When I hear ASUS, I think laptops, computer components and tablets. Many people don’t realize that ASUS has been making budget friendly phones for a while now. While they’ve mostly been popular overseas, ASUS is making a bigger push in the US this year with the release of the ASUS Zenfone 2. While the naming might be a little weird, the Zenfone is a direct successor to the Zenfone 5 (named for its screen size) which was released in January of 2014. ASUS has released other products like the phone/tablet hybrid, the Padfone and their line of transformer tablets that utilize either windows 8 or Android and pack a keyboard on board but this is the first time they’re heavily pushing the American budget phone market.
Starting at $199 for their low-end option and kicking it up to $299 for the high-end option, the Zenfone gives customers choice on just how budget friendly they want to be.
|Low Option||High Option|
|Dimensions: 152.5 x 77.2 x 10.9 mm (6.00 x 3.04 x 0.43 in)||Dimensions: 152.5 x 77.2 x 10.9 mm (6.00 x 3.04 x 0.43 in)|
|Weight: 170 g (6.00 oz)||Weight: 170 g (6.00 oz)|
|Display: 5.5″ IPS 1080p||Display: 5.5″ IPS 1080p|
|Chipset: Intel Atom Z3560 Quad-core 1.8 GHz||Chipset: Intel Atom Z3580 Quad-core 2.3 GHz|
|Ram: 2 GB||Ram: 4 GB|
|Storage: 16 GB + Micro SD||Storage: 64 GB + Micro SD|
|Camera: 13 MP Rear, 5 MP Front||Camera: 13 MP Rear, 5 MP Front|
|Battery: 3000 mAH non-removable||Battery: 3000 mAH non-removable|
So, as you can see, the two variants are largely the same. Not only do the share the above specs but they also share the same GPU, radio suite (Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.0), quick charging ability, and color choices (Osmium Black, Sheer Gold, Glacier Gray, Glamor Red, Ceramic White). But the differences are huge. I struggle to think of ANY phones currently as widely available as the Zenfone 2 that pack 4 GB of ram and I can’t think of any flagship phones that do. Pretty incredible that you can get that for $299. ASUS also does it right by offering not only 64 GB of on board storage but a micro SD card slot (inserted by removing the back cover much like the LG G4) so you can have more space than you can shake a stick at. A lot of companies are doing away with removable storage but it’s nice to see that it’s an offered option here.
One of the more unique options on the Zenfone 2 is that moving between the two variants changes up which processor you get. The Z3560 on the low-end variant is clocked at a respectable 1.8 GHz which should do just fine but stepping up in ram and storage also gets you the Z3580, its big brother. Clocked at 2.3 GHz, the Z3580 has one of the higher clock speeds for a processor currently on the market. Intel seems to really be ramping up their mobile chipset focus. While the Z3580 isn’t going to win any spec wars, it does very well on the Zenfone 2. I’ve noticed no stuttering, no lag, no slowdowns on my unit in the week that I’ve been using it. Performance in graphics intensive apps and games has been on par with other phones I’ve used only falling behind the 2015 flagships like the Galaxy S6. Really good bang for your buck. I’m personally really excited to see Intel take Qualcomm on in the coming years in the mobile space.
Both variants have the same 5.5″ 1080p IPS LCD display. My issues with the display choice is two-fold. One, the phone’s body is too big and heavy for a display of this size. Trying to use the Zenfone 2 one-handed is very difficult due to the fact that the buttons are capacitive (on the body of the phone) instead of displayed on-screen. Reaching the notification shade is of particular difficulty but luckily the good folks at ASUS included software tricks like swiping down on an empty area of the launcher to bring down the shade instead of having to reach all the way to the top.
My second issue is that the screen just doesn’t get bright enough. At max brightness, there is no way you’re going to be able to use in direct sunlight. In fact, there have been times I’ve been in doors in a well-lit room where I’ve been disappointed in how well I can see the screen. The colors are bright and vibrant, and you have the ability to change the settings to set how vibrant or muted the colors are, but it just doesn’t matter if you have a hard time seeing what’s on the screen. I understand that this is a budget phone but this issue is unacceptable and I’m disappointed that a company with a reputation like ASUS would allow this issue on a product they put their name on.
