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Huawei Nova 2i Review: The midrange phone to beat?

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Before it was about being the slimmest, then front cameras overtook the importance of the rear shooters, and now it’s about the display. Since Xiaomi popularized the borderless design, other manufacturers followed. Of course, such high-end features will eventually come to cheaper devices just like the Huawei Nova 2i.

Huawei has a habit of giving their devices confusing names. Just to be clear, the phone we’re about the review is also known as the Honor 9i in India and Maimang 6 in China.

The first thing to notice is its near-borderless 5.9-inch display

An 18:9 Full HD+ display with vibrant colors

It runs EMUI 5.1 on top of Android Nougat

There’s a Huawei branding on its chin

A micro-USB port, along with the speaker and 3.5mm audio port, is at the bottom

It should have been USB-C, though

This is a dual-SIM model which accepts two nano-SIM cards

The second slot also accepts microSD for additional storage

The back is simple yet premium-looking

Our blue colored unit is a pretty phone to look at

The dual rear camera setup is parallel to the fingerprint reader 

The Nova 2i loves bokeh, right?

The FullView display is its major selling point

One of the reasons why you’d want the Nova 2i is for its display. Even before borderless display tech comes to Huawei’s flagship, it’s already available on their new midrange phone. They call it FullView and, at least on the Nova 2i, it’s not as edge-to-edge as the Samsung Galaxy S8. But it’s visibly sharp thanks to its 2160 x 1080 resolution.

While the display is vibrant and clear, the 18:9 aspect ratio doesn’t go well with the usual widescreen videos on YouTube and other video streaming apps. The tall display is more suited for general use of the device and web browsing. Not all apps support the new standard, yet, so the phone asks the users about scaling the app so it can fit the display.

If there’s anything the Nova 2i lacks, it’s stereo speakers, but the 3.5mm is always ready for any wired headphones you have lying around.

Blazing speed for a midrange phone

A beautiful display should be complemented with good performance, and the Nova 2i has compelling specifications. The phone is powered by Huawei’s latest home-baked Kirin 659 processor with Mali-T830 MP2 graphics. It has 4GB of memory and 64GB of storage, which is expandable via a microSD card. On paper, the Nova 2i is already an impressive device and we’re happy to share that it translates to real-world performance.

Running on the device is EMUI 5.1, the same skin that any Android Nougat-powered Huawei device has. As expected, the custom UI brings in a number of additional features, which are also found on top-of-the-line devices.

During our time with the Nova 2i, we never encountered any lag or even slight hiccups. We did notice slow app loading times at first, but the phone eventually became faster as we used it. Games run well on the device, too. Our staple titles like Asphalt Extreme was extremely playable on high settings, while NBA 2K17 (which is a true graphics- and memory-intensive app) should be set to medium for smoother framerates.

Bokeh on the front and back

Aside from the FullView display, the Nova 2i also boasts the popular dual-camera setup. But this has two pairs of dual cameras, making it a quad-camera smartphone. For the rear, we have a 16- and 2-megapixel combination while the front has slightly lower 13- and 2-megapixel sensors. Enabling the wide-aperture mode lets you set your desired bokeh depth, while portrait mode detects faces for beautification.

In broad daylight, the photos are pleasing and well balanced. I do like how the photos look natural and there’s not much processing done. In darker environments, the camera doesn’t try to brighten the image, which keeps the noise levels down. It’s a slightly different story for selfies, because it tries to give the brightest possible image, thus you get small smudges and soft details in the dark.

A battery that can last the whole day and more

Huawei was able to fit in a 3340mAh non-removable battery inside the metal unibody of the Nova 2i. Too bad though there’s no SuperCharge (Huawei’s fast-charging feature) available. The use of a micro-USB port rather than the newer USB-C is a letdown, but that depends on who you ask. It could have been a great opportunity to introduce the reversible port to this segment.

The battery was able to last me a whole eight-hour work day and then some. It’s always good to have some spare juice left before reaching for the charger.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

We always end our reviews with this question, and for this one, I’d say it’s most likely a yes. I find the Nova 2i to be fitting for anyone who is looking a new smartphone that doesn’t lack any essential features and offers the latest, too. And for its PhP 14,999 (US$ 290) price tag, its shortcomings are acceptable.

