Hands-On

Huawei Nova 4 Hands-on: A ‘hole’ new approach

Does the punch-hole display make a difference?

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One of the reasons why Huawei is always on the news, aside from the controversies, is because they have new phones every other week. I’m still loving the Mate 20 Pro for its amazing cameras, but there’s now the Nova 4 that, in my opinion, will be an interesting option for new smartphone buyers.

The Huawei Nova 4 offers pretty much everything a premium midrange phone should: a nice display, beautiful body, and good cameras. It’s also one of the few phones in the market that has a hole in its display instead of a notch.

Is a punch-hole display more preferable than a notch? That’s what I tried to find out while using the Nova 4 for this hands-on.

First, let’s start with the basics:

It’s got a notch-less 6.4-inch display

In exchange, there’s a hole for the front camera

There’s support for two nano-SIM cards

No space for a microSD card, though

On its right are the physical buttons

They blend in well with the phone’s frame

The 3.5mm headphone jack is on top

Along with an IR blaster and noise-canceling microphone

At the bottom is the reversible USB-C port

There’s also the loudspeaker and main microphone

The back houses three cameras

And the swift fingerprint reader

The gradient color scheme is present

This has become Huawei’s signature

Can’t deny that it’s from Huawei

From its body to its color, the Nova 4 contains 100 percent of Huawei’s DNA. Gone are the days where we associate every touchscreen phone as an iPhone. Once the gradient color of the Nova 4 shifts, it instantly captivates. The usual question I get when my friends see me holding the Nova 4 is: It that a Huawei?

Personally, I wouldn’t buy a phone with an extreme persona like this Aurora Blue variant of the Nova 4 I have for review. I still prefer my discreet OnePlus 6 in black, but that’s just me. Of course, there’s a black variant of the Nova 4 available as well for those who don’t want a phone that becomes a centerpiece on a table.

The shape and size of the Nova 4 are no different from any premium phone that came out lately. It’s got a glass front and back with a shiny metal frame and the sides of the phone curve gently, making it easier to grip. Overall, I found no issues about the build of the Nova 4, aside from it being smudgy most of the time.

At first, I found the punch-hole to be as annoying as the notch. The hole is larger than expected, but I got used to it. Most apps treat the hole like a notch, so the experience is similar to before. The punch-hole doesn’t have an advantage over the notch in terms of usability.

Where the punch-hole shines is how it’s more tolerable when watching a video in full screen. Some games are not aware of the area the hole is occupying, thus control buttons get covered. Turning off the “full screen display” switch for some games fixes this.

Flagship-grade speed and stability

Enough with the looks; let’s now dive into the internals of the phone. The brain of the Nova 4 is the Kirin 970 processor. It’s the previous flagship 10nm chipset from Huawei’s own labs. It’s also inside the Mate 10 and the P20 series. Moreover, the Nova 4 has the same processor as its predecessor.

Performance-wise, there’s no big difference. This means Nova 3 owners don’t need to upgrade, unless they want a new and different-looking phone. The advantage of the Nova 4 is its upgraded memory to 8GB, although storage remains the same at 128GB.

Android Pie comes out of the box with Huawei’s EMUI 9 placed on top. Frankly, there’s not much new about the custom interface since EMUI 6, aside from the staple features of Android Pie. The heavy skin of EMUI doesn’t affect the performance of the phone, but it’s also not the best-looking.

In terms of gaming, popular titles like Asphalt 9: Legends and PUBG Mobile are playable on high graphics settings. There’s no sign of hiccups or lag thanks to the optimizations by Huawei’s GPU Turbo.

As mentioned, the hole in the display is considered a “notch” by the system, so you can still hide the area it occupies by diving into the Settings panel. This makes the phone look hole-free, but you lose the extra screen real estate in some apps. So far, there are no issues with system and third-party apps, and I hope it stays that way.

Good cameras with ultra wide-angle lens

When it comes to taking photos, the Nova 4 doesn’t disappoint. It’s got a main 20-megapixel camera paired with an ultra wide-angle 16-megapixel shooter. There’s also a 2-megapixel depth sensor to help in taking portrait shots with bokeh effect. As for selfies, the 25-megapixel front camera can take detailed and pleasing stills.

