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”]

Computers

Apple M2 Mac mini Review

More Affordable, More Powerful

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Apple silently revealed the 2023 M2 Mac mini to the world.

Back in 2005, the Mac mini G4 was the cheapest Mac you can buy for US$ 499.

Almost 18 years after, the Mac mini still is the cheapest Mac at just US$ 599.

That’s still a lot of savings versus buying a US$ 1299 iMac.

The biggest difference? The newest Mac mini runs two of the most powerful chips right now — the M2 and M2 Pro.

But is it actually the right Mac for you?

Watch our Apple M2 Mac mini review now!

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Gaming

Forspoken review: Outspoken with little to speak of

Wait for a sale

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Forspoken

It doesn’t take a lot to create a decent roleplaying game. All you need is a fish-out-of-water character, a vast open map, and a seemingly endless list of objectives. Though it has all three, Forspoken struggles to keep up with its pretenses as a Western roleplaying game.

First, the good

Credit to where it’s due, Forspoken is a fun game for the first few sections. Exploring the incredibly huge map with magical parkour is enjoyable. Eclipsed only by Elden Ring’s Torrent, magic parkour is one of the most innovative ways to quickly traverse large distances, especially after learning more advanced techniques.

Likewise, fighting balanced enemies with limited powers provides enough of a challenge to keep players on their toes in Athia. Neither the player nor the first enemies feel overpowered.

Unfortunately, the game’s novelty quickly evaporates after you figure out that you have to repeat the same motions dozens upon dozens of times. Forspoken’s map is much larger than it ever should have been. Though abundant in number, every point of interest is separated by large distances, some platforming challenges, and a battle sequence. The greater map is empty. Do this over and over, and the game gets stale quick. With adequate rewards, this shouldn’t be a problem, but Forspoken also suffers from a communication issue.

A communication issue

For most roleplaying games, completing an objective on the map usually nets palpable rewards for the player: a significant experience boost, new skills, new gear, or a bag of loot. An open-world game necessitates a lot of exploring. Even if a game is repetitive, earning substantial rewards is satisfying, at least. Forspoken does not have this — not in an easily discernible way, at least.

Treasure chests, which account for most of the points of interest on the map, reward players with a litany of crafting materials. Most of which will go unused because the game doesn’t easily tell players how to use them. After a dozen hours of collecting materials, I had a wealthy cache of each ingredient to make practically anything. Even then, I had little idea where each one went.

The map’s major rewards — new cloaks, new nail arts, and experience — also do little to explain how Frey improves with each completed objective. Clearing out an enemy camp, for example, rewards players with +1 magic. The game does not tell you how much damage that conveys. Certainly, after completing a few of these, Frey feels stronger, but it’s not easy to see how much stronger, especially when most enemies are bullet sponges with absurd health pools anyway.

Plus, these don’t even scratch the surface of objectives wherein the main reward is literally just a lore dump you have to read from a menu.

Forspoken

Difficulty shouldn’t always mean more enemies

Another issue with clearing out Athia’s large map is how Forspoken handles difficulty. Though there are options to adjust difficulty, the game relies on a limited bag of tricks to make it more difficult for players: increasing enemy health and quantity. In moderation, relying on this strategy works. However, Forspoken does this to an obnoxious level.

Prepare to fight five mini-bosses in one encounter for a lore entry. What compounds this issue more is an insane enemy health pool which causes encounters to last a lot longer than they should. One mini-boss encounter took me 15 minutes, even with appropriately leveled gear and the right spells.

Because of the sheer number of enemies, an encounter can stun-lock Frey for an absurd amount of time. The player can hardly prevent this since it relies on chance. Despite offering a wide array of moves, the risk of knockbacks shoehorn players into a slow run-and-gun tactic (which might not even play into an enemy’s weaknesses), instead of using each ability to the max.

On paper, Forspoken’s combat offers a fluid way to take down enemies by seamlessly switching between spells and moving through the battlefield with magic parkour. Unfortunately, an imbalance in enemy strategies bogs the game down in prolonged sequences that often reward players with only middling boosts.

Forspoken

A lack of optimization

For a game released on modern hardware, Forspoken took a while to launch. The game was delayed a few times. Given how delays often work, you’d think that it would release in a fairly optimized state. It’s not.

Though I haven’t hit major game-breaking bugs, there were a number of performance dips throughout the game. Even on performance-focused settings, framerates dropped to a standstill when there were high particle effects on screen. Frey constantly clipped through the terrain and found herself stuck on finnicky edges (which sometimes required reloading from previous saves).

