Reviews

Redmi 8A Review: Too much for too little

There’s no competition!

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When Xiaomi announced the Redmi 8 series, it’s banking on it to take on Realme as well as Samsung. Expectations are high and there’s no room for error in a competitive market. I’ve been using the Redmi 8A for quite some time now and even though it’s an entry-level phone, the experience of using it is far from it.

With a starting price of just INR 6,499 (US$ 92), it has to continue its predecessor’s legacy as well as make a mark for itself. Has Xiaomi cut any corners to keep the price low? Can this phone be your GadgetMatch?

It has a shockingly huge battery

The phone comes with a 5000mAh battery, a feature we have yet to see in phones that cost 10x more. I was able to get at least two days of heavy usage on a single charge. With this, you’ll never have to worry about carrying external power packs since the phone itself acts like one. Though the huge battery does make it slightly bulky, the overall user experience remains unhindered due to a lighter polycarbonate design.

It supports 18W fast charging and can be fully charged in less than two hours. Xiaomi is targeting developing markets like India with this phone and there are still places where electricity supply is spotty and unreliable. For users in these towns, this phone makes a lot of practical sense because you don’t need to be hooked onto a power socket. If you have a flagship phone, the Redmi 8A can make an excellent secondary offering as well.

A design we’ve never previously seen in this segment

We don’t expect an entry-level phone to have any focus on design, but Xiaomi has been clever and added tiny circular contours on the back that look different and make the phone grippy. Unlike other plasticky phones, the material here is hard and there are no flimsy corners or sides. The phone feels like a brick in hand, but with slightly curved sides on the back that makes it comfortable to hold. Competing phones come nowhere close to the build quality of the Redmi 8A.

My unit is called “Sunset Red” and actually features a red-orangish gradient. The gradient isn’t very easily visible but adds a nice touch to the overall design.

The volume rockers and power buttons are located on the left side and are sturdy. There’s a satisfying click to them and definitely, don’t feel cheap. The SIM tray is on the right and obviously, there’s dual SIM support. Additionally, there’s a dedicated microSD card slot for expandable storage.

I’m glad Xiaomi took the lead and added and a USB-C port for charging and data transfer. The port is widely used now and extremely convenient. Don’t worry though, a 3.5mm headphone jack has also been included and the two ports sit on the bottom, along with the speaker grill. The speaker is sufficiently loud and I wouldn’t expect anything more considering the price.

On the front is a 6.2-inch LCD display with HD+ resolution and a tiny water-drop notch. It is quite bright and usable under direct sunlight. Colors are vibrant and the screen is protected by Gorilla Glass 5. The glass is slightly raised and a small plastic layer protects the glass against accidental drops. The chin has been cut slightly and sports the Redmi branding.

The same camera sensor as on the Pixel 4

Yep, you read that right. The Redmi 8A’s rear camera sports an IMX363 sensor that’s capable of shooting pictures up to 12-megapixel. Obviously, the Pixel-series has an edge because of Google’s algorithms and processing experience. However, the Redmi 8A shoots above-average pictures with a lot of room for improvement.

In well-lit conditions, the pictures are more on the softer side and dynamic range is often blown out. Focusing is extremely slow and it’s better if you don’t just point and shoot. However, with a little more effort you can definitely take some good pictures. The process would involve manually tapping, adjusting exposure, and selecting the HDR mode. This makes the overall shooting experience slow and tedious.

With a single-sensor, portrait pictures are hard to come by since edge detection is really bad. Low-light shots are decent, but there is a lot of noise. Thankfully, the AI mode does a good job of improving colors in well-lit conditions and often helps in taking difficult shots.

The front has an 8-megapixel selfie shooter and the in-built beauty mode is aggressive by default. Make sure your hands are steady because even a slight movement will mess up the picture.

All that’s fine, can it play PUBG?

Powering the phone is a Snapdragon 439 chipset that has four cores clocked at 1.95GHz and four cores at 1.45GHz. This is coupled with an Adreno 505 GPU and 2GB RAM in the base variant. For day-to-day usage, the processor is efficient and can get all tasks done without a hiccup. For better multi-tasking, it’s recommended you go for the 3GB option.

Games like PUBG are playable with decent frame rates, but overall experience is underwhelming. Although I wouldn’t expect an entry-level phone to kick ass. This phone isn’t built for graphics intensive games and is targeted towards users who need basic requirements to be fulfilled. Most apps like Instagram, Chrome, Google Maps, and Spotify run smooth. As a media consumption device, the phone excels with flying colors.

It ships with MIUI 10 out-of-the-box and it offers some cool functionality that’ll be beneficial to the end-user. This includes an app cloner, heavily customizable UI, smooth gestures, and face unlock support. Since there’s no fingerprint scanner for authentication, face unlock is the only practical option and it’s quite fast.