AI scene detection is available both on the front and rear cameras, so the phone always helps in taking the best-possible photo. Check out these samples:

Like with most camera phones, the Nova 4 can take good-looking photos in broad daylight. Good thing the quality doesn’t drop when shooting indoors or in the evening. Generally, the Nova 4 is a capable phone for taking photos, except the ultra wide-angle lens doesn’t sport autofocus. Night mode is also available when you need to take photos in incredibly dark environments.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

The Huawei Nova 4 is a new smartphone with a fresh approach to the notch dilemma. If you dislike the notch, the punch-hole display is your next best option.

For me, the ideal best bezel-less phone doesn’t have a notch or a hole — just like the Mi Mix 3, OPPO Find X, or Vivo NEX. Those phones have their own issues about their approach, however. It’s just a matter of preference at this point because nothing is perfect — for now.

While I wait for the perfect bezel-less phone without moving parts or display cutouts, I appreciate the options given to us. In the end, it’s your choice if you want a notch, a hole, or a mechanism to house the selfie camera. There are also phones without front cameras at all, maybe that’s your cup of tea — or coffee.

SEE ALSO: How the Huawei Watch GT made me believe in smartwatches

Hands-On

realme X3 SuperZoom: A potential flagship killer

It all depends on the pricing

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I wrote about realme being a true disruptor and they have a chance to continue on that path with the realme X3 SuperZoom.

On paper, this phone screams flagship.

realme x3 SuperZoom

Display 6.6-inch Ultra-smooth FHD+ display

120Hz refresh rate

Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 855+
RAM + ROM 12GB + 256GB
Battery 4200mAh

30W Dart Flash Charge

Rear cameras 64MP Ultra high-resolution wide angle

8MP Ultra-wide angle

8MP Periscope

2MP Macro

Selfie cameras 32MP Main

8MP Ultra-wide

Right off the bat, you’ll notice two things that are present in most 2020 flagships that this phone doesn’t have. One is support for 5G, and the other is wireless charging.

However, those are two features that many people might consider icing on an otherwise perfectly tasty cake. Both 5G and wireless charging are nice to have, but I wouldn’t call them pillar features at this point in time.

Flagship performance

I had a blast using this phone for the past week since setting it up. Having used midrange phones that didn’t offer a higher screen refresh rate for a while and then jumping back to a phone with a 120Hz screen refresh rate, you can certainly tell the difference.

I cannot stress enough how smooth and fast everything feels. Browsing, swiping, toggling from app to app, it all felt seamless and speedy on the realme X3 SuperZoom.

To date, I’ve only used three phones with this feature — the Galaxy S20 Ultra, Find X2 Pro, and the ROG Phone 2. Now, the realme X3 SuperZoom joins that list. That’s pretty good company.

In fact, that Snapdragon 855+ and 120Hz screen refresh rate combo was one of the main highlights of the ROG Phone 2. Naturally, I tried a little bit of gaming on the realme X3 SuperZoom.

I played Call of Duty Mobile for the first time since reviewing the ROG Phone 2. While the performance is largely the same, the experience is a tad bit different.

Not entirely “flagship feel”

This one’s harder to explain. There are certain premium phones that just scream premium owing to a combination of things — the phone’s overall feel, a certain heft, looks, and performance.

While the X3 SuperZoom knocks it out of the park in the performance department, it falls just a tad bit short in the other departments. But I’d like to emphasize that this isn’t an entirely bad thing at all.

The phone — especially the Arctic White variant that I have — looks stunning. The front and back are made with glass, but a closer inspection will show that the sides are made with plastic.

Unlike phones that are north of PhP 40,000 or around US$ 800, it doesn’t have that wholistic glass feel, premium heft, and overall “it” factor. But that’s okay, because it’s not trying to compete with those flagships in that department.

Focusing on what matters

That “flagship feel” is almost an abstract concept and is truly reserved for most premium flagship phones. It’s a luxury.

This brings us back to what I think is the overarching theme of the realme X3 SuperZoom, and perhaps the theme of most realme smartphones —  flagship features for less.

One of those flagship features are the cameras. You’ve already seen the specs up top, so now here’s a quick look at the zoom features. The samples below only go as far as 10X Zoom — which I think is the optimal zoom on this phone.

It can go as far as 60X Zoom, but as I mentioned in previous reviews, the max zoom capacity on these phones isn’t necessarily their best.

I also like the color and detail it produces. Here’s a photo under good daylight.

This one’s indoors with a wide window light source.

While this one is taken at night.

