Reviews

Flash Plus 2 review

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On the sidelines of the Flash Plus 2 launch event in the Philippines, Lei Zhang, the company’s top executive in the country, talked about his brand being a new venture under China’s TCL and life after breaking off from Alcatel, the maker of the original Flash smartphone.

Stiffer challenges, of course, lie ahead for him and the Chinese startup — competing in the same space as Alcatel is admittedly among them — but he’s confident the 5.5-inch Plus 2 is just the start of something bigger. And he probably has every right to be, especially if his company’s first effort proves to be a hit with the younger and more tech-savvy audience it is meant for.

The Plus 2 is, first and foremost, a sub-$200 handset that unlike many other products on the bargain table gets plenty of things right. And in markets where price is king, more often than not, that’s a winning formula. Looking at the specs sheet, it’s pretty obvious this phone wants to make a solid impression. Where it falters, however, is in the choices Flash made with regard to designing the product and building it. Still, for P6,990 in the Philippines, or $160 in other countries where it has been made available, the value for money it represents is hard to ignore.

LIGHT ON PRICE, HEAVY ON FEATURES

It starts with the front, where the fingerprint scanner, which doubles as a home button, is located. It’s fast and surprisingly reliable, and what’s more, you can assign up to five fingerprints to specific apps, allowing you to launch, say, Facebook using your forefinger, or Twitter using your pinky. Not many phones on a budget have fingerprint hardware built into their bodies, and fewer make clever use of it. Not even my mighty iPhone can summon Facebook from the lockscreen.

flash-plus-2-fingerprint

There’s also the 5.5-inch display, which offers generous viewing angles and decent brightness. Text and images appear clean and sharp, thanks to its resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels. However, colors tend to look a bit washed out, even with good lighting. Just below the screen, there are two backlit capacitive buttons for fiddling with the interface. I appreciate that Flash went with a multitask button on the right edge of the navigation bar, rather than making use of a menu button, which is redundant in this age of Android apps with menu shortcuts.

The rear camera takes up to 13-megapixel photos, while the front-facer tops out at 5 megapixels. Neither are particularly impressive, but they get the job done if all you’re after are average shots with decent color reproduction and detail in good light. Here are a few photos taken with the Plus 2’s main and secondary cameras.

But perhaps the most impactful feature of all has less to do with how you use the phone in your hand and more to do during those downtimes when it is tethered to a socket. Because like many higher-tier smartphones these days, the Plus 2 supports fast charging with the supplied wall charger. In our anecdotal experience, a 60-minute charge powers the 3,000mAh battery to 90-percent capacity. It takes another 20 minutes or so to fully replenish the battery. And while that doesn’t sound so great in the larger scheme of things, it goes a long way in making the phone a joy to own.

LACKING GAMING CRED

On paper, the Flash Plus 2 offers a not-too-shabby assortment of specs for the money, running Android 6.0 Marshmallow on an LTE-ready MediaTek Helio P10 system-on-a-chip paired with eight CPU cores and at least 2GB of RAM and 16GB of expandable storage. A flashier variant with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage has been earmarked for release this month.

flash-plus-2-01

Day-to-day operation is fine; the near-stock Android interface feels responsive and isn’t overly encumbered by bloatware and visual fluff; and apps run as smoothly as expected given what’s under the hood. Our only issue with regard to performance so far is that the Plus 2 doesn’t work well with games like NBA 2K16 for Android that are more demanding on the graphics processor. Sure, you can say the same about so many other devices, but this is the latest midrange MediaTek processor we’re talking about here, and from a gaming standpoint, it just isn’t up to scratch compared to what’s on offer today.

“SOFT” METAL

The Flash Plus 2 has been described as a “more than metal” smartphone on several occasions. But as premium as the brand wants the phone to appear, that’s sadly not the case here. The backplate, which tapers down along the sides, is mostly (but not entirely) made of rigid metal, and that’s about it; every other exposed component is made of plastic, or plastic made to look like metal. The back is removable, too, though swapping out the battery for a spare is out of the question.

flash-plus-2-removable-back

To be clear, our point here is not to nitpick design and build choices — because then we would be talking about the chunky bezels framing the display and the dim backlight under the capacitive keys — but when a company goes to great lengths to describe its product as something that goes above and beyond the norm, it better live up to expectations.

