Whenever I review an LG flagship smartphone, I ask myself: Where do I begin?
It has always been the Korean brand’s conviction to jam as many features as technologically possible into its best handsets, in hopes of hitting it big with at least one target audience.
This way of thinking actually worked; the LG G3 introduced an overabundance of power to a fault, the G Flex was absolutely massive during its time and had self-healing abilities, and the V10 doubled the number of screens and cameras on its face.
Every attempt created cult followings for each device, but the constant envelope pushing failed to create a consistent design philosophy for LG’s best phones.
LG’s latest flagship, the V20, is no different, and once again overwhelms with features you didn’t think you’d need until you actually tried them. The best way to review it is by breaking things down to test notes.
The V20 is too big, even for a phablet
Yes, it’s supposed to be a handful, but even for a 5.7-inch smartphone, the body is far too tall and takes lots of finger stretching to properly use. Last year’s V10 did it right by at least covering the back with grippy rubber; the V20 has none of that. On the bright side, the Quad HD LCD screen is gorgeous, and doesn’t make me miss my beloved AMOLED displays.
I can live without the secondary screen
What distinguishes LG’s V series from the rest is the 2.1-inch secondary display on top for quick settings and glances at notifications. Unfortunately, like last year’s attempt, I rarely see any use for it, and I’d rather just swipe the notifications shade down and have everything at once. The annoying light bleed from the left of the screen is also still present.
Shock-proofing is a killer feature
Having a shock-proof shell is such an underrated feature for any smartphone; anyone who hates having to buy an extra case will agree. The only thing missing is waterproofing, which is probably a side effect of the removable back. This brings us to…
The rear cover’s eject button looks like a camera shutter key
I can’t count the number of times I accidentally reached for the eject button, thinking I could take a photo by clicking it. To everyone’s relief, however, swapping out the battery is so much more intuitive than the G5’s application, which was a multi-step chore.
This phone is fast
As in really fast. The V20 blazes through the interface and switching between apps. We can credit the high-end Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor and 4GB of memory, but the real star is Android 7.0 Nougat, which is still a rarity in the market — only 0.3 percent have it! The double-tapping action to quickly jump between two apps, in particular, is to die for.
I only wish LG’s custom interface were lighter
The user interface LG plasters over Android is once again a hot mess. Even though there are several smart design cues, such as removing the app drawer by default and allowing you to modify the on-screen navigation buttons, overloading the notifications shade and settings menu is a no-no.
Audio is both good and bad
The good: There’s a noise-cancelling mic for clear concert recordings and 32-bit Quad DAC for producing high-quality music playback through headphones. The bad: The single loudspeaker at the bottom chin is terrible at times. It’s best to have at least a portable speaker on hand when going on trips.
This is the most fun I’ve ever had with a smartphone camera
Unlike last year’s V10, the V20’s dual-camera setup is found on the back. It’s implementation is just like the G5’s, in which one 8-megapixel camera handles ultra-wide-angle shots, while the 16-megapixel shooter creates slightly zoomier, yet just as beautiful photos. The front-facing 5-megapixel camera has a single lens, and utilizes software magic to carry on the choice between wide selfies and extra-wide groufies. (Did I spell that correctly?)
Here are samples photos from all three cameras. Notice how punchy the colors are and how sharp subjects can get even when it’s dark outside, although the rear cameras had trouble figuring out the correct exposure under artificial indoor lighting. Believe me when I say the focusing speed and shot-to-shot times were speedy for both photo and video modes.
Don’t count on the battery life
Battery life was the primary weakness of the V10, and the same issue is back on the V20. With only a 3200mAh capacity to power two screens, it’s not much of a surprise. However, even with the secondary display turned off, there wasn’t a significant improvement in screen-on time. My average usage time on a single charge hovered below four hours, which is way below the five to six hours I’d get on similarly sized phones.
The upside is fast charging can bring the V20 to full in about two hours, and if you’re willing to spend for an extra battery, you can swap within a few quick steps.
