The constant refinement of the smartphone form factor has resulted in near perfection. In 2019, there are few issues of great consequence left to solve. Knowing this, companies have long incorporated features that serve two purposes at the same time. The first: provide a legitimate solution to a problem. The second: be an attention-grabbing novelty. Think Samsung’s curved displays, the LG V series’ second-screen, or Motorola’s Moto Mods. Companies need to work harder than ever to lure you onto the hook before they can reel you in.

The unique feature on the new Asus Zenfone 6 — its motorized flip camera — is a case in point. Yes, it solves the problem of a full-screen display without a notch. But it’s also unbearably enticing as a “thing to play with.” I challenge you to see it in action in a store and not want to check it out for yourself. It’s the kind of thing nerds like me dream of.

Asus has definitely succeeded on the novelty part of the equation, but is the flip camera a legitimate solution to a problem? Does it just replace one problem with another? What else does the Zenfone 6 have to offer beyond its most identifiable feature? Let’s find out in our Asus Zenfone 6 hands-on.

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Asus Zenfone 6 in hand showing flip camera half closed

Asus Zenfone 6 camera

  • 48MP Sony IMX586, f/1.79 aperture
  • 13MP ultra-wide lens (125 degrees)
  • HDR+, Super Night Mode
  • 4K 60fps video with EIS (front and rear)
  • Full HD slow-mo at 240/120 fps
  • HD slo-mo at 480fps

The Zenfone 6 takes a similar kind of approach to that adopted by the Oppo N1 back in 2013. Why put weaker cameras on the front of a phone if you can use the main cameras for everything? Oppo’s solution rotated the cameras housed in the giant top bezel of the N1. Asus instead flips the main cameras on the back up to enable a near bezel-less display.

You get the current 48MP flagship sensor from Sony here, defaulted to a 12MP pixel-binned image. Pixel binning combines light data from four adjacent pixels into a low light “super pixel” at one-quarter the sensor’s max resolution. You can always switch to 48MP shots when you want higher resolution photos in good lighting.

The secondary lens is an ultra-wide “selfie” camera that doubles as a wide-angle landscape lens using the motorized hinge.

A tiny custom gearbox powers the hinge, using 13 micro-stepped gears for more fluid and accurate operation. Tap the “change camera” button to flip the camera up a full 180 degrees, or press and slide the shutter button to manually adjust the camera’s angle. Asus calls this “free angle shooting” and uses kids, pets, and unique points of view as the obvious use cases.

The motorized hinge mechanism uses a micro-stepped gearbox for fluid operation and granular control.

The flip camera’s motor can take auto-panoramas in horizontal or vertical orientation. Simply tap the shutter in panorama mode and the camera will automatically rotate until you stop it — this means you remain steady while the camera moves, rather than the other way around. If you do drop the Zenfone 6 while the camera is out, it’ll automatically retract before it hits the ground.

Motion-tracking mode locks onto a subject and keeps them in focus. It also automatically adjusts the angle of the camera to keep the subject in frame. It’s pretty wild stuff and a little disorientating the first time you try it. The same is true of slowly adjusting the camera angle: you’ll see the viewfinder image pan all the way up until your head appears upside down at the top of the frame. (When you auto-open the camera to 180 degrees you’ll appear right side up).

Asus has clearly put a lot of thought into making the Zenfone 6 camera unique beyond the gearbox itself. This is encouraging to see. It may feel like a gimmick, but it’s a better-executed one than most. The Zenfone 6 has the potential to radically expand the boundaries of what’s possible with smartphone photography — as long as enough people buy it. You’ll just have to wait for our full Asus Zenfone 6 review to see what the camera performance is actually like.

The Zenfone 6 has the potential to radically expand the boundaries of what's possible with smartphone photography.

There’s a bunch of other good camera stuff here. HDR+ and Super Night Mode provide enhanced dynamic range in high contrast and low-light environments, respectively. Super Night Mode also de-noises and restores color in low-light shots.

The 2×1 on-chip-lens PDAF autofocus on the primary camera provides eight times the pixel area of traditional PDAF systems for faster autofocus times. Because the main camera rotates, your selfie camera now has autofocus. While you don’t typically need autofocus on a front-facing camera, it’s nice to have the option.

Asus Zenfone 6 camera app UI detail

A camera update soon after launch will add Google Lens, a 2x toggle to quickly switch to a lossless crop, and auto-panorama mode when the camera is in selfie position.

4K video at 60fps with electronic image stabilization (EIS) is possible regardless of which direction the camera is facing (forward-facing 4K 60fps with EIS was only added since we first saw the phone, so be aware you might see conflicting information elsewhere).

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Asus Zenfone 6 in hand showing Android app drawer

Software

Beyond its camera, the most notable thing about the Zenfone 6 is that it runs a near-vanilla version of Android. Asus is still calling it ZenUI but the Zenfone 6 dispenses with the visual clutter and even more preloaded apps. Besides the cleaner layout, you’ll also get a system-wide dark mode despite the Zenfone 6 only running Android 9 Pie. The Zenfone 6 is part of the Android Q beta program, however, and is confirmed to get the Android R update.

OptiFlex is Asus’ machine learning memory management system. Using a neural network, it predicts the apps you’re most likely to use and preloads them for faster launch times. A hybrid algorithm also prevents frequently used apps from being launched from scratch. There are several Android framework optimizations at play to help speed up sluggish system performance in areas like recent apps, the gallery and the keyboard.

A Smart Key on the right-hand side of the phone launches Google Assistant. You can double press it to access personal updates, or press and hold to start walkie talkie mode in Assistant. If you haven’t used this before, it lets you activate the mic only as long as you’re pressing the button. Compared to waiting for the Assistant to stop listening before replying to you, it’s nice to have. You can also disable it or re-assign to several other common shortcuts.

