Reviews

Samsung Galaxy S9 Review: Brilliant but underwhelming

Brilliant but underwhelming

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For any creator serious about his craft, the end goal is the same — to create the best version of a product possible. You achieve this through innovation and experimentation, in rinse and repeat cycles until something great is created.

But then what happens next?

It’s a predicament shared by many of the best technology brands in the biz, and one that Samsung finds itself in this year. Its new Galaxy S9 smartphone, while better on the inside, is the same on the outside. And while that is only part of the story told, it is the narrative by which many a reviewer will tell the story of Samsung’s new flagship.    

Depending on who’s looking, the Galaxy S9’s recycled design can be seen any of two ways: either that it lacks the freshness that phones are so often measured by each year, or that Samsung has achieved the pinnacle of smartphone design and that the best way forward is to keep things as is.

The Galaxy S9 shimmers in Lilac Purple / Photo by Michael Josh

I agree more with the latter, at least when it comes to looks. Two years in and the S9 is still the most beautiful smartphone on the planet. Its curved Infinity Display and all-glass build are hard to match. And now with colors ranging from coral blue to lilac purple, it’s hard not to fall in love with one at first sight.      

But are looks enough? Does the Samsung Galaxy S9 have enough new features to back up its good looks? Is it the best Android smartphone ever made? And should you go out and buy it?  

But first, more answers to your most important S9-related questions.

Is dual aperture a gimmick?

Samsung claims it’s reimagined the smartphone camera on the S9. While that might be more marketing than fact, it’s dual aperture camera is an unprecedented engineering feat.

No Android smartphone thus far has had the ability to change the aperture on a single lens. On the S9, you can switch between f/1.5 and f/2.4. But why would you want that?

The Galaxy S9 has a unique variable aperture camera

A large aperture gives your photos that creamy background blur when shooting up close, but more importantly helps you take brighter, better photos in low light.

The S9’s f/1.5 is the highest aperture we’ve seen on a smartphone and significantly improves night shots. In fact photos we took at night using the S9 looked brighter than what the scene actually looked like in real life.

Why then would you need to switch to f/2.4?

The higher aperture, the bigger the depth of field. Sometimes details get too soft especially around subjects and sometimes you just want more details in focus; that’s where the smaller f/2.4 comes in.

The Galaxy S9 picks the best aperture depending on how much available light / Photo by Michael Josh

To be honest, the average user should not have to worry about any of this, and Samsung doesn’t think so either, so it’s making these adjustments in the background. With the goal being, you getting better photos regardless of the shooting situation.

For more advanced users wanting more control, there is Pro Mode that lets you manually switch between the two among a host of other camera settings.

Does the Galaxy S9 take better photos versus X?

DxOMark, an independent body that rates cameras, recently gave the S9+ its highest overall score and highest photo score. While the results of its test are debatable, it’s oftentimes a good benchmark to see how a smartphone fares in the camera space.

We will need more time to conduct an in-depth head-to-head test of our own, but based on some preliminary comparison photos versus the Pixel 2 and against the iPhone X shot during the day, deciding on which smartphone takes the best photos will boil down to a matter of taste or how technically meticulous you are.      

It’s in low light, however, that the Galaxy S9 shines, it is hands down the best low-light camera smartphone you can buy today.

Should I get the S9+ for the second camera?

The S9 comes in two sizes: 5.8 and 6.2 inches — the S9 and S9+ respectively.

If you get the bigger S9+, you not only get more memory (6GB vs 4GB), a bigger battery (3500mAh vs 3000mAh), and a larger screen. You also get two rear cameras.

The Galaxy S9+ has two rear cameras / Photo by Chay Lazaro

This second camera is a 2x zoom lens, a great thing to have if you like getting in closer on subjects without sacrificing the quality of your photos.

