Asus outzooms the iPhone 7 Plus with the Zenfone Zoom 3, and we tried it

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Asus’ Zenfone 3 Zoom sports a dreamy camera and massive battery, making it one to watch.

If you want anyone to take notice of your smartphone at CES 2017, it needs to have two camera lenses. After the ZTE Blade V8 Pro and the Honor 6X comes the Asus Zenfone 3 Zoom, equipped with two 12-megapixel camera lenses for that sought after blurred-background “bokeh” effect, and an iPhone 7 Plus-like optical zoom.

Asus already has several Zenfone 3 spin-off phones — including the Max and the Laser — in its range, plus we’ve seen (and not been very impressed by) another Zenfone with an optical zoom in the past. What’s new with the Zenfone 3 Zoom, and should you pay any attention to it? We’ve tried it out to let you know. Here’s our first take.

You may think you recognize the design of the Zenfone 3 Zoom, and that’s because it really, really looks like an iPhone 7 Plus. Take away the fingerprint sensor on the back and replace it with an Apple logo, and it’s a lawsuit waiting to happen. The curvy metal body is very attractive and super comfortable in the hand; but that’s probably because the iPhone 7 Plus is as well. If you’re looking for a unique design, this definitely isn’t the phone for you.

The horizontally mounted dual cameras have 12-megapixel sensors made by Sony. One has an excellent f/1.7 aperture, and the other has a 2.3x optical zoom. Add in a digital zoom and the total becomes a 12x zoom. For comparison, the iPhone 7 Plus has a 2x optical zoom. A quick test shows the 0.3x extra does get in closer to the subject without any quality loss. The interface is also very familiar, with an exact copy of the iPhone 7 Plus’s zoom button, that’s tapped to zoom in to its maximum optical setting. It’s also possible to pinch the screen, but unlike the Huawei Mate 9 and P9’s interface, there’s no visual indication when you flip from optical to digital. Shame.

Working the two lenses together produces the bokeh blurred background effect, which Asus also calls Portrait mode, just like Apple. With a technology called SuperPixel, Asus promises the camera will have great lowlight performance too, but it’s not something we could test in our short time with the device. The camera tech list goes on, with 4K video recording, laser autofocus, optical image stabilization, a 13-megapixel selfie cam, RAW file support, and a manual mode. If it genuinely all comes together, the Zenfone 3 Zoom has massive potential to take on the current phone cam champions.

More: What you need to know about the Asus Zenfone AR, the first Tango and Daydream phone

At about 8mm thick, you’re probably not expecting the Zenfone 3 Zoom to have a massive battery. Amazingly, it has a whopping 5,000mAh cell, way bigger than almost every other smartphone on sale. Asus says that’s good for 42 days standby. For comparison, Apple says the iPhone 7 Plus’s battery will last 16 days. That’s quite a difference.

Leaving aside the camera and the battery, the Zenfone 3 Zoom isn’t a flagship killer. It has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor, like the ZTE Blade V8 Pro and the Huawei Nova, but does pair it with 4GB of RAM, so performance should be good. The 5.5-inch screen uses AMOLED technology for deep blacks and high levels of contrast, but has a now almost standard 1,920 x 1,080-pixel resolution. It’s Android 6.0 installed, rather than the latest version 7.0, and comes with Asus’ own ZenUI over the top. This substantially alters the Android experience over phones like the Google Pixel and the Nexus series, and may slow down version updates in the future.

While Asus has been quick to sing the Zenfone 3 Zoom’s photographic praises, it has been less forthcoming regarding the price, release date, and where the device will be sold. It’s apparently coming in February, but there’s no price attached, and based on previous Asus phones, it’s unlikely to be sold through carriers. We’d expect it to be sold unlocked online.

Before passing any judgement, we want to spend more time with the Zenfone 3 Zoom’s camera. If it’s as good as the spec promises, and the phone’s price comes in at a reasonable level — that’s less than $400 — it may be worth a look, especially due to the large battery. At the moment, we’ll say watch this space, but with interest.

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