News

First look: ASUS ZenFone 3 Laser, ZenFone 3 Max

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While the world awaits the arrival of the ZenFone 3, in Vietnam, two new ASUS budget phones were made official as the company continues its 2016 makeover of popular smartphone spin-offs.

The ASUS ZenFone 3 Laser and ZenFone 3 Max join the ZenFone 3, ZenFone 3 Ultra, and ZenFone 3 Deluxe announced in its native Taiwan last May 2016.

And just like their higher-end cousins, the 2016 Laser and Max feature polished metal unibody designs that look identical and feel better in the hand—not to mention they’re thinner and lighter than their predecessors’. It’s obvious they share the same DNA, but there are different selling points for each phone: a more capable camera for the Laser; a long-lasting battery for the Max.

The designs don’t match the premium aesthetic of the other ZenFone 3 models—we’re not entirely convinced the cases are entirely made of metal—but that can be forgiven.

Android 6.0 Marshmallow is the platform of choice for these latest ZenFones, and this time around, the software nuances that layer the interface are prettier and less intrusive and don’t seem to impact responsiveness too much. Of course, they come with (mostly) upgraded internals as well, which is expected of smartphone successors.

The one thing you won’t find on most budget phones, however, is a fingerprint scanner present on the back of both devices. It’s fast and reliable, though it bears noting the Laser unlocks faster. Neither is as good as the one on the ZenFone 3 or ZenFone 3 Deluxe. For what it’s worth, the scanner on the Laser is oblong in shape; the Max’s has a squarish design with rounded edges.

zenfone-3-laser-camera

Of the two, the ZenFone 3 Laser takes photography more seriously, with a camera bump to show for it. The device sports a 13-megpixel rear camera that takes better photos than the 13-megapixel shooter on the Max, and works well enough to allow for some background blur. There’s also an improved laser autofocus system around the back (which the Max doesn’t have) for quick, crisp shooting.

A 5.5-inch, full-resolution display with curved corners dominates the front of the device, while an octa-core Qualcomm 430 chip backed by 4GB of RAM powers the entire assembly.

The ZenFone 3 Max, meanwhile, is better equipped to handle the rigors of daily use, with its moderately sized 5.2-inch display and 4,100mAh battery and ability to charge other phones or devices.

Zenfones old and new. From left to right Zenfone 3 Max, Zenfone Max, Zenfone 3 Laser, Zenfone 2 Laser

ASUS ZenFones old and new. From left to right: ZenFone 3 Max, ZenFone Max, ZenFone 3 Laser, ZenFone 2 Laser

But although the high-capacity cell is something all road warriors will appreciate, we can’t help but question ASUS’ choice to include a smaller battery than that of the original Max. We suppose a compromise had to be made to come up with a sleeker phone, but time will tell if consumers embrace the decision. Nevertheless, the 3GB of RAM inside the new Max should be plenty for multitasking.

Anyway, you get the idea. Different phones for different types of users—ASUS followed the same formula last year to great success. The company shipped 20.5 million ZenFones in 2015; this year, it has set a grander goal: 25 million units sold globally.

The ZenFone 3 Laser and ZenFone 3 Max are priced at 5,990,000 (around $270) and 4,490,000 ($200) Vietnamese dong, respectively. They’ll soon be available in Vietnam, and a wider rollout is expected in the future. The Philippines might see them hit stores in August at the earliest; India and the rest of the world might have to wait until the third quarter of 2016.

India

Nokia 6.1 Plus is here to spice up the midrange segment

The first Nokia-branded phone to sport a notch

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2018 is undoubtedly the year of midrange phones. While we’ve seen some amazing innovation coming in this year like the in-display fingerprint scanner and moving camera module, they have been limited to the top-tier for now.

The actual innovation has been happening in the midrange segment where we’ve seen companies launch new phones every few months, and for the first time, there have been no compromises. Right from the design to the processor, everything is becoming near perfect. Thanks to initiatives like the Android One program, we are also assured that these phones will last you at least two years.

Joining the bandwagon, we now have HMD Global’s Nokia 6.1 Plus. The phone was launched a few months back in China and is also called the Nokia X6. For the global markets, HMD Global already has a streamlined product lineup that includes the Nokia 6.1 and Nokia 5.1.

