Reviews

Samsung Galaxy A8 and A8+ (2018) Review: Premium midrange features come at a price

How much are you willing to pay for an Infinity Display?

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The newest upper midrange phones from Samsung are finally out. I’m excited about the Galaxy A series since they’re the first to sport premium craftsmanship among Samsung phones. They also normally inherit last year’s flagship features.

I’ve been playing around with both the regular Galaxy A8 (2018) and the bigger Galaxy A8+ (2018) for over a week now and here’s my review of the two.

Let’s first run through the body of the phones:

Choose between a 5.6-inch or a 6-inch Infinity Display

Both are sharp and vibrant Super AMOLED panels

They’re not edge-to-edge but still near-borderless

Sorry, folks!

The volume rocker is positioned on the left…

It’s somehow a little too high

While the power is on the right along with the loudspeaker

I find the position of the loudspeaker to be convenient

The 3.5mm port is present, as well as USB-C

Nice to know that Samsung is not yet ditching the audio port

SIM 1 is on the left…

It only accepts nano-SIM cards

… and SIM 2 is on top together with the microSD card

Hooray for triple-card slots!

The fingerprint reader is below the rear camera

Smooth and shiny glass slabs with rounded corners

Infinity Display bridges the gap between the midrange lineup

The design of the two is completely identical. The button placements, the ports, and the holes are just the same on both. The only difference externally is the size and the weight. Speaking of, both of them are surprisingly hefty. The Galaxy S8+ is lighter than either of them, and the Galaxy Note 8 weighs about the same as the Galaxy A8+. I’m not exactly sure why because all of them sport the same sandwiched glass design and their battery capacities are not much greater than the other. It’s not a bad thing per se, but it’s something to keep in mind.

The Infinity Display comes to Samsung’s midrange line (or should I say premium midrange?) but without the curved edges of its flagship cousins. The resolution is also lowered to 1080 x 2220 pixels and it has a slightly taller than usual 18.5:9 ratio. It’s still a Super AMOLED display with punchy color reproduction. Adaptive Mode, which is set by default, works fine for everything but you can also choose between three different color profiles for better accuracy depending on the content you’re viewing and preference.

Slightly better performance isn’t enough

Ticking inside the phones is an octa-core processor which Samsung doesn’t specifically disclose, but benchmark apps identify it as the Exynos 7885 Octa. It’s a slightly better chipset compared to the ones inside the Galaxy A (2017) series. Both the Galaxy A8 and Galaxy A8+ have the same processor, but they have different memory and storage configuration at 4GB/32GB and 6GB/64GB, respectively.

During the course of the review, I mainly used the regular Galaxy A8, but side-to-side comparisons with the Galaxy A8+ don’t show any significant difference in performance. With the additional memory though, you can open more apps simultaneously and let them run in the background longer. As for the bigger storage, obviously, you can store more apps and files on the phone. If you do need more space, both phones have dedicated microSD card slots for your convenience.

Gaming is good on the phone, but it’s not the most powerful out there. The Mali-G71MP2 graphics can handle high settings of Asphalt Extreme very well. Casual games will pose no threat to the phone, but graphics-intensive titles like NBA 2K18 will do.

Android 7.1.1 Nougat comes out of the box with Samsung Experience version 8.5 on top. If you still belittle Samsung’s customization because of the clunky TouchWiz UI from yesteryears, you have to move on because the latest version is miles better. It’s clean and greatly improves the overall Android experience without any signs of hiccups. The consequence would be the long wait for the next Android version to arrive on your phone, but new features (aside from under the hood improvements) are mostly already available courtesy of Samsung Experience. Bixby is on board, but Google Assistant is also available.

Aside from fingerprints, you can also use your face to unlock your phone. The feature is not exactly as secure and accurate as Apple’s Face ID but it gets the job done. It works fine in well-lit places but not as fast as I’d like it to be. The fingerprint reader on the back, which is easily reachable by the index fingers, is faster and more convenient to use.

Live Focus is now on the front camera

Samsung is not exactly on board the selfie wagon, but the Galaxy A series is actually selfie-centric. The new Galaxy A8 (2018) phones don’t just have high-resolution front cameras, each device has two selfie shooters now which enable the Live Focus feature we first saw in the Galaxy Note 8. The dual front cameras are composed of a 16- and 8-megapixel sensors with the latter having a wide-angle lens ideal for taking group selfies.

