Asus Zenfone 3 Zoom Review – Excels Pretty Well

The Asus Zenfone 3 line-up is probably one of the largest line-up in the smartphone industry, and each of the devices offer different functionality to consumers. We thought we have seen enough in Computex 2016 in Taipei with the unveiling of Zenfone 3, Zenfone 3 Deluxe and Zenfone 3 Ultra, followed by the Max and Laser. Now, the latest device to join the line-up is the Zoom, which stands up among the rest. Following the trend of most modern smartphones, the Zenfone 3 Zoom is dedicated towards those who like to take photos with their smartphone, as well as offering very good battery life. So, has it worked? Let’s find out.

The Zenfone 3 Zoom is only available in a standalone variant, and is priced at RM2099.

Unboxing

Like other phones in the Zenfone line-up, the Zoom comes in rather premium-looking packaging – a classy blue box with gold writing at the front. The phone is immediately presented on the top once you lift that top cover off, and like most other phones, it comes with all the basic accessories that get you started plus some extras as well. Apart from the USB-C cable and USB wall adapter, you can also expect Asus’s ZenEar pair of earphones, a SIM tray ejector pin, a transparent soft cover and some documentations. Not too shabby at all.

Design

Even though Asus may have taken a slightly different route when it comes to designing the Zoom, it’s overall design in “unmistakeably an Asus”. All different models in the Zenfone 3 line-up features different design, and so does the Zoom. Going with its premium theme, the Zoom does not lose out in the design department, even though the overall design can be slightly dull. The overall dimensions is pretty much on point for a device with 5.5-inch display, but the rounded sides makes the suggested 8mm thickness feels bulky for some reason, which is different from the Ultra that we’ve seen previously.

As a premium mid-range device, the choice of materials is pretty much checking the right boxes. As expected, a Gorilla Glass 5 is present on the front, giving the Zoom a pretty good protection, and it continues with 2.5D-looking rounded all 4 sides. The rest of the body are metal, and even though it may not be as premium feeling as other more expensive devices in the Zenfone line-up or even it’s competitors at the same price range, but it gets the job done. The weight of the device is slightly on the heavier side, but does not introduce any negative effect in comfort while holding it.

The front of the Zoom is largely dominated by the 5.5-inch display, with minimal bezels on both sides. A 13-megapixel front facing camera can be found on the top left, with a small dual-colour LED notification light towards the left of the sensor. The rest of the top consist of the usual earpiece and sensor bits. As for navigation controls, the Zoom spots Asus’s traditional setup, with 3 capacitive touch buttons for the back, home and recent apps function.

The removable SIM tray is located on the left, and in there spots a setup that we’ve seen a lot in recent smartphones – a slot for a primary nano-SIM card slot, and a second slot for either a nano-SIM card or microSD card storage expansion slot. It is surprisingly hard to remove the tray with a third-party tool, and only works best when using the included tool. The volume and power buttons are, as usual, conveniently located on the right. The textured finish on both buttons looks incredible and have a nice feel to it.

The rest of the ports live at the bottom, including a 3.5-mm headphone jack, a microphone, a USB-C port for charging and data connection and a mono speaker.

The back of the device is probably where the Zoom stands out in its line-up. This is the first device from Asus to spot a dual-lens setup, which is pretty much the route that most smartphone manufacturers are going these days. The dual 12-megapixel sensor lives at the top left corner, along with dual-tone LED flash and a laser sensor, both located below the sensors. The camera housing slightly sticks out from the back, which could be better if it sits flush against the housing. The fingerprint sensor is sits in the middle at a comfortable height, which is easy to reach.

Asus Zenfone 3 Zoom Exterior Photos

Our review unit is finished in Navy Black, and other options includes Glacier Silver and Rose Gold.

Specs and Performance

While the Zoom is not intended to be the flagship in the line-up, for its price range, the specs that it came with is pretty much expected and rather good value. The processor, to start off with, is a Qualcomm’s mid-range Snapdragon 625, which we’ve seen quite a few times before. For those who didn’t know, the 625 is based on a 64-bit architecture, with 8-cores clocked at 2.0GHz. It is not a particularly powerful processor as it is designed to be low-powered, but efficient by spreading tasks to all 8 cores. A 4GB of RAM is also thrown into the mix.

We are pretty happy with this setup in the Oppo R9S and the Vivo V5s, and on the Zoom, it pretty much performs the same as well, which is a complement. Small and light tasks are easily handled by the processor without needing all the cores to be fired up. There are no problem doing daily tasks, and it is rather impressive at this price range. It does slightly struggle when it comes to heavy tasks, when all the cores are fired up and maxed out at 2.0GHz, but even after a long use, we don’t see any heavy impact on the battery life, nor any signs of thermal throttling, even the unibody design does get slightly hot. App switching is not a problem too with the 4GB of RAM, and so far we have not encounter any unnecessary slow-downs that negatively impact the experience of the device.

