- Good overall performance
- Smart user interface
- Comfortable and well designed
- Weak, non-replaceable battery
- Average camera
Asus’s Zenfone 5 rocks a compact, curvaceous body and an 8-megapixel camera, plus the slick ZenUI interface. But will it give you a Zen-like feeling? Here's our full Zenfone 5 review.
At £160 SIM-free for the 8GB version (£230 for the 16GB edition) the Zenfone 5 is nicely priced too, but how does it really measure up to rivals such as the excellent Motorola Moto G? Do those 5-inches hit the sweet spot, or are cheaply-priced competitors a better option?
Asus Zenfone 5 design: Fantastic Five (inches)
Many a phone review begins with nudge-nudge comments along the lines of ‘it feels really good in the hand’, but in all seriousness, the five inch Zenfone 5 feels just right when you fondle it.
While we appreciate that size really is a matter of personal preference, and those with dinkier digits might prefer something more compact like the Zenfone 4, Asus has done a good job of making the Zenfone 5 feel comfortable to use.
The curved plastic shell sits comfortably in your palm and it’s pleasingly lightweight, but not flimsy feeling. The power key and volume controls are intelligently positioned, if biased towards right-handed people. Maybe Ned Flanders will start stocking Zenfone variants in the Leftorium. The bottom corners might dig into the heel of your hand a bit, especially if you’ve got smaller hands, but using the Zenfone 5 is rarely a burden.
We’re a little unsure about the chin of the phone - a featureless tab that comes with the same lenticular effect seen on the other Zenfones. It doesn’t look terrible, it just looks a little out of place with the rest of the phone’s body.
The plastic shell on the back peels off easily and securely snaps back into place. Viewed front-wise, the Zenfone 5 is entirely black, but at least the back cover supplies a dash of colour. You can choose standard-issue black and white variants if you really want, but Asus provides the option of some colourful metallic hues - ours came in a fetching white gold jacket, or ‘Champagne Gold’ as Asus call it.
As with Nokia’s Lumia phones, you’re free to switch the back covers out if you get bored of the Twilight Purple and Cherry Red bodies.
Asus Zenfone 5 screen and media: 720p HD to go
While there are phones with higher resolution screens out there, the 720p HD (1280 x 720) panel of the Zenfone 5 is a decent mid-ranger and the IPS technology means that viewing angles are great.
Icons looks sharp and colourful and web pages look as crisp as you’d like them to. We also enjoyed streaming video from services such as BBC iPlayer.
Frustratingly, the Zenfone 5’s screen is both too bright and not bright enough. At its lowest setting, it’s too bright for you to comfortably check those last few emails in bed before you drift off to sleep. Conversely, while we were out and about, we would have liked a bit more punch to improve daytime visibility.
Thankfully there is a Reading Mode option, which makes the Zenfone 5 kinder to your peepers if you’re browsing at night, but there’s no equivalent option for those very sunny days. Then again, if you’re reading this in the UK, you’ll know we get about eight days of unbroken sunshine a year, so it might not be that big a deal.
The Corning Gorilla Glass 3 layer does offer a welcome degree of protection, but the highly reflective coating also means that overhead lights, sunshine and other sources of glare will be bounced right back into your eyes.
Storage-wise you get either 8GB or 16GB, depending on which option you plump for. The review model we were sent was a 16GB edition - roughly 14GB of this is made available to you.
We’re not sure how much you get with the 8GB model but other reviews from around the web report between 4 to 5GB of free space.
If that isn’t enough, Asus will let you store up to 5GB in its own WebStorage cloud locker for free, forever. Finally, there’s a microSD card slot which will accept cards of up to 64GB in size. You really are spoilt for choice when it comes to storage options.
Asus Zenfone 5 user interface: Zensational
We’ve waxed (and waned) lyrical about what the ZenUI brings to the table on our Zenfone 4 review, but to recap quickly, it’s a rejiggered Android interface that adds some slick new functionality, all with an elegant finish.
There’s something about that bright, bold and colourful presentation that makes fiddling with the phone easy and oddly enjoyable. We particularly liked the Boost option, which clears out and temporary data from the RAM, giving you a little boost in productivity. Useful if you’ve just been browsing a lot of web pages and you then want to hunker down and catch up with Doctor Who.
Asus Zenfone 5 performance and battery life: Human Zentipede
It’s not all good news, unfortunately. The Zenfone 5’s 2110mAh battery, for instance, is a serious weak point.
The screengrabs below tell the whole story. Leaving home at 7:00AM with a full tank, I checked a few emails, kept an eye on train times, sent a few texts and recorded a meeting. By lunchtime, the battery was already hovering over the 20 per cent mark. Is this really acceptable?
And like a sadistic surgeon unnecessarily suturing backpackers together, Asus has decided that the Zenfone 5’s battery must be permanently fused with the rest of the phone. You’re forever consigned to keeping one eye on the battery meter while the other scans for any available mains sockets.
While the battery of the smaller Zenfone 4 is also not exactly a winner, at least that’s replaceable. The battery of the bigger Zenfone 6 might be non removable, but as it turns out that’s less of a problem - the battery performance there is solid. Of all the Zenfone siblings, it’s easy to see who got all the recessive genes.
It’s a shame because the overall performance of the Zenfone 5 isn’t bad. The 1.6GHz dual-core Intel chip (Atom Z2560) and 2GB of RAM mean that basic tasks are handled nicely - swishing through the main menus and flitting through web pages feels very slick.
That aforementioned Boost feature comes into its own here - if you’re used to browsing with a large number of tabs open and checking Facebook frequently, you may experience some sluggishness. In this case it’s sometimes best to dive into the settings and force stop Facebook and whichever browser you’re using if the Boost doesn’t improve things.
Asus Zenfone 5 camera: Zenraging
The Zenfone 5’s camera is also very average. Fair enough, there are some neat features and effects like the Night Mode option, which automatically presents itself to you - in the form of a funny owl icon - when it thinks you’re about to take a snap in a poorly-lit area.
This is good for nights out or other situations, like a romantic candlelit dinner, which you might want to document for posterity.
Other features readily available include a burst shot mode (labelled ‘Turbo’) and the usual filters.
The bad news is that the camera itself is not that good. While occasionally it’ll take passable snaps, it’s not always great at focussing on objects whether they’re distant or up close to the lens. Because of this, your snaps will sometimes result in some lost (read: blurry) opportunities, such as when some passers-by handed this reviewer’s friend a python in the streets. No, really.
Video doesn’t fare much better either. 1080p footage played back on the Zenfone 5 looks jerky and arthritic. While it looks better when played back on a monitor, it doesn't do anything to disguise the fact that the sound quality is pretty horrible.
For a £160 phone, we don’t expect the Zenfone 5’s camera to go toe-to-toe to outperform something like the Sony Xperia Z3 or the iPhone 6. But frankly, it’s just a bit of a pain to use.
Asus Zenfone 5 verdict: Not quite tranzendental
The Asus Zenfone 5 is nicely-designed budget phone with a cool user interface, a plethora of storage options and a reasonable price to boot.
However our enthusiasm is hobbled by the fact that the battery is rubbish - and it’s not replaceable, a cardinal sin.
The camera too isn’t much to write home about either, but if your primary concern is getting a cheap phone to check social networks on and browse the web then the Zenfone 5 won’t disappoint. Performance-wise it can’t touch the Motorola New Moto G (2014) but at the same time it’s miles better than the truly ropey Sony Xperia E1.
- Android 4.4 KitKat
- 8MP with LED flash
- Intel Atom Z2580