India

Realme X review: Bang for the buck

Very little compromises

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Realme X is the phone that half of India has been talking about. The other half? They’re preoccupied with its competitor, Xiaomi’s Redmi K20, but that’s a topic for another day.

This phone from Realme is a lot of things. It’s the most premium smartphone they’ve made so far. There’s an OLED notchless 6.53” FullHD+ display, with a popup selfie cam tucked into the top frame. There’s also an in-display fingerprint sensor, a 48MP camera on the back, and more premium specs that are usually well out of this price range.

Gorgeous design

Despite its plastic back and frame, the Realme X is gorgeous. It’s not a small phone but it’s still pretty compact and comfortable enough to hold, though there’s no way you’ll be able to reach all corners of that gorgeous screen one-handed.

It comes also in two colors: Space Blue and Polar White, which is the same color as the limited Spider-Man edition we unboxed.

It’s one of the nicest displays in this price range, both outdoors and indoors. Because it’s an OLED screen, it boasts deep blacks with punchy saturated colors and as you’d expect, you can tweak it to be warmer or colder in the settings menu.

There is a bit of a chin but it’s not something that would bother anyone. It does help with an area to rest your thumb, with a slightly higher point to initiate those navigation gestures. So while it’s not truly bezel-less, it is still pretty darn gorgeous.

The back panel makes an S-shape reflection depending on how light hits it, similar to what we’ve seen on higher-end OPPO phones. This little detail helps it look way more expensive a device than it actually is.

High end features for not much money

The Realme X an under-display optical fingerprint scanner. It works and it’s fast. The scanner is placed a comfortable distance above the bottom of the display, and there’s a “lift to activate” feature that works well enough that the sensor is always ready for you when you pick up the phone. The phone unlocks quick enough, so no complaints here.

It’s worth mentioning that you can also set up face unlock instead of the fingerprint scanning, but I would advise against this. It’s fast but that would mean the pop-up selfie camera will have to keep popping up. The screen lights up to help in dim conditions, and you can set it to require your eyes to be open for the phone to unlock.

The pop-up camera module used to be exclusive to more expensive smartphones so it’s refreshing to see this feature in a phone of this price range. The module pops up whenever you open the camera app or trigger face unlock, and it is promised to be good for at least 200,000 actuation. Realme says the selfie camera is covered with sapphire glass as well for better durability.

The entire module will automatically retract when a fall is detected or if it senses you’re trying to manually push it in. 

The Realme X has a much-appreciated headphone jack, next to a USB-C port, a speaker grill for the loudspeaker, and a microphone. The down-firing speaker sounds decent but just as any phone with a similar placement you have to be careful not to block it when holding the phone. Sound output out of the headphone jack is also actually really, really good.

The Realme X is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 710, and comes in either 4GB, 6GB, or 8GB RAM variants, with either 64GB or 128GB of storage. For those who need more than that, there is, unfortunately, no microSD card slot.

The Realme X runs OPPO’s latest ColorOS 6.0 on top of Android 9.0 Pie. There are a few pre-installed apps out of the box, but you can uninstall them all if you don’t need them.

ColorOS 6.0 is similar to a lot of other skins we’ve seen, with an ever-changing magazine-type lock screen, that you can disable to a normal lock screen instead. Unlike previous versions, it also has a much-appreciated app drawer. The split-screen multitasking also gets an update: you can now swipe in from the side, and hold to switch between your two recently opened apps, which is a cool new gesture.

Realme X’s 3765 mAh battery can survive a day’s worth of medium-to-heavy usage. It also supports 20W VOOC 3.0, which charges the phone up to 50 percent in 30 minutes, or full in about an hour and 20.

Pretty good cameras

The main camera of the Realme X gives you a bunch of shooting modes to choose from. There’s an expert mode which consists of manual settings, as well as slo-mo, nightscape for low light shots, timelapse, and pano, for panoramic shots.

Nightscape works pretty well and is a long-exposure handheld mode for night photos, similar to Pixel’s Night Sight. 

The phone shoots photos at 12MP by default, but you can switch to 48MP in the settings menu. This will give you finer details, but I’d only advise doing this in good lighting.

There’s also AI scene recognition, which adjusts camera settings depending on what you’re taking a photo of — blue skies get bluer, plants and trees get greener.

Realme also gives you the option to toggle 2x zoom, but this essentially crops your photo since there’s no telephoto lens on the phone.

Another thing to note is the Chroma Boost toggle on one end of the viewfinder, next to flash and HDR settings. It’s an advanced HDR mode that takes a combination of images and offers further improvements in dynamic range and color reproduction.

Daytime photos taken with the Realme X can do no wrong, with a nice wide dynamic range, vivid colors, and high contrasts as well. Images retain a lot of detail, but I mostly left Chroma Boost and HDR modes switched off. The AI mode also does a good job detecting scenes and adjusting settings.

