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Fossil Hybrid HR review: Exceeding expectations

Who needs a man when you have the Hybrid HR?

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These days, the qualities I look for in a man are the same things I look for in a watch: smart, good-looking, long-lasting, and more important, a great travel companion.

The search isn’t easy. Smartwatches have come and gone in my life mainly for two reasons: they have poor battery life and/or are hideous.

Walking around Brooklyn the day I took the Fossil Hybrid HR out of the box

For those same reasons, only the Fossil Q Hybrid smartwatches remained constant on my wrist for the last three years. When I learned that Fossil released the Hybrid HR, I got excited — until I saw that it promises only two weeks of battery life, that is.

A two-week battery life is already huge leap forward if you’re coming from a WearOS device or an Apple Watch. If you’re used to the original Hybrid line like me however, two weeks is not a lot.

Still, I wanted to give it a chance. It can do far more than the original hybrid after all, and it has a heart rate sensor, so the trade off might be worth it.

SEE ALSO: Fossil Q Hybrid: His and Hers

Polished looks

The one I have is the Hybrid HR Charter, with a rose gold stainless steel mesh strap and a white watch face. On the app it shows that it’s also called Diana.

Just like the late princess, it’s stylish, refined, and elegant as far as smartwatches go. There’s a version with a black watch face and rose gold combination as well, which I think is a perfect look for winter.

It comes with traditional watch hands and dials, but in the middle is a cutout for what Fossil calls a read-out display. This is similar to the e-ink display you’d find on a Kindle and other e-book readers. Unlike Kindle displays and regular smartwatch displays, the read-out display is not touch screen; all navigation is done through the three physical buttons on the right.

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The physical buttons do three things primarily: up, select, and down. They can also be set to do other functions when not selecting from a menu. From the home screen, I set the top button to show my wellness stats, the middle button shows the weather including chance of rain and highs and lows throughout the day, while the bottom button is a shortcut for tracking my workouts.

The read-out display shows up to four bits of information at a time that you can customize on the Fossil Hybrid app. It can show a second timezone, day and date date, resting heart rate, the weather, chance of rain, calories burned, active minutes, steps, and battery life.

I set mine to show the day and date, my resting heart rate, a second timezone set to Barcelona, and the weather. These are the information I’ll always want to know without checking my phone, whether I’m traveling, working out, or just reading a book on a lazy Sunday.

On the Fossil Hybrid app, you can create presets and easily switch between them, depending on your activity.

The background is cuztomizable, too. Fossil has a few classy black and white patterns you can choose from.

Alternatively, you can use any photo from your gallery and it will be converted into a black and white, e-ink version. I found that it works better with photos with a lot of negative space. Here’s what it looks like with a photo of the sunrise over rock formations in Cappadocia, Turkey.

It can also be set to show no widgets and look like an analog watch if you want it to. It can have a plain white background, a photo, or any of the patterns all while still being able to see the data it records through its sensors on the app.

Since there’s no way to adjust the display brightness, you can double tap on the watch face to activate the lights to help you see the time better when it’s dark.

Basic fitness tracking

The main reason I gave the Hybrid HR a chance, is that unlike the original Fossil Q Hybrid models, it comes with a heart rate sensor. This is what I liked about the other smartwatches I’ve tried before, including the Fossil Q Gen 4. Knowing how unfit I was by seeing my resting heart rate made me want to live a more active lifestyle.

The Hybrid HR can track exercises although it’s not exactly made for that — there are more capable wearables if that’s what you’re looking for. The mesh band is replacable with any standard 18mm watch strap, so I bought a gray silicone strap from Fossil for when I do my workouts.

I don’t remember the last time I tracked my workout using a smartwatch, but I do remember arriving at the gym a handful of times with a dead battery.

Buy the Fossil Hybrid HR

Two months in and I have yet to get into the habit of putting it on whenever I work out, as well as remembering to start and stop the tracking function, so I have yet to see any real pattern from the readings.

My resting heart rate during a core workout (left) and a leg day (right)

When I did remember, the app recorded that I burned 79 calories and a maximum heart rate of 139 bpm during a 34-minute core workout. It recorded a total of 243 calories burnt one excruciating leg day, and an understandably maximum heart rate of 193 bpm.

The Fossil Hybrid HR is able to track sleep — on a flight (left) and on my bed

It also has a sleep tracker, and I’ve kept it on a few times while I dozed off. This isn’t a feature that I see myself using and checking a lot but I’m amazed at how it knew exactly when I fell asleep during flights, the specific moments when I woke up to drink water, or adjust my position.

