Reviews

Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+ review

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Rarely am I ever impressed by new phones; waves and waves of products do that to you. But this is an exception. Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and S8+ are really truly special.

If our hands-on video and loyalty-provoking articles haven’t been enough to convince you how beautiful they are, maybe this full review will. Just look at them — this is how phones should look like in 2017.

6.2-inch Galaxy S8+ on left, 5.8-inch Galaxy S8 to the right

Curves are in, thick bezels are out

Here’s how it compares to the LG G6

But honestly, they’re literally a handful

You’d be surprised how slim the two phones are for their large screen sizes; that’s because they use this new 18.5:9 aspect ratio that’s a lot longer than the usual 16:9 ratio use in practically every other phone out there. (The LG G6, in comparison, has an almost-as-long 18:9 ratio.)

But that doesn’t discount how unwieldy they can be in a single hand. Although accidental touches aren’t as common as with the Edge variants of the Galaxy S6 and S7, you’ll always be stretching and squirming your fingers around the AMOLED display, which, by the way, is rated as the best on a smartphone ever (all 1440 x 2960 pixels of it).

Samsung tried its best to find ways around the inconvenience. One was to bring back edge screen functionality, wherein you can swipe in a panel from the side to access quick settings and important contacts. The other is a gesture on the fingerprint scanner to bring down the notification shade. The Android Nougat interface, by the way, is a lot less cluttered compared to previous Galaxies and is easier to navigate now.

Reaching for the fingerprint scanner is a pain

Since this high-tech technology that would let you scan fingerprints anywhere on the front panel didn’t make it on time (would’ve been cool, though!), Samsung chose to place the fingerprint scanner right beside the camera lens at the back. We must say, it’s terrible. Not only does it make the lens prone to getting your greasy prints on it, the sensor isn’t even that accurate. Luckily, Sammy has some nice alternatives.

I thoroughly enjoyed using the iris scanner and facial recognition login features over the unintuitive fingerprint sensor. They’re both surprisingly accurate and have their own unique advantages. For the iris scanner, it works well even in poorly lit rooms; facial recognition, on the other hand, is less picky about your position and takes one less swipe to access from standby.

The Bixby button is so… Bixby

When something doesn’t work right, we should just call it “Bixby,” which is Samsung’s idea of the ideal virtual assistant. There’s a button right below the volume rocker to the side that lets you access Bixby even when the phone is asleep. Problem is, its functionality is… how do I put this… bad.

As of the moment, it can’t accept voice commands to do your bidding like with Google Assistant or Apple’s Siri. I was only able to scan objects seen through the camera app and look them up online, which then provided more information about the product. It wasn’t entirely accurate. Making matters worse is the current supported app list, consisting of two apps I actually use: YouTube and Uber — although strangely enough, YouTube compatibility disappeared from the list when I double-checked just now.

To our delight, Google Assistant is still available for those who’d rather not be Bixby’d; you can access it by holding the home button. Now, wouldn’t it be great if we could officially map Assistant on Bixby’s physical button? Get to it, Samsung!

DeX is DeXy

One more feature unique to Samsung’s Galaxy S8 line is DeX. Sounds silly, but it’s a docking system that allows these phones to connect to a monitor and turn themselves into a full-fledged desktop operating system. While it isn’t on the level of macOS or Windows (or even Linux), it’s a decent alternative to working with files on your phone if you really must use your phone. It comes complete with a taskbar, specific settings, and all your apps scaled to monitor proportions.

I personally don’t see this becoming a hit, especially since you must buy the DeX dock separately. In no way can this replace a true desktop PC experience, but it does make working and multitasking on your phone infinitely easier. I imagine this flying with consumers who travel from one workplace to another — and, umm, happen to have a monitor lying around at each destination.

Camera time!

Let’s be real: We all want to know how well the camera performs. After listing all its tricks and pitting it against its most bitter rivals, the Galaxy S8 duo have, hands down, the best set of cameras on any phone right now. Even if you ignore all the added features and upgrades over last year’s class-leading Galaxy S7, the fact it beat the Google Pixel is enough to earn its crown.

