Asus surprised many at January's Consumer Electronics Show by debuting a relatively low-cost Android phone with 4 GB and Intel chip inside. Now the ZenFone 2 is going on sale for $299 in the U.S. this week, offering one the potentially best values for an off-contract handset.
Starting tomorrow, May 19, the ZenFone 2 will be available unlocked in black, red, gray and silver. A lesser model with 2 GB of memory, 16 GB of storage and slower Intel chip will also be on sale for $199.
The showcase edition is the higher priced version, however. Inside is a 2.3 GHz 64-bit Intel Atom processor and Intel LTE modem along with double the memory of the lower-priced model and 64 GB of storage. Both handsets have a microSD card slot for additional storage capacity.
The 5.5-inch IPS display has 1920 x 1080 resolution with Gorilla Glass 3. While that's a step down from the latest flagship phones, it should help keep the phone's battery last longer. Asus is rivaling competitor's quick charge technology with what it calls BoostMaster so the 3,000 mAh battery can be fast-charged.
Android 5.0 software ships with both handsets and Asus put its own design flair in the software dubbed ZenUI.
The phones each have a 13 megapixel rear camera with f/2.0 aperture lens. Asus spent much of its January presentation showing off the image capabilities of this combination, promising better low-light photos along with Super HDR pictures. My limited time with the devices at the unveiling showed much promise here but we'll have to wait for review devices before agreeing with the company's claims.
Either way, unless the phone vastly under-performs its potential, it represents a great value. It may not be quite up to par with the Samsung Galaxy S6, HTC One M9 or Nexus 6, for example, but it costs less than half of those handsets.
The ZenFone 2 also presents Intel with a chance to finally shine in mobile devices.
For years, the dominant chip-maker for laptops and desktops has struggled to make a dent in the mobile device market, losing billions -- $4.2 billion last year alone -- in the process of trying to get a foot in the door. If the ZenFone 2 delivers on its promises, other handset makers could consider giving Intel another chance in smartphones.
Asus doesn't seem to have any carrier partners in the U.S. yet, so it will sell the ZenFone 2 directly through Amazon.com, B&H, Groupon.com and NewEgg.com.