When you hear the Asus name, chances are you think of laptops, versatile tablets, or computing in general. If you’re a bit of a hardcore mobile fan, you may also think of the quirky Padfone range. The Zenfone Zoom could be the device that makes us associate the company’s name with more cutting edge smartphones, particularly by camera phone enthusiasts. Why? It has a 3x optical zoom, but not one that’s inside an unsightly bulge like the Galaxy K Zoom.
Instead, the Zenfone Zoom uses a system which sees two lenses slide horizontally beside the lens, producing extremely similar results, but taking up far less space, and without an elongating extension. It’s not completely flat, but it’s still less obvious than the Lumia 1020’s lens housing, for example, and the phone is no thicker than a G3 inside a QuickCircle case.
Smartphone zooms are primarily digital, and result in lower quality pictures when used. An optical zoom does a better job without the drawbacks, and is a truly differentiating feature.
Asus hasn’t slapped the clever optical zoom system on the Zenfone Zoom and stopped there, however. It’s paired with optical image stabilization to improve those zoomed in shots, and those taken in low light. Added to this is a laser autofocus sensor, just like the one seen on the LG G3. It impressed us on that phone, and works even faster on the new LG G Flex 2, so we’re excited to see how Asus’ system performs. All this is attached to a 13-megapixel sensor, and the software can be used manually for complete control.
What’s perhaps most impressive is that this tech doesn’t come at much cost to the ergonomics and design of the phone. It adds just 1mm of thickness to the base ZenFone 2 design, with the lens surround only standing slightly proud of the body of the phone.
The design overall looks nice too. We liked the the ZenFone 2 and the Zoom seems close enough that we see little reason it wouldn’t also prove easy to handle.
The phone we tested was a pre-production model, and the software installed wasn’t complete. Still, we were treated to a look at how the optical zoom performed. A photo of a Chinese yuan note was taken on zoom, then zoomed in again to reveal the level of detail it captured. Compared to the same image taken on an iPhone 6 Plus, the difference is very noticeable – revealing detail that wasn’t visible to the naked eye.
Android 5.0 is installed on the phone, displayed on a 5.5-inch, 1080p display. Asus hasn’t decided on which processor will be used inside the phone, but a Snapdragon chip is most likely. An Intel Atom powers its Zenfone 2.
While this is the first time we’re seeing this optical zoom tech inside a smartphone, it’s not the first time we’ve heard about it. We chatted with DynaOptics recently, a company developing the same type of module, but it hasn’t supplied Asus. What we learned talking to DynaOptics was how complex these modules are, and they aren’t perfected yet.
Optical zooms are incredibly rare on smartphones and for good reason – the Samsung K Zoom, one of the only true Zoom rivals, was a bulky chap that filled even the baggiest of pockets, which made it a less-than-wonderful smartphone. However, the Zenfone Zoom has shaved a significant chunk of weight off that bulky beast and actually looks like a proper phone, with a lens that barely juts out of the rear casing.
Asus told us it’ll have a 95-percent finished Zenfone Zoom at Mobile World Congress, followed by a release before the end of the first half of 2015. A price of $400 has been attached, which sounds excellent value, considering the high specs. The good news is Asus intends to release the Zenfone Zoom in the U.S. and the U.K., indicating it’s aware of the opportunity the phone presents to promote the Asus name.
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