Reviews

Google Pixel review (3 months later)

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Three months in, and we’re still using the Google Pixel as our main Android smartphone. With all the Droids we’ve been reviewing lately, that says a lot.

We took our time with this review, as we felt features such as the camera and Google Assistant needed a long evaluation period before we could come to a conclusion — and we were right.

These are all our Pixel findings after a quarter of a year.

The design didn’t grow on us

Sad to say, the bland design didn’t get better with age. As much as I appreciate the symmetry in front, too much space is wasted on the unused bezels — space which could have been used for dual-front-facing speakers like on the Nexus 6P.

I also can’t forgive the upper-back portion. I honestly thought there was a greater purpose for the glossy glass, yet all it did was record my finger smudges, saving it for a day when someone steals my phone and uses the marks to unlock it using my fingerprints, which brings us to our next point:

It greatly benefits from a case

Despite its finely crafted metal body and perfectly sized 5-inch frame for single-handed use, you’re better off buying a case the moment you get a Pixel. The glass area surrounding the fingerprint scanner is prone to tiny scratches no matter how careful you are, and the metal area can get quite slippery.

We were fortunate enough to find a perfect case for the Pixel, Nillkin’s Super Frosted Shield. The red version matches our black Pixel perfectly, while its grippy texture and shock-absorbent material made us less worried about handling such an expensive phone.

Google Assistant has a long way to go

I really wanted this feature to succeed. I really did, but the commands I want it to perform the most aren’t there yet. Getting Google Assistant to open specific files in Drive, search for certain people in my Photos app, or even just help compose simple emails is frustrating at times.

And those aren’t on random apps, either. Assistant should be able to do every function possible on Google’s official Drive, Photos, and Gmail apps. Having it set reminders, check the weather, and play games with you are cool and all, but those can easily be done without the help of artificial intelligence.

Battery life is generally superb

The quality Pixel’s battery life is debatable. I’ve heard a lot of bad things; at the same time, I’ve experienced fine endurance when I needed it most. Getting five hours of screen-on time over the course of one and a half days has become commonplace, and that’s a good thing. Turn off the full-time voice activation and minimize LTE use, and you should manage two days on one charge.

Nothing beats its camera

To this day, nothing trumps the speed and fluidity of the 12.3-megapixel camera and its app. Although Apple and Samsung can state their own cases why their cameras rule, the Pixel camera makes smartphone photography so seamless, and does so without any fancy optical image stabilization or second lens.

Photo after photo, I’m always impressed by the Pixel’s outputs. Its HDR mode is in a category of its own, and I highly suggest keeping it on at all times to boost colors and handle tricky lighting situations. It’s my go-to camera when the sun fully sets, and the 8-megapixel selfie camera is good too despite the lack of promotion.

This phone never slows down

Its Snapdragon 821 processor may be outdated soon, but in no way can the Pixel be considered slow. Unlike most Android handsets, this phone maintains its original speed for months. A lot of credit should be given to the 4GB of memory and lack of microSD card expansion, which would otherwise slow down the interface because of potentially sluggish external storage.

Its Android is a strange “stock” Android

It feels so strange using a Google phone which doesn’t have a truly pure Android operating system. Sure, it’s on the latest 7.1 Nougat version and replaces the user interface built by the Nexus series, but it still feels like I’m using a third-party skin.

Don’t get me wrong: The visuals are spotless and swiping from below to open the app drawer should have been implemented a long time ago; I just get the feeling Google will revise the design all over again in the next Pixel phone, especially if a manufacturer other than HTC takes the lead.

Waterproofing is sorely missed

Having used a Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge before taking on the Pixel and playing with Sony’s Xperia XZ from time to time, I feel bad about not possessing some level of water and dust proofing on this phone. It’s not everyday I go on beach trips or deal with splashes, but the peace of mind just isn’t there.

Unlimited full-resolution photo uploads is a superb deal

As someone who constantly moves from one device to another, placing everything on the cloud is vital in ensuring all my files are accessible. While any decent smartphone can back up photos and videos for me, none can do it as well as the Pixel.

Having all my pictures and videos automatically synced to my Google Photos account at full resolution means I never have to worry about instant quality loss or degradation over time. I love how this is a permanent feature that adds so much extra value to the Pixel’s high asking price.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

I could just end the review here and tell you there’s no better Android smartphone than the Google Pixel right now, but I have to share a few more thoughts.

