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ASUS ZenFone 3 review

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Back in 2014, ASUS debuted its own line of smartphones amid declining PC sales. And despite being the new kid on the block, the Taiwanese electronics maker managed to do relatively well in a market that has tripped up so many others, some of which had been in the business for decades and were considered infallible.

And it did so without reinventing the wheel like Apple or trying lots of different things and learning from what works like Samsung; ASUS instead took a page from its playbook on selling computers and parts and focused on undercutting the competition for the lowest-priced phone with decent specs. The effort paid off to the tune of 8.5 million ZenFones.

The following year, in 2015, ASUS adopted a similar strategy for the ZenFone 2 and sold over 20 million units. Not quite iPhone numbers, but not bad for a first and second run. The success of the ZenFone range put ASUS on the map as a serious alternative to the usual mainstream suspects and a brand to watch for 2016.

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Now on its third iteration, the ZenFone is back, better than ever, as smartphone sequels tend to be. The game plan hasn’t changed — the ZenFone 3 base model is about as specced out as it can get under a reasonable price ceiling — but the competition has improved dramatically. In particular, Chinese OEMs have improved to the satisfaction of Westerners and the international tech community.

So the question now is: Has ASUS done enough to keep the momentum on its side, or has it fallen behind the curve? We’ll get to that later.

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First, let’s get one important thing out of the way: The unit we have carries the model number ZE552KL; it has a 5.5-inch screen and a Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 system-on-a-chip with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of expandable flash storage. That said, our observations only apply to the said variant, and that your mileage may vary depending on which ZenFone 3 version you purchase.

The biggest change to the third-generation ZenFone is also the most obvious; the exterior has been tweaked and refined for 2016, with ASUS ditching plastic for a slab of glass and metal that’s begging to be touched and cradled in the hand. The ZenFone 3 is by far the prettiest smartphone the company’s ever created — and possibly the prettiest in its class.

It’s thinner and lighter than its predecessor; the polished, precision-cut aluminum frame that holds the two parts of the enclosure together is a thing of beauty; antenna bands that may otherwise detract from good design are almost inconspicuous. And to make it stand out even more, the concentric-circle detailing — a signature feature of ASUS smartphones — has been pushed to the back of the device, along with the ASUS branding.

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ZenFone 2 (left) and ZenFone 3 (right)

Speaking of the back, there’s a pill-shaped fingerprint reader that looks like a home button but isn’t. The hardware isn’t as accurate as the one on the iPhone 6s, and isn’t as fast as the Vivo V3 Max’s. But it works surprisingly well enough on its own merits. Not to mention, you can use it to answer a call or quickly fire up the camera app for candid, casual shots.

There’s nothing ostentatious about the phone’s front, except for maybe the thickness of the bezels; it’s plain, like the set of non-backlit touch buttons below the 5.5-inch display. The screen is bright and vibrant and evenly lit, which translate to good visibility outdoors or in a well-lit environment.

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This year’s ZenFone (above) has a USB Type-C port sans fast charging

Colors are rendered with fidelity, and images and text appear sharp despite ASUS’ decision to turn down a 2K panel at a time when 1080p is no longer the gold standard. And to be fair, the screen is one of the better ones we’ve seen all year. Besides, it’s a big ask for the untrained eye to genuinely care about the extra pixels.

Audiophiles may be pleased to know the ZenFone 3 has a five-magnet speaker for improved audio clarity and quality. It’s also capable of playing uncompressed music at higher-than-CD quality. At least, that’s what we’ve been told.

We tested a couple of high-res tracks using the provided earphones, then compared the audio quality to that of a premium Samsung phone. Both sounded pretty decent, though we probably could have come up with a winner had we slipped on a pair of studio headphones. Still, that the ZenFone 3 can hang with a product twice its retail value is reason for cheer and optimism.

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Deeper inside the assembly sits an octa-core Snapdragon 625 processor, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of flash storage that can be expanded using a microSD card. At this point, it bears noting the microSD expansion slot doubles as a cutout for a nano SIM card, meaning you’ll have to choose between having two mobile numbers in one phone or providing more space for your apps and files.

The ZenFone 3 runs smoothly on Android 6.0 Marshmallow and the latest ZenUI overlay that’s been updated with new icons and wallpapers and the Game Genie app. The latter allows you to record game clips or stream games directly to YouTube or Twitch. Bloatware is still very much alive in ZenUI; thankfully, ASUS gives you the option of deleting or disabling almost every app that comes preinstalled.

