Reviews

ASUS ZenFone Max Pro M2 review

Part two of the Max experiment

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The ZenFone Max Pro M1 was one of those unicorns in the smartphone realm. Not only did it have dual cameras and a massive battery, it also came with stock Android — a rarity in ASUS’ lineup.

It was priced just right, hovering around the US$ 200 sweet spot in most regions. That being said, a successor was definitely in order, and the M2 I have here might bring that magic back.

The ZenFone Max Pro M2 is certainly bigger, badder, and more of a gaming phone than the M1 was. But with a higher price tag, is it still an easy-to-recommend product, especially with all the great options in the market?

On the outside, it’s a typical ZenFone, from the solid build to the super-bright 6.3-inch 1080p LCD. New this time around is the notch that houses the front-facing camera. It’s a sore spot in an otherwise clean design, but at this point, I can no longer argue against the established trend.

Next is the move from a metal coating to a shinier material for the rear. I can’t confirm yet if it’s mostly glass or plastic, but it’s more of a fingerprint magnet than what the previous ZenFone Max models had. ASUS does include a clear case to prevent unsightly fingerprints.

On the back you’ll find the fingerprint scanner, which isn’t that fast for logging in but more reliable than its face scanning. After alternating between the two, I ended up using the fingerprint sensor more, though that’s not to say it has a major advantage.

However, what matters more is the processor this smartphone comes with. It’s a Snapdragon 660, a chipset you’d normally find on more expensive handsets. Coupled with up to 6GB of memory and 64GB of storage, its performance certainly fits the bill.

If the storage isn’t enough, you’ll be glad to know that there’s a triple-card slot inside to house two nano-SIM cards and a microSD at the same time. If you’re planning to use this as a pure gaming device, that extra space holds a lot of weight.

During day-to-day activities like taking photos, multitasking around productivity apps, and binging on Netflix, I had no qualms whatsoever. It’s comparable to what the Nokia 7 Plus and Vivo V11 can do with the same chipset, and it helps that pure Android is on board to prevent bloatware from getting in the way.

But what we really want to test is mobile games, since ASUS is promoting the ZenFone Max Pro M2 as a budget-friendly gaming device. Early impression: Performance depends on which games you play.

I tried Ragnarok M and although the phone kept cool no matter how long I played, it would throttle at certain times, leading to choppy frame rates when there was too much action happening at once. I didn’t experience this with similarly priced phones like the Pocophone F1 and Honor Play.

Things are a little different with Asphalt 9, which relies more on bursts of intense processing with short breaks in between. This allowed the ZenFone Max Pro M2 to shine more, providing really smooth gameplay without heating up.

But what’s truly impressive is the battery life. I could play either of those games for five hours straight and they would reduce the percentage to only half. That’s amazing, and at the same time expected out of a 5000mAh capacity.

Unfortunately, topping up this battery to full using the bundled charger is a royal pain. With an average of 15 percent gains every 30 minutes, it would take around 3.5 hours to reach a hundred. I tried using faster chargers but the results were practically the same.

I’m not sure if this was a cost-cutting move or an oversight; either way, it sucks to wait for the phone to charge so long between gaming sessions. It doesn’t help that I’m forced to plug in through its micro-USB port. Every other device I own made the switch to the superior USB-C.

My bigger concern is ASUS’ update plans for this phone’s aging Android 8.1 Oreo, which came out in 2017. Despite being stock in nature, it isn’t part of the Android One program, so Google won’t be able aid in pushing new software.

For reference, the ZenFone Max Pro M1 is still on Oreo, with no sign of Pie this year. While having a pure Android experience is great, not having timely updates defeats some of the purpose. In some cases, I actually miss ZenUI and the attention ASUS gives to it.

On that note, my review unit had some issues with the camera app at first, but ASUS has since fixed all the bugs. The app originally called Camera App Lite would often hang or not allow me to capture a shot even when all conditions were met. It’s simply called Camera now and works quite well with its clean interface.

During my short time with the cameras, I was impressed by the dynamic range and ability to maintain sharpness under poor lighting conditions. Both the rear 12-megapixel sensor and 13-megapixel selfie shooter performed as expected out of a midrange handset — meaning they were satisfying to use — though I question the usability of the 5-megapixel depth sensor on the back.

