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I’ve always had a thing for compact phones. My colleagues even invented a drinking game for every time I say “compact” during our daily meetings. That’s why when the enigmatic Asus invite for the Zenfone 8 announcement landed in my hands I knew I was in for a treat.
The Zenfone 8 is just the right size – it nails it perfectly. It’s not as small as an iPhone 12 mini, which some people find too small, and yet the phone is significantly more compact than your average modern flagship.
It’s not just the size, though. The Zenfone 8 packs a lot of features, especially considering its smile-inspiring price. The most powerful Qualcomm chipset – the Snapdragon 888 – lurks inside this little beast along with a gorgeous 5.9-inch 120Hz AMOLED panel made by Samsung.
It’s not always rainbows and butterflies, of course. The Zenfone 8 suffers from overheating issues when pushed to the limit and the 4,000 mAh battery feels a little underwhelming, especially in high-performance mode. Oh, and there’s no wireless charging and no micro SD card slot, too.
With all that being said, the Zenfone 8 offers a great overall experience, it’s fast, really comfortable to use, and won’t cost you a fortune. And that’s a great recipe if you ask me.
The best design feature of the Zenfone 8 is its size, obviously. The exact dimensions of the phone are 148 x 68.5 x 8.9 mm and to put these numbers into context I’d say that a guy with medium-sized hands (I’m 5’8” tall) can easily reach every corner of the display without any hand gymnastics involved.
The curved frosted glass on the back adds to the ergonomics – the phone feels great in the hand and it’s also pretty smudge-resistant. The display is flat with a 2.5D gorilla glass on top and a metal frame holds everything together.
The camera bump on the back is quite stylish and blends well with the overall design. Sadly, I can’t say the same about the punch-hole selfie cam in the top left corner. For some reason, there’s a silver ring around it that makes it pop up and not in a good way.
The sapphire blue power button on the right side of the frame is a nice touch, aesthetically pleasing and convenient. The left side of the phone is completely clean, there’s a 3.5mm audio jack at the top, and you get the usual stuff at the bottom – the SIM card tray, USB-C port, and the loudspeaker.
There are also a bunch of microphones around the frame doing their audio zoom and noise-reduction magic. Overall, the design of the Zenfone 8 won’t turn heads – it’s functional and understated.
That’s not a bad thing, though. Sometimes it’s good to see function over form – and also not get your hands obliterated by 90-degree phone frame angles (I’m looking at you, iPhone 12).
iPhone 12 mini, Zenfone 8, Pixel 4a
The 5.9-inch AMOLED display of the Zenfone 8 looks gorgeous. Asus doesn’t hide the fact that it’s a Samsung panel and that’s completely understandable – the Korean giant produces some of the best smartphone displays on the market.
Asus has gone wider with the aspect ratio – it’s 20:9, close to the 21:9 cinematic ratio that Sony uses in its Xperia lineup. The reason behind this is probably a pragmatic one – the wider aspect ratio allows for a more compact device while maintaining impressive diagonal numbers.
The resolution is FHD+ which translates to around 445 PPI, and it’s more than sufficient. The image is crisp and you’ll be hard-pressed to discern the individual pixels. Now, Asus boasts 800 nits of brightness on this device with a peak maximum of 1,100. While the latter may be hard to measure, the former claim holds as I was able to get 821 nits out of the Zenfone 8.
According to the specs, the E4 AMOLED panel sourced from SAMSUNG ensures color accuracy of 112% DCI-P3, 151.9% sRGB, 107.6% NTSC and Delta-E<1. Manufacturers use perfect-scenario settings to achieve these numbers and in reality, things are a bit different.
You can choose from several different color modes in the menu, and interestingly the Standard setting produces the most accurate colors (not the Natural, as one might think). Color temperature is also excellent in this mode, so I recommend using it, as Natural, Default, and Cinema modes tend to be cooler.
Another flagship-grade feature is the refresh rate of the display. The Zenfone 8 supports four modes – 60, 90, 120Hz, and Auto. Unsurprisingly, the 120Hz refresh rate mode feels the best on the eyes – everything is smooth and responsive (the 240Hz touch sampling rate and the 1ms response also help a lot).
All in all, there’s not much to complain about this AMOLED panel – it’s on par with every major (and also more expensive) flagship phone’s display out there. You also get lots of options in the menu such as DC Dimming (no flickering at low brightness levels), Smart screen, Always on, Lift-to-check, and more.
Camera & Audio
The Zenfone 8 sports a modest dual-camera setup on the back but don’t be fooled. Asus slapped some high-grade Sony sensors in there, so the results are quite pleasing. The main camera features a 1/1.7″ Sony IMX686 64MP flagship sensor and has an F1.8 aperture. It has OIS and it’s capable of shooting 8K.24 fps videos as well.
The secondary ultra-wide camera uses a 1/2.55″ Sony IMX363 12 MP sensor with an F2.2 aperture and 113˚ FOV, Dual PDAF. The selfie camera also features a Sony sensor underneath, it’s the IMX663 with Dual-PD autofocus – Asus claims it’s the fastest focus in a selfie camera.
