There’s a new brand in town, and it’s ready to shake up the lower midrange category in the Philippines. Meet the Infinix ZERO 8. It’s a competitive midrange smartphone with promising specs, packed in an affordable package.
From Hong Kong to the World
A bit of history, Infinix is a Hong Kong-based smartphone company with R&D in France and South Korea. It started conquering the Middle East and North Africa, and it seemingly wants to heighten its presence in Asia.
In the Philippines, the brand is making strides in the affordable segment. It launched an affordable Note 7, and the ZERO 8 tries to take the spotlight.
Personally, I’ve heard of Infinix but I never got the chance to try it. Gladly, the opportunity came when the Infinix ZERO 8 found its way to my home.
The box came in a beautiful gray and silver box
Of course, it contains every essential accessory you’ll need for your smartphone
Infinix takes it up a notch on its white cables, pairing it with silver accents
The unit I have comes in a Black Diamond colorway
But before we dive in, let’s take a quick look at its ‘promising’ specifications
MediaTek Helio G90T
8GB + 128GB
4500mAh + 33W SuperCharge
48MP + 8MP
64MP + 8MP + 2MP + 2MP
90Hz refresh rate
168.74 x 76.08 x 9.07mm
So, what? I’m eclectic
Let’s start with the elephant in the room: the phone’s eccentric rear design. Seeing how Infinix has its smartphones designed in France, there’s no wonder the products come out a little extra. French design, as I’ve always perceived it, seemed grand and flashy.
That’s what the Infinix ZERO 8 is: Commanding attention with a design rooting from previously launched smartphones. For instance, the diamond-shaped camera placement is reminiscent of the vivo S1 Pro. On another note, Infinix stated the design was inspired by the Louvre’s Diamond-glass design.
Meanwhile, the prism that refracts across its glass body is similar to Samsung’s Galaxy A50 and A51. Infinix also used the same approach as Samsung’s changing patterns, albeit with a more minimal matte V-shape design from top to middle.
Combining both familiar designs from more expensive brands, Infinix presented a unique proposition delivered to the lower midrange segment.
Accompanying the ZERO 8’s eccentric rear design are its sides that are minimally and smartly designed. The top part is clean AF, while the bottom part sports a headphone jack, a USB-C port, and its speaker grilles.
On the left, you can find its SIM tray while on the right are its single volume rocker and a fingerprint scanner that also works as a power button. Personally, I love the fingerprint scanner. It reads swiftly, allowing quick access to your phone.
A treat for those who like it big
The Infinix ZERO 8 sports a 6.85-inch FHD+ display with a 2460×1080 resolution and 90Hz refresh rate. It’s a humongous and powerful handset for tiny hands, but for the price it commands, this affordable flagship is a steal.
Navigating the phone can be as smooth as other premium smartphones. In the entertainment department, it makes for a perfect little portable cinema.
Watching Start-Up on Netflix was quite an experience. The visuals are strikingly vibrant although the blacks are a little bit faded. Audio, on the other hand, can be as loud as most wireless speakers.
One time, I had the phone play Netflix’s Emily in Paris while I work and the sound filled the whole room. For context, my room is double the size of most studio apartments in Manila. Yes, it was LOUD.
Easy to hold, hard to navigate
The Infinix ZERO 8 comes with a hefty build. Even though it weighs heavier compared to smartphones in the same bracket, the curved edges provide easy grip. I didn’t feel like I’m gonna drop the phone accidentally or it will slip off my hands. Coming from someone with tiny hands, somewhat, I felt secure.
But the easy-grip isn’t just what I need. Having a tall and robust phone like this makes it difficult for me to navigate the phone with one hand.
Shake your inner Marie Kondo
Privileged complaints aside, the Infinix ZERO 8 runs a customized XOS Dolphin 7 UI based on Android 10. There are a lot of pre-installed applications, which also blew up my notifications. The Marie Kondo in me is shaking, I had a hard time looking at and cleaning the interface.
Gladly, most of them are removable. The XOS interface also comes with a Smart Panel which you can customize, making it easy to access important apps and tools. Aside from that, the XOS carries a plethora of helpful features for a more mindful smartphone usage
If it comes with a cleaner UI, maybe I would recommend this phone for people dabbling in mindfulness while staying connected.
A rear camera story
The Infinix ZERO 8 has a total of six cameras. On its rear, you can find a quad-camera setup: a 64-megapixel main camera, an 8-megapixel ultrawide lens, and two 2-megapixel depth sensors.
To be perfectly honest, I had a fun time using the ZERO 8’s rear cameras. It’s an affordable phone, yet it produces vibrant photos especially in the daytime. Low light and indoor shots aren’t looking good, though. For reference, you may scroll the photos I took in my neighborhood, in a Panda-themed café, and in Starbucks.
Indoor Lowlight – Daytime
I love taking photos of my food and beverages. So, yes. I used the ZERO 8 to capture my favorite breakfast meals from a cafe and a restaurant in Tanay, Rizal. Surprisingly, the ZERO 8 can produce appetizing photos, thanks to its aggressive post-processing in different lighting conditions.
Portrait mode doesn’t look good, though. I know some people who use portrait mode to capture their food to replicate some stellar shots from mirrorless cameras, but it looks like the trick won’t work with the ZERO 8’s cameras.
Greenery, whether it’s sunny, cloudy, or raining, still looked vibrant. This kind of processing makes it perfect for social media posting. However, the quality might suffer even more since social media platforms lower the image quality.
Clearly, the ZERO 8 is already suffering from a loss of details especially when you zoom in. Photos might look blurry when zoomed in on Instagram.
Selfie cameras underneath
For its front cameras, it carries a dual-camera setup: a 48-megapixel main sensor and an 8-megapixel ultra-wide lens. Uniquely, the selfie cameras are placed underneath the display. It’s not protruding nor sunken when you let your fingers grace the screen. It’s weirdly smooth and neat. And I like it.
