Reviews

realme Watch review: It gets fitness tracking right

But it leaves so much more to be desired

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realme has been aggressively pushing its own ecosystem into the fore this year. It started last year with the release of the affordable realme Buds Air. It was soon followed up with the realme Band, a fitness tracker that aims to compete with the Mi Band. Now, realme is pushing another product: the realme Watch.

The realme Watch serves to affirm the company’s grand vision for the future. Right now, it’s busy building a singular platform that will cater to the youth’s lifestyle. And the company’s first smartwatch is a small but crucial piece to that.

However, launching a smartwatch is not going to be easy. For realme, this is their first-ever product in a new category segment. The future of a grand ecosystem depends on how successful this smartwatch is going to. Plus, the company’s reputation as a lifestyle device for the youth is at stake here.

Beyond that, any product that bills itself as a smartwatch has to be particularly good at the basics — battery life, fitness tracking, connectivity, and app integration. So, does the realme Watch have what it takes to be a proper smartwatch? Let’s find out.

realme Watch is compact and intuitive

I’m pretty sure the name and design of the realme Watch will invoke the image of a familiar smartwatch to many. realme may have done this on purpose since any positive association with the Apple Watch creates a halo effect for their own smartwatch.

I can make out some differences between the Apple Watch and realme Watch though. First, the realme Watch is smaller and touts a more symmetrical body. Second, there’s a realme logo underneath the display but it’s super hard to notice. Second, the watch has a lone button on the right in place of Apple Watch’s digital crown and side button. And finally, the whole watch is made of plastic which is unlike the premium materials used by Apple on its smartwatch.

The smartwatch is compact and light. I didn’t notice much heft while wearing it. However, the fashion strap band feels cheap, and it is hard to attach and secure it to the wrist. Fortunately, there’s a quick-release lock that enables easy switching of strap bands.

Upon wearing the watch for the first time, I noticed that the screen’s brightness is not that sufficient to tackle direct sunlight. As such, I glanced a lot longer and squinted hard at the realme Watch outdoors. It doesn’t help that the smartwatch’s LCD display is a bit washed out.

It’s good for daily fitness tracking

Most people expect smartwatches to be good at fitness tracking. After all, these tiny devices pack a plethora of sensors that track your steps, heart rate, sleep patterns, and so on. However, not all smartwatches are built equally. That applies especially to the realme Watch, where you can expect some hits and misses.

For the most part, the smartwatch does a good job of tracking my heart rate. I compared it to an Honor Band 5 that I have and got the nearly identical results. I don’t have any professional heart rate monitor lying around, but I’m still confident in the readings.

There’s one big caveat to the smartwatch’s premise of continuous heart rate tracking though. I can only set the watch to read my heartbeat every five minutes or so. It would have been better if there’s an option to read heartbeats every three minutes or less. But alas, this is what realme settled for.

Step tracking is also fine for the most part. I can actually set custom step goals, which is a pretty nice feature to have. Personally, I set mine to 6,000 steps.

Aside from heart rate monitoring and step tracking, the realme Watch can also track sleep. I’m still dumbfounded by the different terminologies for quantifying sleep, but the data presented by the watch is spot-on. On average, the watch tells me that I only sleep for 5 to 6 hours every day. Comparing that data to my Honor Band 5, and I can say that they’re both pretty close.

One thing that I really like about the realme Watch is the presence of a meditation timer. It’s pretty barebones though, and the timer is configurable up to 10 minutes only. At least it’s there, and it’s pretty useful whenever I get anxious or stressed out.

It comes with a buggy exercise interface and integration

How did the realme Watch fare on a workout session? It’s actually a mixed bag. Granted, I don’t exercise a lot, and my only fitness regimen nowadays is walking around the block. Still, there’s a lot of health benefits derived from walking, and I would like my smartwatch to track how my body responds to a 10-minute walk.

Starting an exercise session from the watch is pretty straightforward. You just scroll down from the watch face, and select “workout”. From there, you have 14 sessions to choose from. There’s only one major sport that realme left out here: swimming. Yes, you can’t track your swims with this smartwatch.

