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.
The Asus Zenfone 2
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)
The 6.0″ Asus Zenfone 2 Laser – $324
Let me be the first to say that I enjoyed the review of the Zenfone 2. Although I’m addicted to “flagship” phones for myself…less expensive phones like the Zenfone 2 are great options for my wife and kids.
The author really isn’t paying attention if he thinks there are no midrange $100-$400 phones available in the US. The entire Moto line up to the Moto X 2014 is in that range and available for sale.
Let’s not call the author out for not “paying attention” as you put it, when in fact he never said there were no mid-range phones in the US, he said there weren’t many. “Why aren’t there many mid-range phones in the U.S.? I really don’t have the answer to this question.”
Love my Zenfone 2. If I win this one, I’ll give it to my wife.
Would love this as an upgrade to my Nexus 5!
Though Apple and Samsung make most of their profits from premium devices, the mass market user is typically low-to-mid-end. This review does yeoman service to the mass market user. Kudos!
Thanks for going over all the major details. Like yourself I will only buy unlocked phones to save from removing all the Att bloatware off the phones. It’s ridiculous.
Been running the Zenfone5 for > 1 year, and am very pleased. At below $200, you can’t go wrong. Most of all, it comes with dual SIM support, which enables me to ditch my old “habit” of carrying one work and one private phone around. Never again, believe me! Only gripe is the battery life which leaves room for improvements, but is obviously addressed with the Zenfone2.
Looks like a good phone for the majority of consumers. Too bad Apple & Samsung have a bigger advertising budgets.
Zenfone 2 review was well done. I would like to test it too…if I win it :)
great, i want this one!
Oh wow this is a great review! I’m increasingly becoming a fan of these new unlocked phones and hoping to receive one in the new future! Rather win one than purchase one!
Looks like one of the best mid-priced phones.
I think asus is going a great job with the Zenfone line, I just wish they wouldn’t put so much bloatware on it. I guess that’s what root and custom roms are for.
Be interesting to see what they bring to CES, asus zenfone zoom never made it to the U.S.
Well, I would love to win this phone! Be nice to compare to my oneplus one.
This phone will also get the Marshmallow update. It was confirmed by Asus =)
would love this – coming from an iPhone I’m looking for something bigger and more customisable!
I read the review and have been thinking of “adding” the Zenfone 2 to my very first Flagship Nexus 6P but for the added expense. Yet, the price of the Z 2 is fabulous. The phone looks just right for my customary usage. Thanks. My wife is getting the ASUS 8S super tablet for the Holidays. So, I will have to hold back a little in order to get the Zen 2. Happy Holidays to you all.
Amazing would love to have one
Live in a place where people don’t even know Asus makes phones… Flagship phones are the price of a semesters tuition and mid range phones aren’t even in this phones league
Looks like the replacement handset I’ve been searching for, not too ridiculously expensive ( <$500), with very good specs and unlocked!!!
Hey, loved your review. 20 minutes after reading it, I bought the ASUS ZenFone 2 Laser for my girlfriend. Best Christmas gift I can afford. Thanks Android guys!
She’ll love it!
Thanks! I hope so too.
I’m not a huge fan of customization either, but would definitely like to give that atom processor a try.
Nice review! Would be great to get my hands on one of these. I’ve been an ASUS fan for a while now and it would definitively be my main device.
Asus is great! Thanks for the thorough review. Hopefully I’ll win one!! I could really use a replacement for my OPO! ?
It’s a really nice and clear review! I love it! Thanks
I’ve been reading reviews of budget and mid range phones for the past two days and I must say you put together a great review here for a little known player in the field. We have to buy a new phone for my wife’s new job, and winning this phone would really help things, so here’s hoping!
Thank you for the review I never thought a phone that costs that less can be so powerful and work so good
Great review. $250 is my sweet spot for an unlocked phone and I would not hesitate to buy this phone. The dual SIM capability is a real money saver when you travel outside of the US.
Such a pity that it doesn’t support CDMA carriers like Motorola’s unlocked phones or the Nexus phones… why??? Otherwise I’d be all over the Zenfone.
