ASUS ZenFone 5z was the absolute cheapest Snapdragon 845 phone when it came out and everybody got all hyped. In several markets it even ran out of stock and fast, so ASUS may be collecting some serious cash come the end of 2018. The device is very familiar to us, since we’ve already reviewed the ZenFone 5 and the 5z is basically a CPU and performance upgrade, with the same camera and screen. Priced at around $450 or less right now, the handset gets a full rundown below.

Available in Meteor Silver and Midnight Blue, the smartphone is all about the notch, the AI and it’s very easy to confuse with the ZenFone 5. Let’s see what its standout points are.

Design

ASUS ZenFone 5z is very easily confused with the ZenFone 5, since they’re basically identical. This comes as a problem, since you’re paying a few Benjamins to get a flagship and some other dude has a midrange phone with the same design. It’s a glass sandwich with a metal frame and a circular pattern on the glass, which is a bit of a trademark for the Zen series products.

I have to admit it’s one of the comfiest 6+ inch smartphones on the market, fitting like a glove in my hand. I’ve played with 6.28 inch phones, 6.4 inch phones and 6.3 inch handsets and this is by far the comfiest one. It measures 7.7 mm in thickness and weighs 165 grams, basically the same width and height of the ZenFone 5. Meanwhile, it’s also much lighter than the Huawei P20 Pro and its 180 grams.

ZenFone 5z comes with comfy buttons, a pretty good grip and it doesn’t slip from the hand too easily. It gets some smudges on its glass surface, to be honest. By the way there’s quite a bit of work put into this device, through a 206 step process and laquering of glass surfaces. Too similar to the midranger, though…

Display

The smartphone packs a 6.2 inch Super IPS+ display with a 2246 x 1080 pixel resolution. It’s got 90% screen to body ratio with the promise of 580 nits of brightness. 96% NTSC color gamut is also here, Gorilla Glass 5 protection is also here, plus a Blue Light Filter. You can also use it with gloves. The viewing experience was satisfying, with solid brightness , wide view angles and a good contrast, even in the full sunlight.

I liked the colors of the screen and I found the blacks to not be that deep, compared to a Super AMOLED for example. I don’t enjoy the asymmetry of the screen in playback and gaming mode, because the right side has curved corners and the left has a straight edge. The Pixel arrangement is RGB Stripes and we also did a luxmeter test and achieved 479 LUX, which is pretty good, but no record, though.

ZenFone 5 was somehow superior, at 491 LUX. At the same time, the ZenFone 5z beats the Galaxy S9+ and HTC U11, but scores below the ZenFone 3 and Galaxy S8, as well as the Galaxy Note 8. Settings include Auto Brightness, Smart Screen On and finally we can hide the notch, which we couldn’t on the ZenFone 5. There are also options for the nav bar, app scaling, display size, font size and font type, as well as the Splendid options.

Splendid lets you tweak the Blue Light, color temperature, color mode (wide color, standard and custom: hue and saturation). It’s a solid screen, but too bad for the lack of symmetry.

Hardware

ASUS ZenFone 5z packs the most powerful Snapdragon CPU on the market, Snapdragon 845, with AI Boost and 10 nm tech. It also has the Adreno 630 GPU and it works in tandem with 6 GB of RAM of the LPDDR4X variety. There’s also an 8 GB of RAM version out there. Storage goes from 64 GB to 128 GB and 256 GB, plus a microSD card slot with support for up to 2 TB.

Needless to say we didn’t experience any sort of lag and there was perfect fluidity. We played with a lot of apps and games and had zero problems. We played Arena of Valor, Darkness Rises and Riptide GP Renegade. At the same time the device doesn’t overheat and you can stream the game via Twitch or YouTube, while also activating the front camera in order to capture your face.

