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Essential Phone PH-1 Review

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In order to sell smartphones every six months or so, our favorite smartphone brands resort to tricks — innovative or sometimes gimmicky features, meant to make phones fresh and exciting.

Over the last two years, these features have ranged from water resistance and near-borderless displays to dual cameras, hot-swappable modules, and perhaps not killing off the headphone jack. Okay, maybe not that last one.

But what if brands adopted a new approach to making phones, one that involves stripping away gimmicks and excess, and focusing instead on features essential to the average user?

That’s what Andy Rubin, the creator of Android, set out to achieve with his new US$ 700 Essential Phone (yep, that’s what it’s called) launching in the US and Canada on September 1.

What’s in a name?

But before we dive in, some definitions are necessary in order to set the pace of the rest of the review: What is essential?

The New Oxford Dictionary defines it as something that’s “absolutely necessary.” Similar to what the folks at Essential Products believe, that phones “should have only what we want and need.”

But aren’t wants and needs relative? Who is to say what I consider absolutely necessary on a smartphone? And are my preferences the same as everyone else’s?

Is its US$ 700 price tag, while fair for a phone of its caliber, not one a vast majority of smartphone users will be able to afford? Shouldn’t a phone built on these principles be more accessible to all?

Lastly, some will argue that Essential’s choice of features are misguided. Dual cameras may be the way forward in smartphone imaging, but are they necessary? And on the flip side, aren’t missing features like water resistance or a headphone jack must-haves on a phone?

I ask these questions because it’s hard not to overlook the promises the Essential Phone makes based on the name it’s chosen. But if you can see past the marketing spin, you’ll find a solid contender in the flagship space, with a top-of-the-line specs sheet, superior build quality, and a promise of being future-proof.

Look and feel

When I first picked up the Essential Phone PH-1 (its full name), I immediately knew it would be one that I would enjoy using, and I did. The phone is gorgeous from every angle and built well.

The phone is made of more premium yet unconventional materials; titanium which is more durable than aluminum, and ceramic which is more scratch-resistant than glass.

It’s also just the right size — not too small, not too big — and while it’s a bit heavy for its size, it’s one that exudes confidence the moment you pick it up.

A 5.5-inch iPhone 7 Plus for comparison

The Essential design aesthetic is classy and subtle, with no logos on either side.

On its back, the dual cameras do not protrude, and its circular fingerprint sensor is easily reachable by the average index finger. The only seemingly out of place elements are two golden dots that allow for snap-on accessories.

Up front is where the phone is truly a standout. Its 5.7-inch front panel is more display than I’ve ever seen on a smartphone today. Unique to the Essential Phone is a cutout for the selfie camera that makes it seem like the screen wraps around it.

If I were to nitpick, I’d complain that the IPS-LCD screen doesn’t have the deep blacks or rich colors of a phone with an AMOLED panel, but only the most discerning of users will mind.

The software experience is equally good, as close to the original flavor of Android imaginable. Not that you should expect anything less from the creator of Android. All throughout my review process, I silently giggled at the thought that I was finally using Android the way it was intended to be experienced.

Google Maps takes up the entire screen…

… while apps like Twitter leave a black bar on top.

Because its display has a cutout for the selfie camera, you get an unconventional bit of space that won’t reach its full potential until developers quite literally design around it. Google apps know it’s there; apps like Maps, for example, take up the entire space, while others like YouTube fill up the space with color. If an app doesn’t support it, the space where you’d find signal bars and battery stats stays black like you’d find on any other Android device.

Real-world performance

Because the phone is powerful and the user interface is light, navigating through the software feels snappy. Graphics-intensive games also load quickly, and run without stutters or hiccups.

The phone comes with 128GB as the only storage option; that’s double the default amount on most flagship phones in 2017. But it doesn’t have a microSD card slot, not that the average user will ever need more.

Its 3040mAh battery is a bit lower than the industry standard, but in our tests, we still got a good day’s use out of the phone, with about five hours of screen-on time. The phone supports quick charging, as well. I don’t know if it was just the warm New York summer, but we often found our phone getting warm while we were out taking photos.

