After a couple of generations making phones with flip-out cameras and increasingly large displays, Asus has taken the ZenFone 8 in a totally different direction: small.
The flipping camera concept lives on in the also-new ZenFone 8 Flip, but itās no longer a standard feature across this yearās ZenFone lineup. Instead, starting at $629 for 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, the ZenFone 8 lands in the upper-midrange class with a conventional rear camera bump and a much smaller 5.9-inch display. An 8GB RAM / 256GB storage configuration is also available for $699.
Rather than an attention-grabbing camera feature, the focus of this design has been to create a smaller phone thatās comfortable to use in one hand, which Asus has done without skimping on processing power or higher-end features.
Itās an Android iPhone mini, and itās fantastic.
Our review of
Asus Zenfone 8
8 out of 10
- Thoughtful compact design
- Robust build quality and IP68 rating
- Excellent Snapdragon 888 performance
- Battery life is just okay
- Only two major OS updates
- No telephoto camera
Buy for $600.00 from Asus
Asus ZenFone 8 screen and design
The ZenFone 8 may be small, but that hasnāt kept it from offering the latest flagship processor: a Snapdragon 888 chipset, coupled with 6, 8, or 16GB of RAM (my review unit has 16GB). I canāt find fault with this phoneās performance. It feels responsive, animations and interactions are smooth, and it keeps up with demanding use and rapid app switching. This is performance fitting of a flagship device.
The display is a 5.9-inch 1080p OLED panel with a fast 120Hz refresh rate that makes routine interactions with the phone ā swiping, scrolling, animations ā look much more smooth and polished than a standard 60Hz screen or even a 90Hz panel. By default, the phone will automatically switch between 120 / 90 / 60Hz depending on the application to save battery life, but you can manually select any of those three refresh rates if you prefer.
The displayās 20:9 aspect ratio was carefully considered by Asus. The company says it settled on this slightly narrower format so the phone would fit more easily into a pocket, and it does. I canāt get it all the way into a back jeans pocket, but it mostly fits. More importantly, it fits well inside a jacket pocket and doesnāt feel like itās going to flop out if I sit down on the floor to tie my shoes. The ZenFone 8 is rated IP68 for dust protection and some water submersion.
I canāt get it all the way into a back jeans pocket, but it mostly fits
The front panel is protected by Gorilla Glass Victus and houses an in-display fingerprint sensor, while the back uses Gorilla Glass 3 with a frosted finish thatās on the matte side of the matte / glossy spectrum. The front panel is flat, but the rear features a slight curve on the long edges for an easier fit in the hand. At 169 grams (5.9 ounces), itās heavy for its size, and it feels surprisingly dense when you first pick it up. The phoneās frame is aluminum, giving the whole package a high-end look and feel. Thereās even a headphone jack on the top edge as a treat.
The power button (an exciting shade of blue!) is well-positioned so my right thumb falls on it naturally with the phone in my hand. Same for the in-screen fingerprint sensor: the target appears to be positioned higher on the screen than usual, but that actually puts it within a comfortable reach of my thumb.
Iāll admit up front that I have a personal bias toward smaller phones, but the ZenFone 8 just feels great in my hand. Iāve spent a lot of time using big devices over the last six months, and Iāve gotten used to it. But the ZenFone 8 is the first device that feels like it was adapted to me, not something Iāve had to adapt to using.
Asus ZenFone 8 battery and software
The phoneās small size makes a smaller battery a necessity ā 4,000mAh in this case, much smaller than the ZenFone 6 and 7ās 5,000mAh. I felt the difference in using this phone versus a battery-for-days budget or midrange phone, but I had no problem getting through a full day of moderate use. I even left Strava running for 20 hours by accident, and the battery still had some life in it the next morning. The ZenFone 8 supports 30W wired charging with the included power adapter, which takes an empty battery to 100 percent in a bit more than an hour. Wireless charging isnāt supported, which makes the ZenFone 8 a bit of an outlier in the flagship class.
Asus offers a ton of options to help stretch day-to-day battery life as well as the overall lifespan of your battery. There are no fewer than five battery modes to optimize phone performance or battery longevity on a daily basis, and different charging modes let you set a custom charging limit or stagger charging overnight so it reaches 100 percent around the time of your alarm for better battery health. You wonāt find class-leading battery capacity here, but rest assured if you need to stretch the ZenFone 8ās battery, there are plenty of options.
The ZenFone 8 ships with Android 11, and Asus says it will provide āat leastā two major OS with security updates for the same timeframe. Thatās on the low side of what weād expect for a flagship phone, especially compared to Appleās typical four- or five-year support schedule. An important note for US shoppers is that the ZenFone 8 will only work with AT&T and T-Mobileās LTE and Sub-6GHz 5G networks; you canāt use this phone on Verizon, and thereās no support for the fast, but extremely limited, millimeter-wave 5G networks.
Asus ZenFone 8 camera
There are just two cameras on the ZenFone 8ās rear camera bump, and they are both worth your time. Rather than cram in a depth sensor, macro, or some monochrome nonsense, Asus just went with a 64-megapixel main camera with OIS and a 12-megapixel ultrawide. Theyāre borrowed from last yearās model, minus a telephoto camera and the flipping mechanism.
