If it wasn't for the Pixel 3a, the Asus Zenfone 6 probably could've been a surprise hit in 2019. It packed an almost stock-like Android experience, the best processor on the market (back then), and a unique flip camera. We worried that Asus' creation could turn out to be a flash in the pan, but after spending two weeks with the Zenfone 7 Pro, I can confirm that it is an improvement over that already great phone. It comes with a higher price, though.
The Zenfone 7 Pro retains the unique camera setup, the big 5,000mAh battery, and the top-of-the-line ARM chip. The switch from an LCD to a 90Hz Samsung OLED panel is a welcome improvement as well. The handset won't officially make it to the US, but you can get it in European and Asian markets for €799 (around $950), and maybe you should.
The uninterrupted 90Hz AMOLED screen is beautiful to look at.
The Snapdragon 865+ makes this thing fly.
5,000mAh should be more than enough to last you a full day.
While controversial, I like having the fingerprint reader on the customizable power button.
You won't get better selfie cameras in other smartphones, and that's worth a lot.
The Not So Good
You definitely notice that the flip mechanism makes the phone top-heavier than others.
I'm happy there's a telephoto this year, but unfortunately it's the worst of the three. I've also noticed inconsistent exposure during a few burst shots with the primary camera.
No headphone jack, no wireless charging, no waterproofing.
Aggressive app-breaking battery optimization tweaks, no notifications on the always-on panel.
Design, hardware, what's in the box
The first thing you'll notice when you pick up the Zenfone 7 Pro is the subtly curved back glass with the light-dependent color gradient. The black aluminum frame dividing the front and the back make it look and feel sturdy, which you should expect at a price of €799 — even if there are more expensive phones these days.
Using the phone for long periods can be tiring because of how big and top-heavy it is. The flip camera module adds substantial weight, and the huge 6.67-inch screen and the 5,000mAh battery do their part to make it a hefty package. It's not a big deal if you're someone who likes big phones, though — you already know what you're in for.
The Zenfone 7's 90Hz OLED screen is gorgeous with the kind of vibrant colors we’ve come to expect from modern OLEDs, and a maximum brightness more than suitable for usage in the sun. You can also switch it to a more accurate color mode. The lack of a notch or punch-hole means almost the entire face of the phone is screen with narrow (almost symmetrical) bezels all the way around. It looks very striking.
The side-mounted power button sports a fingerprint reader so you can unlock your phone by tapping the button, which takes some getting used to — I did unlock the phone while putting it in my pocket a few times on accident. You can customize what the button does on a long press or a double press, which is why Asus calls it a "smart key." Both the volume rocker and the smart key are pleasant to press and don't feel mushy or cheap.
The vibration motor is fine, but it's no Pixel or iPhone. It's strong enough to get your attention when it comes to notifications and calls, but you don’t get really precise "flagship" haptic feedback when typing or tapping. The unbalanced stereo speakers consist of the tinny earpiece and the much louder bottom-firing speaker — you need to make sure you don't cover it up when gaming or watching videos. In contrast to its predecessor, the Zenfone 7 doesn't have a headphone jack, which is a bummer. There's no water-proofing or wireless charging, either — you'll have to make do with 30W wired charging.
The black hard-shell case and the transparent silicon case are included in the box.
The Zenfone 7 Pro comes in a big box that includes two cases and a chonky 30W fast charger (20V=1.5, USB-PD) — if you buy this phone, you won't have to worry about stocking up on accessories.
Software, performance, and battery
Asus' ZenUI 7 looks close to stock Android, but there are some unnecessary changes below the surface. If you want to run apps in the background without having them unexpectedly killed, you have to pin them in the multitasking overview and make sure they have the autostart permission in settings. The always-on panel also doesn't display notifications, which is a bummer.
I was happy with other tweaks, though. Asus' Game Genie lets you turn off notifications and set up your preferred display refresh rate on the fly while gaming, status bar icons can be hidden, and optional battery care settings let you activate slow charging and scheduled charging to make the hardware last as long as possible. There are also custom battery saving modes, where you can choose to activate dark mode and tweak other power-saving measures to your liking. It's also great to see a minimal amount of bloatware.
The Snapdragon 865+ and the 90Hz panel make the Zenfone 7 buttery smooth. Apps start quickly and run without stutters (except for the usual suspects like the Play Store, Twitter, etc.), and you can play 90 FPS games on the highest graphics settings available.
Battery life was disappointing when I started using the phone, but Asus confirmed it was the result of a pre-release firmware bug. And sure enough, once I turned off the feature that caused the issue (scheduled charging), the Zenfone 7 Pro would easily last me a day of heavy use including taking pictures, navigating, and listening to music via Bluetooth. Asus says the battery issue will be fixed in a software update, and we’ll confirm that when possible.
