Zenfone AR review: The best Google Tango phone so far – PCWorld

The Asus Zenfone AR is a study in contrasts. On one hand, it has last year’s Snapdragon 821 processor… but it also packs up to 8GB of RAM. It has three rear cameras… but only one is used for taking photos. And while the Zenfone AR is on the bleeding edge of Google’s Tango AR and Daydream VR ambitions, it doesn’t have common premium features such as wireless charging and water resistance.

zenfone ar front Chris Hebert/IDG

Don’t be fooled by the design—there’s an array of tech inside.

That said, there’s really only one reason anyone would buy this phone, and it’s not specs. It’s Project Tango. The Zenfone AR is only the second phone to support Google’s nascent augmented reality platform, and it’s the first offering that’s actually phone sized. Compared to the more-tablet-than-phablet 6.4-inch Lenovo Phab 2 Pro, the Zenfone AR is positively petite.

So, what you have here is the first AR and VR device that can comfortably fit in your pocket. That’s a pretty good selling point, but with a price tag of $650, Tango and Daydream alone might not be enough to entice anyone beyond developers and hard-core AR enthusiasts. And I’m not sure the rest of the Zenfone AR will convince anyone else.

Nothing zen about the design

The Zenfone AR isn’t going to win any design awards. Its front plate is very 2016, with big bezels surrounding a flat, 5.7-inch screen, and a giant clicky home button/fingerprint sensor that’s flanked by a pair of old-school light-up keys. Bringing it all home is the Asus name plastered across the top in reflective capital letters.

zenfone ar thickness Michael Simon/IDG

The Zenfone AR is a touch thicker than its competitors, but it packs more RAM and a massive camera system.

At 9mm, the phone is thicker than most of its peers, but there’s a reason for it: Around the back you’ll find a massive tri-camera system that looks impressive affixed to a brushed metal plate. The curved back and chamfered edges help to hide the extra bulk, however, and while there’s a slight camera bump, it’s less irksome than it is on other phones.

Asus has wrapped the back of the phone in a textured black synthetic leather that makes the Zenfone AR feel more like an antique Leica camera than a modern smartphone. Grippy and scratch-resistant, it’s a refreshing change from the usual glass and metal, although it does come at the expense of wireless charging and water resistance.

zenfone ar front logo Chris Hebert/IDG

You’ll never forget that you’re using an Asus phone.

But even though the Zenfone AR has the looks of a pedestrian mid-tier phone, it still represents a pretty big leap for AR. Asus has focused nearly all of its efforts on gearing it up for Tango and Daydream, and the fact that it has crammed an impressive array of tech into such a small and lightweight package speaks to how much AR has matured. You’ll still need two hands to use it, but the Zenfone AR is a truly pocketable augmented and virtual reality machine, and it portends good things for the future of the platform.

A display built for AR

While the Zenphone AR isn’t much to look at, its screen most certainly is. The 5.7-inch, 1440×2560 Super AMOLED display has a pixel density of 515 ppi. That’s not quite as high as the Galaxy S8, but you won’t be able to discern the difference without conducting a battery of tests.

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