Do you remember the four-dimensional space in the movie "Interstellar"? It presents the human's deduction of time and space. A boundless imagination of the unknown, is the design concept of ZenFone 6, to “Defy Ordinary.”
The ASUS Industrial Design Team pointed out that "the most interesting thing about design is how to inspire creativity when under heavy restrictions. ZenFone 6 hopes to create another peak for ASUS smartphones through a new camera experience and strong internal power."
This time ZenFone 6 has evolved dramatically, adding a 6.4” all-screen display in the 5.5’’ body size, and in order to solve the dilemma of where to place the front camera, ASUS designed the automatic Flip Camera module with dual cameras to create a completely new camera experience. The CPU is the flagship Qualcomm Snapdragon 855, and a high-capacity 5000mAh battery keeps everything powered.
The design team said that maximizing the visual area of the screen while keeping the best cameras and sensors is very difficult to achieve. In the past, they were not able to have the cake and eat it, so ASUS made compromises in design, and the notched-screen was used as a result. However, the design team was not satisfied with this. After repeatedly discussing, they found that to achieve the "All-screen" in a smartphone, they cannot stick to the existing rules. The ASUS team studied the needs and pain points of smartphone power users and photo enthusiasts. It was found that the current few implementations of all-screen smartphones on the market always sacrifices the quality of the front camera and do not bring a complete photography experience to users. Therefore, the design team took inspiration from the "flip" viewfinders of professional cameras and dreamed up the idea of "automatic FlipCamera module with dual cameras", so that the front and rear cameras can share the same high quality sensors to meet the needs of users and empower their photographic creativity.
Great-Quality Design Feels Good in the Hand
Targeting power users and photography enthusiasts, ZenFone 6 takes the flip technology, the unbounded future and the unique charm as the main design axis, defies ordinary, and implements a new generation of photography.
"Thin is beauty - it is the truth of smartphone aesthetics." The design team pointed out that the biggest challenge this time is the thickness of the body, because the 5000mAh battery and Flip Camera module brings the ZenFone 6 body thickness to 9.6mm. In the case of a thicker body, if ASUS uses the fully balanced and fully symmetrical design in previous ZenFone 5, it will definitely make ZenFone 6 seem thicker and the in-hand experience is not as good. Therefore, a challenge of the design and user experience is how to make the ZenFone 6 have a “good grip” feeling in the hand and how to make it more comfortable and convenient for one-hand operation.
It took a whole year for the team to polish and study more than 70 mock-ups to explore various design lines and finishes with the existing hardware specifications, in accordance with the phone’s internal structure requirements. Each surface was judged, constantly adjusted, and in the end resulted in using a metal mid-frame, diamond cut bezels around the screen, and adopted a 3D-curved glass design to achieve the overall visual slimness and better in-hand ergonomics for better grip.
The colors of ZenFone 6 are "Midnight Black" and "Twilight Silver". The "Midnight Black" has a professional and understated luxury feel. The ASUS Logo echoes the color of the power button, showing a bright and textured color embellishment. When the user holds the smartphone and moves it around in the hand, different light and shadow changes show a deep blue-green luster, which gives the Midnight Black color a sense of mystery.
"Twilight Silver" is a gradual silver with enamel and blue-violet, with a sense of future technology, life and trend, displaying a unique color change.
The Midnight Black color takes about eight processes to apply, and the Twilight Silver effect takes up to 10 passes, to create the rich colors, beautiful light and shadow changes, and the overall texture of the phone dazzling. As described by the design team, "If we describe the ZenFone 6 is jewelry, the metal mid-frame is the setting, and the glass back cover is as beautiful as a diamond. In addition, the back cover effect of the smartphone is also ingenious. During the development process, various textures were studied, even textures found in nature, from feathers, snake scales, various light and shadow changes such as water waves, it evolved into the texture effect that everyone sees now. Because the texture is very fine, the production of the grain mold is prone to defects, so the mold production is extremely challenging.”
The ZenFone 6 back cover uses Corning Gorilla Glass. The 3D curved glass production is cumbersome. First, the glass with a cut-out for Flip Camera, is placed in the graphite mold. Then the mold is placed in the hot bending machine. After preheating, pressing and cooling, the glass is molded into curved glass. The performance of the hot bending machine is very important for the molding. To avoid stress from causing cracks to the glass the temperature inside the furnace needs to be very precise and even during the molding process to ensure the glass is uniformly heated. 16 to 22 temperature sensors are set inside the furnace to constantly monitor the uniformity of the temperature. The challenge of producing the 3D curved glass back cover is quite evident.
