Reviews

LG V20 review

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LG V20

Whenever I review an LG flagship smartphone, I ask myself: Where do I begin?

It has always been the Korean brand’s conviction to jam as many features as technologically possible into its best handsets, in hopes of hitting it big with at least one target audience.

This way of thinking actually worked; the LG G3 introduced an overabundance of power to a fault, the G Flex was absolutely massive during its time and had self-healing abilities, and the V10 doubled the number of screens and cameras on its face.

LG V20 front

Can the V20 match the hype of the V10?

Every attempt created cult followings for each device, but the constant envelope pushing failed to create a consistent design philosophy for LG’s best phones.

LG’s latest flagship, the V20, is no different, and once again overwhelms with features you didn’t think you’d need until you actually tried them. The best way to review it is by breaking things down to test notes.

The V20 is too big, even for a phablet

Yes, it’s supposed to be a handful, but even for a 5.7-inch smartphone, the body is far too tall and takes lots of finger stretching to properly use. Last year’s V10 did it right by at least covering the back with grippy rubber; the V20 has none of that. On the bright side, the Quad HD LCD screen is gorgeous, and doesn’t make me miss my beloved AMOLED displays.

LG V20 in hand

Trust us; this phone is BIG

I can live without the secondary screen

What distinguishes LG’s V series from the rest is the 2.1-inch secondary display on top for quick settings and glances at notifications. Unfortunately, like last year’s attempt, I rarely see any use for it, and I’d rather just swipe the notifications shade down and have everything at once. The annoying light bleed from the left of the screen is also still present.

Shock-proofing is a killer feature

Having a shock-proof shell is such an underrated feature for any smartphone; anyone who hates having to buy an extra case will agree. The only thing missing is waterproofing, which is probably a side effect of the removable back. This brings us to…

The rear cover’s eject button looks like a camera shutter key

I can’t count the number of times I accidentally reached for the eject button, thinking I could take a photo by clicking it. To everyone’s relief, however, swapping out the battery is so much more intuitive than the G5’s application, which was a multi-step chore.

LG V20 eject key

You can easily mistake the back cover’s eject button for a camera shutter key

This phone is fast

As in really fast. The V20 blazes through the interface and switching between apps. We can credit the high-end Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor and 4GB of memory, but the real star is Android 7.0 Nougat, which is still a rarity in the market — only 0.3 percent have it! The double-tapping action to quickly jump between two apps, in particular, is to die for.

I only wish LG’s custom interface were lighter

The user interface LG plasters over Android is once again a hot mess. Even though there are several smart design cues, such as removing the app drawer by default and allowing you to modify the on-screen navigation buttons, overloading the notifications shade and settings menu is a no-no.

LG V20 interface

Be ready for some heavy LG skinning

Audio is both good and bad

The good: There’s a noise-cancelling mic for clear concert recordings and 32-bit Quad DAC for producing high-quality music playback through headphones. The bad: The single loudspeaker at the bottom chin is terrible at times. It’s best to have at least a portable speaker on hand when going on trips.

This is the most fun I’ve ever had with a smartphone camera

Unlike last year’s V10, the V20’s dual-camera setup is found on the back. It’s implementation is just like the G5’s, in which one 8-megapixel camera handles ultra-wide-angle shots, while the 16-megapixel shooter creates slightly zoomier, yet just as beautiful photos. The front-facing 5-megapixel camera has a single lens, and utilizes software magic to carry on the choice between wide selfies and extra-wide groufies. (Did I spell that correctly?)

LG V20 cameras

Laser autofocusing and optical image stabilization help out a lot during the shooting process

Here are samples photos from all three cameras. Notice how punchy the colors are and how sharp subjects can get even when it’s dark outside, although the rear cameras had trouble figuring out the correct exposure under artificial indoor lighting. Believe me when I say the focusing speed and shot-to-shot times were speedy for both photo and video modes.

Don’t count on the battery life

Battery life was the primary weakness of the V10, and the same issue is back on the V20. With only a 3200mAh capacity to power two screens, it’s not much of a surprise. However, even with the secondary display turned off, there wasn’t a significant improvement in screen-on time. My average usage time on a single charge hovered below four hours, which is way below the five to six hours I’d get on similarly sized phones.

