Reviews

Sony Xperia XZ review

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At Berlin’s IFA 2016 trade show in Germany, Sony announced the Xperia XZ, its latest signature phone that, according to the company, offers the very best technologies it has to offer. 

At $699 unlocked, the XZ isn’t cheap — it’s right up there with the biggest names in the industry. That said, one has to wonder whether it’s actually worth the premium, or if there are other choices on the market that could be an even better fit.


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The Xperia XZ supports dual SIMs and up to 64GB of expandable storage depending on the market.

Did Sony do better than Samsung this year, better than Apple? In a word, no. The Galaxy S7 and iPhone 7 remain our top choices for smartphone of the year. (Maybe Google’s Pixel will have something to say about that?)

Which is important to note because Sony badly needs a superphone to turn around its slumping mobile business. Sales are down 40 percent year-on-year for the second quarter of 2016, and Sony has reduced forecasts for the midrange segment and downsized operations in “unprofitable regions.”

Unfortunately for the Japanese electronics giant, the XZ isn’t the savior it had hoped for. But it is a solid effort.

Familiar, but improved in the right ways

Sony hasn’t always been a fan of drastic cosmetic changes, and it shows on the Xperia XZ. If you’ve seen the Xperia Z5 or Z5 Premium from the previous year, you’ve essentially seen the XZ.

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Water-resistant, not waterproof.

A thick plastic frame bonds two blocky, rectangular panels; all the physical buttons are on the right edge, exactly where you expect them to be; the SIM and microSD cards go into the left side of the phone; the top and bottom edges remain flat; there are two stereo speakers on the front — smaller, this time around, but just as nice-sounding. The XZ, like Sony’s recent smartphone efforts, likewise isn’t afraid of water. Just don’t dunk it in the pool or in a glass of water because it isn’t waterproof.

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The slippery glass back of the Z5, however, was jettisoned for the latest installment. The rear now consists of two metal parts, with the lower section painted in a darker finish. It is made of what Sony calls “alkaleido metal,” which makes it more lustrous and, in Sony’s mind at least, more visually appealing than plain Jane metal. The material also, however, makes fingerprints and smudges easier to see under the right light and angles.

This is Sony at its finest when it adopts a minimalist and unbending approach to designing the next smartphone superstar.

Subtle but welcome refinements are what separates the current Sony flagship from its predecessors. With the exception of the awkwardly positioned volume rocker, every tweak to the formula enhances the phone’s beauty, its handling, or both. The glass on the front gently spills toward the sides, and so does the metal back cover, creating a symmetrical look that compliments the overall aesthetic perfectly. The sides are contoured to make things look neater and one-handed operation, less troublesome.

This is Sony at its finest when it adopts a minimalist and unbending approach to designing the next smartphone superstar. And although some people may not like what they see, particularly the big chin below the screen that serves no purpose other than to make the front look symmetrical, we happen to like the look and feel of the Xperia XZ. A lot, to be honest. It’s a breath of fresh air in an industry full of Apple and Samsung copycats, and it’s plenty comfortable to use for anyone with smallish hands.

Loaded optics

The XZ sports a rear-facing camera with more bells and whistles than any Sony smartphone camera that preceded it. We’re talking a 23-megapixel sensor; a wide-angle lens with f/2.0 aperture; an RGB sensor for better color fidelity; advanced optical image stabilization to steady shots and footage; and laser autofocus to improve focus accuracy and speed. Throw in 4K video recording, augmented-reality effects, plus several other software tricks, and you’ve got a solid camera package, right?

Well, yes and no. On one hand, it’s fun to play around with some of the phone’s shooting modes; on the other hand, we’re not convinced its 23-megapixel camera is the best on the market. It’s not even the second-best, or even the third-best. Nor is it the fastest, which, for all its purported dazzle, is rather disappointing. Focusing, as we found out, is slow, even unreliable at times, and many of our night shots showed a purple haze, something we weren’t able to replicate with the Galaxy S7 and the iPhone 7.

The XZ is one of those phones that seems like it was specifically designed to render an HD video or a high-quality mobile game.

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The XZ has a loaded 23-megapixel rear camera.

Good, not exceptional

An unassuming home button along the right-hand side does double duty as a fingerprint reader (in non-U.S. markets, unfortunately), which we found to be surprisingly quick and accurate, despite what its size and shape may indicate. Being located on the side of the XZ rather than on the front or on the back means users can easily unlock the device no matter which way it faces. By design or accident, its location favors righties, as their thumb naturally lands on the sensor when they pick up the handset or take it out of their pocket.

