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Lenovo Phab2 Pro Review: Living in Beta

Lenovo was the first company ever to release a smartphone powered by Google’s AR platform Tango. Previously known as Project Tango, the software uses a special array of cameras and sensors to detect objects in three dimensions and allows special applications to interact with them and their surroundings. In other words, it’s like having a bunch of holograms pop up in the real world on your smartphone.

Yeah, that’s it.

As is the case with most handsets like this, some may be skeptical regarding whether it could become their next smartphone for the next one or two years. Folks, this is why I have a job. Let’s dive in our official Phab2 Pro review and see what this thing can do.


Google Tango

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The Phab2 Pro features one main 16MP camera wide-view camera, a motion tracking camera for recording different movements the device makes to make the AR experience more immersive, and a depth camera which can measure three-dimensional objects and remember what goes where in its field of view. It’s a really technical process, but that’s the gist of it.

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In a nutshell? Tango is… okay. I mean, it’s cool and all, but it’s probably not something you’ll use every day unless you’re remodeling your home.

Okay, let me explain.

Right now, the entire Tango experience is kind of buggy and unstable. That doesn’t go without saying it works. It just seems like it’s not ready yet, even though it’s been four months since the phone began shipping.

App wise, there’s currently 36 different pieces of software compatible with Tango. One of the more popular happens to be one simply called Holo. It allows you to download a certain number of character packs and place them on the floor, a chair, table, etc and either take a photo of them or a video. As you can see below, I had a lot of fun with the Election 2016 pack.

Of course, not everything is tan sprays and pants suits. Other apps such as Woorld don’t work as well. Things get really buggy really fast, with the sensors not able to pick up much depth in most lighting conditions unless your outside or have proper daylight. Therefore, unless you’re in direct sunlight, a majority of Tango won’t work properly.

Apps I can say are the most useful and work the best are what Lowes and Wayfair are doing. Both have catalog apps that allow you to place virtual products such as new chairs, sofas, tables, lamps, and more around your home to see how it’ll fit and look before you have someone bring it under your roof. If you’re doing a little reno or just wanna know what that new recliner will look like besides your coffee table, I can tell you these apps will provide you with the best possible preview.

Another app I recommend using is Google’s own Measure app. It does what its name suggests: measure stuff. By starting at one point and moving the Phab2 Pro along the sides of the object you’re measuring, you can see the dimensions of practically anything. Of course, the results aren’t as accurate as using a measuring tape, but they give you a general idea of how long, wide, and thick real-world objects are.

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So at this stage, should you use Google Tango? Well…

If you want the advantages of having a preview at what your home may/will look like or constantly are measuring stuff (say if you’re a contractor), then you’ll probably find what’s here to use useful. But if you want AR to serve other purposes, Tango still isn’t ready. In fact, it’s barely ready to support Lowes’ and Wayfair’s visions, but at least it can do basic operations such as those functions. Therefore, I say give Tango some time to warm up as it’s still a bit too new. And when you read the rest of this review, you’ll soon realize the Phab2 Pro may be a bit too new as well.


Design & Build

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The Phab2 Pro is huge. I said this before in my ZTE ZMax Pro review, but this time I really mean it. With its hefty all-metal unibody, 6.4-inch display, and 259-gram weight, you’ll definitely notice this phone in your pocket.

Of course, this doesn’t go without saying it’s a very well-built phone. For what it’s worth, the phone feels really solid, despite its gigantic size. It also kind of resembles the OnePlus 3T, and mind you, that’s a very pretty smartphone.

Display

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Touching more on the display, the Phab2 Pro, as previously stated, features a massive 64.-inch screen with a Quad HD (2560×1440) resolution. It offers nice color reproduction and a decent amount of brightness to look good and clear while interacting with Tango and other aspects of the smartphones, but you must take note: this makes the entire device huge. Despite having pretty slim side bezels, the forehead and chin of the device are really fat, making the phone even taller than what’s already presented by the display. Therefore, just know you’ll probably be stunned when you pick the Phab2 Pro up for the first time, for better or worse.

