Getting a new phone can be overwhelming, especially if you’ve been out of the consumer tech game for a while. Manufacturers release new phones seemingly all the time. Some, like Samsung, put out two flagships every single year. Amid all this noise, what should you keep in mind when you’re looking for a phone?
There’s nothing wrong with the mid-range…
It’s easy to be blinded by marketing buzzwords like HDR. But as far as real-world use is concerned, phone specs have plateaued. You can get a smooth OS experience on both iOS and Android without having to resort to the top-end. Examples include the superb iPhone SE, which crams most of an iPhone 6s’ innards into an iPhone 5’s body, as well as the well-regarded Moto G5 Plus, which is splash-resistant and has near-stock Nougat.
Smartphones have equalized to the point that mid-range phones have once-flagship features such as Full HD (or higher) screens and fingerprint readers. The Moto G5 Plus has both.
… or the low-end
Sometimes, all you need is a modern phone — for calling, texting, messaging, social media, web browsing, podcasts, and the occasional photo when you really need it. The trickling down in smartphone tech has reached the low-end, especially on Android. Their days of being a sluggish mess are far behind it, because of performance improvements since Android Lollipop, the ubiquity of multi-core processors, and the rise of Chinese manufacturers.
Need proof? Take a look at our camera face-off between the Samsung Galaxy S8 (the best Android phone in the world right now, in my opinion) and the Vivo V5 Lite (a US$ 200 Chinese phone). And if you’re only using the camera to share images on highly compressed platforms, Snapseed can probably save the day, anyway.
But if you’re going high-end, make sure you get a flagship
If you’re going to go all out on a phone, a flagship is the only answer. By getting the best phone your money can buy, you’ll be set for a while in terms of software support, camera quality, and robustness of features.
iPhones are historically guaranteed to be supported for at least four years (see the iPhone 5, for example). But do note that now isn’t the best time to get an iPhone 7, with the next iPhone just around the corner.
Over on Android, flagships are more or less locked to two or more major OS updates — you often can’t say the same for mid- to low-range entries. With a flagship, you’ll also get features like an extra-tall aspect ratio, almost bezel-less displays, and HDR, all of which can be game-changers, depending on your needs.
Flagship features don’t have to break the bank, either. Companies like OnePlus (and its Chinese counterpart OPPO) have been disrupting the market for years with phones that are nearly identical specs-wise to Samsung’s flagships at a fraction of the price.
If all else fails, get last year’s model
My trusty Xperia Z2 finally died, after surviving countless falls, extended dunks in steamy hotspring water, and being smuggled into the ICU. I needed a new phone.
I had grown accustomed to Sony’s minimally intrusive Android skin and reliable firmware updates (for its flagships, at least), so I was keen on staying with them. But Sony had dropped the ball with its recent flagships (seriously, nobody needs 4K resolution on a 5.5-inch screen) and I was no longer interested in a large phone. Apparently, Sony had stopped making smaller versions of its top-end phones, and nobody else had stepped up to the plate. As a result, I was seriously considering getting a Galaxy S8.
Then I saw the Xperia Z5 Compact in a forgotten corner of a Sony store at a clearance price. I looked it up.
Once-flagship specs. Great camera with a two-stage hardware button. Fingerprint sensor integrated into the power button. Dual front-facing speakers. Water- and dust-proof. Insane battery life. Android Nougat. Tiny. And a third of the price of the Galaxy S8.
I bought it, and it’s been my daily driver ever since.
Given the relative slowness in the progress of phone tech, with only iterative yearly improvements, you can’t go wrong with getting an older phone, as long as they’re still well supported. Other Android examples include the OnePlus 3T and Moto G4 Play. Apple has the iPhone 6s, which shows an appalling lack of courage but has the utility of a headphone jack.
Get a phone that molds to your needs, and not the other way around
There’s never been a better time to get a phone — variety can be found at all points in the spectrum. What’s the point of getting a six-inch phone if your small hands necessitate one of those ring grips, completely messing up the phone’s industrial design? I have big hands myself, but I prefer a phone that I could use one-handed in all situations.
Need a phone on which you can type without looking, in multiple languages? BlackBerry has you covered (they’ve been using Android for the past few years, so you won’t be too behind the curve).
Would you like a status symbol and the satisfaction of sneering at your green-bubble inferiors? Apple has you covered — they even spearheaded the current trend of gold as a flagship color.
