Reviews

Huawei Mate 9 review: Does it get faster?

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The Mate 9 has a lot going for it, from the large 5.9-inch display to the incredible battery life, but there’s one feature Huawei is most proud of: machine learning to make the phone faster the more you use it. Does it really work, though?

After unboxing the Mate 9 and praising it as one of the best premium phones of early 2017, we’re now reviewing it the way it’s meant to be reviewed — by spending three months with it and letting it learn our usage behavior for a more optimized experienced.

Even with the release of the P10 — which we enjoyed using, by the way — the Mate 9’s design still holds up. It’s just as fancy-looking now as when we first unboxed it:

The specifications and features aren’t outdated by any means, either. Its Kirin 960 processor is the same one found in the newer P10 and P10 Plus, the 4GB of memory continues to be the standard for all things flagship, and its battery life lives up to expectations; more on those later.

Of course, with extended use, you truly get a feel of how a phone performs once the new gadget smells subsides. We’ve come up with nine review notes now that the Mate 9 grew accustomed to us, and vice versa.

You don’t really notice the machine learning take effect

The biggest gripe of any long-time Android user is the gradual performance decline after a few months or even weeks of use. This is caused by apps hogging more and more of the phone’s resources through time and software updates prioritizing cosmetic features and security patches over actual performance tweaks.

Huawei combated these effects by equipping the Mate 9 with machine learning to make sure everything runs smoothly no matter how old it gets. Does it actually work? So far, yes, but we can’t say for sure since there haven’t been many software patches since launch and we’re kind of responsible with our app downloads in the first place — no pointless virus scanners or “memory cleaners” for us.

With that, we’re still glad this feature is around. We did notice our usual software, consisting of social media and productivity apps, opening up faster than apps we use less often. We even tested how many simultaneously running apps it would take before the Mate 9 crashed. The answer is 50 — not bad!

Its camera does the trick, but it’s not the best

We already went ahead and compared the Mate 9’s Leica-infused dual-cameras and selfie shooter against all its rivals last February, and the results were so-so. With just a single win in 12 categories, it’s not exactly a leader in its class, but it gets the job done.

I believe the problem lies in its use of the dual-camera setup. While it does well enough for standard photos on Auto settings, using the secondary lens for artificial background blur didn’t really do it for me. As mentioned in our review of the Huawei GR5 2017, this bokeh mode feels gimmicky, and would be better off set aside.

Battery life lives up to its claims

Do we have any complaints about its massive 4000mAh battery? None at all! If anything, it may be the Mate 9’s standout feature, even more than the machine learning and Leica cameras Huawei loves to boast. Using the handset constantly for an entire day leaves us with enough juice for the next day. Getting over five hours of screen-on time is expected here.

Fast charging is actually fast

Our only concern with such a hefty battery is the charging time; it’s natural for larger capacities to take a long time to fill up (right, Xiaomi?). Fortunately for us, Huawei’s SuperCharge technology is no joke. The bundled fast-charger can bring the Mate 9 from zero to full in a little over two hours. Doesn’t sound that great compared to other phones, but when you take the larger battery into consideration, this is more than satisfactory.

There’s no learning curve

Huawei is getting better at cleaning up its Android interface called EMUI. Now on Nougat 7.0, the Mate 9’s skin doesn’t deviate from stock Android as much as before, and even gives you the option to bring back the app drawer, rather than have all apps on your home screens like on iPhones. It’s still not as pretty as Samsung or Google’s take on Android, but it’s heading in the right direction for once.

It definitely feels too big

There’s no getting around it: 5.9 inches of phone is literally a handful. Making matters worse is the recent release of the Galaxy S8+ and LG G6, which have redefined pocketability for large-screen phones. The Mate 9 is massive, takes two hands to handle in most cases, and gets even bulkier when the bundled case is installed.

The fingerprint scanner is typical Huawei

Huawei makes the best fingerprint scanners. Rival companies Vivo and OPPO have been on a tear, placing the fastest fingerprint readers on their entry-level smartphones, but Huawei has been doing this to perfection since the Nexus 6P. Quick, accurate, and never fussy — I wish Huawei would make everyone else’s authentication sensors.

Lower resolution? No problem!

