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Shooting With Sony’s Killer A9 Almost Feels Like Cheating

Photos: Brent Rose/Gadgetlayout

If you’ve ever wondered how a photographer managed to capture the exact moment of an incredible end zone reception or the instant a bird takes flight, the answer, in part, is that the photographer’s camera also captured the garbage moments directly before and after that golden frame, with a very expensive camera rattling off photos at tommy gun speeds. For these professional sports and nature photographers there are two widely accepted options: The tippy top cameras from Canon and Nikon, with their big bulky bodies, incredible power, and the most advanced image sensors. Well, Sony finally has an answer to the incumbents in its A9. Not only is this full-frame, mirrorless camera smaller, lighter, and cheaper than the Nikon and Canon competition, it absolutely blows their doors off when it comes to speed.

For those not entirely up on the high-end camera scene these days, here’s a quick catch-up. In an arena that has been dominated by Canon and Nikon since pretty much forever, Sony’s star has been on the rise. It had been making solid mirrorless cameras for a while, but when its
A7 series came out a few years ago
, that’s when professionals really started to take notice. These were compact mirrorless cameras with sharp electronic viewfinders good enough to rival the optical eyepieces in DSLRs. They also had very sensitive full-frame image sensors that could capture beautiful photos. When we say full-frame, what we mean

is a 36mm by 24mm sensor, which most closely approximates the size of the 35mm film cameras used back in the day. Basically, the bigger the sensor, the more light it can gather.

But while the A7 models and their successors could get professional results, they didn’t quite have the power the most demanding photographers require. The
A9
changes that. It’s like the A7’s track-star big brother-an undeniably pro-level shooter with a $4,500 price tag to match.

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The first thing to know is that the A9 is real small. At roughly 4 inches by 5 inches by 2.5 inches and just 1.5 pounds, the A9 is only slightly bulkier than Sony’s very svelte A7 series cameras. Canon’s high-end sports shooter, the 1D X Mark II is 6.22 x 6.60 x 3.25 inches and weighs just under three pounds before you put it’s battery in. Hell, even Canon’s mid-range professional DSLR, the 5D Mark IV is substantially bigger and heavier than the A9, and the same can be said of Nikon’s entries. It’s amazing how much Sony has crammed into that little frame.

And of course, this thing is absurdly fast. It’s capable of firing off full-resolution 24-megapixel JPEGs at a blistering 20 frames per second. It sounds like a Gatling gun, unless you turn the sound off, in which case it is literally silent thanks to the electronic shutter (more on that in a second). Even when shooting in RAW + JPEG mode, I was able to fire off an 8 second burst at 13.5 frames per second-that’s 108 shots.

The A9 is equipped with a wide autofocus system that covers more than 90 percent of the frame. It is lightning fast and extremely accurate, even when shooting at its blistering top speeds. I tested it with running dogs and with people on a zip-line flying right at me. Even at a shallow depth-of-field (f/2.8) and while shooting 20 frames per second, the focus was recalibrated between every single shot and it was dead on nearly every time. Nothing else on the market comes close to this kind of performance. It’s bananas.

But let me try to explain what it’s like to shoot with this camera. Not to get hyperbolic here, but it almost feels like you can’t miss. An example: I was walking by a creek with the camera dangling off my neck, powered off. I saw a golden retriever emerge from the water and start to shake itself off. It has already started shaking before I’d hit the power button to turn the camera back on, and yet I was still able to fire off a burst of 14 shots, and in each one every hair on the dog’s nose (and every water droplet flying off of it) was crystal clear. My A7S (which is by no means slow) wouldn’t have even gotten a single shot off in that time. Using the A9 almost feels like cheating.

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I loved shooting long-exposures with it, too. Unfortunately, there was always too much moon and too much haze for me to try a nice, clear shot of the Milky Way, but I’m confident it would excel there. I did get a handful of shots while driving down Highway 50 in Nevada (the so-called “Loneliest Road In America”) that I was really happy with. The above shot was a single exposure taken with the electronic shutter around midnight. I was side-lit by the moon and backlit by an oncoming truck (relax, it was very far away). It was a 20 second exposure at ISO 800, f/2.8. Obviously, I did plenty of tweaking in Lightroom, but I use this to show you just how much dynamic range is captured in the RAW photos.

This was on Nevada Highway 50, aka the Loneliest Road in America. It’s incredibly desolate so I was hoping to get a sweet shot of the milky way. The moon was way too bright, though. So, I just set up my tripod in the middle of the road, and shot a 20 second exposure. I couldn’t believe how well it worked out.

In terms of low-light I find myself shocked to say it’s nearly as good as the Sony A7S (which has been my main camera for the last two years). The low-light focused A7S is a hair brighter, but noise levels are nearly identical, and the A9 has twice as many megapixels to play with (24MP vs 12MP).

I expected the A7s to blow the A9 out of the water, because the A7s has about half the pixels on the same-sized sensor, so they’re bigger and more light sensitive. But yeah, the A9 absolutely holds its own here.

Sony’s image sensor does a great job of sucking up any available light even when you turn up the sensitivity that would ordinarily turn light into garbage. At ISO 6,400 there is almost no noise at all. Even ISO 25,600 is extremely usable, though you’ll probably want to use some noise reduction in Lightroom. ISO 51,200 could maybe do in a pinch, but at that point things are starting to get fairly chunky. ISO 102,400 isn’t the worst thing I’ve ever seen, but you’re better off avoiding it unless you’ve got a rare shot at Sasquatch or something.

I was going to grab a drink at this legendarily terrifying dive bar in Austin, NV, but it was closed. Four second exposure at ISO 1600.

The A9 has mechanical and electric shutter options. You can manually select either, but I’d recommend leaving it in auto. When shooting a single shot or a low-speed burst (5 fps maximum) it will default to mechanical shutter, which gives you a bit more depth in your RAW images (14 bit vs 12 bit with the electronic shutter) so the images are slightly more tweakable in post. You’ll also want to use the mechanical shutter if you’re using an external flash (the A9 doesn’t have one built in). If you’re shooting medium or high speed bursts, the camera switches over to electronic shutter, which is also better for fast moving objects. When using the electronic shutter you can also shoot completely silently, which is almost eerie, but awesome.

Sun setting over Moab. I used the camera’s bracket feature to take three shots in rapid succession at different exposures, then I used Lightroom to automatically turn them into a single HDR (high dynamic range) photo. Did a nice job with the colors here!

The A9 does a solid job with video. It can shoot 4K at speeds of up to 30fps and 1080p at 120fps, for beautiful slo-mo shots.

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I will say, my least favorite thing about the camera’s design is that Sony put the video start/stop record button right next to the viewfinder. I mean, it’s practically touching it. If you use your left eye in the viewfinder (as I was taught to do) your nose will absolutely, 100 percent block your access to that start/stop button, no matter how tiny your schnoz is. It’s just about the worst imaginable place for that very important button to be.

I cut the hell out of my foot getting this shot, but I think it was worth it. I was using the camera’s 10 second timer, and it’s tricky to get the timing just right. I ended up doing this about 10 times, and when I was done my foot was all bloody on the bottom. I superglued it closed and then put some duct tape on it to keep it clean.

There are some other annoyances, too. The A9 has two SD card slots, which is great, except for some reason only one of those slots supports UHS-II SD cards (i.e. the really high speed ones you want to be using in a professional camera). The other one is stuck at UHS-I. Also, the camera doesn’t come with an external battery charger. You’re supposed to just charge it with a micro USB cable. While that’s a nice option to have (you can juice it up with a small solar panel or portable USB battery pack), it’s crazy that a camera that costs this much doesn’t come with a charger. If you’re investing this much, I guess you might as well spend the $90 for the external charger, and get a few more batteries at $80 a pop. I recommend you do so begrudgingly.

Moab, UT. Dead Horse Point State Park.

Other grievances? Sony’s menu system is still extremely intimidating, to say the least. The menu is a whopping thirty-six (36!) tabs long, with up to six items per tab, and things aren’t always labeled as clearly as they could be or grouped the way you think they ought to be. Also, after shooting about 18 minutes of 4K 24fps video spread out over 45 minutes, I noticed that I was getting an overheating warning on the screen. That’s not good. It still allowed me to snap photos, but I’m not sure what would have happened if I kept pushing it.
Other users have been complaining about this issue
, and it’s definitely something Sony needs to address.

