The worst gadgets of 2016
2016 was a year in which the fates seemingly asked, “Oh, you think that’s bad? Here, hold my beer.” We lost a Prince but gained a nacho-cheese-flavored, would-be king. We saw drones that couldn’t stop falling out of the sky, Snapchat filters that only a racist uncle could love and more poorly executed gadget gimmicks than you can shake a selfie stick at. Here are some of the cringe-worthiest consumer products we had the misfortune of covering this year.
Check out all of Engadget’s year-in-review coverage right here.
Lenovo is bringing Chrome OS to its Yoga Book next year
Lenovo already debuted Android and Windows versions of its Yoga Book and it’s planning to add a Chrome OS option next year. Laptop Magazine reports that the third version of the hybrid gadget that ditched a traditional keyboard in favor of a touch surface for both typing and scribbling was confirmed during an interview with Lenovo vice president Jeff Meredith. Meredith oversees Android and Chrome devices for the company.
Meredith explained that Lenovo has had “a lot of interest” in a Chrome OS version of the Yoga Book. He went on to say that the device could be a solid option for schools due to its rather unique design. And yes, the Chrome model will still support the Yoga Book’s so-called Real Pen stylus. With that accessory, you can write on the pressure sensitive keyboard surface.
There’s no exact timing for a release date, but Meredith did say Lenovo plans to “maintain the three distinctive products throughout this year at least.” Perhaps that means we’ll see that new model soon enough.
Via: The Verge
Source: Laptop Magazine
Lenovo Vibe K5 Note review
Lenovo has been on a hot streak in India, with a slew of great smartphones on offer that cover everything from entry-level to high-end. The company has found particular success with its K Note series, while both the K3 Note and the Vibe K4 Note proving to be quite popular.
Lenovo K4 Note review
July 25, 2016
Lenovo is hoping to find the same success with the latest addition to the series, the Vibe K5 Note, that was launched in India in August. With upgraded hardware and a premium design, does the latest affordable smartphone from Lenovo prove to be a worthy successor? We find out, in this comprehensive Lenovo Vibe K5 Note review!
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The Lenovo Vibe K5 Note features a beautiful, all-metal unibody design
More and more manufacturers are starting to include all-metal designs in their mid-range and entry-level smartphones, so it’s not surprising that the Lenovo Vibe K5 Note features a full metal unibody construction. Admittedly, it doesn’t feel like the highest quality metal when compared to its more expensive and higher-end counterparts, but the construction is sturdy, and the device feels solid in the hand.
Taking a look around the device, the headphone jack sits on the top, while the microUSB port can be found on the bottom. The hybrid dual-SIM card and microSD card slot are on the left side, and on the right is the power button and volume buttons. The buttons are definitely an improvement when compared to its predecessor, with a good amount of travel and a nice click to them.
Below the display are capacitive navigation keys, and unlike its predecessors, the keys do light up, which is a nice upgrade. It’s not particularly bright though, and you won’t really notice it unless you are in a dark environment, but that is when having back-lit navigation buttons is the most useful anyway.
The fingerprint scanner is on the back, below the camera unit and the dual LED flash, and at the bottom is the single speaker unit. During the launch event, Lenovo made a big deal about how the camera, the flash, the fingerprint sensor, and the Vibe logo were perfectly aligned and symmetrical. It’s a nice design touch that you don’t really appreciate day to day, but has led me to taking a lot more notice of what other phones look like.
With a 5.5-inch display, the K5 Note is a large device, but Lenovo has done a good job with keeping the bezels along the sides of the display relatively thin. The subtle curves all around the back contribute positively to the handling experience as well. However, the metal body makes for a very slippery device, which can take some getting used to. If you have had issues with dropping your phone, you are definitely better off using a case that adds some grip.
The Vibe K5 Note’s display is a huge improvement over its predecessor
The Vibe K5 Note comes with a 5.5-inch IPS LCD display with a Full HD resolution, resulting in a pixel density of 401ppi. This display is a huge improvement over its predecessor, particularly when it comes to the brightness. Color reproduction and viewing angles are better as well. 1080p allows for plenty of sharpness, and reading text, watching videos, and playing games are all enjoyable on this large display.
The default settings are good enough, but you do have the option to change the color balance and temperature to better suit your needs. There is a manual mode that gives you granular control over these aspects, and a few preset options, like Comfort Mode, that helps protect your eyes when browsing the phone for long periods of time.
One point to keep in mind here is that the glass panel protecting the display isn’t of the Corning Gorilla Glass variety, which is definitely a step back, considering it was available with the K4 Note. It’s difficult to judge how sturdy the panel is without actually scratching it or dropping the phone, but if that is a worry, a regular or tempered glass screen protector is certainly recommended. That said, I haven’t had any issues with scratches on this screen yet.
The Vibe K5 Note is powered by the octa-core MediaTek Helio P10 processor, clocked at 1.8GHz and backed by the Mali-T860MP2 GPU. This particular review unit comes with 4GB of RAM, but there is also a slightly cheaper version of the phone available with 3GB of RAM. The benchmark scores may not be very impressive, but the overall performance has actually been really good.
Opening, closing, and switching between apps has been a breeze, and the device handles everyday tasks very well. The gaming performance is excellent as well, and there have been no instances of lag or stutter when playing games like NBA Live Mobile, Stick Cricket 2, Modern Combat 5, and Riptide GP: Renegade. That is as heavy as my gaming requirements go, and the K5 Note did a wonderful job with all of them.