For one, finding a unit anywhere in the world hasn’t gotten any easier. Google is experiencing shipment problems through its official channels, so you must deal with a third-party retailer for any chance of purchasing one.

And then there’s the issue concerning its chipset. As fast as it is at the moment, it’ll soon feel slow once smartphones equipped with Qualcomm’s revolutionary Snapdragon 835 processor begin coming out next month.

Finally, let’s talk about the price. Starting at $649 for the 32GB storage variant, the Pixel isn’t cheap, and you’ll have to spend a hundred dollars more for the 5.5-inch Pixel XL, which only adds a better Quad HD resolution and larger battery to its value.

With the soon-to-be-outdated hardware and expensive price tag compared to all the other great phones out there, the Pixel isn’t as attractive as it once was, but for the time being, this will continue being my go-to handset for its camera and updated software alone.

SEE ALSO: A cheaper Google Pixel could be in the works

Accessories

LG Watch Sport Review

Fitness buddy on your wrist

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With the influx of smartwatches available today, it sometimes gets confusing to choose which specific device suits your needs. Although they all have a common purpose, some of these wearables cater to specific audiences. There are the straightforward variants that simply track your activities, or smartwatches with unique designs that will cost you. There are also those that boast built-in features.

This is where the LG Watch Sport comes in as it runs on the latest Android Wear 2.0 OS and comes with goodies not usually seen on normal smartwatches.

Minimalist design

The LG Watch Sport doesn’t have the rotating bezel of the Samsung Gear S3 or the textured strap of the Fitbit Ionic. No, it flaunts a plain design for the bezel with a simple strap devoid of anything eye-catching.

Still, I personally like how it’s made. The watch itself is a bit thick, but nothing out of the ordinary when you compare it against other smartwatches.

The 1.38-inch circular P-OLED display has pleasing colors even under sunlight and viewing angles are decent.

On its right side, there are three buttons with the main crown having the ability to rotate. The top button launches Google Fit in an instant while the bottom is for Android Pay.

When you turn it over on its belly, you’ll be introduced to its heart rate sensor. It’s also worth noting that since this is activewear, the body is sealed to have an IP68 certification. This means it can withstand sweat, a shower, and even being submerged in up to 1.5m of water for 30 minutes.

The Watch Sport charges wirelessly through its included cradle. Just plug the USB-C cable and dock the watch to charge. This has always been my preferred charging setup — better than fumbling while trying to connect the cable to the device.

A smooth experience

As mentioned earlier, the Watch Sport already runs on Android Wear 2.0. It now comes with design updates and needed features that make the experience more enjoyable as a whole.

A selection of watch faces are fun to switch around from time to time, and standalone apps make the watch easily accessible in just a few taps.

One press of the middle button and the available apps come as a scrolling list. Apart from swiping the display to browse through them, rotating the crown scrolls through the selection which gives the experience a more tactile feel.

The LG Watch proves to be responsive when you’re swiping across the display, but tapping on selections sometimes need be done knowingly — precise and with a bit of effort.

Overall, it’s been pretty easy to navigate through its menu and submenu, even if the user isn’t familiar with the Android ecosystem.

Google Fit is your friend

Onto fitness tracking. The Sport in its name should be a dead giveaway that it focuses on your activities. Google Fit is a capable assistant during training or workout sessions as it works in tandem with the heart rate sensor to give users real-time info like BPM and calories burned.

The standalone app is accompanied by vast selections of exercise trackers ranging from backcountry skiing to kickboxing. If you’re just in the gym lifting weights, Strength Training mode is the way to go; it will give you a summary of how your workout went.

I’d say that a big chunk of why I appreciate this smartwatch is the fact that it’s somehow centered around Google Fit. The one-press button to launch and scrolling to browse through its activity features make it easy to just have it on your wrist when you hit the gym.

Extra features to enjoy (depending on where you are)

The Watch Sport isn’t just useful when you’re sweating it out. LG also made it capable to be used for everyday payments through Android Pay. Although there’s already a fair number of countries that support this system, it’s still not available widely so that’s one thing to consider.

Another thing is that the watch accepts a nano-SIM card which allows users to still be connected without using a phone. The problem is, it works only in the US, as other countries don’t currently support full features (like NumberSync).

