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

realme X3 SuperZoom review: An absolute steal

Flagship. Killer.

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realme did it again. They managed to offer flagship level performance for a phone that’s half the price of most flagships today with the realme X3 SuperZoom.

Just take a quick look at this chart to see what we’re working with.

Price Range (PhP) Snapdragon 855+ 120Hz Screen Refresh Rate Snapdragon 855+ (or higher) and 120Hz Screen Refresh Rate
20K-30K realme X3 SuperZoom
30K-40K OnePlus 7T Pro OnePlus 8
40K-50K Vivo NEX 3, OPPO Reno 10X Zoom One Plus 8 Pro
50K+ Galaxy Note 10 Series Galaxy Note 20 Series (Exynos processors in PH) ROG Phone 2, OPPO Find X2 Pro

The realme X3 SuperZoom is in flagship company specs-wise, but at PhP 24,990 (US$ 505), it sits right in the middle of the upper midrange segment. I didn’t even include the configuration which is 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. This smartphone is, without a doubt, a steal.

As good as advertised 

But those are just the specs, right? How does it actually perform? In a word — admirably.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been merrily juggling the iPhone 11 Pro, Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, and the realme X3 SuperZoom as my primary devices. Being used alongside two performance heavyweights, the realme X3 SuperZoom doesn’t miss a beat.

One of the desktop tools we use to schedule posts on Facebook has been extremely erratic of late. As a stopgap measure, we found a mobile alternative.

Scheduling several posts on your phone isn’t ideal. It involves a lot of switching from app-to-app and can get very frustrating if the phone you’re using isn’t equipped to handle that load.

Thankfully, that’s not the case with the X3 SuperZoom. I could be holding any of the three phones at any given time and if I needed to do work, there were no hiccups whatsoever.

Naturally, I also did a little bit of everything that you would do on your phone. There’s the inevitable blackhole of scrolling through social media, playing a match or two of Call of Duty Mobile, watching K-Pop music videos and fancams, and everything else in between.

Problems encountered on the X3 SuperZoom while doing these? Zero. None. Zilch.

The cameras are fantastic

Going anywhere from wide to up to 10X Zoom should give you a photo worthy of your Facebook timeline or Twitter feed.

Let me share again this post just to illustrate what I mean.

Color reproduction is mostly accurate but tends to pop more if you turn on AI-assist.

I’m also a fan of how it handles night mode. In the past, some night modes tended to just overlight a shot. This isn’t the case with realme. From my experience, it truly analyzes the scene and applies an appropriate level of post-processing.

The SuperZoom is okay. My feelings over highlighting zoom capabilities remain the same — which is mostly this.

One Punch Man GIF by memecandy - Find & Share on GIPHY

 

The engineering to achieve the feat is truly remarkable, but the use-case for most people is just non-existent.

There’s another phone I’m waiting for that sits right around the same price range. Will do a more comprehensive photo comparison when that comes around.

A capable video camera

One camera feature we rarely get to test is the videos. Thankfully, this phone launched alongside the realme Watch, so I tried my hand at making a video shot mostly with the X3 SuperZoom.

All the spiels were shot using the 32MP front-facing camera with bokeh effect on. These are 720P at 30FPS clips, in case you’re wondering.

The rest of BRoll was shot using the rear-camera, with the exception of some clips showing the phone itself.

Naturally, I post-processed the videos using a desktop software (Final Cut Pro). However, if you’re only working with your phone, you can try apps like InShot, Filmora, or CapCut for video editing.

I shot the spiels and the rest of the clips during one hot afternoon. The spiels were especially challenging for the phone since it was exposed to direct sunlight during about an hour and a half of shooting.

That said, I still wrapped the shooting with about 15-19 percent of battery left. And the phone wasn’t even fully charged. It did get pretty hot, but it surprisingly never conked out whereas other phones would have already done so.

Not exactly a premium build 

If there’s anything to nitpick about the phone, it’s probably its build and button placements. These aren’t at all dealbreakers, but I feel they’re worth mentioning.

When it comes to build and feel on hand, the phone isn’t fragile at all. But, for me at least, it doesn’t have that extra oomph you feel when you’re holding flagships that cost north of PhP 45,000 (US$ 910).

The front and back are certainly glass, but the sides are plastic. That contributes to a lesser heft which is partially responsible for that premier feeling.

Still on the sides, instead of being flushed together on the right hand side, the volume buttons sit on the left-hand side.

Meanwhile, the power button/side-mounted fingerprint sensor (fantastic sensor placement and choice!) is on the right-hand side.

For a smartphone with a 6.6-inch display with a considerable overall footprint, it’s quite a challenge operating it on one hand, especially when you want to adjust the volume.

The Galaxy S20 Ultra, for instance, is a much larger phone, but I never had this volume adjustment inconvenience since all the buttons are flushed on the right side. That said, this is a nitpick and one I can most certainly live with.

But kudos to realme on the matte back finish. It’s not a fingerprint magnet and that’s a quality every phone should strive for.

Is this your GadgetMatch? 

