Reviews

ASUS ZenFone AR review

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The ZenFone AR is known for two things: being the first smartphone to have 8GB of memory, and first to come with both of Google’s Tango AR and Daydream VR platforms. That’s a problem.

While the abundant amount of memory makes sense to boast about — we have a full explainer for that — what exactly is so special about having two mixed reality systems on a single phone? I’ll begin the review by explaining each one.

What is Google Daydream?

In a nutshell, it’s the search giant’s virtual reality (VR) program. But Daydream isn’t something any smartphone can just start using; in fact, there are only five handsets with official support, two of which are Google’s very own Pixel and Pixel XL.

So, how did the ZenFone AR get near-exclusive access to the platform? With the combination of a high-resolution Quad HD AMOLED display and powerful (yet slightly outdated) Snapdragon 821 processor. Simply insert the phone into a compatible Daydream headset, pair it with the bundled wand-like controller, and fire up the Daydream app.

We already had some fun with it last January:

Daydream has experienced more development since then, and the platform has a lot more supported apps now. I had fun playing games using the controller, which I found simple to handle thanks to the simple three-button layout and accurate detection. But honestly, I spent more time watching 360-degree videos on YouTube, wherein I could just sit back and enjoy some shows.

As for how the ZenFone AR performed, it never skipped a beat, but the smooth performance came at the expense of overheating. You can’t use Daydream for more than an hour at a time, and you definitely can’t play while charging.

What is Google Tango?

Not to be confused with VR, Tango’s augmented reality (AR) system doesn’t need a headset or controller to work. Instead, you hold the compatible phone — the ZenFone AR in this case — and point the multi-camera setup on the back at your surroundings for graphics to show up.

Again, the ZenFone AR is in special company; it’s just the second commercial device to support Tango. That’s because the requirements are a lot stricter, requiring motion-tracking and depth-sensing camera modules on top of the ZenFone AR’s 23-megapixel main shooter to record surrounding data.

We were fortunate enough to try out The Sims in AR during this year’s Google I/O:

So yes, you can have fun with Tango and the ZenFone AR. Early builds of Google’s platform showed off mostly interior design apps and basic games during demos. While practical in application, it was only when we tried out the latest Tango-compatible games when we were sold on what ASUS and Google were promoting.

But like any developing system, Tango has a long way to go. On top of there being only two available smartphones supporting this, the Tango store is terribly lacking. There were a few fun AR apps to play with, but the novelty quickly wore off and I found myself charging the ZenFone AR more than I normally had to.

What else is there to the ZenFone AR?

Now that we have the two headlining features covered, we can talk more about the phone itself.

From the interface alone, you can tell not much has changed from previous versions of ASUS’ signature ZenUI styling. It’s still bloated with useless apps you’ll want to uninstall the moment you start up the phone, and even though ASUS finally applied Android 7.0 Nougat at its core, the overly large, somewhat cartoonish icons are still there.

On the bright side, the 5.7-inch AMOLED panel makes the interface pop like no other. It’s a little on the large side, and reaching for the fingerprint scanner-embedded home button below it can be a pain, but this is way more pleasant to look at than ZenFones before. Only the ZenFone 3 Zoom can compete.

It’s only when you turn the unit around when you forget for a second that this is a ZenFone. There’s nothing typical of ASUS here, from the rough back to the overbearing multi-camera setup. It’s solid, grippy on both glass surfaces and hands, and has that Tango logo near the bottom — no Daydream branding for some reason.

Can it take great photos?

More cameras mean improved image quality, right? It’s not that simple.

Despite being high in resolution, the single main camera struggles with the same issues that plagued previous ASUS smartphones, namely mushy shots under poor lighting and artificial-looking dynamic range when HDR mode is on.

Check ’em out:

It’s not all bad. I liked how the ZenFone AR didn’t oversharpen photos under noontime daylight, which is something a lot of smartphones are guilty of. The 8-megapixel front-facing shooter was a pleasant surprise. Despite its low pixel count, my selfies exhibited great quality even in the worst indoor environments I could find and it had lots of beautifying features — but I preferred leaving the filters off.

