Asus Zenfone AR review

The Asus Zenfone AR is the first phone to be certified for both Google Tango and Daydream. These are the augmented reality and virtual reality platforms that set some standards for AR and VR on Android. So we’re not just left with barrel-scraping stuff that makes phone VR seem hokier than those blue and red 3D glasses that used to come free in cereal boxes.

It comes with the Google Daydream View headset if you pre-order from Asus, which helps to take at least one spike out of the porcupine attack-like sting of the price.

At £799 (around AU$1,320) the Asus Zenfone AR is a direct alternative to the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus in the UK, though early US pricing puts it at a slightly more palatable $648.

The price sticks out further when you realize the Asus Zenfone AR doesn’t even have a latest-generation chipset, with the Snapdragon 821 instead of the 835 you get in the Samsung Galaxy S8 (US version), OnePlus 5 and HTC U11.

To get on with the Asus Zenfone AR, you need to disconnect the phone from its price. And as we’re here to deliver buying advice above all else, that’s a problem.

However, if you find a good deal for the Zenfone AR or just don’t care about spending an awful lot of money on a phone that won’t necessarily make that many friends jealous, it is a very strong mobile.

The screen is great, the camera array very good and it’s one of the best phones in the world right now for VR, beating the Sony Xperia XZ Premium and LG G6, and at least matching the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus.

Asus Zenfone AR price and release date

  • Shown to the world in January 2017
  • Among the first wave of AR plus VR Google phones
  • High price puts it in competition with the biggest names

The Asus Zenfone AR was first shown in early 2017, causing a bit of a fanfare as the first phone to arrive primed for both Daydream and Tango, rather than just a promise of support in the future.

In the UK, you’ll pay £799 SIM-free, making it one of the most expensive phones not inlaid with gold or diamonds. That amounts to around AU$1,320, though in the US you can pre-order it for the relatively low (but still high) price of $648.

AR plus VR and other high-end goodies

  • Triple rear camera for augmented reality
  • Large OLED screen
  • Powerful, but not the most powerful around

The Asus Zenfone AR is a large, high-end Android phone with an important “first”, as a phone that launches with Tango and Daydream support. Daydream in particular at first seemed something that would quickly filter through to loads of Android phones. But it hasn’t.

The Asus Zenfone AR has what it takes for good phone VR thanks to its high-resolution OLED screen. It’s 5.7 inches across, with a resolution of 1440 x 2560.

The CPU is a high-end, but no longer top-end, quad-core Snapdragon 821. While there are versions of the Asus Zenfone AR with a mammoth 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, the phone we’re reviewing has 6GB of RAM and 64GB of storage.

That’s a lot, but no more than some competitors, such as the OnePlus 5.

The camera does have more to show off than most, though. Instead of keeping the megapixel count low to improve low-light performance, the Asus Zenfone AR has a very high-res 23MP main camera and 4-axis optical image stabilization to help out at night.

There are two extra cameras on the back too. One is a lower-quality depth-sensing camera with IR, the other used to track motion. This trio is what makes the Asus Zenfone AR ready for Tango-grade augmented reality.

On the front, you get an 8MP selfie camera, but the rear team is what grabs our attention.

Other neat parts worth noting are a fingerprint scanner on the front, a leather-effect finish on the back and a dual-LED flash on the back.

The big question of the Asus Zenfone AR is whether these features are worth the price. Having spent a good while using the Zenfone AR, it’s a great phone but a tough sell.

Design and display

  • Big, bold, high-res 5.7-inch OLED screen
  • Stainless steel sides, faux-leather back
  • Front-mounted fingerprint scanner

The Asus Zenfone AR is a big phone made for the enthusiast. Who else, after all, would be willing to spend this much on an Asus phone? No-one we know.

From a distance, it’s not as striking as something like the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus. There’s some screen surround, which is rapidly disappearing from the most expensive phones, and the front of the Zenfone AR is not curved. Flat is so 2013.

