As Lenovo’s first serious crack at breaking into the stream of conversation-sparking smartphones, the Phab 2 Pro is an interesting place to start.Read more ↓
It’s a hulking, chiseled Android Marshmallow device, which doesn’t earn it any points for originality. But, here’s what does: it’s the first phone to ship with Tango, Google’s new environment-scanning augmented reality (AR) setup.
The Phab 2 Pro serves as the launch-point for the experimental technology that could very well go on to be a household name in the next wave of smartphones, if not even sooner in the company’s own Moto Z as a rumored Moto Mod.
Sure, Tango’s current app count is small, but it’s plentiful enough to showcase its potential, allowing users to flex their inner interior decorating skills, build a Hot Wheels track in the middle of the room, and inject silly holograms of sorts into the real world, to name some examples.
Although not without its issues, the tantalizing Tango functionality is undoubtedly this phone’s killer app. But, is that enough of a reason to buy this phone?
For $499 (£499), you’re getting a lot of phone for the money, with a next-gen feature that makes it stand out from the rest, to boot. But without Tango, the Phab 2 Pro comes up a bit short on reasons to buy in compared to more powerful alternatives, OnePlus 3T and the ZTE Axon 7.
Lenovo Phab 2 Pro price and release date
Looking for this Tango-enabled phone? You won’t find it in your local brick-and-mortar retailers. It’s only available online through Lenovo’s site (US, UK) for $499 (£499) plus tax.
The Lenovo Phab 2 Pro comes unlocked, but will only work on GSM networks. In the US, this excludes Sprint and Verizon from the supported carriers list.
This price puts it in direct competition with devices, like the OnePlus 3T, Nexus 6P and the iPhone SE. But, of course, only the Phab 2 Pro has the ability to Tango. Plus, it’s just an absolutely massive phone, which could qualify it as a capable tablet replacement for some.
- Redefines what you’ll consider to be a “big” phone
- Compared to the massive Tango dev kit, this is an engineering marvel
- A familiar design that leaves us wanting something more unique
If you’re after a smartphone that will fit easily into your pocket, the Phab 2 Pro isn’t it. This 6.4-inch device weighs 259g – over a half pound, and just shy of the Apple iPad Mini 4 – and measures up at 179.8 x 88.6 x 10.7mm. It’s just massive all around.
But, its large size serves another purpose than just its vibrant 2K screen. It provides enough wiggle room for Google’s Tango technology inside, too. Jumping straight to the phone’s backside, the space made for the multi-camera setup takes the place of where you’d usually find a fingerprint sensor. Don’t worry, it’s here, but much lower and thus, more awkward to reach, than you might be used to.
The matte-textured, gun metal enclosure of the Phab 2 Pro gives off a familiar look and feel, like the OnePlus 3, if it had sharp edges. Flipped around to its front, the glass covering the IPS panel takes on a bit of a curve around its edges, which definitely gives off a high-end quality. However, the thick bezels surrounding the screen take away from that a bit.
Around its thick, flat edges, you’ll find the usual arrangement of buttons and features. On its bottom, there’s a micro USB port fit between two speakers. Given the sheer size of this phone and its bezels, it would have been nice to have sound firing toward the user instead of away from them. The volume rocker and power button are easy to access without looking, as is the 3.5mm jack on its top. Lastly, the left side hosts the SIM and microSD card tray.
Tango is all about augmented reality, or in other words, inserting virtual objects into your real-world environment through the eyes of a smartphone. How does it do this? As you might have guessed, cameras and sensors.
The accelerometer, gyroscope and rear-facing sensors work in tandem to gather visual information about your environment, like where the walls are, as well the position of the phone within that space. The Phab 2 Pro does all of the hard work and does it well, leaving you free to walk around and have some fun.
Sure, the library of apps is sure to grow, and the novelty of getting face-to-face with a dinosaur doesn’t really fade. And, yep, it’s pretty nifty to place a life-size appliance in my room just to see how it’d fit. But, it speaks volumes that the most fun we had with Tango involved inserting wrestlers and a Donald Trump impersonator into our world.
Gaming experiences, like Ghostly Mansion, are fun, but limited in scope, mostly just working to show off the room mapping capabilities of Tango. But, in most cases, they highlight just how constrained the platform feels when limited to a phone screen. These experiences don’t allow for the level of escapism that, say, the Google Daydream View headset does.