It’s no ZenFone 3 Zoom. But really, did we expect ASUS to top its own camera-centric flagship?

Does it last more than a day?

And here we have the biggest question (well, before the last and most important section): Can it handle a full day’s worth of usage?

Short answer is: it depends. If you buy a ZenFone AR, you’re sure to abuse the heck out of Daydream and Tango, or else you lose out on most of your investment. With those two features constantly on, you’re looking at an afternoon of playtime on a single charge. Without any AR or VR fun, getting over a day of usage with at least five hours of screen-on time is possible.

Since this is a Qualcomm-powered gadget, fast charging is available through Quick Charge 3.0 and it works well enough on the 3300mAh battery. Using the bundled charger, I reached close to a hundred percent in two hours’ time. At that point, the flow of energy slows down and requires an additional 15 minutes to get to full.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

Based on the opening lines of this review, the purpose of the ZenFone AR was already clear: to be the first in multiple aspects and show off what ASUS can do. This is a statement product from the Taiwanese company, and proves that its phones aren’t mere copycats of established brands.

A price of PhP 44,995 in the Philippines (roughly $900) for the variant with 8GB of memory and 128GB of storage only compounds the fact that this is not a mainstream device. It’s in absolute premium territory with a processor from last year and user interface from years ago. Think about that for a moment.

So, whose GadgetMatch is the ZenFone AR? The early adopters, VR and AR enthusiasts, loyal Google followers, and die-hard ASUS users who must have the most ambitious ZenFone to date.

With rumors pointing to a July launch for the next-generation ZenFone series, there isn’t much sense in getting a ZenFone AR right now, unless you must have a one-of-a-kind smartphone with the most advanced mixed reality integration today.

SEE ALSO: ASUS ZenFone AR comes with Tango, Daydream, 8GB RAM

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Laptops

Lenovo IdeaPad S540 review: A professional’s daily driver

An essential for every career-driven millennial

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As a 20-something millennial, I always feel like time is running out. I have this inane need to accomplish so much at a young age. Friends and mentors alike remind me that life’s not a race, but I can’t help it — I’m too passionate.

I’ve always been determined to have a high-flying career before I reach 30. Years fly by so quickly, which is why there’s an urge to achieve so many in a short span of time. Not to mention, global warming is real, wars could happen any minute, and we all could be dead soon. I don’t want to die without reaching my dreams.

To achieve my goals, I ensure I’m equipped with the right gear in building my career. For starters, we all need a laptop that does its job so we can focus on our work.

Make an impression through your gear

Enter Lenovo’s IdeaPad S540. This premium ultrabook is a tad better than the IdeaPad S340. However, both laptops look similar due to Lenovo’s design language — which should be revamped if you think about it. I would’ve appreciated it better if the logo’s more subtle (and if it’s probably embossed).

The IdeaPad S540 comes in three beautiful colors — black, grey, and copper. Of course, mine would come in the beautiful copper. After all, millennials have a flair for style — we wouldn’t settle for anything that’s boring.

It comes in a sleek-looking, matte-finished, aluminum body that’s so smooth, you’d want to caress it with your fingers for an entire day. When you present with this laptop, people will know you mean business — serious, but not boring.

Finding comfort in its shortcomings

Its screen is humongous, coming in with a 15.6-inch FHD IPS display. There’s so much you can do with a screen this big, even though it has thick bezels on its top and bottom. Glare could be a problem, especially when you love working somewhere bright and open.

Typing is sweet with this beaut, especially for someone who types a lot. Its keys are evenly placed and big enough for my tiny fingers to press on.

On the other hand, its trackpad remains as Lenovo’s weak point. Just like the IdeaPad S340, the S540’s trackpad isn’t smooth enough for navigation. Gliding your fingers create a squeaky sound that would make your eardrums cringe.

Security-wise, you can finally calm the F down since Lenovo cares about it, too. We all hate spying cameras, thus, Lenovo allows you to cover your laptop’s camera with a shutter whenever you’re not using it. For even tighter security, the IdeaPad S540 has a fingerprint reader located on the keyboard’s bottom right.

