Reviews

Honor View 20 review: No notch, no problem

Alternative to the Huawei Mate 20

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If 2018 was all about smartphones adopting the notch, 2019 will be focused on eliminating the black cutout entirely. Brands like OPPO, Vivo, and Xiaomi jump-started the anti-trend by hiding the front camera behind sliders or pop-ups, but Honor has something more straightforward, and it’s on the flagship View 20.

There’s no standardized name for it yet — some call it a punch-hole camera and others named it hole-punch — but all you need to know is that the implementation is more visually pleasing than any form of notch.

For one, it’s much smaller than any other cutout and it’s placed in a more ideal spot — to the far left and not in between top-bar icons. In addition, the space around it is still LCD, eliminating any black space normally left behind by a notch.

Huawei and Samsung raced to get this type of phone out first, but even though Sammy launched ahead of the Nova 4 with the Galaxy A8s, it’s the Huawei sub-brand that brought it to international markets first. In addition, the View 20 is by far the most powerful of the three and arguably the most attractive.

While the Huawei Nova 4 looks a lot like the P20 Pro, the Honor View 20 goes for a more unique V-shaped pattern on the rear that shifts as you angle it differently towards a light source. Although it doesn’t help the ergonomics in any way, I can say that the phone is a pleasure to hold thanks to its curved glass rear.

The 6.4-inch 1080p LCD may seem overwhelming in size at first, but the tall aspect ratio helps provide a more manageable grip even for small hands. The fingerprint scanner’s rear placement is well-positioned, too. Combined with the fast face scanning, not once did I experience failed unlocking on the first attempt.

The View 20 is simply so enjoyable to play content on, whether it’s a movie from Netflix or game you’re addicted to. You’ll just have to deal with the different ways apps cover up the 4.5mm camera hole.

In some cases, the entire screen is filled up and you only have the black dot to ignore; other times, a big black bar can take up the entire edge, making the sides asymmetrical while viewing in landscape orientation. It’s not pretty, but you can get used to it.

Entire screen is utilized

Here are the asymmetrical black bars

You could argue that the placement isn’t ideal because it pushes the signal bar and notifications to the right, but Honor claims that this position is optimal. The basis is the Gutenberg Diagram, which says that eyes naturally fall to the top-left corner of an area called the primary optical area (POA). Eye motion then goes across and down to other sections. I’ll save my judgement for when I try Samsung’s upper-right positioning.

Design-wise, the only thing that really disappointed me was the lone speaker. Having gotten used to loud stereo speakers from recent smartphone reviews, going back to a cheap-sounding output to the right of the USB-C port feels like such a downgrade.

Fortunately, there’s a 3.5mm audio port for wired headphones; and if you already jumped on the wireless bandwagon, Bluetooth 5.0 is available for hassle-free audio. Both were vital to me in replacing the disappointing loudspeaker.

USB-C and the only loudspeaker

A rare 3.5mm port beside a set of sensors

The model I have is blessed with some of the best specs I could ask for in any smartphone to date: the same Kirin 980 chip found inside the Huawei Mate 20 series, a whopping 8GB of memory, and a total of 256GB of storage. Once you know how much this thing costs, you’ll be even more impressed.

Combined with Honor’s Magic 2.0.1 UI based on Android 9 Pie, this has to be one of the most fluid Android experiences for me. Of course, the software’s quirks are still present — such as the awkward double-press of the volume-down button to turn on the camera app and the lack of a swipe-up gesture to open the app drawer — but everything else from the updated volume adjustment to Digital Balance from Pie are available.

It goes without saying that the View 20 can tackle any app you throw at it, and thanks to the abundant memory and storage, you rarely have to worry about running out of space or having too many apps operating at once. It’s stable too, with no crashes for me so far. The navigation keys might randomly shift their location, but a restart always fixes that.

Yeah, they move to the left sometimes

As for gaming, GPU Turbo 2.0 is in place, applying itself to the following games: PUBG, Arena of Valor, Rules of Survival, Mobile Legends: Bang Bang, Vainglory, and Asphalt 9: Legend. I was only able to test and compare with Asphalt 9; the gameplay was certainly buttery smooth, but I can’t say if it’s due to the latest version of GPU Turbo or because the Kirin 980 chip is simply that fast.

It helps that liquid cooling is built in so the View 20 doesn’t throttle and slow down under heavy load. In fact, I noticed how cool the phone was while gaming. There’s only one spot near the rear camera that gets noticeably warm during gameplay, though not enough to stop me from playing.