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Its screen is as good as it gets for an LCD panel.

The 5.2-inch LCD display is 1080p, the bare minimum for a flagship device. But don’t let that mislead you. In typical Sony fashion, the screen is top-notch and is easily one of the best out there. Color accuracy and contrast levels are excellent; black are inky, allowing for plenty of depth to an image or video; viewing angles are absolutely super, with zero color shift even at extreme angles.

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So, what does all this translate to in terms of daily use? Viewing pleasure, that’s what this is all about. The XZ is one of those phones that seems like it was specifically designed to render an HD video or a high-quality mobile game. Had it been a tad bigger, its screen, a lot sharper (at Quad HD), it would’ve served as a compelling counter to Samsung’s “AMOLED is better than LCD” movement.

Specs-wise, the XZ sees a powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 under the exterior, coupled with 3GB of memory and up to 64GB of onboard storage. For its asking price, one might expect more RAM or more storage, of which none are present here. That shouldn’t bother anyone too much, because this phone will run everything you throw at it smoothly. In the few weeks we’ve used it, our test unit never ran out of RAM, nor had issues with keeping multiple apps alive in the background.

There’s better value to be found in the Samsung Galaxy S7 and the Apple iPhone 7.

Battery life can be summed up in one word: average. It doesn’t have the same longevity as older Sony models and devices in the Xperia Compact range, but the XZ can cover a a full day of active use. A more judicial usage involving less time connected to an LTE network and more time on Sony’s Stamina (read: battery-saving) mode should push 2,900mAh battery to a day and a half, albeit obviously at the expense of a few functions.

Fast charging is supported, but you’ll need to purchase a compatible Type-C charger to utilize the feature. Sony will happily sell you one if you’re unsure of which charger to buy.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

If you don’t mind paying iPhone money for a premium phone that can get wet, Sony’s Xperia XZ is a decent pick. But there’s better value to be found in the Samsung Galaxy S7, which has a sharper and more vibrant display and a camera that doesn’t back down from difficult situations. If you’re a fan of iOS, or if you already own an Apple device or two, though, you’ll be better off with the iPhone 7. Either phone can withstand water splashes and spills, too.

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A closer look at the hardware.

 

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The back is made of lustrous metal.

 

[irp[irp posts=”4954" name=”Apple iPhone 7 loses to Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge in DxOMark camera test”]

Reviews

Realme 3 Pro review: ‘Pro’ models are indeed better

Is this your next gaming phone?

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Realme might be new (or maybe young) to the smartphone industry, but they’re already making a significant mark. As an OPPO sub-brand before, Realme was created to put up a fight in the budget segment. Just a few models later, they are now taking on the midrange segment with the Realme 3 Pro.

The Pro model of the Realme 3 might not look that different from the regular one, but it has lots of improvements that make it worthy of its “Pro” moniker.


How good is the Realme 3 Pro? Let’s find out in this review.

It has a 6.3-inch Full HD+ IPS display

Comes with a waterdrop notch

The volume buttons are on the left…

Two separate buttons for volume up and down

… along with the triple-card tray

It’s the perfect setup

The power button sits on the right

All the buttons are matte plastic

The bottom is busy with the micro-USB port, speaker, and 3.5mm jack

No USB-C but it has fast charging

The back sports a “3D Speedway Design”

Inspired by Le-Mans speedway

It looks pretty similar to the regular Realme 3

One of the cameras is highlighted by a yellow ring

Familiar with subtle elements

Like with most affordable phones in the midrange segment, the Realme 3 Pro feels plasticky, yet it’s solidly built. It has a 6.3-inch IPS LCD topped with Gorilla Glass 5 which should be able to withstand everyday scratches. With a Full HD+ resolution, the phone’s screen is sharp enough to display pleasing images.

If you’ve seen the Realme 3 (or read my review), the Realme 3 Pro will look really familiar. It shares a similar design to the brand’s budget phone, but it has a couple of improvements.

During my time with the Realme 3 Pro, I’ve noticed that it’s more comfortable to hold, probably due to its tapered side frame. Also, it has a special inner pattern on the back that’s noticeable under bright lighting. Unfortunately, the back is made of plastic and it’s prone to scratches.

Overall, the Realme 3 Pro’s physical aspect is respectable. It doesn’t have premium materials aside from the front glass, yet it’s well-built. Nothing is praisable here, but it’s not shabby either. Since Realme is generally sharing design cues with OPPO, I’m not expecting them to offer anything premium material-wise soon in this price range.

