Hands-On

Vivo NEX hands-on review: The future looks great

Vivo’s best smartphone to date

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In case you haven’t heard, the future is here. In 2018, smartphone manufacturers are finding themselves in a race to designing a truly bezel-less phone.

Engineers will tell you a compromise has to be made in order to achieve that because of all the tech they have to fit into the front of the phone. Some brands opt for a notch to house all of that; some offer minimal bezels and curved edges; others have awkwardly placed front cameras.

Design: More than meets the eye

Vivo, it seems, is at the forefront of this all-display race. On the NEX, the Chinese company offers an exact 91.24 percent screen-to-body ratio, one of the highest we’ve seen on a smartphone. To do that, Vivo had to move things around and put more features under the display itself.

Sure, there’s a tiny chin at the bottom of the phone, but it’s not really something you’ll notice during everyday use, unless, maybe, you’re obsessive compulsive.

On the midrange NEX A, you’ll find a fingerprint sensor at the back of the phone. On the higher end NEX S, the fingerprint sensor is under the display — a feature Vivo first put on the X20 UD and X21. It’s something that might take a lot of getting used to, and in the past week of using the under-display method, I found myself entering my passcode more than using the scanner because it fails too often.

It would have been nice to have face unlock as a backup, but up top, there are no cameras to do that. It’s hidden inside the phone, and shows up only when activated on the camera app, but I’ll talk about that more later.

The NEX also does away with the traditional earpiece and replaces it with what Vivo calls Screen SoundCasting technology, which transforms the display into a speaker. Like most new tech, it works, but nothing beats the tried and tested front-firing stereo speakers found on other smartphones if you’re looking for great audio.

The display is Super AMOLED, which means more saturated colors and darker blacks. The viewing experience is great, although I can’t say for certain I will miss the bezel-less experience when I switch to a different phone in the future. Also, it’s bright enough for my day-to-day use outdoors, unless I’m wearing sunglasses.

On the back of the phone is a glass panel. The phone doesn’t have wireless charging or any water-resistance rating. Instead, if you look closely, you’ll find thousands of dynamic color diffraction units.

Compared to bright colors and gradients, the black NEX looks rather boring for a phone from the future. The design feature on the back is so subtle, it only shows when it’s hit by harsh lights.

Yes, the phone emits rainbows like a unicorn.

You can also see it indoors.

Apart from that, the phone looks and feels premium overall. The rounded corners offer a comfortable grip, and it feels like one solid piece of glass with no sharp edges.

And in case you’re wondering: There is a headphone jack.

Cameras: Cool and capable

Having a mechanical pop-up camera has its repercussions, but first let’s take a moment to appreciate how awesome this piece of tech really is.

A handful of curious people actually came up to me while shooting this around Moscow and when I showed them how it pops up, their jaws dropped.

If you’re wary about durability, Vivo says the camera has undergone drop- and dust-resistance tests, and can repeatedly elevate and retract up to 50,000 times. I did the math myself, and that’s around 137 years if you only take one selfie per day and 6.8 years if you shoot 20 each day. At this point, I can’t say if that claim is accurate, but the selfie camera feels well built and hasn’t shown any signs of wear and tear yet.

The whole process doesn’t feel as fast as a normal selfie camera would, only because a physical part of the phone moves; it’s honestly not something that would bother anyone over time. If you check the smartphone you’re using now, you’ll notice that switching to the front camera also doesn’t happen as fast as you’d think. After getting over the wow factor, I got so used to how natural the process is — so much so that I eventually forgot that the front camera needs to pop up before I take a selfie.

Inside is an 8-megapixel lens, with Face Beauty options for both photo and video modes. I appreciate that it makes my skin less oily and eyebags smaller, but I don’t really like how it flattens my cheeks, and makes my irises artificially bigger, rounder, and blacker.

One thing that makes the selfie camera stand out for me, aside from the fact that it literally stands out, is how well it handles dynamic range. For scenarios like this, you either get a blown-out window to keep my face well-exposed, or an underexposed subject with a properly lit background.

