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

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Laptops

ASUS VivoBook X412F Review: A great midrange option for work and school

For those who need a fresh start

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Not everyone can afford a premium device. Even if the specifications entice you to buy that nice laptop, the ultimate decision point is in its price and value to you. Parents and young professionals starting a new job would know.

ASUS regularly comes up with great midrange selections for students and young professionals. That seems to be what the ASUS VivoBook X412F is: an all-around midrange device for productivity and day-to-day tasks. But if you’re currently a student or working full-time, should you consider this device?


Here’s a rundown of the device’s specifications:

It has a 14” HD anti-glare display

It’s powered by an Intel Core i3 processor and an NVIDIA MX230 graphics card

It comes with both a USB Type-A and Type-C port

Has a fingerprint reader on the touchpad

It gets the job done for its intended purpose

The model I used came with an Intel Core i3 processor, which won’t deliver great performance on paper. But after using it for a while, I can say that it really isn’t the case. It kept up with the numerous tasks I threw at it, whether it was writing documents or watching videos. Do take note that this device only comes with 4GB of RAM, so obviously you won’t be able to do a lot more.

It also helped that it comes with a 256GB solid state drive installed. Using SSDs provide a significant boost in loading times, which allowed me to get more tasks done. I would still prefer to have the more powerful Intel Core i5 option installed to maximize performance.

You can play games on it, just don’t push it

The VivoBook X412F comes with an entry level NVIDIA MX230 graphics card. Upon reading this, my initial thought was that gaming was possible — and it was. The catch is, well any game that doesn’t require so much graphical power will run smoothly. Games like CS:GO, Minecraft, and Rocket League do reach a hard 50 to 55 frame per second cap.

But like any other non-gaming laptop, using this strictly for gaming is highly discouraged. This device was not exactly designed to be a gaming machine, even if you get the units with more powerful processors on it. Plus, you will definitely feel the heat on your keyboard when you play for too long. So, I’m not saying that you can’t use it to play games; don’t use it just to play games.

It lasts relatively long, as long as you’re using it properly

Upon initial testing, I did get around five to six hours on one full charge. It’s long enough for you to just browse the internet, watch a few videos or movies, and type down reports. Doing some form of photo or video editing decreases that number by just a bit. It took two to three hours to fully charge the device from zero.

Battery life when playing games on it is just what you expect it to be. I got close to two hours and 30 minutes before having to plug the charger. Again, you can play games on this device but it’s not meant for strictly just gameplay. 

The webcam is surprisingly decent

One of the key critiques I’ve had over most laptops centers around their webcams. Most built-in HD webcams, when used for the first time, are not as “high-definition” as promoted. Images and videos either look blurry or grainy, which won’t help during conference calls.

With the VivoBook X412F, the webcam is decent at best — which is all you could really hope for. Under good lighting conditions, image quality on this 720p webcam feels more “high-definition” than most. I observed relatively less grain than most other laptops I’ve tried, which is great for video calls at least.

Other features worth considering before you buy

The VivoBook X412F comes with a fingerprint reader on the touchpad. Setting up Windows Hello was pretty fast, but I found the sensor to be pretty sensitive after. Even if I had already cleaned my fingers and wiped out the sweat, the sensor sometimes won’t read it.

It also comes with a chiclet keyboard without the number pad on the right side. Key travel, for me was decent and took just a short while to get used to. Sadly, it wasn’t backlit which I would have liked — especially for working late at night. 

Finally, you get what you can with its display. It’s only a 14-inch HD display, which doesn’t leave you much room for proper viewing angles and color accuracy. The one good quality it has, in my opinion, is that it’s an anti-glare screen. I used the device outdoors several times, and even at 70 percent brightness I could still see the contents of my screen.

Is the ASUS VivoBook X412F your GadgetMatch?

The ASUS VivoBook X412F is one device that truly caters to those who want an affordable yet premium experience. It comes in a package that promises great productivity and portability, and lasts a long time. It’s a total fit for students and young professionals looking for their first school or work laptop. Of course, that’s only the case as long as it is used for its intended purpose.

