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This big-screen Android phone has useful features absent from today's flagships

The Asus Zenfone 11 Ultra bucks the company's small phone form factor trend in favor of power and endurance.
Written by Kerry Wan, Senior Reviews Editor
Asus Zenfone 11 Ultra
Kerry Wan/ZDNET

ZDNET's key takeaways

  • The new Asus Zenfone 11 Ultra ditches the brand's small phone identity in favor of display performance and power.
  • That puts the $899 handset in a competitive market dominated by the likes of Apple, Samsung, and Google.
  • Niche features like a 3.5mm headphone jack, 144Hz display, and more make the Zenfone 11 Ultra worth considering for some users.

I test dozens of smartphones every year, but none scratches my reviewer's itch more than the Asus Zenfone. See, while Apple, Google, Samsung, and every other manufacturer have been battling it out with larger-than-ever handsets, Asus has built a cult following over the past two years with a Zenfone model that's pocketable, easily usable with one hand, and is fairly priced -- usually around $600-$700.

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Last year's Zenfone 10 remains my "Best small phone" pick on ZDNET's annual tier list, and I don't see that changing anytime soon. That's because I've spent the week with the Asus Zenfone 11 Ultra which, by name, should be the successor to the Zenfone 10 but isn't. In fact, it's the complete opposite; instead of a 5.9-inch display, it now flaunts a 6.7-inch panel that takes everything you've ever loved about the preceding Zenfone and throws it out the window.

That's not to say that Zenfone 11 Ultra is a downgrade. A newer processor, higher refresh rate display, and larger battery make it a sizeable improvement in terms of raw performance when compared to the Zenfone 10. And some of the features that I loved about its predecessor are, believe it or not, still present in this 2024 model. Here's the breakdown.

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So, what's different this year besides the size? Immediately, the change in material choices will be noticeable and felt. Unlike last year's textured back cover that was remarkably grippy, the new Zenfone 11 Ultra has a frosted glass cover that's more mature and  clean-looking. The trade-off, naturally, is the susceptibility of cracking, should you use the phone without a case and drop it.

Asus Zenfone 11 Ultra

My Misty Gray review unit has shades of brown, gold, and silver.

Kerry Wan/ZDNET

The look and feel of the Zenfone 11 Ultra, at its new 6.7-inch size, is best described as generic, with slim, symmetrical bezels, rounded edges, and a camera bump that protrudes as much as any other 2024 flagship. But I'm not complaining; the phone feels great in the hand, with just enough heft to make it feel premium without burdening your wrists.

Some more subtle hardware designs worth mentioning include the repositioned USB-C cable that rests on the bottom left of the phone instead of the middle, the IP68 water and dust resistance rating, and a 3.5mm headphone jack. For audiophiles who favor lossless, wired listening, this should be music to your ears.

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While the display of the Zenfone 11 Ultra only goes up to 1080p -- it's no 2K, QHD panel like on the similarly-priced Galaxy S24 Plus -- it does refresh at 144Hz, specifically for gaming. Pair the higher refresh rate with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 and you're in for a generally smooth operation when switching between video streaming, scrolling through emails and social media, and playing games on the Asus phone. 

Asus Zenfone 11 Ultra

The Zenfone 11 Ultra has a peak brightness of 2,500 nits, which is not the highest on the market but good enough.

Kerry Wan/ZDNET

The handset truly shines in applications that make the most of its haptic motors. Every click and buzz feels tactile and precise, putting the Zenfone's vibration sensor in line with the iPhone 15 Pro Max. I'm a fan of the built-in speakers, too. I often play music or cooking videos in the background whenever I'm in the kitchen, and it's become a good way for me to test exactly how tinny, bass-heavy, and pronounced vocals are at various volume levels. I'd put the Zenfone 11 Ultra's sound system up there for one of the best I've tested.

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The overall software experience on the Zenfone 11 Ultra is quite pleasant, especially if you opt for the stock Android theming during the initial setup screen. None of the customization settings feel forced, and I'm a fan of the more subtle AI features like Semantic Search, which pulls up relevant settings based on keywords you type in. While on the topic of software, I'm less thrilled about Asus' update policy for the Zenfone 11 Ultra, which comes with only two years of operating system updates. That's compared to the likes of Google and Samsung who are committed to up to seven years of software support for their latest flagship phones.

Asus Zenfone 11 Ultra

On the rear are three cameras: 50MP main, 13MP ultrawide, and 32MP telephoto.

Kerry Wan/ZDNET

For the cameras, it should come as no surprise that the $899 Zenfone 11 Ultra takes some flattering photos and videos. Content captured by all three lenses is relatively consistent in color reproduction and accuracy, though there is a slight bias towards warmer tones. That's not a bad thing per se; pictures of people, pets, food, and scenery do often appear more vivid in warmer hues.

ZDNET's buying advice

All that size ultimately lends itself to a greater viewing experience and exceptional battery life. Those two aspects alone make the Zenfone 11 Ultra a better phone than last year's Zenfone 10, as much as I hate to admit it. At $899, the Zenfone 11 Ultra is swimming in flagship territory, distancing itself from the likes of OnePlus and Motorola and inching closer to Google, Samsung, and Apple, all of which offer greater brand identity and after-sales support. 

That's why the smaller wins, such as the 3.5mm headphone jack, Asus-optimized software, and haptics/sound system matter that much more for the Asus phone. If those features resonate with you, the Zenfone 11 Ultra may be the only high-end phone that offers them in 2024.

And does this spell the end of small phones? Not exactly. I'd like to think that the "Ultra" branding of the Zenfone 11 implies that there will be non-Ultra model later this year that's more in line with the older, smaller Zenfone many users, including myself, have become a fan of. We'll just have to wait and see.

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