For the hardcore geek, there are at least two milestones, that predate actual usage of a device.
First is the day when a product becomes real. When an enthusiastic CEO or product lead takes the stage and unveils their most exciting piece of tech. Fans schedule online viewing parties, tune into live streams, and collectively drool over the subject of their next gadget fantasy.
Then comes the day when a product becomes theirs. It’s all about the unboxing, an almost ceremonial unwrapping of each accompanying accessory and then the product itself. The most hard core of fans will document this ritual, but in its most basic form, there is focus and reverence, and appreciation of what’s being birthed.
As a tech journalist I do both for a living, except that unboxing videos are shot in our labs, and sometimes I’m get to be there to see things live.
But while being there in person sounds fun, leaks have killed the moment, they’ve caused the extinction of big surprises that have marked great events.
Just this week, from my second row seat at Microsoft’s Windows 10 Devices launch in New York, I listened as an infectious Panos Panay, Windows devices chief, paced all corners of the stage, rallying up excitement for two smartphones the crowd had already seen before.
Like most products launched this year, leaks about today’s device lineup were pretty comprehensive, covering notable features, the spec sheet, and even product photos. And there was no beating behind the bush about the elephant in the room, “I know you know about this, you’ve written about it already,” joked Panay. #Guilty.
But like a trooper he convincingly sold us on each expected product.
There were two new Lumia smartphones, the first to run Windows 10. The Lumia 950 and the 950 XL are powerful phones with amazing cameras, but more than that, testaments to the promise of Windows 10 – universality. When connected to a keyboard, mouse, and external monitor, universal apps on these new phones scale into desktop apps. Imagine, Powerpoint on mobile becomes PowerPoint for desktop, you’re building your deck like you would on a PC except that your phone is your CPU.
Then there was the Surface Pro 4, the latest in a device class that Microsoft pioneered, a tablet hybrid that comes with a keyboard cover and pen. In just the last two months we’ve seen both Apple and Google jump on the bandwagon with the iPad Pro and the Pixel C respectively. Last year, Panay had declared the Surface Pro 3, good enough to replace a laptop, this year it was about refining the experience further. A larger, more pixel dense display, better touch sensitivity, more power, and a full sized laptop keyboard cover with a glass trackpad unlike any other we’ve seen on a Windows device.
Do you want me to talk about another device? Panay said in between product announcements until there were no more to expect. Then he said it again, “Do you want me to talk about another device?”
The lights dimmed and a video played, and just like that, surprise, Microsoft was unveiling the first laptop it has ever built. The Surface Book is a 13-inch laptop designed to rival Apple’s MacBook Pro, its magnesium unibody design feels familiar, but at the same time it is one we’ve never seen before. From its “dynamic fulcrum hinge” to innovative liquid cooling system, Microsoft was calling this the ultimate laptop, “ounce per ounce, pound per pound, the most powerful 13-inch laptop in existence.”
By the end of Panay’s presentation, this geek had already been tickled fancy, Microsoft was reinventing the laptop, and somehow its managed to surprise us in the process.
One more surprise was yet to come.
As his presentation came to close, Panay asked his now captivated audience, to watch the same video back, but this time to look closer. My mind went berserk as the video replayed. To borrow the words from GadgetMatch producer Rodneil Quiteles, who was thousands of miles away, following the event via livestream. He writes in our Viber Public Chat, “Holy Xxxx! Surface Book screen just flew off the keyboard. It’s over. It’s friggin over.”
Microsoft isn’t just building another Windows laptop here, with the Surface Book it seems to have taken apart the best of tablet and notebook computing, forging a new device that is both and neither at the same time. Undocked you have a 13-inch tablet with all the bells and whistles of the Surface Pro, but connected you have even more battery life, a dedicated graphics card for intense gaming, visual rendering, and video editing. But maybe even more important, you have the stability of a laptop, allowing the freedom to, as the name implies, use the device on your lap.
