Reviews

Motorola Moto X4 Review: Beautiful and fragile

This phone is just gorgeous!

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The upper midrange phone market has a new contender. Back when Motorola was still under Google, the Moto X was a flagship phone which focused more on actual features than beastly specs. Fast forward to 2017, we now have the fourth-generation Moto X4. It feels familiar but at the same time different.

Before we get to the deets, let’s run through the body of the phone.

It’s got a 5.2-inch Full HD display

It’s also super saturated by default

No dual front cameras, but it has a bright LED flash

Selfies in the dark!

Power button and volume rocker are on the right

Both are easily distinguishable

The bottom houses the USB-C and 3.5mm audio ports

The certification labels are also found here

The glass back’s reflection is gorgeous

Complete with a shiny and wavy light streak

The beautiful back is bothered by a tiny hole

Unusual spot to place a microphone

Currently the prettiest Motorola phone

It’s easy to say that the Moto X4 is Motorola’s prettiest phone so far, or maybe one of the prettiest since the Moto RAZR. The Moto X4 has a smooth and shiny glass finish (front and back), unlike other Motorola midrange phones like the Moto G5S Plus and Moto Z2 Play, which both have cold aluminum bodies. Its 5.2-inch Full HD display also makes the phone fairly compact despite having the usual amount of bezels all around.

We reviewed the Moto Z2 Play, and the Moto X4 surely wins in terms of one-handed usage thanks to its palm-friendly curves. While the glass back looks more pleasing, especially when light strikes it, the phone lacks Moto Mod support since there are no connector pins on the back. It could have been nice if Moto threw in wireless charging, but the glass is just for vanity.

What the Moto X4 has which other midrange phones don’t is waterproofing. Other Motorola handsets usually have minor protection against liquids with nano-coating, but this one is completely IP68-certified so you can take it to take pool and swim with it. Just the pool though, and not the beach.

Moto X series steps down to midrange power

One other thing to point out about the Moto X4 is its processing power. Moto fans (including me) were surprised that the X series came back to the market as a midranger. It looks like we’re not getting a true Motorola flagship this year that’s available across the globe. The shatter-resistant Moto Z2 Force is only in select regions, so we gotta wait for next year. Maybe an 18:9 phone soon?

Our unit has a Snapdragon 630 processor with 4GB of memory for multitasking and 64GB of internal storage. It’s a dual-SIM variant which has a hybrid slot for a microSD card just in case you need it. Despite not having the best processor around, the Moto X4 never lagged during usage. Prior to using the Moto X4 as my daily driver, I’ve been using the Moto Z2 Play (because of the useful Incipio battery Moto Mod) and both are on par in terms of performance. I kinda miss the AMOLED panel though, which is super useful for the Moto Active Display feature.

Since it’s a Motorola phone, you get a somewhat bare version of Android Nougat (no Oreo, yet). There are a few Microsoft apps pre-installed to get you started in doing mobile office. A midranger like the Moto X4 performs pretty well in gaming. Some titles can be played in high settings like Asphalt Extreme, but NBA 2K17 needs to be set somewhere in the middle if you want really smooth frames.

Wide-angle camera is always fun to use

Two is better than one, right? The Moto X4 has dual rear cameras and they’re similar to the likes of LG phones which have a super wide-angle secondary lens. We’re talking about a 12-megapixel f/2.0 primary camera with Dual Pixel autofocus and an 8-megapixel ultra wide-angle shooter without autofocus. While playing around with the super wide-angle lens, it felt like I had a smarter GoPro in my pocket. Selfies is also a thing for the Moto X4 with its 16-megapixel front-facing camera which has its own LED flash.

Quality-wise, the photos taken look great. Dual Pixel works like a charm when shooting in dim places and locks the focus onto the subject really quick. The wide-angle lens doesn’t have any focusing mechanism because it doesn’t really need one. Also, the phone has some sort of portrait shooting mode called Depth Enabled. It works okay if you like to have a creamy bokeh effect, but the camera launcher stutters a bit. The selfie mode doesn’t do justice to the high-resolution sensor, but there’s a beauty mode at least.

