Lenovo is one of the top smartphone sellers in India and also claims to be the leader when it comes to the online market. While the company did have a great 2016, it is ending the year by launching its new Phab2 series in the country.
In my first impressions of the giant smartphone, I had suggested that the only smartphone that gives competition to the Phab2 is the Xiaomi Mi Max. So here is a more in depth review of the Phab2 to see if it is better than its Chinese rival's phablet offering.
Build and Design: 7 / 10
Lenovo's smartphone division has grown up and has learned that build quality matters. Their budget offerings in K-series have all proved to be quite sturdy and well built. The Phab2 Plus gets a similar treatment. It comes with a metal unibody on the back and glass on the front which slightly curves out around the edges, which is always a nice touch. It feels very solid and didn't show any sign of bending even when I carried it my front jeans pocket. That is of course, if it fits your pocket. It feels huge.
Now I won't say that the bezels and the area above and below the display are slim. But it is clearly visible that the company has tried its best. Using it with one hand is really difficult, even if you have large hands. I tried using it with one hand but almost every time my palm would touch the screen before my fingers. It could get frustrating. It feels as if the finger taps are not registering. In short, you need to use two hands most of the time.
Other than that, I was quite satisfied with the overall design and build quality. Lenovo has also thrown in chamfered edges around the metal edges.
Phab2 Plus is a massive phone and despite Lenovo trying its best to minimise the footprint with thin bezels and no excess space above and below the display, it still requires two hands to operate. There is a one-handed mode but that only lets you shift the lockscreen's numeric PIN keypad and the dial pad to one corner for better reach, rather than shrinking the entire screen.
Diving into the other elements, the volume and power buttons are on the right which are a bit flat but feel solid. On the top is the 3.5mm audio jack, the SIM card/microSD card tray is on the left, and at the bottom is the microUSB port flanked by two grills, although only the right one actually has the speaker and is not a stereo setup. Shame.
At the back is the dual-camera setup along with the dual LED flash and sensors. The whole camera assembly bulges out a bit so it can get scratched easily. Below that sits the fingerprint scanner which is easily accessible and works promptly.
Features: 7 / 10
The Phab2 Plus features a very similar package as the Mi Max. There is a 6.4-inch Full HD IPS LCD display. an octa-core Mediatek MT8783 clocked at 1.3GHz coupled with 3GB RAM and 32GB of internal storage. The storage is expandable and can accept cards of up to 256GB in capacity using the hybrid (micro-SIM/nano-SIM+microSD card) SIM slot. There is a fingerprint scanner as well as Dolby Atmos audio technology for enhanced sound experience.
The smartphone comes with a dual-camera setup where both offer 13MP resolution with f/2.0 aperture, a dual tone LED flash, while on the front there is an 8MP camera with an f/2.2 aperture and an LED flash. As for connectivity there is 4G with VoLTE support, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth v4.0, GPS/A-GPS, a microUSB port and FM Radio.
Running on Android 6.0 Marshmallow, the smartphone gets its juice from a 4,050mAh battery.
Display: 7.5 / 10
Now putting a large display means that it will gather a lot of attention. It is a 6.4-inch IPS LCD panel with a Full HD resolution, which translates to 344ppi of pixel density. It looks crisp and honestly I think a 1080p resolution on a 7 or even a 10-inch display is quite good, but that's just my belief. Lenovo claims the large size makes it great for media consumption. But does it get it right?
Well I was satisfied with the brightness and the Phab2 Plus did fairly good under the sunlight. I didn't find any issues when looking at it from varied angles, there was no colour shift. Colour reproduction is great and even the touch response was in tune, well apart from the time when I used the handset with just one hand.
Lenovo offers an option to control the colour temperature and the saturation of the display under its settings. This enables you to have a cooler or warmer tone on the display as well as increase the saturation to make colours pop out.
Software: 7 / 10
Lenovo, unlike other Chinese smartphone makers, has trimmed down its Vibe UI over the years to make it more stock like. After the acquisition of Motorola, it has done so even more. This makes it one area where the experience on the Phab2 Plus differs from the Mi Max. While Xiaomi offers a heavily customised MIUI 8, the Phab2 Plus runs on Android 6.0 Marshamallow which is all stock except for some custom icons, widgets and wallpapers. There isn't a lot of bloatware either. SyncIt and ShareIt are the only Lenovo apps, apart from which I saw Netflix pre-loaded for users who like to binge watch TV shows and movies.
It runs fairly smooth and didn't give me any major issues. I did however notice one bug. Every time I woke up the display while playing a song through a Bluetooth speaker, the music would skip for 2-3 seconds. Now I do listen to music via Bluetooth in my car and at home so that did spoil some of my experience. However it is a small issue and should be ironed out through a quick update.