Another concern when you first glance at the Mate 9’s specs sheet is the Full HD 1080p resolution. Stretched on a 5.9-inch IPS LCD, the pixel density is a lot lower than nearly every other flagship smartphone in the market right now. But you know what? It never really bothered us, and watching Netflix or YouTube shows were just as enjoyable here as compared to, say, on the OnePlus 3T or ASUS ZenFone 3 Zoom.

Speakers are just right

What would have been a treat, however, is a pair of front-facing loudspeakers on the Mate 9. Thanks to its large panel, it’s perfect for propping up on a table and watching videos, if not only for the weak and awkwardly placed stereo speakers (one on the bottom and another in the earpiece). There’s enough space on its now-relatively-thick bezels; we’re sure Huawei could have found a way to make this more of a mini theater.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

Despite the launch of some fantastic near-borderless phones since the Mate 9’s release, this supersized Huawei still has its strengths.

For one, it has the standard 16:9 aspect ratio for its display, so most videos won’t have those weird black bars on the side like with the Galaxy S8 and LG G6. Combined with the generous screen, this has to be a go-to option for those who value multimedia consumption while traveling.

Another unique selling point is the non-dwindling performance of the Mate 9. Chances are someone’s Mate 9 from early this year will outpace someone else’s Galaxy S8 by the end of 2017. This means Huawei’s phablet is a sure-fire bet for those looking for a long-time investment.

Finally, this smartphone simply lasts long. If battery life is a priority, it doesn’t get much better than this in the high-end segment. Coupled with fast-charging, the Mate 9 is the phone you want to bring on long trips.

The list of cons is no biggie: camera quality isn’t up there with the best and EMUI might not be for everyone. Having an international price of EUR 699 (although cheaper in some countries like the Philippines at PhP 31,990 or EUR 600), the Mate 9 is a top choice if you’re after a normal-looking, non-bezel-less, decently priced, supersized smartphone.

SEE ALSO: Mate 9 Pro is Huawei’s true flagship

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Computers

LG UltraGear 25” Gaming Monitor review: Enough to get you started

Comes with key features for your first gaming PC build

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I’ve seen a ton of people purchase full gaming PC setups since the pandemic took center stage in our lives. I’m pretty sure a lot of these people spent the past few months saving every peso they could for it. Of course, I also did it with all the money I saved up and planned every purchase very carefully.

In getting your gaming PC build, one of the more important peripherals to consider is your monitor. Most people will tell you that any monitor is okay, but experts will say that you shouldn’t just get any monitor. Apart from color accurate and bright displays, your monitor should have a high enough refresh rate to keep up.

It’s exactly what the LG UltraGear 24” Gaming Monitor brings to the table, at least on paper. But is this worth checking out, especially for first time PC setup builders? Here’s a rundown of the specs:

It has a 23.6-inch TN FHD panel, with a 144Hz refresh rate

It comes with two HDMI ports and one DisplayPort

The design, on its own, is nothing spectacular

The LG UltraGear 24” Gaming Monitor comes in a package you normally expect from most lightweight gaming monitors. A hardened-plastic enclosure covers the display, and the monitor even comes with a metal stand in gray and red accents. Upon unboxing, I found it relatively easy to set up and position alongside my PC setup.

Immediately, the first and only thing I noticed was the thick bezel surrounding the display. To be honest, it’s a relatively minor issue for me ever since other brands started reducing theirs. Although I would have appreciated a little more screen space, especially while playing games.

A display that meets expectations for the most part

Most gaming monitors come with high refresh rates to keep up during pressure situations. Fortunately, the LG UltraGear Gaming Monitor comes with a 144Hz panel which is more than enough. Also, it even sports a 1ms response rate so you’re able to stay at the top of your game. 

Most games I tried with this monitor performed with relative ease and no visible sign of image tearing. FPS games like CS:GO and Valorant, in my opinion, work best with this setup given that you can run these games on low-end setups.

Also, it’s quite bright and color accurate which is great for content creators. Although, in some cases, I felt that it didn’t handle dark color areas well. I tried to compensate by simply adjusting the brightness, but it didn’t do anything significantly different. At least it’s an anti-glare TN panel, so you don’t have to worry about the sun.