Will you be watching movies on your phone? Samsung has you covered. Be an informed consumer, read reviews and impressions, and you’ll find the phone that’s right for you.
[irp posts=”8433″ name=”Best smartphones of 2016″]
Vivo NEX Dual Display Edition hands-on
Two displays are better than one
The quest for the bezel-less future is far from over, and Vivo has yet another surprise in store for everyone before it bids farewell to 2018. Recently launched in Shanghai is a smartphone that will surely catch your eye because this time, it has two displays: the Vivo NEX Dual Display Edition.
Ever since the start of the year, Vivo has been introducing one innovation after another: in-display fingerprint scanning, Time of Flight (TOF) 3D sensing technology, and who could forget the all-display Vivo NEX with a pop-up selfie camera that we reviewed in June.
The design story
While we appreciate brands trying to come up with different notch-free solutions, it makes us question the choice of reverting to pop-up mechanisms to achieve an all-display smartphone.
Vivo’s new proposal has two displays: a 6.39-inch Super AMOLED screen in front and another at the back at 5.49 inches. The Ultra FullView display boasts a 91.63 percent screen-to-body ratio, slightly higher than the original Vivo NEX’s 91.24 percent.
Having two displays may sound excessive but it actually has practical applications. On top of that, this implementation eliminates the need for pop-up cameras and one of 2018’s most hated smartphone feature — the notch.
Vivo Design Director Kyle Hsiao admits that the idea of creating both NEX phones came about around the same time while trying to solve the notch problem, hence the short gap between their launch dates. The pop-up mechanism was so easy to implement compared to having two displays on a single smartphone that it took almost 300 prototypes before finalizing the design we have today.
Hsiao says they don’t feel that the iPhone notch is the way to go. When working on the NEX Dual Display Edition, the design team had three considerations: technology, fashion, and most importantly, consumer experience.
Hsiao emphasizes that a smartphone doesn’t just have to look good, but has to be designed based on human needs. Mobile video app TikTok has been rising in popularity, and it’s this generation of users that Vivo had in mind when creating the new NEX — people who create and share their own content, no matter the level of production quality.
The last few years saw brands from China, including Vivo, to be simply copying what Apple does. Ultimately, Hsiao envisions the NEX line to always offer something different — something that breaks barriers. Although it is Vivo’s most premium line, it’s not about using expensive materials or coming out with the most premium phones, but providing solutions to users’ needs in a unique way.
Two displays, still a normal phone
In case you’re wondering, you can switch between the two displays in a multitude of ways. The easiest is by pressing the two buttons on both sides of the phone simultaneously.
Speaking of buttons, placement is usual: volume rocker and power button on the right, and Vivo’s virtual assistant Jovy on the left.
Vivo insists having a physical button for its personal assistant is a choice they made because they want to achieve a meeting of something that’s both real and digital, something users can interact with physically.
Dual nano-SIM card tray, USB-C port, and speaker grilles are at the bottom.
And yes folks, the headphone jack lives to fight another day.
You also get an earpiece on both sides of the phone, and that’s because even if the rear display is just secondary, it functions the same as the main one. So, you can also take calls no matter which one you’re using.
One question we get a lot when it comes to unconventional phones like the NEX is, “Will it work with a case?”
The Dual Display Edition comes bundled with a bumper that matches the phone color so the phone stays protected from accidental drops.
All photos are equal
The Vivo NEX S’ pop-up selfie camera is one of the best we’ve used this year that we even named it our favorite recently.
With another display at the back, Vivo ditches the pop-up mechanism for only one set of cameras on the Dual Display Edition. The setup found at the back doubles as a selfie camera: a 12MP dual-pixel main camera, a 2MP night video camera, and the Time of Flight 3D Camera.
This means all your photos will look equally good, whether landscape, portrait, or a selfie. Vivo believes that selfies need not be inferior compared to photos taken on the main camera.
We haven’t had the chance to take the phone out in the real world during our time with it but if the NEX S’ cameras are any indication, this triple-camera setup will not disappoint.
Some smartphones, especially those made specifically for taking selfies, usually have a front-facing flash or some kind of fill light built in. The NEX Dual Display Edition steps that up with a ring light, which Vivo calls the Selfie Spotlight.
You know how beauty vloggers’ eyes look like they shine? It’s because most of them use a ring light when doing makeup tutorials. Of all the new features on this NEX phone, this is the one I got most excited about.
