Reviews

ASUS Zenfone 8 review: Huge feats of engineering

There’s more to this phone than its bland look

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When ASUS set out to design the Zenfone 8, their goal was to build the ultimate compact android phone. So, in a sea of mid to large-sized phones, it stands out for being rather compact while still packing a punch.

The Engineering Challenge

ASUS describes itself as a company of engineers first. Give them an engineering problem, and they’ll set off to solve it. In a way, that’s exactly what they did with the Zenfone 8.

With camera modules and more complex systems on a chip taking up even more space these days — top-of-the-line phones continue to grow in size. In their pursuit of dyeing ordinary, they set off to fit all of that goodness that one can expect in a 2021 smartphone.

In the body of a phone that measured less than 70mm wide by less than 150mm tall. And believe it or not — they’ve achieved it.

In some ways, the Zenfone 8 feels like a ROG Phone 5 in a smaller body. It’s got all the high-end specs, too: a top-of-the-line Snapdragon 888 5G processor, a 16GB of DDR5 RAM, up to 256GB of fast UFS 3.1 storage, a 120hz AMOLED display with 1000 nits of brightness, and a 240Hz touch sampling rate, and a decently sized 4000mAh battery.

On top of that, there are Dual Stereo Speakers and a headphone jack. To achieve this, ASUS had to accomplish two huge feats of engineering.

Google Pixel 5, ASUS Zenfone 8, and the Samsung Galaxy S21

One is shrinking down its motherboard with what they call interposer technology. Secondly, while its 4000mAh battery is the same size as the Pixel 5 and S21, it’s smaller too — with new technology that allows cells to store more energy and more Watt Hours per volume.

So, the capacity remains the same. The size of the battery is just smaller which resulted in a phone that is nice and compact. Much smaller than the S21. Similar in size to the Pixel 5. But not as small as the hugely popular iPhone 12 mini.

Compact but not a looker

If I were to point out one thing I dislike about the Zenfone 8, it would be its design. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong about it, it’s just bland.

And in a sea of eye-catching smartphones with different colors and finishes, this doesn’t help them stand out. That said, black, white, and silver are oftentimes the best-selling models even when the phones come in other colors.

On another note, I like the blue power button but I’m not a fan of how low the camera module sits.

Nonetheless, the phone is solidly built. Its back curves allow it to rest comfortably in the hand. It’s got a good amount of heft to it so it doesn’t feel cheap — just like the Pixel 5.

It’s got Gorilla Glass Victus upfront with slightly thicker bezels on its top and bottom. Baked under the glass is a fingerprint scanner — which, based on my tests, was snappy and responsive.

The backside is Gorilla Glass 3. And whether you get Black or Silver, the backside has a matte finish to it, reducing the appearance of smudges.

The phone has IP68 water and dust resistance, and I can’t believe ASUS managed to even fit this headphone jack in. The only thing missing is microSD card support.

While this phone isn’t the looker that I hoped it would be, overall, I believe its compact size makes up for it and will be a huge selling point. Because currently, there’s nothing quite like it.

Improved camera performance

At this point, some of you may be asking: “What happened to that Wall-E-like flippy camera that had been the hallmark feature of previous Zenfones?”

Well, ASUS also announced the Zenfone Flip — an updated version of last year’s Zenfone 7 Pro. With the same flippy camera and with updated finishes. It also has this year’s Snapdragon 888 processor and a new under-display fingerprint scanner.

While the cameras don’t flip from back to the front anymore, the Zenfone 8 has the same cameras as the Zenfone Flip sans its dedicated 3x telephoto lens. So you’re left with a 64-megapixel primary camera and a 12-megapixel ultra-wide-angle camera with a 113-degree field of view.

Since there isn’t a flippy camera, there’s a punch-hole 12-megapixel selfie cam. By the way, these are the same cameras that are on last year’s Zenfone 7 Pro but with improved camera algorithms and the updated ISP, that’s on Snapdragon 888 photo samples reveal a significant improvement.

