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Huawei P20 Pro review: 3 months later

Does it get better with age?

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I’ll be honest: New smartphone releases don’t excite me the way they used to. As much as I enjoyed using the Mi Mix 2S and Galaxy S9 as my daily drivers for most of early 2018, they’re practically the same as their predecessors.

It takes something special to win me over. The massive gold-trimmed Mi Mix did that for me in 2016, and so did the notch-pioneering Essential Phone last year (once its price dropped, of course). But let’s be real: Neither of these phones had decent cameras. As pretty as they were to look at, in no way could they replace my mirrorless camera on trips.

Now, I don’t want to sound like a Huawei bandwagoner, but the P20 Pro has been doing it all for me, and I’m not just talking about the fantastic cameras. Having spent significant time with both the Pro and non-Pro versions, they’ve been my go-to phones midway this year.

P20 Pro versus P20 (not) Pro

Before having the privilege of using the P20 Pro as my current daily driver, I had the regular P20 in my pocket. While this may have been for OOTD purposes, it became the basis for my experience with the Pro, and a reference to Huawei’s current-generation capabilities.

Isa already wrote her comprehensive thoughts on the P20, which largely reflect how I feel about the non-Pro model. It’s sized just right for hands both big and small; the cameras are above the competition (in most cases); and its color options are simply gorgeous in person.

Blue P20 on the left, Pink Gold P20 to the right

The P20 Pro is all that and a little more. Since it’s larger, there’s more screen real estate from its 6.1-inch 1080p OLED display and it houses a more generous 4000mAh battery — both of which are much-appreciated upgrades for power users.

Other differences aren’t as significant, like the stereo speakers and stronger waterproofing on the Pro model, but are again features that add value to the more expensive variant. Are these enough to justify the added premium? Not really, yet we haven’t touched on the main reason for buying a P20 Pro: the Leica-infused triple-camera setup on the back.

The mooore, the merrier

There are a total of four cameras on the P20 Pro, three of which are on the rear. They are: a 20-megapixel monochrome camera, an 8-megapixel sensor for additional zoom, and a primary shooter with 40 megapixels at its disposal. What does this all mean? The best imaging capabilities on a smartphone by a long shot.

People (us included) have become skeptical of DxOMark’s ratings and how they affect potential users’ perception of the best camera-phones, but there’s some truth in the soul-crushing dominance the P20 Pro experiences at the very top of their mobile chart.

Although it’s a given that every smartphone generation delivers a decent upgrade in image quality each year, none have dotted their exclamation point as much as Huawei has. It’s already been three whole months since the P20 Pro was unveiled, and no newer handset till now has even come close to dethroning its cameras’ performance.

I’ve already taken the P20 Pro across the world and used it to document my trips. I rarely say this, but this phone can definitely replace my consumer-grade mirrorless camera. Like the cameras, there are three things they specialize in, namely incredible image quality, unmatched zooming abilities, and nighttime photography like no other.

You can find a bunch of samples in my New York travel piece, along with a few more from my recent trip to Taipei right here:

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Whether I’m taking shots at night or under broad daylight, with or without color, the P20 Pro absolutely delivers. I can’t count how many times I’ve been amazed by the results and thankful that I left my dedicated camera at home.

Even the zoom comes in handy when I’m traveling or shooting at an event. With a dedicated lens for this purpose, the P20 Pro can optically zoom up to three times. What’s even more impressive, however, is the image quality at 10X zoom.

Using a mix of optical and digital zoom (and some advanced software tricks), photos shot at the maximum length turn out usable, which is something I can’t say for the majority of cameras out there.

While the 24-megapixel front camera seems like another recipe for success, it doesn’t hit the same high notes. Not that it’s bad by any means — and trust me, I’ve had worse — but selfies simply don’t match up to anything the main cameras produce.

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This can be considered the weakest aspect of the P20 Pro’s shooters. It takes steady hands to produce sharp images, and the sensor seems to struggle a bit with groups (something Isa pointed out, as well).

