Reviews

Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+ review

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Rarely am I ever impressed by new phones; waves and waves of products do that to you. But this is an exception. Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and S8+ are really truly special.

If our hands-on video and loyalty-provoking articles haven’t been enough to convince you how beautiful they are, maybe this full review will. Just look at them — this is how phones should look like in 2017.


6.2-inch Galaxy S8+ on left, 5.8-inch Galaxy S8 to the right

Curves are in, thick bezels are out

Here’s how it compares to the LG G6

But honestly, they’re literally a handful

You’d be surprised how slim the two phones are for their large screen sizes; that’s because they use this new 18.5:9 aspect ratio that’s a lot longer than the usual 16:9 ratio use in practically every other phone out there. (The LG G6, in comparison, has an almost-as-long 18:9 ratio.)

But that doesn’t discount how unwieldy they can be in a single hand. Although accidental touches aren’t as common as with the Edge variants of the Galaxy S6 and S7, you’ll always be stretching and squirming your fingers around the AMOLED display, which, by the way, is rated as the best on a smartphone ever (all 1440 x 2960 pixels of it).

Samsung tried its best to find ways around the inconvenience. One was to bring back edge screen functionality, wherein you can swipe in a panel from the side to access quick settings and important contacts. The other is a gesture on the fingerprint scanner to bring down the notification shade. The Android Nougat interface, by the way, is a lot less cluttered compared to previous Galaxies and is easier to navigate now.

Reaching for the fingerprint scanner is a pain

Since this high-tech technology that would let you scan fingerprints anywhere on the front panel didn’t make it on time (would’ve been cool, though!), Samsung chose to place the fingerprint scanner right beside the camera lens at the back. We must say, it’s terrible. Not only does it make the lens prone to getting your greasy prints on it, the sensor isn’t even that accurate. Luckily, Sammy has some nice alternatives.

I thoroughly enjoyed using the iris scanner and facial recognition login features over the unintuitive fingerprint sensor. They’re both surprisingly accurate and have their own unique advantages. For the iris scanner, it works well even in poorly lit rooms; facial recognition, on the other hand, is less picky about your position and takes one less swipe to access from standby.

The Bixby button is so… Bixby

When something doesn’t work right, we should just call it “Bixby,” which is Samsung’s idea of the ideal virtual assistant. There’s a button right below the volume rocker to the side that lets you access Bixby even when the phone is asleep. Problem is, its functionality is… how do I put this… bad.

As of the moment, it can’t accept voice commands to do your bidding like with Google Assistant or Apple’s Siri. I was only able to scan objects seen through the camera app and look them up online, which then provided more information about the product. It wasn’t entirely accurate. Making matters worse is the current supported app list, consisting of two apps I actually use: YouTube and Uber — although strangely enough, YouTube compatibility disappeared from the list when I double-checked just now.

To our delight, Google Assistant is still available for those who’d rather not be Bixby’d; you can access it by holding the home button. Now, wouldn’t it be great if we could officially map Assistant on Bixby’s physical button? Get to it, Samsung!

DeX is DeXy

One more feature unique to Samsung’s Galaxy S8 line is DeX. Sounds silly, but it’s a docking system that allows these phones to connect to a monitor and turn themselves into a full-fledged desktop operating system. While it isn’t on the level of macOS or Windows (or even Linux), it’s a decent alternative to working with files on your phone if you really must use your phone. It comes complete with a taskbar, specific settings, and all your apps scaled to monitor proportions.

I personally don’t see this becoming a hit, especially since you must buy the DeX dock separately. In no way can this replace a true desktop PC experience, but it does make working and multitasking on your phone infinitely easier. I imagine this flying with consumers who travel from one workplace to another — and, umm, happen to have a monitor lying around at each destination.

Camera time!

