The Asus Zenfone 9 is a compact phone with a gimbal-style camera

The Zenfone 9, like 8 of last year, is that rare Android phone that favors compact size over maximizing screen or battery size. Always be my heart! But new this year is the phone’s camera and stabilization system: rather than just moving a single lens element to compensate for camera shake, the full main camera – lens, sensor, all that – moves. It’s a unique approach to combating some of mobile photography’s biggest enemies: low light and shaky video footage.

The Zenfone 9 is small but mighty and continues the 8’s tradition of packing high-end specs into a compact phone. The display is a 5.9-inch 1080p OLED with a smooth 120Hz refresh rate, and the phone uses a Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 chipset – the latest and greatest from Qualcomm. The base model includes 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, and the phone is IP68 certified.

One-handed usability is a top priority for the Zenfone 9.

There’s a 4,300mAh battery that supports 30W fast charging and an adapter included in the box, but wireless charging isn’t supported. The rear panel of the phone is made of textured composite plastic, although the frame is made of sturdy aluminum and the front panel is protected by Gorilla Glass Victus. And there is a headphone jack! How thoughtful.

There are only two rear cameras on the Zenfone 9’s rear panel, which is fine: no macro or excess depth sensors here. The main camera’s 50-megapixel sensor and f/1.9 lens star the show with what Asus calls a 6-axis hybrid gimbal OIS/EIS stabilizer. Underneath there’s a 12-megapixel ultrawide that doubles as a macro camera, plus a 12-megapixel selfie camera on the front.

The main camera stabilizer compensates for movement in the x and y axes (side-to-side and up and down), but also uses information from the gyro sensor to correct for sudden z-axis movement toward forward and backward. Asus says this makes the camera able to compensate for three degrees of movement, compared to one degree in the Zenfone 8, which uses traditional OIS. Better shake compensation means the camera should be able to use slower shutter speeds and capture more light in low-light situations, which improves detail and color. It’s a more robust system than the usual OIS or even the sensor-based stabilization that Apple uses on some of the iPhone 13 cameras.

50-megapixel main camera on top, 12-megapixel ultrawide on bottom

The inclusion of this type of stabilization required rethinking how the camera unit connects to the processor. The cable connecting the two needed to be shorter and laid out in an S-shape rather than a bent configuration. The ribbon itself is also softer to apply less inertia to the camera module. Of course, this is all hidden inside the phone, but the results can be seen on the surface: with the camera in video mode, you can actually see the whole camera moving under the large element fixed external lens. Seriously, that’s wild.

The Zenfone 9 will be sold unlocked in the US, but pricing is still to be determined; in Europe it will cost you €799, or around US$800 (sorry about your currency, European friends). It will first be available in Taiwan, Hong Kong and parts of Europe.

Photography by Allison Johnson/The Verge

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