Features

Sony Xperia’s Reality

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It’s been a full month since the biggest tech coverage of my life to date. Having finished Legal Management in college, and then eventually making a career in Creatives, never did I think I’d be in Spain, as a journalist, covering one of the world’s biggest tech events.

But last month I made it, as part of GadgetMatch’s two-man team covering Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona.

There was a lot to see at MWC, where almost all the biggest names in smartphones and mobile communications came out to play. Our small team didn’t have time to be at every launch event, so we instead visited as many booths as humanly possible, spending more time at those that offered more stories worth telling. Four days was not enough.

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Low-light selfie taken with the new Sony Xperia X, printed on Instax

One of the events we completely missed while in Barcelona was the launch of Sony’s Xperia X. We spent a significant amount of time at Sony’s booth checking out their new devices, so upon returning to Manila I knew it was one that I had to watch back online.

Sony’s keynote lacked the flashy things most brands would have to make their announcements an experience on its own and highlights that would leave a lasting impression. There were no grand stages. No dramatic lighting. No mind-blowing products or moments. No surprise appearances by tech celebrities. There weren’t even any leaks or teasers to hype it up prior to the event itself.

I don’t know how I would have felt had I been there in person – underwhelmed maybe – considering that the night before I came face to face with Mark Zuckerberg and my personal hero, Pranav Mistry, at Samsung Unpacked. (Still not over it, tbh.)

But while the likes of Samsung and LG battled it out in on stage, Sony’s no non-sense, no-frills event took a step back and reminded us of what makes smartphones and technology so great.

Sans any gaudiness, Sony’s keynote was just as insightful, its simplicity allowing me to appreciate and digest its vision more.

Sony President and CEO Kazuo Hirai was first to take the stage. Recognizing that Barcelona was home to one of the world’s best football teams, he likened Sony to football – it is all about excitement, the joy, the wonder, about providing that feeling of wow.

He then asked, “how often do you check your smartphone during the day?”

Apparently, in the United States alone, smartphones are checked 8 billion times a day. “That’s an awful lot of checking smartphones,” he remarked.

This, he says, is why smartphones and other communication devices are so important to Sony. Also maybe part of the reason the Japanese brand hasn’t stopped making smartphones despite losses year after year.

Sony’s Dream Destination

Next on stage was Sony Mobile Communications President & CEO Hiroki Totoki.

“To bring ideas to life, we’ve been continuing our journey. A journey has a destination, which is defined in our vision” Totoki said.

Sony’s destination? A world where people are looking up at the sky, not down on screens. A world where devices don’t just provide ease and convenience, but wonder and joy. A world where people and devices interact in a more meaningful way so that we can spend more time experiencing the world around us.

With the new Xperia X lineup, Sony hopes to achieve that world, but not without a bit of confusion first.

Sony’s new Xperia X line doesn’t aim for the top, but are interesting nonetheless

For years Sony’s top of the line smartphone has been the Xperia Z – a gold standard in premium design, top of the line smartphone cameras, and the industry leader in water resistant smartphones. At MWC, Sony was abandoning Z for X, introducing a new line of smartphones, that like their launch event, wasn’t as flashy.

The decision is one that Sony can justify, “Wouldn’t you rather be a part of the things happening around you and leave the worries and tasks to your Xperia?” challenged Totoki to an unresponsive crowd.

No one really expects a brand like Sony to come out with a smartphone that’s not better than its previous flagship, unless it’s a midrange phone. Sure on paper the X Performance actually bests the Z5 Premium, but there’s something about this release that feels like concessions have been made, and while bigger and better is a mantra of this tech industry, that may not be a bad thing.

Instead of adding new features to smartphones people don’t really use, Sony’s strategy was to improve things that matter most to us ordinary folk: battery life and camera. We have yet to find out how true the promises are as the phones will not be officially released until summer. But the promise of a not so high-end, top of the line smartphone appeals to me, and should to most users.

I don’t necessarily need a processor with screaming speeds, or an ultra high definition display with more pixels than my eyes can see. But I’d love a well-balanced, reasonably-priced smartphone, with a great camera and solid battery life.

I haven’t been around this industry long enough to say whether Sony’s decision to regroup, drop the Z, and launch an all-new Xperia X lineup, is a step in the right direction. Sony also has yet to make an official statement about the big change, but after time with the phones in Barcelona, I am more than hopeful.

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The Xperia Eye

At MWC, Sony also announced a bunch of concept devices, like the Xperia Eye, a life-blogging camera that has sensors smart enough to detect faces and moments so that it captures only those that truly matter. Sure you’re still capturing the moment, which we millennials have a predisposition for, but the technology is designed to take a step back so you can enjoy and experience moments instead of trying to capture them.

