Reviews

ASUS ZenFone 5 Review: Getting back on track

It’s priced lower than its predecessor and that’s what counts

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Another year, another ZenFone. This time though, ASUS made the new ZenFones available to the public earlier than usual. The ZenFone 5 was first announced at MWC 2018, and that’s just six months after the previous ZenFone launch. ASUS dropped the bomb early since the ZenFone 4 did not get much positive reaction from consumers and critics alike.

Can the ZenFone 5 redeem the popularity of ZenFones especially in the midrange segment where the competition is getting tougher every year? Let’s find out in this review.

First, let’s dive into the physical aspect of the phone.

It has a 6.2-inch Full HD+ display

Undeniably an iPhone X lookalike similar to most

The infamous notch arrives on the ZenFone

It houses the earpiece, notification light, front sensors, and selfie camera

Almost borderless but there’s still some bezels below

Having a chin is common among “bezel-less” Android phones

The physical buttons are on the right

Made of the same metal as the phone’s frame

The hybrid card tray is on the left

Sadly, ASUS won’t let you have three slots

There’s not much on top because…

Just a tiny hole for the noise-canceling microphone and a couple of antenna bands

… everything else is at the bottom end

Here we have the USB-C port, 3.5mm audio port, loudspeaker, and main microphone

The back has a familiar ZenFone design…

The fingerprint reader is the center of attention at the back

… but the iPhone X inspiration is still there

Vertical rear camera alignment is apparently a thing

It’s all about rounded corners and circles

Design-wise, the ZenFone 5 is not that different from previous ZenFones. Since the ZenFone 3, ASUS has stuck with the sandwiched glass design for its higher-tier ZenFone offerings. Having a glass front and back with a cold metal frame is a premium combo.

Compared to the OPPO F5 and Vivo V9, the ZenFone 5 feels more expensive in hand. Although, it’s just on par with the Huawei P20 Lite in terms of build quality. The phone is easy to grip and handle despite the large screen size thanks to its edge-to-edge display. The rear fingerprint reader is reachable with the index fingers — just as it should be.

Going to the display, I will not talk much about the notch because there’s something else about the display of the ZenFone 5 that catches my attention every time I use the phone: the curved corners.

The curves give better ergonomics and appeal better to the eyes, but I find them to be a bit intrusive when viewing content since most apps are designed to run on an angular rectangular display. While some phones have curved corners as well, they’re not as wide as on the ZenFone 5. While it’s not that big of a deal, maybe you guys will notice it too after using the phone for some time.

Performs like a true midrange phone

The ZenFone started to become a midrange offering from ASUS three years ago, and it still sits in the same segment today — at least for the main variant. Using the latest Snapdragon 636 processor from Qualcomm, the ZenFone 5 can run virtually everything with ease. The Snapdragon 636 might not be the best processor in the market, but it can perform well in all scenarios. If you want to have a really powerful processor, there’s the more expensive ZenFone 5Z — the flagship variant of the new ZenFone series.

Paired with an ample 4GB of memory and 64GB of expandable storage, the ZenFone 5 is a worthy upgrade if you still don’t own a midrange smartphone. What’s great about the new ZenFone is the more polished and user-friendly ZenUI 5.0. The new ASUS custom skin is now based on Android 8.0 Oreo which is still the latest available version. It’s such a relief that ASUS didn’t throw in bloatware and just relied on core Android apps. The result is a more fluid interface plus it’s easy on the memory and storage, too.

Performance-wise, I don’t have any complaints. Everything has been buttery-smooth and I never encountered any major hiccups or lags. The 4GB memory is more than enough to handle extensive multitasking. I can also say the same about gaming since I get high frame rates with most games I play on the phone. May it be my favorite Asphalt Xtreme or the latest Marvel: Strike Force, there are no issues with gaming performance. The popular PUBG Mobile is also on my list of test games and it runs well on medium graphics settings.

According to ASUS, AI also plays a role in keeping the ZenFone 5’s performance in tiptop condition. The deep-learning capabilities of the processor understands how to handle the demanding apps running and also those in the background. Users will sow the benefit of this in the long run, so it’s too early to tell now if it truly works or is just a gimmick.

