Reviews

Xiaomi Mi 9 SE Review: For those who like it small

A pocketable flagship-like phone

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Xiaomi‘s line of flagship phones for 2019 has been in the market for a few months now. The Mi 9 is indeed a smartphone that offers a great specs-to-price ratio; however, some users find high-end phones nowadays to be larger than usual. That includes the Mi 9 and the newly announced OnePlus 7 Pro.

We certainly miss the Compact models of the Xperia line, but it seems like Sony isn’t announcing anything new soon. Good thing  Xiaomi made its upper-midrange offering pocket-friendly — not just in price, but also in size.

This is the Mi 9 SE and it’s not as expensive as Xiaomi’s flagship models, but it’s also not that cheap. Aside from specs, the phone’s highlighted feature is its pocketable size.

It has a 5.97-inch Full HD+ AMOLED display

The panel is made by Samsung

There’s a tiny notch for the front camera

It’s not different from other notched displays

The dual nano-SIM card tray is on the left

There’s no space for a microSD card

The physical buttons are all on the right

The power and volume rocker blend well in the frame

The top has the IR blaster and secondary mic

The IR is a rare feature among phones

The bottom houses the loudspeaker and USB-C port

The main microphone is also at the bottom

The back is a flat slab of shiny glass

It’s so reflective, it’s like a mirror

The camera layout is similar to the Mi 9’s

Three cameras in one row

A pocketable all-display phone

The Mi 9 SE doesn’t look any different from its more expensive cousin. It also has an edge-to-edge display with a small notch on top to house a front-facing camera. The display measures just below six inches and it’s a Super AMOLED panel from Samsung. The screen’s resolution is at Full HD+ which is pretty sharp.

Since its an AMOLED, the color reproduction is top-notch and the blacks are indeed black. Beneath the display is a fingerprint scanner that lights up when needed. It takes less than a second to read, but it’s not the fastest I’ve tried. Thankfully, a smooth slab of Gorilla Glass 5 protects the display from unwanted scratches.

In the sea of sizable Android phones, the Mi 9 SE’s pocketable dimensions are welcoming. The phone’s display doesn’t look small and limiting because of its thin bezels. Once you get a hold of the phone, you’ll appreciate its size. It’s not as petite as former Xperia Compact models from Sony, although it’s fairly small by today’s standards.

The overall design of the Mi 9 SE isn’t special, but it doesn’t look and feel cheap either. The use of glass in the front and back elevates the phone’s premium touch, but I’m not a fan of its chrome-like side frame. Still, the Mi 9 SE is an attractive piece of hardware that can also act as a mirror with its uber-reflective rear glass.

Flagship-like performance in a smaller package

Powering the Mi 9 SE is the Snapdragon 712, a brand-new flagship-grade processor from Qualcomm. While the Snapdragon 712 is a new chip, it’s not that different from its predecessor which powers last year’s Mi 8 SE. The new processor is just slightly faster on paper, so the real-world difference is hardly noticeable. That means Mi 8 SE users can skip the Mi 9 SE if they are after a performance upgrade.

The phone runs MIUI 10 out of the box and it’s based on the latest Android 9 Pie. Xiaomi is good at keeping their devices updated, which is one of their strengths. With 6GB of memory to work with, the Mi 9 SE can handle multiple apps at the same time. So far, I haven’t encountered any lag during my time with the phone.

Moreover, MIUI 10 is one of the nicest skins for Android. The changes aren’t just cosmetic, they are also functional. The extra features from Xiaomi surely come in handy, especially the built-in system-wide dark mode.

When it comes to gaming, the Mi 9 SE can deliver high-quality graphics anytime. By default, most games are already set to high settings which means this phone is ready for mobile gamers. The screen does feel a bit small when compared to my previous devices, especially to my daily driver –the Huawei P30 Pro. My go-to games like Asphalt 9: Legends and PUBG Mobile run smoothly on the device.

Triple the sensors, triple the fun

The biggest upgrade of the Mi 9 SE is found in the camera department. From two cameras, the new model now has three: a regular, a telephoto, and an ultra wide-angle.

The primary shooter is a 48-megapixel camera with an f/1.8 aperture designed for everyday shooting. Paired with AI scene recognition, the Mi 9 SE’s main camera can take great stills in various lighting conditions.

