Asus ZenFone AR first impressions: An impressive technological feat with an upmarket price-tag

Asus has launched its latest smartphone, Asus ZenFone AR in the Indian market. According to Asus, ZenFone AR is world’s first smartphone to support both Tango as well as Google Daydream technologies out of the box. The company has priced the device at Rs 49,999 and it has gone on sale from 4 PM on 13 July 2017 as Flipkart exclusive.

This device is an actual consumer product instead of a developer prototype that developers were working on to develop apps using Tango’s depth sensing and environment learning capabilities. Asus is hoping that this device will push Augmented Reality as well as Virtual Reality to the main stream using one single device that is capable of handling both AR as well as VR content.

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ZenFone AR is not exactly competing with the flagship devices for the latest and greatest specifications. But instead, it is trying to forge a new category with the help of the hardware that packs innovation that is rarely seen in a consumer product. We have seen and reviewed a number of ZenFone devices but this one stands part from the ZenFone lineup as well as rest of the flagship devices that the technology industry has witnessed in recent months. The only thing that I can compare this device is to the original Moto Z with the Moto Mods. However, does the device manage to live up to the cutting edge technology that it comes packed with? Let’s have a quick look at how the Asus ZenFone AR fares in the world full of smartphones with ‘the latest and greatest.’

Design and Build

One thing that impressed me more than the technology in the smartphone was the considerably sleek profile of the device. I know that the 5.7-inch form factor of the device helps maintain the slimness of the device but I was hoping for it to be thicker than what I saw.

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Asus has added a premium ‘burnished’ leather finish to the back of the device while the front remains an all-glass affair. The edges of the device are made of ‘Areo-space Aluminum’ giving it a metallic frame.

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The phone feels solid and sturdy in hand without any squeaking parts. The front of the device packs a proximity sensor and front camera on the top along with navigation buttons and the home button with an integrated fingerprint scanner at the bottom. You will find the volume rocker and power button towards the upper portion on right side of the device. The bottom side of the device packs the 3.5-mm headphone jack towards the left side, USB 2.0 Type-C reversible port at the center along with the speaker grill towards the right side.

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The top side of the smartphone comes with the Nano-SIM slot while there are no controls on the left side of the device. Moving towards the back you will find three camera sensors including the primary 23 MP camera sensor. The other two sensors, the first one with a fish-eye camera helps the device keep a track of the motion happening on the front of the camera at any given time while the second camera sensor uses IR (Infra-red) projector that helps the device sense the depth of the surroundings.

Features

Zenfone AR will feature a 5.7-inch quad-HD (1440 x 2560 pixels) Super AMOLED display with Corning Gorilla Glass 4.The smartphone comes with 4G-enabled Dual Nano-SIM slots with the second slot acting as a hybrid slot. It offers expandable memory option up to 2 TB using an external microSD card. The smartphone will be powered by a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor clocked at 2.34 GHz with Adreno 530.

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Camera specifications in this smartphone are what make it special and help with the depth sensing, motion tracking, and area learning capabilities. Zenfone AR features a 23 MP camera module with f/2.0 aperture at the back. The rear side of the smartphone packs two more camera modules that track the motion and depth separately.

Display

The device will feature a 5.7-inch quad-HD (1440 x 2560 pixels) Super AMOLED display with Corning Gorilla Glass 4. Asus claims that the display has over 100 percent colour gamut in the NTSC colour space. The company pointed out that this will help users achieve more contrast along with richer colour.

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The display of ZenFone AR packs Tru2Life Technology to ensure that users get better and more vibrant colours. The smartphone display did not suffer from reflections and it had good viewing angles.

Chipset, RAM, and storage

The smartphone will be powered by a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor clocked at 2.34 GHz with Adreno 530. Qualcomm Vice President Larry Paulson detailed on how Qualcomm worked with Asus to optimize 821 for ZenFone AR.

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The device packs a staggering 8 GB RAM with 128 GB internal storage with expandable microSD storage to increase storage with the help of up to 2 TB. The microSD storage slot using the second Nano-SIM slot and does not come with a dedicated slot. The overall performance of the device was good but there were occasional ‘micro’ lags while launching Tango apps because of the immense amount of processing required. There things can be easily fixed by software optimizations.

OS and Software

ZenFone AR comes with Android 7.0 Nougat out of the box with Asus ZenUI 3.0 on top. Asus has worked in a partnership with Google to be one of the forerunners in developing ‘Project Tango’ making it the first smartphone to support Tango as well as Daydream. The key highlight of the smartphone is the Tango and Daydream apps supported by the operating system.

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Tango apps on one hand may look quite simple right now but the process to ensure that Augmented reality works properly without bugs is a difficult thing to achieve. The experience may not look smooth on video or any kind of play back but it looks considerably smooth while experiencing it in the first hand.

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I got to test ‘Google Measure’ that allows users to mark 3D structures in space and measure the dimensions of the shapes along with ‘iStaging’ for furniture shopping and games like ‘Slingshot Island’, ‘Fantastic beasts and where to find them’. Almost all apps worked as intended without any glitches or crashes.

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Camera

The company has developed and included PixelMaster 3.0 camera technology with the Sony IMX318 sensor powering the 23 MP primary camera with f/2.0 aperture. Things start getting interesting as two other camera sensors on the back help with the depth sensing, motion tracking, and area learning capabilities.

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The primary camera comes with four-axis optical image stabilization, 3x zoom, TriTech autofocus that combines phase detection autofocus and contrast with second generation laser auto focus. It also comes with 3-axis electronic image stabilization for videos.

Asus has covered the primary camera with Sapphire to ensure that the camera lens cannot be easily damaged. The rear camera module will allow users to shoot 4K video at 24 frames per second in addition to the usual 1080p. It also packs an 8 MP camera module with f/2.0 aperture on the front.

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The camera performance was decent in the limited amount of testing that I did with the camera. The software was snappy with no sign of lag. Talking about the camera software, it offers a number of modes ranging from Auto, Manual, HDR Pro, Beautification, Super Resolution, Children, Low Light, QR code, Night, Depth of Field, Filter, Selfie, GIF Animation, Panorama, Miniature, Time Rewind, Smart Remove, All Smiles, and Slow Motion to Time Lapse. Super resolution takes four photos from the 23 MP camera and then combines them into one photo of 92 MP resolution.

Connectivity and Battery

Asus has placed special emphasis on the Audio experience in the ZenFone AR with the addition of a five-magnet speaker, NXP smart amplifier, support for Hi-res audio, DTS HeadphoneX, 7.1-inch virtual surround sound with the help of the speakers, Asus has also added USB 2.0 Type-C reversible connector, FM radio, GPS, Bluetooth v4.2 and Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac along with Wi-Fi Direct and hotspot as connectivity options. It also comes with an accelerometer, gyroscope, compass, barometer, fingerprint and proximity sensors.

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The device will be powered by a 3,300 mAh non-removable lithium ion battery with support for Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0.

Conclusion

ZenFone AR looks like an extremely impressive device but the price of Rs. 49,999 could hurt its prospects in a price conscious market like India. The company needs to educate and advertise its different (and impressive) AR and VR functionalities to make sure that people know why they are important instead of just pure buzz words.

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The overall feel and experience of the device is good but we will stop short of passing any judgment before pacing the smartphone through our tests and benchmarks as part of a comprehensive review. Till then, the Asus ZenFone AR has a lot going for it and the company can improve the package further with some optimizations.


Published Date: Jul 13, 2017 10:30 pm | Updated Date: Jul 13, 2017 10:30 pm