Reviews

Huawei Mate 20 Pro review: Almost too much

Filled to the brim

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When I first got my hands on the Mate 20 Pro, I wondered to myself: Where do I even start?

Even after spending over a month with the phone and checking out its less feature-packed sibling, I still can’t help but be amazed by how much tech Huawei jammed into this thing.


It’s not even debatable; comparing the Mate 20 Pro to any other phone released this year would make the opposite side look stale. Inside and out, this is the most complete smartphone ever assembled.

Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. While Huawei focused so hard on one-upping its fiercest rivals, some old weaknesses showed up and new issues arose in the process.

Going through every single feature would be too much for a single article, however. I could easily surpass the monstrous word count of our iPhone XS review if I were to get overly thorough and technical.

Instead, it’s best to evaluate the Mate 20 Pro by its most impressive, as well as its most jarring, traits. Let’s begin with the usual: design.

I honestly wasn’t a fan of the stove-top arrangement of the rear cameras and excessively thick notch in front, but they eventually settled into my taste and I realized the purposes they served.

In short, I don’t have to deal with an awkward camera bulge on the rear, and the faster, more secure face login became a great alternative to the intuitive yet comparatively slow under-display fingerprint reader.

I also wasn’t interested in the curved edges at first, but I eventually missed them when switching to flatter phones. The way the curves mold into my hand and give that overflowing feel are actually more comfy than what I experienced on the Galaxy Note 9, which has a thicker and more unwieldy feel to it.

And despite the larger size, the proportions feel more ergonomic than the P20 Pro’s. In addition, the Mate 20 Pro’s Twilight gradient is a lot more appealing to me. It may be personal taste, but I’ve had a handful of people express the same opinion.

On the downside, the audio port is missing — something the regular Mate 20 has — and I find it strange that one of the stereo speakers has to come out of the USB-C port. This easily gets blocked when using the phone horizontally, especially when I forget that Huawei decided to place it there of all spots. It’s a sore point coming from the front-facing implementations of the Razer Phone 2 and Pixel 3.

Oh, and there’s an IR blaster in case you want to control your TV. Strange to see it on such a premium device, but I guess there’s a market for this, and maybe for those who like messing with televisions on display at the mall.

The 6.39-inch AMOLED screen itself is gorgeous. Colors pop and I love the super-dense 1440p resolution. Combined with the loud speakers and fast processing of the Kirin 980 chip, both video watching and gaming are a pleasure on this phone.

On that note, Huawei’s latest chipset is a marvel on its own. The 7nm architecture is no joke; it’s speedy AF and doesn’t overheat under pressure. Seriously, I threw the most demanding games at it and multitasked in between — nothing fazes it. It helps that I got 6GB of memory and 128GB of storage to play with. On the downside, the latter can only be expanded by Huawei’s (for now) proprietary NM Card slot. More on that here.

It’s a shame then that the EMUI skin is so behind compared to other interfaces. The Mate 20 Pro is one of the first phones to come with Android 9 Pie out of the box, but aside from a few additions like Digital Balance (the equivalent of Google’s Digital Wellbeing) and better volume controls, it’s a lot like Huawei’s clunky older software.

For one, you still need to tap an icon from the home screen to open the app drawer. This is one of the few skins that still makes you do that; others have a more intuitive swipe-up gesture to free up space on the app dock.

Want to activate your camera by double-pressing the volume down button while listening to music? Good luck with that, because doing so will simply lower the volume of your tunes. Again, other phones require a smarter double-press on the power button.

Another thing: I don’t adore the Mate 20 Pro’s always-on display. It’s nowhere near as informative as the ones found on the Galaxy or Pixel series. Sure, you’re provided with the date, time, and battery percentage, but getting a glimpse of notifications is frustrating at times, making me just go to the lockscreen to see what I’m receiving.

In addition, this has to be one of the weakest implementations of gesture navigation. Apple pioneered this style with the iPhone X, wherein you could swipe from the bottom to go to the home screen and hold it to enter multitasking; several Android manufacturers have copied this well, but Huawei didn’t get this right. Choosing the traditional back-home-app navigation bar alleviates this issue, but then you lose some of that precious real estate at the bottom.

Finally, there are certain apps — Google Photos and Maps, in particular — which have this awkward lag on EMUI. I’ve experienced this with the P20 Pro, and the problem still hasn’t gone away. I looked it up and it’s not an isolated issue.

