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Asus Seeks U.S. Smartphone Growth

New York – Asus is pursuing a market share-building strategy of selling high-performance unlocked phones in North America at an affordable price through retailers, the company revealed today in launching its Zenfone 2 to the North American market.

The company already sells tablets in the U.S. and has dabbled in smartphones, most recently selling the Asus PadFone X and PadFone Mini through AT&T. The phones plugged into the back of a larger tablet-like display so users could switch screen sizes as needed for different tasks.

One of two versions of the new Android 5.0 Zenfone 2, already available in other countries, could be the first U.S.-market phone from a major brand with 4GB RAM, though phones with 4GB RAM have been announced by Xiaomi and Lenovo for availability outside the U.S.

The 4GB model, priced at only $299 without contract, also features a 64-bit Intel Atom 2.3GHz Super Quad Core processor, 5.5-inch FullHD IPS display with 60ms response time, 13-megapixel camera, 64GB storage, 128GB microSD card slot, and LTE Advanced with carrier aggregation to deliver peak download speeds of 250Mbps.

It’s accompanied by a $199 version with 2GB RAM, 16GB storage, and Intel Atom 1.8GHz quad-core processor. Both are dual-SIM models that operate in the AT&T and T-Mobile GSM/W-CDMA/LTE networks.

The phone, unveiled at International CES, will be available May 19 through e-tailers Amazon, Newegg, B&H Photo, and Groupon along with the $199 version. They’ll be available in in red, black and silver. Asus, however, wants to expand retail distribution, worldwide mobile marketing head Erik Hermanson told TWICE.

The Zenfone2 will be the company’s only unlocked phone in the U.S. for now, he added.

Unlike other marketers of unlocked phones, Asus isn’t “dumbing down” phone specs to make an affordable unlocked phone but is delivering a phone with “the best specs or top-level specs at an affordable price,” Hermanson said. Most marketers of unlocked phones primarily focus on emerging markets, he added. In the U.S., buying an unlocked phone will require “a bit of education,” but he said Asus will promote the concept through its website and social media while advertising the phones via online ads, social media and public relations.

Despite consumers’ general unawareness of unlocked phones, the time is right for Asus to launch its first unlocked phones in the U.S. because carriers are moving away from selling unsubsidized phones and are allowing consumers to bring a phone to their networks, Hermanson said.

Selling unlocked phones also gives vendors the ability to gain market share without having to get carrier approval to sell through carrier stores, analysts said.

The Zenfone 2 offers features that compete with other marketers’ flagship phones, including the iPhone 6 and Galaxy S6, he continued.

With the 4GB RAM version, users can run as many as 26 apps can run in the background for multitasking without crashing the phone, Asus chairman Jonney Shih said during a launch event here. Low-light performance of both phones exceeds that of the Samsung Galaxy S6, iPhone 6 Plus, LG G3, and Sony Z3, thanks to proprietary pixel-merging technology on the front and main cameras, he added.

Other differentiating features available on both phones include Super HDR to deliver true colors and detail despite extremely bright backgrounds, a 140-degree selfie-panorama mode, 52-megapixel main camera, DSLR-like Xenon flash that’s 100 times brighter than LED flashes, and fast-charging time that exceeds that of the Galaxy S5 and iPhone 6 Plus. The Zenfone’s 3,000mAh battery can be charged to 60 percent capacity in 39 minutes compared to 51 minutes for the S5 and 69 minutes for the iPhone 6Plus, Shih said. A 10-minute charge delivers four hours of talk time.

Other key features include, Wi-Fi 802.11 ac, volume button on back, and 3.9mm depth

Google Drive cloud storage of 100GB is available free with the phones.

The phone is available with the following accessories:

–a $39 flip cover with circular viewing window to protect the display but also let users see who’s calling, answer calls, check messages, and take pictures with the cover closed.

–a $19 10,050mAh Zen Power portable charging pack.

–and Lolliflash dual-color LED flash to deliver more natural colors. Pricing was unavailable.

The Zenfone also features a redesigned UI that lets users unlock a camera by drawing a “C” on the display, drawing an “E” to open the email app, or use other customizable swipes to open apps.

The UI also lets consumers personalize fonts and themes, and new Snap View security protects phone content. The web browser features built-in antivirus software.