Best Budget Smartphone for 2014?
Firstly lets get one thing straight, when I do gadget reviews they are amateur affairs. You get my opinions on a limited number of aspects which are relevant to me. The lack of Asus ZenFone 4 reviews online has led me to add this one, in the hope of spreading the word about this under appreciated little wonder.
As you may have already guessed I really like this smartphone. It is very cheap. I paid 3,000 Baht in Thailand which is around $100 or £60. In the past only my review of Huawei Y300 is a phone in a similar price range. The difference in quality is huge!
My Huawei is still in at least one top 10 list for 2014 budget smartphones, so it isn’t a bad phone. But for me it wasn’t as responsive as it could of been, it would often be half a second or so before my press would achieve the desired result. Also the screen isn’t very bright, which is especially annoying where I am in Asia. So it was time to see if there is anything else on offer, the Asus ZenFone 4 stood out.
The reason why the Asus phone grabbed my attention is firstly the very cheap price. Secondly the design looks very good. Thirdly I just had a feeling this could be a special phone as Asus has quietly been making some quality devices in the past such as the Google Nexus 7.
Asus ZenFone 4 review of the size and design
For me the size is perfect. The screen is 4 inches which allows for one handed operation. Any devices larger than this requires two hands for much of the time, which is a game changer for when you are texting while eating for example. This is why Apple are keeping their phones so small in comparison to others.
The design is amazing for such a low priced device. At the electronics store I bought mine from they only had it available in white, which was fine with me (it is still black on the front). There are maybe 3 more colors to choose from. The back and sides are a kind of slightly rough plastic which is very nice to touch. It is not slippery or cheap feeling. The front is clean looking with a bottom row which just adds a touch of class.
It won’t win any awards for design but you certainly won’t be embarrassed using the Zenfone 4 in public. Actually my very style conscious fiancee bought one for herself after I got mine, so that says a lot about the design, as only iPhones have been good enough for her in the past. It is modern and clean looking, the white back hasn’t picked up any scratches or dirt in the 6 weeks or so that I have owned the device.
Review of the Asus Zenfone 4 Performance, Features and Usability
When it comes to specs I really don’t care, but I did notice that the Asus Zenfone 4 does have 1GB of RAM and a 5 Megapixel camera which both sound like decent specs for a phone in 2014. The camera is actually fairly good and has options which I have never seen on a phone before such as being able to set the ISO, white balance and exposure level. This is impressive and will allow you to tweak the settings to get a very useable photograph. I haven’t used the camera very much though as I use a separate point and shoot camera.
The first thing I loved about this smartphone is how nice the operating system is compared to my last Android phone. I don’t know if it is because of a newer version of Android or if it has something to do with Asus, but the experience is far more smooth and attractive now, almost Apple-like. This is of course helped by the screen which is very clear and bright. When you don’t look at the phone head on, certain angles aren’t very good, but this is to be expected for a budget smartphone. If this was your main device it may become a bit annoying, especially for games played in landscape (phone held sideways).
For me this phone is all I need. I use an iPad as my main device so this is really just to be used for calling, texting, reading saved web pages (using Pocket) and the rare photo or game. Reading web pages is great, with smooth scrolling and very clear text and images. Calls and messaging are easy and I like the way when you swipe to turn the phone on you can swipe towards a call, message or camera icon to take you to certain functions. It is a nice little time saver and just fits in with the good design of the OS. There seems to be no bloatware but the phone still manages to be elegant.
There is one negative I want to mention. The battery life sucks. Heavy users will need a battery charger. There is a spare battery in the box in case you do not have a portable charger, but changing it often would surely be annoying. The battery lasts me around 3 days but I only use the phone a hour or so in that time. I’m guessing (very roughly) that constant use will get you approximately 3 hours on full brightness or 4-5 hours on low brightness.
Overall Verdict of the Asus ZenFone 4
Considering the price I would give this phone 8.5 out of 10. The two points that let it down are the low battery life (minus a point) and the fact that the screen isn’t perfect from every angle and texting isn’t perfectly accurate (minus half a point). I didn’t expect the screen to be as good as on a $500 phone but it is a shame the battery isn’t better. The fact that there was a spare battery in the box almost seems like acknowledgement of this and maybe an apology from Asus. Nevertheless I think this is probably the best budget smartphone for 2014.