Reviews

ASUS ZenFone Max Plus (M1) Review

It’s all about the taller display

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With the claim as the “Battery King” of ASUS, can the new ZenFone Max Plus topple its non-Plus sibling?

If you haven’t read my initial hands-on of the ZenFone Max Plus, I suggest you read it first to know more about the physical aspects of the phone.

SEE ALSO: ASUS ZenFone Max Plus Hands-on

This review is more about how the phone fared as my daily driver, how 18:9 displays matter in everyday usage, and of course, battery life.

18:9 displays are the future

The ZenFone Max Plus is ASUS’ first handset with an 18:9 near-borderless display. It was first launched as the Pegasus 4S in China, then arrived in other markets including Russia, Malaysia, and the Philippines specifically as the ZenFone Max Plus (M1). While names may differ per region, the phone sports the same design and specifications.

With a big 5.7-inch 18:9 display, the phone has a sharp Full HD+ (2160 x 1080) resolution. And since the handset is marketed for the budget-conscious, it’s a good selling point because most handsets in this range only have an HD resolution.

If you’re a first-time buyer of a phone with an 18:9 display, you could be asking what the benefits are to having a taller phone? Let me help you with that.

With all the 18:9 phones I’ve used, none of them are as difficult to handle as your typical phablets like the older Samsung Galaxy Note phones or the new Huawei Mate 10. It may feel a bit different at first, but you’ll get used to it. A taller display also means you get to see more of your messaging threads, emails, and web pages. Games that support the new aspect ratio feel more immersive, too.

What is sacrificed though is video consumption, especially if you watch a lot on YouTube and Netflix. Most videos on YouTube and Netflix are in a 16:9 ratio, so if you play them on an 18:9 display, you get black space on the sides. You can pinch out to fill in the whole display, but the video gets cut. However, content like Hollywood blockbusters are in a wider format which take most of the display.

There’s no performance upgrade

One of the things I like about the ZenFone 4 Max is the use of a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor. Sadly, with the new ZenFone Max Plus, ASUS opted to give it a MediaTek MT6750T processor instead. There’s nothing bad about using chipsets from MediaTek, but since they are cheaper than Qualcomm’s, ASUS should have put a more powerful and newer MediaTek processor like the one found in the OPPO F5 Youth.

This means to say that the ZenFone Max Plus doesn’t bring anything new to the table in terms of performance. General performance is okay, but the phone starts to stutter after a few days of use. It’s hard to feel the 4GB memory when the phone is not optimized to take advantage of it.

SEE ALSO: ASUS ZenFone 4 Max Review

A software update for battery optimization was seeded prior to writing this review, but it made the phone’s UI slower. Hopefully, ASUS will issue a patch as soon as possible. There’s also no mention if the phone will get Android 8.0 Oreo anytime soon.

Gaming is alright on the phone. The Mali-T860MP2 graphics can run casual games with ease, but graphics-intensive titles like our favorites — Asphalt: Extreme and NBA 2K17 — need some tweaking in the settings.

Camera is so-so but fun to use

Another feature of the ZenFone Max Plus that’s also on the ZenFone 4 Max is the dual rear cameras. For the Max Plus, it’s got a main 16-megapixel camera for regular shots and an 8-megapixel camera for wide-angle stills. I’m talking about ultra wide-angle like on the LG V30, which gives creative freedom for unique shots similar to those taken by action cameras.

Let’s check out the regular stills first:

Nothing stands out with the main camera, but they’re not bad either. It’ll do for everyday shots, although the shutter is a bit slow at times. Low-light photography is not for the ZenFone Max Plus, but if you want to play around more, it has a “Pro” mode for manual photography settings. It also has a portrait mode which adds bokeh to a shot and, sadly, it’s not that good.

Here are the ultra wide-angle shots from the secondary rear camera:

The wide-angle camera doesn’t have autofocus, so it’s better for landscape shots rather than for portrait photography. As with any other wide-angle shooter, there’s noticeable distortion of subjects but they’re not as strong as fish-eye lenses. The image quality is not the same as the main shooter with soft details and weaker low-light performance.

