Reviews

ASUS ZenFone 3 Deluxe review

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It took almost half a year to reach us, but it’s here, and we’ve spent a good deal of time with it.

The ASUS ZenFone 3 Deluxe is now possibly rolling out to a store near you. Is it good? Yes — it’s a solid smartphone effort. But is it brilliant? Well, it is in one way. And therein lies the rub: ASUS could, and should, have done more to make the Deluxe stand out and be memorable, pricing be damned. Those of you expecting a strong phone of the year candidate will be disappointed.

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Wolf in sheep’s clothing

Let’s start off with something positive: performance. The Deluxe is, without any shade of doubt, the fastest and most capable ZenFone ever made. And you don’t have to look far for answers as to why that is; inside, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor — or 821, depending on the configuration (our review unit uses an 820) — hums along with 6GB of RAM, providing the speed and seamless multitasking you’d expect from a 2016 Android flagship.

The ZenFone 3 Deluxe is fast. Really fast. It unlocks in a fraction of a second; apps load up the moment you tap them; switching between windows is smooth and snappy; and we couldn’t find a game to slow this beast down, despite all the pre-installed apps, or bloatware, ASUS included on the handset. (A quick aside: You can uninstall most, but not all, of the preloaded stuff — and you should. While you’re at it, consider downloading icon packs from the Google Play Store; the square-ish stock icons don’t look that great.)

Charging the 3,000mAh battery from zero to 100 percent takes an hour and a half using the supplied USB-C cable and power adapter, so you can leave the device plugged in while you’re in the shower, and by the time you finish dressing in the morning, it should have enough power to keep the lights on until night time. The battery typically lasts a day on a full charge.

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The flash storage goes as high as 256GB on the most specced-out (and most expensive) model, though our unit maxes out at 64GB. But then again, 64GB is probably enough for most people’s needs — it really should be. If that isn’t the case, the second SIM slot can be used to expand the storage using a microSD card.

Speed is the highlight here, and the Deluxe doesn’t disappoint in the foot race. But to say it’s the fastest phone you can buy at any price, the human equivalent of Usain Bolt, would be ignoring the brilliance of other flagships in Android land and beyond. The Pixel and OnePlus 3 are more responsive than the Deluxe; we can say the same about the iPhone 7, too.

In fact, you don’t have to think hard to find an Android flagship that can keep up with ASUS’ latest and greatest. And that’s a concern because this phone doesn’t have any other killer feature to speak of. None whatsoever, really.

Sure, the full-metal jacket is smooth to the touch and feels nice in the hand thanks to its curved rear end and contoured edges. It slides easily in and out of the pocket as well. And those antenna bands that run across the backs of metal phones? You won’t find them here; ASUS has found a way to hide them without affecting signal performance. (Psst. Did you hear that, Apple?)

These positives aside, though, the Deluxe doesn’t offer any kind of protection against water damage, doesn’t have two rear cameras or attachment points for modular accessories like the Moto Z. Its display doesn’t bend on either side, and the resolution is 1080p, whereas rivals from Samsung, Motorola, and LG all step up to Quad HD panels. Worse still, the design doesn’t stand out starkly compared to the best choices in the mid- to high-end range.

All this to say, the hardware, though undeniably capable and fit for purpose, does not impress the way others would, especially given its lofty pricing.

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Missing the finer details

The front is completely flat from edge to edge — no 2.5D glass to make swiping feel more natural — and carries ASUS’ concentric-centric styling, though it is somewhat awkwardly designed: the 5.7-inch AMOLED screen is framed by thick black borders, with a bottom bar containing three capacitive keys that fall too close to the bottom edge, oblivious to the space above them. The top bar contains the earpiece and selfie camera.

The display is very good, better than what we had anticipated on a non-Samsung phone. Judged by the yardstick that is Sammy’s AMOLED technology, it measures up quite nicely, providing colors with impeccable contrast and deep blacks, as well as strong viewing angles. Brightness levels are high enough to use the phone comfortably under direct sunlight.

Of course, it won’t stack up to a Quad HD panel in terms of sharpness, but it should be more than enough for the occasional Netflix binge. What we’re not happy to see, however, are those borders: While they give the illusion of being bezel-free when the screen is off, they can be a distraction sometimes.

Just recently, ASUS issued a software update that added always-on functionality to the display. When activated in the Settings menu, this feature will display the date, time, battery status, and number of unread messages and missed calls when the screen goes black. It drains the battery more quickly, but only noticeably if it is constantly in use.