The disconnect between the quality of hardware and software should’ve been resolved long ago. It’s reasons like this why people flock to iPhones and Pixels so easily, because they know that everything melds together so well, despite the lack of certain features. Huawei still has time to fix most if not all of these issues, but having seen no improvement on the P20 Pro after all this time, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Cons aside, the added features are excellent, albeit excessive at times. One is the wireless reverse charging, which allows you to charge other Qi-enabled devices on the Mate 20 Pro’s back. It’s slow and part of a rare usage case, but it’s so cool to have when absolutely needed. Since the phone’s generous 4200mAh battery lasts two days anyway, it’s perfectly fine to share some juice with accessories like a smartwatch.

And because the capacity is so hefty, it’s only right for Huawei to enable 40W charging on this beast. This is by far the most convenient way to fill up a battery on any Huawei phone. It’s no exaggeration that it takes only half an hour to hit 70 percent from zero. Give it another 40 minutes, and you have a full charge. Going back to anything slower has been a pain for me.

Reaching this point without talking about camera quality is a clear sign that the Mate 20 Pro is more than the sum of its pixels. At the same time, they’re a highlight of the phone and must be reviewed extensively.

You can learn more about the complex camera setup in our earlier hands-on, but in essence, the trio found on the back are what you should care most about. These are the 40-megapixel f/1.8 main shooter, 20-megapixel f/2.2 extra-wide camera, and 8-megapixel f/2.4 telephoto unit capable of optical zoom.

This translates into the most versatile cameras ever equipped on a smartphone. LG and ASUS popularized ultra-wide lenses while Apple and Samsung made telephoto shooters a thing, but it’s Huawei spearheading the complete package.

The monochrome sensor will be missed; it was Huawei’s signature feature up until the P20 Pro, but one can argue that it’s no longer necessary in this age of IG filters and colored sensors becoming advanced enough to create their own high dynamic range.

Traveling with this phone as my all-in-one camera is such a joy. When out in an open space, the ultra-wide-angle camera flourishes; while at an event in need of close-ups, the telephoto looks great up to 3x zoom — even 5x if lighting is enough.

Like the overall interface, the camera software is hit or miss. Although I appreciate the ease of switching between the primary modes, the dump of less-important ones under “More” bothers my organized self. You could leave Master AI on to let it choose the right mode for each situation, but it’s not that accurate, like any AI-powered camera you find these days.

For example, as I’m about to take a portrait in Auto mode, the app would switch to — you guessed it — Portrait mode and saturate the hell out of my subject after a short amount of lag. More often than not, the AI wouldn’t correctly identify the subject, sometimes even saying that black-and-white graffiti on a wall is a panda. Go figure.

The worst part is you can’t make adjustments after the AI-altered shot is made, which is something even lower-end Honor phones can do. Again, it’s hit or miss, and I bet a lot of users would rather keep Master AI off. Using it, however, is the fastest way to access special features like Super Macro, which emulates a macro lens’ extreme close-up of an item.

Huawei’s awesome Night mode is also back, and it’s as good as it ever was. Every time I’m out in the evening, I make sure to take a few shots with it on. Like before, it gives me a four-second or so exposure while handheld; advanced processing then creates a work of art nine out of ten times.

I had a chance to compare it with the Pixel 3’s Night Sight, and I must say that the results are mixed. While the Huawei side is better at making nighttime illumination look pretty, the Pixel 3 can see better in total darkness. Both are great, and I take low-light photos with both phones whenever I can. Don’t worry, a separate article for this comparison is in the works.

The front has the same, unimpressive 24-megapixel f/2 camera found on the P20 Pro. Why Huawei chose not to improve on this weak point is beyond me. With most Chinese rivals taking selfies seriously, it’s a surprise why the Mate 20 Pro feels so far behind.

Like the P20 Pro, selfies with this setup are less than stellar. Without proper autofocus or accurate blurring around the subject’s head, your face can turn into a mushy mess under poor lighting conditions and there isn’t even a way to turn off the integrated beauty mode — something which has bothered several reviewers including myself.

Still, I found the Mate 20 Pro’s selfies better than what the iPhone XR and Galaxy Note 9 produce, but not on the level of the Pixel 3 and its dual-cam design. I can only wish that the next Huawei flagship will up its self-portrait game in the same way the rear cameras have.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

In spite of all my complaints, nothing’s a real deal-breaker. The absolute completeness of the Mate 20 Pro automatically places it at the very top of the heap, awarding it our GadgetMatch Seal of Approval.

