Features

Phablet Wars Episode 1: Galaxy Note 5

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There’s a certain cadence to tech reporting, a routine if you will, milestones and destinations that are plotted on a calendar like red letter days. Like holidays more than special events, affairs that you know will take place, come hell or high water.

And sure enough, as it has come to pass every year since the original large screen smartphone was invented back 2011, a new Samsung Galaxy Note is unveiled.

I’m here on my third year running, and there’s a comforting familiarity about things, but something is not quite right, something is messing up the expected sense of déjà vu.

The date and place are different.

Normally this event takes places in September, in Berlin, right before the start of a technology trade show called IFA. Instead we’re at the Lincoln Center in the Big Apple, in the middle of August.

Almost ironically, you have Apple to blame for messing up this rhythm.

JK Shin Unpacked 2015

Back in 2011, Steve Jobs mocked the original Note predicting that no one would want to buy a phone with a large screen. But Samsung was laughing all the way to the bank, and so last year, behest their departed founder’s wishes, Apple released the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus.

That super sized iPhone goes head-to-head with the Note, and Apple being Apple, can afford to be 3 years late, and still make a competitive dent in this growing space of smartphones that are larger than your usual phone and smaller than your usual tablets.

Each move now, is a play in these “phablet” wars. And that’s why we are here early.

Samsung wants a head start, away from any noise that Apple can generate. The Korean tech giant needs to wow the world like its never done before, and it needs to get the Note 5 to stores before Apple can say iPhone 6S Plus.

GLORIOUS

Note 5 in NYC

Behold the Note 5 in all its glory. The demo phone I’m given to take around town is gold, and it glistens under the New York sun, more prestigious than any Note I’ve previously had the privilege of using.

Its front panel is unmistakably Samsung with rounded corners and a glass face, as always a large Samsung logo is plastered just below the ear piece, and on the bottom center of the device, the capsule shaped home button.

The screen on this phone is as glorious as ever, similar to last year’s model, the resolution is twice that of a high-def display, with more pixels than the eye can see. Colors have the usual saturation and vibrance Samsung Super AMOLED displays are known for, and so far, its been holding its own against North America’s over zealous sun.

The only thing noticeably different about this screen is its bezel. One this phone, that border in between the display and the phone’s aluminum trim is reduced slightly, so the phone is not just thinner, but also a tiny bit shorter and slimmer.

But it is the phone’s back side that’s left me infatuated. 

Earlier this year, Samsung unveiled the Galaxy S6 Edge – one of the most, I wanna say, fashion forward phones of the year, but in technological terms. Its edge display is curved on both sides, tapering down to fractions of a millimeter on both sides. This stunning specimen of a smartphone feels like the future.

In New York, Samsung unveiled a phablet version of the S6 Edge calling it the S6 Edge+ and I know it sounds like i’ve digressed, but if you can imagine what the screen of the S6 Edge+ looks like (I’ll make it easy for you, I’ve got a photo) that’s exactly how the back of the Note 5 is.

Curves on Note 5 & S6 Edge+

Not only is it aesthetically pleasing, but this curvature adds to the phones “grippability,” matching the normal arc of one’s palms. After two years of experimenting with materials, I’m happy to see things come to this.

There’s a level of coldness associated with glass construction, it doesn’t embrace you, feeling more like a Porsche than a high-end mini van, but the Note 5 is the Porsche of smartphones, and in this case it hits the mark.   

EVERYONE HAPPY

It’s about time. I’ve complained about Samsung’s plasticky build for many years now, they’ve finally delivered on premium looking phones this year. Of course premium construction has come at the cost of waterproof features, expandable storage and replaceable batteries.

The first two, Sony with its Xperia line, has managed to accomplish so I see no reason why this can’t be done.

But I expect the latter to piss off some loyalists. I know of many Note users who carry around a spare battery, and even with fast charging as an option, swapping a fresh battery for a depleted one sure beats having to use a power bank.

And while I don’t feel the urge to complain about this as much, it’s one area of innovation I wish Samsung would look into. How to maintain premium construction, while providing this flexibility some users demand. Maybe something to look into next year.

Apple doesn’t get the same amount of flack, even when iPhones have never been water proof, have never offered expandable storage options, and have never let users replace batteries. Perhaps it comes with the territory, Android users demand more options, even though we don’t always end up using them

I for one have used a Note for many years, and don’t remember if I really needed more storage. I sure didn’t ever have an extra battery, even if that would have been a great idea.