There are a lot more features to explore which we will try to do so in the full review.

Flagship killer? 

There’s a lot going for the realme X3 SuperZoom. Its performance, looks, and camera capabilities are all top-notch. The realme UI — which is unsurprisingly reminiscent of ColorOS 7.1 — is clean AF.

There’s still some bloatware that you can easily tuck in the app drawer, but overall, it adds to the smooth and fast experience with a clean look and a ton of customization options.

In India, the price of this phone has been revealed to be INR 32,999 or US$ 436. That’s roughly PhP 22,000 BUT realme Philippines has been careful to point out that due to “local tax and tariffs,” the pricing will likely be different.

The launch and pricing announcement is happening on July 9 2020, iff they’re able to keep this below PhP 30,000, then we might just have a strong flagship killer contender.

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Hands-On

OPPO A92: The A9 2020 in a different skin

Makes you think it’s new

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There’s nothing particularly striking about the OPPO A92. In many aspects it’s… just right. The battery performance is stellar, and ColorOS 7.1 is in the running as one of my favorite Android skins. Everywhere else, it’s just solid.

It might seem underwhelming on paper, but if you think about it, it’s practically right in line with what you ought to expect from a smartphone at this price. Anything else that goes beyond this is a bonus.

Here’s a quick look at the specs:

OPPO A9 2020

Display

6.5” IPS LCD

Processor

Qualcomm Snapdragon 665

RAM + ROM

8GB + 128GB

Cameras

Quad rear (48MP + 8MP + 2MP + 2MP)

Punch hole selfie (16MP)

Battery

5,000mAh

Unlock

Side-mounted fingerprint scanner

Other connections

USB-C, 3.5mm jack

To me, this represents the baseline of what you should expect from a midrange smartphone. Nothing too fancy, nothing gimmicky, just the right amount of performance to get you through whatever it is you need to get through.

Solid, steady performance

I used the phone for roughly a week. Coming from flagship smartphones, I can definitely feel the difference but it still did what I needed it to do.

Browsing social media and jumping from Facebook, to Twitter, and then Instagram, and then back to Twitter is relatively smooth. There was no significant slow down but, as I’ve mentioned, if you are coming from a flagship you will notice a difference. There’s a bit of a drag, but it’s negligible for the most part.

I didn’t really do a lot of mobile gaming on the phone save for a few Asphalt 9 races. Just like everything about this phone, the experience is… okay.

I did have some trouble when the things on screen I needed to press were located near the edge. The phone just didn’t respond right away and it caused mild stress on my part. Told OPPO about this and it might be an isolated case with the unit I was lent.

Is it really a binge-watch machine?

The short answer is yes. We partnered with OPPO upon the phone’s launch and our talking point is how this phone can probably last longer than you during binge-watch sessions.

With a 5,000mAh battery and no exorbitant features to eat-up that power, the phone does last long. In this video (which I will also reluctantly add in this article), I noted how I didn’t charge the phone after an overnight binge-watch test. I used it sparingly over the next three days and it still didn’t run out of juice.

I can confidently say this will probably get you to a day and a half, even with heavy usage.

That UI is so damn clean

Other than Samsung going from TouchWi to OneUI, ColorOS’ journey from an iOS-wannabe to embracing everything about Android has been one of my favorite Android skin transformations.

There’s still a fair amount of bloatware and an annoying AppMarket, but everywhere else, ColorOS 7.1 is clean, extremely customizable, and just smooth to use and navigate.

You can pick the icon shape and style, and dark mode can even force apps that don’t have a dark mode yet to, well, go dark. It’s still a pretty shaky execution but they do a better job than vivo’s FunTouchOS. That’s at least true for the forced dark mode on the Facebook app.

Is it really an upgrade from the OPPO A9 2020?

This is a rather tricky question to answer. In terms of succession, yes, this is a follow-up to the OPPO A9 2020, but the only real differences are its weight, design. Even the weight part is nearly negligible with OPPO A9 2020 at 195g and OPPO A92 at 192g.

Some significant changes though are the fingerprint scanner location (side-mounted on the OPPO A92 vs rear on the OPPO A9 2020) and the selfie camera (punch hole on OPPO A92 vs waterdrop on OPPO A9 2020).