Overall, camera performance is one area that needs improvement. The Essential phone’s dual-camera setup consists of a pair of color and black-and-white sensors. There’s no zoom or wide-angle lens. Like similar technology on the Huawei P10 and Nokia 8, the idea is to fuse the color and detail information from both cameras into a technically superior image.

Unfortunately, the results aren’t so great especially in low light. Our sample photos lacked the dynamic range you’d get on an iPhone, Galaxy S8, or Pixel, and photos shot in dimly lit places were very grainy and not the kind you’d want to share on social media.     

Its camera app too (one of the few customizations Essential’s made to stock Android) feels like it needs a lot of work. Focusing is slow, and so is switching between color and black-and-white modes.

While there have been at least two software updates since review units were seeded earlier this month, and more expected to come, experience tells us that software updates can’t make a good camera great.

Future-proof

While I have yet to test its only available module, a snap-on 4K 360-degree video camera, I think the Essential Phone’s modular dreams are an important story to tell. The company believes that modules are what keep the phone future-proof.

Two magnetic connectors on the back of the phone will allow users to snap on accessories that expand the phone’s functionality.

While there is only one currently available — and another one, a wireless charging dock, promised — what makes me more confident in Essential’s implementation versus that of Motorola (the only other modular smartphone maker), is the tiny footprint the Essential’s magnetic connectors take up. Just two circular dots spaced about 1cm apart.

Theoretically, the company could completely overhaul the phone’s design and today’s mods would still fit. Here’s to hoping it can get third-party companies to design modules for their platform, something Motorola is still struggling to do.

Is the Essential Phone your GadgetMatch?

If you see the Essential Phone as a top-of-the-line flagship instead of one that delivers just the essentials, it makes sense.

Its pursuit of simplicity, non-compromising performance, and forward thinking, make it a solid step in the direction that manufacturers must take. But as a first-generation product, it’s not one without a few flaws. Had its camera been stellar, the Essential Phone would have made an easy sell, and a particularly strong contender against Google’s upcoming Pixel 2. But unfortunately, it isn’t.

If you’re looking for a phone that’s not going to be used by the average joe walking down the street, you’ll love the exclusivity the Essential brings. If you’re a sucker for simplicity in design, believer in the stock Android experience, and don’t mind a sub-par camera, the Essential is a great choice.

Otherwise, we say wait another year. Perhaps with more experience and more time to develop its product and build its mod ecosystem, Essential can inch closer to its dream of building a phone that all of us will want and need.

SEE ALSO: Essential Phone Hands-On Review

[irp posts=”18991″ name=”Essential Phone Hands-On Review”]

Her GadgetMatch

OPPO Find X Lamborghini Edition: Testing a $2,000 phone

Will a luxurious phone make me more luxurious?

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I won’t beat around the bush. This is the OPPO Find X Lamborghini Edition and it’s worth almost US$ 2,000 or US$ 1,980 to be precise.

What’s so special about it? See that seal? It’s an actual Lamborghini. No, really, from the Italian luxury carmaker.

I got my hands on this delightful device and I’ve been using it for a few weeks. So, now that I have my own Lambo, what changed? Did using this expensive AF phone make me a classier person? Will I get more street cred because of my flashy phone? What does holding US$ 2,000 in form of a phone feel like?

Because owning such a luxurious device has made me a more gracious person, I shall walk you through my experiences with the Lambo.

It still looks and feels good 

The OPPO Find X Lamborghini Edition has the same signature bezel-less screen of the regular Find X.

On the back, glaring in gold is the Lamborghini logo. This phone also has a different back design on that smooth glass back; almost elusive striped markings dubbed by OPPO as the black carbon pattern adorns the whole body.

Of course, there’s a special edition Lambo theme because if you’re paying that much for a phone, they better throw in a custom theme!

As cool as it was (especially for car lovers!), though, I opted to change the theme into something brighter during my time with the phone. 😅

I’ve said it about the normal Find X and I’ll say it again about this Lambo phone: It’s a pleasure to hold. The weight, feel, and that wide, crisp screen make everything feel premium.

The only downside is that the normal OPPO Find X and the Lambo phone are similarly great — which is a good thing if you own the normal Find X, but not such a great deal if you paid the US$ 825 difference for the more expensive phone.

