Asus Zenfone AR Review

Introduction


Asus is no stranger to niche devices, although AR and VR are slowly beginning to shed this perception. Being the first mobile device to support both Tango and Daydream, Google’s AR and VR platforms, the ZenFone AR retails as much less of a niche product than it would have only a few short years ago – advances in AR/VR technology aside. Instead, Asus’ newest _phone_ is also their most high-end, and can easily be viewed as a flagship, even when the pending ZenFone 4 Pro eventually seizes this title with its Snapdragon 835 processor, more befitting of flagship status.

The AR is no slouch though, coming with either six or eight gigabytes of RAM and a Snapdragon 821 SoC, users aren’t starved for performance. Of course, the 23-megapixel camera and two accompanying sensors for depth and motion tracking seem to only bolster this device's flagship case, packing a collection of shooting modes that would make even Samsung blush. Then, there’s the price. $599 gets you a six gig of RAM 64 GB storage configuration, while $100 more nabs you the tantalizing 8/128GB option – yes, we said 8 gigabytes of RAM. Verizon customers only have access to a single exclusive version which mixes 6GB RAM with 128GB storage – though, we’re sure they won’t be complaining. We’ve had the opportunity to test the two highest-end configurations. So, what’s the verdict on the ZenFone AR’s prowess as a flagship-level competitor? Let’s check it out.

Design


Asus Zenfone AR Review
Asus Zenfone AR Review
Asus Zenfone AR Review

The ZenFone AR’s front is a plain, all-black face, save for the silver “Asus” lettering below the earpiece, as well as the back and multi-tasking haptic buttons at the bottom, when lit. Annoyingly for VZW customers, you cannot set these buttons to always be illuminated as you can on the unlocked versions. Slightly raised from the bottom bezel is the clickable, elliptical home button/fingerprint sensor, which we found to feel a bit cheap when clicking, unlike the volume rocker and power button along the right side. It’s not that the button feels loose in the frame at all, but rather the too-firm tactile feel and loud click combine in such a way that just makes us wish there were no button at all.

Thankfully, this is the only less-than-premium-feeling component. Holding the ZenFone, your hands easily grip the thick metal edges, their slight roundness aiding this experience. On the back, you’ll feel the burnished-leather casing which carries a much finer texture than the burnished-leather seen on last year’s ZenFone Zoom. The rectangular metal block, which encases the phone’s optics, has a slight curve to it as the entire backing does. The sensors themselves are just barely recessed from the metal block, though the block itself does protrude from the back.

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Front view | Side view
Asus ZenFone AR
Asus ZenFone AR
6.25 x 3.06 x 0.35 inches
158.67 x 77.7 x 8.95 mm
6.00 oz (170 g)

Asus ZenFone AR

Lenovo Phab 2 Pro
Lenovo Phab 2 Pro
7.08 x 3.49 x 0.42 inches
179.83 x 88.57 x 10.7 mm
9.14 oz (259 g)

Lenovo Phab 2 Pro

Asus ZenFone 3 Deluxe
Asus ZenFone 3 Deluxe
6.16 x 3.05 x 0.3 inches
156.4 x 77.4 x 7.5 mm
6.00 oz (170 g)

Asus ZenFone 3 Deluxe

OnePlus 5
OnePlus 5
6.07 x 2.92 x 0.29 inches
154.2 x 74.1 x 7.25 mm
5.40 oz (153 g)

OnePlus 5




Display


Asus Zenfone AR Review

Super AMOLED is the technology of choice here, and the ZenFone has most of the anticipated pros and cons of this well-known display type. Colors are bright, vivid, and pleasing to look at but a slight bluish hue affects this screen – a problem that is made immediately apparent by the device's trouble with viewing angles. Holding the _phone_ and tilting it just slightly off axis from a parallel angle with your face will betray a very noticeable blue tint which you’ll be correcting often. Display coloring tweaks and color modes are available, but the stock configuration is likely your best bet. Otherwise, the 2560 x 1440 (WQHD) resolution produces great clarity with 512 ppi and is quite comfortable and pleasing to watch videos, read, or view pictures – at the right angle, of course.

