When it comes to reviewing smartphones in English publications, there’s two distinct paths to take. There’s reviewing for the global audience, taking into context the entire smartphone industry on a macro level–which is what I and most reviewers in Europe do. The other path is the one taken by some mainstream U.S. tech reviewers, who review for an American audience in mind.
The latter’s job is less complicated in my opinion, because the U.S. market is so limited to the point that it’s essentially a neutered market. Other than OnePlus, no Chinese brands sell officially in the U.S., and as any smartphone enthusiast already know, it’s been Chinese phones that have been pushing boundaries and coming up with most of the innovations. Sure, some have been pure gimmicks (two-screened phones), but the ones that do work–in-display fingerprint reader; pop-up selfie cameras; smaller waterdrop notches; TOF sensors–are genuinely good ideas that legacy brands like Samsung, LG and Sony have eventually adopted. There are things a Huawei or Oppo smartphone can do right now that no other phone on sale in the U.S. can even dream of doing.
And so when one review phones from the micro lens of focusing only on the U.S. market, there’s significantly fewer alternatives to consider. The competition is less stiff. This explains why Samsung’s Galaxy Note 9 got praise for offering a relatively large 4,000 mAh battery, even though Chinese phones have been offering that for years. Or how Google can sell a phone with a Snapdragon 670 chipset and a plastic back for $450 and be considered a good value when Chinese phones like the Meizu 16S or Realme X offer superior chipsets and build for less money. Indian fans are revolting against Xiaomi right now for what they perceive to be an overpriced Redmi device. The U.S. market is so limited, it has become a near duopoly between Apple and Samsung. And a lack of competition means consumers lose.
This makes the recent comeback of Asus smartphones good news for American phone enthusiasts. It may not have the same reputation as Samsung and LG stateside, but the Taiwan-headquartered company is still an established name in the U.S., and Asus releasing worthy mobile products again effectively adds a new option for American consumers.
Asus has actually been selling smartphones for years, but they haven’t been very good until recent months, when the company pulled off the rare double whammy of introducing two straight phones that have garnered legitimate praise and interest.
The first of these is the Asus Zenfone 6, which is already on sale in Hong Kong and will go on sale in the states at the end of this month. The Zenfone 6’s standout feature is a flip-over camera module that serves as both the main, forward-facing camera and user-facing selfie lens. I have only tested the Zenfone 6 briefly, but I can say that the mechanism is more sturdy and less prone to malfunction than Samsung’s A80, which operates on a similar premise.
The Snapdragon 855-powered Zenfone 6 is also priced under $700, and while this is to be expected for those of us who are used to seeing Chinese phones, to American consumers, this is an absolute value. By contrast, Samsung’s Snapdragon 855 phone costs $250 more.
The second device, which was unveiled this week, is the game-centric ROG Phone 2. Now I’ve of the belief that most gaming phones are gimmicks, but the ROG Phone 2 has a spec sheet that’s too impressive to deny. It is packed with the Snapdragon 855 Plus, which is a beefed up version of Qualcomm’s best chip, and it has a screen with 120Hz refresh rate, topping even the 90Hz of the OnePlus 7 Pro. The phone also maxes out at 12GB of RAM and a whopping 6,000 mAh battery.
Pricing hasn’t been set in the American market yet, but in China, the ROG Phone 2 will sell for 3499 yuan, which is roughly $870. If the phone reaches the U.S. at a similar price point, it’s going to make Samsung, LG and Sony devices look overpriced.
Of course, I’m not expecting Asus to take a serious dent out of the Apple-Samsung duopoly in the U.S., because general consumers are not likely to dig too deep into the spec sheet, and Americans still mostly get their phones as part of a phone plan, which masks the true cost of a phone. But for phone enthusiasts in the U.S., for those who read phone reviews regularly, there’s now one more option from which to choose.