AI-powered cameras

Like with the ZenFone 4, the ZenFone 5 has dual rear cameras — one standard for low-light photography and portraits, and another for wide-angle shots. The main shooter has a 12-megapixel sensor with a bright f/1.8 lens while the wide-angle one has an 8-megapixel sensor. Banking on the capabilities of the built-in neural engine, the ZenFone 5 uses AI to capture the best-possible photo depending on the subject. It’s like a different level of auto mode.

Here are the photos we took using the phone’s rear camera:

And here are a couple of photos using the wide-angle shooter:

Overall, I am impressed with the photo quality of the ZenFone 5. It’s not the best in class but my eyes appreciate the color balance and level of clarity. It’s worth noting that the camera takes its time to focus in dim-lighted environments, something that ASUS should address with their next release.

Of course, there’s portrait mode on the ZenFone 5 that can isolate the subject from the background. Surprisingly, the images look pretty good, albeit the warm skin tones.

For selfies, there’s an 8-megapixel f/2.0 front-facing camera with AI beauty and portrait or bokeh mode available. Check out the samples:

Even with AI already working on the camera, the beauty mode of ASUS still needs to keep up with OPPO’s and Vivo’s. But if you’re not into beauty filters, the regular selfies of the ZenFone 5 are perfect to show your natural looks. The bokeh effect also works fine with the front camera which is ideal for shooting portrait-quality selfies.

I almost forgot about the ZeniMoji — ASUS’ version of Apple’s Animoji and Samsung’s AR Emoji. There’s nothing positive to say about this; it’s laggy, has limited characters, and doesn’t look cute enough. Hopefully, ASUS gives more attention to this supposedly fun feature with future updates.

As long-lasting as ever

With all the phones the GadgetMatch team is reviewing, long battery life is a must to impress us. Thanks to the phone’s 3300mAh capacity, I didn’t have to worry about running out of juice in the middle of the day — even if I am a heavy user. A fully charged ZenFone 5 was able to last 15 and a half hours on average and that’s with almost six hours of screen-on time. I have constant connection to the internet through Wi-Fi or mobile data, yet the ZenFone 5 holds up pretty well. It’ll definitely last longer with light or moderate usage.

I can’t say that I’m impressed with the charging times of the phone — at least with using the bundled 5V=2A charger in the box. A quick 20-minute charge is able to fill up the phone to 22 percent, but a full charge can take more than two hours. This is with AI charging mode turned on though, which dynamically adjusts the charging rate depending on previous charging behavior.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

A true ZenFone fan will be proud of the fifth-generation ASUS smartphone. If you still own a ZenFone 2 and are in need of a worthy ZenFone upgrade, the ZenFone 5 will not disappoint. A ZenFone 3 owner could also consider to upgrade already since the ZenFone 5 offers a near-borderless display and dual rear cameras.

As for non-ZenFone users looking for a new smartphone, the ZenFone 5 should be part of their list in this range. It’s not a perfect phone, but it’s a device that learned a lot from its past. It has a well-built body, good cameras, and a processor that can keep up. While, I’m not fully sold on the AI features of the phone, I should still spend more time with the phone to let its AI work.

The ZenFone 5 is priced competitively at just PhP 19,990 or roughly US$ 385. It’s a good deal, so you might want to consider it this is your ideal price range.

SEE ALSO: ASUS ZenFone 5 Unboxing: Collector’s Edition?!

Laptops

Dell Latitude 7390 2-in-1 Review: The complete business laptop

Yet another great business laptop from Dell

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It’s not every day that I get to review devices designed for business. If you haven’t noticed, there are laptops meant for average consumers while others are for enterprise. What I have here is part of the Latitude lineup from Dell, which is basically their business-oriented series.

I’ve always loved using a ThinkPad (when it was still under IBM) back in the day when bulky and heavy laptops were a common sight, and the Dell Latitude 7390 2-in-1 kinda gives off the same vibe but with a modern kick, of course. Since the name already implies it, this business laptop has a 360-degree display hinge. That means it can all do the usual modes we’ve seen on other 2-in-1s in the market.

