“What would you get when you combine ASUS’ loaded ZenFone 2 with camera-centric hardware? The ZenFone Zoom”
While the Indian market is being bombarded with a variety of smartphones, from both international brands and new-age companies alike, only a handful of devices target a specific aspect. Of late, long-lasting battery life has become that niche, since almost all manufacturers are offering phones that feature capacious batteries.
However, the Taiwanese brand ASUS is forging a distinct path by focussing on the camera capabilities with its latest flagship, the ZenFone Zoom (first impressions). While one could argue that most high-end phones offer impressive camera hardware even if they aren’t targeting shutterbugs specifically, the brand’s latest device goes a step ahead by incorporating some DSLR-like features. The Zoom is among the rare phones which can actually get closer to the subject, thanks to its 3x optical zoom. However, priced at Rs 37,999, the brand is going beyond its comfort zone and venturing into a new territory of high-end phones.
So, can the ASUS ZenFone Zoom make a case for itself in the top-end segment, where it’ll be competing against the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S6 and Google Nexus 6P (review)? More importantly, how good is its camera? Let’s dive into our review to find the answers.
Specs at a glance
|Resolution||Full HD (1080 x 1920 pixels)|
|CPU||Quad core, 2.5 GHz, Intel Atom|
|Internal memory||128 GB|
|External memory||Up to 128 GB|
|Capacity||3000 mAH, Li-Polymer, Non removable|
|Primary camera||13 MP|
|Secondary camera||5 MP|
|Network support||Single SIM 4G|
|Other options||Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS|
|Operating system||Android 5.0 Lollipop|
Design: premium additions to the familiar looks
Dimensions: 158.9 x 78.8 x 11.9 mm
Weight: 185 grams
A couple of years ago, we used to rebuke Samsung for not putting enough effort when it comes to the design language of its offerings, since almost all of them, be it an entry-level phone or a high-end handset, looked exactly the same. While, 2015 marked a year of change for the Korean giant, the issue of similar-looking phones seems to be plaguing ASUS now.
From the front, the ASUS ZenFone Zoom looks exactly same as the ZenFone 2 Laser (review) and Selfie (first impressions), which looked the same as the ZenFone 2 (review | FAQs). The display panel dominates proceedings on the fascia, flanked by an earpiece, a couple of sensors and ASUS’ branding above and a three-row navigation keys at the bottom. Below the capacitive keys, there’s a chin with reflective concentric circles, adding a shiny character to the otherwise plain Jane front.
Thankfully though, there are some premium elements in the Zoom that makes it stand out from its siblings. Towards the edges, the smartphone features a metallic rim. While the left edge is barren, the right spine is chock-a-block with buttons – a volume rocker, a power switch along with the video recording button and a shutter key further below. The inclusion of dedicated camera buttons is interesting and important as well, since the Taiwanese brand is targeting photography enthusiasts with the ZenFone Zoom.
The camera button as well as the video recording key launches the camera, even when you’re using any other app or if the ASUS ZenFone Zoom is locked. The shutter key features a two-step mechanism like a traditional camera, where half-pressing it lets you focus on the subject and pressing it again shoots the image.
The top sports the 3.5mm audio socket along with a noise-cancelling mic, whereas at the base, you’ll find the micro-USB port as well as a primary microphone.
The rear of the ASUS ZenFone Zoom also looks upmarket thanks to the use of faux-leather. Not only it helps in making the device distinct from other ZenFones, it also offers a superb grip. It ensures that the phone can be held for longer durations, without worrying about it slipping off or collecting any smudges.
However, the one thing that will catch your attention at the back of the phone has to be the large circular portion (reminiscent of the Lumia 1020’s design aesthetics), which holds the camera sensor, a dual-tone LED flash and a laser autofocus. What will raise your brows further is the fact that within such a small area, ASUS has been able to add optical zoom of up to 3x, which is nothing less than an engineering feat. Towards the bottom of the rear panel, there’s ASUS branding and a speaker grille.
The smartphone might look like the Lumia 1020, but it’s not as bulky. While its waist of 12mm might seem too thick considering today’s standards, the ASUS ZenFone Zoom claims to be the slimmest smartphone with 3x optical zoom. The thickness is also offset by the curved rear panel, which makes it easier to handle.
Prying open the back cover lets you access the micro-SIM slot and a microSD card slot, while the battery remains non-removable.
Kudos to ASUS for making the ZenFone Zoom as ergonomic as possible for capturing images or videos, and not making it thick or bulky for adding the hardware. That said, we would have loved to see an evolution of brand’s design language, which now seems similar across its offerings.
Display: looms large
Size: 5.5 Inch
Resolution: Full HD (1080 x 1920 pixels)
Display Type: IPS LCD
Pixel Density: 401 ppi
Just like its progenitor, the ZenFone 2, the Zoom is fitted with a display panel measuring 5.5-inches. The IPS panel bears a resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels, which results in crisp text and images. The colour reproduction of the phone is good too, and so are the viewing angles. While brightness levels seem to be fine, at times, we find it difficult to read the display under sunlight when it was set to automatic. However, manually boosting the brightness to the max did help a little in making the display legible.
