Reviews

HTC U Play Review: Just about design?

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They may not be as popular as before, but HTC is still around making Android phones. It’s hard to make a dent to the popularity of other phone brands, although with good-looking phones, HTC is on track to keep itself relevant. In the sea of aluminum and plain glass smartphones, the HTC U Play stands out with its design.

It looks plain at first sight

Beautiful design for a midrange phone

If you buy a phone based on its looks, this will be one of your top choices. Like most smartphones with a premium build, the U Play combines aluminum and glass with a unique look on its back. HTC calls it “liquid surface” as it’s designed to look like liquid paint beneath the glass back. The result is a glossy phone that’s prone to smudges. But! It’s one of the best-looking ones in the market.

Our unit comes in black, but it has a greenish tint when light hits the back panel

The phone on hand feels wider than most 5.2-inch devices I’ve held and that’s due to thick side bezels it has. It makes the phone a bit stout, while the aluminum frame gives a satisfying cold touch and doesn’t warm up easily. There are no issues with the overall build and design of the U Play, aside from the missing 3.5mm audio port.

No 3.5mm headphone jack!

The fingerprint scanner, which works really great, is located on the front of the device. It also acts a home button (it doesn’t press down, though) accompanied by two navigation keys on both sides. One-handed use is not a big concern here unless you really need to tap the four corners of the display.

Familiar HTC Experience

Android skins have been toned down in recent years, with the exemption of those phones from China. HTC Sense — that’s what HTC calls its user interface — sits in between my preference of a clean slate Android UI and a custom one. HTC’s take on Android gives the phone a mature personality over the playful icons of other manufacturers.

HTC Sense hasn’t changed much in the past couple of years

It’s stuck on Android 6.0 Marshmallow for now, and we’re hoping HTC will push out an update in the coming months. That comes with no guarantee, though, as with all third-party manufacturers. Anyway, having a dated version with a skin on top doesn’t give you the impression of running on old software.

Not exactly the latest in the market

HTC is trying to win back select markets where they have become dormant — such as Southeast Asia — by releasing phones like the U Play, which comes with a Helio P10 processor from MediaTek. With the new Helio P20 already available, it’s disappointing to see an old processor running on a new phone.

It still runs on Android Marshmallow

Processor aside, it has more than enough memory at 4GB and spacious internal storage at 64GB. I can easily open and switch from one app to another without any hiccups. So far, I didn’t encounter any signs of the phone slowing down under pressure. If only it were powered by a newer processor, I’d like the U Play more than just its physical appearance.

Can you “Play” all day?

The U Play comes with a 2500mAh battery and its processor is not exactly the most energy-efficient in its class, so I didn’t really expect it to last long. But, it still managed to hang on before a work day ended and I was able to get around three to four hours of screen-on time depending on usage. It also features fast charging, just in case you need a quick boost before hitting the road.

The most beautiful thing about the phone is its back

As long as you don’t play games much, a full charge is enough for one-day usage. There are battery-saving features that can be turned on to stretch out the remaining juice.

It takes good photos and bright selfies

The UltraPixel makes a comeback here, but it’s now found on the front. The 16-megapixel front shooter is sensitive to light, allowing you to take a selfie even in dark environments. It also has a wide-angle lens, so you can fit more people in a frame. Here are Isa’s selfie shots:

The rear camera doesn’t sport an ultra-sensitive sensor to help shoot in dim scenarios, but it has optical image stabilization. We’ll give the U Play a thumbs up for having OIS since not all midrange phones have it. Captured images with the 16-megapixel rear camera are pretty impressive with proper white balance and a good amount of details. Also, the Auto HDR kicks in whenever you need it.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

It has a good camera, beautiful design, and the HTC name. What it doesn’t have are the latest Android software and midrange processor. It’s a difficult recommendation now but with its looks, no doubt it’s an attractive phone to buy. If only HTC can push a Nougat update as soon as possible, I’d have a change of heart about the U Play.

The handset is priced at GBP 399 or SG$ 548. It’s not exactly competitively priced but the aesthetic appeal of the U Play gives it a lasting impression. That’s what HTC does best: Design.

SEE MORE: India, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines may get better HTC U11

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Reviews

Honor Watch Magic review: Fitness band trapped in a smartwatch’s body

In a good way

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The title of this Honor Watch Magic review might have you thinking that I’m dissing it. But that’s completely the opposite. In this era of smart devices, it’s the kind of watch I would happily slap on my wrist.

But my needs are different from yours, so here’s my month-long experience with the Honor Watch Magic.