This is odd
In a strange design decision, the power button is still located on the rear-mounted fingerprint sensor. Sounds convenient, right? Problem is, you could accidentally unlock the phone if all you want to do is turn off the handset while on the lockscreen. You can double-tap the screen to make it sleep, but it’s nowhere near as accurate as a dedicated physical key.
It doesn’t help that the button feels cheap; it wobbles when you click it at certain angles. I wish LG just stuck to leaving the power switch on the side, like every other smartphone in the market.
Is this your GadgetMatch?
I’ll be honest: I absolutely adored the V10, and it was my favorite smartphone of 2015 in a sea of boring choices. My expectations for the V20, in turn, were sky high, and sadly, all weren’t met.
I miss the rugged, rubberized look of the V10, its sharp corners, and well-placed rear volume controls. That’s the situation you must live with when loving a certain LG; its successor will most certainly look totally different.
Going back to the question: This is not a match for those who loved the V10, but it’s an excellent choice for those who love high-quality audio recording, removable batteries, and a collection of the most updated features.
With the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 out of order and the Apple iPhone 7 Plus having the same design as its predecessors, the V20 with its plus-sized proportions stands out. It’s quite pricey, though; the unit I reviewed retails for PhP 35,990 (almost $740), but you get what you pay for in terms of premium components.
Honor Play Review: The budget flagship
Setting up a new category among smartphones
When Honor started, it was introduced to be just another Huawei phone or a sub-brand of one of the most popular phone makers in the world. Honor worked its way up and since they offer similar-performing products compared to Huawei at a cheaper price, they gained a following.
When the Honor 10 was introduced to the global market three months ago, it was already a bang for one’s buck. The phone offers flagship specifications for around US$ 450 and has a premium design with gradient colors.
Nothing is stopping Honor from challenging the market and the Honor Play is their latest weapon of choice to attract power users that don’t want to spend much on a phone. Starting at just US$ 300, the Honor Play is a flagship smartphone priced within the midrange segment.
It’s got a large 6.3-inch display with a wide notch
The notch contains a 16MP selfie camera and a few sensors
The small chin at the bottom proudly says it’s an Honor phone
It has a hybrid card slot for nano-SIM and microSD cards
To its right are physical buttons for power and volume
The top is virtually empty…
While the bottom is quite busy
The back is mostly identical to a flagship phone from Huawei
Common yet premium design
If you’ve been reading about Huawei phones lately, you’d immediately notice that the Honor Play looks a lot like the Huawei P20 and its variants. To make theirs a bit different, Honor did make some changes. Instead of a glass back, the Honor Play has an aluminum unibody. This makes the phone cold in hand (when unused) and feel solidly built.
Like any unibody phone, the Honor Play has antenna lines to let radio signals pass through. The antenna lines blend with the overall color of the phone, akin to the iPhone 7’s style.
Thanks to the display’s tall 19.5:9 aspect ratio, the phone is easy to use with one hand. While we’re talking about the display, I’ll point out that the cutout or the infamous notch is pretty wide. It’s not as slim as the P20’s and is definitely not as small as Essential Phone’s, but it’s got an advantage: it appears to have an extra sensor (probably infrared) to aid in facial recognition in the dark.
The fingerprint sensor on the back is always present when you don’t wish to use facial recognition as your phone’s security measure. It’s indeed quicker to unlock the phone using fingerprints since the reader is already one of the fastest.
Overall, there’s nothing to complain about the Honor Play’s design and construction. It’s got the premium design of more expensive devices, has quicker facial recognition than the competition, and it definitely doesn’t feel like anything in its range. There’s quality to the phone’s body and that alone is a huge advantage.
But, of course, there’s more to know about the Honor Play. Let’s now talk about its specifications.
