Reviews

ASUS ZenFone 3 Max 5.5-inch review

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ASUS is coming out with a bigger, updated version of the ZenFone 3 Max that keeps the design of the 5.2-inch Max announced in mid-2016 but improves on the latter in every possible way.

It’s gonna cost more, of course — around $80 more for the base model with 3GB of RAM, quite an ask for a budget smartphone.

But does the 5.5-inch ZenFone 3 Max rise to the occasion? Oh, yes. Absolutely.

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Different, from head to toe

2016 is the year that ASUS, after much criticism and even mockery, truly doubled down on design and came out with guns blazing. The ZenFone 3 is, by far, the best-looking of the (traditional) ZenFone bunch. It’s no surprise, then, that ASUS has revealed a major facelift of its ZenFone Max range, this time opting for metal on the back instead of glass, like on the ZenFone 3.

Placed side by side, one may find it difficult to believe that the ZenFone Max is only one generation older than the ZenFone 3 Max. Really, the new Max seems at least two update cycles ahead, with its curvier styling and sand-blasted finish. The stark departure from last year’s model is, among other things, what makes this refresh hard to ignore.

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ZenFone Max of the past (left; 2015 model), present (center; 2016 model), and future (right; 2016 model with 5.5-inch display)

The ZenFone 3 Max ditches the polycarbonate and basketball-leather material of the original in favor of a more upscale identity that underscores ASUS’ newfound design prowess and fits in with other ZenFones released this year. The updated design means the back cover is no longer removable. A hybrid SIM and SD card tray is located on the left side; it can hold two SIM cards or one SIM and one SD card at once.

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A piece of ever-so-slightly curved glass sits atop the front panel. The tapers along the edges not only makes the transition from glass to metal seamless, but also gives the user a better feeling when holding the handset.

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Around the back, the larger variant of the ZenFone 3 Max retains a laser-assisted autofocus for the camera, and adds a fingerprint reader. The latter unlocks the phones almost instantaneously, but it isn’t as accurate as the sensors found in the OPPO and Vivo smartphones.

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But arguably the best news of all is that the 5.5-inch Max refresh fits in the hand well, in a way that doesn’t necessarily apply to other phones its size. We were able to wrap our fingers around the entire width of our unit for a secure grip.

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A thinner design is partly to credit for that; however, it comes at the cost of a larger battery. The original Max carried a 5,000mAh power pack, while the 2016 editions cram a 4,100mAh cell inside their more slender frames. But, of course, the question is how does not having the same, high-capacity battery impact the phones’ longevity in day-to-day operation, and we’re going to get to that in a bit.

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For now, let’s discuss how different the 2016 ZenFone 3 Max 5.2- and 5.5-inch models are from one another. Apart from the size, the larger Max steps up to a sharper LCD panel (now of the 1080p variety) and boasts a snappier octa-core processor with up to 4GB of RAM and a rear camera that doesn’t disappoint.

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On the hardware front, one would find a few nuances, like the row of capacitive buttons on the 5.5-inch Max. The buttons are not backlit, and will likely leave users fumbling in the dark.

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A single speaker can be found at the bottom of the bigger Max, a location we actually prefer. It didn’t get in the way of anything we did while we held the phone vertically. Naturally, it didn’t get muffled when we placed the device on its backside.

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The 5.2-inch Max’s camera lacks laser autofocus, which could be the most probable reason for its wonky focusing work.

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Despite the obvious difference in screen size, the 5.5-incher’s footprint is barely larger — in no small part thanks to those narrow bezels around the display.

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Casual photographer

The 5.5-inch Max has that big eye of a 16-megapixel camera in the middle of the rear; the 5.2-incher’s camera sensor, meanwhile, is a 13-megapixel affair. They have an f/2.0 and f/2.2 aperture lens, respectively. Hence, the former can let in more light, resulting in more detailed snaps with less noise. Both cameras are capable of good color and contrast reproduction.

Graininess, however, is a concern for the smaller Max, whether shots are taken in broad daylight, indoors, or in low light. Focusing is a bit of an issue, too, as the focus tends to recoil and subsequently default to the center of the frame. A good workaround, we found, is to manually focus by long-pressing the subject in the viewfinder until a green crosshair pops up.

