Reviews

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review: The best among the beasts?

Are the extra specs worth the extra price?

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It hasn’t even been a year ever since Samsung launched the Galaxy S20 series but they’ve already unpacked the Galaxy S21 as early as January 2021.

I even remember we did a three-way review of the Galaxy S20 variants when it was launched. That experience serves as an eye-opener for me that I am, by all means, an “Ultra” user for the tasks I do. Multitasking, gaming, watching, shooting with great set of cameras, what more could I ask for now that I have the Galaxy S21 Ultra in my big hands?

While there are currently less newer flagships in the horizon powered by the latest Snapdragon 888 such as the China-exclusive iQOO 7 and the Xiaomi Mi 11 with its pending global release, is it enough to say that this phone is the best among all the beasts released so far? Let’s find out.

Ultra-minimal box content

S21 Ultra

The rumors are true after all. After mocking Apple for removing bundled chargers, Samsung still followed their path and ditched the usual 25W Super Fast Charger. Inside the retail box, I only got the phone itself, the usual SIM tray ejector tool, some paperwork, and a USB-C to USB-C cable.

It appears the removal of the AKG earphones in the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra packaging was already an early hint.

Ultra-sophisticated design

S21 Ultra

Love it or hate it, the Galaxy S21 series has a newer design that I honestly admire. While last year’s S20 Ultra had a glossy finish, the S21 Ultra now has a matte finish like the Note 20 Ultra — which should lessen the amount of fingerprints on the device. I used the Galaxy S20+ in Cosmic Black last year and that was an ultimate fingerprint and scratch magnet.

S21 Ultra

Samsung is proud of this year’s “Phantom Black” colorway by doing several processes to achieve its true and final color. It’s a more mature look that’s bold yet clean.

 

The whole process reminds me of how Apple made the Jet Black iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. Regardless of that tedious process, this dark color option closely resembles Apple’s Matte Black variant even more.

But unlike the iPhone’s aluminum unibody chassis, this one is made out of a tougher Gorilla Glass Victus — even tougher than last year’s Gorilla Glass 6. Albeit, there are times when fingerprint smudges still show when hit by light.

SEE ALSO: Which Galaxy S21 color should you get

S21 Ultra

Distinct from the Galaxy S21 and S21+ is this humongous camera bump of the S21 Ultra with six holes in different sizes that house its wide array of camera components.

S21 Ultra

If you have big hands like I do, you’ll enjoy using this phone. Holding the phone feels lighter than last year’s S20 Ultra. But frankly speaking, it’s still on the hefty side — what more if you have petite hands?

The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, despite its larger display and sharper edges, was still easier and more comfortable for me to hold in one hand. That’s due to the fact that it has symmetrical sides and a slimmer form factor.

S21 Ultra

Turning the phone around reveals the new “Contour Cut Camera Design” where the phone’s metal frame meets the thicc AF camera hump. Unlike most people who despise it, I just love this over last year’s rounded rectangular-cutout.

Ultra-immersive audiovisual experience

S21 Ultra

Applied my shot as the wallpaper and it suddenly felt like I’m in Hong Kong again

I’m always a sucker for great displays — and Samsung always exceeds my expectations. Even though it’s less curved and a tad smaller at 6.8-inches (compared to last year’s 6.9), there isn’t much of a difference. It still feels immersive with its narrow and almost-borderless viewing experience.

S21 Ultra

I’m addicted — both with this gorgeous display and aespa

With its Dynamic AMOLED 2X technology, the colors pop with vibrant hues, deeper blacks and whiter whites. It’s still the ultra-crisp and vibrant display I’ve been loving ever since I had the Samsung Wave in 2010 — Samsung’s first Super AMOLED device in history (announced a month earlier than the Galaxy S).

It also has 1500 nits of max brightness, which helped me use the screen even under harsh sunlight. Paired with crisp and loud stereo speakers, it’s truly a great device for your entertainment needs.

S21 Ultra

While last year’s S20 had a progressive 120Hz refresh rate, the caveat is you only get it under Full HD+ resolution. This time, while it may be adaptive, you get to enjoy 2K+ resolution/120Hz.

It might be an ongoing discussion for most users but I prefer faster refresh rates over larger screen resolution. Enabling both options affect the battery life over time anyway.

