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Asus ZenFone 2 Costs $199 Unlocked, Yet It’s a Flagship Phone

After hitting stores in some parts of Asia earlier this year, the Asus ZenFone 2 is officially coming to North America, and it’s coming soon—you’ll be able to buy it tomorrow.

Asus chairman Jonney Shih announced the North American release of the ZenFone 2 at a press conference held in New York earlier today. While the 5.5″ Android phone is coming in at a budget price starting at $200 unlocked, it’s being marketed as a flagship smartphone, and for the most part, it has the specs to back that up. Instead of going with a Qualcomm processor, Asus has chosen to use its partnership with Intel for its smartphones, too, putting a 64-bit quad core 2.33 GHz Intel Atom Z3580 Moorefield processor inside the ZenFone 2. That’s the latest Atom processor currently being used in consumer devices, and it’s one usually reserved for use in tablets.We’ll have to do benchmarking tests to be sure, but like as not, it’ll hold its own against the latest mobile processors from Qualcomm and Samsung.

And, better yet, this is one of the rare flagship smartphones where ’64-bit’ amounts to something more than marketing fluff—you’ll be able to get the ZenFone 2 with as much as 4 GB of RAM, breaking the 3 GB barrier that limited 32-bit processors. Not only does that mean the phone will stay fast with multiple apps running, it means more complex mobile games will perform better on the phone.

If you thought that display quality would be on the chopping block to keep the price low, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to hear that the ZenFone 2 has a 1080p IPS display, which for smartphones is about as high a resolution as you would need for most uses. There’s also LTE connectivity thanks to an Intel LTE-Advanced XMM 7260 modem. On that topic, although this phone can only be purchased unlocked, it’s a GSM phone, so you won’t be able to use it on Verizon or Sprint networks. It’s a dual-SIM phone, though, so you can use the ZenFone 2 with two different GSM networks. Other than that, the ZenFone 2 has the usual connectivity options, including 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, and GNSS.

The cameras are also competitive, with the ZenFone 2 packing a rear 13 MP f/2.0 camera and a front 5 MP f/2.0 camera. Both of those should perform well in low-light conditions regardless, but Asus claims it has an industry-leading low-light mode that can brighten pixels considerably, albeit at the cost of resolution. The cameras themselves aren’t nearly industry-leading, but they should serve well enough as smartphone cameras in 2015.

The phone will run Android 5.0 Lollipop out of the box with the latest version of Asus’ Zen UI overlay. That will run on a pretty good-sized 3,000 mAh battery, although it sounds like the ZenFone 2 will be powerful enough to need it. What you can actually expect in terms of battery life remains to be seen, but there is a quick-charge feature that should mitigate some battery life concerns.

The only thing that appears to have been sacrificed for price is build quality. While the back of the phone has the brushed metal look with the concentric circles pattern that you’d find on most premium Asus products, the back is actually made of plastic. It’s not as thin as other phones 10.9 mm thick, but that still seems plenty thin enough to not matter too much. That extra thickness will probably be welcomed by many, because in part it means that Asus put a microSDXC card slot on the ZenFone 2, a feature that has gone missing on many flagship smartphones of late.

Starting tomorrow on one of many online stores including Amazon and NewEgg, you’ll be able to buy the ZenFone 2 in red, black, grey, or silver and in one of two configurations—a 16 GB storage/2 GB RAM/1.8GHz Intel Atom Z3560 version for $200 and the true flagship 64 GB storage/4 GB RAM/2.33 GHz Intel Atom Z3580 version for $300. Again, those prices are unlocked, making them pretty terrific value options on paper, compared to other flagship phones that cost upwards of $600 or $700 (or more) unlocked and aren’t all that more powerful. Asus isn’t known much for their smartphones in North America to this point, but if the performance of the ZenFone 2 meets its potential, it’s hard to see why that shouldn’t change.

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