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Monday, December 30, 2013

Kata i2 Review

After reviewing Kata's budget Venus 3, I was excited to try one of their “higher end” offerings. The i2 is at the top of their smart phone product range and at first glance, you can tell that it has a more premium feel. Build quality feels solid but this time you see similar design styles to most phones in this category. Depending how you look at it, that may or may not be a good thing but at least it makes it easier for consumers to compare between brands. Let's list the specs below.

5 inch qHD (960x540) IPS screen
Dual SIM
1.2GHz quad-core MediaTek MT6589 processor
16GB of internal storage (expandable via Micro SD)
8MP autofocus camera with LED Flash
2MP front-facing camera
WiFi 802.11 b/g/n
Quad-band GSM / 3G/HSPA+
Bluetooth 2.1
2,200mAh battery
Android 4.2.1

Price: Php7,699 (Introductory price)

While the i2 may have identical specs to almost every other smart phone in its class, Kata is positioning it as step-up alternative to the other local brands. For instance, instead of the usual 4 or 8GB of internal storage they included 16GB. I think this a good move as not all applications can be moved to the SD card. Screen is only qHD and not HD, but that may be a good thing as it lessens the burden on processor. Despite the resolution drop it's still nice and bright with good viewing angles. In fact, I had to double-check the specs that it wasn't an HD display. Performance from the Quad-Core processor is quite snappy and I had no problems with all the usual game tests I performed. Dead Trigger 2 played very well with only minimal lag. Camera performance was surprisingly good and I was quite impressed with the photo quality especially in good lighting conditions. I will post some sample photos below.

One thing that I really like is the almost stock Android OS. I mentioned this in my Fishtab and Venus 3 reviews and I'm glad that Kata has decided not to put their own skin. I believe that unless you have the resources of the likes of Samsung, HTC and LG to invest in making your own Android skin, then you might as well just keep it as stock as possible. Keeping it stock also helps with its snappy performance. I have to mention that during the course of this review, there was a system update which makes me hopeful that Kata will continue to push updates for their devices. Battery life is average but as usual using 3G or playing games and you will need to recharge before the end of the day. I do believe a higher capacity battery would have been a great selling point for this phone. One thing that puzzles me is why the i2 only has Bluetooth 2.1 and the cheaper Venus 3 comes with 4.0. Another small complaint is that the power button is located on top which requires a bit of a finger stretch. I also found it too near the micro USB plug.

Dual SIM management is basically the same as the Venus 3, so just read my review on that. One thing that surprised me was on the SIM slot at the back of the unit it clearly says that SIM1 is for WCDMA and SIM 2 for GSM but I was able to get 3G signal on both slots. I'll post screen shots with the H+ symbol.

When choosing a phone at the sub 8,000 peso range you will definitely go crazy looking for the best deal. While some local brands will give you an HD screen, you will take a hit on the onboard memory. Kata on the other hand, will give you a little extra for your cash without compromising much on the other specs. They will be having a New Year's Day sale which will include a free flip cover and screen protector all for P7,699. If this is within your budget, I would definitely urge you to shop around and compare. But make sure you put the i2 on your short list as this is one phone you would not want to miss.

The Good:

  • 16GB Internal Storage
  • Camera
  • Screen Quality despite being just qHD
  • Almost stock Android

The Bad

  • Only Bluetooth 2.1
  • Location on Power/Lock button

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Kata Venus 3 Review

After reviewing the top of the line Samsung Galaxy Note 3, I thought it would be refreshing to review something more down-to-earth. Kata was nice enough to lend me review units of the Venus 3 and the i2. I decided to review the Venus 3 first so expect the i2 review very soon. While it may be nice to own the latest and greatest smartphone, sometimes you just have to be realistic. If your budget is about Php4,000 then you have to set your expectations accordingly. To be honest, I was not expecting much but as you will see, I was surprised at how much you can actually get at this price range. Let's list down the specs below.

