Features

Google’s Pixel strategy is doing exceedingly well, at a cost

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When friends ask me for tips on buying techie products, one piece of advice constantly comes up: Don’t be an early adopter of first-generation gadgets. Why? Because bugs need to be ironed out first, and brands never show all their cards on the first attempt. This way of thinking is about to change, however, and it begins with Google and ends with Pixel.

Google’s pair of Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones haven’t reached the consumer market yet, but they’re already being showered with glowing reviews.

Well-respected tech journalist Walt Mossberg calls it the “best Android phone” he’s ever tested; Wired is “totally in love with the Pixel”; and Gizmodo says the Pixel makes a strong case if you must buy an Android, even though they’re calling it “dumb and ugly.”

Reviews have been so good, in fact, that Alphabet (Google’s parent company) has experienced its highest stock prices since 2004, according to a report by Bloomberg. The cherry on top: Both phones are currently out of stock because of the overwhelming demand.

[irp posts=”5053″ name=”Google Pixel got the ‘little brother, big brother’ tandem right”]

Sentiments from other outlets have been largely the same, with the only complaints being the sky-high prices, lack of waterproofing, and bland physical design. Do the cons sound a little familiar? Those have been shots taken against Apple’s iPhones for the longest time (only the second con changed recently), making the Pixel a perfect rival in both strengths and weaknesses.

Still, as happy as we are for Google and consumers wanting more choices, the Pixel strategy is alienating Android’s most important supporters: third-party manufacturers.

By releasing a high-end pair of smartphones that’s truly its own, Google is now a direct competitor to the companies it has been working so closely with since Android’s conception, sending a harsh signal to hardware partners that there’s an even better way to handle its operating system, way beyond what Nexus has ever done.

The Pixel strategy is alienating Android’s most important supporters: third-party manufacturers.

Despite having the Pixels manufactured by HTC, the search giant has the software and hardware process under its control from start to finish. This is distinctly different from the way the Nexus series was handled, wherein the likes of Huawei and LG had their own say for the design, and were only required to lay out a fresh layer of Android inside.

Samsung is clearly the most affected brand. Now that the Galaxy Note 7 is out of commission, you’d have to look all the way back to February to find Samsung’s current, yet somewhat stale, Galaxy S7 flagship line. The development surely doesn’t bode well for the Korean company, who has been largely responsible for boosting Google’s mobile operating system to an 87 percent market share last quarter, thanks to a 22 percent smartphone market share of its own.

LG V20 Nougat

“Sorry about that” – Google to LG

LG has also been caught in the crossfire. Its phablet flagship, the yet-to-be-shipped V20, has been heavily marketed as being the first smartphone to have Android 7.0 Nougat out of the box, only for it to be outshone by the 7.1 version the Pixel smartphones will come with at around the same time. We wonder if Google knew about this in advance, or if they sent a really nice fruit basket to LG’s headquarters.

The only major player to benefit from Google’s new-found success is HTC. Even though its own self-branded smartphones continue to slump sales-wise, the Taiwan-based company actually saw a 41 percent revenue jump last month. Once the Pixels begin shipping, HTC’s fortunes will surely turn around, in spite of the lack of branding.

The only major player to benefit from Google’s new-found success is HTC.

As for how Chinese brands Huawei, OPPO, Vivo, Xiaomi, and the like feel about this, well, they’re too busy raking in mountains of cash from dominating the entry-level and midrange markets — two segments Apple and Google don’t really care about at the moment.

The situation is similar to the topic we touched on when we talked about Project Ara’s demise a month ago. Android partners already feared Google had shot them in the foot by buying Motorola to produce its own phones. When the Mountain View company changed its mind and sold the well-known handset manufacturer to Lenovo and began work on its modular phones, brands such as LG and Samsung looked into alternatives to the Android OS.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), Project Ara didn’t push through, so third-party brands had less competition to worry about — but then Pixel came in, and here we are. Oh, Google!

[irp posts=”4335″ name=”Project Ara’s story is all about wasted potential”]

Hands-On

Make moments tangible with Instax Square Link

Time to print those core memories!

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instax square link

Life looks pretty in squares — that’s how Instagram shaped our favorite moments in the past decade.

With every core memory uploaded in our social media feed for the world to see, there’s still something poignant about keeping a hard copy of your favorite moments. It feels nostalgic to be reminded of the good things in your life.