In AnTuTu 6 we went past the HTC U11 and Galaxy Note 8, but scored below the Galaxy S9+ and Nokia 8. In AnTuTu 7 this phone is second only to the OnePlus 6 in performance and it beats the HTC U12+ and Galaxy S9+, so that’s big. In GeekBench 4 Multi Core the scores were high again, above the Xperia XZ2 and Huawei P20 Pro, but below the HTC U12+ and Galaxy S9+.

When it comes to the GPU, Slingshot 3.0 showed that this is a beast. It scored on the first spot in all the sub tests, so it’s pretty much a gaming phone. We also did a temperature test and reached 44 degrees Celsius in GFXbench, which means there’s overheating in benchmarks, so the phone really throttles it up. In games it doesn’t, so we stuck to 35.2 degrees Celsius in Riptide GP Renegade.

This phone really tries hard to achieve its scores.

Battery

ASUS ZenFone 5z uses a 3300 mAh battery, with fast charge and AI features. It comes with an adapter of 9V, 2A and 18W. We also did a video playback test and achieved 9 hours and 46 minutes, which is just OK, but I’ve seen much better. It surpasses HTC 10 and Xperia XZ1, but scores below the ZenFone 5 and Nokia 8, even the ZenFone 3, so that’s a bummer.

In PCMark we scored just 7 hours and 34 minutes, which is not that impressive, since it places the phone on the 93rd spot. It beats the Xperia XZ Premium, Huawei P10 and Moto Z, but it’s no match for the Pixel 2 XL and Galaxy S9+. The charging is mind blowing though, at just 1 hour and 3 minutes, an all time record for our tests. We also did step by step charging, reaching 10% in 5 minutes and 28% in 15 minutes.

After 30 minutes we got to 58% and after one hour we got to 98%. Settings include the classic options and modes, like Performance, Normal, Power Save and Super Save, plus Custom. All of them let you tweak brightness, vibration, connectivity and other things. You can scan, detect the battery issues and see the most draining apps. It’s a great battery when it comes to the charging, but not much else.

Multimedia

The handset packs a dual smart amp, dual speakers and HiRes audio. There’s an NXP Amp, 7.1 virtual surround and 24 bit acoustics. Stereo 5 magnet speakers are included and as usual ASUS throws in the Audio Wizard to let you do tweaks. This time it’s not an app, but rather a set of options. You can choose stereo, mono or the crazy Outdoor, which really outdoes itself.

Modes include Normal, Custom, Vocal, Pop, Rock, genre settings and bass or treble slider. With the headphones attached you can play with options like Traditional, In Front and Wide. DTS is also here. ASUS and Samsung remain the companies with the most options available for the music experience. The audio experience was fine, but with lots of vibration from the device and a very high volume, as well as a punchy bass.

All the notes are finely rendered, but the Outdoor mode feels like too much. It may be even bothersome for some people. We did some decibel tests, with a result of 91.8 dBA for the front and the back of the phone when playing an audio sample (with Outdoor on). It’s top 5 material and it beats the HTC U12+ and Xperia XZ1 Compact, but it scores below the LeEco Le Max 2 and Xperia L1.

In Riptide GP Renegade we scored 102.3 dBA, which was great and it beats the HTC U12+ and Galaxy Note 8, as well as the iPhone 8. Still, it’s no Nokia 8 and its mind blowing results. Headphones had an OK bass, nice volume, but they could be louder. At least they’re comfy.

Camera

We could do a simple copy/paste here from the ASUS ZenFone 5, since the ZenFone 5z has the same camera basically. We don’t do that, so stay tuned for this one. So, on paper things are pretty much the same: a dual back camera setup, that combines the 12 MP and 8 MP shooter. The 12 MP one is a Sony IMX363 unit, with F/1.8 aperture, 4 axis OIS and EIS included. The secondary camera is an 8 megapixel one with 120 degree wide angle lens.

The cameras do Bokeh, Super Resolution, 4K 60 FPS video and oddly enough when we tested the phone, it didn’t have a Panorama feature, no RAW capture or selfie panorama. It did receive them through an update, but by that time we were done with the review already. Upfront there’s an 8 megapixel selfie shooter, with F/2.0 aperture and Beauty, as well as filters and some AR masks.

