What comes to mind when ‘ASUS’ is mentioned? Most are aware of the fact that it is a leader in the production of motherboards in Taiwan, gamers’ go-to brand for graphics cards, and a juggernaut in the notebook industry. However, apart from that, ASUS has also been steadily making inroads into the smartphone industry. In recent years, it has largely been promoting its integrated, multi-function Padfone series – a line of smartphone-tablet hybrids which have been, to date, unlike any other devices in the market. However, during the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2014, ASUS unveiled a brand new line of smartphones – the ZenFone series, which derives the first half of its name from the company’s high-end notebook line, the ZenBook. The ZenFone features an exquisite but clean design, and is equipped with ASUS’s latest ZenUI interface. It will be released in three different sizes: the ZenFone 4, ZenFone 5 and ZenFone 6, which will feature 4-inch, 5-inch and 6-inch screens respectively.
Unlike previous models, which were priced on the mid- to high-end of the range, the ZenFone series is affordably priced between US$99-199. However, despite its affordability, one can safely say after having tested the phone’s capabilities that it not only features an excellent C/P ratio, but also a beautiful design; it delivers an outstanding performance in every aspect.
Unboxing the ZenFone 5
We got hold of the “mid-sized” 5-inch ZenFone, called the ZenFone 5. Generally speaking, the 5-inch screen is preferred by most consumers, and based on market response, it is the ideal size. The box’s design reflects the simple yet beautiful imageof the ZenFone 5. As ASUS Chairman Johnny Shih stated, “Zen” represents the characteristics of Zen-like Oriental calm in the ZenFone.
There are icons on one side of the box, displaying the 7 features of the ZenFone 5, such as expandable memory, Super IPS panel, 3G, Bluetooth 4.0, and so on:
After opening the box, we were greeted with the ZenFone 5. The protective film highlights the 8MP PixelMaster camera, third generation Corning Glass, and the new ZenUI interface:
The standard box contains the ZenFone 5, 3.5mm headphones, replacement ear buds, a charging cable, adaptor, and the warranty card:
In terms of appearance, the ZenFone 5 ticks all boxes. Although the width of the phone is quite wide, it was no problem to use with one hand. The 5-inch 1280*720 resolution Super IPS screen is pleasing to look at and offers good viewing angles, putting it at a level above the Redmi:
You can find the receiver, light sensor, and the 2MP front camera at the top-front part of the phone. The ASUS logo beneath the receiver is quite striking:
At the bottom-front of the phone, you can find “back,” “home,” and “multi-function” physical buttons (I personally prefer physical buttons). Unfortunately, the buttons are not backlit, which means you have to guess their location to use them in the dark. The bottom of the phone features the “concentric circles” metal design concept that ASUS has used since the PadFone. It’s quite eye-catching:
In terms of button configuration, the power button and volume controls are placed on the right side of the ZenFone 5, while there are no buttons on the left side:
The 3.5mm audio jack is at the top of the phone along with the noise-cancelling microphone:
At the bottom of the phone, you can find the microphone and Micro-USB port:
The ZenFone 5’s body is made of plastic, with a matte finish, and it has a good feel when held:
The main camera is an 8MP Sony BSI PixelMaster (F2.0 large aperture), that can capture 1080P video. The LED flash can be found below the lens:
The back of the phone features a stereo speaker. All phones in the ZenFone series have Intel Atom dual-core processors. Thus, the familiar “Intel inside” logo is now appearing on the phones:
The back cover must be removed in order to place the SIM card and the memory card. This can be done easily by holding the phone and using your fingernails to pry open the back cover:
After removing the back cover of the ZenFone 5, what did everyone notice? The ZenFone 5 has two micro-SIM slots for 2 SIM cards! This makes it more convenient for those people with a personal number and a company-issued number:
ZenFone 5 also supports up to 64GB of memory expansion via micro-SD card:
The phone supports both 3G and GSM SIM cards, as well as dual standby mode:
ZenFone 5 Software Interface
The ZenFone 5 uses Android version 4.3 (upgradeable to Android 4.4), and features a new interface developed by ASUS called “Zen UI.” “Zen UI” means a Zen-like user interface. This interface addresses previous criticism directed towards ASUS for using Google’s native interface and lacking originality. The implementation of the “Zen UI” is well thought out, and the look and feel is consistent. It is obvious that ASUS has made considerable efforts on its user interface, and its achievement is clear.