Here’s another one I took by my hotel window thanks to the palm gesture. The AI HDR feature on the Vivo NEX is able to balance it out, resulting in a photo that looks as if I have another light source (I didn’t).

The same AI HDR feature also functions on the dual rear cameras. It works really well, although some photos turn out oversharpened.

Both the front and rear cameras have portrait mode, which separates the foreground from the background and blurs the latter out. Like most phones we’ve reviewed, the bokeh still looks artificial, but the one taken with the rear shooters looks a lot more polished than that of the selfie cam.

In indoor and low-light scenarios, the phone does a pretty good job at capturing details and minimizing noise. Some photos have mushier details up close, as it tries to compensate for the lack of light sources.

One thing I always ask myself when testing smartphone cameras is this: Can I rely on it to take Instagram-worthy photos when traveling? In this case, the Vivo NEX ticks that box and that’s saying a lot considering it’s my first time in Russia. My only complaint is the lack of a useful secondary camera. A telephoto or wide-angle lens would be great while watching the World Cup or avoiding crowds in framing touristy landmarks.

Check out more photos I took with the Vivo NEX below and on my Instagram.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

The Vivo NEX is no longer the concept phone we saw at Mobile World Congress in February. Our first glimpse into the future is here; it’s exciting and looks great.

If you want to be one of the first to step into that, then by all means get the phone if you can and if it’s within your budget. For a smartphone from Vivo, the price is a little steep — CNY 3,898 (US$ 608) for the NEX A, and CNY 4,498 (US$ 702) for the NEX S. That’s more than its other value-for-money flagship counterparts like the OnePlus 6 and Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S. It’s also only available in China for now.

But what the NEX offers are features other smartphones don’t have. It’s a phone that you’d want to show off to your friends, and they’ll surely want to see it, too.

Its defining feature is a beautiful, unique design that changes the way we’ve been using the smartphone: under-display fingerprint sensor, the display as a speaker, and a pop-up camera. Even then, the learning curve is not that high if you do decide to switch. Once you get over all the new tech, using the phone will feel as natural and normal as any other phone you’ve gotten used to.

I can’t say for certain that it’s the best in the market today, but this is undoubtedly Vivo’s best smartphone to date. And in so many ways, what Vivo made here is already comparable to a lot of premium smartphones, one that’s more than deserving of your time and consideration.

Gaming

GameSir X2 Pro-Xbox: Unboxing and Hands-On

Cloud and mobile gaming companion

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GameSir X2 Pro-Xbox

There’s this idea that the best camera is the one you have with you. Perhaps, the same can be said for gaming. With smartphones and mobile gaming advancing rapidly in the last five years, that’s never been more true than today.

While touch controls are the norm in this space, there’s still something about physical buttons that make gaming feel more tangible. That’s where GameSir comes in. And they’re taking things further by partnering with Xbox to give us the GameSir X2 Pro-Xbox edition of their controller.

GameSir X2 Pro-Xbox

Here’s what the box looks like.

GameSir X2 Pro Xbox

Inside the box is what every GameSir package has — a carrying case to protect this precious gadget.

GameSir X2 Pro-Xbox

Open the case and you’ll be greeted by this packet and the device itself.

Inside you’ll find the user manual, replacement grips for the thumbsticks, and a GameSir sticker.

There’s also an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription code valid for one month.

This is one of the main draws of this gadget as it works seamlessly with Xbox Game Pass. All games in the service with controller support will work immediately with the GameSir X2 Pro-Xbox.

GameSir X2 Pro Xbox

You also get a USB to USB-C cable.

GameSir X2 Pro-Xbox

And here’s the GameSir X2 Pro Xbox in black.

It’s also available in white but we opted for black to match the color of the Xbox Series X. The official colorway names are Midnight Black and Moonlight White.

