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ASUS ZenFone 4 Max review

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ASUS has, once again, released a swarm of ZenFones with a variety of configurations. Having choices is great and all, but the question on everyone’s mind is: Which model is the best bang for one’s buck? If we had to pick one, it would likely be the ZenFone 4 Max.

Quick to jump the gun? Hardly. If you look at both the design and specifications, you’d notice a striking resemblance to the highly praised ZenFone 3 Zoom, except the ZenFone 4 Max is a lot cheaper.

Let’s take a look:

The 5.5-inch LCD is nothing out of the ordinary 

Its 1280 x 720-pixel resolution isn’t that sharp

Yes, the home button houses the fingerprint sensor

I prefer this over the rear-mounted scanner of the ZenFone 3 series

Its all-metal back adds durability to the heft

The design is really clean until you get your fingerprints on it

A hint of blue along the metal bands adds a nice touch

Notice how the otherwise dark color glistens when seen up close

Here we have a pair of 13-megapixel cameras with their solo LED flash

Camera hump is minimal and doesn’t make the phone wobble much on a table

Good news: There’s a 3.5mm audio port

This is slowly becoming a rarity in newer phones

Bad news: You have to settle for an older micro-USB port and single speaker

USB-C would’ve been a lot more convenient, and only one of two speaker grilles actually functions

Best news: We get a triple-card tray!

Having two nano-SIM cards and a microSD card at the same time is possible

So, how well does it perform?

Let’s get this out of the way: The ZenFone 4 Max is still stuck on the cartoonish ZenUI even though it already has Android 7.1 Nougat. It’s not too surprising since the Nougat-equipped ZenFone AR, which launched just recently, has the exact same interface. Still, this being the fourth generation, I was hoping to see something fresh after the same old design over and over and over again.

The silver lining here is that the rest of the ZenFone 4 lineup is already on the newer version of ZenUI, which is significantly better with space management and looks a lot more professional. It also has far less bloatware, to the delight of… everyone. We can only hope that ASUS will roll this cleaner version to ZenFone 4 Max users in the near future.

Otherwise, the Snapdragon 430 in use is good enough for scrolling through the heavily skinned interface. You can also get by with the 32GB of storage since there’s a microSD slot ready for additional space, but the 3GB of memory might hold you back. Apps running in the background close soon after you open heavier software, especially the likes of Facebook and graphics-intensive games.

Speaking of which, the ZenFone 4 Max isn’t designed for gaming. After numerous sessions of NBA 2K17 and Asphalt Xtreme, I had to accept that even medium visual settings is too much for the phone to handle. While low settings are fine, you can definitely see the jaggies on the 5.5-inch display’s 720p resolution and low pixel density.

Does it take nice pictures?

It’s about time we talk about the dual-cam setup. What exactly does the second lens do? Unlike the ZenFone 3 Zoom which closes in on subjects, the ZenFone 4 Max can go wider, similar to the LG G6. This is great for photographing architecture, landscapes, and large groups of people.

The results for each rear camera are different, though; if you look closely, the wider lens provides brighter photos with more pop to their colors. In contrast, the supposed main camera doesn’t absorb as much light into the image sensor, producing slightly darker images with inaccurate white balance.

Take a look at some of our best shots:

And here are more direct comparisons with the wider, 120-degree secondary camera:

 

When the conditions are right, the pictures are golden. When you challenge the cameras, it gets noisy. But that’s to be expected; we’re looking at a US$ 200 phone that prioritizes battery life over camera performance. In fact, we should be grateful to even have a double shooter at this price point. Plus, ASUS’ signature BeautyLive mode is back for smoother selfies, so it helps hide both your flaws and the camera’s.

Interestingly, ASUS decided to include an LED flash for the front-facing camera, just like on the ZenFone 4 Selfie pair. I found it a little too harsh and ended up leaving it turned off for the most part, but it’s nice to have in the worst of lighting situations.

Can it last more than a day?

