Asus impressed us a lot with the ZenFone 5Z (Review) last year, which marked the company's return to the premium smartphone space. With competitive pricing, top-tier specifications, and great construction quality, the ZenFone 5Z was extremely well positioned to take OnePlus 6 (Review) on, and it has made many appearances on our lists of recommended phones since its launch. Now, the company is ready with an update called the 6Z, timed to hit the market just shortly after the OnePlus 7 (Review).
The new Asus 6Z budget flagship phone drops the ZenFone name thanks to a recent legal dispute with the company behind Zen Mobiles in India, but in all other ways this phone is exactly the same as the Asus ZenFone 6 which has been launched internationally already and has been teased here for over a month. In the interest of full disclosure, the unit we're reviewing is one that Asus provided us before the court order was issued, so the software still has the old name in some spots.
While the last-minute name change is unfortunate for Asus, we're still getting a well-priced phone with some seriously powerful hardware and a rotating camera system that not only eliminates the screen notch, but also aims to give users the best possible quality for selfies. Will this take on pop-up cameras give Asus the edge it needs to dominate the budget flagship market? Check out our full review to find out.
For a phone with a 6.4-inch screen, 5000mAh battery and mechanical camera module, the Asus 6Z is pretty slick. It doesn't feel bulky, though maybe we're just getting too used to oversized phones. The curved Gorilla Glass rear is not too slippery and feels pretty reassuring in the hand.
The front of this phone is completely minimalist, with really nothing other than the screen to be seen. The chin is very slightly thicker than the rest of the borders, but that's only visible when the screen is on. If you look very closely, you'll see a slim earpiece at the top, and Asus has even managed to hide a tiny status LED next to it.
Of course the main attraction is the flip-up camera module. There are two cameras with a dual-LED flash and laser autofocus sensor between them. When you tap a button in the camera app or trigger face recognition, the module will flip up so the cameras face forwards. The mechanism is a bit loud and it takes over a second to flip fully. You can also rotate the module manually and have it open at any angle, but more on that in the camera section below.
The blue-ringed power button is low down on the right so it's within reach, and the volume rocker is right above it. Asus has put an unusual fourth button on the right of this phone; a multifunction Smart Key that is set to trigger various Google Assistant functions but can be customised to do several other things. This button isn't very reachable but has a dotted texture so you don't mistake it for anything else.
There's a USB Type-C port on the bottom, and many people will be very happy to see a 3.5mm audio socket next to it. There's also a speaker which works with the earpiece as a stereo pair. The tray on the left can accommodate two Nano-SIMs and a microSD card.
Reaching all corners of the screen does require stretching, but doing so doesn't make the balance in our hand feel precarious. The 190g weight is distributed evenly. In-display fingerprint sensors are quite fashionable these days but Asus has gone with a standard one on the rear, and we found it to be easy to reach.
The glass rear is very easy to smudge though, and we weren't too fond of the bright metallic blue Asus logo and regulatory text on the rear either. Our review unit is the Midnight Black version, and in a world of gradients, patterns and bright colours, it's almost surprisingly sober. There's also a Twilight Silver option which is metallic silver but fades into a purplish blue.
Overall, the Asus 6Z is not exactly pathbreaking in terms of design and won't make people stop and take a second look – until they see you flipping the camera module up, that is.
First of all, we have the top-end Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor just like this phone's prime competitor, the OnePlus 7 (Review). This is an octa-core chip with a mix of eight Kryo 485 Silver and Gold CPU cores for power efficiency and performance respectively, in addition to an integrated Adreno 640 GPU.
The 6.4-inch screen has a full-HD+ 1080x2340 resolution. It supports the HDR10 standard with a maximum brightness of 600nits, and Asus says it can display the full DCI-P3 colour space. It's made using Gorilla Glass 6 which is slightly rounded at the sides.
Asus has launched this phone in three variants in India: you can get 6GB of RAM with 64GB or 128GB of storage, or 8GB of RAM with 256GB of storage. The entry-level configuration undercuts the lowest priced OnePlus 7 variant, and you can add up to 2TB of extra space to all 6Z variants using a microSD card. On the downside, Asus is using UFS 2.1 storage which is not the fastest standard anymore.
There's also dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 5 with aptX HD support, NFC, dual-band GPS plus other international navigation systems, and FM radio. The box includes a transparent hard plastic case, an 18W charger, USB Type-C cable, an Asus ZenEars Pro headset tuned by 1More, two extra pairs of rubber ear tips, and a SIM eject pin.
