Reviews

LG V20 review

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LG V20

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.

LG V20 front

Can the V20 match the hype of the V10?

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.

LG V20 in hand

Trust us; this phone is BIG

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.

LG V20 eject key

You can easily mistake the back cover’s eject button for a camera shutter key

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.

LG V20 interface

Be ready for some heavy LG skinning

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?)

LG V20 cameras

Laser autofocusing and optical image stabilization help out a lot during the shooting process

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.

LG V20 battery

Removable batteries are becoming increasingly uncommon nowadays

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.

LG V20 secondary screen

Next year’s V30 will likely 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.

[irp posts=”4401" name=”V20 both improves and harms LG’s image”]

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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