At a time when smartphones are getting bigger and bigger, there seems to be some hope for people who prefer a smaller Android smartphone. Samsung kicked off with the Galaxy S22. Compared to its predecessors, this device was remarkably small, although Samsung did not seem to pay attention to size in its promotional statements. Sony has been releasing a compact version of the Xperia 1 for several years now; this year it’s the Xperia 5 IV. ASUS also went on the compact tour and came out with the Zenfone 8 last year and continues this with the Zenfone 9.
The devices are presented by the manufacturers as true camera champions. Sony throws it on the professional camera tools that can also be found on the company’s specialist stills and video cameras. In addition, this smartphone can handle all the accessories of its big brother and can also serve as an accessory for some cameras. Think of the Vlog Monitor, a small monitor that can be attached to the back of your device so that you can use the cameras on the back. The company also has a shooting grip to to facilitate video creation. This is a kind of mini tripod where you can click your device and operate it without having to touch the device. Sony is investing heavily in live-streaming video this year and the tools to make that possible are already installed by default. ASUS mainly focuses more on the built-in gimbal. In addition to optical stabilization, there is also a six-axis gimbal that, according to ASUS, provides even smoother images.
This all sounds great on paper and that should be a reason for many people to run to the store for these devices. Yet in Android land it is in most cases a Samsung party. A recent survey shows that 43 percent of Dutch smartphone owners have a device from the Korean manufacturer. If we leave Samsung aside, it is often devices from Xiaomi and BBK that users walk away with. You hardly hear anyone talking about ASUS and Sony smartphones anymore. We therefore think that it is mainly due to the fact that ASUS was not allowed to sell devices in the Netherlands for years due to a lost lawsuit with Philips .. The problem has now been resolved and the smartphones are for sale again, but in our opinion, few people are aware of this. We also do not see any advertisements from ASUS in that area, so that will not help either.
At Sony, something else is going on. In recent years, the manufacturer has cut its workforce considerably and significantly reduced production, after it turned out that the smartphone branch is the only loss-making branch. Still, the company did not throw in the towel and Sony’s president and CEO Kenichiro Yoshida said during a presentation that the smartphone branch is essential to the brand’s portfolio. So the company continued to make smartphones and rebooted the Xperia series. Just like ASUS, Sony does little or no promotion. Moreover, Sony’s devices are generally on the pricey side, which means that the manufacturer regularly prices itself out of the market.
ASUS and Sony are both small manufacturers and therefore rely on certain gimmicks to sell their devices. With the Zenfone, ASUS is now specifically focusing on ‘compact’ and features that are always complained about on forums such as GoT, such as the 3.5mm port. Sony is betting on phones with 21:9 screens that are therefore very narrow, also the same ports and connections for an interested audience, and camera features for the professional.
When we look at the MSRP of the Zenfone 9 and Xperia 5 IV, it seems rather unfair to put these two devices against each other. The device from ASUS cost 849 euros, while the device from Sony cost 1049 euros. When we started this review, the prices were a lot closer together: 849 and 899 euros. That is a good reason to put the devices from ASUS and Sony against each other and compare them with the already reviewed Galaxy S22 from Samsung. Can these devices keep up with the smartphone of one of the market leaders and can the grand promises of the camera manufacturers be fulfilled? You read it in this review.
The first thing you notice when you take these two devices in hand is the size. Compared to the average smartphone that comes on the market, these devices are nice and compact, and handy. Yet we had secretly hoped that the smartphones would be just a bit smaller. If you place them next to an iPhone mini or Xperia Compact, for example, you can see that they are still a bit on the large side. We couldn’t resist skewing this equation a little more by throwing an old HTC Hero, Sony Xperia XZ Compact and iPhone 12 mini into the mix, just so you can see what used to be the norm in smartphone land.
ASUS in particular shouted from the rooftops that the Zenfone 9 would be “nice and small”, but if we compare the device with the Samsung Galaxy S22, a device that Samsung did not comment on the size of, the phone from ASUS is only half a millimeter shorter and about two millimeters wider. Sony’s Xperia 5 IV is the narrowest, but a lot longer than the other two devices, and therefore has a different aspect ratio. This is something Sony has been doing for some time. Almost all recent smartphones from this manufacturer have an aspect ratio of 21:9.
