Asus Zenfone Zoom review: Is that optical zoom worth your moolah?

Asus Zenfone Zoom does zoom in well with its camera but it fails to deliver a stellar battery and the camera UI is confusing at best

Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Written by Shruti Dhapola | Updated: February 7, 2016 9:31 am
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Asus Zenfone Zoom is finally in India, more than a year after it was first showcased at CES 2015. Asus says this is the thinnest smartphone with an optical zoom, and since the launch of the Samsung S4 K Zoom, we’ve really not seen a phone with this feature.

Asus has introduced its 128GB model, with 3X optical zoom feature and a pure leather back, at a price of Rs 37,999. Presumably, Asus is convinced that the camera and the amount of space given with the smartphone justifies the higher pricing.

Like some other Zenfone series smartphones, this one also comes with an Intel processor with 4GB RAM. But can the Zoom really command its Rs 37,999 price? Here’s our review

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Specs: 5.5-inch FHD IPS LCD display (1920x1080p, ~403 ppi) | 2.3GHz Intel Atom Z3580 processor | 4GB RAM | 128GB internal storage | 13MP rear camera + 5MP front camera | 3000 mAh battery | Android 5.0 Lollipop

Price: Rs 37,999

Watch: First Look video of Asus Zenfone Zoom

Asus Zenfone Zoom: Optical zoom on a smartphone?

With the Asus Zenfone Zoom, the USP is the 3X optical zoom, which will presumably give you a DSLR like feeling as you close in on an object from afar, and yet manage to capture details or at least some of it. For DSLR purists, a smartphone is never good enough and rightly so; one can’t really capture depth, details, and in some cases even the vibrancy of colours on smartphones.

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The advent of smartphones has made photographers of all of us, and we can’t stop clicking anything that comes in the frame. Selfies are of course, mandatory at all gatherings. The reason we’ve all taken to smartphone photography has a lot to do with speed, you turn on the app, it’s focusing on the object, press a button and it’s done. Ready for you to see, edit and share. And it looks good on the screen.

With Zenfone Zoom, you can actually zoom in to capture details of the subject from far away. The Zoom’s focus is fairly fast, and the dedicated camera button helps in taking the shot quickly. You can use the volume buttons as well to zoom in and out, but note that the lens doesn’t actually protrude when you’re tinkering with these. However, the zoom is not really a use case for me.

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Zoomed in photos really depend on the context that you’re taking them in. I tried using this to take pictures of birds on a tree and I felt the camera was struggling. Sure I got a less blurry picture of the bird than I would have with any other smartphone, since they don’t come with optical zoom, but Asus phones still can’t handle their greens, which means it’s hard to figure out the bird.

However, if you have a stationary object like a flower or just a statue and you’re trying to zoom in from a distance, the Zenfone Zoom ends up delivering. Thankfully, though Asus has finally managed to get some of its colour saturation with reds and yellows right, even in bright sunlight. With pink flowers, the Zenfone Zoom did a decent job, with better colour composition.

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So does it give the sharpest pictures you’ve seen on a phone? In perfect lighting, the photos do look good on the screen. Can you zoom in on those pictures taken with 3X zoom and expect great details should you put them on a bigger screen? Beyond a point not really, specifically with photos taken inside a room. With Zenfone Zoom, a lot depends on the lighting as well, and the camera does struggle in low-light. There’s a definite pixelation, that you would not, given that you’re paying more than Rs 35,000 for this smartphone.

Zoom and low-light aside, I’m not a big fan of the confusing camera UI. It would keep prompting me to tap here to switch on HDR mode or tap to switch on Low Light Mode or whatever else. I personally like a cleaner UI with less interactions.

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So is this the best smartphone camera? Good enough for you to keep in your pocket and take pictures from a distance? In perfect lighting with not too much green in the background, you can give the Zoom a try. For low-light and details, my pick is still the Nexus 6P out of any other device I’ve reviewed till now.

The selfie camera on the Zenfone Zoom is not bad, although I’d suggest you put the beautification levels to zero. No matter where I looked in the settings, there’s didn’t appear to be an option to turn it off entirely.

So what’s good?

As a normal smartphone camera, the Zenfone Zoom is a pretty decent option. It works well in adequate lighting, the autofocus is fast and captures some shots pretty nicely.

The other good thing about the Zoom has to be its 128GB space, which is a lot. The 4GB RAM means that the smartphone performs smoothly, and I didn’t face any issues when setting it up or downloading apps. The Zenfone Zoom can easily handle gaming and browsing without any hiccups and doesn’t heat up. In terms of benchmarks, it scores just behind the G4 in the Antutu list, even though this was tested under a performance mode. Scores aside, I can’t really fault the device’s overall performance.

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The 5.5-inch full HD screen is good enough for watching videos on your device, although reading on the screen in bright sunlight is a tough ask. At this price, the screen could have been better. There’s Coring Gorilla Glass 4 on the screen and even though the device has been tossed around quite unceremoniously in my bag, it hasn’t yet developed scratches and the overall build quality is decent.

What’s not so good?

The battery of the smartphone doesn’t last very long, just a little over 8 hours even with moderate usage. The constant alerts and notifications are enough to drop the battery levels of this phone. Also I’d suggest sticking to the charger that came in the box as anything else means the phone takes forever to charge.

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The other thing has to be the Zen UI, which comes with so many apps. Yes, this is a 128 GB model smartphone, and I can’t really complain about space, but my issue here is that it makes the device seem more cluttered than it needs to be. Also several of these apps keep pushing annoying notifications.

Should you buy?

If you want a phone which lets you focus from afar on an object, the Asus Zenfone Zoom is currently the only option in the market.

Given the pricing, Asus automatically ends up jumping into the big league where the standards are really high. If you’re a user with money to spend on a smartphone, (between Rs 30,000 to just a little over Rs 40,000) Zenfone Zoom is trying something different, although the results are definitely not perfect.

But I’d still say go with a Nexus 6P or a Moto X Style because frankly for most smartphone users, the need to take pictures in a group or inside a room is a more common use case, than zooming into objects in the distance.