Selfies came out great, especially with the Live Focus feature on. You can adjust the background blur or bokeh effect during and after taking the shot. There are also some cute built-in stickers available from the camera launcher if you feel playful. Switching to the secondary wide-angle selfie camera broadens the field of view, but it’s not as wide as I’ve seen with the OPPO F3 and F3 Plus.

The rear gets a single 16-megapixel f/1.7 camera which takes great low-light photos. Optical image stabilization could have made the phone an even better point-and-shoot camera, but it seems like Samsung is reserving such features for their flagships. Anyhow, either of the Galaxy A8 (2018) phones take good photos in daylight or at night. Low-light photography requires a bit of work with steady hands to get the best output.

They can last the whole day and then some

Any phone that doesn’t last for a whole day is a no-no. Every phone I’ve used last year was able to get me through a full workday before asking for a fill-up. As for the Galaxy A8 (2018), it can even last longer, especially the Galaxy A8+ (2018).

The Galaxy A8 (2018) has a sizeable 3000mAh battery which lasted for a full 14 hours straight on average. That’s with around four and a half hours of screen time and Always On Display active so I don’t miss any notifications. The Galaxy A8+ (2018) with its bigger 3500mAh battery was able to last for 24 hours with four hours of screen time and still with Always On Display.

My real-world usage of the phones includes a few voice calls and SMS, constant internet connection either through Wi-Fi or mobile data, and hours of listening on Spotify during my commute.

Which is your GadgetMatch?

The choice between the two will be a matter of preference. The “regular” variant of the Galaxy A8 (2018) is a good option for those who prefer phones that can be used with one hand. It’s not exactly a mini or compact version but its pretty pocketable by today’s standards. The plus variant is more suited for people who like big phones and need more battery juice. The additional memory and storage are merely cherries on top.

Smartphones are indeed getting more expensive, and the new Galaxy A8 (2018) phones are not spared from this drift. The Galaxy A8 will have a retail price of PhP 26,990 (US$ 540) in the Philippines while the Galaxy A8+ will go for PhP 32,990 (US$ 660). Compared to the launch prices of their predecessors, this is way too much. The asking price doesn’t appeal to us, especially when 18:9 displays and some of its new features are not exactly distinctive anymore.

If you want the premium offerings of Samsung and the price is not an issue, the Galaxy A8 (2018) phones will not disappoint. But if you want to get more value out of your money and still want to stick to the Samsung experience, you can look into the Galaxy Note FE (the improved and safer Galaxy Note 7) which has an official price of PhP 27,990 (US$ 560) in the Philippines as of writing.

Gaming

Final Fantasy VII Remake Yuffie Episode: Short but satisfying

Will make you want to replay FF7R again

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Yuffie

It’s been over a year since Final Fantasy VII Remake (FF7R) launched and just recently, a PS5 upgrade to the game — Final Fantasy VII Remake INTERGrade was made available. Along with it is the INTERMission Episode DLC featuring materia hunter Yuffie Kisaragi.

The Yuffie Episode INTERMission DLC has two chapters featuring Yuffie, a bunch of new characters that are also part of Avalanche, as well as your companion for this game — Sonon Kusakabe.

Yuffie appears in FF7R much earlier than she did in the original game. But as everyone who’s played the game has already known, this is not like your other remakes.

INTERMission DLC sees Yuffie arriving in Midgar long before she meets Cloud and the rest of the gang that blew up Mako Reactors 1 and 5. Notably from the Wutai clan, Yuffie teamed up with other members of Avalanche (Nayo best girl) to retrieve what they think is an ultimate materia that Shinra is hiding in their labs.

Nayo best girl. Can’t change my mind.

Accompanying Yuffie in this mission journey is Sonon Kusakabe — another Wutai clan member.

Same controls but unique for characters

Yuffie

If you played FF7R then you should have no problems picking up on the controls. It’s exactly the same button commands but Square Enix has once again managed to make it feel unique.

In terms of movement, the INTERMission DLC took advantage of Yuffie and Sonon’s backgrounds as actual ninjas of the FF7R world. Here, they’re able to move around the environment in a way that was not possible with Cloud, Barrett, Tifa, and Aerith.