Classic watch look with an AMOLED touchscreen

The Honor Watch Magic is one of many smartwatches that mimic the look of more traditional wrist watches. For anyone who still feels lukewarm about getting something that screams “smartwatch” this is a good thing.

This allows for some more versatility in terms of mixing and matching with your outfits — something you can’t do if you only have a fitness band. And no, you shouldn’t be wearing your fitness band everywhere, all the time.

The Honor Watch Magic comes in either black or silver although in the Philippines, it’s currently only available in black. One can argue it’s a little less versatile than silver, but there are still plenty of third-party straps you can purchase to make it work in different occasions.

It also only comes in 42mm which is kind of a sweet spot for smartwatches — neither too big nor too small. The 1.2-inch AMOLED display can get really bright if it needs to, so you don’t need to worry about checking the time when you’re underneath strong sunlight. However, it might be a little too bright — even if you turn the dial to just one — when you’re inside the movie theater.

There’s also a healthy selection of watch faces. I’m pretty easy to please so I immediately found a few that work for me. But if that isn’t the case for you, you can always download more through the Huawei Health app.

Smart enough

The Watch Magic has features you’d expect to find from a smartwatch. There’s find my phone, the usual step counter, and notification alerts — which I opted to just turn off altogether.

However, unlike pricier wearables, it does not have a way for you to act on these notifications. You can’t answer calls or reply to a message directly on the watch. You can think of it more as an extension of your phone.

But being unable to act on the notifications isn’t why I turned most of it off. I get a sh*t ton of messages from so many chat apps everyday. So much so that it’s really affected my focus. So I limited the notifications to just the Slack app as well as calls. Besides, I’m trying this thing where I’m looking at screens less. Not going so great, so far.

The watch promises a battery life of about a week and I did get about 4-5 days when the notifications were still on and about 5-6 days when I dialed them back.

Fitness band in a smartwatch’s body

Most of the magic on this watch has to do with its health and wellness features.

The TruSleep feature was the one I was most excited to test since I have been having trouble sleeping for a while now. After spending about a week tracking my sleep, I found out that I only average about three hours of deep sleep.

It also gave tips on how to address my sleeping problems. Regretfully, I haven’t been able to follow, and I stopped wearing the watch while sleeping over the last two weeks. It just doesn’t feel comfortable. I prefer something like this that I can wear over my head for sleep tracking.

Had a few days that this was my average sleep 😴

Then there are the workouts. The Honor Watch Magic can track a multitude of things from outdoor walking, running, cycling, mountaineering, and even swimming. The watch even has a dedicated button that will take you straight to the workout options.

Each one will provide you with data related to your specific workout so you know exactly how you’re doing and how you’re progressing. It even has customized courses to make sure you get the most out of your workouts.

Thing is, the most I did with the watch was some light running and walking. It’s been a while since I’ve had the chance to do my regular workout which involves playing a lot of basketball — a sport that sadly isn’t exactly supported by the Watch Magic. Besides, wearing a huge watch while shooting hoops kind of looks douchey.

The only real fitness lesson I can impart with you here is to find a workout that you’ll stick with. After which, that’s when you decide which wearable to get to properly track your progress.

Is this your GadgetMatch? 

Personally, I was never into wrist watches. I’ve gone on several stretches in my life without needing one — which could explain my spurts of tardiness and general feeling of losing track of time. Literally every watch I’ve ever used in my life is a gift from someone else. And I think that’s what the Honor Watch Magic is. It makes for a perfect gift.

At PhP 7,490 (US$ 147), it’s probably the best value smartwatch available in the Philippines at the moment. With its size, style flexibility, and overall functionality, it’s a perfect gift for anyone you hold near and dear to your heart.

The Honor Watch Magic is the perfect entry point for someone who might still be on the fence about getting a smartwatch and is reluctant to spend north of PhP 10,000 (US$ 200). It looks like a regular watch, has the basics of a smartwatch, and is quite a powerhouse as a fitness companion.

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Her GadgetMatch

Peloton: A cult I want to join

Can a Peloton bike replace going to a spin studio?

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I’ve heard and read about Peloton mostly from the hype in tech news and commercials on TV. When people talk about it, I hear them refer to it as the cult of Peloton. As someone who recently fell in love with spin class, my curiosity is peaked. If you’re a Peloton customer, you don’t just like it — you love it! It’s not a piece of exercise equipment; it’s a lifestyle.

On a recent trip to New York, I noticed my hotel was close to a Peloton studio. My hotel also had a Peloton bike in the gym. As I roll towards 40, I’ve accepted that my body needs me to pay attention to it. So I fed my Peloton curiosity and went to the studio to take a class. I also took a virtual one in my hotel — more on that later.

