We got our hands on the ZenFone 3 Zoom way back in January and have learned of its international and local pricing since then. The question now is: Where exactly does ASUS’ camera-centric smartphone and its feature set stand?

Surprisingly, after using an actual retail unit, I wouldn’t say the ZenFone 3 Zoom’s best feature is its camera, even though it’s practically highlighted in the model name and on all the marketing jibber jabber. In fact, I think the camera holds it back a bit from contending in the premium segment.

It looks good on paper: a 12-megapixel dual-camera setup with 2.3x optical zoom, a DSLR-like autofocusing system, and optical image stabilization to compensate for shaky hands at the extended focal length. This is similar to what the iPhone 7 Plus employs, but don’t expect iPhone-level outputs here.

Here’s a sample of how far the optical zoom goes:

Because of the secondary lens, there’s no noticeable image degradation like what you would get from using digital zoom. Switching between the two modes is near instant as well, so it’s way better than abruptly running towards your subject.

Here’s a mix of daytime and nighttime shots taken with the main cameras and 13-megapixel selfie shooter:

Clearly, the ZenFone 3 Zoom does well enough when there’s sufficient sunlight, but any less makes the image quality crumble. This has been a recurring theme on most ZenFones we’ve used, wherein they simply can’t handle poorly lit scenes.

We’ll go into this more when we compare this phone’s camera against rivals in the same price segment. For now, don’t buy this phone purely for its imaging capabilities; instead, consider these factors I’ve compiled during our review:

ZenUI is still stuck in the stone age

Since the release of Android 6.0 Marshmallow, every phone manufacturer has made it a point to either overhaul or polish its user interface — ASUS has done neither. The ZenFone 3 Zoom’s software looks and functions just like it has in the past few years, meaning it’s still that colorful, cartoonish aesthetic everyone has outgrown already. The retail unit we have doesn’t have Nougat 7.0 yet, but I doubt it’s eventual update will fix these issues.

The display is attractive

One thing I appreciated while swiping through the outdated interface was the bright 5.5-inch Full HD AMOLED screen. It’s such a step up from the LCD panels ASUS grew accustomed to using, thanks to deeper blacks and greater dynamic range when viewing photos. It should also technically help in reducing battery drain, which we’ll get into later.

Bloatware is everywhere!

Ah, bloatware — it’s still a thing? If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that ASUS really tests how well we tolerate unnecessary apps and settings on a phone. The ZenFone 3 Zoom is full of them, so the first thing I did as soon as I turned the phone on was uninstall as many as I could and hide the rest. I suggest you do the same.

Solidly built, inside and out

Ignoring all the software woes, the hardware side is quite good. Starting with the build, the back is nearly all metal and houses the squarish fingerprint scanner; the front has the usual capacitive navigation buttons right below the display. Look inside and you’ll be happy to know ASUS didn’t skimp on specs: There’s a highly efficient Snapdragon 625 processor (same as in the original ZenFone 3), 4GB of memory, and 64GB of storage which you can expand using a microSD card on the hybrid SIM card tray.

Battery life is the real hero

Thought I forgot about the battery capacity? Actually, I saved the best for last! Its 5000mAh battery is the largest you can find in this class, and to top it off, the body is only 8mm thick. This generous capacity gives me two solid days of moderate usage with more than six hours of screen-on time. If I take it easy on my wireless settings (mobile data, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi), exceeding the two-day limit is easily doable.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

While I’d recommend the ZenFone 3 Zoom based purely on its excellent battery life, efficient processor, and still quite useful optical zoom lens, I can’t deny it’s an expensive investment. With an average price of $535 in most countries and PhP 23,990 ($485) specifically in the Philippines, this is by no means an easy choice.

If you think about it, this ZenFone has an interesting position in ASUS’ smartphone hierarchy. It has a more complete camera than its more expensive siblings, and a larger battery than those that are actually advertised for lasting for days. The ZenFone 3 Zoom is definitely the most mature model of its generation, but again, can we accept its price tag knowing there are better deals both from ASUS and other brands?

As a possible fourth-generation ZenFone launch draws near, my recommendation is to hold off until then. If we’re lucky and ASUS listens to its fans, common drawbacks like the bloated interface and subpar camera might be ironed out in time for the ZenFone 4 or ZenFone X or whatever.

SEE ALSO: ASUS ZenFone 3 Zoom hands-on

ASUS ZenFone 3 Zoom hands-on