Keep in mind, this authentication method is less secure and you shouldn’t rely on it for top-notch security. MIUI 10 is filled with bloatware and ads in the System UI, something that’s fairly common across all affordable Redmi-branded phones. The haptic response is on point and the overall experience is smooth and fast. Xiaomi has invested some time in optimizing the UI and this extracts maximum bang for the buck.

Is the Redmi 8A your GadgetMatch?

If you’re on a strict budget, the Redmi 8A should be your first choice. It’s quite surprising how Xiaomi has managed to offer so much, for so little. The design is superb, display is on point, and battery is phenomenal. It fulfills all the requirements, considering how affordable the phone is, without any major shortcomings. Many may find the camera to be lukewarm, but come on, you still won’t get a comparable phone at this price.

Xiaomi has perfectly managed its portfolio and if you need more, like a fingerprint scanner, dual cameras, and better performance, the Redmi 8 is for you. At its price, there’s no other phone worth considering than the Redmi 8A.

Accessories

Huawei Freebuds 3 review: Best value wireless earbuds

Everything works as advertised

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True wireless earbuds with noise-cancellation sprouted like crazy in 2019. Not to be outdone, Huawei, along with a few other wearables, launched the Freebuds 3. And these earbuds are actually pretty darn good.

Comfy fit, on the fence about the look

Let’s get it out of the way before anything else. The Huawei Freebuds 3 looks a lot like Apple’s Airpods. In fact, the entire Freebuds line has looked like this since it’s first iteration.

But is it fair to reduce it as simply an AirPods knockoff? Not quite.

Looks-wise, I kind of get why they went with this design. Not everyone’s a fan of in-ear earbuds. Some feel they are too invasive.

I can definitely say that the in-ear ones feel more secure but the Freebuds can cling onto your ear just fine. The only time I saw one fall off was during a Huawei demo but that was only because a dancer wore it and she was moving pretty intensely.

Also, perhaps the only way to put all the tech that Huawei managed to pack in the Freebuds 3 is to have them look the way they do now. I’m personally not too wild about it, but that’s just me.

Noise-cancelling all star 

Speaking of “all the tech” in these earbuds, at the heart of it is the Kirin A1 chip. Made specifically for wearables, this is what enables a lot of what makes these earbuds great.

Chief of those features is the intelligent noise cancellation. I’m quite skeptical about noise cancellation claims especially on wireless earbuds, but the Freebuds 3 performs just about as good as advertised.

It doesn’t quite shut you out of your environment the way noise-cancelling headphones do. However, it does it well enough that your attention won’t easily be taken away when you have these on even when you’re in a crowded area.

The noise cancellation is still a tier and a half below the Sony WF-1000XM3 which I consider to be a superstar in that department. That said, the Freebuds 3 still does an awesome job and should be more than enough for most users.

Surprising bass, fantastic sound quality

The default bass setting on the Freebuds 3 is such a pleasant surprise. Coupled with the noise cancellation, it gives you such a full sound that if you close your eyes you’d almost feel like you’re surrounded by the music you’re listening to.

I wasn’t even playing bass heavy tracks when I noticed this. I was in a bit of a slow jams mood while trying these earbuds out and listened to tracks like Nice and Slow by Usher and I Wanna Know by Joe and man, the bass was really banging in a really good way.

This level of bass can be achieved in other true wireless earbuds but they’re usually not turned on by default. On the Freebuds 3, there isn’t any option to tweak the sound quality but I don’t imagine anyone needing to do this.

There is significant leak out of the audio though when you turn the volume to maximum. But I never felt the need to do this. Only tried it for the heck of it.

Easy pairing and controls

Pairing these are pretty straightforward, you only need to hold the button on the case for about two to five seconds to enter pairing mode. Make sure the case’s lid is open.

It’s even easier when your using a device that already has EMUI10. It’ll automatically find the Freebuds 3 once you pop the lid open. Similar to how Samsung Galaxy phones quickly detect the Galaxy Buds.

Controls are straightforward. Double tap on the left to turn on/off noise cancelling, tap on the right to play or pause, and double tap to skip to the next track. You can switch this up on the Huawei AI Life but that’s about the level of tweaking you can do on these.

I paired our review unit with both the iPhone 11 Pro and the Huawei P30 Pro. It’s worth noting that at the moment, you won’t be able to make these control changes on the Huawei AI Life/Smart Home app on iOS. Then again, if you’re using an iPhone, you’ll probably just get an AirPods or AirPods Pro anyway.

Is the Freebuds 3 your GadgetMatch? 

There’s a lot to love with the Freebuds 3. The noise cancellation is pretty good, sound quality is superb, and the carrying case is small enough to be pocketable but not too small that they’re easy to misplace.