Nonetheless, the Lambo phone does give a classier spin to the phone in black and gold. I mean, if you hold it strategically enough, people should take notice of that Lamborghini logo, right?

Touting such an expensive device day and night is not as easy as it looks. Because I’m secretly not rich (sad reacts 😢), I almost had a mini heart attack handling such an expensive thing that’s all glass. Thankfully, the phone came with a phone case that sports the same Lamborghini logo and stripe pattern that onlookers can accidentally ogle so they can realize how much my phone costs.

It didn’t make me more luxurious but it looked the part

As you may have noticed, I busted out classy AF props for shooting this particular device.

I figured this was as good a time as any to amp up the set design — it’s not every day your phone costs more than 18 bottles of Moet.

Sans the bottles of champagne, we did discover that the Lamborghini Find X looks great with classy rich girl outfits complete with pearl ensemble. I felt straight out of Gossip Girl, except even Blair Waldorf didn’t own a Lamborghini phone, did she?

The best fast charge technology that money can buy

The best thing about this phone comes in form of a brightly colored charger cord and Lamborghini-branded power brick. I sh!t you not (excuse my crassness but this tech deserves the profanity), this phone charges from zero to 100 in 35 minutes. Ten minutes of charging gives you 37 percent and thirty minutes of charging amounts to a whopping 92 percent.

Never have I seen such fast charging times. It’s unreal.

Honestly, charging became such an easy thing for me since using this phone. I just plug it in and it’ll completely charge before you can finish saying supercalifragilistic-holy-fudge-this-phone-is-so-expensive-docious!

Real talk though, because I don’t plug this phone in as much as you would other phones (shout-out to iPhone users), think of all the money you can save in terms of broken cords!

There are matching earphones

OPPO also threw in a pair of matching wireless earbuds because someone had to justify paying that much money for this set.

They come in a case stamped with the Lamborghini logo and automatically connect to your phone after initial pairing. They’re a decent pair of earphones that go well with the whole Lambo look except I seem to have misplaced one of the earpieces (which is not my fault because there is a serious design flaw to untethered earphones!) and now there’s a pit in my stomach when I think of how much that tiny thing probably costs. 😢

Different yet exactly the same?

At the end of the day, it’s still the same great phone.

The features that made me love the normal Find X are still the same features I enjoy on this Lambo: the fast face unlock feature, the awesome display, and the pop-up camera design (it never gets old).

Owning a Lambo *surprise* has not fundamentally changed me. I’m still really, really not rich. Most people didn’t even notice the flashy Lambo logo on my phone. Funny enough, people still only notice the pop-up camera and are still very much amazed by it.

But, I did, and still do enjoy using this phone. It’s a top-of-the-line device and it feels that way. I like it to the point that I keep using it despite having only one Lambo earphone now. 😢

Like a true luxury item, the price really doesn’t make sense. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s an awesome, awesome device — if you can afford it.

In the meantime, I’m unsure of how to live my life if I have to go back to charging my phone for more than 35 minutes. Let me leave you now as I sip on not Moet to ponder on my dilemma.

Images by MJ Jucutan

SEE ALSO: OPPO Find X review: All about style, selfies, and that poppin’ camera

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Samsung Galaxy A7 hands-on review: Beyond the cameras

Just another camera-centric phone?

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A few years ago, megapixels were all the rage when it came to smartphone photography. Producing larger photos somehow equated to better quality — and more aggressive marketing — from those little shooters on older phones.

Fortunately, that craze ended, but we’re now facing a new race to see who can stuff the most number of cameras on a single handset.

Even though dual-camera setups became the standard a couple of years ago, brands like Huawei and LG have been pushing for more. Naturally, competitors including Samsung saw the need to catch up, and even exceed in some cases.

The Galaxy A7 of 2018 is a direct answer to the trending need for at least three cameras on a phone’s rear. In this case, one camera is for regular shots, another is for wide-angle photos, and a third helps power the Live Focus function.

We already had time to experience this unique setup in India, but we now want to answer another question: Is there more to the Galaxy A7 than just its cameras?

