Reviews

Xiaomi Mi 4i Review (Philippines)

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Xiaomi Mi 4i

A smartphone for everyone, that’s exactly what we think of the Xiaomi Mi 4i. The phone won’t wow you with its specs, but it has everything you’d want or need for everyday utility and entertainment and offers one of the most pleasant software experiences on a phone today. It’s also one of the best Android phones in its price point. In this video we’ll show you how the phone handles the most frequently used apps by Filipinos.

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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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Vivo V11 (V11 Pro) review: Innovation continues to reign

A step up from its competitors

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Vivo has a new midrange phone in town. After giving in-display fingerprint technology a try on flagship devices, it’s now available on midrange phones. This is the Vivo V11, a new midranger with all the usual features plus a unique one for its range.

Can the V11’s distinctive in-display fingerprint reader keep it ahead of the competition? Let’s find out in this review.

The phone sports a 6.41-inch Super AMOLED display

With a Full HD+ resolution and 19.5:9 aspect ratio

The notch has been drastically reduced

But it still has all the essentials like a selfie camera and front sensors

It’s not 100% bezel-less but the chin is minimal

Vivo claims a 91.27 percent screen-to-body ratio

Thankfully, it’s got a triple-card slot

This is how it should be

The buttons on its right are pretty confusing at first

I find them to be positioned a bit lower than usual

It’s 2018 yet Vivo still hasn’t embraced USB-C

At least it has quick charge technology

The back is a borrowed design from the V9 and X21

With added flair, of course

It still has dual rear cameras for shooting quality portraits

Equipped with AI and f/1.8 aperture

Slightly improved design over predecessor

As mentioned earlier, the V11 sports a familiar design. One might suspect it to be just the V9 at first glance, but it’s more of a repackaged X21. It’s got rounded corners with a rounded back that gives it a slimmer profile.

But of course, Vivo made improvements to the V11 and that’ll be the new so-called Halo FullView Display. With a tinier notch that’s even smaller (but not as aesthetically pleasing) than the OPPO F9’s, the V11 managed to have a more immersive display. Vivo claims a colossal 91.27 percent screen-to-body ratio with a 3.8mm chin.

Using a Super AMOLED panel, which is a first for the V series, Vivo is able to bring the in-display fingerprint technology to this segment. There’s an optical sensor hidden beneath the display of the V11. If you’ve seen the X21 or the NEX, you’ll get the same level of exclusivity for half the price.

And since there’s no need for a fingerprint reader at the back of the phone, Vivo is now more free to play with the rear panel. The growing trend of flashy gradients and patterns crawls to the V11, but in a more subtle way. The Starry Night variant blends black and blue with specks of dust creating a nice-looking fusion of sophistication and style.

Although, it’s pretty disappointing that Vivo opted to use polycarbonate (plastic) rather than glass for the V11’s back.

Powered by a better midrange processor

When it comes to power, Vivo finally decided to give what its midrange phones deserve — a higher-end Snapdragon 600 series processor. The V11 is powered by a Snapdragon 660 processor to be specific, which is usually found in phones priced at US$ 500 and above. To make the V11 even better, it comes with 6GB of memory as a standard. Storage options vary depending on the region, though, from 64 to 128GB.

The phone boots Android 8.1 Oreo out of the box but with extensive customization courtesy of Vivo’s very own Funtouch OS 4.5. As always, it’s very iOS-like which may or may not appeal to users. But, whatever your preference is, it’s disappointing that Funtouch OS omitted simple Android features like the search function in the settings.

The end result of the V11’s configuration is a smooth-performing phone with virtually zero lag. I encountered a few slow loading times with certain apps like Instagram, but it’s nothing that a future update can’t fix.

As for gaming, the Adreno 512 GPU that’s paired with the Snapdragon 660 processor is more than capable of running the latest games from the Google Play Store. I switched playing Asphalt 9: Legends from the Mi Mix 2S to the V11, and I didn’t notice any difference in visual quality. I also threw in a couple of graphics-intensive games like PUBG: Mobile and Mobile Legends: Bang Bang; both ran smoothly on medium to maximum settings.

