Reviews

HTC U11 Review: Better than the Pixel

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To beat the best, you have to know their product, learn from it, and make something even grander.

That’s the formula HTC followed: Manufacturer the Pixel under Google’s guidance, study Android’s blueprints, and create a smartphone with all that in mind.

The process took a while to complete — over half a year after the Pixel launched — but the U11 with its shimmering back speaks for itself. I can tell you as early as now that it beats Google’s flagship at its own game.

Except, the wasn’t very clear at first. HTC’s marketing push for the U11 highlights the gimmicky Edge Sense feature, which allows you to squeeze the handset for a function of your choice. Heck, the primary slogan is “Squeeze for the Brilliant U.” It’s a shame, since this smartphone isn’t some one-trick pony.

I admit to constantly using Edge Sense for activating the LED flashlight; being able to grip the phone a little harder in total darkness is a lot more useful than you’d expect. But for me, that’s as far as its usefulness goes.

I’d rather say “Okay, Google” to activate Google Assistant from standby, double-press the power button to turn on the camera app at anytime, or simply swipe through my app drawer and settings to access everything else.

There were times when Edge Sense would simply get in the way. An accidental squeeze meant shining a bright flash on my light-sensitive eyes — or worse, at an unsuspecting friend or stranger in the elevator (the latter actually happened).

Sure, you could adjust the pressure sensitivity of the feature, but delving any further into the gimmick meant missing out on the U11’s true strengths, namely the camera, silky smooth performance, and surprisingly, the incredible battery life.

Let’s start with the camera. As mentioned in our launch article, the U11 currently has the highest-rated smartphone shooter in the world based on DxOMark’s well-respected test. A score of 90 puts it above the 89 points of the former champ, the — you guessed it — Google Pixel.

As a preacher of real-world experience over fancy digits on data sheets, I have to agree with the numbers for once and say that HTC’s pride and joy does indeed edge out the Google phone by a… pixel. That says a lot, because the Pixel handily won our smartphone camera comparison earlier this year, and competed quite well against the more advanced Samsung Galaxy S8.

On top of that, the U11 comes with this thing called 3D audio recording, which maximizes the four microphones installed on the phone to record sound from all directions during video shooting. It also amplifies audio from where you zoom in, but I honestly couldn’t tell the difference, even with the pleasantly loud stereo speakers (one on the bottom for bass and another in the earpiece for highs and mids).

While we’re on the topic of sounds, let’s get this out of the way: This phone does not have a 3.5mm audio port. It sucks, and is something I have to deal with whenever I want to hook it up to my car’s speakers or any of my old non-wireless headphones. Sure, there’s a USB-C to audio jack adapter in the box, but that doesn’t solve the issue of charging while being plugged in.

HTC feels like it did enough though for audiophiles. Another bundled accessory is a pair of USonic adaptive earphones that plug directly into the phone’s lonely USB-C port. The “adaptive” part means the earphones adjust their output to the shape of your ears for a more optimized listening experience. If that doesn’t sound (pun intended?) high-tech enough, know that they come with active noise cancellation, as well — perfect for shutting out noisy officemates or that loud, never-ending construction outside your window.

Talking about how great the audio-visual splendor of the U11 is, you almost forget that this phone is, again, marketed as that handset you squeeze. That’s the point I’m trying to drive at: You have to look beyond what the brochures say to see how great this phone truly is. And I haven’t even begun focusing on performance or battery life yet.

The U11 is one of the few smartphones blessed with Qualcomm’s super-fast, incredibly efficient Snapdragon 835 chipset. Although not the first to make use of it — hot picks like the Galaxy S8, OnePlus 5, and Sony Xperia XZ Premium were ahead of the curve — HTC somehow managed to, ehem, squeeze out more of the processor’s potential.

Having reviewed all the aforementioned phones, I can claim with certainty that the U11 is just as fast as any of them, despite HTC applying the heaviest Android skin of the bunch. Its Sense UI feels — how do I put this — outdated. Having a separate button for the app drawer, no continuous scrolling for the app library, and unintuitive main settings and quick settings layout feels like I’m back in 2016.

I’ve given so much praise to the OnePlus 5 (and Pixel last year) for its steroid-fueled fluidity, but this phone can definitely compete. Extra credit goes to the variant I was privileged enough to review; it has 6GB of memory and 128GB of storage, both of which are still generous by today’s standards.

So, wait. Wouldn’t all that power translate to terrible battery life? On the contrary, the U11 has beastly endurance considering how smallish the capacity is (only 3000mAh) and how densely packed the pixels on the display are (a resolution of 2560 x 1440 within a 5.5-inch LCD).

I seriously wasn’t expecting a single charge to last this long. With moderate usage, which entails holding back on checking Instagram and Facebook every hour, I can get through Saturday morning to Sunday night without turning to the charger.

