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In our Pocophone F1 unboxing and review, we discuss what we love about the phone: its stellar specs sheet, Kevlar-like finish, and other features that most phones in the US$ 300 price point don’t have.

We appreciate that Pocophone not only pushes the definition of a flagship device even further, but also reimagines what it can be.

iPhone XS

Apple iPhone XS Review: A great choice for a select few

An incremental upgrade that costs too much

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The iPhone XS, Apple’s new top-of-the-line iPhone for 2018, is supposedly an improved version of last year’s game-changing model. Its supersized version, the iPhone XS Max, is everything you love about the iPhone taken to the extreme.

There’s a lot to like about the new iPhones: They come in this fresh new gold color and are powered by what Apple claims is the most powerful processor ever put on a smartphone. They take better photos and have faster, more secure Face ID.

But when it comes down to it, are these upgrades significant enough? Should you ride the hype train all the way to the Apple store? With a more affordable iPhone XR also available, which model should you get? We’ll answer these questions in the review.

Same design, supersized

2018 is an S year — every other year in the iPhone’s history wherein updates are more incremental. If last year brought us a major shake up to the iPhone as we know it, this year is all about refining and improving the iPhone X, Apple’s most important product since the original iPhone.

On the outside it’s pretty much the same phone — all glass with a stainless steel frame. Apple says it’s made of a tougher kind of glass that’s more scratch resistant. If you’re looking for something fresh, get the beautiful new gold color. It’s a subdued more subtle kind of gold — almost bronze-like — compared to previous releases.

There are a couple of new antenna bands on both the top and bottom edges of the phone. We’re sure this is supposed to make cell reception better, but we’re a bit bothered by how it breaks the perfect symmetry that Apple is always such a sucker for.

The bigger model, the iPhone XS Max, is something a lot of people have been waiting for. It’s about the same size as the Plus-sized iPhones of years past but it has a 6.5-inch Super Retina AMOLED display, the biggest we’ve seen on an iPhone. But is bigger better?

That’s the thing: Bigger isn’t necessarily better this time around, and it’s some of the best news we’ve heard so far. We’ve never really appreciated the fact that when two phones came in two sizes, the bigger one was always better, and with more features. Sometimes it was more powerful; sometimes it had two cameras instead of one.

We celebrate the fact that when it comes to these new iPhones, whether you choose small or big, you’re getting the same phone. Sure, the display and the battery may be larger because it’s a bigger phone, but everything else is equal.

So if you’re torn between both models, just ask yourself which size you prefer and if you’ll benefit from the extra screen real estate.

When you use the Max model in horizontal mode, some apps will show you more. Take the calendar app, for example: You get a second column with more information. And if you’re on sites like GadgetMatch.com, you’ll get a different kind of view.

Some people immediately turn to a smaller phone because maybe they have small hands, or they worry about one-handed operation. On iPhones, user experience has always been a priority.

Your thumb can’t reach the very top of the screen on most phones these days, but on any iPhone, you can dive into settings and turn on reachability. Swipe down in the area where the home button used to be to bring the top of the interface down.

Unlike other phones wherein the whole display becomes smaller, typing with one hand is also easier on iOS. You can move your keyboard to either side while still getting that big-screen experience you paid for. If it’s your cup of tea, AssistiveTouch is still there.

Most powerful iPhone

Powering these new iPhones is an all-new processor called the A12 Bionic Chip. This system on a chip is faster, smarter, and also more power-efficient. For everyday users, this means your phone should feel snappier, processor-hungry tasks like gaming and augmented reality breezier, and your battery longer-lasting.

A lot goes on under the hood that makes new features possible, and old features better. Face ID for example is a tad bit faster and more secure, both in the dark and under bright sunlight. With data that Apple’s collected, it’s smarter too so it can better identify face shapes, even ethnicities. The latter is something that resonates with us.

Often the first time we pick up our phones in the morning, half asleep, the older iPhone X assumes our eyes are still closed since our already-small eyes are even smaller, so Face ID will often fail. In the time that we’ve used the iPhone XS and XS Max, we ran into those problems less often.

