Reviews

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:

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.

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.

Reviews

Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro review: Exorbitant flagship

No longer a value for money phone

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Xiaomi’s new flagship is here. The company has made its name for making smartphones that offer great performance for much less. Is the Mi 10 Pro still a flagship killer?

As the Mi 10 Pro rolls out to more markets in the world, we take a look at what Xiaomi’s best smartphone of 2020 has to offer.

Familiar, forgettable design

If the Mi 10 Pro looks familiar, that’s because its looks resemble that of the Mi Note 10, which we reviewed back in November.

In case you need a refresher, the Mi Note 10 was the very first smartphone to debut with a 108MP camera — months ahead of the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra. The new Mi 10 Pro also has a 108MP camera, although the similarities with the Mi Note 10 ends there.

The backbone of the Mi 10 Pro is Qualcomm’s new flagship processor the Snapdragon 865 while the Mi Note 10 is powered by the midrange Snapdragon 730G. This is important because this chipset enables some of the Mi 10 Pro’s best features including 5G and WiFi 6 support, as well as 8K video recording.

The Mi 10 Pro comes in two colors, Alpine White and Solstice Grey. They have a matte metallic finish.

It’s a good size although it’s slightly bigger than last year’s Mi 9 or Mi Note 10, as well as the Huawei P40 Pro and Galaxy S20+ which we think have the perfect size. All that said it doesn’t feel too big or hefty.

All the buttons are found on the right side — power and volume buttons. Where you really should look is up top, where you’d find speaker grilles. There’s another set on the bottom where you’d usually find them. We’ve seen stereo speakers on smartphones before but we don’t remember seeing this kind of implementation.

Also on the bottom are another set of microphones, USB-C port, and the nanoSIM card tray. The global version of the Mi 10 Pro only has one slot for a nanoSIM card, while the Chinese version has two.

Superb audio

Xiaomi says the Mi 10 Pro has one of the best speakers on a smartphone today. This is thanks to its dual super-linear speaker and and 7-magnet speaker design. It comes with 15 volume levels that you can crank all the way up without worrying about sound distortion or turn it all the way down and still experience a rich and deep sound.

DxOMark says it’s got the highest score of any smartphone audio they’ve tested. Audio isn’t our specialty but for what we use it for, it does sound loud, full, and clear. It’s perfect for watching Netflix or following recipes on YouTube while in the kitchen.

DxOMark also says that the Mi 10 Pro is the best phone they’ve tested when it comes to audio recording. Watch our review video and skip to 4:42 to listen to a sample recording.

Xiaomi’s best display

The display on the Mi 10 Pro is the best you can find on a Xiaomi phone to date. Like a lot of phones we’ve reviewed lately, it’s got an AMOLED display that curves on both sides.

Palm rejection on the Mi 10 Pro is also pretty good — we haven’t had issues of accidentally triggering anything on the edges while browsing.

The Mi 10 Pro display also has better sensitivity than ever. It sports a 90Hz refresh rate and a 180Hz sampling rate. The screen feels smoother when reading articles, scrolling through Instagram, or playing games.

It’s a great display overall, and definitely the best from Xiaomi, but not the best we’ve seen thus far.

Another gaming beast from Xiaomi

The Mi 10 Pro’s top of the line processor comes with a good helping of RAM and storage that starts at 8GB and 256GB respectively. But with great power comes great responsibility — and great cooling needs.

The Mi 10 Pro’s a large vapor chamber, 6-stack graphite layer, and heat-transmitting gel reduces CPU temperature by up to 10.5 degrees Celsius. So when you’re playing graphics intensive games the phone stays cool to the touch.

Impressive battery life and charging speeds

With a huge 4500 mAh battery, the Mi 10 Pro lasts more than a full day of heavy use. It comes bundled with a 65W charger but the phone itself maxes out at 50W. True to Xiaomi’s claim, it only takes around 45 minutes to fully charge its large battery.

The 65W adapter is power delivery compatible, which means it can be used to charge other devices like the Nintendo Switch, the iPad Pro, and the MacBook Air.

The Mi 10 Pro also supports 30W wireless charging, and 5W reverse wireless charging for when you want to top up another phone, a Qi-compatible smartwatch, or your wireless earbuds.

Cameras that can compete

Now, onto the main event. Gone were the days when Xiaomi flagships offered the best bang for your buck, but not delivering where it matters most — camera performance.

