PH – Php22,995 US – US$400 – Zenfone 2 Deluxe Special
When ASUS announced the ASUS Zenfone 2 lineup, it shook the smarthone world by offering an incredible 4GB of RAM and priced half of all existing high-end phones during its launch. Fast forward a few months later and the latest generation of Zenfone smartphone have expanded to fill most of the sub-Php16,000 price range. That being said, ASUS has expanded the Zenfone 2 flagship to include the Deluxe edition but its more of a cosmetic improvement than anything else.
That changes with the release of the ASUS Zenfone 2 Deluxe Special Edition: the rumored “gamer” smartphone due to its usage of the iconic black and red symbolic of ASUS’ high-performance product lines. Given its status, ASUS doesn’t disappoint in terms of performance with a souped-up CPU complimented by a massive 4GB RAM further supported by a large 256GB storage space included with the phone.
Let’s take a closer look at the ASUS Zenfone 2 Deluxe Special Edition in this B2G review.
Android 5.0 (Lollipop)
Silver Polygon/Carbon Night (Black)
77.2 x 152.5 x 3.9 ~ 10.9 cm (WxDxH)
170 g (with battery)
Intel® Atom™ Quad Core Z3590 (up to 2 core running at 2.5GHz)
Closer Look: ASUS Zenfone 2 Deluxe Special Edition
This phone is intended to exude ASUS’ premium touch when it comes to their high-end offerings and it does so in a couple of ways starting of with the packaging. The ASUS Zenfone 2 Deluxe Special Edition is packaged in a carbon fiber-themed box with a slight slash off one of the corners where the Special Edition designation is printed in the striking metallic red color made to match the theme of this phone.
Inside the packaging, we get a couple of stuff to sort through which includes the ASUS Zenfone 2 Deluxe Special Edition smartphone, a fast-charger, USB cable, earphones with inline mic, replacement silicone ear buds, the Carbon Night back casing and a couple of manuals.
The included earphone is quite good and a nice touch by ASUS making them in-ears which are practically the best way to showoff the audio quality of both the earphones and the phone itself. Not much to say about the earbud other than it sounds good enough and could easily rival some sub-Php1000 IEMs on the market right now. Its got decent mids and highs and bass while not that powerful is still present and doesn’t splatter all over the spectrum muddying the audio. Its a good addition and easily adds value to the total package.
The Zenfone 2 Deluxe Special Edition bundles a fast-charger in its packaging which is larger than the stock charger that comes with the Zenfone 2 Laser. This charger is rated at 2 amps for both 5V and 9V though I don’t know what kind of device sucks up 9V over a USB cable. It does deliver one heck of a fast-charge as we’ll see later.
One of the most defining inclusions in the Zenfone 2 Deluxe Special Edition bundle is the inclusion of the carbon fiber-themed “Carbon Night” back casing. This back cover is the more subdued of both included back covers with the Drift Silver’s diamond pattern having a bolder appearance than its black counterpart.
The ASUS Zenfone 2 Deluxe by default comes with the Drift Silver crystal patterned backing. This back cover is literally a glamorous case by itself wherein other phone designs would opt for a sleeker option but that’s where the Zenfone 2’s normal design comes in. Aside from the back cover though, the Zenfone 2 ZE551ML is a 5.5″ smartphone with Gorilla Glass 3 on the front screen with rounded corners for a traditional look.
Depending on which back cover you use, the phone will be around 11mm at its thickest points especially if you’re using the Drift Silver back cover. The taper off the sides give the Zenfone 2 Deluxe a slimmer appearance though but it is quite hefty compared to other flagships including those of last-gen. Unique to the Zenfone 2 Deluxe Special Edition is the red trim adorning the edges of the front of the phone. Its a subtle touch and adds practically nothing but it does give good contrast to both included back cases regardless of which you use.
The power button is located at the top of the phone in the center with the headphone jack right beside it. Opposite the other end is the microUSB port. The power button feels a bit short and doesn’t give much in terms of tactile feedback leaving you sometimes guessing on whether the phone is off or if you’ve pressed it already. The center location is also an odd choice as it leaves you fumbling for it at some situations. ASUS does employ a knock function on the Zenfone models and allows users to wake and lock their phones via double-tapping on the screen ala LG.
Removing the back cover we have access to two SIM slots both taking in micro SIM sizes. Just a bit above this is the microSD card slot which is out-of-the-box, taken up by a free 128GB microSD card. Also similar to LG, we have the camera and volume buttons on the back which unlike the power button has a distinct click to them.
