Reviews

iPhone SE review: A huge step forward

2020’s flagship killer?

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What happens when you take an old iPhone and give it new parts? You get the most affordable iPhone ever.

Is Apple going backwards by releasing an “old” phone in 2020? Did Apple make a flagship killer? We have just as many questions about the new iPhone SE, and we’ll answer all of them in this review.

Design

Just like how the original iPhone SE took the tried and tested design of the iPhone 5S, the new iPhone SE reuses the chassis of the iPhone 8 including its frosted aluminum frame and glass back. It comes in 3 colors: black, white and Product (RED).

This same design means the phone is water and dust resistant and support wireless charging. It also features stereo speakers — a combination of bottom firing grills and an earpiece that doubles as a speaker also.

Subtle design changes were made, too. The Apple logo on the back of the phone is now centered and the face on the white iPhone SE is black. The gold and silver iPhone 8’s were white up front.

This familiar face is something we’ve seen since the iPhone 6 from 2015 — thick forehead and chin making enough space for that iconic circular home button.

The phone looks old, but when you buy an iPhone SE you don’t buy it for its revolutionary new design; you buy it for its price. It costs US$ 300 less than the iPhone 11, and at least US$ 400 off any Android flagship for that matter.

Its size is another point of contention. My buddy The Mr. Mobile says he wishes Apple would have kept the original SE’s form factor — that 4-inch display.

It’s probably a cult favorite by now. And from a nostalgic point of view I think that would really have been a hit in 2020.

I wonder though, if its LCD HD display would be too small for the things we do on phones these days. One question I got asked a lot was if Apple was also planning on selling a larger model — the same size as the iPhone 8 Plus.

Since the iPhone 11 Pro Max is my daily driver, the new iPhone SE feels really small. I have to remind myself it’s almost the same size as the iPhone 11 Pro.

Its large forehead and chin notwithstanding, I didn’t feel like I am using any less of an iPhone — just a smaller one.

A13 Bionic

I think an important jump off point following our discussion on design is addressing the perception that this is an old iPhone, which is why I wanna talk about the A13 Bionic Chip next.

This processor that’s on the iPhone SE is the same one that powers the flagship iPhone 11, 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max. So while it is appropriate to see the iPhone SE as Apple’s budget or midrange offering, unlike any budget or midrange Android phone, the chip that powers the new SE is powerful and top of the line.

So whether you’re playing graphics rich games like Sky: Children of Light, learning about the Corona Virus in AR on JigSpace, making the most out of quarantine by studying a new language using my favorite language app Memrise, or editing that 4K footage you just shot, both the CPU and GPU that’s on the A13 Bionic Chip have enough raw power to handle these tasks.

Cameras

The third component of this system-on-a-chip is the neural engine — 8 cores on the A13 Bionic vs 2 cores on the A11. It’s what the new iPhone SE uses to get a camera performance boost despite having the same hardware as the iPhone 8 and iPhone XR.

All 3 phones have the same single 12MP wide angle camera with an f/1.8 lens on their rear, and a 7MP camera with an f/2.2 lens up front.

On the iPhone 8 – a single camera system meant no portrait mode. On the iPhone XR, Apple used technology called Focus Pixels to create a depth map to enable portrait mode. On the new iPhone SE Apple says it harnesses the neural engine for real time machine learning — a process called monocular depth estimation.

So the new iPhone SE has six portrait lighting features: natural light, studio light, contour light, stage light, stage light mono, and high key mono. Apple has come a long way since it introduced the Beta Version of Portrait Lighting on the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus.

I found that during the day even during sunset through to blue hour, the iPhone SE held its own vs the newer iPhone 11 and 11 Pro Max.

Take this shot for example. All 3 phones have Smart HDR, so they preserved highlights and shadows on the face keeping it natural looking, while also preserving details in the background.

In all of these other examples the results are very similar.

If I were to nitpick, the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro just produce more vibrant colors and in some cases are sharper with more detail.

Other times it was almost impossible to tell the difference.

While the phone did a good job at cutouts, blur on the higher end models looked more like they were taken with a DSLR. Take a look at my arm too; on the iPhone SE’s photo that part is a bit blurry as well.

Some camera features that don’t make their way to the new iPhone SE are deep fusion and night mode. So in low light scenarios where night mode will automatically kick in on iPhone 11 and 11 Pro Max, on the iPhone SE it doesn’t.

