January 5, 2015
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ASUS ZenFone 2 zenfone zoom

So CES is underway and the announcements are coming thick and fast. If you remember back to just before the holidays, Asus released some teaser videos about its new flagship device. It teased us with pictures of a phone with some special optics and tagged the videos with the slogan, “See what others can’t see.” Now Asus has officially released the ZenFone 2, and the surprise ZenFone Zoom, a camera-centric device featuring optical zoom!

Before we look at the ZenFone 2, let’s deal with the whole “see what others can’t see” thing. Actually it is nothing more than the “see what others can’t see” thing from last year’s ZenFone 5, in other words a PixelMaster camera with a Low Light mode.

However, the rest of the phone certainly does seem to live up to the hype.

This mode, which “gives your phone a nightlife,” uses “pixel-merging technology” to capture photos at night or in low light, and are up to 400-percent brighter, without the need for a flash. Probably Asus has improved the tech since the ZenFone 5, but personally I was expecting more.

ASUS ZenFone 2 Exquisite ZenUI design

However, the rest of the phone certainly does seem to live up to the hype. There are several key features to this phone that make it quite interesting. The first is its ergonomically-curved design with ultra-slim edges, which taper down to just 3.9mm. Related to this are the ultra-narrow 3.3mm bezels, which give the ZenFone 2 a 72% screen-to-body ratio. Third is the price. The version with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage costs just $199. That is a great price for a 4G LTE, 64-bit device with a 5.5 inch Full HD display that runs Android 5.0 Lollipop.

There is also a model with 4GB of RAM.

The reason I mentioned the 2GB/16GB model is because there is also a model with 4GB of RAM and a choice of either 32 or 64GB of internal storage. And if 64GB isn’t enough, all the models support micro SD cards.

So here are the full specs:

Display5.5-inch IPS display with 1920 x 1080 (Full HD) resolution. Corning® Gorilla® Glass 3.
Processor64-bit Quad Core Intel® Atom™ Z3560/Z3580 processor (running at 1.8 or 2.3GHz).
GPUPowerVR G6430 from Imagination
RAM2GB or 4GB.
Storage16GB/32GB/64GB, microSD card slot, up to 64GB.
CameraRear: 13MP, f/2.0-aperture, 5-element, auto-focus lens with dual-color Real Tone flash. Front: 5MP, f/2.0-aperture, wide-angle 85-degree lens with Selfie Panorama.
Battery3000mAh lithium-polymer with fast-charge technology.
Connectivity802.11ac, Wi-Fi Direct, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, GPS
NetworksGSM, 3G, 4G LTE
SoftwareAndroid 5.0 Lollipop
Dimensions152.5 x 77.2 x 10.9-3.9mm, 170g

As you can see from the table, the GPU built into the SoC is the PowerVR G6430 from Imagination. I spoke with Alexandru Voica, a technology PR specialist with the GPU maker, about Imagination’s relationship with ASUS and Intel. “Our long-standing strategic relationship with ASUS and Intel has resulted in a series of amazing products that offer leading graphics and GPU compute performance,” he said. “The choice of a fully-featured PowerVR G6430 GPU enables ASUS to deliver a truly outstanding platform for Android.”

To date the ZenFone range has proven to be a success for Asus. The company sold 1,500,000 units per month during the fourth quarter of 2014. That is 4.5 million units for the quarter or 18 million units per year. Asus wants to build on the success of the other handsets in the ZenFone range with the ZenFone 2, the first ZenFone with a new version of ASUS ZenUI for Android 5.0 Lollipop. The phone also includes Trend Micro security software for safe web browsing.

[quote qtext=”The passion behind the design of ZenFone 2 is our never-ending desire to empower luxury for everyone. We have drawn on our considerable engineering expertise and experience with our popular ZenFone to create a smartphone that embodies this ambition. That device is the incredible new ZenFone 2 — luxury that everyone can enjoy. ” qperson=”Jonney Shih – ASUS Chairman.” qsource=”” qposition=”center”]

The 5.5 inch Full HD IPS display, which has a pixel density of 403-ppi and a viewing angle of 178 degrees, is protected by Corning Gorilla Glass 3 along with an anti-fingerprint coating that Asus says reduces friction by 30-percent. Also, Asus has followed LG’s lead and placed the volume control key on the rear of the phone, “within reach of the user’s index finger.”

ASUS ZenFone 2 color line up

As for the battery, the ZenFone 2 has a 3000mAh unit that Asus says is enough to provide “more than a full day of use on a single charge.” Since it is a 3000mAh unit, that sounds highly probable. However what is more interesting is the bundled fast-charge technology which can quickly recharge the ZenFone 2 to 60% battery capacity in only 39 minutes!

asus zenfone 2

See what others can’t see

Although I feel that Asus has over-hyped the PixelMaster camera on the ZenFone 2, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a worthwhile addition to the device. The ZenFone 2 comes with a 13MP sensor and a wide F/2.0 aperture lens. It is also equipped with a Real Tone flash which is designed “to ensure warm skin tones and accurate color when a flash is needed.”

For those into selfies, the ZenFone 2 comes with a 5MP front-facing camera with a wide, 85-degree field of view.

The included dynamic Backlight (HDR) mode allows the device to capture photos where the foreground subjects stand out clearly and free of shadows. It seems that Asus’ HDR solution is more than just your run-of-the-mill software HDR as the company says that the HDR shots use the same “pixel-enhancing technology,” with the corresponding increase in contrast, as the Low Light mode. For camera buffs, Asus has also included a fully manual mode which allows you to fully control the camera settings, including ISO, shutter speed and aperture.

For those into selfies, the ZenFone 2 comes with a 5MP front-facing camera with a wide, 85-degree field of view. There is also the ZenUI Selfie Panorama mode, which captures panoramic selfies with up to a 140-degree field of view. This can be used when taking group selfies or when you want to include lots of scenic background in the shot.

ZenUI

The ZenFone 2 will come with Android 5.0 Lollipop and a new version of ASUS ZenUI. According to Asus, the new version “offers a simpler and smarter user experience with a stylish new layout that utilizes white space for a cleaner design and places information front and center for a simpler and smarter user experience.”

Brand New ZenUI

Included in ZenUI are a number of new features including ZenMotion and SnapView. The former is a set of touch gestures that provide easy access to frequently-used features such as One Hand mode or Do It Later.  While the latter is a security feature that ensures privacy for apps, photos and files.

ZenFone Zoom and wrap up

The ZenFone 2 isn’t the only ZenFone that ASUS is launching. There is another – the ZenFone Zoom. Details about the actual phone specifications are scarce at the moment, except for details of its optics. The ZenFone Zoom has a 3X optical zoom camera, along with optical image stabilization and laser auto-focus. The 10-element lens design also allows for 12X digital zoom. There is also a full manual mode which allows “professional-grade manual control of ISO settings, shutter speed and more.” I guess the ZenFone Zoom matches better the “see what others can’t see” slogan!

ASUS ZenFone Zoom

To wrap up, personally I would prefer a device with an ARM based processor rather than an Intel one, but there is no denying that the ZenFone 2 offers a lot of features, processing power, and a good camera package, for very little money. If the actual device holds true to what Asus has written in the release information then the ZenFone 2 looks like a guaranteed winner.

Gary Sims
Gary has been a tech writer for over a decade and specializes in open source systems. He has a Bachelor's degree in Business Information Systems.He has many years of experience in system design and development as well as system administration, system security and networking protocols. He also knows several programming languages, as he was previously a software engineer for 10 years.
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