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.

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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.

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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.

Reviews

Samsung Galaxy A50 Review: The ideal midranger, almost

This is the company’s new direction

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Samsung has been trying to realign their strategy with other phone manufacturers. By killing off the Galaxy J series, Samsung has left the new batch Galaxy A models to take on the midrange and budget segments.

Facing stiff competition against Chinese phone brands, the South Korean giant has to take bold steps in order to keep their reign, hence the birth of the Galaxy A50.


Can the Galaxy A50 take on the challenge to become Samsung’s headliner? Here’s my review.

It’s got a 6.4-inch Super AMOLED display

With Full HD+ resolution

It’s a Samsung phone with a tiny notch…

Branded as Infinity-U

… and an in-display fingerprint reader

One of the slowest I’ve tried

To its right are the physical buttons

They’re too slim but tactile

On the left is the triple-card tray

Hooray for this

The bottom houses the USB-C port and headphone jack

The loudspeaker and main mic are here, too

The back has a glossy glass-like cover

Samsung calls it 3D Glasstic

The rear panel shimmers at every angle

Sometimes it’s black, sometimes it’s not

The triple rear cameras are aligned vertically

It also has a single LED flash

Samsung’s new language

Most phones, especially in the midrange segment, have similar designs. For better or for worse, Samsung joins the pack with a generic-looking device. People would mistake the Galaxy A50 as a new model from OPPO or Xiaomi at first, and I can’t blame them.

The Galaxy A50, like any other phone in the market today, has an edge-to-edge display with minimal bezels all around. Of course, it has to have a notch to house a front-facing camera. An advantage of the Galaxy A50 is its use of a Super AMOLED panel. With deep blacks and punchy hues, the phone’s display is indeed a treat.

What is not a treat is the fingerprint reader. It takes about two seconds to unlock the phone using the in-display scanner. Using it together with facial recognition makes things more cumbersome and I always end up just entering my PIN.

I’m also not a fan of the phone’s ordinary aesthetic, but that’s debatable. Previous Galaxy A phones had certain physical qualities that are of high quality, like an aluminum body or a thick slab of glass. Sadly, the Galaxy A50 lacks the premium touch.

Nevertheless, the Galaxy A50 is still able to present itself to the crowd of flashy phones. Samsung tries to mimic the popular gradient color options of Huawei. My unit’s main color is black, but when hit by light, it produces a prism-like effect. Basically, black is not the only color of the unit.

Flagship-grade performance

The Galaxy A50 is equipped with a flagship-grade processor, which is a surprising move from Samsung. Midrange Samsung phones normally sport a so-so processor that disappoints fans. The company has finally realized that it’s time to step up their game.

Powering the Galaxy A50 is a 10nm processor — Exynos 9610 to be exact. Samsung’s home-baked processor has more than enough oomph to deliver smooth performance plus it has 6GB of memory. Paired with Mali-G72 MP3 graphics, it’s also a good phone for gaming, something that consumers have been clamoring for.

Out of the box, Android 9 Pie is already available with Samsung’s very own One UI customization. Samsung’s latest take on Android is the most refreshing we’ve seen from the company, and it works well on their devices. It’s also packed with extra features which should come in handy.

When it comes to gaming, I had no issues with compatibility and performance. You can set the game to its highest graphics settings and still be able to play with virtually no hiccups. I am able to enjoy my favorite titles like Asphalt 9: Legends, PUBG: Mobile, and Mobile Legends: Bang Bang smoothly. The phone doesn’t heat up during long gaming, but it does get warm.

Versatile cameras

The Galaxy A50 has four cameras in total: three at the back and one in the front. The phone’s rear cameras include a 25-megapixel f/1.7 main sensor, an 8-megapixel ultra-wide shooter, and a 5-megapixel depth sensor. I always prefer to have a wide-angle shooter over a secondary telephoto lens, but that’s just my personal preference.

The photos taken using the main sensor look great, but not the best we’ve seen. Saturation is cranked up in order to deliver a pleasing image, but it leaves little room for editing. Overprocessing is also evident, especially when HDR mode automatically kicks in.

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Using the ultra-wide camera is more fun outdoors, so here are some samples I took while I was on a boat. The quality is obviously inferior to the main shooter, but the wider FOV gives it a different feel.

