Reviews

LG Velvet review: Flagship reimagined

A refreshing take from LG, a much needed option in 2020

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I’ve reviewed many different phones this year and consistently the theme has been this: Phone prices are rising; and there are no exceptions. A faster display, multiple cameras, 5G — it all adds up. If you don’t need all of these extras on a flagship smartphone, what options are there for you?

Instead of launching a revolutionary new phone meant to blow your socks off, LG sought to fill that void with a new breed of flagship smartphone with just the essential features: the LG Velvet.

An introduction

I’ve closely followed the evolution of LG smartphones for more than six years now. In the second half of 2020, the Korean company is shifting gears — from a new design ID to a new name.

The first phone out of the gate is simply called Velvet, which is a drastic change from their last phone called the LG V60 ThinQ 5G Dual Screen.

LG says that starting with Velvet they are moving away from the G and V Series and adopting more expressive names that better fit each smartphone. Instead of offering similarly designed smartphones with marginally better specs, which is basically what everyone else in the industry is doing, they want to create differentiated products with a clear character.

The Velvet isn’t meant to be the successor to last year’s G8; neither is it a midrange version of the V60.

Who then is the Velvet for? What consumer need does it address? And is it your GadgetMatch?

READ: LG V60 ThinQ 5G Dual Screen review: 2020’s most underrated phone

Evolved design language

If I were to describe LG phones released over the last few years, several words come to mind: uninspired, unexciting, boring, bland. They looked okay but let’s just say they would never have won a smartphone beauty pageant, so most folks did not pay attention.

With the Velvet, LG set out to focus on its design. Versus last year’s G8 and the V60, immediately you can tell that LG made an effort. From curves on both its front and back, to what they’re calling a raindrop rear camera — with modules that get smaller as they reach downward. I especially appreciate the clear intent to avoid a huge camera bump.

Did they hit the mark? I’m not sure; I’m finding it hard to make an emotional connection with my review device.

After all the rich vibrant phones that have become my daily drivers this year, my LG Velvet is a bland shade of grey. Although, it is available in a host of other colors: Illusion Sunset, Aurora White, Aurora Green, Aurora Silver and something they’re calling New Black.

I am also not sure the curved displays were the best choice and overall it doesn’t necessarily look original.

There is, however, a lot to like about the Velvet. There is a certain subdued sophistication about the phone. I appreciate that it’s not too wide so you can hold it securely with one hand and that it’s light enough so that when you use it with the Dual Screen Case, it doesn’t get significantly heavy.

I also like that the Dual Screen case for the Velvet also comes in matte white. It’s refreshing, and it doesn’t pick up smudges like the mirror finish of the V60’s Dual Screen case.

I love that there are well-designed third party cases available for the Velvet at launch. LG partnered with Korean accessory manufacturer Design Skin. I would go as far as saying that these are some of the best designed cases we’ve seen for any phone.

This case has two card slots, comes in an olive shade and a croc skin finish.

This emerald green one is my favorite. It has an elastic leather strap just like a designer clutch — a stylish way to keep your phone secure when you’re out and about. Hidden underneath is a slot for a card or two.

There are plenty of other case options for the LG Velvet on Amazon ahead of its European and North American debut as well.

A flagship that doesn’t blow your socks off

There are many ways to tackle this next section. It can be about addressing why this phone has a 700-series processor, usually reserved for midrange smartphones, which I feel is the elephant in the room. In the US, the T-Mobile variant is powered by MediaTek’s Dimensity 1000C chip. I want to take this opportunity to challenge the status quo and encourage a new way of thinking.

Silicon technology has improved so much over the last few years that it’s gotten to a point where most people don’t necessarily need a phone with a top of the line processor.

This next statement might come off as controversial, but the everyday user does not need a phone with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865.

Snapdragon 765, which powers the LG Velvet, is a very capable processor that can handle the needs of the average consumer. If doing so allows a phone company to pass on savings to you the consumer, I’m all for it.

In essence, I believe that is what the LG Velvet is all about: giving users what they need instead of making them pay for high tech extras that prosumers and tech nerds have come to expect.

It’s a well-rounded smartphone and it comes with support for 5G networks. This is despite the lack of a fast display and out of this world telescopic camera.

In the time that I spent with the LG Velvet, I didn’t experience any hiccups in terms of performance. The phone has enough RAM to handle all the apps that I juggle on a daily basis, and the Snapdragon 765 processor handled everything I threw at it.

