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Google Pixel 2 Review: 3 months later

Did Google do enough?

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The Pixel 2 is all about refinement, refinement, refinement.

Having used the original Pixel on and off for a year, transitioning to the Pixel 2 felt seamless. It’s practically the same phone with — you know it — much-needed improvements.

You could read my review of the first Pixel, see what my complaints were, and realize that the successor nearly remedied them all: The bezels are put to better use with front-facing stereo speakers, waterproofing is rightfully in place, and the price isn’t as tough to swallow this time (despite being exactly the same as last year’s — blame the competition).

In addition, the already-fantastic camera was made even better without the need for an additional lens, and Google Assistant integration has been made more accessible thanks to Active Edge, which is the same squeezing gesture found on the HTC U11.

That pretty much summarizes the essence of the Pixel 2. It still embodies Google’s software-over-hardware mantra, which explains why the audio port was excluded in favor of internal optimization and greater AI integration.

But is the Pixel 2 simply version 1.5, or does it deserve to be a successor to the original? There are multiple ways to answer that.

Disclaimer: I won’t be touching the Pixel 2 XL and its myriad of issues. All focus will be on my pure experience with the bezel-loving (and much tinier) Pixel 2.

Let’s talk about that… design

I made the original Pixel my daily driver before beginning this review, just to remind myself how plain it is compared to recently released premium handsets. I must say, migrating to the Pixel 2 didn’t feel like much of an upgrade.

In fact, the edgier design isn’t nearly as easy to hold as the Pixel’s. Google made the correct decision this time to roughen up the metal back and surround the fingerprint with this material. The reduced glass area is still a smudge magnet, but it’s now part of a signature look, and signal strength does seem stronger on this handset than on other phones.

Our initial hands-on video covered the basics, from the 5-inch 1080p display to the three color options: Just Black, Clearly White, and Kinda Blue.

Even with the inclusion of front-firing dual speakers, it’s easy to fault the Pixel 2 for having such thick bezels. But after using some of the most border-free devices in the market, going back to this old-school design feels refreshing; no longer do I have to stretch to reach the top or bottom of the display, and the stereo speakers are the loudest I’ve ever experienced on a phone in recent memory.

Being an AMOLED panel, the screen’s colors are rich and nicely saturated, but not as overbearing as those found on Samsung’s phones. If you’re underwhelmed by the overall tone, you may choose between “boosted” and “saturated” for stronger colors, although I personally left it on normal to get a better feel for my photos.

As long as you don’t mind an aesthetic from yesteryear, there’s nothing wrong with the basic design of the Pixel 2 — except for the loss of the audio port, of course. Google bundles a USB-C to 3.5mm adapter in the box, but this is something you’d have to take with you wherever you go for wired connections. I can’t count how many times I’ve accidentally left this at home and ended up using the loudspeakers instead.

Performance as pure as the interface

This being a Google phone from start to finish, it has the purest and latest version of Android, which is currently 8.1 Oreo. That’s great for several reasons: There’s no absurd interface or features to get in the way of your usage, software updates come quicker than on other phones, and the latest security patches ensure you won’t be as easily affected by newly discovered vulnerabilities and hacks.

On top of that, we have the typical hardware you’d find on a flagship smartphone launched in 2017: a high-end Snapdragon 835 processor, 4GB of memory, at least 64GB of storage, and IP67-rated water and dust resistance. The only weak spot is the rather small 2700mAh battery, but that’s something Google managed to work around.

To my surprise, the battery life has been quite excellent in the weeks I’ve been using this handset. Even with the ambient display feature turned on — which lights up only the needed pixels when a notification comes in — I could easily get over five hours of screen-on time over the course of a day. Phones with larger batteries (albeit with larger screens, as well) perform just as well, if not slightly worse. We can credit this to Google optimizing the software for the given chipset.