Once started, realme will track your heart rate, duration, and calories burned. There are five visual indicators to tell you what zone you are in. realme Watch will display more or fewer data depending on what exercise you select. Since I like to walk, I get extra information such as distance, cadence, and steps.

Like I said before, exercise tracking is a mixed bag on the realme Watch. The biggest gripe that I have with is its tendency to restart in the middle of an exercise session. I can’t count the times that I had to start tracking once again since the watch would decide to end tracking abruptly. Hopefully, realme can fix this issue with a software update.

No third-party apps, but has some good system apps built-in

Software problems doesn’t only exist when tracking exercises. The realme Watch is riddled with a buggy system that likes to restart or even wipe out your data for the day. realme has a lot to improve here and I’m really hoping that subsequent updates can fix these annoying bugs.

In moments where the realme Watch doesn’t show its unwelcome quirks, you can actually appreciate how fluid and intuitive the navigation is. By default, the smartwatch shows your selected watch face. Long-pressing on the watch face enables you to choose from others.

Swiping up, you get a list of notifications. Swipe to the left and right, and you get different widgets that show you useful information at a glance. To access the apps, swipe down from the main watch face. Getting back to other areas is just a press away from the lone side button.

Some first-party apps that I do appreciate on this watch are the music control app and weather app. I found myself using the music control app more to skip to the next track and control the volume. And, it is nice to see weather information at a glance without scouring the web for forecasts.

The phone app leaves a lot to be desired

Of course, the whole experience of using the realme Watch is incomplete without the dedicated smartphone app. Unfortunately, realme Link—– the app that controls the watch — is only available for Android. So, there’s no way to use the watch if you use an iPhone.

As for the app, realme Link is easy to navigate and the pairing process is quick and easy. Unlike in my Honor Band, I don’t need to deal with the rigorous install of other apps just to get going. Tweaking the watch’s settings is easily done on the app itself. Plus, it’s super easy to setup app notifications.

What I didn’t like is that I needed to register for an account just to set up my realme Watch. But this complaint of mine could be minor for you. After all, most apps today require sign-ups. Still, I would’ve preferred if the app allowed me to control the watch without signing in.

While navigating and tweaking settings is a breeze on realme Link, there’s a lot to be desired with the app. First, the app can quickly get confusing for first-time smartwatch users. Statistics are displayed nicely on the app, but there’s no thorough explanation of what those statistics really mean for your health.

I also dislike the fact that there’s a limited selection of watch faces available on the app. Granted, this is a first-generation product for realme. Watch faces available at the moment are limited to a selection of 12 quirky faces. I say quirky since some of the watch face designs are divisive — you may like it or hate it. For me, however, I didn’t find any interesting watch faces so I stuck with the default one. realme did say more watch faces are coming soon. I say, it can’t come soon enough.

Finally, realme Link shows some weird software bugs from time to time. For example, when I toggled the exercise tracking within the app, the realme Watch doesn’t go into exercise tracking. Fortunately, these bugs are easily resolvable with software updates.

Solid battery life for a smartwatch

One of realme Watch’s saving grace is its long battery life. That is, long battery life for a smartwatch of this class. In normal usage, I get three to four days of battery life. It’s pretty solid, considering that most smartwatches last only a day. However, it’s worth noting that those smartwatches have more sensors that hog battery life.

You can actually extend the watch’s battery life for longer. Toggle the power-saving mode and you get up to two days more battery life on the realme Watch.

Charging is also pretty quick. From my experience, the realme Watch took an hour to charge from 10% to 70%.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

There’s a good article on Android Authority that summarizes realme’s vision for an all-encompassing ecosystem. Like the title says, the company needs to walk first before it can run. The same holds true for the realme Watch.

There are so many quirks and bugs on the smartwatch that you’ll wonder if you made the right purchase decision. Plus, app integrations and smarts are sorely missing — is this really a smartwatch at all? realme really needs to polish the watch software, since this is the very core that powers the smartwatch experience.

This sums up what the realme Watch is: a half-baked smartwatch that at least gets the fitness tracking right. realme took a gamble and it lost. But as a first generation product, there’s a lot of lessons that can be learned. Hopefully, the company can amend some of the glaring issues on this watch in the future.

