Summarizing 2016 is best done by going through the highs and lows — well, mostly lows.
As this turbulent year comes to a close, GadgetMatch presents a total of 16 unforgettable moments and polarizing announcements that have shaped the past twelve months.
This is going to be a long read, so let’s get right to it.
Hit: Google releases its own smartphones to positive reception
Google’s Pixel and larger Pixel XL have been experiencing great critical and commercial success — so much so that Google’s third-party partners, specifically Samsung and LG, are caught in an upstream, and the Nexus program has been set aside for now. The search giant is showing manufacturers how to do Android right, but one question remains leading into 2017: Where’s Android One headed?
Miss: Samsung recalls its greatest phone ever
This has to be the most heart-wrenching miss on this list. The recall of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 caused such an impact on the tech industry, we’ll still be feeling it well into 2017. It’s a shame really, as many media outlets — including ours — praised the stylus-equipped smartphone as not just the best smartphone this year, but even the greatest Android device ever made.
Miss: Apple lets go of everyone’s favorite port
No bit of tech news this year harmed mainstream audiences as much as Apple’s removal of the audio jack in its latest crop of iPhones. It’s a move marketing head Phil Schiller believes takes “courage,” but we think it has more to do with consumerism, making people buy new pairs of wireless headphones which Apple coincidentally markets together with partner company Beats.
Hit: Nintendo cares about our childhoods
Nintendo clearly won the award for coolest gift to buy your parents, yourself, or even your kids this holiday season. The miniature Famicom and NES consoles are always sold out wherever they’re available, and why not? They’re incredibly affordable, come preloaded with 30 classic games, and make you relive all those bitter sibling rivalries during childhood.
Miss: Android Nougat never really took off
It’s been four months since Android 7.0 Nougat began rolling out, but a total of only 0.4 percent of consumer devices actually have it today. To make matters worse, an even newer Android 7.1 came out already, and support for the more widespread Android 2.3 Gingerbread will be discontinued early next year. Google has a lot of ground to cover until Android 8.0 launches next year.
Miss: Smartwatches are going the way of the dodo
How many people do you know constantly wear a smartwatch? Exactly. Sales have been slumping, and even though the latest version of Android Wear is set to release early 2017, brands like Motorola and Samsung aren’t keen on applying Google’s smartwatch operating system, opting instead to either give up completely or use their own interface.
Hit: Chinese smartphone brands reach new heights
Chinese smartphone brands ruled 2016. Yes, Apple is still on top when it comes to total profit, raking in 91 percent of all smartphone revenue last quarter, but the global rise of Huawei, OPPO, and Vivo is unprecedented. And it’ll only get better with these Asian companies making a stronger push in the western hemisphere during the next few months.
Miss: Project Ara doesn’t see the light of day, sort of
We were so disappointed to hear this news: After years of development and hopeful demos, Google’s modular Project Ara smartphone never entered the mass production phase. Fortunately, an actual prototype of the project leaked last month, but all it did was remind us how much potential was wasted.
Miss: GoPro suffers financially and recalls Karma drone
GoPro has been the go-to brand for all things action camera since its conception. Now, unfortunately, its profits have plunged, and mishaps like the recall of its ambitious Karma drone doesn’t help maintain a positive image for the brand. GoPro will need some divine intervention to make up for its 40 percent drop in sales as compared to 2015.
Hit: Apple finally updates its MacBook lineup
After years and years of minor refreshes, Apple finally launched what we’ve all been waiting for: an all-new MacBook Pro. With so many changes — such as the new keyboard and loss of several important connectivity ports — it feels like a totally new product, but the true innovation comes in the Touch Bar, which is open to endless support from third-party developers.
Miss: BlackBerry gives up on hardware
In what was the least surprising yet still heartbreaking news, BlackBerry has halted all plans for designing its own smartphones. Instead, the entire development and manufacturing process is now in the hands of third-party companies, to the disgruntlement of long-time fans. The awkwardly named BlackBerry DTEK50 and DTEK60 are simply rebranded midrange Alcatel handsets with added security, courtesy of BB.
Hit: Xiaomi cuts in front of innovation line
We’ve seen hundreds of leaks and prototypes that never got turned into actual commercial products, but Xiaomi went ahead and pulled the trigger with its Mi Mix concept phone. Just look at its massive near-borderless display, ceramic-encased design, and high-end specifications — has Xiaomi set the standard for what smartphones will strive to be in 2017?