The Asus Zenfone AR is also less stylish than some other phones at the price. Other top phone makers resist plastering their brand on the front as it’s not a great look, and the stainless-steel camera housing on the back has a whiff of Swiss Army Knife to it. But there is a lot of tech to show off.

Get closer and you’ll see it’s not the mostly-plain rectangle of black it may at first appear. The sides are smartly-finished aluminum and the back has a leather-effect finish rather than glass, basic plastic or metal.

While it’s synthetic rather than real leather, it looks and feels similar to the real stuff. And it’s less of a cringey show-off than previous leather phones like the LG G4.

It’s nice to handle. It’s well-made. But the Asus Zenfone AR doesn’t quite have the visual impact of other phones at the price.

One of the main practical omissions is water resistance: there isn’t any. The Samsung Galaxy S8, LG G6 and HTC U11 can all survive a soak.

Hardware-wise you get a clicky finger scanner below the screen that acts as a normal home button if you don’t use finger security, and light-up soft keys to either side.

This isn’t the fastest fingerprint scanner around, a beat slower than something like the Honor 9, but only those who have spent altogether too much time with phones will notice.

The nanoSIM lives in the usual tray that pops out of the Asus Zenfone AR’s side, and there’s space for a microSD card if the 64/128GB of storage isn’t enough for you.

The phone’s screen is a 5.7-inch 1440 x 2560 OLED panel. It’s big, sharp and punchy, with an excellent 515ppi pixel density.

Like most OLED screens, colors are vivid and contrast is superb. Asus also gives you comprehensive control over how the display looks.

As standard it’s set to a mode called Super Color, which has a classic OLED-style oversaturated look, much like a high-end Samsung phone. There’s also a Standard mode with slightly calmed-down color and a manual mode that lets you choose the color saturation and even the hue.

You can make the Asus Zenfone AR completely monochrome, or its colors flat-out wrong. Less wide-ranging control would probably be more useful, less off-putting. However, as with any of these controls most people are likely to leave it on the default setting anyway.

The Asus Zenfone AR also has a blue light reduction mode, designed to cause less eye strain and be kinder to your circadian rhythms if you go on a late-night Facebook binge.

  • Google Daydream and Tango AR/VR support
  • Low-persistence OLED is great for VR
  • AR apps have a way to go

Virtual and augmented reality are the main selling points of the Asus Zenfone AR, as one of the first phones to come with these platforms fully supported and pre-installed. There’s more to this than just Google ticking a box behind the scenes in Android too.

There are two important extra pieces of hardware that make the Zenfone AR more of a VR/AR phone than much of the competition. First, the OLED screen has an ultra-low-persistence mode that stops the impression of motion blur.

While OLEDs don’t suffer from blur in the same vein as LCD screens, the ‘sample and hold’ effect has similar perceptual results if the display’s refresh isn’t overdriven.

For AR, the Asus Zenfone AR has three cameras on the rear rather than just one or two. There’s one whose main job is motion tracking, and another with an IR sensor to create a reasonably accurate depth map of a scene.

The full VR experience also requires a Google Daydream View headset. At first this seems like a slightly fancier Google Cardboard, but it also comes with a wireless remote control. It’s a dead ringer for the remote of an Amazon Fire TV box but functionally it’s closer to a Nintendo Wiimote, with motion controls inside.

For a phone, the Asus Zenfone AR’s virtual reality experience is excellent. There’s virtually no trace of any motion blur, making it more comfortable and far more immersive than the Sony Xperia XZ Premium’s attempt.

The display here is actually higher-resolution that that of the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive too, both of which split a 1200 x 2160 panel across two eyes (the AR has a 1440 x 2560 screen). Still, in reality the Daydream experience is not that close to HTC Vive’s in quality terms.

Its field of view is notably lesser, meaning it covers less of your vision, and the Daydream headset itself isn’t super-comfortable. It uses a single chunky elastic band that goes around the back of your head.

