Phab Tango: depth-sensing released to the public soon

We´ve seen the demonstrators and the tablet-sized mock-ups and DEV kits of Google`s Project Tango. But now it is finally to hit the market real soon! The Lenovo Phab 2 Pro is the first consumer device to integrate all Tango tech and sensors to bring a Hololens-like experience to our pocket. But is it worth spending the money? Will this define new must-have features in the future?

Project Tango for starters

If you have missed it, Project Tango started off at Google ATAP team (Advanced Technology and Projects) to let smart devices know where they are independently from outside signals. Short version: they use different built-in sensors and computer vision algorithms to learn about the environment and position the device. But with the reconstruction of the world you can also do great augmented reality to occlude virtually inserted objects and have them glued down to the ground pretty well.

The team kicked off their work in 2014 (releasing the first peanut phone device for developers as I wrote back then). The work was lead by Johnny Lee, who was before well known for his work on Microsoft´s Kinect and his hacks on the Wii (e.g. to track your head for more immersive renderings taking your perspective into account). After the peanut phone the yellowstone tablet for developers and the research scene started off with many fun projects with it – but a consumer device was yet to be released.

Lenovo making the move

Now, Lenovo stepped up and brings the first consumer device to the market supporting Project Tango. It integrates the depth sensor, a fisheye and high res RGB camera on the back side to make it happen. This comes at a price of 6.4 inches size but also with a nice resolution of 2560 x 1440 pixels on the IPS panel. Pre-orders are now open for US market (darn, when is Europe getting it?) and shipping is supposed to start in December for $499. Time for the developers to build some X-Mas games now!

What to do with it?

First off, the technology of Tango always was a dream for researchers and developers in AR. It combines all current technology with the 3D reconstruction and depth sensing functionality we have all been waiting for in the AR field – if it turns out to work well as hoped for in everyday usage. It will sure continue to be a developer and researcher platform to try out new ideas and mock-up the shit out of it! AR with full knowledge of your space, real-time occlusions and positional tracking is just the way it was meant to be played.

The consumer ideas and current Play store apps show some mixed ideas. From simple measuring tools to check furniture in your room before you buy it to AR games and other augmented shopping experiences. A nice demo is the Woorld game, where you populate your living room with houses, objects and critters – a fun, noisy, colorful version of Minecraft combined with some Populous or any other random mini game like fishing. With the integrated physics it is probably good tech demo fun for a while:

If you like it a bit more scary, Ghostly Mansion could be another gaming option to try things out. Aaron from Rabbx Inc. was holding a post-mortem speech on their development for Project Tango at the Vision VR/AR Summit this year.

Worth the trouble?

Right now, people report on long loading times on AR apps and obviously the number of apps is limited today. Having it as a primary phone won´t work for many people (due to it´s huge size). Probably it will still be the developer´s phablet for a while or a rich kid´s toy. The phone is too small for a tablet but too big for your pocket. But if the phone works well and benchmarks on eye level with phones like the iPhone or the Galaxy S series it could become a good new standard for roughly 500 bucks. I hope I can write an official hands-on review on it to really get the answer down.

I can sure see how the additional sensors could become a commodity and included in the basic configuration of any future smartphone (of Google). Then Pokemon and others would really work well with your phone! I´m pretty positive that this integration will happen. Google even just moved their Tango people over to the Daydream (VR) team. Does it mean they will combine forces to finally bring inside-out positional tracking through the Tango sensors to their Daydream VR devices in the future? Johnny Lee does not really deny that, he only talks about the current problem of overheating.

We can imagine how many new games and applications can be build on top of it and AR finally becomes a standard… in our pockets… or on our nose? Is it maybe just another 2-3 years period of trials with advanced pocket devices like the Tango until HMDs like Hololens, Meta or MagicLeap are ready and until we throw away our smartphones? It is just a trial device on our way to hands-free head-worn AR? In any case, shut up and take my money! ;-)