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?!

Reviews

Samsung Galaxy S21 Review: Samsung’s Best for Less!

Is this the perfect S21 for you?

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It hasn’t been a while ever since we did a Samsung Galaxy S21 series hands-on video.

While most people want the taller and more premium S21+ and S21 Ultra, the Galaxy S21 still looks and feels good despite the less fancy polycarbonate back. Other than the smaller display and battery, you still have the speedy Snapdragon 888 (or Exynos 2100) processors and great set of cameras.

But why should you specifically buy the Galaxy S21? Find out more in our review video here.

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Accessories

Lenovo Yoga ANC Headphones: A worthy AirPods Max substitute?

Trying my first ever over-ear headphones

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Yoga ANC Headphones

It’s been a while since I wrote an article for an audio accessory. My last take on writing an audio review was our special three-way review of the TWS (True Wireless Stereo) earbuds: namely the Apple AirPods 2, Samsung Galaxy Buds+, and Huawei FreeBuds 3. If you read the article, you know by now that I am, by no means, a professional musician nor a hardcore audiophile.

With that said, I still have my clear preference when it comes to sound and audio quality. I want fuller and richer sound with deeper bass and enough treble to enjoy every rhythm and beat of a song. At the same time, I also like having ANC (Active Noise Cancellation) out of the box. I’m the type of person who clearly doesn’t want any noise distractions regardless of what I’m doing.

When I was given the chance to try a new set of headphones, I didn’t hesitate at all. In fact, this is my first time trying an over-ear headphones. I’m sure, there might be buyers like me who are curious to find out.

A design so chic and posh

Upon seeing the Lenovo Yoga ANC headphones for the first time, I already fell in love with its color. The design screams chicness and elegance — very different from most headphones nowadays with bland color options and the obvious hint of plasticky build.

Still, colors depend on each individual’s preferences. The only problem I have in mind with this colorway is that it might get dirty over time.

I’m weirdly attracted to its concentric pattern

The headband feels soft especially with the perforated material

A must for any headphone is the silicone leather and premium plastic material

The included case also looks classy

Of course, the hard-bound case has the same cream color as the headphones for consistency. There’s that minimal “Yoga” branding placed on its lower right (just like on the right side of the headphones). The Lenovo logo is hidden at the bottom side of the case for a cleaner look.

Putting the headphones back in the case took me some time to sort out. Glad I’m a fast learner when it comes to fixing things (unlike fixing my own life LOL).

Unlike other headphones, this only comes in one color

Or two if we consider the Lenovo Thinkpad X1 ANC headphones that comes in a more stealthy, black colorway. It’s basically the same pair of headphones with a different ‘X1’ branding (not to confuse you with the disbanded K-Pop boy group X1).

Also, the concentric design was eliminated in favor of the flat one for a wider diameter of both pairs of circle. Lenovo even blatantly put both headphone models in the included user manual.

As much as I love black, I’d pick the Yoga one any day because of how unique-looking it is.

Comfy enough to wear

The first time I tried hanging the pair on my neck, it already felt comfortable especially with the soft material. Of course, I tried doing it without my turtle neck on so I really felt the touch.

The adjustable band is really helpful for someone like me who has a big head (no pun intended). It helped me wear the headphones with ease. You have to keep in mind that both band mechanisms aren’t fully twistable. Rather, they only rotate at the front around 180-degrees.

Wearing it feels ultra-light — exactly as Lenovo advertised. While the overall diameter of each ear isn’t as big as nor as egg-shaped as other headphones, I still like the symmetry. The concentric finish adds a premium feel, even if it’s clearly made out of plastic.

Controls were a li’l bit fiddly

Controlling the headphones through its built-in physical controls can be a little bit awkward at first and it honestly needs a bit of getting used to.

As someone who has fat AF fingers, there were instances when I pressed the wrong button when trying to control music. I thought I was pressing the volume up button. Instead, I switched on ANC even if I didn’t mean to.

Yoga ANC Headphones


On the left side, there’s the power switch (which the AirPods Max lacks) that also acts as the Bluetooth pairing switch for new devices.

