Asus Zenfone 2 Review – A good phone for $150

Asus has been making Android phones for a while now, and they do a pretty good job of it. The Asus Zenfone 2 isn’t their latest flagship, it’s their flagship from 2015, making it a two-year-old phone. However, it’s still a solid phone, and it has become even more affordable than it has been in the past. Available for just $199 from gearbest, it directly competes with a number of other Chinese phones. The advantage it has over many other Chinese phones is it’s brand. ASUS has designed and manufactured consumer technology products since 1989, and they’ve come to attain a good reputation over the years. Mobile phones aren’t ASUS’s forte, but being such a large and experienced company, it’s offerings are high quality.

Design

The Asus Zenfone 2 is no supermodel, it’s a rather large unwieldy device, with a curve which makes the middle of the phone extra thick. It’s also made of cheaper materials, with a fake metal backing and a plastic frame surrounding the entirety of the phone. The button layout is also fairly unorthodox, with the lock button right in the centre at the top, and the volume controls at the back of the phone in the centre. It’s similar to the design of the LG G3, just cheaper. As is expected for a 2015 phone, the Asus Zenfone 2 doesn’t have a bezel-less screen, so the 5.5″ display is surrounded by a thick, ugly, bezel. Still, for a phone from 2015, it’s not especially bad looking. From a distance, the faux-metal back is convincing – it’s only when you pick it up that you can feel the cheapness in build quality.

The Asus Zenfone definitely has an odd design, but what’s even more aline today is the lack of a fingerprint scanner. It’s completely devoid of a fingerprint scanner, and the bottom area of the front is fixed with three capacitive buttons. They’re for Home, Back, and the recent apps switcher, but they’re not illuminated. Still, with such a large screen it’s hardly surprising this $150 phone lacks a fingerprint scanner, especially when you consider it was released in 2015. Overall, while it’s design isn’t good looking nor ergonomic, it can be excused at it’s now $150 price point.

Build Quality

As mentioned before, the build quality of the Asus Zenfone 2 is less than ideal, owing to it’s cheap build materials and faux metal exterior. However, since it’s exterior is fairly malleable (plastic), dents and and drops are less obvious, and it’s also less likely to cause the screen to crack. The screen istelf is made of Corning Gorilla Glass 3, which is standard for most phones today. Overall, build quality isn’t as good as I’d hoped it would be, but durability is excellent.


Features

Being a budget phone from the get-go, the Asus Zenfone 2 has. lack of any special features. Even for it’s time, the lack of a fingerprint scanner was sorely missed, especially when it was present on a lot of other phones. It’s closest cousin in features and design is the OnePlus One, released in 2014. It’s similar in both performance and price, but the OnePlus One is slightly better in design. Still, both of those phones lack a fingerprint scanner, so I’ll let Asus off the hook for this one. Since the battery on the Asus Zenfone 2 is so large, at 3000mAh, Asus was kind enough to include fast charging on the 4GB RAM version. Luckily, the $150 model is, in fact, the 4GB RAM version, so you won’t have to put up with 4-hour+ charge times. It claims to charge the Zenfone 2 from 0-60% in 40 minutes.

However, this fast charging technology only works with Asus’s own cable and power brick, so you’ll have to wait a while if you’re planning to charge the phone from a laptop. I wouldn’t recommend buying the 2GB RAM version for this reason alone, since without fast charging, the 3000mAh battery will take an age to charge at 5V/1A. This doesn’t really qualify as a special feature anymore, but in 2015, this was the talk of the town. The Asus Zenfone is capable of turning on and off via a double tap on the screen. It’s nothing special now, but it does save you from having to change your grip in order to reach the oddly placed power button every time. This feature was also debuted with the OnePlus One, so it’s easy to see that the Asus Zenfone 2 was designed specifically to compete with the OnePlus One.

