ASUS ZenFone AR Review: World's First Google Tango And Daydream VR Equipped Smartphone

ASUS ZenFone AR Camera, Daydream And Tango

Camera performance has always been a point of focus for smartphones, and lately the big thing in mobile photography is dual cameras. This is to allow for depth sensing, to enable professional looking pictures with depth of field effects (among other things), where the subject is crystal clear and the background is blurred, or vice versa in certain situations. This is something the ZenFone AR brings to the table, in addition to AR and VR capabilities.

ZenFone AR Camera Performance

ASUS ZenFone AR Depth Sensors

ASUS equipped its ZenFone AR with a 23-megapixel rear camera (Sony IMX318 sensor). It has an f/2.0 aperture, super fast 0.03-second TriTech autofocus with subject tracking, and both optical image stabilization (for photos) and electronic image stabilization (for videos).

The rear is also home to a motion tracking camera and a depth sensing camera, so there are three sensors in all. This is mostly to aid with AR experiences, though the depth sensing camera also helps with the aforementioned DOF field effects. Here is an example:

ASUS ZenFone AR DOF Before ASUS ZenFone AR DOF After

Shown above is the same photograph before blurring out the background (left) and after (right). Notice how the water bottle is clear in both shots, but in the photo on the right, it stands out more. While this is a crude example, experienced photographers are able to manipulate photos in such a manner on the ZenFone AR without turning to third-party photo editing software.—there is a handy slider to adjust the level of blur. The same goes for less experienced photographers who want their photos to look a bit more professional.

Here are some more sample snapshots:

ASUS ZenFone AR Photo ASUS ZenFone AR Photo

ASUS ZenFone AR Photo ASUS ZenFone AR Photo

ASUS ZenFone AR Photo ASUS ZenFone AR Photo

ASUS ZenFone AR Photo ASUS ZenFone AR Photo

The ZenFone AR really excels in lower light situations, where it is able to capture subjects and scenes with minimal noise. And if need be, you can turn on the flash to help with lower light photography as well.

In regular and brightly lit environments, the ZenFone AR does a good job of picking up on details, but the colors are sometimes over saturated. This can be particularly frustrating if you are into taking nature photos. The pictures are serviceable, they just do not offer true-to-life colors under all lighting conditions.

Taking Selfies

A little less exciting is the 8-megapixel camera on the front. It does not benefit from having additional sensors like the back camera does, but for taking selfies, it gets the job done. Here are some examples:

ASUS ZenFone AR Front Camera

As is often the case, lighting is key. The front camera fared a bit better with indoor lighting when taking selfies, offering up deeper colors and more natural skin tones.

ZenFone AR With Tango


This is where the real fun begins. Google's Tango platform is all about bringing AR experiences to the masses, and the ZenFone AR is one of just two smartphones built with Tango in mind. Shown above is a sleek BMW i8 parked my lawn. In real life, this would set me back over $140,000. But using the app BMW built for Tango, I can plop one on the ground and take a 360-degree tour using the ZenFone AR.

ASUS ZenFone AR BMW Wheels ASUS ZenFone AR Interior 

Using this app, we're able to customize the BMW i8 and see how it would look with different wheel options and different interior colors. If you are planning to show off your ZenFone AR and its unique capabilities, this will be one of the first apps you will turn to, as it has the gee-whiz factor to it. But is it actually useful? Well, we suppose if you are in the market for this specific car, this would give you an opportunity to see how it looks and how it would fit in your driveway. Beyond that, it is a gimmicky.

Therein lies the biggest issue with AR at the moment. While some of the early concepts are admittedly neat, most of them feel like they were built to demonstrate the technology rather than leverage it in a useful way. The BMW app is a good example of this. If other automakers were to take the time to develop apps that let you customize a variety of vehicles and then perhaps even order one to your exact specifications, then there would be something to this. But as it stands, AR is a cool technology to show off and play around with once every so often.

ASUS ZenFone AR Wayfair

One of the Tango apps we found a bit more useful is the Wayfair app. It lets you shop items and view certain ones in 3D, which you can place in your home to see how they look or fit. The experience could use some more fleshing out, but can still be handy in certain instances. In the shot above, we played around with a painting to fill in the blank space in a kitchen above the sink.

There are a limited number of items that are available in 3D, and therefore able to be manipulated. For the ones that are not available in 3D, Wayfair still lets you view them, cropped from their background and placed into yours. It is not ideal by any stretch, but at least is something.

Other apps offer similar functionality, such as Lowe's Vision. It goes a little more in depth by letting you measure out spaces in your home and then placing objects into them, but the overall idea is the same—it is about visualizing how certain items will look before committing to purchase.

ASUS ZenFone AR Tango Measure

One of the potentially biggest uses of Tango and AR in general is being able to measure objects, especially as it pertains to online shopping and seeing how an object will fit in certain spaces. We say "potential" because the technology needs some tweaking before it can be deliver on this kind of experience. In our testing, we found that measurements are hit or miss. The patio table in the photo above measures 37.99 inches on all four sides, or 96.49 centimeters. But using Google's Measure app for Tango, the ZenFone AR thought it was nearly twice as long at 1.6 meters (63 inches).

This is not just a problem for the ZenFone AR, but depth sensing technology in general. While it works very well for depth of field affects, the technology is just not ready for precise measurements, and by extension, deeper functionality that comes with it.

ASUS ZenFone AR Slingshot Island

Gaming with Tango is another area that holds potential, but ultimately needs some work. Shown above is Slingshot Island. It creates islands in your real-world space, and then you knock down a virtual castle using a slingshot. It feels like a poor man's Angry Birds. Small children may like it, but we can't help but feel this isn't the best way to leverage AR. It might be more engaging if the game actually used your real-life environment and built objects in and around it, but all it really does is plop and island on top of your surroundings, then give you the option of moving it around and adjusting the height.

ZenFone AR With Google Daydream

ASUS ZenFone AR Daydream View

Tango is only half of the equation with the ZenFone AR, however, since it also supports Daydream, which is Google's VR platform. The ZenFone AR is the only smartphone to support both. To take advantage of the latter, you will need to buy a $79 Daydream View headset, as one is not included with the phone itself.

We do not have a Daydream View headset on hand to test on the ZenFone AR, though we have a pretty good idea of how it works, as it is similar to Samsung's Gear VR and we have used Daydream in the past. The phone does all of the heavy lifting, allowing you to take in different VR experiences. At present, there are a variety of Daydream apps, some of which are free and others that cost several dollars.

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