- Slick, stylish design
- Unique AR abilities
- Good battery life
- Promising AR app library
- Below-average performance
- Too large and heavy for average user
- Camera captures lackluster colors
The Lenovo Phab 2 Pro offers an unrivaled augmented-reality experience, a huge screen and solid battery life, but its sheer size is a turn-off.
I used to think that there was no such thing as smartphone that was too big. And then came the $499 Phab 2 Pro. With a whopping 7-inch screen, the phone is sure to turn plenty of heads and stretch many a pocket. However, there’s a method to the Phab 2 Pro’s massiveness: It’s the first phone to feature Google’s Project Tango technology, delivering augmented reality without forcing you to strap on a headset or goggles.
Using a trio of specialized cameras, sensors and software, the Phab 2 Pro can map 3D space, measure depth and track location for an augmented-reality experience unlike anything you’ve seen before. This is a phone that can redecorate your house, let you design a car and explore a spooky mansion, just by hitting a button. (Beat that, Pokémon Go!)
And when you’re not busy augmenting your view, the Phab 2 Pro offers smooth performance and a bright display, which makes for a good — if oversize — multimedia device.
Design: Big But Beautiful
I love big phones, but the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro blows past what I’d consider a typical phablet. It’s the phone version of the machete in that famous Crocodile Dundee scene. (“Now, that’s a knife.”) Weighing 9.1 ounces and measuring 7.1 x 3.5 x 0.4 inches, this is by far the largest phone I’ve ever had the pleasure of reviewing, and I reviewed the 7.1-ounce Samsung Galaxy Mega and its 6.6 x 3.46 x 0.31-inch frame back in 2013.
The Phab 2 Pro makes rivals like the Apple iPhone 7 Plus (6.6 ounces, 6.2 x 3.1 x 0.3 inches),Google Pixel XL (5.9 ounces, 6.1 x 3 x 0.33 inches), LG V20 (6.1 ounces, 6.3 x 3.1 x 0.3 inches) and LeEco LePro 3 (6.2 ounces, 5.9 x 2.9 x 0.29 inches) look downright small. My freakishly long thumb, which can usually wrap around the biggest of smartphones, was no match for this behemoth. Thankfully, like most phablets, the Phab 2 Pro offers a one-handed mode for those of us who don’t play center on an NBA team.
But as the saying goes, big is beautiful. Wrapped in aluminum-colored Gunmetal gray, the Phab 2 Pro will turn just as many heads for its overall loveliness as well as its size. Sporting a pair of dark gray accent lines, the rear panel houses a trifecta of cameras, including a 16-megapixel module, depth (IR camera) and motion-sensing modules (the latter with a fisheye camera). You’ll also find a circular fingerprint scanner on the back of the phone, along with logos for Lenovo and Google Tango.
The sides of the phone are diamond cut, giving the device an eye-catching shine. Along the right sits the volume rocker and power button, with the dual slot housing a nanoSIM and microSD on the left. At the top, you’ll find an audio jack, with the microUSB port and speakers on the bottom. If Gunmetal doesn’t suit your fancy, the phone will also be available in Champagne Gold.
The 6.4-inch display protrudes slightly from the phone. While the side bezels are razor-thin, the glossy black borders at the top and bottom are noticeably thicker. You’ll find the receiver and 8-MP camera on top of the phone’s front panel, while the lower bezel holds backlit touch capacitive buttons for Back, Home and Recent Apps.
Augmented Reality: It Takes Two to (Google) Tango
Much ado has been made about the Phab 2 Pro’s size, but Lenovo didn’t make a ginormous phone for the lulz. This “handset” is the first smartphone to feature Google’s Tango technology. Comprised of hardware and software, Tango is the next step in augmented reality. Using the depth and motion-sensing cameras with the phone’s accelerometer and gyroscope, the Phab 2 Pro can map a room, track motion and accurately sense depth.
Essentially, the Phab 2 Pro has more practical and interactive uses than current AR darlings Pokémon Go or Snapchat.
I started my Tango VR experience with Lowe’s Vision app. By simply pointing the phone at a sizable empty space, I could get a solid estimated measurement. From there, I could pick and choose through the store’s inventory and place a 3D model of a sofa or table in the physical space of the room. I essentially redecorated my home and the Tom’s Guide office without the muss and fuss of actually buying the pieces of furniture and lugging them around, which made it easy to learn I didn’t like a particular shade or, worse, that my latest addition didn’t fit in the space I was going to place it.