But it’s not just the element of surprise here, not just the theatrics, its about a new kind of Microsoft, and a clear cut vision of a future that this tech giant is trying to build.
It was Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella who closed the event, borrowing a line from his own phrase book, he talked about the Microsoft he was trying to build, ““We wanna move from people needing Windows, to choosing Windows, to loving Windows.”
This year I’ve sat through way too many product launches. While it’s only fair to say that the usual suspects came out to play, it was at this event where I was really, truly, blown away. The event left me with a sense of desire I have never felt about a Microsoft device ever.
Perhaps I too can learn to love Windows.
[irp posts=”992″ name=”Microsoft Surface Book Hands-On”]
Ultrahuman: The essential app to get you through quarantine
Getting through isolation days through workout and meditation
Taking care of our physical and mental health is very much important now more than ever. With everything that has been going on in the world, it’s not surprising that people are taking extra steps to advocate and practice self-care.
One way to do this is by adding good habits everyday and being disciplined to sustain these habits.
With self-care as one of their ultimate goals this year, Martynne and MJ decided to try Ultrahuman: an all-in-one fitness app that includes all the good habits they are currently incorporating in their lives — from workout to meditation.
For a few weeks, they put the app to a test and this is their verdict:
Martynne: I am a huge advocate of meditation and it has been a life-changing practice for me, as someone who finds a hard time focusing and being in the present.
Ultrahuman has a wide range of course options that can match a specific mood or emotion. One of my personal favorites is the Managing Anger course, which helped me take a step back, consolidate my feelings and give compassion to myself throughout the process.
The Singles option with one-time meditation tracks helped me become more mindful and grounded whenever I feel overwhelmed in the middle of a workday. The productivity course, on the other hand, kept my eyes glued to my laptop screen until I finished what I needed to do.
The only thing I didn’t like about it, though, is the visuals seem basic to me, and the “dark” interface is much more fitting for the workout option.
MJ: When gyms are closed and home workouts aren’t fun anymore, how do you remain committed to your fitness goals? That’s what Ultrahuman did: Filling the gap by providing fun workouts and challenges that you can do in a span of weeks. It’s similar to how Nike Training Club presents their videos albeit more personalized.
The Ultrahuman app comes with guided videos from renowned trainers, and watching their instructions during your exercises felt like having a live session with a personal trainer. Unlike most fitness apps that offer video-on-demand workouts, Ultrahuman remembers that we are all beginners, offering a collection of videos through challenges that suit different levels.
After living a sedentary lifestyle, I knew I have to ease up when working out again. The app did wonders in helping me stay active by gradually increasing the difficulty of my challenges, without straining my body or having myself complain about how difficult a certain workout routine is.
Martynne: There was an instance that I had a bad case of insomnia and I needed something to put me to sleep.
I tried listening to Ultrahuman’s Bedtime Stories and it reminded me of the sleep podcasts I used to listen to on Spotify.
The voices are relaxing, and the stories come with meditation and sound effects, but I realized I can be impatient with slow stories. I resorted to the app’s soundscapes and brain music, and they helped a lot to relax my brain and finally shut my eyes off.
I don’t exactly know what’s the science behind brain music, but they really work sometimes.
Nokia E3100: Trying new buds for work to workouts
Yes, Nokia has earbuds now
Nokia and I go way back. It was the mobile phone brand of my youth. Our history includes a series of phones that predate the existence of touchscreen ones we use now. Everyone had a Nokia device then. In recent years, it’s become a rarity. So imagine my surprise when I first heard that Nokia is now making earbuds. How did it fare against the audio giants of our time?
I got a hold of the Nokia E3100 Essential True Wireless Earphones. Compared to my old set of earbuds (Anker Zolo Liberty+), this one’s battery case and earbuds are extremely light, almost the same weight as a tube of drugstore lipstick.
