Reviews

HTC U Play Review: Just about design?

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They may not be as popular as before, but HTC is still around making Android phones. It’s hard to make a dent to the popularity of other phone brands, although with good-looking phones, HTC is on track to keep itself relevant. In the sea of aluminum and plain glass smartphones, the HTC U Play stands out with its design.

It looks plain at first sight

Beautiful design for a midrange phone

If you buy a phone based on its looks, this will be one of your top choices. Like most smartphones with a premium build, the U Play combines aluminum and glass with a unique look on its back. HTC calls it “liquid surface” as it’s designed to look like liquid paint beneath the glass back. The result is a glossy phone that’s prone to smudges. But! It’s one of the best-looking ones in the market.

Our unit comes in black, but it has a greenish tint when light hits the back panel

The phone on hand feels wider than most 5.2-inch devices I’ve held and that’s due to thick side bezels it has. It makes the phone a bit stout, while the aluminum frame gives a satisfying cold touch and doesn’t warm up easily. There are no issues with the overall build and design of the U Play, aside from the missing 3.5mm audio port.

No 3.5mm headphone jack!

The fingerprint scanner, which works really great, is located on the front of the device. It also acts a home button (it doesn’t press down, though) accompanied by two navigation keys on both sides. One-handed use is not a big concern here unless you really need to tap the four corners of the display.

Familiar HTC Experience

Android skins have been toned down in recent years, with the exemption of those phones from China. HTC Sense — that’s what HTC calls its user interface — sits in between my preference of a clean slate Android UI and a custom one. HTC’s take on Android gives the phone a mature personality over the playful icons of other manufacturers.

HTC Sense hasn’t changed much in the past couple of years

It’s stuck on Android 6.0 Marshmallow for now, and we’re hoping HTC will push out an update in the coming months. That comes with no guarantee, though, as with all third-party manufacturers. Anyway, having a dated version with a skin on top doesn’t give you the impression of running on old software.

Not exactly the latest in the market

HTC is trying to win back select markets where they have become dormant — such as Southeast Asia — by releasing phones like the U Play, which comes with a Helio P10 processor from MediaTek. With the new Helio P20 already available, it’s disappointing to see an old processor running on a new phone.

It still runs on Android Marshmallow

Processor aside, it has more than enough memory at 4GB and spacious internal storage at 64GB. I can easily open and switch from one app to another without any hiccups. So far, I didn’t encounter any signs of the phone slowing down under pressure. If only it were powered by a newer processor, I’d like the U Play more than just its physical appearance.

Can you “Play” all day?

The U Play comes with a 2500mAh battery and its processor is not exactly the most energy-efficient in its class, so I didn’t really expect it to last long. But, it still managed to hang on before a work day ended and I was able to get around three to four hours of screen-on time depending on usage. It also features fast charging, just in case you need a quick boost before hitting the road.

The most beautiful thing about the phone is its back

As long as you don’t play games much, a full charge is enough for one-day usage. There are battery-saving features that can be turned on to stretch out the remaining juice.

It takes good photos and bright selfies

The UltraPixel makes a comeback here, but it’s now found on the front. The 16-megapixel front shooter is sensitive to light, allowing you to take a selfie even in dark environments. It also has a wide-angle lens, so you can fit more people in a frame. Here are Isa’s selfie shots:

The rear camera doesn’t sport an ultra-sensitive sensor to help shoot in dim scenarios, but it has optical image stabilization. We’ll give the U Play a thumbs up for having OIS since not all midrange phones have it. Captured images with the 16-megapixel rear camera are pretty impressive with proper white balance and a good amount of details. Also, the Auto HDR kicks in whenever you need it.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

It has a good camera, beautiful design, and the HTC name. What it doesn’t have are the latest Android software and midrange processor. It’s a difficult recommendation now but with its looks, no doubt it’s an attractive phone to buy. If only HTC can push a Nougat update as soon as possible, I’d have a change of heart about the U Play.

The handset is priced at GBP 399 or SG$ 548. It’s not exactly competitively priced but the aesthetic appeal of the U Play gives it a lasting impression. That’s what HTC does best: Design.

SEE MORE: India, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines may get better HTC U11

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India

Xiaomi Mi 10i Review: Master of the midrange

A near-perfect phone, designed for everyone

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For years Xiaomi has tried to get a foothold in the premium segment, but it just couldn’t hit the right spot. Despite engineering marvels like the Mi MIX series, it didn’t work. The company has also tried releasing a polished midrange phone under the Redmi branding but couldn’t meet inflated market expectations. Will the Mi 10i solidify its push?

