The opportunity to do a phone review isn’t one that wafts past me very often; I said yes without really thinking about it and it was only then that it occurred to me, with a sinking feeling, that this meant I was going to have to try and find my way round an android phone.
My history with the android system isn’t a happy one. Despite a background in mobile phone sales, I left before all the new systems came out and after a brief and uninspiring flirt with Blackberry, I became an Apple user. And there I’ve stayed. Every time I’ve picked up an android tablet I’ve found myself completely stymied by the interface and as for the cheap and cheerful phones the girls have, I have no idea. I can’t make them work.
Still, I’m always up for a challenge and no-one can say I’m not open minded, so I opened the box of my new Asus Zenfone 5 LTE optimistically, plugged it in and switched it on.
And started to use it.
There is considerable significance in that sentence. It is literally the first time I have picked up an android device and not wanted to hurl at a wall inside of 5 minutes. I could use it. The interface was slick and manageable and intuitive and I felt very at home with it in my hand immediately. For the first time I found myself able to confidently navigate, move icons and apps around, finds my way to the settings I wanted and start to customise my phone. I was quickly at a point where I could install an app and start using it; aside from the fact that some of those apps themselves were subtly different to the iPhone version, I felt pretty quickly back in my comfort zone.
And that was just the start.
The thing is, when you move systems, what you want is something familiar enough that you know where to start and while the Zenfone isn’t, in any way, trying to be like an iPhone, but what I experienced for the first time was an Android phone that seemed programmed with a new user in mind. In fact, the very fact that it has a simple setting, which cuts out the noise and drama of a complex phone and trims it down to the essentials bears this out. Someone has really thought out how it feels to pick this phone up and want to get started.
If you know me online, you know that Instagram is my natural home. I don’t have the time or attention span for a DSLR camera so I use my phone for nearly everything; it powers my entire online social media presence. I find my current phone camera flat and uninspiring but since it is the only convenient option, it has to do.
I knew the Asus had been sent to me with the camera as the main selling point so I was itching to try it.
Bye, bye iPhone.
This is the most incredible camera. It is fabulous 8 megapixel PixelMaster camera on the back and a 2 magapixel front facing one and is packed full of features that just lift it up beyond anything else I’ve ever used. What Asus have achieved is a camera that takes pictures better than I could achieve with a DSLR and will totally change the shots that go into our archives and on to my blog. In terms of how I photograph crafts, it’s rocked my world.
I’ve been absolutely thrilled by the depth of field option which combines several photos taken in short succession using the 5 focus element of the camera, combining different focus depths into one. If, like me, you often need to fuzz out the clutter behind, it is perfect. It takes a little while to get the hang of focusing it to bring the part you want into sharpest focus, but it is worth the effort because the photos look close to professional with it. While it is designed for close up photos, it has remarkable success on ordinary ones too, if you can get your subject to stay still.
With Christmas coming up, my challenge was to explore the low level settings; there a two, one aimed at general indoor photography and another for outdoors with a long exposure. Since you can also alter white balance, exposure, ISO value and more, making it extraordinarily flexible. There are undoubtedly more settings than I’ll ever use but having a variety of instantly accessible presets makes it highly accessible as a camera. In low light it is breathtakingly beautiful whether snapping the children or setting up creative shots.
I have never taken a photo that decent in my life before.
There is so much already built into this phone that the time I’ve had so far has barely scratched the surface; I feel as if I’ve been given 24 hours to explore Morocco (please, if anyone feels the need to offer me that, I’m available) but what I have explored has been a joy. I’ve tried out Google Play for the first time and found that the organisation of it and the screen size combine to make it feel a lot of fun to explore. I love that I can download a film and watch it on a good sized screen and that the download is quick and doesn’t impact the rest of the phone as it happens. I’ve so far only found one app (a brand new game) that I wanted that wasn’t available and I’m really enjoying the use of my google account to login in to apps like The Guardian. The switch across has been seamless and something of an eye-opener to a confirmed Apple addict.
Which leads me to the size. Having recently chosen a 5S over a 6 or bigger, I’m firmly in the ‘I prefer my phone small’ camp. I don’t like my hand to feel stretched and I often work one handed with a toddler in my arm, so I was dubious about this. My instant impression was how much I loved the clarity of the screen and having also recently found my 40 year old eyes struggling a bit with a small screen, I was quite sold on that. And it is incredibly light, with a lovely shape in the hand too, so that the larger size is much less of a problem than I imagined. Everything looks wonderful on it and everything is clear and easy to see, touch and use. I make less typos and the predictive text (which is a bit rampant straight out of the box) can be turned up and down so it helps more or less.
And so there is my dilemma. On camera alone, I can move systems and phones today. I love the size of the screen and everything it gives me and how much easier it makes things for me. But unlike the vast majority of smartphone users, I haven’t yet quite moved on to wanting a big phone for everyday use. I’m a back pocket phone girl, who rarely wears a coat and doesn’t carry and handbag and big is just a tiny bit too much of an annoyance. When I’m out I want a camera and a phone, as conveniently as possible.
Except… except… I really love this phone. And I suspect it will very soon be the one I find out and about with me. It won.
Disclosure: we were sent a Zenfone 5lte for the purposes of this review.