Flagship-grade, built for gaming

Inside, the Realme 3 Pro is so much different from its budget counterpart. It’s powered by a flagship-grade 10nm processor, specifically Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 710. Just last year, only expensive phones got to enjoy the efficiency of 10nm chips but it already has trickled down to the midrange segment.

What does this mean? Fast performance without the high cost. To makes things better, the Realme 3 Pro comes with up to 6GB of memory and up to 128GB of expandable storage.

The phone runs an updated version of ColorOS 6 which is based on Android 9 Pie. While ColorOS’ customization on top of Android doesn’t appeal much to most, it has noteworthy features like Hyper Boost 2.0 which intelligently optimizes gaming performance.

While we’re at it, Realme is promoting the Realme 3 Pro as a gaming smartphone. With its capable processor, better GPU (it has an Adreno 616), and gaming-focused software enhancements, the phone does deliver good gaming performance. PUBG: Mobile is set to high graphics settings by default and it runs without any hiccups. I also had no issues running Asphalt 9 and Mobile Legends.

Upgraded dual cameras

As a midrange phone, the Realme 3 Pro must have more than one rear camera. Thankfully, it has two: a main 16-megapixel shooter with an f/1.7 aperture and a 5-megapixel depth sensor. While the secondary camera is a bit of a letdown, the main sensor is impressive.

When there’s plenty of light to work with, the Realme 3 Pro can take stills with great detail and accurate color balance. AI scene detection is quick and it makes shooting in Auto mode a breeze. Moreover, the phone comes with a couple of extra modes like Nightscape for night shots and Chrome Boost for improved dynamic range.

Check out these samples:

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For selfies, there’s a 25-megapixel front-facing camera inside the display’s notch. With its high pixel count, you can take sharp selfies with a number of beauty filters to suit your taste. Of course, it also AI mode that automatically adjusts everything.

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The Realme 3 Pro’s camera performs great, but it could have been better if the depth sensor had an ultra wide-angle lens instead. We’ve seen wide-angle shooters on budget phones and other similarly priced midrangers, so it should have been possible with Realme’s.

VOOC is a must

OPPO’s proprietary fast charging tech has come to Realme phones. Even though the Realme 3 Pro still sports a micro-USB port, I can forgive it since it features VOOC 3.0. The phone ships with a 20W fast charger in the box, so you don’t have to spend extra for this.

It can quickly go from zero to 50 percent in around 30 minutes, while a full charge will take about an hour and 15 minutes.

How about battery life? I was able to lightly use the Realme 3 Pro for two days and was left with enough juice — around 15 percent — to let it stay awake overnight. A full workday shouldn’t be a problem for the phone’s 4045mAh battery.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

The Realme 3 Pro has a good display, fast processor, decent cameras, and quick charging speeds. With those already in check, what more could you ask for from a nice midrange phone that wouldn’t hurt your wallet?

Speaking of, the price starts at INR 13,999 in India or PhP 12,990 in the Philippines for the 4GB variant with 64GB of storage. If you want extra memory and storage, the 6GB+128GB model goes for INR 16,999 or PhP 14,990.

The Realme 3 Pro is not exactly the midrange phone to beat, though. The lack of an ultra wide-angle shooter is disappointing, but this smartphone is more of a gaming device than a camera-centric phone in the first place.

SEE ALSO: Realme X is a flagship-grade phone with a budget price tag

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Laptops

Huawei MateBook 13 review: 5 reasons to make the switch

And a couple of reasons why you shouldn’t

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Lots of tech reviewers, including myself, considered the MateBook X Pro as one of the best Windows laptops of 2018. It has the build quality, performance, and look that could easily take on the MacBook Pro.

Naturally, Huawei followed up this major release with a set of new notebooks in early 2019. These include an updated MateBook X Pro, MateBook 14, and finally, the MateBook 13 we have here.


Given its name and pricing — starting at US$ 999 for the Intel Core i5 variant — it’s a given that this is at the lowest end of the MateBook lineup. But don’t let any of those figures fool you; this is one solid product.

I can provide a few reasons why.

Smaller yet equally powerful

Having used the MateBook X Pro as a daily driver for several months now, switching to the MateBook 13 felt like a downgrade at first. I’d miss the quad speaker setup and larger screen, but those were the only losses in the grander scheme. If you took even a single glance at the MateBook 13’s specs sheet, you’d know that it still packs a punch.

