Though the iPhone 12 mini didn't make quite the splash Apple anticipated, there are plenty of people shopping for a smartphone that's both powerful and palm-sized. The Asus Zenfone 8 ($629.99) fills the small-phone gap for flagship enthusiasts who prefer Android. In addition to stuffing a lot of power in its small frame, the Zenfone 8 packs a crisp 120Hz OLED display, capable cameras, and incredible sound. But millimeter-wave and wireless charging, both found on the iPhone 12 mini, are missing here, as is any support for Verizon subscribers. That's why the powerful, flexible $450 Google Pixel 5a remains our Editors' Choice among midrange phones.
The Zenfone 8 measures 5.8 by 2.7 by 0.3 inches (HWD) and weighs 6 ounces, which is a little larger than the iPhone 12 mini (5.2 by 2.5 by 0.3 inches) and about on par with the Google Pixel 5 (5.7 by 2.8 by 0.3 inches). The important thing is that it's easy to use with one hand.Our Experts Have Tested 61 Products in the Mobile Phones Category in the Past YearSince 1982, PCMag has tested and rated thousands of products to help you make better buying decisions. (See how we test.)
The Zenfone 8's design language is sophisticated and understated. Glossy aluminum rails encase its flat OLED panel and curved glass shell. A headphone jack sits on the top edge; a USB-C charging port and SIM slot are on the bottom. A blue power button and a black volume rocker are on the phone's right edge.
In the US, Asus sells the phone with with a black matte shell. Monochromatic Zenfone branding is stacked vertically down the center of the back plate, and a tidy camera module sits in the upper left corner.
Apple iPhone 12 mini$729.00See Itat AmazonRead Our Apple iPhone 12 mini Review 4.5Outstanding
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Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G$577.61See Itat AmazonRead Our Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G Review 4.0Excellent
OnePlus 9$599.23See It at AmazonRead Our OnePlus 9 Review 4.0Excellent
Samsung Galaxy S21$799.99 See Itat VerizonRead Our Samsung Galaxy S21 ReviewThe 5.9-inch, 120Hz AMOLED display is crisp and very bright.(Photo: Steven Winkelman)
A 5.9-inch, 120Hz AMOLED display dominates the front of the phone. The screen is crisp at 2,400 by 1,080 pixels, for 445 pixels per inch. Colors appear true but vivid, and the display gets incredibly bright, peaking at 1,100 nits. It also supports HDR10+ for Netflix streaming.
Although its small stature might make it seem fragile, the Zenfone 8 is actually quite durable, with a Gorilla Glass Invictus display and an IP68 rating. That means it should handle minor dings, drops, and even an accidental dunk in the bath without much damage.
Plenty of Power
The Zenfone 8 is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor and 8GB of LPDDR5 RAM, with either 128GB or 256GB of UFS 3.1 storage. Our 256GB test unit had about 238GB available out of the box; neither model has a microSD card slot for additional storage.
Daily tasks are no match for the Zenfone 8. We tested the phone with dozens of apps and there was never a hint of lag. Screen transitions are smooth and the phone boots up quickly.
The Zenfone 8 has an understated design aesthetic.(Photo: Steven Winkelman)
Alto's Odyssey looked gorgeous on the Zenfone 8. Genshin Impact, a much more resource-hungry game, worked perfectly as well; it loaded quickly and we didn't notice any skipped frames during a few hours of gameplay.
Benchmark scores match our experience. On Geekbench 5, a synthetic benchmark that evaluates raw computing power, the Zenfone 8 scored 1,121 single-core (SC) and 3,712 multi-core (MC). That edges ahead of the Galaxy S21’s 1,001 SC score, and flies past its 3,046 MC score. The iPhone 12 mini surprises with 1,551 SC and 3,831 MC scores on the same test.
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On PCMark Work 3.0, a suite of tests that emulate everyday use scenarios, the Zenfone 8 scored 16,202. For comparison's sake, the Samsung Galaxy S21 earned a score of 12,028 on the same test.
It's worth mentioning that we benchmarked the Zenfone 8 in High Performance mode. This mode, accessible in the Settings menu and enabled by default, automatically made adjustments to guarantee the best performance. High Performance mode is the most energy-hungry of the available options, but it only improved benchmarks by about 15% across the board. You can easily turn it off or set up custom profiles in the Settings menu.
Some may think that benchmarking in this mode gives the phone an unfair advantage, but it's one that any manufacturer can add to the software. Also, Asus is honest about its uses and displays a notification when the mode is turned on; many smartphone manufacturers silently whitelist benchmarking apps in the code in order to get the highest scores.
You should have no problem getting through a day of moderate use on the Zenfone 8. Its 4,000mAh battery eked out 10 hours, 41 minutes on our battery drain test, which streams high-definition video over Wi-Fi at full brightness. We ran the test with the refresh rate set to 60Hz since source recorded footage is never higher than that but if you're using a higher refresh rate, expect the battery to drain quicker. Unfortunately, there's no wireless charging option, but a 30W fast charger comes in the box; it took about 40 minutes to charge the battery on our test unit from dead to 80%.
Asus offers lots of features to improve battery life, including a mode that identifies apps that drain battery, features to protect the battery from wearing down, the option to schedule charge times when you go to bed to prevent trickle charging, and a mode that allows you extend battery life by making performance tweaks. None of these features is particularly special on its own, but Asus does an excellent job of integrating them and making them easy to use.
