Reviews

Sony Xperia XZ Premium review

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As interesting as the new Xperia X lineup was in rebranding Sony’s flagship efforts, none of them could touch the Xperia Z series of years past in terms of prestige. Adding that “Z” to the Xperia XZ sort of, kinda, brought back that old flame, but it just wasn’t there for me. And that was the issue at hand.

The Xperia XZ came at a time when smartphones were already rocking up to 6GB of memory (the XZ had half of that), Quad HD displays (the XZ, again, settled for nearly half that), and slightly better processors. But that wasn’t the point of buying into the XZ experience; you buy one because of its fans-first approach, which we talked about a while back. At the same time, I just couldn’t recommend it over the more affordable, yet more feature-loaded flagships out there.

That changes with the Xperia XZ Premium, which aims to rectify what the non-Premium XZ couldn’t accomplish.

An evolution of a familiar aesthetic

Once again, this is practically the same design language we’ve been seeing from Sony since the original Xperia Z launched in 2013. That’s ages ago! Sure, there were refinements every now and then — such as the use of ALKALEIDO metal and a more ergonomic power button infused with the best-placed fingerprint scanner in the business — but it’s the same old look we’ve grown accustomed to.

Don’t get me wrong; while the XZ Premium is definitely gorgeous, its smudge-loving, hyper-reflective glass back can only bring it as far as my unsightly fingerprints do. It’s reminiscent of Sony’s previous excessively high-end smartphone, the Xperia Z5 Premium, which we reviewed in all its glory back in 2015.

And yet, the best design cues are all here. The volume buttons are now rightfully positioned above the power button; its 5.5-inch display (with the balanced top and bottom bezels) feels so perfectly sized in my somewhat large hands; the front-facing stereo speakers and IP68-rated water and dust resistance made a return; and the rear camera is still flush with the back panel — no wobbles on tables!

What you actually come for

But seriously, what you should really be after is the 4K resolution of its display. It’s only the second time Sony implemented such a monstrous pixel count on one of its phones, with the Z5 Premium being the last one. The difference here is it comes with an HDR (High Dynamic Range) panel this time, leading to deeper blacks and brighter highlights simultaneously.

As you can guess, you’d need content optimized for the resolution and HDR capability to truly get the most out of it. That’s a tall order with 4K HDR videos still in the early stages of breaking into the mainstream market — heck, finding such content on YouTube is considered special, and that’s if your internet connection is fast enough to stream without buffering every few seconds.

From my own tests, I honestly couldn’t tell the difference between videos shown in 4K (3840 x 2160 pixels) and Quad HD (2560 x 1440 pixels). The 5.5-inch screen is simply to small and the pixels are already densely packed enough at Quad HD. Like on the Z5 Premium, it feels like Sony is just showing off, rather than implementing a functional feature everyone can appreciate from the get-go.

Slower than slow, faster when it counts

The other highly touted feature is the super-slow-motion video recording, something we already enjoyed back in MWC last February:

It’s such a novelty feature, but we can’t get enough of the 960fps slow-mo video recording. Yes, that’s 960 frames per second! It’s the result of combining a super-fast processor in the Snapdragon 835, and a stronger focus on making a single camera great, instead of adding another one for optical zoom or background blur effects.

As for the still photo quality, we can’t give the same amount of praise. Although focus tracking and locking on to a subject is speedy, the final products (especially at night) sometimes left a lot to be desired. The issue seems to lie in the post-processing, which didn’t know how to optimize each photo’s colors or noise reduction, leaving us with mushy parts in some images. These are our best shots from a recent trip to Taipei, Taiwan:

Not bad really, as long as you take several shots and pick the best one. Our experience with the front-facing 13-megapixel camera was much more pleasant. Thanks to its own autofocusing system, which is still surprisingly rare in modern smartphones, selfies were sharp no matter how close or far our faces were from the lens.

Something new, something older

As mentioned earlier, a high point for the XZ Premium is its use of Qualcomm’s flagship Snapdragon 835 SoC (System on a Chip). This processor is no joke; it’s the tiniest, most efficient, and most powerful of its kind. It’s the same chip that handles Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and OnePlus’ upcoming flagship handset. Partnered with 4GB of memory, up to 64GB of storage with microSD expansion, and the choice of owning a dual-SIM version, this is the definition of a premium Xperia device.

My only qualm lies in the actual video-watching experience. With a 3230mAh battery capacity, the XZ Premium doesn’t exactly last long for movie marathons. The battery percentage reaches near 10 percent after watching two full movies (about two hours each), and the average screen-on time with mixed usage hovers around five hours in a single day. In addition, despite having two separate speakers blasting audio towards your face, the maximum volume is inadequate. I ended up connecting my Sony MDR-1A headphones whenever I wasn’t too lazy to reach for them.

And now we have to talk about an ongoing legacy: the Xperia UI. Being a user since the first Xperia Z smartphone, I must say there hasn’t been much change since 2013, and that’s disappointing. Having been spoiled by the advancements of several Android Nougat-based interfaces and even Android O on our Pixel, going back to the Xperia UI feels like a trip down memory lane. The notifications and quick settings panel takes up a lot of space; the settings menu chooses to spread out several categories without simplification; and the side-scrolling app drawer doesn’t feel that fluid anymore.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

I have to look at this from three different perspectives to get a proper answer: a hardcore multimedia consumer, myself, and an Xperia fan.

For users heavily reliant on their smartphone to get things done, the XZ Premium is an excellent choice. As one of the few handsets to have a Snapdragon 835 chipset, there is no going around how fast and efficient this phone is. Not once did it overheat during intense use, and the overall audio-visual treat of its display, speakers, and camera — despite their shortcomings — rarely failed me. Again, its Xperia interface is a little behind the competition, but all the Android 7.1 Nougat optimization is still there.

