Reviews

ASUS ZenFone Max (M1) Review

The budget battery king

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These days, you’d be pressed to find a smartphone with poor battery life. We’ve come to a point wherein every new handset can last a full day’s worth of usage without the assistance of a power bank.

But every now and then, we have these big-battery devices that come along and make our super-slim phones feel inadequate. The latest smartphone to do so is the ASUS ZenFone Max (M1), and it’s pleasantly affordable.

Not to be confused with the ZenFone Max Plus (M1) we reviewed earlier this year or the even newer ZenFone Max Pro (M1) launched in India last month, this plain ZenFone Max (model code ZB555KL to add more to the confusion) was unveiled during Mobile World Congress 2018 as the most affordable of the bunch.

Yet despite also being the smallest with a 5.5-inch 720p 18:9 screen and weight of only 150 grams, the ZenFone Max still has a large 4000mAh battery, which is more than what you’d get from bigger, more premium phones like the Samsung Galaxy S9+ and Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S.

And unlike the ZenFone Max Plus which employs a run-of-the-mill MediaTek processor, the new ZenFone Max is equipped with a Snapdragon 430 chipset that’s both fast enough for everyday tasks and highly efficient at squeezing out every ounce of energy from the battery.

When put together, the ZenFone Max has some of the best battery endurance I’ve gotten out of a smartphone this year. Getting five hours of screen-on time till the next morning is the absolute minimum out of a single charge, and that’s when the phone is beaten to the ground with gaming and constant camera usage while mobile data is active.

Reducing the abuse can give you get you up to six hours of screen time. I tried going for six and a half the other day, but it required me going offline half the time and leaving the camera alone — two things I can’t avoid in my day-to-day routine. Still, you can’t go wrong with an average of six hours across two days; that’s way above the standard four to 4.5 hours of much more expensive devices.

All this for a phone that’s only PhP 8,995 in the Philippines or approximately US$ 175 when converted. This places the ZenFone Max snugly in the budget-friendly category while maintaining its world-beating battery efficiency. The previous Max series phone in this price range was the ZenFone 4 Max, which has had a long stay in our Best Smartphones list.

And it’s not like the ZenFone Max skimps on basic features like a fingerprint sensor (there’s one at the back) and triple-card tray for two SIM cards and one microSD at the same time. There’s even facial recognition using the front camera to unlock the phone, and it’s way faster than what we experienced on the ZenFone Max Plus.

So… large battery, efficient processor, low price, all the features you need — are we missing anything?

It’s difficult to complain about anything at this price point, but if I were to nitpick, there are a few things that could be done better.

For one, the highest configuration you can get has 3GB of memory and 32GB of storage. While the latter can easily be expanded through a microSD card, the limited memory can potentially slow down the experience, especially since its processor isn’t that fast.

Even though the ZenFone Max comes with Android 8.0 Oreo with the latest version of ASUS’ ZenUI skin, the interface can get laggy and slow when you need it most. I noticed stuttering when going from heavy app to heavy app like Facebook to YouTube, and games like Asphalt Xtreme and Final Fantasy: Pocket Edition needed their graphics settings put on low to play smoothly.

Once you do drain the battery completely, charging it to full takes a long time — over three hours to be exact. The package comes with a fast charger that can only output at 10 watts; I tried a faster charger that goes up to 18 watts, but I still had to wait for more than three hours from zero to a hundred percent. In addition, the ZenFone Max relies on an outdated micro-USB port instead of the newer USB-C.

Lastly, and I’m sure you expected this, the cameras aren’t that good. There’s a useful dual-camera setup on the back with one regular 13-megapixel sensor and another 8-megapixel shooter with a much wider lens to fit more inside a frame. Unfortunately, they can’t create great images without enough daylight.

Here are some samples:

As soon as light becomes scarce, the image quality quickly goes down. You lose details in the darker regions of a photo and blurriness overcomes sharpness. It’s also important to note that the extra-wide rear camera takes lower-quality shots compared to the main shooter. The same can be said for the selfies of its 13-megapixel front camera; take them with sufficient light or not at all. 

Is this your GadgetMatch?

From the get-go, having a big-battery smartphone priced below US$ 200 is an instant winner. Everything else the ZenFone Max (M1) adds — such as the efficient chipset and dual rear cameras — simply improve on the already-complete package.

I can highly recommend the ZenFone Max to those who need a handset that can last for two days with juice left to spare. As long as you don’t need a dedicated camera replacement or high-end mobile gaming device, you’d have a tough time finding a better deal.

Alternatively, the ZenFone Max Pro (M1) is a more lucrative deal if it’s available in your country. It comes with a pure version of Android, a much faster chipset, and both a bigger screen and battery capacity. However, if you can’t wait and would rather spend less, the regular Max should be just as good as any other bet.

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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