Side-mounted fingerprint scanner/power button

Otherwise, you get the same quad camera setup (48MP + 8MP + 2MP + 2MP), the same selfie camera (16MP), the same processor (Qualcomm Snapdragon 665), and the same configuration (8GB + 128GB). They even share the same launch pricing (PhP 15,990 or US$320).

For the most part, it’s the same phone under a different skin. If you liked the look of the OPPO A9 2020, then go for that one as it should be cheaper now. Personally, I think that design had more of an identity.

The OPPO A92 exists to create the illusion that after only six months, the company might have something new to offer — which isn’t the case. It’s like your ex coming back dressed differently. But deep inside, it’s just the same person.

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Hands-On

How the Muro Box filled my home with love and nostalgia

Share the good atmosphere!

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Most of my childhood were spent indoors reading history books while listening to music. There was fascination towards the past, which older people found adorable, but were peculiar to my peers. If I wasn’t playing the piano, I was playing a music box to change the atmosphere in a room.

Music boxes evoke an avalanche of emotions. As the cylinder rotates and the pins pluck the prongs of a steel comb, nostalgia creeps in. To some, it’s like a heart-thumping prelude rife to a dreadful scene in a horror movie.

But music boxes are more than just paraphernalia instrumental to suspenseful films. It’s been around here since the 18th-century, transforming spaces into something peaceful and magical.

Throughout the years, it has been continuously polished. What we see nowadays are century-long efforts of refinement. As we trench on futuristic gimmicks and remakes of past gizmos we’ve loved, I once dreamt of having a music box that plays more than one song.

The dream came true when I discovered a smart music box, aptly named Muro Box.

The 21st-century treatment to the old trinket we love

I first saw Muro Box last 2019 during COMPUTEX in Taipei. I was elated, remembering how my dream turned into reality. When it landed in my home, I was ecstatic to try it out. After unboxing it quickly and rigorously reading the manual, I immediately tinkered with it.

It was hefty but also felt fragile, like our dear hearts wanting love. You will need to use both your hands to properly move it, else you end up breaking it.

It uses a wooden base and covers its components with acrylic. It looks elegant, befitting a royal atmosphere. Homes filled with wooden furniture and fixtures work perfectly together with the Muro Box.

To start using it, you need to plug its 12V DC power supply and adapter to a wall socket, as recommended in the manual. A reminder of how there are things that are meant for us.

As you insert the tip, the cylinder will start moving, plucking the prongs of a steel comb. You can start playing music infinitely when you press the button on the back.

However, it’s not just a music box that plays random songs repeatedly. It’s smart enough to control which song should play at a specific time, plucking the comb using a programmable pin on its cylinder, following the melodies assigned through the app.

The first app-controlled music box

Connecting the Muro Box through the app and your WiFi is a breeze. It’s simple, straightforward, and efficient in its instructions. Even a 10-year-old kid can follow it, except kids shouldn’t be near this fragile gizmo.

When you press the button for 10 seconds, you can start connecting Muro Box to its Muro Box app, which can be downloaded via Google Playstore and on the App Store.

With the app you can upload music in the library, create your own playlist, request a specific song to music composers, and compose your own music. If you keep it connected, you can schedule its playtime, setting it as your own alarm clock.

I personally didn’t use its alarm setting, as I’ve associated these lullabies as the soundtrack of my rainy days, the comforting lull before I sleep, and a companion to my laptop and coffee whenever I’m creating.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

There’s something magical when the Muro Box starts playing. It fills the room with sentimentality, transforming my home into a harmonious, safe space for myself, and my ideas.

My mom delighted in the sound of the Muro Box euphoniously playing while we sip and exchange “teas” on one rainy afternoon. Even my niece found it endearing to watch the sound resonate as the golden-tinted stainless steel gear works underneath its acrylic cover.

I guess this smart instrument can be appreciated by people of all ages. If you believe in the magic of music and our ability to attach emotions to it such as love and yearning, the Muro Box is a great addition to your smart home. I would even go as far as calling it an investment!

In a world where our homes are getting smarter and automated, we all need a reminder of the past modified to keep up with the times. The Muro Box is a fine example: It adds emotions and evokes nostalgia like a human’s touch, all through a mechanically-produced sound. It is indeed a wonder-filled product of engineering and love.

You can get the Muro Box through their Indiegogo campaign, which will run until June 19, 2020. It’s originally priced at US$ 535 but you can get 39% off when you avail its early-bird promo for as low as US$ 330. Back their Indiegogo campaign through this link.

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