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 With the combination of a high-resolution Quad HD AMOLED display and powerful (yet slightly outdated) Snapdragon 821 processor.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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Reviews

Xiaomi 12 Pro review: Flagship in almost every aspect 

Great all around

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Xiaomi 12 Pro

To claim to be a master at something is a very bold assertion. It’s setting the bar tremendously high that, if you don’t meet expectations, could mean a devastating embarrassment.

But that seems to be a challenge Xiaomi is willing to take on. The company does have a decent track record of offering outstanding flagships year after year. This time, they’re giving the tagline “Master Every Scene” to their front-runner, the Xiaomi 12 Pro. 

And from my experience with it the past few weeks, their claim could just hold true.

In this review, allow me to share with you my thoughts and you be the judge — is it a disaster or does it earn the title of master?

Classy and snazzy design that blends with the display 

Xiaomi 12 Pro

Refined best describes this phone. It’s the type of look that a modern gentleman could show off as. It feels like something that would easily go along with a suit. This gray color has a frosted finish and is delightfully not a smudge magnet.

Xiaomi 12 Pro

Looking at the Xiaomi 12 Pro in your hands, the display will immediately catch your attention. We are looking at a 1440p, AMOLED DotDisplay that measures 6.73 inches with a refresh rate of 120Hz.

As a person who is concerned about a phone’s size, this one does seem tall. But the sides of its display seamlessly curves towards the back, keeping it still comfortable to hold. So, one handed use isn’t that big of a chore.

Xiaomi 12 Pro

On top is where the speaker grille is located along with the IR blaster. While at the bottom is where the SIM tray is, along with the USB-C port and another speaker grille.

Did I mention that the display looks fantastic? Well, I would be surprised if it isn’t. Rated at a whopping one billion colors and offering both Dolby Vision and HDR10+ rating, our eyes are in for a treat. Everything is tack sharp at a pixel density of 522ppi. 

Seemingly color accurate, I even managed to use this as my reference when editing photos from my laptop. To which simply I assume, if it looks good here, I probably got it right.

Upgraded cameras

Xiaomi 12 Pro

The camera department is probably one that has gotten the biggest improvement from their previous generation of flagships. On the back of the Xiaomi 12 Pro is a triple camera setup. All of which are 50MP shooters and on the front is a 32MP selfie camera. That being said, I am very pleased to say that all of them perform really well.

Xiaomi 12 Pro

Sporting the new Sony IMX707 sensor on the main camera, even uninteresting and poorly composed shots could easily live on Pinterest. With rich colors and fine detail, photos look lively even without any post processing.

 

Taking photos outdoors, it is very noticeable that the camera’s dynamic range is commendable. On my landscape shots, even extremely blown out images of the sky get captured remarkably well without effort. It’s really good that whenever I see the HDR icon kick in, I feel confident that the shot will always be well exposed.

And what’s even better is that, shifting between different cameras, the differences between each aren’t very noticeable.

As we were looking at condo units this week, I had a great coverage of different perspectives of the units we looked at, all thanks to its main and ultrawide camera. Both performed really well even in unideal environments.

Although we consider the ultrawide camera to be a great landscape shooter, it is, however, a fixed focus camera. So doing funny wide angle close ups is not something you could do.

Then again, if portraits are your thing, you’ll also be pleased by the performance of the telephoto camera. At an equivalent focal length of 48mm, this produces great compressed depth of field for portraits. And true to that assumption, photos taken in this mode look flattering and pleasant and at a high resolution.

Selfies are also not lagging behind. The 32MP selfie camera also takes decent photos in most lighting conditions.

Performance you can brag about

Xiaomi 12 Pro

Of course this wouldn’t be a flagship phone if it isn’t a good performer. Under the hood are the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chipset with 12GB of RAM packed with 256GB of storage.

Having one of the best performing chipsets right now, the Xiaomi 12 Pro is one of the fastest phones around. It’s no surprise that this will run mostly anything excellently. Not once did I feel any sort of discernable slowdown on any app I use daily. Everything was just fluid as the phone just felt more than capable of handling the normal use with ease.

I did try out a few games namely Ni No Kuni: Cross Worlds, Call of Duty: Mobile and Genshin Impact. All of which performed just as I had expected them to, which is superb.

Even without having to tweak anything on its Game Turbo app, everything was already running smoothly at their highest settings.

On paper, this is something that we anticipated. But what varies from different phones is its cooling performance. While we didn’t do any hardcore benchmarks, I am amazed that it also doesn’t get too hot in real world tests. Of course, with the exception of playing Genshin Impact as this gets most phones heated when maxed out on 60FPS mode.