We’ve seen a good number of metal phones that retail for under $200, and some of them look and feel comparatively more premium than the Plus 2. Granted, it’s better-designed than a lot of budget handsets out there, so there’s that to consider as well.

IS THE FLASH PLUS 2 YOUR GADGETMATCH?

All things considered, the Plus 2 is a worthy pick for anyone looking for a reasonably priced smartphone with a lot of technology behind it. The only thing keeping us from giving it a glowing recommendation is not what we know about it, but what we don’t know about other devices launching later this year. The all-new, all-different ASUS ZenFone 3, for example, has recently been announced in Taiwan, and is tipped for release in the Philippines and other priority markets in August.

[irp posts=”2625″ name=”Flash Plus 2 is an exciting sub-$200 phone from the brand formerly known as Alcatel”]

Laptops

Lenovo Yoga C930 Review: It could have been the best

It’s just missing one thing…

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It was during IFA 2018 when Lenovo introduced their latest premium convertible for consumers — the Yoga C930. It doesn’t have a good name, but it does offer everything a Yoga should, especially in media consumption.

Notebooks with flipping displays, like the Yoga lineup, are not just designed for typing. Most manufacturers market their convertibles to be perfect for entertainment, yet they largely fail in one aspect where they should shine — audio.

When Lenovo introduced the Yoga C930 with the rotating soundbar and Dolby Atmos, I hoped that it was not just a marketing ploy. But, is it? Let me share my thoughts about Lenovo’s newest convertible.

No fuss design

The Yoga C930 has a metal shell with a familiar aesthetic from Lenovo. My unit has a dark finish that’s aptly named Iron Gray. If you want a lighter shade, Lenovo is also offering the notebook in Mica, which is close to white. Everything about the body of the Yoga C930 screams premium; nothing here looks cheap or ugly.

To make it more special, the sides and the hinge of the Yoga C930 have a brushed finish. It’s a minor touch, but it’s highly noticeable whenever you’re checking where you should plug your peripherals. I also think that it helps hide unsightly scratches and gives the notebook a bit of shine.

While we’re at it, the available ports on the Yoga C930 are generally okay. It’s got two Thunderbolt 3 ports that fully support PowerDelivery, DisplayPort, and USB 3.1 functions. Both Thunderbolt 3 ports employ 4x lanes for PCIe, so you can connect the Yoga C930 to an external GPU, which is good because this laptop doesn’t have a dedicated graphics unit.

Apart from a couple of versatile USB-C interfaces, there’s also a classic full-size USB that we all know and love. Thankfully, Lenovo knows that this is still a widely used port and bringing a dongle just to read a thumb drive is a hassle. The 3.5mm audio port is also available when you need to plug in a pair of wired headphones.

All of the ports on the Yoga C930 are on its left side, leaving the right with just the power button. There are no volume buttons, either.

While I appreciate that Lenovo provided both USB-A and USB-C ports, I was still hoping for more; another USB-C with PowerDelivery on the right and a full-size SD card reader would do. The Yoga C930 is slim, but it’s not ultra-slim like the fan-less MacBook which got away with having one port (or maybe two if you count the headphone jack).

The Yoga C930 has a fairly large 14-inch display (13.9 inches according to Lenovo), but with minimum side bezels. Since this is made for watching videos, the aspect ratio is still stuck at 16:9.

There are two resolutions available for the Lenovo C930: Full HD or Ultra HD. The one I have here is just the Full HD variant, but it still has the key feature: Dolby Vision. The best way to fully appreciate the display is to play an HDR or Dolby Vision-enabled title. You can find some on Netflix if you’re using the highest-tier plan.

The display gets bright enough to be used outdoors and really dim when you need it to. It’s vibrant and has deep blacks even if it’s only an LCD panel.

When watching a video, I prefer to use the Yoga C930 in Tent mode. It can also be used in Stand mode with the keyboard facing down, but for some reason, Lenovo didn’t put little rubber feet to protect the keyboard when placed on a surface. You have to be cautious where you place the notebook or you risk scratching it.

The integrated soundbar of the Yoga C930 is designed to always face the user. That’s another advantage of watching videos in Tent mode; the speaker is facing upwards. I get to hear the sound directly without any muffle. I must say, the Yoga C930 has one of the clearest speakers I’ve tried on a notebook. It gets really loud, too.

