Reviews

Huawei P30 Pro review: A camera story

Same tale, new chapter

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After the Mate 20 Pro launched, I wondered how Huawei would differentiate the latest Mate from the next P-series phone. The Mate 20 Pro has everything, including all the features missing from the P20 Pro. It was simply complete.

Seeing the P30 Pro for the first time, the P20 Pro’s previous hype — and the Mate 20 Pro, by extension — wasn’t there. I wondered: How exactly is this better than the Mate 20 Pro aside from a higher DxOMark score?

I was also hesitant switching from the Galaxy S10+ to the P30 Pro as my daily driver. Samsung’s flagship became a personal favorite of mine. There were certain things that hit me after moving my accounts to this Huawei phone.

It’s heftier than the Galaxy S10+. It wobbles when laid flat on a table because of the camera protrusion. It has no 3.5mm audio port or stereo speakers. And, Huawei’s EMUI skin still isn’t at the level of other Android coatings.

Yes, these are minor complaints that go away with a week’s worth of use. Still, these little things can make or break the experience. They can question a user’s pricey purchase from the get-go.

But then, I fired up the camera app and all my doubts became background blur.

I won’t get into the technical aspect anymore. (We have a full hands-on for that.) So, let’s look at what the P30 Pro can really do.

By now, from the countless advertisements and testimonials, everyone knows that the amazing zoom capability — going from ultra-wide 0.6x to 50x — is the P30 Pro’s highlight. While reaching the max results, zooming to 10x hybrid zoom is actually quite usable.

As many tech reviewers have said, the 50x zoom is a bit of a gimmick and quickly loses its magic after a couple of weeks. It does, however, come in handy when you really need it, like for this moon shot:

Another one of the P30 Pro’s specialties is night mode, which became a staple Huawei feature since the P20 Pro. With the new quad Leica system, there are noticeable improvements, but not by much compared to the Mate 20 Pro.

Many would agree that the Pixel 3 has a smarter implementation with Night Sight, which is better at retaining colors in darkness, but the P30 Pro is the king of illuminating subjects with close to no light. There have been numerous occasions wherein auto mode was more than enough, and I didn’t even need to swipe towards night mode.

In general, auto mode did the trick every time, both for the front and rear cameras. I tried my best to love Huawei’s AI scene optimizer this time — it didn’t work out with all their past phones for me — but I just couldn’t take its insistence to darken subjects, blur out every single background, and take its sweet time doing so while I try to shoot a moving object.

Lots more can be said about the P30 Pro’s cameras, but all you really need to know is that there’s no better set of smartphone cameras in the current market. DxOMark hit the nail on the head this time and few would disagree.

If you need more convincing, look no further than my tour around Paris with the P30 Pro. This piece proves just how capable the premium handset is at being an all-in-one device. Not once did I think of taking out my mirrorless camera to snap a photo of a landscape or person. When I did, it was only for picturing the phone itself.

But then you have to wonder if there’s anything more to the P30 Pro than just its spectacular cameras. Yes, there definitely is, but it’s not much different from what we’ve already seen on the Mate 20 and P20 lineups. Most features, from reverse wireless charging to EMUI 9.1 and SuperCharge, are unchanged.

Not to say that reusing tried and tested formulas are bad, but this doesn’t spark joy either. When comparing the P30 Pro to the Mate 20 Pro and P20 Pro, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the newest model is simply a combination of the two previous flagships, carrying over the curved OLED panel and high-end processing power.

However, Huawei didn’t leave out refinements. The P30 Pro is much comfier to hold with more ergonomic curves; a vibrating screen replaces the need for an earpiece during calls and works great; plus, the display’s notch is at its smallest size yet. In addition, the Kirin 980 chip is more optimized and runs smooth thanks to the 8GB memory and 256GB storage.

Huawei somehow also found a way to increase battery life even further. While the Mate 20 Pro was the endurance champ of 2018, the P30 Pro is 2019’s frontrunner. I use my phone tirelessly for browsing, writing, editing, hotspotting, picture taking, and gaming on the go, but the P30 Pro never asked for a full charge until the day ended. Getting upwards of six hours of screen-on time is expected here.

