Reviews

Sony Xperia XZ Premium review

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As interesting as the new Xperia X lineup was in rebranding Sony’s flagship efforts, none of them could touch the Xperia Z series of years past in terms of prestige. Adding that “Z” to the Xperia XZ sort of, kinda, brought back that old flame, but it just wasn’t there for me. And that was the issue at hand.

The Xperia XZ came at a time when smartphones were already rocking up to 6GB of memory (the XZ had half of that), Quad HD displays (the XZ, again, settled for nearly half that), and slightly better processors. But that wasn’t the point of buying into the XZ experience; you buy one because of its fans-first approach, which we talked about a while back. At the same time, I just couldn’t recommend it over the more affordable, yet more feature-loaded flagships out there.

That changes with the Xperia XZ Premium, which aims to rectify what the non-Premium XZ couldn’t accomplish.

An evolution of a familiar aesthetic

Once again, this is practically the same design language we’ve been seeing from Sony since the original Xperia Z launched in 2013. That’s ages ago! Sure, there were refinements every now and then — such as the use of ALKALEIDO metal and a more ergonomic power button infused with the best-placed fingerprint scanner in the business — but it’s the same old look we’ve grown accustomed to.

Don’t get me wrong; while the XZ Premium is definitely gorgeous, its smudge-loving, hyper-reflective glass back can only bring it as far as my unsightly fingerprints do. It’s reminiscent of Sony’s previous excessively high-end smartphone, the Xperia Z5 Premium, which we reviewed in all its glory back in 2015.

And yet, the best design cues are all here. The volume buttons are now rightfully positioned above the power button; its 5.5-inch display (with the balanced top and bottom bezels) feels so perfectly sized in my somewhat large hands; the front-facing stereo speakers and IP68-rated water and dust resistance made a return; and the rear camera is still flush with the back panel — no wobbles on tables!

What you actually come for

But seriously, what you should really be after is the 4K resolution of its display. It’s only the second time Sony implemented such a monstrous pixel count on one of its phones, with the Z5 Premium being the last one. The difference here is it comes with an HDR (High Dynamic Range) panel this time, leading to deeper blacks and brighter highlights simultaneously.

As you can guess, you’d need content optimized for the resolution and HDR capability to truly get the most out of it. That’s a tall order with 4K HDR videos still in the early stages of breaking into the mainstream market — heck, finding such content on YouTube is considered special, and that’s if your internet connection is fast enough to stream without buffering every few seconds.

From my own tests, I honestly couldn’t tell the difference between videos shown in 4K (3840 x 2160 pixels) and Quad HD (2560 x 1440 pixels). The 5.5-inch screen is simply to small and the pixels are already densely packed enough at Quad HD. Like on the Z5 Premium, it feels like Sony is just showing off, rather than implementing a functional feature everyone can appreciate from the get-go.

Slower than slow, faster when it counts

The other highly touted feature is the super-slow-motion video recording, something we already enjoyed back in MWC last February:

It’s such a novelty feature, but we can’t get enough of the 960fps slow-mo video recording. Yes, that’s 960 frames per second! It’s the result of combining a super-fast processor in the Snapdragon 835, and a stronger focus on making a single camera great, instead of adding another one for optical zoom or background blur effects.

As for the still photo quality, we can’t give the same amount of praise. Although focus tracking and locking on to a subject is speedy, the final products (especially at night) sometimes left a lot to be desired. The issue seems to lie in the post-processing, which didn’t know how to optimize each photo’s colors or noise reduction, leaving us with mushy parts in some images. These are our best shots from a recent trip to Taipei, Taiwan:

Not bad really, as long as you take several shots and pick the best one. Our experience with the front-facing 13-megapixel camera was much more pleasant. Thanks to its own autofocusing system, which is still surprisingly rare in modern smartphones, selfies were sharp no matter how close or far our faces were from the lens.

Something new, something older

As mentioned earlier, a high point for the XZ Premium is its use of Qualcomm’s flagship Snapdragon 835 SoC (System on a Chip). This processor is no joke; it’s the tiniest, most efficient, and most powerful of its kind. It’s the same chip that handles Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and OnePlus’ upcoming flagship handset. Partnered with 4GB of memory, up to 64GB of storage with microSD expansion, and the choice of owning a dual-SIM version, this is the definition of a premium Xperia device.

