It’s long been a dream to use technology to create a different world, a new world. We don’t to simply shape the world around us, we want to escape to somewhere new, somewhere exciting. Virtual and augmented reality are the latest steps in achieving this.
Google has been quietly working on augmented reality for several years now, culminating in its Tango program. Tango involves an array of software and hardware that work together to make augmented reality, well, a reality. Testing took place on prototype tablets and the program was declared ready to put into action.
Lenovo took the initiative and became the first hardware partner to come alongside Google for Tango tech. The result is the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro, the world’s first smartphone with Tango technology.
When first setting eyes on the Phab 2 Pro, the immediate reaction is to comment on how enormous the device is. Lenovo opted for a 6.4-inch QHD (2560×1440) display that’s flanked on top and bottom by hefty bezels. The phone is hefty as well, with a thickness of 8.9mm and a weight of 259g, due largely to the aluminum design and the extra hardware packed inside.
Aesthetically, the Phab 2 Pro is modest to the extreme. The front of the device is a sheet of black glass with three capacitive buttons below the display. The back is a slab of gunmetal aluminum, accented by a fingerprint scanner and the large camera module used to empower Tango.
Using the device is no special experience. Though Lenovo has vastly toned down its heavy and unattractive UI, the software has become rather milquetoast. Stock Android makes up the majority of the UI, but Lenovo has included touches such as transparency and Gaussian blur that don’t quite sync with the other pieces of the experience. The result is software that is perfectly usable while simultaneously lackluster.
Power isn’t lacking with the Phab 2 Pro. Inside is a Snapdragon 652 processor that’s been optimized for Tango. Paired with that is 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. Performance is generally great, with the device breezing through standard tasks without issue. If the Phab 2 Pro was designed to function like most devices, it would excel, as it’s easily able to accomplish the usual.
The issue is that the Phab 2 Pro isn’t designed to function like most devices. As the first smartphone to utilize Tango technology, the Phab 2 Pro occupies a special role. It needs to stand as a leader and role model for future Tango devices. And in this aspect, it falls short.
Though the Tango technology exists and is largely functional, it’s far from perfect. In reality, the Phab 2 Pro functions as though it’s still a test device, designed to find the bugs and work out the kinks of this new AR technology. This impression isn’t far from the truth, as Tango is a young technology and it’s never been implemented in something as compact as a smartphone before. It’s a feat that Lenovo managed to fit all of the necessary tech into the Phab 2 Pro. The process involved close collaboration with hardware partners and some unorthodox maneuvers, such as designing holes into the main circuit board to allow room for the cameras and sensors.
At the time of writing, there are 32 apps that are designed for Tango. These apps encompass a range of uses from gaming to home improvement. And just like the varied uses, the experiences are also varied.
For months, Lenovo has been promoting the Lowe’s Vision app for home improvement. Lowe’s even sells the Phab 2 Pro within select stores. In real-world usage, however, the Lowe’s Vision app is frustrating to use, often proving to be more of a hassle than it’s worth. The number of steps involved to place a virtual piece of furniture is time-consuming and rarely works the first time around.
The Wayfair app, however, takes the same concept and simplifies it. There’s no measuring or note taking, you simply choose a piece of furniture and place it on an applicable surface. This drag-and-drop method proves to be painless, making it a breeze to quickly see how a piece of furniture will appear in the room.
With Tango, simpler is better.
Another major focus of Tango is on gaming. The majority of the apps available are games, with options available for all ages. Though the first-person shooters are mildly entertaining (and a tad embarrassing when chasing phantoms through the grocery store aisles), the sandbox games such as Woorld and Towers for Tango were far more intriguing. These allow you to build off of your surroundings, and though often a bit glitchy, work to show the possibilities of Tango.
Tango is a fascinating advancement, and one that could change the marketplace in the near future. But at this point, consumers should hold off on buying the Phab 2 Pro. When it works, Tango is great, not only useful, but also novel. But inconsistencies and bugs abound in this early version, and you’ll be no stranger to app crashes and diverse glitches with the Phab 2 Pro.
We applaud Lenovo for taking the initiative to advance Tango, and particularly for working so hard to fit the technology into a compact smartphone. Though the Phab 2 Pro is an imperfect device, it paves the way for Tango’s bright future, proving that the technology can be more than just a novelty, and that with time, Tango can be a powerful and reliable tool.