Reviews

Samsung Galaxy S10+ Review

A product of years of perfecting

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This year marks one decade of Samsung Galaxy. And so, coming into 2019, the expectations were very high for the next Galaxy S. But the 10th-anniversary Galaxy is a two-part, two-phone story — one that represents the future and one that represents today.

A refined masterpiece that’s a product of years of perfecting, the new Galaxy S10+ is not mind-blowing or revolutionary. Neither is it perfect, but there’s something so satisfying about a product that’s well thought out and done right, and excellent in every aspect and angle.


There much to love about the Galaxy S10+ and I’m just gonna dive straight in.

After years of trial and error that saw them go from plastic, to leather, to glass, and then many tweaks and adjustments around curved glass, this is the moment that all these years have led up to and it’s glorious.

It’s the perfect mashup between the Galaxy S9 and the Note 9. And I like it. The design ID is still clearly Samsung: curved displays, rounded corners. I can’t quite put a finger on it — maybe it’s because the trim around the phone is more rounded and not as sharp, but whatever these changes are, they’ve made the S10+ a phone that I enjoy picking up. That, for me, is always an indicator of good design.

The official color of my review unit is called Prism White, and it has this pearlescent quality to it that changes from an iridescent blue to pink depending on the light. It’s really beautiful.

Of course the other big change is in front. After avoiding the notch trend completely for a good two years, Samsung’s finally embraced the all-screen display, laser cutting a hole (or two on the S10+) for the selfie cameras. The industry calls it a hole punch; Samsung calls it Infinity-O.

After much deliberation, I think I like this better than the notch. When watching videos, I don’t mind it as much. Maybe because it’s tucked away in one corner instead of in the middle. YouTube videos are usually 16:9 so they’ll have thick black bars on both sides. But you can punch out to fill the screen with a tiny crop.

Apps like Netflix refuse to fill beyond the area where the hole punch is. If it’s really not your cup of tea, you can go into settings and tick “Hide Front Camera” that gives the display a rather large forehead.

Samsung’s default wallpapers are purposely darker in the upper-right corner to hide the hole punch as much as possible. But I say, embrace it. We have been rocking an assortment of cheeky wallpapers that really tell you it’s there. If you want to download any of these, you can check this link. Samsung also has an “Embrace The Cutout” selection of S10 wallpapers you can buy from the Galaxy Themes Store.

It’s not all aesthetics. There’s also some functionality built in too, like when you take a selfie with the timer on, a lighted timer will travel around the cameras giving you a visual countdown, and showing you where to look.

I have many thoughts about smartphone displays, but mainly two of relevance here: One, display tech has gotten so good, that comparing displays requires a lot of nitpicking; and two, tech reviewers like me are so spoiled by the best displays, that we’re sometimes harder to please. But at the end of the day, having a good or great display isn’t what defines a smartphone.

Having said that, when it comes to the creme dela creme of display tech, it really doesn’t get better than this. Samsung’s Dynamic AMOLED panel is in a league of its own: color, vibrancy, highlights, shadows, crispness. View-ability outdoors under bright sunlight, gentleness to your eyes when it’s dark — you name it.

Underneath it is an ultrasonic fingerprint scanner. Two years ago, many had expected Samsung to be the first to introduce an under-display fingerprint scanner, but they didn’t. That honor went to Vivo, followed by the likes of Huawei and OnePlus. But if you ask me, it’s been worth the wait.

The S10’s in-display fingerprint scanner is powered by Qualcomm’s 3D Sonic technology that’s a step up from the optical scanners used in other products. Instead of using a camera under the display to take a photo and determine a match, Qualcomm’s tech uses sonic sound waves to scan your pores and make a 3D image that’s used to identify you.

With the most recent update, I’ve found this tech to be almost as fast as physical scanners, and much, much quicker than current optical type in display scanners. You just have to quickly tap and not tap and hold for a second. If that’s not your cup of tea, face unlock is very fast but it’s not as secure. In fact, I was able to unlock the phone using a video clip on my iPad. Samsung previously offered a more secure iris scan face unlock, but ditched that tech on the S10.

So, if not display, what makes or breaks a smartphone? For me, the two most important things are battery life and camera performance. In these fronts, the S10+ is a big improvement from its predecessor.

