The smartphone industry is innovating in the sectors like fingerprint sensors, self-healing back panels, and curved displays; we are seeing a lot of activities in this area. But it’s always refreshing when we see the company focus on some other parts as well. We are talking about the camera-centric smartphone, not just in a sense, but looks. Not long ago, we saw the handsets like Galaxy K Zoom and Galaxy Camera from Samsung, apart from the fact that they were failed experiments when it comes to the sales since they were priced hefty and didn’t offer that much value for money. Since then this territory was uncharted for quite a long time, until two handsets, Lenovo Vibe Shot, and Asus Zenfone Zoom, were announced last year. We have had a chance to play with Lenovo’s camera-centric smartphone, about which you could learn in the detailed camera review. But today we are going to talk about the latter device, as it was recently launched in India. So, let’s dive into the details.
From the front side, it looks similar to any other Zenfone series handset company launched last year. The real difference is revealed when you turn onto the back side. First look at the rear side of the handset and you’ll wonder whether you’re holding a smartphone a smart camera. Well, let me ensure you, it’s a smartphone. There are two variants initially revealed at the IFA 2015 event, one with a plastic back and other with leather textured back. The company has launched only leather textured variant in the country, and we are happy about it. That makes device premium, and I have always loved leather back panels, just like on the earlier versions of the Samsung Galaxy Note series, particularly the Note 4. The design of the Zoom would remind you that you’re holding a point-and-shoot camera, only when you switch to front you get the feeling of standard, everyday smartphone.
The company claims that it is the thinnest camera module with 3X Optical Zoom; well I would say it doesn’t protrude like Galaxy K Zoom or Galaxy Camera, which is a good thing. It does remind me of the Nokia 1020, which boasted a 41MP resolution Carl Zeiss lens. More on camera part later. Taking a look around the handset, the right edges houses the volume rocker and power keys, as well as a shutter button and a red video record button. Just the right conveniences, you need on a camera-centric smartphone, wouldn’t you say! The body is a mixture of metal and plastic works, whereas the frame is built using metal, you see plastic works on the removable back panel. It offers better edge finishing than on the Zenfone 2 Deluxe or for the fact better than any other Zenfone we have tried out since the series first came out two years back.
Talking about the front side, it has the same design language that appeared on most Zenfone handset, shiny bezel just below the capacitive buttons. While on the top bezel, there is an Asus logo branding just below the earpiece, tagging along is a front facing camera module and set of sensors. Moving on with the talk of the ports placements, on the top edge, you see an audio jack while on the bottom edge there is a microUSB port. On the rear side, apart from the giant camera module placed on the leather panel, there is also a speaker grill, housing the loudspeaker of the device. It isn’t the ideal place to install the speakers anymore since many brands have adopted either front facing speakers or shifted it to the bottom edge. Underneath that removable back panel, you can see a microSD card and Micro SIM slot.
Overall, the design of the Zenfone Zoom is pretty familiar in many ways if you have had hands-on with any Zenfone device. While adding an extra facility for the camera-centric performance is just icing on the cake. Yes, I very much like the design of the Zenfones, despite the large bezels, they managed a compact design; moreover, the sturdyness it offers is incredible. With a metal frame and antenna bands, the edges look beautiful more than ever. I can easily say, that it is the most compact handset you’ll ever come across, sporting an optical zoom, meanwhile also offering premium feel.
The Zenfone Zoom comes with a 5.5-inch 1080p resolution display, which has a pixel density of 403 PPI (Pixel Per Inch). Now it isn’t the best full HD screen out there in the market, certainly not in this range. You know I always go with a Super AMOLED display technology than an LCD IPS panel and the reason is colors are more vivid on AMOLED than LCD. The color saturation on this display is quite average; you can see the noticeable loss of color saturation when the viewing angles are turned.
It has a 72% screen to body ratio, which would have been nice if it was two years ago. Such technologies have developed, and we have seen many brands use on their smartphones with minimum bezels and thus offers more screen to body ratios. I’m not being too harsh on this handset from Asus, but it rather a comparison with the current scenario. Moreover, this handset arrived late in India as it was originally unveiled last year at CES 2015, then at IFA event in Berlin.
