Whenever we get asked whether to buy a current midrange smartphone or a similarly priced flagship from last year, we normally suggest the latter. After all, they were once the pride and joy of their respective brands, and buying them below the original retail price is a great deal.
For this list, we take a look back at the high-end phones we loved in 2015. Now that all of this year’s flagship devices are out, we can tell for certain which handsets of yesteryear matter the most.
Samsung Galaxy Note 5
Last year’s Samsung Galaxy Note 5 is, without a doubt, the best stylus-equipped smartphone you can buy right now, and that’s primarily because of the Galaxy Note 7’s unfortunate downfall. If you must have a digital pen attached to your phone at all times, there’s really no better option than finding Samsung’s fifth-generation flagship.
It’s easy to forget, but before the Galaxy Note 7 came into the picture, its predecessor was widely considered to be the best smartphone money could buy, even when 2016’s best began rolling out. To this day, you can’t argue against the Galaxy Note 5’s speedy in-house Exynos chipset, optically stabilized rear camera, and stunning 5.7-inch Quad HD Super AMOLED display.
Sony Xperia Z5 Premium
This had to be the most polarizing flagship of 2015. It sought to answer the question: Do we really need a 4K display on a pocket-sized smartphone? The conclusion was mostly no, but the Xperia Z5 Premium was more than its overbearing screen resolution.
More importantly, it was the final torchbearer of Sony’s long-running Z series of water-resistant smartphones, and the last Xperia we could truly call premium. It had Qualcomm’s best processor in the Snapdragon 810, a high-resolution 23-megapixel rear camera, and fingerprint scanner conveniently placed on the side.
In a year that sorely lacked groundbreaking smartphone innovations, the LG V10 definitely stood out. As much as we liked the V20’s aggressive features in our recent review, it’s no V10; the pioneering V-series flagship made better use of its rugged image and secondary LCD display.
Another feather in the V10’s cap is the use of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 808 chipset. If you recall, the higher-end Snapdragon 810 processor that most flagship smartphones had last year was prone to overheating to the point of automatic shutdowns. LG evaded the issue by employing a more efficient hexa-core processor without compromising performance.
Apple iPhone 6s
Considering the minor cosmetic differences between the iPhone 7 and iPhone 6s, last year’s model is still a fantastic deal. You don’t lose out on much; features like waterproofing and optical image stabilization for the camera aren’t must-haves unless you’re a travel photographer seeking a secondary pocket shooter.
Despite being a year old, the iPhone 6s’ A9 chipset is nothing to sneeze at; it can easily outpace every other phone on this list. You can also expect timely firmware updates for the next few years. And let’s not forget: You get to keep the 3.5mm audio jack!
Google Nexus 6P
With the release of Google’s new line of Pixel phones, the Nexus brand is effectively shelved, making the Nexus 6P a new-age collector’s item. What makes it so alluring is its continued support for the latest Android updates. You can enroll in Android’s beta program for version 7.1 of Nougat right now, and experience the best of the operating system before everyone else — except Pixel users, of course.
On top of that, the Nexus 6P has features other phones continue to envy, such as the front-facing stereo speakers, beautiful 5.7-inch Quad HD AMOLED display, and highly accurate fingerprint scanner. Its camera, despite having no image stabilization or fancy extra lens, can still hold its own against today’s best.
[irp posts=”7615″ name=”Best of 2016: Budget phones under $300″]
What selfies look like taken on an under display camera
Using the Rakuten BIG
The ZTE Axon 20 5G — the world’s first smartphone with an under display camera — launched in September but not very many people have had a chance to try it. The relatively obscure Vinsmart Vsmart Aris Pro (Vietnam) and Rakuten BIG (Japan) followed suit.
The Rakuten BIG is a 6.9-inch phone with an OLED display. It’s powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G chip with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage. It also has a battery capacity of 4,000mAh.
On its rear is a quad-camera module: 64MP main sensor, and 8MP ultra-wide angle lense, a 2MP depth sensor, and a 2MP macro camera.
If those specs seem familiar that’s because they’re exactly the same as the ZTE Axon 20 5G. Well, almost exactly. There’s a bit of a difference in the battery capacity 4,000mAh vs 4220mAh but that’s still pretty close.
The selfie camera
For all intents and purposes, the Rakuten BIG may just be a rebranded ZTE Axon 20 5G. They also share the same megapixel count for the selfie camera which is 32MP.
If this is the case, the phone might be using the same transparency material that includes new organic and inorganic films, to balance the performance of the display and the front camera.
Here are what some quick selfies look like. These were taken indoors, inside a hotel with sufficient amount of lighting. No editing was applied to the photos but they were resized in the interest of faster load time.
It certainly doesn’t seem like a photo taken by a camera lens with a cover over it. But you can tell the software is doing a lot of heavy lifting. At first glance it looks like a regular selfie, but a closer inspection shows some detail smoothing.
Color reproduction is a little inconsistent too. Here’s a pair of selfies taken just seconds apart.
The selfie on the left is considerably warmer than the one on the write. Note that Ayano was in the exact same place with nearly the exact same pose and angle.
Here’s another sample with a better look at the lights in the background — which probably most represents all the post-processing the phone is doing. Take note that you can’t take selfies in rapid succession. The phone really does take longer than most to process the images.
What we were impressed with though is the video. The picture quality was clear and didn’t have any excessive traces of post-processing during a video call via Facebook Messenger.