You can also set it to send you alerts when you’re inactive. I set it to notify me every time I haven’t moved for one hour starting from 11:00 AM and end at 9:00 PM, which is generally the time I spend in front of my computer on weekdays. This has especially become helpful during quarantine since I live in a tiny New York apartment and have very little room for movement.

Better battery life than expected

Apart from being so well-designed, not having to charge the original hybrid smartwatches from Fossil was the reason I loved them. I already have way too many devices that need charging, and I don’t need to bring yet another cable with me when I’m traveling. Packing as little as possible is difficult as it is.

In the last two months of using the Hybrid HR, I found that its battery doesn’t last me two weeks as Fossil claims — it lasts an entire month!

Matching my monotone outfit at a briefing in San Francisco

During my trips to San Francisco, back to New York, then to Barcelona, Budapest, and Madrid through the month of February, not once did I take the charging cable out to juice it up. I could have forgotten to pack the charging cable for my trips and I would have been perfectly fine.

I can point to two reasons why the Hybrid HR’s battery life has been impressive: its read-out display doesn’t consume as much power as other smartwatch displays, and I’ve had most notifications turned off from the very beginning.

Munching on pintxos in Barcelona

While most people wear smartwatches to get notifications without picking up their phones, I’m the complete opposite. I wear a watch so I can see the time at a glance, not to get distracted and for my productivity to get disrupted.

Any work-related apps like Gmail and Slack have never had access to my wrist — only apps that me and my closest friends and family use to communicate did: Messages, Whatsapp, and Instagram Direct.

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After a month I turned off both Whatsapp and Instagram Direct as well, and only left notifications on for Messages for three important contacts on my phone who also use SMS and iMessage sparingly. This meant that my watch now only vibrates and gets to interrupt me for something very important and whenever it tells me to move.

The Fossil Hybrid HR finally showed a low battery notification after four weeks of use

In March, when it finally buzzed to say that I had 7 percent battery life remaining, it took a little over an hour for a full charge. A 30-minute top up can get to 68 percent, which, based on my experience could very well last me more than two weeks of use.

My only complaint, having used the original hybrids from Fossil, is that the Hybrid HR no longer shows up under the Batteries widget on my iPhone. The only way for me to know how much battery I have left on the watch is by going on the app or by changing one of the widgets on the watch. It’s a minor issue, but I’m hoping this is something that can be addressed via an update in the future.

Is the Fossil Hybrid HR your GadgetMatch?

The Fossil Hybrid HR is the answer to the current crop of smartwatch’s biggest pain points: looks and battery life. For my lifestyle, the way I use watches, and at US$ 215, it makes the most sense. Other models start at US$ 195.

“I could have forgotten to pack the charging cable for my trips and I would have been perfectly fine.”

That I can travel and not worry about topping it up every night, while still getting the information I need is a godsend. Knowing what the weather is like at a glance, without asking my Smart Clock or checking Accuweather on my phone, is convenient when I’m planning what to wear given the fleeting weather. Seeing my resting heart rate at any given time, motivates me to exercise and stay fit especially at a time when taking care of one’s health should be everyone’s priority.

Apple’s Health app and other period trackers are not included in the list of apps that can send notifications to the watch

What keeps this smartwatch from being perfect, is the lack of a menstrual cycle tracker. At the very least it would be great to sync my Health or other period tracker apps to get notifications. Getting monthly reminders a few days before my period starts is helpful. They help me plan my days better as I can anticipate and monitor my mood swings, spotting, and intense cravings. Maybe that’s something that can be included in future iterations.

Books and brunch in Budapest

Sure, its battery only lasts one month versus the 8-12 that I was used to getting from the original hybrid models, but the added features are far more useful than the tiny inconvenience of having to charge it every four weeks; not to mention the fact that I no longer have to deal with buying and throwing away batteries that most likely end up in landfills.

I have been in a committed relationship with Fossil Hybrids for over 3 years now, and with the way things are with the Hybrid HR, that isn’t going to change any time soon.

Buy the Fossil Hybrid HR

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Huawei FreeBuds 4i review: “The” audio daily driver

An audio experience you simply can’t miss

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A great set of earphones becomes as integral to your everyday life as your preferred devices. Whether you like it wired or wireless, it’s simply something you can’t live without these days. From the early morning commutes to playing games with the squad, a daily driver like this comes in handy for all of those.

For the past few years, Huawei ventured into the wireless sound space much like their contemporaries. From the earphones and headsets to speakers, each iteration brings something new to the table. This is, what I felt, the Huawei FreeBuds 4i shapes itself up to be: something different, something more.

