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. 

Reviews

Huawei MatePad 2021 review: Midrange tablet contender

A multimedia champ

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In the age of advanced technology, there is still space for budget and mid-range devices. This is where the Huawei MatePad 2021 comes in. A simple but capable tablet that can keep up with your daily needs.

Here I am, using the device for some time now and I can actually say, man, this is good! At first, I was doubtful about the capabilities of the MatePad given that it does not have Google services. But to my surprise, this device can stand on its own and deliver great performance when you need it to. But of course, it has its own setbacks.

Design

The new MatePad is a simple but clean design. The weight of the device is so light, it’s not a hassle to hold around all day. I advise you to place a case over that tablet. Its weight can definitely fool you and it has an occasional slipping from time to time. The device is easy to hold in landscape orientation, it feels good on the hands too.

Unfortunately, when you hold it in a portrait orientation, it suddenly feels too slim, but bearable. Its curved corners help with the grip and the screen follows that curved corners too, giving it a modern look. Its midnight grey colorway is definitely a great color, but I hope they add more colors to their lineup.

Camera

The single shooter camera at the back is nothing special. I understand how a number of tablets do not really prioritize it. The quality of the rear camera is acceptable given that there’s good lighting in your area.

The front-facing camera is not good at all. However, given its price and the fact that it’s a tablet, you shouldn’t expect much from it anyway.

Display

I love the screen size. It has curved corners and is well optimized with the apps. The IPS display is 2000×1000. Great quality, but there are better screens out there. For a mid-range device, the display is highly acceptable.

Having a 10.4-inch screen, multitasking is a breeze. With this, you can use two apps and still have a sizeable screen for content. eBook mode is like the ultra power saving mode on Samsung galaxy phones. Your screen will turn black and white which not only saves you from eye strain, it also saves the battery of the device  — which is amazing!

Audio

The Histen 6.0 3D stereo provided with the MatePad is superb for its price. The quad-speaker setup of this device surely gives it a huge boost and is rare in the mid-range market.

Music streaming was such an amazing experience, it gave me all smiles while testing it out. Even at maximum volume, the audio wasn’t bad at all, the clarity of the music and the instruments still sound superb and this is a huge plus to the device.

Multimedia goodness

The MatePad was pretty good when it came to multimedia consumption, you can download Netflix, HBO Go, and Spotify, just to name a few! The apps were perfectly optimized and the display surely keeps the experience enjoyable. Watching Netflix, HBO Go and YouTube content was fun. I have not experienced any issue regarding the apps itself as it fits perfectly to the size of the display.

Downloading apps can be a new experience when using a Huawei Device. They have their own Huawei AppGallery that may or may not offer you all of the apps you want. For downloading the apps like Netflix, HBO Go and many more, you will be redirected to an APK site. Once in the APK site there will be a download link for you to click and wait for the app to be downloaded. After the process, you’ll find your app ready to set up and use on a daily.

We also have to mention that the MatePad is supported by the M-Pencil. This means you can have more than one mode of entertainment for your device. Take down notes or draw the MatePad is surely lucky to have a stylus fitted for its capabilities.

Gaming

Gaming in this device is, what can I say? — AMAZING! Great graphics and playing games in the highest settings is no problem for this tablet. Personally, playing games like Mobile Legends is perfect for tablets. Playing PUBG Mobile on this device was quite an experience.

Don’t worry about your device when it comes to gaming, it’s a piece of cake for this one! A little bit of advice, Huawei encourages you to turn off Bluetooth when playing games, the reason is unknown but they’re preventing lag given the notification.

Battery Life

The MatePad holds a 7,250mAh battery, making it a long-lasting device. I played five games in Mobile Legends and the device still stands at 100 percent battery life! You can watch season one of Brooklyn Nine-nine and still have a few more left in the tank. believe me, I’ve tried it myself.

Problems

The MatePad surely is a surprising and powerful device, but it seems that this tablet is being held back at some point.

The device lags when using its gestures, from closing apps to left and right swipes, the tablet finds itself lagging and buggy. One huge problem that they need to fix is the App Gallery, now, don’t get me wrong, it works.