The realme X3 SuperZoom has a lot going for it. You have a flagship-level processor, a display feature that’s mostly reserved for only the most expensive flagships, and cameras that can more than hold their own.

In fact, the SuperZoom on its name might even be underselling the product. Because it’s certainly more than its Zoom capabilities which, I feel, isn’t even the best part of this phone.

However, the real kicker here is the price. Retailing for only PhP 24,990 (US$ 505), this smartphone is an absolute steal. And it’s right in line with what realme has been doing all this time — offering fantastic value for less.

If you’re looking for flagship-level performance but do not have the resources to grab the premium ones, then the realme X3 SuperZoom should be one of your top choices.

SEE ALSO: realme has been a true disruptor

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Reviews

Redmi Note 9S review: The healthy, underappreciated middle ground

The right mix of everything in one device that won’t break your wallet

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The Redmi Note 9S, in my opinion, finds itself in a bit of a “struggle.” It follows the seemingly perfect older sibling in the Redmi Note 9 Pro Max, although shares most of the same hardware. There’s even its younger sibling, the Redmi Note 9 with the major difference being in the storage options and price point.

You will breeze past this smartphone if you’re an extremist with your decision-making. You’ll either go for the phone that’s the priciest but most powerful, or the budget-friendly one. The Redmi Note 9S will find itself lodged in that gray area.

But, maybe it’s an area worth looking at — for once. Here’s what the Redmi Note 9S is offering:

It has a 6.67” FHD+ DotDisplay with Corning Gorilla Glass 5

It comes with a 48MP AI-powered quad camera

The fingerprint sensor is found on the right side, integrated with the power button

And at the bottom are the speaker grilles, USB-C port, and 3.5mm headphone jack

Overall performance that just hits right

The Redmi Note 9S comes with a Snapdragon 720G processor inside, with the model I tested having 6GB of RAM. Upon initial use, I found the phone to be quite fast and responsive. It was a breeze navigating through MIUI, and how quick apps opened up. Multitasking using different apps went just as expected with the hardware.

Even gaming full time on this device feels just right. MIUI 11 comes with Game Turbo for this device, and I honestly found this very useful for shooter games. Call of Duty Mobile plays seamlessly while hitting around 60 FPS, while Fortnite is fairly decent — mostly because of the 30 FPS cap. The device doesn’t throttle to boost performance, and it even maximizes battery usage.

Plus, the 6.67-inch DotDisplay is pretty bright even under direct sunlight. I even tried playing some games and watch Netflix out under the sun, and I could see the details. Honestly, I felt like I was getting exactly what I needed out of the hardware the phone came with. I just wish that the notch was placed somewhere else since it obstructs your view while watching.

A surprisingly great quad camera

I say “surprisingly” because of how I’m used to smartphones under Php 15,000 having relatively okay cameras. The 48MP AI-powered quad camera setup produced great images with clear cut details in them. Colors don’t seem to be sacrificed with each shot, although I can’t say the same when in the dark.

In my experience, I still spotted a bit of grain but that was mostly when I zoomed in on the images. Plus, you can record 4K videos with the camera, albeit only at 30 FPS.

The selfie camera wasn’t too shabby, either — especially during Portrait Mode. I even felt like my face was glowing with every selfie I took. What did it for me was the way the AI blurred everything else in the background when using this mode. Even when you’re not using Portrait Mode, it’s still a great front camera to put in.

These aren’t Leica-levels of great, nor do they compare to most iPhones out there in terms of cameras. But if you needed an alternative, the cameras on this device come close by a little bit.

The battery just keeps you going for more than a day

The Mi website notes that the Redmi Note 9S can last up to 33 hours on calls, 16 hours watching videos, and 13 hours gaming full time. This mostly all comes from the 5,250 mAh battery inside, which you can also find in the Note 9 and Note 9 Pro. Upon my own usage of it, I got about 30 hours doing pretty much all of that.

At one point, I even did all of these things, went to sleep, and woke up to around 20 percent battery life. I even put up the brightness to 90% while doing all those things, and it’s clear: the phone lasts real long on a single charge.

Charging the device had me a little confused, mostly because of the fast charging capabilities. The device comes with a 18W fast-charging adapter that ran a full charge for about two hours. However, I only felt the fast charging kick in after it reached 60 percent as it took about an hour from 0-60. I mean, at least you still get to use your phone right away when you drain the battery.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

Starting at PhP 10,490 (US$212), the Redmi Note 9S finds itself as the great balance of power and affordability. It serves as a middle ground between the budget Note 9, and the premium and powerful Note 9 Pro. It has everything you need in a modern smartphone, in a price range that’s reachable too.

It’s an easy recommendation for anyone looking to buy a great smartphone for any use case. It lasts long enough that you won’t need to charge it overnight, and puts you right back in once it fully charges. I honestly believe you can live with the little grain in the camera and the obstructive notch placement.

All in all, the Redmi Note 9S does not compromise much in terms of performance. Every nifty feature you need in a modern smartphone, it gives you that. It’s the middle child that deserves some loving, too.

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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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