ASUS ZenFone Zoom hands-on and first impressions

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Yesterday, ASUS officially launched the much anticipated ZenFone Zoom on Malaysia and we got to spend some time with their new flagship device. Here’s what we think of it. Do note that the white unit with the black camera module is a prototype given to professional photographer Peter Tan.

CAMERA

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Of course, this device’s party piece lies in its massive camera module that dominates the back of the phone. Its 13-megapixel Panasonic SmartFSI sensor has a 10-element f/2.7-4.8 aperture lens that utilises a dual-periscope horizontal-mount design allowing it to not only have a massive 3x optical zoom, but also maintain a relatively thin form factor.

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Besides that the primary camera comes with other goodies like optical image stabilisation (OIS), laser autofocus and a dual-tone LED flash. To help the camera out in low light, the ZenFone Zoom comes with ASUS’ Pixel Master 2.0 technology which is renown for its low light and long exposure capabilities.

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If 13-megapixels isn’t enough, ASUS have bundled a Super Resolution function into the camera which allows it to take gigantic 52-megapixel photos, by stitching four 13MP shots together for more detail and clarity. While the sample shots on display (taken by Peter Tan) looked rather impressive, we would have to fully test out the functions for ourselves before making a decision.

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Being a camera-centric phone, the smartphone comes with dedicated camera hardware buttons — a dedicated shutter and video record button — which were awesome and tactile. The device also has equally tactile dedicated zoom keys that can double as volume rockers when not in the camera app.

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Zooming in and out with the keys was pretty satisfying as the phone gives you a little buzz when it hits the maximum 3x optical zoom. We did notice that launching the camera from the shutter button (which you can do by holding it down) was a little slow (maybe 2-3) seconds. Besides that, the shutter speed and time between shots were not as snappy as something like an iPhone 6s or a Samsung Galaxy S6 edge+.

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However, it does have a complete manual mode with full manual controls that can be easily accessed via a tap of the M button located to the top of the on-screen shutter button.

What we were impressed with was the macro capabilities of this device. ASUS boasts a 5cm macro focal distance and from our brief testing, you could get pretty darn close to the subject and still focus with no problems. The front camera is an average 5MP f/2.0 unit with a wide-angle lens and support for Pano Selfie.

For a better understanding of this device’s cameras and what optical versus digital zoom really means, stay tuned for our camera comparison.

PERFORMANCE

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Spec wise, the ZenFone Zoom isn’t all that different from ASUS’ previous flagship, the ZenFone 2. It has an updated quad-core Intel Atom Z3590 processor clocked at 2.5GHz paired with 4GB of RAM and 128GB of expandable (via microSD up to 64GB) storage.

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The smartphone also comes running Android 5.0 Lollipop with ASUS’ ZenUI running on top. It’s a shame that it isn’t a more updated version of Android but we do hope that it will get a Marshmallow update. Connectivity wise, the device will have a single 4G LTE micro-SIM slot and will have support for up to 802.11ac WiFi.

From our brief hands-on, though, the device handles itself quite well, not stuttering or lagging when switching between applications, then again with 4GB of RAM and a high-end Intel chip, this isn’t really surprising.

BUILD

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Being a premium phone, it is definitely built well. The nice rounded metal rails were fabulous to hold in the hand and the back curved nicely to fit in our palms. The camera unit is barely noticeable, letting you believe that it could just be a normal camera. Kudos to ASUS for hiding such a beast of a lens array.

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ASUS says that the leather on the back of the device is real leather, not some faux nonsense, and we were inclined to believe them…until we took the rear panel off. But, when we held the panel by itself, we started to doubt their claims. That said, the stitching around the “ergonomic hump” is real as we could move the thread around.

It felt flimsy and plasticky so be careful when you rip that baby off. The bump on the back to help ergonomics was interesting, to say the least, and we quite liked it since it helped a little with the ergonomics. But as most of us usually take photos with a certain finger positions (like pictured earlier), we didn’t really notice it helping much with grip. What did feel nice were once again the metal rails and those fantastic buttons.

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ASUS also includes a wrist strap that attaches itself to the back of the device, which is a nice touch. As a whole it was fantastic to hold in the hand and it definitely feels like the premium price you’re paying for.

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However, do note that from the devices on display, there was a difference between the front of the device between the black model and the white model. The black one will remind you of every other ZenFone model with that familiar chin, but the white one seems to have done away with the chin, instead moving the ASUS logo to the bottom of the device.

The device is priced at RM2,099 and ASUS says that the device will be available locally at the end of January.