Meanwhile, the button with three dots has several functions: clicking once plays or pauses the track or clip. It also answers or ends a call. Clicking twice skips the song while pressing three times winds back to the previous track.

Yoga ANC Headphones

On the right side, there’s a mute switch as well as volume controls, increase on top and decrease on the bottom.

The middle button serves as the ANC switch with two levels of Noise Cancellation before it’s completely off. Whenever you adjust or turn controls and switches, you will be informed through the built-in female speaker’s voice.

Sound quality is good…

Yoga ANC Headphones

People who know me (including the GadgetMatch team) are aware that I’m into K-Pop, particularly girl group songs — and by that, almost every K-girl group from the popular to the underrated. But the thing is, songs made by these groups don’t focus on bubbly and cutesy concept.

For example, there are girl crush songs from 2NE1, BLACKPINK, and aespa, melo-romantic tracks such as TWICE’s ‘Cry For Me’ and (G)I-DLE’s ‘Hwaa’, while recent 2020 releases lean more into retro-pop like TWICE’s ‘I Can’t Stop Me’, GFRIEND’s ‘Mago’, fromis_9’s ‘Feel Good’, EVERGLOW’s ‘La Di Da’, STAYC’s ‘So Bad’, Brave Girls’ ‘We Ride’, and more.

Yoga ANC Headphones

To make it more “musically diverse”, I also listened to the funky and uptempo ‘Why Not’ by LOONA, as well as Dreamcatcher’s Scream and BOCA as they lean more into rock (quite similar to most anime intros). As bonuses, I also played tracks of my favorite balladists: the singer-songwriter-actress IU, as well as the Korean band, Day6 and their sub-unit Even of Day — all while writing this article.

It’s safe to say that the amount of songs of different sub-genres I played made me understand the overall sound quality of the headphone — whether in bass, treble, highs, lows, or even mids.

Dialogues I hear from a film, series, news, or documentaries while wearing the headphones are as clear as a sunny day. Albeit, there’s still a notable difference when playing music as I was used to my AirPods 2 which has a richer overall sound.

…but with equalizer adjustments, it can get better

As said a while ago, I want my sound to be rich and full, has deeper bass, and of course, an effective ANC feature. Lenovo’s Yoga ANC headphones delivered good results. But to make it better, I had to manually adjust some settings.

Using Boom 3D on my Mac

I have this third-party equalizer called Boom 3D  that’s available on Mac, Windows, iOS, and Android. The app enhances the overall sound of the music or audio I play — regardless of what device I use.

In the Lenovo Yoga ANC headphones, it was vastly improved. Paying for the ‘3D Surround’ feature might even be the best way to experience surround sound without spending a lot on higher-end ANC headphones.

Other than equalizer presets, the Dolby Atmos feature in the Galaxy S21 Ultra also helped

On the other hand, the Galaxy S21 Ultra I am using also has a built-in equalizer settings and preset which honestly made better sound quality compared to its default, flat state.

Active Noise Cancellation works well

There are two (2) ANC levels before you can completely  turn off the feature. If it’s off, you’d still hear some muffled noises. For instance, I could still hear my mom talking while I was editing a YouTube video. On another note, I barely hear myself talk while I’m in a call. I don’t even hear myself singing while jamming to the songs I’m playing even if ANC is completely off.

At Level 1 ANC, it’s enough to block off the sound I get from my loud electric fan, barking dogs, and purring cats. Meanwhile, I barely heard the noise inside a noisy coffee shop when ANC was turned on at Level 2.

Yoga ANC Headphones

There’s also an added ENC (Environmental Noise Cancellation) technology which supposedly separates background noise from your environment while you’re having voice and video calls. As a testament, I was able to hear my crush clearly when we were on a call 😅

While I haven’t tried the ANC feature on most headphones, I’m glad that Lenovo was able to pack this feature in a small and affordable pair.

Bluetooth connection is fast and seamless

Having a fast Bluetooth 5.0 connection is a great feature, especially among wireless headphones. There’s even a feature where you can pair two Bluetooth devices at once.

