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

Mi True Wireless Earphones 2 review: Affordable, but far from perfect

Xiaomi’s premium TWS offering

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The truly wireless earphones market is filled with a plethora of options today, ranging from entry-level offerings like the Redmi Earbuds S to the premium Sony WF-1000XM3. However, the most popular TWS earphones are from Apple — the AirPods.

AirPods kickstarted the TWS trend, and since then, pretty much every brand has jumped onboard. Xiaomi is known for its reliable yet affordable products, and it has launched a few options previously, but it was limited to its home market of China.

Now, the brand has finally launched the Mi True Wireless Earphones 2 in India, and it’s pretty much half the price of Apple’s AirPods.

The Redmi Earbuds S is an entry-level offering while Mi branding is now used for the company’s premium offerings. TWS earphones are incredibly convenient to use, and their demand is consistently rising. Can the Mi TWS 2 offer maximum features for the price and go against the competition?

Do they look like the AirPods?

 

At first sight, you’d think they are the AirPods for a quick second. But it’s soon clear that they aren’t. This is something I appreciate about the Mi TWS 2. In a market filled with AirPods knockoffs, it’s nice to see a different design. However, don’t set your expectations too high.

The earbud’s stem is exceptionally thick, and this is easily noticeable from the side. Thankfully, it doesn’t look that thick from the front view and is oval. The stem is also considerably long, giving the earbud a very bulky look.

The polycarbonate build has a matte finish on the stem while the driver is smooth and shiny. I feel the earphones were designed with utility and features in mind, and aesthetics took a back seat.

If the bulkier design can add more battery life and better drivers, I’m okay with it. This may not be the case with many since they tend to look like cheap AirPods knockoffs.

Each earbud weighs just 4 grams, and they slide in your ears very smoothly. Putting them on is a quick task, and for calls, while driving, these are exceedingly convenient to wear single-handedly. The semi-open design is supposed to be fit-for-all. But, this is where my primary concern lies.

How’s the overall user experience?

The earbuds fit perfectly and are rather stable. But the satisfaction of wearing an earbud is utterly absent because of reduced noise isolation. Even though they’ve never automatically snuggled out, I’m always afraid of losing them while walking. The confidence to wear them outdoors is low.

These too sport gesture-based controls, and the result is below satisfaction. I’d have to try a few times before they actively receive the command. Even play/pause function is rather cumbersome and paired with the loose fit; I’m afraid they don’t fall off.

Thankfully, they have an optical sensor that automatically plays/pauses a song when the earbud is worn or removed. Most times, I’d simply remove them from my ear instead of relying on the gesture buttons.

Lastly, the case is quite basic from a design point of view but gets the job done properly. The plastic build is solid, the lid has magnetic detection, and the earbuds aren’t finicky when plugged for charging. A small LED light on the front will show you the case’s battery status. A USB-C port is located on the bottom.

Pairing them is a straightforward task, and Xiaomi phones will automatically pop-up the status menu just like it’s on iOS. It’ll show you each earbud’s battery percentage along with the case.

But do they sound good?

The brand has added a lot of features on the audio side to make the product look premium. It has support for multiple codecs like SBC, AAC, and LHDC. The last one allows high-resolution audio streaming via Bluetooth. I used the Redmi Note 9 Pro Max to test the Mi TWS 2 and it automatically leveraged the AAC band.

Each earbud houses a 14.2mm audio driver, which isn’t the biggest. But, much of the audio output relies on tuning. Sound testing is also very subjective, so I’ll try to address everyone’s choice.

To start with, the output is very crisp and clear, and the vocals are perfectly heard. If you’re into Bollywood songs or even pop, these should be ideal for you.

Unlike the usual tuning, we see in Indian products; the bass here is well managed. It isn’t too much and ultimately does justice for every user. I’d say these are your GadgetMatch if you listen to podcasts and audiobooks.

The drivers are massively let down by non-existent noise isolation. The design of the earbuds inherently means you can hear pretty much everything happening around you. Even at maximum volume, it just didn’t feel enough.

Lastly, they have “Environment Noise Cancellation” that automatically kicks in when you’re on a call. Background noise is reduced drastically, and everyone I called could feel the change. The overall voice clarity is immensely improved, and high-winds too couldn’t deter them.

How long can they last?

Xiaomi claimed the earbuds can last up to four hours on a single charge and it’s on-point. I was able to get almost four hours with volume at 80 percent.

The case is capable of providing 10 hours of backup, taking the total to fourteen. Thankfully, the case takes just an hour to charge.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

If you’re an audiophile, the simple answer is no. The Mi TWS 2 will disappoint you in many ways. However, if you’re looking for work-related earphones, these are perfect.

Calls are ultra-clear, and the overall experience is better thanks to a loose fit. Keep them on, and get through a full day’s work. On the audio side, hip-hop or bass-intensive genre may not suit well here. However, all other vocal-centric songs shall swing by without a hitch.

With a price of INR 4,499, the Mi True Wireless Earphones 2 is a solid competitor. When compared to the realme Buds Air, these lose out on aesthetics. But, the minor additions from a function point of view are worth the slight bump in price.

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LG Velvet Review: New breed of flagship killer?

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Over the years, LG was once a pioneer in the smartphone industry with their G and V smartphone series. These phones are packed with a lot of punch and boast new and exciting features.

