Reviews

Samsung Galaxy A7 hands-on review: Beyond the cameras

Just another camera-centric phone?

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A few years ago, megapixels were all the rage when it came to smartphone photography. Producing larger photos somehow equated to better quality — and more aggressive marketing — from those little shooters on older phones.

Fortunately, that craze ended, but we’re now facing a new race to see who can stuff the most number of cameras on a single handset.

Even though dual-camera setups became the standard a couple of years ago, brands like Huawei and LG have been pushing for more. Naturally, competitors including Samsung saw the need to catch up, and even exceed in some cases.

The Galaxy A7 of 2018 is a direct answer to the trending need for at least three cameras on a phone’s rear. In this case, one camera is for regular shots, another is for wide-angle photos, and a third helps power the Live Focus function.

We already had time to experience this unique setup in India, but we now want to answer another question: Is there more to the Galaxy A7 than just its cameras?

The short answer is yes. Not only does the Galaxy A7 have Samsung’s signature AMOLED display and a mostly glass body, it does so at a reasonable price of INR 23,990 in India and PhP 17,990 in the Philippines — both of which convert to about US$ 330.

Samsung’s entry-level Galaxy J series often hovered around this price, so for a Galaxy A phone to hit this point with more premium features is a good deal. (It may also be a sign of Samsung gradually letting go of the Galaxy J lineup.)

Despite the relatively large bezels for a 2018 phone, the 6-inch 1080p AMOLED is both well-sized and a pleasure to look at. As usual, Samsung tends to oversaturate colors, but I appreciate the inclusion of Always On Display (AOD), which keeps the panel partially active to show me the time and my notifications throughout the day.

It’s tough on the battery, though, and I recommend turning this feature off when not needed. The 3300mAh battery capacity is lacking for a phone this size; with AOD on, I only get four hours of screen-on time in a single day. Leaving it off gives me an additional hour, but the phone still doesn’t get over a day’s worth of usage.

Using Samsung’s standard Adaptive Fast Charging adapter, it takes less than two hours to get to full from zero percent. That makes up for the mediocre battery life, although I wish the Galaxy A7 came with a USB-C port instead of the aging micro-USB.

What’s new, however, is the interface. Although it’s stuck on Android 8.0 Oreo, Samsung baked Experience 9.0 into the operating system, so it has the newest gestures and I found that jumping from one function to another is pleasantly smooth.

It helps that Samsung’s own Exynos 7885 chipset is handling all the heavy-duty tasks. While it isn’t the best for gaming — titles like Life is Strange and Asphalt 9: Legends don’t run that smoothly unless graphics settings are lowered — switching through apps while multitasking is seamless, and I can’t remember a time when hiccups bothered me.

I was surprised to find only 4GB of memory inside, but it turned out being enough for my usage case. There were only a few instances wherein I wished my background apps wouldn’t close so soon. What’s better is the integrated storage, which comes in at 64GB with additional room for a microSD card up to 512GB.

Other reasons to consider this phone? There’s a 3.5mm audio port if that matters to you, and the front-facing LED flash is pretty helpful when lighting is terrible during your selfie shoots.

Another thing that’s useful to me but may be annoying to others is the placement of the fingerprint scanner. It’s on the side-mounted power button, which I consider to be an optimized spot no matter how the phone is held or laid on a tablet. Left-handed people might not feel the same way.

Finally, despite the glass body, the phone seems to be a little flimsy. It’s not something I’m confident putting inside my back pocket. Get a case as soon as you buy one, or simply don’t drop or bend it.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

It’s easy to recommend the Galaxy A7 for what it is, but there are so many great phones in the sub-US$ 400 segment that it’s difficult to ignore them. Offerings from Honor, Xiaomi, and even Pocophone make the final purchasing decision a tough one.

The Galaxy A7 is primarily for long-time Samsung users looking for something different. Its triple-camera setup is certainly unique in this part of the smartphone market, and the side-mounted fingerprint scanner is a refreshing sight.

At the same time, a lot of Samsung’s familiar features are here, including the AMOLED display and the lack of a notch. It’s certainly the most non-Samsung, Samsung phone you can buy today — until you see the more outrageous Galaxy A9, that is.

