Hands-On

Vivo V3, V3 Max Hands-On Review

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This week was one of many firsts. My first trip to India and my first formal introduction to smartphone brand Vivo, whose V3 and V3 Max smartphones marked their global debut here this week.

It’s by no mistake that these phones are unveiled in Mumbai, not New York, or London, or Beijing.

Packed with a pretty impressive feature set, specs to match, not-too-shabby looks, and sub-$300 and $400 price tags, respectively, the V3 and V3 Max are perfectly positioned for the price-sensitive but fiercely demanding Indian market. And for the rest of Southeast Asia where the phones are also slated to go on sale later this month.

The idea of a budget-friendly, premium smartphone isn’t necessarily a novel idea. Other manufacturers have built one before, but in the space, only a few have found success. To be fair, in a world where you get what you pay for, it isn’t easy to deliver a premium experience for less. But if that’s what these phones are intended to do, the Vivo V3 and V3 Max are solid efforts.

IN THIS CORNER

Like many high-end phones this year, both phones are fashioned from aluminum. The V3 Max is phablet-sized, 5.5 inches, and available in gold. Its little brother, the V3, is 5 inches, also available in gold. And because pink is the new black, rose gold also.

Apart from the size difference, everything else is aesthetically similar: white backside antenna bands; sides that are flat and angular; and a scratch-proof Gorilla Glass display that tapers off nicely on all corners. They’re not the best-looking phones we’ve seen this year, but they’re good enough to hold their own against the best of them.

The same can be said of their spec sheet. The V3 and V3 Max don’t come with the most high-end of specs, but you won’t feel like you’ve compromised either. The V3 Max, in particular, has the latest Snapdragon 652 processor and should have enough power to make even serious smartphone gamers happy. In the day I used it around Mumbai, it got the job done, and kept this demanding user satisfied.

FASTER THAN

Vivo claims its new phones are, “faster than faster.” And while someone should be fired over that silly slogan, the phones are indeed fast.

Camera startup time is under a second (0.7 seconds), and so is autofocus (0.2).

Battery charging times are fast, too. In our tests, it took just 80 minutes to get the V3 Max’s 3000mAh battery from 0 to 90 percent using the bundled charger.

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But the most impressive speed stat is clocked by the fingerprint scanner, probably the fastest we’ve seen on a smartphone to date. You tap on the sensor on the back of the phone and the screen instantly lights up in an unlocked state.

BETTER THAN

Vivo differentiates both phones from each other by making the bigger model better. The V3 Max has a more powerful processor, more memory, a higher-resolution display, and a bigger battery. It’s a shame actually, because the 5-inch rose gold V3 Max is a beauty. But unless you have a distaste for phablets, I’d spend extra for the V3 Max.

Both phones come with only 32GB storage, but if that’s not enough, there’s also a hybrid card slot where you can pop in a microSD card for up to 128GB more storage. That storage slot also doubles as a nano SIM slot, so if you don’t need the extra memory, you can have a dual-SIM phone.

I like that the other SIM slot takes micro SIMs, that way when I’m traveling I have a little more flexibility when choosing a local prepaid SIM card.

SAY CHEESE

Apart from giving the V3 and V3 Max snappy cameras, Vivo’s also made sure both phones have cameras that punch above their weight. I was pleasantly surprised with shots taken using the phone’s 13-megapixel main camera; HDR mode worked great, and if you want a little more control, there’s also full manual mode. Browse through our slideshow for sample photos. 

The 8-megapixel selfie camera wasn’t overlooked either. Focal length is wide enough to fit up to 4 people in a shot, but not too wide to cause any distortion. There’s also a host of beautification modes, including a set of makeup filters. Yep! One tap blush and/or gloss.

FUN TOUCH

Both phones run Android 5.1.1 Lollipop out of the box. A bit disappointing considering the latest version of Android called Marshmallow has been available for months now.

Vivo’s custom take on Android is called FunTouch OS, a highly customizable, but toned down version of Android. The interface is clean and elegant, and in may ways closer to iOS. There is no app drawer, and like on the iPhone, you summon the tools menu (on iOS its called Command Center) by swiping up from the bottom of the screen. 

One tool of note is called S-Capture, that apart from screen recordings also allows you to capture extra long screenshots of web pages or chat transcripts. A similar feature is also available on the high-end Samsung Galaxy Note 5.

PRICING AND AVAILABILITY

Indian pricing for the Vivo V3 and V3 Max is Rs 17,980 (P12,500 or $270) and Rs 23,980 (P16,700 or $360), respectively.