The thing is, when you download apps, it takes you to another site and then you download the APK file. YouTube app is nowhere to be found and it’s kind of a bummer. Users will be stuck with a website version turned to an app. The YouTube “app”  is buggy and is a pain to use.

Limited apps are available, and lets face it the apps there are not the ones we use on a daily. There are a few apps loaded but not installed and it’s not a pretty sight. It looks like uninstalled bloatware craving for your attention. My advice to anyone who’s going to buy this is that pick some of the provided apps and then remove the remaining apps.

Downloading apps can be a pain too if you’re not familiar with the current Huawei System.

Should you buy the Huawei MatePad?

My answer is a yes, even though they lack Google support and it has a few laggy moments. The MatePad is surely a bang-for-your-buck device. Whatever your current tablet can do, the MatePad can do it too, maybe even better.

The MatePad 2021 retails for PhP 18,990 / SG$ 498

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Sony BRAVIA XR X90J review: Stunning visual experience

Doesn’t rival that of most KPop idols, but still great

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I’d like to look at smart TVs as an investment for any living space. If you’re not into cable television, these TVs provide a great source of entertainment for you. Also, like standard TVs, you can connect several devices to it to expand its usage. Whether it’s your phone, laptop, or game console, it supports all of those.

This year, Sony has a new smart TV offering in the Sony BRAVIA XR X90J, and it’s not just any other TV. On paper, it boasts what seems to be the most all-around TV experience you could imagine. Whether you binge watch Netflix or own a next-gen console, this looks like the ideal TV for you.

When I first read the spec sheet, I thought that this was too good to be true. The longer I used it, however, I think it’s safe to say that Sony might be up to something here.

The TV in its full glory

Here’s a rundown of everything you should know about the Sony BRAVIA XR X90J. For starters, this particular TV comes in either a 55-inch or 65-inch display; there is a 75-inch option but it’s currently not offered here. The unit Sony sent me was the 65-inch one, but the rest of the spec sheet applies to both sizes.

The BRAVIA XR X90J comes with a Cognitive Processor XR built inside, which provides several key features and adjustments to the viewing experience. Of course, the display fully supports a maximum of 4K in resolution, with HDR10 and Dolby Vision support. Also, it comes with two Dolby Atmos surround sound speakers at the back, placed at each side.

In terms of port selection, the BRAVIA XR X90J comes with two USB Type-A ports, four HDMI ports, one digital audio port, and an RJ45 Ethernet port. As a smart TV, it comes with 16GB of storage for your streaming apps and other media. Also, it sports up to an 802.11ac WiFi standard and Bluetooth 4.2 for mice and keyboards.

Who really needs this TV?

The moment I got the TV, I wanted to find out who exactly will benefit the most out of using it. The thing is, everything I just mentioned appeals to practically anyone who wants to invest in something like this. So, how about I break these down and see where the BRAVIA XR X90J fits best, given the following:

For somebody who just wants a big TV

If you were somebody looking for a relatively large TV, the BRAVIA XR X90J exceeds the bare minimum you need. I’m assuming you own a TV box that connects via HDMI, so this TV feels at home with what you’re after. Of course, with its size, I feel it gives you an experience similar to having a mini-theater in your living space.

One thing I’ll praise the BRAVIA XR X90J on is its surround sound speakers. With its XR Sound Position and XR Surround, any TV show, movie, or live concert feels so real. Again, I go back to that mini-theater experience because that’s what it can give you. Also, it’s surprisingly loud even at volume level 16 even if you’re far from the TV.

Although, most TV boxes only go up to 1080p at around 60Hz, so you will sacrifice some details in your viewing experience. Honestly, even with the XR 4K Upscaling and 4K XR Smoothing working their magic, it still looks a bit grainy when you get up close. If this isn’t a huge problem for you, then this is a pretty worthy investment.

For the smart home owner or resident online binge watcher

Let’s say you don’t own a TV box and instead enjoy watching shows and movies on streaming services like YouTube, Netflix, or Disney+. Well, the BRAVIA XR X90J is a Google-powered smart TV so it already fits what you need from it. Also, this TV comes with a ton of other smart features that bring your devices together in one suite.

