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OnePlus 5T Review: T is for Trendy

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OnePlus has this thing for crashing the smartphone party with their annual flagship killers. The OnePlus 3T, in particular, stole the show last year as not just the best bang for buck of all high-end phones, but arguably the best phone of 2016, period.

The OnePlus 5T is obviously more of a successor to the well-received OnePlus 5 than it is to the OnePlus 3T launched at the same time last year. OnePlus needed an incremental update to the OnePlus 5 in order to compete with all the near-borderless smartphones that have been popping up left and right.

Without a doubt, the OnePlus 5T looks a lot more like a year-ending flagship than its predecessor does, yet it didn’t have to add much to dimensions and price of the OnePlus 5 to level up.

This newer model has a larger and taller 6-inch AMOLED screen with an 18:9 ratio (same 1080p resolution, though); a redesigned pair of rear cameras that drop the optical zoom in favor of better low-light performance (in theory); and a new way of logging in using your face since the fingerprint moved to the back.

Other than those, you could read our OnePlus 5 review and get a good idea of how the 5T performs. The internals, from the Snapdragon 835 processor and memory/storage configuration to the 3300mAh battery capacity and top-class Dash Charge technology, are practically the same.

So, the question is: Do the minor updates justify the slight increase in price? We can answer this by going through each new feature.

Is a bigger display better?

The most drastic change to the overall design is clearly the display. But although it’s half an inch larger in size, the 6-inch AMOLED fits within the same footprint as the OnePlus 5’s body. To make this possible, the screen has an elongated 18:9 ratio, which means you’ll see black bars on the sides while watching traditional 16:9 videos, and the capacitive navigation buttons have been removed from the bottom bezel.

This type of display is something we’ll have to get used to. Nearly every new handset launched in the past couple of months has adopted this format, and 2018 looks to add to the growing trend. The adjustment here, however, is the fingerprint scanner’s move to the back.

For people like me who prefer unlocking their phone while it’s rested on a table, this is a negative but necessary change until manufacturers figure out how to incorporate fingerprint sensors under their touchscreens.

Can facial unlocking replace the fingerprint scanner?

In the meantime, the best workaround to the rear-mounted login method is to use the OnePlus 5T’s facial scanning. I was honestly hesitant to rely on it at first — my experiences with previous executions haven’t been pleasant — but the implementation on this handset took my breath away.

Never have I used a facial scanner this fast, both in setting up and actual usage. Getting it to run is a breeze, and unlocking the phone even in dim lighting with a slight change in my appearance yielded near-instant activation times.

At the same time, this isn’t the most secure method for keeping your data safe. OnePlus themselves warn users that this isn’t as foolproof as the fingerprint scanner or even a PIN code. Use it at your own risk, and don’t hand your phone to sneaky siblings.

Are the cameras better in low-light conditions?

One head-scratching move was to let go of the secondary optical zoom lens of the OnePlus 5 and replace it with a camera that assists the main shooter in darker scenarios. While that initially seems like a practical idea, leaving in the option to zoom is confusing for users who thought the feature is gone, and from what we’ve tested, low-light performance hasn’t noticeably improved.

The built-in camera app automatically switches from the 16-megapixel main camera to the 20-megapixel secondary shooter when it feels like light is too scarce. Using what OnePlus calls Intelligent Pixel Technology, you’re supposed to get sharper images with less noise. That wasn’t necessarily the case.

Here are a few night-time samples:

Although these photos are fine on their own, when compared to those shot with the OnePlus 5, there’s no significant improvement. It made me wonder if it was really necessary to sacrifice the nifty optical zoom lens for this. There’s still an option to do software-based zooming, but there’s a noticeable drop in quality.

If you look closely at the photo to the right, you’ll see how much detail is lost compared to the non-zoomed image on the left:

Ignoring the attempt at better low-light photography, shooting in daylight is quite good. Colors are generally warm, which make objects and people look more lively in front of their background. There’s also a dedicated portrait mode to help blur out the background of the person you’re shooting.

I was happy with the dynamic range and sharpness under strong sunlight, and not once did it have difficulty focusing on my chosen subjects. Selfies were great, too — just not at the level of the OnePlus 5T’s nearly identical twin, the OPPO R11s.