The devices are available in different versions. We have listed all models in the table below.
|Device||ASUS Zenfone 9||Sony Xperia 5 IV|
|Size||146.5 x 68.1 x 9.1mm||156 x 67 x 8.2mm|
|Resolution||2400×1080 pixels||2520×1080 pixels|
|Colour||Black, blue, red, silver||Green, black, white|
ASUS Zenfone 9
The Zenfone 9 is the middle device in terms of device size. The Xperia 5 IV is slightly narrower. The back of the Zenfone 9 is a grainy plastic that is very reminiscent of the sandstone casing of the first OnePlus smartphone. It feels very nice. In addition, it is insensitive to fingerprints. The Zenfone 9 does not have a camera island, but two separate gigantic cameras on the back. The flash LED is located next to the main camera. Although the cameras are very large, the device wobbles less than you would expect when you lay it flat on the table. The frame of this device is made of aluminum.
On the right side are the power and volume buttons. The power button also serves as a fingerprint reader and has a light green stripe in the middle. This button has rather sharp edges, which makes it feel a bit rough. It won’t cut you open, but it does seem to feel that way at times; we had to get used to that. This seems to have been done on purpose, so that the difference between the power button and the volume button is clearly noticeable. The volume button has rounded edges and feels much nicer than the power button. The power button can also be used to scroll in apps, a handy function that makes operation with one hand even easier. This feature must be enabled.
At the top are a microphone hole and a 3.5mm headphone jack, a pleasant surprise. Smartphones with a 3.5mm jack are very rare in this price segment. ASUS proves that the arguments that other manufacturers use to omit this connection are no more than excuses. At the bottom, you will find a microphone hole, one of the two stereo speakers, a USB-C port and the SIM card holder. This has room for two SIM cards, but unfortunately not for a memory card.
The smartphone also feels great in the hand. The sandstone-like back feels nice and the device does not slip out of your hands. It is also good with the firmness. The device does not yield in any way when it is twisted. The Zenfone 9 is dust and waterproof thanks to the IP68 rating. The screen has a camera hole at the top left and the screen itself is equipped with Gorilla Glass Victus. Just above the screen is the ear speaker that simultaneously serves as one of the two stereo speakers.
Sony Xperia 5 IV
The Xperia 5 IV is the narrowest device of the three and by far the longest. This is a typical feature of Sony and it is therefore no surprise that this smartphone also has this form factor. The back of the Xperia 5 IV is matte Gorilla Glass Victus, but feels more like plastic. The matte finish minimizes fingerprints and you have to work hard to see them. The camera island looks modest and barely protrudes. As a result, the device does not wobble too much when it is lying flat on the table. This smartphone is also equipped with an aluminum frame.
On the right side is the power button, which is also a fingerprint scanner. This button is recessed into the frame. That was probably done to prevent accidental pressing of the button and it works well. Moreover, you will feel a clear difference between the other buttons. Above the power button is the volume button and almost at the very bottom is a separate camera button, a function that you hardly ever see on other devices.
At the top is a microphone hole and, yes, a 3.5mm headphone jack. We’re a little less surprised to find this port on a high-end Xperia, as almost all of Sony’s modern models still come equipped with this port. Still, it’s a welcome addition. We know that our comments about this port always cause quite a bit of discussion, not only among our readers, but also here at the editors, but yours truly values freedom of choice.
At the bottom of this smartphone we find another microphone hole, a USB-C port, and a card tray. This tray offers space for two SIM cards or a SIM card and a memory card. It is one of the few trays that can be opened or removed without a pin these days. There is a small recess in the housing where you can hook your fingernail behind to pull the tray out of the device. This works very well and is something that, in our opinion, can be applied to any device.
The Xperia 5 IV also feels great in the hand, especially because the device is so narrow. Operating with one hand is a bit more difficult, unless you have long thumbs. The device feels very solid and hardly gives when it is twisted. The Xperia 5 IV is also dust and waterproof and therefore has the IP68 certification. The screen on the front is equipped with Gorilla Glass Victus and the two stereo speakers are located in the upper and lower screen edges, with the upper one also being the ear speaker at the same time. With most smartphones, only the top speaker faces your face and the bottom one points down. This is one of the few smartphones where both speakers are directed forward, which is nice. The chance that you accidentally block a speaker with your hand is much smaller than with other devices.
This is also one of the few devices that has a somewhat wider screen edge compared to other devices. There is a minimal difference on the sides, but the edges are a bit thicker at the top and bottom. This was probably done to accommodate the speaker at the bottom and the front camera at the top. This device therefore has no notches or camera holes. Although we are actually already used to those solutions, it still looks calmer to not ‘accidentally’ see these elements in the picture in specific situations. In addition, the screen edges are equally thick on both sides, so that the device still looks symmetrical. Another element that we currently miss in many other smartphones is the notification LED.