It seems to me like Huawei marketed the rear cameras so strongly in order to make people ignore the weakness of the selfie cam. It’s a shame, but this leaves some room for improvements in the next flagship. Last year’s Mate 10 Pro proved that Huawei knows how to polish its selfies.

Downsides? There are a couple.

For one, I find the Master AI feature, which chooses the best mode for you using artificial intelligence, cumbersome to use. Although it gets the settings right most of the time, it adds a few seconds to the process, and there will be instances wherein it’ll experiment on its own, leaving you forced to watch it switch from one mode to another.

I simply leave this feature turned off and do the scene selection on my own. Need a good nighttime pic? I simply go to night mode and take a four-second handheld exposure. Want to blur the background behind my subject? I’m already in portrait mode. Artsy-fartsy time? There’s monochrome mode for that.

On the other hand, video mode isn’t that great. Even though Huawei managed to improve the stability and clarity of videos, they missed a golden opportunity to massacre the competition outside of just photography.

If you try the super-slow-mo mode, you’ll see how unrefined it is compared to what the likes of Sony and Samsung have done. Yes, it shoots HD videos at 960 frames per second too, but it’s nowhere near as fun or as intuitive to use.

It does almost everything else

Of course, this is first and foremost a smartphone, and we can’t sell it solely on its shooters. But even if the cameras weren’t this good, the P20 Pro stands as one of the most impressive handsets of 2018 thus far.

Give me a moment to be a little technical:

Its Kirin 970 processor, though a bit behind in terms of raw power compared to this generation’s chips, is still a beast for everyday tasks and playing the latest mobile games; the generous battery is more than enough to power through a day of heavy usage with mobile data or Wi-Fi constantly on; and the OLED display, while not the brightest or sharpest out there, has been serving me well.

So, what’s there to consider three months later? Does it truly get better with age?

To get a pure feel of the P20 Pro, I decided to not use a case or any form of protection for it. Fortunately for me, its glass and metal body held up well. It doesn’t pick up scratches easily and the frame of my black variant has a matte finish, providing more grip than I’m used to on slippery glass phones.

And even if the rear cameras protrude a great deal, they don’t show signs of wear and tear after all this time. Their placement is annoying, however; the phone wobbles with every press on the screen while laid flat on a table.

Another constant gripe is Huawei’s uncertainty about going truly wireless or not. As you may already know, there’s no audio port for your headphones, forcing you to use an adapter or wireless earphones. Nothing we can do about that since that’s the direction all brands are heading toward, but having no wireless charging despite there being a compatible glass back seems counter-intuitive.

On the bright side, charging to full takes less than two hours, but that’s if you use the bundled SuperCharge adapter. It’s a proprietary standard, meaning you won’t be able to get SuperCharge speeds with chargers from non-Huawei phones.

The phone will simply indicate “fast charging” when using other adapters and slow down the top-up considerably. As someone who brings multiple devices with me at a time, it bums me to carry a dedicated charger just for the P20 Pro.

Software-wise, EMUI has grown on me. Despite feeling like it’s based on an older version of Android and not the Oreo it’s actually running on, I appreciate the fluidity of the animations and convenience of the quick settings. After uninstalling all the bloatware upon setting the phone up, everything has been fine and dandy since.

I can’t say for certain if it truly got faster the more I used it — Huawei’s machine learning tech is supposed to kick in for this — but the phone does feel as fast as when I first took it out of the box.

And no, the camera notch doesn’t bother me. I’d take it over the mechanical sliding cameras popping up lately.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

Fun fact: I wrote this entire review on a P20 Pro. That’s not saying it can replace a laptop; I simply can’t let go of this phone.

There’s little to dislike about the P20 Pro. The only strong argument I have against it is to save your money by considering the regular P20 instead. It’s significantly cheaper in most markets, and lots of users will appreciate the handier form factor.

But if you do end up with a P20 Pro: Congrats! Smartphone cameras don’t get any better than this, and they happen to be on a mostly complete handset.

Her GadgetMatch

Vivo NEX S: What’s taking selfies with a pop-up camera like?

