Design and UI
The Zenfone Zoom is the most premium-designed ASUS smartphone in recent memory. Its aluminium edges finishing reminds me fondly of the HTC One M8, while the rear casing is fitted with genuine leather, though it almost doesn’t feel like one (I had to confirm by smelling it).
The Zenfone Zoom also sports a strap loop and the retail package also comes with a leather strap. To further add to the photographic experience, there are dedicated hardware buttons for shutter and for video capture. You can configure to press the buttons either to launch the camera app, or to launch and capture immediately.
The review unit I received is running on Intel Z3590 (quad-core 2.5GHz), an upgrade from Zenfone 2 ZE551ML, 4GB LPDDR3 RAM and 128GB eMCP internal memory (faster than eMMC). Zenfone Zoom is the only other model apart from Zenfone 2 ZE551ML that has NFC. Similarly, the Zenfone Zoom comes with premium hardware specs like Wi-Fi 802.11ac (433Mbps), LTE Cat 4+ (250Mbps). What’s missing is dual SIM that is available in almost all Zenfone models in 2015.
The ZenUI on the Zenfone Zoom is similar to other Zenfone 2 smartphones, and it works smoothly without any lag or stutter. Personalisation is easy with themes and icon packs. You can even choose whether the launcher has an app drawer (like Android) or without (like iOS). There are dozens of ASUS apps pre-installed – photo editing, photo collage, movie collage, data manager – so that you do not need to find third party apps.
ASUS is the first company to put an 3x optical zoom (28 – 84mm, f/2.7 – 4.8) with image stabilizer into a smartphone without protruding lens barrel. Prismatic zoom lens design is not new. Many waterproof and shockproof compact cameras (like Olympus TG-870) employ such a design so that the camera lens can zoom in and out optically without exposing moving parts and ensure they are watertight. The technical feat is to build this smaller, and it took ASUS over a year since its bold announcement in 2015 to make it a reality.
Zoom action is smooth, with useful haptic feedback when it reaches the end of the zoom. The OIS (optical image stabilizer) helps to reduce blurry photos, though it still cannot prevent subject movements or chronic handshake syndromes. For full shooting controls, there is the manual mode where users can adjust focus, shutter, ISO, EV, WB. Zoom also works when shooting video, and I like how the brightness level remains constant even when zooming in and out. At widest angle, the camera can focus from 5cm, while at the telephoto end, you need at least 30cm distance.
Image quality retains the ASUS PixelMaster style. There is a good balance of noise and details, which I prefer against over-processed smudgy images by some other makers. There is little chroma noise at high ISO, but in certain lighting situations, like shooting in clear sunny day, I observe slight purple fringing at the image corners, albeit only noticeable when pixel-peeping.
How does the zoom create different perspective? See the following photos:
There is no doubt that optical zoom lets me get closer to details. With other smartphones, I would never have composed some of the photos using digital zoom, because they will look pixelated. With the Zenfone Zoom, I can finally go on a vacation without the need of a compact zoom camera just because I needed to take close-up scenery!
Would I recommend it? The Zenfone Zoom is practically a 2-in-1 device with features of a capable zoom camera and a powerful smartphone without adding much weight. I know the benefits and constraints of shooting with “kit zoom lens” and so my answer would be “yes”.
Don’t get it because you hope it captures better images than other smartphones. Get it because it does capture better close-up images than any smartphone.
Availability from 10 Mar 2016
The Zenfone Zoom 64GB retails for S$659 (without mobile contract) and is available exclusively with StarHub Online Store on 10 March. Purchase with a StarHub Mobile postpaid 24-month contract to enjoy lower handset price between S$0 (4G 5 upwards) and S$449 (4G 300M).
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