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Asus Zenfone AR – Unique mobile built for a specific purpose – (Review)

When Google announced Project Tango, it seemed like a revolutionary futuristic concept. We first saw it live on Lenovo Phab 2 pro. But that tablet was not powerful and now a practically usable device. Then came the Asus Zenfone AR. Zenfone AR is a powerful mobile that can be used as a daily device and at the same time it is fully compatible with Google Project Tango and Daydream. In this review lets quickly run down on the specs and concentrate more on the AR and VR capabilities of the Zenfone AR.

Design

Zenfone AR is a premium mobile and is designed like one. It has a solid feel to it. It has metal rims along the sides and a textured plastic back. It is a full aluminum alloy unibody frame with stainless steel Tricam housing at the back. At the bottom, you have the USB C Port, single speaker, mic and 3.5 mm jack. The top has a noise canceling mic. The front has a camera and sensors above the display and the fingerprint sensor below it. The volume keys and power button are on one side, while the hybrid SIM slot is on the other. The Tango setup at the back includes a Fisheye motion sensor, IR projector, and sensor for depth perception along with 23 MP camera. With all this tech inside, the mobile is still slim. The mobile feels premium and it is built like a tank.

Display

Asus Zenfone AR has a 5.7 inch 2K super AMOLED display with Corning Gorilla Glass 4 protection. I like that fact that it is not a 2.5D curved glass and you can protect it further with a tempered glass. The display has vivid color and good contrast levels. The color levels can be controlled in the settings. It also has the blue light reading mode. The display complements the mobile’s VR and AR capability.

Hardware and Performance

Zenfone AR may not have the latest and greatest specification, but it has enough firepower to support Augmented reality, virtual reality, powerful games and resource heavy apps. It runs on Snapdragon 821 with Adreno 530 for GPU. It has 8 GB DDR4 RAM and 128 GB storage. Gaming is super smooth and graphics quality is top notch. It does not over-heat, but after 30 minutes of VR or AR app usage, it does get warm and heats up by about 10-degree max.

It has a 5 magnet speaker for audio which performs really well. The audio quality over headphones is also great as its supports DTS surround sound with NXP Smart AMP. The ZenEar S headphone in the box is of high quality and the sound quality is stunning for a stock earphone provided along with the retail unit. The fingerprint sensor is fast and accurate. It has Accelerometer, compass, proximity sensor, barometer, ambient light sensor, gyroscope along with a whole bunch of sensors. It supports dual-band WiFi, Bluetooth 4.2 and NFC. GPS locking happens within 3 seconds.

The hardware configuration may not be the latest, but it is among the greatest. You will not find any other device on the market with such a wide spectrum of top-notch specifications, all put together for a powerful purpose: AR and VR.

Software

It runs on Android 7.0 with ZenUI 3.5 which is an older version of the ZenUI. I doubt if the Zenfone AR will get any further major updates, but with what it has it has all the required optimisations and apps built in for AR and VR.

Now let’s talk about the AR and VR capabilities of this mobile. Before proceeding, for the uninitiated, please read my article on Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality to understand the technical concepts.

Tango

Google has developed the Tango software to work with s a set of sensors to enable the augmented reality. The Tango system can track motion, learn the physical area and perceive depth. In the Zenfone AR, the Tricam system empowers Tango. It has a 23 Mp camera to let you view object, a depth-sensing camera to measure the distance between objects and a motion tracking IR camera to pass location information. There are a bunch of Tango apps on the play store, but most of them are proof of concepts. Tango is a futuristic Idea and we are yet to see some mainstream utility apps to utilize the capability. The Zenfone AR is not a baby step towards Augmented reality, but it is a Giant Leap.

Daydream

Google’s Daydream is a virtual reality platform that defines the standards for surreal virtual reality apps. It is beyond the usual VR experience and it takes the VR experience to a whole new level. Zenfone AR is certified by Google to support Daydream hardware and software. I am short of words to explain the experience. You will have to experience it yourself. I used the Google Daydream VR headset to explore a bunch of Daydream apps and it was a totally immersive experience.

Camera

When it comes to Camera, Asus has already proved that is an expert. The Zenfone AR has utilized this expertise to bring you a high-end imaging experience. The rear camera is a 23 MP sensor with a sensor size of 1 um. The 6 piece lens has an aperture for f/2.0. It has Tritech focus with Laser, Phase detection and contrast detection for accurate and fast focusing. The mobile also supports 4 Axis OIS for photos and 3 Asis EIS support for videos. It can shoot up to 4k videos. The front camera is an 8 MP sensor with 84 degrees wide viewing angle.

Camera quality is impressive. It can click sharp and detailed images. The images have perfect exposure and contrast levels. Zenfone’s Pixelmaster algorithm is known for its low light photography processing. Next, to Huawei Honor mobile, the Zenfone has the excellent processing power for low light photos giving smooth and bright images even under highly challenging light conditions.

Battery

The mobile is powered by a 3300 mAH Lithium Polymer battery. It supports Quick Charge 3.0. It gets charged from 0 to 100% in less than 2 hours, while the 40% is charged within 30 min. But the battery life of this mobile is not great. It lasts for less than 8 hours if you are using AR or VR apps. If you are not using any of those resource intensive apps, the mobile would last for a day’s usage, but this mobile is supposed to be built for AR and VR experience. If only the Zenfone AR had a bigger battery, it would have been a good companion for the Zenfone AR with Tango and Daydream.

Verdict

The Zenfone AR may have the specs similar to some mobiles like the LG G6, but it is a unique mobile and it does not have any equals in the market so far. It is a custom built mobile for Google Tango AR and Daydream VR experience. With all its software capabilities, the hardware is no slack. It has high-end hardware that makes it eligible to be called as a unique flagship. If you are buying this mobile, you would be buying it for the Augmented and Virtual reality experience alone. When not using the AR/VR, the Zenfone AR is still a powerful mobile to handle all your smartphone needs with a powerful hardware and great camera.

Asus Zenfone AR

Design - 8.6
Performance - 8.3
Camera - 8.9
User Interface - 8.1
Battery - 7.8
Value for Money - 7.7
Display - 9.2

8.4

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About Giridhar

A Technology evangelist, Giridhar reviews gadgets and mobile applications. He is also a passionate photographer and a user experience designer by profession.

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