Miss: LG fails modular experiment
For every successful modular phone, there are a few that fail. LG had its first attempt with the flagship G5 earlier this year, but a not-so-great reception to its not-that-intuitive execution lead to the Korean company possibly junking it completely. The recently launched V20 doesn’t have modularity either, so Lego-like phones are probably better left as works in progress for now.
Hit: World goes crazy for Pokémon Go
No single game has caused as much controversy as Pokémon Go this year. The augmented reality app invaded smartphones all over the world, making developer Niantec filthy rich in the process. We ourselves got swept into the craze, writing comprehensive guides for getting started and finding the best spots for those rare creatures.
Miss: ASUS jacks up this year’s ZenFone prices
ASUS made waves in 2015 with ZenFones that had unmatched horsepower for their price points, effectively forming a booming segment of bang-for-buck phones we still see today. A year later, when the Taiwan-based company released the outrageously priced ZenFone 3 series, formerly loyal fans have been jumping ship for more affordable offerings.
Miss: Yahoo goes up for adoption
How the mighty have fallen — Yahoo was so wealthy at one point, it could have bought Google. Instead, the former internet giant got bought by Verizon for only $5 billion; that’s a huge drop from its $125-billion valuation back in 2000! The nail in the coffin came when news broke about 500 million Yahoo accounts getting hacked — two years after the breach actually happened.
God of War: An older Kratos needs a wiser you
He also has company in his son (yes, son!), Atreus
When I was getting ready to play the first hour or so of the new God of War, I was psyching myself up for a hack and slash action-adventure. However, the game quickly put me in my place and showed me I needed to think a little and not just mindlessly slash.
During a media preview in Singapore, we were told this new God of War game is built on three pillars: narrative, combat, and exploration. The game has indeed evolved in those three areas — an evolution fit for today’s gaming scene.
If you didn’t already know, God of War is a gaming franchise launched in 2005. It has so far released seven games featuring main character Kratos rampaging through Greek mythology. The creators of the game are now calling that the first era, with this new launch marking the start of the second era wherein Kratos will now face off against Norse gods.
Quite the twist in this game is that Kratos will be joined in this latest journey by his son, Atreus. Yes, Kratos has a son. Atreus will play a key part in both the gameplay and the story.
Speaking of which, the story of the latest God of War game is set in Scandinavia. An undetermined time has passed since Kratos laid waste to the Greek gods, and now he finds himself going through the Norse wilds, teaching his son how to survive while also learning how to be a father along the way.
In previous iterations of the game, the camera had a focused third-person, fixed cinematic perspective. This is where a large part of the experience will change for most players who have grown used to what the previous games had to offer.
From fixed, the developers decided to make the camera “unhinged” giving you free reign to look around and soak in the Norse wilds. This helps as you move around and look for items you might need to unlock more of what Kratos and Atreus can do in the game. Some of the exploration involves having to look for certain stones that unlock chests containing items that will provide boosts for the Spartan warrior.
The core system demanding you to explore, loot, craft, and upgrade is still there, but the ability to control your view adds another layer to it that feels updated for the gaming landscape today. Predictably, this change in the camera has an effect not only on how you interact with your surroundings but also with how you battle.
“We wanted to kick the player’s ass in the beginning of the game,” is how God of War Marketing Producer Aaron Kaufman described their approach to tweaking the combat system.
In a lot of ways, the combat also reflects this new Kratos’ demeanor. While there still remains some of Kratos’ iconic brand of rage, this older Kratos appears wiser and more measured. That same demeanor is how you should approach the combat.
One of the more exciting things in this new game is Kratos’ weapon: an axe. But it’s not just any axe. It looks pretty basic to start, but it has some magic in it and one of its best features is that you can throw it around giving Kratos a bit of an extended range on his attacks similar to his previous blades. So how do you get a thrown axe back? There’s a button to summon the axe and it comes back to Kratos similar to how Thor, the thunder god in Norse mythology and also a well-known superhero these days, summons his hammer.
However, like I mentioned earlier, there’s more to doing battle than swinging and throwing a weapon around. Some enemies won’t be fazed by the axe and you’ll have to straight up give them a taste of Kratos’ fist. Some enemy attacks are so powerful you’ll need to defend before you can land an attack. While others require that you use Atreus’ arrows before Kratos can deliver a beatdown.
It’s a gotten a lot trickier than it used to be, but there are certain elements to it that still feels very distinctly God of War. For instance, there’s a stun meter under opponents’ life meter. Once it reaches critical, it allows you to perform perhaps one of the most brutally satisfying ways of finishing off enemies.