Take a look at these samples:

I wish I could say the same thing when it comes to low light performance. The phone tends to underexpose images every so often, but with nightscape, highlights and shadows become more manageable. This is, of course, understandable for a phone in this price range.

Portrait mode, however, is a different story. Realme X takes excellent portraits. Subject detection is one of the best in the price range, with subjects isolated with great precision, for very pleasing and impressive results overall.

Selfies taken on the Realme X are pretty good, although dimmer lighting results to a drop in sharpness and aggressive noise reduction. Even though the selfie camera has no depth sensor like the rear setup, it still does a good job isolating the subject and blurring the background. 

Is this your GadgetMatch?

Its competition includes the Vivo V15 Pro which has an ultrawide angle camera but costs more. And then there’s Xiaomi’s Redmi K20, but that phone has pros and cons of its own and is also priced a little higher than the Realme X. Realme also recently announced the Realme XT, which is equally equipped at the same price. 

There are a lot of reasons the Realme X is one of the most talked-about phones this year — a really nice notch-less display, solid battery life, and good cameras. The USB-C and audio ports are definitely a plus, too. With very little compromises starting at INR 16,999, this is simply one of the best value-for-money phones you can buy today. 

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Vivo U20 review: The most powerful budget phone right now

More capable than its Xiaomi and Realme counterparts

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In late September of 2019, vivo announced a new budget smartphone called the vivo U10. It was powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 665 — the same processor found on two of the most popular budget phones at that time: the Redmi Note 8 and the Realme 5.

Vivo’s entry into that very competitive price segment was a pretty good success. Just right after, competition came up with newer models at a slightly higher price segment and so did vivo with the slightly more premium U20.

With Snapdragon 675 running under the hood, the vivo U20 has a slight edge over its competition. But is there more to this phone? Here’s our full review.

Ordinary but solid design

With a 6.53-inch display, the Vivo U20 is a big phone that doesn’t feel bulky. It’s worth noting that vivo went with a full HD+ panel on the U20 instead of the HD+ panel found on the U10. The bump in resolution is much appreciated, as well as the wide viewing angles. The display is bright enough for outdoors or sunny days.

The front of the phone has an odd ridge against the curved frame, making it feel a little uncomfortable when you’re holding it, but it shouldn’t be an issue if you use the bundled case.

Its glossy back catches fingerprints quite easily. You’ll have to keep wiping it clean if you’re particular about smudges and grime, so the case definitely comes in handy.

You’ll find the vivo branding in landscape orientation, with the triple camera module and LED flash along the same line. There’s also the rear mounted fingerprint scanner. It’s smaller than what I’m used to and is placed a bit too high for comfortable use, but it works well and works fast.

On the right side of the phone are the power and volume buttons, and on the left is the hybrid SIM card tray for two nano SIM cards or one SIM card and one microSD card. At the bottom a 3.5mm headphone jack, loudspeaker grille, microphone, and sadly, a microUSB port.

The Vivo U20 is available in two colors: Racing Black and and Blaze Blue. The unit we have is Racing Black.

Capable gaming phone at such a good price

The vivo U20’s internals are actually pretty impressive. The Snapdragon 675 is a pretty powerful processor, especially at this price point. It’s able to handle multi-tasking and gaming with no lag or issues at all. It’s interesting to see vivo come out with it at the same price point as the Redmi Note 8 and Realme 5, which are powered by the much less capable Snapdragon 665.

Coupled with either 4GB or 6GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage, gaming with the U20 is a good experience. I played PUBG Mobile on the high preset with graphics set to HD, and frame rate set to high; and hey, I had zero issues — no lag, no stutters.

Just like other phones running on Snapdragon 675, it does get a little warm when you’re playing games after about 20 or so minutes.

Ultra Game mode lets you block incoming notifications and automatically answer phone calls in hands-free mode when you’re playing games. There’s also an off-screen Autoplay feature which lets you run a game even with the display switched off.

Nifty software features you’ll either love or hate

The vivo U20 runs Funtouch OS 9.2 on top of Android 9 Pie out of the box. There a little bit of bloatware pre-installed like Gaana, Amazon, Opera, and a couple more, but you can easily uninstall most of them.

FunTouch OS is something you’ll either love or hate depending on your preference. If you’ve used it before you’ll be familiar with the slight oddities. Otherwise there are a few things you’ll need to get used to that’s not found on other Android smartphones.

For example, you’ll need to swipe up from the bottom of the screen to access the quick toggles which is the exact opposite of the action on every other Android smartphone. If that’s not to your liking, you change it to a swipe down from the upper right corner of the phone — similar to how it is on iOS.

There’s also vivo’s smart assistant Jovi which can recognize products you point the camera at. It can also remind you to drink water every day so you don’t have to install a third party app. Overall, it’s not really much more useful than Google Assistant.

A few features I like are raise-to-wake, the ability to launch apps by drawing alphabets on the lockscreen, and a Motorbike mode. There’s also dark mode and gesture navigation.