Stay connected, wherever

On the left side, you can find the power input, an HDMI port for your presentation needs, and our well-loved USB 3.1 port, along with an audio jack located at the mid-bottom.

Found on the right side are two USB 3.0 ports, an SD card reader, and indicator lights.

Side note: Its hinge and design were built to handle being laid flat on a table, for presentation purposes. Do note it doesn’t do yoga. If you want a convertible, better check Lenovo’s Yoga lineup.

Get all your job done

The IdeaPad S540 is more than enough for most professionals. This particular model is equipped with an Intel Core i7-8565u at 1.80GHz processor, which can go up to 4.60GHz with Turbo Boost. Additionally, it carries 12GB of DDR4 memory, along with 512GB SSD storage and an Nvidia MX250 GPU.

This laptop can handle your habit of opening multiple tabs at the same time, with heavyweight apps like Spotify, Netflix, or even Adobe’s Creative Suite running in the background. I mostly deal with Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and Lightroom, with a bit of video editing on the side — and I was able to do all my creative work albeit only at a bare minimum.

Its display wasn’t made for creative professionals, and it heats up when using memory-consuming software for a prolonged time. But for most users dealing with large files, a bunch of emails, browsing, surfing, spreadsheets, and occasional entertainment like binge-watching on Netflix, the IdeaPad S540 is more than enough.

Being a humongous laptop, the IdeaPad S540 doubles as your business companion and entertainment hub. It has a Dolby Audio speaker system, producing decent sound for all your leisure needs. For those obsessed with audio, you might want to look elsewhere because this isn’t the laptop for you. Better buy a different speaker system and connect it to this laptop.

We might need more juice

If you’re looking at a laptop this big, it’s expected to have a lot of juice. Thankfully, the IdeaPad S540 delivers what’s expected from it. Lenovo boasts up to 12 hours of battery life, but most people nowadays are classified as power-hungry users, rendering the 12-hour promise to be useless since it’s going to be shorter.

For instance, I spent one afternoon in Malongo Atelier Barista enjoying a refreshing Iced Coffee while doing my work. I sat around 4 o’clock in the afternoon with a full battery, diving into a pile of articles to write.

Additionally, I’ve been jamming to my favorite playlist from The Bold Type so I can be more productive. Settings include 100% brightness and max volume, while connected to Wi-Fi. In between sipping my coffee, listening to interviews that I recorded, and social media breaks, the IdeaPad S540 drops 10 to 15 percent of its battery per hour.

Before 8 o’clock in the evening, my battery dropped below 20 percent already, prompting me to charge my machine. Almost four hours for a power-hungry is kinda meh but given my usage, I’d say it did its best. At least, I didn’t encounter any hiccups while navigating my work. It was seamless and smooth!

Is this your GadgetMatch?

If you’re in need of a daily driver, the IdeaPad S540 is an ideal laptop to suit your professional needs. It’s perfect for those looking for a laptop powerful enough to handle multitasking for business and entertainment use.

For PhP 65,995 (US$ 1295), the Lenovo IdeaPad S540 (S540-15IWL, version 81NE0049PH) is a good investment to propel your career. When you’re on your way up on your career ladder, you can buy and use better, higher-end, and possibly flagship laptops that definitely cost a fortune.

For now, this will do. The key to creating milestones in your career is to take baby steps, and buying a laptop to suit your professional needs is one such step you need to take.

Update as of 02/11/2020: Lenovo drops the price for the IdeaPad S540 from PhP 65,995 to PhP 59,995. Additionally, those who will purchase will be entitled to 24-months international and local onsite warranty with Premium Care. Get perks such as On-site service, 24/7 service hotline with senior technicians, priority allocation for replacement parts, annual PC health check, and more. For more information about the warranty, visit their promo page.

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Her GadgetMatch

Fitbit Versa 2 review: Your BFF in achieving work-life goals

Achieve your life goals in just a few clicks!

