I just wrapped up our Asus Zenfone 9 review and the honeymoon phase normally would've worn off by this point. Most phones I review go back in their boxes and either into a drawer or get returned to the manufacturer. But I don't want to give the Zenfone 9 back.
In fact, the Zenfone 9 has unseated the Pixel 6 Pro as my favorite Android phone. Its compact frame makes it easy to carry around in my house or otherwise; it's got more power than I need; and the battery life is almost twice as good as the Pixel's in our testing.
I love a lot about the Zenfone 9, but I have three highlights that make the phone stand out to above all others that have come out in 2022 so far. But I don't look at this phone with rose-tinted glasses. It has flaws, notably software-related, but I don't think they truly take away from what I like about this device.
The perfect size
While I have big hands, certainly enough to dwarf most mice and controllers, I actually prefer smaller phones. I really enjoy the 6.1-inch iPhone or the smaller Galaxy S or the Pixel A. I don't like massive slabs that are difficult to use one-handed.
The Zenfone 9 wins in my book since I can use it singlehandedly without issue. Reaching across the screen with my thumb causes no problem, something I cannot say for the huge iPhone 13 Pro Max I use on a daily basis.
I'd like to say the Zenfone 9 is just the perfect size. The 5.9-inch display is just big enough to not make me squint to see it (something I noticed at times when I reviewed the iPhone 13 mini). The phone's body is large enough to house a 4,300 mAh battery and all the hardware needed for the Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 chipset. There's even room for a headphone jack.
A week later and the size difference between the Zenfone 9 and the iPhone 13 Pro Max continues to amuse me.
Surprisingly great battery life
With a small phone, you'd think that battery life wouldn't be very good. Just look to the iPhone 12 mini from 2020. The iPhone 13 mini fared better in our testing, but still below the 10-hour average we like to see from smartphones in our custom battery life test.
The Zenfone 9 looked at all that and laughed. It managed over 13 hours in our testing, earning a spot on our list of the best phone battery life. Our test involves a phone continuously surfing the web at 150 nits of brightness. While not perfect, it's meant to give you an idea of how long a phone will last in your usage.
In my usage, the Zenfone 9 can go almost three days without a charge. Granted, I don't use it as much as my iPhone 13 Pro Max since, but still. I have to recharge the Pixel 6 Pro every night with the same usage pattern. During my review period, I only had to recharge the Zenfone 9 once and that was after some intense gaming and a full run through Blade Runner 2049.
Asus seems to have gotten it right. Usually when I see a phone that gets ridiculously good battery life, I'm on the lookout for aggressive background task killing. Emails and Slack pings come through without trouble on the Zenfone 9, the former often before the Gmail site catches up over on my laptop.
Battery life goes a long way in how I feel about a phone, and the Zenfone 9's definitely earns it a top spot in my mind.
The performance I need
Asus didn't skimp on specs for the Zenfone 9. It sports a Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 chipset, the best processor you can get in an Android phone right now. Asus paired that chip with either 8GB or 16GB of RAM, making for a device that can power through any task, even intense gaming, with ease.
In practice, the Zenfone 9 is everything I could have wanted in terms of performance. While most of the CPU power will be lost on a lot of people, it's the GPU that you'll notice. Phones like the Nothing Phone (1) with its mid-range Snapdragon 778G+ do great for normal day-to-day tasks. Load up a game, however, and that's where it shows its mid-range-ness.
Other flagships might be larger, but the Zenfone 9 punches well above its weight. In fact, it's more powerful than other top-tier options like the Galaxy S22 Ultra, OnePlus 10 Pro, and Pixel 6 Pro. The iPhone 13 series still outclasses it, but the distance between them is so narrow that a normal person is unlikely to tell the difference.
Good things can indeed come in small packages.
Zenfone 9: What I don't like
Now, don't think that I'm sitting here just gushing about the Zenfone 9. Yes, I have been up until this point, but the phone isn't perfect. It has two flaws that irk me, both of which could be fixed if Asus wanted to.
The first is that the Zenfone 9 will only see two years of Android updates. In a world where most other Android phone makers do three or four, this is unacceptable. I see no reason why the Zenfone 9 can't go longer.
As for pricing, $799 for a phone isn't bad, but it's still a lot of money for phone that effectively hits end-of-life in 2024. Asus could at least offer three years of support.
The second issue I have is far less severe, but I don't like how the Zenfone 9 processes some photos. In my testing, I noticed overly warm tones in a lot of the pictures I took. Honestly, I could only tell in some cases when compared with the same shot from the Pixel 6 Pro.
Outside, it's not so bad, but indoors, it creates a sickly yellow tinge. The camera hardware is good, but Asus needs to work on the post-processing algorithms. The Zenfone 9 is so close to being a good camera phone. Not the best, mind you, but more than just good enough like it is now.
Zenfone 9 outlook
The Zenfone 9 is so much fun to me. I like picking it up, enjoying how easy it is to use one-handed. It has a lot going for it, things I appreciate like superb battery life and top-tier performance. It really is a great phone — and there's even a headphone jack!
Sure, it's not perfect. The cameras aren't more than good enough and the software support timeline is just awful. But I think the Zenfone 9's strengths overcome those weaknesses... mostly. I can't get over the two years of platform updates.
Even so, the Zenfone 9 is still my favorite phone this year. It outclasses other handsets like the Galaxy S22 and OnePlus 10 Pro, and it comes as close to the iPhone 13 as a non-gaming phone has to date.
Sometimes, a phone just hits right.