Asus Zenfone 6: Review

Introduction

Asus is keen to show us with the Zenfone 6 and it doesn’t hurt that after all the practical considerations the phone ended up having a super-cool rotating camera. It’s a dual camera assembly mounted on a motorized rig that flips 180 degrees to take selfies – Asus has unimaginatively dubbed it Flip Camera. The actual modules are a Quad Bayer 48MP primary one and a 13MP ultra wide – so no telephoto. But on the flip (ahem…) side you’d be getting primary-camera-grade selfies, ultra wide ones too, plus some of the highest quality selfie videos on the market.

The display appears to be the sole compromise in the specsheet – in a segment dominated by OLEDs, the Zenfone 6 comes with an LCD. LCDs aren’t inherently bad, however, and we’ll see how this one performs.

Specs:
Body: Aluminum frame, Gorilla Glass back, 159.1×75.4×9.2mm, 190g; Midnight Black and Twilight Silver color schemes.
Display: 6.4″ IPS LCD, 1080x2340px, 19.5:9 aspect ratio, 403ppi, Gorilla Glass 6.
Camera: Motorized rotating dual camera assembly. Main module: 48MP, 1/2.0″ SONY IMX586 Quad Bayer sensor, f/1.79 aperture, 79-degree FOV (26mm equiv. focal length), laser/PDAF. Ultra wide module: 13MP, f/2.4 aperture, 125-degree FOV (11mm equiv. focal length), fixed focus. Dual LED flash.
Video recording: Up to 4K 2160p@60fps with EIS on the main cam, up to 4K@30fps with EIS on the ultra wide, slow-motion up to 1080p@240fps or 720p@480fps (only on the main cam).
OS/Software: Android 9.0 Pie, ZenUI 6.
Chipset: Snapdragon 855 (7nm): octa-core CPU (1×2.8GHz & 3×2.4GHz Kryo Gold & 4×1.7GHz Kryo 485 Silver); Adreno 640 GPU.
Memory: Up to 8GB RAM, up to 256GB UFS 2.1 storage, dedicated microSD card slot.
Battery: 5,000mAh capacity, 18W QuickCharge 4.0 fast charging, 10W reverse charging
Connectivity: Dual-SIM; LTE-A, 6-Band carrier aggregation, Cat.18 (1.2Gbps/150Mbps); Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac/ax MU-MIMO; GPS, GLONASS, Beidou, Galileo; NFC; Bluetooth 5.0; FM radio. USB Type-C, 3.5mm jack.
Misc: Rear-mounted capacitive fingerprint sensor, stereo speakers.

Unboxing Asus Zenfone 6

Design

The Asus design team started off the Zenfone 6 project by settling on a screen size. The 6.4-inch 19.5:9 aspect display offered the best possible compromise between display area and ease of use, the last bit being dictated mostly by the width.

The IPS LCD is near bezelless, with a minimal frame on the sides and the top, and a slightly thicker chin. If you go out of your way looking for it like we do, you may notice the top bezel is marginally thicker than the sides. If you’re a normal person, you probably won’t notice it and/or care about it.

Asus has fitted a conventional earpiece which moonlights as a secondary loudspeaker. There are the usual ambient light and proximity sensors to the right of the earpiece, plus an RGB LED status/notification light.

The front of the Zenfone 6 is covered in the latest Gorilla Glass 6 for scratch and shatter resistance.

For all its uniqueness, the handset does feature a conventional capacitive fingerprint reader on the back. Under-display sensors only work with OLED displays and the Zenfone 6’s target price didn’t allow for that. We rather enjoyed the experience with this sensor – it’s well positioned and works quickly and reliably.

Display, Battery Life, Loudspeaker, Audio Quality

The Zenfone 6 is equipped with a 6.4-inch IPS LCD with 1080x2340px resolution in a 19.5:9 aspect ratio, for a pixel density of 403ppi. It’s got rounded corners, but no notches or cutouts whatsoever – that was a priority.

