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

Converse Chuck Taylor All Star Renew Crater Review

The most sustainable Chucks ever

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Today we’re looking at a really special sneaker — its the Converse Chuck Taylor All Star Renew Crater. As you can guess from the name, it is a sustainably made shoe as part of Nike’s Move to Zero initiative.

These actually dropped in North America back in July 23rd, but they only just went on shelves here in Asia, available in Converse stores in Malaysia and Singapore and online at Lazada.

Sustainability is the way to go

The Converse Chuck Taylor All Star Crater is a complete re-imagining of the classic Chuck Taylor 70 silhouette, but with completely new and updated recycled materials.

The entire shoe uses at least 40 percent recycled materials by weight.

The midsole is made entirely out of Nike’s Crater foam which is made from 12% recycled rubber. That recycled rubber comes from Nike Grind, which is made from recycled surplus manufacturing materials.

Meanwhile the upper inherits from Converse’s Renew initiative, and is made out of a new material called Morphlon. It combines recycled polyester with industrial textile waste scraps to create a material that feels like classic canvas.

Converse’s popular Renew line has always been a personal favorite of mine in the way they use recycled materials. It gets a nice little jumpstart thanks to Nike’s Move to Zero initiative and the use of the new crater foam.

The Converse Craters might not have the same hype as Nike’s Sustainably made Space Hippie Collection when they dropped, but I really think these are one of the most interesting takes on the Chuck Taylor 70s in a while.

They come in three colorways right now, there’s the Charcoal Chambray Blue, which is the one I’m checking out.

Then there’s the White/Chambray Blue which looks okay, and then there’s the Black Chambray Blue which is my personal favorite of the three.

ICYMI: Nike owns Converse now

Starting from the box, I have to admit it’s still weird seeing the Nike branding on a Converse box.

It’s the same Nike Move to Zero Box you’d get with any of Nike’s Move to Zero shoes, like the Space Hippies, the Air Jordan 1 Crater, or any of the new Air Force 1 Craters as well.

Only difference here is the Converse branding. I feel like this box is going to be very confusing for people that don’t know that Nike owns Converse, so imagine you head into a store and buy this shoe and get a Nike box.

It’s weird but I’m guessing Nike was hoping that the branding power of their Move to Zero initiative would give some hype to this shoe. That’s why the Nike branding has been used on the box.

Materials and design

Coming to the shoes themselves, the first thing you notice when you take them out of the box is how crazy light they are. Usually with a pair of Chuck Taylor 70s you expect some amount of weight but these, they’re just so light. It’s crazy.

Starting with the upper, the Morphlon material feels smooth, like canvas, but is made from a blend of recycled polyester and waste scraps, putting old materials to new use.

As you might already know, Morphlon is a 100% recycled blend composed of 50% recycled polyester and 50% recycled post-industrial waste scraps.

It actually feels and looks pretty great, in this Chambray Greyish color here.

Snazzed up Chucks

Like all Chuck Taylor 70s, the lateral side has a clean, minimalist look while the medial side has the Converse Chuck Taylor All Star badge which also seems to be made out of recycled materials.

The lateral side also has these two ventilation holes at the bottom of the mid-panel to help with breathability, with a little bit of white stitching around it to give this area a bit more structure.

Moving on to the toe box area…

The toe cap is one of the most iconic parts of the Chuck Taylor 70s and the reinterpretation here looks a little weird admittedly.

They’ve given the toe cap an unfinished kind of look which you’ll either love or hate but the material on the toecap, which is also the material used for the eyestays, is 85% recycled, which is awesome.

Moving upwards, you’ll see that the eyestays also have this textile overlay in a unique unfinished rough design to them, almost seemingly broken up into three sections by this orange stitching.

This is different from the usual minimalist metal eyestays you’d see on a usual pair of Chuck Taylors.

The webbing and stitching you see around here is all 100% recycled as well. Apart from that, you’ll see these charcoal colored flat laces weaving through the eye stays.