I’ve used the S10+ as my daily driver for a couple of weeks now. My use is probably heavier than the average user. I’m always on my phone, watching YouTube videos, scrolling through social media, and taking photos. And because I review other phones, oftentimes when I’m out, it’s also a portable hotspot.

That said, battery life on the S10+ has been impressive. Based on my real world use, most users will get a whole day with more than average use. It’s not as long-lasting as say the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, but it’s noticeably longer-lasting than previous Samsung phones I’ve used.

The S10+ comes with a fast charger that can get you from zero to 100 percent in just over an hour and 40 minutes. There’s also reverse wireless charging, a feature we first saw on the Mate 20 Pro last year. While it’s cool to be able to charge another phone on the back of yours, charging is a slow trickle at best and is really just designed to charge smaller accessories, like Samsung’s new wireless buds or a Qi-compatible smartwatch.

Those who’ve watched my videos over the years know I prefer a zoom lens to wide-angle, but three weeks traveling with the S10+ have changed that. This phone has three rear cameras, featuring both an ultra-wide angle and zoom lens. I love that I don’t have to pick between the two, and to be honest, when you’re traveling, nothing beats an ultra-wide.

Whether you’re shooting outdoors or indoors, the S10+ shoots beautiful photos. But it isn’t the low-light champ it used to be. If I were to nitpick, the phone has the tendency to favor highlights, so photos are sometimes unnecessarily brighter than they need to be — sometimes almost overexposed.

There’s a new AI-based Scene Optimizer that can can adjust settings based on what it thinks is best for a shot. I leave it off because the phone does a good job otherwise. But it needs to be turned on for Night Mode to work. You know the long exposure night shot that we’ve seen on many phones recently? It’s on the S10, too. But, there’s a catch.

The phone has to think the scene needs night mode and it chooses to turn on. But oftentimes, it doesn’t think night mode is warranted. It can be frustrating, and would have been nice to get a button to turn it on when you need it. Maybe Samsung can fix this in an upcoming update.

My review unit is the S10+ which means instead of one front camera, there are two. The other is mainly for measuring depth. Even though there’s a toggle that makes it seem like there’s a second wide-angle camera, this is not the case. The other just crops in closer. I don’t like selfies taken with the S10+. I think they are too soft. I don’t mind a good skin softening filter that I can turn on or off. On the S10+, it doesn’t even look like that. It looks too soft, almost blurry.

Where the S10’s cameras do a great job at is shooting video. It is the first of its kind to support HDR10+ video capture. Of course, you need a display that supports it, and that does not include the S10. Video stabilization is great, however.

There’s plenty else to like about the S10+. I really like the changes they’ve made to their UI. One UI is cleaner, simpler, and well thought-out. Dark Mode is great and it helps save battery, too. My only peeve is the way the app drawer works. You swipe up to reveal it, but have to swipe to the left to see your second page of apps.

It’s backed up with the highest of specs. Including Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 chip here in the US and Samsung’s Exynos 9820 elsewhere in Asia. There’s still a headphone jack, support for up to 1TB of external storage, and water and dust resistance. Of course it’s all not sugar plums and unicorns.

Apart my from camera complaints, I’m not a fan of the power button being so high up. And speaking of buttons, the dedicated Bixby button can finally be reassigned to something else — except Google Assistant, which is a bummer. Bixby is a con in and of itself. I’ll leave it at that.

Is the Samsung Galaxy S10+ your GadgetMatch?

If you’re looking for one of the best Android phones that you can get almost regardless of where you live, the Galaxy S10 is on top of our list. Some might argue that many of its new features have been seen before on other smartphones; that’s true, and that doesn’t look good on Samsung’s report card as an innovator.

However, in some cases, while late, Samsung has gone out and done it better. And while objectively, the Galaxy S10+ isn’t the best at anything, it’s so well balanced a smartphone, that it’s hard not to recommend. It does things right, and does things good. From where it stands at this point in the year, it’s set a high bar for the rest of the industry to follow.

Undeniably, the Galaxy S10+ deserves the GadgetMatch Seal of Approval. If you’re in the market for a new Android smartphone and are willing to shell out the US$ 1,000 asking price, then we give you our blessing.

