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 Paris with the Huawei P30 Pro
Go wide or go home
I’ve had my fair share of Euro trips in the past. Unusually, I have never set foot in Paris, France, considering it’s the most visited city in the world apparently.
Well, I finally got my chance recently. I have lots of tips to share to make your own 24 hours in Paris special. Considering how pricey this city is, it’s best to carefully plan with a budget in mind.
Tip 1: Check out Airbnb options around the outskirts of the central district. Here, you can find more affordable lodging in quiet neighborhoods such as this:
Paris is Airbnb-friendly unlike other cities in Europe. You and your host won’t get into any trouble with the law. Compared to a traditional hotel, an Airbnb has an advantageous home-style setup including a kitchen and dining area.
If you’re lucky, you could find a host who offers breakfast and travel advice around the area. Since these are private deals, you can learn more from the home’s owner after a successful booking.
Tip 2: Airbnb’s filters for specific lodging needs are more varied than ever. They assured my personal essentials like Wi-Fi, a private toilet, and an English-speaking host, in my case.
Paris’ train and bus systems are relatively straightforward. With the exception of a few confusing station names (since I can’t speak a single sentence of French), getting from point A to B is as easy as any other country with a decent system.
Tip 3: If you’re staying for a few days, purchase your all-day tickets the moment you arrive. At first, they seem pricey — around EUR 53 per person for three days, for example — but it lessens daily walks by miles.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a Paris tour without seeing the Eiffel Tower up close. There are numerous angles to view it from. In my opinion, the above photo is the best; it’s a favorite of mine. It’s beside Palais de Chaillot.
Tip 4: France’s weather (and Europe’s, in general) is bipolar in spring. Bring a jacket and/or scarf even if it’s sunny when heading out.
The next big attraction to visit in Paris is the Musee du Louvre. It’s another short ride within the city center. It’s tough to miss. There are plenty of photo opportunities beside its pyramid. The pyramid also lights up during certain nights.
A regular adult ticket costs EUR 15. The museum includes the Mona Lisa and every other available artwork in the museum. It takes about 1.5 hours if you rush through everything. If you take your time, it might take a couple more hours.
Tip 5: While it’s generally crowded in front of the museum’s entrance, a sweet spot to take photos is to the side. Not much can get in the way between you and the pyramid. Plus, the lighting is better here around noon.
After going through multiple floors of artwork, you’ll eventually reach the Mona Lisa near the end. Needless to say, loads of people will always crowd around the painting. There’s no known off-peak hour, as far as I know.
Tip 6: The number of people — like the painting — is an illusion in itself. You may walk to the side (in my case, to the left) to get closer to Leonardo da Vinci’s work and take a clear shot of it.
If you’re a fan of The Da Vinci Code, you’d know why the spot above is special. No spoilers here, but do pass by this upside-down pyramid before exiting the underground level of the museum.
Continuing the artsy tour, there are fancy bookstores scattered around Paris, such as Shakespeare and Company, which is found in close proximity to what’s left of the Notre-Dame cathedral. Unfortunately, photo taking isn’t allowed inside.
What makes this bookstore special is the cafe found right beside it — a bit pricey, yes, but it makes for great IG-worthy photos like this:
Paris never lacks in photogenic locations. It’s best to be prepared to take out whatever camera you have. The P30 Pro’s zoom was useful in this case. Walking any closer was impossible because of the windowsill.
Tip 7: Paris’ dine-in restaurants are quite pricey. However, more affordable pastry shops are available in every major tourist location. Load up on local bread and coffee/tea while here.
Before the day ends, I highly recommend visiting the Eiffel Tower after sunset for its nighttime lighting. If you can wait till 10pm, a special light show from the monument lights up the Parisian skies.
Tip 8: Paris being such a tourist hotspot, an abundance of thieves normally lurk in crowded areas such as trains and landmark entrances at night. Don’t carry all your cash at once. Keep your valuables secured to your body or bag at all times.
Another notable nighttime shooting location is the Arc de Triomphe. While you could go here when there’s sunlight, the opportunity to take long exposure and HDR photos can’t be missed. The P30 Pro’s cameras also shine in this situation.
As always, there’s lots more to see around Paris that would need another 24 hours to cover. For myself, coming back is a must. Paris is as dynamic as the people who reside in it.
