Though we don’t review many phones on the site, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some incredible ones out there that make picture taking a better experience. Take for example all of the hype that was behind the recently released Asus Zenfone 2. Touted as being powerful enough to be a serious camera and having DSLR like features, there is still no way that this can replace a dedicated camera despite how much Asus may say it can. However, they’re making a couple of accessories like a flash that make taking photos better in certain situations.
With a 13MP rear camera sensor from Toshiba, five glass elements in the f2 lens, and a couple of cool features like an HDR mode, the phone has quite a lot going for it on top of manual controls. Unfortunately, it has its vices too.
Pros and Cons
– Excellent battery life, went two days without needing a charge
– Manual controls for the camera
– Great image quality at lower ISO settings
– Very nice bokeh
– Nice screen
– Optional integrated case is very useful
– Very good HDR mode
– Power button is in a weird spot on top and is tough to work with
– Volume butter is on the back which is fine for listening to music, but not for a hard shutter button
– Image quality breaks up above ISO 400
– No RAW file shooting capabilities
– Shutter speed only goes up to 1/500th
– Ergonomics are a big awkward for taking landscape oriented images, but fine for portrait style images
The Asus Zenfone 2 is quite large–pretty much as big as an iPhone 6 plus. You’ll realize that as soon as you pick it up. Of course, what you’ll also see is that big beautiful screen with lots of saturation.
The phone overall is quite thin and curved on the back with the edges being even thinner. This makes holding the phone in portrait position fairly easy and comfortable but doesn’t lend your pinky to give much support to the phone. In landscape position, it’s a different experience.
The top of the phone is where you’ll find the sole button–the power button.
Move around to the back and you’ll find the camera, flash and volume control button. The volume button can become a hard shutter button–but this only works well in portrait mode.
Again–even to hit that button correctly you’ll need some big paws.
The Asus Zenfone 2 feels nice in the hands as a phone, but it will be best with those that have larger hands. It’s around the size of the iPhone 6 Plus, and when laying down in bed browsing and interacting with the the phone using one hand is pretty much impossible. The phone has a one handed operation feature, but all it does it make the area of the screen being used much smaller. Holding the phone while taking photos in the landscape position is also a bit tough due to how thin the phone becomes around the edges. This also makes watching videos or browsing landscape oriented tough because getting a grip isn’t simple.
Shooting images portrait style isn’t so tough at all though–and folks using this camera may be inclined more to shooting selfies and vertical images/video–the latter being the bane of a videographer’s existence.
Ease of Use
Asus hasn’t done much to mess with Android, but it isn’t the plain vanilla flavor. There are Asus apps and features on the phone, but we wouldn’t call them bloatware because of the fact that they’re actually nimble apps and don’t slow down the phone at all. This is great to know for people who take a lot of photos.
The camera app is also very straightforward as long as you pay attention to what’s on the screen. You can go from Manual mode, to HDR, GIF creation, or full auto amongst many others crammed into the software.
When in manual mode, you’ll be using sliders similar to the Samsung NEX experience. For what it’s worth, it’s nothing like Camera FV5–and even if you install that app on your phone you won’t have full access to the manual settings.
Asus even has an editing app that can let you add filters to your images and change certain parameters. Like Google’s stock editor, it’s very good, but we’re sure that you’ll be using other apps instead.
Asus gave the Zenfone 2 a great camera at 13MP and with an f2 lens. During our meeting with Asus, we asked about the lens–the company said that it has glass elements for better and sharper images. While this is a great addition, consider the fact that the camera still houses a small sensor. In fact, you could easily mistake the image quality for that of a point and shoot with a variable aperture.
One of the big things that we’re impressed by is the quality of the HDR images that can come out. They’re subtle and not too overbearing. Beyond this, we should also note that the color rendition is very true to life and throughout our tests we couldn’t take a photo with any purple fringing in the images.
No really, we’re not kidding. For a phone camera, the lens is rather good and this makes all the more difference when it comes to HDR rendition.
Even though this lens is in front of a very small sensor, it’s possible to get images with bokeh as long as you’re very close to your subject–like macro mode close. For what it’s worth, the bokeh is also very nice for what’s possible with a phone.
At ISO 400, the image quality starts to get a bit grainy and beyond this it’s even more so. If the images are just going online, then it won’t really matter. We highly doubt anyone buying this phone will make prints from the images that they shoot.
Extra Image Samples
The Asus Zenphone 2 has a great camera; it’s every bit as good as the one on the iPhone and better in some ways. But if you’re a Google Nexus user, you’ll be spoiled by the fact that your phone can shoot RAW images and if you use something like the Moment lenses, you’ll be even more locked in.
The Asus Zenphone 2’s ergonomics don’t lend itself well to shooting anything but vertical images unless you’re using some sort of stabilizer for landscape mode. Additionally, more buttons could have made it easier to shoot with.
Still, it shoots great images that you’ll be very pleased with. However, you won’t like the ergonomics for shooting.
We rate the Asus Zenfone 2 at three out of five stars. It’s got a great camera, but the execution is lacking.