Innovation tends to reach a saturation point after a while, which bogs down pretty much ever facet of technology. What do you do when those eureka moments start drying up and you find yourself looking for something new to wow your audience with? Putting a fresh spin on old technology seems like one way to go about it. Smartphone cameras with optical zoom have been around ever since Nokia launched the N90, way back when. This didn’t exactly catch on since no one likes carrying a bulky camera in their pockets, which is what these phones essentially were.
Samsung has toyed with this idea a bit, with its last attempt being the Galaxy K Zoom over two years ago. The 10X optical zoom was the highlight of this phone but it was still more of a digital camera than a smartphone.
Asus has never known to shy away from experimenting with hybrid devices and its latest incarnation is the ZenFone Zoom. This is its attempt at a smartphone with optical zoom and thankfully, it hasn’t compromised (too much) on it being a smartphone. Can the ZenFone Zoom breathe new life into this non-starter of a segment.
Look and feel
The ZenFone Zoom is priced at a premium and it’s certainly dressed for the part. The unibody aluminium frame looks good and also gives the phone a good grip. The rounded sides make it very comfortable to hold too. There are chamfered edges and chrome accents thoughtfully distributed around the edges and the camera section on the back, all lending to the phone’s good looks.
The 5.5-inch full-HD IPS display is surrounded by very thick bezels, which dampens its cool quotient a bit. The capacitive navigation buttons are not backlit but thankfully, the notification LED was not left out.
Specifications and software
Asus is probably the only major smartphone maker that’s so consistent with using Intel SoCs. The ZenFone Zoom is powered by a quad-core Intel Atom Z3590 and comes with 4GB of LPDDR3 RAM and 128GB of onboard storage. We appreciate the generous amount of storage, and just in case it isn’t enough, you can expand it by another 128GB with a microSD card. Other specs include Wi-Fi b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, USB OTG, FM radio, GPS and GLONASS.
In terms of performance, the ZenFone Zoom is like any other high-end Android phone. Apps run without a hitch and so do demanding games such as Asphalt 8. The phone tends to run a bit warm when gaming, and this also makes a dent in the battery life. 4G works well on Band 40, as we didn’t face any issue during our time using it. We did get a software update which added a new feature called Quick Find, which can be accessed by swiping downwards from the home screen. It isn’t a universal search tool since you can’t access files from your phone, but more of a quick way to search the Web and launch frequently used apps.
We now come to the highlight of the phone, and that’s the camera. At its heart is a 13-megapixel sensor with a 10-element lens made by Hoya. The lens arrangement is done in such a way that you get 3X optical zoom without the need for the lens to extend outwards. Add to this laser autofocus and Optical Image Stabilisation and you have a solid recipe for some good pictures.
The 3000mAh battery lasted for 6 hours and 58 minutes in our video loop test, which is below average. Upon regular use with mixed usage of 4G and lots of shooting, we found that the ZenFone Zoom lasted us about 18-20 hours before needing a recharge. Thankfully, the phone supports fast charging and will get you up to 40 percent capacity in half an hour.
The Asus ZenFone Zoom comes at a premium for the sole reason that it’s the only smartphone in the market at the moment with optical zoom. At Rs. 37,999, it competes with Samsung’s Galaxy S6 range and the new Nexus 6P, both of which have excellent cameras. In terms of innovation, the ZenFone Zoom clearly has an edge over the others, but if you look purely at image quality, it doesn’t quite surpass them. The relatively low-resolution display, the older version of Android, weak battery life, and lack of 4K recording are also factors that work against the ZenFone Zoom.