The device expands once you slot in a phone. It supports most Android phones if they are 110-179mm long. The largest phone we’ve used this with is the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3. We also regularly used it with the HONOR Magic4 Pro and the OnePlus 10T.

GameSir X2 Pro-Xbox

Here’s a closer look at the right-hand side.

The face buttons matches that of the Xbox controller both in layout and in colors. The Xbox logo there is actually a button. It functions as a ‘Home’ button. Initially, we thought it would launch the Game Pass app, but that’s not the case.

The ABXY buttons are also customizable. You can use it as is or change is to the Switch layout. You just need to select the correct layout on the GameSir App to make sure the configuration is correct.

The USB-C connector is still flexible.

Not shown in the photo above, but the USB-C connector is flexible enough to bend a little bit to make connecting your smartphone easier.

GameSir X2 Pro-Xbox

The left hand side has the thumbstick, D-Pad, and a couple more buttons.

GameSir X2 Pro-Xbox

You also have the usual shoulder and trigger buttons.

And they’re about just as satisfying as any shoulder and trigger buttons we’ve used. There’s enough depth and feel here to satisfy most people’s controller needs.

GameSir X2 Pro-Xbox

Mappable buttons at the back.

Lastly, you get two mappable buttons at the back. One on each side of the controller.

GameSir App

GameSir X2 Pro-Xbox

The GameSir app is better than ever. The companion app immediately detects the your GameSir gadget once you’re connected to your phone. Upon firing it up, you’ll also be shown a list of the games you have installed. There’s even a shortcut to the Game Pass app from there.

It’s advisable to install the app right away as soon as you get whatever GameSir gadget you have. While the GameSir X2 Pro-Xbox will work immediately on Game Pass games and mobile games with controller support, you’ll need the app to map controls for popular games like Genshin Impact and Call of Duty: Mobile.

Game Pass gaming

GameSir X2 Pro-Xbox

But let’s just straight to what this whole thing is for — playing with games on Game Pass. There isn’t much to say except it really does feel like you’re playing AAA games while on the go.

With the Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription, you get access to a wide library of games ranging from AAA to indie ones. As long as they’re on Game Pass, you’ll be able to play them as you please.

Naturally, this comes with a caveat. Game Pass Ultimate isn’t exactly available in all territories. For markets without Game Pass Ultimate support, your next best option is to use a VPN. If you’re not sure which one to use, we recommend ExpressVPN.

GameSir X2 Pro-Xbox

 

Once you’re all setup, it’s just a matter of picking the games you like and playing to your heart’s content. If you’re used to actual console controllers like the ones that come with the Xbox Series X|S or the PlayStation 5/4, you’ll definitely need a little bit of adjustment.

It shouldn’t take longer than a couple of hours though. Any gamer who’s used any controller should be able to adapt to its size rather quickly thanks to its general layout.

Cloud gaming

Just because it has the Xbox branding doesn’t mean it only works with Game Pass. This is still very much a GameSir controller. And like most other GameSir controllers, it will work with other cloud gaming services.

We connected this with Steam Link and had no troubles whatsoever. We also fired up the PS Remote Play app although that’s a little trickier since it requires mapping.

Mobile gaming

We also played our fair share of mobile games using the GameSir X2 Pro-Xbox. We especially spent a significant time playing Tower of Fantasy which surprisingly had controller support. Although, you’re gonna have to feel your way through this to start because the buttons aren’t labeled.

Should you buy the GameSir X2 Pro-Xbox?

GameSir X2 Pro-Xbox

We skipped on doing an entirely full review because we already did that for this device. Just go check our GameSir X2 review for something more thorough. But to answer the question, it really depends on the type of games you play.

As mentioned in our review, it works best on sports and driving games. But as of writing, the mobile gaming as a whole is rapidly maturing. So much so that we’re seeing open world, action-RPG type games have more support for controllers. You also have remastered classics like Final Fantasy VII, VIII, and IX, available to play and with controller support too.