Reviews

Vivo V17 Pro Unboxing and Review

Overpriced and gimmicky?

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Vivo’s newest smartphone has cool camera features, including the world’s first dual pop-up selfie camera.

But is that enough for you to want to upgrade, or is the Vivo V17 Pro overpriced with a lot of gimmicks?

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Her GadgetMatch

LG Pra.L’s Galvanic Ion Booster makes your skincare products more effective

Makes your visits to the facial clinic less frequent

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The marriage of beauty and tech is not an entirely new thing. Ionic products, tools that are supposed to help slow down the signs of ageing, even water bottles that will supposedly make water better for your skin — they have been around for a while. LG’s new, Pra.L line is one of the most recent launches which was met with both shock and awe. This is mainly due to the new claims of what their high-grade devices can do but also because of the price tag they come with.

I personally love this whole movement. In the advent of the informed consumer trend, more and more people are becoming concerned about what they put on their skin. It’s highly common now that women who are into skincare are vigorously discussing ingredients. A lot of us are also becoming more interested in the details of what aestheticians are doing for us.

The entire Pra.L line is practically a beauty clinic within the convenience of your own home. It is democratizing the technology of some of the most common, non-invasive treatments and making it accessible to consumers who want to do things on their own.

One of the notable devices in the line is the Galvanic Ion Booster. The idea of an ion booster to help skincare products penetrate deeper into the skin is not entirely new. LG’s version of the device, however, is definitely a cut above most of the products in the market.

As someone with sensitive skin which is on a recovery period from hormonal breakouts, I tend to be quite picky with anything I put on my skin. It has also been recommended that I go for simpler routines using as few products as possible. With little product, you’d want them to be as effective as possible. This is where this device comes in.

Ease of use

For the past month, I’ve been using the Galvanic Ion Booster religiously — morning and night. I would use the cleansing mode with my CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser (green bottle, for normal to dry skin). The device literally tells you which part of your face you should be using it on. The voice is not too loud but perky enough to get you out of your own head. Just in case you get too in the zone. Using galvanic ion technology, the device helps the cleanser draw out the impurities in your pores. Expect a slight vibration that is more relaxing than uncomfortable.

For the boost mode, I either use it with a vitamin C serum or The Ordinary’s Alpha Arbutin 2% + HA. Both serums are helpful in brightening the skin and fading out the marks left behind by intense breakouts. For the boost mode, the same technology is applied but in a reverse direction, helping the product and its ingredients penetrate your skin deeper. The boost mode is something I enjoy a lot as you can actually feel your products getting absorbed right away. I top everything with a gentle moisturizer from La Roche-Posay and on days when it’s extremely dry outside, a face oil from Australian indie beauty brand Ipsum.

I also use it with retinol treatments once a week but would make sure I double up on sunscreen the next day. The heat and vibration from the device do render retinol to be more effective. However, it will also make your skin more susceptible to sun damage.

When a stubborn pimple decides to pop up unannounced, I also use the boost mode to help my Mamonde AC Balance Spot Serum be absorbed faster. I wake up the next day with the little bugger dry and ready to be forgotten in the next couple of days.

Worth the price tag?

The device’s triangular head is made out of medical-grade titanium, making it safe for use on your skin. The shape is also effective in reaching the small nooks around your face like the sides of your nose. I just make sure to clean the device with running water and wipe it dry before putting on the cover.

LG’s Galvanic Ion Booster also has a good weight to it without being too heavy. The device also travels well — it comes with its own carrying pouch — and can charge with a micro USB cable or through the charging dock it comes with. The sleek design of the device makes it an easy hold and a joy to use. This, despite having to move it around your face for about three minutes per mode. Sounds like a short time but not when you’re a busy, working woman. I found it to be a lesson in slowing down and just making sure I enjoy doing my skincare routine instead of rushing through it like a chore — a form of self-love if you will.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

After a month of use, my skin feels more plump and healthy. It’s also brighter and blemishes became more manageable. I can highly recommend this for the skincare junkie; It’s a game-changer.

The device retails for SG$ 529 which might seem like a huge blow to the wallet. However, prevention is definitely less expensive than cure so think of it as an investment for the future.

