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iPhone 12 review: Who needs the Pro?

Significant improvements for less

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The story of the iPhone 12 can be summed up in three parts. First, the way Apple improved on it to the point where it’s closer to the Pro model than ever; second, how its new A14 Bionic chip and the addition of 5G offer more than what the average consumer needs; and third, the introduction of MagSafe and what this might mean about the iPhone’s future.

What’s in a name? Everything

In one brilliant marketing move not too long ago, Apple changed the way we look at phones. Back then, the iPhone XS and XS Max were all the rage — top of the line, the iPhones to get. Then there was the more affordable iPhone XR, which reviewers might call a premium midranger.

Apple flipped the switch by just changing their naming scheme. The iPhone XR became the iPhone 11 — the phone for everyone. The iPhone XS and XS Max became the 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max — the iPhones for prosumers, users with more “pro” needs.

This year, the iPhone 12 continues that legacy. It’s still the iPhone for most people. It’s even more more compelling this time around.

Fresh new design

Every few years Apple redesigns the iPhone to keep it looking fresh and trigger that gadget lust in all of us. 2020 is one of those years.

This year’s design isn’t completely new. It’s partly inspired by the flat edges that we first saw on the iPhone 5 and then later, the original iPhone SE. It’s one of the most beloved iPhone designs.

If you ask me, there was nothing wrong about last year’s design. In fact, I liked its rounded frame. It felt comfy when gripped. Still, the redesign is lit. As a fan of all things blue, the new blue color is to die for. It also comes in Product Red, mint green, black, and white.

Apple’s choice of materials and finish are the same. The iPhone 12 is wrapped in a matte aluminum frame and a glossy back, and the camera module contrasts nicely against its glossy glass back. It’s bright and eye catching, which means it’s most likely going to be covered up with a case. The only bit of color that peeks through is the camera module.

The high gloss finish picks up smudges. If you’re averse to that and plan to use your iPhone unprotected, white is the way to go.

Tougher than ever

Since we’re on the topic of protection, it’s worth pointing out that Apple uses something called Ceramic Shield as the top layer of the display. They’re not calling it glass but it is. It’s made with a composite of glass and ceramic. Apple claims this material gives the screen 4x more drop resistance.

Apart from that, the choice to keep the display flushed against the frame improves durability. Tests by insurance company AllState confirm these claims, and so does a YouTube video by EverythingApplePro.

Just remember Ceramic Shield is only on the front and not on the back of the phone.

I’ve seen a lot of incorrect assumptions on social media, so I think it needs to be stressed that Apple is not promising improved scratch resistance. Keys are still going leave your iPhone 12 with scuffs. If that bothers you, get a screen protector. If you can afford it, I recommend Apple Care. It’s US$ 9.99/month and that covers up two screen damage repairs per year at a minimal US$ 29 service fee.

Pro display

It’s important that the iPhone has a great display. since it’s the part of the phone that you look at the most. Unpopular opinion: Apple has been really good at delivering a solid experience regardless of what it says on its spec sheet.

Display was also one of the biggest differentiators between the non-Pro and Pro models. The iPhone 11 had an LCD Display with only a 720p resolution. The 11 Pro had an OLED panel, Full HD resolution, and support for High Dynamic Range.

This time around that gap just doesn’t exist. The iPhone12 and iPhone 12 Pro both have the same top of the line Super Retina XDR Display. It’s an excellent panel with rich colors, lots of punch and contrast and enough brightness even outdoors under the sun.

In keeping with its more flat design aesthetic, the display rests flush against the frame and doesn’t have those gentle curves as before.

If you look closely, the edges of the display have been pushed out further, too. This means that even if the display is 6.1 inches like the iPhone 11 and the iPhone XR, the iPhone 12 takes up a smaller footprint. Going by Apple’s numbers: It’s 15% smaller, 11% thinner, and 16% lighter.

If you’re coming from either of those two phones and like their size, there’s not much of a size difference to worry about. If you’re switching from an iPhone 8, X, or XS then you’re gonna get a slightly bigger phone.

