Reviewing the ASUS ZenFone Zoom - The smartphone that thinks like a camera
It's been quite a while now since mobile manufacturers tried to design and build better camera smartphones. We've seen Samsung do this and we've seen Nokia doing it, but we didn't yet see ASUS do it. Not until recently that is, because ASUS has entered the competition for the best camera smartphone with their new ASUS ZenFone Zoom. It is a smartphone that promises to offer its users a camera with true 3X optical zoom, in a compact body with no moving parts on the outside. Of course, the ASUS ZenFone Zoom also packs high-end hardware to match its top of the line camera lenses. However, like all else in life, everything comes at a price. After playing, testing and using the ASUS ZenFone Zoom for more than a week now, here's what we think of it:
Hardware specifications and packaging
The ASUS ZenFone Zoom comes in a beautifully crafted box made of premium black cardboard. It has a minimalistic design that features only the company brand on one side and the smartphone's model name on the top.
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A nice touch regarding the the packaging is that the box opens like a book or like a jewelry case, as you can see in picture below. After you open it, the first thing that will catch your eye is the smartphone itself, sitting on top of a rather intricate cardboard support.
Besides the ZenFone Zoom itself, inside the box you will find a power charger together with a detachable USB cable, a wrist strap that can be tied to the smartphone to make it easier to carry, a pair of wired headphones and the usual documents you get with almost any hardware device: the user manual and the warranty card. The ASUS ZenFone Zoom we received for testing also included an ASUS ZenFlash , which is an external portable flash that you can connect and use to take better pictures with the smartphone, especially in low light environments. There is a chance that, i n some markets, ASUS won't include the ZenFlash in the default package.
The ASUS ZenFone Zoom is available in two different color variations: black and white. Both of them look really nice, also because of the high quality crafting materials used by ASUS.
Depending on the model you choose, the ASUS ZenFone Zoom is powered by an Intel Atom Quad Core Z3580 processor running at 2.3 GHz or by an Intel Atom Quad Core Z3590 running at 2.5 GHz. In terms of memory and storage space, this Android smartphone comes with 4GB of RAM memory and 64GB or 128GB of storage space, depending on the variant that you buy. The internal storage space can be supplemented with a MicroSD memory card of up to 128 GB.
The screen has a diagonal size of 5.5 inches and a Full HD display resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels at a 403 ppi (pixels per inch) density. The display panel is built using the IPS technology, so it should offer a good color reproduction and wide viewing angles. In terms of physical protection, the screen is covered with Corning Gorilla Glass 4 which means that it should be able to resist fine scratches, although it will probably not be enough to save it from a second floor fall. :)
The connectivity options offered by the ASUS ZenFone Zoom include wireless network connections using the 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac networking standards, Bluetooth v4.0 and NFC support. The smartphone uses one Micro SIM card and supports 2G, 3G and 4G mobile networks. The main attraction of the ASUS ZenFone Zoom is its camera. Although it uses only a 13 megapixel sensor, it features a 3X optical zoom which is also the reason why the smartphone is called Zoom. The rear camera has optical image stabilization and it's built on 10 lens elements crafted by HOYA. We usually associate the name HOYA with camera photo filters. The rear camera also benefits from a very fast 0.03 second laser auto-focus and a dual-color Real Tone flash for when it shoots photos in dim environments. The ASUS ZenFone Zoom also includes a front facing camera with a 5 megapixel sensor and a wide view angle for taking selfies.
In terms of size, the ASUS ZenFone Zoom is 6.25 inches (158.9 mm) long, 3.10 inches (78.84 mm) wide and 0.47 inches (11.95 mm) thick. With its built-in non-removable 3000 mAh Li-Polymer battery, the ASUS ZenFone Zoom weighs 185 grams or 6.52 ounces.
If you want to look even closer at all its specifications, check its official webpage: ASUS ZenFone Zoom ZX551ML Specifications.
The ASUS ZenFone Zoom is a premium device with high-end hardware specifications. They should be enough to put it on par with other high-end Android smartphones and, because of its special optical zoom technology, it should shine when it comes to the camera experience it has to offer.
Design and build quality
The ASUS ZenFone Zoom is a high end device and that is easily seen in the way it's built and in the materials that are used for crafting it. The Zoom follows the general design lines we saw in all the smartphones from the ZenFone family, yet it has its own distinctive spots.
On its front side, the ASUS ZenFone Zoom is clearly a ZenFone smartphone: the display is surrounded by not too thin and not too thick bezels, the top side is home to the ASUS logo and the earpiece speaker, while the bottom holds the Android capacitive buttons plus the spun metal band that's an ASUS trademark.