Display

The Asus Zenfone 2 has a 5.5″ display. While not massive now, it was rather large for the time. Today’s phones manage to keep roughly the same body size, but decrease the amount of bezel in order to squeeze more screen in. By comparison, the Xiaomi Mi Mix (2016) packs a 6.4″ display in roughly the same body size. This makes the 5.5 ” display slightly less impressive, but for a phone released in 2015, it’s mighty big. It’s not just big either; it’s also pretty good. At Full HD (2910×1080), it’s a very detailed screen, though obviously not as detailed as 4K. 4K resolutions on mobile phone screens have only really been implemented in the last year or so, and in my opinion, it’s nearly completely pointless to pack so many pixels into such tiny screens, aside from VR uses.

The display is an IPS panel, which means that viewing angles and color reproduction are superb. While it’s not the brightest display, it’s still visible in daylight, and it’s lower brightness ceiling means it also saves battery. For a phone released in 2015, there’s nearly nothing to fault on the screen of the Asus Zenfone 2, since it’s both big and beautiful. I’d like it if the bezels were a little smaller, but that’s looking at it from a 2017 perspective.

Connectivity

The Asus Zenfone 2 maybe a few years old, but it still has all of the connectivity options you’d expect a phone to have today. This includes WiFi, Bluetooth, cellular, and GPS. The full specifications for connectivity as follows. Being a more global tech company, ASUS has included all the bands you’d need in the US, much like “Global” versions of other budget Chinese phones. Being a 2015 device, it’s no surprise that the Asus Zenfone 2 lacks USB Type C. It’s instead charged through micro USB, which while versatile, isn’t reversible. Coming from an iPhone 6s, it’s difficult to use, and usually takes two or three goes before it plugs in properly.

Hardware

Asus took no shortcut when it came to hardware. Like the OnePlus One it aimed to dethrone, it packed a lot of RAM and a powerful SoC into the body. Instead of going the usual SnapDragon route, the Asus Zenfone 2 instead opts for an Intel Atom Z3580, the same processor that drives a few mini-PCs and tablets. While not a particularly powerful processor for desktop use, the Z3580 is a mighty powerful chip for a mobile phone. It’s not better than the Snapdragon 801 chip in the OnePlus One, but most importantly, it’s not much worse either. Combine this with a huge 4GB of RAM, and you get a phone which is still viable today in 2017. 4GB of RAM is a good amount, and it’s the same amount of RAM which is packed into the standard versions of the Samsung Galaxy S8.

The Asus Zenfone 2 also comes with 32GB of flash storage, and thankfully, you can upgrade the storage with the option of an external micro-SD card. It supports micro-SD cards up to 64GB, so you can have up to 96GB of storage, which should be more than enough for any normal user. Keep in mind that this is a budget phone, so the fact that it has 32GB of built in storage is no mean feat. The Asus Zenfone 2 supports two Micro-SIM cards, so it’s an ideal travel companion or combined home/work mobile phone. Overall, the Asus Zenfone 2 was a very powerful device, which has slowed down to “average” speeds today, with it’s two year old Quad-Core Intel processor. It should be fine for another year or so, but going past that would mean increased slowdowns.

Hardware – Camera

On paper, the Asus Zenfone 2 has a very good camera. It has a higher pixel count than the camera on the iPhone 7 Plus, and a similar aperture of F/2.0. It also has a dual-tone flash, similar to the true tone flash on the iPhones. However, somehow, it performs underwhelmingly. While the pictures are bright and accurate in good lighting, low-light shots aren’t as good as I’d hoped they’d be, and the amount of shake and noise is high, even in high light situations. The front facing camera is even worse, with almost every image turning out grainy and washed out. The front facing camera is somewhat detailed, however, at 5MP, it’s higher than that of many smartphones from 2015. Today, the camera performance is definitely lacking, but if you wanted a phone with a good camera, you wouldn’t be spending $150 on it.

Compared to other sub-$200 phones, the Asus Zenfone 2 performs admirably, as most Chinese phones under $200 severely compromise on camera performance to save resources for the screen and hardware. The Asus Zenfone 2 also shoots video (obviously), but it’s not great at that either. It can only shoot at 30fps, and only at 1080p. Putting that aside, it also suffers from the same problems as I’ve mentioned before in the picture section, namely noise issues and overall image quality.

