-Design is spartan, easy to handle
-Replacement back cover (black/white) included
-Battery has potential, but needs power saving modes
-Very low price for a smartphone
-Performance can't handle intensive tasks consistently, is pretty uneven overall
-Internal storage only 8GB
-Only 1GB RAM
-Camera is very low quality all around
-Software is full of features that doesn't fit amount of RAM
-Zen UI feels bloated and cartoonish
Earlier this year, ASUS surprised us with a fantastic device with their flagship Zenfone 2, which has received a lot of appreciation from the tech world and consumers alike. Joining the three variants of the ASUS Zenfone 2 is another entry-level edition, dubbed the Zenfone 2E, that will be available from AT&T exclusively for their prepaid GoPhone customers. With its much lower price point, and specifications reflecting that, how does budget-friendly Zenfone 2E fare? We find out in this review!
Despite its smaller size, the Zenfone 2E retains a lot of the design language of its flagship counterparts. Like its larger sibling, the power button is placed up top, which does feel a little out of place given that most phones now have it on the sides, but given the overall smaller size of the Zenfone 2E, it isn’t hard to reach.
The volume rocker is on the back, and while the implementation isn’t as refined as on LG’s smartphones, it is still well positioned, allowing for the index finger to land easily on the buttons. The rocker doesn’t offer as much of a tactile feel as we would have liked, but there have been no issues with input throughout my usage. Even the front buttons are all capacitive, with a small faux brushed metal area underneath them, giving the phone a little extra texture.
A much appreciated design feature of this phone is the removable back cover, allowing users to swap between the available white and black options. The back cover is easy to remove, and underneath it is where the slots for the SIM card and the microSD card can be found.
Though the 5.5-inch Zenfone 2 didn’t feel cumbersome despite its larger size, the smaller footprint of the Zenfone 2E obviously makes for a far better handling experience. The curve on the back is also a contributing factor, as the device sits really well in the palm, and helps angle the phone for side to side operations. The design of the Zenfone 2E is best described as spartan, with its lack of any obvious bells and whistles around the body. But the device retains all the nice design elements of the Zenfone 2, and we think GoPhone customers will appreciate it.
The smaller display comes with a smaller resolution, but casual users won’t have much to complain about, as far as the performance of the display is concerned. The 5-inch IPS LCD display comes with a 720p resolution, resulting in a pixel density of 294 ppi. This is lower than on the Zenfone 2, but it makes perfect sense considering the price of this device. The lower pixel density reduces the sharpness for text reading, but it isn’t the worst performer that we’ve seen.
That said, the difference in overall quality is noticeable when compared to the Full HD and Quad HD screens out there, but that is nothing to fault this budget-friendly device for. Viewing angles happen to be pretty good, and the general color temperature tends to be on the warmer side. This can be changed with a built-in screen color mode selector, where you can chooses between some preset options or manually adjust the temperature. Text loses a bit of sharpness with the drop in resolution though, making this, at best, a decent performer in the scope of the total market.
Colors remain pretty good, and brightness does benefit from the underlying IPS technology, allowing for an enjoyable media consumption experience, as long as you aren’t looking for the most clarity or highest resolution. As a budget GoPhone, having a 720p resolution screen is pretty standard, making the Zenfone 2E the kind of performer the frugal user will be happy with.
Under the hood, the Zenfone 2E packs a dual-core Intel Atom Z2560, backed by the PowerVR SGX544MP2 GPU and 1 GB of RAM. This processing package is a big step down from the one found with the Zenfone 2. It’s easy to blame it for the less than ideal performance, but the paltry 1GB of RAM has a lot to do with it as well, potentially causing frustration even for the most casual of users.
A measure of stutter is observed even in the homescreens, and there is a delay when attempting to load most applications. It’s understandable that graphic-intensive games don’t work all that well here, but it’s a bit disheartening to see that even a middle-of-the-road game like Combo Crew crash consistently. We don’t really see more than just the typical point and click games like Candy Crush working on a consistent basis here, and, depending on what games you play, your experience may vary. It’s not surprising that an app cleaner is prominently shown in the recent apps screen and the notification dropdown, and of course, there are some limits to what this phone’s processing power can handle.
The entry-level nature of the Zenfone 2E is apparent from other specifications as well, starting with the substandard 8 GB of built-in storage, which can be filled up very easily. Fortunately, a microSD card slot is available for expandable storage of up to 64 GB, which you will definitely have to rely on for your media and picture storing needs.