Before we forget, the handset also has an 8-megapixel front-facing camera for selfies complete with ASUS’ own Selfie Master app for beautification. Here a few samples from the GadgetMatch team:

The front sensor can take decent selfies given that there’s a lot of available light. Taking selfies when the sun sets is a different story. Beauty mode is not up to par with OPPO or Vivo’s, but it has a lot of options to let you achieve your desired look.

Not exactly the “Battery King” we expected

When ASUS first told the media that a “Battery King” is coming our way, we expected an improved version of the ZenFone 4 Max. With a smaller battery capacity, the ZenFone Max Plus isn’t exactly an upgrade or a king within its own series. From 5000mAh, the ZenFone Max Plus has only 4130mAh. The MediaTek processor isn’t among the most efficient, either.

With that said, the ZenFone Max Plus didn’t perform better than the ZenFone 4 Max, but it’s still a long-lasting device compared to others in its range. With my own usage, the phone was able to last a day and a half of moderate use. That’s with the usual calls and texts, constant Wi-Fi and mobile data connection, and hours of listening to my Spotify playlist. Just to be clear: I’m connected to Wi-Fi rather than cellular data most of the time, so that helped the phone last longer.

Using the bundled charger, charging time is average. It gets from zero to 20 percent within 30 minutes, while an hour of charging will get you 47 percent. A full charge takes more than two hours.

Included in the retail box is a USB on-the-go adapter which not only lets you read thumb drives, but also charge other devices that need juice. This is called reverse charging wherein your phone shares its power to other devices. The charging rate is slower than using a wall charger, but ain’t it cool to let your phone act like a power bank?

Is this your GadgetMatch?

If you’re looking for a budget phone that can do all the basic tasks and impress you with a tall and sharp display, the ZenFone Max Plus is a decent choice.

With all of the 18:9 budget phones we’ve reviewed on GadgetMatch, the ZenFone Max Plus doesn’t offer much aside from dual rear cameras. Sure, it has a big 4130mAh battery but the size doesn’t equate to the longest battery life.

I welcome the ZenFone Max Plus as a contender from ASUS to battle the likes of the Vivo V7 and OPPO F5 Youth. Both phones are just a few bucks more expensive, so you’ll have to make the choice depending on your budget.

The ZenFone Max Plus retails for PhP 11,995 in the Philippines and MYR 899 in Malaysia. North America will also get a hold of the handset but with lower specs (3GB/32GB) for US$ 229 sometime in February 2018.

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Honor Play Review: The budget flagship

Setting up a new category among smartphones

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When Honor started, it was introduced to be just another Huawei phone or a sub-brand of one of the most popular phone makers in the world. Honor worked its way up and since they offer similar-performing products compared to Huawei at a cheaper price, they gained a following.

When the Honor 10 was introduced to the global market three months ago, it was already a bang for one’s buck. The phone offers flagship specifications for around US$ 450 and has a premium design with gradient colors.

Nothing is stopping Honor from challenging the market and the Honor Play is their latest weapon of choice to attract power users that don’t want to spend much on a phone. Starting at just US$ 300, the Honor Play is a flagship smartphone priced within the midrange segment.

It’s got a large 6.3-inch display with a wide notch

The 409ppi resolution is incredibly sharp

The notch contains a 16MP selfie camera and a few sensors

Face unlock is better than before

The small chin at the bottom proudly says it’s an Honor phone

It’s not totally borderless but this is better than thick bezels

It has a hybrid card slot for nano-SIM and microSD cards

It could have been nice to have a dedicated microSD card slot

To its right are physical buttons for power and volume

They’re pretty slim for my liking

The top is virtually empty…

There’s just the noise-canceling microphone

While the bottom is quite busy

The headphone jack, USB-C port, microphone, and loudspeaker are here

The back is mostly identical to a flagship phone from Huawei

It’s like a P20 but with a metal body

Common yet premium design

If you’ve been reading about Huawei phones lately, you’d immediately notice that the Honor Play looks a lot like the Huawei P20 and its variants. To make theirs a bit different, Honor did make some changes. Instead of a glass back, the Honor Play has an aluminum unibody. This makes the phone cold in hand (when unused) and feel solidly built.

Like any unibody phone, the Honor Play has antenna lines to let radio signals pass through. The antenna lines blend with the overall color of the phone, akin to the iPhone 7’s style.