On its 10 year anniversary, the Mi 10 Pro’s quad-camera is here to compete with what other brands have to offer. It’s got a 108MP wide angle lens with OIS , an 8MP 10x hybrid zoom lens with OIS, a 12MP portrait lens, and a 20MP ultra wide angle lens.

“The Mi 10 Pro’s camera is finally able to truly go head to head with the best of the best.”

It topped DxOMark’s charts for a few months with an overall score of 124, and was only recently bumped down by the Huawei P40 Pro at 128.

As you know these are different times and we need to practice self-isolation, so we don’t have the usual travel photos to share as sample photos, but here are some snaps we took at home, on the roof deck, and on a trip to the supermarket.

These photos speak for themselves. The Mi 10 Pro took excellent photos both during the day and at night. But how does it fare vs other top flagships?

 

If you take a look at these side by side photos, you’ll notice the Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro, Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, and Huawei P40 Pro all took great photos. Which one is better really depends on your personal preference. The photos from the S20 for example tend to be more saturated.

For the sake of comparing here are 108 megapixel photos taken with the S20 Ultra and Mi 10 Pro. When zoomed in, you can see that the latter actually does a better job in capturing details.

In low light, all three phones did equally good as well.

It wasn’t until all the lights were off where the Huawei P40 Pro showed that it’s still the best out there.

When a tiny light source from another phone was added in a completely dark room, both the Mi 10 Pro and P40 Pro produced decent shots. The S20 Ultra, however, struggled to focus.

One of the cameras on the Mi 10 Pro is a 12MP portrait lens, which is also used when you select 2X zoom. It’s supposedly comparable to a 50mm portrait lens — one of our favorites, actually. It’s a great focal length when taking photos from the waist up as it’s very flattering for the face and the results kinda agree. Sans any beauty effect it’s the lens that gives the skin its naturally soft look without going overboard.

What Xiaomi is most proud of with the Mi 10 Pro however, is its video capture capabilities. The Snapdragon 865 chipset found in the phone enables 8K video capture with the new Spectra 480.

Video also now comes with pro mode, so if you’re the type who likes to vlog or experiment with cinematic video on your phone, this phone is perfect for that. It comes with 8 classic movie filters and can shoot in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.

Since we don’t have any travel videos to show this time around, here’s an attempt at a cinematic handwashing video shot with the Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro.

Is the Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro your GadgetMatch?

Xiaomi used to represent the best value for money phones in the market, at least in countries where it is sold. For many years the company made its name by selling great phones with top of the line specs for several hundred dollars less than its competitors.

That’s just not the case in 2020.

In China, The Mi 10 Pro starts at CNY 4,999 (US$ 715). Last year’s Mi 9 cost nearly half that price at CNY 2,999 (US$445).

When it launches in Europe this month, it’s going to be just as expensive as every other flagship smartphone. In Spain, Italy, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium it will retail for EUR 999 (US$ 1,096).

The question is, is it worth it?

By merit alone, the Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro has earned its stripes. It’s good enough to be compared to the Huawei P40 Pro and the Galaxy S20 Ultra.

But part of what you pay for is the prestige that’s associated with a particular brand name. That’s where Xiaomi falls short — it just isn’t there yet. It should have undercut its competition and sold it at EUR 849, that way we could wholeheartedly recommend that you buy it.

The Mi 10 Pro’s camera is finally able to truly go head to head with the best of the best. It’s the first time that its impressive resume matches real world experience.

If you’re a die hard Xiaomi fan looking to upgrade from the Mi 8 or Mi 9, this phone is worth it. But considering how much you paid for your old phone, you need to ask yourself — does your brand loyalty mean enough for you to dig deeper into your pockets?

If you were willing to pay $1,000 for a phone would you still get a Xiaomi phone or would you consider a more prestigious brand that might at the very least up your street cred, if not have higher resale value?

For everyone else looking for an alternative to the Galaxy S20 Ultra, which by reputation is the world’s best Android phone, this is definitely a contender — an equal maybe, in some respects maybe even better. It’s got top of the line specs, good battery life, super fast charging, great audio and camera performance.

The biggest differentiator is Xiaomi’s feature-rich MIUI 11. You either love it or hate it. If you’re on the side that loves it, then it’s worth it.

Watch our Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro Unboxing and Review video here:

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Laptops

Lenovo Yoga S740 review: Great for work from home

Well, almost great because of some things

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Being stuck under quarantine meant that I had to work from the comfort of my own room. With the amount of tasks I had to accomplish within the 8.5 hours, I wanted a laptop that could help me accomplish these faster and more efficiently. Naturally, I had my work laptop with me but I decided to give another laptop a try during my work from home saga.

