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

Reviews

Nike Air Max 2090 review: Incredibly comfortable everyday sneakers

Really cool, too 😎

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The 2090 is the latest in Nike’s Air Max line. It’s supposed to be related to the Air Max 90 — but more futuristic — hence the name Air Max 2090. In fact, you’ll actually see that Nike maintained many key aspects of the Air Max 90 in this shoe as we go along.

The Air Max 90 of course first dropped in 1990, exactly 30 years ago. The new Air Max 2090 retails at US$ 150, which is higher than what we usually pay for, but Nike is positioning this as a premium lifestyle sneaker.

Even though the Air Max series is historically meant as a running shoe, and Nike is kind of loosely pitching this as a performance shoe, the Air Max 2090 is still a lifestyle shoe.

Design and construction

What I have is the launch colorway, pure platinum, but the Air Max 2090 also comes in a whole bunch of colors including a really cool ice Blue colorway, volt green and blue, and fuchsia purple and yellow.

If you want something really low-key there are all-white and all-black versions as well. If you want something more similar to the OG Air Max 90 colorways, there is a Duck Camo Air Max 2090.

Starting with the upper, it’s mostly covered by translucent mesh. The mesh is pretty lightweight and somewhat see-through. I actually really like this because it means whatever socks you wear under this shoe will slightly change the look of the shoe, which is pretty cool.

This textile liner goes right up against your feet, and generally feels okay but doesn’t really have as much stretch as Nike’s flyknit uppers.

Towards the toe box area there’s an additional layer of protection to prevent your toenails from poking through the mesh, and it has a slightly glossy finish to distinguish itself.

You’ll see a similar kind of fused overlay near the lacing area, surrounding the eyelets, to strengthen the durability of the upper. It’s also accented with a neat cyan blue stitching that I really like.

The lacing and eyelets are in a loop style mechanism where the black, flat laces intertwine through them.

Underneath the laces, there’s black mesh tongue, which has a strange rubberized ring inside a diagonal cutout, the Nike swoosh, and the lowercase air logo which are cut off halfway. This is a weird design element and I’m not really sure what it’s supposed to do, but it looks cool — kind of.

Coming to the inside of the shoe, there’s a black sock-liner and you’ll notice it’s a one piece, internal bootie construction, and the tongue is attached.

The insoles are the usual Air Max insoles, which are in black, and with 2090 printed on top towards the heel and the Nike swoosh in cyan.

Moving on to the mid-panel, there’s a black Nike swoosh outline that is embedded within the outer layer. Like the Air Max 90, the swoosh here is slightly cut off at the bottom, which is accented with this red stitching.

The red stitching is on the mud-guard, which is another element borrowed from the original Air Max 90, but this time around it’s a white synthetic plastic material which runs across both sides of the shoe. Towards the back of this area, there’s an air logo in lowercase and cut off halfway.

The back of the shoe has a ton of padding on the heel. The foam padding definitely adds to the comfort of this shoe, but it’s also rigid enough to give support to the back of your heel, and help with a secure heel lock.

On the outside of the heel area, there’s another mesh-like finish, this time in black, covered with a rubberized heel-tab bumper with grooves that protrude out, which is another element reminiscent of the Air Max 90. You’ll also notice the air and swoosh logos within.

Above that, you have this bright red pull-tab rope loop, which is in the same color as the accent on the mudguard.

Coming to the midsole, it’s pretty chunky with a white colored foam on the forefoot, and a thick air unit towards the heel. It feels like the React foam but Nike has not mentioned it anywhere so there’s no way to be sure if they are similar.

The Air window on the back is 200 percent bigger than the standard Air Unit used before on the Air Max 90, and it’s housed within this silver-colored TPU shell that has the same ridge pattern as the heel-tab on the back of the shoe.

Coming to the outsole, it’s made of a grey rubber with grooves on the forefoot that are similar to the waffle outsole on the Air Max 90. This groove pattern was meant to give you better flexibility with the shoe, and they seem to allow just that.

