ASUS announced at CES today that it was releasing two new smartphones, the ZenFone 3 Zoom and the ZenFone AR. Fortunately, both were also on demo for us to try out - and try them out we did.
The first of the two, the ZenFone 3 Zoom, is the more interesting product conceptually if you ask me. It uses an iPhone 7 Plus-style dual-camera array to provide two different effective zoom and frame sizes for your photos, and that should come in handy for shooting portrait photos. It also features dual-pixel autofocus (first introduced on phones with the Galaxy S7) to ensure your shots are nice and crisp in almost any light. The main camera module also has a massive f/1.7 aperture which ASUS claims will produce excellent photos even in dim conditions - but we'd really have to test that to be sure.
But the ace up this photography phone's sleeve is undoubtedly the massive 5000mAh battery (you read that right) combined with the power-sipping Snapdragon 625 processor. That should add up to some truly epic battery life, even if ASUS manages to utterly botch the software optimization (which there's nothing to suggest they will). The phone does have a big downside, though: Android 6.0. Yeah. We're not happy about it, either, and when pressed, ASUS would only say that Android 7.0 would come "very soon" after release. That powerful camera array and extreme battery capacity could be enough for some buyers to overlook an old version of Android, but given ASUS' shaky update track record, that's a pretty big red flag for us.
The ZenFone AR, on the other hand, does ship with Android 7.0. It also has a Snapdragon 821 processor, is Daydream-ready, and as you probably guessed, is a Tango-compatible smartphone. ASUS wasn't allowing us to do any Tango demos today, saying the software for the phone wasn't yet ready. That means we could only really get a sense of the ZenFone AR as a normal phone. As normal phones go, it seems alright. I will say I was immediately struck by the physical home button: it seemed too small and felt noticeably cheap. I was not a fan. That poor first impression aside, the ZenFone AR was quick (if buggy on this very early software), and its 5.7" frame meant it wasn't unwieldy or unusually heavy (unlike a certain other Tango phone).
A 3300mAh battery isn't exactly exceptional for a device of this size, though, especially one doing a lot of AR and VR work. We'll have to see if Qualcomm and ASUS' claims of power optimization hold up in reality.