4-inch touchscreen display
1.2GHz dual-core processor (MTK 6572)
4GB internal memory, expandable via MicroSD
5MP camera w/LED flash
1.2MP front-facing camera
WiFi 802.11 b/g/n
Bluetooth 4.0 with A2Dp support
Dual-SIM, Dual Standby
1,600mAh battery
Android 4.2.2 Jellybean

Price: Php3,999 (Introductory Promo)

At first glance, I noticed a bit of an homage to Nokias and Xperias of the past. It's refreshing to see this than the usual generic phone designs. The phone dimensions are a bit thick but build quality is solid and feels like it could take a beating. Screen is a WVGA, side viewing angles are okay but not so clear when viewed from the top. I had to keep it at full brightness as I found the auto setting too dim. On the other hand, touch screen response is pretty good. Personally though, I prefer bigger screens.

I've been using this phone for about a week now and it's actually performing better then I expected. While its dual-core and 512MB RAM may not be enough for power users, for basic smartphone functions like email, Facebook and casual gaming, it performed adequately. Sonic, Angry Birds Go, and even Dead Trigger 2 played well with just minor occasional lag. I'm glad Kata decided to use an almost stock version of Android which helps keep its performance quite snappy. The 5MP camera is nothing to rave about but it's serviceable. For posting photo online it will be fine, just make sure you use it in good lighting conditions. I did notice some focusing issues. I'll post some sample photos below.

One of my pet peeves is how manufactures implement their dual SIM features. I'm really happy on how Kata does theirs. First, both SIM slots can use 3G (just not at the same time). Which is great, so you don't have to physically swap SIM cards. I still can't find any information confirming that it supports HSPA+ but I did get the H+ symbol on the notification bar when I turned on mobile data. Secondly, it supports Contact Binding which allows you to assign a specific contact to SIM 1 or 2. I wish it had the "Reply on same SIM" features like on Alcatel phones but it's still better than the way Samsung does their dual SIM management. Battery life is average and will last the day as long as you manage your WiFi and 3G usage.

Like I mentioned above, it's really hard to expect too much at this price point and to be honest I'm just nitpicking. Do I wish it had more RAM, better screen and camera? Sure, but you have to realize that you need to cut some features to get at this price. In the end, it's simply a good entry-level smartphone. If you're shopping at this price range, you owe it to yourself to check out this phone.

The Good:

- Solid and unique design
- Price
- Bluetooth 4.0
- Dual SIM management
- Almost stock Android 4.2

The Bad:

- Camera

- Screen Auto Brightness
- Difficult to remove back cover

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 Review

In the tech world, there will always be some who are willing to go against the norm and once in a while they're lucky enough to come out with a surprise hit. When Samsung launched the original Note, a lot of people made fun of it. But now it turns out that Samsung has had the last laugh. Their Note series has been such a huge success that the word "Phablet" is simply synonymous with the Note. I always wanted to get the original Note but found it too big. The Note 2 was a huge improvement but I instead opted for an S4 Active. When the Note 3 came out, Samsung managed to make it smaller and lighter by just a little. But that small difference makes such a huge impact that it makes the Note 3 much more usable. When I decided to trade-in my S4A, I was content in just getting the Note 2, as you can now get it for less then 20t brand new. Which is a fantastic value. But Samsung finally decided to change the design of the Note 3. Aside from being slimmer and lighter, they also changed the material from plastic to well, -- "plastic leather" or faux leather. Despite how it sounds, I personally really like it because it looks more classy and sleek.

Big phone, Big screen, Big battery

One of the reasons I got this phone is for the big screen. While the S4 is not really what you would call small, the Notes's gorgeous 5.7" full HD super AMOLED screen is really nice for reading Flipboard and web browsing. One new rule of thumb is, big phone = big battery. With almost every other smart phone I've owned I would always have to nurse the battery to make it last. With the Note 3, after 14 hours of use, (7 hours on Wifi, another 7 hours on 3G, plus 30 minutes of watching videos, and of course the usual calls, text and chat) I still had 59% left. Now that's unbeatable battery power.

