Reviews

Sony Xperia XZ2 Review: Flexing more camera muscles

Offering features never seen on a smartphone before

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Sony once again updates its flagship smartphone and this year, it seems like the Japanese handset maker wants to shake things up a bit.

We first saw the Xperia XZ2 at Mobile World Congress earlier this year and with its launch is the introduction of new and improved features. You’ve seen its curvy design, heard of its Snapdragon 845 processor, and witnessed its capability to shoot 4K HDR video.

So for this review, we tell you how these features helped us and how they worked together to provide the demands of everyday tasks.

Let’s start with the design…

Boxy no more

As you can probably already tell, the XZ2 breaks from the uniformity of Xperia handsets that has been going on for years now. Many have actually grown tired of its old OmniBalance form factor with sharp corners and large top and bottom bezels.

And in this time of bezel-less phones and curved designs, we really couldn’t blame them.

There’s still a bit of chin and forehead going on for the XZ2 but compared to its previous design, we’re not complaining. It’s significantly heavier, though, compared to its predecessor and you can really feel its heft when you hold the handset with one hand.

The new form factor is a welcome change. We now see a curved back made of glass which adds a premium feel when slapped on a phone. There’s a trade-off, however, by going for an all-glass design. The phone provides no grip and easily slides out of a loose pocket.

Its finish is so slippery that it sometimes struggles to lay still on a flat surface. The curved back also doesn’t help when you operate it while on a table. Although I personally am not a fan of phone cases, I think most users would rather have the XZ2 in one to add grip and protect its glossy surface as well.

All the buttons are tucked at the right side including the camera shutter, power/lock, and volume rocker. We have the hybrid dual-SIM tray up top and the USB-C port below. Nope, no 3.5mm audio jack here.

The Xperia XZ2 boasts dual front-firing speakers but they’re not easily seen. And while the earpiece acts as a loudspeaker, the second speaker is squeezed between the display and chassis at the bottom. Sneaky — and we like it.

Turn it around and you’ll see nothing but circles. From the sensors and LED flash, down to the single camera and finally the fingerprint scanner.

We’re just not big fans of the new placement of its fingerprint scanner. It feels too low and takes quite a bit of awareness to reach or you’ll end up smudging your rear camera.

Multimedia made more immersive

Not coming as a surprise, Sony has packed lots of multimedia goodness into the XZ2. It’s equipped with a 5.7-inch Full HD+ HDR display and enjoys features like X-Reality and HDR up-conversion found in the company’s latest televisions.

Audio has also been given attention to — because this is Sony we’re talking about. The aforementioned dual front speakers provide above-average volume and have more oomph for a phone speaker. The handset also supports hi-res audio so listening to your favorite artists in high quality is possible even through wireless headphones.

As an attempt to further enhance the experience while consuming content, Sony is introducing the Dynamic Vibration System to the XZ2. Similar to the haptic engine on a PlayStation’s DualShock controller, the feature can be turned on to feel synced vibrations while watching a video or listening to music.

Pressing the volume button will reveal the slider with four levels of intensity. Although a pretty cool feature to show off to friends, I could go on throughout the day without using it, so I consider it more of a gimmick and not as effective as the DualShock controller. Plus, it consumes more battery with all the vibration while you watch or play music.

Camera on steroids

If there’s one thing I was super excited about during the XZ2’s announcement, it was the camera. The new Sony flagship is the world’s first smartphone that can shoot 4K HDR video and capture super slow-mo Full HD videos at 960fps.

These were achieved through the phone’s new 19-megapixel Motion Eye camera that the company claims produces lifelike images. And with those in mind, we eagerly put the device to the test.

4K HDR video recording has good color and tonality. I found it easy to color correct during post-production thanks to its manageable dynamic range. Sony’s SteadyShot also works well for stabilizing video.

To capture things in super slow-motion, the handset shoots 960 frames per second just like on the XZ Premium (and later on the Galaxy S9+ and P20 Pro). Thing is, those phones all max out at 720p or HD, and it’s only the XZ2 that shoots the same frame rate at 1080p Full HD.

Again, there’s a trade-off for this. The length of the slow-mo video in Full HD is cut in half compared to when shot in HD. It’s a bit of a downer and it makes timing the action a bit of a challenge. Although with patience and a few practice shots, it could still achieve impressive shots.

Low-light shots for the rear camera are impressive, which wasn’t the case for its predecessor and even the XZ Premium. Its maximum ISO of 12800 is behind this feat. Meanwhile, its 5-megapixel front camera takes decent selfies. It comes with a 23mm wide-angle lens to accommodate more people in a selfie.

Beefy under the hood, too

Inside, the Xperia XZ2 carries a top-shelf Snapdragon 845 and is partnered with 4GB of RAM. This means it can handle heavy processing and even multitasking like any other premium flagship smartphone.

Indeed, while playing graphics-intensive games like Asphalt Xtreme and Tekken, it was able to render graphics effortlessly and multiplayer titles like PUBG Mobile ran smoothly. It does get warm after a few minutes of playing but nothing too alarming.

The XZ2 runs on Android 8.0 Oreo out of the box and has 64GB worth of internal storage. If you run out, there’s still an option to expand the capacity through an additional microSD. You’ll just have to sacrifice the second SIM slot.

Other notable features

Apart from all that, Sony has given the XZ2 the usual bells and whistles we’ve seen on their previous phones. It still has a water and dust resistance rating of IP68, which means you don’t have to worry about getting it drenched in rain.

The handset also features NFC for wireless pairing and 3D Creator that lets you scan objects, heads, and faces, and turn them into AR models or 3D print them.

It’s interesting to note that you can finally do a 3D scan using the selfie camera — a feature which wasn’t available previously. It wasn’t easy to perform though and needs some practice to perfect before you can produce a pleasing render of yourself.

Wired or wireless

With a 3180mAh battery, the Xperia XZ2 could easily last me a day on a single charge with casual usage. Although, shooting super slow-mo and 4K video will exhaust the battery a lot sooner which is totally understandable.

Though not as fast as when it’s plugged in, the handset already supports Qi wireless charging which is always nice to have when you’re at home most of the time. Through wired charging, it takes exactly one hour from four percent to reach 71 percent.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

This is not your usual selfie phone with basic features. Sony has made a serious contender with the Xperia XZ2 by giving it pioneering features, a redesigned appearance, and an engine that can take on the demands of everyday users.

With its camera and multimedia capabilities, we see its appeal toward those who are into creating and consuming content on the go.

Not everything is a hit. We find its new design super slippery and a bit on the heavy side. There’s no audio jack, the position of fingerprint scanner takes a while to get used to, and its Dynamic Vibration System could be done without.

It’s what it does best that makes me stick up for it as a video guy. 4K HDR recording is something I always want to have access to and slowing random things down is always pure joy.

Pricing was initially revealed in Singapore at SG$ 998 (US$ 760) followed by the United States at US$ 799. It was also launched yesterday in the Philippines for PhP 43,990 which converts to about US$ 840 and the most expensive so far.

Sony has made the XZ2 a pioneer in aspects of mobile videography and of course, it comes at a price. So if you want to be one of the firsts to experience these new capabilities, then this is your GadgetMatch of 2018.

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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