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Product review – Oppo F7 smartphone

There was a time when Oppo used to make amazing flagships with innovative designs. Through their impressive work with cameras in their phones, Oppo rose through its competition in China and has expanded globally ever since. They marketed what they did best – class-leading cameras. Back in 2014, the Oppo Find 7 and it’s successor, the Oppo N1. Times have changed however, and so their leadership in the market has waned. They’re still one of the biggest smartphone makers in the world, particularly in Asia. Their focus has shifted from offering top-tier performance and functionality to focused marketing on excellent performance both for the front and rear cameras. But since then, Oppo been struggling in putting out a device that satisfies the average Joe-shim looking for a phone. The Oppo F7 is somewhat of a departure from their philosophy, and it’s for the better.

Sure, the phone isn’t the best example of bang-for-buck, but the F7 isn’t quite a terrible phone compared to the products Oppo has put out in the past few years. Its current competitor in the market is the Vivo V9, and it does almost everything better while costing a bit less than the V9.

The Performance

The Oppo is no slouch in this department. It uses Mediatek’s latest P60 SoC, which performs on par with the Snapdragon 660 and 636. The user interface is snappy and responsive, but Oppo’s ColorOS based on Android 8.1 Oreo tries hard to deliver an iPhone experience with no app drawers. If one feels bothered about this, Nova Launcher or Google Launcher is ready to be installed from the Google Play Store, offering a more familiar experience on the F7. With 4 GB of ram, the phone easily gets day-to-day tasks done, even handling intensive tasks. But if you feel gimped with 4 gigs of ram, there is a 6GB option available as well. Gaming performance is great but not the best when compared to something such as a Xiaomi Mi6 or Mi Note 3 within the range, because the Mali GPU in the phone doesn’t do much good against the Adreno from Snapdragon chipsets.

Design and display

The F7 isn’t the most premium phone on earth, but it’s a phone that feels well built, which is fine as it is a mid-ranger. The weight is perfect, as it isn’t too heavy nor does it feel as flimsy as a plastic phone. One terrible decision Oppo decided to take was to choose plastic with a glossy rear to illuminate its back. It’s a solution to imitate flagship devices with glass backs, but ultimately the phone becomes a fingerprint magnet. Dread from it, run from it, smudges always follow.

The phone still uses the Micro USB port which you always get wrong on the first try while trying to plug in your phone in the dark. The snappy, functional fingerprint scanner is around the back. Take a look at the bottom and, behold, a 2018 smartphone with a 3.5mm headphone jack.

The 19:9 display with 1080p is a great experience, as it feels amazing for media consumption and gaming. If you want even more screen real estate, then feel free to hide the software navigation buttons and use gestures for navigation; a desperate attempt by Oppo trying to imitate iPhones again. Old habits die hard.

Software and functionality

ColorOS is quite a bit bulky when compared to stock android. It takes a while to get used to and there aren’t really any difference under the hood when you change the theme from the theme store. Oppo’s way of dealing with convenience doesn’t make sense however. They use a keyboard called “Oppo Secure Keyboard” layered on top of the Gboard and claims to protect keystrokes from being tracked. Let me rephrase that sentence, they use a terribly heavy feature (that nobody asked for in the first place) in place of a function that can easily be used from a lighter alternative. And that sentence describes the software side of the phone entirely.

However, the Helios P60 helps in the software department. Face Unlock is a gimmicky feature to some android users, but it works quite fast. A dedicated AI chip in the SoC helps with delays previously faced from fingerprint scanning and face unlock; along with real time HDR in taking photos.

Endurance

With a respectable 3400mAh battery, the Oppo offers a full day of heavy and moderate usage, with little charge left at the end of the day. The efficient chip-set helps in this regard, putting it a class above competitors from Huawei (P20 Lite) and Vivo (Vivo V9). What the F7 lacks however, is fast charging tech. It takes around two hours to top up the battery from 5%.

