Hands-On

Honor 7A hands-on review: Back to budget

Did Huawei hit all the right notes?

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After Honor released smartphones that match the premium P20 series in terms of performance (but at a much easier-to-digest price), it’s easy to forget that Huawei’s sub-brand has had a strong budget game, as well.

Going down the very bottom of the pricing ladder will bring you to the Honor 7A, which launched in China in early April and in India later in May.

I got my hands on a unit, so here are my early impressions.

As budget as can be

With a starting price of US$ 130 in both China and India, it’s a no-brainer that you’re getting a basic smartphone in the Honor 7A. But as Xiaomi and ASUS have proven, selling at a low cost doesn’t necessarily mean the device will suck.

In front we have a 5.7-inch 720p display with an 18:9 aspect ratio, which conforms to the newer standard without applying a camera notch. Instead, there’s a small amount of bezel at the top and bottom. This consequently brings the fingerprint reader to the rear.

The body itself is light thanks to a mostly plastic construction and a glass front that doesn’t feel like it can withstand scratches. If you’re planning on using the Honor 7A as a primary phone, you better find a decent case right away.

What impresses me most is the triple-card slot, allowing you to have two SIM cards and a microSD card at the same time — helpful for travelers and to expand the lacking 16GB of storage. On the downside, it uses an outdated micro-USB port with no fast charging.

Surprising cameras

From afar, it looks like this handset has a dual-camera setup on the back and front, but that’s far from the truth, as well as earlier news on this phone.

The Honor 7A variant I have here has a single 13-megapixel camera on the rear and an 8-megapixel selfie shooter in front. What’s great is they both have an LED flash.

Unfortunately, the extra illumination doesn’t help improve the output that much. Unless there’s a strong amount of light, I’d always find noise in my photos and softness on my subjects.

But when you get it right, the results can be surprisingly good. Here are a few samples from my short time with the cameras:

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Up and down performance

In an unusual move, Honor chose to equip this phone with a Snapdragon 430 processor, which is quite good for this price range, but isn’t Huawei’s own Kirin chip. No complaints from me, however; I’d pick the reliability of a Snapdragon processor any time.

Going through the EMUI 8.0 interface (appropriately based on Android 8.0 Oreo), is pleasantly snappy except for when too many apps are active at once. I felt the stuttering begin once I started flipping through five apps. It was most apparent when I wanted to take a photo; both picture taking and photo viewing had noticeable lag in between.

I played a couple of graphics-heavy games, namely Asphalt 9 and PUBG, to test how far the Honor 7A can go. As expected, they were playable, but the visual settings had to be turned down to low since the phone has only 2GB of total memory to work with.

Since the processor is efficient, the 3000mAh battery drained gradually even while playing for an hour straight. Without gaming, the phone can easily last an entire day of usage with mobile data or Wi-Fi always on.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

It’s too early to tell if the Honor 7A can stand up well against the likes of the ASUS ZenFone Max (M1) or Xiaomi Redmi S2, but it’s safe to say that it’s an attractive option if you’re a fan of Honor and on a shoestring budget.

The Honor 7A doesn’t have a standout feature like its two aforementioned rivals — the former has a large battery while the latter takes great photos for the price — so this really does seem catered toward Huawei users who want something more affordable.

As it stands, the Honor 7A is a solid entry in this competitive, bang-for-buck space. It’ll start rolling out to more countries soon, and will help Honor spread its honorable name across more market segments.

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Huawei Nova 3i is a beautiful phone with quad-camera goodness

The newest midrange contender

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Huawei just unveiled the Nova 3i and it looks good. Allow me a minute to gush about its looks.

This new midrange smartphone sports a glass back with a premium feel and a beautiful gradient back reminiscent of the Twilight P20. Let’s look at that closely.

As if this phone couldn’t get more extra looks-wise, there’s also a what Huawei reps call the “shining curve effect” which gives it that oomph when light hits the handset.

Now, on to what it can do.

This thing has a quad-camera setup: A 24- and 2-megapixel combo in front and a 16- and 2-megapixel setup on its back.

This phone makes you look good not just in selfies, but also while doing selfies. Take it from Chay.

Different scenes mean different adjustments to get the perfect shot. The cameras are equipped with AI, meaning they can intelligently detect scenes and automatically improve your photos. And, it’s not only the rear cameras with this technology; the selfie cams also have AI capabilities and an improved AI beauty mode.

The fingerprint scanner is found on the phone’s back, which usually means a more bezel-less screen. The 6.3-inch display features tiny bezels and a smaller chin plus, surprise, a notch!

