As travelers, it’s important to choose you travel gadgets wisely. So far, we’ve tested and reviewed great travel gadgets and equipment like the almost indestructible Caterpillar S40 Rugged Phone, and the ingeniously secure Numinous Backpack. This time though, we’re looking at something a little less specialized, a travel gadget that’s more affordable to most travelers on a backpacking budget.
When you start backpacking, you’ll be amazed at just how quickly your hard-earned gadgets, which may already have survived several years of daily life, can quickly deteriorate into a disposable chunk of scratched plastic and rusty connections with a barely visible, flickering screen attached. Put simply – an adventurous life on the road is tough on your stuff, especially your travel gadgets!
Smartphones are still the undisputed best option for budget backpackers who can’t afford to buy, or lose, multiple pieces of expensive equipment – they are looking for simple, tough, inexpensive travel gadgets that do everything they need to do on the road.
So what exactly do backpackers require from their travel gadgets?
- Low prices – Not only are backpackers on a very tight budget to begin with, their travel gadgets are also at a greater risk of loss, theft or damage, so the initial investment needs to be suitably low.
- Multi-functionality – Weight is a big issue for backpackers and there’s no room for multiple pieces of equipment. Carrying various travel gadgets is also more to look after and more that could be lost or stolen. A good, complete travel gadget should be a camera, a telephone, an internet device, a portable music and movie player and an e-book reader.
- Durability – Fragile gadgets are a poor investment in the softest of environments, but travel gadgets need to be extra tough to deal with the extra knocks, scrapes and the extreme range of weather conditions a traveler is likely to encounter.
- Lightweight and compact – We’ve always touched on why weight is such an important factor in travel gadgets, but they also need to be small enough to fit in most pockets, whilst being big enough to do everything they need to do.
So with all those requirements in mind, how does the Asus Zenfone 2 Laser 5.0 measure up in the tough world of travel gadgets?
Priced at 7995 PHP in the Philippines and about $200 USD in the United States, the Asus Zenfone 2 manages to keep itself in the affordable range of below $200 USD in the Philippines and exactly on the affordable $200 mark in the USA. This is a not unreasonable investment for a pocket-sized travel gadget that should do pretty everything the average backpacker needs. So looking good on the pricing!
To quality as a backpacker travel gadget, we’re looking for good performance as a telephone, camera, an internet device, GPS map reader, a portable music and movie player and an e-book reader. So let’s have a look at what the Asus Zenfone 2 Laser 5.0 has to offer in those areas:
Nothing much to report here. These days a phone is no longer primarily a phone, it’s just something else that your pocket-sized computer does! Just be reassured that you can make and take calls and send text messages – if you’re feeling old-school that is!
All in one travel gadgets need to have a high-quality, simple to use camera, which is fast enough to capture the incredible moments you’re going to have on your travels. This Asus has a 13 MP main camera with; 4128 x 3096 pixels, laser autofocus and dual-LED (dual tone) flash. In human speak – you’ve got a camera that should take clear shots in most conditions. Extra features like geo-tagging, touch focus, face detection, panorama, HDR add extra usability to the deal. The front, or selfie, camera is only 5MP, but why are you taking selfies anyway? Stop taking pictures of yourself and capture memories of the amazing stuff around you!
- Internet Device
Running on Android OS, v5.0 (Lollipop), it’s a standard OS and very easy to use. Some reports say that the Snapdragon 410 chipset is a little slow, but with its quad core 1.2 GHz processor and 2 GB of RAM, this phone should be able to most tasks perfectly well, if not all at the same time. Just close your apps when you’re not using them. Obviously you can connect the usual options of WiFi, mobile internet and Bluetooth. Being Android, just choose your favourite browser and download it!
- GPS Map Reader
More and more travelers are buying sim cards as soon as they land in a new place, activating their 3G or 4G service and turning their travel gadget or smartphone into a GPS device to find their own way around. The Asus Zenphone Laser 2 has built in GPS, so it should be up to this task as well.
- Portable Music and Movie Player
The 5.0 inch screen has a high definition display which is crisp, clear and great for watching movies on, although using the screen at full quality to watch movies will drain the battery a lot faster than the advertised 36 hour battery life. This is normal for any travel gadget though and if you know that you’ll be unable to charge for anything more than 10 hours, it’s a good idea to carry a power bank. Good news though, this is one of the few new phones left in the world that still features a replaceable battery, which can extend the usable of the phone well past those with fixed batteries!
