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″]
Mate 20 series offers a solid lineup: Weekend Rewind
There’s a Mate 20 for everyone!
Here are this week’s top stories on GadgetMatch.
1. Huawei offers plenty of things with their Mate 20 Series
Huawei could very well fill up this week’s entire rewind with the whole Mate 20 series. In total, they released four new smartphones along with two wearables during their event in London. Here’s all of them.
These were the devices most of us expected to see. The Mate 20 Pro is probably the most feature-packed phone of 2018. They brought in everything that was good with the P20 Pro and added a few wait-hold-up-did-it-really-do-that features like reverse wireless charging.
Watch the Mate 20 Pro Hands-on…
And our Mate 20 Unboxing while you’re here.
Porsche Design Mate 20 RS
If you have an excessive amount of money to spend (please give us some), you can opt for the more luxurious Mate 20 RS. It has all the bells and whistles of the Mate 20 Pro but with the leatherback Porsche Design. It’ll come in two colors: Black in select markets and in a limited edition Red in China.
Mate 20 X
This was announced as Huawei’s one more big thing. Big, it truly is. Coming with a massive 7.2-inch display, the Mate 20 X is being marketed as a gaming smartphone. It even pairs with a gamepad for that ultimate gaming experience.
Huawei Watch GT and Band Pro 3
These two wearables mostly flew under the radar but they are still worth taking note of. The Huawei Watch GT, while waterproof and equipped with fitness features, is the more lifestyle model thanks to its design. The Huawei Band Pro 3 is the more straightforward health tracker and something you probably shouldn’t wear at formal gatherings.
I could do this all day.😎 pic.twitter.com/GRAF4jPMZt
— Mi (@xiaomi) October 18, 2018
2. Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 getting hype ahead of launch
In case you haven’t been keeping up, there’s already a handful of smartphones released in October and there’s a handful more coming. One of them is Xiaomi’s Mi Mix 3 which is slated for an October 25 launch and is rumored to have a whopping 10GB of RAM and 5G connectivity.
Xiaomi also released a teaser showcasing the device’s sliding camera feature.
3. Palm breaking trend of bigger phones
Tired of phones getting bigger and bigger? Palm came back this week and offered a different approach with the Palm phone. It’s not exactly a standalone smartphone and is really meant to be more of a Robin to the Batman which is your daily driver. At this point, we’re not sure how useful it’ll be but if you’re curious, it’s priced at US$ 349.
4. OnePlus 6T moves launch date
Speaking of more phones coming, the OnePlus 6T, which was reported to come with a smaller notch, an in-display fingerprint scanner along with the usual performance we’ve come to expect from the company, was forced to move its launch to October 29 with OnePlus CEO and founder Pete Lau saying they want “to make sure it gets the time and attention it deserves.”
Why wouldn’t it get the attention during its initial launch date? Well, it’s because of this next news item.
5. Apple wants to end October with a bang
Whether intentional or not, looks like Apple isn’t done announcing things and they want to be the one to cap off October with their own launch event. After announcing the iPhone XS, XS Max, and XR, the company is expected to unveil a new iPad Pro with Face ID, and possibly a low-cost MacBook or MacBook Air as reported by Bloomberg.
Weekend Rewind is our roundup of top news and features you might have missed for the week. We know the world of technology can be overwhelming and not everyone has the time to get up to speed with everything — and that includes us. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the rewind.
Huawei Mate 20 and Mate 20 Pro Unboxing
What’s inside the box?
Cherry Mobile Flare S7 Plus hands-on: A step-up
The company’s greatest contender
Cherry Mobile recently launched their new Flare S7 series, which is essentially their main smartphone lineup for the year. The greatest offering among the bunch is the Flare S7 Plus, a device with all the specifications and features you’d expect from a 2018 phone.
Since it’s from Cherry Mobile, you’d expect the phone to be cheap, right? Price-wise, it is, but that doesn’t mean it’s just another affordable phone.
Here’s what I got to say about the Flare S7 Plus.
Cherry Mobile has officially joined the notch wagon with a borderless 6.18-inch display. It’s a Full HD+ panel with a 19:9 aspect ratio, and it’s Cherry Mobile’s best display yet.
It’s vibrant and produces vivid colors, but the user interface kind of ruins the beauty of the display. It’s best to download your preferred third-party launcher and customize to your heart’s content.
Unlike with other midrange phones, the Flare S7 Plus’ notch is pretty wide and there’s a reason for it. The phone is equipped with more advanced facial recognition hardware including an IR camera. This ensures higher accuracy, faster unlocking, and even better face detection in low-light.
If you’re not a fan of face unlock, you can always resort to the fingerprint sensor placed on the back of the phone. Based on my usage, the fingerprint reader is faster most of the time than the face unlock. Good thing you have the best of both worlds.
Now that we’re on the back of the phone, let’s talk about another special feature of the Flare S7 Plus. Finally, Cherry Mobile embraces a more elegant design using a glass back and metal frame. I was told that they used Gorilla Glass 3 on both sides, so it won’t scratch easily in your pocket or on the table.
Since we we have a glass back, it’s possible to put in wireless charging and the company did just that. Simply place the phone on any Qi standard wireless charger, and let the magic happen.
It’s not exactly magic per se, but it’s amazing to have your phone charge by placing it on a table. This phone costs less than half of most flagships that don’t even support wireless charging.
Of course, you can always charge this phone’s 3050mAh battery through the reversible USB-C port, which also doubles as the audio port because, sadly, the Flare S7 Plus doesn’t have a 3.5 headphone jack. Cherry Mobile bundles a 3.5mm to USB-C adapter inside the box, so you can still use your legacy headphones as you please.
Powering the Flare S7 Plus is a MediaTek Helio P60 processor. We have already tried the capabilities of this chipset with the OPPO F9, and it definitely delivers great performance. If you’re into benchmarking, you’ll be glad to know the Helio P60 scores higher than its competitors.
The phone also comes with 4GB of memory and 64GB of expandable storage which is pretty standard nowadays. It boots Android 8.1 Oreo out of the box, but there’s no word when Android 9 Pie is coming.
The gaming performance of the Flare S7 Plus is above average, which is what you can expect from the Helio P60. The Mali-G72 MP3 GPU works well with intensive games, but you must reduce the graphics quality a bit to get consistently high frame rates.
As for the cameras, the Flare S7 Plus has capable shooters that are probably the fruit of Cherry Mobile’s investment in improving their R&D when it comes to picture quality. The phone has dual rear shooters using a main 16-megapixel RGB sensor and a secondary 5-megapixel depth sensor. In the front, there’s another 16-megapixel selfie camera that’s paired with the IR sensor when needed. Check out the samples below:
An additional feature of the front sensors is FlareMoji. Using the IR sensor and facial recognition, you can animate cutesy characters. Check this out:
It’s essentially like Apple’s Animoji, but the tracking is nowhere near as smooth as with the iPhone. Anyhow, it’s still enjoyable to use.
Is this your GadgetMatch?
For just PhP 11,999 (US$ 225), the Flare S7 Plus offers a lot. You get a great premium phone with midrange power, beautiful display, and a plethora of extra features like wireless charging and an IR face scanner. The software UI is quite a letdown, but you can always download a launcher from the Play Store.
If you’re wondering what the Flare S7 Plus is in other markets, it’s also called the BLU VIVO XI+ and they share similar specifications and design.
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