Still, those who are looking for a fitness tracker that does look like an elegant smartwatch at first glance should look no further than the realme Watch. It’s light, compact, and easy to navigate. Plus, there’s the asking price of PhP 3,990 (US$ 81), which is super cheap for a smartwatch.

It’s now available on realme’s Lazada store. Those buying the smartwatch should wait for Lazada’s 7.15 sale, where it is available with a PhP 1,000 (US$ 20)  discount.

See also: 5 things we like about the realme Watch

Accessories

Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro Review: Better than AirPods Pro?

Finally, real Active Noise Cancellation out of the box

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Samsung has unveiled the newest Galaxy Buds Pro alongside the announcement of the latest Galaxy S21 series.

Other than the new design, better sound quality, and surround sound setup, there’s now a real and intelligent Active Noise Cancellation.

But do these earbuds live up to its ‘Pro’ branding? Watch our Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro review by clicking the video link right here.

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Huawei Mate 40 Pro review: Hardware excellence

Held back only by political challenges

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If there’s one smartphone that Huawei’s best known for, it’s the photography-centric P Series line. It’s the phone that ushered in Huawei’s popularity and its one-time dominance of the smartphone space. But every second half of the year, the company is known to release a second smartphone — The Mate Series. In this instance, the Mate 40 series with the Mate 40, Mate 40 Pro, and Mate 40 Pro+.

The Mate 40 series is an update that brings along with it the industry’s leading features. Like in 2016 — when super-fast charging started to become a trend; or in 2017 — when we first heard about AI on mobile; and 2018 — the first time reverse wireless charging was seen on a phone.

Today we’re looking at the Huawei Mate 40 Pro. What new features does it bring?  Is it still the Android phone to beat?

Space Ring Design

The Mate 40 Pro’s design is pretty, attention-grabbing mainly because of this large circular camera bump. It’s reminiscent of a click-wheel iPod.

Huawei says it’s an evolution of the Halo Ring found on last year’s Mate 30. Called the Space Ring — it’s supposedly inspired by this first-ever photo of a black hole, reflecting Huawei’s spirit of exploration.

We prefer last year’s design. This one is a bit in your face. Although that’s probably because of the stark contrast with our Mystic Silver model.

The ceramic all-black model looks better in my opinion. Depending on your region there will also be Vegan Leather options available in Yellow and Green. And ceramic white.

Huawei is proud of this colorway though. It’s very similar to the Breathing Crystal P30 Pro — so much so that it changes color depending on where the light hits. Sometimes pink and yellow. Sometimes blue and purple. The finish though is matte instead of glossy.

It’s 6.76-inch OLED display is bigger than the Mate 30 Pro.  And as a result, the phone is too. It’s a much bigger phone than we expected. Not quite as big as the Note 20 Ultra but with a bit more heft to it.

Unique to this phone is a display that curves outward more than most phones, making it look like it has no borders on either side.

Instead of notch it’s got a punch hole for a selfie camera and a 3D sensor used for more secure Face Unlock. There’s also an under-display fingerprint scanner. Giving you two options to unlock your device. But do note that 3D Face Unlock is not as safe. For example it will work with a mask on.

It’s got the same red power button on its right hand side. And this year, Huawei brought back the volume rocker which it took away last year in favor of touch based virtual keys that let you tap on either side of the phone to bring up the volume slider. And swipe up and down on the frame to set control. This feature is still present on the Mate 40 Pro.

Stereo Speakers

We’ve seen it occasionally on other phones before, like the Mi 10 Pro from earlier this year. It’s really nice to see Huawei add stereo speakers on both sides to the Mate 40 Pro. Literally, there are speaker grilles on both its top and bottom.

Having audio come from both sides while watching a movie or playing a game makes the audio feel more immersive than just a bottom firing one. I can confirm that these are some of the loudest phone speakers I’ve tested recently. Not quite as loud as the LG V60. Huawei claims these speakers have stronger bass. But we didn’t notice it that much.

A leap in performance

The Mate 40 Pro is  the first Huawei smartphone — and possibly one of the last — to be powered by their new Kirin 9000 processor.  It’s a 5nm chip with an integrated 5G modem. Huawei says it has 15.3B transistors on it. 30% than the other 5nm chip Apple’s A14 Bionic.