Asking this question is an understatement. The ZenFone 3 Max (both the 5.2- and 5.5-inch variants) did fantastic with their 4100mAh battery capacities, lasting up to two days if you moderate your wireless connections and background apps. The ZenFone 4 Max’s 5000mAh is a guaranteed upgrade.

Like the original ZenFone Max which also had a large 5000mAh battery, the ZenFone 4 Max can reach up to two full days of usage and then some. You can even go as far as using this handset as a powerbank to charge other smartphones. ASUS includes a micro-USB to full-sized USB adapter in the package, so any modern-day device can connect to it.

While that’s all well and good, one major drawback is the lengthy charging time. It can take over three hours to charge the ZenFone 4 Max from zero to full, and that’s with the phone turned off for the whole duration. I’d say that’s a fair trade-off for all the juice you get in one go.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

The 5.5-inch ZenFone 3 Max was a solid phone in itself; its successor does everything better and more.

This is the phone you’d want for a long weekend up in the mountains with no electric socket to plug into. Not only will the battery endurance keep you happy till you get home, you’ll also have perfect framing for landscape shots using the wide-angle lens of the rear cameras.

Its weaknesses are mostly negligible: The screen isn’t that sharp for its size; its older micro-USB standard is so 2016; and the interface is still stuck on the bloated iteration of ZenUI. Fortunately, that last one can be resolved with a software update.

For its surprisingly complete feature set, it’s amazing how the ZenFone 4 Max is the most affordable of the fourth-gen ZenFones. While pricing hasn’t been finalized yet — and it’s highly dependent on where you reside — a price not exceeding US$ 200 would make this an incredibly attractive deal. [Update: It retails for only PhP 9,995 in the Philippines, which is US$ 200 when converted.]

Unless you’re an absolute camera whore and must have higher-quality selfies, I’d definitely choose this over the next-cheapest model, the ZenFone 4 Selfie. Going up the ranks, you could opt for the plain ZenFone 4; then again, you would lose out on the massive battery and front-firing LED flash, both of which are remarkable on a smartphone this friendly to one’s budget.

SEE ALSO: ASUS ZenFone 4 launches with Pro, Selfie, and Max models

Her GadgetMatch

OPPO R15 Pro review: The same old thing in a notched package

Is it worth upgrading to?

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Last February, OPPO released the R15 Pro and I flew to China for some hands-on time with the Chinese version of the device. Finally, the international version has rolled out and I finally got to take this baby out for a full ride.

Notch exactly looking new

The latest R-series device from OPPO jumps on the 2018 bandwagon with a gradient back and a notch — things we’ve seen on at least two other smartphone releases this year.

Of course, this doesn’t take away from the fact that the gradient on this thing looks good. Admittedly, it’s a pretty phone. It feels solid, and the glass back is definitely more premium compared to its predecessors that sport aluminum backs.

The phone has a tiny chin, and of course, a notch. Unfortunately, there’s no option to hide the notch. Fortunately, so many phones have come out with notches that I’ve gotten used to them and it doesn’t even bother me that much anymore.

A fingerprint scanner is still found on the back of the device, and the phone’s facial unlock is pretty precise.

Performance

Heavy social media use and my daily dose of playing Pocket Morty was no problem for this phone. I cruised through my day with this in hand and had no problems whatsoever. It does have the same processor as the OPPO R11s’ so anything that it can do, this device can most probably do, too.

Though this phone takes the top 2018 trends in terms of looks, in some ways, it’s still stuck in the past: It sports a micro-USB port and there’s no wireless charging. It’s equipped with OPPO’s VOOC charging, which gives you zero to 91 percent in an hour. This isn’t bad as the phone’s 3400mAh battery lasts me a whole day of use.

This year, Google decided to let phones other than the Pixel get in on the Android fun by allowing certain devices to take part in the Android P Beta program. The OPPO R15 Pro is one of those phones so if this is any indication, Android P will probably be available on this device soon, too.