Along the top of the Phab2 Pro is a headphone jack; on the left is diddly squat other than a SIM/microSD card tray; on the right you’ll find a volume rocker and power button; and on the bottom is where a microUSB port lives (for some reason, Lenovo chose not to go with USB-C for this device). You’ll find the earpiece, front-facing camera, andIt’s no notification LED on the forehead of the device, while the chin houses capacitive keys for navigating around Android. They’re backlit, but they’re really dim. And you can’t adjust their brightness, so you may have a hard time seeing them at night.

Fingerprint Sensor

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The fingerprint sensor on the Phab2 Pro can be found on the back of the handset, placed below one of the camera sensors. Normally, I’m all for a rear-mounted fingerprint sensor, but this one’s placement is much too low. For any normal person, you’ll have to flex your index finger down in order to reach the sensor, while accidental presses on one of the cameras become a common problem. Sure, it may make up for its faults with its near-peak performance, but with such a number of caveats, you may be better off by just using a PIN or security pattern to unlock your phone.

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I don’t think I can stress exactly how big this smartphone really is. It’s not iPhone 7 Plus huge, it’s not ZTE ZMax Pro huge – heck, it’s even bigger than the HP Elite x3. It’s absolutely humongous. So if you wanna put nearly $500 down on a smartphone and you choose this one, make sure you take into account this handset’s size and weight because a) it’s too big to fit in any normal person’s pocket and b) it gets uncomfortable to use after long periods of time due to it’s heftiness.


Specs & Performance

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The Phab2 Pro isn’t your average flagship. It has a custom-tuned octa-core Snapdragon 652 to power Tango, while 4GB of RAM are present for multitasking, 64GB of internal space is available for storing apps, games, music and more, and an Adreno 510 GPU powers all the graphics.

Starting with the chipset, the Snapdragon 652 is by no means an 820 or 835, but it gets the job done. Things are usually pretty fast while using the smartphone, while abnormal stutters occur only when I’m pushing it. The 4GB of RAM is plenty to keep multiple applications alive and well in the background, while 64GB of storage has been enough for me as I tend to keep my phones light with only the essentials on board (obviously, in this case, some Tango-enabled apps were necessary which still didn’t take up all my space).

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As for the graphics, this is where things get a bit scruffy. First off, Tango content looks okay for the most part, but after a while, things get really slow and eventually crash. It’s pretty frustrating since this is the impression you get while using Tango, but again, this is the first phone ever to support the technology, so I guess I’ll give it a break.

In terms of gaming and overall use, I actually found the 510 to be sufficient. I can tear through a session of Asphalt 8 with stutters occurring only every now and then, while lighter titles such as Crossy Road and Spider-Man Unlimited run perfectly smooth. By no means would I expect to find such a GPU in a smartphone like a Samsung Galaxy or Google Pixel, but it gets the job done.

Part of the reason for not-so-stellar performance from the Phab2 Pro is likely the fact that we’re dealing with an underpowered CPU and a Quad HD display. To power this many pixels on such a lower-end processor doesn’t make for a good case scenario, therefore leaving users with much to be desired. I can’t say the Phab2 Pro is a bad performer necessarily as it’s quite good for normal, everyday tasks, but throw Tango or heavy gaming in the mix and you’ll be disappointed.


Software

Lenovo owns Moto who makes some of the best software for their devices. There’s never any glitches, any slowdowns – heck, it’s even close to stock Android. So why the Phab2 Pro features such poor software is beyond me.

Don’t get me wrong, the Phab2 Pro’s Android Marshmallow-based OS isn’t terrible by any means, it’s just buggy like all of Tango. For starters, when peeking inside notifications, I get odd stutters and screen flashes, while app crashes occur a bit more than they should with a phone packing 4GB of RAM. There’s even simple quirks throughout the experience that no one will appreciate, making using the handset less enjoyable.

Now look, even though the software’s not perfect by any means and acts more like a beta than a finished product, I like Lenovo’s UI they’ve placed on top of Android. It has a very clean feel and translucency plays a major role which I’m a fan of. The weather widget is one of my favorites of all time, while the launcher itself is pretty smooth and fluid. Overall, if the software on the Phab2 Pro were finished, I could say that it’s pretty great. But it’s not, and it feels like you’re working with pre-production features. Let’s hope this gets patched up soon.