Gaming performance is top-notch; AAA games like Asphalt 8 and Modern Combat 5: Blackout play at optimal frame rates; even NBA 2K16 for Android runs without a hitch when settings are toned down. More impressively, even during a prolonged gaming session, the phone remains cool to the touch, which is something we can’t say about the Intel-based ZenFone 2. ASUS made the right move switching to Qualcomm’s chips.

You get a megapixel bump on the ZenFone 3, too; the rear-facer steps up to a 16-megapixel sensor, while the selfie camera now goes up to 8 megapixels and can record 1080p video.

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In case you’re wondering, both cameras offer a maximum aperture opening of f/2.0. The main shooter combines optical image stabilization and digital image stabilization to reduce the annoying blurriness caused by shaky hands. Its improved autofocus system, on the other hand, allows it to lock onto subjects in a fraction of a second in ideal situations.

Under a bright sun, the ZenFone 3 provides plenty of detail and some shallow depth of field. In low light or challenging light conditions, it’s capable of producing serviceable photos and video where other midrange devices would flounder.

The stock camera app offers a Manual mode that lets you tinker with the finer points of photography, such as ISO, shutter speed, and white balance, but that’s not to say ASUS’ intelligent Auto mode isn’t dependable. There are several other camera modes to help you get the right shot, like HDR, Low Light, and Panorama; there’s even one for creating GIFs, the internet’s favorite medium of expression.

Battery life is another massive plus. We found the 3,000mAh cell can stretch to a day and a half of moderate to heavy use. Even the most demanding users should be able to get at least a full day out of the ZenFone 3.

In our testing, we ended up with a screen-on time of 7 hours and 40 minutes, or almost double the average of some Android phones we’ve used in the past — including the ZenFone 2. And that’s without even activating Power saving or Super power saving mode.

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We’re overly impressed with the longevity of the battery — to the point that we’re willing to overlook the fact it takes between 100 and 120 minutes to get it to 100 percent capacity, and that the new Type-C port on the bottom doesn’t support quick charging, unlike last year’s model.

What a difference a year makes: 2016’s ZenFone is an across-the-board improvement over what came before. It’s not perfect, but the shortcomings are easy to overlook this time around. The ZenFone 3 is prettier and nicer to hold and more capable and longer-lasting; in short, it’s everything you want in a sequel.

ASUS hasn’t released pricing information in most countries where the ZenFone 3 will be sold. We do know the 5.5-inch version officially sells for 9,990 Taiwanese dollars, the equivalent of $320, in its country of origin. That’s excellent value for a phone of this size and caliber.

However, despite that glowing endorsement, recommending anything north of $300 is getting harder and harder these days, as companies like OnePlus and Xiaomi continue to weaken the influence of established brands and rock the market to the core with products that are as cheap and as pleasurable to use as possible. The ZenFone 3, however exceptional it is, is not insulated from this reality.

If you can wait a bit to see what else comes out in the next couple of months, you may be rewarded with something better, say, a discounted OnePlus 3.

[irp posts=”12232″ name=”ASUS ZenFone 3 Zoom review”]

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OPPO Find X Lamborghini Edition: Testing a $2,000 phone

Will a luxurious phone make me more luxurious?

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I won’t beat around the bush. This is the OPPO Find X Lamborghini Edition and it’s worth almost US$ 2,000 or US$ 1,980 to be precise.

What’s so special about it? See that seal? It’s an actual Lamborghini. No, really, from the Italian luxury carmaker.

I got my hands on this delightful device and I’ve been using it for a few weeks. So, now that I have my own Lambo, what changed? Did using this expensive AF phone make me a classier person? Will I get more street cred because of my flashy phone? What does holding US$ 2,000 in form of a phone feel like?

Because owning such a luxurious device has made me a more gracious person, I shall walk you through my experiences with the Lambo.

It still looks and feels good 

The OPPO Find X Lamborghini Edition has the same signature bezel-less screen of the regular Find X.

On the back, glaring in gold is the Lamborghini logo. This phone also has a different back design on that smooth glass back; almost elusive striped markings dubbed by OPPO as the black carbon pattern adorns the whole body.