My only qualm lies in the actual video-watching experience. With a 3230mAh battery capacity, the XZ Premium doesn’t exactly last long for movie marathons. The battery percentage reaches near 10 percent after watching two full movies (about two hours each), and the average screen-on time with mixed usage hovers around five hours in a single day. In addition, despite having two separate speakers blasting audio towards your face, the maximum volume is inadequate. I ended up connecting my Sony MDR-1A headphones whenever I wasn’t too lazy to reach for them.

And now we have to talk about an ongoing legacy: the Xperia UI. Being a user since the first Xperia Z smartphone, I must say there hasn’t been much change since 2013, and that’s disappointing. Having been spoiled by the advancements of several Android Nougat-based interfaces and even Android O on our Pixel, going back to the Xperia UI feels like a trip down memory lane. The notifications and quick settings panel takes up a lot of space; the settings menu chooses to spread out several categories without simplification; and the side-scrolling app drawer doesn’t feel that fluid anymore.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

I have to look at this from three different perspectives to get a proper answer: a hardcore multimedia consumer, myself, and an Xperia fan.

For users heavily reliant on their smartphone to get things done, the XZ Premium is an excellent choice. As one of the few handsets to have a Snapdragon 835 chipset, there is no going around how fast and efficient this phone is. Not once did it overheat during intense use, and the overall audio-visual treat of its display, speakers, and camera — despite their shortcomings — rarely failed me. Again, its Xperia interface is a little behind the competition, but all the Android 7.1 Nougat optimization is still there.

As for myself, I have a hard time stomaching the price tag. At INR 61,990 in India and PhP 45,490 in the Philippines, it’s up there with the Galaxy S8 in pricing, and this is for a phone that hasn’t evolved much in design, features, or interface. If Sony somehow managed to trim down the bezels, overhaul the UI, or add another class-defining feature, I’d be more inclined to spend for such a premium.

And for Xperia fans, this should be classified as a maybe. Do you really need a 4K display and super-slow-mo video recording over whatever Xperia you have now? If not, I’d recommend looking for a discounted Xperia XZ instead or the more recent Xperia XZs, which has slightly better specifications over its older counterpart.

SEE ALSO: Stunning red Sony Xperia XZ Premium leaks

[irp posts=”14502″ name=”Stunning red Sony Xperia XZ Premium leaks”]

Reviews

Samsung Galaxy S21 Review: Samsung’s Best for Less!

Is this the perfect S21 for you?

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It hasn’t been a while ever since we did a Samsung Galaxy S21 series hands-on video.

While most people want the taller and more premium S21+ and S21 Ultra, the Galaxy S21 still looks and feels good despite the less fancy polycarbonate back. Other than the smaller display and battery, you still have the speedy Snapdragon 888 (or Exynos 2100) processors and great set of cameras.

But why should you specifically buy the Galaxy S21? Find out more in our review video here.

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Accessories

Lenovo Yoga ANC Headphones: A worthy AirPods Max substitute?

Trying my first ever over-ear headphones

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Yoga ANC Headphones

It’s been a while since I wrote an article for an audio accessory. My last take on writing an audio review was our special three-way review of the TWS (True Wireless Stereo) earbuds: namely the Apple AirPods 2, Samsung Galaxy Buds+, and Huawei FreeBuds 3. If you read the article, you know by now that I am, by no means, a professional musician nor a hardcore audiophile.

With that said, I still have my clear preference when it comes to sound and audio quality. I want fuller and richer sound with deeper bass and enough treble to enjoy every rhythm and beat of a song. At the same time, I also like having ANC (Active Noise Cancellation) out of the box. I’m the type of person who clearly doesn’t want any noise distractions regardless of what I’m doing.

When I was given the chance to try a new set of headphones, I didn’t hesitate at all. In fact, this is my first time trying an over-ear headphones. I’m sure, there might be buyers like me who are curious to find out.

A design so chic and posh

Upon seeing the Lenovo Yoga ANC headphones for the first time, I already fell in love with its color. The design screams chicness and elegance — very different from most headphones nowadays with bland color options and the obvious hint of plasticky build.

Still, colors depend on each individual’s preferences. The only problem I have in mind with this colorway is that it might get dirty over time.

I’m weirdly attracted to its concentric pattern

The headband feels soft especially with the perforated material

A must for any headphone is the silicone leather and premium plastic material

The included case also looks classy

Of course, the hard-bound case has the same cream color as the headphones for consistency. There’s that minimal “Yoga” branding placed on its lower right (just like on the right side of the headphones). The Lenovo logo is hidden at the bottom side of the case for a cleaner look.

Putting the headphones back in the case took me some time to sort out. Glad I’m a fast learner when it comes to fixing things (unlike fixing my own life LOL).