It’s unsure at this point whether this camera will actually hit the shelves or just remain a concept but it reiterates Sony’s destination, where technology doesn’t distract us from the world we live in.

Reality vs Virtual Reality

While companies like Samsung try to make virtual reality more attainable to the masses, Sony chose to get in touch with a different reality – the one we live and breathe.

“We want our Xperias to help you interact and connect in a closer, more natural, more meaningful way – to understand your preferences, activities, and behaviour, and to recognize the environment around you. To predict and understand what you want to do making it hassle-free so you can enjoy and experience more of the good things in life,” said Totoki.

There’s a little bit from my humanities-heavy education that helps me appreciate where Sony is going. Earlier I talked about Pranav Mistry, whose TED Talk was a requirement in my Philosophy of the Human Person class. It’s a video that stuck with me all these years, and the technology he demonstrated then continues to amaze me to this day, despite everything I’ve seen so far.

Like Sony, I dream of a world where technology allows us to do two things: a) extend our capabilities so that we can do things that weren’t humanly possible before, and b) do things with so much ease and convenience that it allows us to be more human.

It’s always been a hit or miss for Sony at events like this, and Sony Mobile’s numbers would tell you it’s been a miss for quite some time. And it’s ironic that Sony is trying to sell me more devices, as if everything I already have is not enough, just to achieve a world where interactions are more meaningful.

But if there’s one thing I know Sony got right this time, it’s this: there’s a world in front of us that’s so much bigger and I’d happily look up and be inspired by that. Now I don’t know about you, but more than the specs of a shiny new phone, that’s what I’m more excited about.

[irp posts=”8989″ name=”7 reasons why the Sony Xperia XZ succeeds”]

Hands-On

Cherry Mobile Flare S7 Plus hands-on: A step-up

The company’s greatest contender

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Cherry Mobile recently launched their new Flare S7 series, which is essentially their main smartphone lineup for the year. The greatest offering among the bunch is the Flare S7 Plus, a device with all the specifications and features you’d expect from a 2018 phone.

Since it’s from Cherry Mobile, you’d expect the phone to be cheap, right? Price-wise, it is, but that doesn’t mean it’s just another affordable phone.

Here’s what I got to say about the Flare S7 Plus.

Cherry Mobile has officially joined the notch wagon with a borderless 6.18-inch display. It’s a Full HD+ panel with a 19:9 aspect ratio, and it’s Cherry Mobile’s best display yet.

It’s vibrant and produces vivid colors, but the user interface kind of ruins the beauty of the display. It’s best to download your preferred third-party launcher and customize to your heart’s content.

Unlike with other midrange phones, the Flare S7 Plus’ notch is pretty wide and there’s a reason for it. The phone is equipped with more advanced facial recognition hardware including an IR camera. This ensures higher accuracy, faster unlocking, and even better face detection in low-light.

If you’re not a fan of face unlock, you can always resort to the fingerprint sensor placed on the back of the phone. Based on my usage, the fingerprint reader is faster most of the time than the face unlock. Good thing you have the best of both worlds.

Now that we’re on the back of the phone, let’s talk about another special feature of the Flare S7 Plus. Finally, Cherry Mobile embraces a more elegant design using a glass back and metal frame. I was told that they used Gorilla Glass 3 on both sides, so it won’t scratch easily in your pocket or on the table.

Since we we have a glass back, it’s possible to put in wireless charging and the company did just that. Simply place the phone on any Qi standard wireless charger, and let the magic happen.

It’s not exactly magic per se, but it’s amazing to have your phone charge by placing it on a table. This phone costs less than half of most flagships that don’t even support wireless charging.

Of course, you can always charge this phone’s 3050mAh battery through the reversible USB-C port, which also doubles as the audio port because, sadly, the Flare S7 Plus doesn’t have a 3.5 headphone jack. Cherry Mobile bundles a 3.5mm to USB-C adapter inside the box, so you can still use your legacy headphones as you please.

Powering the Flare S7 Plus is a MediaTek Helio P60 processor. We have already tried the capabilities of this chipset with the OPPO F9, and it definitely delivers great performance. If you’re into benchmarking, you’ll be glad to know the Helio P60 scores higher than its competitors.

The phone also comes with 4GB of memory and 64GB of expandable storage which is pretty standard nowadays. It boots Android 8.1 Oreo out of the box, but there’s no word when Android 9 Pie is coming.

The gaming performance of the Flare S7 Plus is above average, which is what you can expect from the Helio P60. The Mali-G72 MP3 GPU works well with intensive games, but you must reduce the graphics quality a bit to get consistently high frame rates.

