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

Reviews

Nokia 7.2 review: Quality above all

A no-brainer

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The Nokia 7.2 is the latest in the 7 series by HMD. In true Nokia fashion, it boasts of solid build quality, and as part of the Android One program, Nokia will be providing Android updates consistently as well. But the 7.2 is more than just another Nokia phone — its camera tells a different story.

Beautiful Nordic design with all the essentials

When you talk about Nokia, you think build quality and the Nokia 7.2 really does feel like a solid phone. There’s Gorilla Glass 3 on the front and back held together by a polymer composite frame, which Nokia says is twice as strong as polycarbonate and half the weight of aluminum. The phone is massive but still very comfortable to hold because of its rounded edges.

The Nokia 7.2 comes with a matte, frosted glass back in either Cyan Green or Charcoal. Both variants look elegant and the Cyan Green model that we have gives off that signature Nordic look expected of a Nokia.

At the back you’ll see a circular arrangement for the camera module with the ZEISS branding proudly shown off. Some people say this reminds them of recent Moto phones but this design language actually first popped up in Nokia’s Lumia line back in the day — first with the iconic Nokia Lumia 1020 PureView, and then a few more phones after that.

Button and port placements are located where they usually are. The power button on the right side also doubles as the notification LED light.

There’s a 3.5mm headphone jack at the top.

A tray for dual nano SIM cards and microSD card on the left. Below that you’ll find the Google Assistant button. There’s no way to officially remap it to something potentially more useful but if you’re a big Google Assistant fan then there’s a dedicated button just for that.

At the bottom, you also get a USB-C port. No compromises here.

Dated internals, no problem

The Nokia 7.2 is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 660, which is a little bit dated, it’s almost 2 years old and is the same one found in its predecessor, the Nokia 7 plus.

Nokia is not the only brand to use older, more reliable processors for many of their smartphones. Xiaomi was (in)famous for using the Snapdragon 625 for nearly three years.

A lot of people have criticized Nokia online for choosing the older Snapdragon 660 instead of something newer like the Snapdragon 675. This is not necessarily a bad thing. There are a lot of reasons companies do this, one of them is to ensure better tuned software that makes the best use out of that processor. Another is to get consistent software updates faster because they just have to adapt for a fewer number of processors.

Other brands like to market their phones as “super powerful” because they need the extra power in those processors to pull off their clunky Android AOSP skins on top of everything else. There also isn’t really that much of a dramatic difference between Snapdragon 660 and Snapdragon 675.

On top of this, the Nokia 7.2 runs Android One. There’s no clunky skin on top, so that processor has more space to work with, theoretically speaking.

In everyday operations I faced no slowdowns or lag at all on the Nokia 7.2, except for the camera. Everything else was quick and as smooth as you’d expect on a phone in this price range. You can still play PUBG Mobile just fine, but I’d stick to medium settings.

The phone comes with either 4GB or 6GB of RAM, with either 64GB or 128GB of internal storage respectively. There’s the microSD card slot incase you want additional storage.

The Nokia 7.2 runs Android 9 Pie out of the box, but since this is an Android One Phone, it should be getting Android 10 anytime soon.

Everything from the clock to the notification dropdown are all stock Android and the interface is bloat-free. It’s your usual standard Android homescreen with a swipe-up multi-tasking menu and app drawer. There’s multi-window support, and Google’s default apps for gallery and music, a file manager, and Google calendar, and even the FM radio app.

Nokia promises two major OS updates (so that’s Android 10 which should be coming soon, and Android 11 whenever that pops up next year), and an extra third year of monthly patches for the phone for a total 3 years of software support. This is huge compared to how most Android smartphone companies abandon their non-flagship smartphones after a year or so.

Clunky but really good cameras

The triple camera setup at the back is the most important feature of the Nokia 7.2. It has the 48MP Quad Bayer sensor, which Nokia calls Quad Pixel, behind an f/1.8 aperture lens. Along with that there’s an 8MP 118-degree ultra wide-angle, and 5MP depth sensor, while at the front there’s a 20 megapixel selfie camera.

All four cameras have Zeiss optics. There’s prominent branding sitting in the middle of the camera lenses to remind you of it. There’s even bokeh modes inside the camera app that have the German optics brand’s name used — ZEISS Modern, ZEISS Swirl and ZEISS Smooth. These are for the bokeh modes that offer a DSLR-like portrait experience, which blurs not only the background but also the foreground. It also works at night and even if you have HDR enabled.

The ZEISS Bokeh styles look really unique and stylish and the Nokia 7.2 does a good job of separation between the subject and surroundings. You can change bokeh modes after taking the photo, so you can decide later what looks better.