The camera does zoom up to 4X and the camera itself has fast focus and also fast picture taking.

We move on to the Day Time Gallery, where we had an HDR which is pretty efficient and highlights areas that would normally be burnt out or just blank, like the sky for example. Bokeh looks cool, but the phone can’t face the scorching sun too well, so it overexposes some frames, especially vegetation. I loved the details highlighted by the HDR. The sky also got burnt, but the water was nicely caught on camera.

4x zoom is weak, losing details, maybe even before that, at around 3X, when grain appears. On the other hand, the selfies are top 3 material. I love the way the skin looks, I can see the pores, the hairs, the beard, everything is spot on. I loved the colors in general and the clarity, which would be on par with the other flagships. Details are rather OK, but this doesn’t fix the all.

The wide angle camera has poorer colors, which is something we also saw on the ZenFone 4, LG G6 and LG G5. Wide angle shots are curved and burnt and I sure hope that phone makers will get rid of such wide angle shooters soon. LG and ASUS in particular. The greens, even when overexposed are better than the Huawei P20 Pro. Closeups were excellent, especially those of flowers, with a lot of details and clarity.

I would say the ZenFone 5z can fight the iPhone 8, the Galaxy S8 and clearly it beats the LG G6. It doesn’t go to the level of the Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+, but it does have two advantages: less burn than Xperia XZ2 and Huawei P20 Pro. The clarity is on par with the iPhone X and Galaxy S9, but there are more requirements than clarity…

In low light conditions, I noticed there’s a cool flash here and the zoom remains poor. The brightness and color were spot on, even though some purple appeared here and there. Street light halos are big and the shots were certainly darker than the Pixel 2 XL and Galaxy S9+. Not one blurred shot has happened and I feel that we are miles ahead of the ZenFone 4.

Oddly enough, in spite of the poor zoom, somehow we managed to get a solid zoom shot of a column, so not bad overall.

On the video front, we did an OIS test and noticed a bit too much vibration of the image. Some burn also appears and I have a problem with the details in the distance. If you look at the tree leaves, you’ll see they’re not what you would expect. They’re amorphous little green masses. On the other front, we’ve got 4K video capture that looks perfect, fighting on equal terms with any flagship you can name.

I loved the colors caught here, maybe more than the photos. Even if the OIS of the back cam was hit and miss, the front camera delivered a very solid vlogging experience. Excellent stabilization, so if you want to capture yourselves, you ca go right ahead. I found the 4K 60 FPS video was very solid and exactly up to my needs. The microphone was also fine with capturing ambiance, music or voices.

The mic handles the wind OK and even though there’s burn from the sun, things are decent, especially when exposure changes. There’s no weird refocus at least, artefacts or others. The zoom we had when targetting that peacock was a letdown. All of these summed up together place the ZenFone 5z in the second tier of the phones, like the ZenFone 4 and LG G6 were last year and also the Huawei P10 and the LG G5 a while before.

It’s below the Xperia XZ2 and Galaxy S9+, but above the LG G6. So basically, it beats the 2017 flagships, maybe minus Galaxy Note 8, but it has a hard time catching top 10 this year.

In low light conditions it seems that ASUS has yet to crack the segment. The device produces some annoying lines like the ZenFone 4 did when filming. Things are also rather foggy and a bit purple, while the zoom was a bit of a letdown. Things are also grainy, but at least there’s not a huge amount of flickering when filming and walking.

I’d say that the colors are OK and the microphone felt solid. Overall, expected a bit better.

Browser/Keyboard

The preinstalled browser here is Chrome, which is rather fast and produced huge benchmark results for some reason. We can attest to that, since pages loaded quite fast. The keyboard is a stock one with some Swype action.