Selfie with proper daylight
As you can see, the front camera system is quite aggressive when it comes to post-processing in beauty and portrait mode. Thankfully, the daylight allowed the photos to reproduce vibrant colors and have a proper white balance, even in different modes.
Selfie in poor lighting condition
In low light, the ZERO 8’s front cameras struggle. It produces a bluish tint leaning to a cooler hue for different modes, except when you use the wide-angle mode. Surprisingly, the change in temperature only happens when taking wide-angles in low-light.
You can also notice the loss in details. But then again, this is an affordable flagship. Temper your expectations, or upgrade to a more expensive option but with better camera systems.
Reaaaally long-lasting battery
In the midst of reviewing this phone, I lost power and water supply in my neighborhood after the onslaught of Typhoon Ulysses. I was off from work for a week, and the fully-charged Infinix ZERO 8 drained to 25 percent on the fifth day. I didn’t expect this device to last that long, even on standby.
Unlike the Galaxy M31 (6000mAh) which went from 100 to 33 percent on standby in a week, the Infinix ZERO 8 drained slower, having only 4500mAh battery capacity. I haven’t even used its power-saving features, which makes the phone a promising companion.
But my normal usage made the phone last for more than a day. I’m not heavy in gaming seeing how I spent most of my days balancing work, personal hobbies like fitness, art, and entertainment. For heavy, power users, the phone might still be good enough for a day.
If you run out of juice, fret not. It’s capable of up to 33W of fast charging, which gives you an hour and a few minutes to fully charge its large battery. That is, if you’re using a fast charging adapter. If your charger takes forever, don’t worry. The phone has a Safe Charging feature which automatically disconnects the phone when it’s fully charged. You can let your phone charge while you sleep at night.
Power, speed, and performance
As I’ve said before, this handset has a 90hz refresh rate. We had a crash course on smartphone display’s refresh rate and I will say it again here: We don’t really need it to be that high unless you’re playing graphics-intensive games. Which this smartphone can handle well.
I logged in to my League of Legends: Wild Rift account to play and I had a sweet time. With cooling technology, you won’t worry about overheating issues. It also has 8GB of RAM and 128GB of internal. Gone are the days where you scramble to delete photos and other files just to make space and to prevent your phone from slowing down.
The only reason I didn’t play enough is because of two reasons: I’m juggling a lot of things, and the phone is too heavy for me. It would strain my hands if I play for more than 30 minutes.
Is this your GadgetMatch?
The Infinix ZERO 8 is a promising flagship for those looking for the best they can afford, without breaking the bank. It has an eccentric design, a long-lasting battery, speed, power, and performance — all at an affordable price.
Unlike most midrange phones carrying the same specs, the Infinix ZERO 8 retails for PhP 12,990. It comes in two colors: Black diamond and Silver diamond. It’s currently available in Lazada.
Xiaomi Mi 10T Pro review: By two different Pro users
Two different nations, one phone
2020 has been flooded by smartphones of all kinds — budget, midrange, premium flagships, flagship killers, you name ’em. But what makes the Xiaomi Mi 10T Pro a new breed of its own? Well, aside from the fact that it packs the flagship-tier Snapdragon 865 chipset and a great amount of fast internals, it costs less than both a flagship and a “flagship killer”.
Some (or most) might know that GadgetMatch has writers from different parts of the globe. In this review, Vincenz, our Creative Producer from the Philippines, and Shivam, our India Correspondent, went all out in testing and making the Mi 10T Pro their daily smartphone for more than two months. It’s safe to say that both users maximized the usage of this phone.
Without further a do, let’s hear what they have to say about Xiaomi’s latest Mi-T series phone.
How does the Mi 10T Pro feel in hand?
Shivam: The first thing you’ll notice about the phone is its weight, and at 218gms, it does feel like you’re holding a brick. The 108-megapixel sensor requires a lot of space and it’s evident with the massive bump. You’d often get tired while playing intensive games like PUBG Mobile, but thankfully the rounded corners and slightly curved edges provide some grip.
It’s also quite obvious that Xiaomi has tried to cut corners in the design department. The back of the phone does feel a little flimsy, but that’s visible only if you try to find the spot. As a flagship, in-hand feel is the only department where the phone feels underwhelming.
Vincenz: My first time holding it reminded me of the Xiaomi Mi Note 10 Lite I reviewed months ago because of its thickness and heft. With all the 2020 smartphones I reviewed, this one is just a tad heavier and thicker for my liking.
The comfortable “hand-feeling” isn’t as great as when I held the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra and the vivo V20 Pro, but this is better than the super slim and lightweight form of the Galaxy S20+ which felt so fragile as it might slip out of my hand any time.
However, in a country where you have to remain vigilant about pickpockets, that added heft is a good factor to know that you have your phone safe in your pocket.
Any rants about its design?
Vincenz: Two things: First, I don’t like how they added another circle just to make it “symmetrical” — which can fool a lot of consumers into thinking it has four cameras and a flash module. Second, I’m not a fan of that glass back.
Again, based from my review experience, vivo’s V20 Pro has a matte glass back which looks and feels nice. It also lessens those icky fingerprint smears whenever you use it with bare hands. Not good when little kids (cousins, niece, or nephews) are around and they want to play with your phone.
Slapping on a good case would be handy but it would make the phone even thicker. Other than those two concerns, the Mi 10T Pro is still good-looking.
Shivam: When I saw the phone for the first time, it reminded me of the Mi A3. It was a classic Android One phone that focused on software and incorporated decent hardware. The back of the Mi 10T Pro looks very similar to the two-year-old phone. A simple glass slab on a greyish metal surface. We’re habituated with new designs from Xiaomi, so this one seemed monotonous.