Of course Pokemon Go and Raid Shadow Legends might not qualify as graphics intensive games, but my buddies Joshua Vergara and Booredatwork also played a lot of Call of Duty and PUBG, respectively, and they didn’t have complaints either.

Its P-OLED display is bright and vibrant and was a pleasure to consume content on. Like the V60, it has a tear drop notch on the top center of the screen.

Dual Screen, dual fun

Cementing the company’s commitment to this form factor, the Velvet is compatible with its own Dual Screen case. Depending on where you live, it either comes bundled or is a separate purchase.

In our exhaustive review of the LG V60, we explored all the things you can do with this form factor and why it makes sense as an accessory. If you want an in-depth guide on how you can maximize the dual screen experience, read that review here, or watch it here. My thoughts there apply to the Velvet’s Dual Screen experience as well.

I love being able to use it as a controller to level up my game play, tickling my retro bones using Drastic DS to emulate my favorite Nintendo games from my childhood, and using it as an e-book reader using Librera, which is closer to the experience of reading an actual printed book than.

Of course there’s multitasking: having two documents open at the same time, or a web browser in one and Google Docs in the other. Having that second display for a chat app, a video, or my twitter feed is great and makes a lot of sense for someone like me. You can also save shortcuts for apps that you frequently open together: Spotify and Google Maps when you’re driving for example.

One of my favorite use cases, pun unintended, is flipping the case all the way around and using it as a monitor when photographing others. I also love that I can easily prop the phone up when watching videos or even when I’m on a video call.

Stylus support

Just like the V60, there’s support for any Wacom AES pen on the Velvet. If you’re the type who likes being able to jot down notes the old school way, you can purchase a stylus like Wacom’s Bamboo Ink and use it to take notes, sign documents, or draw on your Velvet.

Some will argue that the Galaxy Note comes with a bundled pen and that you can store it in the phone, but old-school note-taking isn’t for everyone. The experience also isn’t as close to pen and paper as the Apple Pencil and the iPad.

What I like about the Velvet, just like the Dual Screen case, is that the extra cost is your choice to make depending on your needs.

Exceptional audio lineage

When it comes to audio the LG V60 is the best phone I’ve reviewed this year. Given its lineage I was curious to see how well the Velvet performed in this department.

The phone comes with stereo speakers, LG’s 3D sound engine, and a headphone jack. The only thing it doesn’t have is Quad DAC support which both the G and V series had been known for. Even in this more affordable segment, LG is still the gold standard when it comes to phone audio.

When reviewing the Velvet, I did my usual blind test by listening to songs I know by heart. Its speakers aren’t as loud as the V60 but they are tuned very well. They sound leaps and bounds better than last year’s G8X. It’s also much louder and richer compared to the Samsung Galaxy S20+.

For even better sound you can toggle ON LG’s 3D Sound Engine via the quick settings panel.

Acceptable camera performance

The LG Velvet has three cameras: a standard 48MP wide angle lens, an 8MP ultra-wide angle with a 120 degree field of view, and a 5MP camera dedicated for measuring depth.

This is an important category so I spent a lot of time putting the Velvet’s camera through its paces. Take a look at these sample shots I took around Brooklyn.

With the sun shining overhead, against the light, or even when the sun started to set, the Velvet’s main camera does the job of capturing good photos.

Night Mode also does a decent job when it got dark.

Its ultra-wide angle camera doesn’t perform as well. It was alright during the day, but poor as the sun started to set. Details become fuzzy when there’s not enough light.

The third camera dedicated to creating background blur does a good job cutting subjects out. Phones usually struggle to separate Chay’s hair from the background but the Velvet managed to do it pretty well.

Camera comparison

It’s important to manage our expectations based on how much the Velvet costs. I compared it to the similarly priced OnePlus 8, and the pricier Samsung Galaxy S20+.

During the day when the sun is out, the sky blue, and the model straight off the Paris Fashion Week runway, you’d be hard pressed to pick one photo over the other. All phones did great, captured details well, and produced similar colors.

I’d say the same about this ultra wide angle shot. The only difference is that the S20+ has a wider field of view.

It’s a similar case with these photos taken with 2x zoom. Both the OnePlus and Velvet use digital zoom as they do not have dedicated telephoto cameras.

This ultra-wide angle shot is interesting — a test of how all three phones handle backlit subjects. The S20+ and the Velvet handled the harsh lighting conditions very similarly. The OnePlus 8 did the best job at managing highlights. In some cases, it just boils down to camera software, like in this example.