Don’t make it tight enough and the headset tends to sag at the front, making the image blurry. Keep the band nice and tight and it’ll cause some head discomfort after a while.

Unlike many VR headsets, even cheap Google Cardboard ones, there’s no way to alter the distance between the lenses, or the distance between the lens and your eyes.

After some fiddling we managed to get the image looking sharp, though. And while the image isn’t completely vision-dominating, the Asus Zenfone AR with Daydream does offer a fairly convincing VR experience.

Right now, there aren’t really many unmissable VR games or apps for Daydream/Android. As you’d expect, few have quite the polish or depth as some of the software available for HTC Vive and PlayStation VR.

There’s a lot worth playing with, though. Google Street View lets you look around just about any famous landmark in the world, many with at least a light 3D effect. There are some fun, if mostly thin, games too like 3D endless runner 405 Road Rage and Mario Kart-a-like VR Karts: Sprint.

Coming from playing full games on PSVR and HTC Vive they seem like tech demos, but at least you're not paying hundreds of pounds or dollars just for VR hardware.

You can also watch movies through the Daydream using the VR versions of Netflix and Google Play Movies. These put cinema-like virtual displays in front of you, and you can choose how big they are.

Cineastes may not be too happy with the pixelation level, which like other VR headsets is quite clear, not least because the Zenfone AR has a PenTile display with shared sub pixels.

The view needs resetting fairly often, as the sensors end up slightly out of sync with your position (you just long-press a button on the remote). But it’s cool to try regardless and should inspire that pinch of awe many feel when trying out VR for the first time.

Augmented reality is in an even more awkward position than virtual reality, with plenty of companies diving in to capitalize on the attention in this space without necessarily putting in the development cost to make an app great.

The Zenfone AR does prove the worth of the tech, though. Using Tango, the phone fully maps, say, your living room, working out where the ceiling, floor and walls are. It then lets you not just tilt the phone to look around the environment, but move about it freely too without needing separate room-mapping cameras like HTC Vive.

It’s currently games that offer the neatest demos of augmented reality. Hot Wheels Track Builder is a remarkably glossy little Scalextric-a-like game that maps a play room onto a room in your flat or house.

You move your phone closer to bits of track to select them, and move them around to make a virtual Hot Wheels circuit.

Woorld is worth checking out too, particularly if there are kids about. A little like an AR take on Viva Piñata (but without the animal focus) you plant and grow cute items in your living room.

These are silly, fun takes on AR, but do get to the core of why augmented reality interaction offers something a normal smartphone app doesn’t. The room mapping and tracking of your movement around a room is often alarmingly good.

The ‘useful’ apps we’ve tried have more work to do. For example, the Wall Street Journal’s AR stock checker posts a 3D visualization of stocks into the air. However, it’s slow, buggy, frankly uncomfortable, and a not very useful way to look at stock prices.

Similarly, an app like Wayfair should be a fantastic use for AR. It’s an interiors shop with an augmented reality feature that lets you preview furniture in your home. Except all it really does is to let you paste flat images of its wares onto the rooms of your house. It’s barely AR at all.

Augmented reality apps will get there, but aside from some game developers who have put the necessary effort in, we’re not there yet. Give it six months to… two years.

Interface and reliability

  • Highly customizable jam-packed ZenUI interface
  • Android 7.0
  • Good general performance

The Asus Zenfone AR runs Android 7.0 and has Asus’s ZenUI interface pasted on top. This isn’t just a simple tweak of normal Android, but changes how it operates quite a bit.

First off, you’ll notice that instead of arranging the apps menu as a big scroll of icons, it uses horizontally scrolling pages. It’s what Android used a few years ago, and there’s no way (that we’ve found) to switch to the current Android style.

This is a bit surprising because the entire USP of ZenUI is customization. The amount of tweaking you can do is almost ridiculous.

You can change how many apps fit in the home screens and apps menus. You can change the fonts, icons and theme of the interface. You can alter the scale of the UI (handy for those with poor close-up vision). You even have a fistful of options on what an apps folder should look like.

