Reviews

OnePlus 5T Review: T is for Trendy

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OnePlus has this thing for crashing the smartphone party with their annual flagship killers. The OnePlus 3T, in particular, stole the show last year as not just the best bang for buck of all high-end phones, but arguably the best phone of 2016, period.

The OnePlus 5T is obviously more of a successor to the well-received OnePlus 5 than it is to the OnePlus 3T launched at the same time last year. OnePlus needed an incremental update to the OnePlus 5 in order to compete with all the near-borderless smartphones that have been popping up left and right.

Without a doubt, the OnePlus 5T looks a lot more like a year-ending flagship than its predecessor does, yet it didn’t have to add much to dimensions and price of the OnePlus 5 to level up.

This newer model has a larger and taller 6-inch AMOLED screen with an 18:9 ratio (same 1080p resolution, though); a redesigned pair of rear cameras that drop the optical zoom in favor of better low-light performance (in theory); and a new way of logging in using your face since the fingerprint moved to the back.

Other than those, you could read our OnePlus 5 review and get a good idea of how the 5T performs. The internals, from the Snapdragon 835 processor and memory/storage configuration to the 3300mAh battery capacity and top-class Dash Charge technology, are practically the same.

So, the question is: Do the minor updates justify the slight increase in price? We can answer this by going through each new feature.

Is a bigger display better?

The most drastic change to the overall design is clearly the display. But although it’s half an inch larger in size, the 6-inch AMOLED fits within the same footprint as the OnePlus 5’s body. To make this possible, the screen has an elongated 18:9 ratio, which means you’ll see black bars on the sides while watching traditional 16:9 videos, and the capacitive navigation buttons have been removed from the bottom bezel.

This type of display is something we’ll have to get used to. Nearly every new handset launched in the past couple of months has adopted this format, and 2018 looks to add to the growing trend. The adjustment here, however, is the fingerprint scanner’s move to the back.

For people like me who prefer unlocking their phone while it’s rested on a table, this is a negative but necessary change until manufacturers figure out how to incorporate fingerprint sensors under their touchscreens.

Can facial unlocking replace the fingerprint scanner?

In the meantime, the best workaround to the rear-mounted login method is to use the OnePlus 5T’s facial scanning. I was honestly hesitant to rely on it at first — my experiences with previous executions haven’t been pleasant — but the implementation on this handset took my breath away.

Never have I used a facial scanner this fast, both in setting up and actual usage. Getting it to run is a breeze, and unlocking the phone even in dim lighting with a slight change in my appearance yielded near-instant activation times.

At the same time, this isn’t the most secure method for keeping your data safe. OnePlus themselves warn users that this isn’t as foolproof as the fingerprint scanner or even a PIN code. Use it at your own risk, and don’t hand your phone to sneaky siblings.

Are the cameras better in low-light conditions?

One head-scratching move was to let go of the secondary optical zoom lens of the OnePlus 5 and replace it with a camera that assists the main shooter in darker scenarios. While that initially seems like a practical idea, leaving in the option to zoom is confusing for users who thought the feature is gone, and from what we’ve tested, low-light performance hasn’t noticeably improved.

The built-in camera app automatically switches from the 16-megapixel main camera to the 20-megapixel secondary shooter when it feels like light is too scarce. Using what OnePlus calls Intelligent Pixel Technology, you’re supposed to get sharper images with less noise. That wasn’t necessarily the case.

Here are a few night-time samples:

Although these photos are fine on their own, when compared to those shot with the OnePlus 5, there’s no significant improvement. It made me wonder if it was really necessary to sacrifice the nifty optical zoom lens for this. There’s still an option to do software-based zooming, but there’s a noticeable drop in quality.

If you look closely at the photo to the right, you’ll see how much detail is lost compared to the non-zoomed image on the left:

Ignoring the attempt at better low-light photography, shooting in daylight is quite good. Colors are generally warm, which make objects and people look more lively in front of their background. There’s also a dedicated portrait mode to help blur out the background of the person you’re shooting.

I was happy with the dynamic range and sharpness under strong sunlight, and not once did it have difficulty focusing on my chosen subjects. Selfies were great, too — just not at the level of the OnePlus 5T’s nearly identical twin, the OPPO R11s.

Are there any drawbacks or advantages over the OnePlus 5?

Besides the ones mentioned earlier — namely the controversial camera setup and polarizing choice of fingerprint scanner placement — there’s just one more concern to discuss: the outdated Android version.

Despite launching three months after the release of Android 8.0 Oreo, the OnePlus 5T settles for Android 7.1.1 Nougat. To make matters worse, the company hasn’t specified when their Oreo will rollout, only claiming that it’ll happen some time in early 2018. Nougat isn’t a bad flavor by any means, but version 8.0 with its optimizations should’ve been bundled in the first place.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

If you recently bought a OnePlus 5, you shouldn’t feel bad about missing out on the newer model. The 5T’s screen is larger, facial scanning is an alternative option for logging in, and there’s a different take on its dual-camera design — all these make the OnePlus 5T feel fresh and in line with today’s smartphone standards, but they’re nothing groundbreaking.

You even get the same raw performance and battery life, the latter of which offers five hours’ worth of screen-on time after a full charge. OnePlus’ excellent Dash Charge is back as well, bringing the OnePlus 5T from zero to over 60 percent in 30 minutes and to a hundred percent in only one hour and 25 minutes.

You’d just have to contend with the raised price; the OnePlus 5T’s starting price is US$ 499 for the 64GB storage variant. While that’s way below what you’d pay for from the likes of Huawei, Samsung, or Google, hitting the US$ 500 mark means it’s no longer a truly affordable option.

If you can wait another six months, the OnePlus 6 may be able to iron out the issues we mentioned here. But for now, the OnePlus 5T has more strengths than drawbacks, and has few worthy rivals at this price point.

