Reviews

Huawei Mate 40 Pro review: Hardware excellence

Held back only by political challenges

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If there’s one smartphone that Huawei’s best known for, it’s the photography-centric P Series line. It’s the phone that ushered in Huawei’s popularity and its one-time dominance of the smartphone space. But every second half of the year, the company is known to release a second smartphone — The Mate Series. In this instance, the Mate 40 series with the Mate 40, Mate 40 Pro, and Mate 40 Pro+.

The Mate 40 series is an update that brings along with it the industry’s leading features. Like in 2016 — when super-fast charging started to become a trend; or in 2017 — when we first heard about AI on mobile; and 2018 — the first time reverse wireless charging was seen on a phone.

Today we’re looking at the Huawei Mate 40 Pro. What new features does it bring?  Is it still the Android phone to beat?

Space Ring Design

The Mate 40 Pro’s design is pretty, attention-grabbing mainly because of this large circular camera bump. It’s reminiscent of a click-wheel iPod.

Huawei says it’s an evolution of the Halo Ring found on last year’s Mate 30. Called the Space Ring — it’s supposedly inspired by this first-ever photo of a black hole, reflecting Huawei’s spirit of exploration.

We prefer last year’s design. This one is a bit in your face. Although that’s probably because of the stark contrast with our Mystic Silver model.

The ceramic all-black model looks better in my opinion. Depending on your region there will also be Vegan Leather options available in Yellow and Green. And ceramic white.

Huawei is proud of this colorway though. It’s very similar to the Breathing Crystal P30 Pro — so much so that it changes color depending on where the light hits. Sometimes pink and yellow. Sometimes blue and purple. The finish though is matte instead of glossy.

It’s 6.76-inch OLED display is bigger than the Mate 30 Pro.  And as a result, the phone is too. It’s a much bigger phone than we expected. Not quite as big as the Note 20 Ultra but with a bit more heft to it.

Unique to this phone is a display that curves outward more than most phones, making it look like it has no borders on either side.

Instead of notch it’s got a punch hole for a selfie camera and a 3D sensor used for more secure Face Unlock. There’s also an under-display fingerprint scanner. Giving you two options to unlock your device. But do note that 3D Face Unlock is not as safe. For example it will work with a mask on.

It’s got the same red power button on its right hand side. And this year, Huawei brought back the volume rocker which it took away last year in favor of touch based virtual keys that let you tap on either side of the phone to bring up the volume slider. And swipe up and down on the frame to set control. This feature is still present on the Mate 40 Pro.

Stereo Speakers

We’ve seen it occasionally on other phones before, like the Mi 10 Pro from earlier this year. It’s really nice to see Huawei add stereo speakers on both sides to the Mate 40 Pro. Literally, there are speaker grilles on both its top and bottom.

Having audio come from both sides while watching a movie or playing a game makes the audio feel more immersive than just a bottom firing one. I can confirm that these are some of the loudest phone speakers I’ve tested recently. Not quite as loud as the LG V60. Huawei claims these speakers have stronger bass. But we didn’t notice it that much.

A leap in performance

The Mate 40 Pro is  the first Huawei smartphone — and possibly one of the last — to be powered by their new Kirin 9000 processor.  It’s a 5nm chip with an integrated 5G modem. Huawei says it has 15.3B transistors on it. 30% than the other 5nm chip Apple’s A14 Bionic.

Performance + Power Efficiency + Connectivity Vs  Snapdragon 865+ is as follows:  CPU 10% / 52% Faster  / NPU 2.4x Faster

Of course with any new chip there are bold statements about how much more powerful its CPU, GPU, NPU, and ISP are. And how much more battery efficient too. So no surprise that games run smoothly.

The phone’s got a 90Hz Display with a close to 4K panel. Huawei says this was intentional to deliver the best balance between battery life and performance. You can choose to have it dynamically switch between the two; or Ultra — having it on all the time.