When you first turn on the ZenFone 5, if you have installed two SIM cards, the system will ask you which SIM card you want to use as your main mobile network SIM. You can also register as an ASUS member (which offers you NTD100 online shopping credit, cloud services, and monthly prize draws). Aside from Gmail, the Zen UI also integrates Blackberry Messenger into the system; those who use the ZenFone 5 for work will love the secure messaging function:
The Zen UI has a similar flat layout as the iOS7. However, the integration of the visual interface is comfortable and intuitive. The home screen only shows the weather clock, some commonly used apps, and What’s Next reminder tools:
The default Zen UI has only three home screens By pressing and holding a blank space on the screen, you can add more home screens, applications, shortcuts, and widgets:
The main screen itself has a world clock, alarm clock, timer, and countdown:
For the pre-loaded apps, ASUS carefully thought this through, adding many custom features, including the Movie Studio app that requires the payment of license fees to Google:
Zen UI also includes many useful tools and exclusive widgets:
The Zen UI notification panel also offers some surprises. Aside from a special “quick settings” shortcut, the taskbar features can be freely customized according to your needs:
The ZenFone 5 settings interface is as follows: Android 4.3 (upgradeable to 4.4), with the addition of “dual SIM card settings” and “ASUS personalized settings”:
Dual SIM settings allow you to assign the default SIM card for call and network services. When you are off work, you can turn off you work number, enabling you to keep work and life separate:
The display settings support Miracast. Miracast allows for wireless transmission of video to TV (subject to compatibility):
Within the “ASUS personalized settings,” “installation settings” allows you to select the defeat installation location for apps. As a result, you don’t have to worry about the ZenFone 5’s 8GB internal memory having insufficient space. The ZenFone 5 even includes a “glove mode,” which allows you to operate the screen even when you have gloves on.
The internal storage space is 8GB ROM, which leaves you about 4GB [MW1] to install apps. However, the “installation settings” allow you to move apps to the memory card (up to 64GB), so there is plenty of space for your entertainment needs (the Redmi only has 4GB ROM and requires a root to enable apps to be installed to the memory card):
From the “lock screen” option, you can set the unlock method and lock screen shortcuts. The lock screen can display time and weather information, while an unlock pattern can be used to unlock the phone and activate camera, phone, and messaging functions:
The weather widget can be combined with “What’s New,” and can be set to display the weather for different cities and countries:
In addition, there are a number of changes to the “power saving mode” in the ZenFone 5. In addition to the “ultra-saving mode” where all of the Internet connections are cut off, the “optimized mode” balances Internet connectivity and battery life. In addition, there is also a “customized mode” that allows users to refine battery use based on their own needs. Ada found that in actual use, the ZenFone 5 battery showed good performance. Although the battery capacity is only 2110mAh, even when the dual-SIM, dual standby mode is activated, the battery should easily last a day with heavy usage:
The image library categorizes photos according to content and location, and the preview and image opening speed are both good:
The ASUS file manager is also excellent, and integrates the company’s own ASUS WebStorage cloud service with other popular cloud services such as Dropbox, OneDrive, and Google Drive. It is even possible to open a remote network neighborhood within an area network. Unfortunately, the ZenFone 5 does not support OTG. I tested an external flash drive and it did not respond:
The FM radio allows you to listen to broadcasts via headphones during your commute:
Share Link provides high-speed file transfer through Wi-Fi Direct, allowing two devices on the same Wi-Fi network to transmit data wirelessly. A file of a few hundred MBs can be transmitted in less than a minute.
If you feel that the color settings of the phone screen are not to your preference, in the past, there was nothing you could do about it. However, the ZenFone now includes the Splendid feature that allows users to freely adjust the screen color temperature, hue, and saturation, setting a screen appearance that fits their individual needs:
ASUS is also very proud of its SuperNote feature that allows users to make handwritten notes, write text, as well as upload items such as photos, audio, and video and create this into a PDF that you can share. However, SuperNote does not include an alarm reminder function that Ada is most in need of:
Although there is no music player customization, the overall style is modified to fit in with the unified ZenUI style. The AudioWizard also gives you room to customize how you’d like to listen to music.
