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

Laptops

Huawei MateBook D 15 2021 11th Gen review: 4 months after

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Huawei MateBook D 15

The work from home and online class setup had us all adjusting to this new normal. You’ll see a lot of inquiries on Facebook groups about LED ring lights, microphones and midrange laptop recommendations. Huawei’s MateBook D series is among the ones you’ll see that has gotten a lot of popularity for this purpose.

It makes perfect sense, since back when I first reviewed the Huawei MateBook D 15 2021 11th Gen, I had a lot of good things to say about it. After four months under regular use, there are quite a few more that I came to realize about this device that I think you guys might find interesting.

It can get things done

A quick refresher on its specs, the D 15 2021 we have with us has an 11th gen Core i5 with the Intel Iris Xe graphics, 16GB DDR4 RAM and 512GB of SSD storage. 

It’s no question, if you’re just going to use this for online classes or regular zoom meetings, the D 15 probably won’t even break a sweat. However, I consider my power requirements to be somewhat on the heavy side for my photo and video editing needs.

What surprised me was I didn’t find myself having to go back to my main editing workstation and have actually done more work on the D 15 than I expected. It may not be as fast, but it also wasn’t drastically slower.

Plus the fact that this has a more accurate display with its 100 percent sRGB color gamut, the 15.6-inch LED display is perfect for my daily Photoshop use.

Portability also applies at home

Huawei MateBook D 15

Working from home for a long time and looking at the same thing over and over, not having to be able to go to places, had many of us bored and unmotivated. I personally always had that urge to look for another spot just for the change of scenery.

Thankfully, weighing only 1.56kg, it gave me the flexibility for me to place it in different places. I didn’t worry that the surface wouldn’t be able to handle it.

Battery life

The capability to place the D 15 on different places wouldn’t really matter if you’re still stuck near an outlet because you’re constantly required to plug it in. Fortunately, the 42Wh battery of the D 15 keeps us away from the charger for around nine to ten hours before needing to plug it back in.

Huawei addresses issues and gives regular updates

Huawei MateBook D 15

During its time with me, the D 15 had quite a few driver and software updates. Along with one of the updates came a fix for an issue I had with its fingerprint scanner where it frequently had trouble recognizing my fingerprint. While it shouldn’t have had that issue to begin with, the regular updates are an indication that users aren’t abandoned and issues are in fact being addressed on Huawei’s end.

I also learned from Huawei’s website that the MateBook series has a Windows 11 upgrade rollout plan. That’s something nice to look forward to.

Undesirable camera angle

Huawei MateBook D 15

Sadly, not everything is praise worthy on the D 15. The hidden web camera, while innovative, came at the cost of an awful camera angle. Since it is placed on the keyboard, it is also pointed upwards.

Using it, you’ll mostly see an unflattering image of yourself often emphasizing the size of your nostrils.But if you decide that you’d want to use a laptop raiser for a more comfortable viewing angle, the camera won’t be pointed downwards. That’d make it barely usable.

A generous availability of ports

Huawei MateBook D 15

Being the boxing fan that I am, the recent Pacquiao fight had me subscribing for a pay-per-view service. The full sized HDMI port on the D 15 was heaven sent. During the fight as I was able to output the fight on our dated TV set. It let us to enjoy the stream on a bigger screen.

The availability of USB ports on both sides also let us to choose where certain devices can be plugged. We didn’t worry about hitting our external drives with our mouse or fitting multiple USB devices side by side.

Multi-Screen Collaboration

I did not find myself using this feature as much. However, having this capability eliminated the need for me to grab a USB cable to transfer files from my phone. A quick tap of my phone and I was ready to transfer photos I recently. It’s great for some quick editing before posting on Instagram. 

Is this still your GadgetMatch?

Huawei MateBook D 15

When I think of the D 15, freedom is the word that comes to mind. It gives so much freedom to work anywhere with its portability and battery life. You get freedom to do what you wish with it with its capable hardware. There’s also freedom from wires with the Multi-Screen Collaboration. And even freedom to plug various devices with its great selection of ports.

It’s a no fuss kind of laptop that just gets things done. Its sheer simplicity is what makes it a great device.

If you’re interested in getting the Huawei MateBook D 15 2021 11th Gen with 16GB RAM and 512GB SSD, you can now get it for PhP 48,999.00.

 

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Reviews

Samsung Galaxy Watch4 Review: Best Android smartwatch yet?

But is it any better than the Apple Watch?

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Samsung launched the Galaxy Watch4 just recently — which is the successor to 2019’s Galaxy Watch Active2.

Now with the power of a BIA (Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis) via its Bio Active Sensor, the Galaxy Watch4 can simply measure your body composition with just your two fingers and wrist.

But is it any better than the Apple Watch?

Watch our Samsung Galaxy Watch4 review now to know more.

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Accessories

Maonocaster Lite AU-AM200-S1: Intuitive and portable podcasting rig

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AU-AM200-S1

I am a fan of quality and affordable gear. Modern manufacturing techniques and advancements in technology gave us a vast selection of gadgets in all shapes and sizes.

With the gaining popularity of live streaming, the demand for good audio interface and microphones is growing. The brand Maono, relatively speaking, is a newcomer that offers affordable audio products.

What we’ve got here is the Maonocaster Lite AU-AM200-S1, which is a portable podcasting gear. This is the very first product I’ve got the chance to try from this brand and I’m liking it so far. This bundle is ideal for someone who is just getting into podcasting or a musician looking for a cheaper alternative.

What’s in the box?

