REVIEW: The ASUS ZenPhone 5 & ZenWatch Do Tokyo
A Pair Of ASUS
Quality Time with the Asus ZenFone 5 & ZenWatch
Tech giant ASUS recently came out with two new devices in Japan running on Android and looking to compete with the likes of Samsung, HTC and yes - even Apple. The Asus ZenFone 5 is a smartphone that runs on Android and comes with a host of unique features that set it apart from vanilla Android handsets, while the new ZenWatch brings some style and elegance to the future-thinking Android Wear ecosystem.
The Asus ZenFone 5 is somewhat unique in Japan (at least until next month) as it can be purchased as a SIM-free device from a number of retailers at an affordable price that doesn’t need to be underwritten by a service provider—leaving you free to choose your poison. Those looking for a “Goldilocks” smartphone (one that’s not too big and not too small) will find its 5-inch display fits comfortably in their hands - somewhere between an iPhone 6 or HTC One on the compact side and an iPhone 6 Plus or Galaxy S5 on the larger end - meaning it’s still easily operated in one hand, though may not be front-pocket suitable (depending on how skinny your jeans are). On the outside, the high-definition, 1,280-pixel screen is protected by a sturdy and scratch-resistant Corning Gorilla Glass 3 screen (the outer shell itself is a replaceable plastic cover, so these combined eliminate the need for a protective case), while under the hood is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor that powers the Android Kit Kat 4.4.2 operating system. Other features include a rear-facing 8MP video and still camera and a 2MP selfie cam on the front. It ships with up to 32GB of onboard flash memory with a micro-SD slot to expand that by an additional (up to) 64GB.
What sets the ZenFone 5 apart from others of its ilk, though, is the suite of proprietary software - called ZenUI - designed to amalgamate your online life, your mobile life, and your (ahem) real life. While some users may consider it bloatware, it does a have a few nice integrations. Right from the home screen, the What’s Next? feature intelligently alerts you to upcoming appointments, to-dos, and even the weather with a simple swipe, plus you can easily add an additional 5GB of free online cloud storage space for sharing mobile photos or other media. And a new display sensitivity setting allows use of the device even while wearing gloves. All-in-all, the Asus ZenFone 5 is a feature-rich and highly customizable phone for its price point in a saturated market.
ZenPhone 5 Specs:
- Price: ¥28,900 (~$240)
- OS: Android 4.4.2 KitKat
- Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 400
- Colors: Charcoal Black/Pearl White/Cherry Red/Twilight Purple/Champagne Gold
- Dimensions: 148.2 x 72.8 x 10.34 cm (LxWxH)
- Weight: 145g
- Memory: 2GB
- Storage: 8GB/16GB/32GB eMMC flash; 5GB free lifetime Asus WebStorage
- Memory Slot: MicroSD card (up to 64GB)
- Connectivity: WLAN 812.11 b/g/n; USB 2.0; Bluetooth V4.0; Micro SIM card
- Network Standard: UMTS/WCDMA; HSPA+; DC-HSPA+; 2G: EDGE/GPRS/GSM 850/900/1800/1900; 3G: UMTS 850/900/1900/2100
- Display: 5-inch TFT HD 1280x720, IPS with capacitive multi-touch panel, Corning® Gorilla® Glass 3, supports GloveTouch input
- Battery: 2,110mAh
- Camera: 2MP, F2.4 (front); 8MP with auto-focus, LED flash, F2.0 (rear)
And the ZenWatch
Also from Asus is the recently released ZenWatch, a digital timepiece and lifestyle tracker with looks to please not only tech-obsessed fashionistas, but even - dare I say? - Apple fans. A sleek, tanned-leather wristband with stainless steel clasp sets it apart from other more industrial or rubbery devices in the smartwatch market (for now), and if you’re not a fan of the band, you can swap it for one of your own choosing provided it’s the standard 22-millimeter size. The rectangular, AMOLED 1.63-inch display face is rather large (especially for small wrists), but the stainless steel case sandwiches an inset, rose gold-colored band to give it a distinguished feel. As on the ZenFone, the Corning Gorilla Glass 3 screen offers sturdy scratch-resistance.
The ZenWatch pairs seamlessly via Bluetooth with any mobile device running Android Wear, as well as its own set of Asus apps that give users a multitude of choices when it comes to watch faces (over 100 of them, all designed for the different moods and personalities of the wearer) and health tracking programs. The case even features a highly accurate heart rate monitor that you access by touching two fingers to the bezel.
Where the watch shines is in the deceptively simple operation. Turn your wrist up to wake the device, swipe left or right, up or down to navigate the screen and access functions, settings and read incoming email or texts (if you’re used to Google’s “card” notifications, you’ll notice the similarity right away). Speak into the highly sensitive watch face mic (à la “OK Google,” Siri or your favorite 1960s TV spy) to launch simple apps like Google Maps, reply to incoming texts (that buzz on your wrist when they arrive), set reminders, or even control the tunes playing on your phone without removing it from your pocket.
It’s a stunning watch made all the better by the choice of classic, stitched leather combined with understated, but quality casing materials. The amount of customization - not only for the digital watch face, but also for the different Android Wear apps that can be incorporated with it - make it an early standout for those looking for an actual “smart watch.” Its biggest downside (indeed, probably the biggest negative point for all wearable tech at this stage of the game) has to be the battery, which lasts around 8 hours. It also won’t pair with any Apple devices, so iPhone and iPad users will have to wait - at least until someone figures out how to make that pairing possible.
If you’re already set on getting a smartwatch to pair with your Android device, the Asus ZenWatch will certainly look good on any wrist and probably drum up a few longing glances, compliments and questions - just don’t get caught talking into it like Maxwell Smart.
- Price: ¥32,180 (~$268)
- OS: Android Wear
- Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 1.2GHz
- Colors: Silver and rose gold colored layering, brown leather strap
- Dimensions: 51 x 39.9 x 7.9 cm (LxWxH)
- Weight: 50g (body), 25g (strap)
- Memory: 512MB Storage: 4GB eMMC flash
- USB Ports: Micro USB on charging cradle
- Display: AMOLED 1.63”, 320 x 320, 278ppi touch display
- Battery: Polymer 1.4Wh
- Audio: Built-in microphone
Special Contributor Jeff W. Richards is an editor and content producer at GPlus Media, which publishes some of the largest English-language media sites in Japan, including Japan Today, Tokyo Insight, GaijinPot, and Savvy. Click through below to check out the latest issue of Tokyo Insight: