Reviews

LG G6 review: Back to basics

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You know when something is just right? Nothing out of the ordinary but exactly what you need at a particular moment?

Be it an iced cold soda on a hot summer’s day or a comforting bowl of ramen on a cold winter’s night, there are certain things which plainly and simply, just hit the spot.


That’s exactly how I feel about the new LG G6, a smartphone that won’t necessarily blow your socks off, but is just right in an appealing kind of way.

It almost doesn’t make sense. Smartphones after all are expected to wow and excite with never before seen features. But in the case of the G6, going back to basics was all that it needed to be considered among the best phones of the year.

I first held the G6 in Barcelona last February, the first major phone launch of 2017. At the G6’s coming out party, LG hyped the phone’s near-borderless display, its unconventional 18:9 aspect ratio that gives it a screen that’s taller than usual, and how all of this put together makes it a big-display phone that fit in the hand.

But for me, what stands out is its new design, one of the pain points on last year’s G5.

In 2016, LG bet big on a new modular smartphone concept that let you snap off the bottom of G5 and then attach accessories that gave the phone extra features. It was a brave and ambitious move meant to give LG a leg up over its rivals, and in principle it was a good idea. Unfortunately, implementation was poor, and even more troubling, the G5 suffered from subpar build quality.

But all that is forgiven in the G6.

The phone feels solid and sturdy, looks great, and is in every way premium. I wouldn’t call it sexy or curvy and it is a bit on the thick side, but there’s a certain security that comes with a heftier phone. Its rounded corners and slightly tapered edges give it some softness and better ergonomics.

The phone is now made of glass on both its front and back with a metal frame holding it all together. The platinum model has a more metallic finish to it, while the black and white models are more glossy.

With this redesign, LG has finally thrown in the towel for removable batteries, a feature that almost everyone but LG had abandoned up until last year. In its place, the G6 gets water and dust resistance — a must-have on any top-of-the-line phone sold in 2017.

Big phone that fits in your hand

While the G6 is by no means a small phone, LG has managed to fit in a 5.7-inch display into a phone that’s both shorter and narrower than the 5.5-inch iPhone 7 Plus.

Because the display is taller, you can fit more things in vertically, be it more text on a website, more video thumbnails on YouTube, or a row of recent images on the camera app.

Of course, not all apps are optimized to take advantage of this just yet. Games for example have a black bar on both sides, as do videos. LG gives you the option to, with the tap of a button, adjust a game or movie’s resolution to fill the entire screen, but in most cases some cropping may occur. This is the case of technology taking the charge; content will have to follow suit.

Whichever type of content you’re consuming, however, the G6 has a beautiful display. The slim bezels are great. And at least for me, the rounded corners, while imperfectly curved and rather unusual, are a nice touch.

Battery and charging

During my week of heavy use, the G6’s 3300mAh battery lasted a good 10 hours on a single charge with about four and a half hours of screen-on time. That’s good enough to last you through an entire work day and then some.

The phone also supports fast charging. It starts slow but gets to 100 percent in about one hour and 50 minutes using the bundled charger. However, if you’re the type who needs a quick, last-minute top up before you run out the door, the G6 only manages to get to 30 percent in half an hour.

If you’re in the US, your G6 also supports wireless charging, which is great if you’re at a Starbucks so you can charge while you get caffeinated.

Great audio for Asia

If you’re not in the US, you don’t get wireless charging. But if you’re an audiophile, you might love the G6’s Asian flavor. The Asian LG G6 has Quad DAC — a digital-to-analogue converter that makes it so you can listen to high-res audio files without the need for separate hardware.

The bottom-firing speakers are pretty decent and loud. I won’t say they’re the loudest or best sounding speakers, but I have no complaints.

Dual-camera goodness

When it comes to smartphone cameras, there are currently two camps: single-camera shooters and the trendy new dual-camera bunch. The LG G6 belongs to the latter, although its implementation is slightly different.

On the G6, the second camera is a wide-angle lens. Having traveled with both the G6 and its predecessor the G5, I’ve found this option very useful. But I prefer to have the ability to zoom in on a subject.

That said, 13-megapixel photos on the G6 are great. I have no complaints shooting both during the day and at night. On top of that, as we’ve come to expect from its predecessors, you get manual mode. So if you don’t like the way Auto mode looks, you can dive in and change things like white balance or exposure.

Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about its 5-megapixel selfie camera. Either I’ve been spoiled by selfie phones in the midrange price point, or the G6 falls short. Selfies taken during the day are heavily processed, and those taken at night are barely usable.

