Reviews

Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017) review

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Samsung’s pair of Galaxy S8 smartphones didn’t just change the landscape for flagships to come, but also upped prices like never before. As nice as they are to look at, they’re simply too expensive for the average consumer. Suddenly, Samsung’s midrange lineup is looking a lot more attractive.

Right smack in the middle is the 2017 edition of the Galaxy A5. It’s significantly better than the Galaxy A3 (2017) and Galaxy J7 Prime, yet not as close to premium pricing as the Galaxy A7 (2017) and Galaxy C9 Pro. Those are a lot of options, Samsung!

We’ve had the Galaxy A5 (2017) for a couple of months now, and feel like it’s more relevant than it ever was, especially with the shifting price points. I’ve broken down my test notes into several major points.

A nice throwback design to older Galaxies

It’s getting increasingly difficult to remember a time Samsung wasn’t focusing on curved displays to set itself apart — or, well, actually, before the Galaxy Note Edge started it all about two years ago. The newest Galaxy A5 has none of that, and instead settles for a traditional flat 5.2-inch display with moderately rounded edges.

While you could call this a lazy design choice, I appreciate the traditional feel of a phone that doesn’t try to cut my palms or slide off a table. The bezels may be on the thick side, but the bottom part is taken up by the navigation buttons and fingerprint scanner, which, by the way, is in its rightful spot — right, Samsung?

Class-leading protection from the elements

Looking past the so-so design, the real highlight here is the water and dust resistance. This Galaxy A5 is one of the few midrange smartphones to have such protection, and this can be a game-changer for those who need an IP68 rating without spending too much.

Dated software no one wants

The only thing more aggravating than a heavily bloated operating system is old software. The Galaxy A5, fortunately, isn’t a culprit of the former, but it does suffer from this sickness wherein it still doesn’t have Android 7.0 Nougat, which has been available way before the 2017 version of this phone launched. Marshmallow is fine, although the battery-saving features and more streamlined notifications and settings menu are exclusive to the newer version.

Yet another great display

Making up for the aging software is Samsung’s usual AMOLED display with its super-deep blacks and Full HD 1080p resolution. The good thing is you can adjust the tone of the screen through a simple setting, although Adaptive mode gets the job done 99 percent of the time.

A very well-placed loudspeaker

If there’s one thing the Galaxy J7 Prime did right, it’s the placement of its sole speaker, and the Galaxy A5 follows suit. The convenience of having it on the side, right beside the power button, is such a pleasure; no more blocking sound while holding the phone in either portrait or landscape orientation. If not for the blemish it creates on the frame, I bet Samsung would apply this placement on all its other phones.

Just the right specs

I admittedly had to check the specs sheet to figure out where the Exynos 7880 stands in Samsung’s line of in-house processors. Based on benchmark apps, it’s surprisingly slower than the what’s found in the much older Galaxy S6. I’m not complaining, though; outside of games like NBA 2K17 where graphics must be set to Medium at best, overall performance was snappy from launching the camera to multitasking.

You can’t, however, overwhelm the run-of-the-mill 3GB of memory. With more and more midrange phones adapting at least 4GB at this point, I expected better. On the bright side, 32GB of storage — which you can expand using any microSD you have lying around — is the base amount, giving you more than enough room for all your essential apps.

Balanced front and rear cameras

Interestingly, the numbers for the main and front-facing cameras are very similar: 16 megapixels with a bright f/1.9 aperture for both. The only difference is there’s no autofocusing for the selfie cam, but not many phones can do that in the first place. Here are some samples:

The results are certainly more than satisfactory, and can easily compete or even beat most camera phones in this class. Disappointment only came when focusing on poorly lit subjects; it felt like an eternity waiting for the camera to lock on simple objects right in front of it.