One thing it does particularly well is custom icon styles. In other phones, these tend to look awkward, poorly designed and make pre-installed apps look different from third-party ones. But quite a few of the icon packs available on the Zenfone AR look great.

Like most people, we tend to prefer to have a phone we can switch on and use without worrying about customizing too much. To be fair to Asus, the Zenfone AR looks and feels just fine as it is. However, it’s also a little less clean and simple than a phone with vanilla Android like the Google Pixel XL.

The part most likely to put some off is the amount of bloat preinstalled on the Zenfone AR, something that has been a problem with Asus ZenUI for years.

There’s ZenCircle, a strange Instagram-like Asus social network. There’s ZenTalk, an Asus message board. And BeautyLive, an app that lets you stream to Facebook, YouTube or Instagram using Asus’s face-smoothing Beauty filter. Most people probably won’t use any of them.

Asus’s other apps are less eyebrow-raising utilities, but with 13 in total some will think that’s too much. However, any apps you can’t full-on uninstall can be ‘disabled’, meaning they disappear from the apps menu but aren’t completely removed. The small amount of data taken up isn’t worth crying about when the Zenfone AR has either 64GB or 128GB of storage.

Compared to older versions of ZenUI, this one looks and feels fairly modern too. The stiff transitions of old have been smoothed-out and it’s fairly quick, although some parts are slightly slower to load than vanilla Android at times.

There are some neat extras for the nerds as well. A feature called OptiFlex lets you pick 10 apps with turbo-charged app launching, which likely means their launch-essential data is kept in the phone’s RAM the whole time rather than being purged after a while.

The Asus Zenfone AR also has ZenMotion, a whole extra gesture-based side to ZenUI. It adds touch gestures, motion gestures and a one-hand mode that shrinks the screen when you double-tap the home button.

All of these extras are turned off as standard, because if you don’t know about them they’ll only get in the way. Interesting things you can do with ZenUI gestures include launching any pre-specified app you like by drawing a W, S, E, C, Z or V on Asus Zenfone AR’s screen in standby.

ZenUI is an interface that tries to throw everything your way, desperate to please. This approach went out of fashion a few years ago, but as it keeps the extras hidden until you look for them, it’s nothing to worry about too much.

Movies, music and gaming

  • Plenty of room for apps and games
  • Solid but non-stereo speaker
  • Screen is great for content-guzzling

For the most part, the Asus Zenfone AR is a great phone for all kinds of media and gaming. The screen is big, sharp and colorful, and there’s enough room above and below the display to give your thumbs somewhere to rest while playing a game or watching a movie.

Unlike the LG G6 there’s no support for HDR, which is one of the newest video standards. This stands for high dynamic range, which relies on very high brightness and/or excellent contrast to let a video bring out more detail in the brightest and darkest areas of the image without it appearing flat.

However, the flawless black level of the Asus Zenfone AR’s OLED screen is actually more useful if you’re going to watch in darkened conditions every now and then. Even the best LCD screen’s blacks will look slightly raised or grey-ish in dark scenes, viewed in a dark room.

The other, perhaps more significant, drawback of the Asus Zenfone AR is that it has a single speaker rather than a stereo array. There’s a growing trend for phones that have a main speaker on the bottom and a treble-focused driver by the call speaker to give a fair stereo effect, but here all the sound comes from the bottom.

This is one of the better phone speakers, with good volume, and chunky, well-defined sound. But when you’re using the phone on its side there’s no mistaking the sound for anything but mono and ‘lopsided’.

There is a rather neat outdoors mode, though, something you won’t see elsewhere. Use it indoors and it sounds quite bad, getting rid of the bass and hardening-up the mids. However, it makes the sound travel much better outdoors, where the bass will simply be lost in the open air.

The Asus Zenfone AR’s gaming performance in general is excellent, with great frame rates in games like Asphalt 8. However, we did notice a few frame rate hitches when playing high-quality VR games.

