Review: Lenovo Phab 2 Pro

Is Tango tangy enough?

There aren’t many phones like the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro. Being the first phone with the Google Tango augmented reality (AR) computing platform definitely helps the case but is there more to it? Is this phablet suitable for an average consumer or does it serve mainly to showcase its unique features?

Design and build

When you take a look at the device, one thing that stands out is its size. With a 6.4-inch display, it has a much larger footprint than the OnePlus 3T we reviewed earlier. The Phab 2 Pro has a premium feel – its aluminium body is good to hold while the hardware power and volume buttons are sturdy. That said, carrying a 259g phone around daily may soon feel like a bit of a chore.

The 6.4-inch 259g device may feel unwieldy in smaller hands

On the back, you will find the primary camera, an accurate but slow fingerprint sensor and the special AR camera. While the camera modules won’t bother you too much, the fingerprint sensor may. It is positioned very low and doesn’t fall under the natural resting position of your index finger. However, this is not to discount the design completely. It follows the form conventions of a regular smartphone but its size is sure to get you some amusing looks in public.

Multimedia

The most impressive aspect of the device is its display. The mammoth Quad HD IPS LCD display reproduces colour accurately and has tremendous sunlight legibility. You will have no trouble watching movies with this much real estate and the bigger screen more than makes up for relatively poor viewing angles. Although colours aren’t as saturated as AMOLED panels and the front bezels definitely stand out, on-screen visuals won’t disappoint.

The right grill on the phone’s bottom is purely for aesthetic purposes – there’s no speaker under there

However, visuals aren’t complete without sound. While the phone has two speaker grills at the bottom, only one outputs audio. Despite the Dolby Atmos, the speaker was average. It didn’t get very loud and was easily muffled when using the phone in landscape mode. If audio is your primary concern when consuming media, you will be better off using the headphones out of the box or an external speaker.

User experience 

The size of the device may mistake you for big specifications but that isn’t the case here. Powering the phone is a humble octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 652 processor and 4GB of RAM. Performance is a mixed bag. While the Lenovo-skinned Android 6.0 Marshmallow is definitely sluggish while moving between interfaces, it does provide customisation options to users. These range from optimising the phone for one-handed use and tweaks to the temperature of the display.

The software experience is based on Android 6.0 Marshmallow and requires a bit of refinement

In terms of switching between apps, the 4GB RAM did not disappoint. Memory management was excellent and storing multiple graphic-heavy applications wasn’t a problem. Surprisingly, even the older Adreno 510 GPU handled visually intense games well with no severe lag spikes.

Tango

One of the major selling points of the Phab 2 Pro is Google Tango. The AR platform opens up a host of possibilities both for the manufacturer and users. With Tango, users can get totally immersed in an experience but more importantly, it enables them to benefit from opportunities that weren’t previously possible.

Lenovo’s smartphone comes with a good selection of Tango-enabled apps available via the Play Store ranging from utility tools to full-fledged games. It’s quite fascinating to be able to enjoy childhood pastimes such as Hot Wheels on a handheld smartphone, or having the experience of exploring a haunted mansion.

Reviving our childhood with Hot Wheels

But more importantly, its practical usage in classrooms and in home appliance firms is invaluable. Dinos Among Us is an app that enables the study of various dinosaurs. It provides facts about the creatures and simulates them, bringing the traditional museum to your living room.

Additionally, Lowe’s Vision is another application that is able to provide 3D models of various home appliances. With the program, you’re able to quickly visualise how a piece of decor will look at home and even study how much space it will take using the Phab 2 Pro’s special AR camera. For now, the dimensions do not provide a reasonable degree of accuracy but future iterations could see the likes of Ikea and Home Center adopt this technology.

Lowe’s Vision overlays 3D models of real-life appliances on your home environment

The AR field is a very powerful one and has its uses not only for enjoyment but also in practical scenarios. For you to be carrying this on your smartphone is quite a remarkable feat. As of now, the Tango experience is unpolished and will take a few iterations before it becomes more mainstream. The older hardware is definitely a bottleneck in the Phab 2 Pro’s case but a more powerful chipset can easily overcome that. With growing number of AR applications, this is the important first step towards a more refined experience.

Camera

Conventionally, the usage of a larger handset for picture taking is frowned upon. In spite of this, the 16MP primary sensor at the back of the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro is acceptable. Photos during the day are sharp and have a good dynamic range. But at night, the camera really has to flex. Pictures are noticeably grainy and the shutter speed is extremely slow. Video recording at Full HD is also good enough for a casual occasion but nothing more. With no optical image stabilisation, you will not get very smooth and steady footage.

On the front is an 8MP snapper. Again, the camera does very well to take images during the day with good detail, but night shots suffer by hazy and blurry. Group selfies shouldn’t be an issue because of the wide-angle lens but if that doesn’t cut it, a panorama mode is available for additional coverage.

Battery life

To power such a large device, the 4,050mAh battery on board is almost a necessity. Standby times with the phone were excellent and daily tasks such as browsing didn’t seem to consume much juice either.

The battery can gain to 30 per cent charge in half an hour

However, Tango apps take a big toll on battery life. On an average, you can expect anywhere between 4 and 4.5 hours of screen-on time. With Quick Charging support though, recharging the phone was no issue and I got close 25-30 per cent juice in about half an hour.

Conclusion

The Lenovo Phab 2 Pro is aimed at a unique, niche market. Not every customer will like it but there will be a handful who love it. It delivers a Tango experience that is a satisfactory first step but leaves us wanting more. The software of the smartphone definitely needs a bit more work and some much-needed polishing is required in the camera.

But to credit Lenovo, the device comes with a default 64GB of storage with microSD support and dual-sim functionality for heavier users. The model we reviewed starts at Dh1,799 and is worth the price for hardcore tech enthusiasts. However, for the average consumer, Tango will have to wait a little longer.