Features

I took photos of North Korea using my iPhone

The part the government doesn’t show

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North Korea is one of those countries you can barely call a tourist destination. Our idea of it is limited to the picture painted by words of people who have been to Pyongyang, and the photos sanctioned by its own government.

Tours are mostly restricted to the capital, and can only be done through state-owned travel agencies. What many people don’t know is there are ways to see at least three more North Korean cities — the parts the North Korean government doesn’t want tourists to see.

The Gear

Using my iPhone 7 Plus and the Ztylus Revolver M Series Lens Kit, I got to peak at and capture Sinuiju, Uiju, and Chongsu in North Korea by going along the border city Dandong, as well as the Yalu River, the body of water that separates the two countries.

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The 6-in-1 lens system offers the following combos: wide-angle + telephoto, fisheye + telephoto, and macro + super macro. Just to get it out of the way: I don’t find the macro and super macro lenses to be as useful since the phone needs to be pointed at subjects really close — less than one inch away — for the camera to focus.

The best I could do were these small flowers and insects from around Dandong that don’t really say much about the place. The bokeh on these photos is cool, but I’d much prefer a portrait lens especially when traveling.

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The wide-angle + telephoto and fisheye + telephoto combos are great though, especially because the telephoto lenses provide up to 4x zoom without losing quality, while the wide-angle and fisheye capture so much more than the iPhone 7 Plus’ main lens.

The Bridge

View of Sinuiju, North Korea and the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge

Three bridges connect China to North Korea but only the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge is being used. Majority of North Korea’s international trade is done between Dandong and Sinuiju through this bridge.

Beside it is this pedestrian bridge that any tourist can use but ends in the middle of the river. Both bridges were bombed during the war, but this one was never repaired. On the other side of the river is a ferris wheel, water slide, and people playing basketball.

The Mountain

Dandong is where the Great Wall of China starts in the east and it sits across a mountain called Hushan.

When climbing to the top, there are a few of these passageways that you can use as resting points.

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From one of the windows you can see the remainder of the wall that you need to climb.

Getting to the top is no easy feat but it’s worth it since you get a good view of Uiji county.

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Here’s Dandong, China on the left, and Uiji, North Korea on the right.

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You can go down through the other side so you can get a closer look at agricultural land and some houses in Uiji.

At the foot of the mountain are signs prohibiting people from crossing the border…

… as well as some North Korean products like ginseng, tiger bone liquor, and soap you can buy as souvenirs. They’re also selling North Korean Won, but they’re most likely counterfeit.

The River

Another way to see North Korea is by taking a van further up Dandong. Speedboats cross the Yalu River past this broken bridge, and bring you to an area that’s already North Korean territory.

Up close you can see houses and buildings in Chongsu, North Korea that look abandoned.

But as you go along the river you’ll find signs of life: cows, farmers walking around, and occasionally, their pet dogs. I even saw a lady doing her laundry along the river.

This is what most of the houses I’ve seen look like. Unlike Pyongyang that has plenty of signs of urban development, this part of North Korea remains mostly rural, with agriculture as one of the main sources of living.

Before the boat turns around, you’ll see this bridge that locals use to cross to another part of North Korea. I saw some kids swimming in this area, and a few people on their bikes wearing clothes that look like they’re from the 1980s.

On the way back, the Chinese guide will try to sell you a North Korean bill, which, again, is probably fake.

Apart from the usual North Korean souvenirs I’ve seen in other shops, the ones sold at the wharf include Matryoshka dolls, plush keychains, and selfie sticks.

These photos don’t tell the whole story, just like a Pyongyang tour isn’t a definitive representation of North Korea. For sure there’s a lot more I didn’t see, both good and bad, beyond these border cities; but seeing North Korea through a different lens, no pun intended, without the state-organized tours is one of those life experiences money can never buy.

Before this trip, I thought I’d see heavily barricaded cities with soldiers constantly patrolling the border. Instead, what I saw were North Koreans living their lives as normally as possible, enjoying the outdoors, looking up and not down on screens like the rest of the world.

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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Features

Huawei Mate 20 vs Mate 20 Pro: What are the differences?

Price isn’t the only factor

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Huawei has once again launched two flagships phones at the same time; one comes with a Pro moniker, while the other does not. Like before, there are some significant differences between the Mate 20 pair to take note of.