Battery performance meant to impress

This wouldn’t be a truly good Samsung device without its signature fast-charging. Topping up from zero to full takes less than two hours for the 3000mAh battery. And once you have a hundred percent, the Galaxy A5 can last as long as two days on moderate usage, but that’s if you have the Always On feature turned off. By having the time, date, and battery percentage constantly plastered on the screen even while asleep, you should expect an empty tank before going to bed.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

As I mentioned earlier, the Galaxy A5 (2017) is in a sweet spot, right at the center of every other Samsung offering. What makes this one special is its water and dust resistance. Sure, the more affordable Galaxy A3 (2017) has it too, but its specs are nowhere near as capable as the A5’s.

And that’s the beauty of the Galaxy A5: It’s so well rounded, there’s no need for it to impress you with anything more. At $400 in most markets (PhP 19,990 for the particular model I reviewed in the Philippines), it’s a fair deal until you look at some of the Chinese alternatives.

Vivo’s V5 Plus first comes to mind with its highly efficient Snapdragon 625 processor, 4GB of RAM, 64GB base storage, and best of all, dual-selfie cameras. That’s impressive for a phone that costs exactly the same as the new Galaxy A5.

There’s also the larger and beefier Galaxy A7 (2017). For an additional $80 (PhP 4,000), you get a 5.7-inch screen and 3600mAh battery. Not much of jump, so it’s just a matter of size preference.

SEE ALSO: Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+ review

Camera Shootouts

GoPro HERO 6 Black vs HERO 5 Black Comparison

Which is the action camera for you?

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GoPro is one of the biggest names in sports videography and is a name that first comes to mind when the need for a portable, easy-to-set-up camera arises. Although, the past couple of years were a bit hard for the company as sales plummeted, and after introducing their first-ever drone, some literally fell from the sky.

Still working hard on making another hit, GoPro has returned with their latest action camera, the HERO 6 Black, and it boasts some pretty impressive features. Will it be the saving grace the company needs right now? How does it fare compared to its predecessor, the HERO 5? We answer those questions plus more in this comparison.

Design

On the outside, nothing has changed with the new action camera at all. It’s made of the same robust, rubbery material that’s designed to go underwater for as deep as 10 meters without needing an extra waterproof case. Button placements are carried over — one up top to start recording and another one on its side to switch between shooting modes.

Underneath, the same 1220mAh battery is stored while connectivity ports are on the other side. Even the protective lens is still removable and replaceable. There’s virtually no way of telling the two apart except for the small print on the side of the camera.

Features

The biggest upgrade of the HERO 6 has more to do with output. It can now shoot up to 4K resolution at 60fps, whereas the previous HERO 5 topped out at 4K 30fps. It might seem like a small detail but having the option to shoot smoother video is always a good thing.

Another difference is frame rate. The HERO 5 Black can capture videos at a speedy 240fps but resolution is limited to 720p. The newer HERO 6 Black, on the other hand, can shoot the same 240fps rate at a clearer 1080p resolution.

For more flexibility, the HERO 6 can also shoot at 2.7K at 120fps so you get nice slow-mo video with the ability to resize or re-scale your footage if the need arises. Other features that differentiate the new action camera from its predecessor include better low-light performance and dynamic range.

Video Sample

Of course, all this means nothing if we can’t see for ourselves. I brought both cameras during my travels and you may refer to the embedded video below (starting at 2:46) for some sample video comparisons.

You can easily see that the sky from the HERO 6’s shots is more vibrant than the pale blue color from the HERO 5. There’s also a noticeable difference in exposure. The HERO 5 has darker blacks which, in this case, worked well since it was able to bring out more details on the snowy mountain.

Although both are set to auto white balance, footage from the HERO 5 still turns out to be warmer as seen in the indoor shoot.

In terms of stabilization, the new HERO 6 really stepped up its game to remove unwanted jerks and jitters. The difference is day and night, and it’s impressive how the HERO 6 almost looks like it was mounted on a gimbal thanks to its electronic image stabilization.

Don’t get us wrong, the HERO 5 also has its own EIS, but just not as good as the new flagship’s.

One more thing to notice when the camera’s EIS is turned on is that the HERO 5 needs to crop the image by 10 percent to achieve a smoother shot, while the HERO 6 has improved this and only crops about 5 percent of the original image.

