Asus Zenfone 6 - innovative low-cost fighter does a lot of good

Asus is a well-known name in the Netherlands, but not when it comes to smartphones. The new Zenfone 6 aims to change that and focuses on a premium experience at a competitive price. The folding camera is extra striking. In this Asus Zenfone 6 review we find out whether the device is a good buy.

Asus Zenfone 6

MSRP from € 499,-

Colors Black and Grey/Silver

OS Android 9.0 (ZenUI 6)

Screen 6.4 inch LCD (2340 x 1080)

Processor 2.8GHz octa-core (Snapdragon 855)

RAM 6GB or 8GB

Storage 64GB, 128GB or 256GB (expandable)

Battery 5,000 mAh

Camera 48 and 13 megapixels (folding camera)

Connectivity 4G (LTE), Bluetooth 5.0, Wi-Fi, GPS, NFC

Format 15.9 x 7.5 x 0.87 cm

Weight 190 grams

Other notification LED, headphone port, dual SIM

Website www.asus.com/en 8 Score 80

  • Pros
  • Great software
  • Long battery life
  • Powerful hardware
  • Price to quality ratio
  • Negatives
  • Not waterproof and dustproof
  • Software shell not completely finished yet
  • No wireless charging

Update: Zenfones are temporarily unavailable

Asus has lost a lawsuit over patent infringement, which means that it is no longer allowed to sell smartphones in the Benelux. It is not yet known when they will be for sale again.

The Zenfone 6 was unveiled in mid-May and is already for sale in Belgium. A Dutch release is in the pipeline. However, it is not yet clear when the device will be released here. The prices have already been announced and are the same as in Belgium. The Zenfone 6 with 6GB of RAM and 64GB of storage will cost 499 euros. A model with 6GB/128GB memory will be available for 560 euros. For 600 euros you get the smartphone with 8GB/256GB memory. Asus sells the Zenfone 6 in grey/silver and black.

Design: top-notch

Anyone who thinks that only expensive smartphones have a beautiful and innovative design is wrong. The Asus Zenfone 6 is made of glass and metal and feels luxurious and solid. The front catches the eye because of the front-filling display. At the top and bottom is a narrow bezel, but otherwise the screen takes up almost the entire front. A notch or hole for the selfie camera is missing – more about that in a moment. The Zenfone 6 looks modern and is equipped with almost all comforts. A USB-C connection, 3.5mm headphone port, NFC chip and stereo speakers: all present. On the back is a fast and accurate fingerprint scanner.

Coming back to the selfie camera, there isn't one. The Zenfone 6 uses a folding camera on the back. By default, this dual camera points to the rear, just like a normal camera. If you want to take a selfie, click on the selfie mode in the camera app. The folding camera then tilts 180 degrees and rises above the screen. The cameras then point – like a normal selfie camera – at your face. If you switch back to the regular mode or close the camera app, the camera folds back to the back.

This choice allows for a front-filling screen and should result in better selfies. Instead of an 'ok to good' front camera, you use the good, dual camera from the back. Later in this review, we'll show you how good the photos actually are.

An innovative but daring concept. A motor is sensitive to damage, jamming and wear. According to Asus, the mechanism can fold and unfold at least 100 thousand times in a row. That sounds like a lot (almost thirty times a day for five years) but it may not be enough for everyone. In any case, I wonder whether that 100 thousand times is feasible in practice. With several fellow journalists, the mechanism has regularly faltered from day one and the folding module did not always work properly on my device. Sometimes it didn't open completely, other times it took quite a while. The clapping comes with a soft buzzing sound that I quickly got used to.

The built-in fall protection via various sensors is handy and much-needed. If you drop the smartphone while the camera is pointing forward, the camera module will automatically fold in at lightning speed. This is faster than when you fold it normally and works very well.