 

If you want that sweet 4K viewing experience with KPop music videos or Netflix Originals, this TV serves you what you want. Because of the Cognitive Processor XR, the TV produces stunning visuals and colors to enhance the viewing experience. Honestly, I felt that Sony built this with the binge watcher in mind, and it clearly shows.

Apart from the multitude of streaming services, the BRAVIA XR also comes with Chromecast and Apple AirPlay support. Basically, if you need a second display for your work presentations or Netflix parties, this feature allows you to do exactly that. Although, don’t you think it’s a bit overkill for work purposes?

For the owner of a next-gen console or gaming PC

As a gamer myself, the BRAVIA XR X90J appeals to me particularly because of one important feature: 4K at 120Hz. I mean, imagine playing all sorts of games at the highest visual detail while at a high refresh rate. That’s what PlayStation and Xbox want for you with their next-gen consoles.

Even though you can plug in your current-gen consoles or your RGB-filled gaming PC, Sony designed this TV for the next-gen. I hooked up my Xbox Series X to this TV, and I know how weird that sounds brand-wise. Throughout my entire play time, everything looks beautiful and vibrant, with the added bonus of reacting to things faster.

Of course, like every other display in the market, there’s a catch to achieving this. See, the BRAVIA XR X90J comes with four HDMI ports, with only two of them with 4K/120Hz support by default. Now, I had to tinker with the settings to find out that this TV also supports Dolby Vision, something the Series X also supports. Unfortunately, turning that setting on caps the refresh rate at 60Hz, so 4K at 120 FPS wouldn’t be possible. So, if you pick this up, just be wary of that.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

Starting at PhP 77,779, the Sony BRAVIA XR X90J ticks all the boxes for a great smart TV. For whatever use case, it provides a viewing experience that is simply captivating from the comfort of your home. With all the features it comes with, it deserves praise for exceeding my expectations.

Again, in some cases, I feel this TV might be a little too much for some people. Obviously, given the price point, there are more affordable options that give you roughly the same experience. Also, the BRAVIA XR X90J’s features can only do so much with the hardware you plug in there.

Nonetheless, I believe Sony hit the nail when it came to this TV. If you’re looking to upgrade your living space in the near future, this is one worthy investment. 

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realme Watch 2 Pro: When purpose meets versatility

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As someone who just started to be fond of smartwatches, I’ve been in search of one that doesn’t burn my pocket yet has all the features that suit my lifestyle. 

Starting with smartphones, TV, wireless earbuds and AIOT gadgets, realme has been keen on expanding its ecosystem to suit people’s day-to-day needs and routine. With their latest device, the realme Watch 2 Pro continues to live up to that challenge. 

Would the realme Watch 2 Pro be the one to put an end to my search? Let’s find out. 

Large colored display 

When you’re running or doing a highly intensive exercise, it’s hard to check your progress on a typical smartwatch. So I really appreciate the fact that the realme Watch 2 Pro has a large 1.75-inch colored display with a 385 x 320 pixels resolution which makes it easy for me to check my health stats at a glance. 

It also has 600 nits of peak brightness so I was still able to see my activity data clearly even if I worked out under direct sunlight.

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Getting my hands all sweaty wasn’t a problem since the Watch 2 Pro has an anti-fingerprint coating so the screen only gets minimal smudges. 

You wouldn’t want to get your screen blurry because you’d want to see it, especially now that you can choose from up to 100 watch faces for whatever suits your outfit and mood. Some can be directly picked from your Watch 2 Pro while some are available for download via the realme Link app.

If you want to be sentimental, you can even put up a photo of you with your special someone or your dog as your watch face. 

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Stylish and practical strap

The realme Watch 2 Pro came with easy-to-wear liquid silicone watch straps. You can choose between Black which was the one I got and the light grey variant. 

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If you want other options, this smartwatch can work with standard straps so you can mix it up with different outfits depending on the occasion. A simple feature for some but a thumbs up factor for me is that there are many holes punched on the strap so I can easily adjust it on my wrist. 

