Reviews

Huawei Nova 3i Review: A supernova among midrange phones

Best in its range but not perfect

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Huawei continues to dominate the midrange market with another Nova phone. If the Mate series is too business-like and the P20 series doesn’t fit the budget, the Nova series is the way to go.

The Nova 2i from last year was a hit among developing markets due to its value for money. Now we have the Nova 3i, the latest phone to come from Huawei’s factory and it’s ready for prime time.

The Nova 3i inherits the key features of its predecessor like having four onboard cameras, large near-borderless display, and a well-built body. Is the Nova 3i a worthy successor?

You guys know the drill, so let’s get to the physique of the phone:

Its 6.3-inch IPS display has a wide notch

Wider than those from other recent Huawei phones

This is because of two selfie cameras and an infrared sensor

The secondary camera helps in adding a bokeh effect

The top is pretty plain, nothing to see here really

The tiny hole is the noise-canceling microphone

The power and volume buttons are on the right…

The frame and buttons are metal but have a glossy finish — at least for the Iris Purple variant

While the on the left is the hybrid card slot

With the phone’s 128GB storage, do you even need a microSD card?

The bottom has a micro-USB and 3.5mm audio port

It also houses the loudspeaker and main microphone

Iris Purple combines purple and blue with a gradient effect

Another beautiful phone with dual rear cameras and a glass back

Undeniably a P20 look-a-like

Let’s get straight to it: The Nova 3i looks a lot like the P20 series. It’s not an Honor-branded phone, but the aesthetics of the Nova 3i kind of give the vibe of Huawei’s sub-brand. Maybe because I was thinking of the Honor 10 while looking at it?

To show you guys how the Nova 3i and P20 series are strikingly similar, I pulled out the P20 Lite from the GadgetMatch HQ. I chose the P20 Lite because it’s likely your second option (it got a price cut in some markets) if you’re planning to get the Nova 3i.

Huawei Nova 3i (left) beside Huawei P20 Lite (right)

Both phones’ displays have a notch, but the Nova 3i’s is wider because it has two front-facing cameras and an infrared sensor for more accurate facial recognition. Also, the chin of the Nova 3i is a bit slimmer than the P20 Lite’s, so the newer phone looks more borderless and iPhone X-like.

The back of the Huawei P20 Lite is virtually identical to the Huawei Nova 3i’s

When you flip both phones, unsuspecting people won’t be able to tell the difference. The dual-camera placement is the same, the position of the fingerprint readers is the same, and even the rounded corners of the phones are the same!

Both the P20 Lite and Nova 3i look very similar, so there’s no debate which phone looks better. You’ll just have to choose which fits your hand better since they differ in size; the Nova 3i is bigger than the P20 Lite.

Amazing performance from the new processor

After recycling the specs of the Nova 2i in the P20 Lite, Huawei finally moved on and introduced a new processor to power their latest midrange phone. The Kirin 710 debuts on the Nova 3i and it’s interesting to see how the new home-baked processor from Huawei stacks up against the competition and its predecessor. My Nova 3i unit also boasts 4GB of memory and a whopping 128GB of internal storage — that’s a lot to fill up.

Android 8.1 Oreo is already available out of the box but it’s skinned with EMUI 8.2. You’ll not escape EMUI if you’re buying a Huawei phone unless the Chinese tech giant decides to join the Android One program. ASUS already made a pure Android phone, the ZenFone Max Pro, but it’s not exactly Pixel-like which is what you can expect from Android One phones.

EMUI 8.2’s notification and quick settings panel

EMUI is not the worst skin around but it’s not the best either — at least for me. It brings new features on top of Android Oreo, and Huawei is fairly committed to keeping their phones up to date which is nice.

Now onto the processor. The new Kirin 710 is more efficient than the Kirin 659 found in the Nova 2i and P20 Lite since it now uses a 12nm architecture, close to the 10nm of the more powerful mobile chipsets found on flagship phones. Huawei also claims a 75 percent increase in single-core performance and about 68 percent in multi-core compared to the older chip.

How do the numbers translate to everyday performance? Well, I haven’t encountered any lag when using the phone’s interface and system apps. Although, there are slight hiccups when using Facebook Messenger’s chat heads. The processor is still new, so there are some kinks that need to be ironed out with third-party apps.

Asphalt 9: Legends runs perfectly fine on the Nova 3i

When the Nova 2i was announced last year, it was a fan favorite. It offered a big 18:9 display with a Kirin 659 processor and a generous amount of memory and storage. The Kirin 659 processor was decent but it didn’t exactly live up to expectations when it came to gaming. Other chipsets in its range, like the Snapdragon 625, Snapdragon 450, and Helio P60, were able to run certain games more smoothly. So, with the new Kirin 710 chipset on the Nova 3i, I was curious about its gaming performance.