32GB is the only option as far as on-board storage is concerned, regardless of whether you pick the 3GB or 43GB of RAM version. Expandable storage via microSD card is available, up to an additional 256GB. However, the second SIM slot doubles as a microSD card slot, so users will have to make the choice between expandable storage and dual-SIM capabilities.
Users will have to make the choice between expandable storage and dual-SIM capabilities
While the K4 Note featured dual front-facing speakers, the single speaker unit of the K5 Note has been relegated to the back. Lenovo mentions that the curve along the bottom near the speaker directs the sound better, and it does help to some extent, but front-facing is definitely the better way to go. The sound quality itself is pretty good, and the speaker gets decently loud without sounding tinny.
The Dolby ATMOS features do return however, where you can choose between preset options like Movie, Music, Game, or Voice, or set up custom settings depending on your liking. You also get additional features, including Surround Virtualizer, Dialogue Enhances, and Volume Leveler. As before, access to this feature in buried in the Settings menu, and can be found at the end of the “Ringtones and Volumes” section.
Speaking of ringtones and volumes, Lenovo’s software has a few interesting additions here. You have the ability to set up different ringtones and message tones for the two SIM cards, which is a nice and easy way to distinguish between the two. There is also a feature called “Pocket Enhancer,” that boosts the ringtone volume when the device is in your pocket. However, that only really works if your default volume setting is less than all the way up already.
The fingerprint scanner on the back is really fast, but not as accurate as before, with the sensor often requiring a second try to unlock the device. The speed more than makes up for the slight lack of accuracy however, and you don’t even have to lift your finger for the sensor to read it the second time and get it right. It’s fast enough that the only reason I know it took another try is because of the vibration when it gets it wrong.
The fingerprint scanner on the back is really fast, but unfortunately not as accurate as before
The sensitivity and speed of the scanner did prove to be a problem in some instances though. For example, when pulling the phone out of a pocket, accidentally touching the scanner with the wrong finger would result in the device attempting to read it multiple times. This would result in the fingerprint scanner failing, which means the phone would then resort to requiring a PIN or pattern to unlock the phone. This would happen so fast that by the time I’d hold the phone up to actually unlock it, I would see an error message that reads “Too many attempts.”
As we’ve seen with the devices from other Chinese OEMs, this fingerprint scanner is capable of more than just unlocking the phone. There are a few different functions that it can be set up to perform. For example, a single tap can be set to work as a back button, or to take you back to the home screen. A long press can open the Recent Apps page, and finally, you can use the scanner as a shutter button, which is very useful when taking selfies.
The Vibe K5 Note comes with a large, non-removable 3,500mAh battery, and the battery life it provides has been excellent. With average to heavy usage, the device has consistently managed at least 4.5 to 5 hours of screen-on time, and there have been a few days where I’ve managed to push the screen-on time to close 6 hours. With fantastic standby times, the K5 Note will comfortably allow for a full day of use, and can easily be pushed to a day and a half to two days with lighter usage. There is no fast charging or wireless charging capabilities to be had though.
Screen-on time: Why is it important, and how can I extend it?
2 weeks ago
If you are looking to get even more juice out of the battery, there is the standard Battery Saver mode that automatically activates at the 15% mark. There is also an Ultimate Battery Saver feature that makes the UI much more minimal, and allows for only calls and texts. Another useful battery feature is “Scheduled Power On and Off,” which lets you select a time period where the device automatically switches off and turns back on again.
The Vibe K5 Note comes with the same rear camera as its predecessor – a 13MP shooter with a f/2.2 aperture and a dual LED flash. The front-facing camera has been updated however, now sporting an 8MP sensor.
Taking a look at the camera app, it is quite simplistic and easy to use. Everything you need can be found on the viewfinder, including the toggles for HDR and flash, as well as the button to switch between the front and rear cameras. The menu houses just the Panorama mode and a slew of color filters, and diving deeper into the Settings is where you can play around with features like aspect ratio, photo resolution, snap mode, white balance, ISO, triaxial leveling, and guidelines.
There isn’t a whole lot of improvement in terms of image quality with the K5 Note when compared to its predecessor. The camera is still capable of taking some really nice shots outdoors and in good lighting conditions. The color reproduction isn’t very accurate though, and images lack saturation, making them appear quite dull. HDR mode just brightens the shot completely, which works well in certain situations, but is certainly not something you can use all the time.
Unsurprisingly, noise and grain starts to creep into the images when lighting conditions deteriorate. That said, the camera performs particularly poorly in low-light situations. The shutter speed is extremely slow, requiring a very steady hand to avoid blurry shots. Even then, highlights are blown out, and pictures lack detail.
The 8MP front-facing camera allows for more detail in the shot, but generally suffers from the same issues faced by the primary shooter. There is a nifty “Beauty” mode that you’ll be able to use with the front camera too, as well as an option called “fill light” that adds pink or chrome bars at the top and bottom of the viewfinder to provide some light for your selfies in darker environments.
On the software side of things, the Vibe K5 Note is running Android 6.0 Marshmallow out of the box. The default launcher is very clean, minimalistic, and features a lot of stock Android elements – especially when it comes to the Settings menu, notification shade and app drawer. However, for those who have used Lenovo smartphones in the past and prefer the company’s different take on Android, you also have the option to easily switch to the company’s Vibe UI.