Blurring the background and cutting out the edges of a subject weren’t strong points for the rear shooters. What I did like was the saturation and strong colors they produced. Here are some samples:

Editor’s note: This section initially stated that the camera app was buggy and felt like beta software. ASUS has since reached out and updated our unit. The camera performance is much improved now and doesn’t exhibit any of the aforementioned faults.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

With a price increase of about US$ 100, the ZenFone Max Pro M2 isn’t as affordable as it once was, although I do appreciate the improvements in multiple aspects.

The new chipset is a definite winner, and the sleeker design makes it easier to show off in public. In addition, everything that made the M1 so special is still there, from the massive battery to the bright screen.

I recommend this particular ZenFone to those who value performance and want something more out of a gaming smartphone. It may not be as fast as the Honor Play or Pocophone F1, but it’s the most well-rounded device in the entire ZenFone lineup.

Gaming

ASUS ROG Zephyrus M GU502 Review: Real gaming buddy

Bask in the ROG Experience

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I like to play video games for many reasons, and for all occasions. Whether as a stress reliever or as a weekend plan with friends, I always find time to game. Naturally, I would want a device that can keep up with my gaming demands, and that also includes great visuals while playing. Even if it’s overwhelmingly expensive, I’d still look for the “cream of the crop.”

Then I heard about this ROG Experience concept from ASUS, and I figured that I should definitely give it a shot. The company’s dedicated gaming brand introduced the ASUS ROG Zephyrus M GU502 back in April. The main selling point: a device that offers both high-quality performance for work and gaming. To me, it promises to be one monster package altogether.

But does it fully live up to its selling point? Let’s find out.

It comes in a slim form factor, unlike previous Zephyrus models

It has a 240Hz FHD display with a 3ms response rate

It comes with an NVIDIA GTX 1660Ti graphics card inside

It has an RGB-backlit keyboard with ASUS’ Aura Sync technology

All that power, all the productivity in the world

This device comes in a powerful yet visibly thinner package. It has a 9th-generation Intel Core i7-9750H processor inside, which delivers top tier productive performance. I ran several light and heavy applications all at once, and I felt like a god just multitasking through all of them.

It also helped that the device runs on 16GB of RAM and a 512GB solid-state drive. All that memory, disk space, and disk read speed meant that applications quickly booted up. I found myself speeding through most of my day-to-day tasks because of how quick this device is.

It’s like I could watch YouTube videos, work on Excel spreadsheets, browse social media and Spotify all in one sitting. You can even add more windows for video editing, graphic design, and light gaming. This is one heavy-duty device for someone like me.

Playing harder at any rate without missing a moment

This device rocks an NVIDIA GTX 1660Ti, which to me feels like a tiny downgrade from the RTX 2070 option. Nonetheless, gaming performance on the ASUS ROG Zephyrus M was splendid. Heavy-duty, popular titles such as Fortnite, PUBG, and Apex Legends all reached a 60 FPS threshold at their highest possible settings.

Gameplay just feels smooth, with no visible lag spikes in between high-pressure moments. The 6GB of VRAM that comes with the graphics card just provides all the power you need to play harder. Just make sure your internet doesn’t occasionally disconnect when you’re about to win.

To achieve higher frame rates, you do need to keep the charger plugged. Keeping the device unplugged while gaming still allows you to reach 60 FPS. It’s just that you could go as low as 25 FPS on average, which makes these games barely playable.

The wonderful, colorful, and fast display

To supplement the raw processing and gaming power, you need the ideal display for the job. At least, that’s how I would describe the FHD near bezel-less display this device came with. It’s one of those Pantone certified displays so naturally, I expected great color accuracy for images and videos.

And true enough, that’s exactly what I got. I don’t know about you, but there’s something about a display with vibrant and accurate color grading that makes images much clearer. This is ideal for those who wish to use this device for creative pursuits, as well. Or, if you just want to watch Feel Special or Fake & True over and over, and bask in the glorious visuals.

Also, it comes with a whopping 240Hz refresh rate at a 3ms response time, ideal for gamers. I could literally play non-stop, and not miss a single frame to react to. Also, with these refresh rate elements on the screen just feels and looks extra smoother.

It tries to keep cool, but blasts a lot of heat out

With most gaming machines, you need proper cooling systems to keep the device running. ASUS takes no exception to this, as they decide to put two cooling fans underneath this bad boy. Of course, the goal is to blast heat out of the device while you’re doing heavy-duty workload.

In my experience, the laptop still feels relatively warm even if I turn the fans to its recommended performance setting. The fans do get noisy when they’re on full blast, but that’s something I already expected. It can be bothersome for some people, especially when you’re playing games and you want quiet surroundings.

