Hands-On

Star Wars: Force Awakens BB-8 Droid by Sphero Hands-On

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Whether you’re a Star Wars fan or not, you’ll definitely fall in love with Sphero’s BB-8 – a smaller version of the droid on the upcoming film Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens that you can take home and be your buddy!

We took a break from covering the smartphones and wearables that were on display at the IFA 2015 show floor to spend some time with this absolutely adorable little droid. Drive it around, issue voice commands, or send holographic messages.

Here’s our hands-on with the Sphero BB-8.

Hands-On

Samsung Galaxy J8 hands-on: Not your usual J

Higher end of the budget realm

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When scouting for a Samsung phone to buy, the conventional plan is to look at the Galaxy Note or S series for premium, Galaxy A or C for midrange, and Galaxy J for entry-level. Well, that’s just a general guideline.

For some instances, like the Galaxy J8 we have here, Samsung isn’t afraid to cross some boundaries. The J8 tangles closely with the lower-end spectrum of the A series while preserving what makes the J series the budget offering of Samsung.

We got our hands on a pre-retail unit, and even though its software and some features aren’t final yet, you’ll get a pretty good idea of what the Galaxy J8 is all about in our first impressions.

It has a 6-inch 720p AMOLED that’s bright but not too sharp

Comes with Samsung’s unique 18.5:9 aspect ratio

The rear houses the dual-camera setup and fingerprint scanner

Samsung learned from the past and gave the scanner an ideal placement, but it’s still kind of slow

The 16MP selfie camera has its own LED flash and can do facial recognition

Face unlocking is even slower than the fingerprint scanner, though

Its interface closely resembles that of more expensive Galaxies

This is Samsung’s Experience 9.0 UI on top of Android 8.0 Oreo

There’s room for two SIM cards and one microSD card

While this is great, the aging micro-USB port isn’t

All this in a signature Galaxy J plastic body 

Sticking to plastic is what separates it from the Galaxy A’s metal bodies

How well does it perform?

Samsung decided to go for a Snapdragon 450 chipset instead of their usual in-house Exynos chips. Coupled with 3GB of memory, this leads to midrange-level performance with high-end endurance.

During my time with this pre-release sample, there were several moments when I wish it would run faster. Switching between apps exhibited some lag and activating the camera wasn’t as instant as I’d hope it would be.

Still, it could handle all the games I threw at it, albeit with lowered graphics settings. I had no problem running Dragon Ball Legends and Asphalt Xtreme once I got into the apps; it was only when I switched to something else when the phone slowed down.

I only had 32GB of storage to play with, but it’s expandable using a microSD card, which I find vital if you’re a heavy camera user, as well.

Can it take nice photos?

This is one of the few Galaxy J series phones with a dual-camera setup — one has a 16-megapixel sensor while the other uses its 5-megapixel sensor to add depth information. This combination offers features like Live Focus which was once exclusive to the premium Galaxy S and Note lines.

And yet, I wasn’t that impressed by the image quality. I was often disappointed when the colors and saturation would look great on the preview, only to turn out dull once I take the picture and view it in the gallery. This may be because of non-retail software, but I’ve experienced this with other Galaxy J phones in the past.

Here are a few samples:

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While focusing and exposure control is pretty good when there’s enough light, I had difficulty zeroing in on a subject when it got dark. In dimly lit environments, sharpness also takes a hit and noise becomes more apparent in each photo.

I had fun with the added features, however. Live Focus allowed me to adjust background blur after taking a shot, and AR stickers added some character to my selfies. Take a look:

There are other modes and options such as Selfie Focus and the ability to adjust beauty settings. Samsung still has a long way to go before matching the selfie game of Vivo or OPPO, but it’s getting better for the South Korean brand.

Can it last more than a day?

With a battery capacity of 3500mAh pushing a low-resolution HD+ panel and efficient processor, you’re sure to get over a day’s worth of work and play done on this phone. Even though I had to take a lot of photos and run through games during my review period, not once did I worry about the Galaxy J8 suddenly dying on me.

On the other hand, charging was a pain. Bringing the large battery to full using the slow bundled charger took ages — about 2.5 hours more or less. That’s an hour more than I’m used to because  of the fast charging tech I’ve been experiencing in a growing number of midrange devices.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

It would take a proper retail unit and more testing to say for sure, but as it stands, the Galaxy J8 sits on a polarizing spot.