The Zenfone 6 supports QuickCharge 4 and USB Power Delivery. It comes bundled with an 18W QC4 adapter, which tops up a fully depleted battery in 2:32h, while a 30-minute charge takes you to 35%. Neither number is truly impressive, but let’s not forget we’re talking about a 5,000mAh power pack here. Using a Power Delivery charger from a Pixel phone (they are all the same across all three generations), we were able to shave off 9 minutes from the full charge time, and we got virtually the same charge after half an hour.

Asus was keen to point out that fitting any sort of faster charging solution would have meant a less dense battery, effectively resulting in either a thicker phone to achieve the same capacity or a smaller capacity (to the tune of 4,000mAh). Neither was acceptable so they went with the 5,000mAh and QC4 combo.

The Zenfone 6 has a stereo speaker configuration with a main loudspeaker on the bottom and the earpiece serving as the other channel in the pair. In landscape the phone switches the channels to match the orientation, while in portrait the earpiece is always the left channel. The dedicated speaker is louder, naturally, though it doesn’t have a particular kick in the lows.

The Asus Zenfone 6 did very well with an active external amplifier – its scores fell slightly short of most other phones, but they are still excellent in general terms. The degradation caused by headphones was well contained too – stereo crosstalk rose to just above average, but the other readings remained solid.

Camera

The Asus Zenfone 6’s Flip Camera is, in fact, two cameras. Or, if you think about it, four cameras – two rear ones and two ones for selfies. Philosophical musings aside, there’s a primary 48MP main module and a 13MP secondary one with an ultra wide angle lens.

The main cam uses the Sony IMX586 sensor, that’s on everything these days. It’s a 48MP Quad Bayer imager with a Type 1/2″ overall size and 0.8┬Ám pixel pitch. Paired with an f/1.8 aperture 26mm-equivalent lens it has no OIS, which we have seen on some setups with this sensor. Auto focus relies on a combination of phase detection and laser AF.

The ultra wide camera has 13MP to work with and its lens covers a 125-degree field of view (so around 11mm equivalent). Its focus is fixed.

Alternatives, Pros and Cons, Verdict

If you’re looking for a smartphone with a motorized flip camera, your choices are pretty limited – it’s either the Zenfone 6 here, the Oppo N3 from way back in 2014, or the Samsung Galaxy A80.

The Galaxy A80 will deliver the flipping and the pop-up mechanism is motorized too, but due to the nature of its design, you won’t be getting the automated panoramas or the waist level shooting capabilities, so there’s one in favor of the Zenfone’s Flip Camera. The Asus offering has the more potent chipset (S855 vs. S730), and it’s got the dedicated microSD slot, while the A80 doesn’t have one at all. The Zenfone also has a headphone jack and stereo speakers, both missing on the Galaxy. The Galaxy does have a superior display with a fingerprint reader underneath, and it’ll charge faster, though it won’t last quite as long. The Zenfone seems to be more affordable.

Pros
The Flip Camera is a unique solution that’s simply cool but also offers nice functionality.
Class-leading battery life, reasonable charging speeds.
Excellent image quality in daylight and low light, unrivaled selfies (because, you know, flip camera).
Great video quality, capable stabilization.
One of the most affordable phones with the top-performing Snapdragon 855.

Cons
An OLED screen would have been appreciated.
No telephoto camera.

Verdict
Come in for the cool motorized camera, stay for everything else – that’s pretty much what the Zenfone 6 is all about. That is, if you manage to look past its not quite stellar display – other than that Asus has managed to pull off quite the package for a very reasonable price.

Easily some of the best possible selfies you can get from a smartphone today is only the flip side to an excellent camera experience across stills and video, in daylight or at night. And you’ll have no problem making it through the night either thanks to the biggest battery this side of the midrange. Add to that some nice-to-haves that are increasingly harder to find in the high-end segment like a headphone jack, a status LED, and a dedicated microSD slot, and we can see how the Zenfone 6 makes a really compelling case for itself.

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