ASUS Zenfone 8
The Zenfone 8 is a compelling option for those looking to not occupy two hands with a smartphone when on the go.
- I can finally use a phone with just one hand!
- Surprisingly good audio
- It takes pretty good shots!
- No sacrifices in terms of performance
- Battery life is slightly shorter than I would like
- Snapdragon 888 can get toasty
ASUS Malaysia seems intent on not bringing in the ASUS Zenfone 9, so I decided to pick up a ASUS Zenfone 8, just for kicks. Smartphones have generally grown in size over the years, as people are nowadays looking towards their phones as an all-in-one device for work, entertainment and everything in between. There are rare exceptions, like the now defunct iPhone mini series and Sony’s narrow but long and unwieldy Xperias. But yes, the Zenfone 8 and this year’s Zenfone 9 was a refreshing change of pace, so seeing that we can’t get the latest and greatest, let’s talk about how it feels to use a small phone for a change.
I can finally use a phone with just one hand!
So a little background about me. I daily a POCO F2 Pro, which does come with a rather large 6.67″ screen. I also used an ROG Phone 5 for a little bit. I too, like most people, thought bigger was better. And for the most part, it was. I could see more text, scroll less, and videos were more enjoyable. However I also gave up being able to use my phone single-handedly. Remember the days when you could easily type a message with just one hand? Pepperidge Farm remembers.
I would say ASUS nailed it with the Zenfone 8, with a compact design and smooth curves, making it just nice to use with one hand. The 5.9″ screen is also nicely compact, without being too small like the iPhone minis. For me, the biggest perk about having a small device like the ASUS Zenfone 8 is that I could use it comfortably with just one hand. Take photos, type out messages, scroll Facebook. All with just one hand.
And that frees up the other hand to do… other stuff. You might not realize it but having a free hand unlocks the ability to text while eating, text while driving (which you shouldn’t) and much more, which is actually way, way more efficient than having a larger screen. Sure, with a larger device, you still can scroll through texts or Reels with one hand, but can you be productive? Guess not.
Surprisingly good audio
I wouldn’t even blame ASUS if the speakers in the Zenfone 8 were subpar. To get good audio, you usually need room to fit in bigger speakers. But hey, these are surprisingly good. There’s not much bass, which is expected, but these speakers are loud. The asymmetrical layout that uses the bottom firing speaker and earpiece to create a stereo sound resulted in a slightly lopsided spatial experience, but overall, I am really happy.
And what makes me even happier is the headphone jack! Imagine all the brands trying to pull a fast one and claiming that they removed the 3.5mm jack as they don’t have enough room for it, and ASUS engineers going “hold my beer”, and put a headphone jack in their smallest smartphone yet. Don’t remind me that the Zenfone 8 Flip doesn’t have one. I know, I know. Few people use wired headphones nowadays, but the Zenfone 8 has fantastic support for 32-bit, 384kHz audio.
It takes pretty good shots!
Now speaking of taking photos with just one hand, the Zenfone 8 does have a pretty competent shooter. You can even play around with the manual mode with just one hand if you have a more dextrous thumb. It packs just two cameras, which is the bare minimum by today’s standards. But to be honest, you can get pretty nice photos with this combination of an ultra-wide and wide shooter. Heck, even Apple relies on this combo for their non-Pro iPhones. The main camera has the proven Sony IMX686 sensor, and the OIS here is like the icing on the cake. Less exciting is the ultra-wide shooter though.
It’s a flagship Sony IMX363, which allows for good ultra-wide shots, but it’s capabilities as a macro camera is somewhat lackluster. Not unexpected, given my experience with ultra-wide cameras doing double duty as a macro camera. For videos we have support for up to 8K recording, so we are set in that aspect as well. The overall experience is pretty good here, photos usually turn out Instagrammable. But occasionally, it takes multiple exposures a tad too slowly and a bit heavy-handed on the HDR treatment. If only it was a bit more consistent. I did say it takes good photos, but sometimes the software messes up the shot. Just sometimes.
No sacrifices in terms of performance
The nippy 120Hz OLED display ensured an overall responsive experience, and I absolutely love it. Every swipe was instant, every app opened up in a jiffy. The Snapdragon 888 is close to being two years old by now, but it’s still really potent. It can get quite warm, yes, but that’s a given considering that it has even less space to dissipate all the heat from the infamously toasty chip made on Samsung’s subpar 5nm process. While I didn’t use it for gaming, I didn’t face any stutter or lag whatsoever when switching between multiple apps.
Battery life is slightly shorter than I would like
As this is meant as my work phone, I don’t use it quite as much as my personal POCO F2 Pro. However I still found the battery somewhat wanting. On a good day, I could do with about 1.5 days on a single charge. On a busier day, say I am out and need to use the hotspot feature — yes I am still waiting on the ExpertBook B7 Flip to be available for retail — I could find myself reaching for the powerbank by 6pm. It’s not unusable, but it could have been better. Perhaps, instead of the power-hungry Snapdragon 888, ASUS could have gone for a Snapdragon 780G to cut down on power consumption to deliver an overall better usage experience, while also enabling them to lower costs for even better competitiveness.
ASUS Zenfone 8 — should you buy this?
Compact smartphones aren’t for everyone. But if you want to not occupy two hands with a smartphone when on the go, I really don’t see a better smartphone to get. The Zenfone 8 (16+256GB) is now available for RM2,299, making it a great value buy if you want a compact smartphone. The only main drawbacks of the Zenfone 8 that I can see is its small battery. And maybe the toasty Snapdragon 888, but I don’t use it heavily enough to invoke its heat. I would also hope for wireless charging if ASUS attempts another compact smartphone, after the Zenfone 9, but that’s not really a priority to me.
Speaking of the competition, the iPhone 13 mini is probably a touch too small for most people while being pricier. I would say the closest competitor will be the Xiaomi 12. Xiaomi’s compact device is slightly larger, packs the newer Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 and a better trio of cameras, for RM2,999, or RM700 more. That’s a pretty notable cost difference. If you are up to pay more, the Samsung Galaxy S21 or S22 series might be up your alley too, with a more mature ecosystem and software experience.