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.

Laptops

Huawei MateBook D 15 2021 11th Gen review: 4 months after

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Huawei MateBook D 15

The work from home and online class setup had us all adjusting to this new normal. You’ll see a lot of inquiries on Facebook groups about LED ring lights, microphones and midrange laptop recommendations. Huawei’s MateBook D series is among the ones you’ll see that has gotten a lot of popularity for this purpose.

It makes perfect sense, since back when I first reviewed the Huawei MateBook D 15 2021 11th Gen, I had a lot of good things to say about it. After four months under regular use, there are quite a few more that I came to realize about this device that I think you guys might find interesting.

It can get things done

A quick refresher on its specs, the D 15 2021 we have with us has an 11th gen Core i5 with the Intel Iris Xe graphics, 16GB DDR4 RAM and 512GB of SSD storage. 

It’s no question, if you’re just going to use this for online classes or regular zoom meetings, the D 15 probably won’t even break a sweat. However, I consider my power requirements to be somewhat on the heavy side for my photo and video editing needs.

What surprised me was I didn’t find myself having to go back to my main editing workstation and have actually done more work on the D 15 than I expected. It may not be as fast, but it also wasn’t drastically slower.

Plus the fact that this has a more accurate display with its 100 percent sRGB color gamut, the 15.6-inch LED display is perfect for my daily Photoshop use.

Portability also applies at home

Huawei MateBook D 15

Working from home for a long time and looking at the same thing over and over, not having to be able to go to places, had many of us bored and unmotivated. I personally always had that urge to look for another spot just for the change of scenery.

Thankfully, weighing only 1.56kg, it gave me the flexibility for me to place it in different places. I didn’t worry that the surface wouldn’t be able to handle it.

Battery life

The capability to place the D 15 on different places wouldn’t really matter if you’re still stuck near an outlet because you’re constantly required to plug it in. Fortunately, the 42Wh battery of the D 15 keeps us away from the charger for around nine to ten hours before needing to plug it back in.

Huawei addresses issues and gives regular updates

Huawei MateBook D 15

During its time with me, the D 15 had quite a few driver and software updates. Along with one of the updates came a fix for an issue I had with its fingerprint scanner where it frequently had trouble recognizing my fingerprint. While it shouldn’t have had that issue to begin with, the regular updates are an indication that users aren’t abandoned and issues are in fact being addressed on Huawei’s end.

I also learned from Huawei’s website that the MateBook series has a Windows 11 upgrade rollout plan. That’s something nice to look forward to.

Undesirable camera angle

Huawei MateBook D 15

Sadly, not everything is praise worthy on the D 15. The hidden web camera, while innovative, came at the cost of an awful camera angle. Since it is placed on the keyboard, it is also pointed upwards.

Using it, you’ll mostly see an unflattering image of yourself often emphasizing the size of your nostrils.But if you decide that you’d want to use a laptop raiser for a more comfortable viewing angle, the camera won’t be pointed downwards. That’d make it barely usable.

A generous availability of ports

Huawei MateBook D 15

Being the boxing fan that I am, the recent Pacquiao fight had me subscribing for a pay-per-view service. The full sized HDMI port on the D 15 was heaven sent. During the fight as I was able to output the fight on our dated TV set. It let us to enjoy the stream on a bigger screen.

The availability of USB ports on both sides also let us to choose where certain devices can be plugged. We didn’t worry about hitting our external drives with our mouse or fitting multiple USB devices side by side.

Multi-Screen Collaboration

I did not find myself using this feature as much. However, having this capability eliminated the need for me to grab a USB cable to transfer files from my phone. A quick tap of my phone and I was ready to transfer photos I recently. It’s great for some quick editing before posting on Instagram. 

Is this still your GadgetMatch?

Huawei MateBook D 15

When I think of the D 15, freedom is the word that comes to mind. It gives so much freedom to work anywhere with its portability and battery life. You get freedom to do what you wish with it with its capable hardware. There’s also freedom from wires with the Multi-Screen Collaboration. And even freedom to plug various devices with its great selection of ports.

It’s a no fuss kind of laptop that just gets things done. Its sheer simplicity is what makes it a great device.

If you’re interested in getting the Huawei MateBook D 15 2021 11th Gen with 16GB RAM and 512GB SSD, you can now get it for PhP 48,999.00.

 

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Reviews

Samsung Galaxy Watch4 Review: Best Android smartwatch yet?

But is it any better than the Apple Watch?

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Samsung launched the Galaxy Watch4 just recently — which is the successor to 2019’s Galaxy Watch Active2.

Now with the power of a BIA (Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis) via its Bio Active Sensor, the Galaxy Watch4 can simply measure your body composition with just your two fingers and wrist.

But is it any better than the Apple Watch?

Watch our Samsung Galaxy Watch4 review now to know more.

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Accessories

Maonocaster Lite AU-AM200-S1: Intuitive and portable podcasting rig

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AU-AM200-S1

I am a fan of quality and affordable gear. Modern manufacturing techniques and advancements in technology gave us a vast selection of gadgets in all shapes and sizes.

With the gaining popularity of live streaming, the demand for good audio interface and microphones is growing. The brand Maono, relatively speaking, is a newcomer that offers affordable audio products.

What we’ve got here is the Maonocaster Lite AU-AM200-S1, which is a portable podcasting gear. This is the very first product I’ve got the chance to try from this brand and I’m liking it so far. This bundle is ideal for someone who is just getting into podcasting or a musician looking for a cheaper alternative.

What’s in the box?

