Asus Zenfone 9 Review: Small but Mighty

There’s no shortage of big phones these days. Apple even went so far as to nix a successor to last year’s iPhone 13 Mini and instead replaced it with the iPhone 14 Plus. Small phones are hard to come by, but they’re not completely extinct yet. If you’re tired of straining your fingers to reach parts of a screen, then the Asus Zenfone 9 is your friend.

I have to mention a few major caveats before you read any further. This Android smartphone is available in the US, but it will not work on Verizon’s network at all. It works best on T-Mobile and AT&T. Asus also doesn’t support its smartphones for a long time. Most Android phone makers now offer three to five years of software support, but Asus is sticking with a paltry two. Get with the times! It’s a shame, because the Zenfone 9 has perks that are hard to find: a compact screen with flagship performance, plus a headphone jack. That’s super rare. 

Small but Mighty

It might not look like a glitzy flagship phone, but there are a lot of goodies in this little package. It all starts with its size—at just 5.9 inches, it’s easy to wrap my fingers around. It’s not as small as the iPhone 13 Mini (5.4 inches), but it’s still one of the smallest screens out there today. 

This AMOLED display never felt too cramped with everyday tasks, but it did feel limiting when I watched episodes of Love, Death & Robots while on the exercise bike at the gym. I had to bring the phone close to my eyes to catch details in the “Night of the Mini Dead” episode (fitting). Otherwise, the screen is sharp, looks colorful, and manages to get just bright enough to use on sunny days. The 120-Hz refresh rate is a treat too, and a feature you won’t find on the iPhone 13 Mini—every swipe and scroll feels smooth.

Photograph: Asus

Size isn’t the only thing that makes this phone so nice to hold; it’s also the texture Asus uses on the back of the device. It’s soft and feels kind of like the rubber mats on a playground. I like when phone manufacturers play around with designs and textures (RIP LG)—props to Asus for making this phone feel distinct, unlike its predecessor. Just know that this rear material can scuff up; it’s easy to clean, but you’ll still see some light marks.

There’s a side-mounted fingerprint sensor embedded in the power button, and it’s a quick and reliable way to unlock the device. A headphone jack sits at the top if you prefer to wear corded earbuds—this port is a rarity on flagship phones these days—and the Zenfone 9 has stereo speakers that get loud and sound pretty great. It also packs a near-field communication (NFC) sensor so you can make tap-to-pay payments. The screen is protected by Corning’s Gorilla Glass Victus, and it has IP68-rated water and dust resistance, which is as good as you’ll find on most high-end phones these days. 

What’s missing? Wireless charging. You can only recharge this phone with a cable, but there’s good news here too: Asus is one of the few phone makers these days that still includes a charging adapter along with the USB-C cable. (It even comes with a case, though it’s not terribly protective.) Speaking of charging, Asus has managed to fit a 4,300-mAh battery into this small phone, which comfortably lasts a full day. Actually, it usually gets me through a day and a half with average use. It’s pretty great! 

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