One thing I can appreciate is that ASUS has tried to let you make the phone what you want. The UI is chalked full of options to tweak. You can change everything in the stock launcher from icon packs, themes, scroll effects and more. Normally you’d have to download a third-party launcher to change any of that. Where things get a little dicey is all of the bloatware that ASUS placed on the phone. By my count there exist 40 or so pre-installed applications on the phone other than Google’s wide range of apps.
Some are fine and offer an actual use like the ability to use your phone from your PC but there are others that are downright ridiculous. One app, Mirror, simply shows you your front facing camera. Why does that need to be an app? Clean Master and Dr. Safety are two of the apps that are most egregious in my opinion. Clean Master seemed to have scanned my system and among other things found some “obsolete APKs”. One of which being Snapchat which I use every day. Dr. Safety, which seems to be an ASUS made app, scans your phone for Malware and Viruses and does a privacy risk scan along with adding the ever important Social Media Privacy Manager. At least ASUS made these types of apps uninstallable because they really have no place taking up space on someone’s phone.
The camera is good in daylight. You can snap saturated pictures until your heart’s desire with the 13 MP shooter and feel good about what you’ll be bringing back home. The camera even does pretty decent in lower light with some options to help boost the amount of light in the pictures too. A great addition is the mode that lets you stitch together four pictures for a super high res 50 MP shot. There is some artifacting and over sharpening done to the pictures but that can be forgiven for the picture quality on something this budget friendly. This certainly wouldn’t replace my S6 as my daily camera but it does a pretty good job in its own right.
One thing ASUS will need to improve on in future generations is audio quality. When you remove the back covering of the phone you quickly realize that the grill that spans the entire length of the back of the phone is actually only required to be about half an inch long. I don’t know if I’d call it deceptive on ASUS’ part for that design choice but the speaker is definitely one of the low points of the phone. It doesn’t get particularly loud or put out particularly good audio for media or calls. Things don’t get much better when you plug headphones in. It’s a shame that this is one of the areas that they chose to cut costs on because phones like the Alcatel Onetouch Idol 3 show us you can have a good screen and good speakers for a good price.
The body of the phone is pretty heavy, as mentioned above but it is pretty solid. There isn’t much give in the phone and creaking is very minimal when the phone is flexed. I don’t love how heavy the Zenfone 2 is but it does make the phone feel like a high quality phone. The 170 grams of weight places it in the category of the Note 4, another phablet but one that utilizes better materials. The first day I got the phone I told a friend that this is a phone that was definitely made by a computer manufacturer. Big bezels, more weight than necessary and bad ergonomics make this phone not so fun to use sometimes.
Which brings us to the last thing we’ll cover in our review, battery life. Battery life has just been okay in our high-end variant. The 3000 mAH battery gets us through the day but whether it’s Lollipop’s memory leaks or the bloatware wearing the phone down, that’s all you’re going to get. ASUS does include quick charging technology so you can top off your phone easily in the event that you’re running low but this phone won’t win any longevity awards. Expect no more than 3 or so hours of screen on time while getting to the end of the day with 20% or so of your battery left.
And that’s really the story of the ASUS Zenfone 2. It’s a decent phone. I really love how it performs. The UI is lag and stutter free. Apps and tasks launch without too much lag and there is no issue with using the multitasking window even if you’re switching between heavy apps. But it’s held back by a lot of little things. The skin on top of Android is very heavy with a lot of (deletable) bloat preloaded. The phone feels a bit blocky and heavy and the bezels are too big for my liking. But you have to take price into consideration. This is in in the same price category as the Alcatel Onetouch Idol 3, Moto G and E. These aren’t high end phones and there are some compromises to be made. You can do a lot worse than a phone with 64 GB of storage, 2.3 quadcore processor and 4 GB of ram for $299.