Hands-On

ASUS ZenFone 5 First Impressions

Back and better than before

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It was only six months ago when the ASUS ZenFone 4 series launched, but here were are, trying out a radically different successor in the ZenFone 5.

Not to be confused with the original ZenFone 5 that came out in 2014, the model we have here is not an entry-level handset by any means. In fact, it has the makings of a series-defining product.

ZenFone 4 (left), ZenFone 5 (right)

For this generation, ASUS chose to focus on artificial intelligence to optimize every aspect of the phone from the battery usage to the cameras. But why only make AI a big deal now? According to ASUS, it’s because the technology is now ready for it, and it’s more practical in everyday gadgets.

And while there are multiple variants to take note of — ZenFone 5, higher-end ZenFone 5Z, and ZenFone 5 Lite to start — they all share the same mantra ASUS has been pushing for years: empowering luxury.

ASUS gave us a preview of a pre-production unit of the main ZenFone 5, and these are my initial impressions.

A trendy design

There’s no doubt the ZenFone 5 takes inspiration from its competition, from the chunk bitten off the top of the near-borderless display to the placement of the dual rear cameras. ASUS claims this design is essential to providing a large screen without compromise.

What really stands out is the edge-to-edge IPS LCD up front. It’s 6.2 inches in diameter and has an unusual 19:9 screen ratio, but this combination feels natural in my big hands. The chin was kept a little thick so the navigation buttons at the bottom are more accessible.

The panel itself has a 2246 X 1080-pixel resolution and 90 percent screen-to-body ratio. That puts the ZenFone 5 near the top of the most bezel-free phones available today.

Although very light when held, the phone’s curved edges make gripping the body comfy. The signature circular design on the glass back also makes a return, and the fingerprint sensor can be found near the center.

Intelligent software

ASUS calls the ZenFone 5 an intelligent phone beyond anything else. There’s artificial intelligence throughout the handset, from the display and ringtone, to the camera and overall performance.

For the ringtone, the volume dynamically adjusts depending on the room’s ambiance, and there’s this feature called AI Boost, which lets you choose between optimizing your Android experience for faster performance or longer battery life (whichever you find more important).

We weren’t able to truly test all these features and how they enhance the user experience, but we can tell the ZenFone 5 is much more intuitive than previous generations.

This is also credited to the new and improved Android interface, ZenUI 5.0, on top of Android Oreo. It’s cleaner and less cluttered by duplicate apps from third-party companies, but we’ll have to wait for a retail unit to say just how much smoother the software is.

Smartest hardware yet

The brains behind all these AI tricks is in the new Snapdragon 636 chipset and its neural processing engine (NPE). This part of the processor performs tasks in a more efficient and dynamic way that gets better through time, and it comes with up to 6GB of memory and 64GB of expandable storage to boot.

One of the best AI implementations within the ZenFone 5 is on the cameras. Using the 12-megapixel main camera and 8-megapixel wide-angle secondary shooter, the camera app can automatically detect what type of scene you’re looking at and intelligently adjust settings accordingly. There are 16 preset types in total.

Up front, we have an 8-megapixel selfie camera that uses AI once again to help beautify your portraits. And since there’s no longer a fingerprint reader in front, the front camera can also handle face recognition duties for quick logins.

Other useful features are stereo speakers (making good use of the notch on top) which are quite loud, a large 3300mAh battery with smart charging, and the inclusion of a physical audio port for headphones and external speakers.

Impressions so far

It’s difficult to provide a solid verdict given the short time we had with the pre-production model, but I’d say the package has promise with its greater focus on optimization and user experience.

We’ll have a full review once a retail unit lands in our office. Till then, be sure to follow us on social media and visit GadgetMatch.com daily to catch every update.

Hands-On

OPPO F7 hands-on: A stylish selfie phone

From AI selfies to a stylish design

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The successor of OPPO’s main offering is finally in our hands.

The F5 from last year introduced the advantages of artificial intelligence when it comes to taking selfies and 18:9 displays on midrange OPPO phones. As expected, their latest device uses the foundations of the F5 and takes forward steps to make it a worthy successor.

Here’s our hands-on with the OPPO F7.

Let’s start with the display. OPPO calls the 6.23-inch 19:9 display “Super Full Screen” and it’s a major upgrade from the F5. The panel still has a Full HD+ resolution, but the bezels are now slimmer.

In order to achieve this though, OPPO resorted to having a notch that houses the selfie camera, a couple of sensors, and an earpiece. In return, you get an immersive display similar to the iPhone X’s. OPPO claims to have an 88 percent screen-to-body ratio.

Speaking of the body, the F7 sports a new design that I find more appealing than its predecessor. The F5’s matte metallic-looking finish on its unibody back made the phone look utilitarian, with the exclusion of the red model, of course. OPPO redesigned the look and feel of their new F series release by giving it a glossy finish.

The F7 has an acrylic back and new color options. I have the Moonlight Silver here, and if you look closely, there’s a pattern beneath the acrylic that interplays with light.

