Reviews

Samsung Galaxy A50s Review: Perfect midrange phone?

One of the best midrangers

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Let me preface this review of the Samsung Galaxy A50s with an explanation for Samsung’s A-series. If you haven’t been keeping up with all things midrange or within a significant budget, then let me catch you up. Samsung has recently dropped its J series. When I say dropped, I mean they stopped adding more to the series. Insert dramatic gasp. I sadly didn’t know this because I’ve been off the loop for a bit. Sorry, guys and gals.

As to why that is, I’m assuming Samsung just wanted to rally up and work on a line-up that fit the bill for consumers on a reasonable budget. For a lot of people, looking for a phone that racks up on specs and features that don’t cost an arm or leg is a good deal–if not a steal. This is why this series is set to rock near-flagship features without wrecking your wallets as a flagship phone would.

The Samsung Galaxy A50s is a great phone from the get-go. When you open the box, you’ll see uncanny similarities to its predecessor: the Samsung A50. Released not too long before the Galaxy A50s, the Samsung A50 seemed to be a very promising midrange release.

If you’re into crystals and holographic, you’re in for a treat

The Samsung Galaxy A50s comes in holographic colored design, and it needs more rep. So much of phones have been dabbling into more striking designs overall but the Samsung Galaxy A50s did not disappoint. It gives the phone an interesting profile and makes me think of unicorns vomiting rainbows. Don’t come at me. Sparkles may be tacky to some, but you’re never too old to believe in rainbow vomiting rainbows.

Jokes aside, I strangely prefer the sleek and futuristic design over the A50 since they added a touch of linear cuts almost similar to diamond cuts. The glossy finish and fresh, digitized pattern come with shades of Prism Crush Black, White, Violet or Green. It makes for a striking, bold, and futuristic look. The phone brags an immersive display. Like most phones on the market, it has a 6.4″ inch FHD+ Super AMOLED near bezel-less Infinity U-display. It’s more than just pretty though.

Samsung took it a step further

If you expected the Galaxy A50s to be not so different from the A50, you’ll be eating your words. We all know that the A50 was shockingly released equipped with a flagship-grade processor. This was a surprising move from Samsung earlier this year seeing as midrange phones normally sport a so-so processor that can disappoint some fans. They stepped up the processor from an Exynos 9610 to an Exynos 9611. Samsung’s home-baked processor then was delivering more than enough oomph with smooth performances. So, having the Samsung Galaxy A50s run smoothly was no surprise. On top of that, the phone has 6GB of RAM to help deliver efficient performance.

Before we get into the battery life, let’s talk camera

The Galaxy A50s cameras get an upgrade! It has the same four cameras: three at the back and one in the front. The phone’s rear cameras include a 48-megapixel f/2.0 main sensor, an 8-megapixel ultra-wide shooter, and a 5-megapixel depth sensor.

The rear cameras are similar to the A50, but instead of a 25-megapixel main shooter, the Galaxy A50s has a 48-megapixel shooter. Samsung didn’t skimp out on upgrading their front-facing camera either. From a 25-megapixel front casing camera, the Galaxy A50s gets a 32-megapixel f/2.0 main sensor.

The 48-megapixel main camera makes photos look bright, crisp, and clear. I took both day and night shots for comparison and the day shots are significantly sharper. The evening shots aren’t necessarily horrible, but the darker it is, the higher the chances for the photos to come out with a bit more noise.

An added feature for the camera is the super steady mode which gives you smooth live videos, even when your grip gets a bit rocky. Using the ultra-wide camera is always more fun outdoors. The quality is inferior to the main shooter, but the wider field of view gives it a different feel.

Taken with the Galaxy A50s

I also played with the camera’s live focus to see how the photos would turn out and they didn’t disappoint. Sometimes, it takes a few taps or two for the phone to focus on the right subject. But, overall, the photos turned out great. I mean, who can go wrong with photos of home-baked cookies though?

As for selfies, it’s great. It has a high-resolution sensor with a beauty mode available. Also, you can never go wrong with AR Emoji, a feature from Samsung’s flagship phones.

Long-lasting battery

I was checking how long the phone lasted and it took a good beating. I usually use my phone to play games, work, and go on social media. The fact that it survived a day of about three hours of Underlords, two hours of Mobile Legends: Bang Bang, and a full day of work and watching Youtube videos is pretty good. If you were to use the phone extensively, the phone gets to about 10% by the end of the day. The Galaxy A50s lives up to its promise of taking a full day use.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

The Samsung Galaxy A50s is promising. It has near-flagship features that add to its charm. I think if there’s anything to mull over with the phone, it’s how Samsung is catering this series for midrange budgets while attempting to bridge the gap between features that might cause phones to cost more. The phone is amazing if you consider it’s PhP 16,990 price tag. If you want a phone that holds up to quality photos, a striking design, a good processor, and a battery that can take a beating, get this phone.

