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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

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SCUBAPRO Aladin Sport Matrix review: Your first dive computer

Is it time to invest in diving gear?

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When you hang out with a group of hardcore technical divers, you can’t help but feel the need to own every single high-tech dive equipment they use. Everything just seems like a necessity.

So, when it came down to actually diving into gear investment (pun intended) for my upcoming trip to the deep south of Maldives, I had to hold off the urge of blindly purchasing whatever I thought was cool. For a fairly new advanced diver such as myself, I needed something that’s practical and affordable that suited my skills and circumstances. And so, the hunt for the perfect dive computer began. After some research and consultation, I found myself the owner of a new SCUBAPRO Aladin Sport Matrix.

Upfront: Bulky, but adaptable and functional

The Aladin Sport is pretty straight to the point. It’s a puck-style dive computer with a metallic silver faceplate. It has an easy-to-read display and a two-button menu system to navigate and select through its various functions.

The unit comes with an elastomer strap fitting for any type of suit you dive with. But, I’ve personally opted to forgo the strap and replaced this with a bungee strap so it’s easier to put on and take off. Thankfully, the Aladin allows for that as the strap pins are easily removed which means you can have your bungee looped into the four holes without buying any special adaptors.

When it comes down to functionality, research had to be done. All dive computers factor in depth, bottom time, and gas mix to calculate decompression time so it’s important to consider your dive habits and the usual situation you’ll be operating in.

For context, a quick background of my diving habits: I usually yo-yo with an underwater camera on hand but despite this, I’m very frugal in air consumption versus my colleagues. As for the circumstances: I was preparing for dives in the deep south of the Indian Ocean, home to some of the most beautiful marine life visible 30 meters deep — why it was important to have a computer that allowed me a generous amount of time to enjoy.

As I readied for my first dive, the local dive master/instructor, taking note of the watch, approached me and said, “That’s the best one.” And true enough, the Aladin Sport Matrix was very generous at extreme (but allowable) depths. It didn’t require me to have to do a ridiculous amount of safety stops to decompress.

The Aladin Sport is a single gas dive computer that leverages on SCUBAPRO’s adaptive ZHL-8 ADT MB algorithm. This predictive multi-gas algorithm adapts to each diver’s varied conditions, tried-and-tested based on millions of dive hours by divers everywhere. This means you can customize the algorithm based on your age, experience, and physical condition.

With a maximum operating depth of 120 meters (394 feet) and supporting up to three gas mixes, the Aladin Matrix is perfect for when your skills progress to more advanced diving.

Bluetooth Connectivity

My favorite has to be the Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity function. This enables you to log your dive profile data straight to your computer, phone, or tablet. Simply download LogTRAK on Android, iOS, MacOS, or Windows, connect to your watch via Bluetooth, and you’ll get access to a slew of dive information, including total dive time, average depth, temperature, and even calories!

Affordable + Practical

Priced at around PhP 25,000, the Aladin Sport packs a punch in features. It has replaceable batteries, lasts about 300 dives, and is equipped with a backlight. It’s water-activated so it starts calculating as soon as it hits the water.

To be honest, going puck-style wasn’t really the first choice. I hung out with divers equipped with high-end consoles like the Shearwater Perdix and had been wired to think that despite my newness, I’d eventually get to that level anyway. As a recreational diver, though, it wasn’t really advisable to spend more than PhP 30,000 for a reliable computer.

Is the ScubaPro Aladin Sport Matrix your perfect dive buddy?

It’s truly exciting to finally get started with your gear haul as you progress as a diver, but it can get overwhelming. For those looking for a great starter and eyeing further advance in their diving in the near future, this unit may be a great GadgetMatch.

By this point, you should’ve already figured that all divers are different. Some consume gas quicker than others, some are more susceptible to decompression sickness, and as such may need to stick to more conservative dive computers (regardless of experience) for safety. The SCUBAPRO Aladin Sport Matrix covers more than the basics for the best possible price-point and is highly recommended for your first foray to dive tech.

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Fitbit Versa Review: Real arm candy

Is this smartwatch any good?

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Before I get on with this review, let me paint you a more accurate picture of how I use smartwatches plus my short history with Fitbit.

