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. 

Laptops

ASUS ZenBook Pro Duo: A multitasker’s dream

Is the expensive price tag worth it?

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I used to play MMORPGs while doing my schoolwork. Back then, I dreamed about working on a dual-monitor set up so I can multitask. Of course, my younger self won’t be able to afford a customized set up let alone convince his parents to buy one for him.

It was always a dream, given that my attention span is as short as a goldfish; moving from one task to another, wanting to do a lot of things all at once. Unexpectedly, my childhood dream reemerged when I got my hands on the ASUS ZenBook Pro Duo.

Perfect Dual Display

The ASUS ZenBook Pro Duo was first unveiled in Taipei during Computex 2019, enthralling everyone with a stunning, dual touchscreen display. Everyone dubbed it “The Laptop of Tomorrow” since its futuristic design could be a glimpse of how laptops might look like in the near future.

The ZenBook Pro Duo prides itself with a 4K OLED touchscreen 15.6″ main display. Yes, ASUS combined a 4K clarity and OLED display to show-off how premium this laptop is. Watching any form of entertainment is a visual treat in its humongous, stunning screen. You’ll surely build a mini theater at the comforts of your own home.

Additionally, this laptop boasts its crown jewel — the ScreenPad Plus. It’s a 4K secondary touchscreen display using an IPS LCD panel. Most people were amazed when they saw me working on a dual-display laptop. Everyone was curious and mesmerized but little did they know, it’s not that glamorous. Due to its flat placement, you have to look down to see what’s going on. Honestly, it’s impossible to look and read properly without straining your nape.

On top of the problem with its viewing angle, its aspect ratio isn’t perfect. You need to open a minimum of two apps and a maximum of three to fit the screen properly. The software used in ScreenPad Plus needs a lot of improvement.

Looking at the bright side, the ScreenPad Plus is a great way to multitask. I used to open Slack to keep in touch with my colleagues while I work remotely and play either Spotify or Netflix as background noise. In some occasions, creative individuals can use the ScreenPad Plus as an extension of their workspace while working on an artwork.

One of my favorite artists, Lei Melendres, used the secondary screen to watch YouTube videos while viewing his reference photos as a drawing guide. There’s an add-on stylus, too, in case you really love drawing on your screen.

Power that’s more than what you need

The ASUS ZenBook Pro Duo has so much raw power, packed with impressive specs dedicated for professionals. It runs on Intel’s best Core i9-9980HK coupled with a 32GB RAM and 1TB SSD. Additionally, it’s powered by an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 GPU. Just looking at its specs can overwhelm an everyday user.

However, if you use powerful apps like Adobe, Corel, Lumion, and SketchUp, this laptop can support you in your creative pursuits. It can handle editing photos and videos, working on heavy illustrations, animations, and architectural renders.

Play games, but moderately

When it comes to performance, you can’t really say anything bad about ASUS. They really outdid themselves with this chunky, premium laptop. Designed with every power user in mind, the ZenBook Pro Duo can be enjoyed not just by content creators and professionals, but also by gamers.

I have to tell you right from the start: The ASUS ZenBook Pro Duo isn’t a gaming machine for all your gaming dreams. It has a problem with cooling, despite its ErgoLift design and Cool-Air express system with five heat pipes for proper venting.

While I have no qualms playing and running multiple apps since, I’m afraid the heat could damage the sensitive components of the laptop. A lot of times, I accidentally break my laptops because of overheating.

Nonetheless, it’s still powerful enough to run Dota 2 and other graphics-intensive games but only do so for a short time. I highly suggest you play on gaming machines if that’s your jam. If you plan on streaming while playing, it has a webcam properly placed on its top bezel but as with any built-in webcams I’ve tried, it’s best to use an external camera to use for better results.

It’s not a laptop

The ZenBook Pro Duo already looks great at first glance, even more so when you test its power and performance. However, only after using it for some time you’ll see how it’s not really a laptop. It’s thick and chunky, too heavy to carry around — definitely not fit for portability.

It has poor battery life, which runs for two-to-three hours of browsing, social media, and watching videos. If you’re a power user, you need to have this laptop stationed in a spot near a power outlet. It felt like I was using a mobile PC than a laptop.

