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

Realme 5 Pro Review: An easy recommendation

Well-rounded at its price point

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Every year there are a few smartphones that’s easy to recommend to anyone. The Realme 5 Pro is one of those phones.

Three things set this phone apart: One, the quad-camera setup. Two, the processor and storage option. And three, it’s a steal considering you get so much for just PhP 11,990 or around US$232.

Already great if only for the cameras alone

We at GadgetMatch have always been pretty impressed by the image quality produced by Realme phones. Just take a look at this previous camera shootout. The Realme 5 Pro is no different.

The four cameras are as follows: A 48MP main shooter, an 8MP wide-angle lens, a 2MP macro lens, and a 2MP depth sensor. Each one lends itself nicely to different shooting situations.

The 48MP main camera lens is just fantastic. Color reproduction is vivid without being over saturated.

Food photos are appetizing. 

 

This scene looks almost like it’s from a fantasy flick.

 

Here’s me trying to go Super Saiyan. I failed.

 

And it handles the foreground, subject, and background here REALLY well. 

The 8MP wide-angle lens offers a broader look allowing you to showcase more of the scenery.

This swing looks a little more melancholic with a wider perspective.

Zooming out, we can see that the scene is almost as breathtaking as MJ.

Get up close and personal with the macro-lens.

 

The depth sensor is a hit or miss. And we advise you use it only under good lighting conditions.

Here are a few more samples for you to scrutinize.

I recommended the phone to a reporter friend and she’s gone as far as saying it’s the best smartphone camera she’s had since she started covering the Supreme Court. As evidence, she shared this clear image of the justices from afar. Something, she says, she’s never been able to do prior to getting the phone.

Before I forget, it also has a 16MP front-facing cameras that take more than decent selfies. Again, take them under good natural light and they come out fantastic.

It does come equipped with a beauty mode with several features like skin smoothing as well as adjusting the thickness and roundedness of your face. It’s fun to play around with and each feature has a slider so the effect doesn’t come out too aggressive.

Fantastic chip, plenty of storage

The Realme 5 Pro is equipped with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 712 AIE and the only storage option is 128GB — which is a lot. There’s plenty of space for your photos, videos, apps, games, and even music and movies you download from Spotify and Netflix for later listening and viewing.

There are two RAM options. 4GB which is the base variant, and 8GB which costs PhP 13,990 (US$ 272). Still a pretty darn good price.

The variant we reviewed is the 8GB one. And as you can expect, it handled the usual tasks with absolutely zero problems. Your usual social media browsing and occasional answering emails, chats, and phone calls are all handled perfectly.

I assume the same is true even if you get the 4GB RAM variant. It should be more than enough for such tasks, and even some light gaming.

Yes, it can definitely game

Speaking of gaming, you should have no hiccups playing the more popular mobile games on this phone. Mobile Legends: Bang Bang doesn’t really require a lot from your phone so if that’s your kind of game, you should be alright.

Next, I tried playing Call of Duty: Mobile. At first I noticed some delay with the input, and then I realized I didn’t turn Game Space on.

Game Space is Realme’s gaming assistant. It not only boosts processing power, but it also helps allocate more of your network bandwidth to improve your gaming experience. Like other game assistants, it can also hold off notifications so you can focus on what you’re playing.

After turning Game Space on, I was surprised at how much the performance improved. There were no more input delays and you just really get lost in the gaming.

I didn’t really get the chance to play extensively enough to say if there are any heating concerns. However, in my 20 to 30 minute gaming sessions, I had no such issues.

Not top notch, but more than good enough

The 6.3-inch IPS LCD display is decent. It’s worth noting that I’m coming off using OLED and AMOLED displays which is why this felt a little underwhelming to me.

The viewing experience just isn’t as good as displays from flagship phones. But to that point, those are flagship phones. That’s not to say that the screen is bad. In fact, if you’re coming off other budget phones, you probably might not even be able to tell the difference.

Two other things I’m not a huge fan of are the design and Color OS. Granted, I have used a few phones with Color OS lately so its aesthetic is growing on me. However, it still feels slower than I would like. Oxygen OS, to me, remains the gold standard on Android phones with MIUI a close second.

