I’m coming from a long line of well built phones. M8, Nexus 5, Desire Eye, Fire Phone, and now The Zenfone 2. This is the first phone I’ve used in a really long time that has had a plastic removable back. I figured this device would be an obvious step down because of the removable back. After having the phone a couple of weeks, I’m not at all concerned with the removable back cover. That thing is stuck on the phone really well. Like, really, really, really well. To the point where some would say it’s stuck on too tough. I appreciate it, because it’s what I wanted. I don’t do a lot of sim swapping and I have a 64GB memory card hanging out in there, which will take a long time to fill. The plastic on the back is really nice. It has a brushed texture, a bit stickier than the M8 (but then again, what wasn’t…) and so far it’s been pretty durable.
The reason I think it’s pretty durable is because I feel the front piece of plastic will be what shows age on this phone. I am usually pretty gentle with my phones. I try to throw them in empty pockets when I can, which works out to be almost always. The last phone I dropped was the Desire Eye, but that was under St. Patrick’s day conditions, and I certainly haven’t dropped this one. With that level of precaution, I’ve still managed to knick up the bottom edge of the Zenfone 2. It seems like this is a much less hard plastic.
There were a lot of claims about the hardware on the Zenfone. The performance on this thing is amazing. It’s fast. I haven’t once felt like I was challenging anything in it. Between the Intel processor and the 4GB of ram, this phone can handle anything that was built to run on Android. And it will do it at a speed that will blow your socks off. It’s the first device I’m comfortable running a launcher full time on. (I’ll get to the ZenUI in a bit)
The camera is good. There are a ton of modes, and they all make a noticeable difference. Auto does a good job. It’s not amazing, but it’s good enough, and I like to put everything I post through snapseed regardless of what phone I’m using. The amazing thing about this phone is the low light mode (not to be confused with night mode). I’m not sure what magic pixel merging entails, but the camera can take surprisingly bright shots in very low light.
After having Boomsound, all speakers are subpar. You can definitely hear stuff on the speaker, but if you want any fidelity, it’d be better to have headphones. Speaking of, in case it makes a difference to you, there are no headphones included in the box.
What is included is a fast charger. Hot damn - you want this feature in your next device. It’s amazing. I could tell you all the numbers, but you still wouldn’t quite get it until you accidentally left your phone unplugged overnight and needed to juice up quick while you ate your Cinnamon Life and showered. My morning routine takes about an hour from alarm to out the door. In that amount of time, I can pump up an extra 70%. That’s a huge percent increase! Not a, “cool, I can make it to my charger at work,” increase, but a, “I should make sure to get this plugged in tonight,” increase. You want this feature. In your car, at your work, and in your house. You want it.
I have some baby complaints about button placement. I actually had more issues going from the Desire Eye to the Fire Phone, but that button on the top is nowhere near as awesome to reach as the side buttons or the one in the middle of the rocker like the LG phones. The nice compensation is the screen has the tap to wake feature (more on that later).
Because speaking of the screen, someone needs to have a serious conversation with Asus about the screen on their phone. Inside, it looks awesome. Full 1080P with great colors. The only problem is that once you go outside, game over. In direct sunlight, it becomes almost unusable. This weekend I did a two day bike ride, and when I went to hand someone my phone to take a picture, they couldn’t figure out how to turn the screen on. The only problem was the screen was on. They just couldn’t see it. This is an issue. I didn’t compare it to any other phone, but I haven’t had that issue in a long time with a phone screen, so I do think it’s something specific to this panel. Perhaps the phone never left the office when they were working on picking out which screen to go with. Whatever lead to this oversight, I think someone at Asus needs to address it really quick.
One issue they did address quick was the battery life. I took two updates right out of the box, so I didn’t share the issues that some had with the short battery life. I’ve had my Pebble or Pebble time connected to it almost the whole time I’ve had the phone. I haven’t had it die on me yet, though yesterday I ran it from 5:30 to 10:00 with some pretty heavy use and signal searching and it was at 4% when I finally got it plugged in. It’s been solid. Perhaps not as optimized as the bigger brands who use smaller batteries, but that’s why you put in a big battery, right? It also seems like Asus is only making it better with updates, too.
I have had a couple of Asus tablets before, so I have an Asus account. I also watched the videos on the new ZenUI. I was ready to finally find a skin that I liked as much as Sense. I tried ZenUI for a while, but I couldn’t do it. It’s too much Touchwiz (circa Ice Cream Sandwich) and not enough zen. As soon as I admitted to myself that I couldn’t do ZenUI, I tested a bunch of launchers until I settled on Aviate. It’s much more peaceful and useful. (Asus must be watching my typing because they just notified me that I can download a new theme). I did try a few themes, but in the end, just couldn’t do it, and there wasn’t enough that Asus had done in ZenUI that made it worth keeping.
They did cook in some nice features in other parts of the software. The camera has a zillion shooting modes. It’s actually absurd. With all these modes, the trick is learning when to use each. And you’ll have to learn. It’s really the only way to get exactly what you want, since sometimes you should use night, and sometimes you should use low light, and sometimes auto does a fine enough job. Practice with it to get the right shot, or use something like Snapseed. The camera takes in enough information that you can do some great things in editing.
The Touch Gestures redeem any fault of putting that power button at the top. It allows to not only turn on the screen with the double tap, but you can also launch straight into apps. I really use it for the camera and phone, but there are plenty of other options. And it works really well.
Finally, there’s an auto-startup app in the power management that I have become fond of. It allows the user to decide which apps can start automatically and run in the background. Apps like my mobile banking and Instagram have no business using my battery and RAM all the time (IMHO, of course), and I like having the power to control what’s happening.
I used the OnePlus One for a while. I’d say that’s this phone’s biggest competition. The camera and screen are definitely better on the One, but it was a software nightmare. I had more issues with the software on that phone than any phone I’ve used. Now that they are the same price, would I pick one over the other? I’m glad I’m using the Asus for the added ram and smoother experience, but I don’t know that I’d be upset either way. Both are nice phones and heavily featured for the price. I’m hoping this becomes a trend.
Did I ever mention this phone was fast? Fast processing that isn’t held up by a lack of RAM and fast charging. Think annoying Jimmy John’s commercial fast.
I got the flip cover as part of my introduction package. I tried it and I still don’t like flip covers, though the window was pretty useful. If you like flip covers, the Zenfone does it well.
Overall, I’m super impressed with this phone. The simple aesthetics of ZenUI aside, I have yet to find something that isn’t impressively included in this $300 phone. Sure, they can improve some things (looking at the screen, here) but for the price, it’s a killer machine. If you’ve thought about upgrading to the Zenfone 2, don’t hesitate. Get them while they’re hot!