Reviews

ASUS ZenFone 4 Selfie Pro Unboxing and Review

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Of all the ZenFone 4 models launched, none come close to the selfie capabilities of the ZenFone 4 Selfie Pro. But how good is it really?

That’s the question we try to answer in our latest unboxing and review video:

The Selfie Pro sits at the very center of the lineup; it’s above the ZenFone 4 Max and Selfie, and below the base ZenFone 4 and Pro price-wise, placing it in a unique spot for consumers.

In the end, it all comes down to your needs, and the Selfie Pro is great at what it does best. Plus, it’s the only model in the lineup to come in a bright red shell!

SEE ALSO: ASUS ZenFone 4 Selfie Pro review: The ultimate selfie phone

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Accessories

In having healthy connections: vivo TWS Neo

Learning the value of unattachment and secure connections

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Earlier this year, I embarked on a spiritual quest to heal my personal issues and unhealthy coping mechanisms. Something I’ve been dealing with for more than twenty years.

Unfortunately, the world paused when the pandemic struck, and I wasn’t able to have my own Eat, Pray, Love moment. Yet the universe — if you believe in that — finds its way to put you back on track. Over the last few months, I’ve been spending some time in isolation to safeguard myself from the invisible virus.

In between my full-time job, household chores, and other errands, I was able to sit with myself while scouring through my deep-seated emotions. In the fifth month of my healing journey, I got the vivo TWS Neo to accompany me in the last stride that helped me close my old wounds.

On removing my expectations

I wasn’t impressed the first time I met the vivo TWS Neo. Bluntly put, there was nothing extraordinary about it. It’s similarly designed with a striking resemblance to the king of true wireless earphones.

Little did I know, the vivo TWS Neo has something else to offer: Identifying what I like and didn’t like about myself through my likes and dislikes about this accessory.

Using it for a month, I got a better understanding of myself. I was able to realize how I tend to fixate on what I want, denying myself the chance to try something new. How I’ve been holding on to certain outcomes that aren’t for my highest good.

So I used it to start breaking my expectations and connected it to my four phones. From the Samsung Galaxy S20, Xiaomi Mi Mix 3, Huawei Mate 20 Pro, and to the vivo X50, the TWS Neo connected seamlessly via Bluetooth.

This easy connection made me ponder about my struggles in connecting with and opening up to people. I wish I connect with people as easily as these wireless earphones.

I tried to listen to “Lo-Fi Beats” on Spotify, a calm playlist that lets me enjoy the novel I’m reading — History Is All You Left Me.

While I read a story about love, friendship, and mourning, my mind wandered in between the pages. I started relating my experience with the vivo TWS Neo to my journey in learning and healing my personal issues.

The value of detachment and secure connections

As I enjoyed the liberty of wireless connection, it helped me realize it’s time to free myself from the past. I’m not bound by any cords, I don’t have to carry all this weight with me anymore.

In between reading and bathroom breaks, I didn’t bother returning the wireless earphones to its case. I always brought it with me to the bathroom while my phone is left at my desk, thinking the connection won’t be disrupted. Plus, it has IP54 water resistance.

Of course, there’s a limit even though it uses Bluetooth 5.2 connection. It’s like how certain romantic connections can be disrupted by distance. Frankly, it’s something I’ve been doing unknowingly. An unhealthy habit I need to fix.

Thankfully, it’s easy to reconnect. The vivo TWS Neo has a good grasp of its connection, where you can just play your songs again through your phone or by tapping it with your fingers.

If you ever have to remove the earphones for a moment (or put it back to its case), the music will stop yet it will play again as soon as you plug it back in your ears.

A healthy reminder that connections don’t necessarily stop when you step away, and you can still pick things up where you left off.

The only problem I encountered was the fit. The open-ear fit didn’t feel secure enough in my ears that I always thought it’s about to fall. This is the reason why I’ve always preferred in-ear ones.

Learning about my preference made me realize the importance of feeling secure in yourself and in relationships. What most people don’t know is that a healthy connection is comprised of two secure and independent individuals. You can’t have a happy and stable relationship if someone’s worried and reeks of insecurity.

