Asus had been on a roll last year with its mid-range Zenfone 2-series smartphones, which includes the Zenfone 2, Zenfone Selfie and the Zenfone 2 Laser. This year the company kick-started with a sub Rs 10,000 smartphone called Zenfone Max with 5,000mAh battery, followed by a camera centric flagship, the Zenfone Zoom. Besides the premium design and top-of-the-line hardware, one of the main talking points of the Asus Zenfone Zoom is its 13-megapxiel rear camera with 3x optical zoom.
Priced at Rs 37,999, it is exclusively available via Flipkart. The company has also announced a ZenFlash and tripod bundle with the smartphone, which will set you back by Rs 39,999. While the pricing makes the Zenfone Zoom the most expensive smartphone in the Zenfone-series, it will be competing with the likes of Samsung Galaxy S6, Xperia Z5 dual, Nexus 6P, LG G4 and others. We’ve been using the Zenfone Zoom as our daily driver and after putting it through paces, here’s our detailed review.
When you look at the Zenfone 2-series and the Zenfone Max, you’ll notice that they all look the same from the front. Asus has carried the same design language for the Zenfone Zoom as well. It boasts an aluminum frame with diamond cut chamfered edges, which adds to its premium look. An airplane grade alloy is used for making the frame, which adds to its strength and durability too.
On the front you have the capacitive touch-based buttons for back, home and recent just below the screen, followed by the concentric circle based chin at the bottom, just like other Zenfones. There’s one sad thing about the capacitive buttons though, they don’t have backlight and using them in dark becomes more of a challenge.
Turn to the back and you’ll notice a circular bump which houses the camera module with 3X optical zoom capabilities. The design is quite reminiscent of what we’ve seen in Nokia’s Lumia 1020 that sported a 41-megapixel rear camera. It has a removable back cover, which is made from faux leather, just like Samsung’s Galaxy Note 3 and Galaxy Note 4. It does look premium and attractive, and also offers a grip for holding the smartphone. Underneath the back cover, you have the microSIM card and microSD card slot.
In terms of port and buttons placement, the right edge has a volume rocker and power button followed by a dedicated video recording button and a two-stage camera shutter button. Due to the large screen size, the buttons are not easily accessible, at least when using the smartphone with one hand. The 3.5mm audio jack is placed on the top, whereas the microUSB port is at the bottom. At the bottom left corner there is also a loop for attaching lanyard, giving more of a proper camera feel.
While most flagships today are equipped with QHD displays, Asus went for a 5.5-inch full HD (1080p) display. The screen is covered with Corning Gorilla Glass 4 protection to keep scratches at bay. During our usage, we noticed that the screen is a fingerprint magnet and you’ll have to keep cleaning it from time to time. The viewing angles and color reproduction are pretty good, and visibility under sunlight is no problem either. Under display settings, you can also adjust the color saturation from sober looking to vivid, and temperature from warm to cool.
The smartphone is equipped with a whopping 128GB of onboard storage, which is good enough for storing all your music, videos and more. And in case you need more storage, you can add a microSD card up to 128GB.
At the heart of the Zenfone Zoom runs Intel’s Atom Z3590 quad-core processor clocked at 2.5GHz paired with 4GB of RAM. On paper, the hardware is pretty good to suffice the day to day usage. The smartphone runs on a dated Android 5.0 Lollipop OS wrapped under ZenUI and Asus has also promised Android 6.0 Marshmallow update which will be rolled out in the coming months. While ZenUI has its share of pros, it isn’t as smooth as stock Android, or even like Samsung’s TouchWiz and HTC’s Sense UI. During our usage, we did not find any major lags in the UI or while multitasking between apps, however, Asus needs to fine tune things to make it a little smoother.
One of the major issues with the ZenUI is the system apps such as dialer, clock, camera and contact. Instead of integrating them into system, Asus went with separate apps. Right when we first setup the Google account, the Play Store updated almost 25 apps, and then nearly in every 2-3 days, some or the other Asus apps do need updating. While having separate apps has better efficiency in terms of timely updates, the downside is – you have to update many of them. And sadly, you don’t even have an option to uninstall them if you don’t need.
In terms of daily usage, the smartphone handles things pretty well and multi-tasking wasn’t an issue at all. Graphic intensive games such as Asphalt 8: Airborne and Marvel’s Contest of Champions run smoothly and so does the casual games such as Temple Run, Subway Surfers and Angry Birds 2. However, at times, we noticed slight frame drops and the smartphone tends to warm up a bit too. Still, it never got too warm where we felt uncomfortable to hold.
Asus has bundled its own Music player app which supports playback of MP3, AAC and FLAC files too. The audio output is loud, crisp and detailed, and the bundled headphones are pretty good too. Asus has included a custom audio chip, which it claims to boost the bass levels and deliver crisp audio output. During our tests we did notice the difference in audio quality compared to some competitor smartphones, and it is pretty good.
A built-in equalizer called ‘Audio Wizard’ is also present, with audio modes such as movie, music, gaming and voice. Advance option to tweak bass, treble and graphical equalizer is also present. We listened to different genres of songs right from Bollywood to trance, hip-hop and rock and were pleased with the audio experience. The speaker output is also pretty loud, but it does miss out on some details.
While there isn’t a dedicated video player in the smartphone, you can play movies, music videos and other content from the gallery. We were able to play full HD videos without any hiccups, and while it does not support 4K video recording, it does play those videos without a hitch.
