Hands-On

Samsung Galaxy S9 Hands-On: Same but better

Samsung sets the bar high with a reimagined camera

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When Samsung sent out teasers for its Galaxy S9 launch earlier this month, it promised a re-imagined smartphone camera.  

So it comes as no surprise, now that the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus are official, that this year’s new Samsung flagships are designed to be the best smartphone cameras in the biz.

Apart from a new paint job that includes a lovely shade of purple and a few minor adjustments, the new S9 doesn’t necessarily look or feel new. But, it is loaded with plenty of camera improvements meant to impress both casual and serious photography buffs.   

The Galaxy S9 and S8. Can you tell the difference?

Let’s start by addressing the first half of that statement.

Samsung’s smartphone design evolution hit a major milestone four years ago when it first embraced curved displays. Last year, after almost half a decade of iterating on this new and innovative form factor, Samsung found its sweet spot.

We first saw it on the S8; it repeats on this year’s S9, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this trend continued into the next year or so.

That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, two years in and it’s still one of the most beautifully designed smartphones out there. Like the S8, the S9 is all-glass, with Samsung’s signature, curved Infinity Display, that blends into its sides and back.

This year’s model is a wee bit taller and narrower, button placements are off by a few millimeters, and if you look closely, top and bottom chins are smaller as well. The only other aesthetic change is the position of the fingerprint sensor, now a few millimeters south of the phone’s rear camera.

Also a new shade, Lilac Purple, joins the rest of the standards: Midnight Black, Titanium Silver, and Coral Blue.  

Like the S8, the S9 comes in two sizes, 5.8 and 6.2 inches, dubbed the S9 and S9 Plus respectively. The latter, larger model is the better of the two phones. It’s got two main cameras, more memory, and a larger battery.

Reimagined Camera

If you look at the roster of the current best phones in the world today, one thing they all have in common is a great camera. In some ways, it’s almost the tie breaker that determines which of among these phones is best among the best.     

For more control, dive into the S9 camera app’s Pro Mode

While only extensive tests will prove if Samsung succeeded with the S9, on paper, its camera looks impressive. Let’s throw some specs out there:

A super fast f/1.5 lens, currently the fastest on a smartphone, and the kind you’ll want if you’re looking for great background blur, and great low-light shots, like in a bar on your night out.

That lens is also an f/2.4 lens, and with a feature called Dual Aperture, it is able to adjust between the two to let in more light as needed.  

When it’s dark and you need more light, it will shoot at f/1.5, making dimly lit photos brighter and less prone to blur. And when there is plenty of available light, it will switch to f/2.4 so you get more detail and sharpness.

All of this is done automatically and in the background, but if needed, you can manually switch between the two in Pro mode.

If you get the the larger S9 Plus, you also benefit from a second rear camera, which doubles as an optical 2X zoom lens, allowing you to zoom in closer on subjects. Two cameras also means you get the same feature we saw on the Galaxy Note 8 called Live Focus, which lets you adjust background blur during and after a photo is taken.

This feature isn’t available on the S9, so that’s definitely something you want to consider when choosing between the two models.

Stepping up your selfie game

The selfie camera too gets upgraded, with features clearly targeted at millennial females.

Apart from a software-based Selfie Focus mode, which gives your selfies that portrait-style background blur, there’s also standard selfie mode without background blur but with a bunch of beauty filters that make it look like you’re wearing makeup even if you don’t have any on.

Our Her GadgetMatch team loved how you can adjust the intensity of these effects, so your makeup game is on point without going overboard. You can also dive into each effect to change things like lip color, eyeshadow, and contour. What they didn’t like, however, was that you could not use makeup effects and background blur at the same time.  

Click over here to read more about four fun things you can do with the S9.

Super slow-mo video

One of the new things the S9 can do is super slow-mo video capture — 960 frames per second, to be exact. That’s four times more frames than what the S8 can capture.

While super niche, it’s a cool feature you have to see to appreciate. Check out the samples in our hands-on review below:

Capturing super slow-mo video can be done automatically, with motion detectors that trigger capture automatically once movement is detected. Or manually, which we’d recommended for most situations.

It takes a bit of practice to get your timing perfectly right, but once you do, the results are rewarding.

