As a ZenFone 6 user for over two years, I can confidently say that this ASUS phone which made quite a splash in the mobile phone market is one worth owning in the long run. It’s famous ‘Flip Camera’ allows for a punch-hole free full display, it’s lightly skinned operating system that is still extremely responsive even years later, and it’s long lasting 5000 mAh battery capacity makes it a phone that I would be reluctant to swap out even in 2022.
Two generations later however, the ZenFone 8 is quite a different phone, and reveals ASUS’s re-thinking on smartphones. Gone is the Flip Camera system (Retained by its sibling the ZenFone 8 Flip), the current TOTL ASUS phone uses a more commonly seen hole-punch camera. Most surprisingly, it’s a flagship phone with a sub-6″ screen, a miniature design only tackled by the iPhone 13 mini, Sony Xperia 10 III and perhaps the Google Pixel 5 (which has a 6″ screen).
Can the ZenFone 8 start a new revolution for small flagship phones? And how does it play out in the long run? Let’s dive in to find out.
Frosted Glass and IP68
One of the first things that stands out about the ZenFone 8 is its matte finish back. It’s hard to tell what it is at first glance as it feels too premium to be plastic but looks nothing like glass. Only after checking the spec sheet, I found that this is the new frosted Corning Gorilla Glass 3. The surface feels surreal because it is impervious to finger prints, and feels silky smooth to the touch. Over time, I found that it is also very scratch resistant, not picking up any hint of scuff or even minor scratches with daily use.
With the negation of the Flip Camera, for the first time, the ZenFone receives a IP68 rating. Even though I’ve never had any problem with water and dust resistance with the ZenFone 6 over 2 years of use, this is a nice protection to have for a peace of mind.
Very Pocketable Sub-6″ Super AMOLED Screen
Culminating with the smooth frosted glass back, the smaller form factor of the ZenFone 8 results in the most pocketable phone I’ve used in years. Not only is it small, the lighter weight significantly eases the burden in the pocket that I’ve lived with for such a long time.
The smaller form factor is quite addictive, in the sense that all other phones feel cumbersome after using the ZenFone 8 for a while, and I just can’t stand weighty phones anymore, even with the advantages they offer. With the trend of fold and flip phones, which are even harder to pocket as they are thicker than usual phones when folded, personally, I would take a thinner profile over a larger screen any day.
How does the 5.9″ screen impact daily use compared to the norm of large screens? The visual disadvantage it made was surprisingly minimal, especially with the introduction of oversized buttons and fonts in the Android 12 update, making the UI easy to see and use on the smaller display.
The smaller screen has, on the other hand, a very sizable advantage, especially when it comes to one-handed operations. Your thumb is now able to cover a much larger portion of the screen, without needing to hold and balance the phone in precariously ways. In the past when phones were this size, bezel-less phones did not yet exist, which resulted in very limited screen real estate. With the new phones like the ZenFone 8, which has an 80%+ body to screen ratio, it’s the perfect time to bring back small phones again where you get a great balance between display and operation.
Face Unlock vs. Fingerprint Unlock
One of the definitive features for me on the ZenFone 6 was the rear mounted fingerprint scanner. Even though it’s not the ‘latest and greatest’ it’s speed and reliability is just as good after two years of use.
This is where the ZenFone 8 irked me at the start since it opted for an under the screen scanner, which even with the flagship phones of the likes of Xiaomi and OPPO, they only work around 90% of the time for me, which translates to a handful of failed unlocking every day. And sadly without surprise, it’s a similar story on the ZenFone 8.
Just as I was getting disappointed, I decided to give Face Unlock a go. To my pleasant surprise, this is an even faster way of unlocking than the rear mounted fingerprint scanner. With the hole-punch camera, a very rapid round scanning status bar that wraps itself around the camera flashes, and unlocks the screen in a split second.
Not only is the front camera impressive in speed, the reliability of the face unlock is also surprisingly good. The unlocking only happens if my eyes are open, but as long as they are open, it even recognizes my face if I have a facemask on. The only caveat this has is in dark environments, where there isn’t enough light to illuminate my face, in which case pin or password unlock would be resorted to.
Speedier Camera and Processor
The front facing camera is not the only thing that’s fast, the main camera in the rear also has impressive speed. This might not be apparent with ASUS’s built in camera app, but with ported GCam 8.1, the speed difference between the ZenFone 6 and ZenFone 8 is night and day. ASUS’s historic openness to allow for third party app porting allows for perfect adoption of Google’s camera app, and this attitude has continued in the latest flagship phone.
The speed of the camera actually carries over to the entire UI, as the combination of the Snapdragon 888 5G, 120 Hz refresh rate in the Super AMOLED screen and the ZenUI 8 that continues the minimal skinning of stock Android, makes the ZenFone 8 one of the fastest Android phones around to use.
Shortcut Power Button
A few more small details that I love on the ZenFone 8 that make big differences are things like the elimination of the extra button on the left-hand side of the phone. The customizable shortcut button on the ZenFone 6 was actually something that I used daily, but with the latest flagship, the power button itself is programmable, giving me the same functionality in a sleeker package.
Real Stereo Speakers
There is great improvement in the external speaker department for the ZenFone 8. Even though on paper, the ZenFone 6 also had stereo speakers, the 8 sounds much more balanced, giving the user a true stereo experience while playing games and listening to music on the fly.
Return of the Audio Jack
One of my considerable disappointments with the ZenFone 7 was ASUS succumbing to the trend of eliminating 3.5 mm audio jacks. In a totally unexpected move, they have brought it back to the ZenFone 8. This means on occasions for important business calls, when you need better call performance, you’re able to put in a headphone with an inline microphone instead of the sub-par phone call quality you get with TWS earbuds.
This also means if you want to use the ZenFone 8 as your live stream camera, you can charge the phone while having an external microphone attached to the audio jack. In my book, more ports is always better than less ports when it comes to productivity.
The ZenFone 8 is one of the most pocketable flagship phones on the market right now, while having the top spec in its 120 Hz Super AMOLED screen and Snapdragon 888 5G chip. Though it has lost the signature flip camera, it has made it up with blazing fast front and rear cameras with excellent photo taking quality, and an IP68 rating.
This is a smaller, but far superior phone than its predecessors. After using this phone for the last two months, I would argue that this is the best ZenFone I’ve used so far, as well as my favorite flagship Android phone to date. We’re awarding the ZenFone 8 with the IBTimes Editor’s Recommendation Badge.
David is a tech enthusiast/writer who is often on the move and is on a mission to explore ways to make his overhaul flights more enjoyable. This is a contribution to an ongoing IBTimes review series on gadgets for Business Travelers.