ASUS has always had its candidates in the “affordable premium” segment of the smartphones and the latest one to join the fray is the ASUS Zenfone 2. It made headlines with its beastly amount of RAM, plus a few tricks up its sleeves.
As far as looks go, the Zenfone 2 looks quite a lot like its predecessors with some not-so-minor differences. While the front sports the same general styling, the Zenfone 2 also features a curved back design that makes it easier to hold as well as a rear mounted volume control that doubles up as camera button just under the lens.
In terms of specs, the Zenfone 2 is one of the few devices currently out in the market that sports 4GB RAM, alongside the Lenovo K80 and the Xiaomi Note Pro. The sheer amount of RAM makes a lot of difference in terms of performance, especially for more cluttered systems with lots of bloatware.
The Zenfone 2 also gets a 64-bit quad-core Intel Atom Z3580 Processor at 2.3GHz with 4GB but there are more affordable variants with lower spec Intel processors mated to a decent 2GB RAM. ASUS has had a history of using Intel processors since they debuted the ASUS VivoTab in 2012 and it doesn’t look like this will change anytime soon. Almost every Zenfone released (except for Zenfone 5 LTE) to date has had one under the hood.
The device also sports a dual-SIM setup with support up to 4G LTE on the first slot. You also get a 3,000mAh battery as well as Android 5.0 Lollipop out of the box with ZenUI 2.0 on top. As far as the screen is concerned, it’s a larger 5.5 inch IPS display that pushes a higher Full HD 1920 x 1080 resolution. The model that we got to test is the top of the line Zenfone 2 (ZE551ML) with 32GB storage capacity, meaning we get the whole beastly 4GB RAM to test out.
[nextpage title=”Build Quality and Design”]
The build quality of the Zenfone 2 on the other hand still has something to be desired. It’s quite common for budget mid-range devices to feature a full-on plastic shell made of a variety of polycarbonate materials but at the very least ASUS made the phone look really good with its brushed metal finish. The plastic however seems to be a little on the soft side so we recommend you get a case post haste. Also the front menu buttons aren’t backlit which can be annoying in the dark for first time users. Fortunately they are visible enough with the silver print but then again a backlight is never a bad thing to have especially for phone that costs more than a thousand ringgit.
Another thing to add is the non-removable battery which is similar to its previous Zenfone 5 and Zenfone 6. Due to the rear button taking up the space that is normally occupied by the sim card slots, ASUS had to get creative with the arrangement of things. However due to the plastic ‘bridge’ in the middle, it might actually prove hard to get the battery replaced should the need arise.
Our biggest love-hate feature of the Zenfone 2 is probably the curved back design. The curved back makes the phone easier (and therefore more comfortable) to hold but at the same time makes the phone wobble if you were to use it while its on a flat surface. So if you’re the sort that likes to text on the table, you’re going have a rocking bad time.
ZenMotion gesture control is back as well for the Zenfone 2, letting you tap on the screen to wake up the display and to launch certain apps. I personally like the fact they are customisable to open certain apps. With the double tap to wake gesture, you can essentially ignore the oddly placed power button on top. It’s the same to shut off your screen, just make sure you don’t double tap an app while you’re doing it.
The screen unfortunately isn’t as good as we thought. While the colours aren’t necessarily dull, the screen in general could be brighter as it’s a little hard to see clearly when it’s bright outdoors. In other words, not bright enough to combat the general glossiness of the screen. On the upside, you get a lot of screen real estate if you are the sort who likes to watch movies and the larger than average speaker does complement this.
Speaking of speakers, the rear speakers actually benefit from the Zenfone 2’s curved body, in the sense that they’re not smothered by the phone’s girth when placed down. The rear speakers are actually a lot wider than what you find on most phones. While it is loud, the sound quality isn’t the clearest, especially when it comes to heavy bass.
As for the battery life, we got a little bit over 8 hours of juice on a single charge with moderate use. We surfed the net, watched a YouTube video or two and generally went about our business but looks like the battery isn’t very capable of lasting throughout the day. There are smartphones out there with less capacity that lasts longer.