The ASUS Zenfone 9 has a 5.9″ OLED screen with a resolution of 2400×1080 pixels. The maximum refresh rate is 120Hz and can be adjusted to 90 and 60Hz. There is also an automatic setting that switches between the different speeds to save the battery. The screen also supports an always-on setting and the display also supports HDR.
The Sony Xperia 5 IV has an OLED screen with a resolution of 2520×1080 pixels. The screen has a refresh rate of up to 120Hz and can be switched back to 60Hz. The screen can display 1 billion colors and supports HDR. ASUS says the Zenfone 9 has a maximum brightness of 1100cd/m2 and Sony says the Xperia 5 IV is 50 percent brighter than the previous model. We measured the devices using our SpectraCal C6 colorimeter and Portrait Displays Calman Color Calibration software. All screen specifications of the devices are listed in the table below.
|Device||ASUS Zenfone 9||Sony Xperia 5 IV|
|Size||146.5 x 68.1 x 9.1mm||156 x 67 x 8.2mm|
|Resolution||2400×1080 pixels||2520×1080 pixels|
|dots per inch||445dpi||449dpi|
|Relative screen size||84.4%||83.2%|
If we look at the measurement results and compare them with devices that are about the same price or have the same specifications, it is striking that both the Xperia 5 IV and the Zenfone 9 score just slightly below average with their maximum brightness. That doesn’t mean they’re bad devices; with a brightness of around 900cd/m2, they are both easy to read in bright sunlight. They just don’t beat samsung, which can be a lot brighter with over 1100cd/m2 .
If we screw the brightness back to the minimum, it’s the Xperia 5 IV that does best, but the differences are small and all three devices perform well on that front. The differences become a lot bigger when we look at color reproduction. Both the ASUS Zenfone 9 and the Sony Xperia 5 IV have a decent gray deviation of more than 5ΔE. The Xperia 5 IV has a pretty high color temperature, which means the screen looks bluish. The screen of the Zenfone 9 has a greenish tint and a different gamma curve. Gray tones are a bit darker on average. The color deviation is slightly less with 2.6ΔE for the Zenfone 9 and 4.10ΔE for the Xperia 5 IV. The deviations are visible to the human eye from 3ΔE, so you will have to play with the color settings here and there if that bothers you. Both devices have extensive options for this; the Xperia is even more comprehensive than the Zenfone, so it’s not something to worry about.
Both ASUS and Sony are raving about the cameras on their devices. ASUS is betting big on the built-in gimbal for the main camera, which according to ASUS should ensure even more stable video recordings. The gimbal can compensate for fast movements up to 3 degrees. The device has two cameras on the back: a 50-megapixel main camera, the Sony IMX 766, and a 12-megapixel ultra-wide-angle camera, the Sony IMX363. A tele-camera is not present. This is a camera that can usually be found on devices in the higher segment. There were quite a few people who asked during the unveiling of this device why this camera was not present. ASUS replied that they thought a larger battery was more important than a third camera on the back and that they wanted to use the space for the built-in gimbal.
On the front is the Sony IMX663, a 12-megapixel camera. All three cameras have autofocus. In the case of the ultra-wide angle, this means that it can also be used as a macro camera. While this is a nice camera setup, we secretly miss the flip mechanism of the Zenfone 8 Flip. As quickly as devices with pop-up cameras and rotary cameras appeared, they disappeared again. And although the notch and the punch-hole for the cameras don’t really bother us, we think a full screen looks a bit tighter.
And let that be exactly what Sony is still doing, not in pop-up form, but by incorporating the front camera into the slightly thicker screen edge. This camera is equipped with a Sony IMX 663, a 12-megapixel sensor. There are three cameras on the back: a 12-megapixel main camera, the Sony IMX557, a 12-megapixel ultra-wide-angle camera, the IMX563, and a 12-megapixel camera, the IMX 650. All cameras have autofocus, except for the selfie camera. The device can also record in 4k at 120fps. However, this only works if you use the Cinema Pro app.
The Xperia 5 IV has no less than three apps for taking photos and videos: the Camera Pro, Video Pro, and Cinema Pro app. The Video Pro app focuses on shooting footage as you see it on TV, using an interface similar to Sony’s XDCAM cameras. There are many options to adjust the focus, exposure and color manually, but it is also possible to have this done automatically by the app.
The Cinema Pro app focuses more on making cinematographic films and maintains the interface and settings as you know them from the CineAlta cameras, which are widely used in Hollywood, among others. You can record in 2k or 4k in 21:9 aspect ratio, which corresponds to many movies. In addition, you can set all kinds of things such as ISO and white balance, and which lens you want to use.