Click, click

The ZenFone 3 Deluxe carries a 23-megapixel camera that has a maximum aperture of f/2.0 and a large pixel size to collect more light and improve the detail in the images. Well, at least that’s the theory; in practice, we found its camera to be no better than what Samsung, Google, and Apple have done with their mobile cameras.

When light is scarce, the gap widens, and the Deluxe finds itself on the losing end of the comparison. On a positive note, the phone got better at taking photos after a software update, so there’s hope yet.

The 8-megapixel selfie camera is pretty great — most will like its color reproduction and wide-angle lens. It struggles a bit in low light but no more than the competition.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

The unit sent to us is right up there with the latest iPhones and Galaxy S7s, price-wise, retailing for $700, or P34,995, in the Philippines. Meanwhile, the highest-end model, with a Snapdragon 821 chip and 256GB of storage, costs $900 (P44,995) locally. So if you don’t mind coughing up iPhone money for an Android flagship, then, sure, consider it. But don’t decide on anything until you’ve seen what the competition is like.

Not that we find anything inherently wrong with ASUS seeking better profit margins by asking customers to pay more. Problem is, the ZenFone 3 Deluxe doesn’t offer any compelling advantage over the premium-priced competition — besides what’s on the inside, of course — or anything superfluous, at the very least, to justify its price tag.

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Samsung’s Galaxy S7 Edge has a gorgeous display that wraps around the sides of the device; the Moto Z is almost alarmingly thin, and has accessories that can be slapped on willy-nilly; the Xiaomi Mi Mix has a bonkers edge-to-edge, retina-melting screen; the Apple iPhone 7 Plus, LG V20, and Huawei P9 Plus all have twice as many cameras on the back; even the Pixel has a digital assistant that’s almost as capable and resourceful as a real person. And then there’s the OnePlus 3, which shares the same internals as our test phone but provides a better Android experience for a modest sum of $400. We could go on.

The ZenFone 3 Deluxe, though a worthy flagship entry by company standards, just doesn’t cut it anymore in the broad scheme of things.

Accessories

Huawei Freebuds 3i review: A pleasant surprise

Huawei knows how to cancel noise

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Taking these TWS earphones from smartphone manufacturers for a spin sometimes feels like a chore. Especially so when most of them look like the AirPods. Such is the case for me with the Huawei Freebuds 3i. However, using it for about a week, and I can say it’s such a pleasant surprise.

That stem design

Now, don’t get me wrong. While I have warmed up to it and it’s more common to see people with these earphones sticking out their ears, I still, personally, am not a fan of this look.

But if it’s there for a reason, then I can’t complain much. Such is the case for the last TWS pair I reviewed. That used the stem as the primary touch area for the controls. In the Freebuds 3i, it’s different.

The stem on the Freebuds 3i lets the mic be closer to the user’s mouth. This is perfect for picking up your voice when you’re in calls — be it voice or video.

Naturally, I tried it on a few calls and asked the people on the other line how I sounded. They said I came off loud and clear. The only problem was my speaking voice, but that had nothing to do with the Freebuds 3i and more with just me being me.

A truly active noise cancellation

This is the feature that truly surprised me the most. The moment I put the earphones on, I immediately felt the effects of the active noise cancellation.

I didn’t even know it had the feature when I first took it out of the box. I just knew it did right when I had both earphones on. That’s how good it is.

Huawei says they used a triple-microphone system to achieve noise cancellation of up to 32db. That along with the in-ear design helps drowning out the noise.

This is in contrast to its elder sibling the Freebuds 3 which handles noise cancellation using the Kirin A1 chip. The Freebuds 3 also uses an open-fit or open-ear design which is why its noise cancellation relies more on the chip.

Huawei also shared a review guide showing how the Freebuds 3i can cancel more noise than the Sony WH-1000XM3 and the AirPods Pro in certain situations. Based on what I can recall from my time with the Sony WH-1000XM3, that thing is on a league of its own when it comes to noise cancellation. But the Freebuds 3i, I’m surprised to say, isn’t too far behind.

Neither the Freebuds 3 nor the Freebuds 3i is necessarily better than the other, although we might see the dual-mic plus in-ear approach in future TWS earphones from Huawei given that their partner TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company) will no longer be allowed to source tech and equipment from the US.