Specs and software

The one thing that reviewers will point out is LG’s choice of the Snapdragon 821 processor from last year. While the techie in me always wants the latest and greatest hardware… in the real world, and for most users, last year’s top-of-the-line processor is more than enough. It helps that there’s 4GB of memory and expandable storage to make operation as buttery smooth as possible.

The G6 runs Android Nougat out of the box and the experience is as handsomely reserved as its redesign. The interface feels cleaner, most likely because of its use of consistent-looking square icons.

There are some nice LG touches too, like being able to knock on my display to turn it on, and a new square camera app targeted at Instagram users.

Google Assistant is also built in and the G6 is the first non-Google smartphone to come with it.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

Last year, LG took a huge gamble on the modular smartphone, commendable but one that unfortunately didn’t pay off.

But now that they’ve gone back to the basics, they’ve built their best phone ever.

Measured solely on its own merits, the LG G6 is without a doubt a worthy smartphone. One that deserves the GadgetMatch seal of approval. It is a phone you should definitely consider, up there with the best of 2017.

But is this $650 phone your GadgetMatch?

Because the G6 doesn’t exist in a bubble, it’s impossible not to compare it with the list of great phones to which it belongs.

Let’s take a look at that list…

Starting with the $650 Pixel whose cons are its meh looks. Assuming that performance was pretty even stevens, I’d get the G6 for its premium design and water resistance. And the Pixel for its superior camera and stock Android experience.

For a little bit more, you can get the $720 Galaxy S8, perhaps the most feature-rich Android phone in the market today. It’s got an iris scanner and one of the best smartphone cameras to boot. The S8 makes the G6 look boring. But not everyone likes those curves. And for those looking for a more traditional flat, and not to mention cheaper alternative, go LG.

And there’s the $650 iPhone 7. If you’re an iOS user, the G6 offers no significant reason to switch. Unless you’re tempted by Android and want a big screen, but not the size of the iPhone 7 Plus.

Remember when Samsung ditched plastic and found its groove with the S6 Edge? It took them two years to refine that concept and come up with the S8, which many consider the best Android phone ever built.

We hope the same thing happens to LG. Now that they’ve gone back to basics and built an all around great phone, they can build on that, and push innovation further.

I’m excited to see what happens next, because if just good enough is enough to compete with the best, just imagine when they’re pushing boundaries again.

SEE ALSO: LG G6 Unboxing

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Reviews

ASUS 6z Review: The camera flips, but is that enough?

ASUS is all set to take on OnePlus

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Phone makers have always rushed to be the first one to come up with something new, this urge to make a mark has gotten us pretty unique solutions like a sliding camera, triple camera setup, and even a punch-hole camera. This year, the focus has been on getting as many lenses as possible on a phone to deliver the perfect photography experience.

Huawei has made massive strides with its P-series phones, Google has the most impressive single lens camera, and Samsung tries to deliver a perfect experience in all departments. Vivo, OPPO, and OnePlus have been playing around with sliding modules for quite some time. ASUS had a huge gap to fill because the last flagship they launched was the ZenFone 5z, and it’s more than a year old now.


In response, ASUS has come up with a very clever idea of installing a flip camera up top. We’ve seen this implementation previously on an OPPO phone years back, but the idea never really took off. It’s obvious, the Taiwanese maker needs to take on the mighty OnePlus 7, and the flip camera is expected to be their wildcard. Let’s see whether the phone is just limited to fancy shenanigans of a rotating camera, or is this actually a perfect combo and the GadgetMatch you’ve been looking for!

It has a 6.4-inch Full HD+ LCD display

A dedicated Google Assistant button along with the power button and volume rockers are on the right side

The bottom houses the USB-C port and speaker grill

The back has a glass build and houses a fingerprint scanner

And lastly, those are the front as well as the rear camera

Premium design with substantial weight

The design is exceedingly premium and the phone is covered in Gorilla Glass along with an aluminum frame on the sides. The sides have a soft curve and this makes holding it extremely comfortable, in fact, it doesn’t even feel slippery.

The blue branding on the back is eye-catching and quite unique because everyone else either opts for a mirrored or metal engraved logos. The phone does have substantial weight and over an extended period of usage, you may get tired of holding it. This is especially true when you’re gaming for more than an hour.

The display consists of an LCD panel and feels quite outdated. The colors are punchy and the blacks are above average, but the viewing angles feel significantly washed out and the maximum brightness is disappointing. I always ended up keeping the brightness at maximum but outdoor visibility remains poor. This is the prime reason why I miss an OLED display and the OnePlus 7 gets a huge edge.