The Chinese smartphone giant got its portfolio sorted at the beginning of 2020 by dividing the three brands — Mi for premium, Redmi for budget, and spun-off POCO into a completely independent brand. Now, Xiaomi has set its priorities straight and aims for the lucrative premium segment, one that’s gobbled by players like Samsung, Apple, Huawei, and to a certain degree, OnePlus, OPPO, and vivo.

The Mi 10i is surely a midrange phone, but it has a lot of expectations to meet. And it’s an important product for Xiaomi since it’s again trying to test the INR 20,000+ range. There’s also tough competition from the OnePlus Nord, Galaxy A51, as well as the realme X3. So, how does Xiaomi’s new offering fare? Let’s see!

How’s the design? Is it comfortable to hold for gaming or streaming?

I’ve got the Pacific Sunrise color option, and it looks phenomenal. The phone has a unique color palette and a premium touch that makes it look much more expensive than it really is. The front and back of the device are protected by Corning Gorilla Glass 5, but it has a very satisfying opaque finish that gives it a very translucent look. It may be glass, but it’ll never attract fingerprints, and that’s one of my favorite things about the phone.

The back has a gradient of cyan or light blue and a mix of orange and pink. While colors or gradients are usually personal preferences and range from person to person, everyone I showed the phone to loved it.

You’ll find the power and volume buttons on the right, the USB-C port at the bottom, and the IR blaster at the top. Like the Mi 10T series, Xiaomi has added a side-mounted fingerprint sensor that’s baked into the power button, and it’s speedy.

The rear has a circular camera module that may remind you of the OnePlus 7T, but the Mi 10i has a slightly different design which actually looks quite good. Due to the bigger 108 megapixel primary sensor, the camera module bulges a lot. But it isn’t annoying because the phone is pretty stable on a flat surface and doesn’t wobble like the Mi 10T series.

Xiaomi has added an IP53 rating for water resistance, so you don’t have to worry about splashes or even light rain. Lastly, the phone retains my beloved 3.5mm headphone jack. I hope Xiaomi continues to add it in future phones.

Lastly, the phone weighs more than 210gms. The weight is easily noticeable, and it does get annoying after extended usage. I prefer a lighter phone because it helps with ergonomics and can withstand falls slightly better.

Is the LCD panel immersive? Does the high refresh rate drain battery?

Looks so good, yeah looks so sweet

The Mi 10i has a 6.7-inch LCD display with a 120Hz refresh rate and Full HD+ resolution. There’s not much to say about the screen because it’s like you’d expect it to be. Xiaomi has a lot of experience with these panels now, and the color reproduction is accurate and vibrant, blacks are deep enough, and the viewing angle is top-notch. However, I feel that it could’ve been brighter. Under direct sunlight, it sometimes becomes difficult to view texts and emails on the go.

Yes, an AMOLED display will have deeper blacks, and that’s where the OnePlus Nord gets a lead. But considering the price difference between the two, Xiaomi smartly opted for an LCD panel and added 120Hz support. Day-to-day tasks are smoothly done, and the overall experience of having a smooth user experience pays off in the longer run. Although, you can adjust the refresh rate according to your preference.

The screen doesn’t suck too much power because it has an automatic variable refresh rate that adjusts according to your usage. So, if you’re watching a YouTube video, don’t worry. The panel knows the playback is at a lower refresh rate and makes the appropriate changes. In the end, you’re with a dynamic display that uses resources only when required. And, if you’re desperate to save power, there’s an option to downgrade to 30Hz as well!

How hard can you game on the Mi 10i? Is MIUI optimized?

The Mi 10i is one of the first phones to be powered by Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 750G chipset. It is an octa-core processor clocked at 2.2GHz and built on an 8nm fabrication while the graphics are taken care of by the Adreno 619 GPU. This is also a 5G enabled chipset which comes with Qualcomm’s X52 5G modem for 5G connectivity. My unit has 8GB RAM and 128GB of internal storage.

As for the real-life usage and performance, as expected, the device shines at everything you throw at it. Be it a light task or a heavy task; the device is capable of handling it all. Xiaomi has mastered MIUI’s integration with a range of hardware, and the results are visible across all its phones. The Xiaomi Mi 10i runs MIUI 12, which is still Android 10-based (we’d expect Android 11 by now). If you’ve used MIUI before, you know what you’re getting into.

And if you haven’t, don’t worry. The skin is heavily customizable and has a lot of nifty features that are very utilitarian. The RAM management and multitasking was also excellent. Apps stayed longer than I’d expected in the background, and switching between apps did not force reload the content.