It is striking that the camera module is quickly damaged. After just one day of use, there were several small scratches on the lenses. Two weeks later, a few more arrived – and they're not going away. The glass back is less sensitive to scratches, but still seems to damage faster than the housing of the Huawei P30 Pro and Samsung Galaxy S10. It is therefore smart to put a case on the Zenfone 6. Fortunately, Asus supplies a simple plastic cover.

With 190 grams, the Zenfone 6 is not a light smartphone, but in a relative sense the weight is not too bad. The screen is large and the battery has a larger capacity (5000 mAh) than usual. For comparison: the OnePlus 7 Pro weighs 106 grams and has a slightly larger screen, but a 4000 mAh battery (which saves weight).

Display

The front-filling screen has a size of 6.4 inches. That is quite large, but a common size compared to the competition. The full-HD resolution makes the image look sharp. The LCD panel delivers beautiful colors and looks realistic enough. The maximum brightness could have been higher. On a sunny day, the display is harder to read than that of the Samsung Galaxy S10 and OnePlus 7 Pro.

Hardware

Under the hood of the Zenfone 6 runs a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855. This is an octacore processor that is very powerful and has no trouble with demanding apps and games. All activities run without any problems. The Snapdragon 855 can also be found in (much) more expensive smartphones such as the OnePlus 7 Pro, Oppo Reno 10x Zoom and Sony Xperia 1.

As mentioned, the Zenfone 6 is for sale in three versions. Two have 6GB of RAM, the most expensive variant has 8GB. I tested the 6GB version and it can keep a lot of apps running in the background. Multitasking is smooth. In practice, I expect little to no difference with the 8GB version and would not pay more for the extra RAM. One reason to buy the most expensive version is because it has 256GB of storage space. You may need that. The cheaper models have 64GB or 128GB memory. That will also be sufficient for many, especially because you can easily and cheaply expand the memory with a micro-SD card.

The device also accepts two SIM cards (dual SIM), which means that you can use two numbers at the same time. Handy for example to combine work and private life.

flip camera

The previously discussed folding camera consists of a 48 megapixel primary lens and a 13 megapixel wide-angle camera. The former compresses the image information of 48 megapixels into one better photo with a resolution of 12 megapixels. The wide-angle camera has a view of 125 degrees, which is slightly wider than the wide-angle lenses of, for example, the Huawei P30 Pro and Samsung Galaxy S10. The Zenfone 6 captures a slightly wider image in this mode. The cameras are supported by a dual laser autofocus that focuses and a dual flash for more light in the dark.

During the day, the camera takes very good photos, which is partly due to the automatic HDR mode. The pictures look sharp and lifelike, with beautiful colors and a large dynamic range. In the dark, however, the image quality drops considerably. That's no surprise, but it's a shame. Photos then look grainier, blurrier and darker. The camera app has a special night mode, but I am quite disappointed. I already used the comparison below in my first impression; on the left the automatic mode of the Zenfone 6, in the middle the night mode and on the right the more expensive Huawei P30 Pro on the automatic mode. Hopefully Asus can improve the night mode with a software update.

The wide-angle camera is very good. It captures a wide image and produces beautiful images. As I wrote before, the difference in quality with the primary lens during the day is not that big.

Also interesting is that the cameras can film in 4K resolution at 60 frames per second, which is higher than on other devices. Slow-motion filming is also possible, but more expensive smartphones do this better.

Attention selfie enthusiasts: the Zenfone 6 takes very decent pictures. Even without a filter. The photos look detailed and true to color and have an accurate depth-of-field effect as standard. The selfies below are from my first impression but are – hopefully – also worth a second look.

Battery life

The folding camera is not the only striking feature of the Zenfone 6. The size of the battery is also worth mentioning. The device has a 5000 mAh battery, which is much larger than competing smartphones such as the OnePlus 7 Pro (4000 mAh), Samsung Galaxy S10+ (4100 mAh) and Huawei P30 Pro (4200 mAh). These devices need to be recharged after one to one and a half days of use. Asus promises that the Zenfone 6 will last up to two days.