As for day-to-day performance, it has been a mixed bag. When my Pixel 2 is feeling good, I can only think of a few Android phones that can keep up — the world-beating OnePlus 5T and Xiaomi Mi Mix 2, off the top of my head. Unfortunately, I’ve experienced numerous app crashes, hang-ups, and unresponsiveness after updating to Android 8.1 Oreo. It’s natural to have incompatibilities and bugs on new software, but it’s more difficult to accept when the operating system’s owner and phone’s designer are one and the same.

It’s all about the cameras

Let’s be real: You buy a Pixel for its cameras. The Pixel 2 continues the series’ tradition of offering the highest-rated shooters of its generation. Again, there’s no need for an additional lens or special setup; single image sensors on both sides are more than enough to produce some of the best pictures we’ve ever seen out of a smartphone.

We already took the Pixel 2 around the world and pit it against three other flagship handsets, and there’s no doubt it excels in nearly every aspect, including portraits, selfies, low-light, and even videos. I personally can’t get enough of the overall image quality, and have made it my primary camera for travel and events.

The portraits below are all with Google’s Portrait mode turned on. This creates an artificial background to provide extra depth behind the subject, making the person stand out more. While I normally stay away from such modes, preferring my photos to look as natural as possible, I appreciated the feature through time and turned it on for every portrait.

As you can probably tell, the Pixel 2’s artificial intelligence has a difficult time figuring out where hair strands end. That doesn’t matter much for people with short hair, but anyone with longer, messy hair won’t get a clean cut from the background. Google claims that the AI gets smarter the more you use it, although I haven’t seen any difference since I began using the phone.

There’s also no way of adjusting the level of background blur, but the camera app saves two photos by default — one with Portrait mode on and the other without. While this consumes more space on your phone’s non-expandable storage, the unlimited cloud storage on Google Photos is never going to let you down and desert you.

Another Pixel specialty is low-light performance, no matter how tricky the lighting gets. This is something the original Pixel excelled at, too, with its use of HDR (high dynamic range) settings to improve contrast and bring out the best colors of any scene.

If you really must, you can double tap for a quick software-based zoon. Even though it isn’t lossless in quality like optical zoom, it’s quick and the photos are usable in case you really can’t move any closer to your subject, especially while shooting videos. Since everything happens within the app, the zooming transition is smooth and natural during recordings.

Finally, we have the front-facing camera. Google doesn’t promote their selfie shooters as much as OPPO or Vivo, but when you activate both Portrait mode and the face retouch feature, the Pixel 2 is surprisingly competitive. Again, the background blurring is hit or miss, so do some pixel peeping around the edges of your face and hair before choosing which shot to upload.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

For whatever new feature you get from the Pixel 2, you have to give up something in exchange. Want the stereo speakers and waterproofing? Lose the audio port and the idea of a borderless design. Want the best camera on any smartphone today? Expect some bugs and glitches along the way.

Our unit wasn’t spared of defects. While nowhere near as deal-breaking as the Pixel 2 XL’s issues, the unresponsive edges of the Pixel 2’s screen and beta-like inconsistencies of the interface left me wondering if I’m getting my money’s worth.

On the other hand, the Pixel 2 doesn’t cost that much for a flagship of today. At US$ 650, it’s at least US$ 200 cheaper than the majority of high-end handsets currently available; only the OnePlus 5T and Xiaomi Mi Mix 2 can be considered better deals for the feature set.

It’s funny how we thought US$ 650 was way too much for the Pixel of 2016. Back then, anything above US$ 600 felt like too much. Now, US$ 900 seems normal for a premium device, and the Pixel 2 is suddenly fairly priced.

Then again, this Pixel is in a peculiar position. The OnePlus 5T and Mi Mix 2 look a lot better without a doubt and cost less; the Mate 10 Pro, Galaxy Note 8, and iPhone X actually behave like top-shelf phones you’d show off to friends, if you can afford them.

Like its predecessor, the Pixel 2 is for Android purists who value camera quality and not much else. Call me old school, but I appreciate its simplicity after dealing with the hard-to-grip infinity displays and overly convoluted camera setups of every other 2017 flagship.

This is a throwback of a throwback, but don’t expect any nostalgia. The Pixel 2 is as basic as it gets at this level.

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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