Reviews

iPhone SE review: A huge step forward

2020’s flagship killer?

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What happens when you take an old iPhone and give it new parts? You get the most affordable iPhone ever.

Is Apple going backwards by releasing an “old” phone in 2020? Did Apple make a flagship killer? We have just as many questions about the new iPhone SE, and we’ll answer all of them in this review.

Design

Just like how the original iPhone SE took the tried and tested design of the iPhone 5S, the new iPhone SE reuses the chassis of the iPhone 8 including its frosted aluminum frame and glass back. It comes in 3 colors: black, white and Product (RED).

This same design means the phone is water and dust resistant and support wireless charging. It also features stereo speakers — a combination of bottom firing grills and an earpiece that doubles as a speaker also.

Subtle design changes were made, too. The Apple logo on the back of the phone is now centered and the face on the white iPhone SE is black. The gold and silver iPhone 8’s were white up front.

This familiar face is something we’ve seen since the iPhone 6 from 2015 — thick forehead and chin making enough space for that iconic circular home button.

The phone looks old, but when you buy an iPhone SE you don’t buy it for its revolutionary new design; you buy it for its price. It costs US$ 300 less than the iPhone 11, and at least US$ 400 off any Android flagship for that matter.

Its size is another point of contention. My buddy The Mr. Mobile says he wishes Apple would have kept the original SE’s form factor — that 4-inch display.

It’s probably a cult favorite by now. And from a nostalgic point of view I think that would really have been a hit in 2020.

I wonder though, if its LCD HD display would be too small for the things we do on phones these days. One question I got asked a lot was if Apple was also planning on selling a larger model — the same size as the iPhone 8 Plus.

Since the iPhone 11 Pro Max is my daily driver, the new iPhone SE feels really small. I have to remind myself it’s almost the same size as the iPhone 11 Pro.

Its large forehead and chin notwithstanding, I didn’t feel like I am using any less of an iPhone — just a smaller one.

A13 Bionic

I think an important jump off point following our discussion on design is addressing the perception that this is an old iPhone, which is why I wanna talk about the A13 Bionic Chip next.

This processor that’s on the iPhone SE is the same one that powers the flagship iPhone 11, 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max. So while it is appropriate to see the iPhone SE as Apple’s budget or midrange offering, unlike any budget or midrange Android phone, the chip that powers the new SE is powerful and top of the line.

So whether you’re playing graphics rich games like Sky: Children of Light, learning about the Corona Virus in AR on JigSpace, making the most out of quarantine by studying a new language using my favorite language app Memrise, or editing that 4K footage you just shot, both the CPU and GPU that’s on the A13 Bionic Chip have enough raw power to handle these tasks.

Cameras

The third component of this system-on-a-chip is the neural engine — 8 cores on the A13 Bionic vs 2 cores on the A11. It’s what the new iPhone SE uses to get a camera performance boost despite having the same hardware as the iPhone 8 and iPhone XR.

All 3 phones have the same single 12MP wide angle camera with an f/1.8 lens on their rear, and a 7MP camera with an f/2.2 lens up front.

On the iPhone 8 – a single camera system meant no portrait mode. On the iPhone XR, Apple used technology called Focus Pixels to create a depth map to enable portrait mode. On the new iPhone SE Apple says it harnesses the neural engine for real time machine learning — a process called monocular depth estimation.

So the new iPhone SE has six portrait lighting features: natural light, studio light, contour light, stage light, stage light mono, and high key mono. Apple has come a long way since it introduced the Beta Version of Portrait Lighting on the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus.

I found that during the day even during sunset through to blue hour, the iPhone SE held its own vs the newer iPhone 11 and 11 Pro Max.

Take this shot for example. All 3 phones have Smart HDR, so they preserved highlights and shadows on the face keeping it natural looking, while also preserving details in the background.

In all of these other examples the results are very similar.

If I were to nitpick, the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro just produce more vibrant colors and in some cases are sharper with more detail.

Other times it was almost impossible to tell the difference.

While the phone did a good job at cutouts, blur on the higher end models looked more like they were taken with a DSLR. Take a look at my arm too; on the iPhone SE’s photo that part is a bit blurry as well.

