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.

Gaming

ASUS TUF Gaming FX705 Review: Another big-screen option

When you don’t want to spend much

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ASUS TUF Gaming FX705 | GadgetMatch

Without a doubt, gaming notebooks are hot items on the market. Laptop manufacturers have been churning out game-ready machines, but there’s one name, one brand that dominates the gaming market: ASUS. The Taiwanese computer maker has captured the majority of the market share thanks to its Republic of Gamers or ROG lineup.

ROG laptops can be really expensive, especially the beastly ones, but ASUS has affordable options, too. If there’s ROG, there’s also TUF which sits in the middle of the premium and entry-level gaming notebooks currently available in the market.


What I have here is the TUF Gaming FX705, a 17-inch gaming laptop that offers respectable gaming power. If you’re looking for an alternative gaming laptop with a large screen, this might just be the one for you.

ASUS’ TUF lineup has a robust look

It passed MIL-STD-810 tests

This one has a 17-inch display with a 144Hz refresh rate

It’s a 1080p IPS-level panel

The webcam is still on top despite thin bezels

ASUS calls the display NanoEdge

All the ports are on the left side

(L-R) Power, Ethernet, HDMI, 3x USB, headphone jack

The keyboard has customizable RGB lighting

With distinct WASD keys as well

The touchpad is responsive when you need it

It uses Windows Precision drivers

Heat also dissipates to the top chassis

To allow more airflow

Not sleek, but definitely not ugly

I’ve seen better-looking laptops within ASUS’ lineup, but the overall design of this TUF Gaming laptop is not that bad. It does have a bit of ROG DNA in its look, which is a good thing. The keyboard reminds me of the ROG Strix Scar II with the unique WASD keycaps. Speaking of the keys, they’re not mechanical, but they’re responsive with a good amount of travel.

The laptop is just about the size of a conventional 15-inch notebook, but it’s got a 17-inch display. Thanks to the screen’s slim bezels, the TUF Gaming FX705 has a smaller footprint. I can fit this 17-inch gaming laptop into my bag that has a slot for a 15-inch notebook.

Its display is not all about the bezels. ASUS claims the 1080p panel has 100 percent sRGB coverage for accurate colors. Also, the 144Hz refresh rate has spoiled my eyes; it should be a standard among gaming laptops.

While the display is indeed a treat, I can’t say the same for the speaker. It gets loud, but doesn’t hit the proper notes. DTS Headphone: X audio software comes pre-installed which should help with the sound quality, but it works best if you already have a pair of quality headphones.

Can play popular titles

Specs-wise, the TUF Gaming FX705 comes with an Intel Core i7-8750H processor paired with 8GB of memory. The unit I have for review has a combo drive of 1TB HDD and 128GB SSD for storage. Graphics performance is handled by the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 Ti.

Obviously, the laptop’s setup is more than enough to run everyday applications like Chrome, Office, and whatnot. Although, customers will not buy this to only do office work.

During my time with the TUF Gaming FX705, I juggled between typing and gaming. I was able to quickly play the Resident Evil 2 remake and with the default settings applied, I had no issues with frame rates. I got above 70fps at 1080p, but this is not the highest preset available.

More graphics and resource intensive AAA titles like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey really put the GTX 1050 Ti to the test. By default, the game applied the medium graphics quality preset, but still in 1080p. The prologue of the game was already too much for the laptop with multiple characters fighting around, but it stayed above the 30fps mark. When there’s not much going on, it gets up to 90fps.

To help the laptop cope with the stress, I suggest turning on the Overboost Mode to keep the dual fans kicking. When not playing, the laptop also has a Silent Mode.

Keep it plugged in

I have yet to try a gaming laptop that can last for hours unplugged. Never leave the TUF Gaming FX705’s charger behind, because you’ll always need it. Not that the laptop can’t be used on battery power, but you can’t game for long. At best, I was able to do typing and browsing for about four hours on battery mode, which is not bad.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

ASUS has a lot of gaming laptops available. There are plenty of options to choose from, so why get the TUF Gaming FX705? I’d say it’s the most balanced and well-rounded. Too bad that it can’t take advantage of its 144Hz display all the time, but it’s a nice to feature to have.