It’s by no means a platforming challenge, but it’s both a clever and thoughtful addition that makes sense for the characters you’re playing as.

Another thing unique to Yuffie is she can throw her shuriken to Shinra boxes and objects from a distance. This makes you more aware of your surroundings and encourages you to look around if there’s something you can throw the shuriken at to gain items or move forward.

Shuriken and Ninjutsu

Yuffie

Same is true for combat. Somewhat. In the same way that it’s similar button presses but manages to feel unique depending on the character you’re using. Cloud and Tifa are close quarter combat specialists. Barrett and Aerith prioritize maintaining a distance. Meanwhile, Yuffie is somewhat a combination of both.

Yuffie can attack in a variety of ways. Pressing square lands a light attack. Pressing and holding square lands a combo of light attacks that has Yuffie creating distance from the enemy towards the end.

From a distance, Yuffie can then throw the Shuriken by pressing the triangle button. This lands a couple of hits on the enemy. You can retrieve the Shuriken by pressing triangle again.

When the Shuriken is away, you can compound the attacks by pressing square repeatedly to land ninjutsu attacks. Ninjutsu attacks can have elemental effects. Yuffie can use Fire, Ice, Thunder, and Wind ninjutsu.

Yuffie also has a pretty strong parry/block mechanic. However, you need to time it precisely just about before the enemy lands a blow to be fully effective. This writer’s timing in games (and life in general) isn’t impeccable so this wasn’t utilized in this playthrough as much.

Synergy with Sonon

Unlike in the main FF7R game, you can’t switch to Sonon. You can still issue him commands when his ATB meter fills up, but that’s about it.

To best utilize this suave ninja, you’ll want to use Synergy. You need to press L2 to activate synergy. With it, Yuffie’s attacks deal more damage as they are executed in tandem with Sonon.

The catch is that Sonon’s ATB gauge fills up much slower when in this mode even if you have ATB materia boost equipped. The game encourages you to go in and out of synergy for a dynamic combat experience.

Later on in the game, you’ll get a chance to equip a materia that lets you do a synergized attack that doesn’t cost ATB. This will prove useful in the final battle — which can be a headache compared to everything else in the game.

Nero was one tough battle

A quick but endearing adventure

Final Fantasy VII Remake INTERGrade — INTERMission Episode Yuffie tells an efficient story. It only has two chapters but it manages to endear you to both Yuffie and Sonon.

The brother-sister dynamic between the two is quite charming. Sonon’s generally more laid back personality provides a balance to Yuffie’s youthful energy.

Sonon’s reactions to Yuffie’s impulsive decisions are hilarious

The DLC feels like an anime OVA in that it doesn’t exactly affect the main story, but it’s a nice addition to the overall narrative of FF7R.

Spending time in the Sector 7 Slums with some familiar faces was also pretty fun and definitely makes you want to replay the entire game all over again.

Some familiar faces

At this point, you’ve probably already seen the spoilers, but we won’t say anything here. However, the ending — both on Yuffie’s end as well as the additional one featuring scenes with Cloud and the rest of the FF7R gang, provides plenty of things fans of the game will talk about until the sequel releases.

Fort Condor, hunting flyers, extras

There isn’t much side content to this game. The first one has you running around Sector 7 collecting flyers from a fellow Wutai native.

The other is Fort Condor which is a mini game also derived from the original Final Fantasy VII. It plays a little differently here and is one that Square Enix should probably release as a separate mobile game.

The Whack-a-box challenge is also present here which yields some cool rewards. There’s already a video on YouTube showing how you can beat this and score 50,000.

 

After your first playthrough, Weiss — a villain from the Dierge of Cerberus game — can be challenged in the battle simulator at Shinra.

Should you play FF7R INTERGrade — INTERMission Episode Yuffie? 

If you can, since it’s only available on PS5 which is still hard to get right now, you definitely should. FF7R INTERGrade — INTERMission Episode Yuffie takes you back to Midgar and introduces you to a bubbly character.

It certainly turned out to be a much more satisfying play than we earlier imagined. There’s enough new-ish things shown here to instill confidence that characters that have yet to be introduced will also be handled with a great level of care.

