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Xiaomi Mi A1 review: Android One is back!

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As much as I love Xiaomi phones for their generous feature sets and competitive prices, I could never fully get behind MIUI, the brand’s take on how the Android operating system should look and feel.

Don’t get me wrong; MIUI has introduced several functions that were eventually imitated by Google’s stock Android itself, but the incompatibility with certain apps, pickiness when pairing with third-party accessories, and lack of an app drawer (or the option to bring it back) hinder an otherwise complete interface.


That’s why seeing a Xiaomi handset equipped with a pure Android OS got me so excited. Based on Google’s newly resurrected Android One platform, the Mi A1 has it all: a dual-camera setup, affordable price tag, and Pixel-like experience.

It isn’t all perfect as we had learned, however. Read on.

Look at that pure version of Android

Looks great on the 5.5-inch 1080p display

And all-metal back with a couple of plastic antenna bands

It’s slippery and there’s no bundled case to add grip

Here’s a closer look at the Android One branding

Too many logos if you ask me

The camera bump is unsightly and prone to scratches

Also adds wobble when laid flat on a table

Rear-mounted fingerprint sensor is fast as usual

I would’ve preferred it in front like the Mi 6, though

Like other Xiaomi phones, this one has an IR blaster

Can be used to control your TV and other compatible devices

And yes, the newer USB-C port is at the bottom

This is still a rarity on entry-level handsets

How well does it perform?

This is where things get interesting. On top of owning stock Android — which entails having a clutter-free interface, consistent software updates to improve performance, and no bloatware — the Mi A1 uses one of our favorite processors, the Snapdragon 625. Every handset we’ve reviewed with this chipset has done well in our tests, including the ZenFone 4 and Xiaomi’s own Redmi Note 4X.

Combined with the industry standard 4GB of memory and 64GB of expandable storage, you’re pretty much assured a smooth ride with any light app you throw at the Mi A1. Playing with the highest graphics settings on games like NBA 2K17 and Asphalt Xtreme is out of reach without some stutters here and there, but medium settings are doable.

Only a few non-Google apps come pre-installed; otherwise, the Android 7.1.2 Nougat we have here is as clean as it gets. This being part of the Android One program, I wonder why the Mi A1 doesn’t have Oreo already, which has been out for two months now. Although it’s sure to arrive within the year, I hope the rollout will be a little faster once Android P becomes available next year.

Can it take pretty pictures?

I’ll cover the main attraction first: the dual-camera setup. Both sensors at the back are 12 megapixels in resolution, with one offering a regular wide-angle lens and the other being telephoto for zooming in on subjects. You can see how it works with these samples:

 

The implementation is great; activating the 2x optical zoom is quick, and it helps take shots you’d normally miss on a smartphone. But even though both cameras seem equal on paper, the results aren’t as even. Photos from the telephoto lens are darker and sometimes blurrier than those from the wide-angle equivalent — nothing experience-ruining, however.

Both cameras also lack optical image stabilization, meaning they’re prone to shaky hands and producing blurry shots under poor lighting. It’s only when the conditions are just right and you get enough natural daylight that photos turn out as good as the ones we have here.

For more travel photos, check out our Creative Director’s trip to Busan, South Korea with the Mi A1.

Can it last over a day?

While not as large in battery capacity as its sibilings the Mi Max and Redmi Note 4X, the 3080mAh size is more than enough in most instances. During my review, I managed to get exactly a day of use with LTE constantly on and a screen-on time of five hours. That puts the Mi A1 in line with most modern smartphones, but way behind what the two aforementioned Xiaomi handsets pull off on a daily basis.

What sucks is the lack of fast charging, even though there’s a Qualcomm chip inside. It’s an enduring omission on lower-end Xiaomi devices, and makes full charges a total chore. It takes me two and a half hours to bring the Mi A1 to a hundred percent using the included charger. For comparison, smartphones with much larger batteries take less than two hours to top up when fast charging is present.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

The fact alone that the Mi A1 is an Android One device integrated with Xiaomi’s excellent hardware and low pricing makes it a winner. Inside and out, this phone rarely disappoints, making a strong case for being the best handset in its tightly contested class. The nifty dual-camera setup is simply a cherry on top — a well-appreciated one at that.