At the same time, some aspects feel inadequate for a flagship smartphone at this point. Aside from the issues mentioned at the start of this review, the P30 Pro isn’t stellar at video shooting. While it’s great to have that ultra-wide-angle lens to cover more, audio recording isn’t always on point, and it sucks to lack 4K shooting at 60fps.

Finally, the under-display fingerprint scanner needs to improve faster. We’re a couple of generations in. I still wish manufacturers would stick to the capacitive type found in older models like on the P20 series. The convenience is already here, but the speed and accuracy aren’t.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

If you value camera performance more than anything else in a smartphone, you really don’t have to look any further. The P30 Pro is 2019’s top camera phone so far, and it would take a lot to dethrone it. And even if the Mate 30 Pro beats it later this year, this set of cameras will stand the test of time, similar to what the P20 Pro has been doing.

Unfortunately for Huawei, the Galaxy S10+ is equally fantastic, and checks boxes that the P30 Pro doesn’t, such as the audio port, faster reverse wireless charging, and better overall feel for the exterior and Android UI. Until the OnePlus 7 and Pixel 4 come out, it’s these two flagships you’d have to choose between at the top.

Computers

LG UltraGear 25” Gaming Monitor review: Enough to get you started

Comes with key features for your first gaming PC build

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I’ve seen a ton of people purchase full gaming PC setups since the pandemic took center stage in our lives. I’m pretty sure a lot of these people spent the past few months saving every peso they could for it. Of course, I also did it with all the money I saved up and planned every purchase very carefully.

In getting your gaming PC build, one of the more important peripherals to consider is your monitor. Most people will tell you that any monitor is okay, but experts will say that you shouldn’t just get any monitor. Apart from color accurate and bright displays, your monitor should have a high enough refresh rate to keep up.

It’s exactly what the LG UltraGear 24” Gaming Monitor brings to the table, at least on paper. But is this worth checking out, especially for first time PC setup builders? Here’s a rundown of the specs:

It has a 23.6-inch TN FHD panel, with a 144Hz refresh rate

It comes with two HDMI ports and one DisplayPort

The design, on its own, is nothing spectacular

The LG UltraGear 24” Gaming Monitor comes in a package you normally expect from most lightweight gaming monitors. A hardened-plastic enclosure covers the display, and the monitor even comes with a metal stand in gray and red accents. Upon unboxing, I found it relatively easy to set up and position alongside my PC setup.

Immediately, the first and only thing I noticed was the thick bezel surrounding the display. To be honest, it’s a relatively minor issue for me ever since other brands started reducing theirs. Although I would have appreciated a little more screen space, especially while playing games.

A display that meets expectations for the most part

Most gaming monitors come with high refresh rates to keep up during pressure situations. Fortunately, the LG UltraGear Gaming Monitor comes with a 144Hz panel which is more than enough. Also, it even sports a 1ms response rate so you’re able to stay at the top of your game. 

Most games I tried with this monitor performed with relative ease and no visible sign of image tearing. FPS games like CS:GO and Valorant, in my opinion, work best with this setup given that you can run these games on low-end setups.

Also, it’s quite bright and color accurate which is great for content creators. Although, in some cases, I felt that it didn’t handle dark color areas well. I tried to compensate by simply adjusting the brightness, but it didn’t do anything significantly different. At least it’s an anti-glare TN panel, so you don’t have to worry about the sun.

Comes with features that works depending on the other hardware

This monitor supports AMD’s FreeSync technology which further improves gameplay experience. Honestly, I felt this should be a standard for most gaming monitors — including those that support NVIDIA GSync. Also, there are other optimizations like Dynamic Action Sync (DAS) and motion blur reduction.

However, this monitor actually benefits you only if you’re currently rocking an AMD Radeon graphics card. Ideally, it would still work pretty well when you plug it to an NVIDIA card but expect some image tearing. It wasn’t a big issue for me since I could still apply the reduced motion blur and DAS.