Display measurements and quality

Maximum brightness (nits)Higher is better Minimum brightness (nits)Lower is better Contrast Higher is better Color temperature (Kelvins) Gamma Delta E rgbcmy Lower is better Delta E grayscale Lower is better
Asus ZenFone AR 354
(Average)
7
(Good)
unmeasurable
(Excellent)
7536
(Average)
2.23
6.98
(Average)
4.54
(Average)
Lenovo Phab 2 Pro 428
(Good)
5
(Excellent)
1:1251
(Excellent)
8314
(Poor)
2.22
5.72
(Average)
7.62
(Average)
Asus ZenFone 3 Deluxe 494
(Good)
3
(Excellent)
unmeasurable
(Excellent)
7559
(Average)
2.4
2.76
(Good)
5.78
(Average)
OnePlus 5 435
(Good)
2
(Excellent)
unmeasurable
(Excellent)
8014
(Poor)
2.13
6.63
(Average)
6.29
(Average)
View all

The CIE 1931 xy color gamut chart represents the set (area) of colors that a display can reproduce, with the sRGB colorspace (the highlighted triangle) serving as reference. The chart also provides a visual representation of a display's color accuracy. The small squares across the boundaries of the triangle are the reference points for the various colors, while the small dots are the actual measurements. Ideally, each dot should be positioned on top of its respective square. The 'x: CIE31' and 'y: CIE31' values in the table below the chart indicate the position of each measurement on the chart. 'Y' shows the luminance (in nits) of each measured color, while 'Target Y' is the desired luminance level for that color. Finally, 'ΔE 2000' is the Delta E value of the measured color. Delta E values of below 2 are ideal.

These measurements are made using SpectraCal's CalMAN calibration software.

The Color accuracy chart gives an idea of how close a display's measured colors are to their referential values. The first line holds the measured (actual) colors, while the second line holds the reference (target) colors. The closer the actual colors are to the target ones, the better.

These measurements are made using SpectraCal's CalMAN calibration software.

The Grayscale accuracy chart shows whether a display has a correct white balance (balance between red, green and blue) across different levels of grey (from dark to bright). The closer the Actual colors are to the Target ones, the better.

These measurements are made using SpectraCal's CalMAN calibration software.

View all


Asus Zenfone AR Review

Introduction


Asus is no stranger to niche devices, although AR and VR are slowly beginning to shed this perception. Being the first mobile device to support both Tango and Daydream, Google’s AR and VR platforms, the ZenFone AR retails as much less of a niche product than it would have only a few short years ago – advances in AR/VR technology aside. Instead, Asus’ newest phone is also their most high-end, and can easily be viewed as a flagship, even when the pending ZenFone 4 Pro eventually seizes this title with its Snapdragon 835 processor, more befitting of flagship status.

The AR is no slouch though, coming with either six or eight gigabytes of RAM and a Snapdragon 821 SoC, users aren’t starved for performance. Of course, the 23-megapixel camera and two accompanying sensors for depth and motion tracking seem to only bolster this device's flagship case, packing a collection of shooting modes that would make even Samsung blush. Then, there’s the price. $599 gets you a six gig of RAM 64 GB storage configuration, while $100 more nabs you the tantalizing 8/128GB option – yes, we said 8 gigabytes of RAM. Verizon customers only have access to a single exclusive version which mixes 6GB RAM with 128GB storage – though, we’re sure they won’t be complaining. We’ve had the opportunity to test the two highest-end configurations. So, what’s the verdict on the ZenFone AR’s prowess as a flagship-level competitor? Let’s check it out.

Design


Asus Zenfone AR Review
Asus Zenfone AR Review
Asus Zenfone AR Review

The ZenFone AR’s front is a plain, all-black face, save for the silver “Asus” lettering below the earpiece, as well as the back and multi-tasking haptic buttons at the bottom, when lit. Annoyingly for VZW customers, you cannot set these buttons to always be illuminated as you can on the unlocked versions. Slightly raised from the bottom bezel is the clickable, elliptical home button/fingerprint sensor, which we found to feel a bit cheap when clicking, unlike the volume rocker and power button along the right side. It’s not that the button feels loose in the frame at all, but rather the too-firm tactile feel and loud click combine in such a way that just makes us wish there were no button at all.