The battery is also pretty darn good. I’ve only had to charge it once in my week with the device. Speaking of charging, you can do so through a USB-C cable which comes with the device on the box or through wireless charging.

My only real gripe is how it looks. I’m still not a fan of how Apple has normalized wireless earbuds with stems sticking out. I find it frustrating that it’s now somehow considered trendy and fashionable.

That said, if you like rocking these types of earbuds, that’s completely fine. Live and let live, right? But part of me is hoping the next version has a different look. These do come in two colors: Ceramic Black and Carbon White so you can at least go with the black one if you think the white looks too much like a knockoff.

The Freebuds 3 is priced as follows: UK (GBP 147), Singapore (SG$ 238), Philippines (PhP 8,990), Malaysia (MY R679). That’s very competitive considering everything you get. These might just be the value upper tier true wireless earbuds with noise cancellation. Everything works as advertised and that is truly satisfying.

If you’re looking to splurge a little for a better audio experience, either for you or as a gift for someone else, then it’s hard not to recommend the Freebuds 3.

SEE ALSO: Huawei Freebuds 3: Give the gift of freedom this holiday season

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Reviews

Huawei Watch GT 2: Two-week battery life is real

You’ll forget that you need to charge it

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Having a smartwatch that shows you notifications and tracks your activities are all well and useful, although the fact that you need to charge them daily could be tedious for some. This is because most models only have batteries that are good for a day’s work.

Sure, you have hybrid watches that last longer but with limited features. What Huawei did with the first Watch GT was to offer a smartwatch but with a battery life that can last you two weeks. They intend to keep this up with this new model but with more useful features. Let’s take a look at what it now offers.

It comes in either 42mm or 46mm variants

Bigger model has more features and longer battery life

Has a double crown design…

Sports an AMOLED touchscreen

And a number of available straps

No extra tools needed to change straps

Watch faces are available for personalization

Feel like going digital or analog for the day?

For the design department, the Watch GT has a sporty look going on but is also sleek enough to be worn during meetings and even semi-formal gatherings. In addition to the different watch faces you can select, its interchangeable strap makes it even easier to complement your look so you can mix and match depending on the occasion.

If you’re looking at the Watch GT 2 to help track your activities, then you’d want to go for the bigger 46mm model since it’s loaded with more sensors than the 42mm variant.

Your personal workout tracker

Detects your workout and logs your personal records

Real-time heart rate monitor

Know when your workout is effectively burning calories

Scientific coaching for running courses

No need for a personal coach!

Sleep tracker identifies common sleep-related issues

Huawei Health even provides suggestions to help you sleep better

Stress/pressure monitoring

Maintain a balanced lifestyle to keep stress levels on the down-low

Take it out, get it wet

Water-resistant up to 50 meters for 10 minutes

Multiple sport modes

Since you can take it for swimming, it has its own multi-sport modes that come in handy for serious athletes. It has Triathlon mode that records data from swimming, cycling, and running. It even calculates your personal transition time from one activity to the next.

If you’re into hiking, you’d be glad to know that the Watch GT 2 has a barometer to measure your altitude and a built-in compass to help you navigate your way and conquer the summit.

And for the cyclists out there, the watch provides an assessment of your trip — including calories burned, speed, and accumulative climbing and falling during the ride.

Whether running a course, hiking up a mountain, or setting a personal record on your bicycle, this smartwatch can track your location and route with GPS. This way, you have precise positioning anywhere you go to give you better feedback about your activities.

Battery life

Just like its previous model, the Watch GT 2 claims a 2-week battery life even with heart rate monitor running 24/7. And just like the first iteration, it still delivers the same performance and that alone is a feat not commonly seen on other smartwatches.

Charging is done through a proprietary magnetic dock and it takes about an hour to hour and a half to completely charge the watch. Although because of its lengthy life, I sometimes forget that I need to charge it and I get surprised when I see the battery warning. It’s a good problem to have, really.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

In terms of features, I wouldn’t disagree that the Huawei Watch GT 2 is armed to the teeth. You have all your trackers that know exactly what you do, where you are, and even how long your nap was. But then again, just like in our previous review, we feel like it’s more of a fitness or activity tracker than a smartwatch.

One of the main reasons we say this is that it still has the same issue as before about pairing with a smartphone. Sometimes it gets disconnected so notifications don’t push through the watch so you miss certain messages or calls. It’s supposed to notify the user of phone calls and alarms, and it wasn’t always the case during our time with it.

So ask yourself: Do you need a helpful tracker so you have a full overview of your performance in one glance? Because this watch certainly delivers in that aspect. Whether you’re a casual runner or a dedicated athlete, you’ll have access to your records complete with sound advice and tips to ultimately meet your goals.

Plus, it wins in the design aspect — being able to live two lives as a sporty companion and a compatible pair for your formal events. Just change the watch face, swap in some alternative straps, and you’re good to go!