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For years, I have always relied on my phone apps for the most essential things: from checking time and dates to tracking my monthly period. A smartphone was my companion as I juggle work with personal and social life, to the point that I believed nothing could come as handy as this. But that was before I was introduced to the amazing invention that is a smartwatch.

As a heavy smartphone user, having a smartwatch seemed to be a luxury to me at first. I thought: I can do all these things with my phone, so why the need to buy one? I was proven wrong, however, when I started using Fitbit’s Versa 2.

Fitbit is a well-known brand in the health and fitness scene, but I was told that their Versa is a great choice for people like me who are looking for devices for personal and career life more than just for fitness purposes.

After trying it for several weeks, I finally understood what the hype’s about. It’s actually worth the investment, especially for a creative like me trying to achieve a life that blends well with my work.

It’s a compact gadget conveniently strapped on my wrist

No need to bring out my phone especially when I’m in public places — I can conveniently access essential apps like an alarm clock and music player through this thing on my wrist. Versa 2 has a built-in microphone integrated to Amazon Alexa, which is very helpful when googling questions, or replying to messages when I’m on-the-go.

It also features the Spotify app, which is one of my favorite things about it since I always listen to music and podcasts during my idle time.

The AMOLED display is clear and bright enough so it’s readable in both indoors and outdoors (even in full sunlight hours!). Plus, this smartwatch is lightweight and comfortable to wear, and it has a good battery life that lasts up to one week.

I also love the raise to wake feature since I don’t need to click the side button to view the time and date, and I liked seeing the number of steps I took for the day since I was encouraged to walk more. There’s also the Always On Display Mode, but I prefer not turning it on for longer battery life.

A smartwatch that urged me to be more health-conscious

Working in the creative industry for four years made me realize two things: (1) creative people don’t get much sleep, because (2) we’re too passionate about our work that health has become our least priority — which is sad and ironic since we tend to overuse our brain most of the time. Versa 2’s fitness and health-related features have made me become more conscious of my health, and it helped me start to form healthier habits.

For one, their Sleep Score feature is very helpful for people with a wasted body clock who wants to develop healthier sleeping habits. I simply input my sleeping time and goals, and it creates a chart that helps me understand my sleeping patterns and watch over my health. The score motivates me to sleep earlier, too!

There’s also the active heart-rate sensor, which I often check while I’m working out on weekends. I use the on-screen workouts as a guide too, since they’re easy to learn! Versa 2’s fitness tracking functions are great starting points for fitness noobs like me.

Sleek and stylish

When dressing up, wearing a watch is optional to me before since they don’t usually match with some of my outfits. Versa 2 changes the game, though. It is sleek, stylish, and easily matches any OOTD — whether I’m wearing business attire or just a casual outfit. Whatever I choose to wear, the colors are neutral enough to match any Pantone. In my case, the grey strap is a good choice. The pink one looks beautiful too!

Is this your Gadgetmatch?

Overall, the new Fitbit Versa 2 is a very useful and stylish gadget that has all my essentials to keep me going every day. For someone who is relatively new to the smartwatch game, I can say that this one is a must-have for today’s modern woman. For only PhP 12,890 (US$ 253), you get a beautiful and multi-functional device that will help you achieve your life goals in just a few clicks!

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Reviews

Realme 5i review: Power on a budget

A real, long lasting budget option with midrange power

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Budget smartphones have come a long way these past few years, bringing better features in the process. This type of smartphone proves to be a more popular choice, especially for people who just want to experience having one. As we continue on with 2020, companies look to provide everyone with more budget-friendly alternatives with better features and capabilities.

Realme may have done that with their new Realme 5i, a budget smartphone with some pretty midrange features. From upgraded internals to four rear cameras, this smartphone has the potential to give you the performance you need. But does it live up to that potential?

Here’s a look into the realme 5i:

It has a 6.5-inch HD+ display

It has a quad-camera setup at the back

It comes in an Aqua Blue or Forest Green color with a Sunrise Design

Powerful and responsive… except for some gestures

The realme 5i sports a Snapdragon 665 processor inside, along with 3GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. Upon opening, you also get ColorOS 6.1, which is relatively similar to that of Android Pie. The phone itself is pretty responsive, and I had a relatively easy time hovering across apps and settings.