The iPhone 12 mini, with all the same specs and features as the iPhone 12, is coming soon. That phone will be smaller than the 2020 iPhone SE, making it the smallest phone in Apple’s current lineup.

Top notch, literally

While the industry has tried its best to combat the notch and conceal the selfie camera, the iPhone has had the same big notch for four generations now. It’s there for a reason: to house the True Depth sensor that enables Face ID. Face ID is still the most secure face unlock system out there.

While a completely edge-to-edge display is nice to have, the notch does not bother me and Face ID remains my favorite way to unlock. That is, until the industry can figure out under display selfie cameras.

When the pandemic struck it got inconvenient. When the new iPad Air was announced to have Touch ID built into the home button, I hoped Apple would put the same feature onto the new iPhones. Pulling down my mask or typing in my passcode when I’m out to pay for something is not only inconvenient, it isn’t safe either.

Dual camera system

The iPhone 12 has two cameras. There’s a new 12 megapixel wide camera with a faster f/1.6 lens for better low light performance. The iPhone 11’s main camera had a slightly slower f/1.8 aperture. It retains the same 12 megapixel ultra-wide angle camera. Missing is a telephoto camera, which you will get from the Pro model.

Aside from hardware improvements, Apple improved what it cheekily refers to as computational photography mad science. This tech is responsible for features like Deep Fusion, Smart HDR 3 and Night Mode, which are not available on all cameras.

Here are some sample photos we took with the iPhone 12.

The weather in New York has been mostly rainy so these first few shots are from a cloudy day in Brooklyn.

The faster main lens means the iPhone 12 can take photos with a shallower depth of field. Photos also turn out brighter in low light. As you can see in this shot of Chay’s affogato sundae, the second scoop of ice cream is already out of focus. Chay loves ice cream so much so you get a night time shot of her Pistachio gelato, too. This was taken without night mode. See all those balls of bokeh.

The iPhone 12 doesn’t have night mode for portrait mode. That feature can be found on the iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max. The shallower lens lets in more light, so portrait mode does a really good job in low light nonetheless. The iPhone 12 is supposedly better at depth segmentation. It should be better at cutting out things like glasses or strands of Chay’s hair. In our tests, the results came out not perfect, but they were not bad either. In photography school, they tell you never to take photos against the light. With Smart HDR 3 on the iPhone 12, go right ahead! Notice all the details on Chay’s face despite the challenging shooting scenario.

I also tested Night Mode across all cameras. Here are examples using the main wide angle lens, the ultra-wide angle camera, and the selfie camera.

Hardware-wise the the ultra-wide angle camera is unchanged. It’s still sufficiently wide for dramatic shots like this.

Thanks to Night Mode, it’s now usable in low light. Resulting photos are softer versus those taken with the main camera.

The iPhone has a long history of being one of the best smartphones for videography and the iPhone 12 is no exception. Watch this montage of a cloudy, gloomy New York City shot on the iPhone 12:

A14 Bionic

The iPhone 12 is powered by Apple’s new A14 Bionic Chip. This is the world’s first 5 nanometer processor. According to benchmarks it blows its competition out of the water.

I’m not that big of a benchmark guy, but in the week that I used the iPhone 12 it took everything I threw at it. Graphics intensive games like Asphalt 9 and console style Apple Arcade titles like Way of the Turtle ran well. Shooting and editing videos using the new Dolby Vision format were not a problem either.

The phone can do everything else that we do on the daily easily — catching up on social media, messaging, and browsing GadgetMatch.com because it’s my daily habit.

To put it simply, A14 Bionic is probably overkill for what you do on your phone everyday. This also means that the iPhone 12 will be able to meet your performance needs 3-5 years down the line, if you plan on holding on to it that long.

Battery life and charging

If there’s one touchy subject concerning the iPhone 12, it’s got to be battery and charging. Some folks are not too pleased that Apple no longer includes a power adapter in the box.

I respect Apple’s decision to prioritize the environment. It’s a tough, inconvenient one to make, and I respect that Apple is leading the charge.

