[First cut] Asus Zenfone 6: Asus puts a spin on the camera…literally
Flipping for photography
It might not get the sort of credit it deserves for it, but there is no denying that Asus has been one of the more innovative players in the smartphone market. The brand had given us decent optical zoom on a phone camera a few years ago and was also the first to put 4 GB RAM on a smartphone, And now, it has gone and put one of the most interesting spins we have seen on a phone camera for a while.
Yes, the new flagship device from Asus, the Zenfone 6, might have some very impressive hardware under its hood. But what is going to stand out is the camera. Asus calls it a “motorized flip camera” – a motorized unit on the central part of the glassy back, it rotates to become the selfie camera as well, whenever you need it. So literally, you have the same set of cameras acting as the conventional rear camera and also the selfie camera. Of course, some will point out that we have seen something like this in the past from Oppo, and more recently, from Samsung. So you get the benefit of having the (generally) more powerful rear camera also as your selfie camera. There is, however, a significant difference – although the camera rotates when you move from normal to selfie mode, you actually can also manually tilt it at certain angles to get some very interesting angled shots. And then there is our favorite trick – as the camera rotates, it can take a panorama without you having to physically move the phone. And in motion tracking mode, it can actually move with the subject, again without you having to mode the phone itself. How cool is that? The best part is that it actually works quite well. The camera unit on the back might look a little chunky and odd, but it switches from front to rear mode very smoothly and without making any noise whatsoever. Asus told us that the phone has a gravity sensor, which will retract the camera if the phone falls down, which is a neat touch, considering the concern over the phone getting damaged if it takes a toss with the camera in selfie mode. Mind you, we have been told the material used for that camera is very tough as well – something called liquid metal which is four times stronger than stainless steel.
The sensors on the camera unit are impressive too. Asus has stuck to dual cameras instead of packing in three or four sensors, but those two cameras are good ones. The main one is a 48 megapixel Sony IMX586 sensor with an f/1.79 aperture, while the secondary camera is a 13 megapixel 125-degree wide ultrazoom one. The unit we used for a very short while (ten minutes around) did not have the final software but it actually seemed to be taking some very good snaps even indoors.
Of course, this being an Asus flagship, the hardware kitchen sink has been dully thrown at it. It comes with a 6.4 inch full HD+ IPS display, and thanks to that camera unit, needs no notch or pop up for selfies, thus cutting down on selfies and giving us a 92 percent screen to body ratio. It also has 600 nits brightness, making it very visible even in broad daylight. The processor is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855, and it comes with RAM and storage variants of 6 GB/ 64 GB, 6 GB/ 128 GN and 8 GB/ 256 GB, with support for expandable storage (it has a dedicated microSD card as well) of up to 2 TB. In best flagship tradition, it ticks most connectivity options, including 4G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and NFC. There are dual speakers with smart amplifiers for sound, and yes, there is a 3.5 mm audio jack as well. And rather remarkably, Asus has managed to squeeze in a large 5000 mAh battery into the device, with support for Quick Charge 4.0 via a USB Type C port, as well as a 18W charger in the box – you can get about 3300 mAh of charge in about 58 minutes (enough to last most people a day). Running the phone is Android Pie topped with a very clean ZenUI 6, which Asus claims is closer to stock Android than its feature (over)laden predecessors – there are only eleven preinstalled apps on it.
All this is packed into a frame that is relatively slim when you consider its innards. The camera unit might make it look a little chunky but the phone is still a mere 9.1 mm thin at its thickest point and at 190 grams, not exactly super heavyweight either. It comes encased in glass on the front and back with a metal frame – the front has Corning Gorilla Glass 6 while the rear has version 3 of the same. Some might be a little disappointed to see a “normal” fingerprint sensor on the back below the camera but we are not too disappointed given how sluggish in display scanners can be. Asus has also added a smart key to the frame apart from volume rockers and the power button. Pressing the smart key will invoke Google Assistant, and a long press will let you converse with the Assistant in walkie-talkie mode. Of course, we suspect that the motorized unit is the reason why the phone has no IP rating.
The phone comes in black and twilight silver colors and its design is typical Asus – solid enough and focusing more on being smart rather than spectacular. It might look a little odd and chunky from some angles, but there is no doubting that this is one of the more innovative devices we have seen from Asus. We really love the way in which the company has tried to do more with the rotating camera unit and actually used the rotation to provide more shooting angles and functions. That said, we are quite sure that those who invest in the phone will be showing it off – not for the design, but that camera on the back. And actually, the front as well, not the mention the process through which it switches from being one to the other.
We can see photo-minded geeks flipping for this one, although at the time of writing, we had no clear indication of the timing of its availability in India. And its price. Stay tuned to find out more.