Performance + Power Efficiency + Connectivity Vs  Snapdragon 865+ is as follows:  CPU 10% / 52% Faster  / NPU 2.4x Faster

Of course with any new chip there are bold statements about how much more powerful its CPU, GPU, NPU, and ISP are. And how much more battery efficient too. So no surprise that games run smoothly.

The phone’s got a 90Hz Display with a close to 4K panel. Huawei says this was intentional to deliver the best balance between battery life and performance. You can choose to have it dynamically switch between the two; or Ultra — having it on all the time.

Cinecamera

The Mate 40 Pro has a triple camera setup:

  • 50 MP, f/1.9, 23mm (wide), 1/1.28
  • 12 MP, f/3.4, 125mm (periscope telephoto), PDAF, OIS, 5x optical zoom
  • 20 MP, f/1.8, 18mm (ultrawide), PDAF
  • TOF 3D, (depth)

Let’s take a look at some samples. First its Main Wide Angle Camera.

No surprises here. Sunny day shots look great. No overblown highlights. Lots of details. Even the clouds are not mushy.

Of course, I love some creamy bokeh. And between its large sensor and fast f/1.9 lens you don’t need portrait mode for shots like this.

Speaking of portrait mode here’s one shot during the day and one at night. Both look great!

To gauge low light performance take a look at this colorful wall in between two buildings. The shot on the left was taken during the day. The shot on the right was taken at night without night mode.

Night Mode works with the Ultra Wide Angle lens ≠ I used it in this shot of the Brooklyn Academy of Music building.

But TBH it didn’t really need Night Mode. Here’s the same photo with night mode turned off.

Finally let’s take a look at the telephoto camera. I’m glad Huawei has scaled back on its efforts to zoom closer to 100X.

It’s 5X optical telephoto lens is sufficient.

As you can see in these 1x, 10x and 50x photos of the One Hanson Building in Downtown Brooklyn, you’ll find the 10X is still very good. While 50X is passable, but not something you’d post unless the subject was rare.

Two years ago the Mate blew its competitors out of the water with its ability to basically see in the dark. It’s interesting how competition has since caught up. The last few days here in New York have been rainy and gloomy so I have not been able to go out and test shoot some video.

Huawei says its Ultra Wide Cine Camera with its 3:2 ratio and XD Fusion HDR technology that lets you capture backlit video is a big improvement.

Finally the Mate 40 Pro has a 13MP ultra wide-angle selfie camera. With anti-distortion technology and Intelligent FOV finder which will detect if multiple people are in the shot and will adjust framing accordingly.

Whether they’re true to life or not, we love selfies taken on Huawei Phones.

When you first use portrait mode, you’ll be given the option to turn beauty mode on or off by default.  Here are some sample shots.

Battery & Charging

The Huawei Mate 40 Pro packs a 4400 mAh battery. In my few days reviewing the phone, it lasted me about a day and a half with average use. It also ships with a 66W charger out of the box. A very generous inclusion and possibly the fastest that comes bundled with a smartphone.

In my tests, I got to 33% in 10 minutes. 81% in 30.  A full charge from 0 took 55 minutes. The phone also supports Huawei’s optional 50W Wireless Charger.

Using this accessory. I got close to similar results: 26% in 10 minutes. 72% in 30. And a full charge in just a minute shy of an hour. (59 minutes)

As a point of comparison, Samsung’s Galaxy Note 20 Ultra comes with a 4500 mAh battery. And ships with a 25W Charger.

Got to 58% in 30 minutes. And 100% in 70.

The Note 20 Ultra only charges up to 15W wirelessly. With Samsung’s Wireless Charger. You can get to 22% in 30 minutes. And 100% in the double-time it takes to wireless charge the Mate 40 Pro. (120 minutes / 2 hours)

Emui 11 on a Mate

The Mate 40 Pro runs EMUI 11 based on Android 10. As EMUI 11 just rolled out, and given Huawei’s current relationship with Google this comes as no surprise.