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As for selfies, it’s great. It has a high-resolution sensor with beauty mode available. Plus you can play with AR Emoji, a feature from Samsung’s flagship phones.

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Long-lasting enough

With an efficient processor and pretty large 4000mAh battery, the Galaxy A50 can last a full workday. I do consider my daily usage to be moderate and that includes steady Wi-Fi or mobile data connection, a few SMS, short calls, and, of course, consistent social media app use.

According to the phone’s battery stats, I am able to use the phone for 20 hours straight with a screen-on-time of almost five hours on average. With lighter usage, the phone should easily last for up to two days.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

What makes the Galaxy A50 ideal? For me, there are three factors: the brand, the chipset, and the cameras.

The Samsung brand is a big consideration and buyers are still keen on picking up a Samsung phone over other well-known Chinese brands. When it comes to value, the Galaxy A50 is one of the first Samsung phones to have a justifiable specs-to-price ratio. Lastly, the Galaxy A50 has a versatile set of cameras, which is something that every phone should own.

While the Galaxy A50 is a well-rounded phone, it’s hard to give praise for its design and build quality. It’s one of the compromises Samsung has to make to keep the phone’s cost down. That doesn’t mean the Galaxy A50 is cheap and underwhelming on hand, but it feels different compared to previous midrange offerings, particularly the chunky Galaxy A8 from last year.

The Galaxy A50 is proof that Chinese manufacturers are taking control of the midrange smartphone markets. Most phones, if not all, in this segment are just copycats of each other. For the average consumer, it’s already confusing to differentiate touchscreen phones, and now Samsung joins the pack of similarly designed devices.

Having a device that looks just like the rest of the pack can either be good or bad for the company. The response of the consumers who are in the hunt for their next smartphone will determine this.

SEE ALSO: Samsung Galaxy S10+ Review

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Gaming

Acer Predator Triton 900 review: 4K-capable convertible

Nothing like it right now

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When I first laid my eyes on the Predator Triton 900 during its first unveiling, I couldn’t understand how its form factor would benefit the average gamer. Why would we need a high-end convertible laptop that’s thicker than most? A couple of weeks with it changed my view completely.

If the Triton branding sounds familiar, you probably recall the Triton 700, which wasn’t only the first in the lineup, but possibly the best gaming laptop of 2017. Since then, Acer added the more affordable Triton 500, as well as this behemoth I’m writing about today.


With a 17-inch 4K Ultra HD display strapped on a hinge that allows it to face any direction you wish, this is about as versatile as it gets for a high-powered gaming machine. It’s difficult to describe in words; fortunately, we have a video for that:

All this equates to a desktop-like gaming experience that you can transform however you want. You could keep it in regular laptop mode for a chill session with a clear view of the exposed cooler; extend the display forward so it’s easier to spot enemies in FPS and MOBA games; or turn the whole thing around and plug in a controller to see nothing but screen.

For the record, I never bothered turning the Triton 900 into a tablet like how other thin-and-light convertibles work. Despite having a touchscreen, there’s no practical purpose for it, especially since there’s no included stylus pen.

As you can imagine, the whole thing is heavy because of the all-metal construction. Not so fun fact: So is the power adapter. I’m not kidding when I say that the brick alone weighs more than my primary work laptop.

This is what I like to call regular laptop mode

Extending the screen allows the keyboard to stay visible

Nothing beats this when the keyboard isn’t necessary

My biggest trouble using this as a laptop is fitting it inside a bag. I fortunately have the newest Predator backpack that can handle extra-large 17-inch notebooks like this. It even has space for the massive power brick in a separate pocket underneath. I suggest going for something similar before even considering the Triton 900.

Of course, what you’re paying for on top of the unique form factor are the specs. With the exception of gaming laptops that can be upgraded after purchase and those that have external water cooling, the Triton 900 is as powerful as its gets for a mobile gaming rig.

Here’s a quick rundown of what my particular model owns: Intel Core i7-8750H processor, 32GB RAM, 1TB NVMe PCIe in Raid 0, and a full-fledged GeForce RTX 2080 graphics chip. Put together, you’re assured to make the most out of the 3840 x 2160 display with G-Sync.

