ASUS ZenFone 5Z Review: Is It Still a Good Catch this 2019?


So this ASUS ZenFone 5Z smartphone has been around in the Philippines for almost a year and I have been using this phone for a couple of weeks now. Today, after sharing my initial post about unboxing the phone, I am sharing here with you my review of this phone, my thoughts on this phone, as well as if this is a good catch even after a year of its release here in the local market.

DESIGN, PORTS, & ACCESSORIES

There are three smartphone variants under this series, the most affordable being the ZenFone 5Q now at Php9,995, the standard ZenFone 5 currently priced at Php14,995, and this ZenFone 5Z at Php29,990. Among the three, the 5Z packs the most powerful specs, RAM and storage. In terms of design, the 5Q variant is slightly different. But the 5 and the 5Z sport exactly the same looks.  Like 100% from top to bottom, the notch, the screen size and resolution, front and back, the materials used and more. That's not a bad thing though, I guess there are just some people who would like to see some design features that differentiate one variant from another of the same series.

The front and back panel of the ZenFone 5Z is made of glass materials with unnamed Gorilla Glass in the mix sandwiching an aerospace grade aluminum chassis which is very light and super strong type of materials to use for gadgets like this. The edges of the front and back glasses are curved giving the device real premium look and feel. The back panel, although it's glossy, smooth, and shiny, it feels really tough. In fact, the phone accidentally fell to a solid ground from a waist-high table while being charged, my heart jumped for a bit, but thankfully the phone is perfectly fine.


What added more touch to the back cover is the non-textured concentric design pattern that's unique to ASUS devices. It is more noticeable when light hits the surface and the pattern moves around as the phone moves against the light source.

As for its ports and accessories, the back as you can see has the traditional fingerprint scanner that as expected works really fast and accurate all the time. On the right side are the volume rocker and power button, while on the other side is the SIM tray that can hold either two SIM cards at the same time or one SIM and one microSD card. There is also another noise cancelling mic next to it apart from first on situated at the top of the device. And then right at the bottom are the 3.5mm audiojack, mic, and the dual speakers (secondary one located in the earpiece together with the selfie camera and proximity sensor in the notch). This is a 5-magnet speaker with dual NXP Smart Amp which makes the phone produce loud and deep with less distortion audio and better surround sound quality. And last but not definitely not the least, is the USB Type-C port right in the middle.

Together with the device itself inside the box are the clear case, a pair of ASUS ZenEar Pro Hi-Res earphones with mic, a USB Type-C cable and an 18W power adapter with fast charging tech.

SPECS & FEATURES

The ASUS ZenFone 5Z is packed with Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor and Adreno 630 GPU. That may already sound a bit outdated chipset to you because we now have the next-gen Snapdragon 855 processor out in the market. However, when this phone was launched during last year's Mobile World Congress, it was one of the first phones to offer the then-most powerful Snapdragon chip, and it was one of the most affordable flagship smartphones too. Alongside it is 6GB of RAM and 128GB native storage that is expandable via microSD card up to 2TB via SIM 2 slot. There was an 8GB/256GB version of this model that never made its way to the Philippines.


The display on this smartphone measures at 6.2" with 19:9 aspect ratio and resolution at Full HD+. The notch holds the 8MP selfie camera, earpiece, secondary speaker, proximity sensor and LED notification light.

Yes there is a notch like so many Android smartphones that were released in 2018. But the ZenFone 5 and ZenFone 5z were two of the first non-iOS devices to adapt this design early last year. And whether we like the notched screen or not, this is not the concern anymore with this device. Thanks to its recent Android 9 Pie software update, that notch can now be completely hidden via display settings and it will stay like that until you switch it back on.