The Galaxy J8 currently retails for INR 18,990 (US$ 275) in India, placing it right below the more premium Galaxy A6 and above strong rivals such as the Moto G6 and ASUS ZenFone Max Pro (M1).

Moto’s G6, for example, has an all-glass design and the same processor, while the ZenFone Max Pro has a more powerful chipset at a fraction of the Galaxy J8’s price.

As it stands, the Galaxy J8 is for Samsung fans who want the features of a dual-camera phone but don’t want to spend more for a Galaxy A6+. Build quality and raw performance shouldn’t matter that much to potential buyers, either.

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Moto G6 hands-on: Skin-deep goodness

Premium build, entry-level performance

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Of all the smartphone segments, the most cut-throat has to be the budget to midrange market. Each brand has its own specialties but with little room for error (unless they want to hear a mouthful from consumers).

While Xiaomi continues to cram as much power as it can into its smartphones and ASUS confidently creates budget-friendly battery kings, Moto is pushing something a little different: premium design with an affordable price.

That’s what the Moto G6 is all about. Although the specifications sheet doesn’t scream high-end (or barely even midrange), gripping it feels like you have something more.

As soon as the G6 lands in your hands, you know it’s a rock-solid device. The all-glass construction curves smoothly from back to front, delivering a fluid feel like it’s meant for human hands and not tables. The 5.7-inch 1080p display is also fun to view thanks to the slimmer 18:9 ratio.

And yet, it’s admittedly on the almost-too-thick side. I first thought that there’d be a massive battery inside, but the capacity is only 3000mAh. For comparison, phones this thick have batteries as large as 4000mAh, offering 33 percent more without the added bulk.

Strangely enough, there’s even a significant camera bulge on the back, meaning the phone can’t lie flat on a surface. It’s a head-scratching design, although I appreciate the fingerprint scanner’s front-facing placement — where it should belong.

Unfortunately, the fingerprint reading isn’t that fast; there’s a slight pause between the vibration feedback and screen turning on. On the flip side, the scanner serves an additional purpose of being an all-in-one navigation key.

By entering the Moto Actions menu and turning on “One button nav,” you can tap the capacitive button to go home, swipe right to bring up recent apps, swipe left to go back, or hold to turn the screen off. Enabling this frees up some screen space since the on-display navigation bar isn’t needed anymore.

Another useful feature is Moto Display, which works a lot like the Always On tricks of Samsung and Huawei’s own implementation on the P20 Pro. It gives you a glimpse at the time, date, and battery percentage while the phone is on standby; it’ll also light up when a notification arrives or you wave a hand over the phone.

Aside from those, this is simply a solidly built, pure Android smartphone. It comes with Android 8.0 Oreo out of the box with no bloatware whatsoever. Sadly, it isn’t part of the Android One platform, meaning the G6 isn’t guaranteed to get timely updates from Google, and Moto isn’t known to push newer versions of the OS on time.

Running the show is a Snapdragon 450 processor, which slots into the lower-midrange speed realm, but is certainly efficient. Despite the smallish battery, the G6 can last through a day of moderate usage on a single charge with mobile data or Wi-Fi constantly on.

I tried playing a few games, but wasn’t too impressed by the performance. A couple of rounds of Dragon Ball Legends and Asphalt Xtreme didn’t show off the smoothest gameplay or fastest loading times. While the chipset isn’t too bad, the 3GB of memory is lacking, and there’s not much room for all my games and videos on the 32GB of internal storage — though you can expand that using the hybrid SIM and microSD tray.

Our creative director Chay also experienced some hiccups while using the G6’s cameras. Although they look good on paper — a 12- and 5-megapixel rear setup (one with a better f/1.8 lens) — the quality isn’t great and moving from one mode to another can get slow at times.

Here are some of the best photos she took:

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The 8-megapixel front camera isn’t too impressive, either. You’d think it’s good when taking selfies in broad daylight, but it gets grainy even with indoor lighting. Overall, I wouldn’t recommend buying the G6 for its cameras or speed. Neither stand out as much as the build quality.

And that sort of sums up my experience with the Moto G6. As pretty as it looks, there’s not much going on inside. For this phone’s price of US$ 250 (INR 13,999 in India), you can find more powerful devices in the market.

We have two great lists for that, but one advantage the G6 has is its design. I can confidently say it’s the most well-built in its price range.

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Huawei Y9 2018 Hands-on: Another midrange phone from the same company

The more, the merrier?

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There’s a phone in our office that, at first, I thought I already used before, but it turned out being a relatively new model from Huawei.