With a device like this, you can only do so much. While tasks such as photo, video editing, and gaming are possible, it proves to do more harm than good. If you really want to get the most value out of this laptop, I suggest you use it mostly for its intended purpose.At PhP 32,995 (US$ 629) for the 256GB + 4GB RAM unit, the ASUS VivoBook X412F is a great productivity device for work and school. That is, if you will use it for work or school-related activities.

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Philippines

Nokia 8.1 review: What took you so long?

Solid but feels dated

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There’s a Filipino song called “Bakit ngayon ka lang?”. Loosely translated, it means “what took you so long?”. The song talks about a missed romantic opportunity — of someone else coming along while you’re already committed to another. That’s almost exactly how I feel about the Nokia 8.1.

The phone — known in other markets as the Nokia 7X — was first announced in December 2018. A full seven months later, it arrived in the Philippines. And a lot has happened in those seven months.


Performance on par with midrangers today

Before I proceed, let’s get some of the specs talk out of the way. The device is powered by the Snapdragon 710 SoC along with 6GB of RAM with 128GB of internal storage which is expandable via a microSD card. That’s not bad. At all. It’s even near-flagship territory… in 2018.

One thing about the Nokia 8.1 though that will never feel dated is its OS. The phone is part of Google’s Android One program which means this is running Stock Android. If you like it vanilla — like a lot of purists do — then this is one of the phones that offer that clean experience. Right now it’s still on Android P, but if you’re feeling adventurous, you can side load Android Q beta as it is a partner device for Android’s developer preview.

Google cards are quite useful

The chip together with vanilla Android makes for a smooth and snappy experience. Most of the time I’m either just browsing or working on my phone and doing so on the Nokia 8.1 one was a very pleasant experience.

I have said this countless times but in case you’re new here, I don’t really play mobile games. The only time I ever really do so is when I have to test phones. On the Nokia 8.1 I only played Honkai Impact 3, which is a pretty graphics heavy game. The phone had zero trouble running the game and it looked especially stunning on the phone’s 6.18-inch PureDisplay screen (which we’ll get to shortly).

This means the phone will likely have zero problems running some of the most played games today like PUBG and Mobile Legends: Bang Bang. If you play these games with this phone and don’t get that Chicken Dinner or that MVP, then you only have yourself to blame.

A display sent from the heavens

The PureDisplay screen technology is really pulling its own weight. When Nokia said this phone offers a higher contrast ratio and sharper output, it felt like it was even underselling it. The screen is vibrant and the colors and images look sharp all without looking too saturated.

It doesn’t have any of that crazy 90hz or 120hz display that we’ll find on 2019 flagships, but dare I say, the Nokia 8.1 probably has the best display in its price point.

I hid that notch eventually

I’ve often found myself happily watching on this phone while slowly being sucked into the YouTube rabbit hole. Speaking of watching videos on this display, I opted to turn the notch off altogether. The notch still looks like the one present on the iPhone X which came out in 2017. It’s 2019 and personally, I’d rather have a full bezel than be bothered looking at that kind of a notch.

Watching vertical FanCams is great on this thing

That said audio on this thing is far from perfect but it’s passable. The sound it produces isn’t as full as I hope to hear from phones when in speaker mode, but you can remedy all that by plugging in headphones because our good friend jack is still present on this device. Listening on wireless earbuds also offer a nice experience.

The build screams premium

One of the first things I noticed about the Nokia 8.1 is its build. The body is built with 6000-series aluminum with an all-glass back. And it feels pretty darn expensive. So much so that I was wondering why it didn’t come with any case in the packaging.

At first I was really hesitant to bring this around due to the lack of a case, but over time, my hands have grown accustomed to the glass finish. And I feel blessed every single time I touch it. There’s something about the build in finish that just screams premium.

The fingerprint sensor is at the back. And it feels like a blessing every time I touch this thing

It’s not fragile at all though. Being the clumsy oaf that I am, I may have accidentally dropped this phone twice already. The phone sustained zero scratches and zero damages. This is one tough cookie.