I took a photo of these colored pencils in a dimly lit room. The iPhone 11 and 11 Pro engaged a 1 second exposure so the shots came out brighter with less noise and very accurate colors. The iPhone SE produced a decent photo. But the subject was softer and there was definitely more noise.

When the lights go out, that’s where the results are most obvious. While night mode relies on the power of the A13 Bionic Chip, it also relies on the larger image sensor on the iPhone 11. A bigger image sensor lets in more light and night mode uses multiple shots to create better results.

This is just my speculation but without that larger and better image sensor, I don’t think the results would have been the same so Apple probably made the decision to exclude the feature.

It also supports 4k video at 24, 30 and 60 fps.

Selfie camera

Apple uses the same tech to deliver portrait mode using the selfie camera. As this is a slower lens with less megapixels, the results are different but good enough.

Here are some selfie portraits taken across various shooting conditions.

Speaking of that selfie camera, another question I got was with regards to Memoji. The iPhone SE does not have the true depth system used for Face ID, so face tracking isn’t possible, but you still get access to Memoji and Animoji stickers.

SEE ALSO: 9 new Memoji stickers and what they mean in the time of coronavirus

Touch ID

Having used Face ID for around 3 years now, Touch ID took some getting used to, but it’s as fast and accurate as I remember.

At times like these where I often have to wear a mask, it’s good to have an option to easily unlock my phone or pay for things at the store.

Battery

Apple promises about the same amount of battery life as the iPhone 8. In my week with the phone I found that to be true. The iPhone SE’s battery lasted a day on a single charge with average use.

The phone ships with a 5W charge, similar to that on the iPhone 11. A 30-minute charge will get you to 25%, 60 minutes to 47%, and 90 minutes to 69%. A full charge takes over two hours.

Is the iPhone SE your GadgetMatch?

If you’re an iPhone user who have been holding on to your iPhone 6, 7, or even 8, and haven’t upgraded for many different reasons — maybe that’s how long you hold on to a phone, or you just didn’t want to let go of Touch ID, or you’re not willing to spend more than US$ 600 for a new iPhone — the new iPhone SE is your GadgetMatch.

If you’re a parent and already an iPhone user who’s looking to purchase an inexpensive iPhone for your child — so you can FaceTime and iMessage, track them with Find My, and share a Family account for apps and services like Apple Arcade and TV Plus — the iPhone SE is perfect for you, too.

If you already own an iPhone X or 11 Series, you’ll want to wait till the end of the year for Apple’s next flagship.

If you want to buy an iPhone today, but want more than one camera, shoot a lot of night photos, and prefer a more current looking device with an edge-to-edge screen and features like FaceID, my recommendation is the iPhone 11. If you really wanna go all out, get the iPhone 11 Pro or Pro Max.

Should you get the iPhone XR in 2020? Priced at US$ 200 more, I can see why anyone would consider this, especially since the iPhone SE and iPhone XR share the same camera system.

Let me start with pros for the XR. It’s a larger phone with a bigger display. It’s got a larger battery that will last longer. It has FaceID for quick and secure unlocking of your phone.

The iPhone SE has an updated processor which gives its camera an edge — things like next generation smart HDR and better depth sensing. This also gives it software improvements like six portrait lighting effects instead of four, as well as quick take using both the front and rear cameras.

If you ask me, I wouldn’t buy the iPhone XR in 2020. My suggestion is to get either the iPhone SE or spend more for the iPhone 11.

There’s also no point in getting the iPhone 8 over the SE. Apple already stopped selling it. Before the new iPhone SE went on sale, the iPhone 8 retailed for US$ 449. The iPhone SE costs US$ 50 less, but with updated hardware and will get you at least 5 years worth of iOS updates. So even if you could still buy the iPhone 8 from 3rd party resellers, I’d pick the new iPhone SE — no brainer.

I don’t usually compare iPhones and Androids; they’re just two completely different ecosystems with their own pros and cons. But because I get questions about the OnePlus 8 versus the iPhone SE a lot, I’ll answer it. The OnePlus 8 starts at US$ 699 that’s a full $300 difference. If that’s how much you’re willing to spend on the phone — I’d get the iPhone 11 over the non-pro OnePlus 8 any day.

Having said that if you’re an Android user who’s been thinking about switching but didn’t wanna break the bank on an iPhone, now is the time to take the plunge. In the Android world only Google’s Pixel 3a comes close — and while they are a good match when it comes to photos — the iPhone SE is made of premium materials and comes with top of the line specs. The Pixel 3a is made of plastic and comes with a mid-range processor.

