ASUS is bringing optical zoom to a reasonably sized smartphone

The last smartphone to feature an optical zoom camera was Samsung's Galaxy K Zoom, but we didn't like it -- no thanks to its inconsistent camera performance plus poor battery life (the bulky body didn't help either). Merely hours away from South Korea, Taiwan-based ASUS decided to have a go at making its own optical zoom-enabled smartphone, which ended up being its surprise announcement at this year's CES: the Lumia 1020 ZenFone Zoom. What we've been told so far is that this $399 device is the world's thinnest smartphone that packs a 3x optical zoom camera, and there's more: It's actually a 13-megapixel f/2.0 imager with optical image stabilization, precise laser autofocus (as used by the LG G3), full manual mode and dual-color LED flash.

While the 3x zoom here may not sound as impressive as the K Zoom's 10x offering, we're pretty sure that most of us would rather pick a slimmer phone instead of sacrificing pocket space for more zoom. In this case, the ZenFone Zoom's thickest point is at 11.95mm, which is quite reasonable when compared to the 20.2mm-thick K Zoom.

The illustration above shows how this camera module works: You can imagine it as a periscope lying flat against the round metallic plate (hence its size), and the front group of moving optics does the zooming, whereas the group behind it is in charge of focusing and optical stabilization. With the mechanics lying flat inside the phone's body, there's no protruding part when you're zooming.

The obvious trade-off with this technology is that the aperture starts from f/2.7 instead of the usual f/2.0 these days, and that 185-gram weight may take some getting used to (the OnePlus One, also packing a 5.5-inch 1080p screen, is just 162 grams heavy). The ASUS rep also admitted that this module costs a lot more to make, and they need to take more precautions to ensure that the mechanism is sturdy, but his team is doing all they can to meet the $399 price point.

Oddly, ASUS has left us in the dark with the type of chipset this phone uses, but we do know that it'll carry Android 5.0 when it lands in Q2. Let's just hope that ASUS will actually push this out before others catch up.