But, it doesn’t mean you can play both songs on different devices at the same time. It just means, you can seamlessly switch between two devices without having to disconnect one in favor of the other.

But the lack of 3.5mm audio jack might be a dealbreaker

Still, there are times where the music being streamed will have a momentarily 0.5 to 1-second hiccup because of latency. This is where the 3.5mm audio jack takes place — which exists in most ANC headphones in the market today.

Other than the avoidance of latency issues, devices who have it will also give better adjustment in sound, like how the LG V60 ThinQ has a built-in HiFi DAC support. Adding more features mean added cost — and that might be a reason why Lenovo didn’t include one.

LG V60 ThinQ with built-in Hi-Fi Quad DAC

For a seamless experience, a 3.5mm audio jack would still have been a great addition for this pair — regardless if one’s an extreme audiophile or a casual listener who prefers great music.

Everlasting battery

I’m that person who loves listening to music for hours, and the Yoga ANC headphones was able to hold up for more than a day of both standby and use. The power and mute switches helped me save the headphones from unnecessary battery drain.

Lenovo even promises around 14 hours of playback with ANC turned off. Of course, the ANC feature was off most of the time since I’m only inside my room. But when it’s turned on, it barely affected the overall battery life.

Yoga ANC Headphones

 

Based on my experience, a call for an hour barely had a battery drain. Upon hearing it from the built-in speaker, I started from 50% and ended at the same level.

When it comes to playing music, there was obviously a decrease. From 50%, it went down to 10% after playing music for around four hours of use with ANC Level 1. To save battery life, I turned off ANC. During that percentage, I was able to squeeze in another hour of listening session.

Yoga ANC Headphones

 

Although this isn’t a surprise for most headphone users, I’m astounded especially because my AirPods only lasts around 3-4-hours from a full charge (lesser if I answer calls). Also, you’ll be notified if the headphones need charging through a phone notification or when the speaker starts to remind you to plug it.

You can charge it from 0% to 100% for around three hours via its USB-C port. The light indicator blinks when charging and stays put when it’s already full. Inside the bundled case, there’s an included USB-C to USB-A braided cable of the same color. You have to use your existing charging brick though as it doesn’t have a bundled one.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

The Lenovo Yoga ANC headphones retail at PhP 7,990 in the Philippines that’s available through Lenovo’s official Lazada page as well as other local distributors. In the United States, it’s available at a special discounted price of US$ 119.99 from the SRP US$ 149.99. This pair is simply one of (if not) the cheapest headphones you can purchase that supports ANC out of the box.

Yoga ANC Headphones

If you’re a casual listener (like me) who wants a lasting pair of headphones without sacrificing and spending too much, the Lenovo Yoga ANC headphones is simply a great recommendation — more if you want to step up your audio game.

It looks and feels good with a battery life that lasts more than enough. It’s even ideal for gamers, streamers or budget-conscious musicians/artists alike especially with the inclusion of six boomless microphones.

While Lenovo’s Yoga ANC headphones may not be a direct competitor to most ANC headphones around, it costs less than the PhP 17,790/US$ 359-worth Marshall Monitor II A.N.C, the popular Sony WH-1000XM4 sold at PhP 19,999/US$ 349.99, and even the Bose 700 priced at PhP 26,000/US$ 379.75. The common advantage of these headphones is the inclusion of an audio jack.

While we’re already at the topic of price comparison, it’s a quick realization that you can buy four (4) Lenovo Yoga ANCs in the price of one (1) AirPods Max at PhP 32,990/US$ 549. As obvious as it gets, the differences are the lack of sleek aluminum build, several color options, interchangeable earcups, and the Spatial Audio feature.

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Accessories

Lenovo ThinkVision M14T: Elevate productivity on-the-go

Ultra portable and sexy looking device

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ThinkVision M14T

Many of us have gotten used to the convenience of multitasking on our computing devices. It’s just one of those things that helps make our daily grind much more manageable and efficient. With today’s devices becoming more and more powerful, simultaneously running apps on your phones and a number of browser tabs and windows have become second nature to us. 