Drawbacks are few: I’d prefer seeing the fingerprint sensor on the thick bottom bezel in place of the plain capacitive home button; fast charging would’ve also been grand, if not necessary for a more complete package. We can’t have them all, can we?

Our unit, which we acquired through Xiaomi India, retails for INR 14,999, which converts to around US$ 230. This pits the Mi A1 against some excellent options in this price range, but the Xiaomi product stands out for its purest form of Android and generous helping of dual-camera goodness.

Outside of India, you can purchase the Mi A1 at GearBest.com.

SEE ALSO: 24 Hours in Busan with the Xiaomi Mi A1

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Gaming

Lenovo IdeaPad L340 Gaming Laptop Review: Flaming hot productivity and gaming

Blue, truly is the warmest color

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Gaming laptops are a joy to have, when you own one. You have a device that basically delivers everything you need: productivity and leisure in one package. The only real drawback to even buying one is the price tag, as crazier specs demand crazy prices.

It’s only fairly recently that manufacturers decided that gaming on the go doesn’t have to be expensive. Lenovo has one device that fits the bill in terms of affordability, and also incorporates top-line specs for heavy duty performance. This is what the Lenovo IdeaPad L340 Gaming Laptop is all about.


But is it truly a worthy investment? Let’s find out.

It has a 15-inch FHD IPS display, with thin bezels at the side

It comes with a backlit keyboard in the shade of blue

It can literally flex all the way, 180 degrees style

It comes with a powerful NVIDIA GTX 1650 graphics card

An excellent laptop for productive workload

I will just put it out there: the Lenovo IdeaPad L340 Gaming laptop is one productive machine. Powered by a 9th generation Intel Core i5 processor and 8GB of RAM, I could do anything ever so quickly. Multitasking felt like a breeze when using this device, and not a single drop in overall performance all throughout.

Because of the processor and RAM configuration, you won’t be limited to just the usual tasks. On this device, I did manage to do photo and video editing, and the device did not lag at any point. Mix that with document typing, audio and video streaming, and no signs of lag detected.

What bothered me for just a bit was the fact that the device came with a 1TB HDD. If there was an SSD inside, boot times would have been faster. When I first opened the device, it took about five to seven minutes before the device fully booted up. If you’re in a rush to get that paper or report submitted, this could be a problem for you. 

Game like an absolute beast with the GTX 1650

I was thoroughly impressed with the onboard NVIDIA GTX 1650 for this device. It comes with 4GB of VRAM, which allows greater graphics processing at a high rate. I played most popular PC titles at their maximum settings and observed no loss in performance all throughout.

Popular titles like Fortnite: Battle Royale and Apex Legends all peaked at 60 FPs, with highs of 65 to 70 FPS on their highest setting. Every time I got a chance to play, frames rendered in quite smoothly — which is essential for intense gameplay. 

Other titles like Counter Strike: Global Offensive and Rocket League garnered an average of 113 FPS. Of course, granted that these titles are not the most graphically-demanding compared to the others. Still, I experienced buttery-smooth gameplay, and GeForce Experience did its part with optimizations in between.

A laptop that actually respects your privacy

Every time you get a new laptop, you’re always afraid of the deep web getting to you. So you go on ahead and patch your webcams up with a piece of paper or a bandage. I’m not only to believe that to be honest, but this device does — and has found a solution to it.

The Lenovo IdeaPad L340 Gaming laptop comes with its own physical Privacy Shutter. If you’re too worried about your own privacy, you can just slide that thing to the left. I honestly found this a nifty solution instead of having to waste a good piece of paper or bandage.

Of course, if you don’t like that, you can just simply do it on the keyboard. Nonetheless, this is quite possibly the first device I’ve seen in a while that has that sort of technology. Finally, a laptop that actually cares for your privacy above all else, right?