I like stock Android, it's more convenient and I don't have to search for things as everything is where it should be. At the same time I like a visually appealing UI.
Performance: 6 / 10
The Phab2 Plus is powered by a Mediatek MT8783 octa-core processor with Cortex-A53 cores clocked at 1.3 GHz. There is a Mali T720 GPU on board along with 3GB of RAM. This combination is good for day to day usage like watching videos, listening to music, checking mails, browsing, etc. Gaming seems to be good on the large screen although heavy games like Asphalt 8: Airborne did seem to struggle with a few frame drops. It also heats up when playing resource hogging games for extensive periods.
Apart from gaming. I also noticed that the handset heating up randomly when not in use. One of the instances was when I was using a Jio SIM for tethering.
As for raw synthetic benchmarks, the Phab2 Plus was disappointing. Almost all the benchmark tests resulted in numbers that were lower than most smartphones, including the Mi Max, in its price range. It scored 4347 in Ice Storm Extreme benchmark on 3D Mark and an unimpressive 4156 on the Work benchmark on PC Mark.
In terms of call performance and quality, everything is in check. Data and Wi-Fi works flawlessly, although I couldn't make VoLTE calls through a Reliance Jio SIM. Probably Lenovo hasn't activated the feature yet and would need a quick update.
Like its many phones, Lenovo has added Dolby Atmos for improved sound. While the loudspeaker is nice and loud, it lacks a punch as it feels too sharp. Using earphones, you can feel the difference when using the Dolby Atmos settings. There are different environment settings that you can play with which is nice to have.
Camera: 6.5 / 10
The Lenovo Phab2 Plus features a dual-13MP camera setup at the back along with laser auto-focus, phase-detection auto-focus (PDAF), an f/2.0 aperture and a dual LED flash. According to the company the additional camera sensor allows for measuring depth. At the front there is an 8MP camera with an f/2.2 aperture and a single LED flash.
The picture quality is average and using HDR mode offered better contrast and saturation. Overall colours are a bit neutral and I noticed certain pictures turned out to be hazy. Focusing speeds are just okay and pictures are taken quickly, although lag is noticeable time and again, specially with indoor and low light shots.
The app is fairly simple, you get all the usual modes like manual, panorama, selfie, night and so on. The dual-camera apparently helps you to get better depth in your pictures and thanks to refocusing you can select what you want in focus after the fact. It doesn't work very well and I think Lenovo needs to fix that. Check the picture of the two leaves I've taken with the dual-camera mode in which I have used the refocusing feature. It just randomly de-focuses on the main subject.
Then there is the AR mode which superimposes characters like a cat or a dog to your picture. It is quite gimmicky and I didn't find any point having it. In fact a bunch of devices, especially Sony Xperia smartphones, have been coming with such a feature for years.
Both front and back cameras can shoot 1080p videos which are again just average.
I believe the company has a lot of work to do on the camera algorithms if they want to sell the smartphone with camera as one of the USPs.
Battery: 6.5 / 10
The battery is rated at 4,050mAh. This makes it as big as what Xiaomi uses on the Redmi Note 3 while the Mi Max gets a 4,850mAh unit. A large screen phone deserves a long battery life, but the one on the Lenovo Phab2 Plus didn't impressive me. I managed to get close to a full day's charge while using it as my primary device. Heavy usage would finish the battery juice before my work day. The Work Battery life test benchmark on PC Mark test gave me 7 hours and 28 minutes which is nowhere close to the Mi Max which was close to 16 hours! The main culprit could be the less power efficient MediaTek chipset. This also means that it doesn't support any type of fast charging which is again disappointing.
Verdict and Price in India
The Phab2 Plus is a really good media-centric device at its price of Rs 14,999. Lenovo took a perfectly good chance to capitalise on the fact that there aren't a lot of devices of this form factor in the market. However, it cannot match the Mi Max due to a bunch of reasons. While it does get points for build quality, software and even audio, there are a few things that Lenovo has missed here.
First is the camera. There isn't anything unique about its highly marketed AR feature. Sony has been doing it for years on its Xperia range. The picture quality is decent but not the best in class. Secondly, I wasn't satisfied with the overall performance of the smartphone, and at this price Lenovo could've gone with a more capable SoC. It heats up and struggles a bit when running heavy games. Because of the poor choice of processor, the battery life is just average and it doesn't support fast charging.
The Lenovo Phab2 Plus priced at Rs 14,999 and is currently available exclusively on Flipkart. For the same price, the Mi Max is clearly a better device, if you can overlook the MIUI variant of Android. In areas such as battery life, overall performance, camera quality you are better off looking at the Mi Max.
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