I did not have much time with the phone while it was on Android Oreo (its default and initial running software right out of the box) as I was immediately notified of the Android 9 Pie update as soon as I connected the phone to the internet. But I guess there was no point anymore in doing so, I mean no one wants to use an old version of the Android system when the update is already rolled out and available right? However, I mentioned it because I would like to point out if the notch was visible all the time during its Oreo days, which in this case I don't know since I right away updated the system. But now that this phone is already on Android Pie, one of the great improvements I noticed is how the system manages the visibility of the notch even without intentionally hiding it.

With the notch, one of the reasons why many people did not like it is how annoying it stands out when watching videos in full screen, or playing games on devices. On the ZenFone 5z, again even if the notch is activated, the system automatically blacks it out when streaming videos in full screen or playing games which still gives me a real full 19:9 aspect ratio display without any screen cutout in sight. I am not a hardcore mobile gamer, but I watch tons and tons of videos on YouTube and Netflix all the time, so these little notch-managing features on the ZenFone 5z just make the already-great experience this phone has been providing me even better.


PERFORMANCE & BATTERY

In terms of overall performance of the ZenFone 5Z, it would say, it's superb all the way. Since booting up the device for the very first time up until this very moment as I write this review, the phone has been working perfectly fine without any issue. Navigating across the platform, switching from one app to another, playing games whenever I can, online streaming, down to social media browsing, the device has been nothing but buttery smooth and blazingly fast in executing all the tasks I require of it. I know, it is not a perfect device, but so far everything has been great with this phone.

Its screen does not have an AMOLED but an IPS LCD display, the display quality is super sharp and vividly clear thanks to its 1080p resolution. Viewing angle is very good and its brightness can go as high as 550 nits so outdoor use during daytime is not an issue either. The phone sports 96% NTSC color gamut which makes the display's color reproduction really great, vibrant and pop.

The Qualcomm Artificial Intelligence Engine that is embedded in this device contributes a lot to the phone's overall performance. The amount of AI on this device is one of the features being highlighted by ASUS during its presentation. ASUS claims there are AI in the cameras (more below), battery, in the Gallery app and more.

Keeping the power on is a 3300mAh battery that supports quick charge alongside the 18W power charger that comes with the phone in the packaging. ASUS even included an AI Charging on this part of the phone. What it offers is it tries to learn daily charging pattern of the user like duration of each charge and time of the day then learns when to apply the fast charging feature and when not to. For example, if the phone charger is connected after 10PM, it will slow down the charging progress all through the night and fully charges the phone in the morning just before you wake up.

Does this AI Charging really work? That I cannot confirm, because like I mentioned in the unboxing article, the review unit I got did not come with the charging cable in the box. So I had no choice but to use a third-party USB Type C cable which appears to be not compatible with the phone and charger's fast charging system as it takes me hours to fully charge it, like up to fours most of the time. But in terms of battery life per charge, I can definitely notice that its longevity lasts longer than other smartphones that I have used with same battery capacity. So having battery life for the whole day while out of the house or away from any charging stations, is not going to be an concern here.

CAMERAS

Speaking of AI, the camera department of this device is absolutely equipped with one. One of its main functions is to identify the subject being captured such as food, sky, dog, flowers, sunset, and many others up to 16 different scenes and intelligently adjust settings to produce the best possible version of the photo. In addition to the AI Camera, there is also what ASUS calls the Color Correction Sensor in the mix. It comes into the scene when the captured photo is too warm, too cool or a mix of both, and then adjust the colors in the photo to look more natural and accurate. Phase Detection Autofocus also works really fast and accurate on this one. 

We know that ASUS is one of those companies that produces best smartphone cameras in the industry. So having AI in its great camera systems, really works for the users. I am not very good at mobile photography, my skills in taking photos I would say about average. But despite that, the ZenFone 5Z's cameras helped me shoot better photos right out of its Auto mode. If you are a photographer or mobile photography enthusiast, I am pretty sure you will find this device  to be one of the best camera smartphones around. In case you wonder, yes there is still the Pro mode available in the camera here giving you more freedom in capturing your photos.

