The Zenfones are an amazing family of smartphones from ASUS, they are the only smartphones that pose a real threat to Chinese manufacturers. With a strong backing and huge marketing push from Intel, its really no wonder that a world’s leading PC motherboard manufacturer could rise to one of the top five smartphone brands in the market, and it certainly made of its competitors look really stupid with its affordable price tag for a great amount of features. This year, major flagships are starting to enter an era of 64-bit processors and Quad HD displays, and ASUS has played the game quite differently as well – by making and selling the world’s first smartphone with 4GB RAM, and that, is the Zenfone 2, or simply call it – the 2nd generation Zenfone.

ASUS ZenFone 2 (ZE551ML) Hardware Specifications
Processor: Intel Atom Z3580 64-bit 2.33GHz
RAM/ROM: 4GB (Dual Channel)/32GB expandable up to 2TB MicroSD
Display: 5.5″ Full HD (1920×1080) IPS with Gorilla Glass 3
Camera: 13MP PixelMaster f/2.0 (Rear), 5MP (Front)
Connectivity: WiFi 802.11 b/g/n/ac, BT 4.0, NFC
Networks: Dual SIM 4G LTE Cat 6/DC-HSPA+/GSM
Battery: 3000mAh

Marketing Confusion and Uninspired Design

When I attended the the Zenfone 2’s regional launch back then, I had already expected the company to announce a couple of variants of the product but little do I know that the company had in fact brought in all variants of the Zenfone 2 – well, that is actually a problem. I’m personally acceptable to the idea of ASUS selling entry to flagship hardware on a smartphone but to be honest, simply asking consumers to know which model number to buy is simply ridiculous and a really bad marketing move. ASUS, nobody wants to remember your smartphones just like your motherboards and I really tried convincing everyone I met that the Zenfone 2 is in fact a new phone, but when it comes to specs, things start getting complicated.

ASUS hasn’t changed much on the Zenfone 2’s design, I actually had a pretty good impression of it but until the retail unit falls into my hand, it failed to impress me like a premium and affordable smartphone like what the Zenfone 5 used to be. The Zenfone 2’s overall construction is cheaply made, its glossy plastic frame gets scratched easily even if you take extra good care of it, no doubt ASUS has made the bezels slimmer on its new flagship, we think it could be even slimmer by simply removing that spin effect bezel and switching to on screen buttons, it could be a design signature of the Zenfone however its not too late to give a slight change to a product’s design language.

The brushed finishing back cover definitely gives viewers a really premium look on first impressions and ASUS has thankfully not used flex plastic like Samsung’s older generation smartphones, our rant here is that ASUS just simply doesn’t want to make the phone’s battery removable despite of the phone’s thick size, though it may come to some point to argue that some users may not need to swap batteries, ASUS could have actually made that design but sadly you are getting pretty much the same hardware design as its predecessor.

Last but not the least, the volume rocker’s placement is a good rip off from LG however the power button isn’t, its too shallow to press on and you do need to turn on touch gestures to make life easier, like seriously, why can’t ASUS just steal that design properly or place that power button on the side? To be honest, the overall hardware design isn’t ugly, but I find it to be half baked and really uninspiring, and it certainly isn’t a product design that I’ve come to expect from ASUS.

ZenUI is great but ASUS could’ve done better

Its difficult to make great software experiences and as an experienced users of many smartphone user interfaces, ZenUI is actually one of my favorites for its energetic and vibrant color schemes, I would actually think since ASUS does hire HTC engineers over they could’ve pretty much include some HTC Sense inspired features however, the Zenfone 2’s software experience is nowhere different from most of the company’s current smartphones apart from running on Android 5.0 Lollipop.

ZenUI on the Zenfone 2 has a significant performance improvements thanks to the phone’s 4GB RAM and speedy 64-bit performance, you virtually see no lag in most parts of the user experience which ASUS has promised in its keynote, however the main issue here isn’t really about performance but what you can really do with the hardware’s added capability, while I’m not suggesting that ASUS should include bloated features (there’s in fact a lot of bloatware!), the company could have made use of that additional amount of RAM to implement more multitasking features such as split screen or floating widgets, which is so common in smartphone these days and ASUS hadn’t care of including it on the Zenfone 2’s software experience.

Nevertheless, I still have to commend ASUS’s effort in keeping a reliable software experience throughout our review period and while ASUS have introduced ZenMotion which is another rip off from Chinese phone makers, I have rarely used them because I simply do not need to.

The same great camera with no breakthroughs

ASUS’s PixelMaster camera was one of the most impressive camera technology last year, the company’s emphasis on low light photography was pretty commendable back then and this year, the Zenfone 2 gets the very same 13-megapixel f/2.0 camera back on the Padfone S and Zenfone 6, the camera performs generally well in most cases, focus and shutter speeds are fast and pictures are saved in a snap. Apart from that, ASUS has improved the camera’s manual mode and included a Super Resolution Mode that oversample pictures up to 50-megapixels. Pictures taken with the Zenfone 2’s camera are decent enough for most users but there really isn’t any breakthrough from last year’s offering, we could really appreciate a f/1.8 aperture being implemented on the phone.

Benchmarks, Battery Life & Network Quality

The Zenfone 2’s performance is beginning to show some edge over last year’s Snapdragon chip and we definitely have no doubts on it, you certainly can’t compare the chip’s true performance with today’s processors however you can be rest assured of a future proof hardware on the device.

Sadly, the Zenfone 2 tends to disappoint once again in battery life similar to its predecessors, even though ASUS have installed a pretty huge battery in the phone, its mere 11 hour battery life with a mere 2 hour on screen time just doesn’t do justice for its hardware, there could be just only two things to blame which could be the optimization behind ZenUI or Intel’s processor.

Fortunately, the Zenfone 2 maintains a steady LTE connection in supported coverage areas, the phone’s speakerphone produces a comfortable volume for listening to phone calls and callers are reporting a clear voice on our end.

Verdict – A decent smartphone that leaves us wanting more

Dwelling on a current success is an extremely dangerous thing and ASUS have certainly been enjoying that taste of success for its last generation Zenfones, the Zenfone 2 may feature a powerful 4GB RAM and the fastest processor that Intel has ever made however the company isn’t doing right in a few things – product model, ripping features off its competitors, a decent but outdated camera and unsatisfactory battery life. Despite of that, the ASUS ZenFone 2 is still a powerful smartphone that we would definitely recommend to users looking for an affordable flagship that delivers a stellar smartphone experience, however if you are already rocking a Zenfone 5/6 or Padfone S, it is best that you keep your cash and wait for the company’s next flagship, the phone’s mediocre build quality and software experience could’ve been better judging by ASUS standards, we simply want to see more from ASUS.

The Good:
+ Fast and speedy performance
+ Affordable
+ Great touch screen response
+ Dual SIM 4G standby
+ Great camera

The Not so Good:
– ZenUI is no longer innovative
– Mediocre build quality
– Power button placement isn’t great
– Poor battery life
– Loudspeaker could be better
– Product variant confusing

The ASUS Zenfone 2 gets a score of 8.1/10.