The Zenfone AR was one of two devices announced by ASUS at CES 2017, and featured at Computex 2017. It packs one of the most powerful chips to date, with the rest of the specsheet boasting impressive numbers. But that’s not the end of the story, as it’s also the world’s first device that is Tango-enabled and Daydream-ready at the same time, which means it’s powerful enough to run AR content, and is also compatible with Google’s VR Headset.
With AR being touted as one of the next big things in the tech world, this phone currently stands in the future-proof segment, at least judging by how the technology has evolved. So does it live up to all the hype? Or is it just another phone with a feature that looks promising, but will never take off? Let’s find out in this review.

Design and Build Quality

The design of the Zenfone AR reminds me of the classic Zenfone 6, especially when looking at the top section with that ASUS logo.

It uses the same key layout from the likes of the Zenfone 3 Ultra, which involves two capacitive buttons on the left and right, with a more emphasized power button in the middle, which in this case also serves as a fingerprint scanner. It does feel a bit plasticky though.

You’ll find the power button and volume rocker on the right, and these too, feel very plasticky and wobbly. The SIM Card slot is on the opposite side, and uses a hybrid SIM tray, which is again, a big why for me. Triple slot trays should be a standard now.

The most special part of this phone is probably it’s back. The leathery surface makes it easier to hold the phone with one hand, despite having a 5.7-inch display. And then of course, there’s the tri camera module, which is composed of the main point and shoot camera, and two more dedicated cameras for depth perception and motion tracking. Seriously, this part is just beautiful to look at, especially when you imagine the sophisticated technology in it, and how it was precisely crafted.

At the bottom is a USB Type-C Port, along with the 3.5mm headphone jack, and microphone.

Display

The Quad HD display in the Zenfone AR is probably one of the most vibrant ones i’ve seen, coming from a Zenfone 3. The colors look great, the text is as sharp as it can be, and motion looks super smooth and fluid. It’s also very bright, and content is perfectly visible even in direct sunlight.

There’s also an Always-on Panel that displays the time as well as some notifications, which is a nice to have.

Performance

While the Snapdragon 821 CPU is still considered as one of the most powerful processors today, it’s bound to get left behind when OEMs start packing in much newer chips such as the Snapdragon 835. There’s also 6GB of RAM, if you’re into heavy multi-tasking.

 

In any case, the Zenfone AR performed well as expected in terms of daily tasks, and is also a monster in graphics intensive games. NBA 2K17 was able to run silky smooth even at the highest settings.

I tried out some AR apps such as AR Pets, which lets you see a virtual dog, cat, and other animals on the actual floor, table, or any spot in the actual place you’re in.

There’s also Slingshot Island, which lets you throw rocks on a virtual island placed in your room, and an app which lets you place a virtual BMW car. The Zenfone AR was able to run these apps well, but I did notice the heat buildup at the back of the device.

Camera

The Zenfone AR’s 23MP main camera was able to produce good quality shots with good contrast and accurate colors. The level of detail was also impressive, and the focusing speed is more than fast enough.

As for selfies, it pretty much matches that of the Zenfone 3’s front camera. Shots aren’t the clearest i’ve seen, but its decent enough.

The camera app offers a lot of modes that you can play with. There’s also a manual mode for tweaking each element of your shots.

Audio

Sound quality from the speaker is decent: it’s loud, and has clear emphasis on treble. Bass, however isn’t that evident. Switch to headphones, and the experience gets a whole lot better. Vocals are clearer, and bass is more existent without being too punchy.

There’s Audio Wizard, which lets you adjust the sound settings to your preference by adding bass/treble, or using the built-in equalizer.

Software

Personally, I see ZenUI as one of the more fun-oriented takes on Android. It’s colorful, lively, and offers a ton of customization, though yes, admittedly, it’s also a bit of a resource hog. But with 6GB of RAM in there, well, bring it on!

You’ll find the familiar features such as double tap to wake/sleep and Splendid, which allows you to tweak the overall display settings to a warmer or cooler tone, depending on your preference.

The menus are very straightforward, and avoids using confusing icons and terminologies. The on-screen keyboard is also very responsive, and UI navigation is smooth and fluid.

Battery

Then Zenfone AR should last a whole 9 hour work shift with light to moderate usage. It’s also compatible with Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0, so it shouldn’t take long for you to be on the go again once it runs out of juice.

Verdict

The Zenfone AR is a glimpse into the future of the smartphone. Having tested its AR and VR capabilities, it’s evidence that soon enough we’ll be able to do even more amazing things with more engaging and creative ways of interacting with content.

The phone itself looks premium and sophisticated, but is ruined by an underwhelming build quality. The display is eye-candy, and the performance is top notch, but the choice of CPU is also questionable, and will be left behind when manufacturers start to build devices from the latest chips from the market. Then there’s the average battery life.

There’s still no word regarding the pricing, but don’t expect this to come in cheap. That being said, it’s only for those who are really into AR and VR, and can live with it’s shortcomings such as last year’s processor.

The Good

  • Design
  • Display
  • General and gaming performance
  • AR/VR features
  • Software
  • Camera Performance
  • Audio Quality (Headphones)

The Not So Good

  • Build quality
  • Uses a processor from last year
  • Average battery life
  • Expected steep price tag

Asus Zenfone AR Specs:

  • 2.35GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 Quad-Core Processor
  • 6GB/8GB of LPDDR4 RAM, up to 256GB of internal storage expandable via microSD card (up to 2TB)
  • 5.7-inch WQHD Super AMOLED Display (2560 x 1440 pixels), Gorilla Glass 4 Protection
  • 23MP Rear Camera, f/2.0, 6P Largan Lens, OIS, TriTech AF System
  • 8MP Front Camera, f/2.0, 85˚ wide-viewing angle
  • TriCam System for Tango (Motion Tracking, Depth Sensing)
  • ASUS ZenUI 3.0 on top of Android 7.0 Nougat
  • 3,300mAh battery, Power Delivery 2.0, Quick Charge 3.0
  • Dual SIM, 4G/LTE
  • NFC
  • 5-magnet speaker, DTS Headphone:X
  • USB Type-C
  • Sensors: Accelerator, E-Compass, Gyroscope, Proximity, Hall, Ambient light, RGB, IR, Fingerprint, Barometer

 

 

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Emman has been writing technical and feature articles since 2010. Prior to this, he became one of the instructors at Asia Pacific College in 2008, and eventually landed a job as Business Analyst and Technical Writer at Integrated Open Source Solutions for almost 3 years.

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