Asus still calls its Android software overlay ZenUI, but it's way different to what we used to see a few generations ago. It has been stripped down considerably and now looks and functions pretty much just like stock Android 9. Our review unit was on the April 2019 security patch which is a little disappointing at this stage.
Thankfully the lock screen is free of ads and curated content. The phone UI might look plain, but there are loads of customisation options waiting to be discovered. For the home screen alone you can ditch the app drawer, change the icon grid density, download new icon packs, lock apps with your fingerprint or face, and way more. We really liked the ability to replace Android's default notification dots with a notification count or an unread message count.
You can run two instances of several social and messaging apps; lock apps with a PIN, fingerprint or face; give the app switcher button a long-press function; and swap the navigation bar for either of two different gesture schemes. There are loads of gestures that you can set up, including taps and gestures that work with the phone in standby.
The Smart Key on the side can be customised with single-press, double-press, and long-press functions. By default, these call up Google Assistant, show contextual information, and let you press-to-talk to give it voice commands quickly (called walkie talkie mode). You can swap any or all of these functions for useful system-wide shortcuts such as taking a screenshot or activating DND.
There's loads more to discover within the Settings app including screen recorder controls, a manual camera module retraction tool, OptiFlex which claims to speed up app launches by keeping them in RAM, and Game Genie, a game mode with the usual optimisations plus social media and streaming integrations.
There's minimal bloatware other than Facebook, Messenger, and Instagram, which can be removed. The few first-party apps that Asus does include — such as a voice recorder, calculator, and file manager — seemed pretty useful to us, but your mileage may vary. If you don't like them, you are out of luck as they cannot be uninstalled and can only be disabled. With that said, none of the apps spammed us with ads or promotional notifications, which seemed like a welcome change.
We had the 8GB RAM version of the Asus 6Z in for review, and we didn't have any trouble with general performance in our time with it. The display is huge, crisp, and vibrant. This phone was usable outdoors and we really appreciated the lack of a notch or hole when watching full-screen videos. HDR works automatically when playing compatible content in video apps.
The sound experience is also pretty good. The two speakers are not equally balanced but sound is very loud and there's minimal distortion. The bundled headset feels a little flimsy but it's actually excellent in terms of sound quality. The Asus 6Z also supports high-res audio playback and DTS Headphone:X virtual 7.1 surround sound.
With high-end hardware, it's no surprise that general usage was completely lag-free. Our benchmark tests showed this as well, with 3,55,965 points in AnTuTu as well as 3,503 and 10,629 respectively in Geekbench's single-core and multi-core tests. These scores are slightly lower than what the OnePlus 7 (Review) and OnePlus 7 Pro (Review) managed in our tests.
The device offered to enabled “AI Boost Mode” several times while we were running benchmarks, but we left it disabled for all our tests. Just to see what difference it made, we later ran AnTuTu again with it enabled and ended up with 3,87,165 points. Interestingly, this mode had no effect at all on our Geekbench scores. The phone did get a little warmer than usual when stressed under "AI Boost Mode", but there are situations where you might be okay with this tradeoff. You can enable AI Boost at any time through the quick settings panel.
Graphics and gaming are strong suits for the Asus 6Z. GFXBench's Car Chase scene ran at 36fps, and the Manhattan 3.1 scene nearly topped out with 57fps, numbers that are virtually identical to what we got with the Oppo Reno 10x Zoom (Review). We played a few rounds of PUBG Mobile and everything went smoothly.
Battery life was very good, though Asus' claim of two days of non-stop use is still a little optimistic. We were able to stretch to a day and a half with moderate use, which involved some non-HDR video streaming, lots of photo and video recording, half an hour of gaming, and lots of Web surfing.
Our HD video loop test ran for 14 hours, 22 minutes, which is a little less than we were expecting. The Asus 6Z supports Qualcomm Quick Charge 4.0 and comes with an 18W power adapter. It charged up from zero to 11 percent in 10 minutes and 70 percent in an hour.
The rotating module contains a primary 48-megapixel camera, which is unsurprisingly built around the popular Sony IMX586 sensor. It delivers 12-megapixel images by default, using four pixels as one to maximise the amount of light captured. This camera has an f/1.79 aperture.
The secondary camera has a 13-megapixel sensor with a 125-degree field of view and automatic distortion correction. Since this phone has no separate front-facing camera(s), you can take selfies at the same quality and with all the same settings you'd get when taking photos with the rear cameras.