S21 Ultra

Had to cherish IZ*ONE’s remaining promotional period through Panorama

To maximize the Samsung ecosystem, I paired the new phone with my good ol’ Galaxy Buds+. I always love how seamless the transition is from connecting all the way to listening without frills and hassle. Don’t fret! As long as your audio accessory has Bluetooth (like my AirPods 2 and Lenovo Yoga ANC headphones), you’re good to go.

Ultra-snappy Unlocking

S21 Ultra

Whether you choose Face Unlock or the embedded fingerprint sensor, unlocking is fast and snappy! Unlike before where I have to press more than twice just to unlock both the S20+ and Note 20 Ultra, the new ultrasonic under-display sensor unlocks even when I lightly tap the screen for around 0.5 seconds.

The Face Unlock feature is also here. While it may not be as secure as iPhone’s FaceID system, it’s still fast. Samsung has maximized the use of AI so it will be fool-proof and won’t unlock when you’re asleep.

MultitasKING

S21 Ultra

This Galaxy S21 Ultra has 12GB of memory. Although it maxes out at 16GB RAM, my unit is enough to make the most out of the tasks I do in a day.

S21 Ultra

Whether I open social media apps such as Twitter and Facebook, it comes to no surprise that they’ll open instantly.

S21 Ultra

In my previous phone reviews, there are times where some of the apps in the background close by themselves — whether that may be Instagram, a photo-editing app, a shopping app, Apple Music, and a game in idle. The RAM capacity isn’t the issue, rather the management and lack of software optimization.

S21 Ultra

In the case of the Galaxy S21 Ultra, switching between apps is a breeze. The navigation gestures on the new One UI 3.1 based on Android 11 is more fluid and responsive. One might say these have been around in most 2020 Android smartphones, but Samsung’s implementation is as close as what I get in iOS.

S21 Ultra

I commit spelling mistakes more often when I use the keyboard, no matter what Android device I use.

Fortunately, typing has been convenient in Samsung’s native keyboard. I was able to type one-handed with little to no typos at all. This means I don’t need a third-party keyboard like Gboard nor had the need to adjust keyboard height. I don’t even need to switch to one-handed mode at this point.

Ultra woes in storage and performance

The Galaxy S21 series marks the first Samsung smartphone to ship with Snapdragon 888 in the US and China. As bad as it sounds, the rest of the world comes with Samsung’s in-house Exynos 2100 processor. These chipsets are both 5nm — which makes it smaller, faster, and more power-efficient.

S21 Ultra

There’s no problem in performance. I played Asphalt 9 as well as Call of Duty: Mobile (CoDM) and both were smooth and responsive. You can even see how I scored almost 5,000 points in a single Ranked Match game.

S21 Ultra

But Samsung’s claim wasn’t really addressed at all. During the first fifteen minutes, the phone quickly sizzled while playing. I can literally feel it especially because I used the phone without a case. To make it worse, I went out to shoot some photos around late in the afternoon, and the phone was still hot to touch.

Another rumor that was later confirmed is the removal of the microSD slot. Previously, Samsung supported up to 2TB of external storage.

This review unit comes with 256GB of internal storage. Based on my experience, I was able to maximize my iPhone’s 256GB storage for almost two years. But considering how this phone shoots 4K-8K UHD footage and high-quality stills? It might take a shorter time to completely fill this up.

Having a microSD card expansion offers the fastest and safest way to backup your files. I feel the sentiment and rage of most Samsung users especially because having no external storage in the Galaxy Note 5 made me lost a lot of unbacked files after a motherboard failure five years ago.

Ultra-heavy battery (and drain)

The equipped 5,000mAh battery might be enough for a flagship smartphone like the Galaxy S21 Ultra, but my first day with it wasn’t particularly promising.

Other than those heating issues, it’s also plagued with serious battery drain. Using it continuously from 8AM to 1PM with 5G, WQHD+, and 120Hz enabled resulted to a major decrease in battery life. From 100%, it went down to 34% — that’s just five hours of moderate use of social media apps and the camera.

Disclaimer: I did the extensive gameplay and camera test around 3-4PM, just right after doing an hour of charge using my powerbank. 