Some of the design decisions didn’t look too sound when we had our first look at the phone, with the power button being nestled on the top of the device striking us as a bit odd and the volume keys being somewhat awkward to reach.
But after trying the one handed mode, the placement makes a lot more sense as it’s actually more intuitive to press the buttons and the configuration works for both left and right handed folk. One handed mode basically lets you move a minimised version of the screen to either the left or right side of the display so you can operate it with one hand. It’s a nice option to have if you like to have everything within thumb’s reach but it’s not a feature we see people using very often unless they’re trying to text while driving (which we strongly do not recommend).
Personally we prefer the volume rocker to be on the sides of the phone for easier access but the rear rocker isn’t difficult to get used to, especially if you are the sort that likes to take selfies the button makes the process a lot simpler.
The cameras you get on the Zenfone 2 are a 13 megapixel PixelMaster snapper that can be bumped up to a simulated 51 megapixels with the Super Resolution Mode, while the front gets a 5 megapixel shooter with a fixed focus. The camera has a generous amount of modes to play with, running from the aforementioned Super Resolution mode to one of the best Low Light shooting modes we’ve seen. Generally speaking the camera does pretty well in auto mode though it may not be the very best and sharpest of it’s kind. But it more than makes up with the Super Resolution mode that lets you make images that are extra crispy and sharp that a normal phone camera wouldn’t be able to accomplish.
The Low Light mode basically drops your megapixels down to 3 while using the rear camera in favour of boosting the lighting to make things clearer and more visible. The performance is similar to that on the last Zenfone which also had a very good Low Light Mode. However, due to its nature you still need to have a steady hand while attempting to take a shot and the camera might have some difficulties focusing depending on the situation. You can get a better look at the Low Light performance in the camera test we did here.
Here are some shots we took with the Zenfone 2.
[nextpage title=”Performance & Usability”]
In terms of performance, the Zenfone 2 actually does really well and it’s no doubt thanks to the massive amount of RAM and the Intel processor under the hood. As far as we have used it, we have encountered no lag whatsoever and apps do run quite smoothly. We also tested the Zenfone 2 with Antutu and GeekBench 3 and the scores are quite impressive, putting the device just a notch under the Samsung Note 4 in terms of performance.
For our unit, we got the 32GB version which is quite ample as far as storage goes. On boot you get about 25GB out of 32GB of storage available for you to store your pictures and apps as well as 5GB of ASUS Webstorage if required. But that still means there’s a hefty 7GB storage being eaten up by the system along with pre-installed apps and games that a lot of ASUS devices tend to come with and that’s not a good thing.
[nextpage title=”Pricing & Conclusion”]
As far as pricing goes there are not one but five different variants of the Zenfone 2 that you can get, with the cheapest one going for as low as RM 599. For the price you are paying, you are essentially getting more than your money’s worth.
The Zenfone 2 is already available locally and is priced as follows:
ZE500CL (5″ HD, 1.6GHz Z2560, 2GB RAM, 8GB Storage) – RM599
ZE550ML (5.5″ HD, 1.8GHz Z3560, 2GB RAM, 16GB Storage) – RM749
ZE551ML (5.5″ FHD, 1.8GHz Z3560, 2GB RAM, 32GB Storage) – RM899
ZE551ML (5.5″ FHD, 2.3GHz Z3580, 4GB RAM, 32GB Storage) – RM1,099
ZE551ML (5.5″ FHD, 2.3GHz Z3580, 4GB RAM, 64GB Storage) – RM1,299
Overall the ASUS Zenfone 2 is a pretty solid phone if you’re looking for something with near-premium horsepower for about half of the price. The screen however is quite unremarkable despite being an IPS display and the form factor might be a hit and miss depending on your personal preferences. The Zenfone 2 may not be a flagship killer but you really cannot ignore the kind of performance and features you get in such an affordable price range.