Comes with features that works depending on the other hardware

This monitor supports AMD’s FreeSync technology which further improves gameplay experience. Honestly, I felt this should be a standard for most gaming monitors — including those that support NVIDIA GSync. Also, there are other optimizations like Dynamic Action Sync (DAS) and motion blur reduction.

However, this monitor actually benefits you only if you’re currently rocking an AMD Radeon graphics card. Ideally, it would still work pretty well when you plug it to an NVIDIA card but expect some image tearing. It wasn’t a big issue for me since I could still apply the reduced motion blur and DAS.

Port selection for this monitor is more than enough for a normal PC setup. Two HDMI ports are available at your disposal, which is great if you want to use it for your consoles. The added DisplayPort provides more connectivity, especially since most graphics cards support it. Keep in mind though: if you plan to plug your console, don’t expect the 144Hz refresh rate.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

For PhP 12,599 (US$ 257), the LG UltraGear 24” Gaming Monitor ticks all the necessary boxes. What you have is a high refresh rate monitor with good color accuracy, and fully optimized for gaming. Combined with a great selection of ports, this monitor is a great option for your first PC build.

However, if you have strict preferences for your monitor, this might not be what you’re looking for. If you’re not a fan of thick bezels or you’re more conservative with your money, I wouldn’t practically recommend this. Also, you wouldn’t be able to fully maximize its potential if you don’t own an AMD graphics card.

All things considered, it’s enough to get you started on your gaming PC setup. Even with cheaper alternatives out there, I still recommend you give this a shot.

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India

POCO M2 Pro review: A Redmi Note 9 Pro without ads

What’s the difference?

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With a new strategy in place, POCO announced the POCO X2 in the first quarter, and now, it’s back with another offering — the POCO M2 Pro. It’s an affordable offering that’s found a comfortable spot in India’s INR sub-15,000 price bracket. But, there’s a twist.

POCO made its debut with the POCO F1. It was a legendary phone because it did the unexpected — flagship-grade performance at an affordable price. Since then, POCO as a brand has been synonymous to aggressive pricing and top-notch specifications. However, the POCO F1 was launched in 2018 and a lot has changed since then.

For starters, POCO was a dormant brand throughout 2019 and made a comeback at the beginning of 2020. We expected a successor of its infamous first phone, but everything was going to change. POCO is now an independent brand that takes autonomous business and marketing decisions. To make it clear, Mi, Redmi, and POCO are three different teams right now.

If you look closer, the POCO M2 Pro is nothing but a rebranded Redmi Note 9 Pro. Furthermore, the 4GB+64GB entry-level option of both phones has the same price of INR 13,999 (US$ 186). So, what’s different about POCO’s offering? Why should this phone be your GadgetMatch?

A proven design that fits everyone

The Redmi Note 9 Pro series has a very ergonomic design that looks premium as well as sturdy. The quad-camera setup has a significantly larger bump but it gets covered perfectly with the in-box case. The rear sports Gorilla Glass 5 and underneath it is a diagonally-lined pattern. While the phone looks stunning, using it without a case isn’t recommended since it’s prone to smudges and micro scratches.

The rear is the only thing that physically differentiates the phone from Redmi Note 9 Pro. The USB port, volume rockers, fingerprint scanner, and speaker grille are from the same Redmi mold.

I don’t mind rebranded phones as long as they’re not yet available in the same market. If POCO wants to be taken seriously as an independent brand, it needs to stand on its own and bring out original offerings. Realme has done a much better job of publicly distancing itself from OPPO, even though it leverages the same supply chain.

A perfect display

It sports a 6.67-inch Full HD+ display with a tiny punch-hole cut-out that houses the front camera. Unlike the competing Realme 6, it doesn’t have a 90Hz panel and runs at 60Hz. However, considering the price, I wouldn’t consider this to be a con. There are barely any games that can leverage higher refresh rates and the phone is meant to be an all-rounder.

The screen has sufficient brightness and can be seen easily under direct sunlight. The colors look slightly over-saturated but it can be adjusted according to your preference. Being an LCD panel, it does a pretty good job of creating deeper blacks.

