Asus, the Taiwanese brand has recently completed 30 years anniversary and is gravitating towards occupying a significant market share in both mobiles & PC/laptops segment. Currently, the company is all set to launch its next Zenfone flagship phone, the Zenfone 6 into the Indian market. I thought why not look at the company’s history in terms of launching their Zenfone flagship phones in India to evaluate their success rate? Umm…Remember I did the same for OnePlus a few days back?
Nonetheless, until now, Asus hasn’t occupied a significant market share in the mobile phone segment, and it’s true in both cases of flagships as well as budget-end. Even though their business has geared up since the Zenfone Max Pro M1 happened, that doesn’t really help to achieve the goal. However, my point of writing this article is not about explaining the reasons or talk about the brand’s history. It’s more about looking at the past and showcase how the Asus Zenfone flagship smartphones have evolved. So, why late? Let’s get started.
2015: The Beginning – Zenfone 2 Series
In 2014, Asus has launched 3 smartphones namely, Zenfone 4, Zenfone 5 and Zenfone 6 for a price of Rs. 6,999, Rs. 9,999 and Rs. 16,999 respectively. This move was made to give a competition to the Xiaomi, which at the time was a new entry to the Indian market. Anyway, did you notice the series’ names? I know this creates confusion, but the names are followed by a unique model number. However, none of them is a flagship-level phone. So, why am I talking about it? because they were all powered by Intel chipsets.
Yup, Asus was one of the few to make use of Intel chipsets rather than Qualcomm. Even in 2015, the majority of Asus smartphones launched in India were powered by Intel chipsets. Speaking of which, Zenfone 2 was indeed an entry-level flagship phone that was actually the world’s first 4GB smartphone. Yeah, it was a thing back then, and Asus was the first to feature it. I had a chance to try out the Zenfone 2, and to be honest, it was one of the first review units I ever received from a top brand. So many memories! [happy tears]. My colleague Kedar had also tried recording a video, and we did upload on our channel.
Zenfone 2 has got good reviews and I was also satisfied with its performance, but it was totally crushed by OnePlus 2. As the former was an Intel-chipset based phone, there was uncertainty about its performance on the longer run. On the other side, OnePlus 2 has the flagship chipset and was available at almost the same price. Truth to be told, even with the deluxe edition with almost the same specifications as Zenfone 2, Asus couldn’t cope with the OnePlus 2. Then entered the Zenfone Zoom.
Zenfone Zoom was a powerful device which I feel was more of an experimental device. Now you’ve seen Huawei P30 Pro, Oppo Reno, and several other OEMs offering loss-less Optical Zoom. Well, Asus has offered a 3x optical Zoom back in 2015 itself on Zenfone Zoom along with OIS. In addition to that, there was 128GB onboard storage and a microSD card slot! My colleague Jay has gone for the event and got himself a unit to test around. We did post a review and he’s also pretty much satisfied using it.
Even with so many positive reviews everywhere, it hadn’t got a wider appeal, and it may be because of its price i.e., almost 38K. Just like in the Zenfone 2 series, the long-term performance of Zenfone Zoom was uncertain as it was also powered by Intel chipsets. I don’t know if I can say this – Asus failed marketing a good phone even though they dubbed it as a pocket DSLR. [Fact check – it’s not a pocket DSLR, but it was marketed as one]
2016: New Design – Zenfone 3 Series
Leaving behind the failures, Asus has changed everything with its Zenfone 3 series. This was the first time that the company has moved to Qualcomm chipsets for all the phones instead of Intel.
In the entire Zenfone 3 series launched at Zenvolution 2016, the Zenfone 3 Deluxe was the flagship phone which was powered by Snapdragon 820/1 [a flagship chipset back then]. Just so you know, it was initially announced with Snapdragon 820, and after a couple of months, another variant with 821 chipset was also launched. Allegedly, Zenfone 3 Deluxe was also the first phone to feature Snapdragon 821 SoC. Coming to other specifications, it has got everything you’d look for in a flagship. It has a whopping 23MP main camera sensor, 6GB of RAM, and what not, but its pricing killed it.