Right off the bat, the Latitude 7390 2-in-1 is not the most interesting laptop you’ll see. Let me run you through the physical aspects of the laptop starting with the display.

This 2-in-1 laptop has a 13.3-inch IPS screen with a 1080p resolution, multitouch input, and Active Pen support. According to Dell’s specs sheets, it’s got Gorilla Glass 4 which explains why the display feels so smooth when I use it as a touchscreen, yet it’s tough and scratch-resistant.

You can also see that it has pretty slim side bezels — a trend not only found on smartphones. The top and bottom portions of the display are about the same size as with most regular laptops, which means you get a webcam that’s in a proper position. The extra bezel real estate also acts as resting place for your thumb when using the 2-in-1 in tablet mode.

As for the ports, the Latitude 7390 2-in-1 has plenty! This is what I love about business laptops, they don’t compromise ports and they stay away (as much as possible) from dongles. On the left side, we have two USB 3.1 Type-C ports (with DisplayPort and Thunderbolt 3 support), a full-size HDMI 1.4, and a USB 3.1 Gen 1.

To the right is another USB 3.1 Gen 1 port, a microSD card reader, 3.5mm combo jack, and a Noble Wedge Lock slot. The power button and volume rocker are also on the right side, making them accessible even if the laptop is positioned differently. There’s also a SIM card slot in select models (like mine) if you want to put a data SIM for LTE connectivity.

For a modern and sleek laptop, the Latitude 7390 2-in-1 has a plethora of ports. It’s not that bulky either and I find its size to be just right for my lap. Most ultra-portable notebooks I’ve used lately only have a couple of USB-Cs, so having full-size ports brings back the convenience I missed. No dongles, no adapters.

Another business-like trait of this laptop is its keyboard. If you’re already accustomed to short-travel keys, typing on the Latitude 7390 2-in-1 is a breath of fresh air. It’s not as great as I’d like it to be because it’s a bit on the mushy side; I want a more positive response when typing like what I get from mechanical keyboards, but without the clicky noise. Having said all that, the keyboard is still a joy to type on.

The trackpad, on the other hand, is so-so. It’s a two-button touchpad using Windows Precision Drivers with a smooth yet textured surface. I definitely prefer glass touchpads, but this ain’t bad either.

The overall color of the device is black which makes the laptop look stealthy yet appealing. Even my colleagues prefer the look of the Latitude 7390 2-in-1 over some of the other laptops we’ve reviewed. But, as the one who used the Latitude 7390 2-in-1 as a daily computer for three weeks now, there’s more to the looks of it.

Built from magnesium and coated with soft-touch matte black paint, the Latitude 7390 2-in-1 feels solid and sturdy. The matte coating certainly helps with the grip and overall feel of the laptop. There’s no creaking and I never had an issue with the display’s hinge — no wobbling whatsoever. Perhaps, the only gripe I have about having an extra firm hinge is not being able to open the laptop with one finger.

A business-minded design is not necessarily blunt

When we went to Taipei for Computex 2018, the Latitude 7390 2-in-1 was my daily driver, and I was thankful for having it with me. The particular model I have has an 8th-gen Intel Core i7 with 8GB of memory and 256GB SSD. That’s more than enough to keep the laptop from slowing down when I have multiple programs open.

I’m not exactly a heavy-user of laptops since my work is mostly done online, but imagine having Google Chrome with multiple tabs opened and pinned at the same time. I didn’t have to worry about lags and I never had a single issue in performance.

Above is a photo of me remotely working on a bench in one of the spacious streets around Taipei. This is a typical scenario where I have to pull out my laptop and get some quick work done while roaming around. This is when I noticed that the display’s maximum brightness is not enough to battle the sun but if it’s cloudy, the anti-reflective coating of the display (Dell’s claim there is) helps with the visibility of the screen’s content.

Since it’s a 2-in-1, I have to take advantage of the 360-degree hinge. For business, setting the laptop in stand mode (pictured above) puts it in an ideal position for presentations. Or, if you’re like me, you can use it to binge-watch shows on Netflix and enjoy GadgetMatch videos on YouTube.