The sides include USB-A, Xbox wireless receiver, and audio ports…

… plus the power button, USB-C, more USB-A, and Ethernet

If you’re particular about gaming PC specs, you’d probably be irked by the screen’s refresh rate: 60Hz. Yes, the Triton 900 doesn’t have the more popular 120Hz or 144Hz standard its 4K display. I honestly would’ve gone for 144Hz on a 1080p panel, considering that my eyes can’t appreciate so many pixels on a 17-inch scale.

Because the Triton 900 has actually been around for a while — hitting the public space only recently — its 8th-generation Core i7 chip isn’t as fresh as it once was. But I do appreciate the RAM and SSD configuration provided, which makes every game load like a dream.

And while the RTX 2080 is the best GPU available today, its ray tracing benefits are still far-fetched. As Dan pointed out in his recent gaming laptop review, there are only a handful of games that support it, and all aren’t must-haves. You can learn more about ray tracing in our simple explainer.

Devil May Cry 5 is a perfect example of how well this setup works

Shadow of the Tomb Raider has been out for a while now, but still challenges today’s best systems

In actual gameplay, it’s a given that the newest AAA games will run at the full 60fps with all settings on high as long as you’re on 1080p. But when cranked up to 4K, frame rates often dip in the 40fps range in certain games like Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Battlefield V; however, I had no issues with Devil May Cry 5 and Sekiro no matter the resolution. For synthetic benchmarks, I have a couple:

  • Superposition: 7878, 58.93fps average (4K Optimized, GPU: 70 degrees Celsius)
  • Cinebench R15: 1040 (CPU), 108.94 (OpenGL)

As you’d expect, a machine this powerful gets quite hot — often hitting the 70-plus degrees Celsius range for both the CPU and GPU. And although I’ve gotten used this, the way the hot air blows toward me while the laptop is turned around is troublesome. I need keep my distance with my controller in hand.

This goes without saying, but I can’t even bother to rely on battery power with this setup. I get a maximum of 1.5 hours on a full charge; much less if I multitask or play a bit. Bringing along the power adapter at all times is a must, which again, is a pain in itself.

The mechanical keyboard is welcome, but the vertical trackpad can be tough to use

The RGB keys can light up individually

A bunch of these issues are a given considering the Triton 900’s versatility and how much power it packs, but I do have a few design concerns, starting with the placement of the power button. It’s possibly in the worse spot imaginable, right where you’re expected to hold the laptop while adjusting its placement. I can’t count how many times I accidentally turned this thing off.

Second, I’m not a fan of the vertical trackpad. Although it ergonomically makes sense to have it on the right, using it on a wide 16:9 screen doesn’t. Fortunately, I often rely on a wireless mouse instead and turn the trackpad into a virtual numpad with a double tap. I honestly miss the unique glass trackpad of the Triton 700.

Lastly, and this matters when gaming, the speakers crack on the highest volume. Again, I usually use headphones especially when gaming, but having clear-cut audio is pleasant when watching a quick show on Netflix or YouTube.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

If you can’t tell by now, the Triton 900 is an absolute joy to use despite the minor misses. It’s a true all-in-one convertible designed with both gamers and creators in mind. At the same time, the price is tough to swallow. Starting at US$ 4,000 — even more for the configuration I tested — this is exclusive to those with deep pockets (and deep bags to keep this in).

Like I say in every high-end laptop review, if you have the patience to build a desktop PC and spend the savings on a more practical gaming notebook, you’re in for a better overall deal. Acer has an excellent Helios lineup of midrange options that would work flawlessly for light gaming on the move.

Otherwise, this is the beast choice for those who want a flexible monster. Sure, there are more outlandish gaming machines out there, but the Triton 900 actually makes sense out of all the firepower and features it puts together.

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Reviews

Redmi Note 7 Review: Best budget option?

There’s nothing like it

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When you hear the words “budget smartphone,” a lot of things come to mind. The first is obviously its price followed soon by what features this phone possibly gave up. As such, budget smartphones often come with your typical entry-level features for a reasonable price. That was, until Xiaomi released budget smartphones that defied that norm.

