ASUS’ Zenfone 9 gets a bigger camera in a palm-friendly body

With the launch of its latest smartphone today, ASUS is finally saying goodbye to its quirky “flip camera” feature, but still believes there’s a market for compact flagships. The new Zenfone 9 is only available in one size, which has retained the same 5.9-inch screen and 169-gram weight as its predecessor, but has a larger processor, larger main camera, larger battery, and larger thermal material contains.

As you might expect, the biggest upgrades are the processor and the camera. Similar to the recent ROG Phone 6 series, the Zenfone 9 is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1, which is a notable leap over the Zenfone 8’s Snapdragon 888. As for the camera, ASUS this time opted for a much larger 50-megapixel Sony IMX766 sensor, offering a 1um pixel size instead of just 0.8um on the older IMX686.

Cameras on the back of the Zenfone 9

Richard Lai/Engadget

The icing on the cake here is the new 6-axis hybrid gimbal stabilizer, which appears to be capable of corrections of up to plus/minus 3 degrees without optical degradation. This should help capture stable stills and clips – the latter at up to 8K resolution. On a related note, there are only two microphones on the Zenfone 9, as ASUS has dropped the audio focus feature when recording video, hence the lack of a rear-facing microphone.

Another major change here is the overall design. With the return of flat edges (thanks to the iPhone 12), the Zenfone 9 can accommodate larger internals, hence the bigger 4,300mAh battery and more thermal stuff (as well as two big “eyes” instead of a boring camera island on the back). This battery works with ASUS’ 30W “HyperCharge” technology, which the company claims is “the most powerful charger of any phone under 6 inches.” The phone also swapped the metallic back for a new plastic material, not only to reduce weight but also to add a grippy anti-fingerprint coating. These are available in four colors: “Midnight Black”, “Starry Blue”, “Sunset Red” and “Moonlight White” (more of a light beige).

ZenTouch fingerprint reader power button on ASUS Zenfone 9.

Richard Lai/Engadget

Unlike its recent phones, ASUS has ditched the usual in-display fingerprint reader in favor of a capacitive sensor on the power button dubbed “ZenTouch”. This smart key allows you to instantly toggle any assigned app with a double tap, as this simultaneously unlocks your phone. By default, you can also slide this button down to pull down the notification bar for a quick peek, then slide up to hide the taskbar. Alternatively, you can set this to refresh webpages, jump to the home page or bottom of pages, or skip tracks in music players. This is all part of ASUS’ grand plan to streamline the one-handed operation of its latest phone.

Looks and software changes aside (ZenUI 9 based on Android 12), the rest of the Zenfone 9 will look pretty familiar to you. It’s exactly the same ultra-wide camera and selfie camera (both 12-megapixels) as before, with the latter punched out in the top-left corner of the 2,400 x 1,080 120Hz AMOLED screen. Both speakers are once again tuned by audio specialists Dirac, who have already delivered impressive results on ASUS’ other recent phones; and you still have the option to connect wired headphones via the 3.5mm jack. As for durability, there’s still an IP68 rating for resistance to dust and liquids.

Smart backpack mount for ASUS Zenfone 9


To get the most out of this improved camera stabilization, ASUS offers a “Smart Backpack Mount” that allows you to attach the Zenfone 9 to the shoulder strap of your backpack. With the main camera facing forward, you can wear the phone as an action cam. You can also easily slip your phone in or out of the magnetic mount with one hand and attach the retractable security cable to it.

Another accessory option from ASUS is the “Connex” modular housing system. Rather than using magnets like Apple’s MagSafe design, this protective case has multiple built-in holes that allow you to snap either a kickstand or a silicone card holder onto the back of your Zenfone 9. You can also assign an app – YouTube by default – to start automatically when the kickstand is unfolded.

Connex modular housing system for ASUS Zenfone 9

Richard Lai/Engadget

The Zenfone 9 will be coming to the US with prices starting at $699 (8GB RAM with 128GB storage), although actual availability will be announced at a later date, so stay tuned.

Asked if the “flip camera” will ever make a comeback, ASUS said the idea will only be revisited if technology makes it feasible. The company said the two Zenfone 8 sizes actually sold similar numbers worldwide, with consumers in Japan and Europe preferring the smaller Zenfone 8. As a result, there will be no more Zenfone “Flip” variants for the foreseeable future.

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