Unlike other headphones, this only comes in one color

Or two if we consider the Lenovo Thinkpad X1 ANC headphones that comes in a more stealthy, black colorway. It’s basically the same pair of headphones with a different ‘X1’ branding (not to confuse you with the disbanded K-Pop boy group X1).

Also, the concentric design was eliminated in favor of the flat one for a wider diameter of both pairs of circle. Lenovo even blatantly put both headphone models in the included user manual.

As much as I love black, I’d pick the Yoga one any day because of how unique-looking it is.

Comfy enough to wear

The first time I tried hanging the pair on my neck, it already felt comfortable especially with the soft material. Of course, I tried doing it without my turtle neck on so I really felt the touch.

The adjustable band is really helpful for someone like me who has a big head (no pun intended). It helped me wear the headphones with ease. You have to keep in mind that both band mechanisms aren’t fully twistable. Rather, they only rotate at the front around 180-degrees.

Wearing it feels ultra-light — exactly as Lenovo advertised. While the overall diameter of each ear isn’t as big as nor as egg-shaped as other headphones, I still like the symmetry. The concentric finish adds a premium feel, even if it’s clearly made out of plastic.

Controls were a li’l bit fiddly

Controlling the headphones through its built-in physical controls can be a little bit awkward at first and it honestly needs a bit of getting used to.

As someone who has fat AF fingers, there were instances when I pressed the wrong button when trying to control music. I thought I was pressing the volume up button. Instead, I switched on ANC even if I didn’t mean to.

Yoga ANC Headphones


On the left side, there’s the power switch (which the AirPods Max lacks) that also acts as the Bluetooth pairing switch for new devices.

Meanwhile, the button with three dots has several functions: clicking once plays or pauses the track or clip. It also answers or ends a call. Clicking twice skips the song while pressing three times winds back to the previous track.

Yoga ANC Headphones

On the right side, there’s a mute switch as well as volume controls, increase on top and decrease on the bottom.

The middle button serves as the ANC switch with two levels of Noise Cancellation before it’s completely off. Whenever you adjust or turn controls and switches, you will be informed through the built-in female speaker’s voice.

Sound quality is good…

Yoga ANC Headphones

People who know me (including the GadgetMatch team) are aware that I’m into K-Pop, particularly girl group songs — and by that, almost every K-girl group from the popular to the underrated. But the thing is, songs made by these groups don’t focus on bubbly and cutesy concept.

For example, there are girl crush songs from 2NE1, BLACKPINK, and aespa, melo-romantic tracks such as TWICE’s ‘Cry For Me’ and (G)I-DLE’s ‘Hwaa’, while recent 2020 releases lean more into retro-pop like TWICE’s ‘I Can’t Stop Me’, GFRIEND’s ‘Mago’, fromis_9’s ‘Feel Good’, EVERGLOW’s ‘La Di Da’, STAYC’s ‘So Bad’, Brave Girls’ ‘We Ride’, and more.

Yoga ANC Headphones

To make it more “musically diverse”, I also listened to the funky and uptempo ‘Why Not’ by LOONA, as well as Dreamcatcher’s Scream and BOCA as they lean more into rock (quite similar to most anime intros). As bonuses, I also played tracks of my favorite balladists: the singer-songwriter-actress IU, as well as the Korean band, Day6 and their sub-unit Even of Day — all while writing this article.

It’s safe to say that the amount of songs of different sub-genres I played made me understand the overall sound quality of the headphone — whether in bass, treble, highs, lows, or even mids.

Dialogues I hear from a film, series, news, or documentaries while wearing the headphones are as clear as a sunny day. Albeit, there’s still a notable difference when playing music as I was used to my AirPods 2 which has a richer overall sound.

…but with equalizer adjustments, it can get better

As said a while ago, I want my sound to be rich and full, has deeper bass, and of course, an effective ANC feature. Lenovo’s Yoga ANC headphones delivered good results. But to make it better, I had to manually adjust some settings.

Using Boom 3D on my Mac

I have this third-party equalizer called Boom 3D  that’s available on Mac, Windows, iOS, and Android. The app enhances the overall sound of the music or audio I play — regardless of what device I use.

In the Lenovo Yoga ANC headphones, it was vastly improved. Paying for the ‘3D Surround’ feature might even be the best way to experience surround sound without spending a lot on higher-end ANC headphones.

Other than equalizer presets, the Dolby Atmos feature in the Galaxy S21 Ultra also helped

On the other hand, the Galaxy S21 Ultra I am using also has a built-in equalizer settings and preset which honestly made better sound quality compared to its default, flat state.