SEE ALSO: OnePlus 5T: The good and the bad

[irp posts=”24434″ name=”OnePlus 5T: The good and the bad”]

Reviews

Xiaomi Mi 10T Pro review: By two different Pro users

Two different nations, one phone

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2020 has been flooded by smartphones of all kinds — budget, midrange, premium flagships, flagship killers, you name ’em. But what makes the Xiaomi Mi 10T Pro a new breed of its own? Well, aside from the fact that it packs the flagship-tier Snapdragon 865 chipset and a great amount of fast internals, it costs less than both a flagship and a “flagship killer”.

Some (or most) might know that GadgetMatch has writers from different parts of the globe. In this review, Vincenz, our Creative Producer from the Philippines, and Shivam, our India correspondent, went all out in testing and making the Mi 10T Pro their daily smartphone for more than two months. It’s safe to say that both users maximized the usage of this phone.

To make this experience more reliable, both users also tried last year’s predecessors: Vincenz with his Xiaomi Mi 9T and Mi 9T Pro reviews, while Shivam with the Indian variant Redmi K20 and K20 Pro.

Without further a do, let’s hear what they have to say about Xiaomi’s latest Mi-T series phone.

How does the Mi 10T Pro feel in hand?

Shivam: The first thing you’ll notice about the phone is its weight, and at 218gms, it does feel like you’re holding a brick. The 108-megapixel sensor requires a lot of space and it’s evident with the massive bump. You’d often get tired while playing intensive games like PUBG Mobile, but thankfully the rounded corners and slightly curved edges provide some grip.

It’s also quite obvious that Xiaomi has tried to cut corners in the design department. The back of the phone does feel a little flimsy, but that’s visible only if you try to find the spot. As a flagship, in-hand feel is the only department where the phone feels underwhelming.

Vincenz: My first time holding it reminded me of the Xiaomi Mi Note 10 Lite I reviewed months ago because of its thickness and heft. With all the 2020 smartphones I reviewed, this one is just a tad heavier and thicker for my liking.

The comfortable “hand-feeling” isn’t as great as when I held the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra and the vivo V20 Pro, but this is better than the super slim and lightweight form of the Galaxy S20+ which felt so fragile as it might slip out of my hand any time.

However, in a country where you have to remain vigilant about pickpockets, that added heft is a good factor to know that you have your phone safe in your pocket.

Any rants about its design?

Vincenz: Two things: First, I don’t like how they added another circle just to make it “symmetrical” — which can fool a lot of consumers into thinking it has four cameras and a flash module.  Second, I’m not a fan of that glass back.

Again, based from my review experience, vivo’s V20 Pro has a matte glass back which looks and feels nice. It also lessens those icky fingerprint smears whenever you use it with bare hands. Not good when little kids (cousins, niece, or nephews) are around and they want to play with your phone.

Slapping on a good case would be handy but it would make the phone even thicker. Other than those two concerns, the Mi 10T Pro is still  good-looking.

Shivam: When I saw the phone for the first time, it reminded me of the Mi A3. It was a classic Android One phone that focused on software and incorporated decent hardware. The back of the Mi 10T Pro looks very similar to the two-year-old phone. A simple glass slab on a greyish metal surface. We’re habituated with new designs from Xiaomi, so this one seemed monotonous.

And like all glass phones, this one is prone to fingerprints and smudges. No matter how much you try, the back will always remain blemished. The sides of the camera module also attract a lot of dirt and gunk that can get difficult to remove. Lastly, the weight and glass back make the phone very slippery, in turn, also delicate. As Vincenz said, you can always opt for a case, but that’ll just add more weight and thickness.

Would you rather: Pick last year’s AMOLED display vs IPS-LCD as long as you keep that fast refresh rate?

Shivam: I feel Xiaomi did the perfect thing by ditching an AMOLED display. The phone has a massive edge in terms of pricing and that’s achievable due to these changes. And, the step-back doesn’t hinder the day-to-day experience.

While there’s no doubt that an LCD display can never produce the blacks or contrast like an AMOLED one, the Mi 10T Pro’s panel has very bright and saturated colors, excellent contrast, and decent viewing angles. I’ve always preferred an AMOLED display personally, but I shifted to this phone for two months without feeling unsatisfied.

Once you use a 144Hz phone, going back to a standard 60Hz display is going to be challenging. The smoothness is very easily evident and you’ll notice it more if you read long PDFs or multitask too often. As a work partner, the refresh rate does bring a consistent flow that’s certainly addictive. In a nutshell, yes, I’m totally fine with an LCD display as long as it’s top-notch and brings higher refresh rates!

Vincenz: Kind of a tough question for me. I’m a creative so I want the best possible display in most (if not all) of the devices I use. I’d still pick the Mi 9T Pro’s AMOLED display because I want those deep blacks plus better colors and contrast for my viewing pleasure. In this country where sun rays and air pollution are harsh, going outside means your screen should be visible enough for use. I kind of suffered with the Mi 10T Pro’s IPS-LCD while trying to use this phone in direct sunlight.

Although it has a 144Hz refresh rate, I’ll simply ditch it over a 60Hz AMOLED one because that buttery-smooth experience is only seen when navigating and scrolling but can’t be maximized yet due to limitations of most smartphone games.

Is it great for multimedia use?

Jeon Heejin is a gift from all gods

Vincenz: Despite not having an AMOLED display, I still enjoy watching on this smartphone. Whether I use Netflix or YouTube, I still love that fullscreen experience with a small hindrance of the punch-hole cutout. If there wasn’t a pandemic, I’m pretty sure most jeepney and bus commuters in Metro Manila would glare and stare at your phone because of how immersive and borderless it looks.

Although I use my AirPods and Galaxy Buds+ more often when watching and listening, that stereo speaker is still commendable and loud enough for those ultra-loud sessions inside your house.