Thankfully, this is the only less-than-premium-feeling component. Holding the ZenFone, your hands easily grip the thick metal edges, their slight roundness aiding this experience. On the back, you’ll feel the burnished-leather casing which carries a much finer texture than the burnished-leather seen on last year’s ZenFone Zoom. The rectangular metal block, which encases the phone’s optics, has a slight curve to it as the entire backing does. The sensors themselves are just barely recessed from the metal block, though the block itself does protrude from the back.

Front view | Side view
Asus ZenFone AR
Asus ZenFone AR
6.25 x 3.06 x 0.35 inches
158.67 x 77.7 x 8.95 mm
6.00 oz (170 g)

Asus ZenFone AR

Lenovo Phab 2 Pro
Lenovo Phab 2 Pro
7.08 x 3.49 x 0.42 inches
179.83 x 88.57 x 10.7 mm
9.14 oz (259 g)

Lenovo Phab 2 Pro

Asus ZenFone 3 Deluxe
Asus ZenFone 3 Deluxe
6.16 x 3.05 x 0.3 inches
156.4 x 77.4 x 7.5 mm
6.00 oz (170 g)

Asus ZenFone 3 Deluxe

OnePlus 5
OnePlus 5
6.07 x 2.92 x 0.29 inches
154.2 x 74.1 x 7.25 mm
5.40 oz (153 g)

OnePlus 5




Display


Asus Zenfone AR Review

Super AMOLED is the technology of choice here, and the ZenFone has most of the anticipated pros and cons of this well-known display type. Colors are bright, vivid, and pleasing to look at but a slight bluish hue affects this screen – a problem that is made immediately apparent by the device's trouble with viewing angles. Holding the phone and tilting it just slightly off axis from a parallel angle with your face will betray a very noticeable blue tint which you’ll be correcting often. Display coloring tweaks and color modes are available, but the stock configuration is likely your best bet. Otherwise, the 2560 x 1440 (WQHD) resolution produces great clarity with 512 ppi and is quite comfortable and pleasing to watch videos, read, or view pictures – at the right angle, of course.

Display measurements and quality

Maximum brightness (nits)Higher is better Minimum brightness (nits)Lower is better Contrast Higher is better Color temperature (Kelvins) Gamma Delta E rgbcmy Lower is better Delta E grayscale Lower is better
Asus ZenFone AR 354
(Average)
7
(Good)
unmeasurable
(Excellent)
7536
(Average)
2.23
6.98
(Average)
4.54
(Average)
Lenovo Phab 2 Pro 428
(Good)
5
(Excellent)
1:1251
(Excellent)
8314
(Poor)
2.22
5.72
(Average)
7.62
(Average)
Asus ZenFone 3 Deluxe 494
(Good)
3
(Excellent)
unmeasurable
(Excellent)
7559
(Average)
2.4
2.76
(Good)
5.78
(Average)
OnePlus 5 435
(Good)
2
(Excellent)
unmeasurable
(Excellent)
8014
(Poor)
2.13
6.63
(Average)
6.29
(Average)
View all

The CIE 1931 xy color gamut chart represents the set (area) of colors that a display can reproduce, with the sRGB colorspace (the highlighted triangle) serving as reference. The chart also provides a visual representation of a display's color accuracy. The small squares across the boundaries of the triangle are the reference points for the various colors, while the small dots are the actual measurements. Ideally, each dot should be positioned on top of its respective square. The 'x: CIE31' and 'y: CIE31' values in the table below the chart indicate the position of each measurement on the chart. 'Y' shows the luminance (in nits) of each measured color, while 'Target Y' is the desired luminance level for that color. Finally, 'ΔE 2000' is the Delta E value of the measured color. Delta E values of below 2 are ideal.

These measurements are made using SpectraCal's CalMAN calibration software.

The Color accuracy chart gives an idea of how close a display's measured colors are to their referential values. The first line holds the measured (actual) colors, while the second line holds the reference (target) colors. The closer the actual colors are to the target ones, the better.

These measurements are made using SpectraCal's CalMAN calibration software.

The Grayscale accuracy chart shows whether a display has a correct white balance (balance between red, green and blue) across different levels of grey (from dark to bright). The closer the Actual colors are to the Target ones, the better.

These measurements are made using SpectraCal's CalMAN calibration software.

