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The ZenFone AR feels better than it should

With AR and VR capabilities, ASUS' new smartphone could have been a bulky mess.

ASUS had a subdued kind of CES this year, announcing just two new products on-stage during its press conference: the ZenFone AR and ZenFone 3 Zoom. Each phone offers its own brand of innovation. For instance, the ZenFone 3 Zoom has two cameras, a powerful 5,000mAh battery and a range of professional-grade photography options. However, the ZenFone AR is the real star of ASUS' show. It's the first phone to support both Google's Tango 3D-mapping tech and Daydream VR platform, paving the way for a new level of augmented reality.

The ZenFone AR is surprisingly thin and light for the amount of processing it has to do. It feels no different and no bulkier than, say, an iPhone 6 Plus. That's impressive, considering this thing has 8GB of RAM, three camera sensors and Qualcomm's Snapdragon 821 processor all wrapped up under a 5.7-inch AMOLED display.

The other Tango-enabled phone on the market, the Phab2 Pro, offers a counterpoint to the ZenFone AR's slim design: It's enormous and rather unwieldy.

Once it's placed in the Google Daydream VR headset, the ZenFone AR sticks out just a tad around the edges, but it fits comfortably overall. For AR, there's no headset required, and ASUS showed off a few apps that meld the virtual world with reality, including one from clothing company The Gap that lets users "try on" outfits on mannequins depicting various body types.

We didn't get a chance to try out the AR capabilities for ourselves -- the demo units at CES were running an older version of Android that didn't support Tango -- but if it lives up to the hype, the ZenFone AR should be a solid introduction into the wild world of mixed reality.

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