NOTE TAKING

samsung-galaxy-note-5-stylus

I also din’t use my S-Pen much. Which is an aweful admission, considering this bundled stylus is how the Note gets its name.

This year, many will speak about how the S-Pen got a face lift, and how its new spring loading mechanism ensures that the pen stays inside the phone when not in use. But it’s really the innovations built around S-Pen software that are huge for the Note.

Being able to scribble and draw on your phone is the value proposition of the Note. And in a sea of smartphones above 5.5 inches, it’s the first, and one of a handful, that actually bundle a digital pen — getting this right is justifying the phone’s existence.

Let me give you some concrete examples. Since the last two iterations, when you pull out the S-Pen it brings up a menu called Air Command. Do you want to scribble down a note, make a clipping from the current screen? All these options are a tap away from this pop-up menu.

But say you’ve moved on to other things, pen still in hand, summoning Air Command for another task isn’t as easy. It’s a meticulous process that entails pointing at the screen, close enough but without touching, and then a press of a button on the S-Pen.

Samsung’s fixed that on the Note 5. Air Command is now a small bubble that floats on your screen,  you can position it anywhere you want, so it won’t get in the way of business. Retracting the pen still enables it, but it stays there, awaiting your next command. It took just a few minutes with the device, before I got that aha moment, it makes perfect sense. Just with that small adjustment, I have a feeling I’ll be using my S-Pen more now.

Samsung has also made the note taking experience more seamless. Even if the phone is off, you can pull out the pen, scribble a note and save it for later. The whole time the screen remains dark,  giving you the impression that its still off. You can also save notes as minimized stickies that resemble app icons on your home screen.

I also think I’ll be using a feature called Scroll Capture. It saves you from having to take multiple screen shots of a webpage, or a lengthy chat conversation. When enabled, all you have to do is tap and it will scroll up one page. You can tap and scroll up to 22 times, on any app, and when you’re done it will save the screen grabs as one long image.

PHOTOGRAPHER’S BEST FRIEND

With all that the Note 5 has going for it, the camera feels like an aside, but traditionally all Notes have had some of the best smartphone cameras each year, and this one is no different. Although unlike previous years, this one doesn’t get an upgrade from last February’s Galaxy S6. It’s the exact same camera, and that really isn’t a bad thing – 8 months into the year, its still one of the best cameras we’ve seen on a smartphone this 2015.

Like the S6 you can double press on the home button to launch the camera, from any window, even with the display turned off. If you don’t have an S6, I promise you this will change your life, or at least give you the ability to capture even the most fleeting of moments.

So that the camera feels fresh, the Note 5 gets some nice-to-have features, but nothing really ground breaking. There’s an expanded “Beauty Face” mode for selfie-holics, a video collage mode that’ll elevate your Instagram or Vine posts, and for content creators the ability to livestream on YouTube from within the camera app.   

Here are a few sample photos taken with the Note 5.

Time Square by Note 5

New York Streets by Note 5

20150111_111044

PHABLET WARS

In a few hours I’ve got a plane to catch back to Manila, for the first time since I started covering these events I have a phone to take back with me and use for a couple of weeks, which should be enough time to let the hype die down, and see how the phone performs in the real world. My feelings may or may not change then. By that time also, Apple will be ready with its own iPhone announcements, at which point we shall continue this Phablet War, and maybe even, declare a winner.

[irp posts=”913" name=”Galaxy Note 5: BenCab Edition Unboxing”]

Entertainment

Joker, Jowable, Jojo Rabbit: Now Playing

Live, love, laugh!

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The GadgetMatch team just went through a rigorous back-to-back coverage starting from IFA 2019, iPhone 11, Vivo NEX 3, Huawei Mate 30 Pro, and many more. Like us, people are overwhelmed with smartphone launches one after another.

What kept us sane was these forms of entertainment we watch and play in passing. Here’s what’s Now Playing in GadgetMatch:

Movies to see

 

Steven Universe: The Movie
Leez: If you’re a fan of Steven Universe and the last episode left you feeling unsettled by how it neatly tucked the whole series, then you’re in luck. The movie doesn’t fall short in tackling the heart-wrenching significance of struggles and obstacles to be better and be who you are. It’s a movie that dives deep into lost friends and lost memories. You definitely need to check this out.