Shivam: This is where you won’t even realize it’s an LCD display (unless you’re in pitch black darkness). Netflix, Prime Video, YouTube, and all other streaming services look like a treat, and thanks to the massive battery, you never have to worry about juice. The screen is almost bezel-less and even the chin is quite small.

The onboard speaker is loud enough and perfect for conference calls. The microphone is sensitive enough, so if you’re too tired of earbuds after a long day, just shift to the phone. To be honest, I miss the headphone jack. I prefer wired headphones while I’m home and it’s a feature that’s available on all Xiaomi phones in the mid and budget segment, so why not the Mi 10T Pro?

Are you an in-display fingerprint reader-type of guy or are you satisfied with its side-mounted scanner?

Shivam: I was about to say that thanks to an LCD display, they were forced to go for a physical sensor. And, it’s a very good thing. The in-display sensors are slower than traditional ones and I usually can’t operate them due to humid weather (sweaty hands) or greasy hands (DIY projects). The location of the fingerprint scanner is on the right side and you automatically get used to it within a few minutes. Much faster and convenient.

In-display fingerprint scanners were a fantasy for the longest of time. But they’re here now, we’ve used them for well over two years, and none of them are close to replacing an ordinary physical companion. Some things, like the 3.5mm headphone jack, are immortal.

Vincenz: I’m definitely the side-mounted-type of guy. Other than the fact that it’s fast for unlocking (trust me, my experience with In-Display FPs are just that slow), I just like how its ergonomically-placed on the side of the phone. You can even unlock it with wet fingers 💦  (not advisable for super wet conditions since this isn’t IP-rated).

Will the spec-obsessed enjoy its real-world performance? Thoughts on MIUI 12?

Vincenz: I already sad in my previous reviews that I’m both an Apple and an Android user. MIUI is loveable for me as it has some of the goodies I love from iOS such as the lack of a separate app drawer and the overall response and feel. MIUI 12 felt more familiar with its new Control Center, yet still flexible and intuitive with its host of UI features, gestures, and other easter eggs hidden in the basket.

I know the pandemic has turned a lot of Filipinos into gamers and streamers. If you’re one of them, consider this phone as a great recommendation. Can you imagine a flagship-grade performance with this beast? Let’s scrap out those pesky spec sheet and benchmarks. I was able to play graphics-intensive games like Asphalt 9, Call of Duty: Mobile (CoDM), PUBG and do multitasking with socials on the side without any slouch.

Shivam: MIUI has come a long way in the last few years and the skin works for everyone. It’s loaded to the brim with day-to-day features and it has found a balance. Unlike Samsung’s Note series, it isn’t very complicated to use, and feature discoverability has improved leaps and bounds. The settings menu has a plethora of micro options that customize your experience at each step. Once you get the phone, just take an hour to browse the settings menu and you’ll be fine.

The flagship processor stands true to its words and works like a charm. The one thing I appreciate the most is, the processor and display work together without a glitch, delivering a pleasing 144Hz experience. Whether it’s basic UI graphics or intensive gaming, the phone can handle anything. The RAM optimization is spot-on and it can store multiple apps for hours in the background seamlessly. While the phone looks boring from the outside, it’s equally interesting and assuring from the inside.

Did the 5,000mAh battery last you that long?

Shivam: It always lasted more than a day. On a very intense day, it’ll provide screen time of more than nine hours on a single charge. That’s a LOT! And you shouldn’t even be using your phone that much in a day. The phone showed its true capability when I was traveling for a day in low network areas and it still managed to retain 40 percent at 5PM with Google Maps and Spotify switched on.

Vincenz: Hell yeah! Speaking as a hardcore pro user, I was able to last ’til the end of the day with socials, gaming, listening, watching, and even photo-taking. If you’re thinking about buying this phone because of its large battery size, you will not regret your purchase because of its great battery endurance.

What about charging speeds? Are they as fast as advertised?

Charged with the bundled charger and cable

Vincenz: Quick charge is another feature I like with the Mi 10T Pro. Other than the blessing of being equipped with USB-C (I mean new smartphones like this SHOULD be equipped with it), it was able to fill up that monstrous battery for about an hour.

Considering how enormous 5,000mAh is, it’s fast enough to fill up the phone especially if you forgot to charge it and have errands to do outside amid the heaps of crowds in malls and supermarkets hoarding masks, face shields, and grocery items.

Shivam: Due to the pandemic, I almost stopped charging my phone to full. If I’m going out, just a quick 15-minute charge is sufficient for hours of usage. It can fully charge the phone within 75 minutes, which is a very short period. This phone will never keep you hooked to a wall.

How are the 5G speeds? Were you able to use it in your country?

5G Speeds tested in BGC, Taguig

Shivam: India hasn’t rolled out 5G yet, so I couldn’t test one of its prime offerings. We expect a spectrum sale in 2021 and telcos like Jio are optimistic about a 2022 launch. But the country is still far away from commercial-grade roll-out. So, should you be investing in 5G right now? Is this phone slightly future proof?

If you use a phone for three or more years, then this may be future proof for you. That’s assuming 5G rolls out in your circle in the initial phases. Otherwise, there’s no use in particularly buying a 5G phone right now. Oh yes, it’s a completely different scenario if you travel frequently and can leverage 5G in other countries temporarily. 5G connectivity is gradually becoming mainstream and will it hit its peak when the world’s second-largest smartphone market joins in.

Vincenz: There are only a few 5G hotspots in the Philippines. I live in a province near the Metro but we still don’t have any 5G towers around here. But because of the ease in lockdown measures, I was able to go out and test it in Bonifacio Global City (BGC) in Taguig, which is around an hour away from my home. Alabang might be a nearer stop as it only takes 30-minutes to go there but I’m quite unsure with the specifics of the 5G cellsites around the area.