Battery lasts longer than expected

Equipped with a non-removable 3000mAh battery, the Moto X4 can last the whole day with moderate use. With a full charge, I start my day around eight in the morning and commute to work for an hour or two while I listen to Spotify or watch something on Netflix to keep myself sane while stuck in traffic. I switch between Wi-Fi and cellular data during work hours, and just before heading home, I have more than enough juice to once again brave the rush hour on the road. I average around four to five hours of screen-on time.

There’s Quick Charge 3.0 on board, and a compatible fast charger is included in the box. A zero to 25 percent charge takes only 15 minutes, while a full 100 percent charge takes about an hour and 15 minutes.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

After using the Moto X4 for more than a week, it crossed my mind that this phone battles its own cousin — the Moto Z2 Play. Both are similarly priced, but they offer something different from each other. For instance, the Moto X4 is waterproofed and sexy while the Moto Z2 Play is industrial-looking and has modular accessories available. Both are on par in performance and display quality (minus the true blacks of Z2 Play’s AMOLED), but their size difference is something one should consider, too.

Grab the Moto X4 if you want a packaged Motorola smartphone concealed within a beautiful glass body. The phone retails for PhP 23,999 in the Philippines and INR 22,999 in India for the same 4GB/64GB configuration. If you can, there’s an Android One version of the Moto X4 in the US which is available for US$ 325 under Google’s Project Fi network.

SEE ALSO: Moto G5s Plus Unboxing and Hands-on

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Huawei P20 Lite Review

A shy midrange phone worth paying attention to

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Amid the praises Huawei is getting for the P20 and P20 Pro, it seems like people are forgetting that there’s a shy midrange variant in the series — a variant that doesn’t have any camera branding or high price tag. This is our Huawei P20 Lite review.

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ASUS ZenFone 5Z Review: More powerful but not exactly better

Better processor and more memory than the ZenFone 5, but not much else

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After a less-than-stellar attempt at shooting for the stars in the premium smartphone segment, ASUS took a step back and came out with perhaps one of the best midrange smartphones of 2018 — the ZenFone 5. However, that doesn’t mean their done competing in the upper echelon. Enter the ASUS ZenFone 5Z.

At first glance, the ZenFone 5Z doesn’t seem all that much better than the ZenFone 5. They’re identical after all. So if you’re curious about the look and button placements, go ahead and open this link in another tab then come right back here when you’re done.

Here are a few photos of the 5Z if you’re too lazy.

All the ports are at the bottom, the buttons are on the right, and it’s a hybrid dual-SIM, which means the second SIM slot can accept a microSD card to expand the storage up to 512GB.

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See what we mean?

AI cameras need time to get better

The similarities don’t end there. Both phones have AI-powered cameras which means they analyze your scene and/or subject and apply edits to make it look better. Most of the time, it means tweaking the saturation.

The ZenFone 5 and 5Z also share the same primary camera configuration — one is a 12-megapixel sensor with a bright f/1.8 lens and the other a wide-angle which has an 8-megapixel sensor — so naturally, they take comparable photos. While that’s not entirely a bad thing, it also means they’re a tier under the likes of the P20 Pro and Galaxy S9+.

Take a look at these samples:

It was a cloudy morning in Baler, Aurora and the ZenFone 5Z did a nice job of capturing the part of the sky not covered by clouds

Here’s a closer shot of the shore showing the reflection of the couple passing by

It also captures a fair amount of detail even at night

Zooming in for closer shots, and you’ll see the ZenFone 5Z’s color reproduction is pretty accurate.

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The portrait mode on the 8MP front-facing cam does a surprisingly good job on the cutouts and blurring effect. It’s also wide enough to capture a group selfie with you and your friends as seen on the third photo.

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What I enjoy the most is taking portraits of people. The depth effect works well with a single subject, but struggles a little when there’s more than one person in the shot.

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It’s worth noting that the camera crashed quite a few times while we tried to use it in pro mode and also when the depth effect was turned on. This was fixed in a recent software update.

Faster, smoother, lasts longer

The Snapdragon 845 processor together with 6GB of RAM on our particular review unit is the only real difference from the ZenFone 5. This phone runs Android 8.0 Oreo with ZenUI 5.0 which takes away most of the bloatware that used to come with previous iterations of the ZenFone. The result is a fast and smooth browsing experience whether you’re flipping through your home screen, browsing social media, or cycling through apps. This phone performs with the best of them.

