Probably the best compact Android phone

After introducing the ROG Phone 6 series of gaming smartphones, ASUS has launched the Zenfone 9, its new phone aimed at the general public. The company has not announced a Flip model with a rotating camera assembly. I’m sorry to see these models disappear; they were some of the most innovative on the market.

ASUS has packed a lot of powerful components into the Zenfone 9 compact smartphone. However, being constrained by the small size of the device, the company also had to make some compromises. The Zenfone 9 lacks support for wireless charging technology and a micro-SD card slot. If it had these elements, the Zenfone 9 was, for me, the ideal Android phone in 2022.

Instead, the device comes with the most powerful chipset available in the Android “world”, the Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 (it’s surprising that the Taiwanese chose the 8+ version of the processor, not the normal one), it can be ordered with up to 16 GB of memory RAM, has very good cameras and a battery with excellent autonomy. Such a combination is rare on phones with compact dimensions and a screen smaller than 6″.

After several years of using smartphones with very large screens, the Zenfone 9 felt strange to me during the first hours of use. But I quickly got used to a smartphone that can be easily operated with one hand, weighs only 165 grams and does not need to be removed from the pocket of jeans when climbing the stairs from the subway.

A high-performance display, only good for games

Zenfone 9 comes with an AMOLED display, manufactured by Samsung, with a diagonal of 5.92″ and a resolution of 1,080 x 2,400 pixels. The displayed colors are vivid and vibrant, the contrast is high, it has a response time of 1 ms, and the refresh rate can be set to a maximum of 120 Hz. This important component of the phone is protected with Gorilla Glass Victus, the strongest glass available on the market.

Zenfone 9 has always on display, but this is not a full version. Information can be displayed for a maximum of 10 seconds when touching the screen. ASUS probably decided to implement the feature in this way to provide more autonomy. I would have liked, however, to be able to permanently display the time and battery percentage on the closed screen.

The function, which I appreciate a lot, is also missing, double tap to wake, through which the screen turns on with a quick double tap.

The edge at the bottom of the display, significantly thicker than the top, is a bit disturbing. Here it is clear that ASUS saved on components. The Nothing Phone 1 has narrow bezels all around, even though it costs around €500.

The device resembles, viewed from the front and side, the latest Apple smartphones. The edges are flat and the frame is metal. The two physical buttons that the Zenfone 9 has, the one for volume and Power, are positioned on the right side. The Power button hides some “secrets”: it includes the fingerprint sensor, and by swiping on it, notifications can be displayed. Moreover, it provides a pleasant haptic response to touch.

The response provided is nice because ASUS used a linear vibration system on this model, not a rotary motor. In a Linear Resonant Actuator (LRA) the vibrations are smoother and more precise because they are produced by oscillating components.

I’ve always appreciated the fingerprint sensors that are included in the Power buttons. They are accurate and faster compared to those in the display.

The back of the tested model, the black one, is made of Gorilla Glass 3 and is covered with a matte layer that is pleasant to the touch and offers good grip. Zenfone 9 comes with a 3.5 mm universal audio jack, positioned on the top edge, but also with stereo speakers.

The smartphone is resistant to dust and water, being IP68 certified.

Read also > Zenfone 9: The accessories announced by ASUS along with the smartphone

On the back, the robust set of cameras attracts attention, which includes two sensors, a main one of 50 MP (Sony IMX766) and another ultrawide of 12 MP (IMX363). The system has six-axis gimbal-type optical stabilization. Additionally, the Zenfone 9 includes electronic image stabilization.

ASUS ships the phone with a discreet, hard plastic casing. This is thin and has the same texture as the back of the phone. Unfortunately, the surface is easily scratched. During the seven days I tested the device, some marks appeared on the back of the case, although I took care to protect the device.

The box the phone comes in is also interesting as it is made from 100% recycled paper. The company decided not to make it glossy, but matte, precisely to reduce the carbon footprint in the manufacturing process. ASUS includes a charger in the box, but no headphones.

Top performance and clean operating system

Thanks to powerful components and an operating system close to stock Android, the Zenfone 9 is extremely fast, especially in the 16GB RAM configuration. It’s a gaming smartphone disguised as a phone for the masses. You can play any title with graphics on the Ultra setting without any problems, and the smartphone does not heat up strongly. That’s because ASUS has included on the Zenfone 9 a cooling system similar to the one on the ROG Phone 6 series. The system has a vapor chamber, and a graphite sheet radiator keeps the temperature low.

It was difficult for me, however, after several years of gaming on large phones, to adjust to the 5.92″ screen. In World of Tanks Blitz, which has many elements in the “battle” interface, I found them to be crowded on the display. I haven’t been able to be as efficient in games with this phone as when I play them with my ASUS Zenfone 8 Flip smartphone with a 6.67″ display. Maybe in time I would have managed to reach the same level with a compact phone. I do not know.

