Asus Zenfone 5 review

£180
Price when reviewed

The Asus Zenfone 5 marks the debut of Asus’ new range of smartphones. This handsome handset partners a 5in screen and Intel hardware and makes a bid to snatch the limelight from budget favourites such as the £100 Motorola Moto G and the £145 Moto G (2nd Gen.). See also:what’s the best smartphone of 2014?

Asus Zenfone 5 review: design

The Zenfone 5 punches above its weight in terms of design. Our review unit came in a rich, lustrous red, the handset’s subtly textured plastic back panel curving softly towards deadly straight edges. At the front, a layer of Gorilla Glass 3 stretches from corner to corner, and the Zenfone 5’s attractive looks are enhanced by the slender bezels that frame the 720 x 1,280 IPS panel. At 146g, it’s reasonably light for a 5in phone, and build quality is excellent, with precious little flex to be found.

Asus Zenfone 5

Asus Zenfone 5 review: performance and battery

The Zenfone 5 runs Android 4.3, but it’s the ZenUI custom overlay that takes centre-stage. Every corner of the OS has been subtly tweaked, and Asus has primped and preened Android, ushering in clean, uncluttered menus and simple, bold icons. The elegant lockscreen gives an at-a-glance list of upcoming calendar events and current weather conditions, and the Quick Settings panel has been expanded, with an ever-present screen brightness slider making it quick and easy to adjust the display brightness or toggle auto-brightness. Delve into the App Drawer, meanwhile, and filters along the bottom of the screen switch between frequently used and downloaded apps.

Asus has equipped the Zenfone 5 with a 1.6GHz Intel Atom Z2560 SoC and a generous 2GB of RAM; it’s a reasonably capable pairing that turned in a raft of decent benchmark scores. It worked through the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark in a reasonable 1,053ms and achieved single- and multi-core scores of 468 and 1069 in Geekbench 3. That’s quick enough to put the Asus just behind the Moto G’s Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 – that handset racked up single- and multi-core scores of 535 and 1,285 in Geekbench 3.

The Zenfone’s gaming capability was rather less impressive, however. In the GFXBench T-Rex benchmark, the handset struggled through with an average frame rate of 11fps. There’s still more than enough power for most titles, however. Even high-performance games such as Asphalt 8: Airborne saw very few dropped frames when played on low or medium graphics settings – it was only once we cranked up the detail that the Intel hardware started to struggle.

Battery life is a high point, and the Zenfone 5’s 2,100mAh battery helped it to outlast its budget competitors. With Wi-Fi turned off and the screen calibrated to a brightness of 120cd/m2, playing a 720p video used 13% of the battery capacity an hour. The Asus repeated the feat in our 3G audio playback tests; with the screen turned off, the Zenfone 5 sipped a mere 7% an hour.

Asus Zenfone 5

Asus Zenfone 5 review: screen

Asus hasn’t excelled itself in the display department, however. The Zenfone 5’s 5in, 720 x 1,280 IPS panel looks pleasingly crisp, and the contrast ratio of 800:1 serves up punchy, detailed images. That said, it’s not all good news. Brightness tops out at a disappointing 182cd/m2, which is less than half the brightness of rival handsets – the Moto G and Galaxy Ace 3 achieved a maximum luminance of 436cd/m2 and 395cd/m2 respectively. Take the Zenfone 5 outside on a bright day and the screen quickly washes out and becomes difficult to use.

Asus Zenfone 5 review: camera and connectivity

The Zenfone 5’s 8-megapixel PixelMaster rear camera is packed with apps and features, such as a low-light mode, which works surprisingly well; a Selfie mode, which automatically detects and focuses on faces within the frame; and a depth-of-field mode. In our tests, it dredged up vastly more detail than the Moto G’s 5-megapixel snapper, and while heavy-handed image processing tends to add a grainy quality to images, the results are good for a budget phone. Videos are less impressive, though, and our test videos exhibited a lot of handshake due to the absence of image stabilisation. The 1.8-megapixel front camera is fine for the occasional selfie or video chat, but it’s nowhere near as good as the rear camera – our test shots were washed with a cold, blue tinge.

Connectivity doesn’t throw up any surprises. There’s single-band 802.11bgn Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4 and a micro-SD card reader, which makes it possible to add an extra 64GB of storage to the 8GB provided. The only niggle is a minor one: the microSD card is hidden behind the back panel, so it’s necessary to snap the panel on and off every time you need to get at it.

Asus Zenfone 5

Asus Zenfone 5 review: verdict

The Asus Zenfone 5 has all the hallmarks of a cracking mid-range smartphone. The battery life is excellent, the camera puts in a decent showing and the performance isn’t far off those of its main budget rivals. The display’s lacklustre backlight is unforgivable, though: even at this price, we’d expect better. As a result, Motorola’s 4.5in Moto G remains a far more capable all-rounder. Even if you’re dead-set on a phone with a larger screen, we’d hold fire – we suspect the forthcoming 5in Moto G2 may be the phone you’ve been waiting for.

Details

Physical

Dimensions 73 x 10.4 x 148mm (WDH)
Weight 146.000kg
Touchscreen yes

Core Specifications

RAM capacity 2MB
Camera megapixel rating 8.0mp
Front-facing camera? yes
Video capture? yes

Display

Screen size 5.1in
Resolution 1280 x 720

Other wireless standards

Bluetooth support yes
Integrated GPS yes

Software

OS family Android

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