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

Kingdom Hearts III review: More for long-time fans

It didn’t spark joy

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I played the first Kingdom Hearts game for a grand total of around 40 minutes, so I don’t think I can qualify that as actually playing. I didn’t have my own PlayStation 2 at the time so I was mostly watching my friend play, waiting for him to wrap up so I could beat him on NBA Live.

However, it’s such a popular game that it was impossible for me to not at least be familiar with the premise. I did play my fair share of Final Fantasy games and like most people, Disney titles and characters aren’t complete strangers to me.

Ready to take on some Heartless!

I didn’t have any major expectations jumping into Kingdom Hearts III, but I thought the way the Disney levels are woven in would at least be clever. It was not.

The backstory is massive

The first thing you need to consider when coming into this game is that you’re stepping into a massive pile of backstory. It can be hard to catch up to. If, like me, this is your first game in the franchise, it will be like watching Avengers: Infinity War without seeing even at least a quarter of the movies that led to it.

That said, the game is aware that it has tons of lore to get into. Right in the title screen you’ll see a Memory Archive which is a chapter by chapter summary of the Kingdom Hearts story. It’s best watched in its entirety which means sitting through over 20 minutes of backstory. For the most part, it does its job of catching you up. If that’s not enough, there are several story-so-far videos on YouTube. This one I liked in particular.

Despite all of these recaps available, no amount of summarizing can truly prepare you for the tangled mess that is the Kingdom Hearts lore. During certain parts, it even feels like the game is self-aware of how much of a mess it is and pokes fun at itself. That’s one of the more entertaining aspects of the game, intentional or not.

The story just isn’t gripping enough

This is my main gripe with the game. After playing titles like God of War, Detroit: Become Human, and Marvel’s Spider-Man — all of which had stories and characters that you will inevitably invest in as you play — Kingdom Hearts III’s story pales in comparison.

I understand the comparison may not be fair. The games I mentioned are either standalone stories (Detroit and Spider-Man) or a fresh start to a long-running franchise (God of War). Given all of that, I can’t help but feel the storytelling could have been so much better.

The way I feel about Kingdom Hearts III is similar to how I felt about Final Fantasy XV which, coincidentally, was initially helmed by the same guy behind Kingdom Hearts — Tetsuya Nomura. The story’s pacing felt off and it went into places that maybe it shouldn’t have.

There’s also something off about the dialogue during cutscenes. I felt the characters were talking so much slower than usual and it invites zoning out if you’re not that into the story.

That’s a thing? Okay.

If you’re a long-time fan of the franchise and have played most, if not all, of the games and feel differently than I do, then that’s all good. In fact, I’m really interested to hear what the likes of you thought about the game.

The Disney stuff can be fun

It’s not all bad. After I realized the story isn’t gonna spark joy in me whatsoever, I started treating each Disney level as a non-canon mini-game. That made me enjoy it for what it had to offer.

Some levels felt like rushed versions of the original films with Kingdom Hearts lore thrown into the mix. Others offered some value-add to the stories we already know and love, and that truly made it more fun to play.

There’s also enough variation in each level that can make you forget you can get through most of the game by just smashing X and pressing △. The animations during battle look super flashy and the combat has a few other options you can tinker with if you get tired of smashing X.

Might be made more for long-time fans

I suspect this game was really made as more of a pay-off for long-time fans than an opportunity to acquire new ones. That’s perfectly fine. In fact, playing Kingdom Hearts III made me crave another good Final Fantasy game, but perhaps one that features tight turn-based combat versus an action RPG (role playing game) type.

Is there a game where Kairi actually does something?

There are plenty of ways to have fun with Kingdom Hearts III, but the story — which I believe should be paramount in RPGs — just isn’t one of the them. If you’re just coming into the franchise through this game, I suggest you play it for the fun Disney levels and just push the overarching story to the side.  The visual spectacle in this game is off the charts, so go ahead and enjoy that too.

By now, long-time fans would have already bought the game. If you’re one of those who are still deciding whether to get it or not, I suggest waiting a little longer for the price to drop. If you simply can’t wait, I recommend getting a second-hand copy which would also be cheaper. But whatever you decide to do, may your heart be your guiding key.