 

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Gaming

ASUS ROG Strix G review: Power that’s just ice cool

Looks pretty damn good in Glacier Blue

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I normally get gaming laptops in some matte black finish. Something about that color screams “gamer” to me, especially with its subdued vibe. Getting it in any other color just draws too much attention, especially when you want to game in peace.

Then I turn to the ASUS ROG Strix G G531, and no the “G” does not stand for “Glacier Blue. It comes in two colors: the usual black finish and a special Glacier Blue variant — which I have. Let’s face it, underneath this icy cold Glacier Blue variant is one powerful machine from the hardware to a wide selection of ports.

But is this really all for show?

This particular unit comes in a special Glacier Blue finish

It comes with an NVIDIA RTX 2060 inside

It has an RGB-lit system, from the bottom to the keyboard panel

Connectivity, display and power input ports are placed at the back

Power beneath aesthetics

As expected, overall performance for the ASUS ROG Strix G is phenomenal. For working professionals like myself, 16GB of RAM is already a huge luxury to have. All that power enables greater productivity, especially when you need multiple applications opened all at once. It’s an excellent choice for productivity enthusiasts.

Coupled with a 512GB SSD storage plus 1TB of added storage further bolsters this machine. All that storage can handle applications for professionals, content creators, and gamers alike. Fast read times on the hard disk complements the 16GB RAM nicely. Basically, I get to open 30 tabs of Google Chrome, Adobe Photoshop and Premiere Pro, and the system is still fast enough to run.

Gaming with ice in your veins

It’s no surprise that an NVIDIA RTX 2060 is powerful. I don’t even have to go into detail just how great its power can be. On this device, however I have mixed feelings over it. First off, it plays your usual graphic-heavy games pretty well. Fortnite: Battle Royale records close to xx FPS set on Epic, while Apex Legends peaks at 57 FPS set close to maximum. 

Even on games with minimal graphical power required, the GPU performs above and beyond. Frames load smoothly especially during high leverage moments when you’re really into the game. My eyes kept up with what’s happening every time I get into some intense build battle with sweaty players online.

However, I felt that the RTX 2060 could do more with other hardware present. This laptop only comes with a 120Hz refresh rate, which is pretty decent. However, it literally caps a lot of your games to a threshold for your frame rate. ASUS actually has laptops similar in hardware to the ROG Strix G that offer displays with higher refresh rates. It would have been nice to offer a 144Hz refresh rate to this laptop instead of just to its 17-inch brother.

Properly cooled so you don’t accidentally burn yourself

With gaming laptops like the ROG Strix G, a great cooling system is a must. I’ve tested a lot of cooling systems for gaming laptops in the past, so I’m already expecting a hot mess. Except that, well the ROG Strix G actually proved me wrong.

The dual-fan cooling system blasts hot air at the back and at the right side (the side without any ports). The device heats up as expected when you’re going full on gamer mode or when you open heavy duty applications. What I found great about it is that the moment you stop using those applications, the device cools down relatively fast.

On most gaming laptops, I waited for an hour to an hour and 25 minutes before I wouldn’t accidentally burn myself a bit. With the ROG Strix G, it cools down in a matter of 30 to 45 minutes. Furthermore, only the top portion of the main chassis heats up, leaving your keyboard to remain cool. It stays as cool as its Glacier Blue color suggests, and to me it’s fantastic that ASUS designed it this way.

Other features that are either red hot or ice cool

For this device, anything cool is preferably how you want it. For example, I’m personally a fan of the way they integrated RGB into the laptop. From the keyboard to the three sides of the device, this device demands attention. Not everyone would like it, especially when you’re out in a Starbucks somewhere. You can dial the colors down — as long as you get the black one.

Another thing I liked about the ROG Strix G is its overall build. Putting all the display, power, and connectivity ports at the back of the device was a nice touch. To me, it keeps a lot of the wires out of the way on a normal desk setup. Also, I love the way they did the hinge for the lid and body.

But, there is one thing that proves to be red hot, it’s close to being a red flag — the laptop’s battery life. I only got around close to five hours for productive use, with that time cut in half when gaming. I literally need to bring the charger around if I want to work for longer hours. 

Putting it all together

At PhP 99,995, the ASUS ROG Strix G G531 in Glacier Blue fuses aesthetic and performance together. Performance-wise, this gaming laptop provides just the power you need for any task. Gaming on it full time is where it truly excels, all thanks to the NVIDIA RTX 2060 inside.

On top of all of that, it cools down faster after playing for a long time, something not a lot of gaming laptops possess. The overall build supplements proper cooling for the device so you don’t have to worry about things heating up unexpectedly.

Overall, this is one wonderful device to have for productive and gaming use. If you don’t mind adding a little style to your gaming habit, consider getting this cool Glacier Blue variant.

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