Let’s be real: We all want to know how well the camera performs. After listing all its tricks and pitting it against its most bitter rivals, the Galaxy S8 duo have, hands down, the best set of cameras on any phone right now. Even if you ignore all the added features and upgrades over last year’s class-leading Galaxy S7, the fact it beat the Google Pixel is enough to earn its crown.

Take a look at some more photos we’ve taken with the new king of camera phones:

Keep in mind that the two smartphones share the same cameras both in front (8 megapixels) and at the back (12 megapixels). This means the only differences between the flagship pair are the screen size and battery capacity, so don’t worry about missing out if you opt for the smaller model. (Take notes, Apple!)

Speed and endurance as slick as the glass back

The only thing smoother than the rear glass panel is the processor and its accompanying software. Depending on where you live, you’ll either get Qualcomm’s top-end Snapdragon 835 processor or Samsung’s very own Exynos 8895, which is just as fast. Beyond the processing speeds, what really sets these two apart are their super-tiny 10nm fabrication, meaning they’re a lot more efficient and less battery-hungry than older flagship chipsets.

On top of that, the smaller footprint allowed Samsung to jam more features into the Galaxy S8 without adding to the heft. The battery, in particular, is generous enough considering how much space is used for the awesome display and camera. I was able to squeeze out about four hours of screen-on time with both Galaxy S8 models over the course of one day on a single charge.

While this sort of battery endurance may not sound so great, especially when compared to other large contenders, consider that I have Samsung’s Always On feature activated the entire time. This handy function shows me the time, date, remaining battery percentage, and my notifications even when the device is on standby. This keeps me from turning the phone on every few minutes to check messages — I’d sacrifice some battery life for this convenience any day.

Enough brains to back the brawns

I just love how Samsung made 64GB the minimum storage option for the Galaxy S8 duo. This marks 16GB as prehistoric, and forces 32GB out the door, as well. In addition, the hybrid SIM card tray allows you to extend the internal storage using a microSD card, if you choose to forego adding a second nano-SIM card, however.

In a bit of a surprise, the memory of the base models didn’t get a significant boost. In a world where 6GB of RAM is gradually becoming the standard for higher-end phones, both Galaxy S8 units settled for 4GB. I’m not complaining, though; not once did the Galaxy S8 or S8+ shut down an app before I was done with it or hinder my multitasking between programs.

To protect your investment (and it’s a hefty one), we once again have full water and dust resistance to keep the phones safe against nasty spills. Finally — and this is important for couples out there — the Galaxy S8 pair has Bluetooth 5.0, which lets you connect two pairs of wireless headphones at once!

Is this your GadgetMatch?

How much are you willing to shell out for the best smartphones currently available? If you say around $750 to $850 for the Galaxy S8 and S8+ respectively, you have your GadgetMatch! But seriously, these are expensive phones. It’s even worse if you live outside of the US, where prices are jacked up further; the Philippines has to deal with PhP 39,990 and PhP 45,990 for the two flagships.

There really is no way around it other than waiting for the prices to go down, which might probably happen when the next iPhone and Pixel roll out. If you do decide to bite the bullet and purchase either of these two Galaxies as soon as possible, I can’t blame you. In my opinion, they’re prettier than other near-borderless phones, and have the camera performance and security features to boot.

If you’re still worried about another Galaxy Note 7 fiasco, don’t be. Samsung clearly learned its lesson and is taking battery safety more seriously than any other manufacturer right now. You can learn more about the steps Samsung has taken to ensure better quality control in our comprehensive explainer.

SEE ALSO: YouTubers react to the Galaxy S8

[irp posts=”11903" name=”YouTubers react to the Galaxy S8"]

Laptops

ASUS VivoBook X412F Review: A great midrange option for work and school

For those who need a fresh start

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Not everyone can afford a premium device. Even if the specifications entice you to buy that nice laptop, the ultimate decision point is in its price and value to you. Parents and young professionals starting a new job would know.

ASUS regularly comes up with great midrange selections for students and young professionals. That seems to be what the ASUS VivoBook X412F is: an all-around midrange device for productivity and day-to-day tasks. But if you’re currently a student or working full-time, should you consider this device?


