ASUS ZenFone 7 Pro Review – A Flipping Fantastic Flagship Smartphone
Smartphone design has come a long way since Apple unveiled its first iPhone in 2007. Android phones used to have thick bezels and tiny displays; now they’re so massive they blur the line between tablet and phone. Each year, new advancements in smartphone design and display technology give OEMs the ability to trim down bezels even more. Until the mass production of under-display camera tech next year, though, most OEMs won’t offer truly full-screen smartphones, instead opting to cut a hole or notch in the display to leave room for the front-facing camera(s). A stop-gap solution to this problem has already been in use since last year, though—hiding the camera in the top (pop-up camera) or flipping it around from the back (flip camera). The new ASUS ZenFone 7 Pro is one such device that employs a “Flip Camera” module to offer a full-screen display experience, and it definitely stands out in a year dominated by phones with notches or hole-punches.
I’ve been using the new ASUS flagship smartphone as my daily driver for a few weeks now, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how vastly improved it is over last year’s ZenFone 6. On paper, the ASUS ZenFone 7 Pro doesn’t seem to offer many enhancements over last year’s model, with the newer model packing a newer chipset with 5G support, a third camera, a higher refresh rate OLED panel, and faster charging, while dropping the 3.5mm audio jack and jacking up the price by €200. But in my time using the new phone, I have found little fault with it, and in fact, see that it offers a lot of value over comparably priced flagship smartphones. ASUS used a 2019 design to make a killer 2020 flagship in the ZenFone 7 Pro. Here’s how.
ASUS ZenFone 7 Series Specifications. Tap/click to expand.
|Specification||ASUS ZenFone 7 (ZS670KS) / ZenFone 7 Pro (ZS671KS)|
|Dimensions & Weight||
|Design & Build||
|CPU & GPU||
|RAM & Storage||
|Battery & Charging||
|Security||Side-mounted fingerprint sensor (0.3s unlock, supports 5 fingerprints), integrated Smart Key
Software-based facial recognition
Other Modes & Features:
|Audio||Stereo, dynamic, 5-magnet speakers with dual smart amplifiers (NXP TFA9874 smart amplifier)
Triple microphones with ASUS noise reduction technology
|Ports||USB Type-C, no DisplayPort Alternate Mode/video output
No 3.5mm audio jack
|Software||Android 10 with ZenUI 7|
|Colors||Aurora Black, Pastel White|
About this review: I received the ZenFone 7 Pro from ASUS on August 17, 2020. The device received one update before launch and is currently running software version WW_184.108.40.206 with the July 5th Android Security Patch Level. ASUS did not have any inputs regarding the content of this review.
ASUS ZenFone 7 Pro: Design
With no notch or hole-punch impeding the viewing area, the ZenFone 7 Pro has what ASUS calls an “all-screen NanoEdge display.” The display measures 6.67-inches diagonally and has rounded corners but does not curve around the edges. The screen-to-body ratio is 92%, which is the same as the ZenFone 6 which has a smaller 6.4-inch display; the ZenFone 7 is thus slightly taller than the ZenFone 6 (165.0mm versus 159.1mm) but has thinner bottom bezels to compensate. The ZenFone 7 Pro is definitely a tall smartphone, with a height similar to the OPPO Find X2 Pro, OnePlus 8 Pro, and Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra. It just barely fits in my Razer Kishi gaming controller, for example. Because of the 20:9 aspect ratio and 77.28mm width, the ASUS ZenFone 7 Pro is hard to manage in one hand, though ASUS has a few software tricks to make up for that.
What ASUS can’t compensate for in software, though, are the weight and thickness of the phone. At 9.6mm in depth and 230g in weight, the ASUS ZenFone 7 Pro is thick and heavy. It’s barely thinner and lighter than the massive ASUS ROG Phone 3 which measures 9.85mm in depth and 240g in weight. This is the biggest compromise with the Flip Camera design—the module takes up a lot of internal space, thus increasing how thick the phone has to be. Likewise, the heaviness can be attributed to the materials used for the Flip Camera housing, which add weight on top of the phone’s other build materials and large battery. If you’re accustomed to using larger and heavier smartphones, then the ZenFone 7 Pro probably won’t bother you. If you’re upgrading from a much smaller smartphone, though, it could be uncomfortably large and heavy.
