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Asus' $299 Zenfone 2 comes to the US tomorrow

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At a press event in New York today, Asus announced that its ZenFone 2 smartphone will be available in the US starting tomorrow. The ZenFone 2 was originally announced at CES earlier this year, and is one of the few phones available in the US with an Intel processor. A phablet-sized device, the ZenFone 2 has a 5.5-inch, 1080p display and a brushed aluminum finish. It runs Android 5.0 Lollipop with Asus' custom user interface. It will cost $299 with a lower end version available for $199.

The ZenFone 2's design can best be described as a mish-mash of other companies' ideas. It has the brushed finish (but plastic) of HTC's One M9 and the rear volume rocker and flip cover with a circular cut out from the LG G4. Its curved finish is comfortable to hold, but the placement of the power button on the top edge of the phone is problematic on a phone of this size.

Zenfone 2

The Intel processor inside is a 2.3GHz, 64-bit quad-core chip, paired with 4GB of RAM. Asus says this makes the ZenFone 2 a "powerhouse", but it will be interesting to see how Intel's chip compares to the best from Qualcomm or Samsung. The ZenFone 2 has a 3,000mAh battery and a fast charging system that can bring a dead battery to 60 percent charge in 39 minutes. The phones that Asus has sold in the US in the past — the Padfone X and Padfone X mini — were considerably underpowered compared to the competition, so bringing the flagship ZenFone 2 to the US is a new approach for the company.

As with any smartphone, Asus is trying to make the ZenFone 2's camera a talking point, and it says it has an "industry leading" low light mode. It uses pixel binning to make images "400 percent brighter", though at a lower resolution than the camera's full 13 megapixels. The camera is also capable of a "super resolution" mode, which creates 52-megapixel images. Asus is also selling an accessory called the "Lolliflash", which plugs into the phone's headphone jack and adds two LED lights for better illumination.

The ZenFone 2 will not be available through carriers, but sold unlocked online

Unlike its earlier US smartphones, Asus will not be selling the ZenFone 2 through carriers. Instead, it will be available unlocked through a variety of online retailers, including Amazon, starting tomorrow. This is an approach a number of smaller smartphone companies, such as Huawei and Alcatel Onetouch, are taking to try to break into the highly carrier controlled and hyper competitive US market, but it remains to be seen if it is an effective one.