ASUS ZenFone AR review: Switch between physical and virtual realities

Rating

The smartphone experience on the ASUS ZenFone AR

One of the first things you observe about the ASUS ZenFone AR is how thin and light it is, considering its hardware specs. You would expect to have a heavier and bulkier device in your hands. Yet, ASUS managed to create a thinner and lighter smartphone than we expected.

ASUS ZenFone AR

The ASUS ZenFone AR, with its 5.7 inch screen is bigger than many smartphones, but it is still small and light enough to fit in your pocket.

Regarding speed and performance, the ASUS ZenFone AR has more than you will ever need in normal day to day use. The high-end processor, the video chip, and the large amount of very fast RAM, are all working together for running any app or game you want, flawlessly.

The ASUS ZenFone AR also does well when it comes to signal reception and 4G LTE speed. It managed to keep a good and stable mobile connection even when we used it in a room with thick concrete walls, where other smartphones have trouble keeping a connection with our mobile operator.

While this smartphone is very powerful, its battery is not. If you use it as a regular smartphone and you do not explore virtual and augmented reality, it can last you for a day between charges. However, when we played with VR/AR apps, the battery did not manage to last for more than a few hours.

The screen on the ASUS ZenFone AR is bright and has good color reproduction. Seeing what is displayed on it is easy even in bright light environments. It also does a very good job if you want to watch a movie or YouTube videos on it. However, even if the loudspeaker is good, we recommend that you use the headphones that are bundled with this smartphone. They offer a better level of quality and immersion.

Gaming is also a breeze for the ASUS ZenFone AR. Even if the screen resolution is high, the processor and the video chip have the power necessary to offer you both speed and video quality.

ASUS ZenFone AR

The ASUS ZenFone AR offers an excellent smartphone experience. Mobile signal reception is good and so are its 4G LTE connections. Seeing that every hardware component on this smartphone is high-end, you cannot complain about how apps or games work on it. Performance is great on all levels. The battery is its only weakness.

The camera experience on the ASUS ZenFone AR

The main camera found on the ASUS ZenFone AR has a Sony IMX 318 sensor with a maximum resolution of 23 megapixels. The camera has an aperture of f/2.0 and has a 4-axis Optical Image Stabilization system for picture taking and a 3-axis Electronic Image Stabilization system that is used when shooting videos. There is also a Dual-LED flash helping the camera when it has to work in environments with dim light.

Thanks to its laser sensor, the ASUS ZenFone AR focuses very fast on your subjects, and the quality of the photos you take is good. The photos that you take with this smartphone in good light conditions have good colors, contrast, and sharp edges. We especially loved the way the camera handles macro photography - the bokeh effect is easily achieved and focusing on the subjects works fast. The only problem appears when you shoot photos at night or in poor lighting conditions when the camera adds quite a bit of noise. The front camera has 8 megapixels and an aperture of f/2.0, and it does a decent job at taking selfies. If you like beautification effects, then you will like this smartphone's front camera too. In the gallery below, you can get an idea of how the two cameras perform in real life.

The ASUS ZenFone AR can record videos at a maximum 4K resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels. It does well when it comes to video recording but does not excel at stabilizing the image. Although it has Electronic Image Stabilization system, the videos we shot are shaky.

To get a better idea, here is a sample of a video where we filmed a panorama. This shows what to expect when there is not much movement involved in your videos:

If you want to see how the smartphone does when it has to record videos with moving subjects, here is a sample that we recorded, of a moving train:

ASUS ZenFone AR has a good camera that does not disappoint. It is especially good at macro photography. However, it could have been better at stabilizing the image when recording videos.

Android 7.0 Nougat, ASUS ZenUI and bundled apps

The ASUS ZenFone AR comes with Android 7.0 installed and with the ASUS ZenUI user interface. ASUS ZenUI looks good and adds some customization options that you do not find in the default Android operating system. For instance, you can create folders inside your app drawer, and you can download and enable a new theme with a new background and new icons, with just a few taps.