But LG has forgotten one thing, and that is how to fix their unexciting phone designs. From the G7 ThinQ all the way to V50 ThinQ 5G, those phones almost look unchanged. They might have been minor changes with the newer V60 ThinQ 5G, but it’s still not as eye-catching as other contenders.

The LG Velvet isn’t a replacement to their ever-existing flagship series. Instead, LG tries to reimagine things by making sure they produce products that cater the needs of not just tech nerds, but other types of consumers as well.

Here’s our in-depth review of the LG Velvet.

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Accessories

Redmi Earbuds S review: Affordable TWS without compromises

Making TWS earphones more accessible

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Truly wireless (TWS) earphones have been around for a while. Apple kick-started the hype with the launch of the AirPods and numerous brands have released alternatives since. However, they’ve always been very expensive.

With brands keen on ditching the headphone jack, users are often left with no option but to find wireless options. Redmi phones continue to have a headphone jack, but the brand also wants to remain focused on its target — deliver quality products at an affordable price.

The Redmi Earbuds S is the first TWS offering in India under the Redmi brand. While the brand stands strong in the smartphone segment, it has some cut-throat competition from realme. With a price tag of INR 1,799 (US$ 24), does it have enough firepower to take on the competition? If you’re looking for an entry-level TWS solution, can you trust the Earbuds S? Let’s find out!

Not AirPods knock-offs

If you’ve been following the TWS market, the Earbuds S will look familiar. These are sold as the AirDots S in China and many have ordered them previously via international marketplaces. In India, Redmi is calling them the Earbuds S and these could land in more south-east Asian markets soon.

While the trend is to follow Apple’s design language, the Earbuds S is going against the flow. It has its own distinctive design that looks nothing like a cheap knock-off.

The pill-shaped case is compact, feels solid in hand, and has a subtle curve on the bottom. The case size is perfect and it’ll always slide into your pocket smoothly.

Each earbud weighs just 4g and the in-ear design is immensely comfortable. I’ve worn them pretty much all day long and never felt any irritation, pain, or slightest of inconvenience. The snug fit also ensures adequate noise isolation and wearing them while driving for calls is seamless.

There’s not much to talk about with the design since it’s basic and gets the job done. They’re built out of plastic and its clearly evident at first sight.

I won’t count this as a drawback since it helps reduce overall weight and I wouldn’t expect metal or premium construction at this price.

Easy to use, fairly straightforward

The lid is very basic but has a satisfying feel to it when closing. Unlike the popular AirPods, these sit in your ears at a 45-degree angle. Paired along are two earbud tips to suit your ear canal. I didn’t have to use them and the standard size that comes along worked fine.

Using them is a very straightforward process. Open the lid, remove the earbuds, and wear them.

They’ll connect to your phone as soon as they’re disconnected from the case. I’ve never faced any connection issues so far. Each earbud has a button for quick controls such as music playback options and calling up Google Assistant.

On the flip side, you can’t rely on the earbuds to change the volume level or play a previous song. That can only be managed via your phone.

Pressing the button thrice will trigger the low-latency gaming mode. A feature that’ll be very handy while playing online multiplayer games like PUBG Mobile or Mobile Legends.

Each earbud has an indicator light that shows the status. Red means they’re charging while white means successful connection establishment. Lastly, they’re IPX4 certified, meaning sweat resistance. This obviously translates to a perfect workout session.

Punchy bass, relatively good audio

This is where I was surprised the most. Considering the nifty features it already has, I expected some kind of compromise in this department. And, I was wrong.

It has 7.2mm drivers and delivers punchy bass — a must-have for Bollywood music. Mainstream genres like pop sound amazing and if you’re not an audiophile, you won’t have any complaints.

The maximum volume is sufficiently loud and coupled with good isolation, even a busy market street is easily navigable.

However, if you’re looking for top-notch audio, these aren’t meant for you. The low frequency takes over while the mids are flat. You can use an equalizer to change the settings but the inherent tuning is in favor of bass-heavy music.

Furthermore, these connect via the SBC codec and there’s no support for aptX. I wouldn’t call this a drawback because the brand has to cut corners to make them accessible to a wider audience.

Adequate playback duration

Xiaomi claims the earbuds can deliver up to four hours of playback on a single charge and I’ve reached 3 hours 45 minutes in one go. So, their claims aren’t farfetched.

The case can charge the earbuds fully twice, delivering a total of 12 hours of playback in one go. If you’re going to use them for conference calls, music, and other work-related activities, they’ll easily get you through a working day.

The case takes almost two hours to charge fully. For frequent travelers, this can be a major drawback. Furthermore, the case charges via a microUSB port instead of the now-standard USB-C. Don’t forget to carry that extra charging cord along!

Can this be your GadgetMatch?

Yes. It definitely can. While there are a lot of minor additions I’d want to see, the price brings me back to reality.

In a nutshell, they’re designed aptly, deliver ordinarily better audio, and have 12 hours of playback. For US$ 25, there’s no better deal available. Keep in mind, the Redmi Earbuds S are making TWS earphones more accessible to everyone.

If you’re looking for top-notch audio quality, there are premium offerings like the OPPO Enco Free, Galaxy Buds, and 1More Truly Stylish. On the affordable side, realme Buds Air Neo and OPPO Enco W31 can be alternatives but are still priced considerably high.

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