When Asus Chairman Jonney Shih is excited about something, he lets you know it. During the launch event for the Zenfone 2, which represents the company's biggest push yet into the U.S. smartphone market, Shih paused for dramatic effect before booming the price. The first Intel Atom-powered phone in the United States starts at … "$199!" and the quad-core model with 64GB of storage costs ... "$299!"

The affordable unlocked phones will work on AT&T and T-Mobile in the United States, but you'll need to buy them online via retailers like Amazon and Newegg. And you'll need to bring your own SIM. Shih likens the Zenfone 2 to what the Eee PC did for laptops, making them available to a much wider audience.

After the unveiling, Android Central's Phil Nickinson and I sat down with Shih along with Aicha Evans, a vice president at Intel who helped bring the Zenfone 2 to life. We discussed everything from the Zenfone 2's unique architecture — Shih was more than happy to tear off the cover to give us a behind-the-scenes look — to the challenge of winning over shoppers accustomed to buying their phones through carriers.

How the Zenfone 2 Stands Out

Nickinson asked Shih to pick just one favorite feature on the Zenfone 2. He didn't quite oblige, but Shih says Asus spent much "genuine effort to try to differentiate" the camera from those of the competitors.

Avoiding the Padfone's Fate

While Asus innovated with its Padfone, which let you dock a phone in a tablet, the product didn't catch on with consumers. But Shih said he strongly believes the Zenfone 2 will "penetrate into the mainstream." Here's why.

Will Bypassing Carriers Pay Off?

Jonney Shih said he knows that the carriers are very important, but he wants to be on the forefront of the "mega trend" of being more open.

Is 4G of RAM Overkill?

Nickinson challenges Shih and Evans on the need for 4GB of RAM in a phone, but Shih argues that the Zenfone 2 isn't just a case of spec one-upmanship.

Battery Life: Room for improvement

I noted that the Zenfone 2 delivered below-average battery life in our Tom's Guide review, and both Shih and Evans were surprisingly candid about room for improvement.

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Follow Mark Spoonauer at @mspoonauer. Follow Tom's Guide at @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.

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