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ASUS ZenFone Zoom first impressions: the promise of pro photography that fits in your pocket

|January 25 2016 |Android Phones, Android, Asus, First impressions, Camera Phones

“The ZenFone Zoom is the world’s slimmest smartphone with 3x optical zoom”

If you're confused with the number of ZenFone models available in the market, then we won't blame you. The Taiwanese brand has a wide range of smartphones with similar-sounding names, featuring different configurations and available at different price bands. However, if you keep that aside, then its smartphone certainly deserve attention, be it the world's first smartphone with 4GB RAM, the ZenFone 2 (review | FAQs) or the most affordable phone with laser autofocus, the ZenFone 2 Laser (review).

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A year ago at CES 2015, it introduced a new model in the ZenFone lineup, the ZenFone Zoom (quick look), which as the name suggests, targets shutterbugs. While the company surely took its own sweet time to launch the handset commercially, the ZenFone Zoom ZX551 has finally landed in India. We were able to get our hands on the phone-cum-camera, so here’s a peek at its capabilities based on our initial experience.

The first thing that you’ll notice when you hold the smartphone is its waist size. In an era, where mobile devices have a lean frame, the ASUS ZenFone Zoom looks the odd one out with its 12mm thickness. It also is quite chunky as it tips the scale at 185g. Thankfully though, the company has distributed the weight well in its body, and hence it didn’t feel as bulky. 

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From the front, the phone doesn’t look much different from the ZenFone 2, with the display panel dominated the proceedings. Above the screen, the ZenFone Zoom features an earpiece, a couple of sensors and a secondary snapper. A row of capacitive navigation keys can be found below along with ASUS’ branding, but these aren't backlit.

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However, switch to the back, and you’ll see what you get for all that extra bulk and thickness. Similar to a digital camera, the camera portion protrudes out of the ZenFone Zoom’s rear. The large portion holds the camera sensor, a true-tone flash and a laser autofocus. The handset is among the few smartphones that offer an optical zoom. It also features optical image stabilisation to ensure that the images aren’t distorted due to hand movements. The ZenFone Zoom comes with a 13-meg camera sensor from Panasonic, and has an adjustable aperture ranging from f/2.7 to f/4.8.

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Within the year, the brand also made slight changes to the design language of the ZenFone Zoom. While earlier, the rear cover sported a matte finish, now it has been replaced by faux leather, which offers better grip and makes it look like a proper camera. While our demo unit featured black finish, it can also be purchased in brown or white options as well. Prying open the back plate gives you access to the non-removable battery as well as a pair of micro-SIM slots along with an expansion slot.

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Adding to the premium appeal of the device is a metallic rim on its edges. On the right spine, the Zoom sports a volume rocker, a power switch as well as a dedicated camera shutter key and a video recording button. Long-pressing on the camera button or video recording key lets you access the camera app, even when the screen is asleep. Similar to a dedicated camera, the shutter key features a two-step mechanism, where half-pressing it lets you focus on the subject. In the camera app, the volume keys double up as zoom keys.

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While the left side is bereft of any controls, the top sports a 3.5mm audio socket and the base features a micro-USB port, along with a lanyard hole and a microphone input.

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In our brief time with the smartphone, the camera performance managed to astonish us, as the images seem to offer a good level of detail. The colour reproduction also seems to be spot on. Its zooming capabilities however, are its calling card, since the 3x optical zoom can bring any object, even afar, closer to you. In terms of video recording, it can capture full HD videos, though it’s odd that it doesn’t boast slow-mo recording or the ability to shoot 4K videos.

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Just like most of its siblings, the ASUS ZenFone Zoom’s window to the world is a 5.5-inch IPS display. Bearing a resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels, the screen is crisp and vibrant. The brightness levels also seemed to be decent, although we weren’t able to test its legibility outdoors. The display panel gets a protective layer in the form of Corning Gorilla Glass 4.

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On the software front, the Zoom offers Android Lollipop, which is topped up with the Taiwanese brand’s custom skin dubbed ZenUI. We’ve already taken a closer look at the interface during our time with the ZenFone 2, and most things remain the same. Although there are a couple of apps to enhance the photography experience such as Photo Collage.

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The camera app however, is tweaked to exploit the potential of the imaging-centric hardware available on the smartphone. With the manual mode, one can tweak ISO, shutter speed (up to 32 seconds), and exposure, among others.

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The ASUS ZenFone Zoom isn’t only about the camera though, as inside ticks a Intel Z3590 CPU. The 64-bit processor offers four cores running at 2.5GHz. Accompanying the chipset is a beefy 4GB of RAM, which ensures that the smartphone  can handle high-end games and multitasking with ease. During our hands on, the smartphone offered a smooth and lag-free experience, though the true prowess of its engine can only be known once we push its limits in day-to-day usage.

The phablet offers whopping 128 gigs of storage on board (110GB user-accessible), which is impressive and would ensure that the storage space doesn’t run out in case you go on a photography spree. Additionally, you can top it up further with the use of a microSD card of up to 128GB.

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ASUS has also taken care of selfie-addicts as the ZenFone Zoom comes equipped with a 5MP front-facing shooter.

The dual-SIM smartphone supports 4G on its primary SIM slot, along with offering usual suite of options – Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS and NFC. Juicing up the ASUS ZenFone Zoom is an embedded 3,000mAh battery. It also comes with ASUS’ BoostCharge functionality, ensuring that the phablet can be juiced up faster with the bundled adapter.

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With its camera-centric features, the ASUS ZenFone Zoom is in a league of its own and its premium pricing of Rs 37,999 cements that fact. It’s also available as a bundle that includes a tripod and ZenFlash for Rs 39,999. While it won’t be fair to compare it with other options available in this price bracket, it’s interesting that unlike other camera-centric phones like the Lenovo Vibe Shot (review), the ZenFone Zoom can comfortably take on high-end offerings such as the Google Nexus 6P (review) and the Samsung Galaxy S6. We’ll be bringing you more on the phablet and its camera performance over the coming days, so stay tuned to 91mobiles.

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