It’s short, satisfying, but most importantly, gets you excited for what else is to come for Final Fantasy VII Remake.

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vivo X60 review: Killer cameras for less

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vivo X60

If you’re a person who’s been into photography for quite a while, you probably know that Zeiss is a lens brand most photographers aspire to have. With their decades of supremacy in the film and photography industry, any lens you slap a Zeiss branding on, you’ll know it’s good. Even the movie Joker, which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture, has been filmed mostly with some Zeiss cine lenses. That’s how good they are.

Knowing that a brand like vivo, who’s been widely known to make exceptional smartphones, would join forces with Zeiss to create the ideal camera smartphone technology is just a recipe for success. Lo and behold, the master work of vivo and Zeiss, the vivo X60.

Performance beyond expectations

Considering that the X60 is a photography-centric smartphone, this device isn’t one to be underestimated. Fueled by a Snapdragon 870 processor, 12GB of RAM and a generous 256GB of internal storage, the vivo X60 is packed with some serious firepower.

Right after I found out what’s powering this device, I immediately installed the toughest games to test it with. As expected, Asphalt 9: Legends on its highest graphic settings ran without a hitch. Even the very demanding Genshin Impact which brings other devices to their knees ran at a buttery-smooth rate on the X60 without even breaking a sweat.

vivo X60

Heavy multitasking is also a treat on the vivo X60 as the 12GB of RAM provides it lots of headroom for switching back and forth different apps without having to close them in the process.

Buttery smooth visuals

A surprising contributor to the fluid experience on the X60 is its high refresh rate AMOLED display. Measuring at 6.56 inches with a FHD+ resolution and a refresh rate of 120Hz, this display is vibrant and smooth all throughout the interface thanks to the Smart Switch mode where its refresh rate automatically changes to suit different user scenarios including increasing the response rate to up to 240Hz on some games.

vivo X60

Also, with HDR10+ certification, expect to see more details on shadows and highlights of images on this display.

Alluring good looks

As much as I wanted to get right into talking about the camera, I am just startled by how stunning this smartphone is. The color variant we have with us is the Shimmer Blue color. Ocean blue, teal, orange and yellow are just some of the colors I could identify as its color changes depending on how light reflects on it.

vivo X60

Placed on the right of the device we have both the volume rocker and the power button and at the bottom panel we’ll find the USB-C port, speaker grille and SIM card tray.

vivo X60

Even with its beefy internals, vivo still managed to turn the X60 into a sexy beast. At 176g and only 7.36mm thin, the X60 is arguably one of the thinnest phones I’ve used.

vivo X60

We rarely find earphones packaged with smartphones nowadays but the vivo X60 surprisingly does come with one along with a 3.5mm to USB-C adapter, SIM ejector tool, bumper case and a 33W fast charger.

vivo X60

Powerful optics

By now, you’ve also probably been used to seeing the increasing number of camera sensors in smartphones. Vivo and Zeiss went with a more modest approach of incorporating three feature packed camera sensors rather than adding more.

vivo X60

A 48MP wide angle main shooter with an equivalent field of view of 26mm, a 13MP – 16mm equivalent for the ultrawide and a 13MP – 50mm equivalent for its telephoto. All three cameras are grouped neatly and are remarkably slim, especially for a smartphone having cameras as its center of attention.

Main Camera (wide)

Capturing an immense amount of detail, the 48MP main shooter takes photos that are indeed sophisticated in its internal processing and are unquestionably high quality. Hard to believe but I may even go as far as to say that the images coming from this camera are comparable to images I take with my mirrorless camera.

Ultrawide

You won’t need to back up too much taking shots of landscapes as the 13MP ultrawide sensor combined with its vast dynamic range is just perfect for capturing massive subjects.

Telephoto

Any photographer you ask probably has a 50mm lens or equivalent in their arsenal. That’s because 50mm has been known to be an excellent lens to be used for portraits or for product photos as this has the closest field of view to what the human eye sees. The X60’s 50mm telephoto gives us exactly that and is incredibly crisp and vibrant even in a wide range of lighting situations.

Camera modes

Macro mode

At first glance you’ll notice the absence of a depth and a macro lens on the X60. That’s because the technology that Zeiss and vivo had put together did not require these additional lenses for such uses. For macro, all three lenses have reasonably close focus distances already, quite similar from what you’d get with macro lenses. But what sets the X60 apart is an even closer focus with its supermacro feature.