For music, the phone has a speaker made from ‘five layers of magnets in a large chamber’ resulting in a ‘41% increase in louder volume, lower frequency extended by 14% and distortion frequency improved by 12%.’ We have no idea what any of that means, but it does sound very good for such a slim phone. Of course, if you’re on a bus or in a public space and respectful of other people around you, you’ll be using headphones, but still, good to know!
- E-book Reader
Personally, I still believe that the Kindle is the best E-book device in the world and no smartphone is ever going to be able to measure up to it. However, we’re not expecting the Asus Zenfone to replace the Kindle, just to do a decent job as a multi-functional device on which we can choose to read a book on if we wanted to. For a start, the screen is a nice size and the slimline design of the phone sits nicely in the hand, to it’s comfortable to hold for long periods of time. The screen has very little excess glare and you can use the dimming function to adjust it to just how you like it and so that you don’t wake up the person in the bus or plane seat next to you. The screen is very responsive for turning the pages and you can download whatever E-book app you like. Job done!
For the Gamers – An Extra Bonus
Since Asus has a reputable name when it comes to pc and laptop gaming, the Asus Zenphone 2 is great for gaming too. With its PowerVRG6430 GPU, you can run any game you want even the heavy duty ones. For example Asphalt and UFC, you can enjoy playing without suffering from any lags and delay.
First of all, let’s make one thing very clear. When we’re looking at all-in-one travel gadgets on a backpacker budget, we are not looking at something that can survive falls, big impacts, submersion in water and being trampled by a herd of stampeding water buffalo! If that’s what you want, then you need to spend the extra cash to invest in something that’s built for that kind of punishment, like my Caterpillar Rugged Phone.
What we’re looking for is a travel gadget that can take a reasonable amount of wear-and-tear and won’t fall apart if you drop it occasionally. The Asus Zenfone 2 Laser 5.0 does a pretty good job here, particularly through the use of Corning Gorilla Glass 4, which make the screen extremely durable and resistant to breakage and scratches. As the screen is usually the most fragile part of a smart phone, this is a great investment by Asus. They have even managed to design the screen to be fingerprint resistant and glove sensitive, so you can use it comfortable on the side of a snow covered mountain without risking frostbite! Bare in mind however, that this is a stylish, slimline phone with very thin edge, just 9mm, so in its naked form the sides and corners could be quite vulnerable to impact. While the screen is tough, to make this phone extra travel friendly, we would recommend adding a tough or rugged case, which is shock resistant, waterproof, or if possible both!
Lightweight and Compact
At 143.7 x 71.5 mm (5.66 x 2.81), it’s certainly not the smallest phone on the shelf, so don’t buy jeans with small pockets, but that’s the trade-off for a big screen and HD capability. In my personal opinion, it’s still not too big, but it’s very noticeable in your pocket and there won’t be space for anything else in there! However, at on 10mm thick, tapering down to only 9mm at the edges, you’ll barely see it in your vintage skinny jeans that one of your 60 year-old aunts probably threw away in the 80’s – Winning! And yes, I have seen men backpacking in skinny jeans, don’t get me started… The weight is also kept to a minimum, at only 140 grams, so it’s not going to weigh anyone down, unless they’re made of melted cheese.
The Verdict – How does the Asus Zenfone 2 Laser 5.0 hold up in the tough world of affordable travel gadgets?
The Asus Zenfone 2 Laser 5.0 does a good job of ticking all the boxes required for multi-functional travel gadgets on a budget, although don’t expect it to do everything simultaneously. No big deal, just close your apps when you’re not using them and you’ll extend your battery life at the same time!
The Gorilla Glass 4 solves the usual issue of fragile screens, but it’s not an adventure gadget so don’t treat it like one! What Asus have done to deal with the issue of the thin vulnerable edges, is to make the phone compatible with their own line of rugged cases for people who know they are either clumsy, or likely to take it rock climbing. To make this phone a truly viable travel gadget, I would recommend protecting it properly with a shockproof and waterproof case.