Fallon, Nevada. I was hungry, hot, and tired. So I pulled into the town of Fallon and found a dive-bar that served burgers. Met some really interesting locals and felt like I saw the pain of the town. It seemed that 1/3 of the buildings were abandoned. Anyway, this was across the street from the bar and I managed to catch it right at sunset. Almost seems like it could be another era.

So, all that being said, should you buy it? Well, do you have the need? The need for speed? If so, then you’re not going to find a faster camera out there. The A9 costs $4,500 for the body alone. While that’s cheaper than the Canon 1DX or the Nikon D5, unless you really, really need to be able to shoot fast-moving objects, then you’re probably better off with one of Sony’s A7 series cameras (get the mark II versions). These are also full-frame, mirrorless cameras that take excellent pics, they just aren’t as fast. But if you’re a budding sports photographer and you aren’t already heavily invested in glass from another manufacturer, the Sony A9 is incredible in so many ways.

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I had so much fun walking around with this little camera (and the G-lenses… oh, the G-lenses) that represented about ten grand worth of the most advanced photographic equipment that I totally cannot afford. My old A7S is feeling so slow now. Siiiigh…

README:

  • Unbelievable speed both in shooting and in focus.
  • No blackouts between shots for continuous subject tracking.
  • Pretty ‘spensive and probably overkill for non-professionals.
  • Great for low-light and fast-moving subjects.
  • Some design annoyances.


Brent Rose is a freelance writer, actor, and filmmaker, currently traveling the US living in a high-tech van, looking for stories to tell. Follow his adventures on
Instagram
,
Twitter
,
Facebook
, and at
ConnectedStates.com
.

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Reviews,

A Fax Machine and a Photocopier Walk Into a Bar: The Hasselblad X1D

All images: Victor Jeffreys II/Gadgetlayout

There’s a terrible noise every time I click the shutter. Like a machine out of an office in the 80s clawing its way thirty years into the future to emit an obnoxious noise from this stunning camera in my hands.

The Hasselblad X1D is among the first crop mirrorless medium format cameras to hit the market. “Medium format” means the sensor on the camera is enormous and can capture huge images ideal for putting on the side of a two story building or including in a book on a coffee table. The X1D is undoubtedly beautiful-and it takes photos appropriately beautiful for its $9000 (body only!) price tag. Oh, and if a fax machine and a photocopier were to have a baby, and that baby were to cry-it would sound like the X1D every time you press the shutter.

The Hasselblad X1D, like most serious Hasselblad products, is built not for all of us, but for pros, and a very special kind of pro. This isn’t the camera you bring if you’re a street photographer looking for some quick shots, or a wedding photographer trying to catch the whole event. This camera, as with most medium format cameras, is intended for the big shots. Landscapes, portraits, and objects that might be found in a catalog. The detail a medium format camera can capture is useful primarily if you’re working in print or producing HUGE images, like those found on billboards, or perhaps in an art gallery.

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For the X1D, its very first mirrorless medium format camera, Hasselblad packs a 50 megapixel CMOS sensor into a camera body about the size of of a burrito with a side of guacamole. (Fujifilm has
its own 50-megapixel medium format beast
as well.) That’s twice as many megapixels as found in
Sony’s new A9
full frame camera and 20 megapixels more than found in Canon’s new 5D Mark IV. As those are both full frame cameras, their sensors are also nearly half the size of the one found in a medium format camera like the X1D.

The Hasselblad X1D has the largest sensor found in a mirrorless camera, and one of the highest megapixel counts, but it weighs in at a little over a pound and a half (725 g)-while impressive given the technology in the little box, add a lens and the setup gets heavy quick. My right hand, wrist, and forearm were sore after the first day of using it. By the end of the week I could barely make a fist. That being said, the distribution of the camera’s weight, along with the design of its grip, push your fingers to bend up to the second joint, and the X1D hangs there perfectly-generating the odd feeling that the camera could never fall out of your hand. And God forbid it did, because that would be a $14,000 mistake ($9K body, $3-$5K lens).

You should have put a strap on it
you say. I thought so too-but the X1D is above my pay grade. I have tons of left over camera straps from old cameras-but they are all cheap, functional, and wouldn’t attach to the
beautiful
round camera strap eyelets. That is why I had to carry it. Womp womp.

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The 3-inch touchscreen LCD monitor-is just that, a monitor to another computer…I mean, camera. The Hasselblad interface is intuitive and quick to learn. You can move from an aperture of f/3.5 to f/30 with a couple of swipes or clicks of a wheel-it offers live view, histogram feedback functionality and, of course, it is wi-fi enabled.

Hasselblad uses a proprietary digital RAW format: The 3FR. I never had trouble managing the files via Photoshop/Lightroom, but it is kind of like the ‘II’ at the end of my sir name, arguably unnecessary and definitively a bit pretentious. And to say the files are HUGE is an understatement.

The X1D generates 110 MB 3FRs (that’s twice the size of a RAW file from a full frame camera). With dual SD card slots, and a ~2 frames per second capture rate, you will fill up storage VERY quickly. I get the pinwheel of death just trying to get file info in Finder. But the image size is also what allows me to look directly into anyone’s pores (and soul).

William, we miss you!

William, you have such nice eyes!

William, you have beautiful skin.

William, your soul is beautiful!

The X1D is smaller than most medium format cameras, which means it should be easier to pull off a tripod and move around to shoot with. But more mobility means autofocus becomes much more critical. The camera’s autofocusing system is contrast detection based and touts a 35-point autofocus configuration. It is easy to select which
one
point of focus you want, but it is impossible to select more than one of them-this is not only annoying but makes it very difficult to take off-the-cuff photos that do not all share the same focal point within the frame. Seems like an easy fix, not sure why Hasselblad dropped the ball here-particularly given how spectacular the images look when they are in focus.

CK Swett looking like a sad grandmother with an Ellsworth Kelly plant tattoo on his chest.

My pet aloe.

Tennis court bubble in Williamsburg, BK.

Most of us are accustomed to seeing an autofocus assist light flash when our picture’s taken. It’s usually a shade of red or orange, that might be noticeable, but isn’t distracting. The autofocus assist light on the front of the X1D is white and every time the camera engages it, subjects feel like they are getting their photo taken by an iPhone with the flash on. If you are taking someone’s photo (in autofocus)-this light definitively disrupts the energy and flow of a portrait session. Between the autofocus light, the sound the focus makes (see below) and the delay all mirrorless cameras have-you’re destined to get tripped up on timing.

GIF

No, this is not the flash. It’s the autofocus light.

Ok-so, you can’t make the camera focus where you want, there is a terrible non-flash flash in autofocus mode, but it is the fax+copier baby crying sound the camera makes (in auto focus) every time you click that makes the camera not a viable option for me. Listen.



It is terrible. There is no way around it.

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Don’t get me wrong-the camera can take beautiful photos. The
XCD lenses
Hasselblad has started making for the camera are of the highest quality and there are lots of bells and whistles* that come in the camera. Unfortunately, I never really got to enjoy the extras because I was always too busy managing the basics. If you’re not standing still this isn’t the camera for you.

Perfect skin.

Joe T.

Silver.

CK+VJ

#selfieart

README

  • If you buy this camera-buy extra external hard drives with it. The image files are HUGE.
  • The camera is (awkwardly) loud-so if you buy this camera, maybe also consider a set of ear plugs.
  • I would not buy the camera until Hasselblad integrates a multi-point autofocus functionality.
  • Do not expect the camera to shoot immediately after pressing the shutter.
  • If money is not object, buy the camera, enjoy it and also donate $14,000 to your favorite charity.

*bells and whistles

Camera Specs c/o Hasselblad.com
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Reviews,

The OnePlus 5 Is the New Android iPhone Ripoff-in a Very Good Way

All images: Adam Clark Estes/Gadgetlayout

The OnePlus employees seemed a little annoyed when I asked how they felt about people comparing its new device
to an iPhone
. Sure, both phones feature dual camera designs. Yes, the OnePlus 5 has curves that look a lot like an Apple product. Ugh, fine, it’s a really good phone, too. What’s the big deal?