This could be down to limited optimization of these newer titles or because VR’s shifted perspective for each eye means the phone has to render each scene and object within it twice.

Either way, it’s one reason to wish the Asus Zenfone AR had a Snapdragon 835 instead of an 821, as its Adreno 540 graphics chip is roughly 25% more powerful than the Adreno 530 used here.

Despite having a lot of pre-installed apps, the Asus Zenfone AR doesn’t have any extra music or video apps, leaving you to choose your own. There is a trio of pre-installed games, though: N.O.V.A. Legacy, Asphalt 8 and Marvel: Future Fight.

While a tie-in like this seems cheeky in a phone this expensive, they are at least the sort of games we’d consider downloading and playing anyway.

Benchmarks and performance

  • Snapdragon 821: less powerful than similarly-priced phones
  • High-speed RAM and storage

The most curious core spec of the Asus Zenfone AR is its CPU. It uses the Snapdragon 821 rather than the more powerful Snapdragon 835, found in a lot of the phone’s rivals.

It’s ‘only’ a quad-core chipset, and marked Qualcomm’s switch from using standard Cortex-series cores to the custom Kryo kind. Four cores for £800/$650 deserves a raised eyebrow.

The Adreno 530 GPU used here is also less powerful than the Snapdragon 835’s GPU due to its lower clock speed.

Thanks to the relative paucity of cores, the Asus Zenfone AR does not do too well in abstract benchmarks like Geekbench 4. It scores an average of 4430 points, roughly 2000 points fewer than top-end phones like the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Huawei P10.

The LG G6 uses the same CPU, but also launched at a lower price and is generally available for even less cash at present.

Whether Asus simply chose to use this lower-power CPU or it has been working on the phone long enough for the Snapdragon 835 not to have been available at the right point, it makes the Asus Zenfone AR seem less appealing.

But the only place where the power seems to have any effect is in VR gaming, where we noticed some occasional slow-down. However, this is as likely to be down to poor dev-side optimization as any real lack of GPU power.

Other parts of the Asus Zenfone AR are very high-performing even though in the UK we get the lower-spec 64GB, 6GB of RAM version rather than the 128GB, 8GB of RAM model also outed by Asus.

Read speeds of the storage are SSD-like at 465MB/s, and write speeds of 140MB/s are decent. The RAM is also fast dual-channel DDR4, able to handle data at speeds in excess of 17500MB/s.

Battery life

  • Somewhat poorer battery life than its rivals
  • Fast USB-C charging

The Asus Zenfone AR has a 3,300mAh battery. As usual for a new high-end phone, you can’t remove it and it’s speedily charged using a USB-C port on the bottom.

That’s only a little smaller than the 3,500mAh battery of the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus, but the Asus Zenfone AR’s stamina isn't great. It’s not bad either though. It’s fine, and will get you through a day’s use as long as you don’t spend too much time listening to podcasts, or Spotify, or do a lot of gaming.

90 minutes of video playback with the brightness set to maximum takes 20% off the battery. The Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus lost just 11% in the same test, the LG G6 14%, despite using the same CPU.

It seems clear old hands like Samsung and LG use battery-saving smarts Asus doesn’t. There is a Power Saver app that helps you drag out the battery life, but it uses classic battery-saving moves rather than ones that don’t impact your use.

For example, the Power Saving mode stops network access after the phone has been asleep for a while. Super Saving disables network access and only lets basic apps like SMS and the alarm work when the screen is off. They’re compromised ways to prolong battery life.

Camera

  • Very versatile high-resolution camera
  • Quick and feature-packed
  • Tri-camera setup not used well for photos

The Asus Zenfone AR has a rear camera with seriously impressive-sounding specs. It has a tri-camera setup on the back led by a 23MP main camera, a Sony IMX318. As it’s a 4:3 shaped sensor, you’ll actually take 16MP shots if you shoot widescreen.

