Hands-On with Lenovo’s Tango-Enabled Phab 2 Pro

Lenovo’s been on a roll the past few years of innovating new mobile technology, blurring lines between laptops, tablets, and phones while keeping up with the latest and greatest of technologies.

I previously reviewed the Android-powered Yoga Book and the Moto Z Force Droid, both of which take unique approaches to common designs. The Phab 2 Pro is easily the largest phone I’ve ever tried using and, like the Z Force Droid, works better as a secondary device aroundthe house than a primary phone.

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That being said, Phab 2 Pro is also the first smartphone capable of utilizing Google’s Tango augmented reality platform, so when the company sent me a phone to review, I took full advantage of the time to test out a variety of Tango games and apps to see how well the technology works.

It’s not the most refined technology yet, but the AR alone is reason enough to give the Phab 2 Pro a second look.

Under the Hood

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The Lenovo Phab 2 Pro is a beast inside and out, weighing 9.14 oz (259g in non-retard) and measuring 7.08×3.49×0.42 inches (179.8×88.6×10.7mm). It runs Android 6.0 Marshmallow on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 652 Octa-core processor running at 1.8 and 1.4 GHz.

An Adreno 510 GPU powers the 6.4-inch screen (giving it an approximately 71 percent screen-to-body-ratio) at 2560×1440 pixels and 459 ppi. There’s 64 GB on board and a bevy of sensors, but the camera is the real star of this show.

Depth and motion tracking sensors combine with face detection, touch focus, phase detection autofocus, and more to make this 16 MP camera capable of 3D  modeling, scanning, and real-time AR video and photo applications.

Which brings us to the part that matters (and will be driving a lot of holiday content on Hardcore Droid, assuming Al finally gets the fucking site running).

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Using Project Tango in Real-World Situations

I’ll discuss in more depth how well AR works on Google Tango throughout the app and game descriptions, but to give you a general overview, it’s…a work in progress.

Tango is definitely cool, and when you first turn on this phablet (a term for phone and tablet that describes this Mugatu phone) it explains a bit about how it works, although you may be familiar already from using a ViewMaster or 3DS in the past decade.

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The Play store doesn’t have a lot available yet for Project Tango, but there are a few options available, and I had a $10 Play Store gift card to check out a few things.

Most of the apps fell into 3 basic categories: games, design, and social, and there were enough free and paid games in each to get a feel for what the platform and developers are capable of.

Interior design apps like Lowes Vision, MagicPlan, etc. had some problems really understanding the depth of the rooms I was in.

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Trying to place something large like a fridge or couch on the floor was a bit difficult. I’d look straight down and only show the camera the floor, then when I approached it from different angles, it turned out to be above the couch level.

While it’s usually easy to move things horizontally, moving them vertically was a challenge in each of the programs that placed digital items into your room and attempted to create space. For social applications, however, it worked a little better than Snapchat filters already available using current technology because you’re framing the action in a more stationary manner.

Scanning objects proved to be practically impossible regardless of how ideal of an area I tried providing. I was excited at the idea of a portable 3D scanner, but the ones I saw at CES still work better.

Here’s probably the 10th failed scan I tried of a drone sitting on my bed:

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As for gaming, shooting zombies, solving mysteries, and interacting with tiny creatures turned out to be pretty fun overall. The AR in Niantic’s popular Pokemon Go is little more than a Snapchat filter with a game built around it, but Android AR and VR is so much more capable.

Here’s a screenshot of Ghostly Mansion, which puts a digital overlay over your entire room to make it look like a haunted mansion from within your phone (although you’re actually the one haunting it, so it’s not all that scary).

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Other games simply put a cartoon or two into your real-world surroundings. Zombie and alien first-person shooters, as you can imagine, are quite popular. It definitely makes me want to pick up one of those smartphone laser tag guns.

Despite the inaccuracies in measurements keeping it from becoming a true productivity tool, the Phab 2 Pro is still a ton of fun to play with.

It’s also just the first of many smartphones, tablets, and other devices that are likely to support the Tango and Daydream platforms. By 2020 failures like Auravisor will be nothing more than a forgotten glitch in the matrix and Android will be a full-fledged mixed reality platform.

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Final Thoughts

Although Lenovo’s Phab 2 Pro is the first smartphone compatible with Google’s Project Tango AR platform, it’s unlikely to be the last. That being said, it’s obvious the technology is still new and there are more than a few kinks to smooth out. That’ll happen when more people have the platform and Phab 2 Pro does suffer a bit from these launch problems.

The phone is much larger than any other smartphone on the market, so it’s not the type of phone you’d carry around with you in your pocket. It’s probably best to keep as a secondary device, although it’s still limited by the slim Android library.

Still, if you’re an early adopter, creative professional, or gamer who needs to check out the latest and greatest tech on the market, the Phab 2 Pro will satisfy that need.

Final Grade: B-

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Brian Penny is a former Business Analyst and Operations Manager at Bank of America turned whistleblower, troll, and freelance writer.

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