Her GadgetMatch

Samsung Galaxy S9: An honest review of AR Emoji and more

Find a phone that gives you both

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The Galaxy S9 is here and as the excitement over AR Emoji settles, I ask the questions: Is Samsung’s latest flagship worth it? What can AR Emoji do? Does camera performance justify this new release?

If you’re not so techie, like me, and you’re thinking of getting this new phone, read on. I try out all the key features and answer all those questions (and play with more emoji!) in this article.

Look and feel

The Samsung Galaxy S9 looks almost exactly like the S8 — from the curved Infinity Display to the sleek smooth body, this handset is a Samsung déjà vu.

This is, perhaps, the biggest criticism that the S9 has gotten. But I say: It’s what’s on the inside that counts (more on this later) — and if anything, new colors make up for it looking like its predecessor.

Yes, there’s a purple S9 that matches my hair and it’s looking gorgeous. I mean, we hold phones more than we hold hands — these things might as well be your best accessory.

Having the same look as the S8, it follows; I still love the feel of this phone, it fits my teeny hands well, and its curved display is still an enjoyable experience. It’s all glass, though, so it can be a little slippery.

There’s one noticeable change on the S9. Samsung moved the fingerprint reader below the camera. This should mean less accidental smudges on the shooter.

It must also be pointed out: At a time when most brands are shamelessly copying the notch (which isn’t really a look that’s all that, TBH), Samsung stands firmly behind their design. I believe that’s something they should be applauded for.

AR Emoji

Let’s get this out of the way first: My emoji looks nothing like me, even my mother won’t recognize that pink-haired emoji. It’s an absolute shame.

And although there are some emoji that look like the people they’re supposed to be, I’m not lucky enough to be one of them. Again, see:

The idea of having this tiny avatar on my phone excited me so much but trying it out was a different experience. For all its cuteness, tracking wasn’t really very good. A lot of times, the AR Emoji couldn’t even catch up with what I was doing. It doesn’t even track my tongue when I stick it out like this 😛 — the emoji just gives me a weird face.

What I did enjoy playing with were the preset AR Emoji GIFs. Creating your emoji produces a whole line of GIFs from that likeness — ones you can send out via different platforms! To make it easier, Samsung has also integrated the GIF sending on the Samsung keyboard. Oh, what fun! Above photo is an account of an actual conversation between me and Chay soon after we discovered this feature.

Selfie shooter

The S9’s front-facing shooter has a Selfie Focus mode which allows for the bokeh effect. It also has an adjustable beauty mode, which should really be on every phone, if you ask me. Airbrushing doesn’t look too overwhelming but I did wish they didn’t whiten my face as much.

From my tests (that means a lot of selfies), the bokeh cutout is more or less accurate, but it still isn’t perfect. Selfie shots also seem like they’re automatically brightened overall which is good because it makes you fresh; however, this sometimes makes for overexposed backgrounds.

But, what I totally love about the S9’s built-in camera app is a feature you can find on the separate Selfie mode: makeup filters. To test it out, I shot with literally no makeup and this was the effect. I look ready for a night out!

I didn’t even have powder on when I shot this

There are a number of preset looks, plus the option to toggle the intensity of each filter. You can even isolate each part of your face — eyebrows, eyelashes, lips, cheeks, contouring, blush, and more — then adjust accordingly.

This photo below, which showcases a more subtle makeup look, was taken five seconds after the photo above. Listen, boys, this is what #nomakeup is, but not what it looks like. 😂

Those virtual eyelashes, though!

The filters work well even with glasses, on boys, and in groups. Proof:

Joshua would make a cute girl

What’s sorely missing, however, is the bokeh effect on the Selfie mode. If you choose to virtually paint your face, this means no more blurred background as this is only doable through the Selfie Focus mode where makeup isn’t available.

And sure, you can download any beauty app and get similar results with filters or editing, but that’s not the point. Aside from the possibility of great, on fleek looks 24/7 without moving an actual makeup brush, I just honestly love that this feature was built into a flagship phone. Push comes to shove, premium devices will usually have the same level of phone specs. It’s the little features like this that become the tie-breaker for me.