The upgrades are also quantified now. At the pause menu or when you speak to the smiths of Kratos’ axe, you can upgrade the items and weapons equipped to both Kratos and Atreus. There are now numbered indicators of how much a boost each item can give you. This should give you a better idea on whether to have an item crafted now or wait until you have more materials for perhaps a better item.
All of these contribute to a more challenging battle system without completely alienating the hack-and-slash element that endeared a lot of people to this franchise.
Release date and availability
The game will officially launch on April 20, 2018 across the world. Pricing details are as follows:
Philippines — PhP 2,799
Indonesia — IDR 729,000
Thailand — THB 1,890
Malaysia — MYR 229
Those who pre-order will receive three shields as well as an XP boost.
Collector’s Edition contains the following physical items: 9-inch Kratos and Atreus statue, 2-inch Huldra Brothers Carvings, Exclusive Lithograph, Cloth map, Special necklace, and drawstring bag. It also has the following digital items: Death’s vow armor set, Exile’s guardian shield, Dark Horse digital comic, Dark Horse artbook, and Dynamic theme.
It’s priced as follows:
Philippines — PhP 7,699
Indonesia — IDR 1,899,000
Thailand — THB 4,990
Malaysia — MYR 549
There’s also a limited edition God of War PlayStation bundle that include an original design PlayStation 4 Pro with 1TB HDD, one original design DualShock 4 wireless controller, God of War software with premium digital content, voucher code for digital contents, three-month subscription voucher card, and a PlayStation one-year extended warranty service.
Pricing are as follows:
Indonesia — IDR 7,249,000
Thailand — THB 17,690
Malaysia — MYR 1,999
As of posting, the PlayStation 4 bundle has no pricing and availability details in the Philippines.
ASUS ZenFone 5Q (Zenfone 5 Lite) Unboxing and Hands-On
A true quad-camera setup
ASUS launched its new ZenFone 5 series at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. While it’s the ZenFone 5 that turned the most heads for notch so many reasons, it’s this model that we think might be the most popular of the bunch.
The ASUS ZenFone 5Q is also known as the ZenFone 5 Lite in Europe and ZenFone 5 Selfie in South America.
Explainer: Differences between Snapdragon processors
Let’s understand what’s inside our phones
In the world of mobile phones, each device is ranked by performance based on what’s powering them. The processor inside your smartphone is constantly working as much as it can to keep your phone running.
Today, especially on Android phones and tablets, the most popular of all mobile processors is Snapdragon from Qualcomm. There are several Snapdragon processors out there, and each model number gets more confusing as new variants come out. Let us help you with that.
First, a brief introduction. Snapdragon is a family of system on chip (SoC) products made by Qualcomm for use in a variety of mobile devices such as phones and tablets. It contains not just a central processing unit (CPU), but also a graphics processing unit (GPU), global positioning system (GPS), modems for LTE and Wi-Fi, and whatever is needed to create a complete chip to power a mobile device. Let’s simply refer to it as a processor so we won’t get too technical.
Not all Snapdragon processors are of the same level. Currently, Qualcomm has four Snapdragon platforms, and they’re classified by three numbers. Each series helps classify what tier (i.e. entry-level, midrange, flagship) the phone belongs to during its launch. Knowing each series also gives us a quick idea of how the device’s performance will fair.
Snapdragon 200 series
The Snapdragon 200 series is the entry-level processor range. As of writing, there are five models under the 200 series: 200, 205, 208, 210, and 212. They are found on low-cost phones and other smaller devices that don’t require much processing power. The latest to be powered by these processors is the Nokia 2 which is a cheap Android smartphone for basic functions.
We don’t see many Snapdragon 200 series-powered phones lately due to competition with MediaTek, another SoC maker that’s known to be found on budget Android devices.
Snapdragon 400 series
Moving up the ladder, we have the Snapdragon 400 series. This series bridges the gap between the entry-level and mid-tier. Like with the 200 series, the 400 series is commonly used for budget devices around the US$ 200 range and also faces tough competition with MediaTek’s offerings.
There are a number of models in this series but thankfully, as the number goes up, the specifications and performance do too. Some models in the series don’t differ much with slight modifications in speed and modem features. Also, as high-tier processors get more advanced, the lower-tier processors like the 400 series get the old higher-end features.
Some of the phones in this series are inside the Huawei Y7 Prime and LG Q6 which both have a Snapdragon 435 and the OPPO A71 (2018) and Vivo V7 which have a Snapdragon 450 — the latest and greatest in the series as of writing.
