Asus announced its ZenFone 2 Android handset at CES 2015 this week. It's a solid flagship phone that really only has two features that make it stand out from a crowded field of smartphones, but they're arguably the two most important features.
First, there's the processing guts of this phone, which is a 2.3GHz 64-bit Intel Atom processor with either 2 GB or 4 GB of RAM, making the top-end ZenFone 2 about as powerful as many laptops. Second is the highly competitive pricing that places this phone among the best value smartphones available. ASUS says the ZenFone 2 will start at $199 without a contract for a model with 2 GB RAM and 16 GB of storage.
That makes it an even better value than the $179 Moto G from Motorola for a new, more powerful phone shipping with Android 5.0 Lollipop, a 5.5-inch Full HD IPS display, 13 and 5 megapixel cameras and a fast-charging 3,000 mAh battery. Phone makers seem to be upping the ante with fast-charge technologies every few months, and Asus is no exception. The system in the ZenFone 2 claims to enable recharges to 60 percent battery level in only 39 minutes.
There are echoes of the HTC One M8 in the ZenFone 2's metal body design, with curves tapering to thin edges that define most of the top smartphones of the past year. It feels nice and light in the hand and the 403 pixels per inch of the display is bright and vivid enough. It's covered in Gorilla Glass 3 and an "anti-fingerprint coating" that is supposed to reduce friction and make it feel smoother as you slide your finger across it using the collection of "ZenMotion" gestures, one of the handful of not too intrusive tweaks to Android in Asus' ZenUI.
We didn't spend enough time with this phone to definitively say that the touch of this display was as "luxurious" as Asus claims, but that means that its implied superiority wasn't immediately obvious either.
As we said at the outset, little besides the price and a few key specs really make this phone stand out. But $199 is a great price for an off-contract phone with a 64-bit processor and the option to future-proof the ZenFone 2 further by upgrading to 4 GB of RAM.
At the same time, Asus also announced another phone for photophiles, the ZenPhone Zoom, which basically just gives a major upgrade to the rear 13 MP camera, adding a 3x optical zoom.
Specific details on dates of availability were scant, but the ZenFone 2 will need to roll out soon if it is going to remain nearly as great a bargain as it seems to be right now.
You can watch the full Asus CES press conference below.