Camera

As usual, the camera is the only thing the Oppo excels in. Boasting a 25 megapixel camera with f/2.5 aperture in the front and a 16 megapixel camera with f/1.8 aperture in the back, the device takes great pictures. Oppo’s main point of marketing is the AI Beauty feature. In most cases, the beautification is probably for the better but the beautification doesn’t go away entirely when you turn the mode off. The bokeh feature has been around for a while, and it finally feels that mobile phone manufacturers pulled it off, thanks to AI being at work. There are some AR features that were fun, but the available ones were pretty conventional and uninspiring.

The rear camera is brilliant as well. In an era of dual camera focusing on taking cool macro shots with blurred backgrounds, the Oppo takes a different route. Surely enough, the phone doesn’t offer amazing shots like Samsung Galaxy S9 or iPhone X, but the colors seem natural in well lit conditions. The sensor tends to overexpose a bit under low light conditions however. For macro shots, the camera feels brilliant, detecting edges and objects properly.

The best part about the camera app is the Expert mode. In this, you can adjust shutter speed, ISO, exposure etc. Disappointingly, the phone doesn’t offer 4K recording, a commonplace feature in this price range.

Conclusion and brief comparisons

The F7 isn’t a terrible phone by any means, but there are better options in the price range. Its mainstream competitors however, aren’t doing much good.

The Vivo V9 with a smaller battery and inferior camera is probably the worst in this price range, but the V9’s edge is in offering a lighter user interface experience and fast charge tech. Buying the V9 with 30,000BDT and getting a Snapdragon 626 is a disappointment to say the least.

Huawei recently entered this segment with the Huawei P20 Lite. Sure, the phone looks stunning and arguably prettier than the F7, but the Kirin 659 is dated. The GPU is worse as well. Storage system on the Oppo is UFS 2.1 whereas the P20 lite uses eMMc for storage. However, the build quality is a bit better, and dual cameras are better in some aspects. The P20 Lite also has fast charging tech with a USB C port.

The F7 is a good phone, but do pick it up when the price is a bit more tolerable. It nails almost everything down, and should be a pretty capable driver for any average user.

How a cheap Chinese mug can change your life (for real)

The pinnacle of modern engineering has yielded a product that will change your life, as it has mine, for the rest of time.

Imagine a world where you never have to wait your turn to use the office spoon again. A world where you put you coffee and water into a cup and it’s all ready to go at the press of a button. A world where you don’t have encumber yourself by using a spoon to mix your coffee and milk and sugar together.

Now stop imagining flying cars and the year 3000 because I’m here to tell you; the future is now.

Introducing the Self-Stirring Mug.

Chinese manufacturing has given birth to a product that will make you the envy of your all co-workers. A product that, as its Amazon page lists under its features, “displays the words ‘SELF STIRRING MUG’ on the front” so that you can immediately differentiate yourself for the rest of the spoon-using plebeians.

Yes, some will say that spoons are not really obsolete since you need to use one to get your ingredients into the mug in the first place. Those people are jealous. What they really want to say is that they aspire to be you; that they want to live the life of comfort and joy that you now know.

Made of stainless steel and plastic, this Tk 750 mug can be powered by the Tk 30 Sunlight batteries found at your local store.

The question is not whether you want this product — the only reason you wouldn’t is if you’re a mug. The question it’s whether you’re willing to step into the future and leave behind the world you knew growing up.

Fiio X1 Gen 2 digital audio player – first impressions

From the iPod to expensive iRiver Digital Audio players, the market has changed a lot. Chi-Fi (Chinese hi-fi – no, we haven’t gone global…yet) has taken over, and we all know that means that the market is saturated now. Back then, for a decent Digital Audio Player (DAP), one had to pay a hefty premium and be stuck with a lot of drawbacks. Portable audio has improved in the past few years but the market is slowly changing, with the 3.5mm jack appearing and disappearing in between. But this headphone jack fiasco has opened up a brand new market for enthusiasts for audio players. For such a market (under $100), there exists a great option – the Fiio X1 Gen 2.

