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Asus ZenFone 2 review: Can it continue the success of the original?

Asus’ latest ZenFone looks to excel on value, but can the Intel-powered newcomer deliver on quality, too?

Asus’ latest assault on the Android phone comes via the ZenFone 2, the successor to the ZenFone 4, 5 and 6. The previous generation devices had 4-, 5- and 6-inch screens, hence the names. The ZenFone 2 has two different screen sizes, with 5-inch and 5.5-inch variants available.

Confused yet? The variations don’t stop there – both 720p and 1080p resolution screens are offered, storage on the devices varies between 16GB and 64GB, RAM is either 2GB or 4GB and there are two different versions of the Intel Atom processor available. The phone is single SIM in some markets and dual SIM in others. Asus certainly doesn’t make choosing easy!

Our review device is at the higher end of the range, with a full HD screen, 32GB storage and the 1.8GHz Intel Atom Z3560 rather than the quicker 2.3GHz Z3580. The stand-out item on the spec sheet for this phone is definitely the 4GB RAM, which should mean applications virtually never get swapped out of memory. At a time where some flagships are still being shipped with 2GB RAM, this is a pretty significant feature for what is, even at its very highest specification, a mid-range device.

From a design perspective, the ZenFone 2 integrates the DNA of its predecessors with a sprinkling of inspiration from competitors. The area containing the capacitive buttons on the front retains the hallmark ‘spun metal’ look, but switching around to the back of the device you’ll notice that the volume rockers have moved from the side in a feature that is very reminiscent of LG’s handsets. The power button is on the top of the device, which makes it a little bit of a stretch to reach. The benefit of having the buttons on the back is that it enables Asus to shrink the bezels alongside the screen, although a 72 per cent screen-to-body ratio is good but not as exceptional as we’ve seen on devices such as the LG G2. And you should make no mistake – the ZenFone 2 is not a small device. The phone has a removable plastic back under which sit the SIM and microSD slots – despite this, the battery is not replaceable. The back cover has a brushed metal effect and is available in white, black, red, grey and gold.

Imaging on the ZenFone 2 comes courtesy of a 13MP camera on the back and a 5MP camera on the front. The rear camera uses a Toshiba sensor together with a dual tone LED fl ash to provide what Asus calls ‘class leading’ low-light performance. For a mid-range device, pictures do generally come out well, but the ZenFone 2 is unfortunately outperformed by cameras found on LG and Samsung flagship devices. Super HDR further enhances results in difficult lighting conditions. For selfie fans, the front-facing camera has a 85 degree wide angle lens and takes very clear shots.

The ZenFone 2 runs Android Lollipop with Asus’ own ‘ZenUI’ extensions. ZenUI basically conforms to the standard template for manufacturer customisations – tweaked icons, slightly modified core apps and a sprinkling of add-ons of varying utility. Privacy protection tools, a kids mode and downloadable themes are the highlights but on the whole the software build feels well done and not excessively heavy.

An Intel processor is still something of a rarity in an Android phone, but the ZenFone 2 demonstrates perfectly why it really should be a consideration. Despite having the slower of the two processors on offer, the device really flies.

The 4GB RAM no doubt helps when running lots of big applications, but we saw instant responsiveness, no tangible lag and overall performance that matches or even eclipses that of the very highest-end Android phones you can buy today. Given that the 1080p device performs so well, we expect that the 720p phones would feel blistering fast. We’d have no hesitation recommending the ZenFone 2 from a performance perspective.