The Zenfone 7 has three cameras on its flip mechanism, rated for up to 200,000 rotations: A primary 64MP Sony IMX686 sensor, a 12MP Sony IMX363 ultra-wide, and an 8MP 3x zoom telephoto. By default, the primary camera utilizes pixel binning and creates 16MP photos. You can get the full 64MP resolution if you like, but then you'll lose HDR.
While the Asus ROG Phone 3 had a pretty weak camera, the Asus Zenfone 7 Pro does much better. Most images turn out well with ample light, but Asus' image processing isn’t 100% reliable. Exposure times vary drastically in burst shots with a tendency to blow out highlights. You'll also often see digital artifacts and halos around edges when you zoom in, no matter which of the three cameras you use, but it's not too noticeable. Colors and brightness are artificially pumped up, but that looks nice sometimes. I even got a few shots with the Zenfone that I liked more than similar shots with the Pixel 4. And of course, the Zenfone crushes any other phone in the selfie department.
Two images taken in quick succession with wildly different results.
I'm happy that Asus finally added a telephoto to the phone, but unfortunately, it's by far the worst of the bunch. When taken side-by-side, the telephoto exhibits higher ISO noise levels, and fine details often look smudged and undefined. It just doesn’t play well with Asus’ overzealous processing.
I also took some videos while riding the bike, and thanks to OIS and EIS, the clips were smooth despite my unstable one-handed operation.
The camera app has some tricks up its sleeve. You can use the volume buttons to move the flip cameras into any position you like or select one of three predefined ones, and the Zenfone will use the unique flip mechanism to automatically shoot panoramas and Motion Videos, tracking where the subject you want to film is going.
Asus also tries to prevent any damage to the camera when they're flipped to selfie mode. As soon as you start dropping the phone, the module automatically retracts. One of the included cases even features a physical toggle that prevents the camera from flipping in the first place, which is great when you're out and about.
While the Zenfone 7 Pro sometimes outperforms the Pixel when it comes to compositions with complicated lighting, the latter often feels more reliable when it comes to post-processing. But of course, the Zenfone crushes any other phone in the selfie department.
Should you buy it?
Asus Zenfone 7 Pro
Yes, though at €799 for the Pro variant, Asus' pricing isn't as aggressive as it used to be. It's still cheaper than the Galaxy lineup this year, but it's no longer the clear bargain last year's $500/€500 Zenfone 6 was. We probably have 5G support to thank for the price hike.
Still, if you're looking for a unique phone with unbeatable selfies, the Zenfone is still the one to choose. Is it worth importing to the US, where the Zenfone doesn't support 5G? Probably not—you have many other great options at that price point that work with the new network standard.
Buy it if:
You want an all-screen 90Hz AMOLED display.
You want to take tons of high-quality selfies.
Don't buy it if:
You don't want to worry about breaking the flip mechanism.
It's been about a month since the initial review, and I've been carrying the Zenfone 7 Pro with me on and off since then. It's still blazing fast, and I haven't run into any deal-breaking issues that would change my verdict. There are a few things worth adding, though.
After my initial battery problems due to pre-release firmware bugs, I can now confirm that the Zenfone 7 Pro easily lasts you a day and then some following a post-launch update. I haven't managed to run down the battery before going to bed anymore, and that's with more than five hours of screen-on time some days. The battery is even solid when I activated scheduled charging, which caused my initial battery problems.
Following that system update, I've yet to run into any additional issues with burst shots — shooting photos feels much more consistent and predictable now. However, I've grown more anxious when it comes to the camera hardware. The hinge has trouble keeping the array in place when you shake the phone or move it too quickly, but at least the motor jumps in to retract the array as fast as possible. That might be why Asus includes a case in the box with a switch that completely stops the hinge from moving.
When switching back and forth between phones (the Pixel 3 and the OnePlus Nord, to be specific), it's incredible how huge and top-heavy the Zenfone 7 Pro feels. Once again, this is a phone for people who are okay with carrying a bulky package with them.
All of this is nitpicking, though: You still get a phone with a flagship processor and a unique camera setup for €799. But keep in mind, this isn't the same screaming deal it was just a month ago. Samsung released the Galaxy S20 Fan Edition in the meantime, and it beats the Zenfone in some key areas: Its Snapdragon 865 5G variant is only €730 in Europe, it has a 120Hz screen, IP68 water and dust resistance, wireless charging, and less top-heavy hardware. There's a reason we say it could be the best phone of 2020 in our review. But if you value a unique camera, an uninterrupted display, and stock-ish Android over the FE's traits, the Zenfone 7 Pro might still be for you.