Hands-On

iPhone SE Unboxing and Hands-On

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The rose gold iPhone SE comes in a white box

Size matters, but it’s not everything.

Love it or hate it, the iPhone SE is arguably a class of its own. It may look old but it doesn’t perform like one. It’s something not even the Android world can offer – where small nowadays, most often than not, means sluggish, second-rate, and a 2-4 year-old OS built into a cheap plastic body.

The iPhone SE has a 4-inch Retina display, Touch ID, and a 1.2MP front-facing camera

Sure, Apple made some compromise here and there to cut down on price – and in 2016 it still starts at 16GB – but the iPhone SE is a worthy upgrade for those who stuck with the iPhone 4, 4s, 5, and 5s all these years.

Heck, there are even some iPhone 6s users who want to ‘downgrade’ and go back to a smaller display. Some people like 4 inches – and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Apart from going small, the new iPhone raised a lot of eyebrows especially because it looks exactly like the iPhone 5s. It’s a new phone in an old body.

The iPhone SE has the SE branding at the lower back of the phone and it comes in rose goldEverything is found right where Apple left it three years ago: volume and silent buttons on the left side; SIM card tray on the right; power button on top; headphone jack, microphone, Lightning port, and speaker grille at the bottom.

Save for the SE branding at the back, the matte edges, and color-matched stainless steel Apple logo, nothing else has changed on the outside. The only “new design” is the rose gold variant.

Even packaging didn’t change. It’s the familiar minimalist box with the same contents as those of iPhones 5 and up: a pair of white EarPods, a Lightning to USB cable, wall charger, a SIM card removal tool, manuals, and Apple logo stickers.

But why judge the book by its cover?

Apple packed the best iPhone 6s features into the iPhone SE’s little body and made it work.

It ships with Apple’s powerful A9 chip and the latest version of iOS (9.3) out of the box. And it’s fast. It loads pages, opens and switches between apps smoothly and efficiently.

It comes with iOS 9.3’s new features like Night Shift, which changes the color of your iPhone’s display from cool to warm depending on the time of the day. Apple says this should help you sleep better at night.

Speaking of display, the iPhone SE sports a 4-inch Retina display at 326 ppi. This means images are rendered clear and sharp enough for the 4-inch screen. If we’re being specific though, it’s not a high resolution one – not even HD – only 640×1136 to be exact.

On the bright side, this means images and videos whose resolutions are a little lower than 720p will still look sharp on the iPhone SE. The bad: the phone is not ideal for watching a Full HD or HD movie. The contrast ratio is also lower than the iPhone 6s so the screen doesn’t look as bright.

While the lack of a Full HD or Quad HD display may be a deal-breaker for some people, a smaller, lower resolution display can mean better battery life as what drains the battery the most for a lot of smartphones is screen-on time.

The iPhone SE although smaller is thicker than the iPhone 6s so its camera doesn't protrude.

The integration of the top of the line processor and new iOS should improve battery performance as well, even if the iPhone SE ships with a smaller battery (reportedly 1642 mAh, compared to the 6s’ 1715 mAh). Apple promises 13 hours on LTE but this is something we will have to test on a later date.

This, we can say now: the iPhone SE has the best camera technology in a 4-inch phone in the market today. It gets the same 12-megapixel main shooter as that of the iPhone 6s but because it’s thicker, it doesn’t protrude like the one on its older, bigger brother.

It’s also worth noting that at its size, the iPhone SE can shoot 4K video. Although, if you’re getting the 16GB version you’ll want to back up those files so they don’t eat up into your precious space. A 3 minute 4K video clip takes up about 750MB of space.

If taking selfies is your thing, you might want to sit this one out as Apple put the 4-year-old 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera onto the SE that dates back to the iPhone 5. Well, at least it got the Retina Flash.

Here are some samples:

The main iPhone 6s feature missing on the SE is 3D Touch, but it probably won’t be sorely missed – new iPhone users won’t even notice. Apple did, however, keep Live Photos so you can still take those short moving images and view them with a long press.

Another thing not found on the SE is Apple’s newest Touch ID so the fingerprint scanner is not blazingly fast compared to the 6s but it’s a compromise that had to be made for a better price tag.

Just like its announcement in Cupertino, the iPhone SE doesn’t have the bells and whistles new phones usually get. True enough it’s nothing innovative, and to some it’s just plain disappointing especially coming from a company like Apple.