There are also a couple of good audio tricks here. When activated, Private Listening routes audio through the earpiece speaker. This means if you request something of Assistant on the train you don’t have to alert the entire carriage to the answer.

Smart Volume, on the other hand, automatically adjusts the volume of incoming calls, media playback and VoIP calls to match the ambient volume of the environment. That means no missed calls when its loud and no blowing out your ears when it’s not.

Asus Zenfone 6 stock Android+ home screen display

Hardware

  • 6.4-inch Full HD+ IPS LCD
  • 92 percent screen-to-body ratio
  • 19.5:9 aspect ratio
  • Gorilla Glass 6 (front)
  • Stereo speakers
  • Bundled hi-res earphones

The Zenfone 6 display is an IPS LCD rather than OLED. This will be a disappointment to many, but the 6.4-inch diagonal and notch-less design will take at least a little of the sting away. It covers 100 percent of the DCI-P3 color space and 96 percent of the NTSC color gamut.

There’s a fairly familiar-sized bezel surrounding the screen, but no notch to intrude on what Asus is calling a NanoEdge display. I found it to be quite nice, with good colors and brightness, even outside. We’ll have to subject it to our full display test to see how it stacks up against the competition.

There’s a tiny earpiece speaker in the top bezel and a bottom-firing main speaker. Right next to that is a 3.5mm headphone port which will be a pleasant sight for many. On the back, you’ll find a capacitive fingerprint scanner surrounded by glass. The space around the camera hinge is bound to get chock full of dust, but the same can be said about any phone using a moving camera.

Not everyone is going to like the idea of a moving part or a motor in their smartphone, and this is totally reasonable. Whether we like it or not though, from the OnePlus 7 Pro to the Realme X, we’re going to be seeing more and more of these until we finally get cameras that can see through the display.

For $499, the Zenfone 6 offers a 5,000mAh battery, headphone jack, no notch, and stock Android+.

As with other OEMs, Asus assures us it has extensively tested the durability of the flip camera system and is confident in its reliability. Until we’ve had a chance to use a Zenfone 6 for an extended period of time we’ll reserve judgment. Naturally, not having a moving part or motor in a phone means they can’t break or get damaged either, so you’ll have to decide if you’re willing to take the risk.

Related: Android Authority’s big book of smartphone firsts

Asus Zenfone 6 back glass reflection with fingerprint scanner and camera

Asus Zenfone 6 specs

  • 7nm Qualcomm Snapdragon 855
  • Up to 8GB RAM + 256GB storage
  • 5,000mAh battery + 18W charging
  • Triple-slot (dual-SIM + microSD)

The Asus Zenfone 6 specs are top-tier, from the latest Qualcomm mobile platform to beefy memory configurations right up to 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. Asus used a two-piece stacked PCB setup to create more space internally. It used that space for important stuff like a 5,000mAh battery and the headphone jack.

Asus opted against 40W super fast charging because it would require a thicker separator between the anode and cathode. That would mean you either end up with less space for a big battery or need a thicker phone to accommodate it. Asus chose to go with 18W charging instead.

 Asus Zenfone 6
Display6.4-inch IPS LCD
FHD+ resolution
19.5:9 ratio
Corning Gorilla Glass 6
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon 855
GPUQualcomm Adreno 640
RAM6GB / 8GB
LPDDR4X
Storage64GB / 256GB
UFS 2.1
Expandable with microSD card (up to 2TB)
Battery5,000mAh battery
Quick Charge 4.0 at 18W
CamerasPrimary:
48MP Sony IMX586 sensor
f/1.79 aperture
0.8μm / 1.6μm pixels
1/20-inch
Dual LED flash
4K 60fps video with EIS (front and back)

Secondary:
13MP ultra-wide sensor
Connectivity802.11a/b/g/n/ac
2x2MIMO
Bluetooth 5.0
NFC
GPS (Dual bands, L1+L5)
GLONASS(L1)
BDS(B1)
GALILEO (Dual bands, E1+E5a)
QZSS (Dual bands, L1+L5)
SIMDual nano-SIM
MicroSD card (up to 2TB)
Operating SystemAndroid 9 Pie
AudioDual speakers
NXP TFA9874 smart amp
Bundled earphones
3.5mm headphone jack
Dimensions159.1 x 75.44 x 9.1mm (largest model)
190g
ColorsMidnight Black, Twilight Silver
Corning Gorilla Glass 3 for back glass

According to Asus, a 4,000mAh battery with 40W fast charging occupies the same space as a regular 5,000mAh battery. But a 5,000mAh battery with 40W charging occupies the same space as a regular 6,000mAh battery. 18W charging meant a 5,000mAh battery that loses no space to a larger separator. You’ll have to decide if that was the right decision for your needs.

Asus points out that a larger capacity battery has a longer typical lifespan than a smaller battery that requires more frequent charging. Asus’ testing shows that a 5,000mAh battery charged at 18W can get the same amount of juice — the fabled “day’s usage” — in just under an hour. According to Asus’ figures, this is exactly the same amount of time it takes a 3,300mAh battery charged at 27W to achieve the same charge (because charging rates slow down as a battery nears 100 percent capacity).

Asus Zenfone 6 price

The Asus Zenfone 6 price starts at $499/499 euro for the version with 6GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. Upping that to 128GB of storage will cost you 559 euro, and the 8GB of RAM/256GB of storage model will cost 599 euro. We’ll update this article with additional pricing and availability details as they become available. The Zenfone 6 is available in Midnight Black and Twilight Silver.