Android 6.0 Marshmallow updates roundup
7 days ago
This offers a completely different look and feel, and elements like the app drawer are no longer available, leaving users dependent on folders to keep things organized. My personal choice is the former, but people who are already used to it from the experience they enjoyed with their previous smartphones may prefer the latter. Overall, it’s great to see Lenovo leave the choice up to the user.
There are still a few pre-installed apps, but certainly not as many as what you’d get with its predecessor. All third-party apps can also be uninstalled easily, and the only ones that cannot be removed are Lenovo staples like ShareIt, SyncIt, the Lenovo Companion, and a Themes store that isn’t particularly robust. The Companion app is useful, and provides a quick and easy way to set up service requests, and a features a slew of guides and solutions to address common, everyday problems that you may come across.
A software feature that can be very useful for a lot of people is Secure Zone, which provides a simple way to create two virtual zones, which, as an example, can be used to keep your professional and personal lives separate. The feature can be toggled in the Quick Settings menu, and each zone can be set up to have their own accounts, passwords, and apps, with the setup of one not carrying over to the other.
If you get a notification from an app in the other zone, you will know via a red dot that appears in the status bar. You’ll then have to switch to the other zone to check it. App data and documents are also kept apart, but there is a way to share information between the two zones as well, via a common shared folder. However, call logs and messages can be accessed from either zone.
Finally, we come to a feature that is very unique to the Lenovo K series, and that is the VR Mode. This mode can be triggered by simply long pressing on the power button, and after the shutdown and restart options, there will be an option to launch VR Mode. On the phone, it looks like the screen has been duplicated, and once you put the phone into a VR headset, you can enjoy a virtual reality experience regardless of which app you are using.
Lenovo recommends the ANT VR headset that has been designed specifically for these phones. It can also be paired with a Umido Remote Controller for basic navigation around the user interface while in VR mode, or the Amkette Evo Gamepad Pro 2, which is what I used. It is a fun way to enjoy videos, movies, and games, so we’d definitely recommend trying one of these headsets out if you can.
However, a Quad HD display is definitely better to enjoy a VR experience, with the 1080p screen of the K5 Note not exactly up to the mark here. The headset isn’t the most comfortable either, and watching a movie or playing a game for a long time can become quite stressful on the eyes. I wasn’t able to use the VR mode for more than 20 minutes at a time, for instance. It definitely is a nice feature to have and proved to be quite the conversation starter, but is unfortunately nothing more than a novelty at this point.
|Display||5.5-inch IPS LCD display
Full HD resolution, 401ppi
|Processor||1.8GHz octa-core MediaTek Helio P10 processor
expandable via microSD up to 256GB
|Camera||13MP rear camera, f/2.2 aperture, PDAF, dual LED flash
8MP front camera
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n/ac
|Software||Android 6.0 Marshmallow|
|Dimensions and weight||152 x 75.7 x 8.5mm
Pricing and final thoughts
The Lenovo Vibe K5 Note is priced at Rs 11,999 (~$180) for the model with 3GB of RAM, while the higher-end model with 4GB of RAM will set you back Rs 13,499 (~$202). The ANT VR headset can be picked up for Rs 1,299 (~$19), and the Umido ESoul DH2 Remote Controller and Amkette Evo Gamepad Pro 2 are priced at Rs 999 (~$15) and Rs 2,599 (~$39) respectively.
So, there you have it for this in-depth review of the Lenovo Vibe K5 Note! This is yet another fantastic offering from Lenovo that provides an experience that goes far beyond what its price tag would suggest. Of course, this smartphone isn’t as powerful or packed with features as as the more expensive flagships out there. That said, the Vibe K5 Note handles day to day tasks very well, features an impressive gaming experience, provides impressive battery life, and comes with a clean and smooth software package.
And that is all that some users really need from their smartphone. The camera is a bit of a let down, but can take some nice shots in ideal lighting conditions, and that is the only negative in what has been a very positive experience overall. At this price point, the Lenovo Vibe K5 Note is definitely a phone that I would recommend.
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Microsoft hopes your Windows PC can replace an Amazon Echo
If rumors are true, Microsoft may be one of the few major consumer tech giants that doesn’t have a smart, voice-guided speaker in the works… but that doesn’t mean it’s sitting on its thumbs. In an expansion of recent code discoveries, Windows Central sources claim that Windows 10 is getting a Home Hub feature that will turn supporting PCs into rivals for the Amazon Echo and Google Home. You’d have a shared, login-free desktop that shares family resources like calendars and shopping lists, and a smart home app that would make it easy to control all your connected devices. And as you might surmise, the Cortana voice assistant would play a much, much more important role.
Under Home Hub, Cortana would have access to both shared content as well as that of individual users who are signed in. That would tackle one of the biggest issues with devices like Google Home — that they’re frequently limited to supporting a single user’s account. Supporting PCs would also be much more Cortana-friendly. You could use voice commands from a greater distance, and wake up the PC with voice alone. Home Hub-ready systems could even tout light and motion sensors to wake up whenever someone enters the room.
Provided the leak is accurate, it could be a while before you see every element of Home Hub. It’s reportedly scheduled to arrive through three significant Windows 10 updates (nicknamed Redstone 2, 3 and 4) that would start arriving in 2017. And if you want a PC designed for the feature from the ground up, you may have to wait until the very end of the year. Microsoft is said to be asking vendors (including HP and Lenovo) to step up with Home Hub-optimized all-in-one PCs in late 2017.
