You don’t have to break the bank to own a powerful Android.
Gone are the days when you had to splurge to own a powerful Android. With so many companies, especially Chinese players, constantly releasing cheaper and better models, it has turned into a buyer’s market.
The latest to break the price barrier is Taiwan maker Asus with the Zenfone 2, a flagship model that costs just RM1,099.
Got the curves
The sleek Zenfone 2 has a curvy back that’s plastic but looks like brushed metal. The good thing about plastic is that it doesn’t heat up fast even when the phone’s internals do, making the device much more comfortable to use over prolonged periods.
Asus has moved almost all the buttons from the edges, leaving only the power button at the top. It’s a little inconvenient to reach with your finger while holding the phone, but it probably eliminates any chance of the phone “waking up” in your pocket.
Anyway, as the Zenfone 2 can be woken up from standby mode by double tapping on the screen, we stopped relying on the power button.
The volume button is now on the back, just below the camera, and it’s quite intuitive to access once you get used to it.
The only problem is with taking screenshots as you have to press the power and volume down button, and it takes a little bit of gymnastics to accomplish.
The larger display is welcome, as we didn’t have to struggle to read ebooks, but it goes without saying that this phone is made for those with larger hands.
The 5.5in screen is only full HD and not quad HD like some of the pricer phones but it’s good enough for watching movies and playing games.
A Bluelight Filter supposedly reduces eyestrain by cutting down on blue light, but makes the display a tad yellowish.
The Zenfone 2 has a 13-megapixel rear camera that snaps photos in 4:3 ratio but you can go wider (16:9) if you don’t mind the resolution dropping to 10 megapixels.
There is also a manual mode that displays lots of handy info, including exposure and digital leveller for assisting users in getting a level horizon. It doesn’t have an optical image stabilisation, probably due to cost.
Shots taken indoors turned out a little yellowish but otherwise were fine. Outdoor shots were a little soft and there was noticeable loss of detail but didn’t suffer from common camera phone issues such as purple fringing. Overall, the photos didn’t stand out but were decent.
The camera is not short of modes – there are 18 in total, including Time Rewind, PanoSphere, Smart Remove, Time Lapse and Depth Of Field.
The one that stands out is Super Resolution which combines four shots taken with the 13-megapixel camera into a 52-megapixel image.
However, the Super Resolution mode didn’t produce an image with more detail but it was cleaner and softer.
Considering that it takes twice as much space, it’s better used sparingly.
The front-facing camera is 5 megapixels and features plenty of beautification modes such as blush, skin softening, skin brightening and eye enhancement for making the selfie look the way you want.
More not the merrier
Just about every Android maker has its own custom user interface and Asus is no different. The ZenUI is one of the more vibrant ones with plenty of options. If you like tweaking your phone then you will like the user interface, otherwise you will find it a bit cumbersome.
What we didn’t like is that the Zenphone 2 is chock-full of bloatware – from our count, it comes pre-installed with over 35 apps.
You’ll find Auto-start Manager, Data Transfer, PC Link, AudioWizard, Asus Support, Flashlight, Kids Mode, Setup Wizard, Share Link and Power Saver, just to name a few. Not only are they unnecessary but Asus could easily integrate them into the settings page, and they are wasting about 2GB of space.
Powered by a 2.3GHz Intel Atom quad-core processor, the Zenfone 2 is the first Android to have 4GB RAM, as most others top out at 3GB.
Given its specs, the Zenfone 2 definitely stands head to head with some of the fastest Androids, thanks mainly to the Atom.
In the Work Performance benchmark on PCMark For Android it scored 5,399 points, putting it ahead of more expensive smartphones such as the LG G4 (4,647), Huawei P8 (4,520) and Xiaomi Mi Note (4,623).
We encountered no lag when running apps or even demanding games. For instance, The Wolf Among Us and Asphalt 8: Airborne ran smoothly without any performance issues.
Built to last
The Zenfone 2 managed to clock seven hours and one minute on PCMark for battery life which is actually not bad as phones such as the LG G4 only managed five hours and 56 minutes, and the Huawei P8 lasted six hours and 12 minutes.
In our usage test it lasted about eight hours when used mostly for social media, web browsing, reading ebooks and listening to music on streaming services, which is not bad at all.
However, when used only for intensive gaming with a VR headset, the Zenfone 2 lasted about three hours, but this is hardly surprising.
If you are looking for a good phone for about RM1,000 then you can’t go wrong with the Zenfone 2. It has enough features to impress and a battery that easily keeps it going for an entire day.
Sure, it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of pricer phones such as a fingerprint sensor, optical image stabilisation, waterproofing or curved display, but this is only to be expected.
And it more than makes up for it with a fast processor and ample memory which allows the smartphone to handle just about any app or game.
Asus has definitely set the bar high for a budget Android, and the Zenfone 2 is worth a look if you are in the market for one.
Pros: Long battery life; plenty of camera modes; manual camera mode offers lots of options; affordably priced.
Cons: Average camera; too many pre-installed apps; Super Resolution mode didn’t make much of a difference.
Operating system: Android 5.0 with ZenUI
Display: 5.5in (1,080 x 1,920 pixels)
Camera: 13-megapixel rear camera, 5-megapixel front-facing camera
Processor: 2.3GHz Intel Atom Z3580 quad core
Connectivity: MicroUSB, Bluetooth 4.0, WiFi
Memory: 32GB internal storage
Expansion slot: MicroSD (up to 64GB supported)
Dimensions (W x D x H): 152.5 x 77.2 x 10.9mm
Price: RM1,099 (inclusive of GST)
Rating: 4 stars
Review unit courtesy of Asus Malaysia, 1300-88-3495