That’s what the Instax Square Link delivers. The newest instant printer comes in square, as compared to its previous siblings in the instax link lineup.

The sweet spot

The previous instant printers come in the usual mini film prints, and a wide, rectangular one. Having a square format provides a sweet spot for instant prints since it’s neither too big nor small.

Even the design of the device itself looks almost square, albeit taller. It sports the usual big button in its center that powers up the device, while there’s a smaller circle on its top-left part for linking the device to your smartphone.

It’s still as straightforward as it gets, whether you’re already familiar with previous instax printers or not. You simply click the big button until it lights up, link it to your smartphone and confirm the serial number found on the bottom side of the device, and do all the magic inside the app — which you can download via App Store or Play Store.

instax square link

New device, new features

The instax Square Link carries all the good things from the previous instax printers through its dedicated app.

You can still make personalized stickers, continuously print your best moments with just a press of a button, and collage and edit your photos in frames. They’re pretty much the same features you can find on the instax Link WIDE and instax mini Link 2.

instax square link

However, instax introduced new features that make printing more exciting. Now, instax takes AR to a new level by allowing users to print with personalized AR effects, accessible using a QR code.

It also included a feature where you can chat with a friend or loved one and have the conversation printed as text bubbles to add a more personal touch for those who are in long-distance relationships.

Printing your favorite moments

instax square link

While the new features are a much-welcome addition, I still stick to what Instax is good about. At its core, it’s still printing your favorite moments and of course, sharing them with the people you love.

Back then, I would print my photos and keep them to myself — inside photobooks and boxes that would never see the light of day unless I’m feeling nostalgic.

Being surrounded by new people encouraged me to be more giving, rather than just being selfish with my memories. And instead of constantly seeking validation and sharing my favorite moments with the world, I now love the idea of being intimate and sharing my core memories with only a handful of people.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

instax square link

The Instax Square Link is still an instant printer like its siblings. If square formats are your thing, this is easily your GadgetMatch. For wide, rectangular prints, there’s the instax Link WIDE.

And if the original, mini-sized film prints are what you’re after, you can never go wrong with the instax mini Link 2. Whatever formats you want, there’s an instax for you.

The instax Square Link comes in Ash White and Midnight Green. It’s available in all authorized Fujifilm instax dealers nationwide and Fujifilm’s online flagship stores.

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Entertainment

IN PHOTOS: Dubbing with Netflix, HIT Productions

Plus a quick glimpse of the Netflix PH office

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Netflix HIT

Have you ever been curious about how the whole dubbing process works? Netflix, along with HIT Productions, was kind enough to give us a quick tour showing how our favorite Netflix shows are dubbed in Filipino. 

HIT Productions prides itself as “The Philippines’ top audio post production house and recording studio for advertising.” And they have the clientele to back up the claim. Other than Netflix, they’ve also worked with plenty of notable brands. These include but are not limited to Jollibee, Mitsubishi, Coca Cola, and many more. 

They’ve partnered with Netflix on many shows and movies. For this particular tour, they showed us how they dubbed Season 4 of Stranger Things.

Different rooms for the talents and director

Dubbing Director Cheska Aguiluz

Heading in, I was fully expecting a Sound Booth like setup – you know, the ones we normally see in TV shows and movies. HIT has a different setup. They have the director in one room and the voice talents in another. The rooms are situated right across each other with sound engineers manning both rooms. 

The communication between the director and talents still happens real time, and they see each other through an iPad.

Each room has a monitor that displays the scene that’s being dubbed. The talents’ audio goes straight into a computer that’s in the same room as the director. 

Netflix HIT

Multiple talents will be in the same room at one time. This depends entirely on the scene that needs to be dubbed. They take turns dubbing with sound engineers adjusting the height of the mic each time to make sure it’s optimized for each talent. 

Although, they did mention this isn’t always the case. Sometimes, there will be scheduling challenges, but they’re able to work through it.

Netflix HIT

The actual dubbing back and forth is fascinating. They go through each line meticulously, making sure the cadence, the breaths, the tone, and the emotion matches that of the original actors. 

Recording a single episode will take days. And that’s just the recording. The next part is just as tedious.

Painstaking editing

Netflix HIT

The level of precision applied in the voice acting and directing extends to the cutting floor when the recordings go through post production. 

Here, sound engineers go through each scene, switching between the original scene and the dubbed recordings to make sure they match. This includes how loud or soft the voice is as well as adding effects to mimic the room environment sound of each sound. 

