Reviews

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

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Reviews

realme GT Master Edition: Not a ‘disruptor’

But it’s still a damn good smartphone

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realme GT Master Edition

The realme GT Master Edition is a fine piece of tech. Spending roughly around 10 days with it, I can say it’s a pretty good midranger overall. So, this review is gonna be short and… I was tempted to say sweet, but I don’t think that’s the taste I’ll leave you with.

I’m going to jump right ahead to pricing. It’s always been one of realme’s strengths; offering great value products. That means you get a little more than what you pay for.

I’m gonna slap on the specs here once more so you can reference it as I babble about my time with the phone.

  • Display — 6.43″ AMOLED, 120Hz refresh rate
  • Processor — Qualcomm Snapdragon 778G 5G
  • RAM — 8GB + up to 5GB DRE (Dynamic RAM Extension)
  • Storage — 128GB and 256GB
  • Battery — 4,300mAh, Dual-cell design, 65W SuperDart charging
  • Rear Cameras — 64MP f/1.8 main camera, 8MP f/2.3 119° ultra-wide lens, 2MP f/2.4 macro lens
  • Selfie Camera — 32MP
  • OS — Android 11, realme UI 2.0
  • Color Options — Voyager Grey, Daybreak Blue

Price and availability

The realme GT Master Edition comes in two colors — Voyager Grey and Daybreak Blue. And two variants: one in 8GB+128GB and another in 8GB+256GB. Here are the pricing and pre-order details:

Lazada Exclusive 

  • 8+128GB — PhP 18,990
    • September 24 (Whole day flash sale) — PhP 17,490 (PhP 1,500 discount)
  • 8+256 GB — PhP 21,990
    • September 24 (Whole day flash sale) — PhP 19,990 (PhP 2,000 discount)

Offline Pre-Order details:

  • September 24 – October 1 (with free realme Smart Scale)
    • 8+256GB — PhP 21,990
    • Claiming: October 2 & October 3

It’s right around the ballpark of my personal favorite midranger/sub-flagship — the OnePlus Nord 2 — a phone I was generally happy with.

Build quality and design 

I had already expressed my opinion on the realme GT Master Edition’s design in the Unboxing and First Impressions article. TLDR:

  • The concave vegan leather feels great
  • I appreciate the travel/suitcase theme
  • Not particularly fond of the the designer’s signature (I even mulled over slapping TWICE stickers on it but decided otherwise)

I thought the size was perfect at first. Phones like this that have a 6.43” display are typically the ones I feel are in the sweet spot of not too big and not too small. However, after further use, I felt it could have used a little more chunk.

Without the included silicone-ish case, the phone gradually felt tiny in my hands. But I refused to use it with the case because it takes away from that fantastic leather feel. Perhaps they could have added another component or two to add some chunk and heft. Although, that may have pushed the price up which would betray realme’s whole “disrupt” approach.

That said, it’s not entirely unsatisfactory. And how it feels in your hand will vary differently from mine. One thing’s for sure, most people will love the concave vegan leather back. It’s a material rarely seen in this category and realme deserves props for having the balls to include it here.

Bloaty much

One thing I thoroughly disliked about the version of realme UI on the realme GT Master Edition is the incredible amount of bloat on the thing. You know how pre-installed apps take up some of the first home screen and maybe a little bit of the second page of the home screen. Well, this one took over half of the second page. That’s too much.

realme GT Master Edition

Sure, you have staples like Facebook, Messenger, and Netflix installed. But for every single one of those you get crap folders like Hey Fun, Hot Games, and Hot Apps. Yes, you can remove them, but it’s just inconvenient.

Speaking of inconvenient, that’s the only word I can think of to describe the App Market. Yes, it’s the same one found on some OPPO phones. It’s a hassle to have to go to the Google Play Store to install an app, but then have that same app go through the App Market for some security check before you can launch it.