Comfort isn’t one of its strong points

ZenBooks are known for their ErgoLift design. It tilts the laptop to a comfortable typing position, which also improves its cooling and audio performance. This design is truly enjoyable, except for the ZenBook Pro Duo.

Due to the ScreenPad Plus taking a lot of space, the keyboard was pushed down to the edge leaving no room for your palms to rest. To compensate, the laptop comes with an add-on wrist rest, which is another thing to bring unless you decide to put the laptop in a dedicated work station. But even if you have the added palm rest, its keyboard is too spongey to type on.

Additionally, the trackpad was pushed to the lower right side. It’s practically useless, as it’s too small for you to use on a dual-screen laptop. It also doubles as a calculator and a number pad, which you’ll barely need.

There are a lot of improvements needed for the ZenBook Pro Duo’s functions and ergonomics. Seeing this as a first-gen product, it’s forgivable for ASUS since the laptop will only get better in the coming years.

Design and Details

The ZenBook Pro Duo is beautifully designed. It comes in a futuristic and elegant color called Celestial Blue, decorated with its iconic Zen-inspired aluminum finish, and diamond-cut edges that add subtle sophistication. Who wouldn’t be captivated by this laptop?

It feels premium in every touch. Whenever you glide your fingers, there’s this awestruck feeling of touching a glimpse of the future. To add more to its elegance, ASUS engineered Harman Kardon speakers providing decent sound quality.

But the classiness has its shortcomings, too. For a chunky and premium laptop made for creative professionals, it doesn’t have an SD card slot and contains a few ports.

It has two USB 3.1 Type-A, one Thunderbolt 3 USB Type-C, one standard HDMI slot, one 3.5mm audio port, and a DC input. Instead of adding more ports, ASUS used the sides to put vents for cooling purposes.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

The ASUS ZenBook Pro Duo has a lot of shortcomings, but it’s easily one of the best laptops today. It’s highly innovative and powerful to help you be more productive and creative. It’s an excellent laptop for creators and professionals willing to gloss over the inconveniences such as its ergonomics, poor battery life, and portability issues. After all, it can do everything you want to do, including bringing your ideas to life.

If money is no object, I would say this laptop is my GadgetMatch. However, there’s a lot more that I can buy than this laptop with a PhP 199,995 (US$ 3931) price tag. It’s expensive, but it’s a price we’ll really pay to use a futuristic laptop packed with innovations we never thought we needed.

Like I said earlier, this laptop is a first-generation product. Just like Samsung’s Galaxy Fold, this is a welcome innovation. Seeing how smartphones and laptops are getting absurd and weird upgrades, it’s astonishing to see a possibility of what our future gadgets could be.

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Gaming

Dell G7 review: All the heft and the heat

It’s simply one hot package your wallet hopes to afford

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I’d like to be able to play games wherever I go — provided some stable internet connection. I’d also like to have enough power to afford a device that allows me to do so. But in this world we live in, gaming laptops are things that are just out of our reach. Still, it shouldn’t stop us from trying to save up for them.

One such device is the Dell G7 15, a seemingly compact yet powerful gaming machine. The biggest and most powerful member of the Dell G series certainly brings a lot to the table. Performance and portability are its biggest selling points, especially for the on-the-go gamer. But does it really make the cut?

Let’s find out more about the Dell G7 15.

It comes in a slimmer metal finish compared to previous Dell gaming laptops

It has an NVIDIA RTX 2060 inside for unrivaled gaming performance

Ports for power, connectivity, and storage are placed at the back

It also has a customizable RGB-backlit keyboard

Hefty performance all around

Don’t let the slimmer body fool you; the Dell G7 packs a pretty hefty package. It comes with a 9th generation Intel i7 processor inside, a staple across gaming devices. I got around to doing research, Excel spreadsheets, and some video editing with this device. This, along with 16GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD inside, and you get that kind of speed and power.

Applications load fast, and I almost experienced no lags in trying to do multiple things at once. I even tried loading almost 30 tabs of Google Chrome, while doing some light video editing on Premiere Pro. This device simply does not have the word “lag” in its dictionary as even the most stressful situations keep it going.

