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ASUS Zenfone 2 ZE551ML (2.3GHz/4GB RAM) Review: A Gamechanger?

You don't have to give up an arm and a leg to get a power-packed flagship anymore
You don’t have to give up an arm and a leg to get a power-packed flagship anymore

You Don’t Have to Pay a Lot to Get a Lot

To say that people are interested in ASUS Zenfone 2 is the understatement of the year. We’ve had our website crash multiple times whenever any kind of Zenfone 2 related story is published, which gives you a good idea about the amount of interest for the new phone. The reason for the massive amount of buzz? At the end of the day it boils down to value. The ASUS Zenfone 2 is priced way lower than a lot of flagships by global brands and yet it packs comparable features and power. The highest end Zenfone 2, the ZE551ML, runs with a 2.3GHz Intel processor and a monstrous serving of 4GB RAM. Add to that the beautiful design and you have a surefire gadget hit.

In short…

“Zenfone 2’s Formula for Success: Monstrous Power + Not Over-the-Top Design + Affordable Price.”

Are you ready for it? Let’s begin:

ASUS Zenfone 2 ZE551ML Specs

  • 64-bit Intel Atom 2.3GHz Z3580 quad-core processor
  • 4GB of RAM
  • 5.5-inch full HD IPS display with Gorilla Glass 3, 1920 x 1080 resolution
  • 32/64GB of storage, expandable via microSD up to 64GB
  • 13-megapixel rear camera, f/2.0-aperture, 5-element, auto-focus lens with dual-color Real Tone flash
  • 5-megapixel front camera, f/2.0-aperture, wide-angle 85-degree lens with Selfie Panorama
  • Dual SIM
  • 3G, LTE
  • WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, A-GPS, NFC
  • Android 5.0 Lollipop with ZenUI
  • 3000mAh battery

Solid and Imposing Design That’s Not Over-the-Top

ASUS Zenfone 2 ZE551ML 12

ASUS is a company that’s known for making very premium looking gadgets, from notebooks to tablets and now, smartphones. The company hasn’t really strayed from the design mantra that they employed with the original Zenfone series – the Zenfone 2 has an ergonomic curve (moreso than last year’s devices) that allows you to get a firm grip on the device which aids immensely with one handed use. Using the Zenfone 2 is really an experience in itself, as the phone is extremely easy to hold and operate one handed despite the size. We did notice though that it is slightly thicker and chunkier than most other flagship smartphones out there.

ASUS Zenfone 2 ZE551ML 14

The LG G4 has a premium genuine leather back and the Galaxy S6 has a back glass panel. However both of those phones sell for twice the price. To keep the cost of the final product down, ASUS focused on refining and perfecting their “plastic craft”. They stepped it up when it came to ergonomics and aesthetics, learning a lot from how LG did it with the LG G3.

Gone is the flat matte back previous generation. Now we have a more metallic finish, which is similar to the setup on LG’s G3. Speaking of the G3, ASUS has also liberally copied the rear-key design setup of the G3 (which probably doesn’t please LG one bit), and have placed the volume rocker on the rear of the phone. Unlike the G3, the power button has been separated from the rocker (probably because LG patented the Rear Key Power Button), and is located on the top of the phone alongside the 3.5mm jack. This arrangement makes it a bit of a pain to unlock the device using the power button, thankfully the phone has double-tap to unlock functionality that makes that point moot.

ASUS Zenfone 2 ZE551ML 03

The plastic back of the Zenfone 2 is removable, though you will have to be careful when trying to pry it apart. The cover fits rather snugly against the body, and if you try to use the middle of the back case as a fulcrum point to open it up, there’s a big chance you may slightly warp it. That’s what happened to us when we tried to take it off the first time.

Once you take off the back case, you’re greeted by the dual-SIM slots and the microSD slot, which allows you to bolster the already generous 32GB of storage on board. ASUS has said that they will also be offering the 64GB model of the phone, though we’re not entirely sure how much that’ll cost when it’s offered to the market.

