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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

NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139… Review

Playable Anime

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NieR Replicant

An earnest protagonist, a “tsundere” who’s also kind of there for fan service, an almost fourth-wall breaking character, and a world dealing with an underlying crisis; NieR Replicant ver. 1.222474487139 (which we’ll refer to as NieR Replicant henceforth) has all the elements of a wonderful anime. Except, it’s a game — one that goes out of its way to offer multiple types of play.

After getting through a single playthrough of NieR Replicant, I found that most of the things I said I liked in my first impressions (music, gameplay, combat, dialogue) were the ones that will endear me to the game even further.

Everything for your sister

As the protagonist, you play the role of a brother who will do just about anything and everything for your sister. The game starts off with you looking for a way to cure the mysterious illness that’s befallen your sister.

This is the main driving force of the main character. All his actions in the main storyline are all in the service of doing what’s best for his sister.

A memorable cast

Along the way you meet the rest of the main cast. This includes a magical, talking, floating book named Grimoir Weiss who serves as both a helpful ally and a backseat protagonist who never fails to point out the obvious in every situation in a way that almost feels like it’s being directed at the player.

You’ll also build a certain level of kinship with people in your town as well as key characters in every main area of the game. This includes the two other members of your party: Kaine and Emil — both of which also have interesting backstories which I will not spoil here. Just know that all these relationships and it resonates with you, the player, will determine much of what you’ll feel about the game’s story.

NieR Replicant

“Fan Service” Kaine

Dealing with loss

One thing that you will constantly encounter in the game is the feeling of dealing with loss. It already feels heavy on its own, but if I may step back a bit. Having to deal with loss in real life recently and feeling the collective grief of people in my circle also having to deal with the same just amplifies the general feeling of hopelessness and emptiness of experiencing loss.

This feeling, however prevalent in the game, is perfectly balanced by the injection of humor from Grimoir Weiss and the happy memories you have with the ones you’ve lost. Memories also play a part in key points of the story.

Multi-faceted gameplay 

Shifting the tone a little bit, the overall gameplay of NieR Replicant will keep you on your toes.

It’s not just a mindless hack and slash game. There are sections where it’ll turn into a 2D platformer with some sprinkles of puzzle solving.

The level designs are fantastic. One thing that stood out to me is how the Square Enix and Toylogic very intentionally frames certain levels. Since this is, after all, a sort of remake of game that was first released in 2010, it is free from the burden of giving the player full camera control. This results in beautifully framed scenes as you play.

There’s one particular area that reminds me of the camera work on the original Resident Evil games on the PlayStation One.

Later on in the game, you’ll enter a deeper portion of that area and it will give you an entire section of the game that looks and plays like Diablo II. 

These areas are all perfectly placed in different sections of the game that certainly adds to the overall pacing. It can feel draggy, especially when you’re doing side quests, but having levels and areas like this make it all better. Oh and yeah, take some time to do side quests, it’ll help with getting gold (the game’s currency), some useful items, and immerse you further in the game’s world.

Here’s a quick look at the combat in the early part of the game.

The music is just… *chef’s kiss

I’ve already talked about this at length in my first impressions. But even then, it would be a disservice to not mention it here again. The music in this game is just my cup of tea.

It’s the kind of music that really transports you into the game world. If you’ve ever had fantasies of being whisked away to a different reality, the music in this game is what you would imagine to be playing.

It perfectly evokes the proper mood in every area of the game. The main village gives off this “going on an epic adventure” vibe, the area filled with robots sound robotic, and the aforementioned Resident Evil-like area fills you with horror. You can even say it almost foreshadows the fate of some levels and locations. That’s how good the music in this game is.

You can listen to the 2010 versions of the music here. Bear in mind that most of these were re-done/re-recorded for NieR Replicant ver. 1.222474487139.

Should you play NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139… ?

Anyone who’s into narrative-driven games should give NieR Replicant a whirl. That’s also especially true if you’re an anime fan. It will feel familiar because of certain tropes, some fan service, and a time skip.

It’s a fantastic entry point into the whole NieR franchise. It will get you curious about the NieR world at large and will certainly make you want to explore or replay the 2017 hit game NieR:Automata. But of course, not before you give NieR Replicant ver. 1.22474487139… all the playthroughs it deserves.

NieR Replicant ver. 1.22474487139… is available April 23 on PS4, Xbox One, and PC on Steam.

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realme C25: Your budget content creation companion

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realme C25

During this pandemic lockdown, many of us maximized the advantages of being online and ventured into selling our products or creating vlogs and podcasts to keep us sane and productive.

In these unprecedented times, it is highly essential to have a smartphone that is reliable not just for your day-to-day activities but also for your digital content creation. 

And truly, realme commits to providing us with amazing options for that, such as their new follow-up to the C series, the realme C25.

For starters, let’s check out what this smartphone has in store for us.

Pleasing to your senses

Similar to realme’s budget gaming phone narzo 30A that they recently launched, the C25 flaunts a large 6.5-inch screen but with a 1600×720 display.

