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?!

Accessories

Mi True Wireless Earphones 2 review: Affordable, but far from perfect

Xiaomi’s premium TWS offering

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The truly wireless earphones market is filled with a plethora of options today, ranging from entry-level offerings like the Redmi Earbuds S to the premium Sony WF-1000XM3. However, the most popular TWS earphones are from Apple — the AirPods.

AirPods kickstarted the TWS trend, and since then, pretty much every brand has jumped onboard. Xiaomi is known for its reliable yet affordable products, and it has launched a few options previously, but it was limited to its home market of China.

Now, the brand has finally launched the Mi True Wireless Earphones 2 in India, and it’s pretty much half the price of Apple’s AirPods.

The Redmi Earbuds S is an entry-level offering while Mi branding is now used for the company’s premium offerings. TWS earphones are incredibly convenient to use, and their demand is consistently rising. Can the Mi TWS 2 offer maximum features for the price and go against the competition?

Do they look like the AirPods?

 

At first sight, you’d think they are the AirPods for a quick second. But it’s soon clear that they aren’t. This is something I appreciate about the Mi TWS 2. In a market filled with AirPods knockoffs, it’s nice to see a different design. However, don’t set your expectations too high.

The earbud’s stem is exceptionally thick, and this is easily noticeable from the side. Thankfully, it doesn’t look that thick from the front view and is oval. The stem is also considerably long, giving the earbud a very bulky look.

The polycarbonate build has a matte finish on the stem while the driver is smooth and shiny. I feel the earphones were designed with utility and features in mind, and aesthetics took a back seat.

If the bulkier design can add more battery life and better drivers, I’m okay with it. This may not be the case with many since they tend to look like cheap AirPods knockoffs.

Each earbud weighs just 4 grams, and they slide in your ears very smoothly. Putting them on is a quick task, and for calls, while driving, these are exceedingly convenient to wear single-handedly. The semi-open design is supposed to be fit-for-all. But, this is where my primary concern lies.

How’s the overall user experience?

The earbuds fit perfectly and are rather stable. But the satisfaction of wearing an earbud is utterly absent because of reduced noise isolation. Even though they’ve never automatically snuggled out, I’m always afraid of losing them while walking. The confidence to wear them outdoors is low.

These too sport gesture-based controls, and the result is below satisfaction. I’d have to try a few times before they actively receive the command. Even play/pause function is rather cumbersome and paired with the loose fit; I’m afraid they don’t fall off.

Thankfully, they have an optical sensor that automatically plays/pauses a song when the earbud is worn or removed. Most times, I’d simply remove them from my ear instead of relying on the gesture buttons.

Lastly, the case is quite basic from a design point of view but gets the job done properly. The plastic build is solid, the lid has magnetic detection, and the earbuds aren’t finicky when plugged for charging. A small LED light on the front will show you the case’s battery status. A USB-C port is located on the bottom.

Pairing them is a straightforward task, and Xiaomi phones will automatically pop-up the status menu just like it’s on iOS. It’ll show you each earbud’s battery percentage along with the case.

But do they sound good?

The brand has added a lot of features on the audio side to make the product look premium. It has support for multiple codecs like SBC, AAC, and LHDC. The last one allows high-resolution audio streaming via Bluetooth. I used the Redmi Note 9 Pro Max to test the Mi TWS 2 and it automatically leveraged the AAC band.

Each earbud houses a 14.2mm audio driver, which isn’t the biggest. But, much of the audio output relies on tuning. Sound testing is also very subjective, so I’ll try to address everyone’s choice.

To start with, the output is very crisp and clear, and the vocals are perfectly heard. If you’re into Bollywood songs or even pop, these should be ideal for you.

Unlike the usual tuning, we see in Indian products; the bass here is well managed. It isn’t too much and ultimately does justice for every user. I’d say these are your GadgetMatch if you listen to podcasts and audiobooks.

The drivers are massively let down by non-existent noise isolation. The design of the earbuds inherently means you can hear pretty much everything happening around you. Even at maximum volume, it just didn’t feel enough.

Lastly, they have “Environment Noise Cancellation” that automatically kicks in when you’re on a call. Background noise is reduced drastically, and everyone I called could feel the change. The overall voice clarity is immensely improved, and high-winds too couldn’t deter them.

How long can they last?

Xiaomi claimed the earbuds can last up to four hours on a single charge and it’s on-point. I was able to get almost four hours with volume at 80 percent.

The case is capable of providing 10 hours of backup, taking the total to fourteen. Thankfully, the case takes just an hour to charge.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

If you’re an audiophile, the simple answer is no. The Mi TWS 2 will disappoint you in many ways. However, if you’re looking for work-related earphones, these are perfect.

Calls are ultra-clear, and the overall experience is better thanks to a loose fit. Keep them on, and get through a full day’s work. On the audio side, hip-hop or bass-intensive genre may not suit well here. However, all other vocal-centric songs shall swing by without a hitch.

With a price of INR 4,499, the Mi True Wireless Earphones 2 is a solid competitor. When compared to the realme Buds Air, these lose out on aesthetics. But, the minor additions from a function point of view are worth the slight bump in price.

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Reviews

LG Velvet Review: New breed of flagship killer?

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Over the years, LG was once a pioneer in the smartphone industry with their G and V smartphone series. These phones are packed with a lot of punch and boast new and exciting features.