Zenfone 9 will be available in four colors: black, blue, red and white (Photo: ASUS)

Also for gamers, the ASUS Zenfone includes the same Game Genie app from the ROG Phone 6 series. This is much more feature-rich than the one on the Zenfone 8 series. In short, the app allows the user to disable, when gaming, functions such as notifications or calls. Also in Game Genie, information such as temperature, battery level, number of frames per second or network latency is displayed. The application can be brought to the foreground by sliding your finger from one of the top corners of the display. Game Genie also has shortcuts for recording screen content, locking brightness to a certain level, or allocating additional gaming resources.

The ZenUI interface is clean, as ASUS has accustomed us to in recent years. There are no apps that can duplicate Google’s. The company only includes a Gallery app for those who don’t handle Photos well in day-to-day use, and a more advanced file manager than the one included in Google’s Android. I also had an unpleasant surprise. Facebook and Netflix apps came pre-installed on the phone. Fortunately, they can be removed completely, not just disabled, like on other phones.

Another strength of the Zenfone 9 is the sound, a chapter that is almost never neglected by ASUS on its products. The device was calibrated in partnership with Swedish specialists Dirac and includes two Qualcomm Aqstic amplifiers, which provide high power for the two speakers. The top speaker uses three magnets and the bottom one uses seven.

What’s more, the phone offers access to a full equalizer in the AudioWizard app and is Hi-Res Audio (HRA) certified.

Very good main rooms

Zenfone 9 takes quality photos. Colors are rendered faithfully, the sensors capture a lot of light, and scenes with moving elements are captured very well, thanks to the advanced stabilization system. This, together with Sony’s algorithms and sensors, ensures very good results in all conditions, be it a sunny day, night or dusk. You can see a series of images captured with the smartphone in the photo gallery attached to the article.

The two sensors on the back can function as macro and telephoto sensors, up to a point. It’s not like you have dedicated ones, but they do a decent job in these scenarios.

The front sensor, for selfies, is 12 MP (Sony IMX663) and comes with autofocus, which is somewhat rare. This is a very good camera for selfies and video conferencing.

As a conclusion to this chapter, the Zenfone 9 is not, I think, a top 10 DxOMark phone, but it takes very good photos that will please the vast majority of users.

Exceptional autonomy

ASUS has managed to include in the Zenfone 9 a battery with a capacity of 4,300 mAh. It charges at 30W and has support for reverse charging. This means that the smartphone can be used as an external battery for other devices. Missing, as we stated above, is wireless charging technology, something quite rare on current range tops. I think I would have preferred the Zenfone 9 to be a bit thicker and heavier but include this functionality.

This is the first phone I’ve used in a long time that has given me a day and a half of battery life. I’m an advanced user: I have three email accounts on my phone, I listen to music and podcasts for at least two hours every day, I do a lot of browsing, and I play games occasionally. My smartphone, the Zenfone 8 Flip, never delivers more than 12 hours of battery life in this scenario, even though it has a 5,000mAh battery and a 90Hz screen.

ASUS engineers have made great progress in terms of autonomy. ROG Phone 6 Pro also offers excellent battery life. The compromises made also help: the double tap wake technologies and the permanent always on display are missing.

Zenfone 9 does not allow detailed customization of the interface either. The inability to change the shape of the icons comes to mind. However, ASUS provides useful features in its launcher: users can edit app names or secure apps with a PIN code or fingerprint via AppLock.

ASUS Zenfone 9 – main technical features:

Operating system: ZenUI interface, based on Android 12
Display: AMOLED, produced by Samsung; HDR10+ certified; resolution of 1,080 x 2,400 pixels; refresh rate up to 120 Hz
Chipset: Qualcomm Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 (4nm)
RAM: 8 / 16 GB (LPDDR5)
Internal storage capacity: 128 / 256 GB, UFS 3.1 (no card slot)
Rear cameras: 50 MP main, 12 MP ultrawide;
Front camera: 12 MP
Dust and water resistance: IP68 certification
Battery: 4,300 mAh; charging at 30 W; reverse charging
Audio jack: yes
Wireless connectivity: Bluetooth 5.2, Wi-Fi 6E
Weight: 169 grams
Dimensions: 146.5 x 68.1 x 9.1 mm

An easy phone to recommend

The Zenfone 9 is my favorite Android phone released this year. It has top technical features that offer incredible performance, clean operating system, very good cameras and great autonomy. The lack of wireless charging bothers me and I would have appreciated a micro-SD card slot, but even without them the “package” offered by ASUS is very solid. I would always recommend this phone to people who want a mini-flagship.

In my opinion, the Zenfone 9 is probably the best compact Android phone released so far in 2022.

The phone is also quite affordable for a flagship with such technical features. Zenfone 9 will have prices between 800 (8 / 128 GB) and 950 euros (16 / 256 GB).

In Romania, phones are available for pre-order starting from July 28, 2022 in several configurations and colors. The products will be delivered in mid-August. For select configurations and color variants, ASUS is offering a free RhinoShield kit from July 28 to August 21, which includes a screen protector and a case.

Positive parts

Excellent performance
Compact, elegant design, based on quality materials
Very good battery life
Performance screen
It excels in the audio department
Very good rooms

Negative parts

Wireless charging technology is missing
It has no double tap to wake function and no permanent always on screen