Before I used the Latitude 7390 2-in-1 as my main laptop, I had been using an ultra-portable notebook and a tablet convertible. The limitations of the two, especially with the ports, were a deal-breaker for me. Maybe that’s why I love using the Latitude 7390 2-in-1 — it has all the ports I need plus I can rely on its robust (but not bulky) body.

It can last the whole day

To be honest, I’d recommend the Latitude 7390 2-in-1 to anyone looking for a laptop that can last on the road. With its built-in 60Whr battery, I can work and play on the laptop for almost 10 hours before it automatically puts itself to sleep. When it’s time to plug it in, the included 60W charger fills up the laptop in just an hour and 45 minutes.

Did I already mention that the laptop charges through USB-C? This means you can use your laptop’s charger for your phone, so you’ll need to bring only one charger for all your USB-C devices.

Charging via USB-C doesn’t only simplify things, it also brings new possibilities. Throughout my usage of the Latitude 7390 2-in-1, I seldom brought its charger. Instead, I carried a pretty big power bank that’s capable of charging laptops through USB-C ports.

If you think power banks are just for smartphones, you’re mistaken. Dell also sells a power bank called Notebook Power Bank Plus with a high 65W power delivery, so it’s capable of charging laptops including the new MacBooks.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

Obviously, it’s my GadgetMatch, but my needs and preferences are not the same as yours. If you’re looking for a laptop that complements office lifestyle, the Dell Latitude 7390 2-in-1 will surely be a perfect companion priced at PhP 76,000.

Even if you want a laptop you can use every day that doesn’t limit your productivity, the Latitude 7390 2-in-1 is still a great choice. This isn’t a multimedia or gaming laptop, but light gaming and common editing software (e.g. Adobe Photoshop and Premiere) will work fine.

SEE ALSO: HP Spectre X2 Review: Form over function?

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Hands-On

Vivo NEX hands-on review: The future looks great

Vivo’s best smartphone to date

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In case you haven’t heard, the future is here. In 2018, smartphone manufacturers are finding themselves in a race to designing a truly bezel-less phone.

Engineers will tell you a compromise has to be made in order to achieve that because of all the tech they have to fit into the front of the phone. Some brands opt for a notch to house all of that; some offer minimal bezels and curved edges; others have awkwardly placed front cameras.

Design: More than meets the eye

Vivo, it seems, is at the forefront of this all-display race. On the NEX, the Chinese company offers an exact 91.24 percent screen-to-body ratio, one of the highest we’ve seen on a smartphone. To do that, Vivo had to move things around and put more features under the display itself.

Sure, there’s a tiny chin at the bottom of the phone, but it’s not really something you’ll notice during everyday use, unless, maybe, you’re obsessive compulsive.

On the midrange NEX A, you’ll find a fingerprint sensor at the back of the phone. On the higher end NEX S, the fingerprint sensor is under the display — a feature Vivo first put on the X20 UD and X21. It’s something that might take a lot of getting used to, and in the past week of using the under-display method, I found myself entering my passcode more than using the scanner because it fails too often.

It would have been nice to have face unlock as a backup, but up top, there are no cameras to do that. It’s hidden inside the phone, and shows up only when activated on the camera app, but I’ll talk about that more later.

The NEX also does away with the traditional earpiece and replaces it with what Vivo calls Screen SoundCasting technology, which transforms the display into a speaker. Like most new tech, it works, but nothing beats the tried and tested front-firing stereo speakers found on other smartphones if you’re looking for great audio.

The display is Super AMOLED, which means more saturated colors and darker blacks. The viewing experience is great, although I can’t say for certain I will miss the bezel-less experience when I switch to a different phone in the future. Also, it’s bright enough for my day-to-day use outdoors, unless I’m wearing sunglasses.

On the back of the phone is a glass panel. The phone doesn’t have wireless charging or any water-resistance rating. Instead, if you look closely, you’ll find thousands of dynamic color diffraction units.

Compared to bright colors and gradients, the black NEX looks rather boring for a phone from the future. The design feature on the back is so subtle, it only shows when it’s hit by harsh lights.