If you can ignore the lack of software optimization and polarizing design choices, you’re guaranteed to experience the best there is — this side of the Android space at least.

For those choosing between this and the regular Mate 20 or P20 Pro — which retail for the same amount in most regions now — I’d say go for the Mate 20 Pro if you value the front camera features and in-display fingerprint sensor. Its screen is also more impressive than the Mate 20’s, and the Kirin 980 chip blows away the P20 Pro’s older Kirin 970.

At the same time, the US$ 1,000 or so price point pits it against the likes of the Galaxy Note 9 and iPhone XS. To Huawei’s credit, the Mate 20 Pro is no incremental upgrade compared to the two aforementioned flagships. You’re getting a true successor with all the bells and whistles — practically no compromises this time.

If you’re willing to wait, the follow-up to the super-popular P20 Pro will reveal itself in a few months. It’ll likely have the same Kirin 980 processor, but the camera updates may be more significant and the overall software more optimized.

Laptops

ASUS VivoBook X412F Review: A great midrange option for work and school

For those who need a fresh start

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Not everyone can afford a premium device. Even if the specifications entice you to buy that nice laptop, the ultimate decision point is in its price and value to you. Parents and young professionals starting a new job would know.

ASUS regularly comes up with great midrange selections for students and young professionals. That seems to be what the ASUS VivoBook X412F is: an all-around midrange device for productivity and day-to-day tasks. But if you’re currently a student or working full-time, should you consider this device?


Here’s a rundown of the device’s specifications:

It has a 14” HD anti-glare display

It’s powered by an Intel Core i3 processor and an NVIDIA MX230 graphics card

It comes with both a USB Type-A and Type-C port

Has a fingerprint reader on the touchpad

It gets the job done for its intended purpose

The model I used came with an Intel Core i3 processor, which won’t deliver great performance on paper. But after using it for a while, I can say that it really isn’t the case. It kept up with the numerous tasks I threw at it, whether it was writing documents or watching videos. Do take note that this device only comes with 4GB of RAM, so obviously you won’t be able to do a lot more.

It also helped that it comes with a 256GB solid state drive installed. Using SSDs provide a significant boost in loading times, which allowed me to get more tasks done. I would still prefer to have the more powerful Intel Core i5 option installed to maximize performance.

You can play games on it, just don’t push it

The VivoBook X412F comes with an entry level NVIDIA MX230 graphics card. Upon reading this, my initial thought was that gaming was possible — and it was. The catch is, well any game that doesn’t require so much graphical power will run smoothly. Games like CS:GO, Minecraft, and Rocket League do reach a hard 50 to 55 frame per second cap.

But like any other non-gaming laptop, using this strictly for gaming is highly discouraged. This device was not exactly designed to be a gaming machine, even if you get the units with more powerful processors on it. Plus, you will definitely feel the heat on your keyboard when you play for too long. So, I’m not saying that you can’t use it to play games; don’t use it just to play games.

It lasts relatively long, as long as you’re using it properly

Upon initial testing, I did get around five to six hours on one full charge. It’s long enough for you to just browse the internet, watch a few videos or movies, and type down reports. Doing some form of photo or video editing decreases that number by just a bit. It took two to three hours to fully charge the device from zero.

Battery life when playing games on it is just what you expect it to be. I got close to two hours and 30 minutes before having to plug the charger. Again, you can play games on this device but it’s not meant for strictly just gameplay. 

The webcam is surprisingly decent

One of the key critiques I’ve had over most laptops centers around their webcams. Most built-in HD webcams, when used for the first time, are not as “high-definition” as promoted. Images and videos either look blurry or grainy, which won’t help during conference calls.

With the VivoBook X412F, the webcam is decent at best — which is all you could really hope for. Under good lighting conditions, image quality on this 720p webcam feels more “high-definition” than most. I observed relatively less grain than most other laptops I’ve tried, which is great for video calls at least.

Other features worth considering before you buy

The VivoBook X412F comes with a fingerprint reader on the touchpad. Setting up Windows Hello was pretty fast, but I found the sensor to be pretty sensitive after. Even if I had already cleaned my fingers and wiped out the sweat, the sensor sometimes won’t read it.