Everything is within your reach

One thing I learned and loved about the vivo TWS Neo is how everything is within our reach. I didn’t know the gesture controls I can utilize to fully enjoy my listening experience. Not until I put the effort to learn about it.

The vivo TWS Neo has Slide Control embedded on its stem, allowing you to operate it easily. I was able to access google assistant, answer a call, and control my music by double-tapping.

Calls can be rejected (which I barely do) or hung up (if people are annoying) when you press and hold. I also adjusted the volumes by sliding through the stem.

There’s also a Find My TWS Neo feature, which helps you search for your wireless earphones easily. It will beep through your phone once it’s in the connection’s range — a feature that I wish I could use for all the people I’ve lost.

There’s always a wonderful connection waiting

Diving into a story while listening to music allowed me to drown my emotions and distract myself. Sometimes, I shut the world out by putting the volume on max and using noise-cancellation.

I don’t care if my eardrums explode, as long as I can’t hear people or my thoughts, I’m good. This form of escapism has been an unhealthy habit that I’m actively fixing. Instead of enjoying the TWS Neo’s rich, quality sound (and probably staying in the present), I tend to prevent myself from feeling everything.

But what I learned so far is that sometimes, we have to allow ourselves to stumble and fall, drop our guards, and move out of our comfort zones. Maybe it’s time to stop repeating the same songs you’ve been playing for three months now.

The wireless earphones last for more than four hours and can last a full day when you recharge it through the charging case.

As I close my book to allow my wireless earphones to recharge, I realized that I, too, have to let myself rest. Just like the TWS Neo, I have to recharge (or heal in this matter) so I can enjoy another wonderful connection and listening experience that’s certainly waiting for me.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

The vivo TWS Neo might not be an option to most consumers unless you’re loyal to the brand. There are a lot of cheaper alternatives and if you have a few bucks to spare, you can increase your budget range and purchase several contenders such as Samsung’s Galaxy Buds Live and Huawei’s FreeBuds.

In the same price range, there’s also the OPPO Enco W31. If your budget is in between and you prefer a connection that’s simple, long-lasting, and seamless, the vivo TWS Neo could be your GadgetMatch. And if you already own a vivo phone anyway, pairing with these should be at the top of your options.

The vivo TWS Neo retails for PhP 4,999 in the Philippines. It comes in two colors: Moonlight White and Starry Blue.

SEE ALSO: Wireless earphones: A life-changing switch?6 reasons why you should switch to wireless earbuds | The art of letting go with Sony H.ear On

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Health

How I got fit with the OPPO Watch

Our goal is to survive

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OPPO Watch

When the global health crisis struck the world into a colossal spiral while we all watched anxious in our homes, I decided to escape into a fitness challenge. Hey, I needed some form of healthy coping and I thought putting my frail, petite figure into the ringer was a good way to keep me distracted.

So, since the end of March of this year, I decided to do at-home workouts six days per week. And, by the end of April, I had somehow dedicated hours into working out consistently from Sundays to Fridays.

Deciding to be fit

If you’re thinking, “she’s mental,” hi. Yes, I am. I always knew I was capable of sticking to something I wanted to work towards. I’d go so far as to say I’ve always had an obsessive tendency towards things I set my mind on. There was, of course, a good incentive: my mental health.

I’ve always struggled with my mental health. Even when writing about how video games helped me through rough patches in my life, I’d spiral back into the same mental state over and over. I wanted to break that horrible cycle. And so, I set myself to use fitness to expend energy I would usually have to be anxious or self-destructive on something healthier and beneficial.

Oh, I almost forgot a tangent motivation to all of this: I was weaning off my medication. So, if you didn’t know, which you probably didn’t, I was taking antidepressants and mood stabilizers to get by.

Whenever I had teetered into fitness, I weirdly felt on-top-of-things. I brought this up to my psychiatrist and knew that if I wanted sustainable stability, I had to work on long term changes to my lifestyle.

So, back to the task at hand, I had consistently worked out, built muscle where I didn’t know I had and gained a ton of weight. By late August to early September, I had felt better mentally.

