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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.

Laptops

Dell Latitude 7390 2-in-1 Review: The complete business laptop

Yet another great business laptop from Dell

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It’s not every day that I get to review devices designed for business. If you haven’t noticed, there are laptops meant for average consumers while others are for enterprise. What I have here is part of the Latitude lineup from Dell, which is basically their business-oriented series.

I’ve always loved using a ThinkPad (when it was still under IBM) back in the day when bulky and heavy laptops were a common sight, and the Dell Latitude 7390 2-in-1 kinda gives off the same vibe but with a modern kick, of course. Since the name already implies it, this business laptop has a 360-degree display hinge. That means it can all do the usual modes we’ve seen on other 2-in-1s in the market.

Right off the bat, the Latitude 7390 2-in-1 is not the most interesting laptop you’ll see. Let me run you through the physical aspects of the laptop starting with the display.

This 2-in-1 laptop has a 13.3-inch IPS screen with a 1080p resolution, multitouch input, and Active Pen support. According to Dell’s specs sheets, it’s got Gorilla Glass 4 which explains why the display feels so smooth when I use it as a touchscreen, yet it’s tough and scratch-resistant.

You can also see that it has pretty slim side bezels — a trend not only found on smartphones. The top and bottom portions of the display are about the same size as with most regular laptops, which means you get a webcam that’s in a proper position. The extra bezel real estate also acts as resting place for your thumb when using the 2-in-1 in tablet mode.

As for the ports, the Latitude 7390 2-in-1 has plenty! This is what I love about business laptops, they don’t compromise ports and they stay away (as much as possible) from dongles. On the left side, we have two USB 3.1 Type-C ports (with DisplayPort and Thunderbolt 3 support), a full-size HDMI 1.4, and a USB 3.1 Gen 1.

To the right is another USB 3.1 Gen 1 port, a microSD card reader, 3.5mm combo jack, and a Noble Wedge Lock slot. The power button and volume rocker are also on the right side, making them accessible even if the laptop is positioned differently. There’s also a SIM card slot in select models (like mine) if you want to put a data SIM for LTE connectivity.

For a modern and sleek laptop, the Latitude 7390 2-in-1 has a plethora of ports. It’s not that bulky either and I find its size to be just right for my lap. Most ultra-portable notebooks I’ve used lately only have a couple of USB-Cs, so having full-size ports brings back the convenience I missed. No dongles, no adapters.

Another business-like trait of this laptop is its keyboard. If you’re already accustomed to short-travel keys, typing on the Latitude 7390 2-in-1 is a breath of fresh air. It’s not as great as I’d like it to be because it’s a bit on the mushy side; I want a more positive response when typing like what I get from mechanical keyboards, but without the clicky noise. Having said all that, the keyboard is still a joy to type on.

The trackpad, on the other hand, is so-so. It’s a two-button touchpad using Windows Precision Drivers with a smooth yet textured surface. I definitely prefer glass touchpads, but this ain’t bad either.

The overall color of the device is black which makes the laptop look stealthy yet appealing. Even my colleagues prefer the look of the Latitude 7390 2-in-1 over some of the other laptops we’ve reviewed. But, as the one who used the Latitude 7390 2-in-1 as a daily computer for three weeks now, there’s more to the looks of it.

Built from magnesium and coated with soft-touch matte black paint, the Latitude 7390 2-in-1 feels solid and sturdy. The matte coating certainly helps with the grip and overall feel of the laptop. There’s no creaking and I never had an issue with the display’s hinge — no wobbling whatsoever. Perhaps, the only gripe I have about having an extra firm hinge is not being able to open the laptop with one finger.

A business-minded design is not necessarily blunt

When we went to Taipei for Computex 2018, the Latitude 7390 2-in-1 was my daily driver, and I was thankful for having it with me. The particular model I have has an 8th-gen Intel Core i7 with 8GB of memory and 256GB SSD. That’s more than enough to keep the laptop from slowing down when I have multiple programs open.

I’m not exactly a heavy-user of laptops since my work is mostly done online, but imagine having Google Chrome with multiple tabs opened and pinned at the same time. I didn’t have to worry about lags and I never had a single issue in performance.