One of my favorite software features the Mate 40 Pro is called Eyes on Display an improvement to the Always On Display feature on its phones. You know, when phone displays don’t dim all the way but show you the time, or date or a cool graphic.

To save on battery life Eyes on Display will dim the screen all the way. But will know when you’re looking at the phone. You don’t even need to move your head. Just move your eyes and look at the phone. And the Always On Display will turn on. It’s pretty cool I’ve gotta admit. Supposedly, this saves battery life as well.

Other cool features include smart gestures. New to the Mate 40 Series is being able to wave left and right to turn pages on an e-book or flip through photos in your gallery. Hands-free. But my favorite is the grab gesture to take a screenshot.

Is the Mate 40 Pro your GadgetMatch?

We hate that we’re in a situation where one of the world’s best smartphone manufacturers cannot compete on equal footing with the world’s best.

Huawei is doing its best to survive this political crisis, investing millions of dollars into its own App Ecosystem, it’s own operating System, and it’s own services like Petal Search and the upcoming Petal Maps.

But as it stands — one can’t overlook the lack of Google Play Services and how that affects the experience for everyday Android users.

And then there’s the fact that because of US restrictions — Huawei’s Chip Making Arm — responsible for the Kirin Processor might no longer be able to source the components it needs. Some fear Kirin 9000 might be its last hurrah.

There’s an uphill climb ahead. And hopefully there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

All these challenges aside, in a world where the lack of GMS wasn’t an issue. This is what we would have said about the Mate 40 Pro:

  • It’s a solidly-built, well designed smartphone.
  • We’re fans of the vegan leather options.
  • It’s an excellent flagship that balances performance, features and battery efficiency.
  • Its cameras are still excellent, but competition has finally caught up.
  • We think it’s fast wired and wireless charging features are game changing. And that in a world where more and more accessories are being left out of the box, it’s refreshing to get a 66W charger bundled.
  • And we think that its current price tiers starting at EUR 899/ PhP 55,999 is competitive vs the likes of Samsung and Apple.

In a perfect world, this phone would definitely be up there among the phones that we could wholeheartedly recommend. Here’s to hoping political challenges resolve themselves soon.

We are fans of Huawei phones no more than we are fans of Samsung Galaxies and Apple iPhones. But our stake in all of this is competition. Because that means more choice and better technology for us all.

The Huawei Mate 40 Pro retails for EUR 1199/PhP 55,999.

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Cyberpunk 2077 PC review: Looks can be deceiving

It lived up to the hype, then undid some of it

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Cyberpunk 2077

Last December 10, 2020, CD Projekt Red (CDPR) finally dropped its much awaited video game title for the past seven years. Set in the year 2077, this new open-world experience explores the possibilities of human existence with science at its core. Beneath all the scientific breakthroughs, an everlasting human conflict resides.

In my opinion, this is how the world of Cyberpunk 2077 seemingly positions itself as a video game. It prides itself as a sprawling open world, with a character-driven story of your own choosing. With a great deal of combat opportunities and side missions inherent to open world games, it shaped up according to the hype.

And then, I felt it’s hype go through a cycle of life and death as a game that’s just, well, good.

A promising start with every single new game

At the onset of starting a new save file, you’re given three life paths to choose from. For the majority of my playthrough, I simply went with the Street Kid since I felt it had the most to mess around with. If you’re up to it, you can also choose between the Nomad or Corpo life path, each with their own sets of storylines to unfold.

After you configure every physical aspect — yes, including the private parts — of your character named “V”, the game throws you into the action outright. It’s the usual get-a-feel-for-the-controls type of thing, which is par for the course if you ask me. From movement to combat styles, the game does its best at orienting you with how it works.

The game then proceeds to give you a rough six-hour prelude detailing events of V’s first mission with Jackie Welles. I say a rough six hours because the game already gives you a glimpse of just how open the world is to explore. You’re also introduced to a few side missions that ultimately influence the rest of your playthrough. Honestly, it’s a great start leading up to Act 1.

You shape the story, but you also don’t feel it?

After the prelude, you basically proceed however you like, which I felt wasn’t necessarily a bold thing that CDPR implemented. However, it complements the grander scheme of the open-world adventure through Night City. At this point, I thought that this would allow me to pour myself out into the lore.