Even compared to the early player in the borderless midrange game — the Vivo V7+ —  the Nova 2i is an easy choice for those who want balance. The selfie game is stronger on the V7+ though, and OPPO might be the one to match that soon.

SEE ALSO: Huawei finally overtakes Apple in smartphone sales

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Reviews

Vivo X50 Pro Review: Exceptional Camera for Less

This smartphone employs a new “Gimbal Camera System” feature but does that make it better than the rest?

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From pop-up cameras to under-display fingerprint scanners, vivo has truly made a lot of technological advancements in less than three years through their APEX Concept and flagship-bearing NEX line.

Today, vivo defied the odds by launching the X50 Pro. It’s the first X-series smartphone to become available outside China. It employs a groundbreaking “Gimbal Camera System” that made its debut through vivo’s APEX 2020.

But does that camera feature make it better than the rest? Here’s our review of the vivo X50 Pro.

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Ghost of Tsushima review: Making of a legend

A samurai’s journey

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Vengeful Samurai
Rids his land of invaders
Haunting. Like a ghost

Ghost of Tsushima is the last major PlayStation 4 exclusive before the PlayStation 5 hits the shelves. It has the unenviable task of closing a chapter in gaming, and it does so with a lot of heart and subtle flair.

You play as Jin Sakai — a samurai who survived the first confrontation against the Mongols. Among the samurais in the battlefield, it was only you and your uncle Lord Shimura who survived the attack, with many believing you had also fallen in battle.

KOMODO BEACH. Samurais clash against Mongols early in the game.

Your mission is to take the island back by any means necessary. Sometimes, that means going against the way of the samurai which you had dedicated your life to.

The story has several beats but the dilemma between tradition and progression is a constant theme. Many tales along the way reveal that people haven’t always stayed true to tradition, and how that’s not always necessarily a bad thing.

Fight like a samurai

Combat takes a lot of patience, discipline and precision. Especially during the early stages of the game where you’ll really have to rely on your skills to get through enemies.

I thought I had already learned to take my time in combat with a few previous games I played. However, my general lack of patience worked against me. Timing your parries can be hard even with visual cues from your opponents. Either that or my timing is just plain terrible.

Once you get the hang of combat, you’ll develop a thirst for battle. This is because the game does a good job of rewarding you with every successful execution.

You gain resolve with each kill. Resolve is what you use to replenish your health. So if you’re low on health and resolve, you’re actually encouraged to go into battle so you can live to fight another day.

You’ll also encounter different types of enemies. Each one can be dealt with more easily by using a certain sword stance.

You’ll acquire all four stances as you progress to the game, but you will definitely encounter foes you don’t have the exact stance for. This is where your parrying and dodging skills will really be put to test.

Stone, Water, Wind, and Moon – these are your fighting stances

There’s also a stand-off mode where you call out an opponent and you face each other head on. It’s pretty easy at first but, again, timing gets complicated when your opponent starts adding feints to throw you off.

Lastly, there are duels. It’s mostly reserved for key story moments or when acquiring certain mythic items. In terms of combat execution, it’s pretty much the same except your opponent won’t go down after a few thrusts and slashes.

Haunt like a ghost

You don’t always have to face your enemies head-on. You are, after all, trying to take down an entire invasion. Certain tales or missions require that you strike from the shadows. This is where your ghost skills and tools come in.

Much like the sword stances, it will take progressing through the game to unlock all the ghost skills and tools. Skills like focused hearing alter your surroundings so you can tell where each target is at. You move slowly at first but you earn skill points as you build your legend to unlock more skills.

The ghost tools are unlocked after certain points in the story. Some of them aid you in assassinations but some can be also used in direct combats. One especially useful tool is the smoke bomb.

You will inevitably face a horde of Mongols at certain points with a bunch of them attacking you almost simultaneously. Dropping a smoke bomb confuses your opponents and leaves them open to one slash or one thrust kills.

If you’ve played older Assassin’s Creed titles, raiding strongholds and assassinations will feel familiar in Ghost of Tsushima. Approaching from high ground, creating distractions to misdirect attention, all in the service of that slit-throat kill — all these come into play when attacking stealthily.