Fiery gaming performance

I already knew what I’m getting with an RTX 2060 inside any gaming machine. True enough, my expectations for the highly touted gaming card were met when I tried it on this device. Gaming on this device felt like a visual experience that seemed too real. Color grading for games on the RTX 2060, to me almost comes close to the true colors of objects.

Colors aside, gaming performance with the RTX 2060 was phenomenal. I literally did not experience any lag with all the games I tried on this device, from AAA games to those that require little graphical power. Also, I noticed that visually, nothing was sacrificed for all the power it wields — which is the ideal situation anyway. 

Of course, there’s always a caveat to nice things like ultra-powerful gaming performance. Like most gaming machines, this thing gets pretty damn hot when you play for too long. I personally felt uncomfortable after playing for three hours around the WASD keys. That specific part of the keyboard felt like a frying pan, possibly telling me to take a break from playing Fortnite.

Charging up so quick, it makes you play more

Now, obviously gaming laptops have historically low battery lives. Playing on the Dell G7 for the recommended three hours already drained its entire battery so much. When I wasn’t fully using this device for gaming, I got about four to five and a half hours worth of usage before a full drain. These numbers, honestly don’t provide much in terms of long-lasting performance.

One silver lining to it all is that the device comes with a 60Wh battery that supports quick charging. And that’s not just from the proprietary charging port at the back; even the USB Type-C port to its side allows you to charge the device. The device reached close to 30% within 20 minutes, which is pretty decent compared to the other devices out there.

Of course, the charging brick that comes with the device isn’t so light. Figuratively, this 180W charger packs the necessary juice to supercharge the device. Quite literally, its weight didn’t bother me as much, and I’ve felt heavier chargers in the past. 

The cooling system that’s a little too hot at times

With all that power inside, you need a cooling system that settles everything inside. The Dell G7 has powerful fans inside that basically push all the hot air out. I thought it was a good touch that the Alienware Command Center allows you to control those fans. But, there were a couple of things that bothered me with this cooling system.

First off, in the times I didn’t play games, the fans somehow throttle out of the blue. I don’t know if that’s how these fans work, but I would be deeply concerned if upon startup the fans start to throttle. Second, the fans do take time to throttle when you start playing games, which limits performance overall.

Finally, even while the fans are able to push hot air out, it takes a while for the device to cool down. I get it, you have to be patient — especially when you’re gaming nonstop for three hours. But it wouldn’t hurt for the device to cool down a little faster than that. It’s things like this, along with the fans being loud that leaves you scratching your head a little bit.

Is this your GagdetMatch?

Starting at Php 113,990, the Dell G7 just proves to be one hefty machine. Great performance is already expected from this device, and it surely did not disappoint. This gaming machine comes in a package that just screams power, and I would surely recommend this device to most on-the-go gamers out there.

Of course, it’s simply not perfect. This device does not simply last long enough for you to game full time. Apart from that, it gets pretty damn hot when you play for too long. Even with a quick-charging port and an two-fan cooling system, these simply are not enough.

But you get past that, and the Dell G7 truly serves up one game-ready device. While it is one hefty price tag, the investment looks very promising.

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Reviews

Xiaomi Mi Band 4 review: Continues to be the best

It’s definitely a must-have

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Xiaomi’s branding is widely recognized and is synonymous with affordable products. Thanks to aggressive pricing, the brand is dominating the smartphone segment in major mobile markets like India. However, it has been slowly expanding to other segments as well and a few years back, it directly entered the fitness space with the Mi Band.

The three generations of Mi Band have been best-in-class and each new iteration brought in quite a lot of new features. This one product lineup has made Xiaomi one of the top wearable makers worldwide in terms of units shipped.

With a bigger display, added software features, and extended battery life, is the Mi Band 4 able to continue the same legacy? Can this fitness band be your nagging health-oriented GadgetMatch?

A tried and tested ergonomic design

The Mi Band’s design was always basic and at first glance does look like a generic fitness tracker. However, the simple band and tracker module design is ergonomic and convenient for both, the company as well as the user.

Xiaomi is able to keep costs low and the soft band material can be worn for extended periods without any irritation. Even though the display is 33 percent larger, the Mi Band 4 feels light and within a day or two, you’ll forget it’s even there on your wrist.