Although already the cheapest iPhone Apple has ever released, the iPhone SE is still not for people who are on a very tight budget. It’s also not a phone for people who have gotten used to a bigger display and love it for reasons like watching videos, gaming, and multi-tasking with split screens.

The rose gold iPhone 5s and rose gold iPhone 6s side by side

With its old but well-loved metal chassis, the SE feels premium for a mid-range price of $399 (16GB), which, in most cases can get you a good performing phone albeit with a plasticky build.

But what’s more important is on the inside. The iPhone SE, however small, is a phone that is just as powerful as the iPhone 6s, and performs even better than a lot of those that come in bigger packages.

The iPhone SE is not the best smartphone there is and may not be the size you’re used to anymore, but it just works. And there is nothing else like it.

[irp posts=”11425″ name=”Tiny iPhone SE gets twice the storage”]

Accessories

Razer Thresher and Raiju Ultimate Hands-on: Splendid gaming combo

Badass gaming accessories

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If there’s one thing Razer is really good at, it’s making gaming accessories that are both stylish and edgy. The Razer Thresher headset as well as the Raiju Ultimate controller for the PlayStation 4 (PS4) are primary examples of this.

Headset you can wear for hours

At first glance, the Razer Thresher looks like it would weigh heavily on your head. This is not the case. Despite its bulky exterior, this headset is lightweight and extremely comfortable.

The four-inch earcups cover a good portion of your ears and it feels like a headset you can wear for hours. It neither feels too tight nor to loose.

Setup is pretty straight forward, too. Simply plug the accompanying USB stick to the PS4’s USB port, turn on the headset, and it should work with no hiccups.

Immersive audio

Audio quality is right about what you’d expect from a US$ 150 headset. The earcups lend nicely to making the sound feel immersive as you game. When I played Marvel’s Spider-Man with these on, it almost felt like it was me swinging around New York with how much of the environment I could hear.

This headset also has a mouthpiece that’s perfect for co-op games, but since I don’t really play those kinds of games, I wasn’t able to try the headset in that setting. It does record good audio though, so you can opt to use it for that.

Although it’s labeled as an accessory for the PS4, it will work with any device that has a USB port. I used the headset on my MacBook Pro and it worked just fine.

Feels drastically different from the DualShock 4

At first glance, you would even think that the Raiju Ultimate controller was made for the Xbox One. It bears so much resemblance to that console’s controller which is why I felt a little iffy using it.

Most of my console gaming has been spent wielding DualShock controllers. I did try the Xbox but my personal preference is still the controllers bundled with the PlayStation consoles through the years.

That said, I didn’t completely hate the Raiju Ultimate experience. I did have trouble playing NBA 2K19 because the buttons weren’t responding the way they usually would on a regular DualShock 4 controller. This had a significant effect on my game as I wasn’t knocking down the shots I normally would.

The Raiju Ultimate controller comes with a sleek carrying case

Using the Raiju Ultimate led to a close game and a loss against Marvin. We played twice more but I shifted back to the DualShock 4 and proceeded to dominate him on NBA 2K19 like I normally do. (Editor’s note: “Dominate” is such a strong word.)

It comes with an app

The Raiju Ultimate also comes with an app to customize the extra four shoulder buttons. It has four presets to choose from: Sports, Shooter, Fighting, and Racing.

Instead of using the Sports the preset, I tried the other ones but still got the same result. This wasn’t the case when I played Marvel’s Spider-Man. In fact, it was pretty fluid and the shoulder buttons which you end up using a lot in this game responded seamlessly.

If you want a little bit more of customization, you can add a profile and assign specific functions for each shoulder button depending on the game you’re playing. I imagine it being helpful in games wherein you’re asked to press two buttons at the same time. You can just assign those to buttons to a single shoulder button — pretty handy.

Perfect tandem?

While I did have some trouble with the Raiju Ultimate, that was only in one game. Granted it’s probably the game I play the most, I didn’t have the same troubles in other games.

I had a blast playing Marvel’s Spider-Man using this combo. The game felt a lot closer than when I first played it thanks to the Razer Thresher, and the mechanical feel of the Raiju Ultimate really grows on you as you play.

This pair probably isn’t for everyone but if you want a little boost for your gaming experience, I wouldn’t think twice about copping these.

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Xiaomi Mi 8 Pro: A pricey gimmick

It looks good though

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Don’t get me wrong: I am absolutely in love with the Xiaomi Mi 8. The GadgetMatch peeps can even tell you how much I didn’t want to let that phone go. It’s literally the phone I would buy for myself.

