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ASUS ZenFone AR review: A 'better' Tango phone doesn't mean much

ASUS ZenFone AR review: A 'better' Tango phone doesn't mean much
From Engadget - August 19, 2017

Google's vision of a future with devices that sense the world around them is a potentially game-changing one, and now one of its biggest rivals is embracing it too. Needless to say, there's a real chance that your next phone (or maybe your next-next phone) will support augmented reality. For Tango, though, the progress has been slow. It's been a little less than a year since the first Tango phone launched, and the number of available apps has not grown much; there are around 50 now, as compared with 40 or so in 2016. Some of Tango's functional issues have not been solved, either: a decent chunk of available apps still have trouble detecting surfaces and remembering where objects or markers are.

Generally speaking, apps fall into three buckets: games, utilities and miscellaneous stuff. Tango games like Phantogeist, a first-person AR shooter, remain a lot of fun -- I spent about an hour wandering through the office, disrupting meetings in search of foes to blast with my lightning gun. It's perhaps the most action-packed Tango game you will find, but it also highlights some of the biggest challenges for developing Tango content: Enemy orbs still float through walls the phone should be able to detect, and there's nothing to keep you coming back once that initial wave of novelty wears off. Hot Wheels Track Builder plops you into an ersatz workshop where you can tinker with elaborate racetracks and launch cars on them. Unfortunately, the bits you plop down are prone to wandering, forcing you to reset your view once in a while. That's the thing about Tango games right now: Even the stuff that's been out since Tango launched can feel a little unfinished.

The utilitarian apps have not changed much, which is fine, since they worked fairly well the first time around. You can still measure things with Google's Measure app with some degree of accuracy, or plop virtual Wayfair furniture into the space around you to see how it all fits. Maybe the most impressive new addition comes from BMW, which lets you virtually poke around a mostly life-size i3 or i8; you can even fire up the windshield wipers. Occasional tracking issues aside (Measure sometimes offers incorrect figures because it's harder than expected to place the first marker), these apps were generally free of major issues. That's more important than you'd think: While the games offer a brief respite from reality, Tango's potential to help people get things done is what will drive more people to embrace AR.

Then there's the other stuff. The best current example in the Play Store is an app from the Wall Street Journal that shows you a three-dimensional table visualizing the rises and falls of the US stock market. It works, but using it is not particularly intuitive, and the app offers little extra functionality; once you home in on a company, you can check its stock price and glance at a few relevant headlines. If anything, it demonstrates one of the most crucial challenges facing augmented reality developers: How do you present information in a way that makes valuable use of the "space" AR provides? With augmented reality being such a nascent technology, good answers are hard to come by.

Like the last time I tested Tango, the experience felt like a slice of the future when everything worked the way it's supposed to. Unfortunately, the novelty of most Tango apps wears off quickly. That's partially a sales problem -- if there were more Tango phones out in the world, developers would have more of an incentive to build great experiences for it. For now, though, the Tango remains a promising platform held back by its limited appeal.

Performance and battery

The competition

Wrap-up

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