ASUS has been making its Zenfone line for many years now, but it’s not the most popular line of smartphones out there. In fact, in North America, most people likely wouldn’t even know they existed. They haven’t sold well in North America, and haven’t always been available here. Nevermind, available on carriers. But the Zenfone 8 is one people need to pay attention too.
With the Zenfone 8, ASUS is really stressing its compact size, without lacking power, battery capacity or other features. And it appears to have done a great job. And with a starting price of $599, ASUS should have a real winner on their hands here. But let’s find out in our review of the ASUS Zenfone 8.
Compact size, no compromises
Phones just keep getting bigger and bigger. And most people like that. But there are some, like myself, that do like smaller smartphones. Making it a bit easier to handle, especially with one hand. However, often times when companies produce “compact” smartphones, there are some compromises.
For example, the Pixel 5. It has a lower-end chipset. But that’s not the case with the ASUS Zenfone 8. ASUS really wanted to keep high-end silicon inside the Zenfone 8 and also put in a decently sized battery here. In our briefing ahead of the announcement for the Zenfone 8, ASUS really stressed that it shrunk the size of the PCB. Making it substantially smaller. So it could fit in this much smaller form factor. While still keeping the Snapdragon 888 inside, along with a 4000mAh capacity battery.
The small size is definitely a breathe of fresh air here, especially since it isn’t compromising in any areas really.
ASUS has outfitted the Zenfone 8 with a 2.5D curved backside made of aluminum, to help make the smaller form factor fit even better in your hand. It gives the Zenfone 8 a rather minimalistic look and feel. And it’s also something that we have not seen a whole lot of lately. Instead of glass, it’s using aluminum.
The blue power button is a nice touch. And does follow in recent trends of using a different color power button. Like the orange power button on the Pixel 4 in 2019, and the mint green on the Pixel 4a in 2020. It really stands out on this black colored Zenfone 8.
Impressive looking display
On paper, the display of the Zenfone 8 isn’t the highest-end display out there. But in real life, it is really good. This is a Samsung AMOLED panel, measuring 5.9-inches diagonally at a 20:9 aspect ratio. With a 120Hz refresh rate and 240Hz touch sampling rate. Which makes it look really snappy, especially when you are playing games on your smartphone.
Since this is an AMOLED panel from Samsung, the colors on this display are really impressive. With some deep blacks and some really crisp colors. Additionally, the brightness is really impressive, as it can hit 800nits of peak brightness. So you can use it in direct sunlight without any real issues.
For this review of the Zenfone 8, ASUS sent over the highest-end model. That includes 16GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, along with the Snapdragon 888 5G chipset. So the performance here is top-notch as you might expect.
When playing games like League of Legends: Wild Rift, the Zenfone 8 performs really well. We didn’t notice any real issues with it lagging or even getting hot. Now, it does get somewhat warm, especially if you’re playing for a few hours. But for the most part, it’s just a little bit warm. And not uncomfortably warm.
In day-to-day usage, the performance of the Zenfone 8 is about what you’d expect. Nice and snappy, without any real slowdowns. ASUS also isn’t aggressive in killing background apps, which is great to see. Especially with 16GB of RAM, and the fact that this is basically stock Android on the Zenfone 8.
Good battery life, but not great
With this smaller display, and a somewhat small 4000mAh battery life, you might expect some decent battery life. And well, you’d be right. With the Zenfone 8, during our review process, we found that the battery life was decent. But not great or even the best that we’ve seen. We could easily get to six hours of screen on time every day, and if we really pushed it, to seven hours.
To give you an idea of how I used the Zenfone 8, I used it for TikTok, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and played some Board Kings. As well as playing some League of Legends: Wild Rift. And watched plenty of YouTube. Among other apps, but these were the ones I used the most. These are obviously not the most optimized apps and do use up quite a bit of juice, so if you used more optimized apps, you could likely get 8 to 9 hours of screen on time.
Of course, a couple of years ago, that would seem impressive for a smartphone. But now that most smartphones are using much larger batteries and more efficient chipsets, six hours isn’t as impressive. However, it should still get you through the full day.
ASUS does offer fast charging out of the box with the Zenfone 8. As it does include the fast charger in the box, which can do up to 30W. That is also somewhat slow compared to the competition. Where you probably only need to charge overnight, the charging speed isn’t that big of a deal.
Unfortunately, the Zenfone 8 does not have wireless charging.
Secure the Zenfone 8 with Face Unlock and Fingerprints
Instead of offering one or the other, like the iPhone and Pixel, ASUS decided to offer both on the Zenfone 8. And honestly, the Face Unlock is not good. About half of the time I try to unlock the Zenfone 8 during this review period, with my face, it could not do it. Not just on the first try, but at all. Hopefully a software update will fix this, but that is pretty bad.