Meanwhile, the shattered glass design just isn’t for me. But then again, I’m not exactly Gen Z so I’m definitely am not the design’s target market. This obviously boils down to preference. If you like it, that’s great. We all have our own tastes and that’s perfectly fine.

Is the Realme 5 Pro your GadgetMatch? 

The Realme 5 Pro almost feels unfair. You get a quad-camera setup that delivers fantastic quality images and it’s powered by a processor that’s even better than some phones that have a higher price tag.

Perhaps the only smartphone that can possibly rival it is the recently launched Redmi Note 8 Pro. But that’s a story for another day.

If you’re itching to get your hands on a phone that takes great photos and handles multitasking and gaming with ease, but you’re only working with a budget that’s less than PhP 15,000 (less than US$ 300), then the Realme 5 Pro is the easy choice.

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Xiaomi Mi 9T Pro Review: Twice the power, still affordable

But is it worth the hype?

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The year is far from over and neither are phone manufacturers from releasing smartphones. Although Mi 9T Pro isn’t the newest smartphone release from Xiaomi, it’s one of the most talked about smartphones around and is still the flagship killer to, well, kill.

If you previously read our Xiaomi Mi 9T review, you’d know by now that I’m exactly an Android user. I loved the Mi 9T Pro’s smaller sibling however because of its camera prowess and seamless experience despite its cheap price tag.

Now that I have the more powerful Mi 9T Pro on hand, I took it out on adventures the past few weeks to see whether it can actually live up to its flagship killer title.

Same design, different vibe

If you compare the Mi 9T and Mi 9T Pro side-by-side, it’ll be difficult to tell them apart. The symmetry is there. I like the Carbon Black option for its stealth while the Glacier Blue option is striking, in a good way. Although I’m not a fan of flashy design and colors, I love how there are subtle gradations flowing from both sides.

The red power button is still there, giving it a touch of contrast against its blue metallic body.

Speaker grilles, microphone, USB-C port, and SIM card slot below.

The Mi 9T Pro has a Gorilla Glass 5 back. It’s not the newest generation of Corning’s technology but it’s good enough to protect the phone from accidental scratches. The Mi 9T had none, which was a drawback for a smartphone with a glass back. I loved flaunting its back that I decided not to use the included black case. It’s still good as new and has not acquired any scratches. It feels right in my hand and doesn’t slip easily.

Same screen size, different display

Even Suzy looks confused with the differences in AMOLED and Super AMOLED

Xiaomi’s Mi 9T wowed me before because of its 6.4-inch AMOLED display. It’s an excellent panel, for such a cheap phone, with great viewing angles and contrast.

The Mi 9T Pro still packs a similar 6.4-inch display, but with a Super AMOLED display technology. Watching videos even outdoors is a great experience because it’s brighter and overall a better panel.

The Super AMOLED display is drop-dead gorgeous, so is Yoohyeon

I love its fullscreen display. Not having a notch or punch-hole camera makes a difference for me especially when watching videos. Color calibration is accurate and vibrant, making visuals pop.

Watching TWICE’s Feel Special in 4K made me miss Mina more #GetWellSoonMina

There are only a handful of smartphones with 4K resolution — and it’s not the basis of having a great display. It may not be the best display on a smartphone, but the Mi 9T Pro still delivers excellent entertainment experience even with its Full HD+ display. It’s also more power efficient than the AMOLED display found on the Mi 9T.

Flagship performance at half the price

The Mi 9T was already a great smartphone with the Snapdragon 730, but Xiaomi made the Mi 9T Pro even better. This phone is  equipped with a flagship Snapdragon 855 chipset — something you can only find on more expensive smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 and OnePlus 7 Pro.

The Mi 9T Pro feels snappier than the Mi 9T — something I noticed immediately. Opening apps, the animation — they all feel faster. The experience is oh-so fluid and smooth. I can now play my favorite Asphalt 9 game at the highest settings that I couldn’t do (or even install) on the Mi 9T before.

Just like the Mi 9T, it also has 6GB of memory, so switching between apps is seamless.

