We already knew from Google I/O earlier this month that ASUS' ZenFone AR, the second-ever Tango phone (and the first to also support Daydream), was getting close to its official launch, and that it's coming to the US as a Verizon exclusive this summer. Thankfully, we now know when people will actually be able to buy one. Right after ASUS' pre-Computex keynote today, I sat down with CEO Jerry Shen who revealed that this device will finally be launching in Taiwan in mid-June, followed by a US launch as soon as late June or early July.
It's been six months since we last spent quality time with the ZenFone AR, and believe us: That extra time in development has been worth it. According to ASUS' own tests, out of the 100-plus existing Tango AR apps, 40 to 50 of them now run stably on the ZenFone AR. That number is expected to grow as more apps are updated for Android Nougat. Shen added that the number of Tango apps is expected to reach the 1,000 mark next year, and his company will be doing its part by hosting AR developer conferences with Google. There will be one in Taiwan in July, in fact.
During my brief hands-on today I got to try the BMW i Visualiser app, Lowe's Vision, iStaging (a home decorating app from Taiwan) and Matterport Scenes, all of which ran surprisingly smoothly with great tracking -- a far cry from the laggy experience Chris Velazco and I had on the bulkier and underpowered Lenovo Phab 2 Pro. This is all thanks to the extra help from Qualcomm for fine-tuning the Snapdragon 821 horsepower chipset inside the ZenFone AR. Specifically, the optimization focused on the chipset's Hexagon 680 digital signal processor, which is pushed to its full potential using the latest coding. Of course, the 8GB of RAM helps too, but there will also be a variant with 6GB of RAM, which should still be plenty.
The difference between this and what we saw on the Phab 2 Pro was often staggering, enough to make the ZenFone AR the best choice for anyone looking to dabble in mobile augmented reality. The only question remaining is whether ASUS will charge significantly more for its first Tango phone. I asked Shen whether it would cost more than, say, a Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus, to which he chuckled and replied: "We wouldn't dare to charge more than that."
Chris Velazco contributed to this report.
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