ASUS ZenFone 6 hands-on review: flip me baby one more time

Close on the heels of the launch of the OnePlus 7 and the OnePlus 7 Pro, ASUS has also launched its competing flagship smartphone. The ZenFone 6 is a stark departure in design from previous ZenFone series phones but is it enough to take on the hype around the OnePlus flagships this year? 

Also read: OnePlus 7 Pro review: the maker of “flagship killers” makes a killer flagship

Well, I had some time with the phone at a pre-briefing and here are my key takeaways. And, it goes without saying, don’t forget to keep a lookout for our full review when it launches in India. Which should be “soon” according to ASUS. 

ASUS ZenFone 6 design and display: truly brave engineering

One look at the ZenFone 6 and you know that ASUS has gone berserk on the innovation. The first thing that grabs your attention is the flip camera module on the rear. Essentially, this module flips open to scan your face for face unlock and you can also use the high-resolution rear cameras for selfies. Yes, including the wide-angle one. 

Now, I know you guys have a few questions. Let me answer them one by one. 

  1. Since the phone has mechanical moving parts, will it fail soon?

    Have you ever bothered about moving parts in a disk drive? No, right? So, stop worrying so much about moving parts on your phones. And, ASUS has tested it for 1,00,000 cycles in ideal conditions. Therefore, I expect it to last for a long time for sure.

  2. What about the dust accumulating in the open space?

    It does happen. Dust will get accumulated in due time. But it is also easier to clean because the open space is easier to access.

  3. Is it automatic or manual?

    This is where it gets interesting. It is an automatic module for most scenarios. Like when you switch on the selfie camera, it automatically flips open. Or, when it is scanning for your face to unlock the phone. However, you can also manually move the camera by sliding up or down the selfie button inside the camera app. In fact, ASUS was excited about how this could help you compose some incredible shots without too much effort. Also, ASUS has gone ahead and made automatic panorama modes that you can shoot vertically or horizontally. 

There is another thing that I’d like to highlight. ASUS has a controlled speed mechanism where it has a three stage impulse. It starts off moving at 400ms, then goes faster at 2400ms, and finally settles in slowly at 400ms. It looks a little janky at first but this controlled motion is ideal for the longevity. My other problem was that the motor is fairly loud. You can add custom sounds to it if that is any reprieve. 

Now, the design story doesn’t end here. The phone has a typical glass sandwich design with Gorilla Glass 3 on the rear and Gorilla Glass 6 on the front. It is a curved glass so the phone sits nicely in the hand. The flip camera module is made of liquid metal, by the way. 

Moving on, there is a headphone jack and a USB Type-C port at the bottom. You also get a dual speaker setup in stereo mode. It gets super loud by default and even louder with the Outdoor mode. By the way, there are two new upgraded Smart Amps for better sound. You also get a triple slot SIM tray for two SIM cards and a memory card. 

Also read: Google Pixel 3a XL hands-on review: the Pixel that Google should’ve ideally made first

Wait, wait…there is more. ASUS has added an extra Smart Key to the ZenFone 6. It has three levels: single press, double press, and long press. Since this is a Smart Key, it is set to open Google Assistant by default. But you can program it to do whatever you like. Quite literally, whatever you like. I really like this freedom. But, the right edge is now crowded with buttons and ASUS tells me there is a reason why the Smart Key is on the right. We will get to know more about it after the launch on the 16th.

Coming to the 6.4-inch display, you get a full-screen IPS LCD FHD+ panel. It can go up to 600 nits of brightness. In my limited time with the phone, the display didn’t look as impressive to me. I mean, the OnePlus 7 Pro has a 90Hz refresh rate now. Okay, forget that. At least HDR support was critical. Even Nokia 8.1 has it. This is a let down for me. Maybe my perspective will change after using the phone. 

ASUS ZenFone 6 software: a complete rethinking of ZenUI which makes it more appealing

Apart from the changes to the design, the ZenFone 6 has a new coat of software. It has been stripped down to look like stock Android with the embellishments of ZenUI like the awesome Optiflex mode. I really like the new ASUS approach that is going for minimalism and clean experience over everything else. Heck, ASUS even gives you the pill-based navigation gestures if you want to use it. 

I am most excited about testing out the new ZenUI and seeing how it improves upon the stock experience. Actually, ZenUI is now truly going up against Oxygen OS with this iteration. But if it is better or not is something we’ll have to check. 

ASUS ZenFone 6 hardware: top-of-the-line

Inside the ZenFone 6, you get a top-of-the-line Snapdragon 855 SoC and three RAM/ROM variants: 6/64GB, 6/128GB, and 8/256GB. It felt snappy in my time with it. But of course, it wasn’t enough to make any conclusive thoughts on performance. That said, compared to the 12 gigs of RAM that you get on the OnePlus 7 Pro, the ZenFone 6 does fall short a bit when it comes to the on-paper specs. 

Interestingly, ASUS has added a massive 5000mAh battery inside the ZenFone 6 and you get QC 4.0 fast charging at 18W with the ability to recharge other phones using a Type-C to Type-C cable. There is no wireless charging or reverse wireless charging, though. 

Coming back to the actual cameras inside the flip module, you get a couple of sensors. The 48MP Sony IMX586 sensor with pixel binning to 12MP. And, you also get a 13MP wide-angle camera. You can also take selfies with both the cameras. There is also a dedicated Super Night mode for low light photography. I couldn’t test any of this in my time with the phone, though. 

Closing thoughts on the ASUS ZenFone 6

The ASUS ZenFone 6 is a weird little beast that completely bucks the design trends. And to a certain extent, at least as far as my first impressions are concerned, ASUS manages to pull it off as well. I really like the ZenFone 6’s flip module. It is well-thought out. But it does lose out on a few critical specs that would have truly made it desirable like the OnePlus 7 Pro. Maybe my opinion changes after using the phone. For that, you will have to keep reading Mr. Phone. 

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Ershad Kaleebullah
ershad.kaleebullah@u2opiamobile.com

When Ershad isn't writing, he spends time killing virtual zombies on his PS4. Having worked with a slew of renowned publications like PCWorld, Channelworld, CIO, NDTV Gadgets (now Gadgets360), MySmartPrice, The Inquistr, and 91Mobiles, Ershad brings a whole world of experience to Mr. Phone. He is trying hard to convert all the team members into Apple fans but is facing a lot of resistance. Is anyone willing to help?