Some camera features that don’t make their way to the new iPhone SE are deep fusion and night mode. So in low light scenarios where night mode will automatically kick in on iPhone 11 and 11 Pro Max, on the iPhone SE it doesn’t.

I took a photo of these colored pencils in a dimly lit room. The iPhone 11 and 11 Pro engaged a 1 second exposure so the shots came out brighter with less noise and very accurate colors. The iPhone SE produced a decent photo. But the subject was softer and there was definitely more noise.

When the lights go out, that’s where the results are most obvious. While night mode relies on the power of the A13 Bionic Chip, it also relies on the larger image sensor on the iPhone 11. A bigger image sensor lets in more light and night mode uses multiple shots to create better results.

This is just my speculation but without that larger and better image sensor, I don’t think the results would have been the same so Apple probably made the decision to exclude the feature.

It also supports 4k video at 24, 30 and 60 fps.

Selfie camera

Apple uses the same tech to deliver portrait mode using the selfie camera. As this is a slower lens with less megapixels, the results are different but good enough.

Here are some selfie portraits taken across various shooting conditions.

Speaking of that selfie camera, another question I got was with regards to Memoji. The iPhone SE does not have the true depth system used for Face ID, so face tracking isn’t possible, but you still get access to Memoji and Animoji stickers.

SEE ALSO: 9 new Memoji stickers and what they mean in the time of coronavirus

Touch ID

Having used Face ID for around 3 years now, Touch ID took some getting used to, but it’s as fast and accurate as I remember.

At times like these where I often have to wear a mask, it’s good to have an option to easily unlock my phone or pay for things at the store.

Battery

Apple promises about the same amount of battery life as the iPhone 8. In my week with the phone I found that to be true. The iPhone SE’s battery lasted a day on a single charge with average use.

The phone ships with a 5W charge, similar to that on the iPhone 11. A 30-minute charge will get you to 25%, 60 minutes to 47%, and 90 minutes to 69%. A full charge takes over two hours.

Is the iPhone SE your GadgetMatch?

If you’re an iPhone user who have been holding on to your iPhone 6, 7, or even 8, and haven’t upgraded for many different reasons — maybe that’s how long you hold on to a phone, or you just didn’t want to let go of Touch ID, or you’re not willing to spend more than US$ 600 for a new iPhone — the new iPhone SE is your GadgetMatch.

If you’re a parent and already an iPhone user who’s looking to purchase an inexpensive iPhone for your child — so you can FaceTime and iMessage, track them with Find My, and share a Family account for apps and services like Apple Arcade and TV Plus — the iPhone SE is perfect for you, too.

If you already own an iPhone X or 11 Series, you’ll want to wait till the end of the year for Apple’s next flagship.

If you want to buy an iPhone today, but want more than one camera, shoot a lot of night photos, and prefer a more current looking device with an edge-to-edge screen and features like FaceID, my recommendation is the iPhone 11. If you really wanna go all out, get the iPhone 11 Pro or Pro Max.

Should you get the iPhone XR in 2020? Priced at US$ 200 more, I can see why anyone would consider this, especially since the iPhone SE and iPhone XR share the same camera system.

Let me start with pros for the XR. It’s a larger phone with a bigger display. It’s got a larger battery that will last longer. It has FaceID for quick and secure unlocking of your phone.

The iPhone SE has an updated processor which gives its camera an edge — things like next generation smart HDR and better depth sensing. This also gives it software improvements like six portrait lighting effects instead of four, as well as quick take using both the front and rear cameras.

If you ask me, I wouldn’t buy the iPhone XR in 2020. My suggestion is to get either the iPhone SE or spend more for the iPhone 11.

There’s also no point in getting the iPhone 8 over the SE. Apple already stopped selling it. Before the new iPhone SE went on sale, the iPhone 8 retailed for US$ 449. The iPhone SE costs US$ 50 less, but with updated hardware and will get you at least 5 years worth of iOS updates. So even if you could still buy the iPhone 8 from 3rd party resellers, I’d pick the new iPhone SE — no brainer.

