Why pay a lot of money for your next business phone when the Zenfone 2 exists? Asus' new smartphone offers flagship-level performance and a roomy display at a fraction of the price of devices like Samsung's Galaxy S6. You also get some hardware features you won't find on most of those pricey flagship devices, including a micro SD card slot and support for dual SIM cards.
The Zenfone 2 can't compete on every level, though, with middling battery life and a chunky design. But those details might not matter when you consider how affordable it is. It all adds up to make the Zenfone 2 an enticing option for business users on a budget.
Price and availability
Starting at $199 for the low-end model (2GB of RAM, 16GB of storage), and $299 for the model discussed in this review (4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage), the Zenfone 2 might not sound all that affordable. After all, you can pick up our favorite overall business phone, the Galaxy S6, for just $199 with a two-year contract through carriers like AT&T or Verizon.
Of course, carriers are only able to sell the S6 that cheap because they make up for it with expensive monthly data plans. The Zenfone 2, in comparison, can be purchased for around the same price, with no contract required. After you own the phone, you can sign up for a more affordable data plan for half the price (or less) than you would have paid with a subsidized phone. That could save you a lot of money in the end.
The Zenfone 2 is available to purchase directly through Asus online, or through online stores including Amazon, Newegg and B&H. In the United States, it supports both 3G and 4G LTE Internet speeds via AT&T or T-Mobile.
The Zenfone 2 feels solid and well-built, even if the design isn't very memorable or inventive. Still, I like the curved backside, which helped the phone fit snugly in my hand. The back also sports a nice brushed metal effect, but don't be fooled – this phone is made entirely from plastic. It comes in a variety of colors including black, silver, gold and red.
It's also quite large, with a sizable 5.5-inch display. But while phones this size used to feel huge, they're fairly standard these days.
The Zenfone 2 still feels chunkier than other 5.5-inch phones, though, mostly due to the tall bezels at the top and bottom of the display, as well as its relative thickness. Measuring 6 x 3.04 x 0.15-0.43 inches and weighing 6 ounces, it's bigger and heavier than the LG G4 (5.86 x 3 x 0.24-0.39 inches, 5.47 ounces), the OnePlus One (5.86 x 3 x 0.24-0.39 inches, 5.47 ounces), and the Alcatel Onetouch Idol 3 (6.01 x 2.95 x 0.29 inches, 4.85 ounces). Meanwhile, the metal-and-glass iPhone 6 Plus (6.22 x 3.06 x 0.28) is super-thin, but it's bigger and heavier than these competitors.
Unfortunately, Asus made one big goof in designing the Zenfone 2: the power button is awkwardly placed right in the center of the top edge, instead of on the side. That means I had to awkwardly shuffle the phone around in my hand when I wanted to turn the display off. Thankfully, a handy double-on tap gesture to wake the screen somewhat mitigates the issue. You can also double tap on the lock screen to turn the display off, which is nice for quickly checking notifications.
Curiously, the volume rocker is located on the back of the phone, right below the rear camera. The Zenfone 2 is far from the first phone to make this design decision – LG's G3 and G4 smartphones also have rear-facing volume buttons. It's easy enough to reach them on this phone, but it would have been easier had they been standard side-mounted buttons.
A big display is a nice feature in a business phone, since it gives you a lot of room to work. That's true of the Zenfone 2's large 5.5-inch display, which makes screen-intensive tasks such as editing a document or spreadsheet feel comfortable. But even with all that screen space, Asus didn't add the sort of split-screen multitasking features you'll find on the LG G4 or the Galaxy Note 4. That's a bit disappointing, but it's not a huge loss – even a large smartphone screen like this isn't really big enough to comfortably show two apps side-by-side.
While flagship phones like the G4 are racing to adopt ultrasharp quad-HD screens, the Zenfone 2 offers a more modest resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels. That's plenty sharp for a screen this size, though.
On the other hand, I wish the Zenfone 2's display was a bit brighter. It tops out at 325 nits of brightness, which is well below competing phones like the LG G3 (396 nits) and OnePlus One (432 nits). That makes the screen a bit harder to view outdoors or in direct sunlight.
Budget phones usually trade performance for a lower price point. That's what's so remarkable about the Zenfone 2: the higher-end model (the one we tested for this review) feels nearly as fast as flagship phones in daily use, and punches well above its price range in performance tests.
On the Geekbench 3 test, which measures overall performance, the Zenfone 2 scored an impressive 2,832. That's a bit below the LG G4's score of 3,493, but better than other contract-free phablets like the Alcatel OneTouch Idol (2,029) and the OnePlus One (2,504).
The Zenfone 2 runs on a speedy 64-bit Intel Atom processor, but I suspect that a big part of its power comes from the 4GB of RAM, which makes it the first phone we ever tested with that much RAM. Even flagships like the Galaxy S6 top out at 3GB of RAM.