It is also nice that the shutter speed, as with certain professional film cameras, is indicated in degrees. This is because it is a revolvingshutter, unlike a still camera. The higher the number of degrees, the longer the shutter is open and the more motion blur occurs. This is neatly simulated by the camera app. The default is 180 degrees. It is also possible to select a look, whereby factors such as color temperature are adjusted. You film in HDR by default, so that’s a nice bonus, and you can turn on frame lines, so you can see, for example, where a 16:9 image extends. The app has several options to make the images you capture look the same as those from Venice cameras and other specific professional cameras and film properties. The Venice CS look uses the s709 color science for this, which, according to the company, should appear as if the images were shot on film.
And then there’s the Photography Pro app. This app is specially for taking pictures. Sony has based this app’s user interface on that of the company’s Alpha cameras. This app can not only be started via the home menu or the app drawer, but also via the separate camera button. Also in this app you have a lot of settings to adjust the camera completely to your wishes and requirements. It’s the same settings you’ll find on separate Sony still cameras, so if you work or have worked with them, it should all sound familiar.
Before we start with the practical test, we will first list all camera specifications for you below.
|Device||ASUS Zenfone 9||Sony Xperia 5 IV|
|Camera resolution primary||50Mp||12Mp|
|Sensor format primary||1/1.56″||1/1.7″|
|Ultra wide angle||12Mp, f/2.2, 113˚
|12Mp, f/2.4, 124˚
|Telecamera||–||12Mp, f/2.2, 1/3.5″|
|Macro camera||Via wide-angle AF||Via main lens AF|
|Camera resolution front camera||12Mp||12Mp|
|Diaphragm front camera||F/2.5||F/2.0|
|Maximum supported video resolution||3840×2160 (4k), 120fps||4320×7680 (8k), 24fps|
Camera practice test
In this hands-on test, we put the photos of the Zenfone 9 and the Xperia 5 IV side by side and compare them with the images taken with the Samsung Galaxy S22. As always, we shoot the photos on the default settings. In some cases, this can turn out to be a bit strange for Sony, because the extensive camera app has many setting options. For this test, we used the default camera app and left it on basic mode. In this mode a lot is automatically controlled, but not everything. This is something to take into account when you view the photos and compare them with those of the other devices.
The ASUS Zenfone 9 and Sony Xperia 5 IV know how to shoot beautiful pictures. If the lighting conditions are right, the results are close to each other anyway. In most cases, the photos that the Zenfone takes are the sharpest, but there are situations where the Zenfone goes a little too far with the automatic post-processing. This can be clearly seen in the photo of the tram station. The grass is a little smeared in some places. This can also be seen in the trees in the same photo. The Xperia is not affected by this and the Samsung device is in between. If we look at the color fidelity, it is the Sony that comes closest to reality. The colors are often just as you see them with the naked eye. The Zenfone 9 boosts the colors every now and then and the Galaxy S22 takes it up a notch.
The contrast ratio is somewhat conservative in the case of the Xperia. The shadows are not boosted as much as with the Zenfone and Galaxy and the light parts also remain light. In some situations, the shaded areas even appear completely black. This can be clearly seen in the photo of the shipbuilding building. The sky appears a bit overexposed than in the photos taken by the other two devices. The dark parts appear a bit brighter in the photo taken with the Zenfone 9 than on the Galaxy S22, but there are also moments where it is the other way around, such as with the photo of the overpass.
In terms of noise, all three devices do well. It’s often a back-and-forth between ASUS and Sony, but it can be seen that the Galaxy S22 pulls it off with its aggressive smoothing algorithm; as a result, not much detail is captured.
The photos taken with the wide-angle camera also look beautiful. There is hardly any noise to be seen and a lot of detail is captured by all devices. Also with this camera you can see that Sony is more conservative with the contrast ratio. As a result, light elements remain light or sometimes even come out too light, while dark, shady parts remain very dark and there is less detail in comparison with the Zenfone and Galaxy. Although there are sometimes situations where all three devices are close to each other. In many cases, the Sony device manages to capture just a little more detail than the rest, although sometimes it is the Zenfone that takes the credit. The S22 has a little more trouble capturing fine detail in some cases and if you do pixel peep, you see that these are smeared more often. At other times it is again the Zenfone that smears some fine elements. Sony remains consistent in this, although this is sometimes accompanied by a little bit of noise.
We also took some pictures with the telephoto camera. At least, in the case of the Xperia 5 IV and the Samsung Galaxy S22. As you have read before, the ASUS Zenfone does not have a telephoto camera, but gives you the option to zoom twice at the touch of a button. Thanks to the gimbal, the camera is kept very still, so little or no software post-processing is required. That can be seen. Even with this digital zoom, the Zenfone’s camera can keep up with the other two devices. Here too, the Sony is a bit more conservative in the automatic mode with regard to the contrast ratio, and here too the most detail is captured in the places where there is enough light. However, if you look at the somewhat darker shaded areas, you will see that they are just black on the Xperia, while there is a lot more to see with the ASUS and Samsung. Of course, you can also achieve this with the Sony, but for that, you will have to dive deeper into the settings.