While people like me might have plenty of USB-C power adapters lying around, not everyone does. It would have been nice if Apple offered store credit so those new to the world of USB-C can get one for free. It’s worth pointing out that Apple slashed the price of its USB-C power adapters from US$ 29 to US$ 19 following the iPhone 12’s launch. Price of Lightning EarPods, which are not included in the box, was also reduced from US$ 29 to US$ 19.

Another touchy subject: The iPhone 12 has a smaller battery than the iPhone 11 according to teardowns. This shouldn’t be that big of an issue considering how much more power efficient A14 Bionic is. However, the iPhone 12 also supports 5G networks. This alone drains the battery faster.

In my tests my iPhone 12 lasted longer when I switched to LTE. I got 6-8 hours of screen-on time on LTE, while 5G Auto gave me only 4-5 hours. The latter is a smart mode that switches between LTE and 5G based on what tasks you’re doing.

The iPhone 12 supports fast charging with Apple’s optional 20W USB-C charger. You can also use faster ones like those that come bundled with Macs, or other third party chargers. By fast charging I don’t mean the crazy speeds you get from OnePlus’ Warp Charge. That tech can get you from 0 to 100% in less than an hour.

Using Apple’s 20W charger, the iPhone 12 got to 20% in 10 minutes, 47% in 30 minutes, and 80% in an hour. A full charge took close to two hours.

MagSafe today, zero ports tomorrow

Perhaps, the big news this year is the optional accessory called MagSafe, which appears to be Apple setting the stage for a port-less future. For now, it’s being marketed as a smarter way to wirelessly charge.

By placing a sheet of magnet paper on top of the iPhone 12, you’ll see where the magnets are. These allow the phone to attach to this MagSafe charging puck. This is an optional US$ 40 purchase from Apple. The charger only attaches one way — where the outline of the circle is. It also lights up and makes a sound.

If you own a wireless charging mat, you’ve probably woken up to find that your phone didn’t charge overnight because you improperly laid it down. MagSafe solves this problem.

As it is today, it’s not fast charger by any means. It only supports up to 15W wireless charging. In my tests I got to 10% in 10 minutes and 57% in an hour. A full charge took about 2 hours and 45 minutes. It’s definitely more of an overnight charger and not one you should rely on for quick top ups.

Apple also sells a range of accessories that support MagSafe. There are new silicone cases and a magnetic wallet that all snap together and make different colored animations.

Do you need 5G?

With every smartphone manufacturer launching a 5G phone this year, it comes as no surprise that it’s also the iPhone’s headline feature. From its product page on Apple.com to the amount of time spent talking about it during the launch event — it’s everywhere.

Let me preface by saying this: Don’t buy the iPhone 12 just for 5G. Depending on where you live in the world 5G might not even have rolled out at all. In the US, carriers like Verizon and T-Mobile are aggressively advertising and rolling out nationwide. You see it everywhere in a big city like New York, but I know this isn’t the case for everyone.

This chicklet shape on the side of the iPhone 12 is unique to US models. It’s actually a window for the mmWave antenna – a different kind of 5G that’s only currently supported by Verizon. It should give you faster speeds but it’s not as reliable right now.

I tracked down a few Verizon Ultra Wideband spots around Manhattan and Brooklyn but I could not get anything more than 200 Mbps. I even went to a tried and tested corner of Bryant Park where I used to get speeds of 1700 Mbps. T-Mobile’s sub-6 network was giving me faster speeds.

Not that 200 or 300 Mbps down isn’t fast enough. I tried to download an entire Troy Sivan album and it completed in mere seconds. With 5G you can now make HD FaceTime calls over cellular. That’s better quality video calls than was previously possible.

All of this said, 5G is here. There are growing pains, but it’s good to know that when you get the iPhone 12, you’re getting a device that supports it.

WATCH: Will 5G change our lives?

Is the iPhone 12 your GadgetMatch?