ASUS ZenFone AR

In addition to the default Android apps, ASUS ZenFone AR also includes other apps that were preinstalled. First, let's talk about the mixed reality apps that are included:

ASUS ZenFone AR
  • Tango - gives you an introduction to Tango, Google's platform for augmented reality.

  • Daydream - demos what Google's virtual reality platform for Android smartphones can do. For Daydream to work, you must also have a Daydream View headset.

  • AR & VR:
  • Measure - a Tango-based app that allows you to do measurements by pointing the smartphone towards real things around you.

  • iStaging - another Tango-based app that lets you try new furniture and see how it looks in your house, without purchasing it. Moreover, it also lets you buy furniture, if you want.

  • Slingshot Island - an augmented reality game that uses your smartphone as a motion controller, to sling projectiles. It is a fun game for a while.

  • Towers for Tango - an (AR/VR?) game that we could not test because it asks you for money before even letting you see a demo. It is not a good approach, if you ask us.

  • Within - uses Google Cardboard to show you various VR videos. It is a good app that can entertain you for a while.

  • Twilight Pioneers - an RPG game that uses VR. It uses Google Daydream, which means that you must have a Daydream View headset to be able to play it.

  • Visualiser - an app that uses augmented reality to let you explore the BMW i3 and BMW i8, both inside and outside. Cool stuff if you ask us! 🙂

ASUS ZenFone AR

There are also some games bundled, which are not connected to Virtual or Augmented Reality experiences:

  • N.OV.A Legacy - a 3D sci-fi FPS game that we enjoyed playing quite a lot. Take care though not to let your children play it that is unless they are 12 years or more. The game is a shooter after all.

  • Marvel Future Fight - an action-RPG game featuring super heroes and villains from the Marvel Universe.

  • Asphalt 8 - a car racing game with good visuals.

Next, you have several standard apps that ASUS tends to bundle on most of its smartphones:

  • BeautyLive - an app that lets you use the beautification effect during live streaming video on popular platforms like YouTube, Facebook or Instagram.

  • File Manager - you can use it to see and manage the files found on your ASUS ZenFone AR. Everybody has to have a file manager on their smartphone, so this is a good a choice as any other.

  • Gallery - lets you browse, and open the photos and videos you take with your ASUS ZenFone AR.

  • Mobile Manager - acts as a central point for various system maintenance tasks. It gives you a quick overview of your battery and memory use, as well as quick access to the battery saving modes, to the details of your data usage, the apps that are allowed to show push notifications and so on.

  • Service Center - offers you access to tech support from ASUS.

  • Sound Recorder - a simple app that uses the smartphone's microphone to record sound.

  • Weather - an app that shows you weather forecasts, based on AccuWeather's data.

  • WebStorage - a cloud service from ASUS that offers you 5GB of free storage space.

  • ZenCircle - a social network for ZenFone users that works by sharing smartphone created videos.

  • ZenTalk - a forum dedicated to all owners of ZenFone smartphones, which can prove quite useful.

  • Themes - a portal where you can see, download, install and apply various system themes for the ZenUI user interface. We like these themes and, from a beautification perspective, they are worth using.

ASUS ZenFone AR

To make the app list even longer, you also get apps like Facebook, Messenger, and Instagram.

The ASUS ZenFone AR comes with Android 7 Nougat and bundles some apps that showcase its Virtual and Augmented Reality features. However, the total number of preinstalled apps is quite large and some users may not appreciate this.

Performance in benchmarks

The ASUS ZenFone AR is a powerful smartphone that can run any app or game without problems. However, knowing the hardware specifications is not enough if you want to get a good idea of how well it performs compared to other similar devices. Benchmarks, on the other hand, can help you do that, and that is why we also ran some on the ASUS ZenFone AR. Here are the results we got:

The first thing we checked was the performance of the processor. For that, we use an app called Vellamo, which is developed by Qualcomm. The first set of tests is called Multicore, and the score you get shows how fast the processor is at running multiple execution threads at the same time, or when you multitask. The ASUS ZenFone AR managed to get 3457 points, which is the same as you would get from a Samsung Galaxy S7.