The short answer is yes. Not only does the Galaxy A7 have Samsung’s signature AMOLED display and a mostly glass body, it does so at a reasonable price of INR 23,990 in India and PhP 17,990 in the Philippines — both of which convert to about US$ 330.

Samsung’s entry-level Galaxy J series often hovered around this price, so for a Galaxy A phone to hit this point with more premium features is a good deal. (It may also be a sign of Samsung gradually letting go of the Galaxy J lineup.)

Despite the relatively large bezels for a 2018 phone, the 6-inch 1080p AMOLED is both well-sized and a pleasure to look at. As usual, Samsung tends to oversaturate colors, but I appreciate the inclusion of Always On Display (AOD), which keeps the panel partially active to show me the time and my notifications throughout the day.

It’s tough on the battery, though, and I recommend turning this feature off when not needed. The 3300mAh battery capacity is lacking for a phone this size; with AOD on, I only get four hours of screen-on time in a single day. Leaving it off gives me an additional hour, but the phone still doesn’t get over a day’s worth of usage.

Using Samsung’s standard Adaptive Fast Charging adapter, it takes less than two hours to get to full from zero percent. That makes up for the mediocre battery life, although I wish the Galaxy A7 came with a USB-C port instead of the aging micro-USB.

What’s new, however, is the interface. Although it’s stuck on Android 8.0 Oreo, Samsung baked Experience 9.0 into the operating system, so it has the newest gestures and I found that jumping from one function to another is pleasantly smooth.

It helps that Samsung’s own Exynos 7885 chipset is handling all the heavy-duty tasks. While it isn’t the best for gaming — titles like Life is Strange and Asphalt 9: Legends don’t run that smoothly unless graphics settings are lowered — switching through apps while multitasking is seamless, and I can’t remember a time when hiccups bothered me.

I was surprised to find only 4GB of memory inside, but it turned out being enough for my usage case. There were only a few instances wherein I wished my background apps wouldn’t close so soon. What’s better is the integrated storage, which comes in at 64GB with additional room for a microSD card up to 512GB.

Other reasons to consider this phone? There’s a 3.5mm audio port if that matters to you, and the front-facing LED flash is pretty helpful when lighting is terrible during your selfie shoots.

Another thing that’s useful to me but may be annoying to others is the placement of the fingerprint scanner. It’s on the side-mounted power button, which I consider to be an optimized spot no matter how the phone is held or laid on a tablet. Left-handed people might not feel the same way.

Finally, despite the glass body, the phone seems to be a little flimsy. It’s not something I’m confident putting inside my back pocket. Get a case as soon as you buy one, or simply don’t drop or bend it.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

It’s easy to recommend the Galaxy A7 for what it is, but there are so many great phones in the sub-US$ 400 segment that it’s difficult to ignore them. Offerings from Honor, Xiaomi, and even Pocophone make the final purchasing decision a tough one.

The Galaxy A7 is primarily for long-time Samsung users looking for something different. Its triple-camera setup is certainly unique in this part of the smartphone market, and the side-mounted fingerprint scanner is a refreshing sight.

At the same time, a lot of Samsung’s familiar features are here, including the AMOLED display and the lack of a notch. It’s certainly the most non-Samsung, Samsung phone you can buy today — until you see the more outrageous Galaxy A9, that is.

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Honor 8X Review: A supersized midrange powerhouse

Big display, big battery

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Honor has a new midrange offering called the Honor 8X. Knowing that Honor operates under Huawei, you can easily mistake the phone as a new gigantic Huawei phone. But, the Honor 8X offers more than Huawei’s devices in this segment.

I took the Honor 8X for a spin and here’s what I can say about the new midranger.

It’s got a large 6.5-inch Full HD+ display

Sporting a tall 19.5:9 aspect ratio

The display is practically borderless

With a notch, of course

It accepts three cards at the same time

No need to sacrifice your microSD card

The volume and power buttons are on the right

They’re firm and tactile

Sadly, the phone still uses micro-USB 😕

The bottom also has the 3.5mm jack, loudspeaker, and main microphone

The rear is a smooth slab of glass

With the fingerprint reader right in the middle

The phone has dual rear cameras with AI features

It even has the “AI Camera” label

Premium understated build

Upon seeing the Honor 8X in person for the first time, the first thing I noticed was its size. It’s got a 6.5-inch display which is almost as big as my 7-inch tablets years ago. But, it’s not cumbersome to hold because it’s virtually borderless.