It also has a dual-LED flash, laser autofocus, and three-axis electronic image stabilisation. The primary camera supports an HDR+ Enhanced mode as well as AI scene detection. Video recording goes up to 4K 60fps with the main camera and 4K 30fps with the secondary one.
The mechanical camera module does present its share of quirks. The time it takes to flip over facing forwards adds a little delay to face recognition. You also have to wake the phone and then swipe or tap the display to trigger the cameras; the process isn't as fluid as it is on other phones. Of course the module can't flip over at all with the 6Z lying flat on a table, so you'll end up using a PIN or pattern in such situations.
The module's mechanism is a bit too loud. The cavity it fits into will very quickly be filled with dust and pocket lint. We noticed an occasional pause when the camera was supposed to flip its image 180 degrees to match its physical orientation.
You can manually raise and lower the module and take photos or videos with it in any position, but this capability is surprisingly buried. You have to use the volume buttons or slide the camera switcher icon in the app up or down, and there are no hints that this is possible. In Panorama mode, you can take an automatic 180-degree shot with one tap of the shutter button.
You can rotate the module while recording video, which is pretty cool. The most interesting feature is the motion tracking mode — once you tap to focus on a person, the camera module will rotate itself automatically to keep them within the frame. Of course this is only possible on one side of the frame, and they can't be moving too quickly, so this is more of an amusement than a practical feature.
As for photo quality, the Asus 6Z can take some great shots. The focus was almost always perfect, and details were generally good, but we've seen better from the latest crop of phones at this price level with similar cameras and hardware. Portrait mode gave us very convincing depth.
Shots taken with the wide-angle camera were usually a bit darker and had poorer detail, which is to be expected. The anti-distortion feature works well. In HDR+ Enhanced mode, the camera takes multiple shots and you have to hold still, but this does make a difference to the vibrancy and exposure balance of captured shots.
Low-light shots were just slightly disappointing. They were bright and objects could be discerned, but there was a tendency for shots taken at night to come out slightly blurry due to the low shutter speed used. The performance of the wide-angle camera was also reduced.
There isn't any point in categorising selfies separately – you can shoot with either of the module's two cameras, but you'll have to allow the module to flip around when you want to take a quick shot. Our sample shots came out great in the daytime and at night, and even the wide-angle camera works well on faces at arm's length.
Video was actually very good. You can't switch between the standard and wide-angle cameras while shooting, but you can rotate the module. The mechanical noise is picked up, which is unavoidable, and there's also some wobble. Stabilisation works very well when the module is fixed in place.
4K video clips are limited to 10 minutes at 30fps and five minutes at 60fps. With the primary camera, 4K video came out looking crisp and bright, though it was much darker with the wide-angle camera. Full-HD footage also looked very good. Focus stayed locked on subjects in motion and we had no trouble with jitter or anything else.
Asus has thought of plenty to do with the rotating camera module and has tried to compensate for not having an immediately available front-facing camera, but it might take some getting used to. The main advantages of this design are that you get a clean, notch-free screen, and very high-quality selfies. On the downside, face recognition isn't as frictionless and the mechanical module does need to be handled with care.
Asus is taking on the might of the OnePlus 7 (Review), and is priced slightly higher for the same configurations. Asus does offer a variant with 64GB of storage for less money than the 128GB OnePlus 7, making it the most affordable Snapdragon 855-based phone in India right now. That isn't too restrictive since this phone does have a microSD card slot, which will be perfectly fine for many people.
The Asus 6Z gives you the borderless screen and flip-up cameras that the OnePlus 7 lacks, for a slight premium. As with most value flagships, there's no wireless charging or IP rating for water and dust resistance, but you do get Gorilla Glass 6 and a 3.5mm audio socket. It will be very interesting to see how these phones stack up against the upcoming Redmi K20 Pro.
This phone isn't really competing with the higher priced OnePlus 7 Pro (Review) with its a high-res, high-refresh rate screen, or the Oppo Reno 10X Zoom (Review) with its optical zoom camera; the other Snapdragon 855-powered phones available in India right now.
Asus has delivered an all-rounder with a lot of great features but it isn't a clear winner over the OnePlus 7 for most people. More aggressive pricing would have made us more likely to recommend this phone. We hope to see it popping up in Asus's frequent sales later in the year.
Can innovative cameras, aggressive pricing help Asus 6Z beat OnePlus 7? We discussed this on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.