There’s no certainty that everything will pan out as planned. WC is quick to warn that delays and cancellations could change features and timelines, assuming Home Hub ships at all. However, it’s easy to see the incentive for Microsoft to make this a reality. In some ways, Echo-like speakers reduce the need for a family computer — you can’t do your homework through a speaker, but you can accomplish tasks that would normally require breaking out your phone or sitting at a desk. Home Hub would keep the PC relevant for homes where a shared machine makes sense, and might even provide an edge over smart speakers by offering the visual, multi-user info that you don’t get right now.
Source: Windows Central
Motorola isn’t making a new smartwatch anytime soon
We might not see a successor to the 2015 Moto 360 in the near future, or even at all. Motorola and its parent company Lenovo have confirmed to The Verge that they’re not working on a new smartwatch to be released in time for Android Wear 2’s launch next year. Moto’s head of global product development Shakil Barkat told the publication that the company doesn’t “see enough pull in the market” to justify developing a new smartwatch at this point in time. He even went on to say that “wearables do not have broad enough appeal for [Moto] to continue to build on it year after year.”
Based on Barkat’s statements, smartwatches and other wearable devices aren’t doing too well and haven’t been able to attract enough audience to make a regular refresh viable. It’s unclear if we’ll ever see another Moto 360, since it sounds like it’s not doing anything for the company. According to Barkat, though, Moto believes that the “wrist still has value,” hinting that the company hasn’t closed its doors on the possibility of releasing another wearable device.
Source: The Verge
Motorola adds a Mophie battery and a car dock to its pile of Mods
Motorola’s magnetic Mods are the reason to own a Moto Z, and the company just pulled back the curtain on two more of them. If the existing bolt-on batteries weren’t big enough for you, a new 3,000mAh Mophie JuicePack (with a USB Type-C port for independent charging) is now available for $80. And since the holidays are nearly upon us — meaning lots of roadtrips to see family — Motorola also teamed up with Incipio on a $65 car dock that charges your Z and can be used to automatically launch apps like Android Auto. Keep your eyes peeled for that next week.
Alright, fine: These new Mods don’t seem all that inspiring. We’ve seen similar battery add-ons in the past, and the car dock concept is one that has been thoroughly explored in the past. (Motorola, for what it’s worth, doesn’t seem concerned about supporting multiple Mods that do the same thing.) Practicality is great and all, but the beauty of Motorola’s modularity is how it can offer experiences wildly different from rival smartphones. One of Motorola’s biggest jobs going forward will to be nurture the kind of thoughtful weirdness that will make for Mods people didn’t know they wanted. Thankfully, that work is already under way.
Motorola partnered with IndieGoGo last month to solicit ideas from a community of ardent product nerds — so far the company has received close to 380 pitches, for everything from Moto Mod game controllers to YotaPhone-style e-ink displays to a “mood” case that change colors. Participants with the best ideas will move on to subsequent rounds of judging, ending in a sort of Shark Tank-style event that should be rife with startup drama. The company’s first public hackathon is also set to take place in New York this month, and if it’s anything like previous internal events, we’re in for some weird, useful new Mods. Case in point: A recent hackathon attended by Motorola employees has yielded a breathalyzer and a Mod with potential to alert parents on the status of their babies. While practicality is the name of the game with today’s new Mod announcements, stay tuned for weirder, wilder augmentations to come.
The Moto Z series could get Google’s world-sensing Tango tech
Lenovo’s Phab 2 Pro might be the first smartphone out there with Google’s Tango technology, but other parts of the company are interested too. While addressing press at an event in Chicago, Motorola Mobility president Aymar de Lencquesaing said that the Lenovo subsidiary is “likely to have a Tango module” for the Moto Z line of smartphones… though he stopped short of confirming such an add-on was currently in the works.
“Augmented reality on a phone is a technology that’s likely to stick,” de Lencquesaing added later. “Of course we’ll follow, or lead, the market in this area.”
In case you’re new to Tango, Google’s work combines multiple cameras — mostly for measuring depth and motion — with additional sensors to give a phone a very fine understanding of where it is and what’s in front of it. The issue so far is that Tango, or the way it’s implemented in Lenovo’s enormous phablet, is far from perfect. Depth-sensing is sketchy at best, the interfaces for Tango apps can be cumbersome and in general, there’s still plenty of work to be done. The upside, however, is the staggering potential that becomes evident when Tango experiences work the way they’re supposed to. Tango, for lack of a better word, can feel like magic.
While it’s unclear if we’ll ever actually see a Tango mod magnetically lashed to a Moto Z, it’s no surprise it’s under consideration. After all, the idea of squeezing the requisite technology into a smartphone add-on is a damned good one. Consider this: the Phab 2 Pro wound up being enormous in part because of all the Tango technology Lenovo had to fit into a relatively sleek body, and that size made the phone cumbersome to use as a daily driver.
By off-loading those extra cameras and adding an external battery, Motorola could maintain its flagship devices’ trim physiques and provide the (undeniably neat) augmented reality experiences Tango is known for. And let’s not forget that the Moto Z series runs cleaner, more functional versions of Android than the Phab 2 Pro does — that means you’d get a better all-around phone with the option of dipping in to augmented reality when the mood strikes. Google has said in the past that other Tango devices are coming, and some of them are sure to pack flagship levels of power. Until device makers figure out how build Tango into phones seamlessly, though, the optional approach Motorola could deliver just seems brilliant.
