Zenfone 2 Launch Event, Hands-On and Review!

Move aside Xiaomi, the new value for money phone in Singapore has arrived. ASUS Zenfone 2 launched to much fan fare yesterday evening in Singapore. The event saw users, partners and the media totalling 500 participants congregating at Suntec Convention Centre as ASUS unveiled their latest Zenfone 2 phones and also did an initial pre-sale event on the spot. There was clear demand for the ASUS Zenfone 2, especially the high end model, as fans rushed to buy the Z551 (4GB) at the event when sales started. It signaled the demand for this low price, high spec, well-rounded phone.

ASUS ZenFone 2 (Large)

The ZenFone 2 will be celebrated as the world’s first 4GB RAM smartphone running on a 2.3GHz 64-bit Intel processor. No other flagships has announced a 4GB model yet. ASUS says that the 4GB would offer unprecedented performance in loading apps to memory and excellent multi-tasking capability. I am not so sure, as Android apps are generally not too memory heavy, and the bottleneck in performance today is not the memory. That being said, I ain’t complaining since more RAM is always a good thing, and it doesn’t feel like I need to pay a premium for it. So why not?

Specifications of the Zenfone 2

Common Features

NETWORK: SIM 1 = 4G, SIM 2 = 2G
BATTERY: 3000mAh Lithium-Polymer, support fast charge
MICROSD: Yes
DIMENSIONS: 152.5 x 77.2 x 10.9 mm (6.00 x 3.04 x 0.43 in)
WEIGHT: 170 g (6.00 oz)

ZE500CL

CPU: 1.6 GHz Intel Dual Core Z2560
RAM: 2GB RAM
DISPLAY: 5.5″ 720P
STORAGE: 16GB
CAMERA: 8MP, 2MP Front
Price: $249 ($239 on Qoo10)

ZE550ML

RAM, DISPLAY, STORAGE: Same as above
CPU: 1.8GHz Intel Quad Core Z3560
CAMERA: 13MP, 5MP Front
Price: $299 (avail on Qoo10 and can use coupons)

ZE551ML (2GB)

CPU, RAM, STORAGE: Same as above
DISPLAY: 5.5″ Full HD 1920 x 1080
CAMERA: 13MP, 5MP Front
Price: $349

ZE551ML (4GB)

CPU: 2.3GHz 64-bit Intel Quad Core Z3580
RAM: 4GB RAM
STORAGE, DISPLAY, CAMERA: Same as above
Price: $429

ZE551ML (4GB)

CPU, RAM, DISPLAY, CAMERA: Same as above
STORAGE: 64GB
Price: $499

One point to note, most other phones adopt a Qualcomm chipset and it’s hard to do a direct comparison with them. Benchmarks alone don’t tell the whole story – but the Zenfone 2 Antutu score is around 45,000, which compares well to last year’s flagship, but would lag behind the 2015 flagship processors from Samsung Exynos and the Qualcomm Snapdragon 810s.

Personally, I think the Zenfone 2 packs enough punch to handle all current apps and there’s no need to go on a number chasing game.

Design of the Zenfone 2

ASUS+Zenfone+2+Rear-Grey-Silver

The ZenFone 2 bears the iconic ASUS concentric-circle design that adorns both the fascia and rear key. The smartphone is also covered with Corning Gorilla Glass 3 for superior resistance to damage and an anti-fingerprint coating that reduces friction by 30%. The ZenFone 2 (ZE500CL, ZE550ML) models sport a matte finishing, available in Black, White and Red, while the ZenFone 2 (ZE551ML) encompasses a stunning aluminium hairline metallic finishing available in Black, Gold, Red and Silver.

This pseudo metallic finish looks good, but touching it gives away the plastic material used. Tap on it and there’s this hollow thin sound. The rear of the phone is curved, which tapers to only 3.9 mm at the edges. This helps in making the Zenfone 2 comfortable to hold and grip. The volume buttons are located on the rear of the phone, similar to LG. In fact, the Zenfone 2 looks strikingly similar to the LG G3, with the pseudo metallic back and rear buttons, even down to the circle window flip cover accessory. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!

ASUS showed off the screen-to-body ratio of the Zenfone 2 to be 72% as compared to the iPhone 6 Plus (same screen size) which has a screen-to-body ration of 67.8%. 4% difference isn’t significant for me, other models such as from Huawei or the LG G3 boasts higher sceen-to-body ratio above 75% easily.

The Zenfone 2 UI remains unchanged to last year model. It runs on Android Lollipop but is heavily skinned by the Zen UI interface. I prefer a clean Android look and the Zen UI, which generally user friendly, is a little too heavy for me.