ASUS ensured the bezels and chins are smaller, but palm detection on the edges is poor. Even while watching Netflix or casually holding the phone, my palm would end up triggering a touch action. This can be fixed via a software update and I hope they release one soon. And obviously, there’s no notch because of the flip camera setup.

For audiophiles, the ASUS 6z still retains a 3.5mm headphone jack and it comes with high fidelity aptX HD codecs. The dual loudspeakers are sufficiently loud and I enjoyed watching videos on it. Sometimes you just want to give your ears some rest from earphones or headphones.

Flagship performance, delivered!

Just like you’d expect, it’s powered by a Snapdragon 855 processor and comes with 6GB RAM in the base variant. Our unit has 6GB RAM and 128GB internal storage, expandable via a microSD card. The specs inspire confidence and actual user experience is just how you’d expect a brand new processor to perform.

For the price, the device is optimized perfectly and can go up against significantly more expensive flagships like the S10 and OnePlus 7 Pro. Gaming tends to heat up the phone, but it’s tolerable. I didn’t notice any major frame drops or stutters even over extended periods of gameplay. There’s also an AI Boost Mode, but I refrained from using it because performance improvement was negligible and it ended up draining the battery faster.

Coming to the power pack, it houses a huge 5000mAh battery that supports 18W fast charging. I was able to clock 6 and a half hours of screen time, sometimes crossing seven when brightness has been dimmed. You’d expect better results out of a big battery like this one, but standby time is underwhelming. When compared to OnePlus’s proprietary fast charging technology, the ASUS 6z is miserably slow to charge thanks to the large battery.

Lastly, ASUS ships the phone with ZenUI 6 and it has a completely new look to it. While it retained the stock Android look, the brand added a few nifty features like a dedicated screen recorder, AI Boost Mode, and even FM Radio. Overall, we’re glad they’ve ditched the old UI and are embracing the look of pure Android. This should also let them roll out updates faster since customization is limited.

Flip camera, the star of the show

To start with, yes, the flip camera module is smoother than I expected and even though it makes a fair bit of noise, this just adds a better “moving” feel to the user experience. You can even use the module for face unlock and the automatic flip gives a very futuristic aura to the phone. To be honest, I never felt the flip motion was slow or time-consuming.

Also, the flip module does feel very solid. I tried to forcefully shut it in and it always slid easily. No opposing force ensures it doesn’t breakdown easily. I often toggled face unlock when the phone was lying flat on a surface and it immediately detected an obstruction, in turn aborting the flip.

The module houses a primary 48-megapixel IMX586 sensor and a secondary 13-megapixel wide-angle camera. For a 2019 phone, the setup is common, but it gets interesting because the same setup also doubles up as your front camera.

In a nutshell, the output of the camera as a rear sensor is disappointing, but as a front camera, it produces a lot of better pictures. The flip camera can swing 180 degrees and you can also manually control the flip angle of the module. This gives you a few very interesting features like automatic panorama and object tracking. Manually setting the angle of the camera won’t come very handy, but it indeed is a cool feature to have.

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The camera takes above average pictures, meaning it isn’t anything groundbreaking, but there are no actual faults to point out. It’s an iPhone-like camera, it’ll get the job done perfectly, but don’t expect it to be a kick-ass contestant against other flagships.

The dynamic range is quite good, but the pictures often feel too sharp. Saturation is perfect and low-light images are surprisingly good. Using the night mode, you can capture excellent pictures, but you’ll have to ensure the phone isn’t shaky because the software is bad at stabilization.

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As far as selfies go, the primary sensor is super fast at focusing and portrait mode detects edges quite well. The wide angle lens is a cherry on top for all-inclusive group selfies and landscape portraits.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

The ASUS 6z starts at INR 31,999 for 6GB RAM and 64GB internal storage, this is roughly US$ 467. The nearest competitor is OnePlus 7 and it costs just INR 1,000 more. If you want a phone with something new, like the flip camera, and prefer a headphone jack, wide-angle lens, expandable storage, and a loud speaker, this phone is made for you.

You may be losing out on OnePlus’s highly famed software and consistent updates, but both the devices have an equal number of pros and cons. The Pixel 3A may be an alternative outside of India, but otherwise, the 6z is light-years ahead. I don’t see any major flaws in the phone and it gives OnePlus some much-needed competition in the segment they’ve been ruling for quite some time.

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Gaming

A non-Potterhead’s verdict on Harry Potter: Wizards Unite

Use your phone, Harry!

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More than a week has passed since the global release of the mobile game Harry Potter: Wizards Unite and we’re ready to give our thoughts. As the title states, I’m not into the franchise that much although I’m a big Pokémon Go player. It basically has the same gameplay as they’re under the same developers — Niantic, Inc.

