Friday, July 21, 2017
MobileTechPinoy

ASUS Zenfone 3 Zoom Review: The Practical Flagship

The last in ASUS’ current generation premium Zenfone lineup, the Zenfone 3 Zoom has finally arrived.  While it may not be the most powerful, it is the most intriguing. Unlike their last attempt at a camera-centric smartphone, the ASUS Zenfone 3 Zoom looks more like a proper smartphone and even performs how you would expect from a proper flagship. The best thing asides from its camera prowess is probably its price. At just Php23,990, it’s one of the most practical flagships out there — even if it isn’t exactly being advertised as one. ASUS Philippines was kind enough to lend me a review unit and with my time with the Zenfone 3 Zoom coming to an end, it’s time to reveal my thoughts.

What’s in the Box?

Zenfone 3 Zoom with Standard Accessories

The Zenfone 3 Zoom comes in a box that’s smaller than you would expect, considering its size. Inside, you’ll find the following:

  • handset
  • headset with in-line mic
  • USB Type-C cable
  • 2A output wall charger
  • SIM ejector tool
  • Warranty booklet
  • User guide

Build Quality and Design

The ASUS Zenfone 3 Zoom sports a design that should be familiar to most by now as it seems to have been the trend for most of 2017’s higher end smartphones. The dual cameras on the back not to mention the rounded edges are reminiscent of Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus, albeit a bit thicker thanks to the Zenfone 3 Zoom’s massive battery. Thankfully, ASUS doesn’t shamelessly rip off the iPhone’s design. The Zenfone 3 Zoom’s flash placement is underneath the camera module and the fingerprint sensor is placed on the rear as well.

The layout of the capacitive navigation buttons should be familiar to most: back, home, and recent apps: Unfortunately, they’re not illuminated so you might not encounter a few mis-presses in the dark every now and then.

There aren’t any hardware buttons on the left side, just the SIM slot that requires an ejector tool.

On the right, you’ll find the volume rocker and power/lock buttons.

On top, there’s a lone pinhole for the secondary noise-cancelling mic.

The bottom of the Zenfone 3 Zoom gets a bit busy, as this is where the 3.5mm headset jack, mic, USB Type-C port, and loudspeaker can be found. Also, since there’s only one loudspeaker, it’s easily blocked when holding it in landscape mode, such as when gaming.

Thanks to the 2.5D curvature of the display that seemingly flows into the rounded edges of the phone, the Zenfone 3 Zoom has a refined look. Unfortunately, there’s no helping but to compare it with the many recent smartphones that have adopted this same overall look.

Display

The ASUS Zenfone 3 Zoom packs a 5.5 inch Full HD Super AMOLED display with a pixel density of 401ppi. For improved durability, the screen is protected by Gorilla Glass 5 with 2.5D edge curvature that allows it to bond aesthetically with the phone’s aluminum frame.

While Full HD isn’t the highest resolution you can get on a flagship these days, it’s not like the average Juan will be able to tell the difference. Thanks to the unrivaled contrast and vivid colors the display is capable of, everything appears larger than life on the Zenfone 3 Zoom. But as if that wasn’t enough, ASUS baked in the ability to adjust the saturation levels and left the most vivid option Super Color on by default. It’s just a software trick so there’s no other reason to turn it off unless you’re not a fan of super punchy colors.

Benchmarks and Performance

The Zenfone 3 Zoom is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 625 SoC, which features an octa-core processor clocked at 2GHz. Combined with an Adreno 506 GPU and 4GB of RAM, the phone is capable of handling everything the Play Store can throw at it and more. Loading times are minimal when launching apps and once they’re running, the performance is buttery smooth.

That’s not to say that the Snapdragon 625 is a top-of-the-line chip. It isn’t. But higher end chips tend to be paired with higher resolution screens as well that demand more processing power. Hence, the Zenfone 3 Zoom’s Full HD screen paired with the Snapdragon 625 delivers more than enough performance.

Software and UI

The Zenfone 3 Zoom runs Marshmallow 6.0 with ASUS’ own Zenfone 3.0 UI on top. It’s a heavily customized UI that may not be appreciated by everyone, although it does have its advantages. The customization begins at the lockscreen with shortcuts to the dialer, messaging, and browser, as well as one for the camera in the lower right.

Lockscreen

The homescreen offers a 4×5 grid where you can pin your favorite apps and widgets.