Are there any drawbacks or advantages over the OnePlus 5?

Besides the ones mentioned earlier — namely the controversial camera setup and polarizing choice of fingerprint scanner placement — there’s just one more concern to discuss: the outdated Android version.

Despite launching three months after the release of Android 8.0 Oreo, the OnePlus 5T settles for Android 7.1.1 Nougat. To make matters worse, the company hasn’t specified when their Oreo will rollout, only claiming that it’ll happen some time in early 2018. Nougat isn’t a bad flavor by any means, but version 8.0 with its optimizations should’ve been bundled in the first place.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

If you recently bought a OnePlus 5, you shouldn’t feel bad about missing out on the newer model. The 5T’s screen is larger, facial scanning is an alternative option for logging in, and there’s a different take on its dual-camera design — all these make the OnePlus 5T feel fresh and in line with today’s smartphone standards, but they’re nothing groundbreaking.

You even get the same raw performance and battery life, the latter of which offers five hours’ worth of screen-on time after a full charge. OnePlus’ excellent Dash Charge is back as well, bringing the OnePlus 5T from zero to over 60 percent in 30 minutes and to a hundred percent in only one hour and 25 minutes.

You’d just have to contend with the raised price; the OnePlus 5T’s starting price is US$ 499 for the 64GB storage variant. While that’s way below what you’d pay for from the likes of Huawei, Samsung, or Google, hitting the US$ 500 mark means it’s no longer a truly affordable option.

If you can wait another six months, the OnePlus 6 may be able to iron out the issues we mentioned here. But for now, the OnePlus 5T has more strengths than drawbacks, and has few worthy rivals at this price point.

SEE ALSO: OnePlus 5T: The good and the bad

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Samsung Galaxy A6+ Review: Filling the gap

Something in between

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Samsung continues to populate the Android smartphone market just like any other phone manufacturer. Two months ago, the South Korean company announced the Galaxy A6+ along with the Galaxy A6. The Galaxy A6+, as expected, is the better phone of the two with a bigger screen, better processor, and dual rear cameras. If you’re familiar with the designs of Samsung phones, you might mistake this phone as the direct successor to the Galaxy J7 Pro because of some physical similarities.

How much better is the Galaxy A6+ for it to be above the Galaxy J series? Let’s find out.

It has a 6-inch Super AMOLED Infinity Display

Comes with a Full HD+ resolution

It has an 18.5:9 aspect ratio with minimal bezels, just like with the Galaxy A8 (2018)

The top bezel is wide enough to have a front LED flash

The top portion of the phone is clean

You can only see a couple of antenna bands here

On the left side are the volume buttons…

The opposite side has the loudspeaker

And also two separate card trays

One for the main SIM card and another for the second one and a microSD card

The bottom is pretty busy with the mic, micro-USB, and 3.5mm port

Why is Samsung still not widely adopting USB-C?

The back has the U-shaped antenna bands from the Galaxy J series

This is what makes the Galaxy A6+ look like a member of the Galaxy J series

Let’s not forget about the two rear cameras and fingerprint reader

While the body’s design is borrowed from the Galaxy J7 Pro, the camera is from the Galaxy A8 (2018) or Galaxy S9’s look

A familiar but surprisingly fresh design

The phone’s design blends both the recent Galaxy J and Galaxy A phones, specifically the Galaxy J7 Pro and Galaxy A8 (2018). Or if you wanna get picky, the Galaxy S9 too, but without the curved sides of the display. Moving forward, the Galaxy A6+ looks and feels like a premium phone. The seamless unibody has the cold touch I always look for when using a phone with a metal body. The finish of my review unit is matte, but it’s still a bit slippery on my hand.

The body has a nice rounded shape, making it comfortable to hold. When I wrap my hand around the phone, I don’t feel any sharp edges, which is a good thing. I can easily use the phone with one hand, but I find the phone more suitable for two-handed operation due to its large display.

Aside from black, the phone also comes in blue, gold, and lavender depending on your market region. It doesn’t have the most exciting colors (Huawei and Honor are currently leading in that aspect), but they look sleek and formal.