Towards the very top of the toe area, there’s another hint of cyan, with the Nike Air Max logo towards the center of the outsole, and the Nike swoosh towards the heel area.

Fit and Comfort

Coming to fit, the Nike Air Max 2090 seems to fit true-to-size. I’ll give you the usual disclaimer that if you’re like me and you have wide feet, you might want to go up half a size since these do run a little narrow and the upper isn’t very stretchy, but they’re also long so you end up with more space in the toe box area.

In terms of comfort, these were actually surprisingly really comfortable to wear. They’re a lot more comfortable than the OG Air Max 90, or even the newer Air Max 270s.

The combination of that huge Air Unit and the secret foam Nike is using here makes for a shoe that has great, soft cushioning. This shoe is actually incredibly comfortable to wear and I think these would actually make great everyday wear sneakers.

Is this your SneakerMatch?

Nike has made a lot of Air Max shoes over the years but I really do feel like this is the best Air Max we’ve seen in years.

Not only is it one of the most comfortable Air Max shoes, it’s also a really cool-looking shoe. I love how they made all these tiny little callbacks to the OG Air Max 90.

Nike has been killing it with their sneaker releases lately and I think this is just another great shoe in the collection.

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Accessories

Redmi 9A review: A match for online learning

Does everything you expect it to

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We recently reviewed another budget phone and gauged how well it would do as a student’s companion for distance learning. Seeing as the Redmi 9A fits squarely in that peg, we’re going to do the exact same thing.

This might seem like a cop out way to test the device, but given everything that’s happening, it also seems appropriate.

The status of the pending school year in the Philippines seems like it’s up in the air at the moment. Regardless, if you still choose to equip the young student in your family with a smartphone for online learning, can the Redmi 9A play that role?

Baseline specs

Let’s first see how it stacks up specs-wise to the minimum specs requirement laid out by the Education Department of the Philippines.

Distance Learning, Smartphone Minimum Tech Specs Redmi 9A 
Processor Octa-core 2 GHz MediaTek Helio G25

(Octa-core 2 Ghz)

Memory 2GB 2GB
Display 6”, IPS LCD 6.53”
Storage 32GB 32GB
Network GSM / HSPA / LTE

Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n

Bluetooth

Dual 4G

Wi-Fi

Bluetooth

Ports Micro USB or Type C, 3.5mm Audio Jack Micro USB port, 3.5mm Audio Jack
OS Android 8.1 Android 10, MIUI 12

 

We asked a teacher some questions about how this smartphone will be used by the student in a distance learning setup. Answers have been edited for brevity.

What will students need to access for distance learning?

It depends on the platform the school will use. These can be Google Classroom, Edmodo, Zoom, etc. But certainly, the most accessed sites will be Google and Wikipedia.

Facebook and Messenger may also be used for communication and publishing of some projects. However, this is also dependent on the teacher handling the class.

What are the must have apps? 

Youtube, Google Apps (Docs, Sheets, Slides) or any office app, Dictionary, A notepad app, Web browser, and Email.

How long will they need to be on the phone?

Our planned schedule will start at around 9AM and will end at around 2PM. That’s five 45-minute classes with 15 minutes of break in between. There’s also a 30-minute lunch break at 11:45AM. It may vary from day-to-day but that’s the general plan.

This also does not yet include consultation time. For us, we’ll do 15 minutes at the start and at the end of the day to help make-up for the interaction that will be lost due to the nature of an online class.

Any final notes? 

It’s certainly possible to have online classes despite the student only having a smartphone. Given of course that the smartphone can access everything mentioned previously.

Usually for lectures, the students will only really have to listen to the lectures on video. The teacher can opt to pre-record the classes and make it available for on-demand viewing so the students can access it even after class hours. The rest of the activities will be handled offline and be disseminated via communication apps.

How does the Redmi 9A handle the activities mentioned?

