Review: Zenfone Zoom – Delivers Genuine Zoom in Compact Body

The Zenfone Zoom is special – there’s real optical zoom, not the digital enlarge typically found in other phones. Basically, most other phones are just cropping away the unnecessary pixels. Another feat is that ASUS achieves this in a relatively compact phone size, with their best ever specs in the Zenfone 2 series.

Design

ASUS delivers a polished and sleek look to their Zenfone series with aluminium side trimming and a leather back. The camera cover dominates the removable back, as the Zoom is not shy to emphasize that this phone is all about the camera. The ridge on the back is also a nice inclusion, as it provides a better grip, as your fingers naturally rest on it when attempting to take a landscape shot. The ridge actually is to allow the phone to rest flat, to compensate for the camera bump. On removing the back cover, you can access the SIM slot and micro SD. The 3000 mAH battery is not replaceable.

At 158.9 x 78.84 x 11.95mm, and 185g, it’s a little bulkier than others in this category, but the phone feels solid and well made. However, like the other Zenfone 2 series, the Zoom features hardware capacitive buttons, WITHOUT backlight. It’s especially irritating when you are trying to use the phone at night. For a flagship phone, the least ASUS could do is to throw is some simple LEDs.

Btw, the Zenfone Zoom design video is pretty good.

Specs

The Zoom is powered by the Intel Z3590 2.5 GHz chip, 4 GB of RAM, and a generous 64 or 128 GB storage. The storage comes in handy especially if you plan to take many photos. The display is a 5.5″ 1080P IPS, with good colours and brightness. However, the auto brightness could do some tweaking as it seems to under compensate most times in outdoor or low light settings.

The Zoom runs on Android 5.0 software, and during my review, the system software was upgraded twice. There was an initial period where the software was a little buggy which prevented the camera from turning on (restart required), but that has since been addressed with the latest software. ASUS uses it’s own Zen UI which is generally OK, but purists would find the bloatware disturbing. That being said, it has been greatly reduced since the original Zenfone days, when there were a ton of Taiwanese apps. All the additional apps can be uninstalled though.

Camera

The Zoom uses a Hoya-designed lens with a 13-megapixel Panasonic sensor (f/2.7-f/4.8 aperture lens). If you have been following recent news, Samsung is offering a f/1.7 lens in the latest S7, which offers better low light performance. There’s laser autofocus, which is a nice inclusion for near-instant picture focus, especially in poor lighting conditions. Unfortunately, video recording is limited to 1080P on the Zenfone Zoom, which is strange, since 4K recording shoul have been standard. Standalone controls are offered through dedicated shutter and video buttons on the lower right side of the phone. They are very useful to have, tactile, responsive, with the typical half-shutter focus like a normal camera. The volume controls double up as Zoom In / Out controls but you are better off just pinching on the screen directly. Unlike other phones, you would notice a distinct lag when zooming, due to the actual lens moving inside. In fact, if you spin the phone around, you can see the lens sliding around.

Optical zoom trumps digital zoom anyday. A typical 12MP image (say taken with an iPhone) at 3x digital zoom is only 1.3MP in terms of resolution. You get much clearer definition with the optical zoom. With the focus on the camera, ASUS doesn’t disappoint with quite an impressive camera app, with manual control of aperture, shutter speed, exposure, etc possible through the app.

Here’s an image I took at Keppel Bay zoomed out, and subsequently zoomed in.

But that being said – image quality is absolutely important to the target audience. Unfortunately, that’s a little hit and miss with the Zenfone Zoom. In bright day conditions, I was quite happy with the images I took – accurate colours, good balance between highlights and shadows.

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It’s low light conditions that the Zenfone Zoom struggles. Colour tends to be more washed out, and the higher f-stop means shutter speeds tend to be a little longer, and images captured had a tendency to be blurred, despite having OIS onboard.

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For the full image gallery: https://goo.gl/photos/i98tTAoaFYKupeuVA

The Zenfone Zoom is priced at US$399. Like the Zenfone 2, it offers great value, and offers a unique proposition in delivering Optical Zoom to smartphones. However, it is not the best phone camera out there, which falls short, especially for those who are looking for real optical zoom in a phone.