S21 Ultra

Third day of use, it notified me of a new software update. I’m unsure if that solved the heating and drain issues as I barely used the phone while I worked on articles and videos but the standby time since has been pretty stable. The screenshots prove that from 3PM (82%), it only had a 11% decrease after 11 hours of standby (2AM) with little to no phone activity.

Battery drain during an 11-hour standby | Image by GadgetMatch

While there’s no official word from Samsung if the S21 models support 45W super fast wired charging, the closest thing you can have is Samsung’s 25W Super Fast Charger.

In my case, I used a third-party 30W USB-C PD (Power Delivery) charger. Even if it only detected “Fast charging”, it was completely juiced up after an hour and a half.

If you have a fast wireless charger that supports speeds of up to 15W, charging the S21 Ultra will also work on that as well.

Ultra-speedy 5G connection

S21 Ultra

Although 5G speeds may not be blazing fast just like in South Korea and the US, the S21 Ultra was able to detect ultra-fast 5G speeds around the Metro.

S21 Ultra

Watching Sejeong in this drama truly felt uncanny as I was used to her cheerful, girl group idol vibe #WeWillMissgugudan

Downloading and uploading shouldn’t be a problem at all. I’ve managed to download the first three episodes of the K-Drama ‘Uncanny Counter’ under a minute. Even uploading a 30-second 8K video took a minute — which isn’t possible in 4G LTE and regular Wi-Fi hotspots.

Ultra-interactive smartphone

While my unit doesn’t come with the new S-Pen, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is the first S-series smartphone that’s capable of supporting it.

As a creative who’s been fond of the Note series, the S-Pen is, no doubt, a greater way to interact with your phone — regardless if it’s scribbling, digital painting, or even as simple as decorating your Instagram story.

The longer and thicker S-Pen might just be comfortable enough — which was something I wasn’t used to with the Note 20 Ultra’s shorter and slender S-Pen. To make it better, it also has a 9-millisecond (9ms) latency that will feel like you’re writing on a paper.

SEE ALSO: Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: GadgetMatch for the Multimedia Creative

There’s also the latest Ultra-Wide Band (UWB) support. Lost your Galaxy Buds? It’ll be easier to locate with the SmartThings app. There’s also the Samsung Galaxy SmartTags which you can attach on bags, luggages, and even car keys so you can track them wherever, whenever.

Ultra-Grade Cameras and Features

S21 Ultra

On paper, the S21 Ultra has some beefy camera sensors: a 108-megapixel f/1.8 wide (main) camera with Phase-Detection AF and OIS, as well as a 12-megapixel f/2.2 ultra-wide sensor with a 120º FoV (Field of View) that’s also found on other S21 smartphones.

What makes it stand out than the rest of the S21 line are the two 10-megapixel telephoto cameras: one that’s capable of 3x optical zoom, and another that reaches up to 10x optical zoom, both with Dual Pixel technology and OIS for clearer zoomed shots.

The problem with last year’s S20 Ultra is how wobbly it is when using the zoom function. But because of better sensors and stabilization, the S21 Ultra now has a zoom lock feature where it focuses on a subject from a distance without the camera preview getting distorted.

Other than the 8K UHD/24fps support, 4K/60fps comes standard regardless of what lens you use for video recording. Even the front camera supports it so vloggers can edit and upload videos in 4K.

S21 Ultra

While the dual shot mode has been around since the Galaxy Note 3 where it simultaneously takes a photo/video both from the front and rear cameras, Director’s View is more of an improvement with better configurations to choose from.

Other than the single view, you also get the classic split mode, and even a PiP (Picture-in-Picture). But the biggest addition is the ability to effortlessly switch between the wide, ultra-wide, and telephoto lenses.

Ultra-mazing 108MP camera

S21 Ultra

The ultimate star of the show is the wide camera that’s capable of shooting 108-megapixel photos. If we’re going a bit technical, the S21 Ultra packs the latest ISOCELL HM3 sensor by Samsung with a larger sensor and improvements in dynamic range, autofocus, and low-light. It’s an update from the HM2 and last year’s HM1 of the S20 Ultra and Note 20 Ultra.

With the presence of natural light, one would always expect that the latest smartphones will take great photos. It’s always the software processing techniques that differentiate the camera quality of one smartphone to another.