Peloton studio experience

If you’ve ever been to a high end spin studio you’ll be familiar with the set up at Peloton. For those who haven’t done a modern spin class, you basically get shoes, locker rooms that have many products, and someone to help you set up your bike. The experience screams premium and makes dropping US$ 35 seem justified.

Like most workout studios, the room is very cold when you walk in. Today’s spin classes are done in the dark with very loud music — almost like going to parties. At the Peloton studio, the bikes are set up around a stage on three sides. As we waited to get started, Jenn, the instructor, was already interacting with everyone online. I’ve heard and read of Peloton before, but I didn’t realize that the class I was attending was being live streamed to hundreds, maybe thousands of people.

“RoadCruiser, it’s your 400th ride! Congratulations and thanks for being part of the Peloton nation,” screamed Jenn. “RidnMama happy 100th ride, Pelotooooon!”

Hearing the word Peloton happened consistently throughout the ride. Like being in actual cults, being in a Peloton class felt a bit like being indoctrinated. The same way cults repeat ideologies and phrases, Jenn would randomly scream Peloton for all of 30 minutes. When I started counting midway, I heard her say it 11 more times.

What caught me off guard was the fact that Jenn essentially ignored the class and was in constant eye contact with the cameras around the room. One camera would slowly go from the left side of the room to the right, and her gaze would follow it. It was distracting and felt like I was watching something I wasn’t supposed to.

Having done no actual research on Peloton before going, I left the class confused. Being the journalist that I am, I asked the sales girl at the front desk a ton of questions. I found out that there are only two Peloton studios in the whole world: one in New York, and the other in London.

Suddenly I felt very lucky to have taken a class in one of the two studios. Then almost immediately I realized that I was doing things completely wrong. Most Peloton customers will never step foot into a physical Peloton studio, and they probably will never want to. Peloton’s main focus is giving virtual classes, and that’s what they’re good at.

Peloton only set up studios to livestream the instructor for the virtual classes. The London studio starts putting classes online in the morning and the New York studio has classes until late at night, covering all of Europe and US timezones. Unlike other spin studios, real world classes at Peloton are only a byproduct of content creation for their virtual community.

Virtual Peloton class experience

The next day I went to my hotel’s gym to take my first virtual class. When I logged on, there were no live classes about to start, so I took one of the many pre-recorded ones. The bike lets you choose by class type, instructor, genre of music, and style of ride — I chose a 90s hiphop class.

When the class started, I found Jess, the instructor, looking at me straight in the eye from the 21.5” HD display of the bike. Suddenly the thing I found the creepiest from the live class was the thing I loved most of the virtual class. The connection I felt with Jess was far stronger than the one in the studio — even stronger than I’ve ever felt at a traditional spin class at SoulCycle or ride.bln.

Being more engaged resulted in a much better work out compared to the one I did in the studio. Admittedly, I’ve only taken a single virtual class, but I’m already convinced Peloton can bring the same high end spin class I take in studios into my own home.

The traditional spin class experience

In Berlin, I take spin classes at ride.bln. They have beautiful locker rooms and attentive staff. The environment is pretty much identical to Peloton’s NYC studio, except smaller. That’s pretty much where the similarities end.

My favorite instructor at ride.bln is Malin. Her style of dancing around the studio, correcting people’s postures, and reading the room so that we’re getting the best workout we can are the little things that make going to a real world spin class great — things you won’t ever get from a virtual class. Seeing my instructor pushing through with her eyes closed honors my struggle. Her energy makes me want to give her spin class everything I’ve got.

Photo from ride.bln

I am genuinely curious what her take would be if she tried to adapt her style to Peloton. Closing her eyes through a tough segment is not something she would be able to do as a Peloton instructor. Her style would have to completely change and having gone to her classes, I fear they would become soulless. Can she bring the same engagement to a class while staring into a camera? I’m afraid not.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

If you were to get a Peloton bike and join the cult, you can probably replicate the dark room with the same loud music at home, but I’m not sure it would really be the same as going to a good spin studio. What Peloton is is not exactly a replacement, but an alternative for people like me who don’t have a 9-to-5 routine.

What the cult of Peloton has done is remove several barriers of having to go to spin class. Spin classes may only last 30-60 minutes, but you also have to factor in the time to go to the studio, get ready, and everything that comes after. Peloton also made it easy for its customers to start and do spin classes more consistently. You can be a newbie and not get intimidated by the people around you and just spin at your own pace. You can even do the same classes when you’re traveling, no matter which timezone you’re in.