The budget-midrange market is already populated with a lot of handsets and the Y9 2018 is the latest one to join the group. We can’t blame you if you’re confused about which phone to buy, or better yet, which Huawei phone to get since the company has a number of phones in the same segment.

Without further ado, let’s dive into the Huawei Y9 2018 and check out what’s so special that the company had to make a new model.

The 5.93-inch Full HD+ 18:9 display is sharp and vibrant

There are multiple display modes if you want to tweak the colors

The top bezel houses two front cameras, sensors, and the earpiece

Secondary sensor is for bokeh on selfies

The chin only has Huawei branding

A familiar sight among Huawei phones

The triple-card slot is on the left side…

No need to sacrifice your second SIM card for more storage

While the physical buttons for volume and power are on the right

The long button is for volume, while the short one is for powering up your phone

The bottom side is jampacked with the audio port, micro-USB, microphone, and loudspeaker

It’s pretty busy down here and USB-C is still not available

At the back are the dual rear cameras, LED flash, fingerprint reader, and Huawei logo

Clean but too simple, maybe?

Usual design, boring looks

I miss the good old days when phones looked differently. I can still remember that part of the decision when buying a new phone was the looks, but that’s not the case anymore. Most (if not all) of the phones you see in stores have a plain front fully occupied by the display, and the Y9 2018 is no different.

Good thing its 5.93-inch IPS display doesn’t disappoint thanks to its crisp pixel density and good color reproduction. I do like that you can adjust the color balance of the display according to your liking; it can be warm, cool, or just about whatever temperature you prefer.

The display gives justice to the colorful default theme of the phone’s launcher. EMUI on top of Android Oreo benefits the end user with a lot of customization options and extra features that phones running bare Android don’t have.

Overall, there’s not much to say about the phone’s design. The metal back gives an added premium feel when using the phone, but I’m not liking the gold color of the unit I have. It’s just a personal preference, but the tint of gold phones in 2018 is not as appealing as when it was popular a few years back.

Same performance as other mid-tier Huawei phones

Since most touchscreen phones look alike and manufacturers like to release multiple smartphones in the same segment, we focus on specs because that’s what makes a phone worthwhile today. Thankfully, the Huawei Y9 doesn’t disappoint in this part.

The Y9 2018 is powered by a Kirin 659 processor paired with 3GB of memory and 32GB of storage. That’s about the same processing power as its higher-tier siblings like the Huawei Mate 10 Lite and even the P20 Lite, sans the slightly lower memory. After a few days with the phone, I didn’t encounter any lag. Some apps do load a bit slow compared to a flagship phone, but that’s acceptable given the specs of the device.

Gaming shouldn’t also be an issue but it’s also not the phone’s strength. I tested my go-to game Asphalt Xtreme on the highest-possible settings and it ran smoothly. Other titles should also play fine, but don’t expect the smoothest frame rates or best graphics all the time.

There’s also a large 4000mAh battery inside the phone, but sadly, there’s no support for Huawei SuperCharge. It charges through a micro-USB port and not the reversible USB-C, as well.

Shoots better selfies than others

Equipped with four cameras, the Y9 2018 doesn’t lack any photography prowess. The rear has 13- and 2-megapixel sensors while the front has a whopping 16- and 2-megapixel combo. The numbers alone tell that this phone is made for taking selfies, but that doesn’t mean the main camera is not a good shooter. Here are a few samples taken with the rear cameras:

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The captured details of the rear cameras are decent, but not that great. I also find the dynamic range to be limited, especially in a gloomy day. There’s HDR mode but it’s not automatically available.

As for selfies, here are three samples: one with no beauty effect, another with beauty, and the last one with added bokeh for portrait-like shots.

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The selfies are definitely better than the rear samples, so you might want to get the Y9 2018 for the former. The field of view of the front shooter is also pretty wide, so you’ll be able to take group shots with no problem.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

The Huawei Y9 2018 can easily get lost in the sea of midrange Android phones. It doesn’t offer anything special, but we can’t expect it to because “special features” are reserved for the expensive options. That’s how phone manufacturers form the line between budget, midrange, and premium now.

I see the Y9 2018 as a new option if you find a similar offering too common for your liking. The phone is currently available in select markets in Asia. In Nepal, it’s priced at NPR 25,990 while it goes for THB 6,990 in Thailand.

SEE ALSO: Huawei P20 Pro review: 3 months later

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