Asus ZenFone 5 ZE620KL (2018) review – two months after purchase

I’ve purchased Asus ZenFone 5 model ZE620KL (4GB RAM, 64GB storage) in November 2018 in Taiwan at 8,800 NTD (~400 AUD). I’ve been using it for two months – it is reliable and offers good value of money.

Decision-making process – before I consider ZenFone

Actually, ZenFone was not originally on my list. I started to compare the options from

  • Samsung J7 Pro
  • Samsung J8
  • Samsung A6
  • Samsung A8
  • Huawei Nova 3E
  • Nokia 6.1

And I didn’t buy them because

  • Samsung J7 Pro – the CPU is out of dated
  • Samsung J8 – only have 32GB model, no NFC
  • Samsung A6 – no notification LED, use the same CPU as J7 Pro (out of dated)
  • Samsung A8 – too expensive
  • Huawei Nova 3E – no NFC, concerns in information security
  • Nokia 6.1 & Nokia 7+ – no notification LED, out of stock in Taiwan

It seems that Samsung deliberately makes some functionality missing on J series and A series. I also notice that Samsung intentionally disable some features in the software image on some of the models, despite the hardware supports it. The Samsung model tick all the boxes are too expensive for me.

Chinese companies such as Huawei, Xiaomi and Oppo has been excluded due to my concern in information security. As a Taiwanese, it is always our concern. Let me know how you think if you’re an Australian. I’d like to know.

Nokia 6.1 and Nokia 7+ are out of stock in Taiwan for a long time. The reseller even told me that they’re discontinued.

Starts to consider ZenFone – things I learned before the purchase

After the ‘failure’ above, I started to consider ZenFone after I met a friend who uses ZenFone Max. I’ve been considering between ZenFone Max Pro M1 and ZenFone 5. Both of them have a similar price point but ZenFone Max Pro M1 offer better CPU, RAM, battery capacity and independent microSD slot. ZenFone 5 offers a better camera, support Galileo GNSS and 802.11ac Wi-Fi.

I chose ZenFone 5 eventually and here’s what I learned before making the purchase decision.

  • The phone is covered by glasses but with aluminium skeleton inside, which makes it able to survive in bending tests on YouTube.
  • It supports multiple GNSS: GPS, GLONASS, BDS and Galileo.
  • DxOMark: 93 in photo, 86 in video.
  • Supports 802.11ac Wi-Fi

According to the Asus model convention, be aware that a model (eg., ZE620KL) may come with different RAM, storage, colour and mobile network frequencies. Although ZenFone 5 has only one option for RAM and storage when I make the purchase, it may change in the future. Double-check before you make the purchase.

  • RAM – seems only a single RAM size for ZenFone 5. But ZenFone 5Z (ZS620KL) have variance from 6G to 8G RAM.
  • Storage – only 64GB option ZenFone 5. But 5Z have variance from 64G to 256G.
  • Mobile network frequencies. Refer to Australian Mobile Network Frequencies if you are planning to order overseas and use it in Australia. I am using B version and there is no problem with Belong Mobile.
  • Colour – Meteor silver or midnight blue. Midnight blue is very close to black.

Review – two months after the purchase

I’m very satisfied with the hardware and software quality at the price I paid for. For the camera, it’s beyond my expectation. I’m impressed with the quality of the photo taken at this price point. The wide-angle camera is particularly useful.

Screen and form factor

  • 15.6 x 7.8 cm in size. It is big – compared with my previous phone ZenFone A400CG (2014) and Galaxy S5 mini (2014). I thought I may not able to get used to it, but it’s not a problem after a few days. I made less typo, thanks to the screen size.
  • It is very thin and slippery. My phone comes with a clear bumper in the box and I recommend putting it on. I’ve been dropped my phone, 10cm with the bumper on a glass dining table. The phone and the table are fine.
  • The notch on the screen does not cause any problem on ZenFone. It uses the area in the corner to display time, battery and network status. The notch will not block the content in YouTube playback.
  • The adaptive brightness is responsive and accurate. I’ve been reading ebooks with ReadEra on the Sydney Trains or buses and the brightness adjusts promptly and accurately when the train/bus enters shades, tunnels or under direct sunlight. The display is bright enough to use under direct sunlight in Australian summer days.

Camera

  • Auto mode in built-in camera app does not support RAW. But it can take RAW images with Pro mode. Swipe right in the camera app to enter Pro mode, and select settings, camera resolution, and select RAW + JPG.
  • Adding a camera widget (1×1 in size) allows the user to access specific camera mode (e.g., Pro mode) directly from the home screen.
  • The main camera is F1.8 fixed aperture. Wide-angle camera is F2.2 fixed aperture. I use this information to identify which camera has been used for taking the photo.

Security / NFC

  • It’s convenient to use the fingerprint to unlock the phone, but the phone will ask for the PIN every 48 hours. It’s probably a good idea to enter the PIN in the first use of the day, to avoid being asked in unexpected time.
  • Facial recognition is based on the front-facing camera. During the setup, it will give a warning regards to the risk of using facial recognition – false positive (similar face) and false negative (cannot recognise the owner).
  • Google Pay works fine with Australian debit card and Woolworths Rewards card.
  • It supports reading/writing Mifare Classic. Refer to Mifare Classic is supported on Asus ZenFone 5 ZE620KL for details.

Performance, compatibility, stability and other comments

  • Over-the-air Wi-Fi performance 35.3Mbps upload, 32.4Mbps download with Cisco Aironet 2800. Tested with magic iperf in iperf3 mode.
  • It is stable. It is been running 1400 hours (system uptime) without a reboot.
  • Leaving the phone in standby under the following conditions for 9.9 hours will consume 7% of the battery.
    • Screen is off
    • Wi-Fi is on
    • Mobile data, Bluetooth and NFC are off
    • Single SIM 4G standby
    • Nobody rings me or texts me (SMS) over the mobile network
    • One message over the Internet via Wi-Fi (WhatsApp, LINE or Facebook Messenger)
  • AI charging and scheduled charging is designed to reduce battery ageing by avoiding battery being charged to 100% for a long period of time. Most people charge the phone when they go to sleep. While scheduled changing is enabled, the phone will charge the battery to 80% and stops charging during the specified period. The charging will resume two hours before the end of the specified period to charge the battery to full. AI charging is similar to scheduled charging, but it will analyse when the user uses the phone and adjust starting/ending time automatically. It is very interesting and I can see Taiwanese culture here – they’re not seeking for profit maximisation by making the phone battery wear out early to encourage the user to buy a new phone. Instead, they’re trying to make the phone lasts longer.
  • Does not require special configuration to access to the internal storage via USB interface on Ubuntu Linux 18.04 (bionic). The phone will ask whether to allow data transfer or not. USB ID 0b05:7772 and device “SDM636 MTP” will show up in “Files” application in Ubuntu.
  • The only non-Asus, non-Google app pre-installed are Facebook and Instagram. It does not come with bloatware and I appreciate that.

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