For Samsung fans wanting to save a few hundred bucks, I’d consider the more affordable Galaxy S10e which we’ll review separately. You can also avail of a trade-in offer from your carrier. T-Mobile, for example, is offering up to US$ 390 off for qualifying phones including the Galaxy S8 and S9. That brings the price down to a more reasonable US$ 605.

If that’s still a lot to pay, check out the OnePlus 6T if you’re in the US. And if you’re elsewhere in the world, I’m also a big fan of the new Xiaomi Mi 9.

Laptops

ASUS VivoBook X412F Review: A great midrange option for work and school

For those who need a fresh start

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Not everyone can afford a premium device. Even if the specifications entice you to buy that nice laptop, the ultimate decision point is in its price and value to you. Parents and young professionals starting a new job would know.

ASUS regularly comes up with great midrange selections for students and young professionals. That seems to be what the ASUS VivoBook X412F is: an all-around midrange device for productivity and day-to-day tasks. But if you’re currently a student or working full-time, should you consider this device?


Here’s a rundown of the device’s specifications:

It has a 14” HD anti-glare display

It’s powered by an Intel Core i3 processor and an NVIDIA MX230 graphics card

It comes with both a USB Type-A and Type-C port

Has a fingerprint reader on the touchpad

It gets the job done for its intended purpose

The model I used came with an Intel Core i3 processor, which won’t deliver great performance on paper. But after using it for a while, I can say that it really isn’t the case. It kept up with the numerous tasks I threw at it, whether it was writing documents or watching videos. Do take note that this device only comes with 4GB of RAM, so obviously you won’t be able to do a lot more.

It also helped that it comes with a 256GB solid state drive installed. Using SSDs provide a significant boost in loading times, which allowed me to get more tasks done. I would still prefer to have the more powerful Intel Core i5 option installed to maximize performance.

You can play games on it, just don’t push it

The VivoBook X412F comes with an entry level NVIDIA MX230 graphics card. Upon reading this, my initial thought was that gaming was possible — and it was. The catch is, well any game that doesn’t require so much graphical power will run smoothly. Games like CS:GO, Minecraft, and Rocket League do reach a hard 50 to 55 frame per second cap.

But like any other non-gaming laptop, using this strictly for gaming is highly discouraged. This device was not exactly designed to be a gaming machine, even if you get the units with more powerful processors on it. Plus, you will definitely feel the heat on your keyboard when you play for too long. So, I’m not saying that you can’t use it to play games; don’t use it just to play games.

It lasts relatively long, as long as you’re using it properly

Upon initial testing, I did get around five to six hours on one full charge. It’s long enough for you to just browse the internet, watch a few videos or movies, and type down reports. Doing some form of photo or video editing decreases that number by just a bit. It took two to three hours to fully charge the device from zero.

Battery life when playing games on it is just what you expect it to be. I got close to two hours and 30 minutes before having to plug the charger. Again, you can play games on this device but it’s not meant for strictly just gameplay. 

The webcam is surprisingly decent

One of the key critiques I’ve had over most laptops centers around their webcams. Most built-in HD webcams, when used for the first time, are not as “high-definition” as promoted. Images and videos either look blurry or grainy, which won’t help during conference calls.

With the VivoBook X412F, the webcam is decent at best — which is all you could really hope for. Under good lighting conditions, image quality on this 720p webcam feels more “high-definition” than most. I observed relatively less grain than most other laptops I’ve tried, which is great for video calls at least.

Other features worth considering before you buy

The VivoBook X412F comes with a fingerprint reader on the touchpad. Setting up Windows Hello was pretty fast, but I found the sensor to be pretty sensitive after. Even if I had already cleaned my fingers and wiped out the sweat, the sensor sometimes won’t read it.

It also comes with a chiclet keyboard without the number pad on the right side. Key travel, for me was decent and took just a short while to get used to. Sadly, it wasn’t backlit which I would have liked — especially for working late at night. 

Finally, you get what you can with its display. It’s only a 14-inch HD display, which doesn’t leave you much room for proper viewing angles and color accuracy. The one good quality it has, in my opinion, is that it’s an anti-glare screen. I used the device outdoors several times, and even at 70 percent brightness I could still see the contents of my screen.

