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The display consists of an LCD panel and feels quite outdated.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.

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.

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.

Accessories

Mi True Wireless Earphones 2 review: Affordable, but far from perfect

Xiaomi’s premium TWS offering

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The truly wireless earphones market is filled with a plethora of options today, ranging from entry-level offerings like the Redmi Earbuds S to the premium Sony WF-1000XM3. However, the most popular TWS earphones are from Apple — the AirPods.

AirPods kickstarted the TWS trend, and since then, pretty much every brand has jumped onboard. Xiaomi is known for its reliable yet affordable products, and it has launched a few options previously, but it was limited to its home market of China.

Now, the brand has finally launched the Mi True Wireless Earphones 2 in India, and it’s pretty much half the price of Apple’s AirPods.

The Redmi Earbuds S is an entry-level offering while Mi branding is now used for the company’s premium offerings. TWS earphones are incredibly convenient to use, and their demand is consistently rising. Can the Mi TWS 2 offer maximum features for the price and go against the competition?

Do they look like the AirPods?

 

At first sight, you’d think they are the AirPods for a quick second. But it’s soon clear that they aren’t. This is something I appreciate about the Mi TWS 2. In a market filled with AirPods knockoffs, it’s nice to see a different design. However, don’t set your expectations too high.

The earbud’s stem is exceptionally thick, and this is easily noticeable from the side. Thankfully, it doesn’t look that thick from the front view and is oval. The stem is also considerably long, giving the earbud a very bulky look.

The polycarbonate build has a matte finish on the stem while the driver is smooth and shiny. I feel the earphones were designed with utility and features in mind, and aesthetics took a back seat.

If the bulkier design can add more battery life and better drivers, I’m okay with it. This may not be the case with many since they tend to look like cheap AirPods knockoffs.

Each earbud weighs just 4 grams, and they slide in your ears very smoothly. Putting them on is a quick task, and for calls, while driving, these are exceedingly convenient to wear single-handedly. The semi-open design is supposed to be fit-for-all. But, this is where my primary concern lies.

How’s the overall user experience?

The earbuds fit perfectly and are rather stable. But the satisfaction of wearing an earbud is utterly absent because of reduced noise isolation. Even though they’ve never automatically snuggled out, I’m always afraid of losing them while walking. The confidence to wear them outdoors is low.

These too sport gesture-based controls, and the result is below satisfaction. I’d have to try a few times before they actively receive the command. Even play/pause function is rather cumbersome and paired with the loose fit; I’m afraid they don’t fall off.

Thankfully, they have an optical sensor that automatically plays/pauses a song when the earbud is worn or removed. Most times, I’d simply remove them from my ear instead of relying on the gesture buttons.

Lastly, the case is quite basic from a design point of view but gets the job done properly. The plastic build is solid, the lid has magnetic detection, and the earbuds aren’t finicky when plugged for charging. A small LED light on the front will show you the case’s battery status. A USB-C port is located on the bottom.

Pairing them is a straightforward task, and Xiaomi phones will automatically pop-up the status menu just like it’s on iOS. It’ll show you each earbud’s battery percentage along with the case.

But do they sound good?

The brand has added a lot of features on the audio side to make the product look premium. It has support for multiple codecs like SBC, AAC, and LHDC. The last one allows high-resolution audio streaming via Bluetooth. I used the Redmi Note 9 Pro Max to test the Mi TWS 2 and it automatically leveraged the AAC band.

Each earbud houses a 14.2mm audio driver, which isn’t the biggest. But, much of the audio output relies on tuning. Sound testing is also very subjective, so I’ll try to address everyone’s choice.

To start with, the output is very crisp and clear, and the vocals are perfectly heard. If you’re into Bollywood songs or even pop, these should be ideal for you.

Unlike the usual tuning, we see in Indian products; the bass here is well managed. It isn’t too much and ultimately does justice for every user. I’d say these are your GadgetMatch if you listen to podcasts and audiobooks.

The drivers are massively let down by non-existent noise isolation. The design of the earbuds inherently means you can hear pretty much everything happening around you. Even at maximum volume, it just didn’t feel enough.

Lastly, they have “Environment Noise Cancellation” that automatically kicks in when you’re on a call. Background noise is reduced drastically, and everyone I called could feel the change. The overall voice clarity is immensely improved, and high-winds too couldn’t deter them.

How long can they last?

Xiaomi claimed the earbuds can last up to four hours on a single charge and it’s on-point. I was able to get almost four hours with volume at 80 percent.

The case is capable of providing 10 hours of backup, taking the total to fourteen. Thankfully, the case takes just an hour to charge.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

If you’re an audiophile, the simple answer is no. The Mi TWS 2 will disappoint you in many ways. However, if you’re looking for work-related earphones, these are perfect.

Calls are ultra-clear, and the overall experience is better thanks to a loose fit. Keep them on, and get through a full day’s work. On the audio side, hip-hop or bass-intensive genre may not suit well here. However, all other vocal-centric songs shall swing by without a hitch.

With a price of INR 4,499, the Mi True Wireless Earphones 2 is a solid competitor. When compared to the realme Buds Air, these lose out on aesthetics. But, the minor additions from a function point of view are worth the slight bump in price.

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LG Velvet Review: New breed of flagship killer?

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Over the years, LG was once a pioneer in the smartphone industry with their G and V smartphone series. These phones are packed with a lot of punch and boast new and exciting features.