Shoots impressive photos

Like with the V9, the V11 still has two rear cameras: one for capturing detailed images and another for assessing depth information. The main shooter is a new 12-megapixel sensor with a bright f/1.8 aperture while the second one is a 5-megapixel sensor.

Here are some samples taken with the rear camera in auto mode:

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The output of the V11’s rear shooters are more pleasing than what we’ve seen with previous midrange phones from Vivo. They are detailed, color-accurate, and sharp. AI is working in the background when taking a shot, so the result gets better over time.

Of course, selfies are also great on the V11. With a 25-megapixel sensor at the helm, you can expect high-quality selfies every time.

Here are Josh, Chay, and myself showing how the V11 takes selfies in different scenarios:

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Vivo also has a new AI Face Shaping technology which enhances facial features when beauty mode is turned on. The end results sometimes look too artificial, so it’s a matter of personal preference.

Charge fast, drain slow

All the new features of the V11 is nothing if you won’t be able to use the phone for long. Inside the V11’s body is a respectable 3400mAh battery. With my own usage, I was able to get more than 24 hours during a busy day. That’s with Wi-Fi and mobile data connection automatically switching from morning until bed time. I always have around 15 percent left before I go to sleep.

When it’s time to charge, I do it in the morning. Why? Because as I get ready, so does the V11. I only need an hour and 30 minutes to fully charge the phone thanks to the what Vivo calls Dual-Engine Fast Charging. The name can be a mouthful, but it’s basically Quick Charge 3.0. This means you can quickly fill up V11’s battery using any QC 3.0 charger.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

I’ve had the V11 for a week, so there’s more to know about the phone. But based on the time I spent on it, I know it’ll be a great device in the long run. It’s practically future-proofed aside from the micro-USB port. Why is Vivo, along with OPPO and Huawei, still stuck in the past when it comes to the choice of USB port? With the three of them leading the midrange market, they could have done well in introducing USB-C to the masses.

Like other phones that launch only six months after their predecessor, it would be lavish to suggest to get this one right away. But, should you buy one, I can say you will feel the upgrade.

The Vivo V11 is priced around US$ 400 for the variant with 64GB storage. In the Philippines, it goes for PhP 19,999 while in India, where it’s called the V11 Pro, it’s priced at INR 25,990.

SEE ALSO: Vivo V11 Unboxing and Review

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Gaming

NBA 2K19: A complacent champion

Needs a legit challenger

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NBA 2K has absolutely dominated the NBA simulation video game space for the better part of the decade. It’s been the undisputed champion year after year and the same is true with its latest version — NBA 2K19. As is the case with any multi-year champ, it’s hard to keep the pedal to the metal when you know you’ve basically left your competitors biting your dust.

This is where the NBA 2K franchise is at. If it were an NBA team, it has been a champion for years. Let’s keep things a little interesting by breaking down different sections of the game as if they were players of a champion team.

Face Scan: Last year’s sixth man but fell out of the rotation

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. However, somewhere between 2K18 and 2K19, the face scan stopped working like it’s supposed to.

This was the result of my face scan back in 2K18, after just a few attempts.

This is my face scan in 2K19 after many, many attempts. And this was the best one.

Here’s me side-by-side with the face scan along with a player I created from scratch.

I think the images speak for themselves, but I’m just going to come out say I don’t know what on earth happened and face scan needs to go back to how it was in 2K18. I ultimately decided to forego face scan altogether and just create a character that looks like he’d fit the story in MyCareer.

MyCareer: X-Factor starter

NBA 2K invests heavily on this mode. It’s understandable because it’s safe to say that anyone who enjoys this game and the game of basketball in general has dreamed of being a star, carrying a team to the promised land, and hitting that game-winning shot.

MyCareer lets players experience all of this. It takes the player into some sort of hero’s journey as a young baller looking to prove that he belongs in the big league. It can get boring, so what 2K has done is to incorporate some kind of story. In 2K19, it looks like they went all out.