Port selection for this monitor is more than enough for a normal PC setup. Two HDMI ports are available at your disposal, which is great if you want to use it for your consoles. The added DisplayPort provides more connectivity, especially since most graphics cards support it. Keep in mind though: if you plan to plug your console, don’t expect the 144Hz refresh rate.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

For PhP 12,599 (US$ 257), the LG UltraGear 24” Gaming Monitor ticks all the necessary boxes. What you have is a high refresh rate monitor with good color accuracy, and fully optimized for gaming. Combined with a great selection of ports, this monitor is a great option for your first PC build.

However, if you have strict preferences for your monitor, this might not be what you’re looking for. If you’re not a fan of thick bezels or you’re more conservative with your money, I wouldn’t practically recommend this. Also, you wouldn’t be able to fully maximize its potential if you don’t own an AMD graphics card.

All things considered, it’s enough to get you started on your gaming PC setup. Even with cheaper alternatives out there, I still recommend you give this a shot.

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India

POCO M2 Pro review: A Redmi Note 9 Pro without ads

What’s the difference?

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With a new strategy in place, POCO announced the POCO X2 in the first quarter, and now, it’s back with another offering — the POCO M2 Pro. It’s an affordable offering that’s found a comfortable spot in India’s INR sub-15,000 price bracket. But, there’s a twist.

POCO made its debut with the POCO F1. It was a legendary phone because it did the unexpected — flagship-grade performance at an affordable price. Since then, POCO as a brand has been synonymous to aggressive pricing and top-notch specifications. However, the POCO F1 was launched in 2018 and a lot has changed since then.

For starters, POCO was a dormant brand throughout 2019 and made a comeback at the beginning of 2020. We expected a successor of its infamous first phone, but everything was going to change. POCO is now an independent brand that takes autonomous business and marketing decisions. To make it clear, Mi, Redmi, and POCO are three different teams right now.

If you look closer, the POCO M2 Pro is nothing but a rebranded Redmi Note 9 Pro. Furthermore, the 4GB+64GB entry-level option of both phones has the same price of INR 13,999 (US$ 186). So, what’s different about POCO’s offering? Why should this phone be your GadgetMatch?

A proven design that fits everyone

The Redmi Note 9 Pro series has a very ergonomic design that looks premium as well as sturdy. The quad-camera setup has a significantly larger bump but it gets covered perfectly with the in-box case. The rear sports Gorilla Glass 5 and underneath it is a diagonally-lined pattern. While the phone looks stunning, using it without a case isn’t recommended since it’s prone to smudges and micro scratches.

The rear is the only thing that physically differentiates the phone from Redmi Note 9 Pro. The USB port, volume rockers, fingerprint scanner, and speaker grille are from the same Redmi mold.

I don’t mind rebranded phones as long as they’re not yet available in the same market. If POCO wants to be taken seriously as an independent brand, it needs to stand on its own and bring out original offerings. Realme has done a much better job of publicly distancing itself from OPPO, even though it leverages the same supply chain.

A perfect display

It sports a 6.67-inch Full HD+ display with a tiny punch-hole cut-out that houses the front camera. Unlike the competing Realme 6, it doesn’t have a 90Hz panel and runs at 60Hz. However, considering the price, I wouldn’t consider this to be a con. There are barely any games that can leverage higher refresh rates and the phone is meant to be an all-rounder.

The screen has sufficient brightness and can be seen easily under direct sunlight. The colors look slightly over-saturated but it can be adjusted according to your preference. Being an LCD panel, it does a pretty good job of creating deeper blacks.

POCO Performance

The brand is known for its performance-centric phones and the legacy continues here with a Snapdragon 720G chipset. Any task you throw at it will be done without a glitch. My unit has 6GB RAM and it never slowed down or struggled to handle multiple apps at once. Being a power user, I often use Outlook, Twitter, Gmail, Microsoft Word, and WhatsApp in close proximity. Safe to say, it didn’t feel like I needed a better or more powerful chipset.