The second camera also enables a feature called Live Focus which we’ve also seen on the Note 8 and the A8 (2018) series. It’s a must-have feature on any top-of-the-line smartphone, giving your portraits a nice blurred background. Unique to Samsung’s implementation is the ability to adjust the amount of blur while taking the photo and after, and if you decide you like the non-portrait, wide-angle version better, the S9 also keeps a copy for you.   

These two features justify the US$ 120 premium of the S9+. If you’re torn between the two, it is the model I recommend.

Selective Focus on the S9 isn’t very reliable

It’s worth pointing out that on the S9, you can still blur out backgrounds using a software feature called Selective Focus, but it’s just not as good at cutting out subjects from their background.

Art Bokeh on the Galaxy S9+ / Photo by Joshua Vergara

Speaking of, if you’re really serious about background blur, Samsung added a new feature on the S9+ called Art Bokeh. If the conditions are right, when you go in and adjust Background Blur on a Live Focus image, you’ll get a bunch of shape options to choose from. You can get bokeh in the shape of stars or hearts as shown in the image above.

Super slow-mo 960fps, so what?

To better appreciate the next two features, you have to understand Samsung’s target demographic, a generation of creators who have an affinity for sharing and expression.   

If you like creating shareable videos, GIFs, and Boomerangs, you might like Samsung new super slow-mo feature. On the S9, you are able to slow down time more than ever before on a Galaxy smartphone.

To capture the best super slow-mos, you need plenty of light. The sample below was shot inside a controlled environment with plenty of available light.


The Sony Xperia XZ Premium was the first to get this feature, one whole year ago. Slow-mos shot on both phones are rather similar in terms of quality, with the S9’s slow-mos a tad bit warmer.  

On the S9 though, it’s easier to operate. Auto Mode detects motion and starts capturing once it senses movement. This way you get the shot each time.

But Auto Mode works best when you can control what you’re shooting. Out in the real world, you’re best using manual capture; you’ll need plenty of practice to get your timing right.

Finally, when you shoot super slow-mo video, the S9 adds background music automatically so you can instantly share your creations to Facebook or Instagram. You can go in and edit the track or just remove it entirely.

Not Animojis

When the iPhone X launched last year, one of its more quirky features was Animojis, basically the ability to animate nine popular emoji using the phone’s face tracking features.

The iPhone X has True Depth sensors that can match muscle movements on your face so your Animoji basically does as you do. Samsung hoped to do one better on the S9 with a similar feature called AR Emoji. Unfortunately, we didn’t enjoy it as much.

While we like the ability to personalize and create characters after our own likeness, we feel more often than not, AR Emoji characters don’t look like the selfies they are based on.

But more bothersome is the fact that AR Emoji don’t track as well. They especially struggle when trying to match speech. So nope, AR Emoji Karaoke is out of the question.  

Send animated stickers featuring your own emoji

We do like the personalized animated stickers, though. They are cool, and we like how you can use them across any or all of your favorite chat apps. They are accessible by pressing the sticker icon on your default Samsung keyboard, and are also saved as GIFs in your Gallery app.

Stereo speakers

Audio has just gotten better on the S9.

If you’re like me and watch a lot of videos or play games without headphones, you’ll like the new stereo speaker setup on the S9. Sound comes out of the earpiece up front, and the speaker grilles on the phone’s bottom. The sound is louder and more pronounced.  

The S9 also now supports Dolby Atmos, so you get surround sound-like audio when listening to content that supports it. Last year, Netflix announced support for Atmos with titles like Okja and Snowpiercer, but it doesn’t quite seem to work on the S9 yet.

Hello Bixby

Like Apple and Google, Samsung has its own personal assistant, Bixby.

And to show you its committed to Bixby, the S9 retains the S8’s dedicated Bixby button. If it’s not your cup of tea, you can deactivate the button completely, but you cannot remap it as a shortcut to other apps or commands. That would have been a killer feature.

Samsung promises Bixby 2.0 will come next August or September when it unveils the Note 9. For now, it remains underdeveloped.

