ASUS has made a smartphone that can literally replace your point-and-shoot camera, in the ZenFone 3 Zoom
The ASUS ZenFone 3 Zoom is the first smartphone from the Taiwanese manufacturer to feature dual cameras on the back. ASUS is using the same setup - more or less - as Apple did with the iPhone 7 Plus. And that is having one camera as your normal sensor, and then having a telephoto lens for the other. That's where the "Zoom" comes into play here. But there's more to a smartphone than just the camera, so how well does the ZenFone 3 Zoom actually perform? Well lets find out.
ASUS' ZenFone 3 Zoom is the camera-centric model in the ZenFone 3 lineup. It's a somewhat mid-ranger, sporting a 5.5-inch 1920 x 1080 resolution AMOLED display, which gives it a pixel density of 401 pixels per inch. It's powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon 625 processor - which is an octa-core 2.0GHz Cortex-A53 chipset - paired with the Adreno 506 GPU and 3GB of RAM. ASUS offers the ZenFone 3 Zoom 4GB of RAM in some regions, it's also offered with 64GB and 128GB in other regions. In the US (and the model we are using) has 32GB of storage and 3GB of RAM. There is a micro SD card slot available for expanding that storage, supporting up to 256GB.
For the cameras, there's a dual camera setup on the back. Each of these are 12-megapixel sensors. The main one being a 25mm sensor with a f/1.7 aperture and the secondary one being a telephoto sensor thats 59mm and an aperture of f/2.8. ASUS has also included laser autofocus and phase detection autofocus to the ZenFone 3 Zoom here. The front-facing camera is a 13-megapixel sensor with a f/2.0 aperture.
Wrapping up the other specs on the ASUS ZenFone 3 Zoom, it does support WiFi 802.11 a, b, g, n and ac networks, there's also support for Bluetooth 4.2. When it comes to location, there's GLONASS, BDS and A-GPS available. ASUS has also kept the 3.5mm headphone jack and unfortunately there's no NFC support here, which means no Android Pay. Finally, it is powered by a large 5,000mAh battery, and Android 7.1.1 Nougat (as of this writing, it did launch with Android 6.0 Marshmallow, however).
In the Box
You won't find much extra in the box with the ASUS ZenFone 3 Zoom. You essentially get the smartphone, along with a wall charger, a USB-A to USB-C cable and some paperwork. That's really about it in the box this time around. That's really what you'd expect anyways. Seeing as most smartphone makers are getting rid of more and more items from the box to make the device cheaper (and its profit margins higher).
There's no secret here, ASUS' hardware has always been top notch. And with the ASUS ZenFone 3 Zoom, it is using an aluminum build for the device, with a glass front. The back of the phone is a bit slippery, and that's really to be expected since it is a metal smartphone. It's also rather flat on the back and it doesn't really curve at all, so it's not that comfortable in the hand. Now if the back were slightly curved like some other smartphones, it'd likely be a much more comfortable device to hold in the hand.
ASUS has opted to put the camera module in the upper-right hand corner of the ZenFone 3 Zoom. Below it you'll find the flash, laser autofocus and phase detection autofocus. In the center of the back, is where you'll find the fingerprint sensor. Which works pretty well and it blends in nicely with the back of the ZenFone 3 Zoom, at least as far as color is concerned. Now there are a couple of antenna lines on the back, one near the top and the other at the bottom of the device. And these are necessary, even though it keeps smartphones from looking as nice. On the right side of the device is where you'll find the power button and volume rocker, the left side is the SIM card and micro SD card slot. Up top is just a lonely microphone and the bottom houses the USB-C port, speaker and a 3.5mm headphone jack.
Now the ZenFone 3 Zoom looks really nice from the back, but the front looks a bit dated. And that's due to the rather large bezels around the display. It's understandable to have a slightly larger chin since ASUS has stuck with the capacitive buttons here, and those do need some room. However the top bezel is really large, especially compared to other smartphones on the market right now. So it does really look dated. It's a 5.5-inch display, and the device is larger than the LG G6 and the Galaxy S8, both with larger displays.