Here at Gadgetlayout, we’re longtime OnePlus fans. From the time the little startup released the impressively excellent and cheap OnePlus 1
back in 2014
, we’ve been consistently impressed with the company’s ability to compete with hardware from Apple and Samsung, but with only a staff of a few hundred people. There have been bumps along the road, like hardware shortages and
an embarrassing misstep
with a USB-C cable that damaged non-OnePlus devices. But still, there’s a good reason we called the OnePlus 3 ”
the best cheap phone you can buy
.” The OnePlus 5 is the company’s slightly more expensive follow up, and the phone holds up to the OnePlus promise to be a “flagship killer.” (Fun fact: there is no OnePlus 4, because
the number 4 is bad luck in China
.)

I honestly think the OnePlus guys were faking their annoyance, when they brushed off my iPhone remark. Shouldn’t a tiny company like OnePlus being favorably compared to Apple, the world’s richest company, be a bit of a coup? Companies have tried to be iPhone inspired before, perhaps most notably in 2015 when HTC released an iPhone clone that
simply didn’t work that well
. However, the OnePlus 5 might even work
better
than an iPhone. It’s also proof that the OnePlus business model is winning. The Shenzen-based manufacturer only makes one thing: Android flagship phones. It sells these unlocked phones on the internet for around $500, a couple hundred bucks cheaper than the newest devices from competitors like Apple and Samsung. And with the latest model, announced today, OnePlus can confidently say that its device rivals those competitors in every way.

The OnePlus 5 is slim, light, and fast. The phone’s octo-core Snapdragon 835 processor is the same one featured in the new Samsung Galaxy S8, and the dual camera design features both a 16-megapixel Sony sensor and a 20-megapixel Sony telephoto camera that enables a bokeh-tastic portrait mode. The iPhone 7 Plus offers 12-megapixels for its portrait mode which also uses two lenses and some software tricks to add the illusion of depth of field. (OnePlus claims its new setup is “the highest resolution dual camera system available on any smartphone.”) You also get up to 8-gigabytes of RAM and 128-gigabytes of storage with a OnePlus 5. The display is gorgeous. The ceramic fingerprint sensor on the front is terrifically fast. The 3,300 mAh battery can drink up a day’s charge in 30 minutes. It’s a really nice phone!

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It’s also an Android phone, which is probably a deal-breaker for Apple aficionados. If you’re okay with straying away from the Cupertino crowd, though, you’re going to have a blast with what OnePlus has done to Android. Unlike the heavy-handed skins from original hardware manufacturers (OEMs) like Samsung or HTC, the so-called OxygenOS that comes on the OnePlus 5 actually looks a lot like stock Android, and the company promises that it’s delightfully free of bloatware. OnePlus just added a few features that are popular on other Android phones. There’s even a reading mode that’s supposed to make the phone screen look like a black-and-white Kindle-although the feature is more of a black-and-tan effect. There’s a screenshot mode that will capture an entire page, so you don’t have to scroll down and take multiple screenshots. There’s a night mode that automatically adjusts the display’s colors when the sun goes down. There’s even something called “Secure Box” that lets you store sensitive files behind a pin code or fingerprint.

Fun features are one thing, but none of that matters if the phone doesn’t perform. Here’s the thing: the OnePlus 5 performs. For day-to-day operations like sending texts, surfing the web, or checking email, the device is tremendously fast. More processor-heavy tasks like playing games take time, but the performance isn’t any worse than any other flagship.
SimCity
, for instance, loaded at nearly the exact same speed on the OnePlus 5 as it did on an iPhone 7. The new OnePlus fingerprint reader, however, is noticeably faster than an iPhone’s. Almost too fast.

An example of the OnePlus 5 portrait effect.

Now about that dual-lens camera. It is, indeed, pretty slick. It also seems like OnePlus realizes that all flagship phones are basically good and fast enough. The camera is one area that can help a smartphone differentiate itself from all the other black slabs of glass out there. So the company didn’t just build a facsimile of the dual camera setup on the iPhone 7 Plus. It actually built a better one with beefier sensors and slicker software. In fact, one of my favorite new things on the OnePlus camera isn’t the “Portrait Mode” that gives you a DSLR-style depth effect. It’s actually a new “Pro Mode” that features a histogram, a level, and full control over other settings like ISO, white balance, and shutter speed without downloading an extra app. All that said, the regular camera mode works great, too.

The OnePlus Pro Mode includes lots of levers to pull, if you fancy yourself a serious photographer.

Yet there’s a downside to any OnePlus phone. It is unavoidable. There’s only one. If you don’t like the size, too bad. Every OnePlus iteration is a take it or leave it proposition, since OnePlus only offers a single design. (The OnePlus 5 does come in two colors and configurations, but the design is otherwise the same.) Me, I think the OnePlus 5 and it’s 5.5-inch display is too big, although it does look gorgeous.

My favorite phone is the 4.7-inch iPhone, so there’s that bias. However, the OnePlus 5 is noticeably wider than a Samsung Galaxy S8+, and even if you have long thumbs, you’ll struggle to hit the upper lefthand corner of the screen without moving your hand or using the other one. For what it’s worth, though, the OnePlus 5 is slightly thinner than the S8+ as well as the iPhone.

The OnePlus 5 (right) compared to the Samsung Galaxy S8+ (left).

The other bummer about OnePlus is you can only buy the devices online. That means, if you want to hold the phone in your hand, you’re almost certainly going to have to buy one. OnePlus is doing some pop-up shops in the United States for the first time, so if you live near a big city, you might be able to check one out before buying. There’s a shop in New York City opening today, in fact. But if you live in rural Tennessee, where I grew up, that won’t be much of a help.

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The OnePlus 5 is inevitably a tradeoff. You can buy the phone online and hope you like it. Every model is unlocked, features a dual SIM, and works anywhere in the world thanks to support for 34 GSM network bands. The 64-gigabyte model costs $480, and the 128-gigabyte model costs $540. Once again, that’s
hundreds
of dollars less than a Galaxy S8 or an iPhone 7 Plus. Sure, you can’t go to a shiny white store and play with the device before you buy it, but that privilege isn’t really worth the extra money anyways.

So if you want an extremely capable phone with one of the best cameras on the market, give the OnePlus 5 a try. If you’ve been thinking about ditching your iOS device but want a phone that feels familiar, the OnePlus 5 is a great choice. If you like saving money and owning nice things, heck, buy the OnePlus 5. If you hate it, you can always send it back.

The OnePlus camera in regular mode.

README

  • The OnePlus 5 is a cheap smartphone ($480 for the 64GB, $540 for the 128GB) that operates like a much more expensive one.
  • A new dual-lens camera (a 16MP main lens and a 20MP telephoto lens) offers an iPhone-like portrait mode that looks pretty damn great.
  • The 3,300 mAh battery is slightly smaller than the OnePlus 3’s, but thanks to some software tricks, the OnePlus 5 actually has a longer battery life.
  • The OxygenOS runs on Android 7.1.1 Nougat and looks just about as clean and wonderful as stock Android.
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Reviews,

Huawei Honor 8 Pro review: The Incredible Hulk

India’s smartphone market is a crowded one. There aren’t only a plethora of brands competing in the market, but these brands have numerous products that cut across price brackets. If you look at the Rs 30,000 price point, there is some intense competition going on. Recently the OnePlus 5 was launched to great fanfare in the country, which I equated to being the smartphone equivalent of the legendary Formula 1 driver Michael Schumacher. Huawei’s Honor 8 Pro eyes the same space, but to compete with arguably the greatest race car driver, Honor has created a smartphone which is the technological avatar of the veritable hulk from Disney’s Marvel universe. As an Avenger’s fan, I say this with great pride as this phone is incredible like the hulk and in the past few weeks has become one of my favourite smartphones.

The Good

The hulk as I’d like to call the Honor 8 Pro through this review is one mind bending phone as it resonates excellence and brute force at anything that it does. True, it may remind one of the iPhone, but then most phones these days do and it is very well constructed. It feels like a hefty tank in one’s hand — reminding one of the hulking hulk at 7mm and 184 grams. It feels astonishingly solid, which is kind of also due to its weight.

One of things adding to its weight is its massive 4,000mAh battery which kind of ensures superlative longevity. Again, this a hulk like tendency as it can take a lot and yet not feel the heat. In my tests which went on for almost three weeks, this phone often delivered more than 50 hours of battery life with medium to heavy usage. The phone also supports fast charging technologies, ensuring that phone gets juiced up and ready to go in 2 hours.