Bixby Vision can estimate how many calories are in the meal you’re about to have

Sure, Bixby can do new things, like live translation when ordering food overseas. And when your meal arrives, you can also have Bixby give you an estimate of how many calories you’re about to consume. Cool tricks, but they do not replace a good old personal assistant.

In the interim, I suggest you use Google Assistant; it’s accessible via the usual voice command, “Okay Google.”

Improved biometrics

One way to recognize the S9 from an S8 is to turn the phone around and look at the position of its fingerprint sensor. Proving that it listens to user feedback, Samsung has graciously located it to underneath the camera instead of beside it.

It’s in a much better place, but unfortunately it’s still too close to the camera, and part of one single unit, instead of being separate. In my week or so of use, I’ve often brushed my S9 camera’s lens while trying to unlock my phone.  

Intelligent Scan on the Galaxy S9 combines facial recognition and iris scanning / Photo by Michael Josh

It’s kinda a big deal for me as the fingerprint sensor is still my default way of unlocking the phone. It’s just quicker, snappier, and more reliable even if Samsung has beefed up its “Intelligent Scan” by integrating its facial recognition and iris scanner.

Price jump

A smartphone’s price tag is as important as any new feature. And when it comes to determining the S9’s value, it’s important to take a look at how much the S9 costs around the globe.

Prices of the S9 went up everywhere except the US / Photo by Michael Josh

Here’s the thing: In the US, the S9 and S9+ cost as much as the S8 and the S8+ when they launched. But across the globe, prices increased by 5 to 15 percent.

Do all these features justify the price increase? No.

But having said that, when compared to the iPhone X, the S9+ is still more affordable, so there’s that. Depending on where you are in the world, the S9 and S9+ might not be the best value for money phone. But they are at least pretty competitive in the upper end of the price spectrum.

Is the Galaxy S9 your GadgetMatch?

If you’re looking for the best Android smartphones available today, the S9 and S9+ are a match. The S9+ especially is one the best Android phones in the market today.

Both models are deserving of the GadgetMatch Seal of Approval.

The Galaxy S9 is a pleasure to use / Photo by Michael Josh

Apart from an excellent camera and great looks, you’ll like the S9’s creator-focused features, loud stereo speakers, water resistance, and headphone jack. On the flip side, Bixby is still not ready, AR Emoji is unpolished, and battery life could be better.

The S9 and S9+ are not intended for S8 and S8+ users. If you own an S8, skip this upgrade and wait for next year.

Although, S7 and S7 Edge users might want to strongly consider this upgrade, especially if their contract is up for renewal. US carriers in particular are offering plenty of perks for those pre-ordering the phone.

For the more price conscious though, also consider not-so-premium phones from brands that may not sound as sexy as Samsung or Apple but offer all of these high-end specs at a lower, more reachable price point.

Following years of iteration, Samsung finally nailed it / Photo by Michael Josh

Following many years of iterating, Samsung seems to have nailed it. While in some ways the S9 is almost predictable, its purely iterative step-up also speaks to Samsung’s ability to make great phones. As a fan of innovation though, I want to see more, an under display fingerprint sensor maybe, better battery tech, and ways to leverage artificial intelligence to make their phones better. AI is the future, and it would be interesting to see glimpses of how Samsung plans to ensure their smartphone remains at the center of this computing revolution.

Reviews

Vivo V11 (V11 Pro) review: Innovation continues to reign

A step up from its competitors

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Vivo has a new midrange phone in town. After giving in-display fingerprint technology a try on flagship devices, it’s now available on midrange phones. This is the Vivo V11, a new midranger with all the usual features plus a unique one for its range.

Can the V11’s distinctive in-display fingerprint reader keep it ahead of the competition? Let’s find out in this review.