AM200 Podcast Console

At first glance I actually thought it was a miniatured DJ turntable because of the two mini platters, but those are just volume knobs for the mics and music. It is a 3-channel mixer-type audio interface with five outputs. The two inputs are designated for mics and/or instruments and the other input is for music. Three outputs (3.5mm TRRS) for smartphones are available so you can stream simultaneously on different platforms.

A separate main and monitor output is available so you can listen to what your audience hears. Note that all the inputs and outputs are for 3.5mm jacks so if you are planning to plug in an instrument directly using a PL (1/4 inch) cable, you will need a 3.5mm adapter.

Plug and play

You can connect it to a computer with the USB A to C cable that is included. It doesn’t require any drivers, so, just plug it in and it’s good to go. It should be compatible to most DAWs (Digital Audio Workstation) for music recording. There is a 3-band EQ along with a “REC” volume knob which is like a “Send” knob to feed the audio to the devices it’s connected to.

Two crossfaders control the monitor volume and echo level. The “monitor” crossfader controls both the volume level for the (main) output and the monitor (output). I wish they installed separated levers for each one to control them independently.

This is also the case for the mic volume knob, it controls both the levels of mic 1 and mic 2. It would’ve have been handy if there are separate knobs for each but I think they did this design to fit in a compact box.

For outdoor streaming and recording

At the middle portion, you’ll notice along the LED indicator level signal is a battery indicator. Yes, this is also battery powered which makes it suitable for out of home live streaming, if you prefer creating something for your viewers elsewhere. You can easily recharge the batteries with the USB C cable.

There are also audio sample pads, buttons for sound effects and pitch shifters.

AU-PM360TR Microphone

AU-AM200-S1

This condenser microphone does not require phantom power. It runs below 5V, through the XLR to 3.5mm cable, unlike the industry standard condenser microphones. With its cardioid polar pattern, it will be more sensitive to sounds being captured in front of it.

Earphones

It comes with a pair of in-ear earbuds with a very long cable, enough to cover the distance for a typical on-desk live streaming. I think that the sound quality would be more appreciated by most modern pop listeners who like a lot of bass. Because it does deliver that low-mid thump.

Tripod

Out of the box, the microphone comes attached to the mini tabletop tripod. The microphone is detachable to the tripod, but if it is used handheld, it will pick-up a lot of hand noise. So, it is better to leave it on the tripod.

Other accessories included are: XLR to 3.5mm cable, two 3.5mm TRRS cables, USB A to USB C cable, and a windscreen cap.

Performance

For podcasting, it is very easy to use. It’s what the AU-AM200-S1 is made for and they did a good job. The microphone delivers a clearer and louder output compared to built-in mics in smartphones/laptops or headsets. You can control the volume of music accompaniment easily with the wheel knob, whenever you want to highlight the music or the voice.

Plus, the sound samples like the applause, laughter, cheering etc., are nice additions for some impromptu segments in your streams. You can also record your own samples by pressing the “loop back” button and assigning to any of the blank buttons available.

Since the microphone does not require a phantom power, the output is weaker compared to classic condenser microphones. The sound quality is good nevertheless.

AU-AM200-S1

For music recording, you can record your instruments with it on your preferred DAW. I connected my guitar to my digital effects processor with a 3.5mm headphones jack going to the mic input of Maono console. I noticed that the 2 mic inputs have high gain levels because my guitar was already clipping with the volume knob on the AM200 console at around 10 o’clock.

Usually, I set the volume on my guitar effects unit on almost full when I am recording with a different audio interface and mixers. But with the Maono AU-AM200-S1, I only had to set the volume of my guitar effects at 50 percent. This is good because it doesn’t have a designated gain knob. Just watch out for clipping- if it happens, you may want to lower the volume from the source.

I recorded a few short audio samples to demonstrate how the Maonocaster Lite AU-AM200-S1 handles recording. Please excuse my singing voice.

Mic only without echo(onboard) – vocal

Mic only with 50% echo(onboard) – vocal

Mic only with 100% echo(onboard) – vocal

Mic only without echo – vocal and guitar

Mic only with post-editing – vocal and guitar

Guitar through a digital effects processor

In a full band mix – Recorded vocals and guitars (both acoustic and electric)

Fully recorded demo

 

There are two functions that I have a few comments on:

AU-AM200-S1

Denoise — This is their “smart noise cancelling” feature that reduces background noise. It does its job as a noise gate, but unfortunately, you cannot adjust the settings (threshold, attack, range, etc.). Depending on how loud the ambient noise is, the mic sometimes gets a stuttering sound when this feature is engaged. If the room is quiet enough, there shouldn’t be any problem.

Music Only — This feature attempts to minimize the vocals in the music that you are playing, but similarly to the denoise, it sometimes affects the mic audio quality. I suggest looking for backing tracks of the songs you want to sing during your live stream beforehand.

Is the AU-AM200-S1 your GadgetMatch?

AU-AM200-S1

The Maonocaster Lite AU-AM200-S1 bundle is a usable and functional piece of gear. I see it as a bring-it-anywhere, all-in-one podcasting kit. It would have been more convenient (for me) if they included ¼ inch inputs for mics and instruments. Although, I guess it would kind of defeat its portable nature because most PL cables are thicker and heavier compared to the 3.5mm cables included in this bundle.

Pricing and Availability

The Maonocaster Lite AU-AM200-S1 retails for $109.00 and is available for purchase in Amazon, Shopee, and Lazada. You can check out their other products at the official Maono website.

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