Small in stature, big on personality

Asus doesn’t quite pack in everything you’ll want at this price, but the pint-sized Zenfone 9 bundles enough of the good stuff into a compact and quirky package to be worthy of your consideration.

Asus is continuing its previous generation’s compact form-factor flagship with the  Zenfone 9. Historically, smaller phones have compromised on features and performance, but that’s not the case here. At least not entirely. Asus is attempting to distill a full-fledged affordable flagship experience into one of the smaller form factors on the market. With its small size but plenty of power, can Asus’ handset earn a home in your pocket? Find out in our Asus Zenfone 9 review.

What you need to know about the Asus Zenfone 9

Asus Zenfone 9 review standing showing rear of phone and cameras, with the retail packaging in the background

Robert Triggs / Android Authority

  • Asus Zenfone 9 (8GB/128GB): $699 / €799
  • Asus Zenfone 9 (8GB/256GB): $749 / €849
  • Asus Zenfone 9 (16GB/256GB): $799 / €899

With a comparatively small 5.9-inch display and trim 169g weight, the Asus Zenfone 9 is about the same size as the Samsung Galaxy S22, albeit a little thicker. Asus notes a 10% larger SoC, 40% bigger camera system, and 7.5% battery capacity increase, all in a form factor that’s smaller than 2021’s Zenfone 8.

The phone sports the same 5.9-inch panel as last year, but Asus made a few optimizations to improve the display’s color accuracy. It supports refresh rates up to 120Hz and can automatically switch between 60, 90, and 120Hz modes depending on the app or content being viewed. But it’s not an LTPO panel capable of the ultra-low power-saving refresh rates seen on other flagships.

Other staples from the previous generation stick around too, including an IP68 rating against water and dust resistance, 3.5mm headphone jack, and 30W wired charging via USB Power Delivery PPS or Quick Charge 4.0 and above. Asus bundles a charger in the box, instead making eco-conscious decisions in the form of recycled packaging. At 30W, the phone takes 11 minutes to reach 25% capacity, 37 minutes to 50%, and just under an hour and a half to full, which is pretty basic stuff for a flagship.

The phone packs several other improvements, though. There’s now a six-axis gimbal-stabilized and bigger primary camera sensor, Dirac-tuned linear speakers that offer great sound and stereo balance (even though only the top one is front facing), Snapdragon Sound with aptX Lossless Bluetooth audio, and Qualcomm’s powerful and more efficient Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 processor. Asus also debuts hardware-based gestures as part of its fingerprint scanner button and Back Double Tap feature. For this review, we were sent the top-end variant to test (16GB RAM/256GB storage).

The Asus Zenfone 9 is available in Midnight Black, Moonlight White, Starry Blue, and Sunset Red colorways, depending on your region. The phone is going on sale in Europe first, starting at €799 and then $699 in the US a little later. Other regions will follow shortly, including Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Indonesia, and parts of South America.

What’s good?

Asus Zenfone 9 back double tap on display in hand

Robert Triggs / Android Authority

Recent Zenfone models have prioritized ergonomic design, and the Zenfone 9 is no exception. Weighing just 169g and boasting a compact 5.9-inch display, the handset is built to actually fit in your pocket and is a welcome change of pace from the behemoths that roam the flagship market. The phone aims to ensure that everything is within a thumb’s reach. It’s well built too. The rectangular edges ensure the small phone feels robust in hand, there’s a nice feel to the back’s polymer material, and Gorilla Glass Victus protection on the front provides peace of mind from drops.

Finally, a phone that actually fits in your pocket.

Powered by Qualcomm’s more efficient Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1, performance is as snappy as you’d expect. The Zenfone 9 breezes through multi-tasking and will run high-performance games at high frame rates, thanks to a vapor chamber cooling system that helps make up for the phone’s small stature. Apex Legends hovers mostly close to 60fps, although Genshin Impact struggles through longer sessions with the graphics maxed out. If you’re really into gaming, the same Game Genie overlay found in the Asus ROG Phone 6 allows you to control notifications, performance, and other settings mid-play. However, the phone is a bit too small for serious gaming sessions in terms of both screen size and sustainable performance (more on this later).