Day-to-day use isn’t necessarily faster than on last year’s iPhone since it’s always been snappy to begin with. It’s worth mentioning that PUBG runs on high settings by default and gameplay is as smooth and lag-free as can be expected. The same goes for Fortnite.

Coupled with software improvements, the new hardware is also improving the way AR performs. For example, the time it takes for plane detection — basically when the iPhone searches for a flat surface on which to overlay the augmented reality world over — is now faster than before. With multiplayer AR games on the App Store, you can imagine how all that extra power makes the experience much more seamless, as well.

Reliable cameras

Beyond all the processing power that it delivers, the A12 Bionic also has a neural engine and a new image signal processor which work together with the phone’s camera, as well as updated software to produce better photos.

Like on the iPhone X, you get dual 12MP cameras on both models, one with a telephoto 2x zoom which you probably already know that a lot of us at GadgetMatch are a fan of. Apple doesn’t hype it as much, but this year, these new iPhones have bigger sensors. A large image sensor on any kind of digital camera is what you’ll want since it produces better photos in low light, among other things.

One new feature is called Smart HDR, not to be confused with Auto HDR on the iPhone X. You know how you’re always advised not to shoot against the light? With Smart HDR, you can shoot away. Smart HDR works even if you’re on other shooting modes, so whether you’re shooting a portrait or a panorama, it works well. It also functions while shooting Full HD and 4K video as long as you’re shooting at 30fps. See the examples below:

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It seems that one of the hallmarks of great, professional-looking photos is depth of field. We’re fans of bokeh, and full-frame cameras like our trusty Sony a7S II with super-fast lenses are great at this. Apple seems to agree, as depth mapping is a big word being thrown around.

When it comes to digital bokeh, most phones keep a subject in focus and apply Gaussian blur to the entire background. Apple takes this a step further, such that objects farther away are less in focus than those closer to the subject, just like on a professional camera.

Take this photo, for example. Chay is in focus as well as the elements that are the same distance away from the camera, while elements farther away get a creamier blur.

Apple also gives you the option to change the amount of blur after taking the shot with Depth Control, a similar feature found on Samsung and Huawei phones for years now. On the iPhone, you tap edit and get a slider underneath. From the middle point f/4.5, you can get more blur all the way to f/1.4 — or no blur at all at f/16.

Using the iPhone’s True Depth sensor, the front-facing camera performs almost as good as the main camera. In this example, Michael Josh plunged into a bed of white flowers, and as was in our first examples, the amount of blur depends on how far the flowers were from the camera, although software also seems to apply some sort of radial blur around the face, so Josh’s t-shirt is a little blurry.

It needs to be said that the cutouts on portraits taken with the rear cameras are nowhere near perfect. It would be better if processing feathered the edges around the subject so you don’t get those harsh crooked cutouts around your hair.

Take a look at other photos we snapped around Singapore:

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The iPhone XS and XS Max should have improved video stabilization, as well. The clips we took on a bike still have some shake, but those shot while walking and from a moving car came out smoother.

The little things

Water resistance should come standard on all phones, especially if it’s always raining where you live. The new iPhones now have a higher IP68 water and dust resistance rating, which means they can be submerged up to 1.5 meters for 30 minutes. Apple still doesn’t include water damage under its warranty program, so it’s best to avoid submerging the iPhone under water.

Apple says it tested spills not just from water but also from coffee, tea, soda, and beer. In the event that happens, rinse your phone, pat dry, and leave to dry for a few hours before using again. Apple says the display knows when your fingers or the display is wet, and will still respond to touch.

The new iPhones come with wider stereo sound. Since a few generations ago, stereo speakers have been located at the bottom and at the top where the earpiece is found. Sound coming from the bottom speaker is now significantly louder and clearer for improved Netflix and chill sessions. Studio recording is also now supported while shooting video.

