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10 Things: ASUS ZenFone Zoom (A Review)

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Hey there, FTA fans! If you may remember, a couple of weeks ago, we started testing out the spanking new ASUS ZenFone Zoom, the Taiwan tech giant’s new camera phone. We’ve given our first 24-hour impressions and experience in this article right here, but what we’re about to give you is a better look at this smartphones standout features, and since nothing in this world is perfect, some not so nice ones.

Also, for this review, we’re trying out a new format. Instead of giving it to you a per feature review, we’re listing down 10 things we like and do not like about this phone. It’s kind of the same thing, but different (if that makes any sense).

Before anything else, here’s a recap of the ASUS ZenFone Zoom’s specs:

  • 2.5 GHz Intel Atom Z3590 Quad-core Processors
  • PowerVR G6430 Graphics
  • 4GB RAM
  • 128GB Internal Storage expandable via MicroSD up to 128GB
  • 5.5-inch 1920×1080 Full-HD IPS Display (401 PPI)
  • 13 MP, f/2.7-4.8, 28-84mm (3x optical zoom) laser autofocus, OIS Rear Camera with Dual-LED (dual tone) Flash
  • 5 MP, f/2.0 Front Camera
  • GSM / HSPA / LTE, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth v4.0, A-GPS
  • Non-Removable 3,000 mAh Battery
  • P26,990

#1: That Camera

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We begin with the ZenFone Zoom’s namesake feature: the 3x Optical Zoom 13-megapixel camera. Keyword: Optical Zoom. It’s a feature that’s common with most point and shoot and DSLR cameras, but is rare in smartphones. The reason is that optical zoom requires parts that, if made to fit inside a smartphone’s body, would mean it would have to be thick to accommodate all of it. ASUS’ engineers have done an amazing job at fitting these parts with minimum impact on the phone’s thickness, but we’ll discuss that later.

ASUS touts this smartphone as their best camera phone yet, with the promise of high quality images through a 10-element lens system that allows for optical zoom option and better optical image stabilization. Well, we put this claim to the test, and needless to say, we weren’t disappointed. We actually never realized we needed optical zoom until the feature became available, so we took advantage of it. We were glad with how this feature allowed us to flex out creative muscles in terms of creativity in framing photos, but an ordinary user would be happy to use this feature in zooming into an object without losing all that detail.

Colors are somewhat accurate, too, and the ASUS Zenfone Zoom’s Auto mode often understands what scene you’re in. There are instances, though, that colors get so washed out especially when taken under direct sunlight.

Video isn’t the phone’s strongest suit, though. Even at the best settings, video isn’t as smooth as what you would get with other flagship smartphones. Taking photos indoors and at night can be much of a challenge, too. The rear camera’s small f/2.7 aperture doesn’t allow for the best photos at night. There’s the dual-tone flash, though, to aid darker scenes.

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At Normal Range
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At 3X Optical Zoom

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The front camera is wide enough to fit more people in the shot, but obviously distorts the subjects at the corners. Apart from that, photos look fine but at times too soft overexposed.

#2: That Award-Winning Design

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Overall, the ASUS Zenfone Zoom’s front design isn’t remarkable, and it’s definitely something we’ve already seen before in other ZenFone smartphones. The front panel makes the phone look bigger than it is, with wide bezels on all sides, especially the at the top and the bottom. But look at it from the side and the rear and you’ll understand why the Zoom’s design is award-winning. The edges of the phone appear to be at only 5mm, not counting the bump of the camera. The camera protrudes ever so slightly on the phone’s rear, but not in a way that’s distracting. The grip is comfortable thanks to the curved rear and the textured rear case that ASUS says is made from premium leather. It actually feels so nice in the hand, but it always gets the impression of being just textured plastic, until you realize that it has actual stitching.

Yes, there have been phones with megapixels counts higher than this one, a very few that could do optical zoom, but none that had all that in a smaller, slimmer, better designed body. How? They installed the 10-element lens system vertically rather than horizontally, but before we get too technical, let’s thank them for saving us from a phone that would have been as thick (or thicker than) the Nokia 5110. That gave them the award.

Dedicated Photo and Video Capture buttons on the ZenFone Zoom.
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Volume rockers doubles as buttons for zooming in and out.