The Redmi 9A almost looks like it’s the exact phone that the Education Department had in mind when they drafted the minimum requirements specs. It fits every spec to a T. So how does it perform?

Like most Android phones, a lot of the Google apps mentioned by the teacher already come pre-installed. And they’ve been optimized to run smoothly on the device’s configuration.

Curiously, the MediaTek G25 struggled a bit more overall compared to the MediaTek G35 on the previous budget phone I put through this test. Although, this could also be a function of the skin (MIUI 12) making things feel slower than it ought to be.

For the record, MIUI 12 is actually one of my favorite Android skins. It’s little design decisions make a lot of sense to me.

For instance, the animation for recent apps is unlike any other Android skin. Instead of making you go left to right to switch, the apps are arranged vertically and you continue with the up-down motion you started with when decided to jump from one app to another.

But as far as apps go, Google is your best friend if you want to maximize budget phones.

Lite apps should be your go to

Budget phones are light on power so it’s prudent to go for Lite apps to not put too much stress on your phone.

Facebook, Twitter, Messenger, and even Spotify all have lite versions. You still get most of what you need from these apps without hogging too much memory.

Same is true for gaming apps. While looking for more Lite apps to use, I found PUBG Lite. It’s gonna eat over 500mb of storage but if you’re really into first-person shooters, this is probably the app to download.

Battery fared nicely

At 5000mAh this thing has plenty of juice. It also helps that it doesn’t have any exorbitant features to support thereby extending the battery life even further.

I simulated the 9AM to 2PM video on demand class sessions by letting the phone marathon through a bunch of YouTube videos. After 6 hours and 23 minutes, I ended up at 68% from a full charge.

Yes, that’s Heejin. Stan LOONA.

Absolutely no issues here. This phone should be able to keep up with you for a day and then some.

Good build quality

This is again one of the more pleasant surprises here. The last time I used a budget phone extensively was about half a decade ago. It felt nowhere near this good.

The Redmi 9A feels sturdy and not the type that will break after a fall or two. Unlike yours truly. It’s hard to see on the black variant but it also has this tiny concentric circle design thing going on at the back. Much like the one found on the Redmi 9.

Fair post-processing on photos

You’re not gonna blow minds with the 13MP rear and 5MP front-facing cameras on this thing. But it does what it’s supposed to. To make sure you get good photos make sure you have a decent light source.

These were taken in the afternoon near a window.

This one was when it’s about to turn into night time.

Is the Redmi 9A an online learning GadgetMatch?

I was really skeptical about the specs laid out by the Education Department. However, this test with the Redmi 9A proved that as far as the necessities go, this gets the job done.

If you’re able to spend more, that’s great. But for people who absolutely can only spend under PhP 5,000 (US$ 100), this is a good enough choice. The Redmi 9A retails for PhP 4590 (US$ 93) and it’s already capable of a lot without forcing you to spend too much.

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Accessories

OPPO Enco W31: Works as advertised

Nothing fancy. Just right

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Everyone’s getting in on the TWS earphones game and OPPO is no different. One of their latest releases is the OPPO Enco W31 and it seems to be geared towards the more budget conscious.

I’ve been very privileged in that most of the TWS earphones I have tried thus far have been more on the premium end. We even had a three-way battle between TWS earphones from top smartphone manufacturers.

That was actually a pretty close tussle. But the thing is, all of those were priced north of PhP 5,000 (around US$ 100). If you’re not willing to shell out as much, what are your options?

So far from what we’ve reviewed, the Redmi Earbuds S appears to be a solid choice. That one doesn’t follow the stem design popularized by Apple’s Airpods. If that’s what you’re looking for but for much less, that’s where the OPPO Enco W31 comes in.

‘Airpods’ look 

I have mixed feelings about this stem design. On one hand, it’s clear what all the other manufacturers are trying to be. They’re just reinforcing the idea that Apple is the gold standard instead of blazing their own trail.

On the other, as long as it works and the stems are there for a reason, we can’t really complain too much, can we?