And like all glass phones, this one is prone to fingerprints and smudges. No matter how much you try, the back will always remain blemished. The sides of the camera module also attract a lot of dirt and gunk that can get difficult to remove. Lastly, the weight and glass back make the phone very slippery, in turn, also delicate. As Vincenz said, you can always opt for a case, but that’ll just add more weight and thickness.
Would you rather: Pick last year’s AMOLED display vs IPS-LCD as long as you keep that fast refresh rate?
Shivam: I feel Xiaomi did the perfect thing by ditching an AMOLED display. The phone has a massive edge in terms of pricing and that’s achievable due to these changes. And, the step-back doesn’t hinder the day-to-day experience.
While there’s no doubt that an LCD display can never produce the blacks or contrast like an AMOLED one, the Mi 10T Pro’s panel has very bright and saturated colors, excellent contrast, and decent viewing angles. I’ve always preferred an AMOLED display personally, but I shifted to this phone for two months without feeling unsatisfied.
Once you use a 144Hz phone, going back to a standard 60Hz display is going to be challenging. The smoothness is very easily evident and you’ll notice it more if you read long PDFs or multitask too often. As a work partner, the refresh rate does bring a consistent flow that’s certainly addictive. In a nutshell, yes, I’m totally fine with an LCD display as long as it’s top-notch and brings higher refresh rates!
Vincenz: Kind of a tough question for me. I’m a creative so I want the best possible display in most (if not all) of the devices I use. I’d still pick the Mi 9T Pro’s AMOLED display because I want those deep blacks plus better colors and contrast for my viewing pleasure. In this country where sun rays and air pollution are harsh, going outside means your screen should be visible enough for use. I kind of suffered with the Mi 10T Pro’s IPS-LCD while trying to use this phone in direct sunlight.
Although it has a 144Hz refresh rate, I’ll simply ditch it over a 60Hz AMOLED one because that buttery-smooth experience is only seen when navigating and scrolling but can’t be maximized yet due to limitations of most smartphone games.
Is it great for multimedia use?
Vincenz: Despite not having an AMOLED display, I still enjoy watching on this smartphone. Whether I use Netflix or YouTube, I still love that fullscreen experience with a small hindrance of the punch-hole cutout. If there wasn’t a pandemic, I’m pretty sure most jeepney and bus commuters in Metro Manila would glare and stare at your phone because of how immersive and borderless it looks.
Shivam: This is where you won’t even realize it’s an LCD display (unless you’re in pitch black darkness). Netflix, Prime Video, YouTube, and all other streaming services look like a treat, and thanks to the massive battery, you never have to worry about juice. The screen is almost bezel-less and even the chin is quite small.
The onboard speaker is loud enough and perfect for conference calls. The microphone is sensitive enough, so if you’re too tired of earbuds after a long day, just shift to the phone. To be honest, I miss the headphone jack. I prefer wired headphones while I’m home and it’s a feature that’s available on all Xiaomi phones in the mid and budget segment, so why not the Mi 10T Pro?
Are you an in-display fingerprint reader-type of guy or are you satisfied with its side-mounted scanner?
Shivam: I was about to say that thanks to an LCD display, they were forced to go for a physical sensor. And, it’s a very good thing. The in-display sensors are slower than traditional ones and I usually can’t operate them due to humid weather (sweaty hands) or greasy hands (DIY projects). The location of the fingerprint scanner is on the right side and you automatically get used to it within a few minutes. Much faster and convenient.
In-display fingerprint scanners were a fantasy for the longest of time. But they’re here now, we’ve used them for well over two years, and none of them are close to replacing an ordinary physical companion. Some things, like the 3.5mm headphone jack, are immortal.
Vincenz: I’m definitely the side-mounted-type of guy. Other than the fact that it’s fast for unlocking (trust me, my experience with In-Display FPs are just that slow), I just like how its ergonomically-placed on the side of the phone. You can even unlock it with wet fingers 💦 (not advisable for super wet conditions since this isn’t IP-rated).
Will the spec-obsessed enjoy its real-world performance? Thoughts on MIUI 12?
Vincenz: I already said in my previous reviews that I’m both an Apple and an Android user. MIUI is loveable for me as it has some of the goodies I love from iOS such as the lack of a separate app drawer and the overall response and feel. MIUI 12 felt more familiar with its new Control Center, yet still flexible and intuitive with its host of UI features, gestures, and other easter eggs hidden in the basket.
I know the pandemic has turned a lot of Filipinos into gamers and streamers. If you’re one of them, consider this phone as a great recommendation. Can you imagine a flagship-grade performance with this beast? Let’s scrap out those pesky spec sheet and benchmarks. I was able to play graphics-intensive games like Asphalt 9, Call of Duty: Mobile (CoDM), PUBG and do multitasking with socials on the side without any slouch.
Shivam: MIUI has come a long way in the last few years and the skin works for everyone. It’s loaded to the brim with day-to-day features and it has found a balance. Unlike Samsung’s Note series, it isn’t very complicated to use, and feature discoverability has improved leaps and bounds. The settings menu has a plethora of micro options that customize your experience at each step. Once you get the phone, just take an hour to browse the settings menu and you’ll be fine.
The flagship processor stands true to its words and works like a charm. The one thing I appreciate the most is, the processor and display work together without a glitch, delivering a pleasing 144Hz experience. Whether it’s basic UI graphics or intensive gaming, the phone can handle anything. The RAM optimization is spot-on and it can store multiple apps for hours in the background seamlessly. While the phone looks boring from the outside, it’s equally interesting and assuring from the inside.
Also, I’d like to point out that India is a very specification-obsessed market and the flagship processor makes it very easy to recommend this phone. Even though you’ll barely see a difference in terms of day-to-day performance between the Snapdragon 865 and Snapdragon 765, the psychological satisfaction is enormous.
Did the 5,000mAh battery last you that long?
