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"]

Features

Huawei ban in full swing: Weekend Rewind

Pretty much everyone is steering clear of Huawei

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Here are the top stories on GadgetMatch this week.

1. Huawei Ban in full swing

This news had everyone buzzing this week: the US government bans Huawei’s dealings on American soil over potential security issues.


The first and biggest domino to fall following the ban is Google blacklisting Huawei from using its Android services. The ban isn’t immediate though as Huawei was granted a 90-day extension so it can work out a long-term solution.

The ban has trickled down to other companies with Intel, Broadcom, and Qualcomm reportedly staying away from Huawei. According to Bloomberg‘s sources, the US chipmakers will freeze their supply deals with Huawei for now. UK-based chip designer ARM is also following the ban since its designs hold “US origin technology.”

The ban inevitably has far reaching effects with some stores and brands in markets like Singapore and the Philippines dropping the brand altogether. This is happening despite involved companies downplaying the effects of the ban.

Huawei is continuing to work with Google for now but the company also announced earlier in the year that it is working on a non-Android operating system for its smartphones. There are no other updates on that front but you can bet development may need to be expedited.

If you’re an existing Huawei user, your device will function as is for the time being. Even if you think about trading your gadget, you may have limited options. GadgetMatch is following the story closely so keep it locked in for updates so you can make an informed choice.

2. Honor 20 launch proceeds despite Huawei ban

The Huawei ban didn’t stop its sister-brand Honor from releasing its latest flagship — the Honor 20 Series including the Honor 20 Pro, Honor 20, Honor 20 Lite, and Honor 20 Pro Moschino edition.

Best of the bunch is the Honor 20 Pro who’s main draw is its quad-camera set-up. It has a main 48-megapixel sensor with an f/1.4 lens aperture (the biggest opening we know on mobile phones), optical image stabilization, PDAF, and laser autofocus. It also has AI tricks like Ultra Clarity and Super Night modes.

Watch our unboxing and hands-on to find out more about the Honor 20 Pro.

3. Xperia exits several markets

Sony’s mobile business hasn’t been able to keep in step with the current players today and effects are showing. Xperia will pull out in other markets including the rest of Asia, Australia, Canada, South America, Africa, and the Middle East.

However, this doesn’t mean Sony Xperia is completely waving the white flag. The company, for now is focusing on just a few markets: Europe, Japan, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. Sony is taking two steps back but it has every intention to continue growing its mobile business.

4. MacBook Pro gets annual update

Apple‘s popular line of pro notebooks is getting more powerful with Intel’s new 8th- and 9th-gen Core chips.

The MacBook Pro refresh for mid-2019 greatly benefits the 15-inch model with Touch Bar. The base model now has a 6-core i7 processor and its high-end sibling has an 8-core i9 processor. It can be configured to an even more powerful 8-core i9 chip which can turbo boost up to 5.0GHz.

The 13-inch Touch Bar models also get a processor refresh with the base model now equipped with a faster 8th-gen quad-core i5. It can be upgraded to a quad-core i7 with a turbo boost of up to 4.7GHz.

5. Sony reveals more details about the PS5

Although exact details have been scarce, Sony hasn’t been shy about giving us PlayStation 5 crumbs.

Wall Street Journal tech reporter Takashi Mochizuki was present at Sony’s most recent gaming presentation and took a video of a comparison between the loading times of the PS5 and PS4 Pro. Predictably, the PS5’s was blazing fast.

We already know that the PS5, should it be named that, will support backwards compatibility ensuring that first owners of the console will still be able to play titles released for the PS4. Other than that, we’re still waiting for an official release date.

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Automotive

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo: A Stylish Speedster

It’s your everyday sports car

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One of the biggest factors when buying a new car, apart from function, is how it looks. The impact of that first glance. Something that would make you look twice. Some of us have that desire to break the norm and it seems like Hyundai took note of this demand — and made it fast.

The grille is flanked with LED headlamps partnered with Daytime Running Lights

The 2019 Hyundai Veloster is the second of its generation and now has a more assertive exterior than its predecessor. The most noticeable part? Its redesigned front grille. It now comes in this meshed pattern with sharper edges and, if you ask me, this alone gives the car a more aggressive presence.


Then we go to the rest of the exterior and we see those subtle lines that add to the sporty vibe of this vehicle. From the hood to the wheel arches — these accents make the Veloster look like it’s always moving.

At the back we also have this eye-catching pair of LED tail lamps plus a rear spoiler with the third brake light. Rounding up the whole sporty look is a rear bumper diffuser to improve the car’s aerodynamics.

Other notable details include side mirrors with signal repeaters and sexy 18-inch alloy wheels. If you’re already familiar with the first Veloster, then you’d know that it’s unconventional in a way that it only has one door for the driver’s side while the other has the usual two. Some call it weird. I’d like to call it style.

In terms of features, the 2019 Veloster has the bells-and-whistles for the tech-savvy. There’s keyless entry, a mechanical seat for the driver, telescopic steering wheel, voice commands, and support for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Those are just some of the things the vehicle assists you with before you start your day. And of course, there’s more for the drive ahead!