Underneath the laces, there’s the tongue which is made from the same recycled canvas material as the rest of the upper, with this white pull tap nylon piece on top. that has the Converse logo branding in different orientations, and “2020” stitched on.

This pull tap fabric on the tongue seems a little unnecessary to me but I’m not sure if it’s here for just aesthetic reasons or whether it was necessary to hold the laces in place.

Coming to the inside of the shoe…

There’s a 100% recycled dark grey mesh sockliner, with a neon green cushioned ortholite insole that is 20% recycled, and looks very similar to the one on the Nike Space Hippies.

Apart from that, coming to the back of the shoe, you have this orange stitching that is done throughout the back that I think is supposed to simulate a heel cup.

There’s a tiny bit of reinforced material here as well, so this section is a little stiff to ensure no heel slippage.

At the back of the shoe, you’ll see more of that white stitching that runs up the sneaker towards the white pull-tab on the heel that has black stitching.

That entire upper sits on a full length Nike Crater Foam midsole that is shaped to look exactly like the midsole on a pair of Chuck Taylor Highs.

Crater foam holding things down

We’ve seen Crater foam used on several of Nike’s sustainable series of shoes, from the Space Hippies to the Jordan Crater, the Air Jordan 1 High Crater, the VaporMax 2020, and even the more recent Air Force 1 Craters.

Nike’s Crater foam basically uses about 12% Nike Grind rubber for a lightweight and responsive cushioning. Nike Grind materials are created from recycled athletic footwear and surplus manufacturing scraps.

So basically, they’re taking all leftover materials from outsoles and midsoles in the manufacturing process. They grind them all up together and create the Nike Grind Rubber that is used in the Crater Form in this midsole and outsole.

A fun little bonus of this process is that no two midsoles will ever be the same because of the sheer amount of different recycled materials used with all these different speckles of materials.

What I love about the implementation here is that instead of the vulcanized midsole you’d see on a usual pair of Chuck Taylor All-Stars, you have this one piece Crater form that is shaped exactly like the midsole on a standard pair of Chucks.

Even moving downwards, the thread pattern on the outsole is exactly the same as a standard pair of Chucks, with the Converse All Star branding.

It’s just so awesome and so well done.

But the main advantage here is that instead of the usual flat kind of feeling you’d get from a standard pair of All Stars, with the All Star Craters you have a really lightweight pair of shoes that also feels a lot more flexible, plush, and responsive compared to the flat stiff cushioning you’re used to getting from All Stars.

Granted its not Nike React or Adidas Boost levels of cushioning but it’s much better than a standard pair of Chucks, which makes these probably the most comfortable pair of Chuck Taylor All Stars you’d ever wear.

Which was a fun surprise because I really did not expect much from these shoes.

Fit and sizing 

Coming to sizing and fit, these fit the same as any other pair of Chuck Taylor All Star Highs.

All Star highs generally tend to fit a little large so you’d want to go down half a size for sure. For example I’m a UK 11 but I generally go down to a size UK10.5 for All Star Highs.

Of course, the best way to know for sure is to head on over to a store and try out a pair.

Is this your SneakerMatch?

All in all, I think Converse has actually done a great job with the All Star Craters.

As a huge Converse fan, from a purist point of view I will admit that there’s a few things I wish they did not do here. The orange stitching at the back for example, to simulate a heel cup, is a little out there. Maybe if they used a more subtle muted color, or just left that area alone, it would have been a much cleaner shoe.

Honestly, I’m just not a fan of the little orange stitching everywhere, so it’s mostly just the color choices, maybe. But I get that they were going for a more unfinished look here.

From a comfort point of view…

You guys have to check out this shoe. If you’re a fan of the Chuck Taylor All Star Highs and you want a more comfortable version, this is where it’s at.

It’s quite impressive how Converse and Nike made such a lightweight shoe here. With the soft recycled materials used and the soft Crater foam, it’s just way more comfortable to wear than a standard pair.

I just wish that maybe they made a more purist version but that’s just me.

