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Asus ZenFone 5 review: Best smartphone under Rs 10,000

Asus ZenFone 5 review: Best smartphone under Rs 10,0001. Great display
2. Consistently smooth performance
3. Excellent price

NEW DELHI: Asus has entered the smartphone fray in India and launched five smartphones in one go. The Asus ZenFone 5 is the best positioned of the lot, offering a 5-inch HD screen, Android 4.3 and 2GB RAM and still keeping the price under Rs 10,000 for the base variant. However, unlike most Android phones today, the handset is powered by an Intel processor, not Qualcomm or Mediatek.

Does it fare well against the Moto G's base variant? Should you buy this smartphone or spend another Rs 4,000 and go for Xiaomi Mi 3? We answer these questions and more in our Asus ZenFone 5 review...

Design and display
Asus ZenFone 5 has an understated look, with the company opting largely for plastic construction with only a hint of metal. The plastic used here is not cheap and has matte finish that feels good to the touch. However, the look is rather plain and does not set the smartphone apart from the competition either.

Asus ZenFone 5 comes across pretty well-equipped when it comes to the hardware. The smartphone has the Intel Atom Z2560 dual-core processor running at 1.6GHz; it features Hyperthreading technology, meaning that it can act as a quad-core CPU when too many processes are running.

The India variant of ZenPhone 5 comes with 2GB RAM, 8GB and 16GB internal storage options and microSD card support up to 64GB. Connectivity options are standard: 2G, 3G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0 and microUSB 2.0. The smartphone also sports an 8MP camera flanked by LED flash on the back, and a 2MP camera in front. It has a non-removable 2,110mAh battery.

The 8GB variant has been priced at Rs 9,999, whereas the 16GB model can be purchased for Rs 12,999.

Software is yet another highlight of Asus ZenFone 5. Android smartphone makers try to set themselves apart via customized software, but most do not turn out well and make the phone appear cluttered.

However, Asus, despite its rather limited experience with smartphones, has done a very good job, giving us an Android launcher that improves the basic functionality of Android, is pleasing to the eyes and does not make you cringe when you look at the icons.

ZenFone 5 comes preloaded with Android 4.3, but the Android 4.4 update is around the corner. There is no word on Android L release for this smartphone.

Much like HTC's Sense UI, the Asus custom skin brings shortcuts to the lock screen so that you can open the apps that you use the most without unlocking the device. It also displays time, weather and upcoming events on the lock screen.

While you swipe downwards to open the Notifications Bar, a swipe from the left side of the screen opens your notifications whereas the swipe from the right opens all the toggles, just like it happens in Android tablets nowadays. Brightness, Flashlight, Memory Booster, Calculator and Quick Memo are permanent in the toggles menu, but you can choose the remaining toggles that show up in Notifications from Settings.

Another feature worth mentioning here is Easy Mode, which lets you choose and control those apps you may use most frequently. Much like the similar feature by Samsung, Sony and HTC, Asus ZenPhone 5 shows common apps like Dialler, Contacts, Camera etc by default, but also lets you set which other apps can be opened in this mode.

Via Settings, you can enable ZenFone 5 to open the camera by clicking the Volume Down key twice when the screen is turned off. You can also take screenshots by just tapping the Task Switcher haptic key twice.

Also worth mentioning is the design of the icons you see in several Asus apps. The icons are flat and minimalist, making the screen uncluttered even if it has several apps and widgets.

Of course, all this doesn't mean that Asus, like other manufacturers, hasn't preloaded its own set of apps in ZenFone 5. Along with Google apps, the Taiwanese manufacturer has put several apps on the device, and not all are useful.

Those worth mentioning are AudioWizard and Splendid. The former, as the name suggest, lets you control the phone's audio profile depending upon the functions you are performing. There are six modes in this app, namely Speech, Music, Recording, Movie, Gaming and Power Saving.

Splendid enables you to control the colour reproduction on the display, allowing you to make it richer or colder.

Asus has said that it will update ZenFone 5 to Android 4.4 (KitKat) in coming weeks, but there is no word on an upgrade to Android L release.

