our impressions of the smallest high-end smartphone

If the very ambitious ROG Phone 5 is in absolute terms a true successor to the ROG Phone 3, Asus is taking a risk with the ZenFone 8. The ZenFone 8 has the dual responsibility of replacing the ZenFone 7 Pro and of convincing that there is a real market for small flagships. Competitor of the Xperia 5 III and the iPhone 12 Mini, the ZenFone 8 does not want to make any concessions. Is this really the case? Answer in this comprehensive test.

Can a smartphone be small and powerful at the same time? In absolute terms, the answer is yes, of course. Representatives of this very specific segment are currently offered in the Apple and Sony catalogs. The American firm offers the iPhone 12 Mini. The Japanese brand markets the Xperia 5 II, which will soon be replaced by the Xperia 5 III. Great performance. And relatively small size.

Read also – Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra review: attack on titan

If the Xperia 5 II retains almost normal dimensions, with a 6.1-inch screen, the iPhone 12 Mini goes below 6 inches, with a 5.4-inch screen, and becomes an exception in the world of smartphones. powerful. An exception which obviously gave rise to certain questions. Can the heat of the SoC be sufficiently managed in such a small space? Can you get the full power of a high-end SoC without risking overheating? Can we enjoy good battery life when the SoC is greedy and the internal space does not allow for a large battery?

asus zenfone 8 test
ZenFone 8 Flip and ZenFone 8

Beyond the technical constraints, after the test on the iPhone 12 Mini, we wondered about the use. What are the uses that require a powerful SoC? The main use is obviously video games. But can we actually play today on a 5.4 inch screen? The answer is yes. But it’s not comfortable. Is the integration of a powerful processor in a small smartphone justified? This is the whole paradox.

A paradox that we are again facing with Asus this year. The Taiwanese brand presented the ZenFone 8, a small high-end smartphone, with all the constraints that this entails. A precariously balanced smartphone, but one that promises to make no concessions. Is the promise kept? This is what we invite you to discover in this complete test of the 16/256 GB version (RAM and storage), either the best.

Pricing and availability

The ZenFone 8 is available in four versions. The first has 6 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage (without expansion). The second is offered with 8 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage. The third takes advantage of 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB of storage. The latter is the better off, with 16GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. That’s as much RAM and internal space as the best classic ROG Phone 5.

asus zenfone 8 test

The starting price of the ZenFone 8 is very aggressive, since the smartphone is marketed is 699 euros, far from the prices charged by the competition on their flagship. At this price, Asus competes head-on with value-for-money experts such as Xiaomi, Oppo and OnePlus, among others.

In France, the four versions will not be marketed. The 6 + 128 GB version will not be sold. Contacted by us, Asus explained to us that the tricolor taxes would not have allowed it to offer this version below the 600 euros mark. The other three will be proposed. Their price is 699 euros, 749 euros and 819 euros, respectively. The Galaxy S21, another natural competitor of ZenFone 8, is offered more expensive.

asus zenfone 8 test
Case delivered in the box

In the box, you will find the smartphone, a protective shell, a 30 watt charger and a USB cable. No pair of headphones came with our test unit. But the Asus brand confirmed to us that a hands-free kit would be provided in France.

ZenFone 8 will be available in France from May 31, 2021. Note that Asus is running a pre-order campaign during which ZenFone 8 buyers can benefit from an ODR of 100 euros. This campaign will start on May 12th.

asus zenfone 8 test
Rhinoshield cover for ZenFone 8

Design

Now let’s get to the heart of the matter. The ZenFone 8 is clearly small. You can see other Asus models opposite: the ZenFone 7 Pro, the ROG Phone 3, as well as the ZenFone 8 Flip you can also find the test in our columns. The ZenFone 8 is an adorable little smartphone, easy to handle and quite pretty to look at.

asus zenfone 8 test
From left to right: ZenFone 7 Pro, ROG Phone 3, ZenFone 8 and ZenFone 8 Flip

At the rear, the smartphone adopts a sober design. The shell is made of mineral glass Corning Gorilla 6. It is curved at the sides. The glass is polished. This has two advantages: it is soft to the touch and it does not retain fingerprints. In the center, a simple “Asus Zenfone” marking. And in the upper left corner, a very “2020-2021” rectangular photo block with several elements. We will come back to this in the course of this test.