If you don’t like the colour temperature of the display, then you can change it as per your liking. There’s also an option to choose the screen colour mode between balance, bluelight filter, vivid and customised. Bluelight filter is a good option if you’re using the ZenFone Zoom at night or for long durations for reading an eBook.
Software: not as Zen-like as you’d want
Operating System: Android
OS Version: 5.0, Lollipop
The ASUS ZenFone Zoom comes loaded with brand’s custom skin dubbed ZenUI layered on top of Android 5.0 Lollipop. The OS and its features aren’t much different from what we found on the ZenFone 2, and hence we won’t go into too many details.
Unlike the trend of unified homescreen for accessing all the widgets and apps, the interface offers a dedicated app drawer. The app launcher lays out all the apps nicely, and we really liked the Smart group option, which intelligently categorises the installed titles into various folders. The search option is also handy, letting you locate installed apps, contacts or even search the web.
The phone also supports various gestures even when the display is asleep, such as double-tap-to-unlock along with the option to draw certain characters to open apps directly. There’s also support for motion gestures, such as the ability to shake twice to take a screenshot or automatically picking the call when you bring the phablet towards your ear. In case you want to use the ZenFone Zoom with a single hand, then you simply need to double tap the home button to enable the one-hand mode.
At a time, when even Samsung has also adopted minimalism in terms of the preloaded apps, the ZenUI comes across as an exception with its dozens of apps that come preinstalled. There are a lot of apps from ASUS itself such as ASUS Support, Do it Later, Mini Movie, Share Link, Zen Circle, and many more. Apps like Amazon Kindle and Cleanmaster are preloaded out of the box, though thankfully they can be uninstalled. Sadly, you can’t remove the ASUS apps, and barring a few, none of them are really useful. There are some photography-centric apps as well, which we’ll be discussing in the next section.
With the latest update to the Zen UI, ASUS has added another app to the bloatware. It suggests apps that you can install on the phablet, and it’s always there in the notification bar, and what’s strange further is that you can’t disable it.
We don’t necessarily dislike the interface, but the amount of bloatware and the fact that ASUS isn’t following Google’s Material Design ethos seems strange. We also found the OS to be buggy, with apps crashing quite often and the UI freezing for a few seconds on occasion.
Camera: impressive zooming capabilities, but not image quality
Primary camera: 13 MP
Flash: Dual-color LED Flash
Secondary camera: 5 MP
The halo feature of the ASUS ZenFone Zoom is its camera capabilities. It packs in some interesting photography-centric hardware to ensure that this is all you need for your shooting needs. The phablet sports a 13-megapixel sensor from Panasonic along with Hoya’s 10-element lens. The optically-stabilised camera also gets 3x optical zoom, making it among the rare options in the smartphone market with this capability. The camera also features an adjustable aperture ranging between f/2.7 to f/4.8. With laser autofocus, the camera can focus on the subject in less than 0.03 seconds.
The camera app is also customised to exploit the hardware, even though many things remain the same as what we find in other ASUS’ offerings. Kept in landscape orientation, the phone offers the button to toggle flash, switch to front camera or open settings with options towards the left. The right side gives you the ability to enable various modes, shoot stills or record a video, activate manual mode or preview recently-clicked images or videos.
The modes on offer include HDR, Super resolution (merges several images together to create a higher-res image), Low-light, GIF animation, slow motion, and time lapse among others. The manual mode lets you control the white balance, exposure, ISO levels ranging from 50 to 3200, shutter speed varying from 1/16000 to 32s and autofocus. Unlike most phones that only offer preset options to change the whitebalance, the ZenFone Zoom lets you change the colour temperature, allowing for more natural pictures. The app also features an ambient mode, which suggests the suitable mode like HDR or low-light depending upon the situation.
We’ve taken already taken a detailed look at the camera capabilities of the ASUS ZenFone Zoom. However for your convenience, we’re embedding a few pictures captured from the phablet below:
As can be seen from the images above, the ZenFone Zoom does well in brightly-lit conditions, scoring high on details and the colours appearing natural. And, the fact that you can zoom in on a subject makes it even more powerful. Sadly, the images aren’t as crisp when compared to the results from the cameras on the Samsung Galaxy S6 (camera review), LG G4 (camera review) or Google Nexus 6P (camera review). We didn’t find the HDR mode to effective either. In low-light conditions, the images are just fine, although the dual-tone LED flash comes to the rescue in such instances.
To offer a better experience to photography buffs, the phone has a couple of apps such as PhotoCollage and MiniMovie. As the names suggests, PhotoCollage makes it extremely easy to make a collage, while MiniMovie automatically makes a short clip of pictures along with adding audio in the background.