And other relevant questions about Vivo’s newest flagship

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“It has a pop-up selfie camera.” That was the only thing I heard when the Vivo NEX was announced, and all other features faded into the background. Seriously, my main excitement over this phone stems from the fact that it has a mechanical camera that comes out when you take photos with the front-facing camera.

How would it work? Why the technical maneuvering to make this camera happen? Would it break after the gajillion selfies I take in a day? These were all questions I needed answers to. So, it’s time for a quick review — and by quick, I mean I’m only tackling the key features. (You can read the full hands-on review here.)

What’s the deal with this phone anyway?

The Vivo NEX, to us mere mortals (your average non-techie consumer), looks like a typical smartphone. Until you have to scan your fingerprint and take a selfie, that is. Of course, a number of people have given praise to this handset for being the future of smartphones — and I can’t blame them. In a sea of identical notched devices, a camera with moving parts sounds oh so exciting.

You’ll realize that the hype is real when you finally get this baby in your hands. Anything that feels less than premium in my hands is a big no-no for me, and the NEX doesn’t disappoint in this regard. Unlike the previous midrange Vivo releases that didn’t quite do it for me, this handset has a good weight to it and you can definitely feel the glass build.

Sure, it comes in drab black, but if the light hits right, you can see colors of the rainbow. No, really:

It’s a nice lighting touch, though to be honest, it just looks more black in most lighting scenarios. I’m pretty disappointed I’m not the dazzling unicorn I thought I’d be by using this phone, but that’s just me.

Do we really need all that screen?

A 91+ percent screen ratio is a big deal in terms of measurement and smartphone hype, but it’s just a bunch of numbers to me. Admittedly, however, the wider screen experience is good — the obsession with a wider screen in a smaller phone body is understandable for people with smaller hands like mine.

Speaking as someone who hides the notch when I have the option to, the lack of screen obtrusion is refreshing. More screen means a literal bigger picture, which is great when being viewed on a massive 6.59-inch Super AMOLED screen. As much as I’d love to say that’s a problem for the small-screened population, it’s the lack of standard in screen ratios that’s the real culprit, so I’ll leave it at that.

How does the fingerprint sensor feel?

Hidden in plain sight is the fingerprint sensor. Yes, it’s in the display! You know where to scan your fingerprint because when the phone’s locked, the area of the screen where you’re supposed to put your finger lights up.

How does this new technology fare? Well, it’s decent. Compared to other fingerprint scanners which take less than a second to unlock with a slight touch from your finger, the in-display sensor on this thing is less sensitive and it takes longer. You’d have to hold your finger precisely on the correct area of the screen for a second or two.

Call me spoiled, but in a time of talking refrigerators, that two-second delay feels so long. Impressive as an under-display fingerprint sensor may be, anything longer than a second just feels so laggy to impatient old me, especially since the only two options to unlock this phone is via the sensor or entering a code (which is so 2010). The phone isn’t equipped with face unlock technology since, to get to the front-facing camera, you’d need the phone unlocked.

Vivo offers an alternative to all this in the form of the lower-priced Vivo NEX A, though, so problem solved. That version of the NEX has an actual fingerprint scanner  — the usual fast one — on the back of the phone.

What’s taking selfies with a pop-up camera like?

First of all, I’d like to admit: Taking selfies with a pop-up camera is pretty cool. The reaction I get when other people see this moving part on my phone is priceless.

How it works is the camera pops up every time you flip the camera to selfie mode. The whole thing barely makes a sound, though there are options to add a sound effect every time the cam came out, but I refused to turn that on because who wants an alert every time a selfie is attempted? It’s a pretty smooth movement so once the novelty faded out, there were times I even forgot it was happening.

Forgetting that tiny protruding camera was actually what scared me. One too many times, I’d accidentally tap the selfie camera option and, without me noticing, the camera would come out. This happened in my bag, in my hands, or even on my cluttered desk, and every time I was scared I’d break this tiny moving part.

Sure, Vivo said they did drop tests and that the camera can pop up to 50,000 times (Chay did the math: That’s 137 years if you only take one selfie per day), but does that mean it’s Isa-proof? It did survive more than a week in my hands, but I don’t think that thing would’ve survived a solid drop if it so happened with the camera out. (Because let’s be honest, everyone drops their phones.)

