Most phones come with a camera but Asus Zenfone Zoom is a camera with a phone. At least, that is how I would like to look at it. When you splurge Rs 37,999 (for the 128GB variant that is available in India) on this device, you have obviously set your eyes on the 3x optical zoom lens which is what makes this phone, one of its kind and an unique amalgamation of camera technology and phone.
There are lot of murmurs over the pricing of the Zenfone Zoom claiming, Asus has committed a harakiri by shooting it way too high on the pricing spectrum. While outwardly the price might look steep, there are many layers to unravel to understand the product. Clearly, Asus is not here on a volume game nor it is challenging the flagship devices of the bigger brands. Let’s be honest, it may not stand up against the nimble Nexus 5X or 6P or even the last year’s S6 in terms of performance and looks but if you understand what Asus has demonstrated with the Zoom, you will start appreciating and may even buy it. In this review we will see what booms for Zoom and what lacks the room. ( Ah,never mind the cheesy line!)
Design and Build
- Aluminum frame
- Leather finish back
- 12 mm
- 185 grams
The Zoom is bulky and there is a good reason for it. While it is bulky, Asus also claims it to be the thinnest 3x optical zoom Smartphone. Frankly, I am not aware of any other phone with similar lens set up. The only other Smartphone with optical lens I could recall is the super bulky, Samsung’s experimentation with K Zoom which had a 10x optical zoom.
The big lens ring at the back is the most distinguishing look of the device and also the engineering feat that Asus has achieved. I shall talk more about the 10-element lens and 3X optical zoom in detail at the camera section. From the design point of view, the 12mm thickness containing this camera module is very remarkable. The 3X optical zoom doesn’t leave the protective housing even when zoomed in. While Asus emphasized on the premium leather they used and also showcased the various prototypes and choice of leather materials that they considered while making this device, I am not sure if it is genuine leather or faux leather binded over plastic but whatever it might be, the feel of the rear gives it a very camera like identity. There is Intel and Asus branding and too and also houses rear facing speaker grille. There is a small hump with a stitch finish around it, not sure why that exists, may be to balance the device when kept down.
When we talk about a camera phone, there should be a physical button to control the camera. Asus has got it. It also gets a video record button in red. You can fire the camera from the lock screen by simply pressing these hardware buttons.
Asus has also brought back the lanyard eye for the loop, something reminiscing the bygone era. Carrying it with the loop also gives a feel of holding a camera rather than a Smartphone.
The corners are smooth. The bottom has the microUSB port and a microphone, top a 3.5mm audio jack and another microphone. There are no sharp edges anywhere to make it uncomfortable to hold. The front has three touch buttons, not backlit but they are well marked in silver tones. Then there is the signature concentric-circle
- 5.5 inches
- IPS screen
- 1080 x 1920 pixels
- 403 ppi
- Corning Gorilla Glass 4
Very typical of the latest zenfone series. The display panel is not bezel-less but has a 3mm cushioning around both the sides but the blackened area is not an eye sore and doesn’t bother you much. The ZenFone Zoom uses the same LED-backlit IPS display found in the ZenFone 2. The display like almost all the Zenfone 2 ranges is bit soft and doesn’t crazily pop out. When using for a longer hours, I feel the Zenfone display is better on eyes than straining it out with overloaded vibrancy.
- Android 5.1
At this point, the Zoom runs on Android 5.1 Lolipop with a security patch last updated on 1st of Feb. The good news though is the Marshmallow update is rolling out on second quarter of this year which is just around the corner.
I have taken a bit of fondness for the ZenUI of late having used many of the Zenfone 2 devices last couple of months. The UI is intuitive, simple and colorful. Very easy to operate and have good measures of customization options including the ability to shift between the traditional app drawer layout and no app drawer mode, customizing the grid layout with wider level of available options, font sizes, icon label color, fonts etc. A theme library gives you both paid and free themes options to explore. Plus there are touch gesture controls, motion gestures and one hand mode. If you have used Asus Zenfone 2 devices, its all very familiar servings at Zoom.
ZenUI is fast, smooth and snappy. Launching apps, navigating the interface and even multi-tasking is fairly breezy and I had no hardship here.
Hardware and Performance
- Intel Atom Z3580
- Quad-core 2.3 GHz
- PowerVR G6430
- 4GB RAM
- 32GB / 64GB / 128GB (In India, currently only the 128GB is available)
- microSD slot available.
