Hands-On

The ASUS ZenBook S13 does the job while looking good

Those bezels are really slim!

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Some laptops are meant to look flashy, while some focus on a specific feature to make them stand out. It looks like ASUS came up with something that ticks both of those in the form of the ZenBook S13. It’s got a premium-looking design, the slimmest bezels in town, and specs that allow you to do more.

Since the ZenBook S13 is about accomplishing things and looking good while doing it, you won’t see cheap plastic on this laptop. The S13 is built with an all-metal chassis with a spun-metal finish for that signature ASUS touch. It’s not just made for show as it’s durable as well.


ASUS says the laptop goes through a series of stress tests during production that include drop, shock, vibration, and even altitude tests. This ensures each unit meets the military standard for extra toughness. So don’t worry about accidentally subjecting it to stress inside your bag, for example.

Design-wise, the company went with an elegant Utopian Blue color and an ErgoLift that we’re pretty familiar with. Once the lid opens, it lifts the chassis for a more comfortable typing experience and better audio performance through its down-firing speakers. But, the most important function of this design is to allow airflow underneath for better cooling so it can perform longer and faster.

When you get past the entertaining lifting action, you will then be greeted by its 13.9-inch display that maximizes its borders. On paper, the company is proud to claim the title of the world’s slimmest bezels at 2.5mm and world’s largest screen-to-body ratio at 97 percent. The thin border does make the Full HD screen pop out more, especially when you’re watching videos online and on full screen.

The company was also able to make the laptop smaller than previous 13.9-inch models like its very own ZenBook 3 Deluxe. Weighing a little over a kilo, the ZenBook S13 is really easy to carry around and is compact enough to seamlessly fit inside backpacks.

As we mentioned during our first look, the clickable trackpad doesn’t give much space to move around. Although we really couldn’t expect much considering how thin and compact this thing is. Good news, though: There’s an embedded fingerprint sensor on the upper-right corner for an added layer of security. It scans fast and is a quicker way to access your account than typing your password.

Speaking of typing, the keyboard is a joy to use. The keys have good travel, are easy for fast typing, and are back-lit so using it at night or in a dimly lit environment is never a struggle. It’s an immediate appreciation for how it feels natural while typing.

Sound quality is sometimes overlooked, and I’ve always wanted my laptop to have good speakers. The ZenBook S13 features a bottom-firing Harman Kardon sound system and they actually deliver great quality. It can get pretty loud, too, filling up an average living room easily.

In terms of connectivity, there are two USB-C ports on the left side with support for fast charging, data transfers, and external displays. Meanwhile, a single USB-A is on the right side along with a 3.5mm audio jack for microphone/headphones input. These total to three USB 3.1 ports that are ready to accommodate input for working alone or presenting on a meeting. Oh, and there’s a microSD reader built into the S13.

And if you still need more, ASUS says there’s a bundled Mini Dock that adds two extra USB ports and HDMI for the S13. It basically has your necessities covered to deliver that presentation.

Of course, all these features mean nothing if the internals are not up to the task. Inside, this thin laptop is equipped with up to an 8th-gen Intel Core i7 processor and an NVIDIA MX150 GPU. ASUS takes pride in the S13 being the world’s slimmest laptop with a dedicated discrete graphics.

If needed, you can add up to 16GB of RAM to maximize what it can do and thanks to this tandem, I was able to sit down, pull it out of my backpack, and do light video editing even on the go. It runs Windows 10 Pro and storage comes in at up to a 1TB SSD for faster boot up from sleep when you resume working.

For this part, I probably know what you’re thinking: How’s the battery life on something this small with not-so-basic internals and a larger display? Well, ASUS claims a battery life of up to 15 hours on a single charge.

In real-life usage, I was able to use it to browse the internet for a good hour and a half, edit photos while blasting music through its loudspeakers, and edit videos for about four hours before needing to plug in again. Basically, it lasted longer compared to similar laptops I’ve used before. As a cherry on top, it has fast charging, achieving about 70 percent of juice within an hour.

There hasn’t been an official list of prices for the different configurations, but according to reputable websites that have the same specs (Core i7, GeForce MX150, 16GB RAM, and 512GB SSD), it retails for US$ 1,399.

Hands-On

Vivo V15 Pro hands-on: A mini NEX?

Did Vivo overdo it?