There has been chatter of Google eventually bringing its AR and VR ventures together, and after seeing what Tango is capable of, it seems like the perfect fit. Currently, no mobile VR headsets support inside-out tracking (no external sensors required), so a Tango/Daydream-compatible phone and headset would really pave new ground.
But let’s keep focus on the now. Until more developers hop aboard the Tango train, the lasting appeal of its apps isn’t likely to sail past being anything but a mild diversion.
Unless you like to be on the frontline of emerging technology, investing for Google’s AR feature alone currently isn’t worth it. On the flip side, if you have little ones roaming around, they’ll love Tango endlessly, and the Phab 2 Pro is a cheap way of getting in the door.
Here’s some footage of a little dumb fun I had:
And, because I love wrestling man so much, here’s another.
Interface and reliability
- Lenovo has made very few tweaks to stock Android Marshmallow
- Some custom interface animations could benefit from polish
- Kudos for allowing users to uninstall bloatware
The Lenovo Phab 2 Pro sets itself apart with its enormous size, but what you’ll find inside is, more or less, par for the course in a 2016 Android phone. Unlike Motorola, which has been pushing Android Nougat in its wide range of devices, parent company Lenovo has stuck with Android Marshmallow 6.0.1, which is likely the most stable release supporting Tango.
Compared to companies like Sony, Samsung and LG, Lenovo only makes very minor tweaks to the stock formula here. You’ll find custom touches on the pull-down pane and in the app selection screen, but it’s nothing drastic.
Lenovo has provided its take on a few basic apps, like Email and Gallery, and there are also some apps that could be considered bloatware here, like McAfee antivirus and SHAREit, a media sharing application that’s pretty unnecessary, but unobtrusive in its design. Thankfully, Lenovo enables the user to uninstall the pre-loaded applications.
All said, it’s simple to customize the look of the Phab 2 Pro, and the interface does a good job of getting out of the way.
Movies, music and gaming
- 2K IPS display is a brilliant companion for movies and games
- Dolby app can really enhance the listening experience
- 64GB of storage is generous, as is the microSD slot
The bottom-firing speakers work against the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro’s multimedia chops right out of the gate, but that’s the only downside here.
As expected, the 2K IPS display looks phenomenal if you’re watching a movie or TV show. Colors are accurate and the image moves fluidly. Just make sure that you don’t disrupt the presentation by accidentally hitting one of the capacitive navigation buttons embedded into the phone’s bezel (it happens).
Listening to music is simple, and you’re probably already equipped to plug into the Phab 2 Pro, thanks to the phone’s 3.5mm jack. But, in case you aren’t, Lenovo has tossed in a set of JBL earbuds that are fine in a pinch, but don’t sit in the ear securely or comfortably.
Additionally, the audio backbone of this phone is provided by Dolby. While listening through the built-in speakers is fairly unpleasant, the Dolby Atmos app allows you amp things up by choosing between equalizer presets, or creating one of your very own. Although the difference between listening with the app on and off is usually negligible, certain music selections (and movies) sound much better funneled through Dolby’s software.
That goes for games, too, which sound bombastic, and look it, too, on the 2K screen. The Phab 2 Pro has no issue running the latest games, thanks to its capable system-on-a-chip and sufficient RAM count.
To top it off, Lenovo opted for 64GB of storage by default. It’s a sizeable amount of wiggle room for movies, music and games, and thankfully, the microSD slot allows for even more space for your content.
Specs and performance benchmark explained
- The Tango-Friendly Snapdragon 652 can handle many tasks with ease
- 4GB of RAM will keep things running smoothly into the future
For a phone this large, you’re probably hoping for some serious specs. And considering the low price, Lenovo does a good job balancing performance and value.
Under the metal shell, there’s a Qualcomm Snapdragon 652 octa-core system-on-a-chip that has been tweaked to offer better Tango support. As we saw with the Sony Xperia X Compact, don’t judge a chip by its number.
The 652 gets closer than expected to some high-end competitors in the GeekBench 4 test, earning itself an average multi-core score of 3,440. This puts it above the Nexus 6P, but just a few hundred points shy of overtaking the US variant of the Samsung Galaxy S7.
Pushing the numbers aside, this phone provides a generally phabulous experience in day-to-day use. The Adreno 510 GPU tags along in tow to push the graphics, keeping games at a solid framerate, and the 4GB of RAM built-in helps to keep the operating system moving at a steady clip, even when under a heavy load.