Long lasting performance, when you’re not gaming full time

On paper, Lenovo promised this device could last up to nine hours with moderate use, at 70 percent brightness. Upon continuous use of the device, I did manage to get only up to seven hours when using it according to the same conditions.

Of course, when you’re gaming full time, the amount of time is cut into half with NVIDIA’s Battery Boost turned on. Still, even on a regular workload, you get the longevity of use you could possibly ask for in this device.

Lenovo also introduced its Rapid Charge technology even with their proprietary charger. I managed to get its charge level to 80 percent in a matter of 20 minutes, which is great for on-the-go users. To me, this is a great feature to have but I was hoping that they took advantage of the Thunderbolt 3 USB Type-C as the main charging port.

The areas that can do better

Despite every feature I could possibly rave about, there were others that I couldn’t give a total pass. First, the trackpad failed at the one thing it should be doing: gesture tracking. All but one Windows Precision gesture actually worked — and of all things, it’s the right click. I don’t have a problem clicking the bottom right side of the trackpad, but the fact that they missed out on that gesture is disappointing.

Second, as much as I raved about the webcam’s physical shutter, the webcam itself leaves much to be desired. I understand that it is just an HD 720p webcam, but there are other devices with the same webcam and are relatively better than this one. Photos have a ton of grain on them even just by loading the camera alone.

Finally, this device’s backlit keyboard was not astounding. I do prefer full-sized keyboards, plus key travel was easy to get used to. It’s the backlighting of the keyboard that was under par, in my opinion. It has three levels of back-lighting, but its brightest level does not properly stick out. And I’ve seen devices with brighter backlit keyboards even in full light.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

At PhP 49,995, the Lenovo IdeaPad L340 Gaming laptop is one powerful machine. You get the latest hardware necessary for productivity and powerful gaming, all in one package. It delivers powerful performance for productivity tasks, photo and video editing — perfect for content creators.

Gamers can easily get a kick out of this device thanks to the NVIDIA GTX 1650 inside. Playing popular titles feel like an absolute breeze, especially in high-octane moments just to score the victory. Although if you do want to play a little longer, you will need to bring the charger everywhere you go.

Overall, you can look for nitty-gritty design flaws all you want. You can admire all the other features the device offers. But, when it comes right down to it, this gaming laptop does exactly what you need it to do — and so much more. 

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Gaming

ASUS ROG Strix Scar III: Falling in love with a gaming laptop

This, coming from a Mac user

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I haven’t used a Windows laptop for an extended period in close to a decade now. And in recent years, I’ve done most of my gaming on a PS4. This is why getting the chance to use the ROG Strix Scar III was a welcome experience.

I’m reluctant to call this an actual review because of my inexperience in using gaming laptops. But I’ll try anyway. Let’s begin by taking a quick look at the design.


Sleeker but still very much ROG

First thing that jumped out at me is how much sleeker the Strix Scar III looked compared to the previous ROG gaming laptops I’ve seen. Instead of screaming GAMING at you, it feels more subdued but definitely still has a lot of that gaming vibe.

Behind it you’ll find these ports: ethernet, HDMI, power adaptor

The rest of the ports are on the right: All USB 2.0

It’s worth noting that this comes with a wired mouse. Very useful 

And it’s hard to see here but the carbon-patterned interior is sexy AF

The trackpad doubles as the numpad but I didn’t really use it much

And there’s this nice subtle branding just right underneath the bottom left of the display

In terms of how it looks, it’s not as loud as previous ROG laptops, but it is still unmistakably ROG. One time, I whipped it out during a meeting and got WOAH reactions.

However, that’s probably because the people I met with were also into gaming. For its size — 36(W) x 27.5(D) x 2.6 (H) cm | 14.19(W) x 10.83(D) x 1.02(H) inch — it’s probably not the laptop you would want to be carrying around for meetings.

I also think the way it’s built lends itself nicely to cooling. It has what ASUS ROG calls an enhanced air intake from a wide, ventilated 3D Flow Zone. All that matters to me, is that works the way it’s supposed to.