Take a look at some more photos we’ve taken with the new king of camera phones:

Keep in mind that the two smartphones share the same cameras both in front (8 megapixels) and at the back (12 megapixels). This means the only differences between the flagship pair are the screen size and battery capacity, so don’t worry about missing out if you opt for the smaller model. (Take notes, Apple!)

Speed and endurance as slick as the glass back

The only thing smoother than the rear glass panel is the processor and its accompanying software. Depending on where you live, you’ll either get Qualcomm’s top-end Snapdragon 835 processor or Samsung’s very own Exynos 8895, which is just as fast. Beyond the processing speeds, what really sets these two apart are their super-tiny 10nm fabrication, meaning they’re a lot more efficient and less battery-hungry than older flagship chipsets.

On top of that, the smaller footprint allowed Samsung to jam more features into the Galaxy S8 without adding to the heft. The battery, in particular, is generous enough considering how much space is used for the awesome display and camera. I was able to squeeze out about four hours of screen-on time with both Galaxy S8 models over the course of one day on a single charge.

While this sort of battery endurance may not sound so great, especially when compared to other large contenders, consider that I have Samsung’s Always On feature activated the entire time. This handy function shows me the time, date, remaining battery percentage, and my notifications even when the device is on standby. This keeps me from turning the phone on every few minutes to check messages — I’d sacrifice some battery life for this convenience any day.

Enough brains to back the brawns

I just love how Samsung made 64GB the minimum storage option for the Galaxy S8 duo. This marks 16GB as prehistoric, and forces 32GB out the door, as well. In addition, the hybrid SIM card tray allows you to extend the internal storage using a microSD card, if you choose to forego adding a second nano-SIM card, however.

In a bit of a surprise, the memory of the base models didn’t get a significant boost. In a world where 6GB of RAM is gradually becoming the standard for higher-end phones, both Galaxy S8 units settled for 4GB. I’m not complaining, though; not once did the Galaxy S8 or S8+ shut down an app before I was done with it or hinder my multitasking between programs.

To protect your investment (and it’s a hefty one), we once again have full water and dust resistance to keep the phones safe against nasty spills. Finally — and this is important for couples out there — the Galaxy S8 pair has Bluetooth 5.0, which lets you connect two pairs of wireless headphones at once!

Is this your GadgetMatch?

How much are you willing to shell out for the best smartphones currently available? If you say around $750 to $850 for the Galaxy S8 and S8+ respectively, you have your GadgetMatch! But seriously, these are expensive phones. It’s even worse if you live outside of the US, where prices are jacked up further; the Philippines has to deal with PhP 39,990 and PhP 45,990 for the two flagships.

There really is no way around it other than waiting for the prices to go down, which might probably happen when the next iPhone and Pixel roll out. If you do decide to bite the bullet and purchase either of these two Galaxies as soon as possible, I can’t blame you. In my opinion, they’re prettier than other near-borderless phones, and have the camera performance and security features to boot.

If you’re still worried about another Galaxy Note 7 fiasco, don’t be. Samsung clearly learned its lesson and is taking battery safety more seriously than any other manufacturer right now. You can learn more about the steps Samsung has taken to ensure better quality control in our comprehensive explainer.

SEE ALSO: YouTubers react to the Galaxy S8

[irp posts=”11903" name=”YouTubers react to the Galaxy S8"]

Gaming

Kingdom Hearts III review: More for long-time fans

It didn’t spark joy

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I played the first Kingdom Hearts game for a grand total of around 40 minutes, so I don’t think I can qualify that as actually playing. I didn’t have my own PlayStation 2 at the time so I was mostly watching my friend play, waiting for him to wrap up so I could beat him on NBA Live.

However, it’s such a popular game that it was impossible for me to not at least be familiar with the premise. I did play my fair share of Final Fantasy games and like most people, Disney titles and characters aren’t complete strangers to me.