The results obtained from our usual Geekbench benchmarking app says it all, and it is higher than any of the results we’ve seen before with the same processor. Single-core score sits at a modest 859, while multi-core score shot all the way up to 4289. Previously we do not get anywhere near 4000 with this processor, and this is rather impressive.

The included 64GB eMCP storage provides a rather reasonable amount of storage, and provides reasonable speeds too, with sequential read speeds up to 281.31mbps, and write speeds settled around 111mbps. The storage can be expanded with a microSD card, which Asus claims that the Zoom will take cards up to 2TB. With the latest Android operating system, you can format the microSD card and make it part of the internal storage, or use it as a separate volume.

The connectivity options is where a little cost-cutting measure can be seen. For Wi-Fi, it only packs a 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, which means that it can only deal with 2.4GHz connections. It is a slight bummer, but easily forgivable. It does have Hotspot functionality to share your data connection with other devices. Included is also 4G LTE for both SIM card slots, and while dual-standby is available, only one of them will be actually connected to 4G at a time. Bluetooth 4.2 is also thrown into the mix.

The fingerprint sensor located at the back is rather impressive as well. It is square-shaped with rounded corners, and the matte surface makes it easy to recognise your finger almost all the time. It is quick to recognise and unlock, and is very accurate as well.

Display

The display on the Zoom is also a rather strong point of the device. It measures 5.5-inches, which is pretty much the favourable standard these days. With a resolution of 1080 X 1920, a quick math reveals the screen density, which is at 401 pixels-per-inch. It is crisp and impressively sharp. We’ve seen this setup before so the Zoom isn’t left behind by its similar-setup competitors.

What’s really impressive is the panel that Asus have in stock for the Zoom. The Zoom features an AMOLED panel which we really like. It ticks all the right boxes and definitely lives up to the expectations for an AMOLED panel. Colours are really vivid, and aided by deep black nature of an AMOLED panel. It is also surprisingly natural, and not overly done like other AMOLED panels out there, so good mark for the Zoom. It is also easy to use the display under the sun, and it introduces good viewing angle for the display, even though the auto brightness tends to set the brightness level slightly lower than what we’d prefer.

There are also software enhancements for the display, and it includes few different modes for the display. The mode that we pretty much leave the device in is super colour mode, and other available choices are bluelight filter, standard and customised. Standard takes away most of the AMOLED elements and makes everything rather dull, so super colour mode is way to go. Apart from the colour temperature, you can also adjust the hue and saturation of the display if you switch to the customisable mode.

Speaker

The Zoom only comes with a mono speaker setup, and is pretty acceptable since unlike the Ultra, it is not aimed at hardcore media consumers. Being a mono speaker, it sounds rather decent, even though it could use more clarity. But bass level is acceptable, and is pretty loud too.

If you are not satisfied with the output of the speaker, there are software enhancements that will improve the quality of the sound. There are 6 modes to choose from, and a customisable mode where you can alter the bass, treble or even make changes to the equalizer. While it does work for the speakers, the true difference is when it comes to external audio output, and the best experience you can get is with the set of ZenEar earphones what comes in the box.

Camera performance

Being the only device in the line-up that is designed for mobile photography, the Zoom definitely does not lose out on this area. Everything looks pretty good on paper. To start off, the Zoom features a dual 12-megapixel sensor on its rear camera, following what’s trending in the smartphone industry these days. The primary sensor, which is a 12-megapixel wide-angle lens with f/1.7 aperture, combines Sony’s IMX362 sensor and Asus’s SuperPixel technology, and Asus claims that it produces one of the best low-light imagery. The second sensor is not only for portrait mode, it also features 2.3x zoom, which said to be useful for close-up shots.

Putting all claims aside and being a purpose-designed phone, the image quality produced by Zoom is really nice. In fact, we can say it is right up there with some of the best we’ve previously seen. We are very impressed with the images taking in conditions with sufficient lighting. Not only it is crisp and sharp, it has all the right colours and does not look overly done. There are plenty of details, and auto-focus in on point, combining Asus’s SuperPixel engine and Laser Autofocus, which accurately pin-points the distance of the object to the lens. Both the sensors work independently for most of the time, until when it comes to portrait mode.

The Laser Autofocus technology also aids in portrait mode, with software-simulated variable aperture. Both sensors work together along with the Laser Autofocus to gather vital information, and then applying bokeh effect to the background of a subject in an image. The aperture can be adjusted between f/0.95 and f/22, and you can choose whichever you’d prefer. Images are slightly zoomed in as it is still mainly based on the 2.3x sensor, but not as bad as the iPhone 7 Plus. The latest update enables live view of the approximate result, but it can sometimes differ from the actual image. While we’re quite impressed with overall quality, Asus could really improve its tracking technology. The primary sensor features Optical Image Stabilization (OIS), which does a good job at fighting shaky hands and produce a steady image.