Huawei uses its own top of the line eight core processor which is also in its flagship P10 (yet to be launched in India) smartphone and has married it with an impressive 6GB of RAM and a very generous 128GB of storage which can be further expanded with a microSD card slot. Make no mistake, this is a multimedia junkies dream.

Suffice to say, the phone delivers amazing performance which involves more than 20 apps being used at the same time and some heavy duty gaming with graphically intensive games like Injustice 2. Sure, it isn’t as fast as the OnePlus 5, but then that’s just a freak of nature. The Honor 8 Pro comes close enough and offers more bang for your buck for less. It also stays cool as a cucumber, a trait even the incredible hulk is not known for.

Its front is dominated by a LTPS 2k 5.7-inch screen which looks gorgeous. It is better than the screen on the OnePlus 5, in the case you were wondering. It is bright, vivid with punchy colours and quite resistive to scratches with a layer of protective cover glass on top which means whatever be the task, it gets the job done in an almost morning way like Dr Bruce Banner when not in his angry Hulk avatar. But the most important thing is that it is great for VR use cases, unlike a 1080p screen.

While all of this is good, actually really good, the real highlight of this phone is it’s imaging prowess. It has twin 12-megapixel cameras on the back — one a standard RGB camera while the other being a black and white camera and on the front there’s a 8-megapixel shooter. In simple words, the imaging package is the best one you get on any phone that’s less than Rs 35,000. And again yes, better than the OnePlus 5.

Here’s why – the rear cameras take sharper and richer photos in day and night than any other phone they compete with outside of the 3 year old iPhone 6 and while doing so they pull some amazing DSLR like tricks thanks to Huawei’s software trickery which enables an adjustable bokeh mode which is very effective, a superb HDR mode, and a nice monochrome mode.

It also comes with a neat pro mode and also has cool features like filters, a 3D model mode and an effective video mode that captures video in 4K with minimal shake and great audio even in large concert like situations. Recently, I attended a Raghu Dixit concert and the audio it captured was fantastic, on par with the iPhone 7 Plus. There’s also a GoPro app also on the phone which can help you edit these videos, though I didn’t care much for it as I decided to upload the videos directly to my Instagram.

It also has a mean selfie camera which will be the envy of any phone in the market including even some of the dual front camera competitors. More so, the screen lights up like a flash (a trick pioneered by the iPhone) which makes this phone a delight to use even in low-light conditions. Its incredible to say the least.

Besides these features, the Honor 8 Pro has some additional bells and whistles like a rear mounted fingerprint scanner that works at light speed and an IR blaster something that’s missing in most phones in the market and its box doubles as a VR cardboard that works with the Jaunt app. Its single onboard speaker is also quite effective, better than most phones in the market.

The Bad

As incredible as this hulk is, it isn’t without faults. Firstly, at 184 grams, this is a decidedly hulking phone. It ain’t for someone looking for something light. Actually, it is solid, it could be used like a weapon to bludgeon a thief to death! No kidding!

The matte black finish that Huawei implements doesn’t seemingly have a double coat of paint. A minor ding would scuff the phone and it would lose some paint. That doesn’t happen with most phones and this isn’t isolated to the Honor 8 Pro, as this also happens with Huawei’s flagship – the P10.

The low-light performance of the cameras could be better. Images become particularly grainy which is something Huawei should look towards improving. In addition, the 4,000mAh battery means that the phone also takes a long time to charge; again perhaps the company could look at a faster charging solutions in the mould of OnePlus’s tech.

Lastly, I’m a fan of stock Android Nougat. While the user interface is decent, essentially a springboard of apps and widgets, it isn’t as seamless as the stock Android. One can even configure the phone with an app drawer and customise it with themes but Huawei’s themes are not as nice as the ones Xiaomi offers on its user interface. The bigger worry is that Android, updates, particularly, security updates will not come on time, if ever they come.

Should you buy it?

Seriously, who doesn’t like the incredible hulk? If you don’t my dear reader, then I’m judging you. Because Dr Bruce Banner aka the hulk is brilliant when he’s calm and explosive in an incredibly beastly way when he’s angry. The Honor 8 Pro is exactly like him. It tucks along quietly like a scientist when you want it, or it can raise hell with its sheer power, battery life and camera technology when you want it to show off. For Rs 29,999, this is my favourite phone — yeah, the OnePlus 5 be damned because you can’t drive like Michael Schumacher in India. It wouldn’t be even cool to do so as damaging that Ferrari would break so many hearts but it will be so cool to have the hulk here and raise some hell!

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Gadgets, Reviews,

I Tried the Most Futuristic Car Dashboard You Can Buy

All images: Andrew Liszewski/Gadgetlayout

We all know we’re supposed to ignore our smartphones while driving. Yet somehow it’s OK to take our eyes off the road to glance at some kind of GPS unit?
Navdy is one of the first GPS device
s
 
that claims to be safer for drivers by putting the map and other info front and center so your eyes stay on the road-it’s also one of the most comprehensive in-car navigation devices on the market.

First revealed way back in 2014
, the $500 Navdy’s approach to reducing distracted driving isn’t just about putting a translucent screen right in front of a driver-if that’s all you need,
Garmin’s $150 HUD
has you covered. It also vastly improves and simplifies the clumsy and confusing interfaces that have plagued GPS devices since they first showed up in cars. And because some drivers simply can’t ignore their phones, even for just 10 minutes while you drive to the store, Navdy puts all your phone notifications on the screen alongside the map.

Installing the Navdy hardware isn’t as easy as installing a touchscreen GPS device that simply suction cups to the windshield. It’s crucial to perfectly position the Navdy display unit on the dashboard, which requires some frustrating trial and error.

You’ll need access to your car’s ODB-II port to install the Navdy hardware. If it’s not easily accessible, installation will be difficult.

The first step to installing Navdy is connecting it to your car’s (in my case, a Dodge Grand Caravan) ODB-II port. Usually found underneath the dashboard, mechanics use this port to quickly diagnose problems, and nearly every car made in the last 20 years has one. Mine was completely exposed and easy to get to, but it could be harder to located on other cars, so it’s a good idea to hunt for yours first.

This unsightly wire running across your dashboard is definitely one of the downsides of installing Navdy.

In addition to giving it access to vehicle data like speed and gas usage, the ODB-II port also powers the Navdy hardware. The downside to that is you’ll have to learn to live with a wire running across your dashboard at all times. The installation kit includes a series of clips that ensure the wire stays out of the way, but Navdy will always look like an aftermarket upgrade unless you’re willing to pull up panels and properly hide the wires.

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It took me about 20 minutes to position (and re-position, repeatedly) everything perfectly, as the installation instructions require the Navdy’s UI to appear as if it’s floating just above where your vehicle’s hood meets the road.

When you’re sitting behind the wheel, the Navdy’s map and UI fills its entire, six-inch wide see-through display.

Once the hassle of installation is done, you’re left with a useful display that’s so subtle it’s actually hard to photograph. The roughly 6-inch clear plastic panel reflects a high-contrast image from a tiny projector that’s reminiscent of the futuristic helmet HUDs that fighter pilots rely on. It automatically adjusts its brightness based on the ambient lighting in and around your car, so even when you’re staring at a bright sunlit road ahead, the UI never gets washed out.

Navdy is reminiscent of old-school TVs which bounced an image onto a larger screen using a projector.

Because the Navdy uses a tiny projector, you will still see those weird color shifts when you look away and quickly move your eyes across the screen, which can be annoying. The Navdy screen also has a very specific viewing angle, so once the hardware is aligned and installed on your dashboard, you’re not going to want to drastically adjust the angle or height of the driver’s seat, or shift around too much while you drive.

In addition to a live map, Navdy can also display a customizable dashboard so you can monitor your speed without having to look down.

The Navdy hardware shows your current position at all times using built-in GPS and offline map data sourced from
HERE
, but it can also switch to a virtual dashboard that can be customized with important details like your current speed and gas level.

Some functionality you’ll normally find in a GPS device is passed off to the Navdy app to help simplify its user interface.

But to take full advantage of Navdy’s features, you need to wirelessly connect it to your phone. This adds turn-by-turn directions and traffic data (via Google Maps), the ability to control and play music, access to customizable notifications, and even the ability to trigger your phone’s smart assistant.

Navdy includes a scroll wheel that straps to your steering wheel, making it easy to navigate the user interface without having to look away.