Instagram Challenge

Another 2018 tech obsession is AI which promises to make your smartphones even smarter. Of course, the OPPO R15 Pro wanted in on that, too. The phone’s rear cameras are equipped with tech that can recognize different scenes, though it’s not the quickest to do so. In my experience, AI scene detection usually takes a little bit of time and while I do see a little automatic adjustment to the photos when it comes food shots, there’s barely any difference in other scenarios. That’s if and when the camera even recognizes the scene.

Nonetheless, the dual-camera setup on the back featuring the same shooters found on the R11s are pretty capable cameras. Images are good to go straight to your Instagram feed.

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Trust me, this phone is a pretty capable IG tool. I was pretty happy just shooting with this for quick on-location #OOTDs. Exhibit A:

There’s also a Portrait Lighting feature on this device — yes, it’s almost exactly the same as the iPhone’s portrait lighting feature.

It’s a nice add-on, but honestly, I don’t know anyone who uses this feature on their iPhone so I’m not about to start doing so either.

Selfie time

Yet again, the AI beauty mode did not disappoint. OPPO’s beauty filter still remains to be one of my favorites and with good reason: It gives me fresh selfies without looking too fake.

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Of course, OPPO added fun AR stickers to the selfie camera because, why not? There’s also the video beauty mode that I love using and it’s available on both front and back cameras.

Verdict

The R15 Pro is more or less the R11s in an updated package. Aside from a few new features, it packs the same cameras and processor on a more premium-feeling body.

It’s a capable device and a great selfie machine, but I can’t help but feel that this phone missed the wow factor. In the sea of 2018 smartphones, it feels like it’s just another notched device.

Is it worth upgrading to? If you’re on the R11s, you might want to consider holding out for the next release. If you’re craving for OPPO R-series features and that 2018 notched form factor, however, this might be the phone for you. The OPPO R15 retails for CNY 3,299 (US$ 525).

SEE ALSO: OPPO R15 Pro hands-on review: The screen is notch the same

SEE ALSO: OPPO R11s review: Midrange selfie powerhouse

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Sony Xperia XZ2 Review

Currently the best at slowing things down

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Sony continues to build on what they’ve established as their own niche when it comes to mobile videography. With the Xperia XZ2, they push the envelope by offering 4K HDR video and super slow-mo recording at Full HD resolution. This is our Sony Xperia XZ2 review.

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Honor 10 Review: Feels the same, but still different

A Huawei P20 in disguise

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A lot of people are now familiar with Huawei, but have they heard of Honor? It’s Huawei’s sub-brand that’s starting to make a name of its own. Their latest device is the Honor 10 and it’s a pretty big release for the company. The phone first launched in China then made its way internationally with the London launch.

Is the Honor 10 the cheaper flagship phone people should buy? Here’s my review.

A repackaged Huawei P20

I can’t stress this enough: The Honor 10 is basically a Huawei P20 in disguise. You’ve probably heard that before because it’s very true. If you place an Honor 10 and a Huawei P20 side by side, there’s not much difference. Both have similarly sized 5.8-inch Full HD+ displays with a small notch to house the front camera, sensors, and earpiece and a chin at the bottom.

The implementation of the fingerprint scanner is a bit different with the Honor 10’s sensor flushed behind the front glass and surrounded by tiny dots. It’s a neat design choice and also pretty unique. But, that’s not the only design or feature that makes the Honor 10 different.

Lo and behold, the Honor 10 has a headphone jack! That’s right, a 3.5mm audio port is located at the bottom edge of the phone along with the reversible USB-C port and loudspeaker. Speaking of, the sides of the device (or basically the whole chassis) is made of aluminum and it screams premium quality. It has a few antenna bands to keep your signal bar as full as possible and tactile metal buttons for power and volume.

It’s worth noting that the Honor 10 doesn’t have expandable storage, but the 128GB space inside the phone is already enough for most users. Your microSD is useless here and cloud storage is your best friend to store or back up files.