I’m moderately active and I do try to be more fit by gyming and doing high-intensity interval training, but I’m not the most consistent person. On days that things get busy, or when I travel, I mostly forget about my health goals only to remember later on when I start feeling like a sack of potatoes because of all the inactivity.

I usually have a wearable as I’ve found that guilting myself to exercise can be an effective way to get my lazy butt to the gym; I loved my time with the Fitbit Alta HR which was the first fitness tracker I actually stuck with (at least by my standards). For a health tracking beginner (which I was at that point, and probably still am considering I haven’t really been true to my fitness goals), the Fitbit app was a great and easy way to check out my stats.

Now, when the Ionic was unveiled, I was quite excited about the idea of a Fitbit smartwatch, but it just wasn’t quite for me.

This newest release, the Versa, is small, sleek, and cute with its rose gold face. This is the Fitbit wearable I was waiting for.

Here are my thoughts on this device.

Look and feel

In the looks department, this wearable is a definite departure from the previously released Ionic. I can tell you now that the one deal-breaker I had with that watch is how it looks. Surely, I couldn’t be expected to wear that clunky thing 24/7?

The Versa is looking good

The Fitbit Versa, on the other hand, is something I could get on board with, in fact, it hasn’t left my wrist in the last weeks I’ve had it. It’s light, sleek, and it comes in rose gold! It matches everything I own, which is a definite plus for me.

I own a lot of stuff in pink and purple 😅

My unit is the special edition Versa that came with a cute purple woven straps and basic black silicone straps, both of which I’ve loved so far. I do get a little jealous of the pink silicone strap that the standard edition Versa came with, though replacement straps are also available in a number of styles and colors.

Matches most of my #OOTDs

There are three different face options: Rose gold if you’re a fan of color, like me, and black or gray, if you’re looking for a more neutral look.

Special edition Versas pictured above are equipped with Fitbit Pay

I’m honestly feeling pretty confident with this Fitbit look. Most outfits can and will match the Versa aesthetic.

Navigation and OS

There are three buttons for navigation and you can also navigate via gestures or tapping around on the touchscreen. Swipe down for phone notifications, up for the day’s fitness statistics, and left to get to the menu. Both buttons on the right act as customizable shortcut buttons and the left button acts as a home or back button.

Although the screen is bright and colors are punchy, there’s still a tiny lag when you wake the screen and its raise to wake function isn’t as sensitive as I’d like. When you get past this, however, navigating through menus is a breeze. 

It still works the same way: The watch connects to the Fitbit app on your phone and the app allows you to better customize settings on your device. It also gives you a better and more detailed breakdown of the info you have.

Like I mentioned earlier, the Fitbit app is my first ever fitness tracking app. I personally love it for its ease and simplicity. On this app, all health info gathered is presented in a way that’s understandable, even for a beginner. It runs on both Android and iOS so there are definitely #noexcuses for slacking off.

What can it do?

Like other Fitbit wearables, the Versa will track everything you do — from number of steps, to active minutes or exercise, calories burned, sleep, and even your continuous heartbeat. You can input your food, water, and caffeine intake on the app so you can keep tabs on that, too. You can also set and customize daily goals in the app to make sure you’re reminded of your fitness aspirations and get moving.

My usual workout view

For those who aren’t so versed in what workouts and exercises, the Versa has a built-in coach that gives you quick, timed exercises you can start with. Yes, the watch will literally show you what to do and time you as you go through the workout.

Waiting for the Versa to vibrate!

You can also set up exercise shortcuts for 7 activities you’d want to track. I love that interval training is one of them. I used to need my phone and a separate app that timed my home HIIT exercise, but now, I only need the Versa. It guides me through my workout with mild vibrations everytime a set is done and automatically records everything when I’m done.

Now, on good days, I get my butt up and work on my serotonin levels. But, let’s be real: I’m not made to be pumped up about working out on all days. Some days (note: most of them), I still have to force myself. This is where Fitbit Labs comes in. The “Fitbit Research initiative” creates fun apps and watch faces that will help you get moving. A favorite of mine are these pet faces — yes, these virtual pets get sad and hungry when you don’t feed it food that you earn from steps or moving.