Cinecamera

The Mate 40 Pro has a triple camera setup:

  • 50 MP, f/1.9, 23mm (wide), 1/1.28
  • 12 MP, f/3.4, 125mm (periscope telephoto), PDAF, OIS, 5x optical zoom
  • 20 MP, f/1.8, 18mm (ultrawide), PDAF
  • TOF 3D, (depth)

Let’s take a look at some samples. First its Main Wide Angle Camera.

No surprises here. Sunny day shots look great. No overblown highlights. Lots of details. Even the clouds are not mushy.

Of course, I love some creamy bokeh. And between its large sensor and fast f/1.9 lens you don’t need portrait mode for shots like this.

Speaking of portrait mode here’s one shot during the day and one at night. Both look great!

To gauge low light performance take a look at this colorful wall in between two buildings. The shot on the left was taken during the day. The shot on the right was taken at night without night mode.

Night Mode works with the Ultra Wide Angle lens ≠ I used it in this shot of the Brooklyn Academy of Music building.

But TBH it didn’t really need Night Mode. Here’s the same photo with night mode turned off.

Finally let’s take a look at the telephoto camera. I’m glad Huawei has scaled back on its efforts to zoom closer to 100X.

It’s 5X optical telephoto lens is sufficient.

As you can see in these 1x, 10x and 50x photos of the One Hanson Building in Downtown Brooklyn, you’ll find the 10X is still very good. While 50X is passable, but not something you’d post unless the subject was rare.

Two years ago the Mate blew its competitors out of the water with its ability to basically see in the dark. It’s interesting how competition has since caught up. The last few days here in New York have been rainy and gloomy so I have not been able to go out and test shoot some video.

Huawei says its Ultra Wide Cine Camera with its 3:2 ratio and XD Fusion HDR technology that lets you capture backlit video is a big improvement.

Finally the Mate 40 Pro has a 13MP ultra wide-angle selfie camera. With anti-distortion technology and Intelligent FOV finder which will detect if multiple people are in the shot and will adjust framing accordingly.

Whether they’re true to life or not, we love selfies taken on Huawei Phones.

When you first use portrait mode, you’ll be given the option to turn beauty mode on or off by default.  Here are some sample shots.

Battery & Charging

The Huawei Mate 40 Pro packs a 4400 mAh battery. In my few days reviewing the phone, it lasted me about a day and a half with average use. It also ships with a 66W charger out of the box. A very generous inclusion and possibly the fastest that comes bundled with a smartphone.

In my tests, I got to 33% in 10 minutes. 81% in 30.  A full charge from 0 took 55 minutes. The phone also supports Huawei’s optional 50W Wireless Charger.

Using this accessory. I got close to similar results: 26% in 10 minutes. 72% in 30. And a full charge in just a minute shy of an hour. (59 minutes)

As a point of comparison, Samsung’s Galaxy Note 20 Ultra comes with a 4500 mAh battery. And ships with a 25W Charger.

Got to 58% in 30 minutes. And 100% in 70.

The Note 20 Ultra only charges up to 15W wirelessly. With Samsung’s Wireless Charger. You can get to 22% in 30 minutes. And 100% in the double-time it takes to wireless charge the Mate 40 Pro. (120 minutes / 2 hours)

Emui 11 on a Mate

The Mate 40 Pro runs EMUI 11 based on Android 10. As EMUI 11 just rolled out, and given Huawei’s current relationship with Google this comes as no surprise.

One of my favorite software features the Mate 40 Pro is called Eyes on Display an improvement to the Always On Display feature on its phones. You know, when phone displays don’t dim all the way but show you the time, or date or a cool graphic.

To save on battery life Eyes on Display will dim the screen all the way. But will know when you’re looking at the phone. You don’t even need to move your head. Just move your eyes and look at the phone. And the Always On Display will turn on. It’s pretty cool I’ve gotta admit. Supposedly, this saves battery life as well.

Other cool features include smart gestures. New to the Mate 40 Series is being able to wave left and right to turn pages on an e-book or flip through photos in your gallery. Hands-free. But my favorite is the grab gesture to take a screenshot.

Is the Mate 40 Pro your GadgetMatch?

We hate that we’re in a situation where one of the world’s best smartphone manufacturers cannot compete on equal footing with the world’s best.