The selfie camera on the NEX is pretty good and I love how its AI beauty mode is so subtle but effective. Of course, the beauty mode can still be too much at optimum settings, but who told you to amp up the filter that high, Brenda?

Additionally, the rear cameras are pretty good, too. Honestly, it’s a pretty capable IG camera. See for yourself:

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For more photo samples, check out our 24 Hours at the World Cup with the Vivo NEX.

Do I likey?

Me likey what I’ve seen so far.

If you’re in the business of reviewing phones and gadgets, it’s easy to get bored with all the identical phones being churned out nowadays. That being said, it’s also easy to get carried away by something just by virtue of it being different.

Truth be told, this is one solid phone from Vivo. Honestly, it’s a flagship that I would totally use, even for just the selfie camera. But, on top of it being novel, I’m happy to report that it performs well, all things considered. Despite caveats, it’s a phone that pushes boundaries and dares to stray from what conventional smartphones are making.

And, don’t we all love that exciting wildcard? C’mon, live a little and take poppin’ (pun intended) selfies along the way.

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Samsung Galaxy A6+ Review: Filling the gap

Something in between

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Samsung continues to populate the Android smartphone market just like any other phone manufacturer. Two months ago, the South Korean company announced the Galaxy A6+ along with the Galaxy A6. The Galaxy A6+, as expected, is the better phone of the two with a bigger screen, better processor, and dual rear cameras. If you’re familiar with the designs of Samsung phones, you might mistake this phone as the direct successor to the Galaxy J7 Pro because of some physical similarities.

How much better is the Galaxy A6+ for it to be above the Galaxy J series? Let’s find out.

It has a 6-inch Super AMOLED Infinity Display

Comes with a Full HD+ resolution

It has an 18.5:9 aspect ratio with minimal bezels, just like with the Galaxy A8 (2018)

The top bezel is wide enough to have a front LED flash

The top portion of the phone is clean

You can only see a couple of antenna bands here

On the left side are the volume buttons…

The opposite side has the loudspeaker

And also two separate card trays

One for the main SIM card and another for the second one and a microSD card

The bottom is pretty busy with the mic, micro-USB, and 3.5mm port

Why is Samsung still not widely adopting USB-C?

The back has the U-shaped antenna bands from the Galaxy J series

This is what makes the Galaxy A6+ look like a member of the Galaxy J series

Let’s not forget about the two rear cameras and fingerprint reader

While the body’s design is borrowed from the Galaxy J7 Pro, the camera is from the Galaxy A8 (2018) or Galaxy S9’s look

A familiar but surprisingly fresh design

The phone’s design blends both the recent Galaxy J and Galaxy A phones, specifically the Galaxy J7 Pro and Galaxy A8 (2018). Or if you wanna get picky, the Galaxy S9 too, but without the curved sides of the display. Moving forward, the Galaxy A6+ looks and feels like a premium phone. The seamless unibody has the cold touch I always look for when using a phone with a metal body. The finish of my review unit is matte, but it’s still a bit slippery on my hand.

The body has a nice rounded shape, making it comfortable to hold. When I wrap my hand around the phone, I don’t feel any sharp edges, which is a good thing. I can easily use the phone with one hand, but I find the phone more suitable for two-handed operation due to its large display.

Aside from black, the phone also comes in blue, gold, and lavender depending on your market region. It doesn’t have the most exciting colors (Huawei and Honor are currently leading in that aspect), but they look sleek and formal.

Great-performing midrange phone

Powered by the efficient Snapdragon 450 processor, the Galaxy A6+ can easily get things done. The processor is paired with 4GB of memory and Android 8.0 Oreo skinned with Samsung Experience version 9.0. During my usage, I didn’t encounter any lag, so the power that this phone has is already sufficient to provide a smooth user experience. I’m just not sure if this will get Android P in the future. Perhaps it will since it’s under the Galaxy A-series, but the timeline is yet to be confirmed.