Art Omi | Zenfone 8 vs Zenfone 7 Pro

This first shot was taken one fine Sunday, on a road trip to a sculpture park called Art Omi (Art Oh My) in upstate New York. Even on a sunny day outdoors – the Zenfone 8’s photos were superior.

Pac-Lab | Zenfone 8 vs Zenfone 7 Pro

Look at Will Ryman’s Pac-Lab a series of walls and pathways designed to mimic a video game maze on large scale. The Zenfone 8’s photo has more punch.

Sisyphus | Zenfone 8 vs Zenfone 7 Pro

 

It’s even more obvious in this photo of a bronze sculpture titled Sisyphus by the same artist. The difference is clear as day.

 

Pond House | Zenfone 8 vs Zenfone 7 Pro

In these zoomed-in shots, the Zenfone 7 Pro also produced a more dull photo of Rob Fischer’s Omi Pond House even if the Zenfone 8 only has digital zoom.

Pond House | Zenfone 8 vs iPhone 12 Pro

Speaking of Pond House, this is what it looks like inside. When it comes to shots taken with the ultra-wide angle lens, the results are actually pretty similar, but I will say they’re still not as wide as the iPhone 12 Pro.

Olaf Breuning’s Clouds | Zenfone 8 vs iPhone 12 Pro

Here’s another ultra-wide angle sample. Olaf Breuning’s Clouds. The iPhone 12 Pro not only has the widest field of view but also produced a more vibrant blue sky.

Zenfone 8 vs iPhone 12 Pro

That said I’m also comparing the phone with one that’s about US$ 300 more. The iPhone also has probably the best camera in a smartphone today.

Primitive Hut | Zenfone 8 vs iPhone 12 Pro

But as it is the gold standard, here are few more photo comparisons.

Zenfone 8 vs iPhone 12 Pro

While occasionally the iPhone 12 Pro will produce better photos.

Zenfone 8 vs iPhone 12 Pro

I think it’s safe to say that the Zenfone 8 does a decent job at keeping up. Alright, enough comparisons. Here are more photos we took with the Zenfone 8.

Finally, just wanted to show you some selfie samples and other portraits.

Battery that could’ve been better

Like most phones of this size, the battery life on the Zenfone 8 could be better. In my tests, I wasn’t getting a whole day’s worth with moderate to heavy use.

But whole day battery life is a trade-off if you think about the performance power the phone delivers. Vis a vis the actual physical restrictions of space.

The phone comes with a 35W Fast Charger. And in my tests charging speeds are as follows: 21% in 10 minutes, 61% in 30, 94% in an hour. And a full charge just a little bit over.

Forget about the price tag~

Another big selling point for the Zenfone 8 is its cheaper price tag. It starts at EUR 599 – which is a very attractive price tag for a phone with these specs albeit for the 6GB model. The 8GB/128GB model starts at EUR 669 which is 30 euros cheaper than last year’s Zenfone 7 launch price.

Here’s what pricing looks like in Europe: EUR 599 [6GB/128GB], EUR 669 [8GB/128GB], EUR 729 [8GB/256GB], EUR 799 [16GB/256GB].

In the Philippines, it retails for PhP 34,995 for the 8GB/128GB model. Meanwhile, the 16GB/256GB model retails for PhP 39,995.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

While I can understand how for a guy whose job it is to look at phones day in and day out, a nondescript phone might not be appealing. But after giving it a chance, I’ve got to say that I like that the Zenfone 8 offers something different.

The techie in me also appreciates the engineering know-how and resources that went into fitting most of what we’ve come to expect in a top-of-the-line phone in a much smaller chassis. And I can respect a flagship phone that starts at 599 Euros. For that price, I can overlook the fact that the phone isn’t pretty.

I can understand the limitations of its battery, and that’s why we still recommend this phone and give it the GadgetMatch Seal of Approval.

With the loss of LG earlier this year, we hope ASUS keeps its phone business alive. Because it’s these little engineers that could keep this industry brimming with cool new ideas. And while shrinking components isn’t as flashy as a flippy camera, it’s an idea I can get behind.