Having a 3.5mm audio jack feels special (pun intended)

A lot of “Pro” products don’t seem like they meet expectations of actual pro users. If you’re the type of person who prefers the traditional way of listening to music, this phone has a 3.5mm jack — something you don’t see in many smartphones these days.

While I can always connect a wireless pair of headphones, the good ol’ audio jack is still very handy in a lot of scenarios. I find it useful when playing music in parties that don’t have wireless speakers. Some people still use wired microphones for audio recording as it’s more reliable. Some monopods require wired cables for you to control shutter releases.

Battery life is outstanding

I’m not proud of it but I’m *that* power user. I fiddle around with my phone and browse my social media feed every five to ten minutes. When I’m bored, I watch videos on YouTube or at least two episodes of a series I’m following on Netflix at around 75% brightness. I also play graphics-intensive games every now and then. Despite all of this, the Mi 9T Pro’s battery lasts me my entire day.

Fast charging just got faster

The Mi 9T already has a USB-C port and an 18W fast charger right out of the box — but the Mi 9T Pro ships with a faster 27W charger with Quick Charge 4+ technology.

It takes around 35 minutes to charge the phone from 0% to 50%. It reached 100% after around an hour and 30 minutes. That’s fast for a smartphone with a 4000 mAh battery.

Modern problems require modern solutions, except for these two

The Mi 9T Pro still features an in-display fingerprint scanner and it works most of the time. Not that I’m complaining, but it will never be as fast as a traditional scanner. A side-mounted scanner is always my alternative pick over this type of reader.

I thought there will be at least a difference when it comes to Face Unlock but it still performs sluggish. I would rather use the fingerprint scanner instead of the inconvenience of swiping and waiting for the camera to pop-up. Face unlock isn’t even as secure as it just relies on camera recognition.

The pop-up camera itself performs well

Don’t get me wrong, the pop-up camera is not bad, well at least in taking selfies. It captures decent selfies even when beauty mode is completely turned off.

I like how the selfies don’t look as saturated as other selfie shooters, which gives it a nice touch in persuading your crush to give you a chance to date you.

People who have shorter arms wouldn’t have a problem as the selfie camera is wide enough to accommodate four (or more) people in the frame — just like how a lot of you accommodate people that will never be a part of your life.

Same triple camera setup, but now snappier

You get the same triple camera setup as the Mi 9T that I loved: 48MP f/1.8 wide, 8MP f/2.4 telephoto, and 13MP f/2.4 ultrawide.

There’s a small difference though: the Mi 9T Pro has laser autofocus. This might not sound like much but taking photos with the Mi 9T Pro felt snappier and photos turn out sharper. It’s an understated but very important improvement.

Unlike with the Mi 9T, I didn’t experience errors while using the Mi 9T Pro’s camera

The camera does well with food subjects

But it’s honestly even better with the telephoto lens

Night Mode works really well

But sometimes, it doesn’t do photos justice

The highlights in the neon signs were dimmed after turning on the Night Mode, which made the shots worse.

Using Night Mode on the telephoto lens is great, too

I really love how it captured the filament in these two light bulbs and produced the right amount of shadows and blur in the background.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

The maxed-out 128GB/6GB configuration of the Mi 9T Pro is priced at PhP 20,490, while the 64GB/6GB configuration currently retails at PhP 18,990 — which is just a PhP 1,500 difference from Mi 9T’s 128GB/6GB.

A lot of people have been calling the Mi 9T Pro as 2019’s true flagship killer, not just because of its top of the line specs but also because of its affordable price tag.

If you want to have a powerful smartphone with a bright display, snappy cameras, and unparalleled software experience without spending that much, the Mi 9T Pro is for you. If you don’t need the faster chipset and just want an overall great device, then go for the Mi 9T.

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Vivo NEX 3 Unboxing and Review

Vivo continues to innovate

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This is our Vivo NEX 3 Unboxing and Review.

Last year, just in time for the World Cup, the Vivo NEX was born. A play on the word NEXT, it was a showcase of their innovative chops and a taste of what was yet to come in a phone that you could already buy.

In the span of just over a year we’ve seen its iterations and this month, Vivo launched a new NEX. What new innovations does it have up its sleeves?

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