Reviewing the ASUS ZenFone Zoom - The smartphone that thinks like a camera - Page 2
The camera experience on the ASUS ZenFone Zoom
The ASUS ZenFone Zoom is a smartphone that aims to become your all-in-one phone plus a compact camera. It's not the first of its kind, as other manufacturers like Samsung also released smartphones with optical zooming lenses in the past. However, the ASUS ZenFone Zoom is the first of its name, as they say. :) The Zoom has no moving parts on the outside and that should make it feel as portable and as user friendly as any other smartphone.
The ASUS ZenFone Zoom main camera - the one that zooms in and out - is powered by a 13 megapixel Panasonic sensor and uses a 10 element Hoya lens that are responsible for the 3X optical zoom. The rear camera also benefits from OIS (Optical Image Stabilisation), laser autofocus and a dual-LED "Real Tone" flash that helps when you're shooting photos in environments with low light.
There's not much to be said about the front camera, except that it uses a 5 megapixel OmniVision sensor. It is good enough for video chat apps but not so much for taking high quality selfies, if that's your thing.
Let's go back to the main camera: the fact that it offers 3x optical zoom means that the photos you shoot zoomed in should be noise free. They should also be a lot sharper than what you would achieve if you would digitally zoom in on the same object with a different smartphone. Add the fact that the camera also knows how to use optical image stabilization and the zoomed photos you take with the ASUS ZenFone Zoom are definitely better than what you'd get from most other smartphones out there. Here's a sample of how much the optical zoom means in real life:
The zoomed photo is not bad, but it's not impressive either. It's true that it's not grainy, but it does suffer from an unwanted blur and the colors are oversaturated. Unfortunately, these are problems we've stumbled upon in all the photos we took with the ASUS ZenFone Zoom.
If you're reading this review, it's obvious that you're interested in how good is the camera on the ASUS ZenFone Zoom. To get a better "picture", browse through the gallery below - we included lots of photos we took with the ASUS ZenFone Zoom, both outdoors and indoors, both zoomed in and zoomed out, and we also included a few selfies.
We have also made a comparison between the camera offered by the ASUS ZenFone Zoom and one of the best camera smartphones in the world: the Microsoft Lumia 950. In the gallery below, you will find a series of photos that we took with both these smartphones on the same subjects and at the same time. Please hit the Information button in the top corner of the photo gallery, so that you know which picture was took with which smartphone. We bet that you'll find this comparison interesting. :)
When it comes to video recordings, the camera on the ASUS ZenFone Zoom is able to capture 1080p videos at 30 frames per second. Here's a video sample I recorded in a children's playground - watch it if you're curious to see how the Zoom fares when dealing with moving subjects:
And here's another video sample in which you can see how the ASUS ZenFone Zoom does when recording static videos. It's a mountain panorama I took by moving the smartphone, while I was standing still.
The ZenFlash is an interesting addition to the standard camera experience offered by the ASUS ZenFone Zoom. It is an external Xenon Flash device that connects to your smartphone's USB port and magnetically attaches to the back cover. Then, using the ASUS ZenFlash Camera app, your smartphone can use the external flash to take better pictures in low light and at slightly greater distances than what you could shoot using only the built-in flash. As far as we've seen, the ZenFlash does its job well, at least when we're talking about subjects no farther than 2 or 3 meters from the smartphone.
If you sum up all the theoretical features and characteristics of the rear main camera you would expect that the ASUS ZenFone Zoom is great when it comes to shooting pictures. Unfortunately, that's not exactly true. However, it's the first of its kind so we should probably look at it more like a first generation device. The next generation of ASUS ZenFone Zoom will probably be a lot better, especially if ASUS will use a better camera sensor than the one it used for this model.
Android 5.0 Lollipop, ASUS Zen UI and the bundled apps
The ASUS ZenFone Zoom comes with Android 5 Lollipop, which is a rather outdated version of Android. Considering the fact that Android 6 Marshmallow has been available for quite a while now, and the fact that the ASUS ZenFone Zoom is a new smartphone, we were expecting to see it using Android 6.