As for their front-facing cameras, the 5.5-inch Max sports an 8-megapixel shooter, while the smaller model takes 5-megapixel selfies. Colors are accurate; details are fairly sharp; and shutter lag is negligible.

For users seeking more control, the default camera app has manual settings for ISO, white balance, shutter speed, and more.

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The difference in image quality between the two Max phones can be seen in the sample shots below. No doubt, we prefer the photos taken with the 5.5-inch Max, for reasons that should be too obvious to many. The normal Max is good for casual photography, but we don’t recommended making it a primary option.

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Samples taken with the 5.2-inch ZenFone 3 Max

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Samples taken with the 5.5-inch ZenFone 3 Max

Mr. Big

The larger Max offers a notable upgrade over its predecessors, moving up to an octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 430 processor that’s backed by either 3GB or 4GB of memory. The 5.2-incher, by contrast, uses an entry-level chip from MediaTek that simply isn’t up to par with its rivals. Many other phones could outpace it for far less money. Last year’s iteration now finds itself in a similar situation.

The Snapdragon 430 has ASUS flexing its performance muscle in the category again, with the 5.5-inch Max scrolling through menus, executing tasks, and launching programs without obvious delays. Our unit comes with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, and it handles demanding games well.

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All ZenFone Max models, including the original, run Android Marshmallow, or should be upgradeable to the semi-recent Google operating system. As per usual, ASUS’ heavily customized interface comes bloated with extra software, most of which can be uninstalled.

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Now, on to that question on everyone’s mind: Does this year’s bigger, better Max match the stellar battery life of the previous model? Simply put, no — but it still lasts long. Two days with normal use, even if you’re pushing the phone real hard, is our collective observation.

Interestingly enough, the 5.2-inch Max doesn’t seem to be up to the task of doing marathon runs; we’re seeing about a day and a half of doing the same stuff on a single charge.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

The short answer is yes. ASUS’ 5.5-inch ZenFone 3 Max is one of the best all-around choices on the block, and the expected price hike should be justified by the improvements outside and under the hood. The version with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage is expected to retail at around $260, after taxes. We’re told it will come with a price tag of P10,995 when it goes on sale in the Philippines in the second week of December. An amazing price for a phone of this caliber.

The smaller Max, currently priced at $180 (P8,995 in the Philippines), is a good phone, and you shouldn’t kick yourself for not waiting long enough. Outside of ASUS and industry insiders who are heavily moderated by non-disclosure agreements, who could’ve known that something better (and more expensive) would eventually come out? But it’s already coming to stores. Soon. Chuck it to experience, and move on.

If you’ve already decided on the 2016 Max but haven’t bought one yet, wait for the 5.5-inch version. You won’t regret it.

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This article was updated to reflect the price and availability of the 5.5-inch ZenFone 3 Max in the Philippines. 

Computers

Apple M2 Mac mini Review

More Affordable, More Powerful

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Apple silently revealed the 2023 M2 Mac mini to the world.

Back in 2005, the Mac mini G4 was the cheapest Mac you can buy for US$ 499.

Almost 18 years after, the Mac mini still is the cheapest Mac at just US$ 599.

That’s still a lot of savings versus buying a US$ 1299 iMac.

The biggest difference? The newest Mac mini runs two of the most powerful chips right now — the M2 and M2 Pro.

But is it actually the right Mac for you?

Watch our Apple M2 Mac mini review now!

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Gaming

Forspoken review: Outspoken with little to speak of

Wait for a sale

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Forspoken

It doesn’t take a lot to create a decent roleplaying game. All you need is a fish-out-of-water character, a vast open map, and a seemingly endless list of objectives. Though it has all three, Forspoken struggles to keep up with its pretenses as a Western roleplaying game.

First, the good

Credit to where it’s due, Forspoken is a fun game for the first few sections. Exploring the incredibly huge map with magical parkour is enjoyable. Eclipsed only by Elden Ring’s Torrent, magic parkour is one of the most innovative ways to quickly traverse large distances, especially after learning more advanced techniques.