Flagship performance has never been so affordable
The Honor Play is rocking a Kirin 970 processor with up to 6GB of memory. It’s essentially the cheapest Huawei P20 alternative performance-wise. I kinda feel bad for Huawei P20 users, to be honest, because Honor is offering similar performance in a cheaper package. Even Huawei offers P20-like performance with the Nova 3. The Honor 10 and Huawei Nova 3 are already affordable alternatives, but the Honor Play is the cheapest.
What does the Kirin 970 have? It’s currently Huawei’s most powerful chipset available, but the successor is just around the corner which kind of explains why it’s now cheaper to produce. You’ll have flagship phone performance with the Honor Play thanks to its processor.
The phone I have for review has 4GB of memory, but there’s a 6GB variant available in select markets. Even with 4GB of memory, I didn’t encounter any lag during my time with the phone. The phone runs EMUI 8.2 on top of Android 8.1 Oreo, which is not exactly the most visually pleasing (or maybe for me), but the extra features are handy for everyday use.
The phone will not be called “Play” if it’s not for gaming. The Honor Play comes with GPU Turbo out of the box, but it only benefits two games as of writing: Mobile Legends: Bang Bang and PUBG: Mobile. With its already-capable processor and Mali-G72 MP12 GPU, the Honor Play can easily handle these games on high settings without stuttering. Other graphics-intensive titles like Asphalt 9: Legends and Darkness Rises are also highly playable.
There’s not much to like about its cameras
There may be two cameras at the back of the Honor Play, but the secondary shooter is purely for depth sensing. The main camera has a 16-megapixel sensor with an f/2.2 aperture while the second one is a 2-megapixel depth sensor. Of course, there’s AI on board and like we’ve seen with the Honor 10, it’s a hit or miss.
Basically, when you have AI turned on, it automatically processes the image based on what the camera sees. But, for most of the time, it looks like it’s just driving up the saturation and contrast. Good thing you can always turn this off to get a more natural-looking image. Also, the f/2.2 aperture doesn’t help take a brighter image in low-light environments.
Check out these samples shot with AI:
When it comes to selfies, the Honor Play doesn’t disappoint but it has the same over-processed look like with the rear. There’s a 16-megapixel sensor hiding in the display notch which can take decent selfies with extra effects that Honor claims to be part of the phone’s AI. There’s beauty mode, as expected, but it’s not as aggressive as OPPO’s or Vivo’s which is great.
A phone with competitive pricing has to cut corners somewhere, and the Honor Play sacrificed great cameras. Although, if you come to think about it, most phone users usually just post images on social media. Both the rear and front cameras are more than enough to gather likes and compliments online.
No compromise battery life
Inside the Honor Play’s aluminum body is a sizeable 3750mAh battery. That means it can last long on a single charge. Kirin processors have been power-efficient on Huawei phones, and the Honor Play inherits that as well. Also, the USB-C port supports fast charging up to 18W.
I’ve used the phone as my daily driver for quite a while. With my usage, I was always able to get more than 24 hours of battery life on a single charge. I consider my usage to be moderate which includes constant mobile data and Wi-Fi connectivity, social media, Spotify playback, and reliance on Chrome to check websites and do some editorial work on the go. On average, the screen-on time is almost five hours.
Is this your GadgetMatch?
If you’re looking for a phone that focuses on performance, then the Honor Play is your GadgetMatch. Most of our readers and viewers are fond of the Honor Play because it’s indeed cheap compared to other premium phones, but it’s not perfect. Yet, the price tag of the Honor Play gives it a good excuse.
Like with the Honor 10 or Huawei Nova 3i, the Honor Play’s AI-enabled camera takes a hit. It’s not a bad smartphone camera per se, but it’s something not worth noting. The premium build, quality display, and long battery life are already great features to have in a flagship-grade smartphone this cheap.
The Honor Play retails for PhP 15,990 (4GB/64GB) in the Philippines, and INR 19,999 (4GB/64GB) and INR 23,999 (6GB/64GB) in India.
