Thanks to the internet and AI smarts, now smartphones understand and help better than your mom does.

Soon after brands realised the market potential in the budget flagship segment like the OnePlus 6 and Honor 10, they’ve slowly lost interest in competing with big fish. Not forgetting to make ‘em look just as premium and jazzy to bump up sales. Sly buggers, aren’t they?

The Zenfone 5Z shows great potential to overthrow the OnePlus 6 in many areas. It’s loaded with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 with an AI Engine to smoothly steer its boat no matter how big the waves are. Best part? It observes and understands its user and surroundings so it knows what to keep ready.

For just 29,999 this flagship is willing to rival other smartphones under the 35k mark. Let’s see how this fares? Game on!

Design: Attention seeker

Some muggles might think you’re holding an iPhone X from afar. Well that could be true. The wide notch, the broad and bulky width and vertically placed dual cams at the rear make it resemble the iPhone X. (Fact: The ASUS Zenfone 5 was the first to copy the notch)

Only difference, it’s got a fingerprint scanner instead of the Apple logo and a super shiny full glass back with radial lines all over it.

Once you’re used to the notch, it’s no big deal. You can hide it too you know. However, using the 6.2in FHD+ display (2246 x 1080) is just wonderful. Watching videos on Netflix or YouTube is splendid, especially with that wide and tall display. It's got 550 nits of brightness, so whether it’s outdoors or indoors, the colours pop bright and vivid and you won’t be running into shade to see who's calling.

The Zenfone 5Z isn't narrow like the Honor 10, but it’s wide enough to watch videos, type emails, play games and everything else you use a smartphone for. When it comes to comparing weight, it weighs a little less than the OnePlus 6, although, the Honor 10 feels lighter, but that's mainly because of a narrower screen.

The phone dresses in two colours - Midnight Blue and Meteor Silver and both look equally stunning. It’s made of Aerospace-grade aluminium to withstand scrapes and scratches that are bound to happen with regular usage. The Zircon sandblasted premium finish radial glass on the back looks super shiny in light. It never fails to look bad, just like Barney Stinson in a suit.                       

Overall, you get the 3.5mm jack with high-res audio support (more on that later), USB Type-C with Intelligent Fast Charging and dual speakers with a built-in amp that are super loud. It checks all the necessary boxes required on a smartphone except for waterproofing and wireless charging, but how well does it perform? Keep reading.

Cameras - Go wide

Thanks to social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook and others, we’ve got the tool to browse and compare pictures shot from various phones like the Pixel 2, Galaxy S9, P20 Pro, iPhone X and others.

Those are great snappers, but what about budget flagships like this one? The Zenfone 5Z has the potential to shoot some ogle worthy photos but doesn't stack up to be the best budget flagship shooter, especially when compared to the Honor 10 and the OnePlus 6.

You ask why. Well, it's housed with Sony’s flagship IMX363 12MP sensor that is able to shoot great still photos and low-light scenarios but disappoints otherwise. Sometimes, the image processing is slow and moving objects tend to blur out. We wouldn't recommend using this just for point-and-shoot. It's more like point-wait-focus-wait-shoot. It really needs some focus medicine to get the auto-focus right. However, after a few software patches, it should snap like a pro.

Unlike other secondary cameras on smartphones used to map depth of field for those blurry shots, the Zenfone flaunts an 8MP cam with the ability to shoot wide-angled (120 degrees) shots to fit in your wide screen telly. Campers, travellers and vloggers will really like this feature.

Thanks to AI, it knows and understands up to sixteen different objects and scenarios and uses the AI Engine to detect the object in front of you so it can automatically make edits for a better looking picture. Is that a dog? Wait let me add cuteness to it.

The Zenfone 5Z shoots super hi-res pictures (48MP) if you’re one of those who likes to blow up pictures you fancy a lot. It’s also got EIS/OIS for video shooting in 4K at 60fps (1080p at 30/60fps) and support for RAW files for vloggers/filmmakers.           

If you’re a selfie fanatic or a social media spammer, the Zenfone 5Z will suffice for your doings. It’s able to shoot some crisp selfies. Not the best, but you’ll be satisfied with the result (especially in low-light). If you’re trying to impress your crush, check out the beauty mode. It puffs up your eyes, pulls in and blushes your cheeks and blurs out pimples and marks. Don’t register for a beauty pageant just yet. It’s just a selfie you know.

Apart from all this, there’s GIF animation, HDR, time-lapse, slow motion that perform well and there’s nothing too special otherwise.




Processor and power - Cheap thrills

Asus is smart. They launched three variants with the Zenfone 5Z to enthrall customers - 6/64GB, 6/128GB, 8/256GB.

One of the key features of this phone is Qualcomm’s flagship Snapdragon 845 processor and Adreno 630 running along with an AI Engine for quickness and efficiency for just 30k. That’s a steal for that processor.

