Phones

Asus ZenFone AR in better shape and size to Tango

Viewed from the front, the Asus ZenFone AR looks like any regular phablet. The one distinguishing feature is its larger-than-usual camera bump on its back, which houses the camera and sensors necessary for Tango.
Viewed from the front, the Asus ZenFone AR looks like any regular phablet. The one distinguishing feature is its larger-than-usual camera bump on its back, which houses the camera and sensors necessary for Tango. PHOTO: ASUS

The smartphone packs all the tools for the technology in a manageable 5.7-inch body

The Asus ZenFone AR is the second phone to hit Singapore's shores that comes equipped with Google's augmented reality (AR) software, Tango, built into both the hardware and software of the phone.

But unlike last year's Lenovo Phab 2 Pro - the first Tango-ready phone made commercially available - the ZenFone AR is of a more welcoming size and build, making it a more palatable choice for consumers here looking to be early adopters of the technology.

The Phab 2 Pro was a massive beast of a phablet due to its large 6.4-inch screen squeezed into an almost 7-inch body. The ZenFone AR, on the other hand, is a manageable 5.7-inch smartphone, which is more in line with traditional phablet sizes found in, say, Samsung's Note series.

Tango is Google's AR computing platform which uses motion-tracking cameras, depth sensors and area learning to virtually map out the real world around you and present a virtual overlay on it on the phone's screen.

Thus, Tango-ready phones require more hardware, such as the above-mentioned cameras and sensors, to be fitted onto the phone, making them bulkier and larger than most smartphones.

With this in mind, it is quite impressive to see that Asus has managed to squeeze all these into a comfortable, holdable handset.

Viewed from the front, the ZenFone AR looks like any regular phablet. The one distinguishing feature is its larger-than-usual camera bump on its back, which houses the camera and sensors necessary for Tango.

  • TECH SPECS

  • PRICE: $1,198

    PROCESSOR: Snapdragon 821 (Quad-core 2.35GHz)

    DISPLAY: 5.7-inch, Wide-quad HD Super Amoled , 2560 x 1440 pixels, 515ppi pixel density

    OPERATING SYSTEM: ZenUI 3.0 (Android 7.0)

    CAMERA: 23MP, f/2.0 (rear); 8MP, f/2.20 (front)

    MEMORY: 128GB (microSD expandable up to 2TB), 8GB RAM

    BATTERY: Non-removable 3,300 mAh


    RATING

    FEATURES: 4/5

    DESIGN: 5/5

    PERFORMANCE: 4/5

    BATTERY LIFE: 3/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 3/5

    OVERALL: 4/5

Tango is still a relatively new tech, being put to wider consumer use only about a year ago. As it stands, the AR apps out in the market are still finding their feet, vacillating between the fun and games, and the more serious.

Games like Slingshot Island and Woorld, which let you create virtual objects overlaid over the real world, are a novelty at best, although they have incredible value at entertaining young children.

There are potential-use cases for more serious apps. For example, Google provides a measurement app that can calculate the length and depth of objects in the world.

Yet it also comes with a warning that measurements are "estimations and may contain inaccuracies". And it is still finicky to use, demanding care and precision, and being prone to losing anchor points if the subject isn't clear enough.

And therein lies the problem with the current state of AR - for certain functions, physical methods such as using a measuring tape are still superior.

Overlaying a new colour scheme over a new car to see how it looks is a useful tool. But things that require exact precision still have some way to go before they work perfectly.

Local adopters will also have to resign themselves to the unavailability of many Tango apps here, as they are mainly rolled out for a United States-based market.

The ZenFone AR, which will be launched here on Saturday, has the specs to match the heavy demand AR puts on its hardware. Local sets come with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage, but the phone is unfortunately slowed down a little by its slightly outdated Snapdragon 821 chipset.

The powerful camera required for AR carries over to good photo quality overall, although there is a noticeable shutter lag that seems to plague most of Asus' phones. Its camera is slightly over-saturated, with colours that pop, albeit a little artificially.

As is to be expected, the ZenFone AR is priced at a premium by virtue of its Tango capabilities. Price-wise, it is on a par with, or pricier than, flagship smartphones, but is still lacking in terms of looks and performance.

The ZenFone AR is a step in the right direction for Tango-enabled smartphones in the future. But it's still not ready for prime-time consumer adoption, given its high price, and so will most likely endear itself to a select few Tango geeks and early tech adopters.

 •Verdict: Augmented reality is slowly becoming more useful, but the tech has some way to go before it is capable of mass adoption. The ZenFone AR is a good compromise between usability and the latest Tango tech, but that alone won't make it the smartphone of choice for most consumers.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 02, 2017, with the headline 'Asus ZenFone AR in better shape and size to Tango'. Print Edition | Subscribe