As you can see in the graph above, this is one of the best-performing phones of 2022, at least where Geekbench 5 and 3DMark are concerned. However, the real-workload PCMark test hands in a result closer to the Tensor-powered Pixel 6 series. That’s still fine, but highlights the use of more conservative clock speeds when running in the “Dynamic” performance setting, which balances performance against battery life. Thankfully, this doesn’t impact the responsiveness of web browsing, messaging, etc., but is something to consider for those with a demanding workload. Asus provides a high-performance mode, should you want to run the phone flat out for longer periods, but this pumps out too much heat for my liking and chugs down the battery.

That said, battery life is generally very decent, particularly for a phone of this size. The 4,300mAh cell generally handled over five hours of intense gaming and around eight or so hours of screen time with average usage during our testing. That’s enough to take most users through a day of lighter workloads with a little charge to spare.

At first glance, Zen UI offers a lightweight, stock-like appearance. Out of the box, there’s Android 12‘s familiar Material You theming, icons, and the standardized settings menu that you’ll find on Google’s Pixel series. That said, Asus imbues its software with a high degree of customization in the audio and display departments.

Customizable tap and swipe gestures give the Zenfone 9 a unique personality.

Further customization comes via Back Double Tap on the back, the Zentouch/smart key/fingerprint scanner, and on-screen letter gestures, which can be mapped to various functions or to launch your favorite apps. This is where the phone really comes into its own. The fingerprint scanner offers fully mappable press and hold, double press, and swipe actions. The Back Double Tap gesture is limited to screenshots, opening the camera, flashlight toggle, sound recorder, launching Google Assistant, or playing/pausing music and video. There’s even more room to access your favorite apps through Asus’ Edge Tool home screen edge-swipe feature; if anything, there’s a little too much to dive into here. The bottom line: the Zenfone 9 really wants you to make the phone your own.

Speaking of, the fingerprint scanner, located in the smart key power button, is wonderfully swift and easy to calibrate during setup. It’s far faster and more accurate than most in-display variants that occasionally sacrifice functionality at the alter of voguishness. It’s only a small aspect of the phone’s already pint-sized design, but the smart key addition lends the phone a unique identity and

What’s not so good?

Asus Zenfone 9 next to its box and charger

Robert Triggs / Android Authority

Asus’ design may offer superb ergonomics, but other elements are more hit-and-miss. The large camera housing and accompanying text, seemingly inspired by Asus’ ROG series, won’t be to everyone’s taste. Similarly, while nice feeling, the high-grip polymer material on the rear isn’t as anti-fingerprint as Asus makes out. It retains smudges and marks that are easier to remove on glass — at least on the black model I’ve reviewed, which is also a bit uninspiring overall. Still, the new design is a significant step up over the basic budget look of last year’s Zenfone 8.

As much as we praised the phone’s performance in the previous section, sustaining this is a whole other issue. The phone becomes hot during protracted gaming sessions, especially when running high-performance mode, when it’s just too hot to handle. However, this is more down to the handset’s small size rather than an obvious chip issue. There’s only so much heat the tiny phone can dissipate, but this means it can’t quite make the most of the 8 Plus Gen 1 chip’s full potential for long. That said, the phone performs marginally better over several tests than larger 8 Gen 1 phones we’ve tested, thanks in part to the more efficient Plus chip variant.

There’s no wireless charging here, an omission at this price, even on a smaller handset. Asus doesn’t offer a microSD card slot either. That’s not uncommon for modern flagships, but it’s unhelpful when internal storage capacity options max out at 256GB. It also doesn’t support mmWave 5G for US customers with access to ultra-fast networks, instead opting for exclusively sub-6GHz 5G in all regions.

No wireless charging and just two years of support don’t help make Asus’ case.

Overall, the Zenfone 9 is missing just a few staple features you’ll find with other affordable flagship handsets, but the real kicker is the limited software update pledge. Two OS upgrades and “at least” two years of security patches are poor for a $699 phone. Its two closest Android rivals — the Google Pixel 6 and Samsung Galaxy S22 — will see five years of security updates each, making them superior long-term purchases. I could also do without the pre-installed Facebook, Instagram, and Netflix apps, though they can thankfully be uninstalled.

Asus Zenfone 9 camera review

Asus Zenfone 9 camera housing macro

Robert Triggs / Android Authority

The Zenfone 9’s dual camera package has seen a couple of noteworthy updates this generation. The Sony IMX766 primary sensor is not only larger than last year’s sensor but supports six-axis gimbal image stabilization or video and low-light shots. That said, the selfie and ultrawide cameras remain unchanged from the Zenfone 8. Can it compete with the very best camera phones?

