Reviews

OnePlus 5 Review: A bit of everything

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As much as we prefer ranking smartphones by their price range, there’ll always be that one handset that disrupts the system. Month after month, it’s been whatever OnePlus has in its stable.

Like its predecessor, the OnePlus 3T, the OnePlus 5 slid into our definition of “midrange” despite having specifications and features at the level of phones in our premium segment. A starting price of only US$ 479 does that, and sets the latest OnePlus as the go-to, bang-for-buck performer of 2017 thus far.

And yet, in spite of being superior on paper, the OnePlus 5 isn’t a clear-cut upgrade over the 3T — or any of its closest rivals, for that matter. Let me explain.

A borrowed design just doesn’t do it for me…

For a brand that follows the “Never Settle” philosophy, it’s strange to see its flagship smartphone borrow so many design cues from other manufacturers.

Setting aside the expected iPhone 7 Plus comparison, the OnePlus 5 has a strong, strong resemblance to the OPPO R11. So much so, that the case provided by OPPO for the R11 fits on the OnePlus 5. Had the OnePlus 5 come first, this wouldn’t have been such a big deal, but for it to have the same build as a lower-tier phone merely weakens the impact.

Two nano-SIM card slots, yes. Storage expansion using a microSD card, no.

While I understand that OPPO and OnePlus are sister companies, it’s inexcusable for me to see a borrowed design for a phone which appears only once per year.

On the bright side, if OnePlus really had to imitate, this was a good choice. The smooth edges along the 5.5-inch Full HD AMOLED display have a satisfying relationship with my hand, and the generous amount of front bezel didn’t bother me once. I just wish there were a bundled case; a week of bare yet careful usage caused scratches on the rear camera bump.

… and not much has changed on the surface…

The usual niceties of OnePlus are still here, from the near-stock Android skin and super-sensitive fingerprint sensor that doubles as a non-clicky home button, to the ultra-fast Dash Charge.

Beginning with the user interface, this is as clean as it gets. The only out-of-place app is Community, which seamlessly connects you with fellow OnePlus users, but is just as easy to uninstall in case you don’t really want it.

Like fellow Chinese brands OPPO and Vivo, the OnePlus 5’s fingerprint sensor is a blast to use. Not once did it fail me, and I appreciate how it’s so well sized and placed in front for easy access while on top of a table.

Lastly, the phone’s fast-charging technology continues to be the best in the industry. We have a nerdy explainer on the differences between each charging tech, but the gist is Dash Charge is the most appreciated for allowing the wall charger to heat up instead of the phone itself — not to mention it’s the fastest tech by far.

As usual, what it sorely lacks is water- and dust-resistance, a pair of features that have become common in the smartphones the OnePlus 5 strives to compete against. Once the next Pixel phone brings waterproofing in, the OnePlus 5 will be the only truly high-end handset to be left out.

… but the experience is so much better.

So, a borrowed design from competitors and same-same features from its predecessor — what’s there to be excited about? Two things: the best smartphone processor in the Snapdragon 835, and a brand-new pair of cameras at the back.

This thing is seriously fast — like unbelievably fast. I’ve had the pleasure of using the Snapdragon 835-equipped Samsung Galaxy S8 and Sony Xperia XZ Premium as long-term daily drivers, but the OnePlus 5 still manages to smoke them in terms of raw performance. The animations are a lot more fluid, apps almost never crash, and everything simply works smoothly.

The 3.5mm audio port is still here!

It’s not that this chip is a battery-draining powerhouse, either. In fact, the OnePlus 5 would last me a whole day of heavy usage with at least five hours of screen-on time. That includes everything I do, from listening to tunes on Spotify while editing articles on WordPress, to browsing the web on Chrome and taking pictures every now and then.

A lightly skinned interface, adequate 3300mAh battery capacity, and highly efficient chipset coupled with up to 8GB of memory and 128GB of storage are reasons behind its overall great performance. The model I reviewed is a half step down with 6GB of memory and 64GB of storage, but not once did it fail me.

And, of course, we have the dual-camera setup on the rear. If you’re familiar with the iPhone and R11’s implementation, you’d know what you’re in for: The secondary lens enables you to zoom in on subjects without a drastic loss in quality and add some background blur to your photos.