That is a difficult claim, because everyone uses their smartphone differently. For example, someone who takes a lot of photos and plays games will have to look for a socket faster than someone who mainly uses WhatsApp. Most importantly, the Zenfone 6 does what it promises. With 'normal use', the battery lasted one and a half to two days. Even on long days of heavy use, I couldn't get the battery to drop below 30 percent before going to sleep.

Charging is done with 18 Watts. That is faster than the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy S10, but slower than the Huawei P30 (Pro) and OnePlus 7. Because the battery is so large, it takes a few hours to fully charge. I did not find this disturbing, because because of the good battery life I put the device on the charger overnight.

The Zenfone 6 cannot be charged wirelessly. Asus says when asked that the feature has been omitted for two reasons. Charging the large battery is faster wired than wirelessly and because the battery lasts a long day without any problems, it makes sense to plug the device into the socket at night. It is therefore not necessary to refuel during the day via a wireless charger, Asus reasons. There is something to be said for both arguments, although there is probably a third factor involved. Asus aims at the competitive price-quality ratio with the Zenfone 6, and then the removal of a built-in wireless charging coil is an understandable cutback.

Software

In recent years, we have written a lot of negative sentences about Asus' ZenUI software. ZenUI, Asus' shell over Android, looked cluttered and busy, contained many unnecessary apps and was equipped with functions that you hardly or did not use. Add to that a bad update policy and you had a good reason not to buy a – good quality – Asus smartphone.

The manufacturer has already realized that. On the Zenfone 6, ZenUI 6 is installed, the latest version that looks very different from previous shells. The software looks much more like the standard Android version, with only minor visual changes and a number of extra functions. Those features don't get in the way. In fact, most are useful.

ZenUI 6 includes a number of useful features. You can set to take a screenshot by touching the recent apps button for one second, so you don't have to press the physical power button and bottom volume key. It is also possible to launch apps by tapping letters on the screen from standby. An S starts the selfie camera, a C the rear camera and a V opens the phone app. Ingenious (but disabled by default) is the one-handed mode. You can find it under the Advanced settings tab. Pressing the Home key twice will shrink the screen. You determine the size yourself (between 3.5 and about 5.5 inches) and you can indicate whether you want the screen on the left or right. To return to the true screen size, click the Home button twice more. And with the Twin Apps feature, you can use two WhatsApp apps (and thus two phone numbers) at the same time.

The Dutch translations of ZenUI could be even better. Some words are missing letters or are awkwardly translated from another language. Other texts are not translated at all: my device, set to the Dutch language, shows some words or sentences in English or even Italian. Messy.

Asus has also built in its own tools to improve the performance and security of your device. The extent to which they are useful is debatable. By default, installed apps are not allowed to start automatically, which affects background performance and notifications. Fortunately, the number of pre-installed apps is considerably lower than before. It concerns a few apps from Asus and three from Facebook (which you cannot remove).

Update Policy

The Zenfone 6 will be updated to Android 10.0 (Q) and R, the 2020 version. It is not clear how often and for how long the smartphone will receive security updates.

Conclusion Asus Zenfone 6 review

The Asus Zenfone 6 is an innovative smartphone that impresses in several ways. That is worth mentioning in itself, because previous Zenfone's had trouble with that. This was partly due to the non-original design, but also to the mediocre software and the not so interesting sales prices. Asus has made significant improvements to the Zenfone 6. The smartphone has its own design with a beautiful front-filling screen and the ZenUI 6 software has been considerably refurbished. In addition, the hardware is more than adequate and the battery lasts longer than that of the competition. The folding camera is an interesting innovation. The photo and video quality is perfectly fine during the day; at night the image quality is disappointing. The fact that you can also take good selfies is a bonus. I do have doubts about the build quality and durability of the folding mechanism, which sometimes falters and is easily damaged. Bottom line, the Zenfone (from 499 euros) offers great value for money and is a good buy. Interesting alternatives are the Xiaomi Mi 9 and the Samsung Galaxy S10e.

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