The new sensor produces vibrant shots with a solid white balance and robust autofocus. HDR capabilities meet expectations when using the main and ultrawide cameras, delivering well-balanced highlights and shadows without overblowing the colors. As a quick shooter, there’s nothing glaringly wrong with the main camera. That said, colors and exposure can be inconsistent, varying from oversaturated to washed out and occasionally too dark. There’s also a noticeable amount of oversharpening on textured surfaces and a noisy-looking natural bokeh in a lot of the pictures I took — a consistent issue with the IMX766 in my experience. Most images are fine for social media, but many don’t hold up so well on a larger screen or print.

The larger sensor helps out in low-light situations. Paired with Asus’ automatic night mode and six-axis stabilization, you’ll obtain decent exposure even in dimly lit environments, but colors can be washed out when using night mode in very dark lighting. The excellent stabilization ensures that long exposures remain mostly blur-free, but this solid feature is crying out for an even bigger sensor, better lens, and improved processing to really help the camera shine.

The ultrawide camera provides a 113-degree field of view. That’s far from the widest in the industry, but it has a less distorted, more natural appearance than cameras that go too wide. Sadly, ultrawide snaps provide even less detail and more noise than the main camera, color consistency is well off, and the camera fails miserably in low light, but Asus’ night mode does a reasonable job plastering over the noise. It can also serve as a rudimentary macro camera; there are minimal signs of warping or stretching, although images suffer from a loss of detail, particularly in the corners.

Don’t expect anything from the cameras’ zoom capabilities due to the lack of a dedicated telephoto lens and so-so detail. Although the Zenfone 9 extends to 8x digital zoom, even 3x results look pretty dire in all but the most optimal circumstances.

Portrait mode marks the return to the better portion of the Zenfone 9’s camera package. Face-tracking tech keeps your subject in focus, while the software bokeh looks pleasing, and Asus’ edge detection algorithms are pretty good. However, like many other phones, it still struggles with complex backgrounds and shapes that don’t conform to a typical head/torso profile. In the first two snaps, note how the bush branches and little hand throw a spanner in the works.

With the selfie camera, we return to the hit-and-miss nature of the camera package. In good lighting, the results are satisfactory, with pleasing skin tones, exposure, and colors. Details are a little soft, though; the selfie camera’s limited dynamic range isn’t the best with bright backlights, and there’s too much noise in dimly lit indoor scenes. Asus’ night mode again helps, but the results are far too blurry. There’s an assortment of skin, cheek, and eye adjustments as part of Asus’ selfie package too, if that’s your thing.

The Zenfone 9’s camera setup is a hit-and-miss affair.

The Zenfone 9’s six-axis gimbal stabilization comes into its own with video recording, enabling incredibly smooth panning and capture while on the move. Combined with easy-to-reach 3D, wind reduction, and “HDR” audio toggles, alongside HDR and slow-mo video options, there’s plenty to keep creatives happy. Quality-wise, video capture looks great even in dimmer light, but it can struggle a little with bright light exposure. However, there’s a notable crop factor and a bit of judder while stepping through zoom levels instead of a smooth transition. You can use the ultrawide camera up to 4K/60fps to fit more in, but its low light performance is grainy.

There are some limitations, though, such as no 4K/60fps or 8K recording with HDR enabled. 4K and 8K resolutions also don’t work with Asus’ smoothest “HyperSteady” stabilization setting but still benefit from the gimbal hardware and “normal” EIS. I prefer these options; you have to fight against HyperSteady’s EIS technology when making minor adjustments to framing. It’s an option that should be reserved for filming on the move. Overall, it’s a competent piece of video recording kit for this price.

