Asus, known for its laptops and motherboards, has finally entered the Indian smartphone market with its Zenfone range of devices. Announced at the CES earlier this year, the USP of these devices is to provide great quality and performance at an affordable price. The range of devices launched in India include the Zenfone 4, Zenfone 5 and the Zenfone 6. We got to spend some time with the Zenfone 5, which at Rs 9,999 is all set to compete in a highly competitive market segment, and here’s what we think of the smartphone.
Asus’ products are known for their quality and the Zenfone 5 is no different. The smartphone is well built and feels quite sturdy when you hold it. The front of the device is built using glass and metal and is dominated by the 5-inch display. Below the display is the company’s trademark concentric circle strip, which adds character to the otherwise boring design. If however the idea of fingernails scrapping against a blackboard makes you cringe, we would advice you to keep you nails away from this metallic strip.
At the back is a removable plastic panel, which fits so well that you could easily mistake it for a unibody design. Here you will find an 8-megapixel camera with flash, the Asus and Intel Inside logos and the external speaker. The review unit we got was white in color, and while it looks premium, it tends to get dirty. Removing the back panel exposes the dual-SIM card slots, the microSD card slot and the non-removable battery. On the right are the power button and volume rocker, on top is the 3.5mm audio jack and at the bottom is the microUSB port.
While the overall build quality is great, the design is not something that will make the device stand out in a crowd. The device is also too big to comfortably use with one hand, especially for someone like me who has comparatively small hands.
The Zenfone 5 flaunts a 5-inch IPS 720p display, which translates into a pixel density of 293 pixels-per-inch. While this maybe below what Apple defines as ‘Retina Display’, you won’t have much to complain about. The display does a great job of reproducing colors and photos and videos look great too. When surfing the Internet or reading documents, texts look crisp and sharp. Viewing angles are good too, though legibility under direct sunlight could have been a tad better. Asus has also preloaded a tool called Splendid, which lets you play around with the tonality of the display. The display also boasts Gorilla Glass 3 protection, which should keep it safe from scratches.
On the photography front, Asus has included an 8-megapixel rear camera, supplemented with a 2-megapixel front-facing camera. The rear camera comes with an LED flash and also has a software-based image stabilization. Asus has also crammed in a host of camera modes like Time rewind, HDR, Panorama, Low light, Depth of Field, GIF animation and smart remove among others.
Overall performance of the primary camera is quite good, especially under ideal lighting conditions. It managed to capture a lot of details and pictures were sharp. Under low light however there was quite a bit of noise and it missed out on details. The camera UI is quite intuitive in the way it recommends when you should switch to the low light mode, and there is a marked difference after the switch. Yet the final results leave a lot to be desired. The different modes work well too and are not gimmicky. The camera also supports video recording at 1080p and is again quite good under ideal lighting conditions.
The 2-megapixel front camera is however a tad disappointing and is only good enough for video chatting. Selfie lovers will have to make do with the primary camera. Considering its price, the camera is quite good and is a phone we will recommend if photography is ones of your requirements.
On the software front, the smartphone runs on Android 4.3 Jelly Bean, wrapped under Asus’ Zen UI. While it is not stock Android, it is surprisingly minimalistic and light on the phone. The theme is quite flat and there are a mixture of circular and squarish icons. There are a bunch of preloaded apps that may not be useful, but do not bloat the UI a la Samsung’s TouchWiz UI. Some however are quite useful like the Easy Mode, which switches the UI to an easy-to-read mode with iPhone-like icons on the homepage and the ability to add more icons to the adjacent home screens. This mode will be of great help to the elderly, who would appreciate the visibility and the simplicity of the UI.
As far as software updates are concerned, Asus as promised an upgrade to Android KitKat, but there in currently no timeline. There is also no word on an Android L update.
Unlike many of its competitors, the Zenfone 5 is powered by an Intel Z2560 Atom dual-core processor clocked at 1.6GHz and paired with 2GB of RAM. While the words ‘dual-core’ is likely to put off many potential buyers, it is important to know that Intel’s chipset uses Hyper Threading technology. What this essentially does is create two virtual cores for each available physical processing core, thus simulating the performance of a quad-core chipset.
The results are good as multitasking is smooth and switching between apps a breeze. In the time we have used the phone, we barely noticed a whimper as the phone ran 5-6 apps simultaneously. That said, the device did struggle a bit when playing graphics intensive games like Riptide GP2. We had tone down the graphic settings for the game to run lag-free.
Another important thing we observed was how the smartphone rarely ever got hot. No matter how many hours we were using the phone or how long we played games on the smartphone, it rarely got hot. This is a big plus point, especially since Android phones these days tend to get uncomfortably hot really soon.
The device comes in two storage variants — 8GB and 16GB. We got the former variant for review, wherein out of the 8GB around 5GB is available for the users. While this might sound less, there is a microSD card slot to expand the storage.
The call quality is good too and both parties were clearly able to hear each other even in loud environments. In the time we have been using the device, we did not experience any call drops even when on roaming. The speaker at the back too is loud and clear when on call.
One thing that disappointed us was the battery life. While on paper the device features a 2,110mAh battery, it wasn’t enough to last us a day. On heavy usage — involving using the phone while on roaming, push notifications from two email accounts, Facebook and Twitter, about half hour of playing Riptide, and another half hour of calling and messaging — the battery was barely able to last five hours. On a more judicial usage where we toned down the gaming and used the phone in Mumbai (home network), the battery was able to last for about nine to ten hours.
Asus has also included power saver modes, which boost battery efficiency. There are three modes to choose from — Optimized mode, Ultra-saving mode and Customized mode. In the Optimized model the phone saves battery but keeps the mobile data running in the background, while in the ultra-saving mode it switches off the mobile data when your device is sleeping. We tried out the battery saving modes and there was a marked improvement in the battery life.
In the sub-Rs 10,000 price segment the Asus Zenfone 5 makes a strong case for itself. The device is really well built, has a good primary camera and the overall performance too is quite good. Barring the battery life, which could have been a bit better, we would recommend this all rounder.