The OPPO F7 feels more squarish in hand with its sharp edges; gone are the curves! Don’t fret, the chrome-like frame of the phone adds comfort when handling, although I find it to be a bit slippery.

The physical buttons on the F7 are found on both sides: the power/lock button on the right and the volume rocker on the left. The buttons have the same feel as the frame with its chrome-like coating but they’re tactile and responsive.

On top of the phone is the noise-canceling microphone while the bottom side has the loudspeaker, micro-USB port, primary microphone, and 3.5mm audio port.

Specs-wise, the F7 has performance upgrades including the latest MediaTek Helio P60 processor. The new Helio P60 brings in the Mali-G72 MP3 graphics which should please the mobile gaming enthusiasts. 4GB memory will be able to handle multitasking well and 64GB of internal storage is more than enough to store big apps and files. If that ain’t enough, the dedicated microSD card slot is ready to add up to 256GB of storage.

The F7 runs the latest Android 8.1 Oreo skinned with the newest ColorOS 5.0. The UI is still pretty much like iOS but there are some tweaks made to accommodate the display notch. For instance, the control panel is now accessed by swiping down from the top instead at the bottom and there are new swipe-up gesture layouts for UI navigation. The icons are also updated but the rest of ColorOS 5.0 is pretty much the same.

Let’s now dive into the cameras. As a selfie phone, the F7 now has a whopping 25-megapixel front-facing camera with a bright f/2.0 lens — that’s 5 megapixels more than its predecessor. The upgraded selfie sensor is complemented by an updated camera launcher to complete the deal.

As expected, the F7 with its AI Beauty Technology 2.0 can capture great selfies. AI-powered selfies is a step up from your typical photo filters. It recognizes and learns your facial features as you take more photos.

Here’s a sample I took with and without the beauty mode:

And here are more AI Beauty Mode samples with the GadgetMatch team:

There are also new AR Stickers available right in the camera app which add cuteness to your selfies.

As for the rear camera, it’s a 16-megapixel f/1.8 shooter paired with a single LED flash. No dual camera setup for the F series for now, unlike its R series cousin. AI is also embedded in the rear camera which aids in scene recognition. It can identify 16 different scenes and objects in real-time. I’ll try this out in the coming days and will update with more photo samples using the rear camera.

Before we wrap things up, let’s not forget about the non-removable 3400mAh battery and the speedy fingerprint scanner positioned at the back of the phone. Face unlock is also available and it works like a charm, even in dim-lighted environments. How secure is it? We’ll find out more as we spend more time with the F7.

The OPPO F7 is already available in India for INR 21,990 (US$ 340), while in the Philippines it’ll retail for PhP 17,990 (US$ 345). Pre-orders start on April 12 and will be available in stores on April 21.

SEE ALSO: OPPO F7 with 25MP front camera and notch launches in India

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Hands-On

OPPO R15 Pro hands-on review

Is this new release worth it?

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OPPO R15 is the Chinese company’s latest flagship smartphone. It comes in two variants: the regular R15 that runs on a MediaTek Helio P60 and the more premium Dream Mirror edition, officially the R15 Pro.

OPPO also upgraded the cameras on the R15 and R15 Pro with AI. How good are they? Should you upgrade? We’ll answer those questions in this video.

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

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Hands-On

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

Still a beautiful handset

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The R15 is OPPO’s newest smartphone contender. Just announced last week in China, the upper-midrange device is a sequel to the R11 and the R11s. But, in the sea of near-borderless devices, is the R15 just another notched phone?

GadgetMatch flew to China (yes, we do a lot of things to bring you tech content) to see what this phone has to offer.

But first, let’s get the confusion out of the way. There are two new OPPO releases: The R15, which is the Chinese version of the phone, and the R15 Pro, which will ship internationally later on. The latter has also been dubbed the Dream Mirror edition — a name that stems from a direct translation of its Chinese name.

The review unit we have is the R15 Pro. Let’s move on to the hands on! 😁

It looks good, it feels good

Unlike its predecessor, this newer release now has a glass back which makes for a very sexy look. Admittedly, I still shudder to think about what can happen if and when I end up dropping any of these glass phones. But, the R15 Pro’s sexy, shiny new looks just make the risk worth it. OPPO also claims that this new material is stronger than the traditional metal or glass used in smartphones — and it certainly doesn’t feel like a fragile phone.

If there’s one thing I’m happy about with recent phone releases, it’s the new color gradient trend. This subtle touch makes for very pretty detail. OPPO has experimented with this before: The “Starry Sky” screen on the R11s is basically a color gradient on the phone’s screen that fades into the colored body. Applied differently, and you have the R15’s cool gradient back.

Ruby Red R15 Pro (left) and the Nebula Purple R15 (right)

Now on to the basics: Volume buttons are on the right, unlock button is on the right. The micro-USB is at the bottom together with the speakers and an audio jack.

That display, though!

Before anything else: Yes, there is a notch.

The OPPO R15 has a 6.29-inch OLED display with a 19:9 screen ratio, i.e. a taller screen. This means more content in each swipe.

But, when watching videos, as with any notch, it can get distracting.

