Features

10 new features you’ll enjoy on Android 9 Pie

The newest and sweetest Android dessert, yet!

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Android P is finally official and its dessert name is Pie. Only a few phones have the update so far which include the Pixel and Pixel XL (both first- and second-generation) and the Essential Phone PH-1. Having Android 9 Pie is quite special at the moment.

What’s new in Android 9 Pie? Here are ten of the new features we’re already enjoying on our own Pixel and Essential phones.

New navigational features

This is one of the major changes in Pie. Since the release of the iPhone X, we’ve seen more phones attempting to implement with gestures and this is Android’s native way.

In Android Pie, you can let go of the traditional navigational buttons and opt for a little pill-shaped nub at the bottom of the screen. You tap it to go Home from anywhere, hold down for the Google Assistant, and swipe up or right for the new Recent Apps screen.

Revamped recent apps screen

Another major UI change is found in the Recent Apps screen which is now called Overview. From a vertical stack of cards, Android Pie now shows your recent apps horizontally.

If you have the new gestures enabled, you can simply swipe up from the navigation bar to see this. You can also swipe the navigation bar to the far right to scroll through your most recent apps.

Redesigned quick settings

The redesigned Quick Settings Panel is another notable UI change. It’s now minimal and has rounded icons. It’s also more spacious and easier on the eyes. You can still customize it and scroll through more shortcuts on the next page.

Depending on your wallpaper (Pie adapts automatically, but you can choose manually in the Settings), you’ll either get a white or dark panel with blue circles to show active toggles and grayed-out ones for those that are off.

App actions

Thanks to better AI implementation, Android Pie can now pre-empt what it thinks you’re likely to do in an app. It knows when to suggest things depending on your location and what you’re currently doing.

It’s pretty cool and creepy at the same time. For example, based on your usage, it’ll suggest to message someone specifically first thing in the morning and check on certain activities in productivity apps.

Digital Wellbeing

Tech companies are making a big deal about managing screen time. As much as apps and devices are designed to keep us glued to the screen, there are also concerns about our “Digital Wellbeing.” As the name implies, it helps you manage your phone usage.

It’s still in beta but when you get to join the program, it’ll be integrated to your phone. It has a Dashboard which gives you an overview of your device usage. It also has an App Timer to let you set time limits for addictive apps (*ahem* Facebook) and such. There’s also Wind Down to cut down your device’s activity as you get to bed.

Smarter battery use

Another AI-enabled feature is “Adaptive Battery” which lets you have longer battery life. It limits the battery consumption of apps that are not so important based on your usage. It’s basically a new battery saver mode but it only targets specific apps.

Like other battery-saving options, there’s a catch to this like delayed notifications. Of course, you can always turn it off when it’s hampering the functionality of your phone.

Better volume controls

Oreo already has some improved volume controls, but Pie makes it better. By default, the volume buttons now adjust media volume rather than ringer volume. Also, the volume menu has been moved closer to the physical volume buttons, plus it has an instant toggle for mute and vibrate-only.

Hitting the Sound Settings menu will bring you to more volume controls. The menu includes adjustments for media, ring, and alarm volume. There are also advanced settings for dial pad tones, screen locking sound, and touch vibration available in the menu.

New Do Not Disturb mode

Do Not Disturb mode has been modified in Android Pie. You can now select what you want to see when this is turned on. You can add exceptions, adjust notification handling, remove visual disturbances when the screen is off, and so on.

Gone are the priority mode and alarms only, so if you’ve learned to love those two, you might have a hard time adjusting to the new simplified yet customizable DND mode.

Screenshot actions

Here’s a simple change that’ll make a big impact. You can now edit a screenshot via the notification shade. If you’ve been using pure Android phones, this is heaven-sent.

The controls are still pretty limited compared to skinned-Android like EMUI, MIUI, and Samsung Experience, but if you want to crop, circle something, or highlight a section, this will do for now. Hopefully, we’ll have scrolling screenshots soon.

Instant rotation control

Lastly, there’s Instant Rotation Control. The new smart rotation button will appear in the navigation bar when the phone knows that you might want to rotate the screen’s orientation even if you have auto-rotation disabled.