The second one is an 8-megapixel telephoto camera with 2x optical zoom. I personally don’t feel the need for a telephoto lens on a mobile phone, but it’s available for situations when you need to get closer to your subject. Take this ground signage as an example:

What I enjoy using is the ultra wide-angle lens. The phone’s third camera, which has a 13-megapixel sensor, can take a different prospective. When taking a photo of landscape or any open space, the phone’s AI will suggest to also take a photo using the ultra wide-angle camera. The quality doesn’t match the main shooter, but it’s highly usable.

As for selfies, there’s a 20-megapixel camera inside the display’s notch. Like with most front-facing cameras, it comes with beauty filers and artificial bokeh effects to mimic a high-quality portrait shot. For a front camera, it’s one of the sharpest and most detailed selfie shooters I’ve tried.

With a total of four cameras, there are a lot of ways you can take photos (and also videos) with the Mi 9 SE. Having both an ultra wide-angle and telephoto lens is the perfect setup for a modern camera phone, especially within the phone’s price point.

Fast charging battery

Despite the relatively pocketable dimensions of the Mi 9 SE, it still has a respectable battery capacity at 3070mAh. The efficiency of the new Snapdragon processor and the battery-saving features of Android Pie-based MIUI 10 help the Mi 9 SE last long on the road.

The phone was able to last a full day with heavy use which includes consistent internet connection over Wi-Fi or LTE, push notifications, and some gaming on the side. On lighter days, I am able to get almost two days of battery life. My average screen-on-time is around three to five per charge.

When it’s time to charge the battery, the bundled fast charger fills up the Mi 9 SE from zero to 47 percent in just 30 minutes. A full charge takes an hour and a half.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

The Mi 9 SE unit I have for review retails for PhP 15,990 (6GB+64GB) at Authorized Mi Stores in the Philippines, which is roughly US$ 310 when converted. For that price, the phone already offers a lot. I can’t think of any new phone that matches the Mi 9 SE in terms of price and features, making it an easy recommendation for those looking to buy a new phone.

The phone doesn’t have any flaws (nothing major, at least) that’ll turn off potential buyers, including myself. Is the Mi 9 SE the perfect midrange phone existing today? I can’t say for sure, but it’s clearly the best you can get in its range.

SEE ALSO: Xiaomi unveils the Mi 9 SE Brown Bear Edition with custom case and themes

Accessories

adidas Ultraboost 20 review: Great just got better

The ISS National Lab collab is straight 🔥

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It’s almost a new year, and here’s the Ultraboost 20 — the latest version of my favorite sneakers.

Ever since they were announced in 2015, the Ultraboost has always been my go-to everyday sneaker. They’re just so comfortable to wear and they look so darn good as well.

Adidas has been making small changes to the shoe every year but they were mostly just changing the pattern of the upper which wasn’t really that big of a deal.

A sudden design shift

It wasn’t until 2019 when Adidas redesigned the Ultraboost to create the Ultraboost 19 (UB19) which was a huge change in the line.

Initially, the Ultraboost was more of a casual lifestyle pair first then a performance running sneaker second. This changed with the UB19 when Adidas decided to focus on making a performance running sneaker.

It was a controversial change at the time since the aesthetics of the shoe really changed. Some fans of the line didn’t receive the news well.

UB19 (left) and UB20 (right)

Admittedly, I was one of those people. But then the reviews started coming in and everyone kept talking about how comfortable they were — much more comfortable than they have ever been which makes them a better performance sneaker overall.

Design-wise, I still prefer the Ultraboost 1.0 more than the 4.0 but the new ones are definitely way more comfortable — an all-out performance running sneaker.

With the 2020 version, Adidas decided to make a few more tweaks. Somehow they took something already great and made it even better. As an aside, I’m happy these were minor tweaks because I don’t think we would have survived another dramatic overhaul.

One of the best things about Ultraboost back in the day were the collaborations, so I’m happy to see Adidas trying that out again.

Ultraboost X ISS National Lab

I got the ISS National Lab collaboration to check out, which is the official collaboration to launch the Ultraboost 20.

First thing you’ll see is the Light grey Primeknit upper. This is usual with Ultraboost and it does get small tweaks every year. This time it feels like there’s more give in this version vs the UB19.

One major difference in the upper this year is the addition of the Tailored Fiber Placement technology or TFP. It’s the thick embroidered looking details around the edges of the toe box area which gives you more stability and durability.