Thanks to the display’s tall 19.5:9 aspect ratio, the phone is easy to use with one hand. While we’re talking about the display, I’ll point out that the cutout or the infamous notch is pretty wide. It’s not as slim as the P20’s and is definitely not as small as Essential Phone’s, but it’s got an advantage: it appears to have an extra sensor (probably infrared) to aid in facial recognition in the dark.

The fingerprint sensor on the back is always present when you don’t wish to use facial recognition as your phone’s security measure. It’s indeed quicker to unlock the phone using fingerprints since the reader is already one of the fastest.

Overall, there’s nothing to complain about the Honor Play’s design and construction. It’s got the premium design of more expensive devices, has quicker facial recognition than the competition, and it definitely doesn’t feel like anything in its range. There’s quality to the phone’s body and that alone is a huge advantage.

But, of course, there’s more to know about the Honor Play. Let’s now talk about its specifications.

Flagship performance has never been so affordable

The Honor Play is rocking a Kirin 970 processor with up to 6GB of memory. It’s essentially the cheapest Huawei P20 alternative performance-wise. I kinda feel bad for Huawei P20 users, to be honest, because Honor is offering similar performance in a cheaper package. Even Huawei offers P20-like performance with the Nova 3. The Honor 10 and Huawei Nova 3 are already affordable alternatives, but the Honor Play is the cheapest.

What does the Kirin 970 have? It’s currently Huawei’s most powerful chipset available, but the successor is just around the corner which kind of explains why it’s now cheaper to produce. You’ll have flagship phone performance with the Honor Play thanks to its processor.

The phone I have for review has 4GB of memory, but there’s a 6GB variant available in select markets. Even with 4GB of memory, I didn’t encounter any lag during my time with the phone. The phone runs EMUI 8.2 on top of Android 8.1 Oreo, which is not exactly the most visually pleasing (or maybe for me), but the extra features are handy for everyday use.

The phone will not be called “Play” if it’s not for gaming. The Honor Play comes with GPU Turbo out of the box, but it only benefits two games as of writing: Mobile Legends: Bang Bang and PUBG: Mobile. With its already-capable processor and Mali-G72 MP12 GPU, the Honor Play can easily handle these games on high settings without stuttering. Other graphics-intensive titles like Asphalt 9: Legends and Darkness Rises are also highly playable.

There’s not much to like about its cameras

There may be two cameras at the back of the Honor Play, but the secondary shooter is purely for depth sensing. The main camera has a 16-megapixel sensor with an f/2.2 aperture while the second one is a 2-megapixel depth sensor. Of course, there’s AI on board and like we’ve seen with the Honor 10, it’s a hit or miss.

Basically, when you have AI turned on, it automatically processes the image based on what the camera sees. But, for most of the time, it looks like it’s just driving up the saturation and contrast. Good thing you can always turn this off to get a more natural-looking image. Also, the f/2.2 aperture doesn’t help take a brighter image in low-light environments.

Check out these samples shot with AI:

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When it comes to selfies, the Honor Play doesn’t disappoint but it has the same over-processed look like with the rear. There’s a 16-megapixel sensor hiding in the display notch which can take decent selfies with extra effects that Honor claims to be part of the phone’s AI. There’s beauty mode, as expected, but it’s not as aggressive as OPPO’s or Vivo’s which is great.

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A phone with competitive pricing has to cut corners somewhere, and the Honor Play sacrificed great cameras. Although, if you come to think about it, most phone users usually just post images on social media. Both the rear and front cameras are more than enough to gather likes and compliments online.

No compromise battery life

Inside the Honor Play’s aluminum body is a sizeable 3750mAh battery. That means it can last long on a single charge. Kirin processors have been power-efficient on Huawei phones, and the Honor Play inherits that as well. Also, the USB-C port supports fast charging up to 18W.

I’ve used the phone as my daily driver for quite a while. With my usage, I was always able to get more than 24 hours of battery life on a single charge. I consider my usage to be moderate which includes constant mobile data and Wi-Fi connectivity, social media, Spotify playback, and reliance on Chrome to check websites and do some editorial work on the go. On average, the screen-on time is almost five hours.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

If you’re looking for a phone that focuses on performance, then the Honor Play is your GadgetMatch. Most of our readers and viewers are fond of the Honor Play because it’s indeed cheap compared to other premium phones, but it’s not perfect. Yet, the price tag of the Honor Play gives it a good excuse.

