ASUS is not new to the smartphone market. Since the days of Windows Mobile (not the new Windows Mobile) they've been selling smartphones. But when it comes to Android devices they've been primarily focused on tablets. ASUS worked with Google to design and manufacture both generations of the Nexus 7, which was beloved by Android enthusiasts. Their PadFone devices were an attempt to have a smartphone that attached to a tablet shell to make a sort of 2-in-1 smartphone and tablet.

However it's only recently that the company has started making a serious push into what has become the traditional Android smartphone space. In 2014 the company had a fairly successful year in the smartphone space with their first generation of ZenFones, however while APAC sales were good they didn't quite make as big of a dent in the North American market as they could have - and likely not as big as they were hoping, I suspect.

This brings us to today with the North American launch of the ZenFone 2, the second generation ZenFone, and ASUS's second shot at making a major wave in the North American smartphone market. After initially going on sale in ASUS's home country of Taiwan on March 8th, and more recently in Japan and India, today ASUS is bringing over their latest phone to North America, where it will go on sale as an unlocked device through retailers like Amazon and Newegg.

It's hard to say which previous ASUS device the ZenFone 2 is a sequel to. It's actually a bit of an outlier compared to ASUS's earlier Android phones. Starting with the 2015 generation of ZenFones, ASUS has clamped down on the number of models they have released, ditching their broad spectrum of ZenFones in many sizes for fewer, more distinct models. As a result the last-generation ZenFones, the ZenFone 4, the ZenFone 5, and the ZenFone 6, have all been replaced with a single product, the ZenFone 2. The naming is a bit unfortunate in light of ASUS's earlier, sized-based naming scheme, but ultimately the point to take away from all of this is that what we're looking at is the second generation ZenFone. On a generational basis then, it's probably most accurate to call it a successor to the ZenFone 5, as it's similar in screen size and the ZenFone 2 is a natural progression when it comes to specifications.

In North America the ZenFone 2 is the first of ASUS's 2015 ZenFone products to launch, and it is the company's flagship smartphone for 2015. You won't see the budget ZenFone C here, and meanwhile the only other member of the ZenFone family will be the forthcoming ZenFone Zoom. As opposed to being another smartphone, the Zoom will be ASUS's take on a true cameraphone, combining a more complex point & shoot optics system - complete with optical zoom - with a traditional smartphone.

As for today's product launch, much like its 2014 predecessors, ASUS is coming out swinging with very aggressive pricing on the ZenFone 2. With the entry level model coming out at $199 and the most expensive model at $299, at first glance it seems strange to call the ZenFone 2 ASUS's flagship smartphone. At these prices the immediate competition for the ZenFone 2 would appear to be devices like the Moto G and the Lumia 735. But don't let yourself be deceived by the price. The ZenFone 2 has some extremely impressive specifications for a low cost smartphone, launching with a fairly powerful Intel quad-core Atom SoC, 2GB+ of RAM, and a 5.5" 1080p IPS screen. As today's article is just a preview to line up with ASUS's launch I won't spend much time going over them today, but you can take a look at an overview of the ZenFone 2's specs below.

  ASUS ZenFone 2 (Base) ASUS ZenFone 2 (High-End)
SoC Intel Atom Moorefield Z3560
4x Silvermont @ 1.8GHz
Intel Atom Moorefield Z3580
4x Silvermont @ 2.33GHz
GPU PowerVR G6430 @ 533MHz
NAND 16GB + microSDXC 64GB + microSDXC
Display 5.5" 1920x1080 IPS LCD
Dimensions 77.2 x 152.5 x 10.9 mm, 170g
Camera 13MP Rear Facing with F/2.0 aperture
5MP Front Facing with F/2.0 aperture
Battery 3000mAh (11.4Wh)
OS Android 5.0 Lollipop with ASUS Zen UI
Cellular Connectivity 2G / 3G / 4G LTE (Intel XMM7262 Category 6 LTE)
Second SIM 2G GSM (Intel XMM2230)
Other Connectivity 802.11a/b/g/n/ac + BT 4.0, GNSS, NFC, microUSB2.0
SIM Dual SIM slots
Price $199 $299

Since I've only had the phone for a couple of days at this point and haven't had a chance evaluate every last aspect of it, I'm going to divide up our coverage a bit. Lining up with today's formal launch from ASUS, I want to start with some of our more interesting data for our readers who are looking for some quick impressions before pulling the trigger. Meanwhile later this week I'll be back with a full review of the phone, including more benchmarks and a look at other aspects such as the camera and battery life.

In terms of construction and build quality, I like the design of the ZenFone 2. The chassis reminds me a lot of LG's larger phones. It curves to a very thin edge, has very thin bezels, and places the volume rocker beneath the camera on the back of the phone. The materials make it look distinctly like an ASUS product, with a brushed finish that reflects light in interesting ways. Although the back of the ZenFone 2 looks like the brushed aluminum on ASUS's high end laptops, it is made of plastic. I would love if it had an aluminum build, at $199 ASUS is already packing in higher specs than competing phones with similar worldwide availability.