View all


Interface and Functionality


Asus Zenfone AR Review

Zen UI, love it or hate it, hasn’t changed much. Now built on Android 7.0, the most noticeable change is the handling of notifications, which now look and function like stock Android 7.0 – a much better looking and interactive upgrade. Otherwise slight refinements in sizing and other minor aesthetic tweaks may be present, but looking for differences between Marshmallow-based ZenUI and Nougat’s is a serious task.

As always, Asus gives us a wealth of customization options, which – aside from their rich theme store and icon packs – includes grid sizing, icon fonts, folder configurations, scroll animations, and much more. Naturally, the more options you have, the more menus you have to go with it. And digging through all of them can be a little confusing. It’ll take some time before you’re confident that you’ve actually seen every menu on this phone – you know, multiple routes to the same menu, menus within menus, that sort of thing. Menus within menus we realize are unavoidable to an extent, especially with such deep customization, but there’s no doubt that a more intuitive settings search would help alleviate this. Perhaps the option to turn on an “advanced” and “regular” settings mode, could also help – two features Samsung has learned to employ, even if it took them some time.

For reasons beyond our limited comprehension, the Verizon version removes a number of customization options and system tools, which unfortunately cannot be added back. ZenUI’s themes, theme store, icon packs, and ultimately the entire launcher are among the aesthetic options axed in the VZW variant. In terms of apps and functionality, Big Red’s ZenFone does away with the ability to passcode-protect apps as well as Asus’ system maintenance app, which provides features to boost performance, deny apps the ability to auto-start, reserve and prioritize RAM usage, clean up junk files, and much more. You’ll also lose Google Assistant's “Today” screen which is accessed by swiping to the left of the homescreen on the unlocked ZenFone AR, much like other Android devices. We’d love to say that removing all this sped up the system and cleaned up the sometimes-labyrinthine menus, but it does neither. The system is fast regardless, and the menus are to no degree less confusing. Plus, we actually liked the apps and customizations we lost. Themes and aesthetics are always nice to be able to control and the system maintenance app is both more in-depth and more customizable than similar apps on Honor or Samsung phones.

Processor and Memory


Since the AR was announced this past January, it comes with last year’s flagship silicon from Qualcomm, the Snapdragon 821. Paired with either six or eight gigabytes of RAM, both configurations perform with exceptional speed and fluidity. App opening is always swift, and switching happens in a snap. Multitasking is a breeze; the ZenFone cycles through large apps effortlessly with almost no instances of stuttering. Suffice it to say, we didn’t miss the latest Snapdragon, and owners of the phone won’t either. The device does have a tendency to get quite warm though, in a variety of scenarios, both intensive and light. This thermal problem can lead to performance-crippling processor throttling, which could otherwise be avoided. Luckily, we didn’t experience such performance dips in our regular usage, but we do worry about the level of maintained performance for gamers and other high-power users, not to mention the effects of heat on all of the phones components over time.

Of course, the ZenFone gets hottest during AR and VR; performance of which naturally benefits from the speedy configuration. While you can read more about our time with Tango and Daydream in our analysis of the two, the ZenFone’s capability in running them inspires confidence in the hardware and the platform. Daydream runs fluidly without any issue, aside from the phone getting hot. The same is true of Tango – even as apps using the platform continue to develop – the experience is quite smooth, and responsive. There were a couple glitches encountered in certain newer apps, but none of which seemed related to hardware. Even with these occasional glitches, most aspects of the available apps worked very well and provided information in a useful, fun, and interactive way.

Lowes’ Home Vision app, for instance, enables users to not only outfit their homes with appliances or flooring, but also measure spaces with virtual, multi-dimensional tape measures. Execution here is actually pretty impressive, even though the measurements are cautioned as approximations. Laying down the virtual tape, the app and hardware show great cohesion and ability in recognizing surfaces and keeping the “tape” stuck to the ground or relevant surface – proving itself to be a useful tool.