Tracking with the OPPO Watch

When I got the OPPO Watch, I had already checked out most of my personal goals except one: getting stunning abs. I went to work on journaling ab workouts I was going to do and healthy meals I wanted to treat myself to. I was planning on running outside to get my daily 10,000 steps through the watch’s Wear OS out of the way and was pretty excited to strap on the OPPO Watch.

Before we hop into my journey with the OPPO Watch, here’s a couple of things you might want to know. The Oppo Watch’s dual-curved 1.6-inch AMOLED display makes it look identical to the Apple Watch.

Elephant in the room finally out; let’s talk specs. It’s got a Snapdragon Wear 3100 SoC with an Apollo Chip. All of that runs on Wear OS by Google and is powered by a 300mAh battery. And, OPPO boasted the watch’s 21-day battery capacity. So, I was hyping myself up for a two-week ab workout program to accompany the specs and features the watch was decked out on.

Let me just get it out there: as much as the OPPO Watch has an identity crisis on potentially being an Apple Watch wannabe or clone, it delivers on looks. The watch is pretty and the interface never once stuttered while I used it. But I digress…

Road to getting abs

On day one, road to maybe getting abs, the watch flopped and stopped recording my run, and ab exercises because it had run out of battery. Frustrated but also quietly relieved, I dropped my plan for the afternoon and eased out of my workout quicker than I often would.

You see, I had become overly obsessed with working out. So much so, that I was scheduling everything else in my day around the 2-3 hours every single day I wanted to exercise.

Although it was a disappointing first day, it was a wake-up call. I had always felt fatigued and out of breath from just doing typical chores. I’ve long ignored this symptom of over-training and kept overworking myself.

As much as the watch didn’t get to keep up with my “typical” day, it drew red flags on the fact that I was unusually active.

Don’t get me wrong. The OPPO Watch is a great smartwatch. It’s got a ton of features I want a smartwatch to have. It had a training assistant, a heart rate monitor, a sleep tracker, sedentary reminders, and had a vast array of workouts you could track through Wear OS.

It was the best thing to help validate the hard work I was making on a daily. I would use and abuse installing the Google Fit app to track my strength training, workout sets, and footsteps. But, if there’s anything I slowly learned from over-training and “over tracking,” it’s that you tarnish your relationship to exercise if you obsess over calories.

More to getting fit than looking a certain way

If you’ve been hating yourself for not getting fit or not losing weight while the rest of the world is ablaze, let this be the reminder you need. We’re here to survive, not to pressure ourselves into losing weight, getting fit, building unhealthy self-images, or getting sick and injured.

This year, especially, is not the time. I know that being isolated can feel relentlessly daunting and peeking into social media feeds into unhealthy and toxic standards you might feel pressured to try to achieve. But, there’s more to health than trying to look a certain way — there’s the important bit about how you are and how you are feeling.

A lot of the ironically toxic parts of health and fitness is from building fundamental goals on visual validity: a number on the scale, a measurement, or aesthetic muscle development. When health and fitness should be about developing something sustainable: strength, flexibility, stamina, or better well-being.

It’s also good to note that quick and sudden fixes can show fast results but won’t be sustainable long-term. The quicker the change, the quicker it is to lose. Easing your way into small changes until you achieve a healthy lifestyle that isn’t restrictive of anything you want is the way to go.

For the past two weeks with the OPPO Watch, I decided to be more attuned with myself, mentally and physically. It was a good time for my body to recover from brutal stress I put it through.

The watch’s Wear OS features breathing exercises that helped a lot with this. I would find myself struggling with anxiety late at night and I’d go on the watch and do the breathing exercises until I calmed down. I know the feature is simple and I can do without it but, having something to guide me through deep breathes really helped.

Throughout my two weeks of what was meant to be non-stop ab exercises, I decided to work out on days I felt like working out and rested on days I wanted to. The OPPO Watch gave me a good feel of my health with my heart rate and step count even if I stayed indoors.

It monitored and gave me customizable daily goals which were less about reaching them every day and more about realistic and forgiving progress.

Oh! It’s good to note that the watch might be able to last about a week but it’ll need to be on power saver mode. You’ll be limited to viewing the time, checking your pulse when you want to, counting your steps, and getting notifications.