The feature works great in the gallery app when viewing photos. It’ll save a trip to the Quick Settings when you want to watch a video or view a photo in full screen.

These are just some of the new features available in Android Pie. There are more to be discovered and tested. There are also under-the-hood improvements that only time will tell if they’re worth the update.

Android Pie might get additional features on the upcoming Google Pixel 3 phones which are arriving — based on inside info — in early October.

SEE ALSO: Android 9.0 is officially Pie!

Hands-On

Cherry Mobile Flare S7 Plus hands-on: A step-up

The company’s greatest contender

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Cherry Mobile recently launched their new Flare S7 series, which is essentially their main smartphone lineup for the year. The greatest offering among the bunch is the Flare S7 Plus, a device with all the specifications and features you’d expect from a 2018 phone.

Since it’s from Cherry Mobile, you’d expect the phone to be cheap, right? Price-wise, it is, but that doesn’t mean it’s just another affordable phone.

Here’s what I got to say about the Flare S7 Plus.

Cherry Mobile has officially joined the notch wagon with a borderless 6.18-inch display. It’s a Full HD+ panel with a 19:9 aspect ratio, and it’s Cherry Mobile’s best display yet.

It’s vibrant and produces vivid colors, but the user interface kind of ruins the beauty of the display. It’s best to download your preferred third-party launcher and customize to your heart’s content.

Unlike with other midrange phones, the Flare S7 Plus’ notch is pretty wide and there’s a reason for it. The phone is equipped with more advanced facial recognition hardware including an IR camera. This ensures higher accuracy, faster unlocking, and even better face detection in low-light.

If you’re not a fan of face unlock, you can always resort to the fingerprint sensor placed on the back of the phone. Based on my usage, the fingerprint reader is faster most of the time than the face unlock. Good thing you have the best of both worlds.

Now that we’re on the back of the phone, let’s talk about another special feature of the Flare S7 Plus. Finally, Cherry Mobile embraces a more elegant design using a glass back and metal frame. I was told that they used Gorilla Glass 3 on both sides, so it won’t scratch easily in your pocket or on the table.

Since we we have a glass back, it’s possible to put in wireless charging and the company did just that. Simply place the phone on any Qi standard wireless charger, and let the magic happen.

It’s not exactly magic per se, but it’s amazing to have your phone charge by placing it on a table. This phone costs less than half of most flagships that don’t even support wireless charging.

Of course, you can always charge this phone’s 3050mAh battery through the reversible USB-C port, which also doubles as the audio port because, sadly, the Flare S7 Plus doesn’t have a 3.5 headphone jack. Cherry Mobile bundles a 3.5mm to USB-C adapter inside the box, so you can still use your legacy headphones as you please.

Powering the Flare S7 Plus is a MediaTek Helio P60 processor. We have already tried the capabilities of this chipset with the OPPO F9, and it definitely delivers great performance. If you’re into benchmarking, you’ll be glad to know the Helio P60 scores higher than its competitors.

The phone also comes with 4GB of memory and 64GB of expandable storage which is pretty standard nowadays. It boots Android 8.1 Oreo out of the box, but there’s no word when Android 9 Pie is coming.

The gaming performance of the Flare S7 Plus is above average, which is what you can expect from the Helio P60. The Mali-G72 MP3 GPU works well with intensive games, but you must reduce the graphics quality a bit to get consistently high frame rates.

As for the cameras, the Flare S7 Plus has capable shooters that are probably the fruit of Cherry Mobile’s investment in improving their R&D when it comes to picture quality. The phone has dual rear shooters using a main 16-megapixel RGB sensor and a secondary 5-megapixel depth sensor. In the front, there’s another 16-megapixel selfie camera that’s paired with the IR sensor when needed. Check out the samples below:

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An additional feature of the front sensors is FlareMoji. Using the IR sensor and facial recognition, you can animate cutesy characters. Check this out:

It’s essentially like Apple’s Animoji, but the tracking is nowhere near as smooth as with the iPhone. Anyhow, it’s still enjoyable to use.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

For just PhP 11,999 (US$ 225), the Flare S7 Plus offers a lot. You get a great premium phone with midrange power, beautiful display, and a plethora of extra features like wireless charging and an IR face scanner. The software UI is quite a letdown, but you can always download a launcher from the Play Store.