The phone sports a 6.41-inch Super AMOLED display

With a Full HD+ resolution and 19.5:9 aspect ratio

The notch has been drastically reduced

But it still has all the essentials like a selfie camera and front sensors

It’s not 100% bezel-less but the chin is minimal

Vivo claims a 91.27 percent screen-to-body ratio

Thankfully, it’s got a triple-card slot

This is how it should be

The buttons on its right are pretty confusing at first

I find them to be positioned a bit lower than usual

It’s 2018 yet Vivo still hasn’t embraced USB-C

At least it has quick charge technology

The back is a borrowed design from the V9 and X21

With added flair, of course

It still has dual rear cameras for shooting quality portraits

Equipped with AI and f/1.8 aperture

Slightly improved design over predecessor

As mentioned earlier, the V11 sports a familiar design. One might suspect it to be just the V9 at first glance, but it’s more of a repackaged X21. It’s got rounded corners with a rounded back that gives it a slimmer profile.

But of course, Vivo made improvements to the V11 and that’ll be the new so-called Halo FullView Display. With a tinier notch that’s even smaller (but not as aesthetically pleasing) than the OPPO F9’s, the V11 managed to have a more immersive display. Vivo claims a colossal 91.27 percent screen-to-body ratio with a 3.8mm chin.

Using a Super AMOLED panel, which is a first for the V series, Vivo is able to bring the in-display fingerprint technology to this segment. There’s an optical sensor hidden beneath the display of the V11. If you’ve seen the X21 or the NEX, you’ll get the same level of exclusivity for half the price.

And since there’s no need for a fingerprint reader at the back of the phone, Vivo is now more free to play with the rear panel. The growing trend of flashy gradients and patterns crawls to the V11, but in a more subtle way. The Starry Night variant blends black and blue with specks of dust creating a nice-looking fusion of sophistication and style.

Although, it’s pretty disappointing that Vivo opted to use polycarbonate (plastic) rather than glass for the V11’s back.

Powered by a better midrange processor

When it comes to power, Vivo finally decided to give what its midrange phones deserve — a higher-end Snapdragon 600 series processor. The V11 is powered by a Snapdragon 660 processor to be specific, which is usually found in phones priced at US$ 500 and above. To make the V11 even better, it comes with 6GB of memory as a standard. Storage options vary depending on the region, though, from 64 to 128GB.

The phone boots Android 8.1 Oreo out of the box but with extensive customization courtesy of Vivo’s very own Funtouch OS 4.5. As always, it’s very iOS-like which may or may not appeal to users. But, whatever your preference is, it’s disappointing that Funtouch OS omitted simple Android features like the search function in the settings.

The end result of the V11’s configuration is a smooth-performing phone with virtually zero lag. I encountered a few slow loading times with certain apps like Instagram, but it’s nothing that a future update can’t fix.

As for gaming, the Adreno 512 GPU that’s paired with the Snapdragon 660 processor is more than capable of running the latest games from the Google Play Store. I switched playing Asphalt 9: Legends from the Mi Mix 2S to the V11, and I didn’t notice any difference in visual quality. I also threw in a couple of graphics-intensive games like PUBG: Mobile and Mobile Legends: Bang Bang; both ran smoothly on medium to maximum settings.

Shoots impressive photos

Like with the V9, the V11 still has two rear cameras: one for capturing detailed images and another for assessing depth information. The main shooter is a new 12-megapixel sensor with a bright f/1.8 aperture while the second one is a 5-megapixel sensor.

Here are some samples taken with the rear camera in auto mode:

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The output of the V11’s rear shooters are more pleasing than what we’ve seen with previous midrange phones from Vivo. They are detailed, color-accurate, and sharp. AI is working in the background when taking a shot, so the result gets better over time.

Of course, selfies are also great on the V11. With a 25-megapixel sensor at the helm, you can expect high-quality selfies every time.

Here are Josh, Chay, and myself showing how the V11 takes selfies in different scenarios:

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Vivo also has a new AI Face Shaping technology which enhances facial features when beauty mode is turned on. The end results sometimes look too artificial, so it’s a matter of personal preference.

