In the box:
The notch itself isn’t too big – smaller than that on the iPhone X, for instance – and the slim bezels complement this screen well. Turning the device around, under the glass, you’ll see a concentric circular pattern emanating from the fingerprint sensor – a welcome bit of flair. It’s a light yet sturdy, decent-looking device, made nicer to look at by its vibrant screen – even with the notch.
ZenUI on the ZenFone 5Z sits atop an Android 8.0 Oreo base and looks as Zen as ever. Icons and fonts are uniform and pleasing to look at, and Asus has done a better job of keeping the interface and offered gestures simple right out of the box.
It wouldn’t be ZenUI, though, without a dearth of customization options. This includes Asus’ typical aesthetic tweaks like changing the dock, icon fonts, colors, scroll effects, and icon sizing, but also a seemingly ever-expanding suite of assistive features. Options for twin apps, ringtones that adjust based on environmental noise, and charging that “learns” how you charge your phone to better protect the battery’s health are some of the newer additions you’ll find here. Many of these seem like they can be helpful for users, and as always, we’re pleased to find so much customization.
Although the settings menu is rather well-organized – a quality which assists in finding and utilizing these many features – much better would be a savvier settings search which can deliver you to these many functions based on context and keywords, rather than searching for exact terms you don’t necessarily know to look for. The all-device search has also been whittled down to only be able to search for apps and nothing else.
Packing Qualcomm’s latest in the Snapdragon 845, paired with 6 gigs of RAM and 64 GB of expandable storage, the ZenFone 5Z stacks up pretty well against other high-end competitors. This is a phone that moves when you tell it to go and the movements are smooth and prompt. Apps launch and switch in a flash – blink and you’ll miss most transitions.
Oddly, though, the fingerprint sensor gave us some spotty results. Typically lagging quite noticeably or sometimes completely unresponsive to our touch, this was far from our favorite biometric experience. Perhaps the sensor was simply not registering our touches or even just authenticating slowly – either way, we certainly hope that this lackluster aspect of an otherwise hyper-responsive phone can be addressed with a software patch.
Asus packs the ZenFone 5Z with all the requisite antennas and radios, including Bluetooth 5.0, dual-band Wi-Fi, and NFC. This dual-SIM phone can only work on AT&T and T-Mobile-based networks, excluding Verizon and Sprint from the honor.
Tools to play and manipulate Hi-Res (or regular) audio are also included in a suite called Audio-Wizard – something of a staple we’ve come to expect from Asus. These custom EQ presets and manual controls enable the user to easily and effectively tailor their listening experience to their specific auditory tastes – with headphones or without; the dual-speaker setup on the ZenFone 5Z helps to make listening to music an enjoyable, more immersive experience either way.
Asus has paired a 12 MP regular lens camera with an 8 MP wide-angle cam on the ZenFone 5Z. Unlike its brother, the ZenFone 5Q, the 5Z only has a single front-facing camera with an 8 MP sensor.
The 8 MP wide-angle camera also composes some well-put-together shots, but compared to the main sensor, shows obvious troubles with exposure and detail capture. Still, this wide-angle camera gets the job done with more-than-passable results.
Selfies on the 5Z look pretty good too, and although beauty modes certainly have an effect, the auto mode doesn’t do the best job of cleaning up the subject in a natural, effective way. Still, tweaking these on your own can have some desired effect.
Portrait modes exist for both the front and rear cameras, with results being similarly pleasing. Asus has made much improvement in this area, and, even with the single front-facing camera, does an excellent job of separating the subject from the background and composing a pleasing bokeh aesthetic.
Video captured on the ZenFone 5Z shows much of the same characteristics of photo capture – abundant detail with decent color reproduction. Image stabilization does some pretty nice work in smoothing out bounces from walking, but movement from panning often appears artificial and even sometimes glitchy panning the camera from subject to subject.
Calls are another area in which the ZenFone 5Z executes well. Sound on both ends is clear and signal seemed to give no troubles. The speakerphone is also more than adequate for most any situation.
Clocking over eight hours on our custom battery life test, the Asus ZenFone 5Z proves its 3300 mAh battery can easily last through a day’s use. You won’t get too far into day two without a charge, though. Re-charge times were pleasing as well; Asus’s fast charge powers up the 5Z from 0 to 100 in just under an hour and 40 minutes.
In totality, the sacrifices on this phone are mostly minimal; the ZenFone 5Z is a device you won’t regret buying – especially considering how much you can save in buying a phone of such capability with the few shortcomings it has.