Shivam: It always lasted more than a day. On a very intense day, it’ll provide screen time of more than nine hours on a single charge. That’s a LOT! And you shouldn’t even be using your phone that much in a day. The phone showed its true capability when I was traveling for a day in low network areas and it still managed to retain 40 percent at 5PM with Google Maps and Spotify switched on.
Vincenz: Hell yeah! Speaking as a hardcore pro user, I was able to last ’til the end of the day with socials, gaming, listening, watching, and even photo-taking. If you’re thinking about buying this phone because of its large battery size, you will not regret your purchase because of its great battery endurance.
What about charging speeds? Are they as fast as advertised?
Vincenz: Quick charge is another feature I like with the Mi 10T Pro. Other than the blessing of being equipped with USB-C (I mean new smartphones like this SHOULD be equipped with it), it was able to fill up that monstrous battery for about an hour.
Considering how enormous 5,000mAh is, it’s fast enough to fill up the phone especially if you forgot to charge it and have errands to do outside amid the heaps of crowds in malls and supermarkets hoarding masks, face shields, and grocery items.
Shivam: Due to the pandemic, I almost stopped charging my phone to full. If I’m going out, just a quick 15-minute charge is sufficient for hours of usage. It can fully charge the phone within 75 minutes, which is a very short period. This phone will never keep you hooked to a wall.
How are the 5G speeds? Were you able to use it in your country?
Shivam: India hasn’t rolled out 5G yet, so I couldn’t test one of its prime offerings. We expect a spectrum sale in 2021 and telcos like Jio are optimistic about a 2022 launch. But the country is still far away from commercial-grade roll-out. So, should you be investing in 5G right now? Is this phone slightly future proof?
If you use a phone for three or more years, then this may be future proof for you. That’s assuming 5G rolls out in your circle in the initial phases. Otherwise, there’s no use in particularly buying a 5G phone right now. Oh yes, it’s a completely different scenario if you travel frequently and can leverage 5G in other countries temporarily. 5G connectivity is gradually becoming mainstream and will it hit its peak when the world’s second-largest smartphone market joins in.
Vincenz: There are only a few 5G hotspots in the Philippines. I live in a province near the Metro but we still don’t have any 5G towers around here. But because of the ease in lockdown measures, I was able to go out and test it in Bonifacio Global City (BGC) in Taguig, which is around an hour away from my home. Alabang might be a nearer stop as it only takes 30-minutes to go there but I’m quite unsure with the specifics of the 5G cellsites around the area.
Local 5G speeds may not reach those ultra-fast gbps speeds as other 5G-equipped countries like South Korea and USA, but considering the Philippines has one of the slowest internet connections in the world, this is already an ultimate gift for internet-savvy users especially when you’re outside and you don’t have a fast Wi-Fi connection near you.
Are the rear cameras among the best for its price?
Vincenz: I’ll be direct with this — it’s not THAT bad. It’s just not the best.
Disclaimer: Although being a creative means processing your photos every now and then, the photos below were taken straight out of the camera without any color correction, touch-ups, whatsoever.
To be fair, the cameras taken in the right amount of sunlight look excellent.
Whether that may be a wide, zoomed, or even an ultra-wide shot — they all look great!
But coming from someone who was astounded with the Mi 9T Pro’s excellent cameras, the Mi 10T Pro was kind of a step back. There were inconsistencies here and there. White Balance might not be accurate at times especially in all three sensors as the main sensor produces the best-looking shots and something that’s closer to reality. Of course, that can easily be corrected through post-processing.
But there are other factors that are not fixable through post.
One is the Dynamic Range with blown-out highlights and shadows altogether that can be seen below.
Sometimes, AI and HDR don’t even agree with each other.
The first photo of those little munchkins looked delicious but the chicken cheese bomb I captured after looked so bland and less appetizing.
I also have trouble every time I try to focus or zoom on a subject.
Speaking of macro, I just don’t like how the radial blur tries to fake that depth segmentation against the subject. The Mi 9T Pro wasn’t like this when taking zoomed and macro shots. Surprisingly, I experienced the same issue with the V20 Pro and even the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra.
For night shots, it gets the job done thanks to AI and the wide aperture in its sensors. Then again, there was a White Balance inconsistency that’s fixable through post.
Considering its price range, don’t really expect it’ll produce stunning night shots since cameras are what sets less expensive phones apart from flagships.
For something you would just post on social media, it wouldn’t really matter. It’s just me being nit-picky about this — and I know some phone users might be like me, too. This also makes room for improvements for a lot of smartphone manufacturers in their future releases.
Shivam: I’d say the cameras do an excellent job during the day but slightly disappoint during low-light or immediate circumstances. The iPhone is often jokingly called the best selfie phone when you’re drunk and that’s because of reliable and quick hardware-software integration. The Mi 10T Pro does click pictures like a flagship, but the experience is slightly different.
The pictures look stunning with accurate colors, balanced contrasts, and precise sharpness.
Don’t get me wrong, the result is very satisfying and if you’re not a photography enthusiast, the drawbacks aren’t glaringly visible. But after using Xiaomi phones for years across different price bands, we’ve come to expect above-average performance from pretty much all of them. So, seeing average results from a flagship is underwhelming.
When clicked in low-light environments, the sensor struggles to capture the shadows, details are missing, and the noise removal algorithm seems to be too aggressive. Although, the night mode works seamlessly and does a much better job of refining the binned image.
One thing that annoyed me the most was the camera app’s capture button. Clicking a picture single-handedly is a herculean task because the heavy phone rests on two fingers and the button would fail to register a click most of the time. Initially, I thought I’m doing something wrong, but with more than two months of usage, it has always been a repeat offender.
What makes this phone so special? It has a 108-megapixel primary camera that can capture a lot of details. If you’re looking for stunning landscapes that have practically unlimited zoom, this phone is for you. I clicked a 108-megapixel image while taking off from Mumbai and the results are quite impressive. The sensor is quick and the stabilization is on-point.
