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Lenovo PHAB 2 Pro Tango preview: Consider our minds blown

We know exactly two things about Google's Tango (which recently dropped "Project" from its name) — that it is incredibly cool and that we have no idea how most folks would find day-to-day use in the technology. While having the ultimate Augmented Reality tablet is amazing, and the ideas Google has developed for using the tech is phenomenal, a tablet or phone with computer vision and spatial awareness isn't yet a daily necessity for much of anyone. Lenovo is the first of what Google is hoping will be several partners over the next year releasing hardware to change that.

The most impressive of the three new Lenovo PHAB phones headed to the U.S. this year, the PHAB 2 Pro, is equipped with everything you'd find in the Tango developer tablet, plus a few extras. We sat down recently with a mostly finished version of the PHAB 2 Pro to get a feel for what Tango is all about on a phone, and walked away more than a little impressed.

Like its predecessor, the PHAB 2 Pro is huge. It's packing a 6.4-inch QHD display with enough bulk on the sides to allow the three sizable cameras on the back to sit flush with the casing. Just like the Tango tablet, those cameras include a 16MP standard RGB camera, a fisheye camera for that "human" perspective, and an infrared camera for depth. Lenovo's IR sensor is not only significantly more responsive than the sensor included in the Tango tablet, it's also smaller. That's obviously a big deal when stuffing all of this hardware into something relatively phone-sized (and shaped), and keeping the cameras flush against the casing instead of protruding from the back makes this PHAB comfortable enough to hold and use like a phone. With Dolby Amos speakers on the bottom and a fingerprint sensor on the back, the rest of the body comes together nicely to form something that isn't obviously different from any other phone you'd see out in the world.

Despite the obvious need for processing power, the PHAB 2 Pro is running a Snapdragon 652 processor with 4GB of RAM. While we were testing the phone on an early build of the software, it's clear Qualcomm and Google have done quite a bit of work together to ensure this processor handles Tango tasks with no problem. Each demo ran smoothly, with load times between complex apps never feeling any more or less speedy than something running a Snapdragon 801 or better. Lenovo claims heat and battery drain won't be a problem thanks to the processor used and the 4050 mAh battery included in this behemoth, and in our brief usage the phone never really warmed up.

We're done talking about boring hardware stuff now, right? The software is what we're all here for!

Google plans to have 25 Tango-specific apps available in the Play Store when this phone launches, with a total of 100 apps planned by the end of the year. We got a chance to look at four of these apps.

Our first demo was of a furniture trial app. You pick a couch or a desk or an end table from the app, point the phone where you'd like to see that item in your room, and when it appears on the screen you can walk around the digital sofa and see how it fits with everything else in your room. We've seen similar demonstrations in Augmented Reality before, but with Tango this process was instant and remarkably accurate. You could be anywhere in the room with your phone and see how this sofa would look, or get in close and make sure nothing in the real world was bumping up against it. If you found that you liked that piece of furniture, you could purchase it right from the app.

Next up was the dinosaur education app everyone say on display at Google I/O recently. The app let you put a dinosaur in the room with you, tap buttons around the creature for additional facts, and even take pictures standing next to the virtual animal. Dinosaur selfies are a very real thing thanks to Tango, though the camera quality when taking photos in that mode lacks a little something to be desired at this stage in development.

The PHAB 2 is a monster even by large phone standards.

Two of the apps were games, a futuristic robot shooter and a room-scale domino crafting game. The robot shooter encourages you to move around in the real world as floating drones come at you from every direction. You see the real world in the background through the display, but there are obstacles all around for you to crouch behind to avoid being shot at. Tap the screen to fire, kill them all, score the points. It's a ton of fun to be that active in a game, and perfect for showing off what Tango can do to someone who isn't going to appreciate measuring or a museum tour.

The final game we took a look at was all about using the world around you to build the most epic of domino creations imaginable. You can fill your floor with whatever patterns you like, build bridges to bring your lines up onto tables or across windows, and when you press go that satisfying sound of everything falling in order fills the room. It's not quite full on Rube Goldberg Machine complex, but it's close enough that you could easily spend a couple of hours building and recording some amazing creations.

Lenovo PHAB 2 with Tango

Is Tango the next must-have feature in every phone? We're not quite ready to make that claim yet. The PHAB 2 is a monster even by large phone standards, and it's clear even to Lenovo that this phone is going to need a specific kind of consumer in order to take off initially. As a result, the PHAB 2 is headed to Lowe's and Best Buy stores at the end of the summer for $499, targeting an industry filled with people who would love to be able to show their customers how a project will look before it is finished or a quick way to measure something at an odd angle. We're going to be keeping a close eye on this phone, and see how everything feels once the software is final.

Russell is a Contributing Editor at Android Central. He's a former server admin who has been using Android since the HTC G1, and quite literally wrote the book on Android tablets. You can usually find him chasing the next tech trend, much to the pain of his wallet. Find him on Facebook and Twitter