At a time where more and more Android phones are hitting that thousand dollar mark, who would have thought that Apple would be the one to create a flagship killer? Okay, maybe that’s hyperbole.

It’s probably not a flagship killer, but it is the best value iPhone Apple has ever sold — an easy recipient of the GadgetMatch seal of approval.

Its sub-400-dollar price tag means Apple is going to sell even more iPhones. Sure, they’ve sold an iPhone for US$ 399 before — the original iPhone SE — but that was in 2016 when phone prices were very different.

If you take into account how much phones cost in 2020, it’s easy to justify calling the new iPhone SE the most affordable iPhone of all time.

And I say this over and over again — there’s more to owning an iPhone than just hardware. It also means you can enjoy the entire Apple ecosystem — a wealth of apps and services, and seamless integration with many other different Apple product.

The cheapest iPhone ever sold means that more people can take part in this experience. And if you ask me, Apple is not going backwards with the iPhone SE, but making a huge step forward.

Gaming

Forspoken review: Outspoken with little to speak of

Wait for a sale

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Forspoken

It doesn’t take a lot to create a decent roleplaying game. All you need is a fish-out-of-water character, a vast open map, and a seemingly endless list of objectives. Though it has all three, Forspoken struggles to keep up with its pretenses as a Western roleplaying game.

First, the good

Credit to where it’s due, Forspoken is a fun game for the first few sections. Exploring the incredibly huge map with magical parkour is enjoyable. Eclipsed only by Elden Ring’s Torrent, magic parkour is one of the most innovative ways to quickly traverse large distances, especially after learning more advanced techniques.

Likewise, fighting balanced enemies with limited powers provides enough of a challenge to keep players on their toes in Athia. Neither the player nor the first enemies feel overpowered.

Unfortunately, the game’s novelty quickly evaporates after you figure out that you have to repeat the same motions dozens upon dozens of times. Forspoken’s map is much larger than it ever should have been. Though abundant in number, every point of interest is separated by large distances, some platforming challenges, and a battle sequence. The greater map is empty. Do this over and over, and the game gets stale quick. With adequate rewards, this shouldn’t be a problem, but Forspoken also suffers from a communication issue.

A communication issue

For most roleplaying games, completing an objective on the map usually nets palpable rewards for the player: a significant experience boost, new skills, new gear, or a bag of loot. An open-world game necessitates a lot of exploring. Even if a game is repetitive, earning substantial rewards is satisfying, at least. Forspoken does not have this — not in an easily discernible way, at least.

Treasure chests, which account for most of the points of interest on the map, reward players with a litany of crafting materials. Most of which will go unused because the game doesn’t easily tell players how to use them. After a dozen hours of collecting materials, I had a wealthy cache of each ingredient to make practically anything. Even then, I had little idea where each one went.

The map’s major rewards — new cloaks, new nail arts, and experience — also do little to explain how Frey improves with each completed objective. Clearing out an enemy camp, for example, rewards players with +1 magic. The game does not tell you how much damage that conveys. Certainly, after completing a few of these, Frey feels stronger, but it’s not easy to see how much stronger, especially when most enemies are bullet sponges with absurd health pools anyway.

Plus, these don’t even scratch the surface of objectives wherein the main reward is literally just a lore dump you have to read from a menu.

Forspoken

Difficulty shouldn’t always mean more enemies

Another issue with clearing out Athia’s large map is how Forspoken handles difficulty. Though there are options to adjust difficulty, the game relies on a limited bag of tricks to make it more difficult for players: increasing enemy health and quantity. In moderation, relying on this strategy works. However, Forspoken does this to an obnoxious level.

Prepare to fight five mini-bosses in one encounter for a lore entry. What compounds this issue more is an insane enemy health pool which causes encounters to last a lot longer than they should. One mini-boss encounter took me 15 minutes, even with appropriately leveled gear and the right spells.

Because of the sheer number of enemies, an encounter can stun-lock Frey for an absurd amount of time. The player can hardly prevent this since it relies on chance. Despite offering a wide array of moves, the risk of knockbacks shoehorn players into a slow run-and-gun tactic (which might not even play into an enemy’s weaknesses), instead of using each ability to the max.

On paper, Forspoken’s combat offers a fluid way to take down enemies by seamlessly switching between spells and moving through the battlefield with magic parkour. Unfortunately, an imbalance in enemy strategies bogs the game down in prolonged sequences that often reward players with only middling boosts.

Forspoken

A lack of optimization

For a game released on modern hardware, Forspoken took a while to launch. The game was delayed a few times. Given how delays often work, you’d think that it would release in a fairly optimized state. It’s not.

