Asus is one of those very rare tech brands to have been around for a long time, to continue to offer beautiful, unexpected innovations while remaining affordable.
Asus made headlines with the launch of the Zenfone 9, a smartphone that caught our eye for its compact format combining good performance and excellent autonomy. The new product fits perfectly into the DNA of Asus: never be where the brand is expected. With its jack port and its miniature format, without being overpriced, this high-end smartphone goes against the grain of trends.
Between the American giants and the young Chinese brands, few manufacturers can boast of having the longevity of Asus in so many areas of consumer computing. Thinking about it, the brand is perhaps one of the reasons that helped me get into journalism. This is an opportunity to put the spotlight on a brand whose innovations we perhaps do not recognize enough.
To be completely transparent, I would first like to remind you that I have already taken part in two press trips organized by Asus, in particular to cover the Computex exhibition for Frandroid. I don’t think that has an impact on this article, especially since several of the elements I’m going to relate precede my very entry into journalism and therefore these two trips. But it’s still better by saying it.
EEE PC 701: affordable innovation from Asus
And for starters, the best thing is to go back to my very first laptop bought when I was in high school. The Asus EEE PC 701 marks the beginning of a real revolution in consumer computing. Discovered in 2007 by Pierre Lecourt who dedicated the famous specialized site Blogeee to him, this PC was the first in the Netbook family. A blog that will introduce me to the world of podcasts, before getting interested in current affairs and Frandroid and eventually become a journalist.
It is an extremely compact laptop PC sold at a low price. We’re talking about a 7-inch screen, an Intel Celeron M chip and only 4 GB of storage on a small SSD. Introductory price: 299 euros for the version running under GNU/Linux Xandros.
This Asus project has been so successful that the brand will embark the entire tech industry in its wake. Microsoft will be forced to adapt Windows XP then Windows 7 somehow to these small machines and Intel will launch the famous Intel Atom range dedicated to this product family.
In the following years, we find netbooks cloning the success of the EEEPC at Acer, HP, Samsung, MSI, Medion and all the other manufacturers on the market.
It is also a whole hacking community that will be born around the machine, long before the Raspberry Pi. Custom Linux distributions, guides to replace certain parts of the PC and make it more efficient or autonomous. I had thus increased the capacities of the machine by welding a USB hub inside the chassis, and replacing the screen with a touch screen. There were even plans to install Mac OS X.
Apple, let’s talk about it. The firm obviously refused to launch a portable PC for less than 500 euros, but the MacBook Air follows a fairly logical filiation with the philosophy of the EEE PC. Launched a year after netbooks, the MacBook Air gives pride of place to SSD storage, lightness and autonomy like its cousins. The apple brand, however, does not make any concessions on performance, finishes and of course the price.
Asus Transformer: Microsoft didn’t invent the 2-in-1 tablet
Microsoft is often credited with the democratization of the concept of a 2-in-1 tablet capable of transforming into a PC. We do it in the same way that we lend Apple the creation of the smartphone with the iPhone, while others existed before. And for good reason, in both cases, the giants offer a much more mature and thoughtful copy of an idea that will mark its time.
However, it is to Asus that we can lend the idea of the modern tablet to which we can connect a keyboard to transform it into a PC. The Asus Transformer TF701 is an Android 3.2 tablet with an Nvidia Tegra 2 chip and a 10.1-inch 1280 x 800 pixel LCD screen. Asus takes advantage of his idea to integrate a battery into the keyboard to give the product more autonomy and balance the weight.
Asus and unexpected, slightly crazy ideas
It’s hard not to talk about Asus without mentioning the many, sometimes crazy, ideas of the manufacturer. This is one of the characteristics that I readily lend to the brand: always being ready to try things, even if it doesn’t fit into the trends of the moment.
First comes to mind the Asus Fonepad, and its companion, the Asus Padfone. Let’s quickly go over the first: it’s a 7-inch tablet which had the particularity of integrating a telephone function. In other words, it was quite an imposing smartphone for the time.