Despite it not being in full HD+, the phone’s resolution actually shows pretty accurate colors and good viewing angles. The screen has peak brightness of up to 480 nits which is already bright but could’ve used some improvement especially if you’ll be using it outdoors. 

Up front, you will notice the selfie camera at the center which is a bit intrusive for my taste. Luckily, the bezels surrounding the screen are not thicker than today’s standards.

realme C25

The C25 comes in Water Blue and Water Grey and I was actually glad to unbox the Water Blue variant since I can see the details clearer on the back cover.

When it comes to its construction, realme put this phone a notch above the rest. They processed it using the industry-leading German fixed-axis precise radium engraving machine, making the device more appealing, comfortable to the touch and less susceptible to fingerprints and smudges.

 You can also see its square camera setup cut-out and a rear-mounted fingerprint sensor at the upper middle part.

realme C25

While on the right side of the phone are its volume rockers and power button.

realme C25

Gives you enough space

As someone who is largely dependent on my phone for casual photos and preview for my shoots, one thing I really liked about the C25 is its large storage. You have 4GB of RAM on this phone and have two storage options, 64GB and 128GB.

And when you check the left side of the phone, you’d see that there are two nano SIM card slots and a dedicated microSD card slot to bring you more network and storage freedom as you can expand it by up to 256GB.

Snap and create

One big advantage of the realme C25 is that this is their first phone belonging to their C-series that features a 48MP AI-triple camera. Its camera setup consists of a 48MP primary camera, 2MP monochrome lens and  2MP macro lens.

realme C25

I tested all cameras and noticed that its main camera produced vibrant colors but isn’t very detailed. You can also notice the graininess on this photo.

As for its night mode, the camera produced decent exposures but its processing is not at par with flagship phones.

Its macro lens on the other hand, showed great details which would definitely be helpful if you have an online business and you’d be using your C25 to take shots of your products.

Power under the hood

One amazing feature about the realme C25 is that you can find the MediaTek Helio G70 processor at the core of this device, ensuring a powerful and swift performance for content creators and gamers alike, giving people another reason to compare it to its brother, the narzo 30A.

realme C25

Another big advantage of this phone is that it runs on realme UI 2.0 on Android 11, making its interface pleasant and easy to navigate.

Battery that you need

The winning feature for the realme C25 is that it is equipped with a whopping 6,000 mAh battery that can let you do your daily tasks, watch videos, play your games and even do your shoots for your content all day long without worrying.

On the first day that I had it, I fully charged the battery and left it open for 24 hours without much activity and its level just went down to 98%. For the next couple of days, I used it for my usual activities, and it just went lowbatt after 3 days.

This phone even has some helpful battery settings such as App Quick Freeze which can minimize your battery use by background apps, and Screen Battery Optimization that can tone down some of the phone’s display effects to save power.

realme C25

Complementing this huge battery is a 18W fast charger which can fully charge it in two hours. Another bonus is that despite it being a budget phone, the realme C25 has reverse wired charging in case you have an emergency and you forgot to bring a powerbank for your other gadgets.  

Unrivaled durability and reliability

Though in denial, I must admit I can be really clumsy that I tend to drop my phone or splash it with water from time to time. With the realme C25, I don’t have to worry too much about these situations as it is the first smartphone that passed TÜV Rheinland Smartphone High Reliability Certification. 

This means that this phone encompassed daily use test scenarios such as drop, wear and tear, extreme environment test scenarios and component reliability test scenarios based on the three- year life cycle of smartphones.

For realme to take this further step and invest on such an upgrade for the C25 definitely sets higher standards for other budget phones.

Is realme C25 your GadgetMatch?

This phone is really targeted for people on a budget but are looking for a smartphone with a high battery capacity, good cameras, performance, latest software and durable and reliable for your day-to-day tasks and content creation.

If all these features tick all the boxes on your checklist, then the realme C25 is definitely your GadgetMatch.

But if you’re looking for a smartphone with a better screen, faster charging and other camera features such as an ultrawide lens, you may opt for a higher end smartphone.

The realme C25 is available in Water Blue and Water Grey variants and is priced at PhP 7,490 for the 4GB RAM + 64GB internal storage and PhP 8,490 for the 4GB RAM + 128GB internal storage.  

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Balan Wonderworld review: A theater for young ages

Facing the reality behind the curtains

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Balan Wonderworld

Have you ever had those moments in your younger years that hurt you a ton? Have they also happened as you got older and a bit wiser? Such is life on our own planet Earth: full of ups and downs. With each moment, we learn new things about ourselves and from our own shortcomings to become better people. However, there are times when things get too overwhelming.

We all need an escape, no matter how young or old we might be. For the older ones, it’s having some time alone, watching movies or TV shows. With the younger generation, it’s playing video games or window shopping online. For our good friends Leo or Emma, their daring escape from their problems led them to the mysterious world of Balan Wonderworld.

