Unboxing the Asus Zenfone 9 was like assembly somebody new and studying that you simply like the identical obscure films or went to the identical highschool. I may inform instantly we’d get alongside. “You’re IP68 and you could have a headphone jack? No method! I really like headphone jacks!”

A number of the attraction has to do with its measurement. Because it did with the Zenfone 8, Asus has got down to reply the query “what would a small (learn: fairly sized) flagship Android cellphone seem like?” The reply begins with a 5.9-inch display — not almost as small because the 5.4-incher on the iPhone Mini. However so far as the Android ecosystem goes, it’s downright tiny.

“Small and runs Android” isn’t the one factor going for the Zenfone 9: it gives top-shelf parts like a Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 processor, a smooth-scrolling 120Hz show refresh price, and a 12-megapixel principal digicam with a one-of-a-kind stabilization system. It begins with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage for $799 and can go on sale within the US straight from Asus in mid-September. Introductory pricing will likely be decrease — $699 — and you will discover world variations of the cellphone on Amazon proper now for a bit lower than MSRP. Nonetheless, there’s good cause to attend till it’s formally on sale: Asus gives a one-year guarantee with the cellphone while you buy it straight, and the imported variations floating round now don’t embody that.

(*9*)

Good Stuff

  • Compact and simple to make use of with one hand
  • Spectacular gimbal-like digicam stabilization
  • Nice display and {smooth} total efficiency
  • Higher-than-average built-in audio system
  • Good all-day battery life for a small cellphone

Dangerous Stuff

  • Doesn’t work on Verizon
  • Solely two years of updates
  • No wi-fi charging
  • No telephoto digicam

For extra info on our scoring, see How We Fee.

Even while you’re driving excessive since you met your new finest good friend, you must come again right down to actuality finally. The Zenfone 9 isn’t the proper small cellphone: it lacks wi-fi charging, which most telephones at this value embody. There’s additionally no telephoto digicam, which isn’t a given in a cellphone beneath $1,000, however the (additionally $799) Samsung S22 does embody one. The Zenfone 9 doesn’t work with each US provider, both. It capabilities on AT&T and T-Cell’s networks, however you’re out of luck on Verizon. Belief me, I attempted.

Then there’s software program assist. Asus is committing to 2 platform OS updates and a paltry two years of safety patches. A cellphone at this value level ought to actually get extra years of software program assist. This makes it arduous to broadly suggest the Zenfone 9, particularly with the excellent, five-years-of-security-updates, works-on-every-carrier Galaxy S22 in the identical value bracket. However like sure genres of cult basic films, it should actually hit the spot for a particular sort of individual, and I’m one in all them.

The Zenfone 9 embraces 2022’s return to flat rails somewhat than the period of rounded edges that the iPhone 6 ushered in. This exterior body is aluminum, and the show curves ever so barely the place it meets the perimeters. The entrance panel is glass, however the again is a composite polymer materials with a textured, gentle end that makes the cellphone straightforward to grip one-handed. The entire thing feels sturdy, and it’s rated IP68 for sturdy water and dirt resistance.

Asus Zenfone 9 on a table top

It’s small, however the Zenfone 9 options top-shelf {hardware}.

Did I point out it’s small? It’s, and I adore it. There’s an assortment of high-end telephones on my desk as I write this, and so they’re all very succesful. However once I maintain the Zenfone 9, it simply seems like a sigh of reduction. It takes up so little house that once I put it within the pocket of my yoga pants, I’ll hold doing that factor the place I believe “oh crap, I left my cellphone in the home” after which uncover with reduction that it’s truly in my pocket. This isn’t one thing that occurs once I’m carrying a 6.4-incher just like the Google Pixel 6 in my pocket. The one cellphone extra comfy to hold in my pocket actually folds in half, so nicely performed, Asus.

The facility button on the facet of the cellphone does triple responsibility as a fingerprint sensor and a “Good Key.” The latter gives a customizable interplay while you swipe your finger throughout the button from high to backside. By default it’s set to tug down the fast settings and notification shade; it’s a good technique to verify notifications one-handed with out having to succeed in as much as the highest of the display, which remains to be a stretch, even on a cellphone this small.

