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(Pocket-lint) - Asus has launched the follow-up to the Zenfone 8, the appropriately-named Zenfone 9. This device is very much the sequel, the part two, as these phones both look to offer a compact device loaded with flagship hardware.

That makes these phones rare examples of top-notch hardware in a compact form, so if you're looking to escape the big phones, this might be where you choose to look.

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Design

  • Zenfone 9: 146.5 x 68.1 x 9.1mm, 169g
  • Zenfone 8: 148 x 68.5 x 8.9mm, 169g

While both these phones are compact, there's a big difference in the design. The Zenfone 8 is a safe design, with the camera neatly tucked into the corner and curves to the side of the design.

If we were being harsh, we'd say it was a little too safe, as there's not a lot that stands out, but it does have IP65/7 protection and is finished in Gorilla Glass Victus, front and back. 

The Zenfone 9 moves in a different direction, keeping those compact dimensions, but switching to a design that's much more noteworthy. There are now squared flat sides - slightly reminiscent of the iPhone - but on a smaller device that poses no problem when gripping it.

The rear now has a textured finish. It's a composite, but it almost feels like stone. The camera is now much larger, with lenses that follow the trend of being massive - enhanced by the compact nature of this device.

There are also markings and details around the body of the Zenfone 9, so it looks a little more geeky - and that's a good thing. It has an IP68 rating.

Both have a 3.5mm headphone socket and stereo speakers. The Zenfone 8 has an in-display fingerprint scanner, the Zenfone 9 moves this to a multi-function button on the side - which also allows for shortcut swipes too.

Overall the Zenfone 9 does look like the more exciting device - but it's definitely more extroverted - especially if you opt for one of the colours other than black.

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Display

  • Zenfone 9: 5.9in, AMOLED, 2400 x 1080, HDR10+, 120Hz
  • Zenfone 8: 5.9in, AMOLED, 2400 x 1080, HDR, 120Hz

The display on the Zenfone 9 is much the same as it is on the Zenfone 8. It's the same size, same resolution, and offers the system with refresh rates, allowing "auto" or 60, 90 or 120Hz. 

These displays also look the same and having seen both side-by-side, the performance appears to be the same. Both offer peak brightness at 1100 nits and both support HDR content too. The Zenfone 9 specifies HDR10+, but it's not clear if the Zenfone 8 is the same if that's only HDR. It's likely a moot point in either case.

So, these displays are essentially the same and you can expect the same performance - with both having a punch hole camera in the top left corner. As we said above, the Zenfone 8 has an in-display fingerprint scanner, but the Zenfone 9 moves this to a button on the side.

Hardware and specs

  • Zenfone 9: Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1, 8-16GB RAM, 128-256GB storage, 4300mAh, 30W
  • Zenfone 8: Snapdragon 888, 8-16GB RAM, 128-256GB strorage, 4000mAh, 30W

When it comes to the hardware, the Zenfone 9 takes quite a big step forward. The Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 is a couple of steps forward over the Snapdragon 888 - not hugely different, but it's more recent hardware with and number of performance gains across graphical performance and core power.

Outside of the Snapdragon heart, the Zenfone 9 also has a larger battery, increasing to 4300mAh compared to 4000mAh in the Zenfone 8. An increased battery capacity is always welcomed, meaning it should last a little longer than the older device. Both support 30W charging. 

The RAM and storage options remain the same and neither support microSD. Both support dual SIM, however.

Camera

  • Zenfone 9: Double rear camera
    • Main: 50MP, 1/1.56in, f/1.9, 1.0μm
    • Ultrawide: 12MP, 1/2.55in, f/2.2, 1.4μm
    • Selfie: 2MP, 1/2.93in, f/2.2, 1.22μm
  • Zenfone 8: Double rear camera
    • Main: 64MP, 1/1.7in, f/1.8, 0.8μm
    • Ultra-wide: 12MP, 1/2.55in, f/2.2, 1.4μm
    • Selfie: 12MP, 1/2.93in, f/2.2, 1.22μm

The biggest changes to these devices come in the camera department. There are two cameras on the rear of both of these devices - with the main camera supported by an ultrawide. While the ultrawide (and selfie camera) appear to be much the same, there's a big change to the main camera. 

The Zenfone 9 is using a 50-megapixel Sony IMX766 sensor. It's a larger sensor than in the Zenfone 8 and it's now supported by a 6-axis gimbal, so it should be possible to get better stabilisation on video and when hand-holding longer exposures. This is the reason for the big change in design around the rear of the phone. 

Otherwise, the camera experience is much the same - you should just get better results from it.

Price and availability

  • Zenfone 9: from £699/€799
  • Zenfone 8: from £599/€599

There's a price jump for the Zenfone 9 so it's a hefty bit more expensive than the older Zenfone 8 at launch. This might make it seem like it's slightly less of a good deal compared to the older device - and that's true: there are phones around this price that might be more attractive, like the Pixel 6 for example (although it's a larger device).

The Zenfone 8 is still widely available and discounted so relatively good value for money for a compact powerhouse - the Zenfone 9 is only just coming to market. 

Conclusion

The positioning of the Zenfone 9 and the Zenfone 8 are similar, with both bringing power to the compact phone space. They're rare: many manufacturers slip to mid-range specs on smaller devices. The design of the Zenfone 9 makes it more attractive than the Zenfone 8 which is a little boring by comparison. The display is essentially the same and these phones are closely related in terms over overall power and performance - with the Zenfone 9 having the edge because it's on newer hardware. 

The big change is in the cameras, with a newer sensor that should deliver better images, with the added advantage of a gimbal to stabilise everything to reduce handshake. You'll get super-smooth video from the Zenfone 9. A bigger battery adds appeal to the Zenfone 9 and might provide enough compensation for it being a more expensive phone. 

Both phones suffer on the software front only offering two Android OS updates and 2-years of security updates - and this is from when the phone launches, so in software terms, it's better to go for the newer Zenfone 9.

More about this story

When we compare devices on Pocket-lint, we are not just simply looking at the specs and telling it by the numbers. We have fully reviewed both the Zenfone 8 and the Zenfone 9 and the comparison that's drawn out through this versus takes into account findings from spending time with these devices. 

Every device is more than just its specs, the essence of a smartphone goes well beyond what you'll find on the spec sheet. In some cases there will be a gulf in the experience despite devices having the same hardware, and in some cases the experience will be really close, despite the hardware being different. 

Ultimately, comparing these phones is about highlighting differences that will actually matter with the aim of helping you decide which is the best device for you.

Writing by Chris Hall.