Acceptable sound quality

As mentioned earlier in this review, this has two speaker ports. This is to make way for the dual Harman/Kardon tuned speaker setup.

To my ears it does sound okay but I could probably say that this isn’t a feature I would boast about. Most phones I’ve tried that offer something similar are either better or more or less equal.

It lacked mostly on the lower frequencies and thickness but far from what we would consider bad sounding.

Having had the chance to use the Xiaomi 11 Lite 5G NE, I could say the 12 Pro sounds pretty close if not a tad better than the previous.

Charged in just a few minutes

Xiaomi 12 Pro

Powering this phone is a 4,600 mAh battery. And if I had to pick, this might be what I could point as the most ‘average’ aspect of this phone. It does play around the ballpark of where other flagships are, but the performance isn’t a stand out. I found myself having a low battery notification nearly every night before the day ended. 

Charging with the 120W charger on the other hand was blazing fast. For this test, I had to check every few minutes if it was already full. Otherwise I won’t be able to monitor if charging was already done.

Surely, there won’t be a need for you to even bother charging this overnight. In our test, a quick ten minute charge from ten percent juices it up to 36 percent. While the whole process took 41 minutes from 10 percent to full.

Is the Xiaomi 12 Pro your GadgetMatch?

Xiaomi 12 Pro

In all aspects, the Xiaomi 12 Pro definitely belongs in the flagship game. It’s a fast performer for mobile gamers. It packs a variety of great cameras for photography enthusiasts. And it’s a content consumer’s dream for its stunning display.

But let’s face it. When buying a flagship, Xiaomi probably isn’t the brand that would be a top-of-mind. And being mostly a refinement of what’s already available doesn’t help it lure in potential buyers.

Without a really strong selling point, I wouldn’t be surprised if this one gets buried under the names of market leaders.

Xiaomi 12 Pro

How I just wish there was really something here that we haven’t seen elsewhere. But for what it’s worth, it’s a great all around flagship phone and it’s surely a banger.

The Xiaomi 12 Pro is available in Gray, Blue and Purple color variants with 12GB RAM and 256GB of storage for PhP 48,999.

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Reviews

realme GT 2 Pro review: GT Master Edition mastered

A bold step for realme

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realme gt 2 pro

Since coming into the Philippine smartphone market in 2018, realme has focused on the midrange and budget segments. With this focus came considerable success. The company posted number one sales on multiple occasions. Now, they’re extending their reach, flying close to the premium territory with the realme GT 2 Pro. Question is, is it worth taking a look at considering the stiff competition in this stratosphere? 

Based strictly on the merits of this phone, the short answer is yes. However, there’s more to the smartphone market than simply what a phone can do. But let’s start with that anyway. 

General performance

realme gt 2 pro

Powering the realme GT 2 Pro is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 processor. Already, with that information, you know that it’s ready to tussle with the heavyweights. Flanking that is 12GB of RAM and 256GB of internal storage. On paper, looking good so far. But what about in actual usage?

Well, it performs every bit as good as any other 8 Gen 1 equipped device. It also helps that the realme UI based on Android running on it makes your entire experience relatively smooth. 

Apps stay running in the background even after a prolonged period of inactivity. It learns which apps you regularly use and devote RAM and processing power accordingly. Daily activities like browsing socials, checking emails and messages, and whatever else you regularly do on your phone simply just works. And that’s a hallmark of a good device. 

The 5,000mAh battery normally lasts more than a day on regular use. It also has support for 65W fast charging which realme says will get you from zero to 100% in 33 minutes. We never let the phone drop to zero and would normally charge at around 20% left. Using a 65W wired charger, it does juice up quickly — right around the 30 minute mark. Unfortunately, it does not support wireless charging.

Mobile gaming

realme gt 2 pro

realme has its fair share of mobile gaming focused devices. So, it comes as no surprise that the realme GT 2 Pro, while not being marketed as such, still performs admirably in this department. 

Granted, we didn’t really do plenty of mobile gaming on the phone. Just some occasional sessions of Call of Duty: Mobile here and there, and a couple of afternoons testing its graphical capability by playing Genshin Impact.

A Stainless Steel Vapor Cooling System kept the device humming despite extended hours of playing the demanding game from MiHoyo/Hoyoverse. It never, at any point, felt too hot to hold. 

Media consumption

realme gt 2 pro

It has a 2K AMOLED Flat Display with LTPO 2.0 Technology that measures at 6.7 inches. That last detail is a little surprising considering the overall footprint of the device. It certainly didn’t feel that humongous but the display is, indeed, great for consuming content. 