Over the years, Samsung is known for boosting the saturation of the photos it takes — and the S21 Ultra does the same. While it may look good on the eyes of many, it sometimes goes overboard with all the camera processing and algorithm just to make a natural, “bland” scene into something lively and vivid that looks artificial.

For most users, this isn’t a bad thing. If the camera software does all of the job, it means less time for them to process it. But for a serious shooter like me, I’d prefer flatter shots and adjust what’s needed after the shots were taken.

Other than the color test, I also tested how the camera performs when it comes to food. Most Android smartphones I’ve tried tend to over saturate and over sharpen food shots. Fortunately, the images above look more natural.

Even my issue with Note 20 Ultra’s weird radial blur on close-ups are gone. But if you want that extra-dramatic blur effect, Food Mode will help.

Ultra-bokehlicious portraits

I also tried using the main sensor with manual mode. The shots above clearly show that the S21 Ultra is capable of producing top-notch, DSLR-like bokeh.

From the perspective of my friend who uses an iPhone Xs Max, she was astounded with how the S21 Ultra performed using the Portrait Mode.

Other than the wider view, background on both shots look creamy with a clean segmentation between our hair strands — something most Android phones and older iPhones can’t do properly.

Ultra-wide sensor

Just like on the Galaxy S21 and S21+, the S21 Ultra features the similar 12-megapixel Ultra-wide camera. It’s capable of shooting wider shot perspectives just like the building I captured above.

The ultra-wide sensor also helps capture more elements and details in outdoor shots like these.

Ultra-zoomed shots

In tight situations, there’s got to be a use for telephoto zoom lenses. If one isn’t enough, Samsung doubled it for better and clearer shots from afar.

In the first set, the HDR (High Dynamic Range) and AWB (Auto White Balance) were both consistent throughout the lenses — something most Android manufacturers fail to do. I tested the superiority of the S21 Ultra’s cameras up to its maximum focal length.

Since I’m an architecture dilettante, I tried zooming in close to the building. At my surprise, the window looked sharp and clear enough after the preview.

In the second set, I saw these playful Chow Chows roaming around the grasses with their hoomans.

Zooming in as close as 30x digital zoom helped me capture one while his/her tongue is sticking out. But if we’ll look closely, the shot has a weird noise reduction that sits between camera grain and software smoothening.

Let’s move straight ahead to the third set, I tried using both the 3x and 10x telephoto lenses.

The HDR was pretty dull in the wide shot and it’s less green in the first three modes. Meanwhile, zooming in to 10x looked more lively because of the saturation boost.

Finally, this last set was taken in my favorite park. Again, the wide angle lens had an inconsistency, this time in exposure. Unlike the HDR problem from the last photo, that can be corrected through post-process.

Zooming in as close as 10x gives us clear details of the metallic tree. Zooming in further at 30x is acceptable. 100x zoom is barely usable.

As bonuses, these macro shots were taken in a windy environment. While it may not be as clear as what you get from a DSLR, Galaxy S21 Ultra’s long zoom capabilities are clearly commendable for producing the right amount of exposure, contrast, dynamic range, even if it displayed some hints of over-sharpening.

Ultra-clear night shots

It wouldn’t be a camera test without testing how it performs under low-light scenarios.

Regardless of what camera lens you’re using, Night Mode works on both the Ultra-wide, wide, and telephoto lenses.

Of course, without Night Mode, shots look blotchy, smudgy, with a lot of dark shadows and blown-out highlights. But with Samsung’s Night Mode, it fixes not only the Dynamic Range, but also the exposure and contrast of the image — especially in situations where there are less night light available.

With night mode turned off, the convenience store sign was barely recognizable. But with the magic of Samsung’s image processing, it was able to fix all the colors and details in the image.

But unlike the previous Huawei flagships, the S21 Ultra maxes out night zoom at only 10x. The Mate 30 Pro I used in 2019 was capable of zooming in on the moon as close as 30x.

Ultra-detailed selfies

Unlike its younger siblings, the Galaxy S21 Ultra packs a larger 40-megapixel front shooter with a dedicated ultra-wide view. Other than the less-smeared faces with retained face artifacts, the front camera can also shoot in Portrait Mode that works just like how the rear cameras perform.

As another bonus, here’s how the Galaxy S21 Ultra Phantom Black will look like if you’re planning to flex it in your future mirror selfies 😂

Is the Galaxy S21 Ultra your Ultimate GadgetMatch?