So far, the devices from ASUS and Sony have managed to make a decent impression, especially when compared to the Samsung Galaxy S22. There are many situations where the photos taken with Zenfone 9 and Xperia 5 IV come out better. Although there are also times when the differences are not that great.
However, this changes when we start working with devices in the dark. The differences are getting bigger and you can already see without pixel peeping that Samsung wins in any case in terms of brightness. But if you look closely, the Zenfone and Xperia compensate with the amount of detail captured. There are quite a few situations where the Galaxy S22 doesn’t capture that much detail and smears out the pixels. This can be clearly seen, for example, in the photos of the first church. Where the bricks are still reasonably distinguishable from each other in the photos of the Xperia and Zenfone, it is a pixel mash here and there in the photo of the Galaxy S22.
The Zenfone 9 manages to find a good balance between capturing detail, contrast differences, and brightness. The built-in gimbal comes in very handy in night mode to keep the camera stable and thus enable a longer shutter speed without the result being shaken. You can also do this with the Xperia, but you will have to set it all up manually. Yet this device also manages to capture enough, although the dark parts in the photo are really dark in automatic mode. However, if the contrast is a bit higher, the Xperia has more trouble finding a balance between the light and dark parts. This is especially visible in the photo of the second church. The lamp above the door is so bright that part of the door is completely overexposed, while the church tower is barely visible. The Galaxy S22 and Zenfone 9 can handle this a lot better, with the Zenfone able to capture the most detail and also has a realistic color reproduction. If there is enough street lighting, the results are much closer together.
All three devices take beautiful, clear, colorful photos, capturing a lot of detail. The contrast ratios are also almost equal to each other. The photos from the Xperia seem to be a bit softer and the lights from the lanterns pop a bit more than the photos from the Zenfone and Galaxy. The ASUS device captures just a little more detail than the other two.
However, Samsung hits back hard when we start shooting at night with the wide-angle camera, at least in terms of brightness. The pictures are clear and there is enough detail to see. The Sony also manages to capture enough detail in automatic mode, but the result is a lot darker than the Samsung. The Zenfone 9 drops some stitches in this mode. We did not manage to get the first church sharp in the picture and the colors are also displayed incorrectly. When there’s a bit more street lighting, the Zenfone 9 gets along a bit better with the Samsung, capturing a bit more detail in some cases. The automatic mode of the Xperia also has a bit more trouble in combination with the wide-angle camera to capture things clearly. So you will really have to get to work in the dark and set everything manually. Here too, the results are somewhat closer together if there is enough street lighting, although the difference is somewhat greater than if the main camera is used. The photos of the Xperia are clearly darker and the contrast ratio is again on the conservative side. Both the Xperia 5 IV and the Zenfone 9 have little or no problems with noise, while the Galaxy S22 shows that quite a bit, despite the smoothing algorithm.
If we look at the camera on the front of the devices, we can be brief. Samsung still has the best for each other and shoots the best picture. The ASUS follows closely, but does so with some noise, but manages to capture just a bit more contours. If we look closely at the photo of the Galaxy S22, you can see that the contours are captured, but are a bit lost due to the smoothing. The Xperia has a bit more trouble capturing selfies. The photo is a bit on the faded side and there is also some noise. The fact that the selfie camera can’t focus doesn’t really help either. Fortunately, you can also use the rear cameras for your selfies if you use the vlogging monitor, but you will have to purchase this separately and it is not cheap.
All in all, we are again positively surprised by the cameras from Sony and ASUS. The devices regularly shoot better photos than the Samsung Galaxy S22. The Zenfone 9 in particular knows how to create sharp images and capture a lot of detail thanks to the gimbal. It is a very nice addition that provides a nice picture in both high and low light situations. The Xperia 5 IV also shoots great photos. You will just have to do a little more work for it. If you have everything done automatically, the device will keep up with the rest, but you can get a lot more out of the camera if you set everything manually. This will cost you some time, time that you may not have if you are partying with your friends and want to shoot a quick picture. However, if you plan to go out and take specific photos for a vacation, social media post or content creation, then the great versatility of options and functions is a very nice addition. And if you already have experience with separate Sony cameras, it is already a feast of recognition. If you want to have more control over the photos you take with the Zenfone, you can also enable pro mode in the camera app, both for taking photos and for making videos. It’s not nearly as many options as the Xperia has, but there are enough to make the photos you take even more to your liking. then you can also enable pro mode in the camera app, both for taking photos and for making videos. It’s not nearly as many options as the Xperia has, but there are enough to make the photos you take even more to your liking. then you can also enable pro mode in the camera app, both for taking photos and for making videos. It’s not nearly as many options as the Xperia has, but there are enough to make the photos you take even more to your liking.