Huawei is doing its best to survive this political crisis, investing millions of dollars into its own App Ecosystem, it’s own operating System, and it’s own services like Petal Search and the upcoming Petal Maps.

But as it stands — one can’t overlook the lack of Google Play Services and how that affects the experience for everyday Android users.

And then there’s the fact that because of US restrictions — Huawei’s Chip Making Arm — responsible for the Kirin Processor might no longer be able to source the components it needs. Some fear Kirin 9000 might be its last hurrah.

There’s an uphill climb ahead. And hopefully there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

All these challenges aside, in a world where the lack of GMS wasn’t an issue. This is what we would have said about the Mate 40 Pro:

  • It’s a solidly-built, well designed smartphone.
  • We’re fans of the vegan leather options.
  • It’s an excellent flagship that balances performance, features and battery efficiency.
  • Its cameras are still excellent, but competition has finally caught up.
  • We think it’s fast wired and wireless charging features are game changing. And that in a world where more and more accessories are being left out of the box, it’s refreshing to get a 66W charger bundled.
  • And we think that its current price tiers starting at EUR 899/ PhP 55,999 is competitive vs the likes of Samsung and Apple.

In a perfect world, this phone would definitely be up there among the phones that we could wholeheartedly recommend. Here’s to hoping political challenges resolve themselves soon.

We are fans of Huawei phones no more than we are fans of Samsung Galaxies and Apple iPhones. But our stake in all of this is competition. Because that means more choice and better technology for us all.

The Huawei Mate 40 Pro retails for EUR 1199/PhP 55,999.

Gaming

NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139… Review

Playable Anime

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NieR Replicant

An earnest protagonist, a “tsundere” who’s also kind of there for fan service, an almost fourth-wall breaking character, and a world dealing with an underlying crisis; NieR Replicant ver. 1.222474487139 (which we’ll refer to as NieR Replicant henceforth) has all the elements of a wonderful anime. Except, it’s a game — one that goes out of its way to offer multiple types of play.

After getting through a single playthrough of NieR Replicant, I found that most of the things I said I liked in my first impressions (music, gameplay, combat, dialogue) were the ones that will endear me to the game even further.

Everything for your sister

As the protagonist, you play the role of a brother who will do just about anything and everything for your sister. The game starts off with you looking for a way to cure the mysterious illness that’s befallen your sister.

This is the main driving force of the main character. All his actions in the main storyline are all in the service of doing what’s best for his sister.

A memorable cast

Along the way you meet the rest of the main cast. This includes a magical, talking, floating book named Grimoir Weiss who serves as both a helpful ally and a backseat protagonist who never fails to point out the obvious in every situation in a way that almost feels like it’s being directed at the player.

You’ll also build a certain level of kinship with people in your town as well as key characters in every main area of the game. This includes the two other members of your party: Kaine and Emil — both of which also have interesting backstories which I will not spoil here. Just know that all these relationships and it resonates with you, the player, will determine much of what you’ll feel about the game’s story.

NieR Replicant

“Fan Service” Kaine

Dealing with loss

One thing that you will constantly encounter in the game is the feeling of dealing with loss. It already feels heavy on its own, but if I may step back a bit. Having to deal with loss in real life recently and feeling the collective grief of people in my circle also having to deal with the same just amplifies the general feeling of hopelessness and emptiness of experiencing loss.

This feeling, however prevalent in the game, is perfectly balanced by the injection of humor from Grimoir Weiss and the happy memories you have with the ones you’ve lost. Memories also play a part in key points of the story.

Multi-faceted gameplay 

Shifting the tone a little bit, the overall gameplay of NieR Replicant will keep you on your toes.

It’s not just a mindless hack and slash game. There are sections where it’ll turn into a 2D platformer with some sprinkles of puzzle solving.

The level designs are fantastic. One thing that stood out to me is how the Square Enix and Toylogic very intentionally frames certain levels. Since this is, after all, a sort of remake of game that was first released in 2010, it is free from the burden of giving the player full camera control. This results in beautifully framed scenes as you play.

There’s one particular area that reminds me of the camera work on the original Resident Evil games on the PlayStation One.