I tried to figure out how to remove that extra App Market layer but eventually lost patience. This might be a minor inconvenience for some, but it is an inconvenience, nevertheless.

realme GT Master Edition

What sucks most is that these weren’t present in previous realme devices we reviewed. The realme UI is relatively clean, so this amount of bloat was a bit of a shock to my system.

Smooth despite the annoyance

I don’t want to leave you with the impression that I hated my time with the realme GT Master Edition. Despite the largely annoying additions when you fire up the device, it remains pretty smooth for whatever you want to do with it.

For me, that’s some casual browsing on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as well as mindlessly scrolling on TikTok before bedtime. I didn’t really do any work tasks on it other than using chat apps for coordinating with teammates and external partners.

realme GT Master Edition

STAYC’s “Stereotype” is stuck in my head

Of course, I also snuck in some Netflix time in there for good measure.

realme GT Master Edition

I’ve been busy so I haven’t caught up to Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha

Most of my game time was also spent playing Marvel Future Revolution — which is the only other game on mobile I can tolerate other than Call of Duty: Mobile.

realme GT Master Edition

Glad to find another mobile game I can somewhat enjoy

I usually play after having lunch or breakfast to finish a mission plus a few sidequests. That takes about 20-30 minutes. The phone performed admirably while displaying fantastic graphics. It did heat up but nowhere near an alarming point.

It can go up as high as 120Hz for the refresh rate, but my personal recommendation is to stick with the default adaptive setting. This way, the phone will identify the best refresh rate for each app and will help conserve battery life.

realme GT Master Edition

realme UI looks just like ColorOS mildly reskinned

Speaking of battery life, this one’s right around what you would expect as well. It can last up to a day and a half for light to moderate usage, and one day for moderate to heavy usage.

Cameras, image processing is fantastic

Most realme midrangers have pretty good cameras. In fact, I even convinced one of my friends to buy a realme phone simply by showing a few sample photos. The realme GT Master Edition is no different. So I’m gonna do the same thing and just drop some samples here.

Food photos

Portrait

Filters 

Night

Indoors

Zoom 

Daylight

I don’t really have much to say in this section. I’m not the type who over analyzes the photo output. What I do know is that you’ll have a generally pleasant time snapping with the realme GT Master Edition.

It captures a good amount of detail, the image processing isn’t too aggressive, and the zoom performed so much better than I expected. Just be wary about using certain features in low light situations. For example, Portrait mode, that’s best when you have plenty of natural light.

If realme is selling you on this phone’s sheer photography prowess, it has every right to do so. It delivers as advertised.

Is this your GadgetMatch? 

realme GT Master Edition

I wouldn’t call the realme GT Master Edition a disruptor, but it’s certainly one of the best devices in this category. My only real gripe is the bloatware but other than that, it’s pretty excellent considering price and performance.

realme could have taken a few steps to make sure this is a 100 percent easy recommendation. But even as it is now, it’s still a product worth your consideration if you’re in the market for a capable smartphone.

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Apple 2021 iPad mini Unboxing and Review

Is this the iPad for you?

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After two years, Apple has finally changed the look of the iPad mini!

Gone are the thick bezels and home button in favor of a trendy fullscreen look a la iPad Pro and iPad Air.

Having a smaller form factor doesn’t mean it’s less powerful. While not as powerful as the M1 iPad Pro, the new iPad mini still has an A15 Bionic that’s similar to the iPhone 13 and 13 Pro series. It surely is a step ahead over last year’s iPad Air.

It may not have the most advanced Face ID system, but Touch ID still lives on — now found on its power button.

But are these features enough to make you buy one? Or do you still want the bigger screen of the iPad Air?

Head over to our 2021 iPad mini review to know which iPad is your GadgetMatch.

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Reviews

Redmi 10 review: Page out of a premium playbook

That 50-megapixel shooter is the saving grace

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Budget phones used to be just budget phones. They used to lack groundbreaking features to make your experience seamless. And you’ll need to shell out a lot of cash just to get a decent phone that actually works. But I was speaking about budget phones from around five years ago.

In 2021, smartphone companies are reinventing what it means to have an entry-level handset. Xiaomi’s sub-brand Redmi, which has been leading the segment for a few years now, seems to set the course again on a new range of affordable smartphones.