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Laptops

ASUS ZenBook 15 review: Everything you need in a laptop?

With great power, comes all the caveats in between

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Very few laptops have everything a person would ever need out of it. Whether it’s just for typing Word documents or playing all the latest games, only a handful of laptops fit the bill. ASUS has one laptop to offer, which was announced back in IFA 2018.

The ASUS ZenBook 15 has almost every piece of hardware for everyone. But is a device powered by a powerful Intel processor and a gaming-ready graphics card really worth it? Let’s find out.

Same premium design through the years

ASUS dubs their ZenBook lineup as its top-of-the-line Ultrabook. Through the years, ZenBooks have retained their premium design and feel. So when I got the chance to try the new ZenBook 15 (UX533) out, I expected nothing less — and I was impressed. The build quality of the device is great, with a sturdy metal-plastic chassis that shows little to no flex. It even feels light to bring around, at only 1.59kg.

My unit has the Icicle Silver finish that shows off the elegance of the laptop. There is an option to get it in the bolder Royal Blue color, but it will definitely feel like you own a premium device the moment you set your eyes on it.

The only real change the company implemented was the addition of the ErgoLift. Essentially, it frees up space for the laptop to release hot air instead of blasting them on the table or your lap. It’s also supposed to make the bottom-facing speakers sound better, although this really wasn’t the case when I used it.

It almost has everything for everyone

The ZenBook 15 is one powerful machine, from the inside out. My unit comes with an eighth-generation Intel Core i7-8565U processor and 16GB of RAM. This configuration alone guarantees superb performance, and the ZenBook 15 did not disappoint. Typing Word documents, surfing the web, even photo and video editing felt like a breeze with this machine. You can play games here too, but let’s save that discussion for later.

On the outside, you have a 15-inch Full HD anti-glare NanoEdge display — perfect for outdoor use at full brightness. It comes in a resolution of 1920 by 1080, a full 16:9 display with tiny bezels on the side.

It’s also equipped with a full-size backlit keyboard, with the number pad separated from the trackpad — unlike its 13-inch and 14-inch variants.

The ZenBook 15 does come with three USB Type-A ports and one USB Type-C port that supports external displays; however, it would have been better to make it as Thunderbolt port to fully maximize the potential. The laptop also comes with a dual-band Wi-Fi card, although an additional Ethernet port would have been nice, as well.

It’s got game, but it really destroys your battery life

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the ZenBook 15 is the fact that it comes with an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 Max-Q. With this graphics chip, gaming on this laptop actually feels pretty damn good. It managed to get competitive frame rates for fast-paced games like Fortnite, PUBG, and Rocket League, all with high settings. But, don’t expect the same from AAA titles like Shadow of the Tomb Raider.

Also, there is a significant increase in the laptop’s overall temperature with longer than 30 minutes of play time. The left side of the laptop felt so hot, it’s almost like you could fry an egg on it. Of course, playing for long hours on this device drains the 73Wh battery significantly faster. I got about nine to ten hours on regular use, and only two to three hours on full game mode.

The camera is honestly only good for Windows Hello

The ZenBook 15 comes with an 3D infrared HD camera that supports Windows Hello. The infrared sensors were great at facial recognition, and Windows Hello felt really easy to set up and use. But, the camera was lackluster when taking photos and videos. It only seems passable to use for video calls, but the overall image quality just doesn’t equate to HD.

The bottom-facing speakers could be better

The two Harman/Kardon speakers on the ZenBook 15 are placed on the bottom side, facing the table or your lap. Sound quality is impressive until you turn it to maximum. Apart from that, I was expecting that they would sound better because of what ErgoLift supposedly does for them.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

For PhP 89,995 (US$ 1,720), the ASUS ZenBook 15 jams almost everything you need in a premium device. And for that price you get the highest, most powerful configuration possible. Anyone can do pretty much anything with the hardware that comes with it. Apart from that, its elegant design and lightweight body make it a perfect on-the-go device. 

If you’re low on cash, you can also get the 14-inch ZenBook 14 for PhP 77,995. It only has 8GB of RAM and an NVIDIA GeForce MX150 graphics card that offers similar, but less powerful overall performance. But, you do get the illuminated number pad on the touchpad.

