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The specifications and features aren’t outdated by any means, either.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

Reviews

Huawei Y6 2018 Hands-on Review: 18:9 phones are getting cheaper

Tall displays are now for everyone!

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Budget phones get blessed with the features of flagship devices once the premium exclusivity wears off, like the near-borderless trend with the 18:9 display ratio which eventually trickled down to midrangers.

We didn’t expect it to be available to entry-level phones this quick though, because we now have a phone with an 18:9 display from Huawei that’s priced slightly above US$ 100.

Here’s a quick hands-on review of the Huawei Y6 2018.

It’s a modern 18:9 phone with a 5.7-inch HD screen

Tall, dark, and handsome?

More display area doesn’t mean less bezels

You could still put in a fingerprint reader there

The physical buttons are on the right ride…

The buttons are made of plastic, as well as the sides of the phone

While a triple-card tray is on the left

Probably the best feature of the phone

A 3.5mm audio port silently sits on top

Legacy ports are here to stay — for now

Leaving the micro-USB and loudspeaker at the bottom

No USB-C and we understand why

The back is plain and there’s no fingerprint reader either!

The back is clean, so clean

Decent design for a budget phone

One might think that the Huawei Y6 2018 is not an entry-level phone at first glance and we can’t blame them. The phone doesn’t look like it belongs in its price segment due to its display’s 18:9 aspect ratio — a feature we first saw on premium devices. Once you pick up the phone though, you’ll feel how less attention was put into the build of the phone. It doesn’t feel cheap, but the plastic material and light weight of the phone leave a not-so-good impression.

The phone doesn’t have a removable back cover; too bad, since replaceable batteries is a feature of budget phones I look forward to. Overall, there’s not much to say about the physical body of the Y6 2018. I do appreciate the matte finish of the black variant I have for review. It blends well with the surroundings even in a formal setting.

Don’t expect it to fly

With a Snapdragon 425, the Y6 2018 is limited to basic work. While the chipset is not as low-powered compared to the Snapdragon 210 in the Nokia 2, the performance doesn’t give justice to budget phones. When Marvin reviewed the Xiaomi Redmi 5A, he was impressed with it. That phone practically has the same specs as the Y6 2018, but he never complained about lag. During my short time with Y6 2018, half of it was dealing with hiccups and slow loading times.

(Marvin: I think it has to do with Xiaomi’s MIUI software which optimizes itself for entry-level devices and phones launched years ago.)

The phone is already running the latest Android 8.0 Oreo skinned with EMUI 8.0, so it’s puzzling to have an up-to-date phone (software-wise) to struggle with so-so specification. I’m pretty sure the 2GB of memory is enough to run common apps with ease; because if not, you’re better off with an Android Go phone to get the much needed optimization.

When you find your way inside an app — let’s say Instagram — the phone can deliver smooth performance most of the time. Perhaps this stuttering issue could be addresed via a software update, but until then, you must stay patient.

Before I forget about the missing fingerprint reader, I’ll address the concern that it might bring. Like with OPPO A83, the Y6 2018 takes advantage of facial recognition to secure your phone. Having face unlocking activated, I noticed that the phone struggled even more. So, I just turned it off and relied on the good-old pattern code.

Suprisingly okay for selfies

Using either of the 13-megapixel rear camera or the 5-megapixel selfie camera, you can take an okay photo. What suprised me is the built-in beauty mode that’s also found on more expensive Huawei phones. It’s hard to judge if the beauty processing of the Y6 2018 is similar to the Huawei P20 Lite’s, but there’s not much of a difference to the naked eye.

For a budget phone, the Y6 2018 has good cameras. The phone managed to redeem itself through this, but not by much. While checking the image on the phone looks fine, previewing it on a bigger display shows the weaknesses of an affordable camera phone. The images are a bit soft, but the color balance is within the sweet spot.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

That’s the question we always ask because not everyone will like a single phone. In the case of the Y6 2018, I must warn you about the lag and hiccups that are bound to test your patience. There’s always a cheaper and better Xiaomi option, but the nearest competitor doesn’t have an 18:9 display. If the aspect ratio is what you’re after, the Y6 2018 will be able to deliver that without asking for too much cash.

The Huawei Y6 2018 retails for just PhP 5,990 in the Philippines which is roughly US$ 115. It’ll be available in stores by the end of the April.

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Gaming

God of War: A must-play for 2018

Like Kratos, this game has grown like fine wine

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I’ll try my best not to overhype this, but God of War is an easy, early entry for 2018’s game of the year.