These areas aren’t as flexible and stretchy as before but they do a better job at containing your toes. So the upper is still stretchy and soft, but holds your foot in place better.

There’s still a sock-like fit but it’s slightly thicker and less flexible than the older ultraboost 1.0 to 4.0 uppers. I really like the arrow shaped ventilation pattern in the toe-box area which is a very subtle throwback to the ‘ol Ultraboost 1.0.

There’s the white or light grey Ultraboost laces going through an updated midfoot cage. I definitely like the new midfoot cage, I think it’s better looking than the UB19 cage. It’s a cleaner, better look vs the mesh used on the 19. This also has some TFP detailing as well to help contain your foot better.

At the top of the tongue is the ISS National Lab collab tags which says ISS National Lab Adidas CRS Boost in Space. ISS stands for the International Space Station and this is a collab with their National Lab. Adidas is apparently going to send some Boost up to the National Lab in space — which is crazy but hey maybe those hypebeast astronauts will appreciate it.

In the ankle area of the shoe you see another big difference vs the UB19. There’s still a prime kit tongue, but in the back you have a padded neoprene material which is really appreciated because it really adds to the comfort.

This extra padding around the heel feels great against your foot but also makes your foot feel more secure in the sneaker as it pushes it forward. Apart from that, your foot is up against primeknit for a very sock-like fit.

It does feel a little bit more snug than the UB19. This helps make it more performance oriented than before which is definitely helpful for runs.

If you’re going to want this for lifestyle wear as a shoe sneaker I’d advise going up a size. Same is true if you have wide feet like I do. It’s always best to try the shoe on in a store first to make sure you get the best fit possible.

The insole comes in black with Adidas and ISS National Lab branding in white and orange. Each insole is different which is a nice touch.

Coming to the heel counter, it seems to be just an outline just like the UB19. Adidas calls it their “3D Heel Frame” which cradles the heel and holds it in place. I like that the heel counter spills over onto the boost midsole and gives you more stability because it really keeps the boost in place.

At the back of the shoe you have a nice padded neoprene material instead of primeknit. I definitely like the way it feels against my foot vs just primeknit in this area.

Another new addition is the bright orange accent. It definitely stands out but ties in nicely with the ISS collab.

Speaking of eye-catching — moving downwards, you have the good ol’ white Boost mid-sole. The ISS collab Ultraboost 20 actually comes in seven colorways, four of which have an iridescent boost midsole which looks pretty neat.

It’s really flashy, and you’ll either love it or hate it but I actually like the implementation here on my Dash Grey colorway.

UB20 iridescent midsoles

Instead of the iridescent boost midsole, this colorway has an iridescent heel frame and midfoot cage, which I think looks much nicer. It’s minimalist and more my style.

Either way it definitely looks very space-like. I guess it’s meant to make you think of outer space and it definitely does that. If you’re wearing them out, people are definitely going to ask you about your sneakers.

Coming to the outsole, it is the usual Stretchweb outsoles with Continental rubber for multi-surface traction and the usual lightweight Torsion Spring construction for support when the foot lands to propel runners forward.

Still a top-tier midsole cushioning

Boost is still boost — it is still the best midsole cushioning tech that I love. There’s 20 percent more boost in this shoe than the older UB 1-4, just like the UB19.

The Boost feels the same, but that’s okay. If it ain’t broke, why fix it, right?

In case you haven’t tried out a sneaker with Boost yet, I encourage you to go on over to an Adidas store and try one out as soon as possible.

The big deal here is the cushioning and energy return. You can feel it absorb the impact as you run, and then spring back to return some of that energy to help you take off.

It’s this reason why Boost and the Ultraboost series in particular are so popular amongst runners and gym goers. They’re not only some of the most comfortable shoes around but it also really helps with running and aerobics. I even wear Ultraboost for my dance fitness and boxing classes. I totally recommend it.

Is the Ultraboost 20 your Sneaker Match?

The UB20 is an iterative but meaningful improvement to the Ultraboost line in comparison to the UB19.

It is even more performance oriented, and even more comfortable at the same time. Honestly just go into an Adidas store and try them on — I’m pretty sure you’ll walk away impressed.

The ISS Collab is really exciting, and while it may or may not all just be marketing hype, it is definitely an exciting way for Adidas to launch the UB20.

While I’m always going to be a fan of the aesthetic of the older Ultraboost 1-4 more, you have to admit the new Ultraboost 20 definitely looks crazy futuristic. It’s the best performance sneaker out there, and I can’t recommend it enough.

