It was my first time in China.
Our friends from Huawei flew us to Beijing as part of their media tour. After all the work was done, we were taken to some of the city’s most famous spots.
The HTC U11 used to have the highest-rated smartphone camera in the world — beating Google’s Pixel. But alas, the newer iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus proved to be more capable shooters and took the second and first spots, respectively. Ranking aside, join us as we take this handset’s camera for a spin.
Welcome to China as seen through the eyes of the HTC U11.
Tiananmen Square/Forbidden City
Our first stop was Tiananmen Square, which also leads to the famous Forbidden City. The area buzzed with tourists from different parts of the world; you see them walking, looking around, and taking selfies. To blend in, I switched to full-on tourist mode and quickly snapped one myself.
Thousands of tourists flock to the Square on a daily basis for its rich history — albeit with some unpleasant events. Being a communist country, surveillance around Beijing is tight. Hence, lampposts adorned with security cameras are a common sight around the city.
A few minutes of leisure walking led us to the entrance of the Forbidden City. For the unfamiliar, it was named as such since no one was allowed to enter or leave the place without the Emperor’s permission during the Ming Dynasty in the 15th century. This included the Emperor’s servants and wives.
China’s founding father Mao Zedong (aka Chairman Mao) has his photo mounted right smack in the middle of the entrance. Placards flank the photo with the words, “Long Live the People’s Republic of China” on the left and “Long Live the Great Unity of the World’s People” on the right. The above photo was taken using the phone’s panorama mode, hence the distortion.
The entire palace is made of exactly 980 buildings, all with a similar design exemplifying traditional Chinese palatial architecture. Structures are mostly painted in red with golden highlights, since yellow is the Emperor’s color. This combination of red and yellow brings a good contrast to the blue sky that the HTC U11 was able to distinctly capture.
The Chinese are keen on details which are truly evident when you wander inside the walls of the City. Every corner you see either has designs or symbolism embedded in them, like the tip of this roof with a dragon inside a circle. Apart from the craftsmanship and its significance, they are also good test subjects for our camera, as it’s able to bring out details and show a natural depth of field without any software assistance.
This photo shows good contrast between the highlights and shadows of the bronze artifact. You can see its ability to show details for the bright areas as well as the dark patches, meaning it can balance the exposure effectively even on Auto shooting mode.
It’s the same case for this beat-up motorcycle. Even with the subject sort of lit from behind, the U11 was able to maintain composure in the shadowy area of the front tire. Meanwhile, saturation on the Chinese flag stands out.
A good reference for color accuracy: Light colors and yellows maintain detail alongside neutral colors, shades of red are well represented, and cold blue sunglasses contrast the overall warm tone of the image.
The Great Wall
Our next stop was the Great Wall of China, which is about an hour bus ride out of the city. Like a dragon resting on the mountains, the Great Wall welcomed us with breathtaking views.
It was cloudy when we got there. The wind was blowing pretty strong, too. The gray sky created an overcast vibe and gloomy color, but thanks to the HDR feature of the U11, it was able to give the photo a livelier look by balancing the dark and light areas.
Again, there were lots of tourists taking in the sight of this Wonder of the World. Some of them were wearing brightly colored clothing that worked positively for our test shots, as they broke the prevalent green and brown color of the mountains.
Just a few minutes later, it started raining so we had to rush to one of the watchtowers for shelter. I quickly snapped this photo and the camera was able to show the contrasting areas with a fine gradient in between. The bricks also added an appreciated texture to the photo.
After the tour was over, we headed back to town to have a nice meal. It was also a good chance to shoot indoors with available lighting.
A natural bokeh effect was once again achieved by focusing on a close subject. Some digital noise can be seen here, but that’s understandable when shooting indoors with no extra lights.
With the camera’s large aperture (f/1.7), the U11 could achieve a natural-looking exposure with a shallow depth of field. This is why only selected parts of the flowers are in focus.
For me, balance in exposure and faithful color reproduction are the strong suits of HTC U11. During the time I used it for my trip, the handset’s camera was able to show details both in highlights and shadows without overcompensating. Colors were also rendered as you’d see them in real life. This could be a good or bad thing depending on the user, since some like the extra vibrance other phones apply to their photos.
Bottom line: The HTC U11 is a capable travel buddy that could replace your point-and-shoot camera for your out of town or international adventures.
[irp posts=”17685″ name=”HTC U11 Review: Better than the Pixel”]
24 Hours in Corregidor Island
Capturing the beauty of the ruins with the iPhone XS
Back when I was a kid, I only knew of Corregidor Island as part of Philippine History textbooks. Most (if not all) Filipinos would think of the place as a “haunted island” due to the number of casualties during the World War II.
