Reviews

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.

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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