Asus Zenfone 5 review
Key Features: Dual-core 1.6GHz Intel Atom Z2560; 2GB RAM; 8/16GB storage; 5-inch 720p IPS screen
What is the Asus Zenfone 5?
The Asus Zenfone 5 is one of Asus’s first phones headed for true mainstream distribution. Has it hit the jackpot first time?
Offering a good 5-inch screen, respectable hardware and a decent camera for under £200 SIM-free, it certainly seems so. After the major disappointment that was the Asus Zenfone 4, this is a bit of a revelation. And a superb bargain too. Battery life isn’t fantastic, but most other elements are for the money.
Asus Zenfone 5 – Design
At around £150 SIM-free, the Asus Zenfone 5 is one of the biggest phones you can get at the price, at least until the Motorola Moto G2 turns up – it’s rumoured to have a 5-inch screen. Asus has tried to give the entire new Zenfone range the same kind of signature look, too.
The Zenfone 4, Zenfone 6 and this 5-inch version all have slightly curvy plastic backs that come in a few different colours, and a little metal lip below the screen that has a slightly shiny finish textured with concentric circles. This design has been an Asus staple for years, and can be seen on the lids of its Zenbook laptops.
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It’s a look that smacks a bit of inexperience in the Zenfone 5. While simple, a few of the subtler finishing touches are missing, giving a slight clunkiness to the look that we didn’t see in the smaller Zenfone 4. Mostly because it just suited the smaller size better.
Still, it’s not bad looking, and in comparing the Zenfone 5 to phones of the same size, you’re generally looking at rivals around twice the price.
Compared to the smaller Zenfone 4, this phone’s rear cover colours are a lot more vivid. It comes in red or purple as well as white and black. They’re bold, slightly metallic shades that would look out of place on a painted fingernail. The coloured versions won’t be for everyone, but we do like the ever-so-slightly shiny finish used.
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The Asus Zenfone 5’s rear is a removable plastic plate that has a soft touch feel. On first getting hold of the phone, we found the edges a little bit severe, but once you’re used to the shape you start to notice the nice, tactile finish more.
After the usual bed-in period that comes with any larger phone, we also found the Zenfone 5 fairly easy to use one-handed. While it doesn’t have a super-slim screen bezel like the LG G2, and it’s not exactly small at 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.
Asus Zenfone 5 – Screen
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.