The main highlight of the Zenfone Zoom is its 13-megapixel rear camera with 3x optical zoom. It uses a 10 element Hoya-lens – four aspherical glasses, four glass lenses and two prism lenses to offer 3X optical zoom in a compact form factor. While we’ve seen the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom and Galaxy K Zoom sport a zoom lens, they move back and forth to zoom-in and zoom-out, just like a point-and-shoot camera. It also adds a bit of bulk to the smartphone. However, in case of the Zenfone Zoom, the zoom assembly is built right into the casing and the lens doesn’t come out, which is where the innovation lies in.
The camera also supports optical image stabilization (OIS), laser auto-focus and manual shooting mode. Asus has worked hard on the camera app to take full advantage of the camera. It includes various modes such as slow motion video capture, super resolution, smart remove to remove unwanted moving people from the background, time lapse and GIF animation among others. The Zenfone Zoom also supports 32 seconds exposure mode, letting you take those light traces and other long exposure shots. However, you will need a tripod for that. During our test, we noticed a bug in the camera app, taking long exposure shots beyond eight seconds makes the app force close. Another bummer is that being a flagship smartphone, the Zenfone Zoom doesn’t support 4K video recording.
The dedicated the camera shutter and video recording buttons make it easier to access the camera app in less than two seconds, no matter whether the screen is locked or you are in some app. Asus claims that the laser auto-focus can focus on the subject in 0.03 seconds. While we couldn’t actually verify the claim, we noticed that the focusing is pretty fast. Clicking a photo approximately takes a second and a half and in total, you’ll need to wait for approximately 3 seconds for taking consecutive shots.
How about the quality?
We’ve intensively tested the Zenfone Zoom’s camera for weeks under different lighting conditions. To begin with, the camera works pretty good in daylight conditions. The optical image stabilization is of a great help in ensuring you get blur free, steady shots. The photos that we captured looked detailed and the sensor can capture accurate colors too.
The zoom function works well and even with 3x zoom, photos don’t lose details. However, after reaching the 3x zoom, you kind of wish there was more to play around with. There’s digital zoom (3x optical and 9x digital, making a total of 12x) but the moment digital zoom kicks in, the photo quality tends to deteriorate. One good part though, unlike the typical point-and-shoot cameras, you won’t feel the vibrations when zooming-in and zooming-out. Macro shots look detailed too. (Click on the photo below to view camera samples).
While photos captured in bright lighting conditions seem well worth it, we can’t say the same about the Zenfone Zoom’s low light performance. To begin with, it struggles to get the subject in focus and even with dual LED lights fired, it can’t light up the entire frame. At times, a lot of noise is visible too. Ultimately, we were left with dark looking shots. On the other hand, photos shot inside a mall with decent lighting condition turned out pretty good.
Coming to front facing 5-megapixel selfie camera, it is pretty decent in well lit conditions. Sometimes it fails to capture accurate colors and skin tones, but other times selfies turn out to be good. When indoors in artificial lighting, we noticed considerable amount of noise.
The video recording capabilities of the camera is good and thanks to OIS again, we were able to record shake free videos. Only disappointment was the 1080p restriction (30fps). There is slow motion video recording also, but the videos have ample amount of noise and the playback isn’t smooth either. We noticed a lot of stuttering while playing the slow motion videos, which kind of ruins the purpose.
Is the camera with 3x optical zoom worth the hype?
Honestly, as a technology breakthrough it’s good to have 3x optical zoom on your smartphone. It does away with the need of carrying a point-and-shoot or DSLR at all times. But then, the photo quality isn’t perfect under different lighting conditions. Asus first needs to get that thing right rather than focusing on the 3x zoom aspect. Also, we didn’t find ourselves using the 3x zoom functionality too much, so it doesn’t seem to be a big deal breaker. With that being said, while the overall camera performance stands between average to good, there’s still a lot of room for improvement.
Armed with a 3,000mAh non-removable battery, the battery backup in real-world isn’t that appealing. On a full charge, the smartphone can last throughout the day with moderate usage, which includes Wi-Fi / mobile data connectivity only when needed, some music listening for two hours, clicking 8-10 some photos, phone calls for an hour or so, 35 minutes worth of gaming, an hour of social networking on Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp and occasionally checking some emails. Even with this type of usage, it could easily sail through the day, but we could only stretch maximum screen-on time of three and half hours.
On a slightly heavier usage, screen on time reduced to a little above two and half hours. Luckily, the Zenfone Zoom also features boost charge feature which can charge the smartphone from 0-100 percent in about 75 minutes, which left us pretty impressed. Do note, for boost charging, you’ll need Asus charger only, and charging via a data cable connected to the PC takes about three hours to full charge.
Is the Zenfone Zoom a worthy flagship?
With a hefty price tag of Rs 37,999, the Asus Zenfone Zoom is currently the only smartphone with optical zoom feature in a compact form factor. No doubt, Asus has brought innovation to the table and the 3x zoom does work pretty with negligent drop in quality, but in general, the quality of photos doesn’t surpass its competitors.
Average battery life, low-display resolution compared to smartphones in the same price range, lack of 4K video recording despite being a camera centric phone, average battery life and the not so intuitive UI are some of the factors that work against the Zenfone Zoom. Considering these things, the Zenfone Zoom doesn’t seem worth the current price tag. But if gets a price cut below Rs 30,000 range, it could be an option to consider. And those ready to spend Rs 38,000, the Samsung Galaxy S6, Nexus 6P or the LG G4 could be some options to consider.