This time last year, I used the iPhone 11 for a good two months. I wanted to know if a pro user like me could survive on the non-pro model? TL;DR I didn’t mind at all. This year Apple brought the gap between the 12 and 12 Pro even closer.

Upgrades from the iPhone 11 are also significant enough: a Super Retina XDR display, improved photo and video performance, 5G support, and an eye-catching redesign.

You might not need all of this today. All these improvements, however, guarantees that your iPhone can keep up five years down the road. That’s the same amount of time that Apple guarantees iOS updates.

It’s worth noting that these improvements come with a US$ 100 price increase from last year. The iPhone 12 starts at US$ 799 for the 64GB model. If recommend spending US$ 50 more to get the 128GB model.

Unless you need more storage, more RAM, and a telephoto camera, I recommend saving your money and getting the iPhone 12 over the iPhone 12 Pro.

I wholeheartedly believe that the iPhone 12 is the one most iPhone users should consider. If you have an iPhone that’s two years or older and are considering an upgrade, now is a good time to do so.

The iPhone 12 is an excellent phone, reasonably priced, and backed up by a rich ecosystem of apps, services, and other devices that are designed to work together seamlessly.

There is nothing quite like it.

Practical Smart Home

Amazon Fire TV review: Best $250 TV?

Which Fire TV is your GadgetMatch?

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Sometimes, all we need is a generic flat-screen TV to fill the void in our living space. But the thing is, you don’t need to sacrifice picture quality alongside a cheaper price tag.

From the Kindle to Echo Show, Amazon now has its own smart TVs — and by that we mean smart TVs, not just a smart TV stick you attach.

Ranging from 43 to a whopping 75-inches, which Amazon Fire TV between the Omni and the 4-series is your GadgetMatch?

Watch our Amazon Fire TV review to know more.

 

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Gaming

Lenovo Legion S7 review: Is it too slim for your liking?

A continuation of power, performance, and portability

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Legion S7
Is the Lenovo Legion S7 too slim?

Every gaming laptop out there just seems typical, complete with the RGB and the hefty design. Yes, there have been other laptops that are starting to break the mold. However, they did so while sacrificing some huge features in the process. Although, that hasn’t stopped most manufacturers like Lenovo from trying their hardest.

What we have here is the Lenovo Legion S7, with the “S” literally standing for “slim.” On paper and by design, it’s possibly one of the slimmest gaming laptops currently available. Just from the unboxing experience alone, it raises a few eyebrows design-wise and the hardware inside it. Beneath its slim chassis, there lies the beast, as they say.

But is this a gaming laptop worth considering given its potential sacrifices? Let’s find out.

Ticks all the boxes for general performance

 

Every gaming laptop brings impeccable performance for most day-to-day tasks, and the Lenovo Legion S7 is no exception. Of course, the biggest contributor to great performance lies within the hardware, and this machine certainly brings the firepower with an AMD Ryzen 9 CPU inside.

As advertised, the Legion S7 provides performance suitable for any task thrown at it. Whether you’re working on work documents or creating your next gameplay video, the laptop handles these things with relative ease. Also, you can effectively multitask on this device no problem with 32GB of RAM to support.

Now, the Legion S7 comes with Windows 10 pre-installed, which was alright. However, seeing how most people were hopping onto Windows 11 at the time, it made sense to upgrade the software first since it’s possible. In the three weeks that the laptop was tested, software issues didn’t occur so that’s a good start!

Decent competitive gaming performance

Legion S7

When talking about gaming performance, there’s two things to factor in: the GPU, and the display. For the Lenovo Legion S7, an NVIDIA RTX 3060 with a 165Hz anti-glare FHD display seems like the ideal combo for a gaming device suitable for casual and competitive gamers out there. In reality, this lived up to expectations quite well.

For casual and competitive titles, the Legion S7 provides great performance and frame rates with a smoother feel to them. Sure, a FHD display limits the full dynamic color range compared to the 4K option for this device. But when playing competitively, that hardly ever matters. Games like VALORANT and Halo Infinite felt pretty smooth and looked vibrant when playing.

