Reviews

Revisiting the Essential Phone at $499

Reviewed as a premium midrange phone

Published

on

It’s amazing what a major price cut can do to a smartphone. At US$ 700, the Essential Phone was punching above its weight class; at US$ 499, it’s a surprisingly great deal.

This is the same phone with a titanium frame and ceramic back, the fastest processor found on any Android device at the moment, and a design we consider to be the most attractive of 2017.

And since Essential (the company) had several months to iron out the kinks of its sole flagship, we’re no longer dealing with what once felt like a half-baked product.

We already reviewed the Essential Phone a couple of months after its initial release — then with the original price tag — and we were neither blown away nor totally disappointed by the handset. We’re revisiting the device as a premium midrange, now that it fits comfortably at the US$ 500 mark (although it went for as low as US$ 400 at one point).

Re-evaluating what’s essential

We had a number of complaints during our first review: The built-in camera app was too basic, its image outputs were slow and grainy, and the space around the “notchette” (because it’s notchette as big as the iPhone X’s notch) wasn’t fully utilized. Essential managed to improve two of those three, but not by much.

For one, the camera app has since been updated with a few more features. There’s now a portrait mode similar to what you’d find on the Pixel 2 and Galaxy Note 8. Essential also added support for 360 videos on Facebook Live and YouTube Live using the optional 360 Camera attachment.

While those are welcome additions, they don’t fix the real issues, which are the clunkiness of the interface and lack of any proper optimization since the app’s first version. Switching from one mode to another is as slow as ever; you can’t use monochrome or portrait mode for the front camera; and the most basic of settings, such as toggling the aspect ratio and image resolution, are still missing.

Features you’d normally take for granted on much cheaper phones are what you’ll want most on the Essential Phone’s default app. And it’s not like the image quality got significantly better; the dual cameras on the back continue to lag behind the competition and its selfies are nothing to brag about. Making matters worse is the delay between taking a shot and viewing it — another example of poor utilization of a great processor.

You can see in the sample photos below how inconsistent the camera can be. Going from pure daylight to a tad less light indoors can instantly bring the shooters from hero to zero:

Finally, we have to talk about the notchette. It’s nowhere near as intrusive as the iPhone X’s notch, and it’s better than the Mi Mix 2’s awkward camera placement on the bottom, but apps still haven’t been optimized to work around the gap. Essential promised that popular apps would eventually adapt, yet the only apps in my library to adjust are Google Photos, Maps, and Uber.

Everything else simply changes the color of the top bar or makes it all black, ultimately creating a thick bezel and ruining the borderless experience. It’s a shame that developer support has been negligible from the beginning, although that’s something you’d expect from a first-generation product with a tiny user base.

It’s easy to hit the Essential Phone where it hurts — it’s a problematic product under a troubled company — but you can’t deny how well built it is: no branding whatsoever, the ceramic back is more scratch-resistant than typical smartphone glass, and there’s comfort in knowing that the titanium frame can take a beating.

You can argue that the 19:10 screen ratio is too unconventional, but while there’s no standard in this post-16:9 era, we’ll settle for what feels best. I can wholeheartedly say that the slim 5.7-inch body is a joy to hold in spite of the slippery materials, and this is a phone I’d proudly show off to my friends and peers.

On the inside, we still have 2016’s Android 7.1.1 Nougat operating system. It’s a sore spot for a phone known for its pure, nearly untouched Android interface. Why hasn’t Oreo arrived yet on Essential’s only phone? Stuck in its beta stages, there’s hasn’t been any word when the final build will arrive. We can only hope that the update will remedy more bugs.

None of these take anything away from the steady battery life, however. It isn’t stellar by any means — I’d get around four hours of screen time and normally have to charge at the end of each day — but I never had to keep a charger or power bank beside me at all times. Although rare to find a phone with terrible battery endurance these days, this definitely slots within the above-average mark.

Do take note: It uses a non-proprietary 27W fast charger instead of the usual Quick Charge found on Snapdragon-equipped phones. Why should you care? Using anything other than the bundled charger probably won’t charge the battery rapidly. I’ve had luck with the Pixel 2’s high-powered Quick Charge adapter, but it wasn’t consistent and would take anywhere between less than two hours to more than three hours to fully charge.

