Asus Zenfone AR full review
The Asus Zenfone AR is the first smartphone to offer support for Project Tango and Google Daydream, Google’s augmented- and virtual reality platforms. It boasts an advanced sensor array to provide the best AR experience possible – but how does it perform in real life, and can it compete with the best smartphones of 2017?
We’ve spent some time with the Asus Zenfone AR, and here’s what we thought.
Update: Google has announced that it is shutting down its Project Tango program, deciding to instead get behind ARCore, the company's equivalent to Apple's ARKit. Announced in a tweet, Google will end support for Tango on 1 March 2018, at which point no more apps and games will be available to download.
This is bad news for the Zenfone AR and its array of Tango sensors, as content for the platform is already scarce and it won't be getting any better. We've adjusted the score and verdict accordingly.
UK pricing and availability
Back when the Asus Zenfone AR was first announced at CES 2017, there was no mention of a possible UK release. Asus isn’t a strong smartphone brand in the UK, so it wasn’t a huge surprise at the time.
Fast forward to July 2017 and Asus confirmed that the Asus Zenfone AR is headed to the UK, and is now available to order from Asus for £799.99.
Design and build
The Asus Zenfone AR nails the high-end look while using different materials to the glass-and-metal mashup featured on the majority of 2017 flagships. Don’t get us wrong – there’s still glass and metal, but much of the rear of the smartphone is covered in a soft touch leather.
While some may be confused by the inclusion of leather on a smartphone, it’s a smart move by Asus – along with providing a softer feel and a touch of old-school class, the leather is extremely grippy and makes it easy to comfortably hold the smartphone with one hand. Ideal if you’re planning on utilising the AR capabilities of the smartphone or if you’re simply a little clumsy.
That soft leather back is combined with a sandblasted aluminium alloy frame with all the usual bells and whistles, from high-end chamfers that run along the edges of the display to the slight curvature of the edges of the body to make it more ergonomically friendly.
While the Zenfone AR doesn’t sport the bezel-less design popular with other 2017 flagships, it’s still a gorgeous smartphone packing a 5.7in display in a surprisingly thin form factor. It measures in at 158.7 x 77.7 x 9mm due to the slightly curved rear and protruding camera setup – although there’s good reason for the extra camera bulk, which we’ll come to below.
It’s also surprisingly lightweight considering the amount of technology packed inside. In fact, it’s lighter than Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus (188g), weighing in at 170g, despite having a larger display and battery.
The Home button features a built-in fingerprint scanner for extra security, making it easier to access your smartphone. It’s a standard mechanical button that clicks as you push it down, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, most 2017 flagships feature a solid-state Home button that vibrates when touched to simulate click feedback.
The solid-state nature provides more of a premium experience, something that we don’t feel when using the standard Home button on the Zenfone AR. It’s a minor detail when the phone can do so much, but it’s still worth considering as it’s a feature of the phone you’ll be using frequently.
Potential buyers will also be happy to find out that the Zenfone AR sports a 3.5mm headphone jack at the bottom of the device, alongside a USB-C port.
If you’re not a fan of the black look of the smartphone, you’re sadly out of luck – unlike many other smartphones on the market, the Asus Zenfone AR is available in a single colour option.
Features and spec
While the Asus Zenfone AR may look like a standard flagship smartphone on the surface, it’s when you delve into its features and specification that it really shines.
The Asus Zenfone AR sports a 5.7in Super AMOLED display with a QHD (1440 x 2560) resolution, boasting an incredible 515 pixels per inch. The quality of the display is amazing, offering crisp text and images with accurate colour reproduction, and is protected by Gorilla Glass 4, making it resistant (but not immune) to scratches.
It also boasts an incredibly fast 1 millisecond response time and 2 millisecond persistence, making it more than enough to provide a high-quality, lag-free Google Daydream experience. In fact, it’s one of the largest Daydream-compatible smartphones on the market at the moment alongside the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus.
Like many other 2017 flagships, the Zenfone AR supports an always-on display, although this isn’t enabled by default.
But while the display provides incredible detail, we must admit that we’re slightly underwhelmed by its brightness. Even with adaptive brightness turned off and the brightness turned to max, it’s not as bright as its rivals, making it difficult to use in direct sunlight when out and about.
Processor, RAM and storage
The Asus Zenfone AR features the 14nm Qualcomm Snapdragon 821, specifically optimised for Project Tango’s AR capabilities. Asus worked closely with Qualcomm to distribute the various computer vision workloads, allowing for the best quality AR experience possible – but we’ll come to that in a bit more detail below.
Alongside the Snapdragon 821 processor, you’ll find a whopping 8GB of RAM and a Qualcomm Adreno 530 GPU, which is more than enough power to handle the graphical demands that come with augmented- and virtual reality.
In terms of storage, you can choose between 64- 128- and 256GB, all expandable by up to 256GB via the included microSD card slot.
We’ll come to our benchmark results later to see how it compares to the competition, but generally speaking, the Zenfone AR is a powerful beast. It can handle just about anything you can throw at it, including AR apps and detailed 3D games available on Google Play. Accessing the multitasking menu, switching between apps, activating the camera and more – all of it was instant without even a hint of stutter or lag.
Keep reading to find out about the Zenfone's AR and VR capabilities, along with information on battery life, cameras and software.