Battery life could be better

But then again, most smartwatches don’t excel in this department. This is because it’s always been a challenge to equip watches with a large capacity pack while at the same time making the shell as thin as possible.

In real-life use, taking it off its charging cradle in the morning will last you for about 10 hours, so you’ll barely make it in time back to your place to charge. Activate its always-on display and expect battery life to drain almost twice as fast.

Verdict

The LG Watch Sport is easily a friend to gym buffs and fitness freaks, if you have the US$ 300 budget. It might not help list down your caloric or water intake, but it will be with you every step of your training.

It does all the things that a usual smartwatch does, but it’s just a bit of a downer that you have to be in select places to fully take advantage of its features (although I still enjoy mine with no Android Pay and SIM connectivity).

At the end of the day, it’s your routine and what you do that dictates your need for devices like this.

Is the LG Watch Sport your GadgetMatch?

SEE ALSO: Fitbit Ionic review: What forced me to get fit

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Reviews

Xiaomi Redmi 5 Plus (Redmi Note 5) Review

New face, familiar performance

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Xiaomi’s latest budget offering finally arrived in our office and I used it as my daily driver to see if it lives up to its hype. We all know Xiaomi offers the best specs to price ratio, but is the Redmi 5 Plus (known as the Redmi Note 5 in India) the new budget phone king?

The Redmi 5 Plus is all about its new 5.99-inch 18:9 display

Embracing the latest tall display trend

It’s supposed to be a “near-borderless” phone but the bezels are still quite thick

The chin is thicker than the forehead

On top of the phone are the audio port, secondary microphone, and IR blaster

Xiaomi sticks with infrared for controlling appliances

At the bottom are the aging micro-USB port and loudspeakers

When will Xiaomi shift to USB-C for their budget phones?

The power button and volume rocker are on the right side

Both have the same texture, so you’ll have to get familiar with them

The card tray on the left is a hybrid slot for nano-SIM and microSD cards

You can’t have the best of both worlds

The back houses the fingerprint sensor and primary camera along with the LED flash

The back is reminiscent of the predecessors

MIUI 9 is at the helm but still based on Nougat

The UI looks great on the longer display

Redmi embraces the new display ratio

Last year, we saw the trend of tall displays. The new 18:9 standard was not exclusive to the bezel-less flagships, as we have seen them even with midrange phones — then to budget devices. It’s expected that other budget-centric brands like Xiaomi will release their own for the masses, and that gave birth to the Redmi 5. The one we have here is the Plus variant which has a bigger IPS LCD with wide-viewing angles and good color reproduction.

I see Xiaomi as the pioneer of bezel-less phones with the Mi Mix, but they had to make some cuts to keep it within the range of Redmi phones. So, the Redmi 5 Plus still has some bezels all around the display. It’s noticeable that the bottom bezel or the chin is slightly thicker than the top.

As mentioned earlier, the back of the phone looks and feels like its predecessor. The front might look different thanks to the 18:9 display ratio and reduced bezels, but the back is oddly similar. If we are to compare the Redmi 5 Plus to the Redmi Note 4, the latter will just look stouter. The rear camera placement is the same, as well as the LED flash and fingerprint reader. Even the mixed aluminum and plastic build sports the same trick for seamless mixing.

The upgrade is mostly external

The real specs upgrade for the Redmi 5 series is found on the Redmi 5 Note Pro — not on this one. The Redmi 5 Plus (or Redmi 5 Note) is virtually identical to its predecessor with the same Snapdragon 625 processor, up to 4GB of memory, and up to 64GB of storage. Our review unit has the highest-end configuration with 4GB and 64GB of memory and storage, respectively. While the Snapdragon 625 is an efficient chipset, it’s already showing signs of aging.

The processor powering the phone was released back in 2016, and it’s been well-received especially on budget devices from Xiaomi. But with all the extra features that apps are getting, the phone might not be able to keep up for long. For instance, it’s a bit laggy when posting videos or Boomerang clips on Instagram Stories, and I’m getting longer waiting times when opening certain games. Software optimization could address these issues, though.

When it comes to gaming, you shouldn’t worry. The usual mobile games I play like Asphalt Extreme and NBA 2K18 ran fine even on high settings, but you’ll have to turn off some extra effects to get better frame rates. General phone use was also good with little to no hiccups.