Re-evaluating the competition

A lot of top-shelf phones have launched since the Essential Phone was first released — Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8, Google’s Pixel 2 XL, Apple’s iPhone X, Huawei’s Mate 10 Pro, Xiaomi’s Mi Mix 2, and the OnePlus 5T, to name a few. Those are six of the best phones you could buy today, showing just how stiff the competition has gotten since the Essential Phone set foot in the market.

Up against these giants, it was a smart move on the newcomer’s part to cut down the cost of their lone product, while continuing to be on par with rivals in terms of chipset and build quality, but this really should have been the price from the beginning.

Being bold is good, but fledgling companies (no matter how renowned the founder is) must know their place. Launching before the barrage of flagship phones mentioned above was strategic; not delivering on time and losing momentum aren’t.

With the new price, the Essential Phone is no longer an overpriced phone with an underdeveloped camera and no waterproofing or audio port. It now has great value with a… umm… slightly better camera and still no waterproofing or audio port whatsoever.

And yet, it’s a bargain for the beautiful device that it is, especially with premium pricing going well above the US$ 900 by each passing launch. This just leaves us with the question:

What does the future hold for Essential?

With no rumors or expectations for an Essential Phone 2, we aren’t hopeful for a sequel this year. What we do wish for are more modular attachments; the 360 Camera simply isn’t enough to justify this handset’s modular expandability anymore.

The two metal dots at the back are underutilized to a fault. It’s a shame, because the 360 Camera is an intuitive approach to modular accessories — it’s plug-and-play and there’s no need to detach anything first. The promised wireless charging attachment would be great, and a selection close to what Moto offers for its phones would put it over the top.

At the end of the day, we’re looking at a good first attempt. The original iPhone wasn’t as refined during its time, and Google’s first Pixel didn’t look nearly as sleek compared to its competition.

It’s been more than half a year since the Essential Phone launched, and neither the device nor its features feel essential to this day. A successor could change all that and truly make a dent in the dense smartphone landscape, but until then, let’s appreciate this phone for what it is: the prettiest pure take on Android.

Gaming

ROG Zephyrus G15: Lean, mean, gaming machine

And it’s a looker too

Published

on

Zephyrus G15

One of my favorite things about getting to try many new gadgets is that I learn more about myself and my preferences. The ROG Zephyrus G15 (2022) GA503 – which henceforth will just be referred to as just Zephyrus G15 – did just that for me and what I want in gaming laptops. 

For context, I have been sparingly using my ROG Flow X13 for most of my general Windows and PC gaming needs. It’s a great device, don’t get me wrong. But having to prop up the laptop itself along with the XG Mobile to reach its full potential can be quite cumbersome.

It’s a huge contrast to the Zephyrus G15 where I simply fire it up and it just works in a jiffy. And all the ports I normally use are right there, ready to use. I’m a big fan of convenience so I absolutely love it when gadgets just work without much friction. 

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Based on this introduction, I’m sure you already have some idea on what I generally think about the Zephyrus G15. But allow me to discuss it further. 

Tale of the tape

Zephyrus G15

Specs and benchmarks never tell the whole story. But specs are a good place to start. Here’s what our review unit is packing: 

  • AMD Ryzen 9 6900HS
  • 15″ WQHD (2560 x 1440) 16:9 240hz Pantone Validated 100% DCI-P
  • RTX 3070 TI 8GB GDDR6
  • 16GB DDR5 on board  + 16GB DDR5-4800 SO-DIMM
  • 1TB M.2 NVM PCIe 4.0 SSD
  • Moonlight White

Some standout stuff from the information provided above are the new processor, the Pantone Validated display as well as the RAM available. This isn’t even its highest configuration. There’s a variant that runs RTX 3080. You can upgrade your RAM up to 48GB and there’s another SSD slot so you can expand your storage. 

Zephyrus G15

That means there’s plenty of room to up the ante down the line should you choose to do so. That’s not something that you can say for every gaming laptop. 

Immaculate look and design

I love that ROG sent over the Moonlight White version for us to try. Black is great, don’t get me wrong. But it’s refreshing to see gaming laptops brimming with power come in other colorways that could appeal to people that are kind of just over with black. 