Later on in the game, you’ll enter a deeper portion of that area and it will give you an entire section of the game that looks and plays like Diablo II. 

These areas are all perfectly placed in different sections of the game that certainly adds to the overall pacing. It can feel draggy, especially when you’re doing side quests, but having levels and areas like this make it all better. Oh and yeah, take some time to do side quests, it’ll help with getting gold (the game’s currency), some useful items, and immerse you further in the game’s world.

Here’s a quick look at the combat in the early part of the game.

The music is just… *chef’s kiss

I’ve already talked about this at length in my first impressions. But even then, it would be a disservice to not mention it here again. The music in this game is just my cup of tea.

It’s the kind of music that really transports you into the game world. If you’ve ever had fantasies of being whisked away to a different reality, the music in this game is what you would imagine to be playing.

It perfectly evokes the proper mood in every area of the game. The main village gives off this “going on an epic adventure” vibe, the area filled with robots sound robotic, and the aforementioned Resident Evil-like area fills you with horror. You can even say it almost foreshadows the fate of some levels and locations. That’s how good the music in this game is.

You can listen to the 2010 versions of the music here. Bear in mind that most of these were re-done/re-recorded for NieR Replicant ver. 1.222474487139.

Should you play NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139… ?

Anyone who’s into narrative-driven games should give NieR Replicant a whirl. That’s also especially true if you’re an anime fan. It will feel familiar because of certain tropes, some fan service, and a time skip.

It’s a fantastic entry point into the whole NieR franchise. It will get you curious about the NieR world at large and will certainly make you want to explore or replay the 2017 hit game NieR:Automata. But of course, not before you give NieR Replicant ver. 1.22474487139… all the playthroughs it deserves.

NieR Replicant ver. 1.22474487139… is available April 23 on PS4, Xbox One, and PC on Steam.

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realme C25: Your budget content creation companion

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realme C25

During this pandemic lockdown, many of us maximized the advantages of being online and ventured into selling our products or creating vlogs and podcasts to keep us sane and productive.

In these unprecedented times, it is highly essential to have a smartphone that is reliable not just for your day-to-day activities but also for your digital content creation. 

And truly, realme commits to providing us with amazing options for that, such as their new follow-up to the C series, the realme C25.

For starters, let’s check out what this smartphone has in store for us.

Pleasing to your senses

Similar to realme’s budget gaming phone narzo 30A that they recently launched, the C25 flaunts a large 6.5-inch screen but with a 1600×720 display.

Despite it not being in full HD+, the phone’s resolution actually shows pretty accurate colors and good viewing angles. The screen has peak brightness of up to 480 nits which is already bright but could’ve used some improvement especially if you’ll be using it outdoors. 

Up front, you will notice the selfie camera at the center which is a bit intrusive for my taste. Luckily, the bezels surrounding the screen are not thicker than today’s standards.

realme C25

The C25 comes in Water Blue and Water Grey and I was actually glad to unbox the Water Blue variant since I can see the details clearer on the back cover.

When it comes to its construction, realme put this phone a notch above the rest. They processed it using the industry-leading German fixed-axis precise radium engraving machine, making the device more appealing, comfortable to the touch and less susceptible to fingerprints and smudges.

 You can also see its square camera setup cut-out and a rear-mounted fingerprint sensor at the upper middle part.

realme C25

While on the right side of the phone are its volume rockers and power button.

realme C25

Gives you enough space

As someone who is largely dependent on my phone for casual photos and preview for my shoots, one thing I really liked about the C25 is its large storage. You have 4GB of RAM on this phone and have two storage options, 64GB and 128GB.

And when you check the left side of the phone, you’d see that there are two nano SIM card slots and a dedicated microSD card slot to bring you more network and storage freedom as you can expand it by up to 256GB.

Snap and create

One big advantage of the realme C25 is that this is their first phone belonging to their C-series that features a 48MP AI-triple camera. Its camera setup consists of a 48MP primary camera, 2MP monochrome lens and  2MP macro lens.

realme C25

I tested all cameras and noticed that its main camera produced vibrant colors but isn’t very detailed. You can also notice the graininess on this photo.

