The Zenfone 9, like last year’s 8, is that rare Android phone that prioritizes compact size rather than maximizing screen or battery. Be still my heart! But the new story this year is the phone’s camera and stabilization system: instead of just moving a single lens element to compensate for camera shake, full main camera – lens, sensor, everything – moves. It’s a unique way to combat some of mobile photography’s greatest enemies: low light and shaky video.
Small but mighty, Zenfone 9 continues the 8 tradition of packing top specs into a compact phone. The screen is a 5.9-inch 1080p OLED with a smooth 120Hz refresh rate and the phone uses a Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 chipset – Qualcomm’s latest and greatest. The base model packs 8 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage and the phone is IP68 certified.
There is a 4,300 mAh battery that supports 30W fast charging and an adapter is included, but wireless charging is not supported. The back panel of the phone is a textured composite plastic, although the frame is made of sturdy aluminum and the front panel is protected by Gorilla Glass Victus. And there is a headphone jack! How thoughtful.
There are only two rear cameras on the Zenfone 9’s rear panel, which is fine: no redundant macro or depth sensors here. The main camera’s 50-megapixel sensor and f/1.9 lens are the stars of the show with what Asus calls a 6-axis hybrid gimbal OIS/EIS stabilizer. Below that is a 12-megapixel ultrawide that doubles as a macro camera, plus a 12-megapixel selfie camera on the front.
The main camera’s stabilizer compensates for x- and y-axis movements (left-to-right and up-and-down), but also uses information from the gyro sensor to correct for sudden movements of the z-axis forward and backward. Asus says this allows the camera to compensate for three degrees of movement, compared to one degree in the Zenfone 8, which uses traditional OIS. Better compensation for vibration means the camera should be able to use slower shutter speeds and capture more light in low-light situations, resulting in better details and colors. It’s a more robust system than the usual OIS or even the sensor-based stabilization Apple uses on some of the iPhone 13’s cameras.
Incorporating this kind of stabilization required rethinking how the camera unit connects to the processor. The cable connecting the two had to be shorter and arranged in an S shape rather than a folded configuration. The ribbon itself is also softer to apply less sluggishness to the camera module. That’s all tucked away in the phone, of course, out of sight, but the results are visible on the surface: with the camera in video mode, you actually see the entire camera package moving under the fixed, large outer lens element. Seriously, it’s wild.
The Zenfone 9 will be sold unlocked in the US, but the price is still TBD; in Europe it costs €799 which is about… $800 USD (sorry about your currency, European friends). It will be available first in Taiwan, Hong Kong and parts of Europe.
Photography by Allison Johnson / The Verge