Rear cameras

The Galaxy S9 (and S9+) rear cameras are said to be groundbreaking as they house the world’s first dual aperture smartphone cameras. But, I won’t deal with that because of too many technicalities. What you need to know is that this feature, which allows the tiny camera to adjust to allow more or less light come in, is automatically activated when you shoot on Auto.

That being said; on Auto, the camera performs well.

It was already evening when this photo was taken!

Here are more low-light photo samples taken by Michael Josh (most of my low-light photo samples were taken in Amsterdam; my apologies for not being able to show them as they’re x-rated 😅).

The S9 only has one camera on the back, unlike the S9+. This means there is no Live Focus function on this thing. There is, however, a Selective Focus function which allows you to blur our either the background or the foreground of the photo which results in pictures like this.

Look at that creamy background blur!

There is also a Food Mode built-into the camera app, for all your food flat lay needs.

Chay’s homemade one pot pasta

Samsung shooters are already known to saturate photos. As you can see, this mode does that even more to make yummy food look even more enticing. There’s also a radial blur effect happening, reminiscent of Instagram’s blur option where you pick a certain point to focus on, and the rest of the photo is just blurred out.

As pretty as this mode can make the food look, it still doesn’t change the fact that it will all end up in my tummy.

Word of caution though; the saturation can sometimes be too much and there’s no intensity toggle for this mode. On the off chance that it is too much, I just switch to Auto which brings me back to normal shooting.

Slow-mo

This phone can shoot in slow-mo at 960 frames per second — which is all a bunch of numbers to me until I see what that means:

I have to be honest: Everything looks better in slow-mo. Even crappy birds look pretty cool.

Me making a mess look almost artsy:

And did you notice the background music? These samples were fresh off the S9, no need for editing as the device allows you to cut up video, and even edit music in.

Shooting slow-mo can be tricky, however — I had one too many failed attempts because I kept pressing the slow-mo button too early, or too late. But, once you get used to it and the proper timing, it gets waaaay more fun. Just make sure to do it in a well-lit area, and I mean full on studio lights well-lit or a bright, sunny day well-lit. Otherwise, video comes out grainy.

READ MORE: Samsung Galaxy S9 Review: Brilliant but underwhelming

Verdict

Considering that this is a flagship, I expected top-of-the-line specs on this device and the S9 delivered in that aspect. Just know that the technology on this handset is on par with most flagships out now and this phone will be able to handle your everyday smartphone needs — from social media, to AR Bitmoji Snaps, to everyday work productivity. But, that was to be expected from any Samsung headliner.

As for the camera, it’s definitely capable, with low-light photography as a big strength. If you’re looking for a phone with a great camera, this should be on your list of choices. But that’s the thing: There are still a number of other great camera phones out there and though the S9 performed, I can’t for sure say it’s the absolute best. At the end of the day, it all boils down to aesthetics and preference.

That being said, what I love about this device are the add-on features which gave this handset enough points for me to consider getting it. 

Although I was a little disappointed with AR Emoji, I find that the makeup beauty mode isn’t getting old — in fact, I’ve gone three days without real makeup but my online persona has managed to look on fleek. The slow-mo capabilities are impressive and the fact that it comes in stunning purple just makes me want to rock this phone daily.

With this device, Samsung seems to consider a demographic (*ehem ehem*) that most tech companies ignore when releasing flagships. On top of quality performance, these add-ons are a definite delight for users like me.

Find a phone that gives you both: Fun and functionality are two things that I look for in phones, and more often than not, I’ve had to compromise. If the release of the S9 is any indication, it seems that’s all about to change.

SEE ALSO: Samsung Galaxy S9: Four fun new features

SEE ALSO: Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+ vs Google Pixel 2: Camera Shootout

Her GadgetMatch

Samsung Galaxy Note 9 review: Is a smartphone enough to document your vacation?

I left all my other gadgets behind!

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Since the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 came out, it’s been touted as a “powerhouse” phone that can do everything — but a lot of people say that to a number of phones. Put into real-life context (which is the context we all really need), what can it do? My main question: Is it good enough that I can ditch other devices like my point-and-shoot camera? Also, will I lose the S Pen? What real-life scenario can I use live messaging in?