The function works nicely. Too nicely. Every time I used to be utilizing the cellphone with two arms, my proper palm saved by accident pulling the shade down. This was annoying, and I turned the Good Key function off. On the brilliant facet, I admire that Asus doesn’t make you keep in mind a button mixture while you wish to flip off the cellphone — you simply long-press the ability button like within the good outdated days.

The 5.9-inch OLED on the Zenfone 9 gives a high refresh price of 120Hz, which is kind of normal within the flagship class now. It makes for a {smooth} scrolling expertise, and the flagship-grade Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 processor paired with 8GB of RAM makes the cellphone really feel loads responsive for on a regular basis and even heavy duties. The display’s peak brightness of 1,100 nits means it may be comfortably used even in very brilliant circumstances. It’s a comparatively small cellphone, so it’s most likely not the way you wish to watch a complete season of tv, however the built-in stereo audio system are surprisingly good should you do use it to observe video. You possibly can even hear one thing like bass coming from them! And there’s extra good audio information: the Zenfone 9 nonetheless has a headphone jack. A headphone jack! That’s simply considerate. All of it checks out as top-tier {hardware}.

The software program is beautiful, too. It’s a mild contact on Android 12 that stays out of your method. When it does request my consideration, it’s very well mannered, like with pop-up textual content within the digicam app recommending that I shoot in brighter circumstances or that I activate battery saving if I wish to use the gimbal stabilization for a very long time. In any other case, it’s a heck of a lot like utilizing a Pixel cellphone. However one factor that’s not Pixel-like is the assist. Asus is committing to 2 OS platform upgrades and solely guarantees two years of safety updates. For a similar $799 value, the Galaxy S22 comes with a promise of 4 OS model updates and 5 years of safety patches. The Zenfone 9 simply isn’t a nice choice should you plan to maintain your cellphone longer than a couple of years.

It’s not solely clear whether or not the Zenfone 9 will assist 5G within the US, both, regardless that it has the best {hardware}. As of this writing, Asus spokesperson Ester Suh informed us that 5G on AT&T was “in progress.” I checked with T-Cell, and its official stance is that it hasn’t licensed the machine — the Zenfone 9 helps the best bands, however T-Cell considers it a “deliver your individual machine” scenario and says it might’t assure efficiency. I haven’t been in a position to check it myself, and in any case, it’s a good thought to verify together with your provider everytime you purchase an unlocked cellphone whether or not it should work on its 4G and 5G networks.

Battery life is often excessive on the checklist of small cellphone issues; they have a tendency to have smaller batteries that wrestle to ship a full day’s price of utilization. The Zenfone 9 doesn’t; its mixture of a 4,300mAh battery and the power-efficient 8 Plus Gen 1 processor will get it by means of a day of average use (clocking round two hours of screen-on time with the always-on show enabled always) with out a drawback. By default, the cellphone operates on a “Dynamic” mode for battery optimization. You possibly can go for “Excessive efficiency mode,” which Asus describes because the “most suitable option for demanding apps.” There are two modes under dynamic that preserve extra battery life, however I discovered the default mode offered a good steadiness of efficiency and battery stamina.

There’s excellent news and dangerous information on the battery charging entrance. The dangerous information, as talked about above, is that there’s no wi-fi charging. It’s kind of a given on high-end telephones today, so it’s a disgrace that the Zenfone 9 doesn’t embody it. It’s arduous to think about that that is a tradeoff to maintain the cellphone measurement down because the smaller iPhone 13 Mini consists of it. In any case, the excellent news is that the Zenfone 9 helps quick 30W charging and even consists of the 30W charging brick within the field. That’s particularly helpful should you do push the Zenfone 9 with a lot of battery-intensive duties like streaming video and gaming — upward of 4 or 5 hours of screen-on time. In that case, its comparatively small battery would profit from a late-afternoon enhance to make it by means of the top of the day.

Asus Zenfone 9 lying on a table with rear panel facing up

There’s simply a normal large and an ultrawide on the Zenfone 9’s rear panel.

