New Quirky Asus phone: Asus hasn’t followed market trends for years. It has carved out a niche for itself by becoming a master of gaming smartphones with the ROG Phone line, launching the most versatile selfie phone on the market with the Zenfone Flip phones, and abandoning the big-screen trend to make a compact, high-performance smartphone this year with the Zenfone 8.
Still, the Zenfone 8 sometimes seems undervalued, and its attempts to do things differently don’t always get the attention it deserves. Why? While the company is incredibly transparent about some aspects of its phone business, it completely fails to cover one of the most important – when you can buy a smartphone. There’s a good reason for that, however, and understanding it will help you better understand Asus.
Doing things differently
Asus spokesperson ChihHao Kung explained to Digital Trends in an email why Asus does things differently with its phones:
“For our smartphones, given our relative scale and market position and who we are as a smartphone brand, we feel that if we go our own way, it will not only allow us to make a more interesting design, but also allow us to vary and create our own unique niche in the market. Competition is fierce, and all the major players are trying to produce very similar but good devices. There really is no shortage of choices for the end user in this specific space.”
Asus has never been afraid to try something new in an attempt to stand out. In 2012, it released the first Padfone, in which a regular smartphone was inserted into a special dock and turned into a tablet. This crazy but surprisingly effective gadget spawned many sequels. When the Padfone line ended in 2014, Asus got bogged down with numerous versions of the Zenfone, none of which were very interesting until it released the Zenfone 6 in 2019. The Zenfone 6 and ROG Phone 2 marked a new beginning for Asus, and it hasn’t lost any of its niche momentum since then.
Explaining why things are different
I’m going to lift the curtain that hides the tech media world a bit in an attempt to better illustrate how I understand Asus to be different, beyond its often quirky phones. When companies tell the media about a new device, they talk about what makes it special, what features it has, the design and more. Compared to most other companies, Asus often goes further by explaining why it makes a particular device.
Take the Zenfone 8, for example. Instead of simply saying that the phone is made smaller and therefore easier to hold than the usual big flagship phones, Asus explained the need to make the phone less than 70 mm wide and less than 150 mm high, figures based on a study of hand size. This justification for their decisions helps us better understand why the phone turned out the way it did.
The same goes for other hardware decisions and specifications, such as the lack of wireless charging throughout the lineup-the company prefers to prioritize long phone life, and wireless charging can negatively affect that-the choice of a strong and lightweight liquid metal for the flip module in the Zenfone 7 Pro and 8 Flip, and even the internal design of the smartphones.
Did you know that the Zenfone 8 has a dual-layer PCB with interposer technology that does away with traditional ribbons connecting the two layers and instead uses 618 connector pins, all to make it all fit into the phone’s compact body? Probably not, and while neither you nor I need to know that, I like that Asus took the time to explain. It’s a shame that Asus doesn’t apply the same level of transparency to its main problem: accessibility.
Why doesn’t it have recognition?
Asus makes phones that stand out from the crowd, often charges reasonable prices for the performance and features it offers, and in the case of the ROG Phone, it uses internal expertise and an active community to create the best gaming phone to date. So why isn’t the company always mentioned in the same breath as the big players in the phone market?
Simply because it’s not a major player in the phone market, and that plays an important role in understanding why Asus phones can be overlooked. Asus phones are often hard to find on sale, especially in the early stages of their lifecycle, and even during the announcement, when attention is at its highest, international release dates are either vague or non-existent.
When a phone doesn’t arrive in nearby stores long after the excitement of the initial launch has passed, it can quickly lose its luster. The Asus ROG Phone 5 was announced on March 21, but it wasn’t available in the U.S. until May 26. Very importantly, this date was not given in March, when it was really needed, and it was not unique to the ROG Phone 5. Because of this, Asus risks being forgotten in the constant stream of new device launches.
We asked Kung why this situation has developed:
“I agree that there is a lack of information about second or third wave release dates [he’s referring to launches outside of Taiwan, which is usually the first one]. This is partly because of local strategies, but mostly because we, as a smaller brand, are not planning to launch in every region at the same time. There are many factors, such as regulatory differences [he also noted that it takes different amounts of time to get FCC approval in the U.S. and CE approval in Europe, further complicating the launch], etc., all of which affect the final launch date.”
Laptops are suffering, too.
More people know Asus for its computers than for its smartphones. According to a Gartner study, the company is the world’s sixth-largest shipper of computers and has a market share of 5.8 percent. Apple has an 8.7 percent market share and is in fourth place. According to a DigiTimes report, sales of its gaming laptops grew 20% during 2020, and in India, according to IDC, Asus ROG laptops are number one among gaming laptops in the region with a 32% market share.
Those numbers are hardly associated with a small brand, but the computer division suffers from the same problems, according to Kung:
“Asus’ computer business, relatively speaking, is much bigger than our smartphone business,” Kung said. “However, if you look closely, the laptop launch is much more fragmented by local trends and strategies.”
Digital Trends computer editor Luke Larson agreed, saying:
“I think it’s true – laptop launches are often country-specific, and that includes pricing. I think it’s primarily because they’re so dependent on third-party retailers. Release dates are often vague, but it’s not that uncommon for laptops.”
Transparency applies in all areas
Asus became what it is because it is a small phone brand. It can research niches, spend time explaining all the intricacies of the decision-making process, and use its own expertise to create interesting devices unlike its competitors. However, there is a downside to this. Small phone brands don’t always have the huge international reach, the same impact on operators as the major brands, or the resources to release a million new devices by a single global launch date.
I like Asus’ unique approach to smartphones and its desire to make them special by sharing the smallest design details. But explaining why the company can’t always give a broad release date or confirm when a new phone will be available in one location or another is just as important as telling everyone why the device itself doesn’t have wireless charging or that the body is less than 70mm wide.
When the situation is clear, it’s much easier to be both accepting and patient, which is what unusual phones really deserve.