Because Vivo has always been really popular with its selfies, even if there is no dedicated selfie camera anymore, they actually added more features to make the most out of the two displays.
There are modes like Mirror Mode, which allows you to see yourself on the back display, even while being photographed by someone else. There’s also Pose Director, which can show you pose references that you can copy. This way, you can compose yourself better, and find your optimal angle the same way that Crazy Rich Asian family did.
That circular bump around the cameras is called the Lunar Ring. Apart from serving as a ring light when taking selfies, you can set it to glow when you get notifications or even pulse when playing music.
Another practical feature a dual-display phone like this offers is extra controls when gaming.
Certain games are played much better when you have a separate controller, but an extra display is the closest you can get to that without carrying another accessory.
We had a limited time with the phone, but we look forward to trying this feature out ourselves once we get our own review unit!
While we’re on the subject of gaming, it’s worth mentioning that the NEX Dual Display Edition has all top-of-the-line specs you can expect from a flagship smartphone in 2018: Snapdragon 845, 128GB storage, and even 10GB RAM, making it one of the first smartphones to come with that much memory.
Faster and more secure biometrics
If you remember on the original Vivo NEX S, we only had one biometric option — an in-display fingerprint scanner. Because the front camera uses a pop-up mechanism, we didn’t get face unlock then.
On the Dual Display Edition, you get both fast and secure options. Built onto the main display is an in-screen fingerprint scanner, a technology pioneered by Vivo.
On the rear display, you can unlock the phone using the TOF 3D Camera. This means you can unlock the phone easily no matter which side you’re using. During our time with the phone, both options worked seamlessly.
Is this your GadgetMatch?
We’ll have to wait ’til we get an international review unit to answer this question, and that’s coming really soon.
The original Vivo NEX, no matter how futuristic it seemed at the time it launched, was a phone that felt normal and practical over time. Even though it came merely six months later, the Vivo NEX Dual Display Edition offers an entirely different experience than the former.
But, like we said in our Vivo NEX review, we appreciate how in its bid to distinguish itself among the many global players, Vivo built yet another premium smartphone that’s both innovative and fresh with ideas.
These aren’t your typical Christmas decorations
But they’re pretty cool!
It’s that time of the year again: the time when everywhere you turn you’d probably see bright lights, and anywhere you go you’ll likely hear Mariah Carey serenading you. It’s time to bring out the trees, wreaths, and time for celebration. We thought it would be fun to check out some quirky, kind of extra Christmas decorations to maybe inspire your decoration game, so here we go!
Programmable Christmas lights
Lights are a pretty essential aspect of Christmas decorations, and commercial establishments tend to utilize more high-tech lights for their shows. But did you know that you could do this to your home, too? We found the Twinkly Starter Light Set which connects to your phone so you can program the lights on your Christmas tree (or wherever you decide to put it) to have your own personal indoor light show.
A laser show on your house exterior
This is probably the most discreet extra way you can share your excitement for the holidays with your entire neighborhood. The Star Shower Laser Magic has six designs (four Christmas, two Halloween) that you can put on your lawn to project onto your house. It’s a pretty easy and low-maintenance way to decorate the outside of your house.
A snow projector for inside the house
If you want to play in the snow but don’t really want to deal with the cold, or if it doesn’t snow where you live, you can pick up this snow light projector. It displays moving snow designs across whichever flat surface you point it at, and adds something techie but also kind of simple to your decorations.
Geeky tree toppers
Why put a regular star or angel on the top of your Christmas tree when you could channel your geekiness onto this particular decoration? We found these two “Stars” that would subtly but surely pay homage to your favorite game or movie. The first is the Power Star from Super Mario Bros., which is closer to the traditional tree topper but at least five times cuter. The second one is this Death Star tree topper which isn’t very festive but is definitely iconic.
Lastly, we have this general category of blow-up decorations. They come in many different designs and with different extra things, too. (I’ve seen one that’s a giant snow globe with “snow” blowing inside and one that rotates.). These will definitely put your lawn decorations on a whole new level. Some options are here, here, and here.
You probably already have your Christmas decorations up as you read this, but it’s never too early to start planning for next year. Or, you can always add more to what you already have. This season, there’s no such thing as too much, right? We hope this helps you if you’re wanting to change up your decorations but don’t know how to, or at least entertained you with these not-so-typical options.