Bass-biased 

Not sure if this is a coincidence or not, but the Freebuds 3i is now the second TWS earphone I’ve tested who’s tuning appears to be leaning more towards bass. Another common denominator is that they’re priced below PhP 7,000 (around US$ 143).

It’s great if you prefer bass but compared to the Freebuds 3, it just doesn’t feel like you’re getting the same sound quality. Which is understandable considering the price difference.

The Freebuds 3 sound clearer, brighter, and warmer and you can clearly hear all the sounds. This is in contrast to the Freebuds 3i which seem to favor low-tones more.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the Freebuds 3i sounds bad. They just don’t sound as good as higher tier TWS earphones, which is fine. The Freebuds 3i is perfectly enjoyable and is certainly better than its more affordable counterparts.

I listened to everything from the pop track “Fanfare” by TWICE to the heavy rock sound of “Mighty Long Fall” by One OK Rock and was very pleased with how these tracks sounded.

Easy to pair, easy to use

Like with many other first-party TWS earphones, the Freebuds 3i will be automatically detected by the phone nearest to it as soon as you flip the lid open. This means pairing is instant and easy.

Naturally, you’ll have to go the usual pairing route if you’re using this with a phone from another brand. This means long-pressing on the button next to the USB-C port to enter pairing mode, and then going into the connectivity settings of your phone to complete the pairing. Not as straightforward, but works just as well.

There are two ways to control the earbuds. First is to double tap on either earbud. Second, is to touch and hold. Touching and holding turn noise cancellation on and off for either earbud.

Double tapping the left bud is set to “Play/Pause” by default while the right bud is set to “Next Song.” You can change this on the Huawei AI Life app with the action options being as follows:

  • Play/Pause
  • Next Song
  • Previous Song
  • Wake Voice Assistant

Curiously, there’s no action set for a single tap. Adding that would have given users the option to set all actions above a set motion for control. Instead, you can only choose to at a time. It’s a puzzling choice.

Like any TWS earphone worth its salt, it also has wear detection. This means the music is automatically paused when you take them off and resumes when you put them back on.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

At PhP 5,990 /SG$ 168 (US$ 123), the Huawei Freebuds 3i is a pleasant surprise. Price-wise, it’s in direct competition with the Galaxy Buds+, and those buds have absolutely nothing on the Freebuds 3i’s noise cancellation.

If you’re looking for TWS earphones with near top-tier noise cancellation but don’t want to spend north of PhP 7,000, then this is easily one of the better options. There’s room for improvement but you’re getting quality earbuds for what you’re shelling out.

It has a solid build, a bass-leaning tuning, and pretty darn good noise cancellation. It’s not bad. Not bad at all.

SEE ALSO:
Huawei Freebuds 3 review: Best value wireless earbuds
AirPods 2 vs Galaxy Buds+ vs Freebuds 3: A TWS earphones battle!
6 reasons why you should switch to wireless earbuds

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Reviews

Huawei Nova 7 review: 5G is the icing, the phone is the cake

And it’s a damn good cake

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The Huawei Nova 7 or Huawei Nova 7 5G as it’s being heavily marketed is undeniably a Nova phone. The purple variant screams the Nova design and the specs and features scream flagship-grade.

5G is the next frontier in terms of mobile connectivity, and companies are understandably ramping up adoption of the tech. But you shouldn’t buy the Nova 7 just because it’s 5G-ready. Will explain more as we go along.

The Nova brand

I have had quite an interesting exchange with my cousin over the last few months about Huawei phones. She’s a fan of the Nova series. Huawei has done a good job of packaging it as a phone for the youth and the barrage of marketing only amplifies that message.

The Nova 7 pretty much sticks to the same formula. It’s an overall capable phone with a flagship-grade chip that lets “the youth” express themselves and pretty much do everything you normally would on a phone.

Build is far for the course at this price range

In the Philippines it retails for PhP 23,990 (US$ 488) and makes the same compromises that other brands do at this price point.

The build, while it feels nice, doesn’t have the heft and that x-factor that you expect from the most expensive phones today. But the weight is a boon for those who don’t exactly like heavier phones but want a relatively large display.

It’s 6.53” OLED display is crispy. You get the standard 60Hz refresh rate but it makes up for it with its bright, deep, and vivid visuals. It doesn’t feel as smooth, but it’s a joy to look at.

Being a flat display, it also has a wide footprint, but manageable enough for one-hand use. I’m just guessing, but somewhere between 6.44” and 6.5” might be the sweet spot for one-hand use if you’re working with a flat display.