Like with the Honor 10 or Huawei Nova 3i, the Honor Play’s AI-enabled camera takes a hit. It’s not a bad smartphone camera per se, but it’s something not worth noting. The premium build, quality display, and long battery life are already great features to have in a flagship-grade smartphone this cheap.

The Honor Play retails for PhP 15,990 (4GB/64GB) in the Philippines, and INR 19,999 (4GB/64GB) and INR 23,999 (6GB/64GB) in India.

SEE ALSO: List of Huawei and Honor devices getting GPU Turbo

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OnePlus 6 review: 3 months later

Extraordinary in being ordinary?

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OnePlus has a clever launch cycle: release a flagship shortly after Mobile World Congress, and give that same model a refresh after every other brand unveils their final flagship of the year.

This strategy has given OnePlus a chance to scout the competition before launching its annual smartphones. Considering that the company puts all its eggs in only two premium flagships per year, a single error can spell doom for the brand.

Although OnePlus more or less mastered this formula, releasing one success after another, last year’s models felt a little stale. Not only did the features fall a bit flat, the design of the OnePlus 5 and 5T were replicas of sister brand OPPO’s own flagships.

We’re now at an interesting time in the OnePlus 6’s life. Three months in, we can get a better grasp of its place in the market; at the same time, we’re only three months away from a possible OnePlus 6T update.

The questions are plenty and time is running out, so let’s get down to it.

Is this still the fastest phone on the planet?

A bunch of A-list smartphones have launched since the OnePlus 6 first came to existence, but none have reached the level of speed this thing has.

For one, the OnePlus 6’s Snapdragon 845 processor is still the fastest chip in the market, and its combination of 8GB of memory and 256GB of storage (though mine only comes with 128GB) is beat only by the just-released Galaxy Note 9 which has up to 8GB and 512GB, respectively.

But hardware is only one part of the equation; software plays an equal if not more important role since that’s what you directly interact with. Having used most of the high-end Android smartphones this year, I can attest to the OnePlus 6’s Oxygen OS being the snappiest of them all, followed only by the Mi Mix 2S and its well-optimized MIUI skin.

Whether I’m playing heavy-duty games like Life is Strange or simply browsing the web, nothing fazes this phone. I can only imagine it getting faster once OnePlus starts rolling out Android 9 Pie to its products. The OnePlus 6 is still stuck on Android 8.1 Oreo. While it’s not bad by any means, I wish OnePlus were as fast as Essential in this regard.

Are the cameras good enough?

We were fortunate enough to take the OnePlus 6 around the world to truly test its set of cameras. The company doesn’t promote its imaging prowess that much, but a pair of 20- and 16-megapixel shooters on the back and a 16-megapixel selfie camera in front aren’t anything to belittle.

Like the rest of the interface, the cameras are blazing fast from opening the app to focusing and taking the shot. Even entering the gallery is incredibly snappy. The image quality speaks for itself; DxOMark gave the OnePlus 6 a respectable score of 96, praising the cameras’ autofocus, color reproduction, and exposure.

We agree for the most part and have these photos of our travels to share:

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Certainly not the best you could hope for in terms of overall quality, but definitely acceptable in day-to-day snaps. I wish OnePlus will continue to push software updates to improve the camera performance, because I feel like some adjustments in post-processing will bring it to the next level.

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Even though the secondary rear camera doesn’t have a telephoto lens, you can instantly zoom in by 2x while inside the default camera app. But because this is software-assisted, there’s some quality loss. I used this only in certain cases wherein I couldn’t walk any closer to a subject.

The app itself is a joy to use because of how simple it is. My three most-used modes — video, photo, and portrait — are all within swiping distance, and additional options like slow-motion, pro mode, and panorama are found below them. It can sometimes be simplistic to a fault, however. There’s no easy way to change the resolution of your images or videos, and shortcuts to in-app functions are limited.

Can it last over a day?

Battery life is something which the OnePlus 6 is simply okay at. Software updates since the phone’s launch have optimized its energy consumption, but there’s been no major improvement since then.

From my personal experience, which involves lots of web browsing, photo taking, and short gaming sessions, the 3300mAh battery lasts a little less than a day for me. It’s not much of a surprise since the smallish battery has to power such powerful specs and the large display, but you may have to carry a powerbank with you on certain occasions.