Every tale adds to your legend 

Ghost of Tsushima probably has the best side-quests in games released from the last two years. Everything you do in the island is interconnected and is aided by environmental cues.

To get to certain shrines you follow either a fox or a yellow bird. The fox only really guides you to the Inari shrines which help open up charm slots to aid you in battle.

Meanwhile, the bird guides you to mostly every other objective — be it an item you can retrieve, a spot to reflect and write a haiku, or the next tale to tackle to continue Jin’s journey.

The game offers a style of play where you rely solely on these things to progress. For an open-world game done as well as Ghost of Tsushima, that’s a perfect way to get lost in its world.

The island of Tsushima is divided into three main areas. The main story will have you progressing towards the north of the island to ultimately rid the place of Mongol forces. But progressing through the story is only half the fun.

The island is teeming with stories that range from gut-wrenching to light-hearted moments to help balance the general grief everyone in the island feels.

Ghost of Tsushima_20200708233214

The side quests do not seem like side quests at all. Each one feels like a small chapter in the bigger story that is being told. Tales from villagers will have you facing off against bandits or taking down Mongol strongholds.

There are also tales corresponding to key characters — allies in your battle to liberate Tsushima. All of which reveal an unexpected truth with each character. The way of the samurai is held in such high regard, but some of the tales will show how even those devoted to that path can stray from it.

Slay in subtle style

Everything about Ghost of Tsushima’s style and visuals is just absolutely stunning to me. Persona 5 was lauded for being a very loud and stylish depiction of modern Japan, this game should be lauded about style but for a different reason.

First, the environment. I’ve seen people talk about grass mechanics. Honestly, it’s not one of the things I usually look at when playing, but rest assured this game does it right just as well as the best ones.

It is, after all, built upon the idea that you can explore the island with a minimal game hub. This is so you can take in Tsushima in all its glory and explore every nook and cranny of the island to your heart’s desire.

The color palette of the game’s menu screen is also extremely satisfying. It’s mostly neutral colors highlighted with red or yellow/gold. It certainly took a minimalistic approach — a characteristic that most associate with Japan.

The Mythic Tales are also done exquisitely. These tales net you key items or techniques — all born from the legendary stories told amongst Tsushima’s inhabitants. In this case, you search the island for musicians who will tell the tale.

Each tale is told with the visual aid of Sumi-e or Japanese Ink Painting. Every tale feels epic as it is being told, and each item or technique learned in the pursuit of each tale proves incredibly useful in battle.

Everything flows seamlessly

Every single element in Ghost of Tsushima flows seamlessly. From combat to exploration, absolutely nothing feels out of place. It all makes sense within the confines of the story.

There are no mindless fetch quests or fighting for no reason. You roam different parts of the island with the ultimate goal of freeing it from the Mongols’ control. This, while also dealing with bandits and traitors — which also goes to show how not even a single, formidable enemy can unite a people.

You will deal with many emotions as you progress through the game. The constant tug of war between the traditional ways of the samurai and the necessity to fight in the shadows is reflected in many different tales of the story. It’s the theme that, at its facade, feels old and tired, but is given new life and deeper meaning in the story.

Being the sole surviving samurai following the initial Mongol siege, you turn into the de facto hero. Jin, naturally, was reluctant at first. But as his legend grows, so does the hope of the people that they can indeed fight back and reclaim what is rightfully theirs.

This hope is forged through your countless exploits around Tsushima. Freeing one area after another, taking down strongholds, and using both all you learned as a samurai and the ghost methods you’re forced into by necessity — all of it adds to one grand legend. The legend that is the Ghost of Tsushima.


Ghost of Tsushima will launch on the PS4 on July 17, 2020

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realme Watch review: It gets fitness tracking right

But it leaves so much more to be desired

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realme has been aggressively pushing its own ecosystem into the fore this year. It started last year with the release of the affordable realme Buds Air. It was soon followed up with the realme Band, a fitness tracker that aims to compete with the Mi Band. Now, realme is pushing another product: the realme Watch.