Above is a photo of me remotely working on a bench in one of the spacious streets around Taipei. This is a typical scenario where I have to pull out my laptop and get some quick work done while roaming around. This is when I noticed that the display’s maximum brightness is not enough to battle the sun but if it’s cloudy, the anti-reflective coating of the display (Dell’s claim there is) helps with the visibility of the screen’s content.

Since it’s a 2-in-1, I have to take advantage of the 360-degree hinge. For business, setting the laptop in stand mode (pictured above) puts it in an ideal position for presentations. Or, if you’re like me, you can use it to binge-watch shows on Netflix and enjoy GadgetMatch videos on YouTube.

Before I used the Latitude 7390 2-in-1 as my main laptop, I had been using an ultra-portable notebook and a tablet convertible. The limitations of the two, especially with the ports, were a deal-breaker for me. Maybe that’s why I love using the Latitude 7390 2-in-1 — it has all the ports I need plus I can rely on its robust (but not bulky) body.

It can last the whole day

To be honest, I’d recommend the Latitude 7390 2-in-1 to anyone looking for a laptop that can last on the road. With its built-in 60Whr battery, I can work and play on the laptop for almost 10 hours before it automatically puts itself to sleep. When it’s time to plug it in, the included 60W charger fills up the laptop in just an hour and 45 minutes.

Did I already mention that the laptop charges through USB-C? This means you can use your laptop’s charger for your phone, so you’ll need to bring only one charger for all your USB-C devices.

Charging via USB-C doesn’t only simplify things, it also brings new possibilities. Throughout my usage of the Latitude 7390 2-in-1, I seldom brought its charger. Instead, I carried a pretty big power bank that’s capable of charging laptops through USB-C ports.

If you think power banks are just for smartphones, you’re mistaken. Dell also sells a power bank called Notebook Power Bank Plus with a high 65W power delivery, so it’s capable of charging laptops including the new MacBooks.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

Obviously, it’s my GadgetMatch, but my needs and preferences are not the same as yours. If you’re looking for a laptop that complements office lifestyle, the Dell Latitude 7390 2-in-1 will surely be a perfect companion priced at PhP 76,000.

Even if you want a laptop you can use every day that doesn’t limit your productivity, the Latitude 7390 2-in-1 is still a great choice. This isn’t a multimedia or gaming laptop, but light gaming and common editing software (e.g. Adobe Photoshop and Premiere) will work fine.

SEE ALSO: HP Spectre X2 Review: Form over function?

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Hands-On

Vivo NEX hands-on review: The future looks great

Vivo’s best smartphone to date

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In case you haven’t heard, the future is here. In 2018, smartphone manufacturers are finding themselves in a race to designing a truly bezel-less phone.

Engineers will tell you a compromise has to be made in order to achieve that because of all the tech they have to fit into the front of the phone. Some brands opt for a notch to house all of that; some offer minimal bezels and curved edges; others have awkwardly placed front cameras.

Design: More than meets the eye

Vivo, it seems, is at the forefront of this all-display race. On the NEX, the Chinese company offers an exact 91.24 percent screen-to-body ratio, one of the highest we’ve seen on a smartphone. To do that, Vivo had to move things around and put more features under the display itself.

Sure, there’s a tiny chin at the bottom of the phone, but it’s not really something you’ll notice during everyday use, unless, maybe, you’re obsessive compulsive.

On the midrange NEX A, you’ll find a fingerprint sensor at the back of the phone. On the higher end NEX S, the fingerprint sensor is under the display — a feature Vivo first put on the X20 UD and X21. It’s something that might take a lot of getting used to, and in the past week of using the under-display method, I found myself entering my passcode more than using the scanner because it fails too often.

It would have been nice to have face unlock as a backup, but up top, there are no cameras to do that. It’s hidden inside the phone, and shows up only when activated on the camera app, but I’ll talk about that more later.

The NEX also does away with the traditional earpiece and replaces it with what Vivo calls Screen SoundCasting technology, which transforms the display into a speaker. Like most new tech, it works, but nothing beats the tried and tested front-firing stereo speakers found on other smartphones if you’re looking for great audio.

The display is Super AMOLED, which means more saturated colors and darker blacks. The viewing experience is great, although I can’t say for certain I will miss the bezel-less experience when I switch to a different phone in the future. Also, it’s bright enough for my day-to-day use outdoors, unless I’m wearing sunglasses.