>>> SEE ALSO: ASUS Zenfone 2 128GB Variant Revealed

ASUS Zenfone 2 ZE551ML 10

The display is a 5.5-inch full HD panel that’s a stark contrast to the QHD panels being bandied about on flagships by its competitors. The upside is that the display uses far less power compared to QHD (and probably costs a whole lot less) flagships currently out in the market. As far as display quality goes, the one on the Zenfone 2 is fantastic, with accurate color reproduction and good clarity. Quad HD is definitely being hyped to death these days but Full HD ain’t that far behind in terms of quality.

ASUS Zenfone 2 ZE551ML 02

The Zenfone 2 uses physical capacitive buttons on the bottom, just like the original Zenfone, with the trademark Zen design chin sitting right below it. And just like the previous generation of Zenfones the capacitive keys don’t light up, which is kind of annoying, especially when you’re trying to use it in the dark.

ASUS Zenfone 2 ZE551ML 09

Software: ZenUI is Intuitive and has Mass Appeal

Like the previous Zenfone, the Zenfone 2 sports ASUS’ ZenUI which other than being very easy to use, adds more functionalities on top of vanilla Android. New for the Zenfone 2 are a few new features that’s not present in other models. The most prominent for those who like leading double lives is the Snapview feature. In a nutshell, think of it as a hidden account that only the owner (i.e., you) can access. It’s accessed by a special, second lockscreen password that then allows you access to Snapview. All photos taken or apps or literally anything that’s created with Snapview won’t be shared with the regular account.

Kids mode is essentially what it sounds like – a mode specially made for kids, which limits what your children can access on your phone. If you get a phone call while in Kids Mode you will have to input your passcode to answer it, which potentially saves you from embarassing phone calls where your boss gets to talk to your blaberring 4 year-old.

Finally, the Zenfone 2 gets screen gestures via ZenMotion, which allows you to jump straight to an app even while the display is off by doing the requisite motion on the display (C for camera, S for
messaging, and so on).

ASUS Zenfone 2 ZE551ML 08

4GB is a game changer, perfect for multi-taskers

The Zenfone 2 is one of the first phones in the world to offer 4GB of RAM. It’s more than double what typical smartphones today offer, but not everybody knows exactly why we’d need that much memory. To put it simply, the more RAM you have, the more apps you can run in the background without closing any of them. That means you can quickly switch from game to app to game without having to restart or experience a sudden slowdown in performance. This is best demonstrated in our test video below:

Is 4GB RAM overkill? Probably yes considering not everyone will multi-task like crazy. However apps are now being made for 64-bit CPUs and the 4GB RAM onboard the Zenfone 2 makes it ready for the future. Never a bad thing folks.

As far as actual performance is concerned, we’re happy to report that Intel has learned its lessons with Moorefield. Thermal performance is a big issue with their previous generation of processors, which negatively impact performance and degrades battery over time. The 2.3GHz quad-core processor of the Zenfone 2 paired with PowerVR’s G6430 GPU is a winning combination, and is able to power through most of all games and apps without any negative performance issues.

Aside from the awesome performance, there’s another reason why you’d want to buy the 2.3GHz, 4GB version over the others – it’s the only one that has ASUS’ fast charging tech, BoostMaster, which can take the phone from 0% to 60% in just 39 minutes.

Excellent camera, but it does have its issues

We’ve demonstrated before that the Zenfone 2’s camera is capable of impressive image quality in both low-light and HDR, at least in ASUS’ own test booths. While technically the phone is capable of taking rather good photos in controlled environments, it’s a different story once we move into real-world conditions.

Zenfone 2

Zenfone 2

HDR shot
HDR shot

Jpeg
Zenfone 2

In the photo of SM Aura, taken at around 2:00 PM, there’s a very subtle green tint to the photo. The focus of the plate of chicken wings also looks a bit soft, and not quite as sharp as we would have liked. In the low-light image of the lanterns in Lucky Chinatown, the Zenfone 2 manages to capture a good image though there are some details that are lost, like the individual ribs of the lanterns in the third and fourth row.