Once I can get out of our Sprint contract my wife and I are looking to buy unlocked phones and cheaper carriers. This is the phone I want because the price and great features.
Been using the phone for almost a month now and I cannot stress how BEAST it is! Fantastic phone! No lags etc.
Also, this phone is marked low as a mid tier device only cuz of the price. The specs are the best you can get. 4gb ram, and the top of the line Intel mobile processor (yes, Intel, I trust them more than Qualcomm)
This phone has great Specs, plus also has active dual SIM, and have seen people complain about speaker sound and screen brightness, and to be honest, it has a good sound and screen is really acceptable.
P.S I hope I win this phone to use it as a daily driver.
Awesome phone. It’s quite the power house for the price.
It’s hard to believe they can deliver a phone this good for such a low price. Hope to find out if the phone is as good as the review.
Great review of the Zenfone 2.
Couldn’t agree more. Great phone for the price.
Thank you for and I read your great review of the Asus Zenfone 2! I love Asus products! I would love to have their new iphone!
Great article on the Asus Zenfone 2! I really need a new phone (I am still using my Galaxy S2!!!!) so this review was quite helpful. (Have you done the Zenfone 2 giveaway yet?)
Thank you for the honest review of the Zenfone 2. Makes me proud to own one. Been using the ZE551ML for almost a year and going. Im definitely going to stick with this phone for a while now. Asus Zenfone 2 = absolute beast of a phone.
Asus is selling a 230 USD (the 550ML) variant of this phone in Italy, saying that it is full specs, only less RAM and reduced processor speed. Instead the liers are selling a Zenfone 2 lacking sensors also. Beware when buying Zenfone 2, not to get cheated by Asus like it happened to me.
excellent review of the Zenfone 2. Sounds like it would be perfect for me. Also I am thrilled that you will be focusing on reviewing more budget/midrange phones. I can’t afford or need a flagship phone.
Best review for asus zenfone 2
I really liked the smartphone features Asus Zenfone 2, because there are advanced features in it, the camera clear, loud voice and the quality of the cover design is very elegant and dynamic.
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Hi, just read the Asus Zenfone 2 review. Wife has the phone and I couldn’t agree more with you. Solid phone for the lower $200 price range.
I grabbed one for my wife and its been a great phone. We have T-Mobile and its missing the recently activated 700mhz band which is not a big deal.
This review was very helpful. Would love to pick a few of these up for my family who wants to venture into the land of smartphones. I hope the bands for ATT are up to snuff.
When I purchased my 32GB Nexus 5 for $399.99 it was really the perfect price to performance/component ratio for a high end phone. It didn’t compromise on very many points and redefined what was considered high end. Now $399.99 seems to be on par for mid-range? It is sad that high end pricing is now defined with a price point that is $500+
Nice review, thanks. I’m on the techie side of things, but it’s good to see your point of view as well. I’ll definitely be looking for your future reviews on budget/mid-range phones. Thanks for the contest too! :-)
Excellent review. I liked that this device has 4 gb of memory and excellent work on those pictures in the review.
good review for a mid level phone
great review, the flagships are cool…but with the lower end middle of the market improving fast I want to focus on the unlocked end.
I can definitely say that it’s the best phone but under priced drastically. Similar phones cost over 20-25k. And over all you get a ASUS brand. I think that this phone will surely be a game changer and the toughest contender in the price vs features market.
The thing about this fantastic little phone is that you definitely need a protective cover box. I have had 3. One got left on top of the car and just just didn’t take the landing well with the sudden stop after backing up to close my driveway gate. Number 2 worked its way out of my pocket for a short bungeeless free fall from a ladder. And number 3 reminds me I should add waterproof to the description of the box. Or a small ratchet tie down for the toilet…..I have small kids. I do love the phone though, and as soon as I can ill be buying another to live in the box I bought for the last one. Or may try to find a waterproof one. …..or may have to wait till jr high school , who knows.
I’m wondering if you guys ever announced a winner for the phone and their impressions.
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