How’s the selfie quality of that single punch-hole camera?
Shivam: This has actually become a very straightforward answer for pretty much all modern phones — it’s good and gets the job done. There’s a 20-megapixel sensor in the punch-hole cut-out and it clicks satisfying images during the day. The software is able to accurately pick up your skin tone and add a smoothening layer that isn’t too aggressive. Obviously, the beauty additions are optional.
Vincenz: I always say I’m not the biggest selfie user but after trying it out, I’m really happy with how my selfies turned out. The smearing or face smoothing isn’t as bad as other phones as I like how there are still full details that can be seen on my face. The depth in portrait mode also produced a clean cutout of my hair.
Other than that, I also like the inclusion of the ultra-wide mode for those groufies with social distancing (in which a National chief police officer and his constituents failed to do so).
Is the Mi 10T Pro Your GadgetMatch?
If you’re into a great all-around smartphone without breaking the bank, this is a sure recommendation. Equipped with the best specs, a good display with a fast refresh rate, and hosts of features, what more could you ask for? But if you value cameras the most out of those aforementioned factors, look elsewhere.
If you don’t mind the notch and the less-powerful Snapdragon 765G chipset and you prefer a better look and feel, the vivo V20 Pro is also worth considering. It even has great cameras for its price.
Shivam: Yes, the phone is surely recommendable. It tries to cut corners in a lot of places, but that doesn’t end up hampering the end-experience. For a very aggressive price of INR 39,999 (US$ 550), the Mi 10T Pro gets a flagship processor, 144Hz display, a 108-megapixel camera, and a slightly more premium experience. If you’re looking for an all-rounder that can get anything done, this phone is made for you. But, if you’re looking for the most cutting-edge flagship, you’ve come to the wrong place.
The OnePlus 8T is a slightly expensive option but lacks a lot of crucial features that make the Mi 10T Pro special. And, like Vincenz suggested, if you’re fine with a Snapdragon 765G chipset, the vivo V20 Pro is an excellent choice along with the OPPO Reno 4 Pro.
Huawei Freebuds Pro review: Everything you can ask for
Bang-for-buck “Pro” TWS
All the major smartphone manufacturers now have their very own True Wireless (TWS) earphones with the “Pro” tag on it. Narrowing the choices down to the AirPods Pro, Galaxy Buds Pro, and Freebuds Pro, Huawei’s offering might be the easiest to recommend.
Let’s cut to the chase, at just PhP 7,999/ SG$ 238, it’s easily the most affordable among the three all while offering a similar set of features.
Nobody’s talking about Huawei’s audio products as one of the best for regular consumers out there. But as they have proven over the last two years, they’re quite a sleeper in this arena.
Huawei’s audio products are good. Full stop. And the Freebuds Pro just adds to that growing portfolio. One of the primary reasons is what they’ve done with active noise cancellation or ANC.
Doubling down on ANC
On paper, Huawei promises up to 40db of noise cancelled. That’s a few decibels better than the promised 30db on the Freebuds 3 which was the product that came before it.
Huawei achieved this through a combination of hardware ingenuity and design. The result — a noise cancellation that’s pretty darn evident straight out of the box.
And it’s not just any other ANC, it’s the kind that adapts to its surroundings. With mics pointing outward, it can readily tell if it needs to adjust the noise-cancelling level. This works even when you pair it with a non Huawei phone.
I’ve used the Freebuds Pro with an iPhone as I leisurely stroll around our compound just to get some “outside” time. I always just had ANC on but never had to worry that I wouldn’t know if a vehicle was behind me or not.
When you do need that peace and quiet, it snuffs out the surrounding sound to make sure you can focus. This is typically what I do some afternoons when the neighbor’s kids are out in the hallway yelling like they’re trying to turn Super Saiyan. It’s annoying. But I plug the Freebuds Pro in my ears and suddenly I’m in TWICELAND listening to the voices of angels.
Rich, full sound
Despite having written more than a handful of these reviews, it never gets easy to really describe how good the sound coming from a product is. It’s really something that one needs to experience. But let me give it a try.
For music, I only really usually listen to TWICE, a bunch of anime tracks, and a handful of OPM songs. TWICE, more than anything, really. I just need that shot of happiness more than ever these days.
Anyway, the K-Pop girl group’s discography has grown even more diverse with their Eyes Wide Open album and the surprise gift for fans track “Cry For Me,” which makes their music a pretty good listen for earphones like this.
City pop tracks like “Up No More,” and “Say Something,” feel like a cold breeze on a warm summer night. The sound coming from the Freebuds Pro blends the vocals with the music in a way without one overpowering the other.
On more instrumental and rock-heavy tracks like “Stuck In My Head” from Fancy You, the Freebuds Pro is able to deliver the power from distorted guitars without muffling the audio. Instead, you get a sharp, electric feeling that makes you want to headbang air guitar to your heart’s content.
If you’re looking out for bass, tracks like “Turn It Up,” “Make Me Go,” and “Hell In Heaven,” have bass lines that are both slick and deliver a kind of shake that only a full, smooth bass can.
I play music to sway my mood a certain way. Listening with the Freebuds Pro delivers that music in the cleanest, most satisfying way possible that you’ll immediately hear the difference if you take them off.
Subtler design, easy controls
As you’ve seen on our Unboxing and First Impressions, Huawei did away with the extra long stem design for the Freebuds Pro. Here’s a look at the Freebuds 3, Freebuds 3i, and Freebuds Pro for comparison.
It’s now more subtle and will not be mistaken as AirPods by the informed and discerning eye. Plus this silver colorway is absolutely sexy AF.
Controls are different from previous Freebuds. To turn ANC on/off, you’ll need to squeeze on the tinier stem. Sounds hard on paper, but it’s surprisingly easy to pull off and you’ll immediately feel the sensation of squeezing the stem with a voice prompt confirming whether you’ve changed modes or not.