One of the things I appreciated was the system-wide Dark Mode setting. There’s just something about a lot of apps looking good under dark mode, plus it helps my eyesight at night just a little bit. Overall, apps show no signs of lag, especially while multitasking social media and YouTube.

Although I did have a problem with some full-screen gestures. While most Android Pie gestures worked, I had a bit of difficulty dealing with the App Manager gesture. I’m not entirely sure whether or not it’s a display thing, but that’s something you should take note of.

The display is bright even at a lower level

The 6.5-inch HD+ display, to me is pretty good and unbelievably bright. Colors are relatively accurate, especially while watching videos and playing games. I messed around and worked through different brightness levels, and it’s surprisingly bright enough even at 40%. 

Bringing this out in broad daylight proved my observation. I set the brightness at around 40-50%, watched a bit of Netflix and YouTube, and still got to see some scenes shot in the dark. Obviously, be wary with how bright or dark your surroundings are as a screen too bright poses danger to your eyesight.

Gaming on this device feels right

Along with the Snapdragon 665, the Realme 5i also has the Adreno 610 GPU inside. Along with built-in optimization software, gaming on this device was an enjoyable experience for me. Playing MOBA and FPS games felt easy on the eyes, plus I observed no drops in terms of graphic performance.

The optimization software does this pretty little thing of devoting more RAM to games with heavy RAM usage. I found this pretty handy, especially during intense moments during gameplay — admittedly, when I was on the verge of dying in-game. The only issue I have with it is that, well, the device tends to get warm after an hour or so. But, it doesn’t reach an uncomfortable level of heat.

Battery life is pretty long, but why that adapter?

There is a 5000mAh battery inside this device, which is pretty big for most budget options. On average, I got about half a day (close to 14 hours) before fully depleting the battery. Gaming full time on the device cuts the time to just about 5 to 6 hours, even with optimizations turned on. Meanwhile, strictly using the device for video streaming gets you close to 10 hours.

Here’s the thing though: fully charging the device takes about 3 hours long and I point to the micro-USB port it came with. It’s already 2020, and there are budget smartphones out there that already use a USB Type-C charging port. Even if the phone battery last pretty long, I’m guessing this was the trade off for it.

Cameras are ‘okay’ at best

I have mixed feelings about the whole camera setup the realme 5i sports. On one hand, I feel that this whole setup is pretty great on a budget device. On paper, you can’t go wrong with it — especially since it has decent features to complement all four cameras. To me, image quality on normal shooting modes is pretty good, at best.

For a quad-camera setup at the rear, colors are as accurate as how you would expect from the 12MP main sensor. There is a line of detail for outdoor shots and even macro shots, although I don’t recommend zooming in too much. Also, the level of focus on the subject deserves a pass on my end, but I can’t say the same thing under darker conditions.

The main 8MP selfie camera, on the other hand, I felt that some things were a bit exaggerated. The bokeh effect during portrait selfies was a bit too much, in my opinion. I felt like my face became a little too smooth compared to just a normal selfie. Although, taking a normal selfie has the same quality on both the front and rear camera.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

At Php 6,990 (US$ 138), the Realme 5i offers a lot of great features for every kind of user. Overall performance — for normal and gaming usage is actually pretty great thanks to its internals. The software itself feels fresh and easy to navigate, plus the system-wide Dark Mode was a nice touch. Also, it lasts relatively long that you can go a whole work day and still watch Netflix on the ride home.

As far as its talked about quad-camera setup goes, it’s a good way to start. Image quality turned out pretty good, and night shots get a pass. If anything, improvements to the selfie camera would have turned this into an ideal device. Hopefully, this kind of camera setup catches on with the other companies.

Overall, the Realme 5i provides just what you need at an affordable price. It’s not a big-time midrange smartphone, but it comes close to one, at the very least.

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