Homescreen

Swiping up from the homescreen gives you a number of ways to customize the overall look and feel of the ZenUI homescreen. There’s the usual option of being able to pin apps or place widgets on the homescreen or change the wallpaper. However, there are also cool options to add icon packs or download themes just like a lot of 3rd party launchers that can be found on the play store. Many of the themes are paid though, which can be annoying.

The app drawer doesn’t look like anything special at first. Initially you’ll just see the apps and widgets available to you. But there’s a cool feature I like called Smart Group that automatically sorts apps into folders according to their categories on the Play Store. It’s far from perfect though. Some of the pre-loaded apps end up in a folder called Apps4U, which can be annoying because Facebook is one of those apps and I would have expected it to be included in the Social folder like my other social networking apps.

The notification shade and quick toggles are also a bit different from stock Marshmallow. The initial swipe down from above shows you notifications as it should, but when you pull down the quick toggles, there are a lot more options than you might be accustomed to seeing. It’s a bit of overkill for me. Thankfully, ZenUI lets you customize what quick toggles you see.

Ultimately, ZenUI tries to do everything any 3rd party launcher can so you don’t have to install one. For the most part, I do appreciate it. However, it’s hard to ignore how bloated the software is, especially with the preloaded apps that many people won’t even need.

Connectivity

Thanks to the Zenfone 3 Zoom’s Snapdragon 625 SoC, the phone comes with built-in support for up to 4.5G LTE-A networks with speeds theoretically reaching up to 300Mbps. That’s even faster than the 150Mbps speeds 4G LTE is already capable of. Of course, this depends on network availability and congestion in your area, but it’s nice to be able to take advantage of those speeds when they’re there. Working in the BGC area has allowed me to enjoy these speeds consistently, although admittedly our local telcos haven’t rolled out their LTE-A infrastructure out wide enough for it to be a factor in the average Juan’s purchase decision.

4.5G LTE-A

What is a big factor for me though is its consistency in holding on to a wireless connection when it’s there. This has often be true not just for mobile data, but for WiFi connectivity as well. Whereas my previous MediaTek-based handset would struggle to stay connected in areas with 4G coverage as well as weak WiFi signals. However, the Zenfone 3 Zoom was much more consistent, allowing for a more seamless browsing/downloading experience while on the go.

The Camera

Dual cameras are all the rage now, but if ASUS was going to put it anywhere first, it was going to be on the Zenfone 3 Zoom. Here, we’re getting dual 12mp cameras, albeit each one performing a bit differently from the other.

The first is a Sony IMX362 sensor with f/1.7 aperture while the second is a Samsung 3M3 sensor capable of up to 2.3x optical zoom and 12x digital zoom. Depending on the scene, the Zenfone 3 Zoom makes use of one or the other. It sounds fairly complicated, but the execution is seamless for the most part.

The Zenfone 3 Zoom comes with a number of shooting modes to take full advantage of the dual cameras and their capabilities depending on the situation.

Depth of Field

The first thing I wanted to do was test its ability to simulate a shallow depth of field, which is often what separates shots from DSLRs and mirrorless cameras from your smartphone shots.

For the most part, the Zenfone 3 Zoom does a good job of it, able to gradually blur out the out-of-focus elements rather doing it suddenly.

The effect is awesome for portrait photography, although it isn’t always perfect. Here, you’ll see that one of the guys behind my officemate is still in focus while the other is not, even though they’re the same distance away. Also, the subject’s shoulder is blurred more on one side than the other.

HDR

HDR mode also excels. Here the shot is slightly backlit so the subjects are actually in the shadows. Enabling HDR eliminates excessive shadows and allows more detail to be resolved, resulting in a more balanced exposure.

Super Resolution

Another favorite shooting mode of mine is Super Resolution, which allows you to shoot images with much more detail by taking multiple samples of the same subject in focus. The result is less noise and better color and detail.

It even works in challenging lighting situations such as the one above.

Zoom

The highlight of the Zenfone 3 Zoom’s shooting modes is its 2.3x optical zoom and 12x digital zoom to really get up close to your subjects.

I tried using a combination of optical and digital zoom to get a closer look at the moon while minimizing the noise. Here’s the moon at 1x zoom.

And here’s as far as I could go before digital noise started to become a factor.