On that week, I kept active and went about my day without worrying about the nitty-gritty details of how much calories I burnt from walking, running, or lifting weights.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

I didn’t keep the OPPO Watch on power saver mode for long for a few reasons. To recover from over-training, I wanted to improve on my sleep and work on my relationship with exercise and calories so tracking my sleep was important to me.

On top of that, the breathing exercises weren’t accessible on power saver mode which was a huge bummer seeing as that feature helped me through some anxious nights — what a legend of a feature.

The OPPO Watch is decked out with so much to help you get better, happier, and healthier but only in ways, you choose to. So if you’re not a fitness fiend and are looking for a smartwatch to just track your pulse, steps, and of course, keep track of time, consider this watch. The OPPO Watch costs PhP 12,990/GBP 229.

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Gaming

Marvel’s Avengers: Does it stick the superhero landing?

A title featuring Earth’s mightiest heroes carries great expectations

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Marvel's Avengers

The Avengers is the most popular superhero team today thanks in large part to the 23 films and counting that belong to the Marvel Cinematic Universe or MCU. This could lead one to believe that anything that has “Marvel’s Avengers” on it will be well-made and polished because of heightened expectations and the backing of perhaps the largest entertainment company today. Well, not quite.

Perhaps we should have seen this coming following the rather lukewarm reception to the A-Day trailer that was released in E3 2019. But that was just a trailer. Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics — the companies responsible for the game’s development — still had time to address things.

While there may have been improvements here or there, the overall experience just falls a bit short of the grandiose, spectacle, and fun factor that we’ve come to associate with the Avengers.

Heroes divided

So what’s wrong with it, exactly? There’s not one big glaring thing. But the sum of its parts just doesn’t feel like it makes up a cohesive whole.

Just like how the team was split up after the disaster that was A-Day, the game feels like it’s split between two disjointed parts.

The first is the Reassemble Campaign which takes you through a 10-12 hour single-player Action-RPG type of campaign. You get a chance to play as all of the Avengers but the story is mostly told through the perspective of Kamala Khan AKA Ms. Marvel.

Ms. Marvel hard-carrying this game

The second is the Avengers Initiative which is the multiplayer live service part of the game. It’s the part that the developers hoped would keep players coming back.

While the two game modes share the same combat, skills, items, and mission design, the overall experience varies heavily depending on what type of game you’re into.

Ms. Marvel coming of age story

At the core of the Reassemble Campaign is Kamala Khan/ Ms. Marvel. She goes from this bright-eyed fangirl in A-day to a hero in her own right, fighting alongside the heroes she admired.

As someone who generally prefers single-player games, this was the part of the game I enjoyed the most. It’s got enough heart, humor, and character that made the MCU such a mainstream hit, while also sprinkling a little bit of Saturday-morning-cartoon campiness.

The best thing about the story is the dynamic between the characters: Kamala and Bruce Banner’s mentor-mentee relationship, the anger between Tony Stark and Bruce after the latter’s testimonies in court after A-Day, and this bromance between Tony and Steve Rogers.

There’s a lot of great character moments here that should be familiar to Marvel fans whether you came in from the comic books, TV series, or the MCU.

It isn’t without any problems though. Thor had very little to do with the plot except for just being there. He played the deus ex machina role when he first rejoined the team. I guess that’s fitting for a literal god.

The boss battles are also very mediocre. After squaring off against Taskmaster and the Abomination, the next boss battles will all be against AIM Robots. For a superhero hero team with such a rich rogues gallery, this was rather disappointing.

Modok was the only other non AIM robot villain

While it sort of makes sense given the flow of the story, I think they could have thrown in even at least one more Marvel villain there or at least have another tussle against Taskmaster and the Abomination.

Other than that, the story is pretty solid. I wish I could say the same for gameplay.

Grinding for gear

The core of the gameplay is the combat, skills, and gears. This is what connects the single-player campaign to the multiplayer missions. It’s a mixed bag to say the least.

The skill tree for each character is deep but you’ll have to grind through the missions to really get to all of them. More on this later. Meanwhile, the gears are… okay.

