Xiaomi Redmi 5A Review: Best budget smartphone
We sometimes forget how affordable it really is
What’s the best smartphone under $100?
Ever since we started GadgetMatch, this is a question we’ve received over and over but haven’t really been able to answer. That finally changes today.
The Redmi 5A is solid proof that the experience on sub-$100 phones don’t have to suck, making it easily get the GadgetMatch Seal of Approval.
OnePlus 6 review: 3 months later
Extraordinary in being ordinary?
OnePlus has a clever launch cycle: release a flagship shortly after Mobile World Congress, and give that same model a refresh after every other brand unveils their final flagship of the year.
This strategy has given OnePlus a chance to scout the competition before launching its annual smartphones. Considering that the company puts all its eggs in only two premium flagships per year, a single error can spell doom for the brand.
Although OnePlus more or less mastered this formula, releasing one success after another, last year’s models felt a little stale. Not only did the features fall a bit flat, the design of the OnePlus 5 and 5T were replicas of sister brand OPPO’s own flagships.
We’re now at an interesting time in the OnePlus 6’s life. Three months in, we can get a better grasp of its place in the market; at the same time, we’re only three months away from a possible OnePlus 6T update.
The questions are plenty and time is running out, so let’s get down to it.
Is this still the fastest phone on the planet?
A bunch of A-list smartphones have launched since the OnePlus 6 first came to existence, but none have reached the level of speed this thing has.
For one, the OnePlus 6’s Snapdragon 845 processor is still the fastest chip in the market, and its combination of 8GB of memory and 256GB of storage (though mine only comes with 128GB) is beat only by the just-released Galaxy Note 9 which has up to 8GB and 512GB, respectively.
But hardware is only one part of the equation; software plays an equal if not more important role since that’s what you directly interact with. Having used most of the high-end Android smartphones this year, I can attest to the OnePlus 6’s Oxygen OS being the snappiest of them all, followed only by the Mi Mix 2S and its well-optimized MIUI skin.
Whether I’m playing heavy-duty games like Life is Strange or simply browsing the web, nothing fazes this phone. I can only imagine it getting faster once OnePlus starts rolling out Android 9 Pie to its products. The OnePlus 6 is still stuck on Android 8.1 Oreo. While it’s not bad by any means, I wish OnePlus were as fast as Essential in this regard.
Are the cameras good enough?
We were fortunate enough to take the OnePlus 6 around the world to truly test its set of cameras. The company doesn’t promote its imaging prowess that much, but a pair of 20- and 16-megapixel shooters on the back and a 16-megapixel selfie camera in front aren’t anything to belittle.
Like the rest of the interface, the cameras are blazing fast from opening the app to focusing and taking the shot. Even entering the gallery is incredibly snappy. The image quality speaks for itself; DxOMark gave the OnePlus 6 a respectable score of 96, praising the cameras’ autofocus, color reproduction, and exposure.
We agree for the most part and have these photos of our travels to share:
Certainly not the best you could hope for in terms of overall quality, but definitely acceptable in day-to-day snaps. I wish OnePlus will continue to push software updates to improve the camera performance, because I feel like some adjustments in post-processing will bring it to the next level.
Even though the secondary rear camera doesn’t have a telephoto lens, you can instantly zoom in by 2x while inside the default camera app. But because this is software-assisted, there’s some quality loss. I used this only in certain cases wherein I couldn’t walk any closer to a subject.
The app itself is a joy to use because of how simple it is. My three most-used modes — video, photo, and portrait — are all within swiping distance, and additional options like slow-motion, pro mode, and panorama are found below them. It can sometimes be simplistic to a fault, however. There’s no easy way to change the resolution of your images or videos, and shortcuts to in-app functions are limited.
Can it last over a day?
Battery life is something which the OnePlus 6 is simply okay at. Software updates since the phone’s launch have optimized its energy consumption, but there’s been no major improvement since then.
From my personal experience, which involves lots of web browsing, photo taking, and short gaming sessions, the 3300mAh battery lasts a little less than a day for me. It’s not much of a surprise since the smallish battery has to power such powerful specs and the large display, but you may have to carry a powerbank with you on certain occasions.
On the bright side, we have Dash Charge to fix all our issues. OnePlus’ proprietary fast charging tech is still as fast as ever, bringing this phone from zero to a hundred percent in less than one and a half hours. In addition, the body won’t heat up while topping up, making things more comfortable for your hand during usage.
