Once in a while comes along a phone that at least some of us so-called “reviewers” in our very limited wisdom end up calling a game changer. I am making that call for the Asus ZenFone series not because of one spectacular feature, but a nice mix of small things that ends in an incremental experiential difference for the user. I had done a quick first impression review of the Zenfone 5 after spending 24 hours with it. Now, it’s been almost a couple of weeks and I think I know what this phone is all about.
Display: 5″ 1280*720 IPS+ Panel, Corning Gorilla Glass 3; CPU: 1.6GHz Intel Atom Dual-Core Z2560; RAM: 2GB; Storage: 16GB & 8GB; Connectivity: 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0; Camera: 2MP front, 8MP rear; Battery: 2110 mAh; OS: Android JellyBean 4.3 (will update to 4.4 KitKat)’; Memory Slot: MicroSD card (up to 64 GB); SIM: Dual Micro SIM card
Price: For 4-inch – Rs 5,999; 5-inch – Rs 9,999 and 6-inch- Rs 16,999
DESIGN: The design has the Asus trademark with brushed metal rings and sharp edges. You will like the feel of this phone with the matte finish rear flap and metallic buttons. It is not a flat design, but the slimmer proportions give you the feel of holding a very thin device. Everything on the phone is minimal and nothing cries out for attention.
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DISPLAY & AUDIO: I think an HD display is good enough for a regular phone user. And the 5-inch IPS panel on the ZenFone is among the best HD displays around. You just have to see the visualisation on the homescreen when you run your finger through it to fall in love with this one. The viewing angles are good too. While the phone, like most other Androids, is not very loud when you are making a call, the speakers are really loud. The phone also comes with HD audio recording, which I used successfully to create a SoundCloud after a very important meeting.
SOFTWARE: This is an important element of what this phone is all about. For me, the Zen UI is the best Android tweak since the HTC Sense. While the phone is sadly not on the latest Android version at the moment, you will not miss it much. It is slick, stylish and over all quite functional. The lock screen gives a lot of information even before you are in. Instead of the just the camera icon, this lock screen lets you access messaging as well as the phone. Zen UI is good enough for you not to have a weather or To Do app as both of these have been integrated wonderfully well. Asus has redesigned even the icons for the ZenFone and while they look good, you have to fight a lot of muscle memory to find and recognise some of the most used apps. Another quirk is the fact that the notification panel does not always open to notifications and sometimes opens quick settings first. The phone also loads some important apps likes PCLink, which lets you mirror and control the smartphone screen from a PC.
CAMERA: The ZenFone features a new PixelMaster camera, which, put simply, combines four pixels into one to improve light sensitivity. So while smartphone cameras are traditionally bad for shooting indoors, the ZenFone comes with a low-light Owl mode. The option to shift to this mode is presented whenever you are trying to shoot in low light. The results are stunning and good enough to put this phone at the very top of the phone camera hall of fame. All pictures shot in this mode are bright, in fact all photos shot with the phone are brighter than normal. Which is a bit of a problem for someone like me who likes to play with light and prefers an underexposed photo once in a while. I guess we just have to go with what the masses want. The camera comes with a host of modes and tweaks that give the average user a lot of versatility and options. You don’t need another camera app with this phone.
Performance: I used the ZenFone as my primary phone for almost 10 days and encountered no issues as far as performance in concerned. The Intel Atom processor was more than good for whatever I had to do, and that is a tall order any day. The benchmarks puts this phone in the middle rung and the specs might not be stunning on paper, but at the end of the day what matters is how the phone holds up to the rigours of its owner’s digital life. It is also among the coolest phablets I have used and we have to thank the low thermal footprint of the Intel processor for that.
BATTERY: The 2000 mAh battery is not one of the strong points of this phone. It will last you a full working day, but will be in the red if you have to put in overtime or go for an after-office dinner. You can get much more out of the battery if you are careful about the apps running in the background.
VERDICT: At a price point between Rs 5,999 and Rs 16,999 the entire ZenFone range seems like a great proposition for buyers in countries like India. The phone has all the features an average user would want and much more, while not costing the earth. It also sets right all the small things that were missing in Android phones for so long. We strongly recommend the ZenFone for those who need a stylish phone with a great camera and dependable performance.