Local 5G speeds may not reach those ultra-fast gbps speeds as other 5G-equipped countries like South Korea and USA, but considering the Philippines has one of the slowest internet connections in the world, this is already an ultimate gift for internet-savvy users especially when you’re outside and you don’t have a fast Wi-Fi connection near you.

Are the rear cameras among the best for its price?

Vincenz: I’ll be direct with this — it’s not THAT bad. It’s just not the best.

Disclaimer: Although being a creative means processing your photos every now and then, the photos below were taken straight out of the camera without any color correction, touch-ups, whatsoever.

To be fair, the cameras taken in the right amount of sunlight look excellent.

Whether that may be a wide, zoomed, or even an ultra-wide shot — they all look great!

But coming from someone who was astounded with the Mi 9T Pro’s excellent cameras, the Mi 10T Pro was kind of a step back. There were inconsistencies here and there. White Balance might not be accurate at times especially in all three sensors as the main sensor produces the best-looking shots and something that’s closer to reality. Of course, that can easily be corrected through post-processing.

But there are other factors that are not fixable through post.

One is the Dynamic Range with blown-out highlights and shadows altogether that can be seen below.

Sometimes, AI and HDR don’t even agree with each other.

The first photo of those little munchkins looked delicious but the chicken cheese bomb I captured after looked so bland and less appetizing.

I also have trouble every time I try to focus or zoom on a subject.

Speaking of macro, I just don’t like how the radial blur tries to fake that depth segmentation against the subject. The Mi 9T Pro wasn’t like this when taking zoomed and macro shots. Surprisingly, I experienced the same issue with the V20 Pro and even the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra.

For night shots, it gets the job done thanks to AI and the wide aperture in its sensors. Then again, there was a White Balance inconsistency that’s fixable through post.

Considering its price range, don’t really expect it’ll produce stunning night shots since cameras are what sets less expensive phones apart from flagships.

For something you would just post on social media, it wouldn’t really matter. It’s just me being nit-picky about this — and I know some phone users might be like me, too. This also makes room for improvements for a lot of smartphone manufacturers in their future releases.

Shivam: I’d say the cameras do an excellent job during the day but slightly disappoint during low-light or immediate circumstances. The iPhone is often jokingly called the best selfie phone when you’re drunk and that’s because of reliable and quick hardware-software integration. The Mi 10T Pro does click pictures like a flagship, but the experience is slightly different.

The pictures look stunning with accurate colors, balanced contrasts, and precise sharpness.

Don’t get me wrong, the result is very satisfying and if you’re not a photography enthusiast, the drawbacks aren’t glaringly visible. But after using Xiaomi phones for years across different price bands, we’ve come to expect above-average performance from pretty much all of them. So, seeing average results from a flagship is underwhelming.

When clicked in low-light environments, the sensor struggles to capture the shadows, details are missing, and the noise removal algorithm seems to be too aggressive. Although, the night mode works seamlessly and does a much better job of refining the binned image.

One thing that annoyed me the most was the camera app’s capture button. Clicking a picture single-handedly is a herculean task because the heavy phone rests on two fingers and the button would fail to register a click most of the time. Initially, I thought I’m doing something wrong, but with more than two months of usage, it has always been a repeat offender.

What makes this phone so special? It has a 108-megapixel primary camera that can capture a lot of details. If you’re looking for stunning landscapes that have practically unlimited zoom, this phone is for you. I clicked a 108-megapixel image while taking off from Mumbai and the results are quite impressive. The sensor is quick and the stabilization is on-point.

How’s the selfie quality of that single punch-hole camera?

Shivam: This has actually become a very straightforward answer for pretty much all modern phones — it’s good and gets the job done. There’s a 20-megapixel sensor in the punch-hole cut-out and it clicks satisfying images during the day. The software is able to accurately pick up your skin tone and add a smoothening layer that isn’t too aggressive. Obviously, the beauty additions are optional.

Vincenz: I always say I’m not the biggest selfie user but after trying it out, I’m really happy with how my selfies turned out. The smearing or face smoothing isn’t as bad as other phones as I like how there are still full details that can be seen on my face. The depth in portrait mode also produced a clean cutout of my hair.

Portrait Mode OFF | Portrait Mode ON

Other than that, I also like the inclusion of the ultra-wide mode for those groufies with social distancing (in which a National chief police officer and his constituents failed to do so).

Is the Mi 10T Pro Your GadgetMatch?

Vincenz: Michael Josh did not give the GadgetMatch Seal of Approval in his Mi 10T Pro review for no reason. At just PhP 24,990, it’s a no-brainer to recommend the Mi 10T Pro for most users.

If you’re into a great all-around smartphone without breaking the bank, this is a sure recommendation. Equipped with the best specs, a good display with a fast refresh rate, and hosts of features, what more could you ask for? But if you value cameras the most out of those aforementioned factors, look elsewhere.

If you don’t mind the notch and the less-powerful Snapdragon 765G chipset and you prefer a better look and feel, the vivo V20 Pro is also worth considering. It even has great cameras for its price.

Shivam: Yes, the phone is surely recommendable. It tries to cut corners in a lot of places, but that doesn’t end up hampering the end-experience. For a very aggressive price of INR 39,999 (US$ 550), the Mi 10T Pro gets a flagship processor, 144Hz display, a 108-megapixel camera, and a slightly more premium experience. If you’re looking for an all-rounder that can get anything done, this phone is made for you. But, if you’re looking for the most cutting-edge flagship, you’ve come to the wrong place.

The OnePlus 8T is a slightly expensive option but lacks a lot of crucial features that make the Mi 10T Pro special. And, like Vincenz suggested, if you’re fine with a Snapdragon 765G chipset, the vivo V20 Pro is an excellent choice along with the OPPO Reno 4 Pro.

