By now, you probably know the broad strokes about Tango: It's a suite of
technologies that combines computer vision, motion tracking and depth perception
to help a device figure out exactly where it is and how it's moving through space.
So far, the Tango foundation has been used, among other things, to give us
turn-by-turn directions inside a museum and let us play with virtual puppies.
In short, it's a big deal. But what's the first Tango phone actually like?

So yes, it's big. It's surprisingly well built too. Its metal body, slim profile
and 2.5D curved-glass face make it feel an awful lot like Huawei's Mate 8.
The surprises continue when you peer inside the phone. While most of the
Android devices making headlines lately have high-end Snapdragon 820
chips, the Phab2 Pro has a quad-core Snapdragon 652 processor augmented
with some special Tango hardware. Also onboard are 4GB of RAM, 64GB
of storage and a 4,050mAh battery for good measure. Beyond its sheer size
, the Phab2 Pro's physical package doesn't leave much to be desired -- proof
that Lenovo can build a handsome flagship without Motorola's help.
For all the hardware needed to make augmented reality work, the future of
Tango depends almost entirely on software. The Phab2 Pro will ship this
year with a mostly clean version of Android 6.0 (a trick it picked up from
Motorola), but that's not what I'm talking about. Developers, from inside
Google and elsewhere, will decide Tango's fate. Unfortunately, most of the
Tango app demos I got to play with were ones I'd seen in the past. Blaster,
for example, lets you take on oncoming alien hordes while Woorld acts as
a sandbox where you can build cutesy, absurd realms. Still others aim for
practicality, like an app from Lowe's that lets you virtually place a full-sized
fridge into your kitchen to see if anything clashes. And, of course, apps
can turn the Phab2 Pro into a mean museum-navigating machine as
I demonstrated earlier this year.
Make no mistake: The device I spent time with was far from perfec
t. Lenovo's physical design and production processes are on point, but
the software I handled was "not final" -- PR parlance for "it's going to
crash a lot." And it did. As such, I couldn't get a great sense of how fast
the phone actually is. It seemed quite snappy -- when apps decided not
to suddenly force-close, that is. Even so, that pesky technicality couldn't
wipe the grin off my face as I placed a Tyrannosaurus Rex into a small
room and toppled two-legged mechs while my colleagues laughed at me
. When Lenovo's hardware and software worked as they should, I got a
glimpse of a future for phones, and the future excited me.
Questions about Lenovo's chances for smartphone success in the U.S.
and Tango's long-term viability can and will persist. (Side note: Lenovo
says it has about a six-month head start on any other phone makers
who want to build a Tango device.) What's exciting -- intoxicating,
even -- is the idea that this $500 phone could completely change what
we expect from our smartphones, and indeed, change how we use
them to perceive the world around us.