- Full HD display
- 3GB of RAM
- 13-Megapixel Camera
- 3x Optical zoom
- Looks stylish
- Great build
- Crisp display
- Camera requires a bit of tweaking
- Runs an older version of Android
Smartphone manufacturers are trying really hard to provide the same experience of point-and-shoot cameras right on their smartphones. This year, ASUS has introduced its first ever camera-centric smartphone, the ZenFone Zoom ZX551ML. The company claims the ZenFone Zoom to be the thinnest phone with 3X optical zoom.
ASUS has teamed up with Intel for its processor, and for its camera, the company has focussed on optics, sensors and software, instead of simply going with more megapixels. The camera also features laser autofocus and OIS, apart from having many other imaging options. Equipped with 128GB of onboard storage space, you’ll seldom run out of space. While the ZenFone Zoom runs Android 5.0 Lollipop presently, the Marshmallow update is expected to follow soon.
On paper, the ZenFone Zoom seems like a well-rounded device, but does it stand true to everything it claims? Let’s take a closer look.
The ZenFone Zoom strays away from the typical design of smartphones in the ZenFone series which give you an option to choose from glossy and matte back covers. Instead, the ZenFone Zoom comes with machined aluminium frame and leather finish on its rear panel to give a premium look and feel. On its rear, the camera module is quite dominant, which immediately reminds one of the Nokia Lumia 1020 with its camera hump. However, unlike the Lumia 1020, the ZenFone Zoom is not a large phone and can be used easily with one hand. The back cover is removable, underneath which are the slots for the microSD card and SIM card.
Below the display are the capacitive keys, which have a faint silver outline without any backlight that can be a bit of a hindrance when using the phone in the dark. The dedicated buttons for the camera and video recording keys are on the right edge.
ASUS continues its standard practice of using a 5.5-inch LCD display with a resolution of 1080p, which translates to a decent pixel density of 403 PPI. Images and text on the display appear crisp, whereas colours look balanced. The viewing angles of the screen are great thanks to its IPS panel. The display uses Corning Gorilla Glass 4 technology to protect it from scratches and ASUS TrueVivid technology to deliver vibrant colours. Although the display is legible in bright sunlight, you might have to increase the brightness level up a bit.
The ZenFone Zoom made its first appearance at the CES (an international electronics and technology show held annually) in 2015 but made it to Indian market this year. The Zoom features a 64-bit quad-core Intel Atom Z3590 mobile chipset with 4GB of LPDDR3 RAM. It has 128GB of onboard flash storage and you can further expand with up to 128GB microSD card. One can use a 4G-enabled SIM for the phone supports the Indian LTE bands - Band 3 (1800MHz) and Band 40 (2300MHz). Faster downloads are ensured with the help of dual-band Wi-Fi (802.11 a/b/g/n/ac) support. You can make the best of the Wi-Fi Direct for faster wireless file transfers instead of relying on Bluetooth. Nonetheless, it also features Bluetooth v4.0 with A2DP and EDR add-ons. The phone packs a GPS chip to support the location-based services. Along with that, the usual bunch of sensors such as accelerometer, gyroscope, proximity, ambient light and hall sensors. There is an NFC chip for file transfer authentication, apart from its other uses. The primary camera comprises of a 13-megapixel SmartFSI image sensor manufactured by Panasonic. It is coupled with a 10-element lens manufactured by the Japanese company, Hoya. At the front is a 5-megapixel wide-angle camera that allows you to take selfies. On paper, the Zoom has all the features that one would expect from a high-end smartphone.
The ZenFone Zoom runs ZenUI which is based on Android 5.0 Lollipop out-of-the-box. The interface works fast most of the time. However, the colours and app icons don’t look as attractive as on other high-end devices, and it looks like ASUS designers haven’t been able to catch up with modern design trends. Having said that, you can always change the theme using the native theme store that has a fair collection of both free and paid themes.
ASUS offers ample number of ways to customise the user interface. One of them is the ZenMotion, which includes two types of gestures - Touch and Motion. The Touch gesture allows you to launch predefined apps directly from the lock screen by tracing an alphabet on the screen to open up specific apps, whereas the Motion gesture allows you to take a screenshot by shaking the device. What we found really irritating about the Zoom’s software is that pop-ups to download various ZenUI apps would keep showing up. Thankfully, you can remove a majority of the preloaded apps as well as block the ones that automatically launch on startup using the Startup Manager.
ASUS also allows you to enable or disable the numerous features on this phone, like file manager and sound equaliser, as per your choice. You can do so by swiping from t0p to down on the home screen to gain access to the Quick Settings and enable/disable any feature quickly from there. Because of the numerous features on this device, we found the UI to be cluttered, with options and menus peppered all over the interface. Not only has ASUS shipped the Zoom with an older version of Android, it has also added a lot of bloatware in the software. Clearly, ZenUI is miles away from being able to provide a pure Android experience, yet it still manages to deliver fast and spiffy performance.