The fingerprint sensor on the other hand, is pretty decent. I do still wish that smartphone makers would make the sensor larger. Like using the bottom third of the display as the sensor, like Vivo did on a couple smartphones. Making it easier to unlock the phone, and not needing to have your finger in a specific spot.
The speakers are surprisingly good
While reviewing the Zenfone 8, I kept trying to make it a mid-range phone, due to its size, and that lowered my expectations of the speakers. Which were impressive to say the least. Even at one of the lowest levels, the speakers are still very loud, and sound really good. At max volume, the speaker does not sound muffled or distorted at all.
We are talking about stereo speakers here. With the bottom firing speaker – which is very easy to cover, unfortunately – and then the earpiece doubling as a speaker. The only real complaint that I have about the speakers and audio in general, is that it does not have Dolby Atmos support. Not necessarily a dealbreaker, but would be a nice addition to the Zenfone 8.
And we can’t forget about the headphone jack. Yes, ASUS has not gotten rid of the headphone jack. And if you still fancy one of those, then this is likely the only smartphone with high-end specs that has a headphone jack. The Pixel 4a still has it, but that’s definitely a mid-ranger.
ASUS takes the “Keep it simple stupid” approach to software
In the early days of ASUS’ Zenfone lineup, it really tried to make its own skin for Android, and most users just hated it. Thankfully, ASUS scaled it back and is now basically going with stock Android on the Zenfone 8. And keeping it nice and simple, which is good to see. If you’re a fan of the Pixel, then you’ll like the software here.
ASUS has added in some nifty features though. Like a quick way to bring the screen down to reach the top of the display. It’s similar to the iPhone, where you can just swipe down from the bottom half of the display and it’ll bring down the screen about halfway.
It also brought in new sound control, which allows you to have a quick shortcut to new volume adjustments. And AudioWizard Scenario effects are included here too.
With ZenUI8, ASUS has also improved the battery UI. Making it easier to change the battery indicator in the status bar. As well as optimize the battery usage on a per-app basis and more.
ASUS has also included some new UI customizations. Like the ability to tailor the UI to your liking. That includes the font, accent colors and icon shapes. Pretty similar to Oxygen OS. Other customizations include the animation speed and the system color scheme.
Taking some features from the ROG Phone 5, ASUS has also brought Game Genie to the Zenfone 8, which has been great for playing games during this review. This allows you to block all notifications, blocking all calls, prevent brightness changes and so much more. So you can play games without any interruptions.
Overall, the software experience on the Zenfone 8 is actually really impressive. It’s fast and fluid, without getting in the way. Which is exactly what you want from software. The only question mark is the software updates. ASUS doesn’t have the best track record with software updates, so we don’t know when or if, it’ll get Android 12. But during this review, the Zenfone 8 has been running on Android 11.
Big camera improvement
Typically, the one place where an ASUS smartphone falls short is in the camera department. But this time around, on the Zenfone 8, it’s pretty decent. It’s not the best camera on a smartphone, but it is worth using actually.
ASUS outfitted the Zenfone 8 with just two rear cameras. There’s a 64-megapixel main sensor, and a 12-megapixel ultra-wide sensor (also capable of shooting macro photos).
The main sensor takes some really crisp shots, as long as the light is appropriate. When it comes to low light shots, they are a bit tougher to get a good shot. ASUS doesn’t have a night mode that rivals the Pixel or Galaxy S21 unfortunately. The ultra-wide sensor does a really good job as well, and especially when it comes to macro shots.
The Pro modes for both photo and video are great additions here. If you’re a photographer, you can really get some great shots from the Zenfone 8, if you have the time to adjust the shutter, iso and such.
The camera on the Zenfone 8 is good, but not the best (or even in the top 5). It’ll get the job done though, in most situations.
Should I buy the Zenfone 8?
While working on this review of the Zenfone 8, I have really enjoyed my time with this phone. As someone who really likes smaller smartphones, this was a breathe of fresh air. Since you’re not compromising on performance or even battery life here. The only downside to the Zenfone 8, is US availability really. It’s very unlikely to be available on any carriers, and we aren’t sure when it will be available in the US.
ASUS basically picked up where Sony left off with its Compact series. Sony used to release a “Compact” flagship that was the same specs as its larger flagship (minus a few things like a 1080p display instead of QHD, or a smaller battery, etc). Though Sony stopped doing that recently, and many enthusiasts are wanting Sony to bring that back. And it looks like ASUS is going to take that spot.
However, at this price, the Zenfone 8 is really impressive, and you should definitely buy it if you’re looking for a smaller device. It checks all of the boxes, except a big display.