Fine Craftsmanship Integrates Rationality and Sensuality
As the soul of ZenFone 6, the "automatic Flip Camera" implements the core of “Defy Ordinary”, with the precision of mechanical watches, and presents a fine mechanical watch-like quality.
In order to make a lightweight and beautiful automatic Flip Camera, the ASUS R&D team developed a multi-speed "Stepper Motor" that is designed like a sports car gearbox which can automatically flip the camera. Through a pulse signal operation, the stepper motor can achieve stable and high-precision positioning, so that the automatic Flip Camera can accelerate and decelerate during the opening and retracting process. The design team described, "It’s like a sports car. When starting, a high torque is needed. During the acceleration process, the shifting speed changes, and the max speed is reached."
The design team said frankly, "Designing the automatic Flip Camera module is very challenging. It is a war between rationality and sensuality!" Because the customized automatic Flip Camera is a "moving piece" that flips 180 degrees, it is a big challenge to arrange all the wiring inside the module, and it must also be aesthetically pleasing similar to the appearance of a mechanical watch.
In addition, since ZenFone 6 is the world's first smartphone that uses liquid metal for a large-area camera module, it is challenging for the manufacturing process in regards to the high surface hardness and low melting point of the liquid metal. The cooling of the metal needs to be synchronized to avoid orange-peel-like surface. Various molds and processing methods are tested in the design process. Under the harsh conditions of the material characteristics, the design team finally pursued a great visual effect and a fine and delicate texture, which makes the Flip Camera echo the design envisioned by its creators.
The camera module uses the industry's strongest liquid metal to create a precisely formed and resistant shell. The appearance of Flip Camera is not only polished and oiled, but the physical vapor deposition process (PVD) and laser engraving are also applied to make the texture and the 3D curved glass back cover reflect each other.
Recalling the design process, from the back cover color design, 3D curved glass, dual diamond cut bezels, stepper motor and automatic Flip Camera, through repeated attempts, the result is truly a marvelous design and the absolute best of ZenFone. For power users and photo enthusiasts - presenting a new and different ZenFone that Defies Ordinary!
Gorilla Glass 6 - The Strongest Drop and Scratch-Resistant Glass
According to IDC’s report, sales of large-screen smartphones of 5.5” or larger reached 947 million in 2018, accounting for 66.7% of all smartphones. It is estimated that by 2022, the number of large-screen smartphones will reach 1.38 billion, accounting for 87.7% of the total smartphone market.
In order to give users to a full screen and narrow bezels, all major smartphone manufacturers have tried their best - and ASUS is no exception. ASUS global technical PR, CH said, "ZenFone 6 is the first complete all-screen phone launched by ASUS without a notch, water-drop or punch-hole!" The ASUS R&D team believes that even as early as 5 to 10 years ago, users were already expecting complete all-screen smartphones but in the past the technology was not in place - and there were still many technical problems to be solved.
CH said, "We believe that the all-screen is the final form of the smartphone." Last year, ASUS launched the high-end smartphone ZenFone 5Z with a notch, which is the first step to complete the comprehensive screen vision. The ASUS R&D team spent a lot of time thinking about how to give users a comprehensive screen, but where should the front cameras be placed?
Due to the notch on the screen, the user’s visual experience is still greatly affected. Therefore ZenFone 6 pursued an all-screen display already from the start. There is no notch, no hole, just an all-screen visual experience.
ZenFone 6 puts a 6.4-inch NanoEdge all-screen display in a traditional 5.5-inch body. Bezels on the side of the screen are reduced to 1.85 mm, the display ratio is 19.5:9, and the screen-to-body ratio is a stellar 92%, which is higher than ZenFone 5Z. The display is a FHD+ high-resolution IPS panel with a screen contrast ratio of 1500:1 and has a high outdoor readable brightness of 600 nits. In addition, the ZenFone 6 display supports HDR10, covers 100% of the DCI-P3 wide color gamut and 96% NTSC wide color gamut, displaying more vivid colors to achieve an extreme visual experience - close to all the colors visible to the human eye.
In addition, according to Corning Research in August 2018, on average users drop their phones 7 times a year, and more than half of them will fall from a height of one meter! Therefore, the ZenFone 6 uses the 2.5D Corning “Gorilla Glass 6”, which is the first time ASUS has used the industry's strongest anti-fall glass in the high-end ZenFone series.
