Cheap and good - that is why the Xiaomi Redmi took Singapore by storm in February. But now, it has a competitor - the Asus ZenFone.
Starting from as low as $199 (if you pre-order and if it is still in stock), the ZenFone 5 is best seen as taking the middle ground between the Xiaomi Redmi ($169) and its higher-end cousin, the Mi3 ($419).
You can order directly from Asus on its website (www.asus.com/sg) from today, making it the latest mass-market phone to hit Singapore. These phones are great for users on a budget who do not want to be tied to a two-year contract.
The ZenFone 5 should also have more units available at launch than the China Xiaomi phones, which "sold out" minutes after they went on sale.
There are three models of the ZenFone - the ZenFone 4, the ZenFone 5 and the ZenFone 6 - with each number referring to the size of the screen. The ZenFone 5 will launch here first.
Like the Redmi, the ZenFone 5 has a dual-SIM feature. Unlike the Redmi, in which only one SIM slot will support 3G, both the ZenFone 5's SIM slots are 3G-capable.
This makes it useful for people who have two local lines and want to take full advantage of the data access bundled with them.
In terms of specs, the ZenFone 5 is slightly ahead of the Redmi. The ZenFone 5 has a 5-inch Corning Gorilla Glass 3 screen, an internal storage of 8GB and weighs 145g.
The Redmi has a 4.7-inch Corning Gorilla Glass 2 screen, 4GB of internal storage and weighs 158g.
Despite being larger and longer, the ZenFone 5 feels significantly lighter, possibly because its weight is better distributed across the chassis.
Asus has worked hard to tout the low-light performance of the rear camera. At the press briefing, Asus said the ZenFone 5 performed better in low light than the Apple iPhone 5s and the Samsung Galaxy S4.
From my early tests, this was indeed impressive, although the photos turned out to be rather grainy.
I switched off all the lights in my hotel room except for a table lamp and drew the curtains to block out external light. Even under this low-light condition, the camera was able to discern objects in the room.
Other useful features
The ZenFone 5 has several other interesting features.
In selfie mode, you can shoot as many as five people in a group using the higher-resolution rear camera.
All you have to do is indicate the number of people in the photo, aim the rear camera at the subjects and wait for a series of beeps to alert you that the camera has locked on to them and is in the process of shooting the photo.
Smart Remove deletes images of people who walk unexpectedly into your frame, while All Smiles mode takes a burst of five images of a group and individually selects each person's best expressions, to create the best group picture.
The ZenFone makes use of Asus' ZenUI, which has a clean look with a striking icon design.
Of its several unique apps, the one I like most is PC Link. It lets you link your phone and laptop, then mirrors the phone's screen on the laptop.
This allows you to use your mouse and keyboard to control your phone - from navigating the phone's menu to sending text messages on WhatsApp. With PC Link, you also do not have to keep switching between phone and PC while you are seated at your desk.
The ZenFone is the first smartphone available here to use the new Intel Atom Clover Trail Plus processor.
While Intel Atom processors pack plenty of punch, the question is whether it has improved its power efficiency so that the phone can survive a full day of use.
The ZenFone 5 is available in five colours, but only the red, black and white will be available here at launch.
Check out next week's issue of Digital Life for our full review of the ZenFone 5.
Price: $249 (pre-order price of $199 from today to April 30)
Processor: Intel Atom Z2560 1.6GHz
Operating system: Android Jelly Bean 4.3 (upgradable to 4.4 Kit Kat later)
Network: Quad-band HSPA+ (3G)
Display: 5-inch 1,280 x 720 IPS+screen
Storage: 8GB (internal), up to 64GB microSD card (external)
SIM: Dual SIM, both slots support 3G
Cameras: 2 megapixels (front), 8 megapixels (rear)
Battery: Built-in 2,110mAh lithium polymer
This article was published on April 23 in Digital Life, The Straits Times.
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