Features

Of disruptors, flagships, and price points

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What makes a smartphone a flagship phone?

Just the other day, during a weekly chat over drinks, the GadgetMatch team found ourselves in a conundrum.


While a few years back the answer was simple, these days, the imaginary lines that separate phone classes are getting murkier. That’s especially true in 2016, a year where up-and-coming brands are disrupting price points by introducing the same kinds of phones for less.

Companies like ASUS and OnePlus both offer smartphones that can compete with the best of 2016 at almost half the price. No buts, no ifs, no compromises.

The only thing separating the cream of the crop are features that are great to have but otherwise completely unnecessary: a 4K display, like most high-end televisions; water resistance; and modularity. But when it comes to high-end essentials, the disruptors have it all.

Next week, I’ll be off to New York to cover the launch of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, the latest in a trio of high-end phones by the world’s largest smartphone manufacturer. If its little brother, the Galaxy S7, is any indicator, expect the Galaxy Note 7 to be one of the best smartphones 2016 will see.

The Note 7 has everything that makes the S7 great: a gorgeous design, weatherproofing, expandable storage, a top notch camera, a built-in stylus, and, possibly, an iris scanner for security.

I haven’t settled on my favorite phone this year yet, one that’ll I’ll keep and use everyday for a year. But in my quest for the best smartphone technology has to offer, the Galaxy Note 7 is sounding like the perfect candidate.

My current daily driver, for all of two weeks, is the OnePlus 3. One of those disruptors I’ve been talking about. The OnePlus 3 is a gorgeous $400 smartphone: all metal, with rounded edges and an ultra-slim frame.

It’s just the right size; runs one of the best Android skins I’ve used; and comes with almost all the bells and whistles I look for in a phone: fast charging; fast fingerprint scanning; and a great camera. The only high-end features this phone doesn’t have are water resistance, a 2K display, and a rich ecosystem of compatible apps, accessories, and companion devices.

But I’m okay with that. In fact, the more time I spend with the OnePlus 3, the more I tell myself, this is actually a phone I don’t mind using daily. Scratch that—this is a phone I actually enjoy using. All of a sudden, my world is turned upside down. Maybe I don’t need a $700 phone? My current $400 phone costs significantly less, but it makes me happy.

Late last week, in Vietnam, another disruptor, Taiwanese tech brand ASUS announced two new smartphones, the ZenFone 3 Laser and ZenFone 3 Max. While ASUS has a phone that competes directly with the OnePlus 3, the equally impressive ZenFone 3 Deluxe, the two just-announced phones compete at another, much lower price point. But they too are disruptive.

Also last week, we were given an opportunity to take these yet-to-be released devices for a dry run. Our verdict? Both of them are significantly better than their predecessors. Our only dilemma, how to classify them. Are they midrange phones or budget phones? Between their specs and price tags, it’s hard to tell.

Which brings us back to the question, what makes a smartphone a flagship phone? Or, for that matter, what makes a budget phone? A midrange phone?

When everything was much simpler, the answer had to do with design, choice of materials, and specs. But now, even those at lower price points, some smartphones are designed well, made from premium materials, and come with impressive specs and features. Now that the playing field is somewhat equal, it all boils down to price.

For disruptors OnePlus and ASUS, it’s a question they both currently face, weeks before for their upcoming launches in the Philippines. I expect both their flagship offerings to come in at around P20,000 ($420). With both phones equally matched in terms of specs, whichever is more affordable is likely to win.

But it’s not just about these two phones. What about the flagships whose popularity they intend on disrupting?

At around the same time both the OnePlus 3 and ASUS ZenFone 3 Deluxe are supposed to go on sale, so should the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 for about P40,000 ($850). The Galaxy S7 is slightly cheaper, about P35,000 ($740).

Bleeding-edge tech comes at a premium, but I wonder, if for the casual consumer, it is worth it. Will there come a time where users, spoiled by the promise of a premium smartphone experience for less, reject the idea of any expensive phone?

Maybe we’ve hit the nail on the head. Maybe a flagship phone is about a premium experience.

I own another phone, a second daily driver, the iPhone 6S—a smartphone so great, that on paper has never competed head-to-head with all the other greats in terms of specs, but nevertheless continues to impress.

Case in point: the budget ASUS ZenFone 3 Laser has 4GB of RAM, twice that of the premium iPhone 6S. What Apple does, however, to justify its higher price points, is that it controls all the moving parts so that the internals can take a step back and users can focus on the usage experience instead.

The challengers to Apple and Samsung seem to have caught on that principle. When you unbox the OnePlus 3, enclosed is a letter from OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei. His message is simple: “Never settle.”

The thinking at ASUS isn’t very different. ASUS CEO Jerry Shen tells me the ZenFone is about “empowering luxury.” It’s about perfecting the smartphone experience and making it possible for everyone to afford this experience.