The 820 SoC variant was priced at Rs. 49,999 whereas the 821 SoC variant was priced at Rs. 62,999. I know right? Overpriced! It was the time when Google launched the Pixel series, iPhone introduced dual camera set up in the 7-series, and the flagship killer OnePlus was dominating the sales with 3 & 3T. You can read my top 5 best high-end smartphones list launched in 2016 here, but hey! I didn’t add the Zenfone 3 Deluxe there.
It was faded in clouds in just months after the launch, but there’s one thing that I should definitely mention in the Zenfone 3 series is the Zenfone 3 itself. Even though there are other smartphones like Zenfone 3 Max, 3s Max, 3 Laser, etc. the Zenfone 3 has become a popular smartphone and might be the first big hit for Asus.
I know Zenfone 3 is not a flagship level nor even near to it, but it has everything you’d look in a budget-end phone. The moment I got my hands on, I started loving it and made it a daily driver for almost 2 years until I moved to Pixel 2 XL. I still have the phone, and use it as a backup. Anyhow, speaking of Zenfone 3, it was announced initially for a price of Rs. 27,999 for a 4GB/64GB variant, but then reduced to near 13-14K [what I remember] after gaining wide popularity. Why don’t you read my review to know why I’m praising a lot about this phone?
2017: Downfall – Zenfone 4 Series
I bet no one remembers Zenfone 4 series as it was a big failure from Asus. If there’s one thing Asus couldn’t get it is keeping an optimal price tag for its flagship phones.
Zenfone 4 Pro has indeed got everything to be called a 2017 flagship phone. It uses Snapdragon 835 chipset, 6GB RAM, 128GB storage, dual camera [one of them is telephoto], hybrid SIM slot, and much more. But it didn’t take off even with a pricing of Rs. 38,400. It could be because of the old design, and the competition from OnePlus. Also, Asus hasn’t really got a workaround with the flagship phones, and even this had an impact on the brand value to be chosen for a flagship. Anyway, the brand did saw a marginal success with other Zenfone 4 selfie smartphones.
My colleague Kedar had tested the Zenfone 4 Selfie and the Pro, and he’s pretty satisfied with it. But to be honest, 2017 wasn’t a big year for Asus. Their previous smartphone Zenfone Live was also turned out to be a flop which actually gave the necessary inspiration for the Zenfone 4 Selfie series. Anyhow, moving out from this series, another flagship phone that’s worth mentioning from Asus that is launched in 2017 was Zenfone AR. This was more like an experimental phone as it was a Project Tango device. Let me break the news here itself. Project Tango was dead in 2017 itself.
Zenfone AR was actually launched between Zenfone 3 Deluxe and Zenfone 4 series. It was one of the first Project Tango phones that’s made available in the Indian market. The hopes on the phone were so high as AR & VR was a big trend at that time. Zenfone AR is powered by a flagship chipset [Snapdragon 821 SoC inside] and a whopping 8GB of RAM. In fact, Zenfone AR is allegedly the world’s first 8GB RAM smartphone!
The reason why I liked the phone is not only because it’s a future-ready phone that supports AR & Daydream VR, but also subtle changes that Asus made to make it more appealing. The first is adopting the AMOLED display for the phones. They’ve been using it in the past too, but this one was special, and it’s also because of introducing backlit keys for the navigation keys. Honestly, this has been my most requested change for Asus, and it has finally introduced it in Zenfone AR. So did it sold out a lot? I’m not sure as the phone costs almost 50K INR. As mentioned before, Project Tango was dead already, so the future of this phone was uncertain. So, I might have to dub this as a failure too.
2018: Resurgence – Zenfone 5 Series
With the most complicated year behind, Asus wants to prove itself that it can regain the credibility in the flagship market. Then entered the Zenfone 5 series. 2018 was the year of ‘Notch’ phones, and Asus has taken it to the extremes in Zenfone 5z as the notch was way smaller than the iPhone X’s. In addition to that, there were special gestures on the ‘Notch’ area.
