The perfect smartphone does not exist, we repeat it all the time, even if the producers try it in all the opposite ways. But what if some of the producers, considered minor, pulls out an ace from the sleeve? I’m still thinking about it too, also because it just happened with Asus and their new Zenfone 6 officially presented in Valencia a few minutes ago.
To find a clear answer we need to take stock of the overall situation, look at the competition and examine well the strengths of this terminal that I have been lucky enough to try in the last two weeks. The Taiwanese company has always been a protagonist in the PC world but has remained behind the scenes in the mobile world, realizing excellent products like Zenfone 5Z, M2 Pro and the amazing Rog Phone, certainly the best among gaming phones.
But Asus wants to play it at all levels, get out of anonymity and challenge even the big names with Zenfone 6, apparently unassailable in its price range and with an objective limit: it is alone (at the moment), one against all and against the proposition double and triple of direct competition.
The first thing you notice when you try Zenfone 6 are the cameras. There are only “two”, “few but good”; instead of dividing the forces with more image sensors, Asus has taken up a concept that is not new in the mobile panorama, but nice and functional, which solves two problems in one shot: the Flip Camera.
I will discuss below the quality of the module, photos and videos, in this first chapter I would rather emphasize the value that this module has for the smartphone. Thanks to this choice it is not necessary to compromise with one (or more) front camera that inevitably lowers the quality of the shots and clutters the display in one way or another. The Flip Camera therefore offers the same quality both in traditional photos and in selfies.
The very small internal motor provides the movement that is automatic, it also works for facial unlocking but does not let the camera out if it is placed on a floor and, very interestingly, it can be managed through a photographic interface in order to change angle at will.
The Flip Camera on Zenfone 6 is obviously revised in 2019 and has a decidedly different quality, speed and robustness compared to some solutions that, in past years, have tried other companies. Although it is in its first generation, it appears very solid thanks to the structure made of liquid metal (amorphous alloy), a more durable, light and flexible material than stainless steel (only time will give us confirmation of its reliability).
Hundreds of thousands of openings guaranteed by Asus and no problem whatsoever when it is moved by mistake, the mechanism is designed to return to the initial position with a click. What happens even if the smartphone should fall with the module “open”: the accelerometer is used precisely to make the photographic module instantly re-enter.
The same also happens on OnePlus 7 Pro and Oppo Reno, two of the latest smartphones presented to the public that boast a pop-up camera. Although decidedly more discreet, these front cameras provide a help from the design point of view avoiding the use of the notch / hole, but do not change the final quality of the shots by a comma. Zenfone 6, thanks to this solution, could be the best smartphone in the world for the self-portraits presented today.
If then we put an affordable cost, attention is a must. At the first contact with Zenfone 6 I immediately thought of an obvious increase in price compared to the previous generation, on the other hand the strengths increased exponentially and a higher position would also have been “justified”. But no:
Zenfone 6 with 6/64 GB for € 499
Zenfone 6 with 6/128 GB for € 559
Zenfone 6 with 8/256 GB for € 599
There are few real compromises and there is a triple slot that allows expansion via microSD and simultaneous use of 2 nano SIMs. In short, little to complain about, in these weeks I had the cheapest version (6 / 64GB) but I also had the chance to try the top variant (8 / 256GB) a few days, noticing some small advantages in terms of performance, but these details are mostly visible to an attentive eye.
Interesting note concerns the UFS 2.1 memories mounted on this device: they are the fastest available.
From left to right: OnePlus 7 Pro, Zenfone 6 and Galaxy S10 +
And then there is the battery, a unit of 5,000mAh that traces the road already seen with the Zenfone Max Pro M2 and the old Zenfone Zoom S, although for the first time we are talking about a top of the range. The end result is simply exceptional, consumption is in fact kept at bay by the system and performance is what we all expect from a 2019 smartphone with the best SoC in circulation: Snapdragon 855.
My direct experience is definitely positive, I have stressed this Zenfone 6 on a recent holiday spent in a cold place, where it has managed to go beyond my expectations. In short, if after 1 hour and more of using the camera (photos, videos and profusion timelapse), almost 3 hours of Maps to decipher the dirt roads of Iceland and 1 hour passed on Chrome, I still enjoyed a 26% charge (screenshot to follow ) then the time has come to ask a question: that Zenfone 6 is the top of the range with the best autonomy? Yes, the answer is yes and the scepter is so snatched from the hands of Huawei’s P30 Pro (4.200mAh).
