Comfortably below the growing and rather intimidating price tags of the top tier smartphones we find a comfortable zone around $700-$800, inhabited by what the industry calls mid-range devices.

ASUS, one of the world’s most respected manufacturers of computers, peripherals and components for 30 years has been releasing successive generations of their flagship phone, the ASUS ZenFone, since 2014. ASUS was always able to pack some extra punch into their phones for the price, and the latest fifth generation ZenFone 5 series delivers some serious fight once again.

On the outside…

First impression: The ZenFone 5Z is a very well-designed phone. It has an overall high quality feel and weight to it, and is very nice and comfortable to hold in one’s hand. The large display, bezels and back are all smoothly and tightly fitted, and made with excellent materials, including Corning Gorilla Glass for the screen.  Sporting the “notch”, at first glance the ZenFone 5Z has strong similarities with the (smaller) iPhone X , or (same-sized) OnePlus 6, which means it ends up looking quite modern and stylish. We will mention that the back of the phone is beautifully slick, but that gives it a tendency to magically slide off tables and papers at times, so be careful, or get a case.

The 6.2″ display (19:9 ratio at 2246 by 1080 pixels) is bright with very natural colours (which we prefer to some other brands that appear just a bit too over-saturated). The touch screen is very responsive, and you have also optional one-hand mode (making the display smaller and moving it to the left edge closer to your thumb) and extra-sensitive “glove mode”. The ZenFone 5Z comes in Midnight Blue or Meteor Silver.

The phone is thin, at 7.7mm, and weighs 165 grams. For audio output the ZenFone has stereo, dual speakers (in the notch and at the bottom of the phone) and a 3.5mm headphone jack with high-quality 192kHz/24-bit sound with DTS 7.1 surround sound for maximized headphone listening.

For security the ZenFone has a rear fingerprint sensor, and face recognition (quite good, although it couldn’t tell it was me whenever I had my thin-rimmed glasses on).

ASUS Zenfone 5z

The all-important camera…

ASUS has always worked to bring a high quality photography experience to their flagship smartphone (we were impressed by a ZenFone 3’s performance a couple years ago) and this latest device is no different. The main camera is a 12MP, f1.8 aperture, 24mm equivalent lens with a 83°  field of view, and a second 8 MP camera adds a 120° wide angle and a 12mm equivalent focal length. A front-facing 8MP camera, also takes higher quality photos than we expected.

Having owned phones with wide-angle lenses for a few years now (mostly LGs) we can’t imagine not having that option, and we’re surprised the the ZenFone is one of very few mid-range phones to offer it. It’s a big plus, and you’ll find you will use it quite often.

We were very happy with the ZenFone’s camera app: it is well designed and easy to use, and the incorporation of AI into the system made getting great images easier than ever. We were immediately struck by how accessible the features and modes were, and the application of the ZenFone’s AI (for example, depth of field effects, scene detection, and “beauty” mode). Our photos showed it, and people commented on how good many of them were, compared to what they were used to on their own phones.

The photos displayed excellent colour accuracy, achieving very nice saturation and contrast. Low light shots end up being as good or better than any phone in its class, with good colour and exposure, and photos taken with the ZenFone 5Z also display excellent detail. You can also shoot in RAW format when using the Pro mode. Other modes such a panorama, time lapse, GIF animation are easy to use and well executed.

The ZenFone shoots video up to an impressive 4K at 60 frames per second, and ASUS electronic image stabilization (EIS) is available at all levels, You can also shoot video with the wide angle camera at 1080 at 30 fps. The video looks very good in most scenarios, but needs a little work in changing lighting/contrast situations. The video also has a flicker management system, with manual and auto options. Oh, we loved the slow motion feature on the ZenFone, first time we’ve really used it on a phone, and ASUS made using it fun and easy.

The ZenFone camera app has a robust Pro mode, that can shoot in RAW format

Inside the box…

The ZenFone 5Z is powered by the solid Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor and ASUS  has delivered a silky smooth operating performance; we had no lags, or freezes.

Some reviewers have complained of bloatware, but we found nothing all to remark on in that regard, the device was cleanly setup, everything ran beautifully and would alert you to software that was sitting idle, or possibly at risk of slowing down your Android experience.

The ZenFone comes with 6GB of RAM, and based on the experience we had, it seems to be enough to run the ZenFone smoothly. For storage, the Zenfone 5Z has a solid 64GB onboard, with a MicroSD slot for a card up to 2TB as needed.

As we travel a lot, for work and pleasure, we want see more phones suited life on the road, on the beach, and even in the water. Unfortunately this generation of ZenFones still lacks the waterproof or dustproof rating of most of the higher priced flagship phones (and some lower priced phones, even if they don’t always advertise it, like the OnePlus 6).

The battery is a standard non-removable Li-Ion 3300 mAh battery, and as a newer phone fast-charges using a USB-C connected (don’t you love fast-charging!). Our ZenFone easily lasted an entire day of regular use plus some, the only exception was when we went on photography sprees lasting over a few hours.

ASUS Zenfone 5z

Final thoughts…

When it was released the retail price was $799, putting the ZenFone 5Z in the upper end of the mid-range. With its quality design and feel, beautiful display, quick operating performance, and having overall best camera in its class, we are comfortable saying the ASUS ZenFone 5Z is worth every one of those dollars.

In the months since the 5Z was released (summer 2018) things have changed. And both favour the ZenFone even more. ASUS has release some solid software upgrades to the phone, adding/improving some camera functions, new swipe functions, and more. The price has also come done on the ZenFone 5Z (we’ve even seen it at major outlets for $650), making it an ever better value for the money.

We see on their site ASUS claims the ZenFone is “a sheer joy to use” and for a phone in this price range, we have to admit that’s pretty accurate. The One Plus 6 is also a worthy entry in the category, but with the camera coming up a bit ahead, and the wide angle lens we can’t do without, the ZenFone 5Z is our top pick for a mid-range smartphone to start off 2019.

Check out more detailed specs at ASUS