The weight and thickness aside, the ASUS ZenFone 7 Pro is a beautifully designed smartphone.
The device has a glass back with a layer of Gorilla Glass 3 for scratch resistance. ASUS sent me the ZenFone 7 Pro in its Pastel White color, which exudes a pink hue under lighting. The glass back isn’t frosted, so it can feel quite slippery and track smudges from your finger. The mid-frame is made of 6000 series aluminum alloy, giving the phone a more weighty and premium feeling than last year’s ZenFone 6. The Flip Camera housing is actually made of its own unique material, which we’ll get to in a bit.
The top of the phone is taken up almost entirely by the Flip Camera housing, though there is room for one microphone hole in the middle of an antenna band. The gap between the Flip Camera and the rest of the top is a hotbed for dust and particles, which may irk those of you who like to obsessively keep your phone clean. At the bottom, you’ll find a bottom-firing speaker (the earpiece speaker doubles as the secondary speaker), a USB Type-C port for data and charging (though sadly, no video output), a microphone, and an LED indicator. Honestly, I thought the placement of the LED indicator at the bottom was a tad odd at first, but it serves its purpose when my phone is lying face-up on a table. ASUS added an Always on Display mode to the ZenFone 7 Pro, so the lack of an LED indicator on the front isn’t that much of an issue, in my view.
The left side of the phone has the triple slot card tray, which is a rarity to find in smartphones these days. You can insert up to 2 nano SIM cards here as well as 1 microSD card slot to expand the storage capacity. Most phones (that aren’t sold in the U.S.) can only fit 2 nano SIM cards or 1 nano SIM card plus 1 microSD card (if you’re lucky), so to have the option to use 2 nano SIM cards and a microSD card means the ASUS ZenFone 7 Pro offers great versatility for frequent travelers. Only 1 of the 2 provisioned nano SIM cards can connect to 5G NR, though, while the other is relegated to 4G LTE; given the lack of 5G access in many areas, that isn’t really a big deal.
The rear is pretty clean save for the ASUS logo, some text about the copyright formality, a single microphone for the Nokia OZO-powered audio capturing features, and the Flip Camera module. There’s a curve near the edges to make the phone easier to hold, though it’s very subtle. The camera bump is pretty large, so the phone won’t rest flat on a table. Fortunately, the camera bump is centered and balanced, so the phone won’t wobble when you’re using it while it’s lying flat.
The right side of the ASUS ZenFone 7 Pro has the volume rocker and power button, which has triple duty as the fingerprint scanner and “Smart Key.” By consolidating the fingerprint scanner and Smart Key, which are located on the rear and upper right side of the ZenFone 6 respectively, into the power button, ASUS managed to simplify the design without sacrificing utility. The fingerprint scanner is quick and responsive, featuring Goodix‘s capacitive side-key technology. And with integrated Smart Key functionality, you can map an action to a double-tap or press and hold gesture, allowing you to quickly turn on the phone, unlock it, and launch an app or shortcut.
The Flip Camera has seen several improvements since its debut on the ZenFone 6. For starters, the material used to construct it, which ASUS says is liquid metal (metal alloys with an amorphous structure), has become easier for ASUS to process. The difficulty of processing this material is what caused shortages of the ZenFone 6, so hopefully, the ASUS ZenFone 7 Pro won’t have such big supply issues. The stepper motor is now marginally faster and smoother at moving the Flip Camera module, which means that finer and more accurate adjustments to the angle are now possible. More importantly, there’s a new angle sensor that allows for quickly deploying the camera to pre-defined angles that you can set up in the camera app. Lastly, the Flip Camera module is more durable this generation, with an I-shaped stepper motor design that provides nearly 2.2X more torque, an 18-layer FPC cable with 110 signal outputs providing twice the rated lifetime (up to 200,000 flips), and a stronger housing that can hold 40% more weight (up to 35kg) before breaking from bending.