The magnesium-aluminum lid and chassis also maintain the Zephyrus look giving it a sleek and tough exterior, while keeping the ROG Zephyrus identity. And you don’t have to worry too much about it picking up dust and dirt. In the few weeks I spent with it, it stayed pristine looking despite little to no wiping maintenance. That’s thanks largely to the wear-resistant coating which works exactly as advertised. 

Zephyrus G15

Adding to the overall functional design is the ErgoLift Hinge. This is one of my favorite things about ASUS laptops. The ergolift hinge not only allows a 180° for more flexibility, it’s also just ultra satisfying to move and look at. 

It looks fresh, feels tough, and is relatively compact making it easy to carry around. It’s a looker with some bells and whistles in the right places.

Ports, keyboard, and trackpad

Zephyrus G15

Speaking of those bells and whistles, the Zephyrus G15 is packed with possibly all the ports you’ll need. Whether that’s for a remote setup or one that’s neatly tucked into a home office desk. 

Zephyrus G15

Here’s everything it has to offer: 

  • USB3.2 Gen 2 Type-A (2x)
  • USB3.2 Gen 2 Type-C(supports DP 1.4 & 100W PD Charger), (2x)
  • LAN RJ-45 jack (1x)
  • HDMI 2.0b (1x)
  • Micro SD Card Reader (UHS-II), (1x)
  • 3.5mm Audio combo jack (1x)
  • Kensington Lock (1x)

 

Zephyrus G15

The Stealth Type keyboard was a curious choice but one that I welcome. I was of the impression that the gaming demographic skews more towards the clickity clack of mechanical keyboards. But the one equipped on the Zephyrus G15 is about as quiet as they come. No complaints here though, as it didn’t distract my at-the-moment entanglement in slumber as I toiled away over late night labor. 

Zephyrus G15

One of the best trackpad experiences on a Windows Gaming laptop.

The trackpad, too, was such a pleasant surprise. Perhaps it’s also in conjunction with Windows 11 but using a trackpad on Windows now doesn’t feel as laggy as it used to. On days that I only worked using the Zephyrus G15, I never felt the need to connect a mouse. That feels like a breakthrough as I have never been able to say that for any of the Windows laptops I’ve reviewed in the past. 

Plays like a console

Yes, I paired a DualSense controller with the Zephyrus G15

Alright, before any PC gaming enthusiasts come at my throat, what I mean here is mostly the quality of life things. When I got the Zephyrus G15, I didn’t tweak it very much. Heck, I even opened Armoury Crate less than five times during my time with it. Despite this, it had no trouble running the games I attempted to play. Some of which are even very demanding AAA titles. 

Zephyrus G15

I’m a big fan of tech that just works. Especially with my current workload, the less time I have to figure something out, the better. And that’s the case with this gaming laptop. I simply fired up Steam, downloaded the games, and played to my heart’s content. 

Zephyrus G15

Teen Gohan vs Cell is a classic.

Naturally, I checked the settings on some of the first few games I tried like Control, Genshin Impact, and Dragon Ball FighterZ. Everything was consistently on the highest settings right off the bat. Lags and stutters? I don’t know them. Not with the Zephyrus G15 in tow. 

To better understand where I’m coming from, I own an ROG Flow X13. The one that comes with the ROG XG Mobile. It’s a great machine, no doubt. But to get the most out of it, I still have to hook up the XG Mobile to the Flow X13. Whereas with the Zephyrus G15, I simply have to turn the laptop on. That’s an underrated level of convenience that may or may not mean much for some of you. 

You still have Armoury Crate but I didn’t feel the need to touch it as much.

It’s seriously making me consider trading up for the Zephyrus G15. And that’s just with the raw performance of games. I haven’t even talked about how good the display and speakers are. 

Eyes and ears candy 

Zephyrus G15

Its high-level performance is of course complemented by a stellar audio-visual experience. As indicated in the specs section earlier, this laptop sports a 15” WQHD 16:9 display with a 240Hz refresh rate. It’s also Pantone Validated which is great for color accuracy if you’re working on anything that involves visual media.