Top features of the camera include optical image stabilization for good low-light photo quality and a super resolution mode that merges several exposures to make a huge 92MP image.

Let’s start with the basics, though. For the most part, the Asus Zenfone AR camera is quick to shoot and fun to use. When you shoot in HDR shots take a little longer to take, but not to the extent it seems you’re being held back by the processing tax.

Shots look punchy and bold, with good dynamic range when using the standard Auto HDR Mode and powerful, mostly-natural color. The Samsung Galaxy S8 is better at dynamic range optimization, but the Zenfone AR fares better than the Sony Xperia XZ Premium.

With close-up shots, the Asus Zenfone AR also has rather nice bokeh (background blur) from its f/2.0 lens, even if others are wider. That’s without any software trickery, just the natural character of the lens.

Detail is excellent too, although when you look close you do see the cost of having rather small sensor pixels (1 micron across), which is what you get when you pack a lot of megapixels into a 1/2.6-inch sensor.

Tight-packed textures like grass start looking like an oil painting when you zoom right into the pixels and the fine detail in macro images appears slightly grainy or dithered.

This is the effect of the image processing making up for the fact the Galaxy S8 has 50% larger photosites, the little light-sensitive parts of a camera that take in light to make up a photo. However, images look better than those of the Sony Xperia XZ Premium, which suffers from similar but uglier pixel-level fizz.

It doesn’t get dramatically worse as the light level decreases, in part thanks to optical image stabilization (OIS). Asus says the phone has 4-axis stabilization, although this is part of the Sony IMX318 sensor rather than something special to Asus. Some of Sony’s compact system cameras have 5-axis stabilization.

The Asus Zenfone AR’s is not as good, but still effective. You can shoot handheld with an exposure of 1/2 a second and get sharp results. Most non-OIS phones don’t dare to let the shutter speed go below around 1/10 of a second on Auto, and even then it can be tricky to get pics pin-sharp.

In other words, the Asus Zenfone AR has what we need for high-quality night shots. However, unlike top-end Samsung phones it doesn’t tend to push the OIS to the max to keep the ISO sensitivity low, and therefore avoid noise. There is a Low Light mode that does this, but you have to switch to it manually.

That said, we’re pleasantly surprised by night photo quality even when the Auto mode takes control. Detail levels are impressive, contrast is good and OIS makes it easy to get sharp results. Still, for the best results you’ll want to use the Manual mode and switch the settings to suit the occasion.

The Asus Zenfone AR has one of the easiest-to-access manual modes around, with a little M button that sits just above the shutter. It’s great, not least because it also has a level indicator to let you know if your horizon is straight. You can even slow the shutter speed down to 32 seconds.

Just like feature-packed ZenUI, the camera app is fat with features. And, again like ZenUI, most of them are hidden until you open up the mode menu. Standard shooting is clean and quick, featuring just basics like HDR and the flash toggle.

Let’s dig into some of the extra modes. The most attention-grabbing is 92MP Super Resolution, which merges four photos to produce a huge image. It takes a little white to process one of these, but you don’t have to keep the Asus Zenfone AR still the whole time.

Looking between a standard shot and one of these supercharged ones, the mode doesn’t actually add lots more detail, but is rather good at reducing the grainy noise that comes with indoor shooting.

It’s not so much a 92MP photo collage as a kind of informed smoothing. There’s a dead giveaway too: these ultra-resolution images often take up fewer megabytes than a standard one.

HDR Pro is another mode that promises a little more than it delivers, turbo-charging the HDR effect to increase color potency and mid-tone detail. In almost all cases, though, standard HDR shots look significantly better and HDR Pro doesn’t reduce highlight clipping.

Other modes include the slightly creepy Children mode, which lets you attract their attention with a sound effect and then takes a pic when it recognizes a smile, and the now-common Depth of Field.

A complete failure to make use of the Asus Zenfone AR’s hardware, this doesn’t actually use the triple camera to detect the depth of a scene, instead using the low-fi approach of taking multiple photos with different points of focus.