In a world where the common belief is you get what you pay for, it is intriguing to find that premium doesn’t have to cost so much. And while I appreciate how tech companies innovate with curved displays, super-fast charging, and the like, perhaps the biggest smartphone innovation of 2016 is something less tangible.

Perhaps it’s about premium experiences we can all afford.

[irp posts=”8433" name=”Best smartphones of 2016"]

Hands-On

Realme 5 Pro Hands-On: It’s all about the numbers

Finally a real competitor

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Realme has launched a wide array of phones this year and it doesn’t look like they’re stopping anytime soon. The brand is extremely aggressive about marketing and thanks to immense pressure from Xiaomi, Vivo, and Samsung, they’ve unveiled the Realme 5 Pro.

It has a faster processor, quad-camera setup on the rear, and flashier design. While the Realme X is built for a slightly more premium experience, the Realme 5 Pro is intended to be an affordable all-rounder that excels at everything.


A plastic design that looks flashier

We have the Blue variant and Realme calls this a holographic design due to the reflection and slight color gradient. We’ve previously seen this diamond cut design language in a lot of other phones and it offers a new choice to users instead of just relying on a plain metal back.

The phone feels sturdy enough and has slightly curved corners for an ergonomic user experience. Realme says the phone is splash resistant including the buttons as well as the charging port.

Holographic diamond cut back

The power button is located on the right

Volume buttons and SIM-tray are located on the left

Realme has finally endorsed USB-C and the headphone jack continues its legacy

A sharp and well saturated display

The Realme X has an AMOLED panel, but this one sports an LCD screen. This cost-cutting measure shouldn’t be a major drawback since the display is very sharp and bright enough. The colors are punchy, but tend to look too saturated sometimes. Thankfully, you can adjust or even schedule the screen’s warmth.

It’s 6.3-inch screen has Gorilla Glass protection and houses a small water-drop style notch on the top. The bezels are small and the chin is quite paltry as well.

A powerful processor that’s perfect for regular use

Powering the phone is an octa-core Snapdragon 712 processor that clocks at 2.3Ghz. A dedicated NPU looks after AI operations and the base option comes with 4GB of RAM. Storage is expandable via a microSD card.

Four cameras to help you get the best shot

It has a 48-megapixel primary sensor, an 8-megapixel wide-angle lens, 2-megapixel macro lens, and a 2-megapixel depth sensor. Rest assured, you’re covered from all ends. Whether its a low-light shot or a huge group photo, this setup is perfect for the average Joe.

For selfies, the notch houses a 16-megapixel front-facing shooter. Realme has added a handful of modes like Chromaboost, Nightscape, and Portrait Mode in the camera app.

ColorsOS to get you through the day

The Realme 5 Pro ships with ColorOS 6.0 and a few minor changes include new icons, smoother transitions, and filtering.

A near-perfect battery

It has a 4,000mAh battery and it is sufficient to get you through a day of heavy usage. It supports VOOC 3.0 fast charging technology and can charge your phone completely in about an hour and a half.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

The Realme 5 Pro ticks all the boxes, and we’ll be doing an in-depth review soon. For now, it offers a robust camera setup, substantial performance, and a new design. Although, a few cost-cutting measures like plastic build and LCD display are clearly visible.

ColorOS can be a deciding factor since it still isn’t well refined. If you’re looking for a long-lasting phone that has consistent updates, a Nokia-branded phone or Xiaomi’s Mi A3 are the only alternatives in this price segment. And even though the Redmi Note 7 Pro was launched just a few months back, it may have lost its edge in this ever-changing world due to a better processor, versatile camera, and faster charging.

SEE ALSO: Realme 5 series pricing and availability in India

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Camera Shootouts

Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ vs Huawei P30 Pro: Camera shootout

The current king and queen of flagship smartphones

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Samsung has launched the Galaxy Note 10 series, which currently holds the crown in DxOMark camera ratings. Previously sitting was Huawei’s flagship, the P30 Pro. Both smartphones currently pride themselves as leaders in smartphone photography, so it’s time to compare through a blind shootout!

With this shootout, you’ll get a chance to analyze each photo and pick which one is the better shooter for you. Photos are shot in auto mode with default settings. Of course, no post-processing was done except for resizing so you can easily view the images. The answer sheet can be found at the end of this comparison.


#1

#2

#3

#4

#5

#6

#7

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#10

#11

#12

#13

#14

Results

Galaxy Note 10+ — 1A, 2B, 3B, 4A, 5A, 6A, 7A, 8B, 9A, 10B, 11A, 12B, 13A, 14A

P30 Pro — 1B, 2A, 3A, 4B, 5B, 6B, 7B, 8A, 9B, 10A, 11B, 12A, 13B, 14B

Personally, both photos are astounding on their own. The Note 10+ and P30 Pro proves that they are indeed the king and queen of smartphone photography.