A smartphone might be essential to accessing Navdy’s best features, but the hardware also manages to stay relatively hands-free. A small scroll wheel with a center button easily attaches to your steering wheel for quick navigation. Powered by a coin battery, it wirelessly connects to Navdy and is intuitive to use-though having it always attached to your steering wheel takes some getting used to (I kept hitting it with my fingers while making turns).

A camera on Navdy, constantly staring back at you, lets the hardware recognize simple hand gestures for dismissing notifications.

You can also navigate Navdy’s UI with simple hand gestures. A camera on the front of the device can detect when you’re waving your hand in front of it, letting you quickly dismiss or read notifications. It’s a great concept, but unfortunately, it was a little hit and miss during my testing. I often had to place my hand close to the camera and wave very deliberately for the gestures to be detected, which kind of defeats the purpose of a hands-free feature.

You’ll want to give yourself some time to get used to Navdy’s floating display, as it can itself be a distraction at first.

Unless you’re a fighter pilot who’s used to having a HUD in your face all day, Navdy’s unique see-through screen takes some getting used to. Eventually you’ll learn to occasionally glance down at it for directions, or to check your speed, but during the first week of testing I found myself constantly looking down at Navdy’s novel floating display, and that took my eyes off the road ahead. Did I crash the car? No. But the whole point of the Navdy is to help reduce distracted driving, and it only does that after the novelty has worn off.

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Do you need to spend $500 on a hands-free navigation device when more traditional touchscreen GPS units can be had for around $100? If you only occasionally have a need for a dedicated sat-nav, like while traveling, you’ll be just fine with a cheaper Garmin. But if you rely on your navigation device every day, Navdy provides an all-around better experience. Most sat-nav UIs are notoriously archaic, but the Navdy app and software are extremely polished with frequent updates, and having Google Maps’ traffic data on-screen at all times turned out to be a feature I can no longer live without.

And if you want to live out your
Top Gun
fighter pilot fantasies on your drive to and from work every day, Navdy’s always visible dashboard-mounted display will save you from having to enlist in the Navy.

README

  • The first GPS navigation device that genuinely lets you keep your eyes on the road at all times (and feel like a fighter pilot). But you will have to train yourself not to stare at it all the time.
  • Installation isn’t complicated, but it is time-consuming. And once installed it will always look like an aftermarket upgrade.
  • To access Navdy’s best features you’ll need to use it with a smartphone and an app.
  • Using the steering wheel scroll wheel to navigate Navdy’s streamlined UI is very intuitive and natural.
  • Some common navigation functions are only accessible via the Navdy app, making them inaccessible while driving.
  • Map data is updated on a quarterly basis every year, and you can swap in offline maps for other areas of the world as needed.
  • At $500, it’s one of the most expensive GPS devices you can buy for a car.
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Reviews,

Has the Age of Powerful and Convenient Gaming Laptops Finally Arrived?

All images: Alex Cranz/Gadgetlayout

A couple of weeks ago I was braving the big crowds of E3 to meet with the Nvidia team, and while I was ostensibly there to check out Destiny 2 on a PC, what I really wanted to know was
what the hell Max-Q Design was
. Nvidia announced its new design philosophy back in May, and I’d spent the intervening weeks unable to shake the sense that this was all just a great big marketing ploy-an acknowledgement that Nvidia’s most powerful GPUs often end up in
great big computing monstrosities
.

At E3, the men of Nvidia attempted to disabuse me of that notion. They pointed specifically to the new Asus ROG Zephyrus as an example of what could happen when a collaboration was motivated by the Max-Q Design philosophy. After testing the Zephyrus for a week, I’m returning to the question of whether Max-Q Design is a gimmick meant to move laptops or a shift towards a new laptop status quo. The truth, it turns out, lies somewhere in the middle; this is an extraordinary laptop that manages to be so thin and powerful that it boggles the mind a little-but it’s also got a very serious flaw.

The flaw has nothing to do with outward appearances-this is one good looking gaming notebook.

With those hard titanium Powerbook G4-like edge,s the Zephyrus calls to mind its boxy forbearers, yet it’s so much thinner than any laptop of its power-level that’s come before. At 0.65 inches, it’s actually only a little thicker than the much less powerful .61-inch thick 15-inch MacBook Pro, and a whole lot thinner than a cheap 15-inch gaming laptop like the 1-inch thick Dell Inspiron 7000. It’s also more than half the thickness of Asus’s last gaming laptop with a Kaby Lake processor and Nvidia 1080 GPU. The average thickness of
previous Asus gaming laptops with similar specs
? 1.36 inches.

When will gaming laptop makers understand this is not a comfortable layout?

Beyond that remarkable thinness, at a glance, nothing seems to have changed between the Zephyrus and earlier gaming laptops from companies like Asus, MSI, and Acer. There’s the black brushed aluminum finish and a keyboard lit in garish colors. The Zephyrus adheres to the new fad of removing the palm rest, bringing the keyboard down to the front edge of the chassis and adding a big ugly space between the keyboard and the screen. It makes for an uncomfortable gaming experience, particularly if you try to use the touch pad, which is shunted off to the right.

GIF

You will spend a lot of time opening and shutting it and expecting the hinge to catch, but it will open smoothly every time.

Then you open the Zephyrus up and the bottom panel of the device stays on the table, while the rest of the body smoothly separates, creating a big gap intended for cooling the internals. This in particular makes the Zephyrus feel positively space age: When you first get your hands on this machine, you will definitely spend twenty minutes at the table, opening and closing the device and watching that neat separation.

A close up on that separation.

The vent, which is
the nightmare for anyone with a toddler
who likes to stick things in other thing, supposedly improves airflow to the Nvidia 1080 GPU packed inside. While I can’t confirm that, I can confirm that it makes the bottom of the Zephyrus much cooler. I noticed it as soon as I plopped the laptop on my legs and tried, again, to finish
Mass Effect: Andromeda
. The device got warm, but never so uncomfortably hot that I had to take it off my legs for fear of causing permanent damage to my thigh meats. This was confirmed when I ran the
Civilizations VI
Graphics benchmark, with identical graphics settings, on it and my 2016 13-inch MacBook Pro. The Zephyrus, despite having a much more powerful graphics card and CPU, ran five degrees cooler, hitting just 93 degrees Fahrenheit on the bottom of the case.

This thing runs cooler than expected.

Between how thin this machine is and how cool it runs versus another laptop processing a similar workload, I was starting to get the sense that there might be something to the hyped Max-Q Design. Staring at my thermal performance results, I was kind of stunned. Perhaps Max-Q Design wasn’t just an exercise in marketing. If other laptop makers start adopting Nvidia’s design ethos, we could see a whole slew of incredibly powerful machines, with discrete graphics that are less thick than a deck of cards. That would be welcome after nearly a decade of super thick gaming laptops.

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But, as evidenced by the success of most of the current monstrosities labeled as gaming laptops, gamers don’t really care about how gigantic a gaming laptop looks. What they care about is how it runs. The Zephyrus is a pricey machine, retailing for $2700, and on paper, it’s packed with power. That big price tag gets you a Nvidia 1080 graphics card, an Intel i7-7700HQ CPU, 16GB of RAM, a 256GB M.2 SSD hard drive, and a 15.6-inch display with a 120Hz refresh rate. You could build something similar (excluding laptop chassis) for half the price, or, if you absolutely needed a laptop, you could pick up a 17-inch one with nearly identical specs from Asus or MSI for around $2800. Both would also be about twice as thick.

The keyboard is a nod to gamer design, and I kind of wish they’d gone with something a little more modern and a little less “gamer-chic.”

Nvidia GPUs running on Max-Q devices are designed to run at slower speeds, sipping less power and reducing performance so they can maintain their thinness without become scorching hot. The question was how much performance will you lose? If a $2600 device like the Zephyrus only runs as well or a little better than a $900 device like the
Dell Inspiron 7000
, then its price tag and size start to feel a lot less worth it. What’s the point of spending all that cash if you’re ultimately crippling performance?

The Zephyrus, to my delighted surprise, ran really damn fast. While I didn’t have the right laptop on hand to compare the device to performance-wise, I do happen to have a desktop with an Intel i7-7700k CPU, Nvidia 1080 desktop GPU, and 256GB m.2 SSD. So I pitted the two (and a $900 Dell Inspiron 7000) against one another.

Not only is this thing much faster than a laptop for a third of the price (it had better be), it’s also every bit as fast as a desktop.