Reviews

Huawei Watch 3 review: Apple of my eye, err, wrist

The Apple Watch of Huawei’s smartwatch lineup?!

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Huawei continues to mold its product lineups — particularly its wearables — shaping it to fit into the lives of its beloved consumers — Huawei fans and alike.

In a previous story, I listed a few reasons why the Huawei Watch 3 deserves to be on your wrist. Nearly a month later, I still stand by what I said about the Chinese company’s flagship wearable.

Of course, there are still factors to consider before deciding on a smartwatch. So let us help you figure out by tackling matters that you might be dying to find out.

In this review, we’ll detail my experience wearing this watch — the hiccups and the wonders encountered after wearing it for a few weeks. Together, let’s find out if the Huawei Watch 3 is really your GadgetMatch.

Comfort is key

The Huawei Watch 3 is beautifully designed, no doubt. While it exudes a classic appeal, the watch can suit different occasions. And it has a plethora of straps to choose from so you can mix and match. Although the availability depends on the region.

In my case, I didn’t have a choice aside from the black and plain fluoroelastomer strap. What I did was find a way to ship straps from China to get more designs that are apt for my style.

Anyhoo, let’s talk comfort. Regardless of the straps, comfort is key when it comes to smartwatches. It’ll be wrapped around your wrists for a long time, and it’s important to never have any issues with its heft and your skin.

Thankfully, the Huawei Watch 3 doesn’t feel heavy despite having a bigger watch case. What I find worrisome is how bulky it is for both my wrists and daily activities. It gets in the way sometimes — accidentally brushing metals, walls, and other furniture.

I appreciate not feeling any weight while wearing it, but it looks too big for me. Nonetheless, if you have thicker wrists, the watch case size won’t matter. And there are workarounds on how you can prevent your smartwatch from bumping stuff and from getting scratched.

Leave your phone behind

Like most smartwatches, you can connect the Huawei Watch 3 to your smartphone via Bluetooth. Just pair your devices and you can receive notifications, text messages, and calls.

But you can also connect the Huawei Watch 3 on a WiFi connection or a data hotspot. The smartwatch runs on HarmonyOS and comes with several apps; some are built-in and some are downloaded via AppGallery. Personally, I enjoy navigating Petal Maps — Huawei’s very own Maps — because frankly, it’s pretty much the same as Google Maps.

Wearing the Watch 3 made me use my phone less, seeing how I glance at my wrist to check who messaged me. And from those moments, I decide if the person is important enough to stop whatever I’m doing and pick my phone up to respond.

Receiving calls is also fun if you want to act like you’re a spy sent on a mission in whatever Sci-Fi film. Except, I don’t like it when people near me can hear the person on the other line.

If you’re looking for a different way to leave your phone and rely only on your smartwatch, the Huawei Watch 3 supports eSim technology.

Unfortunately, eSims are only available to postpaid plans on select carriers in my country, which I don’t have because I use a prepaid sim with large data allocation.  If you’re a postpaid subscriber, just ask your carrier for an eSim and they’ll help you set it up. That way, you can use your mobile number simultaneously — on your watch and on your smartphone.

If you still need more understanding of how eSim technology works, you better read our explainer.

Matches with everyone else

No, I’m not talking about how the smartwatch can match anyone in terms of style, appearance, and personality. Although, that could be the case because it could. But that’s not the point here.

The Huawei Watch 3 is perfectly compatible with all kinds of smartphone users — whether you’re a Huawei loyalist, a Samsung fanboy, a die-hard Xiaomi bunny, or an Apple-ogist.

Thing is, even though the Huawei Watch 3 runs on HarmonyOS, all you need is the Huawei Health app. And it’s downloadable on AppGallery, Play Store, and the App Store.

I paired the watch with several devices in my arsenal. From the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, Xiaomi Mi 10T Pro, and even the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold2. It easily syncs important data from your watch, and then you can preview it through the Health app.