Luckily, before this quarantine started, I got my hands on the Lenovo Yoga S740 in a very beautiful package. The company pegs this as a creative mind’s laptop, doubling down on hardware pieces fit for photo and video work. When you’re not using it for Photoshop or Premiere Pro, it’s supposedly an excellent work laptop.

So, maybe it won’t be too bad to give this laptop a shot — even with my work laptop in full reach. Here’s what the Lenovo Yoga S740 brings to the table:

It has a 14-inch IPS glossy display that flips 180 degrees

It has an NVIDIA MX250 discrete GPU inside

It comes in a thin and light chassis, in the Iron Grey color

Masterful performance for its intended use

The Lenovo Yoga S740 comes with premium hardware fit for professional work laptops out there. The 10th generation Intel Core i7-1065G7 chip they put inside this device provides more than enough power for most of the tasks I did. From making tons of spreadsheets to doing some video editing, this device clearly holds its own against all of it.

It didn’t even take that long to boot up the laptop thanks to the 512GB M.2 SSD inside. Load times for most applications are what you’d expect from a new processor and 16GB of RAM inside. It’s almost like this laptop sets the standard for how work laptops should be based on the hardware.

With the NVIDIA MX250 inside, you can play games at a fairly decent frame rate. In my experience however, I don’t recommend it as part of your main activities with the device. Apart from playable frame rates of 30-40 FPS, the device warms up pretty fast and its thermals are not exactly built for that.

Solid battery life across the board

Lenovo claims the device can last up to 14 hours provided you just use it for most everyday tasks. On my end, I got about 10 to 11 hours all while using it strictly for work-related tasks like writing reports and processing data. When using the device along with social media, Netflix, and a little bit of gaming, it’s around 8 to 9 hours, which is pretty decent.

The device doesn’t take too long to charge either, as it took two and a half hours to fully charge it. If you decide to charge the device using the Thunderbolt 3 USB Type-C port, it takes about three hours for a full charge. I found out that you can use any USB-C charger you have lying around, whether it’s for your phone or for your Nintendo Switch.

The way the thermals work confuses me

For me, it’s important to keep any portable device well ventilated. I’ve had experiences both with phones and laptops that just heat up real fast, then take a long while before cooling down. The Lenovo Yoga S740 proved to be no exception to this, but it also manages to do it a little worse than most laptops I’ve had — and I don’t know why.

For starters, the device has rubber feet that elevate it a little bit when placed on any surface. Ideally, this gives the laptop room to exhaust hot air through its ventilation grills underneath, which it was able to do on regular use. However, when you’re doing a lot of tasks at the same time (not necessarily gaming-heavy), the fans get loud and the hot air can’t get out properly. I say that mostly because I feel the warmth on the keyboard when this happens.

Another thing I observed was that even in sleep mode, this device pumps the fans up. Ideally, it shouldn’t pump out as much air as it should when you’re actively using it. However, when I decided to just put it to sleep by closing the lid shut, it still pumped out a lot of hot air. I thought closing the lid shut also means the device would be put in a low power state, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here.

Other features that deserve your attention

There were a bunch of other features that you should look at before even thinking of getting this device. First, the overall design is pretty great for any use case. The FHD IPS display folds up to 180 degrees, and honestly best used when you’re typing something while lying down. The speakers are found just beside the keyboard, and are pretty decent when you’re watching movies.

Second, the 720p IR camera is just, well bad. I didn’t run into any problems setting it up for Windows Hello’s facial recognition, which makes up for a lack of a fingerprint sensor. But the moment you start using the webcam on its own, it’s not promising at all. The images show obvious grain, not much attention to even sharpening the details a bit. If you ever need to do a conference call, this camera won’t help you.

And lastly, there are some ports that this device had to sacrifice but these were not good sacrifices. For most creative professionals, having an HDMI port also helps — apart from the Thunderbolt 3 port. Most external displays readily available still use an HDMI port, so there’s a missed opportunity there. Also, the lack of an SD card reader will have you sacrificing one of your two USB Type-A ports — especially for photographers.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

At PhP 74,995, the Lenovo Yoga S740 is one great on-the-go work device. The hardware inside is great for most work and creative tasks. Plus, it lasts pretty long provided you use it just for work or creativity purposes. You can game on it a little, but don’t expect mind-boggling frame rates unless you get the unit with the NVIDIA GTX 1650 inside.

