Lenovo Phab2 Pro Review: Tango Cool, Phone OK

by Reads (1,213)
  • Editor's Rating

    Ratings Breakdown (1-10)

      • Service, Warranty & Support
      • 8
      • Ease of Use
      • 6
      • Design
      • 7
      • Performance
      • 7
      • Value
      • 7
      • Total Score:
      • 7.00
      • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10
  • Pros

    • Tango is fun and full of potential
    • Decent build and display
    • 64GB storage
  • Cons

    • Could be way too big for some
    • Mediocre battery
    • Camera awful in low light
    • Fingerprint sensor too easily confused with Tango camera
    • No NFC

Quick Take

Get past its size, and the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro is an average phone, suitable for daily use. Its Tango camera shows AR's potential on mobile, but it's still too early to make this a must-have phablet.


The Lenovo Phab 2 Pro is big, but that’s not the only reason it’s different. It’s the first Android smartphone with Tango, a computer vision technology that uses the Pro’s camera and specialized processing to detect space and positioning.

Lenovo Phab 2 Pro

Lenovo Phab 2 Pro

Think of it as a hyper local and more detail-driven GPS, which recognizes you’re standing three feet from a wall rather than 2.3 miles from the nearest Starbucks. Google hopes Tango will enable better augmented reality (AR) apps, 3D mapping, indoor navigation, all with a better sense of environmental awareness.

We took a Lenovo Phab 2 Pro review unit for a spin to find out if this 6.4-inch Android phablet is good enough to justify its $500 asking price, and to see Tango on a consumer device.

Lenovo Phab 2 Pro Build & Design

The Lenovo Phab 2 Pro is a supersized smartphone. It measures 7.1 x 3.5 x 0.4 inches, and weighs .57 pounds. It has a 6.4-inch display, and is closer to a small tablet in size than a smartphone.

Lenovo Phab 2 Pro back panel

Lenovo Phab 2 Pro back panel

There’s a reason there are so few smartphones with displays beyond 5.7 inches. Even with thin bezels, anything larger it’s just too big a screen to fit on a compact device. One-handed operation is impossible, even gripping it with one hand is tough. Using it as a real phone is also extremely awkward. And forget about carrying it in your pocket. This is a backpack or purse kind of device.

The flipside is that the big screen is better for multimedia, productivity, and all the AR goodies Tango offers. This is arguably more important than being able to use a phone with one hand.

Either way, the point is the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro is BIG, and you’ll want to test it out in person before committing.

Otherwise, it looks like a standard smartphone. The display has slightly raised glass with standard Android capacitive soft keys on the bottom and an ear speaker and front-facing camera on the top. The back panel is a single piece of gunmetal gray aluminum that extends and flattens around the sides.

The cool aluminum provides a quality impression, and shrugs off fingerprints and smudges very well. Such a big smartphone probably won’t survive many drops, so a case is highly recommended.

A volume rocker and textured power button sit on the right, and the microSD/SIM tray sits on the left. A 3.5mm audio port sits on the top (where it should be), while two speakers sit on the bottom, with a microUSB input in between. Once again, we’re disappointed by another new smartphone shipping without USB Type-C

Lenovo Phab 2 Pro volume rocker and power button

Lenovo Phab 2 Pro volume rocker and power button

Lenovo Phab 2 Pro SIM tray

Lenovo Phab 2 Pro SIM tray

The back panel has a slight curve, and houses two antenna stripes, along with the back-facing cameras, sensors, flash, and fingerprint sensor. There are three cameras in total, but only one functions as a traditional shooter. The other two enable Tango’s tricks. The bottom camera is circular, just like the fingerprint sensor directly underneath it. These feel similar and are easy to confuse by touch alone. Too many times we blindly pressed the camera trying to unlock our  Lenovo Phab 2 Pro review unit.

Lenovo Phab 2 Pro top

Lenovo Phab 2 Pro top

Lenovo Phab 2 Pro bottom

Lenovo Phab 2 Pro bottom

Lenovo Phab 2 Pro Display & Speakers

The Lenovo Phab 2 Pro’s 6.4-inch display has a 2560 x 1440 pixel resolution, resulting a dense 459 pixels per inch. That’s very sharp for a display this size. It’s an LCD IPS, and with it come all the strengths and weaknesses of the technology. Whites are particularly bright, blacks could be deeper. Overall, it lacks the pop and saturation of today’s high-end AMOLED displays, but the difference is slight enough that it’s only apparent in a direct comparison.

The display is also plenty bright at max setting, and while glare is persistent, it’s easy enough to see outdoors as to not be rendered useless.

