Asus Zenfone Zoom Review: The thinnest smartphone with optical zoom

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Asus has been ramping up its presence in India with a new phone almost each quarter or sometimes maybe more than one. Its series of Zenfones have been doing really well in the country with the company claiming to have sold more than 3 million Zenfones till date in India alone. So it was no surprise that the Taiwanese company wanted to introduce its new phone Asus Zenfone Zoom in India just a month after its launch in its home country.

Announced at Consumer Electronics Forum (CES) last year, Asus Zenfone Zoom as the name says focuses on the camera side of things for the shutterbug enthusiasts and photo frenzy people. Asus did take its sweet time to fine tune the camera technology with the smartphone basking for the title of ‘the thinnest phone with optical zoom’.

Design

Design wise, Asus Zenfone Zoom follows the legacy of its predecessor Zenfone 2, with the similar cylindrical design on the chin on of the phone and the rounded edges. But the phone takes the premium route with its 5.5 inch display covered in a metallic frame and leather finish back. The circular camera at the back is surrounded by a metallic ring which adds to its beauty of this phone where all the magic happens. The back of the phone does have a bump which Asus says will give the phone a true camera feel when you hold it to take photographs.

The power button and the volume rockers are placed to the right along with the camera button and a special video button to quickly go to the respective modes. The 3.5 mm headphone jack sits atop and the microUSB and data port are at the bottom. The loudspeaker is at the back. The three soft-touch buttons in the front – Back, Home and Tasks – are etched on the front above the chin.

Weighing 185 grams, Zoom does feel a little bulky and is certainly not the phone for a single hand use. Well, colour wise there are two combinations- Meteorite black and Glacier white.

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Display

The 1080×1920 Full HD 5.5 inch IPS screen comes with a Corning Gorilla Glass 4, a direct adaption from Zenfone 2. Supposed to be better than Gorilla Glass 3, the Gorilla Glass 4 is still prone to scratches even if you keep the phone like a new born baby. A wide 178-degree viewing angles, and the 403ppi pixel density gives you a crisp detail of the images and enhances the overall viewing experience.

Reading and viewing under direct sunlight is not a problem and you can easily watch a video or read an e-book on the go. Brightness and contrast levels are well set and a few adjustments here and there can have the phone working well for the best viewing possibility throughout the day.

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Camera

The much talked about rear camera with its 3X optical zoom and stabilisation setup sits inside the big puck shaped casing on the back of the phone. Understanding optical zoom from a layman’s perspective – it means the camera uses its optics to bring subject closer rather than cropping the image which is what most of the smartphones do with the digital zoom feature.

But optical lenses are delicate, bulky and cramping them inside the phone is just too difficult. But Asus just manages to put them into the circular plastic casing at the back. It holds a special slide mechanism that allows zooming in without expansion of the lens outside of the phone design, which was the case with Samsung line of Zoom phones.

A 13-megapixel Panasonic SmartFSI sensor is similar to the one found on Zenfone 2. But what differentiates the Zoom from its other phones, is its 10-element lens from Hoya along with the optical image stabilisation (OIS) to help steady your shots.

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The camera has an aperture range from f/2.7 to f/4.8 and a 28-84mm focal length, it has the ability to focus as close as 2 inches, making macro photography a delight. It also includes a range of shutter speed up to 32 seconds allowing for those long exposure shots.

The camera app contains a very good manual mode where you can control every aspect of the camera, be it ISO, white balance, exposure value, aperture and the shutter speed. But if you are alien to such terms, this phone is definitely not for you.

A good camera app, it does have a little hiccup which is seen across Zenfones series. The app won’t start instantly as you click on the icon. It’s only few seconds later that the picture starts showing up on the screen. The delay means you have lost the moment to capture that perfect shot. The zoom feature is slow both via pinch or expand and also via the volume rockers. It takes a while until you lock on to your subject.

The photos taken in daylight produced vibrant images with the actual colour being reproduced and great level of detail seen in the photos. But for the price that Asus is commanding, you are better off with a mid-level smartphone rather than spending Rs 37,999 on a bumped up Zenfone 2.

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Hardware

Being one of the premium makes from the Asus, the internals of Zoom have been botched up with newer specs. Asus has once again relied on its processor partner Intel for its Atom processor. Designed on 64-bit CPU architecture, the Z3590 is a quad core processor with a clockspeed of 2.5 GHz and GPU fuelled by PowerVR 6430. Packed with 4 GB and a 128GB internal memory, the phone does have enough memory for one to go on a photo-clicking spree for quite sometime before you connect your phone to a PC/laptop to transfer the photos.

The Zoom is juiced by a 3,000 mAh non-removable battery and unlike its other siblings is a single SIM device compatible with 4G network bands, which are available in India. If 128 GB internal memory is not enough for your memory hungry personality, Asus gives you an option to ramp up the device with additional 128 GB via microSD card.

Performance

The Intel chips are now vying the mobile space and with Asus powering lot of its phones with Intel’s Atom processor, this one has the quad core Z3590 processor to deliver its needs. The 4GB RAM and the 128 GB internal memory handles everything that is thrown at it with ease. High end games like Asphalt 8, Dead Trigger 2 and FIFA 15 along with the apps running in behind does not bow down to its knees rather multitasking is as smooth as butter. The smartphone also does not heat up with so much activity happening and the leather finish allows you to have a better grip while playing games in the landscape mode.

The 3,000 mAh battery sustains the phone for eight to ten hours on the run before you go looking out for a charger. You can extend Zoom’s life for more three more hours when you switch to ‘Ultra Saving Mode’ to extract more juice from it. Zoom does have turbo charging feature via its 18W power adapter which can charge from 0 to 60 percent in 39 minutes through its patented ASUS BoostMaster technology.

Conclusion

Asus Zenfone Zoom has the premium feel with an above average camera functionality but the steep price of Rs 37,999 will may make you think twice before you put your hands into your pocket. The 3X optical zoom is the pitch for this new phone but that can’t be the only reason Asus can command that much price. Currently, the market does have better phones at the Rs 35,000 and above price bracket. Asus needs to going to go back to the drawing board and rework the pricing or what more could it give on offer from its next flagship phone.

Click on the image to view more images shot from the ‘Asus Zenfone Zoom’

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