The Xperia 5 IV and Zenfone 9 may be more compact than the average smartphone; it is not noticeable when you look at the batteries. The device from ASUS has a battery with a capacity of 4300mAh on board. We have had larger devices in our hands with smaller batteries and fewer connections. The Xperia 5 IV has a 5000mAh battery under the hood. The device is smaller than its predecessor, but has a larger battery without sacrificing anything in other areas, a great achievement. These specifications are well reflected in our battery tests. The Xperia 5 IV manages to last for a long time in both the WiFi browsing test and the video test, longer than practically any other smartphone we included in our test. Only the iPhone 14 Pro Max lasts a little longer. In the 4G browser test, the device has to tolerate more smartphones, but it still scores very well. The Zenfone 9 certainly does not go wrong either. Especially if you keep in mind that this device has a smaller battery. The smartphone from ASUS still ends up in the upper echelons and outperforms the Xperia in the 4G browsing test.
However, if we look at the use in practice, the differences between the devices are small. The sleek, lightweight user interfaces of both devices didn’t falter once during our testing, with apps opening quickly and running smoothly even when you switch back to economy mode. The Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chips are so fast that you only notice any bottlenecks in special circumstances.
Both smartphones have a capacitive fingerprint reader on the side, in the power button. This works very quickly and reliably. As you could read earlier, the sensors can also be used for various other functions, such as scrolling and opening one or more apps at the same time. The vibration motor of both devices is good, but that of the Xperia 5 IV is a lot more powerful and knows how to produce firm taps when necessary. In the same cases, the Zenfone still feels like a vibration.
The speakers of both the Zenfone 9 and the Xperia 5 IV sound good. Both the highs and the mids are transferred well. Both devices have a bit more trouble with low tones. They can be heard, but there is a bit of depth missing. The sound is full enough to enjoy a movie or series.
|Device||ASUS Zenfone 9||Sony Xperia 5 IV|
|Random access memory||8GB or 16GB||8GB|
|Storage capacity||128GB or 256GB||128GB or 256GB|
|Battery capacity (mAh)||4300mAh||5000mAh|
|Connection (wlan)||802.11 (WiFi 6e)||802.11 (WiFi 6e)|
|Connection (Bluetooth)||Bluetooth 5.2||Bluetooth 5.2|
|Other wireless connections||Near Field Communication (NFC)||Near Field Communication (NFC)
|Connections||3.5mm, USB 3.0 Type-C||3.5mm, USB 3.2 Type-C|
ASUS Zenfone 9
The Zenfone 9 is equipped with Android 12 and looks pretty clean. The user interface has many similarities to that of the Google Pixel. The system also has few bells and whistles and some ASUS apps are included. The device comes standard with an ASUS Data Transfer app, with which you can easily transfer your data from your old device to your new device without the intervention of Google Cloud.
In addition, there is its own file manager app on the device. This is a bit more extensive than Google’s app and can connect to external network locations, among other things. You can also adjust the grouping of file types, so you can see at a glance what kind of files you have on your device. This applies not only to specific file types, but also to files that the system identifies as ‘large’. There’s also a dedicated PC file transfer option, so you can connect wirelessly to your PC without installing specialist software. You can connect to your device directly from your web browser and transfer files that way, a very nice app to work with and certainly something that other devices can take over.
ASUS also includes its own gallery app that is a lot lighter and faster than Google Photos. It’s a wonderful no-nonsense app that does exactly what it’s supposed to do without always wanting to connect to a cloud service. If you want that integration, you can always use Google Photos, which can also be found on the device. Furthermore, ASUS has also included its own sound recorder app. This can not only be used to record audio via the built-in microphone or connected sound source via the 3.5mm jack, but also to record telephone conversations. This feature was blocked by Google some time ago, so many third-party audio recording apps didn’t have that capability. The included app from ASUS can do that without any problems.
