ASUS ZENPHONE ZOOM

As promised, Asus has started to make its Android-powered ZenFone Zoom smartphone available for preorder in the U.S. starting Jan. 20.

Although the Asus smartphone had been late in hitting the U.S. shores - it was announced in January 2015 - the handset will nevertheless be welcomed by consumers in the country. The Android-powered handset has finally arrived in the U.S., making it the second market where the smartphone is officially released. The smartphone is already available in Asus' home country Taiwan since December 2015.

On Monday, February 1, the ZenFone Zoom smartphone - which boasts a powerful 13MP primary camera with 3x optical zoom - began retailing from B&H Photo. The ZenFone Zoom is exclusive to the retailer and the unlocked variant of the smartphone bears a price tag of $399.99.

The Asus handset boasts a 5.5-inch IPS display (Full HD) with Corning Gorilla Glass 4. The device has a pixel density of 403 ppi, housing a quad-core processor and 4GB of RAM. The device packs in a powerful non-removable 3000mAh battery, which offers support for BoostMaster. It has 64GB of on-board storage which is expandable to 128GB, thanks to the microSD card slot.

It will come pre-loaded with Android 5.0 Lollipop, which may disappoint many Asus fans. Nevertheless, the 4G LTE-enabled smartphone's camera packs quite a bit of punch and has been touted as an iPhone 6s Plus killer.

"In terms of image quality the ZenFone Zoom can not only rival single-lens reflex (SLR) camera, judging from all the features it as well as outshine iPhone 6s Plus," said Jonney Shih, Asus' Chairman at the time of the smartphone's release.

The ZenFone Zoom's USP is its 13MP rear-facing camera with OIS and 3x optical zoom. Unlike the digital zoom which is offered by maximum cameras on smartphones, the optical zoom is handy when one wants to take images of distant objects with more clarity. The device also has 5MP selfie camera with no zoom.

A downside of the mechanism is the bulk it adds to the smartphone, making the Asus offering heavier (185gms) and thicker (11.95mm) than several handsets that are currently available. However, the ZenFone Zoom notches up several brownie points for the fact that it has a premium-looking feel thanks to the use of aerospace-grade 6063-series aluminum on its sides and the leather on its rear.

The Asus ZenFone Zoom model for the U.S. is compatible with GSM networks, which means it will work with T-Mobile and AT&T but not Sprint and Verizon.

Early reviews for the smartphone seem promising, lauding its camera capabilities.

"Oversaturated display aside, the Asus Zenfone Zoom is easily the best "serious photographer" smartphone currently available. Proper optics and a real zoom lens feel like absolute game changers when it comes to smartphone photography. There a quality to the Zenfone Zoom's photos that the competition just can't match," says Gizmodo.

 The ZenFone Zoom can be purchased for $399.99 from B&H.