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.

Accessories

Mi True Wireless Earphones 2 review: Affordable, but far from perfect

Xiaomi’s premium TWS offering

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The truly wireless earphones market is filled with a plethora of options today, ranging from entry-level offerings like the Redmi Earbuds S to the premium Sony WF-1000XM3. However, the most popular TWS earphones are from Apple — the AirPods.

AirPods kickstarted the TWS trend, and since then, pretty much every brand has jumped onboard. Xiaomi is known for its reliable yet affordable products, and it has launched a few options previously, but it was limited to its home market of China.

Now, the brand has finally launched the Mi True Wireless Earphones 2 in India, and it’s pretty much half the price of Apple’s AirPods.

The Redmi Earbuds S is an entry-level offering while Mi branding is now used for the company’s premium offerings. TWS earphones are incredibly convenient to use, and their demand is consistently rising. Can the Mi TWS 2 offer maximum features for the price and go against the competition?

Do they look like the AirPods?

 

At first sight, you’d think they are the AirPods for a quick second. But it’s soon clear that they aren’t. This is something I appreciate about the Mi TWS 2. In a market filled with AirPods knockoffs, it’s nice to see a different design. However, don’t set your expectations too high.

The earbud’s stem is exceptionally thick, and this is easily noticeable from the side. Thankfully, it doesn’t look that thick from the front view and is oval. The stem is also considerably long, giving the earbud a very bulky look.

The polycarbonate build has a matte finish on the stem while the driver is smooth and shiny. I feel the earphones were designed with utility and features in mind, and aesthetics took a back seat.

If the bulkier design can add more battery life and better drivers, I’m okay with it. This may not be the case with many since they tend to look like cheap AirPods knockoffs.

Each earbud weighs just 4 grams, and they slide in your ears very smoothly. Putting them on is a quick task, and for calls, while driving, these are exceedingly convenient to wear single-handedly. The semi-open design is supposed to be fit-for-all. But, this is where my primary concern lies.

How’s the overall user experience?

The earbuds fit perfectly and are rather stable. But the satisfaction of wearing an earbud is utterly absent because of reduced noise isolation. Even though they’ve never automatically snuggled out, I’m always afraid of losing them while walking. The confidence to wear them outdoors is low.

These too sport gesture-based controls, and the result is below satisfaction. I’d have to try a few times before they actively receive the command. Even play/pause function is rather cumbersome and paired with the loose fit; I’m afraid they don’t fall off.

Thankfully, they have an optical sensor that automatically plays/pauses a song when the earbud is worn or removed. Most times, I’d simply remove them from my ear instead of relying on the gesture buttons.

Lastly, the case is quite basic from a design point of view but gets the job done properly. The plastic build is solid, the lid has magnetic detection, and the earbuds aren’t finicky when plugged for charging. A small LED light on the front will show you the case’s battery status. A USB-C port is located on the bottom.

Pairing them is a straightforward task, and Xiaomi phones will automatically pop-up the status menu just like it’s on iOS. It’ll show you each earbud’s battery percentage along with the case.

But do they sound good?

The brand has added a lot of features on the audio side to make the product look premium. It has support for multiple codecs like SBC, AAC, and LHDC. The last one allows high-resolution audio streaming via Bluetooth. I used the Redmi Note 9 Pro Max to test the Mi TWS 2 and it automatically leveraged the AAC band.

Each earbud houses a 14.2mm audio driver, which isn’t the biggest. But, much of the audio output relies on tuning. Sound testing is also very subjective, so I’ll try to address everyone’s choice.

To start with, the output is very crisp and clear, and the vocals are perfectly heard. If you’re into Bollywood songs or even pop, these should be ideal for you.

Unlike the usual tuning, we see in Indian products; the bass here is well managed. It isn’t too much and ultimately does justice for every user. I’d say these are your GadgetMatch if you listen to podcasts and audiobooks.

The drivers are massively let down by non-existent noise isolation. The design of the earbuds inherently means you can hear pretty much everything happening around you. Even at maximum volume, it just didn’t feel enough.

Lastly, they have “Environment Noise Cancellation” that automatically kicks in when you’re on a call. Background noise is reduced drastically, and everyone I called could feel the change. The overall voice clarity is immensely improved, and high-winds too couldn’t deter them.

How long can they last?

Xiaomi claimed the earbuds can last up to four hours on a single charge and it’s on-point. I was able to get almost four hours with volume at 80 percent.

The case is capable of providing 10 hours of backup, taking the total to fourteen. Thankfully, the case takes just an hour to charge.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

If you’re an audiophile, the simple answer is no. The Mi TWS 2 will disappoint you in many ways. However, if you’re looking for work-related earphones, these are perfect.

Calls are ultra-clear, and the overall experience is better thanks to a loose fit. Keep them on, and get through a full day’s work. On the audio side, hip-hop or bass-intensive genre may not suit well here. However, all other vocal-centric songs shall swing by without a hitch.

With a price of INR 4,499, the Mi True Wireless Earphones 2 is a solid competitor. When compared to the realme Buds Air, these lose out on aesthetics. But, the minor additions from a function point of view are worth the slight bump in price.

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Reviews

LG Velvet Review: New breed of flagship killer?

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Over the years, LG was once a pioneer in the smartphone industry with their G and V smartphone series. These phones are packed with a lot of punch and boast new and exciting features.