OnePlus 6 review: 3 months later
Extraordinary in being ordinary?
OnePlus has a clever launch cycle: release a flagship shortly after Mobile World Congress, and give that same model a refresh after every other brand unveils their final flagship of the year.
This strategy has given OnePlus a chance to scout the competition before launching its annual smartphones. Considering that the company puts all its eggs in only two premium flagships per year, a single error can spell doom for the brand.
Although OnePlus more or less mastered this formula, releasing one success after another, last year’s models felt a little stale. Not only did the features fall a bit flat, the design of the OnePlus 5 and 5T were replicas of sister brand OPPO’s own flagships.
We’re now at an interesting time in the OnePlus 6’s life. Three months in, we can get a better grasp of its place in the market; at the same time, we’re only three months away from a possible OnePlus 6T update.
The questions are plenty and time is running out, so let’s get down to it.
Is this still the fastest phone on the planet?
A bunch of A-list smartphones have launched since the OnePlus 6 first came to existence, but none have reached the level of speed this thing has.
For one, the OnePlus 6’s Snapdragon 845 processor is still the fastest chip in the market, and its combination of 8GB of memory and 256GB of storage (though mine only comes with 128GB) is beat only by the just-released Galaxy Note 9 which has up to 8GB and 512GB, respectively.
But hardware is only one part of the equation; software plays an equal if not more important role since that’s what you directly interact with. Having used most of the high-end Android smartphones this year, I can attest to the OnePlus 6’s Oxygen OS being the snappiest of them all, followed only by the Mi Mix 2S and its well-optimized MIUI skin.
Whether I’m playing heavy-duty games like Life is Strange or simply browsing the web, nothing fazes this phone. I can only imagine it getting faster once OnePlus starts rolling out Android 9 Pie to its products. The OnePlus 6 is still stuck on Android 8.1 Oreo. While it’s not bad by any means, I wish OnePlus were as fast as Essential in this regard.
Are the cameras good enough?
We were fortunate enough to take the OnePlus 6 around the world to truly test its set of cameras. The company doesn’t promote its imaging prowess that much, but a pair of 20- and 16-megapixel shooters on the back and a 16-megapixel selfie camera in front aren’t anything to belittle.
Like the rest of the interface, the cameras are blazing fast from opening the app to focusing and taking the shot. Even entering the gallery is incredibly snappy. The image quality speaks for itself; DxOMark gave the OnePlus 6 a respectable score of 96, praising the cameras’ autofocus, color reproduction, and exposure.
We agree for the most part and have these photos of our travels to share:
Certainly not the best you could hope for in terms of overall quality, but definitely acceptable in day-to-day snaps. I wish OnePlus will continue to push software updates to improve the camera performance, because I feel like some adjustments in post-processing will bring it to the next level.
Even though the secondary rear camera doesn’t have a telephoto lens, you can instantly zoom in by 2x while inside the default camera app. But because this is software-assisted, there’s some quality loss. I used this only in certain cases wherein I couldn’t walk any closer to a subject.
The app itself is a joy to use because of how simple it is. My three most-used modes — video, photo, and portrait — are all within swiping distance, and additional options like slow-motion, pro mode, and panorama are found below them. It can sometimes be simplistic to a fault, however. There’s no easy way to change the resolution of your images or videos, and shortcuts to in-app functions are limited.
Can it last over a day?
Battery life is something which the OnePlus 6 is simply okay at. Software updates since the phone’s launch have optimized its energy consumption, but there’s been no major improvement since then.
From my personal experience, which involves lots of web browsing, photo taking, and short gaming sessions, the 3300mAh battery lasts a little less than a day for me. It’s not much of a surprise since the smallish battery has to power such powerful specs and the large display, but you may have to carry a powerbank with you on certain occasions.
On the bright side, we have Dash Charge to fix all our issues. OnePlus’ proprietary fast charging tech is still as fast as ever, bringing this phone from zero to a hundred percent in less than one and a half hours. In addition, the body won’t heat up while topping up, making things more comfortable for your hand during usage.