Dual SIM, finally

Dual SIM has come to the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max but not in the usual way. You still have one physical SIM card slot but there’s also an embedded SIM card. Essentially, if supported by your carrier, you can have two numbers on one iPhone. If you buy your iPhone in mainland China, Hong Kong, or Macau, you’ll have two physical nano-SIM card slots.

It’s a little strange that Apple did not roll out dual-SIM models to countries in Southeast Asia, where dual-SIM phones are a part of everyday life. Countries like Malaysia, the Philippines, and even India are just some of the largest dual-SIM-using countries in the world.

Not made for the heavy user

While it’s difficult to say for sure that these new iPhones last up to 1.5 hours longer than the iPhone X as Apple claims, we can say that the iPhone XS Max gets a solid five and a half hours of screen-on time with heavy use. That’s pretty good, considering that includes more than three hours of non-stop Pokémon Go, with the phone at full brightness, and LTE and GPS turned on, in the Singapore heat.

While it still may not be a powerhouse in terms of long-lasting usage, you can get through a full day with moderate use. It really will boil down to how heavy of a smartphone user you are. We dream of the day wherein we no longer have to lug around a power bank, but with the iPhone XS and XS Max as our new daily driver, we still have to.

These phones support fast charging. You can go from zero to 42 percent in just under half an hour, if you are willing to shell out money for the optional fast charger. Fingers crossed Apple will bundle one next year, without a price increase. Wireless charging speeds have also been slightly improved, which is great news if you’ve already invested in one.

Are the iPhone XS and XS Max your GadgetMatch?

Any way you look at it, these are some of the best smartphones you can buy today. While this year’s update is incremental, these improvements are not gimmicks to sell more phones. Instead, when you add it all up, they help make last year’s already-solid phone even better.

The iPhone XS and XS Max are beautiful phones made more powerful, with even better cameras. For that, they both deserve the GadgetMatch seal of approval.

That’s not to say the iPhone XS and XS Max are perfect. There’s still more we’d love to see Apple deliver next year. We’d love for Apple to drop the Lightning port and migrate to USB-C just like on this year’s iPad Pro. For its price, we’d also love a fast charging solution bundled in the box. For all its improvements, we still want a battery that will last a whole day and then some with heavy use.

Should you upgrade? If you own an iPhone X, it’s most prudent to skip this year’s model and wait for next year. Hold on to last year’s iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus too if you have them.

If you have an older iPhone and are due for an upgrade but think US$ 1,000 is XS-sive, we don’t blame you. Apple’s more affordable iPhone XR is a better buy and we highly recommend it. That phone starts at US$ 749, and minus a few bells and whistles, is still a very solid phone that has the best of what Apple has to offer.

If US$ 749 is still too much, Apple is selling the iPhone 7, 7 Plus, 8, and 8 Plus and those start at about US$ 450. We still recommend the iPhone 7 Plus, it’s a great phone even if it’s already two years old.

Some will say iPhones are overpriced and we can see why, but part of the appeal of any iPhone, apart from them being a status symbol, is that they’re well thought out, work well as they should, and do so for a long time.

You’ve also probably heard about intangibles, like how if you buy into the Apple ecosystem and use Apple products, everything just works seamlessly. Things like AirDrop, easy setup, sharing Wi-Fi passwords with a prompt, or pairing a new set of AirPods — these are just some things you have to personally experience to fully understand and appreciate.

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Gaming

ASUS ROG Phone review: A true gaming phone done right?

Undeniably a phone built for mobile gamers

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Finally, the ROG Phone from ASUS is out in the market! We first saw the gaming smartphone back in Computex 2018 last June, and we waited a long time (four months to be exact) to take one home.

We received a lot of questions about this phone. Is it the best gaming smartphone today? How is it different from other flagship phones with similar specs? And, how much value are you getting out of it?

To answer all those, here’s my review of the ROG Phone. You know the drill, let’s start with the phone’s physique.

