The Asus ZenFone 6 has officially been announced, and where the ZenFone 5 was basically just a boring iPhone X clone, the new model is thinking way outside the box, eliminating the top bezel entirely thanks to a completely wild rotating camera.
I mean, just look at this thing:
The whole phone also represents a shift in direction for Asus, which seems determined to carve out its own niche in the phone space instead of chasing Apple or Samsung, at least from a design perspective. So, instead of an unsightly black bar or weird hole-punch dot at the top of your phone, the whole front of the ZenFone 6 is just a seamless expanse of screen, which is pretty great to look at, although there is still a small bezel on the bottom.
More importantly, Asus is keeping the price the same: the base model with 6GB of RAM and 64GB of storage starts at $499, the same as the less powerful ZenFone 5.
As for the camera, I’ve been able to try it out for a few days, and it’s actually pretty good. The flipping camera may seem bizarre at first, especially with the wacky sound effects that Asus has set by default (don’t worry, you can turn it off, although the motor itself gives off its own whirring noise), but it’s actually a smart solution to the bezel issue. It’s a similar ethos to Samsung’s Galaxy A80 — why put a second worse camera array on the front when you’ve already got a far better one on the back of the phone?
Asus offers two lenses: a 48-megapixel main camera and a 13-megapixel wide-angle lens that can be used both for group selfies and wide-angle shots (thanks to that flip system). Asus has put a ton of engineering into the camera, which uses a customized stepper motor to rotate the lenses around 180 degrees, letting it work as either a front-facing or rear camera as needed. The camera housing is made out of liquid metal for improved durability, although given the number of moving parts here, there is still some concern that things could go wrong eventually. For its part, Asus does have an automated system that will rotate the lens back if it detects that you’ve dropped the phone, but you should still probably avoid doing that.
There are also some clever additions that involve the rotating camera. You can take panorama shots (either vertical or horizontal) by just holding the phone and letting the camera rotate around, and there’s a motion-tracking mode for video that allows the camera to move to keep a subject in the frame. Asus also will let you adjust the angle of the camera manually, letting you shoot with the lens at any point on the arc of rotation (in case you wanted to take pictures of the ceiling, I guess?).
Asus plans to sell three configurations of the ZenFone 6 model, starting at a 6GB RAM / 64GB storage option for €499 (about $557). The company is promising two higher-specced options, too, topping out at 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage.
But despite the midrange price, the specs are on par with most Android flagships: there’s a Snapdragon 855 processor, a Gorilla Glass 6 and aluminum body, a massive 5,000mAh battery, and the aforementioned bezel-less display and flipping cameras. There’s even a 3.5mm headphone jack! The two big absences are wireless charging or water resistance, which seem to have been cut to hit that low price point.
On the software side, Asus has mercifully cut down most of its own customization, for what it calls an “enhanced” version of stock Android, which is much better than Asus’ attempts over the years. There’s also a dedicated “smart key” that defaults to Google Assistant, but can be remapped to activate do not disturb mode, take a screen shot, open the camera, and more.
Asus has yet to announce an exact release date or price for the ZenFone 6 in the US, but it should arrive sometime in the coming weeks. And when it does, between the creative design, high-end specs, and low price point, it could be a pretty interesting addition to the Android marketplace when it does.