There are some things that do deserve a second opinion before you get this device. The lack of substantial ports, a grainy 720p camera, and the hard pumping thermals leave a lot to be desired. But, if you feel that you can manage with these, then this device is great on its own.

Overall, I think that this is a great alternative to most work laptops I have. When I’m not using it for work, it’s also great for most past times I have. If I were a creative professional, I’d highly consider getting this, but maybe once the quarantine is over.

SEE ALSO: Why the Lenovo Yoga S940 makes for a perfect business travel companion

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Accessories

Fossil Hybrid HR review: Exceeding expectations

Who needs a man when you have the Hybrid HR?

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These days, the qualities I look for in a man are the same things I look for in a watch: smart, good-looking, long-lasting, and more important, a great travel companion.

The search isn’t easy. Smartwatches have come and gone in my life mainly for two reasons: they have poor battery life and/or are hideous.

Walking around Brooklyn the day I took the Fossil Hybrid HR out of the box

For those same reasons, only the Fossil Q Hybrid smartwatches remained constant on my wrist for the last three years. When I learned that Fossil released the Hybrid HR, I got excited — until I saw that it promises only two weeks of battery life, that is.

A two-week battery life is already huge leap forward if you’re coming from a WearOS device or an Apple Watch. If you’re used to the original Hybrid line like me however, two weeks is not a lot.

Still, I wanted to give it a chance. It can do far more than the original hybrid after all, and it has a heart rate sensor, so the trade off might be worth it.

Polished looks

The one I have is the Hybrid HR Charter, with a rose gold stainless steel mesh strap and a white watch face. On the app it shows that it’s also called Diana.

Just like the late princess, it’s stylish, refined, and elegant as far as smartwatches go. There’s a version with a black watch face and rose gold combination as well, which I think is a perfect look for winter.

It comes with traditional watch hands and dials, but in the middle is a cutout for what Fossil calls a read-out display. This is similar to the e-ink display you’d find on a Kindle and other e-book readers. Unlike Kindle displays and regular smartwatch displays, the read-out display is not touch screen; all navigation is done through the three physical buttons on the right.

Buy the Fossil Hybrid HR

The physical buttons do three things primarily: up, select, and down. They can also be set to do other functions when not selecting from a menu. From the home screen, I set the top button to show my wellness stats, the middle button shows the weather including chance of rain and highs and lows throughout the day, while the bottom button is a shortcut for tracking my workouts.

The read-out display shows up to four bits of information at a time that you can customize on the Fossil Hybrid app. It can show a second timezone, day and date date, resting heart rate, the weather, chance of rain, calories burned, active minutes, steps, and battery life.

I set mine to show the day and date, my resting heart rate, a second timezone set to Barcelona, and the weather. These are the information I’ll always want to know without checking my phone, whether I’m traveling, working out, or just reading a book on a lazy Sunday.

On the Fossil Hybrid app, you can create presets and easily switch between them, depending on your activity.

The background is cuztomizable, too. Fossil has a few classy black and white patterns you can choose from.

Alternatively, you can use any photo from your gallery and it will be converted into a black and white, e-ink version. I found that it works better with photos with a lot of negative space. Here’s what it looks like with a photo of the sunrise over rock formations in Cappadocia, Turkey.

It can also be set to show no widgets and look like an analog watch if you want it to. It can have a plain white background, a photo, or any of the patterns all while still being able to see the data it records through its sensors on the app.

Since there’s no way to adjust the display brightness, you can double tap on the watch face to activate the lights to help you see the time better when it’s dark.

Basic fitness tracking

The main reason I gave the Hybrid HR a chance, is that unlike the original Fossil Q Hybrid models, it comes with a heart rate sensor. This is what I liked about the other smartwatches I’ve tried before, including the Fossil Q Gen 4. Knowing how unfit I was by seeing my resting heart rate made me want to live a more active lifestyle.

The Hybrid HR can track exercises although it’s not exactly made for that — there are more capable wearables if that’s what you’re looking for. The mesh band is replacable with any standard 18mm watch strap, so I bought a gray silicone strap from Fossil for when I do my workouts.

I don’t remember the last time I tracked my workout using a smartwatch, but I do remember arriving at the gym a handful of times with a dead battery.

Buy the Fossil Hybrid HR

Two months in and I have yet to get into the habit of putting it on whenever I work out, as well as remembering to start and stop the tracking function, so I have yet to see any real pattern from the readings.

My resting heart rate during a core workout (left) and a leg day (right)

When I did remember, the app recorded that I burned 79 calories and a maximum heart rate of 139 bpm during a 34-minute core workout. It recorded a total of 243 calories burnt one excruciating leg day, and an understandably maximum heart rate of 193 bpm.

