerful than the OnePlus 6’s Snapdragon 845: it has only around 50% as much graphics power.
The difference between the Snapdragon 636 and last year’s flagship the Snapdragon 835 is less substantial, on the GPU side at least.
It scores 4,854 points in Geekbench 4. This places it below the Honor 10 and, of course, the OnePlus 6, but the score is solid. You can also use the 'AI Boost' mode to increase benchmark scores to 5,434 points, but this is the equivalent of 'cheating' manufacturers used to do on the sly.
The Asus Zenfone 5 has 4GB of LPDDR4X RAM that, according to our tests, is only around a third the speed of the OnePlus 6’s RAM. This is likely because the OnePlus uses not just faster RAM, but a dual-channel arrangement.
Like the chipset, the RAM is 'fast enough', and doesn’t actually aim for top tier performance. Such fast RAM isn't supported by the Snapdragon 636 platform anyway.
The Asus Zenfone 5 has great tech for the price, including a dual-lens rear camera, a solid chipset and a build that combines high-end materials with a classic Asus look.
It’s a good phone. However, several parts aren’t as well implemented as slightly more expensive rivals like the OnePlus 6. Considering the hardware, low light shooting should be better, and Asus seems in the middle of getting the camera software and fingerprint scanner up to speed.
Still, given the price this phone is highly competitive.
Who's this for?
The Asus Zenfone 5 is for folk who want a phone that isn’t too expensive, but comes with some of the neat extras you get in phones up to twice the price.
Should you buy it?
If you can afford the jump to a OnePlus 6, we think you may well prefer that phone. Its performance is better and the camera is more consistent.
However, if the price sits around your limit, this phone has more worthwhile extras than the Nokia 7 Plus, including a wide-angle camera and louder speakers.
First reviewed: June 2018
Not convinced by the Zenfone 5? Check out these four alternative options:
It may cost a little more but the OnePlus 6 nail parts that are problematic in the Asus. Low light photo quality is better, as is the fingerprint scanner. And the notch area is much more useful. The OnePlus 6 is also around twice as powerful thanks to a top-end CPU.
Day-to-day, though, these phones feel fairly similar in use, particularly as their screens are of a similar size and shape.
The Honor 10 is this year’s other top value smash. It has a smaller screen than the Asus. Consider it if you want a great-value phone, not necessarily a large one. The Honor is also more powerful than the Asus. Its Kirin 970 CPU is a top-end chipset (if not brand-new), the Asus Zenfone 5’s is not.
As the Asus doesn’t have the great low light camera performance its OIS seems to promise, this comes down to screen size. Do you want a big display, or a mid-size one?
It’s always hard to beat Moto G phones for value. The Moto G6 Plus is just one step below the Asus Zenfone 5 in power terms, using a chipset of the same series.
It has a glass and metal design too, although there’s no notch and the front fingerprint scanner leaves the phone a bit taller than the Asus. The Zenfone 5 also has a better speaker array, a punchier screen and a wide-angle rear camera. However, with the Moto G6 Plus you save a significant chunk of cash.