Is the ASUS VivoBook X412F your GadgetMatch?

The ASUS VivoBook X412F is one device that truly caters to those who want an affordable yet premium experience. It comes in a package that promises great productivity and portability, and lasts a long time. It’s a total fit for students and young professionals looking for their first school or work laptop. Of course, that’s only the case as long as it is used for its intended purpose.

With a device like this, you can only do so much. While tasks such as photo, video editing, and gaming are possible, it proves to do more harm than good. If you really want to get the most value out of this laptop, I suggest you use it mostly for its intended purpose.At PhP 32,995 (US$ 629) for the 256GB + 4GB RAM unit, the ASUS VivoBook X412F is a great productivity device for work and school. That is, if you will use it for work or school-related activities.

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Philippines

Nokia 8.1 review: What took you so long?

Solid but feels dated

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There’s a Filipino song called “Bakit ngayon ka lang?”. Loosely translated, it means “what took you so long?”. The song talks about a missed romantic opportunity — of someone else coming along while you’re already committed to another. That’s almost exactly how I feel about the Nokia 8.1.

The phone — known in other markets as the Nokia 7X — was first announced in December 2018. A full seven months later, it arrived in the Philippines. And a lot has happened in those seven months.


Performance on par with midrangers today

Before I proceed, let’s get some of the specs talk out of the way. The device is powered by the Snapdragon 710 SoC along with 6GB of RAM with 128GB of internal storage which is expandable via a microSD card. That’s not bad. At all. It’s even near-flagship territory… in 2018.

One thing about the Nokia 8.1 though that will never feel dated is its OS. The phone is part of Google’s Android One program which means this is running Stock Android. If you like it vanilla — like a lot of purists do — then this is one of the phones that offer that clean experience. Right now it’s still on Android P, but if you’re feeling adventurous, you can side load Android Q beta as it is a partner device for Android’s developer preview.

Google cards are quite useful

The chip together with vanilla Android makes for a smooth and snappy experience. Most of the time I’m either just browsing or working on my phone and doing so on the Nokia 8.1 one was a very pleasant experience.

I have said this countless times but in case you’re new here, I don’t really play mobile games. The only time I ever really do so is when I have to test phones. On the Nokia 8.1 I only played Honkai Impact 3, which is a pretty graphics heavy game. The phone had zero trouble running the game and it looked especially stunning on the phone’s 6.18-inch PureDisplay screen (which we’ll get to shortly).

This means the phone will likely have zero problems running some of the most played games today like PUBG and Mobile Legends: Bang Bang. If you play these games with this phone and don’t get that Chicken Dinner or that MVP, then you only have yourself to blame.

A display sent from the heavens

The PureDisplay screen technology is really pulling its own weight. When Nokia said this phone offers a higher contrast ratio and sharper output, it felt like it was even underselling it. The screen is vibrant and the colors and images look sharp all without looking too saturated.

It doesn’t have any of that crazy 90hz or 120hz display that we’ll find on 2019 flagships, but dare I say, the Nokia 8.1 probably has the best display in its price point.

I hid that notch eventually

I’ve often found myself happily watching on this phone while slowly being sucked into the YouTube rabbit hole. Speaking of watching videos on this display, I opted to turn the notch off altogether. The notch still looks like the one present on the iPhone X which came out in 2017. It’s 2019 and personally, I’d rather have a full bezel than be bothered looking at that kind of a notch.

Watching vertical FanCams is great on this thing

That said audio on this thing is far from perfect but it’s passable. The sound it produces isn’t as full as I hope to hear from phones when in speaker mode, but you can remedy all that by plugging in headphones because our good friend jack is still present on this device. Listening on wireless earbuds also offer a nice experience.

The build screams premium

One of the first things I noticed about the Nokia 8.1 is its build. The body is built with 6000-series aluminum with an all-glass back. And it feels pretty darn expensive. So much so that I was wondering why it didn’t come with any case in the packaging.

At first I was really hesitant to bring this around due to the lack of a case, but over time, my hands have grown accustomed to the glass finish. And I feel blessed every single time I touch it. There’s something about the build in finish that just screams premium.