Average camera performance

The vivo U20 has a triple camera setup: a 16MP primary camera with a Sony IMX499 sensor, 8MP ultra wide angle lens and a 2MP macro lens. Up front, there’s a 16MP selfie camera.

Vivo’s camera app is hasn’t changed much recently. It has a variety of modes, including night mode, portrait mode, live photo, AR stickers, along with the usual timelapse and panorama. There’s also a pro mode for those who like to tweak their camera settings.

 

The vivo U20 is quick to focus and handles exposure well. Daytime images look pretty good in the gallery app. You’ll notice that they do suffer in terms of details when you zoom into them. There’s a tiny bit of grain that sweeps into each photo as well.

Portrait photos has pretty good edge detection. Photos come out with a good amount of detail and a natural level of bokeh. There’s also a separate bokeh mode where you can adjust the level of blur. The results are pretty good, too.

The ultra wide angle camera suffers from the same distortion at the edges and lack of details that we see on other phones at this price range.

Low light photos aren’t great unfortunately. There’s a real lack of details and a lot of grain. The dedicated night mode does help get brighter images, but they aren’t that much better. There’s also no image stabilization so you’ll want to stay really still if you’re using the night mode to take photos.

Great battery life

The vivo U20 is powered by a massive 5,000 mAh battery, and that translates to great battery life. You can use this phone for a day and a half on a single charge before you’ll need to reach for the charger.

On a day of heavy usage, with a bit of gaming, a couple shots on the camera, and the usual bits of social media and Whatsapp, I still had plenty of battery life percentage left when I got home at the end of the day.

Despite the gigantic battery, charging the U20 doesn’t take too long either. The bundled 18W Dual-Engine fast charger got the phone up from zero to over 30 percent in half an hour, reaching about 60 to 70 percent in one hour. A charge to 100 percent takes about an hour and 45 minutes.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

No one expected vivo to come out of nowhere and suddenly be this strong of a contender in this aggressive entry-level price segment. This is a company that lately have been pumping out more expensive smartphones, and what we have here is an entry level smartphone that is pretty premium for its price.

Its powerful processor and great battery life are great; if only the camera were better. And if we are to nitpick, we would have loved to not have seen a microUSB port on this phone.

If you’re on a budget and are looking for the most powerful phone in the INR 10,990 price range (US$ 155), the Vivo U20 is your best option right now.

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Amazon to invest $1 billion in India’s small businesses

Jeff Bezos is convinced it’s time to double down

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Jeff Bezos is visiting India and Amazon has organized a conference to announce their plans and goals for the regional market. Dubbed “Smbhav”, it’s a collaborative event for small and medium businesses and will see the participation of senior industry executives.

Bezos said the global online retailer will invest US$ 1 billion in digitising India’s small and medium businesses. He also said the company is eyeing scaling locally produced products from India — in line with the Make in India program — to be of US$ 10 billion size on Amazon platform by 2025.

“We are doing this now because it is working. And when something works you should double down on it,” Bezos said.

The news comes just after the Competition Commission of India (CCI), started an investigation into anti-competitive practices of Amazon and its Walmart-owned rival Flipkart earlier this week.

An Amazon executive said the company has amassed over 500,000 sellers in India and thousands of merchants in the country who are selling on 12 Amazon marketplaces around the world.

India is a lucrative market for internet companies because of extremely cheap data rates and easy availability of affordable smartphones. With a population of 1.3 billion people, the potential is unmatchable. Especially because China’s markets are closed by an internal firewall and the developed markets are highly saturated.

The country is Amazon’s largest bet outside its home market and currently at the cutting edge of digital payments. In India, Amazon is able to set up a highly scaled operations unit, ensuring lower costs and better reach.

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POCO is now officially an independent brand

No longer affiliated with Xiaomi

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Xiaomi has announced it’s spinning off POCO as an independent brand. This means the brand will now operate on its own. POCO started in 2018 as a sub-brand of Xiaomi and the parent company has decided to bring in structural changes.

POCO branding is active in India while all other markets get Pocophone. The brand is famous for its POCO F1, an affordable phone that packs a flagship-grade processor. The phone’s arrival created a completely new category of smartphones that are built to be inexpensive, yet offer unmatchable speed.

However, POCO took the backseat in 2019 while Xiaomi rained the markets with Redmi branded phones. Fans have been asking about POCO F1’s successor ever since and the parent company consistently stayed silent about the sub-brand’s future.

Rival brand Realme was also formed as an independent company but is able to leverage OPPO’s infrastructure as “partners”. Having complete independence, the company can operate on its own and decide its own strategy. This structural divide let Realme form a new identity and within no time, it reckoned with Xiaomi as India’s leading mobile vendor.

There were reports in the second half of 2019 that suggested Xiaomi might ditch the POCO brand completely. It’s safe to say that isn’t happening anymore. POCO’s social media handles have been actively announcing discounts and deals on the POCO F1, suggesting a new product could be on the way soon.

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