I also feel like a low top version of these shoes would just be crazy popular.

These do seem to be sitting in stores though so if you want to know what I’m talking about, just head on over to a Converse Store to try out a pair and let me know what you think about them.

At the end of the day, the Chuck Taylor All Star Craters are Converse’s most sustainable shoe ever. They are literally reducing the carbon footprint of footwear manufacturing.

I’m really hoping these shoes catch on. Maybe if Converse makes a more purist looking version because that might catch on really well, and more people switch to that shoe instead of the standard All Stars which almost everyone has.

Now that might actually make a huge impact for sustainable footwear.

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vivo V20 Pro review: First time’s already a charm

What it feels like using a vivo phone for the first time

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vivo v20 Pro

It wasn’t too long ago when vivo unveiled the V19 series in the Philippines. Not that we should be surprised, but just a reminder, the past four months weren’t too long ago.

Fast forward today, vivo has finally announced not one, not two, but three new smartphones, pandemic notwithstanding. The V20 series lineup goes like this: the V20 SE, V20, and this one, the V20 Pro. If you’ve been fond of vivo’s V-lineup, they always skip models in odd numbers. This time, they decided to mix things up with an even number — right in time for the year “20”20.

V stands for Very Confusing

If you’re confused among these models, here’s a quick spec comparison.

V20 Pro V20 V20 SE
Processor Snapdragon 765G Snapdragon 720G Snapdragon 665
Display 6.44” AMOLED
HDR10
6.44” AMOLED 6.44” AMOLED
Memory 8GB 8GB 8GB
Storage 128GB 128GB + microSD 128GB + microSD
Network 5G + 4G LTE 4G LTE only 4G LTE only
Rear Cameras 64MP f/1.9 WA
8MP f/2.2 120º UWA
2MP f/2.4 Mono
64MP f/1.9 WA
8MP f/2.2 120º UWA
2MP f/2.4 Mono
48MP f/1.8 WA
8MP f/2.2 120º UWA
2MP f/2.4 Mono
Front Cameras 44MP f/2.0 Wide
8MP f/2.28 105º UWA
44MP f/2.0 Wide 44MP f/2.0 Wide
Battery 4000mAh 4000mAh 4100mAh

Full of Firsts

The V20 Pro may not be vivo’s first 5G smartphone, but it’s currently the world’s slimmest. In fact, it’s even slimmer than its 5G-equipped cousin, the X50 Pro.

Just like how I used a vivo smartphone for the first time, the article headings were (heavily) inspired by BLACKPINK’s tracks that are also from their first ever full album. Coincidentally, Lisa has also endorsed the vivo S7 — which is the Chinese counterpart of the V20 Pro. I digress.

ALSO: This is the first 5G smartphone I’ve ever held and used.

Look so good, yeah, look so sweet

I hope you read that with the tune of BLACKPINK’s Ice Cream. Those iconic lyrics best describe how I feel about this particular piece of hardware.

It’s eye-tricking. The psychedelic back confuses and amuses me at the same time. Depending on one’s source of light, this phone can show shades of orange, red, blue, or pink, with subtle hints of yellow and purple all over it. The warmer side reminds me of a popsicle I used to eat when I was a kid. Thus, it looks good, and sweet — at least in my eyes.

The Sunset Melody variant isn’t bad  at all but it’s simply not my cup of tea. If people love flashy, eye-candy colors, I beg to differ. Other than the difficulty in matching this phone with my usual monochromatic pandemic OOTD, it’s also hard to keep this away from the prying eyes of thieves.

If I had the chance to choose one, I’d simply pick the white-touting Moonlight Sonata colorway because it’s cleaner and the fingerprint smudges will appear less. Although black is my favorite color, Midnight Jazz looks too bland for my liking.

This doesn’t mean I don’t like the phone. I honestly like how it feels in the hand despite being thin. It’s light yet not too slippery nor fragile (unlike me).

Other than that, the stainless steel frame and matte glass back both add premium touches to the phone itself.