On the back of the phone is a glass panel. The phone doesn’t have wireless charging or any water-resistance rating. Instead, if you look closely, you’ll find thousands of dynamic color diffraction units.

Compared to bright colors and gradients, the black NEX looks rather boring for a phone from the future. The design feature on the back is so subtle, it only shows when it’s hit by harsh lights.

Yes, the phone emits rainbows like a unicorn.

You can also see it indoors.

Apart from that, the phone looks and feels premium overall. The rounded corners offer a comfortable grip, and it feels like one solid piece of glass with no sharp edges.

And in case you’re wondering: There is a headphone jack.

Cameras: Cool and capable

Having a mechanical pop-up camera has its repercussions, but first let’s take a moment to appreciate how awesome this piece of tech really is.

A handful of curious people actually came up to me while shooting this around Moscow and when I showed them how it pops up, their jaws dropped.

If you’re wary about durability, Vivo says the camera has undergone drop- and dust-resistance tests, and can repeatedly elevate and retract up to 50,000 times. I did the math myself, and that’s around 137 years if you only take one selfie per day and 6.8 years if you shoot 20 each day. At this point, I can’t say if that claim is accurate, but the selfie camera feels well built and hasn’t shown any signs of wear and tear yet.

The whole process doesn’t feel as fast as a normal selfie camera would, only because a physical part of the phone moves; it’s honestly not something that would bother anyone over time. If you check the smartphone you’re using now, you’ll notice that switching to the front camera also doesn’t happen as fast as you’d think. After getting over the wow factor, I got so used to how natural the process is — so much so that I eventually forgot that the front camera needs to pop up before I take a selfie.

Inside is an 8-megapixel lens, with Face Beauty options for both photo and video modes. I appreciate that it makes my skin less oily and eyebags smaller, but I don’t really like how it flattens my cheeks, and makes my irises artificially bigger, rounder, and blacker.

One thing that makes the selfie camera stand out for me, aside from the fact that it literally stands out, is how well it handles dynamic range. For scenarios like this, you either get a blown-out window to keep my face well-exposed, or an underexposed subject with a properly lit background.

Here’s another one I took by my hotel window thanks to the palm gesture. The AI HDR feature on the Vivo NEX is able to balance it out, resulting in a photo that looks as if I have another light source (I didn’t).

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The same AI HDR feature also functions on the dual rear cameras. It works really well, although some photos turn out oversharpened.

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Both the front and rear cameras have portrait mode, which separates the foreground from the background and blurs the latter out. Like most phones we’ve reviewed, the bokeh still looks artificial, but the one taken with the rear shooters looks a lot more polished than that of the selfie cam.

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In indoor and low-light scenarios, the phone does a pretty good job at capturing details and minimizing noise. Some photos have mushier details up close, as it tries to compensate for the lack of light sources.

One thing I always ask myself when testing smartphone cameras is this: Can I rely on it to take Instagram-worthy photos when traveling? In this case, the Vivo NEX ticks that box and that’s saying a lot considering it’s my first time in Russia. My only complaint is the lack of a useful secondary camera. A telephoto or wide-angle lens would be great while watching the World Cup or avoiding crowds in framing touristy landmarks.

Check out more photos I took with the Vivo NEX below and on my Instagram.

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Is this your GadgetMatch?

The Vivo NEX is no longer the concept phone we saw at Mobile World Congress in February. Our first glimpse into the future is here; it’s exciting and looks great.

If you want to be one of the first to step into that, then by all means get the phone if you can and if it’s within your budget. For a smartphone from Vivo, the price is a little steep — CNY 3,898 (US$ 608) for the NEX A, and CNY 4,498 (US$ 702) for the NEX S. That’s more than its other value-for-money flagship counterparts like the OnePlus 6 and Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S. It’s also only available in China for now.

But what the NEX offers are features other smartphones don’t have. It’s a phone that you’d want to show off to your friends, and they’ll surely want to see it, too.