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Accessories

Huawei Freebuds Pro review: Everything you can ask for

Bang-for-buck “Pro” TWS

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Huawei Freebuds Pro

All the major smartphone manufacturers now have their very own True Wireless (TWS) earphones with the “Pro” tag on it. Narrowing the choices down to the AirPods Pro, Galaxy Buds Pro, and Freebuds Pro, Huawei’s offering might be the easiest to recommend.

Let’s cut to the chase, at just PhP 7,999/ SG$ 238, it’s easily the most affordable among the three all while offering a similar set of features.

Nobody’s talking about Huawei’s audio products as one of the best for regular consumers out there. But as they have proven over the last two years, they’re quite a sleeper in this arena.

Huawei’s audio products are good. Full stop. And the Freebuds Pro just adds to that growing portfolio. One of the primary reasons is what they’ve done with active noise cancellation or ANC.

Freebuds Pro

Doubling down on ANC

On paper, Huawei promises up to 40db of noise cancelled. That’s a few decibels better than the promised 30db on the Freebuds 3 which was the product that came before it.

Huawei achieved this through a combination of hardware ingenuity and design. The result — a noise cancellation that’s pretty darn evident straight out of the box.

And it’s not just any other ANC, it’s the kind that adapts to its surroundings. With mics pointing outward, it can readily tell if it needs to adjust the noise-cancelling level. This works even when you pair it with a non Huawei phone.

I’ve used the Freebuds Pro with an iPhone as I leisurely stroll around our compound just to get some “outside” time. I always just had ANC on but never had to worry that I wouldn’t know if a vehicle was behind me or not.

Need to be more religious about working out and having the Freebuds Pro on helps

When you do need that peace and quiet, it snuffs out the surrounding sound to make sure you can focus. This is typically what I do some afternoons when the neighbor’s kids are out in the hallway yelling like they’re trying to turn Super Saiyan. It’s annoying. But I plug the Freebuds Pro in my ears and suddenly I’m in TWICELAND listening to the voices of angels.

Rich, full sound

Despite having written more than a handful of these reviews, it never gets easy to really describe how good the sound coming from a product is. It’s really something that one needs to experience. But let me give it a try.

For music, I only really usually listen to TWICE, a bunch of anime tracks, and a handful of OPM songs. TWICE, more than anything, really. I just need that shot of happiness more than ever these days.

Anyway, the K-Pop girl group’s discography has grown even more diverse with their Eyes Wide Open album and the surprise gift for fans track “Cry For Me,” which makes their music a pretty good listen for earphones like this.

City pop tracks like “Up No More,” and “Say Something,” feel like a cold breeze on a warm summer night. The sound coming from the Freebuds Pro blends the vocals with the music in a way without one overpowering the other.

On more instrumental and rock-heavy tracks like “Stuck In My Head” from Fancy You, the Freebuds Pro is able to deliver the power from distorted guitars without muffling the audio. Instead, you get a sharp, electric feeling that makes you want to headbang air guitar to your heart’s content.

If you’re looking out for bass, tracks like “Turn It Up,” “Make Me Go,” and “Hell In Heaven,” have bass lines that are both slick and deliver a kind of shake that only a full, smooth bass can.

I play music to sway my mood a certain way. Listening with the Freebuds Pro delivers that music in the cleanest, most satisfying way possible that you’ll immediately hear the difference if you take them off.

This is me pretending to be in a video call with Son Chaeyoung, but the Freebuds Pro are actually great for calls too

Subtler design, easy controls 

As you’ve seen on our Unboxing and First Impressions, Huawei did away with the extra long stem design for the Freebuds Pro. Here’s a look at the Freebuds 3, Freebuds 3i, and Freebuds Pro for comparison.

It’s now more subtle and will not be mistaken as AirPods by the informed and discerning eye. Plus this silver colorway is absolutely sexy AF.

Controls are different from previous Freebuds. To turn ANC on/off, you’ll need to squeeze on the tinier stem. Sounds hard on paper, but it’s surprisingly easy to pull off and you’ll immediately feel the sensation of squeezing the stem with a voice prompt confirming whether you’ve changed modes or not.

Freebuds Pro

Doing the same on the right earbud controls pause/play, jump to the next track and jump to the previous track. For volume controls, simply slide up or down the stem of either earbud. The volume controls aren’t the best but that’s already better than most earbuds that don’t even offer the feature.

I get about four to five hours of continuous playback — that covers the hour-long stroll and the about two hours and a half of trying to drown out my neighbors’ children before I have to juice them up. Fully charging takes about a little over an hour.

Is the Freebuds Pro your GadgetMatch?

Freebuds Pro

Yes. Yes it is. This is one TWS earbud with ANC that we can easily recommend to anyone. It’s the sweet spot in terms of price and features. You have a TWS earphone that can hang with the best in terms of features but won’t cripple your wallet. It’s just that good.

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Reviews

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review: The best among the beasts?

Are the extra specs worth the extra price?

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It hasn’t even been a year ever since Samsung launched the Galaxy S20 series but they’ve already unpacked the Galaxy S21 as early as January 2021.

I even remember we did a three-way review of the Galaxy S20 variants when it was launched. That experience serves as an eye-opener for me that I am, by all means, an “Ultra” user for the tasks I do. Multitasking, gaming, watching, shooting with great set of cameras, what more could I ask for now that I have the Galaxy S21 Ultra in my big hands?

While there are currently less newer flagships in the horizon powered by the latest Snapdragon 888 such as the China-exclusive iQOO 7 and the Xiaomi Mi 11 with its pending global release, is it enough to say that this phone is the best among all the beasts released so far? Let’s find out.