Of course, there’s a special edition Lambo theme because if you’re paying that much for a phone, they better throw in a custom theme!

As cool as it was (especially for car lovers!), though, I opted to change the theme into something brighter during my time with the phone. 😅

I’ve said it about the normal Find X and I’ll say it again about this Lambo phone: It’s a pleasure to hold. The weight, feel, and that wide, crisp screen make everything feel premium.

The only downside is that the normal OPPO Find X and the Lambo phone are similarly great — which is a good thing if you own the normal Find X, but not such a great deal if you paid the US$ 825 difference for the more expensive phone.

Nonetheless, the Lambo phone does give a classier spin to the phone in black and gold. I mean, if you hold it strategically enough, people should take notice of that Lamborghini logo, right?

Touting such an expensive device day and night is not as easy as it looks. Because I’m secretly not rich (sad reacts 😢), I almost had a mini heart attack handling such an expensive thing that’s all glass. Thankfully, the phone came with a phone case that sports the same Lamborghini logo and stripe pattern that onlookers can accidentally ogle so they can realize how much my phone costs.

It didn’t make me more luxurious but it looked the part

As you may have noticed, I busted out classy AF props for shooting this particular device.

I figured this was as good a time as any to amp up the set design — it’s not every day your phone costs more than 18 bottles of Moet.

Sans the bottles of champagne, we did discover that the Lamborghini Find X looks great with classy rich girl outfits complete with pearl ensemble. I felt straight out of Gossip Girl, except even Blair Waldorf didn’t own a Lamborghini phone, did she?

The best fast charge technology that money can buy

The best thing about this phone comes in form of a brightly colored charger cord and Lamborghini-branded power brick. I sh!t you not (excuse my crassness but this tech deserves the profanity), this phone charges from zero to 100 in 35 minutes. Ten minutes of charging gives you 37 percent and thirty minutes of charging amounts to a whopping 92 percent.

Never have I seen such fast charging times. It’s unreal.

Honestly, charging became such an easy thing for me since using this phone. I just plug it in and it’ll completely charge before you can finish saying supercalifragilistic-holy-fudge-this-phone-is-so-expensive-docious!

Real talk though, because I don’t plug this phone in as much as you would other phones (shout-out to iPhone users), think of all the money you can save in terms of broken cords!

There are matching earphones

OPPO also threw in a pair of matching wireless earbuds because someone had to justify paying that much money for this set.

They come in a case stamped with the Lamborghini logo and automatically connect to your phone after initial pairing. They’re a decent pair of earphones that go well with the whole Lambo look except I seem to have misplaced one of the earpieces (which is not my fault because there is a serious design flaw to untethered earphones!) and now there’s a pit in my stomach when I think of how much that tiny thing probably costs. 😢

Different yet exactly the same?

At the end of the day, it’s still the same great phone.

The features that made me love the normal Find X are still the same features I enjoy on this Lambo: the fast face unlock feature, the awesome display, and the pop-up camera design (it never gets old).

Owning a Lambo *surprise* has not fundamentally changed me. I’m still really, really not rich. Most people didn’t even notice the flashy Lambo logo on my phone. Funny enough, people still only notice the pop-up camera and are still very much amazed by it.

But, I did, and still do enjoy using this phone. It’s a top-of-the-line device and it feels that way. I like it to the point that I keep using it despite having only one Lambo earphone now. 😢

Like a true luxury item, the price really doesn’t make sense. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s an awesome, awesome device — if you can afford it.

In the meantime, I’m unsure of how to live my life if I have to go back to charging my phone for more than 35 minutes. Let me leave you now as I sip on not Moet to ponder on my dilemma.

Images by MJ Jucutan

SEE ALSO: OPPO Find X review: All about style, selfies, and that poppin’ camera

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Samsung Galaxy A7 hands-on review: Beyond the cameras

Just another camera-centric phone?

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A few years ago, megapixels were all the rage when it came to smartphone photography. Producing larger photos somehow equated to better quality — and more aggressive marketing — from those little shooters on older phones.

Fortunately, that craze ended, but we’re now facing a new race to see who can stuff the most number of cameras on a single handset.

Even though dual-camera setups became the standard a couple of years ago, brands like Huawei and LG have been pushing for more. Naturally, competitors including Samsung saw the need to catch up, and even exceed in some cases.