Its defining feature is a beautiful, unique design that changes the way we’ve been using the smartphone: under-display fingerprint sensor, the display as a speaker, and a pop-up camera. Even then, the learning curve is not that high if you do decide to switch. Once you get over all the new tech, using the phone will feel as natural and normal as any other phone you’ve gotten used to.

I can’t say for certain that it’s the best in the market today, but this is undoubtedly Vivo’s best smartphone to date. And in so many ways, what Vivo made here is already comparable to a lot of premium smartphones, one that’s more than deserving of your time and consideration.

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Her GadgetMatch

OPPO R15 Pro review: The same old thing in a notched package

Is it worth upgrading to?

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Last February, OPPO released the R15 Pro and I flew to China for some hands-on time with the Chinese version of the device. Finally, the international version has rolled out and I finally got to take this baby out for a full ride.

Notch exactly looking new

The latest R-series device from OPPO jumps on the 2018 bandwagon with a gradient back and a notch — things we’ve seen on at least two other smartphone releases this year.

Of course, this doesn’t take away from the fact that the gradient on this thing looks good. Admittedly, it’s a pretty phone. It feels solid, and the glass back is definitely more premium compared to its predecessors that sport aluminum backs.

The phone has a tiny chin, and of course, a notch. Unfortunately, there’s no option to hide the notch. Fortunately, so many phones have come out with notches that I’ve gotten used to them and it doesn’t even bother me that much anymore.

A fingerprint scanner is still found on the back of the device, and the phone’s facial unlock is pretty precise.

Performance

Heavy social media use and my daily dose of playing Pocket Morty was no problem for this phone. I cruised through my day with this in hand and had no problems whatsoever. It does have the same processor as the OPPO R11s’ so anything that it can do, this device can most probably do, too.

Though this phone takes the top 2018 trends in terms of looks, in some ways, it’s still stuck in the past: It sports a micro-USB port and there’s no wireless charging. It’s equipped with OPPO’s VOOC charging, which gives you zero to 91 percent in an hour. This isn’t bad as the phone’s 3400mAh battery lasts me a whole day of use.

This year, Google decided to let phones other than the Pixel get in on the Android fun by allowing certain devices to take part in the Android P Beta program. The OPPO R15 Pro is one of those phones so if this is any indication, Android P will probably be available on this device soon, too.

Instagram Challenge

Another 2018 tech obsession is AI which promises to make your smartphones even smarter. Of course, the OPPO R15 Pro wanted in on that, too. The phone’s rear cameras are equipped with tech that can recognize different scenes, though it’s not the quickest to do so. In my experience, AI scene detection usually takes a little bit of time and while I do see a little automatic adjustment to the photos when it comes food shots, there’s barely any difference in other scenarios. That’s if and when the camera even recognizes the scene.

Nonetheless, the dual-camera setup on the back featuring the same shooters found on the R11s are pretty capable cameras. Images are good to go straight to your Instagram feed.

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Trust me, this phone is a pretty capable IG tool. I was pretty happy just shooting with this for quick on-location #OOTDs. Exhibit A:

There’s also a Portrait Lighting feature on this device — yes, it’s almost exactly the same as the iPhone’s portrait lighting feature.

It’s a nice add-on, but honestly, I don’t know anyone who uses this feature on their iPhone so I’m not about to start doing so either.

Selfie time

Yet again, the AI beauty mode did not disappoint. OPPO’s beauty filter still remains to be one of my favorites and with good reason: It gives me fresh selfies without looking too fake.

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Of course, OPPO added fun AR stickers to the selfie camera because, why not? There’s also the video beauty mode that I love using and it’s available on both front and back cameras.

Verdict

The R15 Pro is more or less the R11s in an updated package. Aside from a few new features, it packs the same cameras and processor on a more premium-feeling body.

It’s a capable device and a great selfie machine, but I can’t help but feel that this phone missed the wow factor. In the sea of 2018 smartphones, it feels like it’s just another notched device.

Is it worth upgrading to? If you’re on the R11s, you might want to consider holding out for the next release. If you’re craving for OPPO R-series features and that 2018 notched form factor, however, this might be the phone for you. The OPPO R15 retails for CNY 3,299 (US$ 525).

SEE ALSO: OPPO R15 Pro hands-on review: The screen is notch the same

SEE ALSO: OPPO R11s review: Midrange selfie powerhouse

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