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For the price of the V3 Max, you could get the Xiaomi Mi 5, which offers top-of-the-line specs and superior design. But that phone is only officially available in India and China via limited online channels. Also in that price range is the slightly older One Plus 2, if you can somehow manage to secure the invite needed to be eligible to purchase the phone. Crazy, I know!

When both phones hit retail stores in India and China on April 15th, and Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines Thailand, and Vietnam before the end of the month, Vivo will have a leg up over its competitors because you’ll be able to walk into a store and buy one, when you want one. If only the company adjusted pricing by $100 US, they’d make an even stronger case as one of the best mid-range phones today. 

[irp posts=”12138″ name=”How to take the perfect selfie”]

Hands-On

Smart Bro Home WiFi 5G: Fiber-like speeds within reach

The solution to Fiber-less homes

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When the world we live in requires us to stay connected and do our work through our preferred machines at the comfort of our homes, having a stable connection isn’t merely a desire anymore.

Sadly, not all homes are granted a fast Internet connection or fiber connectivity. Even I struggled to deal with intermittent connection from a certain Internet Service Provider (ISP). I remember using an extra 5G-capable smartphone as a mobile hotspot as my backup, especially when I was attending virtual conferences, team meetings, and client briefings.

It was costly, severely damaging my wallet in the process of staying connected. More importantly, not everyone is as privileged as I am. I get access to the latest technology and gadgets in the market.

Hope seems lost for most people, but there’s a new solution: the Smart Bro Home WiFi 5G.

Design and capabilities

The Smart Bro Home WiFi 5G is designed like the routers you see in the market today. Its build is similar to the Huawei WiFi AX3, especially when the device dons a plain, white colorway across its body.

I got the limited edition unit plastered with a cover design, drawn by award-winning Illustrator Stephanie Bravo-Semilla. The artwork playfully depicts how high-speed connectivity can link families together as they pursue their passions.

The router uses WiFi 6 technology — which guarantees speeds three times faster than the commonly used WiFi 5. It’s also equipped with a 5G NR SA/NSA connection, allowing it to connect to two wireless access technologies. Further, it has a 5G PLUS 2NR Carrier Aggregation, which expands the coverage indoors as well as maintains the connection’s stability.

Right off the bat, you can see how the Smart Bro Home WiFi 5G is built with six distinct external antennas as well, picking up better signals. It also have 9dBi high-gain antennas that extend the reach and support Gigabyte Ethernet Ports, WPA3 WiFi Security, and WiFi 22 MIMO.

Indicators, ports, buttons

You can find the LED indicators on top, displaying the status of your WiFi, 5G/4G signal, SIM, and System. There’s a pre-installed Smart SIM card that comes with 20GB of open-access data.

When you plug the router into a socket, it will boot up and the 4G signal will flash first unless it recognizes 5G connectivity in your area.

I used it inside my room, which is found in the innermost part of the house. At first, it didn’t pick up a 5G signal. The LED indicator for the 4G signal was on while the router was trying to find 5G.

That’s when I knew I had to place it outside my door. A few seconds later, the indicator for 5G connectivity lit up.

To confirm it, I turned on my mobile data using my 5G-capable smartphone and connected another one to the Smart Bro Home WiFi 5G. Happy to report that I live in a place where there’s 5G — both my smartphones and the WiFi device are picking up the 5G signal.

At the back, you can find the power port, Ethernet ports, reset button, and WPS button.

GigaLife

When the Smart Bro Home WiFi 5G was already up and running, I continued the setup by following the manual — which instructs you to access the web management page. I turned on my laptop, connected to the WiFi, and changed the network settings.

But that’s a grueling process — continuously going back to the web management page — just to check how your account is performing.

Luckily, you can use Smart’s GigaLife app. I like how it instantly reads the mobile number upon using the app. Even if I’m just connected to the WiFi. There was a prompt asking me if I was using a prepaid WiFi SIM.

Frankly, I dislike the hassle of adding and configuring accounts. I find it really convenient that the app easily recognized the account I’m using.

Through GigaLife, you can check your remaining balance, reload, and even monitor your subscriptions. Everything’s just easy when you have things sorted in one place.

Internet Speed for 5G-capable smartphones

I first tested the Smart Bro Home WiFi 5G through 5G smartphones that I have. Using the Honor 50 and the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE, I was able to do my everyday activities. Basically, the same stuff I would do had I been connected to my existing WiFi.

I played games without any delays, watched Netflix and other video content without buffering, and scrolled non-stop on social media.

I’ve connected two of my smartphones, my Nintendo Switch Lite, and my laptop. The router can supposedly handle 10 devices all at once. And even with four gadgets connected, not once did I feel any stutter in the Internet connection.

