ASUS ZenFone Zoom Review: An Android With True 3X Optical Zoom

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ZenFone Zoom Software and Camera Performance

In terms of software, we've got two major points to drive home. First, it's worth pointing out that the latest version of Android 6.0 is nowhere to be found. If you're pining for Android 6.0 (Marshmallow), you'll need to look elsewhere or, alternatively, be patient and await an update. Like prior ZenFone devices, Android 5.0 (Lollipop) is included on the ZenFone Zoom. That's not necessarily a bad thing, as it's still a rock solid OS with plenty of support.

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That said, it's also worth noting that this phone's unique camera capabilities and manual software controls may interfere with speedy OS updates. In general, the more unique an Android phone, the less likely it is to receive substantial OS updates in a timely manner. (The Kyocera Echo from 2011 comes to mind here.)

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The second major point? Everything we stated about software, smoothness, and overall performance with the ZenFone 2 applies here, too. The nuts-and-bolts of the software and hardware combo haven't changed, camera notwithstanding, so you're still looking at a phone that handles multiple apps well and doesn't overburden you with bloatware. The apps that ASUS does include are actually quite useful, particularly the "Power & Boost" cleanup tool which easily clears memory and closes apps that you haven't used in some time in order to free up usable memory and squeeze more life out of its 3,000 mAh Li-Polymer battery.

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Given how prominent and important the rear-facing camera is to the allure of this device, let's spend a bit of time on that topic in particular. The ZenFone Zoom’s rear camera is a 13 megapixel shooter with F2.7 – F4.8 aperture and 10 element HOYA lens with 3X optical zoom, image stabilization and laser auto-focus. These are serious optics which actually afford the camera its 3X zoom by telescoping internally across a horizontal access rather than vertically. Those optics are also paired with a Panasonic SmartFSI sensor. All of this offers one-of-a-kind features for a smartphone and a true differentiation in the competitive and saturated smartphone market.

ZenFone Zoom HOYA Lens
ASUS ZenFone Zoom HOYA Lens Assembly

First, the good. The 3x optical zoom is in a class of its own. If you routinely find yourself needing to zoom with your camera, you honestly don't have many options. Digital zoom is downright atrocious on every phone, blurring and destroying details along the way. The optical zoom here does a fantastic job maintaining detail, just as an optical zoom should.

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Furthermore, the ZenFone Zoom can focus on objects as close as 5cm away, enabling a new level of macro photography. In our testing, this phone was able to reliably capture non-blurred close-up images far easier than any other flagship phone in the lab. 

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Then there's the laser autofocus system, which can detect short-range objects in under 0.03 seconds. In testing, we found that accurate. The near-instantaneous autofocus allows you to capture more and miss less, plain and simple. If you're perpetually trying to snap photos of your young ones doing something cute or crazy, you'll appreciate the feature. If you're more into posed still life, perhaps not so much.

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Now, for the other side of the coin. The camera results in auto mode aren't anything to write home about -- or, at least, aren't significantly better than other flagship phones. Photos become washed out and grainy in dimly lit scenarios when in auto mode, so your best shots will occur when ISO figures are kept low. Truthfully, a great many cameras perform well if there's plenty of natural light (and in turn, low reliance on ISO), but the great cameras are able to deliver stunning results even with cranked ISO settings. This isn't one of those cameras, at least with the current firwmare.

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So then, who is this camera for? The camera is at its best in manual mode and used with low ISO settings, but if you're going through that level of trouble, wouldn't you just pull out an actual camera? Those who understand how to get the most out of every capture by way of manual controls would most likely already own a mirrorless camera or DSLR that they routinely carry. ASUS missed a golden opportunity to outshine other cameraphones in the scenario that 99% of users find themselves in: needing a quick, spur-of-the-moment capture, relying on the phone's automatic mode to get the best possible image in whatever circumstances surround it.

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Mind you, the results in auto mode aren't bad, they simply aren't exceptional. We'll let the gallery of unedited photos below speak for themselves.

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Unedited ASUS ZenFone Zoom shots; click any to enlarge

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