The one aspect of the design that I do consider questionable is the placement of the power button. It's located on the top of the device, next to the 3.5mm audio jack. Even though the ZenFone 2 is fairly small for a 5.5" device, it's difficult to reach up to the top to turn it on without having to shift your grip upward. It's not the end of the world, but I would like to see it moved to the right side of the phone for future ZenFone devices. Despite the power button placement, I'm happy with the overall design of the ZenFone 2.

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  • lilmoe - Monday, May 18, 2015 - link

    I wish Intel would focus more on GPU in all of their lineup of silicon.
  • MonkeyPaw - Monday, May 18, 2015 - link

    That's what they did with CherryTrail. They shrunk the die, kept the CPU largely unchanged, and jumped to Gen 8 graphics with more EUs. Surface 3 has a newer GPU than Surface Pro 3!
  • lilmoe - Tuesday, May 19, 2015 - link

    Yea they did, but it's not enough though. It falls short of smartphone SoCs ATM.
  • Alexvrb - Thursday, May 21, 2015 - link

    It's a Windows x86 device... with a new GPU. A major driver update could turn things around, especially combined with DX12. They still need to pick up the pace though. Case in point:

    These Atom chips in question are powered by PowerVR graphics, not Intel. G6430 to be specific, so they should be reasonably quick. But Intel should be more aggressive in adopting the latest graphics cores from PowerVR - these should have been using GX6450, as seen in the iPhone 6. The G6430 was what Apple was using last gen.
  • akdj - Saturday, May 23, 2015 - link

