Lenovo's Phab2 Pro will be the first Google Tango AR smartphone

Four cameras and Google's augmented-reality software let the big smartphone create virtual worlds and learn the real world

Lenovo's Phab2 Pro is the first Project Tango smartphone.

Overlaying the solar system on Lenovo's Phab2 Pro smartphone with Google's Project Tango technology.

Credit: Google

Lenovo's new Phab2 Pro brings Google's Tango augmented reality (AR) to smartphone screens without the need for a headset. The first Tango device, it will be available in September for $499 without a contract.

The device, which has a 6.4-inch screen, pushes smartphone functionality to new heights. The giant display presents a wealth of information that changes how people interact with the physical world around them.

It's loaded with cutting-edge sensors, cameras, and a Snapdragon 652 processor from Qualcomm. These sensors enable location and contextual awareness by understanding the device's position, plus motion, images, and location.

The back of the smartphone has a motion-tracking sensor, a fish-eye camera, a depth sensor, and a regular RGB camera, which can provide a broad 150-degree view. The smartphone also has a 5-megapixel front camera.

The device can be used to measure distances, recognize items, map locations, and provide real-time indoor navigation.

By integrating Tango in the Phab2 Pro, Lenovo "can provide enhancements to everyday user experiences that will be so valuable that it's almost second nature," said Jeff Meredith, vice president and general manager of Android and Chrome Computing at Lenovo.

Google said Phab2 Pro is the first Tango device, and many more will come.

"With a Tango-enabled phone, you also have a toybox, a solar system, and a pet shop in your pocket.  You can play with a huge set of dominoes, explore the planets, defend yourself from invading aliens, or feed your virtual dog all through your phone," Google said.

One goal with Phab2 Pro is to enhance indoor navigation, where GPS typically does not work well. In a museum, for example, the smartphone could guide a user to a specific painting and display information about the artist and the work.

The smartphone could also guide a person to a specific booth in a convention center, something conventional navigation systems can't do.

Gaming will reach new heights on the Tango smartphone, Meredith said. Users can play augmented reality games by superimposing graphics on real-world backgrounds. Imagine playing a shooter game with the world around you as the background.

Someone remodeling their kitchen could superimpose pictures of furniture and cabinets, in different colors, onto an image of the actual room. The Phab2 Pro then previews what the new kitchen would look like.

Lenovo is partnering with home improvement retailers Lowe's and Wayfair. With Wayfair's app, for instance, you could use the Phab2 Pro to preview new furniture for your living room.

The smartphone was announced earlier this year at CES by Lenovo and Google, but specifications weren't finalized at the time. The companies started collaborating on Project Tango in mid-2015, and they plan to bring computer vision to devices like virtual reality headsets, Meredith said.

Lenovo is encouraging the development of apps for Project Tango devices. There are seven to eight apps written that it helped fund as part of the Project Tango App Incubator program, but more should follow. More than 100 Tango apps are also available on the Tango website, a Google representative said.

For example, Project Tango devices could guide a user to the right platform in a subway station using contextual and positional awareness, Meredith said.

Google has suggested Project Tango could be used in stores -- devices could guide users through aisles to specific products, and then to cashiers by mapping “check out” signs.

Google has said Project Tango devices will also be able to map out entire homes and offices.

Lenovo also announced the Phab2 Plus, which has a 6.4-inch full high-definition screen. It runs on a MediaTek quad-core processor, has 32GB of storage, and 3GB of RAM. It has a 13-megapixel rear camera and 8-megapixel front camera. It will ship in September starting at $299.

Lenovo also announced the $199 Phab2, which has a 6.4-inch screen and 16GB of storage. It too will ship in September.

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