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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?

Gaming

realme 6 review: Perfect gaming phone for the lockdown?

Let’s play to cope

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realme is stepping up to the plate with a new gaming phone with the realme 6. Was anyone particularly surprised? I was. But, before we get into the review, there’s no point avoiding the giant invasive elephant in the room whenever we talk about new releases. COVID-19 has drastically shifted our lives and has ultimately changed how we interact with everyone. It’s dramatically changed how we navigate our day-to-day.

Painful reality

But, reality still. For the most part, everything is in one enclosed space now. There’s no spatial separation between work, school, home, and play. Honestly, time has also probably warped since this entire thing hit the fan for most of us. We’ve probably lost track of time more than once in the entire year and it’s still just May.

Strap up, boys and girls, 2020 is a wild one.

Which brings me to something I personally find helpful in an anxiety-inducing time: playing games. Now, now, a bunch of gatekeepers have kept to their high horse over the ancient PC or console debate but, I think phones have a large new place in the argument.

Games, like most other art forms, rooted itself as a form of entertainment, a pass-time. Granted, a large industry grew from building competitiveness within the ecosystem, the point still stands. Games are for fun. Play it however way you like. It is still for your enjoyment or entertainment.

What’s this got to do with anything?

Things don’t exist in their own fantastical bubble. Don’t we just all wish it did though? I’d previously referenced how video games have had a significantly positive impact on my mental health. In a time where anxiety, depression, and manic attacks are at an all-time high, I think I don’t just speak for myself when I say having something for cognitive distraction or a twinge of healthy escapism is helpful and welcome.

Here’s where I timely segue into how the realme 6 played a quiet role in calming the daunting storm stirring in my head in most days.

A “gaming phone” how?

Okay, this phone sat in my apartment since the lockdown began and I’m not going to lie, the timing was a little strange. This year didn’t just start a mess, it proceeded to get worse and worse. From volcanoes erupting, forest fires, Kobe, and locusts, you could say the universe heard everyone’s posts testing how it could get any worse and slapped big ol’ corona into the mix.

That aside, I lucked out a bit with the Realme 6 with me since the lockdown began. With a Helio G90T processor, 90Hz refresh rate display, 8GB RAM and 128 GB storage and fast-charging 4,300mAh battery, you can only imagine the reckless abandon I had when playing new offline games during the quarantine.

The phone measures 6.5 inches and optimizes it with FHD resolution and Corning Gorilla Glass 5 to make sure that beauty stays protected. The Realme 6 doesn’t really disappoint.

It delivers on all those specs and makes playing games look stunning. It’s so good that when you’re a little manic and need some cathartic kills, there’s honestly nothing wrong with hopping into a game and getting some frags.

Not just a gaming phone

Here, we talk about the things we didn’t ask for but, obviously things the phone delivers on without being asked of. The realme 6 is a pretty impressive phone. It delivers on all fronts relating to gaming and even the battery life can hold up to more than eight (8) hours of play and use.

But, that isn’t what makes the realme 6 a phone. We can call it a convenient handheld with everything so far but it has a decent set of cameras worth mentioning.

The cameras

The Realme 6 has a 64MP Quad camera with a 16MP in-display selfie camera. It’s got Super Nightscape 2.0 for low-light shots, Ultra Image Stabilization, 120fps Slow-Mo Selfie, and Real-Time Bokeh Video.

I went out to test these features and they deliver. The photos below are pretty telling of my uneventful lockdown lifestyle so dial it down on dissing the silly still shots.

Selfie, ta-dah!

Nit-picking the little things

If there’s one silly downside though, the phone does struggle to focus on moving objects. And, if there’s one petty thing I personally am not a fan of, it’s notches and in-display selfie cameras.

No jabs at realme for that one though, that’s all me. Anything blocking even the tiniest part of any display just throws me off and reminds me of the Zima Blue episode in Love, Death, and Robots.

Sometimes, it’s not a design flaw; sometimes, it’s just a depressive lunatic associating a tiny round in-display camera to the void of her own existence.

Is the realme 6 your GadgetMatch?