More importantly, it’s uncomplicated to navigate even if you use a different ecosystem. As an Apple-ologist pointed out, the Huawei Watch 3 looks the same as the Apple Watch with only minor iterations from its design.

Although, we’re not surprised. Huawei openly expressed how they look up to Apple for inspiration… and probably imitation. But, whatever. Apple’s products are always user-friendly and won’t fry your last three brain cells — perfect for himbos like me.

As long as Huawei makes their products user-friendly too, I’m down with all of it. Based on experience, they make fantastic hardware and it’s a sweet treat if their software and user interface follows one of the best.

From swag to sweat

The Huawei Watch 3 can be a smartwatch for any occasion, assuming you have the perfect strap to suit different settings. During my stint, I used my China-bought Milanese strap when I met with friends and hop on a date. A silver accent works for me since I wear silver rings and earrings.

I have a fashion savant in my life who’s always advised me to match my metals. And I wore that principle to my heart. You don’t need to wear expensive jewelry and accessories to look expensive. Your watch should just go well with every other metal on your body.

On Huawei’s official website, the Steel and Leather straps work perfectly for your casual settings. You might want to consider those when you try to mix and match your outfits.

Coming home, I switch to my black, fluoroelastomer strap. It’s a durable yet comfortable rubber apt for physical activities and humid weather.

As I’ve said earlier, comfort is key and that’s the case for the Huawei Watch 3. Despite the bulky size, surprisingly, it doesn’t get in the way of my workouts. Not once did I feel anxious about my watch brushing off with my weights and other metals.

Speaking of weights, the Huawei Watch 3 accompanied me in my strength and conditioning training. All the essential tracking and features helped me complete my program, prompting me to change my habits to make fitness a sustainable activity and eventually, a lifestyle.

From sweat resistance that pushed me to continue with my routines, timers and stopwatches that aided me in measuring my tempo, the sports tracking mode that helped me understand my patterns, to all-day monitoring with blood oxygen, heart rate, temperature, and even sleep — the Huawei Watch 3 has it all.

Health features

Packed with salient health features apt for the current era, the Huawei Watch 3 might make you wonder: Do they really work? And do we even need them?

At first, I was cynical with all the mumbo jumbo presented in smartwatch campaigns. But after my experience, I had a change of heart. Wholeheartedly, I would say yes — they work and we need it.

Starting with the basics, it has the usual features found on any smartwatch. You can track your step count, calories burned, and your heart rate. It also reminds you to get up and move after a period of inactivity.

There’s also a feature where you can track your stress levels, and probably help you cope and manage your stress. As for me, it didn’t particularly help but maybe someone out there can benefit from it. The important thing is there’s a tool that could possibly help.

What I loved the most is the sleep report I receive every morning. Tracking my sleep helped me understand my patterns — which is a key factor I consider before going on my day or performing an exercise routine.

Checking my reports helps me decide if I’m going for two cups of coffee throughout the day, if I’m well-rested enough to execute intense forms during training, or if I need to take more naps.

While all of these reports are summarized and can be previewed using your smartwatch, the intensive details are listed on the Huawei Health app.

Since it consistently tracks and monitors various data, the Huawei Watch 3 constantly consumes the battery life, just like any device that’s connected to Bluetooth, WiFi, and performing background activities.

True to its promise, it has a 3-day battery life that accompanies you in your daily activities. Switching it to ultra-long battery life mode extends it up to 14 days, except I don’t really see myself using this mode in the future.

Charging it is fairly quick. I left it charging after an hour of napping, and when I woke up, I saw it fully charged — ready to be slapped on my wrist again.

Is this watch a match?

But then again, I wish it had a longer battery life like the Huawei Watch GT 2 Pro. If the Huawei Watch 3 can last up to two weeks, it could’ve been my GadgetMatch.

It’s a versatile smartwatch that you can add to your collection of watches. So well-rounded and user-friendly, it works without any tinkering involved. All you have to do is wear it and watch how it performs feats that might elevate your lifestyle.