You can do all of these for a fairly good amount of time

Naturally, I’d like to assume that battery life is a touchy subject for gaming laptops. Most gaming laptops typically boast short battery lives, ranging from two to three hours when strictly gaming. The ASUS ROG Zephyrus M is no different, as I was only able to use the device for strictly gaming purposes for three and a half hours.

However, when you’re not fully gaming, its battery life is pretty decent. I got about six and a half to seven hours on one full charge doing mostly work-related tasks, light gaming, and video streaming. Windows’ Battery Saver gave me an extra hour and a half, which is still pretty decent considering the workload.

Charging the device doesn’t take too long, either. I got the battery level to 60 percent within 45 minutes, with one full charge taking two and a half hours. Of course, when I was using the device while charging, it took close to three hours.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

At PhP 109,995, the ASUS ROG Zephyrus M is one supreme machine. You get unrivaled performance for almost any way you want to use this device. Be it just for playing video games, video editing, or even simple productive workload, it covers all of those.

Of course, there are things you have to worry about with a device like this. From battery life to its intricate cooling system, some things will have to give way for you to experience nothing but the best. 

All that power compressed into one thin package, making this the ideal on-the-go gaming device. And quite honestly, the ROG Experience truly was worth having thanks to this device.

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Nokia 7.2 review: Quality above all

A no-brainer

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The Nokia 7.2 is the latest in the 7 series by HMD. In true Nokia fashion, it boasts of solid build quality, and as part of the Android One program, Nokia will be providing Android updates consistently as well. But the 7.2 is more than just another Nokia phone — its camera tells a different story.

Beautiful Nordic design with all the essentials

When you talk about Nokia, you think build quality and the Nokia 7.2 really does feel like a solid phone. There’s Gorilla Glass 3 on the front and back held together by a polymer composite frame, which Nokia says is twice as strong as polycarbonate and half the weight of aluminum. The phone is massive but still very comfortable to hold because of its rounded edges.

The Nokia 7.2 comes with a matte, frosted glass back in either Cyan Green or Charcoal. Both variants look elegant and the Cyan Green model that we have gives off that signature Nordic look expected of a Nokia.

At the back you’ll see a circular arrangement for the camera module with the ZEISS branding proudly shown off. Some people say this reminds them of recent Moto phones but this design language actually first popped up in Nokia’s Lumia line back in the day — first with the iconic Nokia Lumia 1020 PureView, and then a few more phones after that.

Button and port placements are located where they usually are. The power button on the right side also doubles as the notification LED light.

There’s a 3.5mm headphone jack at the top.

A tray for dual nano SIM cards and microSD card on the left. Below that you’ll find the Google Assistant button. There’s no way to officially remap it to something potentially more useful but if you’re a big Google Assistant fan then there’s a dedicated button just for that.

At the bottom, you also get a USB-C port. No compromises here.

Dated internals, no problem

The Nokia 7.2 is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 660, which is a little bit dated, it’s almost 2 years old and is the same one found in its predecessor, the Nokia 7 plus.

Nokia is not the only brand to use older, more reliable processors for many of their smartphones. Xiaomi was (in)famous for using the Snapdragon 625 for nearly three years.

A lot of people have criticized Nokia online for choosing the older Snapdragon 660 instead of something newer like the Snapdragon 675. This is not necessarily a bad thing. There are a lot of reasons companies do this, one of them is to ensure better tuned software that makes the best use out of that processor. Another is to get consistent software updates faster because they just have to adapt for a fewer number of processors.

Other brands like to market their phones as “super powerful” because they need the extra power in those processors to pull off their clunky Android AOSP skins on top of everything else. There also isn’t really that much of a dramatic difference between Snapdragon 660 and Snapdragon 675.

On top of this, the Nokia 7.2 runs Android One. There’s no clunky skin on top, so that processor has more space to work with, theoretically speaking.

In everyday operations I faced no slowdowns or lag at all on the Nokia 7.2, except for the camera. Everything else was quick and as smooth as you’d expect on a phone in this price range. You can still play PUBG Mobile just fine, but I’d stick to medium settings.

The phone comes with either 4GB or 6GB of RAM, with either 64GB or 128GB of internal storage respectively. There’s the microSD card slot incase you want additional storage.

The Nokia 7.2 runs Android 9 Pie out of the box, but since this is an Android One Phone, it should be getting Android 10 anytime soon.