With desktop computers having ultra wide monitors and multiple desktop displays, nowadays you can watch YouTube videos, browse social sites, and even do work on side by side opened windows.

Lenovo has brought that same experience to our portable devices with the Lenovo ThinkVision M14T Portable Monitor

Ultimate portability 

The ThinkVision M14T is a 14-inch 1920x1080p resolution, touch screen, IPS display monitor. With much focus on portability, the ThinkVision M14T is just 4.6mm thin and weighs only 698g.

The moment I saw the actual device, my initial impression was just wow. Its sleek and ultra slim form factor with that glossy 14-inch display wrapped with slim bezels just looked impressive. However, that impression faded away quickly.

As I picked up the unit from the box, handling it felt fragile. It is so slim and light that I was afraid to place it anywhere with fear that I might accidentally break it. To address that, a soft pouch does come with the package for its protection. Though, without a dedicated hard case, I wonder if it may actually survive being stored in my bag along with other things.

As easy as Plug and Play

Searching the contents of the box, I was thinking if Lenovo just forgot to pack the power brick in the box because it just didn’t come with one. No, it wasn’t a mistake. The ThinkVision M14T monitor requires only a single USB-C cable to get power, touch or pen input signal and a display signal from its source. 

Plugging it in the USB-C port of the Lenovo ThinkPad X13 laptop, the ThinkVision M14T was instantly detected. And with a press of the power button, the M14T was up and running. I have to say, it amazes me that it is that convenient. Not having to need an external power source was like magic.

At 300 nits of brightness, the M14T’s IPS display panel is bright and vibrant. At its max brightness setting when paired with the ThinkPad X13, the ThinkVision M14T’s display seemed to overpower that of the X13, making the two look a bit unbalanced.

Its base folds out from the bottom of the monitor which acts as its stand. Opened out, the ThinkVision M14T felt stiff, solid and stable.

You can choose which side you’d want to plug your device as both the left and right sides of the base each have a USB-C input. On its right, we have the power button and on the left we have a brightness control switch. Sadly, no other input ports are available other than USB-C.

Precision and response as you like it

The M14T is not only a secondary touch screen display, you may also use it as a tablet complementary to your device with its interactive stylus. This means if you have a device that doesn’t have touch or pen input built-in, the ThinkVision M14T will give you just that.

By this time, most graphic tablet users must have already been exposed to stylus pens being rechargeable similar to the Apple Pencil. The stylus pen that comes with the M14T still uses a single and unusual type of battery (AAAA). Thankfully, a battery does come with the unit.

ThinkVision M14T

Having set my standards high on this aspect, I honestly didn’t expect this combo to perform as good as Wacom drawing tablets and the likes. To my surprise, as soon as I started writing, I immediately noticed how smooth its pen input was. With only minimal latency, the M14T’s stylus registers my movement almost instantly and its dedicated buttons are mapped automatically.

With the monitor folded down on a flat surface, it really did feel like I was doodling on an actual drawing tablet.

The M14T’s 10-point multi-touch input for touch gestures and 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity with its stylus, graphic artists won’t be disappointed with this bundle.

ThinkVision M14T

Is the Lenovo ThinkVision M14T Portable Monitor your GadgetMatch?

The ThinkVision M14T is by no means a perfect device. Having USB-C as the only display input option may have limited its potential for versatility of use. The stylus not having batteries built-in might raise some eyebrows too. But if you’re willing to live with its limitations, Lenovo still has managed to tick many of the right boxes with their ThinkVision M14T Portable Monitor.

ThinkVision M14T

The convenience of having more screen real estate on the go and using a single cable for its operation is just a glorious experience. Ultra portability, decent brightness, good viewing angles, pen and touch input in such a sexy looking device, the M14T would be an ideal companion for just about anyone. 

The good most definitely outweighs the bad with Lenovo’s ThinkVision M14T.

Get the Lenovo ThinkVision M14T Portable Monitor for PhP 19,995.

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