The Morning After: Weekend Edition
Letter from the Editor
Happy Thanksgiving, everybody! We’re hitting you with the Weekend Edition a few days early in honor of the holiday — and so we can enjoy some turkey, too — but we’ll be back to our regular schedule starting next Monday. I’d like to take this opportunity to let you all know how thankful I am, and the entire staff is, to have you as readers. The work we do wouldn’t be possible without your support, and you have our gratitude for reading, watching and contributing to Engadget.
Before you sit down to give thanks and break bread with those close to you, here are our finest cuts — and best conversation starters — from the week that was.
For the philosophical thinkers out there, Aaron Souppouris tackled a difficult conundrum: Can and should the politics of an individual affect our ability to appreciate and enjoy his or her work? He poses the question regarding the video game “RimWorld” and its creator’s apparent biases regarding sexuality and gender, but it’s a philosophical query that begs answering in many other contexts, too.
Aaron also explored the reasons for the proliferation of fake news online, and the techniques employed to get folks reading it. It might not make for the most comfortable of Thanksgiving discussions, but it’s a worthy topic, assuming you’re not OK living in a post-truth world.
If you’re looking for more, ahem, lighthearted fare, perhaps reminiscing about Dave Chappelle’s best work in preparation for his three new forthcoming Netflix specials is in order. And everyone in the family will be interested to know that supercapacitors could someday have us measuring battery life in terms of weeks instead of hours, while reducing charging times to mere seconds.
An impossible drive?
Scientists are trying to figure out this drive that produces thrust without any fuel
If humanity plans to reach locations beyond our own solar system, new methods of propulsion will be required. We’re still not sure how the EM Drive’s microwave thruster works (or if it really works), but NASA’s first peer-reviewed paper on it is now available. Ultimately, that just means more research is in order, but if we can harness the power of bouncing microwaves, there could be a 41-day voyage to Mars in your future.
Tango is still a work in progress
Review: Lenovo Phab 2 Pro
Bleeding-edge tech isn’t everything, as Chris Velazco found out reviewing Lenovo’s Phab 2 Pro. It’s the first device shipping with Google’s Project Tango tech built-in, which lets it recognize and operate as an augmented reality device in all new ways. Unfortunately, the hardware and software combo isn’t quite polished, it’s huge, and there’s no killer app available yet.
Just a taste
24 hours with Sony’s A99 II
Sony’s new DSLR-like shooter is almost here, and while we don’t have a full review yet, you can experience its 42.2MP capabilities via these sample photos.
Some of the best discounts in gadgets and gamesBlack Friday 2016 deals
After Thanksgiving dinner, it’s time for Black Friday shopping. We’ve sorted through the best deals on phones, drones, TVs and more to put them all in one place for you.
In the eyes of a Model XTesla’s latest autonomous drive video shows you what the car sees
Not everyone is ready to trust self-driving cars, but maybe they should check out this demo. Tesla posted another video of one of its cars making a trip entirely under its own control, overlaid with views of exactly what its onboard cameras and computer are seeing as it drives down the road.
Clickbait battleTo battle fake news is to battle brain chemistry
That fake news is proliferating online isn’t a question, but why do people press “share”? Data shows that headlines with extreme emotion induce people to click, so we had researchers look at fake news headlines through the prism of sentiment analysis.
“SNL” was just the startDave Chappelle will release three comedy specials on Netflix
Right on time, Dave Chappelle is returning to the spotlight. After an impressive spot hosting “Saturday Night Live,” the comedian has signed a deal with Netflix for a rumored $60 million. Their agreement will apparently cover one all-new special, plus two others based on unreleased material from previous performances.
But wait, there’s more…
- New battery tech lasts for days, charges in seconds
- Review: LG V20
- Should a developer’s politics ruin a game I love?
- Mark Zuckerberg on how Facebook is fighting fake news
Lenovo Phab 2 Pro review: Stumbling out of the gate
I just spent 15 minutes wandering around the office, trying to shoot ghouls in the face with lightning. Before that, I dropped a virtual rococo sofa into the empty space next to my desk, just to see if it would fit. And before that, I measured… well, everything. Welcome to the augmented life, courtesy of Google and Lenovo. Google has spent more than two years taking its “Tango” technology from project to full-blown product. The goal: to help our gadgets examine the world around them and overlay information — or even whole new worlds — on top of the reality we already know. Along the way, Google tapped Lenovo to help craft the first consumer-ready Tango device: an enormous slab of a phone called the Phab 2 Pro. And now it’s here.
If the Tango stuff alone didn’t make the Phab 2 Pro a groundbreaking device, this is also the first Lenovo-branded smartphone to land in the United States. Too bad it’s not quite ready for primetime.
I can’t emphasize this enough: The Phab 2 Pro ($500) is enormous. Then again, how could it be anything but? We have plenty of things to thank for that, from the phone’s 6.4-inch IPS LCD screen to the bank of capacitive buttons below it, to the massive 4,050mAh battery under the hood. Of course, the real reason the Phab 2 Pro is so big is because of all the Tango tech Google helped squeeze inside. It’s worth remembering that Google’s Tango reference device for developers was a tablet with a 7-inch screen, one of NVIDIA’s Tegra K1 chipsets and two — two! — batteries.
That Google and Lenovo managed to squeeze all the requisite bits into a mostly pocketable smartphone is a feat unto itself. There are, after all, plenty of non-standard parts here. Just look at the Phab 2’s back if you don’t believe me. Nestled between the 16-megapixel camera and the fingerprint sensor are two more cameras — one has an infrared emitter to determine how far things are from the phone, and the other is a wide-angle camera with a fisheye lens that works as part of Tango’s motion tracking system. Turns out, Lenovo had to punch a hole in the phone’s main circuit board to make room for all those sensors.