But LG has forgotten one thing, and that is how to fix their unexciting phone designs. From the G7 ThinQ all the way to V50 ThinQ 5G, those phones almost look unchanged. They might have been minor changes with the newer V60 ThinQ 5G, but it’s still not as eye-catching as other contenders.

The LG Velvet isn’t a replacement to their ever-existing flagship series. Instead, LG tries to reimagine things by making sure they produce products that cater the needs of not just tech nerds, but other types of consumers as well.

Here’s our in-depth review of the LG Velvet.

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Accessories

Redmi Earbuds S review: Affordable TWS without compromises

Making TWS earphones more accessible

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Truly wireless (TWS) earphones have been around for a while. Apple kick-started the hype with the launch of the AirPods and numerous brands have released alternatives since. However, they’ve always been very expensive.

With brands keen on ditching the headphone jack, users are often left with no option but to find wireless options. Redmi phones continue to have a headphone jack, but the brand also wants to remain focused on its target — deliver quality products at an affordable price.

The Redmi Earbuds S is the first TWS offering in India under the Redmi brand. While the brand stands strong in the smartphone segment, it has some cut-throat competition from realme. With a price tag of INR 1,799 (US$ 24), does it have enough firepower to take on the competition? If you’re looking for an entry-level TWS solution, can you trust the Earbuds S? Let’s find out!

Not AirPods knock-offs

If you’ve been following the TWS market, the Earbuds S will look familiar. These are sold as the AirDots S in China and many have ordered them previously via international marketplaces. In India, Redmi is calling them the Earbuds S and these could land in more south-east Asian markets soon.

While the trend is to follow Apple’s design language, the Earbuds S is going against the flow. It has its own distinctive design that looks nothing like a cheap knock-off.

The pill-shaped case is compact, feels solid in hand, and has a subtle curve on the bottom. The case size is perfect and it’ll always slide into your pocket smoothly.

Each earbud weighs just 4g and the in-ear design is immensely comfortable. I’ve worn them pretty much all day long and never felt any irritation, pain, or slightest of inconvenience. The snug fit also ensures adequate noise isolation and wearing them while driving for calls is seamless.

There’s not much to talk about with the design since it’s basic and gets the job done. They’re built out of plastic and its clearly evident at first sight.

I won’t count this as a drawback since it helps reduce overall weight and I wouldn’t expect metal or premium construction at this price.

Easy to use, fairly straightforward

The lid is very basic but has a satisfying feel to it when closing. Unlike the popular AirPods, these sit in your ears at a 45-degree angle. Paired along are two earbud tips to suit your ear canal. I didn’t have to use them and the standard size that comes along worked fine.

Using them is a very straightforward process. Open the lid, remove the earbuds, and wear them.

They’ll connect to your phone as soon as they’re disconnected from the case. I’ve never faced any connection issues so far. Each earbud has a button for quick controls such as music playback options and calling up Google Assistant.

On the flip side, you can’t rely on the earbuds to change the volume level or play a previous song. That can only be managed via your phone.

Pressing the button thrice will trigger the low-latency gaming mode. A feature that’ll be very handy while playing online multiplayer games like PUBG Mobile or Mobile Legends.

Each earbud has an indicator light that shows the status. Red means they’re charging while white means successful connection establishment. Lastly, they’re IPX4 certified, meaning sweat resistance. This obviously translates to a perfect workout session.

Punchy bass, relatively good audio

This is where I was surprised the most. Considering the nifty features it already has, I expected some kind of compromise in this department. And, I was wrong.

It has 7.2mm drivers and delivers punchy bass — a must-have for Bollywood music. Mainstream genres like pop sound amazing and if you’re not an audiophile, you won’t have any complaints.

The maximum volume is sufficiently loud and coupled with good isolation, even a busy market street is easily navigable.

However, if you’re looking for top-notch audio, these aren’t meant for you. The low frequency takes over while the mids are flat. You can use an equalizer to change the settings but the inherent tuning is in favor of bass-heavy music.

Furthermore, these connect via the SBC codec and there’s no support for aptX. I wouldn’t call this a drawback because the brand has to cut corners to make them accessible to a wider audience.

Adequate playback duration

Xiaomi claims the earbuds can deliver up to four hours of playback on a single charge and I’ve reached 3 hours 45 minutes in one go. So, their claims aren’t farfetched.

The case can charge the earbuds fully twice, delivering a total of 12 hours of playback in one go. If you’re going to use them for conference calls, music, and other work-related activities, they’ll easily get you through a working day.

The case takes almost two hours to charge fully. For frequent travelers, this can be a major drawback. Furthermore, the case charges via a microUSB port instead of the now-standard USB-C. Don’t forget to carry that extra charging cord along!

Can this be your GadgetMatch?

Yes. It definitely can. While there are a lot of minor additions I’d want to see, the price brings me back to reality.

In a nutshell, they’re designed aptly, deliver ordinarily better audio, and have 12 hours of playback. For US$ 25, there’s no better deal available. Keep in mind, the Redmi Earbuds S are making TWS earphones more accessible to everyone.

If you’re looking for top-notch audio quality, there are premium offerings like the OPPO Enco Free, Galaxy Buds, and 1More Truly Stylish. On the affordable side, realme Buds Air Neo and OPPO Enco W31 can be alternatives but are still priced considerably high.

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