Here, I zoomed in all the way to the max 12x digital zoom the phone is capable of. It’s a little noisy, but it’s not bad considering I didn’t use a tripod to stabilize the shot.

Here’s another shot, this time of the open parking lot behind Valkyrie.

And here it is zoomed in at 12x digital zoom. It’s no surprise that there’s a lot of digital noise here, although I’m impressed that I’m able to make out individual people this far away.

Selfies

Of course, let’s not forget about selfies as the front camera on the Zenfone 3 Zoom isn’t too shabby. It makes use of a Sony IMX214 sensor, which has actually been found on other smartphones’ rear camera.

I dialed the beautification feature down to just 2 as I found it to be too aggressive. The default beautification level is 5 while the max is 10, but to be honest, 2 is more than enough.

Here’s a group selfie with the wife and I and a couple of friends.

While it will never replace a DSLR or mirrorless camera, the Zenfone 3 Zoom is as close to a professional camera replacement you can get these days.

Multimedia

Thanks to a large, gorgeous 5.5 inch Super AMOLED screen, the Zenfone 3 Zoom is made for enjoying visual media. It even makes shooting photos and video more enjoyable because you’re immediately able to view them right after on the phone itself. Often enough, it actually looks better on the phone than when you’ve transferred it to a PC with a larger monitor.

Unfortunately, there’s only one loudspeaker at the bottom that easily gets blocked when holding it in landscape. Of course, nothing beats enjoying your multimedia library with your headset on, but on those instances when you do use the loudspeaker, you’ll often find yourself having to consciously adjust the way you’re holding the phone to make sure you hear anything at all.

Battery Life

The ASUS Zenfone 3 Zoom comes with a massive 5,000mAh battery, which is actually even larger than the one on the Zenfone 3 Max that’s “only” rated at 4,100mAh. Combined with a power-efficient SoC and software that’s optimized to manage background tasks well, the result is stellar battery life that can literally last for days.

This screenshot is from my first couple of days of usage where I was using it pretty heavily. Despite mobile data being on as much as possible, I managed an average of more than a day before having to charge. Once I settled back to a more relaxed usage pattern where I would put my phone in the locker at the beginning of my work shift with mobile data turned off, I would often come back after 9 hours to see the battery still at 90+% or more.

So Should You Buy the ASUS Zenfone 3 Zoom?

It should come as no surprise that the ASUS Zenfone 3 Zoom performs well as a camera replacement. After all, that’s what it was built for. The combination of dual cameras and robust camera software make it the best amateur photographer’s smartphone.

What is surprising though is how well it performs as a smartphone in general. You’re getting a gorgeous screen, a generous amount of RAM and storage, a speedy processor, and battery life that can literally last for days. It’s easily one of the most practical smartphones you can get at just Php23,999, delivering a flagship experience with one of the best cameras and battery life available today.

ASUS Zenfone 3 Zoom Specs

  • 5.5 inch Super AMOLED display (1080 x 1920 resolution, 401ppi)
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 MSM8953 SoC
    • 2GHz octa-core processor
    • Adreno 506 GPU
  • Android 6.0 Marshmallow, with Zen UI 3.0
  • 4GB RAM
  • 32GB, 64GB, or 128GB internal storage, expandable via microSD (up to 2TB on hybrid SIM2 slot)
  • Dual 12mp laser autofocus rear-facing camera with dual LED true-tone flash, 4-axis OIS, Dual Pixel PDAF, Laser AF, and Contrast AF
    • Sony IMX362 sensor with f/1.7 aperture
    • Samsung 3M3 sensor with f/2.6 aperture, 2.3x optical zoom, 12x digital zoom
  • 13mp front camera
  • 4G/LTE, dual SIM
  • WiFi b/g/n
  • Bluetooth 4.2
  • GPS with A-GPS, GLONASS, BDSS
  • USB Type-C
  • Fingerprint scanner
  • 5,000mAh battery, supports quick charging and reverse charging
  • 154.3 x 77 x 7.99 mm
  • 170grams
  • Colors: Navy Black, Glacier Silver, Rose Gold
  • Price: Starts at Php23,995

About The Author

Back when I started MobileTechPinoy in 2012, phablets weren't a thing yet. I enjoyed the stares I got from iPhone owners whenever I whipped out my Samsung Galaxy Note at the time. I'm much more budget-conscious these days though and am perfectly fine with using phones from any of our locally brands.