ASUS has also included its own clock, calculator, contacts, tips, camera and weather app. Although these apps are very similar to Google’s standard apps, the ASUS versions look and feel a bit lighter and that’s nice. Usually apps from manufacturers are full of extra bells and whistles, topped with a sauce of graphic splendor. The apps from ASUS are nice and clean and limited to the bare essentials. In addition, these apps do not ask you to accept new or additional privacy settings. Only the weather app does that. It needs access to your location to indicate what the weather is like where you are now. This data is sent to AccuWeather. ASUS says it does not collect information. Most weather apps give you the option not to use your location and let you choose a place manually. The ASUS weather app doesn’t seem to be able to do that at first, if you press cancel on the question to share your location, the app closes again. However, if you press the back button or use the back gesture, you will enter the app and you can manually choose a location in the menu of that app. The app constantly nags about your location, so see this more as a workaround than a real solution. There is also a tips app that explains all typical ASUS functions. However, if you press the back button or use the back gesture, you will enter the app and you can manually choose a location in the menu of that app. The app constantly nags about your location, so see this more as a workaround than a real solution. There is also a tips app that explains all typical ASUS functions. However, if you press the back button or use the back gesture, you will enter the app and you can manually choose a location in the menu of that app. The app constantly nags about your location, so see this more as a workaround than a real solution. There is also a tips app that explains all typical ASUS functions.
The Zenfone 9’s clean, fast, no-frills interface is unfortunately a bit undone by the bundled bloatware. Facebook, Instagram, Facebook Messenger and Netflix also come standard with the device. Fortunately, all these apps can be easily removed, so that makes a difference. Another point where the Zenfone 9 scores less is the software support. ASUS supports the device for only two years, so it will already end with updates in 2024.
Sony Xperia 5 IV
The user interface of the Xperia 5 IV also looks and feels fast and light. The interface is very similar to that of the Google Pixel and few Sony apps are included. In addition, Sony’s apps are mainly applications that can be seen as an extension of the standard functionality of the device rather than a replacement for Google apps. Unlike the Zenfone, there’s no proprietary contacts, messages, clock, calculator, gallery or file manager app, but these are all Google’s default programs. The only non-Google default app is the music app.
Another software function that has been present on Sony devices for many years is the ability to open apps with the power button. That could be an app you use often. The system then predicts which app that is and by tapping the power button twice, this app is opened immediately. The ‘App pair’ function is also present again. With this function you can open two apps at the same time and display them one below the other as a split screen or as one full screen app with an app displayed in a floating window. If you do not want to use the power button for this, you can also set a virtual button that activates this function.
Sony is committed to taking photos and videos and the Xperia 5 IV is therefore equipped with special apps that emphasize that. There are no less than two specific camera apps, Cinema Pro and Video Pro. In addition, there is a specialized photo camera app called Photo Pro and there is also a dedicated Music Pro app in addition to the standard Music app. All of these apps have extensive features and support to create professional media. For example, the Music Pro app has support for Sony studio file formats and special filters are available to simulate vacuum tube microphones and Sony Music studio reverb. Furthermore, it is possible to apply real-time sound filters and edit multiple sound tracks at the same time with a maximum of ten.
These are all very nice apps to work with if you want to get a little more serious about creating media and the ability to fine-tune everything to make your media exactly the way you envision it have. You don’t have to worry about some algorithm capturing the first photo with different colors than the second. However, the knife cuts both ways. The gigantic amount of options, virtual dials and submenus full of settings will seem a bit intimidating to the average person. If you don’t know much about (professional) cameras, you can quickly lose yourself in the many options. It is of course possible to set everything to ‘auto’ as much as possible, but if you do that,computational photography shoot the nicer photos, especially when the lighting conditions are a bit less. You can counter this by manually setting the shutter speed and light sensitivity, but if you’re at a party with your friends you probably don’t have the time or inclination for that. The Basic mode captures a lot, but other smartphones do a little better in automatic mode.
The Xperia, like many other smartphones, has an app for improving gaming performance. However, Sony’s app goes a step further by giving you the option to stream your gameplay directly to YouTube and any services and systems that can handle the Real-Time Messaging Protocol, or RTMP. You can turn on your front camera so people can watch you play. The number of streaming functions can be expanded if you connect a capture card and headset. Normally you already have to have a minimum number of subscribers to be able to stream to YouTube, but if you use the streaming function on the smartphone, this requirement no longer applies.
There are a lot of extras and useful functions that this smartphone has. As a result, you will find more icons on your home screen and app drawer than you may be used to from a smartphone. That is not a problem, because they are functions that come with this device. What is a pity is that some bloatware is also included. Fortunately, most extra apps can be prevented from being installed during the initial configuration of the device. Just like with Samsung and Xiaomi, you can check which extra apps are installed and which are not. Think of apps like Booking, Amazon, the Sony News suite and Imaging Edge. If you uncheck everything, however, you still get Facebook, LinkedIn, Tidal and Netflix to choose from. These apps cannot be uninstalled, only hidden. And in the case of LinkedIn and Facebook, that’s inconvenient, because every now and then these apps come with notifications to use them. We can understand that manufacturers close such promotional deals to lower the price of the device, but we do not think this is really possible for such an expensive smartphone as the Xperia.