I don’t play a lot of games except for reviewing and PUBG is my first preference. The overall experience is smooth and hassle-free. Even at higher settings, the phone gets a little warm but there no visible frame drops. Although, the weight of the phone does get annoying after a while. Similarly, a heavy game like World of Tanks also gets through without any turbulence.

The phone ships with MIUI out-of-the-box and since the Redmi Note 9 Pro series also ships with the same chipset, software updates should drop-in seamlessly.

Powering the phone is a 5000mAh battery and I clocked a little more than seven hours of screen time on a full charge. It has support for 33W fast charging and takes around one hour and twenty-five minutes to fully charge.

Quad-cameras that’ll get anything done

The rear houses a quad-camera setup consisting of a 48-megapixel sensor, an 8-megapixel wide-angle lens, a 5-megapixel macro lens, and a 2-megapixel sensor. We’ve seen this camera setup on a plethora of Xiaomi phones and it’s safe to assume the output is top-notch. Thanks to Xiaomi’s reach, the AI-assisted changes are accurate as well as satisfactory.

I mean to say, the algorithm knows where to work and how to produce pleasing pictures. Sometimes you may notice over-saturation in landscape pictures, but AI-mode can be switched off with a quick tap. The dynamic range is near-perfect while the overall tone is on the warmer side.

While daytime pictures are excellent, the primary sensor struggles in the dark. Shots can often be grainy or blurry if you’re not careful about being steady.

For the pros out there, a manual mode is available to tinker with the finer details. Portrait mode works flawlessly and works on better than expected on dogs too!

The display cut-out houses a 16-megapixel selfie camera and it’s flawless. Details are retained accurately and the focus is ultra-fast. This sensor also is tuned on the warmer side and comes with an optional beauty mode.

On the video side, it supports recording at up to 4K 30fps. Obviously, there’s no optical image stabilization. But, the electronic rendering is good enough and gets the job done.

No ads in MIUI

Yes, the phone runs on MIUI 11. No, it doesn’t have any ads.

This is the only visible change I can see between the POCO M2 Pro and Redmi Note 9 Pro. MIUI has a lot of customization and functionality, minus the learning curve. The phone is perfect for everyone can be used without any deep technical knowledge. Software support is stable and while there were a few bugs, the overall experience remained unhindered.

The most frequent complaint about MIUI is the ads. This phone won’t spam your notification area and this can be a relief for many. There are a few pre-installed apps, but they can be easily disabled. In a nutshell, the POCO M2 Pro offers a better user experience while retaining top-notch hardware. Lastly, instead of MIUI launcher, this phone has POCO launcher.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

I’d recommend this phone without any buts. The display is immersive, performance is best-in-class, the cameras do a decent job, and the battery can easily last you a day. With MIUI, the uniform Xiaomi experience is brought back without its biggest con. Design is a personal preference and I’ve found both, the POCO M2 Pro, as well as the Redmi Note 9 Pro, be impressive.

For the consumers, this is a win-win situation. But, for the brand, it’s a mixed bag. POCO intended to move out of Xiaomi’s camp but hasn’t been able to do that efficiently this year. To become a truly independent brand, it’ll have to stop depending on the parent so much and create its own identity. Right now, the original POCO F1 fans are disappointed along with the current followers who expected a fresh offering.

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Reviews

Google Pixel 4a Unboxing & Review: Unbelievably Good?

A direct contender of the iPhone SE and OnePlus Nord

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Google’s ‘a'(ffordable) line-up may be long overdue because of the pandemic — but after several months of waiting, we finally have one on our hands.

Cheaper than last year’s US$ 399 Pixel 3a, the US$ 349 Pixel 4a might just be the most affordable flagship killer contender you can get over the 2020 iPhone SE and the OnePlus Nord.

But can the mid-tier specifications and less-fancy phone features justify its affordable price tag? Head over to our in-depth Pixel 4a review here.

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