Whether it's the Google Pixel or the Samsung Galaxy S7 — companies are betting that the future of virtual reality will be ushered in by your mobile device. Now, you can add Asus to that list. The company just announced a new smartphone at CES that takes an adventurous and somewhat experimental leap into the world of mixed and virtual reality — and it actually looks pretty useful.
The Asus ZenFone AR is a new breed of smartphone that's jam-packed with virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technology. It leans heavily on Google's Tango and Daydream software to accomplish its grand ambitions, and it also happens to use a powerful new processor (Qualcomm Snapdragon 821) that is specifically optimised for this type of thing. There is a lot to unpack in this particular phone, so let's start with the basics.
The 5.7-inch ZenFone AR is only the second device ever to include Google Tango (formerly known as Project Tango) that is essentially a 3D-mapping technology. Tango requires a set of three different cameras — all included in ZenFone AR — that enable motion tracking, depth and room mapping. The software allows the phone to detect how far away it is from a wall, the distance between two points or where it's located inside a building.
So why the heck would you need 3D-mapping technology on your phone? There are a couple of obvious answers like measuring distances in a new apartment or creating a 3D model of a room before renovating it — but there are also a bunch of other reasons you might not immediately think of.
The Tango platform lets developers overlay digital images onto the real world, and that enables things like viewing a piece of furniture in your home before making a big purchase or playing interactive games that combine the real and digital world. Think of these games as something like Pokemon Go, but more sophisticated. You can basically overlay digital images over anything you want.
The ZenFone AR also ships ready for Google Daydream, making it easy to convert the device into a VR machine, assuming you have the Google Daydream View headset. This is obviously less-groundbreaking than the inclusion of Google Tango, but it's a nice bonus that makes this phone a great device for all forms of VR and AR.
There are also some stranger details about this phone related to the cameras required by Google Tango. Asus claims it has the highest resolution mobile camera sensor (Sony IMX318) on the rear of the phone and uses this sensor to combine four native 23-megapixel photos to create a single image — something the company is calling a 92-megapixel "super resolution" photo. Asus claims these types of photos have four times the clarity and less noise than a standard HD photo. It sounds totally nuts, but the layering process is not much different than what's already being done by the Google Pixel's camera.
The ZenFone AR also uses similar layering processes to shoot better photos in low-light settings. It also has the capacity to record 4K video, has a 1440 x 2560 resolution display and runs on Android Marshmallow.
If all of this bleeding-edge hardware and software sounds like something you'd be willing to shell out cash for, unfortunately, you'll have to wait. The ZenFone AR doesn't have a set price right now and is scheduled for release in Q2 2017. Regardless, we think it's safe to say that this is one of the more exciting mobile device announcements coming out of CES this year.
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