Design and Build Quality
The front of the phone is devilishly dark. Though the screen itself doesn't actually go edge-to-edge, the minuscule bezel is coated in the same glossy black, making it appear at first blush that it's just a single, solid sheet of glass. There's very little contrast on the front, with the front-facing camera and speaker being downplayed and blended well into the overall motif. Of note, there isn't a physical button on the front, only a trifecta of soft buttons along the bottom. In our handling, we found these soft buttons to be a little too close to the bottom edge for comfort, forcing us to hold the phone in a way that placed the bulk of its upper portion dangling in the air without support as we went for the buttons. Not a deal-breaker, but something to get used to.
The phone's back side is really outstanding. Our test unit possessed a brushed grey back plate. While plastic, it's constructed in a way that almost feels like metal, and we appreciate the durability bonus that comes with such a pliable material. The tapered edges enable the phone to sit comfortably in one's palm, and it feels particularly great when being used as a phone (shocking, we know). ASUS put a lot of attention into symmetry. The upper portion of the back holds three items: a dual LED camera flash, the 13MP sensor itself, and a vertical volume rocker, all aligned in top-to-bottom fashion.
The rear placement of the volume button apes the LG family, but given that we're a fan of the volume rocker being placed here, who are we to complain? The only major downside to having the volume rocker on the back is that it makes using volume down as a shutter a bit awkward. On your average phone, flipping it horizontally and launching the camera will enable a button along the phone's edge to double as a shutter trigger. Here, you can still use volume down to snap a shot, but you have to angle your hand in a way that feels unusual.
The left and right edges are clean and button-free, while the bottom is home to a centered micro-USB 2.0 port and the top is home to a power button and a 3.5mm headphone jack. The 1080p display is remarkably great. In fact, most users won't easily tell the difference between this panel and other panels on flagship Android phones. If ASUS is cutting corners to get to its $299 price point, it doesn't appear to be on the display. Colors are crisp and sharp, viewing angles are great, and the touch response is top-shelf.
What's most impressive about the design -- every aspect of it -- is how premium everything looks and feels. We kept having to remind ourselves that while this phone feels just as elite as an HTC One M9, it costs around half as much. That's a feat that shouldn't be overlooked.