LG V20 battery

Removable batteries are becoming increasingly uncommon nowadays

The upside is fast charging can bring the V20 to full in about two hours, and if you’re willing to spend for an extra battery, you can swap within a few quick steps.

This is odd

In a strange design decision, the power button is still located on the rear-mounted fingerprint sensor. Sounds convenient, right? Problem is, you could accidentally unlock the phone if all you want to do is turn off the handset while on the lockscreen. You can double-tap the screen to make it sleep, but it’s nowhere near as accurate as a dedicated physical key.

It doesn’t help that the button feels cheap; it wobbles when you click it at certain angles. I wish LG just stuck to leaving the power switch on the side, like every other smartphone in the market.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

I’ll be honest: I absolutely adored the V10, and it was my favorite smartphone of 2015 in a sea of boring choices. My expectations for the V20, in turn, were sky high, and sadly, all weren’t met.

I miss the rugged, rubberized look of the V10, its sharp corners, and well-placed rear volume controls. That’s the situation you must live with when loving a certain LG; its successor will most certainly look totally different.

LG V20 secondary screen

Next year’s V30 will likely look totally different

Going back to the question: This is not a match for those who loved the V10, but it’s an excellent choice for those who love high-quality audio recording, removable batteries, and a collection of the most updated features.

With the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 out of order and the Apple iPhone 7 Plus having the same design as its predecessors, the V20 with its plus-sized proportions stands out. It’s quite pricey, though; the unit I reviewed retails for PhP 35,990 (almost $740), but you get what you pay for in terms of premium components.

[irp posts=”4401″ name=”V20 both improves and harms LG’s image”]

Reviews

realme X3 SuperZoom review: An absolute steal

Flagship. Killer.

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realme did it again. They managed to offer flagship level performance for a phone that’s half the price of most flagships today with the realme X3 SuperZoom.

Just take a quick look at this chart to see what we’re working with.

Price Range (PhP) Snapdragon 855+ 120Hz Screen Refresh Rate Snapdragon 855+ (or higher) and 120Hz Screen Refresh Rate
20K-30K realme X3 SuperZoom
30K-40K OnePlus 7T Pro OnePlus 8
40K-50K Vivo NEX 3, OPPO Reno 10X Zoom One Plus 8 Pro
50K+ Galaxy Note 10 Series Galaxy Note 20 Series (Exynos processors in PH) ROG Phone 2, OPPO Find X2 Pro

The realme X3 SuperZoom is in flagship company specs-wise, but at PhP 24,990 (US$ 505), it sits right in the middle of the upper midrange segment. I didn’t even include the configuration which is 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. This smartphone is, without a doubt, a steal.

As good as advertised 

But those are just the specs, right? How does it actually perform? In a word — admirably.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been merrily juggling the iPhone 11 Pro, Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, and the realme X3 SuperZoom as my primary devices. Being used alongside two performance heavyweights, the realme X3 SuperZoom doesn’t miss a beat.

One of the desktop tools we use to schedule posts on Facebook has been extremely erratic of late. As a stopgap measure, we found a mobile alternative.

Scheduling several posts on your phone isn’t ideal. It involves a lot of switching from app-to-app and can get very frustrating if the phone you’re using isn’t equipped to handle that load.

Thankfully, that’s not the case with the X3 SuperZoom. I could be holding any of the three phones at any given time and if I needed to do work, there were no hiccups whatsoever.

Naturally, I also did a little bit of everything that you would do on your phone. There’s the inevitable blackhole of scrolling through social media, playing a match or two of Call of Duty Mobile, watching K-Pop music videos and fancams, and everything else in between.

Problems encountered on the X3 SuperZoom while doing these? Zero. None. Zilch.

The cameras are fantastic

Going anywhere from wide to up to 10X Zoom should give you a photo worthy of your Facebook timeline or Twitter feed.

Let me share again this post just to illustrate what I mean.

Color reproduction is mostly accurate but tends to pop more if you turn on AI-assist.

I’m also a fan of how it handles night mode. In the past, some night modes tended to just overlight a shot. This isn’t the case with realme. From my experience, it truly analyzes the scene and applies an appropriate level of post-processing.

The SuperZoom is okay. My feelings over highlighting zoom capabilities remain the same — which is mostly this.