The main highlight of the Honor 10’s body is its back. Again, just like the Huawei P20, the Honor 10 sports a striking rear glass body. The model I have is the Phantom Green, but there’s also Phantom Blue, Glacier Gray, and Midnight Black. If you like bold colors, I personally suggest the Phantom Green or Blue. It can become the center of attention thanks to its shifting colors. I get confused at times when people ask me what color my phone is since it sometimes looks blue or violet.

Before I forget, there are two cameras at the back and a single LED flash. Honor is way too proud about the phone’s AI features, they even printed “AI Camera” at the back to tell you they’re not just ordinary cameras.

The unit is lighter than I first thought, considering that it has a large 3400mAh battery inside which is able to last me the whole day and supports fast charging. It’s well-built, feels sturdy, and easy to use with one hand, as well, thanks to the display’s tall aspect ratio. Overall, the Honor 10 is one of the prettiest (if not the prettiest) phones around.

Performs like new every time

Another similarity of the Honor 10 and Huawei P20 is their processing power. In the helm is the Kirin 970 processor coupled with a dedicated neural chip for AI and 4GB of memory. This processor is also found on the Mate 10 Pro from last year making it a tried and tested chipset directly from Huawei’s own factory. The result is a smooth-performing handset with no hiccups whatsoever.

Unlike Snapdragon processors which have their own Adreno graphics, Kirin processors are paired with a third-party graphics unit. With the Kirin 970, it’s the Mali-G71 which is also the same as the one in the Exynos variant of the Samsung Galaxy S9, but with fewer cores: 12 versus 18. Gaming-wise, there are no major issues aside from a few frame drops with intensive titles like NBA 2K18.

This is probably due to the lack of optimization of apps and games for Kirin chips, but it’s not a major drawback — at least in my opinion — since Kirin processors are known for smooth day-to-day performance. Also, since the introduction of the Huawei P10, I’ve learned to appreciate Kirin’s feature to adapt to everyday usage.

AI-powered camera is a thing

AI or artificial intelligence is a big part of the Honor 10, especially in the cameras. With a 16-megapixel f/1.8 main color sensor and a 24-megapixel secondary monochrome sensor, the Honor 10 is more than capable of taking breathtaking images. I am not exaggerating; the Honor 10 can shoot amazing photos — sometimes so much so that it doesn’t look natural anymore.

Here are a few samples using the rear cameras of the phone with AI turned on:

You can also check out our photo comparison using the Honor 10 here to see more samples with and without AI switched on.

Then there’s the front camera for selfies: a high-resolution 24-megapixel f/2.0 sensor hiding in the notch of the phone. The Honor 10 is pretty much on board the selfie game with beautification features and 3D lighting effects similar to the likes of the iPhone X.

Should you get the Honor 10 if you want crisp and vibrant photos? The results speak for themselves. You can always turn off AI to take natural-looking photos, and there’s always the option to revert the AI photo to “normal” in the gallery.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

The Honor 10 is an easy pick if you want a phone that practically has everything except for a steep price tag and maybe water resistance. If you find the Huawei P20 to be expensive (even though it’s already well priced in some markets), the Honor 10 should be your next choice. It’s basically the Huawei P20 with slight differences, anyway.

The Honor 10 is priced at EUR 399 for the 64GB variant and EUR 449 for the 128GB variant in Europe. It’s a lot cheaper in Asia, though. Here are the prices for Asian countries:

China: CNY 2,599 (6GB/64GB), CNY 2,999 (6GB/128GB)
India: INR 32,999 (6GB/128GB)
Malaysia: MYR 1,699 (4GB/128GB)
Philippines: PhP 23,990 (4GB/128GB)
Singapore: SG$ 579 (4GB/128GB)
Thailand: THB 13,990 (4GB/128GB)
Vietnam: VND 9,990,000 (4GB/128GB)

Please take note of the configuration as they vary per country.

SEE ALSO: Huawei P20 vs P20 Lite: Camera Shootout

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