The only downside is having to bring the bundled charger with me wherever I go. Without it, I can’t take advantage of the fast charging. It’s the same sort of hassle as packing a micro-USB cable for the non-USB-C devices I still own.
Does its pricing hold up against the competition?
OnePlus has steadily been increasing its pricing since first entering the market. Their phones are no longer the sub-US$ 500 premium offerings the company was once known for. And yet, other brands have been guiltier in this regard.
We’re gradually accepting the fact that US$ 1,000 is turning into the norm for a truly flagship experience. This suddenly makes the OnePlus’ pricing seem tame in comparison, considering their products deliver the same speed and quality — if not better.
OnePlus’ primary competition lie in the lineups of Xiaomi and ASUS. For instance, the Mi 8 and Mi Mix 2S offer similar specs at slightly lower prices. At the same time, the ZenFone 5Z is sold at an attractive price as well for what it comes with.
Fortunately for OnePlus, these alternatives are more difficult to come by, making its latest device the go-to affordable flagship in most regions. In addition, expect the OnePlus 6 to go down in price once the impending successor arrives in a few months.
What could OnePlus do better?
Spending an extended time with a device not only gives you a chance to enjoy all its features, but also dissect its flaws. For the OnePlus 6, there are a few that have to be addressed.
For one, and this may be my biggest gripe, the lone down-firing speaker is lackluster. For a smartphone that’s marketed as a multimedia powerhouse, the audio experience has a lot to be desired. On top of the weak output, bass doesn’t have the strength to power through the overly dominant highs. Whenever I play games or watch videos on this phone, earphones have always been a must.
Finally, we have to talk about the overall design. While it’s unusual for me to mention aesthetics this late into a review, this is also a telling sign that it’s not a highlight. This is OnePlus’ re-introduction to glass backs (after the discontinued OnePlus X), and I must say it’s not that great. It’s slippery and doesn’t add to the functionality since there’s no IP-rated water resistance or wireless charging, which you’d find on other phones with glass bodies. As for the front, it’s your typical notched look — nothing I would fawn over.
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What’s so great about the OnePlus 6 is that none of its drawbacks are deal breakers. During my long-term usage, these cons could either be remedied by a simple fix or ignored altogether. And whenever I do wish it could perform better, I remind myself of how much it costs.
With a starting price of US$ 529 for the base model with 6GB of memory and 64GB of storage, you get so much at nearly half the price of other flagship smartphones. You could argue that Xiaomi and Honor offer better bangs for the buck at this price range, but they cater to different audiences with more specialized feature sets.
If you want the fastest-possible phone without going near the US$ 700 mark, this is your best bet. While there’s been lots of new competition in the past couple of months and more to come from the likes of Huawei and Google, nothing has thus far reached what the OnePlus 6 excels at.
The only thing hindering this is the possibility of the OnePlus 6T launching by November, like the 5T did in 2017. But if it’s anything like last year’s model, the upgrade will be incremental and nothing worth splurging on when coming from the non-T variant.
Xiaomi Mi A2 Review: Android One refined
It delivers where it should
Quality products at honest prices — this is Xiaomi’s business philosophy, which is why it made so much sense when the company partnered with Google a year ago to release the Mi A1, an Android One phone. Fast forward to a year later and we now have the Xiaomi Mi A2, a refinement on what was already a solid pure Android device.
Being a midrange device, Xiaomi skipped on a few things with the Mi A2. What the Chinese company did with the phone though is focus on two key things: performance and the cameras. However, before we get into those, let’s first talk about the design.
If you’ve seen the Mi 6X and think it looks a lot like the Mi A2, that’s because these phones are essentially one and the same. The only difference is the Mi A2 runs pure Android versus the Mi 6X which runs Android with MIUI on top.
For a phone that has a nearly 6-inch display (5.99 inches), it didn’t feel as hefty as I initially thought it would. There’s also a fingerprint sensor at the back that should be easy for most people to reach.
The Mi A2 also skipped the headphone jack, opting instead for two speakers. The twin speakers are pretty impressive — more than enough to fill a small room with whatever you’re jamming to.
Xiaomi didn’t completely forget about headphone users who still prefer or can’t get away from a wired experience. Included in the retail box is a USB-C to 3.5mm jack adapter so you can still use whatever old headphones you have lying around.
The power and volume buttons are on the right side, while on the left you’ll find the dual-SIM card slot. Remember what I said earlier about Xiaomi skipping things? The second SIM card slot isn’t hybrid, which means the storage isn’t expandable.