Great-performing midrange phone

Powered by the efficient Snapdragon 450 processor, the Galaxy A6+ can easily get things done. The processor is paired with 4GB of memory and Android 8.0 Oreo skinned with Samsung Experience version 9.0. During my usage, I didn’t encounter any lag, so the power that this phone has is already sufficient to provide a smooth user experience. I’m just not sure if this will get Android P in the future. Perhaps it will since it’s under the Galaxy A-series, but the timeline is yet to be confirmed.

It’s great to have a midrange Samsung phone running a Snapdragon processor since it’s compatible with most games in the Google Play Store. Not that Exynos processors don’t have the power, but developers optimize their apps (especially games) with Snapdragon chipsets more.

Since the Galaxy A6+ has been a secondary phone for me, I filled its 32GB internal storage with games and played a lot on it. I was able to enjoy Asphalt Xtreme on high settings and even some graphics-intensive titles including Tekken Mobile and Power Rangers: Legacy Wars. PUBG Mobile was automatically set to low, but you can always adjust the settings to get more details.

As for the rear fingerprint reader, it works well and can be used along with face unlock. The fingerprint reader is more secure and reliable though, since this phone doesn’t have infrared cameras like the Galaxy S9 and Note 8.

Takes more than decent pictures, plus bokeh!

Samsung is gradually putting two sensors on the back of their phones, and the Galaxy A6+ is the latest in the bunch. A main 16-megapixel f/1.7 sensor is paired with a secondary 5-megapixel f/1.9 sensor for depth sensing. Just like other simple dual-camera setups, the additional sensor helps add bokeh — there’s no optical zoom or super wide-angle lens.

I took the phone around Taipei for some sample photos. Taiwan’s capital is a colorful city which the phone continues to brighten up through its cameras. Under direct light, the photos I took are sharp or maybe too sharp at times. Even when the sun sets, the rear shooter can take good-looking photos thanks to its large aperture. Moving subjects can be a problem at night though, but that’s understandable since the phone prioritizes the exposure over speed.

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When it comes to selfies, the Galaxy A6+ continues to carry the flag of the Galaxy A series as Samsung’s selfie-centric line. The 24-megapixel f/1.9 front-facing can shoot detailed and pleasant selfies. The built-in beauty mode is not as impressive as OPPO’s or Vivo’s, but it’s there. Of course, AR stickers are also available but not the AR Emoji feature from the Galaxy S9.

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For a point-and-shoot camera phone, the Galaxy A6+ will do great for everyday shooting. Both the front and rear shooters have large apertures for bright photos and quick snaps. Selfies are also in check and there’s even a dedicated LED flash so you can still take portraits in the dark.

One for the road but…

For you to be able to enjoy what the phone has to offer all day, it’s gotta have a long battery life. Thankfully, the large 3500mAh battery sealed inside the metal body of the Galaxy A6+ delivers well enough. I used the phone as my secondary device while roaming around Taipei, mostly for taking photos and as a mobile hotspot using a local SIM card. I easily got three days of usage since I didn’t use the phone as much, but it can definitely last more than a day if used moderately on its own.

While the battery life of the handset is impressive, the charging time is not. The phone charges through the micro-USB port found at the bottom of the phone. Using a fast charger, I get only 13 percent after a quick 15 minute top-up, while a 30-minute charge gives me 24 percent. My personal charger is already Quick Charge 3.0-compatible, but that’s definitely not supported by the phone.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

If you’re looking to upgrade your old Galaxy J series phone to a more premium Samsung phone, you can test the waters with the Galaxy A6+. We’re aware of the increase in smartphone prices (especially with Samsung), so we understand if some users might find this phone to be on the expensive side. Maybe if Samsung didn’t resort to recycling the U-shaped antenna design, people (including myself) would not associate this phone as part of the cheaper Galaxy J lineup.

The Galaxy A6+ is priced at EUR 369 (US$ 430) in Europe, but is slightly cheaper in some parts of Asia: INR 25,990 in India, PhP 22,990 in the Philippines, and MYR 1,399 in Malaysia. It costs more than the competition, but the added premium is a requirement to get a more admirable phone from Samsung.

SEE ALSO: Samsung Galaxy A6 Hands-on: Repackaging the older series

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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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