All the buttons — power and volume — are on the right hand side which should be the standard for any phone that’s at least 6”.

At the bottom you have the USB-C port, speaker grille, and SIM card tray. There’s no 3.5mm jack but in the box you do get wired headphones and a USB-C to 3.5mm port.

For security it also has Face Unlock, a fingerprint scanner, and your usual pin.

Alright, let’s talk 5G

Last week, against my better judgement, I stepped out equipped with a mask and a face shield with bottles of rubbing alcohol in my backpack to test some 5G areas.

This was done in partnership with a Philippine telecommunications company but I decided to do my own testing after the fact.

While it’s true that you can and will get those exorbitant 500+mbps speeds, the frequency by which you are able to access them in limited locations. Unless you live or are almost always in the areas designated with 5G, don’t buy the Nova 7 for that reason alone.

Other reasons to buy 

It’s a damn good phone.

I used Phone Clone to copy everything on my Huawei P40 Pro to the Huawei Nova 7 and I almost didn’t miss a beat. I run all the same apps and do almost all the same things without any major differences in performance.

This includes your regular social media browsing, playing music on Spotify, and for the sake of the review — a quick game of Naruto: Slugfest.

The obvious differences are of course, as I mentioned, the heft and the smoother feel of the 90Hz refresh rate. But you can certainly do without them and still feel like you got your money’s worth.

Battery life is also stellar. Since I happen to be juggling phones for review at the moment, I’ve gone an entire weekend without touching the phone.

On standby mode, for two days, the battery stayed at around 80% from a full charge. That’s impressive. That means the phone knows when it’s not in use and will regulate power accordingly.

When I did use it, I got through a regular day with about 30-40% left before bed time.

Huawei Share is also a godsend of a feature especially when you’re also using a Huawei laptop. Sharing files is fantastic but also having the access to your phone’s apps right on your laptop as you work is such an underrated feature — but it’s one that’s coming over to other Android phones via Microsoft.

Sad, No GMS 

It was the Huawei Mate 30 series that bore the brunt of the US government’s Huawei ban. This forced Google to withdraw their mobile service support from the company.

Nearly a year later, and Huawei has made significant strides. Their phones have gone from borderline unusable to pretty tolerable.

Do I miss the Google apps and the Google Mobile Services? Heck yeah. There’s no dancing around it.

Not being able to get the best mobile experience from YouTube and Google Photos suck. Not being able to use certain apps because they just won’t work also suck. But Huawei has come to the point where it’s no longer a deal breaker.

Everything else works perfectly fine. A combination of App Gallery and APKPure has mitigated the need for the Google Play Store. Plus, they have also introduced Petal Search. Essentially a search engine for apps.

Updates from apps downloaded from APKPure do not download and install automatically. While this may be inconvenient, it’s a stretch to say that it doesn’t work.

Pleasant performing cameras

The Huawei Nova 7 has a 32MP front-facing camera capable of taking beautiful selfies even at night.

On the rear, it has four cameras: A 64MP main camera, an 8MP Ultra Wide-angle lens, an 8MP telephoto lens, and a practically useless 2MP macro camera.

The 64MP main camera is *chef’s kiss. The detail on the photo below is fantastic. Turning AI on also produced this generally color accurate and very pleasing photo of the plants.

Here’s the usual photo of a flower to further illustrate that point.

It captures urban concrete pretty well too.

Here’s an indoor low light shot. Typically, these never come out well, but the Nova 7 still manages to capture good detail even while there is some grain on the image.

Also a fan of the wide angle lens — just not a fan of not being able to travel so we can actually use it on a nice scenery.

The zoom is… okay. It maxes out to 20x and produces this kind of shot.

Halfway at 10x is fairly decent. Again, color is accurate, but there’s some noticeable detail loss which is understandable. Also reminder to not be creepy with your zoom.

Huawei’s portrait mode is also pretty good. Here’s a shot of Acrylic Stand, “What is Love” Chaeyoung that’s against the light. The background separation is good and it still managed to capture enough light so Chaeyoung doesn’t end up looking like just a silhouette.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

The very first few minutes that I used the Huawei Nova 7, I already had an inkling as to how much it will be and how it will perform. The build and the overall snapiness of the performance were almost dead giveaways.

I have zero complaints over its performance and cameras. And for the most part, these two are what people primarily consider when buying a phone. Battery life is above average, the display is pleasant to the eyes, and app access is annoying but tolerable.