Charge fast, drain slow

All the new features of the V11 is nothing if you won’t be able to use the phone for long. Inside the V11’s body is a respectable 3400mAh battery. With my own usage, I was able to get more than 24 hours during a busy day. That’s with Wi-Fi and mobile data connection automatically switching from morning until bed time. I always have around 15 percent left before I go to sleep.

When it’s time to charge, I do it in the morning. Why? Because as I get ready, so does the V11. I only need an hour and 30 minutes to fully charge the phone thanks to the what Vivo calls Dual-Engine Fast Charging. The name can be a mouthful, but it’s basically Quick Charge 3.0. This means you can quickly fill up V11’s battery using any QC 3.0 charger.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

I’ve had the V11 for a week, so there’s more to know about the phone. But based on the time I spent on it, I know it’ll be a great device in the long run. It’s practically future-proofed aside from the micro-USB port. Why is Vivo, along with OPPO and Huawei, still stuck in the past when it comes to the choice of USB port? With the three of them leading the midrange market, they could have done well in introducing USB-C to the masses.

Like other phones that launch only six months after their predecessor, it would be lavish to suggest to get this one right away. But, should you buy one, I can say you will feel the upgrade.

The Vivo V11 is priced around US$ 400 for the variant with 64GB storage. In the Philippines, it goes for PhP 19,999 while in India, where it’s called the V11 Pro, it’s priced at INR 25,990.

SEE ALSO: Vivo V11 Unboxing and Review

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Gaming

NBA 2K19: A complacent champion

Needs a legit challenger

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NBA 2K has absolutely dominated the NBA simulation video game space for the better part of the decade. It’s been the undisputed champion year after year and the same is true with its latest version — NBA 2K19. As is the case with any multi-year champ, it’s hard to keep the pedal to the metal when you know you’ve basically left your competitors biting your dust.

This is where the NBA 2K franchise is at. If it were an NBA team, it has been a champion for years. Let’s keep things a little interesting by breaking down different sections of the game as if they were players of a champion team.

Face Scan: Last year’s sixth man but fell out of the rotation

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. However, somewhere between 2K18 and 2K19, the face scan stopped working like it’s supposed to.

This was the result of my face scan back in 2K18, after just a few attempts.

This is my face scan in 2K19 after many, many attempts. And this was the best one.

Here’s me side-by-side with the face scan along with a player I created from scratch.

I think the images speak for themselves, but I’m just going to come out say I don’t know what on earth happened and face scan needs to go back to how it was in 2K18. I ultimately decided to forego face scan altogether and just create a character that looks like he’d fit the story in MyCareer.

MyCareer: X-Factor starter

NBA 2K invests heavily on this mode. It’s understandable because it’s safe to say that anyone who enjoys this game and the game of basketball in general has dreamed of being a star, carrying a team to the promised land, and hitting that game-winning shot.

MyCareer lets players experience all of this. It takes the player into some sort of hero’s journey as a young baller looking to prove that he belongs in the big league. It can get boring, so what 2K has done is to incorporate some kind of story. In 2K19, it looks like they went all out.

In a lot of ways, MyCareer in 2K19 is going back to its roots. In the previous two or three iterations of this game mode, the player was positioned as a star prospect. A good number of my friends who played the game weren’t too happy about it. They loved the idea of being someone unknown taking the league by storm.

This underdog story is flanked by a star-studded cast led by Anthony Mackie (recently appeared on film as Falcon in Avengers: Infinity War). This goes to show that 2K is going all in on the cinematic RPG route in this year’s version of MyCareer. The cutscenes can get pretty long, though. Adding a few more quick time events would have helped with the pacing.

So that’s essentially what MyCareer is to NBA 2K. You never really know what you’re gonna get. However, when it’s on point, it takes the game over the top and makes something good even better.