Dual SIM card slots
Now here's a business-friendly feature you won't find on flagship smartphones. Popping off the Zenfone2's back plate reveals two separate SIM card slots. A SIM card is a small, removable card inside your smartphone that lets it communicate with your wireless carrier, giving you access to the Internet on the go.
Dual SIM slots are good for work because they let you juggle multiple data plans, eliminating one of the main reasons you might carry separate phones for work and personal use. If your company pays for a separate phone plan for business use, for instance, you can easily switch to your work SIM during business hours to ensure that your personal monthly data allotment isn't gobbled up by work tasks.
It's even better if your work requires frequent travel. If you use your smartphone in another country, you might quickly rack up steep roaming fees. But owning a dual SIM phone means you can easily switch to a plan based in the country you're visiting, without having to swap out your phone's tiny, easy-to-lose SIM card every time.
A submenu in the phone's options let you tweak settings for your dual SIM cards. You can activate or deactivate a card with one tap, and set preferences for which card you'd currently like to handle phone calls.
A good front-facing camera is a nice perk if you want to meet remotely with clients or colleagues via a video chat app like Skype or Hangouts. The Zenfone 2's 5-MP front camera performed admirably, capturing images with good color accuracy and a minimal amount of visual noise, even in low light conditions.
On the other hand, the quality of audio emitted from the phone's single rear-facing speaker could be better. During a test call, I wished that the audio was a bit louder, and a bit clearer. That shouldn't be an issue if you take video and speakerphone calls in a quiet office, though.
The Zenfone 2 runs on Asus' ZenUI, which is basically a custom skin that runs on top of the Android operating system. It's not as pretty as stock Android, in my opinion, but it does add some decent apps and features that business users might find useful.
For example, the Do It Later app is nice for saving emails, messages, Web pages and documents into a quick to-do list, letting you add or remove items with a couple of taps. The What's Next app, meanwhile, can provide a quick look at your missed calls, notes, upcoming appointments, weather alerts and other information.
Asus also added some interesting gesture functionality, allowing you to launch specific apps by tracing a pattern on the screen with your finger. For example, you can trace a lowercase “e” to launch your email at any time. This feature can be customized to launch six different apps. It’s neat, and worked pretty well when I remembered to use it.
The ZenUI skin is running on top of Android version 5.0 Lollipop, the latest version of Google's mobile operating system. If you were previously using an older phone, you'll enjoy some new features like native wireless printing support, and the ability to strategically silence your smartphone at pre-scheduled times – perfect for avoiding interruptions during your company's morning meeting.
Trend Micro security also comes pre-loaded on the Zenfone 2, which can potentially protect your phone from malicious apps, as well as phishing attempts. If you stick to installing apps from the Google Play store, though, you probably won't need it.
Unfortunately, the Zenfone 2 also comes with heaps of useless pre-loaded apps that can't be uninstalled. That's typical for budget-priced phones, but it still means you'll have to wade through a bunch of bloatware every time you open your app drawer.
If you depend on your smartphone for work, long battery life is a huge boon. Unfortunately, the Zenfone 2 ran out of juice faster than competing devices. It ran for 7 hours and 5 minutes in our battery life test, which simulates continuous Web browsing over Wi-Fi. That's about an hour and 20 minutes shorter than the smartphone average (8:26). It's enough to get you through the workday, but you might be grabbing for a charging cable in the evening.
On the other hand, the top flagship phones don't last much longer, mostly because their slim frames don't allow for very big batteries. As a result, the Galaxy S6 (7:37), the iPhone 6 (7:27) and the HTC One M9 (7:14) just barely edged out the Zenfone 2. Competing off-contract phones like the Alcatel Onetouch Idol 3 (9:16) and the OnePlus One (13:16) fared much better.
Even though the Zenfone 2 has a removable back, the battery is sealed in. That means you can't swap it out for a spare, or replace it when its longevity starts to wane.
The OnePlus One is slimmer and more stylish than the Zenfone 2, with a similar 5.5-inch display, but it's not as fast.
The Alcatel OnePlus One is another good off-contract option, with a sharp 5.5-inch screen and long battery life, but it offers below-average performance.
The LG G4 comes with a sharper 5.5-inch display and a design that's similar to the Zenfone 2, but it's pricier.
The Galaxy S6 has a smaller 5.1-inch display and is more expensive than the Zenfone 2, but its performance and security features are good enough to make it our favorite overall business phone.
The Zenfone 2 hits nearly all the marks, with a strong performance and a roomy display for a fraction of the price of a flagship smartphone. It also adds a few genuinely useful software features to the mostly stock Android software, and compared to most budget phones, it even manages to look pretty nice.
Sure, it has mediocre battery life, subpar audio and a relatively dim display. But at this price point, the Zenfone 2 is more than good enough to satisfy the average business user. Before you shell out for the Galaxy S6 or the LG G4, at least give it a look.