Adjusting to a Windows laptop 

I work a lot. On any given weekday, if I’m not sleeping or daydreaming about TWICE’s Momo, I’m usually in front of a laptop writing, copy editing, or video editing.

In terms of writing and copy editing, I didn’t have much of a problem. In fact, I would dare say I enjoyed the Backlit Chiclet keyboard of the ROG Strix Scar III more than I ever did my near five-year old MacBook Pro.

It’s an absolute joy typing on this thing. And those keys that had plenty of travel translated to whatever task I was doing, even on gaming. We’ll get to more of that later on.

Quick note, I also blasted music on this while writing. My holding-on-to-dear-life MacBook Pro has a busted right speaker so it was such a pleasure having a laptop with speakers that actually work.

The bigger adjustments came when dealing with photos, videos, and just Windows overall.

Working with images and videos

I take a lot of screenshots. On Mac, it feels easy and natural. I can’t say the same for Windows. It feels like I have to go through more steps than necessary just to get a screenshot.

Video editing was another thing, too. I’ve been editing on Final Cut Pro ever since I started video editing professionally. I wanted to try Davinci Resolve but some of the work I had to do required the edits to be done quickly — something I could only do on FCP.

But that speaks more to my comfort level on the software more than anything else. I did try editing something and the laptop had no trouble whatsoever with it. Same thing with the light photo editing I usually do. It’s like child’s play for the ROG Strix Scar III.

Other than that, Windows 10 has been a pleasant surprise. I can’t even remember the last iteration of Windows I used, but this was clean and functional. However, 11 out of 10 times I would still choose macOS. 🤷🏻‍♂️

The gaming part blew my mind

One of my biggest regrets is that I worked on the ROG Strix Scar III more than I gamed on it. I only got to play one game — Devil May Cry 5 — and it was more than enough to convince me that this laptop delivers where it should.

It wasn’t something I was totally expecting since I thought, while working, that the display on my MacBook Pro looked… crispier. But when I fired up Devil May Cry 5, boy oh boy it was such a visual spectacle.

The NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2070 was really doing its job. I was hooked at how good it looked I played well into the wee hours of the morning despite knowing I needed to wake up early the following day.

While I’m used to holding a controller while playing, I did play my fair share of Counter-Strike and NBA Live waaaaay back in the day. So the mouse and keyboard setup wasn’t too much of an adjustment.

The keyboard was just truly a dream. I’ll go as far as saying this is probably the best keyboard I’ve ever used on any laptop.

And then you have that display. With an 81.5 percent screen-to-body ratio, it’s hard not to feel like you’re so much closer to the game than you actually are.

Is the ROG Strix Scar III your GadgetMatch? 

From a Mac user, my gaming and working habits are pretty far off from who this gaming laptop might target. Despite that, I had a grand time with the ROG Strix Scar III. If you asked me to completely switch to this I wouldn’t be totally opposed to the idea.

It has more tricks that I wasn’t able to dig deep into. There’s plenty of customization to make your gaming experience more tailored to your preferences. I’m inclined to say that if you’re out on the market for a gaming laptop that has all the oomph you could possibly want, then this is the one for you.

The variant we reviewed (i9, 240hz screen) retails for PhP 169,995 (US$ 3,252). It’s available at ROG Mall of Asia and other ROG concept stores in the Philippines. For more information on other variants visit the ROG Strix Scar III product page.

If that’s well within your budget, you won’t regret getting the ROG Strix Scar III. It’s a perfect blend of sleek and power without being overbearing. It’s a gaming laptop that’s easy to fall in love with.

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NBA 2K20 Review: A Worrisome Upgrade

Welcome to the next… best thing to an update

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I have to be honest: I felt the hype in the few months leading up to NBA 2K20’s release. I felt the changes coming; from the updates to popular game modes to the arrival of the WNBA. I even went on ahead and pre-ordered the Legend Edition — mostly because of the cover.

