Asus updates the Zenfone with a fancy camera and 4GB RAM

The Zenfone Zoom is the thinnest smartphone available with a 3X optical zoom, according to Asus

Asus' Jonney Shih shows the Zenfone Zoom at CES Monday

Asus' Jonney Shih shows the Zenfone Zoom at CES Monday

Asus has updated its popular Zenfone with two new models, including one for photography enthusiasts with a 3X optical zoom and controls for setting ISO, white balance and shutter speed.

Chairman Jonney Shih unveiled the Zenfone 2 at a press event at International CES on Monday with his usual mix of salesmanship and wannabe Las Vegas entertainer style.

Asus has been selling 1.5 million Zenfones per month in the last quarter, according to Shih -- not many compared to Apple's iPhone 6 but not a bad little earner for the Taiwanese firm.

With a 5.5-inch full HD IPS display, the Zenfone 2 sports a 64-bit quad-core Atom processor running at up to 2.3GHz, and it comes with up to 4GB of internal RAM, something Shih claimed is a first for a smartphone and will allow it to run more applications simultaneously.

The phone has a skinny, 3.3mm bezel, which makes the display seem bigger than it really is, and it comes in five brushed-metal colors.

A SnapView feature lets you keep your work and personal files separate, including emails, photos and even notifications, according to Shih.

"Stop carrying two phones -- unless they are both Zenfones!" he exclaimed.

The camera is one of its biggest selling points, and Shih gushed over its 13 megapixel rear camera, which includes a "pixel merging" technology Asus claims can take 400 percent brighter photos at night.

A dual-color flash lets you use the flash "without worrying it will look like a mug shot," Shih said. And for the vanity-conscious, there's a "beautification mode" that smooths out the blemishes on your subject's face.

But if it's a fancy camera you want, Shih had something else up his sleeve. The Zenfone Zoom has similar specs as the Zenfone 2 but with a more advanced, 10-element lens for sharper image capture.

It's a little thicker than the Zenfone 2, but at just under 12 millimeters, Asus claims it's "the world's thinnest smartphone with a 3X optical zoom."

It's laser auto-focus system and image stabilization let it capture fast action with minimal blur, the company says.

Both of the new Zenfones run Android version 5.0, known as Lollipop, and an updated version of Asus' Zen UI that includes Trend Micro's antivirus software for security.

The Zenfone 2 will go on sale in March starting at $199, Shih said, while the Zenfone Zoom will go on sale by mid-year for $399. Those prices are presumably for the 2GB versions, rather than the 4GB versions, though Asus didn't say.

James Niccolai covers data centers and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow James on Twitter at @jniccolai. James's e-mail address is james_niccolai@idg.com

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