The TUF Gaming FX705 I have here retails for PhP 81,995 in the Philippines. If you have extra cash, you can get the GTX 1060-equipped variant for PhP 91,995 for better graphics performance. The more expensive variant also comes with an upgraded 256GB SSD.

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Reviews

Realme 3 Review: The complete budget package?

Cheap doesn’t always have to be bad

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Realme is a young smartphone brand; some might not even be familiar with it. But, with OPPO acting as their parent, they’re not tapping into unfamiliar territory. The company introduced itself last year with a goal of capturing the budget segment.

Initially, they repacked OPPO phones and sold them at a cheaper price. Realme phones started to take shape with the release of the Realme 2 and 2 Pro. Now, we have the Realme 3.


With stiff competition from Xiaomi and even OPPO, can the Realme 3 triumph? Also, is it a good budget device on its own? Let’s find out in this review.

It’s got a 6.2-inch display with a teardrop notch

Resolution is just HD+

The power button sits on the right side…

At least it’s easy to find

… while the volume keys and SIM tray are on the right

It accepts a microSD and two nano-SIM cards

The micro-USB and 3.5mm port are at the bottom

Along with the microphone and loudspeaker

The back is glossy and has the fingerprint reader in the middle

Plasticky, but it’s fine

The camera module has a small yellow ring for added flair

It highlights the main 13-megapixel shooter

The phone comes in either blue or black

They are called Radiant Blue and Dynamic Black to be specific

Gradient and unibody

The plasticky body of the Realme 3 is no different from the rest of the budget phones in the market. To make theirs different, the Realme 3 uses a unibody design. The glossy back panel of the phone wraps all the way up to the display. It doesn’t have a side frame that joins the front and back panels, or at least it’s not visible on the outside. It kinda reminds me of the OPPO F5’s body but with a different finish.

While the Realme 3 can be considered to have a unibody design, it’s not as seamless as more expensive devices. Still, this approach is more pleasing, not only to the eyes but also to touch.

When it comes to the display, the Realme has to make a compromise. The phone’s screen is practically borderless with a claimed 88.3 percent screen-to-body ratio and a tiny notch, although the HD+ resolution is nothing to write home about.

Nevertheless, the lack of sharpness doesn’t equate to overall bad display quality. The panel is bright enough to be used outdoors and it shows images and videos vividly. I’ve seen worse in this price segment, so the Realme 3’s screen gets a passing grade.

New and improved interface

Realme is OPPO’s sub-brand, so it’s not surprising to see them sharing resources. In order for Realme to give a great user experience, it borrows OPPO’s ColorOS. Those who prefer a clean install of Android will have to look somewhere else like Nokia’s Android One lineup or the pure Android-touting ZenFone Max M2 from ASUS.

ColorOS generally looks pleasing, but it’s missing some of the essential Android features. Thankfully, the Realme 3 comes with ColorOS 6, the newest version available, and it’s already based on Android 9 Pie.

If you think about it, the Realme 3 is one of the budget phones currently available that’s running on Android’s latest version. It even has newer software than OPPO’s more expensive models. We don’t know if the Realme 3 will make the jump to Android Q, though. ColorOS don’t have a strong reputation when it comes to major updates.

So, what does ColorOS 6 bring to the table? First of all, you can finally dismiss notifications by swiping it; a feature that took years to come to ColorOS. Also, you can interact with the notifications, and there’s now an option to have an app drawer. ColorOS 6 looks clean and minimal as well.

When it comes to performance, I have no complaints. The phone runs smoothly and can handle multiple running apps. MediaTek’s Helio P60 processor is the brain of the phone paired with 4GB of memory. It also has 64GB of expandable storage to store all your files. For a phone in this price range, the Realme 3 offers a lot in performance.

Gaming-wise, the Realme 3 can pass as a decent gaming phone. Despite being a bit older, the Helio P60 with its Mali G72 GPU can play some games even on high graphics settings. Demanding titles (or unoptimized ones) must be played on medium to low settings to keep the frame rates high.

Keep in mind that our unit is the global version and it’s different from the one that was launched in India. That is why it sports a Helio P60 processor rather than the newest Helio P70. As of writing, the Helio P70 version is exclusive to India.

