A smartphone with a hotline to the future of technology

The Asus ZenFone is a state-of-the-art Android smartphone that’s also a VR/AR exploration pack

Asus ZenFone AR, £840
Asus ZenFone AR, £840 | Image: Hugh Threlfall

Apple CEO, Tim Cook, has said that augmented reality (AR) will become as integral a part of our lives “as eating three meals a day”. A while ago, I too confidently declared that the use of AR’s cousins, virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality, would soon be everyday facts of life. Well, I have to say that “soon” is turning out to be a rather long time coming. VR is still in the foothills and AR, the art of superimposing digital information on a real-life background, doesn’t seem to have progressed much since 2012, when I presented a Technopolis TV video on its tentative beginnings.

But even if I prefer not to stick my own rather sore neck on the line again, everyone who’s anyone in tech is convinced that AR, more than VR, really is the future. Reliable future gazers are saying that in 10 years, we’ll be writing not on laptops and tablets but on air keyboards. Can’t see it myself, but bear in mind, 20 years ago, I was publicly sceptical about online shopping.

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If you want a preview of the coming AR world, try this Android phone from Taiwan’s cool Asus brand. For your £840, you get a state-of the-art Android smartphone with a 5.7in Super AMOLED 2560 x 1440 resolution Gorilla Glass 4 screen, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor, 6Gb of RAM, a desktop-class Adreno 530 graphics processing unit – and a luxury burnished-leather back.

But Asus’s ZenFone AR is also an AR/VR exploration pack. Those tech specs are designed to run Google’s Tango AR applications and Daydream VR experiences, and the kit comes with a VR headset. It develops as much heat as a hand‑warmer when it’s doing its AR thing. And what is that thing? Well, in a morning’s playing around with the phone, I had a virtual Diego Costa playing keepy-uppy in my kitchen, used the American Museum of Natural History’s AR app to simulate a velociraptor eating passers-by outside my flat and filmed my cleaning lady working with Spiderman by her side.

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Like consumer 3D printing, it’s more than a toy, but not quite a revolution at present and to be honest, I don’t really have space in my life for it yet. But it’s tech that’s here to stay and will only get more sophisticated. It’s also a really nice phone.

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