Photo credit: Joshua Vergara

I brought the Note 9 on a trip and put it to the ultimate test: A millennial girl on a beach vacation. This is how it all went down.

En route to California

Like all stories, we start with the journey.

I flew to L.A. to catch the boyfriend, Joshua (who was also playing with the Note 9 on this trip so we get insight from him, too), before we jet set to the ocean paradise that is Cabo San Lucas, Mexico which is to be the final destination of this piece.

I’ve been on the Note 9 for four days and I had not lost the S Pen, yet (hooray for little victories!). The Note 9, which looks almost exactly like the Note 8 is not really a pocket-friendly device. With its 6.4-inch screen, I can tell you now that no woman pocket would fit this thing comfortably. You best believe you’re holding on to the phone for the most part, but for such a big phone, it feels good to hold (shocking). It’s sleek and solid, though the glass panels on my copper unit are pretty smudgy so the phone, unless I clean it up, can look dirty at times.

Pocket fitting reenactment because, as I said, I brought no other cameras with me on this trip

The novelty of the S Pen does not wear off easily. After almost a week, I still found myself navigation the phone with the pen. Scribbling on this thing is pretty fun and definitely a blast for my Instagram stories — you can get more detailed with what you’re writing on the S Pen! And yes, airport selfies are still a thing because the S Pen makes remote selfies way easier.

Now, it might be just me, my scribbling, and my tinkering with the phone but I was expecting way more from my standby battery time. My battery lasted me through my airport wait in Manila (on data), until my Taipei stopover (on WiFi) but I had to charge once I was on the plane bound for L.A. This is fine as I was on my phone A LOT during this period. What I couldn’t explain, however, was how my battery drained while on Airplane Mode after charging it to full in the first few hours of my 12-hour flight to 79 percent when I landed.

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Nevertheless, got to California in one piece and had Ikea meatballs and The Hat so all was right in the world.

Barbecue Pitstop!

The next leg of this trip involves meat. We were flying to Cabo, but a Houston stop was in order: Joshua and I were heading to Texas and getting us some barbecue.

Now, remember when I said S Pen selfies were great? Let me demonstrate (again, because I never tire of how useful it is). Your photos can go from a close up to a wider view. All I did to take the wider photo was to prop it against a random wall at the airport and use the S Pen shutter.

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So yeah, I was still taking tons of airport selfies like nobody’s business but at some point, I had to stop because we had to catch the Apple keynote (#AlwaysHustling). I gotta tell you, I was pretty thankful for the wide Note 9 screen — we watched the whole announcement on the Note and I couldn’t have asked for a better big phone to watch it on. I was following updates and tweeting reactions via my phone as this was all going down — and this is when split-screen capabilities on a bigger screen factor in. The processing power on this phone is enough for all these things without it slowing down or lagging.

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An afternoon in Houston entails trying famed Texas Barbecue spots and you know what that means? More photos and IG stories!

I did notice, though, as one is prone to noticing when one’s hands are filled with barbecue and one wants to take more photos, that the combination face and/or iris scanner wasn’t as fast as other phones in the market. At the end of the day, I found myself swiping my pattern on the phone more — so much so that I was swiping even after I switched phones when the trip was over because I got so used to it.

Finally, Cabo

Another plane ride later, I was in Mexico for the first time and I was pretty excited. I was, at this point, vlogging and shooting stories of everything. As expected, photos with the rear cameras were great for Instagram (which is where most of my photos are going).

Live focus using the rear cameras (which is basically why you have dual cameras on the back) also looked awesome, it was a perfect way to add drama to your vacation photos. See example below:

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What’s great about the Note 9 is that it’s waterproof. What’s even greater is that the S Pen is waterproof. And yes, that means I was carrying my phone around in the water and forcing Joshua to take photos of me like this:

Excuse my hideous tan

Even dramatic beach photos like this:

But, even Joshua (who is the best IG boyfriend in the world) gets tired of shooting photos for me. When that happens, I just bust out the S Pen. Even in the water, I can take photos like this:

And since they said the S Pen can take photos from up to 10 meters, I put it to the test. And yes folks, the picture below was taken with the S Pen.