It also comes with a chiclet keyboard without the number pad on the right side. Key travel, for me was decent and took just a short while to get used to. Sadly, it wasn’t backlit which I would have liked — especially for working late at night. 

Finally, you get what you can with its display. It’s only a 14-inch HD display, which doesn’t leave you much room for proper viewing angles and color accuracy. The one good quality it has, in my opinion, is that it’s an anti-glare screen. I used the device outdoors several times, and even at 70 percent brightness I could still see the contents of my screen.

Is the ASUS VivoBook X412F your GadgetMatch?

The ASUS VivoBook X412F is one device that truly caters to those who want an affordable yet premium experience. It comes in a package that promises great productivity and portability, and lasts a long time. It’s a total fit for students and young professionals looking for their first school or work laptop. Of course, that’s only the case as long as it is used for its intended purpose.

With a device like this, you can only do so much. While tasks such as photo, video editing, and gaming are possible, it proves to do more harm than good. If you really want to get the most value out of this laptop, I suggest you use it mostly for its intended purpose.At PhP 32,995 (US$ 629) for the 256GB + 4GB RAM unit, the ASUS VivoBook X412F is a great productivity device for work and school. That is, if you will use it for work or school-related activities.

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Philippines

Nokia 8.1 review: What took you so long?

Solid but feels dated

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There’s a Filipino song called “Bakit ngayon ka lang?”. Loosely translated, it means “what took you so long?”. The song talks about a missed romantic opportunity — of someone else coming along while you’re already committed to another. That’s almost exactly how I feel about the Nokia 8.1.

The phone — known in other markets as the Nokia 7X — was first announced in December 2018. A full seven months later, it arrived in the Philippines. And a lot has happened in those seven months.


Performance on par with midrangers today

Before I proceed, let’s get some of the specs talk out of the way. The device is powered by the Snapdragon 710 SoC along with 6GB of RAM with 128GB of internal storage which is expandable via a microSD card. That’s not bad. At all. It’s even near-flagship territory… in 2018.

One thing about the Nokia 8.1 though that will never feel dated is its OS. The phone is part of Google’s Android One program which means this is running Stock Android. If you like it vanilla — like a lot of purists do — then this is one of the phones that offer that clean experience. Right now it’s still on Android P, but if you’re feeling adventurous, you can side load Android Q beta as it is a partner device for Android’s developer preview.

Google cards are quite useful

The chip together with vanilla Android makes for a smooth and snappy experience. Most of the time I’m either just browsing or working on my phone and doing so on the Nokia 8.1 one was a very pleasant experience.

I have said this countless times but in case you’re new here, I don’t really play mobile games. The only time I ever really do so is when I have to test phones. On the Nokia 8.1 I only played Honkai Impact 3, which is a pretty graphics heavy game. The phone had zero trouble running the game and it looked especially stunning on the phone’s 6.18-inch PureDisplay screen (which we’ll get to shortly).

This means the phone will likely have zero problems running some of the most played games today like PUBG and Mobile Legends: Bang Bang. If you play these games with this phone and don’t get that Chicken Dinner or that MVP, then you only have yourself to blame.

A display sent from the heavens

The PureDisplay screen technology is really pulling its own weight. When Nokia said this phone offers a higher contrast ratio and sharper output, it felt like it was even underselling it. The screen is vibrant and the colors and images look sharp all without looking too saturated.

It doesn’t have any of that crazy 90hz or 120hz display that we’ll find on 2019 flagships, but dare I say, the Nokia 8.1 probably has the best display in its price point.

I hid that notch eventually

I’ve often found myself happily watching on this phone while slowly being sucked into the YouTube rabbit hole. Speaking of watching videos on this display, I opted to turn the notch off altogether. The notch still looks like the one present on the iPhone X which came out in 2017. It’s 2019 and personally, I’d rather have a full bezel than be bothered looking at that kind of a notch.

Watching vertical FanCams is great on this thing

That said audio on this thing is far from perfect but it’s passable. The sound it produces isn’t as full as I hope to hear from phones when in speaker mode, but you can remedy all that by plugging in headphones because our good friend jack is still present on this device. Listening on wireless earbuds also offer a nice experience.

The build screams premium

One of the first things I noticed about the Nokia 8.1 is its build. The body is built with 6000-series aluminum with an all-glass back. And it feels pretty darn expensive. So much so that I was wondering why it didn’t come with any case in the packaging.