Meet the Redmi 10 — the successor to its popular Redmi 9 — offering premium-like design and smart features but with a price tag that you can easily reach.

Finally looking like its siblings

The Redmi 10 rehashed its looks, looking differently than its predecessor. It employed the same design language found on other Redmi and Xiaomi smartphones, which was a trend started by Samsung — trickling down from its flagship to the more affordable Galaxy A series.

Somehow, it’s working since the Redmi 10 looks sleeker and it can be quite difficult to tell the difference compared to the Redmi Note 10 Pro. And even the Xiaomi 10T Pro. Unless, of course, you’re a tech junkie and a Xiaomi fan. But that’s probably the case when you have the Carbon Gray color option.

Nonetheless, the Redmi 10 in Carbon Gray looks neutral yet sleek with its frosted glass-looking back which is just actually plastic. But it makes up for being lightweight so it doesn’t put a strain on your hands for endless scrolling on TikTok. Just a heads-up, though. Carbon Gray is a smudge-magnet so you need to slap a clear case on — which comes in the box.

Moving to its frame and details, it’s also made of plastic but it comes with sweet, round edges and flat sides. Which I appreciate because the era of curved phones is now in my past.

SIM tray

The left side houses the SIM tray while the volume rockers and the power button doubling as a fingerprint scanner are found on the right.

Power button/fingerprint scanner and volume rockers

Speaking of which, gliding your fingers across the scanner will prompt it to read your fingerprint easily — but it takes a second to boot the phone.

On the top side of the frame, you can find a stereo speaker, IR blaster, and the well-loved 3.5mm audio jack.

On the bottom side are the other loudspeaker and a USB-C port.

Performing quite well for your needs

Let’s talk about the design again, but on the front panel of the phone. The Redmi 10 sports a 6.5-inch IPS LCD panel with 2400×1800 resolution. It’s adorned with thinner bezels equal on all sides except the chin. The punch-hole cutout seems bigger than other smartphones employing the same approach, too.

Despite the front design that clearly indicates it’s still a budget phone, the magic lies behind it. The Redmi 10 comes with the latest MIUI 12.5 based on Android 11. Having said that, you can expect that even if you have an entry-level device, Xiaomi will still supply you with core Android updates.

It also has a 90Hz refresh rate — which seems to be a staple to most smartphones. People are always clamoring about higher refresh rates for their gaming needs, and to be “in”. It also comes with AdaptiveSync, which adjusts the refresh rate depending on the content being viewed.

When you watch on Netflix, or if you play online games, AdaptiveSync will adjust accordingly. So you don’t have to worry about the battery life that easily drains when using a higher refresh rate. But then again, the Redmi 10 sports a 5,000mAh battery. It lasted me a day of heavy use and lasted up to three days when I put it on standby.

Although, my only problem would be its max 18W capacity when it comes to “fast” charging. So the 22.5W charging brick included won’t be of any help. It takes more than an hour to fill the juice, making it your cue to detach from your phone for a little while.

The dealbreakers

I only played Mobile Legends: Bang Bang on the Redmi 10 since it’s the only mobile game I play right now. I put it into the highest settings possible, in which case it performed decently.

However, I experienced the same type of drag I had when I used the Infinix Note 10 Pro. There was a noticeable delay — which lasts for one to two seconds — when toggling buttons and switching scenes inside the game. The delay still occurs even if you change to the lowest setting possible.

I’m starting to think that it’s a similar theme for budget phones, but it’s not necessarily a deal-breaker especially when you consistently play in the budget segment.

And even with a Helio G88 processor, the phone heats up a little while you’re playing mid-game. Nonetheless, it still performs decently as expected out of an entry-level handset. To expect more from it is just asking too much — there’s a Redmi Note 10 Pro if you want better performance at an easily reachable price tag.

The Redmi 10 comes in various configurations depending on your country: 4GB/64GB, 4GB/128GB, and 6GB/128GB. It has expandable storage through a dedicated microSD card slot.