As for the cameras, the Flare S7 Plus has capable shooters that are probably the fruit of Cherry Mobile’s investment in improving their R&D when it comes to picture quality. The phone has dual rear shooters using a main 16-megapixel RGB sensor and a secondary 5-megapixel depth sensor. In the front, there’s another 16-megapixel selfie camera that’s paired with the IR sensor when needed. Check out the samples below:

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An additional feature of the front sensors is FlareMoji. Using the IR sensor and facial recognition, you can animate cutesy characters. Check this out:

It’s essentially like Apple’s Animoji, but the tracking is nowhere near as smooth as with the iPhone. Anyhow, it’s still enjoyable to use.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

For just PhP 11,999 (US$ 225), the Flare S7 Plus offers a lot. You get a great premium phone with midrange power, beautiful display, and a plethora of extra features like wireless charging and an IR face scanner. The software UI is quite a letdown, but you can always download a launcher from the Play Store.

If you’re wondering what the Flare S7 Plus is in other markets, it’s also called the BLU VIVO XI+ and they share similar specifications and design.

SEE ALSO: Cherry Mobile announces Flare S7 series with three new smartphones

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Features

What does the GPU Turbo do to your phone?

Is it more than just a marketing gimmick?

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It’s been two months since Huawei rolled out the GPU Turbo update to its smartphones. Promised with a 60 percent increase in performance and reducing 30 percent on power consumption, a lot of fans and users were excited after the announcement.

Back then, everyone (including me) was hyped about lag-free games and longer battery life while playing. However, upon receiving the update, I began to wonder: Has GPU Turbo delivered what it promised?

What’s inside the update?

GPU Turbo was originally marketed as an improved gameplay experience, available only to PUBG and Mobile Legends: Bang Bang.

The Game Suite app, which comes with the update, offers an uninterrupted gaming feature, hiding all notifications when enabled (except for calls, alarms, and low-battery alerts).

Mistouch prevention is another feature to avert users from clicking the back and home button while playing — perfect for when you want to focus on your game.

Screenshots by Miguel Pineda, Huawei Mate 10 user

To some older smartphones like the Huawei Mate 10, the Game Suite App offers three performance modes: Gaming mode, which improves game performance but increases power consumption; Smart mode, which balances performance and power consumption; and Power saving mode, which saves power but reduces game performance.

For the newer Huawei P20 Pro (which I’ve been using) and Honor Play, it only has a gaming acceleration mode to toggle on or off.

Thoughts on the reduced power consumption

Because I used the Mate 10 before and recently transitioned to the P20 Pro, I’ve experienced the GPU Turbo update in both phones and I can guarantee that they’ve delivered on lowered power consumption.

With Game Suite, I can put my phone on power saving mode to further save battery. For instance, I was only able to drain the Mate 10 down to 15 percent during a 12-hour road trip despite switching between the games I play and other apps, such as Messenger, Netflix, Spotify, and taking photos and videos every once in a while. The same goes for the P20 Pro.

As a power user, I already get a lot of things done with these highly efficient smartphones and GPU Turbo; these allowed me to do more on a single charge. However, it’s a different case for gaming.

Improved gaming experience, but there’s a catch…

When I started playing games on gaming mode (or game acceleration mode on the P20 Pro), I could run Mobile Legends: Bang Bang on a high frame rate with the highest graphics setting available. Compared to how the game stuttered and lagged during 5v5 clashes, with GPU Turbo, it now runs smoothly, as if I have a smartphone made for gaming.

System notice when enabling the high frame rate on Mobile Legends: Bang Bang and the effects it may have on your gameplay

As shown above, most mobile games will notify their users about the possible repercussions of higher frame rates and using the best settings available. To prove that a smartphone with GPU Turbo can handle this, I sought out to confirm my suspicions.

After asking fellow Huawei users, I found out that after installing GPU Turbo, energy consumption is a lot faster than before. Their smartphones also heat up more easily, especially when playing games with the game acceleration mode on. This isn’t part of what was promised, and it’s pretty disappointing.

It’s not yet perfect

In my experience, GPU Turbo tries to boost performance above a smartphone’s limit hoping that users can experience better gameplay.

GPU Turbo can’t choose when to perform its best. It’s an update that is constantly running in our smartphones without any way to switch it off. We can only hope that Huawei will address these issues for the next batch of updates.

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Hands-On

Huawei Mate 20 Pro Hands-on: Best phone of 2018?

Huawei outdoes itself again

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In an industry where incremental updates are the new norm, Huawei manages to wow us again — barely a year after the release of the P20 Pro. The Chinese company is back with the Mate 20 and Mate 20 Pro which might just be the best among the best this year.

In this video, we go over the phones’ new designs, updated cameras, and new memory card format. We also go through the differences between the Huawei Mate 20 and Mate 20 Pro.

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