Asus Zenfone 10
The Asus Zenfone 10 is that rarest of beasts: a small phone that’s actually powerful. While most high-end phones like the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra or Apple’s iPhone 14 Pro Max stretch your pockets out with displays approaching 7 inches in size, the Zenfone 10’s 5.9-inch display makes it much more comfortable to use in one hand.
It doesn’t skimp on the specs either, packing a potent Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor, up to 16GB of RAM, IP68 water resistance and even a 3.5mm headphone jack. Remember those? Asus clearly does.
But after spending a few days testing the Asus Zenfone 10, I found that it’s not all good news for small phone lovers. The rear dual cameras are poor, its 30-watt fast charging lags behind the 80 watts we’ve seen elsewhere, and Asus offers only two years of Android OS updates and four years of security updates. That update timeline is short compared to both Samsung and OnePlus, which offer four years of OS updates and an additional fifth year of security updates.
Still, it’s a fair all-around phone for its £750 starting price (£820 as reviewed), especially if you’re desperate for something more compact. US prices are yet to be officially confirmed, but we expect it to be around the same price as last year’s $699 Asus Zenfone 9.
Comfortable, compact size
The smaller size really is the main reason to look towards the Zenfone 10. I’ve maintained a «Best small phones» guide on CNET for some years, and it’s increasingly difficult to find options less than 6 inches to recommend. Even Google’s Pixel A series (which used to be quite small) are now over 6 inches in size. It’s nice to finally have another option to consider.
It’s comfortable to use in one hand, slides neatly into a jeans pocket without the risk of an embarrassing bulge, and the display is bright and sharp enough to still do justice to any games or videos you want to enjoy.
The phone has a polycarbonate back made from bio-based materials that feels good to hold. I like the vibrant stand-out look of my Eclipse red model. It has an IP68 rating for dust and water resistance that should keep it safe from spilled drinks. The Zenfone 10 also features an extremely rare 3.5mm headphone jack for those of you still refusing to upgrade to a pair of wireless headphones.
There’s a fingerprint scanner on the side which doubles up as a sort of trackpad. Swiping your finger up and down, it can be used to navigate web pages or pull down the notification tray, which is a fun feature that might be useful — as long as you can remember that it’s there.
Potent power, disappointing support
At the core of the Zenfone 10 is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor, backed up by a hearty 16GB of RAM (on my review model, that is). It put in some solid scores on our benchmark tests and easily turned its hand to more intense tasks, too. Demanding 3D games like Genshin Impact, Asphalt 9 Legends, Real Racing 3 and PUBG Mobile all played extremely smoothly, even at maximum settings. General navigation around the phone felt swift and responsive.
The phone has a 4,300-mAh battery that put up a decent — but not outstanding — performance on our rundown tests. With reasonable use you shouldn’t struggle to get through a day of mixed use, but if you play games regularly or stream a lot of video, then you can expect to give it a boost in your evening. Like almost all phones, you’ll want to give it a full juice up overnight. The battery has 30-watt fast charging, which is fair, but plenty of other phones offer even faster charging, including Asus’s own ROG Phone 7, which more than doubles that speed.
It runs Android 13, and barring a couple of tweaks here and there as part of Asus’s Zen UI, it looks and acts mostly like stock Android. That’s great, as it delivers an easy-to-use foundation that’s suited for both Android newcomers and smartphone veterans alike. I like the software overall, but it’s a shame that Asus isn’t supporting it for longer.
With only two years of OS updates promised, Asus isn’t doing much to compete with Samsung or OnePlus here, both of which offer four years of OS updates. Asus does offer security updates for four years, keeping it safer to use for longer, although Samsung, OnePlus and Google still have it beaten by adding on a fifth year of security support.
Having longer OS and security support means you can keep using your phone safely for longer, and taking advantage of new software features. As such, you’re less likely to feel the need to upgrade as soon, keeping your old phone going for longer and, crucially, keeping it out of landfill. All companies should be encouraged to extend their support periods to at least five years.
The back of the phone is home to two cameras; a 50-megapixel main sensor with optical image stabilization and a 13-megapixel sensor with an ultrawide lens. Shots from the main camera are detailed enough, but the image processing is extremely heavy-handed, resulting in over-saturated images and odd colors around clouds as the phone fights to keep the exposure in line.
I also saw weird noise artifacts in the edges of some outdoor shots, despite them being taken in excellent light.
Switching to the wide-angle lens, things don’t look quite as overly-saturated, but the image noise and odd blue fringing is still noticeable in the sky.
The 32-megapixel front camera can take some decent selfies, but even this is hit-and-miss, with brighter sunlight sometimes causing lens flares or blown-out skies. I had to try several attempts to get a shot I was happy with. And not just because of my hair.
I’m not impressed with the cameras here and it’s certainly not a phone you should consider if photography is particularly important to you. However, if you just want some vibrant snaps of your kids round the pool on your next vacation, then it’ll likely suit you perfectly well.
Should you buy the Asus Zenfone 10?
If you’re looking for a smaller phone that’s still powerful enough for gaming on the go, your options have become increasingly limited in recent years. It’s refreshing then to see a company pack some high-end silicon into a device that doesn’t require you to have hands the size of continents to use.
And while the phone does offer excellent processor performance and decent battery life, it lets itself down in some key areas. The camera performance in particular was disappointing, and the short support period Asus offers falls down against its competitors, especially given the relatively high price of the phone.
If your key concern is having a phone under 6 inches in size and you’re not bothered about photography prowess, then it’s certainly worth considering, but phones like the Pixel 7A offer a better all-round experience for less money and with only a small increase in size.
How we test phones
Every phone tested by CNET’s reviews team was actually used in the real world. We test a phone’s features, play games and take photos. We examine the display to see if it’s bright, sharp and vibrant. We analyze the design and build to see how it is to hold and whether it has an IP-rating for water resistance. We push the processor’s performance to the extremes using both standardized benchmark tools like GeekBench and 3DMark, along with our own anecdotal observations navigating the interface, recording high-resolution videos and playing graphically intense games at high refresh rates.
All the cameras are tested in a variety of conditions from bright sunlight to dark indoor scenes. We try out special features like night mode and portrait mode and compare our findings against similarly priced competing phones. We also check out the battery life by using it daily as well as running a series of battery drain tests.
We take into account additional features like support for 5G, satellite connectivity, fingerprint and face sensors, stylus support, fast charging speeds and foldable displays among others that can be useful. And we balance all of this against the price to give you the verdict on whether that phone, whatever its price is, actually represents good value.