But all you really need to know is that it’s an absolute treat to the eyes. The 240Hz refresh rate on the panel is great for first-person shooters. Unfortunately, I am not great at first person shooters. I’d like to take this opportunity to whoever I played Valorant with because I totally dragged the team down. 

Zephyrus G15

This is a “Tomboy” fancam but listen to her album “MY” too!

 

It is a visual treat, no doubt. But like (G)-IDLE’s Miyeon, the Zephyrus G15 isn’t just a treat for the eyes. It also sounds hella good. I spent a good chunk of time watching Miyeon’s fancams on this thing and it’s just a fantastic overall experience. 

I also watched a few episodes of Netflix’s Business Proposal at the time of writing. Really, whatever type of content you consume, it’s bound to look and sound great on this thing. 

Zephyrus G15

Kim SeJeong is just adorable

One thing we did learn is that the display struggles a bit under really bright environments. When taking photos of the device, we opted to step out for natural light. But if you’re using this to work or play remotely, I recommend you find some place that isn’t too bright. 

Is this your GadgetMatch?

Zephyrus G15

The ROG Zephyrus G15 (2022) GA503 is easily one of my personal favorite devices that I’ve reviewed so far in 2022. It’s about as close as it can get to a plug and play PC gaming experience. And that’s not something you can say for many laptops and/or PCs. 

The Zephyrus G15 (2022) brings with it a distinct look, top-notch gaming performance, and a really solid audio-visual experience. As a gaming laptop, this is about as perfect as it gets and is something I can easily recommend especially if you’re willing to splurge for it.

Official pricing will be announced soon. We’ll update this space when it’s out.

Continue Reading

Reviews

vivo X80 Pro Unboxing and Review

vivo’s best smartphone just got even better!

Published

on

The vivo X70 Pro+ was launched just several months ago. However, we’re already having a follow-up!

Unlike the X50, X60, and X70 series, the X80 series only consists of two models this time around.

Namely the X80 and X80 Pro — with the latter being vivo’s latest flagship smartphone.

But what makes it different from its predecessor? And what makes the successor a lot more exciting?

Watch our vivo X80 Pro Unboxing and Review now to find out more!

 

Continue Reading

Reviews

Samsung Galaxy S22+ review: Love at first touch

Can’t help but fall deeper

Published

on

Galaxy S22+

A cosmic pull. A supernatural attraction. These aren’t phrases one normally says on a smartphone review. And yet, here I am. Falling madly for the Samsung Galaxy S22+. 

However, this wasn’t the case from the get go. First, I saw it in photos and it was alright. Then, I saw the specs on paper. Yeah, that’s pretty good. It was just another flagship, I thought. 

But everything changed when it came to my doorstep and held it in my hands. 

(P.S. All of my subheadings below are taken from the song “One Touch” by Gabe Bondoc. You can play it while you read 🙂). 

One touch and I’m hooked and I am drowning

Galaxy S22+

I am completely aware how overly infatuated I’m coming off and will come off for the rest of this article. But, having been in this smartphone reviewing gig for close to seven (7) years now, I’ve become almost numb to the usual releases. 

Yes, every now and then I take a liking to a smartphone or two. But it has been a while since I really, really wanted to keep and/or buy a phone I’m reviewing. 

The Samsung Galaxy S22+ just felt perfect on my hands. The right width, the right length, and the right thickness. The heft of the device, its shiny metallic edges, and the clean premium finish of the back all scream premium. The material on its back has a smooth, matte feel and finish. It’s both smudge and scratch resistant.


I’m a fan of its button placements too. With both the power button and volume rockers flushed on the right-hand side. It’s easy to slide up and down to press what you need to press.

And the metal lining on the edges feels smooth but grippable and perfectly complements the flat display. 

Excuse me, I don’t mean to be staring

It’s no secret that Samsung consistently offers one of the best displays, especially in their flagship line. This remains true for the 6.6-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X panel equipped on this beaut. The colors are rich and crisp under favorable lighting conditions. But even in broad daylight, the display is bright enough (1750 nits peak) to be comfortably operated without having to squint. 

