If you like big phones or even the normal sized ones of today, the Asus Zenfone 9 is definitely not for you. Yes it's more pocketable, and yes, it's much easier to grip, but the screen is significantly smaller. You may get used to that in time (it took this reviewer almost a week), but here's the thing - the second you interact with a bigger phone again, you'll never want to go back to the Zenfone.
On the other hand, if you're one of those incredibly active people in comment sections across the internet where you keep saying how all you want is a proper high-end flagship in a small size, then you should definitely be looking at the Zenfone 9. And let's face it, you probably have already - it's not like you're spoilt for choice when it comes to these specific requirements. Hopefully, you even bought one (or a Galaxy S22), to prove to phone makers and reviewers alike that there's still a market for smaller devices and they should keep making them and reviewing them, respectively.
For a while, they probably will. Asus is using size as a main differentiating factor for the Zenfone 9, as it's basically given up on competing head-to-head with Samsung and the Chinese companies in the realm of normally sized mainstream flagships. They are niche hunting, with ROG gaming phones on one hand, and the diminutive Zenfone on the other. Is this strategy successful? That depends on your definition of the word. Sales-wise, obviously not.
But sales numbers aren't always everything - Apple knows this well. There's also 'mindshare' not just 'market share', and Asus is clearly one of the popular brands with our readers. We can't adequately assess how well the Zenfone 9 is performing in the market, but a neat stand-in for an answer will be whether the Zenfone 10 keeps the 9's sizing. If so, then it means it's working. If not, then it wasn't.
Size aside, the Zenfone 9 has a lot of things going for it. The reason we keep emphasizing its stature is that it is actually really important. So from this point of view, Asus' strategy of making it a differentiating factor has clearly worked. If you're a small phone lover, the Zenfone 9 feels very good to handle and delivers an almost flagship package for a less-than-flagship price. Its performance is excellent, and its battery life is as well. Smoothness, while not chart-topping, is great.
The speakers are outstanding, and among the best on the market for anything that isn't a gaming phone, the vibration motor is very good too, as are the display and the fingerprint sensor. The cameras, while nothing to get incredibly excited about, deliver very good results during the day, and good shots at night, too, if you can spare the time to use Night Mode.
The software looks like 'stock Android' even though it has quite a few additions on top of that, and this could be an advantage or a disadvantage depending on your feelings about stock vs. very heavy skins. Update cadence seems about average, better so far since it was Asus' latest and greatest, but probably getting worse by the time Android 14 comes along.
The main problem here is that while the Zenfone 9 is close to giving you everything a flagship does, it stops ever so slightly short of that. There's no telephoto camera, for example, and the two snappers that are on the rear don't really deliver any outstanding shots. The back, while it feels amazing, is plastic, yet there's no wireless charging.
These are all issues that the similarly sized Samsung Galaxy S22 doesn't have, and it's even currently cheaper than the Zenfone in most markets. So if you like the rather unique design, the stock-like skin, and/or the idea of a bundled charging brick so much that you're willing to forego these other downsides, then the Zenfone 9 is the valid choice for you. It also has a Qualcomm chip and a battery life that isn't laughably short - both things that elude the S22, and neither of those are small things.
But overall, as a full package, it doesn't truly, fully deliver on the dream of having all of the features every top-of-the-line device out there has, just in a small package. There are still compromises. And that's why we can only cautiously recommend the Zenfone 9. We think you should look at it side-by-side with the Galaxy S22, and pick the one that has the most upsides and least downsides for your personal use case.
That's not to say that the Zenfone 9 isn't a great phone. It is. It could have been better had Asus really gone all-in with the 'flagship specs and features in a small phone' mantra. Perhaps the Zenfone 10 will remedy that in the coming months.
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