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TCL unveils premium-looking entertainment solutions

Beautiful headphones and a soundbar!

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TCL just launched a set of entertainment solutions at IFA 2019. The brand unveiled a premium soundbar, along with new, wireless headphones.

Odd-looking yet beautiful soundbar

TCL put the spotlight on their Ray Danz soundbar. Featuring a front-firing and sideways-firing speaker drivers, the soundbar bend the sound in a particular angle to create a natural and wider resonance, and a crystal clear dialogue.

Thanks to Dolby Atmos, it creates a 360-degree surround sound without the need for extra upward-firing drivers. If you want a ground-shaking bass, connect the subwoofer to the soundbar wirelessly for an immersive experience.

New, vibrant headphones

Growing the brand’s headphone lineup, TCL introduces the SOCL500TWS. Available in four unique colorways — Blue Ocean, Sunset Violet, Sunrise Orange, and Phantom Black — this wireless headphone lets you enjoy music in style. It reproduces powerful audio, thanks to its 5.8mm speaker drivers. Moreover, TCL changes its wireless headphones’ design to fit ears naturally and perfectly.

Furthermore, the headphone can handle up to six hours of continuous playback. If you’re concerned with the charging case, TCL believes it carries enough power that lasts for at least 19 hours. In addition, it has a clever antenna design that lets you stay connected on your Bluetooth, even in crowded areas. Finally, the SOCL500TWS is splash-proof and IPX4 rated, so you can enjoy the headphones under light showers.

For sporty people, TCL offers the ACTV500TWS to complement your active lifestyle. It features a textured surface, providing extra grip. Designed for sports use, it comes in an IPX7 rating for water and sweat resistance. Same as the SOCL500TWS, the headphone can handle continuous playback for at least six hours, and can extend up to 33 hours, thanks to its charging case. The case itself supports wireless charging, too, and can be attached anywhere with its metal karabiner. It’s available in two color options: Copper Dust and Copper Ash.

Rise of noise-canceling headphones

Another headphone in TCL’s lineup is MTRO200NC, a noise-canceling headphone that packs with powerful bass. It features a set of 32mm speaker drivers, delivering accurate mids and crystal clear highs.

Design-wise, it has soft, breathable ear cushions to provide comfort when listening for a long time. But what you’ll love about this headphone is convenience. It has a flat-folding design, excellent battery life up to 20 hours, and fast-charging support.

ELIT200NC

Top-of-the-line headphones under the ELIT line joined TCL’s new lineup, too. Introducing ELIT200NC and ELIT400NC, both headphones feature active noise-canceling technology, exceptional audio, upscale design and build, as well as comfort, portability, long battery life, and fast charging.

ELIT400NC

For active, energetic individuals, the ELIT200NC is the perfect fit, featuring a flexible neckband design and stunning, lifelike sound. Casual users may enjoy the over-the-ear ELIT400NC headphones built with a lightweight, foldable frame.

Pricing and Availability

The Ray Danz soundbar will cost 399 EUR (US$ 440), while the SOCL500TWS and ACTV500TWS will cost 80 EUR (US$ 88) and 100 EUR (US$ 110) respectively. For the noise-canceling headphones, the MTRO200NC is priced at 70 EUR (US$ 77), and the ELIT200NC costs 80 EUR (US$ 88), while the ELIT400NC is a bit more expensive, starting at 130 EUR (US$ 143). TCL’s entertainment solutions will be first available in Europe starting Q4 2019.

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47Ronin watch straps: Where smartwatch meets Japanese art

Bridging heritage and modern technology

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Japan and its culture have drawn people like moth to a flame. It’s incandescently captivating, irresistible, magnetizing. One even embraces and allows it to seep into their lives.

That’s what happened to Tong Cheuk Fung, a Hong-Kong born, Singaporean watch strap artist whose humble beginnings started in Kyoto, Japan’s ancient capital.

Living in Japan made Tong love its crafts and culture, giving birth to 47Ronin — Tong’s very own watch strap brand designed and handcrafted by marrying horology, smartwatches, and Japanese art.

Japanese art on your wrists

47Ronin’s name traces back to a chronicle from over 300 years ago, where 47 Ronins — free-roaming Samurais without a master — exhibited bravado and loyalty through vengeance against the injustice committed to their late master.