With the Mi 8 Pro, you’re pretty much getting the same top-shelf specs albeit in a different package.

That different package is this — the Transparent Titanium “color design” as Xiaomi noted on the phone’s global page. It will make you think you’re looking at the phone’s actual internals. I have to say, it is appealing but as is the case with the Mi 8 Explorer Edition, it’s all for show.

If you can get over (and maybe even appreciate) that the transparent look is all aesthetics, then you can move on to the good stuff. And the good stuff are plenty.

You’re looking at a phone equipped with the Snapdragon 845 SoC along with 8GB RAM and 128GB of storage. It only has a 3000mAh battery but it does support quick charge.

This means you’ll have no trouble running games like PUBG, Asphalt 9, Ragnarok Mobile, and basically whatever game you feel like playing. This also means the Mi 8 Pro is a lean, mean multitasking machine.

You can shuffle through all your social media apps, email, notes, as well as three dating apps so you can keep swiping away even though the person you really want to talk to is already reachable through other messaging apps. I digress. (Editor’s note: Sad.)

Unlocking can be a pain

The other main addition is the in-screen fingerprint sensor. On paper, it looks promising and I really appreciate that I don’t have to lift the phone to unlock when it’s lying flat on the table. However, “pressing lightly” as Xiaomi suggests just doesn’t do the trick.

I can’t count how many times I pressed the fingerprint sensor with it asking me to “press a bit harder.” I’d like to think I was already pressing hard. For comparison’s sake, I did use the Vivo V11 quite a bit too and didn’t encounter the same problems using its in-display fingerprint scanner.

It’s pretty fast when I apply the right amount of pressure, but the thing is I don’t always do so. To save myself from being asked to press harder all the damn time, I resorted to mostly using face unlock. It’s an option I wouldn’t have considered had I not used the iPhone XR a while back, but that’s a story for another time.

The phone warns you that it’s not as secure as the fingerprint sensor and that it can be unlocked using faces and objects that look like you. I tried putting a steamed bun in front of the phone and thankfully it stayed locked. I’m gonna mark that down as a win.

Kidding aside, my personal experience with the Xiaomi Mi 8 Pro’s in-screen fingerprint sensor leaves a lot to be desired. Thankfully, this phone is pretty darn solid.

The other good stuff

The Xiaomi Mi 8 Pro sports the same cameras as the Xiaomi Mi 8 — that’s two 12MP rear cameras that capture images more than good enough for sharing on your social media feed.

Here are some samples taken in Singapore:

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One of my personal favorites to try on any phone is the portrait mode. Again, I think the Mi 8 Pro does it pretty well. The image does get grainy if you try it in low-light conditions so I suggest sticking to normal shots and not use portrait mode when lighting in your area is less than ideal.

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The front camera is a 20MP shooter that also has portrait mode and captures a fair amount of detail when you have a bright background.

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I’m also a huge fan of MIUI. It’s just a thoughtful and clean user interface. I especially love the fullscreen gestures which I admittedly took time getting used to when I first tried them on the Mi 8. But they’re great once you get the hang of it.

Swiping on either side of the screen functions as the back button. Hold it long enough and you’ll be taken to the last app you used. That’s such a great feature especially when I’m darting between social media apps during event coverage.

Should you buy it over the Xiaomi Mi 8?

The easy answer is no. Most of the good stuff that you’ll find on the Mi 8 Pro are already on the Mi 8. One of the Mi 8’s main attractions, other than everything I’ve already mentioned thus far, is its pricing.

The Mi 8 is a solid flagship phone that’s an easy recommendation for anyone who wants those specs but doesn’t have the budget for the big hitters like the iPhone XS, Huawei Mate 20 Pro, and Samsung Galaxy Note 9.

With the Mi 8 Pro, you’ll shell out roughly around US$ 200 more and for what? An ice-breaking design that doesn’t really do much other than catch someone’s attention and an in-screen fingerprint sensor that’s still in its early stages. It’s simply not worth it.

If you’re hell bent on spending close to or around US$ 700 on a smartphone, there are better choices out there. But if you love what Xiaomi has to offer, you can drop the Pro and just grab the Mi 8.

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Samsung Galaxy A9 (2018) Hands-on: Do we need four cameras?