On the front there’s little disturbance in the otherwise completely all-screen look of the Zenfone 2, with the front camera, speaker and ASUS logo on top and…
… three capacitive buttons on the bottom of the screen. Take note that these are not on-screen buttons nor are they lit so that’s a bit disappointing especially when using the phone in the dark.
On maximum brightness, the screen is really vibrant and the 1080p screen is decent for most usage especially for those stepping up to this screen size but for those coming from a G3/G4 or an iPhone 6S, screen quality is a hit or miss with the QuadHD screen having more detail or the iPhone with its vibrant display. Still, the Zenfone 2’s screen is great and ASUS employs user-customizable adjustments to the display screen on stock. Something you don’t find in other phones making it easier for those who prefer warmer/cooler tones or display to adjust it to their needs barring color accuracy.
Against sunlight though, the screen gets really drowned out and using it a camera phone can really be tricky. This can be offset by shielding the screen against the light but then again you risk losing stability with your shot but at those brightness levels, it would be easy to pop shots rapid fire with one hand. There’s auto-brightness adjustment also where even in automatic brightness setting you can tweak the display to be a bit brighter or dimmer as you like.
ASUS heavily skins the Android 5.0 Lollipop with its ZenUI which may be a hit or miss for some folks but a definite treat for those whole like access to many features and like the idea of having access to many of the phone’s capabilities via option menus. The dropdown panel alone is filled with many buttons which can be customized to your liking and allows quick access to a rich array of phone features like the built-in flashlight app, WIFI, NFC, Bluetooth, etc. via the 4 x 4 grid accessible via a second swipe from the initial drop down of notifications.
Further customization options can be done via the inclusion of themes which has been a staple of the ZenUI. Various themes allow sets of colors, icons, and wallpaper/lockscreen graphics to fit the users’ tastes. Many themes are available via the included Themes apps, some of which are free.
Unique to the ASUS Zenfone 2 Deluxe Special Edition is the inclusion of the “Speed” theme. This theme is the signature user interface of the Zenfone 2 Deluxe Special Edition and features ASUS’ iconic black and red motiff tied to a race car theme complete with black carbon fiber textures, red trims and race icons.
ASUS crams a lot of homegrown software in this phone. So much in fact, you’ll spend the first few hours of using this phone downloading updates from the net so you better be sure you’re not reformatting soon or otherwise you have a decently fast internet connection to drive all those updates. A good thing about this is that ASUS is really active in maintaining its Zenfone software both apps and system itself as ASUS rolls out updates very actively.
Specs-wise, the Zenfone 2 family boasts an impressive specsheet considering its price. The Zenfone 2 Deluxe Special Edition steps things up a notch by introducing the more powerful Intel Atom Z3590 processor: a quad-core chip capable of clocking itself to 2.5Ghz on dual-core loads. This is a step-up from the standard Z3580 processor of the Zenfone 2 which only goes up to 1.8Ghz. While the official site doesn’t list it, a PowerVR G6430 GPU is under the hood for graphics duties which is also the same as the Zenfone 2 family.
While we really don’t put much stock on canned benchmarks on mobile phones, this still gives a good visual on what we can expect from the devices but in most cases where a high-end smartphone is concerned, the numbers mean more to squeeze out the worth of a phone versus its competitors other than real-world performance.
We do give special attention to the PCMark results as this benchmark simulates real-world usage and demonstrates a good workout for a phone by running it through actual, real-world workloads like browsing, photo-editing, video playback, etc.
Here we have a video of the games performance of the ASUS Zenfone 2 Deluxe Special Edition. With 256GB storage to go around we managed to install a boatload of games including 1GB installations like the pre-installed Asphalt 8 Airborne, NBA 2K16, etc. We also got games like King of Fighters and Minecraft as well as a few other 3D ones but in this video we focus on easily the most popular resource-intensive 3D game here in PH which is NBA 2K16.
ASUS prides itself on its mobile cameras and while the Zenfone 2 Laser family boasts an improved focusing system this feature is absent in the Zenfone 2 main line. This doesn’t take away much from the camera performance itself but despite its clear intention of marketing it as such, the ASUS Zenfone 2’s camera is quite grainy especially in low-light conditions. While there built-in Low Light mode alleviates the need to tweak around settings and get a brighter shot, the camera details of the ASUS Zenfone 2 is quite grainy even in the best of lighting conditions.