The best part of being part of the Peloton cult is not the high end equipment nor the classes; it’s the strong virtual connections it’s been able to create to motivate you to achieve your own fitness goals — whether you’re on your bike at home or some other place in the world.

Cult or not, both Peloton and traditional spin classes are great workouts if you’re already into fitness. If not, hearing people talk about it all the time can be annoying and does you no good. All of these classes are just tools to achieve our goals, and no amount of tech is good enough a motivation as the one that comes from within.

SEE ALSO: Confessions of a non-runner


Editor’s note: This is a slightly modified excerpt of an article written by the same author published on MobileGeeks.com.

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Laptops

ASUS VivoBook S15 Review: Mixing style and function

Also a lesson about love and relationships

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Finding the right laptop is tricky if you want it to tailor to your preference and personality. If you want a laptop you can show-off that can also perform, the ASUS VivoBook S15 S531FL might be the one you’re looking for.

A bit of history: the new VivoBook S15 was launched earlier at Computex 2019. ASUS paraded a colorful lineup that would certainly grab anyone’s attention: Moss Green, Punk Pink, Cobalt Blue, Transparent Silver, and Gun Metal. Luckily, I was able to try this new laptop in Cobalt Blue. Not a lot of people would be enthralled with such bold and striking colors, but I beg to differ.

Made for the bold type

Growing up, I love being at the center of attention. Whether it was because of a new toy or the latest gadget, I love it when people gather around with amazement in their eyes, just because I brought something to the table. Their awe was enough of a reward for me; as if I did something extraordinary. The high from being validated was enough to keep the people around me excited and mesmerized.

That same feeling was what I felt when I used the VivoBook S15. While I was fixated on my screen, I felt everyone’s gaze as my laptop grabbed their attention. It’s a definite head-turner.

I mean, who wouldn’t be captivated by its looks? It stands out with its sleek, metal frame in vivid Cobalt Blue. It’s also adorned by Neon Red accents giving it a sophisticated vibe even at a glance. Moreover, a blue and red combination — in its most striking hue — is alluring to people fascinated with futuristic style.

Touch that lingers

The VivoBook S15 doesn’t just look good, but it feels upscale, too. Both the lid and body are made of fine aluminum, with the former having a textured finish. The embossed name also gives a subtle touch of class.

The body, on the other hand, was painted with a transparent silver color which glosses when there’s a substantial light shining over.

Back then, I kept on caressing the laptop as if my fingertips were running through a Burberry trench coat (or even Marc Jacobs underwear). I felt awestruck, especially with its trackpad which is fairly on point on its touch sensitivity. It’s decent compared to the previous laptop I used.

The keyboard was comfortable to type on. Most of its keys are large and evenly spaced, except for the arrow keys which are a lot smaller. Additionally, it’s light, soft and has a backlit design to let you work even in the dark.

Unfortunately, its bottom was made of plastic. To compensate, the laptop exhibits similar cuts on the base and perforations to look and feel better, especially when you hold it in your hands. The mix of aluminum and plastic offer the right amount of weight, making this combination common in most laptops nowadays. Honestly, it’s the perfect choice for frail people looking for a portable yet sturdy laptop.

Not just for show

In case you’re wondering, this laptop isn’t just for show. Even though it’s flamboyant and stylish, function is still at the core of its design language. Evident is ASUS’ ErgoLift hinge, which tilts the laptop to have an inclined position. This makes working on this laptop more comfortable on the wrists.

Productivity is one of its focus, considering all the ports available on each side. On the right, you can find the power input, a standard HDMI port, two USB 3.1 ports; one Type-A and one Type-C, an audio jack, and a microSD card reader.

On the left side, you can find two USB 2.0 ports which most people might find to be outdated since it’s already 2019. Most laptops nowadays come with USB-C ports instead. Nonetheless, I hate the dongle life and laptops carrying multiple ports are still better until every other device supports USB-C. This would pass, but I do hope that the next version would come with USB 4 ports, or at least USB 3.1.

The problem with just “looking good”

With its enormous size, it’s hard not to be drawn to the VivoBook S15. Its screen boasts a 15.6″ FHD panel bordered by thin bezels on every side, thanks to its NanoEdge design giving an almost-frameless look. Found on top is an IR HD camera, which isn’t as visible unless you put it under proper light.

I hate to rain on ASUS’ parade, but I honestly believe the display could’ve been better. The company is a braggart when it comes to their display, but let’s be real here: we don’t need something beautiful if it doesn’t provide what we need.