The Huawei Watch 3 retails for PhP 18,999 — a price tag befitting a premium smartwatch. If anything, Huawei found itself its very own Apple Watch.

Brazenly, I would say the Huawei Watch 3 felt like the Apple Watch of all Huawei smartwatches. It simply works, and it’s beautiful, powerful, and functional in its own right. Complete with an ecosystem that you can enjoy for a seamless AI life.

It’s also user-friendly, stylish, and leaning towards yuppies with a balanced lifestyle than geeks and techies basking in gadgets and other forms of technology.

The Huawei Watch 3 is available on Huawei Store and authorized platforms such as Lazada and Shopee, as well as Huawei Experience stores and other retail partners.

SEE ALSO: Huawei Watch GT 2 Pro review: Swanky and smart | Apple Watch Series 6 Review

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Reviews

Samsung The Frame Review: Stunning!

✨ Aesthetic TVs for your living room ✨

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It was a little too long ago when Samsung announced its first sets of TVs along with a lot of framed artworks in a museum in Paris.

Four years after that special launch, Samsung is proud with the current lineup of The Frame. But with other cheaper options such as Samsung’s new 4K QLED TV line and other models from various TV brands, is Samsung’s The Frame worth the extra money?

Watch our Samsung The Frame Review now if you’re curious to find out.

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SCARLET NEXUS review: A tale of two dreams

Heartwarming, heart-pumping, and somehow heart-shattering

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SCARLET NEXUS

I rarely play anime-style RPGs, even though some of my friends recommend a few of them to me. In the times I played one, I’ve always loved the combat mechanics but I never really got hooked long-term. In essence, I didn’t have an incentive to see the game all the way through, even if other people claim it’s worthwhile.

Initially, I had the same opinion of SCARLET NEXUS when it was first announced. Even as I played the demo, I still had the same thoughts. I don’t know, I just felt that this was going to be another anime-style, action RPG with solid combat, and that’s all it had. There’s nothing particularly new that would hook me into it.

As the title of the review would have it, it was different when the actual game came out.

An “open world” hack-and-slash bonanza

I’ll start with one of the most basic questions you will have with any new video game: how does it play? Long story short, SCARLET NEXUS was a joy to play from a gameplay aspect.

Once again, I found an anime-style RPG that pretty much nails the combat mechanics, especially when thrown into a pseudo-open world like New Himuka.

SCARLET NEXUS

As I’ve previously mentioned in my first impressions of the game, these mechanics are roughly easy to learn and master all the way through. Of course, you unlock more abilities through the Brain Map, which you can only do by engaging in more combat during missions.

Honestly, I felt that this gave players an incentive to fight all the enemies, instead of just accomplishing the objective.

SCARLET NEXUS

The Brain Map that allows you to upgrade attack and defense power, and unlock additional skills

Furthermore, it also helps that you have access to special abilities through the Struggle Arms System, known in-game as the SAS. Personally, this was a great addition to the combat formula instead of just simply picking up items for temporary buffs. With the press of two buttons, you’re able to change the battle landscape against all kinds of enemies.

Accessing 100 percent of your Brain power

Another part of the combat mechanic is the character’s ability to execute a Brain Crush and activate Brain Drive. For the Brain Crush, I liken it to executing a finishing move after downing the Other (the monsters in the game), and it happens in a variety of ways. It feels utterly satisfying to execute a Brain Crush, especially for larger and stronger enemies.

SCARLET NEXUS

Yuito’s character model within the Brain Field

As for the Brain Drive, it essentially gives you an attack and EXP boost during combat. Also, there’s this mechanic called the Brain Field that you can only access when Brain Drive is active.

What I love about it is that despite giving you an ability that makes combat faster, it’s a mechanic you shouldn’t abuse. In essence, you should listen to your brain and think things through before it’s too late.

Setting the mood wherever you explore

As for the overall visuals and audio score of the game, I’m happy to report that BANDAI NAMCO gave us a spectacle from start to finish. However, I have to preface this by saying that you will truly appreciate it if you play this on a capable PC or on next-gen consoles. On my Xbox Series X with a 4K TV, it looks fantastic and well done.

