I recently reviewed the ASUS ZenFone 2, and — like many others — had mostly great things to say about it. The phone has been a success for ASUS, a company which has previously had trouble getting any respect or recognition for any of its Android entries. That changed with the ZenFone 2 at CES 2015, when the company announced that the higher-end model, the one that I reviewed, would be shipping with 4 GB of RAM. In the real world, having 4 GB of RAM over the typical 3 GB doesn’t make much difference, but it was impressive nonetheless. Now, ASUS is taking a step back. They’ve taken the ZenFone 2 and gone the opposite direction, introducing an AT&T GoPhone variant of their flagship. And it’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect…
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The ZenFone 2E is physically smaller, and has generally lower-end specs all the way around. On board, you’ll find a Dual-core Intel® Atom™ processor clocked at 1.6 GHz and 1 GB of RAM, powering a 5 inch HD IPS Display. You’ll find an 8-megapixel camera on the front, and a lowly 2-megapixel shooter on the front. The phone has 8 GB of flash storage on board, which is expandable up to 64 GB by way of an SD card. The battery clocks in at 2,500 mAh, which AT&T says equates to 20 hours of total talk time. Finally, you’ll find all the typical connectivity interfaces like 802.11 b/g/n WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0. The phone comes running out of the box with Android 5.0 Lollipop.
With all of that out of the way, let’s talk about how the phone actually runs. You can’t really expect much from a budget phone like this one, but overall I found the experience to be pretty much up to par. Most of the typical games you might play on a smartphone worked fine, the default ASUS skin seemed pretty snappy, and I didn’t find anything after a couple of days of use that would really make me recommend you stay far away from this phone. It’s definitely not a beastly multitasker, though — trying to install an app from the Play Store and play a game didn’t fare too well. Also, while I found the ASUS skin to run pretty well, the Google Play Launcher wasn’t exactly a perfect experience compared to a Nexus device.
As I mentioned in my ZenFone 2 review, ASUS definitely doesn’t go lightly on bloatware. While at first look the 2E doesn’t quite have as much (the ZenFone 2 has all kinds of utilities to keep your device running well, which I didn’t notice on the 2E), it’s still obviously present. The phone comes with half a dozen AT&T apps, plenty of ASUS-made apps like Quick memo, Mobile TV, Sound Recorder, Setup Wizard, and more. But you’ll also find straight-up bloat, like the addition of the Uber app and the Yellow Pages app as well. While I couldn’t exactly quantify that these were causing any problems, it’s definitely not the best experience to load up your new phone for the first time and have to remove apps.
The cameras were definitely a bit on the weak side, but that’s to be expected with a phone that costs $120. Basically, it felt like I was taking pictures with a flagship from a few years ago. The photos and the selfies you take aren’t going to be worth anything more than a filtered Instagram post, but with a device like this, I don’t think most people need more than that. It definitely took a few seconds between tapping the Camera app and being able to take a picture, but that’s not exactly unexpected when most apps don’t open instantaneously on this phone as I’ve become used to on my Samsung Galaxy S6 or my Nexus 6.
The looks are almost identical to the ZenFone 2, although the ZenFone 2E obviously is just a bit smaller. On the back you’ll find the ZenFone logo propped above the speaker grille at the bottom, a volume rocker that is positioned a la LG flagships, and a camera above that. On the ZenFone 2 you’ll find a dual-tone flash above the camera module, but the 2E has a single-tone flash located just to the right of the camera. The front of the device is almost indistinguishable at first glance. You’ll find 3 capacitive keys along the bottom for home, multitasking, and back navigation, a tacky-looking ASUS logo above the top speaker, and a camera off to the right. One notable difference is that the ZenFone 2 has a notification LED, while the 2E doesn’t.
Unlike the ZenFone 2 (which ships in a few different colors and styles), the 2E ships with a smooth white back plate. Knowing that not everyone who buys the phone would want a white back, though, AT&T decided to throw in a second black removable back. Both of them are smooth and sport the AT&T logo smack dab in the middle, so you’re not going to get something metallic looking or textured like the ZenFone 2 you see above, but it’s nice nonetheless to have options. I found that I preferred the white because, well, I like white phones in the first place. But the white looks particularly nice on this device and I actually wish there was a variant of the ZenFone 2 that came in white.
Overall, the package here is pretty much a dumbed-down ZenFone 2 that ships with a GoPhone SIM card. The specs aren’t anything to be impressed by, the software is pretty much the average skinned Android Lollipop at this point, and the price of the phone matches these two points. You can grab the ASUS ZenFone 2E exclusively as an AT&T GoPhone, and it’s available through AT&T, Best Buy, Walmart, and other retailers for $120. If you’re looking for a pay-as-you-go smartphone that’s just basically an average offering, this isn’t a bad option. But if you have just a little bit of extra cash and want what is probably the best sub-$200 phone ever, there is at least one other handset that might be a wiser choice.