The only other time the handset heats up is while charging; however, that’s only because it charges so fast. It comes with a 22.5W SuperCharge adapter that brings the unit from zero to 55 percent in 30 minutes, 94 percent in an hour, and a full charge with an additional 15 minutes. These are fantastic numbers, especially since the View 20 can easily last over a day of usage with six hours of screen-on time on a single charge.

What I would say is missing, however, is wireless charging. It may be Honor’s way of cutting down on costs, but it’s something I miss nonetheless after having it on the Mate 20 series.

Finally, I have to talk about the cameras. While you could easily mistake the front shooter as the highlight — it’s inside a screen hole with 25 megapixels to its credit — it’s the 48-megapixel rear camera and its partnered 3D ToF (Time of Flight) sensor that do most of the magic.

By default, the built-in camera app outputs at 12 megapixels using data from the 48-megapixel sensor. While this may seem like a downgrade at first, the pixel cramming actually improves the detail and sharpness you get out of each photo. This also keeps the file size down to a much friendlier number.

However, if you want to maximize the potential of the image sensor, there’s a 48MP AI Ultra Clarity option which combines multiple shots into a more detailed picture. It’s a lot like the night mode Huawei pioneered, except it’s for daytime scenarios.

I tried it a few times, and to be honest, it’s not that useful. It takes longer to complete an exposure and moving objects become blurry during the process. On a smartphone screen, you can’t even appreciate the 8000 x 6000-pixel photos. It doesn’t help that the camera app goes back to the default 12MP setting each time you restart.

There are other features that take advantage of the 3D ToF sensor, but they either aren’t available yet or are exclusive to the Chinese market. You aren’t missing out though if you’re simply after good-looking photos.

As usual, there’s an option to activate AI for smarter scene detection. This is something I normally turned off on other Honor/Huawei phones because of how often the artificial intelligence would wrongly recognize an object or slow down the processing, but the View 20’s application is surprisingly good at this.

Not only can it detect more than one scene at a time — simultaneously optimizing for outdoor, beach, and sunset, for example — there’s no delay before or after taking the shot. Of course, you may still adjust settings even while AI is on. There were times when I would rather turn portrait mode off so I could keep the background blur-free around my subject.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

With the Huawei P30 coming soon and new flagships arriving during Mobile World Congress next month, now’s not a good time to invest in a premium smartphone.

However, the Honor View 20 is jam-packed with so many high-end specs and features that it’s difficult to resist. With a starting price of EUR 569 for the 6GB+128GB variant, it’s a steal compared to the Mate 20 series’ asking price.

It lacks a few things, specifically dual speakers, wireless charging, and proper water resistance, but those are negligible shortcomings if you apply the workarounds: use headphones or a speaker, take advantage of the incredible wired charging instead, and simply don’t use your phone near a pool or toilet.

If this is the standard Honor is setting in terms of design, performance, and price at the start of 2019, rival brands have to stay on their toes. Honor isn’t messing around.

Accessories

Mi True Wireless Earphones 2 review: Affordable, but far from perfect

Xiaomi’s premium TWS offering

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The truly wireless earphones market is filled with a plethora of options today, ranging from entry-level offerings like the Redmi Earbuds S to the premium Sony WF-1000XM3. However, the most popular TWS earphones are from Apple — the AirPods.

AirPods kickstarted the TWS trend, and since then, pretty much every brand has jumped onboard. Xiaomi is known for its reliable yet affordable products, and it has launched a few options previously, but it was limited to its home market of China.

Now, the brand has finally launched the Mi True Wireless Earphones 2 in India, and it’s pretty much half the price of Apple’s AirPods.

The Redmi Earbuds S is an entry-level offering while Mi branding is now used for the company’s premium offerings. TWS earphones are incredibly convenient to use, and their demand is consistently rising. Can the Mi TWS 2 offer maximum features for the price and go against the competition?

Do they look like the AirPods?

 

At first sight, you’d think they are the AirPods for a quick second. But it’s soon clear that they aren’t. This is something I appreciate about the Mi TWS 2. In a market filled with AirPods knockoffs, it’s nice to see a different design. However, don’t set your expectations too high.

The earbud’s stem is exceptionally thick, and this is easily noticeable from the side. Thankfully, it doesn’t look that thick from the front view and is oval. The stem is also considerably long, giving the earbud a very bulky look.

The polycarbonate build has a matte finish on the stem while the driver is smooth and shiny. I feel the earphones were designed with utility and features in mind, and aesthetics took a back seat.