 

Jowable
MJ: No other film in this century has captured how I’ve been feeling for years now, except Jowable. This film tackles the joys, pains, and misadventures of singlehood in a comical approach. But don’t think it’s all just for laughs, Jowable is totally unpredictable — full of plot twists to keep you entertained while preaching you some deep life lessons that Buddha can’t even.

 

Jojo Rabbit
Luigi: Provocative and funny. How else can you describe Taiki Waititi’s upcoming comedy? This World War II satire features a German boy trying to hide a Jewish girl while being aided by his imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler (played by Waititi himself).

 

Joker
Kevin:  Not your usual origin story of a villain. Joker tackles mental health, human nature, and the society that we’re living in now. Partner those with Joaquin Phoenix’s stellar acting and what you get is a cinematic piece that moves you and makes you think about what “being normal” really is.  It’s best to see it on the big screen so be sure to catch it while it’s still showing.

Shows to binge-watch

 

Player reacts to his Highlights | House of Highlights
Rodneil: I haven’t been able to commit to watching a series of late so for my dwindling downtime, I’ve resorted to watching these one-off series on YouTube. Plus I also miss NBA basketball, so this is a great way to scratch that itch.

 

Marianne
Luigi: People have proclaimed Marianne as the most frightening series of 2019. As a horror enthusiast, I don’t think it is. However, this French horror series is still an excellent addition to the Netflix playhouse of monsters. Plus, that French accent is oh-so-sexy.

 

Vagabond
Rodneil: Gotta admit, I only considered watching because it stars Suzy Bae. But the story is gripping and the cinematography is pretty darn good. It’s about a stuntman who loses his nephew in a plane crash that was made to look like an accident but there’s more to it than just that.

Albums/Songs/Podcasts to listen to

 

데자 부 (Deja Vu) by Dreamcatcher
Vincenz: Although the song doesn’t sound as intense as their other releases, the latest music video tells a deeper story. There is a line that struck me: “Now I’m holding this pain,” especially that it talks about betrayal and abandonment. The melodic musical arrangement accompanied by contrasting light and dark visuals blend so well together — which gives a surreal and melancholic feeling to listeners and viewers alike.

 

Go Up by SB19
Vincenz: SB19 has been garnering attention for weeks. They sound like a K-Pop boy group because they were trained by a Korean agency. Although I’m not totally a fan, I appreciate their music especially since it talks about aiming high and achieving your dreams. Despite the hard choreography, their live vocals sound great. P-Pop is finally improving!

 

Linkin Park Favorites
Rodneil: It’s been quite a stressful past couple of weeks for me. To combat the urge of setting myself on fire, I’ve been listening to a lot of my favorite Linkin Park songs. The collection is mostly from the Hybrid Theory and Meteora albums. Listen to the full playlist.

 

 

Feel Special by TWICE
Rodneil: TWICE’s gradual concept change is evident in their new song Feel Special. More than that, though, the song seems to hold a special place in the members’ hearts as it alludes to their struggles. Especially Mina who is struggling with anxiety and begged off from parts of their tour but still participated in the album with strong support from the other members.

Games to play

 

Madden NFL 20
Gab: I know how everyone is on some hype train towards the recently released NBA 2K20 video game, but there are other sports-related games out there. As someone who is starting to have a level of interest with the NFL, Madden NFL 20 introduced me to how American football actually works. If you need a quick change of pace from shooting the basketball, I suggest you try scoring touchdowns.

 

NBA 2K20
Rodneil: Echoing what Gab said on his NBA 2K20 review — this game essentially feels like a massive patch for NBA 2K19. That’s not entirely a bad thing. It’s still the superior NBA simulation game and for it to improve, EA needs to step up big time with NBA Live. Will still play it because it’s my number one way to destress.

 

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
Luigi: As a child, I never played the original Link’s Awakening on the Gameboy. I joined the Zelda party way too late. Thankfully, this Switch remake plays like a traditional game on the Gameboy. The new Link’s Awakening brings a lot to the table for both new and old players. It’s a well-polished game that doesn’t rely too much on nostalgia.


Now Playing is the GadgetMatch team’s favorite games, movies, TV shows, and more each month. If you’re curious to know what we’re into at the moment, this is what you should check out. So grab your popcorn, get some drinks, and enjoy what’s now playing!