AR Emoji

It was only a matter of time till Samsung jumped on the animated stickers trend.

Samsung’s AR Emoji are reminiscent of Snapchat’s bitmoji, except that you don’t manually have to pain over crafting stickers after your own likeness.

Does my AR Emoji look anything like me?

On the S9, you can just take take a selfie and the phone does the rest. Apart from an exaggerated mouth, the caricatures are pretty accurate, and you can animate them or send them as animated GIFs on your messaging platform of choice.

The S9, however, struggles to accurately track your facial muscles, so something like say Animoji karaoke with Samsung AR Emoji might not be as successful.  

Refinements and tweaks

While most of the improvements have been camera-centric, Samsung did find the time to address user feedback with some much-needed updates.

Audio for one got a whole lot better. With built-in AKG stereo speakers — one front-firing from the ear piece and the other from its side through the usual speaker location — the resulting sound is louder and bolder. The new speaker setup also supports Dolby Atmos for an immersive surround sound-like listening experience.

On the S9, you still get the usual host of security features like Knox and Iris Scanning, but there’s a now a new setting called Intelligent Scan which merges facial recognition and its iris scanner so that you can unlock your phones easily in the dark or when you’re out and the sun is very bright. They also claim it is smart enough to tell twins apart, something Apple’s Face ID is unable to do.

Finally, addressing many a complaint including ours, the fingerprint sensor is in a new place, below the camera instead of directly beside it. We like this layout better, but think it’s still too close to the camera so it doesn’t quite solve the problem of accidental smudges. It’s not that big of a deal, but considering this is supposed to have fixed last year’s design problem, you’d think they would have done it better.

So is the Galaxy S9 your GadgetMatch?

It’s too early to tell, but clearly Samsung has set the bar high in 2018. They took an already solid phone and made it even better.

Unfortunately, that includes its high price tag. We’re not liking this new trend that sees most flagships priced above US$ 1,000, but from the looks of it, this is just beginning.

One thing we would have loved to see are advancements in the artificial intelligence space. But it sounds like Samsung is sharpening its chops before it rolls anything out.  

If you own an S8 or S8 Plus, the S9 may not offer enough to warrant an upgrade, unless you’re an early adopter, or must have the best smartphone camera money can buy.  

If you’re an S7 or S7 Plus user scheduled for an upgrade, the S9 and S9 Plus are an easy recommendation for us to make (especially with a carrier contract). The S9 Plus especially is a great buy. If you don’t mind the size difference, we’d definitely recommend it.

Hands-On

How the MatePad 11 fits in your workflow

Can it be a substitute laptop?

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MatePad 11

We often get asked what’s a good “budget” laptop. And there’s never an easy answer.  Most decent options start at PhP 35,000 but the budget of people asking is capped at around PhP 30,000.

Then, we got to thinking — Do they really need a laptop, or just something that functions like one? Exploring this idea, one of our editors used the Huawei MatePad 11 for daily tasks, and this video chronicles the experience.

Typing away

For any writer or editor, it’s impossible to get anything done without a reliable keyboard.

The task ranges from writing your own articles to copy-editing the staff’s work. You also have to respond to emails and correspondence within and outside of the team.

That’s a lot of typing. And while we’ve come a long way in terms of getting accustomed to hitting a flat surface to type, nothing can replace a good, functioning full-sized keyboard for some real productivity.

Thankfully, the MatePad 11 has a compatible Smart Magnetic Keyboard. It looks tiny at first, but the keyboard is full-sized and offers a good amount of travel for its size.

In fact, parts of the script for this video was written on the MatePad 11-Smart Magnetic Keyboard Combo.

It’s also sturdy and balanced enough that you can pull it out in a pinch and prop it up on your lap. From experience, this isn’t the case with most other similar setups due to the weight of the tablet.

Thankfully, the MatePad 11 is light enough that it won’t topple over even when placed on a not-so-even surface.

Access to your usual apps

What most people really need is access to some type of Office apps. Thankfully, there are plenty of options available right from the App Gallery.

You can opt to go with Microsoft Office and link your existing subscription. Or select any of the other set of Office apps available.

Microsoft Office runs perfectly fine on the MatePad 11. Quickly set it up and you’ll be balancing sheets, making decks, and writing essays in no time.

