Lenovo’s Phab 2 Pro – AR you ready?

Jan 5, 2017

Ever tried to watch Netflix on your phone and wished it was the size of your tablet? Ever held your tablet and wished you could take it with you to make a phone call? If so, the Phab 2 Pro is here to bridge that gap. The Phab line is a series of phones that are so large, they blur the line between a phone and a tablet- hence the name “Phab”, which is short for “Phablet”. The Phab 2 Pro in particular sets itself apart from other phones for being the first mobile device for Google’s new Tango platform, an augmented reality (AR) platform that allows apps to integrate with your surroundings in unprecedented ways.

The Phab 2 Pro immediately caught people’s attention when I used in public for it’s enormous size. Not only does it come in at 6.4 inches (a quarter of an inch larger diagonally than the largest iPhone), but it’s also more than 25% thicker and heavier than an iPhone 7 Plus. All this extra bulk is presumably to account for the extra tech required to run Google’s Tango platform, and while it does mean the Phab 2 Pro is one of the most powerful smartphones on the market, it can also be uncomfortably bulky.

If you can put up with the extra mass, you’ll be very pleased with the brilliant 2k screen (which is extremely high definition for a device this small) and the extra long life battery. Being built to run Tango apps for hours on end, the Phab 2 Pro battery is capable of going up to two days between charges with normal use. If you use Tango apps frequently this number starts to drop dramatically, but I didn’t find any Tango apps that kept my attention long enough to be a factor.<

Where the Phab 2 Pro surprisingly under-performs is with respect to taking pictures and videos. In well lit settings, photos come out looking great thanks to its 16 megapixel rear camera. But with the lights down low, pictures come out darker and grainier than other top of the line smartphones. Especially bad is video capture in low light environments, which quickly become so dark they’re unwatchable. It seems that the bevy of cameras and sensors on the Phab 2 Pro to support Tango don’t help it like you might expect when it comes to regular photos and videos.

While the Phab 2 Pro stands out for its size and performance, the real water cooler talk around it is the Tango platform, which finds its first home here. While some of the promise in the concept behind Tango is on display in some of the apps available in the Tango store, so is Tango’s immaturity. There are several apps that can catch a user’s attention for their novelty, but none of them hold it for very long or provide practical every day utility. And even the most interesting applications fall short in their execution with shallow content and interfaces that left me wondering if I was hitting the wrong button or whatever action I was asking it to perform was taking the processor a few extra cycles to process (which turned out to be the latter more often than not).

There are reasons to buy the Phab 2 Pro but almost none of them have to do with Tango- at least not its software. If you are looking for a phone with a very large screen and don’t mind a few extra ounces, this is a very reasonable choice given its superior display, performance, and battery life. It’s also very competitively priced for everything it has to offer. But Tango is not yet a legitimate reason and it has yet to prove that it ever will be.