Being a writer definitely has its perks. The last two phones I reviewed were the Google Nexus 6P and the Samsung Galaxy Note 5. Both define “flagship”, and impress in just about every way. You can argue that both phones would please almost any Android fan, but the major downside to both devices is the hefty price tag that is associated with them. The Nexus 6P starts at $499 while the Galaxy Note 5 starts at $749 excluding any deals. Unfortunately for our readers, when we only review flagship devices, we are missing out on saving you money by reviewing budget and mid-range devices.
In the U.S. we basically have access to high-end devices like the Galaxy lineup, the Nexus lineup and iPhones, or we have over the counter type pre-paid phones which run anywhere from $20 to $100 dollars and offer bare minimum features. So basically, you either have to shell out a ton of money for a full-featured smartphone, or you can give up all features for a basic phone that can text, make phone calls and send emails.
Why aren’t there many mid-range phones in the U.S.? I really don’t have the answer to this question, but overseas you can find dozens of smartphones in the $150-300 price range that may not feature the super powerful internal hardware specs of flagships, but they do feature hardware that performs quite well.
The review today is the first of many I will be doing, of low to mid range devices, in the coming months to provide you with a full and unbiased alternative to phones that cost over $500.
Asus should be a name you’re familiar with, since they make a wide range of consumer electronics for the U.S. market. They may not have a strong hold on the smartphone market locally, but they have made the Nexus 7 which has a 4.5/5 star rating from over 6,000 reviewers on Amazon.com. Asus also makes Chromebooks, home PCs, and laptops. You just may not have used a smartphone from Asus, but that’s the purpose of this review.
The Zenfone 2 has been my daily driver for the last full three weeks and let me tell you all about it.
Design and Hardware
The Asus Zenfone 2 is a full featured Android Lollipop device at a price less than $250. I have been using the international unlocked, dual SIM 5.5″ 1080p IPS display version. Powering the Zenfone 2 is an Intel Atom processor, with a hefty 4GB of RAM and 32GB of internal memory(expandable via microSD up to 128GB).
With a 5.5″ display, curved back, brushed plastic back, the Zenfone 2 reminds me of the LG G3, which was a favorite phone of mine from a year ago. The volume rocker on the Zenfone 2 is even on the back of the device, directly under the camera and LED flash. Holding the Zenfone 2 is extremely nice as it feels light and balanced, while the brushed back gives it a texture that makes it rather grippable.
Many people complain about having plastic phones but the Zenfone 2 does not at all feel or look cheaply made. The back is curved making this device extremely comfortable to hold, much more so than the Samsung Galaxy Note 5.
- Color –Black/Red/Gray/Gold
- Dimensions –77.2 x 152.5 x 3.9 mm (WxDxH) ~ 10.9 mm
- Weight –170 g
Intel® Atom™ Quad Core Z3580 (2.3GHz), PowerVR G6430, with OpenGL 3.0 support
Intel® Atom™ Quad Core Z3560 (1.8GHz), PowerVR G6430, with OpenGL 3.0 support
2GB/4GB LPDDR3 RAM
16GB/32GB/64GB eMMC Flash
- Memory Slot –MicroSD card (up to 128 GB)
Intel 7262 + Intel 2230
- Connectivity Technology
WLAN 802.11 ac
Bluetooth V4.0, NFC
Dual Micro SIM card
- Network Standard
HSPA+: UL 5.76 / DL 42 Mbps
DC-HSPA+: UL 5.76 / DL 42 Mbps
LTE Cat4:UL 50 / DL 150 Mbps Network type: GSM+WCDMA+LTE-FDD
2G: GSM 850/900/1800/1900MHz
3G: WCDMA 850/900/1900/2100MHz
4G: FDD-LTE 1800/2100MHz
5.5inches, Full HD 1920×1080,IPS
Corning® Gorilla® Glass 3
3000 mAh Li-Polymer (non-removable)
Front 5 Mega-Pixel, Fix Focus, Wide View, PixelMaster
Rear 13 Mega-Pixel, Auto Focus, PixelMaster
G-Sensor/E-Compass/Gyroscope/Proximity/Ambient Light Sensor
I am definitely one of the least technical writers here at AndroidGuys and my reviews reflect that as such. I don’t root, customize, or do other things that require an advanced knowledge of software. I have a full time job outside of writing, and don’t have the time nor willpower to learn those types of things. As long as my phone works well is all that really matters to me.
AT&T is my mobile service provider and happens to be compatible with my Asus Zenfone 2. In order to activate my Asus Zenfone 2, all I had to do was throw in my SIM card from my Nexus 6P. The Nexus 6P does use a Nano SIM card, whereas the Zenfone 2 uses a larger Micro SIM card, so my options were to go and get a free Micro SIM from AT&T or use a SIM adapter. I used the SIM adapter, inserted the card into the Zenfone 2 and within a minute I was up and running on the AT&T network.
