For years I have read about the massive potential of augmented reality, but only seen very sporadic implementation thus far. Google’s Project Tango was believed to be the main propeller of the AR segment. But it took years to finally have a couple of consumer devices to actually see an AR smartphone. While Lenovo launched the first Tango-based smartphone – Lenovo PHAB 2 Pro – in early 2016, Asus stole the show at the CES earlier this year with its Tango-enabled ZenFone AR. Today, the smartphone made its entry into the Indian market at a price of Rs 49,999.
I had stumbled upon Asus’ ZenFone AR in a demo zone during a visit to Singapore. While Qualcomm showed its performance prowess on devices beyond routine smartphones, the ZenFone AR demoed real-life applications. I briefly used the smartphone and checked out a few AR apps. You can check out the video below to learn more about the AR, if you are interested in the smartphone in general, here are my first impressions.
The Asus ZenFone AR is a large-screen smartphone. With a 5.7-inch display, the smartphone does feel big in hands but at the same time, you cannot overlook its unique design, which includes a big horizontal camera module on the back. Speaking of the rear of the phone, it has a leather-like texture, which offers a pretty good grip and definitely adds to the looks. Rest of the elements are pretty much routine. The front has the display with the front camera on the top and fingerprint scanner on the bottom. The USB and 3.5mm audio ports are at the base of the smartphone. The Zenfone AR does remind you of the ZenFone 3 Deluxe sans the faux leather finish.
The real deal is, however, the software. Running Android 7.0 Nougat, the smartphone supports Google’s Project Tango apps. To access these apps, you need to go to a dedicated app store to download Tango apps. During my brief usage, I tried out a couple of apps. The first app was the BMW app. The app could project a virtual car on a surface in front of you. Then you can take virtual tours of the car that includes interiors and exterior. What pleasantly surprised me was the detailing in the AR. I was able to zoom into the texture of the car seat. Also, I interacted with the stereo system of the car, all in the AR mode.
Another app that I tried out was more of an education-based app. The app projected dinosaurs on the ground, showing trivia about the certain species. Also, it let you project a 3D model of the species as well. I have seen the AR on certain Xperia smartphones that come built-in with the camera, though the Asus Zenfone AR one seemed much advanced.
The Tango app store isn’t as wide as the Google Play store is. Considering the fact there are very few devices out there with Tango, lack of a higher number of apps or quality apps didn’t amuse me. Though it all depends on Google and OEMs how much they show faith in this segment. I, for one, felt devices like Asus Zenfone AR could pave the way for the further evolution of the AR. From retail business to education segment, there are a number of use cases of the technology. But as I said earlier, the onus is on the smartphone companies and software makers as it will require a long-term faith from the smartphone companies to push out such devices, or it could be at risk of being just a gimmick and easily forgotten. ALSO READ: Asus ZenFone AR Project Tango, Daydream-enabled smartphone with 8GB RAM announced
What works for such consumer-centric AR devices is that technology companies have found a whole new focus on the segment. Facebook is working extensively in this direction whereas Apple is being rumored to have some level of AR integration in their future smartphones. In an interview earlier this year, even Apple CEO Tim Cook acknowledged AR is going to be huge, though he cautioned stating, “…there are still “things to discover before [AR] is good enough for the mainstream.” ALSO READ: Augmented reality has the potential to become as big as the smartphone: Tim Cook
Coming back to the Asus Zenfone AR, the smartphone felt a pretty smooth performer. It is powered by Snapdragon 821 processor along with a whopping 8GB of RAM. Since it’s 2017 and Snapdragon 835 is the flagship Qualcomm chipset, Snapdragon 821 may seem dated to some. During my brief usage, the camera seemed pretty much okay, but I will refrain from giving a final verdict before I have actually used it for some quality time.
Concluding, the Asus Zenfone AR is an exciting product, but I have my reservations about its success in India. Though the premium segment is growing in India, the Asus Zenfone AR may woo a niche audience more than the normal consumers who would be interested in the likes of Samsung Galaxy S8 or the iPhone 8. ALSO READ: F8 2017: Facebook launches augmented reality Camera Effects developer platform