The variant I reviewed has 4GB of memory and 64GB of storage. There’s also one with 6GB RAM and 128GB internal storage but if you require more space, you’re out of luck.
Enough about its shortcomings, though; let’s talk about the good stuff. Powering the Mi A2 is a Snapdragon 660. It’s an AI-capable chip and its capabilities are more noticeable on the camera. More on that later.
Being an Android One phone, the Mi A2 runs a pure version of Android 8.1 Oreo. This also means your default gallery is Google Photos which gives you unlimited cloud storage. In a way, this can help address the lack of a microSD card slot.
There’s also zero bloatware. That means there are fewer apps slowing your device down and eating up the smaller-than-expected 3010mAh battery.
In the little over three weeks that I used the phone, I can say for sure that the battery holds up really well. On occasions when I used it heavily, I would end the day with roughly around 15 to 20 percent left. On more regular days I’m left with 40 to 50 percent. This includes the periodic and mostly mindless browsing on social media, toggling through chat apps, getting lost in the YouTube black hole of videos, and catching an episode or two of a series on Netflix.
Personally, I don’t play a lot of mobile games but for the purpose of this review, I sparingly played Dragon Ball Legends and a little bit of Asphalt Xtreme. It ran both games with zero lag on max graphics settings. However, I never played for an extended amount time. My gaming sessions lasted only around 10 to 20 minutes.
If your usage patterns are similar to mine, you’ll enjoy using the Mi A2. It manages basic smartphone tasks with ease and can probably handle your favorite mobile games with no problems as well.
Xiaomi talked a great deal about the the cameras on the Mi A2. To be honest, I was skeptical at first, but after taking a few shots around the cities of Toledo and Madrid in Spain, the Mi A2’s cameras completely won me over.
The Snapdragon 660 is also at work on these cameras along with the 20MP + 12MP hardware combo. The 12-megapixel sensor takes clearer daytime photos while the 20-megapixel shooter takes care of your low-light needs.
The AI scene detection on the Mi A2 works in the background, automatically selecting the best settings depending on the subject or scene you’re shooting. Take a look at these samples:
I absolutely love taking portraits and the Mi A2 didn’t disappoint. It uses both the camera and AI to give you photos with creamy bokeh.
The portrait mode also works in the front-facing camera. Take a look at these selfies:
The video stabilization is another aspect that was surprising. You won’t notice it while you’re shooting but after the phone has finished processing, you’ll see really smooth video. Your pans will look clean even if you don’t use the phone with a gimbal.
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There are absolutely zero gimmicks in the Mi A2 — just straight up everything you need in both software and hardware. You could argue that leaving out the headphone jack and microSD card slot will leave some users wanting, but Xiaomi offered solutions by way of an adapter and Google Photos.
Other than that, the Mi A2 delivers where it promised it would — a smooth performance on a clean, pure Android interface along with AI-assisted cameras that take amazing photos no matter the lighting condition.
For a phone that costs roughly around US$ 315 (Official pricing at launch of variant reviewed is EUR 279), that’s certainly a sweet deal that probably gets even sweeter depending on the region you’re in. It’s a quality product at an honest price.
ASUS ROG Strix Hero II review
Not limited to MOBA gamers
ASUS had a grand appearance at Computex two months ago, mainly because the ROG Phone stole the show. But that wasn’t the only hero product the Taiwanese brand had up its sleeve.
The ROG Strix Scar II and Hero II, which are successors to the popular Strix line of gaming laptops, shared the spotlight, as well. I had the privilege of going hands-on with the Scar II and was largely impressed by its aggressive design and balanced features. Missing, however, was the Hero II.
Although the Hero II is mostly identical to the Scar II, its primary difference is the audience it caters to: MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) gamers. Those who enjoy titles such as League of Legends and Dota 2 are more inclined to go for this variant over the Scar II, which is targeted more towards fans of Overwatch and Call of Duty.
Truth be told, there isn’t much to compare aside from a set of keyboard adjustments and certain specs (the Scar II can be equipped with a GTX 1070 while the Hero II settles for a GTX 1060), and if you’ve read my initial impressions of the Scar II, you’ll have a good idea of what to expect from the Hero II, which is finally in my hands.
It comes with a 15.6-inch 1080p IPS display
Bezels are kept to a minimum on the sides and top
But that moves the webcam to the bottom bezel
The keyboard has good travel and RGB lighting
And the QWER keys are more prominent for MOBA games
Even the bundled mouse has its own RGB lighting
There’s additional lighting below the trackpad
And the ROG logo’s color syncs with the rest of the laptop
These are the ports on the left side
And these are found on the right
You’ll only find exhaust vents on the rear
How well does it perform?