Pretty darn good cameras

I have to come clean and say I never really had too many chances to take photos during the testing phase. I’ve mostly just been at my desk or in a conference room which aren’t really ideal for taking photos.

The second lens acts as a depth sensor

So for samples I just took some quick shots around my place using the ZEISS-powered 12- and 13-megapixel dual-cameras. Hopefully I find some time to get a life outside of work for the next review. If you know a girl looking for a date, feel free to hit me up. I don’t bite… unless? Anyway, check out the samples below.

Quick note, features like Pro mode and Bokeh are also present on the 20MP front-facing camera.

Is the Nokia 8.1 your GadgetMatch?

And so, here we are. I’ve had nothing but mostly nice things to say about the Nokia 8.1. For a phone that was launched in late 2018, it can still square up with several midrangers in 2019. But the price, therein lies the rub.

At PhP 19,999, it’s not crazy expensive. It’s just that for a few thousand pesos less, there are actually better options. It’s hard to justify this purchase when  phones like the Realme 3 Pro and Xiaomi Mi 9T exist — both of which came within the seven months that the Nokia 8.1 was nowhere to be found on the archipelago.

Calling the folks at Nokia to bring their phones to the Philippines faster next time

Sure, those don’t have the build that the Nokia 8.1 has but the Realme 3 Pro offers much of the same performance for a more affordable price. And the Xiaomi Mi 9T actually feels like a 2019 phone with its triple-camera setup and a pop-up camera that makes way for an actual full screen display.

If you’re a Nokia stan — and I know there’s a lot of you out there — I can’t fault you for wanting this device. I get it. It’s pretty nice. But it’s really just a little too late. Timing is everything. Both in love and in smartphone releases.

*plays “Bakit ngayon ka lang?

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Accessories

Traveling with the Moment Lens

Is the Moment lens a worthy travel buddy?

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Phone photos become our very own souvenirs whenever we travel. More than something we upload on social media, they’re pleasant memories we can flip through when we’re back to the reality and routine of our lives. As such, it pays to have beautiful shots of the landscapes and sights we visit.

Earlier in July, I went to Hokkaido, Japan. To help me achieve said beautiful shots, I had with me a Google Pixel 3 and an 18mm wide-angle lens from Moment. It was my first time using a Moment lens. If you’re not familiar with Moment, they make special phone cases that can be pimped up with lenses that help elevate the photos you take.


Is the Moment lens a worthy travel buddy? Yes and no.

It’s great for taking landscape shots

Any tourist attraction can be turned into desktop wallpaper with the wide lens.

You also get to see the bigger picture. There’s a certain splendor added to a façade when you capture it from a wider angle.

It’s handy for when there’s limited space

In one of the farms we went to, there was a veranda where we wanted to take photos. It was great for portraits but not for capturing my outfit. There was not much space for the person taking the photo to move back to, so we got help from the wide-angle lens to capture a wider perspective and a full body shot.

It’s a hassle 

While it’s easy to plug the lens onto the case, the extra step of looking for the lens inside the bag is a hassle, and ironically, takes you away from the moment you’re trying to capture. Imagine getting a stranger to take a group photo of you and your friends at a restaurant — everyone would be waiting for you to find the lens in your purse and attach it to the phone — it ruins the moment a little bit.

I can also do without the extra weight and the extra space it takes up in my tiny bag. A less rugged-looking case would also be nice.

The Moment lens does offer wonderful improvements to my vacation shots. If you’re particular about how artfully angled your shots are, you’ll find that a wide-angle lens is a great addition to your arsenal. However, if you’re like me who is content with what your camera phone has to offer, you may find the lens unnecessary. With the Google Pixel 3 and a little post-processing, I was actually able to get nice shots even without the Moment lens.

“Ironically, the Moment lens takes you away from the moment you’re trying to capture.”

Traveling means you have limited time to spend in a place. Make the most out of it with a device that has all the camera features you need. In 2019 there are already plenty of phones with built-in wide angle and telephoto features, from different price points that you might want to consider instead.

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