S21 Ultra

Priced at PhP 69,990 for the 12GB/256GB model, the Galaxy S21 Ultra simply isn’t for everyone. If you’re the type of user who has the purchasing power and clearly knows that you want the best of everything in a smartphone, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is the ultimate smartphone you can buy right now.

You might be considering to buy the iPhone 12 Pro Max instead. That’s a fine option if you’re the type of user who’s locked in Apple’s ecosystem. But if it doesn’t bother you to try something new in the Android world, the S21 Ultra might just be a better option.

S21 Ultra

I know what you’re thinking. There’s still the existing S20 Ultra and Note 20 Ultra that both cost a little less. They still have a great set of display, specs, and cameras at a lower price. But if owning what’s new in the market today is an important buying factor for you, look no further and pick the S21 Ultra — unless you want to wait for a quirkier follow-up of the Galaxy Z Fold2 and the Z Flip.

S21 Ultra

Consider the Galaxy S21+ if you wanna keep the same material and specs minus the cameras and curved 2K display. If you want the less fancy stuff, go for the Galaxy S21, Note 20, or even last year’s Galaxy S20 FE (unless you can wait for the S21 FE successor).

For more pre-order options, freebies, and discount information of the Galaxy S21 series in the Philippines, head over to our pricing and availability article.

Lifestyle

43-inch realme Smart TV review: Picture-perfect quality within reach

The basics and features of premium TVs made more accessible

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Smart. That’s how I’ll describe life in 2021 and beyond. From phones, vehicles, appliances, and even a toothbrush — everything’s getting smarter. But smart devices almost always come at an expensive price tag. There may be affordable options but there’s always a compromise. Sometimes, you’ll just have to say, “you really get what you pay for.”

Say no more, folks. Popular smartphone maker realme expands its portfolio, bringing in smart devices as part of realme TechLife. And we know they make lots of affordable devices that won’t break your bank.

In lieu of this, realme aims to make technology more accessible so we can enjoy living a smart, connected life.  One of realme’s key products is its Smart TV lineup — a centerpiece for every connected home.

Wait, what? realme has a Smart TV lineup?

Yes, you read that right. Just a refresher in case you haven’t been making GadgetMatch.com your daily habit, realme launched its Smart TV lineup last 2020. It comes in two sizes: a 32-inch and 43-inch model, with varying differences.

Both models found their way to the Philippine archipelago, and we’ve got our hands on the 42-inch variant. And from here on, I’m going to share my experience with realme’s latest Smart TV.

Setting it up

Let me preface this story by saying that I’m the type of person who would ask for help. It’s simply because I’m too lazy or I don’t want to use my brain cells in trying to figure out how something works.

When I unboxed the package, I took out the 43-inch Smart TV which weighed 6.7kg, enough for most people to carry on their own.

On the inside, you can find two base stands and four screws that you’ll need for installation. There’s also a quick start guide, instruction manual, and a warranty card.

What I really loved right away is the remote control — it’s small and looks neat with its minimalistic approach. But don’t let its size fool you: It’s fast, responsive, and made navigating the TV easy.

Since it was an Android TV, I signed in with my Google account fairly easily. It also instantly connected to the WiFi, and happy to report it maintained a stable connection and didn’t disconnect abruptly unlike some of your ex-lovers.

The installation and setup were relatively easy for someone who doesn’t want to think. It also boosted my self-esteem, seeing how proud my self-proclaimed strong, independent self was, for being able to set everything up on my own.

Connectivity and customization

I mentioned that the Smart TV instantly connected to the WiFi, but in case you need to know, it supports 2.4GHz Wi-Fi, Infrared, and Bluetooth 5.0 for different wireless connections.

You can pair your Bluetooth-powered speakers, game controllers, and microphones. It also comes with three HDMI ports, two USB SPDIF ports, DVB-T2 for your digital TV, and Ethernet ports — for your wired connectivity needs.

Going back to my point about it being an Android TV, it’s because it runs Android TV OS based on Android 9.0 — which makes the interface simple and easy to navigate. It also personalizes and modifies recommended content based on your viewing and search history, and of course, to your liking.

The remote control or even your smartphone can also access the TV’s Google Assistant, which lets you customize your whole experience using your voice.

