Asus Zenfone 9 review

Asus Zenfone 9: one in the hand (review)

A small phone packing a big punch, the Asus Zenfone 9 is an Android powerhouse that still fits comfortably in your hand.

If you’re in the market for a flagship Android handset, you typically pay a hefty price – not just in dollars but also in bulk, with large and unwieldy high-end smartphones. With folding phones still sporting eye-watering price tags, it’s tough to find a top-shelf phone which isn’t difficult to hold in your hand and fits in your pocket. 

The Asus Zenfone 9 bucks the trend, keeping the price tag down while squeezing a generous 5.9-inch display into a frame only 68 mm wide (that was once considered gigantic, but these days it’s on the petite side). You might expect sacrifices in other areas, but the phone also packs the latest Snapdragon power plant and plenty of other impressive features to make it a worthy contender.

Review: Asus Zenfone 9

Australian websitehere
Price$1199 RRP
Warranty1 year
Other  More GadgetGuy Asus news and reviews

Asus Zenfone 9 first impressions

The Asus Zenfone 9 isn’t quite as sleek and elegant as some handsets, with a slightly boxy design many smartphones have moved beyond in favour of more rounded edges. The exterior frame is aluminium but the back is a composite polymer with a textured, soft finish – which feels comfortable to hold but isn’t quite as pristine as the glass and aluminium back of many premium handsets.

On the back, you’ll also find a large dual camera housing and accompanying text, which again lacks a certain elegance.

The handset may not be a fashion piece, but that’s easy to forgive when it feels so snug, comfortable and easy to grip in your hand. Along the right edge, you’ll find a volume rocker and power button which doubles as a fingerprint reader (although using your thumb is more practical). The reader is so fast that you won’t even notice it working as you press the power button to wake the phone.

Across the top of the handset is an old-school 3.5mm audio jack, which is a welcome sight for people who have invested in decent headphones and don’t want to upgrade just for USB connectivity. Across the bottom of the phone, you’ll find a USB-C port along with a nano-SIM slot, but there’s no microSD slot for expanding the storage.

Power up the phone and you’re presented with a bright, crisp AMOLED display, with a few optimisations to improve the colour accuracy and support HDR10+. It also supports refresh rates up to 120Hz, automatically switching between 60, 90 and 120Hz modes depending on what’s happening on the screen.

Accompanying the screen are Dirac-tuned twin speakers which deliver balanced stereo sound, even though only the top speaker is front-facing, for listening to calls.

Getting back to the power button, it’s capable of much more thanks to Asus’ Smart Key feature, which lets you specify actions for when you long press, double-tap or swipe the button. For example, you can use it to pull down the quick settings and notification shade, making it even easier to use the phone with one hand.

It’s one example of ZenUI, Asus’ clean and lightweight Android 12 skin, which aims to be useful without getting in the way too much. Unfortunately, Android only gets two years of OS and security updates on the Zenphone 9, which seems quite stingy when many vendors push this out to three or even five.

The smaller screen also makes it easier to reach the extremities of the screen with your thumb, without over-balancing the phone, losing your grip and sending it tumbling to the ground. If it does hit the deck, you have the advantage of tough Gorilla Glass Victus to reduce the likelihood of a cracked screen.

asus zenfone 9 5g dual-sim
While it’s not the most elegant of designs, the Asus Zenfone 9 is slim, sturdy and practical.

Asus Zenfone 9 specs

Display size5.9 inch
Display resolution2400 x 1080, 445 ppi
Display technologyAMOLED, 120 Hz, 1100 nits maximum brightness 
Bands5G (sub-6 only)
ChipsetQualcomm Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 Mobile Platform
GPUQualcomm Adreno 730
Rear cameras50 MP Wide Angle Lens IMX766 1/1.56” f/1.9 6-Axis Hybrid Gimbal Stabiliser
12 MP Ultra-wide Angle Lens IMX363 1/2.55” f/2.2 113° FOV, 4 cm macro shot
Front camera12 MP IMX663 1/2.93” f/2.45
RAM8 or 16 GB
Onboard storage128 or 256 GB
ConnectivityUSB-C, 3.5mm audio jack, dual nano-SIM, NFC
Battery4300 mAh
Wi-Fi6E – 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/ax, 2×2 MIMOSupports Tri-band 2.4 GHz / 5 GHz/ 6 GHz WiFi
BluetoothBluetooth 5.2 (BR/EDR + LE), supports LDAC, AAC, Qualcomm aptX, aptX HD, aptX Adaptive, aptX Lossless
Operating systemAndroid 12
SecurityFingerprint reader, Face Unlock
RuggednessIP68
Dimensions146.5 x 68.1 x 9.1 mm
Weight169 gm
ColoursStarry Blue, Moonlight White, Sunset Red, Midnight Black