Sounds good on paper, but how well does that work in practice? Have a look:

OnePlus worked closely with imaging specialist DxOMark to maximize this phone’s imaging powers, and even though it didn’t trump the competition, we must say the quality is quite good.

Both the rear cameras and selfie shooter show notable improvements over their predecessor. Colors have a little more pop; subjects are definitely sharper; and most of all, there are separate portrait and pro modes that’ll allow you to do more. I honestly didn’t have to rely on pro mode — auto settings always did the trick — but applying a shallow depth look through portrait mode did wonders to subjects standing a few feet away.

And then we have the optical zoom from the secondary main camera. We went into detail about it during our hands-on review in China, and the technique is no gimmick. There’s a slight drop in quality when zooming in under lousy lighting conditions, but the outdoor shots are perfectly fine.

Check ’em out:

 

Is this your GadgetMatch?

I could rave on and on about how the OnePlus 5 is everyone’s GadgetMatch, but like with the OnePlus 3T, you have to consider a couple of caveats.

As mentioned earlier, water resistance is missing and the overall look is far too similar to other flagship devices. I failed to expand on the lack of microSD card expansion, but that’s something you can cure with cloud storage.

There are two variants available: The configuration with 6GB of memory and 64GB of storage retails for US$ 479, while the 8GB, 128GB version costs US$ 539. Although significantly more expensive than OnePlus 3T pricing, you’re still getting a noticeable bump in performance and features, and that’s another plus for us.

Our particular review unit came from Digital Walker. The model with 64GB of storage is valued at PhP 26,490, and the one with 128GB storage is priced at PhP 30,990.

SEE ALSO: OnePlus 5 Unboxing: Almost too familiar

[irp posts=”16021″ name=”OnePlus 5 Unboxing: Almost too familiar”]

Reviews

Google Pixel 4a Unboxing & Review: Unbelievably Good?

A direct contender of the iPhone SE and OnePlus Nord

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Google’s ‘a'(ffordable) line-up may be long overdue because of the pandemic — but after several months of waiting, we finally have one on our hands.

Cheaper than last year’s US$ 399 Pixel 3a, the US$ 349 Pixel 4a might just be the most affordable flagship killer contender you can get over the 2020 iPhone SE and the OnePlus Nord.

But can the mid-tier specifications and less-fancy phone features justify its affordable price tag? Head over to our in-depth Pixel 4a review here.

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Nike Air Max 2090 review: Incredibly comfortable everyday sneakers

Really cool, too 😎

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The 2090 is the latest in Nike’s Air Max line. It’s supposed to be related to the Air Max 90 — but more futuristic — hence the name Air Max 2090. In fact, you’ll actually see that Nike maintained many key aspects of the Air Max 90 in this shoe as we go along.

The Air Max 90 of course first dropped in 1990, exactly 30 years ago. The new Air Max 2090 retails at US$ 150, which is higher than what we usually pay for, but Nike is positioning this as a premium lifestyle sneaker.

Even though the Air Max series is historically meant as a running shoe, and Nike is kind of loosely pitching this as a performance shoe, the Air Max 2090 is still a lifestyle shoe.

Design and construction

What I have is the launch colorway, pure platinum, but the Air Max 2090 also comes in a whole bunch of colors including a really cool ice Blue colorway, volt green and blue, and fuchsia purple and yellow.

If you want something really low-key there are all-white and all-black versions as well. If you want something more similar to the OG Air Max 90 colorways, there is a Duck Camo Air Max 2090.

Starting with the upper, it’s mostly covered by translucent mesh. The mesh is pretty lightweight and somewhat see-through. I actually really like this because it means whatever socks you wear under this shoe will slightly change the look of the shoe, which is pretty cool.

This textile liner goes right up against your feet, and generally feels okay but doesn’t really have as much stretch as Nike’s flyknit uppers.

Towards the toe box area there’s an additional layer of protection to prevent your toenails from poking through the mesh, and it has a slightly glossy finish to distinguish itself.

You’ll see a similar kind of fused overlay near the lacing area, surrounding the eyelets, to strengthen the durability of the upper. It’s also accented with a neat cyan blue stitching that I really like.

The lacing and eyelets are in a loop style mechanism where the black, flat laces intertwine through them.

Underneath the laces, there’s black mesh tongue, which has a strange rubberized ring inside a diagonal cutout, the Nike swoosh, and the lowercase air logo which are cut off halfway. This is a weird design element and I’m not really sure what it’s supposed to do, but it looks cool — kind of.