But then again, it really depends on the signal picked up in your area.

For laptops

Nevertheless, the Smart Bro Home WiFi 5G gets speeds from 20 to 100Mbps. You can actually do your everyday tasks, including work and school.

My signal gave speeds between 60-70Mbps consistently, more than enough to let me upload and download creative assets for the projects I’m working on.

I’m privileged to have access to PLDT’s Fibr plans with an actual Fiber cable instead of copper lines. When I wasn’t using the 5G network, I get the same speed as I do when connected through the Smart Bro Home WiFi 5G, albeit higher.

The experience is quite the same — in terms of speed, latency, and maintaining the stability of the connection.

For non-5G smartphones

Over the holidays, my cousin who was studying in the province visited our family for a month. Like most people, she hasn’t switched to a 5G-capable smartphone since 5G connectivity isn’t as prevalent in the province as compared to when you’re in Metro Manila and living in key cities.

There’s a preconceived notion that 5G connectivity can’t be enjoyed by non-5G smartphones, but we beg to differ. While you can’t reach sky-high speeds when you do a speed test, the experience is the same as when you’re connected to a WiFi with Fiber connectivity.

My cousin played Call of Duty: Mobile for hours while connected to the Smart Bro Home WiFi 5G, and she expressed interest in taking it home. Especially with how stable the connection was even if there were my other four gadgets connected to the router.

Should you get one?

The Smart Bro Home WiFi 5G is the perfect solution for fiber-less homes wanting to have wireless fiber-like connectivity. You just have to remember that it uses a mobile network. The quality and speed of the connection will always depend on your area. Somehow, it’s a  worthy investment for the everyday consumer living in the Philippines.

Students and budget-conscious consumers can monitor their data usage and spending since it’s prepaid WiFi. If you have spare money, it can be a backup plan just in case your Internet connection is interrupted. You won’t have to worry when you’re in the middle of a meeting, a conference, or an online class.

The Smart Bro Home WiFi 5G retails for PhP 15,995. It will be available at the Smart Online Store. For the same price, you can get the Smart Bro 5G Rocket WiFi. It’s perfect for anyone who needs to stay connected while on the go.

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Starbucks Mobile Order & Pay 2.0: Cut through the queue

Make life less hectic!

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Starbucks Mobile

When you’re an adult, coffee isn’t just a power-up drink helping you get through the day. It becomes an avenue for conversation, an invitation to meet people, a kick you need to fuel your creativity and productivity.

While there are several ways to brew coffee and there are different local neighborhood cafés to explore, Starbucks has always been within reach. And it has ingrained itself as an important part of my working life. A staple of the modern workforce’s culture. A lifestyle — tradition to an extent — that seeped in through the interstices of friendships and family.

When the pandemic struck, I started learning how to brew my own coffee. Occasionally, I order my caffeine fix through Grab or Foodpanda. But the experience isn’t the same.

Keyword: Experience. That’s precisely what Starbucks offers. So when Starbucks Philippines sent me a holiday card to try the new Mobile Order & Pay, a feature they had for a while that was rehashed, I decided it’s time to go out and try again.

Exploring the app

The Mobile Order & Pay 2.0 is available through the Starbucks app. If you’re a Starbucks lover, you probably have an account registered to Starbucks Rewards. The app is easy to use, particularly because of its clean user interface (UI) design.

Through the Starbucks app, you can check your account’s transaction history, monitor the stars collected via the Rewards program, and make some changes to your personal profile and payment methods. The app also has a lot of promotional materials, parading their latest drinks and treats that you can avail yourself of in-store or online.

Starbucks Mobile

And more importantly, you can reload your account, register your cards, and of course, get ahead of your day and order your favorite beverages.

Cut through the line

Once I got my cards settled in, I ordered my go-to drink: Cold brew topped with four pumps of white mocha sauce. I placed my order through the Mobile Order & Pay 2.0 feature, which gave me four options to pick up my order. Although, the options vary depending on the closest branch near you.

There’s the usual In-store pickup where you head straight to the pickup counter for your order. Yes, you won’t get in line anymore. When I tried this pickup option, everyone gave me looks when I went past the queue and headed straight to ask the Barista about my order. I had the audacity to ask about my drink because the app notified me when the order was ready.

Starbucks Mobile

When I got my drink, I walked out of the store feeling ravished. It felt like I was in a slow-mo montage of a coming-of-age film where the protagonist suddenly did something extraordinary. Frankly, this is my favorite pickup option. It makes so much sense to just get your orders if you can walk inside. And that gives you extra steps for your smartwatch to count. Get moving, people!

