Now you all know my husband proudly holds the title of “Family Geek” so when the opportunity arose to review a brand new smartphone I was more than happy to pass this task over to him. . .
I’m a little bit in love with smart phones. (I say a little, my relationship with them could more accurately be described as fanatically obsessed! However that’s a conversation for me and my psychiatrist for another day.) I watch videos or read articles about them every single day, without fail. Colette can attest to this, she regularly chastises me for my eyes drifting back to my tablet as she tries to talk to me about………..well, whatever it was she was talking about. For now I’ll just say that they astound me. When you consider just how much is packed into them. I’ve got a phone. A camera. A satellite navigation system. A media playback device and a thousand other things all packed into a package that fits in my pocket!!!! If you’re not impressed/amazed by that feat then you’re forgetting how far technology has come in the past 10 years. Think back for a while. It’s been a stratospheric ascent!
All the ways in which we use our phones and how prevalent they’ve become throughout the world make them unquestionably the most important gadget going. Period. As such ‘upgrade time’ is both a wonderful and stressful time. I mean “What if I make the wrong choice!” That’s my two worst nightmares right there. Being wrong and using sub-par tech!! Not to mention the fact that you’re stuck with your choice for two whole years!! With that in mind I’ve always gone for the most up to date powerhouse I could. Desperate to get the best experience possible (and to avoid being wrong! I’ll leave it up to you to decide which I hate more). However, in the past couple of years the gulf between top end flagships and mid-range phones has diminished significantly. As processors improve and screen resolutions approach the point of being unfathomably sharp, do you still need to buy the best/most expensive phone to get a great experience? Or are cheaper phones now ‘good enough’? After all it’s the experience of interacting with the device which matters really.
|Bless him . . .|
That’s the mindset I had going into this review. Well, that and “new phone, new phone, new phone…” constantly playing in my head on a loop until Colette told me it had arrived!!
After rushing home from work at a million miles an hour (sod the chaos I caused on the motorways!) to open my new toy for the week I played with it all night and these were my initial thoughts.
* It’s big. Surprisingly so considering the screen size
* It’s well put together
* It’s got a good camera
* It’s quick. Again surprisingly so
On with the review:-
The more tech-savvy amongst you will have heard the name Zenfone 5 before. Asus released the original in April 2014. This updated model has the addition of LTE connectivity (4G) hence the moniker Asus Zenfone 5 LTE (Do you see what they did there?) To include the new modem they’ve had to change from an Intel processor to a Qualcomm one. (Atom Z2560 to Snapdragon 400) Now, Qualcomm is the industry leader in the mobile category, but the 400 is a lower tiered chip and on paper the Zenfone 5 loses some processing grunt in the swap to make room for the new modem. I’ve never used the original Zenfone 5 so I can’t comment on the speeds between the two models so I’ll just talk about how it feels under the finger. The other difference is that dual-SIM is now an option rather than the standard.
Other than that all the specs stay the same. So you’ve got:
* 5″ 1280 x 720 IPS+ screen
* 8/16/32GB of built in storage with an micro SD slot (up to 64GB)
* 1 GB RAM on the 8GB model. 2 GB RAM on models above
* 8MP rear camera and 2MP front facing
* 2110 mAh battery
* 2G/3G and now 4G connectivity
Now lets get down into the details. . .
As I said above the Zenfone 5 LTE has a 5″ display (the clue’s in the name) with resolution of 1280 x 720. This resolution is the minimum to be classified as HD (High Definiton). These two specs combine to give it 294 PPI (Don’t worry, it’s got nothing to do with nasty bankers pinching your money! Neither is it a nasty infection you pick up in public urinals! It means Pixels per Inch). In basic terms the higher this number is the sharper the pictures on the screen should appear.
My current phone is an LG G3 which has a 5.5″ screen with a resolution of 2560 x 1440 (534 PPI) Thats 4 times the resolution in a screen only a bit bigger. You would then think that I’d really notice the drop in resolution (sharpness) but in all honesty it’s not been an issue. If you put the two screens next to each other then you can tell the difference but in use it’s never been a problem for me. The screen is bright with good viewing angles, colours stay accurate at extreme angles that in reality you would never try to watch a screen from. There’s an auto-brightness feature that works by using the ambient light sensor to adjust the brightness to reflect the lighting conditions. This works well. You set a brightness level and it dynamically changes the screen brightness so it looks the same regardless of where you are. I’m a big fan of things like this. Set it and forget it. Good stuff.