Bells and whistles

You have to hand it to Samsung. They have crammed every feature imaginable into the Note 3. Granted that most of them may be gimmicks, I'm sure some people will find it useful. It comes with the smart features of the S4, along with the different camera modes. But probably the most unique to the Note line is the "S-Pen". It's basically a smart stylus paired with a digitizer on the screen. It comes pre-loaded with Samsung-made apps and actually works pretty well. But I believe it's geared towards a unique set of people who could probably take full advantage of it. I may not one of them but so far I've been using it to edit some PDF documents and it's proving very effective.


Being Samsung's flagship phone, it has the fastest processor currently available which is a 2.3 Ghz Quadcore Snapdragon 800 and a class leading 3GB of RAM. To say it's fast is an understatement. I'll post some benchmarks below.

It also has Android 4.3 installed and hopefully they will update it to 4.4 Kitkat soon. The camera is a 13MP shooter which is very similar to the already outstanding S4 camera. But one unique feature is the ability to record 4k video. Now what you can do with a 4k video is up for debate but hopefully sooner than later, 4k TVs will be everywhere.

Note 3 sample photo

The price of power

While I may be wowed by the Note 3, there are two drawbacks. I do get the occasional freeze and reboots but I'm sure that will be sorted out in future firmware updates. The biggest drawback has got to be the price. At 33T you would really have to want the latest and greatest from Samsung. Especially since the Note 2 can be had for significantly less. And with a recent Note 2 firmware update, you can get a majority of the Note 3's functionality for a fraction of the price. On the other hand, when comparing the price with let's say, an iPhone 5S, the Note 3 seems like good value for money. In the end, it's still a class leading phone with top-of-the-line specs and performance. It would definitely still be considered fast even more than a year from now. If Samsung were to make a "lite" version of this phone without the S-pen, they might even sell more units. But that's just my humble opinion.

If you just want a phone with a really big screen, then there's always the 6.3" Samsung Mega at about half the price, you should also look at the Sony Xperia Z Ultra and LG Optimus G Pro. But no one can deny the latest sales figures showing over 10 million units sold. I guess Samsung must be doing something right. Or there are simply other 10 million suckers like me in the world.

The Good

- Gorgeous screen
- Top end specs
- All-day battery
- Expandable storage and removable battery

The Bad

- Price
- Wireless charging not built-in (optional)

- At this price, cover/case should be included

Friday, December 13, 2013

Sub 1,000 Peso Christmas Gifts from CD-R King 2013

Here are my choices for your last minute Christmas shopping from our favorite tech store CD-R King.

1. LED Light Bulbs starting at P99

2. Mobile Power Bank - P180

3. Home Button Protector for iPhone - P80

4. Solar Power Bank - P780

5. Airplay Speakers (Bluetooth version also available) - P990

Sunday, November 10, 2013

HP3545e Multifunction Printer Review

Ask yourself this question. When do you buy a new printer? For me, the answer has always been when the old one dies; or after you kill the old one out of frustration! Just to give you a background, for the past ten years my last four printers have been Epsons. It all started about 10 years ago when I chanced upon an Epson paper fire sale in the US. I got packs of specialty photo paper for really cheap. Since then, I have been stuck in the Epson world mostly because of the paper I purchased. For the most part, I have been happy with them except for the last printer which was an Epson TX110. Murphy's law would always apply whenever I would use this printer. A simple one-page print would sometimes take me 15 minutes simply because it would either run out of ink right at the moment I need it or would need a head cleaning. There have been times when I had contemplated throwing it out the window.

Out the window

Fate intervened when a nasty paper jam seemed to have damaged the head. I tried cleaning it until I ran out of ink and since a complete ink replacement would cost about P1,600, (for my sanity) I decided to buy a new printer instead. This time, I considered other brands particularly HP and Canon. Since the biggest cost of the printer is actually the ink, I decided to look at the cheapest wireless multifunction printer in their lineup.

I narrowed my choices to the HP3545e (Php 5,990) and the Canon MG3570 (Php 4,495). While I was tempted to buy the Canon because of the lower price and the free watch that came with it, the ink cost is almost three times compared to that of the HP. Granted that the Canon ink specs say 400 pages vs 300 on the HP, it is really dependent on what type of printing you do. Since it will be mostly used to print the kids' homework, all I wanted was the cheapest ink cost. For the HP, that means shelling out Php390 for the color (for all colors and not individual cartridge) and p390 for black. A total of Php780 for a complete ink set.