If you’re looking for the perfect phone to play and keep yourself sane with progressive quality lockdown selfies and photos, this is the phone for you. It lets you play, keep sane, and gets through a full day of use quite easily.

If you’re looking for a phone that delivers on stunning gameplay, performance, and lots of storage while having uncompromised camera features, this is definitely the phone you’re looking for.

Real talk real quick though, I think the realme 6 was the perfect lockdown companion. There’s been many a time where I found myself stirring some random crap up and I needed a moment of just disconnecting to ironically come back more connected. Some paradox of an existence we all have, huh.

The realme 6 — a successor of the realme 5 Pro — is available in 4GB RAM + 128GB storage for PhP11,990 and in 8GB RAM + 128GB storage variant for PhP13,990. It can be purchased online on the official realme Lazada store.

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Gaming

One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 review: A fun beat’em up

Relive the story without having to replay hundreds of episodes

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Have you ever wanted to play as your favorite One Piece character while mowing through mobs like a one-man army? Then One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 is for you.

This game from Omega Force incorporates One Piece’s well-loved story and characters with gameplay from the Dynasty Warriors franchise — the property that the developer is most known for. This is the fourth installment in the series and is the follow-up from the 2015 One Piece: Pirate Warriors 3.

It adds more to the story, some game elements, and the most noticeable is the character roster that’s massive compared to previous entries. It’s available in Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and Windows platforms.

Simple game modes

One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 has three modes: Dramatic Log, Free Log, and Treasure Log. Dramatic Log is where all of One Piece’s story so far. It’s crammed into ten plus hours of chapters and episodes which is no easy feat especially for a long-running series like this one.

While the efforts are commendable, a casual fan who hasn’t closely followed the manga or anime would have more questions than answers. I can understand that this game is geared towards One Piece fans. Anyone who has read the manga up to the latest chapter or watched the latest episode of the anime should have no trouble keeping up.

Free Log is where you can go back to the episodes you’ve already cleared in Dramatic Log with any unlocked character. The last mode, the Treasure Log, is where you go through missions to gain materials for upgrades. Some characters can be unlocked by completing a certain number of missions in this mode.

One Piece Pirate Warriors 4 also has a multiplayer feature. You can play co-op with other players to aid you in your missions. Luckily for me, it didn’t have the connectivity issues that frustrated me in Monster Hunter World: Iceborne. Unlike in that game, it’s easy to join other players’ sessions as long as they’re available.

Most characters can be unlocked by progressing through the Dramatic Log while some others by meeting certain conditions.

Unapologetically a beat’em up game

Pirate Warriors 4 is an action-adventure beat ‘em up game. That means you get to through hordes of pirate or navy lackeys like an absolute badass until the boss shows up. You go through main missions with mini objectives sprinkled here and there. These include eliminating certain characters or protecting allies from getting their HP reduced to zero.

Stronger enemies have armor gauges under the HP bars that are needed to be depleted in order for you to inflict damage. Controls are easy to get a grasp of: two buttons for attack, one for dashing/dodging and one for jumping.

I started the game mindlessly mashing the buttons until I found out my favorite button combinations through experimentation. I learned later that the moves list can be found in the menus with enough digging.

One thing I found challenging was controlling certain characters that are naturally airborne. It can be hard to hit grounded enemies when you can’t control your character’s elevation and have to wait until when you’re just hovering above ground.

This is one of the reasons why I shied away from using Luffy’s 4th gear form or Sanji unless I’m required to in Dramatic Log. Using the camera lock on stronger enemies like bosses alleviates this a bit but the controls still require a bit of a learning curve.

The game also allows for customization options. By earning the required materials and enough of the in-game currency, you will be able to upgrade your character’s stats, skills, and special moves.

There’s a common attribute and skill tree that can be used by all characters. Then there’s also character-specific ones that can be unlocked once that character reaches a certain level.

Thanks to my usual habit of hoarding in-game materials, I didn’t bother with this until later on in the story where I noticed that I’m not dealing enough damage and the missions are becoming more time-consuming. I breezed through the rest of the story after upgrading my offensive capabilities.

You can upgrade your attributes and even gain skills and specials. The Beginning Map applies to all characters while there are maps specific for characters.