There’s also a facial unlock feature and AI 3D Qmoji, which is basically Huawei’s version of Apple’s Animoji. 

The Nova 3i runs on Huawei’s brand-new Kirin 710 with 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. It has 3340mAh battery capacity and runs Android Oreo out of the box. 

Aside from this pretty gradient, the Nova 3i is also available in white or black.

Will this smartphone be as good as it looks? You’ll have to wait for the full review. Meanwhile, you can check price and availability here.

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Xiaomi Redmi 6 Hands-on: Feels cheaper now

It’s missing the premium build

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Currently, Xiaomi is leading in the budget smartphone segment. The uber-cheap Redmi 5A is still selling like hotcakes, making it the number one budget phone in the world. Just last month, the Chinese company announced the next in the Redmi series and what we have here is the base model: the Redmi 6.

Will the Redmi 6 be able to do better than its predecessors? Future sales numbers will be able to tell us that, but for now, let’s have a quick look at what the phone has to offer.

Following the footsteps of the Redmi 5, which is the Redmi 6’s direct predecessor, the IPS display of the phone has an 18:9 aspect ratio and HD+ resolution, although the Redmi 6 has a slightly smaller display at 5.45 inches versus the 5.7 inches of the older model. Despite having a taller aspect ratio, the bezels don’t qualify as near-borderless, but it’s still better than having a traditional 16:9 ratio.

On top of the display is the 5-megapixel front-facing camera along with the earpiece and sensors. As you can see below, the Redmi 6 has two card trays: one for the main nano-SIM card and another for the second one and a microSD card. The phone is a great budget option for those who have two SIM cards and a microSD card lying around.

We usually get a long triple-card tray, but this option is more ideal for users who keep on switching microSD cards. It keeps your main SIM card working while you swap your external storage. It’s similar to how Samsung designs their budget-midrange phones like the Galaxy J6 and Galaxy J8.

Moving to the right side, we have a couple of physical buttons for volume (the long one) and power/lock (the short one). Both are tactile and responsive, but they’re made of plastic just like the rest of the body of the phone.

If you’re coming from the previous Redmi series, you might be disappointed about that fact, but we’ll get to that later.

The bottom side houses the micro-USB port for charging and wired data transfer. Beside it is the main microphone that works alongside the secondary mic found on top of the phone. The 3.5mm audio port is also positioned on the top side.

I’m already accustomed to having the loudspeaker at the bottom, but Xiaomi decided to place the Redmi 6’s on the back. Sadly, the rear-firing loudspeaker gets muffled when placed flat on a table. There’s usually a raised dot beside the speaker grilles to lift the phone a bit, but Xiaomi missed out on that.

Now that’s we’re already checking out the rear of the Redmi 6, I’ll talk about the material choice for the phone’s body. Both the Redmi 4 and the Redmi 5 have aluminum back panels which add premium touches. The top and bottom portions are plastic, but that’s understandable to let in radio signals.

With the Redmi 6 though, we now have a full-plastic phone instead of maintaining a metal body (just like my favorite, the Redmi 4 Prime). The material downgrade makes the phone feel cheaper on hand and levels it with the more affordable Redmi models.

At least the camera department of the Redmi 6 gets an upgrade: From one, it now has two rear shooters. The main 12-megapixel sensor, which is the same as the Redmi 5’s, is now accompanied by a secondary 5-megapixel sensor for measuring depth. The phone can shoot portrait photos with bokeh effects.

The rounded fingerprint reader is still where most Xiaomi phones have it. It’s easily reachable by the index finger and can unlock your phone quickly.

As for the specs of the phone, it’s powered by a MediaTek Helio P22 processor with up to 3GB of memory and up to 64GB of storage. The graphics unit of the chipset is the PowerVR GE8320. It’s quite surprising that Xiaomi went back to MediaTek, but the Helio P22 is a good-performing midrange-class processor.

I wasn’t able to spend much time with the phone, but my initial gaming tests with Asphalt Xtreme and PUBG Mobile were pretty okay. The phone is not able to run the games smoothly on the highest-possible settings, but if I take it down a notch, I get better frame rates.

The phone runs MIUI 9.6 out of the box which is already based on Android 8.1 Oreo. The official stable update to MIUI 10 should come in the coming months. A 3000mAh battery keeps the lights on, but there’s no support for quick charging.

The Redmi 6 is already available in China starting at CNY 799 (US$ 120) for the 3GB/32GB variant while the beefed-up 4GB/64GB model is priced at CNY 999 (US$ 150). The phone is also making its way outside the Chinese market as part of its global rollout. In the Philippines, it’s priced at PhP 7,490 for the 3GB/32GB variant and PhP 8,990 for the 4GB/64GB.