The build quality is top notch on the ZenFone 3 Zoom, so the only real issues here is the flat back on the device (it would also be nicer to have the camera flush on the back) and then the fairly large bezels. If ASUS could slim down those bezels a bit, the device would look so much nicer, and be a bit more compact. Making for a 5.5-inch display to be pretty small.
ASUS is using a 5.5-inch 1080p AMOLED panel here on the ZenFone 3 Zoom. It does look like it's a great panel. But the colors aren't as saturated as you'd expect from an AMOLED display, and in fact, the display looks a bit warm. Luckily, you can adjust the temperature of the display in the settings, to be a bit cooler if you wanted, or even a bit warmer. So there's that. The blacks in this AMOLED panel don't seem to be as dark as you'd expect either, of course this is an AMOLED panel and not a Super AMOLED panel, which means it's not the most high-end of Samsung's AMOLED displays.
When it comes to brightness, the ZenFone 3 Zoom's brightness does work pretty well outdoors. It's still tough to see in direct sunlight - nothing really compares to the Galaxy S8 in this regard, yet - but it is usable. Auto brightness does also work pretty well. In fact, this whole review was done with the device in auto brightness, and we really had no complaints here. The only real complaint with the display is that it's just 1080p. Now yes, that is still fine, but it would have been nice to have a Quad HD panel available here.
The Snapdragon 625 is running the show here on the ZenFone 3 Zoom, and that is paired with 3GB of RAM and the Adreno 506 GPU. So needless to say, performance should be about average. The Snapdragon 625 isn't the fastest processor out there, however it is an octa-core 2GHz Cortex-A53 chipset, so it is fast enough. And in our experience during the review, the Snapdragon 625 did its job and did it well. Paired with the 3GB of RAM, the ZenFone 3 Zoom worked really well. Now while many may think that 3GB of RAM is not a good option in 2017, Android really only needs 2GB of RAM, so if the software is optimized enough, 3GB is plenty. And that's the case here.
Now where the ZenFone 3 Zoom falls flat, is actually with storage. While there are models with 64GB and 128GB available, the US only has 32GB of storage. And yes, that is likely enough for most people, especially with a micro SD card slot available, but with the ZenFone 3 Zoom being all about the camera - that's a major selling point, heck it's even in the name of the phone - the more storage, the better. Having said that, we took tons and tons of pictures with the ZenFone 3 Zoom and installed all of our usual apps on this smartphone and still had around 15GB of storage left. So ideally it should be enough, but it would have been nice of ASUS to at least offer the other two storage variants in the US.
Fingerprint sensors have basically become standard on Android smartphones over the past few years. Just about every smartphone has one, but not all of them are fast or accurate. The majority are, including the ZenFone 3 Zoom. The fingerprint sensor on the back of this smartphone is fast and also accurate. We had very little trouble trying to get it to recognize our finger when unlocking the device. It's also located in a spot where your finger normally rests anyways, which is usually the case, except for with a few smartphones - like the Galaxy S8.
Now ASUS hasn't added any type of gestures for the fingerprint sensor, but it has added a few different tapping methods, largely for the camera. When toggled on in settings, a user could double tap the fingerprint sensor to open the camera, when the phone is unlocked. This is actually much faster, and works much better, than I had expected. Say you want to quickly pull your phone out to take a photo, simply unlock it with your finger, and then double tap the fingerprint sensor and you're all set. The camera opens almost instantly, which is really nice to see. Another feature added is the ability to take a photo with the fingerprint sensor. So you can tap the sensor to take a photo while in the camera app. This is pretty useful for taking selfies with the back camera.
This is actually the one area where ASUS really lets us down. The speaker on the ZenFone 3 Zoom is not that great. It can sound tinny at times, which is not a good look on any smartphone. Luckily ASUS isn't selling the ZenFone 3 Zoom by touting its speaker. The speaker is located at the bottom of the device, next to the USB-C connector, which isn't the best place for a speaker, but it is where most smartphones have it located these days. Now when you plug in a pair of headphones, the sound does sound much better. Perhaps the best part of the speaker is the "Outdoor Mode" you can toggle on. This allows the speaker to get louder, so that you can hear what's going on when you're outside and there's much more background noise. Of course, this isn't something new from ASUS, as it has been adding this feature to its smartphones over the past few years.