Aside from the great multimedia performance, the ZenFone 5 is equipped with an Intel Atom Z2560 dual-core processor allowing smooth playback 1080P HD videos. You can also use Miracast to transmit video to your smart TV or TV box:
The ZenFone 5 dialer interface also has a flat and minimalist style. The dialer button is large, and the interface also supports voice command when searching contacts, making it easy to quickly locate your contacts:
As the ZenFone 5 supports dualSIM dual standby, before you make calls, you will have to choose which SIM card you want to use. In addition, by separating work and private calls, you can make savings on your phone bill. After you have dialed, you can make use of a variety of extended functions:
Personally, I think the most useful is the “call recording” function. For busy businesspeople, this is a vital function, enabling you to record important phone calls. In addition, you can open SuperNote during your call to take down important details.
ZenFone 5 Performance
The ZenFone5 uses an Intel Atom Z2560 1.6 GHz dual core quad thread processor, together with a PowerVR SGX 544MP GPU, 2GB RAM, and 1280*720 resolution Super IPS screen. The phone has impressive performance:
Note: Change image s of performance below:
The ZenFOne scores 10630 on the Quadrant Standard benchmark, and 22,590 points on the AnTuTu benchmark which is designed to prevent any cheating.
The VELLAMO HTML5 benchmark was 1939 points, while the score on the Metal benchmark measuring performance was 709. We tested several high-quality 3D video games which all ran smoothly:
ZenFone 5 supports 10-point touch screen functionality:
ZenFone 5 Camera Video Interface
The ZenFone 5 camera’s interface is similar to that found in the Fonepad Note 6, with the addition of continuous shooting mode and other camera modes.
A total of 13 shooting modes are available, including auto, HDR, beauty, panoramic, and night shooting modes …The different camera modes produced decent results. Below are some of the camera modes we tested:
The panoramic mode included both landscape and portrait shooting. In my opinion, the portrait mode prodided more detail (similar the iPhone 5 panoramic mode):
The “smart remove” mode is easy to use, and can be used to remove unwanted objects from the photos you have taken.
After removal (click the image below to see the original image):
The ZenFone 5 also includes the popular depth of field mode. However, it works differently from the HTC method of detecting distance around the subject to create depth of field. Instead, to create depth of field, the camera focuses twice on the subject and the background behind the subject creating a contrast which is used to create depth of field (click the small image below to see the original image):
Shooting with the ZenFone 5
These are photos taken with the ZenFone 5 in Auto mode,Click the small image to see the original image.
The ZenFone 5 is equipped with PixelMaster camera technology which improves photos taken in low light conditions by enhancing light sensitivity by up to 400%. In the image below, when the low light mode is not used, it is almost impossible to distinguish between the subject and the background:
The Intel Atom Z2580 dual core processor used in the ZenFone 5 can support 1080P resolution video recording. In day light, the video results are good:
The low-light mode can still take photos and videos in conditions of near darkness. Unlike ordinary phones, which are unable to pick-up the subject in low-light conditions, the ZenFone 5 is able to capture both the subject and the background.
Here are some sample videos taken with the ZenFone 5:
Night video 1080P:
Low light mode 720P:
While ordinary phones are unable to pick up the contents of the frame, PixelMaster allows you to capture both the subject and the scene,
making it very suitable for surreptitiously filming couples at night (not really).
Looking at the photos and videos taken during the day with the ZenFone 5, the ZenFone 5 performs superbly for its price point, exceeding our expectations. In fact, it is not exaggeration to say that the results match or even exceed phones that sell for more than S$350.
Here’s a video shot by ASUS’s brand ambassador Jam Hsiao:
It can be said that the ZenFone 5 has brought the most innovation in the history of ASUS phones (the interface has been entirelyupdated), while offering the phone at a very sweet price. If your looking for a smart budget phone, look no further. Although this phone can be closely compared with the Redmi, the ZenFone 5 offers you a smartphone with a great 5-inch display, which is 0.3 inches bigger than the Redmi, better performance, more internal storage (8GB vs Redmi’s 4GB), and features like dualSIM, expandable memory, and great camera features. Clearly, the ZenFone has all the goods at its incredible pricepoint.
If you are interested, you can purchase the ZenFone at the ASUS Online store at: store.asus.com/sg