Coming to the inside of the shoe, there’s a black sock-liner and you’ll notice it’s a one piece, internal bootie construction, and the tongue is attached.

The insoles are the usual Air Max insoles, which are in black, and with 2090 printed on top towards the heel and the Nike swoosh in cyan.

Moving on to the mid-panel, there’s a black Nike swoosh outline that is embedded within the outer layer. Like the Air Max 90, the swoosh here is slightly cut off at the bottom, which is accented with this red stitching.

The red stitching is on the mud-guard, which is another element borrowed from the original Air Max 90, but this time around it’s a white synthetic plastic material which runs across both sides of the shoe. Towards the back of this area, there’s an air logo in lowercase and cut off halfway.

The back of the shoe has a ton of padding on the heel. The foam padding definitely adds to the comfort of this shoe, but it’s also rigid enough to give support to the back of your heel, and help with a secure heel lock.

On the outside of the heel area, there’s another mesh-like finish, this time in black, covered with a rubberized heel-tab bumper with grooves that protrude out, which is another element reminiscent of the Air Max 90. You’ll also notice the air and swoosh logos within.

Above that, you have this bright red pull-tab rope loop, which is in the same color as the accent on the mudguard.

Coming to the midsole, it’s pretty chunky with a white colored foam on the forefoot, and a thick air unit towards the heel. It feels like the React foam but Nike has not mentioned it anywhere so there’s no way to be sure if they are similar.

The Air window on the back is 200 percent bigger than the standard Air Unit used before on the Air Max 90, and it’s housed within this silver-colored TPU shell that has the same ridge pattern as the heel-tab on the back of the shoe.

Coming to the outsole, it’s made of a grey rubber with grooves on the forefoot that are similar to the waffle outsole on the Air Max 90. This groove pattern was meant to give you better flexibility with the shoe, and they seem to allow just that.

Towards the very top of the toe area, there’s another hint of cyan, with the Nike Air Max logo towards the center of the outsole, and the Nike swoosh towards the heel area.

Fit and Comfort

Coming to fit, the Nike Air Max 2090 seems to fit true-to-size. I’ll give you the usual disclaimer that if you’re like me and you have wide feet, you might want to go up half a size since these do run a little narrow and the upper isn’t very stretchy, but they’re also long so you end up with more space in the toe box area.

In terms of comfort, these were actually surprisingly really comfortable to wear. They’re a lot more comfortable than the OG Air Max 90, or even the newer Air Max 270s.

The combination of that huge Air Unit and the secret foam Nike is using here makes for a shoe that has great, soft cushioning. This shoe is actually incredibly comfortable to wear and I think these would actually make great everyday wear sneakers.

Is this your SneakerMatch?

Nike has made a lot of Air Max shoes over the years but I really do feel like this is the best Air Max we’ve seen in years.

Not only is it one of the most comfortable Air Max shoes, it’s also a really cool-looking shoe. I love how they made all these tiny little callbacks to the OG Air Max 90.

Nike has been killing it with their sneaker releases lately and I think this is just another great shoe in the collection.

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Accessories

Redmi 9A review: A match for online learning

Does everything you expect it to

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We recently reviewed another budget phone and gauged how well it would do as a student’s companion for distance learning. Seeing as the Redmi 9A fits squarely in that peg, we’re going to do the exact same thing.

This might seem like a cop out way to test the device, but given everything that’s happening, it also seems appropriate.

The status of the pending school year in the Philippines seems like it’s up in the air at the moment. Regardless, if you still choose to equip the young student in your family with a smartphone for online learning, can the Redmi 9A play that role?

Baseline specs

Let’s first see how it stacks up specs-wise to the minimum specs requirement laid out by the Education Department of the Philippines.

Distance Learning, Smartphone Minimum Tech Specs Redmi 9A 
Processor Octa-core 2 GHz MediaTek Helio G25

(Octa-core 2 Ghz)

Memory 2GB 2GB
Display 6”, IPS LCD 6.53”
Storage 32GB 32GB
Network GSM / HSPA / LTE

Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n

Bluetooth

Dual 4G

Wi-Fi

Bluetooth

Ports Micro USB or Type C, 3.5mm Audio Jack Micro USB port, 3.5mm Audio Jack
OS Android 8.1 Android 10, MIUI 12

 

We asked a teacher some questions about how this smartphone will be used by the student in a distance learning setup. Answers have been edited for brevity.

