Asus announced their ZenFone line, which consists of three smartphones running Android. Think these are just standard Android phones? Not really. These phones run on Intel Atom Processors, and they are cheap.
But before we talk about the internals, let’s first talk about the phones. There are the Asus ZenFone 4, Asus ZenFone 5, and the Asus ZenFone 6, with 4, 5 and 6 inch screens respectively. They all offer dual-SIM functionality (MicroSIM cards), and they come with Asus’ ZenUI, which is essentially a skin of Android. Oh, and they are all really cheap. The 4 inch option is only USD$100, the 5 is USD$150, and the 6 is USD$200. That’s $137, $203, $272 in Singapore Dollars, counting in GST. Note that if/when these phones do come to Singapore, the prices will be increased a little to cover transportations costs, and because manufacturers believe Singaporeans are all rich (which is not really true considering our Gini coefficient is the highest in the world).
But anyway, back to the ZenFones. These are not great handsets, unfortunately, especially the 4 inch one. I would consider them as mid-to-high range devices, judging from their comparitively bad screens and lack of LTE, but they do seem to offer great value, at least on paper.
The ZenFone 4 measures 124.4 x 61.4 x 11.2mm and weighs 115g, which is decent, although rather thick. It has a rather bad WVGA (800×480 display resolution) TN TFT display, so the viewing angles are bound to be rubbish and it has a non-Retina pixel density of 235ppi, which is really poor. But it’s also ridiculously cheap, probably the cheapest smartphone around, so it is excusable.
The chipset is also lousier than the 5 and 6 inch ZenFones, with a dual-core Intel Atom Z2520 (clocked at 1.2GHz) and only 1GB of RAM. It also has a 5 megapixel camera, a standard for budget phones pretty much everywhere, and a (thankfully removeable) 1170 mAh capacity, which is really, really little.
The ZenFone 5 is a far better phone. It weighs 140g and measures 148.2 x 72.8 x 10.3mm, which makes it thinner than the ZenFone 4, but heavier, which is to be expected. It has a resolution of 720p, which makes it have a non-Retina pixel density of 293 ppi. This screen on the ZenFone 5 is slightly disappointing, but much more acceptable than the screen on the ZenFone 4 and 6. Had they made a 4.7 inch phone, it would have a pixel density equal to that of an iPhone, but 720p on a 5 inch display is not that good. Still, it is a cheap phone, so compromises have to be made, but it’s a bit sad that the screen resolution had to be compromised.
The touchscreen’s capacitive sensor is supposedly sensitive enough to be used with a normal pen as a stylus, or with gloves. It is also powered by a dual-core Intel Atom Z2580 clocked at 2.0GHz and has 1GB of RAM, which is far better than what is offered in the ZenFone 4.
It also has a decent camera on paper, with an 8 megapixel “PixelMaster” camera with f/2.0 aperture, which means that it will take great low-light shots (or so they say). Asus’ custom camera can also shoot spherical panoramas, which they call PanoSpheres.
It has a terribly low 4GB of internal storage with a MicroSD card slot. One would think that because of the external storage, this is fine, but in reality it is not. Apps2SD support in Android has been removed, and the alternatives are not that great, only working for some apps but not others. So if you want to have many apps, you’re probably not going to be able to do so. 8GB should be the bare minimum of internal storage, but sadly here it is not.
It has a 2050 mAh battery, which is sealed, and still quite small for a device that size. I am starting to think that Asus isn’t actually able to give better specs because it is only just venturing into making phones, so it compromised on the screen resolution so that its battery would provide more power and last a longer time, because they may not be very experienced at efficient maximisation of space inside a phone. Or maybe they just wanted to keep it cheap. We’ll never know.
Lastly, we have the ZenFone 6, which is the best phone (more like a phablet) of the lot. It has a 720p display, which means a pixel density of 245 ppi. Back to bad pixel densities it seems. And it keeps the same features from the ZenFone 5, with some minor enhancements, such as the display being able to register touches from gloved fingers and ordinary pens (why anyone would use ordinary pens as styli is beyond me though).
It uses the same chipset as the ZenFone 5, but has a bigger battery, at 3240 mAh, which should last very long due in part to the fact that it has such a low resolution. It has 8 or 16 GB of internal memory, which is expandable, and will offer either 1 or 2 GB of RAM, depending on the model
The camera is the same as that of the ZenFone 5, with an upgrade to 13 megapixels, and it has SonicMaster audio technology as well. Also, the ZenFone 6 is huge and really heavy, measuring 166.9 x 84.3 x 9.9mm, and weighing 200g.
That’s about it for the specs of the devices. Frankly if I were to choose from the three, I would choose the ZenFone 5. It’s got the same processing power as the ZenFone 6, and a better screen due to its pixel density, and while the camera is not as good, it is really quite light, at only 10 grams heavier than the S4 or Nexus 5 (which have near identical size and weight). They do offer good bang for buck and value, and seem, at first, to be rather decent phones excusing their screens.
Now for the star of the show, the Intel Atom processors. It is no secret that Intel has been working on their Atom processors and trying to get them into tablets and mobile devices, but so far Qualcomm still dominates. These devices are relatively powerful already, especially because they have less pixels to drive, and the Z2580 in the ZenFone 5 and 6 are around as powerful as the Qualcomm Snapdragon S600, which was the processor powering the Galaxy S4 and HTC One, both last year’s flagships. Now that the S600 is no longer the best, with the Qualcomm Snapdragon S800 taking its place, this makes the ZenFone 5 and 6 weak in comparison. However, the next Atom processors should get better, and because the Atom processors have hyper threading, in the future, the optimisation of multiple cores will be better. Right now, Atom is not that great, but hopefully Intel will deliver on its next generation of Atom processors, because there is a lot of potential there.
That’s it for now folks. Are you going to get one of these phones when or if they come to Singapore? Why or why not? Do comment in the comments section below, and like and share this post with your friends.