The watch straps embody this tale to its designs, catering to a certain niche resembling Ronins; free-spirited individuals leading a life according to their own philosophy.

With pieces made and sourced from Japan, 47Ronin wraps the country’s history and beauty on people’s wrists through its watch straps. Most of its pieces were made from exotic materials such as leather, Kimono textile, and Katana elements — all sourced from Japan.

Where future meets history

Traditional crafts are declining; handcrafted straps are already considered a sunset industry. The advent of futuristic wearables made the younger generation prefer minimalist and sleek designs by the likes of Apple, Samsung, and Google.

For the fashion-oriented, hybrid smartwatches are the favored statement often sold by designer brands such as Fossil, Michael Kors, Frédérique Constant, and Skagen.

Yet even with a decline in demand and appreciation, 47Ronin perseveres to preserve the craftsman’s spirit and its culture. The brand cultivated designs that work with analog timepieces and smartwatches, putting the attention to the strap rather than the technology.

The traditional craft’s heritage lives on as 47Ronin forges its historic design into modern wristwatches. The Japanese-inspired Singaporean brand worked with technology companies like Mobvoi and produced bespoke designs for Apple watches.

Personalized, artisanal straps

Since 47Ronin’s watch straps are handcrafted by Tong himself,  ordered pieces are instilled with the artist’s creative thoughts, and tailored to the customer’s wrist and watch’s components.

The Singaporean brand houses multiple collections, too, where customers can pick a design that resonates with their personality.

Most designs retail above US$ 200, entailing a personalized process — communicating to customize the lug width, length, and thickness, and sourcing rare materials — for four weeks and up to two months.

47Ronin certainly pushes itself as an exemplar of art rather than an accessory, creating a unique proposition among leather watch straps.

A heart for the environment and people

Nowadays, sustainability becomes an integral part of a business. 47Ronin partakes in the fight to a sustainable future through its up-cycling program.

The watch strap maker retrieves damaged watch straps and buckets to repair it, preserving an artisanal watch straps’ life. Old watch straps and buckles are also retrieved and reused to create new products.

Moreover, 47Ronin collaborated with 20 local watchmakers in Singapore as a means to lift each other up, as businesses and online sales have been affected by the COVID-19 crisis.

Shop custom, artisanal watch straps at 47Ronin’s online store with free worldwide shipping.

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Redmi 9A review: A match for online learning

Does everything you expect it to

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We recently reviewed another budget phone and gauged how well it would do as a student’s companion for distance learning. Seeing as the Redmi 9A fits squarely in that peg, we’re going to do the exact same thing.

This might seem like a cop out way to test the device, but given everything that’s happening, it also seems appropriate.

The status of the pending school year in the Philippines seems like it’s up in the air at the moment. Regardless, if you still choose to equip the young student in your family with a smartphone for online learning, can the Redmi 9A play that role?

Baseline specs

Let’s first see how it stacks up specs-wise to the minimum specs requirement laid out by the Education Department of the Philippines.

Distance Learning, Smartphone Minimum Tech Specs Redmi 9A 
Processor Octa-core 2 GHz MediaTek Helio G25

(Octa-core 2 Ghz)

Memory 2GB 2GB
Display 6”, IPS LCD 6.53”
Storage 32GB 32GB
Network GSM / HSPA / LTE

Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n

Bluetooth

Dual 4G

Wi-Fi

Bluetooth

Ports Micro USB or Type C, 3.5mm Audio Jack Micro USB port, 3.5mm Audio Jack
OS Android 8.1 Android 10, MIUI 12

 

We asked a teacher some questions about how this smartphone will be used by the student in a distance learning setup. Answers have been edited for brevity.

What will students need to access for distance learning?

It depends on the platform the school will use. These can be Google Classroom, Edmodo, Zoom, etc. But certainly, the most accessed sites will be Google and Wikipedia.

Facebook and Messenger may also be used for communication and publishing of some projects. However, this is also dependent on the teacher handling the class.

What are the must have apps? 

Youtube, Google Apps (Docs, Sheets, Slides) or any office app, Dictionary, A notepad app, Web browser, and Email.

How long will they need to be on the phone?

Our planned schedule will start at around 9AM and will end at around 2PM. That’s five 45-minute classes with 15 minutes of break in between. There’s also a 30-minute lunch break at 11:45AM. It may vary from day-to-day but that’s the general plan.