To those who are unfamiliar, Corregidor Island is located several kilometers away from Manila. The ferry trip took about two hours before we reached the port. Despite being near the shore of Bataan, don’t be confused as this island is part of the province of Cavite.
If you look at the museum diorama above, the island’s shape reminds us of a “tadpole” — but I thought of something else entirely. 👀
I’m not here to bore you with the specific bits and pieces of the island’s history. Rather, I want to show you the hidden beauty of the land that was once devastated.
Corregidor’s one and only hotel
After we reached the port, we were greeted by several trams and headed straight to Corregidor Inn. If you’re planning to stay for a night or two, it’s the only place in the island that accepts accommodation.
The inn is spacious and comfortable that you wouldn’t actually think you’re in an isolated island. Just keep in mind that there’s no Wi-Fi connection — a perfect place for social media detoxification. I don’t advise anyone to do this but if it’s an emergency and you can’t keep your phone in your pocket, turn on your mobile data as the signal reception works well in this area.
Other than breakfast meals, they also offer lunch and dinner buffet — something you would want in a place that shows the majestic view of the sea. If you’re in need of “Vitamin Sea”, you can go to the nearest swimming pool outside (which feels better when you swim during the night). If you’re not satisfied, you can go to a beach meters away which I’ll talk about more later.
Ruins, ruins everywhere
The things that crossed my mind the moment I knew I’d be visiting this island were destroyed concrete slabs and cannon bombs — and I wasn’t wrong. You will find ruins such as the Mile-long barracks, laterals in Malinta Tunnel, and more.
Just because these buildings were ruined, it doesn’t mean they’re worthless. In fact, I recall how the tour guide pointed out that there was zero vegetation during the catastrophic bombing but these landmarks show how they survived and managed to keep their overall structure, just without glass windows and wooden walls.
A haven for thrill-seekers, hell for lost souls
I may not be someone who can sense (or see) ghosts, but conceptions about the island being surrounded by wandering souls might actually be true. Not to creep you out but during our Malinta Tunnel visit, someone hurriedly went out of the tunnel’s lateral as she sensed a roaming spirit. It made sense as the tour guide told us that the bombing completely wiped out everyone — including Filipinos, Japanese and even the Americans.
With the hard work exerted by the “prisoners of war”, Malinta Tunnel was successfully built for 10 years. It has managed to keep its structure even after what happened.
Meanwhile, the narrow Japanese tunnels were built with a different story in mind as Japanese troops built it for hideouts against the American soldiers. We had a short hike around the area and the hardest part is climbing all the way up with a steep stairway in between. Thankfully, the rope helped us along the way.
Although it may not be a big deal for me, this part of the trip is not for the faint-hearted. It’d still be a great experience though. You just need to stick with your group in order for you to not feel scared and alone.
There’s no such thing as “accident prone” roads
Early in the morning, I went out for a short jog. It eventually became a long walk as I can’t keep up with my low stamina. As I enjoyed the shore, there’s an uphill and curvy road where there are no vehicles passing by. If you have a companion, you can pose around and have your picture taken in the middle of the road — something you can’t freely do in most parts of the Philippines.
When we headed towards the Kindley Field, it’s a sight I enjoyed looking at. At first, I thought it’s the usual long road but it was just an illusion since it’s already a dead-end. It used to be a landing strip of war planes.
It’s a (hidden) paradise
As mentioned earlier, there’s a beach near the inn where you can spend your day by chilling with the sight of sparkling water. Even at night, you can enjoy the sound of sea waves while grilling your favorite food by the bonfire.
Other than the South Dock, there’s also the Corregidor Island Lighthouse which gives you a spectacular view of the island from the “topside” or the island’s peak.
You get splendid views whether you’re facing the Manila Bay or West Philippine Sea. Sunrise, mid-day, sunset — they all look breathtaking. On the “tailside” part of the island, you’ll see the Tadpole’s Tail with another smaller island called “Caballo Island”.
If you’re a huge fan of astronomy (like me), you will enjoy the island’s lack of light pollution as it shows stars and planets scattered around the pitch black sky. Constellations appeared right in front of my eyes as if I’m in a planetarium.
The unexpected surprise
There was a special contest for both participants and media by showing off everyone’s best iPhone shot with the theme “Capture the old glory of Corregidor in modern times“. It was my first time on the island so I just looked around and captured unusual perspectives and subjects that attracted my eyes.
What’s the surprise? My shot won first place — something I never expected at all. I can remember how I got pressured deciding what would be the title of the shot I submitted.
During the awarding, I ran out of words especially after hearing the comments of the talented visual storyteller Mr. JC Gellidon and Mr. Joey Alvarez, PMC’s Director of Marketing and Product Management.