The Asus Zenfone 2 is a 4g LTE capable phone, but in my area all I could connect to was the HSPA network. HSPA is theoretically slower than the latest LTE speeds, but in practice proved to be no slower or faster than the full LTE network in North County San Diego. Using the Speedtest app, I averaged 7-10mb/s download on the Zenfone 2, which is quite comparable to the 9-12mb/s I averaged on my Nexus 6P. Without getting too deep into technical details on network speed, the overall speed of my cellular connection felt identical to the Nexus 6P.
Phone calls came in as clear as any other phone I have used, which is a must have for me, because I do use my smartphone as my primary work device. I have two to four conference calls per week, so voice clarity and loudness is something I simply cannot live without. The Zenfone 2 has been a pleasant surprise and has completely impressed me for a device that can be purchased for less than $250.
The Asus Zenfone 2 comes with a 13MP rear camera that takes great pictures, even in less that ideal lighting conditions. No this camera isn’t as good as what you’re going to get on the Note 5, but very few cameras are. The Nexus 6P camera doesn’t even live up to the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 camera, but that doesn’t mean the Zenfone 2 camera is at all unacceptable. In some low-light conditions the camera did produce some grainy results, but in full day light and with the flash, the pictures came out quite nicely. I am more than happy with the results.
If there is one downside about this phone it really comes to the customization of Android. LG and Samsung definitely are guilty of over-customization too, but the Asus Zenfone 2 does come with many features built atop Android 5.0. Although, bear in mind, I just came from a stock Android device in the Nexus 6P, and customization of software is a subjective point of view. Some people like it and some people hate it.
Although being an unlocked device, I am VERY happy that AT&T could not get its paws on the software, and install loads of useless apps it pre-installs on devices it sell directly. In order to keep things simplified, I just installed the Google Now launcher and immediately my Zenfone 2 felt like I was using a stock Android device.
The most important factor about the software is that it felt fast. In no way did any of the customization slow the phone down. I really pushed hard on the Zenfone 2 as I do with any of my daily drivers. I make calls, send texts, use social media, take notes, play games, watch movies and capture plenty of memories with my camera. I was thoroughly impressed with the speed of the phone. It may not win benchmark tests, but neither does the Nexus 6P or Nexus 5X. What matters most is daily performance, and if a device is free of lags and memory leaks it is a winner in my book
The Samsung Galaxy Note 5 wins almost all benchmark tests, yet frequently runs into software issues. Just because a smartphone has the latest and greatest processor does not necessarily mean it will translate into the best performance. The Zenfone 2 shines in the software performance category. It just has a little too much customization that I find useless.
Although there are some nice features like “Tap to Wake Up” or Zenmotion which allows you to draw a “C’ on the screen to open up the camera. Software customization is purely subjective. What matters most is that the customization do not effect performance.
One major area where budget and mid-range phones save money is the display, because the display is one of the major areas of build cost. The Asus Zenfone 2 does come with a 1080p IPS display, and if you have ever read my reviews, you would know I much prefer AMOLED technology to LCD or LED. AMOLED offers superior contrast levels when it comes to blacks, and it also offers fantastic color saturation.
One reason for my preference of AMOLED display is that there is never any back light bleed. Back light bleed, where you can sometimes see an abundance of light around the perimeter of the display is a pet peeve of mine. I hate it. Also IPS displays sometimes look a little washed out when it comes to color.
To my surprise, the Asus Zenfone 2 has absolutely no back light bleed, and the colors on the display look accurate and rich. Not as rich as on the Nexus 6P, but rich enough to make me happy. Display performance is something that I care about second to overall performance. If a display looks bad, I simply will not like the phone. The Zenfone 2 display is very clear and is easy on my aging eyes. The 5.5″ display falls into the sweet spot of sizes that I prefer.
Overall I could not be more happy than to start my journey into the budget to mid-range devices with the Asus Zenfone 2. I picked this phone to start with, because I know Asus has a great track record for creating great products at affordable prices like the Nexus 7. Intel has also proven to be quite impressive, with its relatively unknown mobile Atom chip, as it performed incredible smoothly paired with 4GB of RAM. 32GB of internal memory should be the minimum all devices come with these days, and having expandable memory is a bonus too.
Should I travel overseas I will definitely be taking advantage of the second SIM card slot. The absolute best feature of the Asus Zenfone 2 is that it can be purchased brand new for less than $250. That’s half the price of the Nexus 6P and $500 cheaper than the Samsung Galaxy Note 5. It truly makes me question why you need to spend the extra money on a flagship device. There will always be a market for flagships phones, but unlocked budget and mid-range devices are definitely worth taking a gander at. The Asus Zenfone 2 is a rock star when it comes to performance versus price.
Look for more reviews of budget and mid-range devices in the near future.
If you would like to make a purchase, head on over to gearbest.com and check out the Asus Zenfone 2. It is currently on sale for $233 with free shipping, and a 100% 45-day satisfaction guarantee. Unlocked international smartphones are designed to work on GSM networks such as T-Mobile and AT&T.
There are other models of the Zenfone 2 at gearbest.com:
Asus Zenfone 2 Selfie – $237 (limited time price)