Asus Zenfone 9 features

It’s hard to pick a headline feature because so much stands out with this phone. For starters, it packs the new Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 Mobile Platform which delivers a mountain of grunt and also offers some future-proofing, such as support for Qualcomm’s aptX Lossless Bluetooth format – should you get your hands on a pair of compatible earbuds like the NuraTrue Pro.

Speaking of such, high-end audio fans will also appreciate that the phone delivers Hi-Res 192k Hz / 24-bit audio via the 3.5mm output so you can put your high-end headphones to good use.

With the Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 Mobile Platform, Qualcomm cites 15 per cent faster performance and 50 per cent faster graphics rendering compared to the Snapdragon 888. Of course, the downside of power is heat, with the design featuring a vapour chamber cooling system. 

When it comes to charging, you’ve got 30W wired charging via USB Power Delivery PPS or Quick Charge 4.0, but surprisingly no support for wireless charging. This being said, a full charge should be enough to get you through your typical day. 

The camera array is another standout feature, not just due to the 50 MP wide angle / 12 MP ultra-wide camera combo but also the 6-Axis Hybrid Gimbal Stabiliser designed to take the shake out of your photos and videos. In return, you miss out on features like a dedicated micro and telephoto lens – some it comes down to which camera feature you value the most.

It’s worth noting that gimbal stabilisation is also only available when recording in 1080p, not 4K or 8K. 

Asus Zenfone 9 screenshot
The gimbal stabilisation built into the rear cameras helps smooth out a bumpy ride when shooting video.

Performance

GeekBench 5 tests, with the phone running in High Performance mode, tells an impressive story. The Asus Zenfone 9 returns a CPU score of 1325 single-core and 4358 multi-core, along with a Compute OpenCL score of 6444. That makes it perhaps the most powerful Android handset currently on market, alongside the Asus ROG Phone 6 Pro which packs the same Snapdragon power plant.

As you’d expect, the Zenfone 9 makes light work of multitasking and happily runs high-performance games at high frame rates, although some gamers might pine for a little more screen real estate. The trade-off is that the handset gets quite toasty when pushed to the limit.

When it comes to the camera, that 6-axis gimbal image stabilisation does an impressive job which will excite would-be cinematographers. Dealing with shaking hands also helps improve low-light performance, where you need to hold the phone still for a few seconds to get a decent photo. It also helps that the Sony IMX766 primary sensor is larger than on the previous Zenfone.

That said, the overall picture quality is middle-of-the-road and not on par with what you tend to get with premium handsets.

GadgetGuy’s take

If you’re after a compact Android phone with high-end features and tons of grunt then it’s hard to go past the Asus Zenfone 9. It’s not quite a great all-rounder, but it ticks a lot of boxes, such as image stabilisation, a headphone jack and the support for high-quality wired and wireless audio.

That said, if you’re willing to accept a handset that’s a fraction wider and heavier than your options at this price point open right up – including the slick Google Pixel 7 and the Samsung Galaxy S22 standard model. They might not be quite as compact, or quite as powerful, but they’re impressive all-rounders which impress in other ways.

Would I buy it?

Maybe, if small size and grunt were my highest priorities.

Asus Zenfone 9: one in the hand (review)
Proof that bigger isn't always better, the compact Asus Zenfone 9 packs quite a punch.
Features
8
Value for money
8.5
Performance
9
Ease of use
9
Design
8
Positives
Compact size
Powerful
Wired and wireless high-end audio
Negatives
No wireless charging
No telephoto lens
Not premium photo quality
8.5