It’s like a Tamagotchi you feed with steps

Amazingly, the promise of 4-day battery life holds true. Despite all these functions, my watch has consistently lasted me 4 days, or even more when notification alerts are turned off. 

Fitbit OS 2.0: What’s new?

This month, Fitbit 2.0 rolled out. A quick update will give you the new Fitbit OS but be warned: The process takes time and it can get glitchy. It took me a few tries and the realization that connecting my Versa directly to the WiFi is the best way to go about updating.

Two most notable new features are quick replies and female health tracking. I’ve been particularly excited about the latter as I’ve long wanted an all-around health app that integrates my menstrual cycle. Unfortunately, this feature is only available on iPhones as of now. Fitbit says Android support is coming soon, hopefully.

Quick replies, on the other hand, allow you to reply to messages straight from your Versa. These replies, however, are limited to pre-set messages that you can customize per app. This feature is only available on Android devices as Apple doesn’t allow that level of customization (boo). Cool as this feature may be, it still has to be pointed out that other smartwatches have allowed for custom replies for a while now. Thing is, I never really ever reply using my smartwatch — because why would I even bother struggling with that tiny screen, I just get on my phone — so this didn’t really bother me.

Is the Fitbit Versa for you?

I’ve always said that wearables, especially ones you use for fitness tracking, need to be on you at all times to be able to do its job well. This has always proved to be a struggle for me as I’ve only seen a handful that look nice enough to wear every day with my different outfit moods. The Versa seems designed to overcome this personal daily wear struggle: It’s cute enough, it’s light, and it packs enough battery power. These are the same reasons why this thing is on my wrist, still.

Worth it to note though, that there are still a number of things that can be improved on this device: A higher level of customization, more compatible apps, fewer screen lags, and an easier update process.

The thing is, despite all these flaws, the Fitbit Versa ticks most of my tiny boxes. I’m not the most exacting when it comes to smartwatch functions and I just need my basics covered when it comes to fitness tracking. All things considered, I enjoy wearing this thing a lot. If your priorities are the same as mine, the Versa is worth checking out.

SEE ALSO: Fitbit Versa hands-on: A better smartwatch attempt?

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Nokia 7 Plus Review: The Android One midranger

Pure Android software paired with midrange power

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After making it my daily driver for a week, I can now finally share my review of the Nokia 7 Plus — HMD Global’s latest bet in the upper-midrange segment. If you think Android One is just a label to make budget phones appealing to the software update-conscious consumers, think again. Times have changed; the Nokia 7 Plus is an Android One phone with more than enough power to compete with flagship devices.

Without further ado, let’s dive into the Nokia 7 Plus starting with the physical aspect of the phone.

Up front is the beautiful 6-inch Full HD+ display

It’s surrounded by minimal bezels but it’s definitely not borderless

The top portion has the earpiece, sensors, front camera, and Nokia logo

There’s no LED notification light, but it has an ambient display

The sides are made of copper including the volume and power buttons

The sides are pretty sharp while in hand

The hybrid card tray is on the left

No triple card slot here

On top is the 3.5mm headphone port

The legacy port is present!

At the bottom are the microphone, USB-C port, and loudspeaker

The loudspeaker is just mono. ☹

There are two cameras and a rounded fingerprint reader on the back

Zero antenna lines

The back is sleek with copper accents for the cameras and scanner

The accent makes the phone look sophisticated

Utilitarian but has a nice touch

When Nokia came back to life under the helm of HMD Global, the phones they have been releasing so far are utilitarian in design except for the Nokia 8 Sirocco. There’s nothing wrong with that since the build quality of new Nokia phones is top-notch. The Nokia 7 Plus is not that different with the use of 6000-series aluminum, but they did try to make the phone stand out by lining the sides with copper. Both the black and white models have a similar finish with a ceramic-like coating which is a nice touch and certainly makes the handset feel grippy in hand. Also, there are no unsightly antenna lines on the back.

The device sports a 6-inch IPS LCD with an 18:9 aspect ratio. It has a Full HD+ resolution, so it’s sharp but not the sharpest around especially at this size. As an added bonus, it’s protected by Gorilla Glass 3 against minor scratches. The display is vibrant and can get pretty bright, making it usable even when under bright sunlight. Gaming and video streaming are also immersive thanks to the tall aspect ratio. It’s not exactly as bezel-less as other phones, but at least it doesn’t have a notch.