The speaker, USB-C port, and audio port are at the bottom

OnePlus’ signature alert slider is on the right side

On the bright side, we have Dash Charge to fix all our issues. OnePlus’ proprietary fast charging tech is still as fast as ever, bringing this phone from zero to a hundred percent in less than one and a half hours. In addition, the body won’t heat up while topping up, making things more comfortable for your hand during usage.

The only downside is having to bring the bundled charger with me wherever I go. Without it, I can’t take advantage of the fast charging. It’s the same sort of hassle as packing a micro-USB cable for the non-USB-C devices I still own.

Does its pricing hold up against the competition?

OnePlus has steadily been increasing its pricing since first entering the market. Their phones are no longer the sub-US$ 500 premium offerings the company was once known for. And yet, other brands have been guiltier in this regard.

We’re gradually accepting the fact that US$ 1,000 is turning into the norm for a truly flagship experience. This suddenly makes the OnePlus’ pricing seem tame in comparison, considering their products deliver the same speed and quality — if not better.

The time, date, and battery percentage show when you pick up the phone

OnePlus’ primary competition lie in the lineups of Xiaomi and ASUS. For instance, the Mi 8 and Mi Mix 2S offer similar specs at slightly lower prices. At the same time, the ZenFone 5Z is sold at an attractive price as well for what it comes with.

Fortunately for OnePlus, these alternatives are more difficult to come by, making its latest device the go-to affordable flagship in most regions. In addition, expect the OnePlus 6 to go down in price once the impending successor arrives in a few months.

What could OnePlus do better?

Spending an extended time with a device not only gives you a chance to enjoy all its features, but also dissect its flaws. For the OnePlus 6, there are a few that have to be addressed.

For one, and this may be my biggest gripe, the lone down-firing speaker is lackluster. For a smartphone that’s marketed as a multimedia powerhouse, the audio experience has a lot to be desired. On top of the weak output, bass doesn’t have the strength to power through the overly dominant highs. Whenever I play games or watch videos on this phone, earphones have always been a must.

A grippy case solves the slippery glass problem

Finally, we have to talk about the overall design. While it’s unusual for me to mention aesthetics this late into a review, this is also a telling sign that it’s not a highlight. This is OnePlus’ re-introduction to glass backs (after the discontinued OnePlus X), and I must say it’s not that great. It’s slippery and doesn’t add to the functionality since there’s no IP-rated water resistance or wireless charging, which you’d find on other phones with glass bodies. As for the front, it’s your typical notched look — nothing I would fawn over.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

What’s so great about the OnePlus 6 is that none of its drawbacks are deal breakers. During my long-term usage, these cons could either be remedied by a simple fix or ignored altogether. And whenever I do wish it could perform better, I remind myself of how much it costs.

With a starting price of US$ 529 for the base model with 6GB of memory and 64GB of storage, you get so much at nearly half the price of other flagship smartphones. You could argue that Xiaomi and Honor offer better bangs for the buck at this price range, but they cater to different audiences with more specialized feature sets.

If you want the fastest-possible phone without going near the US$ 700 mark, this is your best bet. While there’s been lots of new competition in the past couple of months and more to come from the likes of Huawei and Google, nothing has thus far reached what the OnePlus 6 excels at.

The only thing hindering this is the possibility of the OnePlus 6T launching by November, like the 5T did in 2017. But if it’s anything like last year’s model, the upgrade will be incremental and nothing worth splurging on when coming from the non-T variant.

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Xiaomi Mi A2 Review: Android One refined

It delivers where it should

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Quality products at honest prices — this is Xiaomi’s business philosophy, which is why it made so much sense when the company partnered with Google a year ago to release the Mi A1, an Android One phone. Fast forward to a year later and we now have the Xiaomi Mi A2, a refinement on what was already a solid pure Android device.

Being a midrange device, Xiaomi skipped on a few things with the Mi A2. What the Chinese company did with the phone though is focus on two key things: performance and the cameras. However, before we get into those, let’s first talk about the design.

Basic design

If you’ve seen the Mi 6X and think it looks a lot like the Mi A2, that’s because these phones are essentially one and the same. The only difference is the Mi A2 runs pure Android versus the Mi 6X which runs Android with MIUI on top.