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Best Smartphones

Best Budget Smartphones below $200

October 2019 Edition

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Welcome to GadgetMatch’s list of the best smartphones priced below US$ 200! Each month, we update our selection with the budget-friendly phones we believe are most deserving of your hard-earned savings.

Even though the spotlight has been on high-end smartphones this entire year, there have been a few surprisingly good entry-level handsets coming out lately, as well. So good, in fact, that we had to reassess our entire list.

Here they are in no particular order:

ASUS ZenFone Max M2 ($175)

We were disappointed to find out that the ZenFone Max Pro M2 went above the US$ 200 mark, but we still have the non-Pro Max M2 to buy at this price point. Fortunately, the fast Snapdragon 632 processor, large 4000mAh battery, and dual rear cameras remain.

REVIEW: ASUS ZenFone Max M2

Redmi Note 7 ($150)

Xiaomi blew everyone away when it announced the Redmi Note 7 with its class-leading specs and design. It’s been selling like hotcakes for a good reason: In terms of pure performance, nothing rivals this in the sub-US$ 200 category.

READ MORE: Redmi Note 7

 

OPPO A5s ($117)

The OPPO A5s perhaps is best looked at as a transition device more than anything else. It does what you expect out of budget smartphones. It’s good to have “for now” but you might look elsewhere for a more reliable daily driver.

REVIEW: OPPO A5s

Realme 5 (US$ 154)

Realme is giving Xiaomi a run for its money on our top-of-mind easy phones to recommend. The Realme 5 is a real treat for people looking for a budget smartphone that provides more than what they need.

HANDS-ON: Realme 5

Samsung Galaxy A20 ($190)

Samsung’s revived Galaxy A-series proves that the company cares about every price segment. The Galaxy A20, in particular, is the most well-rounded below US$ 200 thanks to its ultra-wide camera, AMOLED display, and hefty battery.

REVIEW: Samsung Galaxy A20


Update as of October 2019:

  • The Realme 5 replaced the Realme C2 on this list

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Best Smartphones

Best Midrange Smartphones from $200 to $400

October 2019 Edition

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When premium phones are out of financial reach and entry-level handsets just don’t make your cut, something in between is the next best thing. This is our updated list of the best midrange smartphones retailing from US$ 200 to US$ 400.

Formulating this category was tricky, since you can’t set an exact price and some of these devices are, in fact, the flagship phones of their respective brands. To simplify things, we chose a price range that simply sits between our other lists for best budget, upper-midrange, and premium smartphones.

Here they are in no particular order:

Xiaomi Mi 9 SE ($300)

Xiaomi has always been a part of the list and the Mi 9 SE truly deserves its spot. It’s a flagship-grade phone from its design to its specs. It’s dubbed as a “compact flagship” thanks to its smaller-than-usual form factor. If you’re looking for a phone that won’t hurt your pockets both in size and price, check out the Mi 9 SE.

REVIEW: Xiaomi Mi 9 SE

Realme 5 Pro (US$ 232)

A quadruple-camera setup at this price point seems unlikely but Realme made it happen. And it’s not just the setup, the lenses actually take photos with good image quality. That would have been enough to recommend this but it also has a Snapdragon 712 AIE chip with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. If you’re looking for a great deal, this is it.

HANDS-ON: Realme 5 Pro

ASUS ZenFone Max Pro M2 ($245)

While not as affordable as its predecessor, the ZenFone Max Pro M2 still does several things most phones can’t even dream of at this price point. We get an upper-midrange chip, large 5000mAh battery, versatile cameras, and a pure take on Android.

REVIEW: ASUS ZenFone Max Pro M2

Huawei Nova 5T (US$ 367)

Huawei managed to put a flagship-level chip with a glass back and with triple cameras on a midrange phone. These are things you expect from brands like Xiaomi but Huawei was able to pull it off as well.

READ: Huawei Nova 5T

Samsung Galaxy A50s ($345)

Samsung’s pivot to the A series has been fantastic and the Galaxy A50s is another proof of that. It’s a refinement of everything that was good with the Galaxy A50. If you’re a die-hard Samsung fan looking for a midrange phone, the Galaxy A50s is a solid option.

READ: Samsung Galaxy A50s


Update as of October 2019:

  • Huawei Nova 5T replaced the Pocophone F1
  • Realme 5 Pro replaced the Realme 3 Pro 
  • Samsung Galaxy A50s replaced the Samsung Galaxy A50 

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