Although there are a few things we like at ASUS' Zen UI user interface, like the lockscreen or the various system themes you can install, there's one thing that seems to go from bad to worse each time we see an ASUS ZenFone smartphone: the sheer amount of useless apps that the manufacturer bundles. The ASUS ZenFone Zoom comes with no less than 57 bundled apps . Sure, some of them are useful but most of them don't really add value to the user, or do so only for a few users.
If you're curious to know which are the apps bundled by ASUS on their ZenFone Zoom, we've made a list with all of them, which you can see below. Note that we didn't include the absolutely necessary apps like Contacts or Camera, nor default Google apps like Gmail, Google+, Maps or the Play Store, apps that you will find on almost any Android device and which are useful to most users.
- Amazon Kindle - an ebook reader app developed by Amazon that lets you shop and read eBooks.
- ASUS Mobile Manager - acts as a central point for various system maintenance tasks. A useful thing about it is that it gives you a quick overview of the battery and memory use. Other than that, we didn't find it to be genuinely useful.
- ASUS Support - gives you some information about the Zen UI user interface and includes support options for any smartphone related problems.
- AudioWizard - lets you personalize the audio settings of your smartphone.
- Auto-start Manager - lets you set which apps are allowed to start automatically.
- Backup - lets you create and restore backups of your system apps and the apps that you installed on the smartphone.
- Browser and Puffin Browse r - Browser is a web browser customized and enhanced by ASUS, while Puffin is another web browser from another company. Take into consideration that you also have Google Chrome pre-installed and you will understand why we said that the ASUS ZenFone Zoom is bloated. Three different web browsers on the same device is too much, even for power users.
- Calculator - a basic calculator app.
- Calendar - is a calendar app that allows you to integrate appointments from multiple agendas, including Google Calendar and Microsoft Exchange.
- Clean Master - is an utility that focuses mainly on finding and removing unneeded cache files, empty folders, unused thumbnails and other junk files. Some people might use this app, while others won't.
- CM Security - an antivirus and app locker app that can prove to be useful from a security point of view.
- Do It Later - helps you create and organize daily tasks, reminders, notes and other planning tools.
- Dr. Booster - obviously, a "booster" app that promises to make your smartphone faster and more efficient "in every aspect". Unfortunately, most "booster" apps are usually just bloatware.
- Email - an email app that might be useful to those that don't rely on Google's Gmail app.
- File Manager - lets you see and manage the files found on your ASUS ZenFone Zoom.
- Flashlight - lights up your smartphone's flash or screen, so that you can find your way in your Bloated Man's Grotto. It's also a very fast and good way to run down your smartphone's battery. :)
- FM Radio - lets you listen to the FM radio stations in your area, as long as you have connected your headphones to the ASUS ZenFone Zoom. They act as an antenna.
- Laser Ruler - uses the laser camera sensor in order to measure distances. It works nice and fast, but it can make precise measurements only for distances of up to 50 cm (19.68 in).
- MiniMovie - creates movies from the photos you took with your smartphone, which you can then share on social media websites.
- MyASUS - offers access to 24/7 support from ASUS.
- PhotoCollage - lets you easily create photo collages. Some people, especially teenagers, will like this app.
- Quick Memo - a simple app for taking quick notes.
- Share Link - lets you d o various types of file transfer, such as sharing multimedia files and applications, quickly and seamlessly.
- Sound Recorder - a simple app that uses the smartphone's microphone to record sound.
- Splendid - lets you personalize the color settings of your smartphone's display.
- Themes - is a portal where you can view, download, install and apply various system themes created by ASUS for the Zen UI.
- Weather - an app developed by ASUS that gives you weather forecasts based on AccuWeather's data feeds.
- WebStorage - a cloud service from ASUS that offers you 5GB of free storage space.
- ZenCircle - a social network that works by sharing videos that you created with your ZenFone smartphone.
- ZenFlash Camera - if you buy yourself a ZenFlash (an external Xenon Flash device from ASUS), this app connects it to your ASUS ZenFone Zoom and helps you take better pictures in dim light.
- ZenTalk - a forum dedicated to ZenFones owners.
