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Asus Zenfone 5Z hands on: More than just an iPhone X lookalike

Asus typically shies away from smartphone launches at MWC. They do make phones - the Zenfone 4 from last year was a highlight - but they don't usually perform a big song and dance at the annual tech conference like say, Samsung or Sony do.

But, not anymore. This year's MWC was particularly special for the Taiwanese firm, launching their first proper flagship since the slightly disappointing ZenFone AR. Rest assured, the Zenfone 5Z is so much better, and if there's a proper Samsung Galaxy S9 competitor at MWC, this is almost certainly it.

Asus Zenfone 5Z hands-on: Design

It's barely six months since the Zenfone 4 arrived in shops, but the Zenfone 5Z isn't its successor. Oh no, where the fourth-generation Zenfone was an excellent mid-ranger, this is nothing of the sort. Instead, Asus has set its sights much higher, launching a proper flagship smartphone at, well, almost flagship-level prices.

And you can tell just by looking at it. Available in either dark blue or silver, the Zenfone 5Z's aluminium construction is stunning, with a similar light-reflecting concentric circle design as the firm's own Zenbook series of laptops. It's beautifully subtle, and isn't as in your face as, say, HTC's Iron Man-like U11.

It's, shall we say, strikingly similar to Apple's iPhone X, thanks to the rounded edge-to-edge display. It's even got a notch at the top of the screen for the camera and sensors. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is down to your own personal taste, but if you like the look of the iPhone X and want one without paying a grand, you're in luck.

Asus Zenfone 5Z hands-on: Display

The Zenfone 5Z's screen itself is excellent, with a 19:9 aspect ratio. Yes, you read that right: this isn't an 18:9 effort like the Galaxy S9 or Sony Xperia XZ2. The result is an even taller screen, which when combined with the 6.2in size should make it decidedly on the large side.

It's a FHD+ (2,160 x 1,080) panel, has an an aspect ratio of 19:9, a maximum brightness of more than 500cd/m2 and 100% DCI-P3 coverage. It also has glove touch support, so you can use the screen without getting your hands cold in the Winter weather. The screen's colour temperature also automatically adjusts according to the ambient lighting, just like Apple's True Tone technology.

Asus Zenfone 5Z hands-on: Specs and hardware

Confusingly, there are two different variations of the phone. The first, and the most impressive, is the Zenfone 5Z, which comes equipped with Qualcomm's latest Snapdragon 845 processor, which is found in most of 2018's flagships, along with up to 8GB of RAM and a generous 128GB of storage.

This means that the top-end Zenfone 5Z will be an absolute beast when it comes to performance. The Snapdragon 845 offers laptop-grade compute power, and coupled with a mammoth 8GB of RAM, it might even be able to outperform the Galaxy S9. Be warned, though - other configurations are available, including one with a less impressive 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage.

The second, slightly cheaper model is the regular Zenfone 5, which features a Snapdragon 636, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. Note that this is a different Zenfone 5 to the one they launched back in 2014. There's also a "Lite" version, with low-powered internals, although this won't be available in the UK.

As for the camera, the Zenfone 5Z has a wide f/1.8 aperture 12-megapixel snapper on the rear, along with a 120-degree wide-angle camera. It also has face unlock and - like basically every smartphone at MWC - its own version of Apple's Animojis.

Asus Zenfone 5Z hands-on: Verdict

The Zenfone 5Z is, without question, the most impressive smartphone that Asus has ever put out. Yes, it may look like an iPhone X knock-off at first glance, but look under the hood and you'll find one of MWC's most impressive smartphones.

For a start, the top-spec model is seriously powerful, to the point where it may end up outclassing some users' PCs. There's also that display, which looks to be an absolutely gorgeous panel. Finally, there's the price; starting at just under £500 including VAT, it's an absolute steal. We should point out that this is for the version with 4GB of RAM rather than the more powerful 8GB version, but frankly, that's still going to be more than fast enough.

Surprisingly, Asus have come from behind with one of - if not the - most interesting smartphone launch of the week. The Asus Zenfone 5Z is definitely one to watch.

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