The buds can operate up to 2.5hrs with a single charge, and up to 10 hours with help of the rechargeable battery case. Super convenient to pack if we still had our old lifestyle of going out daily.
On the job
I used to be able to maximize my earbuds on my commute — listening to music or watching series whenever I’m in transit. Nowadays, I mainly connect my headset to my laptop for Zoom meetings and other virtual work calls.
The Nokia E3100 did not disappoint on the sound side. Audio from the people I’m in the call with was always clear and crisp. But, it can be a hit-or-miss as a mic. The earbuds have a built-in microphone on the right side, but my experience with it left me wanting. There was a point when I had to switch back to the laptop microphone in the middle of a call just so people can hear my voice clearly.
On the mat
I also tried the Nokia E3100 for a few home workout sessions. Since the earbuds fit my ears perfectly, there’s no fear of it falling out in the middle of jumping jacks.
Another nice surprise is how you can easily skip or repeat tracks via push button controls on the earbuds. Less distractions to your exercise momentum! The only time I have to reach for my phone is when I want to switch to a different playlist.
Is the Nokia E3100 your GadgetMatch?
It’s reliable as an earpiece for listening to music, working out, and watching series. But when it comes to the demands of working from home, the current built-in mic just won’t do.
Nokia has to work on the voice sensitivity and responsiveness of the earbuds’ mic in order to take on this new age of virtual calls and meetings.
The Nokia E3100 retails for PhP 1,999 (US$ 41)
OPPO A74 Hands-On: The 7 things I love about you
A budget smartphone that doesn’t feel like one
Frankly speaking, I’ve enjoyed using it for about a week now. For the record, this is actually my first time trying an OPPO phone. I’d say, it’s not a total slouch because (in Miley Cyrus’ voice), “there are 7 things I love about you”.
1. Premium-like design and feel
First thing’s first, the phone’s back is made entirely out of polycarbonate plastic. While it’s not prone to cracks and shatters, the phone simply scratches too easily — regardless if you safely put it on tables. Fortunate for clumsy users, there’s an included clear case inside the box.
That said, I still like its premium-like look. As I always say, I’m not the biggest fan of flashy, gradient smartphones but this Midnight Blue colorway looks elegant on its own. I’d pick it over the blander-looking Prism Black option (even if black is one of my favorite shades).
On hand, it feels slim and lightweight. I barely felt the heft when holding the phone with my one hand despite that large display. The curves flow well with your hands, too. Most smartphones these days have a slightly uncomfortable feeling due to sharper phone corners.
2. Crisp and vibrant display
As we’re already on the topic, the A74 packs a 6.43-inch AMOLED display — the same display found on the A94.
The display is vibrant enough even under the harsh sunlight. While it only has a Full HD+ resolution, it still looks crisp. The only downside of this one is the lack of faster refresh rate. I know what you’re thinking. Some affordable smartphones offer faster 90 to 144Hz displays. In return, you get a less bright and vibrant IPS-LCD display.
I’m not complaining with the A74’s conventional 60Hz refresh rate. For one, it saves battery power, and two is because I value a more color accurate display than the latter. But hey, take my opinion with a grain of salt as it’s just my preference in smartphone displays.
Another thing that makes it look “premium” is the inclusion of its punch-hole camera. That simply looks better versus a dewdrop notch.
There’s always an in-display fingerprint scanner which might not be the fastest, but it still gets the job done and is more reliable than a Face Unlock especially in this particular time.
3. Great for multimedia consumption
This is already a given since it has an AMOLED display. But other than that, despite having just mono speakers, it’s surprisingly loud with a full sound that doesn’t sound tinny and distorted.
While it doesn’t feature any HDR10 capabilities, it’s still a viewing pleasure when watching YouTube videos (especially K-Pop music videos) and Netflix series and films.
OPPO was also able to put a 3.5mm audio jack in such a slim form factor. There’s a set of earphones inside the box. This is great for users who already have an existing pair and also don’t want to spend fortune for another wireless earbuds.