SEE ALSO: Xiaomi Redmi 6 Pro makes its debut with notch and affordable price

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Samsung Galaxy J8 hands-on: Not your usual J

Higher end of the budget realm

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When scouting for a Samsung phone to buy, the conventional plan is to look at the Galaxy Note or S series for premium, Galaxy A or C for midrange, and Galaxy J for entry-level. Well, that’s just a general guideline.

For some instances, like the Galaxy J8 we have here, Samsung isn’t afraid to cross some boundaries. The J8 tangles closely with the lower-end spectrum of the A series while preserving what makes the J series the budget offering of Samsung.

We got our hands on a pre-retail unit, and even though its software and some features aren’t final yet, you’ll get a pretty good idea of what the Galaxy J8 is all about in our first impressions.

It has a 6-inch 720p AMOLED that’s bright but not too sharp

Comes with Samsung’s unique 18.5:9 aspect ratio

The rear houses the dual-camera setup and fingerprint scanner

Samsung learned from the past and gave the scanner an ideal placement, but it’s still kind of slow

The 16MP selfie camera has its own LED flash and can do facial recognition

Face unlocking is even slower than the fingerprint scanner, though

Its interface closely resembles that of more expensive Galaxies

This is Samsung’s Experience 9.0 UI on top of Android 8.0 Oreo

There’s room for two SIM cards and one microSD card

While this is great, the aging micro-USB port isn’t

All this in a signature Galaxy J plastic body 

Sticking to plastic is what separates it from the Galaxy A’s metal bodies

How well does it perform?

Samsung decided to go for a Snapdragon 450 chipset instead of their usual in-house Exynos chips. Coupled with 3GB of memory, this leads to midrange-level performance with high-end endurance.

During my time with this pre-release sample, there were several moments when I wish it would run faster. Switching between apps exhibited some lag and activating the camera wasn’t as instant as I’d hope it would be.

Still, it could handle all the games I threw at it, albeit with lowered graphics settings. I had no problem running Dragon Ball Legends and Asphalt Xtreme once I got into the apps; it was only when I switched to something else when the phone slowed down.

I only had 32GB of storage to play with, but it’s expandable using a microSD card, which I find vital if you’re a heavy camera user, as well.

Can it take nice photos?

This is one of the few Galaxy J series phones with a dual-camera setup — one has a 16-megapixel sensor while the other uses its 5-megapixel sensor to add depth information. This combination offers features like Live Focus which was once exclusive to the premium Galaxy S and Note lines.

And yet, I wasn’t that impressed by the image quality. I was often disappointed when the colors and saturation would look great on the preview, only to turn out dull once I take the picture and view it in the gallery. This may be because of non-retail software, but I’ve experienced this with other Galaxy J phones in the past.

Here are a few samples:

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While focusing and exposure control is pretty good when there’s enough light, I had difficulty zeroing in on a subject when it got dark. In dimly lit environments, sharpness also takes a hit and noise becomes more apparent in each photo.

I had fun with the added features, however. Live Focus allowed me to adjust background blur after taking a shot, and AR stickers added some character to my selfies. Take a look:

There are other modes and options such as Selfie Focus and the ability to adjust beauty settings. Samsung still has a long way to go before matching the selfie game of Vivo or OPPO, but it’s getting better for the South Korean brand.

Can it last more than a day?

With a battery capacity of 3500mAh pushing a low-resolution HD+ panel and efficient processor, you’re sure to get over a day’s worth of work and play done on this phone. Even though I had to take a lot of photos and run through games during my review period, not once did I worry about the Galaxy J8 suddenly dying on me.

On the other hand, charging was a pain. Bringing the large battery to full using the slow bundled charger took ages — about 2.5 hours more or less. That’s an hour more than I’m used to because  of the fast charging tech I’ve been experiencing in a growing number of midrange devices.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

It would take a proper retail unit and more testing to say for sure, but as it stands, the Galaxy J8 sits on a polarizing spot.

The Galaxy J8 currently retails for INR 18,990 (US$ 275) in India, placing it right below the more premium Galaxy A6 and above strong rivals such as the Moto G6 and ASUS ZenFone Max Pro (M1).

Moto’s G6, for example, has an all-glass design and the same processor, while the ZenFone Max Pro has a more powerful chipset at a fraction of the Galaxy J8’s price.

As it stands, the Galaxy J8 is for Samsung fans who want the features of a dual-camera phone but don’t want to spend more for a Galaxy A6+. Build quality and raw performance shouldn’t matter that much to potential buyers, either.

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