The Zenfone 7 has one defining feature that you won't find on any other current phone on the market - the Flip Camera. What we almost thought was a one-off experiment on the Zenfone 6 has been improved and enhanced on the 7.
The motorized assembly is now bigger to accommodate an extra cam - the Zenfone 7 has a complete tri-set of cameras, including a telephoto with 3x optical zoom. There's no room for a periscope on the flippy platform, but 3x is easily good enough given the circumstances.
The main unit's gotten better and now employs a 64MP Quad Bayer imager in place of the more modest 48MP one on the Zenfone 6. The Zenfone 7 can record 8K video at 30fps (with EIS), as well as 4K at 120fps slow motion - among other improvements.
Asus did not forget the ultra wide angle cam either and has fitted a 12MP Dual Pixel sensor. That's right, it can autofocus so you can use the ultra wide angle cam for nearby subjects. It can even focus as close as 4cm - that sounds like a 'macro' cam we can get behind.
The Zenfone 7 Pro has optical stabilization on the main and the telephoto cameras. The Zenfone 7 non-Pro, meanwhile, won't have OIS on any of its cameras. We can't really see this as any sort of dealbreaker but it has obviously led to some significant cost savings in the camera manufacturing process.
To flip the camera assembly around, a new motor has been fitted that's both more compact and delivers a lot more torque. It can also move the entire contraption with much finer control, Asus says, and to make better use of that, they've come up with a new feature in the camera app that lets you set pre-determined positions of the Flip Camera and access them with a shortcut in the viewfinder.
Face unlock is available too and with the new mechanism now ever so slightly faster to open, it's perhaps a slightly more viable option, though still not as fast as... well, stationary cams. You shouldn't have any fears about the mechanism's longevity, mind you - it's rated to 200,000 actuations, which is something like 110 flips every day for 5 years.
With the Flip Camera in charge of selfies too, the display can be left uninterrupted - no unsightly notches or punch holes on the Zenfone 7, just as it was on the Zenfone 6. Bezels aren't strictly minimal, but Asus did shave a couple of millimeters off the chin, which is appreciated.
The screen is also slightly bigger on the Zenfone 7 at 6.67 inches in diagonal next to the Zenfone 6's 6.4 inches. But that's not the important development here - the change of display technology is. The Zenfone 7 comes with a Samsung-made AMOLED panel, and it's one that can refresh at 90Hz. It's not 120Hz or 144Hz, but it's a sensible middle ground, we'll give it that. You get three menu options - 60, 90, and Auto, and that's perhaps the best way to handle HRR in software from a user perspective. Resolution is still 1080p, but if the Galaxy Note20 can get away with that, so too can the Zenfone.
Asus promises 500nits of brightness when lighting up the entire screen in normal conditions, up to 700nits under bright light and all the way up to 1000nits for smaller areas in HDR applications (it supports HDR10). Our early experience with the Zenfone 7 Pro here in our hands shows that the display is visibly bluish out of the box, but it can get really bright indeed. We'll test that in more detail for the full review.
With the switch to OLED, you'd expect that Asus will have fitted an under-display fingerprint reader. That is not the case, however, and the Zenfone 7 employs a capacitive sensor inside the side-mounted power button. It's not just a power button and fingerprint reader, actually - they call it the Smart Key and it can be set to launch apps or functions with a double press or a press and hold.
The Zenfone 7 has kept the stereo speakers too. The bottom one is the 'main' one, while the earpiece serves as a second channel. It's once again a peculiar setup in which the earpiece is actually in the Flip module, and there's just a slit in the glass above the display for the sound to come out through.
Speaking of glass, the front of the Zenfone 7 is protected by Gorilla Glass 6, the latest pre-Victus generation of Corning's product. The back, meanwhile, gets Gorilla Glass 3. The frame is made of aluminum and has a silvery satin finish on our Pastel White review unit. Pastel in this case means a gentle pearlescent effect, apparently. The alternative colorway called Aurora Black has bluish and greenish hues depending on the angle the light hits it.
The Zenfone 7 has the same 5,000mAh battery as the 6, but gets faster charging - the bundled adapter is rated at 30W and supports USB PowerDelivery with PPS. Additionally, the 7 comes with a whole slew of options for customizing the charging behavior that we saw on the ROG Phone 3 so that you can preserve your battery's health in the long run - slow charging, scheduled charging, limiting the maximum charge to 80 or 90%, the whole lot. There's still no wireless charging as that would have made the phone thicker than it already is.
And it is thick. The Zenfone 7 measures 165.1x77.3x9.6mm, making it one of the chunkier handsets around. It's quite heavy too, at 230g. If your baseline is the iPhone 11 Pro Max with its 226g, perhaps the Zenfone wouldn't make a difference. But in a world where even the Note20 Ultra weighs 208g and the OnePlus 8 Pro manages to squeeze below 200g, the Zenfone 7 does make for a hefty everyday carry.
The Zenfone 7 builds on the winning formula of last year's model and brings upgrades in areas where we found the 6 was notably lacking. The OLED screen is a most welcome sight, and Asus didn't just pick any OLED, but went to Samsung and got what appears to be a really nice panel at first glance. The addition of a telephoto camera addresses another pain point with the Zenfone 6 - zoom is now on the table as well, but there are advancements across the board.
Alongside the improvements, the Zenfone 7 has kept almost all of the 6's geeky appeal - almost, because the headphone jack has gone missing. The Flip camera is super cool, but also useful in ways fixed cams simply cannot be. A big battery is never a bad thing, and the Zenfone 7's price/performance ratio still appears to be one of the best.
This time around Asus introduces some segmentation, offering a Pro and non-Pro model. Going for the ultimate Pro version will get you the latest Snapdragon 865+ and OIS on the main and tele cameras. Concede the 'plus' bit in the chipset and the optical stabilization and the non-Pro Zenfone 7 comes still fully equipped, at close to a bargain price. Other makers (cough, Samsung) can learn a lot from Asus on the topic of feature parity between phones of the same immediate family.
We do have the Pro version here for review, and we'll be proceeding with the usual battery of tests. Most of our findings will apply to the non-Pro as well, either directly or through extrapolation. Give us about a week for the full scoop.