Its AMOLED display measures 6 inches diagonally

With a Full HD+ resolution and 18:9 aspect ratio

It features stereo front-facing speakers

It’s not exactly borderless, but you get great loudspeakers

The physical buttons are on the right side

They are made of metal

The left has the card tray and side-mounted USB-C port

The phone doesn’t support expandable storage via microSD

Another USB-C at the bottom along with a 3.5mm jack

This phone doesn’t sacrifice wired connectivity

The back looks aggressive with the ROG logo

The logo lights up!

The phone is pretty angular with lots of unusual shapes

The ROG persona goes mobile

In case you’re wondering what ROG means…

It’s definitely for gamers

There are two rear cameras and a fingerprint reader

Almost forgot about those!

Obviously designed with gaming in mind

One look at the ROG Phone and it already screams that it’s a gaming smartphone. Unlike other game-centric phones from Honor and Razer which have subtle gaming looks, the ROG Phone belongs with the rest of the ROG laptops and peripherals that are made by ASUS.

When there are a number of phones on the table like in our office, it’s not difficult to differentiate the ROG Phone from the rest. The front of the phone has a distinct copper accent on its front stereo speakers, and the back is uniquely ROG. If you own an ROG laptop or desktop and use ROG-branded peripherals, the ROG Phone should be part of your collection.

Like with other 2018 phones, the ROG Phone has a glass back using Corning’s tough Gorilla Glass. Don’t expect things to be symmetrical here because the dual rear cameras and the LED flash are housed in an unusual shape. Even the fingerprint reader is slightly positioned to the right of the phone, but don’t worry, it’s still reachable using either index fingers.

The ROG Phone’s bold design doesn’t end there. The back also has a futuristic styling using lines and an ROG logo that lights up in virtually any color you want. To top things off, the phone even has an exterior for its cooling system.

Encased in a metal frame, the ROG Phone is premium all around. It certainly feels more well-built than its ZenFone cousins. But of course, the loud design is not everyone’s cup of tea. Some gamers might even find it too much, but ASUS is not following Razer’s design choices.

Apart from the phone’s body, there is also a lot to talk about the phone’s display. The 6-inch display is not just your ordinary AMOLED panel. Apart from producing deep blacks and vibrant colors, the display is capable of a 90Hz refresh rate with 1ms pixel response time. Basically, you can play with the phone in uber-smooth motion. On top of that, it supports HDR and has a wide color gamut that’ll please professionals.

The fastest Android gaming phone today

The ROG Phone is powered by a Snapdragon 845, which is practically found on all high-end Android phones that came out this year. To place this gaming smartphone ahead of them, ASUS threw in an overclocked variant of the already-powerful chip and paired it with lots of memory and speedy flash storage. The result is one of the fastest Android phones available today.

Android Oreo runs the show, but it’s customized by ASUS to make it one of their own. Being an ROG device, it comes with a combative theme. Turning on the “X Mode” will even make everything red, which means that the ROG Phone is performing at its peak.

Like with ROG notebooks and desktops, the phone has a command center where you can closely monitor the phone’s condition. The Game Center is as aggressive-looking as the phone’s body. Here you can check the CPU and GPU speeds, the battery’s temperature and remaining power, the setting for the RGB light customization, and the fan speed control for the external cooler.

The configuration I have for review has 8GB of memory and 128GB of storage. If you find 128GB not enough for all your games and personal files, there’s also a 512GB model. Without a doubt, the ROG Phone is insanely fast. Coupled with a 90Hz display, this will be your smoothest Android experience. The 120Hz display of the Razer Phone 2 is more fluid, but the eyes can already appreciate what the ROG Phone has.

Keep in mind that not all games take advantage of the high refresh rate, but popular titles already do. My all-time favorite, Asphalt 9: Legends, is more enjoyable when it’s rendered in 90fps. Other graphics-intensive titles like Free Fire (which comes pre-installed) is fully supported and PUBG: Mobile is playable in the highest settings without lag, as well.