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Remember the Vivo NEX? It blew us away last year with features that were once unheard of in smartphones. Fast forward to 2019, and we’re gradually seeing its tech trickle down to midrange phones.

The V15 Pro we have here is a perfect example of that. Not only does it inherit the pop-up camera of its older flagship sibling, it retains the large AMOLED display and under-display fingerprint scanner.


To sustain Vivo’s midrange pricing for the V-series, the V15 Pro comes with a slower Snapdragon 675 chipset (compared to the NEX’s high-end Snapdragon 845) and mostly plastic body.

However, Vivo added a few things, like an ultra-wide 8-megapixel camera on the rear and massive 32-megapixel sensor for the motorized selfie shooter.

So, how again is this midrange? That’s a good question. It certainly dips its virtual fingers into the upper-midrange segment, which we touch on in this short video.

Since publishing this video, a few developments have happened. For one, a more affordable non-Pro V15 launched. In addition, Vivo’s closest rival, OPPO, released the F11 Pro with a similar design and feature set.

Truly, we have more questions than answers now, beginning with…

Does it have the most refined UD scanner and pop-up camera?

Well, yes and no. Despite Vivo having the most experience with both features, the V15 Pro doesn’t have the fastest under-display fingerprint in the business. Having used the Galaxy S10+ and OnePlus 6T recently, Vivo’s implementation feels a bit slow in comparison. Not to say it’s bad, but I’d rather use the front camera for logging in.

Like the OPPO Find X I used before, the V15 Pro’s pop-up-to-log-in time in unreal. The moment you wake the phone up, the camera will take one quick look at you and unlock the device. It’s so discreet and seamless that you eventually forget there’s any moving part. The same applies to selfies and video calls; once the app activates the mechanism, it’s like there’s nothing there.

Does its plastic body feel too cheap for the price?

For a smartphone that costs this much, you’d expect more glass than plastic here. For the V15 Pro, that’s not the case. Not that I’m against the use of plastic for the rear — in fact, it keeps the unit lighter for its big size — but I imagine the gorgeous color options looking better with the shimmer provided by glass.

Fortunately, the bundled case the V15 Pro comes with is one of the best I’ve seen in a retail box. The sides have extra resistance to them against bumps and drops, while the rest of the clear plastic doesn’t hide the radiant blue coating. This is one of the few instances wherein I wouldn’t replace the included case.

Can it handle games like a champ?

The phone’s Snapdragon 675 isn’t known to be a gaming-centric chip, but games these days aren’t demanding enough to require anything beyond a 600-series processor to enjoy smooth graphics. I’ve tried PUBG, Ragnarok M, and Asphalt 9 on the V15 Pro without a hitch. It helps that the unit I used has 6GB of memory and 128GB of storage, which are plenty by today’s standards.

It does get warm, however. Playing for 30 minutes straight made the phone warm near the camera area, but to be fair, this was while the bundled case was on and without cool air blowing by. I would definitely avoid charging with a powerbank while gaming.

How well do the cameras perform?

My teammates and I have always appreciated how Vivo could punch above its weight when it comes to camera performance. Even though Vivo rarely comes to mind when talking about mobile photography, its phones have a knack for producing impressive photos.

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It helps that there’s an ultra-wide 8-megapixel camera to complement the 48-megapixel (woah!) main shooter and 5-megapixel depth sensor. As seen above, that extra coverage helps greatly with landscape shots. It noticeably lowers the image quality though, and I still prefer the downscaled 12MP output from the 48MP camera.

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In general, both the rear and front cameras create straight-to-Instagram pictures in not-too-difficult lighting conditions. When it doubt, there’s a built-in night mode to improve exposure at night. The only complaint I’ve heard from those who’ve seen my V15 Pro photos is that the subject’s skin is too smooth even on the lowest setting, but that’s a Vivo thing that isn’t going away any time soon.

Can it last longer than a day?

A 3700mAh battery isn’t that hefty for a phone this size, providing a little less than six hours of screen-on time in a span of 1.5 days. Nothing fantastic, but when topped up with the included 18W fast charger, it takes only about two hours and 20 minutes to get to a hundred percent.

One way to conserve battery power is to turn the always-on info off while the phone’s on standby. I’m a fan of seeing the time and battery percentage at all times, so gaining an additional 20 minutes of screen-on time doesn’t justify the inconvenience for me.

What else is there to know?