Playing PUBG on high graphic mode felt smooth and delightful and the phone didn't heat up at anytime. Although, we felt it couldn't keep up with the Ultra fps mode, so we switched back to high. Other high-end apps, smaller games like Clash Royale also played without worry, but did stutter a bit sometimes to be honest.

We at Stuff love multitasking. Whether it's high social media usage, emailing, texting or video calling. Everything runs smooth and sound and the 6GB RAM feels essential and useful for everyday usage. We were a little skeptical about performance earlier, but with time, it’s proven itself.

OS - Zen garden

It’s what counts on the inside, not the outside. When it comes to using smartphones, the user interface really plays a huge part in creating a good experience, whatever the smartphone.

Thankfully, ZenUI 5 clears the clutter and paves the path for a cleaner UI and a smoother interface. There’s lesser typical bloatware coming in your way and Android Oreo 8.0 runs smooth and sound.

The new OS brings in a lot of customisation options for the user to play around with. No need to add on a launcher on the skin. It feels like stock but a skin atop to add more playground.If you’re video calling a lot, you’ll be happy to turn into an animated character through ZeniMoji. Whether you’re a horse or a penguin, you can video chat, record videos or photos and send it to friends and family. Don’t expect it to be super smooth and silky like Animoji, but you’re getting this feature for 1/4th of the price. We’re hoping with future software updates it’ll get better.

Gamers will appreciate the ‘Game Genie’ setting, wherein users can block alerts, hide navigation keys, speed up the phone, record gameplay (up to 1080p) and go live through Twitter or Twitch just from the navigation tray on the bottom.

Through ZenMotion you can do all sorts of things like - double tap to turn on/off screen, flip to mute, draw alphabets (while the screen is off) to launch apps (weather, camera, clock etc) so you can save time and feel cool.

The Zenfone 5Z has a special trick under its sleeve when it comes to face unlocking. No matter how bad the light is. Also acknowledging AI, it tends to learn your face over time so even if you give it a peek to check notifications, it unlocks in a jiffy. I had to play peek-a-boo to read messages without it unlocking automatically. Unfortunately there’s no ‘swipe to unlock feature’.

The notification drop-down (use the fingerprint scanner to drop) or more like the ‘control centre’ is filled with a bunch of icons and uncommon shortcuts to get things done without looking for them on the homescreen. Good one Asus.

Nevertheless, we’re glad that ZenUI ‘s operating system feels cleaner and smoother than before. Never felt the need to add on another skin or launcher to satisfy the needs. Although, it may require a few bug fixes to get the little things in order.

Sound and Battery: Hey, not bad

Most of us juice our phones overnight, but no one thinks about the poor battery. It tends to get overheated/overcharged in time which reduces its health.

Good news is here - Asus took things in their own hands and introduced the Intelligent Fast Charging system on the Zenfone 5Z. What is that? Using Artificial Intelligence, it observes your charging behaviour and sleep patterns.

Suppose you sleep for about seven hours on average, the device will charge normally to about 70-80% and then trickle charge up to 100% till you wake up. This cycle maintains the battery health and survives longer during the day. You can manually set the time too, in case you have weird sleeping patterns or if you’re too skeptical.

Otherwise, the 3300mAh battery is strong enough to last you an entire day (about 17hrs) with average amount of gaming and multitasking. If you tend to play a lot of high-end games, you might have to charge it inbetween to last you the night.

Asus added another plus to the Zenfone 5Z - its capabilities to play hi-res files (192kHz/24-bit standard) with the Qualcomm Aqstic Audio Codec in-built.

It’s got an app called ‘Audio Wizard’ with an equalizer and custom presets for every genre of music. On the app, it can adapt to any kind of earphone/headphone you use and deliver the perfect audio.

Hardcore audiophiles might not approve of its hi-res earphones (in the box), but for complete beginners, this is your stairway to heaven.

You’ll be happier to know it’s housed with Bluetooth 5.0 AptX HD to fulfill your wireless playback. Asus isn't messing around with sound.

The 5-magnet speakers with dual NXP smart amp make sure your calls, messages and music don't go unnoticed. It’s so loud that it could wake any Snorlax up. Turn on ‘Outdoor mode’ and brace yourself for something louder.

If you’re travelling via public transport and need to play some Led Zeppelin out loud, you’ll have the entire bus singing along in no time. Although, sound tends slightly distort, but it’s quite loud and gets the job done.

Stuff says... 

Asus Zenfone 5Z review

A great flagship with beauty, brains and muscles priced much lower than its current competition
Good Stuff 
Cheapest phone to sport Q.Snapdragon 845
Artificial Intelligence manages performance and takes care of battery health
Hi-res audio support and great speakers
Wide screen and vivid display
Wide angle camera will please shutterbugs
Face unlock is scary fast
Bad Stuff 
Camera needs a software update
A little slippery in the hand