Snapdragon 600 series
Many consider the Snapdragon 600 series to be the most well-rounded in Qualcomm’s family. Why? It offers a great balance between performance and cost. Smart buyers would prefer a great midrange phone rather than an expensive flagship which they would replace in a year or two. That’s where the 600 series comes in. It offers far greater performance than the 400 series and inherits the features of a high-tier processor without the added cost.
There are more model numbers that fall under the 600 series, but the most famous of them all is the Snapdragon 625. It was a game changer when it was announced back in 2016 because it brought the efficiency of more expensive processors to cheaper phones. The Snapdragon 625 is still widely used today since it’s a reliable processor and gives budget phones midrange performance.
Since the introduction of the 625, more manufacturers are relying on the 600 series. The latest releases, the Snapdragon 630/636 and 660, are now even up to par with flagship processors from 2016. The newest phones like the Nokia 7 Plus and OPPO R11s have the Snapdragon 660, while the recently announced ASUS ZenFone 5 has the Snapdragon 636 with artificial intelligence (AI) features.
Snapdragon 800 series
The Snapdragon 800 series is Qualcomm’s top-tier lineup. Flagship phones use the latest Snapdragon 800 series processor at launch. The 800 series is not as confusing as the others because Qualcomm doesn’t release multiple high-tier processors at the same time; they usually announce two per year. Actually, we only had one for 2017 which is the Snapdragon 835 and for 2018, we currently have the Snapdragon 845 so far.
All the newest features are found on the latest 800 series processor. It uses the latest manufacturing process, highest performing graphics unit, best display tech such as higher dynamic range, and has support for the fastest storage and memory. With the trend of artificial intelligence among mobile devices, the Snapdragon 845 even has a neural processing engine dedicated to AI.
The Snapdragon 800 series has the best and most exclusive features, but they come with a price. Since the 800 series processors power flagship phones, it’s always expensive to afford one except those from Xiaomi and OnePlus.
Since we’re still in the first quarter of 2018, there aren’t that many phones available with the latest Snapdragon 845 but the list already includes the Samsung Galaxy S9, Xperia XZ2, and ZenFone 5Z. Last year’s Android flagships were all powered by the Snapdragon 835 like the OnePlus 5T, Google Pixel 2 XL, LG V30, and HTC U11+.
Ranking of the processors
At this point, it’s pretty obvious that the 800 series is the best performer of the bunch since it always gets the latest features and advancements in mobile processors. But let’s not belittle the capabilities of the 600 series which vastly improves with every release. Since it’s the next in line, whatever the 800 series has will soon be available to the 600 series. There are even rumors about a 600 series processor based on the same 10nm manufacturing process of the Snapdragon 835/845 which will be a big deal for midrange phones.
The 400 series is there to draw the line between upper-midrange and lower-midrange phones. Gadgets powered by a 400 series processor, especially the latest Snapdragon 450, aren’t totally inferior to any of the 600 series-powered devices, though. The 400 series is also picking up from where the 600 series was every year. If the phone has a 200 series processor, don’t expect much. It’s really designed to cover the basics while keeping up with faster LTE speeds.
How the new low-tier processors are catching up to the old mid-tier processors
It may seem easy to rank the processors based on what series they belong to but, as mentioned earlier, lower-tier processors inherit the features of higher-tier processors. Also, a higher number doesn’t always mean better. The best example would be the Snapdragon 625 and the new Snapdragon 450. The Snapdragon 450 was announced a year after the Snapdragon 625, but they are practically the same. The only advantage of the 625 over the 450 is a slightly faster clock speed for marginally better performance.
Then there’s the Snapdragon 630 and Snapdragon 652. You’d think that the 652 is better than the 630, but it isn’t. The Snapdragon 630 is newer, more efficient, and performs better all around. We can’t blame you for the confusion because the Snapdragon 652 is formerly known as the Snapdragon 620. It is Qualcomm who brought up the confusion by renaming older processors
What about Kirin, Exynos, and MediaTek?
Before we wrap up, let’s be clear that Snapdragon is not the only mobile processor on the market. They might be widely used on phones, but even phone manufacturers themselves make their own: Samsung has Exynos which powers the Galaxy S9 in some markets while Huawei is quite loyal to the Kirin processors found on most of their phones.
Both Exynos and Kirin can match the performance of Snapdragon processors, thus making the phone market more exciting for consumers but fragmented for developers. Then there’s also MediaTek that’s quite popular among budget devices. They also have high-tier processors but they’re yet to make a dent in Snapdragon’s share.
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