Additionally, stabilization on the HERO 5 can only be used until 2.7K resolution at 60fps, while the HERO 6 supports stabilization until 4K. The only limitation here is that EIS maxes out at 30fps with no support for the higher 60fps.

Onto low-light shooting: Footage taken with the older HERO 5 couldn’t achieve the same level of clarity shot on the HERO 6. Colors are also livelier and digital noise has been reduced significantly on the latter.

Although there were instances, like when we went ice skating, that we preferred the color and details shot by the HERO 5. It looked more natural and the ice on the floor is still visible, unlike the one shot by the HERO 6.

Photo Samples

We now look at some photo samples from both action cameras.

This photo was taken at Italy’s oldest shopping mall and shows a good balance between light and dark areas. We like how the HERO 5 has a higher contrast which added detail to the metal structure of the mall. 

While waiting for a train, we see the sun lighting the Swiss Alps from behind with a dark and shaded station in the foreground. Again, we see a more vibrant blue sky from the HERO 6 with good details.

But look closer on the warning sign in front of you and the HERO 5 was actually able to deliver a better, more legible image. Even when you crop them to 100 percent, the smallest details seem to appear better on the HERO 5.

At night, both proved to be capable shooters, but the HERO 6 showed more details by effectively capturing the cracks on the floor. One thing that I had been complaining about with my HERO 5 is that it easily overshoots light flares, creating an unwanted glow and losing details.

It’s very much distracting here since it washed out the person’s face. Meanwhile, we’re happy that it was addressed on the HERO 6 as it’s clearly the better photo.

Zooming in to 100 percent shows that the green motorcycle has a livelier color and less noise on the HERO 6 compared to its predecessor. Here are more sample photos:

Battery Life

As mentioned earlier in this video, the HERO 6 Black carries the same 1220mAh battery capacity as the HERO 5 Black. So it should technically last for the same amount of time right? Well, no.

We conducted a battery test on the two at full capacities, same video settings, and started recording until they both drained their batteries. After more than an hour and a half, the HERO 6 actually gave up first at 1 hour and 42 minutes while the HERO 5 continued on and reached 2 hours and 5 minutes. That’s 23 minutes of difference and could go a long way in real-world shooting.

Responsible for this result might be the HERO 6’s newer custom processor. Yes, it could produce better dynamic range, low light shots, and stabilize the camera really well — but at the cost of a more power-hungry chip. That’s definitely a trade-off to consider.

Conclusion

So the question here is this: Should you upgrade to a HERO 6 Black from a HERO 5 Black?

Well, you first have to ask yourself the question: Will you be using it to shoot serious action scenes with really fast movement? Are you after the best quality there is? Or are you more of a casual user who just uses a sports camera to document your out-of-town trips?  

 

Because if it’s not for professional work, the HERO 5 Black is more than capable to document all your trips. It’s also worth every penny since it just dropped its price to US$ 299, making it a really attractive offering — not to mention longer battery life.

Although if you plan to use your action videos for broadcast and want to have a lot of flexibility in shooting and editing, then you can’t go wrong with the HERO 6 Black at US$ 399.

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Samsung Galaxy A8 and A8+ (2018) Unboxing and Review

Impressive but expensive

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We’re only a few weeks away from Mobile World Congress 2018 in Barcelona where Samsung will be launching its next flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S9.

But not too long ago, Samsung also announced the Galaxy A8 and A8+ (2018), their latest upper-midrange Galaxy A smartphones.

In this review we discuss the phones’ design, camera performance, impressive battery life, and their price tags. So are they your GadgetMatch? Watch and find out!

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Cameras

Polaroid OneStep 2 review: The ultimate throwback camera

Bringing back what’s classic

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When the Polaroid OneStep 2 debuted, I didn’t know what to expect. All I knew was that it was one pretty camera so logically I was instantly drawn to it. (I like beautiful things and quirky cameras.) I previously reviewed the Fujifilm Instax SQ10 and the Polaroid SnapTouch so I was quite curious as to what this classic brand had to offer.