The key features of the ZenFone Zoom are its 3X optical zoom, 13-megapixel Panasonic image sensor and the optics comprising of a 10-element lens by Hoya. Optical zoom makes sure that you don’t get pixelated images when you zoom into the image, because lenses do the same in real-time. You can use either the volume buttons or the pinch gesture on the screen to use the optical zoom. If you look carefully at the lens, you can even notice the movement of the optical zoom at work. However, the optical zoom in action is tad slow and takes couple of seconds to zoom in.
Apart from that, the camera takes couple of seconds to click an image. However, the images captured using the optical zoom have more details around the area that is focussed, whereas the rest of the picture looks fuzzy. Images taken using the default auto mode has oversaturated colours and the white balance is occasionally, off. Thankfully, the images captured using optical zoom possess better quality compared to those captured using digital zoom.
Photos clicked during the day had good amount of details. One would expect sharper and crisper images from this 10-element lens, but this isn’t the case with the Zoom’s camera. The lack of sharpness is quite evident when the images are checked at 100 percent zoom magnification on a computer. This was especially the case in macro shots in which the background appeared blurry.
Laser autofocus helps in focussing on the subject rather quickly and the dual-tone LED flash barely manages to help in low-light conditions. Thus, there is noticeable amount of noise low-light images and the skin tone appears overexposed. We were much more comfortable while using the manual mode rather than the other shooting modes present in the camera app. The phone also lacks an option to save images in RAW format, which is something one would expect from a modern camera-centric smartphone.
Video recording on this device isn’t up to the mark. Not only does it lack 4K video recording, but also video stabilisation doesn’t work with 1080p videos. You will have to downgrade to 720p mode to take advantage of video stabilisation.
Optical zoom and Hoya lens stack are the only two impressive things about the camera for the actual image and video quality leave a lot to be desired. We hope that ASUS tweaks the camera software and post-processing algorithm in the Android 6.0 Marshmallow update to bring a significant improvements. Meanwhile, the Zoom can be used in very specific situations, and that too, only during day time. That defeats the objective of replacing any point-and-shoot camera.
The Music app is lacklustre and doesn’t offer most options such as allowing one to create a playlist. The Audio Wizard is nothing but a usual sound equalizer with four sound presets: movies, music, gaming and vocal. If you don’t like any of those preset modes, you can use the ‘Advanced Effect’ button to customise the sound as per your listening taste. Sound through the loudspeaker is a bit hollow and muffled. Audio through the earphones, on the other hand, is decent. The phone was able to play 4K resolution videos rather easily, but we did have to install a third-party video player app (VLC Media Player) as the stock video player couldn’t support all types of video formats. The 128GB of additional storage space is helpful if you're a multimedia buff.
The Zenfone Zoom doesn’t feature a high-end processor like the Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 or the Samsung Exynos 7420, but still manages to offer a smooth and fluid experience with ZenUI. The Intel Atom Z3590 ‘Silvermont’ chipset handles most of the tasks without any issues. We had no complaints about the voice calls and the audio clarity through the earpiece and microphone.
The Zoom scored 61,124 points in the AnTuTu benchmark v6.0.1 test and ranks just below the LG G4. This clearly shows the true hardware potential of the Zoom. To test the device’s gaming prowess, we tested the Zoom with 3DMark’s Ice Storm Unlimited Benchmark test in 720p resolution. The phone scored 21,426 points and ranks quite close to the Apple iPad Air 2. We enjoyed playing Asphalt 8 in single player and multi-player mode, as it did not have any stutters.
Web pages loaded quickly using the native web browser as well as Google Chrome. The phone scored 3,216 points in the Vellamo benchmark test while testing the phone’s native browser whereas it scored 3,496 while testing Google Chrome. These benchmarks prove that the phone can handle any task assigned to it and also run games without any hiccups.
The ZenFone Zoom has a 3,000mAh non-removable battery. When connected to a 4G network, the Zoom lasts for just about a day on moderate usage. We used the phone to make phone calls, play Asphalt 8 for about half an hour, watch YouTube videos for half an hour, and use social media apps intermittently. We uninstalled several preloaded apps and also disabled many apps from launching at startup. The Zoom has ASUS’ fast charging technology which charges the phone to 42 percent in just half an hour. For a point-and-shoot camera challenging smartphone, we felt that battery juice was barely enough for it. One really has to tinker around the settings and uninstall unwanted apps to make the best of the battery capacity.
ASUS ZenFone Zoom is priced at Rs.37,999 in India, and it is one of the premium-looking camera-centric smartphones in the market. The phone delivers on the basics, such as a fluid user interface despite using not-so-high-end hardware. The software is fast, and we’re hoping that the Marshmallow update will make the phone even faster. The ZenFone Zoom competes closely with Motorola Moto X Style, which is not a camera-centric smartphone but still delivers better all round performance.
ASUS claimed of toiling on this phone for about two years. However, the phone’s hardware seems a bit today and software experience has rough edges. The imaging department falls short of expectations. While the optical zoom indeed is the unique feature on-board, it doesn’t help much in delivering the ultimate goal of the camera - image quality. The dedicated video capture and camera buttons are welcome as most camera-centric smartphones lack them. With 128GB built-in storage and 128GB expandable storage, ASUS has raised the bar for multimedia and camera-centric smartphones.
The ZenFone Zoom is meant for those who want a camera-centric smartphone with optical zoom, ample storage, and a premium build.