Asus Zenfone AR review: It costs HOW much?

Price when reviewed

The Asus Zenfone AR certainly made an impression when it arrived in the office for review, arriving as it did in a huge box that would have comfortably housed a giant birthday cake. All that for a 5.7in smartphone?

The reason for the extra cardboard and foam quickly became apparent. Alongside the handset came a pair of AKG headphones and a Google Daydream View headset – the latter to emphasise that this is the first phone to be certified for Google’s Daydream and Tango platforms for virtual and augmented reality.

That alone makes it interesting, but any enthusiasm is quickly snuffed out when your eyes drift over to the price tag. £800. Eight hundred pounds. That’s more than the launch price of the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus and £350 more than the OnePlus 5. For a brand like Asus with very little form to speak of in the mobile phone market, it’s a pricing strategy that you could charitably describe as “bold”, or more accurately call “absolutely nuts.”

I’m going to spoil this review now and tell you that you don’t want this smartphone. But it is an interesting curiosity, so you should read on anyway to find out why.

Asus Zenfone AR review: You’ve been Tangoed

Let’s get this out of the way quickly. What makes the Asus Zenfone AR so special? It’s not the raw specifications – it actually uses an older processor than 2017’s top flagships, but more on that later. The clue is in the name: it’s designed from the ground up for augmented reality, and to be entirely fair, it shows off the nascent medium very well.[gallery:1]

That’s thanks to the most complicated array of cameras you’ve ever seen on a mobile phone. The cluster, embedded on a protruding aluminium panel, comprises a lens for image capture, another lens for capturing motion, an infrared autofocus sensor and an infrared depth-sensing camera.

Put these cameras together and magic happens: digital objects can be placed in real world settings – like Pokemon Go, only far more sophisticated. To help you see how much more sophisticated, Asus bundles a plethora of showcase apps. These are interesting diversions, but hardly likely to prompt a rethink of what your phone can do for very long. Slingshot Island plonks an island in your living room and lets you throw virtual rocks at it, while Hot Wheels Track Builder does a similar trick, but with virtual racing tracks on the floor. Meanwhile, Dinos Among Us lets you drop dinosaurs here and there, without having to worry about a Jurassic Park style disaster. You can walk around and inspect them with your phone, and it’s as if they had never died out.[gallery:4]

Aside from these toys, there are some more practical applications. Magicplan lets you automatically knock together a quick floor plan by pointing the camera at the walls, floors and ceiling; it’s neat, although the measurements aren’t 100% accurate, so I’d be wary of using them for anything serious.

Cool this may be, but to think this comes even remotely close to representing value for money you’d have to really love dinosaurs, toy cars, rocks and interior design. Because, unfortunately, the rest of the phone doesn’t do enough to make up the difference.[gallery:6]

Asus Zenfone AR review: Performance

While the Asus Zenfone AR is no slouch, it has more in common with the nearly-year-old Google Pixel than the pick of 2017’s best phones. This is chiefly down to its Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor. The American Samsung Galaxy S8, the HTC U11 and the Sony Xperia XZ Premium all use the newer, faster Snapdragon 835; the difference may not be immediately obvious in day-to-day use, but it shines through in benchmarks.asus_zenfone_ar_gb4_results

That’s not a good place to be, especially not for a phone that’s dramatically more expensive than its rivals. And it can’t be saved with incredible stamina: in our battery tests, the Zenfone AR lagged some way behind the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus and Google Pixel XL.asus_zenfone_ar_battery_life

If you’re paying over the odds for a phone, you’d expect it to offer something extra. The fact that the Asus Zenfone actually offers less than the competition should kill the idea of buying one stone dead – unless, of course, the price gets slashed, which could conceivably happen in time.

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