Asus ZenFone 6 review: Spin to win

Asus ditches the notch once and for all, but the ZenFone 6’s curious camera system might not be the answer

Editor's Choice
Price
£416
  • Impressive battery life; Superb value for money; Unique flippable camera
  • 48-megapixel camera has some problems

The quest for a 100% full-screen smartphone has turned into a troublesome journey. That pesky selfie camera and earpiece speaker keep getting in the way of the austere, minimalist frontage we so desperately crave.

There's no shortage of attempts to solve the problem. Screen notches, vibrating displays and pop-up cameras have all been put forward, but often these introduce their own set of problems.

Asus, however, has a new approach. The ZenFone 6 tackles the problem by ditching the selfie camera altogether, with the rear-mounted camera unit rotating towards the front of the phone instead.

Asus ZenFone 6 review: Design

Let's start with what isn't unusual first. The ZenFone 6 is Asus' flagship phone for 2019 and, aside from that curious camera, everything else is typical smartphone fare.

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The phone is constructed from a single block of aluminium, sits nicely in the hand, and feels just as special to hold as any other modern flagship. Mind you, the ZenFone 6 can be picked up only in boring black or silver colour schemes at launch, and it doesn't benefit from the same shimmering, reflective two-tone rear as the Huawei P30 or Samsung Galaxy S10.

There's nothing out of the ordinary when it comes to the phone's various physical elements, either. The power key, Google Assistant button and volume rocker sit on the right edge of the phone, with a USB-C charging port sensibly placed on the bottom. Rather than following the trend for in-screen sensors, Asus has instead opted for a rear-mounted fingerprint reader, placed just above the middle of the phone.

It's also worth noting the trio of slots on offer here, because - unusually - you can slip in two SIMs and a microSD card up to 2TB. Most phones offer two slots, the second of which can normally be used for either a SIM or a microSD card. Asus includes a 3.5mm audio jack too.

Unsurprisingly, the ZenFone 6 runs the latest version of Android, with Asus' own ZenUI 6 software overlay layered over the top. Much like Google's Pixel launcher, this keeps the stock Android look and feel with only a few minor tweaks.

Some of these unique features are quite handy. A system-wide dark mode can be enabled in the settings, while the rear-mounted fingerprint reader can be used for navigation. Double-tapping the display wakes up the phone and the ZenFone 6 can also automatically adjust speaker volume based on noise levels in the environment.

Asus ZenFone 6 review: Display

The ZenFone 6's front is what dominates your first impressions, with a whopping 6.4in IPS display. While a resolution of 2,340 x 1,080 is nothing special, its support for the HDR10 standard is. This means it's capable of producing a wide range of colours, with brighter whites and a deep, inky-looking black. HDR-enriched content on Netflix looks particularly good.

When placed under the scrutiny of our screen calibrator, we found the ZenFone 6's IPS panel was capable of delivering 87% of the sRGB colour gamut on the phone's "standard" display mode, with an average Delta E of 2.27. Colours looked neutral and accurate, with only dark red tones producing slight oversaturation.

It's a great-quality display in other departments, too. A contrast ratio of 1,158:8 is welcome, while the peak brightness of 549cd/m2 is good enough to stop you squinting at your Facebook feed in the summer sun. Just watch out when you don your polarized sunglasses; the phone's polarizing filter, which helps to reduce glare in direct sunlight, will make it difficult to see the screen while you have them on.

Asus ZenFone 6 review: Specs and performance

The ZenFone 6 is powered by Qualcomm's most powerful chipset, the Snapdragon 855. This is an octa-core processor clocked at 2.84GHz, and built using a more efficient 7nm fabrication process, so it promises vastly improved speeds over last year's ZenFone 5Z. This is backed by up to 8GB of RAM and a generous 128GB or 256GB of expandable storage.

In benchmarks, the ZenFone 6 is faster than previous-generation handsets, providing similar levels of performance to most rivals using the most up-to-date silicon. The Geekbench 4 single- and multicore CPU tests recorded results of 3,529 and 11,131, which suggests that little else outside of Apple's A12 Bionic-fitted iPhones could perform any better.

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Perhaps even more impressive, however, is the ZenFone 6's overall stamina. With a 5,000mAh capacity, it has the largest battery we've seen in a flagship in quite some time, and that translates to some long-lasting stints away from the wall socket. Our video rundown test recorded a total result of 22hrs 36mins before the ZenFone 6 needed a recharge. Of its rivals, only the Xiaomi Mi 9 has lasted longer.

