Lenovo Phab2 Plus Review

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Introduction

The Phab 2 Plus revolves around a massive 6.4-inch 1080p display and a full metal body with a fingerprint sensor on the back. Also on the back is a dual camera system that produces shallow depth of field using the information from the secondary camera. There is no Google Tango like there is on the Phab 2 Pro (don’t let the name confuse you), but the Phab2 Plus is much cheaper than the Pro model so this should help put our expectations in check.

Back in 2013, Sony launched the Xperia Z Ultra. It had a massive 6.4-inch display, which was unheard of back then. None of the phones around that time were even remotely close to that, which made it stick out as a sore thumb. As a result, it didn’t sell so well.

Lenovo

 

Fast forward to 2016 and things are a bit different. 5.5-inch is fast becoming the rule rather than exception for smartphone display sizes. As such, a 6+ inch device no longer appears outlandish.

Earlier this year Xiaomi introduced the 6.44-inch Mi Max, which was met with a positive response and there were fewer complaints heard about the size of the device as there would have been three years ago.

Naturally then, we are now seeing more and more smartphone manufacturers jump on the bandwagon. The latest entrant is the Lenovo Phab2 Plus, which competes squarely against the aforementioned Xiaomi device when it comes to pricing. Here are some of its key specifications.

Lenovo Phab 2 Plus at a glance:

  • 6.4-inch 1920 x 1080 IPS display with 2.5D glass
  • 173.9 x 88.3 x 9.6 mm; 218g; aluminum alloy body
  • MediaTek MT8783 SoC; Octa-core 1.3 GHz Cortex-A53; ARM Mali-T720
  • 32GB expandable storage; 3GB RAM
  • 13 megapixel rear camera with depth sensor; f2.0 aperture; laser autofocus with LDAF; Milbeaut ISP
  • 1080p video recording with 5.1 Dolby Atmos audio
  • 8 megapixel front camera; f2.2 aperture; front flash
  • Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac dual band; Bluetooth 4.0; dual SIM, VoLTE
  • Triple-array noise cancelling microphones
  • 4050mAh battery; 5V 2A charging
  • Android 6.0 Marshmallow

As you can see from the specs, even though the Phab2 Plus resembles the Phab2 Pro in design, it is decidedly mid-range device with a price to match. The focus is really on the display size here more than overall device performance.

Lenovo Phab 2 Plus press images - Lenovo Phab2 Plus review Lenovo Phab 2 Plus press images - Lenovo Phab2 Plus review
Lenovo Phab 2 Plus press images

We will just have to see if this strategy works out for Lenovo and how the Phab2 Plus fares against the Mi Max, which is the undisputed champion of this segment for the moment.

Design

The Lenovo Phab2 Plus is undeniably a massive phone. In fact, it even goes beyond the dimensions of the previous size champion, the Mi Max. The Phab2 Plus is taller but more importantly a lot thicker than the Mi Max. The added size also comes with a fair share of bulk, with the Phab2 Plus weighing in at 218g compared to the 203g.

Normally, we don’t fuss too much about the measurements but at these sizes the numbers matter. At the end of the day, what we really care about is the display size, so any phone that manages to maximize the display size while minimizing the overall dimensions is a winner in our books, and Xiaomi has clearly done a better job of packaging than Lenovo. It is even more impressive when you consider the Mi Max also has a considerably larger battery than the Phab2 Plus, but more on that later.

Dimensions aside, the Phab2 Plus is a pretty standard looking device. On the front we have the massive display surrounded by a not-so-subtle black border that stands out particularly on the gold model.

Thankfully, the areas above and below the display aren’t particularly large.

Lenovo Phab 2 Plus: The screen is the centerpiece - Lenovo Phab2 Plus review Lenovo Phab 2 Plus: Bottom and top bezel are not that big - Lenovo Phab2 Plus review Lenovo Phab 2 Plus: Bottom and top bezel are not that big - Lenovo Phab2 Plus review
Lenovo Phab 2 Plus: The screen is the centerpiece • Bottom and top bezel are not that big

On top of the display is the front flash on the extreme left, then the earpiece, then the front facing camera, and then the ambient light and proximity sensors.