On weekdays, when I must be on my phone every waking minute, I can still manage over five hours of screen-on time before the battery cries for juice at the end of the day. That’s mighty impressive! Other smartphones with the same internals average around four hours of screen-on time during the same span; in comparison, the battery life kings of Xiaomi, specifically the Mi Mix and Redmi Note 4X, get up to six hours.

It’s possible to extend its life even further by turning off constantly active features like Sense Edge and Google Assistant’s voice detection. As you’d expect, I wouldn’t mind deactivating the former for greater longevity, but the latter is another reminder why the U11 trumps the Pixel.

You see, the Pixel was such a hit last year for offering two things: the best-performing camera in the market and exclusive access to Google Assistant at the time. As you can already tell, the U11 has both and more. In addition, HTC solved another one of the Google phone’s problems: waterproofing.

Yes, the U11 isn’t just a pretty sight; it has IP67-rated water and dust resistance, which is a technical way of saying it can withstand accidental splashes and dunks in a toilet. However, this doesn’t mean you can get reckless with it — I haven’t done any drops tests, but one solid drop could spell doom for its glossy glass back.

It’s such a beauty… until you get scuffs and ugly smudges on the rear. Even though HTC offers a plastic case in the package, I just can’t bring myself to putting one on and ruining the aesthetics. Funnily enough, there’s also an included cleaning cloth if you’re willing to wipe it down before every meeting or date.

I just wish I had a chance to review the solar red variant. Having seen it up close during the Philippine launch, I’ve been wanting one, badly. Not that the “amazing silver” I have with me isn’t any good; I simply can’t accept it being color silver. It’s very much light blue at any angle. HTC argues that their sapphire blue model is the true blue, so we have that.

If I were to nitpick, the thin antenna lines around the frame ruin an otherwise seamless design. It’s necessary though for getting a strong cellular signal (because, boy, does the U11 pick up 4G+ wherever I go), and it’s less jarring than Google’s half-glass, half-weird implementation on the Pixel.

Now, this brings us to the question: Is HTC’s best-ever smartphone your GadgetMatch?

I’m inclined to say yes for a variety of reasons and consumer types. And yet, the U11 is ultimately sandwiched between other Snapdragon 835-powered devices.

With a starting price of US$ 649 (PhP 36,990 for my review unit in the Philippines), it’s significantly more expensive than the similarly equipped OnePlus 5 and Xiaomi Mi 6; and despite being cheaper than the Galaxy S8 and Xperia XZ Premium, the U11 doesn’t have the former’s gorgeous Infinity Display or the latter’s 4K screen resolution, as well as either’s audio port.

In that case, what does the U11 offer that the others don’t? A marginally better camera, greater attention to audio output and recording, noticeably longer battery life, and… wait for it… a squeezable body.

It’s only fitting we conclude this review with yet another mention of Sense Edge. In the end, it somehow makes sense to highlight this edge.

SEE ALSO: HTC U Play Review: Just about design?

Reviews

OnePlus 11 Review: Flagship Killer is Back!

Premium, but not overpriced

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After frustrations and disappointment from its solid fanbase, it seems like OnePlus has finally addressed it by going back to their roots.

The new OnePlus 11 may look just like any other Android flagship out there, but they finally brought the price below the US$ 700 mark.

Even without the “Pro” branding, you get “Pro-grade” hardware such as a Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chipset, up to 16GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, and a super fast 80W SuperVOOC charging.

Alongside the Hasselblad partnership, you still get that specially-made color processing algorithm for your photos.

But with all the good stuff, there are also compromises.

Are you willing to sacrifice those for the newest OnePlus flagship experience?

Watch our in-depth OnePlus 11 review to find out more!

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Reviews

POCO X5 Pro 5G review: Must-have mid-ranger?

Business as usual for POCO

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POCO X5 Pro 5G

Standing out in a crowded mid-range segment has become increasingly difficult in 2023. It isn’t enough to hit home runs; to stand out, you need to hit grand slams. To be a game-changer, a smartphone needs to be a generational talent. 

It’s difficult to be painted as generational, especially because mid-rangers, by nature, face compromises that force manufacturers to skimp on certain parts of a smartphone to keep its price as low as possible. A mid-ranger truly needs to be special, so it can be undeniable rather than undesirable.

The POCO X5 Pro 5G is the Chinese brand’s latest attempt at bringing a game-changing smartphone to the ultra competitive segment. They’re branding the X5 Pro 5G as ‘The secret to win’, a device that will help students and young professionals succeed with whatever challenges they’re facing. 

It’s one thing to make a hefty promise, but it’s another thing to walk the talk. Does the POCO X5 Pro 5G stand and deliver, or is it just another self-proclaimed game-changer exposed as a wannabe flagship killer? 

Design: Puts the MID in midrange

 

Remember when I said that manufacturers tend to skimp on certain parts of a smartphone to keep its price as low as possible? Right out of the box, even without holding the phone, you already know where POCO decided to make its necessary sacrifices. 