Two Top-Notch Cameras
Instead of packing the Zenfone 8 with lots of cameras, Asus is taking a different approach, with two top-of-the line Sony sensors in the rear camera stack. The primary lens comes in at 64MP with OIS, PDAF, and quad pixel binning. There's also a 12M ultra-wide lens with real-time distortion correction. A 12MP selfie camera with autofocus rounds out the assortment.The Zenfone 8 has a dual camera stack with 64MP and 12MP lenses.(Photo: Steven Winkelman)
Long story short: The Zenfone 8's cameras perform in any lighting scenario. They have their strengths and weaknesses, but Asus does some really interesting things with its cameras that we appreciate.
The primary lens has excellent depth of field and its wide aperture works well in day and low-light conditions. Color accuracy is inconsistent and cool, yet manages to produce a gorgeous photo. Contrast ratio is solid. There's some loss of fine detail but it's only noticeable when scrutinizing images or viewing them at full size.The primary lens excels with low light by allowing in minimal noise in exchange for better depth and texture.(Steven Winkelman )
There's minor noise in every photo that becomes more prevalent in low light. While noise is typically considered to be a negative for smartphone photos, there are many occasions where it's a necessity. The Zenfone 8's daylight photos have incredible texture; that texture would not be possible without some noise being introduced into the image. And low-light photos have more depth and less blurring than you'll typically see on smartphone snaps.
If you compare the Zenfone 8's ultra-wide lens with the one on the Samsung Galaxy S21, they seem identical: 12 MP with a 1/2.55″ optical format, large 1.4μm pixels, and a narrow f/2.2-aperture lens. But the difference lies in the manufacturer. Samsung makes its own sensors while the Zenfone 8 uses Sony's IMX363.There's some loss of fine detail with the primary lens, and colors tend to skew cool.(Photo: Steven Winkelman)
We rarely go in depth when it comes to smartphone sensors, but the IMX363 is worth the exception. It's the sensor—albeit with a different focal length and elements—that Google has used on its Pixel smartphone for years. It's a workhorse with an impeccable track record and tons of software optimization, and that makes it perfect for an ultra-wide lens.
The Zenfone 8's ultra-wide lens does a phenomenal job in any light, but truly shines in well-lit scenarios. Photos are immersive with excellent contrast ratio and depth of field. As with the primary lens, color is inconsistent but manages to look good. Distortion and other optical aberrations that are common with ultra-wide lenses on smartphones are nonexistent on the Zenfone 8.
Background details are a little soft in good light and degrade further in low light. You'll notice the same situation with noise, but the noise-to-texture ratio is still excellent.The Zenfone 8's ultra-wide doesn't fall victim to distortion or flattening in low light.(Photo: Steven Winkelman)
The selfie camera is another win. Photos with the camera are warmer and reds are more vibrant. Blues are less saturated and greens are minimized. It's a good combination that makes any skin tone pop.
Depth of field is excellent and the foreground is crisp. Portrait mode works perfectly; there are no issues with object mapping, and the bokeh looks natural as opposed to a generic background blur.
The Zenfone 8 works on AT&T and T-Mobile's LTE and sub-6GHz 5G networks. Right now, it's not an option for Verizon customers, but it theoretically could be certified in the future to work on its LTE and mid-band 5G networks. C-band support is also on board so it should add big improvements all the carriers mid-band speeds in the coming months.
We tested the Zenfone 8 on T-Mobile's 5G network in Chicago. Calls were crisp and clear, and data speeds averaged 138.2Mbps down and 58.8Mbps up.
The most notable audio innovations we've seen are often limited to phones sold outside the US. The Zenfone 8, however, has audio features that match global leaders like Oppo and Xiaomi.
The Zenfone 8 sports a pair of linear speakers with a maximum volume of 102dB. A Cirrus Logic CS35L45 MonoAmp power the pair and they're tuned by Dirac. The result is powerful, balanced sound with an immersive soundstage.
A 3.5mm headphone jack, which is becomingly increasingly rare, also makes an appearance on the Zenfone 8; it uses Qualcomm's Aqstic DAC. If you prefer to listen wirelessly, Bluetooth 5.2 is available with an excellent array of high-quality codecs including LDAC, aptX HD, and aptX Adaptive.
Wi-Fi 6E is on board for fast connectivity at home. There's also NFC for mobile payments and boarding passes.30W charging comes standard, but wireless charging is MIA.(Photo: Steven Winkelman)
Upgrades May Be Slow
The Zenfone 8 ships with Android 11 with ZenUI 8. Asus' skin is pretty minimal, though you'll find a few custom productivity apps. For the most part, ZenUI 8 lets you customize the phone to minimize distractions, and tweak audio and camera settings.
You'll also find Game Genie, which lets you tweak performance, turn off notifications, capture short clips of videos, and stop incoming calls simply by swiping left on the home screen when the phone is in landscape mode.
Asus has committed to two years of software and security upgrades. That's pretty skimpy when compared with the upgrade policies offered by Google and Samsung. The company has also historically dragged its feet with software and security updates. Although things seem to have improved a little over the past year, it's still a work in progress.
A Worthy iPhone 12 mini Competitor
At $629, the Asus Zenfone 8 is not only a worthy alternative to the iPhone 12, it's a high-value Android flagship that's actually easy to hold. It has the same power as its full-sized competitors, a crisp OLED display, spectacular cameras, and a durable build.
What's missing? Support for Verizon customers, mmWave, and wireless charging. If these omissions take the Zenfone 8 out of the running for you, we still have a few options for you. For shoppers who want a flagship with the latest-and-greatest hardware, the Samsung Galaxy S21 is a solid choice that's just a little larger. If you simply care about a phone that will serve you well over the next several years but won't break the bank, the Google Pixel 5a (our Editors' Choice among midrange phones) fits the bill perfectly.
Asus Zenfone 84.0See It$594.99 at AmazonStarts at $629.99
The Bottom Line
With two impressive cameras, a top-notch chipset, and a compact build, the Asus Zenfone 8 is a top choice for small-phone fans.
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