No need for a separate menu, the supermacro automatically kicks in by just placing the main 48MP camera really close towards the subject.

Super panorama

If you’ve tried panorama modes of other smartphones, you’ll know how frustrating it is to get seamless shots. The X60’s panorama mode however, is quite the opposite. You won’t mess this one up as from my experience. Even if I carelessly take panorama shots, they still stitch neatly like magic.

You also have the option to take panorama even further with its super panorama mode which takes 360 degree views of panorama goodness. 

Night mode

As light becomes scarce, a fairly steady hand will get you by without needing to use a tripod as hand holding still produces amazing results with the X60’s Night mode. This is thanks to the built-in image stabilization of its camera sensor. 

Its internal noise reduction also does an amazing job of keeping details intact without turning the image soft and mushy.

Portrait mode

Looking at vivo’s website, the word Biotar has been mentioned quite a few times in its portrait mode. So it got me doing some research about it and found out that back in the 1950’s, Zeiss had produced a popular lens named Biotar. This Biotar lens has since been sought after by collectors as it produced unique, creamy and dreamy images particularly on its bokeh. 

And yes, that Biotar effect is among the many choices of effects that Zeiss had implemented here in the X60’s portrait mode and it looks magical. Paired with the 50mm telephoto for portrait, the Zeiss Biotar effect truly isolates your subject from your background creating a professional and classic look.

vivo X60

The portrait mode also has other effects that you may choose from as well as the ability to shoot wide or in telephoto.

Video mode

With the X60’s video mode, jitters and jumps caused by shaky hands won’t be an issue as both Optical Image Stabilization and Electronic Image Stabilization combined in its Ultra OIS Stabilization fixes the shakes for you.

Among others, the three camera sensors can also be used for taking video and these retain their previously mentioned strengths with it.

Is the vivo X60 your GadgetMatch?

If it isn’t obvious already, I just fell in love with the vivo X60. The superb performance, marvelous display, admirable craftsmanship and the outstanding cameras that makes you feel like a photographer just gets you on a high. 

vivo X60

With its price tag of PhP 34,999, the x60 is a serious bargain especially compared with its competitors and considering all its capabilities.

vivo X60

If you’re a photography enthusiast looking for the perfect side arm to have with you at all times, then the vivo X60 should most definitely be your weapon of choice.

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OPPO A74 5G review: Did OPPO balance its midranger properly?

We list hits, misses, and everything in between

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Creating a mid-range device in 2021 has become incredibly challenging for a variety of reasons. The limitation in price forces companies to cut corners when it comes to their offerings in this segment. It’s a task that’s easier said than done considering how stiff competition is. You need to find a way to stand out while working with a budget that’s far from optimal. It’s like a balancing act in the circus. One wrong move and you’ll be remembered for the wrong reasons.

OPPO’s latest attempt at overcoming this challenge is the OPPO A74 5G. Just from its name, you can already tell what it’s using to try and stand out from the rest. But there’s more to this device than its promise of the fastest connectivity possible in the Philippine market.

The question now is, did OPPO balance its features properly to create a device that will satisfy everyday users? Let’s answer that by checking which were its Heavy Hitters, what Middleground the phone took to balance things out, and the Debbie Downers it needed to accept so they could come up with this device at this price point.

The Heavy Hitters: The OPPO A74 5G highlight features

5G is here and it’s one of those features you can’t help but call a win. Admittedly, the difference between 5G and your regular LTE isn’t that significant. This is one of those cases where showing you the Speedtest result of 5G won’t do the experience justice. You have to use it to believe it.

There are ways to go to make the technology a 100 percent must-have. But there’s no way 5G is a Debbie Downer, and you can’t call an upgrade a Middleground. At the very least, it’s a good way to future-proof your phone. Its benefits aren’t felt today, but it could be very useful if you plan to use the OPPO A74 5G in the long run.

However, you can’t say the same for this phone’s 90Hz display. Coming from a 60Hz device, using this screen was a spiritual experience. The jump is that good. It admittedly becomes normal after a while and it even reaches a point where you become quite spoiled by it. However, you can’t go wrong with a smoother experience. This is a win.

