ASUS ZenFone 2

[sc:mobile-category ]As anyone who has read my mobile phone articles will know, I’m pretty much a Windows Phone stalwart.  In the past it has been a much more coherent UI and a better overall experience for me.

However it’s been a while since I used an Android phone and I like ASUS hardware so I decided to pick up a ZenFone 2 as it works with Wind Mobile.  I’ve had a Blu Win HD for a while that I’ve been using with Wind as my mobile hotspot and while I like the Win HD, this was an opportunity to try out something different.

Hardware

The ZenFone is a pretty large phone, the 5.5″ display certainly dominates the front.  And if you’re looking for something light, this isn’t it either.

The phone is a powerhouse though, running an Intel Atom chip (I wonder if you could load Windows 10 on it?) and supporting dual SIM’s.

The box comes with very little, just the phone, a power brick and a USB cable.

The power button is on top and the volume rocker is actually on the back of it.

There are the standard 3 capacitive buttons at the bottom of the display and the back is removable, exposing the two SIM slots, the SD card slot and the battery.

Overall the hardware feels well made.

There are only two things I think they could have done to make it better:

  1. USB 3.1.
  2. Wireless charging.

Android

Getting the phone up and running was simple enough and connecting to the Wind network, the only issue I had was the fact that my mobile number isn’t set on the SIM so Android thinks it’s “unknown”.

Android has come a long way since the last time I used it.  The new Material Design that Google has adopted has made a much more unified experience out of the OS, in fact it reminds me a lot of Windows Phone.

Of course it’s not WP and nowhere is that more obvious than the home screen.  The grid of icons takes me back to the good old Windows 3.1 days.  Sure there are widgets available to add to it, but at the heart of it is still the idea of clicking icons to launch apps.

The first thing I did was to start removing some of the included apps.

ASUS has been pretty good at not loading too much bloat, but a few things, like the games back, just had to go.

Of course there are some Google apps you just can’t remove, so I disabled just about all of them.

Then it was time to install the Amazon app store.  By default the ZenFone doesn’t let you install apps from “untrusted” sources, which is just code for the Google Play store.  However that is just a setting and can be overridden.

After that I pulled down some of the standard stuff (like Twitter, etc.) from Amazon.  However there are a few things that don’t exist on the Amazon store and eventually I had to load up Google Play.

I made a few other changes as well:

  • The ASUS keyboard is fine, but I pulled down the Google default keyboard and am using it at the moment.
  • I disabled the “swipe to unlock”, it seems like an extra action for no reason.
  • The base browser doesn’t support DuckDuckGo, just Google/Bing/Yahoo for some reason.
  • I’m using FireFox as my default browser, it supports DuckDuckGo.

Overall it’s a lot better than it used to be, there are a few points of note though.

Mail

Microsoft gets e-mail, not just for the casual users but for the power users to.  Google still hasn’t quite figured it out because they’re rather you use gmail instead of someone else’s service.

Asus has included a mail client, but it’s really only useful for casual users.

I tried a few other mail clients (including Outlook, which really isn’t Outlook on Android) but none of them deal with folders very well.  I have lots and lots of folders and some way to “favorite” them for easy access is a must.

A recent update to the ASUS mail client at least includes a “recent folders” list, but it’s not quite there.

The other big issues with the ASUS mail client is that it doesn’t update the folder status often enough, you can have a message you’ve read on another system continue to be flagged as unread for a long time on the phone.

Settings

Settings are still a problem in Android, there are lots of them and they aren’t always the easiest to find.

For example, haptic feedback.  There are options for it in the ringtones, in the keyboard and in sounds settings.

Another example is the launcher them.  There’s icon packs, background settings, theme settings and others.

It’s great to have lots of options, but it needs a more coherent settings system to go with them.

VOIP

Unlike my previous points, this is where Android shines.  Microsoft has had the hooks for VOIP in Windows Phone for a long time but never took the next step and integrated VOIP in to the core of the phone.

Android has it built-in (even if the settings are hidden away for some unknown reason).

Setting up my VOIP number was easy and I could place and receive calls with it.

Things I haven’t tried yet

As this is my secondary phone, I haven’t transferred any music or photo’s over to it.  I tried the camera quickly and it works.

I also haven’t tried paring my car with it or any of my Bluetooth accessories.

Final thoughts

The phone seems like a good piece of hardware and Android looks to have come far enough to be usable.

However the mail client would be a real sticking point for me if I have to use it every day.

And it may come to that sooner rather than later.  In November when my current contract is up I will be looking to drop my Bell service and move to Wind.  However that’s going to require a phone that works on the Wind network and if the new flagship phones from Microsoft don’t support Wind, I’m going to have to make a hard decision.

Greg

Greg is the head cat at JumbleCat, with over 20 years of experience in the computer field, he has done everything from programming to hardware solutions. You can contact Greg via the contact form on the main menu above.

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Greg

Greg is the head cat at JumbleCat, with over 20 years of experience in the computer field, he has done everything from programming to hardware solutions. You can contact Greg via the contact form on the main menu above.