As for myself, I have a hard time stomaching the price tag. At INR 61,990 in India and PhP 45,490 in the Philippines, it’s up there with the Galaxy S8 in pricing, and this is for a phone that hasn’t evolved much in design, features, or interface. If Sony somehow managed to trim down the bezels, overhaul the UI, or add another class-defining feature, I’d be more inclined to spend for such a premium.

And for Xperia fans, this should be classified as a maybe. Do you really need a 4K display and super-slow-mo video recording over whatever Xperia you have now? If not, I’d recommend looking for a discounted Xperia XZ instead or the more recent Xperia XZs, which has slightly better specifications over its older counterpart.

SEE ALSO: Stunning red Sony Xperia XZ Premium leaks

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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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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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Accessories

Redmi Earbuds S review: Affordable TWS without compromises

Making TWS earphones more accessible

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Truly wireless (TWS) earphones have been around for a while. Apple kick-started the hype with the launch of the AirPods and numerous brands have released alternatives since. However, they’ve always been very expensive.

With brands keen on ditching the headphone jack, users are often left with no option but to find wireless options. Redmi phones continue to have a headphone jack, but the brand also wants to remain focused on its target — deliver quality products at an affordable price.

The Redmi Earbuds S is the first TWS offering in India under the Redmi brand. While the brand stands strong in the smartphone segment, it has some cut-throat competition from realme. With a price tag of INR 1,799 (US$ 24), does it have enough firepower to take on the competition? If you’re looking for an entry-level TWS solution, can you trust the Earbuds S? Let’s find out!

Not AirPods knock-offs

If you’ve been following the TWS market, the Earbuds S will look familiar. These are sold as the AirDots S in China and many have ordered them previously via international marketplaces. In India, Redmi is calling them the Earbuds S and these could land in more south-east Asian markets soon.

While the trend is to follow Apple’s design language, the Earbuds S is going against the flow. It has its own distinctive design that looks nothing like a cheap knock-off.

The pill-shaped case is compact, feels solid in hand, and has a subtle curve on the bottom. The case size is perfect and it’ll always slide into your pocket smoothly.

Each earbud weighs just 4g and the in-ear design is immensely comfortable. I’ve worn them pretty much all day long and never felt any irritation, pain, or slightest of inconvenience. The snug fit also ensures adequate noise isolation and wearing them while driving for calls is seamless.

There’s not much to talk about with the design since it’s basic and gets the job done. They’re built out of plastic and its clearly evident at first sight.

I won’t count this as a drawback since it helps reduce overall weight and I wouldn’t expect metal or premium construction at this price.

Easy to use, fairly straightforward

The lid is very basic but has a satisfying feel to it when closing. Unlike the popular AirPods, these sit in your ears at a 45-degree angle. Paired along are two earbud tips to suit your ear canal. I didn’t have to use them and the standard size that comes along worked fine.

Using them is a very straightforward process. Open the lid, remove the earbuds, and wear them.

They’ll connect to your phone as soon as they’re disconnected from the case. I’ve never faced any connection issues so far. Each earbud has a button for quick controls such as music playback options and calling up Google Assistant.

On the flip side, you can’t rely on the earbuds to change the volume level or play a previous song. That can only be managed via your phone.

Pressing the button thrice will trigger the low-latency gaming mode. A feature that’ll be very handy while playing online multiplayer games like PUBG Mobile or Mobile Legends.

Each earbud has an indicator light that shows the status. Red means they’re charging while white means successful connection establishment. Lastly, they’re IPX4 certified, meaning sweat resistance. This obviously translates to a perfect workout session.

Punchy bass, relatively good audio

This is where I was surprised the most. Considering the nifty features it already has, I expected some kind of compromise in this department. And, I was wrong.

It has 7.2mm drivers and delivers punchy bass — a must-have for Bollywood music. Mainstream genres like pop sound amazing and if you’re not an audiophile, you won’t have any complaints.

The maximum volume is sufficiently loud and coupled with good isolation, even a busy market street is easily navigable.

However, if you’re looking for top-notch audio, these aren’t meant for you. The low frequency takes over while the mids are flat. You can use an equalizer to change the settings but the inherent tuning is in favor of bass-heavy music.

Furthermore, these connect via the SBC codec and there’s no support for aptX. I wouldn’t call this a drawback because the brand has to cut corners to make them accessible to a wider audience.

Adequate playback duration

Xiaomi claims the earbuds can deliver up to four hours of playback on a single charge and I’ve reached 3 hours 45 minutes in one go. So, their claims aren’t farfetched.

The case can charge the earbuds fully twice, delivering a total of 12 hours of playback in one go. If you’re going to use them for conference calls, music, and other work-related activities, they’ll easily get you through a working day.

The case takes almost two hours to charge fully. For frequent travelers, this can be a major drawback. Furthermore, the case charges via a microUSB port instead of the now-standard USB-C. Don’t forget to carry that extra charging cord along!

Can this be your GadgetMatch?

Yes. It definitely can. While there are a lot of minor additions I’d want to see, the price brings me back to reality.

In a nutshell, they’re designed aptly, deliver ordinarily better audio, and have 12 hours of playback. For US$ 25, there’s no better deal available. Keep in mind, the Redmi Earbuds S are making TWS earphones more accessible to everyone.

If you’re looking for top-notch audio quality, there are premium offerings like the OPPO Enco Free, Galaxy Buds, and 1More Truly Stylish. On the affordable side, realme Buds Air Neo and OPPO Enco W31 can be alternatives but are still priced considerably high.

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