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First Impressions: Asus Zenfone 9 Review

First Impressions

Does the new compact phone from Asus twin charm and ease of use with excellent performance? Here are our first impressions.

Key Features

  • Compact sizeOne of this phone’s key selling points is that it is small and manageable, with a 5.9-inch screen and a weight of 169g
  • Flagship chipsetIts processor is the latest Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 silicon, Qualcomm’s most powerful mobile chipset
  • 120Hz displayThe screen has a super smooth 120Hz refresh rate

Introduction

The Zenfone 8 was one of our favourite phones of 2021, delivering impressive speeds and a brilliant display in a package that was not just good value but also conveniently sized too.

Asus has once again stuck to its guns with the Zenfone 9, a petite smartphone that still packs some of the same great features boasted by its bigger counterparts, from a 50-megapixel wide angle camera to a 120Hz display, and a Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 chipset.

Does the Zenfone 9 once again put paid to the idea that bigger is better?

Design and Screen

  • Small and compact size
  • Good screen
  • Unusual but appealing matte back

The Zenfone 9 is indeed small, measuring 146.5 by 68.1mm; however it is actually rather thick, at 9.1mm.

This doesn’t make it feel cumbersome though when you’re wielding it in day-to-day usage, and it is easy to use with one hand even though app icons can seem pretty small in the interface. While I may personally prefer a larger display, there’s a considerable amount of consumers who want smaller phones for various reasons (smaller hands, smaller pockets, or just wanting to spend less time glued to a screen), so it’s good to see such a phone with some top-end specs available for those who want it.

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Its size is not the only unique thing about this phone. For one thing, it’s matte – very matte. The tactile texture almost feels papery to the touch, a little reminiscent of the recent Realme GT 2 Pro, and I like this new approach. You certainly won’t get greasy fingerprints showing up on here, but it is still comfortable to hold and doesn’t look attention-seeking.

There are two very large lenses on this panel too, one of which protrudes significantly from the rear. These aren’t contained within a camera module and so look quite bare and basic on the back of the phone here, accompanied just by some text noting the 50-megapixel resolution and “gimbal stabilization”.

As for practical concerns, I’m sure that a subsection of users will be very pleased to note the retention of the 3.5mm headphone jack, which means you can use wired headphones with the handset, and audiophiles will also be pleased to note its dual-speakers and Hi-Res Audio output. Most importantly, it has an impressive IP68 rating for water and dust resistance, while the display is made of Gorilla Glass Victus.

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Last year’s model was particularly notable for its screen, and this generation also has some impressive specifications. The AMOLED panel may only measure 5.9-inches but it has a maximum 120Hz refresh rate and 240Hz touch sampling rate, so it’s intended to be highly responsive, and it also has a claimed 1100 nits maximum brightness.

So far I’ve found it to be an appealing display, that’s both sharp and smooth, while the contrast is just as excellent as you’d expect from a good OLED screen. You’ll note that it hasn’t got HDR support, but the device still has a wide colour gamut and so I didn’t find this to be a massive loss.

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The actual ratio of the screen is 20:9, meaning it is quite tall and narrow, if not quite to the same extent as the 21:9 aspect ratio favoured by the Sony Xperia 1 IV and its siblings. This shape is intended to be ideal for both watching widescreen videos and browsing the internet, and in my time using it I have found it to have reached a good equilibrium.

Features and Software

  • Dual camera, including 50-megapixel main sensor
  • Flagship processor
  • ZenUI software

Those big bulging camera lenses mean that the device has two sensors to put to use, namely a 50-megapixel wide angle and a 12-megapixel ultrawide snapper. This gives you some degree of versatility, though you’ll have to rely on optical zoom if you want to get closer to your subject as there’s no telephoto available here.

The few images that I’ve taken in my limited time with the phone look decent, but they lack the level of detail you’ll get on top-level flagship like the Samsung Galaxy S22 or the iPhone 13.

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The key feature of this camera is its 6-axis hybrid gimbal stabilisation system, which means that you should be able to shoot blur-free and shake-free photos regardless of how much you are moving. With such big claims about its optical image stabilisation capabilities, I’m looking forward to putting it to the test to see just how good it really is.

The chipset is surely one of this handset’s proudest boasts, being Qualcomm’s latest and greatest Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 that you’ll also find on some of the best-performing phones that we’ve reviewed, such as the Asus ROG Phone 6 Pro. We’re expecting impressive performance standards from this phone, which will surely be capable of running even the most demanding games and more, while I’ve not noticed any performance hiccups during my brief hands-on time with the device.

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Built on Android 12, the Zenfone 9’s software interface is named Zen UI. It’s a fairly basic skin, not adding a great deal of new things to the standard Android package, but that’s no complaint – far too often we see phones come stuffed with unnecessary bloatware, so I’d prefer to see a minimalist approach like this one.

One of the few adjustments that has been made includes a one-handed navigation mode, which seems like overkill on such a small and easily manageable handset as this. Other than that you’ll find a few handy shortcuts (three finger screenshot, drawable music controls on the lockscreen, and a back double tap similar to that on the iPhone), but most of Zen UI’s claimed benefits are performance enhancements that get to work under the hood, so I’m eager to put these to the test.

As for battery, you’ll find that this device packs a 4300mAh cell, which may not sound amazing compared to the 5000mAh capacities that we’re increasingly becoming used to, but do bear in mind that this handset is significantly smaller and so may drain a little more slowly than expected; I’ve not yet had the chance to verify this, but bearing in mind that we could get through a day’s heavy usage on the Zenfone 8’s 4000mAh battery, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for great performance.

When it’s time to top it up again, you can count on 30W fast charging, but unfortunately there’s no provision for wireless charging.

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Should you buy it?

Early Impressions

The Asus Zenfone 9 is a phone that is proudly different from the others, at least as far as its design is concerned. Its small size and thin aspect ratio, along with its retention of the 3.5mm headphone jack, are unusual choices, and it is undeniably good to see all of these make rare appearances on a high-end phone and broaden the range of options for consumers

From our brief time with the phone, the screen seemed good rather than great, likewise with the camera system, though we need more time with them before we can reach our final conclusion. However, we’re expecting great things from its processor, which has already proved itself on other flagship devices, and the battery too could be highly promising.

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FAQs

What is the IP rating?

It has an IP68 rating for water and dust resistance

Does it have 5G connectivity?

Yes, so you’ll have access to 5G data speeds if you’ve got network coverage and a compatible SIM card

What colours is it available in?

Midnight Black, Moonlight White, Starry Blue, Sunset Red

Full specs

UK RRP
Manufacturer
Screen Size
Storage Capacity
Rear Camera
Front Camera
Video Recording
IP rating
Battery
Fast Charging
Size (Dimensions)
Weight
Operating System
Release Date
Resolution
Refresh Rate
Ports
Chipset
RAM
Colours
A 'hands on review' is our first impression of a product only - it is not a full test and verdict. Our writer must have spent some time with the product to describe an early sense of what it's like to use. We call these 'hands on reviews' to make them visible in search. However these are always unscored and don't give recommendations. Read more about our reviews policy.

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