This also does not yet include consultation time. For us, we’ll do 15 minutes at the start and at the end of the day to help make-up for the interaction that will be lost due to the nature of an online class.

Any final notes? 

It’s certainly possible to have online classes despite the student only having a smartphone. Given of course that the smartphone can access everything mentioned previously.

Usually for lectures, the students will only really have to listen to the lectures on video. The teacher can opt to pre-record the classes and make it available for on-demand viewing so the students can access it even after class hours. The rest of the activities will be handled offline and be disseminated via communication apps.

How does the Redmi 9A handle the activities mentioned?

The Redmi 9A almost looks like it’s the exact phone that the Education Department had in mind when they drafted the minimum requirements specs. It fits every spec to a T. So how does it perform?

Like most Android phones, a lot of the Google apps mentioned by the teacher already come pre-installed. And they’ve been optimized to run smoothly on the device’s configuration.

Curiously, the MediaTek G25 struggled a bit more overall compared to the MediaTek G35 on the previous budget phone I put through this test. Although, this could also be a function of the skin (MIUI 12) making things feel slower than it ought to be.

For the record, MIUI 12 is actually one of my favorite Android skins. It’s little design decisions make a lot of sense to me.

For instance, the animation for recent apps is unlike any other Android skin. Instead of making you go left to right to switch, the apps are arranged vertically and you continue with the up-down motion you started with when decided to jump from one app to another.

But as far as apps go, Google is your best friend if you want to maximize budget phones.

Lite apps should be your go to

Budget phones are light on power so it’s prudent to go for Lite apps to not put too much stress on your phone.

Facebook, Twitter, Messenger, and even Spotify all have lite versions. You still get most of what you need from these apps without hogging too much memory.

Same is true for gaming apps. While looking for more Lite apps to use, I found PUBG Lite. It’s gonna eat over 500mb of storage but if you’re really into first-person shooters, this is probably the app to download.

Battery fared nicely

At 5000mAh this thing has plenty of juice. It also helps that it doesn’t have any exorbitant features to support thereby extending the battery life even further.

I simulated the 9AM to 2PM video on demand class sessions by letting the phone marathon through a bunch of YouTube videos. After 6 hours and 23 minutes, I ended up at 68% from a full charge.

Yes, that’s Heejin. Stan LOONA.

Absolutely no issues here. This phone should be able to keep up with you for a day and then some.

Good build quality

This is again one of the more pleasant surprises here. The last time I used a budget phone extensively was about half a decade ago. It felt nowhere near this good.

The Redmi 9A feels sturdy and not the type that will break after a fall or two. Unlike yours truly. It’s hard to see on the black variant but it also has this tiny concentric circle design thing going on at the back. Much like the one found on the Redmi 9.

Fair post-processing on photos

You’re not gonna blow minds with the 13MP rear and 5MP front-facing cameras on this thing. But it does what it’s supposed to. To make sure you get good photos make sure you have a decent light source.

These were taken in the afternoon near a window.

This one was when it’s about to turn into night time.

Is the Redmi 9A an online learning GadgetMatch?

I was really skeptical about the specs laid out by the Education Department. However, this test with the Redmi 9A proved that as far as the necessities go, this gets the job done.

If you’re able to spend more, that’s great. But for people who absolutely can only spend under PhP 5,000 (US$ 100), this is a good enough choice. The Redmi 9A retails for PhP 4590 (US$ 93) and it’s already capable of a lot without forcing you to spend too much.

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OPPO Enco W31: Works as advertised

Nothing fancy. Just right

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Everyone’s getting in on the TWS earphones game and OPPO is no different. One of their latest releases is the OPPO Enco W31 and it seems to be geared towards the more budget conscious.

I’ve been very privileged in that most of the TWS earphones I have tried thus far have been more on the premium end. We even had a three-way battle between TWS earphones from top smartphone manufacturers.

That was actually a pretty close tussle. But the thing is, all of those were priced north of PhP 5,000 (around US$ 100). If you’re not willing to shell out as much, what are your options?

So far from what we’ve reviewed, the Redmi Earbuds S appears to be a solid choice. That one doesn’t follow the stem design popularized by Apple’s Airpods. If that’s what you’re looking for but for much less, that’s where the OPPO Enco W31 comes in.