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Unfortunately, there’s a catch, and if you’re eyeing a gaming laptop for extended sessions on a plane, bus, or in any other venue sans power ports, then it’s gonna be a doozy. In laptop design there is always a trade off when it comes to power, performance, and size. If you have a powerful laptop, it is either big enough to hold a giant battery, or thin and light enough you don’t mind tossing it on the couch as you hunt for a charger. A powerful laptop will always fail at one end or the other of this power management spectrum, and the Zephyrus, in its quest to be so incredibly slight, drops the ball when it comes to battery life.

I got just a little more than two hours of regular use on the thing. It’s consistent too: Whether I’m attempting to game or just browsing Twitter, my battery disappears very fast.

You get a lot of ports with the Asus ROG Zephyrus. Including an annoying proprietary one for charging (that’s it by the HDMI port).

For all the big cool engineering feats Nvidia and Asus have accomplished with the Zephyrus, the laptop still has a fatal flaw-though one endemic to all ultra powerful laptops. That $9000 laptop from Acer, with the 21-inch curved display and
two
Nvidia 1080 GPUs, had battery life nearly as abysmal and weighed four times as much! Nvidia, with Max-Q Design appears to have solved some of the biggest flaws of gaming laptops. It’s found a neat balance between power and physical design, and if it ever figures out how to defy the laws of physics and develops a battery that can handle all the juice a 1080 graphics card sucks down, then Max-Q Design might move completely out of the realm of marketing hype and set a gaming laptops onto a trend all our thighs and backpacks richly deserve.

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Until that day, we’ve got the Asus ROG Zephyrus. It’s a $2600 laptop that is, by all accounts, the most powerful laptop of its size ever made. If you need a gaming laptop that’s small, powerful, and cool in your lap,
and
you don’t mind carrying a power supply everywhere you go, then put this guy at the top of your list of potential buys. You’re going to be hard pressed to find another laptop this well crafted and this great at balancing power and size.

README

  • That hinge is wickedly cool, but so help you if you have a toddler, because they will almost certainly cram things in there.
  • It’s actually much more powerful than you’d think.
  • The battery life is atrocious though.
  • Nvidia’s marketing ploy, Max-Q Design, actually executes damn well. This could really be a thing.
  • And I’d like to have a word with whoever decided touchpads were a good solution for controlling games. It is not.
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Reviews,

Why the OnePlus 5 was convenient as opposed to a normal camera

A good camera has become a necessity in these days of Instagram and Snapchat, so it’s no surprise Smartphones have become the best alternative to a traditional point and shoot. The portability and easy access give smartphones an edge over traditional camera’s.

The maddening race of OEM’s to have the best camera in their smartphones has also changed the landscape of the Smartphone war. Specifications like RAM, Storage and Processor speeds rarely matter anymore as there tons of phones available that give you impressive performance in almost any budget range. The only differentiating factors that remain between the premium and mid-range are design and camera.

OnePlus as a company has adopted a policy of offering top of the line specifications along with a top tier design language at an unbeatable price and while that price has gone up slightly with each iteration, it’s still far below the more premium OEM’s. It doesn’t hurt that the camera modules in their phones are also good but with the OnePlus 5, they may have the best one out of the bunch so far.

The OnePlus 5 uses a custom Sony IMX 398 sensor for the 16-megapixel, 28mm wide screen camera and a Sony IMX 350 sensor for the 20-megapixel 36mm telephoto lens. The photos we clicked for the Shot for Gadgetlayout campaign were done exclusively with the OnePlus 5. To make sure it wasn’t our grubby, amateurish hands making the final decision, we handed the phone over to Senior Photographer, Udit Kulshrestha and tasked him with shooting the Taj Mahal. You can view his work
here
.

As a youth, Udit ventured into the world of marketing where he studied the domains of the Internet, Media, Paints and Durables for 7 years. However, with a parental lineage in performing and visual arts, it was only a matter of time till he discovered his true calling as a visual artist and a photographer.

“I think the OnePlus 5 has a brilliant camera and even the selfie camera is very good. Even the processing is very, very fast. I could click so many pictures, so fast, it was amazing. I also tried out the time lapse and the slow motion and the quality was amazing,” said Udit when asked about the camera.

It’s no surprise that Smartphones make great portable companions, to add a camera to that sauce just makes it a little tastier. The OnePlus 5 can take photos that are almost DSLR quality in a package that is smaller and more convenient than the average DSLR.

“First, there’s the weight of the phone. Second, it’s non-intrusive. That makes it very convenient. And that is one reason why I would personally use the phone over a DSLR. If you want to click and you don’t want to intrude into anyone’s privacy and get noticed. Nobody expects you to take a great picture with a phone camera and you are not taken seriously as a photographer. That is something that I wanted to pursue,” says Udit, “Especially in the premises inside the Taj Mahal, there is massive security checks where you can’t carry heavy equipment inside. So, you can’t carry bags and all the lenses with you inside. It becomes a pain. There have been times when I had to go back to the locker, put in the bags, then come back, wasting time, wasting light. Here I had a phone and nobody bothered about it. Nobody takes you as a serious photographer per se. That is one reason.”

That’s not all, Udit also talks positively of the experience he had with the Pro mode on the phone.

“I tested out the phone initially and I figured out there’s a pro mode in the phone which helps you shoot RAW. Also, it allowed me many manual controls like exposure compensation, shutter speed and white balance. I had options of either shooting in landscape or in macro, so these were controls which helped me do more,” he said.

It’s clear that OnePlus has succeeded in delivering another winner with the OnePlus 5, to read the full interview with Udit,
click here
.

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Reviews,

It’s likely that you wouldn’t be reading any reviews of the new Moto E4 phones, here’s why

Like all launch events for smartphones, the Moto E4 and the Moto E4 Plus launched amidst a pre-created buzz on social media. A mammoth 5,000mAh battery being the center of all the hype. That too at a price of Rs 9,999. And as soon as the presentation got over, there was the usual rush to where the devices were being showcased. Publications from all around the country were busy making videos and giving pieces to camera. First impressions were done and launch copies published. That’s usually the norm of press events where products are launched. But what was unexpected was the refusal by Lenovo to send out review units of the phone for the in-depth articles about the phones. Believe it or not, people in India, especially those buying a budget smartphone want the best value for money and for that, they tend to research a lot about the device they are looking to buy. It is what we are known for. To provide an informed, educated opinion about a device that will eventually help a buyer decide where to put their money at. The brands know this. The publication
s
earn their bread and butter through it. So, in refusing to send review units
,
Lenovo
comes across as not being
confident about their new offerings
.

Alas, there will be no way of knowing for sure, just why exactly Moto doesn’t want its product reviewed by experts.
In fact we checked around with journalists of some other publications and were informed that indeed the Moto E4 Plus wasn’t being distributed for review. But let’s make an educated guess.

On the face of it, the Moto E4 is a stunning deal. The latest stock Android. Dolby Atmos tuned speakers. A 5,000mAh battery!, 13-megapixel cameras with large pixels, front-mounted fingerprint sensor and a metal unibody. This sure looks like a deal that will make people looking for entry-level phones immediately rush to the stores.

But then comes that hardware that powers the phone. Both the Moto E4 and the Moto E4 Plus are powered by a MediaTek 6737 chipset with a 1.3G
H
z quad-core processor and Mali-T720 graphics. In comparison, the U.S variant of the Moto E4 runs on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 427 SoC which has a 1.4Ghz quad-core processor and Adreno 308 graphics.

It is now a known fact that phones with MediaTek processors fail to obtain favourable reviews from publications while phones powered by Qualcomm processors are rated higher. There are several reasons for that. We believe, it is because of this trend that Lenovo refused to entertain reviews for this phone.

MediaTek chipsets
usually use
s
off-the-shelf
ARM ar
c
hitecture when they are used in a phone
. In the SoC, MediaTek offers multi-core processors, GPU, cellular modem and the Wi-Fi module. Qualcomm chipsets
generally are more powerful in terms of performance and more efficient in terms of heat management and battery life
.
They also pack more custom made goodies. For instance, a
Qualcomm chipset will house a
custom
Image Signal Processor
(
ISP)
, Digital Signal Processor
(
DSP)
, Noise-cancellation technology, NFC, GPS and many more modules apart from the CPU, GPU and the modem. As a result, MediaTek chipsets are less expensive to procure than Qualcomm chipsets which brings down the price of a phone considerably. It is perhaps this line of reasoning that led Lenovo to use a MediaTek processor.