Background

The OneStep 2 is the brainchild of Polaroid Originals. It’s technically that same iconic camera brand but also, it’s technically different. Let me explain.

Throughout the years, Polaroid has made itself known for its cameras — hence the reference in that OutKast song and the reason why Instagram’s very first logo was influenced by a Polaroid camera.

The rise of digital photography, however, wasn’t the best development (pun intended) for a classic camera manufacturer and pretty soon, Polaroid was going out of business — until a startup called Impossible Project swooped in.

Impossible Project was no stranger to the Polaroid brand. It was the same company that kept the film manufacturing process alive when Polaroid announced that they would cease doing so. In 2017, Impossible Project’s main shareholder purchased the Polaroid brand and intellectual property giving birth to Polaroid Originals.

Now, enough of this history lesson and on to the actual camera.

Picture perfect

If you think the OneStep 2 looks familiar, you’re right… and you’re also probably old.

The OneStep 2 is the successor to Polaroid’s original OneStep camera manufactured in the 1970s — one of America’s bestselling ones at the time.

The resemblance is uncanny: The Polaroid OneStep and the Polaroid OneStep 2

Just like the OneStep, the OneStep 2 is an analog camera. Only, there’s a 21st-century twist — namely a lithium-ion battery with a micro-USB port for charging. There are no frills or special functions on this camera, just pure old-school goodness.

Setting up

The camera is pretty straightforward. The big red button up front is the shutter button, there’s a timer switch on the left of the lens and finally, there’s a yellow lighten/darken switch which allows you to adjust photo exposure. On the back of the camera, there’s an on and off switch, a flash override button, and the micro-USB port for charging.

The Polaroid OneStep 2 side by side with a film cartridge

Before anything else, you’re going to need a pack of film. The OneStep 2 uses i-Type film which come in cartridges that house eight shots each.

To load the film, slide the cartridge into the camera. That tiny latch up front opens the film door. It may sound complicated but it isn’t as hard after the first try.

Ready, set, shoot!

The OneStep 2, true to its analog roots, only has a no-frills viewfinder. This can make picture taking pretty tricky; you need just the right angle to take a perfectly framed photo. It also doesn’t help that said angle entails half of your made-up face to be on the back of the camera. (Que horror!)

Press and hold the red button to take a photo and the image will immediately print. There’s no option to edit or save. All you really do after you press the shutter is hope you framed your photo right.

The film comes out of the camera’s front, and now you sit and wait. It takes a few minutes for the photo to develop.

But all that considered, photo taking on this thing is still very fun — that is, if you don’t run out of film. Eight shots is not a lot when you’re still fumbling with a camera that prints each picture automatically. These lights will tell you how much film you have left.

Verdict

Without knowing what the OneStep 2 can do, I am immediately drawn to it. I mean, look at it! It’s so Instagrammable, we probably took more photos of it than from it.

However, if you’re looking for a shooter that will give you the clearest instant print, it won’t be this camera. There’s a certain learning curve on this thing and it takes a while to perfect taking photos — in our case, more than a pack’s worth of film.

Not the most perfect prints but memories nonetheless

I have to be completely honest, though: I enjoyed playing with this camera a lot. There’s just something about instant cameras that make them all so appealing to me.

Now, some might argue that an instant camera launched in this decade should, at least, have more functions. This is what other brands have done in an effort to evolve. But, to apply that standard to the OneStep 2 is completely missing the point. This camera release relives the simple times and takes us back to the nostalgic glory of the Polaroid OneStep. It reminds us of the sentimentality that old-school photography used to have and allows us to experience the same.

The Polaroid OneStep 2 retails for PhP 8,990 in the Philippines and US$ 100 in the US. The film costs PhP 1,490 per pack of eight in the Philippines, and US$ 16 for the same in the US.

SEE ALSO: Fujifilm Instax SQ10 review

SEE ALSO: HP Sprocket Review: The smallest instant printer

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