Which is the case for the OPPO Enco W31. Double tapping on the stem of the left earbud will shift the mode from Balanced to Bass and vice versa. Meanwhile, a double tap on the stem of the right earbud will skip to the next.

Triple tapping either stem will trigger the Google Assistant so you can ask stuff like “How is the Philippines handling the Coronavirus pandemic?” You will then get factual information and not the propaganda that the powers-that-be want you to believe. I digress.

The controls, while limited, work as advertised. They’re responsive and rarely did I have any trouble switching modes, skipping to the next truck, or summoning the trusty Google Assistant.

Clamshell case, box inclusions

The similarities with the Airpods pretty much ends with the stem look. First off, it opts for an in-ear design. It helps in making the earphones feel snug in your ears as well as add to some form of noise-cancelling.

Upon opening the box, it already does a great job of reminding you that it’s an OPPO product. Right smack in the middle is the clamshell case with the OPPO logo dead center.

Elsewhere in the box you’ll find the user guide, warranty card, the USB-C cable, and some spare eartips. The usual stuff.

The clamshell case, I thought, was a curious design case. Up until this one, most of the cases for stemmed TWS earphones are vertically oriented. One where the stem is buried deep in the case and you pull it out to take it from the case.

The clamshell case opens like, well, a clamshell. It also reminds of the compact that girls carry around. The way the earphones sit on the case makes it more difficult than usual to pry it off.

It’s magnetic, sure, but the spaces around it weren’t big enough for my stubby fingers to easily lift the earphones from the case. It also didn’t help that I’m such a klutz that I kept dropping the earphones as I tried to take them from the case.

It’s a minor gripe, but one that can certainly be improved upon.

Sound quality is okay 

This is where I think the most compromise was made. It’s by no means terrible, but it certainly is not in the level of the three more premium TWS headphones we tested (Airpods, Galaxy Buds+, Freebuds 3).

With the only other mode other than Balanced being Bass, the earphones definitely favor the bass. In fact, there’s little difference between the two modes. It’s noticeable, for sure. But the Balance mode lacks the crisp and clarity one would expect from a setting that’s supposed to be balanced.

It’s a little unfair that I’m comparing it to more expensive devices, but at the moment that’s my only gauge. But I would like to emphasize that it isn’t bad at all. It’s certainly better than even the wired ones that are bundled with phones.

There’s another TWS on my to-review list that I expect to be similarly priced to this. With that, I can have a better bar in terms of gauging the sound quality.

Despite not sounding as crisp as it’s more expensive counterparts, it does sound better than even some wired headphones I’ve tried in the past. I used my trusty playlist for audio testing again and it’s able to do that left-to-right thing that some tracks implement.

Jamming to other tunes will get you vibing too. The in-ear design boxes you in and it does get more than loud enough so you’re really immersed in what you’re listening to.

Call quality a mixed bag

So I called two friends and they had different feedback regarding how I sounded during the calls.

The first one said I sounded like I’m calling from a metallic room. It was echoey and the reverb just didn’t sound good.

The second person I called had a more positive feedback. She said I sounded pretty clear. Initially, she thought I had put her on speaker phone. But when I said I was using TWS earphones, she said the sound was clean and clear. Not what she was expecting.

Battery life is impressive

Just like the controls, the battery life on this thing is as good as advertised. It says up to 10 hours of playback with the earphones alone and up to 30 hours with the charging case.

USB-C port to charge the OPPO Enco W31

I typically used it for about three to four hours each day for a little under 10 days. I haven’t charged it since the initial juice up right before I began the testing phase.

Is this your GadgetMatch? 

If you’re looking at the OPPO Enco W31 as your first pair of TWS earphones, I’d say you’re in for a treat.

The controls and battery life work as advertised. The in-ear design helps keep you immersed in what you’re listening to. Sound quality may not be stellar but it’s par for the course for the price it commands.

If this is your first step to free yourself from the entanglement of wires, know that you’re getting a solid pair of TWS earphones.

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