asus zenfone 8 test

The chassis is aluminum, unsurprisingly, with nice separations to isolate the antennas. On the lower edge, you find the USB type-C port, the main microphone, the main speaker, the drawer for the two SIM cards and a notification LED. Opposite is one of the two secondary microphones (the other being placed in the photo block) and a 3.5mm jack port. Nice surprise to find it here. We will see in the audio part if this return is as interesting as in the ROG Phone 5. On the right, you will find the power button and the volume controls. Finally, nothing left …

asus zenfone 8 test

On the front, you therefore find this relatively small screen. In the upper left corner, you can see a selfie sensor housed in a punch. The outline of this sensor is reflective: this is a surprising detail, because, usually, manufacturers prefer to hide the presence of this hole in the screen. We will see in the photo section the characteristics of this sensor. Note that Asus does not preinstall additional screen protection, unlike Oppo or Xiaomi.

asus zenfone 8 test

Around the screen, you will find some relatively thick borders. This is due to the flat nature of the screen. Above the touch layer is a glass panel for screen protection. This is Gorilla Victus, the latest generation of mineral material from the American firm Corning. In the thickness between the glass and the aluminum frame, you find the telephone receiver where the secondary speaker is integrated.

asus zenfone 8 test

The grip of the smartphone is not only very pleasant, but it reminds us of what a phone can be used with one hand. Without forcing, you can access three quarters of the screen, without having to change the phone’s position. This is much more than any other flagship on the market.

Screen

Before, we therefore find this “small” flat panel of 5.9 inches (small here referring to the market average which is more around 6.5 inches). This screen is provided by Samsung Display. This means that it is obviously an AMOLED panel, with the promise of deep contrasts, which we obviously verified with our probe.

asus zenfone 8 test

Before that, let’s review the different features of the screen. The definition is Full HD +. The screen resolution is therefore 446 pixels per inch. Which is great for all possible uses: reading text, viewing video and photos, playing in 3D, etc. Some fonts may require a bit higher resolution to display in great detail. But this is an exception.

The refresh rate of the panel is 120 Hz. You can obviously reduce this frequency to 90 Hz or 60 Hz. You can also choose to set this rate to 120 Hz, with the consequences in terms of battery, or to take advantage variable rate with automatic adjustment (which is enabled by default). So the frequency goes down when you don’t need it to be high and goes back up when you need it. This is the best compromise between fluidity and autonomy.

asus zenfone 8 test

The sample rate is 240Hz, which is twice the refresh rate. This frequency is relatively high compared to all smartphones on the market, but it is only average in the flagship segment. The ROG Phone goes much higher. Xiaomi’s Mi 11 too.

The advertised brightness is 1100 nits maximum. This is a local measure and under certain conditions. During normal use, the brightness is around 800 nits in automatic mode, outdoors and under the sun. And the maximum manual brightness (when automatic adjustment is therefore disabled) is between 450 and 500 nits depending on the display modes.

asus zenfone 8 test
ZenFone 8 Samsung AMOLED Diamond Pixel display

Let’s talk about the display modes: there are five. “Default”, “Natural”, Kinematic, Standard and Custom. The default mode and natural mode take advantage of the DCI-P3 sample, while the others opt for the sRGB sample. Also note the presence of a slider to heat or cool the colors according to your tastes. The personalized mode offers a second slider which acts on the contrast. We would have preferred a little more tuning in this custom mode, like at Xiaomi, for example. Note that the screen is HDR10 + certified.

On the color side, we are therefore facing an AMOLED panel. And more precisely in front of a Samsung Diamond Pixel panel, with four cross-shaped sub-pixels (two green, one red and one blue). You can see above the entanglement of the pixels photographed with the Find X3 Pro’s microscope (we are finding more and more use for this microscope after all …). There are four display modes (plus a “custom” mode): default, cinema, natural, and standard. Asus promises a Delta E of less than 1. Which would be excellent in real life. Let’s take a closer look with our probe.

asus zenfone 8 test

The most color-friendly modes are Cinema and Standard. The measured Delta E is approximately 3. Which is pretty good. And the average color temperature is 6600 °. Which is almost perfect. Red, light green and light blue are the least respected colors. The natural mode and the default mode are less respectful. The Delta E is close to 4. And the average temperature is around 8000 °. Which is very high. Light blue and light green are too vibrant. Purple, red and dark green too. Note that some colors are near perfect in all modes, such as yellow, orange or magenta.