Unfortunately, the capacitive buttons are not backlit so finding them at night might be an issue. The whole body is held together by a slightly rounded aluminum metal edge that looks great.
A nice design choice that ASUS made for its ZenFone Zoom is the fact that it includes two hardware buttons for the camera: one for the camera shutter and one for video recording. You will find them together with the power button and the volume rocker on the right edge of the smartphone. What's even nicer is the fact that the shutter button is a two-step button so you can half press it to focus and full press it to actually shoot the photo.
Turn the ASUS ZenFone Zoom with its backside up and you get to see what makes it special: the optical zooming camera. If you've ever seen a Nokia Lumia 1020 , you will now have a deja-vu. The back of the ASUS ZenFone Zoom is dominated by a very large disc that holds the insides of the camera, with all the 10 elements of the lens.
The zooming lens on the ASUS ZenFone Zoom makes the smartphone feel a bit bulkier and heavier than other smartphones, but that's a compromise that you have to make if you want to interbreed a smartphone with a camera.
To balance the back of the smartphone, ASUS made a very interesting design choice of adding a stitched bulge on the bottom side of the back cover. This bulge helps in keeping the ASUS ZenFone Zoom horizontally straight when you place it on a plane surface. Oh, and by the way, the back cover is made of what looks like real leather. That's as premium as it can get!
The ASUS ZenFone Zoom is a premium smartphone built with high quality materials. Its design is similar to that of other smartphones from the ZenFone family, with one exception: its back looks very different from all the other ZenFones. That's because it has to accommodate some pretty intricate mechanisms for its zooming lens. That's why it also resembles a very different smartphone, one that was also trying to change the way we look at smartphone cameras: the Nokia Lumia 1020. All in all, we like the way the ASUS ZenFone Zoom looks.
The smartphone experience on the ASUS ZenFone Zoom
The ASUS ZenFone Zoom has all the horsepower required for completing any task you ask of it. While its operating system, Android 5 Lollipop is outdated, it doesn't feel sluggish: browsing the Internet, playing games, endlessly scrolling through Facebook or Twitter - all these are activities that the ASUS ZenFone Zoom lets you do without any slowdowns.
I used the ASUS ZenFone Zoom as my main smartphone for a week. My phone conversations were of good quality and the sound levels were pretty high. Both I and the people with whom I've talked over the phone were able to understand what I was saying without a hitch. The smartphone is also quite good at silencing the environmental sounds so you can hear the person whom you speak to, even if he or she is in a really loud place. The loudspeaker is located on the back of the smartphone and does its job well. It seems like it's a bit better than the one we saw (or heard to be exact) on the older ASUS ZenFone 2. It offers clear sound and it can get pretty loud too if that's what you want.
However, as with almost any portable device, the best audio quality you get from the ASUS ZenFone Zoom is when you connect your headphones to it. Fortunately, when you unbox this smartphone you also get a pair of headphones in the package. It's nice to see that, as more and more manufacturers chose not to bundle headphones these days. However, the headphones quality isn't jaw dropping - they do their job but if you want higher quality sound, we recommend you go for some better aftermarket headphones like the Monster Clarity HD High Definition In-Ear Headphones , for instance .
The ASUS ZenFone Zoom is able to connect to 2G/3G and 4G mobile networks. In my geographical area, my mobile carrier offers only 3G, so I can only testify for that. The ASUS ZenFone Zoom had no problem in connecting to the mobile network, but there were places (like in supermarket nearby) where it lost the network signal, although my other smartphone - a Motorola Nexus 6 - did manage to keep the connection going. That may or may not be an indicator to the fact that the Zoom's antenna is not that great, or it could be just that my mobile carrier has issues with its network coverage.
In terms of battery life, the ASUS ZenFone Zoom managed to last for a whole day of browsing the Internet, reading articles and eBooks or checking the Facebook feed. I usually had to charge it each evening, although when I ran benchmarks and when I played Asphalt on it, I had to charge it twice a day. The 3000 mAh Li-Polymer battery is good but I don't think that you could get two days out of it, even if you use your smartphone like you were an ascetic.
The ASUS ZenFone Zoom feels like a powerful smartphone. It fulfills its basic purpose of being a phone very well, although the smart part could benefit from an update. Overall, we can say that we were generally pleased by the ASUS ZenFone Zoom when it comes to the smartphone experience we got from it.
Turn the page to find out details about the camera experience offered by the ASUS ZenFone Zoom, the software you get on it, and the results it managed to obtain in benchmarks.