Hands-On: Asus Zenfone 2
May 18, 2015, 2:27 PM by Eric M. Zeman
Asus is diving back into the U.S. market with the Zenfone 2, its flagship device for the year. The phone boasts an impressive spec sheet, of that there's no doubt. Do specs make for a good phone? Read on for Phone Scoop's first impressions.
Asus re-revealed the Zenfone 2 today at an event in New York City. The phone, first announced back at CES in January, is a flagship through-and-through based on its top-notch spec sheet. What looks good on paper doesn't always look good in the real world, however.
Asus is aiming high with the Zenfone 2. It is selling the phone unlocked through a variety of online retailers in the U.S. for the attractive price of $299 ($199 for the slower version). It is a large phone with a 5.5-inch full HD screen and comes with an Intel processor. Intel has been trying to launch smartphones with Intel inside in the US for a long time. The Zenfone 2 is the most significant device yet in that respect. The processor is an Atom Z3580 with four cores at 2.3GHz. The phone has 4GB of RAM, a fast GPU, and comes with 64GB of embedded storage. Intel paired it with an LTE modem, giving the device access to LTE-Advanced and Carrier Aggregation. This is all good news for US buyers.
The Zenfone 2 is certainly a sharp-looking handset. It's about the same size as the Apple iPhone 6 Plus, due in part to the big screen. Asus kept the phone thin and light, but relied on plastics to achieve its design vision. Moreover, the company emulated (copied?) LG's design choice of sticking the volume toggle on the back surface. The result? The Zenfone 2 looks (more than) a bit like the LG G4.
The front of the device is formed by glass that stretches across the entire surface. It is mated to a razor-thin plastic frame that has a sharp feel in the hand. Asus claims the screen fills 78% of the front face of the phone. I can't tell you the exact percentage, but it certainly represents the bulk of the front surface. It's a lovely screen, too. At 5.5 inches, you might hope for more than full HD resolution, but I can say full HD works quite well on the Zenfone 2. I was pleased with the resolution, brightness, and color representation — at least after spending a few moments with it.
The thin plastic frame on the side is joined by the rear shell of the phone, which wraps around the sides and forms about 60% of the edges. The back surface is curved nicely, but the width makes a wee bit awkward to hold and grip tightly. The materials are cheaper than I would like. I'd put them on par with the materials you've seen on devices from Huawei or ZTE. They are decent, but not as good as the plastics LG or Samsung would use - and that's saying something.
There are no physical buttons on the front of the phone, but the Zenfone 2 has three capacitive keys positioned below the display. They work well and offer pleasant haptic feedback. There are no controls along the sides of the phone. The volume toggle is positioned on the back of the Zenfone 2. It is a wide, large button that's easy enough to find with your finger if you don't mind fishing for it along the back. Try not to accidentally smear the camera lens with your fingers, though. The camera is just above the volume button. The screen lock / power key is placed on the top of the phone, which is a critical mistake for a device this large. It's all but impossible to reach when holding the phone. Moreover, the button has a miserable profile and godawful travel and feedback. You'll find the stereo headphone jack on top, and the microUSB port on the bottom.
The rear cover is a serious pain to remove. Under it, you'll find access to the SIM card and memory card slots, but not the battery, which is not removable. That may be a deal breaker for some. Asus is pitching a wide variety of back covers to help users make the phone more "their." The one I liked most had a crazy angular design that looked a bit like a crystal might.
Asus installed Android 5.0 Lollipop on the Zenfone 2, but drowned it in the ZenUI. If you're curious to know what ZenUI is like, here's a good example. If you want to unlock the phone, this is the message you'll see at the bottom of the screen:
The left and right arrows strongly imply that unlocking the phone requires you to swipe left or right, but the text says to swipe “up.” Confusing much?
Asus claims many of the ZenUI characteristics are helpful in an anticipatory, holistic way. My eyes saw a heavy-handed user interface with lots of custom animations, fonts, and icons. As with all things, users will get used to it over time. In the few moments I spent with the phone, I will say I saw some sticky UI elements and slow screen transitions. That doesn't bode well for a brand new phone with a quad-core processor and 4GB of RAM.
The Zenfone 2 goes on sale May 19 at $299 for the 2.3GHz/4GB model and $199 for the 1.8GHz/2GB model.
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Best they have put out to date.
This phone is a perfect example, a few well placed rubber nubs or heaven forbid rubber crosshatching around the edge, where you actually hold the phone. It doesn't have to be a full silicone case, just a little here and there would make a world of difference without making it impossible to take in and out of our pocket.
And they probably should have made the battery removable to appease all the people who whine about it. Most of those people wont actually buy another battery and by t...
Why no mention of gorilla glass or dual sim capabilities?