Ready to take on some Heartless!

I didn’t have any major expectations jumping into Kingdom Hearts III, but I thought the way the Disney levels are woven in would at least be clever. It was not.

The backstory is massive

The first thing you need to consider when coming into this game is that you’re stepping into a massive pile of backstory. It can be hard to catch up to. If, like me, this is your first game in the franchise, it will be like watching Avengers: Infinity War without seeing even at least a quarter of the movies that led to it.

That said, the game is aware that it has tons of lore to get into. Right in the title screen you’ll see a Memory Archive which is a chapter by chapter summary of the Kingdom Hearts story. It’s best watched in its entirety which means sitting through over 20 minutes of backstory. For the most part, it does its job of catching you up. If that’s not enough, there are several story-so-far videos on YouTube. This one I liked in particular.

Despite all of these recaps available, no amount of summarizing can truly prepare you for the tangled mess that is the Kingdom Hearts lore. During certain parts, it even feels like the game is self-aware of how much of a mess it is and pokes fun at itself. That’s one of the more entertaining aspects of the game, intentional or not.

The story just isn’t gripping enough

This is my main gripe with the game. After playing titles like God of War, Detroit: Become Human, and Marvel’s Spider-Man — all of which had stories and characters that you will inevitably invest in as you play — Kingdom Hearts III’s story pales in comparison.

I understand the comparison may not be fair. The games I mentioned are either standalone stories (Detroit and Spider-Man) or a fresh start to a long-running franchise (God of War). Given all of that, I can’t help but feel the storytelling could have been so much better.

The way I feel about Kingdom Hearts III is similar to how I felt about Final Fantasy XV which, coincidentally, was initially helmed by the same guy behind Kingdom Hearts — Tetsuya Nomura. The story’s pacing felt off and it went into places that maybe it shouldn’t have.

There’s also something off about the dialogue during cutscenes. I felt the characters were talking so much slower than usual and it invites zoning out if you’re not that into the story.

That’s a thing? Okay.

If you’re a long-time fan of the franchise and have played most, if not all, of the games and feel differently than I do, then that’s all good. In fact, I’m really interested to hear what the likes of you thought about the game.

The Disney stuff can be fun

It’s not all bad. After I realized the story isn’t gonna spark joy in me whatsoever, I started treating each Disney level as a non-canon mini-game. That made me enjoy it for what it had to offer.

Some levels felt like rushed versions of the original films with Kingdom Hearts lore thrown into the mix. Others offered some value-add to the stories we already know and love, and that truly made it more fun to play.

There’s also enough variation in each level that can make you forget you can get through most of the game by just smashing X and pressing △. The animations during battle look super flashy and the combat has a few other options you can tinker with if you get tired of smashing X.

Might be made more for long-time fans

I suspect this game was really made as more of a pay-off for long-time fans than an opportunity to acquire new ones. That’s perfectly fine. In fact, playing Kingdom Hearts III made me crave another good Final Fantasy game, but perhaps one that features tight turn-based combat versus an action RPG (role playing game) type.

Is there a game where Kairi actually does something?

There are plenty of ways to have fun with Kingdom Hearts III, but the story — which I believe should be paramount in RPGs — just isn’t one of the them. If you’re just coming into the franchise through this game, I suggest you play it for the fun Disney levels and just push the overarching story to the side.  The visual spectacle in this game is off the charts, so go ahead and enjoy that too.

By now, long-time fans would have already bought the game. If you’re one of those who are still deciding whether to get it or not, I suggest waiting a little longer for the price to drop. If you simply can’t wait, I recommend getting a second-hand copy which would also be cheaper. But whatever you decide to do, may your heart be your guiding key.

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Laptops

ASUS ZenBook 15 review: Everything you need in a laptop?

With great power, comes all the caveats in between

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Very few laptops have everything a person would ever need out of it. Whether it’s just for typing Word documents or playing all the latest games, only a handful of laptops fit the bill. ASUS has one laptop to offer, which was announced back in IFA 2018.