Picture-perfect viewing

The Smart TV evoked a premium-looking impression with its thin, inconspicuous bezels and edge-to-edge panel. It also gave an immersive experience even with just a 1920×1080 resolution.

Thanks to its Chroma Boost technology, the overall picture quality looks magnificent. In case you didn’t know about it, realme’s smartphone cameras use the same tech — improved brightness, color, contrast, and clarity  — which result in high-quality photos and stunning output.

With this, the Smart TV’s picture tuning looked visually appealing especially with its vibrant colors and ultra-high brightness of up to 400+ nits. I didn’t have trouble watching any shows even when harsh sunlight enters my living room. The picture quality looked even more alive at night or when the room is dark.

Viewing angles weren’t a problem, too. You can see the content clearly, thanks to its visual angle of up to 178 degrees. To provide a pleasant experience to different users, the TV lets you choose from seven display modes: Standard, Vivid, Sport, Movie, Game, Energy-Saving, and User.

Chromecast

One of my favorite features on the realme Smart TV is the built-in Google Chromecast technology. Ever since I discovered this feature from my techie friends, I’ve always loved using it on all applicable devices.

Anyhoo, you won’t bother using your brain cells with Chromecast. You can easily connect your smartphone with the Chromecast button (if it shows up) and link your TV. If both devices can’t see each other, you can proceed to the TV’s Settings option and get the code that you’ll input using your smartphone.

Once you’re done, voila! Enjoy using your smartphone as the host or navigator for all your entertainment needs. When I’m alone at home, I stream Taylor Swift’s concerts on YouTube which were remastered in 4K on the TV. I know it only has a Full HD resolution, but we all can agree that having Taylor Swift’s videos is worth playing on whatever screen.

Plus, the main issue here was the sound experience, which brings me to my next point.

Surround sound or just really loud?

Playing Taylor Swift’s concerts on the realme Smart TV is like being at a live concert. I streamed Swift’s videos while I clean the house or when I wash the dishes, singing and belting my heart out as she tearfully sings “All Too Well”.

And there’s a reason why it felt like I was at a live concert: the realme Smart TV uses 24W Quad Stereo Speakers with Dolby Audio MS12B solution. Sounds martian, right?

Basically, the speakers expand the bass frequency and high-frequency width, resulting in balanced audio even at the highest volume possible. It doesn’t sound cracked and distorted even if it reaches a frequency of 20,000Hz — the highest frequency that any human ear can listen to. For comparison, most TVs can only reach a frequency of 11,000Hz.

But for a sensitive person like me, the loud audio can be discomforting sometimes, especially for days when I just want to relax and watch some feel-good movies. My neighbors also complained since I live in a quiet neighborhood, and they didn’t like hearing what I was playing on my television.

Though the Dolby Audio solution fine-tunes the quality, controls the loudness levels and volume changes in a content’s audio, and creates surround sound to make it palatable to our audible range, it’s still recommended to use a soundbar for an enhanced sound experience. Especially if you want it to be really cinematic.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

The 43-inch realme Smart TV has a lot to offer. It houses a MediaTek processor, sports a Full HD LED Display, equipped with Dolby Audio-tuned 24W speakers, and comes with Android TV out of the box. It presents a picture-perfect quality perfect for a theatrical experience at home, without paying for an exorbitant price.

Simply, this Smart TV made the basics and features of any premium TVs accessible at an affordable price, for any consumer to experience. The 43-inch realme Smart TV retails for PhP 18,990 and will be available on realme’s official channels and authorized stores and retailers.

Shopee Mega 3.3 Shopping Sale

Heads up! The realme Smart TV will be available on Shopee, in time for the 3.3 Mega Shopping Sale happening on March 3, 2021, at 12:00 AM (GMT+8).

Both models will get PhP 3,000 off; the 32-inch model with an SRP of PhP 11,990 will be available for PhP 8,990 while the 43-inch model with an SRP of PhP 18,990 will be available for PhP 15,990.

Make sure to use the voucher code: GADGETZONE8 before you check out. On another note, ten lucky buyers of the realme Smart TV will get a free realme Soundbar. Meanwhile, first-batch buyers of the TV will get free 12 months extended warranty worth PhP 3,990.

SEE ALSO: realme Smart TV: Price and availability in the Philippines

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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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