Where the ZenUI 5.0 can improve on is perhaps adding gestures instead of the on-screen navigation bar. There’s an option to keep the navigation bar visible but it defeats the purpose of having more screen.

Instead, there’s an option to hide it but then you have to swipe up on the bottom area first to make it visible. Having to do so can cause you to do things on the app you’re on like accidentally liking the 12-week old photo of your crush on Instagram. That’s embarrassing and could have been avoided! It’s an extra step that affects the whole experience and could easily be improved.

The ZenFone 5Z may not be a gaming-focused handset like the ROG Phone, but it can more than hold its own. Personally, I don’t really play on mobile a lot but the few times that I did on the ZenFone 5Z was a pleasurable experience. It handled titles like Tales of the Rays and Eternium with ease. It also had no problems running Dragon Ball Legends with maxed-out graphics.

The 3300mAh battery is no slouch, either. On average I can start a day at 100 percent and end with around 25 to 38 percent left depending on my usage. Filling it up again is also quick thanks to AI charging. From 30 percent, it can go straight up to 100 percent again in less than an hour.

Uniquely ASUS with other neat features

There are a few things on here that’s uniquely ASUS and you may or may not find them useful depending on your preferences. One of which is the Smart Group feature in the app drawer. ZenUI has had this for a while and it’s actually gotten smarter. It puts related apps in a single folder and labels them for you. It’s super convenient if you’re the type who likes things organized.

There’s also the Selfie Master app which is home to a host of beautification features which I personally don’t really use. What you’ll also find there is ZeniMoji — clearly an attempt to replicate the iPhone’s Animoji. It still needs plenty of work but if you’re curious to see what it looks like, I used it for the intro on this IGTV video.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

The ZenFone 5Z is everything the ZenFone 5 is but faster and quite possibly smoother. In a vacuum, it seems like a pretty solid flagship. Unfortunately, it does not exist in a vacuum. If you consider that the 5Z is trying to compete with the likes of the OnePlus 6, Galaxy S9, and other flagships of those caliber, I find that it falls short in terms of design and camera output.

At PhP 29,995 or roughly around US$ 562, it costs nearly US$ 200 more than the ZenFone 5 which sits at PhP 19,995 (US$ 374). While there are slight bumps in processing and speed, it’s hard to justify the price gap costing that much if the device looks exactly like a midranger.

If you’re a ZenFone fan and can fork out the extra 200 bucks, then by all means take the 5Z. Otherwise, you can just opt for the Zenfone 5 which is one of the best smartphones at its price point.

SEE MORE: ASUS ZenFone 5 Video Review

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ASUS ZenFone Max Pro (M1) review: The perfect budget-midrange phone?

Featuring a very surprising price tag

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Despite selling more than other segment, the budget phone industry doesn’t offer the most exciting offerings available in the market. Positioned more for affordability, these phones often cram in lackluster specs to reduce costs.

Luckily, with improving technologies, it has become possible to finally pack in midrange (and even flagship) features into an affordable package.

Following this trend, ASUS has launched their own take on high-spec’d budget phones. And it’s quite the mouthful to say — the ASUS ZenFone Max Pro (M1).

On paper, the Max Pro offers an impressive spec sheet that will leave both you and your wallet happy. However, paper doesn’t speak for actual performance. Let’s see how ASUS’ budget phone performs in the real world.

Modern but uninspired design

Despite swimming in deep budget phone territory, the Max Pro looks and feels remarkably well. Thankfully, the phone doesn’t share in the tacky plastic tradition that its market is known for. It fits in an all-glass front, metal rear panel, and polycarbonate framing.

Much like the phones of today, the Max Pro minimizes its upper and lower bezel. Likewise, it almost completely eradicates its side bezels. Fortunately (and unfortunately, for some), the phone does not have the controversial camera notch.

On the rear, the phone squeezes its dual cameras into the top-left corner, much like the iPhone X and the Huawei P20 series. Also, the rear carries a fingerprint reader.