If what you need is on Google Docs or Google Sheets, there’s a way to quick-launch these apps so you can work on the document or work file you need to.

Since plenty of our work files are on Google Docs, this was the editor’s primary way of accessing the stuff needed to get things done.

And if you’re having trouble with anything else you normally use, you can always access them via the browser like you would on a laptop.

There’s also Petal Search baked into the App Gallery that’ll scour the web for sources of the apps you desperately want and need.

Huawei understands the pain points it had to deal with and has addressed them with the App Gallery and Petal Search combo.

Multitasking master

The ease of switching from one app to another on a laptop is still pretty much unparalleled. But the MatePad 11 offers unique multitasking capabilities that offer an effective way to multitask.

What the editor found most useful in particular is how you can have smaller versions of the apps float on the screen.

And when minimized, it goes into this tiny app icon on the right side of the device functioning somewhat like a dock.

This is perfect for placing chat apps to look at messages at a glance. So even if the editor is in the middle of writing or copy-editing, glancing at messages is easy and doesn’t take the full attention away from the work at hand.

This is especially helpful for someone who juggles plenty of messaging apps.

Additionally, if you have a Huawei phone with you, the multi-screen collaboration feature takes this even further.

You can have your phone screen on the side and just open it up when needed. From here you can open any app whether that’s for messaging or something else you may need to reference for the work you’re doing.

It’s an incredible feature and one we hope will be adopted by other brands in some shape or form.

Not just for work

It’s recommended that you take short breaks in between tasks to keep yourself fresh and focused.

Breaks can be anything from standing up and walking around for a little bit, mindlessly browsing social media, or playing a quick game.

If the type of breaks you take fall on the latter two categories, the MatePad 11 is great for that as well.

The 120Hz refresh rate that this tablet has makes it a sight to behold and a joy to touch. Your general interaction with the device will feel incredibly fast and smooth.

It’s great whether you’re just swiping from one TikTok video to another or playing a quick round of whatever mobile game you’re into.

The M-Pencil is truly handy

Not everyone needs a stylus. But just because you don’t need one, doesn’t mean it can never come in handy.

An editor’s work also entails signing a lot of documents. This can be anything from loaner sheets or non-disclosure agreements.

It’s also great for providing a rough illustration of the visuals you need. Sometimes, the only way to really get your point across to visual artists is to show them what you have in mind, and then just let them work their magic on it.

On the Nebo app, you can draw rough sketches to show your graphic artist how you want something to look like. It’s a helpful guide and one that prevents miscommunication.

You can also use the app for taking notes and doodling which is a pretty underrated way of clearing your mind.

Mate just be what you need

The MatePad 11 is an excellent tablet. One that can be more than a stopgap to your laptop needs.

It gives you access to the work stuff that you need, while offering features that laptops in its price range aren’t capable of.

It’s a fine mate for work, play, and everything else in between.

Pricing and availability

The Huawei MatePad 11 retails for PhP 24,999 and comes with two freebies: Wireless Charging Table Lamp and MatePad 11 Cover

Buy here: Huawei Online Store | Lazada | Shopee

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Tempo Move Hands-On

This Compact $400 Home Gym Changes Everything!

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Tempo has just launched a new sub $400 system that fits into a console table! Not only that they a lot less space than regular home gym systems, it also uses advanced tech like the LiDAR sensor on your iPhone. Their new 3D Tempo Vision technology is also there as a complement to make workout reading and tracking more precise.

But could this be the future of home workouts? Watch our Tempo Move Hands-on now!

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Hands-On

Apple 14″ M1 Pro MacBook Pro: Unboxing & Hands On

Is this the right MacBook Pro for you?

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Finally, the newly-redesigned M1 Pro MacBook Pros have finally arrived after years of waiting!

For now, Michael Josh unboxes and spends more than 24 hours with the new M1 Pro silicon chip-touting 14-inch MacBook Pro — as well as the software experience with the new macOS Monterey update.

If you’ve been wanting to buy one today, you have to wait for our review video baking up real soon.

For the meantime, all the basic things you need to know about the new M1 Pro MacBook Pro are in this unboxing and hands-on video.

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