For a phone that has a nearly 6-inch display (5.99 inches), it didn’t feel as hefty as I initially thought it would. There’s also a fingerprint sensor at the back that should be easy for most people to reach.

The Mi A2 also skipped the headphone jack, opting instead for two speakers. The twin speakers are pretty impressive — more than enough to fill a small room with whatever you’re jamming to.

The Xiaomi Mi A2 rests on top of the Mi A1

Xiaomi didn’t completely forget about headphone users who still prefer or can’t get away from a wired experience. Included in the retail box is a USB-C to 3.5mm jack adapter so you can still use whatever old headphones you have lying around.

Just another adapter you’ll probably misplace

The power and volume buttons are on the right side, while on the left you’ll find the dual-SIM card slot. Remember what I said earlier about Xiaomi skipping things? The second SIM card slot isn’t hybrid, which means the storage isn’t expandable.

No hybrid slots here

The variant I reviewed has 4GB of memory and 64GB of storage. There’s also one with 6GB RAM and 128GB internal storage but if you require more space, you’re out of luck.

Pure performance

Enough about its shortcomings, though; let’s talk about the good stuff. Powering the Mi A2 is a Snapdragon 660. It’s an AI-capable chip and its capabilities are more noticeable on the camera. More on that later.

Being an Android One phone, the Mi A2 runs a pure version of Android 8.1 Oreo. This also means your default gallery is Google Photos which gives you unlimited cloud storage. In a way, this can help address the lack of a microSD card slot.

There’s also zero bloatware. That means there are fewer apps slowing your device down and eating up the smaller-than-expected 3010mAh battery.

Yours truly enjoying the pure Android experience

In the little over three weeks that I used the phone, I can say for sure that the battery holds up really well. On occasions when I used it heavily, I would end the day with roughly around 15 to 20 percent left. On more regular days I’m left with 40 to 50 percent. This includes the periodic and mostly mindless browsing on social media, toggling through chat apps, getting lost in the YouTube black hole of videos, and catching an episode or two of a series on Netflix.

What GadgetMatch videos have you seen lately?

Personally, I don’t play a lot of mobile games but for the purpose of this review, I sparingly played Dragon Ball Legends and a little bit of Asphalt Xtreme. It ran both games with zero lag on max graphics settings. However, I never played for an extended amount time. My gaming sessions lasted only around 10 to 20 minutes.

Ever wanted to go Super Saiyan? I have!

If your usage patterns are similar to mine, you’ll enjoy using the Mi A2. It manages  basic smartphone tasks with ease and can probably handle your favorite mobile games with no problems as well.

AI-assisted cameras

Xiaomi talked a great deal about the the cameras on the Mi A2. To be honest, I was skeptical at first, but after taking a few shots around the cities of Toledo and Madrid in Spain, the Mi A2’s cameras completely won me over.

The Snapdragon 660 is also at work on these cameras along with the 20MP + 12MP hardware combo. The 12-megapixel sensor takes clearer daytime photos while the 20-megapixel shooter takes care of your low-light needs.

20MP + 12MP dual cameras assisted by AI

The AI scene detection on the Mi A2 works in the background, automatically selecting the best settings depending on the subject or scene you’re shooting. Take a look at these samples:

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I absolutely love taking portraits and the Mi A2 didn’t disappoint. It uses both the camera and AI to give you photos with creamy bokeh.

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The portrait mode also works in the front-facing camera. Take a look at these selfies:

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The video stabilization is another aspect that was surprising. You won’t notice it while you’re shooting but after the phone has finished processing, you’ll see really smooth video. Your pans will look clean even if you don’t use the phone with a gimbal.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

There are absolutely zero gimmicks in the Mi A2 — just straight up everything you need in both software and hardware. You could argue that leaving out the headphone jack and microSD card slot will leave some users wanting, but Xiaomi offered solutions by way of an adapter and Google Photos.

Other than that, the Mi A2 delivers where it promised it would — a smooth performance on a clean, pure Android interface along with AI-assisted cameras that take amazing photos no matter the lighting condition.

For a phone that costs roughly around US$ 315 (Official pricing at launch of variant reviewed is EUR 279), that’s certainly a sweet deal that probably gets even sweeter depending on the region you’re in. It’s a quality product at an honest price.

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