One Punch Man GIF by memecandy - Find & Share on GIPHY

 

The engineering to achieve the feat is truly remarkable, but the use-case for most people is just non-existent.

There’s another phone I’m waiting for that sits right around the same price range. Will do a more comprehensive photo comparison when that comes around.

A capable video camera

One camera feature we rarely get to test is the videos. Thankfully, this phone launched alongside the realme Watch, so I tried my hand at making a video shot mostly with the X3 SuperZoom.

All the spiels were shot using the 32MP front-facing camera with bokeh effect on. These are 720P at 30FPS clips, in case you’re wondering.

The rest of BRoll was shot using the rear-camera, with the exception of some clips showing the phone itself.

Naturally, I post-processed the videos using a desktop software (Final Cut Pro). However, if you’re only working with your phone, you can try apps like InShot, Filmora, or CapCut for video editing.

I shot the spiels and the rest of the clips during one hot afternoon. The spiels were especially challenging for the phone since it was exposed to direct sunlight during about an hour and a half of shooting.

That said, I still wrapped the shooting with about 15-19 percent of battery left. And the phone wasn’t even fully charged. It did get pretty hot, but it surprisingly never conked out whereas other phones would have already done so.

Not exactly a premium build 

If there’s anything to nitpick about the phone, it’s probably its build and button placements. These aren’t at all dealbreakers, but I feel they’re worth mentioning.

When it comes to build and feel on hand, the phone isn’t fragile at all. But, for me at least, it doesn’t have that extra oomph you feel when you’re holding flagships that cost north of PhP 45,000 (US$ 910).

The front and back are certainly glass, but the sides are plastic. That contributes to a lesser heft which is partially responsible for that premier feeling.

Still on the sides, instead of being flushed together on the right hand side, the volume buttons sit on the left-hand side.

Meanwhile, the power button/side-mounted fingerprint sensor (fantastic sensor placement and choice!) is on the right-hand side.

For a smartphone with a 6.6-inch display with a considerable overall footprint, it’s quite a challenge operating it on one hand, especially when you want to adjust the volume.

The Galaxy S20 Ultra, for instance, is a much larger phone, but I never had this volume adjustment inconvenience since all the buttons are flushed on the right side. That said, this is a nitpick and one I can most certainly live with.

But kudos to realme on the matte back finish. It’s not a fingerprint magnet and that’s a quality every phone should strive for.

Is this your GadgetMatch? 

The realme X3 SuperZoom has a lot going for it. You have a flagship-level processor, a display feature that’s mostly reserved for only the most expensive flagships, and cameras that can more than hold their own.

In fact, the SuperZoom on its name might even be underselling the product. Because it’s certainly more than its Zoom capabilities which, I feel, isn’t even the best part of this phone.

However, the real kicker here is the price. Retailing for only PhP 24,990 (US$ 505), this smartphone is an absolute steal. And it’s right in line with what realme has been doing all this time — offering fantastic value for less.

If you’re looking for flagship-level performance but do not have the resources to grab the premium ones, then the realme X3 SuperZoom should be one of your top choices.

SEE ALSO: realme has been a true disruptor

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Reviews

Redmi Note 9S review: The healthy, underappreciated middle ground

The right mix of everything in one device that won’t break your wallet

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The Redmi Note 9S, in my opinion, finds itself in a bit of a “struggle.” It follows the seemingly perfect older sibling in the Redmi Note 9 Pro Max, although shares most of the same hardware. There’s even its younger sibling, the Redmi Note 9 with the major difference being in the storage options and price point.

You will breeze past this smartphone if you’re an extremist with your decision-making. You’ll either go for the phone that’s the priciest but most powerful, or the budget-friendly one. The Redmi Note 9S will find itself lodged in that gray area.

But, maybe it’s an area worth looking at — for once. Here’s what the Redmi Note 9S is offering:

It has a 6.67” FHD+ DotDisplay with Corning Gorilla Glass 5

It comes with a 48MP AI-powered quad camera

The fingerprint sensor is found on the right side, integrated with the power button

And at the bottom are the speaker grilles, USB-C port, and 3.5mm headphone jack

Overall performance that just hits right

The Redmi Note 9S comes with a Snapdragon 720G processor inside, with the model I tested having 6GB of RAM. Upon initial use, I found the phone to be quite fast and responsive. It was a breeze navigating through MIUI, and how quick apps opened up. Multitasking using different apps went just as expected with the hardware.

