Snappy snapper

The Asus ZenFone Zoom uses innovative technology to pack in an optical zoom into a slim form factor, says Tushar Kanwar

  • Published 28.02.16

For all the talk about smartphones killing off cameras, the average mobile comes up woefully short when it comes to taking pictures with any amount of zoom.  You’re left to rely on digital zoom, which leads to grainy, soft images. With its ZenFone Zoom, Asus has a trick up its sleeve — 3x optical zoom — and combined with laser autofocus and optical image stabilisation, the Zoom promises to deliver stellar imaging performance. But does it, and can it warrant the not-insignificant price tag?

It’s certainly dressed to impress, with its aluminium frame and chrome accents and the removable leather back. Asus has managed to fit the optical zoom lens in a sideways fashion inside the phone so there’s none of that ‘protruding lens’ effect and the phone is a remarkably slim 11.9mm despite packing in optical zoom. Behind the scenes is a 13MP sensor which manages to turn out tack sharp ima-ges in good light, although they’re a bit oversaturated. Zoom in to the maximum 3x and the lens is stabilised for blur-free images and you do get a closer shot than other phones, but truth be told, the 3x zoom feels a tad limited in reach and you start wishing for more zoom almost immediately. Low light images are a little grainy and given this is a camera-centric phone, a xenon-type flash would have been a better pick than the weaker dual LED flash.

Under the hood, the quad-core Intel Atom Z3590 chip with 4GB memory and 128GB of storage (expandable to 256GB) means that performance is at par with other high-end Androids. The phone warms up during gaming, and battery life is just about enough to see you through a full day.

At Rs 37,999, the Zoom competes with flagships such as the Nexus 6P and the Samsung S6, and while it’s the only one with optical zoom, it doesn’t outdo them in pure image quality and the duo pull ahead with better reso-lution displays and cleaner user interfaces. What Asus has managed to achieve with the Zoom is undeniably innovative, but it just doesn’t go the distance to command the premium.
♦ Rating: 7/10
♦ Price: Rs 37,999
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Chinese challenger

It’s a familiar formula — Chinese company walks in with compelling hardware at a jaw-dropping price to woo the Indian consumer. We’ve seen Xiaomi do it, OnePlus and Lenovo as well. And now, LeEco has the Le 1s. But is it more of the same, or has LeEco pulled one out of the bag?

If first impressions count, the Le 1s certainly makes a great one. It brings in premium materials and a fit and finish which is rare to see in the budget segment, and the metal body, the chamfered edges and the seem-ingly edge-to-edge display wows at first sight. Despite the metal, the phone grips well for a 5.5-inch display device.

Yet, this isn’t just a pretty face. There’s a powerful mid-range octa-core MediaTek Helio X10 chip supported by 3GB of memory and 32GB of storage (no expansion slots, unfortunately), which is just as well since LeEco’s own eUI skin is a bit heavy. The phone lacks the variety of customisation options I’ve seen in custom user interfaces, both in terms of settings and gestures.

That said, games and apps run just fine and the overall performance levels rival phones twice its price. Battery life is just about average, and there’s quick charging to quickly add some juice for the evening.

The only giveaway of the phone’s budget nature is the camera. Daylight shots work out well, but low-light shots are grainy and about okay to share on social media, that’s all.

The Le 1s then is a easy pick if you’re willing to give the new kid on the block a chance and want a phone you can flaunt — but are willing to accept the hit-and-miss camera and software that needs some finessing. Oh, and those blasted flash sales that you have to endure to lay your hands on one of these.
♦ Rating: 8/10
♦ Price: Rs 10,999
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Subtly smart

Lenovo’s been on a roll of late, launching impressive devices like the Vibe Shot, Vibe S1 and the K4 Note. Its latest top-of-the-line Vibe X3 takes on the might of competing flagships at a rather affordable sub-twenty-grand price point. Too good to be true?

Straight out of the box, the Vibe X3 is a stylish smartphone, and while it’s a bit on the heavy side, the curved rear lets it sit comfortably in your hand. For the money, you’re getting a Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 processor, 3GB of memory and 32GB of storage (expandable by 128GB if you forgo the second SIM) — all standard fare for a mid-range device.

At this price point, I’d have been wowed by a higher resolution display, but Lenovo has kitted the device with a 5.5-inch full HD display instead. That said, colours are great on this screen and watching movies really benefit with the screen and the full and loud dual front speakers. There’s even a digital-to-audio chip for music playback, which improves the audio out and is still a rarity on phones these days. Paired with a good set of headphones, the X3’s DAC turns out pretty spectacular results with your existing music library.

And if you’re looking to sample virtual reality tech, the phone ships with Lenovo’s TheatreMax features, which convert games and movies on the X3 into immersive large-screen content when viewed through an optional VR headset (Rs 1,299). It’s not the sort of stuff you’d wear on your commute, but it’s an accessible way to try out VR without spending too much extra.

Lenovo’s choice of hardware is backed by a much cleaner Vibe UI, and there were no stutters or lag when using the device. The 21MP rear camera shoots detailed and colour-accurate pictures in good light but struggles with low light, though there is a Pro mode to tweak advanced settings. Battery life is pretty good as well, lasting a full heavy day. Interestingly, you can even use the X3 as a powerbank to charge other smaller devices.

In all, the X3 strikes me as a well sorted out device, the kind that favours user experience over pure specs, opts for subtle but useful UI tweaks…or what I call the “Motorola effect”. In the sub-twenty-grand bracket, the X3 is a compelling proposition that’s at best let down by a slightly inconsistent camera and a little extra weight.
♦ Rating: 8/10
♦ Price: Rs 19,999
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Turning turtle

iPhone cases come in all shapes and sizes, but the TurtleCell case is rather unique. It features built-in retractable earbuds with microphone that are connected to the phone’s 3.5mm jack — all you need to do is pull out the 42-inch-long earbud cords and they will retract back in place when you’re done. 
♦ Price: $59.95
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Into the frying pan

If your cooking portfolio extends to Maggi and boiled eggs, the Pantelligent Smart Frying Pan may be for you. It’s a non-stick frying pan that has a built-in temperature sensor in the base which pairs over Bluetooth with your smartphone. A companion app gives you step-by-step instructions on how to cook various dishes while monitoring the temperature...including when to stir and flip and when to lower the flame. Time to take the guesswork out of cooking, eh?
♦ Price: $174 
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