In search of the perfect compact phone: Asus ZenFone 9

I really thought things were over for compact phones (and for this series, as well). With the untimely demise of the iPhone mini, and Samsung’s commitment to foldable devices, it sure looked like times they were-a-changin’.

Now, silly Bob Dylan references aside, the size of modern flagship phones seems to be ever growing, and when it becomes unmanageable, you just fold them in half. Brilliant! But just when I was archiving my compact articles with a lonely tear in the corner of my eye, the strangest thing happened.

Asus decided to stick it to every 6+ inch display manufacturer (figuratively speaking), and launch another compact flagship – the ZenFone 9. Not only is it smaller than its predecessor, but its larger brother – the ZenFone Flip has been sent to the green pastures, as well, leaving Asus fans with one choice – to go compact! (or hop on the gaming train and get an ROG phone but let’s not spoil the dramatic effect).So, today we’re going to check out the ZenFone 9 from the perspective of the perfect compact phone.

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First impressions

Well, the Zenfone 9 looks like no other phone on the market, it has two huge camera rings on the back, a spongy-rubbery polycarbonate back that seems to grow out of the main frame, and a 5.9-inch display.

The flat aluminum frame has a nice matte finish to it, and there are even nicer accents here and there – cool prints around the power button, wider frame for the 3.5mm jack, bluish stripe on the fingerprint scanner.

The screen is flat (thank God for ditching those curved, waterfall, infinity abominations), and the back has this nice rounding where the main frame merges with the back cover. Many people probably won’t call this phone pretty, especially looking at the back but beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I’d take a phone that’s easily recognizable any day of the week rather than rock a generic design “inspired” by some other big brand out there.

Weight and pocketability

Even though I tend to lose my shit when it comes to any phone that’s remotely compact, I must admit that the Zenfone 9 is in the smudged gray area between a true mini, and just a regular, slightly downsized flagship.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s one of the smallest Android phones out there (I think the Pixel 4a is smaller but then again, it’s very old and very un-flagshippy). Thing is, when put next to the iPhone mini, the ZenFone 9 looks huge.

Next to the Galaxy S22 it doesn’t look as compact as I like it to be (it’s almost the same size), and the S22 is even one gram lighter. If we go back to the now forgotten Galaxy S10e, things start to look even less impressive.

All that being said, compared to everything else that’s on the market right now, the ZenFone 9 fares extremely well. If you’re coming from a Galaxy Ultra model, or an iPhone Pro/Max, you’ll find this little thing very comfortable to carry around.

(My) Thumb comfort, one-hand operation

My hands are perfect for such pretentious editorial pieces, as they’re perfectly average. I’m around 5’8” tall, blending and merging the hand-size distribution over different populations and gender in the palm of my hand (quite literally).

So, how’s the Asus ZenFone 9 in my perfectly average hand? Well, I like the width of the phone, you can reach both sides easily, without any hand gymnastics. Vertically speaking, though, things are not well – the phone is about a centimeter taller than what would’ve been a perfect height.

You can’t reach the top without sliding the phone down your palm, and stretching your thumb a little. One can argue that you probably don’t use the top area of a phone as much, and that’s partially true. And besides, you can draw the notification shade swiping down on the amazing side-mounted fingerprint scanner.

So, yeah – it’s not perfect but you can make it work – customize the home screen, use the edge shortcuts, swipe the scanner for notifications, there are ways to do it. At the end of the day, though, the iPhone mini remains unchallenged in this particular area, and as an Android guy, this kida saddens me a little.

Typing and media consumption

Typing on a narrow device is always a challenge, and the ZenFone 9 is no exception. I found it hard to type fast and accurately at the same time (it’s one or the other), and often hit the wrong letter (mainly at the sides of the bottom row).Watching videos on the ZenFone 9 though is a treat. The display is really good, and unlike the huge notch on the iPhone mini, here we have a discrete hole-punch in the upper left corner. I won’t pretend it’s not there, but it’s substantially better than the said iPhone.

The size of the display was never a huge issue for me when watching clips and stuff. You know, it might sound silly but you can offset any physical difference between let’s say a 7-inch and a 6-inch phone by putting the latter a tad closer to your face (using a larger screen for work and games is a completely different thing, I know).

I need to add a couple of words about the stereo speakers in this thing. Given the size, they’re very good – very clear with amazing stereo separation and deep bass. Asus did some sound magic with the algorithms, and I won’t go into technicalities. Just know that at this size, the stereo speakers are one of the best.

Battery life

We arrived at the Achilles heel of all compact smartphones – battery life. As much as I liked the iPhone mini (both the 12 and 13 iterations), the battery life on those models was just unacceptable.

People often fool themselves that a day on a charge would suffice but the reality is a bit different. That feeling, when each and every day as the night starts to fall you get the 20% horror beep from your phone. I can’t live with such stress in my life.

The good news is that you probably won’t have to, if you opt for the ZenFone 9, as it’s a true battery champion. The 4,300 mAh battery inside rivals phones much larger than the ZenFone 9, and two days on a charge are not only possible, but very real.

Yeah, it comes at the expense of wireless charging, that’s true but again, I’d take a bigger battery over the ability to not plug a physical cable in my phone (it’s mind bogglingly easy, come on) any day of the week.

What I like about the ZenFone 9

  • What a distinctive-looking device!
  • The battery life is amazing
  • It’s super fast, super powerful
  • Nice touches in the UI to further help with your compact journey
  • Good sound
  • The price

What I don’t like

  • Still not as compact as the iPhone mini
  • Main camera sticks out (like a lot!)
  • The back cover scratches easily

Conclusion

And here we are, at the end of our journey. It started so positive and upbeat – with witty allegories, and compact hopefulness (what a word!). The ZenFone 9 is not the perfect compact phone but it’s damn close! If only it was half an inch shorter, but then still rocking a 3.5 mm jack and the same battery…

To end on a positive note – it’s the best compact Android flagship phone at the moment, and it’s priced very attractively. Furthermore, it keeps the compact dream alive, so to speak. Maybe one day Sony would wake up from its 21:9 slumber and give us back the “compact” Xperia we’ve been dreaming of?


Source: phonearena.com

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