These $500 Android phones you probably haven't heard of ended up being 2 of my favorite smartphones of 2019. But there's a clear winner between them.


Asus Zenfone 6 and OnePlus 7 Pro

  • Both the Asus Zenfone 6 and OnePlus 7 Pro offer high-end features like a borderless screen, 48-megapixel camera, facial recognition, and an ultra-wide-angle camera lens for $500 — about half the price of flagship smartphones.
  • They both also have pop up cameras that emerge from the phone as needed, making it possible for the screen to occupy the entire face of the phone.
  • Despite their similarities, however, there are some areas in which they both excel over one another and fall short.
  • While they both are compelling options for smartphone shoppers on a budget, the OnePlus 7 Pro is a slightly better value thanks to its larger, higher-quality screen and triple camera among other features.
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Buying a new smartphone has become a bigger investment than ever in recent years. As mobile devices have gained new features like edge-to-edge screens and facial recognition, prices have jumped accordingly — resulting in a market where paying nearly $1,000 for a new smartphone has become the norm.

But in 2019, a growing number of companies have started to challenge that notion. Enter the Asus Zenfone 6 and OnePlus 7 Pro. Both smartphones offer modern features like a borderless screen, high-end cameras, and facial recognition for roughly half the price of premium devices from Apple and Samsung. Both phones start at $500, while Apple’s iPhone 11 Pro starts at $1,000 and the Samsung Galaxy S10 begins at $900.

OnePlus has always positioned itself as being a cheaper alternative to pricey phones from giants like Samsung and Apple since its debut in 2014. Yet it’s facing more competition in 2019 as smartphone makers are starting to offer compelling alternatives at similar price points, like Asus with its Zenfone 6 and Google’s $400 Pixel 3a.

The OnePlus 7 Pro and Asus Zenfone 6 are particularly similar: they both cost $500, they both have cameras that pop up when needed and disappear otherwise, and they both have 48-megapixel cameras. Despite these similarities, however, there are a few differences that are worth noting if you’re deciding between the two.

Here’s a closer look at how the Asus Zenfone 6 and OnePlus 7 Pro compare. 

SEE ALSO: Evidence is mounting that people are fed up with the sky-high cost of smartphones, and it’s sparking a massive change in the industry

Display quality

At first glance, the Asus Zenfone 6 and OnePlus 7 Pro may look fairly similar from the front, considering they both have borderless screens with no notch cutout for the camera. But look a little closer, and you’ll notice that the OnePlus 7 Pro’s display is slightly curved on either side, similar to Samsung’s Galaxy S phones. The OnePlus 7 Pro also has a slightly larger screen that measures 6.67 inches compared to the Zenfone 6’s 6.4-inch display.

But more importantly, the type of display technology that the two phones use also differs. The OnePlus 7 Pro has an AMOLED display, whereas the Zenfone 6 features an IPS LCD screen. OLED displays like the one found on the OnePlus 7 Pro typically offer deeper blacks and better contrast than LCD screens. 

Both the Asus Zenfone 6 and OnePlus 7 Pro offer sharp screens that are suitable for reading, browsing social media, playing games, and watching video. But I found that the OnePlus 7 Pro outpaced the Asus Zenfone 6 in a few ways when it came to screen quality: it looked brighter , the colors were more vibrant, and the viewing angles were noticeably better. 

The OnePlus 7 Pro also has the option to crank up the display’s refresh rate to 90Hz, which is higher than usual for a smartphone. This should make the display feel slicker and more responsive, although I didn’t personally notice too much of a difference in my daily usage. 

Camera performance

The Asus Zenfone 6 and OnePlus 7 Pro both have 48-megapixel main cameras and an ultra-wide-angle lens for capturing broader scenes. But that doesn’t mean they offer similar performance.

When it comes to deciding which phone takes better photos, the answer isn’t as simple as it sounds. That’s because both phones succeed in different ways and fall short in others.

After testing both phones in a variety of circumstances, I generally found that the Asus Zenfone 6 outperformed the OnePlus 7 Pro when taking selfies and shooting in Portrait Mode. But the OnePlus 7 Pro came out on top when taking photos in dark environments, and when zooming in.

There’s a reason why Asus’ phone probably bested OnePlus’ when shooting in selfie mode: it uses the same 48-megapixel main camera to capture selfies, whereas OnePlus’ phone has a 16-megapixel camera for taking front-facing photos. The Zenfone’s camera flips up and rotates when the selfie camera is activated, resulting in super sharp images in which even fine details like individual strands of hair are discernible. 

OnePlus also has a pop-up camera, but it’s much smaller than Asus’ and is separate from the main 48-megapixel camera, which is situated in a fixed position on the back of the device. 

Still, OnePlus beats Asus when shooting in the dark. Both phones have a night mode, but the image taken on OnePlus’ phone was much sharper and clearer than Asus’. And since the OnePlus 7 Pro has a triple-lens camera rather than a dual camera like Asus, it also has a telephoto lens, which means it’s significantly better at zooming than Asus’ Zenfone 6. 

The Asus Zenfone 6 does offer one trick not found on the OnePlus 7 Pro, however. You can adjust the specific camera angle between zero and 180 degrees, making it easy to slightly tweak your shot without having to move the entire frame. 

When it comes to shooting standard photos in normal outdoor circumstances, I found that both phones performed similarly. Both were capable of taking photos with vibrant color and crisp details. 

Other features

Although the camera has come to be a defining feature for today’s smartphones, there are some other important differences between the Zenfone 6 and OnePlus 7 Pro worth considering.

In general, I’ve found that facial recognition works slightly faster on the OnePlus 7 Pro than it does on Asus’ phone. And the OnePlus 7 Pro has a fast-performing fingerprint reader built directly into the screen, while the Asus phone’s fingerprint reader is situated on the back of the device. That placement makes the phone’s design look a bit less sleek and clean than on the OnePlus, and it’s slightly less convenient to reach.

Since the pop-up camera on the OnePlus 7 Pro is noticeably smaller than on the Asus, it’s much more discrete and isn’t as noisy. I actually ended up sticking with fingerprint recognition to unlock the Asus Zenfone 6 because the sound that the camera makes when rotating became an annoyance.

That being said, Asus also offers a few perks working in its favor that the OnePlus 7 Pro lacks. For example, it has a massive 5,000 mAh battery that’s unusually large for a smartphone. The OnePlus 7 Pro, by comparison, has a 4,000 mAh battery.

The Asus Zenfone 6 also has a headphone jack, a characteristic that has become a rarity on today’s mobile devices. That means you won’t have to give up your favorite wired pair of headphones or use a dongle to connect them. 

Which one should you buy?

At $500 each, both the OnePlus 7 Pro and Asus Zenfone 6 are compelling choices for shoppers looking to avoid spending roughly $1,000 on a new phone. But with a larger, higher-quality screen, a triple-lens camera, and an in-screen fingerprint sensor, the OnePlus 7 Pro feels like the better value.

Its 16-megapixel front-facing camera may not be able to compete with Asus’ 48-megapixel sensor when snapping selfies. And if you’re dedicated to hanging onto your favorite pair of wired headphones, the lack of a 3.5mm jack may be a deal breaker for you when deciding between the two.

But the advantages that the OnePlus 7 Pro bring to the table will probably make it the better choice for most people. 

Regardless, it’s refreshing to see smartphone makers experiment with new features like pop-up cameras at a time when many upgrades have started to feel iterative. The fact that companies like Asus and OnePlus are doing so at such low price points — while also bringing premium features like triple cameras and borderless displays to their devices — makes the direction that the industry is headed in feel all the more promising.