Doing the same on the right earbud controls pause/play, jump to the next track and jump to the previous track. For volume controls, simply slide up or down the stem of either earbud. The volume controls aren’t the best but that’s already better than most earbuds that don’t even offer the feature.
I get about four to five hours of continuous playback — that covers the hour-long stroll and the about two hours and a half of trying to drown out my neighbors’ children before I have to juice them up. Fully charging takes about a little over an hour.
Is the Freebuds Pro your GadgetMatch?
Yes. Yes it is. This is one TWS earbud with ANC that we can easily recommend to anyone. It’s the sweet spot in terms of price and features. You have a TWS earphone that can hang with the best in terms of features but won’t cripple your wallet. It’s just that good.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review: The best among the beasts?
Are the extra specs worth the extra price?
It hasn’t even been a year ever since Samsung launched the Galaxy S20 series but they’ve already unpacked the Galaxy S21 as early as January 2021.
I even remember we did a three-way review of the Galaxy S20 variants when it was launched. That experience serves as an eye-opener for me that I am, by all means, an “Ultra” user for the tasks I do. Multitasking, gaming, watching, shooting with great set of cameras, what more could I ask for now that I have the Galaxy S21 Ultra in my big hands?
While there are currently less newer flagships in the horizon powered by the latest Snapdragon 888 such as the China-exclusive iQOO 7 and the Xiaomi Mi 11 with its pending global release, is it enough to say that this phone is the best among all the beasts released so far? Let’s find out.
Ultra-minimal box content
The rumors are true after all. After mocking Apple for removing bundled chargers, Samsung still followed their path and ditched the usual 25W Super Fast Charger. Inside the retail box, I only got the phone itself, the usual SIM tray ejector tool, some paperwork, and a USB-C to USB-C cable.
It appears the removal of the AKG earphones in the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra packaging was already an early hint.
Love it or hate it, the Galaxy S21 series has a newer design that I honestly admire. While last year’s S20 Ultra had a glossy finish, the S21 Ultra now has a matte finish like the Note 20 Ultra — which should lessen the amount of fingerprints on the device. I used the Galaxy S20+ in Cosmic Black last year and that was an ultimate fingerprint and scratch magnet.
Samsung is proud of this year’s “Phantom Black” colorway by doing several processes to achieve its true and final color. It’s a more mature look that’s bold yet clean.
The whole process reminds me of how Apple made the Jet Black iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. Regardless of that tedious process, this dark color option closely resembles Apple’s Matte Black variant even more.
But unlike the iPhone’s aluminum unibody chassis, this one is made out of a tougher Gorilla Glass Victus — even tougher than last year’s Gorilla Glass 6. Albeit, there are times when fingerprint smudges still show when hit by light.
Distinct from the Galaxy S21 and S21+ is this humongous camera bump of the S21 Ultra with six holes in different sizes that house its wide array of camera components.
If you have big hands like I do, you’ll enjoy using this phone. Holding the phone feels lighter than last year’s S20 Ultra. But frankly speaking, it’s still on the hefty side — what more if you have petite hands?
The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, despite its larger display and sharper edges, was still easier and more comfortable for me to hold in one hand. That’s due to the fact that it has symmetrical sides and a slimmer form factor.
Turning the phone around reveals the new “Contour Cut Camera Design” where the phone’s metal frame meets the thicc AF camera hump. Unlike most people who despise it, I just love this over last year’s rounded rectangular-cutout.
Ultra-immersive audiovisual experience
I’m always a sucker for great displays — and Samsung always exceeds my expectations. Even though it’s less curved and a tad smaller at 6.8-inches (compared to last year’s 6.9), there isn’t much of a difference. It still feels immersive with its narrow and almost-borderless viewing experience.
With its Dynamic AMOLED 2X technology, the colors pop with vibrant hues, deeper blacks and whiter whites. It’s still the ultra-crisp and vibrant display I’ve been loving ever since I had the Samsung Wave in 2010 — Samsung’s first Super AMOLED device in history (announced a month earlier than the Galaxy S).
It also has 1500 nits of max brightness, which helped me use the screen even under harsh sunlight. Paired with crisp and loud stereo speakers, it’s truly a great device for your entertainment needs.
While last year’s S20 had a progressive 120Hz refresh rate, the caveat is you only get it under Full HD+ resolution. This time, while it may be adaptive, you get to enjoy 2K+ resolution/120Hz.
It might be an ongoing discussion for most users but I prefer faster refresh rates over larger screen resolution. Enabling both options affect the battery life over time anyway.
To maximize the Samsung ecosystem, I paired the new phone with my good ol’ Galaxy Buds+. I always love how seamless the transition is from connecting all the way to listening without frills and hassle. Don’t fret! As long as your audio accessory has Bluetooth (like my AirPods 2 and Lenovo Yoga ANC headphones), you’re good to go.
Whether you choose Face Unlock or the embedded fingerprint sensor, unlocking is fast and snappy! Unlike before where I have to press more than twice just to unlock both the S20+ and Note 20 Ultra, the new ultrasonic under-display sensor unlocks even when I lightly tap the screen for around 0.5 seconds.
The Face Unlock feature is also here. While it may not be as secure as iPhone’s FaceID system, it’s still fast. Samsung has maximized the use of AI so it will be fool-proof and won’t unlock when you’re asleep.
This Galaxy S21 Ultra has 12GB of memory. Although it maxes out at 16GB RAM, my unit is enough to make the most out of the tasks I do in a day.
Whether I open social media apps such as Twitter and Facebook, it comes to no surprise that they’ll open instantly.
In my previous phone reviews, there are times where some of the apps in the background close by themselves — whether that may be Instagram, a photo-editing app, a shopping app, Apple Music, and a game in idle. The RAM capacity isn’t the issue, rather the management and lack of software optimization.