After playing different titles on the phone for a week, I’m glad to report that the updated Mali-G51 MP4 GPU greatly improves gaming on the new midrange Huawei phone. It could have been better if the Kirin 710 has the Mali-G71 to make it on par with the gaming capabilities of the late P10 phones.

Midrange Kirin processors don’t always get the best GPU around, but the improved graphics and overall performance of the Kirin 710 is enough to make the Nova 3i a convincing successor.

Camera’s AI oversaturation is a problem

As mentioned, the Nova 3i still has four cameras: two at the back, two in the front. The phone may have the same number of cameras as the P20 Pro, but the additional sensors are not that special — no monochrome or zoom cameras.

The main 16-megapixel rear shooter is accompanied by a 2-megapixel depth sensor for adding bokeh effects. The aggressive AI (artificial intelligence) camera feature we first saw on the Honor 10 is present on the Nova 3i.

Here are a few samples taken with AI turned on:

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Just like with the Honor 10, the Nova 3i takes vibrant photos; way too vibrant with AI turned on, to be honest. In other phones, AI uses the best-possible settings based on what you’re shooting. Huawei’s use of AI is a bit much, but you can always toggle it off even after taking the shot, so just keep the AI on so it can suggest what it thinks is best.

From the meager 13-megapixel selfie shooter of the Nova 2i, we now have a high-resolution 24-megapixel front camera with a 2-megapixel depth sensor. The increase in resolution greatly improves the detail of selfies and overall picture quality. Of course, there’s beauty mode and a few lighting effects to play with.

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Then there’s Qmoji which is, you guessed it, like Apple’s Animoji. Using the front cameras and sensors, the Nova 3i can capture and track facial expressions and use it to animate a cute character. It’s not as great as Animoji, but it’s fun to send a short Qmoji clip to friends.

Playing around with Qmoji

Without the Leica label, the Nova 3i can’t match the P20 phones. But it’s got great cameras for everyday shooting or when you feel like playing around with the extra features.

Long-lasting but why still use micro-USB?

Like most midrange phones nowadays, the Nova 3i is capable of lasting most than a day. It’s got a sizeable 3340mAh battery which is the same capacity as its predecessor’s. Unfortunately, it still has a micro-USB port; no USB-C for midrange Nova phones, yet.

The Nova 3i was able to get through my usual work day with enough juice left at night. I get an average of five hours of screen-on time from about 22 hours of usage. It would have been great if there were SuperCharge (Huawei’s quick-charging tech) available. Charging times are pretty decent, though. It takes 15 minutes to get it from zero to 15 percent and about 35 minutes to reach 30 percent. A full charge happens in around one hour and 45 minutes.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

If you’re coming from the Nova 2i, which is still less than a year old, I can’t find solid reasons to upgrade. Don’t get me wrong, the Nova 3i is better in every aspect but I find it more suitable for new Huawei users. It’s a great phone to introduce people to the Huawei sphere. Why? It’s got a good balance of price and performance plus aesthetics and functionality. It’s a convincing phone for those who are looking for a new one.

The Iris Purple color looks better under bright light

There’s still room for improvement, especially in charging and gaming performance. One can’t have it all because if you’re looking for the ideal phone, you’ll have to pay a premium to get a flagship phone. Then again, midrange phones have already proven that there’s no need to shell out your hard-earned money to be able to have a great smartphone.

SEE ALSO: Huawei Nova 2i Review: The midrange phone to beat?

Gaming

Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee! review: Catching ’em all once again

Isn’t Eevee absolutely adorable?

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Countless times, my friends have jokingly asked, “Where’s Mario?” My name — Luigi — has unwittingly cursed me into a lifetime of jokes associated with Mario’s green-suited brother. Ironically, my favorite Nintendo franchise isn’t even remotely related to the Super Mario Brothers series. Since childhood, the prestige has always gone to the Pokémon franchise.

During my Game Boy days, I played through the classics of the Pokémon franchise. Sadly, that streak ended with Pokémon Emerald, immediately before the arrival of the first Nintendo DS. Since then, the franchise’s Generation 4 ushered in a period of silence.

Thankfully, Pokémon’s decline was halted by the arrival of the mobile game, Pokémon GO. The pioneering AR game brought back a wave of nostalgia. Despite the initial popularity, the game’s novelty was short-lived, failing to measure up with the classic games. Of course, the game wasn’t from Nintendo.