The Mi Band 3 had a small indent on the front, below the display that acted as a button. The Mi Band 4 eliminates that in favor of a 0.95-inch color AMOLED display that supports tap as well as swipes. The display is amazing thanks to punchy colors, wide viewing angles, and direct visibility under sunlight.

The display is easily visible throughout the day

Operations are extremely straightforward with a swipe up or down to select different modes or settings, swipe left or right to access music controls, or swipe right to go back from a different screen. Additionally, you can also tap the capacitive button underneath the display to go back.

The fitness tracker case easily detaches from the silicone band if you’d like to swap it out for another band. Though, the charger has been weird this time. You need to carefully place the tracker onto the charging “pod” and ensure it’s on a flat surface because the pod fails to hold onto the tracker. There’s no attachment between the two, meaning you can just let it hang from a wall-charger. And if you really want to, plug along with a few tight rubber bands.

The charger is cumbersome to use

Xiaomi claims it can run for 20 days on a single charge and I’d agree. I was able to cross the two-week mark easily. Keep in mind, I’ve always had the heart rate sensor working, notifications keep popping, and no manual intervention was involved to extend its life. Thankfully, it has a tiny battery that can be charged within 45 minutes so you don’t have to deal with the charger for a long time.

Filled to the brim with features…

Firstly, the connection between the band and your phone is always stable. Secondly, all basic fitness tracking features like pedometer, calorie burn, sleep tracking, and heart rate works well. The pedometer is slightly better because it has gotten better at detecting actual movement against vehicular ones. When compared to expensive options like a Fitbit, the Mi Band 4 is fairly accurate and reliable.

The Mi Fit app has slightly deeper insights on sleep tracking that include a score based on global data. It doesn’t have built-in GPS but can rely on your phone’s hardware to deliver a similar end experience.

A new addition to the band are Workout Modes. It can track the following exercises: treadmill, outdoor running, cycling, walking, pool swimming, and the generic “exercise” workout. That may not seem like much, but its predecessor isn’t able to track pool swimming or generic exercises at launch.

The workout mode needs to be manually switched on and off. And yes, it’s water-resistant up to 50 meters. cIt can also recognize five different swimming styles and record 12 different data sets, like swimming pace and stroke count.

The variant that’s sold in China comes with NFC for payments and a microphone to control Xiaomi’s voice assistant. However, both of these hardware features are absent from the band that’s sold outside of China.

The Mi Band 4 can relay call, text, email, and just about any other notification you receive on your smartphone. Notifications come through to the tracker right away. It also supports different watch faces. There is a fair amount of watch face options available in the Mi Fit app.

Depending on the watch face, the band home screen can display the time, day, date, steps taken, distance walked, calories burned, and band battery status. If you remove the band, just enable PIN lock and nobody will be able to snoop on your health data or notifications.

The band will vibrate if you’re inactive for an hour, and you can even choose a custom vibration pattern for the alert. Further, a custom vibration can be set up for individual app notifications, so you’ll know a WhatsApp message has arrived without actually seeing the display.

Mi Fit, a hassle-free companion

Xiaomi’s Mi Fit app is what you’ll use to pair the Mi Band 4 to your phone and view all your activity stats. The app is also how you change most of the settings on the fitness band, and select new watch faces. Mi Fit picked up a redesign earlier this year, and the interface is much more modern and easier to navigate. You can sync your Mi Fit data with Google Fit.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

The Xiaomi Mi Band 4 is part of that product lineup from Xiaomi that keeps improving and keeps surprising, year after year. New features trickle-down, while the price remains unchanged.

For INR 2,299 (US$ 32), there’s nothing that comes close. The Honor Band 5 is more expensive, bulky, and the software is unpolished. Lenovo’s offerings are quite outdated as well. It’s available in the U.S. for just US$ 40, less than half the price of the Fitbit Inspire HR and Samsung Galaxy Fit, which are the Mi Band 4’s main competitors.

The Mi Band 4 brings fitness to an amateur, as well as satisfies the demands of a fitness enthusiast. If you’re just looking for something that gives you easy access to notifications, the Mi Band 4 will still be perfect for you. With extended battery life, going off the grid on a hike will never be a problem.

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