Until recently, large screen phablet phones were dominated by a single handset: the Galaxy Note 4. The Nexus 6 went even larger with a 6in screen for £100 less, but its lack of phablet-specific features in Android 5.0 Lollipop and rather average battery life meant it couldn’t best Samsung’s phablet king. The Asus Zenfone 6 is larger still, measuring a massive 167x84x9.9mm and weighing a hefty 196g, but unlike its premium rivals, it costs just £240 SIM-free and has plenty of useful features to help make it an attractive alternative for those on a budget.
A large part of this is down to Zen UI, which runs on top of the Android 4.4.2 operating system. The home screen feels like the default Android interface, but the lock screen shows a lot more information than either the Nexus 6 or the Galaxy Note 4. As much as we like Android 5.0 Lollipop’s actionable lock screen notifications, the Zenfone 6 shows you the weather forecast and your upcoming calendar appointments, as well as shortcuts to the camera, dialler and messages.
This gives you a useful overview of your day as soon as your turn on the screen, and you can even set countdown reminders so you know how much time you’ve got left before your next meeting. You’ll still need to unlock the phone and tap the respective widget to interact with your calendar, but being able to see what’s coming up at a glance is better than unlocking and swiping through multiple home screens.
The Zenfone 6’s sheer size won’t appeal to everyone, though, as it’s even taller and wider than the Nexus 6, which was already quite a handful. The slightly thicker sides provide a lot more purchase than the thin, tapered edges of the Nexus 6, though, making it easier to grip while still sitting comfortably in your hand. The screen bezels are still comparatively chunky compared to other phablets, but this is to be expected on a mid-range device.
The large 6in screen looks pleasantly detailed at first glance, despite the 1,280×720 resolution. Compared to Samsung and Google’s top-end phablets, the Zenfone 6’s pixel density of 244 pixels-per-inch is pitifully low compared to the 515PPI Note 4 and 489PPI Nexus 6. Slightly fractured, jagged edges creep in on the weather widget and certain letters on the main home screen, suggesting 1,280×720 doesn’t provide enough pixel definition for such a large screen. However, most app icons still looked sharp and crisp, and the vast majority of text was perfectly legible.
On closer inspection, image quality isn’t as good as we might have hoped, as our colour calibrator showed it was only displaying 86.4 per cent of the sRGB colour gamut. This is lower than we’d normally expect from a phone of this price and its red, magenta and green coverage was particularly short. This made images appear rather cool and lacking definition, with whites appearing noticeably grey. The rather low peak brightness level of just 273.19cd/m2 didn’t help this, but at least blacks were reasonably deep, measuring 0.27cd/m2. A contrast ratio of 997:1 was decent, too, producing wide viewing angles and lots of onscreen detail.
The 2.8GHz Intel Core i5-4200H processor is paired with 8GB of RAM. In our multimedia benchmarking tests the laptop managed an overall score of 68, performing particularly well in the single-core focussed photo conversion test, in which it managed 82. In real terms, you’ll be able to perform multimedia tasks at a decent speed, although render times will be longer than on a similarly-priced desktop PC.
You also get the added bonus of a capable graphics card: the Nvidia GeForce GTX 850M is a mid-tier chip capable of handling some more recent games at medium settings at the laptop’s native Full HD resolution. In our standard Dirt Showdown test at 1,280×720 resolution and High graphics settings the N551JK produced an average frame rate of 78.7fps. Upping the resolution to the laptop’s native 1,920×1,080 pixels yielded 41.7fps, which is still easily playable.
Very challenging games with advanced graphics effects will be more of a challenge for this chip, though. Our representative test is the ageing but still graphically advanced Crysis 3. A quick run through the game’s Swamp level on High settings resulted in a very jerky 19fps. However, dropping the graphics to more reasonable 1x anti-aliasing and Low texture settings saw the average fps rise to 37.9, which we’d call playable, if not pretty. You’ll have plenty of room to store all your games and other files thanks to the 1TB hard disk. There’s no SSD or SSD cache for speedier storage performance, but at this price we wouldn’t expect it.
The N551JK’s screen has a quality Full HD (1,920×1.080) panel, giving you plenty of room to put windows side-by-side and have more room to breathe when browsing the web and editing photos. Colour performance was extremely impressive, with the screen capable of displaying 94% of the sRGB colour gamut, according to our measurements. This is a major step up when compared to similarly priced laptops, with vibrant colours displaying accurately on screen. Contrast levels of 754:1 and black levels of 0.48cd/m2 lead to a nicely balanced image with plenty of detail visible even in more subtly shaded images. Make sure you turn off Adaptive Brightness in Windows, as it is extremely irritating on the Asus N551JK, constantly flickering between light and darker settings.
The Asus N551JK is a supremely impressive laptop at an almost unbelievably low price, with a good processor, dedicated graphics and a superb screen. At this price, it’s the best desktop replacement laptop you can buy.