The stock camera app is fine for many applications and its got manual controls and automatic filtering options for both front and rear camera. A level meter as well as manual control for exposure and ISO are present but there’s no aperture control so very light scenes tend to go really, really overexposed easily. This is actually one of the downsides of the stock camera as you’ll end up with lots of overexposed shots in auto especially when in dimly lit situations as the camera adjusts itself. Here are a few samples taken at a concert:
That said, let’s check out samples in controlled conditions focusing on noise and detail.
Even at ISO50, the Zenfone 2’s camera is quite grainy even when used in broad daylight. Images are vibrant but look oversaturated and automatic beautification filter really gives a plastic feel to the skin of the subject. Ultimately, this is subjective and some people may or may not really go for this phone for the camera alone but if you’re looking for a great camera phone, at this price point you have much better options including the optically superior Zenfone Zoom.
You can check out the full-resolution album over at my Flickr page for more detailed images.
User Experience & Conclusion
The ASUS Zenfone 2 Deluxe Special Edition pushes the Zenfone 2 to flagship smartphone territory wherein the likes of LG, Samsung, HTC, etc. compete and provided its specs, it does so to some degree. As the Zenfone 2 alone, the phone is quite competitive and offers compelling value in its price range. ASUS is trying to appeal to the more tech-savvy consumers who want something that offers that same level performance but with more extras than you’d see on any flagship to date.
To start off, the ASUS Zenfone 2 Deluxe Special Edition is chock full of extras: extra back covers, an extra theme, extra storage, and extra performance not to mention a ton more. Expanding on that extra storage, ASUS also gives 100GB of free Google Drive space with this device for 2 years on top of the free ASUS web storage and that is also on top of the included 128GB extra microSD card which goes on top of the internal 128GB. That’s more storage than you can use up with just photos and videos and the ASUS Zenfone 2 Deluxe Special Edition will gladly store all your data with backup to spare.
Going back to the smartphone as a whole, its a beast spec-wise and despite the large inclusion of ASUS apps, the ability to customize the phone is undoubtedly unique to the Zenfone family making it a very ideal phone for those looking to fiddle around with their phone as much as they want to. The powerful Intel CPU charges fast thanks to proprietary power management technology and ASUS’ power management tools holds up just fine although we do feel that battery life needs improving.
In terms of style, its a hit or miss. The plastic body gives the ASUS Zenfone 2 Deluxe Special Edition a sub-par feel despite its substantial size. This is further aggravated by the tired look of the Zenfone’s flat slate front and its thickness is certainly heftier than most flagships out right now although it is still quite pocketable. Undoubtedly though, the Drift Silver and Carbon Night back covers are striking and the subtle red trim on the front edges exude a custom feel to the ASUS Zenfone 2 Deluxe Special edition which is appropriate for its positioning.
Camera and multimedia usage is mixed and while the display is vibrant and is good enough for most indoor usage, the display pales in comparison to most modern flagships. The camera, while fast and offers manual control but the quality will be more for average users who want to just provide quick photo updates on social media and nothing too detailed on that.
Ultimately, the Zenfone 2 Deluxe Special Edition at its heart still beats the Zenfone 2 life and the question in most people’s minds would be why would they spend Php22,995 on a midrange smartphone? As we’ve seen, phone performance is already top notch but feature-wise ASUS is trying to appeal to an audience who obviously like the striking appearance of the Zenfone 2 Deluxe but want something more, that being the extra detail work on the Zenfone 2 Deluxe Special Edition body’s red metallic trim and custom back covers along with the included Speed theme. This goes hand in hand with the idea that most of ASUS’ loyal ROG users will prefer something to match their ROG components. In return ASUS provides a heavy barrage of extras to extend the functionality of the Zenfone 2 Deluxe Special Edition by means of a better CPU, more storage and a whole lot more.
Available for Php22,995, the ASUS Zenfone 2 Deluxe Special Edition is priced just below the current flagship stack from many of the leading brands and to break down the extras on top of the normal ASUS Zenfone 2; 4GB of RAM, the extra memory card, the Asphalt 8: Airborne in-game bonus credit, extra back cover, etc. are well over Php5,000 making this phone a decent investment for those already interested the Zenfone 2.
That said, the ASUS Zenfone 2 Deluxe Special Edition sits at a very niche spot but for those who already know what to expect from the Zenfone 2 family, this phone is an excellent bundle to get the ultimately Zenfone 2 experience.