What will students need to access for distance learning?

It depends on the platform the school will use. These can be Google Classroom, Edmodo, Zoom, etc. But certainly, the most accessed sites will be Google and Wikipedia.

Facebook and Messenger may also be used for communication and publishing of some projects. However, this is also dependent on the teacher handling the class.

What are the must have apps? 

Youtube, Google Apps (Docs, Sheets, Slides) or any office app, Dictionary, A notepad app, Web browser, and Email.

How long will they need to be on the phone?

Our planned schedule will start at around 9AM and will end at around 2PM. That’s five 45-minute classes with 15 minutes of break in between. There’s also a 30-minute lunch break at 11:45AM. It may vary from day-to-day but that’s the general plan.

This also does not yet include consultation time. For us, we’ll do 15 minutes at the start and at the end of the day to help make-up for the interaction that will be lost due to the nature of an online class.

Any final notes? 

It’s certainly possible to have online classes despite the student only having a smartphone. Given of course that the smartphone can access everything mentioned previously.

Usually for lectures, the students will only really have to listen to the lectures on video. The teacher can opt to pre-record the classes and make it available for on-demand viewing so the students can access it even after class hours. The rest of the activities will be handled offline and be disseminated via communication apps.

How does the Redmi 9A handle the activities mentioned?

The Redmi 9A almost looks like it’s the exact phone that the Education Department had in mind when they drafted the minimum requirements specs. It fits every spec to a T. So how does it perform?

Like most Android phones, a lot of the Google apps mentioned by the teacher already come pre-installed. And they’ve been optimized to run smoothly on the device’s configuration.

Curiously, the MediaTek G25 struggled a bit more overall compared to the MediaTek G35 on the previous budget phone I put through this test. Although, this could also be a function of the skin (MIUI 12) making things feel slower than it ought to be.

For the record, MIUI 12 is actually one of my favorite Android skins. It’s little design decisions make a lot of sense to me.

For instance, the animation for recent apps is unlike any other Android skin. Instead of making you go left to right to switch, the apps are arranged vertically and you continue with the up-down motion you started with when decided to jump from one app to another.

But as far as apps go, Google is your best friend if you want to maximize budget phones.

Lite apps should be your go to

Budget phones are light on power so it’s prudent to go for Lite apps to not put too much stress on your phone.

Facebook, Twitter, Messenger, and even Spotify all have lite versions. You still get most of what you need from these apps without hogging too much memory.

Same is true for gaming apps. While looking for more Lite apps to use, I found PUBG Lite. It’s gonna eat over 500mb of storage but if you’re really into first-person shooters, this is probably the app to download.

Battery fared nicely

At 5000mAh this thing has plenty of juice. It also helps that it doesn’t have any exorbitant features to support thereby extending the battery life even further.

I simulated the 9AM to 2PM video on demand class sessions by letting the phone marathon through a bunch of YouTube videos. After 6 hours and 23 minutes, I ended up at 68% from a full charge.

Yes, that’s Heejin. Stan LOONA.

Absolutely no issues here. This phone should be able to keep up with you for a day and then some.

Good build quality

This is again one of the more pleasant surprises here. The last time I used a budget phone extensively was about half a decade ago. It felt nowhere near this good.

The Redmi 9A feels sturdy and not the type that will break after a fall or two. Unlike yours truly. It’s hard to see on the black variant but it also has this tiny concentric circle design thing going on at the back. Much like the one found on the Redmi 9.

Fair post-processing on photos

You’re not gonna blow minds with the 13MP rear and 5MP front-facing cameras on this thing. But it does what it’s supposed to. To make sure you get good photos make sure you have a decent light source.

These were taken in the afternoon near a window.

This one was when it’s about to turn into night time.

Is the Redmi 9A an online learning GadgetMatch?

I was really skeptical about the specs laid out by the Education Department. However, this test with the Redmi 9A proved that as far as the necessities go, this gets the job done.

If you’re able to spend more, that’s great. But for people who absolutely can only spend under PhP 5,000 (US$ 100), this is a good enough choice. The Redmi 9A retails for PhP 4590 (US$ 93) and it’s already capable of a lot without forcing you to spend too much.

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