AM200 Podcast Console

At first glance I actually thought it was a miniatured DJ turntable because of the two mini platters, but those are just volume knobs for the mics and music. It is a 3-channel mixer-type audio interface with five outputs. The two inputs are designated for mics and/or instruments and the other input is for music. Three outputs (3.5mm TRRS) for smartphones are available so you can stream simultaneously on different platforms.

A separate main and monitor output is available so you can listen to what your audience hears. Note that all the inputs and outputs are for 3.5mm jacks so if you are planning to plug in an instrument directly using a PL (1/4 inch) cable, you will need a 3.5mm adapter.

Plug and play

You can connect it to a computer with the USB A to C cable that is included. It doesn’t require any drivers, so, just plug it in and it’s good to go. It should be compatible to most DAWs (Digital Audio Workstation) for music recording. There is a 3-band EQ along with a “REC” volume knob which is like a “Send” knob to feed the audio to the devices it’s connected to.

Two crossfaders control the monitor volume and echo level. The “monitor” crossfader controls both the volume level for the (main) output and the monitor (output). I wish they installed separated levers for each one to control them independently.

This is also the case for the mic volume knob, it controls both the levels of mic 1 and mic 2. It would’ve have been handy if there are separate knobs for each but I think they did this design to fit in a compact box.

For outdoor streaming and recording

At the middle portion, you’ll notice along the LED indicator level signal is a battery indicator. Yes, this is also battery powered which makes it suitable for out of home live streaming, if you prefer creating something for your viewers elsewhere. You can easily recharge the batteries with the USB C cable.

There are also audio sample pads, buttons for sound effects and pitch shifters.

AU-PM360TR Microphone

AU-AM200-S1

This condenser microphone does not require phantom power. It runs below 5V, through the XLR to 3.5mm cable, unlike the industry standard condenser microphones. With its cardioid polar pattern, it will be more sensitive to sounds being captured in front of it.

Earphones

It comes with a pair of in-ear earbuds with a very long cable, enough to cover the distance for a typical on-desk live streaming. I think that the sound quality would be more appreciated by most modern pop listeners who like a lot of bass. Because it does deliver that low-mid thump.

Tripod

Out of the box, the microphone comes attached to the mini tabletop tripod. The microphone is detachable to the tripod, but if it is used handheld, it will pick-up a lot of hand noise. So, it is better to leave it on the tripod.

Other accessories included are: XLR to 3.5mm cable, two 3.5mm TRRS cables, USB A to USB C cable, and a windscreen cap.

Performance

For podcasting, it is very easy to use. It’s what the AU-AM200-S1 is made for and they did a good job. The microphone delivers a clearer and louder output compared to built-in mics in smartphones/laptops or headsets. You can control the volume of music accompaniment easily with the wheel knob, whenever you want to highlight the music or the voice.

Plus, the sound samples like the applause, laughter, cheering etc., are nice additions for some impromptu segments in your streams. You can also record your own samples by pressing the “loop back” button and assigning to any of the blank buttons available.

Since the microphone does not require a phantom power, the output is weaker compared to classic condenser microphones. The sound quality is good nevertheless.

AU-AM200-S1

For music recording, you can record your instruments with it on your preferred DAW. I connected my guitar to my digital effects processor with a 3.5mm headphones jack going to the mic input of Maono console. I noticed that the 2 mic inputs have high gain levels because my guitar was already clipping with the volume knob on the AM200 console at around 10 o’clock.

Usually, I set the volume on my guitar effects unit on almost full when I am recording with a different audio interface and mixers. But with the Maono AU-AM200-S1, I only had to set the volume of my guitar effects at 50 percent. This is good because it doesn’t have a designated gain knob. Just watch out for clipping- if it happens, you may want to lower the volume from the source.

I recorded a few short audio samples to demonstrate how the Maonocaster Lite AU-AM200-S1 handles recording. Please excuse my singing voice.

Mic only without echo(onboard) – vocal

Mic only with 50% echo(onboard) – vocal

Mic only with 100% echo(onboard) – vocal

Mic only without echo – vocal and guitar

Mic only with post-editing – vocal and guitar

Guitar through a digital effects processor

In a full band mix – Recorded vocals and guitars (both acoustic and electric)

Fully recorded demo

 

There are two functions that I have a few comments on:

AU-AM200-S1

Denoise — This is their “smart noise cancelling” feature that reduces background noise. It does its job as a noise gate, but unfortunately, you cannot adjust the settings (threshold, attack, range, etc.). Depending on how loud the ambient noise is, the mic sometimes gets a stuttering sound when this feature is engaged. If the room is quiet enough, there shouldn’t be any problem.

Music Only — This feature attempts to minimize the vocals in the music that you are playing, but similarly to the denoise, it sometimes affects the mic audio quality. I suggest looking for backing tracks of the songs you want to sing during your live stream beforehand.

Is the AU-AM200-S1 your GadgetMatch?

AU-AM200-S1

The Maonocaster Lite AU-AM200-S1 bundle is a usable and functional piece of gear. I see it as a bring-it-anywhere, all-in-one podcasting kit. It would have been more convenient (for me) if they included ¼ inch inputs for mics and instruments. Although, I guess it would kind of defeat its portable nature because most PL cables are thicker and heavier compared to the 3.5mm cables included in this bundle.

Pricing and Availability

The Maonocaster Lite AU-AM200-S1 retails for $109.00 and is available for purchase in Amazon, Shopee, and Lazada. You can check out their other products at the official Maono website.

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