MyGM: Solid rotation guy

MyGM in 2K19 has also gone the storytelling route. It picks up where 2K18 left off. You’re a player who suffered a career-ending injury and now you’ve built your reputation as a headstrong general manager.

There are a fair number of people who would like to try their hand at running an NBA team’s front office. NBA Twitter talks about trade scenarios all the time and that’s a huge part of what makes this game mode appealing. Being able to build a roster according to your liking and taking it all the way to the championship; that’s a challenge people like taking on.

There aren’t a lot of new things on MyGM. The story has you working with a new team owner while also managing your relationship with the previous one you worked with.

The new story makes it mildly more interesting, but at its core, MyGM is what it has always been: a solid feature on a game that delivers the kind of experience players hope to get.

Gameplay: Star Player

This is what it all comes down to. This is the reason why NBA 2K has been the champ that it is. The gameplay is the undisputed star player of the game. It’s the reason why people continue to play it. It’s the reason why time and time again, people line up for the game.

In 2K19, the gameplay doesn’t feel that much different from 2K18. There’s a huge difference between how both games felt at launch. When 2K18 first came out, the gameplay still seemed a little weird, with players looking like they’re floating on the court as opposed to running on it. There’s none of that in 2K19.

What you’ll experience is a refinement of what was already a good product. Some animations and shots make more sense this time around. The way players transition from dribbling to a shot feel more real, and there are a few subtle improvements here and there that when combined, sum up to a basketball simulation experience that appears to still be ahead of its competition.

As long as NBA 2K keeps this type of gameplay on their side, they will continue to hold the number one spot. However, they can’t rest on their laurels. EA Sports’ NBA Live is creeping on their turf and appear to be a few adjustments away from legitimately contending for the top spot once more.

Some notes from the assistant coach

We still don’t have notable players like Reggie Miller, Charles Barkley, Rasheed Wallace, and Gilbert Arenas in this game. The 2K community has clamored for their inclusion but this is really more the mentioned players’ willingness to be included in the game more than anything. Here’s to hoping they change their minds soon.

There are a few classic teams I personally want to see. On top of that list is the ‘09-’10 Lakers that beat the Big Three Celtics. While a version of Kobe is already in the game, I badly want to play with Black Mamba #24 when he played with Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, and Andrew Bynum as he hunted down his fifth NBA title.

If this is the game that finally makes you want to buy a PlayStation 4, consider getting the NBA 2K19 PS4 bundle. In the Philippines, it retails for PhP 20,490 which will net you the following: One jet black 500GB PS4, one DualShock 4 controller, the NBA 2K19 Blu-ray disc, one premium decal sticker, a badass poster featuring Giannis Antetokounmpo, and a PS4 one-year extended warranty. Not a bad deal!

Final evaluation

As a team with a solid lineup that’s been winning for years, it feels as though NBA 2K still hasn’t reached its peak. While it has been amazing, there’s another level that it can go to. As it is now, NBA 2K19 is still the basketball video game to beat. I have mixed feelings about both the MyCareer and the MyGM modes, but as long as the gameplay takes over when it needs to and until the competition puts up an actual fight, this game will continue to get an overall grade of A.

SEE ALSO: Marvel’s Spider-Man Review: Spidey in all his glory

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Reviews

Nokia 3.1 review: Back to Android One’s beginnings

Bringing an updated build to the entry-level

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The Android One program has had a rocky life, from being the go-to platform for pure, affordable Android devices, to going on an awkward hiatus, to turning into an operating system for all market segments.

Things got even more confusing when Android Go was introduced, essentially taking up Android’s lowest tier and leaving Android One with everything else. We went as far as dissecting the two platforms and explaining their purpose in a lengthy feature.

Funny enough, Nokia is the primary reason why this happened. The revitalized brand brought Android One to the high-end spectrum for the very first time with the Nokia 8 Sirocco, and introduced both Android Go and One to its cheapest phones.