A fun way to recap One Piece

One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4  lets you relive the story without having to replay hundreds of episodes of the anime. Beating up hordes of enemy pirates as your favorite character from the series while feeling like a one-man army just feels great.

I found it time-consuming at first but once you’ve upgraded your stats, you can easily sneak in a round or two during your short breaks. The menu layout requires a bit of digging to find what you want or need (like reviewing the objectives or your moves list) and some controls can use a little improvement.

I enjoyed playing One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 and I’m sure a bonafide One Piece fan would feel at home. Now, it’s  time to pick up the manga so I can be filled in with the things I missed in the story.


This game was reviewed on a PS4 by Lance Aquino. He juggles multiple hobbies while working in the BPO industry. Outside of gaming, he mostly tries to learn how to draw and write short stories that are often inspired by the anime or manga that he watched or read.

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Philippines

realme 6i review: You gain some, you lose some

Finally, a budget device with a USB-C

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realme had been busy over the past years in making feature-packed smartphones at an affordable price. The realme 5 series last year is compelling evidence that the company nailed it in this regard. That series alone was one of the most sold in the Philippines. Now, Realme is keen to capitalize on its success with the new realme 6 series.

The first device in the series is now officially available in the country. realme 6i builds on the popularity and success of realme 5. Almost everything that made the realme 5 successful makes a return 0n the 6i. There are some aspects too that got improved. But is it enough to be a worthy successor to the realme 5?

That question alone bears a significant impact on how successful this device. realme 6i is once again competing for a spot on one of the best budget smartphones list. Let’s find out how the device 6i fares against the competition.

A polarizing design on the back

Right off the bat, the design of the realme 6i stands out like on the realme 5. This time around, the gradient pattern on the back is different. When hit by light, the back of the device gives a grill-like pattern. The new design pattern is surely polarizing. Some will love it, but others may not. I fall in the latter.

It comes in two colors: Matcha Green and Milk White. Sure enough, if you saw the realme 6i in press renders, you’ll be forgiven for imagining your favorite drink too. In real-world usage though, the colors are much more subdued than what Realme wants you to see. I have the Matcha Green on hand and it looks more like the color of a leaf to me.

It is easy to handle the device despite its large size. Also, you won’t feel that the device is made out of plastic. realme 6i is well-made, and it can trick you into thinking that it’s made from aluminum.

Moving over to the front, you still get a waterdrop notch up top and narrow bezels all-around. The power button is still on the right, and the volume controls are on the left. If there’s one big change this year, that will be the new USB-C port on the bottom. Finally, a budget device with a USB-C. And, there’s still a headphone jack on this device!

Vibrant but dim screen

There’s nothing to write home about realme 6i’s display. It carried over the display from its predecessor. As such, you still get a 6.5-inch 1600 x 720 IPS LCD screen. You won’t notice the individual pixels on this phone and the colors are vibrant enough for HD videos. However, it can’t compare to an OLED screen. On my OnePlus 6T, colors are much more vibrant and saturated. Granted, this is a lower-res screen, but putting an OLED there could have helped in making the display much more true-to-life.

The notch above the display is small that you don’t notice it on day-to-day usage. Plus, the display is almost near the sweet spot of 21:9, so you can use two apps side-by-side comfortably if that’s your fancy.

There’s a major problem with the display though. The maximum brightness of this device is not enough for a comfortable outdoor viewing experience. On a sunny day, I can’t even read the text and see the content on my screen. I don’t know if this is a software or a hardware issue. realme has to fix this problem urgently in the future.

Zippy performance for everyday use

The realme 6i flies through daily tasks. There’s a Helio P90 processor powering the device which is more than enough for day-to-day use. I didn’t notice any lag while browsing the web, peeking through Reddit threads, and viewing my Messenger conversations. Suffice to say, it’s more than capable and can confidently handle any task you throw at it.