The display has a Corning Gorilla Glass 4 that allows it to have a scratch resistant screen, and I wouldn’t agree with that. Why? Because, I’ve put the handset along with my car keys in a pocket and it came out scratchless, it was something unachievable on the Corning Gorilla Glass 3. Meanwhile, the company claims that it has enabled a glove touch input on the screen, so if you’re living in a cold place, it should be easier for you to use the device despite wearing gloves on hand. Well, that’s the one use case scenario for the glove touch functionality.
Talking about the sunlight legibility, the screen is quite reflective, so it’s hard to see the content on the display unless you have cranked up the brightness levels. The company claims that it has 400 nits brightness level, and that’s the reason we were able to see, what we were able to see under that bright sunlight. With a promised viewing angle of 178 degrees, the display doesn’t live up to it. If you’re planning to watch a movie on your phone with someone while traveling, it would be a good idea as the viewing angles are not up to the mark; the colors get faded away when angles are turned. Overall, despite the large real estate, it is not up to the mark for being called as a media streaming screen.
We didn’t completely fall in love with Zen UI while using the Android Lollipop 5.0 version on the Zenfone 2, but it was quite impressive and far better than most of the Android skins out there. Complex, but intuitive, it was one of the first custom User Interfaces introduced with Material design implementation. Now in the latest handset from Asus, the company has introduced the Zen UI 2.0 with a promise of more than 1000 enhancements, although, the OS version is still the same; it’s based on the 5.0 Lollipop. I have been using the Zenfone 2 Deluxe as my secondary handset for quite a while now, and one thing I have noticed was that company offers constant software updates, which quite good work. But on the other hand, it’s hard to believe the number of enhancements company claims is true or not, since the user experience is almost similar on both the handsets, a one-year-old handset and the recently launched handset. I’m not saying it’s a bad experience, but rather I’m quoting that there is no staggering improvement in an experience that should be.
Moving on with the talk of the pre-installed apps, the device has a lot of pre-installed apps, and it can easily be considered as the bloatware. But with a 128GB of internal storage, out of which around 107GB is available for the user, so there go the storage woes. Meanwhile, the system supports microSD card up to 128GB and a USB OTG drive support as well. While talking about whether the apps are really resourceful or not, well, we find many of them quite helpful in our daily use case scenarios. Such as Kids mode, Quick Memo, and Asus Mobile Manager, this allows the instant boost and many other operations regarding system management. While you can always make best of photos and videos using the MiniMovie, PhotoCollage and PhotoEffects apps, bringing out the creative best in you. Talking about the appearances, it has a Themes app that should help in deciding what wallpaper and icons you would like to see on your device.
Coming to the user experience, we didn’t have any run in with unfortunate crashes, one thing can be told that Zen UI is quite stable, compared to most of the Android skins out there on the market right now. The things were quite smooth when we were using this handset as the daily driver. The fact that it has a 4GB of RAM makes multitasking smoother, and the recent menu is quite similar to the stock Android Lollipop, which makes it easier to use. With a combination of simple yet intuitive UI and powerful hardware to back, the interface does its job pretty well. We don’t have any complaints against it. Overall, Zen UI is quite charming with its bright colors and animations, which you can easily trust to do daily operations without any hiccups.
Hardware & Performance
The device comes powered by an Intel Processor and, this time, it’s an upgraded version of what was seen on the Zenfone 2. It’s Z3590 clocking up to 2.5GHz, which is a step up from Z3580 clocking up to 2.3GHz. What it means is that you get more powerful Intel Atom processor than ever seen on a smartphone. This Quad-core chipset is something any power user would want on their handset. Supporting the SoC (System on Chip) is the 4GB LPDDR3 RAM that is more than enough to do any operation smoothly. The system doesn’t sweat even if more than ten heavy apps are running in the background. And that’s the beauty of it. While talking about the storage space support, it has 128GB internal storage as well as expansion slot that can hold up to 128GB, amount a whopping 256GB storage capacity on a smartphone. Moreover, it also supports OTG drive, which is just an icing on the cake.