Editor’s Note: The phone was launched at PhP 18,990 but the price has since gone down to PhP 16,990

India

Xiaomi Mi 10i Review: Master of the midrange

A near-perfect phone, designed for everyone

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For years Xiaomi has tried to get a foothold in the premium segment, but it just couldn’t hit the right spot. Despite engineering marvels like the Mi MIX series, it didn’t work. The company has also tried releasing a polished midrange phone under the Redmi branding but couldn’t meet inflated market expectations. Will the Mi 10i solidify its push?

The Chinese smartphone giant got its portfolio sorted at the beginning of 2020 by dividing the three brands — Mi for premium, Redmi for budget, and spun-off POCO into a completely independent brand. Now, Xiaomi has set its priorities straight and aims for the lucrative premium segment, one that’s gobbled by players like Samsung, Apple, Huawei, and to a certain degree, OnePlus, OPPO, and vivo.

The Mi 10i is surely a midrange phone, but it has a lot of expectations to meet. And it’s an important product for Xiaomi since it’s again trying to test the INR 20,000+ range. There’s also tough competition from the OnePlus Nord, Galaxy A51, as well as the realme X3. So, how does Xiaomi’s new offering fare? Let’s see!

How’s the design? Is it comfortable to hold for gaming or streaming?

I’ve got the Pacific Sunrise color option, and it looks phenomenal. The phone has a unique color palette and a premium touch that makes it look much more expensive than it really is. The front and back of the device are protected by Corning Gorilla Glass 5, but it has a very satisfying opaque finish that gives it a very translucent look. It may be glass, but it’ll never attract fingerprints, and that’s one of my favorite things about the phone.

The back has a gradient of cyan or light blue and a mix of orange and pink. While colors or gradients are usually personal preferences and range from person to person, everyone I showed the phone to loved it.

You’ll find the power and volume buttons on the right, the USB-C port at the bottom, and the IR blaster at the top. Like the Mi 10T series, Xiaomi has added a side-mounted fingerprint sensor that’s baked into the power button, and it’s speedy.

The rear has a circular camera module that may remind you of the OnePlus 7T, but the Mi 10i has a slightly different design which actually looks quite good. Due to the bigger 108 megapixel primary sensor, the camera module bulges a lot. But it isn’t annoying because the phone is pretty stable on a flat surface and doesn’t wobble like the Mi 10T series.

Xiaomi has added an IP53 rating for water resistance, so you don’t have to worry about splashes or even light rain. Lastly, the phone retains my beloved 3.5mm headphone jack. I hope Xiaomi continues to add it in future phones.

Lastly, the phone weighs more than 210gms. The weight is easily noticeable, and it does get annoying after extended usage. I prefer a lighter phone because it helps with ergonomics and can withstand falls slightly better.

Is the LCD panel immersive? Does the high refresh rate drain battery?

Looks so good, yeah looks so sweet

The Mi 10i has a 6.7-inch LCD display with a 120Hz refresh rate and Full HD+ resolution. There’s not much to say about the screen because it’s like you’d expect it to be. Xiaomi has a lot of experience with these panels now, and the color reproduction is accurate and vibrant, blacks are deep enough, and the viewing angle is top-notch. However, I feel that it could’ve been brighter. Under direct sunlight, it sometimes becomes difficult to view texts and emails on the go.

Yes, an AMOLED display will have deeper blacks, and that’s where the OnePlus Nord gets a lead. But considering the price difference between the two, Xiaomi smartly opted for an LCD panel and added 120Hz support. Day-to-day tasks are smoothly done, and the overall experience of having a smooth user experience pays off in the longer run. Although, you can adjust the refresh rate according to your preference.

The screen doesn’t suck too much power because it has an automatic variable refresh rate that adjusts according to your usage. So, if you’re watching a YouTube video, don’t worry. The panel knows the playback is at a lower refresh rate and makes the appropriate changes. In the end, you’re with a dynamic display that uses resources only when required. And, if you’re desperate to save power, there’s an option to downgrade to 30Hz as well!

How hard can you game on the Mi 10i? Is MIUI optimized?

The Mi 10i is one of the first phones to be powered by Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 750G chipset. It is an octa-core processor clocked at 2.2GHz and built on an 8nm fabrication while the graphics are taken care of by the Adreno 619 GPU. This is also a 5G enabled chipset which comes with Qualcomm’s X52 5G modem for 5G connectivity. My unit has 8GB RAM and 128GB of internal storage.

