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

The Zenfone 9, like last year’s 8, is that rare Android phone that prioritizes compact size rather than maximizing screen or battery size. Be still my heart! But the new story this year is the phone’s camera and stabilization system: rather than just moving a single lens element to compensate for camera shake, the entire main camera — lens, sensor, all of it — moves. It’s a unique approach to fighting 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 including top-tier specs in a compact phone. The screen is a 5.9-inch 1080p OLED with smooth 120Hz refresh rate, and the phone uses a Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 chipset — Qualcomm’s very latest and greatest. The base model includes 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, and the phone is IP68 certified.

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

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

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

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

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

Including this kind of stabilization required a re-thinking of how the camera unit connects to the processor. The cable connecting the two had to be shorter and arranged in an S-shape rather than a folded configuration. The ribbon itself is softer, too, to apply less inertia on the camera module. That’s all tucked away inside the phone out of view, of course, but the results are visible on the surface: with the camera in video mode, you can actually see the entire camera package moving around under the fixed, large outer lens element. Seriously, it’s wild.

The Zenfone 9 will be sold unlocked in the US, but the price is still TBD; in Europe, it will cost €799, which is about… $800 USD (sorry about your currency, European friends). It will be available first in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and parts of Europe.

Photography by Allison Johnson / The Verge