Yes, the phone emits rainbows like a unicorn.

You can also see it indoors.

Apart from that, the phone looks and feels premium overall. The rounded corners offer a comfortable grip, and it feels like one solid piece of glass with no sharp edges.

And in case you’re wondering: There is a headphone jack.

Cameras: Cool and capable

Having a mechanical pop-up camera has its repercussions, but first let’s take a moment to appreciate how awesome this piece of tech really is.

A handful of curious people actually came up to me while shooting this around Moscow and when I showed them how it pops up, their jaws dropped.

If you’re wary about durability, Vivo says the camera has undergone drop- and dust-resistance tests, and can repeatedly elevate and retract up to 50,000 times. I did the math myself, and that’s around 137 years if you only take one selfie per day and 6.8 years if you shoot 20 each day. At this point, I can’t say if that claim is accurate, but the selfie camera feels well built and hasn’t shown any signs of wear and tear yet.

The whole process doesn’t feel as fast as a normal selfie camera would, only because a physical part of the phone moves; it’s honestly not something that would bother anyone over time. If you check the smartphone you’re using now, you’ll notice that switching to the front camera also doesn’t happen as fast as you’d think. After getting over the wow factor, I got so used to how natural the process is — so much so that I eventually forgot that the front camera needs to pop up before I take a selfie.

Inside is an 8-megapixel lens, with Face Beauty options for both photo and video modes. I appreciate that it makes my skin less oily and eyebags smaller, but I don’t really like how it flattens my cheeks, and makes my irises artificially bigger, rounder, and blacker.

One thing that makes the selfie camera stand out for me, aside from the fact that it literally stands out, is how well it handles dynamic range. For scenarios like this, you either get a blown-out window to keep my face well-exposed, or an underexposed subject with a properly lit background.

Here’s another one I took by my hotel window thanks to the palm gesture. The AI HDR feature on the Vivo NEX is able to balance it out, resulting in a photo that looks as if I have another light source (I didn’t).

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The same AI HDR feature also functions on the dual rear cameras. It works really well, although some photos turn out oversharpened.

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Both the front and rear cameras have portrait mode, which separates the foreground from the background and blurs the latter out. Like most phones we’ve reviewed, the bokeh still looks artificial, but the one taken with the rear shooters looks a lot more polished than that of the selfie cam.

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In indoor and low-light scenarios, the phone does a pretty good job at capturing details and minimizing noise. Some photos have mushier details up close, as it tries to compensate for the lack of light sources.

One thing I always ask myself when testing smartphone cameras is this: Can I rely on it to take Instagram-worthy photos when traveling? In this case, the Vivo NEX ticks that box and that’s saying a lot considering it’s my first time in Russia. My only complaint is the lack of a useful secondary camera. A telephoto or wide-angle lens would be great while watching the World Cup or avoiding crowds in framing touristy landmarks.

Check out more photos I took with the Vivo NEX below and on my Instagram.

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Is this your GadgetMatch?

The Vivo NEX is no longer the concept phone we saw at Mobile World Congress in February. Our first glimpse into the future is here; it’s exciting and looks great.

If you want to be one of the first to step into that, then by all means get the phone if you can and if it’s within your budget. For a smartphone from Vivo, the price is a little steep — CNY 3,898 (US$ 608) for the NEX A, and CNY 4,498 (US$ 702) for the NEX S. That’s more than its other value-for-money flagship counterparts like the OnePlus 6 and Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S. It’s also only available in China for now.

But what the NEX offers are features other smartphones don’t have. It’s a phone that you’d want to show off to your friends, and they’ll surely want to see it, too.

Its defining feature is a beautiful, unique design that changes the way we’ve been using the smartphone: under-display fingerprint sensor, the display as a speaker, and a pop-up camera. Even then, the learning curve is not that high if you do decide to switch. Once you get over all the new tech, using the phone will feel as natural and normal as any other phone you’ve gotten used to.

I can’t say for certain that it’s the best in the market today, but this is undoubtedly Vivo’s best smartphone to date. And in so many ways, what Vivo made here is already comparable to a lot of premium smartphones, one that’s more than deserving of your time and consideration.

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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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