We spent a lot of time comparing the phones after dark. First, this artsy photo of the Manhattan Bridge shot through some fencing.

Next is of the Brooklyn Bridge. I did a poll on Twitter and most of you picked the S20+’s photo, with the Velvet coming in second and the OnePlus 8 third. It’s a tough call and really depends on what people are judging for. Some voted for presumed color accuracy, some for detail, some voted based on which one fits their aesthetic best.

When you switch to the ultra-wide angle camera, this is where the Velvet suffers. Just like in our daytime photos, the Velvet didn’t capture enough detail for it to be usable.

We took more comparisons this time without night mode. For the most part the results were pretty similar across the board.

In this last comparison photo, we didn’t use night mode as well. All three phones handled this back lit shot differently, but I think all of them are post worthy.

Overall it’s no surprise that people chose the S20+’s photo in my Twitter poll. It does after all have the best camera hardware of the trio, but the Velvet’s main camera held its own. It produced accurate colors in low light while being the cheapest phone in this shootout.

Its ultra-wide camera is just a let down, especially considering LG was pioneered this feature on smartphones many years back. Maybe they shouldn’t have included it, that might have brought down the price even further.

All-day battery

The LG Velvet comes with a 4300 mAh battery. It lasts me a full day of average use with a little bit left over for the next day. It’s not as long lasting as the V60 but overall its battery life is great.

Charging speeds are also respectable considering its battery capacity. Using the bundled fast charger, I got to 10% after 10 minutes and 70% after an hour. A full charge took just one hour and 52 minutes.

The Velvet also supports wireless charging, and it works even with the Dual Screen case on.

If you get the Dual Screen case, it comes with a USB-C adapter that magnetically latches into place. I think is a great idea. Once you plug it into the bundled USB-C cable, you’re not going to lose it. In case you do, you can buy a replacement online.

Pricing and availability

The LG Velvet was announced in South Korea earlier this year with a KRW 899,800 (US$ 700) launch price. In Europe, pricing vary per country: In Italy, it was going for EUR 650 (US$ 757), bundled with the Dual Screen case and LG’s Tone Free wireless earbuds.

In the US, it starts at US$588 if you get it from T-Mobile, US$599 from AT&T, and US$699.99. Just note that the T-Mobile model has slightly different specs than the unit we reviewed.

Is the LG Velvet your GadgetMatch? 

Despite not offering the coolest features smartphone nerds rave about, there’s something interesting about the LG Velvet. It’s a much needed class of device for right now. 2020 is the year when brands known for making flagship killers have all but abandoned that calling.

Prosumers who need more computing power, better cameras, and a faster display should definitely look elsewhere.

The LG Velvet is a solid phone. It’s built well, performs great, and most importantly it comes with a price tag that doesn’t break the bank. For that we give it the GadgetMatch Seal of Approval.

Reviews

POCO X5 Pro 5G review: Must-have mid-ranger?

Business as usual for POCO

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POCO X5 Pro 5G

Standing out in a crowded mid-range segment has become increasingly difficult in 2023. It isn’t enough to hit home runs; to stand out, you need to hit grand slams. To be a game-changer, a smartphone needs to be a generational talent. 

It’s difficult to be painted as generational, especially because mid-rangers, by nature, face compromises that force manufacturers to skimp on certain parts of a smartphone to keep its price as low as possible. A mid-ranger truly needs to be special, so it can be undeniable rather than undesirable.

The POCO X5 Pro 5G is the Chinese brand’s latest attempt at bringing a game-changing smartphone to the ultra competitive segment. They’re branding the X5 Pro 5G as ‘The secret to win’, a device that will help students and young professionals succeed with whatever challenges they’re facing. 

It’s one thing to make a hefty promise, but it’s another thing to walk the talk. Does the POCO X5 Pro 5G stand and deliver, or is it just another self-proclaimed game-changer exposed as a wannabe flagship killer? 

Design: Puts the MID in midrange

 

Remember when I said that manufacturers tend to skimp on certain parts of a smartphone to keep its price as low as possible? Right out of the box, even without holding the phone, you already know where POCO decided to make its necessary sacrifices. 

Allow me to describe this design with a Gen Z word made popular by Long Island’s very best in professional wrestling: mid. The X5 Pro 5G’s design, is quite frankly, mid. It doesn’t stand out in the mid-range segment, nor, does it even impress for any unique personality quirks. You’d prefer to purchase a unique case for this so you wouldn’t hesitate to bring this out during parties.