Watching your favorite shows, YouTubers, TikToks, and what-have-you is an overall enjoyable experience. The speakers are about what you expect from a flagship. It can get loud. And while the sound doesn’t exactly feel rich, it also isn’t distorted when you turn it up to max. 

Worthwhile cameras

realme gt 2 pro

The realme GT 2 Pro has a triple camera setup. You get the following: 

  • 50 MP, f/1.8, 24mm (wide), 1/1.56″, 1.0µm, multi-directional PDAF, OIS
  • 50 MP, f/2.2, 15mm, 150˚ (ultrawide), 1/2.76″, 0.64µm
  • 3 MP, f/3.3, 20mm (microscope), AF, 40x magnification

It performs just about as well as you’d expect. Detail retention is top-notch and color reproduction is just right. The software post-processing isn’t doing too much. Just enough to make photos look extra appealing without going ham on saturation. 

 

It has a 32MP selfie shooter which is alright in daylight and is a hit or miss at night. 

All told, the cameras are good enough to carry around and capture worthwhile memories for your own enjoyment or for posting on social media. 

Unique back material 

realme’s efforts to be more sustainable is well noted. For this smartphone, specifically, they used the industry’s first bio-based polymer design inspired by the concept of paper art. The exterior of the realme GT 2 Pro Master Edition is made of sustainable Sabic bio-based materials extracted from renewable raw materials. The company says these “can reduce carbon emissions by up to 63% per kilogram and can reduce potential fossil feedstock consumption by up to 35%.”

realme gt 2 pro

Collaborating once more with industrial designer Naoto Fukasawa, the back of the realme GT 2 Pro will remind you of their midranger – the realme GT Master Edition. In fact, it very much feels like a direct upgrade of the phone. 

The back is nice to hold and look at. And unlike most flagship phones, you won’t feel the need to cover it with the significantly less premium material case included in the packaging. 

realme gt 2 pro

The usual stuff are found at the bottom: speaker grille, USB-C port, and SIM Card tray slot.

The power button is on the right side while the volume rockers sit on the left. Pretty standard stuff.

Is the realme GT 2 Pro your GadgetMatch? 

realme gt 2 pro

Smartphones are more than just the thing we use daily to connect with our friends, loved ones, and the rest of the world. The reality is, they’re also a status symbol. And if you’re spending quite a hefty amount of money for a premium product, you wouldn’t want the people asking you what your phone is to go “huh?” when you tell them the brand name. 

The realme GT 2 Pro is a fantastic phone, no doubt. But realme, as a brand, has its work cutout for itself if it truly wants to compete in the premium flagship space.

Based solely on its technical merits, though, the realme GT 2 Pro is worth every penny. The general performance is undeniably flagship-grade, the back material is unique and premium, and the cameras are pretty good. Retailing for PhP 34,990 (around US$ 640 at the time of writing), the phone is definitely good value-for-money. 

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Laptops

RedmiBook 15 review: Focused on Performance

Is it worth your while?

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RedmiBook 15

It is quite noticeable that more and more smartphone brands have been venturing into the laptop scene. This isn’t surprising. Since the pandemic, demand for laptops have seen a large increase for remote work and online classes.

Moving into this direction, it was just a matter of time for brands like Xiaomi’s Redmi to also take this on. Being one of the top brands offering the finest value-for-money smartphones, the question remains. Can they do the same with their laptops?

That’s what we’re finding out in this review of the newest laptop from Redmi — the RedmiBook 15.

Design and Build quality

RedmiBook 15

The design of the RedmiBook 15 is pretty straightforward. You can tell that it gets its inspiration from the unibody design and looks rather basic. That said, it was still given much thought. With just a plain top lid engraved with a subtle Redmi branding, this fashion is surely one that minimalists will appreciate.

There’s no large sticker carrying the specs of the laptop and instead there are only two case badges placed on the palm rest.

Straight away you will feel that the body is indeed plastic with its smooth and flat finish. Fortunately, it’s not one that feels like it would break on you easily as it does seem like it can withstand daily use. 

One handed opening of the top lid does open about 90 percent of the way and with practice, it is possible to get through entirely.

It also has a fairly slim footprint and weighs acceptably light as it even fits my bag which is designed for 14-inch laptops but without much headroom left.

RedmiBook 15

For the ports, we do appreciate that we are getting a lot on this laptop but the selection could have done a bit better. There are three USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI port, RJ45 LAN port, 3.5mm combo audio port and a full size SD card reader. Sadly, there is no USB-C port.