The game is also dragged down by numerous cutscenes. Though not a bug per se, it’s not a great sign of optimization that the game has to pause for a cutscene just to show enemies arriving. For a game featuring fluid movement and combat, Forspoken often takes players out of the action by pausing for unnecessary cutscenes.

Forspoken

Better on sale

Overall, Forspoken is persistently flawed. However, amid the game’s shortcomings, the title still has an exciting combat and movement system. Plus, if you disregard the tedious open world, Forspoken’s linear story, featuring the wide range of abilities, are enjoyable. My interest always bounces back after beating one of the game’s main bosses.

Still, it’s hard to call Forspoken a game worthy of its AAA price tag. It might be better to wait for a discount.

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Computers

MSI Summit E16 Flip review: Creator on the go

A plethora of ways to be as productive and creative as possible

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We all love a good 2-in-1 device that gives us everything we need all in one go. From portability to productivity, devices like these truly bring out the best in everyone no matter what kind of use case you throw at it. Such is the case for MSI, a brand notably known for gaming hardware but has their fair share of productivity-focused laptops, as well.

One such 2-in-1 device under MSI’s portfolio is the MSI Summit E16 Flip, complete with hardware and features for the more well-rounded user out there. With a rather slim form factor, the device would ideally mix both portability and productivity in one. Also, it comes with some external hardware that elevates the productivity just a bit further, as well.

With all these in mind, is the MSI Summit E16 Flip a worthy option for all your productivity needs?

Performing above expectations

The MSI Summit E16 Flip performs rather fantastically for any given situation; whether you’re working or watching, it has the hardware to keep up. Inside this machine is a 12th generation Intel Core i7 processor and 16GB of RAM — a standard for most productivity-laden devices. Most applications run smoothly on this device, which is expected as a daily driver for most tasks.

It also comes with a 16:10, QHD+ anti-glare display, which does provide a bigger canvas for multitasking with multiple windows open. This IPS touch display is quite bright and color-accurate, especially at peak brightness and in broad daylight. Whether you’re working during the day or watching movies at night, this device is perfect for these activities.

Gaming and creating on the go

Much like all other MSI laptops, the MSI Summit E16 Flip comes with a dedicated NVIDIA RTX 3050Ti GPU inside. Although not as powerful as oher mobile GPUs, this one packs a punch for a good balance of gaming performance with high quality graphics. When throwing in Esports titles, the device poured in high frame rates suited for competitive play.

Of course, a powerful GPU also enables greater performance when editing photos and videos in high quality, as well. This is also helped out by the display having a 165Hz refresh rate with a 1ms response rate, so you don’t miss out on any out of place pixels. From our tests, render times for HD videos were decent enough — about 2 minutes for a 15-second video with many visual elements.

A pen and large display for your notes

Part of the package for the MSI Summit E16 Flip is the addition of the MSI Pen for those who prefer a pen over a mouse/trackpad. This additional accessory links up quite quickly, and lasts for more than a day on a full charge. Also, it comes with a few magnetized areas so it sticks to the side of the laptop or the top of the display for ease of access.

Ideally, you’d need something like the MSI Pen if you’re more into drawing illustrations or taking down handwritten notes — and it shows. From legible handwriting to brush strokes, the device was able to pick up on these inputs well. It even supports other Windows gestures like zoom, drag, and multi-select — essentially replicating the wide trackpad.

Although, from our usage of the device, the display has this slight problem with rejecting palms on top of it. While writing with the MSI Pen, it is natural to rest your palm somewhere on the display yet even inputs from that get picked up. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but something to be wary of.

Lasts decently long for consistent productivity

Longevity is another thing the MSI Summit E16 Flip provides, specifically on the battery side of things. Throughout our usage of the device, on normal usage, it lasts around 10-11 hours which is pretty decent for the hardware. Accounting for higher quality videos playing, the device lasted for 9-10 hours on average.

When gaming full time or even rendering higher quality videos, the battery does take a hit, as expected. For full time video rendering, it drained its battery after three and a half hours on average, while gaming cut it down to around two to three hours.

Although, if you need to get back into your productivity workflow, the MSI Summit E16 Flip restores its battery quickly with the charger it comes with. On average, charging the device took around two hours from nothing to full, which should put you back in action.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

Starting PhP 130,999, the MSI Summit E16 Flip has everything you need in a 2-in-1 device when you’re on the move. From the hardware to the accessories, it’s a well-rounded machine designed for the multihyphenated or those who work and play hard. Also, its overall design makes it a bit easier to bring around.

If money isn’t entirely an issue, this laptop is one great upgrade option out there both as a work machine and a creator hub. Accessory-wise, the MSI Pen should be on your list of must-haves when purchasing this device, in case a mouse doesn’t suit your liking.

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