View this post on Instagram
Featuring the top 3 best #ShotoniPhone photographs from Project Bayani Workshop Corregidor taken by participants. Huge thanks to @jcgellidon for sharing tips and tricks on iPhone photography and @suncruises for giving us an extraordinary experience in Corregidor Island! #PMCProjectBayani
Many thanks to our friends from Power Mac Center and Sun Cruises who made this trip possible. Seeing an unfamiliar place while meeting new people, it’s honestly a wonderful weekend experience I would never forget. If you ask me, I would go back to Corregidor Island if I have another chance.
All shots were taken using the iPhone XS.
24 Hours in Jakarta
Captured through the awesome camera of the Galaxy A71
When I hear Indonesia, Bali always comes to mind. Although I’ve never been there, I know it’s a dream destination for many because of its beaches, peaks, parks, temples, and terraces. It’s an escape out of the polluted and crowded cityscape.
Two hours away from Bali is the country’s capital, Jakarta. Its dense city structure further proves that it has been on a massive urban sprawl. Honestly, I had no idea where to go and what to do — but the internet exists for a reason. The only Indo things I’m aware of are mi goreng, nasi goreng, beef rendang, MONAS, Alfa Mart. That’s about it.
I flew all the way to Jakarta for Samsung’s Awesome Live Event with BLACKPINK where they introduced the Galaxy A51 and Galaxy A71. The day after the event, I finally had the phone on hand and tested its “awesome camera”, including the new ultra-wide lens.
Capturing the hotel view outside was the first thing I did with the phone. Not the best window view I had but the greenery added an ethereal escape against the sharp, tall slabs of concrete.
Going out of the room gives me another view. That large structure is the Tennis Indoor Senayan where Samsung held its live event. It’s also one of the venues of the 18th Asian Games and other K-Pop concerts. Seeing it from afar and up close made me realize how lucky I am.
Before heading out, I tried the hotel’s breakfast buffet. So far, so good. There was enough variety that I enjoyed eating. I spoiled myself by having more than five plates. Here’s a photo of the sweet food, for the wandering souls out there.
Taman Mini Indonesia Indah (TMII)
I decided to go to Taman Mini Indonesia Indah as it’s located far from the skyline of Jakarta. Despite what the name suggests, this place isn’t “mini”. This museum is just one among the many parks you can see inside the TMII premises.With limited time, I decided to push through — and I’m glad I did. It made me realize how similar Indonesians and Filipinos are, not just when it comes to appearance but also language. There are Bahasa and Tagalog words that both share the same meaning such as “selamat”, “datuk”, “kolintang”, “pintu”, “balik”, “lima”, “pula”, “kanan”, “anak”, and more. It’s truly fascinating.
These traditional art pieces show how rich and diverse Indonesia’s culture is. Some were hand-drawn, sculpted, weaved, or even painted, like the batik. They even have their own version of puppets called wayang.
After the three-story museum tour, I headed to a mini temple to rest and relax. Those who were caught off-guard by the claustrophobic dim spaces of the museum can enjoy the majestic pond outside.
National Monument (MONAS)
As mentioned earlier, I knew about MONAS. It’s Indonesia’s National Monument — and that’s because the city-building game I’m playing introduced me to it. I downloaded the landmark mod which made me recognize it’s one of Indonesia’s sought-after landmarks.
It’s erected right in the center of Jakarta. According to locals, you can see all of Jakarta if you go up — pretty much like a drone. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to do that because of the flaming hot weather.
If you weren’t aware, Indonesia was colonized by the Dutch empire. Batavia was the old-day Jakarta. Thus, the “Old Batavia” they’re calling can be found here in Kota Tua.What you see above is the Fatahillah Square which is the historical center of the old town. Beside it, there are museums pertaining to wayang, fine arts and ceramics, and even Jakarta’s history. During my visit, they were all closed.
If you are too lazy to walk around, there are these colorful bicycles you can rent.
The establishments here look nothing like modern-day Jakarta. A lot of cities saved much of their history through preservation of old buildings and Kota Tua is no exception.
After strolling for almost half an hour, I had my late lunch. Indonesian cuisine is known to be spicy. I teared up eating authentic mi goreng — its spice level is way too high for comfort. I love eating spicy food as long as they’re tolerable. Thankfully, the Thai iced tea I ordered saved my tongue from burning.
I went to the night market early so I witnessed how vendors cooked their food before it got crowded. There are martabak and lumpia stalls although I didn’t get to try them because of my limited time.
The sun was setting so I hurried to see other establishments. There were a lot of shops that offer local kopi and indomie, while other stalls were selling phone cases and designer imitations. I didn’t find any souvenir shops around, although that might be because I was there before most shops opened.