If there’s one thing you can rely on with this machine, it’s the hardware. From the 8th-generation Core i7-8750H processor with six cores and Hyper-Threading to the full-powered GeForce GTX 1060 graphics chip, the Hero II is equipped to compete.
And you shouldn’t expect anything less specs-wise, because you need all the power you can get to maximize the high-caliber 144Hz panel. The display, by the way, doesn’t come with NVIDIA’s proprietary G-Sync tech to prevent tearing and stutters at certain frame rates, so it’s all on the components to keep things running smoothly.
My setup also comes with 16GB of memory and a speedy 128GB SSD + 1TB SSHD, making this as complete as you’d expect out of a US$ 2,000 mobile rig.
It goes without saying that the Hero II can handle the latest AAA games on medium to high graphics settings, though hitting 144fps may be a struggle on some titles. Not that hovering between 80 to 100 frames per second is bad, but it’s a shame that you can’t make full use of the super-fast panel.
Here are a few benchmark numbers to give you a better idea:
- Unigine Superposition (1080p Extreme, DirectX): 2097 points, 15.69fps (Average)
- Cinebench R15: 1193 (CPU), 94.48fps (OpenGL)
- Rise of the Tomb Raider (Very High settings, DirectX 12): 64.47fps (Average)
- Deux Ex: Mankind (Ultra settings, DirectX 12): 34.9fps (Average)
Can it stay cool?
ASUS made sure to equip both Strix II laptops with sufficient cooling to prevent the mobile components from melting on your desk. Its system is called HyperCool Pro, and it includes two 12V fans with the ability to boost them using built-in software.
As for actual temperatures, the CPU would hit 81 degrees Celsius under the heaviest of loads. At the same time, the GPU goes as high as 71 degrees Celsius in the same conditions. While these are fine for air cooling standards, the fans do get a bit loud when being pushed too hard.
You can choose between Silent, Balanced, and Overboost for the fans — the third one is obviously the loudest. And even though the system’s fans are relatively quiet while the system is idle, I don’t appreciate the placement of the rightmost fan, which hits my mouse-using hand. Laptops normally position this to the left where hot air shoots away from the user.
On the bright side, using it on your lap is pleasant. At 2.4kg in weight, it’s not that heavy and doesn’t get warm enough to cause discomfort underneath.
Does it last long enough away from a wall?
This is probably the biggest fault of this Strix generation. For the thickness the Hero II brings to my lap, I would’ve expected much better battery endurance on a full charge.
Even without touching a single game and using the Hero II purely for surfing the web and watching a few videos on Netflix and YouTube, it rarely lasts over three hours. This is after bringing the laptop’s battery to 100 percent and lowering the screen’s brightness to 50 percent.
That’s disappointing by any laptop standard (unless you count the monsters we used in the past), although the Hero II obviously isn’t meant for non-gaming use on the go in the first place. Keep it plugged in and find another laptop to take on work trips — problem solved.
What else is there to know?
Battery life aside, the Hero II is a surprisingly good multimedia device because of the loud and clear stereo speakers. They’re positioned to the sides unlike the usual bottom-firing speakers, and have strong bass even though they output only 3.5 watts of power. Coupled with the thin bezels and color-accurate panel, watching movies on this laptop is a great alternative to just gaming on it.
This Strix also features multi-antenna Wi-Fi for better wireless internet connectivity. I tried this out in different locations with varying degrees of distance from routers, and I’ve been impressed with the range. The Hero II picks up signals flawlessly, so I don’t have to rely so heavily on the Ethernet port.
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The Hero II wins for two reasons alone: its super-slim bezels around the fast display and well-rounded specs. I can’t get enough of the color-accurate panel and the lack of distractions around it, while the 8th-generation processor and desktop-grade graphics provide all the power needed for competitive gaming.
There are only a few drawbacks here, namely the overbearing thickness for a midrange setup and horrible webcam placement. I also wish the fans were positioned better, but at least they keep the system well cooled.
My other critique is about the way ASUS treats this Strix generation. I honestly would’ve preferred ASUS keeping the Strix II branding sans the Hero and Scar variants. MOBA gamers play FPS (first-person shooter) games too, and vice versa.
The Hero II configuration I got to review retails for around US$ 2,000, but that can easily change with some component tweaks, such as going for a slower Core i5 processor and taking in less RAM. No matter what, however, the solid physique and sleek design come along for the ride.
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