Surprisingly impressive cameras

The Realme 3 is probably one of the best cheap phones that can take photos really well. I don’t normally expect good stills from budget phones, but the Realme 3 really impressed me. It’s equipped with a main 13-megapixel f/1.8 camera and it’s accompanied by a 2-megapixel depth sensor. There’s no ultra wide-angle or zoom lens here.

Equipped with AI, the rear cameras take amazing photos considering the price of the phone. Other budget phones tend to oversharpen their stills, but not the Realme 3. My only gripe about the phone is the aggressiveness of its HDR feature which makes the image look a bit unnatural. Also, slight movements can result in blur. Check out these samples:

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When the night comes, the Realme 3 can still take sharp and well-exposed images thanks to its Nightscape feature. As far as I know, the Realme is the first to introduce a multi-frame, anti-shake algorithm to its price range. Basically, the phone takes a few photos within three seconds and stitches them all together. Here are some samples:

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As for selfies, the tiny notch in front houses another 13-megapixel sensor. Coupled with AI, the Realme 3 takes good-looking selfies. It features AI beauty mode and simulates bokeh for a more pleasing self-portrait..

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A battery that can last for hours

One of the most important feature I look for (I think everyone should) in a smartphone is battery life. Longevity is crucial, especially if a phone has a lot of features to brag about. Budget phones nowadays don’t sacrifice battery life, and that includes the Realme 3 with its 4230mAh capacity. On top of that, the bundled charger is also a pretty fast 10W brick.

Even with heavy use, I didn’t have any trouble using the Realme 3 as my daily driver. It can last a whole workday with enough juice to keep playing music while I commute back home. My usage includes all-day social networking, chats, emails, and a few minutes of gaming. The phone can easily last for two days if you don’t use it as much as I do.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

As a budget phone, Realme 3 ticks all the boxes: nice design, good cameras, decent performance, and long battery life. For only PhP 9,990, it can easily be your GadgetMatch. Not just because it’s cheap, but because it’s a good phone overall. It has its potential downsides, especially when it comes to software updates, although that shouldn’t be a big issue for most. You can even get it for as low as PhP 6,990, but with lower memory and storage space.

Of course, the flashy design and maybe the UI of the Realme 3 may not be everyone’s cup to tea. But, for those who don’t care about these and just need an affordable phone that won’t disappoint, the Realme 3 is a great deal.

SEE ALSO: Realme C1 Hands-on: Redefining entry-level devices

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Gaming

ASUS ROG Strix Scar II (GL704) Review: Feels smaller, performs better

Now with RTX graphics

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This is not the same laptop we reviewed before from ASUS. They do look alike and even have identical names, but this one is the bigger brother. This is the GL704 model of the ROG Strix Scar II with a 17-inch display.

It’s not every day that we get to play with 17-inch laptops, because they are simply cumbersome to bring around. They’re heavy and bulky, plus they don’t easily fit inside laptop bags. This one is different though; it’s like a 15-inch notebook thanks to its ultra-slim bezels.


Not only that, but it also has the latest discrete graphics available for laptops — the GeForce RTX series from NVIDIA.

What is it like to bring around a 17-inch gaming laptop? Here’s my review.

It’s got a high-gloss metal lid

The ROG logo still lights up, too

There are plenty of ports on the left

(L-R) Power, Ethernet, mini-DisplayPort, HDMI, 3x USB-A, 3.5mm audio 

With a few more on the right

(L-R) SD card slot, USB-C, USB-A, Kensington lock 

The back is where the heat comes out

Away from the user 

The keyboard is FPS-friendly

You won’t miss the WASD keys for sure 

There’s another ROG logo inside

To remind you that it’s a gaming laptop 

The ultra-narrow bezels are to die for

Kinda reminds me of the Dell XPS 13 

It looks very familiar

The GL704 is essentially an enlarged version of the previous 15-inch variant. Right off the bat, you can tell that this is an ROG laptop. It has the aesthetics of a gaming notebook complete with a camouflage pattern and RGB lights.

The chiclet keys which ASUS calls HyperStrike Pro are not mechanical, but they are clicky and well-spaced. Since the Scar II is designed for FPS games, it has transparent WASD keycaps. If you’re more into MOBA, you should look into the Strix Hero II.

What makes this keyboard game-friendly are the little adjustments that make a world of difference. There are gaps between the function keys for easier identification, the spacebar is slightly extended and reshaped for fewer misses, and the arrow keys are not cramped.