The fingerprint sensor is at the back. And it feels like a blessing every time I touch this thing

It’s not fragile at all though. Being the clumsy oaf that I am, I may have accidentally dropped this phone twice already. The phone sustained zero scratches and zero damages. This is one tough cookie.

Pretty darn good cameras

I have to come clean and say I never really had too many chances to take photos during the testing phase. I’ve mostly just been at my desk or in a conference room which aren’t really ideal for taking photos.

The second lens acts as a depth sensor

So for samples I just took some quick shots around my place using the ZEISS-powered 12- and 13-megapixel dual-cameras. Hopefully I find some time to get a life outside of work for the next review. If you know a girl looking for a date, feel free to hit me up. I don’t bite… unless? Anyway, check out the samples below.

Quick note, features like Pro mode and Bokeh are also present on the 20MP front-facing camera.

Is the Nokia 8.1 your GadgetMatch?

And so, here we are. I’ve had nothing but mostly nice things to say about the Nokia 8.1. For a phone that was launched in late 2018, it can still square up with several midrangers in 2019. But the price, therein lies the rub.

At PhP 19,999, it’s not crazy expensive. It’s just that for a few thousand pesos less, there are actually better options. It’s hard to justify this purchase when  phones like the Realme 3 Pro and Xiaomi Mi 9T exist — both of which came within the seven months that the Nokia 8.1 was nowhere to be found on the archipelago.

Calling the folks at Nokia to bring their phones to the Philippines faster next time

Sure, those don’t have the build that the Nokia 8.1 has but the Realme 3 Pro offers much of the same performance for a more affordable price. And the Xiaomi Mi 9T actually feels like a 2019 phone with its triple-camera setup and a pop-up camera that makes way for an actual full screen display.

If you’re a Nokia stan — and I know there’s a lot of you out there — I can’t fault you for wanting this device. I get it. It’s pretty nice. But it’s really just a little too late. Timing is everything. Both in love and in smartphone releases.

*plays “Bakit ngayon ka lang?

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Accessories

Traveling with the Moment Lens

Is the Moment lens a worthy travel buddy?

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Phone photos become our very own souvenirs whenever we travel. More than something we upload on social media, they’re pleasant memories we can flip through when we’re back to the reality and routine of our lives. As such, it pays to have beautiful shots of the landscapes and sights we visit.

Earlier in July, I went to Hokkaido, Japan. To help me achieve said beautiful shots, I had with me a Google Pixel 3 and an 18mm wide-angle lens from Moment. It was my first time using a Moment lens. If you’re not familiar with Moment, they make special phone cases that can be pimped up with lenses that help elevate the photos you take.


Is the Moment lens a worthy travel buddy? Yes and no.

It’s great for taking landscape shots

Any tourist attraction can be turned into desktop wallpaper with the wide lens.

You also get to see the bigger picture. There’s a certain splendor added to a façade when you capture it from a wider angle.

It’s handy for when there’s limited space

In one of the farms we went to, there was a veranda where we wanted to take photos. It was great for portraits but not for capturing my outfit. There was not much space for the person taking the photo to move back to, so we got help from the wide-angle lens to capture a wider perspective and a full body shot.

It’s a hassle 

While it’s easy to plug the lens onto the case, the extra step of looking for the lens inside the bag is a hassle, and ironically, takes you away from the moment you’re trying to capture. Imagine getting a stranger to take a group photo of you and your friends at a restaurant — everyone would be waiting for you to find the lens in your purse and attach it to the phone — it ruins the moment a little bit.

I can also do without the extra weight and the extra space it takes up in my tiny bag. A less rugged-looking case would also be nice.

The Moment lens does offer wonderful improvements to my vacation shots. If you’re particular about how artfully angled your shots are, you’ll find that a wide-angle lens is a great addition to your arsenal. However, if you’re like me who is content with what your camera phone has to offer, you may find the lens unnecessary. With the Google Pixel 3 and a little post-processing, I was actually able to get nice shots even without the Moment lens.

“Ironically, the Moment lens takes you away from the moment you’re trying to capture.”

Traveling means you have limited time to spend in a place. Make the most out of it with a device that has all the camera features you need. In 2019 there are already plenty of phones with built-in wide angle and telephoto features, from different price points that you might want to consider instead.

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