Keyboard and trackpad

RedmiBook 15

The RedmiBook 15 comes equipped with a full sized keyboard that looks a bit ordinary without any sort of backlighting or fancy features. The plastic keycaps feel relatively rough which is similar to what we would feel on other entry level laptops.

Thankfully, key spacing is pretty substantial and each key press feels satisfying. A bit of a surprise on my part but this indeed feels great to type on. I actually did write this review on it and I didn’t run into any issues that I was expecting to experience like hitting the power button accidentally.

People who don’t prefer connecting an external mouse are also likely to enjoy using the trackpad on the RedmiBook 15. The one we have here is huge and it tracks cursor movement nicely. Tap and swipe gestures are also responsive, making navigating the Windows user interface effortless.

Display

RedmiBook 15

A 15.6-inch, Full HD display is what we’ll mostly be looking at on the RedmiBook 15. This display has a matte anti-glare coating and is wrapped around some fairly slim bezels with a 720p web camera on top.

It’s a pretty average display for an entry level laptop. However, colors on this display just leaves much to be desired. Oftentimes it looks washed out and it’s difficult to discern what color you are looking at as it suffers from undesirable viewing angles.

It took me a while to find the sweet spot but I discovered that the best way to view this is to push the display far back between 100 to 110 degree angle. And even that does not make the whole screen perfectly clear. To add, just getting slightly off axis would make it even harder for your eyes to see.

I couldn’t really suggest doing photo editing or color grading on this but web browsing and other non-screen dependent tasks would be okay.

Specs and Performance

RedmiBook 15

The RedmiBook 15 comes in two variants. The one that we have is running on the 11th gen Intel Core i5 11300H processor with 8GB DDR4 RAM and 512GB PCI-E SSD while the base model runs on the Intel Core i3 1115G4 with 8GB DDR4 RAM and 256GB SATA SSD storage

On paper, the Core i5 variant that we have has the upper hand over its competition in this price range. The Core i5 11300H being a high performance processor, this can presumably handle a fair amount of processor intensive software that the average person would use. This means everyday tasks, like Zoom meetings and online classes along with heavy web browsing, wouldn’t be a problem on the RedmiBook 15.

During our test, the performance we experienced was superb and everything was smooth as we had hoped it would be. This also comes preloaded with Windows 11 and I do appreciate that it doesn’t seem to have bloatwares installed.

Despite not having a discrete graphics card, I was still curious on how this laptop would perform running games. And to satisfy my curiosity, l went on to test some. Quite surprisingly, this is able to run Bioshock: Infinite at very high settings at very acceptable frame rates. It may not be a recent title, but keep in mind that this is still a AAA game. Running the game at high settings is still commendable.

It’s also nice to know that running games didn’t raise the temperatures too high as the laptop only managed to reach a peak of 84 degrees celsius in game.

Sound Quality

RedmiBook 15

For the sound, we are getting two 2W down firing speakers below the device that come with DTS tuning. Sound quality wise, I find that these speakers sound tinny especially with music playback but it does sound alright for spoken dialogue.

It’s more on the quieter side of the spectrum but the panning of the sound from left to right when playing games is noticeable.

Battery and Charging

RedmiBook 15

Running on battery, I was able to reach approximately six hours on balanced battery mode. I think this is a pretty okay result for a laptop this size. But we could probably squeeze in around an hour or more if we ran on power saving mode or if we held back on some tasks but that would depend on your use case.

For its charging, the included 65W charger was able to juice up the RedmiBook 15 from 11 percent to 22 percent in 15 minutes. While the whole charging time took two hours and forty six minutes which is also nothing out of the ordinary.

Is the RedmiBook 15 your GadgetMatch?

RedmiBook 15

Despite some of its flaws, I think the RedmiBook 15 gets a lot of things right. The minimalist design plus the large trackpad, good keyboard and the powerful performance are, no doubt, its main selling points.

I can easily see professionals like app developers, writers, teachers and even students really appreciating this. It almost has most of the things it takes to be a powerful and affordable contender for creative work that it’s just unfortunate that it is greatly held back by its display.

At the price it’s going for, there are other options with less powerful hardware that have better displays which I personally would be more inclined to choose.

Then again, if your priorities fit in the categories we mentioned, I think the RedmiBook 15 will still perform well for you.

The RedmiBook 15 is priced at PhP 37,999 for the Intel Core i5 11300H, 8GB, 512GB SSD variant and PhP 26,999 for the Core i3-1115G4, 8GB, 256GB SSD variant.

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