Now, Nintendo has finally taken over the franchise’s modern renaissance. Weeks ago, Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Let’s Go, Eevee! launched for the Nintendo Switch, promising a new world for the new generation. Besides ushering a generation, the nostalgic series revitalizes the old and creates a new ecosystem.

Generation 1.2 

Right on the tin, both games advertise a return to Kanto, home of the first Pokémon. Pikachu and Eevee are remasters of the original Pokémon Yellow. In the original, Pikachu replaced the traditional trio of Bulbasaur, Charmander, and Squirtle. Likewise, Pikachu and Eevee replaces the starter Pokémon based on the version you purchase.

Likewise, both games share the same story elements with Pokémon Yellow: Team Rocket’s antics, Lavender Town’s eerie story, Mewtwo’s appearance. Of course, because of the times, Nintendo updated some minor elements for a modern audience. For example, in-game television sets come with Nintendo Switch units. Characters talk about Alolan Pokémon, smartphone technology, and most importantly, Pokémon GO.

Cuter, cuddlier, livelier

After Pokémon GO’s initial wave of novelty, the franchise’s fans chided the game for depersonalizing their favorite creatures. In GO, Pokémon became collectibles, valuing quantity over quality. Completely contrasted to this, Pikachu and Eevee added a thick layer of personality to all 151 original Pokémon.

Mostly, this dynamic personality applies to your chosen partner, Pikachu or Eevee. Like Yellow, your partner Pokémon follows you around. However, instead of just a few pixelated frames, both have their own new sets of animations and moves. For example, Pikachu hangs out on your shoulder as you walk. Eevee perches atop your head. In combat, both have exclusive move sets. Eevee, for example, uses Veevee Volley, an extremely strong Normal move that activates only occasionally. Cutely, you can interact with both partners outside of combat, petting them or playing patty-cake using the Switch’s touchscreen.

Additionally, you can take a Pokémon out of its Poké Ball, acting as a secondary companion. Also, their animation depends on their build. Mew floats ahead of you. Kangaskhan carries you in its pouch. Charizard flies and carries you on its back. It creates a much more dynamic world compared to the original games.

Speaking of, wild Pokémon encounters are no longer completely random. Instead, you can see the wild Pokémon wandering around, letting you choose which to catch. Catching them is also different. Instead of going into combat, the games adapt the same system as Pokémon GO, using catch rings and berries.

Creating a Pokémon ecosystem

Along with the games, Nintendo also launched a new controller, the Poké Ball Plus, specifically made for the new Pokémon games. Unfortunately, the optional controller, shaped like a Poké Ball, is pricey, costing US$ 49.99 on its own. The bundle — the game plus the ball — costs US$ 99.99, reducing the price by 10 bucks. That said, why should you buy a Poké Ball Plus?

Firstly, the ball comes with a free Mew. Traditionally, this mythical Pokémon was obtainable only through Nintendo-exclusive events or hacks. The Ball finally provides an easily accessible way to obtain one of the franchise’s most elusive Pokémon.

Secondly, it creates a new experience for the franchise. While it has only two buttons, you can use the ball in a throwing motion to catch Pokémon. Instead of just pressing A, the new mechanic simulates the feeling of actually throwing a Poké Ball. It’s unique and strangely gratifying. Additionally, you can take a Pokémon (housed inside the Poké Ball) with you on your daily commute. As you walk, it gets experience, similar to GO’s buddy system.

Thirdly, the ball acts as a Pokémon GO Plus, connecting the Switch games with GO’s world. To those who still play GO, the Poké Ball is a welcome arsenal, especially in crowded cityscapes. Similarly, you can transfer Pokémon from GO to Switch, making it easier to fill a Pokédex.

Finally, the Poké Ball Plus is a clear indication of the Pokémon franchise’s future. Next year, Nintendo will launch a fresher addition to the franchise, marking the console’s first full-fledged Pokémon game. By then, the future game will fully integrate the Ball into its mechanics, making the controller a worthy investment.

With Pikachu and Eevee, the Pokémon franchise heralds a new generation for both old and beginning players. For old players, they create a refreshed wave of nostalgia. For beginning players, both games are a good start to the new generation.

SEE ALSO: Pokémon: Let’s Go gets its own Nintendo Switch bundles

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Reviews

ASUS ZenFone Max Pro M2 review

Part two of the Max experiment

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The ZenFone Max Pro M1 was one of those unicorns in the smartphone realm. Not only did it have dual cameras and a massive battery, it also came with stock Android — a rarity in ASUS’ lineup.

It was priced just right, hovering around the US$ 200 sweet spot in most regions. That being said, a successor was definitely in order, and the M2 I have here might bring that magic back.