So, how much more does this new pair of TWS earphones bring to the table? For starters:

It comes in an oval-shaped charging case w/ an optional cover

Inside the box are a fast-charging USB-C cable and different earbud tip sizes

You have three colorways to choose from: Ceramic White, Carbon Black, or Red

Breaking down the full audio experience

As I was writing this, I went ahead and looked back at everything I said about the Huawei FreeBuds 4i the very instance I got my hands on it. I briefly touched on the audio experience, and even went out of my way to call it a great first impression — all things considered. After some more time using these wireless earphones, I have some more things to call out.

Enjoying the music every tone of the way

From my first impressions, I could already tell that these earphones were designed for you to listen to your music better. This isn’t just hearing the songs without any noise in the background, but rather for you to truly appreciate the songs you’re listening to. See, the Huawei FreeBuds 4i comes with two major audio enhancements: a dynamic 10mm audio driver and Active Noise Cancellation.

With the dynamic audio driver, I’m assuming that the music you’re listening to has some more explicit bass to it. Well, I wasn’t wrong but it was actually more than that the longer I listened to my playlist. When I was listening to most of the “pop” songs in my playlist, I could hear some level of depth to the tones and vocals. It’s those little intricacies that you only get to hear from a great set of headphones, to be honest.

However, the biggest selling point here is that sweet Active Noise Cancellation technology inside. Essentially, when it’s on, only your songs exist in your ears and not much else. It does a fantastic job blocking all background noise out, so you can immerse in your songs a bit longer. Honestly, it was a joy simply listening to all my songs with ANC on — especially early in the morning.

No delays with VODs, streams, and movies all the way through

In all honesty, this was the use case I was most concerned for because of my experience with my FreeBuds Lite. For some reason, I experienced some delay in my audio when I’m watching videos whether on YouTube or Netflix. For the longest time, it wasn’t a huge bother to me until I tried out the FreeBuds 4i and knew what I was missing.

Huawei included these low latency algorithms into the audio drivers that essentially remove lag between audio and video. While I was watching music videos and a KDrama on the side, it felt smooth to just see and hear the A/V sync like that. At least now, I wouldn’t laugh so hard when the audio is lagging behind.

Playing games and engaging in team comms

Where the ANC also shines in comes from, quite possibly, my 2nd most regular use case: gaming. In particular, I decided to play team-based games like League of Legends: Wild Rift and Call of Duty Mobile with full team comms. I’ve already touched on the ANC’s capabilities for rich, deep sounds, and it’s quite evident with games as well.

However, I’d like to touch on how the ANC helped out with team comms since I was sort of playing in a noisy environment. Essentially, apart from the ANC blocking out noise you hear, it also blocks out additional noise picked up by the microphone. In theory, it should project your voice in a clearer way.

I hopped on a Discord call on my phone, and my friends could tell the difference if I switched to wired earphones. They mentioned how they could hear the strong wind and my electric fan before switching to the FreeBuds 4i mid-game. Although, there were times they couldn’t hear me through my mic when I switched, but it didn’t happen regularly.

Define “daily driver?” for me please

Apart from the Active Noise Cancellation technologies, the FreeBuds 4i boasts 10 hours of continuous audio playback. Whether it’s a Spotify playlist or random YouTube videos, that’s quite a lot of nonstop audio banging in your ear. Actually, this is more of a battery life situation more than anything but it certainly stacks up.

What I love about the longevity of this accessory is that it still lasts long even if you charge for a few minutes. Within ten minutes of charging, I managed to use the earphones for a good 3-4 hours before running out of juice. That’s honestly quite long in itself, especially with the amount of songs and videos you can squeeze in at 50% volume.

With all the time I spent charging the buds, I managed to stretch my usage to 24 hours (yes, even in my sleep). This alone already made me believe that it fits the description of what a daily driver is all about. Plus, it charges quite fast while in its oval case, and its oval case also fully charges fast too (about an hour and a half).

Why the Huawei AI Life is a must-have

Like I mentioned before, I’m not a big fan of downloading additional software to make certain hardware work well. I mean, it just takes up more space on my phone that I would have needed for more photos and games. However, for the FreeBuds 4i, I installed the Huawei AI Life app to further maximize my use for it — and thank God I did.

See, if you’re not that big of a fan of using the gestures on the earphones, the AI Life app is where you need to go. In essence, it allows you to switch the ANC on/off, and you can even customize the touch gestures. Also, it even shows you the battery percentage of the buds and charging case. Honestly, I felt this added a bit more personalization to the FreeBuds 4i, something I was dying to experience.

