ASUS hit the ground running with the release of the Zenfone 8 last year, a compact smartphone that had a lot of promise.
However, there were a couple of problems that plagued the device – especially within Australia – when it came to connectivity across our local telco networks.
Has this changed with the impending release of the Zenfone 9? Keep reading to find out as we test the newest release from the Taiwanese company.
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How do I get it and what will it cost?
The Zenfone 9 will be released in Australia, however there is currently no official word on when, how much it will cost and color availability. As soon as we get this information, we’ll update.
There are four colors available internationally; black, white, red and blue.
It’s worth noting that you’ll get a USB-C charging cable, 30W charging brick and phone case included in the box, so you won’t need to shell out extra dollars for the accessories. The box is also environmentally friendly and 100 per cent recyclable.
Who is it good for?
Over the course of the last decade, smartphones have increasingly become bigger and more powerful – with very few smaller options in the market that don’t have compromises that become dealbreakers.
The Zenfone 9 sits within the smaller flagship niche. It’s a phone for people who don’t want a large phone, and instead need something more compact without sacrificing good cameras, performance and solid battery life.
This is a 5.9-inch device that is easy to use one-handed. It also fits easily within pockets without any bulk.
If a phone with a smaller footprint sounds appealing to you, the latest from ASUS might be worth taking a closer look at.
How does it work?
Coming from a Pixel 6 Pro, the Zenfone 9 is an absolutely tiny 5.9-inch and weighs only 169 grams. The frame is a matte aluminum, with the usual power (multi-function button) and volume rocker to the side.
ASUS has created a multi-function button which allows for controlling certain parts of the phone with your thumb or finger such as opening the notification shade, scrolling as well as media controls. It’s quite clever, and useful.
On the back is a textured plastic material that helps with grip, but I found easily scuffs with some marks becoming visible in a short amount of time. The bottom back part also became a little duller, compared to when I first started using the phone. I’d guess this is from placing the phone into my pocket. There is a case included in the box if this is something that might worry you.
Around the front is a flat AMOLED display that, quite frankly, is one of the best I’ve seen outside of Samsung’s flagship Galaxy range (it is a Samsung panel after all). The display is also coated in the latest Gorilla Glass Victus to help with scratch resistance.
The display also has a high 120Hz refresh and 240Hz touch-sampling rate, HDR10+ and can be easily viewed under direct sunlight.
As with most flagships, it has the latest Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 processor, making the whole experience very snappy and responsive. There is also support from the latest Wi-Fi 6E technology and IP68 water and dust resistance. It really does have all the bases covered.
But outside the tech specs, how does the Zenfone 9 actually perform in the real world?
They say good things come in small packages, and that is especially true this time around. ASUS has packed in a very good display, which is great for viewing content and the basic phone features work without an issue.
Clarity of phones calls is fantastic, and network connectivity is a solid performer with 5G, VoLTE and VoWiFi working across Optus, Vodafone and Telstra networks. There were also none of the issue I had around network drop-outs that I saw on the Zenfone 8.
Battery life was better than the Pixel 6 family and Samsung Galaxy S22 series. I was easily seeing over 7 hours of screen on time most days. This was with the high refresh rate turned on as well as 5G – both known to drain batteries quicker. In terms of charging there is no wireless charging, which may disappoint some folks. But I found charging the Zenfone 9 to be pretty quick.
When it comes to the cameras, the main 50MP wide camera is a Sony IMX766 sensor with a six-axis gimbal for some very good stabilization, and it takes some pretty decent snaps in both good and low-lighting conditions. In fact, the night mode from this lens comes extremely close to what the Pixel 6 can achieve when adding in more light and retaining detail.
The 12MP ultrawide (Sony IMX363) struggles a bit more when there isn’t good lighting, but it’s good enough for most situations when you have favorable lighting conditions. This lens also allows for taking macro shots too, if that’s your thing.
The 12MP front-facing camera (Sony IMX663) comes with auto-focus and does a good job of taking a selfie or two, which is typical of most smartphones. It won’t match the quality you get out of a flagship Samsung though which, in my opinion, takes the best selfie photos out of any smartphone.
What surprised me the most was the dual speakers. The sound they produce is fantastic for listening to music, watching YouTube or your favorite streaming service. While there is also a 3.5mm headphone jack, a rarity on a smartphone, the quality of the stereo speakers is very impressive from such a small device.
What we think
I had a love hate relationship with last year’s Zenfone 8. I really put the effort into the relationship, but at the end of the day there were too many things that just soured my time with the device such as sub-par cameras, weak battery life, unreliable fingerprint sensor and hit and miss network connectivity.
These were things that I was keen to test out with the new Zenfone 9, and I can happily say that ASUS has done a stellar job at correcting all those things.
We have three very capable Sony camera sensors, a larger battery cell compared to the previous generation, more responsive fingerprint sensor and during testing across both the three Aussie mobile networks I had no issues when it came to connectivity.
However, there are three things that I can see turning people away from this otherwise very capable phone. The lack of wireless charging could be a hassle for those who have invested into the technology.
ASUS’ software update policy, which currently stands at two years of both Android version and security updates, doesn’t match what other manufacturers are offering.
And the price. Yes, the price hasn’t been announced yet for the Australian market, but the Zenfone 8 started at $999. Anything over the $1000 mark could be a problem.
Our reviews always remain independent of the manufacturer and the first time they will see the review is at the same time you’re reading it.