Unlike its younger siblings, the 3.5mm audio jack was eliminated from the V20 Pro and was replaced by a SIM tray slot just beside the microphone and USB-C port. I’m not making a big fuss about this as I’ve already transitioned into a more wireless and USB-C ecosystem. But for audiophiles or other people who totally rely on it, this could be a dealbreaker. Don’t fret, vivo has bundled a USB-C to 3.5mm audio jack adapter if you still want that immersive, wired audio experience.

Now that we’re on the topic of speakers, it doesn’t have stereo speakers but its mono speaker is decent and loud — just don’t try to cover it too much with your finger when holding it in landscape mode or you might muffle the whole audio experience.

Love To Hate That Display

Now that I already brought up the topic with V20 and V20 SE, I just don’t understand how vivo decided to bring back these notches over the V19’s punch-hole camera cutout and V17 Pro’s set of pop-up cameras. This even reminds me of the early days of the brand with the vivo V9 and the V11.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love its 6.44-inch AMOLED display that shows deep blacks and vivid colors. It might not be too obvious but the bezels are slimmer than the V20, making its form factor smaller and thinner than the latter. I even tested out V20 Pro’s clear case but it simply wouldn’t fit the V20’s slightly larger and thicker form factor.

Without the presence of a physical fingerprint sensor, the in-display fingerprint scanner is there to save the day. Unlike previous review units I tested, V20 Pro’s reader is fast enough for everyday unlocking. I mean c’mon, vivo brought this technology first with the 2018 APEX phone. There’s no competition but there’s a reason why they should ace this particular technology over other brands.

There’s also a Face Unlock feature but in times like this, it’s best to just use the fingerprint scanner. After all, we’re required to wear face masks and face shields when we’re out and about in public.

Pretty Savage Specs

As stated in the intro, the V20 Pro packs a Snapdragon 765G processor that’s responsible for delivering outstanding CPU and GPU performance. And thanks to this processor, it’s able to bring 5G support to the V20 Pro for a less expensive price tag compared to the pricey SD865 variants.

Of course, we shouldn’t miss playing PUBG especially since BLACKPINK has a collaboration with them.

Most (if not all) phones have DND (Do Not Disturb)  Mode but most of the time, it just doesn’t seem to work especially when playing games. The built-in game manager controls that can be toggled on the upper left corner are handy especially if you want to focus on the game and don’t want to be interrupted by app notifications, messages, and calls.

If you’re gonna ask what’s my favorite feature, it’s a minor addition but the 4D vibration is something I love. It adds an intuitive gaming experience by enhancing the overall vibration feedback of the phone. Haven’t tried all sorts of options since I’m not a professional mobile gamer, but vivo’s In-Game Manager is worth trying out.

I tried taking a break by playing amid the busy workload I have during this aphonecalyptic month full of phone launches and events. My original goal was to just find the BLACKPINK-themed plane. Unfortunately, it never showed up. Instead, I was teamed up with these three random PUBG players from different parts of the world.

All throughout the game, performance was fast and snappy. Although there’s no 120Hz refresh rate (and 240Hz sampling rate), it still performed buttery smooth thanks to its powerful chipset. This proves that you don’t need the highest processor just to play graphics-intensive games. As the photo shows above, the phone supports PUBG’s Ultra frame rate option and HDR resolution.

After a quick gaming session, me and these bunch of strangers that helped each other were able to stay ’til the end and got an imaginary winning chicken for dinner. This circumstance also happened for the first time ever since I started playing this game months ago.

Crazy Over 5G

Although the pandemic is far from over, I was still able to test out 5G speeds in the Metro — and it was insanely fast. It’s even faster than our typical Fiber Internet Plan at home.

Let me open my Instagram first as an early app test. I know this app doesn’t require blazingly-fast data speeds but hey, better to open something first that doesn’t consume all of your data balance 😂

vivo V20 Pro

Fresh from the oven, I was also able to watch BLACKPINK’s first (yes another first in this article) ever Netflix documentary. I completely forgot to download it through our Wi-Fi connection at home but I’m glad 5G saved my day. It took me less than three to five minutes to download this more than 1GB-worth documentary.