Jakarta’s malls aren’t the biggest but they have exclusive shop offerings, like Plaza Senayan. It was surprising to see a bakery and a popular coffee shop inside the department store. It’s not something I’m used to, and I found it odd considering they were selling all sorts of cosmetic products within the vicinity.
I wasn’t too happy with the food choices at Plaza Senayan so I went to another mall near the hotel called FX Sudirman. I only had a few hours left before I had to leave so might as well enjoy what I can have.
As a Libra, being indecisive is part of my whole being. I roamed around and there were better food choices but I got tired so I chose to eat at an American burger joint instead. The Salted Egg Cheese Burger was good although the salted egg flavor was barely there.
When I went out I was greeted by these roller skaters going back and forth the sidewalk.
3-Star Airport (?)
I was surprised that the Soekarno-Hatta International Airport is only a 3-star airport. It’s not as fancy as Singapore’s Changi, but it’s clean, organized, and the architecture is modern and striking. My flight departed at midnight, so you can see how quiet and less crowded it gets off-peak hours.
Unlike other airports that offer 24-hour services, most shops and restaurants after immigration were already closed by the time I got there.
Too little time for a huge city
Moments before boarding the plane, I somehow wished I could’ve stayed longer. It would’ve also been more “awesome” if I met locals around. It’s hard to imagine how I managed to compress what I wanted to see in just 24 hours. It may not be long before they transfer the city capital crown to East Kalimantan in Borneo, so I’m hoping I can come back before that happens with a more well-thought out itinerary.
All photos were taken using the Samsung Galaxy A71.
24 hours in Mövenpick with the Honor 9X
I didn’t want to leave
I know you must feel strange to be hearing back from me writing another travel article when last time I tried, I preemptively said that I was horrible at writing about my adventures. Well, you guys might have to deal with reading my silly little travel psychobabble again because I went to Cebu for a weekend and I brought the Honor 9X with me.
Okay, this is technically not fair since Cebu is like home to me at this point. I luckily grew up visiting Cebu a lot. My older siblings were born there, so that’s not much of a surprise. On this trip though, my parents opted out of staying in a hotel in the middle of the bustling city. We decided to stay by the beach at Mövenpick. We have never been to Mövenpick before. So, it was going to be pretty interesting to explore the place.
The view was stunning. I didn’t even know what to capture first. It was that gorgeous. When we arrived, the staff were lovely enough to let us roam the area despite not having checked in yet. Mövenpick is pretty. The moment you get dropped off at the lobby, the place instantly assaults your senses with everything beach. It smells, sounds, and feels like you’re at the beach.
That’s obviously because a few steps farther, you’re already at the beach. The place is well designed to have the ocean breeze flow from the bayfront to the resort lobby. It’s open-spaced.
No such thing as fasting at breakfast
This is the only photo of food I managed to snag before inhaling it. I’m not going to apologize for being a little hangry considering I hadn’t had a meal for hours and I stayed up all night. This is Mövenpick’s poached egg breakfast. Was it good? Yes. I mean, look at it. How could it not be?
I think off the bat, that how the food tasted may have shifted a little considering I was zoning out because of the view. It’s really pretty and honestly, it testing my writing skills (if I have any) to try and find more synonyms to great, pretty, and lovely.
Dinner at the Ibiza
No, I didn’t take a pill in Ibiza. And yes I know, nobody asked. Mövenpick has this by-the-bay restaurant and bar called the Ibiza. They have live music and good food so if you’ve booked a room, this is the place to be at night. There’s food, an amazing view, and live music. Is there anything more I could have asked for? No. It was perfect.
The Ibiza is open in the morning too. If you want to have your breakfast there, you can soak in the early morning ocean breeze while eating.
Here come excuses
Alright, I didn’t take many photos while in Cebu, at least, not as many as I would like to. I wanted to savor every stunning moment there. I haven’t been back in ages and I’ve barely spent time at the beach. Not to mention, I rarely get to see my little nephew.
I guess as much as this article is about bringing the Honor 9X with me to show off how the phone is capable of capturing every lovely moment of your travels, it’s good to sometimes be in the moment. It isn’t on the Honor 9X for uncaptured moments. It’s totally on me for leaving it in my bag. Having said that, I think it was good to have eased off bringing the phone along every single second of the trip. I’m more than happy to have lived those quiet undocumented moments.
I’m not saying you should drop taking pictures altogether. It’s nice to have documented moments of a trip especially when it’s somewhere stunning. It’s nice to have something to look back on and to remind us of good times. I suppose it’s just nice to sometimes wean off of being so obsessive with what you can capture and instead, be in the moment.
All photos are taken with the Honor 9X
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