What makes the whole process tricky is a lot of it is guess work. I asked if they are given a cheat sheet of the effects used by the original production. They said that rarely happens. That means they rely both on their sharp ears and years of experience to make sure everything matches.

After post production, an entire episode goes through a quality check. If anything sounds off, it’s back to post processing again. 

HIT says in a month, they’re able to finish roughly around three to four episodes. Of course, that depends also on the length of the episode. Stranger Things Season 4, for instance, typically lasts over an hour. With some episodes even running as long as feature length films.

Trying out dubbing

Netflix HIT

Head of Localization Rudolf Baldonado

After a look at the voice acting and post production process, HIT took us to a room where some members of the media got to try dubbing. Here, Head of Localization Rudolf Baldonado, led the way. 

Baldonado explained that the most important part of the whole process is the script. Localization, as you may have surmised, is no easy task. There are so many things to consider: What words to use to match the movement of the lips, the general direction for each line, and making sure all the lines make sense when delivered together.

A couple of voice talents showed us the ropes first, recording a scene from the Don’t Look Up film. Baldonado, who also helmed localization for Trese, noted that mimicking the original actor’s voice is less important than delivering the right tone and emotion for the line and the scene. 

Netflix HIT

During the recording, he also noted that dubbing is more about voice acting than actual voice quality. How well you convey the right emotion is more important than whether or not you sound pleasant or not. 

Sit down with the voice talents

Netflix HIT

To wrap up the tour of the HIT Productions office, we sat down with the voice talents and the rest of the team that worked on the Stranger Things Season 4 dub. Here’s everyone who joined us: 

  • Christian Velarde (MIKE)
  • Albert Silos (WILL)
  • Steve Bontogon (DUSTIN)
  • JM Canlas (LUCAS)
  • Steffi Bontogon (MAX)
  • JM Torres (VECNA)
  • Nelieza Magauay (ROBIN)
  • Ericka Peralejo (SUZIE)
  • Cheska Aguiluze (Dubbing Director)
  • Rudolf Baldonado (Head of Localization)

Many of them shared their experiences and lessons learned while working as voice actors. 

A lot of the echo the same thing that Baldonado mentioned earlier. That the ability to understand the character’s emotion and act it out through your voice is the most important skill in the craft.

Netflix HIT

What stood out to me the most though, is how each of them seemed like colorful characters on their own. And they deserve just as much recognition as TV and movie actors. 

Quick Netflix PH HQ Tour

After the session at HIT Productions, we were taken to the headquarters of Netflix Philippines. Some interesting things to note: 

  • The meeting rooms are named after Netflix’s shows and films
  • There are areas designated for quiet time 
  • The place is spacious with many areas for quick, breakout meeting sessions
  • It’s filled with books and other ornaments that have to do with Netflix shows
  • Free-flowing drinks! 
  • This writer would like to spend a work day or two in the area (Thanks in advance, Netflix!) 

Here’s a photo dump:

Netflix

Netflix

Photo c/o Netflix

Netflix

Squid Game meeting room | Photo c/o Netflix

Photo c/o Netflix

Photo c/o Netflix

Beverages | Photo c/o Netflix

Pantry | Photo c/o Netflix

Netflix

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Camera Shootouts

Huawei Mate 50 Pro vs HONOR Magic4 Pro: Camera Shootout

Camera battle between two companies that used to be together

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Huawei HONOR

In case you didn’t know, HONOR used to be Huawei’s sub-brand — until they decided to part ways. While still using Huawei’s EMUI software (but calling it Magic UI), HONOR is now operating as a separate entity.

But what actually makes the HONOR Magic4 Pro different from Huawei’s reborn flagship, the Mate 50 Pro?

Well, aside from the obvious Magic vs Mate branding, Huawei has its own “Ultra Aperture” camera. Coined from the term itself, it features a dual-variable aperture versus the Magic4 Pro’s fixed f/1.8 lens opening.

Huawei Mate 50 Pro HONOR Magic4 Pro
Wide 50MP f/1.4-4.0
PDAF + Laser AF + OIS
50MP f/1.8
Multi-Directional PDAF + Laser AF
Ultra-Wide 13MP f/2.2 120º 50MP f/2.2 122º
Telephoto 64MP f/3.5
3.5x optical zoom
100x digital zoom
OIS
64MP f/3.5
3.5x optical zoom
100x digital zoom
OIS
Selfie 13MP f/2.4 + ToF 3D Depth 12MP f/2.4 + ToF 3D Depth

It also looks like the megapixel count is smaller on the ultra-wide unit of the Huawei Mate 50 Pro. Aside from that, the periscope telephoto lens and selfie cameras of the two phones are very much alike.