The Galaxy A7 of 2018 is a direct answer to the trending need for at least three cameras on a phone’s rear. In this case, one camera is for regular shots, another is for wide-angle photos, and a third helps power the Live Focus function.

We already had time to experience this unique setup in India, but we now want to answer another question: Is there more to the Galaxy A7 than just its cameras?

The short answer is yes. Not only does the Galaxy A7 have Samsung’s signature AMOLED display and a mostly glass body, it does so at a reasonable price of INR 23,990 in India and PhP 17,990 in the Philippines — both of which convert to about US$ 330.

Samsung’s entry-level Galaxy J series often hovered around this price, so for a Galaxy A phone to hit this point with more premium features is a good deal. (It may also be a sign of Samsung gradually letting go of the Galaxy J lineup.)

Despite the relatively large bezels for a 2018 phone, the 6-inch 1080p AMOLED is both well-sized and a pleasure to look at. As usual, Samsung tends to oversaturate colors, but I appreciate the inclusion of Always On Display (AOD), which keeps the panel partially active to show me the time and my notifications throughout the day.

It’s tough on the battery, though, and I recommend turning this feature off when not needed. The 3300mAh battery capacity is lacking for a phone this size; with AOD on, I only get four hours of screen-on time in a single day. Leaving it off gives me an additional hour, but the phone still doesn’t get over a day’s worth of usage.

Using Samsung’s standard Adaptive Fast Charging adapter, it takes less than two hours to get to full from zero percent. That makes up for the mediocre battery life, although I wish the Galaxy A7 came with a USB-C port instead of the aging micro-USB.

What’s new, however, is the interface. Although it’s stuck on Android 8.0 Oreo, Samsung baked Experience 9.0 into the operating system, so it has the newest gestures and I found that jumping from one function to another is pleasantly smooth.

It helps that Samsung’s own Exynos 7885 chipset is handling all the heavy-duty tasks. While it isn’t the best for gaming — titles like Life is Strange and Asphalt 9: Legends don’t run that smoothly unless graphics settings are lowered — switching through apps while multitasking is seamless, and I can’t remember a time when hiccups bothered me.

I was surprised to find only 4GB of memory inside, but it turned out being enough for my usage case. There were only a few instances wherein I wished my background apps wouldn’t close so soon. What’s better is the integrated storage, which comes in at 64GB with additional room for a microSD card up to 512GB.

Other reasons to consider this phone? There’s a 3.5mm audio port if that matters to you, and the front-facing LED flash is pretty helpful when lighting is terrible during your selfie shoots.

Another thing that’s useful to me but may be annoying to others is the placement of the fingerprint scanner. It’s on the side-mounted power button, which I consider to be an optimized spot no matter how the phone is held or laid on a tablet. Left-handed people might not feel the same way.

Finally, despite the glass body, the phone seems to be a little flimsy. It’s not something I’m confident putting inside my back pocket. Get a case as soon as you buy one, or simply don’t drop or bend it.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

It’s easy to recommend the Galaxy A7 for what it is, but there are so many great phones in the sub-US$ 400 segment that it’s difficult to ignore them. Offerings from Honor, Xiaomi, and even Pocophone make the final purchasing decision a tough one.

The Galaxy A7 is primarily for long-time Samsung users looking for something different. Its triple-camera setup is certainly unique in this part of the smartphone market, and the side-mounted fingerprint scanner is a refreshing sight.

At the same time, a lot of Samsung’s familiar features are here, including the AMOLED display and the lack of a notch. It’s certainly the most non-Samsung, Samsung phone you can buy today — until you see the more outrageous Galaxy A9, that is.

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Honor 8X Review: A supersized midrange powerhouse

Big display, big battery

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Honor has a new midrange offering called the Honor 8X. Knowing that Honor operates under Huawei, you can easily mistake the phone as a new gigantic Huawei phone. But, the Honor 8X offers more than Huawei’s devices in this segment.

I took the Honor 8X for a spin and here’s what I can say about the new midranger.

