There’s a scene in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King where Merry, a hobbit, laments to Eowyn, a princess, before riding into battle: “I know there is not much point now in hoping. If I were a knight of Rohan capable of great deeds … but I’m not. I’m a hobbit. And I know I can’t save Middle-earth.” The scene captures Merry’s lucid understanding of self; simply put, he knows what he is and what he isn’t.
If there were ever a smartphone that encapsulated Merry, it’d be the Asus Zenfone 3 Zoom ($329). Like a hobbit who knows they’re not an Elven warrior, the Zenfone 3 Zoom knows it’s not a premium smartphone — so its specs shouldn’t be pegged against the Pixel XL or Samsung Galaxy S8. It doesn’t have the fastest Snapdragon 835 processor. It runs an outdated version of Android. It doesn’t have the brightest display, nor does it support VR. It’s not waterproof, either.
However, like Merry, the Zenfone 3 Zoom knows it has value. Where Merry has humor, loyalty, and the guile to stab a Nazgûl in the back, the Zenfone 3 Zoom has a brilliant camera system, an unparalleled battery, and a price that’s in everybody’s wheelhouse.
Buy Now: $329
If you’re an avid pocket shooter, know that the Zenfone can play ball with the likes of the Pixel XL, Galaxy S8+ and iPhone 7 Plus. It has dual 12MP rear-facing cameras: a 25mm wide-angle lens (f/1.7) and a 59mm telephoto lens with 2.3x optical zoom and 12x digital zoom. Combined with Asus’s proprietary autofocus system and manually adjustable ISO, which allows for superb low-light shooting, it’s on par with the iPhone 7 Plus’s “best-in-class” camera. And if selfies make up the bulk of your camera roll, take notice: the Zenfone 3 Zoom has a 13MP selfie camera, a big leg up over the 8MP offered by the Pixel XL, Galaxy S8+ and iPhone 7 Plus.
What’s more, you’ll take more photos for longer; Asus’s economy budget has a gigantic 5,000mAh battery capable of lasting three days of grueling use. It can also operate as a portable power bank to charge other devices, like a Google Pixel or a Nintendo Switch, though it charges slowly at 1 amp. (Only a select few Androids have reverse-charging capabilities.) All in all, no other smartphone has a battery life that matches it.
Like short and hairy Merry, the Zenfone 3 Zoom knows it’s not for everybody. It’s not sexy, thin, bright or curved — but there are some battles it knows it can win. Not everybody wants to drop $700 or $800 on a new smartphone; for those budget seekers, the Zenfone offers up some grade-A specs. True, convincing skeptics may be an uphill battle, but if Merry can somehow survive a litany of encounters with cave trolls, orcs, and dragons — is any indication, the Zenfone 3 Zoom should find its place in smartphone Middle-earth.