You Never Know When It’s Gonna Die

If you’re like me who spends countless of hours listening to music (especially K-Pop), the V20 Pro is a perfect companion for those ultra-long jamming sessions — especially in this pandemic.

While its 4,000mAh battery isn’t as “enormous” as other Android phones, the phone was able to last at least a full day of moderate to heavy usage. Do take note how you use your phones quite often. For me, music playback doesn’t require the screen to be always turned on so it’s still not as power-hungry as when you play games, binge-watch a series, or shoot photos and videos for hours.

There’s more than enough juice left for the day. Mind you, I used this phone the moment I went out of the house at around six in the morning with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Cellular Data toggled on. Since then, I never plugged it in my powerbank to fill up the phone.

While super fast charging isn’t particularly new these days, vivo’s FlashCharge technology sure does the trick of bumping up the battery level from zero to 100 percent in about an hour. I tried testing it out and it took the V20 Pro exactly 58 minutes to charge — which is still fast considering it has a large 4,000mAh battery.

And yes, you heard that right! The 33W vivo FlashCharge adapter is still bundled in the box. 👀

How You Like That Cameras?

This familiar-looking camera cutout made its debut on the vivo X50 Pro — a.k.a the world’s first smartphone with a gimbal camera system. Not to confuse you, but having a similar camera design doesn’t mean it has the same stabilization technology.

For aesthetic purposes, vivo just decided to bring this sophisticated-looking camera placement on their newest S and V series line — and I honestly love how it looks. But do I love how its cameras perform? Tune in to my samples below.

On paper, you get a 64-megapixel f/1.9 wide camera. Other than that, there’s an 8-megapixel f/2.2 ultra-wide angle camera with a 120-degree FoV. This sensor is also responsible for shooting macro and bokeh shots. The third lens is an additional 2-megapixel f/2.4 mono sensor.

For the most part, the V20 Pro produced great shots

With ample amount of sunlight, the V20 Pro can keep up with most of 2020’s smartphone camera competition.

Wide | 2x Zoom

Its dedicated zoom toggle helped a lot in capturing interesting subjects even from afar.

Ultra-wide | 2x zoom

Restricting the frame by zooming in on the subject can help deliver better photos without ever moving an inch closer to the object itself — just like how I tried not to scare away this stray cat.

Ultra-wide | Wide | 2x Zoom

Even under harsh daylight conditions, the V20 Pro successfully showed photos with great dynamic range, no matter what type of lens you use.

However, the two minor issues I’ve faced are the inconsistencies in detecting the Auto WB (White Balance) and the lack of stabilization when zooming in.

Ultra-wide | Wide | 2x Zoom

As seen from my two pets, it’s pretty evident that ultra-wide shots take warmer photos in contrast to its regular / wide lens.

Ultra-wide | Wide | 2x Zoom

Other than that, zoomed shots taken indoors were a little bit blurry due to the lack of stabilization.

Ultra-wide | Wide | 2x Zoom

But then again, it’s not totally a big deal for photos that will just be posted on social media.

Just for fun, I tried comparing the V20 Pro with Google’s Pixel 2 XL — a flagship from three years ago

V20 Pro’s Super Macro Mode vs Pixel 2 XL’s 5x Zoom

Having an AI camera can surely help you take better photos when the phone detects a particular subject or object. This automatically switched to vivo’s built-in Super Macro Mode. The lady bug can still be seen but it failed to preserve the accurate highlights and shadows.

Pixel, on the other hand, was able to preserve the scene just like how my eyes saw it. It’s totally not a fair comparison because Pixel lacks a macro mode but it still got the job done of capturing that tiny bug hiding on the leaf.

V20 Pro HDR | Pixel 2 XL HDR+

This second photo shows how software processing affects the color accuracy of one shot. Then again, Pixel 2 XL has delivered the shot closer to what you’ll see in reality. These were both taken when the sun was completely out, past six in the evening.