Gaming’s a mixed bag, though. For graphics-intensive tasks, the device struggles a bit. When I played the relatively-obscure but polished clone of Minecraft — Survivalcraft — the frame rates dropped to an unacceptable three FPS after setting off multiple explosions. I recommend toning down the graphics a bit if you want to play modern graphically-intensive games.

realme’s own twist to Android 10 is a bit polished, but you can’t help but notice its similarity to iOS and OneUI. However, to distinguish its own OS, it added a few niceties that anyone will surely appreciate in their day-to-day usage. You can customize the navigation gestures and even tweak the icons if you like. Realme UI has come a long way, and overall, I like the coherent design of the icons and the system.

However, that’s where the good side ends. Personally, there’s a lot of performance drawbacks that I experienced on the realme 6i. Chief among them is loads of bloatware on this thing. Right out of the box, I get the Agoda, Opera, Lazada, Facebook, Trip.com, and Webnovel app. I don’t need these apps, along with realme’s own app store that annoyed me every time I install an app from the Google Play Store. Fortunately, I can disable or uninstall these apps.

There are gesture bugs and touch input delays too. I can’t count the times I had to double-tap or even triple-tap a button on the bottom of the screen because the screen can’t recognize my touch.

Decent all-around cameras

Now onto the tricky part: the camera. realme 6i’s camera takes decent photos if there’s enough light. The photos taken on this thing showed punchy colors and enough details to make it usable for day to day use. On the photos below, I can commend Realme 6i for getting the colors of the foliage right. What I liked most about this photo is how it gets the bokeh right:

And since pizza’s one of the comfort food we miss during the lockdown, we had a pizza delivered right into our house. Look at how the realme 6i nailed the colors green and red bell peppers, white onions, and the bits of meat.

However, I put the emphasis on decent photos: if you really are nitpicking, you will notice that the photos are a bit muted and dull. Take this photo, for example:

The leaves on the tree turned out nice. However, looking over to the house, I can definitely tell that the color is washed out. In real life, the color is much more vibrant than what realme 6i wants you to believe. The house has a much vibrant pink to it. The issue here could be blamed on getting the white balance wrong.

Turning on the HDR helps to boost the colors a bit. Some details are also recovered too. I recommend turning on the HDR on shots with contrasting scenes like this one to make the photos a bit nicer to look at.

The camera of the realme 6i starts to show its limitation on dimly-light environments too. There’s a night mode on this device to help it capture better photos at night. However, just avoid taking a photo at night since it tends to capture blurry photos.

The camera also had different shooting modes to meet your needs. There’s Panorama mode and Ultra Macro mode so you can take landscape and close-up shots. Personally, I find them useful in certain scenarios, but photos taken with these modes sometimes lack detail with washed-out colors and blurred details.

The shots taken on the front-facing camera of the Realme 6i is fine for social media posts. However, when you look closely at the photos below, you’ll see that the colors are a bit washed-out. The camera tends to smoothen out my face, which is a result of the beauty filter turned on by default. The camera app itself has settings to “beautify” and tweak your face appearance, which is nice for people like me who always have pimple break-outs.

Humungous battery that charges quickly

The battery on this device remains at a massive 5,000mAh. That alone will give you solid two-day battery life for normal use cases. However, if you heavily game on the realme 6i, expect to last only a day. Either way, it is a solid battery champ.

Even better, this device now has a quick-charging feature. realme 5 doesn’t have that feature and as a result, you have to wait for hours just to recharge. With the quick-charging feature, I can just plug the Realme 6i and wait for two hours to go from 20% to 80%. It’s not exactly the fastest, but other devices in the budget segment don’t have this feature yet. So, this is a win-win for users and Realme itself.

Is the Realme 6i your GadgetMatch?

The realme 6i really tries its best to offer the features that made the realme 5 a fan-favorite. In some aspects, it even tried to one-up its predecessor by including new features that really matter to consumers. And I love what realme did this year: they offered fast-charging on their budget device and they even bundled a USB-C. Granted, there are some drawbacks to this device, but they are minor complaints that you won’t notice or can be remedied in future software updates.

Perhaps the one thing that will make you consider this device is the price: the 3/64GB storage retails at PhP 7,490 while the 4/128GB storage retails at PhP 9,490. Combined with the features it has, the realme 6i can be your next GadgetMatch.

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