Hands on: Asus ZenFone 2 review

Let me qualify this first look at the Asus ZenFone 2 right from the start: it isn’t a full review in any sense, because all the phone samples at the launch at CES 2015, were shackled to cords. Plus I’ve only had a limited amount of time to play with the device. See also: What’s the best smartphone of 2015?

CES 2015 best smartphone Asus ZenFone 2

But what I can say is that this 5.5in phone looks incredibly impressive up close, and I look forward to spending some time with it in the future – not least because I’m in the market for a phablet-style phone myself.

So, what’s new? First is the sheer amount of brute-force power on show. Why be content, Asus decided, with a 2.3GHz Atom processor when you can partner it with 4GB of RAM? It’s no surprise that this phone makes mincemeat of Android 5 (Lollipop).

Hands on: Asus ZenFone 2 review – software

And that’s another thing that’s new. This is the first outing for the updated Asus ZenUI, which builds upon Android 5 with a few features of its own. There’s SnapView, which promises to keep private files separate from work files (“You don’t need to have two phones any more,” joked Asus chairman Jonney Shih at the launch, “unless they’re Asus ZenFones”).

brand_new_zenui

Taking a cue from Windows Phone, there’s also a kids-only area, while ZenMotion adds support for a few touch gestures. Shake it, for example, and an email will be closed and saved for later.

What’s nice about ZenUI is that it isn’t overbearing: most of the time this should feel like you’re using a pure Android phone. Asus is also promising “ZenUI Instant Updates” to keep apps up to date, but we’re yet to see how long the lag is between an OS update and Asus following suit.

The screen, as you should expect from a flagship phone, looks amazing. It’s a Full HD IPS display, and my experience suggests that Asus’s promise of a 178-degree wide viewing angle is true.

asus_zenfone_2_color_line_up

Another nice touch: the range of colours. There’s black, gold, silver, white and red, all finished in brushed metal.

Hands on: ZenFone 2 review – camera

Take note, also, of the camera on the rear. It boasts a resolution of 13 megapixels and an aperture of f/2.0, but the really interesting part is the low-light mode, which I saw in action during the launch presentation. It promises “400% brighter photos at night” without a flash. There’s also a dual-colour Real Tone flash to give your subjects a warmer skin tone, rather than that wintry look that’s all too common with other smartphone cameras.

If photos are a real priority, though, then you may want to wait until the summer and the arrival of the other phone Asus announced: the ZenFone Zoom. This includes a 3x optical zoom, similar to the Samsung Galaxy Camera 2, but in a much slimmer chassis.

Asus Zenfone 2 launch stand

Come to that, you may have to wait for the ZenFone 2 as well. We haven’t yet had confirmation of availability or price in the UK, but the signs look good: it will hit the US in Q2 of this year, and Asus has said prices will start at $199.

I’m always a little nervous of “starts at” prices, though, so will hold off any firm judgement until Asus confirms exactly what you’re getting for your money – and when you can expect it, too.

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