Unfortunately, even if Android 6 Marshmallow has been available for quite some time now, ASUS didn't take the step of using it on this smartphone. As such, the ZenFone Zoom comes with the outdated Android 5 Lollipop. To make it worse, it also comes with an increasing number of bundled apps that don't add much value to the end user. We would have preferred a simpler and more up to date experience, with fewer bundled apps.
Performance in benchmarks
The ASUS ZenFone Zoom is essentially an ASUS ZenFone 2 with a camera on steroids. The same processors, the same RAM memory, the same connectivity options and so on. We don't know for sure, but we suspect that even the camera sensor is the same on these two smartphones, only that the Zoom has a different optical hardware. Anyway, we were also curious about the hardware performance that the ASUS ZenFone Zoom is able to offer. In everyday use, it did its job without a hitch, but that is just our subjective opinion. That's why, to get a better idea, we also ran a couple of benchmarks.
We started by testing the processor performance with an app called Vellamo. As you know, the ASUS ZenFone Zoom smartphone we had in tests is the variant with the Intel quad-core Z3850 processor that runs at a maximum frequency of 2.3GHz. The first test we ran on the ASUS ZenFone Zoom was Vellamo's Multicore test, which assesses the processor's multithreading efficiency. The smartphone scored 1604 points, which is a good score. It's slightly better than the ASUS ZenFone 2 and the LG Nexus 5, and slightly weaker than the Motorola Nexus 6.
Unfortunately, not all the apps from the Play Store know how to use multiple processor cores. Some of them only know how to work with just one processor core and that's why the result of our next test is important. Vellamo's Metal test evaluates the performance you get from a single core of the processor. The ASUS ZenFone Zoom got 1404 points, which confirms the results we saw in the Multicore tests. The smartphone is better than the ASUS ZenFone 2 or the LG Nexus 5, but it's also weaker than the Motorola Nexus 6.
If you love to play games and you do that on any device you own, including on your Android smartphone, you will surely be interested by the scores the ASUS ZenFone Zoom got in our video benchmarks. We used the Manhattan and T-Rex tests offered by the GFXBench GL Benchmark app, an d we only took into consideration their offscreen versions. If you're wondering why, the answer is that they are run at a 1080p resolution, regardless of the native resolution of the tested device and the ones with which we compare it to.
In the Manhattan test, the ASUS ZenFone Zoom managed to render 823 frames, which is a good result and puts it on par with Apple iPhone 5S, and much higher on the ranking ladder than a Samsung Galaxy S5 or a Xiaomi Mi 4, for example.
In the T-Rex test, the ASUS ZenFone Zoom rendered 1697 frames, a score which shows that the gaming performance offered by ZenFone Zoom is similar to what you'll get from an Apple iPhone 5S and better than what you'll get from a Samsung Galaxy S5.
Just like its older brother, the ASUS ZenFone 2, the ASUS ZenFone Zoom uses a 3000 mAh Li-Polymer battery. Because all the rest of the hardware parts are almost the same, we were also expecting to see a similar autonomy on battery for these two devices. However, we had a surprise when we saw the results of the Work battery life tests we ran in PCMark. The ASUS ZenFone Zoom managed to hold on only for 5 hours and 42 minutes, while the older ZenFone 2 kept on running for 7 hours and 18 minutes.
The ASUS ZenFone Zoom is a powerful Android smartphone and it's probably able to handle anything you throw at it. However, its hardware would probably perform even better if it were handled by a newer operating system like Android 6 Marshmallow.
The ASUS ZenFone Zoom is a high-end smartphone that packs powerful hardware inside a well designed body that is built with premium materials. Its main point of attraction is the 3X optical zoom camera. The camera is also the likely reason for the premium price you have to pay in order to get the ASUS ZenFone Zoom. All in all, we found the ASUS ZenFone Zoom to be a good smartphone but, after taking into consideration that it fails at what it should have done the best, which is the quality of its camera, we don't think that it is a great buy, at least not for its launch price. It would have deserved its premium price only if it had a better camera sensor, which allowed it to fulfill its promise of a great camera smartphone. Right now, ASUS ZenFone Zoom is worth buying only if you get it with a sensible discount.