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Asus Zenfone 2 hands-on review at CES 2015

Asus’ latest stab at a smartphone, the Zenfone 2, rocks some seriously impressive specs, fully customisable design and possibly one of the best cameras we’ve seen in a while…

At the end of 2014 we reviewed the Zenfone 4, Zenfone 5 and Zenfone 6, three Asus smartphones named after their screen sizes which had their own individual pros and cons but were ultimately flawed beasts that showed a lot of promise. Asus has already launched a successor at CES 2015, and perhaps by settling for just a single 5.5-inch size, this could be the best smartphone Asus has produced. We went hands-on with the Asus ZenFone 2 in Vegas.

The moment we picked up the Zenfone 2, we had flashbacks to the Zenfone 6, a reasonably bulky device that firmly fit into phablet territory. The Zenfone 2 is a mite smaller at 5.5-inches but it’s still a beast, and demands two-handed use for maximum comfort.

The design is pretty standard at first glance, but you’ll be able to pick up the Zenfone 2 in a variety of different stylings, as well as colours. For instance, you could go for a sparkly crinkle-cut finish, or perhaps something more austere. The choice is yours.

A 5.5-inch Full HD IPS display takes up a sizeable 72% of the phone’s front retail space and if you know your mobiles, you’ll know that’s the same sized screen as LG’s G3, our personal favourite phone of 2014. In fact, that’s not the only thing that the Zenfone 2 shares in common with the G3.

Flip it over and you’ll notice rear-mounted volume controls right there in the centre of the back plate. Like the G3, we found the buttons found their way naturally underneath our fingers, so with a little mental conditioning we were able to quickly fiddle with the volume. However, the power button is still found up-top, which is a little awkward when using one-handed due to the sheer size of the device.

Also on the back is a 13-megapixel ‘PixelMaster’ camera with f/2.0 aperture and zero shutter lag. We took a couple of test photos in the demo area and so far we’re pretty excited – the crisp results were very true to life and packed with detail, especially with up-close macro shots.

There’s a low light mode for the rear camera as well as the 5-megapixel front facer, which takes suitably sharp selfies and also packs the standard ‘beauty mode’ for slimming your cheeks, or blowing your eyes up to anime-style sizes. Asus also claimes that the Zenfone 2 boasts the world’s best HDR mode, which we had a chance to test out with a special cardboard cut-out scene. Certainly when compared with Samsung’s Note 4, the results were much brighter and cleaner.

A 2.3GHZ 64-bit Intel Atom Z3580 processor is backed by a massive 4GB of RAM, making this the only phone around right now to boast more than 3GB. Performance was certainly a winner in our brief hands-on time, with no stutter or lag as we started up apps and whizzed around the ZenUI interface.

Android Lollipop is covered by Asus’ ZenUI, a rather nifty overlay that now offers more personalisation and security features. There’s a customisable launcher which allows you to pick any themes, fonts and icons that you like. ZenMotion gesture control allows you to set up your own gestures to open apps and so on and ZenMotion also allows you to shake your phone to add a task to your ‘do later’ list.

Trend Micro Security is integrated into the Zen web browser, to keep you safe from nasty virus things when you’re checking out dodgy websites. And there’s a Kids Mode which allows parents to set how long their precious bundles of joy can use the phone and what apps they have access to.

Finally, battery life. A 3,000mAh battery is packed inside the Zenfone 2’s slender frame and in just 39 minutes you’ll have 60% charge from dead, if Asus’ claims are true. We’ll have to wait for our full review to say if this is real actual fact, and to judge if you can get a full day of use per charge.

The Zenfone 2 will be available in March from $199. We don’t know the UK price yet, but we’re hoping for around £150.

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