It’s no surprise, then, that the results are rubbish compared with those of the iPhone 7 Plus or the latest Huawei/Honor phones. Most of these modes are clearly just part of the ZenUI software package, not anything specific to the Asus Zenfone AR.

Unlike Asus’s lower-quality phones, the Zenfone AR can shoot 4K video, though. There’s also electronic (software) image stabilization for video.

The phone’s front 8MP camera is rather good, capturing quite a lot of fine facial detail without too much grain or over-processing.

That said, if you like your selfies processed to the max there’s an advanced beautification mode that lets you break down how bulged-out your eyes are, how sucked-in your cheeks look and even the shade of virtual blush to put on your cheeks.

Camera samples

Verdict

A few months ago, we couldn’t have imagined spending this much money on an Asus phone. It’s still a stretch.

The phone has some of the hardware needed to justify this kind of expense, but not quite enough, and the design is just a little too plain. It’s an early adopter AR tax, the price you pay for a smarter tri-sensor array on the back.

It hasn’t doubled the price, but has clearly been used as an excuse to let the cost skyrocket. We’d advise waiting a bit longer until this subsides as smarter cameras like this will soon become the norm. And nice as the Zenfone AR is in almost all respects, it’s hard to see as anything but very expensive.

Despite some neat touches, the Zenfone AR doesn’t have the luxury design, the water resistance or class-leading elements beyond its AR capabilities, which are a work-in-progress in software terms at present.

Who’s this for?

The Asus Zenfone AR is for people who want to get on the mobile VR/AR bandwagon now, those who feel a shot of pain every minute they’re even a little behind the curve.

Should you buy it?

At the price we’d recommend buying the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus instead. However, if you’re desperate to get on board with AR, this is one of your only options at the time of review.

There isn't much similar to the Asus Zenfone AR, but there are plenty of high-quality, high-end phones, such as the following four.

Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus

Can the Asus Zenfone AR really compete with the big daddy of Android phones, the Galaxy S8 Plus? Not really.

The ultra-slim surround, ultra-widescreen Samsung is still the phone we’d pick at the price. OK, it doesn’t have a Tango AR-ready camera setup and didn’t launch with Daydream support.

However, it is more powerful — US or UK version — better-looking and has a slightly better camera.

Google Pixel XL

One of the few phones that can make the Asus Zenfone AR seem like a good deal, the Pixel XL was, and is, a very expensive mobile. It also shows how passé the Asus’s CPU is, as it has the same one and was released almost a year earlier.

The Pixel XL has aged well in other ways too. Despite having a much lower-res main camera with no OIS, its daylight image quality is fab. And the selfie camera is still very hard to beat. The Pixel XL doesn’t have AR tango support like the Asus, but does support Daydream.

Huawei Mate 9 Pro

The epic version of the good old Huawei Mate 9, the Huawei Mate 9 Pro is not easy to get hold of, but it’s a phone and a half. It has a 1440 x 2560 OLED screen like the Zenfone AR, and a curvy front the Asus should be jealous of.

This phone is basically a de-branded version of the Huawei Mate 9 Porsche Design, which costs well over £1000/$1000. The main thing it lacks is the AR-ready camera array on the back, with a ‘puny’ two cameras.

Anyone remember when we were perfectly happy with one camera on the rear of a phone? At a bit less than the Asus, it’s a phone you should consider if you’re here for VR rather than AR.

Sony Xperia XZ Premium

You might imagine the XZ Premium would be a great phone for virtual reality as it has a 4K-resolution screen. However, it’s a lesson in why no VR headsets use LCD displays. Motion blur will leave you feeling ill in minutes.

Other than that, though, the XZ Premium is a worthy adversary. They both have high-res cameras and the Sony can shoot incredible 960fps slo-mo video. It also has a faster Snapdragon 835 CPU, the chipset the Asus ‘should’ have had.

First reviewed: August 2017

Andrew Williams
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