Reviews

Redmi Note 8 Pro review: Covering all the bases

The Note legacy continues

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Redmi’s Note lineup needs no introduction because it has been leading charts since inception. The series has single-handedly propelled the brand in developing markets like India and I still come across folks who still use the Redmi Note 3 or Redmi Note 4.

For Xiaomi, this lineup is their comfort zone. Even though Realme has been bombarding the segment for quite some time, the Note-series has stood strong. Obviously, Xiaomi has consolidated the entry-level as well as midrange segment and does not solely rely on the Note-series, it still plays a crucial role in maintaining its brand image as well as market presence.

Note 7 Pro was launched early this year and its highlight was a 48-megapixel camera. The Redmi Note 8 Pro, on the other hand, has a new 64-megapixel camera along with a fresh processor. If you’re looking for an affordable phone that can get everything done swiftly and not cost a bomb, can the Redmi Note 8 Pro be your GadgetMatch?

Guess where we’ve seen a similar design?

The color we’ve received is officially called Shadow Black and it shares the DNA with Mi A3. Both have the same reflecting glass back slightly curved corners. Though, I wish Xiaomi would’ve brought over the build quality as well. The Redmi Note 8 Pro has an excellent design, but it feels normal or mainstream at this point.

In fact, this is how Xiaomi leverages properties of scale to lower down the price and be as competitive as possible. The speaker grill, USB-C port, and a 3.5mm headphone jack are located on the bottom while the top gets the classic IR blaster. On the right is microSD and SIM card tray slots while the left equips the power button and the volume rockers.

On the back is a vertical camera array that houses four cameras and a fingerprint scanner. Weirdly, the fingerprint scanner is actually located on the array and sits very close to the lens. I’d always end up smudging the lens cover while trying to get a hold of the scanner. This is indeed a strange location to put a fingerprint scanner, but on the brighter side, I got used to it within a few days and it became an ignorable annoyance.

The camera bump is huge and being in the center makes the phone wobble when kept down on a table. This same bump also helps in navigating your finger easily to the scanner, so I’m not complaining.

Unlike other offerings, this is the first phone in the series to get IP52 water and dust resistance rating. I haven’t tried dipping it in a glass of water, but the rating is definitely appreciated for maximum peace of mind in a humid city like Mumbai.

It sports an LCD display and we’ve got no complains

The Redmi Note 8 Pro has a 6.5-inch Full HD+ display, but it’s an LCD. This is kind of a bummer for many because the Mi A3, that costs slightly lesser, sports an AMOLED panel. However, don’t judge the phone based on specifications. The display is sufficiently bright and can be easily used under direct sunlight. Even the colors are well saturated and it never feels washed out, even when I suddenly shift from an AMOLED panel.

So, even if it’s a corner cut for Xiaomi, the end experience is definitely not hampered. Since it’s an LCD panel, an in-display fingerprint scanner cannot be supported and a physical one has been added on the rear. The Mi A3 had a very sluggish scanner and I’m glad a physical one is being added — it’s a win-win for everyone.

The display has a small waterdrop style notch on the top and the chin has been further reduced. Additionally, the panel is HDR-compliant, so if you watch a lot of movies or shows, this phone is built for you.

What’s on the inside?

Xiaomi went with MediaTek instead of Qualcomm for this phone and it’s first to be powered by the 12nm Helio G90T chipset. The Mediatek G90T is an octa-core chip with two 2.05 GHz Cortex-A76 performance cores and six Cortex A55 efficiency cores running at 2 GHz. The phone is paired with up to 8GB of RAM and up to 128GB of internal storage.

The Helio G90T is aimed at the mid-range segment, so it’s going up against the likes of the Snapdragon 730G. It doesn’t pack the same horsepower some other gaming devices with flagship specifications have, but it’s still perfectly usable.

On the battery side, it gets a 4500mAh battery with support for 18W fast charging. Although, the bigger battery translates into a heavier phone and the Redmi Note 8 Pro comes in at almost 200 grams. The weight is often difficult to manage when you’re just relaxing because the slippery glass design is not your friend.

The battery was always sufficient enough to get me through a full day of heavy usage. The fast charger now comes bundled along and you don’t need to buy one separately.

All that’s fine, but can it game?

Gaming has been at the core of all recent phone launches and the Redmi Note 8 Pro is no exception. In fact, it performs much better than I expected. MediaTek’s previous chipsets haven’t been that great and that’s exactly why a lot of eyebrows were raised when Xiaomi decided to make the shift.

I tried a few rounds of Call of Duty Mobile and the game starts off with the default graphical settings set at High. But even maxing them out wasn’t enough to make the phone sweat. The same happened with PUBG Mobile. During a classic match, there were near to zero frame drops or random stutters. Even with HDR switched on, the phone kept asking for more work and never seemed to run out of steam.

When MediaTek launched the chipset, it heavily marketed it as a gaming-oriented chipset. Though, the phone does tend to get quite hot over extended durations. It isn’t extreme heating but definitely makes you uneasy for a point of time. Also, we have the 6GB+128GB unit and it still manages to kick-ass. So, if you’re looking for a gaming phone within a strict budget, this phone is your GadgetMatch.