Ultra-minimal box content

S21 Ultra

The rumors are true after all. After mocking Apple for removing bundled chargers, Samsung still followed their path and ditched the usual 25W Super Fast Charger. Inside the retail box, I only got the phone itself, the usual SIM tray ejector tool, some paperwork, and a USB-C to USB-C cable.

It appears the removal of the AKG earphones in the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra packaging was already an early hint.

Ultra-sophisticated design

S21 Ultra

Love it or hate it, the Galaxy S21 series has a newer design that I honestly admire. While last year’s S20 Ultra had a glossy finish, the S21 Ultra now has a matte finish like the Note 20 Ultra — which should lessen the amount of fingerprints on the device. I used the Galaxy S20+ in Cosmic Black last year and that was an ultimate fingerprint and scratch magnet.

S21 Ultra

Samsung is proud of this year’s “Phantom Black” colorway by doing several processes to achieve its true and final color. It’s a more mature look that’s bold yet clean.

 

The whole process reminds me of how Apple made the Jet Black iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. Regardless of that tedious process, this dark color option closely resembles Apple’s Matte Black variant even more.

But unlike the iPhone’s aluminum unibody chassis, this one is made out of a tougher Gorilla Glass Victus — even tougher than last year’s Gorilla Glass 6. Albeit, there are times when fingerprint smudges still show when hit by light.

SEE ALSO: Which Galaxy S21 color should you get

S21 Ultra

Distinct from the Galaxy S21 and S21+ is this humongous camera bump of the S21 Ultra with six holes in different sizes that house its wide array of camera components.

S21 Ultra

If you have big hands like I do, you’ll enjoy using this phone. Holding the phone feels lighter than last year’s S20 Ultra. But frankly speaking, it’s still on the hefty side — what more if you have petite hands?

The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, despite its larger display and sharper edges, was still easier and more comfortable for me to hold in one hand. That’s due to the fact that it has symmetrical sides and a slimmer form factor.

S21 Ultra

Turning the phone around reveals the new “Contour Cut Camera Design” where the phone’s metal frame meets the thicc AF camera hump. Unlike most people who despise it, I just love this over last year’s rounded rectangular-cutout.

Ultra-immersive audiovisual experience

S21 Ultra

Applied my shot as the wallpaper and it suddenly felt like I’m in Hong Kong again

I’m always a sucker for great displays — and Samsung always exceeds my expectations. Even though it’s less curved and a tad smaller at 6.8-inches (compared to last year’s 6.9), there isn’t much of a difference. It still feels immersive with its narrow and almost-borderless viewing experience.

S21 Ultra

I’m addicted — both with this gorgeous display and aespa

With its Dynamic AMOLED 2X technology, the colors pop with vibrant hues, deeper blacks and whiter whites. It’s still the ultra-crisp and vibrant display I’ve been loving ever since I had the Samsung Wave in 2010 — Samsung’s first Super AMOLED device in history (announced a month earlier than the Galaxy S).

It also has 1500 nits of max brightness, which helped me use the screen even under harsh sunlight. Paired with crisp and loud stereo speakers, it’s truly a great device for your entertainment needs.

S21 Ultra

While last year’s S20 had a progressive 120Hz refresh rate, the caveat is you only get it under Full HD+ resolution. This time, while it may be adaptive, you get to enjoy 2K+ resolution/120Hz.

It might be an ongoing discussion for most users but I prefer faster refresh rates over larger screen resolution. Enabling both options affect the battery life over time anyway.

S21 Ultra

Had to cherish IZ*ONE’s remaining promotional period through Panorama

To maximize the Samsung ecosystem, I paired the new phone with my good ol’ Galaxy Buds+. I always love how seamless the transition is from connecting all the way to listening without frills and hassle. Don’t fret! As long as your audio accessory has Bluetooth (like my AirPods 2 and Lenovo Yoga ANC headphones), you’re good to go.

Ultra-snappy Unlocking

S21 Ultra

Whether you choose Face Unlock or the embedded fingerprint sensor, unlocking is fast and snappy! Unlike before where I have to press more than twice just to unlock both the S20+ and Note 20 Ultra, the new ultrasonic under-display sensor unlocks even when I lightly tap the screen for around 0.5 seconds.

The Face Unlock feature is also here. While it may not be as secure as iPhone’s FaceID system, it’s still fast. Samsung has maximized the use of AI so it will be fool-proof and won’t unlock when you’re asleep.

MultitasKING

S21 Ultra

This Galaxy S21 Ultra has 12GB of memory. Although it maxes out at 16GB RAM, my unit is enough to make the most out of the tasks I do in a day.

S21 Ultra

Whether I open social media apps such as Twitter and Facebook, it comes to no surprise that they’ll open instantly.

S21 Ultra

In my previous phone reviews, there are times where some of the apps in the background close by themselves — whether that may be Instagram, a photo-editing app, a shopping app, Apple Music, and a game in idle. The RAM capacity isn’t the issue, rather the management and lack of software optimization.

S21 Ultra

In the case of the Galaxy S21 Ultra, switching between apps is a breeze. The navigation gestures on the new One UI 3.1 based on Android 11 is more fluid and responsive. One might say these have been around in most 2020 Android smartphones, but Samsung’s implementation is as close as what I get in iOS.

S21 Ultra

I commit spelling mistakes more often when I use the keyboard, no matter what Android device I use.

Fortunately, typing has been convenient in Samsung’s native keyboard. I was able to type one-handed with little to no typos at all. This means I don’t need a third-party keyboard like Gboard nor had the need to adjust keyboard height. I don’t even need to switch to one-handed mode at this point.

Ultra woes in storage and performance

The Galaxy S21 series marks the first Samsung smartphone to ship with Snapdragon 888 in the US and China. As bad as it sounds, the rest of the world comes with Samsung’s in-house Exynos 2100 processor. These chipsets are both 5nm — which makes it smaller, faster, and more power-efficient.