But LG has forgotten one thing, and that is how to fix their unexciting phone designs. From the G7 ThinQ all the way to V50 ThinQ 5G, those phones almost look unchanged. They might have been minor changes with the newer V60 ThinQ 5G, but it’s still not as eye-catching as other contenders.

The LG Velvet isn’t a replacement to their ever-existing flagship series. Instead, LG tries to reimagine things by making sure they produce products that cater the needs of not just tech nerds, but other types of consumers as well.

Here’s our in-depth review of the LG Velvet.

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Accessories

Redmi Earbuds S review: Affordable TWS without compromises

Making TWS earphones more accessible

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Truly wireless (TWS) earphones have been around for a while. Apple kick-started the hype with the launch of the AirPods and numerous brands have released alternatives since. However, they’ve always been very expensive.

With brands keen on ditching the headphone jack, users are often left with no option but to find wireless options. Redmi phones continue to have a headphone jack, but the brand also wants to remain focused on its target — deliver quality products at an affordable price.

The Redmi Earbuds S is the first TWS offering in India under the Redmi brand. While the brand stands strong in the smartphone segment, it has some cut-throat competition from realme. With a price tag of INR 1,799 (US$ 24), does it have enough firepower to take on the competition? If you’re looking for an entry-level TWS solution, can you trust the Earbuds S? Let’s find out!

Not AirPods knock-offs

If you’ve been following the TWS market, the Earbuds S will look familiar. These are sold as the AirDots S in China and many have ordered them previously via international marketplaces. In India, Redmi is calling them the Earbuds S and these could land in more south-east Asian markets soon.

While the trend is to follow Apple’s design language, the Earbuds S is going against the flow. It has its own distinctive design that looks nothing like a cheap knock-off.

The pill-shaped case is compact, feels solid in hand, and has a subtle curve on the bottom. The case size is perfect and it’ll always slide into your pocket smoothly.

Each earbud weighs just 4g and the in-ear design is immensely comfortable. I’ve worn them pretty much all day long and never felt any irritation, pain, or slightest of inconvenience. The snug fit also ensures adequate noise isolation and wearing them while driving for calls is seamless.

There’s not much to talk about with the design since it’s basic and gets the job done. They’re built out of plastic and its clearly evident at first sight.

I won’t count this as a drawback since it helps reduce overall weight and I wouldn’t expect metal or premium construction at this price.

Easy to use, fairly straightforward

The lid is very basic but has a satisfying feel to it when closing. Unlike the popular AirPods, these sit in your ears at a 45-degree angle. Paired along are two earbud tips to suit your ear canal. I didn’t have to use them and the standard size that comes along worked fine.

Using them is a very straightforward process. Open the lid, remove the earbuds, and wear them.

They’ll connect to your phone as soon as they’re disconnected from the case. I’ve never faced any connection issues so far. Each earbud has a button for quick controls such as music playback options and calling up Google Assistant.

On the flip side, you can’t rely on the earbuds to change the volume level or play a previous song. That can only be managed via your phone.

Pressing the button thrice will trigger the low-latency gaming mode. A feature that’ll be very handy while playing online multiplayer games like PUBG Mobile or Mobile Legends.

Each earbud has an indicator light that shows the status. Red means they’re charging while white means successful connection establishment. Lastly, they’re IPX4 certified, meaning sweat resistance. This obviously translates to a perfect workout session.

Punchy bass, relatively good audio

This is where I was surprised the most. Considering the nifty features it already has, I expected some kind of compromise in this department. And, I was wrong.

It has 7.2mm drivers and delivers punchy bass — a must-have for Bollywood music. Mainstream genres like pop sound amazing and if you’re not an audiophile, you won’t have any complaints.

The maximum volume is sufficiently loud and coupled with good isolation, even a busy market street is easily navigable.

However, if you’re looking for top-notch audio, these aren’t meant for you. The low frequency takes over while the mids are flat. You can use an equalizer to change the settings but the inherent tuning is in favor of bass-heavy music.

Furthermore, these connect via the SBC codec and there’s no support for aptX. I wouldn’t call this a drawback because the brand has to cut corners to make them accessible to a wider audience.

Adequate playback duration

Xiaomi claims the earbuds can deliver up to four hours of playback on a single charge and I’ve reached 3 hours 45 minutes in one go. So, their claims aren’t farfetched.

The case can charge the earbuds fully twice, delivering a total of 12 hours of playback in one go. If you’re going to use them for conference calls, music, and other work-related activities, they’ll easily get you through a working day.

The case takes almost two hours to charge fully. For frequent travelers, this can be a major drawback. Furthermore, the case charges via a microUSB port instead of the now-standard USB-C. Don’t forget to carry that extra charging cord along!

Can this be your GadgetMatch?

Yes. It definitely can. While there are a lot of minor additions I’d want to see, the price brings me back to reality.

In a nutshell, they’re designed aptly, deliver ordinarily better audio, and have 12 hours of playback. For US$ 25, there’s no better deal available. Keep in mind, the Redmi Earbuds S are making TWS earphones more accessible to everyone.

If you’re looking for top-notch audio quality, there are premium offerings like the OPPO Enco Free, Galaxy Buds, and 1More Truly Stylish. On the affordable side, realme Buds Air Neo and OPPO Enco W31 can be alternatives but are still priced considerably high.

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