The particular model I reviewed, which retails for US$ 1,299, comes with a Core i7-8565U, 8GB of memory, 512GB of fast storage, and a GeForce MX150 GPU. That’s loads of power for a slim laptop that’s only 14.9mm thick with a weight of 1.3kg. That’s also perfect for pushing the 2160 x 1440 pixels on the 13-inch display.

All the convenience is here

I was a little worried that Huawei would remove the fingerprint scanner as a way to cut costs, but fortunately for me and everyone who uses the MateBook 13, it’s still conveniently placed on the power button. Keep your finger on the sensor for a couple of seconds during boot-up, and you’ll go straight to your desktop.

Another handy feature is the fast charger the MateBook 13 comes with. At 65 watts, it can bring this laptop from zero to full in about 1.5 hours, which is similar to what Huawei does with SuperCharge tech on its flagship smartphones. As a bonus, the cable ends in USB-C, so it can quickly charge your handset, as well.

Huawei Share is surprisingly good

I admit, there was some skepticism at the beginning with the Huawei Share sticker placed on the lower-right corner of the notebook. I’ve seen multiple attempts at making syncing between a smartphone and laptop seamless for ages, but nothing has really made it worth the try over simply plugging the mobile device in.

To my delight, Huawei Share legit works. I tap my P30 Pro to the right of the trackpad, and it automatically pairs through NFC. From there, you can select photos, videos, or music you’d like to share between the two devices. The only downside, of course, is that you need a compatible Huawei phone to make this work, which would alienate tons of users.

A much better webcam placement

The biggest complaint of any MateBook X Pro user centers around the notebook’s awkward webcam placement. While the pop-up mechanism is cool, the videos you get out of it aren’t. It’s the lone downside of an otherwise perfect Windows laptop.

Huawei took notes and put the webcam where it belongs on the MateBook 13. It’s right above the display this time and doesn’t add much to the top bezel. It’s a shame that Huawei didn’t just apply this to all of its laptops from the start, but I do miss the privacy I got from the hidden placement of the MateBook X Pro.

Pretty much everything about the design

I believe that 14 inches is the sweet spot for ultra-slim laptops; it provides enough real estate while fitting well inside any sort of backpack. However, the MateBook 13 makes a strong case for why 13 inches is even handier without losing much work space. Because the bezels are still so slim, the display always feels bigger than it looks.

I’m also glad that Huawei didn’t make any comprises with the keyboard and trackpad. The clickiness and response of every backlit key is spot on, and although the trackpad may be a bit too wide for its height, the responsiveness is equally satisfying and it’s so easy to apply gestures on it, especially if you pick the non-touchscreen option.

But then…

As usual, there are a few downsides. The most glaring one is the absence of a USB-A port. One can argue that USB-C is the future — and the MateBook 13 has two of these — but if the MateBook X Pro can have a couple plus one USB-A, so should the MateBook 13. There’s a dongle for this, but being able to plug in straight away is miles more convenient.

As alluded to earlier, this laptop bears only two downward-firing speakers. They can get loud, but clarity is lost at the higher levels, and is totally muffled when placed on a soft surface. And because of the smaller overall heft, battery life takes a hit. I could get easily get over six hours of usage on one full charge, but that isn’t MateBook X Pro levels.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

The MateBook 13 is best described as a more affordable MateBook X Pro that doesn’t compromise too much. In effect, it’s yet another MacBook competitor.

With the exception of video calls, there were several moments wherein I wished I’d been using the MateBook X Pro instead, specifically when binge watching shows and plugging in a flash drive.

Otherwise, for the price it commands, the MateBook 13 is one of the best in its class. I love how you can get high performance and a quality build in such a compact package.

The best alternatives here are the MateBook 14 for something a little bigger and Dell’s XPS 13 line, which had been the undisputed champ before the current-gen MateBook series arrived. Now, that crown has to be shared.

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Reviews

Huawei P30 Pro review: A camera story

Same tale, new chapter

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After the Mate 20 Pro launched, I wondered how Huawei would differentiate the latest Mate from the next P-series phone. The Mate 20 Pro has everything, including all the features missing from the P20 Pro. It was simply complete.

Seeing the P30 Pro for the first time, the P20 Pro’s previous hype — and the Mate 20 Pro, by extension — wasn’t there. I wondered: How exactly is this better than the Mate 20 Pro aside from a higher DxOMark score?


I was also hesitant switching from the Galaxy S10+ to the P30 Pro as my daily driver. Samsung’s flagship became a personal favorite of mine. There were certain things that hit me after moving my accounts to this Huawei phone.