It’s got a large 6.5-inch Full HD+ display

Sporting a tall 19.5:9 aspect ratio

The display is practically borderless

With a notch, of course

It accepts three cards at the same time

No need to sacrifice your microSD card

The volume and power buttons are on the right

They’re firm and tactile

Sadly, the phone still uses micro-USB 😕

The bottom also has the 3.5mm jack, loudspeaker, and main microphone

The rear is a smooth slab of glass

With the fingerprint reader right in the middle

The phone has dual rear cameras with AI features

It even has the “AI Camera” label

Premium understated build

Upon seeing the Honor 8X in person for the first time, the first thing I noticed was its size. It’s got a 6.5-inch display which is almost as big as my 7-inch tablets years ago. But, it’s not cumbersome to hold because it’s virtually borderless.

Like with other bezel-less phones today, the Honor 8X has a notch to house its front camera, sensors, and earpiece. It’s got a bit of a chin, but it’s barely there. The chin is smaller than others, but it’s not as thin as the new iPhones’.

If you look closely, the phone has a two-toned back. My Honor 8X in black has a slightly lighter shade on the camera side. This is to mimic the look of a point-and-shoot camera when the phone is taking photos in landscape orientation. It’s not exactly utilitarian, but it’s a nice touch.

Overall, I am impressed with the Honor 8X’s build and design. It kinda reminds me of the Huawei GR3 2017, but this one is a lot better. Both the front and back are made of glass while the frame of the phone is aluminum. This combination gives a premium feel on hand and is definitely a looker.

Big display made for entertainment

The large display has a resolution of 2340 x 1080 with a pixel density of roughly 396ppi. That’s crisp enough to get immersed in high definition videos and action games. The viewing angles are wide, so watching with a group of people is not an issue.

At the heart of the Honor 8X is the latest Kirin 710 processor from HiSilicon. The home-baked chipset from Huawei’s factory is based on the 12nm FinFET process making it more efficient than its competitors. It’s not the most powerful, but it’s definitely a step up from last year’s midrange processors and it even has GPU Turbo out of the box.

My review unit has 4GB of memory which is enough for everyday multitasking. I never had any issues with the phone’s performance. Everything has been smooth, even when switching between apps. Yet, it’s not the fastest phone around, but a few more milliseconds of loading time won’t hurt.

Gaming-wise, the Honor 8X can handle casual and demanding titles. As mentioned, it comes with GPU Turbo already, so games like PUBG: Mobile, Asphalt 9: Legends, and Mobile Legends: Bang Bang will have an extra boost. Don’t expect the smoothest gameplay in all available games, but setting the graphics to medium helps a lot in achieving higher frame rates.

Capable AI-powered cameras

The Honor 8X is equipped with a whopping 20-megapixel main sensor at the back and it’s paired with a secondary 2-megapixel depth sensor for special effects like bokeh and re-focusing. Honor is not exactly known to have the best shooters around, but the Honor 8X’s camera is more than capable of capturing good photos — at least when there’s a lot of light.

The AI feature can get quite aggressive at times, but it’s best to leave it on since you always have the option to turn it off in the gallery preview. Check out these samples taken with AI turned on:

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As for selfies, there’s a 16-megapixel front camera which is also abundant in pixels. You can say the Honor 8X is a selfie phone and it does deliver. Our selfies even seem like they’re shot using the main camera. Check them out:

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The beauty mode is nothing to write home about, but you can play around with it to get the ideal setting. You can also apply bokeh for added effect.

As long-lasting as expected

With a 3750mAh battery, the Honor 8X is a road warrior. With light to moderate use, I get about two days of battery life. That includes constant Wi-Fi connection, social networking, and playing games. I usually get around six to seven hours of screen time as well.

The phone charges via micro-USB, and the charging time is fairly average. Using the included 10W charger, it charges from zero to 27 percent in 30 minutes, while a full charge takes about two hours.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

If you’re looking for a phone with a big display, long-lasting battery, and good performance, the Honor 8X will not disappoint. It’s a great contender in the midrange segment. Actually, it’s even cheaper than most similarly specced phones.

Of course, it’s not a perfect device. It still uses a micro-USB port, it doesn’t have proper fast charging tech, and the camera is inconsistent in delivering great photos. Although, these are not major flaws, especially when you consider the phone’s asking price.

The Honor 8X is priced at PhP 12,990 in the Philippines, EUR 249 in Europe, and starts at CNY 1,399 in China. Pricing is dependent per region and the configuration of the memory and storage.

SEE ALSO: Honor plans to become a top 3 phone brand in 2022

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