Here’s a rundown of the device’s specifications:

It has a 14” HD anti-glare display

It’s powered by an Intel Core i3 processor and an NVIDIA MX230 graphics card

It comes with both a USB Type-A and Type-C port

Has a fingerprint reader on the touchpad

It gets the job done for its intended purpose

The model I used came with an Intel Core i3 processor, which won’t deliver great performance on paper. But after using it for a while, I can say that it really isn’t the case. It kept up with the numerous tasks I threw at it, whether it was writing documents or watching videos. Do take note that this device only comes with 4GB of RAM, so obviously you won’t be able to do a lot more.

It also helped that it comes with a 256GB solid state drive installed. Using SSDs provide a significant boost in loading times, which allowed me to get more tasks done. I would still prefer to have the more powerful Intel Core i5 option installed to maximize performance.

You can play games on it, just don’t push it

The VivoBook X412F comes with an entry level NVIDIA MX230 graphics card. Upon reading this, my initial thought was that gaming was possible — and it was. The catch is, well any game that doesn’t require so much graphical power will run smoothly. Games like CS:GO, Minecraft, and Rocket League do reach a hard 50 to 55 frame per second cap.

But like any other non-gaming laptop, using this strictly for gaming is highly discouraged. This device was not exactly designed to be a gaming machine, even if you get the units with more powerful processors on it. Plus, you will definitely feel the heat on your keyboard when you play for too long. So, I’m not saying that you can’t use it to play games; don’t use it just to play games.

It lasts relatively long, as long as you’re using it properly

Upon initial testing, I did get around five to six hours on one full charge. It’s long enough for you to just browse the internet, watch a few videos or movies, and type down reports. Doing some form of photo or video editing decreases that number by just a bit. It took two to three hours to fully charge the device from zero.

Battery life when playing games on it is just what you expect it to be. I got close to two hours and 30 minutes before having to plug the charger. Again, you can play games on this device but it’s not meant for strictly just gameplay. 

The webcam is surprisingly decent

One of the key critiques I’ve had over most laptops centers around their webcams. Most built-in HD webcams, when used for the first time, are not as “high-definition” as promoted. Images and videos either look blurry or grainy, which won’t help during conference calls.

With the VivoBook X412F, the webcam is decent at best — which is all you could really hope for. Under good lighting conditions, image quality on this 720p webcam feels more “high-definition” than most. I observed relatively less grain than most other laptops I’ve tried, which is great for video calls at least.

Other features worth considering before you buy

The VivoBook X412F comes with a fingerprint reader on the touchpad. Setting up Windows Hello was pretty fast, but I found the sensor to be pretty sensitive after. Even if I had already cleaned my fingers and wiped out the sweat, the sensor sometimes won’t read it.

It also comes with a chiclet keyboard without the number pad on the right side. Key travel, for me was decent and took just a short while to get used to. Sadly, it wasn’t backlit which I would have liked — especially for working late at night. 

Finally, you get what you can with its display. It’s only a 14-inch HD display, which doesn’t leave you much room for proper viewing angles and color accuracy. The one good quality it has, in my opinion, is that it’s an anti-glare screen. I used the device outdoors several times, and even at 70 percent brightness I could still see the contents of my screen.

Is the ASUS VivoBook X412F your GadgetMatch?

The ASUS VivoBook X412F is one device that truly caters to those who want an affordable yet premium experience. It comes in a package that promises great productivity and portability, and lasts a long time. It’s a total fit for students and young professionals looking for their first school or work laptop. Of course, that’s only the case as long as it is used for its intended purpose.

With a device like this, you can only do so much. While tasks such as photo, video editing, and gaming are possible, it proves to do more harm than good. If you really want to get the most value out of this laptop, I suggest you use it mostly for its intended purpose.At PhP 32,995 (US$ 629) for the 256GB + 4GB RAM unit, the ASUS VivoBook X412F is a great productivity device for work and school. That is, if you will use it for work or school-related activities.

