Quickie Review: Asus Zenfone 2

Just a year earlier I was mulling over the super high price of the Samsung S5 phone when my old phone cum tablet starting to give me problems. Then the introduction of the Xiaomi Redmi at only S$169.00 then was my IT communications messiah as I am very unwilling to let go of my 12GB data plan. Even the phone that is replaced with the Xiaomi was not exactly cheap costing me around S$1000.00. You can imagine the relief I have experienced when I am able to have a good phone without breaking my bank and I have shared my view on this matter too.

During the whole of last year I witness the introduction of full fledged phones such as the Samsung S5, HTC M8, Oppo N1, Xiaom Mi3 and Huawei (no chance to test). In the midst of them all, I got the chance to test the ASUS Zenfone in Jakarta after my trip to New York for the launch of the HTC M8 which I also did a review on Techgoondu.

In short, I was pretty impressed with the Zenfone so much so when the Zenfone 6-inch smartphone enters the market in late 2014, I got one as a Christmas gift for my wife. This time wife can’t complain about the brand because I am the one buying the phone…LOL. More on that later.

Then around the same time, the announcement for the Zenfone 2 rang through the world and I was surprised by their highest spec model: ZE551ML.

Whenever I look at phones these are the main stuff I look at

  • The operating system – Android 5
  • The screen – 5.5 inch full HD at 1080
  • The RAM – 4GB
  • The CPU – Intel Atom 4-Core Z3580 (2.3GHz)
  • Internal storage – 32GB (the one I am testing)
  • Micro SD card slot – Yes
  • Removable battery – No

With the launch of the Samsung S6 and S6 Plus and the Xiaomi Mi4, the lack of the removable battery used to be a huge bug bear for me but I am more unhappy with the fact that both of them now do not come with the MicroSD card slot. So when Zenfone 2 highest spec phone has the MicroSD card slot, that is the singular most important feature I would want in the phone simply because I do download photo from my Flickr account and then resend the same photo and upload it to other social media including twitter and Instagram. So having extra storage space is important to me and I can have multiple types of photography apps for my work without the need for a laptop. So yes storage space is needed and the Zenfone 2 4GB RAM with 32GB and MicroSD card slot is the best solution for me.

People are surprised why I didn’t include the camera as my main criteria. It is simple really – I use the phone more for phone’s sake, and social media second. Moreover the quality needed for social media sharing is not really high, something the consumer market is trying to sell you with super high MP count cameras but never realise that most of us now are using our phones that comes with 2MP resolution to see the photos the professional photographers are taking.

However I do understand the need for good image quality pictures and so I shoot with proper cameras that are wi-fi enabled such as the Samsung NX1, Samsung NX500, Canon 760D and Nikon D7200 that I was using along with the Zenfone 2 to share good quality images. Even for non Wi-Fi cameras such as my Fujifilm X100, I use the Toshiba Flashair SD memory card to transfer files between the camera and the phone wirelessly and it works fine.

For the sake of this review, let me show some photos from the Zenfone 2 just to be fair. Photos are from my recent trip to Japan and in Singapore.

I start with some arty farty shot taken at Kansai airport at night. Honestly it looks good!
Most of the time when someone shoots such scenes, the word on the light box would disappear and the Zenfone 2 does a great job when I use the HDR function to force the camera to take multiple exposure and derive this image.
Test out the beauty mode. Look 10 years younger almost immediately! LOL. Note the lens distortion though.
In good light the Zenfone pictures are amazing.
Skin tone colours are beautiful even when shooting under tree shade. The highlights are not blown too much too. A bit over sharpened for my taste though. I must add that some artifact noise is pretty evidence when looking up close in the shadow areas.
Shot of the sunrise in Punggol. Not happy that the image is so noisy and is pretty evident here.
Panorama mode seems to be doing rather well with good stitch and nice colour graduation from dark to bright parts of the picture.