Even four years ago, people used the Sansa Clip+, a DAP from Sandisk that took the market by storm. Small, agile and efficient, the firmware could be improved through installing another music player interface called Rockbox. And today, nobody cares about it. It might have been cheap and small, but as smartphone batteries grow smaller for the sake of aesthetics, people are moving to DAPs. And the Fiio X1 Gen 2 is a great starting point for getting into the world of audio players. It features lossless playback, Bluetooth 4.0 and a slick touch based scroll wheel.

The build quality is premium with rounded edges and tactile buttons. The UI is a bit slow, but it’s based on Linux and the problems alleviate a bit when the firmware updates. Supporting up to 256 GB of memory thanks to its SD card slot and up to 11 hours of playback thanks to its 1800 mAh battery, the device is indeed a great choice to be in your backpack for day-long commutes in Dhaka traffic.

The sound is a touch warm and flat, seeing a departure from the original Fiio X1, which struggled with details and soundstage. Overall, this is a solid offering under a hundred dollars from Fiio, and it’s on Gears for Ears, Fiio’s official Bangladeshi dealer for 9,799 BDT only. If you’re struggling with listening to music through your iPhone’s dongle, give this beautiful looking DAP a try.

The curious case of the disappearing 3.5mm jack

How far do you remember in terms of using a cell phone? If you are like me, who started using cell phones in early the 2000’s, you  might remember connector variations based on manufacturers. However, they all had one common grievance; none of them sported a 3.5mm headphone jack. Ahh, the dark ages, when we all had to carry our proprietary connector headphones or stupid dongles to allow 3.5mm connections. Then finally, by the grace of god and common sense, slowly, all manufacturers started adding this miracle of a connector as a boasting factor for their products, and suddenly, any device that didn’t sport it was dubbed backdated.

So imagine the irony when Apple shocked the world with rumours that they were planning on axing the gold standard 3.5mm for their own proprietary Lightning connector, and subsequently established the rumour with the iPhone 7 and its plus sized sibling, minus the headphone jack. And as Apple is considered a market shifter in terms of certain trends, many of the OEMS from the Android camp followed suit with their seeming war with the headphone jack.

So, you may ask why the market is suddenly moving back in time instead of forwards. Sure, the society has a habit of getting into a retro vibe where they start bringing back old ideas and brandish it a bit. While that is fine for things like fashion designs, it is certainly not fine when it comes to technology. I can’t imagine someone giving up their 4K ultra something LED panel for those ancient CRT televisions which you have to bang three times to get it to work properly and needed the whole neighbourhood to move it one inch to the left.

Before you end up saying something like “What’s the big deal?”, let me explain that the inconveniences they cause can be annoying to say the least. Put yourself in everyday scenarios and you will see just how annoying it can be to live the jack-less life. Imagine yourself on a road trip where your friends are playing hateful music and you want to change that with the songs on your phone. You reach for the aux when you suddenly remember you don’t have the jack. Or losing your dongle and shelling out not very little money to get another. Or forgetting your headphones at home and not having the ability to use a cheap one for the time being because of, you guessed it, no jack. Before any of you head for the comments to say “Go wireless”, let me remind you that phones with jacks ALSO have wireless options. And that’s the thing with technology. It is supposed to GIVE you options, NOT take them away.

So how are manufacturers getting away with this you may now ask? Simple. By flogging words like “Digital” or “Freedom” or “Courage” or whatever other jargon they can come up with. They also use excuses like using the space saved from the jack to do something which they could have done anyway, but Shhh, you aren’t supposed to know that. So let’s investigate each of their ‘arguments’ and see if it justifies their motive.

Suspect: thickness

Manufacturers argue that by getting rid of the jack, they are able to make phones thin enough for you to slice apples in between long calls. But, in all seriousness though, has their argument for being able to make thinner phones held up with the sacrifice that was made?

The current thinnest smartphone on record is the Vivo X5 Max, measuring in at 4.75mm, and guess what, it can and has packed a 3.5mm headphone jack whereas the 7mm thick iPhone 7 and the 5.2mm thick Moto Z didn’t.

Verdict: Not guilty. Until phones hit sub 3.5mm thickness, the argument regarding thickness is pointless. Besides, if they do hit that thickness, it’s not like USB C or Lightning would do any good either as neither would fit.