Legion S7

With RTX on, some games look pretty good but with the obvious frame rate sacrifice, especially with cranked up settings. Although, unlike other RTX mobile GPUs, the frame rate sacrifice isn’t as much, which was pretty good. For example, games like Fortnite and Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy had about an 8 to 10 percent drop in FPS with RTX on vs. RTX off.

Battery life is just good enough for mini breaks

Legion S7

Much like every other gaming laptop out there, this device doesn’t last particularly long when used for casual or competitive play. On average, the Legion S7 lasts about 6-7 hours just on productivity and casual gaming on the side. When cranked up to perform at competitive levels, it cuts the lifespan to just 2-3 hours, which was expected.

To its credit, the Legion S7 comes with a 230W battery pack that will nest it back to full health in at most 3 hours. With Rapid Charge Pro turned on through Lenovo Vantage, it cuts the charge time by just an hour. Still, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s quite fast and would actually give you a short break after playing your heart out.

Some questionable design features

 

As much as the Lenovo Legion S7 boasts impressive gaming performance, there are a couple of things that hold it back from its true potential. For one, it’s quite slim and has the potential to get quite hot when playing too much. Sure, Coldfront 3.0 will do what it can to keep things cool, but it still gets warmer quite fast so it’s something worth noting.

Second is in port selection, particularly with what they gave up for this machine. Fortunately, they kept the charging port and two USB Type-A 3.0 ports at the back so nothing got in the way. However, for a gaming laptop to exclude an Ethernet port and an HDMI slot is quite alarming. 

Sure, it’s to highlight the WiFi 6 capabilities along with using the Thunderbolt 3 USB-C ports at the right side of the device. However, having a Gigabit Ethernet port significantly improves network performance especially for competitive play. Also, most external gaming displays still come with HDMI ports so it was a missed opportunity.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

For what it’s worth, the Lenovo Legion S7 is an ideal gaming device for both casual and competitive gamers. It’s slim form factor combined with powerful hardware provides the power and portability that the Legion brand consistently delivers. With a high refresh rate display and RTX-capable GPU, it even provides a solid boost to gaming performance.

Of course, even the Legion S7 has some hits and misses in there. From questionable exclusions to just decent battery life, it fails to maximize its potential to be truly something better than before. Still, with what it has going for it as presently constructed, it’s still a great gaming device on-the-go.

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Health

Meross Smart Wi-Fi Air Purifier review: 6 months later

An affordable option for better indoor air quality

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One Sunday at a Japanese makers market, I came across the material shirasu, a natural ceramic material created using the byproducts of volcanic magma. It’s been widely used by the Japanese in construction for many years now, but because it’s a material that came from the depths of the earth, it’s also got air purifying properties.

One pamphlet about shirasu pointed out that part from food and water, a huge percentage of what humans consume is air — and that indoor pollution is worse than outdoor. We clean our produce thoroughly before cooking it, and the water we drink is filtered, so why don’t we think about cleaning the air we breathe as much?

While I came out of that market empty-handed, I remembered that I’ve been using the Meross Smart Wi-Fi Air Purifier for 6 months now and its filter is due for a replacement.

I already know how dirty my apartment gets just by the sheer amount of dust bunnies my vacuum collects on a weekly basis. What I do not know is how much dirt and pollutants get trapped in the air, so I am both curious and scared to find out.

Buy the Meross Smart Wi-Fi Air Purifier

What’s in the box?

Packaging is as simple as it gets. The Meross Smart Wi-Fi Air Purifier comes in a white box, with Meross’ logo and the air purifier’s picture in front.

Inside are the air purifier, a Meross 3-Stage H13 HEPA filter, as well as the installation guide, and a USB-C power adapter.

Meross says the included 3-Stage H13 HEPA filter has a pre-filter which isolates large particles such as hair and dust, and the filter itself, which catches 99.97% of particles at 0.3 microns including smoke, pollen, pet dander, and contaminated particles. The innermost layer is activated carbon, which removes odors, cooking smells, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and other toxic substances.