Those cameras and sensors work in tandem with a customized version of Qualcomm’s octa-core Snapdragon 652 processor. We’ve seen more conventional versions of this mid-range chip pop up in devices like ASUS’s new ZenFone, but the version we have here has been tuned to more accurately timestamp the data captured by all of the phone’s sensors. Why? To keep the phone’s location in lockstep with all the crazy AR stuff you’ll see on screen. Also onboard are 4GB of RAM, an Adreno 510 GPU, 64GB of storage, a micro-USB port and a tray that takes either two SIM cards or a SIM card and a microSD card as big as 128GB.
So, long story short, the Phab 2 Pro is massive, and for good reason. The last time I played with a non-Phab phone this big was three years ago, when Sony launched a version of its Xperia Z Ultra running a clean version Android in the Google Play Store. Since then, the market has coalesced around big smartphones with screens about 5.5 inches big. Years of similarly sized devices, then, means the Phab 2 Pro feels extra unwieldy.
It would’ve been more of a problem if Lenovo hadn’t done such a good job putting the Phab 2 Pro together; the body is carved out of a single block of aluminum and the screen is covered by a sheet of Gorilla Glass that’s ever-so-slightly curved around the edges for that subtle “2.5D” effect everyone seems to love. The aesthetic is pleasant enough if you’re into minimalist design, and big-phone fans are probably going to drool too. If you’re thinking of getting one, though, best if you can get hands-on before taking the plunge.
Display and sound
The 6.4-inch screen on the Phab 2 Pro is indeed massive, but mostly unremarkable. Lenovo went with an “assertive” IPS LCD screen, which basically means the panel can optimize colors and contrast on the pixel level. It’s a handy trick for when you’re traipsing around outdoors — it’s excellent under direct sunlight — but the screen is otherwise forgettable.
Don’t get me wrong: Its 2,560 x 1,440 resolution means it’s still plenty crisp, even if it isn’t as pixel dense as other devices because of how big the panel is. Color reproduction is accurate too, though it’ll definitely feel a little flat if you’re coming from a device with an AMOLED screen like the Galaxy S7. What’s more, brightness is respectable — this screen is just a touch dimmer than the iPhone 7 Plus’ — and viewing angles are also pretty great. I half-expected the screen to be worse since it would have been a likely place for Lenovo to cut corners on a $500 phone.
The sound quality lags behind screen quality, but that’s no surprise. The Phab 2 Pro has a single speaker carved into its bottom edge, which makes for anemic, muddy sounding music, with bass notes utterly lacking in oomph. It’s fine for sound effects in Tango-enabled games, but headphones are otherwise a must. It helps that the Phab 2 Pro ships with a Dolby Atmos app that launches automatically when headphones are plugged in. Included are presets for music, movies, games and voices (say, for podcasts), and in general they added a decent amount of oomph to my audio. Music in particular felt a little punchier and more expansive, though the results seemed to vary from song to song.
Motorola has long been a fan of near-stock Android, and I’m glad its parent company Lenovo seems just as fond of it. The Phab 2 Pro ships with a build of Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow that has been left almost completely untouched. Seriously, there are no extra widgets, no visual junk, no bloatware. If you put the Tango-specific stuff aside, there are but a few add-ons: an app for simple file sharing, another for cloud backups, a sound recorder, a Dolby Atmos app for audio tuning and Accuweather. The rest of Lenovo’s work on the software front is much subtler, and largely meant to make using such a big phone easier.
Rather than picking up the phone to see what time it is, for instance, you can toggle an option to wake the device by double-tapping the screen. Still another option causes the lock screen’s PIN input pad and the phone’s dialer pad to slide to the left or right depending on how the Phab 2 is tilted so you don’t have to stretch your thumbs across the screen.
And if you’re in luck if you’ve been looking for a smarter alternative to the traditional home button. There’s an option for a floating on-screen button that provides quick access to all three traditional Android navigation keys, plus the screen lock, calculator, audio recorder and flashlight. I don’t know about you, but I don’t need to whip out a calculator all that often, so the inability to change any of those shortcuts is a little frustrating. You can add a second page of app shortcuts too, though the resulting grid of icons looks pretty ugly.
Lenovo’s light touch with software is appreciated, but it’s far from perfect. Certain apps (here’s looking at you, Gmail) offer notifications that are hard to read because some of the text is too dark against the translucent gray notification shade. The problem is even worse when you’re using a dark wallpaper, and surprise: a good chunk of the included wallpapers, including the one that’s on by default, do indeed fall into that category.
Life with Tango
As I write this, there are 35 Tango apps available in the Google Play Store, and broadly speaking they fall into one of two categories: tools and games. I’m not going to dissect all of them — not unless you all really, really want me to — but there are recurring themes across these apps that speak to the larger experience of living with Tango.
Despite all the whimsical, weird stuff we’ve seen Tango do in the past, Google is making it clear the tech can help you get stuff done too. The Phab 2 Pro ships with Google’s Measure app, for one, which does exactly what its name suggests. Fire up the app, point at something, tap to drop an anchor, then tap to drop an anchor at that something’s endpoint. Congratulations, you just measured something without having to grab a tape measure. The Lowe’s Vision app has a similar trick, and when Tango’s sensors cooperate, the results can be very accurate indeed.
