Phablet against phablet, or that's how we would tag a ZenFone 2 versus Note 4 comparison just a year ago. Seeing that today's flagships are already bordering on the 5.5" screen diagonal mark, it might only be the Note 4 that will fit in the phablet category these days.
Galaxy Note 4 phablet.Nevertheless, the Asus ZenFone 2 is still a big-screen handset, especially with its about average screen-to-body ratio, warranting a close look at what you can get for $200-$250, and what you can get for almost three times that, in the case of Samsung's
LG G3, for instance. Being a part of the Note line, Samsung's phablet, naturally, carries a stylus advantage, with the S Pen tucked neatly in its lower right corner, ready for doodling or handwriting on the largish panel.Both are rather large to carry and operate with one hand, and are nothing like the compact
The ZenFone 2 display is a Gorilla Glass 3-protected, 5.5-inch panel with a flagship-standard resolution of 1080 x 1920 pixels, returning an excellent 403 pixels per inch count, and offering 400 nits of brightness. There's really nothing to stand out in the screen specs department here, but for this starting price Asus's offering is more than generous, and will fit most everyone's needs. Note 4, however, one-ups it significantly here, providing a 5.5" Quad HD panel with the breathtaking 515ppi pixel density and accurate color presentation in standard mode.
Asus has a long history with Intel's mobile processors, and the ZenFone 2 isn't breaking that trend, though it is now a trailblazer for the new 64-bit frugal Atom silicon. Namely, it sticks with the LTE-enabled Intel Atom Z3580 processor with four cores that can reach frequencies of up to 2.33 GHz. The company's biggest surprise with the handset is left for the memory department, though. The ZenFone 2 might start you off with 2 GB of RAM in the basic version, but the more expensive ones will come with 4 GB of RAM, making it the first smartphone announced with more than 3 GB of RAM, which the native 64-bit Android support, and the new 64-bit processors make possible now. Asus claims seven times faster gaming performance than the previous ZenFone edition, which has to count for something. This Atom silicon actually goes neck-and-neck with Snapdragon 805 or Exynos 7 Octa chipsets in the Note 4, except in the graphics department, and is as frugal as them, so the ZenFone with 4 GB RAM can really give the Note 4 a run for its money as far as processing power is concerned.
On the software side of things, the ZenFone 2 is making use of Asus' proprietary ZenUI, slapped on top of the latest update to Android – 5.0 Lollipop. The company has worked a few new tricks into the OS, including actions and app shortcuts tied to gestures, special one-handed and "Kids" modes, and even support for custom themes and icon packs. ZenUI has a variety of new features, including ZenMotion, SnapView, Trend Micro Security and ZenUI Instant Updates, which it now claims are part of life for 15 million users of Asus mobile devices around the globe.
Still, this is no match for the Note 4's TouchWiz interface, which is arguably the most feature-rich one in the Android universe, bloated or not, and when you add the extra input capabilities brought on by the S Pen, we'd have to give the interface round to Samsung here.
The camera at the back of the ZenFone 2 is a 13-megapixel unit with 5-element, f/2.0 aperture lens, complemented by a dual-color "Real Tone" LED flash. At the front, we're looking at a respectable, 5-megapixel selfie snapper with wide-angle (85-degree) lens, and an option to shoot selfie panoramas. The Note 4 features a superior 16 MP snapper with optical image stabilization, whose performance is stellar both indoors and out.
We snapped a few sample shots with both, however, and were pleasantly surprised that the Asus claims of 400% more light coming in to its PixelMaster camera in complete darkness turned out true, beating the Note 4 in that respect - check out the camera comparison gallery below as proof, but be patient, as these are the full-size shots we took.
Note 4 might have a slightly higher battery capacity - 3220 mAh vs 3000 mAh for the ZenFone 2 - but it also sports a hungry Quad HD display, so we'd have to run our battery benchmark on the Asus phone to determine if it will give away to Samsung's finest in the endurance department. Both handsets feature rapid charging technologies that juice them up quickly when the need arises.
It's hard to fathom that a $200 phone will give the Note 4 a run for its money, and the Asus ZenFone 2 doesn't exactly scale up to the Samsung phablet's screen technology, S Pen input functionality, audio recording and OIS camera tech. If those advantages aren't tipping the scale for you, though, you might be perfectly fine spending a third of the Note 4's price for an only slightly inferior experience, and we can think of a lot of folks that might be willing to do just that.