All modern games run smoothly on the phone, and there’s barely any lag or stuttering. Though, I did notice some frame drops when playing Call of Duty: Mobile for more than an hour. If you’re expecting any considerable raw performance improvement against the Snapdragon 765G, don’t. The difference is negligible, and you won’t realize it in real-life unless you start mining Bitcoins on your phone.

Most importantly, how’s the 108MP camera? Is it as good as the Mi 10T series?

Just like the Mi 10T Pro series, the Mi 10i gets a 108 megapixel sensor, but it isn’t the same one as the Mi 10T Pro. It comes with a 1/1.52-inch sensor, and Xiaomi claims it’s more compact than the HM1 sensor, which reduces the camera bump. Pictures are usually taken in 12-megapixels via binning technology, retaining details, natural color, and accurate contrast.

One of my favorite things about the sensor is its capability to capture excellent pictures with HDR. The algorithm can cleverly process the image to ensure there’s no excessive noise correction. The sensor can detect colors precisely and adjust exposure even under direct sunlight. The 108-megapixel mode can be accessed in the camera app with more options. The amount of detail captured by the camera in 108MP mode is truly incredible.

Low-light pictures are slightly disappointing because they often over-sharpen details, and the result looks quite artificial. The night mode compensates for this, but it mostly makes the image brighter and doesn’t necessarily optimize it.

Accompanying the primary sensor is an 8-megapixel wide-angle lens that isn’t that wide and struggles to capture detail. The quality degradation is easily visible, and this is definitely a cost-cutting measure for the company. There’s also a 2-megapixel macro and portrait sensor, which are now commonly found on almost all Xiaomi phones. It’s worth noting that the phone doesn’t have optical image stabilization, so if you’re into video, this definitely isn’t for you.

Despite the criticism, I’d say the phone has the best cameras you’d find in this price range. The competition is far away, and the 108 megapixel becomes a deal-breaker for many. Most of the issues I’ve encountered are software-based, and Xiaomi can fix them via OTA updates.

How long can it last? Should I invest in a 5G phone right now?

The Mi 10i 5G has a 4800mAh battery with 33W fast charging, and Xiaomi includes a 33W charging brick in the box. It took me an hour to charge it from 0 to 100, and that’s definitely a good deal. Thanks to Adaptive Sync (variable refresh rate of the screen), the phone can deliver a screen-on-time of more than seven hours in one go. Sometimes, it’ll even go up to eight hours under comfortable situations.

India is yet to roll-out 5G on a commercial scale, and the expected launch timeline from telcos currently stands at 2022. The government is yet to hold a spectrum auction, so there’s a lot of bureaucracy involved before we get to experience it. In my opinion, practical coverage of 5G is still two years away. 5G should be no reason for you to buy this phone.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

If you’re looking for a phone that excels at everything, then this phone is for you. The design honestly feels flagship grade and reeks premium, the processor is brand new and packs a punch, the cameras are above average and can go the extra mile if you’re a photography enthusiast, and lastly, the battery backup is optimum.

Gamers won’t be disappointed because the chipset is capable enough, and the phone barely heats up. This phone is made for everyone and does not stick to any particular niche. Considering the starting price of INR 21,999 (US$ 303), the Mi 10i is an easy recommendation. And even though we can’t enjoy 5G this year, it’s great to see the market get flooded with options. After all, the trickle-down effect will soon give us affordable 5G phones.

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Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Review: For Pro Users!

Is it worth the $400 premium?

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What makes a smartphone ultra? We dissect the extras that make Samsung’s Galaxy S21 Ultra the phone for power users.

Is it worth the $400 premium vs the Galaxy S21? What’s been added, what’s been taken away, and does it make a difference?

WATCH: Samsung Galaxy S21 Review: Samsung’s Best for Less!

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Accessories

HiFiMAN Sundara review: A WFH audiophile’s dream

One of the best price-for-value pair of cans

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HiFiMAN Sundara

Because of today’s work-from-home lifestyle, everyone is rushing to grab the best laptops, PCs, webcams, and microphones to support their new home office. However, one overlooked accessory has yet to receive its time under the spotlight: a good pair of headphones. It’s even worse if you have audiophilic tendencies like I do. Today, I found one of the best price-for-value pair of cans well suited for both the home office and the hi-fi home audio setup: the HiFiMAN Sundara.

A pillow for your ears

Compared to anything I’ve tried in the past, the Sundara is extremely comfortable on my ears. When you’re looking at a headphone’s comfort, you’re considering a minmax combination of various factors: weight, cup size, clamp pressure, and flexibility. The Sundara handles all of those quite handily.