Networks & Phone Calls
The ZenFone 3 Zoom is an unlocked smartphone, so it's going to work on GSM networks like T-Mobile and AT&T here in the US. We used the device on T-Mobile here in the US during the review and for the most part, it worked as you'd expect. It got basically the same speeds and signal as T-Mobile gets on other devices in the same area. We didn't experience any dropped calls whatsoever, which is something you don't really see these days anyways. There's no VoLTE or HD Voice support here, but this is a dual SIM smartphone, so you can have two SIMs in this phone at the same time, a popular feature in emerging markets, especially in South America, Africa and Asia.
Typically, we don't need to talk about WiFi connectivity in these reviews, but with the ZenFone 3 Zoom, we do. The WiFi tends to disconnect when the device has been in standby for quite some time. When you wake it up, it doesn't automatically (or at least not quickly, most of the time) reconnect to your WiFi network. Instead we had to go into Settings and manually reconnect it. This can be a bit of a nuisance for some people, especially those with data caps on their mobile data plan. While it may seem like something small, it can be an issue, so keep that in mind if you are thinking of picking up the ZenFone 3 Zoom.
On the ZenFone 3 Zoom, we ran the usual three benchmarks. That includes 3DMark, AnTuTu and Geekbench 4. Now before we get to the scores, it's important to note that the ZenFone 3 Zoom is indeed a mid-range phone (on the higher-end of the mid-range spectrum) and the majority of the devices in the standings on AnTuTu are high-end phones with the Snapdragon 835, or the Exynos 8890, so the scores are going to be much better. On 3DMark, the ZenFone 3 Zoom picked up a score of 465. Over on AnTuTu, it got a score of 63,597. Finally on Geekbench 4, it had a single-core score of 867 and a multi-core score of 4248. You can see the full results in the gallery below.
Battery life actually didn't live up to our expectations. When you look at the specs here, a 5.5-inch 1080p display, a Snapdragon 625 processor (a chipset that is well-known for being battery efficient) and a large 5,000mAh battery. We expected to see some incredible numbers here, but they were basically average. Around 4+ hours screen on-time with about 37% left, is actually average in 2017. Which leads us to believe that the software is not as optimized as it could, and should be. Now that's not to say that the 5,000mAh battery won't get you through the day, because it most certainly will. In fact, it got us through multiple days more times than not. Its standby performance is incredible, likely thanks to Doze, but watching video or using the camera a lot, really hinders how good the battery should be.
Now on the flip side here, the ASUS ZenFone 3 Zoom does support Quick Charge 3.0. This means that you'll be able to charge up this smartphone quickly. And that's a bigger deal with the ZenFone 3 Zoom due to its large battery. Typically, Quick Charge 3.0 can charge your device from 0% to 80% in about 35 minutes. That's not the case here, and that's because most smartphones have around a 3,000mAh to 3,500mAh battery, and this one is around 5,000mAh. So there's a lot more juice that needs to be pumped in here. But it does still charge fairly quickly. A full charge was just over 2 hours, which is still pretty incredible.
ASUS has long been criticized for its Android skin that it puts on its phone. Largely because it's very bright, and it really doesn't add a lot of functionality over stock Android. With the ZenFone 3 Zoom, we got our first look at ASUS' new, revamped skin for Android. It's a bit darker now, at least in some areas, but it could still use some work. This was part of the update to Android 7.1.1 Nougat, which was sent to the device during the review. It's also running the May 1st, 2017 security patch.