The ZenFone Max Pro M2 is certainly bigger, badder, and more of a gaming phone than the M1 was. But with a higher price tag, is it still an easy-to-recommend product, especially with all the great options in the market?

On the outside, it’s a typical ZenFone, from the solid build to the super-bright 6.3-inch 1080p LCD. New this time around is the notch that houses the front-facing camera. It’s a sore spot in an otherwise clean design, but at this point, I can no longer argue against the established trend.

Next is the move from a metal coating to a shinier material for the rear. I can’t confirm yet if it’s mostly glass or plastic, but it’s more of a fingerprint magnet than what the previous ZenFone Max models had. ASUS does include a clear case to prevent unsightly fingerprints.

On the back you’ll find the fingerprint scanner, which isn’t that fast for logging in but more reliable than its face scanning. After alternating between the two, I ended up using the fingerprint sensor more, though that’s not to say it has a major advantage.

However, what matters more is the processor this smartphone comes with. It’s a Snapdragon 660, a chipset you’d normally find on more expensive handsets. Coupled with up to 6GB of memory and 64GB of storage, its performance certainly fits the bill.

If the storage isn’t enough, you’ll be glad to know that there’s a triple-card slot inside to house two nano-SIM cards and a microSD at the same time. If you’re planning to use this as a pure gaming device, that extra space holds a lot of weight.

During day-to-day activities like taking photos, multitasking around productivity apps, and binging on Netflix, I had no qualms whatsoever. It’s comparable to what the Nokia 7 Plus and Vivo V11 can do with the same chipset, and it helps that pure Android is on board to prevent bloatware from getting in the way.

But what we really want to test is mobile games, since ASUS is promoting the ZenFone Max Pro M2 as a budget-friendly gaming device. Early impression: Performance depends on which games you play.

I tried Ragnarok M and although the phone kept cool no matter how long I played, it would throttle at certain times, leading to choppy frame rates when there was too much action happening at once. I didn’t experience this with similarly priced phones like the Pocophone F1 and Honor Play.

Things are a little different with Asphalt 9, which relies more on bursts of intense processing with short breaks in between. This allowed the ZenFone Max Pro M2 to shine more, providing really smooth gameplay without heating up.

But what’s truly impressive is the battery life. I could play either of those games for five hours straight and they would reduce the percentage to only half. That’s amazing, and at the same time expected out of a 5000mAh capacity.

Unfortunately, topping up this battery to full using the bundled charger is a royal pain. With an average of 15 percent gains every 30 minutes, it would take around 3.5 hours to reach a hundred. I tried using faster chargers but the results were practically the same.

I’m not sure if this was a cost-cutting move or an oversight; either way, it sucks to wait for the phone to charge so long between gaming sessions. It doesn’t help that I’m forced to plug in through its micro-USB port. Every other device I own made the switch to the superior USB-C.

My bigger concern is ASUS’ update plans for this phone’s aging Android 8.1 Oreo, which came out in 2017. Despite being stock in nature, it isn’t part of the Android One program, so Google won’t be able aid in pushing new software.

For reference, the ZenFone Max Pro M1 is still on Oreo, with no sign of Pie this year. While having a pure Android experience is great, not having timely updates defeats some of the purpose. In some cases, I actually miss ZenUI and the attention ASUS gives to it.

On that note, my review unit had some issues with the camera app at first, but ASUS has since fixed all the bugs. The app originally called Camera App Lite would often hang or not allow me to capture a shot even when all conditions were met. It’s simply called Camera now and works quite well with its clean interface.

During my short time with the cameras, I was impressed by the dynamic range and ability to maintain sharpness under poor lighting conditions. Both the rear 12-megapixel sensor and 13-megapixel selfie shooter performed as expected out of a midrange handset — meaning they were satisfying to use — though I question the usability of the 5-megapixel depth sensor on the back.

Blurring the background and cutting out the edges of a subject weren’t strong points for the rear shooters. What I did like was the saturation and strong colors they produced. Here are some samples:

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Editor’s note: This section initially stated that the camera app was buggy and felt like beta software. ASUS has since reached out and updated our unit. The camera performance is much improved now and doesn’t exhibit any of the aforementioned faults.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

With a price increase of about US$ 100, the ZenFone Max Pro M2 isn’t as affordable as it once was, although I do appreciate the improvements in multiple aspects.

The new chipset is a definite winner, and the sleeker design makes it easier to show off in public. In addition, everything that made the M1 so special is still there, from the massive battery to the bright screen.

I recommend this particular ZenFone to those who value performance and want something more out of a gaming smartphone. It may not be as fast as the Honor Play or Pocophone F1, but it’s the most well-rounded device in the entire ZenFone lineup.

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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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