ASUS Zen­Fone 5

HWM (Singapore) - - Test - by Sid­ney Wong

CON­CLU­SION It’s a shame that the great de­sign is let down by hard­ware and soft­ware op­ti­miza­tion.

From an er­gonomic point of view, there’s lit­tle to crit­i­cize about the de­sign and build qual­ity of the Zen­Fone 5. Its slightly curved, soft-touch rear feels great in the palm and the matte tex­ture gives a bet­ter grip of the de­vice.

The rear shell is re­mov­able, so you can switch to other colored op­tions, like red, pur­ple, white or black. Sim­i­lar to the Xiaomi Redmi, there is a slit at the bot­tom cor­ner where you can eas­ily slide your fin­ger­nail in to pry it open.

With the rear shell off, you will see two SIM card slots (yes, the Zen­Fone 5 is a dual-SIM phone) and a mi­croSD slot. Like the Mo­torola Moto G and Oppo Find 5 Mini, both SIM card slots sup­port 3G net­work speeds of up to 42Mbps. The mi­croSD card will come in handy for con­sumers who find the 4.33GB of avail­able stor­age (out of the box) pal­try; it sup­ports mem­ory cards up to 64GB.

The front panel is dom­i­nated by a 5-inch 720p IPS+ dis­play with Corn­ing Go­rilla Glass 3 for ex­tra pro­tec­tion against scratches. We find the dis­play to be splen­did with lively col­ors and ex­cel­lent view­ing an­gles.

Be­low the dis­play are three ca­pac­i­tive nav­i­ga­tion but­tons. ASUS has re­placed the Menu key with Re­cent Apps. A tap will bring up the mul­ti­task­ing menu while press­ing and hold­ing the same key will give an over­view of the home screen pan­els. As there is no back­light for the but­tons, your thumb may have to wan­der around the deck to find the cor­rect key in dark en­vi­ron­ments.

ASUS fi­nally took the leap and de­vel­oped a cus­tom­ized in­ter­face, ZenUI. It has a

mod­ern­ized in­ter­face with “flat” icons, vivid color themes, an­i­ma­tions and a cleaner lay­out for dis­play­ing in­for­ma­tion clearly.

One of the key fea­tures of ZenUI is What’s Next, which syncs with Google Cal­en­dar and man­ages your sched­ule. It can be ac­cessed through a stand­alone app, on the no­ti­fi­ca­tion bar, and a wid­get on the home screen and/or lock screen. We think the count­down timer to the next event will be well-liked by con­sumers who are too busy to take note of the time.

Do It Later is an­other main fea­ture of ZenUI. It acts like a per­sonal dig­i­tal sec­re­tary by help­ing you to re­mem­ber the im­por­tant tasks. Missed calls, un­read text mes­sages and emails can be sent to Do It Later, where there is an op­tion to re­spond to the par­tic­u­lar item with­out hav­ing to jump be­tween apps. It has its lim­i­ta­tions though; only cer­tain apps are sup­ported such as the stock browser, email app and text mes­sage.

The Zen­Fone 5 is pow­ered by an In­tel Atom Z2560 dual-core 1.6GHz pro­ces­sor and 1GB RAM. While it fared well in the Quad­rant and Sunspi­der Javascript bench­marks, ac­tual user ex­pe­ri­ence was a dif­fer­ent story. We en­coun­tered stut­ters and long freezes on sev­eral oc­ca­sions; open­ing the Gallery app or shar­ing a screen­shot with a con­tact on What­sApp could take up to two sec­onds for in­stance. A likely cul­prit for the slow­down could be op­ti­miza­tion is­sues with the In­tel plat­form.

Imag­ing tech­nol­ogy has been a key sell­ing fea­ture for some phone brands and ASUS also has one of its own called Pix­elMaster that com­bines hard­ware, soft­ware and op­ti­cal de­sign to deliver bet­ter qual­ity im­ages. It was first in­tro­duced in the PadFone In­fin­ity, but ASUS has im­proved it for the Zen­Fone 5.

One par­tic­u­lar fea­ture of Pix­elMaster that de­serves a shout out is the Low Light mode. By com­bin­ing four ad­ja­cent pix­els into one and ap­ply­ing im­age pro­cess­ing al­go­rithms to in­crease the light sen­si­tiv­ity and color con­trast, the Zen­Fone 5 could take quite im­pres­sive low light shots al­though de­tails are lack­ing due to the down­siz­ing of the res­o­lu­tion to 2-megapixel. Un­der nor­mal light­ing con­di­tions, pho­tos taken with the 8-megapixel rear cam­era with f/2.0 aper­ture have a good amount of de­tails and pleas­ing col­ors.

In our video loop­ing bat­tery test, the Zen­Fone 5 lasted 5 hours and 30 min­utes with its 2,110mAh bat­tery, an hour short of the Moto G. On an aver­age day of us­age, it man­aged to get us through about 10 hours and 30 min­utes be­fore the bat­tery level hit 10%.

Re­tail­ing at $249, the Zen­Fone 5 tries to strike a mid­dle ground be­tween the Redmi and Moto G, and would have suc­ceeded if more time was spent to make sure user ex­pe­ri­ence was smoother.

This is the first time that ASUS has a cus­tom­ized in­ter­face for its de­vices.

The con­cen­tric cir­cle fin­ish has a fine tex­ture and pre­mium look.

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