Are you tired of having a phone your friends recognise? The sheer weight of that iPhone cred getting you down?
An Asus ZenFone 4 is one way to get back to your humble roots with a phone only the nerdiest of mobile lovers would recognise. It’s not like Asus is some phone-making newbie, though.
ZenFones have been around since 2014.
And with hardware that stacks up comfortably to the OnePlus, Honor and Motorolas of the world, and a price to match, it’s a mostly welcome one.
Design & build
The ZenFone 4 is part of a growing army of phones that look and feel quite expensive, but don’t even get close to the scary prices of today’s priciest models. It costs around £449: not cheap, but a lot more affordable than an iPhone X.
It has Gorilla Glass 4 plates on the front and back, and aluminium on the sides. A year so ago, the ZenFone 4 would have looked right at home next to the top-tier phones.
Things have shifted, though. Today, a screen surround any thicker than a Cadbury’s chocolate finger marks you out as a phone that needs to shape up. And the ZenFone 4 has pretty traditional screen:bulk ratio.
It also doesn’t have a tapered design, making the phone seem a little boxy for something only 7.7mm thick. However, it’s smart-looking and only a shade bigger than the OnePlus 5.
On the back there’s a design nod borrowed from Asus’s ZenBook laptops too. There’s a shiny circular pattern under the glass that catches the light but doesn’t make the ZenFone 4 as garishly flashy as something like the Honor 9.
All the little extras you expect from a good mid-range phone are here too. There’s a good fingerprint scanner on the front, NFC, Bluetooth 5.0 and a USB-C port rather than the older microUSB kind. The highlight is 64GB storage: loads. This can also be bulked-up with a microSD card.
SCREEN & SOUND
The screen is only roughly on a level with the Moto G5S Plus specs-wise, though. It’s a 5.5in 1920 x 1080 pixel IPS display: pretty sharp, but we’d be complaining if it had anything less given the phone’s price.
I was also not exactly wowed by the screen’s colour tuning, which is a little less eye-pleasing fresh out of the box than the cheaper Moto rival.
There’s a handy blue light filter, which should stop your late-night Facebook scrolling from keeping you awake, but there’s no option to schedule it automatically - you’ve got to toggle it on and off. Like a peasant.
No mention of HDR is hardly a surprise either, seeing how this is more of a mid-range flagship, but it would have been a welcome inclusion that elevated the phone above its peers. Oh well.
Typical of Asus’s nerdy style, you can customise this as you like using Asus Splendid, which lets you tweak the tone. Viewing angles are good, and it gets plenty bright enough to see clearly when you're outdoors.
Splendid is a handy software extra of the ZenFone 4. But not everyone will appreciate what Asus has done with Android generally.
Speaker quality isn’t class-leading either. Top volume is good but the sound lacks the little spoonful of bass the best have, and the ZenFone 4 can sound a bit abrasive at top volume — for a phone with a decent speaker at any rate.
Software & OS
Like other Asus phones, the ZenFone 4 uses the ZenUI interface, and it’s not as good-looking as the latest vanilla version of Google's OS. You get Android 7.1 rather than 8.0, although an upgrade is apparently in the pipeline.
Grumbles are mostly about the look, though, as the ZenFone 4 feels quick, and doesn’t make any truly Android-mauling moves like getting rid of the apps menu.
Asus has also solved the long-standing complaint about ZenUI, that’s it’s filled with more crap than a Dan Brown novel. Extra apps are kept to a minimum, amounting to a few inoffensive utilities.
ZenUI still seems a little dated though, and a little ugly compared with the best. It does allow lots of customisation, though. You can choose how many app icons are squeezed onto home screens and apps menu pages, and the ZenFone 4 supports themes. Lots cost money, though, and many make the phone look worse rather than better.