Consumers are looking for the very essence of a product’s feature, hence, the display should not be lackluster. It’s not bright and vibrant enough, and it has poor color reproduction. Moreover, it has a limited viewing angle and I experienced a lot of glare contrary to its claims.

It’s just like when you buy a fleece coat and a cashmere scarf, only to be duped when you find out it was mostly acrylic or polyester and it failed to provide the primary reason for buying it: to protect you from the cold during winter. The VivoBook S15 failed to give us the bright side of its display, but it’s one thing you can compromise if you already fell in love with its look.

Don’t have high hopes

While this laptop failed me in the display department, I wouldn’t let a single moment pass by to watch my favorite sitcom Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Despite all the disappointments I encountered, I still had high hopes for its audio performance since it was tuned by Harman Kardon.

However, don’t be fooled by its branding. Even though it has the Harman Kardon signature, the VivoBook S15 provides below average audio quality befitting a non-flagship laptop like this. The speakers are also stuck in the bottom, along with the fan perforations which can result in subdued sound quality especially when it’s placed on a flat surface.

I know, both the display and audio department have failed miserably yet I still found the whole experience with the laptop enjoyable. After all, comedies have taken a bulk on my watch list which guarantees I’ll be happy whatever I watch, wherever it may be. Yet as a person who sees a glass half-full, I honestly believe the VivoBook S15 is more than enough to most users.

My nitpicking is based on my impeccable — and irrationally — high standards, born out of using premium and flagship laptops first-hand. If I didn’t have any point of comparison, I would have opted for this one already.

But since I know we all deserve better, I still encourage you to look for the best you can find; unless this is the one that fits your preference, personality, and of course, budget. If that’s the case, then by all means, go ahead and continue reading.

Sometimes, it’s more than enough

The whole affair with the VivoBook S15 is like a dating adventure. I was hooked at first glance, and I admired its look and style, and I dived right in to feel it. One by one, I see red flags, and I still hold on to the tiny things that I might discover, hoping to make the affair with this “perfect” match going on.

In an attempt to hold on longer, I clung to one of the reasons why I chose this laptop. I looked back and remembered why I enjoyed every moment I was using it. The truth is this laptop provides more than what I need.

The VivoBook S15 is powered by an 8th-Gen Intel i7-8565U processor, running an NVIDIA GeForce MX250 graphics card. It also has an 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD, and 1TB HDD storage.

Yes, I’m a designer and I occasionally delve into multimedia work. If we’re going to talk about how I’m going to use this laptop in my everyday life, I’d say it’s more than enough. A confidante once affirmed that with the right person, you are enough.

Truly, the VivoBook S15 packs power more than what we need. It can let us browse the internet, open multiple tabs and multitask, and run Spotify, Netflix, Google Chrome, and Adobe Photoshop all at once in the background. Do note that these apps are some of the most power-consuming apps but the VivoBook S15 can handle everything without hiccups.

I also didn’t have qualms working on my post-processing sessions on Adobe Photoshop. On some occasions, I was able to handle illustrations through Adobe Illustrator and edit photos batch-by-batch in Adobe Lightroom. For those who do video editing, this laptop can handle a bit of editing, but I would look elsewhere.

Then again, I wouldn’t push a laptop beyond its limits, especially with a task it’s not meant to handle. Such examples are heavy multimedia works, or worse, playing graphics-intensive games. Sure it can do it albeit only to a certain extent.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

I may have said a mix of praise and brutally honest complaints about this laptop, and it might have confused some of you. Frankly, the ASUS VivoBook S15 has a lot of shortcomings, especially for a laptop in 2019. Yet despite its imperfection, it still proved to be more than capable, especially for everyday users.

This laptop will surely do you wonders, increase your productivity, and let your creativity thrive. For PhP 60,995 (US$ 1206), the ASUS VivoBook S15 S531FL can be rivaled by other laptops out there, but they probably look tacky. None of them can compete with how ASUS packaged this beaut into something stylish yet functional to complement one’s lifestyle. This laptop is something worth bringing and showing-off while you do your work.

Even though I noticed a lot of flaws, I still chose to see the good in it. I have learned that if you want to make a thing last, you have to choose it. Just like in love, you have to choose it every single day. Sure, there’ll be drawbacks and a lot of disappointments along the way, but some can be glossed over, understood and accepted. We’ll always have unreasonable demands, but we only need to take a step back and see the reason why we choose this thing (or someone) in the first place. Sometimes, they are enough.

With this affirmation, I’m going to reward myself and buy this laptop as a gift for myself this holiday season. I believe this is my GadgetMatch.

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