The Fossil Hybrid HR is able to track sleep — on a flight (left) and on my bed

It also has a sleep tracker, and I’ve kept it on a few times while I dozed off. This isn’t a feature that I see myself using and checking a lot but I’m amazed at how it knew exactly when I fell asleep during flights, the specific moments when I woke up to drink water, or adjust my position.

You can also set it to send you alerts when you’re inactive. I set it to notify me every time I haven’t moved for one hour starting from 11:00 AM and end at 9:00 PM, which is generally the time I spend in front of my computer on weekdays. This has especially become helpful during quarantine since I live in a tiny New York apartment and have very little room for movement.

Better battery life than expected

Apart from being so well-designed, not having to charge the original hybrid smartwatches from Fossil was the reason I loved them. I already have way too many devices that need charging, and I don’t need to bring yet another cable with me when I’m traveling. Packing as little as possible is difficult as it is.

In the last two months of using the Hybrid HR, I found that its battery doesn’t last me two weeks as Fossil claims — it lasts an entire month!

Matching my monotone outfit at a briefing in San Francisco

During my trips to San Francisco, back to New York, then to Barcelona, Budapest, and Madrid through the month of February, not once did I take the charging cable out to juice it up. I could have forgotten to pack the charging cable for my trips and I would have been perfectly fine.

I can point to two reasons why the Hybrid HR’s battery life has been impressive: its read-out display doesn’t consume as much power as other smartwatch displays, and I’ve had most notifications turned off from the very beginning.

Munching on pintxos in Barcelona

While most people wear smartwatches to get notifications without picking up their phones, I’m the complete opposite. I wear a watch so I can see the time at a glance, not to get distracted and for my productivity to get disrupted.

Any work-related apps like Gmail and Slack have never had access to my wrist — only apps that me and my closest friends and family use to communicate did: Messages, Whatsapp, and Instagram Direct.

Buy the Fossil Hybrid HR

After a month I turned off both Whatsapp and Instagram Direct as well, and only left notifications on for Messages for three important contacts on my phone who also use SMS and iMessage sparingly. This meant that my watch now only vibrates and gets to interrupt me for something very important and whenever it tells me to move.

The Fossil Hybrid HR finally showed a low battery notification after four weeks of use

In March, when it finally buzzed to say that I had 7 percent battery life remaining, it took a little over an hour for a full charge. A 30-minute top up can get to 68 percent, which, based on my experience could very well last me more than two weeks of use.

My only complaint, having used the original hybrids from Fossil, is that the Hybrid HR no longer shows up under the Batteries widget on my iPhone. The only way for me to know how much battery I have left on the watch is by going on the app or by changing one of the widgets on the watch. It’s a minor issue, but I’m hoping this is something that can be addressed via an update in the future.

Is the Fossil Hybrid HR your GadgetMatch?

The Fossil Hybrid HR is the answer to the current crop of smartwatch’s biggest pain points: looks and battery life. For my lifestyle, the way I use watches, and at US$ 215, it makes the most sense. Other models start at US$ 195.

“I could have forgotten to pack the charging cable for my trips and I would have been perfectly fine.”

That I can travel and not worry about topping it up every night, while still getting the information I need is a godsend. Knowing what the weather is like at a glance, without asking my Smart Clock or checking Accuweather on my phone, is convenient when I’m planning what to wear given the fleeting weather. Seeing my resting heart rate at any given time, motivates me to exercise and stay fit especially at a time when taking care of one’s health should be everyone’s priority.

Apple’s Health app and other period trackers are not included in the list of apps that can send notifications to the watch

What keeps this smartwatch from being perfect, is the lack of a menstrual cycle tracker. At the very least it would be great to sync my Health or other period tracker apps to get notifications. Getting monthly reminders a few days before my period starts is helpful. They help me plan my days better as I can anticipate and monitor my mood swings, spotting, and intense cravings. Maybe that’s something that can be included in future iterations.

Books and brunch in Budapest

Sure, its battery only lasts one month versus the 8-12 that I was used to getting from the original hybrid models, but the added features are far more useful than the tiny inconvenience of having to charge it every four weeks; not to mention the fact that I no longer have to deal with buying and throwing away batteries that most likely end up in landfills.

I have been in a committed relationship with Fossil Hybrids for over 3 years now, and with the way things are with the Hybrid HR, that isn’t going to change any time soon.

Buy the Fossil Hybrid HR

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