I don’t usually compare iPhones and Androids; they’re just two completely different ecosystems with their own pros and cons. But because I get questions about the OnePlus 8 versus the iPhone SE a lot, I’ll answer it. The OnePlus 8 starts at US$ 699 that’s a full $300 difference. If that’s how much you’re willing to spend on the phone — I’d get the iPhone 11 over the non-pro OnePlus 8 any day.

Having said that if you’re an Android user who’s been thinking about switching but didn’t wanna break the bank on an iPhone, now is the time to take the plunge. In the Android world only Google’s Pixel 3a comes close — and while they are a good match when it comes to photos — the iPhone SE is made of premium materials and comes with top of the line specs. The Pixel 3a is made of plastic and comes with a mid-range processor.

At a time where more and more Android phones are hitting that thousand dollar mark, who would have thought that Apple would be the one to create a flagship killer? Okay, maybe that’s hyperbole.

It’s probably not a flagship killer, but it is the best value iPhone Apple has ever sold — an easy recipient of the GadgetMatch seal of approval.

Its sub-400-dollar price tag means Apple is going to sell even more iPhones. Sure, they’ve sold an iPhone for US$ 399 before — the original iPhone SE — but that was in 2016 when phone prices were very different.

If you take into account how much phones cost in 2020, it’s easy to justify calling the new iPhone SE the most affordable iPhone of all time.

And I say this over and over again — there’s more to owning an iPhone than just hardware. It also means you can enjoy the entire Apple ecosystem — a wealth of apps and services, and seamless integration with many other different Apple product.

The cheapest iPhone ever sold means that more people can take part in this experience. And if you ask me, Apple is not going backwards with the iPhone SE, but making a huge step forward.

Laptops

Huawei MateBook D 15 2021 11th Gen review: 4 months after

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Huawei MateBook D 15

The work from home and online class setup had us all adjusting to this new normal. You’ll see a lot of inquiries on Facebook groups about LED ring lights, microphones and midrange laptop recommendations. Huawei’s MateBook D series is among the ones you’ll see that has gotten a lot of popularity for this purpose.

It makes perfect sense, since back when I first reviewed the Huawei MateBook D 15 2021 11th Gen, I had a lot of good things to say about it. After four months under regular use, there are quite a few more that I came to realize about this device that I think you guys might find interesting.

It can get things done

A quick refresher on its specs, the D 15 2021 we have with us has an 11th gen Core i5 with the Intel Iris Xe graphics, 16GB DDR4 RAM and 512GB of SSD storage. 

It’s no question, if you’re just going to use this for online classes or regular zoom meetings, the D 15 probably won’t even break a sweat. However, I consider my power requirements to be somewhat on the heavy side for my photo and video editing needs.

What surprised me was I didn’t find myself having to go back to my main editing workstation and have actually done more work on the D 15 than I expected. It may not be as fast, but it also wasn’t drastically slower.

Plus the fact that this has a more accurate display with its 100 percent sRGB color gamut, the 15.6-inch LED display is perfect for my daily Photoshop use.

Portability also applies at home

Huawei MateBook D 15

Working from home for a long time and looking at the same thing over and over, not having to be able to go to places, had many of us bored and unmotivated. I personally always had that urge to look for another spot just for the change of scenery.

Thankfully, weighing only 1.56kg, it gave me the flexibility for me to place it in different places. I didn’t worry that the surface wouldn’t be able to handle it.

Battery life

The capability to place the D 15 on different places wouldn’t really matter if you’re still stuck near an outlet because you’re constantly required to plug it in. Fortunately, the 42Wh battery of the D 15 keeps us away from the charger for around nine to ten hours before needing to plug it back in.

Huawei addresses issues and gives regular updates

Huawei MateBook D 15

During its time with me, the D 15 had quite a few driver and software updates. Along with one of the updates came a fix for an issue I had with its fingerprint scanner where it frequently had trouble recognizing my fingerprint. While it shouldn’t have had that issue to begin with, the regular updates are an indication that users aren’t abandoned and issues are in fact being addressed on Huawei’s end.

I also learned from Huawei’s website that the MateBook series has a Windows 11 upgrade rollout plan. That’s something nice to look forward to.

Undesirable camera angle

Huawei MateBook D 15

Sadly, not everything is praise worthy on the D 15. The hidden web camera, while innovative, came at the cost of an awful camera angle. Since it is placed on the keyboard, it is also pointed upwards.