Now that you get a clear picture between the similarities and differences of each phone’s camera system, let’s get on to our camera shootout!

Wide

As previously mentioned, the Mate 50 Pro features a dual-variable aperture while the Magic4 Pro is consistent with its aperture offering. But can you really tell which is which considering they both feature a 50MP sensor?

#1

#2

#3

#4

#5 (Portrait)

Huawei HONOR

#6

Huawei HONOR

#7

#8

Ultra-Wide

For shots that require a wider Field of View (FoV), which do you think wins this round considering that the Magic4 Pro features a 50MP ultra-wide shooter while the Mate 50 Pro has a measly 12MP UWA shooter? (Despite the same f/2.2 aperture)

#9

Mate 50 Pro Magic4 Pro

#10

#11

Huawei HONOR

Periscope Telephoto: Optical Zoom

Both the Mate and the Magic have a similar 64MP f/3.5 lens that has an optical zoom range of 3.5x. But of course, there would still be a difference in post-processing AI algorithm.

#12

#13

Mate 50 Pro Magic4 Pro

#14

 #15

#16

Mate 50 Pro Magic4 Pro

Periscope Telephoto: Lossless to Digital Zoom

With a similar periscope lens, both phones can both achieve a 10x lossless zoom and up to 100x digital zoom. But in this specific section, I chose to just zoom up digitally to just 60x.

#17 (10x)

#18 (10x)

#19 (30x)

#20 (60x)

Night Mode

This is what makes or breaks a smartphone camera. With the obvious differences in Night Mode processing magic, one phone definitely stands out. That’s either a matter of personal preference or just fans’ favorites.

#21 (Ultra-wide)

Huawei HONOR

#22

Huawei HONOR

#23

Huawei HONOR

#24

Huawei HONOR

#25

Huawei HONOR

#26 (3.5x zoom)

Mate 50 Pro Magic4 Pro

#27

#28

Huawei HONOR

#29

Huawei HONOR

#3o

Huawei HONOR

BONUS: Super Macro

Just like other flagship smartphones nowadays, Super Macro is a feature that uses the ultra-wide lenses instead of the regular wide one in order to take close-up macro shots of objects. Doing so requires you to go closer to the subject you are shooting.

Huawei HONOR

Results

You may already have a hint considering the results are consistent throughout the board:

Photo A — HONOR Magic4 Pro

Photo B — Huawei Mate 50 Pro

Conclusion

What should set both phones apart are the way they process each shot — but Huawei and HONOR’s similar AI camera processing techniques are what actually makes it hard to differentiate one phone from another.

Huawei HONOR

For the most part, you can barely tell which is which. Shots taken during the broad daylight looked barely different regardless if its the regular wide, ultra-wide, or even the periscope telephoto lens.

Huawei HONOR

But in some instances, the HONOR Magic4 Pro boosts saturation while the Huawei Mate 50 Pro samples focuses on brightening up the shots. However, its dual-variable aperture camera did not really make drastic differences in daylight shots for it to be considered a “groundbreaking” camera feature in today’s flagship smartphones.

HONOR Magic4 Pro

Now when it comes to Night Mode “Magic”, the Huawei Mate 50 Pro is the clearer winner — especially with its very wide f/1.4 aperture. As I told in my past camera shootouts, the “better” Night Mode shot isn’t just about being the brightest nor the most vibrant of the bunch.

In the case of the Mate, it displayed the right amount of shadows, highlights, contrast and even the dynamic range. Most of all, its saturation what you can actually see irl.

Honestly speaking, I thought the HONOR Magic4 Pro is one among the best flagship smartphones for night photography. But after seeing how there’s a clear distinction between it and the Huawei Mate 50 Pro, I have reconsidered my opinion.

Huawei HONOR

The less-saturated look of the night shots taken with the HONOR Magic4 Pro is preferential though. Some may still like it because it gives you that flat, RAW-like image. Thus, giving you more creative freedom in post-processing the shot afterwards.

Honestly, you can never go wrong between choosing these smartphones. But the dealbreaker is: can you compromise 5G and proper GMS support over a set of cameras that perform better at night?

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