First reviewed 27th August, 2014
The arrival of the excellent sub-£150, 5-inch Motorola Moto G2 makes it difficult to recommend the Zenfone 5, but after the disappointment of the more diminutive Asus Zenfone 4 this is a big step in the right direction for Asus. It’s one of the Taiwanese company’s first phones headed for the mainstream, and it’s a bit of a revelation.
At around £119 SIM-free, the 5-inch Zenfone 5 is one of the biggest handsets you can get at the price. Although the battery life isn’t great, it offers decent hardware, a good camera, and represents excellent value for money.
The Zenfone 5 is the middle of the range of 3 Zenfones, all featuring slightly curved plastic backs, and is available in a handful of colours. As seen on its Zenbook laptops, and somewhat of an Asus signature look, the range also features a little metal lip underneath the screen with a shiny finish textured with concentric circles.
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Some of the more subtle finishing touches that we saw in the smaller Zenfone 4 are missing, simply because the larger handset doesn’t suit them. Although it’s not a bad looking phone this gives the Zenfone 5 a slight clunkiness and a look that smacks of inexperience.
The Zenfone 5 embraces more vibrant colours than its smaller predecessor. It comes in comes in bold, metallic red or purple rear cover colours as well as white and black.
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The rear cover is a removable plastic plate with a soft touch feel. At first we found the edges to be a little severe, but once you’re used to the shape you start to notice the nice, tactile finish more.
One of the great features of the Zenfone 5 is that everything is designed to be within easy reach. After the initial bed-in period that comes with any larger phone, we found it fairly easy to use one-handed. While the screen isn’t as super-slim as the likes of the LG G2, and at a rather beefier 72.8mm width and 10.3mm thick, the curvature of the phone’s back makes it easier to handle. And the power/volume buttons are kept on the side, within (mostly) easy reach of your thumb.
Before we praise the Zenfone 5 too much, it is a little bit trickier to handle than the smaller Samsung Galaxy S5, and as its soft keys do not light up it’s can be a bit tricky to use in the dark. But this phone is a third of the price and therefore gets a whole bucketful of the benefit of the doubt.
How is the phone so cheap? Asus has had to price the phone aggressively as the company has effectively no track record of making mainstream phones, and the version we’re looking at lacks 4G. We have seen an LTE version advertised, but as it sells for £250 – a similar price to the Nexus 5 and LG G2 – it seems a lot less attractive. Cheap is the key word when it comes to selling the Zenfone 5.
Recently, we took a look at the Asus Zenfone 4, and one of its numerous disappointments was that the screen was pretty rubbish. A TN-type panel and low display resolution led to universally uninspiring experience.
The Asus Zenfone 5 is a completely different beast. It has a 5-inch IPS display of 720p resolution.
Ideally, a 5-inch phone screen should have a 1080p screen, but we’re very happy with resolution given the asking price. Sharpness is pretty good, and the lower screen resolution is only totally obvious if you get very close up.
For all you pixel peepers out there, this resolution and screen size gives you pixel density of 294ppi. That’s not bad and not much less than the Retina 326ppi sharpness of the iPhone 5S.
Other aspects of the screen are also great, given you can get on-board for as little as £150. Contrast and colours are strong but natural-looking fresh out of the box, and you even get a bit of control over how the display looks.
The Asus Zenfone 5 comes with a little screen customisation utility called Asus Splendid. It lets you tweak the colour temperature and saturation, giving you very easy and effective tweaking over the character of the display. There’s also a hue control, but it’s pretty much useless as you can only really make your display look worse with it.
From an image quality perspective, the Asus Zenfone 5 has an extremely satisfying screen, one that – like the Motorola Moto G – sets a standard for what we’ll expect (or at least hope for) in the screen of a budget 5-inch phone.
The one clear indication that this isn’t quite a super-high-end screen other than resolution is that there’s pretty significant blue colour shift when you view the display from an extreme, awkward angle. But that’s not exactly a natural, comfortable or healthy position.
It’s impressive, and really not all that far off the top 1080p phones in terms of the experience you get.
It also solves a few other issues we saw in the Zenfone 4. The Zenfone 5 has an auto brightness setting, meaning you don’t need to change the screen brightness manually when you go outdoors.
Visibility in sunlight is pretty good too – extremely good for a £150 phone. A fairly good slimline screen architecture and very good top brightness make this phone a joy to use just about anywhere. If anything, we found that the auto brightness setting can be a bit generous at times – but this is only a concern for battery life.
There’s no scrimping on the screen’s top layer either. The Zenfone 5 has a Gorilla Glass 3 top surface. It’s hard, scratch-resistant, and shows none of the flexing of the Zenfone 4 (even though that phone supposedly has a Gorilla Glass screen too.