Like mobile gaming, cloud gaming is also starting to gain ground especially in territories with fast internet connection. This opens up your smartphone into a whole new world of gaming that wasn’t exactly easy to recommend three or so years ago. But as of right now, the GameSir X2 Pro-Xbox is a nice add-on device for any gamer.

It also doesn’t hurt that for its price (US$ 79.99), you get quite a few additions in the box not present in its pricier competitors. The carrying case and the Game Pass subscription are nice value-add items that GameSir offers.


You can BUY the GameSir X2 Pro-Xbox here, When you checkout, use the coupon code GadgetMatchX2P for an 8% discount. The code is valid until October 31, 2022.

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Accessories

The art of sharing your favorite moments

With the instax mini Link 2

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instax mini Link 2

We all want to freeze certain moments and live in it forever. Recollecting the echoes of shrieks, giggles, and peals of laughter that we want to relish perpetually.

That’s probably why I’m in love with photographs, even when I live in the age of video and moving pictures. It’s still enchanting. A slice of time captured, preserved. Holding stories that you can recall instantly, without having to finish watching from beginning to end.

Don’t just take, give

Throughout the years, Fujifilm has consistently delivered instant cameras and instant film printers with its instax line. I usually bring my instax Mini 9 to important occasions where I have the liberty to choose a moment for us to remember. But on the occasion that I don’t, I always have my smartphone to capture memories.

Instax mini Link (2019) | Photo by MJ Jucutan/GadgetMatch

In 2019, Fujifilm unveiled the mini Link which prints your favorite photos from your phone. This year, the mini Link had a successor called the mini Link 2 —  which I had for quite a while now. It’s still a smartphone printer, but there’s so much more.

I brought the mini Link 2 to my recent travels such as my birthday weekend in Calatagan and my trip to Bangkok. In between, I finally learned what it’s like to share my favorite moments.

Tiny changes

Instax mini Link 2 | Photo by MJ Jucutan/GadgetMatch

The mini Link 2 looks fairly like its predecessor with only scanty changes. It still has that stripe pattern on its exterior, but instax’s logo — which serves as the power button — looks bigger and rounder.

The charging port is still inconspicuous, and the design of the film door hasn’t changed. FYI: If you’re new to instax cameras, once you insert your film pack, don’t open the film door again lest you waste your remaining films.

On another note, the most notable differences are the appearance of a button on the side of the printer’s mouth, and an LED panel for augmented reality (AR) function.

Other than that, the unit I have this year comes in Space Blue. I was gunning for the Clay White since I had the Ash White in 2019, but the navy colorway matches most of my accessories so I’m settling with it.

There’s fun in printing

The mini Link 2, like its predecessor, is reasonably easy to use. One press on its big power button, and the printer will turn on. It also connects seamlessly with my iPhone 13 and Samsung Galaxy Z Fold4, so there’s no such thing as Android vs iPhone here.

To connect, you must link your smartphone and the printer via the dedicated app, which you can download on the App Store and Play Store. (That’s why it’s called instax mini Link.)

The interface is easy to understand. From the get-go, you have an overview of the device connection, how many films are left, and how much is the current battery capacity of the mini Link 2.

Through the app, you can find two modes: Print Mode and Fun Mode. You can switch modes by clicking your desired mode, or adjusting the position of the printer. If it’s standing up, it will go to fun mode. If it’s lying down, it will go to print mode.

Print Mode

Via Print Mode, you can do a “Simple Print” where you pick a photo from your gallery, and print it using the mini Link 2. This is the easiest way to share your memories.

Of course, there are candid moments that we want to freeze but are instead captured by video. Fret not, the app has “Video Print” where you can select the video you want and choose the frame you’d love to print.

For those who are always ready to take unplanned captures, the instax Camera feature allows you to use your device’s camera to take a photo right away, so you can print it immediately. Personally, this is the feature I used the least. I mean, why should I?