Here’s the standard smartphone boilerplate: smartphone displays range from good to great. The Lenovo Phab 2 Pro is a small step below the market’s best (iPhones and Galaxies).

We had high hopes for the speakers, given the device’s size. They prove adequate, which is perhaps the best thing we can say about smartphone speakers (they are generally awful across devices). The sound is pleasant and balanced, though flat overall. Sound volume is appropriate for personal use.

Lenovo Phab 2 Pro Performance

The Lenovo Phab 2 Pro has an eight-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 652 processor (1.8 GHz), along with 4GB RAM and 64GB capacity. This is a midrange chipset that sits below the Snapdragon 820 found on the late 2015 and early 2016 flagships, and closer to the 810. It also has Adreno 510 graphics, which is even slower compared against the 820’s Adreno 530.

In real-world usage, it performs well. It’s stable, at least when running non-Tango apps (more on that below). Our  Lenovo Phab 2 Pro review unit handled everything we threw at it, including demanding games like Modern Combat 5. It’s 4GB RAM goes a long way when dealing with open browser tabs and switching between apps. The fingerprint sensor was reliable in testing as well.

Comparing it against more powerful smartphones reveals the chipset’s limitations. The Google Pixel XL, with its Snapdragon 821, is a far smoother smartphone, which is most evident moving from the lock screen to the home screen. In fact, our Lenovo Phab 2 Pro review unit would reboot to the startup screen after unlocking, following a power cycle. It happened too consistently to be a bug, and proved annoying.

Other than that, there’s little functional difference between the 652 and more powerful chips outside of the fluid aesthetic. It’s an acceptable trade off given the price difference between the two devices.

Geekbench 4 is a cross-platform benchmark that measures overall performance. Higher score is better.

Lenovo Phab 2 Pro Geekbench 4

Geekbench 4 Compute is a cross-platform benchmark that measures graphical performance. Higher score is better.

Lenovo Phab 2 Pro Geekbench 4 Compute

AnTuTu is a cross platform benchmark that measures overall system performance. Higher score is better.

Lenovo Phab 2 Pro AnTuTu

AnTuTu 3D is a cross-platform benchmark that measures graphical performance. Higher score is better.

Lenovo Phab 2 Pro AnTuTu 3D

AnTuTu CPU is a cross-platform benchmark that measures complex app and multitasking performance. Higher score is better.

Lenovo Phab 2 Pro AnTuTu CPU

AnTuTu RAM is a cross-platform benchmark that measures system speed. Higher score is better.

Lenovo Phab 2 Pro AnTuTu RAM

AnTuTu UX is a cross-platform benchmark that measures user experience. Higher score is better.

Lenovo Phab 2 Pro AnTuTu UX

Lenovo Phab 2 Pro Software, Storage & Communications

The Lenovo Phab 2 Pro ships with 64GB storage, with about 7GB taken up out of the box. Most other Android smartphone have 8GB or 9GB taken up, so we’re pleased with Lenovo. In fact, we’ll even let the useless bloatware slide (McAfee Security, SYNCit, Accuweather), also because it can be uninstalled. If 64GB isn’t enough, it also supports microSD expansion.

The Lenovo Phab 2 Pro OS is very close to stock Android. We were hard-pressed to find any major tweaks or changes. It ships with Android 6.0.1 (Marshmallow), and as of this writing (December 2016), it has the August 1 Android security patch level. Marshmallow is a fine Android version, but we’re getting antsy waiting for Nougat to become the default for new smartphones. It also should have a more recent security patch.

This is a GSM unlocked smartphone, meaning it will work on T-Mobile and AT&T in the US, and should have no trouble connecting overseas. Sprint and Verizon customers are out of luck.

It supports 802.11 b/g/n/ac dual-band Wi-Fi, along with Bluetooth 4.0. There’s no NFC, which should be standard on all Android smartphones, so no tap-to-pay.

Lenovo Phab 2 Pro Battery

With a large 4050 mAh battery, you would think the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro has all-day battery life. Unfortunately, it’s below average. Streaming Netflix over Wi-Fi with the screen brightness set to max, our Lenovo Phab 2 Pro lasted 6 hours 40 minutes. The cutoff for this test is eight hours. Anything better is good (with some topping 20 hours), anything worse is bad.

It supports Qualcomm Quick Charge, fortunately. We were able to get 45% from a dead battery after charging for 30 minutes.

Lenovo Phab 2 Pro Tango

Tango is impressive, and AR technology is extremely versatile. Pokemon Go showed AR’s potential as a basis for gaming, Tango can take that steps further.