For a sizable pair, they are remarkably light; they don’t put too much pressure on your skull. Further, instead of the whole headband pushing down on your crown, the Sundara uses a suspended headband to cushion the weight. The softer secondary headband rests itself comfortably on my head without exerting too much pressure or trapping heat.

The earcups are also of notable size. They can fit my relatively smaller ears well. Though I do feel a bit of scrunching inside the cups, I never felt any pain or discomfort from wearing the pair for hours. I can wear the Sundara for four to six hours at a time without any pressing need to take them off.

HiFiMAN Sundara

In terms of durability, the Sundara is more than capable of withstanding major usage. Except for the two plastic portions at both ends of the headphones, the Sundara is made almost entirely out of metal. I did drop the headphones once while using it, and I couldn’t find a single scratch or dent. On a related note, the cups’ metal grille makes for an interesting but minimalist design — an epitome of its namesake, the Sanskrit word for “beautiful.”

Finally, since the headphones are open-back, leakage will always be a problem. However, compared to other open-back cans, the Sundara don’t leak as loudly. Likewise, even without noise cancellation, outside noise is only mildly annoying. That said, anyone sitting next to me can definitely hear whatever I’m listening to. And I can definitely hear whatever is happening beside me.

Playable in any genre

Armed with a planar magnetic driver, the HiFiMAN Sundara has one of the most impressive soundstages I’ve heard for a pair of cans in its price point. In practically any genre that I put the headphones through, there’s a remarkable level of depth. It’s almost as if I’m there where the music is happening. Christopher Tin’s orchestral To Shiver the Sky sparkled with every instrument, from wind to string to percussion. It’s the closest thing to attending a concert, especially in today’s times.

HiFiMAN Sundara

Though the headphones sport an impressive 6Hz to 75KHz frequency range, the Sundara leans marginally closer to the treble side. Instruments are sharper and tinnier, though still not at an uncomfortable level. However, if you listen close enough, sharp sounds can sound extra sharp on the Sundara, given the right track. Even then, the soundtrack for Cowboy Bebop, especially the iconic “Tank!” shines bright with the headphones.

Leaning over to the bass, the headphones can subsist on its own. They deliver a very mellow boom, as opposed to an offensive bombast well-advertised in today’s slew of headphones. That said, the Sundara is not a bass-heavy pair. If you’re looking for a bass monster, look elsewhere. Personally, I’m not a fan of bass-heavy tracks, so the Sundara is just the perfect fit for me. On lighter tracks, especially those from jazz, the bass caresses my ears just enough to tingle. On heavier metal music, like Nightwish’s Human :||: Nature, the lighter bass prevents overpowering and allows other instruments to come through.

For the mids, I’d say that the Sundara is attuned for it as well. I weaved the pair through more poppy tunes, like The Midnight’s Monsters. The vocals rose above other instruments without drowning them out.

Will you need an amp?

If you’re looking for some flaws in the almost-perfect Sundara, you might find it in the headphones’ amplification. The headphones are definitely a pair that can benefit from an external amp.

Just to be clear, the HiFiMAN Sundara can function well enough on its own. Regardless of whether you plug it into a smartphone, laptop, music player, or turntable, the device, sporting 37 ohms of impedance, can deliver audio at a workable clip.

HiFiMAN Sundara

However, according to my own tests, they benefitted greatly from an external amp. And you don’t even need an expensive amp. Even the portable (and affordable) FiiO A3 boosted the headphones to an extraordinary level. If you’re investing your hard-earned cash on the Sundara, you can’t go wrong with forking over a bit of extra cash on a small amp.

Is this your Gadgetmatch?

If you already have a home office setup, then you might like the Sundara. Keep in mind, though; a single-person home office is best for this pair. Because the headphones don’t have a built-in mic or any external functionalities, the pair exists solely as an audio device, not an office tool. It might just irritate any officemates you might have.

That said, the device’s extreme lightness is perfect for moving around the house. After a grueling day of working from home, you can unplug the Sundara from your PC and plug them into your hi-fi/entertainment setup.

With that in mind, though the headphones are light enough to move around the house, they don’t do well for a commuter, especially because of their leakage and lack of noise cancellation.

If you’re interested in the HiFiMAN Sundara, a pair will set you back by US$ 499. It’s definitely pricey. Compared to other more popular offerings, the Sundara belongs in an upper tier. However, for the quality you’re paying for, it’s a good way to start the next level of an audiophile habit.

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