S21 Ultra

There’s no problem in performance. I played Asphalt 9 as well as Call of Duty: Mobile (CoDM) and both were smooth and responsive. You can even see how I scored almost 5,000 points in a single Ranked Match game.

S21 Ultra

But Samsung’s claim wasn’t really addressed at all. During the first fifteen minutes, the phone quickly sizzled while playing. I can literally feel it especially because I used the phone without a case. To make it worse, I went out to shoot some photos around late in the afternoon, and the phone was still hot to touch.

Another rumor that was later confirmed is the removal of the microSD slot. Previously, Samsung supported up to 2TB of external storage.

This review unit comes with 256GB of internal storage. Based on my experience, I was able to maximize my iPhone’s 256GB storage for almost two years. But considering how this phone shoots 4K-8K UHD footage and high-quality stills? It might take a shorter time to completely fill this up.

Having a microSD card expansion offers the fastest and safest way to backup your files. I feel the sentiment and rage of most Samsung users especially because having no external storage in the Galaxy Note 5 made me lost a lot of unbacked files after a motherboard failure five years ago.

Ultra-heavy battery (and drain)

The equipped 5,000mAh battery might be enough for a flagship smartphone like the Galaxy S21 Ultra, but my first day with it wasn’t particularly promising.

Other than those heating issues, it’s also plagued with serious battery drain. Using it continuously from 8AM to 1PM with 5G, WQHD+, and 120Hz enabled resulted to a major decrease in battery life. From 100%, it went down to 34% — that’s just five hours of moderate use of social media apps and the camera.

Disclaimer: I did the extensive gameplay and camera test around 3-4PM, just right after doing an hour of charge using my powerbank. 

S21 Ultra

Third day of use, it notified me of a new software update. I’m unsure if that solved the heating and drain issues as I barely used the phone while I worked on articles and videos but the standby time since has been pretty stable. The screenshots prove that from 3PM (82%), it only had a 11% decrease after 11 hours of standby (2AM) with little to no phone activity.

Battery drain during an 11-hour standby | Image by GadgetMatch

While there’s no official word from Samsung if the S21 models support 45W super fast wired charging, the closest thing you can have is Samsung’s 25W Super Fast Charger.

In my case, I used a third-party 30W USB-C PD (Power Delivery) charger. Even if it only detected “Fast charging”, it was completely juiced up after an hour and a half.

If you have a fast wireless charger that supports speeds of up to 15W, charging the S21 Ultra will also work on that as well.

Ultra-speedy 5G connection

S21 Ultra

Although 5G speeds may not be blazing fast just like in South Korea and the US, the S21 Ultra was able to detect ultra-fast 5G speeds around the Metro.

S21 Ultra

Watching Sejeong in this drama truly felt uncanny as I was used to her cheerful, girl group idol vibe #WeWillMissgugudan

Downloading and uploading shouldn’t be a problem at all. I’ve managed to download the first three episodes of the K-Drama ‘Uncanny Counter’ under a minute. Even uploading a 30-second 8K video took a minute — which isn’t possible in 4G LTE and regular Wi-Fi hotspots.

Ultra-interactive smartphone

While my unit doesn’t come with the new S-Pen, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is the first S-series smartphone that’s capable of supporting it.

As a creative who’s been fond of the Note series, the S-Pen is, no doubt, a greater way to interact with your phone — regardless if it’s scribbling, digital painting, or even as simple as decorating your Instagram story.

The longer and thicker S-Pen might just be comfortable enough — which was something I wasn’t used to with the Note 20 Ultra’s shorter and slender S-Pen. To make it better, it also has a 9-millisecond (9ms) latency that will feel like you’re writing on a paper.

SEE ALSO: Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: GadgetMatch for the Multimedia Creative

There’s also the latest Ultra-Wide Band (UWB) support. Lost your Galaxy Buds? It’ll be easier to locate with the SmartThings app. There’s also the Samsung Galaxy SmartTags which you can attach on bags, luggages, and even car keys so you can track them wherever, whenever.

Ultra-Grade Cameras and Features

S21 Ultra

On paper, the S21 Ultra has some beefy camera sensors: a 108-megapixel f/1.8 wide (main) camera with Phase-Detection AF and OIS, as well as a 12-megapixel f/2.2 ultra-wide sensor with a 120º FoV (Field of View) that’s also found on other S21 smartphones.

What makes it stand out than the rest of the S21 line are the two 10-megapixel telephoto cameras: one that’s capable of 3x optical zoom, and another that reaches up to 10x optical zoom, both with Dual Pixel technology and OIS for clearer zoomed shots.

The problem with last year’s S20 Ultra is how wobbly it is when using the zoom function. But because of better sensors and stabilization, the S21 Ultra now has a zoom lock feature where it focuses on a subject from a distance without the camera preview getting distorted.

Other than the 8K UHD/24fps support, 4K/60fps comes standard regardless of what lens you use for video recording. Even the front camera supports it so vloggers can edit and upload videos in 4K.

S21 Ultra

While the dual shot mode has been around since the Galaxy Note 3 where it simultaneously takes a photo/video both from the front and rear cameras, Director’s View is more of an improvement with better configurations to choose from.

Other than the single view, you also get the classic split mode, and even a PiP (Picture-in-Picture). But the biggest addition is the ability to effortlessly switch between the wide, ultra-wide, and telephoto lenses.

Ultra-mazing 108MP camera

S21 Ultra

The ultimate star of the show is the wide camera that’s capable of shooting 108-megapixel photos. If we’re going a bit technical, the S21 Ultra packs the latest ISOCELL HM3 sensor by Samsung with a larger sensor and improvements in dynamic range, autofocus, and low-light. It’s an update from the HM2 and last year’s HM1 of the S20 Ultra and Note 20 Ultra.