Surprisingly, and I don’t understand why this is still happening, Vivo equipped the V15 Pro with a micro-USB port. Sure, the 3.5mm audio port is still there, but I’ve moved on to the far superior USB-C for every single one of my gadgets already. This is simply inconsiderate to consumers at this point.

I also find Vivo’s Funtouch OS (based on Android 9 Pie) becoming more cumbersome to use through time. It’s not getting worse in itself, but having come from the comforts of OnePlus’ OxygenOS and Samsung’s One UI, the confusing setting menus and gesture control feel like a step back.

With all this in mind, it’s important to remember that the V15 Pro is the most expensive V-series phone to date, retailing for INR 28,990 or roughly US$ 410 in India. That’s upper-midrange territory by most standards, edging closer to the likes of Xiaomi’s flagship Mi series and Honor’s assortment of high-performance handsets.

My recommendation is to consider the regular V15 before committing to the Pro variant. It offers the same pop-up camera goodness and an increased screen and battery size, but gives up a few features (the under-display sensor, AMOLED display, and Snapdragon 675 chip, to be specific) to lower the price to about US$ 345.

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Hands-On

Vivo APEX 2019 hands-on: Holes were just a legend

And buttons were never known

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Remember when every other smartphone had a notch and Vivo showed us a concept without one? That was exactly a year ago.

That device, the APEX 2018, did not become available in the market, but the all-display concept — with a pop-up camera and under-display fingerprint scanner — has since rolled out to Vivo smartphones you can buy today.


This year, they came up with a new concept phone — one without any buttons or holes. The APEX 2019 won’t be available for purchase as well, but as is the case with Vivo, we can expect some of these experimental features to trickle down to actual smartphones in the near future — first in the NEX line, and then to the V series.

The design

The premise of Vivo’s concept phone this year is simple but also controversial: a singular piece of glass you can interact with; one without any buttons or ports.

They believe that the display should be the exclusive focal point of human interaction, eliminating other design obstructions by reimagining them using other technology.

Vivo calls this approach Super Unibody — a phone carved out of a single piece of glass.

Unlike any other smartphone, there is no metal frame to hold it together on the sides. There are no physical buttons either. Of course one could argue the display is a separate piece of glass altogether.

To further drive home the simplicity concept, there also aren’t any speaker grilles, USB-C port, headphone jack, SIM card tray, or a selfie camera.

Even the back cameras are flushed against the body. If you must take a selfie, the back is reflective enough to be used as a mirror.

We were shown this concept phone in three colors: Meteor Gray, Quartz White, and Titan Silver. The white one especially is a looker and is smudge-proof.

While the phone isn’t going on sale, the next-generation Vivo NEX will probably come in these three colors as well.

To say that it’s beautiful would be an understatement. It’s a pleasure to look at and hold.

The challenge for up and coming brands like Vivo to make their mark in this very saturated and fiercely competitive smartphone market is sometimes undervalued. We appreciate how they are doing their part to innovate, as well as paint a picture of what smartphones of the future could look like.

How will the phone work without buttons or ports?

Vivo believes good design respects user habits. So while they took away all the physical buttons, it doesn’t mean the functions aren’t there anymore.

Vivo moved a lot of said functions to the part you interact with the most: the screen.

Combining pressure-sensing technology and capacitive touch, Vivo was able to reimagine the power and volume buttons here on the side.

You can’t really press them anymore, but there is haptic feedback so it would still resemble the feeling of touching actual buttons.

Oh, and the speakers? Vivo is trying screen sound casting technology once again. When we tried it on last year’s APEX we found that it wasn’t really loud enough to replace real speakers.

This year, Vivo says the choice of materials and shape of the glass at the back of the APEX 2019 make all the difference. They weren’t kidding. The sound coming out of the display is actually loud and clear.

Full-display fingerprint scanning

It’s only been a year, but we can’t forget it was actually Vivo and its partner Synaptics that put under-display fingerprint scanners for smartphones on the map.

It’s still not as good nor as fast as physical fingerprint readers, but since most of its competitors have caught up, Vivo hopes to elevate the tech even further by making the entire display a fingerprint reader.

It employs what Vivo calls fingerprint light. As the name suggests, pixels light up as an additional light source to help scan your fingerprint. We tried it and it works as advertised.

How does one charge or transfer files without a single port?

While it’s technically not a port, Vivo put inductive charging pins called Magport on the back of the phone as a charging and data transfer solution.

The Magport-to-USB cable magnetically latches on and the phone starts charging immediately. It should work the same way when transfering files.