As for the trackpad, it has a smooth surface and it uses Windows Precision drivers. It has support for all the Windows 10 gestures and two separate buttons for left and right click. While the trackpad is a good one, ASUS also bundles the Strix Scar II with a gaming mouse.

Inside the box, you get a free ROG Impact mouse which I find responsive. The mouse has an RGB ROG logo which is customizable via ASUS Aura Sync, as well. It also has a DPI switch smack in the middle that’s handy in combat games. You’ll just have to get a nice mousepad to match the peripheral.

The overall construction of the Strix Scar II is near premium. By mixing metal and hard plastic, you get the best of both worlds. The aluminum cover lid defines the craftsmanship of the laptop, while the majority of the chassis is understandably made out of polycarbonate to help with the thermals.

Speaking of, ASUS is proud of their new HyperCool Pro thermal system which doesn’t only keep the laptop’s temperature in check, but it also expels dust particles and dirt that may get trapped inside the fans.

Specs make the difference

The main reason why you should get the GL704 is its graphics card. It’s one of the first in the market to have the latest GeForce RTX graphics from NVIDIA. The particular model I have for review sports the RTX 2060 with 6GB GDDR6, although it also comes with the more capable RTX 2070.

The full specs of the laptop include an Intel Core i7-8750H processor and 16GB DDR4 memory. For storage, it has a main 256GB PCIe SSD and secondary 1TB SSHD for the large chunk of files like your AAA games.

On the software side, there are a lot of pre-installed apps to complete the ROG experience like the ROG Armoury Crate which acts as a hub to check the laptop’s condition. There’s also GameFirst V for network optimization, ROG GameVisual for tweaking the display, Sonic Studio III for adjusting the audio, and Sonic Radar III for optimizing the surround sound effect on supported games.

There aren’t many titles out there that take advantage of ray tracing, which is the main selling point of the new RTX graphics. Good thing Battlefield V got updated to support ray tracing for improved reflections. However, Battlefield V is such an action-packed game that you might not fully notice the improvements during combat.

Here’s a comparison with ray tracing turned on and off. The game’s settings panel doesn’t allow for complete shutdown of ray tracing, so the closest to off is low. The preset graphics has to be set to low as well, which drastically changes the whole environment.

Anyhow, ray tracing is all about realistic and real-time reflections. You can see the water puddles nicely show the capabilities of RTX. Everything is shinier with ray tracing. In ultra settings, Battlefield V on the Strix Scar II averages around 55fps and spikes above 60fps when there’s not much going on in the scene.

Outside ray tracing, the Strix Scar II can easily handle other popular titles. I was able to enjoy Apex Legends on its highest-possible settings at around 110fps, while Fortnite averages 100fps

Is ray tracing worth the upgrade? That depends on where you’re coming from. Those on GTX-series graphics might not find RTX on mobile to be lucrative enough, and they can skip this for now because the previous generation’s graphics cards are still some of the best out there. Also, the number of titles supporting ray tracing won’t excite the whole gaming population.

It’s not an Ultrabook

Nobody should expect long battery life from a gaming laptop, at least for now. When playing games on the Strix Scar II, you should have it plugged in to ensure that the graphics card is not working with limited power.

When you do need to unplug and use the laptop remotely, you have three hours before the laptop puts itself to sleep and wait for its charger. Charging the Strix Scar II will take about an hour and a half using the included 230W power adapter.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

The ROG Strix Scar II is ASUS’ special machine for those who are competitive in FPS gaming. It’s also a treat to AAA-title gamers thanks to its upgraded RTX graphics. It’s the smallest 17-inch gaming notebook with next-generation performance, so what more could you ask for? Aside from a better webcam placement and battery, of course.

A machine this good comes at a price. It starts at PhP 124,995 (US$ 2,400) which gives you RTX 2060 graphics. If you want to have a more powerful 17-inch gaming laptop, you could get the RTX 2070 variant for PhP 149,995 (US$ 2,885).

A piece of advice: If you’re getting a gaming notebook and have the money for it, you should go for the high-end model because you won’t be able the upgrade the graphics chip after purchase.

SEE ALSO: The ASUS ZenBook S13 does the job while looking good

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