Every now and then an Android phone comes out of the left field and surprises everyone how good it is. The latest example is the Asus ZenFone 6, which you may have seen, thanks to its unique gimmick: a reversing camera that folds up to become the selfie camera. It's one of the many smart ways that phone companies try to make a real edge-to-edge screen, and you're almost certain of a response when you show it.
The ZenFone 6 is a $ 499 – $ 599 phone if you need an RAM and storage upgrade – and the bar for phones for that price is considerably higher than before. It is no longer enough to use even a & # 39; budget & # 39; phone to determine the basics. It must have something that sets it apart and above the number of other sub- $ 600 phones. You probably think that the camera-flipping trick of the ZenFone 6 is the most important feature, but that's not my favorite thing about this phone.
The best thing about the ZenFone 6 is the battery life, which is astronomically good.
The ZenFone 6 is a large, thick telephone. It has a 6.4-inch screen, but thanks to minimal bezels, that is not the case whole as thick as it could be otherwise. I found it difficult to use with one hand and was surprised to see that it weighs less than an iPhone XS Max because it feels much heavier.
But the advantage of making a large phone means that Asus can fit extra things in it. There are all necessary means to allow the entire camera module to fold from the back to the front. There is a 5000 mAh battery that lasts forever; I get fairly heavy use for two days without a problem. (That's eight to nine hours of screen time, as Android counts, including hours of network and processor-intensive games.) Brutal power may not be the most elegant solution to extend battery life, but until battery technologies improve, it is definitely the most effective.
All that space also means that there is a headphone jack that is becoming increasingly rare, but apparently still considered necessary on midrange and lower phones. Asus could not charge wireless there, but that can be more of a cost decision than a space issue. Moreover, charging a 5000 mAh battery sounds like a nightmare at wireless charging speeds. Apparently Asus could have chosen a smaller battery with faster wired charging speeds then the 18W it supported, but it chose to go with the larger battery instead.
I am glad that Asus decided to make that decision. I am even happy with the many considerations Asus made with the ZenFone 6.
The screen is a perfect example. It's huge, but it's only 1080 x 2340, so it's not as sharp as screens on other phones. It is also an LCD instead of OLED, which means that the blacks are less black and that it is difficult to see outdoors, but both choices mean that the ZenFone 6 can be cheaper. The lower resolution screen also means that the phone has to push fewer pixels, which is a significant benefit for the battery life.
Asus pushed the screen close to the edge of the phone, but there is still a bezel because removing those last few millimeters means a few hundred dollars in costs. But despite that, the screen still looks impressive because it is large, the edges are small and there is no notch or camera cutout.
Asus lowers costs without making it feel like a cheap phone. There is a fingerprint sensor on the back, which is made of glass but almost feels like metal. The phone feels good and solid, but you can certainly find the seams between the different parts of the body. Compared to the $ 479 Pixel 3A XL, the ZenFone 6 is a huge upgrade in all respects except one: the camera.
Okay, I've made you wait long enough: let's talk about that wild camera. It flips over! There is a 48-megapixel main sensor coupled to a 13-megapixel wide-angle lens. If you turn it around, you get the high-quality cameras for your selfies instead of the little thing that fits on top of other phones or in the screen on other phones. Plus – and I can't emphasize this enough – it flips.
Of course I can't talk about its durability over time, but it seems solid after a week of use and Asus has made the usual promises it will deliver. The phone does not have a nominal IP number for dust or water resistance, so I would avoid getting anywhere near the mechanism. It will also automatically roll back to its home position if it detects a fall.
It doesn't move as fast as you want, it may take a second to do its thing, but that's only half a second longer than many camera apps need to switch to the selfie camera anyway.
In addition to showing the flip to your friends, you can also move it manually with the volume keys. That means you can hold the phone in different positions to take your photo. One thing I discovered early on is that it can be a bit scary. You look like you are holding your phone to text, but really, the camera is subtly folded out so that you can take a picture like this:
The rule for budget telephones was that, no matter how beautiful everything else was, the camera was nonsense. The Pixel 3A has broken that trend, and although I think the 3A is better than the dual camera setting of the ZenFone 6, it is not much. The ZenFone 6 kicks standard 12-megapixel images that are surprisingly good for a phone in this price range.
The photos are not as contrasting as the Pixel or as impressive as the OnePlus 7 Pro, but with decent lighting it was sometimes more a matter of preference than quality between these phones. One thing to know is that in low light the camera falls off the ZenFone, at least in comparison with the Pixel.
But with selfies, well, the ZenFone stacks the deck using the most important sensors, so those pictures are consistently better than what you're probably used to. I also find that I like Asus & # 39; camera software – including the easy to understand beauty modes – but knowing what results you get between the "Auto HDR +" and "HDR ++" modes is a bit of a mess.
One of the reasons why this felt like a surprise is because it didn't come out of thin air. It came from Asus, which has a mediocre track record with telephones. But it has cleared up its act with the ZenFone 6 and has significantly changed its software philosophy to focus on less intrusive functions. Like Motorola, Asus has made its version of Android look very close to the vanilla version that you get on a Google Pixel, with extra functions tucked away in intrusive places if you want them.
There is a game mode, but it doesn't matter if you don't want it. You can choose from a few different core navigation functions. There are crazy things to make duplicate versions of apps, use AI to optimize memory usage and a lot of other things that you may never use. (But at least they are buried in institutions instead of in your face.)
I really love the wonderfully programmable extra button that you can set to do many different things. Unfortunately, Asus placed it on the top right of the phone, so it's almost impossible to reach.
The Asus ZenFone 6 is the best option with $ 500 – as long as you don't mind a large phone.
With the OnePlus 7 Pro you can get a better camera or a better screen for a few hundred dollars. You can spend a few hundred dollars more to get phones that are truly luxurious, such as the iPhone XS or the Samsung Galaxy Note 10. You can spend a lot less and purchase a slower processor or a smaller phone. Although it seems like your telephone choices are declining, that is not really true. There are many options.
It may be difficult for a phone to justify the existence of so many options, but the Asus ZenFone 6 has it all. It is a battery champion for not too much money that sacrifices nothing that phones usually have to do, such as screen size, the camera or speed.
The pinball camera is a handy trick, but the real magic is to get the things that people actually want in a $ 500 phone.
Vox Media has affiliated partnerships. These do not affect editorial content, although Vox Media can earn commissions for products purchased through affiliate links. See for more information our ethical policy.
Photography by Dieter Bohn / The Verge