What about those cameras?

Another main highlight of the phone has been its 64-megapixel camera on the rear. The primary sensor is joined by three other modules: an 8-megapixel wide-angle, a 2-megapixel portrait lens, and a 2-megapixel macro shooter. A similar arrangement is also found on the Realme XT.

This makes up for a splendid camera experience for the price, but the whole experience feels very gimmicky at times. That’s because, the camera UI has a lot of features, but they lack polishing. I wouldn’t say the camera is reliable because the software often disappoints. If you need to snap a picture within seconds, don’t rely on this phone.

But, if you are looking for some serious photography, Note 8 Pro won’t disappoint. The 64-megapixel sensor takes astounding photos in daylight and the color reproduction is near-perfect. It can focus quickly and is always accurate when just pointing and shooting. The pictures are sharper than usual when you zoom-in, but that’s just limited to the 64MP mode.

I was impressed by the macro mode because it does let you zoom in and get some crystal clear shots, even at night with accurate colors and minimal noise. Just make sure your hands are steady. The wide-angle lens performed exactly as expected.

There are minor problems with high-contrast scenes, where the Redmi Note 8 Pro then emphasizes the bright areas a bit too much so that details can no longer be recognized. The AI tries to brighten up the dark areas, which works relatively well but leads to slight noise.

In increasing darkness, the image quality then steadily collapses. Even the dedicated night mode only brings noisy mud to the photos and it looks quite similar to a non-night mode picture. Selfies were bang on though thanks to the 20-megapixel front-facing camera.

Ultimately, the user gets an option to choose between four different lenses. Can you depend on this phone for killer pictures? Have a look yourself.

Software still has massive room for improvement

Running on top of Android 9 Pie is Xiaomi’s in-house skin called MIUI. And, it has ads. Too many of them actually. While it’s debatable whether system apps should have OEM-backed ads or not, they definitely should be moderated. Quite a few times these ads were explicit in nature and shouldn’t have directly made their way into a phone that could be used by anyone — a kid or an adult.

Bloatware is spread everywhere and you basically have to manually remove a long list of apps hidden within home screen folders. Spam apps like Likee further lack moderation and again bring me back to the same point — Xiaomi needs to be careful of what’s it’s pushing forward.

You get the usual set of Xiaomi services installed out of the box — Mi Credit, Mi Pay, Mi Video, Notes, Music, Mi Store, and more. The overall experience is much better than my previous stints on the Note 7, but it’s still loaded with random bugs. MIUI 11 was launched alongside the phone, but you’ll have to wait sometime to actually get it.

Beginners and long-time users of MIUI will quickly get used to the system, but if you switch from another smartphone manufacturer to Xiaomi, you need some patience and learning ability, because the UI of Xiaomi is very different from those of other manufacturers.

Is the Redmi Note 8 Pro your GadgetMatch?

Xiaomi has put together a complete package with the Redmi Note 8 Pro, which truly is one of the new kings in the middle class. Obviously, you can’t pitch it against a flagship offering, but considering the starting price of INR 14,999 (US$ 210) and PhP 11,990 in the Philippines, I can blindly recommend the phone. The processor is beefy, design is premium, cameras are above average, and it can be a perfect media consumption device.

On the flip side, the Realme XT offers an ad-free interface along with slightly better cameras that work better in low-light. Each continues to have its own forte.

Accessories

adidas Ultraboost 20 review: Great just got better

The ISS National Lab collab is straight 🔥

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It’s almost a new year, and here’s the Ultraboost 20 — the latest version of my favorite sneakers.

Ever since they were announced in 2015, the Ultraboost has always been my go-to everyday sneaker. They’re just so comfortable to wear and they look so darn good as well.

Adidas has been making small changes to the shoe every year but they were mostly just changing the pattern of the upper which wasn’t really that big of a deal.

A sudden design shift

It wasn’t until 2019 when Adidas redesigned the Ultraboost to create the Ultraboost 19 (UB19) which was a huge change in the line.

Initially, the Ultraboost was more of a casual lifestyle pair first then a performance running sneaker second. This changed with the UB19 when Adidas decided to focus on making a performance running sneaker.

It was a controversial change at the time since the aesthetics of the shoe really changed. Some fans of the line didn’t receive the news well.

UB19 (left) and UB20 (right)

Admittedly, I was one of those people. But then the reviews started coming in and everyone kept talking about how comfortable they were — much more comfortable than they have ever been which makes them a better performance sneaker overall.

Design-wise, I still prefer the Ultraboost 1.0 more than the 4.0 but the new ones are definitely way more comfortable — an all-out performance running sneaker.

With the 2020 version, Adidas decided to make a few more tweaks. Somehow they took something already great and made it even better. As an aside, I’m happy these were minor tweaks because I don’t think we would have survived another dramatic overhaul.

One of the best things about Ultraboost back in the day were the collaborations, so I’m happy to see Adidas trying that out again.