That’s definitely not a given, though. Let’s say you’re measuring the edge of a box or a desk. The depth sensor sometimes has trouble figuring out where the edge begins, and you have to maneuver just right to tap on the correct spot. (To Google’s credit, Measure says it offers estimates instead of hard numbers.)
Tango recurring theme #1: The Phab 2 Pro occasionally fails at figuring out what it’s pointed at, even in bright conditions.
Speaking of, we’ve seen Lowe’s app used in Tango demos for ages now. In fact, the Phab 2 Pro will even be sold in select Lowe’s stores. Even so, it’s still fun filling an empty room with virtual ovens, sofas and end tables. Online retailer Wayfair has a similar app, which generally seems to work much better; the dressers and couches and cabinets I’ve dropped into the world around me were faster to load and didn’t randomly appear right on top of me as in the Lowe’s app. In fact, the Wayfair app is a joy to use at least partially because it doesn’t try to do too much — just plop furniture down and that’s it. Same goes for Amazon’s Product Preview app, which lets you see how different TVs would look on your wall. It does one thing, and does it well.
Tango recurring theme #2: When it comes to augmented reality apps, the simpler the better.
Tango’s tools aren’t just about seeing how junk fits in your home, by the way. One of my early favorites is Signal Mapper, which prompts you to wander around and visualize how strong your WiFi signal is (future versions will support cellular networks too). Keep at it long enough and you’re left with a signal strength heat map that doubles as a rough blueprint of… wherever you happened to be. Then there are apps like Cydalion, meant to help the visually impaired get around more easily. In brief, these apps provide audio and touch feedback when they start getting too close to a nearby object.
Tango recurring theme #3: The technology might not be perfect yet, but the potential here is just astounding.
So yes, there are plenty of Tango utilities for you to play with. But let’s be real: The first thing I did after receiving the Phab 2 Pro was load up a handful of games. As it turns out, though, games are where Tango’s shortcomings become most apparent. We’ve seen some of these augmented reality games before, like Domino World, which scans your surroundings and lets you build convoluted structures out of those tiny tiles. But there’s a tendency for the app to think a flat surface like a tabletop goes on longer than it does, so you’ll often build a long string of dominos that jut out the air, just waiting to be knocked over.
Other games, like Woorld, are heavier on the whimsy. Designed in part by Katamari Damacy creator Keita Takahashi, Woorld turns the space around you into a playground where the only real goal is figuring out how to find new pieces — like a sun, clouds, sprouts and picnic tables — to add your tiny domain. It’s cute, it’s fun and I blew the better part of an afternoon on it. Woorld is, by the way, the one game I played that really threw the Phab 2 Pro for a loop. It was the second time I had fired up the game, and less than 10 minutes after I started plopping cottages and clouds and sprouts on a conference room desk, the real-world view provided by the RGB camera nearly ground to a halt.
I’m not exactly sure what caused the issue — maybe a memory leak somewhere — but it hasn’t happened again. Suffice to say, this sort of laggy behavior was an exception, not the rule. I’m actually still surprised that the Phab 2 Pro performed these AR tasks as well as it did, but I probably shouldn’t have been: This phone was supposed to launch at the end of the summer, and it’s clear Google and Lenovo used the extra time to to tighten up
Even so, the software is buggy. Playing Phantogeist, the ghost-blasting game I mentioned in the beginning of this review, was great until said ghost spookily hunkered down inside a wall, rendering my lightning-gun-thing useless. When it wandered back into the field, I nuked it from a distance and continued doing that to all its nasty, non-corporeal friends.
Tango recurring theme #4: When everything works the way it’s supposed to, Tango can feel like magic.
These past two years have turned Tango into a functional product, but it’s a long way from seamlessly good. There were, however, plenty of those moments where everything came together just so and I felt I like I was playing with a tricorder pulled out of storage on the USS Enterprise. Some of these issues will be addressed in future Tango hardware — Google’s Tango program lead Johnny Lee has said more is coming — but here’s hoping software fixes patch up some of these early troubles. The potential benefits are just too great to give up on.
Since the Phab 2 Pro’s 16-megapixel camera plays such an important role in making Tango’s augmented reality work, you’d think Lenovo would’ve chosen a top-flight sensor. Not quite, but it has its moments. When the conditions are right — by which I mean there’s plenty of light — the camera yields detailed shots with colors that are mostly true to life. Pro tip: You’ll probably want HDR mode on all the time to give your photos a dose of verve that would otherwise be missing.
My biggest gripe so far has been the finicky autofocus, an issue that only gets more bothersome in low light. Our office already has a Christmas tree in the lobby, and it posed no problem for the iPhone 7 Plus or the Galaxy S7. The Phab 2 Pro, on the other hand, refused to lock onto the tree no matter how many times I tapped to focus on the screen. This doesn’t happen all the time, but it’s a pervasive enough issue that Lenovo should really issue a software update to address it.
I wish I could say the 8-megapixel front camera was better, but it has a lot of trouble accurately rendering colors in selfies. Take me, for example: Around this time of year I’m sort of a pale, milky coffee color, an observation backed up by selfies taken with the iPhone 7 Plus and the Galaxy S7. For reasons beyond comprehension, though, the Phab 2 Pro’s front camera made me a deep orange-brown. That’s with the face-smoothing mode off and everything else set to auto too. Seriously disappointing, Lenovo.