Though I haven’t hit major game-breaking bugs, there were a number of performance dips throughout the game. Even on performance-focused settings, framerates dropped to a standstill when there were high particle effects on screen. Frey constantly clipped through the terrain and found herself stuck on finnicky edges (which sometimes required reloading from previous saves).

The game is also dragged down by numerous cutscenes. Though not a bug per se, it’s not a great sign of optimization that the game has to pause for a cutscene just to show enemies arriving. For a game featuring fluid movement and combat, Forspoken often takes players out of the action by pausing for unnecessary cutscenes.

Forspoken

Better on sale

Overall, Forspoken is persistently flawed. However, amid the game’s shortcomings, the title still has an exciting combat and movement system. Plus, if you disregard the tedious open world, Forspoken’s linear story, featuring the wide range of abilities, are enjoyable. My interest always bounces back after beating one of the game’s main bosses.

Still, it’s hard to call Forspoken a game worthy of its AAA price tag. It might be better to wait for a discount.

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Computers

MSI Summit E16 Flip review: Creator on the go

A plethora of ways to be as productive and creative as possible

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We all love a good 2-in-1 device that gives us everything we need all in one go. From portability to productivity, devices like these truly bring out the best in everyone no matter what kind of use case you throw at it. Such is the case for MSI, a brand notably known for gaming hardware but has their fair share of productivity-focused laptops, as well.

One such 2-in-1 device under MSI’s portfolio is the MSI Summit E16 Flip, complete with hardware and features for the more well-rounded user out there. With a rather slim form factor, the device would ideally mix both portability and productivity in one. Also, it comes with some external hardware that elevates the productivity just a bit further, as well.

With all these in mind, is the MSI Summit E16 Flip a worthy option for all your productivity needs?

Performing above expectations

The MSI Summit E16 Flip performs rather fantastically for any given situation; whether you’re working or watching, it has the hardware to keep up. Inside this machine is a 12th generation Intel Core i7 processor and 16GB of RAM — a standard for most productivity-laden devices. Most applications run smoothly on this device, which is expected as a daily driver for most tasks.

It also comes with a 16:10, QHD+ anti-glare display, which does provide a bigger canvas for multitasking with multiple windows open. This IPS touch display is quite bright and color-accurate, especially at peak brightness and in broad daylight. Whether you’re working during the day or watching movies at night, this device is perfect for these activities.

Gaming and creating on the go

Much like all other MSI laptops, the MSI Summit E16 Flip comes with a dedicated NVIDIA RTX 3050Ti GPU inside. Although not as powerful as oher mobile GPUs, this one packs a punch for a good balance of gaming performance with high quality graphics. When throwing in Esports titles, the device poured in high frame rates suited for competitive play.

Of course, a powerful GPU also enables greater performance when editing photos and videos in high quality, as well. This is also helped out by the display having a 165Hz refresh rate with a 1ms response rate, so you don’t miss out on any out of place pixels. From our tests, render times for HD videos were decent enough — about 2 minutes for a 15-second video with many visual elements.

A pen and large display for your notes

Part of the package for the MSI Summit E16 Flip is the addition of the MSI Pen for those who prefer a pen over a mouse/trackpad. This additional accessory links up quite quickly, and lasts for more than a day on a full charge. Also, it comes with a few magnetized areas so it sticks to the side of the laptop or the top of the display for ease of access.

Ideally, you’d need something like the MSI Pen if you’re more into drawing illustrations or taking down handwritten notes — and it shows. From legible handwriting to brush strokes, the device was able to pick up on these inputs well. It even supports other Windows gestures like zoom, drag, and multi-select — essentially replicating the wide trackpad.

Although, from our usage of the device, the display has this slight problem with rejecting palms on top of it. While writing with the MSI Pen, it is natural to rest your palm somewhere on the display yet even inputs from that get picked up. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but something to be wary of.

Lasts decently long for consistent productivity

Longevity is another thing the MSI Summit E16 Flip provides, specifically on the battery side of things. Throughout our usage of the device, on normal usage, it lasts around 10-11 hours which is pretty decent for the hardware. Accounting for higher quality videos playing, the device lasted for 9-10 hours on average.

When gaming full time or even rendering higher quality videos, the battery does take a hit, as expected. For full time video rendering, it drained its battery after three and a half hours on average, while gaming cut it down to around two to three hours.