The only downside is having to bring the bundled charger with me wherever I go. Without it, I can’t take advantage of the fast charging. It’s the same sort of hassle as packing a micro-USB cable for the non-USB-C devices I still own.
Does its pricing hold up against the competition?
OnePlus has steadily been increasing its pricing since first entering the market. Their phones are no longer the sub-US$ 500 premium offerings the company was once known for. And yet, other brands have been guiltier in this regard.
We’re gradually accepting the fact that US$ 1,000 is turning into the norm for a truly flagship experience. This suddenly makes the OnePlus’ pricing seem tame in comparison, considering their products deliver the same speed and quality — if not better.
OnePlus’ primary competition lie in the lineups of Xiaomi and ASUS. For instance, the Mi 8 and Mi Mix 2S offer similar specs at slightly lower prices. At the same time, the ZenFone 5Z is sold at an attractive price as well for what it comes with.
Fortunately for OnePlus, these alternatives are more difficult to come by, making its latest device the go-to affordable flagship in most regions. In addition, expect the OnePlus 6 to go down in price once the impending successor arrives in a few months.
What could OnePlus do better?
Spending an extended time with a device not only gives you a chance to enjoy all its features, but also dissect its flaws. For the OnePlus 6, there are a few that have to be addressed.
For one, and this may be my biggest gripe, the lone down-firing speaker is lackluster. For a smartphone that’s marketed as a multimedia powerhouse, the audio experience has a lot to be desired. On top of the weak output, bass doesn’t have the strength to power through the overly dominant highs. Whenever I play games or watch videos on this phone, earphones have always been a must.
Finally, we have to talk about the overall design. While it’s unusual for me to mention aesthetics this late into a review, this is also a telling sign that it’s not a highlight. This is OnePlus’ re-introduction to glass backs (after the discontinued OnePlus X), and I must say it’s not that great. It’s slippery and doesn’t add to the functionality since there’s no IP-rated water resistance or wireless charging, which you’d find on other phones with glass bodies. As for the front, it’s your typical notched look — nothing I would fawn over.
Is this your GadgetMatch?
What’s so great about the OnePlus 6 is that none of its drawbacks are deal breakers. During my long-term usage, these cons could either be remedied by a simple fix or ignored altogether. And whenever I do wish it could perform better, I remind myself of how much it costs.
With a starting price of US$ 529 for the base model with 6GB of memory and 64GB of storage, you get so much at nearly half the price of other flagship smartphones. You could argue that Xiaomi and Honor offer better bangs for the buck at this price range, but they cater to different audiences with more specialized feature sets.
If you want the fastest-possible phone without going near the US$ 700 mark, this is your best bet. While there’s been lots of new competition in the past couple of months and more to come from the likes of Huawei and Google, nothing has thus far reached what the OnePlus 6 excels at.
The only thing hindering this is the possibility of the OnePlus 6T launching by November, like the 5T did in 2017. But if it’s anything like last year’s model, the upgrade will be incremental and nothing worth splurging on when coming from the non-T variant.
Xiaomi Mi A2 Review: Android One refined
It delivers where it should
Quality products at honest prices — this is Xiaomi’s business philosophy, which is why it made so much sense when the company partnered with Google a year ago to release the Mi A1, an Android One phone. Fast forward to a year later and we now have the Xiaomi Mi A2, a refinement on what was already a solid pure Android device.
Being a midrange device, Xiaomi skipped on a few things with the Mi A2. What the Chinese company did with the phone though is focus on two key things: performance and the cameras. However, before we get into those, let’s first talk about the design.
If you’ve seen the Mi 6X and think it looks a lot like the Mi A2, that’s because these phones are essentially one and the same. The only difference is the Mi A2 runs pure Android versus the Mi 6X which runs Android with MIUI on top.