Also, the AirTriggers, which are ROG’s virtual shoulder buttons, aid in mobile gaming. Basically, the sides of the phone are touch-sensitive. They are kind of gimmicky in a way because they are pretty difficult to reach during gameplay. When you get used to it, you’ll have an edge against other players using regular phones.

It even comes with fun cameras

The ROG Phone is not just fun in gaming, but it’s also a good picture taker. It won’t match the likes of the Pixel 3 and Mate 20 Pro, yet I am impressed with the phone’s cameras. Maybe because I wasn’t expecting it to be this good?

It’s got dual rear shooters. The main one is a 12-megapixel sensor with f/1.8 lens, optical image stabilization, and Dual Pixel autofocus. Of course, the phone’s camera is powered by AI that detects the scenes and adjusts the settings accordingly. Thankfully, there’s no over processing going on like with other AI-enabled shooters.

Here are some photos taken using the main sensor in Auto mode:

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They aren’t bad, right? Although, ASUS didn’t put much attention on the 8-megapixel secondary shooter with an ultra wide-angle lens. I’m a fan of wide-angle secondary cameras, so I enjoyed shooting GoPro-like shots. Too bad it’s got no autofocus and the quality isn’t at the level of the main sensor.

Here are some samples taken using the main sensor and the wide-angle camera for comparison:

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Moving to the front, we have another 8-megapixel shooter but it’s just wide enough to take spacious selfies. It comes with an f/2.0 aperture, so low-light shots shouldn’t be a problem — at least on paper. You can also apply bokeh effects to your selfies for added depth.

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No one is buying the ROG Phone for photography purposes, but those who are interested in it will be able to take great photos. The use of an ultra wide-angle secondary lens is also a good choice by ASUS. Why? Because it’s more fun to take wide shots.

Incredible power takes a toll on battery

With all the features the ROG Phone has, a trusty 4000mAh battery keeps the lights on. But, it is enough? Based on my usage, no. If you wish to enable the phone’s highlighted features such as the 90Hz refresh rate, you should make sure to have a power bank around.

The phone didn’t last a full day as my daily driver. I usually get fewer than three hours of screen-on time. My usage includes typical work duties with the phone constantly connected to either Wi-Fi or LTE, and lots of gaming in X Mode.

When I set the refresh rate back to default (60Hz), I was able to get better battery life. The ROG Phone was my secondary device during my four-day business trip to Singapore and I only had to charge it twice. I mainly used the phone for taking photos, checking out web pages, uploading IG stories, and, of course, for playing mobile games once in a while.

Speaking of charging, the ROG Phone comes with a super-fast charger in the box. In just 15 minutes, I was able to charge the phone from zero to 26 percent. The charging rate slows down when you’re nearing 100 percent, so a full charge takes about an hour and 40 minutes. That is still very impressive, though.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

The ROG Phone is a premium device from ASUS with all the bells and whistles of a gaming smartphone. Some might argue that regular flagship phones are already good at gaming. Yes, that’s true but they are not meant for it. That’s where gaming smartphones, such as the ROG Phone, come in.

It has the fastest available processor, super-smooth refresh rate, loud front speakers, optimized software, and extra hardware features such as shoulder triggers and both passive and active cooling systems.

But, everything comes at a price. When the ZenFone 5Z came out earlier this year, we were in awe at how ASUS is offering a flagship-specced phone at an affordable price. It’s even cheaper than OnePlus in some regions, but not as affordable as a Xiaomi flagship. Things are different with the ROG Phone and ASUS is asking quite a lot of money for it, but at least it’s not your usual Android phone.

The ROG Phone has an official starting price of US$ 899 for the 128GB model. In the Philippines, it goes for PhP 49,995, which is not far from the international pricing. If you want more storage, you can get the 512GB model for US$ 1,099. You can also get the top-tier model for PhP 61,995 in the Philippines, SG$ 1,598 in Singapore, and NT$ 31,990 in Taiwan where it’s the cheapest.