They gave each location in the game its own design, color scheme, and apt background music to set the tone. To some degree, I felt immersed in the entire game while engaging in the insane combat in between.

You would assume that the world would have been in total chaos with all the Others around, but they went for something a little more realistic.

SCARLET NEXUS

An example of the Brain Crush finisher

Also, I’d like to extend my praise with how they did all the cutscenes, character dialogues, the Brain Field segments, and the Brain Crush finishers. I got a kick out of just watching all of these unfold, and I’m at awe with how well the art style and animations were done.

The Other may be strong, but not as strong as…

I purposely saved this part last because this was the aspect of anime-style RPGs I did not particularly vibe with. To me, a good story trumps badass gameplay mechanics and visuals because it adds more investment into playing the game. I mentioned before that the demo didn’t really touch on this aspect, but it could be something worthwhile to dive into. 

In the case of SCARLET NEXUS, it gave me a compelling and fulfilling, yet gut-wrenching storyline to work with. At the start of the game, your choice of either Yuito Sumeragi or Kasane Randall dictates which NPCs you’ll start with, and how you will see the main story unfold.

In my case, I played the game following Yuito’s story arc but I also managed to start a new game with Kasane’s.

Two dreams intertwined by one fate

In both storylines, you enter as a new recruit of the Other Suppression Force (OSF) with either your best friend (Yuito) or adopted sibling (Kasane).

As either member of the OSF, you will take on exploration missions to acquire more information on the biological anomalies known as the Other. As such, you will need to fight the Others as they threaten the citizenry of New Himuka.

The members of the National Defense Force, with Fubuki Spring and Karen Travers

Along the way, you will discover the origin of the Others and unravel more information on the people you work with and for. You will travel to different places within New Himuka teeming with more dangerous Others, and engage in battles with other OSF members and the government. Of course, you will do this while in search of the truth about stopping a world-ending event that shapes the future of the nation.

Twisting and turning, but not overwhelming

As I got through Yuito’s side of the story, I couldn’t help but feel engrossed by how everything was going. I was literally on the edge of my seat piecing all the events together as they happen, even with the amount of twists and turns that happen in between. Also, every new information presented to you just makes the story a bit more clearer and easier to digest.

It’s a storyline that requires your attention from start to finish, but it tries not to feed you with too much information. In between each phase, you get a proper rest that you would normally use to restock and do Bond Episodes with the NPCs. However, I would argue that these also serve as a way for you to just make sense of everything you know so far before proceeding.

Bonding with your own version of family

Also, I’d just like to highlight the Bond Episodes a little bit because I found these as my favorite part. These little nuggets of the gameplay allow you to get to know all the NPCs a little more, from their interests to their aspirations.

It gave the storyline a more human aspect, and going through them also unlocks buffs to your SAS. 

One of the snippets of the Bond Episodes with Gemma Garrison

With these Bond Episodes, you will form greater connections with the characters in-game; yes, even with the character you didn’t choose at the start of the game. In essence, you’re forming your own family of OSF members to duke it out with the Others, with you as the Dominic Toretto of the family.

A thrill to see all the way through

SCARLET NEXUS is an action-packed, anime-style RPG that just hits all the right buttons with everything you do. It comes with insane visuals, superb combat mechanics, and an enthralling story that won’t overwhelm you in the slightest. I could list all my praises for the game, but these might not even fit on here.

For a new IP offering, BANDAI NAMCO really outdid themselves with this game. Even if you played this on the current-gen consoles, I think the experience would still be as great as I described it. They really showed this game a lot of love, and it deserves some love back from those who play it.

Yuito Sumeragi and Kasane Randall

If you want to explore this type of game, I highly recommend adding SCARLET NEXUS to your library. It’s a joy to play all the way to the end, even if you attempt to do it in one sitting.

SCARLET NEXUS is now available on the PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and the Xbox Series X|S.

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