You have to hand it to Asus. The folks were on to the optical zoom in camera game well before Apple made it the rage with the iPhone 7 Plus. In early 2016 itself, Asus had launched the ZenFone Zoom which packed in a 3X optical zoom through an innovative lens movement system (no dual lenses). The device itself, however, did not do as well as many expected because of an indifferent design, a cluttered UI, and a camera that had more in terms of potential than performance.
A slightly smaller zoom…
Asus now returns to the optical zoom battle with a new avatar of the ZenFone Zoom that attempts to correct most of the shortcomings of the first device. The ZenFone Zoom S has a sleeker design than the clunky Zoom, is powered by a processor known for its battery management, has a massive battery, and of course, still, manages to deliver some optical zoom for fewer bucks than its predecessor did.
Mind you, it is slightly lesser optical zoom – 2.3x as compared to 3x on the first ZenFone Zoom – but Asus compensates by delivering a dual camera on the device, comprising one 12 megapixel camera with a large f/1.7 aperture and wide angle and another with a 2.3x telephoto lens. Add to this optical image stabilization for better low light photography, Asus’ SuperPixel technology which claims to increase captured light, and the company’s own SuperPixel Engine, and the phone does seem to pack in some very decent camera muscle. There is a 13.0-megapixel front facing camera as well with a f/2.0 aperture as well.
…but in a sleeker, smarter frame
And all that camera power is encased in a surprisingly sleek frame that is just 7.99 mm slim, although the camera unit does jut out a little. Surprising mainly because it also packs in a massive 5000 mAh battery. No, the ZenFone Zoom S’ blend of metal and glass is not insanely innovative, but it is street ahead of its predecessor and definitely, makes the cut as a good looking phone. The 5.5-inch full HD AMOLED display dominates the front, with three touch navigation keys beneath it (not backlit, alas). The selfie camera, flash, and earpiece are above the display. The sides are slightly convex and curve out from the display which has a shiny metal band running around it. The left side is bare, barring the SIM card tray (dual SIMs, one of which is a hybrid, and can be substituted with a micro SD card), while the right has the volume rocker and a power/display button, both of which have the concentric design texture that was a part of the original ZenFone’s design. The top is bare, and the base has the USB Type C port, the 3.5 mm audio jack and speaker grille. The back has, of course, the dual camera unit, below which are the flash and laser focus unit, with a square-shaped fingerprint sensor right below it, making for a rather clustered upper portion, and the rest its bare, bar for the antenna bands at the top and base.
We got the gold model and no, it did not stand out from the crowd but it was striking enough, and well, you should have seen the jaws drop when we told people that it came with a 5000 mAh battery. At 170 grams, it is not too heavy either, and at 154.3 mm, it is smaller in height than the iPhone 7 Plus. Asus deserves credit for squeezing so much into such a compact, sleek frame.
The hardware that accompanies that big battery (it supports quick charging – ten minutes of charging can get you about five hours of talk time) is relatively middle path, if one leaves out the cameras: Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor, 4 GB RAM, 64 GB storage (expandable to 2 TB) and Wi-Fi, GPS, 4G, and Bluetooth. The sound is handled by a 5-magnet speaker, and the device comes with support for High-Res Audio. The phone runs on Android 7.1.1 and comes with Asus’ ZenUI laid over it. It is not the cleanest UI we know and comes with way too many apps even after having been cleaned up significantly.
Good cameras, but…rock star battery!
None of this is really path-breaking, which leaves the destiny of the device hinging largely on those two cameras and that large battery. And to be honest, they both turn in very good performances. It has been raining dual camera setups of late in the Indian market, and the pair on the ZenFone Zoom S is definitely up there with the better ones we have seen. They are not capable of the sort of eye-popping brilliance that the twosome on the OnePlus 5 serves up, but consistently get decent detail and colours (do view the images on another display, though, as the AMOLED one on the device tends to show colours in a much brighter avatar) – and the zoom is handy. Asus has bundled in a truckload of shooting options in the app, including a Portrait mode in best follow-the-fashion tradition. Honestly, we would recommend sticking to auto as it served our propose quite well in terms of detail and color. There are a few oddities, though. Although the cameras are very quick to focus, the focus itself seemed to be eccentric – many was the time when objects close to the camera seemed unusually blurry. Low light performance too, tended to be defined by a touch of eccentricity – objects in motion seemed to get blurry, and while Asus’ software seems to have. But all said and done; we think the phone’s cameras are as good as any in the sub-Rs 30,000 category, in which it spars.
But the real star of the show, in our opinion, is the battery. We had mentioned earlier how Asus needed to be complimented to managing to stuff a massive 5000 mAh battery into such a compact frame. And the effort pays off – the ZenFone Zoom S easily lasts a couple of days on a single charge even on hefty usage. We were taking dozens of photographs and watching lots of videos and keeping social networks buzzing, and even then the device kept going. Charging it does take about three hours, though, which could test the patience of some, but then this is a large battery (a ten-minute charge can give you about five hours of talk time, if you are in a hurry, though). Call quality is decent, and the sound is frankly very good over headphones (an area in which Asus has been making steady progress, and the bundled headset is very good too). In terms of general performance, we still find ZenUI to be a bit of a pain as it seems to hark bark from the 2014 era when having an Android UI meant having alternatives to just about every stock Android app out there and then some, but truth be told, once one got to terms with it, the phone itself behaved smoothly enough. The Snapdragon 625 and 4 GB RAM combination makes the Zoom S breeze through most routine tasks, but lags do creep in when you start playing the likes of Hitman and Asphalt on it, especially if you switch to other apps in your high-end gaming sessions. There are also slight hints of heating, although nothing to be alarmed about.
Great parts, but the sum…
It is marketed as a camera phone, but we actually think that the biggest ace the ZenFone Zoom S has up its sleeve is its battery. And unlike in its ZenFone Max series (which is marketed as the big battery specialist), the company has this time pulled no punches in the spec category. The ZenFone Zoom S is actually a decent specced device (similar to the Moto Z2 Play) with a massive battery and very good dual cameras, and serves all this in a package that does not scream “alert: big battery.” This actually puts it in a zone of its own as there is no phone with as big a battery and this spec sheet at the ZenFone Zoom S’ price of Rs 26,999. The problem confronting it is that while its parts are very good, the entire sum of them does not gel as well as some of its competitors. We got a much smoother overall experience from two of its closest rivals, the Moto Z2 Play and the Honor 8 Pro, with the latter packing in a higher res display and more consistent cameras as well as a large, if slightly smaller, battery. Also looming on the horizon in this price segment is the OnePlus 3T which has got a price cut and in spite of its advancing months, remains a formidable performer. The ZenFone Zoom S has a lot going for it in terms of individual parts, but unfortunately, nothing that makes it compelling on its own. It is a very good option but stops just short of being a great one.