Durability: A phone that will last through an Iron Man Match

POCO X5 Pro 5G

First impressions matter, but they aren’t everything. While the X5 Pro 5G isn’t for those looking for love at first sight, its choice of materials will leave you impressed in the long run.

This phone simply works. It clearly isn’t the prettiest phone, but pretty doesn’t always mean substantial. Plastic is still the most practical material for a smartphone, and POCO’s choice of plastics for the X5 Pro 5G hit the mark. It’s so durable, in fact, you could confidently use the phone without a case even when walking around the streets of Metro Manila. 

The X5 Pro 5G’s battery performance enriches its durability. During the review period, I had the opportunity of using the phone not only as my main daily driver, but also as my primary hotspot source during remote work situations. Even for extremely heavy users, this is a phone that can last you through the day. In rare cases when you’ll need to charge in the middle of the day, the X5 Pro 5G comes with a 67W charger out of the box (yes, they still have chargers out of the box! Big W here by POCO). 

Performance: Will have you feeling like a generational talent 

POCO X5 Pro 5G

Most manufacturers hope to position their mid-rangers as bang-for-you-buck devices that can bring flagship-level technology. It’s a hefty promise. Most brands tend to miss the mark, one way or another. 

Coming from a flagship daily driver, I was already expecting a drop in performance when the X5 Pro 5G came in. Right out of the box, to my surprise, it didn’t feel like there was any drop in overall performance. Even a week after, the X5 Pro 5G’s maintained the smoothness it came with from Day 1. POCO did not miss the mark.

The 120 Hz refresh rate certainly helped accentuate that feeling of smoothness, especially when going through daily social media scrolling. But even when testing with a relatively high-intensive game such as DB Legends, the X5 Pro 5G and its Snapdragon 778G processor went through the gauntlet with relative ease. Relative to other mid-range phones, that’s generational. 

Camera: Consistently colorful 

POCO X5 Pro 5G

There’s a common misconception that when you have more cameras, the better shots you’ll get. Having multiple cameras isn’t enough; choosing the right lenses and having software that processes shots properly matters even more. 

I’m happy to say that at the very least, POCO was able to choose the right lenses for its multi-camera setup. Supporting its 108MP wide camera is an 8MP ultra-wide lens and a 2MP macro camera. Other manufacturers have missed the mark by taking out the ultra-wide, but thankfully, POCO did not make that mistake. 

The ultra-wide lens performs relatively well too. The difference in quality between the main lens and the ultra-wide isn’t as drastic as you’d expect. It captures detail very well, and HDR is on point too. 

Users concerned about their social media image don’t have to worry. Its ultra-wide lens is good enough for your much-coveted Gen Z selfies. 

Performance outdoors is definitely better. There’s a noticeable drop in quality when taking indoor shots, but its nothing too criminal. 

Night mode on the X5 Pro 5G was decent too. On this shot of my very good friend’s jersey, it captured the details well, although there’s noticeable grain in the background. 

In terms of processing, the X5 Pro 5G comes out with consistently colorful shots, which is to be expected at this point. It ups the saturation to intense levels, and shadows can be overblown at times. It’s nothing too concerning, just something to consider before posting your photos on the ‘gram.

Is this your GadgetMatch? 

POC X5 Pro 5G

With an SRP of PhP 16,999, the POCO X5 Pro 5G presents itself with an intriguing list of features. At first glance it won’t impress, but its value as a smartphone is all about what’s under the hood. It’s a powerful device that gets the job done. Whether you’re a busy workaholic, a student who’s trying to survive through modern hybrid setups, or a gamer who wants to pick up endless W’s, the POCO X5 Pro 5G is a great choice to have if you’re looking for a weapon that will bring you victory in whatever battles you’ll face. 

The POCO X5 Pro 5G may just be better than you, and you’ll know it. Its design is mid, but everything else, you wouldn’t hesitate to call generational.

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Computers

Apple M2 Mac mini Review

More Affordable, More Powerful

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Apple silently revealed the 2023 M2 Mac mini to the world.

Back in 2005, the Mac mini G4 was the cheapest Mac you can buy for US$ 499.

Almost 18 years after, the Mac mini still is the cheapest Mac at just US$ 599.

That’s still a lot of savings versus buying a US$ 1299 iMac.

The biggest difference? The newest Mac mini runs two of the most powerful chips right now — the M2 and M2 Pro.

But is it actually the right Mac for you?

Watch our Apple M2 Mac mini review now!

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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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