Below the display are the three capacitive navigation keys that are backlit. The buttons are a bit more spaced out than they need to be on a phone of this size, and reaching the one on the far end with your thumb can be a bit of a stretch.

The display is covered by a 2.5D scratch resistant glass. Lenovo doesn’t specify the brand of glass used but we can confirm that is it indeed scratch-resistant.

Left side - Lenovo Phab2 Plus review Right side - Lenovo Phab2 Plus review
Left side • Right side

On the right side we have the volume and power button. The power button is reasonably well placed but the volume buttons need some stretching. The buttons are made out of metal and provide good feedback without rattling.

On the other side is a hybrid SIM slot that can take either one micro SIM and one nano SIM or one micro SIM and one microSD.

Top end - Lenovo Phab2 Plus review Bottom end - Lenovo Phab2 Plus review
Top end • Bottom end

On the top is the headphone jack and the secondary microphone. On the bottom is the loudspeaker, microUSB port, and the primary microphone.

The back of the phone is mostly made out of metal that also extends to the sides. At the top and bottom are plastic bits for the antennas. Near the top is the camera module, containing two lenses, a dual LED flash, and laser autofocus system. The camera module is raised, and coupled with the curved back of the phone makes it quite wobbly when it is on a table and you’re trying to type on it. Below the camera is the fingerprint sensor, which is almost near the center of the phone. This makes it very easy to use as it falls exactly where your index finger would be. In comparison, the sensor on the Mi Max is way up top and requires some significant hand gymnastics to reach.

The back is all made of metal - Lenovo Phab2 Plus review The camera bump hosts two cameras but makes the phone wobble - Lenovo Phab2 Plus review
The back is all made of metal • The camera bump hosts two cameras but makes the phone wobble

Using a phone as big as the Phab2 Plus on a daily basis is not an easy task. If you are coming from a relatively large size phone then you might find it easier to get used to. Still, the size feels like a burden while doing simple tasks, where the impressive size of the display is not particularly useful. The mundane activities are really what we end up doing most often on our phones, where a big phone is more of a hassle than a boon. On top of that, the Phab2 Plus is particularly big and heavy, while the Mi Max with its similarly sized display feels noticeably thinner and lighter, and thereby easier to use.

Using it is one part, but carrying it around is another matter entirely. Or should we say lugging it around? Most pockets aren’t designed to hold a phone of this size so the top of the phone will always be poking out. Even if it does fit, it’s still not comfortable to put this phone in your trouser pocket and walk around or sit with it. It’s more at home in a jacket pocket or a bag. Otherwise you will mostly have to carry it around in your hand.

Awkward dimensions aside, the phone is well built and feels quite sturdy.

Display

The Phab2 Plus has a 6.4-inch, 1920 x 1080 resolution IPS LCD, arguably the most important feature of this phone. For starters, the 1080p resolution is quite adequate despite being stretched over a larger than usual canvas. You are never left wanting for a higher resolution panel and text and images are all reasonably sharp.

In terms of image quality, the panel does suffer from slightly bland colors and at extreme angles the colors tend to invert, with the blacks turning to whites.

The display also doesn’t get very bright under the sun even at maximum brightness, which coupled with the glare from the front glass can make it hard to see the screen at times outdoors.

By and large the display on the Phab2 Plus is not very impressive. The Mi Max, which doesn’t have a particularly fantastic display either, still comes across as the better of the two. Still, for an undemanding user the display on the Phab2 Plus should be satisfactory enough. The image quality is also more or less in line with what you can expect at this price point.

Software

One of the advantages of Lenovo acquiring Motorola has been that some of Motorola’s software qualities have been rubbing off on Lenovo’s R&D team. The last few Lenovo phones saw the influence of the company’s Vibe UI reduce significantly. With the Phab2 Plus there really is no mention of Vibe UI anywhere in the product’s promotional material. This doesn’t mean it is running quite the same thing as stock Android, but it’s closer than ever.

For starters, the launcher is pretty much identical to the Google Now Launcher, except for the Google Now side panel. The drop down notification shade is similar in design, if not identical, and features some additional functions not found in stock Marshmallow along with the ability to customize and rearrange them.