Here’s MediaTek’s official website highlighting the offerings.

In comparison,

here’s the spec sheet

of the Snapdragon 427 SoC used in the U.S variant. See for yourself.

Despite more offerings, it is not necessary that a Qualcomm processor will outperform a MediaTek processor. We have seen time and again in benchmark tests that a MediaTek processor has edged out a Qualcomm processor of the same range. But here’s the thing. Qualcomm chipsets employ heterogeneous computing. What is that? Allow us to explain.

Heterogenous computing allows chipsets to distribute tasks efficiently across the modules of the chipset. For instance, if you are taking photos from the camera of the phone, a Qualcomm chipset will only use the ISP to process the photos and the videos. The GPU, CPU and the rest of them will remain idle, saving power, reducing heat, and overall, increasing the efficiency.

MediaTek processors have no such provisions. Even a simple scroll through the app drawer will keep the processor running
at
full power, draining battery considerably faster. It’s the reason why phones with MediaTek processor also tend to heat up more than their Qualcomm counterparts.

That brings us to the Moto E4 and the Moto E4 Plus. In our launch article, we mentioned that the 5,000mAh battery will last two days of use. Perhaps that’s true. Without reviewing the phone, we will never for sure. However, if Moto had launched the Qualcomm variant in India, would the phone have lasted even more than that? Most likely, yes.

Now comes the question of why. Why did Lenovo launch
a phone which to be honest is not at all class leading? And it is not
,
because t
he Rs 9,999 Redmi Note 4 uses the Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 which is not even an entry-level processor, but a mid-rang
e computing engine
that is superiorly efficient in power intake and thermals. Heck, even the Redmi 4 which is vastly cheaper offers better performance and a better bang for a buck.
Perhaps, Moto thought that by using seemingly inferior components it could compete with Xiaomi on price like what HMD Global is doing with the Nokia 3.

The finer details the Lenovo is touting in the Moto E4 like the display is not up to the mark of the Redmi Note 4. It’s not even at par with the Redmi 4 which is priced at Rs 7,999. Both the Redmi Note 4 and the Redmi 4 sport 1080p panels. In the limited time I got to use the Moto E4, I found the 720p display nothing extraordinary.

Even the speaker which carries the tag of an iconic audio brand is made to sound as something that is groundbreaking. The Moto E4 phones come with Dolby Atmos speakers. But so does the LG G6. Does it mean that the speakers on the Moto E4 is as good as LG’s flagship phone? Most likely, not.

T
he fact remains that it does have inferior hardware features, though Moto should remember that it does offer one of the best implementations of Android, which is unadulterated and that can help it deliver a better user experience. And at the end of the day it is all about the end user experience and not what’s there in a phone or what a reviewer thinks what a phone should have. But I’m guessing Moto has forgotten that.


And this isn’t the first time Lenovo has done this.
Remember the Moto M
, another budget offering from Lenovo. Do you remember reading any reviews of the phone? That’s because the Moto M too is powered by a MediaTek processor in India.

Just run a Google search for the same and all you will find are user reviews, not
jou
rnalistic reviews.

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Reviews,

The DJI Spark Is an Incredibly Exciting Start to an Insane Future

All photos: Adam Clark Estes

Small drones are not new. Toy-sized quadcopters have been on the market for years helping kids (and dads) start flying for a relatively reasonable price and not much expertise. Yet small drones that can do almost anything a big drone can do? That’s new. And that’s what makes the DJI Spark so exciting.

The first and, ultimately, most important thing you’ll notice about the Spark is its size. It is tiny. It’s so tiny, it makes the very small Mavic Pro look like an obese giant. If the Mavic Pro is the size of Italian sandwich, the Spark is the size of a hearty cannoli. At 300 grams, it weighs about as much as a cannoli, too. However, since the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires you to register any drone weighing more than 250 grams, the Spark is a big boy toy, subject to big boy federal regulations.

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That’s part of why it took two people to review this bite-sized little quadcopter. Michael is a licensed commercial drone pilot, so he manned the controls. Adam is a recreational pilot, so he worked as the spotter (and photographer). And to be a real dad about it, you should always do your drone flights with a friend. At the very least, two sets of eyes come in handy, when you’re trying to keep your eye on the aircraft. Since the Spark is so small, you’ll need all the help you can get.

What kind of tiny drone is this?



Broadly speaking, the Spark boasts all of the same features as the larger, folding Mavic Pro, but everything is dialed down. With a maximum speed of 31 mph, the Spark is not as fast as the Mavic Pro’s 40 mph. With a maximum transmission distance of 1.2 miles, the Spark can’t fly as far as the Mavic Pro which has a range of 4.3 miles. With a battery half the size of the Mavic Pro’s, the Spark can’t fly as long. You’ll get 16 minutes of flight on a single Spark charge. The Mavic Pro’s battery lasts 27 minutes. The 1080p camera and two-axis gimbal on the Spark is not nearly as good as the 4K camera and three-axis gimbal on the Mavic Pro.

Bear in mind: the Spark in flying mode (left) is roughly half the size of a folded up Mavic Pro (right). The Mavic Pro gets about twice as big, when you unfold it.

Yet like the Mavic Pro and the Phantom 4, the DJI Spark features obstacle avoidance technology and extra sensors that enable intelligent flight modes, like Tap Fly, Active Track, and Gestures. That last one is where the Spark really stands out. Thanks to an infrared sensor on the front of the aircraft, you can actually control the Spark with your palm. A lot of people are calling this “Jedi Mode,” and it’s pretty cool, when it works.

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This is all especially exciting since the Spark
only costs $500
. That makes it not only the smallest drone DJI’s ever made but also the cheapest. But there’s a catch, that $500 price tag does not include the cost of a controller, and you’ll definitely want to fly the Spark with a controller.

The Spark controller looks just like the Mavic Controller except there’s no display and no need to plug in your phone, as it communicates with the controller using wi-fi.

To get a controller, you have to buy
the Spark Fly More Combo for $700
. The combo comes with a lot of other stuff that you’ll definitely want, like propeller guards, extra propellers, and an extra battery. However-and that’s a capital “H” however-let us remind you that you don’t need the controller to fly the Spark. You can fly it with your hands, or you can use a smartphone or tablet. It’s great for beginners who don’t need another joy stick in their lives, but that experience might not be ideal for seasoned drone pilots, who love the tactile feel of a controller.

How does this tiny drone do in the sky?

Think of the Spark as a personal drone. Everything about it is designed to make you feel safe and in control-especially if you spring for those propellor guards. You can technically fly the Spark with your hands and take selfies by making a picture frame with your fingers. Toss the Spark in a backpack and go on vacation to California. It can take off from your palm, track you and your pal as you pose next to a redwood, take a photo, and then land on your palm. Except for the whole California vacation thing, we did this. It worked.

Here’s an unedited still taken on a very hot and sunny day in Brooklyn.

But the gesture control is far from perfect. You really do have to learn the different gestures and train yourself a little to do them exactly right. Even then, you’re very limited to what you can do it. Basically, the Spark will take a photo of you and fly within a few feet of your palm. It’s a parlor trick at best. And don’t even think about trying it in the wind. The Spark bounces around in a breeze, and that seems to confuse the infrared sensor to no end.

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But the technology still feels like the first generation of a thrilling new wave of drones that work with minimal effort and require nothing more than a trained human to make them fly. Or maybe, in the future, these drones will be sentient and take over the world. We don’t know yet, and that’s what makes it so exciting!

What does it do besides taking selfies?

Thing is, you don’t need the gesture control at all. It’s a fun bonus for a drone that’s already awesome. It’s like the Mazda Miata of drones. Sure, it’s not the biggest or most powerful thing you can buy. But it’s fun as hell.

In this unedited image, Adam is failing to control the Spark with his hand. Michael, took this still from the controller while the drone was in gesture mode.

We could really see the Spark being extra fun for wannabe drone racers. While 31 mph isn’t the fastest speed for a DJI drone, it feels fast when you’re flying the Spark in sport mode. And because the Spark is roughly the same size as the racing drones you see people flying in the Drone Racing League on ESPN, you’ll start to feel like you could get the hang of this hobby. The big bummer is that the Spark currently doesn’t work with DJI Goggles, the company’s first-person view (FPV) headset.