We have been fairly impressed by the software, hardware, design and display quality of Asus ZenFone 5. But what about the performance in everyday usage? ZenFone 5 did not fail us even once, delivering consistent performance without a single glitch.

What's more surprising is that the Intel-powered smartphone delivered a user experience that was as good, if not better, than that of its Qualcomm-powered counterparts. Apps opened quickly and switching between them was smooth. With 2GB RAM at its disposal, the smartphone did not give any 'out of memory' error as well.

The smartphone performs well as a gaming machine too, but resource-hungry games feel a little slow to start. The Power VR GX544MP2 GPU renders rich graphics without a hitch. The games we tried, Real Racing 3 and Dead Trigger 2, played smoothly and there were no frame drops.

In benchmark tests, Asus ZenFone 5 gave pretty good results. In fact, its scores were right up there with those of Google Nexus 4 in most tests we used, and decidedly better than that of Moto G.

Call quality on both sim cards, in our experience, has been fine, but nothing to write home about. Wi-Fi and 3G networks too worked smoothly in all environments.

As a multimedia device, however, Asus ZenFone 5 is not good. Though the display is great and all video formats play easily, the sound is just not enough. It is not loud enough, and thus makes playing songs or videos a poor experience. Due to the low sound output, using this smartphone in loudspeaker mode is also useless.

One problem we faced while handling the device is that the haptic keys are not backlit. Therefore, using it in the dark is a little difficult.

Battery life is also a concern. During regular usage, where we keep the brightness at 50% and always keep either 3G or Wi-Fi turned on, the battery drained in approximately 6-7 hours. Turning off internet connectivity helps the ZenFone 5 get through a day. The smartphone has battery saver modes, but they don't do help much unless the internet is turned off. It is, therefore, advisable to keep the charger with you for emergency situations.

The camera of ZenFone 5 is decent for an 8MP camera, and especially good for the sub-Rs 10,000 range. Asus has used also added several software feature to give users an array of image capturing options, such as Depth of Field, Miniature, Smart Remove.

In Auto mode, the lighter parts in photos are overexposed, while dark areas are underexposed. Colours in daylight photos are accurate and the white balance also okay. Lowlight photos come out pretty great and show a little less noise compared to rival smartphones.

You can make GIFs using the smartphone, much like Nokia Lumia phones' CinemaGraph. The Miniature feature lets you bring a single object in focus, while keeping the rest faded. The Depth of Field feature works well, but is a little slow and it took us several tries before we got a satisfactory photo.

If you are looking for a smartphone under Rs 10,000, then Asus ZenFone 5 should easily be your first choice. Battery life is a concern, but a wall charger or power bank in your bag is a simple fix. The screen, software, camera and overall performance compensate more than enough for the small battery.

However, if you can stretch your budget to Rs 14,000, then you should go for Xiaomi Mi 3, which is a fantastic smartphone that does much more than what ZenFone 5 can.

In the front, just below the screen you will see a metallic strip featuring concentric semi-circles, taking up less than a centimeter of space on the front panel. Though this strip is not too bold, it certainly adds a little flair to the design character, which the device doesn't seem to have otherwise. Asus uses the same metal trim in its laptops.

ZenFone 5's removable back panel is curved, which make it easy to hold with one as well as two hands. However, the smartphone itself is a little big and, thus, a little difficult to operate with one hand. At 145gram, it is a little heavy, but feels solid.

One thing we don't like about Asus ZenFone 5 is the wide bezels, which make ZenPhone 5 unnecessarily large. The smartphone could have been much more compact, somewhere to the tune of Samsung Galaxy S4, but the wide bezels on all sides make it too large for comfort. The Home, Back and Task Switcher buttons have not been given on the screen as well, thus adding to its size.

Asus ZenFone 5 sports a 5-inch display with 720p resolution. The screen's colour reproduction is balanced, delivering accurate and balanced colours in most cases. Being an IPS panel, it offers good viewing angles, ensuring that colours do not wash out when viewed from the sides. Pixilation is not noticeable either.

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