At the front, the ZenFone Zoom flaunts a 5-meg sensor for capturing selfies. The images come out fine for Instagram purposes, but they are quite grainy when zoomed into. We’re also baffled by the fact that the phablet can only captured full HD videos, which is quite odd, since even smartphones priced at half its price offer 4K recording capabilities. The primary shooter can also capture slow-mo videos, which are just fine.
In a nutshell, ASUS has certainly taken a bold step by outfitting the ZenFone Zoom with an optical zoom, which adds a lot to the photography experience, however its image quality leaves something to be desired.
Performance: speed thrills, but kills (the battery life)
CPU: Quad core, 2.5 GHz, Intel Ato…
GPU: PowerVR G6430
RAM: 4 GB
Memory: 128 GB + Up to 128 GB
SIM Slots: Single SIM , GSM
Battery: 3000 mAH
The ZenFone 2’s claim to fame was being the world’s first smartphone to offer 4 gigs of RAM. Being the latest flagship from ASUS’ stable, the ZenFone Zoom not only packs 4GB RAM for smoother multitasking experience, but also comes with a better processor than its progenitor. The device is equipped with Intel Z3590, a 64-bit CPU offering four cores clocked at 2.5GHz. The combination is not only powerful on paper, but in real life too. The smartphone can handle any task thrown at it with ease, and can switch between apps in a jiffy.
The gaming experience on the ASUS ZenFone Zoom is a smooth affair as well. We played Asphalt 8 and Alto’s Adventure on the phone, and it rendered beautiful graphics along with a lag-free performance. Sadly though, the thermal efficiency is still an issue with the hardware, as after about 20 minutes of gaming, the phone got noticeably hot. And, not just games, even while running multiple apps, there were a few instances when the phablet’s back panel got warm.
Our biggest grouse in the performance department though, isn’t related to the hardware, but the poorly-optimised software.
The ZenFone Zoom is a delight for multimedia connoisseurs as it comes with a mammoth 128 gigs of storage on board. After accounting for OS and various other resources, there’s about 112GB of space, which should be more than enough to take care of your music files, videos and more. Interestingly enough, if that’s not sufficient, then you can top it up further with the use of a microSD card of up to 128GB. The mobile also supports USB OTG to allow plug-n-play of flash drives and other USB accessories.
On the connectivity front, the ASUS ZenFone Zoom supports 4G networks, along with the usual options like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS and NFC.
Providing juice to the ZenFone Zoom is a 3,000mAh non-removable battery. While it’s not necessarily low by any means, the battery life certainly is. In our daily usage, we barely managed to eke out an entire working day’s worth. With heavy usage, it wouldn’t even last half a day. In our standard video test, where we play a 720p video on loop keeping both the volume and brightness at 50 percent, the phablet managed to last a little over six hours, which is below average.
Thankfully though, you can enable some modes such as power saving and super saving to extend the battery life. The bundled wall charger is useful too, since it’s able to charge the ASUS ZenFone Zoom extremely fast thanks to the Boost Charge feature.
ASUS showcased the ZenFone Zoom back at CES 2015, but finally released the smartphone this year. The device is a bold effort from the Taiwanese company, as unlike its previous offerings which were targeting the voluminous budget and mid-range segments, it’s now competing in the flagship category with its sticker price of Rs 37,999. The company is also bundling the phone with a tripod and the Zenflash and retailing it at Rs 39,999.
The smartphone is aimed at photography enthusiasts, and while it does has an array of tricks up its sleeve to offer good images, the quality leaves a lot to be desired. Don’t get us wrong, we love the fact that we can zoom in on a subject, that too using proper optical zoom instead of doing it digitally, but otherwise, the images lack punch and there’s apparent noise when they are viewed in the original resolution.
Having said that, ASUS must be commended for not just focussing on the camera capabilities with the ZenFone Zoom, as it comes with the flagship-grade hardware. The display is impressive, and it delivers a first-rate performance as well. Sadly, the software seems buggy at times and battery life is nothing to write about. However, these issues could be solved via a software update, and that will surely make the smartphone a more attractive proposition.
Coming to the competition, the ASUS ZenFone Zoom would be going up against the likes of Samsung Galaxy S6 and its curvy sibling, the S6 edge, along with LG’s G4. While these might seem quite old, considering their successors have just been announced at the recent MWC, they surely come across as better packages as all-rounders. If you don’t mind a slightly larger display, then the Google Nexus 6P is also a great option.
Overall, the ASUS ZenFone Zoom impresses on paper, but fails to justify its asking price in real life, and unless you really need the optical zooming capabilities, you can go for one of the above-mentioned options.
Editor’s rating: 7 / 10
- Camera-centric design with dedicated controls
- Ample storage
- Optical zoom
- Powerful innards
- Charges in a jiffy
- Cluttered interface that’s full of bloatware
- Camera performance doesn’t match rivals
- Poor battery life
Photos by Raj Rout