As for the real-life usage and performance, as expected, the device shines at everything you throw at it. Be it a light task or a heavy task; the device is capable of handling it all. Xiaomi has mastered MIUI’s integration with a range of hardware, and the results are visible across all its phones. The Xiaomi Mi 10i runs MIUI 12, which is still Android 10-based (we’d expect Android 11 by now). If you’ve used MIUI before, you know what you’re getting into.

And if you haven’t, don’t worry. The skin is heavily customizable and has a lot of nifty features that are very utilitarian. The RAM management and multitasking was also excellent. Apps stayed longer than I’d expected in the background, and switching between apps did not force reload the content.

All modern games run smoothly on the phone, and there’s barely any lag or stuttering. Though, I did notice some frame drops when playing Call of Duty: Mobile for more than an hour. If you’re expecting any considerable raw performance improvement against the Snapdragon 765G, don’t. The difference is negligible, and you won’t realize it in real-life unless you start mining Bitcoins on your phone.

Most importantly, how’s the 108MP camera? Is it as good as the Mi 10T series?

Just like the Mi 10T Pro series, the Mi 10i gets a 108 megapixel sensor, but it isn’t the same one as the Mi 10T Pro. It comes with a 1/1.52-inch sensor, and Xiaomi claims it’s more compact than the HM1 sensor, which reduces the camera bump. Pictures are usually taken in 12-megapixels via binning technology, retaining details, natural color, and accurate contrast.

One of my favorite things about the sensor is its capability to capture excellent pictures with HDR. The algorithm can cleverly process the image to ensure there’s no excessive noise correction. The sensor can detect colors precisely and adjust exposure even under direct sunlight. The 108-megapixel mode can be accessed in the camera app with more options. The amount of detail captured by the camera in 108MP mode is truly incredible.

Low-light pictures are slightly disappointing because they often over-sharpen details, and the result looks quite artificial. The night mode compensates for this, but it mostly makes the image brighter and doesn’t necessarily optimize it.

Accompanying the primary sensor is an 8-megapixel wide-angle lens that isn’t that wide and struggles to capture detail. The quality degradation is easily visible, and this is definitely a cost-cutting measure for the company. There’s also a 2-megapixel macro and portrait sensor, which are now commonly found on almost all Xiaomi phones. It’s worth noting that the phone doesn’t have optical image stabilization, so if you’re into video, this definitely isn’t for you.

Despite the criticism, I’d say the phone has the best cameras you’d find in this price range. The competition is far away, and the 108 megapixel becomes a deal-breaker for many. Most of the issues I’ve encountered are software-based, and Xiaomi can fix them via OTA updates.

How long can it last? Should I invest in a 5G phone right now?

The Mi 10i 5G has a 4800mAh battery with 33W fast charging, and Xiaomi includes a 33W charging brick in the box. It took me an hour to charge it from 0 to 100, and that’s definitely a good deal. Thanks to Adaptive Sync (variable refresh rate of the screen), the phone can deliver a screen-on-time of more than seven hours in one go. Sometimes, it’ll even go up to eight hours under comfortable situations.

India is yet to roll-out 5G on a commercial scale, and the expected launch timeline from telcos currently stands at 2022. The government is yet to hold a spectrum auction, so there’s a lot of bureaucracy involved before we get to experience it. In my opinion, practical coverage of 5G is still two years away. 5G should be no reason for you to buy this phone.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

If you’re looking for a phone that excels at everything, then this phone is for you. The design honestly feels flagship grade and reeks premium, the processor is brand new and packs a punch, the cameras are above average and can go the extra mile if you’re a photography enthusiast, and lastly, the battery backup is optimum.

Gamers won’t be disappointed because the chipset is capable enough, and the phone barely heats up. This phone is made for everyone and does not stick to any particular niche. Considering the starting price of INR 21,999 (US$ 303), the Mi 10i is an easy recommendation. And even though we can’t enjoy 5G this year, it’s great to see the market get flooded with options. After all, the trickle-down effect will soon give us affordable 5G phones.

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Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Review: For Pro Users!

Is it worth the $400 premium?

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What makes a smartphone ultra? We dissect the extras that make Samsung’s Galaxy S21 Ultra the phone for power users.

Is it worth the $400 premium vs the Galaxy S21? What’s been added, what’s been taken away, and does it make a difference?

WATCH: Samsung Galaxy S21 Review: Samsung’s Best for Less!

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Accessories

HiFiMAN Sundara review: A WFH audiophile’s dream

One of the best price-for-value pair of cans

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HiFiMAN Sundara

Because of today’s work-from-home lifestyle, everyone is rushing to grab the best laptops, PCs, webcams, and microphones to support their new home office. However, one overlooked accessory has yet to receive its time under the spotlight: a good pair of headphones. It’s even worse if you have audiophilic tendencies like I do. Today, I found one of the best price-for-value pair of cans well suited for both the home office and the hi-fi home audio setup: the HiFiMAN Sundara.

