The new Asus Zenfone 2
NEW YORK — Starting Tuesday, Canadian consumers will have a new option for a premium smartphone that comes without a contract, yet at a price comparable to an iPhone 6 or other high end phone with a wireless contract.
In what could a game-changing foray into the North American smartphone market, Taiwanese tech company Asus introduced its Zenfone 2 here, an unlocked phone that will start at $249 Cdn for a two gigabyte version and $379 for a more powerful version that has 4GB RAM, making it the first 4GB smartphone in the world.
At an event in New York City’s Gotham Hall, the biggest cheers came when Asus chairman Jonny Shih announced the price, which in the U.S. starts at $199.
“We have prepared ourselves for this competitive North American market where beauty, functionality and price are all critical essentials to every consumer,” said Shih.
Asus isn’t distributing the phone through carriers but selling directly through retailers, a departure from customary contract phone sales.
The Zenfone 2 has a number of features putting it in the premium smartphone category, a category where unlocked phones typically run $700 and more. The first generation Asus Zenfone was announced at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2014, with the Zenfone 2 announced at this year’s verion of the show in January.
“Its market impact is on the rise and its popularity has taken the industry by storm,” Shih told the audience Monday.
The North American launch comes after Asus has already sold 10 million of its premium smartphones. The Zenfone 2 was first released in Taiwan last March and then in Japan and India.
“Today is a very important day for Asus,” the Asus president for North America, Steve Chang, said in an interview. “We’ve waited for this day for more than one year. We announced the Zenfone first generation in other countries in the beginning of 2014. … Every day we received requests, ‘when can you come to North America?’
Chang said while the phone was first released with 3G wireless, the North American release required the faster LTE wireless.
“In North America the technology is most leading, you need to have LTE if you want to be a premium,” said Chang. “The first generation was 3G, it is very good for other territories but for North America, we know we need to have LTE.”
Chang said other specs make the Zenfone 2 very competitive.
“It is not just LTE, it is a lot of very powerful specs: Intel quad core CPU 64-bit (processor); it is the first four-gigabyte memory in the world and especially it is with a very aggressive price point,” he said.
Chang said the unlocked phone at that price will give consumers options when it comes to carriers.
“It means you can change the SIM card to a different carrier. You are free to switch when you like,” he said.”
In Canada, typically smartphones are subsidized for consumers who opt to buy with a contract, with subsidized pricing ranging from free for basic phones, to $250 and more for such premium smartphones as the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus and Samsung’s Galaxy 6. Asus is going to direct to the consumer with pricing that lets them buy a premium phone with no contract at about the same price as they might pay for a comparable phone with a two-year contract. While under Canada’s Wireless Code of Conduct carriers will unlock subsidized phones, customers remain under contract, an option many choose to get higher end phones at a lower price.
Despite the comparatively lower price, the Zenfone 2 has some high end specs. In head-to-head comparisons in photography and gaming performance against other premium smartphones, it fared well. In some instances, such as with power-hungry gaming apps or low light photography, which the Zenfone 2 improves with software, it came out ahead.
It has a 5.5-inch full high definition screen, the same size as the iPhone 6 Plus, although a narrow 3.3 mm bezel gives it a screen-to-body ratio of 72 per cent ,compared to 68.3 per cent for the iPhone 6 Plus. Intel provides the quad-core processor, which with 4GB RAM, makes the smartphone a very efficient multi-tasker when it comes to running several apps simultaneously and for playing games. It runs the Android 5.0 Lollipop operating system.
It has a 13-megapixel rear-facing camera with a low light mode that makes photos up to four times brighter in low light and a PixelMaster mode described in Asus’ Monday camera demo as being “like a magnifying mode,” that gives photos a super resolution up to 52 megapixels. The front-facing camera has a 140-degree panorama selfie mode.
Its specifications for North American versions include dual SIM cards, which means you can have two separate SIM cards in the phone, a plus for travellers, who could have one SIM for home and one for the country where they’re travelling.
The Zenfone 2 comes in red, black, silver or grey with a brushed aluminum case and a Gorilla glass screen.
Gillian Shaw’s airfare and accommodation to attend the Asus Zenfone 2 event was paid by Asus. The company did not see the copy before publication.
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun