Reviews

Redmi Note 9 Pro Max review: Perfect, like you’d expect it to be

Is it worth the extra price?

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There’s no doubt that Xiaomi has become a leader in the smartphone industry, thanks to affordable phones. The Redmi Note lineup is extremely special because it delivered more for an affordable price. Bigger screen, better cameras, top-notch performance, and great battery life. What more can one ask for?

If you’re looking for an affordable “pro,” Xiaomi’s got a new offering that promises to offer “max” features. However, with rising competition from brands like Realme, can Xiaomi continue dictating the market? Furthermore, POCO X2 is also a fantastic offering. So, what makes the Redmi Note 9 Pro Max so unique?

For the first time, Redmi has stretched the existing lineup and offered a “Max” option. The company wants to cover more and more price bands, but is that it? We can consider this phone to be a premium offering that comes with an affordable price tag. When compared to the Redmi Note 9 Pro, it has a better camera and faster charging. But how does this add to the overall experience, and is it worth the upgrade?

A refined and practical design

I’ve got the Aurora Blue color variant, and that’s the first thing you’ll notice about the phone. The back is sometimes sky blue, sometimes greenish, and often grey. Due to the reflective surface, it’ll change its exterior like a chameleon depending on the surrounding lighting.

While we’ve seen a ton of reflective phones, this one is different because it doesn’t have fixed patterns or letters. Fair to say, I loved the phone’s design the moment it was out of the box.

The back panel is shielded by Gorilla Glass 5, and the first thing you’ll notice is the colossal squircle camera module. It houses a quad-camera setup, but the protrusion is significantly high. The bump is easily visible, and you can feel it making the phone clumsy when kept down on a flat surface.

I would have preferred a smaller bump, but it didn’t hamper the user experience. Thankfully, a case is provided and it perfectly covers up the bump.

The phone does feel thick and heavy to hold, and a case further amplifies this. One-handed use is difficult, and I think the fingerprint scanner/power button is located a tad-bit too high on the right side. My friend has small hands, and she struggled to reach it in one go seamlessly. The volume rockers are located above the power button.

I’m glad Redmi opted for a side-mounted fingerprint scanner instead of the weird rear scanner on the Redmi Note 8 Pro. It’s quick to unlock the phone and, when coupled with face unlock, does an excellent job.

The SIM slot is located on the left, and the top gets an IR blaster. On the bottom are the standard 3.5mm headphone jack, USB-C port, and the speaker grill. The speaker is sufficiently loud. A tiny earpiece is located on the top for calls and performs flawlessly.

An excellent screen but with something missing

When you first switch on the phone, you might think it’s an AMOLED panel due to the high saturation. The lineup has always sported top-notch LCDs that continuously push the ceiling higher in terms of output. This is the biggest screen we’ve seen in the Note-series, measuring 6.67-inches with Full HD+ resolution. Obviously, blacks are far from being black and occasionally look greyish. But honestly, these are minor drawbacks that you’ll barely notice in daily life. The viewing angles are perfect, and color reproduction is spot-on.

The brightness is sufficient but often gives up in front of direct sunlight. On the flip side, the summer was pretty intense, and the screen was hard to view just a handful of times. The punch-hole cut-out houses the front camera, and it looks considerably larger. It is even more noticeable when you compare its size to the nearby notification app icons.

Keep in mind, the display is also protected by Gorilla Glass 5. Unlike the POCO X2, it misses out on a higher refresh rate panel. The standard 60Hz panel may sound non-exciting, but I’m okay with it.

Most games have yet to support a higher refresh rate, the screen consumers more power, and the UI needs to be well optimized. With the Redmi Note 9 Pro Max, the overall experience is smooth, and I didn’t miss having a better refresh rate.

“Pro” performance

Like the Redmi Note 9 Pro, the Max variant is powered by a Snapdragon 720G chipset. This phone is among the world’s first to house the brand new processor. Just like all other midrange phones these days, day-to-day tasks get done smoothly without a glitch. It comprises of two high-performance Kryo Gold cores and six high-efficiency Kryo Silver cores.

The base option comes with 6GB RAM and 64GB internal storage. My unit has 6GB+128GB configuration, and multitasking has always been effortless. The 6GB RAM option has perfectly fulfilled my needs, including gaming. If you’re looking for a future proof phone that can last for a couple of years, I’d recommend going with the 8GB option.

While there’s a massive demand for gaming phones, Xiaomi and chip makers are trying their best to offer a similar experience on as many phones as possible. Hence, while there’s no reduction in overall raw performance, the new chip strikes a perfect balance between execution and battery life. MIUI is deeply optimized, and hopping between apps was never a problem for the phone.

PUBG ran smoothly all along, and the chipset was able to churn out more than 40 FPS at any given time. It’s worth mentioning that the predecessor, Redmi Note 98 Pro, was slightly better and could touch 60 FPS due to a more powerful GPU. However, these are just technicalities and don’t hinder the user experience.

“Max” battery life

I usually mention the battery life at the end of the review. However, it’s essential to break the usual flow and mention it right after the performance. As I said, the processor strikes a perfect balance between performance and battery life. The Snapdragon 720G is built with an 8nm process, delivering an inherently better battery life.

It packs a massive 5,020mAh battery. When paired with a battery-friendly processor and 60Hz display, it delivers the best battery life we’ve ever seen at this price point. After a day of heavy usage, it’ll always have at least 35-40% battery left in the end. The screen on time is consistently above 10 hours, and gaming also doesn’t drain it.

It supports 33W fast charging and takes almost two hours to charge from single-digit capacity to 100 percent. The quick charging technology works till 60 percent and then gradually slows down. However, I’d consider this to be an ideal setup. Charge the phone at night and do whatever you want during the day without carrying a charger or power bank.

How about the cameras?

It has a 64-megapixel camera on the rear and an 8-megapixel wide-angle lens, a 5-megapixel macro lens, and a 2-megapixel depth sensor. The primary sensor is made by Samsung and takes 16-megapixel pictures in auto-mode. Using pixel binning technology, the sensor can retain details and automatically reduce the resolution. This method comes extremely handy when shooting in low-light surroundings.

The Redmi Note 8 Pro also had a 64-megapixel sensor. However, this phone has a radically improved one. The photos aren’t oversaturated and retain details perfectly. Urban landscapes are perfectly sharp with apt white balance. Switching to the Night Mode will deliver brighter pictures with smartly enhanced areas. I say smartly because many phones aren’t able to locate the subject and randomly brighten up dark areas.

When compared to the Redmi Note 9 Pro, this one has a much better dynamic range. Thus, videos shot on this phone look more natural. Yes, it can record 4K at 30 FPS. Is it worth paying more for a better 64-megapixel sensor over the Redmi Note 9 Pro? In a nutshell, yes. The overall experience is far better, and in many cases, it’ll feel like a flagship phone has shot these pictures.

On the front is a 32-megapixel camera that clicks extremely sharp selfies. Colors and details are accurately captured, and even low-light performance is better. MIUI has many customizable options available as beauty mode, and you can switch it off with one touch.

Love-hate relationship with MIUI

The phone ships with MIUI 11 out-of-the-box, and there’s no doubt the skin has played an essential role in boosting Xiaomi’s sales. It lets you tweak everything, right from gestures, themes, and other shortcuts. Their pre-installed apps offer robust functionality like an easy to use file manager and file sharer. I’ve started to like the skin, and its made for every kind of user out there.

However, the number of third-party bloatware and ads are becoming hard to ignore. The number of these pre-loaded apps is consistently rising, and I spent the first half an hour, just getting rid of them from the home screen. Furthermore, the ads in the notification tray have gradually become impossible to handle. It’s not even like they’re relevant ads.

Xiaomi has built an unbroken skin that works for everyone and barely has a learning curve. In pursuit of ad revenues and aggressive pricing, it’s letting down the software. Many have argued that the end-user doesn’t care about this, and the sales numbers prove it. That’s correct. But we can’t ignore that these drawbacks of Xiaomi could become a unique selling point for someone else.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

The base variant of the Redmi Note 9 Pro Max starts at INR 16,499 (US$ 218). In the Philippines, this is simply called the Redmi Note 9 Pro and retails for PhP 13,990. This segment is exceedingly aggressive, with alternatives available from Realme as well as POCO. What makes this phone so unique?

It’s practicality. There are no fancy shenanigans like an in-display fingerprint scanner, a pop-up camera, a 120Hz display, or a spectacular design. But, it gets the basics right. The design is flawless, the cameras are excellent, and the battery life is unmatchable. Performance is average, and we’ve got nothing negative or positive to say about it. In the end, this phone is a perfect match for a majority of users out there.

This phone continues the Note legacy. It isn’t perfect and has a lot of minor drawbacks like a huge camera bump, standard screen, and uneventful processor. But this won’t stop you from buying the phone and are ignorable factors. If you’re looking for an alternative, the POCO X2, and Realme 6 Pro are made for you.

Reviews

Apple 2021 iPad mini Unboxing and Review

Is this the iPad for you?

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After two years, Apple has finally changed the look of the iPad mini!

Gone are the thick bezels and home button in favor of a trendy fullscreen look a la iPad Pro and iPad Air.

Having a smaller form factor doesn’t mean it’s less powerful. While not as powerful as the M1 iPad Pro, the new iPad mini still has an A15 Bionic that’s similar to the iPhone 13 and 13 Pro series. It surely is a step ahead over last year’s iPad Air.

It may not have the most advanced Face ID system, but Touch ID still lives on — now found on its power button.

But are these features enough to make you buy one? Or do you still want the bigger screen of the iPad Air?

Head over to our 2021 iPad mini review to know which iPad is your GadgetMatch.

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Reviews

Redmi 10 review: Page out of a premium playbook

That 50-megapixel shooter is the saving grace

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Budget phones used to be just budget phones. They used to lack groundbreaking features to make your experience seamless. And you’ll need to shell out a lot of cash just to get a decent phone that actually works. But I was speaking about budget phones from around five years ago.

In 2021, smartphone companies are reinventing what it means to have an entry-level handset. Xiaomi’s sub-brand Redmi, which has been leading the segment for a few years now, seems to set the course again on a new range of affordable smartphones.

Meet the Redmi 10 — the successor to its popular Redmi 9 — offering premium-like design and smart features but with a price tag that you can easily reach.

Finally looking like its siblings

The Redmi 10 rehashed its looks, looking differently than its predecessor. It employed the same design language found on other Redmi and Xiaomi smartphones, which was a trend started by Samsung — trickling down from its flagship to the more affordable Galaxy A series.

Somehow, it’s working since the Redmi 10 looks sleeker and it can be quite difficult to tell the difference compared to the Redmi Note 10 Pro. And even the Xiaomi 10T Pro. Unless, of course, you’re a tech junkie and a Xiaomi fan. But that’s probably the case when you have the Carbon Gray color option.

Nonetheless, the Redmi 10 in Carbon Gray looks neutral yet sleek with its frosted glass-looking back which is just actually plastic. But it makes up for being lightweight so it doesn’t put a strain on your hands for endless scrolling on TikTok. Just a heads-up, though. Carbon Gray is a smudge-magnet so you need to slap a clear case on — which comes in the box.

Moving to its frame and details, it’s also made of plastic but it comes with sweet, round edges and flat sides. Which I appreciate because the era of curved phones is now in my past.

SIM tray

The left side houses the SIM tray while the volume rockers and the power button doubling as a fingerprint scanner are found on the right.

Power button/fingerprint scanner and volume rockers

Speaking of which, gliding your fingers across the scanner will prompt it to read your fingerprint easily — but it takes a second to boot the phone.

On the top side of the frame, you can find a stereo speaker, IR blaster, and the well-loved 3.5mm audio jack.

On the bottom side are the other loudspeaker and a USB-C port.

Performing quite well for your needs

Let’s talk about the design again, but on the front panel of the phone. The Redmi 10 sports a 6.5-inch IPS LCD panel with 2400×1800 resolution. It’s adorned with thinner bezels equal on all sides except the chin. The punch-hole cutout seems bigger than other smartphones employing the same approach, too.

Despite the front design that clearly indicates it’s still a budget phone, the magic lies behind it. The Redmi 10 comes with the latest MIUI 12.5 based on Android 11. Having said that, you can expect that even if you have an entry-level device, Xiaomi will still supply you with core Android updates.

It also has a 90Hz refresh rate — which seems to be a staple to most smartphones. People are always clamoring about higher refresh rates for their gaming needs, and to be “in”. It also comes with AdaptiveSync, which adjusts the refresh rate depending on the content being viewed.

When you watch on Netflix, or if you play online games, AdaptiveSync will adjust accordingly. So you don’t have to worry about the battery life that easily drains when using a higher refresh rate. But then again, the Redmi 10 sports a 5,000mAh battery. It lasted me a day of heavy use and lasted up to three days when I put it on standby.

Although, my only problem would be its max 18W capacity when it comes to “fast” charging. So the 22.5W charging brick included won’t be of any help. It takes more than an hour to fill the juice, making it your cue to detach from your phone for a little while.

The dealbreakers

I only played Mobile Legends: Bang Bang on the Redmi 10 since it’s the only mobile game I play right now. I put it into the highest settings possible, in which case it performed decently.

However, I experienced the same type of drag I had when I used the Infinix Note 10 Pro. There was a noticeable delay — which lasts for one to two seconds — when toggling buttons and switching scenes inside the game. The delay still occurs even if you change to the lowest setting possible.

I’m starting to think that it’s a similar theme for budget phones, but it’s not necessarily a deal-breaker especially when you consistently play in the budget segment.

And even with a Helio G88 processor, the phone heats up a little while you’re playing mid-game. Nonetheless, it still performs decently as expected out of an entry-level handset. To expect more from it is just asking too much — there’s a Redmi Note 10 Pro if you want better performance at an easily reachable price tag.

The Redmi 10 comes in various configurations depending on your country: 4GB/64GB, 4GB/128GB, and 6GB/128GB. It has expandable storage through a dedicated microSD card slot.

What worries me is that the internal storage uses an eMMC 5.1 chip, not the UFS. So the reading and writing of data is slower and might wear out over time. Translation: slowed down performance after considerable updates.

So if you’re thinking of multitasking and using this phone for work, I’d advise you not to. Use it casually so you can make it last longer.

Specs

Processor

MediaTek Helio G88

Configuration

4GB/64GB, 4GB/128GB, and 6GB/128GB

Battery

5000mAh + 18W charging

OS

Android 11, MIUI 12.5

Front camera

8MP

Rear camera

50MP + 8MP + 2MP + 2MP

Display

6.5” FHD+ IPS LCD

90Hz refresh rate

2460×1080 resolution

Dimension

162 x 75.5 x 8.9 mm

50-megapixel goodness?

It’s rare for an entry-level smartphone to have a high megapixel count. In a way, the Redmi 10 is raising the bar for smartphones in the budget segment. After all, it delivers a quad-camera system: a 50-megapixel main camera, an 8-megapixel ultra-wide-angle camera, a 2-megapixel macro shooter, and a 2-megapixel depth sensor. On the front, it has an 8-megapixel selfie shooter.

For most people, this kind of camera setup works. So we took a few samples to see if the Redmi 10 can cover the bases.

For regular shots, the Redmi 10 takes decent captures both indoors and outdoors. As long as it comes with sufficient lighting. When taking backlit shots, the Redmi 10 doesn’t post-process and keeps shadows dark.

When using the ultra wide-angle lens, the Redmi 10 struggles with exposure and highlights both day and night.

Food photos aren’t tasty-looking due to their lack of vibrance, even if you use the AI Cam. To make it look even more appetizing, I used the 2X optical zoom to capture more details and take better flat lays.

Cutouts are okay whether auto shots at night or even the portrait mode. Except photos don’t look as detailed as they should.

The same goes for shots taken at night using auto mode and night mode.

Of course, we took samples using the 50-megapixel shooter. It did well during daytime shots, retaining as many details as it can but compromises when it comes to color accuracy. At night, on the other hand, still struggles with exposure and highlights — a noticeable flaw for a supposedly great quad-camera system.

Moving on to selfies, its 8-megapixel front shooter pads a slight beautification to its photos even if you turn off its beauty mode. Color balance also varies depending on the lighting condition.

In a way, it delivers how it’s supposed to. If anything, a filter wouldn’t hurt if you want to correct the color balance of the photos. There are built-in presets, but you can never go wrong with Instagram filters!

Is this your BudgetMatch?

There are things to love about the Redmi 10, and there are things that might raise some red flags. Depending on your needs, the Redmi 10 can cover the base and perform decently as expected of an entry-level smartphone. It’s got a sleeker look, a 50-megapixel shooter that you can show off, a 90Hz refresh rate — all at an affordable price tag.

But if you’re asking for it to do more, then you’re way better off choosing something else. For nearly the same price, there’s the POCO M3. For those who need better performance for all-around use, add a few more bucks and you can get the Redmi Note 10 Pro.

On another note, the realme 8 5G is also a good alternative granted you can increase your budget by a tad. It has similar features — a 90Hz refresh rate, same display and panel, same battery, and charging capability. But more importantly, it has 5G connectivity which helps for future-proofing.

Frankly, the Redmi 9T appears so much better it feels like this one’s a downgrade. The only salvation for the Redmi 10 is that it’s got a better look, smarter features, and it has a 50-megapixel shooter compared to the alternatives mentioned.

If all your needs are covered, then this could be your BudgetMatch. But to most people, the Redmi 10 falls short especially when it comes to that eMMC 5.1 storage — when most smartphones are using UFS already.

The Redmi 10 retails for PhP 7,590 for the 4GB+64GB variant, and PhP 8,590 for the 6GB+128GB variant. It comes in three colors: Carbon Gray, Pebble White, Sea Blue. It’s available for purchase at Xiaomi’s official stores and authorized retailers.

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POCO X3 GT review: Competitive midranger

An impressive phone that deserves your attention

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POCO X3 GT

The midrange segment, in my opinion, might be the most competitive smartphone category. Midrange phones are jam-packed with features and clever engineering. They are versatile, unique, and beautiful. The POCO X3 GT has a lot to contend with, but it can more than hold its own.

Before we proceed, here’s the unboxing article I posted a while back in case you missed it. You can check that out for a bit and comeback or join me now as we dive right into what makes this a midrange contender.

Premium feel

From the moment I took the POCO X3 GT out of the box, I already had an inkling that it’ll be good. The hardware feels premium despite the plastic back. This review unit comes in a shiny silver-y finish. It’s a classic neutral look.

The phone greets you with a huge 6.6-inch display and its quality is superb. The Corning Gorilla Glass Victus is the bodyguard of our display. It can withstand drops from two meters, that’s about six feet and six inches (6’6″). It’s a pretty tough glass so you need now worry about accidental drops from the office table or anything similar. It can handle it.

The phone also has an IP53 rating. It should be fine with some splashes here or there. However, do yourself a favor and buy a case or use the one included in the box for some extra layer of protection.

Navigation options

The POCO X3 GT runs on MIUI 12.5 on top of Android 11. The phone unlocks with the power button integrated with the fingerprint sensor. Other ways to unlock are facial recognition, pin code, and pattern.

Quick tip: you can switch your fingerprint sensor to “press” as the X3 GT’s always-on reader is primarily activated. That’s a good way to prevent unintentional unlocking and will save you a bit of battery.

Navigation options are either the traditional buttons at the bottom or through gestures. The gestures seem easy to learn. However, I personally prefer the navigation buttons as it’s easier for me exit games and access the task manager that way.

Performance and gaming

The 120Hz display is refreshing and it’s pleasing to the eyes. Once you go 120, It’s hard to revert to 60Hz. It also has a touch sampling rate of 240Hz, and oh boy, this one’s great. Playing games and swiping left to right is just flat-out fun and enjoyable.

You can definitely feel the MediaTek Dimensity 1100 on this device, as everything feels swift and easy. I ran most games in full settings and did not experience any sort of lag during gameplay. Although there are some games that need a little optimization like Call of Duty: Mobile and Plants Versus Zombies (yes I still play that game).

Multitasking for this device is easy and smooth. The screen size helps to make it a pleasant experience.

Surprising battery drain

The POCO X3 GT has a 5,000mAh battery. It’s good and long-lasting battery… until you get to 50 percent. When it does, it drains like crazy! It does come with a 67W charging brick which fully charges the battery in just around 35 to 40 minutes. There are also two battery saving modes: Battery saver and the Ultra battery saver but they don’t really seem to help much.

Pretty good cameras

We all want to know how the camera works. But first, the specs. You get a triple rear camera setup: 64MP wide camera has an aperture of f/1.79, the ultra-wide is 8Mp with an aperture of f/2.2, and the macro is 2Mp with an aperture of f/2.4. The camera performance is okay for its category. Maybe in some cases, it’s not only good in the mid-range, maybe creep it up a little and surely it’ll have a spot higher.

The color accuracy is good, the processing of the photos is a little bit aggressive but it’s not a huge issue. Zooming in to photos isn’t a problem. Zoom will sacrifice quality but the results are still highly acceptable. Portrait photos on this phone is also great and it cuts around the corners with accuracy.

Checkout the samples below.

A minor setback

The POCO X3 GT sounds good so far right? However, like plenty of other smartphone releases today, it doesn’t come with earphones in the box. Some buyers might find this frustrating. It’s a trend started by Apple and one I’m not particularly happy with.

Sticking with audio, the phone’s speakers were poor. Playing Call of Duty: Mobile without earphones was such a nuisance. Watching videos is acceptable if you don’t care too much about audio. However, you’ll likely need to turn the volume up to really enjoy.

Final thoughts

The POCO X3 GT is by far one of the better phones I have used in the midrange segment. It has what I think is a beautiful design and comes with 120Hz refresh rate. The software also complements the hardware perfectly. It was so good that I didn’t miss using my iPhone 12 Pro as much, which doesn’t really happen when reviewing devices.

The POCO X3 GT is currently available in three colorways, the Stargaze Black, Wave Blue, and Cloud White. It will come in two variants: The 8GB+128GB variant which retails at PhP 15,990 and the 8GB+256GB variant which is priced at PhP 17,990.

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