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Philippines

Nokia 8.1 review: What took you so long?

Solid but feels dated

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There’s a Filipino song called “Bakit ngayon ka lang?”. Loosely translated, it means “what took you so long?”. The song talks about a missed romantic opportunity — of someone else coming along while you’re already committed to another. That’s almost exactly how I feel about the Nokia 8.1.

The phone — known in other markets as the Nokia 7X — was first announced in December 2018. A full seven months later, it arrived in the Philippines. And a lot has happened in those seven months.


Performance on par with midrangers today

Before I proceed, let’s get some of the specs talk out of the way. The device is powered by the Snapdragon 710 SoC along with 6GB of RAM with 128GB of internal storage which is expandable via a microSD card. That’s not bad. At all. It’s even near-flagship territory… in 2018.

One thing about the Nokia 8.1 though that will never feel dated is its OS. The phone is part of Google’s Android One program which means this is running Stock Android. If you like it vanilla — like a lot of purists do — then this is one of the phones that offer that clean experience. Right now it’s still on Android P, but if you’re feeling adventurous, you can side load Android Q beta as it is a partner device for Android’s developer preview.

Google cards are quite useful

The chip together with vanilla Android makes for a smooth and snappy experience. Most of the time I’m either just browsing or working on my phone and doing so on the Nokia 8.1 one was a very pleasant experience.

I have said this countless times but in case you’re new here, I don’t really play mobile games. The only time I ever really do so is when I have to test phones. On the Nokia 8.1 I only played Honkai Impact 3, which is a pretty graphics heavy game. The phone had zero trouble running the game and it looked especially stunning on the phone’s 6.18-inch PureDisplay screen (which we’ll get to shortly).

This means the phone will likely have zero problems running some of the most played games today like PUBG and Mobile Legends: Bang Bang. If you play these games with this phone and don’t get that Chicken Dinner or that MVP, then you only have yourself to blame.

A display sent from the heavens

The PureDisplay screen technology is really pulling its own weight. When Nokia said this phone offers a higher contrast ratio and sharper output, it felt like it was even underselling it. The screen is vibrant and the colors and images look sharp all without looking too saturated.

It doesn’t have any of that crazy 90hz or 120hz display that we’ll find on 2019 flagships, but dare I say, the Nokia 8.1 probably has the best display in its price point.

I hid that notch eventually

I’ve often found myself happily watching on this phone while slowly being sucked into the YouTube rabbit hole. Speaking of watching videos on this display, I opted to turn the notch off altogether. The notch still looks like the one present on the iPhone X which came out in 2017. It’s 2019 and personally, I’d rather have a full bezel than be bothered looking at that kind of a notch.

Watching vertical FanCams is great on this thing

That said audio on this thing is far from perfect but it’s passable. The sound it produces isn’t as full as I hope to hear from phones when in speaker mode, but you can remedy all that by plugging in headphones because our good friend jack is still present on this device. Listening on wireless earbuds also offer a nice experience.

The build screams premium

One of the first things I noticed about the Nokia 8.1 is its build. The body is built with 6000-series aluminum with an all-glass back. And it feels pretty darn expensive. So much so that I was wondering why it didn’t come with any case in the packaging.

At first I was really hesitant to bring this around due to the lack of a case, but over time, my hands have grown accustomed to the glass finish. And I feel blessed every single time I touch it. There’s something about the build in finish that just screams premium.

The fingerprint sensor is at the back. And it feels like a blessing every time I touch this thing

It’s not fragile at all though. Being the clumsy oaf that I am, I may have accidentally dropped this phone twice already. The phone sustained zero scratches and zero damages. This is one tough cookie.

Pretty darn good cameras

I have to come clean and say I never really had too many chances to take photos during the testing phase. I’ve mostly just been at my desk or in a conference room which aren’t really ideal for taking photos.