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Reviews

OPPO Reno 2 review: On the right track

Rebranding done right

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It wasn’t too long ago when OPPO launched the Reno, the company’s new branding for its smartphones; gone are the F series and the R series. Several months and variants later, it’s now time for its successor.

OPPO is sticking to its new design language

With the Reno, OPPO also introduced a new design language — something that’s truly their own. While the OPPO Reno 2 is narrower and slightly lighter than the first OPPO Reno on paper, this phone is still massive.

OPPO made the back curvier so it’s now more comfortable to hold, even with the case on. Most people could care less, but I really appreciate how secure and premium the bundled leather-like case is. I wish more phones came with something like this.

There’s a headphone jack at the bottom, too. We’ve gotten used to wireless headphones by now but having a headphone jack is still a welcome feature. It’s nice to be able to watch Netflix outdoors like when you’re waiting for the bus without worrying whether your headphones are charged.

Speaking of watching Netflix, the Reno 2 can hold its own even outdoors — its AMOLED display is bright. The unobstructed display is beautiful and a pleasure to use.

Great cameras

Like a lot of other smartphones we’ve seen this year, the OPPO Reno 2 has a 48MP wide angle lens, 13MP telephoto lens, and an 8MP ultra wide angle lens. There’s also a fourth camera — a 2MP monochrome sensor, which should help take better low light photos and portraits.

The phone also features a 5X hybrid zoom and 20x digital zoom. Periscopic zoom is an impressive achievement for smartphones, and it’s nice to have really, but we haven’t really found any practical uses it for it. In fact the only time we probably ever use this feature is when we’re reviewing phones and taking sample photos.

What we find more useful is the ultra wide angle lens — for when you’re taking photos of food and want to be a little more discreet about it, or for when you just want to show off both your outfit and your background. It’s great for taking photos of sights too when you’re traveling.

Portrait mode 2.0 is supposedly better, but unless it can truly separate your hair against the background, we’d still use it sparingly. Just because you have portrait mode, it doesn’t mean you should use it all the time.

The same goes for bokeh effect on video. It’s supposed to mimic that background blur a professional camera is able to make when shooting video but the technology just isn’t there yet. What we really like though is the Reno 2’s improved video stabilization — it works really well.

There’s also ultra dark mode, which captures low light photos better — even tricky scenarios like NEON signs or backlit photos.

The pop-up selfie camera is here to stay

A few years ago OPPO was all about the selfie. In several markets in Asia they were known as the “selfie expert”. Even if OPPO already dropped that strategy, you still get an array of beauty customizations when taking selfies.

Although we prefer turning it off completely as even AI Beauty Mode does more than take out temporary blemishes.

The Reno 2 also retains the freefall protection feature. In case you drop your phone while taking a selfie, the pop-up camera will automatically retract.

Gaming performance

The Reno 2 sports an upper midrange Qualcomm chipset called the Snapdragon 730G. Even if it doesn’t have a high end processor, it holds up really well because of its Adreno 615 graphics card.

If you still play Pokemon Go like me, just know that this phone won’t experience any hiccups even while you’re in the middle of a raid.

Solid battery life and super fast charging

We’ve been using the OPPO Reno 2 for about a week now and it lasts a whole day of heavy use, or a day and a half of moderate use. That’s a lot of photo taking, navigating, playing Pokemon GO, browsing social media, and texting even until night time — thanks to its huge 4000 mAh battery, dynamic AMOLED display, efficient processor, and optimized Color OS 6.

When it’s out of juice, topping it up is easy because of OPPO’s proprietary VOOC charging. It can get to 50% in just 30 minutes.

Is the OPPO Reno 2 your GadgetMatch?

I remember when we would review OPPO’s R series a year or two ago, we’d always had apprehensions in recommending them. Their price to performance ratio didn’t always make sense.

At EUR 499 and GBP 449, the Reno 2 is priced cheaper than the R series at launch. It delivers in every aspect. Even if most of its features are gimmicky and not exactly practical for everyday use, it’s a great phone overall that can handle anything you throw at it.

It’s a pleasure to use and a pleasure to hold. It ticks two things that are most important to us: great cameras and battery life. It even has a USB-C port, super fast charging, and a headphone jack.

There’s also that je ne sais quoi — you know when you hold a phone you’re inexplicably drawn to it? This is one of those phones.

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