At first I was really hesitant to bring this around due to the lack of a case, but over time, my hands have grown accustomed to the glass finish. And I feel blessed every single time I touch it. There’s something about the build in finish that just screams premium.

The fingerprint sensor is at the back. And it feels like a blessing every time I touch this thing

It’s not fragile at all though. Being the clumsy oaf that I am, I may have accidentally dropped this phone twice already. The phone sustained zero scratches and zero damages. This is one tough cookie.

Pretty darn good cameras

I have to come clean and say I never really had too many chances to take photos during the testing phase. I’ve mostly just been at my desk or in a conference room which aren’t really ideal for taking photos.

The second lens acts as a depth sensor

So for samples I just took some quick shots around my place using the ZEISS-powered 12- and 13-megapixel dual-cameras. Hopefully I find some time to get a life outside of work for the next review. If you know a girl looking for a date, feel free to hit me up. I don’t bite… unless? Anyway, check out the samples below.

Quick note, features like Pro mode and Bokeh are also present on the 20MP front-facing camera.

Is the Nokia 8.1 your GadgetMatch?

And so, here we are. I’ve had nothing but mostly nice things to say about the Nokia 8.1. For a phone that was launched in late 2018, it can still square up with several midrangers in 2019. But the price, therein lies the rub.

At PhP 19,999, it’s not crazy expensive. It’s just that for a few thousand pesos less, there are actually better options. It’s hard to justify this purchase when  phones like the Realme 3 Pro and Xiaomi Mi 9T exist — both of which came within the seven months that the Nokia 8.1 was nowhere to be found on the archipelago.

Calling the folks at Nokia to bring their phones to the Philippines faster next time

Sure, those don’t have the build that the Nokia 8.1 has but the Realme 3 Pro offers much of the same performance for a more affordable price. And the Xiaomi Mi 9T actually feels like a 2019 phone with its triple-camera setup and a pop-up camera that makes way for an actual full screen display.

If you’re a Nokia stan — and I know there’s a lot of you out there — I can’t fault you for wanting this device. I get it. It’s pretty nice. But it’s really just a little too late. Timing is everything. Both in love and in smartphone releases.

*plays “Bakit ngayon ka lang?

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Accessories

Traveling with the Moment Lens

Is the Moment lens a worthy travel buddy?

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Phone photos become our very own souvenirs whenever we travel. More than something we upload on social media, they’re pleasant memories we can flip through when we’re back to the reality and routine of our lives. As such, it pays to have beautiful shots of the landscapes and sights we visit.

Earlier in July, I went to Hokkaido, Japan. To help me achieve said beautiful shots, I had with me a Google Pixel 3 and an 18mm wide-angle lens from Moment. It was my first time using a Moment lens. If you’re not familiar with Moment, they make special phone cases that can be pimped up with lenses that help elevate the photos you take.


Is the Moment lens a worthy travel buddy? Yes and no.

It’s great for taking landscape shots

Any tourist attraction can be turned into desktop wallpaper with the wide lens.

You also get to see the bigger picture. There’s a certain splendor added to a façade when you capture it from a wider angle.

It’s handy for when there’s limited space

In one of the farms we went to, there was a veranda where we wanted to take photos. It was great for portraits but not for capturing my outfit. There was not much space for the person taking the photo to move back to, so we got help from the wide-angle lens to capture a wider perspective and a full body shot.

It’s a hassle 

While it’s easy to plug the lens onto the case, the extra step of looking for the lens inside the bag is a hassle, and ironically, takes you away from the moment you’re trying to capture. Imagine getting a stranger to take a group photo of you and your friends at a restaurant — everyone would be waiting for you to find the lens in your purse and attach it to the phone — it ruins the moment a little bit.

I can also do without the extra weight and the extra space it takes up in my tiny bag. A less rugged-looking case would also be nice.

The Moment lens does offer wonderful improvements to my vacation shots. If you’re particular about how artfully angled your shots are, you’ll find that a wide-angle lens is a great addition to your arsenal. However, if you’re like me who is content with what your camera phone has to offer, you may find the lens unnecessary. With the Google Pixel 3 and a little post-processing, I was actually able to get nice shots even without the Moment lens.

“Ironically, the Moment lens takes you away from the moment you’re trying to capture.”

Traveling means you have limited time to spend in a place. Make the most out of it with a device that has all the camera features you need. In 2019 there are already plenty of phones with built-in wide angle and telephoto features, from different price points that you might want to consider instead.

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