Although, if you need to get back into your productivity workflow, the MSI Summit E16 Flip restores its battery quickly with the charger it comes with. On average, charging the device took around two hours from nothing to full, which should put you back in action.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

Starting PhP 130,999, the MSI Summit E16 Flip has everything you need in a 2-in-1 device when you’re on the move. From the hardware to the accessories, it’s a well-rounded machine designed for the multihyphenated or those who work and play hard. Also, its overall design makes it a bit easier to bring around.

If money isn’t entirely an issue, this laptop is one great upgrade option out there both as a work machine and a creator hub. Accessory-wise, the MSI Pen should be on your list of must-haves when purchasing this device, in case a mouse doesn’t suit your liking.

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Gaming

Serial Cleaners review: Stealth in the mafia

Outrunning the police, but you can’t outrun the truth

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Serial Cleaners

As seen in most crime movies, clean up duty is one of the hardest things to do. Basically, every little detail must be accounted for when you’re protecting people in high places. As they say, “leave no stone unturned” when hiding the truth of the crime. The moment the clean up guy messes up, normally everything bad happens after that.

In essence, that’s what Serial Cleaners is all about: the life of a person doing clean up duties for murders that take place anywhere. Although, the murders you’re cleaning up is from the mafia you work for. And it’s not just one person handling the cleaning process. As the cleaners gather for maybe one last time before Y2K, they reminisce on the life of crime they chose to protect.

Is Serial Cleaners a game to try and experience in full? Honestly, the work speaks for itself.

Four different characters with a unique take on stealth

Serial Cleaners is the rather riveting sequel to the 2017 game called (wait for it), Serial Cleaner. Bob returns from the prequel and brings together a group of his cleaners for one last night before Y2K. To start off, you get to know just a little bit more about each of the characters. You also find out how Bob recruited them into the business of cleaning up murders.

Each character comes in with their own unique take on how to either successfully hack into systems or hide/dispose of corpses just scattered around as evidence. The key to this game is literal stealth and precise planning of your next move in order to avoid capture, so understanding how they work is key.

Honestly, I felt this was a rather unique way to introduce character stages while staying true to the main idea of the gameplay. Obviously, it’s a step in the right direction to simply let the characters be their own thing, instead of forcing the same gameplay style across all of them. You get to experience everyone in their own way, which makes the gameplay totally varied.

Game controls that could be improved

Overall, the controls of this game feels quite easy to work around, especially during the early stages. It’s even a lot more interesting knowing that you have different play styles to work with, which further deepens the experience. Also, there’s no kind of linear progression in play, so you can proceed however you want.

In most cases with the games I play, I normally adjust controls according to my default keybinds that are comfortable. This was something I applied to most of the actions, like using Bob’s vacuum or running/scaling fences with Dati. Gameplay and progression feel a bit better when you customize your keybinds in that way, but the default ones aren’t bad either. 

Serial Cleaners

If you’re playing this on PC, though, you might have to get used to just using your keyboards mostly. I genuinely found it a bit jarring at first. There are certain actions in the game that fit better with mouse controls, but still solely relied on the keyboard. In any case, there are possible solutions around it. But it would have been nice if the mouse was part of it.

Fantastic art design through and through

Serial Cleaners

What drew me to the game as I progressed through most of the main storyline was how the visuals looked. From the loading screens to all the different places in New York that each level is staged in, a full 90s backdrop works just well with this game. Also, the fact that it’s done in a 2D space instead of 3D is well-suited.

Serial Cleaners

I even felt it when halfway through the game, the mood within the group starts to sour rather quickly. Subtle lighting changes, along with some blood, body-hiding stories, allowed the whole plot to progress in the fashion that it did. Of course, with all the twists and turns along the way, the story ends in any way you decide.

Not much of a bloody mess to clean up

Overall, Serial Cleaners was a fun time to get through for the most part. Although I am in the process of uncovering every possible story ending, I have no problem going through every chapter. With variety in gameplay styles plus a rather DIY-style of storytelling, this game provided an experience that is unique.

The biggest thing with this game is that on PC, you’re limited to just the keyboard for full control. You literally navigate through menus with the mouse anyway, so it made sense to use it beyond just menu navigation. Although, you have the option to use a controller for a better experience. Still, I felt this was a miss in the gameplay style.

Even with the mass amount of murders you have to clean up, Serial Cleaners gave me a glimpse of how a group of misfits managed to keep things bottled up for so long. It’s a story of friendship, cold-blood murders, and doing what you gotta do to not get caught with your hands dirty — a thrill we can all appreciate.

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