Suspect: digital Audio

This is probably the loudest drum being played by OEMS right now to justify killing the headphone jack. They argue that while the 3.5mm only gave analogue signals, the new USB-C/ Lightning connectors give you true digital sound. Some manufacturers  even supply Active Noise Cancellation through their USB-C headphones, saying it would not have been possible with 3.5mm jacks, in the hopes of quelling some of the hate. So is this digital audio claim another fluke? Well lets clear that one out quite simply. Analogue means physical movement is required to generate sound, whereas digital means ones and zeros. I have yet to encounter a human who has a native USB connection to their brain , having the ability to decode ones and zeros because the only way to experience digital audio is to connect the phone’s USB cable directly to your brain and decoding the ones and zeros.

What manufacturers have done instead is ship the responsibility of decoding the sound to your headphones by placing the DAC (Digital to Analogue Converter) to your headphones instead. There, this DAC converts the digital signal to analogue movements for the driver inside the headphone , creating this ethreal “digital” audio. In the not too distant past, this DAC lived inside the phone and all you had to do was connect your 3.5mm headphone jack and you were good to go. This also meant that manufacturers who made flagships paid extra attention to this in-built DAC to give you a good sound, like the LG V series. Now, they have relegated this duty to USB headphones instead, so technically, you get less for your money now. As for the active noise cancellation, Sony showed us with the Xperia Z2 back in 2014 that you could have active noise cancelling with the 3.5mm jack.

Verdict: Not guilty. Lowering manufacturing costs by not having to focus on a good DAC for their phones and yet, bumping up smartphones prices per year is hurting no one but the consumer.

Suspect: design and spacing

OEMS have even resorted to rubbish like claiming to use the space saved to put a larger battery or some other feature which could not be fitted had the jack lived. Some have even started to blame the new trend of bezel-less screens for the demise of the jack, but how much of this is true? I am afraid it’s more snake oil from the OEMS. Most of us have seen a smartphone teardown,  witnessing the now-extinct headphone jack component. Getting rid of it won’t yield any battery gains.

Take examples such as Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 and Mi Max 2, Asus Zenfone Max, and Lenovo P2. What do they all have in common? For starters they are all phones with battery capacities exceeding 4000 and 5000mAh AND with 3.5mm headphone jacks. As for the bezel-less argument, let’s have a look at the shiny and pretty Samsung S8, Note8, and LG V30 shall we. Boasting industry leading bezel-less displays and yet, they manage to carry a 3.5mm jacks, and bloody good ones too.

Verdict: Not guilty. The jacks hardly occupy any meaningful space that the manufacturers have used for anything useful.

Suspect: wireless audio

Yet another, albeit slightly more reasonable argument regarding the demise of the jack. There is no denying the existence ofquality Bluetooth headsets out there,and they serve the general populous with satisfaction. However, wireless still has some ways to go before they have the ability to match the  standards of wired connections. When was the last time you saw a DJ or a music producer using wireless headphones at work?

Wireless is not a solution for the audiophiles who pay for the top flagships for their sonic performance, so cutting down the jack really doesn’t serve any purpose other aggravation. And lest we forget, wireless solutions and wired solutions can, and HAVE been coexisting together for a while now.

Verdict: Not guilty. Wireless audio hasn’t matured to a point where they are justified to replace their wired counterparts. Besides, there is nothing wrong with keeping both and giving the consumer the the freedom of choice.

Suspect: creating a universal standard connection

This one is almost so close to absurd that it requires but a simple question. What was wrong with the universal and mature connection that is the 3.5mm jack in the first place?

It has been around for a 100 years now, and the market is rich with cheap to expensive options that work with just about anything with a 3.5mm jack On top of that, the whole argument seems ironic when Apple has their own Lightning connector whereas Android has USB-C,  which in turn is  incompatible with several  Android OEMS.

Verdict: Not guilty. This is a moronic argument on which almost the entirety of the elimination of headphone jacks rely on.