Performance

While it was once one of the fastest phones in existence, the age of the Asus Zenfone 2 has definitely taken it’s toll. Just two years later, it’s now similar to a low-mid range phone, which, for it’s price, isn’t too bad. The UI is generally ok, but you have to expect the occasional lag and stutter. If you’re not into 3d games, the Asus Zenfone 2 will be perfect, as all normal apps work well. If you’re a casual user who just needs the phone to work well with Facebook, Snapchat, etc, the Asus Zenfone 2 will suffice.

For now, it’s okay, but sooner or later, time will whittle away at what’s left of it’s performance. 4GB of RAM is still good, so it will be fine for multitasking for a few years to come, but in terms of smoothness in the UI, it may begin to stutter not too long in the future. It’s still a brilliant phone for the price, but you shouldn’t expect it to be the powerhouse it once was.

Operating System

Like most phone manufacturers, Asus has stuck it’s own skin on top of Android OS, and while every phone manufacturer does this, Asus has done an exceptionally bad job at it. It doesn’t add much to the OS, but instead makes it look much worse, with jarring colors and terrible UI features. If, like me, you’re not a fan of Zen UI, you may opt to download a third party launcher, like Google Now Launcher, but it still won’t change any of the UI within the OS, like the awful settings page. There’s also a fair amount of bloatware preinstalled on the phone, and I had to spend upwards of an hour finding and disabling all the bloat. There’s cleaner apps, games, and social media apps preinstalled which all need updating when you turn on the phone for the first time.

Headphone Jack

I’ve mentioned this in multiple reviews before, but the Asus Zenfone 2 thankfully comes with a headphone jack. This phone was designed and released in 2015, before the headphone jack massacre of 2016, so it’s expected that there is a headphone jack on this phone. Even though many are moving to wireless earphones, it’s still a nice option to have as an output. If you aren’t a fan of wired earphones, you can still use Bluetooth earphones, thanks to Bluetooth 4.0 being built into the device.

Battery Life

The Asus Zenfone 2 has a large 3000mAh battery. While it’s big, it’s not as big as some phones today. Even so, battery life is admirable, coming in at around a day under medium-heavy usage, and 1.5-2 days with light usage. This is no mean feat, as I use my phone all day for everything. Keep in mind however, that the battery inside of the Asus Zenfone 2 is non-removable. Over time, you will notice a decrease in battery capacity as the battery wears out. I have a friend who has kept his Zenfone 2 for two years, and now constantly lugs around a power bank. Overall, the battery life is good, but it doesn’t compare well to today’s flagship Android phones.

Options

The Asus Zenfone 2 comes in a myriad of options, with different RAM capacities, flash storage capacities, and even chipsets. The cheaper, 2GB RAM Intel Z3560 also lacks fast charging. Today, it’s not viable to purchase the 2GB RAM Intel Z3560 version, as both the RAM amount and chipset aren’t up to it today. Even the processor isn’t as powerful as the one found in the 4GB RAM version (Quad-Core 1.8Ghz vs Quad-Core 2.3Ghz). The one being sold by GearBest at $150 is the Quad-Core 2.3Ghz 4GB RAM 32GB ROM version, and it’s the one I’d recommend getting. If you’re able to find the 64GB version at a good price, I’d go for that one too, since internal flash storage will always be faster than external micro-SD storage.

Wrap Up

The Asus Zenfone 2 is an ageing phone which was once one of the fastest phones on the market. Though it was never a flagship tier phone, it was blazingly fast back then, and it’s still serviceable today. Its large screen, decent performance, and good battery life make the Asus Zenfone 2 worth every penny, especially at it’s new rock-bottom price of just $150. It’s a better buy than most $150 phones today, and it’s also made by a reputable company. If you’re looking for a decent phone at a low price by a well-known company, look no further.

 

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