Even gaming full time on this device feels just right. MIUI 11 comes with Game Turbo for this device, and I honestly found this very useful for shooter games. Call of Duty Mobile plays seamlessly while hitting around 60 FPS, while Fortnite is fairly decent — mostly because of the 30 FPS cap. The device doesn’t throttle to boost performance, and it even maximizes battery usage.

Plus, the 6.67-inch DotDisplay is pretty bright even under direct sunlight. I even tried playing some games and watch Netflix out under the sun, and I could see the details. Honestly, I felt like I was getting exactly what I needed out of the hardware the phone came with. I just wish that the notch was placed somewhere else since it obstructs your view while watching.

A surprisingly great quad camera

I say “surprisingly” because of how I’m used to smartphones under Php 15,000 having relatively okay cameras. The 48MP AI-powered quad camera setup produced great images with clear cut details in them. Colors don’t seem to be sacrificed with each shot, although I can’t say the same when in the dark.

In my experience, I still spotted a bit of grain but that was mostly when I zoomed in on the images. Plus, you can record 4K videos with the camera, albeit only at 30 FPS.

The selfie camera wasn’t too shabby, either — especially during Portrait Mode. I even felt like my face was glowing with every selfie I took. What did it for me was the way the AI blurred everything else in the background when using this mode. Even when you’re not using Portrait Mode, it’s still a great front camera to put in.

These aren’t Leica-levels of great, nor do they compare to most iPhones out there in terms of cameras. But if you needed an alternative, the cameras on this device come close by a little bit.

The battery just keeps you going for more than a day

The Mi website notes that the Redmi Note 9S can last up to 33 hours on calls, 16 hours watching videos, and 13 hours gaming full time. This mostly all comes from the 5,250 mAh battery inside, which you can also find in the Note 9 and Note 9 Pro. Upon my own usage of it, I got about 30 hours doing pretty much all of that.

At one point, I even did all of these things, went to sleep, and woke up to around 20 percent battery life. I even put up the brightness to 90% while doing all those things, and it’s clear: the phone lasts real long on a single charge.

Charging the device had me a little confused, mostly because of the fast charging capabilities. The device comes with a 18W fast-charging adapter that ran a full charge for about two hours. However, I only felt the fast charging kick in after it reached 60 percent as it took about an hour from 0-60. I mean, at least you still get to use your phone right away when you drain the battery.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

Starting at PhP 10,490 (US$212), the Redmi Note 9S finds itself as the great balance of power and affordability. It serves as a middle ground between the budget Note 9, and the premium and powerful Note 9 Pro. It has everything you need in a modern smartphone, in a price range that’s reachable too.

It’s an easy recommendation for anyone looking to buy a great smartphone for any use case. It lasts long enough that you won’t need to charge it overnight, and puts you right back in once it fully charges. I honestly believe you can live with the little grain in the camera and the obstructive notch placement.

All in all, the Redmi Note 9S does not compromise much in terms of performance. Every nifty feature you need in a modern smartphone, it gives you that. It’s the middle child that deserves some loving, too.

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Accessories

Mi True Wireless Earphones 2 review: Affordable, but far from perfect

Xiaomi’s premium TWS offering

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The truly wireless earphones market is filled with a plethora of options today, ranging from entry-level offerings like the Redmi Earbuds S to the premium Sony WF-1000XM3. However, the most popular TWS earphones are from Apple — the AirPods.

AirPods kickstarted the TWS trend, and since then, pretty much every brand has jumped onboard. Xiaomi is known for its reliable yet affordable products, and it has launched a few options previously, but it was limited to its home market of China.

Now, the brand has finally launched the Mi True Wireless Earphones 2 in India, and it’s pretty much half the price of Apple’s AirPods.

The Redmi Earbuds S is an entry-level offering while Mi branding is now used for the company’s premium offerings. TWS earphones are incredibly convenient to use, and their demand is consistently rising. Can the Mi TWS 2 offer maximum features for the price and go against the competition?

