The $700 Asus Zenfone 9 has both a tiny 5.9-inch screen and the latest Snapdragon chip.
Why it matters
The Zenfone is one of the smallest Android phones currently made and one of the cheaper phones to include the most powerful Snapdragon processor.
While small Android phones will still be a rarity moving forward, we expect the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 chip to be in even more Android phones during the second half of 2022.
The Asus Zenfone 9, revealed Thursday, can give fans of smaller phones all the specs and power of larger, more expensive flagship phones. The Zenfone 9 includes the newest Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 chip, a 120Hz high refresh rate screen, two rear cameras, Android 12, dual speakers and a headphone jack.
I tested the $800 version of the Zenfone 9 for a few days, which includes 16GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. The base $700 model comes with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. Internationally the phone costs 799 euros, which converts roughly to £670 or AU$1,170. A release date has not yet been announced.
Comparisons to Apple’s $729 iPhone 13 Mini are undeniable. While the Zenfone 9 is slightly taller and wider than Apple’s smallest phone, both include the most recent and powerful processor offered — the A15 Bionic in the case of the iPhone.
Zenfone 9 dimensions vs. iPhone 13 Mini
|Asus Zenfone 9||5.9 inches||5.76 in (146.5 mm)||2.68 in (68.1 mm)|
|Apple iPhone 13 Mini||5.4 inches||5.18 in (131.5 mm)||2.53 in (64.2 mm)|
The Zenfone’s smaller size, along with its impressive specs, have made it a joy to use so far. The phone feels like a little remote control that can handle anything that I throw at it: games, night mode photos and video calls. When I unlock the phone, there’s even a peppy wallpaper animation that further emphasizes its speed.
The Zenfone 9’s sub-6-inch display means it’s a rarity among Android phones. It’s impressively small and powerful, running on the Snapdragon chip found mainly in gaming phones such as the $729 RedMagic 7S Pro. Though the upcoming OnePlus 10T will also include the chip.
Yet the new Asus phone is missing several features that most other $700 phones have. Chief among them is the lack of wireless charging and a software update timeline of more than two years. An Asus rep said that software updates might extend past two years. But compared with the three and four years of Android OS updates offered by Google and Samsung, respectively, this is on the shorter side.
Fast screen, fast charging
The Zenfone’s 5.9-inch screen has a 1080p resolution and is easy to use with one hand. Asus tailored the settings in its ZenUI interface to make one-handed use even easier: Similar to Apple’s Reachability feature, you can move the top part of the screen to the bottom to make things easier to reach.
The 120Hz refresh rate makes apps and websites smooth to browse. That high refresh rate coupled with a 240Hz touch sampling rate makes it feel like I’m flying through tasks. I played a few games on the phone — which was slightly more difficult on the smaller screen since many of them are designed with larger phones in mind. But the phone’s responsiveness is helpful, allowing for faster reaction times during gameplay.
In terms of durability, the screen is covered in Corning Gorilla Glass Victus. The phone has an IP68 rating for water and dust resistance. That means the it can survive being submerged in 1 meter of water for 30 minutes.
While I still need to run formal battery tests, I haven’t needed to charge the phone’s 4,300-mAh battery much. During my most active day of use — taking photos of a ramen lunch, watching YouTube videos while reading news, using Google Maps to go to a dimly lit bar where I took Night mode photos — the battery ended the day at roughly 50%.
Asus said the battery should last 1.9 days. Fortunately the phone comes with a 30-watt charger in the box and there are several power-saving modes in Settings like scheduling a lower-power mode to run overnight.
The dual rear cameras are decent
The back of the Zenfone 9 is dominated by its two rear cameras. They’re big enough to practically be a design statement. There’s a main 50-megapixel camera with a six-axis hybrid gimbal stabilizer and a 12-megapixel camera with an ultrawide lens. On the front is a 12-megapixel selfie camera.
Photos taken under average lighting look pretty good. Take a look at the color and detail in the photo below that I took of my ramen lunch.
I was most impressed by the phone’s Night mode. Check out the photo below that I took inside a very dark bar. The Zenfone’s Night mode makes the pictures look brighter almost like there was additional lighting.
The front-facing camera is also fine and picks up enough detail in photos. Notice the pattern on my shirt in the selfie photo below. Asus claims the front-facing camera has the fastest autofocus currently available, but in my early tests it felt average compared to other phones in this price range. Video calls with the front-facing camera also worked well.
Small-size phone with big performance
The Zenfone 9 is a great option for someone looking for a small phone that has higher-end features like a Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 chip and a 120Hz high-refresh rate screen. The phone runs on 5G and supports sub-6 and C-band.
If you’re considering the Zenfone 9 keep in mind it only has two years of software support and lacks wireless charging and mmWave 5G support (which is still a rarity across much of the US). If you’re looking for a small-ish phone under $500, check out the $449 Pixel 6A and its slightly taller 6.1-inch screen.