The phone has been launched in India today and retails for INR 15,999 (US$ 230). It will be exclusively available for purchase via Flipkart and Nokia Online Store starting August 30.

It has a 5.8-inch Full HD+ display and is the first Nokia-branded phone to sport a notch. The phone is powered by a Snapdragon 636 SoC along with 4GB RAM and 64GB internal storage. Storage is expandable via a microSD card and it supports a hybrid SIM setup.

On the rear, the Nokia 6.1 Plus houses a 16- and 5-megapixel dual-camera arrangement that supports AI-powered portrait mode and automatic scene recognition. The front has a 16-megapixel snapper that is Face Unlock-compatible. The back of the phone also has a fingerprint scanner for authentication and 3060mAh battery that supports Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0.

Continuing HMD Global’s strategy, the Nokia 6.1 Plus is also a part of the Android One program and ships with Android 8.1 Oreo, without any bloatware.

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India

OPPO India launches the F9 Pro with a unique notch

Redefining the trend

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OPPO has been increasing its focus on the Indian market in the last few quarters and has already brought its flagship Find X to the country. In a bid to establish itself as a long-term player, the brand has also started a new sub-brand called Realme to capture the budget segment.

The company today announced the launch of the OPPO F9 Pro in India; the device will be succeeding the F7 that was launched in March. To avoid any confusion, OPPO has also launched this phone in other markets like the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam where it’s called the F9.

The design on this phone is further refined and has glass backing that creates a color gradient along with different patterns that vary according to the configuration. The notch on this phone is a lot smaller than what we’re currently seeing in the industry and is similar to a tiny “water-drop.”

This is also the first time OPPO’s F-series phone will have a rear dual-camera setup. The phone has a 16- and 2-megapixel setup that has AI-backed features like beautification and portrait mode. The front camera is a massive 25-megapixel shooter that has advanced AI-powered face enhancement and auto scene recognition features.

It’s controlled by a MediaTek Helio P60 chipset and comes with 6GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage. Another highlight of the phone is its battery, rated at 3500mAh, which supports VOOC Flash Charge that can get you two hours of usage with just five minutes of charging.

The phone runs on ColorOS 5.2 that is OPPO’s skin based on Android 8.0 Oreo, and is available in Sunrise Red, Twilight Blue, and Starry Purple. It’s priced at INR 23,990 (US$ 345) and will be exclusively available for purchase via Flipkart.

A cheaper non-Pro F9 is available as well for INR 19,990 (US$ 285). It comes with less memory at 4GB and a lower-resolution 16-megapixel front camera.

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Gaming

God of War’s New Game Plus mode is here

It’s time for another play through, boy!

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A New Game Plus (NG+) mode for PlayStation 4’s God of War is here. This means whatever weapons, items, and armor you amassed during your first go round, you can take with you if you wish to go on another adventure with Kratos and Atreus.

The NG+ mode also lets you pick a different difficulty setting from the one you first played with. So whether you feel like taking on a tougher challenge or just breezing through the story mode, you can do so. The choice is yours.

Other new content include a new shield skin when you start a NG+ as well as new types of armor you can forge for the father and son duo. The additions also include new challenges like Realm Tears while on a time limit and a variety of new attack patterns for draugrs, witches, and other foes you’ll meet along the way.

Updates not just for God of War NG+ mode

If you’re still in the middle of your first run, don’t worry, the creators of God of War didn’t forget about us. There’s now a button that easily lets you transfer enchantments making it easier to go from one armor to another. There are also some bug fixes and quality-of-life improvements like keeping Kratos safe at all times during parry attacks and improved consistency with how enemy attacks can be parried.

If you’ve completed the game at least once, the update also lets you skip cinematic scenes whether you’re on NG+ or not.

God of War for the PS4 first came out in April 2018 and received glowing reviews from various media outlets. Many of whom even said it’s an early candidate for Game of the Year. It takes the franchise’s main character Kratos into Norse mythology years after he tore through the Greek gods.

SEE MORE: God of War: A must-play for 2018

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