A few calculations to do, with a medium / normal use we can even aspire to two days of use, it’s almost impossible not to finish the 24h before having to recharge. Speaking of this, Asus has increased “the revs” and integrated an 18W charger that is part of the Quick Charge 4.0 standard that we know well. Here are the values found with the device turned on (it does not show the percentage when switched off), consider that the battery is a 5.000mAh and inevitably need more time to reach the 100% goal:
Not bad also the audio sector, both listening and playing (stereo). The ear capsule acts as a double speaker and works in tandem with the main one mounted at the bottom next to the Type-C. Loud and clear sound, never distorted and pleasant, I found it, in general, a hair below the performance of Galaxy S10 + but slightly more pleasant than the OnePlus 7 Pro, in comparison more unbalanced on the highs and the mids.
A gaming experience in line with the terminal’s capabilities, we know from the Adreno 640 and SD855 what to expect, but the positive note comes from the software, given that Zenfone 6 inherited from its brother Rog Phone the Game Genie platform, which we find on the navigation bar not as soon as we start any game and allow us to record the screen (up to 1080p and with audio) or connect to video platforms such as Youtube and Twitch to directly stream the game phases.
Everything is fine as mentioned so far, but everyday use makes the difference, so the interface we have to deal with every day is the type of response that the terminal gives. I have criticized Asus a lot in the past years, when the Zen UI was so invasive that it covered up any attempt to appear in this intricate world of mobile. The truth is that they have listened to us, experts and users, giving us a simple, familiar and easy to use environment.
We saw the first real step with Zenfone Max Pro (M2) and its “Pure Android” interface, now further revised in the Zen UI 6.0, in practice a stock that graphically traces the Pixel high road and adds a few little gems. From the Google terminals it takes the overall fluidity of the system and the gestures, in addition to the lack of annoying pre-installed applications; if I look for the keyword “Asus” between the apps I find only two, namely “Data Transfer” and “MyAsus”.
So we have the dark theme, the digital wellness section as it is now normally on Android Pie and a dedicated physical key to exploit Google Assistant properly. It is located at the top right, above On / Off, and is called “Smart Button”, because it can be easily customized through the dedicated section according to your needs, associating one of the available actions to the pressure (single, double or extended). Whether the Assistant likes it or not doesn’t matter, we can still use the button natively to improve interaction with the smartphone. Compared to the Pixels we also have a simple function called “Listening in private” which makes the use of the virtual assistant more discreet, by bringing the ear closer to the ear capsule we can then listen to what is said without disturbing those around us.
More generally, we see the clear intentions of simplifying the experience, now essential and easier with one hand; just click on a folder to realize it, with the applications below easily accessible. The same applies to the dialog boxes that occasionally meet within the settings. All seasoned with a system that they call “Optiflex”, able to speed up the opening of some chosen applications or the most used ones.
Finally, I like the possibility of dividing the screen more rapidly into two to take advantage of two applications simultaneously, on Android Pie this option was almost hidden and on Zenfone 6 it is instead in plain sight. This model will be included in the first list for updates to Android Q and Asus will be part of the beta program, but they also anticipated that it will later be updated also to Android R.
If you go low you can’t have everything, it’s obvious, so Asus has drawn up its scale of priorities and decided to file the final cost by adopting a classic IPS “NanoEdge” LCD panel of 6.4 inches, bright enough even according to our measurements with Calman with about 530 peak nits (Asus declares 600 of nits) and with excellent color balance (Delta E of 3.71) sRGB coverage of 99.9%. Loses obviously with blacks and Delta E of grays higher than I would like.
So an excellent FHD + panel that has a single problem is obviously not an OLED! We have been accustomed badly, it must be admitted, but by now it is almost impossible to find a top of the range that still mounts an IPS LCD, also because this technology blocks the doors to the finger scanner below the display (at least until today). On Zenfone 6 thus finds the good old biometric sensor placed in the back cover, fast and reliable but linked to a generation now in an advanced transition phase.
I understand the need, but I would not have regretted being able to have it at least on the side, since it is back in fashion and if well positioned it is always comfortable.