In good lighting conditions, the main camera takes 64MP photos and they look really good. Lots of details are present even when the light comes at tricky angles. The colors seem to be a little exaggerated, which might please some people and annoy others.
Low-light photography relies on the Quad Bayer filter trick, taking 12MP photos with better light sensitivity. In reality, the Night Mode only works when there’s some light present and it’s quite situational. Your results may vary – from stunning detail-revealing night shots to a dark and messy blur.
It’s worth noting that there’s a small color shift when switching between the two sensors with the ultra-wide camera producing blueish and cooler images. The selfie camera is really good, all the claims for fast focus and detailed images hold true.
The phone supports hi-res audio files rated at up to 32-bit 384 kHz and you can plug a pair of pro-grade headphones and enjoy. The Audio Wizard software completes the experience with a 10-band equalizer and different “styles”, tuned by Dirac.
I tested all this with my trusty Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT both wired and in Bluetooth mode, and the results were very pleasing to the ear. Whether or not you care for your audio, having this setup available is a great bonus to Zenfone 8’s overall package.
Software & Performance
The other big selling point of the Asus Zenfone 8 is its chipset. At 599 Euro starting price, it’s one of the most affordable Snapdragon 888 phones on the market. If you take a quick scan through the benchmark scores you’ll see that it’s a beast of a phone.
Cramming this top-of-the-line processor in such a small chassis has its downsides, though. When you really put the Zenfone 8 through its paces, the phone gets really hot, to the point where it’s painful to hold.
This happens only during synthetic benchmarks (the phone automatically switches to High-Performance mode when it detects those) but it’s something worth noting. It’s also worth noting that the performance score takes a 10-15% hit when the phone starts to overheat.
In day-to-day use, the Zenfone 8 feels like a 2021 flagship – fast, responsive, and overall a joy to use. The under-display fingerprint sensor is one of the fastest I’ve ever tested (normally, I prefer side-mounted capacitive ones), games play smoothly without any stutter, apps open and close fast.
The Zenfone 8 runs on Android 11 with the ZenUI8 on top, and it’s a pleasant experience. The custom user interface is really close to stock Android with some nice additions – such as the Animation speed of the interface – an option that’s not easily accessible on a normal Android and an option that can make your phone feel faster than it really is (although with an SD888 chipset that might not be necessary).
Gamers and alike will be pleased to find the Game Genie software making an appearance in the Zenfone 8, proving that you don’t need a ROG phone to game competitively. Sadly, the SD card slot is gone, in line with the latest trends but the phone comes in different memory configurations – 6/128, 8/128, 8/256, 16/256GB.
The Zenfone 8 packs a 4,000mAh battery and while this size is okay-ish in bigger phones, it’s impressive in a sub-6 inch device. Your mileage will vary depending on a great many things. There’s a super-comprehensive battery control center and you can literally spend hours fiddling with the settings.
Of course, if you don’t have the time, there are four main presets to choose from – High Performance, Dynamic, Durable, and Ultra Durable. They’re self-explanatory more or less and for the best blend of performance and longevity, you should leave the phone in Dynamic mode.
The Zenfone 8 performed really well in our browsing test, and even if you want everything 120Hz-smooth, you can get a solid 10 hours of browsing time. Which is quite impressive, to be honest. Gaming in 120Hz drains the battery fairly quickly, and if you decide to stick to 60Hz you can add up to 2 hours of playtime.
The Zenfone 8 comes with a 30W fast charger in the box, and it can charge the 4,000 mAh battery from 0 to 100% in around 90 minutes. There are a couple of options regarding how you want to charge your phone in the aforementioned battery control center app. You can set a charge limit, schedule your charging time, and even limit the power that goes to the battery in order to lower the temperature and increase its longevity.
Best Asus Zenfone 8 alternatives
There aren’t many alternatives to the Zenfone 8 and Asus knows it. The phone occupies a niche many people considered long gone – the compact and affordable flagship. In a reality where screen estate is king, launching a 5.9-inch flagship is a bold move. Especially considering the sales figures of the iPhone 12 mini.
The Samsung Galaxy S10e is now ancient history and you should consider the S21 as the closest Zenfone 8 competitor. The Samsung flagship comes with an equally good display, wireless charging, a great camera system, and it’s almost as compact as the Asus. If you’re willing to do some deal-hunting you can probably get the S21 at around the same price, too.
There’s always the Xperia 5 series. The big downside is that Xperia phones are quite expensive and they tend to retain their high prices over time. Even though the Xperia 5 III is just around the corner, the older Xperia 5 and 5 II still cost a hefty $700-800. Still, if you want that narrow, tall experience, and you’re willing to pay extra for the Sony geekiness, you can absolutely go for an Xperia device.
What about the OnePlus 9? It’s arguably a better phone but it’s also bigger and more expensive. Is it worth it? It depends. Asus is aiming to deliver the best performance in the smallest and most affordable package and it’s hard to beat the result.