One thing we would have wanted to finally see Vivo implement, and it would have made a lot of sense for this concept device, is wireless charging.

A wireless charging solution is an easy thing to do for Vivo, but the company says it’s wireless data transfer that’s still not very reliable right now.

Coming up NEX

The APEX 2019 is also Vivo’s first 5G device powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855. It has 12GB of RAM, 512GB of internal storage, and runs on Android Pie — all of which are specs and features we can expect to see on an upcoming Vivo NEX smartphone.

Oh, and one last thing, because there’s no SIM card tray on the APEX, we’ll likely see a combination of a regular SIM card and eSIM once this concept trickles down to a retail product.

Are you excited about Vivo’s vision of the future? If you could imagine the smartphone of the future, how would it look and what would it do?

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Gaming

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is the game fit for those who dare

A hands-on look at the story of the Shinobi warrior

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I have to admit: I hardly hear much about games that focus on the Eastern side of the world that aren’t Pokémon or Dragon Ball. But, I do like games that have some sort of historical background to them, say folklore or modern history. And wouldn’t you know it, FromSoftware and Activision pull out one from underneath all of us.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice dives into the world of a reimagined 16th century Japan, ravaged by countless wars. It is an open-world, action-adventure game made by the same guys behind Dark Souls. I got the chance to see what this game is all about, and here are some of my initial thoughts.


We start with an insightful backstory

I did appreciate that the first ten minutes of the two and a half hours worth of gameplay gave a good backstory on Sekiro and his humble beginnings. He started out as a simple boy, found at the crossroads of war. A samurai offered to nurse him in his early years, until he grew old enough to be a protector of his lord. However, gameplay picks up on a much older Sekiro, so playing through a childhood with lots of fighting didn’t seem to be that important.

The overworld of early Japan is breathtaking! FromSoftware really did a good job with the visual presentation of the whole game. What stood out to me the most was the detail not just on Sekiro, but also on all his enemies.

It plays well into the whole open-world aesthetic, in that it allows you to explore everywhere and grab as much as you can, including extra items to use for healing or fighting. And you probably want to do that to prepare for all the tough battles ahead.

Waking up a one “good” armed man

After 30 minutes of trying not to die, I arrive at this garden with a mysterious samurai who basically challenges Sekiro to a duel. After the duel you’re supposed to lose, the samurai not only takes your master but he also slashes your arm off. You then wake up in an old temple, and the first thing you gaze upon is a wooden arm attached to your shoulder.

That wooden arm is called the Shinobi Prosthetic, and you can actually do some crazy stuff with it. I was only able to try the prosthetic arm with a Grappling Hook that allows you to travel much faster. It’s a simple press of the L2 button on any “hook” you can sling onto, whether it’s a tree branch or a rooftop. It’s like being Spider-Man minus the webs!

Apart from the Shinobi Prosthetic, Sekiro also carries his trusted katana to slice and dice enemies. It’s his only form of defense, but at least it doesn’t break! Pressing R1 multiple times lets you continually attack opponents until they are too weak to fight back. On paper, combat looks easy to do, right? Well…

Nothing comes easy for a shinobi

Let’s be real: This game has a difficulty spike that rises faster than the sun does in Japan! Although, this isn’t necessarily surprising from the developers that brought you Dark Souls. The whole deal is having the right amount of aggressiveness when dealing with enemies. You use Circle to dodge incoming attacks and L1 to block strong attacks (mostly with weapons). But even that won’t stop your opponents from beating the living hell out of you if you don’t fight back.

Of course, you are alerted when the enemy is about to strike you heavily, giving you a chance to block the attack properly. It’s a healthy dose of combat, mind games, and reading the situation accordingly. I can’t even count how many times I’ve died, then resurrected but still died trying to fend off strong enemies. And some of them even have guns and cannons shooting at you, dealing heavy damage.

Is it worth playing through and through?

In the short amount of time I got to play it, I really think that Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is a great game. It’s got great visuals, fast-paced and aggressive gameplay, and an enjoyable open-world experience. But again, I really can’t stress enough that this game is difficult. If you enjoy a challenge, you will definitely enjoy this game.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice will be available for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. The game will be released on March 22, 2019, priced at PhP 2,799 in the Philippines, SG$ 69 in Singapore, MYR 219 in Malaysia, and THB 1,790 in Thailand.

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