Connectivity

ASUS ZenFone 5z first of all comes with an AI Ringtone feature, which senses the noise around the tweaks the ringtone volume. We’ve also got a 3 microphones here with support for noise reduction technology. There’s FM radio in the mix, WiFi a/b/g/n/ac (2X2 MIMO) and the promise of download speeds of up to 866 Mbps. We’ve also got Bluetooth 5.0, NFC and WiFi Direct. But the list goes on further, with GPS, AGPS, Glonass, BDS, dual SIM dual standby and nano SIM Card slots by the way.

There’s 4G LTE Category 13 support here, an USB Type-C port and audio jack, too. Calls were loud and clear, so there’s that. We also did a SpeedTest and reached 115 Mbps in download speeds and 58.3 Mbps in upload. On WiFi we got to an excellent 383 Mbps in download and 25.7 Mpbs in upload.

OS, UI, Apps, Icons

Here the temptation would be huge to copy/paste everythign we wrote/said about the ZenFone 5. Why? Since it’s 100% the same experience software-wise. There’s Android 8.0.0 with Zen UI 5.0 on top and the June Security patch. It also doesn’t stray very much from what the ZenFone 4 already offered, so that’s a thing. The interface is rather abstract and minimalist, something we’ve seen ever since iOS 7 and its skeumorphic approach.

The homescreens are highly customizable when it comes to wallpaper, widget, preferences, icon packs, allignments and you wouldn’t believe how many options there are. The leftmost homescreen is reserved for Google and its aggregated news, soccer scores, weather and other useful info. Multitasking happens via split screen and carousel and when it comes to the screen layout you can choose to have all the apps on the homescreens, or put them in an app drawer.

One single swipe down and you’re in the Quick Settings or Notifications area. Nothing unusual here and then we go to the Settings area. That’s where we get to the useful and good stuff, like the gaming features. Game Genie lets you become a Twitch or YouTube star, by streaming your gameplay sessions live, face cam included. The fingerprint scanner also gets tweaked from here, with a 12 step setup and a crazy fast unlock.

We also found the Optiflex feature, which carefully manages the resources, allocating them to various apps, those accessed often getting some RAM priority. ZenFone 5z also upgrades the already excellent speed of the ZenFone 5 face unlock to a whole new level. Even with a sligh detection of the face, you’ll achieve an unlock. Much better than iPhone X, faster and more accurate.

The setup is also pretty fast. Then there’s Twin Apps, that lets you use two apps at the same of the same kind, like Facebook with multiple accounts or YouTube, plus Zenimoji, which are real time AR masks applied on your face and they’re even available in video calls. ZenFone 5z also offers a Kids Mode, Easy Mode and a “Lift to Check Phone” feature, which feels a bit like an Always On Display.

Pocket Mode, Glove Mode are also here, while the preinstalled apps list is at 34, which is a more decent number of apps than the 50+ of the Zenfone 2 or 3 era. There’s stuff like Facebook, Instagram, Mobile Manager, Selfie Master, WebStorage and more regular suspects. I would say the slight touch of AI is the biggest thing here.

Verdict

These are the Pros and Cons of the device!

Here are the Pros:

  • great price
  • solid performance
  • crazy fast charge
  • 4K video looks mint
  • great selfie videos
  • comfy phone for a big screen
  • OK display overall
  • great gaming features
  • solid acoustics
  • AI
  • fast unlock (face and print)

And the Cons:

  • looks like the ZenFone 5 too much
  • battery could be better
  • some burn of the pics
  • some poor hues every now and then
  • not very impressive details in pictures
  • poor low light video
  • no Android 8.1
  • same UI looks as before

In the end the ASUS ZenFone 5z is pretty closely related to the ROG Phone in specs and it could serve as a badass gaming phone. It’s got the strength, it’s got the streaming features, it doesn’t overheat and has a reasonable battery. Too bad it looks exactly like the cheaper ZenFone 5 and you can’t tell which is which. I think that people paying a premium should get to enjoy a distinctive sign on their device.

At least give us a different color of the case. But overall I find it to be an underestimated gaming phone and pretty good for filming and selfies. You can buy one here.