The Phab 2 Pro requires hearty specs for more reasons than most phones. This phone packs in Tango, Google’s environmental mapping and augmented reality technology. When running, the Snapdragon 652 is powering the 2K screen, a 16MP camera, a depth sensor, motion tracker, and its internal sensors simultaneously.
For such an intensive task, it holds up reliably. That said, some of the Tango apps crash infrequently, and the battery (understandably) tanks while using Tango. We’ll dig more into the stand-out feature on the next page.
Lastly, you might be wondering why Lenovo didn’t opt for the Snapdragon 820 or Snapdragon 821, both of which are on the list of supported chipsets for Tango. We asked that very question to Qualcomm, here’s the answer.
- 4,050mAh battery lasts for about two days under normal use, much less with Tango
- The cameras alone are nothing special, but can take reliable pictures in daylight
Lenovo stuffed a 4,050mAh battery inside of the Phab 2 Pro’s large chassis. Compared to the 2,700mAh capacity in the 6-inch Sony Xperia XA Ultra, we’re happy with this amount, as it’s needed for Tango and all of that television you’re bound to catch up on with its slick 2K screen.
No estimate for battery life duration is given, but that’s probably because the use cases for the Phab 2 Pro vary so wildly. In our experience, using Tango even for a half hour straight dropped the battery down from full to 80%. Continuing on that path will surely lead to zeroing-out the battery in less than a day. On the other hand, playing the odd game and using it more like a traditional smartphone will yield more favorable results.
During our testing, it can stand up to moderate use (a healthy mix of social media apps, internet browsing, gaming and the unavoidable, but short Tango demonstration) for just shy of two days. And, thanks to its Qualcomm Quick Charge capability, charging isn’t too much of a bother. In a half hour, you’ll be back up to 37%, and it’s nearly filled up to max at just over an hour of waiting.
After watching a 90-minute 1080p movie file, the Phab 2 Pro discharged 18% of its battery, leaving it at 82%. While not the best display of battery retention we’ve seen, it’s not a ludicrous amount when you consider its enormous 2K screen. It’s comforting to know that this phone can last through an international flight filled with entertainment, then some.
The highlight of the Phab 2 Pro’s camera arrangement is, without a doubt, its Tango capability. But, it can still take a decent picture in the default camera mode.
Its rear camera located near the top is a 16MP sensor that’s plenty capable when in a well-lit environment. You’ll find a few examples in the photo carousel below that show off what it can do when variables work out in the Phab 2 Pro’s favor.
However, a dim room makes a joke out of it. The fast focus ability has a difficult time finding objects and representing them accurately in the dark. Sure, few phones are skilled at this kind of thing. But, for a phone that prides itself in its camera technology, we’d have liked to have seen something better as a standalone snapper.
Beneath the main sensor, there’s a depth sensor that uses infrared to help paint an accurate picture of your space, and a motion sensor that specializes in finding – and keeping a lock on – walls, edges and ceilings so to keep the Tango AR experience humming along.
Flipped over, the 8MP front-facing camera is serviceable for the occasional selfie and video call, but like most phones, it can’t put out the quality seen by the rear-facing sensor.
Here’s a look at some camera samples from the Phab 2 Pro:
The Lenovo Phab 2 Pro won’t be remembered for its confident, yet familiar design, or its gorgeous 2K display. As competent as it is at basically everything it sets out to do, its legacy is all thanks to Google. It is, after all, the first Tango phone. But, to Lenovo’s credit, there’s a lot to like here.
Who’s this for?
For those who want to be on the cutting-edge of mobile AR technology. If that’s not a big deal to you, the Phab 2 Pro is still a decent value as a standalone phone, so long as you can gel with its equally tremendous size.
Should you buy it?
The Phab 2 Pro, even without Tango to lift it up, is a sure sign that Lenovo is finally serious about smartphones.
And, while it will won’t convert flagship loyalists, Lenovo was right to hone in on building a phone that hits a mid-range price point, and impresses with a stand-out feature.
Given our experience, it’s tough to imagine Tango breaking into the mainstream anytime soon (if ever), but the potential is there, and ultimately, that’s Google’s problem to solve.
All said, if you’re in the market for a capable tablet that masquerades as a phone, and smitten with the $499 (£499) price tag, you’ll squeeze a lot of enjoyment out of this AR-ready phone.
If not, there are plenty of other, more streamlined alternatives in that price range, like the OnePlus 3T and ZTE Axon 7.
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