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Meanwhile, the camera is exceedingly decent for simple stuff like taking a selfie or shooting an aerial view of the city skyline. However one thing that the Spark camera really doesn’t do well is tilt the camera lens up or down. The barebones two-axis gimbal doesn’t move smoothly; it essentially jumps from one position to the next, which will keep the Spark from being useful for budding cinematographers who want smooth pans.

The infrared sensor, 1080p camera, and two-axis gimbal on the front of the Spark makes it look a bit like a Star Wars character.

If you find yourself disappointed by little shortcomings like a jerky gimbal or lack of FPV goggles, the Spark might not be for you. You’re probably someone who already owns a Phantom or a Mavic Pro or, who knows, a freaking $3300 Inspire. You might consider buying a Spark for your kids, though. Heck, get one for your fun-loving mom or that close friend you’ve been convincing to take up the hobby. It’s an expensive way to get started with drones, but it’s worth it for the right person.

Should you buy the Spark?

But before you spend any money, consider your mission. Are you a beginner, looking to get a first drone that works dependably well for most purposes? The Spark’s a great choice. Are you a long-time Phantom owner, looking for something more portable? The Spark is a good choice, but for $300 more the Mavic Pro is better. Are you an aerial cinematographer hoping to get some of your footage in a Hollywood movie? You shouldn’t even be reading this right now, because you should be saving up for
the $5,000 DJI Matrice
.

The Spark minus one propellor guard, which snaps securely to the drone’s arm, and one propellor, which folds and connects to the motor with a push-and-turn motion.

This is another way of saying that, with the addition of the Spark, DJI really does sell a drone for every level of expertise. And quite impressively, the $500 Spark is just enough drone for most people. No matter how advanced you are as a pilot, the Spark is genuinely fun to fly.

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It could get even better with age, too, thanks to potential firmware updates and improvements to the gesture control. Otherwise, it’s a magical glimpse into an exciting future of drones, aircraft that are smaller than we thought possible and that can do more than ever before.

Believe it or not, the Spark is even smaller than it looks.

README

  • At $500, the Spark is DJI’s cheapest drone and a great entry level aircraft for would-be pilots.
  • But you should buy the $700 combo package, because you’ll want to fly with the controller as well as the propeller guards.
  • Gesture control is fun idea that doesn’t work that well, although software updates could improve it.
  • Intelligent flight modes and obstacle avoidance are essential features that are usually only available on more expensive drones.
  • The Spark is just plain fun!
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Reviews,

This TV Backlighting System Fucked Me Up

All images: Marina Galperina/Gadgetlayout

This is opulence. Suddenly, there is extra light blasting from behind my TV screen, making a day-glow title sequence positively atomic. The DreamScreen, a backlighting system that’s designed to make your TV viewing more immersive, is a luxury that I absolutely don’t need. In theory, the supplementary lights change color based on the pixels on the TV screen for an “immersive theater experience.” In practice, it’s an overstimulating, distracting, nauseating novelty, and
I can’t get enough of this shit.

I’m
a fan
of the Phillips Hue wireless LED lights, and find the ability to change the color of my room with my phone delightful. DreamScreen, loosely based on the original
Philips Hue-adjacent Ambilux television
, works in the same vein, so I was keen on it. I do a lot of stupid things to entertain myself, like acquiring a 55-inch Samsung television with a
gimmicky
curved display. DreamScreen seemed like an upgrade.

I was naive. I didn’t realize how much I could loathe and love one product.

This is the neatly-packed mass of stuff that comes out of the box.

Depending on what kind of TV you have, the kit costs between $150 (HD up to 45-inches) and $305 (for a 4K up to 130-inches). The setup is a small feat in and of itself. There are chunky LED light strips to tape to the back of a TV, differently spaced depending on the size of your tv (there’s a guide). There’s a smartphone app that works with your wi-fi to download and set up. Then you need to plug your video source into the video input of the round HDMI splitter, and plug the output into your TV. There are also two optional “sidekick” lights for extra glow ($66 each, sold separately) that plug into the splitter, and so many cords. This thing takes up three fucking outlets. Get ready for a wire rat king.

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You do get the “bigger, brighter” TV the product’s website promises, but the lights don’t exactly extend the screen space; they sometimes echo, and sometimes compliment the colors of pixels around the very edges of your screen, sending rays of color from behind your television across your walls in time with whatever is on.

GIF

One major regret-having such glossy walls. It meant I could see the reflection of the LEDs.

In the case of a dramatic explosion, this is all very sensible, as a good part of your wall will look
on
fire
. It really shines with material intended to be trippy-like whatever the hell that was in episode eight of
Twin Peaks: The Return
(above), or that psychedelic
2001: A Space Odyssey
sequence.
The more you give it-pink and blue neons, deep reds-the more you get.

The full set up with (improperly placed) Sidekicks.

But it can be confounding in undramatic sequences, with bright blurry bits of clothes and other immovable objects echoing off screen, like dislocated fuzzy chunks. Daylight and black-and-white sequences result in a bright bluish-white screen halo. Letterboxing also presents an obvious, chasmic problem-gaps.

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I want to emphasize the visual loudness of this thing. Even at the lowest brightness, without the two sidekicks, the DreamScreen is really bright. I like to watch movies in complete darkness and concentrate on the screen. With the DreamScreen, the entire room is illuminated, including the dirty laundry in the far corner that I’m trying to ignore. Say you’re the type of person with serious respect for cinematography. The screen bleeding out of the frame in blurry puddles every which way might not be what the cinematographer intended. Despite and because of its flaws, this truly is an accessory of visual excess.

There’s also the product’s weird
“health benefits”
claim that it “reduces digital eye strain.” The claim cites
a single 2006 study
which concludes that “subjects were less likely fatigued and experienced less eyestrain with surrounding illumination present,” meaning additional light will make the TV not hurt your eyes so much. But the study also says that these results are “modest” and sometimes even the opposite. Speaking from personal experience, staring into a significantly brighter TV area is the opposite-my eyes aches after a while. So I wouldn’t take this study very seriously.

GIF

Gaming with this is actually pretty great, especially if you sit real close to the screen.

Where DreamScreen really shines is gaming. I sit closer to the TV while I game and my focus is more sharply drawn to specific sections of the screen. This position allows the peripheral edges of the game space to blend with the DreamScreen light extensions and I’m significantly more immersed, just as DreamScreen wanted. When I’m not watching the entire screen, the patchiness of DreamScreen’s illumination isn’t a big deal. It’s also more dynamic because more is happening faster, so it’s swishing around me. That’s neat.

Lights taped to the back of the TV.

For most everything else, it’s immersive, but kind of like watching TV wasted is immersive.

You’re going to get pulled into the light.

You’ll want to squint. Your eyes might skid. You might ask yourself, do I really need to do this? Am I enjoying it? Why am I doing this?

With black-and-white and daylight sequences, DreamScreen makes a white-blue.

Excess and novelty are perfectly good reasons to try something. Getting overwhelmed and bored is a great reason to stop. Until then, the trick is getting used to something completely unnecessary. Awhile back, I saw
Wonder Woman
in 4DX, which is extra 3D, with moving theater seats and “effects.” For two hours in the theater the seat jostled me back and forth and gently spit water into my hair. It was completely unnecessary. But now I wonder, how am I supposed to watch another movie again
without
steamy, bumpy smell-o-vision? I wasn’t even sure I liked 4DX, but I’m going back, obviously. Maybe I want to be thrown around. Maybe I’ll always want a “bigger, brighter” TV.

Maybe I want to be perpetually overstimulated by entertainment technology. Maybe I want bright lights strapped to the back of my TV, for extra explosions.

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Nothing in life is perfect. A lot of the things aren’t even good. I think this thing is bad, but also good. No one really needs it, but it’s awfully easy to get used to. When I don’t use the lights, I miss them. Sometimes I’ll even put them on the ambient setting when I’m doing something else. Like “rainbow.” Or “fireplace.” Twinkling in the background. Completely fucking with my head.

README

  • It’s takes up to three outlets.
  • It’s really bright and dramatic.
  • Best for really bright and dramatic sequences in movies and games.
  • Great for gaming and explosions, not so much for movies you respect.
  • How much you’ll like it really depends on your definition of “immersive.”
  • Easy to hate, hard to leave.