Using it, you’ll mostly see an unflattering image of yourself often emphasizing the size of your nostrils.But if you decide that you’d want to use a laptop raiser for a more comfortable viewing angle, the camera won’t be pointed downwards. That’d make it barely usable.

A generous availability of ports

Huawei MateBook D 15

Being the boxing fan that I am, the recent Pacquiao fight had me subscribing for a pay-per-view service. The full sized HDMI port on the D 15 was heaven sent. During the fight as I was able to output the fight on our dated TV set. It let us to enjoy the stream on a bigger screen.

The availability of USB ports on both sides also let us to choose where certain devices can be plugged. We didn’t worry about hitting our external drives with our mouse or fitting multiple USB devices side by side.

Multi-Screen Collaboration

I did not find myself using this feature as much. However, having this capability eliminated the need for me to grab a USB cable to transfer files from my phone. A quick tap of my phone and I was ready to transfer photos I recently. It’s great for some quick editing before posting on Instagram. 

Is this still your GadgetMatch?

Huawei MateBook D 15

When I think of the D 15, freedom is the word that comes to mind. It gives so much freedom to work anywhere with its portability and battery life. You get freedom to do what you wish with it with its capable hardware. There’s also freedom from wires with the Multi-Screen Collaboration. And even freedom to plug various devices with its great selection of ports.

It’s a no fuss kind of laptop that just gets things done. Its sheer simplicity is what makes it a great device.

If you’re interested in getting the Huawei MateBook D 15 2021 11th Gen with 16GB RAM and 512GB SSD, you can now get it for PhP 48,999.00.

 

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Reviews

Samsung Galaxy Watch4 Review: Best Android smartwatch yet?

But is it any better than the Apple Watch?

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Samsung launched the Galaxy Watch4 just recently — which is the successor to 2019’s Galaxy Watch Active2.

Now with the power of a BIA (Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis) via its Bio Active Sensor, the Galaxy Watch4 can simply measure your body composition with just your two fingers and wrist.

But is it any better than the Apple Watch?

Watch our Samsung Galaxy Watch4 review now to know more.

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Accessories

Maonocaster Lite AU-AM200-S1: Intuitive and portable podcasting rig

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AU-AM200-S1

I am a fan of quality and affordable gear. Modern manufacturing techniques and advancements in technology gave us a vast selection of gadgets in all shapes and sizes.

With the gaining popularity of live streaming, the demand for good audio interface and microphones is growing. The brand Maono, relatively speaking, is a newcomer that offers affordable audio products.

What we’ve got here is the Maonocaster Lite AU-AM200-S1, which is a portable podcasting gear. This is the very first product I’ve got the chance to try from this brand and I’m liking it so far. This bundle is ideal for someone who is just getting into podcasting or a musician looking for a cheaper alternative.

What’s in the box?

AM200 Podcast Console

At first glance I actually thought it was a miniatured DJ turntable because of the two mini platters, but those are just volume knobs for the mics and music. It is a 3-channel mixer-type audio interface with five outputs. The two inputs are designated for mics and/or instruments and the other input is for music. Three outputs (3.5mm TRRS) for smartphones are available so you can stream simultaneously on different platforms.

A separate main and monitor output is available so you can listen to what your audience hears. Note that all the inputs and outputs are for 3.5mm jacks so if you are planning to plug in an instrument directly using a PL (1/4 inch) cable, you will need a 3.5mm adapter.

Plug and play

You can connect it to a computer with the USB A to C cable that is included. It doesn’t require any drivers, so, just plug it in and it’s good to go. It should be compatible to most DAWs (Digital Audio Workstation) for music recording. There is a 3-band EQ along with a “REC” volume knob which is like a “Send” knob to feed the audio to the devices it’s connected to.

Two crossfaders control the monitor volume and echo level. The “monitor” crossfader controls both the volume level for the (main) output and the monitor (output). I wish they installed separated levers for each one to control them independently.

This is also the case for the mic volume knob, it controls both the levels of mic 1 and mic 2. It would’ve have been handy if there are separate knobs for each but I think they did this design to fit in a compact box.