But LG has forgotten one thing, and that is how to fix their unexciting phone designs. From the G7 ThinQ all the way to V50 ThinQ 5G, those phones almost look unchanged. They might have been minor changes with the newer V60 ThinQ 5G, but it’s still not as eye-catching as other contenders.

The LG Velvet isn’t a replacement to their ever-existing flagship series. Instead, LG tries to reimagine things by making sure they produce products that cater the needs of not just tech nerds, but other types of consumers as well.

Here’s our in-depth review of the LG Velvet.

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Accessories

Redmi Earbuds S review: Affordable TWS without compromises

Making TWS earphones more accessible

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Truly wireless (TWS) earphones have been around for a while. Apple kick-started the hype with the launch of the AirPods and numerous brands have released alternatives since. However, they’ve always been very expensive.

With brands keen on ditching the headphone jack, users are often left with no option but to find wireless options. Redmi phones continue to have a headphone jack, but the brand also wants to remain focused on its target — deliver quality products at an affordable price.

The Redmi Earbuds S is the first TWS offering in India under the Redmi brand. While the brand stands strong in the smartphone segment, it has some cut-throat competition from realme. With a price tag of INR 1,799 (US$ 24), does it have enough firepower to take on the competition? If you’re looking for an entry-level TWS solution, can you trust the Earbuds S? Let’s find out!

Not AirPods knock-offs

If you’ve been following the TWS market, the Earbuds S will look familiar. These are sold as the AirDots S in China and many have ordered them previously via international marketplaces. In India, Redmi is calling them the Earbuds S and these could land in more south-east Asian markets soon.

While the trend is to follow Apple’s design language, the Earbuds S is going against the flow. It has its own distinctive design that looks nothing like a cheap knock-off.

The pill-shaped case is compact, feels solid in hand, and has a subtle curve on the bottom. The case size is perfect and it’ll always slide into your pocket smoothly.

Each earbud weighs just 4g and the in-ear design is immensely comfortable. I’ve worn them pretty much all day long and never felt any irritation, pain, or slightest of inconvenience. The snug fit also ensures adequate noise isolation and wearing them while driving for calls is seamless.

There’s not much to talk about with the design since it’s basic and gets the job done. They’re built out of plastic and its clearly evident at first sight.

I won’t count this as a drawback since it helps reduce overall weight and I wouldn’t expect metal or premium construction at this price.

Easy to use, fairly straightforward

The lid is very basic but has a satisfying feel to it when closing. Unlike the popular AirPods, these sit in your ears at a 45-degree angle. Paired along are two earbud tips to suit your ear canal. I didn’t have to use them and the standard size that comes along worked fine.

Using them is a very straightforward process. Open the lid, remove the earbuds, and wear them.

They’ll connect to your phone as soon as they’re disconnected from the case. I’ve never faced any connection issues so far. Each earbud has a button for quick controls such as music playback options and calling up Google Assistant.

On the flip side, you can’t rely on the earbuds to change the volume level or play a previous song. That can only be managed via your phone.

Pressing the button thrice will trigger the low-latency gaming mode. A feature that’ll be very handy while playing online multiplayer games like PUBG Mobile or Mobile Legends.

Each earbud has an indicator light that shows the status. Red means they’re charging while white means successful connection establishment. Lastly, they’re IPX4 certified, meaning sweat resistance. This obviously translates to a perfect workout session.

Punchy bass, relatively good audio

This is where I was surprised the most. Considering the nifty features it already has, I expected some kind of compromise in this department. And, I was wrong.

It has 7.2mm drivers and delivers punchy bass — a must-have for Bollywood music. Mainstream genres like pop sound amazing and if you’re not an audiophile, you won’t have any complaints.

The maximum volume is sufficiently loud and coupled with good isolation, even a busy market street is easily navigable.

However, if you’re looking for top-notch audio, these aren’t meant for you. The low frequency takes over while the mids are flat. You can use an equalizer to change the settings but the inherent tuning is in favor of bass-heavy music.

Furthermore, these connect via the SBC codec and there’s no support for aptX. I wouldn’t call this a drawback because the brand has to cut corners to make them accessible to a wider audience.

Adequate playback duration

Xiaomi claims the earbuds can deliver up to four hours of playback on a single charge and I’ve reached 3 hours 45 minutes in one go. So, their claims aren’t farfetched.

The case can charge the earbuds fully twice, delivering a total of 12 hours of playback in one go. If you’re going to use them for conference calls, music, and other work-related activities, they’ll easily get you through a working day.

The case takes almost two hours to charge fully. For frequent travelers, this can be a major drawback. Furthermore, the case charges via a microUSB port instead of the now-standard USB-C. Don’t forget to carry that extra charging cord along!

Can this be your GadgetMatch?

Yes. It definitely can. While there are a lot of minor additions I’d want to see, the price brings me back to reality.

In a nutshell, they’re designed aptly, deliver ordinarily better audio, and have 12 hours of playback. For US$ 25, there’s no better deal available. Keep in mind, the Redmi Earbuds S are making TWS earphones more accessible to everyone.

If you’re looking for top-notch audio quality, there are premium offerings like the OPPO Enco Free, Galaxy Buds, and 1More Truly Stylish. On the affordable side, realme Buds Air Neo and OPPO Enco W31 can be alternatives but are still priced considerably high.

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