ZenFone 4 review: The photo-focused, mid-range phone is perfectly ordinary, and tough to get excited about

 
Steve Hogarty
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ZenFone 4
3.0

Growing up, I was never allowed to have fancy trainers. Not because our circumstances were particularly dire, but because my mother rightly refused to spend more than was necessary on a pair of feet that wouldn’t stop growing.

So upmarket kicks from Nike and Puma were out of the question. Instead I made do with Hi-Tecs, knock off Abibas from the man who sold pirated PS1 games out of a van, and, if I had a birthday coming up, a properly fitting pair of Gola.

So I feel a particular affinity for phones like this one, the Asus ZenFone 4, which looks and feels as much like an iPhone 7 as Apple’s lawyers are comfortable with, but which costs a fraction of the price at £450 (9/13ths is still a fraction).

It’s the same size, with a 5.5-inch screen, fingerprint scanner round the front and a dual-camera setup round the back. Besides the distinctive lozenge-shaped home button and the traditional 3.5mm headphone jack, the Asus logo on the phone’s back is the only clue that you’ve got an extra couple of hundred pounds left over in your wallet.

This is an extremely ordinary phone, it is perfectly okay in nearly every regard that people care about. There’s a real risk of me falling asleep as I write this paragraph.

There’s nothing in the hardware specs to raise an eyebrow at here. It’s a dual-SIM phone, handy for business use or conducting secret affairs, and that second SIM slot can be used as a micro SD card slot to expand the device’s memory. There’s Hi-Res audio and AptX Bluetooth audio support in here, but that’s pretty standard now. Everything runs smoothly. There’s no waterproofing. The battery is fine.

This is an extremely ordinary phone, it is perfectly okay in nearly every regard that people care about. There’s a real risk of me falling asleep as I write this paragraph.

The thing is, at this price the ZenFone 4 faces its stiffest competition from the big boy of the mid-range, the current capo of the middle ground, onto whose turf the ZenFone 4 has idly wandered.

I’m talking about the OnePlus 5T, which also costs £450, and is the phone you should really buy if held at gunpoint and given exactly that much money to spend. Sure, the ZenFone 4 claims to be all about photography and features a decent 120-degree wide-angle lens to capture vistas in a single shot, but the OnePlus 5T still has it pipped in side-by-side comparisons.

Which is all to say that it’s rather difficult for a mid-range phone to stand out these days. The most recent phone from Asus was its high-end, augmented reality focused ZenFone AR, which had a curious selling point and scoops of personality. The ZenFone 4 instead feels like an exercise in cautious mid-spec box-ticking, a decent all-round phone that can’t square up to its nearest rival in terms of either features or price.

The ZenFone 4 is certainly not a bad phone by any stretch, but “not bad” is not nearly good enough these days, not when we can all afford as many Gola trainers as we could possibly fit into two TK Maxx bags for life.

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