Everything from the clock to the notification dropdown are all stock Android and the interface is bloat-free. It’s your usual standard Android homescreen with a swipe-up multi-tasking menu and app drawer. There’s multi-window support, and Google’s default apps for gallery and music, a file manager, and Google calendar, and even the FM radio app.

Nokia promises two major OS updates (so that’s Android 10 which should be coming soon, and Android 11 whenever that pops up next year), and an extra third year of monthly patches for the phone for a total 3 years of software support. This is huge compared to how most Android smartphone companies abandon their non-flagship smartphones after a year or so.

Clunky but really good cameras

The triple camera setup at the back is the most important feature of the Nokia 7.2. It has the 48MP Quad Bayer sensor, which Nokia calls Quad Pixel, behind an f/1.8 aperture lens. Along with that there’s an 8MP 118-degree ultra wide-angle, and 5MP depth sensor, while at the front there’s a 20 megapixel selfie camera.

All four cameras have Zeiss optics. There’s prominent branding sitting in the middle of the camera lenses to remind you of it. There’s even bokeh modes inside the camera app that have the German optics brand’s name used — ZEISS Modern, ZEISS Swirl and ZEISS Smooth. These are for the bokeh modes that offer a DSLR-like portrait experience, which blurs not only the background but also the foreground. It also works at night and even if you have HDR enabled.

The ZEISS Bokeh styles look really unique and stylish and the Nokia 7.2 does a good job of separation between the subject and surroundings. You can change bokeh modes after taking the photo, so you can decide later what looks better.

The rear camera’s quality overall is really good, but the ultra-wide camera tends to lose details in low light situations.

You can opt to use the night mode in low light conditions. The phone can automatically detect if its handheld or on a tripod. It combines about 8-10 exposures in handheld, and up to 20 if on a tripod, to deliver better detail and HDR. This helps with noise reduction and dynamic range and it works with the ultra-wide angle camera too.

The selfie camera on the Nokia 7.2 also does a great job. I really loved the selfies I took with this phone.

Here are more sample photos.

Average battery life

Nokia proudly proclaims that you’ll get two days out of the 3500 mAh battery of the Nokia 7.2 and that’s mostly true. It’s not the largest that you’ll see in a phone this size but it’s much larger than the 3060mAh used in the Nokia 7.1.

With light to medium usage you’ll definitely get home every day with some solid amount of battery life percentage to spare. Even if you’re at the office and about to head out to meet friends on a sudden evening plan, you’ll feel confident knowing that the Nokia 7.2 will still last you throughout the evening.

But on moderate to heavy usage, you’ll definitely have to charge it up every night or risk it running out of battery early the next day.

Of course, if you’re going to be doing a lot of gaming or video-watching, you will see battery life go down faster than usual.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

With its new range of Nokia smartphones, HMD is really banking on build quality, and consistent software updates to compete against the razzle dazzle of its Chinese competitors. Nokia is also hoping to stand out in this very aggressive price range with the 7.2’s Zeiss-branded triple cameras. But are build quality and camera enough?

The honest answer is — it depends on the market you’re buying this phone in. If you’re considering the Nokia 7.2 on the American continent or Europe at EUR 249, go out and get it right now. It’s a great phone, and that camera is worth it. The only thing that comes close is the more expensive Pixel 3A.

In India and the rest of Asia, however, the Nokia 7.2 has a some very aggressive competition to deal with at almost exactly the same price range.

There’s the Realme XT which is a better phone in almost every way, except for camera quality. There’s also the Realme X — an all-screen phone with a pop-up selfie camera.

At the end of the day though, the Nokia 7.2 stands out in a sea of value for money midrange Chinese smartphones because of software support. They have a proven track record of keeping their phones updated and secure. If this is important to you, it’s a no-brainer.

Starting at INR 18,599 in India, and PhP 15,990 in the Philippines, the camera on the Nokia 7.2 is one of the best in its price range and the build quality is solid. If these all check the right boxes on your list, the Nokia 7.2 might just keep you happy for a very long time, and help you create some great memories along the way.

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Honor Band 5 Review: Reliable fitness companion

Counting steps was fun!

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We went hiking with the Honor Band 5 and I learned a few things about hiking, the fitness wearable, and myself — which is mostly just about how generally unfit I am.

The hike took place at Masungi Georeserve. It’s a conservation area in the Philippines that’s about 47 kilometers away from Metro Manila. One of the staff told us that during the prehistoric era, the entire reserve was submerged in water. Millions of years later, it’s now a mountain range inhabited by different species of plants, insects, and animals. Fun!