The Asus Padfone goes the opposite way and will take things very far.
The Asus Padfone is therefore a smartphone that can be housed in a large touch screen that will transform the device into a tablet. A tablet that you can then slide over a keyboard to turn everything into a PC. It is therefore a 3-in-1 product.
Problem of the concept: the price proposed by Asus corresponds more or less to the sum of its parts. Why buy a 3-in-1 device for the price of a smartphone and a convertible tablet? The general public will never find the answer to this question.
Asus Transformer Duet: when Google censors a product
In 2014, the market has not yet fully decided on the tablet sector. Android is in a strong position against the iPad in terms of volume, but competition from Windows 8 is just around the corner.
To satisfy both customers at the same time, Asus is developing the Transformer Duet, a convertible tablet capable of starting under Android or Windows, as desired. Samsung does the same with its ATIV Q.
Neither of the two products will ever see the color of a tech department. For unknown reasons, both manufacturers decide to cancel their products. The insistent hallway rumors claim that Google would have “gave resistance“.
Many ideas, few chosen ones
One could write pages and pages about all the ideas brought to market by Asus over the years. More recently, the firm has stood out for its laptops with two screens. A sort of extension of the idea of the MacBook Pro touchbar by going much further.
Initially offered on a single machine, Asus declined the idea on many references even in its products for players. It’s hard to say if this idea will mark the market, it doesn’t really seem to have been taken up by competitors or become more accessible to more affordable price brackets.
I have also repeatedly praised Asus’ ability to offer very inexpensive products, but the manufacturer is also a specialist in blowing up the bill, especially with its ROG brand. In the PC component market, Strix products are often sold quite expensive, more or less justified.
On the other hand, what seems to be on the way to democratization is the arrival of the Oled on laptop PCs. And that can be attributed both to Samsung, which manufactures the slabs, and to Asus, which had a hollow nose with its controls. The firm quickly offered a large catalog of portable PCs with Oled screens and above all made the prices very affordable. Today, there are Windows Oled machines well below the 1000 euro mark.
Asus Zenfone 9: a compact in a world of giants
We come to the launch of the Zenfone 9, both one of the only high-end smartphones for several years to offer a 3.5 mm jack and perhaps the last high-end compact under Android. Even Apple seems to be about to abandon the mini format with the iPhone 14. Asus persists and does not inflate prices.
A top-of-the-range smartphone at 800 euros with the best Qualcomm chip of the moment – Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 –, good finishes and excellent autonomy, that’s reasonable for a big brand. Google can afford to be more aggressive on the price, the firm knows that it will earn money on advertisements and the Play Store. This is not the case with Asus, which nevertheless resists the temptation of the smartphone at 1000 euros.
Where manufacturers offer a family of smartphones comprising dozens of references, especially at Xiaomi, this is not the case with Asus. The brand seems to keep its head on its shoulders and offers two products altogether: the Zenfone for the general public, and the ROG Phone for extreme performance aficionados. Even Apple, though known for a limited range, now offers more choices with its iPhones.
This is perhaps why Asus, the historic PC manufacturer, is still on the smartphone market. The brand will have survived many upheavals. His HP, Acer or Razer comrades have disappeared from the sector in the meantime. Even the compatriot HTC, yet a smartphone specialist, is only a shadow of itself.
I hope Asus will not change
For its wacky ideas as much as for its ability to make technologies accessible, I hope Asus will not change in the future. I like discovering new products from this brand, even if it means sometimes being a bit harsh with certain ideas. We know that we will always discover something interesting, which will contrast with our habits.
In an often cynical and occasionally boring tech world, as technology becomes mature and a mere commodity, this is the kind of brand whose presence and boldness are appreciated. And yet, a brand that knows how to keep a certain humility in its communication.
I’m not one to sing the praises of a brand. When it had such an impact, perhaps on my career choice, and we can legitimately talk about its differences with the rest of the manufacturers, I think I can afford this gap.
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