Asus Zenfone AR Review

Wayfair’s home décor outfitting app offers similar functionality with furniture, lighting, and other home decorations. Boasting over 40,000 3D items, it’s both impressive and encouraging to see the level of engagement and support found in an application so seemingly niche, yet so perfect for their industry. These are excellently conceived examples of practical AR use cases, while apps like the BMW visualizer, and Google’s Expeditions, showcase the more fun and educational aspect of AR. Walking around a BMW i8 and pretending to sit inside may not be very useful, but it sure is cool. Google’s Expeditions takes this concept to more educational lengths, creating interactive solar systems, replete with information on each planet or cosmic entity, among many other educational expeditions. We’re impressed with the varied, though still small library of Tango apps – about 35 in total – as well as the level of engagement from larger companies working with the platform, leaving us daydreaming about apps of the near-future.

Performance benchmarks

AnTuTu
Higher is better
Asus ZenFone AR 142669
Lenovo Phab 2 Pro 84676
Asus ZenFone 3 Deluxe 139735
OnePlus 5 178968
JetStream
Higher is better
Asus ZenFone AR 44.516
Lenovo Phab 2 Pro 50.62
Asus ZenFone 3 Deluxe 46.431
OnePlus 5 69.780
GFXBench T-Rex HD on-screen
Higher is better
Asus ZenFone AR 53
Lenovo Phab 2 Pro 23
Asus ZenFone 3 Deluxe 59
OnePlus 5 60
GFXBench Manhattan on-screen
Higher is better
Asus ZenFone AR 15.3
Lenovo Phab 2 Pro 9
Asus ZenFone 3 Deluxe 47
OnePlus 5 40
Basemark OS II
Higher is better
Asus ZenFone AR 2245
Lenovo Phab 2 Pro 1628
Asus ZenFone 3 Deluxe 2278
OnePlus 5 3500
Geekbench 4 single-core
Higher is better
Asus ZenFone AR 1757
Lenovo Phab 2 Pro 1472
Asus ZenFone 3 Deluxe 1490
OnePlus 5 1941
Geekbench 4 multi-core
Higher is better
Asus ZenFone AR 3875
Lenovo Phab 2 Pro 3504
Asus ZenFone 3 Deluxe 3953
OnePlus 5 6678
View all

Connectivity


Here you’ll find all the proper radios and chips, like NFC, Bluetooth 4.2, and all the requisite Wi-Fi standards. USB-C is also on-board, leaving us wanting little else in a flagship contender. The unlocked ZenFone AR predictably won’t work on Verizon, though the Verizon ZenFone seems able to access most of AT&T’s features, specifically calls and data, though not LTE. Given the options, though, there’s really no reason not to get the proper phone for your network here, as they work perfectly for their proper carriers and differences in configuration and pricing are arguably negligible.

Camera


Asus Zenfone AR Review

Continuing with the theme of ZenUI, the name of the game here is options. Luckily, the camera interface is better thought out, dare we say even beautifully so. Manipulating the deepest, and to some, most obscure image settings can be done easily between shots, thanks to the use of a small, organized pop-up menu. Shooting modes are also plentiful, and even customizable within their menu layout. The manual shooting mode truly does make you feel like a pro. Additions like an exposure histogram, electronic level, and light metering modes, go a step beyond most smartphone “pro” modes, bringing all the typical white balance, ISO, and shutter speed sliders, as well.

Among the many filters and shooting modes lies a Super Resolution mode, capable of capturing 92-megapixel photos for larger applications, a low-light option, and of course, a mode for adding bokeh, named Depth of Field. Results from this are varied; while every now and then you get a decent blur outline, most times the outline bleeds out to the background, sharpening a bit of the background where it borders the intended subject. Though not stated as an instruction, tapping the subject to align the camera's focus is an absolute necessity. Without this step, you’ll come out with pictures that are all blur or show pieces of your subject blurred, with other parts clear. In all actuality, partially blurred subjects occurred often even when tapping to focus, but it was simply just less likely to do so after taking this step. Pretty disappointing software for this function, but when it actually pulls off a proper bokeh effect, the results are pleasing. A slider exists, only directly after taking the picture, to adjust the intensity of the effect. The picture is then saved however you adjusted it with no option for adjusting after.