A view of a section of Masungi Georeserve

Unlike other trek sites, the Masungi Georeserve is  more… tamed. The rangers have built a path for curious hikers but if, like me, you have zero experience trekking or hiking, then don’t think for a second that this is going to be easy.

You need to have the right gear

The thing about having fitness goals (or just goals in general, really) are they need to be measurable for you to know your progress. With the Honor Band 5 slapped on my wrist, I was excited to find out several things but I didn’t expect to learn as much as I did when the hike wrapped up. More on this later.

MJ showing he has all the right gear for the hike

Another proper gear you need to take note of is your shoes. Just as there’s a pair meant for running, playing basketball, and training, there are also shoes made specifically for hiking.

I went out of my way to get a pair prior to the hike and it made a huge difference. I had a relatively easier time going through the terrain than some of the people I went with who wore regular running or training sneakers. This meant I had one less thing to worry about.

Getting started

Before we started, we first set up the Honor Band 5. To do so, you’ll need to download the Huawei Health app. Through the app you can see all your metrics as well as update the firmware and download more watch faces.

There were a variety of watch faces. They ranged from simple ones that just show you the time and the number of steps you’ve taken to those that showed the time, steps, and even heart rate.

For this particular trek, I wanted to check on my heart rate. I was happy to know it was still beating despite multiple failed romantic pursuits. In fact, it spiked more than I thought it would during the hike.

Design-wise, none of the watch faces really stood out. But there are enough options that I’m confident you’ll find something you’ll like and would want to stick with.

Tracking is insightful and fun

Onto to the hike! We were told it would take about four to five hours to complete the route. Naturally, we took longer than that. To completely track everything you need to go to workouts and choose outdoor walk.

The Honor Band 5 supports other workouts too like outdoor and indoor running, outdoor and indoor cycling, free training, and much more.

The trek had several stops — some were for resting, others were for the accompanying ranger to tell us more about the reserve. At each stop, I would check on the watch to see how many steps I’ve taken so far. Especially since the trail varies from straight and narrow paths to ones that require climbing.

The trek involved climbing down nets like this

Having the heart rate monitor up, I also made a conscious effort to check on my breathing. I’ve never really had strong lungs. Even when I still used to play basketball regularly when I was a lot younger, I was quick to run out of breath.

When I saw my heart rate going up so much higher than usual, I made it a point to stop for a while and take a few deep breaths to gather myself. The SpO2 Monitor2 also came in handy here. It detects your level of oxygen at different altitudes and thankfully mine stayed in the normal range for much of the trek.

There were too many of these nets. Not apparent in photo is the fear and dread I felt climbing down

Additionally, the colored amoled display on the Honor Band 5 made it easy to check on my numbers. This is also through even when it started to rain. I could still see the numbers clearly despite the watch being drenched.

The Honor Band 5 is water resistant for up to 50m. So not only can it survive the rain, it’s also made to accompany you during your swimming sessions.

Taking a closer look at the numbers

After the hike, you’ll need to stop the tracking so you get your entire workout summary. It took us nearly eight hours to complete the trek and the rest of my numbers are pretty interesting.

The Masungi Georeserve took our collective breaths in more ways than one

I took a total of 11,611 steps on an average cadence of 24 steps per minute with an average speed of 1.78km/h and an average heart rate of 129 bpm. If you thought that was confusing, it only means I’m about as out of shape as I expected myself to be.

You can check your data against what is supposed to be the average for a healthy human being. With this you can start working towards that goal. The idea is to gradually reach a state of being healthy and tracking your numbers will help you do that.

Other features and final thoughts

The Honor Band 5 also has a few other nifty features like Find Your Phone. Say you forgot where you last put your phone, the fitness band can ring it for you.

There’s also TruSleep tech that I didn’t get to try as much on this device but I did on the Honor Watch Magic so watch out for that article as well.

Just me trying to look triumphant midway through the hike

The Honor Band 5 promises up to 14 days of battery life. I had it on for a few more days post the trek and didn’t really charge it up until the 10th or 11th day. Which is still pretty darn good.

At PhP 1,699 (US$ 33), the Honor Band 5 lives up to its billing as your personal fitness tracker. The colored AMOLED display is great and the tracking is where you’d expect it to be. It’s also comfortable enough that you won’t mind having it on while you workout.

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