Hands on: Asus Zenfone 3 Zoom review

High-end camera meets high-capacity battery

What is a hands on review?
TODO alt text

Our Early Verdict

Asus Zenfone 3 has a promising dual-lens camera and a long-lasting 5000mAh battery that give it some flagship credibility. Just don't expect the most powerful chipset or latest version of Android from this unlocked phone.

For

  • Stellar dual-lens camera specs
  • Incredible battery life promised
  • Design strikes the right balance

Against

  • Won't be the fastest phone around
  • Launched with Android Marshmallow
  • 1080p screen means no VR future

The Asus Zenfone 3 Zoom, ready for its closeup at CES 2017, puts a major focus on the two smartphone features everyone seems to care about the most: the camera and the battery life.

It’s the newest Android phone with a dual lens camera, and this one functions just like Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus. Only, it supposed to work a little better, we learned in Las Vegas.

The Zenfone 3 Zoom camera has a superior f/1.7 aperture and shoots both telescopic photos and bokeh-rich Portrait Mode photos, complete with software-blurring backgrounds.

Best of all, for power users and travel photogs, this phone has a massive 5000mAh battery. Asus is promising 48 hours of talk time and 42 days of standby time.

You won’t find the high-end specs of the Asus Zenfone 3 Deluxe or the new Asus Zenfone AR, but this camera-focused phone with a battery-sipping 1080p screen is one to consider for many other reasons.

Design and display

Asus Zenfone 3 Zoom camera is being marketed as a true iPhone 7 Plus rival, so it’s not a big shock that this aluminum, dual camera phone looks a lot like Apple’s flagship smartphone.

Sure, it’s a little thicker at 7.99mm vs 7.3mm, but it’s also exactly what a lot of people want and Apple won't give them: slightly more girth to the body that makes room of beefier battery and near-flat camera lens enclosure.

In fact, Asus calls this the ‘thinnest, lightest 5.5-inch 5000mAh smartphone.’ At 170g, it definitely feels a little lighter than the iPhone 7 Plus and the 1080p screen looks even better at first gaze.

You won’t find a Google Daydream View VR-ready Quad HD display on the Asus Zenfone 3 Zoom, but it does have a rich-looking Full HD AMOLED display with a nice top-end brightness of 500 nits.

It’s protected by Gorilla Glass 5, which Asus says provides a 70% better drop resistance than its previous series of phones, and the matte aluminum comes in three colors: Navy Black, Glacier Silver and Rose Gold.

Camera

As the name Zoom implies, the dual-lens camera is the real star of this Asus Zenfone 3 Zoom, and with 12MP and a f/1.7 aperture, it ties the stunning Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge on paper.

Its 2.3x optical zoom also gets you a smidgen closer to far-off subjects without distortion than the iPhone 7 Plus can, outclassing Apple’s brand new 2x optical zoom camera feature.

Of course, properly testing out Asus’s version of Portrait Mode and the Sony IMX 362 camera sensor performance is impossible at CES, but all of the signs look right for a good snapper.

It captures larger pixels with a 1.4 micro size, lets in 2.5 times as much light as a iPhone 7 Plus, records 4K video, has hybrid OIS and EIS and touts 12 times the total (digital) zoom.

The front-facing camera is 13MP by way of the widely used Sony IMX214 sensor. It’s supposed to crank the light sensitivity up to 2 times what you normally see on other phones and it relies on a screen to simulate a flash. 

Front-facing camera modes we’ve seen so far include so-called 'Beautification' mode and 140 degree selfie panorama mode for wide selfies, just like Samsung does it on its phones.

Battery life

You’re going to be hard-pressed to find a bigger battery than the one in the Asus Zenfone 3 Zoom. It has a 5000mAh battery capacity that strives to last two full days.

Asus is promising 48 hours of talk time and 42 days of standby time, along with 25 hour of Wi-Fi web browsing and 6.4 hours of 4K video recording (locally stored, not streaming).

What’s more, there’s supposed to be so much battery life here than the Zenfone 3 Zoom is always ready to charge your other devices via its bottom USB-C port. 

It acts a portable battery pack, which becomes clutch in situation like when you grab your Bluetooth earbuds for the gym and notice they’re almost out of juice. They’ll be ready by the time you get there.

Specs and software

The camera and battery specs make this sound like the flagship phone to beat, but it’s really not rounded out in every category, namely the chipset and software.

It has Qualcomm’s fast-enough Snapdragon 625 chip with an Adreno 506 GPU, but it's not clocked to do VR or intensive tasks of the all-new Snapdragon 835, which is set for 2017 phones.

Likewise, its 4GB of RAM is good enough for 2016, but we were seeing 6GB RAM phones by the end of 2016, and 8GB RAM handsets are launching in 2017.

Then there’s the fact that the Asus Zenfone 3 Zoom we tested was running Android 6.0 Marshmallow. Asus intends to update to Android 7.0 Nougat, promising RAW photos when that happens, but no time table has been laid out.

Thankfully there is ‘up to 128GB of storage’ onboard and high-resolution audio, too. Don’t worry if you opt for the the 64GB or the 32GB base model. There’s a microSD card slot here, too.

Early verdict

The Asus Zenfone 3 Zoom intensely focuses on the two areas of the smartphone we really care about – the camera and battery life. Its camera specs either tie or best the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge and iPhone 7 Plus, and we’re anxious to see how it fares when we take real life photos.

The hefty 5000mAh battery life is also a beast, so much so that it acts as a portable battery pack for your other devices. That’s an amazing feat for any smartphone and a good sign for 2017.

We need to go beyond Asus-provided numbers, though, and really test out the camera's photo quality and battery endurance. The older chips and Android software remain a big question mark for a phone that seems to have everything else going for it, so check back soon for a full Asus Zenfone 3 Zoom review.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Matt Swider is TechRadar's gadget-savvy, globe-trotting mobile editor in Los Angeles. As an expert in iOS and Android, he owns over 120 phones that someone keeps setting the alarms on – simultaneously. He received his journalism degree from Penn State University and is never seen without his TechRadar headphones.

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.