To also aid the idea that the ASUS Zenfone Zoom is a camera phone, ASUS did not forget to add dedicated buttons on the phone’s lower right side for capturing photos and videos. Long pressing any of these buttons launch the camera and straight into either photo or video capturing mode. These make the Zoom feel more like a legit camera than a phone when used as one. There’s none of that awkward hand covering the camera when trying to reach for the on-screen capture button. It takes a little getting used to, but since it’s a more familiar way of taking photos or videos, you’ll find it rather easy eventually.

#3: That Display

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The Zoom has a full-HD display. Crisp, bright, but not when it’s under the sun. We imagine that with that amazing camera, you’ll want to see what you’re taking a photo of, especially when outdoors. But ASUS seems to have left out this important feature. There’s almost zero visibility even at maximum brightness when the phone is used under direct sunlight. We often found ourselves shooting photos blank, and then reviewing them in the shade later on. This also doesn’t help when using the phone for more common features like texting or browsing media or the internet.

Indoors, however, the display is useable. Colors are accurate and not too saturated, and ASUS even installed an app called Splendid right out of the box which helps adjust the color tone of the display manually or automatically. This allows for less eye-hurting colors at night, and better color accuracy during the day.

#4: That Big Battery

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It’s a big enough battery at 3,000 mAh, but it’s non-removable and it has its problems. The Zoom comes with quick charging, so you can get from 0% to 100% in just an hour and a half. However, if you love using that 3x optical zoom a lot, you’ll drain the battery fast. Guess it takes a lot of power to make those lenses function. It could last through a day with mindful use of the camera, but for normal use, and functions, one could get by without any hassle.

#5: That Bigger Internal Memory

What’s a camera phone without the all the memory to store all your photos and videos? The ASUS ZenFone Zoom comes with a lot of that out of the box with its 128GB on-board storage. That’s plenty enough for high quality photos, videos and even your apps and games.

#6: That Intel Processor

It’s 2016, but many still think that a smartphone powered by an Intel processor still sounds weird, and to be honest, underperforming, but ASUS has proved us wrong time and time again. The first ZenFone, which was super successful and soared in global sales, was powered by an Intel Atom processor, and people didn’t seem to complain. The ASUS Zenfone Zoom runs on a newer Intel Atom chip, and it seems to deliver in terms of perfomance as well. Apps launch almost instantly, and even heavier tasks like gaming and internet browsing seem to be a breeze for the phone. Yes, there are occassional stutters and lags, but none that are too alarming. It also helps that the phone has 4GB of RAM, so switching from one app to another is swift.

#7: That Software

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The ASUS Zenfone Zoom runs on Android 5.0 Lollipop with the usual ZenUI on top of it. It’s no different from the software installed on other ZenFone phones we’ve used before so there’s nothing really new to say about it. We’re glad, though, that minor updates are released on a regular basis. During our time with the device, the software was updated twice, with a 2-week gap in between. The only thing new with this version of the ZenUI are the special tweaks and modes for the camera to mimic more of DSLR features and functionality. The phone also comes with softwares like PhotoCollage and MiniMovie to edit and share the photos and videos taken using the device.

#8: That Speaker

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It’s nothing special. It’s a not-so-loud speaker with a slightly better sound that other ZenFones and other smartphones in general. The ZenEar earphones that come with it sound great, though. You’d expect this from a phone in this price range.

#9: That Fast Connectivity

Boy, does this phone support fast connectivity. We tested it in our usual spots in Makati and Pasig with our Smart HSPA+ SIM. Take note, it’s only HSPA+, so none of that above 10mbps speeds in this review, but browsing, video streaming and downloads were nevertheless fast and reliable.

#10: That Price

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With all of these features, the ASUS ZenFone Zoom comes at a steep price. At P26,990, you get that award-winning design, optical zoom, great processors and big internal memory, but you also get a so-so display, not good enough speakers, a big memory and a kind of okay battery. We’d hate to say that even with that amazing camera, the ZenFone Zoom comes with a lot of flaws. Afterall, nothing is ever perfect. We’re hoping that the next iteration of the Zoom, maybe called the ZenFone Zoom 2 (or Zoomer, maybe) will have all the improvements we wish we already saw here. It’s not a bad camera phone, and not a bad phone either. For a regular user, it’s already great, but for users that nitpick and that are easily annoyed by the little things, this phone may not be for you.

What are your thoughts on this phone? Let us know in the comments below! And let us know if you also like this new format, alright?