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Asus ZenFone Zoom review: Groundbreaking camera, iffy performance

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The Good Asus' ZenFone Zoom breaks new ground with a built-in optical zoom camera that doesn't stick out or appear to move. Photos taken are generally great, but worse in low light.

The Bad The phone software peppers you with ads by default. Camera performance feels sluggish.

The Bottom Line The Asus ZenFone Zoom puts cool new camera tech to work, but its bloated software and poor overall performance keep it from being a phone you'd want to buy.

6.9 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 7
  • Performance 6
  • Camera 7
  • Battery 6

The Asus ZenFone Zoom is the first phone with an optical zoom lens that doesn't protrude out of the phone, a mighty impressive accomplishment. But don't start tossing money at Asus just yet. The phone's spammy software and slow camera drag it down too much to recommend, especially when you factor in its premium price.

At $399 (which is around £275 or AU$560), the Zoom isn't cheap -- you're paying the early adopter tax to get your hands on it. If you're looking at alternative phones with great cameras, then your best bet would still be flagships such as the Samsung Galaxy S6 and the Apple iPhone 6S Plus; they cost a lot more, but you also get more for your money. When all's said and done, the ZenFone Zoom is a novelty, but one with the potential for a second-generation model good enough to stand on its own.

Here's why this camera breaks new ground

Why should you care about an optical zoom lens? It's a carryover from compact and dSLR cameras, and promises far more accurate zooming, allowing you to capture details that would otherwise be lost using digital zoom (the type of zoom typically seen on a phone).

A sleek ZenFone Zoom has the potential to be the ultimate two-in-one phone. Unlike previous experiments in optical zoom phones, such as the Samsung K Zoom and Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom before that, the ZenFone avoids becoming a clunky old thing in your hand.

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The ZenFone Zoom features optical zoom without obvious moving parts.

Aloysius Low/CNET

Design-wise, the ZenFone Zoom earns some real cred for shrinking down the zoom mechanism and sticking it inside the phone, so there's no protruding barrel. I've seen other solutions for optical zoom, such as the use of two cameras, but while that works, it's still not widely available. Unlike your normal smartphone camera, which uses digital software tricks to "zoom in" on an image -- really it just crops the current image to give you the impression of zoom -- the ZenFone Zoom's recessed lens can mechanically zoom in and out just like it would on a compact camera. Try as I might, I couldn't see any moving parts in the lens, though if your eyes are sharp enough, you could.

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