I’ve been looking for a sensible spec, sensible price Android phone for quite some time. There are a lot about now, and the ZenFone 5 caught my eye a while ago.
As a company, I’ve used Asus motherboards and graphics cards in my PC builds for years – they’re one of the better, more reliable brands. Thus, when the ZenFone series appeared I was quite interested to see if they could pull off a different product line in a different market segment.
There are several different versions of the ZenFone 5, and the one I chose is the A500KL model. This has a 1.2GHz quad core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor, LTE (4G), a single micro SIM slot, and mine has 16GB flash storage and 2GB RAM. The screen is 5 inches (hence ZenFone 5). The benefit of the A500KL for me is that it has a longer stated battery life vs. the other models, which are powered by Intel Atom CPUs. It is also ready for 4G, if/when suitably priced SIM-only contracts are available. Full specs are here, note that these don’t state that the phone also has an RDS FM radio – it does, and it works well.
I paid £140 for the phone from eglobalcentral.co.uk (use checkout code BUY599 or SHOP599 and you might get £5.99 off – and note that I have no affiliation with that site, nor am I endorsing it, but the purchase went smoothly for me).
Look & Feel
Physically, the phone is pretty much the same size as my HTC One M8, just about two millimetres wider and taller. The screens are pretty much the same size between the two phones too, though the DPI is lower on the ZenFone, but it’s still good enough that text and graphics are nice to look at and not pixelated. Under the screen is a row of standard Android “back”, “home” and “recent” buttons, which saves screen area that’s otherwise wasted displaying these on some other phones. The buttons aren’t backlit, which is a shame, but once you know where they are finding them in the dark isn’t exactly taxing. The back cover of the phone is covered with a “soft touch” rubberised coating, which feels quite nice to hold. The back cover clips on and off fairly easily to enable the micro SIM card and microSD card to be fitted, or can be replaced with a new cover that has the Asus View Flip front cover attached. This has a neat circular hole that lets you do some basic stuff whilst the case is closed, namely use the torch, see the date/time and the local weather forecast. Thanks to a magnet in the front cover, the phone sleeps/wakes as the case is opened/closed.
In the box you also get a mains charger capable of supplying 5VDC at 1.35A via a standard USB A socket, a USB A plug to micro USB charging cable, and some “bud”-style earphones (the sort that fit into the end of the ear canal).
The phone found a system update shortly after I switched it on the for first time, and updated to Android 4.4.2 aka Kitkat. I did a factory reset after applying the update as all the Google apps started closing unexpectedly, following the reset I’ve not had this problem again. The phone has the Play store available, and comes with various Google apps, plus a load of Asus ones which seem like they might be useful.
I’ve had the phone powered up and running for over four days with light use: just checking the odd web page, a few video clips, checking the weather forecast etc. and as you can see the battery is down to 39%, which is pretty good I think.
Whilst this may not be terribly realistic in terms of real life usage, it does show that there’s no built-in software doing anything too crazy in the background all the time. Several other reviews I read said that battery life wasn’t great, but as we know, it often depends what you do with the phone. The screen uses a lot of power, but it’s a big screen so that’s to be expected. Likewise if you do something moderately CPU intensive like watching video or playing games then you can expect the battery to drain faster.
On the subject of video, I watched some live TV via the ITV Player app, and the picture and sound quality was fine. Playing music isn’t too bad either, the single rear speaker isn’t going to shake your walls but it’s not really tinny and scratchy either. General response times when using the phone are pretty snappy, there’ve been no lags in the GUI or during video/audio playback.
Easy Mode – for (grand)parents
This phone is going to be given to my parents, one of whom is still using a very oldskool Nokia phone that basically only makes calls and does SMS messages. A very handy feature for such people is Easy Mode. This is turned on via Settings, and changes the home screen to look like an old feature phone:
You’ll notice that two of the icons have “gone wrong” somehow, I’m hoping they’ll be fixed by a factory reset before I pass the phone on! The Phone feature in easy mode is just a basic large digit numeric keypad, with recently dialled list:
The Easy Mode People feature gives large text access to the People contacts database. In Easy Mode, the lock screen changes to show a large clock and (smaller) date, plus two squares showing the number of missed calls and new messages:
Of course, once people get more familiar with the phone, they can turn Easy Mode off, and the phone interface reverts to the more usual Android style that we all know.
Some of the reviews I read mentioned that the camera isn’t very good. Personally, I think it’s more than adequate. Here’s a few sample pictures I took.
To be perfectly honest, if I hadn’t already replaced my previous phone with the One M8, the ZenFone 5 would do me very nicely. I think (hope!) its new owners will be very happy with it.
If you’ve got any questions please feel free to comment and I’ll try to answer whilst I’ve still got the phone!