The ASUS ZenBook 15 has almost every piece of hardware for everyone. But is a device powered by a powerful Intel processor and a gaming-ready graphics card really worth it? Let’s find out.

Same premium design through the years

ASUS dubs their ZenBook lineup as its top-of-the-line Ultrabook. Through the years, ZenBooks have retained their premium design and feel. So when I got the chance to try the new ZenBook 15 (UX533) out, I expected nothing less — and I was impressed. The build quality of the device is great, with a sturdy metal-plastic chassis that shows little to no flex. It even feels light to bring around, at only 1.59kg.

My unit has the Icicle Silver finish that shows off the elegance of the laptop. There is an option to get it in the bolder Royal Blue color, but it will definitely feel like you own a premium device the moment you set your eyes on it.

The only real change the company implemented was the addition of the ErgoLift. Essentially, it frees up space for the laptop to release hot air instead of blasting them on the table or your lap. It’s also supposed to make the bottom-facing speakers sound better, although this really wasn’t the case when I used it.

It almost has everything for everyone

The ZenBook 15 is one powerful machine, from the inside out. My unit comes with an eighth-generation Intel Core i7-8565U processor and 16GB of RAM. This configuration alone guarantees superb performance, and the ZenBook 15 did not disappoint. Typing Word documents, surfing the web, even photo and video editing felt like a breeze with this machine. You can play games here too, but let’s save that discussion for later.

On the outside, you have a 15-inch Full HD anti-glare NanoEdge display — perfect for outdoor use at full brightness. It comes in a resolution of 1920 by 1080, a full 16:9 display with tiny bezels on the side.

It’s also equipped with a full-size backlit keyboard, with the number pad separated from the trackpad — unlike its 13-inch and 14-inch variants.

The ZenBook 15 does come with three USB Type-A ports and one USB Type-C port that supports external displays; however, it would have been better to make it as Thunderbolt port to fully maximize the potential. The laptop also comes with a dual-band Wi-Fi card, although an additional Ethernet port would have been nice, as well.

It’s got game, but it really destroys your battery life

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the ZenBook 15 is the fact that it comes with an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 Max-Q. With this graphics chip, gaming on this laptop actually feels pretty damn good. It managed to get competitive frame rates for fast-paced games like Fortnite, PUBG, and Rocket League, all with high settings. But, don’t expect the same from AAA titles like Shadow of the Tomb Raider.

Also, there is a significant increase in the laptop’s overall temperature with longer than 30 minutes of play time. The left side of the laptop felt so hot, it’s almost like you could fry an egg on it. Of course, playing for long hours on this device drains the 73Wh battery significantly faster. I got about nine to ten hours on regular use, and only two to three hours on full game mode.

The camera is honestly only good for Windows Hello

The ZenBook 15 comes with an 3D infrared HD camera that supports Windows Hello. The infrared sensors were great at facial recognition, and Windows Hello felt really easy to set up and use. But, the camera was lackluster when taking photos and videos. It only seems passable to use for video calls, but the overall image quality just doesn’t equate to HD.

The bottom-facing speakers could be better

The two Harman/Kardon speakers on the ZenBook 15 are placed on the bottom side, facing the table or your lap. Sound quality is impressive until you turn it to maximum. Apart from that, I was expecting that they would sound better because of what ErgoLift supposedly does for them.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

For PhP 89,995 (US$ 1,720), the ASUS ZenBook 15 jams almost everything you need in a premium device. And for that price you get the highest, most powerful configuration possible. Anyone can do pretty much anything with the hardware that comes with it. Apart from that, its elegant design and lightweight body make it a perfect on-the-go device. 

If you’re low on cash, you can also get the 14-inch ZenBook 14 for PhP 77,995. It only has 8GB of RAM and an NVIDIA GeForce MX150 graphics card that offers similar, but less powerful overall performance. But, you do get the illuminated number pad on the touchpad.

Of course, that is if you don’t mind the otherwise average camera and fryer-like temperatures with heavy gaming. However, if you’re looking for a laptop that can handle anything, the ZenBook 15 is for you!