In a lot of ways, MyCareer in 2K19 is going back to its roots. In the previous two or three iterations of this game mode, the player was positioned as a star prospect. A good number of my friends who played the game weren’t too happy about it. They loved the idea of being someone unknown taking the league by storm.

This underdog story is flanked by a star-studded cast led by Anthony Mackie (recently appeared on film as Falcon in Avengers: Infinity War). This goes to show that 2K is going all in on the cinematic RPG route in this year’s version of MyCareer. The cutscenes can get pretty long, though. Adding a few more quick time events would have helped with the pacing.

So that’s essentially what MyCareer is to NBA 2K. You never really know what you’re gonna get. However, when it’s on point, it takes the game over the top and makes something good even better.

MyGM: Solid rotation guy

MyGM in 2K19 has also gone the storytelling route. It picks up where 2K18 left off. You’re a player who suffered a career-ending injury and now you’ve built your reputation as a headstrong general manager.

There are a fair number of people who would like to try their hand at running an NBA team’s front office. NBA Twitter talks about trade scenarios all the time and that’s a huge part of what makes this game mode appealing. Being able to build a roster according to your liking and taking it all the way to the championship; that’s a challenge people like taking on.

There aren’t a lot of new things on MyGM. The story has you working with a new team owner while also managing your relationship with the previous one you worked with.

The new story makes it mildly more interesting, but at its core, MyGM is what it has always been: a solid feature on a game that delivers the kind of experience players hope to get.

Gameplay: Star Player

This is what it all comes down to. This is the reason why NBA 2K has been the champ that it is. The gameplay is the undisputed star player of the game. It’s the reason why people continue to play it. It’s the reason why time and time again, people line up for the game.

In 2K19, the gameplay doesn’t feel that much different from 2K18. There’s a huge difference between how both games felt at launch. When 2K18 first came out, the gameplay still seemed a little weird, with players looking like they’re floating on the court as opposed to running on it. There’s none of that in 2K19.

What you’ll experience is a refinement of what was already a good product. Some animations and shots make more sense this time around. The way players transition from dribbling to a shot feel more real, and there are a few subtle improvements here and there that when combined, sum up to a basketball simulation experience that appears to still be ahead of its competition.

As long as NBA 2K keeps this type of gameplay on their side, they will continue to hold the number one spot. However, they can’t rest on their laurels. EA Sports’ NBA Live is creeping on their turf and appear to be a few adjustments away from legitimately contending for the top spot once more.

Some notes from the assistant coach

We still don’t have notable players like Reggie Miller, Charles Barkley, Rasheed Wallace, and Gilbert Arenas in this game. The 2K community has clamored for their inclusion but this is really more the mentioned players’ willingness to be included in the game more than anything. Here’s to hoping they change their minds soon.

There are a few classic teams I personally want to see. On top of that list is the ‘09-’10 Lakers that beat the Big Three Celtics. While a version of Kobe is already in the game, I badly want to play with Black Mamba #24 when he played with Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, and Andrew Bynum as he hunted down his fifth NBA title.

If this is the game that finally makes you want to buy a PlayStation 4, consider getting the NBA 2K19 PS4 bundle. In the Philippines, it retails for PhP 20,490 which will net you the following: One jet black 500GB PS4, one DualShock 4 controller, the NBA 2K19 Blu-ray disc, one premium decal sticker, a badass poster featuring Giannis Antetokounmpo, and a PS4 one-year extended warranty. Not a bad deal!

Final evaluation

As a team with a solid lineup that’s been winning for years, it feels as though NBA 2K still hasn’t reached its peak. While it has been amazing, there’s another level that it can go to. As it is now, NBA 2K19 is still the basketball video game to beat. I have mixed feelings about both the MyCareer and the MyGM modes, but as long as the gameplay takes over when it needs to and until the competition puts up an actual fight, this game will continue to get an overall grade of A.

SEE ALSO: Marvel’s Spider-Man Review: Spidey in all his glory

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