Night photography is what Asus is really proud of with the Zoom, and it really shows. The wider aperture lens allows more light to enter, thus resulting in amazing photography in low-light conditions. It can only be achieved with the wide-angle primary lens. We can’t say that the Zoom is perfect for low-light photography as for some reason, there are still visible noise in an image, and in some conditions, the colour is slightly inaccurate and not as sharp as it is in daylight conditions. But it is one of the better ones we’ve seen, and switching to Night mode or manual mode yields better result.

Asus Zenfone 3 Zoom Sample Photos

The Zoom will also record videos up to 4K resolution, and goes all the way down to 640 X 480 resolution. In 4K mode, videos are rather smooth, with plenty of details and rich colours, but there are times it tends to be choppy. But still, it did a good job at maintaining at 30 frames-per-second. It also works rather well in low-lighting conditions as well, and you can credit the wide aperture lens for that. Stepping down to 1080p is not the worst thing that you can do, and you can record it in either 30 frames-per-second or 60 frames-per-second. To aid in keeping the videos steady, a 3-axis electronic image stabilization works hard along with the optical image stabilization to keep the video steady without weird artefacts.

The front facing camera is not too shabby as well. In place is a 13-megapixel Sony IMX214 sensor, with f/2.0 aperture. It is a rather basic camera, but the output is rather nice as well. Selfies are taken with good colour saturation and good colour balance, and there are plenty of details as well. While it may not perform as well as the rear cameras in low-light conditions as there are lots of noise and details are almost completely wiped off, it utilises the AMOLED display as a flash to light up the face. Even though it lacks auto-focus, the focus point is on point at an arm’s length. There are lots of things to play with on the software side, which includes software beautification, selfie panorama and even HDR Pro.

The camera app is pretty much the same as other devices in Asus’s Zenfone line-up, apart from additional features specially added for the Zoom. The toggles are located on the left, while the preview button, portrait mode, shutter, video record and modes buttons are towards the right of the viewfinder. There are so many modes to choose with, which includes manual mode, HDR Pro, Night mode and Super Resolution mode, to name a few. The manual mode allows you to play with the white balance, exposure value, ISO, shutter speed, and focus point.

Software

While our review unit comes with Android 6.0 Marshmallow with ZenUI, during our testing period, we received an update to Android 7.1.1. The overall performance also improved with the new update, and you can credit the faster transition effects for being part of that. Even though Asus includes its own customised ZenUI on top, it still somewhat adopts the nature of the Android Nougat interface. One thing that we should point out is that at some places, the user interface may look a little old with the choice of colours and icons, but that’s more of a personal preference. It does come with loads of bloatware and apps as per usual.

Battery life

Another big thumb up to the Zoom is its battery life. Sealed in the Zoom is a whopping 5000mAh battery, and the battery performance of the Zoom is just un-real. Using our usual testing methodology – a busy day with lots of work done on the Zoom and constantly switching between mobile data and WiFi, the Zoom easily lasts us two full days, with around 15%-20% to spare. This is easily one of the longest lasting device we’ve ever come across, trashing the Zenfone 3 Max or any other flagships out there as well. For most casual users, it can pretty much go up to 3 days, and Asus claimed that it will last around 40 days on standby. The Zoom also supports reverse charging, where it is able to supply up to 1-amp power to other connected device via the USB-C port.

The downside of that huge battery is the charging time, as the Zoom does not support any form of quick charging. Using the included 2-amp charger, we were able to get a fully flat battery to 100% in slightly over 3 hours. So for those who wanted a quick charge on the go, you’re out of luck.

Conclusion

Overall, the Zenfone 3 Zoom is a pretty well rounded device for its price. Surely it did not tick all the right boxes, and it is not aimed at flagship markets, but they’ve got the 2 most important aspects right – the camera and the battery life. If you’re in the market for something that doesn’t costs as much as a flagship, but still have a rather similar experience, the Zenfone 3 Zoom is way to go and should be in your list to try it out.

Recap:
5.5-inch AMOLED display, 1080 X 1920, 401 ppi
Qualcomm Snapdragon 625, Octa-core 2.0GHz processor
4GB RAM, 64GB storage, microSD support up to 2TB
12-megapixel wide-angle Sony IMX 362 + 12-megapixel 2.3x Zoomed lens, up to 4K video recording
13-megapixel front-facing camera
5000mAh battery

Pros Cons
Un-real battery life Slightly boring design
Good-performing cameras Battery take longer to charge
Solid performance User interface looks old and dated
Build quality is at the top Lots of bloatware included
Good performance from fingerprint sensor Speaker performance could be improved