Since the Zenfone 2E is available exclusively from AT&T, connections and call quality is dependent on the strength of the network in your area. In my experience, phone calls were quite clear with no drops, and the 4G LTE network was reliable. The device also packs a standard suite of other connectivity options, with the exception of NFC. The rear facing speaker is pretty standard fare, offering a somewhat tinny noise that doesn’t get too loud, and lacks in the lower-middle to lower ends.
When it comes to the battery, the 2,500 mAh unit performs about as well as expected. While not the largest battery capacity, the lower-end specifications and 720p display help make this battery last for at least a single day of work, and possibly even more with light usage and activated power saving modes. Heavier usage, like using GPS navigation and music streaming, may result in you needing to reach for the charger before the end of your day though. While the battery isn’t a terrible performer, you will probably find yourself scrambling for ways to have power in order to get through the day.
The Zenfone 2E packs an 8 MP rear camera, and features some extra modes that might not be expected with an entry-level smarpthone, such as HDR, a miniature mode, and even a smart removal mode, along with videos modes that include a timelapse at 1080p resolution. While self-portraits can be taken using the 2 MP front-facing camera, the dedicated selfie mode using the rear shooter is great. Using user-defined face detection, the rear facing camera will snap three photos based on how many faces it finds, and this will be a pretty good mode to use for anyone that wants a better selfie from this phone.
Image quality is unfortunately, but expectedly, low. Sharpness is poor, made much worse when zooming in, and colors are quite muted, with brighter parts of pictures typically getting blown out. HDR tends to be a better choice in these situations, as it does lower exposure a bit on those blown out spots but, more importantly, adds a healthy amount of saturation to all colors.
What probably hurts the experience the most is the slower speed of capture. It takes a long time between the moment you press the shutter button and the moment the image is saved, not to mention that the slow shutter speed often adds blur to photos that already lack in sharpness. Videos show the same problems, especially blowing out highlights, and showcasing that shutter speed that results in high stutter throughout. For capturing the moment, the camera of the Zenfone 2E tries to be a good companion, but quality remains proportional to the low price that this phone comes at.
On the software side of things, the Zen UI brings its generally oversaturated interface to this budget-minded device, providing a lot of features that the casual user might not really take advantage of. There are the different customization apps, like the screen color tweaker, and a bunch of tools, including even a Do It Later task app. Customizations continue with plenty of options for the homescreens, including icon packs, different animations for scrolling, and smart grouping of applications in the app screen.
All of this is on top of the Android 5.0.1 Lollipop, so Material Design elements are given a much more colorful and somewhat cartoony feel. Though perhaps that impression can be due to the 720p display, which can make items look a little more bloated that displays with higher resolutions.
What is most striking about the Zen UI is that it tries to provide a lot of options no matter where you are in the interface. But, with lower specifications and only 1GB of RAM, having so many options might not make a lot of sense, because the device can only really run so much before slowing down. As we keep saying, the highly casual daily user will find the Zenfone 2E to be a decent overall performer, but going the extra mile is not what this budget GoPhone was made for.
|Display||5-inch IPS LCD display|
720p resolution, 294 ppi
|Processor||1.6 GHz dual-core|
Intel Atom Z2560 processor
PowerVR SGX544MP2 GPU
expandable via microSD up to 64 GB
|Software||Android 5.0 Lollipop|
|Camera||8 MP rear camera with LED flash|
2 MP front-facing camera with wide angle lens
|Dimensions||148.1 x 71.4 x 10.9 mm|
Pricing and final thoughts
At a very affordable $119.99, the price point is definitely the best aspect of the ASUS Zenfone 2E, making this one of the easiest entry points into the world of Android. Not a lot of smartphones feature such a low price tag, and even those that are commonly considered budget-friendly, including the Moto G, will set you back at least $50 more.
So there you have it for our look at the ASUS Zenfone 2E! This device is a good choice for the starter smartphone user that is looking to save money. While it is easy to criticize this smartphone for not going the extra mile compared to the competition and the higher-end market, that’s not the point of the Zenfone 2E. Rather, this is for the user that needs the cheapest way to experience a smartphone without breaking the bank. Granted, you do get what you paid for, but, for the casual gamer, the occasional media streamer, and the user that needs a cell phone with smartphone capabilities, the Asus Zenfone 2E is one of the cheapest ways to get there.