Allow me to describe this design with a Gen Z word made popular by Long Island’s very best in professional wrestling: mid. The X5 Pro 5G’s design, is quite frankly, mid. It doesn’t stand out in the mid-range segment, nor, does it even impress for any unique personality quirks. You’d prefer to purchase a unique case for this so you wouldn’t hesitate to bring this out during parties.

Durability: A phone that will last through an Iron Man Match

POCO X5 Pro 5G

First impressions matter, but they aren’t everything. While the X5 Pro 5G isn’t for those looking for love at first sight, its choice of materials will leave you impressed in the long run.

This phone simply works. It clearly isn’t the prettiest phone, but pretty doesn’t always mean substantial. Plastic is still the most practical material for a smartphone, and POCO’s choice of plastics for the X5 Pro 5G hit the mark. It’s so durable, in fact, you could confidently use the phone without a case even when walking around the streets of Metro Manila. 

The X5 Pro 5G’s battery performance enriches its durability. During the review period, I had the opportunity of using the phone not only as my main daily driver, but also as my primary hotspot source during remote work situations. Even for extremely heavy users, this is a phone that can last you through the day. In rare cases when you’ll need to charge in the middle of the day, the X5 Pro 5G comes with a 67W charger out of the box (yes, they still have chargers out of the box! Big W here by POCO). 

Performance: Will have you feeling like a generational talent 

POCO X5 Pro 5G

Most manufacturers hope to position their mid-rangers as bang-for-you-buck devices that can bring flagship-level technology. It’s a hefty promise. Most brands tend to miss the mark, one way or another. 

Coming from a flagship daily driver, I was already expecting a drop in performance when the X5 Pro 5G came in. Right out of the box, to my surprise, it didn’t feel like there was any drop in overall performance. Even a week after, the X5 Pro 5G’s maintained the smoothness it came with from Day 1. POCO did not miss the mark.

The 120 Hz refresh rate certainly helped accentuate that feeling of smoothness, especially when going through daily social media scrolling. But even when testing with a relatively high-intensive game such as DB Legends, the X5 Pro 5G and its Snapdragon 778G processor went through the gauntlet with relative ease. Relative to other mid-range phones, that’s generational. 

Camera: Consistently colorful 

POCO X5 Pro 5G

There’s a common misconception that when you have more cameras, the better shots you’ll get. Having multiple cameras isn’t enough; choosing the right lenses and having software that processes shots properly matters even more. 

I’m happy to say that at the very least, POCO was able to choose the right lenses for its multi-camera setup. Supporting its 108MP wide camera is an 8MP ultra-wide lens and a 2MP macro camera. Other manufacturers have missed the mark by taking out the ultra-wide, but thankfully, POCO did not make that mistake. 

The ultra-wide lens performs relatively well too. The difference in quality between the main lens and the ultra-wide isn’t as drastic as you’d expect. It captures detail very well, and HDR is on point too. 

Users concerned about their social media image don’t have to worry. Its ultra-wide lens is good enough for your much-coveted Gen Z selfies. 

Performance outdoors is definitely better. There’s a noticeable drop in quality when taking indoor shots, but its nothing too criminal. 

Night mode on the X5 Pro 5G was decent too. On this shot of my very good friend’s jersey, it captured the details well, although there’s noticeable grain in the background. 

In terms of processing, the X5 Pro 5G comes out with consistently colorful shots, which is to be expected at this point. It ups the saturation to intense levels, and shadows can be overblown at times. It’s nothing too concerning, just something to consider before posting your photos on the ‘gram.

Is this your GadgetMatch? 

POC X5 Pro 5G

With an SRP of PhP 16,999, the POCO X5 Pro 5G presents itself with an intriguing list of features. At first glance it won’t impress, but its value as a smartphone is all about what’s under the hood. It’s a powerful device that gets the job done. Whether you’re a busy workaholic, a student who’s trying to survive through modern hybrid setups, or a gamer who wants to pick up endless W’s, the POCO X5 Pro 5G is a great choice to have if you’re looking for a weapon that will bring you victory in whatever battles you’ll face. 

The POCO X5 Pro 5G may just be better than you, and you’ll know it. Its design is mid, but everything else, you wouldn’t hesitate to call generational.

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Computers

Apple M2 Mac mini Review

More Affordable, More Powerful

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Apple silently revealed the 2023 M2 Mac mini to the world.

Back in 2005, the Mac mini G4 was the cheapest Mac you can buy for US$ 499.

Almost 18 years after, the Mac mini still is the cheapest Mac at just US$ 599.

That’s still a lot of savings versus buying a US$ 1299 iMac.

The biggest difference? The newest Mac mini runs two of the most powerful chips right now — the M2 and M2 Pro.

But is it actually the right Mac for you?

Watch our Apple M2 Mac mini review now!

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