Surprisingly, Asus has brought in only the 128GB variant in India, while the bigger storage is welcome, the lower storage variants could have helped them reduce the price of the models and make it more attractive for many, in any case the Zoom also gets an option for external storage card. So it was a strange decision to bet only on the high capacity model.
Asus was one of the few companies to have faith in Intel processors, though of late they have shifted focus to Qualcomm joining the rest of the bandwagon. The Zoom is powered by quad-core Intel Atom processor clocked at 2.3GHz and PowerVR graphics processing unit (GPU). It is almost a similar set up to the one in Zenfone 2. By no means it is a challenger to many of the reputable flagship devices you may come across. The benchmark score of 63,794 while it looks decent, disappoints when we realize the affordable Smartphones like LeTv Le 1s and Redmi Note 3 crunch better numbers.
Having said this, I don’t find any issues at my daily tasks. The Zoom was capable, was not sluggish and could multi task neatly. Other aspects like call quality, speaker quality are good too, though a dual-speaker could have been better for this device. A finger print scanner was sorely missing and am used to the finger print scanner these days on my other devices. I often end up rubbing the big camera module for the scanner. It’s a shame that the Zoom lacks it but this is a model on works for a very long time, which has made a late entry so at that point of product development, the finger print technology has not gone mainstream. Knock to wake feature comes handy to unlock the phone.
The audio wizard works charmingly, the app allows you to customize your audio settings and can enhance the experience to your preference. Gaming is also better than my expectations and it did well. A good frame rate offers a smooth gaming experience.
The Zoom comes with 3000mAh battery and its performance is probably the most weakest link of this device. It drains faster and the stand alone camera also adds to the battery drain if you are a shooter on the move. The saving grace is the fast charging. It is super fast. In 30 minutes you can replenish almost 50% battery life and even a 10 minutes charge can do wonders.
- 13MP rear camera
- Laser auto focus
- dual-LED flash
- 3x optical zoom
- 12X total zoom with digital zoom combined
- f/2.7-4.8, 28-84mm
- 10P HOYA lens
- 5MP front camera
Finally we are at what the Zoom is all about – the camera. Lot of research, experimentation and innovation has gone into making of the Zoom’s camera module. At the launch event, I had the chance to take a look at the various prototypes Asus had made before arriving at this design. It gave insights on the big thought process and man hours that had gone into the making of this device. To deliver a 3X optical zoom in a Smartphone that also has to be ergonomically easier for the daily use as a phone.
What I really appreciate was the 3X optical zoom does not stick out of the protective casing even when maxed out. The credit for the camera technology should go to the guys at Hoya, a Japanese company who worked with Asus to deliver the 10-element lens to be housed inside. The aspheric, molded-glass lens system is paired with a dual high-precision stepper motors and arranged in a periscopic arrangement to achieve this.
But how does it perform in the real world?
Let’s begin with the optical zoom. The following image is taken without any zoom, straight out of the camera on auto mode.
And here I got closer with the 3X optical lens.
In the following picture, you can see how the optical zoom and digital zoom comes in play. The digital zoom on 12x level creates a loss in quality which is natural but gets you more closer to the object.
The color reproduction are good but the shaded areas are not well-lit.
The low-light shots fared much better.
If you know to use the camera a bit like a pro, the manual mode comes into the scene. Plus, the laser autofocus makes the it very snappy. So you know what Asus wants to deliver – a DSLR like control, optical zoom, OIS for the masses and also a camera substitute when you are not always carrying your DSLR. While they were almost at it, it’s a shame that a camera phone which aims to deliver DSLR like experience and targeted at pro users lacks some serious stuff like RAW format and doesn’t support 4K videos. Not that many take 4K videos regularly but would always be nicer to have that option. Also, you lose optical image stabilization when trying to capture video above 720p. Also when it comes to quality of images, while it offers decent pictures, all the research and mechanics that has gone into the hardware doesn’t make it to the top of the list. It takes good pictures but not necessarily great pictures.
While the intention of the Asus in making the Zenfone Zoom is appreciable and they have put a lot of heart and soul into it, the final result could have been better. No, I am not faulting the design, mechanical parts or other hardware, Asus has made a commendable effort in making this wonderful piece and their efforts are laudable. Except that, it could have been more in tune with year 2016, where the expectations are super high. There are few missing elements like lack of RAW format, 4K video support and also I expected a little more better pictures out of it. Having said that, it does click good pictures and for most part you would be happy with it. So who would want to buy Zoom? For those who would want an optical zoom in their phone and yearn for a camera like feel to their phone, Zoom fits in. Of course, at the price it comes, it is a luxurious camera phone.