Honor 5X and ZenFone 2

Now that you can put money down for an Honor 5X (at a great price, of course) it's at the top of many minds, trying to figure out if it's the right budget phone choice for them. It offers a solid value, for sure, but it isn't the only phone out there that offers something worthwhile for about $200 — one of the competitors that immediately comes to mind is the ASUS ZenFone 2.

Though it has been out for the better part of a year, the ZenFone 2 is still a worthy choice that matches the Honor 5X on many points and even bests it in some ways. In many areas the two phones share the exact same specs, and in others they play to different strengths to try and differentiate without breaking the bank. We're going to show you all of the high points of both phones, and see which offers more.

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Honor's hardware is a step ahead

The Honor 5X has some hardware that sets it apart from most budget-minded phones, with a metal exterior that's very nicely put together, and despite a couple small pieces of plastic manages to feel very nice. The ZenFone 2, on the other hand, feels a bit more like a traditional inexpensive device, as its thin plastic back meets up on the sides with more cheap plastic and overall it feels more like a toy than a substantial device. The Honor 5X wins the style contest here, and also bests the ZenFone 2 in terms of feel — the only redeeming quality for the ZenFone 2 is the ability to replace its back covers.

The Honor 5X wins the exterior game, while the ZenFone 2 offers a bit more inside

When it comes to displays, the phones match up perfectly. Each has a 5.5-inch LCD at 1920x1080 resolution (that equates to 401 ppi), and in terms of actual quality they're nearly the same as well. Both are good in terms of brightness, colors and viewing angles, but are clearly a step below more premium phones, as expected. The Honor 5X has the one real downside, as it ships with a pre-installed screen protector — and if you remove it, you lose the oleophobic coating that keeps your screen clean from your finger smudges (so choose wisely there).

Inside, the two phones match up almost spec-for-spec when you compare the Honor 5X to the base model of the ZenFone 2, which retails at the same price. Processor difference aside, you get 2GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, dual SIM slots, 13MP rear / 5MP front cameras and a 3000 mAh battery. The ZenFone 2 supports quick charging, which is a bonus, and also supports faster 802.11ac and 5GHz Wi-Fi connections; the Honor 5X wins the security game with a great fingerprint sensor. Of course if you do want a speed and spec bump, there are more expensive models of the ZenFone 2 with a faster processor, double the RAM and quadruple the storage — you'll just have to pay about $100 more for it.

If you're one to look at all of the gritty details, you can see a full spec sheet comparison below.

Category Honor 5X ZenFone 2
Operating System Android 5.1.1 Lollipop
EMUI 3.1
Android 5.0
Display 5.5-inch 1920x1080
(401 ppi)
5.5-inch 1920x1080
(401 ppi)
Gorilla Glass 3
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 616 octa-core @ 1.5 GHz
Adreno 405 GPU
Intel Atom quad-core 1.8GHz Z3560 or 2.3GHz Z3580
PowerVR G6430 GPU
Storage 16GB
MicroSD card up to 128GB
16 or 64GB
MicroSD card up to 64GB
5GB ASUS webstorage
SIM Dual SIM slots Dual SIM slots
RAM 2GB 2 or 4GB
Rear Camera 13MP, f/2.0
1080p video
Slow Motion: 720p at 120fps
SmartImage 3.0 image processor
13MP, f/2.0
1080p video
Slow Motion: 120fps
dual-LED (dual tone) flash
Front Camera 5MP, f/2.4 5MP, f/2.0
Connectivity 802.11n, Bluetooth 4.1 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC
Fingerprint sensor Yes No
Battery 3000 mAh 3000 mAh
Charging Micro USB
5V/1A charger included
Micro USB
BoostMaster quick charging
LED notification light Yes, multicolor Yes, multicolor
Dimensions 151.3 x 76.3 x 8.15 mm 152.5 x 77.2 x 10.9 mm
Weight 158 g 170 g

Comparing 13MP cameras

Honor 5X and ZenFone 2

No matter which phone you choose you're getting a similar camera hardware offering, with both the Honor 5X and ZenFone 2 using a 13MP camera sensor with an f/2.0 lens and lacking Optical Image Stabilization. The only hardware difference here is in terms of flash, where the ZenFone 2 has a two-tone LED that can presumably offer a flash that's better suited for more environments.

Both can take a solid photo, but the ZenFone 2 produces better shots in more scenarios

On the software front, the ZenFone 2's camera interface is a bit busy and hard to navigate through when compared to the Honor 5X. There are tons of scrolling menus and lists to go through, which is nice from a choice standpoint but can get overwhelming when all you want to do is tweak simple parameters. Both phones offer easy-to-use interfaces if all you want to do is open the camera and take a quick shot, and both have HDR modes and quick access to video shooting (including slow-motion video).

Though the hardware numbers are the same on these sensors, the ZenFone 2 offers a pretty noticeable bump in quality over the Honor 5X. Colors are brighter and just "pop" a bit more than on the Honor 5X, especially in HDR mode. Low light performance is quite a bit better on the ZenFone 2 as well, whether you're in automatic mode or choosing the dedicated low light mode in the camera; of course that's not saying much considering the rather poor low light performance out of the 5X, but the ZenFone 2 definitely punches above its weight in this respect.

Bloated software all around

Honor 5X and ZenFone 2

EMUI on the Honor 5X may not be the sleekest or most intuitive interface around, but comparing it to the ZenFone 2, you'll find a lot of the same issues. Both phones have strong design styles that reach through the entire OS, and are paired with a mountain of pre-installed apps that range from "somewhat helpful" to "please get this off my phone right now." The ZenFone 2 has a leg up in that most of its apps are updated through Google Play, but that's a small victory. Just like the Honor 5X, the ZenFone 2 is a bit heavy-handed with managing apps, closing things down and ramming tons of features in your face that hope to extend your battery but in reality are just annoying.

Both have their software problems, and are waiting on Marshmallow, but the ZenFone 2 is at least fast

The Honor 5X is currently on Android 5.1, but the ZenFone 2 is still stuck on plain Android 5.0 — though thankfully both phones have been updated with the January security patch from Google. Marshmallow is supposedly in store for both phones, but we just don't know when — and while updating to the latest tasty treat would be great, both phones have functional issues that need fixing no matter what base version of Android comes in the next update.

Interface and features aside, the one key difference between these two phones is in performance. The ZenFone 2 just offers a quicker and smoother experience throughout the interface and apps than the Honor 5X, whether that's zooming around Google Maps, switching between apps quickly or just managing a heavy web page. The Intel processor handles anything you'd want to throw at it (no matter if it's paired with 2 or 4GB of RAM), while offering full-day longevity from the 3000 mAh battery. The Honor 5X offers the same battery life, but is generally a bit slower in daily tasks.

Bottom line

Honor 5X and ZenFone 2

Once again, we have to quickly recap the same story with the Honor 5X — really good external hardware and a few nice features are really weighed down by subpar software and performance. What makes this comparison interesting is that the ZenFone 2 is a bit on the opposite end of things — its external hardware is nothing to get excited about, but offers better performance and camera while having some equally-confusing software choices.

You'd be right to be a tad worried about choosing a ZenFone 2 that's getting to be several months old and still running on Android 5.0 as well, whereas the Honor 5X is newer and likely has a brighter future in terms of software updates and support. But when it comes to buying a budget phone, there are lots of little things to consider — and it's clear that both phones offer compelling features for different people looking to spend $199.