Although not a big deal, I appreciate that it plugs in via USB-C. In case the plug needs replacing in the future, I’m confident I can find a spare cable and plug from other devices I have instead of buying a proprietary one.

Minimalist design

The air purifier from Meross has a minimalist cylindrical body. Its metal chassis makes it feel more premium — something I wouldn’t mind showing off if I didn’t have an empty corner to tuck it in. It’s also slim and doesn’t take up too much space, which makes it perfect for a small apartment like mine.

Currently it only comes in white. All my furniture are in a lighter shade of oak and bamboo giving my apartment a light and airy vibe. The purifier, albeit not a decor, doesn’t clash against the aesthetics of the apartment. It would be nice to have a dark color option though for those whose interiors have a more industrial or rustic feel.

Easy setup

Setting up the air purifier is easy peasy; so easy that I think even my boomer parents can figure it out.

You open the air purifier at the bottom to insert the filter. There are engraved guides for unlocking and locking the bottom lid.

Once the filter is in and secure, download the Meross app and set up an account. Plug the air purifier and follow the instructions on the app to connect it to your home network. That’s it, you’re all set. It works with Apple’s HomeKit, Siri, Amazon Alexa, and Google Assistant, too.

Buy the Meross Smart Wi-Fi Air Purifier

On the Meross app and HomeKit, you can adjust the speed and power it on or off.  There is also a physical button on top of the air purifier for these same functions.

Loud and lacking

If there’s something I would have wanted on the Meross air purifier, it’s sensors. It’s as basic as it gets.

Because of the lack of sensors, it doesn’t monitor the quality of air, so adjusting the speed has to be done manually. When I open my balcony door for example, inviting more dust and pollutants into my apartment, I would turn it up to the highest setting myself.

It’s the same story when I’m cooking, and I cook a lot. Instead of automatically adjusting to get rid of the odors coming from the kitchen, I have to go into the app to turn it up.

Over the last 6 months of using the air purifier, I found myself forgetting to do this more and more, so I don’t really know how much toxic substances I could have avoided inhaling at this point.

Another pain point I’ve noticed is that the Meross Air Purifier is loud. At night I would make it a point to adjust it to the maximum speed so I wouldn’t wake up sneezing from my allergies as much. Doing so generates a whiny humming sound, which I think would bother some people.

Because I grew up in a relatively noisy city and live in New York now, I’ve learned to ignore it. The noise is a compromise I’m willing to live with because I do find myself sneezing less in the morning when it’s on high.

Replacement filter

On the Meross app, you can monitor the life of the included HEPA filter. Meross suggests replacing it every 3-6 months. I got the alert to get a new one close to 6 months after I set it up.

A replacement filter costs $25 on Amazon. On Meross’ website, they have an image of how gray dirty the filters get after a few months.

Left: Meross’ photo. Right: my HEPA filter after 6 months of use

Six months later, the included filter that I put in still has the original blue color it came in, with just a bit of dust sticking on it here and there.

This means either the air quality in my apartment isn’t as bad as others, or the air purifier doesn’t work as well as it should.

Seeing as how brand new looking my filter still is, I’ve held off on buying a replacement for now to save the $25.

Is the Meross Smart Wi-Fi Air Purifier your GadgetMatch?

The Meross air purifier retails for US$ 139.99 on the Meross website and US$ 129.99 on Amazon. It’s one of the more affordable options in the market, and the cheapest one that supports HomeKit.

As long as you don’t mind the noise and the lack of sensors, the Meross air purifier will do the job. I can’t imagine living in a city like New York in the world without an air purifier. This, combined with a vacuum and some house plants that help clean and purify the air in my apartment are a must.

Buy the Meross Smart Wi-Fi Air Purifier

If you control your smarthome with HomeKit and are on a strict budget, the Meross air purifier is the one to get. If you want an air purifier that monitors indoor air quality, look elsewhere or buy a separate sensor to connect to your smart home.

One day, I’ll have a home whose walls are built using shirasu so I’ll worry about air quality less. For now, the Meross Smart Wi-Fi Air Purifier will have to do.

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