It is the phone that currently is in pre-launch overdrive (we have had more hints dropped about it from the communications agencies than we have seen cryptic clues in a daily crossword). And well, you can understand the interest in the Asus Zenfone 2. The first Zenfone launched last year stunned people with the performance it delivered at a staggeringly affordable price. Its successor has been winning its share of applause with its design and its spec sheet (the world’s first smartphone with 4 GB RAM, we hear). And we got a chance to look at it a few days ago. We would like to point out that the device we got was a pre-launch model and did not have the final, finished software on it, but based on touch and feel, here are our initial impressions of the phone that is going to be formally launched in India on April 23.
Well the first thing that struck our minds was the size of the device. We had expected a large-ish phone, given the fact that the Zenfone 2 has a 5.5-inch display, and the Zenfone 2 was just that. In terms of length, it is slightly shorter than the OnePlus One which has a display of the same size (152.5 mm as compared to the 152.9 mm of the OnePlus One), but it is significantly wider (77.2 mm to 75.9 mm), and in an era where phones are going overboard trying to keep their waistlines down, is comfortably on the thicker side at 10.9 mm. Mind you, the thickness does not strike you because the back of the device curves out gently. The phone feels solid enough and at 170 grammes, is not flyweight, but not heavy either (hey, the iPhone 6 Plus is 172 grammes). It pretty much filled our palms and we think is going to be a bit big for those with smaller hands, especially the ladies. That said, the curved back does make it comfortable to hold.
On the front, the Zenfone 2 follows the design ethics of the Zenfone 5, which is not a bad thing at all, as we liked the looks of that phone. You have the 5.5-inch full HD display, with three touch buttons beneath for back, home and multi-tasking, and at the base of the front is the shiny concentric pattern that is the trademark of the ZenFone series. It looked smart on the previous ZenFones and it looks smart here as well. The display itself seemed very good and comparable to the one we saw on the OnePlus One in terms of brightness and clarity.
However, that is about all the new Zenfone shares with its predecessor in design terms. The sides are totally bare here, and the volume rocker goes right on the back, which in the model we received was a glossy one with a metallic sheen. Shades of the LG G3, we think, although unlike in the G3, the button on the back is not recessed or ‘sunk’ in but is on the same level as the phone and bears a shiny pattern that is similar to the one seen on the front, although it is in silver. Unlike the G3 also, there is no power button on the back, although the volume button in our model, could also take photographs (selfie freaks will love the touch, considering the phone does come with a 5.0-megapixel front facing camera). You can incidentally, take the back off to reveal the dual SIM slots and the memory card slot.
The power button incidentally is right on top of the device, which we think is not the best place for it, given the size of the phone – most other players have kept it on one of the sides. Rounding off the back is the 13.0-megapixel camera just above the volume button, with a dual LED flash. Asus has been talking a lot about the photography muscle of this phone and while we once again would like to stress that the unit we had was not the finished product, shots seemed to come out pretty well – even the low light ones. And the slight lag that we had noticed in the first Zenfone is now history.
The phone is powered by a 64-bit Intel Atom Z3580 quad core processor and comes with 4 GB RAM (the first phone in the world with that particular spec), and well, we certainly saw it performing very zippily during the brief time it was with us. And our model had Android 5.0 running on it with Asus’ Zen UI running on top of it. At first glance, it does not look too radically different from the one we saw on the previous ZenFone, but scratch the surface – literally – and some interesting features pop out. Double tapping the display made the display area smaller, making the phone easier to use with one hand, and you can make patterns on the lockscreen to access specific apps – so making a ‘W’ could launch Facebook directly (in our model, we could customise up to five patterns). Kind of neat.
In our time with the Zenfone 2, we saw a device that was amazingly consistent and ran very smoothly. We do hope the final model will enable us to unlock the device from the back button, because that power/display button on the top tended to be a bit of a pain, but in terms of performance, we had no complaints on any front. We will be posting a more detailed review once we get our hands on a review unit.
Hopefully by then we will also have a better idea of the price of the device. The first Zenfone pulled off a coup of sorts by delivering very good hardware at a sub-Rs 10,000 price. However, the period since has seen a number of devices coming out with similar performance-price ratios and as this is being written, even Xiaomi has trimmed the price of its Mi 4 to Rs 17,999. We think that is going to be the target the Zenfone 2 has to aim at. And undercut. We will find out more on April 23, but as of now, our initial impressions of the Zenfone 2 are exactly the same as those we had when we saw the Zenfone – “This is darned good, but how much does it cost?”