Because I’m a nerd, I next launched the Dinos Among Us app from the American Museum of Natural History. That app presented a cadre of dinosaurs to choose from: all I had to do was select where in the room I wanted one to appear. From there, a simple tap on the screen and a thunder lizard was standing before me. Unfortunately, the animations weren’t that detailed — instead of scales and feathers, the beasts were comprised of semi-smooth triangles. However, coupled with several fun facts strategically positioned over the dino, I managed to learn a thing or two.
But Tango is more than work and education; there are several intriguing games like Ghostly Mansion, as well as exploration and puzzle titles. I was tasked with piecing together my identity and how I died by exploring my apartment, which had been transformed into a dreary, seemingly abandoned mansion.
There are currently 36 Tango-compatible apps in the Play Store, including Wayfair View, MagicPlan, Woorld, Crayola Color Blaster, Bubbles and Holo. Most of the apps delivered fairly smooth performance as long as I used the phone in a brightly lit environment. If the lighting was too dim, though, the tracking would veer off and the animation would stutter. The app suite is minuscule compared to the whole of the Play Store, but it’s a nice peek into possible use cases for AR outside of catching Pokémon.
Display: The big picture
Talk about a view: The Phab 2 Pro is decked out with a massive 6.4-inch, 2560 x 1440 touch display. It’s the big-screen TV experience on your smartphone. Actor Andre Royo’s bronze skin seemed to glow against the jade green wall during the 1080p Hunter Gatherer trailer. Details were sharp enough for me to see the slight creases in the actor’s lilac shirt.
Colors on the IPS screen are rich and bold, thanks to the panel’s color reproductivity, which covers 114 percent on sRGB spectrum. That’s better than our minimum 100 percent threshold, but short of rivals like the Le Pro 3 (129 percent), V20 (130 percent) or the Pixel XL, which measured a crazy 191 percent.
With a score of 3.2 on the Delta-E benchmark, the Phab 2 Pro is one of the more color accurate phablets available, beating the smartphone average (4). That was enough to stave off the Pixel XL (5.8) and the V20 (3.9). However, the Le Pro3 was closest to perfect at 0.7.
In terms of brightness, the Phab 2 Pro can definitely light up a room with an average 436 nits, which is better than the 433-nit smartphone average as well as the Pixel XL’s 396 nits. Unfortunately, the Lenovo phone couldn’t hold a candle to the likes of the V20 (512 nits) or the iPhone 7 Plus (578 nits). The Le Pro 3 isn’t too shabby at 464 nits.
Audio: Best with Headphones
Even for a smartphone this large, the Phab 2 Pro’s bottom-mounted speakers pack quite a punch. As I listened to John Legend’s “Love Me Now,” his smooth tenor filled my bedroom, standing apart from the accompanying steel drum and piano instrumental. While the percussion was clear, it lacked real oomph despite the onboard Dolby Atmos software, which has presets for Music, Movies, Game, Voice and two custom channels. However, Dolby Atmos is at its best when used with headphones, and I quickly settled on Game as my favorite setting no matter what I was listening to or watching.
In addition to cranking out some wicked beats, the Dolby software is capable of creating them with Audio Capture 5.1. Using the Phab 2 Pro’s multiple microphones, the device can capture 360-degree audio that will greatly enhance any video you shoot. This would be a great phone to use if you wanted to record a concert or a sports event.
Interface: No Nougat
The Phab 2 Pro ships with Android 6.0.1 (Marshmallow) instead of Nougat, the latest version of Android. Lenovo has kept the interface as close to stock Android as possible. Swiping down on the unlocked device reveals the quick settings menu and your recent notifications. Using Google’s Material design, the phone features two home screens that will expand to seven as you add more apps. Following Material’s cues, the apps are larger and more colorful.
The Phab 2 Pro’s user interface is clean, consisting of an amber swirl which may or may not be a close-up of someone’s hair. At any rate, it’s interesting enough to be deemed artistic. Pressing the Recent apps button displays your activity by placing it into a set of scrollable cards, while the Home button returns you to the home screen if you don’t feel like pressing the Back button.
A number of non-Tango apps round out the software. Lenovo-branded apps include Shareit, a cloud-based service for sharing multimedia content across devices, and Syncit, which lets you back up contacts, SMS and Call Log or transfer them to a new device. Third-party apps include Netflix, Adobe Acrobat and AccuWeather.