Active Noise Cancellation works well

There are two (2) ANC levels before you can completely  turn off the feature. If it’s off, you’d still hear some muffled noises. For instance, I could still hear my mom talking while I was editing a YouTube video. On another note, I barely hear myself talk while I’m in a call. I don’t even hear myself singing while jamming to the songs I’m playing even if ANC is completely off.

At Level 1 ANC, it’s enough to block off the sound I get from my loud electric fan, barking dogs, and purring cats. Meanwhile, I barely heard the noise inside a noisy coffee shop when ANC was turned on at Level 2.

Yoga ANC Headphones

There’s also an added ENC (Environmental Noise Cancellation) technology which supposedly separates background noise from your environment while you’re having voice and video calls. As a testament, I was able to hear my crush clearly when we were on a call 😅

While I haven’t tried the ANC feature on most headphones, I’m glad that Lenovo was able to pack this feature in a small and affordable pair.

Bluetooth connection is fast and seamless

Having a fast Bluetooth 5.0 connection is a great feature, especially among wireless headphones. There’s even a feature where you can pair two Bluetooth devices at once.

But, it doesn’t mean you can play both songs on different devices at the same time. It just means, you can seamlessly switch between two devices without having to disconnect one in favor of the other.

But the lack of 3.5mm audio jack might be a dealbreaker

Still, there are times where the music being streamed will have a momentarily 0.5 to 1-second hiccup because of latency. This is where the 3.5mm audio jack takes place — which exists in most ANC headphones in the market today.

Other than the avoidance of latency issues, devices who have it will also give better adjustment in sound, like how the LG V60 ThinQ has a built-in HiFi DAC support. Adding more features mean added cost — and that might be a reason why Lenovo didn’t include one.

LG V60 ThinQ with built-in Hi-Fi Quad DAC

For a seamless experience, a 3.5mm audio jack would still have been a great addition for this pair — regardless if one’s an extreme audiophile or a casual listener who prefers great music.

Everlasting battery

I’m that person who loves listening to music for hours, and the Yoga ANC headphones was able to hold up for more than a day of both standby and use. The power and mute switches helped me save the headphones from unnecessary battery drain.

Lenovo even promises around 14 hours of playback with ANC turned off. Of course, the ANC feature was off most of the time since I’m only inside my room. But when it’s turned on, it barely affected the overall battery life.

Yoga ANC Headphones

 

Based on my experience, a call for an hour barely had a battery drain. Upon hearing it from the built-in speaker, I started from 50% and ended at the same level.

When it comes to playing music, there was obviously a decrease. From 50%, it went down to 10% after playing music for around four hours of use with ANC Level 1. To save battery life, I turned off ANC. During that percentage, I was able to squeeze in another hour of listening session.

Yoga ANC Headphones

 

Although this isn’t a surprise for most headphone users, I’m astounded especially because my AirPods only lasts around 3-4-hours from a full charge (lesser if I answer calls). Also, you’ll be notified if the headphones need charging through a phone notification or when the speaker starts to remind you to plug it.

You can charge it from 0% to 100% for around three hours via its USB-C port. The light indicator blinks when charging and stays put when it’s already full. Inside the bundled case, there’s an included USB-C to USB-A braided cable of the same color. You have to use your existing charging brick though as it doesn’t have a bundled one.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

The Lenovo Yoga ANC headphones retail at PhP 7,990 in the Philippines that’s available through Lenovo’s official Lazada page as well as other local distributors. In the United States, it’s available at a special discounted price of US$ 119.99 from the SRP US$ 149.99. This pair is simply one of (if not) the cheapest headphones you can purchase that supports ANC out of the box.

Yoga ANC Headphones

If you’re a casual listener (like me) who wants a lasting pair of headphones without sacrificing and spending too much, the Lenovo Yoga ANC headphones is simply a great recommendation — more if you want to step up your audio game.

It looks and feels good with a battery life that lasts more than enough. It’s even ideal for gamers, streamers or budget-conscious musicians/artists alike especially with the inclusion of six boomless microphones.

While Lenovo’s Yoga ANC headphones may not be a direct competitor to most ANC headphones around, it costs less than the PhP 17,790/US$ 359-worth Marshall Monitor II A.N.C, the popular Sony WH-1000XM4 sold at PhP 19,999/US$ 349.99, and even the Bose 700 priced at PhP 26,000/US$ 379.75. The common advantage of these headphones is the inclusion of an audio jack.