Camera speed

Taking a pic (sec)Lower is better Taking an HDR pic (sec)Lower is better CamSpeed score Higher is better CamSpeed score with flash Higher is better
Asus ZenFone AR 2.19
2.49
615
No data
Lenovo Phab 2 Pro 2.1
3.4
560
561
Asus ZenFone 3 Deluxe 2.1
2.8
No data
No data
OnePlus 5 1.1
1.5
682
682
View all

Colors aren’t always pale but often lack saturation, partially due to over-exposure, but also a pervasive hue of blue. These combine to cause the sensor to take the edge off details a bit, as well as dull down the colors some. This is most noticeable in its capture of reds and oranges, but yellows also appeared pale and blue-ish, while other discolorations can be seen upon closer analysis. Sometimes, rarely, colors came out near-perfect, but most photos suffered some level of discoloration. HDR was quite impressive with pulling colors and details out of the dark, but it was not nearly as competent in grabbing detail from bright areas or balancing between a scene that contains both. Details are generally well-captured otherwise, and while certainly not the worst offender of discoloration, better sensors for color and detail capture do exist, many of which carry nearly half the megapixels (and sometimes price) of the AR. One more strike against its prowess as a flagship competitor.



Videos also portrayed sharp detail and adeptness with low-light areas. Optical image stabilization does a great job of keeping things smooth here, though autofocus seemed almost completely absent when presented with a closer object. There was also some tendency for the phone to fluctuate a bit with exposure, but other than this, videos were very pleasing to look at.

Video and Audio


Asus Zenfone AR Review

Watching video is a treat on the AR. While the screen provides rich colors and abundant detail via the Quad HD AMOLED display, Asus’ custom speaker setup, pairs well with DTS technology to produce richer and clearer sound than most phones. The ZenFone is also capable of simulating 7.1 surround sound via headphones, though we couldn’t tell much of a difference between that and a louder, and possibly better sounding output from an iPhone which lacks this advertised feature. The device is Hi-Res audio certified device, though, so nothing sounds bad through headphones. On top of that, we’re afforded a number of ways to tweak the sound, which include bass and treble sliders, an EQ chart, and various preset sound profiles for specific scenes, headphone types, and listening experiences. These controls are fun to mess with for a bit, and we found the “wide” sound profile for music to be pretty spot-on for most scenarios, but we’d rather have a better plug-and-play sound than be forced to experiment, which the comparatively quieter and less immersive stock sound forced us to do.

Audio output

Loudspeaker loudness (dB)
Higher is better
Asus ZenFone AR 82.6
Lenovo Phab 2 Pro 74.9
Asus ZenFone 3 Deluxe 74.9
OnePlus 5 77
View all


Call Quality


Asus Zenfone AR Review
Fortunately, there’s nothing major to report here. Calls came through clearly on the ZenFone AR, whether it be for the caller or the receiver of the call.

Battery Life


Yeesh. Well, as you can see from our custom drain test, the ZenFone AR is far from a power miser. In fact, it’s pretty bad. Coming in at 5 hours and 21 minutes, the battery alone seems to take it out of flagship contention. It seems that all the heat it generates is an indicator of its low efficiency. Lasting a full day of use with this device is a tough task, which will require a lot of cutbacks. Re-charge time is also unimpressive, with its “fast charger” filling the phone in an hour and 45 minutes.

Battery Benchmarks

Battery life (hours)
Higher is better
Asus ZenFone AR 5h 21 min (Poor)
Lenovo Phab 2 Pro 7h 3 min (Good)
Asus ZenFone 3 Deluxe 5h 27 min (Poor)
OnePlus 5 9h 18 min (Excellent)
Charging time (minutes)
Lower is better
Asus ZenFone AR 105
Lenovo Phab 2 Pro 100
Asus ZenFone 3 Deluxe 84
OnePlus 5 99
View all

Conclusion


Asus Zenfone AR Review

If you’re an Asus fan, we suggest waiting for the ZenFone 4 Pro to see if the problems found here are remedied in the company’s true flagship device. If AR is super important to you, then you can buy the ZenFone AR and know that you’ll have a decently performing phone with dreadful battery life, heating issues, and an inconsistent camera behind its marquee feature. Otherwise, in the $600 - $700 range – and even below this – there’s a wealth of better options. The LG G6, OnePlus 5, U11 – even the Galaxy S8 is now within this price-point. It’s hard to see why anyone should choose the ZenFone AR over these better executed, better looking, flagship heavyweights.