If the bulkier design can add more battery life and better drivers, I’m okay with it. This may not be the case with many since they tend to look like cheap AirPods knockoffs.

Each earbud weighs just 4 grams, and they slide in your ears very smoothly. Putting them on is a quick task, and for calls, while driving, these are exceedingly convenient to wear single-handedly. The semi-open design is supposed to be fit-for-all. But, this is where my primary concern lies.

How’s the overall user experience?

The earbuds fit perfectly and are rather stable. But the satisfaction of wearing an earbud is utterly absent because of reduced noise isolation. Even though they’ve never automatically snuggled out, I’m always afraid of losing them while walking. The confidence to wear them outdoors is low.

These too sport gesture-based controls, and the result is below satisfaction. I’d have to try a few times before they actively receive the command. Even play/pause function is rather cumbersome and paired with the loose fit; I’m afraid they don’t fall off.

Thankfully, they have an optical sensor that automatically plays/pauses a song when the earbud is worn or removed. Most times, I’d simply remove them from my ear instead of relying on the gesture buttons.

Lastly, the case is quite basic from a design point of view but gets the job done properly. The plastic build is solid, the lid has magnetic detection, and the earbuds aren’t finicky when plugged for charging. A small LED light on the front will show you the case’s battery status. A USB-C port is located on the bottom.

Pairing them is a straightforward task, and Xiaomi phones will automatically pop-up the status menu just like it’s on iOS. It’ll show you each earbud’s battery percentage along with the case.

But do they sound good?

The brand has added a lot of features on the audio side to make the product look premium. It has support for multiple codecs like SBC, AAC, and LHDC. The last one allows high-resolution audio streaming via Bluetooth. I used the Redmi Note 9 Pro Max to test the Mi TWS 2 and it automatically leveraged the AAC band.

Each earbud houses a 14.2mm audio driver, which isn’t the biggest. But, much of the audio output relies on tuning. Sound testing is also very subjective, so I’ll try to address everyone’s choice.

To start with, the output is very crisp and clear, and the vocals are perfectly heard. If you’re into Bollywood songs or even pop, these should be ideal for you.

Unlike the usual tuning, we see in Indian products; the bass here is well managed. It isn’t too much and ultimately does justice for every user. I’d say these are your GadgetMatch if you listen to podcasts and audiobooks.

The drivers are massively let down by non-existent noise isolation. The design of the earbuds inherently means you can hear pretty much everything happening around you. Even at maximum volume, it just didn’t feel enough.

Lastly, they have “Environment Noise Cancellation” that automatically kicks in when you’re on a call. Background noise is reduced drastically, and everyone I called could feel the change. The overall voice clarity is immensely improved, and high-winds too couldn’t deter them.

How long can they last?

Xiaomi claimed the earbuds can last up to four hours on a single charge and it’s on-point. I was able to get almost four hours with volume at 80 percent.

The case is capable of providing 10 hours of backup, taking the total to fourteen. Thankfully, the case takes just an hour to charge.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

If you’re an audiophile, the simple answer is no. The Mi TWS 2 will disappoint you in many ways. However, if you’re looking for work-related earphones, these are perfect.

Calls are ultra-clear, and the overall experience is better thanks to a loose fit. Keep them on, and get through a full day’s work. On the audio side, hip-hop or bass-intensive genre may not suit well here. However, all other vocal-centric songs shall swing by without a hitch.

With a price of INR 4,499, the Mi True Wireless Earphones 2 is a solid competitor. When compared to the realme Buds Air, these lose out on aesthetics. But, the minor additions from a function point of view are worth the slight bump in price.

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Reviews

LG Velvet Review: New breed of flagship killer?

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Over the years, LG was once a pioneer in the smartphone industry with their G and V smartphone series. These phones are packed with a lot of punch and boast new and exciting features.

But LG has forgotten one thing, and that is how to fix their unexciting phone designs. From the G7 ThinQ all the way to V50 ThinQ 5G, those phones almost look unchanged. They might have been minor changes with the newer V60 ThinQ 5G, but it’s still not as eye-catching as other contenders.

The LG Velvet isn’t a replacement to their ever-existing flagship series. Instead, LG tries to reimagine things by making sure they produce products that cater the needs of not just tech nerds, but other types of consumers as well.

Here’s our in-depth review of the LG Velvet.

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Accessories

Redmi Earbuds S review: Affordable TWS without compromises

Making TWS earphones more accessible

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Truly wireless (TWS) earphones have been around for a while. Apple kick-started the hype with the launch of the AirPods and numerous brands have released alternatives since. However, they’ve always been very expensive.

