by Rob Williams on August 28, 2015 in Mobile
Great smartphones don’t need to break the bank, which is something ASUS’ $200 ZenFone 2 proves a couple of times over. This 5.5-inch Android phone sports a 1080p display, packs 2GB of RAM under its hood, has a good-performing Intel SoC, and even offers dual SIM capabilities. Let’s check it out.
A lot of manufacturers claim to pack as much into a given price tag as possible, and when that price tag is modest, it’s rare to see that claim lived up to. With the ZenFone 2, though, ASUS has proven that it is possible to give people more than they’re expecting. At $200, the ZenFone 2 is an inexpensive smartphone, but it manages to pack in a couple of features not even found on most higher-end models.
I should note right from the get go that like most smartphones out there, ASUS’ ZenFone 2 comes in multiple versions. The most common one is the ZE551ML, which I’m taking a look at here. What helps this model stand out from the crowd is that it’s one of the few to take advantage of some Intel hardware, which includes the CPU and modem.
A new ZenFone 2 variant is due out soon, dubbed Laser. This one swaps out Intel’s Atom for a Qualcomm Snapdragon and will see reductions elsewhere, either by offering less RAM, a smaller resolution, or even a drop from 802.11ac wireless down to 802.11n. Personally, I find this ZE551ML model to be more appealing than the Laser.
But enough about other ZenFone 2 models; let’s take a deeper look at this one.
||ASUS’ ZenFone 2 (ZE551ML)
||Intel Atom Quad-Core Z3580 (2.3GHz) CPU
PowerVR G6430 GPU
||5.5-inch 1080p (401ppi) IPS
Corning Gorilla Glass 3
Up to 64GB microSD
5GB Lifetime ASUS WebStorage
||Intel 7262 + Intel 2230 Modem
Supports LTE, GSM & HSPA
Supports 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4, GPS & NFC
||Front: 5 megapixel
Rear: 13 megapixel
||77.2 x 152.5 x 3.9mm
||Support for 2 SIMs
Connects to a PC through microUSB
Supports FM radio
Phone DRAM can’t be that expensive if ASUS manages to pack 4GB of the stuff into a $200 phone. (Edit: I somehow missed the fact that the $199 phone has just 2GB of RAM; it’s the $299 model that has 4GB). On the processing side of things, Intel’s Atom Z3580 is no slouch, boasting four cores that can operate at 2.3GHz. The graphics might leave a bit to be desired, however.
The ZenFone 2 comes in a few different sizes, but this 5.5-inch model will again be the most popular. As someone who appreciates a larger screen, I am at the point where I couldn’t imagine using a phone much smaller than this – the large screen reduces eye strain and makes it far easier to navigate while on-the-go. This particular panel is also great to look at; crisp and bright.
Under this phone’s belly is a 3,000mAh battery, but that in itself isn’t too impressive. What is, is the fact that ASUS promises the ZenFone 2 to be one of the quickest-charging phones out there, able to restore 60% of its life in a mere 39 minutes. Part of this is thanks to the included 18W “BoostMaster” power adapter. I’ll talk more about this on the testing page, but I’ll say this up front: be sure to use this charger and not some other one you have hanging around.
I’ve mentioned a couple of times that the ZF2 is a $200 phone, but I should elaborate on the fact that that represents the 16GB model. If you’re media hungry, the 64GB model will add $100 the price (as well as increase the RAM to 4GB). I should also note that in addition to the red model I’m looking at, gold, silver, and black models are also available.
As some of the shots above highlight, the ZenFone 2 has a curved back, and overall, I’ve found it to be very comfortable to hold. Also, while the back may look like brushed aluminum, it’s in fact plastic. While it would have been great to see a metal back, it’s clear that it couldn’t have happened while retaining the phone’s desired price point. Part of me wishes ASUS sold replacement backs to satiate the appetites of those who love heavier, more durable devices.
Thanks to its slim, curved design, ASUS relegated the volume rocker to the back. At least to me, this has proven to be a little more convenient than having it on the side since my index finger sits right on it as I hold the phone. Overall, I have no complaints about this particular design.
Finally, one of the shots above shows one of the coolest perks I wouldn’t have expected to see on a $200 full-featured Android phone – dual SIM capabilities. There is a caveat to this, though: the second SIM will be unable to transfer Internet data. That means that the first card will be used for everything, while the second will be for calling and texting only. I found out the hard way last week while out-of-town that this was the phone’s design; I could have saved about a half an hour of time had I realized it in advance.