In the case of the Galaxy S21 Ultra, switching between apps is a breeze. The navigation gestures on the new One UI 3.1 based on Android 11 is more fluid and responsive. One might say these have been around in most 2020 Android smartphones, but Samsung’s implementation is as close as what I get in iOS.
I commit spelling mistakes more often when I use the keyboard, no matter what Android device I use.
Fortunately, typing has been convenient in Samsung’s native keyboard. I was able to type one-handed with little to no typos at all. This means I don’t need a third-party keyboard like Gboard nor had the need to adjust keyboard height. I don’t even need to switch to one-handed mode at this point.
Ultra woes in storage and performance
The Galaxy S21 series marks the first Samsung smartphone to ship with Snapdragon 888 in the US and China. As bad as it sounds, the rest of the world comes with Samsung’s in-house Exynos 2100 processor. These chipsets are both 5nm — which makes it smaller, faster, and more power-efficient.
There’s no problem in performance. I played Asphalt 9 as well as Call of Duty: Mobile (CoDM) and both were smooth and responsive. You can even see how I scored almost 5,000 points in a single Ranked Match game.
But Samsung’s claim wasn’t really addressed at all. During the first fifteen minutes, the phone quickly sizzled while playing. I can literally feel it especially because I used the phone without a case. To make it worse, I went out to shoot some photos around late in the afternoon, and the phone was still hot to touch.
Another rumor that was later confirmed is the removal of the microSD slot. Previously, Samsung supported up to 2TB of external storage.
This review unit comes with 256GB of internal storage. Based on my experience, I was able to maximize my iPhone’s 256GB storage for almost two years. But considering how this phone shoots 4K-8K UHD footage and high-quality stills? It might take a shorter time to completely fill this up.
Having a microSD card expansion offers the fastest and safest way to backup your files. I feel the sentiment and rage of most Samsung users especially because having no external storage in the Galaxy Note 5 made me lost a lot of unbacked files after a motherboard failure five years ago.
Ultra-heavy battery (and drain)
The equipped 5,000mAh battery might be enough for a flagship smartphone like the Galaxy S21 Ultra, but my first day with it wasn’t particularly promising.
Other than those heating issues, it’s also plagued with serious battery drain. Using it continuously from 8AM to 1PM with 5G, WQHD+, and 120Hz enabled resulted to a major decrease in battery life. From 100%, it went down to 34% — that’s just five hours of moderate use of social media apps and the camera.
Disclaimer: I did the extensive gameplay and camera test around 3-4PM, just right after doing an hour of charge using my powerbank.
Third day of use, it notified me of a new software update. I’m unsure if that solved the heating and drain issues as I barely used the phone while I worked on articles and videos but the standby time since has been pretty stable. The screenshots prove that from 3PM (82%), it only had a 11% decrease after 11 hours of standby (2AM) with little to no phone activity.
While there’s no official word from Samsung if the S21 models support 45W super fast wired charging, the closest thing you can have is Samsung’s 25W Super Fast Charger.
In my case, I used a third-party 30W USB-C PD (Power Delivery) charger. Even if it only detected “Fast charging”, it was completely juiced up after an hour and a half.
If you have a fast wireless charger that supports speeds of up to 15W, charging the S21 Ultra will also work on that as well.
Ultra-speedy 5G connection
Although 5G speeds may not be blazing fast just like in South Korea and the US, the S21 Ultra was able to detect ultra-fast 5G speeds around the Metro.
Downloading and uploading shouldn’t be a problem at all. I’ve managed to download the first three episodes of the K-Drama ‘Uncanny Counter’ under a minute. Even uploading a 30-second 8K video took a minute — which isn’t possible in 4G LTE and regular Wi-Fi hotspots.
While my unit doesn’t come with the new S-Pen, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is the first S-series smartphone that’s capable of supporting it.
As a creative who’s been fond of the Note series, the S-Pen is, no doubt, a greater way to interact with your phone — regardless if it’s scribbling, digital painting, or even as simple as decorating your Instagram story.
The longer and thicker S-Pen might just be comfortable enough — which was something I wasn’t used to with the Note 20 Ultra’s shorter and slender S-Pen. To make it better, it also has a 9-millisecond (9ms) latency that will feel like you’re writing on a paper.
There’s also the latest Ultra-Wide Band (UWB) support. Lost your Galaxy Buds? It’ll be easier to locate with the SmartThings app. There’s also the Samsung Galaxy SmartTags which you can attach on bags, luggages, and even car keys so you can track them wherever, whenever.
Ultra-Grade Cameras and Features
On paper, the S21 Ultra has some beefy camera sensors: a 108-megapixel f/1.8 wide (main) camera with Phase-Detection AF and OIS, as well as a 12-megapixel f/2.2 ultra-wide sensor with a 120º FoV (Field of View) that’s also found on other S21 smartphones.
What makes it stand out than the rest of the S21 line are the two 10-megapixel telephoto cameras: one that’s capable of 3x optical zoom, and another that reaches up to 10x optical zoom, both with Dual Pixel technology and OIS for clearer zoomed shots.
The problem with last year’s S20 Ultra is how wobbly it is when using the zoom function. But because of better sensors and stabilization, the S21 Ultra now has a zoom lock feature where it focuses on a subject from a distance without the camera preview getting distorted.
Other than the 8K UHD/24fps support, 4K/60fps comes standard regardless of what lens you use for video recording. Even the front camera supports it so vloggers can edit and upload videos in 4K.
While the dual shot mode has been around since the Galaxy Note 3 where it simultaneously takes a photo/video both from the front and rear cameras, Director’s View is more of an improvement with better configurations to choose from.
Other than the single view, you also get the classic split mode, and even a PiP (Picture-in-Picture). But the biggest addition is the ability to effortlessly switch between the wide, ultra-wide, and telephoto lenses.