If you’re wondering what the Flare S7 Plus is in other markets, it’s also called the BLU VIVO XI+ and they share similar specifications and design.

SEE ALSO: Cherry Mobile announces Flare S7 series with three new smartphones

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Features

What does the GPU Turbo do to your phone?

Is it more than just a marketing gimmick?

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It’s been two months since Huawei rolled out the GPU Turbo update to its smartphones. Promised with a 60 percent increase in performance and reducing 30 percent on power consumption, a lot of fans and users were excited after the announcement.

Back then, everyone (including me) was hyped about lag-free games and longer battery life while playing. However, upon receiving the update, I began to wonder: Has GPU Turbo delivered what it promised?

What’s inside the update?

GPU Turbo was originally marketed as an improved gameplay experience, available only to PUBG and Mobile Legends: Bang Bang.

The Game Suite app, which comes with the update, offers an uninterrupted gaming feature, hiding all notifications when enabled (except for calls, alarms, and low-battery alerts).

Mistouch prevention is another feature to avert users from clicking the back and home button while playing — perfect for when you want to focus on your game.

Screenshots by Miguel Pineda, Huawei Mate 10 user

To some older smartphones like the Huawei Mate 10, the Game Suite App offers three performance modes: Gaming mode, which improves game performance but increases power consumption; Smart mode, which balances performance and power consumption; and Power saving mode, which saves power but reduces game performance.

For the newer Huawei P20 Pro (which I’ve been using) and Honor Play, it only has a gaming acceleration mode to toggle on or off.

Thoughts on the reduced power consumption

Because I used the Mate 10 before and recently transitioned to the P20 Pro, I’ve experienced the GPU Turbo update in both phones and I can guarantee that they’ve delivered on lowered power consumption.

With Game Suite, I can put my phone on power saving mode to further save battery. For instance, I was only able to drain the Mate 10 down to 15 percent during a 12-hour road trip despite switching between the games I play and other apps, such as Messenger, Netflix, Spotify, and taking photos and videos every once in a while. The same goes for the P20 Pro.

As a power user, I already get a lot of things done with these highly efficient smartphones and GPU Turbo; these allowed me to do more on a single charge. However, it’s a different case for gaming.

Improved gaming experience, but there’s a catch…

When I started playing games on gaming mode (or game acceleration mode on the P20 Pro), I could run Mobile Legends: Bang Bang on a high frame rate with the highest graphics setting available. Compared to how the game stuttered and lagged during 5v5 clashes, with GPU Turbo, it now runs smoothly, as if I have a smartphone made for gaming.

System notice when enabling the high frame rate on Mobile Legends: Bang Bang and the effects it may have on your gameplay

As shown above, most mobile games will notify their users about the possible repercussions of higher frame rates and using the best settings available. To prove that a smartphone with GPU Turbo can handle this, I sought out to confirm my suspicions.

After asking fellow Huawei users, I found out that after installing GPU Turbo, energy consumption is a lot faster than before. Their smartphones also heat up more easily, especially when playing games with the game acceleration mode on. This isn’t part of what was promised, and it’s pretty disappointing.

It’s not yet perfect

In my experience, GPU Turbo tries to boost performance above a smartphone’s limit hoping that users can experience better gameplay.

GPU Turbo can’t choose when to perform its best. It’s an update that is constantly running in our smartphones without any way to switch it off. We can only hope that Huawei will address these issues for the next batch of updates.

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Hands-On

Huawei Mate 20 Pro Hands-on: Best phone of 2018?

Huawei outdoes itself again

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In an industry where incremental updates are the new norm, Huawei manages to wow us again — barely a year after the release of the P20 Pro. The Chinese company is back with the Mate 20 and Mate 20 Pro which might just be the best among the best this year.

In this video, we go over the phones’ new designs, updated cameras, and new memory card format. We also go through the differences between the Huawei Mate 20 and Mate 20 Pro.

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