It’s heftier than the Galaxy S10+. It wobbles when laid flat on a table because of the camera protrusion. It has no 3.5mm audio port or stereo speakers. And, Huawei’s EMUI skin still isn’t at the level of other Android coatings.

Yes, these are minor complaints that go away with a week’s worth of use. Still, these little things can make or break the experience. They can question a user’s pricey purchase from the get-go.

But then, I fired up the camera app and all my doubts became background blur.

I won’t get into the technical aspect anymore. (We have a full hands-on for that.) So, let’s look at what the P30 Pro can really do.

By now, from the countless advertisements and testimonials, everyone knows that the amazing zoom capability — going from ultra-wide 0.6x to 50x — is the P30 Pro’s highlight. While reaching the max results, zooming to 10x hybrid zoom is actually quite usable.

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As many tech reviewers have said, the 50x zoom is a bit of a gimmick and quickly loses its magic after a couple of weeks. It does, however, come in handy when you really need it, like for this moon shot:

Another one of the P30 Pro’s specialties is night mode, which became a staple Huawei feature since the P20 Pro. With the new quad Leica system, there are noticeable improvements, but not by much compared to the Mate 20 Pro.

Many would agree that the Pixel 3 has a smarter implementation with Night Sight, which is better at retaining colors in darkness, but the P30 Pro is the king of illuminating subjects with close to no light. There have been numerous occasions wherein auto mode was more than enough, and I didn’t even need to swipe towards night mode.

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In general, auto mode did the trick every time, both for the front and rear cameras. I tried my best to love Huawei’s AI scene optimizer this time — it didn’t work out with all their past phones for me — but I just couldn’t take its insistence to darken subjects, blur out every single background, and take its sweet time doing so while I try to shoot a moving object.

Lots more can be said about the P30 Pro’s cameras, but all you really need to know is that there’s no better set of smartphone cameras in the current market. DxOMark hit the nail on the head this time and few would disagree.

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If you need more convincing, look no further than my tour around Paris with the P30 Pro. This piece proves just how capable the premium handset is at being an all-in-one device. Not once did I think of taking out my mirrorless camera to snap a photo of a landscape or person. When I did, it was only for picturing the phone itself.

But then you have to wonder if there’s anything more to the P30 Pro than just its spectacular cameras. Yes, there definitely is, but it’s not much different from what we’ve already seen on the Mate 20 and P20 lineups. Most features, from reverse wireless charging to EMUI 9.1 and SuperCharge, are unchanged.

Not to say that reusing tried and tested formulas are bad, but this doesn’t spark joy either. When comparing the P30 Pro to the Mate 20 Pro and P20 Pro, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the newest model is simply a combination of the two previous flagships, carrying over the curved OLED panel and high-end processing power.

However, Huawei didn’t leave out refinements. The P30 Pro is much comfier to hold with more ergonomic curves; a vibrating screen replaces the need for an earpiece during calls and works great; plus, the display’s notch is at its smallest size yet. In addition, the Kirin 980 chip is more optimized and runs smooth thanks to the 8GB memory and 256GB storage.

Huawei somehow also found a way to increase battery life even further. While the Mate 20 Pro was the endurance champ of 2018, the P30 Pro is 2019’s frontrunner. I use my phone tirelessly for browsing, writing, editing, hotspotting, picture taking, and gaming on the go, but the P30 Pro never asked for a full charge until the day ended. Getting upwards of six hours of screen-on time is expected here.

At the same time, some aspects feel inadequate for a flagship smartphone at this point. Aside from the issues mentioned at the start of this review, the P30 Pro isn’t stellar at video shooting. While it’s great to have that ultra-wide-angle lens to cover more, audio recording isn’t always on point, and it sucks to lack 4K shooting at 60fps.

Finally, the under-display fingerprint scanner needs to improve faster. We’re a couple of generations in. I still wish manufacturers would stick to the capacitive type found in older models like on the P20 series. The convenience is already here, but the speed and accuracy aren’t.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

If you value camera performance more than anything else in a smartphone, you really don’t have to look any further. The P30 Pro is 2019’s top camera phone so far, and it would take a lot to dethrone it. And even if the Mate 30 Pro beats it later this year, this set of cameras will stand the test of time, similar to what the P20 Pro has been doing.

Unfortunately for Huawei, the Galaxy S10+ is equally fantastic, and checks boxes that the P30 Pro doesn’t, such as the audio port, faster reverse wireless charging, and better overall feel for the exterior and Android UI. Until the OnePlus 7 and Pixel 4 come out, it’s these two flagships you’d have to choose between at the top.

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