Corning Gorilla Glass 6 is characterized by high scratch resistance, high drop resistance, and remaining tough after long-time use. According to Corning's official data, its performance in a one-meter drop test is twice as good as that of Gorilla Glass 5. CH pointed out that Corning glass is continuously improving for every generation. The previous generations have achieved great results for scratch protection, and Gorilla Glass 6 focuses on "anti-drop", which is the biggest reason for ZenFone 6 to use it. The ASUS R&D team pointed out that if the ZenFone 6 equipped with Gorilla Glass 6 fell to the ground, the screen survival rate is still high. It greatly enhances the toughness of the phone and meets the expectations of users.
In the 5.5-inch body size, the ZenFone 6 not only has a 6.4” all-screen NanoEdge display, Flip Camera, and huge 5000 mAh battery, but also has Qualcomm's flagship mobile platform Snapdragon 855, dual stereo speakers, triple slots (Dual Nano SIM + MicroSD), and retains a fan favorite - the 3.5mm headphone jack! ASUS senior project manager W said that in order to allow users to use the smartphone with one hand, the effective space of the motherboard has to be very small. If the length and width cannot be extended, it is necessary to come up with new solutions. The breakthrough solution re-thinks the original PCB layout.
The R&D team also said, "The ZenFone 6 motherboard is the smallest and thinnest motherboard using the Qualcomm CPU 855 platform. No competition!"
The big breakthrough of the ZenFone 6 motherboard is the design of the "Two-piece PCB design." The design, which is a two-piece motherboard stacking solution, maintains the required surface area of all the components but yet enables a more compact and streamlined motherboard dimension. The R&D team pointed out that "On the Android platform, our motherboard is the most extreme!"
The first design breakthrough is the difficult placement of all the components because the thickness of one of the motherboards is only 0.35mm, which is half thickness of normal motherboards. The R&D team said, “This time the motherboard is very difficult to set up, as the components on the top and bottom motherboards need to be separated from each-other.”
The manufacturing process of all the parts also breaks through the limits of the circuit board factory. The R&D team explained that the thickness of a regular motherboard is about 0.8mm. Since a double-stacking method is used, the thickness of the motherboard has to be 0.35mm - and finding the right partner to co-work with in producing such a thin board was very difficult.
The second breakthrough is designing the U-shaped motherboard. The R&D team mentioned that square motherboard is easy to design the layout; however, ZenFone 6 has to make room for the motherboard to accommodate the Flip Camera module, so the motherboard design needed to be a more U-shaped configuration, making it even more difficult to place all the components and circuits.
Apple's iPhone series also have a two-piece PCB design, but Apple's integrated modules from the CPU to all components are customized. The General Manager of the ASUS phone department pointed out that "Apple is making its own furniture. We use a lot of public components. The biggest challenge is to put the large common furniture in the small house!"
In addition, the average smartphones use single-piece PCB design where the components are arranged side by side and no special shielding case is required. The R&D team pointed out that with the two-piece PCB design, many shields need to be made between the components, and a flexible printed circuit board (FPC) is used to connect the two PCBs to prevent the electromagnetic interference between the upper and lower parts.
The R&D team said that the ZenFone 6 two-piece PCB design process challenges many limits, from the triple slots design, RF antenna signals, cladding, line length, and line width trade-offs. The team went through repeated designs to find the best solution. The R&D team said, "We don't want to "be conservative", and not only did we challenge the manufacturer's standard design but also challenge the limits of our own design rules!" Like in order to maintain the signal quality of all the motherboard traces and to avoid the signals from interfering with each other, it is not possible to just follow the original recommended design but rather needs repeated iterations and testing in order to achieve a breakthrough.
ZenFone 6 has great touch-and-feel, whether it is the concept of smartphone design thinking, the Midnight Black and Twilight Silver back covers designed for technology experts and photographers, the advanced 3D curved glass; or the achievement of all-screen display and the exclusive design of the "automatic Flip Camera." In addition, because the internal space of the smartphone is limited, the "two-piece PCB design" are used, and the technical breakthroughs such as the motherboard placement, the U-shape, the shielding cover, and the manufacturing process show that the ASUS team is defiant of ordinary design concepts.
The ASUS team solves all these complicated problems, challenges the limit, and breaks through the existing framework. Just like ASUS Chairman Jonney Shih often said, “We choose difficult ways to do smartphones!” The accumulation of ASUS’s 30 years of experience has allowed ZenFone 6 the ability to “Defy Ordinary”, returning to ASUS’s heart of creating a great user experience with design thinking and craftsmanship aesthetics.