Smartphone makers focus quite a lot on the camera set up on their phone to offer excellent photography results. To cater to the camera centric users, many companies have been seen using advanced, camera-specific features and software additions. Working on the same, Asus at CES 2015 announced its new offering called The Zenfone Zoom to entice the photography enthusiasts, and give a tough competition to its rivals in the market. The Asus Zenfone Zoom boasts a feature which is not new, but seems fresh and promising.
Asus launched the Zenfone Zoom with an optical lens that accompanies a 13MP primary camera. This is not the first phone with an optical Zoom but it seems to be the first Android phone with an optical zoom that moves horizontally instead of extending out. If you think how this would make a difference, well the camera set up results in a slimmer body, despite housing a powerful camera.
The zoom lens on the phone gives it an edge, for it breaks the monotony of using the default focal length that is not too wide and forces users to go close to the subject to get a good photograph. The optical zoom helps in taking a good picture without compromising on the image quality, which is not possible with a digital zoom that essentially crops the image and blows it up. Those who have used DSLRs understand the significance of an optical zoom, and this is exactly what Asus wants - to provide a handy alternative to consumers who love photography.
A year after the unveiling of the ZenFone Zoom, Asus finally recently launched the smartphone in India. The phone has already created a buzz in the market for its hardware specifications. We have been using the Asus Zenfone Zoom for a few days, and here is how it felt like using it:
Design and display:
The Zenfone Zoom undoubtedly scores well in looks and design segment. Despite featuring an optical zoom, the phone is relatively slim and light, especially considering that some of the previously launched smartphone like Nokia Lumia 1020 and Samsung Galaxy Zoom with optical zoom were bulky. The front of the phone is based on the company's traditional design language for the Zenfone 2 series smartphones. It has the Asus logo on top and three touch-based capacitive buttons below the screen. The 5.5-inch display with 1080p reproduces colors well and offers good viewing angles. It is topped with the Gorilla Corning Glass 4 for protection.
It dons an aluminum and leather body that measures 5.5mm at its thinnest point, extending out to about 12mm. The sides are solid with aluminum casing, while the back flaunts a leather cover. The back is where the action happens, and brings back the memories of the Lumia 1020. The rear is dominated by the camera placed in a plastic circular designed set up, which slightly protrudes out of the shell. There is a dedicated camera button on the right side which also accommodates power and volume keys.
The rear panel can be taken off to expose the battery, SIM tray and microSD slot. You cannot remove the battery of the phone. Despite the camera bulge, the phone is handy and is pretty comfortable to use. The leather panel gives a grip of a traditional camera, and adds to the looks of the smartphone.
We reviewed the Black coloured variant but liked the White variant more, for the White variant looks more appealing and premium.
On the inside, the Zenfone Zoom has the same Intel chip found in the highest-end version of the ZenFone 2. It is powered by a 2.3GHz Intel Atom Z3590 quad-core chipset with PowerVR G6430 GPU, accompanied with 4GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage.
In addition, there is an expandable memory support for up to 128GB capacity via microSD card. The phone runs feather soft mostly, but slows down when using multiple heavy applications. Also, during the review period, the phone hanged often with its screen freezing down to go black eventually. This happened mostly while using the camera for recording videos, and when the Wi-Fi hotspot was kept open for a few hours. The bloatware on the phone is another reason why it slows down and hangs a lot.
Moving on to the camera, which is the key highlight of the phone, there is a 13MP 10-mirror lens with 3x zoom. The camera has laser autofocus, optical image stabilization, four-piece camera lens by Hoya, and a color temperature flash unit. The Hoya-designed lens with Panasonic sensor with a variable f/2.7-4.8 aperture lens seems an interesting combination in a smartphone. The phone essentially has everything a professional camera will have, but the question is whether this set up is also good at performance.
The main attraction is the 3X optical zoom, which can be controlled using the volume buttons on the phone that double up as the zoom in/out button. The buttons are handy but zooming in and out using key is usually slower than doing the same by pinching on the screen. The dedicated camera key on side does help in clicking pictures and is easily reachable. On pressing slightly, the button helps in focusing, and on pushing down fully, it clicks a photo. To the left of the shutter button, there is a tiny circular button, pressing which lets a user go to video recording.
The optical zoom is good to take pictures of distant objects as it does not simply magnify the image like a digital zoom. Instead, it offers better detailing and vibrant colours. We used the phone in different lighting conditions and for different subjects. Some of the pictures came out pretty well, but some were highly disappointing. The camera struggled to take pictures of moving objects, whereas it did work well for stationary objects. Though, we noticed that most of the shots taken with the phone lacked sharpness.
The photos taken in Auto-mode are nice but not impressive enough to meet the expectations we had with this phone. Moreover, you can notice that the phone over does the tweaking of pictures, which should have ideally meant to make the images look better but doesn't exactly help. If you talk about the depth of field, the camera does blur out the background to focus on the subject, but the results are not good enough. The camera struggles in low-lighting conditions.
However, you may like to use the shooting mode options given on the phone. The shooting modes are handy and easy to use. You can also use the manual settings to fiddle with white balance, ISO, exposure and shutter speed, which is right out for your help and are easy to use.
We think that the Asus Zenfone Zoom's camera lacks the X-factor - It is good but we expected it to be better. At a price of Rs 37,999 this phone is directly in competition with the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P, Moto X Pure Edition, and more. Though the Zoom has an edge over the competition due to its optical zoom feature, we think it misses the 'wow' factor. Another disappointment is that the phone does not support video recording in 4K.
The phone has been priced in India for Rs 37,999, which is not exactly a compelling price, considering that the phone does not really strike a chord when it comes to its camera. The Zenfone Zoom does have a good design and impressive hardware including Intel chipset, 4GB of RAM, 3000mAh battery that keeps the phone running for a day of mixed usage, and more, but we missed a superior experience on the phone.