But when they’re being pitted against each other, the Galaxy Note 10+ shines when it comes to color reproduction. Its daylight photos have a better white balance complemented by high contrast which results in vibrant and saturated colors as seen in the blue skies and greenery. Even its night shots, the photos produced are more alive making every photos ready for uploading on social media. No more post-processing needed.

On the other hand, the P30 Pro produces brighter and warmer photos at daylight. Its colors are a little bit washed out due to added brightness and lesser contrast, however, mobile photography enthusiasts wouldn’t even bother since the photos produced can be altered depending on the user’s liking.

Additionally, the P30 Pro provides a raw feeling on its night shots. It may be a little bit less vibrant compared to the Galaxy Note 10+, but it allows users to experiment and apply their artistic style on their captured photos during post-processing.

Conclusion

It’s safe to say that both smartphones are winners at their own game, as it all comes down to a user’s preference. Thankfully, we’re now in an era where premium smartphones provide the best value their users deserve. All that’s left is for people to choose which phone they should buy.

So, how did you feel about the results? Did it help you decide which phone is really your GadgetMatch?

Share your thoughts about this shootout and connect with us on our social media channels. Don’t forget to join our growing community of fellow Matchketeers! If you have more suggestions, feel free to hit me up on Twitter.

 

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Automotive

What Mazda promises with the new Mazda 3

Still going for a great driving experience

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The new Mazda 3 has just been introduced to the local market by Bermaz Auto Philippines. We’ve caught a glimpse of it before and got a general concept of what to expect. Although now that we have the Philippine-spec units and prices to go along with it, what does the Japanese company promise with this new vehicle? Let’s take a look at some of its features.

Styling

Mazda still stays true to its KODO or “Soul of Motion” design that gives life to the exterior by playing with curves and how light uniquely bounces off its panels. In short, it offers fresh styling that stands out and begs to be noticed. It has that minimalist but artistic approach and it certainly works for the Mazda 3.


Step inside and the simplicity continues. There’s nothing too fancy to see here except for the driver-centric layout which exudes a premium feel thanks to the materials used.

Its cabin has also been designed with superior acoustics in mind. The company claims they were able to achieve a natural and rich-sounding cabin by strategically positioning its 12 speakers and cutting down on sound reflection. We haven’t experienced it first-hand, but that’s kind of a bold claim from the company if they couldn’t back it up.

These, coupled with the company’s “Jinba Ittai” concept of machine and man as one, ensure that the ergonomics inside serve its driver well to further enjoy the driving experience and create that bond between each other. This also brings us to our next point.

Comfort

In order for the car to feel like an extension of your body, the interior has to be comfortable.

With the previously mentioned concept, one of the ideas is for the car to support wherever your body leans. This simply means the vehicle’s structure and interior provide comfort, especially during long drives.

Additionally, the company made sure that they give ample attention to dampening vibrations and reducing noise seeping into the cabin. By using new sound-absorbing upholstery that supposedly traps sound, a quieter cabin and overall smoother drive is what the passengers experience with the new Mazda 3.

It also tends to spoil the modern driver with its lineup of creature comforts. Things like auto brake hold come into play during heavy traffic, power-folding side mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, and auto-dimming rearview mirror are just some to mention.

Performance

The Philippine-specific Mazda 3 doesn’t come with the new Skyactiv-X engine that Europe has. Instead, the local market gets Skyactiv-G inline-4 engine options mated to a six-speed automatic. The naturally aspirated engine outputs up to 152hp and 200Nm which should be enough for everyday drives plus some room for its legs to stretch when the road ahead clears up.

It also comes with G-Vectoring Control Plus that should be able to refine steering and make the vehicle safer and more stable overall. By calculating data while driving on a curb, for example, the system applies input that complements the task at hand and helps the driver gain control while coming out of said turn.

As a quick recap, the new Mazda 3 aims to tick the boxes for a capable car in the city but promises a number of features and innovations to further enjoy the ride experience. It’s styled skilfully inside and out, aims to ensure comfort throughout drives, provides high-quality entertainment, packs a capable engine, and prioritizes safety.

It comes in five variants in the Philippines with the following price points:

  • Mazda 3 1.5-liter Sedan Elite  — PhP 1,295,000
  • Mazda 3 1.5-liter Sportback Elite — PhP 1,320,000
  • Mazda 3 2.0-liter Sedan Premium — PhP 1,495,000
  • Mazda 3 2.0-liter Sportback Premium — PhP 1,510,000
  • Mazda 3 2.0-liter Sportback Speed — PhP 1,590,000

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