Your main hub for music, navigation, calls, and more is an 8-inch floating display. For controls, the steering wheel has buttons for Bluetooth as well as audio and cruise control.

Important driver information and settings can be accessed through the digital dash

In the age of smartphones, charging on-the-go is of utmost importance and with the Veloster, you get more than one option. There are two USB ports up front plus a special wireless charger just below it. Of course, your phone has to support this feature for it to work, but if it does, it feels good knowing you don’t have to fumble over plugging the cable to your phone — while you’re in the car, at least.

And for when you want more light during the day or when it’s simply colder at night, you can open the moonroof and let the breeze roll in. Added comfort creatures like this make the Veloster a package for those who like having fun on the road.

One of the things I love about its interior is how the black and red color of the exterior continues here. Its bucket seats wrapped in leather offer a premium feel for the driver and passengers alike.

The company is obviously keen to details as one can see in the cabin of the vehicle. From the buttons and knobs that reflect its sporty DNA to the ergonomics and materials used to make each ride as comfortable as possible.

Being a Turbo variant, it’s powered by a 1.6-liter turbocharged engine. Power is then transferred to the front wheels through a seven-speed Dual-Clutch Transmission. Although unlike Schwarzenegger in Jingle All The Way, it’s not always “Turbo Time!” for the Veloster. It offers different driving modes depending on what the situation calls for.

There’s Normal, Sport, Eco, and Smart. Eco obviously goes for the most efficient fuel consumption, Smart mode adjusts to your driving habits, Normal is — well, normal. Sport is for Track Day or simply when you want to show off.

Of course, all that speed has to be kept in check with a couple of safety features. The vehicle comes with dual airbags for the front, plus side and curtain airbags. Adding to those are ABS (anti-lock braking system) and an immobilizer for anti-theft.

Having the Veloster as a daily driver made me realize a couple of things. One is that it’s actually fuel-efficient for a car with this oomph when it’s set to Eco or even Normal mode — averaging about 9km to 10km to a liter in the city and up to 16km/l outside the Metro. It may have slight delays when not in Sport mode but it had no shortage of power. And together with its stance and vibrant red color, the Veloster is a certified head-turner.

See more of it in this video:

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Features

Capturing Europe using only a smartphone

Three countries, one device

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When traveling to picturesque countries, it’s normally best to take a dedicated camera with you. After all, that’s what they’re for: Capturing scenes with utmost quality.

However, traveling light is another factor, and if possible, bringing as few devices as possible. I thought to myself, Why not use a single smartphone to document my entire trip? And so I did.


I brought the top-ranked camera phone with me to three European countries — namely France, Germany, and Austria — and let it take all my shots. Yes, I let the Huawei P30 Pro see what I saw, and it did not disappoint.

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The phone’s biggest strength for a traveler has to be its four rear cameras that offer different levels of zoom, from 0.6x all the way to 50x hybrid zoom if you’re feeling daring.

Its ultra-wide camera has to be the most handy, though, especially when trying to capture as much of a scene as possible. I used this everywhere I went, even for closeups and portraits needing more background.

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As you can see, the P30 Pro is fantastic at dynamic range thanks to AI optimization. All I have to do is turn on HDR+ and let the phone do all the computing. Needless to say, not once did I feel that there wasn’t enough color or brightness in my photos.

Another interesting feature is the RYYB color sensor, which draws in more light for sharper photos even in low-light environments. This allowed me to go full auto even during nighttime.

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Speaking of nighttime, Huawei’s signature night mode makes a return with even smarter illumination. It’s amazing how well the cameras can see at night, whether it’s using the regular or ultra-wide lens.

It takes only a few seconds for the app to stitch all the multiple exposure into one attractive image. Once finished, you have what looks like a long exposure shot on a tripod, but done using only your hands.

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When you need a little more control with your compositions, there’s a pro mode to help out. This gives you the chance to play around with lots of settings to achieve the perfect shot.

It might seem a little daunting at first to newbies, but the adjustments are made in real time, so you can see how each setting affects the final product. The manual focus scrolling is a personal favorite of mine.

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Of course, selfies matter too, and Huawei equipped the P30 Pro with a wide 32-megapixel selfie shooter to handle all your self portraits. This becomes especially important when there’s no one else to take your photos.

The P30 Pro’s camera app offers lots of beauty and background blurring options for selfies, so you still have control over how you look in the end. HDR comes in handy as well when the scene gets too bright.

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But what I loved most about bringing the P30 Pro as my sole camera around Europe was its auto mode. When time is of the essence and there’s no chance to make last-second adjustments, this mode does all the work for me.

I can’t count the number of times I double-pressed the volume down button to go straight to the camera app and snap a picture in front of me. It’s the feature I used most by far, making my travels that much easier.

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To be honest, going into this, I was a bit scared about relying on only one smartphone to do everything for me, from navigating places and researching about the top spots to visit, to documenting every step of the way.

Fortunately for me, the Huawei P30 Pro never faltered, and was, in fact, an incredibly reliable all-in-one camera. This is definitely going into my pocket again for my next trip.


This feature was produced in collaboration between GadgetMatch and Huawei.

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