Said notch only houses the camera, the earpiece, and the proximity sensor which makes it a smaller distraction on the screen, compared to other devices. OPPO claims that this handset now has a 90 percent screen-to-body ratio — though that doesn’t change the fact that the notch is still there. And unlike the newest Huawei release, there’s no option to hide it.

Same old, but different

Equipped with 12- and 16-megapixel shooters on its rear, the R15 packs the same cameras as its predecessor, the R11s (and the OnePlus 5T).

This time, however, the camera setup is equipped with artificial intelligence. It can recognize up to 120 different scenes and adjusts to them accordingly to ensure that the best possible photos are taken. With my time with the phone, however, this feature was slow and laggy. At times that the rear cameras did detect a scene, I couldn’t really tell what difference it made.

Person detected! See tiny icon on the upper right

Although it rocks the same shooters as the R11s’, better camera sensors on this smartphone mean better HDR capabilities. I put it to the test with some difficult photos and here’s what I got.

Details are obviously better on the R15 Pro photograph. The leaves are visibly more detailed and bright compared to the R11s sample.

In some cases though, the R15 Pro’s HDR mode can wash out the contrast in against-the-light shots. Sure, this makes the subjects seem brighter, but there are times when HDR photos look a little washed out.

The rear shooters are now equipped with a Portrait mode that’s reminiscent of the iPhone’s similarly named mode. There are five options and each one supposedly creates different lighting effects. The results are as follows:

Bokeh cutouts are still good and that creamy blur is still on point — not that I doubted OPPO’s portrait mode, I loved it on their previous releases.

Photos with the rear cameras look like this:

Still the selfie expert?

OPPO, of course, still makes sure the selfie shooters are on point. Its 20-megapixel front-facing camera still has a beauty mode from levels one to six, and AI beauty mode for that more natural fresh-faced finish.

The AI on this thing is improved to recognize more feature points and allow for more beauty combos. Admittedly, there were instances where it did a little bit too much — in some selfies, my eyes looked like they were definitely enlarged. Still, OPPO’s AI beauty mode remains to be one my favorites as it smoothens your skin without making you look like you’re made of plastic.

There are also stickers on both the front and rear cameras — yes, folks, no need for Instagram or Snapchat filters!

Me and my best techie friend Ayano Tominaga from Japan playing around with the stickers 🐰

Now, the true test of these stickers is how cute they are. Trust me, the ones on the R15 are adorable.

Under the hood

The R15 is powered by a Snapdragon 660 processor with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage — which means it’s a pretty capable device. Of course, I tested this theory by playing a little bit of Sims Mobile, and I’m happy to report that everything worked smoothly.

A 3400mAh battery powers the device which lasts a day’s use, approximately. It also comes bundled with OPPO’s VOOC charger which means it has fast charging! This device still uses a micro-USB port, though, which makes me wonder when OPPO will ever make the switch to USB-C.

It runs on Android 8.1 Oreo and ColorOS 5.0 which will make navigating this phone easy if you were ever an iOS user. Unfortunately, this means no widgets — the one Android smartphone feature I’ve grown to love. Nevertheless, the phone is snappy, responsive, and easy to use.

R15 vs the R15 Pro

The two R15 versions look similar, but the R15 Pro’s curved back gives this variant a more graceful look. Otherwise, most things are found in the same places.

R15 Pro (left) vs R15 (right)

The main difference is what’s on the inside. The R15 Pro has a better processor compared to the R15’s Helio P60 processor. Rear camera combination is also different with the R15 Pro rocking a 20- and 16-megapixel duo with f/1.7 aperture on both shooters. The R15 has a 20- and 5-megapixel combo and only the main camera has that f/1.7 aperture. What difference does this make? Well, not a lot. In difficult shooting scenarios, though, the R15 Pro does shine brighter with better bokeh cutouts.

Weird cutouts on the R15 sample

In terms of battery, however, the R15 trumps the Pro with a 3450mAh capacity — 50mAh more than the Pro’s.

Initial thoughts

In 2018, bezels are out and the newest OPPO release is a fresh borderless update. This upper-midrange device is a definite looker and it feels as good as it looks. I love holding this phone and that’s saying a lot — of course, looks matter when we’re talking about something you’d be touting around every day.

I was a little disappointed with how AI on the rear cameras performed, though. I’m still hoping that an eventual update will fix that. Of course, despite these AI hiccups, the R15 Pro is still up there on the list as one of the best midrange devices for selfies and rear-camera portrait modes.

Even considering these tiny incremental upgrades, I don’t see much of a difference between this and the R11s — a phone that’s made it to our Best Upper-Midrange Smartphone list and has remained there to this day. If you’re not running after the latest borderless device, I’d still strongly recommend the R11s.

If you are, however, looking for the most up to date, premium-looking device with great selfie capabilities at a midrange price point, the R15 Pro may just be for you.

The R15 retails for CNY 2,999 (US$ 475) and the R15 Pro retails at CNY 3,299 (US$ 525). Both are now available in mainland China; the R15 Pro will roll out in international markets soon.

SEE ALSO: OPPO R11s review: Midrange selfie powerhouse

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