At TechWorld this year, Lenovo unveiled what it dubs the world’s first consumer augmented reality (AR) smartphone. Marketed under the Lenovo branding rather than the more popular Motorola moniker in the US, the Phab 2 Pro joins the Phab 2 Plus and Phab 2 models in the lineup. Of the three phones in the range, only the Pro model offers Google’s 3D-mapping Project Tango camera.
Now that the first consumer phone has launched, Google also announced that it is dropping the Project name from Project Tango, leaving just Tango as the name. Where Tango shines is with its camera array, allowing users to use their phones to map the world, layer on an augmented reality interface, or even measure distances. Lenovo says that the Phab 2 Pro comes with a whopping four cameras.
The phone comes with a fixed-focus 8-megapixel camera, which is primarily used for selfies. On the back, there is a 16-megapixel camera with Tango’s depth tracking sensor and a motion tracking sensor. These camera sensors make the back of the phone a bit busy.
Given the large 6.4-inch high resolution QHD IPS display, the phone is rather long and large. This means that the three cameras on the rear, along with a circular fingerprint scanner, is placed in a linear array that occupies the top half of the phone.
Even though the phone is big, it feels solid, if not a bit boxy, in the hands. The phone measures a whopping 7.08 × 3.49 × 0.42 inches. Flat side edges, straight lines and rounded corners make this phone feel girthy, and there’s no hiding that large 6.4-inch QHD display. However, Lenovo did make this phone feel sturdy with its unibody metal construction with integrated antenna lines on the rear. The back of the phone reminds me of a flattened Moto X, and I wish Lenovo had added curvature to the back surface to make the Phab 2 Pro easier to hold.
Fortunately, given the size and the relative heft for such a large device, the fingerprint sensor’s placement in the center of the phone makes it accessible, and the position means that the phone remains weight-balanced so that the device doesn’t become unwieldy and topple out of your grips.
The main issue that I have with the fingerprint sensor is that there is a separate power button. I’d prefer a setup like what LG has been doing by integrating the power button into the fingerprint sensor. On the Phab 2 series, the power button is placed on the upper right edge of the phone, and the proximity to the volume buttons could make it easy to press a different button than the one you intended to push.
Of the three models, the Phab 2 Pro comes with the highest hardware specs, placing it in the upper mid-range market. The phone comes equipped with a Snapdragon 652 Tango Edition processor along with 4GB RAM and 64GB of storage compared to the MediaTek processors and 3GB of RAM on the lower end models. All models come with expandable storage.
With the pre-loaded apps, the Snapdragon 652 Tango Edition processor feels snappy and didn’t slow down, even when loading the bundled augmented reality apps. These apps did take a few seconds to load up, but I didn’t notice any hiccups in performance when they’re in use. Because Tango is still in early stages of development, I did experience the occasional crashing of the AR apps, but the phone’s performance is solid.
Lenovo reps assured me that even if I bought the Phab 2 Pro and didn’t use the AR features offered by Google’s Tango, the phone delivers tremendous value. At $499 when the phone goes on sale this fall, it seems like a good value for anyone looking for a larger screen but don’t want to carry around a tablet. The 6.4-inch display makes the phone a bit heavy to use against your head for phone calls, and those with skinny jeans may not appreciate the girth and heft that the device brings, but the screen is great for watching movies.
Where the Phab 2 Pro shines is with Tango. One of the apps, which allows you to study dinosaurs by placing scaled dinosaur models on the phone’s screen overlaid on the camera viewfinder, is not really all to novel. Sony had included a more whimsical and playful AR camera in its Xperia phone models for several generations now. However, what is new, and where Tango could take off, is indoors mapping and games.
Partners Lowes and HGTV demoed an app that allows users to virtually place furniture by using the phone’s viewfinder to get a sense of how new decorating scheme or design may work inside the home. You can also use Tango’s depth-sensing camera to measure distances between objects, and a game showed off how you can fire virtual rockets to destroy AR aerial drones. There is a game that allows you to play virtual dominoes, making setup and cleanup a breeze.
Tango shows off a future where mobile computing becomes even more immersive, and the brilliant thing about Tango is that you don’t need a pair of goggles to move between the real and the virtual worlds. I can see Tango being extremely useful in industrial applications, such as mapping out a patient’s surgery in real-time or understanding how a new car works by overlaying useful information onto the camera’s viewfinder or phone display. We’ll have to wait and see what developers come up with to take advantage of the full capabilities of Tango, but the Phab 2 Pro is definitely is leaving its mark as a big revolution in how mobile computing is going to work in the future.