With brands keen on ditching the headphone jack, users are often left with no option but to find wireless options. Redmi phones continue to have a headphone jack, but the brand also wants to remain focused on its target — deliver quality products at an affordable price.

The Redmi Earbuds S is the first TWS offering in India under the Redmi brand. While the brand stands strong in the smartphone segment, it has some cut-throat competition from realme. With a price tag of INR 1,799 (US$ 24), does it have enough firepower to take on the competition? If you’re looking for an entry-level TWS solution, can you trust the Earbuds S? Let’s find out!

Not AirPods knock-offs

If you’ve been following the TWS market, the Earbuds S will look familiar. These are sold as the AirDots S in China and many have ordered them previously via international marketplaces. In India, Redmi is calling them the Earbuds S and these could land in more south-east Asian markets soon.

While the trend is to follow Apple’s design language, the Earbuds S is going against the flow. It has its own distinctive design that looks nothing like a cheap knock-off.

The pill-shaped case is compact, feels solid in hand, and has a subtle curve on the bottom. The case size is perfect and it’ll always slide into your pocket smoothly.

Each earbud weighs just 4g and the in-ear design is immensely comfortable. I’ve worn them pretty much all day long and never felt any irritation, pain, or slightest of inconvenience. The snug fit also ensures adequate noise isolation and wearing them while driving for calls is seamless.

There’s not much to talk about with the design since it’s basic and gets the job done. They’re built out of plastic and its clearly evident at first sight.

I won’t count this as a drawback since it helps reduce overall weight and I wouldn’t expect metal or premium construction at this price.

Easy to use, fairly straightforward

The lid is very basic but has a satisfying feel to it when closing. Unlike the popular AirPods, these sit in your ears at a 45-degree angle. Paired along are two earbud tips to suit your ear canal. I didn’t have to use them and the standard size that comes along worked fine.

Using them is a very straightforward process. Open the lid, remove the earbuds, and wear them.

They’ll connect to your phone as soon as they’re disconnected from the case. I’ve never faced any connection issues so far. Each earbud has a button for quick controls such as music playback options and calling up Google Assistant.

On the flip side, you can’t rely on the earbuds to change the volume level or play a previous song. That can only be managed via your phone.

Pressing the button thrice will trigger the low-latency gaming mode. A feature that’ll be very handy while playing online multiplayer games like PUBG Mobile or Mobile Legends.

Each earbud has an indicator light that shows the status. Red means they’re charging while white means successful connection establishment. Lastly, they’re IPX4 certified, meaning sweat resistance. This obviously translates to a perfect workout session.

Punchy bass, relatively good audio

This is where I was surprised the most. Considering the nifty features it already has, I expected some kind of compromise in this department. And, I was wrong.

It has 7.2mm drivers and delivers punchy bass — a must-have for Bollywood music. Mainstream genres like pop sound amazing and if you’re not an audiophile, you won’t have any complaints.

The maximum volume is sufficiently loud and coupled with good isolation, even a busy market street is easily navigable.

However, if you’re looking for top-notch audio, these aren’t meant for you. The low frequency takes over while the mids are flat. You can use an equalizer to change the settings but the inherent tuning is in favor of bass-heavy music.

Furthermore, these connect via the SBC codec and there’s no support for aptX. I wouldn’t call this a drawback because the brand has to cut corners to make them accessible to a wider audience.

Adequate playback duration

Xiaomi claims the earbuds can deliver up to four hours of playback on a single charge and I’ve reached 3 hours 45 minutes in one go. So, their claims aren’t farfetched.

The case can charge the earbuds fully twice, delivering a total of 12 hours of playback in one go. If you’re going to use them for conference calls, music, and other work-related activities, they’ll easily get you through a working day.

The case takes almost two hours to charge fully. For frequent travelers, this can be a major drawback. Furthermore, the case charges via a microUSB port instead of the now-standard USB-C. Don’t forget to carry that extra charging cord along!

Can this be your GadgetMatch?

Yes. It definitely can. While there are a lot of minor additions I’d want to see, the price brings me back to reality.

In a nutshell, they’re designed aptly, deliver ordinarily better audio, and have 12 hours of playback. For US$ 25, there’s no better deal available. Keep in mind, the Redmi Earbuds S are making TWS earphones more accessible to everyone.

If you’re looking for top-notch audio quality, there are premium offerings like the OPPO Enco Free, Galaxy Buds, and 1More Truly Stylish. On the affordable side, realme Buds Air Neo and OPPO Enco W31 can be alternatives but are still priced considerably high.

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