Greater affordability inevitably comes with compromises though, and the Zenfone 8 misses out on out the feature that made its predecessor stand out: its flip camera, which enabled the Zenfone 7 to take rear-facing and selfie photos with the same set of lenses.
Asus is envisioning the Zenfone 8 to be the standard version of the phone, with high-end specs in a variety of configurations – a top-tier Snapdragon 888 chipset and up to 16GB of RAM and 256GB of storage – at a very competitive price. That means consumers comparing the Zenfone 8 to other flagship phones will have to get on board with other compromises Asus has made – there are only two rear cameras (there’s no telephoto lens), and this is a smaller phone with an under-6-inch screen.
As mentioned, Asus’ new flagship phone is a small device, with design considerations tailored to one-handed use that include a tall and narrow design and refined one-handed interface mode. Its size makes it something of a rarity among phones with flagship specs, rivaling the iPhone 12 mini and lower-specced Google Pixel 5 in what it offers.
Those two cameras are impressive enough – there’s a 64MP main shooter and 12MP ultrawide camera, and a front-facing camera in a punch-hole. As we’ve seen with previous Asus phones, these cameras perform well in good light, although they lag behind other flagship phones in low-light and night photography.
The Asus Zenfone 8 is a solid flagship phone at a sub-flagship price, though inevitably there are compromises: there’s no telephoto lens or wireless charging, and it misses out on its predecessor’s novel flip camera that let the rear lenses rotate forward to take selfie shots. You can still get that camera in the limited-release Asus Zenfone 8 Flip, but the regular Zenfone 8 delivers top-tier specs at the most affordable price since the OnePlus 6T. The Asus Zenfone 8 represents a paradigm shift for a flagship phone – not to higher prices and more features, but to greater affordability, with essential specs and strong cameras. It’s the kind of device phone brands like OnePlus used to release, and it’s just as welcome.
You can still get this novel camera functionality, but only in a larger specialty version of the phone – the aptly-named Zenfone 8 Flip, which will be a limited release, cost more, and come in a single RAM and storage configuration.
Otherwise the phone inherits a lot from its predecessor and other Asus phones, from the 120Hz screen refresh rate and ZenUI OS overlay to gaming modes and a 3.5mm headphone jack. And while its 4,000mAh battery capacity won’t turn heads, it’s still enough to keep the phone going through a day.
All in all, that makes the Zenfone 8 a compelling and powerful phone that’s smaller than a lot of the competition – which may suit some consumers more than others who want more screen area to watch media or play games. The Zenfone 8 Flip does have a bigger 6.67-inch display, plus the aforementioned flip camera capability, although as mentioned it costs more, and availability is limited.
The Zenfone 8 launched on May 12 and starts at €499, and has gone on sale on Asus’ US store for $629, though it’s already discounted down to the price we expected of $599 (around £425 / AU$769) for 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. You can bump that up to 256GB for $699 (around £505 / AU$929) in the US store, but it’s not selling any variants with higher RAM. The Zenfone 8 is also available in configurations up to 16GB of RAM and 256GB of storage for an expected $799 (around £565 / AU$1,025). The Zenfone 8 comes in two colors: a matte Obsidian Black and silver-framed, white-colored Horizon Silver.
The Zenfone 8 Flip will have a far more limited release, and Asus has confirmed that it won’t be coming out in the US. In Europe it will retail for €799, which is around $970 / £690 / AU$1,240). Those prices are similar to what we saw for the Zenfone 7 and Zenfone 7 Pro, although the Zenfone 8 seems nominally cheaper than its predecessor, likely owing to its static camera and simpler design. That makes the Zenfone 8 a potentially tempting proposition, undercutting phones like the Google Pixel 5 and OnePlus 9 by around $100, and the Samsung Galaxy S21 by $200. While those phones have some advantages (notably their cameras), the Zenfone 8 does feature top specs at a very competitive price.
The Zenfone 8’s design won’t turn many heads, but it packs those impressive specs into a compact package that’s more or less usable with one hand. These days, that’s novel – it’s not a phone for users who want more screen area to watch media or who need larger text, but for those who want a smaller handset the Zenfone 8 is one of the few options with flagship-level specs and finish. There are few phones in this niche, with the Zenfone 8 (148 x 68.5 x 8.9mm) coming in at roughly the same size as the Google Pixel 5 (144.7 x 70.4 x 8mm) while the iPhone 12 mini (131.5 x 64.2 x 7.4mm) is noticeably shorter in length, narrower in width, and thinner than either. Compare that to phones like the Asus ROG Phone 5 (172.8 x 77.3 x 10.3mm), which is so wide and tall that it’s difficult to reach a thumb more than two-thirds of the way across its 6.8-inch display when holding the phone one-handed.
During our briefing, Asus took time to point out the phone’s two speakers – a 10 x 12mm one at the top and a larger 12 x 16mm one at the bottom that’s the same size as the speaker at the bottom of the Asus ROG Phone 5, though with a slightly smaller 1.0cc speaker box volume. It’s unfair to compare the two handsets, as the latter, larger phone has forward-firing speakers while the Zenfone 8 has one in the earpiece and the other firing out of the bottom for less evenly-distributed sound. Suffice it to say that the Zenfone 8’s speakers – tuned by Swedish audio company Dirac – put out a good volume, and we noticed more high and middle tones, although with some lows missing, compared to the sound from the Zenfone 7. Before we dive deeper into the Zenfone 8, let’s go over the differences between it and the Zenfone 8 Flip. The biggest one is, of course, the flip camera, which gives the Flip another telephoto lens and keeps the edge-to-edge front display clear of notches or punch-holes.
The phone otherwise has a pretty standard design, with a volume rocker towards the top of the right edge and a metallic blue lock button below this. Gone is the thick lock button with built-in fingerprint sensor found on the Zenfone 7, as Asus has finally implemented an in-screen fingerprint sensor in the Zenfone 8. On the top of the handset are a microphone on the right and 3.5mm headphone jack, and on the bottom is a central USB-C port with a speaker to the right, a microphone to the left, and a SIM slot to the left of that (there’s no microSD capability). The Zenfone 8 has a smooth matte glass back with a camera block in the upper-left corner, and rounded edges that curve into the aluminum frame, making for a solid and classy feel. While the phone is a little thick at nearly 9mm, the sides are wider towards the back and narrower toward the front glass, which makes it slightly easier to wrap your fingers around the phone. It’s easier to see this in our hands-on photos than it is for us to describe a bit tough to explain, but it’s a nice design consideration that encourages one-handed use.