1000-dollar phones are exciting, there’s no denying that, but it seems like fewer and fewer people are actually buying them. At the same time, the number of decent phones costing half as much is growing steadily, and the Asus ZenFone 6 is the latest addition to the list.

With the ZenFone 6, Asus is aiming to deliver a fast, reasonably priced smartphone with a beautiful screen, long battery life, and a good camera. And on paper, we seem to be looking at a recipe for success: the chip of choice is the powerful Snapdragon 855, the main camera has a whopping 48MP of resolution, and the 6.4-inch display stretches from edge to edge without a notch breaking its uniformity. Oh, and did I mention the huge, 5000mAh battery inside?

I’ve been using the Asus ZenFone 6 for about 24 hours now, and here’s what I have to say about it so far.

In the box:

  • Asus ZenFone 6
  • Wall charger (18W)
  • USB Type-C cable
  • SIM eject tool
  • Wired earphones with 3.5mm jack
  • Silicone tips of different sizes for the earphones
  • User Guide

Design

So indeed, there is no notch on the ZenFone 6. There’s no punch-hole camera cutout either. All you have at the front is a spacious screen with rounded corners and a very small chin at the bottom. It’s a clean, minimalist, and undeniably cool look that Asus has achieved, and it’s great being able to use the display in its entirety when watching video or playing games, without any distractions spoiling the experience. 

Asus ZenFone 6 Preview
But where’s the front-facing gear? Well, you actually take selfies using the main cameras. They’re mounted on a motorized module that rotates 180 degrees at the tap of a button. The process takes about a second. On one hand, that’s an awesome concept as the ZenFone 6’s rear cameras should hold plenty of potential. And so far, I haven’t had any issues using the flippy camera with third-party apps or for video calls. However, I’m not entirely convinced in the long-term reliability of the camera module, even though it can withstand at least 100,000 open-close cycles, according to Asus (that’s 28 flips per day for 5 years). After all, testing performed in a lab by a robot is a very different thing from an actual Mr Butterfingers handling the ZenFone 6 daily.

But it’s not like Asus hasn’t thought out this approach thoroughly. In fact, the phone uses its sensors to detect that it’s not inside a pocket or resting on a table, for example, before flipping the camera out. And in case of an accidental drop, the camera module closes automatically no matter what app you’re in.

Asus ZenFone 6 Preview
Asus ZenFone 6 Preview

On the topic of durability, Asus throws in a basic plastic case in the box with the ZenFone 6 – a nice bonus, especially when the selection of protective cases for this model aren’t likely to be plentiful. Water resistance isn’t present, however, which is understandable given the mechanisms employed.

With the ZenFone 6, you don’t get all the bells and whistles offered by top-of-the-line models. Instead of a fancy fingerprint reader built into the display, the phone has a classic fingerprint reader at the back. And we’re okay with that since the reader is fast and accurate.

As I mentioned above, the Asus ZenFone 6 comes with a 5000mAh battery. This is probably why the phone feels quite heavy in the hand, weighing a substantial 190 grams. But it’s not quite the heaviest in its size category. The iPhone XS Max, for example, weighs 208 grams. 

Display

Asus ZenFone 6 Preview

Needless to say, Asus had to cut some corners to meet the price point it was aiming for. As a result, the ZenFone 6 uses a 6.4-inch IPS LCD display, not a fancy OLED one. The good news is that the screen looks fine to the naked eye. The resolution of 1080 x 2340 produces sharp visuals, and the peak brightness of 573 nits is sufficient for comfortable outdoor use.

Colors could be better, though. They are fairly accurate by default, but a blueish tint is clearly evident. You can tweak this in the display settings menu thanks to a white balance slider. There you’ll also find a Wide Color Gamut mode, which adds more saturation to the way colors look. 

Software and Interface

I must admit that it has been a few years since I last used an Asus phone as a daily driver, and clearly, the company’s vision for software has changed a lot since then. Gone is the bloat. Gone are the gimmicks. Instead, ZenUI 6 running on the Asus ZenFone 6 doesn’t stray far from the pure Android 9 Pie experience. It even adopts features like Digital Wellbeing, Google’s Adaptive Brightness, and the Night Light blue light filter. The phone will be updated to Android R, its maker promises.

To be clear, Asus has tweaked the interface quite a bit, but the changes do make sense. Optimizations to the Android framework have been made to make apps launch faster, and the memory management algorithms are designed to keep frequently used apps longer in memory so that you can switch back and forth more quickly.

