Review: Asus ZenFone Zoom

Introduction, design and display

There have been huge advancements in the lens technology found in today’s smartphones, but it’s still commonly the low point of the experience. The Asus ZenFone Zoom hopes to reverse that trend.

To do that, Asus’ latest phone packs in a snapper that’s capable of 3x optical zoom, a unique capability that allows you to magnify a photo without seeing any of the added visual artifacts caused by digital zoom.

The Zoom isn’t the first smartphone to have optical zoom. That honor belongs to the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom, which was capable of an even more impressive 10x optical zoom. Comparing the two, the Zoom clearly wins the battle when it comes to being a much thinner device.

And while it has an impressive rear-facing camera that is packed with features, there isn’t much else about the package that helps it stick out against its competitors. The build quality is a clear step-up from the cheap-feeling and surprisingly fragile Asus ZenFone 2, but the Zoom values novelty over practicality. And where its ZenUI attempts to be practical, it often ends up getting in the way, just like the protruding camera bump.

All said, this is easily the best looking Asus phone yet, but the added camera and a svelte look result in a price tag of $399 (about £286, AU$554, though the ZenFone Zoom isn’t available in these regions). Like the ZenFone 2, the Zoom is available unlocked, except it costs $100 more, and largely mirrors its specs.

The deciding factor is this: If you’re one who generally prefers to shoot on auto mode, letting the camera do the heavy lifting with minimal input, you’ll be better served by other Android phones with far less bloatware, a smaller chassis and buttons with more “click” action.

IMG

Asus ZenFone Zoom

Asus ZenFone Zoom

Asus ZenFone Zoom

Most issues that I encountered above could be remedied by tweaking some settings in manual-shooting mode. But, as most people shoot in auto, this is a good look at how the Zoom shoots from the hip, so to speak.

Verdict

The Asus ZenFone Zoom tries its hand at more functionality than most of today’s smartphones offer, and for a fraction of the price. It doesn’t deliver a perfect experience, but no phone does. So, at that, is the Zoom good enough to be your next smartphone?

We liked

For $399 (about £286, AU$554, though the ZenFone Zoom isn’t available in these regions,) you’re getting a good value. It comes unlocked, and rocks a unique design, with a strange mixture of build materials that works, somehow. The slick, leather back, anodized aluminum trim and spun metal effects play off each other nicely.

The star of the show is, of course, the camera. It’s fairly capable in most lighting situations and the 3x optical zoom really makes a noticeable difference in how zoomed-in pictures turn out. It’s going to be difficult to go back to the digital zoom on my iPhone 5S.

ZenUI has its perks. If you dig enough, you’ll likely enjoy the knock-to-wake feature, as well as the battery-saving features that kick in to prolong your use of the Zoom.

We disliked

This phone is bulky. If not for the massive camera bump on the back, it would be much easier to pocket without feeling like your pants are about to rip. But taken as is, I’m not sure that many will want the big jump up in size and weight just to take slightly better photos.

On the whole, ZenUI is an aggressive, hand-holding experience that Android pros will likely despise. It has its good qualities, but, generally speaking, the faster you can hide the pre-installed apps, the better.

The camera can take noise-free photos at 3x optical zoom, but it took much more effort to snap good-looking photos out-of-the-box than it does with my older iPhone 5S.

Final verdict

Similar to the “Shot on iPhone” ad campaign showcasing the stellar photos taken by the iPhone 6S, professionals will likely be able to work small wonders with the Zoom, too.

The Zoom costs $100 more than the ZenFone 2, but is improved in ways that some may not care about. As the name hints, the camera is the real focus. The lackluster lens found in last year’s Asus phone hasn’t just been overhauled, it has been replaced in its entirety in the Zoom.

If optical zoom in a smartphone appeals to you, your options are limited. At that, the Asus ZenFone Zoom is currently your best bet. There are a few more reasons to enjoy this souped-up camera phone, but with it, also come some frustrating design choices that get in the way of a breezy user experience.

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