Likewise, fighting balanced enemies with limited powers provides enough of a challenge to keep players on their toes in Athia. Neither the player nor the first enemies feel overpowered.

Unfortunately, the game’s novelty quickly evaporates after you figure out that you have to repeat the same motions dozens upon dozens of times. Forspoken’s map is much larger than it ever should have been. Though abundant in number, every point of interest is separated by large distances, some platforming challenges, and a battle sequence. The greater map is empty. Do this over and over, and the game gets stale quick. With adequate rewards, this shouldn’t be a problem, but Forspoken also suffers from a communication issue.

A communication issue

For most roleplaying games, completing an objective on the map usually nets palpable rewards for the player: a significant experience boost, new skills, new gear, or a bag of loot. An open-world game necessitates a lot of exploring. Even if a game is repetitive, earning substantial rewards is satisfying, at least. Forspoken does not have this — not in an easily discernible way, at least.

Treasure chests, which account for most of the points of interest on the map, reward players with a litany of crafting materials. Most of which will go unused because the game doesn’t easily tell players how to use them. After a dozen hours of collecting materials, I had a wealthy cache of each ingredient to make practically anything. Even then, I had little idea where each one went.

The map’s major rewards — new cloaks, new nail arts, and experience — also do little to explain how Frey improves with each completed objective. Clearing out an enemy camp, for example, rewards players with +1 magic. The game does not tell you how much damage that conveys. Certainly, after completing a few of these, Frey feels stronger, but it’s not easy to see how much stronger, especially when most enemies are bullet sponges with absurd health pools anyway.

Plus, these don’t even scratch the surface of objectives wherein the main reward is literally just a lore dump you have to read from a menu.

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Difficulty shouldn’t always mean more enemies

Another issue with clearing out Athia’s large map is how Forspoken handles difficulty. Though there are options to adjust difficulty, the game relies on a limited bag of tricks to make it more difficult for players: increasing enemy health and quantity. In moderation, relying on this strategy works. However, Forspoken does this to an obnoxious level.

Prepare to fight five mini-bosses in one encounter for a lore entry. What compounds this issue more is an insane enemy health pool which causes encounters to last a lot longer than they should. One mini-boss encounter took me 15 minutes, even with appropriately leveled gear and the right spells.

Because of the sheer number of enemies, an encounter can stun-lock Frey for an absurd amount of time. The player can hardly prevent this since it relies on chance. Despite offering a wide array of moves, the risk of knockbacks shoehorn players into a slow run-and-gun tactic (which might not even play into an enemy’s weaknesses), instead of using each ability to the max.

On paper, Forspoken’s combat offers a fluid way to take down enemies by seamlessly switching between spells and moving through the battlefield with magic parkour. Unfortunately, an imbalance in enemy strategies bogs the game down in prolonged sequences that often reward players with only middling boosts.

Forspoken

A lack of optimization

For a game released on modern hardware, Forspoken took a while to launch. The game was delayed a few times. Given how delays often work, you’d think that it would release in a fairly optimized state. It’s not.

Though I haven’t hit major game-breaking bugs, there were a number of performance dips throughout the game. Even on performance-focused settings, framerates dropped to a standstill when there were high particle effects on screen. Frey constantly clipped through the terrain and found herself stuck on finnicky edges (which sometimes required reloading from previous saves).

The game is also dragged down by numerous cutscenes. Though not a bug per se, it’s not a great sign of optimization that the game has to pause for a cutscene just to show enemies arriving. For a game featuring fluid movement and combat, Forspoken often takes players out of the action by pausing for unnecessary cutscenes.

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Better on sale

Overall, Forspoken is persistently flawed. However, amid the game’s shortcomings, the title still has an exciting combat and movement system. Plus, if you disregard the tedious open world, Forspoken’s linear story, featuring the wide range of abilities, are enjoyable. My interest always bounces back after beating one of the game’s main bosses.

Still, it’s hard to call Forspoken a game worthy of its AAA price tag. It might be better to wait for a discount.