The multitasking menu again looks similar but with an option to clear all apps. The Settings app? That’s practically identical to stock Android except for very few additions.

The Android UI on the Lenovo Phab 2 Plus - Lenovo Phab2 Plus review The Android UI on the Lenovo Phab 2 Plus - Lenovo Phab2 Plus review The Android UI on the Lenovo Phab 2 Plus - Lenovo Phab2 Plus review The Android UI on the Lenovo Phab 2 Plus - Lenovo Phab2 Plus review The Android UI on the Lenovo Phab 2 Plus - Lenovo Phab2 Plus review
The Android UI on the Lenovo Phab 2 Plus

Lenovo, unfortunately, still does not use the same apps that Google or Motorola use, so the phone, contacts, messaging, camera, etc. are all different apps, for better or worse. There are also a few additions, such as a gallery app, a universal search app, a voice recorder, and an FM radio.

The camera application is perhaps the only notable one to talk about here. Apart from the standard auto mode there’s also a manual mode that lets you adjust the white balance, focus, ISO, shutter speed, and exposure compensation.

The Camera app - Lenovo Phab2 Plus review The Camera app - Lenovo Phab2 Plus review The Camera app - Lenovo Phab2 Plus review
The Camera app

Then there is a panorama mode and a group selfie mode, which is essentially a panorama mode but for taking selfies for a group of people using the rear camera.

Lastly, there are the two marketed features, the AR mode, which injects 3D creatures into the camera viewfinder creating an augmented reality effect, similar to what Sony introduced many years ago on the Xperia camera. The feature is nowhere near as advanced as what Google offers as part of the Tango system, which was pioneered on the similarly named Lenovo Phab2 Pro.

And then there is the dual camera mode, which uses the second lens as a depth sensor to create a fake shallow depth of field effect (bokeh) similar to the HTC M8 or the iPhone 7 Plus.

If you switch to the front camera, you get the same aforementioned modes along with a beauty mode slider and a flash, which is more of a light that just stays on.

Apart from that, one of the best changes that Lenovo has made is the switch to high DPI setting on the Phab2 Plus. This is one of the things that we noted on the Mi Max to be missing, which resulted in the phone showing roughly the same amount of content as a phone with a 5.5-inch display. This proves to be a tremendous waste of space and also makes everything look unnecessarily large. The Phab2 Plus, on the other hand, fits a lot more content on screen at once, making an excellent use of the available screen real estate while maintaining usability of the UI.

Overall, the UI of the Phab2 Plus is clean and simple, and is definitely one of the better features of the phone and the lack of heavy customization should make it appeal to a broader audience. As for software updates, you can look forward to firmware updates from Lenovo but major Android updates could be few and far between.

Performance

Despite a clean and light layer of software, the performance on the Phab2 Plus was underwhelming. This is largely because of the MediaTek MT8783 processor that seems perpetually out of breath. You can clearly see the phone struggling most of the time with even basic tasks such as opening and closing apps or just scrolling. It really puts a big damper on the overall usability of the phone – the poor responsiveness does not make you want to use it as much.

Lenovo Phab2 Plus system hardware properties - Lenovo Phab2 Plus review Lenovo Phab2 Plus system hardware properties - Lenovo Phab2 Plus review Lenovo Phab2 Plus system hardware properties - Lenovo Phab2 Plus review
Lenovo Phab2 Plus system hardware properties

With basic functionality struggling, there was no point in trying out any games, but we did anyway. As expected, the more demanding games were largely unplayable, and only the simpler 2D titles worked fine.

In comparison, the Xiaomi Mi Max, with its Snapdragon 650, absolutely flies in every task. Using it feels effortless and the phone never feels out of breath regardless of what you are doing. The Phab2 Plus feels like it is dragging a ball and chain around.

The audio performance isn’t particularly exceptional. The single loudspeaker at the bottom gets sufficiently loud but sounds a bit tinny and unbalanced when you hold the phone in landscape and the speaker is on the far right. The headphone output doesn’t get loud enough, which means you will be left wanting for more volume on files that aren’t loud enough.