V20 Pro’s Night Mode vs Pixel 2 XL’s Night Sight

Finally, the sun is gone. I then tried to shoot this night scenery. The V20 Pro’s output still looked like the sun was present in the scene. Meanwhile, the Pixel, though grainy, still produced a better-looking photo with the right amount of highlights and shadows.

These samples show how a 2017-made flagship can still keep up with a new 2020-midranger. Regardless if a phone is a new or not, this proves how computational photography still plays a big role in shooting photos.

Finally, less-smudgy selfies

For an obvious reason, the V20 Pro has a slightly wider notch because of its dual front cameras. There’s a main 44-megapixel f/2.0 selfie camera, while the second sensor is an 8-megapixel f/2.28 ultra-wide selfie shooter for those extra-wide groufies — which isn’t ideal yet in this pandemic because we still need to distance ourselves (especially from our crushes).

Wide | Ultra-Wide

Taking selfies in establishments is now bearable, thanks to the existence of face masks 😂

Wide | Ultra-Wide

Is the vivo V20 Pro your GadgetMatch?

vivo v20 Pro

For someone who wants to taste vivo’s freshly-served ice cream, the V20 Pro is still worth purchasing. Although it’s priced at PhP 24,999, it’s simply not the cheapest and most power-packed 5G smartphone option you can get today.

But considering how vivo carefully crafted this latest piece of hardware and still managed to have power-packed internals, a large battery, and even a 5G modem inside a slim chassis, this is one of the best picks especially now that the country is slowly evolving into a 5G-ready nation.

If you’re still hesitating to buy it due to the inconsistencies in camera performance, the only hope we could ask is for vivo to solve it via future software updates. If the notch is a complete dealbreaker, there’s an Android app that can completely hide it for you.

vivo v20 series

V20 | V20 SE | V20 Pro

Now, if you care less about 5G and want a cheaper variant, get the V20 instead with some caveats over its ‘Pro’ sibling. But if you care less about the bells and whistles the higher V20 variants offer, the V20 SE is an option, especially if you want to try out the nature of vivo’s ecosystem.

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Mi Smart Speaker review: Sounds excellent, speaks smartly

Xiaomi taking on Amazon and Google

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Voice assistants have been around for a long time and we’ve all used them at some point. Every Android phone has Google Assistant and it’s just a tap away. If you’re into the Amazon ecosystem, Alexa is for you. And Apple has Siri.

But when was the last time you actually used these personal assistants actively? Most people always end up asking a generic question about the weather or search for GPS navigation. Even though these assistants barely take up any computing resources, their real-world applications are limited and often found to be a hassle.

In the last few years, all major companies released affordable smart speakers that incorporate these smart assistants. And, it has been a hit. Echo speakers fly off the shelf during the festive season, Nest speakers are consistently improving and bundled along with various offers, and Apple has taken a slightly more premium route, but still has low-cost offerings.

But, is it worth spending US$ 30 to US$ 60 on a tiny palm-sized speaker that’s basically just a hardware package designed to run the assistant? I’ve used the affordable offerings from Google as well as Amazon and my answer would be no.

The volume is too low for my liking, sound quality goes for a toss, and you’re just left with a speaker that runs Google Assistant or Alexa. The initial euphoria around a voice assistant soon fades. And if you’re looking for a decent speaker that can be used primarily for music, the cost escalates to more than US$ 100.

In a developing country like India, the price difference is considerable and you’re entering the premium segment. Xiaomi found this sweet spot and launched the Mi Smart Speaker in the country. It’s priced at INR 5,999 (US$ 81) officially, but available for INR 2,999 (US$ 40) under various discounts and schemes.

A significantly large speaker for the price

The Mi Smart Speaker is huge when compared to Google Nest Mini or the Echo Dot. Just like its price, it looks like a perfect combination of an entry-level speaker and a high-end one. Xiaomi’s complete portfolio is based on offering value-for-money goods and the brand has dominated key segments with its products like the Mi Band, Mi Box, and Mi TWS.

