ASUS Zenfone 8 Flip
The ASUS Zenfone series has just made a comeback in Malaysia, where it has been absent for a couple of years. This round, they've launched the compact flagship Zenfone 8 as well as a sister model called the Zenfone Flip 8, which I'll be reviewing today.
Unlike other phones with 'Flip' in its name, the ASUS Zenfone 8 Flip does not feature a foldable body. In this case, the 'Flip' in its name refers to the flippable camera module that allows one to use the main camera setup on the rear as a selfie cam as well.
Apart from its defining feature, the Zenfone 8 Flip is in many ways a flagship as well, although it does fall short of the mark just a little compared to some other devices on the market nowadays.
So, what exactly does the Zenfone 8 Flip offer that makes it a compelling choice alongside its non-flip sibling? Let's find out.
Just by looking at the box, you can tell that ASUS has forgone the recent trend of ditching charger. Indeed, inside you'll find a 30W charger, the corresponding USB-C to USB-C cable, the usual paperwork and SIM card ejector, as well as a phone case. I really appreciate that ASUS is providing something a little nicer than the usual TPU casing, especially since it would probably be difficult to find aftermarket cases to accommodate the Flip 8's unusual design.
The Flip 8 is available in Galactic Black and Glacier Silver, both of which are boring yet safe colours - I wish there would have been a more adventurous 'hero' colour available. In any case, the Glacier Silver unit I received began to grow on me after a while, especially with the blue power button providing a nice accent on the side.
The back is glossy and a bit of a fingerprint magnet, while the sides have a matte finish. It's not particularly easy to keep a good grip on it due to its texture and large size, while the flip-out camera module makes it top-heavy and slightly off-balance in the hand. Either way, you'll be wanting to keep a cover on at all times - not just for general protection, but also to protect the camera module.
When subject to rapid and abrupt motions, the camera has a tendency to flip out from its resting position just a little before immediately retracting. While this is to be expected and doesn't pose a huge issue, you're still better off ensuring that it is safely retracted while in transit. The Active Case provided by ASUS in the box, as well as the bundled Rhinoshield case available to early birds, both keep the flip camera secure; the former via a small plastic latch, and the latter via a sliding shield.
Another good reason to always have a case on is the fact that the back is only protected by the older Gorilla Glass 3, not Gorilla Glass 6 like the front or Gorilla Glass Victus like the Zenfone 8.
On the right side of the phone, you'll find the power button and volume rocker, while the left side remains bare except for the SIM card slot. On the bottom, you'll find the USB-C port, microphone, speaker grille, as well as the notification light, which is becoming less common nowadays. Up top is the aforementioned flip-out camera as well as another speaker. Right below the camera bump on the back is another microphone that supports the Mic Focus feature.
If you're worried about how durable the flip camera is, ASUS claims that the liquid metal mechanism can last up to 300,000 flips - that's 150 flips per day for more than 5 years! That's plenty, since most of us tend to swap out our phones every few years or so anyway.
All in all, the design is simple and sleek, with the signature flip camera helping it stand out from the competition.
Looks great, sounds great
The display boasts rather slim bezels, with the chin being the thickest, followed by the forehead. Even if they aren't really slim enough to be considered flagship caliber, it's still a gorgeous sight to behold, thanks to the lack of a camera notch or punch-hole that's becoming more common nowadays.
The FHD+ AMOLED display is vibrant with great contrast. The screen is also pretty bright and I had no visibility issues outdoors. While the 90Hz refresh rate isn't as speedy as some other flagships that boast 120Hz or even 144Hz refresh rates, it's still a noticeable and welcome upgrade from 60Hz. You can lock it at either 90Hz or 60Hz, or select auto mode to let the device decide. A lower refresh rate means you'll get more battery life out of it, but the fluidity of the higher refresh rate is just too good to pass up. If you're a mobile gamer, you'll also be glad to know that it has a speedy 200Hz sampling rate for more responsive gameplay.
The fingerprint sensor is located beneath the screen - it's speedy most of the time, but seems to have trouble occasionally, especially when the screen has some dirt on it. You can also use facial recognition, but that's hardly feasible nowadays since we're masked up most of the time, and I usually keep the camera latch on so it's much faster to simply use fingerprint recognition. If you DO insist on using facial recognition however, you'll still have to swipe the screen to indicate you want to unlock it, after which the camera will automatically pop up to check you out before automatically retracting after it recognises you as its owner.
ASUS has worked together with Dirac to tune the sound for an improved listening experience compared to the last generation. Personally, I found the the stereo setup very enjoyable to listen to, be it for music or videos.
The top speaker is housed in the Flip Camera is front-facing while the bottom speaker grille is directed downwards. If you're sensitive, you might be bothered by the slight discrepancy in sound when listening in landscape mode, but it wasn't a huge deal for me personally. While the speakers aren't the loudest, they still have a decent touch of bass and sound good across multiple genres, including EDM, pop, and classical. However, it does sounds a bit scratchy for rock, especially at louder volumes.
You can also choose from several preset audio modes by Dirac, and customise the audio to your preferences with the 10-band equaliser offered by ASUS' AudioWizard. What really completes the whole music listening experience for me are the gesture controls that allow your to play, pause, and switch tracks by tracing symbols on a black screen. Two finger swipes down toggles play and pause, while drawing forward and backward arrows allow you to switch to the next or previous track. This is a great touch if you want to control your audio without having to pick up your phone and activate the screen.
However, do note that there isn't a 3.5mm jack, which is an unfortunate omission, especially since the Zenfone 8 has one.
Beautifully natural photos...in daylight, at least
The main camera on the Zenfone Flip 8 is a 64MP Sony IMX686, while the second and third cameras are a wide-angle and telephoto lens respectively. Undoubtedly, the main selling point of this phone is being able to use the full power of the rear cameras for your selfies and vlogs as well. Indeed, the selfies are far superior than those taken by your typical front camera.