Conclusion

It’s a great piece of technology, offering actual optical zoom in a compact phone body, without the need for any protruding lens. I am impressed with ASUS for delivering the world’s thinnest 3X optical zoom smartphone. It’s a promising showcase of what the Zenfone 3 might have to offer. But it begets the question of whether optical zoom an important criteria? For most, the answer is likely no, and that limits the audience that might be interested in such a phone, which is unfortunately not helped by the average camera performance.

That being said, the Zoom is still worth considering, given the specs, build quality and price point.

ASUS ZenFone Selfie Now Available in Singapore

The ASUS Zenfone Selfie features 13MP dual cameras with PixelMaster technology and Real Tone flash for both front and rear cameras, laser auto-focus, Beautification Mode and 64-bit Octa-Core power for picture-perfect selfies every time.

It’s build on the same mould of the original Zenfone 2, but with a stronger dedication towards taking better photos. With bright colours like baby pink, tiffany blue and pure white, it is perfect to match any outfit! It features a 5.5-inch Full HD display with a high-density screen with Corning Gorilla Glass 4 for vibrant colour, incredible detail and durability and a 64-bit power: Octa-core Qualcomm® Snapdragon processor delivers the perfect balance of multimedia performance and battery efficiency.

It will be available at all ASUS brand stores, authorised retailers and Qoo10 from 26 September onwards at $399. From 26 September – 31 October, the ZenFone Selfie will be retailing at a promotional price of $379 with free Lolliflash (usual SRP $17.90) accessory.

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Review: ASUS Zenfone 2 – 4 Months On

Four months on, the Zenfone 2 remains a great option for the budget conscious, especially as prices have came down to around $380. I had a good impression of the phone at the launch event, and my original thoughts / comments still stand, I took it for a spin the last week or so and here’s an updated impression of the phone.

As a quick recap, the ZE551ML is powered by an Intel 2.3 GHz Quad-core processor, with 4GB of RAM, a 5.5″ Full HD display, a non-removable battery, and a micro SD expansion card. There are other versions of the Zenfone 2 as well, and more recently, ASUS announced in Brazil a Zenfone 2 Deluxe edition with a whopping 256GB of internal storage. It’s for those who want to carry around their entire digital library with them.

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Value for Money Phone Comparison – Zenfone 2 vs Mi4i

The Mi4i will be retailing in Singapore from 12 May 2015 – at $279. It is a excellent price point for a plastic clad version Xiaomi’s former flagship. Specs have been tuned down slightly, on the processor front, as Xiaomi opted for the cheaper octacore Snapdragon 615. It retains the very nice 5 inch Sharp / JDI Full HD OGS display, which is one of the better IPS screens in the market.

The Xiaomi Mi4i will be available in Black, White, Yellow, Pink and Blue five color variants. For the initial period, the Mi4i in Singapore will be available in white only. The Mi4i is of much better build quality than Xiaomi budget Redmi series, and the white back is a matte soft rubber material which offers good grip. There’s also an anti-grease coating which helps with the comfortable feel when holding it.

When you compare to prices of other mid-range to high-end phones, the Mi4i is really value for money. Also, the budget Redmi series while recognised as value for money, were at times criticized for the bulky design. At only 7.8mm thin and weighing only 130g, it is the lightest in its category.

xiaomi mi4i (1)

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Zenfone 2 Launch Event, Hands-On and Review!

Move aside Xiaomi, the new value for money phone in Singapore has arrived. ASUS Zenfone 2 launched to much fan fare yesterday evening in Singapore. The event saw users, partners and the media totalling 500 participants congregating at Suntec Convention Centre as ASUS unveiled their latest Zenfone 2 phones and also did an initial pre-sale event on the spot. There was clear demand for the ASUS Zenfone 2, especially the high end model, as fans rushed to buy the Z551 (4GB) at the event when sales started. It signaled the demand for this low price, high spec, well-rounded phone.

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