Cooking on High, Islands: Now Playing
We don’t feel any December blues
There’s still so much going on before the year ends. Here’s what everyone’s up to while waiting for the holiday season!
Movies to see
Spider-Man into the Spider-verse
Rodneil: A lot of people are calling this the best animated flick of the year. The visuals are stunning and the story introduces mainstream audiences to a new Spider-Man, all while keeping the spirit of the character and the whole franchise firmly intact.
Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle
Daniel: The newest adaptation to the beloved classic is a showcase of the latest and most impressive motion capture technology. The story is a bit on the dark side, but still has the elements of the classic. The best part is it’s available on Netflix and it’ll be a good film for everyone to watch, especially on a big screen.
TV shows to binge watch
Rodneil: This might just be one of the most messed up anime I’ve seen in awhile. It starts off as a seemingly regular shōnen series with a monster of the week but quickly turns into a depressing social commentary about how people can be the true monsters after all.
Rodneil: My growing mild obsession to K-pop led me to this clip on my YouTube recommendations. The actress prominently featured on the clip isn’t even the lead actress but after watching the pilot episode of the series, I instantly got hooked. Ms. Hammurabi tackles power balance and politics in the Korean judiciary but with a sprinkle of romance here and there.
Cooking on High
Marvin: You could describe this is a prestigious culinary competition on TV, but it’s essentially about guests getting high on cannabis-based dishes prepared by master chefs. The 15-minute format makes it perfect for in-between-work binge watching, and is ideal for red-eyed folks with short attention spans.
Games to play
Shadow of the Tomb Raider
Marvin: Lara Croft’s third entry in the revived Tomb Raider series is one to remember. It’s not GOTY-worthy by any measure, but its refinements over the predecessors and gorgeous graphics make it a high-octane gaming experience over the holidays.
Albums/Songs/Podcasts to listen to
The Best Thing I Ever Did by TWICE
Vincenz: Their latest song feels “merry” enough to be considered a winter song, but diving deeper into the lyrics clearly leaves an impression among fans, as it wants to show how one’s love can change everything, even the coldness and emptiness we feel especially when it’s December. After all, that’s what the spirit of Christmas is all about: giving what you love and loving what you give.
Islands by Reese Lansangan
Vincenz: If you’ve been listening to Reese’s previous songs, you’d definitely know that her latest single sounds different. From the title of the track itself, it is a tropic-themed song that has electronic sounds and water drop synths, making it ethereal enough to listen to.
Tadow by FKJ & Masego
Kevin: Sexy, smooth, intimate — these are some of the first words that come to mind when describing this track. FKJ or French Kiwi Juice is a French multi-instrumentalist who makes tracks that will make you want to lie back and drift away. “Tadow” is no exception with its soulful sax, chill beats, and soothing vocals. Turn down the lights, hit play, and enjoy the night.
Line by Line by PREP
Kevin: “Line by Line” is the latest of two EPs released in 2018 by British pop band PREP. Their songs are a mix of funk, R&B, and a bit of electronic music that go together to create a an easy-listening experience to make you feel good and dance when no one is looking. Their older EPs (like “Futures”) are golden, as well.
Cities/Places to visit
El Nido, Palawan
MJ: White sand beaches, crystal-clear water, towering palm trees, and amazing lagoons behind limestone rock formations. El Nido is indeed a tropical paradise, one that you should visit at least once in your lifetime.
DIY/Trends to try
Brown sugar milk tea
Marvin: It’s nothing new, but certainly one to enjoy. Milk tea stores have been ramping up brown sugar production lately, and each one has its own signature flavor. Whether you try it in Taipei or your own neighborhood, it’s a sweet alternative to the tried-and-tested formula.
Apps to download
MJ: PackPoint is a very useful app to help you pack your essentials for an upcoming trip — whether it’s for business or leisure. It has local weather forecasts and comes up with a checklist that you can customize depending on the activities of your trip.
Books to read
What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera
MJ: Personally, I believe the universe brings us the people we need in our lives. If you think the same, then you need to read What If It’s Us. It’s a love story between Ben and Arthur and yes, it’s gay fiction, but it’s a book anyone can read this holiday season. After all, it’s about love and the universe. This book is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and probably your local bookstores.
Now Playing is the GadgetMatch team’s favorite games, movies, TV shows, and more each month. If you’re curious to know what we’re into at the moment, this is what you should check out. So grab your popcorn, get some drinks, and enjoy what’s now playing!
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