Following the same strategy, the company has entered a space where it has no competition. And, the pricing is very aggressive in nature. The brand tried to make a mark with Bluetooth speakers, but the market is very saturated and price sensitive. The Mi Smart Speaker is its first smart speaker and has a lot of weightlifting to do.

A premium design without the heavy price tag

At first glance, the speaker instantly reminded me of the Sonos One. While Xiaomi’s offering is more oval, it is built of top-notch materials and barely feels cheap or flimsy. A perforated grille runs around the speaker and sits firmly on the table thanks to the tiny rubber legs on the bottom. No matter where you keep it, it’ll look subtle and aesthetic.

There’s just a small Mi logo on the front while the top has four touch buttons for volume, pause/play, and microphone. As a standalone product, it has a distinctive look that doesn’t look like it’s ripped off. The top edge has a small LED ring that’ll turn blueish-white when Google Assistant is summoned. If you turn off the mic, the lighting shall remain orange.

The rear has a barrel connector and the adapter is provided along. But this is the only thing I didn’t like about the speaker. Xiaomi could’ve provided a USB port, just like all its other products. This might become a challenge because the speaker will take up an additional socket in your house, instead of sharing a USB wire out of a multi-port adapter. Obviously, there’s the option of a splitter but it’ll need more space and look much messier.

Sounds excellent and satisfied everyone’s needs

The Mi Smart Speaker has a 2.5-inch driver that’ll push out 12W of audio output. This isn’t a very big driver and smaller speakers like the Amazon Echo have a 3-inch driver. But I’d recommend skipping the technicalities in favor of the listening experience.

The speaker is sufficiently loud and the vocals are very clear. It isn’t enough for a full-fledged party, but more than enough for regular usage in the living room or bedroom. The high frequencies are very well balanced and the bass is decent. I don’t think the speaker needs any more tuning or improvement.

Lastly, you can connect two Mi Smart Speakers together for a stereo experience and indirectly improve the loudness. Interestingly, buying two Mi Smart Speakers will still be cheaper than getting the Nest Audio or borderline with the Amazon Echo.

And the star of the show, Google Assistant!

The Mi Smart Speaker has two microphones and they do an excellent job in detecting voice commands from a distance. The far-field microphones always detected my voice even when music was playing at maximum volume. And if everyone’s asleep, a low murmur is also detected with ease.

The speaker connects to your phone via the Google Home app and brings in all the software firepower straight from Google. Additionally, Google Home is a combined package that can host your smart appliances, bulbs, and more. So, if you want to see the full power of Google Assistant, just connect a smart bulb and you’ll slowly enter the future like a Black Mirror episode.

I have a Mi Smart LED Bulb and connecting the two was a very straightforward task. Google Home supports a plethora of products and you can buy Google Assistant-enabled bulbs from Xiaomi, Syska, Wipro, and more. Even your Android TV is directly available for Cast.

I’ve used the speaker for almost three weeks now and it’s now responsible for controlling multiple bulbs in the house, stream content on the Sony Bravia TV, and keep a watch out via a security camera. All major third-party services like YouTube and Spotify are supported.

It has Bluetooth compatability, but you’ll have to pair it via the Google Home app. And, a fresh pairing isn’t possible if the speaker is offline. This can be a hassle sometimes in case you don’t have a solid WiFi connection.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

Yes. The Mi Smart Speaker is an excellent product that brings something new, without costing a bomb. A simple device that is primarily a speaker, but can do a lot more than just play music. If you haven’t experienced the comfort of Google Home, the Mi Smart Speaker is an ideal entry-level device that won’t disappoint. Plug along with a few other devices and you’ve created a small network of your own, controllable via voice commands.

After a long time, I’ve reviewed a tech product that’s perfect. And, it’s unique. Even if you’re just looking for a generic speaker, this should be your choice. And considering the lighter price, it can be a lovely gift for the Diwali season!

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