Another thing that is a shame is the software support. Like ASUS, the device is only supported for two years, so until 2024. That is shorter than some midrange devices. We really don’t think that’s possible anymore at this time. Fortunately, both Sony and ASUS don’t bother about supporting custom roms and opening up the bootloader. Just note that in the case of Sony, the camera technology is not released. The quality of the photos will be less good if you start working with a custom ROM
Both ASUS and Sony surprised us positively with the Zenfone 9 and the Xperia 5 IV. The devices are very versatile, fast, compact and complete. The compact form of the devices is a welcome change in a world where smartphones are getting bigger and bigger. And they also feel great in the hand. It’s a nice size, but in our opinion they could have been even smaller so that they could compete with the iPhone mini and the old Xperia Compact smartphones. Now Sony and ASUS are proud of their compact device, while the Samsung Galaxy S22 is even more compact. Samsung narrowly wins in that area.
At the beginning of this review, we wondered whether the devices could compete with the smartphones of one of the market leaders, Samsung. We can answer that question with a resounding ‘yes’. In fact, the devices even surpass the Galaxy S22 in some areas. Both the Xperia 5 IV and Zenfone 9 last longer on a battery charge, charge faster, have a bunch of useful software features and connections that the S22 lacks, such as a headphone jack and, in the case of the Xperia, a memory card reader. Furthermore, Samsung’s Exynos-soc loses out to the Snapdragon 8(+) Gen 1 chips of the Zenfone and Xperia. Those devices are therefore also faster and more powerful than the Galaxy S22. They can only get warm and in some cases even hot.
The Zenfone 9 and Xperia 5 IV also outperform Samsung here and there in the camera field. The cameras capture more detail and the colors are closer to reality. Especially the built-in gimbal in the Zenfone 9 helps to take beautiful photos. In addition, the extensive settings of Sony’s camera apps for the Xperia are also very versatile and useful for creative people. The many video functions that you have under your fingertips give you a lot of control over the way you shoot videos. However, if you’re someone who settles for simply pressing a button to shoot or film, then these apps can seem quite intimidating to you. You can quickly lose yourself in the many options at your disposal, although there is a basic mode.
The user interface of the Xperia 5 IV and Zenfone 9 is fast, light, and not too fussy. The many additional functions that Sony’s system in particular contains are more of a welcome addition than an irritation. In addition, the extra camera apps are useful for creative people. The many video functions that you have under your fingertips give you a lot of control over the way you shoot videos. ASUS takes a slightly different tack. The system is light and fast. The typical standard Google apps have been replaced by smaller, lighter versions from ASUS, which give you slightly finer functions and options, functions that are more geared toward the tech enthusiast.
Unfortunately, both devices come with bloatware. On the Sony device, you can uncheck a lot of unwanted apps during the first installation so that they are not downloaded, but even then there are still some apps that you cannot remove without dealing with ADB. The Zenfone 9 is a bit easier at that. All included bloatware can be removed without effort.
However, there is one point where the Xperia 5 IV and Zenfone 9 lose out heavily to the Galaxy S22 and that is software support. Samsung now supports its smartphones for five years, while ASUS and Sony only provide their devices with updates for two years. We really don’t think that’s possible anymore. The manufacturers ease the pain somewhat by making it easy to use custom roms and supporting the community in building these roms. However, this is little consolation, because we know that not everyone is waiting for flashing the device themselves.
If we cancel out all the pluses and minuses, there are more than enough pluses left to go for the Zenfone 9 or Xperia 5 IV. If you are wondering which of the two is best for you, we cannot give an unequivocal answer. They may both be in the compact smartphone waters; they do target a different target group. The Xperia 5 IV is more of a smartphone for the media creators, while the Zenfone 9 is more of an all-rounder for the tech enthusiast. We would like to give the devices an award, but the software support is really too short for that.
ASUS Zenfone 9
- Fast no-frills UI and apps
- Very good main camera with a built-in gimbal
- 3.5mm headphone jack available
- Fast, powerful soc that barely throttles
- Compact device, with good build quality
- Brief software support
Sony Xperia 5 IV
- Fast no-nonsense user interface
- Very extensive apps and support for content creators
- 3.5mm headphone jack and microSD card reader available
- Fast, powerful soc
- Compact device, with good build quality
- Letter software support
- The device can get very hot
- No charger and cable included