SEE ALSO: Asics Gel Cumulus 21: Your everyday training sneaker

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Huawei Freebuds 3 review: Best value wireless earbuds

Everything works as advertised

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True wireless earbuds with noise-cancellation sprouted like crazy in 2019. Not to be outdone, Huawei, along with a few other wearables, launched the Freebuds 3. And these earbuds are actually pretty darn good.

Comfy fit, on the fence about the look

Let’s get it out of the way before anything else. The Huawei Freebuds 3 looks a lot like Apple’s Airpods. In fact, the entire Freebuds line has looked like this since it’s first iteration.

But is it fair to reduce it as simply an AirPods knockoff? Not quite.

Looks-wise, I kind of get why they went with this design. Not everyone’s a fan of in-ear earbuds. Some feel they are too invasive.

I can definitely say that the in-ear ones feel more secure but the Freebuds can cling onto your ear just fine. The only time I saw one fall off was during a Huawei demo but that was only because a dancer wore it and she was moving pretty intensely.

Also, perhaps the only way to put all the tech that Huawei managed to pack in the Freebuds 3 is to have them look the way they do now. I’m personally not too wild about it, but that’s just me.

Noise-cancelling all star 

Speaking of “all the tech” in these earbuds, at the heart of it is the Kirin A1 chip. Made specifically for wearables, this is what enables a lot of what makes these earbuds great.

Chief of those features is the intelligent noise cancellation. I’m quite skeptical about noise cancellation claims especially on wireless earbuds, but the Freebuds 3 performs just about as good as advertised.

It doesn’t quite shut you out of your environment the way noise-cancelling headphones do. However, it does it well enough that your attention won’t easily be taken away when you have these on even when you’re in a crowded area.

The noise cancellation is still a tier and a half below the Sony WF-1000XM3 which I consider to be a superstar in that department. That said, the Freebuds 3 still does an awesome job and should be more than enough for most users.

Surprising bass, fantastic sound quality

The default bass setting on the Freebuds 3 is such a pleasant surprise. Coupled with the noise cancellation, it gives you such a full sound that if you close your eyes you’d almost feel like you’re surrounded by the music you’re listening to.

I wasn’t even playing bass heavy tracks when I noticed this. I was in a bit of a slow jams mood while trying these earbuds out and listened to tracks like Nice and Slow by Usher and I Wanna Know by Joe and man, the bass was really banging in a really good way.

This level of bass can be achieved in other true wireless earbuds but they’re usually not turned on by default. On the Freebuds 3, there isn’t any option to tweak the sound quality but I don’t imagine anyone needing to do this.

There is significant leak out of the audio though when you turn the volume to maximum. But I never felt the need to do this. Only tried it for the heck of it.

Easy pairing and controls

Pairing these are pretty straightforward, you only need to hold the button on the case for about two to five seconds to enter pairing mode. Make sure the case’s lid is open.

It’s even easier when your using a device that already has EMUI10. It’ll automatically find the Freebuds 3 once you pop the lid open. Similar to how Samsung Galaxy phones quickly detect the Galaxy Buds.

Controls are straightforward. Double tap on the left to turn on/off noise cancelling, tap on the right to play or pause, and double tap to skip to the next track. You can switch this up on the Huawei AI Life but that’s about the level of tweaking you can do on these.

I paired our review unit with both the iPhone 11 Pro and the Huawei P30 Pro. It’s worth noting that at the moment, you won’t be able to make these control changes on the Huawei AI Life/Smart Home app on iOS. Then again, if you’re using an iPhone, you’ll probably just get an AirPods or AirPods Pro anyway.

Is the Freebuds 3 your GadgetMatch? 

There’s a lot to love with the Freebuds 3. The noise cancellation is pretty good, sound quality is superb, and the carrying case is small enough to be pocketable but not too small that they’re easy to misplace.

The battery is also pretty darn good. I’ve only had to charge it once in my week with the device. Speaking of charging, you can do so through a USB-C cable which comes with the device on the box or through wireless charging.

My only real gripe is how it looks. I’m still not a fan of how Apple has normalized wireless earbuds with stems sticking out. I find it frustrating that it’s now somehow considered trendy and fashionable.

That said, if you like rocking these types of earbuds, that’s completely fine. Live and let live, right? But part of me is hoping the next version has a different look. These do come in two colors: Ceramic Black and Carbon White so you can at least go with the black one if you think the white looks too much like a knockoff.

