Reviews

Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+ review

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Rarely am I ever impressed by new phones; waves and waves of products do that to you. But this is an exception. Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and S8+ are really truly special.

If our hands-on video and loyalty-provoking articles haven’t been enough to convince you how beautiful they are, maybe this full review will. Just look at them — this is how phones should look like in 2017.

6.2-inch Galaxy S8+ on left, 5.8-inch Galaxy S8 to the right

Curves are in, thick bezels are out

Here’s how it compares to the LG G6

But honestly, they’re literally a handful

You’d be surprised how slim the two phones are for their large screen sizes; that’s because they use this new 18.5:9 aspect ratio that’s a lot longer than the usual 16:9 ratio use in practically every other phone out there. (The LG G6, in comparison, has an almost-as-long 18:9 ratio.)

But that doesn’t discount how unwieldy they can be in a single hand. Although accidental touches aren’t as common as with the Edge variants of the Galaxy S6 and S7, you’ll always be stretching and squirming your fingers around the AMOLED display, which, by the way, is rated as the best on a smartphone ever (all 1440 x 2960 pixels of it).

Samsung tried its best to find ways around the inconvenience. One was to bring back edge screen functionality, wherein you can swipe in a panel from the side to access quick settings and important contacts. The other is a gesture on the fingerprint scanner to bring down the notification shade. The Android Nougat interface, by the way, is a lot less cluttered compared to previous Galaxies and is easier to navigate now.

Reaching for the fingerprint scanner is a pain

Since this high-tech technology that would let you scan fingerprints anywhere on the front panel didn’t make it on time (would’ve been cool, though!), Samsung chose to place the fingerprint scanner right beside the camera lens at the back. We must say, it’s terrible. Not only does it make the lens prone to getting your greasy prints on it, the sensor isn’t even that accurate. Luckily, Sammy has some nice alternatives.

I thoroughly enjoyed using the iris scanner and facial recognition login features over the unintuitive fingerprint sensor. They’re both surprisingly accurate and have their own unique advantages. For the iris scanner, it works well even in poorly lit rooms; facial recognition, on the other hand, is less picky about your position and takes one less swipe to access from standby.

The Bixby button is so… Bixby

When something doesn’t work right, we should just call it “Bixby,” which is Samsung’s idea of the ideal virtual assistant. There’s a button right below the volume rocker to the side that lets you access Bixby even when the phone is asleep. Problem is, its functionality is… how do I put this… bad.

As of the moment, it can’t accept voice commands to do your bidding like with Google Assistant or Apple’s Siri. I was only able to scan objects seen through the camera app and look them up online, which then provided more information about the product. It wasn’t entirely accurate. Making matters worse is the current supported app list, consisting of two apps I actually use: YouTube and Uber — although strangely enough, YouTube compatibility disappeared from the list when I double-checked just now.

To our delight, Google Assistant is still available for those who’d rather not be Bixby’d; you can access it by holding the home button. Now, wouldn’t it be great if we could officially map Assistant on Bixby’s physical button? Get to it, Samsung!

DeX is DeXy

One more feature unique to Samsung’s Galaxy S8 line is DeX. Sounds silly, but it’s a docking system that allows these phones to connect to a monitor and turn themselves into a full-fledged desktop operating system. While it isn’t on the level of macOS or Windows (or even Linux), it’s a decent alternative to working with files on your phone if you really must use your phone. It comes complete with a taskbar, specific settings, and all your apps scaled to monitor proportions.

I personally don’t see this becoming a hit, especially since you must buy the DeX dock separately. In no way can this replace a true desktop PC experience, but it does make working and multitasking on your phone infinitely easier. I imagine this flying with consumers who travel from one workplace to another — and, umm, happen to have a monitor lying around at each destination.

Camera time!

Let’s be real: We all want to know how well the camera performs. After listing all its tricks and pitting it against its most bitter rivals, the Galaxy S8 duo have, hands down, the best set of cameras on any phone right now. Even if you ignore all the added features and upgrades over last year’s class-leading Galaxy S7, the fact it beat the Google Pixel is enough to earn its crown.

Take a look at some more photos we’ve taken with the new king of camera phones:

Keep in mind that the two smartphones share the same cameras both in front (8 megapixels) and at the back (12 megapixels). This means the only differences between the flagship pair are the screen size and battery capacity, so don’t worry about missing out if you opt for the smaller model. (Take notes, Apple!)

Speed and endurance as slick as the glass back

The only thing smoother than the rear glass panel is the processor and its accompanying software. Depending on where you live, you’ll either get Qualcomm’s top-end Snapdragon 835 processor or Samsung’s very own Exynos 8895, which is just as fast. Beyond the processing speeds, what really sets these two apart are their super-tiny 10nm fabrication, meaning they’re a lot more efficient and less battery-hungry than older flagship chipsets.

On top of that, the smaller footprint allowed Samsung to jam more features into the Galaxy S8 without adding to the heft. The battery, in particular, is generous enough considering how much space is used for the awesome display and camera. I was able to squeeze out about four hours of screen-on time with both Galaxy S8 models over the course of one day on a single charge.

While this sort of battery endurance may not sound so great, especially when compared to other large contenders, consider that I have Samsung’s Always On feature activated the entire time. This handy function shows me the time, date, remaining battery percentage, and my notifications even when the device is on standby. This keeps me from turning the phone on every few minutes to check messages — I’d sacrifice some battery life for this convenience any day.

Enough brains to back the brawns

I just love how Samsung made 64GB the minimum storage option for the Galaxy S8 duo. This marks 16GB as prehistoric, and forces 32GB out the door, as well. In addition, the hybrid SIM card tray allows you to extend the internal storage using a microSD card, if you choose to forego adding a second nano-SIM card, however.

In a bit of a surprise, the memory of the base models didn’t get a significant boost. In a world where 6GB of RAM is gradually becoming the standard for higher-end phones, both Galaxy S8 units settled for 4GB. I’m not complaining, though; not once did the Galaxy S8 or S8+ shut down an app before I was done with it or hinder my multitasking between programs.

To protect your investment (and it’s a hefty one), we once again have full water and dust resistance to keep the phones safe against nasty spills. Finally — and this is important for couples out there — the Galaxy S8 pair has Bluetooth 5.0, which lets you connect two pairs of wireless headphones at once!

Is this your GadgetMatch?

How much are you willing to shell out for the best smartphones currently available? If you say around $750 to $850 for the Galaxy S8 and S8+ respectively, you have your GadgetMatch! But seriously, these are expensive phones. It’s even worse if you live outside of the US, where prices are jacked up further; the Philippines has to deal with PhP 39,990 and PhP 45,990 for the two flagships.

There really is no way around it other than waiting for the prices to go down, which might probably happen when the next iPhone and Pixel roll out. If you do decide to bite the bullet and purchase either of these two Galaxies as soon as possible, I can’t blame you. In my opinion, they’re prettier than other near-borderless phones, and have the camera performance and security features to boot.

If you’re still worried about another Galaxy Note 7 fiasco, don’t be. Samsung clearly learned its lesson and is taking battery safety more seriously than any other manufacturer right now. You can learn more about the steps Samsung has taken to ensure better quality control in our comprehensive explainer.

SEE ALSO: YouTubers react to the Galaxy S8

[irp posts=”11903″ name=”YouTubers react to the Galaxy S8″]

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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Reviews

LG Velvet Review: New breed of flagship killer?

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

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

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

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

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