Asus didn’t festoon the Zenfone 9 with ineffective depth sensors and macro cameras, and for that, I’m grateful. There’s only one 50-megapixel normal large digicam with some critical stabilization (extra on that in a second) and a 12-megapixel f/2.2 ultrawide with autofocus so it might double as a macro, plus a 12-megapixel selfie digicam. There’s no telephoto lens, which sort of stinks. Picture high quality is nice, usually talking, although the Zenfone 9 generally will get into bother with some aggressive over-sharpening. It’s not disastrous however not my favourite.

The primary rear digicam consists of what can finest be described as “gimbal stabilization.” It’s not simply a lens factor shifting, and it’s not simply the sensor, so “optical” or “sensor-shift” stabilization aren’t the best phrases. Just about each different flagship cellphone consists of both optical or sensor-shift stabilization.

All stabilization off (left) versus gimbal and digital stabilization turned on (proper).

On the Zenfone 9, the whole lot strikes collectively — lens and sensor — to compensate for digicam shake, which is extra sturdy than the everyday strategies. Asus says it might higher compensate for greater actions than a conventional, optical-only system: as much as three levels of movement on six axes — vertical, horizontal, and forwards and backwards — versus one diploma. It’s coupled with digital picture stabilization, too, which smooths out movement even additional and provides a “predictive” factor because of Asus’ algorithms.

It’s critically spectacular. For starters, should you look intently, you possibly can truly see the digicam and lens shifting round beneath the principle housing while you activate video mode. That’s wild. Extra importantly, it really works rather well. It’s most helpful for video recording. With stabilization off, footage recorded whereas strolling down a gravel path is a shaky, jumbled mess, identical to you’d count on. Turning it on transforms the motion to a barely perceptible swaying. You’d often want an precise gimbal mount, just like the DJI OM 5, to get footage this regular, and the Zenfone 9 simply does all of it in-camera. That could be very cool.

It’s not fairly a killer function, although. I’m not a fan of the colour processing utilized to my video clips — it seems over-brightened and too flat . There’s additionally an intense crop should you use each digital and gimbal stabilization that makes it very troublesome to movie something in shut quarters. Gimbal stabilization can also be solely out there for 1080p HD clips, not within the 4K or 8K (lol) recording modes.

The advantages for nonetheless pictures aren’t as important. Higher stabilization ought to make it doable to make use of slower shutter speeds in low mild and nonetheless get sharp pictures of static topics. This appears to be the case, however that solely makes it about pretty much as good because the Pixel 6 and its mixture of OIS and computational tips. It’s additionally not going to do something for shifting topics. You’re nonetheless on the mercy of, you realize, how mild works.

Anyway, it’s cool, and I’m dying to take it out on a hike to file some video of the journey as much as the highest of a summit. With the IP68 ranking, I wouldn’t even have to fret concerning the mud on the path or how a lot sweat it’ll be uncovered to in my yoga pants pocket. As a lot as I really like taking footage with the Galaxy Z Flip 4, that’s one surroundings I don’t really feel nice about exposing it to, and the Zenfone 9 would actually excel there.

Clear software program and a compact type issue? Music to my ears.

In the event you’re on AT&T or T-Cell and also you need a really compact Android cellphone with flagship-grade efficiency, that is the one to significantly take into account — offered you’re comfy with the sadly quick software program assist lifespan. It’s simply pretty to make use of. I don’t miss the glass panel on the again one bit as a result of the gentle texture of no matter composite plastic that Asus has used is so pretty. It has digicam capabilities that make me wish to depart my home and shoot video. To be clear, my home is the place the (softest) gentle pants and espresso machine are. That is a critical barrier to beat.

That pleasantness extends to the expertise of utilizing the cellphone to do day-to-day issues. It feels responsive and polished. The built-in audio system are higher than common. If I neglect to cost my wi-fi earbuds, I can simply plug in wired headphones. The facility button even does what it’s presupposed to while you maintain it down for Pete’s sake!

Realistically, the Zenfone 9 is destined for cult basic standing within the US. It doesn’t work on all carriers within the US, and the American public has spoken loud and clear that it desires huge telephones. For not far more cash, the Samsung Galaxy S22 is a more sensible choice for most individuals, with broad provider assist, a telephoto digicam on each mannequin, and a strong five-year safety assist coverage to again all of it up. I simply hope that one thing just like the Zenfone 9 can stay an choice in our present duopoly for small cellphone superfans like me.

Images by Allison Johnson / The Verge

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