Google’s Project Tango has been one of Google’s longest running projects that had yet to deliver an actual product, until now. It all started with Google’s NVIDIA-based Project Tango augmented reality devkit tablet almost exactly 2 years ago. At that time, NVIDIA was the only partner developing Project Tango devices, but later on both Qualcomm announced and Intel announced that they would also be developing reference devices as well. Then, earlier this year, Lenovo announced that they would be the first to deliver a Project Tango device working with Google in the summer. At Google IO there was lots of talk about Project Tango, but no new devices announced and here we are at Lenovo Tech World and Lenovo is showing off their new Tango Phablet, the PHAB2 Pro.
Right now, there are a lot of different augmented reality (AR) headsets and goggles being used for AR with many of the applications being targeted towards enterprise customers. The problem with many of these solutions is that they use lots of proprietary technology and require you to buy into an ecosystem that may have a questionable future. This is contrary to Google’s approach with Tango, where they have an open project that incorporates companies from every angle of the enterprise ecosystem and include chip companies and OEMs as well. By involving so many partners in Tango, Google is able to make it stronger by having more companies working together on a common goal. This is a very Google approach to creating a new platform and ecosystem around AR. However, AR itself isn’t limited to enterprise-only applications with apps like Snapchat already heavily utilizing AR for consumers fully contained within an app. For every enterprise application, there could possibly be two consumer applications that just haven’t been developed yet. Enterprise is simply seeing the benefits of AR faster than many consumer companies and are willing to eat the high-cost of earlier devices.
Tango requires more sensors than the standard smartphone, including a fisheye camera and depth sensor. Because of this, many off-the-shelf smartphones and tablets simply aren’t compatible for Tango. OEMs need to intentionally build devices with the right sensors to support Project Tango. These OEMs, like Lenovo, also have to hit minimum requirements set by Google for Tango like meeting the 50 µs processing and time stamping of sensor data. This enables a smooth experience between all the different cameras and sensors and to properly render and overlay graphical data over the environment to deliver a quality and consistent AR experience. Without the adherence to the 50 µs timestamp intervals for all of the subsystems, the Tango algorithms are unable to properly fuse together all of the sensor data in a way that delivers a seamless AR experience.
Lenovo’s PHAB2 Pro is a 6.44” high-end phablet device with a high resolution 2560 x 1440 display that utilizes Tango and is a three-way collaboration between Google, Lenovo and Qualcomm. This obviously means that the PHAB2 Pro is equipped with a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, however, it does not need to have a Snapdragon 820 in order to be able to work with Tango. The PHAB2 Pro actually sports Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 652 processor, which is commonly found in middle to high tier devices and is usually substituted in place of the Snapdragon 820 in developing markets. The Snapdragon 652 has an 8-Core CPU configuration with four A72 and four A53 cores, making it more than ample in terms of CPU power and with an Adreno 510 GPU as well as Hexagon DSP.
The Snapdragon 652 is also optimized for Tango, which comes from Qualcomm’s relationship with Google on Tango and helps enables them to hit the mandatory requirements for Tango devices. They are also able to do everything that Tango requires in a single integrated SoC without any co-processors, which translates to lower power, higher performance and better thermals than other non-integrated solutions. Because Lenovo opted for the Snapdragon 652, the PHAB2 Pro is able to be well within the 50 µs time stamping requirement for Tango. This is thanks to Qualcomm’s tight software and hardware integration along with their close cooperation with Google and Lenovo.
It seems that part of the reason for Lenovo picking the Snapdragon 652 was to enable Tango capabilities while keeping a reasonable price for their phablet device. Lenovo is pricing the PHAB2 Pro at $499, which is less than what most flagship smartphones sell for today without that capability. This means that Lenovo is trying to enable Tango at a lower price point that can be more affordable than the current $649 flagship smartphone or phablet. Lenovo aimed for a no-compromise phablet design with the PHAB2 Pro while also trying to hit the $499 price point, which makes it all the more impressive and the Snapdragon 652 more appropriate. The low price point is extremely attractive because it lowers the barrier of entry into AR, which used to cost $1,000+ and up, per device. This brings Tango much more within the realm of consumer feasibility and not only limited to enterprise adoption.
The Lenovo PHAB2 Pro looks like it has a lot of potential with both consumers and the enterprise. I could see the PHAB2 Pro being used for a multitude of applications that are already common in the AR world. Because of the size and performance of the PHAB2 Pro, I could see this device being popular with people who need a bigger screen for their AR applications, like indoor mapping or rendering 3D objects inside of a space for things like furniture. The applications for AR are quite vast and encompassing, but for one of the first devices, I expect that the first adopters will be developers who want to see the full capabilities of Tango in a commercial device. Once developers are aware of what Tango can really do in a shipping consumer device, businesses and consumers will start to gravitate towards the best applications of AR using Tango.