But after nearly 45+ hours of gameplay, I just didn’t feel the story bringing me into its world. See, regardless of the life path you took, V goes on a quest to free himself of the engram of one Johnny Silverhand. After stealing Arasaka’s prized relic and injecting it into his brain, the character voiced by Keanu Reeves is basically seizing control of V.

For the most part, you are given choices in both dialogue and actions to help you steer the story. Much like other choice-driven storylines like in Until Dawn, there are so many ways the main story could end. Personally, I felt that the main culprit for this is the fact that side missions are integrated well into the main story at some points.

In essence, there’s no one clear way to end Cyberpunk 2077, and I just can’t seem to find myself drawn into that.

Combat and movement mechanics I can get behind

Now, I can wholeheartedly say that this game truly shines mostly due to how the gameplay mechanics worked out. This game took a whole page out of Grand Theft Auto, but added much greater incentives to keep you exploring all sorts of gameplay styles. I truly felt that the gameplay feels intricate, yet unique towards several situations.

Combat and stealth are the main attractions when you go around all of Night City. For the most part, this game gives you a ton of ways to practice combat and stealth through the side missions, which is pretty good.

Gunplay relies a little bit on crosshair placement, which you mostly see on competitive shooters. So, just be aware of where you’re aiming your gun.

Cyberpunk 2077

Moving around the overworld feels natural, along with driving around in the vehicle of your choice. Although, if I had one gripe with this game, it’s the physics for some of your actions and vehicles. For instance, how come you’re still standing when you jump out of a moving car? Or, how come some motorcycles are a literal chore to turn while driving? Sometimes, I like some realism in my open-world, futuristic games.

Incredible amounts of bodyhacking

Other key features in this game are a much more intricate skill tree and Cyberware enhancements. As a half-human, half-cyborg, you have access to a series of skills depending on which aspect of your character you want to focus on. Most skills you earn are combat and stealth based, and how often you use them increases its efficacy.

Personally, I admire this level of intricacy with CDPR’s approach to a character skill tree. Depending on how you want to progress through the story, there are a ton of ways you can go about upgrading certain skills. Also, this game offers unique dialogue options depending on how high your skill level is.

Cyberpunk 2077

When it comes to what I call the “bodyhacking” section, it’s also extensive. Basically, you can attach a bunch of cyberware mods to certain parts of your body to increase certain attributes. You can even apply it to your weapons and clothes, and it greatly complements the combat in certain situations. It’s honestly a lot to take in, but it doesn’t overwhelm you.

Visual spectacle? Not entirely, I suppose

As of the time I’m writing this, the game had six rounds of patches to address a ton of issues. In such a short amount of time, CDPR managed to make the PC version look a little better than how it was on launch day. However, it still doesn’t excuse the developers from those issues because, well, this game was well-hyped.

Now, I’ll admit that the visuals of this game are pretty impressive. Even when I turned a ton of graphical settings down because of my hardware, it still looks aesthetically pleasing. Honestly, I appreciate the colors and the textures a bit more during the night time segments of the game. Is that why they called the main location Night City?

But, it isn’t consistently great the longer, and the farther you get into the story. I had some gameplay plagued by textures loading later than usual, and items that just don’t show up. For instance, during combat, my weapons don’t show up when I try to draw them out — which somehow does not allow me to use them. Last-gen console players had it way worse, but at least for the PC, the visuals were great at times.

Was this really all worth seven years of waiting?

Cyberpunk 2077 had a promising start after seven years of being in total limbo. It presents itself as an open-world experience, centered around a technologically-advanced universe still plagued by human existence. With manageable combat and stealth mechanics, different life paths to explore, and an abundance of customization options, it sets you up quite nicely.

Cyberpunk 2077

But when you play this game long enough, and through six rounds of patches to fix several bugs and visual errors, it makes you think if it was truly worth the wait. Honestly, the story doesn’t draw you in, I felt I couldn’t fully resonate with any of the characters, and the aforementioned bugs slightly ruined the experience.

This isn’t the near-perfect game everyone was hyping it up to be, especially given the seven year wait. However, it’s still great for what it offers if you had planned to get this for the PC anyway.

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