The stepper motor does make noise when it’s moving, but it’s not loud enough for anyone to hear unless they’re close by in a quiet room. You can add a sound effect to the Flip Camera movement in Settings > Sound & vibration > Flip camera sound, though this is disabled by default since it’s a bit tacky.
Here’s a demo of the Flip Camera movement on the ASUS ZenFone 7 Pro. In the video, I cycle through the 3 default camera angles (45°, 90°, and 135°), retract the camera, and then flip the camera using the manual motor control.
If you’re worried about the Flip Camera breaking, then you should know that ASUS added a G-sensor to detect when the ZenFone 7 Pro is falling so it can automatically retract the Flip Camera. If you’re just worried about the Flip Camera opening up when it shouldn’t, though, you can put the phone in the Active Case that comes in-the-box. This case has a latch that you can pull out to lock the Flip Camera in place. It’s also ruggedized so it has a nice, grippy feel, and it’s also as thick as the camera bump, making the phone level with a table if you’re worried about damaging the cameras.
ASUS ZenFone 7 Pro: Camera Quality
The main benefit of having this Flip Camera module is that the rear cameras—which are almost always the best on any given smartphone—double as the front cameras. That means the ASUS ZenFone 7 Pro offers the most powerful front-facing camera hardware out of any smartphone in the market. How many other smartphones have a telephoto camera on the front? None. How many other smartphones can record at 8K resolution from the front? None. How many other phones can automatically take a panorama for you (let alone a wide-angle panorama), precisely angle the camera so you don’t have to awkwardly hold it, and seamlessly switch between recording video from the front and the rear? None.
I believe, therefore, that the ASUS ZenFone 7 Pro gives users the most versatility in how they want to take a photo or video than any other smartphone I can think of. Last year’s ZenFone 6 only had a dual camera setup comprised of a 48MP main and 13MP ultra wide-angle sensor, but this year ASUS upgraded it to a triple camera setup in the ZenFone 7 Pro. The primary image sensor is Sony’s 64MP IMX686 with an f/1.8 aperture lens and 2×1 on-chip-lens (OCL) PDAF. The secondary one is Sony’s 12MP IMX363 image sensor with an f/2.2 aperture, 113° field-of-view wide-angle lens and dual PDAF. The third camera is an 8MP image sensor with an f/2.4 aperture and 3X optical zoom lens, with up to 12X total zoom.
Images from the 64MP camera are pixel-binned down to 16MP resolution and are stabilized with OIS (only on the ZenFone 7 Pro and not the regular ZenFone 7). The telephoto camera is also housed in an OIS module, though again, OIS is only there for the ZenFone 7 Pro model. The ultra wide-angle camera can also do macro shots at 4cm distances with autofocus, and it’s also behind the HyperSteady feature, which combines the wider field-of-view with EIS to give a larger cropping canvas to compensate for shaking.
In terms of video, the ASUS ZenFone 7 Pro supports recording at up to 8K resolution at 30fps with EIS from the main camera, up to 1080p resolution at 60fps “HyperSteady” videos from the ultra wide-angle camera, and up to 1080p resolution at 30fps from the telephoto camera. The 3 microphones placed around the phone can boost audio capture quality, reduce wind noise, or provide directional recording though Nokia’s Audio 3D, Audio Focus, Audio Zoom, and Audio Windscreen OZO features. However, these must be manually enabled by the user.
Of course, it’s not all about the hardware, but the image tuning and camera software, too. Here’s a Google Photos album containing dozens of photos I capture from the ZenFone 7 Pro. I’ve included a few samples below, but I recommend taking a peek at the album anyway since the photos embedded below have been resized and compressed. Furthermore, I included some panorama samples in the album if you’re wondering what images taken by the auto-panorama feature look like.
Left: Regular photo. Right: Night mode photo.
Left: Ultra-wide angle photo. Right: Regular photo.