Project Tango is Google’s premier AR R&D programme aimed at solving the many technical problems with advanced augmented- and mixed-reality.
Tango uses impressive sensor suites and software to scan the environment and integrate that data with visuals generated virtually.
Tango has shown off some truly impressive tech demos, but actual hardware that integrates the platform has been scarce. The first Tango phone was the Lenovo Phab2 Pro, and for a first attempt it seemed like a pretty good phone.
Now we have the second Tango phone from Asus, but the company was not content to stop there, this is also a Google Daydream compatible phone. Phones that work with Google’s premium evolution of the Cardboard concept have been few and far between. So the Zenfone is a little like a unicorn crossed with a pegasus (pun intended) in terms of rarity.
The Gritty Details
It’s a fairly normal-looking 5.7 smartphone, which puts it at the larger end of the spectrum, but honestly that’s within the average range these days.
The most striking difference externally is the “TriCam” system which, as the name suggests, consists of three different cameras.
Photo buffs will be pleased to know that the main rear camera is an impressive 23 megapixel unit. Usually that would be a pointless gimmick, but the high resolution sensor is crucial to the Tango system. Who knows, perhaps Tango will finally reignite the megapixel race?
The secondary camera is dedicated to motion tracking using machine vision and the tertiary camera is a depth-sensing unit that allows the phone to “see” in 3D.
On the Daydream side the phone has the specs to accord with Google’s higher than average mobile VR ambitions. The Gorilla Glass 4 screen covers nearly 80% of the phone’s body and is a 2560*1440 Super AMOLED unit. In short it should be utterly gorgeous.
The SoC is also impressive, with a custom S821 CPU and (a world first) 8GB of RAM. So this will also be one of the most powerful phones you can buy. There is also a 6GB version and storage can vary between 128GB and 256GB. The GPU in every model is the Adreno 530.
The Bag of Tricks
While Daydream VR doesn’t need much of an explanation, Tango is way more niche and most people have probably never heard of it. Thanks to the Tango tech this phone can do some pretty futuristic things.
First of all you have the AR applications, which many of us have tried on traditional smartphones. The difference here is in how solid and complex the rendering can be. Since Tango can tell that something is a flat surface like a table, it means that the on-screen illusion that virtual objects are actually standing on that table is much more complete.
Tango enables three main abilities that make all of this possible. It can accurately track the motion of what it sees, it can learn the physical parameters of a space and it can see in 3D. Combining those three attributes and you can do some pretty impressive things.
It also means the phone can work as an optical measurement system. It has an IR rangefinder that can tell you how far away an object is, how big it is and so on. One cool feature is to put virtual objects into a room to see how they’ll look. Interior decorators should be thrilled.
A Kick in the Pants
While smartphones have been getting better with each generation, they haven’t really done anything new. If you have something like the Samsung Galaxy S8 it’s basically just a very refined version of early S phones. Sure you have features such as iris scanning, but these aren’t game changers. Tango is a game changer for what’s possible with a smartphone and AR. If enough people buy into the potential of the technology phones like the Zenfone could very well be the devices that push AR into the true mainstream.
IMAGE CREDIT: Official Product Gallery