Do they look like the AirPods?

 

At first sight, you’d think they are the AirPods for a quick second. But it’s soon clear that they aren’t. This is something I appreciate about the Mi TWS 2. In a market filled with AirPods knockoffs, it’s nice to see a different design. However, don’t set your expectations too high.

The earbud’s stem is exceptionally thick, and this is easily noticeable from the side. Thankfully, it doesn’t look that thick from the front view and is oval. The stem is also considerably long, giving the earbud a very bulky look.

The polycarbonate build has a matte finish on the stem while the driver is smooth and shiny. I feel the earphones were designed with utility and features in mind, and aesthetics took a back seat.

If the bulkier design can add more battery life and better drivers, I’m okay with it. This may not be the case with many since they tend to look like cheap AirPods knockoffs.

Each earbud weighs just 4 grams, and they slide in your ears very smoothly. Putting them on is a quick task, and for calls, while driving, these are exceedingly convenient to wear single-handedly. The semi-open design is supposed to be fit-for-all. But, this is where my primary concern lies.

How’s the overall user experience?

The earbuds fit perfectly and are rather stable. But the satisfaction of wearing an earbud is utterly absent because of reduced noise isolation. Even though they’ve never automatically snuggled out, I’m always afraid of losing them while walking. The confidence to wear them outdoors is low.

These too sport gesture-based controls, and the result is below satisfaction. I’d have to try a few times before they actively receive the command. Even play/pause function is rather cumbersome and paired with the loose fit; I’m afraid they don’t fall off.

Thankfully, they have an optical sensor that automatically plays/pauses a song when the earbud is worn or removed. Most times, I’d simply remove them from my ear instead of relying on the gesture buttons.

Lastly, the case is quite basic from a design point of view but gets the job done properly. The plastic build is solid, the lid has magnetic detection, and the earbuds aren’t finicky when plugged for charging. A small LED light on the front will show you the case’s battery status. A USB-C port is located on the bottom.

Pairing them is a straightforward task, and Xiaomi phones will automatically pop-up the status menu just like it’s on iOS. It’ll show you each earbud’s battery percentage along with the case.

But do they sound good?

The brand has added a lot of features on the audio side to make the product look premium. It has support for multiple codecs like SBC, AAC, and LHDC. The last one allows high-resolution audio streaming via Bluetooth. I used the Redmi Note 9 Pro Max to test the Mi TWS 2 and it automatically leveraged the AAC band.

Each earbud houses a 14.2mm audio driver, which isn’t the biggest. But, much of the audio output relies on tuning. Sound testing is also very subjective, so I’ll try to address everyone’s choice.

To start with, the output is very crisp and clear, and the vocals are perfectly heard. If you’re into Bollywood songs or even pop, these should be ideal for you.

Unlike the usual tuning, we see in Indian products; the bass here is well managed. It isn’t too much and ultimately does justice for every user. I’d say these are your GadgetMatch if you listen to podcasts and audiobooks.

The drivers are massively let down by non-existent noise isolation. The design of the earbuds inherently means you can hear pretty much everything happening around you. Even at maximum volume, it just didn’t feel enough.

Lastly, they have “Environment Noise Cancellation” that automatically kicks in when you’re on a call. Background noise is reduced drastically, and everyone I called could feel the change. The overall voice clarity is immensely improved, and high-winds too couldn’t deter them.

How long can they last?

Xiaomi claimed the earbuds can last up to four hours on a single charge and it’s on-point. I was able to get almost four hours with volume at 80 percent.

The case is capable of providing 10 hours of backup, taking the total to fourteen. Thankfully, the case takes just an hour to charge.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

If you’re an audiophile, the simple answer is no. The Mi TWS 2 will disappoint you in many ways. However, if you’re looking for work-related earphones, these are perfect.

Calls are ultra-clear, and the overall experience is better thanks to a loose fit. Keep them on, and get through a full day’s work. On the audio side, hip-hop or bass-intensive genre may not suit well here. However, all other vocal-centric songs shall swing by without a hitch.

With a price of INR 4,499, the Mi True Wireless Earphones 2 is a solid competitor. When compared to the realme Buds Air, these lose out on aesthetics. But, the minor additions from a function point of view are worth the slight bump in price.

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