The gaming on this handset is impressive; usually, I don’t play games a lot, but once you start playing any good on this handset it makes you addictive. We tried out games like Asphalt 8, Modern Combat, GTA and couple other games like Riptide GP2 and Dead Trigger 2, they all played without any lag. Note that we played all games at highest graphic settings, and it still got away with the fantastic performance. We tried to switch between three running games, and it was quite satisfactory, as soon as we turned to other game it would load without any jerk, it was all possible because of an impressive combination of hefty RAM and powerful processor. While the visual experience wasn’t quite stunning as we discussed about the screen in above section, although, that didn’t make our gaming experience bad. The gameplay was fantastic on this handset, and we couldn’t be happier with its performance, as there were no lags at all. Talking about the heating, the device does tend to heat up to a considerable temperature, but that didn’t stop us from playing our favorite games, just a couple minutes of cool down and you’re good to go if one can’t withstand hot little device.
Moving on to the benchmarking tools, we tested out the device with various benchmarking apps like Antutu and Vellamo, to know where the Zenfone Zoom potentially stands. The Antutu app revealed a score of 63372, which is quite good but not as impressive as the numbers by Snapdragon 810. The antutu score can be broke down into four categories, 3D, UX, CPU, and RAM. While talking about the Vellamo benchmarking app, it has three aspects, unlike antutu it doesn’t give the overall score, but rather determine the individual scores. The elements include Multi-core, Metal, and Chrome Browser, the scores are 1590, 1537 and 3501, respectively. These are impressive scores for a vellamo app. We also did the real life browsing test just to see how the experience is, and with large real estate, it didn’t fall short of our expectations. The Zoom-in and Zoom-out functions worked pretty great, as per the expectations. Overall, I would recommend this device if you’re looking for a beast of a performance in your next smartphone. There’s no doubt that it holds a lot of horsepowers but that isn’t the USP of this handset. It’s the camera, which we talk about in next section below.
The Zenfone Zoom shouts out that it has the best camera specs one can desire on their next smartphone. But is that really true? We find out in the detailed camera review of the handset. The Asus smartphone packs a 13-megapixel image sensor on the rear, which is quite easily noticeable because of its large size; over half of space is occupied by the module on the back panel. The first concern I would like to talk about before we move on to the camera results is that company should have covered up the module with some type of shutter. Because in the long period it is highly possible that the lens would get damaged, and we don’t know whether the company has any replacement policy regarding that, we hope they have. And if that’s not the case, why should I spent around 40K on a camera-centric smartphone that doesn’t even takes care of itself by covering the lens from daily hazards.
Moving on with the talk of the camera outputs, we know you’re eager to know. The rear camera is studded with a ton of features that you wouldn’t see even on the high-end flagships from the likes of Samsung and LG. The module is capable of optical zoom up to 3X while it also has a digital zoom of up to 12X. See both capabilities are combined to get the best results. It claims to be the thinnest lens with optical zoom functionality, as a handset with such function would usually have a large bump. While it can be argued that bump on the Zenfone Zoom isn’t as large as its competition. It has a level four Optical Image Stabilization, which helps in capturing stable photos and videos. We are quite impressed by the OIS feature as while zooming up to full capacity it wasn’t as hard to get clear shots, even if you don’t have still hands, which I don’t have.
Other camera features that we were stunned by is the laser focus, we had seen that feature on many handsets last year, but this worked as advertised, unlike previous smartphones. I can’t amount whether it was within 0.03 seconds or not, but it was quite faster, as we moved objects, it was able to focus in right manner without tapping manually. While the dual tone LED Flash was also quite helpful, but I would say I’m still blown away with the PixelMaster technology, which was first introduced on the original Zenfone handset. There are some improvements that can be noticed and it’s refreshing to see that.
