Imagine a smartphone with a slew of cameras capable of detecting depth and distance to generate on-screen augmented reality experiences relative to the world around you, not just linear on-screen applications and game experiences.

No need to imagine it any more. Back in April Intel announced its RealSense smartphone, but at the Intel Developer Forum (IDF) 2015 we've got to sample a prototype device in the real-world. Does it raise the bar for what smartphones can do?

On board is Intel RealSense, a dual camera setup that differentiates the data reads from both to determine depth and calculate measurements, which can be used to change focus after taking a photo, for example.

In addition is a fish-eye lens used to detect a 180-degree world around you, interpreted by Google's Project Tango, which detects and pinpoints objects in real-time, so 3D virtual mapping is possible.

What that means is this phone can "see" like a human: it understands objects' placement within the environment in front of you, so whether you want to use that to build virtual block-built worlds, Minecraft style, or map real objects within the phone's environment, it's all possible. Or attach the phone to a virtual gun attachment and use it like a real-world 360-degree shooter; your physical movements being interpreted as turning through space due to its on-board detection devices.

So there's no doubt that the Intel RealSense smartphone prototype can do more than most. But, with its 6-inch screen, it's a massive slab that feels too big. Sure, it's smaller than a tablet, such as the Dell Venue 8 7000 (which also has Intel RealSense technology on board), but it's actually thicker than that device, which in phone terms is a no go.

Whether such software is practical for the masses is also questionable. But, as ever, it all comes down to development, hence being shown at IDF. When the prototype gets put out as a development product in Q4 2015 (there's no consumer model planned at this stage, so think 2016 for that) it'll be down to third-party developers to make that software experience special and valuable.

Otherwise the to-be-released Intel RealSense phone will be a normal Android Lollipop phone, with the usual operating system and variety of applications as any other. 

First Impressions

RealSense and Project Tango certainly add extra potential to the Intel RealSense smartphone, but right now whether these technologies and terms are widely understood or useful in their existing software guise is a potential sticking point. That and the sheer scale of a 6-inch device makes it a bit giant for the pocket.