As for its night mode, the camera produced decent exposures but its processing is not at par with flagship phones.

Its macro lens on the other hand, showed great details which would definitely be helpful if you have an online business and you’d be using your C25 to take shots of your products.

Power under the hood

One amazing feature about the realme C25 is that you can find the MediaTek Helio G70 processor at the core of this device, ensuring a powerful and swift performance for content creators and gamers alike, giving people another reason to compare it to its brother, the narzo 30A.

realme C25

Another big advantage of this phone is that it runs on realme UI 2.0 on Android 11, making its interface pleasant and easy to navigate.

Battery that you need

The winning feature for the realme C25 is that it is equipped with a whopping 6,000 mAh battery that can let you do your daily tasks, watch videos, play your games and even do your shoots for your content all day long without worrying.

On the first day that I had it, I fully charged the battery and left it open for 24 hours without much activity and its level just went down to 98%. For the next couple of days, I used it for my usual activities, and it just went lowbatt after 3 days.

This phone even has some helpful battery settings such as App Quick Freeze which can minimize your battery use by background apps, and Screen Battery Optimization that can tone down some of the phone’s display effects to save power.

realme C25

Complementing this huge battery is a 18W fast charger which can fully charge it in two hours. Another bonus is that despite it being a budget phone, the realme C25 has reverse wired charging in case you have an emergency and you forgot to bring a powerbank for your other gadgets.  

Unrivaled durability and reliability

Though in denial, I must admit I can be really clumsy that I tend to drop my phone or splash it with water from time to time. With the realme C25, I don’t have to worry too much about these situations as it is the first smartphone that passed TÜV Rheinland Smartphone High Reliability Certification. 

This means that this phone encompassed daily use test scenarios such as drop, wear and tear, extreme environment test scenarios and component reliability test scenarios based on the three- year life cycle of smartphones.

For realme to take this further step and invest on such an upgrade for the C25 definitely sets higher standards for other budget phones.

Is realme C25 your GadgetMatch?

This phone is really targeted for people on a budget but are looking for a smartphone with a high battery capacity, good cameras, performance, latest software and durable and reliable for your day-to-day tasks and content creation.

If all these features tick all the boxes on your checklist, then the realme C25 is definitely your GadgetMatch.

But if you’re looking for a smartphone with a better screen, faster charging and other camera features such as an ultrawide lens, you may opt for a higher end smartphone.

The realme C25 is available in Water Blue and Water Grey variants and is priced at PhP 7,490 for the 4GB RAM + 64GB internal storage and PhP 8,490 for the 4GB RAM + 128GB internal storage.  

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Balan Wonderworld review: A theater for young ages

Facing the reality behind the curtains

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Balan Wonderworld

Have you ever had those moments in your younger years that hurt you a ton? Have they also happened as you got older and a bit wiser? Such is life on our own planet Earth: full of ups and downs. With each moment, we learn new things about ourselves and from our own shortcomings to become better people. However, there are times when things get too overwhelming.

We all need an escape, no matter how young or old we might be. For the older ones, it’s having some time alone, watching movies or TV shows. With the younger generation, it’s playing video games or window shopping online. For our good friends Leo or Emma, their daring escape from their problems led them to the mysterious world of Balan Wonderworld.

I decided to give this game a shot, seeing as it’s one of those less-hyped titles from Square Enix. I want to know what it could offer to a semi-casual player like myself when I need stress relief. Also, Square Enix loves to draw you in with some lore in between to keep you hooked from start to end.

So, what exactly is happening here?

Balan Wonderworld starts off with a story that provides little context to the main characters. Essentially, you play as either Leo or Emma, two children experiencing some personal troubles. I decided to play as Leo mostly because his opening cutscene was him dancing on the street, which is quite relatable. Apparently, in Leo’s case, a group of equally skilled dancers took notice, but he just shunned them away for unexplainable reasons.

Eventually, he and Emma find themselves in this mysterious theater guarded by Balan, a magician-like figure. According to the game’s lore, the theater only shows up to those who are experiencing troubles in their lives. I guess you could consider Leo/Emma extremely lucky, but they’re also confused as to why they’re in the theater. A few moments later, they find themselves in a magical world behind the theater — essentially pulling a Narnia on you.

