“Re-skin, re-skin, re-skin”. Say it three times and the Android bogey-monster will appear. So often we’re subjected to bloated, horrid Android interfaces unique to individual manufacturer’s personal whims that it comes as a pleasant surprise to announce that the Asus Zen UI is actually pretty good.
Hidden behind glass at the last Computex show, it’s now in a state stable enough for the company to be happy to let me play with it. Essentially, it’s a similar system to Google’s Now notifications, but offering granular control over what is pushed to the user.
Sitting mainly as a widget on your homescreen (and into a vertically-scrolling timeline once the widget has been entered), Zen lets users view meeting details, incoming emails and other notifications at a glance from a homescreen. Reminders, such as anniversary dates and birthdays can be set, alongside daily agendas, scrolling vertically. These can also be viewed from the lockscreen, letting you know exactly where you should be next (or who’s birthday gift you’ve forgotten to buy) without unlocking the phone.
Facebook and Twitter notifications can also be received by the widget. But rather than delivering the wheat and the chaff, VIP contacts can be assigned, meaning you only see the updates posted by your wittiest pals.
For tablet users trying to get through a bunch of content they’ve been meaning to access, perhaps the Zen UI’s best feature is its “To Do List”. It’s a read-later option that is integrated into every single app, not just ASUS’s own. See a YouTube video you like the look of, but haven’t got the time to watch it yet? Hitting a small drop-down menu button will send the clip to the To Do List, an application where it can be stored alongside photo albums to be viewed, or web pages to read, or any other conceivable app instance. It’s perfect for those longer sessions with a tablet during the weekend, after having parsed a few interesting topics during the week.
The UI also features a comprehensive camera app. As well as the usual array of filter options and HDR modes, ASUS has thrown in a low-light mode, which was able to snap a picture of a butterfly in a pitch-black box with surprising detail. It’ll be great for taking a snap of pals in a gloomy, grotty club -- but will also be dependent on the quality of the camera sensor on whatever ASUS device it's paired with.
There’s also a time-shift camera option, which begins taking photos before you’ve hit the shutter button, letting you capture a precise moment within a few second’s worth of snaps. And, though it’s not new to the Zen UI, I had a lot of fun playing with the auto-GIF maker, which takes a series of photographs and lets you export them as a web-ready GIF direct from the phone.
Expect to see the Zen UI in all of ASUS’s mobile and tablet products going forward.