Surprising build quality, smart additions

One surprising Heavy Hitter is its hardware and build quality. Out of the box, I initially thought this phone was made out of glass. Turns out, OPPO used plastic for the back and it’s of premium quality. The device feels sturdy, and it has the right amount of weight, so it doesn’t feel cheap. The gradient effect was also a nice touch to the design.

You also can’t go wrong with having a fingerprint scanner on the power button. Having a headphone jack in your device in the year 2021 is an automatic win for the consumer. These features might feel dated for others, but they’re undoubtedly useful. You can’t even call OPPO out for cutting corners, because for others, these are exclusions that should have never been made in the first place. They’re useful and they work. There’s no doubting that.

Finally, the presence of Optimized Night Charging was a great touch from OPPO. Having the peace of mind of having a fully charged phone the next day without worrying about your battery getting fried is a feature more manufacturers should have on their phones. For this to be on a mid-ranger is a pretty sweet deal.

The Middleground: They cut corners, but in the right places

90Hz can only do so much and that’s evident with how the OPPO A74 5G performs with its Snapdragon 480 5G processor. It’s okay. It isn’t supremely good, but it isn’t terrible either. It works. You shouldn’t expect the A74 5G to run graphic-intensive games at high settings, but you can still play some games here and there. Social media use is a breeze. You can’t go wrong on this end.

The software of the device is also okay. It’s not stock Android, but it isn’t the mess some people paint Chinese software to be. ColorOS is a version of Android that works even for the most critical of Android users. There can be some hiccups, especially with heavy use, but they were tolerable.

Monitor your battery use

Battery life wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t good enough to be considered a Heavy Hitter. The device houses a 5000mAh battery, but you have to be careful with your usage of 5G and 90Hz. They can drain the device quickly, but in most cases, it’s an all-day phone. The phone comes with an 18W Fast Charger, which in 2021 is average. You’d want to have more as a consumer, but it isn’t too much of a slog.

The LTPS IPS LCD screen of the A74 5G was also respectable. It has decent viewing angles even in direct sunlight and watching media content on the device was pleasing. There are some instances where it feels like we could experience more out of the 90Hz feature, but that’s the sacrifice required out of this price point. At the very least, it works, and you can only have minimal complaints.

The Debbie Downers: Even for a mid-ranger, these were disappointing

We live in the age of social media, so it wasn’t disappointing to see the A74 5G house a camera that came out as incredibly inconsistent.

This was a shame because its main camera performed quite well in good lighting conditions. Details were sharp enough, colors were a bit saturated, but not to the point you’d need to lower its saturation on post-processing.

The device came out with some pretty good photos that could contend with the best of the best. That’s what you’d want out of a smartphone in 2021.

Misses in certain situations

But it couldn’t perform as well in other lighting conditions. Indoor shots left much to be desired. It captured too much of the color coming from the background and ignored the natural colors of the subject. This was especially evident when I took photos of the delicious burgers from Sweet Ecstasy. It caught too much of the yellow coming from the light bulbs and the walls in the store.

The selfie camera was okay, at least that was passable enough with its results.

Night shots, even without night mode, had some respectable shots. But you couldn’t say the same for its other lenses.

Especially disappointing was its wide-angle lens. If the main camera came out with saturated images, the wide-angle reduced the color even in good lighting conditions. You’d understand a slight drop in quality, but the difference between the two lenses had too big of a gap. It definitely didn’t help the macro lens had some focusing issues, which made it difficult to take proper test shots for this review.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

I mentioned at the start of this review that coming up with a midrange device is like a balancing act. One wrong move and you’re remembered for the wrong reasons. Safe to say, OPPO won’t be remembered fondly, but they won’t be laughed at either for this device. The device was okay. It wasn’t a Debbie Downer. It’s safe to say they were able to at least achieve some form Middleground.

But in today’s competitive mid-range landscape, achieving the Middleground might not be enough. Its inconsistent cameras might be an automatic turn-off for some consumers. Its performance isn’t good enough to sway the opinion of hardcore gamers.  However, if you’re someone who wants the promise of futureproofing from 5G and the smooth experience of a 90 Hz display packaged with well-built hardware, the OPPO A74 5G might just be for you.

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