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The ASUS Zenfone 2 (ZE551ML) Review: Game Changer

Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: ASUS

Introduction and Specifications

The ASUS Zenfone 2 is a 5.5-inch smartphone with a premium look and the specs to match. But the real story here is that it sells for just $199 or $299 unlocked, making it a tempting alternative to contract phones without the concessions often made with budget devices; at least on paper. Let's take a closer look to see how the new Zenfone 2 stacks up! (Note: a second sample unit was provided by Gearbest.com.)

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When I first heard about the Zenfone 2 from ASUS I was eager to check it out given its mix of solid specs, nice appearance, and a startlingly low price. ASUS has created something that has the potential to transcend the disruptive nature of a phone like the Moto E, itself a $149 alternative to contract phones that we reviewed recently. With its premium specs to go along with very low unlocked pricing, the Zenfone 2 could be more than just a bargain device, and if it performs well it could make some serious waves in the smartphone industry.

The Zenfone 2 also features a 5.5-inch IPS LCD screen with 1920x1080 resolution (in line with an iPhone 6 Plus or the OnePlus One), and beyond the internal hardware ASUS has created a phone that looks every bit the part of a premium device that one would expect to cost hundreds more. In fact, without spoiling anything up front, I will say that the context of price won't be necessary to judge the merit of the Zenfone 2; it stands on its own as a smartphone, and not simply a budget phone.

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The big question is going to be how the Zenfone 2 compares to existing phones, and with its quad-core Intel Atom SoC this is something of an unknown. Intel has been making a push to enter the U.S. smartphone market (with earlier products more widely available in Europe) and the Zenfone 2 marks an important milestone for both Intel and ASUS in this regard. The Z3580 SoC powering my review unit certainly sounds fast on paper with its 4 cores clocked up to 2.33 GHz, and no less than 4 GB of RAM on board (and a solid 64 GB onboard storage as well).

Continue reading our review of the ASUS Zenfone 2 smartphone!!

Before taking a closer look at the Zenfone 2 we'll first check out the specs for each model.

Specifications

  ASUS Zenfone 2 (ZE551ML)
16GB
ASUS Zenfone 2 (ZE551ML)
64GB      
Processor Intel Atom Z3560
Quad-core 1.83 GHz
Intel Atom Z3580
Quad-core 2.33 GHz
Graphics PowerVR G6430 PowerVR G6430
Memory 2GB LPDDR3 800 MHz 4GB LPDDR3 800 MHz
Screen 5.5-in FHD IPS LCD
1920x1080 (408 ppi)
5.5-in FHD IPS LCD
1920x1080 (408 ppi)
Storage 16GB eMMC
MicroSD Slot (up to 64GB)
64GB eMMC
MicroSD Slot (up to 64GB)
Camera 13MP Rear
5MP Front
13MP Rear
5MP Front
Wireless 802.11a/b/g/n/ac (Dual-band)
Bluetooth 4.0
Intel 7262 + Intel 2230
(Dual-SIM active, CAT 6 LTE + GSM)
802.11a/b/g/n/ac (Dual-band)
Bluetooth 4.0
Intel 7262 + Intel 2230
(Dual-SIM active, CAT 6 LTE + GSM)
Connection USB 2.0 (power and data)
Headphone jack
MicroSD
MicroSIM x2
USB 2.0 (power and data)
Headphone jack
MicroSD
MicroSIM x2
Battery 11.4 Whr
3000 mAh
11.4 Whr
3000 mAh
(BoostMaster adapter included)
Dimensions 152.5mm x 77.2mm x 10.9mm
6.00" x 3.04" x 0.43"
170 grams (6.00 oz)
152.5mm x 77.2mm x 10.9mm
6.00" x 3.04" x 0.43"
170 grams (6.00 oz)
OS Android 5.0 Android 5.0
Price $199 (unlocked)
Amazon.com
$299 (unlocked)
Amazon.com

Here's a quick look at the box contents for the 64 GB version:

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Only the 64GB version comes with the larger 18W BoostMaster rapid charging adapter shown. Contents are otherwise unremarkable, but there is a premium feel to the packaging that helps inspire confidence. We'll see if the phone lives up to this first impression!