P.S. Lenovo doesn’t exactly do anything to take advantage of all the screen real estate of the Phab2 Pro, so don’t expect any fancy multitasking features or anything. Oh, and some parts of the OS get confused and think you’re using a tablet (for instance when uninstalling an app). Just thought I’d let you off with a warning.


Camera

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On the back of the Phab2 Pro is a 16MP camera with an f/2.2 aperture and phase detection autofocus. I’ve gotta say, this camera isn’t the best by any means. Unfortunately, it constantly struggles to focus even with PDAF, while touch-to-focus is all you have to work with in order to attempt to get the shot you want. You’re also very limited in the camera app with nearly nothing useful but a shutter button being present.

Here’s some samples from the rear and front 8MP camera which also struggles with focus and tends to capture very little detail and color reproduction.

As for video, you can only go up to 1080p at 30 frames per second, something not common with 16MP cameras. Nevertheless, the quality is pretty poor with yet again bad autofocusing and saturation, while sharpness could be turned up a bit and dynamic range fiddled around with a bit more. I’ll let you be the judge.

It’s disappointing to see poorly-performing cameras on the Phab2 Pro. I was really hoping that for all the faults of the handset, the cameras would be it’s saving grace. This, unfortunately, isn’t true and will hopefully be resolved in the Phab3 Pro. But I can only cross my fingers since Lenovo isn’t exactly known for making great camera sensors.


Battery

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Another weak point of the Phab2 Pro happens to be battery life. It’s no better than average with my moderately heavy usage resulting in roughly 2-3 1/2 hours of screen-on time, while using Tango will just kill the battery right there on the spot. Seriously, if you don’t have to use Tango, don’t use it at all. Otherwise, you’ll have to plug in before the end of the day.

This is a really odd occurrence. Why do you ask? Because the battery’s size is 4050mAh. It’s not 2000mAh, it’s not 3000mAh – heck, it’s not even 4000mAh. It’s 4050mAh. And I can barely get through the day on it.

To charge, there’s a microUSB port on the bottom of the Phab2 Pro (for whatever reason, there’s no USB-C on this guy). It uses rapid charging to gain roughly 50% of its capacity in around 30 minutes or so with the supplied charger, which I find really impressive. If there’s one perk about the battery of the Phab2 Pro, it’s the charging rates.

I dunno, I guess I blame the poor battery performance on the buggy software and QHD display, but I feel as though it’s more than that. Something deep down tells me the Phab2 Pro should last me all day and then some, but in reality, I don’t even get close to that. Hey, Lenovo had to save something for the Phab3 Pro. Maybe better battery life is in tow (well, at least alongside better cameras).


Final Thoughts

The Lenovo Phab2 Pro offers a first glimpse into the world of Google Tango. It’s really just a showcase of what the technology can do now that’s available to purchase by the public. I really don’t think you should go out and spend your $500 on this guy as Tango’s awfully buggy, the software feels like a beta, it’s heavy, it’s huge, the cameras kind of stink, and battery life is disappointing. It’s the prime example of a first-gen product. The first one stunk, but the next one’s gonna be a lot better.

That doesn’t go without saying I’ve enjoyed my time with the Phab2 Pro, as its performance, display, fingerprint sensor, and overall build quality are pretty on point. It’s just not ready for consumers. In all reality, it’s for those who want to develop for Tango and need a phone that can help in their research.

All in all, only buy this phone if having augmented reality in your pocket is a necessity. Otherwise, pick up a Moto Z Play or something.

Rating: 6.5/10

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Max Buondonno is a technology enthusiast who has been working as a journalist in this industry for more than two years. He has grown up in the age where everyone has a smartphone which has influenced his decision to become a professional technology writer, his passion in life. He's dipped his toes in the development of websites, while you can ask him anything about Apple, Google, or Microsoft and he's bound to give you an answer. He's reachable on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and email.

2 comments on “Lenovo Phab2 Pro Review: Living in Beta

  1. Pingback: Google Announces ARCore to Bring Tango Experiences to Millions of Users – Matridox

  2. Pingback: Lenovo’s Phab2 Pro with Google’s Tango AR isn’t Getting Nougat – Matridox

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