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The most innovative camera phone? It is NOT an iPhone or a Pixel

They started out as being add ons, but have got to the stage when they now more often than not decide the fate of a smartphone. We are talking of cameras of course. Given their importance (check the iPhone presentation if you don’t believe us), it is hardly surprising that cameras on phones have been seeing a lot of innovation. From multiple camera setups, to different types of notches to house front-facing cameras, to different types of pop up cameras, manufacturers have really thrown the kitchen sink at the shooters on their smartphones. 

Of course, when it comes to smartphone cameras, there are some phones that are supposed to be the leaders in the segment. The likes of the iPhone, the Pixel and the Galaxy S series often steal the spotlight in this department. But while these devices do set the benchmark for phone photography, a phone from a relatively lesser known player beats them all in terms of sheer, radical innovation. 

We are talking of the ASUS 6z (review).  

Yes, ASUS. The brand has never really been able to achieve dizzying heights on the number-ladder in the smartphone market but that has not kept the company from innovating. It was one of the first brands to give us usable optical zoom on a phone camera, was among the first to really up the RAM game and now, it has handed out a lesson in phone camera innovation!

On the surface, the ASUS 6z seems your standard budget Android flagship. The device comes with top of the line specs – a 6.4 inch full HD+ display protected by Gorilla Glass 6, the high-end Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor, 8GB RAM and 256GB storage. There’s also a dedicated microSD card slot in the phone that can help you expand the storage up to a massive 1TB, Android 9 (Pie) out of the box with a layer of the brand’s in-house ASUS UI on top, and a huge 5,000 mAh battery that comes with support for fast charging (with an 18W fast charger in the box too!). 

Great specs, right? But let us be honest, not very unusual in the budget flagship segment where the likes of the OnePlus and Redmi K20 series lurk.

But what we do not see very often is the total absence of a camera on the front. Yes, technically, the ASUS 6z does not have a camera on the front –  no punch hole, no drop notch, no cameras rising out of the frame. Well, technically!

And yet, it still allows you to take some of the highest resolution selfies in tech town! That’s because the ASUS 6z sports a dual camera setup on the back consisting of a 48-megapixel, half inch, main sensor with f/1.8 aperture with PDAF and laser autofocus and a 13-megapixel ultra wide sensor with f/2.4 aperture. These are its main cameras… oh and its selfie cameras too!

Puzzled? That’s where the innovation comes in. 

The Asus 6z comes with a motorised flip camera which literally flips out of the back and rotates to become the selfie camera for the phone. So, basically as soon as you hit the front camera icon on the camera app of the ASUS 6z, the main camera will flip out of the back and stand upright on top of the display, ready to unlock your phone or take a selfie, depending on your need.  

The flipping process of the camera itself will get a fair lot of “oohs” and “aahs” but it is not just a stunt get more eyeballs. The amazement at this mechanism is just a byproduct.  The ASUS 6z’s camera is not just another show pony like many of the pop-up cameras that we see nowadays in the market. Unlike those, It actually brings a lot of functionality to the table. Which is why we think it is so darned innovative. 

Most smartphones bring really heavy duty and powerful cameras on the back of the phone, while the secondary camera is often handed a more generic sensor in comparison. We see multi camera setups, with 48 megapixel and even 64 megapixel sensors with really big apertures and supporting cameras, and let’s be honest, we do not generally see the same kind of work being put in the front facing camera. The motorised camera on the ASUS 6z changes that. Because the primary camera flips around and becomes your secondary camera, you basically get the exact same set up for your selfies, making them just as good as your main pictures. You get the joys of autofocus, touch to focus, really good portrait mode and of course, such high-resolution shots that you can crop them and still end up with detail aplenty. 

It is not just about selfies, though. The ASUS 6z’s camera also changes the way one takes panorama shots. We all know how painful it is to take a steady, level panorama shot because you have to keep moving the camera yourself. You have to keep your hand super steady to avoid losing detail and even the slightest of movements can just ruin your chances of having a decent panorama shot. Well, you can take a panorama shot with the ASUS 6z without having to move an inch! Because the camera can flip all the way to 180-degrees, you just have to hold your phone straight and let the motorised camera do all the work. It will just move slightly more slowly than usual and capture a panorama shot. 

You can take a vertical panorama, or a horizontal panorama, without having to move at all. You can even place the phone on a surface and let it take the shots itself. What’s more, the mode also comes with subject tracking, which means you can lock your subject while taking the shot and the camera will follow it.

We are not done yet. Suppose you want to take a photograph from a slightly odd angle? We all do, sometimes – maybe just looking upwards at something or from a different level. You do not have to twist and turn and place your phone in an unusual place, but simply move the camera on the back of the 6z – you can literally stop it at most angles between 0 degrees and 180 degrees. Yes, you can manually set the position of the camera and take a picture at any angle you like. How cool is that? 

It might not be the best implementation of the technology  – the flip out mechanism can be a little buggy – but the camera on the ASUS 6z is definitely the most innovative and functional we have seen in recent times. And it does so without cutting back on hardware – the sensor quality on the device is as good as it gets – or software touches (there are editing options aplenty and some AI wizardry as well). In simple terms, the ASUS 6z is everything that a flagship device camera should be. And a bit more. What’s more, it is a bit more in a way that no other device out there – not an iPhone, not a Pixel, not a Galaxy S – can match. It sounds incredible, but there it is. 

At a time when most other players in the market seem to be focused on either bumping up megapixels or adding all kinds of computational smarts to photography, ASUS has managed to do all that (hey, 48-megapixels and AI photography!), and still something very different with the 6z. And does so in an effective manner, making panoramas easier to take, giving you far more shooting angles without contorting yourself or your device, and delivering selfies that are far more detailed and high quality than any other phone camera we have seen.

The ASUS 6z is the only phone camera out there that actually tries to change the WAY in which we take pictures, focusing as much on the user experience side of the picture taking process as on the results. 

Now, THAT’s innovation. 

This story was authored by Akriti Rana and Nimish Dubey

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Nimish Dubey

Nimish Dubey has been writing on technology since 1999. He has contributed to a number of publications and websites including The Times of India, Hindustan Times, Mint, Economic Times, Outlook, and India Today. He is currently the Editorial Mentor at TechPP.com and a regular contributor to Indian Express. When not writing, he loves to read and listen to classic rock.