Ultra-mazing 108MP camera
The ultimate star of the show is the wide camera that’s capable of shooting 108-megapixel photos. If we’re going a bit technical, the S21 Ultra packs the latest ISOCELL HM3 sensor by Samsung with a larger sensor and improvements in dynamic range, autofocus, and low-light. It’s an update from the HM2 and last year’s HM1 of the S20 Ultra and Note 20 Ultra.
With the presence of natural light, one would always expect that the latest smartphones will take great photos. It’s always the software processing techniques that differentiate the camera quality of one smartphone to another.
Over the years, Samsung is known for boosting the saturation of the photos it takes — and the S21 Ultra does the same. While it may look good on the eyes of many, it sometimes goes overboard with all the camera processing and algorithm just to make a natural, “bland” scene into something lively and vivid that looks artificial.
For most users, this isn’t a bad thing. If the camera software does all of the job, it means less time for them to process it. But for a serious shooter like me, I’d prefer flatter shots and adjust what’s needed after the shots were taken.
Other than the color test, I also tested how the camera performs when it comes to food. Most Android smartphones I’ve tried tend to over saturate and over sharpen food shots. Fortunately, the images above look more natural.
Even my issue with Note 20 Ultra’s weird radial blur on close-ups are gone. But if you want that extra-dramatic blur effect, Food Mode will help.
I also tried using the main sensor with manual mode. The shots above clearly show that the S21 Ultra is capable of producing top-notch, DSLR-like bokeh.
From the perspective of my friend who uses an iPhone Xs Max, she was astounded with how the S21 Ultra performed using the Portrait Mode.
Other than the wider view, background on both shots look creamy with a clean segmentation between our hair strands — something most Android phones and older iPhones can’t do properly.
Just like on the Galaxy S21 and S21+, the S21 Ultra features the similar 12-megapixel Ultra-wide camera. It’s capable of shooting wider shot perspectives just like the building I captured above.
The ultra-wide sensor also helps capture more elements and details in outdoor shots like these.
In tight situations, there’s got to be a use for telephoto zoom lenses. If one isn’t enough, Samsung doubled it for better and clearer shots from afar.
In the first set, the HDR (High Dynamic Range) and AWB (Auto White Balance) were both consistent throughout the lenses — something most Android manufacturers fail to do. I tested the superiority of the S21 Ultra’s cameras up to its maximum focal length.
Since I’m an architecture dilettante, I tried zooming in close to the building. At my surprise, the window looked sharp and clear enough after the preview.
In the second set, I saw these playful Chow Chows roaming around the grasses with their hoomans.
Zooming in as close as 30x digital zoom helped me capture one while his/her tongue is sticking out. But if we’ll look closely, the shot has a weird noise reduction that sits between camera grain and software smoothening.
Let’s move straight ahead to the third set, I tried using both the 3x and 10x telephoto lenses.
The HDR was pretty dull in the wide shot and it’s less green in the first three modes. Meanwhile, zooming in to 10x looked more lively because of the saturation boost.
Finally, this last set was taken in my favorite park. Again, the wide angle lens had an inconsistency, this time in exposure. Unlike the HDR problem from the last photo, that can be corrected through post-process.
Zooming in as close as 10x gives us clear details of the metallic tree. Zooming in further at 30x is acceptable. 100x zoom is barely usable.
As bonuses, these macro shots were taken in a windy environment. While it may not be as clear as what you get from a DSLR, Galaxy S21 Ultra’s long zoom capabilities are clearly commendable for producing the right amount of exposure, contrast, dynamic range, even if it displayed some hints of over-sharpening.
Ultra-clear night shots
It wouldn’t be a camera test without testing how it performs under low-light scenarios.
Regardless of what camera lens you’re using, Night Mode works on both the Ultra-wide, wide, and telephoto lenses.
Of course, without Night Mode, shots look blotchy, smudgy, with a lot of dark shadows and blown-out highlights. But with Samsung’s Night Mode, it fixes not only the Dynamic Range, but also the exposure and contrast of the image — especially in situations where there are less night light available.
With night mode turned off, the convenience store sign was barely recognizable. But with the magic of Samsung’s image processing, it was able to fix all the colors and details in the image.
But unlike the previous Huawei flagships, the S21 Ultra maxes out night zoom at only 10x. The Mate 30 Pro I used in 2019 was capable of zooming in on the moon as close as 30x.
Unlike its younger siblings, the Galaxy S21 Ultra packs a larger 40-megapixel front shooter with a dedicated ultra-wide view. Other than the less-smeared faces with retained face artifacts, the front camera can also shoot in Portrait Mode that works just like how the rear cameras perform.
As another bonus, here’s how the Galaxy S21 Ultra Phantom Black will look like if you’re planning to flex it in your future mirror selfies 😂
Is the Galaxy S21 Ultra your Ultimate GadgetMatch?
Priced at PhP 69,990 for the 12GB/256GB model, the Galaxy S21 Ultra simply isn’t for everyone. If you’re the type of user who has the purchasing power and clearly knows that you want the best of everything in a smartphone, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is the ultimate smartphone you can buy right now.
You might be considering to buy the iPhone 12 Pro Max instead. That’s a fine option if you’re the type of user who’s locked in Apple’s ecosystem. But if it doesn’t bother you to try something new in the Android world, the S21 Ultra might just be a better option.
I know what you’re thinking. There’s still the existing S20 Ultra and Note 20 Ultra that both cost a little less. They still have a great set of display, specs, and cameras at a lower price. But if owning what’s new in the market today is an important buying factor for you, look no further and pick the S21 Ultra — unless you want to wait for a quirkier follow-up of the Galaxy Z Fold2 and the Z Flip.
Consider the Galaxy S21+ if you wanna keep the same material and specs minus the cameras and curved 2K display. If you want the less fancy stuff, go for the Galaxy S21, Note 20, or even last year’s Galaxy S20 FE (unless you can wait for the S21 FE successor).
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