Delta E GrigiDelta And Colors RGB Cover
View in Full Screen
Finally, the IP68 certification is lacking, which is something quite predictable given the mechanism of the Flip Camera and the difficulty in allowing any immersion in water. The company still ensures the classic protection against rain and splashes, I must say that I got to try it directly with the long exposures to rain and wandering drops during my Icelandic tour: lots of water taken and no problem whatsoever.
PHOTO AND VIDEO
Flip camera that changes the rules for self-portraits and selfies, instead it keeps the expectations if we consider the dual-cam compared to the main ones of the direct competitors. Beyond the shots, Asus has yet to find a way to make the most of this mobile module, for example by adding the camera app to other ad hoc features. Some already exist, like on “Panorama” and “Tracciatura Movimento”, but I would be happy to be able to do – for example – timelapse with the Flip camera in which I can set the speed and the revolution time of the module.
Maybe they are things that will come soon, if not from Asus, even from third parties, at the time I still enjoyed creating panoramas without moving a finger: it is in fact the Flip camera that rotates by itself and it’s up to us to decide when to stop it.
The main module is the usual and appreciated 48 MP Sony IMX586, among the favorites on the market because it is able to acquire a large amount of details and well-balanced colors. Asus has integrated it well, the shots in daylight are in fact pleasant, they respect the real chromatic nuances and in general they have always satisfied me, even against the light.
At night, instead, I found some limits, with some too much trouble and visible grain after a while. However, it can be solved by simply activating the “Night” mode to achieve better management of strong lights, much less background noise and more balanced colors. Seeing is believing (crop with different factors because the files are of different sizes):
AUTONOTTECROP CAR 80% NIGHT CROP 170%
View in Full Screen
The 13 MP wide-angle lens instead covers a field of 125 ° and maintains straight lines at the edges, practically eliminating the distortions and fantastic for selfies. I’m not a lover of the genre, I repeat it all the time, but it is true that having such a possibility with the Flip Camera has made it definitely more fun, especially for recording videos solo. But we get to that in a moment.
Even in more complicated lighting conditions I noticed a good tendency to “give light” to faces, but don’t expect too many details, going to investigate we see that the pixels soon get confused and the result is therefore less exciting. So good for social media, but if you want to print one of these shots then head straight for the main camera at maximum resolution (48 MP with 8000 x 6000 pixel photos). In short, we could have done better.
We also see a difference in perspective depending on the camera used, as you can see the temperature balance is sometimes different, with the wide-angle that goes on colder shades and the main one on the warmer ones.
Nothing to complain about the videos if not a small software detail, it is not (yet) possible to switch from one camera to another during registration. I expressed this to the Asus engineers themselves during a brief visit to Zenfone 6 that we recently did in Taipei, we will see if the message was received.
However we can acquire up to 4K at 60fps with the main and 4K at 30fps with the wide angle, excellent fluidity and also excellent autofocus, precise and fast enough. The stabilization
We always have to complain about the crazy prices that the manufacturers impose during the launch phase, even knowing they can’t control the sales channels and the immediate devaluation (on Android); in this case we instead see a positioning that I would define as honest, fair and that will remain so over time given the policy of Asus. The device is very apt, it arrives at not too much distance from the others and without particular presumption.
In Taipei they went straight to the point, they identified the main needs of the average user and conveyed everything on a concrete smartphone, with few weak points that certainly do not make the project creak. The compromises are there, the question we must therefore ask ourselves is the following: can we live with it to have a top of the range spending less than 500 euros? My idea is positive because the user experience suggests it to me: record-breaking autonomy, first-class performance, “Pixel-style” interface and Flip Camera make the difference for me.
Zenfone 6 in a “special” version, naked
I would have liked an OLED display more in step with the times (with a lower frame less pronounced) and a new generation fingerprint reader, it is clear, but it is also true that the starting price we would have then found at least 100 euros more upward. If I also look at the clutter, then I have to congratulate Asus further because he managed to get everything in 190g, it’s not a trivial matter. But if I could make a wish then I would also like to see in the future also a Zenfone 6 “Lite”, a little smaller and with similar characteristics.
Availability is immediate, from this moment it is possible to buy Zenfone 6 on the official website – LINK – (with 6 / 128GB for € 559), although we will have to wait a few days for the € 499 (6 / 64GB) and € 599 ( 8/256), Asus Italia has confirmed arriving already next week.