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Apps

Trying out the Gixo Fitness App: A personal fitness trainer on your smartphone

Get fit on your phone!

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I know how demanding working out can be. Especially for those who are just about to start their fitness journey, it can get pretty hard learning even just the basics. And then, there’s also getting yourself to the gym — believe me, I know how it feels to drag my feet out the door on the way to an exercise class.

What if you could make it all easier for you? Saddle up, ladies. This is an app that will allow you to get exercising all through your smartphone.

Introducing: The Gixo Fitness App

Like most exercise apps, Gixo will allow you to pick out different workouts depending on your exercise preference.

Because I was in the middle of a crazy work week when I tried out the app, I figured yoga would be a great way to clear my mind and get my body relaxed.

I picked out a class I liked and it was as simple as that. Of course, there were different classes available ranging from kickboxing to strength training, to HIIT, and even weight training — perfect if you’re not into only one activity.

Since I was working out to an app, this meant I got to exercise anywhere! I set up a yoga mat in a corner of that week’s office space-slash-studio (like I said, busy work week!) and started the class.

It was a very relaxing 15-minute class, just what I needed to refresh my mind and get the blood flowing.

For a mid-week work breather, these short classes are perfect. But, if you want a more intense workout, Gixo still delivers. There are different fitness levels and class length also vary with some classes running up till 60 minutes.

As good as this all sounds, however, it’s not even Gixo’s best workout feature.

Trying out a live class

Gixo’s strength lies in the fact that you can sign on for live classes. You heard that right: You can look through a number of different scheduled classes and join whatever tickles your fancy.

These live classes are headed by actual coaches that will instruct you as you go. For this beginner class, Coach Aaron was facilitating.

The beauty of it all is that this isn’t just a person who will talk you through the exercise — watching a YouTube video can do that! The app actually allows you to communicate with the coaches during class via chatting. Communication is two-way which allows for more interactive classes.

So how it works is you have a live coach facilitating a class and based on what you signed up for, you can follow along and ask questions. On the screen, you’ll have your coach and exercise visuals to help you along.

You can also turn on your phone camera so your coach can check in on you and give you comments about your form and the actual workouts you’re on.

And because it’s highly involved, you also get to input the number of reps or even change workout locations — perfect for coached running classes!

Changing to an outdoor location switches up the workout screen

Though I’ve used fitness apps (and a lot of them) before, I’ve never really had a live coach walk me through things via an app. In fact, I don’t think any other exercise app offers the same thing. It’s a pretty cool fitness innovation, really, and I’m still geeking over how no one has thought about this setup before.

For those who want even more fitness motivation, there are also exercise challenges that span weeks that you can sign up for. Gixo allows you to pick out a set time for weekdays and weekends and you simply follow along

Final verdict

So will the Gixo app actually get you those rock hard abs you’ve always dreamed about? Well, yes and no.

The whole experience can seem pretty weird at first but it doesn’t take long for you to get used to the setup. Think of it as video calling your fitness coach; you basically get the same interaction without having to leave the comfort of wherever you are. Gixo basically takes away one big step from the working out equation and, as we all know, any help in the exercise department is a big help.

Some would contend that having and being on your phone during workouts is counterproductive. But, think about it: You’re still working out and it’s an app that will allow you these workouts anywhere at your own convenience. There’s literally no excuse now because you only need to fire up Gixo on your phone and you get live, personal fitness exercise training right then and there. Talk about not having excuses! In addition, Gixo will send you workout summaries so you’re always reminded of just how much exercising you’re actually doing.

Of course, the bottom line is that Gixo can only do so much. It’s up to you to do those exercises and get your body in tip-top shape with the inclusion of those abs you dream about so much. To be perfectly honest, though, Gixo already does a lot: It’s an app that has someone literally watching you (in a non-freaky, coaching way) while you do your exercises. If that’s not making it easy for you to meet your fitness goals, I’m not entirely sure what will.

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