What worries me is that the internal storage uses an eMMC 5.1 chip, not the UFS. So the reading and writing of data is slower and might wear out over time. Translation: slowed down performance after considerable updates.

So if you’re thinking of multitasking and using this phone for work, I’d advise you not to. Use it casually so you can make it last longer.

Specs

Processor

MediaTek Helio G88

Configuration

4GB/64GB, 4GB/128GB, and 6GB/128GB

Battery

5000mAh + 18W charging

OS

Android 11, MIUI 12.5

Front camera

8MP

Rear camera

50MP + 8MP + 2MP + 2MP

Display

6.5” FHD+ IPS LCD

90Hz refresh rate

2460×1080 resolution

Dimension

162 x 75.5 x 8.9 mm

50-megapixel goodness?

It’s rare for an entry-level smartphone to have a high megapixel count. In a way, the Redmi 10 is raising the bar for smartphones in the budget segment. After all, it delivers a quad-camera system: a 50-megapixel main camera, an 8-megapixel ultra-wide-angle camera, a 2-megapixel macro shooter, and a 2-megapixel depth sensor. On the front, it has an 8-megapixel selfie shooter.

For most people, this kind of camera setup works. So we took a few samples to see if the Redmi 10 can cover the bases.

For regular shots, the Redmi 10 takes decent captures both indoors and outdoors. As long as it comes with sufficient lighting. When taking backlit shots, the Redmi 10 doesn’t post-process and keeps shadows dark.

When using the ultra wide-angle lens, the Redmi 10 struggles with exposure and highlights both day and night.

Food photos aren’t tasty-looking due to their lack of vibrance, even if you use the AI Cam. To make it look even more appetizing, I used the 2X optical zoom to capture more details and take better flat lays.

Cutouts are okay whether auto shots at night or even the portrait mode. Except photos don’t look as detailed as they should.

The same goes for shots taken at night using auto mode and night mode.

Of course, we took samples using the 50-megapixel shooter. It did well during daytime shots, retaining as many details as it can but compromises when it comes to color accuracy. At night, on the other hand, still struggles with exposure and highlights — a noticeable flaw for a supposedly great quad-camera system.

Moving on to selfies, its 8-megapixel front shooter pads a slight beautification to its photos even if you turn off its beauty mode. Color balance also varies depending on the lighting condition.

In a way, it delivers how it’s supposed to. If anything, a filter wouldn’t hurt if you want to correct the color balance of the photos. There are built-in presets, but you can never go wrong with Instagram filters!

Is this your BudgetMatch?

There are things to love about the Redmi 10, and there are things that might raise some red flags. Depending on your needs, the Redmi 10 can cover the base and perform decently as expected of an entry-level smartphone. It’s got a sleeker look, a 50-megapixel shooter that you can show off, a 90Hz refresh rate — all at an affordable price tag.

But if you’re asking for it to do more, then you’re way better off choosing something else. For nearly the same price, there’s the POCO M3. For those who need better performance for all-around use, add a few more bucks and you can get the Redmi Note 10 Pro.

On another note, the realme 8 5G is also a good alternative granted you can increase your budget by a tad. It has similar features — a 90Hz refresh rate, same display and panel, same battery, and charging capability. But more importantly, it has 5G connectivity which helps for future-proofing.

Frankly, the Redmi 9T appears so much better it feels like this one’s a downgrade. The only salvation for the Redmi 10 is that it’s got a better look, smarter features, and it has a 50-megapixel shooter compared to the alternatives mentioned.

If all your needs are covered, then this could be your BudgetMatch. But to most people, the Redmi 10 falls short especially when it comes to that eMMC 5.1 storage — when most smartphones are using UFS already.

The Redmi 10 retails for PhP 7,590 for the 4GB+64GB variant, and PhP 8,590 for the 6GB+128GB variant. It comes in three colors: Carbon Gray, Pebble White, Sea Blue. It’s available for purchase at Xiaomi’s official stores and authorized retailers.

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