The camera app itself isn’t much to write home about, either. Sure, there might not be much in way of manual controls, but there are eight scene modes, a “touchup” mode for cleaning up your face in selfies and some basic white balance and exposure controls. The thing is, they’re tucked away inside a settings menu making them easy to miss. It’s just bad design. (Then again, looking at the interface Lenovo slapped together, is another bit of bad design really a surprise?)
Since the Phab 2 Pro is all about augmenting reality, it’s no shock that there’s an AR mode within the camera app too. Tapping the AR button brings up a live view of what’s in front of you (duh) along with options to turn that space into some sort of bizarre fairy garden (complete with freaky child-fairy) or a playground for a kitty, a puppy or a chubby, oddly designed dragon. Sound familiar? These sorts of AR tricks figured prominently in Sony smartphones like the Xperia X line, where they were just as hokey. They’re good for a chuckle or two, but the novelty doesn’t last long (unless you have kids). At least the Phab 2 Pro does a better job dispelling the heat that tends to build up during intense AR kitty play sessions.
Performance and battery life
We’ve already established that, beyond the occasional hiccup, the Phab 2 Pro can keep Tango apps running at a decent clip. But what about everything else? Even though the Snapdragon 625 is specifically tuned for Tango, the Phab 2 Pro should be able to handle most people’s daily routines without issue. My days, for instance, are filled with lots of frantic app launching and multitasking; I’m constantly bouncing between Slack, Outlook, Spotify, Trello, Twitter, Instagram, Soundcloud and more for hours on end.
The Phab 2 Pro took that mild insanity like a champ, with occasional stutters punctuating long stretches of smoothness. Not bad. If your day features a lot of hardcore gaming, however, you might want to look elsewhere. Graphically intense games like Asphalt 8 (with the visual settings cranked to the max) sometimes proved to be a little much for the Phab 2 Pro. In other words, don’t freak out if you see the occasional jerkiness or dropped frame. Though this is an important device, you’re not exactly getting flagship-level power.
Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge
Lenovo Phab 2 Pro
3DMark IS Unlimited
GFXBench 3.0 1080p Manhattan Offscreen (fps)
I was also expecting more from the Phab 2 Pro’s 4,050mAh battery — it’s the biggest I’ve seen in a recent smartphone, after all. The usage time skewed more middle-of-the-road than I expected, but that’s still sort of a win after all the time I’ve spent playing with Tango apps. Since seeing the sun for any appreciable period of time now requires me to be up early, I usually pulled the Phab 2 Pro off its charger at around 6:45AM, then put it through the daily wringer, with lots of time to get acquainted with Tango. I mean, who could resist?
Over the course of a few days like that, the phone settled into a predictable pattern: It’d power through 12-hour workdays just fine with about 10 to 15 percent left in the tank. On weekends where I spent much less time glued to the phone, it generally stuck around for closer to two days on a charge.
Things were a little less promising in Engadget’s standard rundown test, wherein we loop a high-definition video with the phone connected to WiFi and the screen’s brightness fixed at 50 percent. The Phab 2 Pro lasted for 12 hours and 8 minutes — 20 minutes less than the Google Pixel, and a full two hours less than the larger Google Pixel XL. Such is the downside of having to power such a big display.
The Lenovo Phab 2 Pro is an incredible thing, and it’s just brimming with potential. It’s also unpolished and frustrating to use a lot of the time. When the hardware and software don’t come together as they should, it makes me wish Google and Lenovo spent a little more time ironing out the bugs. But when everything does come together — which happens frequently — I feel like I’m playing with something from the future.
Even so, there’s work to be done. Hardly any of the Tango apps available for the Phab 2 Pro feel like killer apps. As developers continue to get a feel for what Tango is capable of, we’ll see the platform become more useful — at least, I hope so. Part of that growth hinges on people starting to adopt Tango devices like the Phab 2 Pro, but it’s pretty clear that in its current form, no one needs this phone. For all Lenovo’s work cramming Tango into a well-built body, the Phab 2 Pro still feels like a proof of concept. If you’re a developer or an early adopter, then by all means, go get one.
Everyone else should remember that Tango doesn’t end with this phone. It’s special, it’s immersive and I think it could be huge for the future of mobile computing. It just needs time. I’m glad the Phab 2 Pro exists, but if there were ever a phone that wasn’t meant for everyone, this is it. The race is on now, though, and who knows: Maybe the next device with this tech is the one that truly delivers on Tango’s promise
Motorola’s metal body Moto M launches with ho-hum specs
Motorola has just launched the 5.5-inch mid-range Moto M by way of its listing on Tmall (China’s equivalent of Amazon). The Moto lineup always garners a lot of interest, thanks to previous stellar models like the Moto G and Moto X Pure Edition. However, the latest model is a bit disappointing. It does have a splash-proof metal unibody and brand new rear fingerprint sensor, but at $295, it’s specifications are wanting next to rival devices.
The device doesn’t pack a massive 5,100 mAh battery as had been rumored, but that was a rather doubtful claim. And the 4GB of RAM, 16-megapixel rear camera and P2i hydrophobic coating are nice, but the eight-core MediaTek Helio P15 processor seems weirdly out of place on a Motorola device. Other specs, at least on the China version, include a 1080p screen, dual SIMs, 32GB of storage and Dolby Atmos sound.
The specs aren’t bad overall, but the device has serious competition now, especially in China. For the same price, you can get the Xiaomi Mi 5s, for instance, which comes with the latest Snapdragon 821 CPU and a front, ultrasonic fingerprint sensor. Perhaps the Moto M will have a better chance outside of China.
Via: Engadget Chinese