For a phone that has a nearly 6-inch display (5.99 inches), it didn’t feel as hefty as I initially thought it would. There’s also a fingerprint sensor at the back that should be easy for most people to reach.
The Mi A2 also skipped the headphone jack, opting instead for two speakers. The twin speakers are pretty impressive — more than enough to fill a small room with whatever you’re jamming to.
Xiaomi didn’t completely forget about headphone users who still prefer or can’t get away from a wired experience. Included in the retail box is a USB-C to 3.5mm jack adapter so you can still use whatever old headphones you have lying around.
The power and volume buttons are on the right side, while on the left you’ll find the dual-SIM card slot. Remember what I said earlier about Xiaomi skipping things? The second SIM card slot isn’t hybrid, which means the storage isn’t expandable.
The variant I reviewed has 4GB of memory and 64GB of storage. There’s also one with 6GB RAM and 128GB internal storage but if you require more space, you’re out of luck.
Enough about its shortcomings, though; let’s talk about the good stuff. Powering the Mi A2 is a Snapdragon 660. It’s an AI-capable chip and its capabilities are more noticeable on the camera. More on that later.
Being an Android One phone, the Mi A2 runs a pure version of Android 8.1 Oreo. This also means your default gallery is Google Photos which gives you unlimited cloud storage. In a way, this can help address the lack of a microSD card slot.
There’s also zero bloatware. That means there are fewer apps slowing your device down and eating up the smaller-than-expected 3010mAh battery.
In the little over three weeks that I used the phone, I can say for sure that the battery holds up really well. On occasions when I used it heavily, I would end the day with roughly around 15 to 20 percent left. On more regular days I’m left with 40 to 50 percent. This includes the periodic and mostly mindless browsing on social media, toggling through chat apps, getting lost in the YouTube black hole of videos, and catching an episode or two of a series on Netflix.
Personally, I don’t play a lot of mobile games but for the purpose of this review, I sparingly played Dragon Ball Legends and a little bit of Asphalt Xtreme. It ran both games with zero lag on max graphics settings. However, I never played for an extended amount time. My gaming sessions lasted only around 10 to 20 minutes.
If your usage patterns are similar to mine, you’ll enjoy using the Mi A2. It manages basic smartphone tasks with ease and can probably handle your favorite mobile games with no problems as well.
Xiaomi talked a great deal about the the cameras on the Mi A2. To be honest, I was skeptical at first, but after taking a few shots around the cities of Toledo and Madrid in Spain, the Mi A2’s cameras completely won me over.
The Snapdragon 660 is also at work on these cameras along with the 20MP + 12MP hardware combo. The 12-megapixel sensor takes clearer daytime photos while the 20-megapixel shooter takes care of your low-light needs.
The AI scene detection on the Mi A2 works in the background, automatically selecting the best settings depending on the subject or scene you’re shooting. Take a look at these samples:
I absolutely love taking portraits and the Mi A2 didn’t disappoint. It uses both the camera and AI to give you photos with creamy bokeh.
The portrait mode also works in the front-facing camera. Take a look at these selfies:
The video stabilization is another aspect that was surprising. You won’t notice it while you’re shooting but after the phone has finished processing, you’ll see really smooth video. Your pans will look clean even if you don’t use the phone with a gimbal.
Is this your GadgetMatch?
There are absolutely zero gimmicks in the Mi A2 — just straight up everything you need in both software and hardware. You could argue that leaving out the headphone jack and microSD card slot will leave some users wanting, but Xiaomi offered solutions by way of an adapter and Google Photos.
Other than that, the Mi A2 delivers where it promised it would — a smooth performance on a clean, pure Android interface along with AI-assisted cameras that take amazing photos no matter the lighting condition.
For a phone that costs roughly around US$ 315 (Official pricing at launch of variant reviewed is EUR 279), that’s certainly a sweet deal that probably gets even sweeter depending on the region you’re in. It’s a quality product at an honest price.
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