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ASUS Zenfone 9 review: The last bastion for small phone fans
A small phone with a big battery.
If you're after a comparatively small flagship-class phone, the ASUS Zenfone 9 delivers on everything but photo quality. Even the battery is surprisingly great.
With the iPhone mini being cut from this year's Apple line-up, ASUS' Zenfone 9 feels like the last of its kind. A small phone that doesn't compromise on power.
Measuring in with a 5.9-inch display, the Zenfone 9 is the smallest Android phone you can get in Australia. Your next closest option is the Google Pixel 6a at 6.1-inch.
Despite its petite stature, the Zenfone 9 is still very much a flagship phone. It has the fastest processor you'll find in an Android handset, IP68 water resistance, and gimbal camera stabilisation. It also has one distinctively non-flagship feature: a good old-fashioned headphone jack.
How much does the ASUS Zenfone 9 cost in Australia?
Outright, you'll pay $1,199 for the Zenfone 9.
You can't buy the Zenfone 9 on a plan, but here's a selection of popular SIM-only options if you're looking to change provider:
ASUS Zenfone 9 battery and design
Battery is often one of the biggest sacrifices made in smaller phones, but the Zenfone 9 seriously impressed me. I was initially getting between four or five hours in my first few days with the phone, with 5G set to auto. This is where you're connected to 5G, but only use the faster speeds when necessary, rather than all of the time.
That's not bad, but nothing to write home about. However, after a few days, I was able to consistently get six hours of screen time per charge. The adaptive battery technology clearly managed to work some magic.
In real-world terms, six hours is easily a full day, even with heavy use. Most should still end the day with a very comfortable buffer.
In addition to an endearing size, I also love the Zenfone 9's back finish. It's made from plastic, but feels somewhere between suede and a chalkboard. This gives the back a nice grippiness, and it will almost certainly be harder to shatter than glass. The trade-off is the material has picked up a few scuff marks on the edges, almost like a leather patina. I tried cleaning it off with water, but that didn't seem to help.
ASUS Zenfone 9 camera and performance
The Zenfone 9 camera is a bit hit and miss.
On one hand, it can shoot pretty really smooth video thanks to the integrated gimbal. It's notably steadier than the Pixel 6a, for example, and rivals the iPhone family, which are considered the best in class for stabilised footage. The Zenfone 9 can even shoot alright videos in low light.
Conversely, photos aren't great. You can get okay photos outdoors, as with most phones, but low light performance is disappointing. The Zenfone 9 shoots too slowly to handle moving subjects indoors - even during daylight hours. I took it to a metal show and didn't get a single photo I was happy with. The much cheaper Pixel 6a performed better across the board.
The Zenfone 9's selfie camera is poor, with photos consistently turning out too soft.
The Zenfone 9 does however deliver excellent day-to-day performance, as you'd given the fact it's powered by the top-end Android processor around - the same as what you'll find in the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 and Galaxy Z Flip 4. I didn't run into any slowdowns or hitches; using the Zenfone 9 was a seamless experience.
Is the ASUS Zenfone 9 worth buying?
The Zenfone 9 is a great small flagship phone, primarily let down by its camera. While it delivers on performance, looks, and battery, photo performance is underwhelming. For a phone that starts at $1,199, I'd expect better.
If you're interested in small flagship phones, it becomes a question of how much you like taking photos. If phone photography isn't a big deal, the Zenfone 9 is the smallest Android phone you can buy, and doesn't have any other red flags.
Alternatively, you can still pick up last year's iPhone 13 mini, which now sells for $1,049. The battery isn't as resilient as the Zenfone 9, but the camera experience is much better.
It's just a choice of whether you want a great battery or great camera. It's a shame that neither small phone has both.
It's also a shame that they seem to be a dying breed.