    Hi Alex. I agree with all you say, and wise to point out this isn't a graphic solution from Intel. That said, I'm not so sure about the second sentence. Driver updates certainly can help but as you say, it's last year's PVR silicon and there's a ceiling of headroom just as there is with the TDP of the CPU, the SoC's overall temp is governed by the GPU more often (as it's literally 'all display' ;)) than the CPU.
    However, seeing the advances Intel has managed on the desk and in the lap, I'm not betting against them, nor nVidia. While they 'missed the train' on its first stop, they've both got the resources to catch up. The knowledge, equipment and the know how to do so. Intel iGPUs over the life span of the core 'i' series since Core2Duo have gone from able to draw your desktop without mouse tracers to today's Iris Pro 6xxx series. While not 'monsters' in comparison to the discrete lineup of GPUs on the market, they're certainly comparable to the discrete cards of yesterday. IE, I've got a 15" rMBP from 2012. It's a core i7/2.7GHz w/16GB of RAM, 786GB SSD and the Intel HD4000/nVidia 650m (kind of a 655/660 as Apple clocked with nVidia's tutoring, the 650m to near parity with the 660m). The latter with 1GB of dedicated VRAM, the integrated GPU shares ...I believe up to 3/4 of a GB of the system RAM. Possibly more. But I believe that's in the newer IP 5200 that gets 1.25GB on the iGPU, 2GB on the 750m discrete from 2013 & 2014.
    Today's 6xxx IP iGPU series without throttling on many of the passively cooled new core 'm' low power 4.5w chips currently being measured --- in an environment capable of keeping the GPU power sustained (& cooled) -- the current iGPU computationally equals that power of the 650m, in some cases bests it's abilities to manipulate large PS Raw batches, crunch genome projects ...even video rendering, trans or encoding. A couple of these cases, the newest Haswell iGPU is quicker than the current rMBP 15" flagship offering that's remained, the 2GB 750m. That's pretty amazing progress from the Sandy Bridge (28nm? Or was it 32?) HD3000 ---> HD4000 in Ivy Bridge's die shrink to 22nm, and truly blossoming in the 5xxx & 6xxx series. And @ 4.5watts to match beefy discrete cards from a couple years ago (I'm not ignorant to the fact Apple's using an ancient discrete solution of their flagship laptop BUT Intel's delay in the 35/45watt quads that fit into those rigs haven't appeared! Last of the batch apparently. But along with Haswell and the new core processor, I can only imagine the performance capabilities of the internal GPU alone. Remember the rMBP sold in 2014 as a $1999 option without discrete graphics - solely relying on the 5200 IrisPro. And it's incredibly fluent. They're making a helluva run 'catching up' integrating a nice graphic package on to their silicon as they continue reducing size to 14nm. I'd guess ...if I was a betting man, I'd wager within five years they're as dominant and influential in mobile SoC design as they're today in X86/desk and laptop chip design. But I don't think there will be only a single 'AMD' competitor. Imagine & Qualcomm, as you point out PowerVR series are still 'off the shelf' and perhaps the last piece to Apple's 'A' series 64bit design. Samsung's Exynos SoCs are fast as HELL, & seemingly they're the only chip manufacturer or OEM able to turn 64bit in a generation. Qualcomm, it's 810 woes and concurrent development of the 808 as a stop gap at 32bit showed just how off guard the A7 caught the,, now twenty months ago
    Tegra {nVidia} xxxTrail/Atom/Celeron - did I read 'Pentium' (the word as a descriptor) will also. E resurrected? ...anyway, Intel obviously has choices and Baytrail, Cherrys and I'm thinking the Dingleberry line that follows ;)---will continue to benefitting simply by decreasing silicon, increasing transistor Count and their differing solutions with trigate graphene or nano nanew (Mork man!) molecular silicon from organically ....whatever it is, Intel is now wise to the Massive exorcism of space wasting, power hungry desktops and heavy laptops that last 67 minutes unplugged folks are going through (we've ALL got one at the 'grind', right? Your've got 'the box'. WTH do you need one at home when an iPad, Samsung Note pro 12.1" v5/7100trV model (could t resist, I've got the Xoom still and long for the days the tab had a unique name lol) or a two/three pound laptop with PCIe SSD storage that reads and writes at a Gb/s, lasts ten to 12 hours on a charge ( I routinely get 13-15 on my 2014 13" MacBook Air ), or an iPhone 6+, Note 4, Nex 6 a new HTC LG the S6 or HuawhyIcan'tspelltheUaii Chinese brands, Xiaomi (sp too?) as well --- having a 5"+ phone (I'm a Note user strictly for my business, iPhone for personal I've been ambidextrous since 2008) is nice, large and legible. Add to the recipe the display technology progression over the last decade. Sensor miniaturization of sensors; accelerometers, gyros, barometers and proximity ...GPS consumer access and phenomenal LTE speeds that surpass many folks' home ISP bandwidth --- 'Mobile', regardless of what you and I and the rest of us geeks 'need' for our task don't reflect on today's normal, reasonable person. Leave the computer at home along with the work it contains. Even if you're going on vacation your smartphone and/or tablet has the power, connect-ability and high speed, reliable and efficient speeds with any and every piece of what used to be referred to as software is now the 'app'
    I did my taxes on mine this year. On my iPad and I own a home, cabin and business. Plenty of 'stuff' that doesn't allow me to use the 1040EZ any longer ;). I can check email, Linked, Twit and FB, projects through MS's office suite, Adobe's creative suite or Apple's iWork. I can record an album. Draw a picture. Edit photos or motion/video and save, share or photoshop someone's face on the cop's. Read a book, surf, respond to texts and tweets and take calls ...even make calls if so inclined. Calendars and calculators ...a 'viewfinder' of 9.7" of pure perfect display to monitor your multi cam setup and adjust exposure - ISO - Shutter speed and aperture as well as 'mix' out your broadcast through Multicam editing and transitions of viewpoint to keep a viewer compelled. Write a novel. Fly a plane and file flight plan, diversion airports, real time weather and traffic -- gas necessary, weights and CG balances. (I fly for a living and have for almost thirty years in Alaska ...the iPads have changed significant a jump in technology it rivals the transition from steam gauges to glass 'pits. There's no END to what one can do with today's smartphones and tabs. They're not tablets. They're not phones. They're now pocket computers faster than the laptops we were using last decade just five years ago.
    Intel isn't standing idly by. They've got a lot Invested in the 'ultra book' sector. Some $300,000,000 to help boost sales. And we're still, at the genesis. Some may call the new Yoga or MacBook under powered or 'slow' in comparison to their previous machine. Truth is it's as fast as the machines we were very content with two years ago, using less than a third of the power @ 4.5watts. That's amazing dexterity and they'll continue to make in roads graphically to the point they'll be a major player IMHO.

    Sorry for the novel. My bad
  • javier_machuk - Tuesday, May 19, 2015 - link

    i agree, a 5 inch version of this phone at this price would be a hot seller, far better specs than the rest of the pack in that price, the size its the only thing that pull me off.
  • Hrel - Wednesday, May 20, 2015 - link

    It IS a 5" phone. They used a very thin bezel to put a 5.5" screen in a 5" chassis. Compare the device dimensions to the 5" LG G2, it's smaller :)

    If you go to Asus's website they explain this in more detail on the product page for this phone.
  • asfletch - Wednesday, May 20, 2015 - link

    Er...Asus may claim they've made it like a 5", but the LG G2 is waaay ahead on screen to bezel ratio. It's about 138mm tall by 71mm wide. The ZenFone 2 is about 152mm tall by 77mm wide. That's noticeably bigger than even the G3.
  • SoC-IT2ME - Thursday, May 21, 2015 - link

    Hrel - your post is full of fail. This is a much larger phone than G2.
  • blzd - Thursday, May 21, 2015 - link

    Um no. LG G3 is a small 5.5" phone, this is a larger 5.5" phone.

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