Here’s a sample video taken separately after the call with beauty mode turned on. The post-processing is more pronounced here but it certainly doesn’t harm the picture quality.
What do you think of the selfies? Pretty good already for an under display camera?
Price and availability
The Rakuten BIG retails for JPY 69,800 Yen (US$ 665) and is currently only available in Japan. It comes in three colors: Black, White, and Crimson Red.
Huawei Mate 40 Pro Unboxing and Review: Last of its Kind
Every year, Huawei’s Mate series dominate the smartphone world with hosts of new features.
This October, the Huawei Mate 40 Pro finally made its way out of the limousine. As usual, it’s packed with the latest and greatest internals minus the full Android experience. Albeit, you still get support for AppGallery and other existing Huawei services.
With all that mind, is it still worthy to invest your money just to buy this smartphone?
You can watch our Huawei Mate 40 Pro review by clicking this link.
Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: GadgetMatch for the Casual User
So well-rounded, it simply works
The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra represents the current pinnacle of the Galaxy Note line. That’s why it’s not far fetched to think that it can seamlessly add value to people from different walks of life.
In this second of a three-part feature, we’ll explore how the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra can be a reliable partner for the average, casual user.
In this first of a three-part feature, we’ll explore how the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra can be reliable partner for three specific people:
- The Manager
- The Casual User
- The Multimedia Creative
Note: Link to part 3 will be added when it’s published.
All-around for the well-rounded
Life is all about finding balance. Wherever you are in this walk of life, we always cut a portion of our time to do things that matter: self, hobbies, love, career, health, and more.
But how do you manage to find balance when it feels like we don’t have enough time? The answer is simple: Get an all-around phone that’s as well-rounded as you. In particular, the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra.
Let me set the record straight: I’m not a techie, a gamer, a selfie master, or an aspiring content creator. I simply don’t fall into any stereotype. While I can try to look like a D-lister, I’m just like the average consumer, using a phone to navigate life in the 21st century.
Though I work in the technology industry, I was never caught up in the hottest specs, highly innovative pieces, great hardware, or monster features. All I ever needed — as I’ve been saying for three years now — is a phone that’s smart enough to carry with for my everyday life.
Having the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra helped me find the balance I need, accompanying me in juggling my hectic yet blissful life.
Work and play
Being in a remote work setup for god-knows-how-long, I’m used to being glued on my phone almost 24/7. While it’s a habit that I’m still trying to change, I’m thrilled with how I can do my tasks on-the-go. With a 6.9-inch screen, it’s easy to do your work even when you’re away from your desk.
You can browse through social media, switch between apps seamlessly, and multi-task. When you apply the 120Hz refresh rate? Oh, it’s so buttery-smooth, you won’t even consider going back to a lower refresh rate!
In essence, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is swift and powerful enough to do whatever tasks you need to do on your phone.
And when things get a little bit boring, you can hop to Spotify, YouTube, or watch your favorite shows on Netflix. With its massive screen, impressive display, and astounding speakers — you’ll feel like you have your portable home entertainment albeit a little bit smaller than the usual setup.
If you want a little bit of privacy, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra works seamlessly with my Galaxy Buds or with my wired USB-C earphones. Connectivity wasn’t an issue; be it via Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, cellular strength, and even connection between devices.
Not gonna lie, my gizmos are mostly Samsung’s. I’ve fallen in love with it and its ecosystem ever since I switched. I’ve enjoyed its exclusive features and I’ve grown accustomed to One UI.
The art of pleasure
Speaking of experience, the whole shebang with the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra teaches the art of pleasure. I played League of Legends: Wild Rift, watched Lucifer on Netflix, edited my photos on Lightroom, produced a video using Rush, and created art using the S Pen.
Being able to do what makes me sane, feeds my soul, and gives my heart joy is possibly the greatest pleasure I can find in my day-to-day life.
I was able to keep on doing it because of the impressive battery, which lasted me enough to finish one task before charging its juice again. After all, to achieve pleasure you must have enough juice to keep going and be long-lasting.
But if there’s one thing you must not forget: It’s finding beauty in every day, no matter how the weather (or your day) sucks.
Finding beauty in everyday
Beautiful is an understatement when I first saw the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. It’s polished, sleek, gorgeous, and sexy. Touching it was like caressing someone you’re really passionate about; gentle, smooth, and oozing with desire.
It’s no wonder anyone can fall in love at first sight upon seeing this dandy. Of course, the Note 20 Ultra isn’t the epitome of beauty — but it’s a great accessory to wear to look astonishing.
While it seems like I’m asking people to keep on looking at the phone, beauty can really be found everywhere. The search won’t be difficult, seeing how the Note 20 Ultra is equipped with capable cameras.
You can capture whatever type of beauty you’re looking for. In my case, it’s capturing myself through my mirror selfies and portraits, as well as coffee and furniture.
Like any other consumer, having great cameras is one of my major concerns before buying a smartphone. Thankfully, I was able to capture Instagram- and Pinterest-worthy photos using the Note 20 Ultra — which I may or may not upload to my social media accounts.
Is the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra fit for the Casual User?
Definitely. The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra — to most people — can be too much. Yet it’s perfect for those who just want a smartphone smart enough to get things done.
You don’t have to worry about running out of space, lagging, tinkering to install apps you don’t have, or encountering issues you normally would on a midrange phone.
It’s so well-rounded, it simply works. And for a person who tries to find the balance in doing a little bit of everything, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is the perfect GadgetMatch — only the best for someone who deserves the best.
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