The Asus Zenfone 9 is what the Google Pixel 6 should have been
The Asus Zenfone 9 has been making waves thanks to its small form factor while also pulling no punches in terms of features. It’s the smoothest Android phone I have used in a long time, and it has a lot of excellent features in the system that are all genuinely useful. It’s not packed full of features like, say, One UI or ColorOS, but that sounds familiar, doesn’t it? The Asus Zenfone 9 is the most “Pixel”-like phone that I have used that wasn’t a Pixel, and to be honest, I think it’s what the Google Pixel 6 should have been.
It’s a hot take, I know, but let me explain. The Google Pixel series is supposed to represent the pinnacle of Android. It’s the iPhone of the Android world in that sense, and the iPhone sets a pretty high bar for a lot of things. I think many people would argue that the Pixel 6 series (inclusive of the Pixel 6 Pro), doesn’t quite achieve that though thanks to Tensor. Between performance issues, thermal problems, and signal strength, it’s a subpar experience that I don’t think I would recommend to an iPhone user if they wanted to make the switch.
The Asus Zenfone 9 is different, though, and there are only a couple of things I’d take from the Pixel 6 and apply to it. Is it a perfect phone? Absolutely not. Would I recommend it to an iPhone user looking to make the switch? No (unless they want a small phone). Is it a closer baseline to what an Android representative should be? Almost certainly.
About this article: Google and Asus both sent me the Google Pixel 6 Pro and the Asus Zenfone 9 for review respectively. Neither company had any input into the contents of this article.
Downsides of the Asus Zenfone 9
Before getting into why I feel that the Asus Zenfone 9 is a good baseline for what the Pixel series should be, it’s important to acknowledge the very real downsides that it has. For starters, software support is much worse from Asus, and good software support is a big part of owning a Pixel. Not only does Asus offer a much shorter window (two years of major updates), but it’s also going to be a lot slower to arrive onto the device. Asus is good at software, but it doesn’t update its devices all that frequently.
On top of that, the camera takes a major hit, too. The Zenfone 9 camera is good, and in videography, I think it’s definitely better than the Pixel 6a, but I’m unsure if it’s really all that much better than the Pixel 6 or Pixel 6 Pro. There are genuine, tangible reasons why a Pixel phone might suit you better, depending on what you value.
However, if you’re a normal consumer and neither of those things bother you, then the Asus Zenfone 9 is possibly the phone for you.
Why I think the Asus Zenfone 9 works as a Pixel
Disregarding the software update situation and the camera, what else is a Pixel known for? Is it the software features? Is it a smooth performance? The Asus Zenfone 9 adds genuinely useful features, and the performance is the smoothest I have experienced on any modern Android smartphone that wasn’t a Pixel.
The Asus Zenfone 9 nails every fundamental solidly. It’s not necessarily the best in every category, and that’s evident even from the spec sheet. The smaller screen alone is obviously not something most consumers want, nor does it have the best cameras. However, all of these reasons are why it works better as a Pixel 6, rather than a Pixel 6 Pro.
Even when looking at Tensor, it’s a flagship chipset that admittedly has its own issues. Nevertheless, if Tensor had greater efficiency (more in line with a Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1, for example), imagine the Zenfone 9 with all of the Pixel’s ambient computing features. Now Playing, natural Google Assistant integration, faster voice typing… I know I’d be interested.
Specifically the Pixel 6, and not the Pixel 6 Pro
The Asus Zenfone 9 is a good, clean phone, and that’s all that a Pixel needs to be. It doesn’t need to be the best, really, it just needs to be a good representation of the Android experience. Asus definitely sticks the landing in that department, and it’s just the long-term support that it needs to bring up. If the Zenfone 9 had a five-year support window, I would argue that it would become one of the best ambassadors of the Android brand.
That’s not to say the Zenfone 9 is the best phone out there. In fact, far from it. However, it has good and clean software, amazing and smooth performance, and a good, unique design that’s comfortable to use for long periods of time. It’s a page taken right out of the Pixel playbook.
On the flip side, what we got with the Pixel 6 was a great phone that was hampered by a chipset with thermal issues. It’s not the worst, but it’s certainly one with problems. The issue here is that smartphones often boil down to their chipsets one way or another: a phone can have the best camera, best software, and best display, but if you have a terrible chipset at the heart of it all, then none of that will matter. That’s not to say Tensor is terrible, but it has and will put people off for sure.
All in all, the Asus Zenfone 9 would have made a great Pixel 6. Not a Pixel 6 Pro mind you, but I think there’s a world where some of the best features of the Pixel 6 could have slotted into the Zenfone 9, and you would have had something that still felt like a Pixel, and with all of the software features and camera processing to boot.