Magnetic charging, not that you always need it

Seeing the rear of the realme Watch 2 Pro, it’s easy to tell that you can charge it with the magnetic dock that comes with the package. You need to carefully keep it since it’s the only charger you can use to juice this up but you definitely won’t have to use it that often. 

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When I got this smartwatch, I didn’t charge it since the battery was still at 95 percent and it still lasted for 10 days. And when the battery went really low, it only took me about an hour to bring it back to full charge. 

A mode for all your sports and workout 

I’ve tried other smartwatches which had very limited selections of sports modes, so it was a great deal that the realme Watch 2 Pro has 90 sports modes. You may not instantly see it on the menu of your smartwatch but once you connect it to your realme Link app, the whole list becomes available. 

Choose which sport or physical activity from jump rope to swimming that you usually do so you can instantly customize and add those on the menu of your smartwatch. Then you can check out your workout summary after each activity. 

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Working up a sweat or even spilling your water during your workout won’t matter to the realme Watch 2 Pro with its IP68 Water Resistance rating.  

Monitor your overall well-being 

Since we still don’t get to go out that much due to the pandemic, I try to keep myself fit and healthy even at the comfort of my home, and the realme Watch 2 Pro has been my fitness buddy lately due to its plethora of monitoring features. 

This smartwatch can monitor your heart rate, thanks to its PPG bio-sensor. During my HIIT routine, I got so pumped listening to my workout beats and the Watch 2 Pro alerted me of my heart rate getting too high, reminding me to relax a bit and drink water. 

realme Watch 2 Pro

It also has a sleep monitor where I was able to get an overview of my sleep time and quality. It serves as a wake up call for me to get more rest daily so I can be pumped up for the next day. 

What also came in handy is its SpO2 monitor for blood oxygen tracking which is a key measurement for breathing and blood circulation. In just 30 seconds, I was able to check that my blood oxygen is at its normal level.

realme Watch 2 Pro

Precision at your fingertips 

What’s usually found in higher end smartwatches can actually be found on the realme Watch 2 Pro – a High-Precision Dual Satellite GPS. In a few seconds after I set up my Outdoor Walk activity, this smartwatch was able to accurately get my location data and step tracking. 

realme Watch 2 Pro

Stay connected 

In between exercise routines, you get into this workout zone that you sometimes just want to be away from your phone so you can concentrate.

But just in case you’re waiting for an important message or notification,  you can still have access to those since you can seamlessly pair the realme Watch 2 Pro with your smartphone via the realme Link app.

realme Watch 2 Pro

Just activate smart notifications from third-party apps such as Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp then you can read your messages directly on your smartwatch. 

Being controlling can also be good 

As realme strengthens its foothold in the AIOT category, they’ve made it a point that the realme Watch 2 Pro has an AIOT control feature, making it a hub for your realme AIOT TechLife devices. 

I was able to use this smartwatch to control my realme Buds Wireless 2 Neo to adjust its volume and choose from its 3 sound effects modes depending on the music I’m listening to. You can also remotely control the music player on your phone with this wearable and it also has a remote camera feature so you can take snaps of yourself even if you are alone.  

After a busy day of work and exercise, you may sometimes just doze off on your bed and wake up thirsty in the middle of the night. realme has also got your safety covered with their motion-activated Night Light.

You can place it by the stairs or near your refrigerator so it can detect your movement easily.  Now you don’t have to fumble around at night to find the light switch and safely get your glass of water. 

Is the realme Watch 2 Pro your Gadgetmatch? 

This may be a case of different strokes for different folks, but if you’re someone like me who just needs a reliable tech companion to keep track of your activities and monitor your health, then the realme Watch 2 Pro is actually a competitive choice. 

At PhP 4,490 with major features like 90 sports mode, a High Precision Dual Satellite GPS and its AIOT Control Feature, this wearable may finally put an end to your smartwatch search. 

You can get the realme Watch 2 Pro at Lazada, Shopee and authorized realme stores nationwide. 

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