POCO Performance

The brand is known for its performance-centric phones and the legacy continues here with a Snapdragon 720G chipset. Any task you throw at it will be done without a glitch. My unit has 6GB RAM and it never slowed down or struggled to handle multiple apps at once. Being a power user, I often use Outlook, Twitter, Gmail, Microsoft Word, and WhatsApp in close proximity. Safe to say, it didn’t feel like I needed a better or more powerful chipset.

I don’t play a lot of games except for reviewing and PUBG is my first preference. The overall experience is smooth and hassle-free. Even at higher settings, the phone gets a little warm but there no visible frame drops. Although, the weight of the phone does get annoying after a while. Similarly, a heavy game like World of Tanks also gets through without any turbulence.

The phone ships with MIUI out-of-the-box and since the Redmi Note 9 Pro series also ships with the same chipset, software updates should drop-in seamlessly.

Powering the phone is a 5000mAh battery and I clocked a little more than seven hours of screen time on a full charge. It has support for 33W fast charging and takes around one hour and twenty-five minutes to fully charge.

Quad-cameras that’ll get anything done

The rear houses a quad-camera setup consisting of a 48-megapixel sensor, an 8-megapixel wide-angle lens, a 5-megapixel macro lens, and a 2-megapixel sensor. We’ve seen this camera setup on a plethora of Xiaomi phones and it’s safe to assume the output is top-notch. Thanks to Xiaomi’s reach, the AI-assisted changes are accurate as well as satisfactory.

I mean to say, the algorithm knows where to work and how to produce pleasing pictures. Sometimes you may notice over-saturation in landscape pictures, but AI-mode can be switched off with a quick tap. The dynamic range is near-perfect while the overall tone is on the warmer side.

While daytime pictures are excellent, the primary sensor struggles in the dark. Shots can often be grainy or blurry if you’re not careful about being steady.

For the pros out there, a manual mode is available to tinker with the finer details. Portrait mode works flawlessly and works on better than expected on dogs too!

The display cut-out houses a 16-megapixel selfie camera and it’s flawless. Details are retained accurately and the focus is ultra-fast. This sensor also is tuned on the warmer side and comes with an optional beauty mode.

On the video side, it supports recording at up to 4K 30fps. Obviously, there’s no optical image stabilization. But, the electronic rendering is good enough and gets the job done.

No ads in MIUI

Yes, the phone runs on MIUI 11. No, it doesn’t have any ads.

This is the only visible change I can see between the POCO M2 Pro and Redmi Note 9 Pro. MIUI has a lot of customization and functionality, minus the learning curve. The phone is perfect for everyone can be used without any deep technical knowledge. Software support is stable and while there were a few bugs, the overall experience remained unhindered.

The most frequent complaint about MIUI is the ads. This phone won’t spam your notification area and this can be a relief for many. There are a few pre-installed apps, but they can be easily disabled. In a nutshell, the POCO M2 Pro offers a better user experience while retaining top-notch hardware. Lastly, instead of MIUI launcher, this phone has POCO launcher.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

I’d recommend this phone without any buts. The display is immersive, performance is best-in-class, the cameras do a decent job, and the battery can easily last you a day. With MIUI, the uniform Xiaomi experience is brought back without its biggest con. Design is a personal preference and I’ve found both, the POCO M2 Pro, as well as the Redmi Note 9 Pro, be impressive.

For the consumers, this is a win-win situation. But, for the brand, it’s a mixed bag. POCO intended to move out of Xiaomi’s camp but hasn’t been able to do that efficiently this year. To become a truly independent brand, it’ll have to stop depending on the parent so much and create its own identity. Right now, the original POCO F1 fans are disappointed along with the current followers who expected a fresh offering.

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Reviews

Google Pixel 4a Unboxing & Review: Unbelievably Good?

A direct contender of the iPhone SE and OnePlus Nord

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Google’s ‘a'(ffordable) line-up may be long overdue because of the pandemic — but after several months of waiting, we finally have one on our hands.

Cheaper than last year’s US$ 399 Pixel 3a, the US$ 349 Pixel 4a might just be the most affordable flagship killer contender you can get over the 2020 iPhone SE and the OnePlus Nord.

But can the mid-tier specifications and less-fancy phone features justify its affordable price tag? Head over to our in-depth Pixel 4a review here.

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