The realme Watch serves to affirm the company’s grand vision for the future. Right now, it’s busy building a singular platform that will cater to the youth’s lifestyle. And the company’s first smartwatch is a small but crucial piece to that.

However, launching a smartwatch is not going to be easy. For realme, this is their first-ever product in a new category segment. The future of a grand ecosystem depends on how successful this smartwatch is going to. Plus, the company’s reputation as a lifestyle device for the youth is at stake here.

Beyond that, any product that bills itself as a smartwatch has to be particularly good at the basics — battery life, fitness tracking, connectivity, and app integration. So, does the realme Watch have what it takes to be a proper smartwatch? Let’s find out.

realme Watch is compact and intuitive

I’m pretty sure the name and design of the realme Watch will invoke the image of a familiar smartwatch to many. realme may have done this on purpose since any positive association with the Apple Watch creates a halo effect for their own smartwatch.

I can make out some differences between the Apple Watch and realme Watch though. First, the realme Watch is smaller and touts a more symmetrical body. Second, there’s a realme logo underneath the display but it’s super hard to notice. Second, the watch has a lone button on the right in place of Apple Watch’s digital crown and side button. And finally, the whole watch is made of plastic which is unlike the premium materials used by Apple on its smartwatch.

The smartwatch is compact and light. I didn’t notice much heft while wearing it. However, the fashion strap band feels cheap, and it is hard to attach and secure it to the wrist. Fortunately, there’s a quick-release lock that enables easy switching of strap bands.

Upon wearing the watch for the first time, I noticed that the screen’s brightness is not that sufficient to tackle direct sunlight. As such, I glanced a lot longer and squinted hard at the realme Watch outdoors. It doesn’t help that the smartwatch’s LCD display is a bit washed out.

It’s good for daily fitness tracking

Most people expect smartwatches to be good at fitness tracking. After all, these tiny devices pack a plethora of sensors that track your steps, heart rate, sleep patterns, and so on. However, not all smartwatches are built equally. That applies especially to the realme Watch, where you can expect some hits and misses.

For the most part, the smartwatch does a good job of tracking my heart rate. I compared it to an Honor Band 5 that I have and got the nearly identical results. I don’t have any professional heart rate monitor lying around, but I’m still confident in the readings.

There’s one big caveat to the smartwatch’s premise of continuous heart rate tracking though. I can only set the watch to read my heartbeat every five minutes or so. It would have been better if there’s an option to read heartbeats every three minutes or less. But alas, this is what realme settled for.

Step tracking is also fine for the most part. I can actually set custom step goals, which is a pretty nice feature to have. Personally, I set mine to 6,000 steps.

Aside from heart rate monitoring and step tracking, the realme Watch can also track sleep. I’m still dumbfounded by the different terminologies for quantifying sleep, but the data presented by the watch is spot-on. On average, the watch tells me that I only sleep for 5 to 6 hours every day. Comparing that data to my Honor Band 5, and I can say that they’re both pretty close.

One thing that I really like about the realme Watch is the presence of a meditation timer. It’s pretty barebones though, and the timer is configurable up to 10 minutes only. At least it’s there, and it’s pretty useful whenever I get anxious or stressed out.

It comes with a buggy exercise interface and integration

How did the realme Watch fare on a workout session? It’s actually a mixed bag. Granted, I don’t exercise a lot, and my only fitness regimen nowadays is walking around the block. Still, there’s a lot of health benefits derived from walking, and I would like my smartwatch to track how my body responds to a 10-minute walk.

Starting an exercise session from the watch is pretty straightforward. You just scroll down from the watch face, and select “workout”. From there, you have 14 sessions to choose from. There’s only one major sport that realme left out here: swimming. Yes, you can’t track your swims with this smartwatch.

Once started, realme will track your heart rate, duration, and calories burned. There are five visual indicators to tell you what zone you are in. realme Watch will display more or fewer data depending on what exercise you select. Since I like to walk, I get extra information such as distance, cadence, and steps.

Like I said before, exercise tracking is a mixed bag on the realme Watch. The biggest gripe that I have with is its tendency to restart in the middle of an exercise session. I can’t count the times that I had to start tracking once again since the watch would decide to end tracking abruptly. Hopefully, realme can fix this issue with a software update.