Have you ever recorded a 4K 60 fps front-facing video? I bet that's a pretty uncommon occurrence - but thanks to the flip camera, now you can! One downside is that unlike the flagship Zenfone 8, the 8 Flip doesn't have OIS, which is a bummer.
Apart from helping you take top-tier selfies, the flip camera also has a novel feature - it allows you to take panoramic shots without moving an inch. Since the camera flips a full 180 degrees, all you have to do is point the top of the phone at the center point of the image you want to take, and press the shutter. No more struggling to keep the phone level - the flip camera will do all the work for you; and I must say, the results are pretty seamless - much better than you doing it manually, anyway.
The pictures produced by the main camera are pretty natural - it doesn't ramp up the saturation like some other phones out there, so you might find it pretty dull at first glance. However, I personally like it a lot, as colours were much closer to real-life. Here are some pics I took on a cloudy evening stroll outdoors.
It can take macro photos as well; there's no dedicated mode for this - it will automatically turn on as soon as you come close to a subject, which is pretty convenient.
Details are crisp in daylight, and the shutter is extremely responsive. Edge detection is very accurate in most instances, and selfies look good even without Portrait mode on.
Indoors in dim lighting it still did alright, but in dark environments, the camera struggled a little. The pictures just don't look as good and lose a lot of detail. Predictably, wide mode suffered even more, and telephoto is a grainy mess. However, Night Mode helped a lot with bringing out the contrast by executing a 4-second exposure; you can even see the stars in these photos, which is pretty nice.
You'll have to have a steady hand though as there is no OIS as mentioned earlier, though it does a pretty good job dealing with minor movements. Unfortunately, I don't have a nicer or brighter view outside my home where I am currently trapped due to MCO, so I do apologise for the limited night photos.
Finally, there's an on-screen button that allows you to manually deploy the flip camera and adjust it to 3 pre-set angles - you can reprogram the angles to your liking as well. However, the only use case I've come up with so far is to sneakily take pictures of people while pretending to look down and text (please don't do this!) I'm sure there's a better way to use this function - I just can't think of one at the moment.
As for performance, the Snapdragon 888 and Adreno 660 combo performs as expected. I'm able to play both Genshin Impact and Honkai Impact smoothly even at 60 FPS, which is certainly a treat (finally, I can condense my resin at work!)
Surface temperatures stayed comfortable as well, though it will definitely heat up more over long gaming sessions. While testing was done on Dynamic mode, there are a number of other modes available, including High Performance, Durable, and Ultra Durable. If you desire more thorough customisation, you can head on over to Advanced Mode where you can manually tweak the thermal limit, CPU, GPU, and RAM performance, as well as other settings.
In terms of battery life, it lasted me more than 12 hours with around 8 hours of comic reading and web browsing thrown in, which is great since I usually spend much less time hooked onto the phone on a typical working day. With typical usage levels, it should last you comfortably for a full day, though it won't really carry you through a second day so you'll have to charge it at the end of the day anyway.
It has a number of battery care options which help you prolong the longevity of the battery. Apart from steady charging, it also has scheduled charging that can be synced to your morning alarm, so you can avoid overcharging and still have it fully juiced up just as you wake up, which is very reassuring. It also has an option to implement a charging limit of 80%, 90% or 100%, which is a nod to ASUS' experience with laptops.
Although 30W fast charging is nowhere near impressive by today's standards, it still does an admirable job topping up the 5,000mAh battery within an acceptable time frame. From my experience, it took around 30 mins to top it up from 3% to 54%, though it started to slow down as it got closer to a full tank.
A clean UI with useful features
The Zenfone 8 Flip uses ZenUI, which is based on Android 11. The overall experience was extremely pleasant, with some extra useful perks and no bloatware to speak of. According to ASUS, there are at least 2 major OS updates planned, which isn't an amazing amount but still offers a bit of assurance for the next couple of years.
You can enjoy a decent level of customisation, from the system font to the colour accent and even the icon shapes. The home screen can also be tweaked in terms of scroll animations, folder layouts, and icon labels. Sadly, icon customisation still doesn't seem to be a thing yet, so you'll need to use a launcher if you want to pimp out your UI.
Apart from aesthetic features, you'll also enjoy a simpler version of Game Genie adopted from the ROG Phone series, as well as Smart Key, which allows you to program your power button to execute handy shortcuts. For example, I've bound the screenshot feature to press and hold, while double clicking brings up MySejahtera.
It also has dark mode, which is a godsend cause I have a penchant for scrolling through my phone in bed (a bad habit, I know).
Buy or no buy?
The ASUS Zenfone 8 Flip is an interesting one indeed. It has a whole host of great features with decent specs to back it up while still falling just that little bit short of being a true flagship. While it packs the powerful Snapdragon 888 and Adreno 660 GPU along with decent RAM and storage, it still misses a few key features like wireless charging, a headphone jack, and OIS. It also lacks ingress protection, most likely due to its unique flip camera design.
However, the novel camera system still makes it an attractive offering that will appeal to vloggers and selfie-inclined individuals who still want their phone to pack a decent punch in terms of performance. Sure, the refresh rate could be a little faster, the bezels could be a little slimmer, the glass body could be a little more durable - but these don't hold the Zenfone 8 Flip from providing a great user experience overall. And honestly, how many phones on the market can make your selfies look this good AND take panoramas this effortlessly?
If you want tip-top quality selfie and vlogging potential, the ASUS Zenfone 8 Flip will definitely tickle your fancy. However, if you're leaning more towards a thoroughbred flagship, then the ASUS Zenfone 8 would probably be a better bet.
For more details and specs, you can head on over to the official product page here.