Photos taken with the Zenfone 2

The Zenfone 2 sports a 13MP rear-facing PixelMaster camera with an f/2.0 wide-aperture lens. It is a Toshiba CMOS sensor. Folks on Hardwarezone seem to find the Toshiba sensor to be less stellar. I will let you decide with the photos I took at the event. Shutter speed was fast, and loading up the camera was smooth – a testament to the increased RAM perhaps? The front-facing camera is a 5MP 85-degree wide-angle lens. There’s a ZenUI Selfie Panorama mode which captures panoramic selfies with up to a 140-degree field of view.

There’s some manual controls, such as ISO, exposure settings. ISO control was from 50-800, I did a quick comparison and the high ISO turned out well. Not much noise in the image.

All photos taken with the Zenfone 2 ZE551ML review unit. For full-size photos and EXIF data, check out my Google+ Album.

Availability & Pricing

The ZenFone 2 (ZE500CL, ZE550ML and ZE551ML) will be retailing at $249, $299 and $349 respectively. It will be available for pre-order at ASUS Brand Stores, ASUS Online Store and Challenger from 14th April at 9pm till Friday, 17 April, 10pm. All pre-ordered units will be available for collection on 18th April.

Those who pre-ordered with Challenger are able to collect their units from Challenger at Funan DigitalLife Mall, and for pre-orders with ASUS Brand Store, collection will be at the respective stores. For orders through ASUS Online Store, the unit will be delivered to consumers on 18 April.

The ZenFone 2 (ZE551ML) with 4GB RAM will be priced at $429 and $499 for 32GB and 64GB storage respectively and availability will be announced at a later date. The ZenFone 2 (ZE551ML) with 4GB RAM and 32GB storage was exclusively available for sale during the product launch event, and brisk sales ensued. Singaporeans are awesome at recognizing great bargains and Carousell later saw resellers selling off the Zenfone 2 ZE551ML launch event model with the flip cover at higher pricing.

Update: The ZenFone 2 (ZE5551ML) in red and gold colours with 4GB RAM and 32GB storage will be retailing at $429 at the ASUS Online Store (http://store.asus.com/sg/), Best Denki, Challenger, Gain City, Harvey Norman, MC2, M1 and StarHub from 20th June onwards.

The ZenFone 2 (ZE5551ML) in red and gold colours with 4GB RAM and 64GB storage will be retailing at $499 on the same day at Singtel shops.

ZenFone 2 Accessories

ASUS Zenfone 2 Launch - 14

ASUS provides a wide range of accessories to choose from to complement the ZenFone 2 like the ASUS View Flip Cover starting from $34.90 onwards, which protects your screen while allowing you to check all your important information without having to open the case, and the View Flip Deluxe which is a leathercrafted cover from $39.90.

Also included is a credit card-sized ZenPower for 2.4A quick charge and JEITA protection that helps to extend battery life retailing at $29.90 onwards.

Designed specially to complete the ZenFone 2’s entertainment experience is the ZenEar earphones, ASUS’s newest addition to the accessories collection, starting at $11.90. Another addition to the collection is the ZenFlash accessory, a “Xenon flash dongle” that can be connected to smartphones via USB OTG. The ZenFlash can stick to the phone’s rear panel, offering 400 times brighter flash than the usual LED flash retailing at $24.90.

The ASUS LolliFlash comes in a shape of Lollipop and is a dual-tone LED torch for phones. The device packs its own battery and can be connected to the phone via the headphone port or 3.5mm audio jack. The LolliFlash is available in three colours – Blue, Red, and Yellow priced at $14.90.

The ZenFlash and LolliFlash looks like cool little accessories to play around with, and are reasonably priced too. However, as I understand from ASUS, both ZenFlash and LolliFlash would only be available in Q3.

Conclusion

Judging from the brisk sales at the event, it looks like ASUS got themselves a winner with the Zenfone 2. Their last Zenfone sold well in 2014 (over 10 million units sold), and based on the value for money price and competitive specs of the Zenfone 2, looks like they would meet their 2015 30 million target easily.

The many models are a little confusing, but I think the most value for money model would be the ZE551ML (4GB / 32GB model) which offer good comparability to other flagships, yet at a budget price. 32GB is adequate storage for most, and you can always increase it with the Micro SD for your media content.

At S$429, I think that makes the decision all the more simpler. No other phone comes close. The basic Mi Note that was announced recently can be considered as Xiaomi’s 2015 flagship and that’s even more expensive. The 16GB Xiaomi Mi Note costs 2,299 yuan (around S$500) and sports a two generation old 801 Snapdragon with 3GB of RAM.

The extreme low end model (ZE500CL), is great for parents, grandparents, and basic consumers, but would find stiff competition among the likes of the Redmi Note 4G, which is cheaper at $229, and offers slightly better specs, notably the camera.

Sean

Sean is a tech geek and star wars fan. He loves playing with new gadgets, writing little code snippets in Python, JS, and dabbling with Android programming from time to time, while keeping a lookout for the next biggest happening in the world of tech!

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