Review: ASUS Zenfone 5, priced at P6,995

Alora Uy Guerrero
·Editor. You may tweet her at @aloraguerrero.

Specs of the ASUS Zenfone 5 (Price in the Philippines: P6,995):
Dual SIM
1.6GHz dual-core Intel Z2560 processor
16GB internal storage
microSD card slot (up to 64GB)
5-inch IPS display with Corning Gorilla Glass 3 (720 x 1,280 resolution)
8-megapixel rear camera with LED flash
2-megapixel front camera
2,110mAh lithium-polymer battery
Android Jelly Bean 4.3

What can you expect from a smartphone priced under P7,000? A lot, judging from what we've seen of the ASUS Zenfone 5.

It retails for P6,995 and offers a solid hardware with plenty of processing power and class-leading storage space; a main camera that excels in low-light situations and is fittingly complemented by a great set of shooting options; and battery life that's above the industry average.

There's a surprisingly useful collection of preinstalled software baked into a custom Android Jelly Bean 4.3 interface as well.

Both 5-inchers: ASUS Zenfone 5 vs HTC One M8. The Zenfone is taller and wider. And to think that the M8 is considered to be one of the longest phones in its class.
Both 5-inchers: ASUS Zenfone 5 vs HTC One M8. The Zenfone is taller and wider. And to think that the M8 is considered to be one of the longest phones in its class.

Physically, the ASUS Zenfone 5 is too tall and too wide for a five-incher. And although the bottom lip looks nice and pays homage to the Taiwanese company's Zenbook lid design, ASUS could have resisted the urge to remind us of the Zenfone's roots in favor of a smaller footprint. After all, the most visible design element of the phone is the firm's branding on the front and on the back.

Despite its bloated dimensions, though, we're fairly certain the Zenfone 5 can be used one-handed by most people without the need for serious finger gymnastics.

We also wish the capacitive buttons were illuminated and positioned closer to each other to make them easier to find in the dark, and that ASUS worked on the built-in speaker more. You see, the sound coming from it is weak and lacks range, even after you take into account the company's AudioWizard app.

However, we do appreciate things like a sturdy construction and a choice of five back-cover colors—black, gold, red, violet, and white—all of which are available locally, in addition to a recent apps key in place of the usual menu shortcut.

Display quality is another bright spot. The ASUS Zenfone 5 has a 5-inch 720p IPS display that delivers rich colors and consistently good viewing angles. Unlike majority of handsets in its price range, it comes standard with Corning Gorilla Glass 3 for scratch resistance, which should make the cover glass less vulnerable to keys, change, and other hard objects in your pocket. ASUS has also incorporated a display-calibration app, which allows you to adjust the color temperature, hue, and saturation to your liking.

There's a 2-megapixel camera up front that supports 720p video recording. Unfortunately, it offers a limited field of view, making it improbable to frame a shot with more than two people in landscape mode. Selfies in portrait mode are just that—selfies.

Around the back, you'll find an 8-megapixel shooter that records up to 1080p video, alongside an LED flash.

In most cases, the image quality is decent; colors appear accurate; and details are immediately visible, if a tad soft. But where the ASUS Zenfone 5 really stands out is in its ability to capture brighter images in pitch-black darkness, which is a rare feat for any mobile device, let alone something that's priced so aggressively.

A healthy selection of shooting modes, including the obligatory high-dynamic range and panorama, adds value to an already admirable camera package.

In general, there is nothing negative to be said about the performance of the Zenfone 5. While the 1.6GHz dual-core Intel processor here isn't as blazing-fast as you'd find on a premium quad-core or octa-core offering, it is up to most smartphone tasks. Not to mention the 2GB of RAM is enough to keep a ton of apps happily running in the background.

Another plus: The 16GB of onboard storage is at least twice that of competing models.

As for ASUS' ZenUI on the Zenfone 5, we're happy to report that it is fluid and responsive, despite being built around an aging Android Jelly Bean 4.3.

The company has thrown in a fantastic suite of apps to extend the device's abilities without relying on third-party software. Want to lock specific apps to keep your emails and text messages private, for when you hand your phone over to someone to show that person a cute cat video? You can. Want to access your handset on your PC? Use the PC Link app. Want a more comfortable reading experience? Flip the switch in reading mode. There's more, but these were the highlights for us.

By themselves, the bundled apps aren't all that impressive, but taken as a whole, they provide a much-improved user experience.

Can this budget smartphone last long? The sealed 2,110mAh lithium-polymer battery holds enough charge to get us through a day and a half of normal use, which is more than can be said of the competition. As for the more formal battery-rundown test, where we turn on the WiFi and set the brightness level to 50 percent, the handset managed 6 hours and 42 minutes of continuous HD video playback.

So what's our verdict after more than a month of using the ASUS Zenfone 5? We're smitten with it for several reasons. ASUS has done a brilliant job of putting together a device that brings a compelling mix of hardware and software features without pushing past a particular price ceiling. With few compromises and a P6,995 price tag, this is the budget smartphone to get.


What's hot
- Solid hardware with several color options
- Lovely 5-inch IPS display with Corning Gorilla Glass 3
- Impressive low-light performance
- Fast and responsive
- Generous serving of RAM and onboard storage
- Refreshing UI coupled with useful preinstalled apps
- Above-average battery life
- Attractive price

What's not
- Too tall and too wide for a 5-inch phone
- Capacitive buttons are not backlit
- Narrow field of view for selfie camera

Got questions? Tweet us at @aloraguerrero.