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.

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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