With the update to Nougat, ASUS got rid of a ton of its pre-installed apps, and that's great. That's something that Android users are going to love, for sure. There are still a few pre-installed apps, but far less than on Marshmallow. The app drawer still looks a bit dated, but it is functional. It swipes left and right, similar to Samsung's app drawer and you can also adjust the grid size. We have it set to 5x5 here, to get as many apps onto one page as possible. The widgets are also nestled in the app drawer here. Now the notification shade didn't really change much, it got darker and a bit more transparent. But it does still have very large buttons, which could be smaller to fit more information in, with less space. Just pulling down the notification shade, about a quarter of the screen is used by the settings shortcut, the time/date and the first row of toggles.
ASUS does have an app called Mobile Manager included. This is where you can find a number of shortcuts for managing your device. Including data usage, power saver, boosting it, adjusting notifications and even cleaning it up and getting rid of unnecessary files. This is good for getting more space on your ZenFone 3 Zoom. Now most of these can also be found in settings, but this app does add a bit more functionality for users.
The software on the ZenFone 3 Zoom may not be the best out there, but it is certainly getting better and better. Of course, it would likely be better with stock Android on it, but ASUS (like many other manufacturers) wants its phones to stand apart from the competition, and that's where its skin comes into play. At least the ZenFone 3 Zoom does now have the latest version of Android and a recent security patch. Which is nice to see.
Arguably the most important part of any smartphone, but an even more important part of this particular smartphone is the camera, and that's because the main selling point here is the camera - or at least its zooming capabilities. Let's start off in the software section of the camera app. The app is pretty barebones on the surface, and that's not a bad thing. On the left side you'll find the flash, camera toggle, HDR and settings. With the right side having the shutter, record button, gallery shortcut and a selector for different modes. That's quite standard for a camera layout these days. Now ASUS has really loaded up this camera with different modes. So you have Auto by default, but there's also manual, HDR Pro, Beautification, QR Code, Night, Portrait, Selfie, GIF Animation, Panorama, Miniature, Time Rewind, Smart Remove, All Smiles, Super Resolution, Children, Effect, Slow Motion and Time Lapse.
Let's talk about Manual, as that is a mode that everyone really loves to use, since you can really set everything you want in the camera for this mode. With manual, you are able to adjust the white balance, the ISO, shutter speed and auto focus points. That's what you'd expect too. The ISO does go all the way up to 12800, so you can get some great pictures in total darkness, although it will add a ton of noise to the picture. The Super Resolution mode is another interesting one. It bumps the resolution from 3928 x 2944 to 7856 x 4416 and somehow it makes the image file size smaller, around 2.25MB versus 2.5MB (of course that's not that big of a difference). It does make the photos a bit more clearer, so this is going to be good in low-light situations. But even in Auto, the camera does great in low-light.
Now what about those pictures? I was pretty impressed with the picture quality from the ZenFone 3 Zoom. The camera allows you to zoom in at 2.3x or 5x, in addition to the pinch-to-zoom aspect. And at 2.3x and even 5x, the picture quality was still really good, as you can see in the gallery below. It was still nice and sharp with very little noise in the picture - and those were mostly taken as the sun was going down, which can always be a bit tricky. It was somewhat good with macro shots, not as great as some other cameras, but it does do the job, depending on the subject. For example, taking photos of leaves on a plant, did not come out that well, but a light on a church came out pretty good. Needless to say, this camera is pretty good. Now it may not be the best camera on the market, but it's pretty close.
Capacitive keys instead of software keys
The ASUS ZenFone 3 Zoom is a pretty interesting smartphone from the company. It's more of a niche product than anything. Seeing as there won't be many people looking for a smartphone that has a camera capable of zooming in (and getting good shots), but also one that is not a high-end device. Obviously this will appeal to some people, but the market must be fairly small, in all honesty.
Should you buy the ASUS ZenFone 3 Zoom?
If you are looking for a smartphone to replace your point and shoot camera, then the ASUS ZenFone 3 Zoom is definitely worth taking a look at. There are some things that aren't that great about the ZenFone 3 Zoom, but that camera is not one of them. It's a pretty great camera, that can get some really up-close shots without adding a lot of noise to them. Now that's something that other flagships are unable to do right now, which is worth something.