While the Nokia 1 and Nokia 2.1 handle Go duties, the Nokia 3.1 is the most affordable Android One phone the brand currently has. It retails for EUR 139 in Europe, SG$ 249 in Singapore, and PhP 9,990 in the Philippines — all below the tricky US$ 200 mark.

The Nokia experience

Like every other Nokia device, you instantly know what you’re buying into with the Nokia 3.1: solid build quality. Although this phone uses a smooth plastic back to lower costs, a metal frame is in place, and the glass in front seems sturdy with Gorilla Glass, as well.

The LCD panel itself is 5.2 inches in size and has a tall 18:9 aspect ratio. Because of the slimmer size (compared to the traditional 16:9 ratio) and curved edges on both sides, the Nokia 3.1 is a joy to hold. It’s especially comfy for people with smaller hands, though my large fingers appreciated the subtle curves, too.

It takes a while for the back to get this smudgy

My only gripe is the unusually large bottom bezel, which doesn’t even house navigation buttons or a fingerprint scanner; it feels like a waste of precious space on this newer 18:9 form that normally avoids thick borders. Its plastic rear is also resistant to smudges — or at least they aren’t that visible on the black variant.

A compact multimedia device

The Nokia 3.1’s updated design and smooth handling make it an ideal multimedia machine at this price point. Its screen resolution may be only 720p and the single down-firing loudspeaker doesn’t produce much bass, but the overall quality is good enough for watching YouTube and Netflix on the go.

It helps that there’s a 3.5mm audio port to plug in your favorite earphones or speaker. And because it has two SIM card slots with microSD storage expansion, it’s easy to switch to a faster mobile network or add to your offline media library when needed.

Normally, a 2990mAh battery capacity wouldn’t suffice for all this, but the combination of the smallish screen and efficient hardware of the Nokia 3.1 offer sufficient endurance. In fact, the standby time is quite good, and I get over seven hours of screen-on time when continuously watching online videos.

Truly entry-level performance

In spite of all the decent entertainment I got out of this phone, the raw performance is lacking. Its MediaTek MT6750 processor coupled with 3GB of memory and 32GB of storage make it entry-level in performance.

All the games I played on it — from PUBG Mobile to Dragon Ball Legends — ran on the lowest graphics settings with lag along the way. You could play lighter games like Alto’s Odyssey without much fuss, but don’t buy this phone for serious gaming no matter what.

Otherwise, the Nokia 3.1 can easily handle day-to-day tasks well enough thanks to the clean version of Android One. There’s no bloatware to take up memory or storage, leaving you with all the space you need to install your own apps and enjoy them hiccup-free.

Camera quality you’d expect

Since we’re dealing with an lower-tier smartphone, you know what kind of cameras you’re getting. They do well enough when there’s sufficient light, but anything less and you’ll see lots of noise and blurry subjects.

The rear has a single 13-megapixel camera while the front owns an 8-megapixel sensor. Because neither have a secondary shooter, don’t expect any blurry background tricks or sharp zooming; you only have a panorama mode and beauty filter to play with.

The interface is as stock as can be, as well. I wish the focusing were a little faster, but I appreciate the quick startup and clean interface. Here are some samples:

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Is this your GadgetMatch?

There isn’t anything spectacular about the Nokia 3.1, but that’s the expectation you need to set when going below US$ 200. At the same time, Nokia has a tough budget realm to compete against.

Our very own Best Smartphones list has a strong list of affordable phones. There are entries with bigger batteries, faster processors, and more cameras. The Nokia 3.1 sits somewhere in between those.

Its advantages lie in the sturdier metal frame and pure take on Android. Unfortunately, my retail unit has yet to receive Android 9 Pie, which has been out for a month already. Timely updates are part of Android One’s promise, so it’s strange for it to take so long.

Once it does have access to Pie, it’ll raise the phone’s stock up a notch. And every notch counts in this cut-throat segment.

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