Asus Zenfone 9 specs

Asus Zenfone 9

Display

5.9-inch AMOLED
2,400 x 1,080 resolution
20:9 aspect ratio
445ppi
800 nits brightness / 1,100 nits peak
120Hz adaptive refresh rate (60Hz lowest)
240Hz touch sampling
HDR10+ support
Gorilla Glass Victus

Processor

Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1

GPU

Adreno 730

RAM

8GB or 16GB LPDDR5

Storage

128GB or 256GB
UFS 3.1
No microSD card support

Power

4,300mAh battery
30W PD3.0/QC4.0 wired charging
Charger in box

Cameras

Rear:
– 50MP Sony IMX766 wide-angle (ƒ/1.9, 1/1.56-inch sensor, 1μm pixel, 24mm focal, 6-axis gimbal stabilization + EIS, 2×2 OCL PDAF)
– 12MP Sony IMX363 ultrawide (ƒ/2.2, 1/2.55-inch sensor, 113 ̊ field of view, Dual PDAF)

Front:
– 12MP Sony IMX663 wide-angle (ƒ/2.45, 1/2.93-inch sensor, Dual PDAF)

Video

8K at 24fps
4K at 30/60/120fps
1080p at 30/60/240fps
720p at up to 480fps

Audio

Stereo speakers
3.5mm headphone jack
AptX Lossless, LDAC Bluetooth

Security

Power button fingerprint reader

Durability

IP68-rated
Polymer back

Ports

Dual-SIM
USB-C

Network

Wi-Fi 6E (in supported countries)
5G (sub 6GHz only)
Non-Standalone bands (NSA): n1, n2, n3, n5, n7, n8, n12, n20, n25, n28, n38, n40, n41, n66, n71, n77, n78
Standalone bands (SA): n1, n2, n3, n5, n7, n8, n12, n20, n25, n28, n38, n40, n41, n66, n71, n77, n78

Software

Android 12
Zen UI
Two years of upgrades
Two years of patches

Dimensions & weight

146.5 x 68.1 x 9.1 mm
169g

Colors

Midnight Black, Moonlight White, Starry Blue, Sunset Red

In the box

USB-C cable
Charging plug
Protective case
SIM tray ejector
Paperwork

Asus Zenfone 9 review: The verdict

Asus Zenfone 9, Galaxy S22 Ultra, and iPhone 13 Pro Max lined up side by side showing rear of phones

Robert Triggs / Android Authority

The Zenfone 9’s new design is a welcome improvement, the camera is a bit better, and there’s more performance on offer than the previous model. If that’s what you’re looking for in a compact package, then the Zenfone 9 might tick just enough boxes to be worth a punt. Just be aware that the phone is less convincing in the software update space, lacks wireless charging, and has a camera package closer to more budget fare than the best affordable flagships.

Competition is fierce at this price point too. The Google Pixel 6 ($599) and Samsung Galaxy S22 ($799) offer more robust camera packages, wireless charging, and much longer update pledges just above and below, respectively, the Zenfone 9’s RRP. The Galaxy S22 is also very similarly sized, making it an easy-to-recommend alternative for those after a more feature-packed compact handset. Last-gen’s Asus Zenfone 8 launched at $629, so the Zenfone 9’s $70 price hike feels a little on the aggressive side. This is felt more keenly in Europe with a €100 price increase.

The Zenfone 9 is a lovely tidy package that packs in (almost) everything you need.

Still, the Zenfone 9’s unique design, compact size, Bluetooth and audio features (including a headphone jack!), and hardware gestures combine to offer a package that does enough differently to warrant your attention. Asus’ minimal Android skin is paired with customizable gestures to make the phone your own without cluttering up the interface. Performance is swift while battery life is long enough to cover essential day-to-day tasks with no problem, but this isn’t a phone built to convert the big-screen power user.

The Zenfone 9 is a fine little handset, even if it’s not quite fully fleshed out with the necessary features for the price Asus is asking. The lack of wireless charging, middling dual camera setup, and single storage capacity should give you pause for thought. You can easily find more hardware for your buck on today’s market, and most other phones will be kept up to date much longer, though they might take up a bit more space in your pocket.

Asus Zenfone 9

Compact and light-weight • Solid improvements over the Zenfone 8

The Asus Zenfone 9 offers a compact design, without having to compromise all of the best specs and features to fit in your pocket.

Top Asus Zenfone 9 questions and answers

The Asus Zenfone 9 has an IP68 rating for protection against immersion in up to 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) of water for up to 30 minutes.

Yes, the Zenfone 9’s fingerprint reader is located in the power button.

Yes, the Zenfone 9 supports 5G Non-Standalone and Standalone networks, but only sub-6GHz bands. There’s no 5G mmWave support.

Yes, the Zenfone 9 has NFC support.

Yes. The Zenfone 9 has two 5G nano-SIM card slots.

Asus promises two OS and at least two years of security patches for the Zenfone 9, well below the industry’s best.

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