If you want to see more of the pictures up close and personal (pixel peeping): Link

To be fair, the Zenfone 2’s 13MP with f2.0 lens camera is not bad when shoot in good light and can be a bit ‘off’ when shooting at night because of the white balance. Of course one can adjust the white balance so it is not a huge issue per se. I personally won’t use the Night scene night owl as it tries too hard to something without meaningful light source and it has this bad noise artifact in the images. In short for all its marketing messages about shooting very well in the dark, I still refrain from using this at night if I can help it. For social media sharing it shouldn’t be a huge issue as the screen is just too small.  Still I will go back to the original stance: if I want to shoot well, I shoot with a good camera. I leave the battery power for more useful phone functions.

Speaking of battery power, this is the first time for I don’t really need to bring a battery pack if my day involves going to the office, charging the phone using the USB port at the office computer and then go about doing my things. Heck, even without recharging the phone in the middle of the day, the phone’s 3000mAh do last the mile from moderate use. So yes the 4GB if used judiciously by the OS, can save time and battery power to be used by the processor and that helps. Do I still hanker for a removable battery? Definitely but it is secondary when compared to the lack of the MicroSD card slot.

Amongst the specification list, the one that pops up the most is the RAM. 4GB worth of RAM does wonders to the operation of the phone more so when you need to transfer files from camera to phone, edit it while on the go and then upload the photos up to the servers during the SEA Games. Yes. I used this mobile solution for the SEA Games photography coverage and I must say the Zenfone 2 didn’t fail me one bit even when I have so many cameras that are connected with this phone.

A lot of people has voice concerns to me about the Intel chip within the phone. True, ARM based chips commonly found in Singapore mobile phones are from Qualcomm’s Snapdragon and is designed for mobile applications. However Intel is improving its chip offering in this market and honestly, since the first Zenfone with the Intel chip I didn’t encounter much problems while testing both phones. Even the phone my wife uses has no issues except that she complains the  6 inch screen is way too big. But I must highlight one point – it does run hot if there are apps running amok in the background so keep some resource management app handy.

So what happens? She was so comfortable using the Zenfone that she has no qualms getting the Zenfone 2 with the smaller screen. All her original complaints about not having Qualcomm chip and ASUS as a mobile phone brand seems to dissolved only after a few months. Now can I have the Zenfone 6 please?

For me, I have loaded up some graphics intensive games such as Asphalt 8 and Simcity and the phone passed with flying colours with no lag whatsoever. Perhaps I don’t use or play more resource hungry games but I think it is good enough. Facebook? Instagram? Flipboard? Piece of cake!

So how about ergonomics? The volume rocker position need some time to get used to but like the LG phones, one can get used to it fast as the placement does make it easy for the finger to adjust the volume. Additionally, the phone is also curved so you don’t feel the bulk which is a good. At 3.9mm at the thinnest part of the phone, it may not have that razor thin feel but it has enough bulk to make a firm grip which is more practical. In comparison, I feel the S6 edge is a bit flimsy when holding it because the sides are just too thin.

Yes the whole body at 170g is plastic but I am not going to say it feels cheap. The finishing, even the back cover, makes it look as though it is metal. I kid you not. It does feel premium even though the review unit was dropped countless times (not by me!)..LOL!

Then again, why the need to use premium material like metal and glass just because you pay crazy money for the phone? So long I take the cash and pay for what’s important – the chip, RAM, good screen, storage, microSD card slot…these are definitely more important for me. At the end of the day, all the talk about premium quality finish and exquisite materials will still hide behind a phone cover. Really?! Go figure~!

In short, when you have a manufacturer that went all out to allow you to buy a phone with such good specification but only cost $429.00 at its own store, it should at least merit a consideration. Yes it has plastic and yes its camera is not perfect but like most phones out there, it couldn’t win a purpose built camera with good, proper lens.  Thanks to this phone, I have found another way NOT to sacrifice my 12GB data plan and still have to pay ridiculous money for a new mobile and signing up 2GB data mobile phone plans just to get super expensive devices that can’t even beat this phone on paper.

If you want a second opinion, then head on to Techgoondu’s take on the same phone.

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