Visually, certain elements have been rearranged to make single-handed use less of a challenge. Dialog windows, for example, appear at the bottom of the screen, not in the middle. There’s also a dark mode, but its purpose is mainly to make the screen put less of a strain on your eyes at night. Since the ZenFone 6 uses an LCD display and not an OLED one, battery life won’t be affected. Besides, the dark theme is only applied to stock apps like Phone and UI elements like the app drawer and the quick controls. It doesn’t work in third-party apps like Facebook or Instagram.

Smart Key

Asus ZenFone 6 Preview

There’s an extra physical button on the side of the Asus ZenFone 6. It’s called the Smart Key and its main purpose is to launch the Google Assistant when you need it, even from the lock screen. But it can be set to perform other actions: to switch DND mode on or off, to take a screenshot, or to activate the flashlight, for example. Unfortunately, you can’t set it to launch an app of your choice.

Processor and memory

The Asus ZenFone 6 comes with the Snapdragon 855, just like most other Android high-ends. It is the fastest chip Qualcomm has to offer, and to no surprise, I’ve had no troubles playing heavy games. Better yet, the phone feels quite responsive as I switch between apps or navigate between screens.

Our particular review unit comes with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, but versions with 6GB of RAM and 64 or 128GB of storage will be available as well. For those who need it, there’s a dedicated microSD card slot in addition to the dual SIM slots. In other words, you may have two SIMs in there and enjoy expandable storage at the same time.

Camera

Asus ZenFone 6 Preview

There are two cameras on the Asus ZenFone 6, both mounted on the phone’s flippy module. One is a regular 48MP camera for every-day use, and it uses the same Sony IMX586 sensor we’ve seen on many other similarly priced phones. The high resolution isn’t this sensor’s only apparent strength. Its large area allows it to absorb more light than smaller sensors, while at night, visual information from four pixels is combined together for greater clarity.

Despite the camera’s outstanding specs, the results so far have been a mixed bag. This could be greatly due to Asus’s HDR+ algorithms which produce balanced images in some cases, but in others, the look of the image is flat and artificial. Check out the fifth image in the gallery below to see what I mean. 

By the way, the ZenFone 6 takes 12MP photos by default. You have the freedom to shoot at 48MP of resolution, but while you do really get more detail, this slows down the camera significantly and disables the HDR+ feature. In terms of detail, the 12MP photos that I’ve taken so far are comparable to those from the Galaxy S10. 

Audio quality

Asus ZenFone 6 Preview

The Asus ZenFone 6 comes with stereo speakers. One of them is at the bottom firing downward, and the other doubles as an earpiece. While the stereo effect is there and the audio is loud enough, the sound is very unbalanced due to the bottom-firing speaker being much louder. Sound quality is okay overall, though could use more bass. Bundled with the ZenFone 6 is a pair of okay-sounding wired stereo earphones that plug into its 3.5mm headphone jack.

Battery life

If you need a phone that can last you two days between charges, the Asus ZenFone 6 would be it. Packed with a 5000mAh battery, it produced a score of 13 hours and 10 minutes on our custom battery benchmark test, beating most flagship devices by a significant margin.

Charging is understandably slower, as the big battery requires 2 hours and 6 minutes to be fully charged from the stock, 18W charger. But then again, a 30-minute charge is enough for it to replenish 35% of its capacity, which should be enough to last you through a busy afternoon.

Wireless charging is missing on the ZenFone 6 – not only because it would have made it more expensive, but also because it would have made it thicker. On top of this, Asus’s research indicates that the extra heat generated by wireless charging would have had a considerable impact on the battery’s lifespan, so skipping the feature has its silver lining.

Expectations

I’ve only used the Asus ZenFone 6 for about a day, which isn’t enough for me to give it a final score reflecting my experience. What I can say, however, is that battery life is shaping up as its key strength. This phone just keeps going and going! The spacious screen is also a valid selling point, even though it doesn’t quite have the pop of OLEDs. At the same time, the clean software and fast performance will be much appreciated by both enthusiasts and those simply looking for a reliable phone.

But it’s not like the Asus ZenFone 6 is competing in a one-horse race. It is about to face rivals from OnePlus, Honor, Huawei, Xiaomi and even Google with the affordable Pixel 3a series. And it’s going to be a tough fight indeed. Still, we feel like Asus’s latest offering has the potential to be a worthy option in the space. Expect to learn more about our experience with it in the coming days. 

In the meantime, here’s a quick update on the Asus ZenFone 6 price and release date. In Europe, the phone will start shipping on May 25 starting at 499 euro for the 6GB+64GB model. The 6GB+128GB and 8GB+256GB memory configurations will cost 559 and 599 euros, respectively.

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