That being said, I won’t be diving too much on the lore and will instead focus more on gameplay and its overall experience.


For those unfamiliar, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite is a location-based AR game that requires you to go out of the house in order to get more experience points, unlock special items, and advance in the game. The same goes for Pokémon Go and the game before that, Ingress. While PoGo, in the real world, has PokéStops that give out PokéBalls, HP:WU has Inns that you get Spell Energy from. This is then required so you can cast spells and return Foundables to their rightful place and time (the game’s version of catching different Pokémon in the wild).

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ALSO READ: A beginner’s guide to Harry Potter: Wizards Unite

During the first day of release and being curious as to how the game works, I went out and tried to “catch” as much Foundables as I can and just like PoGo, it gets you in the momentum of just wanting to go around and get as much as you can. I initially noticed the wider array of different “species” you can come across with on HP:WU as compared to when PoGo first launched. I remember all I did back then was to catch Pidgey and Rattata because that was pretty much everything that was available. This was also the main reason why most players quit back then.

You get to choose your house, profession, and design your wand

Back to Wizards Unite, the similarities it has with PoGo made it easy for me to get a grasp of its general gameplay even though I have no idea who most of the characters are. The idea is to basically level up by grinding for experience points in the most efficient way. This means planning where to go and making sure the place is populated by in-game stops and spawns — usually parks and shopping malls are good choices.

Comparison of HP:WU’s UI vs PoGo in the same area

While it parallels Niantic’s other games in many levels, Wizards Unite brings its own charm through its visuals. The environment of HP:WU is simply more immersive than PoGo‘s and even the encounters have more detail in them. It could get distracting at times since there are more elements in HP:WU, but is overall nicer to look at.

A unique aspect from the company’s games is that unlike other multiplayer games where you meet your friends online, you actually play with them in real life and this is also the case for Wizards Unite. These games basically build a community that helps each other accomplish in-game tasks that are usually challenging to accomplish alone. What HP:WU did better, though, is to go for a more immersive gameplay by making you trace different patterns on your screen as if waving your wand as compared to the tapping mechanics of PoGo.

Overall, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite could be a more enjoyable game for some players who are not big fans of the Pokémon franchise. I personally enjoy it enough to switch between HP:WU and PoGo whenever I play out. It will keep you walking around drawing on your screen and pretending to wave your make-believe wand.

It’s a game that’s far more complete than Pokémon Go at launch, that’s for sure. Although, it’s still far from reaching its full potential since there are things that could still be added to the game like a dueling system, for example.

If you want to try the game and get some cardio while casting spells, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite is available on Google Play and the App Store.

 

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Reviews

Xiaomi Mi 9 SE Review: For those who like it small

A pocketable flagship-like phone

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Xiaomi‘s line of flagship phones for 2019 has been in the market for a few months now. The Mi 9 is indeed a smartphone that offers a great specs-to-price ratio; however, some users find high-end phones nowadays to be larger than usual. That includes the Mi 9 and the newly announced OnePlus 7 Pro.

We certainly miss the Compact models of the Xperia line, but it seems like Sony isn’t announcing anything new soon. Good thing  Xiaomi made its upper-midrange offering pocket-friendly — not just in price, but also in size.


This is the Mi 9 SE and it’s not as expensive as Xiaomi’s flagship models, but it’s also not that cheap. Aside from specs, the phone’s highlighted feature is its pocketable size.

It has a 5.97-inch Full HD+ AMOLED display

The panel is made by Samsung

There’s a tiny notch for the front camera

It’s not different from other notched displays

The dual nano-SIM card tray is on the left

There’s no space for a microSD card

The physical buttons are all on the right

The power and volume rocker blend well in the frame

The top has the IR blaster and secondary mic

The IR is a rare feature among phones

The bottom houses the loudspeaker and USB-C port

The main microphone is also at the bottom

The back is a flat slab of shiny glass

It’s so reflective, it’s like a mirror

The camera layout is similar to the Mi 9’s

Three cameras in one row

A pocketable all-display phone

The Mi 9 SE doesn’t look any different from its more expensive cousin. It also has an edge-to-edge display with a small notch on top to house a front-facing camera. The display measures just below six inches and it’s a Super AMOLED panel from Samsung. The screen’s resolution is at Full HD+ which is pretty sharp.

Since its an AMOLED, the color reproduction is top-notch and the blacks are indeed black. Beneath the display is a fingerprint scanner that lights up when needed. It takes less than a second to read, but it’s not the fastest I’ve tried. Thankfully, a smooth slab of Gorilla Glass 5 protects the display from unwanted scratches.