Ultraboost X ISS National Lab

I got the ISS National Lab collaboration to check out, which is the official collaboration to launch the Ultraboost 20.

First thing you’ll see is the Light grey Primeknit upper. This is usual with Ultraboost and it does get small tweaks every year. This time it feels like there’s more give in this version vs the UB19.

One major difference in the upper this year is the addition of the Tailored Fiber Placement technology or TFP. It’s the thick embroidered looking details around the edges of the toe box area which gives you more stability and durability.

These areas aren’t as flexible and stretchy as before but they do a better job at containing your toes. So the upper is still stretchy and soft, but holds your foot in place better.

There’s still a sock-like fit but it’s slightly thicker and less flexible than the older ultraboost 1.0 to 4.0 uppers. I really like the arrow shaped ventilation pattern in the toe-box area which is a very subtle throwback to the ‘ol Ultraboost 1.0.

There’s the white or light grey Ultraboost laces going through an updated midfoot cage. I definitely like the new midfoot cage, I think it’s better looking than the UB19 cage. It’s a cleaner, better look vs the mesh used on the 19. This also has some TFP detailing as well to help contain your foot better.

At the top of the tongue is the ISS National Lab collab tags which says ISS National Lab Adidas CRS Boost in Space. ISS stands for the International Space Station and this is a collab with their National Lab. Adidas is apparently going to send some Boost up to the National Lab in space — which is crazy but hey maybe those hypebeast astronauts will appreciate it.

In the ankle area of the shoe you see another big difference vs the UB19. There’s still a prime kit tongue, but in the back you have a padded neoprene material which is really appreciated because it really adds to the comfort.

This extra padding around the heel feels great against your foot but also makes your foot feel more secure in the sneaker as it pushes it forward. Apart from that, your foot is up against primeknit for a very sock-like fit.

It does feel a little bit more snug than the UB19. This helps make it more performance oriented than before which is definitely helpful for runs.

If you’re going to want this for lifestyle wear as a shoe sneaker I’d advise going up a size. Same is true if you have wide feet like I do. It’s always best to try the shoe on in a store first to make sure you get the best fit possible.

The insole comes in black with Adidas and ISS National Lab branding in white and orange. Each insole is different which is a nice touch.

Coming to the heel counter, it seems to be just an outline just like the UB19. Adidas calls it their “3D Heel Frame” which cradles the heel and holds it in place. I like that the heel counter spills over onto the boost midsole and gives you more stability because it really keeps the boost in place.

At the back of the shoe you have a nice padded neoprene material instead of primeknit. I definitely like the way it feels against my foot vs just primeknit in this area.

Another new addition is the bright orange accent. It definitely stands out but ties in nicely with the ISS collab.

Speaking of eye-catching — moving downwards, you have the good ol’ white Boost mid-sole. The ISS collab Ultraboost 20 actually comes in seven colorways, four of which have an iridescent boost midsole which looks pretty neat.

It’s really flashy, and you’ll either love it or hate it but I actually like the implementation here on my Dash Grey colorway.

UB20 iridescent midsoles

Instead of the iridescent boost midsole, this colorway has an iridescent heel frame and midfoot cage, which I think looks much nicer. It’s minimalist and more my style.

Either way it definitely looks very space-like. I guess it’s meant to make you think of outer space and it definitely does that. If you’re wearing them out, people are definitely going to ask you about your sneakers.

Coming to the outsole, it is the usual Stretchweb outsoles with Continental rubber for multi-surface traction and the usual lightweight Torsion Spring construction for support when the foot lands to propel runners forward.

Still a top-tier midsole cushioning

Boost is still boost — it is still the best midsole cushioning tech that I love. There’s 20 percent more boost in this shoe than the older UB 1-4, just like the UB19.

The Boost feels the same, but that’s okay. If it ain’t broke, why fix it, right?

In case you haven’t tried out a sneaker with Boost yet, I encourage you to go on over to an Adidas store and try one out as soon as possible.

The big deal here is the cushioning and energy return. You can feel it absorb the impact as you run, and then spring back to return some of that energy to help you take off.

It’s this reason why Boost and the Ultraboost series in particular are so popular amongst runners and gym goers. They’re not only some of the most comfortable shoes around but it also really helps with running and aerobics. I even wear Ultraboost for my dance fitness and boxing classes. I totally recommend it.

Is the Ultraboost 20 your Sneaker Match?

The UB20 is an iterative but meaningful improvement to the Ultraboost line in comparison to the UB19.

It is even more performance oriented, and even more comfortable at the same time. Honestly just go into an Adidas store and try them on — I’m pretty sure you’ll walk away impressed.

The ISS Collab is really exciting, and while it may or may not all just be marketing hype, it is definitely an exciting way for Adidas to launch the UB20.

While I’m always going to be a fan of the aesthetic of the older Ultraboost 1-4 more, you have to admit the new Ultraboost 20 definitely looks crazy futuristic. It’s the best performance sneaker out there, and I can’t recommend it enough.

SEE ALSO: Asics Gel Cumulus 21: Your everyday training sneaker

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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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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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