I decided to give this game a shot, seeing as it’s one of those less-hyped titles from Square Enix. I want to know what it could offer to a semi-casual player like myself when I need stress relief. Also, Square Enix loves to draw you in with some lore in between to keep you hooked from start to end.

So, what exactly is happening here?

Balan Wonderworld starts off with a story that provides little context to the main characters. Essentially, you play as either Leo or Emma, two children experiencing some personal troubles. I decided to play as Leo mostly because his opening cutscene was him dancing on the street, which is quite relatable. Apparently, in Leo’s case, a group of equally skilled dancers took notice, but he just shunned them away for unexplainable reasons.

Eventually, he and Emma find themselves in this mysterious theater guarded by Balan, a magician-like figure. According to the game’s lore, the theater only shows up to those who are experiencing troubles in their lives. I guess you could consider Leo/Emma extremely lucky, but they’re also confused as to why they’re in the theater. A few moments later, they find themselves in a magical world behind the theater — essentially pulling a Narnia on you.

Balan Wonderworld

Leo in the Island of Tims

You may be wondering how all of this just happened, and I’m here to tell you that I have no idea. In its early stages, the game doesn’t explain to you a lot of details in hopes of putting the pieces of the story together. As I progressed through the story later on, I’m still trying to understand how these things happened. Not the kind of start I was expecting.

The simplest gameplay mechanic for Square Enix

After the intro cutscene, you find yourself on the Island of Tims, which is pretty empty to start. It’s mostly just grassland with some flowers, lakes, and bridges. Eventually, you will slowly rebuild the Tims Tower, which doesn’t seem that important initially. Part of the rebuild involves the inhabitants of the island: the Tims which aids you for the main completion quest.

Now, this platforming game features twelve Chapters, each with two levels and a boss fight. In all the levels, you only ever need to press one button to get through the entire game: the X button. See, every other button and trigger on your controller allows you to jump and platform around — something the X button does anyway. However, the X button is this game’s primary action button because of another gameplay mechanic.

Collect-a-thon Platformer

In each level, Leo/Emma will collect a set of costumes that grant them special abilities. From jump attacks to increased air time, these costumes allow you to explore the game’s vast stages to look for collectibles for completion. As mentioned earlier, almost all of the abilities are bound to the X button — something you don’t really see with Square Enix’s other prominent titles.

Balan Wonderworld

Some of the costumes you will collect throughout the game

Apart from the costumes, you will also collect Drops, Tim Eggs and Balan Statues in each stage. Collecting Drops allows you to grow your Tims to grant you boosts when playing every stage. Meanwhile, collecting a certain number of Balan Statues opens the next set of Chapters and worlds to explore.

As somebody who is fond of stage-by-stage platforming, this was pretty standard stuff even in an open-world setting. Personally, I found myself getting side-tracked with all the collectibles if I wanted to progress further into the game. However, it also makes the game roughly easy to breeze by when you’re not out to complete it. In essence, I felt it doesn’t motivate you enough to complete it 100 percent.

Uncovering your troubles and rising above them

Let’s tackle what I think is the main reason why you found yourself platforming in Balan’s magical world. I mentioned earlier that the character you control is going through some personal issues, and that the magical world showed up for them because of it. With each Chapter, Leo/Emma encounters people who also have undergone some life problems, as well.

Balan Wonderworld

One of the main boss fights in the game

Before each boss fight, a cutscene introduces you to the main story of each person you encounter in the Chapter’s stages. Essentially, it highlights the following aspects: how they started, the rise, and the fall (and eventual shift to the dark side). You are basically tasked to free these people from the Negati, a demon-like presence that is the manifestation of their troubles.

The happy ending in one of the early chapters of the game

After beating each boss, another cutscene starts that shows an epilogue of sorts, detailing the events that happened after you free people of the Negati. You see people get back on their feet, or become more open to other people about their interests. Also, each ending cutscene starts off with a performance with the AI versions of the costumes you collect. I found it quite cheesy and a little extra in some instances.

A game that doesn’t explain much when it should

Everything about Balan Wonderworld made me ask myself, “why is this all happening?” To be honest, I felt that nothing about the game was explained properly the moment you start playing. From the simplistic gameplay mechanic to the storylines in each chapter, it all feels like it lacks purpose. Furthermore, even your role in lifting these people up from their troubles isn’t explained properly.

While playing through this game, I got the feeling that this was intended for kids even if some of the issues tackled here applied to adults. In its raw gameplay alone, it’s simple to understand and easy to navigate that even five year olds will get through the mechanics easily. The collect-a-thon element only somewhat adds a level of depth to the overall gameplay.

Gameplay mechanics aside, the entire story behind Balan Wonderworld just happens with little to no context or purpose. You aimlessly go into each Chapter, uncover the story behind each character, beat the demon inside them, and they’re freed of the negativity inside them. If you’re a child playing this game, it’s something that you’ll enjoy. As an adult, however, it doesn’t do much to draw you in for long.

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