ASUS ZenFone AR

Then, we ran the Metal tests which end up with a score that tells you how fast the processor is when using a single core. This score shows how well the smartphone does when running older apps that do not know how to use multiple cores, but also how games run, as they require a great deal of performance per core. The ASUS ZenFone AR got 3671 points, which is higher but not by much than what the Samsung Galaxy S7 offers.

ASUS ZenFone AR

Then we moved on to gaming tests, which matter most for those who like to play games on their devices more than anything. To see how well the ASUS ZenFone AR does in gaming, we used the GFXBench GL Benchmark app. We recorded the results we got in the 1080p Car Chase Offscreen, 1080p Manhattan 3.1 Offscreen and 1080p T-Rex Offscreen tests. We only used 1080p because it makes it easier to compare the smartphone's performance with others, regardless of their screen resolutions.

In the 1080p Car Chase Offscreen test, ASUS ZenFone AR managed to render 1178 points, which is higher than what you get from a Samsung Galaxy S7 or a Google Pixel for instance.

ASUS ZenFone AR

In the 1080p Manhattan 3.1 Offscreen test, the ASUS ZenFone AR rendered 2074 frames. It is a score that is higher than that of the Samsung Galaxy S7 and very close to that of a Google Pixel C or a Samsung Galaxy S8. It is an impressive result!

ASUS ZenFone AR

In the 1080p T-Rex Offscreen test, the ASUS ZenFone AR displayed 5268 frames, a result that is close to that of an iPhone 7 but which is less than that of a Samsung Galaxy S8 which can render at least 500 more frames than the ASUS ZenFone AR.

ASUS ZenFone AR

Seeing as the ASUS ZenFone AR has no issues in running any game on the market at high quality, we moved on to see how it does in the more mundane task of browsing the web. We turned back to Vellamo, and we ran its Browser tests. The ASUS ZenFone AR scored 5927 points which are a very high score, and it is quite a lot more than what a Samsung Galaxy S7 offers.

ASUS ZenFone AR

We also tested the 4G speed and reliability offered by the ASUS ZenFone AR. We must point out that our mobile operator does not offer the greatest mobile coverage or speed, in our area. However, the measurements we made with Speedtest showed that the ASUS ZenFone AR could achieve faster data transfers than other 4G smartphones we tested in the same area and with the same mobile network.

ASUS ZenFone AR

Lastly, we used the PCMark app to test the smartphone's battery efficiency. Using the Work 2.0 battery life test, the ASUS ZenFone AR managed to last for 7 hours and 28 minutes. It is a decent result, but it is not an impressive one. It means is that this smartphone can last for a day without having to plug it into a power socket, but only in normal use cases, where you don't play games or use VR or AR apps. When you do that, you will have to charge this smartphone twice a day.

ASUS ZenFone AR

The ASUS ZenFone AR is a powerful smartphone, and the results we measured in these benchmarks show that it can take its place at the top of the ranking ladder. However, it cannot fight on all levels with top contenders like the Samsung Galaxy S8.

Does the ASUS ZenFone AR have a future?

ASUS ZenFone AR is the first smartphone in the world to support both of Google's AR/VR technologies to date: Tango and Daydream. Unfortunately, it looks like the Tango platform is already dead: Google just launched a new platform called ARCore that allows high-end smartphones to use augmented reality without having to have as many different sensors as Tango requires. That means that future smartphones are going to be able to use ARCore to create Augmented Reality experiences without needing three different cameras like the ASUS ZenFone AR had to. In other words, ASUS ZenFone AR is the first Daydream and Tango smartphone in the world, but it is also the last one. You can read a very good editorial on this subject, here: ProBeat: Google killed the first Daydream and Tango phone after less than a month.

What is your opinion about the ASUS ZenFone AR?

Now you know what the ASUS ZenFone AR has to offer and what is our opinion about this ambitious high-end smartphone. At the end, we want to know your opinion: Do you believe that this smartphone is worth buying? Do you want VR or AR experiences on your smartphone? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Discover: Smartphone Android Hardware and Sound Reviews
Join the discussion: See the comments Comment