4. Less-confusing Android User Interface
Out of the box, it already runs Android 11 with the ColorOS 11.1 skin. Over the years, I got used to Xiaomi’s MIUI and Samsung’s One UI but as I get to use their interface for long, the more it gets confusing.
To my surprise, the ColorOS looks clean and tidy. It’s not bombarded with unwanted UI elements and at the same time, I love the overall look and feel of the icons and the interface. I also commend how organized the settings are that aren’t as cluttered as other Android skins.
5. Optimum performance
On paper, the A74 is packed with a Snapdragon 662 chipset, 6GB of memory, and 128GB of onboard storage with an option to expand with a microSD slot through its Hybrid SIM tray. Opening basic apps such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and more are quick. Even switching between apps is snappy fast as long as you don’t get too hard on it.
While it may not sound like a lot, it still is a smartphone capable of running popular titles such as PUBG, Mobile Legends, Genshin Impact, and Asphalt 9.
It also has this handy Game Focus Mode which basically is a game sidebar tool when playing games that turns off unwanted notifications and boosts performance so you can enjoy the game you’re playing.
When I played Call of Duty: Mobile, I was able to play with no stutters or lags. While the graphics setting isn’t maxed out to high, medium seems fine already especially that you can see game artifacts and farther enemies in this setting anyway.
6. Large battery capacity and fast charging support
To makes this a lot better, it packs a bountiful 5,000mAh battery — which is very surprising for me considering it has a slim and lightweight form factor.
If your phone already ran out of juice, there’s a bundled 33W fast charger out of the box. OPPO is true to its words as it’s capable of filling it up for around 54 minutes — same as advertised. And for everyone’s convenience, it’s equipped with a USB-C port.
7. Decent main camera
The OPPO A74 packs a trio set of cameras: a 48-megapixel f/1.7 wide (main) camera, and two 2-megapixel f/2.4 depth and macro sensors. I would’ve wished for an ultra-wide camera instead but they decided to put one on the A94.
While video recording is limited to just 1080p Full HD, its HDR and AI work wonders when shooting photos indoors.
Samples look better when they’re shot outside in broad daylight. If you’re always into posting your photos in social media, the A74 won’t disappoint.
Zooming in on the subject with 2x zoom is still doable but sometimes, it has a hard time focusing. This is already given because it doesn’t have a dedicated telephoto lens. Nevertheless, images still look great even if it’s an accidental bokeh shot.
Just don’t use the 5x digital zoom as it’s not helpful at all. It’s either grainy or blurred with a too healthy helping of HDR processing.
For night mode, don’t get your hopes up as it’s barely usable in low-light conditions. At first, I thought it was just the blurry camera lens, but after taking two more night shots at around three seconds in wide (1x) mode, nothing has changed.
Is this your GadgetMatch?
If you’re a long-time OPPO user and you just want to upgrade your OPPO experience without sacrificing too much on money, the A74 is simply a great smartphone to get. With a price tag of PhP 11,990, it’s simply isn’t the cheapest budget smartphone you can buy right now.
Get the OPPO A94 if you can shell out an additional PhP 2,000 — only if you want a Mediatek chipset, an additional 2GB of memory, and the inclusion of an ultra-wide camera. But if we’re talking about better features, you can’t go wrong with the A74 simply because it has a competitive Snapdragon chipset, bigger battery with faster charging, and most of all, a cheaper price tag.
If you’re keen on trying another smartphone brand, there’s the Redmi Note 10 that has a cheaper retail price of just PhP 9,990 (6GB/128GB variant) with an upgraded Snapdragon 76 minus the ColorOS experience.
If you don’t care about design and just want a smartphone of the same kind, there’s the POCO M3 with identical hardware, but with an IPS-LCD display, a slightly larger battery capacity minus the fast charging — all for a pocket-friendly price of PhP 7,990.
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