|Comparing phone sizes . . .|
The removable back cover is made of plastic but feels sturdy when being removed. It has a soft touch finish that improves grip. The cover comes up the sides to meet the back edge of the glass on the front of the phone. It’s well fitted to the body with the shut lines being neat and tidy with smooth transitions to the screen. The buttons are well placed on the right hand edge of the device. The power/sleep button is above the volume rocker. Both the buttons have a good feel. Clicky and tactile, not mushy so you’re never in doubt of if you’ve pressed them. The volume button can be used as a camera shutter button when in the camera app. This is brilliant in my opinion as I can hold the phone far steadier when pressing a button on the side of the phone rather than a button on screen. The only thing I would mark it down for is the overall size comparable to the screen (it’s actually larger than my LG G3 which if you can remember has a bigger screen). The top and bottom bezels are really quite large. Some of that is due to the choice to use capacitive buttons below the screen rather than on screen ones. The power and volume buttons, whilst being well placed and with good feel, stick out a little too far from the side of the body. Only a little, and in all honesty I’m being very picky when I say that.
Considering the Zenfone 5 LTE only has an 8MP sensor on the back, the pictures it takes look really rather good. The user interface is clean and simple to use with plenty of modes to dive into if you want to have a bit more control over the picture taking process. There’s a button for taking pictures and a video button by the side of that for quickly switching between the two. It also supports taking pictures whilst videoing which is far more useful than it sounds in my experience.
|Testing out the camera in Bodnant Garden|
I was asked to look at one mode of the camera in particular, that was ‘Selfie’ mode. Now I’m not the biggest selfie taker in the world (I don’t even have an Instagram account!) However you can’t argue with the popularity of selfies though so for the sake of this review I dived in.
|Testing out “selfie mode” with Chloe|
Now, ‘Selfie’ mode lets you use the rear facing camera for taking your selfies. Meaning more clarity and better pictures of your beaming (or more probably pouting) mug and whoever you’ve got next to you. “But Dave how do you know what you’re taking a picture of if you can’t see the screen?” I hear you shout. Well, stop interrupting and read on and I’ll enlighten you! Asus have you covered. Selfie mode works by allowing you to choose how many faces you want the phone to detect before it takes a picture. Once the set amount of faces are found then it gives a series of beeps before taking 3 pictures in quick succession. you can then review the pictures and choose to save as many of the pictures as you want. Sounds good. Works pretty well too. In practice I found that I left the faces to be detected setting on 1 as it struggled to detect the kids’ faces. I did however manage to take some good shots of the family surrounding my beautiful bonce using this mode. I think it’s a winner. You get better shots than you would have using the front facing camera and the facial detection works well enough to make the system easy to use. the goal of any and all consumer tech!
|A selection of selfies! (Admittedly none taken in particularly good light!)|
|Testing out the panorama mode at Bodnant Gardens|
The only time I managed to make the camera struggle was when I’d taken 72 shots in burst mode and then decided to save all of them to the memory card. The app froze for about 30 seconds, but I think thats justifiable when you consider the amount of data it was saving to the sd card.
|Exploring Bodnant Garden|
|Stunning view – Bodnant Garden|
Performance is snappy. Much better than I would have expected. As I mentioned above the Snapdragon 400 is the lowest offering from Qualcomm so I imagined that there would stutters and pauses whilst using the phone. Happily I can say that all seems well. Apps open quickly. Lists scroll smoothly. Multi tasking is quick and painless with apps being left open in the memory in the background so that they don’t have to be reloaded when re-opened. This is how it should be. I was really pleased with how the phone reacts and responds. Well done Asus.
The 2110 mAh battery isn’t massive but has managed to keep on going for the whole day without fail. I thought the big screen might be a drain on it but possibly the (relatively) low resolution has allowed it to keep up in the endurance stakes. It’s not outstanding, but good enough for me. Ive used the phone as a sat nav and as a mp3 player for a few hours a day, as well as extensive use of the camera for photos and video over the course of the weekend. Ive been getting just under 3 hours of screen on time with 20 -25% battery left by the time I go to bed and recharge it.
So conclusion time. Before I dive in I should mention that the call quality was good and reception and data coverage seemed as good as other phones I’ve used. Now the real question. What do I think of this phone? If you’ve read through the entire review then this won’t be a surprise but it’s bloody good. When you consider the price that Asus sells this for, it’s remarkable. It’s quick, well built with a great camera. As far as I can tell it does nothing badly. If the screen was slightly higher resolution and it had slightly smaller top and bottom bezels then it’d be near perfect. I’m not kidding. It’s so good Colette is going to keep on using this herself if she can get used to the size of it. If it’s even nearly good enough for my very particular wife then I reckon it’s good enough for just about anybody.
*Disclaimer – We were provided with the Asus Zenfone 5 LTE free of charge for the purposes of review how all thoughts and opinions are my Dave’s own*