Beyond the numbers, our visual impression on this panel is excellent. It is not only very responsive, but also very pleasing to the eye. Beautiful contrasts. Good fluidity. Last note, under the slab, you will find a fingerprint reader to ensure biometric security. Note that the phone is also equipped with facial recognition software (although this is not always very practical with masks).

Interface

Once the phone is turned on, you are taken to Zen UI, Asus’s familiar interface. No choice between ROG UI and Zen UI here, obviously. The experience is therefore visually much more sober than that of the ROG Phone. That’s just a front, though, as you get virtually the same display, sound, drums, and even performance options.

asus zenfone 8 test

When you launch ZenFone 8 for the first time, you will notice that there are few preinstalled applications. In addition to a relatively light bunch of software from Google, you will find four commercial applications: Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Instagram and Netflix. Asus software is not numerous either: Data Transfer, to facilitate the transfer of your data, Gallery, to view and edit your photos, or even File Manager, to manage your files and share them with your PC.

asus zenfone 8 test

On the customization side, you can change the wallpaper, the shape of the icons, the style and the color of the font. Note that Asus disables Android navigation buttons by default (so you navigate with gestures similar to iOS since Touch ID disappeared with iPhone X). You can of course reactivate them in the settings. However, you will lose display area. And on a small screen, that can have a significant impact.

asus zenfone 8 test
asus zenfone 8 test

ROG Phone’s Armory Crate is obviously not present, but not entirely absent either. If you launch a game, you also activate a menu similar to ROG Phones, but with fewer settings (which makes sense). You have access to a turbo mode. You have a few options to block notifications and calls. You can also record your screen, adjust some screen settings, or display a crosshair.

Let’s take a look around the parameter menu. And more precisely in “Advanced”. You will find there the few additions specific to Asus. Smart Key, which allows you to customize the behavior of the power key. Mobile Manager, the toolbox for optimizing the operating system. Game Genius, to configure the tab that appears in the games. Twin Apps, to clone an application.

asus zenfone 8 test

Protection, to configure a distress signal. Optiflex, to speed up the launch of the applications you use often. And Gestures, to use advanced gestures with the phone. From here you can activate “one-handed mode” which allows you to access the top of the screen without moving the phone in your hand. It is convenient. But it is necessary to take precisely… the helping hand.

Performance

The fluidity of the interface is due to several elements. The lightness of the system, the virtual absence of preinstalled applications and, of course, the power of the platform. The ZenFone 8 benefits here from an obviously high-end platform: the Snapdragon 888. As a reminder, our test unit is equipped with 16 GB of RAM. This promises amazing benchmark scores. However, we were not able to perform these tests until the end of the embargo. We will therefore update this test very quickly to measure the performance of this small platform.

asus zenfone 8 test

In use, the ZenFone 8 offers a perfectly smooth experience, even in game. We have naturally tested the performance of the system with a few games, including Dead Cells and Genshin Impact. And the experience is really very good. And this even if the screen does not offer the same ease in terms of handling as a ROG Phone: the virtual buttons are proportionately smaller. But a good controller can easily solve this little hassle.

asus zenfone 8 test
On the widget, we see the temperature reaching 47 °

While playing, we obviously noticed an increase in temperature. This is especially more pronounced at the level of the photo sensor and the upper left corner. We weren’t able to run a stress test like we usually do. However, the tests we carried out previously inform us that the temperature can exceed 45 °. We have reached 47 ° internally with Genshin. Even a little more if the smartphone is placed in a shell. Performance drops significantly if you reach this limit. We suspected that heat dissipation would be an issue with the ZenFone 8. And it obviously was not missing.