Initially, I thought that you couldn’t change the gestures outright. I preferred having a gesture to play/pause songs and skip some of them — something the AI Life app covers. I genuinely think this is an app you should consider downloading if you plan to pick these earphones up.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

At PhP 3,599, the Huawei FreeBuds 4i provides an audio experience that you simply cannot turn a blind eye to. Apart from the simple yet fashionable aesthetic, it comes with a pair of TWS earphones that bring deeper sound quality for any use case. With its long battery life and quick charge capabilities, it’s something worth using every single chance you get.

While there were some hiccups along the way, it doesn’t ruin the audio experience entirely. With integrations in the AI Life app, you can easily find ways around these hiccups to help ease these off. Also, the level of control it gives you makes the whole experience more personal.

It’s not something different in every sense of the word, but the Huawei FreeBuds 4i brings something more to the table. It’s simply not just great, but it poses itself as one of the best options for wireless earphones out there.

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Apple is cutting down AirPods production as sales drag

AirPods are losing their edge

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airpods

Apple posted its quarterly earnings report this week, marking a whopping 54 percent rise in revenues. While most of this was thanks to iPhone 12 series’ success, there’s one segment that’s losing steam quickly, and there’s little Apple can do about it — the AirPods.

The Cupertino-based giant is cutting production of its ultra-popular AirPods by around 25 percent to 30 percent due to a decrease in sales. Competition from budget-friendly offerings has severely dented the lineup’s dominance.

According to a Nikkei Asia report, Apple was expecting to ship 110 million units in 2021 but has now cut back its forecast to roughly 75-85 million units. Although, the report doesn’t specifically mention which AirPods are experiencing a slowdown.

The AirPods Max is an exceedingly premium offering that was recently unveiled. The device has been designed for a niche audience and was never expected to go fully mainstream. It has a lot of competition from veteran headphone makers like Sony, Sennheiser, Bose, and more.

Though, Apple could potentially turn the table for the smaller AirPods by releasing an updated iteration this year. The duo is long overdue for an upgrade, and a new release could encourage demand in the beginning.

Since their debut, the original AirPods, which has dominated the wireless earphone market, was one of the only Apple products not to receive an upgrade towards the end of the year.

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Nokia E3100: Trying new buds for work to workouts

Yes, Nokia has earbuds now

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Nokia E3100

Nokia and I go way back. It was the mobile phone brand of my youth. Our history includes a series of phones that predate the existence of touchscreen ones we use now. Everyone had a Nokia device then. In recent years, it’s become a rarity. So imagine my surprise when I first heard that Nokia is now making earbuds. How did it fare against the audio giants of our time?

First impressions

I got a hold of the Nokia E3100 Essential True Wireless Earphones. Compared to my old set of earbuds (Anker Zolo Liberty+), this one’s battery case and earbuds are extremely light, almost the same weight as a tube of drugstore lipstick.

The buds can operate up to 2.5hrs with a single charge, and up to 10 hours with help of the rechargeable battery case. Super convenient to pack if we still had our old lifestyle of going out daily.

On the job

I used to be able to maximize my earbuds on my commute — listening to music or watching series whenever I’m in transit. Nowadays, I mainly connect my headset to my laptop for Zoom meetings and other virtual work calls.

The Nokia E3100 did not disappoint on the sound side. Audio from the people I’m in the call with was always clear and crisp. But, it can be a hit-or-miss as a mic. The earbuds have a built-in microphone on the right side, but my experience with it left me wanting. There was a point when I had to switch back to the laptop microphone in the middle of a call just so people can hear my voice clearly.

Nokia E3100

On the mat

I also tried the Nokia E3100 for a few home workout sessions. Since the earbuds fit my ears perfectly, there’s no fear of it falling out in the middle of jumping jacks.

Another nice surprise is how you can easily skip or repeat tracks via push button controls on the earbuds. Less distractions to your exercise momentum! The only time I have to reach for my phone is when I want to switch to a different playlist.

Nokia E3100

Is the Nokia E3100 your GadgetMatch?

It’s reliable as an earpiece for listening to music, working out, and watching series. But when it comes to the demands of working from home, the current built-in mic just won’t do.

Nokia has to work on the voice sensitivity and responsiveness of the earbuds’ mic in order to take on this new age of virtual calls and meetings.

The Nokia E3100 retails for PhP 1,999 (US$ 41)

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