Speaking of Zenfone 5z, it’s truly an underrated flagship phone of 2018 in my opinion. It was perfectly priced, and it was sold at less than 30k INR. Right now, it was being sold at an even lesser price with all the additional discounts and cash backs, but the main thing that I need to mention is that Asus has finally delivered a good phone for the perfect price. Talking about the pricing, it was way better than what OnePlus usually offers. However, OnePlus phones sports an AMOLED display, and Asus ditched it for obvious reasons. [cost reduction]
Zenfone 5z has actually got every feature that you look in a flagship phone. It has 500nits brightest display, powered by a flagship chipset [Snapdragon 835 SoC], and runs on ZenUI 5.0 which is really good skin. I was really impressed with the phone, and I bet you’ll appreciate too once you read my review. Even with the flagships from OnePlus, Google Pixel, and the Huawei, Asus was able to keep up with the competition, but the Poco F1 killed it [to some extent].
Zenfone Max Pro Series
Besides Zenfone 5z, the company was supposed to launch the smaller brother Zenfone 5 which I was hoping to buy, but then they surprised with Zenfone Max Pro M1. This was the very first device from Asus that doesn’t use the ZenUI, and at the same time, it’s not a part of Android One. This has made a big change in the budget-end segment which was dominated by the Redmi Note series. The success was continued even in the second iteration – The Max Pro M2.
Umm, is that it? Any experimental devices like AR & Zoom? Well, there’s one and that’s named ROG Phone.
2018 was also the year of Gaming phones as Razor, Xiaomi’s Black Shark has launched their phones into the market. Asus has showcased the ROG Phone and it made its entry into the Indian market in November ’18. I had a chance to explore the device even before it got launched, and man, I loved playing PUBG in it.
It has got an amazing display with 90Hz refresh rate, powered by Snapdragon 845 SoC, and got the proprietary ROG skin that really changed the way the phone looks. The best part about gaming on ROG Phone is it has got Air triggers which are pressure-sensitive and can be mapped manually. In addition to all these, the ROG Phone has special accessories that change the way you play games on mobile. I’ve really enjoyed testing it and shared the experience in my review, but again, the one thing that bothered many is its pricing. It costs almost 70K. Right after the launch, many OEMs have launched limited edition phones of their flagships where the specs are maxed out. I’d say, it was a bold attempt from Asus, and who knows, the next ROG Phone would be priced much cheaper.
If there’s one thing that Asus has been showing consistently is innovation. It can be either their laptops or the phones, you’d see a lot of design changes, while the other OEMs are stuck with the same old design aesthetics. After introducing a smaller notch on Zenfone 5z, the next iteration, Zenfone 6 now Asus 6z is notch-less and an all screen, bezel-less phone.
Unlike the OEMs like Huawei and Samsung who introduced Hole Punch displays, Asus has adopted the pop-up selfie camera in its own way. At first, the leaks suggested that Zenfone 6 would also adopt the slider mechanism, but it turned out to be false. In some old news, the Zenfone 6 was found using a hole punch display too, but it was debunked once it was revealed to be using a controllable rotating camera.
Just so you know, the pop-up selfie camera was first introduced on Vivo Nex and it’s widely used in every major flagship now. Even the recent flagship OnePlus 7 series has a pop-up selfie camera. But the uniqueness in Asus 6z is that the selfie camera rotates, and can be controlled at any position. You can say that it can be used as a periscope, and yes, the panoramas can be shot without moving the phone too. The Asus 6z is all set to launch in India on June 19th, and if the pricing goes right, it’d be a deal breaker for Asus. I’ll update more information on this once the phone gets launched.
Future of Asus Flagship Phones in India
Asus always wants to show innovation in their phones, but pricing is where they go wrong. From last year, with the Zenfone 5z, they proved that they can produce an amazing phone that is quite affordable. In fact, priced at even lesser than the existing competition. In short, their flagships are evolved to a stage now, that they’re going head-on-head with OnePlus and Huawei Flagships. Hoping the future flagships & the experimental devices will help to achieve a significant market share in India.
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