Autonomy and Recharge

Once the performance of the platform is proven, we naturally turn to the battery. That of the ZenFone 8 offers a capacity of 4000 mAh, which is pretty good for this size of smartphone. This is the same battery as in the Galaxy S21. With a very close screen and a relatively hungry platform, we therefore expect relatively close results.

asus zenfone 8 test

And this is generally the case in traditional use. This battery, this screen (with adaptive cooling) and this chipset together offer a day of battery life for those who surf the web, listen to music streaming, watch videos on YouTube, send messages on social networks and check their emails. But hardly more. This is of course one of the disadvantages of choosing a smartphone that is small in size but offers good performance.

On the game side, we weren’t able to do a stress test with 3D Mark as usual. We cannot therefore make a comparison with this tool. Nevertheless, we have carried out Genshin Impact sessions. The first with the default graphics and the second with the graphics at their maximum.

asus zenfone 8 test

The first caused the ZenFone 8 to lose 6% of the battery. That is to say a theoretical autonomy of 250 minutes. Or four hours and ten minutes. Which is very correct. The second causes the ZenFone 8 to lose 14% of the battery. The autonomy then drops to 107 minutes. Or one hour and forty-seven minutes. And, this is much worse. We also suspect a rapid drop in performance due to the heat.

The ZenFone 8 could be a good, edgy and fluid gaming platform on two conditions: either the game is greedy and the games don’t last too long, or the game is well optimized to avoid overheating and melting. autonomy. In short, it is rather wonky.

After draining the battery, it is time to recharge it. Good news: the ZenFone 8 is Quick Charge 4.0 compatible (like the ROG Phone 5), allowing the battery to receive power up to 30 watts. We are far from Super VOOC 2.0 at Oppo. But it’s already a good start. Here, no dual battery system.

asus zenfone 8 test

Using the charger and cable supplied with the smartphone, you charge the phone from 0 to 100% in 83 minutes (with screen off). Which is relatively long. However, we have good news: it’s the bottom 5 percent that is at stake. 30 minutes of charge provides 62% battery and 60 minutes provides 95% battery. So that’s pretty good.

Especially since you may decide to limit the load to 80% (with what this can mean in terms of autonomy). It will then take you approximately 45 minutes to achieve a “maximum” charge. The other battery protection tools are also present: programmed charge and restricted charge (slow charge only).

Audio

Without being as complete as that of the ROG Phone 5, the audio experience of the ZenFone 8 is rather qualitative. And this, globally, for the same reasons. First, the 3.5mm jack port made a comeback. And in a very nice way, since it is accompanied by a very well made hi-fi DAC. If you have a high-end helmet, you will feel beautiful things. Especially since ZenUI incorporates the same equalizer as the ROG Phone 5 to customize listening to your tastes (and the type of content).

asus zenfone 8 test

Second reason, the speakers. We’re not usually fans of the unbalanced setup with a big speaker on the bottom edge and a small speaker in the earpiece. Usually it gives an unbalanced experience. Here, the speakers are bulkier, with greater depth. Then they were powered by Dirac to improve sound and reduce interference. And the result is better than in other smartphones offering the same configuration.

asus zenfone 8 test

Third reason, the smartphone is equipped with three microphones: one for telephone conversations, one for active noise reduction and one for sound recording in video capture. This third microphone is important for giving your movies quality sound. Note that the calls are quite good with this phone: you hear well and, above all, your correspondence too.

asus zenfone 8 test

Photo

Let’s finish this test as usual with the photo. Unlike many other high-end smartphones that multiply photo sensors, the ZenFone 8 offers a relatively straightforward experience. There are two sensors at the back and one sensor at the front. The main sensor is Sony IMX686. It displays a resolution of 64 megapixels (but captures by default in 16 megapixels). It is a sensor with dual phase detection autofocus. The pixel size is 0.8 microns per side. Since it works in quad-bayer, the size goes up to 1.6 microns by default. It is associated with a stabilized lens opening at f / 1.8.

asus zenfone 8 test

The secondary sensor is a 12 megapixel model (IMX363) with dual autofocus as well. Its pixel size is 1.4 microns. Its viewing angle is 113 °. Its lens opens at f / 2.2. It takes care of panoramas and proximity photos (Macro). Up front, you will find another 12 megapixel sensor (IMX663) with dual phase detection autofocus as well. The lens opens at f / 2.45. It’s relatively rare to have autofocus on the selfie sensor. It’s great news to have a double.