24 Hours in El Nido with the LG V40 ThinQ
No photos can do justice to its beauty
El Nido is a tropical paradise I’ve always wanted to visit in Palawan, Philippines. Known for its unspoiled islands and limestone cliffs, it was always a top priority in my must-see list.
Getting to El Nido
From Manila, you need to hop on a plane bound to Puerto Princesa. I flew with AirAsia, a low-cost airline that offers discounts all year round. Upon arrival, you have to ride a van or bus (whichever you prefer) for a six-hour road trip to El Nido. If you’re crazy rich, you can fly with AirSwift which offers direct flights from Manila.
Seeing El Nido from above
Because of the erratic weather from a tropical depression, the coast guard believed it was best to halt all island-hopping tours. With that, we took the chance to hike the popular Taraw Cliff. We chose a safer alternative called Canopy Walk which included a harness to ensure safety.
We were huffing and puffing as we climbed through a steep rock formation — even more so when we started climbing a steel ladder and treetop walkway. When we reached the top, it was breathtaking. In spite of the thick clouds, El Nido was still beautiful.
Seizing the day
Being on a tropical island means you can’t figure out what the weather will be like on a particular day. For us, it went from rain to clear skies within a couple of hours. Once clear enough, we rode a boat which held our buffet lunch, courtesy of our organizer.
While the sun was on our side, we headed to Las Cabanas beach resort in Maramegmeg Beach, a popular sunset spot.
Off to find paradise…
Finally, the storm had passed and the sun was out. We went to the port and rode our boat, ready for another adventure!
Our first stop was Paradise Beach in Cadlao Island. By its name, you already know what’s waiting: pristine white sand and crystal-clear water with varying hues of blue. It’s truly a paradise.
Seven Commando Beach
Coconuts, cottages, and towering palm trees — Seven Commando Beach is ideal for those who want to spend summer on a tropical island. Since we found shade, we decided to take our buffet lunch here.
Shimitzu Island and Secret Lagoon
Onto water activities, we snorkeled around Shimitzu Island. After that, we entered Secret Lagoon through a small gap in between limestone cliffs. Being the clumsy type, I had to keep my phone inside my waterproof bag and give up on taking photos, lest I let my phone end up at sea.
The day was about to end and we capped off our tour in Big Lagoon, where tourists are encouraged to ride a kayak for PhP 300 (US$ 5) just so they can visit the attraction. The kayak is good for two people, but I had no one to share it with. 👀
Home to beautiful sunsets
We arrived back at the town proper during sunset. Since El Nido is situated on the northwestern tip of Palawan facing Bacuit Bay, it’s always a good place to watch fiery sunsets.
An adventure worth every penny
I’ve always taken pride in planning my own itinerary. Given that I only had a short time to explore El Nido, I booked an accredited travel organizer instead to handle everything — from van transfers, to finding accommodations, and preparing permits and island tours.
All I had to do was make the most of my trip and capture memories with the LG V40 ThinQ. I definitely had fun playing with its ultra-wide-angle camera and taking photos of the most beautiful islands in the world.
And yet, no photos could do justice to El Nido’s beauty.
24 Hours is a series on GadgetMatch.com where we showcase our travels through a smartphone camera’s perspective. It’s also a documented guide on things to see and do in a city in case you happen to plan a trip there.
24 Hours in Koh Samui with the GoPro Hero 7
Thailand’s second-largest island is to die for!
Having been to Thailand on multiple occasions, I always thought I knew everything that the country had to offer — but that was until I met Koh Samui.
As Thailand’s second-largest island (right after the popular Phuket), it’s home to gorgeous beaches, lovely temples, and some of the most attractive resorts and spas this side of the coast.
My stay didn’t last long enough to cover all there is to see in Koh Samui, but I did get to take part in the more adventurous aspect of island — making the choice of using a GoPro Hero 7 to document the trip all the more fitting!
A selfie right in front of the beach is in order! My group’s very first activity was snorkeling south of Koh Samui. Boats are easy enough to rent from here, the size of which depends on how large your group is.