Balan Wonderworld

Leo in the Island of Tims

You may be wondering how all of this just happened, and I’m here to tell you that I have no idea. In its early stages, the game doesn’t explain to you a lot of details in hopes of putting the pieces of the story together. As I progressed through the story later on, I’m still trying to understand how these things happened. Not the kind of start I was expecting.

The simplest gameplay mechanic for Square Enix

After the intro cutscene, you find yourself on the Island of Tims, which is pretty empty to start. It’s mostly just grassland with some flowers, lakes, and bridges. Eventually, you will slowly rebuild the Tims Tower, which doesn’t seem that important initially. Part of the rebuild involves the inhabitants of the island: the Tims which aids you for the main completion quest.

Now, this platforming game features twelve Chapters, each with two levels and a boss fight. In all the levels, you only ever need to press one button to get through the entire game: the X button. See, every other button and trigger on your controller allows you to jump and platform around — something the X button does anyway. However, the X button is this game’s primary action button because of another gameplay mechanic.

Collect-a-thon Platformer

In each level, Leo/Emma will collect a set of costumes that grant them special abilities. From jump attacks to increased air time, these costumes allow you to explore the game’s vast stages to look for collectibles for completion. As mentioned earlier, almost all of the abilities are bound to the X button — something you don’t really see with Square Enix’s other prominent titles.

Balan Wonderworld

Some of the costumes you will collect throughout the game

Apart from the costumes, you will also collect Drops, Tim Eggs and Balan Statues in each stage. Collecting Drops allows you to grow your Tims to grant you boosts when playing every stage. Meanwhile, collecting a certain number of Balan Statues opens the next set of Chapters and worlds to explore.

As somebody who is fond of stage-by-stage platforming, this was pretty standard stuff even in an open-world setting. Personally, I found myself getting side-tracked with all the collectibles if I wanted to progress further into the game. However, it also makes the game roughly easy to breeze by when you’re not out to complete it. In essence, I felt it doesn’t motivate you enough to complete it 100 percent.

Uncovering your troubles and rising above them

Let’s tackle what I think is the main reason why you found yourself platforming in Balan’s magical world. I mentioned earlier that the character you control is going through some personal issues, and that the magical world showed up for them because of it. With each Chapter, Leo/Emma encounters people who also have undergone some life problems, as well.

Balan Wonderworld

One of the main boss fights in the game

Before each boss fight, a cutscene introduces you to the main story of each person you encounter in the Chapter’s stages. Essentially, it highlights the following aspects: how they started, the rise, and the fall (and eventual shift to the dark side). You are basically tasked to free these people from the Negati, a demon-like presence that is the manifestation of their troubles.

The happy ending in one of the early chapters of the game

After beating each boss, another cutscene starts that shows an epilogue of sorts, detailing the events that happened after you free people of the Negati. You see people get back on their feet, or become more open to other people about their interests. Also, each ending cutscene starts off with a performance with the AI versions of the costumes you collect. I found it quite cheesy and a little extra in some instances.

A game that doesn’t explain much when it should

Everything about Balan Wonderworld made me ask myself, “why is this all happening?” To be honest, I felt that nothing about the game was explained properly the moment you start playing. From the simplistic gameplay mechanic to the storylines in each chapter, it all feels like it lacks purpose. Furthermore, even your role in lifting these people up from their troubles isn’t explained properly.

While playing through this game, I got the feeling that this was intended for kids even if some of the issues tackled here applied to adults. In its raw gameplay alone, it’s simple to understand and easy to navigate that even five year olds will get through the mechanics easily. The collect-a-thon element only somewhat adds a level of depth to the overall gameplay.

Gameplay mechanics aside, the entire story behind Balan Wonderworld just happens with little to no context or purpose. You aimlessly go into each Chapter, uncover the story behind each character, beat the demon inside them, and they’re freed of the negativity inside them. If you’re a child playing this game, it’s something that you’ll enjoy. As an adult, however, it doesn’t do much to draw you in for long.

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