Fun Mode

The second iteration of the instax mini Link puts more focus on Fun Mode. Now, it has “Frame Print” that lets you select various frames you can work with for your photos. Think: your aunties and uncles with their framed profile photos on Facebook.

For those who want to fit so much with the little space an instax film has, there’s a “Collage Print“. You can have fun splitting images, if you’re up for it. Not me, though. It’s a waste of film.

Match Test“, which was previously a feature to see your compatibility with someone through your photo, has just got an upgrade. It still has the same “Match Test” and “Quick Diagnosis” from before, but with an extra addition called “Go With Your Instinct“.

The feature uses a different quiz that determines if you’re compatible with your friend. The effect will show a gradient frame which can indicate if you’re compatible or not.

Make more personalized prints!

Now, the mini Link 2 offers two features that basically let you draw.

Let’s start with “Sketch, Edit, and Print“. First, you draw your design on paper, scan it with your phone, and it will extract the sketch or text — whatever you put on the paper.

You can adjust the color and size, and you can apply it anywhere in the photo. You can take a new photo so it matches your sketch, or you can find a photo that already works. Then, you print it!

Draw in the air

What’s really new is the instaxAIR option, which basically lets you print around in the air which you can put onto your image. You can use your finger to draw directly on your smartphone, or you can use the instax’s LED light to draw in the air.

There are paintbrushes for you to consider, so select wisely. Personally, I love using Neon as compared to Spray paint.

You can also take a video of your drawing, which can be accessed through a QR code. When you print it and someone scans the QR code, they can have a playback of the video recording on their smartphone.

On learning how to share

instax mini Link 2

As I have mentioned, I was having back-to-back trips to Calatagan and Bangkok during my birthday month. What I’ve learned in my trips is how memories are worth reminiscing if it’s shared.

With the instax mini Link 2, I can re-print all the photos I just printed so my loved ones can have a copy, too. I can simply rotate the device and press the big button, or I can go back to the print history to check which photos are worth re-printing.

instax mini Link 2

In a way, the film prints became a souvenir. It’s perfect for making your favorite moments tangible. Something you want to hold onto in the years to come. After all, photographs have a knack for making us feel differently.

A single snap; a frozen still and slice in time. Who knows what stories and emotions can be unearthed with just a single photograph?

I think that’s the beauty of these film prints. Memories may be fleeting. Life may be ephemeral. But these photographs can preserve a memory that will be with us throughout the years. It’s magical.

instax mini Link 2

Is the instax mini Link 2 your GadgetMatch?

There are plenty of use cases for the instax mini Link 2. But for those who are sentimental and want to turn their memories into something tangible, the instax mini Link 2 can easily be a GadgetMatch.

It’s ideal for every occasion you want to cherish. With a compact design and easy-to-use functionalities, it’s no doubt it can be your travel companion, too.

instax mini Link 2

The instax mini Link 2 is available in three colorways: Soft Pink, Clay White, and Space Blue. It retails for PhP 7,299, and will be available for purchase in authorized Fujifilm instax dealers nationwide, as well as official online flagship stores in Lazada and Shopee.

SEE ALSO: The art of printing moments that you can hold onto | Sights and sounds of summer in the Upper East Side | Why the instax mini Link is the best accessory for any occasion

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Gaming

Saints Row 2022 Hands-On: Back and better than ever?

Slowly returning to form after a long absence from the scene

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Saints Row

Saints Row, as a video game franchise, was a hit for a lot of people during its peak. Volition Studios sought to create an action-packed open world experience, fully customizable and accessible to everyone. However, it put itself in that situation of just being a clone of another franchise with a similar premise — Grand Theft Auto. In order to be unique, everything about the games became over-the-top, especially the storylines and, later on, gameplay mechanics.

Unfortunately, this “over-the-top” approach didn’t sit well in the game’s last mainline release, Saints Row IV. In a rather bizarre twist, that game went a bit too crazy with the gameplay mechanics that an entire plot of taking over cities from rival gangs played second fiddle. No wonder this franchise hasn’t seen another game since Saints Row IV’s release in 2015.