Like with other bezel-less phones today, the Honor 8X has a notch to house its front camera, sensors, and earpiece. It’s got a bit of a chin, but it’s barely there. The chin is smaller than others, but it’s not as thin as the new iPhones’.

If you look closely, the phone has a two-toned back. My Honor 8X in black has a slightly lighter shade on the camera side. This is to mimic the look of a point-and-shoot camera when the phone is taking photos in landscape orientation. It’s not exactly utilitarian, but it’s a nice touch.

Overall, I am impressed with the Honor 8X’s build and design. It kinda reminds me of the Huawei GR3 2017, but this one is a lot better. Both the front and back are made of glass while the frame of the phone is aluminum. This combination gives a premium feel on hand and is definitely a looker.

Big display made for entertainment

The large display has a resolution of 2340 x 1080 with a pixel density of roughly 396ppi. That’s crisp enough to get immersed in high definition videos and action games. The viewing angles are wide, so watching with a group of people is not an issue.

At the heart of the Honor 8X is the latest Kirin 710 processor from HiSilicon. The home-baked chipset from Huawei’s factory is based on the 12nm FinFET process making it more efficient than its competitors. It’s not the most powerful, but it’s definitely a step up from last year’s midrange processors and it even has GPU Turbo out of the box.

My review unit has 4GB of memory which is enough for everyday multitasking. I never had any issues with the phone’s performance. Everything has been smooth, even when switching between apps. Yet, it’s not the fastest phone around, but a few more milliseconds of loading time won’t hurt.

Gaming-wise, the Honor 8X can handle casual and demanding titles. As mentioned, it comes with GPU Turbo already, so games like PUBG: Mobile, Asphalt 9: Legends, and Mobile Legends: Bang Bang will have an extra boost. Don’t expect the smoothest gameplay in all available games, but setting the graphics to medium helps a lot in achieving higher frame rates.

Capable AI-powered cameras

The Honor 8X is equipped with a whopping 20-megapixel main sensor at the back and it’s paired with a secondary 2-megapixel depth sensor for special effects like bokeh and re-focusing. Honor is not exactly known to have the best shooters around, but the Honor 8X’s camera is more than capable of capturing good photos — at least when there’s a lot of light.

The AI feature can get quite aggressive at times, but it’s best to leave it on since you always have the option to turn it off in the gallery preview. Check out these samples taken with AI turned on:

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As for selfies, there’s a 16-megapixel front camera which is also abundant in pixels. You can say the Honor 8X is a selfie phone and it does deliver. Our selfies even seem like they’re shot using the main camera. Check them out:

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The beauty mode is nothing to write home about, but you can play around with it to get the ideal setting. You can also apply bokeh for added effect.

As long-lasting as expected

With a 3750mAh battery, the Honor 8X is a road warrior. With light to moderate use, I get about two days of battery life. That includes constant Wi-Fi connection, social networking, and playing games. I usually get around six to seven hours of screen time as well.

The phone charges via micro-USB, and the charging time is fairly average. Using the included 10W charger, it charges from zero to 27 percent in 30 minutes, while a full charge takes about two hours.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

If you’re looking for a phone with a big display, long-lasting battery, and good performance, the Honor 8X will not disappoint. It’s a great contender in the midrange segment. Actually, it’s even cheaper than most similarly specced phones.

Of course, it’s not a perfect device. It still uses a micro-USB port, it doesn’t have proper fast charging tech, and the camera is inconsistent in delivering great photos. Although, these are not major flaws, especially when you consider the phone’s asking price.

The Honor 8X is priced at PhP 12,990 in the Philippines, EUR 249 in Europe, and starts at CNY 1,399 in China. Pricing is dependent per region and the configuration of the memory and storage.

SEE ALSO: Honor plans to become a top 3 phone brand in 2022

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