Asus Zenfone 5 review

Great hardware meets okay software

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  • ZenUI software with Android 8.0
  • Not the neatest software, but highly customizable

The Asus Zenfone 5 runs Android 8.0.0 and the ZenUI software. This is Asus’s Android skin, renowned for being jam-packed with extra fluff no one ordered.

There’s still more than some manufacturer interfaces here, but we don’t get the sense of being immediately submerged in additional apps. The look of the software is clearly different from standard Android too, but after a couple of days we were used to it. ZenUI is fine.

What changes does it make? Unlike standard Android, the Asus Zenfone 5 has horizontal pages of icons in its app drawer rather than a vertical scroll.

There’s also a dock of frequently used apps that sits at the bottom of the apps screen.

As usual ZenUI also offers loads of customizations. Dig deep enough and you can change fonts, use (slightly questionable) animated Asus wallpapers, alter the scale of the UI, turn off the apps menu completely and change the transition animations.

ZenUI is not an immediately impressive interface. However, its wide-ranging tweaks are well-suited to the slightly geeky audience likely to pick up an Asus phone. And it has shrugged off most of the stiffness of earlier versions of ZenUI.

Movies, music and gaming

  • Loud speakers and a headphone jack
  • Game Genie feature
  • Large display is great for games

The Asus Zenfone 5 is also one of the best phones for movies and games at the price. Aside from a simple sound recorder app Asus has stayed out of these areas, but the hardware is perfect for the enthusiast on a sensible budget.

Its screen is fairly large, plenty colorful, and games automatically scale to fit the Zenfone 5’s screen. You won’t suddenly see games flood the notch area, blocking off vital bits of game interface.

The phone’s speaker is remarkably good too. Most of the sound comes from the driver on the bottom, but the earpiece on the front plays additional higher-frequency audio. This makes the Zenfone 5 sound 'stereo', rather than just leaving all sound coming from one end, pointing away from your ears.

These speakers are louder than average, and they have a solid amount of mid and upper bass 'body'. We tend to use the Zenfone 5 at about 70-80% volume when listening to a podcast. It’s usually 100% all the way with other phones.

This is in part because it sounds just a little brash maxed-out at close quarters, but the extra volume is welcome when, for example, you’re cooking or listening to something while in the shower.

This phone is louder and fuller-sounding than the OnePlus 6.

There’s also an 'outdoor' mode. This makes the Asus Zenfone 5’s speakers thinner and harder sounding, but the audio travels better.

The Zenfone 5’s headphone jack is perhaps the biggest win for the way we play games, though. You don’t have to own a pair of Bluetooth headphones, or use an annoying adaptor.

If you like you can use Asus’s Game Genie feature too. This is part of ZenUI, accessed through the soft key bar when running a game. You can record footage, take screenshots, block notifications and 'speed up' gameplay. However, this seems to amount to purging RAM memory, so don’t expect dramatic results.

You can also force apps to fill out the whole screen, meaning the notch may block some interface elements. There’s not much reason to do this.

We noticed a few fractional moments of slow-down in Asphalt 8 (High graphics), but nothing that remotely spoils the fun. PUBG runs at Medium graphics rather than the High graphics setting the OnePlus 6 defaults to, though. This is because the Asus Zenfone 5 has a mid-range CPU, not a top-end one.

However, you can switch to High and the frame rate is perfectly sound.

Performance and benchmarks

  • Mid-range Snapdragon 636 chipset
  • 4GB of RAM

The Asus Zenfone 5 has the Snapdragon 636, the latest mid-range Qualcomm chipset at the time of the phone’s launch. It has eight Kryo 260 cores clocked at 1.8GHz and the Adreno 509 GPU.

This is much less powerful than the OnePlus 6’s Snapdragon 845: it has only around 50% as much graphics power.

The difference between the Snapdragon 636 and last year’s flagship the Snapdragon 835 is less substantial, on the GPU side at least.

It scores 4,854 points in Geekbench 4. This places it below the Honor 10 and, of course, the OnePlus 6, but the score is solid. You can also use the 'AI Boost' mode to increase benchmark scores to 5,434 points, but this is the equivalent of 'cheating' manufacturers used to do on the sly.

The Asus Zenfone 5 has 4GB of LPDDR4X RAM that, according to our tests, is only around a third the speed of the OnePlus 6’s RAM. This is likely because the OnePlus uses not just faster RAM, but a dual-channel arrangement.

Like the chipset, the RAM is 'fast enough', and doesn’t actually aim for top tier performance. Such fast RAM isn't supported by the Snapdragon 636 platform anyway.

Andrew Williams

Andrew is a freelance journalist and has been writing and editing for some of the UK's top tech and lifestyle publications including TrustedReviews, Stuff, T3, TechRadar, Lifehacker and others.