A first glimpse at AR-enabled future

A first glimpse at AR-enabled future
With a 6.4-inch screen, the Phab 2 Pro is a massive phone. Its expansive real estate is needed for Tango’s setup of cameras and sensors, which the system uses to track motion and sense depth.
PHOTO: LENOVO

The Lenovo Phab 2 Pro is the first consumer device to ship with support for Tango, Google's augmented-reality (AR) system.

While there are not that many Tango-compatible apps now, the phablet gives us a glimpse into a possible AR-enabled future.

With a 6.4-inch screen, the Phab 2 Pro is a massive phone.

Its expansive real estate is needed for Tango's setup of cameras and sensors, which the system uses to track motion and sense depth.

When you boot up the phone, you can click on a pre-installed Tango app, which brings you to a curated selection of apps from the Google Play Store.

First on the list was Woorld, a cartoony, world-building game.

It was a good introduction to Tango's abilities, as my in-game character crawled up table legs and walls, and clouds floated from the ceiling.

Ghostly Mansion, a detective game, was also a good demonstration of Tango's capability, as you have to walk around a space in order to reach items.

I found myself so engrossed in getting to the clues that I bumped into shelves and kicked over a bin.

Of all the apps that I tried, my favourite was Holo, a simple, hilarious app that inserts animated figures into the real world.

You can drop a dancing gorilla, a Donald Trump impersonator or an angry wrestler next to your friend, and video the amusing results.

The Phab 2 Pro's default camera app also has an AR mode whereby you can insert a pet into the world and interact with it.

All these apps run smoothly on the phone's Qualcomm Snapdragon 652, although most of them take between 15sec and 20sec to boot up.

Tango aside, the Phab 2 Pro is quite impractical as an everyday phone.

Even for a phablet, it is enormous.

The solid, blocky device has a 6.4-inch screen which eclipses my hand when I hold it, and it weighs 259g, nearly double the weight of an iPhone 7 (138g).

Still, this is smaller than Google's earlier Tango devices, which were targeted at developers, such as the 7-inch Yellowstone tablet, and the very thick Peanut phone.

The screen's reasonably high resolution (1,440 x 2,560 pixels) makes watching videos a great experience, especially with the punchy Dolby Atmos enhanced sound.

While some of the Tango apps are quite engaging, and the phone's AR capabilities are fun to show off, they do not actually provide much utility.

At this moment, there has yet to be a game-changing AR app that will draw people to buy a Tango-enabled device.

As things are currently, I think that the Phab 2 Pro exists as a proof of concept, and an interesting secondary phone.

But until the hardware shrinks and more software applications are in place, it is unlikely that AR will take off.

TECH SPECS

PRICE: $899 from StarHub

PROCESSOR: Qualcomm Snapdragon 652

DISPLAY: 6.4-inch, 1,400 x 2,560 pixels

OPERATING SYSTEM: Android 6.0

CAMERA: (Rear) 16-megapixel with depth and motion tracking sensors; (front) 8-megapixel

MEMORY: 64GB of internal storage and 4GB of RAM

BATTERY: 4,050 mAh

RATING

FEATURES: 5/5

DESIGN: 4/5

PERFORMANCE: 4/5

BATTERY LIFE: 4/5

VALUE FOR MONEY: 5/5

OVERALL: 4/5

Verdict: The Lenovo Phab 2 Pro is a big step towards taking augmented reality mainstream, but the technology is still not consumer-ready.

lting@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Dec 28, 2016.
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