Of course, that is if you don’t mind the otherwise average camera and fryer-like temperatures with heavy gaming. However, if you’re looking for a laptop that can handle anything, the ZenBook 15 is for you!

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Apps

Trying out the Gixo Fitness App: A personal fitness trainer on your smartphone

Get fit on your phone!

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I know how demanding working out can be. Especially for those who are just about to start their fitness journey, it can get pretty hard learning even just the basics. And then, there’s also getting yourself to the gym — believe me, I know how it feels to drag my feet out the door on the way to an exercise class.

What if you could make it all easier for you? Saddle up, ladies. This is an app that will allow you to get exercising all through your smartphone.

Introducing: The Gixo Fitness App

Like most exercise apps, Gixo will allow you to pick out different workouts depending on your exercise preference.

Because I was in the middle of a crazy work week when I tried out the app, I figured yoga would be a great way to clear my mind and get my body relaxed.

I picked out a class I liked and it was as simple as that. Of course, there were different classes available ranging from kickboxing to strength training, to HIIT, and even weight training — perfect if you’re not into only one activity.

Since I was working out to an app, this meant I got to exercise anywhere! I set up a yoga mat in a corner of that week’s office space-slash-studio (like I said, busy work week!) and started the class.

It was a very relaxing 15-minute class, just what I needed to refresh my mind and get the blood flowing.

For a mid-week work breather, these short classes are perfect. But, if you want a more intense workout, Gixo still delivers. There are different fitness levels and class length also vary with some classes running up till 60 minutes.

As good as this all sounds, however, it’s not even Gixo’s best workout feature.

Trying out a live class

Gixo’s strength lies in the fact that you can sign on for live classes. You heard that right: You can look through a number of different scheduled classes and join whatever tickles your fancy.

These live classes are headed by actual coaches that will instruct you as you go. For this beginner class, Coach Aaron was facilitating.

The beauty of it all is that this isn’t just a person who will talk you through the exercise — watching a YouTube video can do that! The app actually allows you to communicate with the coaches during class via chatting. Communication is two-way which allows for more interactive classes.

So how it works is you have a live coach facilitating a class and based on what you signed up for, you can follow along and ask questions. On the screen, you’ll have your coach and exercise visuals to help you along.

You can also turn on your phone camera so your coach can check in on you and give you comments about your form and the actual workouts you’re on.

And because it’s highly involved, you also get to input the number of reps or even change workout locations — perfect for coached running classes!

Changing to an outdoor location switches up the workout screen

Though I’ve used fitness apps (and a lot of them) before, I’ve never really had a live coach walk me through things via an app. In fact, I don’t think any other exercise app offers the same thing. It’s a pretty cool fitness innovation, really, and I’m still geeking over how no one has thought about this setup before.

For those who want even more fitness motivation, there are also exercise challenges that span weeks that you can sign up for. Gixo allows you to pick out a set time for weekdays and weekends and you simply follow along

Final verdict

So will the Gixo app actually get you those rock hard abs you’ve always dreamed about? Well, yes and no.

The whole experience can seem pretty weird at first but it doesn’t take long for you to get used to the setup. Think of it as video calling your fitness coach; you basically get the same interaction without having to leave the comfort of wherever you are. Gixo basically takes away one big step from the working out equation and, as we all know, any help in the exercise department is a big help.

Some would contend that having and being on your phone during workouts is counterproductive. But, think about it: You’re still working out and it’s an app that will allow you these workouts anywhere at your own convenience. There’s literally no excuse now because you only need to fire up Gixo on your phone and you get live, personal fitness exercise training right then and there. Talk about not having excuses! In addition, Gixo will send you workout summaries so you’re always reminded of just how much exercising you’re actually doing.

Of course, the bottom line is that Gixo can only do so much. It’s up to you to do those exercises and get your body in tip-top shape with the inclusion of those abs you dream about so much. To be perfectly honest, though, Gixo already does a lot: It’s an app that has someone literally watching you (in a non-freaky, coaching way) while you do your exercises. If that’s not making it easy for you to meet your fitness goals, I’m not entirely sure what will.

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