Lenovo’s Project Tango smartphone coming this summer

Details are scarce, but it will sell for less than $500 and have a display smaller than 6.5-in.

Lenovo will begin selling a sub-$500 smartphone that runs Google's Project Tango 3D mapping technology starting this summer, the company announced late Thursday at CES.

Project Tango is an ongoing effort by Google to allow a mobile device like a smartphone to measure spaces and provide information to a user that can be useful for navigating indoor locations. Lenovo also envisions adding augmented reality apps that can be used in games or in shopping for furniture and sizing up how the furniture fits in a room. The apps rely on the physical space around a smartphone user as detected by the 3D Project Tango technology.

The phone's display will be smaller than 6.5-in. and the body very thin, although Lenovo hasn't yet come up with a name, Jeff Meredith, Lenovo vice president of development, said during a press conference. It will use a Snapdragon processor and run Android, no surprise given the phone's connection to Google.

Adding Project Tango to a smartphone is a "fundamental shift," Meredith said. "This has significant capability of changing how we interact with smartphones."

The device will feature three cameras in addition to the two traditional cameras used on modern smartphones. The three are a depth sensor, a fisheye camera for wide angle views and an RGB (red, green, blue) camera for acquiring very accurate color images.

Google Project Tango's head of development, Johnny Lee, used a special 7-in. tablet developed by Google to show off how Tango will work. He measured the length and width of a small stage where he stood, calculated the size of a box onstage and played a virtual game of Jenga.

Lee was also able to show how he could fit a virtual couchcand a refrigerator into the space on the stage, as depicted on the tablet screen.

Lenovo didn't offer many details about the phone and showed photos that only offered a glimpse of what it will look like.

In reaction to the announcement, some analysts wondered how valuable the Project Tango technology will be. A lot of the value of the mapping technology will depend on the apps that take advantage of it.

Some home hardware manufacturers like Stanley already sell small devices that can quickly measure a room with laser technology and use new apps to calculate how much paint would be needed to paint the walls.

"3D imaging has some really interesting possibilities, but it may be premature to get excited about this right now," said Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates. He noted that Intel has developed RealSense technology for measurements and 3D calculations that is used in several tablets, like the Dell Venue.

"Real Sense has some cool modeling and other 3D measurements, but it's not mainstream and I'm not sure that I need that in a phone," he said. "We'll have to see what apps Lenovo [has] to see if this a real tool or just a cool feature in search of a use."

Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, said Lenovo's phone "has an incredible amount of merit," especially when augmented reality is involved.

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