Okay, I may have failed that hyping part, but that’s exactly how you’ll feel too after getting your ass kicked by the first semi-boss battle thinking this is the same game you conquered years back. After trying, and failing, to hack-and-slash your way through that battle, you’ll quickly realize how much more depth this game has compared to the God of War games that came before it.

The first thing that jumps out at you is the series-lead Kratos. He’s now bearded, looks older, and definitely acts wiser. Going through the first hour or so of the game, you’ll see that this is not the same vengeance-seeking beast that unleashed a vicious assault for one Greek god after another.

Kratos is now more measured. Retribution is no longer his single driving force. It’s more a sense of duty — duty to fulfill a promise to his wife who had passed and a duty to raise their son Atreus, who’s a key part both in the story and the gameplay.

Atreus is the man

The idea of a vengeful Spartan warrior fueled by rampage having a son seemed unimaginable at first, but bringing Atreus into the fold proved to be the perfect way to expand God of War. The passing of his wife leaves Atreus in his care; Atreus adds depth to Kratos.

At the beginning of the game, he teaches the child how to hunt. You can hear the frustration in his voice as the boy fails in his first attempt. Instead of going ballistic, he reigns himself in before providing stern and sound advice.

The interplay between father and son is present nearly the entire duration of the game. Their dialogue goes on not only in cinematic scenes but even as you go through the game whether you’re searching for clues, solving puzzles, or just trying to figure out where to go next.

Atreus aids you in battle. His arrow can stun opponents or take their attention off of you, and his proficiency and power grow as the game progresses. However, that’s not the only area where Atreus proves helpful. The boy is able to read ancient writings that provide clues on how you can solve puzzles or move on from a certain point.

One shot is all it takes

One of the biggest technical accomplishments of the game is how it’s a one-shot story, which means there’s absolutely zero loading screens. That’s a challenge both in game production and storytelling. From the get-go, it puts you right in the heart of the action being in the shoes of the central figures of the story. It makes for an ultra-immersive experience that will leave you invested in how their relationship develops.

It doesn’t feel like a straight-up tutorial, but the game uses the first 8 to 10 hours to show you the ropes. From attacking, using Atreus, upgrading your equipment, and many others. After that, it opens up to a slew of side quests that can be as satisfying as pushing the story forward. While it is by no means a true open-world game, it’s wide enough that it lets you explore, but not too wide that you feel overwhelmed by all the possibilities.

It’s still about Kratos

With all of that said, this is still a God of War game, meaning Kratos is still at the heart of it. In many ways, this new Kratos mirrors the game’s growth. In the previous era wherein he unapologetically laid waste to the Greek gods, Kratos seemed more one-dimensional. He had one goal and that was to exact revenge and the games’ hack-and-slash approach reflected that.

This older Kratos appears to have grown as he is forced into a situation where he has to care for his child. Fatherhood puts the Spartan warrior in an unfamiliar place. While there is still rage within him, he appears more subdued. At times he struggles with how to speak with Atreus and it’s that very struggle that shows a side of Kratos we likely have never seen before: a tenderness that’s somehow out of character.

Don’t let that fool you, though. There’s still plenty of raging Kratos here. What this game has masterfully done is retain the identity and history of the previous God of War games while infusing it with learnings from the games that have come during the franchise’s hiatus.

The easiest comparison you’ll see is how it’s a more casual-gamer-friendly version of Dark Souls. And while I did think that, the approach feels more derivative rather than a direct recreation.

Nothing communicates that experience better than Kratos’ new weapon: the Leviathan axe. Gone are the chain blades that devastated draugrs and gods alike. Kratos’ axe is infused with ice magic, able to stun opponents. One of the most badass parts of the game is how you can throw the axe and summon it right back. But don’t think for a second that Kratos will be helpless without the axe. You still have his shield and his bare hands, and that’s sometimes required to defeat certain foes.

The battle system still feels as satisfying as ever. It requires more thinking than straight-up slashing which should be a welcome challenge whether you’re a veteran of the franchise or you’re being introduced to it through this game.

God of War

Even though Kratos has aged, nothing about this game feels old. There’s still enough God of War oomph that endeared it to its long-time fans while adding elements that can easily be embraced by a newer generation of gamers looking to dig into the lore of the franchise.

This is by far the easiest single-player, story-driven game to recommend to anyone this year. If you have time to play only a handful of games on the PS4 this year, God of War should be on that list.

SEE ALSO: God of War: An older Kratos needs a wiser you

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Reviews

OPPO F7 Review

‘Selfie phone’ is an understatement

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When we hear the word OPPO, we think selfies.

And while its newest smartphone stays true to its rich tradition as one of the leaders in the selfie-smartphone space, this one might just have something more up its sleeve.

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