Update, 8/3/17, 7:55am PT: The ZenFone AR is now available. There are two configurations--6GB RAM plus 64GB storage ($600), and 8GB RAM plus 128GB storage ($700). As expected, it runs on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 SoC with an Adreno 530 GPU.
What is a little surprising is the fact that the two configurations are both available unlocked. Asus said that they'll be available at online retailers starting today. In a second press release issued by Asus, it listed Verizon as the ZenFone AR's only carrier--which means the only carrier that has a locked version, specifically. The Verizon version has slightly different specs than the two unlocked models, with 6GB RAM and 128GB storage. It splits the cost, too, at $648 (or $27 per month for 24 months).
This makes two smartphones on the market that support Google's Tango AR technology. The other is the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro, which we wrote about in depth. The two phones and their Tango tech now face stiff competition from Apple's ARkit.
Update, 5/18/17, 12:18pm PT: Asus announced that the ZenFone AR is coming this summer. It will be available exclusively on Verizon, and the price is still TBD.
Original article, 1/4/17, 11:30am PT:
We suppose it was only a matter of time before someone did it, but Asus won the race to build a smartphone that supports both Google Tango and Google Daydream VR. Although Lenovo was the first to market with a Tango phone, Asus made its second-place finish count by adding Daydream compatibility, too.
We’ve written a lot about both Tango and Daydream. Tango offers smartphone users a form of computer vision--motion tracking, depth perception, and area learning--that allow them to view the augmentations through the phone's screen in lieu of a pair of smart glasses. The Daydream capabilities make the ZenFone AR one of the increasing number of smartphones that unlock Google’s next generation of smartphone-based VR--and it comes with a Daydream controller.
Asus mentioned that it’s “partnering with well-known brands to bring the Tango AR experience to customers.” We presume that means more apps, which is a necessity right now. Although there are dozens of Tango apps available on the Google Play Store, the lineup is lacking.
Asus had to load the ZenFone AR with burly specs to support Daydream. It has a 5.7-inch (1440 x 2560) AMOLED screen, and there’s a Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 chip inside that offers a Qualcomm Adreno 530 GPU. There’s also a monstrous (for a smartphone) 6GB of RAM. The camera has a Sony IMX318 sensor and TriTechAutofocus system and can shoot in 4K.
Asus said a “sophisticated vapor cooling system” keeps this beast of a smartphone cool--or perhaps more accurately, as cool as a pocket device running these sorts of applications can possibly be.
The company also said that it “worked closely with Qualcomm Technologies engineers and Google to efficiently distribute computer vision workloads, as well as rapidly process movement and positioning instructions by Tango that is known as six degrees of freedom, or ‘6DoF’.”
Asus listed the following advantages of its work with the Qualcomm 821:
-A precise time-stamped sensor that is now more tightly integrated into the SOC processes the data being received from five sensors simultaneously with lag virtually eliminated. This is needed to time audio tracks precisely to the AR graphics being rendered. This accuracy is critical for the precise functioning of the Tango advanced sensor fusion algorithms.
-Efficient hardware integration with no incremental hardware or co-processor required.
-Advanced camera and sensor processing capabilities.
-Customized Tango software optimizations
-A Hexagon 680 DSP (Digital Signal Processor) for efficiently handling Tango-specific processing, including 6DoF workloads. The Hexagon 680 DSP also features a dedicated low-power sensor core for always-on sensor processing.
The ZenFone AR will be available Q2 2017. There’s no price available at this time. Asus mentioned in its materials that “configurations” will be announced later, too.
Asus should be lauded for its vision and boldness here. Virtual reality, augmented reality, and merged reality (“XR” is a handy shorthand for the lot) are increasingly coming together. You can see this most prominently in what Intel and Microsoft have in mind for the upcoming crop of XR HMDs. Arguably, choosing VR over AR, or vice versa, is a half measure. With the ZenFone AR, Asus is going for it all, and it built a phone with specifications to support it.