Performance: Good, Not Great
To support all those sensors and cameras while mapping your room and rendering animation you’ll need a special processor. That’s why the Phab 2 Pro is outfitted with a specialized Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. The CPU went about the business of launching and running multiple traditional apps pretty smoothly. I could even run a few Tango apps at once before there was any stutter.
Although it’s been specialized for Google Tango, the Phab 2 Pro fell a bit short of its peers during our synthetic tests. On Geekbench 4, which measures overall performance, the Phab 2 Pro scored 3,189. That’s less than the 3,389 smartphone average as well as the V20 (3,989). It’s also less than the LePro 3 (4,096), Pixel XL (4,146) and iPhone 7 Plus (5,392) — all of which have more powerful processors.
The Phab 2 Pro completed the Jetstream web-browser test with a score 51.1, beating the 36.4 average and the V20’s 46.7. However, it wasn’t enough to top the Le Pro3’s 55.2 or the Pixel XL’s 55.9.
A specialized Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 launched and ran multiple apps pretty smoothly.
Equipped with an Adreno 510 GPU, the Phab 2 Pro delivered some smooth graphics on Asphalt 8: Airborne as well as such Tango titles as Holo or Ghostly Mansion. When we ran 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited, the Phab 2 Pro scored 18,266, surpassing the 16,669 average. However, it was behind the Pixel XL, V20, the iPhone 7 Plus or the Le Pro3.
Cameras: Best in Bright Light
Lenovo and Google took advantage of every opportunity to deliver some AR goodness to the Phab 2 Pro’s cameras. In addition to Night, Panorama and Group Selfie settings, the camera also has an AR mode. When enabled, you can choose to play with a cute puppy, a baby dragon or a fairy. Each AR avatar has a couple of toys you can interact with them. Giving the puppy a bone will cause him to jump up and down with excitement and roll over, allowing for a quick photo with the capture button or a longer episode of cuteness via video.
The Phab 2 Pro’s 16-megapixel rear camera is best in bright settings. A photo I snapped of a fire engine pulling out of the station produced sharp detail, allowing me to check out the various valves and knobs along its side. The reds and yellows were a little darker than the actual shades. The same thing happened when I snapped a few floral shots. The bright pink, red and whites I expected from the final shot looked rather flat, even with high dynamic range (HDR) enabled.
The smartphone is capable of capturing traditional video in 1920 x 1080, which I found to have good detail and OK color. Similar to my test photos, a lot of the colors in the scene were darker than in real life. The normally golden cabs took on a more mustard tone.
Shots taken with the 8-MP front camera did a little better with color reproduction, capturing the tomato red of the wall in the background as well as my chocolate skin tone. My coat looked a few shades lighter than usual, but details were sharp enough to see the stitching in my sweater.
Battery Life: About Average
To sustain several sets of cameras and sensors, the Phab 2 Pro has a massive 4,050 mAh Li-ion battery. It lasted 9 hours and 14 minutes on our battery test, which consisted of continuous web-surfing over AT&T’s 4G LTE network. While that will definitely get you through the work day, the Phab 2 Pro’s time was still a bit short of the 9:23 smartphone average. The iPhone 7 Plus (10:38), Pixel XL (11:11) and Le Eco3 (11:25) all lasted longer. Among comparable phones, the V20 had the least amount of juice, at 8:47.
Make no bones about it, the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro is cool. Outside of playing with virtual puppies and dragons or tricking out my dream car in augmented reality, the best thing about this smartphone is the practical- use cases. Google’s Project Tango adds legitimacy to a technology whose current claim to fame is tossing Pokéballs. Now, you can remodel your home, map the stars or capture 3D object scans. The Lenovo Phab Pro puts us one step closer to mainstream adoption of AR.
For $499, the Phab 2 Pro is a solid smartphone, delivering a compelling 6.4-inch screen and more than 9 hours of battery life. However, the size will be off-putting to most consumers, especially those of us with smaller hands. If you’re looking for a phone with more manageable dimensions and powerful performance, there’s the Google Pixel XL (starting at $649). While it lacks an AR experience similar to the Phab 2 Pro, it does offer virtual reality by way of its compatibility with the Daydream View headset ($79).
Overall, despite its massive size, the Phab 2 Pro is a good choice for home decorators, building contractors or early adopters looking to get in on the ground floor of AR.