We took the camera for a spin in various lighting conditions, natural, artificial and low light conditions. No matter what was the condition, it performed quite well. Especially under the sunlight and low light conditions. The color saturation, white balance and contrast levels were pretty good, for we don’t have any specific complaints. In artificial light captures, we did notice some noise, which is acceptable. We overlook that because of its impressive performance in low light condition with Low Light mode. Check out the samples to learn why we are happy with captures. The details that aren’t captured in normal mode or with LED Flashlight was captured nicely in Low Light mode, although, there is a presence of noise. But still it’s quite the feat, as many powerful camera modules fail to achieve.
Talking about the camera app on the Zenfone Zoom, it has pretty much same functions as we have seen on other Zenfone flagship devices. The camera UI has an interesting feature, according to the conditions it examines, which mode would be helpful for to capture highest details. For instance, if you’re in low light conditions, the icon beside modes menu would change to the owl, which is a low light mode, you would have to tap on that once to enable it. The interface has a lot of modes, such as Manual, HDR, Beautification, Super Resolution, Depth of Field, Selfie, Panorama, Miniature, Smart Remove and many more. It’s like there is a mode for every situation. We would like to call it a smartphone photographer’s dream come true.
The camera can record up to 1080p videos, which is a shame, as 4K video recording is missing. With the presence of features like optical zoom and optical image stabilization, the 4K video recording would be a piece of cake. Unfortunately, we aren’t satisfied with the video recording, as it appears to have a lot of noise, which is something no one likes in their media captures. The device has a 5-megapixel front facing camera with an aperture of f/2.0 and a wide angle lens, but I would say it is a selfie camera for a dinner table. Maybe good for capturing in the natural light, but the results were filled with a lot of noise when we capture in artificial light. The post processing in rear camera is better while it’s not up to the mark when we capture selfies in artificial light. What’s interesting is that Asus has placed dedicated camera functionalities, such as when you open camera app, the volume rocker keys turn into Zoom-in and Zoom-out buttons, while there is a red button on the right edge that lets you start recording directly in the default mode while there is physical shutter button as well. Al these make you feel you’re holding a point-and-shoot camera once you fire up the camera app. Overall, I would say this is an interesting camera setup that one would love to explore.
The Battery capacity is as important as any aspect on a smartphone, and Asus has done its homework before implementing a 3000mAh battery on a device with one of the powerful processor and a 5.5-inch full HD display. The two factors that use a lot of fuel to get going, which is why the company has implemented power saving modes. In the Settings app you have to head over to the power management, which offers five battery modes; Performance, Normal, Power Saving, Super Saving and customized mode. Out of which Power is saving and super saving modes would be of quick help as they automatically shut off some functions to improve the battery life of the device. While you can also select which functions turns off and which doesn’t in the customized mode.
We have been using the device for quite a while now, and we are satisfied with the standby time as well as screen-on-time it has given us. I mean it would have been better if the capacity of the battery was little larger, as many smartphone brands have shown interests in increasing the capacity. Meanwhile, the device is capable of fast charging as it comes with 2A adapter. So that you don’t have to keep it plugged to charging cable all night to charge it fully.
The connectivity options on the Zenfone Zoom are not limited, but in fact, it has a long list of features. Such as 4G LTE network support, NFC, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, GLONASS and micro USB port. But unfortunately, it doesn’t have a dual SIM slot, which is the case with most of the handsets these days. Maybe it’s a deal breaker for some; maybe it’s not great of a deal for many, note that it’s a personal choice. Talking about the 4G connection, we were using 4G SIM card on the handset to experience mobile data speed and call quality. It wasn’t surprising that there wasn’t any issues arise regarding mobile data and call quality, as we had a good time using it as our daily driver.
So, did the camera-centric Asus Zenfone Zoom impressed me? Well, I would say definitely, it did. But here’s the fact; this device is not for any average user with the need for a good camera phone. If only you’re willing to spend as much as 38K on a smartphone and out of most needs you’re looking to get a camera centric phone, then this should be your option. Because despite showing impressive performance and smooth UI operations, it isn’t quite fit the hefty bill for a tight budget. As these days, handsets around 20K is just as powerful for heavy gaming and multitasking. Your other options for camera-centric smartphones are limited, one of which you can look out is the Lenovo Vibe Shot, but it is also quite hefty for its overall package, such as the Zenfone Zoom.