A pillow for your ears

Compared to anything I’ve tried in the past, the Sundara is extremely comfortable on my ears. When you’re looking at a headphone’s comfort, you’re considering a minmax combination of various factors: weight, cup size, clamp pressure, and flexibility. The Sundara handles all of those quite handily.

For a sizable pair, they are remarkably light; they don’t put too much pressure on your skull. Further, instead of the whole headband pushing down on your crown, the Sundara uses a suspended headband to cushion the weight. The softer secondary headband rests itself comfortably on my head without exerting too much pressure or trapping heat.

The earcups are also of notable size. They can fit my relatively smaller ears well. Though I do feel a bit of scrunching inside the cups, I never felt any pain or discomfort from wearing the pair for hours. I can wear the Sundara for four to six hours at a time without any pressing need to take them off.

HiFiMAN Sundara

In terms of durability, the Sundara is more than capable of withstanding major usage. Except for the two plastic portions at both ends of the headphones, the Sundara is made almost entirely out of metal. I did drop the headphones once while using it, and I couldn’t find a single scratch or dent. On a related note, the cups’ metal grille makes for an interesting but minimalist design — an epitome of its namesake, the Sanskrit word for “beautiful.”

Finally, since the headphones are open-back, leakage will always be a problem. However, compared to other open-back cans, the Sundara don’t leak as loudly. Likewise, even without noise cancellation, outside noise is only mildly annoying. That said, anyone sitting next to me can definitely hear whatever I’m listening to. And I can definitely hear whatever is happening beside me.

Playable in any genre

Armed with a planar magnetic driver, the HiFiMAN Sundara has one of the most impressive soundstages I’ve heard for a pair of cans in its price point. In practically any genre that I put the headphones through, there’s a remarkable level of depth. It’s almost as if I’m there where the music is happening. Christopher Tin’s orchestral To Shiver the Sky sparkled with every instrument, from wind to string to percussion. It’s the closest thing to attending a concert, especially in today’s times.

HiFiMAN Sundara

Though the headphones sport an impressive 6Hz to 75KHz frequency range, the Sundara leans marginally closer to the treble side. Instruments are sharper and tinnier, though still not at an uncomfortable level. However, if you listen close enough, sharp sounds can sound extra sharp on the Sundara, given the right track. Even then, the soundtrack for Cowboy Bebop, especially the iconic “Tank!” shines bright with the headphones.

Leaning over to the bass, the headphones can subsist on its own. They deliver a very mellow boom, as opposed to an offensive bombast well-advertised in today’s slew of headphones. That said, the Sundara is not a bass-heavy pair. If you’re looking for a bass monster, look elsewhere. Personally, I’m not a fan of bass-heavy tracks, so the Sundara is just the perfect fit for me. On lighter tracks, especially those from jazz, the bass caresses my ears just enough to tingle. On heavier metal music, like Nightwish’s Human :||: Nature, the lighter bass prevents overpowering and allows other instruments to come through.

For the mids, I’d say that the Sundara is attuned for it as well. I weaved the pair through more poppy tunes, like The Midnight’s Monsters. The vocals rose above other instruments without drowning them out.

Will you need an amp?

If you’re looking for some flaws in the almost-perfect Sundara, you might find it in the headphones’ amplification. The headphones are definitely a pair that can benefit from an external amp.

Just to be clear, the HiFiMAN Sundara can function well enough on its own. Regardless of whether you plug it into a smartphone, laptop, music player, or turntable, the device, sporting 37 ohms of impedance, can deliver audio at a workable clip.

HiFiMAN Sundara

However, according to my own tests, they benefitted greatly from an external amp. And you don’t even need an expensive amp. Even the portable (and affordable) FiiO A3 boosted the headphones to an extraordinary level. If you’re investing your hard-earned cash on the Sundara, you can’t go wrong with forking over a bit of extra cash on a small amp.

Is this your Gadgetmatch?

If you already have a home office setup, then you might like the Sundara. Keep in mind, though; a single-person home office is best for this pair. Because the headphones don’t have a built-in mic or any external functionalities, the pair exists solely as an audio device, not an office tool. It might just irritate any officemates you might have.

That said, the device’s extreme lightness is perfect for moving around the house. After a grueling day of working from home, you can unplug the Sundara from your PC and plug them into your hi-fi/entertainment setup.

With that in mind, though the headphones are light enough to move around the house, they don’t do well for a commuter, especially because of their leakage and lack of noise cancellation.

If you’re interested in the HiFiMAN Sundara, a pair will set you back by US$ 499. It’s definitely pricey. Compared to other more popular offerings, the Sundara belongs in an upper tier. However, for the quality you’re paying for, it’s a good way to start the next level of an audiophile habit.

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