‘Airpods’ look 

I have mixed feelings about this stem design. On one hand, it’s clear what all the other manufacturers are trying to be. They’re just reinforcing the idea that Apple is the gold standard instead of blazing their own trail.

On the other, as long as it works and the stems are there for a reason, we can’t really complain too much, can we?

Which is the case for the OPPO Enco W31. Double tapping on the stem of the left earbud will shift the mode from Balanced to Bass and vice versa. Meanwhile, a double tap on the stem of the right earbud will skip to the next.

Triple tapping either stem will trigger the Google Assistant so you can ask stuff like “How is the Philippines handling the Coronavirus pandemic?” You will then get factual information and not the propaganda that the powers-that-be want you to believe. I digress.

The controls, while limited, work as advertised. They’re responsive and rarely did I have any trouble switching modes, skipping to the next truck, or summoning the trusty Google Assistant.

Clamshell case, box inclusions

The similarities with the Airpods pretty much ends with the stem look. First off, it opts for an in-ear design. It helps in making the earphones feel snug in your ears as well as add to some form of noise-cancelling.

Upon opening the box, it already does a great job of reminding you that it’s an OPPO product. Right smack in the middle is the clamshell case with the OPPO logo dead center.

Elsewhere in the box you’ll find the user guide, warranty card, the USB-C cable, and some spare eartips. The usual stuff.

The clamshell case, I thought, was a curious design case. Up until this one, most of the cases for stemmed TWS earphones are vertically oriented. One where the stem is buried deep in the case and you pull it out to take it from the case.

The clamshell case opens like, well, a clamshell. It also reminds of the compact that girls carry around. The way the earphones sit on the case makes it more difficult than usual to pry it off.

It’s magnetic, sure, but the spaces around it weren’t big enough for my stubby fingers to easily lift the earphones from the case. It also didn’t help that I’m such a klutz that I kept dropping the earphones as I tried to take them from the case.

It’s a minor gripe, but one that can certainly be improved upon.

Sound quality is okay 

This is where I think the most compromise was made. It’s by no means terrible, but it certainly is not in the level of the three more premium TWS headphones we tested (Airpods, Galaxy Buds+, Freebuds 3).

With the only other mode other than Balanced being Bass, the earphones definitely favor the bass. In fact, there’s little difference between the two modes. It’s noticeable, for sure. But the Balance mode lacks the crisp and clarity one would expect from a setting that’s supposed to be balanced.

It’s a little unfair that I’m comparing it to more expensive devices, but at the moment that’s my only gauge. But I would like to emphasize that it isn’t bad at all. It’s certainly better than even the wired ones that are bundled with phones.

There’s another TWS on my to-review list that I expect to be similarly priced to this. With that, I can have a better bar in terms of gauging the sound quality.

Despite not sounding as crisp as it’s more expensive counterparts, it does sound better than even some wired headphones I’ve tried in the past. I used my trusty playlist for audio testing again and it’s able to do that left-to-right thing that some tracks implement.

Jamming to other tunes will get you vibing too. The in-ear design boxes you in and it does get more than loud enough so you’re really immersed in what you’re listening to.

Call quality a mixed bag

So I called two friends and they had different feedback regarding how I sounded during the calls.

The first one said I sounded like I’m calling from a metallic room. It was echoey and the reverb just didn’t sound good.

The second person I called had a more positive feedback. She said I sounded pretty clear. Initially, she thought I had put her on speaker phone. But when I said I was using TWS earphones, she said the sound was clean and clear. Not what she was expecting.

Battery life is impressive

Just like the controls, the battery life on this thing is as good as advertised. It says up to 10 hours of playback with the earphones alone and up to 30 hours with the charging case.

USB-C port to charge the OPPO Enco W31

I typically used it for about three to four hours each day for a little under 10 days. I haven’t charged it since the initial juice up right before I began the testing phase.

Is this your GadgetMatch? 

If you’re looking at the OPPO Enco W31 as your first pair of TWS earphones, I’d say you’re in for a treat.

The controls and battery life work as advertised. The in-ear design helps keep you immersed in what you’re listening to. Sound quality may not be stellar but it’s par for the course for the price it commands.

If this is your first step to free yourself from the entanglement of wires, know that you’re getting a solid pair of TWS earphones.

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