- Slick performance
- Long battery life
- Strong feature-packed camera
- Screen isn't Full HD
- Lack of creativity features
We review the phablet-sized Zenfone 6, a 6-inch Android phone packing a high-performing Intel processor and a gajillion camera features.
Asus has just launched three great-value new Zenfone smartphones, nicknamed 4, 5 and 6 based on the size of their screens. We’ve already reviewed the cool little 4-inch model, but the Zenfone 6 is a very different prospect.
This mighty 6-inch phablet packs in even more power and a prettier screen than its dinky sibling, and yet manages to slim down the body a bit. But is it a must-have phablet, beating off competition from supersized rivals such as the Sony Xperia T3?
Asus Zenfone 6 design
At 9.9mm the Zenfone 6 is actually slimmer than the compact Zenfone 4, although the 196g weight and wide body mean you’ll definitely feel it in your pocket, like all phablets. The Zenfone 6 is a smidgen bigger than rival phablets such as Samsung’s Galaxy Note 3, although it still can’t beat the mighty 6.4-inch Sony Xperia Z Ultra for sheer stature.
The soft-touch rear and balanced weight make it reasonably comfortable to clutch with one hand, but you’ll definitely need to operate the screen with your other. And like the Zenfone 4, you can prise the 6-incher’s backing off to reveal the SIM card slot and microSD memory card slot – although this time the battery can’t be removed.
So the Zenfone 6 is quite a beast, but it feels like Asus has made the most of the space on offer, filling most of the front panel with the 6-inch screen. The jutting lip underneath seems a lot less obvious, while adding some class with the spiral design.
And again you get to choose between some cool colours, with Samsung-style poncy names (charcoal black, pearl white, cherry red and champagne gold).
Asus Zenfone 6 screen and media
So, is that mighty 6-inch screen any good? Well, it’s not as sharp as we’d hoped, packing a 720p resolution instead of Full HD 1080p. Considering the price tag, that’s not an enormous shock. But when we see a screen this size on a smartphone, we really wish it could melt our eyeballs with mega-crisp visuals and set our cold, mechanical heart a-flutter.
Nevertheless, the Zenfone 6 offers up some pretty sharp images and the panel is a step up from the Zenfone 4’s, with better contrast and excellent viewing angles. It’s not the brightest display around, but it’s just about strong enough on maximum level to counter glare.
One of the other main reasons to rock a phablet is creativity, and while the Zenfone 6 doesn’t have its own stylus, you can at least buy a third-party stylus to scribble and doodle. Aside from SuperNote, which allows you to sketch notes, there aren’t any apps pre-installed that allow you to get all arty; you’ll need to download these separately from Google Play.
You get either 16GB or 32GB of built-in storage rammed into the Zenfone 6, so you can carry around a decent-sized option of music and movies, but you’ll want to make use of that micro SD support to lug your whole collection around.
Asus Zenfone 6 user experience
Android 4.3 has again been covered with Asus’ ZenUI, looking much the same as on the Zenfone 4.The lock screen offers shortcuts to the camera, phone book and text messaging apps, and you can see your upcoming appointments too, which is always handy if you’re a very busy or very disorganised person.
There’s a good selection of power-saving shortcuts tucked into the notifications menu, which can be called up directly by pulling down on the right edge of the bar. And once again you get lots of apps pre-installed, some of which might be genuinely useful, and some of which can be deleted instantly (take a bow Omlet Chat, whatever the hell you are).
For more info on the Zen UI, check out our Zenfone 4 review.
Asus Zenfone 6 performance and battery life
Intel is once again Asus’ processor of choice, this time a 2GHz Atom Z2580. As with the Zenfone 4, we found the phablet ran perfectly well, with no stutters or irritating pauses as we zipped through the OS and played around with apps. You can even comfortably play the latest Android games such as Dead Trigger 2, with buttery smooth frame rates.
We really liked the dinky Zenfone 4, but its one major failing was its bloody awful battery life. Thankfully the Zenfone 6 suffers no such problem.
We streamed video non-stop and the Zenfone lasted almost seven hours on a full charge, which is a good result for a phone this size. You’ll comfortably get all-day battery life even with regular use.
Asus Zenfone 6 camera
On the back of the Zenfone 6 you’ll find a 13-megapixel ‘PixelMaster’ camera, packing all the same features as the Zenfone 4 plus a ‘low light’ mode that shoots 3-megapixel snaps in dim conditions. And if you’ve read our Zenfone 4 review, you’ll know that’s a buttload of features.
Starting with the auto mode, we grabbed some great everyday shots in a variety of conditions. Both indoors and out, in all kinds of lighting, we found our photos usally paked plenty of detail and came out perfectly bright, especially when HDR mode is activated. Up-close shots are just as crisp, with strong focus. The lens also copes well in dim conditions, even without the special low light feature.
The other features are a rather hit-and-miss affair. It’s great to see the likes of Time Rewind and Depth of Field on the Zenfone 6, as it’s the kind of gubbins usually reserved for the top-end smartphones. However, whether you’ll actually ever bother to use them is a different matter.
HDR on (left) vs HDR off (right). HDR mode gives more realistic lighting, capturing the details in the sky
Depth of Field is still a ropey affair, as it was on the Zenfone 4 and even Samsung’s Galaxy S5, and the effort of actively selecting Time Rewind makes it a little pointless.
Still, the PixelMaster snapper is one of the best we’ve seen on a mid-range mobile, and a serious rival to Sony’s Exmor sensor on its Xperia M2 and Xperia T3 smartphones.
Around the front there’s a 2-megapixel camera for getting your selfie on. It’s more than up to the job of Skype chats, and you can even fiddle with your face using the freaky Portrait mode, if you don’t mind looking like an Area 51 reject.
Asus Zenfone 6 verdict
We generally like our phablets to come packing a Full HD screen for maximum movie enjoyment, or some kind of creative features to justify the bloody enormous display. The Asus Zenfone 6 doesn’t come with a stylus or any arty features to speak of, but it can boast one of the cheapest price tags of any phablets out there.
The 720p resolution might not rival the likes of the Sony Xperia Z Ultra, and the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 will do you better if you like to doodle. But movies still look good thanks to the realistic 720p panel, and the camera features are numerous and impressive considering this is a mid-range mobile.
If you absolutely insist on having an enormous screen, but can’t afford more pricey devices, the Asus Zenfone 6 has plenty to recommend.