Overall, the Max Pro offers a refreshing upgrade from the usual fare of the budget phone market. It handles very well and weighs considerably less, despite packing in quite the punch under the hood.

Sadly, the design is still nothing to write home about. Even if it refreshes the genre, the phone offers an uninspired design that just follows the same beats of its contemporaries. It feels just adequately premium.

Vanilla, too vanilla

After testing several ASUS phones in the past, the brand’s usual fault lies in how bloated its software is. Often, ASUS packs obnoxious bloatware into all their phones. Thankfully, the Max Pro breaks the trend.

Out of the box, the phone comes installed with the latest Android 8.1 Oreo. It doesn’t cram in custom ROMs or unnecessary apps. It’s as vanilla as vanilla gets.

Unfortunately, being vanilla also creates its downfall. Even today, most smartphone makers still add their own custom flavor to Android. On the other hand, ASUS hasn’t added anything to the vanilla Android experience.

As a result, the Max Pro outs an Android experience that pales in comparison to even the Google Pixel’s version of vanilla Android.

Packing in the power

For its price, the Max Pro sports a Snapdragon 636 chipset, 3GB of RAM, and 32GB of internal storage. With that, the phone positions itself as one of the few budget phones to offer midrange performance.

From an actual performance standpoint, the Max Pro can handle most of the games I threw at it. Confidently, it can play less graphically intensive games like Clash Royale and Pokémon Go. Similarly, it can play more intensive titles like PUBG Mobile and Sniper 3D.

Sadly, with the latter set of games, the Max Pro does slightly hiccup its framerates. For intense gamers, this presents a nagging obstacle especially for multiplayer games like PUBG Mobile. Even with 50 ping, the game lags every once in a while.

For the most part, however, the phone plays adequately well. It was a joy to play for hours.

Additionally, it keeps comfortably cool throughout hours of just playing games. At most, the phone’s rear central panel slightly heats up to lukewarm levels. Regardless, it never reaches a point wherein it’s too hot to touch. As far as positioning goes, my hands only barely touch any of the hot spots while playing.

For benchmarking fans, the Max Pro clocks in a score of 114,117 on AnTuTu. The phone is a confident performer both on paper and in real life. However, if you’re going for the heavy gamer route, I suggest a hardy memory card to supplement the paltry 32GB.

Loves the day, hates the night

Despite carrying a dual rear camera setup, the Max Pro doesn’t perform well when it comes to taking photos. While it can take photos well during the day, the loss of light drastically reduces the quality of photos that it can take.

On the rear, the phone sports a 13-megapixel plus 5-megapixel shooting combo. It can shoot adequate photos; however, the camera distinctly amps up contrast to an abnormal point. Vibrant photos display well, but high-key photos are starker, lacking the visual unity of better cameras.

On the flipside, the 8-megapixel front camera can take brilliant selfies in daylight. Likewise, photo quality absolutely crumbles once you take light away. In twilight to nighttime settings, selfies are blurry and grainy messes.

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Rock and roll all night

Even with a midrange chipset, the Max Pro’s most surprising feature lies in the battery that powers it. The phone packs in a 5000mAh battery within its light frame.

As you might expect, the phone is incredibly robust, withstanding a lot of abuse before the battery drains to dangerous levels.

To test this, I continuously played PUBG Mobile and Sniper 3D to drain the battery on a 100 percent charge. Happily, it took the entire afternoon to even make a huge dent on its charge. By the end, the phone still had enough to function well at night, hovering around a 30 percent charge.

More quantitatively, one solo match on PUBG Mobile (from lobby to chicken dinner) costs around eight to nine percent of battery. On a fully charged battery, you can play around 10 to 11 matches before the phone finally gives out. That’s a lot of chicken dinners!

Without heavy gaming, the phone can last around two days on just one charge. Once it reaches zero, it takes around two hours to fully charge it again. It’s quite a while by today’s standards, but enough for the phone’s whopping battery.

For its PhP 9,995 price tag (around US$ 200), the ASUS ZenFone Max Pro (M1) is worth every penny. Is this your GadgetMatch? It’s not the best budget to midrange phone out there. But, at that price, who’s complaining?

SEE ALSO: ASUS ZenFone Max Pro (M1): Price and availability in the Philippines

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