CES in Las Vegas is the place where the biggest developments in consumer tech are announced, and this year too Project Tango is in focus with the Asus Zenfone AR. For those who remember, CES 2016 was where the first Project Tango-ready smartphone was announced by Lenovo and Google; eventually the Phab 2 Pro went on sale in November in the US. Now at CES 2017, there’s a new Project Tango smartphone.
Asus Zenfone AR isn’t just supporting the Tango-platform, it is also the first phone after the Google Pixel series that is officially ready for Daydream VR, which is the virtual reality platform from the search giant.
So first let’s ask what is Project Tango? Google’s Project Tango aims to make smartphones a lot smarter and will give mobile devices like tablets, smartphones the ability to figure out space and motion. Just like human beings have spatial perception, Project Tango wants to bring the same capability to Android devices, albeit with a little help from sensors. Google’s Project Tango Development Kits have been around for sometime and help developers to create apps which can support this platform. On the Google Play Store, there are some Project Tango-enabled apps.
Asus Zenfone AR will support Project Tango platform. This one is also more powerful than the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro, which sported a Qualcomm Snapdragon 652 processor. Asus Zenfone AR sports the Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor, along with a set of sensors and computer vision software which drives the augmented reality experience on the device.
Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 652, 653, 820 and 821 are all Tango-supporting processors. According to Qualcomm, these chips can “support computationally intensive Tango use cases that involve motion tracking, depth perception, and area learning using cutting-edge computer vision, graphics and sensor processing.”
As we’ve explained before, a Tango-related smartphone needs to figure space just like a human being, and it can also be used to create AR-style projections. For instance, one use case for Project Tango is that you’ll be able to use relevant apps on these devices to project some furniture item, like say a sofa or a bed in your room, and then decide which one to buy. Additionally Tango-enabled devices also allow for AR character projections like a cat or dog from the camera app, and users can move their smartphone around to interact with this AR creature.
So the depth-sensing, area-learning techniques of Tango require that the SoC on board the smartphone can handle these advanced tasks. Qualcomm says that in case of Tango-phones also the “Tango-related processing is done on a single, highly efficient SoC (system-on-a-chip).”
The 821 SoC in Asus Zenfone AR has Qualcomm’s own Hexagon 680 DSP (Digital Signal Processor) with HVX and Qualcomm’s All-Ways Aware sensor hub. These are what help in boosting Tango-based computer vision use case.
In case of the 821, advanced imaging tasks related to Project Tango are run on the Hexagon 680 DSP, which has “HVX (Hexagon Vector eXtensions), or wide vector SIMD extensions”, thus ensuring efficient performance for the smartphone.
“The All-Ways Aware hub is dedicated for always-on sensor processing, supporting ultra low-power “always-on” context awareness, even when the SoC is off,” according to Qualcomm.
In terms of specifications, Asus Zenfone AR has 5.7-inch WQHD Super AMOLED display, Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor, coupled with 8GB of RAM, which is another first for a phone. The GPU on this Adreno 530. It has a 23MP Sony IMX 318 sensor with OIS and 4K video recording support and other two cameras for motion-tracking and depth sensing.
There’s also an external five magnet speaker that supports Hi-Res audio and DTS virtual surround sound to deliver great AR and VR content viewing experience. This is geared towards Google’s Day Dream platform, which allows for virtual reality and 360 video viewing experience. The smartphone runs Android 7.0 Nougat out-of-the-box. Asus also says the Zenfone AR is the thinnest project Tango smartphone in the world.
Asus has not yet announced a pricing for the Zenfone AR or whether it will be made available in India or not.