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Next we'll take a closer look at the design of the Zenfone 2.


June 12, 2015 | 05:15 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Oh boy, now I can destroy my privacy for only $200! Thanks Pcper for letting me know about this amazing opportunity!

June 12, 2015 | 05:45 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

nobody cares about you so your privacy is safe

June 12, 2015 | 05:44 PM - Posted by Comrade Suhov (not verified)

Hi Sebastian,
thank you for the detailed review! You might want to add that $199 model also supports Quick Charge technology, but doesn't come with the Quick Charge adapter in the box.

Question, did you have a chance to use lower specs model (2GB/16GB Z5360 CPU)? I understand that it slower then $299 one, but how does it feel/respond during Lollipop normal usage?
Thank you!

June 12, 2015 | 06:36 PM - Posted by Sebastian Peak

Thanks, and the BoostMaster compatibilty is an important distinction. I didn't personally test the 16GB version with the Z3560, as the sample I was using was the $299 model. Given the way the SoCs are optimized I don't think there would be a significant UI/UX difference, but there's an obvious performance difference from our benchmarks in certain applications.

June 13, 2015 | 01:44 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

The best thing about this SOC is that it is not using Intel Graphics, so expect much better graphics from a GPU with the execution resources to do the JOB. I just wish that M$ could persuade Intel to use even higher end powerVR graphics and make a surface tablet useful for graphics uses. I hear that Intel is moving away from PowerVR to Mali graphics, but as long as its not Intel's graphics.

June 12, 2015 | 06:55 PM - Posted by Comrade Suhov (not verified)

Thank you Sebastian. I ordered $199 model for my dad and it should be here next week. It will be his first Android phone coming from candy-bar Nokia, so we'll see how it's going to be. But I didn't feel he would need the higher spec mode and quick charger and microSDXC 64Gb card is around $40 from Amazon.
If Ryan was testing Z5360 model, could you ask him to chime in the comments with his experience of it?

Too bad that camera seems to be lacking a bit for daylight shots, though it seems that Asus releases firmware updates every couple weeks for this phone, so may be things will get better. If I like what I see, I might get myself a $299 one later this summer.Thanks again for the review!

June 12, 2015 | 07:02 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

I used the model with the lower end processor but I will say that the experience and fluidity of the unit was just as Sebastian described in the review. It was smooth and I didn't know any performance penalties of the lower cost model even when I had both phones in my possession at the same time.

June 12, 2015 | 07:35 PM - Posted by Comrade Suhov (not verified)

That's good to know, thank you Ryan. I enjoy your site a lot and listen to the podcast on weekly basis. That's actually how I remembered about ZenFone2 (even though I saw CES presentation about it), when Sebastian had as his pick couple weeks ago. Keep up a good work and thanks again!

June 13, 2015 | 12:46 AM - Posted by Steven Clark (not verified)

Any chance you could find out which benchmarks are x86 compiled and which ones are running ARM via translation layer? Or did you mention it and I missed it?

June 13, 2015 | 04:26 AM - Posted by Sebastian Peak

That's a great question. I need to do some research as I'm not sure off hand. The difference in performance in some of the benchmarks could easily be explained based on native/non-native code, though in the real world I do think it's fair to judge it as-is considering one does have the option of downloading x86 apps from the Play store (not that devs would offer it at this point anyway).

October 26, 2015 | 12:50 AM - Posted by Marquis (not verified)

bad.

June 13, 2015 | 02:50 AM - Posted by Kingkookaluke0

Ryan..I really want to win that car! It's being given away on the next podcast I hear!

June 13, 2015 | 02:51 AM - Posted by Kingkookaluke0

It has two 980ti's installed as well I hear.

June 13, 2015 | 04:30 AM - Posted by Sebastian Peak

I would have guessed a pair of TITAN Z's for the car. Gotta have that double precision for better handling

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