If you’re in a rush to enter the ocean, you’re better off going for a speed boat like this. At a speed of about 50 knots (or 92kph!), you’re sure to soak up lots of sea breeze — which I wholeheartedly appreciated. 👌
Near the coast of Tean Island, we snorkeled through reefs which weren’t that deep or had dangerous corals. I’d say it’s very beginner-friendly, especially for those who can’t swim that well or fear the deep blue sea, but want to see colorful fish in their natural habitat.
Since the sun was still high and we didn’t want to turn into fried seafood ourselves, we took shelter in a nearby island called Koh Mat Sum. It’s tiny in comparison to neighboring islands, and it’s inhabited by…
… these adorable pigs! Yes, the island is filled with them, and I saw more piggies than I did other animals. Not that I mind, but I wonder what their purpose is. 🐖👀
Koh Mat Sum is also home to well-formed sand bars with some of clearest, bluest water I’ve ever seen. It’s great to see such pristine beaches even in tourist hotspots — I can’t say the same for some islands I’ve been to in other countries. Please pick up your trash, folks!
I had to prove my existence on this splendid island, so I took a photo using the Hero 7’s ten-second timer. Not-so-fun fact: This is the brand’s first action camera to have the feature! Why did this take so long, GoPro?!
All good things to come to an end, but they also lead to more fun activities, like this off-road ATV adventure I was about to go on after riding these pickup trucks. Back in Koh Samui, the dense forests are home to not only unspoiled wildlife and lots of fruit, but tracks perfect for driving through, as well.
Out ATVs were provided by the fine people of Samui Quad Motor, which provides vehicles of all colors and sizes, depending on what you need most. I obviously went for the larger model, and I’m glad I did, because the river parts needed more ground clearance to get through.
Because we had a lot of beginners in the group — myself included — we took a lot of breaks in between to let everyone catch up and brace ourselves for each leg of the trail. Having completed the most difficult part (check out that river behind me), I had to take another selfie because reasons. 🤳
The entire day was admittedly tiring and not what I’m used to — I’m just a work-at-home editor, after all — so getting back to our resort was a godsend. The Renaissance Koh Samui Resort and Spa is a spectacular place to stay in, albeit a little pricey, but you definitely get what you pay for.
I had this little balcony outside of my room with space for two. Since I was alone, I used this outdoor spot to air-dry my clothes from the day’s escapades. But I still wish I had someone to share this with. 💔
Blue Leaf is one of the restaurants found within the resort. It’s the place to be in when you want a quick order of Pad Thai, spring rolls, fresh fruit, or Pad Thai — it’s so good it has to be mentioned twice!
Walking past the restaurant, you’ll find this vast pool facing the ocean. There are rarely any people here, because the beach right in front of it is what everyone actually wants to experience. Wait for it…
Here they are! This area is certainly the most Instagrammable part of the whole resort. This alone is worth the price of admission! So what exactly were these two models seeing in the background? Check this…
One of Koh Samui’s famous sunsets! I’ve seen tons of memorable sunsets all my life, but this definitely ranks high on my personal list. The way the light bounces off the rocks and glistens on the ocean is like no other. Makes me wish there were more than one sunset per day. 🤷♂️
It gets better, though. Find a good spot before night falls on the island, because the sky’s twilight is equally Instagram-worthy.
And here it is! I love how the water is shallow enough to walk on for long distances; gives the picture an even more surreal look. Blue on blue is something you rarely see unless you find a spot as serene as this.
But the night had just begun, and we found our way to a nearby night market. Like Bangkok and other cities in Thailand, Koh Samui hosts several of these with food and drinks at every corner. The one we went to was along Bophut Beach, which is on the northern tip of the island.
Dinner is… about to be served! We ate at Krua Bophut, which is — you guessed it — a Thai restaurant. I certainly didn’t mind since I have my fair share of Thai cuisine even when I’m not in their country. Actually, I’m craving some right now…
Like any trip, leaving is the hardest part. Fortunately, Koh Samui makes it a little less painful. This is the island’s sole airport, and it’s designed like an outdoor mall! Not once did I feel like I was at an actual airport. But alas, it was time to go home.
Koh Samui, despite its relatively small size, needs at least a week to truly appreciate. There are temples to be visited, more beaches to swim in, and lots more food to taste. This may be only the second-biggest island of Thailand, but it’s definitely number one in quality for me.
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