In the sea of sizable Android phones, the Mi 9 SE’s pocketable dimensions are welcoming. The phone’s display doesn’t look small and limiting because of its thin bezels. Once you get a hold of the phone, you’ll appreciate its size. It’s not as petite as former Xperia Compact models from Sony, although it’s fairly small by today’s standards.

The overall design of the Mi 9 SE isn’t special, but it doesn’t look and feel cheap either. The use of glass in the front and back elevates the phone’s premium touch, but I’m not a fan of its chrome-like side frame. Still, the Mi 9 SE is an attractive piece of hardware that can also act as a mirror with its uber-reflective rear glass.

Flagship-like performance in a smaller package

Powering the Mi 9 SE is the Snapdragon 712, a brand-new flagship-grade processor from Qualcomm. While the Snapdragon 712 is a new chip, it’s not that different from its predecessor which powers last year’s Mi 8 SE. The new processor is just slightly faster on paper, so the real-world difference is hardly noticeable. That means Mi 8 SE users can skip the Mi 9 SE if they are after a performance upgrade.

The phone runs MIUI 10 out of the box and it’s based on the latest Android 9 Pie. Xiaomi is good at keeping their devices updated, which is one of their strengths. With 6GB of memory to work with, the Mi 9 SE can handle multiple apps at the same time. So far, I haven’t encountered any lag during my time with the phone.

Moreover, MIUI 10 is one of the nicest skins for Android. The changes aren’t just cosmetic, they are also functional. The extra features from Xiaomi surely come in handy, especially the built-in system-wide dark mode.

When it comes to gaming, the Mi 9 SE can deliver high-quality graphics anytime. By default, most games are already set to high settings which means this phone is ready for mobile gamers. The screen does feel a bit small when compared to my previous devices, especially to my daily driver –the Huawei P30 Pro. My go-to games like Asphalt 9: Legends and PUBG Mobile run smoothly on the device.

Triple the sensors, triple the fun

The biggest upgrade of the Mi 9 SE is found in the camera department. From two cameras, the new model now has three: a regular, a telephoto, and an ultra wide-angle.

The primary shooter is a 48-megapixel camera with an f/1.8 aperture designed for everyday shooting. Paired with AI scene recognition, the Mi 9 SE’s main camera can take great stills in various lighting conditions.

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The second one is an 8-megapixel telephoto camera with 2x optical zoom. I personally don’t feel the need for a telephoto lens on a mobile phone, but it’s available for situations when you need to get closer to your subject. Take this ground signage as an example:

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What I enjoy using is the ultra wide-angle lens. The phone’s third camera, which has a 13-megapixel sensor, can take a different prospective. When taking a photo of landscape or any open space, the phone’s AI will suggest to also take a photo using the ultra wide-angle camera. The quality doesn’t match the main shooter, but it’s highly usable.

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As for selfies, there’s a 20-megapixel camera inside the display’s notch. Like with most front-facing cameras, it comes with beauty filers and artificial bokeh effects to mimic a high-quality portrait shot. For a front camera, it’s one of the sharpest and most detailed selfie shooters I’ve tried.

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With a total of four cameras, there are a lot of ways you can take photos (and also videos) with the Mi 9 SE. Having both an ultra wide-angle and telephoto lens is the perfect setup for a modern camera phone, especially within the phone’s price point.

Fast charging battery

Despite the relatively pocketable dimensions of the Mi 9 SE, it still has a respectable battery capacity at 3070mAh. The efficiency of the new Snapdragon processor and the battery-saving features of Android Pie-based MIUI 10 help the Mi 9 SE last long on the road.

The phone was able to last a full day with heavy use which includes consistent internet connection over Wi-Fi or LTE, push notifications, and some gaming on the side. On lighter days, I am able to get almost two days of battery life. My average screen-on-time is around three to five per charge.

When it’s time to charge the battery, the bundled fast charger fills up the Mi 9 SE from zero to 47 percent in just 30 minutes. A full charge takes an hour and a half.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

The Mi 9 SE unit I have for review retails for PhP 15,990 (6GB+64GB) at Authorized Mi Stores in the Philippines, which is roughly US$ 310 when converted. For that price, the phone already offers a lot. I can’t think of any new phone that matches the Mi 9 SE in terms of price and features, making it an easy recommendation for those looking to buy a new phone.

The phone doesn’t have any flaws (nothing major, at least) that’ll turn off potential buyers, including myself. Is the Mi 9 SE the perfect midrange phone existing today? I can’t say for sure, but it’s clearly the best you can get in its range.

SEE ALSO: Xiaomi unveils the Mi 9 SE Brown Bear Edition with custom case and themes

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