Lenovo is today announcing a new range of smartphones that will be coming to the US later this year. The Phab 2 and Phab 2 Plus are updates of last year’s Phab model and feature oversized 6.4-inch displays, metal construction, and low prices. But the most interesting member of the range is the Phab 2 Pro, which is the first consumer device with Google’s Tango augmented reality technology.
The Phab 2 Pro is like the other Phab 2 models in that it has a very large 6.4-inch display and similar physical design. The Pro’s screen is quad HD and the phone is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 652 processor (as opposed to the MediaTek chips in the Phab 2 and Phab 2 Plus). It has a 16-megapixel camera, 4GB of RAM, a fingerprint scanner, 4,000mAh battery, and all of the other features you’d expect on a modern Android smartphone.
But what sets the Phab 2 Pro apart is the Tango technology, which adds a wide-angle camera and special depth-sensing unit to the main 16-megapixel shooter. It’s a shrunken down and improved version of the Tango camera array that’s been available to developers in a tablet device for a couple of years, but it largely functions the same way.
Using the Tango features, the Phab 2 Pro can map out a physical space, track objects, and project virtual effects in a real-world space. Lenovo is demonstrating the technology with a variety of apps, including virtual reality-style shooting games; an educational app, made in partnership with the American Museum of Natural History; and a domino app that lets you set up Rube Goldberg-like contraptions with virtual pieces. Prior Tango demos have shown how it can be used to navigate an indoor space or provide contextual information based on the object it is looking at.
In a brief demo of the new device, I was able to try out a handful of applications. They worked as advertised — eventually — but are very basic at this point (and extremely buggy). Lenovo says that there will be about 25 apps ranging from games to location-based apps to utilities in a special app store on the device when the phone launches this summer, and it expects 100 apps to be available by the end of the year. The device will also be used by Lowe’s home improvement stores to demo furniture, flooring, and other things one might want to see in their home before purchase. (You’ll actually be able to buy the Phab 2 Pro from Lowe’s, as well.)
The Phab 2 Pro is a significant milestone in the development of Tango, as it is the first device that will be available for consumers to purchase and use. But it is still an early example of the technology, and the enormous size of the Phab 2 Pro keeps it relegated to niche interests. It’s likely that later generations will be smaller and more streamlined, as is typical with technology development. I’m not yet convinced that this technology is worth hefting around a giant 6.4-inch phone, but it will likely be much more compelling once it’s in an even smaller device.
You’ll be able to get the Phab 2 lineup directly from Lenovo and select retailers in September. The Phab 2 will cost $199, while the Phab 2 Plus will sell for $299 and the Phab 2 Pro will retail at $499. We’ll have more on the Phab 2 Pro and the rest of the lineup once we have spent some time with final production units.