Verizon Asus ZenFone AR review: Futuristic tech demonstrated in a quality handset

  • Editors' rating
    7.8 Very good

Pros

  • High quality Super AMOLED screen and leather back
  • Good quality rear camera
  • Unique AR functionality
  • High capacity RAM, ample internal storage, and microSD card slot
  • ZenMotion gesture support

Cons

  • No water resistance
  • Average battery life

The Asus ZenFone AR was revealed at CES in January and is now available from Verizon Wireless for $648. It is the first smartphone to launch with both AR and VR support.

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I've been testing one for the last couple of weeks and was pleased to finally get a chance to get hands-on time with AR on a phone. Augmented reality is one of those technologies that is hard to really comprehend without trying yourself. While we are still in the early days of AR, there is a growing list of apps that make it clear there is real-life utility with AR, and I am excited about the possibilities.

Specifications

  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 quad-core
  • Display: 5.7 inch 2560x1440 pixels resolution AMOLED with Gorilla Glass 4
  • Operating system: Android 7.0 Nougat
  • RAM: 6GB
  • Storage: 128GB internal with microSD expansion card slot
  • Cameras: 23-megapixel Sony Exmor RS IMX318 rear camera with six-element Largan lens and sapphire glass, f/2.0 and OIS; front 8-megapixel with f/2.0 aperture
  • Battery: 3300mAh with Quick Charge 3.0 technology
  • Wireless connectivity: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2, NFC
  • Dimensions: 158.67 x 77.4 x 7.99mm and 175g

While the ZenFone AR doesn't have the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, it does have 6GB of RAM to power the AR experience, and I never noticed any slowdown in performance. Asus worked closely with Qualcomm and Google to enable the AR functionality on the Snapdragon 821, so it is understandable there wasn't time to enable this support on the Snapdragon 835.

Hardware

The ZenFone AR is a large black slab with a brilliant Super AMOLED screen and a burnished leather rear panel. The display looks great and is crisp and clear for viewing all VR and AR content. The ZenFone AR has a 79 percent screen-to-body ratio. The leather back panel gives the ZenFone AR an elegant look and makes it easy and comfortable to hold in your hand.

The rear camera module is quite large with three cameras, a flash, and a sensor (TriCam system) arranged in a large metal frame piece that rises above the back a millimeter or so. There is the main 23-megapixel rear camera, motion tracking rear camera, and depth-sensing rear camera.

The ZenFone AR has a similar capacitive button setup as the HTC U11, with the back button on the left and recent apps button on the right. The oblong center home button is a physical button that also serves as the fingerprint scanner.

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The USB Type-C port is centered on the bottom with the 3.5mm headset jack off to the left. A speaker is found on the right side of the bottom. Asus promotes the NXP smart amp of the ZenFone AR and it does sound good. There are better-sounding speakers on other phones, but these are solid. The ZenFone AR is also certified to provide Hi-Res Audio (HRA). The headphone jack supports DTS Headphone:X virtual sound support.

Software and services

The ZenPhone AR is powered by Android 7.0 Nougat, and the evaluation device I have includes the June 1, 2017 Android security patch. The ZenUI interface is a fairly stock experience with a customized notification area and Asus-specific settings. The settings help you customize your experience and optimize the hardware performance.

There are quite a few Verizon apps loaded on the ZenFone AR, including Caller Name ID, Verizon Cloud, Message+, My Verizon, NFL Mobile, Slacker Radio, VZ Navigator, Verizon Voice Mail. Many of these utilies are useful, and you can hide the rest if you like.

There are also free ZenFone AR exclusive apps that demonstrate the power of VR and AR. These include Daydream, Google Measure, and Wayfair. A Tango shortcut icon leads to a store front so you can download and install more apps. I downloaded and tested Gap Dressing Room, Lowe's Vision, Chelsea Kicker, Hot Wheels Track Builder Tango, and Dinos Among Us.

The Google Measure app lets you use the cameras and sensors on the ZenFone AR to measure the world around you. I found it to be very accurate when compared to measurements of spaces where I had known distances. As a professional engineer who regularly conducts shipchecks, the ability to accurate take measurements with my phone is very useful.

The Wayfair and Lowe's Vision apps provided interactive approaches to checking out furniture, decorating, flooring, and other home improvement options. This functionality will likely appeal to the masses, as well as to real estate brokers, interior designers, and contractors helping you improve your home or office.

The Hot Wheels and Dinos Among Us are just fun apps, but I honestly couldn't put down the Hot Wheels track builder app for an hour, as I went back to my childhood, building and testing out various tracks and vehicles.

The Asus ZenFone AR also includes gesture support accessible in a section of the settings labeled ZenMotion. ZenMotion gestures include double-tap to turn off the screen or wake up the display. You can use gestures with the screen off to launch apps. Default gestures include a W to open weather, S to open the front-facing camera, E to open the email, C to open the camera, and more.

Daily usage experiences and conclusion

The ZenFone AR provides a high-end platform to experience augmented reality and virtual reality. There are more AR apps available than I have seen before and many are quite useful. When I showed the AR apps to family and friends who have never seen AR in use before, they were very impressed and excited about the possibilities.

The ZenPhone AR also has an extensive collection of shooting modes, possibly more than any other smartphone I have seen. While the majority of people shoot in auto mode, as cameras on phones continue to get better and better the awareness of camera functionality increases. Shooting modes include auto, manual, HDR pro, beautification, super resolution (92 megapixel), children, low light, QR code, night, depth of field, filter, selfie, panorama, miniature, time rewind, slow motion, and time lapse. You can tap and hold each of these mode icons and move it around to the optimal position for your daily usage.

The ZenFone AR is reasonably priced on Verizon at $648 or $27 per month. This is a good price for a high-end smartphone with unique AR capability. It is built well for the enterprise with AR/VR, high-capacity RAM and storage, and more. I would like to have seen some level of water resistance for field use and the phone does heat up with extensive AR use.

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Specifications

Cellular
Type Smartphone
Operating System Android 6.0 Marshmallow
Processor
Clock Speed 2.35 GHz
Manufacturer Qualcomm
Processor Core Qty Quad-core
Display
Diagonal Size 6.0 in

Topics: Mobility, Google, Reviews, Smartphones

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