The phone runs MIUI 9 out of the box but still based on Android 7.1 Nougat. While I can’t hate MIUI because of its speed and additional features on top of stock Android, it can get quite cumbersome at times with settings and permissions. MIUI 9 is a refinement of everything the MIUI team learned from previous versions and it’s still as colorful as before. There’s no news if it’ll get an update to Android 8.0 Oreo, but with MIUI 9 at the helm, it doesn’t really matter since you already have most of the new Android features and important security patches.

Typical Xiaomi-grade camera

Even with their flagship devices, Xiaomi can’t pull off superb quality shooters. So, what should we expect from their budget phones like the Redmi 5 Plus? The phone is equipped with a 12-megapixel primary shooter accompanied by a dual-tone LED flash. According to spec sheets, the aperture of the lens is just f/2.2 which is disappointing and it shows when shooting in dim environments. Night shots are also just so-so, so don’t expect the phone to capture plenty of details.

As for selfies, there’s a 5-megapixel front shooter that has the usual Xiaomi beauty effect that somehow doesn’t work well with my face, so I turned it off most of the time. It’s also not as wide as other selfie phones.

One thing I like about Xiaomi’s camera is its launcher. It’s pretty straightforward and simple. There are also a few modes you can jump into if you want to get the best possible shot depending on the subject.

Longevity is where the phone triumphs

Battery life is perhaps the most important aspect of an entry-level phone. If you’re sticking to a budget, you might not get the best camera but it should at least last the whole day on a single charge. With a 4000mAh battery, the Redmi 5 Plus can.

After using the phone as my daily driver for more than a week, I rarely looked for the charger. I don’t even worry about running out of juice while on the road. Based on actual usage, the phone can last for more than 24 hours with about eight hours of screen-on time. On a really busy day, the phone can do around 20 hours. If you’re wondering, my usage is all about mobile data. I connect to Wi-Fi from time to time when in the office and at home, but LTE is my savior when in public places.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

If you’re a Redmi fan looking for an upgrade, you might want to skip this one. The true upgrade is found on the Redmi Note 5 Pro with its latest processor and familiar-looking rear cameras. If still available, you can opt for the good old Redmi Note 4 which is supposedly cheaper now with the new releases in the market.

Honestly, it’s disappointing to see Xiaomi recycling their design for the budget series. The Redmi 5 Plus doesn’t bring anything new to the table even with its 18:9 display. But, that could have been the point of the phone all along since they released the Redmi Note 5 Pro shortly after.

The Redmi 5 Plus starts at CNY 999 or around US$ 150 for the base 3GB/32GB model, while the top-of-the-line 4GB/64GB variant sells for CNY 1,299 or about US$ 180. You can purchase the Redmi 5 Plus just like the one we have from GearBest.

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Camera Shootouts

GoPro HERO 6 Black vs HERO 5 Black Comparison

Which is the action camera for you?

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GoPro is one of the biggest names in sports videography and is a name that first comes to mind when the need for a portable, easy-to-set-up camera arises. Although, the past couple of years were a bit hard for the company as sales plummeted, and after introducing their first-ever drone, some literally fell from the sky.

Still working hard on making another hit, GoPro has returned with their latest action camera, the HERO 6 Black, and it boasts some pretty impressive features. Will it be the saving grace the company needs right now? How does it fare compared to its predecessor, the HERO 5? We answer those questions plus more in this comparison.

Design

On the outside, nothing has changed with the new action camera at all. It’s made of the same robust, rubbery material that’s designed to go underwater for as deep as 10 meters without needing an extra waterproof case. Button placements are carried over — one up top to start recording and another one on its side to switch between shooting modes.

Underneath, the same 1220mAh battery is stored while connectivity ports are on the other side. Even the protective lens is still removable and replaceable. There’s virtually no way of telling the two apart except for the small print on the side of the camera.

Features

The biggest upgrade of the HERO 6 has more to do with output. It can now shoot up to 4K resolution at 60fps, whereas the previous HERO 5 topped out at 4K 30fps. It might seem like a small detail but having the option to shoot smoother video is always a good thing.

Another difference is frame rate. The HERO 5 Black can capture videos at a speedy 240fps but resolution is limited to 720p. The newer HERO 6 Black, on the other hand, can shoot the same 240fps rate at a clearer 1080p resolution.