Although I have already shared some of the photos I captured on ZenFone 5z in  my unboxing post, I would like to share some other more below of photos I find worth sharing. Note again that these photos were captured using the Auto mode and nothing went through the post capture editing process. The same thing for the video samples embedded below.


























As you can see in the sample videos above, one of its most striking qualities is how steady each clip is. That thanks to the camera's Electronic Image Stabilization (EIS) feature. By default, this feature is automatically turned on regardless of the video resolution you are recording at. By the way users can record up to 4K with up to 60fps. 1080 videos also available in 30 or 60fps. Both front and rear cameras have EIS. For photos, on the other hand, the lenses use Optical Image Stabilization for shake-free images.

The only issue, I guess, I can find with this EIS technology is that while videos are super steady, you can easily notice slight jitters in the clip when panning the scene or when the situation in extremely shakey upon recording the video such as while riding a vehicle. Apart from that, everything works like magic.

So in addition to the AI in its photography side of things, ASUS also included an AI Boost in this phone's system. What it does, according to ASUS, is that it provides an instant boost in its performance when needed to run demanding apps like graphically-rich games or even play extremely high definition videos. Once a heavy and demanding app is launched, AI Boost will automatically detects it and adjusts the resources to provide the most optimized performance. Users can also manually activate it from the quick settings window.

FINAL THOUGHTS

So as asked in the title of this review, is the ASUS ZenFone 5z still a good catch this year? In terms of premium design, performance, overall quality especially in the camera department, the short answer is definitely yes. Though Snapdragon 855 is the latest processor from Qualcomm, not only the selection of devices is very few, they are super expensive at the moment. Snapdragon 845 is still a pretty capable smartphone and can definitely execute any task you throw at it without any issue.

However, pricing wise, it's now kind of hard to say the same thing. There are now other smartphones from the competitions that are powered by the same chip and packs almost the same amount of RAM, storage, and specs right off the bat which translates to almost the same performance and experience if not better, but priced way way more affordable. For example, the Pocophone F1, when locally released in October of last year, it had a Php17,990 price tag but can now be had for as low as Php15K. There is also the Xiaomi Mi 8 Pro at Php27,999, Mi Mix 9 with Php26,500 asking price and of course the OnePlus 6 that is now at Php25,990.

Weirdly enough, ASUS Philippines has never discounted this ZenFone 5Z device since its official local release, while the ZenFone 5Q and ZenFone 5 have have already been discounted more than once. And for that reason, I guess it's about time to make this particular variant to be more affordable than its current asking price to keep up with the competition. Most especially now that the upcoming ZenFone 6 series is already scheduled to be launched as early as this coming May 6.

ASUS ZenFone 5z specs:
  • 6.2-inch Full HD+ IPS Display
  • 2246 x 1080 resolution
  • 19:9 aspect ratio
  • 2.5D curved glass (front and back)
  • Octa-core Snapdragon 845 processor with Qualcomm AI Engine
  • Adreno 630 GPU
  • 6GB RAM
  • 128GB internal storage
  • Supports microSD card
  • 12MP + 8MP dual rear cameras with Sony IMX363 sensor, f1.8 aperture, LED flash, OIS for photo, EIS for video, and AI tech
  • 8MP front camera with 120-degree wideangle lens and f2.0 aperture
  • Android 8.1 Oreo with ZenUI 5.0 (now upgradable to Android 9 Pie)
  • WiFi, Bluetooth 5.0, GPS, NFC, GLONASS
  • 3 noise cancelling microphones
  • Dual SIM
  • 4G LTE
  • USB Type-C
  • Fingerprint Scanner
  • Face Unlock
  • 3.5mm audiojack
  • Midnight Blue, Meteor Silver
  • BoostMaster and AI Charging
  • 3300mAh battery 
  • Php29,995

As of posting, this ZenFone 5Z is still available nationwide for Php29,995. You can visit any ASUS-authorized retailers, ZenFone concept stores, and kiosks near you. Or you may purchase your unit from ASUS official online stores on Lazada and Shopee.

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