It actually has five if you’ll count the front, as well

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Before, not counting the front, a smartphone only had one camera. Then, dual sensors became a thing with either zoom, ultra-wide, or monochrome as the secondary sensor. The trend moved faster with triple shooters and it’s not stopping there! Samsung jumped to four with the new Galaxy A9.

The biggest premium midrange phone of Samsung also has the most number of rear cameras on a smartphone. But before we get to them, let’s talk about the Galaxy A9 (2018) like an everyday phone first.

It’s got a gigantic 6.3-inch display

Still a Super AMOLED panel but flat

It’s almost borderless…

At least, it has no notch

It’s got a chin and uses virtual buttons

Everything is on the screen

The power and volume buttons are on the right

They’re quite small for a big phone

There’s a lone button on the left for Bixby

Samsung is really pushing this

The triple-card tray is accessible from the top

A surprising feature for a premium phone

We have the 3.5mm and USB-C ports at the bottom

The audio jack is here to stay

Samsung now has a gradient color scheme

It has its own beauty

Look at its shifting colors

Just don’t put a case or it’ll be useless

The camera holes are unsettling to look at

Maybe there’s another way to stack them?

Just look at them; aren’t they… interesting?

Each has its own purpose

Same-old Samsung design

When Samsung’s high-end Galaxy S lineup shifted to curved Infinity Displays, I kinda missed the flat display of the Galaxy S7. If you dislike having a curved display, you’ll love the fact that the Galaxy A9 (2018) has a simple and flat panel. It’s still Super AMOLED and crisp-looking at 392ppi.

The body of the phone is made from cold metal and smooth glass. There’s nothing about the new Galaxy A9 that feels cheap. It’s just big, so one-handed usage is difficult.

One thing I love about big phones is how they make mobile games more immersive. Thankfully, this phone is powered by a Snapdragon 660 processor that’s paired with 6GB of memory and 128GB of storage. If the storage space isn’t enough, you can also put your files and photos on a microSD card and insert it into the phone. Additionally, the phone has a large 3800mAh battery.

The phone runs smoothly and switches between apps with ease. I have no issues with its gaming performance, but graphics-intensive titles might need to adjust to medium settings to ensure high frame rates.

Android 8.0 Oreo comes out of the box, which is disappointing since Android 9 Pie is already available. Samsung will eventually update this phone with their latest UI, but there’s no exact date for the rollout as of writing.

The four cameras deliver

The main feature of the new Galaxy A9 is its cameras. Samsung pushed it to the limits by putting four rear cameras. There are four different sensors on the back of the phone and they are vertically aligned.

The main one is a 24-megapixel shooter with a f/1.7 aperture and phase-detection autofocus. The added shooters are an 8-megapixel ultra-wide (12mm) camera and a 10-megapixel telephoto camera with 2x optical zoom. The remaining camera is simply a 5-megapixel depth sensor for the extra bokeh effects.

Here are samples from the phone’s main, ultra-wide, and telephoto cameras:

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Obviously, the main camera should be your go-to option for everyday photos. It’s suitable for quick snaps and captures better-looking images. Using the ultra-wide camera will let you take more of the scene, but the lower resolution and smaller aperture sacrifice some of the quality. I don’t really find the telephoto camera to be useful, but if the situation asks for it, it’s always there.

As mentioned earlier, the fourth camera of the Galaxy A9 takes care of bokeh. Check out these portrait samples and notice the extra effect applied to the background.

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As for selfies, the phone has another 24-megapixel in front. The selfie camera has all the common features you’d expect including beauty filters, bokeh, and even Samsung’s own AR Emoji.

The Samsung Galaxy A9’s cameras don’t match the Galaxy S9’s or the Galaxy Note 9’s, but the extra camera sensors make the phone more fun to use. The ultra-wide shooter has the potential to be a crowd favorite if only it could shoot better images — especially in the dark.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

If you want a premium phone that offers something new to the table, the Galaxy A9 will not disappoint. Samsung was able to come up with a midranger that may seem boring at first, but having four cameras makes the difference.

Indeed, the Galaxy A9’s design is not the best it could be. Placing the four sensors inside a long module seems like a weird concept design that actually came true. It does attract unsuspecting crowd though, but I am not sure if it is for the better or worse.

The Samsung Galaxy A9 (2018) is not a cheap phone either, but it’s not overly expensive compared to previous Samsung midrange releases. It starts at SG$ 728 in Singapore, PhP 32,990 in the Philippines, and INR 36,990 in India.

SEE ALSO: Samsung Galaxy A7 hands-on review: Beyond the cameras

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