A flagship smartphone starting at $199? Is that even possible? Well, Asus appears to have achieved it, according to their CES 2015 announcement of their new Zenfone 2 smartphone. Basically, the Zenfone 2 has specs that put it right on flagship territory, however, it's price tag is similar to mid-range phones. Costing as little as $199 before taxes, the Zenfone 2 might just have the most bang for the buck we've seen for a phone since the Moto G.
Asus' new smartphone has many variants at different price points, and instead of offering only variants with different storage capacities like most phones, the Zenfone 2 is available in different configurations for storage, RAM, and even processor speed. Of course, the $199 price tag applies to the simplest configuration, which is itself no slouch, with 16GB storage, 2GB of RAM and an Intel Z3560 processor (Quad-core 1.8GHz). Considering that most phones at this price range offer much less than that, Asus really must be congratulated for making such a good phone at this price range.
Of course, it is very possible that Asus made some compromises to reach the low starting price for the Zenfone 2, and this can be confirmed only when the phone is actually available for purchase. For now, though, Asus has an astounding phone in their hands, at least on paper.
|Asus Zenfone 2|
|Body||152.5 x 77 x 10.9~3.9mm, 170g|
|Display|| 5.5" IPS LCD fullHD (1920 x 1080, 403ppi)
w/ Corning Gorilla Glass 3
|Data|| LTE: Cat. 4 150/50 Mbps
(FDD-LTE: Bands 1/2/3/4/5/7/8/9/17/18/19/20/28/29
TDD-LTE: Bands 38/39/40/41)
GPS, A-GPS and GLONASS
3.5mm audio jack
microUSB 2.0 (with USB OTG)
microSD card slot, up to 64GB
|Camera (rear)||13MP, 5-element f/2.0 lens, with dual-color LED flash. 1080p@30fps video|
|Camera (front)||5MP, f/2.0 aperture lens, 85-degree wide lens|
|Storage/RAM|| 16/32/64 GB, 2/4 GB RAM
- Asus WebStorage: 5GB (lifetime)
|Processor||Intel Atom Z3560/Z3580|
|CPU||Quad-core Silvermont (4C/4T) 1.8GHz/2.3GHz|
|GPU||PowerVR G6430 @ 533MHz (136 GFLOPS)|
|OS||Android 5.0 Lollipop with Asus ZenUI|
|Battery||Li-Ion 3,000 mAh, non-removable|
The Zenfone 2 is undeniably a beautiful phone. There are many notable details about the Zenfone 2's design, the sum of which might just make Asus' new design the best one we'll see in a while. Most notably, Asus decided to, like LG, ditch the traditional side-mounted volume keys to the back of the device, aiming a reduction in bezel width. Unlike LG's approach, though, which moves the power button to the back as well as the volume keys, Asus chose to move only the volume keys to the back, putting the power button on the top of the phone. Speaking of bezel width, Asus' new phone has exremely slim bezels, which make the phone that bit more attractive, with a relatively good screen to body ratio of 72%.
Other notable features of the design include the all-aluminium rear and the Zenfone series' signature spun metal strip on the bottom of the front of the phone. The rear of the device is entirely made of brushed metal, in a rather HTC One-like fashion, which makes for a very premium looking phone, despite the low starting price.
ZenUI is what Asus calls their Android skin. Their newest version of ZenUI has Android 5.0 Lollipop on its core, the latest Android version. Overall, ZenUI is one of the best Android skins available, and is the opposite of TouchWiz. While it keeps layout and functionality close to stock, adding little bloatware, it focuses rather on changing the look of Android.
ZenUI makes Android look very sleek with a flat, modern user interface, all without being intrusive to the unexperienced user. In general, this must be one of the best Android skins, if not the best.
The Zenfone 2's display is on par with current flagships, which is very good for a phone with such a low starting price. What we have in hand is a 5.5" IPS LCD with fullHD resolution. With such a screen size, the Zenfone definitely steps into phablet territory, even if the extremely slim side bezels help reduce the phone's footprint.
If anyone's disappointed that Asus used "just" a 1080p display instead of a QHD screen: don't be. Any resolution increase from 1080p on a 5.5" phone would be very hard to notice. The difference is definitely not noticeable enough to offset the extra power consumption and performance impact that comes with QHD. At this point, it's much better to keep resolution where it is and work on other aspects of the display, and Asus' choice to keep it to 1080p might even give it a performance advantage over the competition.
Anyways, Asus' phone ends up with a 403ppi pixel density, which should be perfectly fine unless you are trying to see some really small details. The Zenfone 2 will look as sharp as any flagship phone should look.
You can actually choose between two different processors for the Zenfone 2, depending on how much you're willing to pay for the phone. Ever so faithful to Intel, Asus has again decided to ship their flagship phone with an Atom processor, in this case, either the Z3560 or the Z3580. Since both available processor options belong to the same platform (Moorefield), both processors are physically identical, and the difference between them comes down to clock speed.
Both processors are built on a 22nm process, and include a CPU consisting of four Silvermont cores with 2MB of L2 cache. Since Silvermont is a 64-bit CPU and the Zenfone 2 runs on Android 5.0, the phone will benefit of the processor's 64-bit processing capabilities.
Also, both processors use a PowerVR G6430 GPU (same as the one on the Apple A7), with a base frequency of 457MHz and a burst frequency of 533MHz. In burst mode, the G6430's GPU can deliver a peak compute power of 136 GFLOPS, which is slightly above the Snapdragon 800's Adreno 330, but much less powerful than the Snapdragon 805's Adreno 420. The GPU is the only aspect of the Zenfone 2 which is not on par with flagships, but then again, it's hardly a slouch.
The differences between the Z3560 and the Z3580 come down to their CPU clock speed. While the Z3560 has its four cores clocked at up to 1.83GHz, the Z3580 can go all the way to 2.33GHz. That's a 500MHz increase for each core, which should definitely make a difference in usage...and in battery life.
A flagship phone for $199. That is a combination most people would say is impossible. However, at least in paper, Asus really didn't cut back on any features to achieve the low price. Every aspect of this phone is flagship-level, and this achievement could make the Zenfone 2 a very successful smartphone.
You get everything that you can possibly ask for from a flagship - A beautiful design, the latest Android version, good cameras (although 4K recording would have been appreciated), a large, high-quality, high-resolution display; a good processor too (even if not exactly among the best). All for a very low starting price. Even if the $199 version of the phone has "only" 2GB of RAM and a lower-clocked CPU, you're still getting much more than any other phone on this price range.
In general, Asus has done very well with its latest flagship. It has the specs of a flagship and the price of a mid-ranger. How that achievement will translate to sales figures is yet to be seen, but if Asus gets availability and marketing right, it's Zenfone 2 could be a huge success.