The Redmi Note 7 has features that you normally see on most midrange smartphones today. It’s just that, well, it’s actually a budget smartphone. However that happened, we will leave it to Xiaomi, but the real question is: Is it actually worth it?


It has a 6.3-inch display with a teardrop notch

A rubber case is included…

… and so is a USB-C port at the bottom

The glass back comes with a fingerprint sensor and the dual AI camera

Impressive overall performance

Performance-wise, this phone ticks all the boxes. It’s pretty fast, responsive, and the UI feels seamless thanks to Android 9 Pie, MIUI 10, and a Snapdragon 660 chipset. I did toggle the display to go on full-screen mode without the navigation dock, and honestly, the gestures work so well. I got used to the full-screen mode within the first two hours of using the phone.

Apps work very well with this Snapdragon 660 plus 4GB RAM combination. Even gaming on this phone is solid, given that most games work best with 4GB RAM — except Fortnite! I mean, you can install the game but eventually, you can’t play it. Personally, I found this to be a bummer.

Nitpicking the design

I found this phone well-designed at first. The moment I started using it more extensively, I noticed some things that I felt were missed spots. First, the light indicator being at the bottom didn’t bother me, but it was a faint white color every time a notification would pop up. At the very least, it should have been a different color when you’re charging the device.

Second, the fingerprint sensor is easy to register on, but is hyper-sensitive. There were times I had to wipe my finger squeaky clean first before unlocking the phone. Sometimes, it took longer than three seconds to open the phone through the fingerprint sensor — which I felt was too slow.

Third, the glass back of the phone is such a fingerprint magnet, so it’s good that they included a jelly case. I do appreciate that the case had a “Designed by MI” tag on the left side, however. What I found iffy about the case is, well, it’s also a fingerprint and dirt magnet. If you’re a neat freak, I don’t think you’d like that for your phone or its case.

Superb battery life

In my opinion, it is a huge plus for any smartphone to have a USB-C port. But on a budget smartphone, a 4000mAh battery and a fast charger to pair it with? What more could you ask for, right? Not only will the phone promise longevity with battery life, but it’s also pretty quick to replenish!

As my daily driver, one full charge meant a day and a half of regular use. It was good enough to scroll through social media, watch videos, play games, and listen to music with some charge left. It took around two hours to charge the phone from zero to 100 — mind you, when using the brick. Just plugging the cord to a computer takes a bit longer.

The cameras are just… par for the course

Other than the battery, one of the biggest features anyone looks for in a budget smartphone is the camera setup. Oftentimes, I think that budget smartphones don’t necessarily stand out with their cameras. Then, I found out that the Redmi Note 7 has a 48-megapixel AI shooter with a 5-megapixel depth sensor and my expectations became a little higher.

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But, I may have spoken a little too soon. First, the colors on images are vibrant but details are often left out. I can clearly see the different colors on the image upon first glance, and I was impressed with how they popped. However, every time I zoom in to look closer, details turn out blurry or grainy — almost washed out. When taking pictures at night, I found the camera subpar even with its built-in Night mode.

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Second, if I want detail over color, I have to switch to HDR (48MP for Pro mode), and honestly, even with those on, some details don’t get any clearer. I tried shifting the focus of the lens toward different objects in the foreground and background, and details slightly improved. However, the same thing happened when I zoomed in on the picture: details blurred or grained. Despite these, however, I am impressed with the number of modes supported and the AI capabilities like scene detection and blur effects.

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The 13-megapixel front camera was decent at best for me. I took some selfies both in well-lit and much darker conditions, and whatever thoughts I had for the rear camera are the same ones here. 

Is this your GadgetMatch?

The Redmi Note 7 did not disappoint in a lot of aspects. From the overall performance to its features and battery life, this budget smartphone already serves as a great deal for anyone. 

If anything, one deal breaker for the device is its cameras and how they focus more on color than detail. If you’re looking for a budget option with cameras that focus more on detail, I recommend going for the Realme 3 for the same price.

The Redmi Note 7 is a definite bang for the buck smartphone, at PhP 9,990 (US$ 190) for the 4GB+64GB option and PhP 7,990 (US$ 155) for the 3GB+32GB option. If you want more storage, you can opt for the 4GB+128GB model at PhP 11,490 (US$ 220).

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