No third-party apps, but has some good system apps built-in

Software problems doesn’t only exist when tracking exercises. The realme Watch is riddled with a buggy system that likes to restart or even wipe out your data for the day. realme has a lot to improve here and I’m really hoping that subsequent updates can fix these annoying bugs.

In moments where the realme Watch doesn’t show its unwelcome quirks, you can actually appreciate how fluid and intuitive the navigation is. By default, the smartwatch shows your selected watch face. Long-pressing on the watch face enables you to choose from others.

Swiping up, you get a list of notifications. Swipe to the left and right, and you get different widgets that show you useful information at a glance. To access the apps, swipe down from the main watch face. Getting back to other areas is just a press away from the lone side button.

Some first-party apps that I do appreciate on this watch are the music control app and weather app. I found myself using the music control app more to skip to the next track and control the volume. And, it is nice to see weather information at a glance without scouring the web for forecasts.

The phone app leaves a lot to be desired

Of course, the whole experience of using the realme Watch is incomplete without the dedicated smartphone app. Unfortunately, realme Link—– the app that controls the watch — is only available for Android. So, there’s no way to use the watch if you use an iPhone.

As for the app, realme Link is easy to navigate and the pairing process is quick and easy. Unlike in my Honor Band, I don’t need to deal with the rigorous install of other apps just to get going. Tweaking the watch’s settings is easily done on the app itself. Plus, it’s super easy to setup app notifications.

What I didn’t like is that I needed to register for an account just to set up my realme Watch. But this complaint of mine could be minor for you. After all, most apps today require sign-ups. Still, I would’ve preferred if the app allowed me to control the watch without signing in.

While navigating and tweaking settings is a breeze on realme Link, there’s a lot to be desired with the app. First, the app can quickly get confusing for first-time smartwatch users. Statistics are displayed nicely on the app, but there’s no thorough explanation of what those statistics really mean for your health.

I also dislike the fact that there’s a limited selection of watch faces available on the app. Granted, this is a first-generation product for realme. Watch faces available at the moment are limited to a selection of 12 quirky faces. I say quirky since some of the watch face designs are divisive — you may like it or hate it. For me, however, I didn’t find any interesting watch faces so I stuck with the default one. realme did say more watch faces are coming soon. I say, it can’t come soon enough.

Finally, realme Link shows some weird software bugs from time to time. For example, when I toggled the exercise tracking within the app, the realme Watch doesn’t go into exercise tracking. Fortunately, these bugs are easily resolvable with software updates.

Solid battery life for a smartwatch

One of realme Watch’s saving grace is its long battery life. That is, long battery life for a smartwatch of this class. In normal usage, I get three to four days of battery life. It’s pretty solid, considering that most smartwatches last only a day. However, it’s worth noting that those smartwatches have more sensors that hog battery life.

You can actually extend the watch’s battery life for longer. Toggle the power-saving mode and you get up to two days more battery life on the realme Watch.

Charging is also pretty quick. From my experience, the realme Watch took an hour to charge from 10% to 70%.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

There’s a good article on Android Authority that summarizes realme’s vision for an all-encompassing ecosystem. Like the title says, the company needs to walk first before it can run. The same holds true for the realme Watch.

There are so many quirks and bugs on the smartwatch that you’ll wonder if you made the right purchase decision. Plus, app integrations and smarts are sorely missing — is this really a smartwatch at all? realme really needs to polish the watch software, since this is the very core that powers the smartwatch experience.

This sums up what the realme Watch is: a half-baked smartwatch that at least gets the fitness tracking right. realme took a gamble and it lost. But as a first generation product, there’s a lot of lessons that can be learned. Hopefully, the company can amend some of the glaring issues on this watch in the future.

Still, those who are looking for a fitness tracker that does look like an elegant smartwatch at first glance should look no further than the realme Watch. It’s light, compact, and easy to navigate. Plus, there’s the asking price of PhP 3,990 (US$ 81), which is super cheap for a smartwatch.

It’s now available on realme’s Lazada store. Those buying the smartwatch should wait for Lazada’s 7.15 sale, where it is available with a PhP 1,000 (US$ 20)  discount.

See also: 5 things we like about the realme Watch

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