For outdoor streaming and recording

At the middle portion, you’ll notice along the LED indicator level signal is a battery indicator. Yes, this is also battery powered which makes it suitable for out of home live streaming, if you prefer creating something for your viewers elsewhere. You can easily recharge the batteries with the USB C cable.

There are also audio sample pads, buttons for sound effects and pitch shifters.

AU-PM360TR Microphone

AU-AM200-S1

This condenser microphone does not require phantom power. It runs below 5V, through the XLR to 3.5mm cable, unlike the industry standard condenser microphones. With its cardioid polar pattern, it will be more sensitive to sounds being captured in front of it.

Earphones

It comes with a pair of in-ear earbuds with a very long cable, enough to cover the distance for a typical on-desk live streaming. I think that the sound quality would be more appreciated by most modern pop listeners who like a lot of bass. Because it does deliver that low-mid thump.

Tripod

Out of the box, the microphone comes attached to the mini tabletop tripod. The microphone is detachable to the tripod, but if it is used handheld, it will pick-up a lot of hand noise. So, it is better to leave it on the tripod.

Other accessories included are: XLR to 3.5mm cable, two 3.5mm TRRS cables, USB A to USB C cable, and a windscreen cap.

Performance

For podcasting, it is very easy to use. It’s what the AU-AM200-S1 is made for and they did a good job. The microphone delivers a clearer and louder output compared to built-in mics in smartphones/laptops or headsets. You can control the volume of music accompaniment easily with the wheel knob, whenever you want to highlight the music or the voice.

Plus, the sound samples like the applause, laughter, cheering etc., are nice additions for some impromptu segments in your streams. You can also record your own samples by pressing the “loop back” button and assigning to any of the blank buttons available.

Since the microphone does not require a phantom power, the output is weaker compared to classic condenser microphones. The sound quality is good nevertheless.

AU-AM200-S1

For music recording, you can record your instruments with it on your preferred DAW. I connected my guitar to my digital effects processor with a 3.5mm headphones jack going to the mic input of Maono console. I noticed that the 2 mic inputs have high gain levels because my guitar was already clipping with the volume knob on the AM200 console at around 10 o’clock.

Usually, I set the volume on my guitar effects unit on almost full when I am recording with a different audio interface and mixers. But with the Maono AU-AM200-S1, I only had to set the volume of my guitar effects at 50 percent. This is good because it doesn’t have a designated gain knob. Just watch out for clipping- if it happens, you may want to lower the volume from the source.

I recorded a few short audio samples to demonstrate how the Maonocaster Lite AU-AM200-S1 handles recording. Please excuse my singing voice.

Mic only without echo(onboard) – vocal

Mic only with 50% echo(onboard) – vocal

Mic only with 100% echo(onboard) – vocal

Mic only without echo – vocal and guitar

Mic only with post-editing – vocal and guitar

Guitar through a digital effects processor

In a full band mix – Recorded vocals and guitars (both acoustic and electric)

Fully recorded demo

 

There are two functions that I have a few comments on:

AU-AM200-S1

Denoise — This is their “smart noise cancelling” feature that reduces background noise. It does its job as a noise gate, but unfortunately, you cannot adjust the settings (threshold, attack, range, etc.). Depending on how loud the ambient noise is, the mic sometimes gets a stuttering sound when this feature is engaged. If the room is quiet enough, there shouldn’t be any problem.

Music Only — This feature attempts to minimize the vocals in the music that you are playing, but similarly to the denoise, it sometimes affects the mic audio quality. I suggest looking for backing tracks of the songs you want to sing during your live stream beforehand.

Is the AU-AM200-S1 your GadgetMatch?

AU-AM200-S1

The Maonocaster Lite AU-AM200-S1 bundle is a usable and functional piece of gear. I see it as a bring-it-anywhere, all-in-one podcasting kit. It would have been more convenient (for me) if they included ¼ inch inputs for mics and instruments. Although, I guess it would kind of defeat its portable nature because most PL cables are thicker and heavier compared to the 3.5mm cables included in this bundle.

Pricing and Availability

The Maonocaster Lite AU-AM200-S1 retails for $109.00 and is available for purchase in Amazon, Shopee, and Lazada. You can check out their other products at the official Maono website.

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