The Asus ZenFone 5 comes packed with plenty of features: It has a sleek, minimalist design that resembles the ambitious and expensive PadFone range, but it retails at an extremely affordable non-contract price: around $190, £130 or AU$200. It all sounds great, and it is, but bear in mind that you'll want the 2GB RAM version just to avoid any potential performance issues.
Sitting in the middle of the Asus ZenFone series, the 5-inch handset has 4-inch and 6-inch siblings, the ZenFone 4 and ZenFone 6. The ZenFones are powered by an Intel Atom processor, instead of the usual ARM chips from Qualcomm or MediaTek you generally find in more expensive phones.
The ZenFone 5 is currently available in some countries in Asia -- China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan and Vietnam. The ZenFone series is expected to go on sale in the UK as well, though as yet it's only available via a few small online retailers. Other countries have yet to be announced.
Editors' note: After I encountered sluggish performance in my initial ZenFone 5 review model, Asus sent us a new unit with updated firmware and 2GB RAM (the retail model sold in Singapore). Due to the improved performance that rendered the previous issues moot, I've updated this review and the score accordingly.
Drawing on the PadFone's design aesthetic, the ZenFone 5's is simple and clean. It has rounded edges, a curved soft-touch plastic back and touch-sensitive buttons located below the screen. The 5-inch HD display has a 1,280x720-pixel resolution, for a density of 294 pixels per inch, which is respectable but a far cry from the HTC One M8's 441ppi.
The only thing that stands out is a metallic band below the touch-sensitive buttons, etched with the concentric circle pattern found on the PadFone Infinity series. It's not really very obvious and doesn't affect the grip of the phone, but I quite like that it gives the ZenFone 5 a premium touch for its low price.
The rear cover is removable, but the 2,110mAh battery is embedded. All you can do with the back cover off is access the dual SIM-card and microSD-card slots. Also on the handset's back are the audio speaker and the 8-megapixel camera.
The ZenFone 5 feels quite solid and it weighs just 5.11 ounces (145g). Asus has made a good phone here, and it shows.
Internally, the ZenFone 5 sports a 2GHz dual-core Intel Atom Z2580 processor, instead of your usual Qualcomm or MediaTek effort. Complementing this is 8GB of internal storage and 2GB of RAM. Your standard connectivity options of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are available, but NFC is absent.
Software and features
The ZenFone 5 runs Android 4.3 with a custom skin called ZenUI layered over the OS. ZenUI has been redesigned with a cleaner and flatter look. The company says its engineers have made over 200 different modifications to the OS, all with improving performance in mind.
The first thing you'll see when you turn on the ZenFone 5's display is a revamped lockscreen, with a timeline of your upcoming appointments. Another feature is a reminder app called Do It Later, which helps keep track of important tasks such as replying to SMSes. You can do this easily by selecting the reply later option, which will add it to the Do It Later app. This works for articles you want to read and missed calls, too.
Like HTC's Sense UI, the built-in Asus apps, such as the calendar, email, phone and messages are color-coded. I'm not convinced the shading is useful, even in HTC's Sense UI, because there's almost no need to use a color to recognise the app you're using unless they're visually similar in layout (which they aren't). It does look nice, however.