The future-proofing that is 5G that comes with this phone is icing. The cake that is the rest of the phone, that’s what you should really be looking at.

SEE ALSO: The Huawei Nova 7 and Freebuds 3i is the perfect match

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Computers

LG UltraGear 24” Gaming Monitor review: Enough to get you started

Comes with key features for your first gaming PC build

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I’ve seen a ton of people purchase full gaming PC setups since the pandemic took center stage in our lives. I’m pretty sure a lot of these people spent the past few months saving every peso they could for it. Of course, I also did it with all the money I saved up and planned every purchase very carefully.

In getting your gaming PC build, one of the more important peripherals to consider is your monitor. Most people will tell you that any monitor is okay, but experts will say that you shouldn’t just get any monitor. Apart from color accurate and bright displays, your monitor should have a high enough refresh rate to keep up.

It’s exactly what the LG UltraGear 24” Gaming Monitor brings to the table, at least on paper. But is this worth checking out, especially for first time PC setup builders? Here’s a rundown of the specs:

It has a 23.6-inch TN FHD panel, with a 144Hz refresh rate

It comes with two HDMI ports and one DisplayPort

The design, on its own, is nothing spectacular

The LG UltraGear 24” Gaming Monitor comes in a package you normally expect from most lightweight gaming monitors. A hardened-plastic enclosure covers the display, and the monitor even comes with a metal stand in gray and red accents. Upon unboxing, I found it relatively easy to set up and position alongside my PC setup.

Immediately, the first and only thing I noticed was the thick bezel surrounding the display. To be honest, it’s a relatively minor issue for me ever since other brands started reducing theirs. Although I would have appreciated a little more screen space, especially while playing games.

A display that meets expectations for the most part

Most gaming monitors come with high refresh rates to keep up during pressure situations. Fortunately, the LG UltraGear Gaming Monitor comes with a 144Hz panel which is more than enough. Also, it even sports a 1ms response rate so you’re able to stay at the top of your game. 

Most games I tried with this monitor performed with relative ease and no visible sign of image tearing. FPS games like CS:GO and Valorant, in my opinion, work best with this setup given that you can run these games on low-end setups.

Also, it’s quite bright and color accurate which is great for content creators. Although, in some cases, I felt that it didn’t handle dark color areas well. I tried to compensate by simply adjusting the brightness, but it didn’t do anything significantly different. At least it’s an anti-glare TN panel, so you don’t have to worry about the sun.

Comes with features that works depending on the other hardware

This monitor supports AMD’s FreeSync technology which further improves gameplay experience. Honestly, I felt this should be a standard for most gaming monitors — including those that support NVIDIA GSync. Also, there are other optimizations like Dynamic Action Sync (DAS) and motion blur reduction.

However, this monitor actually benefits you only if you’re currently rocking an AMD Radeon graphics card. Ideally, it would still work pretty well when you plug it to an NVIDIA card but expect some image tearing. It wasn’t a big issue for me since I could still apply the reduced motion blur and DAS.

Port selection for this monitor is more than enough for a normal PC setup. Two HDMI ports are available at your disposal, which is great if you want to use it for your consoles. The added DisplayPort provides more connectivity, especially since most graphics cards support it. Keep in mind though: if you plan to plug your console, don’t expect the 144Hz refresh rate.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

For PhP 12,599 (US$ 257), the LG UltraGear 24” Gaming Monitor ticks all the necessary boxes. What you have is a high refresh rate monitor with good color accuracy, and fully optimized for gaming. Combined with a great selection of ports, this monitor is a great option for your first PC build.

However, if you have strict preferences for your monitor, this might not be what you’re looking for. If you’re not a fan of thick bezels or you’re more conservative with your money, I wouldn’t practically recommend this. Also, you wouldn’t be able to fully maximize its potential if you don’t own an AMD graphics card.

All things considered, it’s enough to get you started on your gaming PC setup. Even with cheaper alternatives out there, I still recommend you give this a shot.

LG has other monitors you can check out. The UltraGear gaming monitor line on the other hand starts at PhP 12,599 for the 24”, PhP 22,199 for the 27”, and PhP 23,999 for the 32”.

Meanwhile, the UltraWide line of monitors start at PhP 12,699 for the 25”, PhP 14,799 for the 29”, PhP 29,499 for the 34”, and PhP 45,999 for the curved 34” version.

SEE ALSO: This 34” LG UltraWide monitor disrupted my workflow

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