It’s great to have a midrange Samsung phone running a Snapdragon processor since it’s compatible with most games in the Google Play Store. Not that Exynos processors don’t have the power, but developers optimize their apps (especially games) with Snapdragon chipsets more.

Since the Galaxy A6+ has been a secondary phone for me, I filled its 32GB internal storage with games and played a lot on it. I was able to enjoy Asphalt Xtreme on high settings and even some graphics-intensive titles including Tekken Mobile and Power Rangers: Legacy Wars. PUBG Mobile was automatically set to low, but you can always adjust the settings to get more details.

As for the rear fingerprint reader, it works well and can be used along with face unlock. The fingerprint reader is more secure and reliable though, since this phone doesn’t have infrared cameras like the Galaxy S9 and Note 8.

Takes more than decent pictures, plus bokeh!

Samsung is gradually putting two sensors on the back of their phones, and the Galaxy A6+ is the latest in the bunch. A main 16-megapixel f/1.7 sensor is paired with a secondary 5-megapixel f/1.9 sensor for depth sensing. Just like other simple dual-camera setups, the additional sensor helps add bokeh — there’s no optical zoom or super wide-angle lens.

I took the phone around Taipei for some sample photos. Taiwan’s capital is a colorful city which the phone continues to brighten up through its cameras. Under direct light, the photos I took are sharp or maybe too sharp at times. Even when the sun sets, the rear shooter can take good-looking photos thanks to its large aperture. Moving subjects can be a problem at night though, but that’s understandable since the phone prioritizes the exposure over speed.

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When it comes to selfies, the Galaxy A6+ continues to carry the flag of the Galaxy A series as Samsung’s selfie-centric line. The 24-megapixel f/1.9 front-facing can shoot detailed and pleasant selfies. The built-in beauty mode is not as impressive as OPPO’s or Vivo’s, but it’s there. Of course, AR stickers are also available but not the AR Emoji feature from the Galaxy S9.

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For a point-and-shoot camera phone, the Galaxy A6+ will do great for everyday shooting. Both the front and rear shooters have large apertures for bright photos and quick snaps. Selfies are also in check and there’s even a dedicated LED flash so you can still take portraits in the dark.

One for the road but…

For you to be able to enjoy what the phone has to offer all day, it’s gotta have a long battery life. Thankfully, the large 3500mAh battery sealed inside the metal body of the Galaxy A6+ delivers well enough. I used the phone as my secondary device while roaming around Taipei, mostly for taking photos and as a mobile hotspot using a local SIM card. I easily got three days of usage since I didn’t use the phone as much, but it can definitely last more than a day if used moderately on its own.

While the battery life of the handset is impressive, the charging time is not. The phone charges through the micro-USB port found at the bottom of the phone. Using a fast charger, I get only 13 percent after a quick 15 minute top-up, while a 30-minute charge gives me 24 percent. My personal charger is already Quick Charge 3.0-compatible, but that’s definitely not supported by the phone.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

If you’re looking to upgrade your old Galaxy J series phone to a more premium Samsung phone, you can test the waters with the Galaxy A6+. We’re aware of the increase in smartphone prices (especially with Samsung), so we understand if some users might find this phone to be on the expensive side. Maybe if Samsung didn’t resort to recycling the U-shaped antenna design, people (including myself) would not associate this phone as part of the cheaper Galaxy J lineup.

The Galaxy A6+ is priced at EUR 369 (US$ 430) in Europe, but is slightly cheaper in some parts of Asia: INR 25,990 in India, PhP 22,990 in the Philippines, and MYR 1,399 in Malaysia. It costs more than the competition, but the added premium is a requirement to get a more admirable phone from Samsung.

SEE ALSO: Samsung Galaxy A6 Hands-on: Repackaging the older series

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Huawei P20 Lite Review

A shy midrange phone worth paying attention to

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Amid the praises Huawei is getting for the P20 and P20 Pro, it seems like people are forgetting that there’s a shy midrange variant in the series — a variant that doesn’t have any camera branding or high price tag. This is our Huawei P20 Lite review.

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