As in the ZenFone 7 Pro, the 8ās main camera produces 16-megapixel images with vibrant color and plenty of detail in good light. Images can lean a little too far into unnatural-looking territory, and some high-contrast scenes look a little too HDR-y for my liking. But overall, this camera does fine: it handles moderately low-light conditions like a dim store interior well, and Night Mode does an okay job in very low light, provided you can hold the phone still for a few seconds and your subject isnāt moving.
A skin-smoothing beauty mode is on by default when you use portrait mode, and it is not good. Skin looks over-smoothed, unnaturally flat, and brightened, like your subject is wearing a couple of layers of stage makeup. Turning this off improves things significantly.
The ultrawide camera also turns in good performance. Asus calls it a āflagshipā grade sensor, and while that might have been true in 2018, itās at least a step up from the smaller, cheaper sensors often found in ultrawide cameras. Likewise, the front-facing 12-megapixel camera does fine. Beauty mode is turned off by default when you switch to the selfie camera, and thank goodness for that.
Thereās no telephoto camera here, just digital zoom. On the camera shooting screen, thereās an icon to jump to a 2x 16-megapixel ālosslessā digital zoom to crop in quickly, which works okay, but it isnāt much reach, and it just makes the limitations of the small sensor and lens more obvious.
On the whole, the camera system is good but not great. The lack of true optical zoom or a telephoto camera is a disappointment, but you canāt have everything on such a small device, and Iād personally take an ultrawide before a telephoto any day.
The ZenFone 8 fills a void in the Android market for a full-specced, small-sized device. The Google Pixel 4A is around the same size, but itās decidedly a budget device with a step-down processor, plastic chassis, and fewer niceties like an IP rating or a fast-refresh screen. Aside from battery life, which is manageable, you give up very little in the way of flagship features to get the ZenFone 8ās small form factor.
You have to look to iOS for this phoneās most direct competition: the iPhone 12 mini, which it matches almost spec-for-spec from the IP rating down to the camera configuration. The 12 mini is actually a little smaller than the ZenFone 8, and when you factor in storage capacity, itās the more expensive choice at $829 for 256GB. However, when you consider that the 12 mini will probably get a couple more years of OS and security support, it may be the better buy in the long run, if youāre flexible in your choice of operating system.
Flagship-level build quality and performance quite literally in the palm of your hand
I like the ZenFone 8 a lot, but Iām not sure itāll find a big audience, at least in the US. Apple is having trouble selling the iPhone 12 mini, and if thereās one thing Apple is good at, itās selling phones to US customers. As much as I hate to entertain the idea, maybe weāve gotten used to giant phones. I love how the ZenFone 8 feels in my hand and in my pocket, but I do notice how much smaller the screen and everything on it seems compared to the bigger phones Iāve used recently.
There are also a few important considerations, like the lack of compatibility with Verizon and the comparatively short support lifespan of the phone. If you need the absolute best in battery life the ZenFone 8 canāt offer that, and if you want a class-leading camera, youāll need to look elsewhere.
All that said, the ZenFone 8 will be the right fit for a specific type of person, and I can heartily recommend it to my fellow small phone fans. Youāll get flagship-level build quality and performance quite literally in the palm of your hand.
Photography by Allison Johnson / The Verge
Update June 29th, 11:50AM ET: Updated to include final US pricing.
Agree to continue: Asus ZenFone 8
Every smart device now requires you to agree to a series of terms and conditions before you can use it ā contracts that no one actually reads. Itās impossible for us to read and analyze every single one of these agreements. But we started counting exactly how many times you have to hit āagreeā to use devices when we review them since these are agreements most people donāt read and definitely canāt negotiate.
To actually use the Asus ZenFone 8, you must agree to:
- Asus end user license agreement
- Google Terms of Service
- Install updates and apps: āYou agree this device may also automatically download and install updates and apps from Google, your carrier, and your deviceās manufacturer, possibly using cellular data. Some of these apps may offer in-app purchases.ā
To add a Google account, youāll also need to agree to two more things:
- Google Play Terms of Service
The following agreements are optional:
- Allowing Asus to collect product and location information
- Asus product registration
- Back up to Google Drive: āYour backup includes apps, app data, all history, contacts, device settings (including Wi-Fi passwords and permissions), and SMS.ā
- Use location: āGoogle may collect location data periodically and use this data in any anonymous way to improve location accuracy and location-based services.ā
- Allow scanning: āAllow apps and services to scan for Wi-Fi networks and nearby devices at any time, even when Wi-Fi or Bluetooth is off.ā
- Send usage and diagnostic data: āHelp improve your Android device experience by automatically sending diagnostic, device and app usage data to Google.ā
- Carrier location access: āYour carrier occasionally requires location data to improve its services and analytics.ā
Additionally, for Google Assistant, thereās an option to agree to use Voice Match: āAllows your Assistant to identify you and tell you apart from others. The Assistant takes clips of your voice to form a unique voice model, which is only stored on your device(s). Your voice model may be sent temporarily to Google to better identify your voice.ā
Final tally: three mandatory agreements to use the phone, another two for Google account services, and seven optional agreements.