Imagine popping the hood of your car and holding your phone over it to reveal a digital overlay with directions on how to change spark plugs. Or maybe looking at a city block from the street, with restaurant and shop info hovering over respective locations. Theme parks could use it for the same, or hospitals and shopping centers for indoor mapping. In the home, it could be used for home improvement projects, or rearrange furniture.

Some of the new Tango apps do just that. Lowe’s Vision is a surprisingly robust standout, and Google Measure and MagicPlan offer similar utility. There are numerous home apps, with the selection almost doubling in the two weeks we tested our Lenovo Phab 2 Pro review unit.

Tango, Lowe's Vision

Tango, Lowe’s Vision

Gaming is more limited on Tango, with simple AR overlay games dominating, along with a few more immersive offerings. Hot Wheels Track Builder appeals to the five-year kid in all of us, while Domino World is arguably the best. It’s a sandbox game with multiple options for setting up and knocking over dominoes. It’s easy to use, but deep enough for extremely creative domino setups. Plus, listening to the dominoes fall is very satisfying.

Tango, Domino World

Tango, Domino World

Other apps center around AR sandboxes, AR pets, and silly AR demos. The 3D scanning app Scenes shows Tango’s use outside AR, as does Signal Mapper (for visualizing Wi-Fi signal strength in a given area). We also liked Wally Virtual Notes’ potential. It enables users to leave AR notes for users in specific locations. We can see a workplace using it to help new employees get acclimated to the office.

Silly Tango app with AR Gorilla and Santa Claus

Silly Tango Holo app with AR Gorilla and Santa Claus

As with any new platform, Tango on the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro has plenty of bugs and limitations. We experienced frequent freezes and slowdowns with some apps, and infrequent crashes with others. The AR can also get wonky. Though it works great in open room with four walls, clutter throws it off, resulting in some odd clipping effects.

Tango, Dinosaurs Among Us

Tango, Dinosaurs Among Us

Lenovo Phab 2 Pro Camera

Given Tango’s potential, it’s too bad the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro has such a mediocre camera. It’s a 16-megapixel rear shooter, with and f/2.2 aperture. While that’s decent resolution, the aperture is not wide enough for acceptable low-light performance. Anything less than f/2 on non-budget cameras is disappointing (smaller aperture is represented by a larger number). See our Google Pixel XL review for an explainer on this particular spec.

The sample pics from our Lenovo Phab 2 Pro review unit aren’t so bad in adequate lighting. Details are present, and colors pop. Contrast could be deeper, but we’ve seen much worse from other recent smartphones. We also liked the simple AR options in the camera app, like the kitty in the bottom picture.

Lenovo Phab 2 Pro review unit sample pic

Lenovo Phab 2 Pro review unit sample pic

Lenovo Phab 2 Pro review unit sample pic

Lenovo Phab 2 Pro review unit sample pic with AR kitty

Lenovo Phab 2 Pro sample pic with AR kitty

Low-light without a flash kills any quality, however. Compare the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro to the current low-light king, the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge. Both pictures were taken at the same time in the same low-light situation. You can’t even see the dog In the Phab 2 Pro’s pic, while the S7 edge barely makes her out.

Lenovo Phab 2 Pro low-light pic

Lenovo Phab 2 Pro low-light pic

Samsung Galaxy S7 edge low-light pic

Samsung Galaxy S7 edge low-light pic

Again, the S7 edge is the best in low light by a mile. Still, it’s eight months old, and it’s not unreasonable to expect new smartphones to approach its performance level.

Lenovo Phab 2 Pro Review Conclusion

Lenovo Phab 2 Pro

Lenovo Phab 2 Pro

The Lenovo Phab 2 Pro is $500, which is appropriate given flagships hover north of $700. It’s also different from the pack, with its large size and Tango camera.

That makes is a niche device, something “geeky” for early adopters. Get past its size, and it functions fine as a daily driver, with acceptable performance. Battery life isn’t good, but it’s not crippling. And the camera is passable in most lighting situations. Low-light shooters will have to get by with the harsh flash.

At the very least, Tango is a neat party trick. “Look at what my phone can do!” While it’s still too new to offer must-have utility, it’s brimming with potential. In fact, that could take it beyond mobile VR, which could seem frivolous in comparison.

Pros:

  • Tango is fun and full of potential
  • Decent build and display
  • 64GB storage

Cons:

  • Could be way too big for some
  • Mediocre battery
  • Camera awful in low light
  • Fingerprint sensor too easily confused with Tango camera
  • No NFC

 



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