But if you don’t like the hassle of scanning your QR codes and getting your temperature checked, or the usual mumbo-jumbo you encounter inside a store, there are other pickup options outside.

Just wait outside

My other favorite option was the Outdoor pickup, which I chose when I was passing by Starbucks The Grove — my favorite branch in Pasig. I was dead-tired from a weekend night-out with my friends at Okada Manila, and the all-night casino adventure bled through a Monday morning.

I was on my way home, ready for work. Then, I realized I badly need the good ol’ Barista Drink. Nothing can beat an americano topped with white mocha sauce splashed with sub-breve (and no water!). Especially when it comes to waking you and your senses up. More importantly, you can have it served iced or hot depending on your preferences.

Starbucks Mobile

I placed my order when I was already in Arcovia City, a kilometer away from The Grove by Rockwell. Apparently, you can’t order ahead for an Outdoor pickup if you’re 3 kilometers away, which I tried to do when I was still in Taguig. So you have to be close to the branch if you want to place your order.

I tried to do the math in my head, calculating if I can pull over for a minute while I wait for my order. But I’m bad at numbers so I went ahead. The app said the order will be ready in five to six minutes anyway.

I pulled over when I arrived at the branch, and I didn’t wait long enough for one of my favorite baristas to come out to my chosen pickup point and hand me my order.

Stay in your car

I hate parking. Or wasting the time spent trying to park properly in between enormous SUVs. Or finding a spot to park your vehicle. This is why I don’t understand the Curbside pickup option, where the barista locates your designated parking slot and gives your order while practicing social and safe distancing.

I tried the pickup option in Starbucks Sierra Valley — a humongous, stand-alone branch with a massive parking space and drive-thru option found east of Metro Manila.

Starbucks Mobile

If you’re in a time crunch, this option really doesn’t make sense. But if you have a few moments to spare and you don’t want to get out of your vehicle for safety measures against the COVID-19 (and its variants), then the Curbside pickup is the way to go.

Frankly speaking, it doesn’t work for me. I know having your order brought to you is part of the experience, but I value my time. And it was against my morals to just sit inside my car and wait for the barista to come out and bring my order. In my head, they could be doing more valuable things than going outside the store, when I can pick up my order at their counter.

The In-store pickup is the fastest option in my experience, and I feel good doing the task instead of sitting and waiting around. I guess it’s my can-do attitude speaking, but that’s how I’m really built.

Drive through it

Now, there’s another option to get your order: Drive-thru pickup. You just have to line up in a queue of cars and wait for your turn. Like the Curbside pickup option, I didn’t like the Drive-thru pickup for one reason: It takes too long to get through the drive-thru window.

People are afraid to get out of their vehicles because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and that’s valid. That’s why there are plenty of cars lining up to get their caffeine fix. I spent roughly 30 minutes waiting for my turn, which annoyed me since it would’ve been faster if I chose the In-store or Outdoor pickup.

Making life less hectic

Regardless of my rants and experience, the Mobile Order & Pay 2.0 lets you get your favorite treats and beverages conveniently. In the way you like it.

While I’ve loved the In-store and Outdoor pick-up because they work well with my personality and lifestyle, I know some people (read: friends) would enjoy the Curbside and Drive-thru pickup. Especially since they’re cautious about the pandemic.

Not that I’m not wary of the virus being out there, I just value my time because every second counts. If I wanted to waste my time waiting, I would’ve lined up inside.

Nevertheless, the rehashed feature is worth giving a try. Through the Starbucks app, you can customize your orders. Just like your baristas, the app can modify the size, the number of espresso shots, dairy selection, and various options for your order. All done with just a single tap on your smartphone.

Frankly speaking, the Mobile Pay & Order 2.0 made my life easier especially when I’m in a hurry to get a caffeine fix. Not all days can be spent brewing your coffee, living in a slowed-down lifestyle. Some days, we just need to get through it, and Starbucks knows how to accompany me through those days.

The Starbucks PH app is available on The App Store and Google’s Play Store.

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Samsung Galaxy S21 FE: Unboxing and Hands-on

A more affordable Galaxy S21!

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Samsung’s Galaxy S20 FE was one of 2020’s popular smartphones — even more than the S20 lineup. With its power-packed performance in a more affordable price point, you get to experience a flagship-grade Samsung phone.

That success also comes with a new successor. The Galaxy S21 FE isn’t very different from the Galaxy S21 — glasstic back, 120Hz AMOLED display, speedy 5nm chipset, and more. But what makes it different and more special versus the entry-level Galaxy S21 and other phones in the market today such as the iPhone 13 mini and Pixel 6?

Watch our Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Unboxing and Hands-on video now!

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