For more flexibility, the HERO 6 can also shoot at 2.7K at 120fps so you get nice slow-mo video with the ability to resize or re-scale your footage if the need arises. Other features that differentiate the new action camera from its predecessor include better low-light performance and dynamic range.

Video Sample

Of course, all this means nothing if we can’t see for ourselves. I brought both cameras during my travels and you may refer to the embedded video below (starting at 2:46) for some sample video comparisons.

You can easily see that the sky from the HERO 6’s shots is more vibrant than the pale blue color from the HERO 5. There’s also a noticeable difference in exposure. The HERO 5 has darker blacks which, in this case, worked well since it was able to bring out more details on the snowy mountain.

Although both are set to auto white balance, footage from the HERO 5 still turns out to be warmer as seen in the indoor shoot.

In terms of stabilization, the new HERO 6 really stepped up its game to remove unwanted jerks and jitters. The difference is day and night, and it’s impressive how the HERO 6 almost looks like it was mounted on a gimbal thanks to its electronic image stabilization.

Don’t get us wrong, the HERO 5 also has its own EIS, but just not as good as the new flagship’s.

One more thing to notice when the camera’s EIS is turned on is that the HERO 5 needs to crop the image by 10 percent to achieve a smoother shot, while the HERO 6 has improved this and only crops about 5 percent of the original image.

Additionally, stabilization on the HERO 5 can only be used until 2.7K resolution at 60fps, while the HERO 6 supports stabilization until 4K. The only limitation here is that EIS maxes out at 30fps with no support for the higher 60fps.

Onto low-light shooting: Footage taken with the older HERO 5 couldn’t achieve the same level of clarity shot on the HERO 6. Colors are also livelier and digital noise has been reduced significantly on the latter.

Although there were instances, like when we went ice skating, that we preferred the color and details shot by the HERO 5. It looked more natural and the ice on the floor is still visible, unlike the one shot by the HERO 6.

Photo Samples

We now look at some photo samples from both action cameras.

This photo was taken at Italy’s oldest shopping mall and shows a good balance between light and dark areas. We like how the HERO 5 has a higher contrast which added detail to the metal structure of the mall. 

While waiting for a train, we see the sun lighting the Swiss Alps from behind with a dark and shaded station in the foreground. Again, we see a more vibrant blue sky from the HERO 6 with good details.

But look closer on the warning sign in front of you and the HERO 5 was actually able to deliver a better, more legible image. Even when you crop them to 100 percent, the smallest details seem to appear better on the HERO 5.

At night, both proved to be capable shooters, but the HERO 6 showed more details by effectively capturing the cracks on the floor. One thing that I had been complaining about with my HERO 5 is that it easily overshoots light flares, creating an unwanted glow and losing details.

It’s very much distracting here since it washed out the person’s face. Meanwhile, we’re happy that it was addressed on the HERO 6 as it’s clearly the better photo.

Zooming in to 100 percent shows that the green motorcycle has a livelier color and less noise on the HERO 6 compared to its predecessor. Here are more sample photos:

Battery Life

As mentioned earlier in this video, the HERO 6 Black carries the same 1220mAh battery capacity as the HERO 5 Black. So it should technically last for the same amount of time right? Well, no.

We conducted a battery test on the two at full capacities, same video settings, and started recording until they both drained their batteries. After more than an hour and a half, the HERO 6 actually gave up first at 1 hour and 42 minutes while the HERO 5 continued on and reached 2 hours and 5 minutes. That’s 23 minutes of difference and could go a long way in real-world shooting.

Responsible for this result might be the HERO 6’s newer custom processor. Yes, it could produce better dynamic range, low light shots, and stabilize the camera really well — but at the cost of a more power-hungry chip. That’s definitely a trade-off to consider.

Conclusion

So the question here is this: Should you upgrade to a HERO 6 Black from a HERO 5 Black?

Well, you first have to ask yourself the question: Will you be using it to shoot serious action scenes with really fast movement? Are you after the best quality there is? Or are you more of a casual user who just uses a sports camera to document your out-of-town trips?  

 

Because if it’s not for professional work, the HERO 5 Black is more than capable to document all your trips. It’s also worth every penny since it just dropped its price to US$ 299, making it a really attractive offering — not to mention longer battery life.

Although if you plan to use your action videos for broadcast and want to have a lot of flexibility in shooting and editing, then you can’t go wrong with the HERO 6 Black at US$ 399.

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