So who is really to blame here? For Apple, its mostly profit as they own the right to the Lightning jack and  the OEM has to pay Apple royalty for it. Also, let’s not forget that before the unveiling of the iPhone 7, Apple  acquired one of the biggest wireless headphone brands; Beats. As for the OEMs from the Android camp,  it seems meaningless on what they are doing, as USB-C is not under any of their own creations. With the way things are going, the headphone jack is on its way out.  But if history serves as a reminder, then hopefully in the future, we will see manufacturers regain their senses and bring back the headphone jack. Until then, all I can end with is a simple “stop it”.

Product review – LG Q6 smartphone

Once, Huawei’s president commented that in order to normalize the wide aspect ratio on phones, lower market segments need to be covered. And that’s true, by 2018 we’re seeing a massive influx of phones with amazing screens, resulting in beautiful designs in mid-range phones. Back in July 2017, LG realized this as well, and released the beautiful LG Q6; the first among the stable of 18:9 ratio mid-rangers. And needless to say, it impresses.

Overview

See it upfront and one will notice the unmistakable resemblance to the LG G6, LG’s flagship. The LG G6 was also among the first to release a phone with an impressive screen-to-body ratio. This striking phone is excellent for media consumption; open up YouTube and the display will cut off thanks to YouTube’s native 16:9 videos. Pinch in and it’ll fill in the gaps, and the experience is just beautiful; quite possibly justifying the purchase among the other options within the price range. The screen is a 5.5-inch IPS LCD display with 1080p resolution. The sides are surrounded with metal, and the back is plastic with no sight of any fingerprint scanner around. Though the phone is certified MIL-STD-810G, the phone doesn’t have water resistance, so be sure to be careful around rain. Overall, the phone is compact enough to be used in one hand. The 13MP rear camera is above average, not offering any flagship grade performance but it does get the job done (more on that later). Interestingly, the front camera has a wide angle mode sure to fit enough people in that one group selfie. Otherwise, the phone has a 3.5mm jack and a microUSB connection, a relic of the past.

Software

The software is LG’s very own UI on top of Android Nougat 7.1.1, which means you’ll get all the goodies of the operating system like battery savings and split-window multitasking. However, multitasking doesn’t seem like a bright idea considering the processor – a Snapdragon 425. Still, the processor helps build an awesome experience with adequate speed for a daily driver; awesome battery life and handling everyday work or browsing Facebook is a delight with the awesome screen. Since the phone doesn’t have a fingerprint scanner, it swaps in a face-unlock feature. While it certainly isn’t as accurate nor as secure as Apple’s face unlock on the iPhone X, it still gets the job done fairly easy. With several shortcuts and UI features, the software side of LG Q6 is quite impressive.

Multimedia and camera

Multimedia is one of the stronger points of the LG Q6, and for good reason. The Q6 is famously known for it’s similarities to the flagship LG G6 featuring identical screen sizes. Media consumption is among the best in this price range, and the processor and the battery seems well optimized for it. The smaller form factor also helps in comfortable video consumption as well. Audio isn’t as impressive however, as there is only one speaker in the bottom of the phone beside the 3.5mm jack and the microUSB port.

Now, the camera. A camera is pretty essential for a phone to be called a great one; at any price range. The specs of the camera read 13MP, F/2.2 shooter. All of these scream not a flagship shooter, and aptly so. The phone doesn’t feature a lot of options for it’s camera either; the only options in the camera app are Auto, Panorama and Food. In adequate lighting conditions, the camera is sufficient for normal pictures with noise levels kept in check. But in low-light, the performance is nothing to write home about. Noise gets in the way of everything, resulting in fuzzy details.

The front camera is somewhat impressive with it’s 16:9 ratio and it’s wide angle selfie mode. The selfies are adequate to support enough details within them, resulting in somewhat good selfies.

Conclusion

The LG Q6 isn’t a giant killer, it’s a great phone for the cost. Its display is beautiful, and its camera is good enough not to embarrass yourself whenever you share a picture from your phone. Sure, the competition features better specifications, but it’s still a great phone and a quality offering from LG. Surely enough, this trend will continue onto low range markets as well, meaning that the 18:9 display might become normalized all across the world. But til then, technical difficulties aside, LG Q6 impresses for a midranger phone.