asus zenfone 8 test

Let’s move on to our test results. The 64-megapixel sensor takes photos with very high sharpness during the day. Lots of contrast. Lots of details. The colors are natural and the balance is good. It is a sensor that is extremely sensitive to variations in light conditions. At night, it retains good qualities, with a good mastery of light sources, bright colors and many details. Night mode activates by default in main mode (but you can deactivate it by tapping on the moon icon).

asus zenfone 8 test
Main sensor, automatic mode
asus zenfone 8 test
Main sensor, night mode
asus zenfone 8 test
Main sensor, night mode
asus zenfone 8 test
Main sensor, automatic mode without night (left) and night mode (right)

You capture by default in 16 megapixels, but it is possible to switch to 64 megapixels from the settings menu. With this mode, you gain in detail, but lose in contrast. This is a mode that does not lend itself to the night: the photo takes longer to be taken and this causes blurring.

asus zenfone 8 test
Main sensor, automatic mode, 64 megapixel photo

The main sensor is also responsible for portraits. The clichés benefit from the same advantages. On the other hand, the clipping of the subjects is sometimes a little messy. By activating portrait mode, you can adjust the strength of the bokeh. An adjustment that you can also make in post production.

asus zenfone 8 test
Main sensor, portrait mode
asus zenfone 8 test
Main sensor, portrait mode
asus zenfone 8 test
Main sensor, portrait mode

Without optical zoom, the ZenFone 8 relies on its 64-megapixel sensor to achieve digital zooms. The 2x report, preinstalled in the photo interface, offers very good results during the day. You can zoom up to the 8x ratio. And that remains very correct. Well done on this point. At night, on the other hand, it is much more complicated, since the digital zoom is not compatible with the night mode.

asus zenfone 8 test
Main sensor, automatic mode: without zoom, 2x zoom, 4x zoom and 8x zoom

Now let’s talk about the wide-angle sensor. By day, it is a sensor that offers good quality results, with beautiful colors, a lot of detail. Contrast and brightness can be better. But it will also depend a lot on the light conditions. The correction of distortions is well managed. This 12 megapixel sensor is night mode compatible. But the results are much worse.

asus zenfone 8 test
Wide-angle sensor, automatic mode
asus zenfone 8 test
Wide-angle sensor, automatic mode
asus zenfone 8 test
Wide-angle sensor, night mode

Finally, let’s talk about the selfie sensor. A sensor that achieves beautiful self-portraits with a beautiful sharpness, details, especially during the day. This sensor is obviously compatible with portrait mode. With it, the clipping is much better managed and the photos gain in contrast. At night, the results are more mixed, with a strong smoothing of the details. Note that the ZenFone 8 comes with beautification options. But they are disabled by default.

asus zenfone 8 test
Selfie sensor, portrait mode
asus zenfone 8 test
Selfie sensor, automatic mode (left) and portrait mode (right)

Conclusion

The small, but powerful smartphone is a sweet dream that many manufacturers are trying to offer, but not completely achieving it. The biggest disappointment is certainly the iPhone 12 Mini where we wondered what the power of a flagship with a 5.4 inch screen could be used for. Because today it is small.

asus zenfone 8 test

With a 5.9-inch screen, the question arises less. Because it is possible to play or watch a series. Because it is possible to enjoy a complete and qualitative experience with a not too small format, easy to handle with one hand. And for that, we say kudos to Asus for having the daring and ingenuity to do so.

However, we can see here that there is a limit to the concept. Three points bother us: autonomy, below the competition, heat management, rather average, and the lack of space, which forces Asus to do without a telephoto lens. We also wonder about the relevance of the Snapdragon 888.

The ZenFone 8, like Xiaomi’s Mi 11, is an excellent everyday smartphone, very pleasant and offering a great experience. Among the 6.1-inch and smaller smartphones, it is certainly one of the best today. But it does not meet all the needs. If you’re looking for a photo, battery, or video game expert, the ZenFone 8 might not be the right choice.

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