While we wait to get our hands on the Porsche Design Mate 20 RS and Mate 20 X, here are the two phones we already know everything about.

Display

One obvious difference is in their displays. While the Mate 20 Pro goes for a notched 6.39-inch 1440p curved HDR OLED display — certainly a mouthful — the regular Mate 20 has a 6.53-inch 1080p RGBW HDR LCD with a much smaller notch.

The Pro model justifies the larger notch by housing a more complex camera system for secured facial recognition, but if that doesn’t matter to you, the regular variant’s Dew Drop notch may be more appealing — and definitely less intrusive.

In addition, the Mate 20 Pro’s OLED tech allows it to curve the edges and equip an in-display fingerprint scanner. It’s essentially the more modern-looking design of the pair.

Performance

Since both models have Huawei’s Kirin 980 chipset installed, pure performance is virtually identical. The Pro and non-Pro also share the same memory and storage configuration of 6GB and 128GB, respectively, although the plain Mate 20 has a more affordable 4GB memory variant available, too.

Another minor difference: The 4200mAh capacity of the Mate 20 Pro, along with the more energy-efficient OLED, provides it with potentially longer battery life than what the Mate 20’s 4000mAh capacity and LCD panel offer.

A more significant advantage for the Mate 20 Pro is its inclusion of a 40W SuperCharge adapter in the package — noticeably better than the 22.5W output of the Mate 20’s. Plus, the Pro version can charge other phones wirelessly using wireless reverse charging tech.

Cameras

Perhaps, you’ll care most about the difference in camera quality and performance. While it’s too early to make photo and video comparisons, an initial look at specs shows that the Mate 20 Pro may have an edge.

There are three modules in place for the Pro: One is a 40-megapixel main camera, another has 20 megapixels and an ultra-wide lens, and the final unit offers 8 megapixels with 3x optical zoom

As for the Mate 20, its main camera has only 12 megapixels, the ultra-wide shooter settles for 16 megapixels, and the 8-megapixel telephoto camera goes up to only 2x optical zoom.

Despite the larger notch of the Mate 20 Pro, they share the same 24-megapixel selfie camera.

Pricing and colors

This part largely depends on where you reside, but in an ideal setting, all five colors — Emerald Green, Midnight Blue, Twilight, Pink Gold, and Black — should be available for both models.

Pricing is another matter, and it again depends per region. In Europe, the Mate 20’s 4GB+128GB configuration retails for EUR 799 and its 6GB+128GB model goes for EUR 849. The Mate 20 Pro’s sole 6GB+128GB variant costs EUR 1,049, making it more expensive by EUR 250 and EUR 200, respectively.

In Singapore, the Mate 20’s 6GB+128GB setup retails for SG$ 998, while the Mate 20 Pro is at SG$ 1,348 — a difference of SG$ 350.

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Huawei Mate 20 series first to have Nano Memory Card

Could this become a trend?

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Aside from introducing a host of flagship features to the freshly minted Mate 20 series, Huawei also introduced a new memory card standard, simply named Nano Memory Card.

It’s available on both the Mate 20 and Mate 20 Pro, and it effectively replaces the microSD slot we’ve become so accustomed to. The question is: What’s so special about it?

The simplest answer is that it has the same size as the nano-SIM card inside any smartphone today. Because of the identical dimensions, the secondary card slot doesn’t have to be designed differently, like what has been done for microSD cards.

In the case of the Mate 20 series, the removable card tray has back-to-back slots: one for the nano-SIM, and the other for either another nano-SIM or separate Nano Memory Card.

As of writing, Huawei will be offering 128GB and 256GB NM Cards, with speeds of up to 90MB/s. They’re hoping it’ll become the new standard, and are producing adapters for additional compatibility.

It’s certainly a more efficient way of adding physical storage to a handset, and allows manufactures like Huawei to use the saved space for other features, like a large battery.

Looking ahead, it seems only logical for other smartphone brands to follow suit, but that would mean consumers would have to buy into a whole new standard and let go of their microSD cards.

The same thing happened with the introduction of the USB-C port, wherein users had to replace their micro-USB cables for the newer, more intuitive system. It’s been a gradual process, but definitely rewarding.

It’ll take a while before we find out if this will become a trend, but for now, we should appreciate Huawei’s courage in taking the first, big step.

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