The Freebuds 3 is priced as follows: UK (GBP 147), Singapore (SG$ 238), Philippines (PhP 8,990), Malaysia (MY R679). That’s very competitive considering everything you get. These might just be the value upper tier true wireless earbuds with noise cancellation. Everything works as advertised and that is truly satisfying.

If you’re looking to splurge a little for a better audio experience, either for you or as a gift for someone else, then it’s hard not to recommend the Freebuds 3.

SEE ALSO: Huawei Freebuds 3: Give the gift of freedom this holiday season

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Huawei Watch GT 2: Two-week battery life is real

You’ll forget that you need to charge it

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Having a smartwatch that shows you notifications and tracks your activities are all well and useful, although the fact that you need to charge them daily could be tedious for some. This is because most models only have batteries that are good for a day’s work.

Sure, you have hybrid watches that last longer but with limited features. What Huawei did with the first Watch GT was to offer a smartwatch but with a battery life that can last you two weeks. They intend to keep this up with this new model but with more useful features. Let’s take a look at what it now offers.

It comes in either 42mm or 46mm variants

Bigger model has more features and longer battery life

Has a double crown design…

Sports an AMOLED touchscreen

And a number of available straps

No extra tools needed to change straps

Watch faces are available for personalization

Feel like going digital or analog for the day?

For the design department, the Watch GT has a sporty look going on but is also sleek enough to be worn during meetings and even semi-formal gatherings. In addition to the different watch faces you can select, its interchangeable strap makes it even easier to complement your look so you can mix and match depending on the occasion.

If you’re looking at the Watch GT 2 to help track your activities, then you’d want to go for the bigger 46mm model since it’s loaded with more sensors than the 42mm variant.

Your personal workout tracker

Detects your workout and logs your personal records

Real-time heart rate monitor

Know when your workout is effectively burning calories

Scientific coaching for running courses

No need for a personal coach!

Sleep tracker identifies common sleep-related issues

Huawei Health even provides suggestions to help you sleep better

Stress/pressure monitoring

Maintain a balanced lifestyle to keep stress levels on the down-low

Take it out, get it wet

Water-resistant up to 50 meters for 10 minutes

Multiple sport modes

Since you can take it for swimming, it has its own multi-sport modes that come in handy for serious athletes. It has Triathlon mode that records data from swimming, cycling, and running. It even calculates your personal transition time from one activity to the next.

If you’re into hiking, you’d be glad to know that the Watch GT 2 has a barometer to measure your altitude and a built-in compass to help you navigate your way and conquer the summit.

And for the cyclists out there, the watch provides an assessment of your trip — including calories burned, speed, and accumulative climbing and falling during the ride.

Whether running a course, hiking up a mountain, or setting a personal record on your bicycle, this smartwatch can track your location and route with GPS. This way, you have precise positioning anywhere you go to give you better feedback about your activities.

Battery life

Just like its previous model, the Watch GT 2 claims a 2-week battery life even with heart rate monitor running 24/7. And just like the first iteration, it still delivers the same performance and that alone is a feat not commonly seen on other smartwatches.

Charging is done through a proprietary magnetic dock and it takes about an hour to hour and a half to completely charge the watch. Although because of its lengthy life, I sometimes forget that I need to charge it and I get surprised when I see the battery warning. It’s a good problem to have, really.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

In terms of features, I wouldn’t disagree that the Huawei Watch GT 2 is armed to the teeth. You have all your trackers that know exactly what you do, where you are, and even how long your nap was. But then again, just like in our previous review, we feel like it’s more of a fitness or activity tracker than a smartwatch.

One of the main reasons we say this is that it still has the same issue as before about pairing with a smartphone. Sometimes it gets disconnected so notifications don’t push through the watch so you miss certain messages or calls. It’s supposed to notify the user of phone calls and alarms, and it wasn’t always the case during our time with it.

So ask yourself: Do you need a helpful tracker so you have a full overview of your performance in one glance? Because this watch certainly delivers in that aspect. Whether you’re a casual runner or a dedicated athlete, you’ll have access to your records complete with sound advice and tips to ultimately meet your goals.

Plus, it wins in the design aspect — being able to live two lives as a sporty companion and a compatible pair for your formal events. Just change the watch face, swap in some alternative straps, and you’re good to go!

 

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