Camera

The Phab2 Plus has a dual camera system at the back with a 13 megapixel main camera and a second camera of unknown resolution. The second camera acts as a depth sensor for the background defocus and AR effects. The phone also uses a Milbeaut ISP, a dedicated chip to process the images from the camera instead of using the on-board IPS of the SoC.

Daylight image quality from the camera was quite good. Images come out looking clean, with very little noise and whatever is there is unobtrusive. The post processing is also tasteful, with none of the aggressive noise-reduction and sharpening seen on most other phones. The only thing that gives away the true nature of the camera is the dynamic range, which, as is usual for smartphones, is quite weak. The colors are also slightly undersaturated, which should bode well for editing but out of the camera images do look a bit flat.

Camera samples - Lenovo Phab2 Plus review Camera samples - Lenovo Phab2 Plus review Camera samples - Lenovo Phab2 Plus review
Camera samples

In low light the camera does lose some of its impressiveness. The level of detail drops significantly and although the images still look quite clean they look perhaps a bit too clean and smoothened out. The colors turn even blander and the overall contrast is also quite low.

Camera samples - Lenovo Phab2 Plus review Camera samples - Lenovo Phab2 Plus review
Camera samples

The camera app has an HDR mode, but it’s not as aggressive as on other phones. In fact, several times it seems as if it’s not doing anything at all. Even when it does work it’s fairly subtle.

Camera HDR mode: Off - Lenovo Phab2 Plus review Camera HDR mode: On - Lenovo Phab2 Plus review
Camera HDR mode: Off • On

Moving on to the AR and dual camera mode, neither were very good or really even worth talking about. The phone simply does not have the processing power to render 3D objects in real time with any amount of ease on the screen while the camera is on. The available effects are also, to put it bluntly, quite lame. Not only did Sony achieve this years ago, it even did it much better job back then.

As for the dual camera mode, the background defocus effect is about as unreliable as it was on the HTC M8 two years ago, probably more so. Many of the times it just cannot separate the foreground object successfully enough and even when it does it does with glitches. Neither of these two modes are really worth anyone’s time and feel like unnecessary addition to the phone.

Moving to video, the phone actually takes advantage of its multiple microphones to record audio in 5.1 channel with Dolby Atmos. Unfortunately, we did not have a surround sound system to test it as it was intended to be heard.

As for the video, it’s a bit soft and the focus has a tendency to hunt at times but is usable overall. Unfortunately, there is no optical or electronic stabilization. There are also no slow motion modes.

Battery life

The Phab2 Plus has a 4050mAh battery. While a sizable amount by any means, it’s not quite as impressive as the 4850mAh of the Mi Max. On top of that, the battery is burdened with powering a massive display and an inefficient processor that is forever struggling. The end result is a battery life that isn’t as impressive as it could be.

During an average day, the Phab2 Plus got a screen-on time of about 6 hours. On its own, that’s quite good compared to other phones but not even remotely close to the 10+ hours that the Mi Max consistently belts out. The Lenovo will get you through the day but not much more than that.

As for charging, there is no fast charging available. However, with a 10W charger, the phone did manage to charge in two and half hours, which is not bad.

Verdict

With the 6+ inch smartphone market still being in its nascent stage, Lenovo had a good opportunity here to disrupt the market with a quality offering and dethrone the market leader Mi Max, which also happens to be pretty much the only worthwhile option in the segment.

Instead, what we get is a monster truck with the engine of a hatchback. The mediocre chipset on the phone compromises performance across the board. The general UI performance is slow, as is gaming and camera performance. Elsewhere, too, the phone fails to impress. Display could have been better for a display centric device, audio performance could have been better and for all its size and bulk, the phone could have also done with a larger battery.

The few good qualities of the phone include robust build, a relatively clean software UI, and decent camera performance in daylight. But these aren’t enough to redeem what is largely an underwhelming device.

Admittedly, the price is reasonable, especially in India where the phone retails for INR 14,999, which is about $222. However, it doesn’t feel like you get a lot for your money, especially when the Xiaomi Mi Max costs the same for its base configuration, and is a better device in practically every way.

In the end, the Lenovo Phab2 Plus gets a hard pass from us. Lenovo will need to do better in future, starting with choosing the right chipsets for its devices.

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