Of course, that last photo was just showing off. A more reasonable scenario with the S Pen would be for great group selfies.

The Note 9’s camera did not disappoint at all. Colors were vibrant, the details were crisp, selfies were flattering (the beauty mode set in low didn’t erase my face), and most photos would totally pass for IG.

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Video looks pretty good on this phone, too. I especially love how smooth the built-in stabilization is. This thing’s camera can shoot in 4K at 60fps, or in 1080p at 240fps which makes for some good slow-mo footage. This phone is a quick and easy way to vlog, though don’t expect to get crazy with the camera settings. The video shooting mode doesn’t really give you a lot to work with but, that’s to be expected with most smartphones.

Flying back

The flight back to California was spent on our phones. I discovered the wonders of Alphabear and Joshua was busy (way too busy 🙄) playing Shadow Fight 3 on his Note 9. Suffice to say there were no hitches when it comes to mobile games on these devices.

I also caught up with my Bojack Horseman episodes on that flight. Say what you want but I still like my audio jacks, despite being recently converted to wireless headphones, and I’m pretty glad the Note 9 still has them.

So, is this smartphone enough? Will it suffice for a whole trip? Well, it was enough for me and that says a lot. A quick look at all the things I’ve been doing on and with my phone just goes to show that I’m a pretty heavy media user, and the Note 9 definitely kept up. This is the first time in a while that I traveled without a dedicated camera and I’m still very happy with the photos and videos I came home with.

And though I realized (probably way too late) that there really isn’t any practical use for Live Messages or AR Emoji (because honestly, they haven’t gotten better), the bottom line is that all you really need is a phone that can cover the basics and do it well. The Note 9 is a definite candidate in that department.

Oh, and I never lost the S Pen.

*Joshua uses a Snapdragon 845-powered Note 9, while I have been rocking the Exynos 9810 variant.

SEE ALSO: How to be productive with the Samsung Galaxy Note 9

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Her GadgetMatch

BoxLock Home makes sure you never lose a package again

It’s like having a digital security guard for deliveries

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One worry that comes with buying things online is the safe arrival of the order. This might not be the case when there’s always someone at home ready to receive it, but what about when everyone’s out at work or doing errands or on a trip? These are the perfect opportunities for those porch thieves, and you might not even know your package arrived. BoxLock makes it so that these worries are no more!

BoxLock Home is a high-tech lock that you can use on any chest that keeps your deliveries safe and sound. It has a scanner, and the delivery person scans the tracking number of the package, and it will unlock if the package is indeed addressed to you and is out for delivery that day. An accompanying app helps you monitor your deliveries, and you’ll get a notification when the package is in the bin. Once it arrives, it can be opened via Bluetooth by you, or people authorized by you to retrieve the delivery.

BoxLock is designed for single homes, and with one administrator and four additional users, most if not all people in the household would be able to unlock the bin. You can pick one up on Amazon for US$ 129, and hopefully your delivery woes will be eased.

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Accessories

Mighty Purse takes away your on-the-go charging worries

Bring a power bank with you wherever you go

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Let’s face it, 99 percent of the time we don’t leave the house without bringing our phone with us. On top of that, more and more gizmos we take with us need charging — a power bank is becoming an essential thing to have. But if you prefer bringing smaller purses, then this might be a problem… or is it?

Mighty Purse is a line of leather purses that have portable chargers built in! They have many different styles in different sizes, but each one gives you the capability to plug whatever you need to charge right in your purse. Their designs are classic, and they also have options made with “vegan leather,” which widens the audience for the product.

The built-in battery packs are slim and take up barely any space, and with a 4000mAh capacity, it should be enough for an emergency top up on the go. That’s a pretty nice alternative to other power banks that might be high capacity, but take up a lot of space and add unnecessary weight to your bag.

These bags are pretty and practical, and with the variety they have, these could easily be used by anyone for anything. Check out the selection here.

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