Asus Zenfone AR Review3
Interface and Functionality
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.
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.
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.