While we’re already at the topic of price comparison, it’s a quick realization that you can buy four (4) Lenovo Yoga ANCs in the price of one (1) AirPods Max at PhP 32,990/US$ 549. As obvious as it gets, the differences are the lack of sleek aluminum build, several color options, interchangeable earcups, and the Spatial Audio feature.

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Accessories

Lenovo ThinkVision M14T: Elevate productivity on-the-go

Ultra portable and sexy looking device

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ThinkVision M14T

Many of us have gotten used to the convenience of multitasking on our computing devices. It’s just one of those things that helps make our daily grind much more manageable and efficient. With today’s devices becoming more and more powerful, simultaneously running apps on your phones and a number of browser tabs and windows have become second nature to us. 

With desktop computers having ultra wide monitors and multiple desktop displays, nowadays you can watch YouTube videos, browse social sites, and even do work on side by side opened windows.

Lenovo has brought that same experience to our portable devices with the Lenovo ThinkVision M14T Portable Monitor

Ultimate portability 

The ThinkVision M14T is a 14-inch 1920x1080p resolution, touch screen, IPS display monitor. With much focus on portability, the ThinkVision M14T is just 4.6mm thin and weighs only 698g.

The moment I saw the actual device, my initial impression was just wow. Its sleek and ultra slim form factor with that glossy 14-inch display wrapped with slim bezels just looked impressive. However, that impression faded away quickly.

As I picked up the unit from the box, handling it felt fragile. It is so slim and light that I was afraid to place it anywhere with fear that I might accidentally break it. To address that, a soft pouch does come with the package for its protection. Though, without a dedicated hard case, I wonder if it may actually survive being stored in my bag along with other things.

As easy as Plug and Play

Searching the contents of the box, I was thinking if Lenovo just forgot to pack the power brick in the box because it just didn’t come with one. No, it wasn’t a mistake. The ThinkVision M14T monitor requires only a single USB-C cable to get power, touch or pen input signal and a display signal from its source. 

Plugging it in the USB-C port of the Lenovo ThinkPad X13 laptop, the ThinkVision M14T was instantly detected. And with a press of the power button, the M14T was up and running. I have to say, it amazes me that it is that convenient. Not having to need an external power source was like magic.

At 300 nits of brightness, the M14T’s IPS display panel is bright and vibrant. At its max brightness setting when paired with the ThinkPad X13, the ThinkVision M14T’s display seemed to overpower that of the X13, making the two look a bit unbalanced.

Its base folds out from the bottom of the monitor which acts as its stand. Opened out, the ThinkVision M14T felt stiff, solid and stable.

You can choose which side you’d want to plug your device as both the left and right sides of the base each have a USB-C input. On its right, we have the power button and on the left we have a brightness control switch. Sadly, no other input ports are available other than USB-C.

Precision and response as you like it

The M14T is not only a secondary touch screen display, you may also use it as a tablet complementary to your device with its interactive stylus. This means if you have a device that doesn’t have touch or pen input built-in, the ThinkVision M14T will give you just that.

By this time, most graphic tablet users must have already been exposed to stylus pens being rechargeable similar to the Apple Pencil. The stylus pen that comes with the M14T still uses a single and unusual type of battery (AAAA). Thankfully, a battery does come with the unit.

ThinkVision M14T

Having set my standards high on this aspect, I honestly didn’t expect this combo to perform as good as Wacom drawing tablets and the likes. To my surprise, as soon as I started writing, I immediately noticed how smooth its pen input was. With only minimal latency, the M14T’s stylus registers my movement almost instantly and its dedicated buttons are mapped automatically.

With the monitor folded down on a flat surface, it really did feel like I was doodling on an actual drawing tablet.

The M14T’s 10-point multi-touch input for touch gestures and 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity with its stylus, graphic artists won’t be disappointed with this bundle.

ThinkVision M14T

Is the Lenovo ThinkVision M14T Portable Monitor your GadgetMatch?

The ThinkVision M14T is by no means a perfect device. Having USB-C as the only display input option may have limited its potential for versatility of use. The stylus not having batteries built-in might raise some eyebrows too. But if you’re willing to live with its limitations, Lenovo still has managed to tick many of the right boxes with their ThinkVision M14T Portable Monitor.

ThinkVision M14T

The convenience of having more screen real estate on the go and using a single cable for its operation is just a glorious experience. Ultra portability, decent brightness, good viewing angles, pen and touch input in such a sexy looking device, the M14T would be an ideal companion for just about anyone. 

The good most definitely outweighs the bad with Lenovo’s ThinkVision M14T.

Get the Lenovo ThinkVision M14T Portable Monitor for PhP 19,995.

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