With the presence of natural light, one would always expect that the latest smartphones will take great photos. It’s always the software processing techniques that differentiate the camera quality of one smartphone to another.

Over the years, Samsung is known for boosting the saturation of the photos it takes — and the S21 Ultra does the same. While it may look good on the eyes of many, it sometimes goes overboard with all the camera processing and algorithm just to make a natural, “bland” scene into something lively and vivid that looks artificial.

For most users, this isn’t a bad thing. If the camera software does all of the job, it means less time for them to process it. But for a serious shooter like me, I’d prefer flatter shots and adjust what’s needed after the shots were taken.

Other than the color test, I also tested how the camera performs when it comes to food. Most Android smartphones I’ve tried tend to over saturate and over sharpen food shots. Fortunately, the images above look more natural.

Even my issue with Note 20 Ultra’s weird radial blur on close-ups are gone. But if you want that extra-dramatic blur effect, Food Mode will help.

Ultra-bokehlicious portraits

I also tried using the main sensor with manual mode. The shots above clearly show that the S21 Ultra is capable of producing top-notch, DSLR-like bokeh.

From the perspective of my friend who uses an iPhone Xs Max, she was astounded with how the S21 Ultra performed using the Portrait Mode.

Other than the wider view, background on both shots look creamy with a clean segmentation between our hair strands — something most Android phones and older iPhones can’t do properly.

Ultra-wide sensor

Just like on the Galaxy S21 and S21+, the S21 Ultra features the similar 12-megapixel Ultra-wide camera. It’s capable of shooting wider shot perspectives just like the building I captured above.

The ultra-wide sensor also helps capture more elements and details in outdoor shots like these.

Ultra-zoomed shots

In tight situations, there’s got to be a use for telephoto zoom lenses. If one isn’t enough, Samsung doubled it for better and clearer shots from afar.

In the first set, the HDR (High Dynamic Range) and AWB (Auto White Balance) were both consistent throughout the lenses — something most Android manufacturers fail to do. I tested the superiority of the S21 Ultra’s cameras up to its maximum focal length.

Since I’m an architecture dilettante, I tried zooming in close to the building. At my surprise, the window looked sharp and clear enough after the preview.

In the second set, I saw these playful Chow Chows roaming around the grasses with their hoomans.

Zooming in as close as 30x digital zoom helped me capture one while his/her tongue is sticking out. But if we’ll look closely, the shot has a weird noise reduction that sits between camera grain and software smoothening.

Let’s move straight ahead to the third set, I tried using both the 3x and 10x telephoto lenses.

The HDR was pretty dull in the wide shot and it’s less green in the first three modes. Meanwhile, zooming in to 10x looked more lively because of the saturation boost.

Finally, this last set was taken in my favorite park. Again, the wide angle lens had an inconsistency, this time in exposure. Unlike the HDR problem from the last photo, that can be corrected through post-process.

Zooming in as close as 10x gives us clear details of the metallic tree. Zooming in further at 30x is acceptable. 100x zoom is barely usable.

As bonuses, these macro shots were taken in a windy environment. While it may not be as clear as what you get from a DSLR, Galaxy S21 Ultra’s long zoom capabilities are clearly commendable for producing the right amount of exposure, contrast, dynamic range, even if it displayed some hints of over-sharpening.

Ultra-clear night shots

It wouldn’t be a camera test without testing how it performs under low-light scenarios.

Regardless of what camera lens you’re using, Night Mode works on both the Ultra-wide, wide, and telephoto lenses.

Of course, without Night Mode, shots look blotchy, smudgy, with a lot of dark shadows and blown-out highlights. But with Samsung’s Night Mode, it fixes not only the Dynamic Range, but also the exposure and contrast of the image — especially in situations where there are less night light available.

With night mode turned off, the convenience store sign was barely recognizable. But with the magic of Samsung’s image processing, it was able to fix all the colors and details in the image.

But unlike the previous Huawei flagships, the S21 Ultra maxes out night zoom at only 10x. The Mate 30 Pro I used in 2019 was capable of zooming in on the moon as close as 30x.

Ultra-detailed selfies

Unlike its younger siblings, the Galaxy S21 Ultra packs a larger 40-megapixel front shooter with a dedicated ultra-wide view. Other than the less-smeared faces with retained face artifacts, the front camera can also shoot in Portrait Mode that works just like how the rear cameras perform.

As another bonus, here’s how the Galaxy S21 Ultra Phantom Black will look like if you’re planning to flex it in your future mirror selfies 😂

Is the Galaxy S21 Ultra your Ultimate GadgetMatch?

S21 Ultra

Priced at PhP 69,990 for the 12GB/256GB model, the Galaxy S21 Ultra simply isn’t for everyone. If you’re the type of user who has the purchasing power and clearly knows that you want the best of everything in a smartphone, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is the ultimate smartphone you can buy right now.

You might be considering to buy the iPhone 12 Pro Max instead. That’s a fine option if you’re the type of user who’s locked in Apple’s ecosystem. But if it doesn’t bother you to try something new in the Android world, the S21 Ultra might just be a better option.

S21 Ultra

I know what you’re thinking. There’s still the existing S20 Ultra and Note 20 Ultra that both cost a little less. They still have a great set of display, specs, and cameras at a lower price. But if owning what’s new in the market today is an important buying factor for you, look no further and pick the S21 Ultra — unless you want to wait for a quirkier follow-up of the Galaxy Z Fold2 and the Z Flip.

S21 Ultra

Consider the Galaxy S21+ if you wanna keep the same material and specs minus the cameras and curved 2K display. If you want the less fancy stuff, go for the Galaxy S21, Note 20, or even last year’s Galaxy S20 FE (unless you can wait for the S21 FE successor).

For more pre-order options, freebies, and discount information of the Galaxy S21 series in the Philippines, head over to our pricing and availability article.

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