There isn't a lot of choice if you want to buy a small phone in 2022. Most high-end devices feature large screens and aren't built for one-handed use. At this point, the industry as a whole has moved to bigger and bulkier devices to accommodate larger camera modules and bigger batteries.
Thankfully, there are brands that still cater to users that want a small phone with high-end internals. ASUS, for one, made this a key differentiator with the Zenfone 8 last year. The phone came in at a height of 150mm and was ideally suited for one-handed use, and it didn't miss out on the hardware side either thanks to the Snapdragon 888.
The Zenfone 9 is on the horizon, and if the leaks around the device are any indication, ASUS is set to continue this focus on one-handed use and deliver the same caliber of hardware. So let's take a look at what's already revealed regarding the Zenfone 9, and features that ASUS needs to add to the device to make it even better than last year's model.
ASUS Zenfone 9: What we already know
A leaked marketing video gave us a good look at the Zenfone 9 and its feature-set. The phone is likely to deliver the same great one-handed use thanks to a small chassis, and if the video is any indication, we're getting exciting new colors this year (that red variant looks awesome). We're looking at two cameras on the back, IP68 dust and water resistance, and even a 3.5mm headphone jack.
It doesn't look like the Zenfone 9 is missing out on any of the features that made its predecessor such a good phone, and the fact that ASUS is focusing a little bit more on the design this year is interesting to see.
As for the hardware itself, the video suggests we'll see a 5.9-inch OLED panel with 120Hz refresh rate, so it should be identical to last year's phone. And as for the internal hardware, the Zenfone 9 is touted to feature the Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 and a larger 4300mAh battery.
This isn't a mid-cycle refresh, but a new design that's fabricated at TSMC, and as such it delivers much better energy efficiency than the standard Snapdragon 8 Gen 1.
Coming to the cameras, the Zenfone 9 is likely to use the 50MP Sony IMX766 — a stalwart in this category — along with gimbal stabilization. Vivo has set the standard for gimbal stabilization on phones for the last two years, and it will be interesting to see how ASUS fares in this particular area.
For now, those are the features we know, and here's what I want to see in the Zenfone 9.
ASUS Zenfone 9: What we want to see
ASUS is clearly betting on one-handed use as a differentiator for the Zenfone 9, and that's great. I switched to the Zenfone 8 after using the Nothing phone (1), and the difference between the two is remarkable: The Zenfone 8 is diminutive, but it is just as fluid in day-to-day use as the Galaxy S22 Ultra or the Xiaomi 12 Pro.
I wanted to mention IP68 water resistance and a 3.5mm jack here, but the leaked materials suggest the Zenfone 9 will retain those features. It's great to see ASUS continue to pay attention to the basics, and it makes the Zenfone 9 that much more enticing.
The leaked renders also suggest ASUS is going with a new design language for the Zenfone 9, following the rest of the industry in switching to a rectangular chassis with flat sides. I'm not a fan of this design trend as it makes phones more unwieldy, but I'm willing to reserve judgement until I use the Zenfone 9.
Better global availability
The one thing ASUS needs to do better is availability. ASUS tends to follow a staggered launch schedule that sees its devices launch in key markets months after they're officially announced. Last year's Zenfone 8 wasn't available in all markets until a few months after its release, and in the case of India, it didn't show up until February 2022.
By that time, it was overshadowed by more recent launches. ASUS needs to make the Zenfone 9 available in all markets it caters to within a few weeks of the phone's official release.
The next area of focus should be to bring the device to more regions. ASUS is being strategic about where it launches its devices, but given the fact that the Zenfone 9 is targeting a niche that most brands don't pay attention to, it would make sense for the phone to be available in most global markets.
Better camera tuning
Another area where ASUS hasn't focused on that much is camera tuning. With the Zenfone 9 slated to use Sony's IMX766, it is delivering the same caliber of camera hardware as the Find X5 Pro and the Xiaomi 12. So the onus is on ASUS this time around to deliver better camera tuning algorithms to realize the full potential of the Sony sensor.
The Zenfone 8 did a decent enough job in this regard, but it wasn't on par with its immediate rivals, like the Xiaomi Mi 11. But with the Zenfone 9 featuring the same camera module as the best Android phones, I want ASUS to deliver a camera package that holds its own against the likes of the Galaxy S22.
More software updates
Finally, ASUS needs to do a better job with software updates. The brand needs to deliver timely updates and ensure that its devices get at least three Android OS updates.
That hasn't materialized yet, with ASUS continuing to guarantee just two platform updates. With most phones in this category offering three platform updates as standard, ASUS is on the backfoot here, and we'll have to wait and see if that changes with the Zenfone 9.
ASUS Zenfone 9: Launching July 28
ASUS is unveiling the Zenfone 9 on July 28, so we don't have to wait too long to find out everything on offer with the device. Having used a lot of unwieldy phones this year, I'm interested in trying out the Zenfone 9 and seeing if it can distill the essentials of a flagship — great cameras and the latest internals — into a more manageable size.
I like what ASUS did with the Zenfone 8 last year, and if it can deliver on those fundamentals this time around as well, the Zenfone 9 should be one of the more interesting phones of 2022.
Harish Jonnalagadda is a Senior Editor overseeing Asia at Android Central. He leads the site's coverage of Chinese phone brands, contributing to reviews, features, and buying guides. He also writes about storage servers, audio products, and the semiconductor industry. Contact him on Twitter at @chunkynerd.
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