There are plenty of skills to unlock

While most other reviewers griped about the lack of cosmetic effect from the gear you pickup, I thought this was mostly okay. It’s almost the same with Marvel’s Spider-Man where I can pick whatever suit I want but change my abilities depending on what the mission requires.

The thing is, in the Spider-Man game by Insomniac, the suit came at no cost. In Marvel’s Avengers, while you can grind your way into some awesome cosmetic changes, a bulk of the better looking ones are stuck behind a paywall. That’s what really grinds most people’s gears, I think.

What grinds your gears?

I also recognize that more thought could have been put into the gears seeing as the whole point of the game is getting loot and items while you’re out on missions. For instance, they could have opted to have a set of cosmetic options for gear that negate certain status effects like frosting.

Feel like a superhero

Despite sharing mostly the same controls — light and heavy attacks, dodging, and jumping on the main buttons plus special abilities on the shoulder buttons —  the game does a good job of making each character feel distinct.

Your experience playing as Iron Man will be very different from the one playing as Thor despite both sharing the ability to fly. Same is true for Captain America and Black Widow even though they’re both mostly grounded melee fighters.

Marvel’s Avengers

The stretchy Ms. Marvel also offers perhaps one of the most unique play styles as she also has the ability to heal. It’s perfect for when you’re embarking on multiplayer missions.

Mission unbearable

The missions are where I think the game fumbles a lot. They have a relatively good combat core to build around, but the level designs and challenges leave so much room for improvement.

The missions revolve around retrieving an item, defeating hordes of AIM robots and soldiers, and most frustratingly, defending a small circular area while being swarmed by even more AIM robots and soldiers.

Combat can get chaotic

It’s just a whole bunch of small fries coming at you from left and right. There’s very little variation and it can get old real quick. What’s even more frustrating is to really level up the characters, these are the missions you have to grind through. You don’t get to the really good parts of the combat unless you go through these missions.

Remember the final act of both The Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron where the team is battling against armies of Chitari and Ultron’s robots? That’s what the missions feel like except it happens over, and over, and over, and over again.

Good for team players

To balance the opinion, I spoke with our good friend Francis Romero who is both a long-time gamer and huge Marvel fan. Unlike yours truly, Francis actually finds enjoyment in the missions.

What struck me the most with his observation is how team play is crucial in the missions. You can customize your characters’ loadouts to fit the needs of the team. Each one can play a certain role so you can accomplish missions with relative ease.

Flying to a mission

For instance, he said he wasn’t a fan of Ms. Marvel being part of his main team but being a healer, she would be an essential part of the team.

In this regard, the play-with-friends appeal is real. It’s honestly not my cup of tea, but there’s certainly something here that can be enjoyed by people with actual friends or those who play well in a team-setting.

A better future

The other appeal of Marvel’s Avengers being a live service game is the promise of a better future. The developers have already promised that any future DLC content will be free-of-charge.

Hawk-eye — both Will Barton and Kate Bishop — have already been teased and there are more characters coming in the future. Each character, I supposed, will come with their own unique story that will build on the campaign. Their abilities will also be something to consider when building a team for the Avengers Initiative missions.

While the present may be slightly disappointing, a promising future awaits.

Does it stick the superhero landing?

The promise of a better future shouldn’t be the leg that a game stands on. The game can be a little fun at best and a messy, buggy experience at worst.

The loading time from one segment of the game to another is ridiculously long. It almost feels like you can watch an entire MCU film and the game would still be loading when you come back to it.

This loading screen can go on FOREVER

Marvel’s Avengers is weighed down by the expectations surrounding it. When you have a title so mainstream and the backing of an entertainment giant that has dominated the mainstream consciousness for a better part of the decade, it’s fair to expect a polished game. One that feels like the triumphant third act of most MCU films.

Instead, it feels more like the first time Tony Stark took the Iron Man Mark II out for a spin in the first Iron Man movie. It was a fun but clunky ride, and when he soared to go higher he ran into an icing problem.

Marvel’s Avengers

In many ways, that’s what this Marvel’s Avengers game feels like. It’s clunky but fun and while it’s not perfect, there’s certainly something here that Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics can build on.

It doesn’t quite stick the superhero landing, but it sure as hell didn’t crash and burn.

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