The second lens acts as a depth sensor

So for samples I just took some quick shots around my place using the ZEISS-powered 12- and 13-megapixel dual-cameras. Hopefully I find some time to get a life outside of work for the next review. If you know a girl looking for a date, feel free to hit me up. I don’t bite… unless? Anyway, check out the samples below.

Quick note, features like Pro mode and Bokeh are also present on the 20MP front-facing camera.

Is the Nokia 8.1 your GadgetMatch?

And so, here we are. I’ve had nothing but mostly nice things to say about the Nokia 8.1. For a phone that was launched in late 2018, it can still square up with several midrangers in 2019. But the price, therein lies the rub.

At PhP 19,999, it’s not crazy expensive. It’s just that for a few thousand pesos less, there are actually better options. It’s hard to justify this purchase when  phones like the Realme 3 Pro and Xiaomi Mi 9T exist — both of which came within the seven months that the Nokia 8.1 was nowhere to be found on the archipelago.

Calling the folks at Nokia to bring their phones to the Philippines faster next time

Sure, those don’t have the build that the Nokia 8.1 has but the Realme 3 Pro offers much of the same performance for a more affordable price. And the Xiaomi Mi 9T actually feels like a 2019 phone with its triple-camera setup and a pop-up camera that makes way for an actual full screen display.

If you’re a Nokia stan — and I know there’s a lot of you out there — I can’t fault you for wanting this device. I get it. It’s pretty nice. But it’s really just a little too late. Timing is everything. Both in love and in smartphone releases.

*plays “Bakit ngayon ka lang?

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Accessories

Traveling with the Moment Lens

Is the Moment lens a worthy travel buddy?

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Phone photos become our very own souvenirs whenever we travel. More than something we upload on social media, they’re pleasant memories we can flip through when we’re back to the reality and routine of our lives. As such, it pays to have beautiful shots of the landscapes and sights we visit.

Earlier in July, I went to Hokkaido, Japan. To help me achieve said beautiful shots, I had with me a Google Pixel 3 and an 18mm wide-angle lens from Moment. It was my first time using a Moment lens. If you’re not familiar with Moment, they make special phone cases that can be pimped up with lenses that help elevate the photos you take.


Is the Moment lens a worthy travel buddy? Yes and no.

It’s great for taking landscape shots

Any tourist attraction can be turned into desktop wallpaper with the wide lens.

You also get to see the bigger picture. There’s a certain splendor added to a façade when you capture it from a wider angle.

It’s handy for when there’s limited space

In one of the farms we went to, there was a veranda where we wanted to take photos. It was great for portraits but not for capturing my outfit. There was not much space for the person taking the photo to move back to, so we got help from the wide-angle lens to capture a wider perspective and a full body shot.

It’s a hassle 

While it’s easy to plug the lens onto the case, the extra step of looking for the lens inside the bag is a hassle, and ironically, takes you away from the moment you’re trying to capture. Imagine getting a stranger to take a group photo of you and your friends at a restaurant — everyone would be waiting for you to find the lens in your purse and attach it to the phone — it ruins the moment a little bit.

I can also do without the extra weight and the extra space it takes up in my tiny bag. A less rugged-looking case would also be nice.

The Moment lens does offer wonderful improvements to my vacation shots. If you’re particular about how artfully angled your shots are, you’ll find that a wide-angle lens is a great addition to your arsenal. However, if you’re like me who is content with what your camera phone has to offer, you may find the lens unnecessary. With the Google Pixel 3 and a little post-processing, I was actually able to get nice shots even without the Moment lens.

“Ironically, the Moment lens takes you away from the moment you’re trying to capture.”

Traveling means you have limited time to spend in a place. Make the most out of it with a device that has all the camera features you need. In 2019 there are already plenty of phones with built-in wide angle and telephoto features, from different price points that you might want to consider instead.

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