Another reason not to use the computer

I really wanted a wireless printer so that I could print from my phone and tablet. I figured this would also benefit the kids since they use a tablet for their school work. The HP3545 was easy to set up and was able to connect to my router without any issues. Once you download the HP ePrint app (available for both iOS and Android) you can print directly from your device. Again, on the first try and I was able to print from my ipad right away. For your scanning needs, just download the HP AiO remote app. The images are transferred straight to your device.

Since this is my first wireless printer I can't really compare it with other brands. But I must say that the HP's set-up was very easy. To be honest, it's just so convenient that I can't believe I didn't get one sooner.

The printer also has a small LCD screen which helps with printer settings and initial setup. Another great feature is the WiFi direct in case you don't have a router. It's also nice that HP includes a link for a coupon every time you replace your ink with an original cartridge. It's not much, but at least it's something. Print quality is up there with most four color printers. Print speed is fast enough for home use and automatic double sided printing works well. All in all the convenience of wireless printing is just too good that I can't see myself going back to a regular printer. The days of emailing files to myself and using the computer to print are behind me. If you use your tablet or phone for creating documents and photos, do yourself a favor a get a wireless printer.

The Good

- WiFi
- Easy Setup
- User friendly HP app
- Slim design
- LCD screen
- Low ink cost

The Bad

Higher price versus other brands
- Tri-color ink cartridge versus individual
- Can't change printer settings in iOS

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Hisense Sero 7 Pro Review

In the sea of budget Android tablets, it is very difficult to pick a good one. Getting a good experience in a budget tablet is very tricky. While you may be able to get a 7" tablet for about 4k, the performance might be so frustrating that you will end up not using it. For the sake of argument, let's put a price of about Php 7,000 or about $150 as the maximum amount for a budget tablet. Any more then that you might as well buy the benchmark of android tablets which is Google's 2nd generation Nexus 7.

Last July, from out of nowhere, Hisense (a brand known for their budget TVs) decided to come out with its own tablet. Make that two tablets. The Sero 7 and the Sero 7 Pro. Save your self the trouble and just stick with the Pro which is the tablet I am reviewing. It's a Walmart exclusive and therefore only available for in-store purchase in the US. The edge of this product, aside from a decently specked out quad-core is the price.

- Tergra 3 Quad-Core 1.3Ghz CPU
- 1280x800 display
- 8GB storage with micro SD expansion
- Dual Band
- HDMI Out
- Bluetooth
- 5MP back / 2MP front camera
- Android 4.2

All for the price of $150.

Looks familiar?

If you're thinking that the specs look familiar, that's because it's almost a dead ringer for Google's first gen nexus 7 sans the camera and micro SD slot. Which actually makes it a better buy. While most manufacturers have to cut corners in order to hit a price point, I'm glad Hisense decided to splurge on the screen because it's really nice and bright with a good touch screen response. While the Terga 3 processor may be a generation old by now, it still performs pretty well and can still play some of the more demanding games as long as you keep the settings to medium or low. In fact, this tablet has a mini HDMI out so you can actually plug it into a TV, pair it with a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse and you've got yourself a little gaming computer. The aspect where Hisense cut some corners is the camera. The performance is pretty slow but quality is not that bad in good lighting conditions. But then again, most tablets have mediocre cameras anyway. So I can't really fault them for that. They also had to cut corners in the build quality. It's a bit thick and heavy. Although I kind of like the ribbed plastic design as it is less of a finger print magnet. Below are some benchmarks and sample photos. I would say it's still slightly better then current tablets using Mediatek processors but not by much. Battery life is rated at about 8 hours or so.


To sweeten the deal, Walmart has lowered the price to $129 (Php 5,600). At that price, it's simply too good a deal to pass up. While new tablets from the likes of Acer and Asus are coming out with pretty similar specs, in terms of "bang for your buck" it's still really hard to beat this rouge tablet.

The Good

- Price
- Nice HD screen
- NFC/GPS/Dual Band Wifi

The Bad

- Only available at Walmart
- Uncertain Software Updates
- Service and Support