If you wish to complete the set, the ROG Phone is being sold along with all of its accessories but the asking price puts it in the league of gaming laptops, so you might want to think carefully before purchasing any of them.

SEE ALSO: ASUS ROG Phone tops AnTuTu benchmark for Android

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Lifestyle

Huawei Mate 20 Review: The simpler sibling

No need for the Pro?

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The Huawei Mate 20 is the simpler sibling in the Mate 20 lineup, and honestly… it simply works.

I’m an everyday normal guy, with normal demands from my smartphone. And when you’re like me, and you don’t have a specific thing in mind when choosing a phone, it helps to have a device that is just good in every aspect.

In real-world use, there’s nothing to complain about in terms of performance. It’s got a Kirin 980 processor, and it runs the way any flagship phone with the latest and greatest processor should.

A phone that’ll go perfect with your OOTD

When it comes to our phones, I’ll agree with Isa, our Lifestyle Editor, that they’ve become more than a gadget and are now also an accessory to show off.

This phone looks great! So much so that I’ve caught myself intentionally not putting it in my pocket, just so I can show it off.

And while there might also be many other good-looking options out there, the Mate 20 wins in my book because I can use it without a case and not have to worry about getting fingerprints all over it.

On our Midnight Blue review unit, I’ve loved the special glass texture that barely shows any fingerprints and how it makes the phone easier to grip.

Good display, but speakers need work

Flip the phone over and there’s the huge 6.53-inch screen that’s great for consuming media, but I will say that it was an adjustment having to get used to such a wide phone again.

Now while I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all gotten relatively used to notches by now. It still must be said that the notch on the Mate 20 is tiny (much smaller than the notch on its Pro sibling) and easy to forget about when watching videos in full screen.

One thing I did notice in watching videos is that while the Mate 20 might have stereo speakers (from the earpiece and the bottom firing speaker), the sound comes out uneven and mostly from the speaker at the bottom. It would have been better if the sound were more balanced.

Battery for days… literally

Usually, I start my day at 8am and end at about 9pm. How has the 4000mAh battery capacity been for me? In using the phone for about two weeks, I’ve never ended my day with less than 35 percent left. It’s been such a joy not having to carry around a bulky powerbank with me!

In a day that usually includes social media, using maps for directions, watching YouTube, and Netflix, no longer do I have to tell myself to get off Instagram because I need to preserve battery.

It’s a phone that will last you a full day and then some. When you do end up needing to charge, it juices up quick — boost of about 50 percent in 30 minutes.

Typical Huawei cameras

Now, let’s talk about the cameras. There are three cameras on the back: Its main camera has 12 megapixels, the ultra-wide shooter has 16 megapixels, and the 8-megapixel telephoto camera goes up to 2x optical zoom.

To put it plainly, they’re good. And I can tell you they’re good all day, but I think it’s better if I just show you:

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And of course something that Huawei has been amazing with is nighttime photography:

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Plus, the addition of a wide-angle lens is great for getting more into the frame:

  

All these photos we’re taken with the Master AI setting on and shot completely in automatic mode.

Now, I don’t take a lot of selfies — we leave that to Isa at GadgetMatch — but if that’s your thing, the Mate 20 has a 24-megapixel selfie camera. Also, here’s a selfie of me with Jason Mraz:

Here are more selfie samples (I turned off the beauty mode for these):

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Glad to see you headphone jack!

The regular Huawei Mate 20 doesn’t have the curved screen like the Pro does. It doesn’t have the in-display fingerprint scanner, either. What it does have that the Pro model doesn’t, is a headphone jack. 

True story: When I was traveling around Singapore and my Bluetooth earphones died, it was a lifesaver to be able to plug in regular wired earphones so I could continue listening to music.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

This phone ticks all the boxes I needed it to. Good cameras? Check! Great battery life? Yes, sir! Is it good for watching Netflix? You betcha!

It isn’t as flashy as the Pro model, but the Mate 20 to me is meant for someone who doesn’t need any of the bells or whistles, and just wants a phone that’s going to work when you need it to.

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