Galaxy S22+

I had a grand time watching my favorite shows on the Samsung Galaxy S22+. I’ve had it for a while so I saw a few episodes of the Netflix K-Drama Business Proposal on it. I have also been catching up weekly on the HBO series Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty. For content that supports it, HDR10+ kicks in to elevate the visual experience. 

Galaxy S22+

The display looks so majestic that it prompted me to put the love of my life Momo Hirai of TWICE as my wallpaper. And then of course, there’s the dynamic refresh rate that goes up as high as 120Hz. This means the screen changes its refresh rate depending on what you’re doing. If you’re scrolling through socials and what not, it kicks into high gear to give you a smooth experience. When idle, the refresh rate lowers down to save battery. 

My heart won’t slow ’cause of you

The Galaxy S22+’s overall performance will really keep your heart racing. Normal, day-to-day interactions with your phone just feel extra sharp. The many features mentioned above coupled with the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 powering this phone keeps it humming no matter what you do. 

Keeping up with the news in the morning, checking socials to see what you missed, using messaging apps to keep in touch whether for work or personal matters – all of these just feel like a breeze. And the ONE UI 4.1 skin on top of this Android 12 flavor definitely contributes to just how things flow when you use this smartphone. 

Galaxy S22+

I didn’t do a lot of gaming, though. To test it, I defaulted to my go-to which is a few hours of Call of Duty Mobile. As expected it runs without hiccups on high graphics settings. There’s a game manager of sorts here that I didn’t tinker with much. It’s not too different from the ones implemented in previous Samsung phones. Some key features include focusing the phone’s resources to gaming and limiting or completely blocking notifications. 

Battery life is also admirable. One afternoon, I used it to tune into a friend’s wedding via Zoom. The entire ceremony lasted roughly around two (2) hours. In that period, the Galaxy S22+’s battery went from 82% to 76%. 

Naturally, that isn’t the single indication of its battery performance. I generally start my days at around 9AM and end at around 8PM. On days that I’m glued to my laptop, with only occasional glimpses on the phone, I would end the day between 60% to 70%. On days that I’m out and about and rely on it a lot to get work done, my day ends with around 25% to 35% of battery left. 

You’re looking fine today, not that I only noticed now

Galaxy S22+

I have already done an entire separate article about the cameras on the Galaxy S22+. It’s one of the things that I enjoyed the most about the phone. It’s almost as if it’s impossible to take a bad photo with this on hand. 

Easily switching between lenses is great. But what’s even better is how the quality and color reproduction doesn’t vary much from lens to lens. Check these samples out.

Samsung Galaxy S22+

And you can even use 10X Zoom with barely any detail loss, especially if it’s a photo that you’re just uploading on social media. 

Samsung Galaxy S22+

That versatility is unmatched and is fantastic for quick, run and gun shoots like the one I did during the opening of the XM Studio in Singapore. 

I am thoroughly impressed and extremely satisfied with the quality of images it produces. And that’s saying a lot seeing as my regular daily phones include an iPhone 11 Pro and an OPPO Find X3 Pro. Both of which are excellent shooters in their own right.

Oh and yeah, “Nightography”. 

Samsung Galaxy S22+

You think there is a way that I can get you to stay?

You see, the thing about the Galaxy S22+ is that with just the first touch, you already know you’re in contact with something that you should hold onto for dear life. I can’t tell you how many oohs and aahs I got after letting other people hold it in their hands. It just has that effect.

Additionally, the phone is a smooth amalgamation of many other standout phones. It has the breathtaking display of Samsung phones, an overall footprint that feels like an iPhone 12/13 Pro Max, cameras that rival those that partner with notable camera brands, and much, much more. All of that comes in this package that looks and feels well-built on a phone that is easily an all-rounder performer. 

Truly, I never want to let it go. And that’s not something I always say about smartphones. So here’s to hoping that this high praise leads to the Galaxy S22+ staying with me more than a little while longer. 

The Samsung Galaxy S22+ 5G is still available today in Samsung stores near you, via online at Samsung.com, or at your preferred telecommunication service provider. Pricing information on our key markets are linked in the following: USA | Singapore | Philippines

I know it’s been a while since its release. Despite all the hype long gone, it’s still a phone you won’t regret buying.

Continue Reading

Trending