But I guess even the hype dies little by little. As I loaded the game into my PS4, I was just as excited as I was when I first got my expensive console. Give it an hour or two to download content, and I finally got a chance to see whether that hype was real. But unlike all the previous NBA 2K games, this one literally just takes you to the main menu.


No demo game of the NBA Finals the previous year. No scrimmage between the two finalists — in this case the Golden State Warriors sans Kevin Durant and the Toronto Raptors sans Kawhi Leonard. I can already tell that we’re in for some real big things ahead.

It’s the same modes, the same interface, the SAME gameplay

Every NBA 2K game comes with the same set of game modes to choose from. Nothing much changed through the years, with the exception of the “Play WNBA” mode. I felt that it was only right to separate the NBA from the WNBA teams, unless you’re interested enough to make the Lakers and Sparks face each other. Other than that, no other feature was ground-breaking.

Another staple with the NBA 2K franchise is its gameplay, which I believe to be a great representation of NBA basketball. I will admit that getting used to a slightly improved shot meter takes a little bit of time. If this is the first ever NBA 2K game that you will play, the learning curve is decent. However, throughout the weeks that I’ve been playing the game, I did notice a bit of input lag — especially when jump ball starts.

One change I had mixed reactions for were the changes made to the all-time and historic teams. I do like that the 2K design team stepped up from just the team logos to now the actual players or superstars per team. But do we really need to keep switching historic teams every year?

You get to set your potential as an NBA superstar

One of the game’s biggest upgrades from last year is an improved MyPlayer. The pre-release feature allows you to build your own player from scratch, allowing you to set his stat limits and physical build. Every possible setting available is adjustable to fit your ideal player for the position you want to play in the lineup. And perhaps the most important choice you will make involves your Takeover ability.

Not only that, but you also get to test your build when fully maxed out. You can play for your favorite team and see how your player fits within that lineup. I personally found this a great feature to have, especially if it’s your first time playing. Although I do recommend that you walk through MyPlayer with a friend of yours who plays NBA 2K a lot. Oh, also you can use your phone to scan your face for your MyPlayer. That’s great for people like me who don’t own a PlayStation Camera.

But your career starts out a little too shallow than before

Don’t get me wrong: when it comes to career modes in sports games over the last few years, NBA 2K kills it with their storylines. Apart from having control of your own NBA career, past NBA 2K games touched on the story behind your legend. Basically, you get to follow your path from unheralded prospect to NBA champion.

NBA 2K19 saw you go from an undrafted prospect making waves in China, chasing an NBA dream that seemed miles away. You take a literal full route towards your dream of making it to any NBA team, instead of just being drafted outright. From the streets of Shanghai to the farms in Indianapolis, your story takes every twist and turn. But it all pays off in the end.

Meanwhile, in NBA 2K20 you go the usual route most NBA talents go through. You get through your senior year in college, build on your stock, and take a few invites and an NBA Combine. All of that will happen before you get drafted by an NBA team of your choosing (technically). And the only life obstacle you ever come across with is your former college coach who cut one of your buddies in the team. 

The storyline feels a little shallow compared to the previous iteration of the game. Sure, I still put in the same work I did in terms of upgrading my stats and notching triple-doubles whenever possible. And sure, the end goal is still the same — play for an NBA team. But in NBA 2K20, it doesn’t even feel like the journey was truly worth it when it’s all said and done.

The final verdict

I know I said earlier that we were in for some big things from NBA 2K20, and honestly the upgrades were big. I welcomed the MyPlayer upgrade with open arms and pretty much had fun with it in the process. Adding in the WNBA rosters gave more variety for old and new players alike — and it’s also a sign that maybe we shouldn’t just focus on the NBA too much.

But it is an NBA 2K game after all. It’s still the same game of basketball, the same approach to creating your own career. Even with all the big changes, gameplay remains the same even with minor adjustments. MyCareer still rocks a great storyline, but feels less fulfilling than before.

Overall, NBA 2K20 still peaks as an overall great basketball video game. But honestly, it felt like the game welcomed me to the next big NBA 2K upgrade — and that worries me.

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