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Computers

MSI Summit E16 Flip review: Creator on the go

A plethora of ways to be as productive and creative as possible

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We all love a good 2-in-1 device that gives us everything we need all in one go. From portability to productivity, devices like these truly bring out the best in everyone no matter what kind of use case you throw at it. Such is the case for MSI, a brand notably known for gaming hardware but has their fair share of productivity-focused laptops, as well.

One such 2-in-1 device under MSI’s portfolio is the MSI Summit E16 Flip, complete with hardware and features for the more well-rounded user out there. With a rather slim form factor, the device would ideally mix both portability and productivity in one. Also, it comes with some external hardware that elevates the productivity just a bit further, as well.

With all these in mind, is the MSI Summit E16 Flip a worthy option for all your productivity needs?

Performing above expectations

The MSI Summit E16 Flip performs rather fantastically for any given situation; whether you’re working or watching, it has the hardware to keep up. Inside this machine is a 12th generation Intel Core i7 processor and 16GB of RAM — a standard for most productivity-laden devices. Most applications run smoothly on this device, which is expected as a daily driver for most tasks.

It also comes with a 16:10, QHD+ anti-glare display, which does provide a bigger canvas for multitasking with multiple windows open. This IPS touch display is quite bright and color-accurate, especially at peak brightness and in broad daylight. Whether you’re working during the day or watching movies at night, this device is perfect for these activities.

Gaming and creating on the go

Much like all other MSI laptops, the MSI Summit E16 Flip comes with a dedicated NVIDIA RTX 3050Ti GPU inside. Although not as powerful as oher mobile GPUs, this one packs a punch for a good balance of gaming performance with high quality graphics. When throwing in Esports titles, the device poured in high frame rates suited for competitive play.

Of course, a powerful GPU also enables greater performance when editing photos and videos in high quality, as well. This is also helped out by the display having a 165Hz refresh rate with a 1ms response rate, so you don’t miss out on any out of place pixels. From our tests, render times for HD videos were decent enough — about 2 minutes for a 15-second video with many visual elements.

A pen and large display for your notes

Part of the package for the MSI Summit E16 Flip is the addition of the MSI Pen for those who prefer a pen over a mouse/trackpad. This additional accessory links up quite quickly, and lasts for more than a day on a full charge. Also, it comes with a few magnetized areas so it sticks to the side of the laptop or the top of the display for ease of access.

Ideally, you’d need something like the MSI Pen if you’re more into drawing illustrations or taking down handwritten notes — and it shows. From legible handwriting to brush strokes, the device was able to pick up on these inputs well. It even supports other Windows gestures like zoom, drag, and multi-select — essentially replicating the wide trackpad.

Although, from our usage of the device, the display has this slight problem with rejecting palms on top of it. While writing with the MSI Pen, it is natural to rest your palm somewhere on the display yet even inputs from that get picked up. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but something to be wary of.

Lasts decently long for consistent productivity

Longevity is another thing the MSI Summit E16 Flip provides, specifically on the battery side of things. Throughout our usage of the device, on normal usage, it lasts around 10-11 hours which is pretty decent for the hardware. Accounting for higher quality videos playing, the device lasted for 9-10 hours on average.

When gaming full time or even rendering higher quality videos, the battery does take a hit, as expected. For full time video rendering, it drained its battery after three and a half hours on average, while gaming cut it down to around two to three hours.

Although, if you need to get back into your productivity workflow, the MSI Summit E16 Flip restores its battery quickly with the charger it comes with. On average, charging the device took around two hours from nothing to full, which should put you back in action.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

Starting PhP 130,999, the MSI Summit E16 Flip has everything you need in a 2-in-1 device when you’re on the move. From the hardware to the accessories, it’s a well-rounded machine designed for the multihyphenated or those who work and play hard. Also, its overall design makes it a bit easier to bring around.

If money isn’t entirely an issue, this laptop is one great upgrade option out there both as a work machine and a creator hub. Accessory-wise, the MSI Pen should be on your list of must-haves when purchasing this device, in case a mouse doesn’t suit your liking.

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