It even has Dolby Atmos to enhance it further, but it’s not as immersive as advertised. To be fair though, I get to hear the stereo effect better than on other notebooks.

The device is least useful (for me) when it’s in Tablet mode. The Yoga C930 is too heavy to be a tablet, plus the 16:9 aspect ratio makes it feel like I’m reading from a really tall magazine. But, this is where the built-in pen comes in handy. The integrated stylus makes it easy for doodlers to annotate on screen.

Fast but not incredible

Let’s talk about power. The Yoga C930 I have is powered by the latest 8th-gen Intel Core i7 processor paired with 12GB DDR4 memory and a 256GB M.2 PCIe SSD. Configurations may vary in some regions, so the Yoga C930 in your stores might be more powerful or inferior.

There’s one thing that’s missing though, and it’s not an option anyone can get either: discrete graphics.

As mentioned, the Yoga C930 is not an ultraportable. It has nowhere near the portability of Dell’s XPS 13 or even Lenovo’s own Yoga Book. It’s big enough to house at least a modest NVIDIA GeForce MX150 — just like the latest ZenBook from ASUS.

My usage includes multiple tabs on Chrome, some slight editing on Photoshop, and hours of binge-watching on Netflix. I primarily used the notebook for typing and browsing, which are not heavy tasks.

So far, I had no major performance issues during my time with the Yoga C930. I didn’t bother to install games because it lacks discrete graphics.

Of course, the notebook runs Windows 10. I got the October 2018 update just last week, and it made the dark mode better. It matches the gray motif of the device.

It’s ideal for my own use

Putting all the technical specifications aside, the Yoga C930 has been a great companion.

Aside from the soundbar, I also fully appreciate the notebook’s keyboard. It’s not as great as the one on ThinkPads, but it’s good enough for me. It’s well-spaced and has a good amount of key travel.

The touchpad uses Microsoft Precision drivers and it fully supports all the gestures of Windows 10. It has a glass surface and picks up all the inputs. A responsive touchpad and a good keyboard is the combo I need for work.

There’s also something about the craftsmanship of the Yoga C930 that gives assurance that it’s a well-built device. Perhaps it’s the balance between weight and dimensions.

Lastly, the webcam has a physically cover — just like a ThinkPad’s. It’s nice to see nifty features of Lenovo’s business laptops on a consumer device. I don’t have to cover the webcam anymore with a piece of tape.

Great battery life

I am generally impressed with the longevity of the Yoga C930. Lenovo promises all-day battery life, but we all know that is somehow a stretch. Based on my usage, I get around eight to nine hours. I also experience about the same when watching Netflix non-stop.

It’ll not beat records, but I am always assured that even if I leave my charger at home, I know I can rely on the Yoga C930 to get me through a full day.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

You probably already think that this is my GadgetMatch, which I’ll not deny. I had a good time with the Yoga C930, despite its shortcomings. It’s a premium convertible that managed to meet my expectations. I’m hoping Lenovo will soon have an option with discrete graphics. For now, you can maximize the device by plugging in an external GPU.

The Yoga C930 has a starting price of US$ 1,399. It’s a bit pricier than I expected from its specs, but it’s a premium convertible that offers more versatility than regular laptops.

SEE ALSO: Lenovo IdeaPad 530S, 330S, 330: Which is right for you?

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Drones

DJI Mavic 2 Pro Review: 1 month in

Not a perfect drone, but…

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We won’t bore you with a rundown of its specs, but instead, we’ll give you the lowdown on DJI’s new drone — what works, what doesn’t, and what’s there to love. This is our DJI Mavic 2 Pro review.

 

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Reviews

Apple iPad Pro (2018) Review: Not just a laptop replacement

It can be so much more

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Apple’s new iPad Pro is more beautiful, more powerful, and more useful. In this review, we answer the question in everyone’s head: Can it replace your laptop?

To see the iPad Pro as merely a possible laptop replacement is an injustice to the purpose it serves. It’s already a given that this is a great tablet, but this is a pro device and is more than just that. Its premium price tag can be justified by what it can enable creative professionals, business people, and even journalists to accomplish.

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