Note that Asus bundles an 18W charger, and with support for Qualcomm's Quick Charge 4 standard you can give it a splash and dash if necessary or charge it up from zero to full in around two hours. There's no wireless charging, though.

Asus ZenFone 6 review: Camera

Finally to the ZenFone 6's unique selling point. With no selfie camera embedded into the front of the phone, how exactly are you going to capture all those Instagram vanity shots?

Well, Asus gets around this predicament by including a bizarre, movable camera. Simply open the camera app and tap the selfie button, or ask Google Assistant to take a selfie. This rapidly spins the camera on its axis 180 degrees. It's as simple as that. One extra nice touch is that you can adjust the angle however you see fit using the manual controls in the camera app.

It also allows for automatic vertical and horizontal panorama photography, with the camera steadily moving upwards without having to move the phone itself. And it means you can use all the advanced shooting modes normally jettisoned on front cameras, such as time-lapse, night shot and wide-angle photography. Plus 4K video recording at 60fps with electronic image stabilisation enabled.

Asus says the camera mechanism has been tested for more than 100,000 uses, which is supposedly the same as using the selfie camera 28 times a day, every day, for five years. It also has drop protection, retracting back into its hole if it identifies that the phone has fallen out of your hand.

In terms of specifications, the camera incorporates a 48-megapixel Sony IMX586 sensor with a relatively wide f/1.8 aperture. We've previously seen this high-megapixel camera unit in the OnePlus 7 Pro. Here it works in tandem with a secondary, 13-megapixel camera unit, featuring a wide-angle, 125-degree sensor.

Like the OnePlus 7 Pro, the ZenFone 6 captures 12-megapixel images by default, rather than the maximum 48 megapixels. This may seem odd - note you'll have to dig into the fiddly camera settings to increase the resolution - but in reality it's a good thing because 12-megapixel images look significantly better.

The 48-megapixel camera appears to suffer from a particularly aggressive noise reduction algorithm, which is a problem we've previously identified with the OnePlus 7 Pro. To generalise, images looked smeary, as if someone had brushed over them with an egg wash. And low-light pictures are dramatically overexposed.

Thankfully, so long as you stay away from the odd-looking 48-megapixel mode, pictures look good in normal lighting. The 12-megapixel setting manages to capture plenty of detail, with sharp, clean-looking images and a pleasingly neutral colour palette. The level of detail doesn't match the Xiaomi Mi 9, but these are shots you'll be proud to share.

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Photos in low light aren't quite as good. While the night mode tends to do a good job of accentuating finer details and brightening up the image, there's still a noticeable amount of visual noise and some telltale signs of compression artifacting. On the other hand, the secondary wide-angle camera does a great job at capturing people-packed selfies.

Asus ZenFone 6 review: Verdict

Asus provides two versions of the ZenFone 6. The entry-level specification, which we tested, comes with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. That costs 499, which is a competitive price when rivals such as OnePlus are continuously pushing up their prices. The 8GB/256GB version costs another 100, but even that undercuts the ZenFone 6's competition.

For these prices, at this specification, Asus' only rival is Xiaomi's Mi 9, which also costs 499 and comes with the same internal spec, an AMOLED display and a superb rear camera arrangement. In the ZenFone 6's corner: an HDR10 screen, huge battery and that odd rotatable camera (which does have its advantages).

Is this where notchless phones are ultimately headed? Probably not, but there's a heck of a lot more on offer here than a spinnable camera. Asus' latest smartphone is its best yet, successfully providing a sublime, well-rounded package for not much money.

Processor

Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 (1x2.84GHz, 3x2.41GHz, 4x1.78GHz)

RAM

6GB or 8GB

Screen size

6.4in

Screen resolution

2,340 x 1,080

Pixel density

403ppi

Screen type

IPS

Front camera

N/A

Rear camera

48-megapixel f/1.8, 13-megapixel f/2.4

Flash

Dual-LED

Dust and water resistance

N/A

3.5mm headphone jack

Yes

Wireless charging

No

USB connection type

USB Type-C

Storage options

128GB, 256GB

Memory card slot (supplied)

microSD (up to 1TB)

Wi-Fi

802.11ac

Bluetooth

5

NFC

Yes

Cellular data

4G

Dual SIM

Yes (shared with microSD)

Dimensions (WDH)

159 x 75 x 9.2 mm

Weight

190g

Operating system

Android 9

Battery size

5,000mAh

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