Zenfone 2

The low-light photos confirm that ASUS prioritizes brightening photos via software at the cost of lost detail. You can see this in the original camera shootout we did for the Zenfone 2 and the Galaxy S6 Edge. The butterfly photo in that article has drastically reduced size because of the PixelMaster technology, which combines four adjacent pixels into one.

The camera of the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge have more expensive hardware and quality when it comes to their optics. To keep their price down, ASUS took the the software optimization and calibration route to differentiate themselves by delivering “brighter” low light photos, thus their tagline “See what others can’t see”. It’s a brilliant marketing play but it might not impress people who are keen on details over brightness.

On a positive note, one of the things (other than the low light) that we really liked about the Zenfone 2’s camera is the comprehensive manual mode. You can see it in action below:

Battery Life: Average but Fast Charging Makes Things Better

You’d think that the Zenfone 2’s 3000mAh battery would be enough for two to three days of use. Unfortunately, Intel may still need to work on the power efficiency of their Atom chips as our battery drain test (HD movie, 50% brightness, 50% volume) revealed that the ZE551ML managed to run down its 3000mAh battery in 8 hours and 10 minutes. That translates to around a day and a half of light use or less than a day of heavy usage.

As a workaround, ASUS offers fast charging with this variant. As we mentioned earlier, you can bring this phone back up to 60% from 0% in just 39 minutes of charging. A full charge would be around an hour. Definitely not bad. Just make sure to top up your juice when you get a chance in the middle of the day.

ASUS Zenfone 2 ZE551ML 04

Verdict: ASUS Zenfone 2 Delivers Amazing Value for Money

The Zenfone 2 isn’t a perfect smartphone, but then again you’d be hard-pressed to find one that is. ASUS has certainly made a concerted effort to find the right balance in design, specs, performance and price, and we can confidently say that they’ve succeed. It’s amazing how much you get with the Zenfone 2 with the price that you’re paying for it (considering the prices of other premium flagships). This is a perfect example of not having to give up an arm and a leg just to get a really kick ass smartphone.

Speaking of pricing, ASUS has so far not unveiled the official SRP of the Zenfone 2 ZE551ML, though we’re expecting it to retail under 16K (half the price of other flagships). Considering that eventual pricing scheme, we think that the Zenfone 2 is a great buy, and we’re expecting this particular device to go flying off the shelves once it’s officially available.

If you’re going to get one just take note of our comments about their camera (good low light but poor sharpness/detail) and mediocre battery life (fortunately there’s fast charging). If you can get past both then this is probably the phone for you.

READ ALSO:
ASUS VP Eric Chen Talks about the Zenfone and Zenfone 2
3 Reasons Why it’s Better to get the Zenfone 2 During Official PH Launch
Check out the ASUS Zenfone 2 Accessories
Unboxing the ASUS Zenfone 2
ASUS Zenfone 2 Initial Review: Certified Beast of a Smartphone

John Nieves

John is a veteran technology and gadget journalist with more than 10 years of experience both in print and online. When not writing about technology, he frequently gets lost in the boonies playing soldier.

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17 Comments

  1. yung video niyo sa battery test anung codec? dapat cguro x265 na.
    tanong ko dn sana kung yung default video player supported ba x265 codec?

  2. Can anyone (maybe the unbox.ph team) comment/confirm if the Zenfone 2 supports simultaneous LTE for the two sim cards? Both are able to connect to LTE at the same time?

    Thanks!

  3. Love the Zen UI. Using this in my Meizu M1 Note. Ganda talaga UI ng ZF. (I used shareit to transfer the app from my ZF5 to M1 Note) :)

  4. You mentioned “value for your money” but up to now we still don’t know the price of this unit.

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