The Good Asus’ ZenFone Zoom is breaking new ground with a built-in optical zoom camera that doesn’t stick out and doesn’t seem to be moving. The photos are usually great, but worse in low light.
The Bad Your phone software silences you with ads. The camera’s performance feels sluggish.
The Bottom Line Asus ZenFone Zoom helps bring new technologies to the camera, but its swollen software and poor overall performance make it impossible to buy the phone you want to buy.
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The Asus ZenFone Zoom is the first phone with an optical zoom that extends beyond the phone – a powerful impression. But don’t start throwing money at Asus. The phone’s spam software and slow camera are dragging it too heavily to recommend, especially given its premium price.
Priced at $ 399 (about £ 275 or $ 560), the zoom is not cheap – you pay early adoption tax to get your hands on it. If you are looking at alternative phones with great cameras, your best bet will still be flagships such as Samsung Galaxy S6 and the Apple iPhone 6S Plus ; they cost a lot more, but you also get more for your money. When all is said and done, ZenFone Zoom is new, but one that has the potential for a second-generation model good enough to stand on its own.
Asus ZenFone Zoom offers optical zoom without the bulge (pictures)
This is why this camera breaks new ground
Why should you care about optical zoom? This is a transmission from compact and dSLR cameras that promises much more accurate zooming, allowing you to capture details that are otherwise lost through digital zooming (the type of zoom is usually observed on the phone).
The elegant ZenFone Zoom may be the best two-in-one phone. Unlike previous experiments in optical scaling of phones such as Samsung K Zoom and Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom before that, ZenFone avoids the clunky old thing in your hand.
In terms of design, ZenFone Zoom earns real credit for reducing the zoom mechanism and sticking it inside the phone, so there’s no protruding barrel. I’ve seen other solutions for optical zoom, such as using two cameras, but as long as it works, it’s still not widely available. Unlike a regular smartphone camera that uses digital software tricks to “zoom in” – in fact, it simply processes the current image to create a zooming – the built-in ZenFone Zoom lens can mechanically zoom in and out just as it would on compact camera. Try as I might, I couldn’t see any moving parts in the lens, though if the eyes were sharp enough you could.
To do this, Asus uses a special Hoya-designed lens with the specified 3x optical zoom and optical shake reduction. The module is only 6 mm thick and is called the Cube.
But are the photos better? Yes and no, but mostly not. The ZenFone Zoom lets you get closer to the action, and you get a little more detail than usual, but not much. Low-light performance is mediocre and sometimes there are problems with close-up shooting in the phone.
Should I get it?
Even though the phone has some new technology that we may not see elsewhere – Asus has a long history of experimentation, including a phone that turns into a tablet – the Taiwanese manufacturer has packed too much software into the Zoom operating system, including annoying ads that are displayed by default (thankfully you can turn them off).
There’s also something to like, especially the removable back cover and its comfortable, leather-like grip. Battery life is also decent, lasting almost 10 hours in our CNET Video Labs test. But while technology and design are certainly new and exciting, photography is still not enough to buy this first-generation version of the phone in other ways.
COMPARISON OF THE SPECIAL GARDER
|Asus ZenFone Zoom||Apple iPhone 6S||Google Nexus 6P||Samsung Galaxy S6|
|Display size, resolution||5.5-inch; 1,920×1,080 pixels||4.7-inch; 1,334×750 pixels||5.7-inch; 2,560×1,440 pixels||5.1-inch; 2,560×1,440 pixels|
|Dimensions (Inches)||6.26×3.10×0.47 in||5.4×2.6×0.28 in||6.3×3.1×0.28 in||5.7×2.8×0.27 in|
|Weight (Ounces, Grams)||6.53 oz; 185 g||5 oz; 143 g||6.3 oz; 178 g||4.8 oz; 138 g|
|Mobile software||Android 5.0 Lollipop||Apple iOS 9||Android 6.0 Marshmallow||Android 5.0 Lollipop|
|Camera||13-megapixel, 3x optical zoom||12-megapixel||12.3-megapixel||16-megapixel|
|Video capture||1080p HD||4K||4K||4K|
|Processor||2.5GHz quad-core Intel Atom Z3590||Apple A9 chip (64-bit)||2GHz eight-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 810||Samsung eight-core Exynos 7 Octa 7420|
|Storage||32GB||16GB, 64GB, 128GB||32GB, 64GB, 128GB||32GB, 64GB, 128GB|
|Expandable storage||Up to 128GB||None||None||None|
|Battery||3,000mAh (nonremovable)||1,715mAh (nonremovable)||3,450mAh (nonremovable)||2,550mAh (nonremovable)|
|Fingerprint sensor||None||Home button||Back cover||Home button|
|Special features||Fast charging, 5GB online storage||N/A||Pure Android||N/A|
|Price off-contract (USD)||$399||$649 (16GB); $749 (64GB); $849 (128GB)||$499 (32GB); $549 (64GB); $649 (128GB)||$552-$685 (32GB); $672-$785 (64GB); $768-$885 (128GB)|
|Price (GBP)||TBA, £275 converted||£539 (16GB); £619 (64GB); £699 (128GB)||£449 (32GB); £499 (64GB); £579 (128GB)||£379 (32GB); £539 (64GB); £599 (128GB)|
|Price (AUD)||TBA, AU$560 converted||AU$1,079 (16GB); AU$1,229 (64GB); AU$1,379 (128GB)||AU$899 (32GB); AU$999 (64GB); AU$1,099 (128GB)||AU$899 (32GB); AU$999 (64GB); AU$1,149 (128GB)|