Now, the franchise is back, totally rebooting the entire series in its return with Saints Row (2022). I don’t know why they decided to keep the name as is and not add anything to differentiate it, but maybe the idea was that it would sell itself. This time, the developers returned to their roots and are veering away from any wacky antics, supposedly.

Action-packed right out of the gate

After getting through a short opening sequence, Saints Row throws you into the meniacal and action-packed gameplay. Basically, you play as a character simply referred to as “The Boss,” working as an average member of society under Marshall Defense Industries. During this segment, you will get a grasp of some of the basic gameplay mechanics such as movement and combat — pretty standard stuff.

Shortly after that mission, you’re off to explore the land of Santo Ileso in the southwest regions of America. Of course, you don’t get full access to everything the overworld has to offer since it is your first day. However, at the very least, you’ll also get a good feel of the game’s improved driving mechanics. Honestly, they feel a bit closer to real-life driving, except for this one mechanic that lets you immediately go 90 degrees at each turn.

For the most part, everything feels nice to control and no wacky gimmicks get in the way. I honestly enjoyed clicking heads in the earlier parts of the game as part of Marshall without relying on aim assist too much. Plus, nothing seems too over-the-top when it comes to combat and driving mechanics; gameplay flows smoothly this time around and it takes a fair amount of time to get used to everything. Although, I think the game’s target locking system needs a bit of work, especially when you’re on a controller.

Brimming with customization

The thing that made Saints Row stand out against that other game is the plethora of customization options you have at your disposal. The 2022 reboot clearly did not lack in such, and actually gave you more options this time around. From the very beginning, you get to design your character however you want. From the clothes to the body features, the games offers a wide variety of options to help you get creative.

Saints Row

Now, the customization doesn’t stop there as you will also have access to custom designs for your vehicles and weapons, as well. Think of it like you’re giving your own personal spin on the things you will most likely use throughout the game. From increased power to unique perks, these massively support the kind of explosive action this franchise brings. I’ll definitely explore all the other upgrades you can mess around with later on in the story.

A story from the ground up this time

Unlike every other Saints Row game, before the 2022 reboot goes for the “started from the bottom” approach with its storyline. Previous games had already placed you under the wing or radar of the 3rd Street Saints, an already established yet smaller gang in the grand perspective of gang warfare. This time around, you and three of your in-game friends will build a new gang to takeover Santo Ileso — you know, the whole “make a name for yourself” type of thing.

I quite like this approach to the story, especially for a franchise rebooting a game that needed some changes. Honestly, this whole idea of starting your own gang adds a bit more depth to everything you’ll set out to do within the game. Also, as with every Saints Row game, the developers are not afraid to make it a bit more personal. I’m not going to spoil too much of what happens to your character during the story, but let’s just say you’ll find your purpose later on.

Of course, with this kind of storytelling, I do have this expectation of it leading to something fruitful in the end. Early in the game, it shows you a glimpse of what life as “The Boss” would shape up to be, with the Saints as the top dog. However, getting to that point will be all on you, and I’d like to see how the game complements your journey.

Should you give it a chance?

The Saints Row 2022 reboot is a promising return for a franchise absolving itself of its wackier past. From the first couple of hours that I played, it gives me hope that the franchise had learned from its mistakes while maintaining its identity. Sure, you still have slightly improved gameplay and movement and all. This time around, the callback to a more refined, serious yet fun storyline interests me.

Saints Row

If you’re a fan of the earlier games in the franchise, this feels like a must try for the nostalgia in the gameplay. For anybody who swore off this franchise after Saints Row IV, this game could honestly bring you back if you give it a chance. So far, I’m enjoying the reboot and I’m genuinely optimistic about how this game will play out.

I’m just hoping there won’t be any surprise crazy gimmicks that I have to deal with.

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