  • Hmmmm, I'm not considering a Lenovo device right now, but Tango as a whole interests me. Sounds like a really fun thing to try, though I'm not overly sure if it will be all that useful in the real-world. Still, can't deny that it's going to be a seriously fun thing to try and use. The whole AR demo and Lee measuring a cabinet with the phone blew my mind. Guess we don't need that measuring tape anymore if and when Tango goes mainstream. XD
  • Before today, I wasn't interested in a Lenovo device, but the pricing seems quite good. Interesting to see Lowe's will be a retail partner. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Especially when you can buy lowes gift cards at 20% off all the time, and stack that with a 25 off 250 coupon you have an awesome phone for 375 plus tax. Too big for me though.
  • This sounds extremely interesting, and while reading this I couldn't help but to think about when jobs was still around at apple, there was sense /aura that Apple was about innovation, and now google has captured that. They are now leading the innovation charge. Google ftw Posted via the Android Central App
  • I can see some of it working for good. What I really see is us disconnecting from each other more and more. Less human interaction is not good. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I hope they also release Google Toilet soon, you know where you can place a virtual one in any room and actually use it (you have to tell an app first). Then the next generation app will tell you when you need to go, and what in which time frame you will need to go again. Fantastic. They're also working on replacing food, but currently farmers are not on board; though Real Estate people are. Google, don't you love 'em.
  • That reminds me of a Supernews video I watched on YouTube years ago. "The Google Toilet". It's hilarious. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Would hate to lose the S-Pen and user-replaceable battery of my Note 4, but this has really peaked my interest. Wonder if Verizon would carry it though (carrier > phone to me). BTW, cool video with Jen (love that dress/shawl she's wearing!). :D
  • My battery is finally going on my note 4. I have to find a reliable spot to get a new one. But I'm thinking about how great it is just to be able to do that. On these new phone with the sealed battery, you're screwed
    Does anyone know of a spot to get good batteries? First time doing it Posted via the Android Central App
  • You can order a replacement battery for the Note 4 directly from Samsung. It's $24.99 in US dollars, but it's the real deal and not a questionable aftermarket battery. Sealed batteries can be replaced as well, but you need to take it to a shop and pay them to do it (about $45).
  • The link for the genuine Samsung battery is below:
  • Uglyyyyy! Posted with ❤love❤
  • Such a great phone with those specs but this Qualcomm Snapdragon 652 ruined everything!
  • Is this Google's response to hololens? Epic failure
  • Why is that? If it's fast and smooth then what is the problem? Wanting higher end processors just because its cool isn't really cool Posted via the Android Central App
  • TBH I think Tango makes a bit more sense on a tablet than a phone. Phone screens are a bit too small, and as cool as all that stuff is they don't seem like things people will use on the go. Imagine VR+Tango though. That would be soooo awesome!
  • Given the current state of the market, this Phab 2 may be my best chance for 6"+ display. Still I've got to wait to hear about the phone-related specs before getting excited though. I need to know it's not just a fancied up camera with a dialer chucked into its app drawer. And, yeah, the 652 is a downer, but obviously something had to give to reach that 499 price point.
  • I'm with you. I'll be purchasing for screen size alone. Hope it's a decent performer.
  • Oh oh Tango the video app might sue for the their title being stolen lol.
  • That's right! Posted via the Android Central App
  • Interesting but I am sticking with Nexus
  • Really cool tech, but no doubt, downloading a separate app every time I wan't to use it drives me away. Want to see your finished deck before it's started ? Random contractor's app
    Cool furniture, how would that look? Download a Haverty's app.
    What would this shirt look like on me? ..Kohls app I honestly don't know another way to get around all of that though, and that's the down side. My phone will wind up like my lady's phone.. about 450 apps that I used once
  • Tango kinda sounds creepy, tbh Posted via the Android Central App
  • I need "Tango" technology like I need a third arm growing out of my forehead. And I sure ain't carrying something the size of a laptop in my jeans pocket. Just give me a dang phone that has good call quality, that's all I ask. No digital phone made tops the old analog phones for call quality. I've been using cell phones since 1993, so there. Screw the situational awareness stuff, just give me a phone I can use to make a call. I'm going back to my Nokia 520.
  • I still fondly remember the rock-solid call quality of my first Moto StarTac. However, the best voice call quality I've had to date out of all my phones over the last 18 years is HD calling on an HTC M8. It literally sounds like you are talking to someone who is sitting at a microphone in a recording studio, and I know a thing or two about recording studios ;) Call quality is one of the things that has made hold onto this device for two years, though I may move on to the 10.
  • I think I would have been worried when the first two arms started growing out of my forehead. Haha, just messing with you. I agree. Been using phones since 93 myself. Ugh, that was when my bill was $500 a month with no data or texts. AND I also had a 520 which is a great phone btw. "Phone Call" ability has taken a back seat to everything else. In fact, reviews these days rarely even comment on if a phone has good call signals or quality. It is just a given that it is going to be good. Fact is, I am on phone calls the majority of the day for work and I am telling you, some phones are terrible. All these gimmicks that are suppose to save time and make life more convenient rarely perform that way. I found they normally have some glitch that will either cause you frustration or cost extra time if you try to figure it out, rather that just doing the task manually.
  • I bought a Lenovo product, and I will never buy another. It has never had an update. It handles about FIVE apps before bogging down. Not running at the same time, mind you. Just five apps loaded and running one at a time.
  • There goes our "privacy" Posted via the Android Central App
  • Finally a decent sized phone being released in the US! Posted via the Android Central App
  • Dude, if they integrate Tango with their new Daydream kit it could be KILLER. Room scale VR on a phone? I think yes.
  • Well summer is here and gone, has anyone heard anything more about the phone? Was really wanting the phone, it was not out by the time the Note 7 was here. Went on and bought the 7 but with the recall I would consider this phone if coming out soon... arggg this is why I hate early announcements!
  • No release date yet and I find it odd that these stores will be selling these phones when no usa carries plan to officially support them. It's a small percentage of Americans who are willing to buy a phone that "should work" on at&t. US carriers will never support phones larger than 6 inches. They want you to buy two devices and aren't planning to make it easier to have one device instead of two.
  • It'd be interesting to see obtain centimeter-level positional accuracy sans GPS, especially indoors. Google's already used the entire installed base of Android phones to map Wi-Fi and cellular signal strengths globally. Can you imaging what Google will do with all that 3D point cloud data? Think Street View, but everywhere.