Android One with even more speed

When Android One was introduced four years ago, it was designed to give a Nexus-like (or Pixel-like) Android experience. True to Google’s promise, they were able to deliver smooth Android performance even for phones under US$ 150 like the Cherry Mobile One G1. Fast forward to 2018, the entry-level segment is now covered by Android Go and Android One is now also available for midrange and premium handsets just like the Nokia 7 Plus. If you’re confused about the difference between the two, we have an explainer which you can read here.

The Nokia 7 Plus is powered by a Snapdragon 660 processor, making it an upper-midrange phone in terms of processing power. It’s more powerful than most midrange handsets and currently has the same chipset architecture as flagship devices. Paired with 4GB of memory and 64GB of storage, it’s a truly capable phone that can take a beating. Did I mention it’s powered by pure Android software?

Gaming performance is handled by the Adreno 512, a flagship-grade graphics unit for Snapdragon processors. As expected, the Nokia 7 Plus can render high frame rates even with graphics-intensive titles. My staple benchmark game — Asphalt Xtreme — easily ran on the highest settings. I also tested Modern Combat 5 and Riptide GP: Renegade which both ran smoothly even with graphics settings cranked up.

Zeiss optics on both sides

While Huawei has a partnership with Leica, Nokia has Zeiss — at least to create their lenses. The popular duo from the good old days of the N Series is back and the Nokia 7 Plus has Zeiss optics on both its front and back cameras. The dual camera setup on the phone’s back is a 12- and 13-megapixel combo with the former having a bright f/1.8 lens and the latter owning 2x optical zoom.

We have high expectations from the Nokia 7 Plus’ shooters due to the Zeiss label and thankfully, they don’t disappoint — most of the time. Shooting photos with the main camera is a no-brainer and every photo I take comes out nice, may it be under the bright sun or in the dark. Unfortunately, the Live Bokeh feature uses the secondary sensor which has a smaller aperture thus darker images, especially in low-light.

Even though it’s not branded as a selfie-centric phone, the Nokia 7 Plus should be part of the growing list. The 16-megapixel front camera is an amazing selfie shooter sans the beauty mode. I prefer taking selfies without the beauty filter and bokeh on. Simply check out the samples above.

One for the road

Another fantastic trait of the Nokia 7 Plus is its battery life. New phones with taller aspect ratios get bigger displays but their battery capacities usually remain the same — not the Nokia 7 Plus. Inside the phone is a 3800mAh cell which is impressively big considering the phone’s slim profile.

As a daily driver, the Nokia 7 Plus is reliable especially if you need to be constantly connected online. I have my Wi-Fi and mobile data always on, as always, and still, the phone was able to get me through my whole day. A full charge was able to last for almost 16 straight hours. My usage includes hours of gaming, social media, and web browsing with messaging apps that keep buzzing on the side. I’d say my time with the Nokia 7 Plus has been busier than the usual and good thing it can keep up.

The phone drains slowly, but it charges pretty fast! Using the bundled fast charger, I was able to top up 20 percent in just 15 minutes and about 45 percent in half an hour. A full charge takes two hours because the charging rate slows down to avoid overheating.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

I can’t think of any direct competitor to the Nokia 7 Plus, making it an easy choice when looking for a great midrange Android phone that has nearly everything. It’s truly a practical phone for just PhP 21,990 in the Philippines or INR 25,999 in India. It’s a bit more expensive in other regions like in the UK (GBP 350), but it can still be considered affordable compared to the likes of the Samsung Galaxy A8+ (2018).

The position of the Nokia 7 Plus is a bit tricky since it’s more expensive than the usual midrange Android category which is currently dominated by the Vivo V9, OPPO F7, ASUS ZenFone 5, and Huawei P20 Lite. If you can spend a bit more cash, you should definitely check out the Nokia 7 Plus. It’s got a more powerful processor, capable cameras, long battery life, and most importantly, Android One software. If there’s anything that other phones can’t offer, it’s the sustained software updates. Actually, I just got my monthly security patch while writing this review.

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