The rear camera’s quality overall is really good, but the ultra-wide camera tends to lose details in low light situations.

You can opt to use the night mode in low light conditions. The phone can automatically detect if its handheld or on a tripod. It combines about 8-10 exposures in handheld, and up to 20 if on a tripod, to deliver better detail and HDR. This helps with noise reduction and dynamic range and it works with the ultra-wide angle camera too.

The selfie camera on the Nokia 7.2 also does a great job. I really loved the selfies I took with this phone.

Here are more sample photos.

Average battery life

Nokia proudly proclaims that you’ll get two days out of the 3500 mAh battery of the Nokia 7.2 and that’s mostly true. It’s not the largest that you’ll see in a phone this size but it’s much larger than the 3060mAh used in the Nokia 7.1.

With light to medium usage you’ll definitely get home every day with some solid amount of battery life percentage to spare. Even if you’re at the office and about to head out to meet friends on a sudden evening plan, you’ll feel confident knowing that the Nokia 7.2 will still last you throughout the evening.

But on moderate to heavy usage, you’ll definitely have to charge it up every night or risk it running out of battery early the next day.

Of course, if you’re going to be doing a lot of gaming or video-watching, you will see battery life go down faster than usual.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

With its new range of Nokia smartphones, HMD is really banking on build quality, and consistent software updates to compete against the razzle dazzle of its Chinese competitors. Nokia is also hoping to stand out in this very aggressive price range with the 7.2’s Zeiss-branded triple cameras. But are build quality and camera enough?

The honest answer is — it depends on the market you’re buying this phone in. If you’re considering the Nokia 7.2 on the American continent or Europe at EUR 249, go out and get it right now. It’s a great phone, and that camera is worth it. The only thing that comes close is the more expensive Pixel 3A.

In India and the rest of Asia, however, the Nokia 7.2 has a some very aggressive competition to deal with at almost exactly the same price range.

There’s the Realme XT which is a better phone in almost every way, except for camera quality. There’s also the Realme X — an all-screen phone with a pop-up selfie camera.

At the end of the day though, the Nokia 7.2 stands out in a sea of value for money midrange Chinese smartphones because of software support. They have a proven track record of keeping their phones updated and secure. If this is important to you, it’s a no-brainer.

Starting at INR 18,599 in India, and PhP 15,990 in the Philippines, the camera on the Nokia 7.2 is one of the best in its price range and the build quality is solid. If these all check the right boxes on your list, the Nokia 7.2 might just keep you happy for a very long time, and help you create some great memories along the way.

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Honor Band 5 Review: Reliable fitness companion

Counting steps was fun!

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We went hiking with the Honor Band 5 and I learned a few things about hiking, the fitness wearable, and myself — which is mostly just about how generally unfit I am.

The hike took place at Masungi Georeserve. It’s a conservation area in the Philippines that’s about 47 kilometers away from Metro Manila. One of the staff told us that during the prehistoric era, the entire reserve was submerged in water. Millions of years later, it’s now a mountain range inhabited by different species of plants, insects, and animals. Fun!

A view of a section of Masungi Georeserve

Unlike other trek sites, the Masungi Georeserve is  more… tamed. The rangers have built a path for curious hikers but if, like me, you have zero experience trekking or hiking, then don’t think for a second that this is going to be easy.

You need to have the right gear

The thing about having fitness goals (or just goals in general, really) are they need to be measurable for you to know your progress. With the Honor Band 5 slapped on my wrist, I was excited to find out several things but I didn’t expect to learn as much as I did when the hike wrapped up. More on this later.

MJ showing he has all the right gear for the hike

Another proper gear you need to take note of is your shoes. Just as there’s a pair meant for running, playing basketball, and training, there are also shoes made specifically for hiking.

I went out of my way to get a pair prior to the hike and it made a huge difference. I had a relatively easier time going through the terrain than some of the people I went with who wore regular running or training sneakers. This meant I had one less thing to worry about.

Getting started

Before we started, we first set up the Honor Band 5. To do so, you’ll need to download the Huawei Health app. Through the app you can see all your metrics as well as update the firmware and download more watch faces.

There were a variety of watch faces. They ranged from simple ones that just show you the time and the number of steps you’ve taken to those that showed the time, steps, and even heart rate.

For this particular trek, I wanted to check on my heart rate. I was happy to know it was still beating despite multiple failed romantic pursuits. In fact, it spiked more than I thought it would during the hike.

Design-wise, none of the watch faces really stood out. But there are enough options that I’m confident you’ll find something you’ll like and would want to stick with.

Tracking is insightful and fun

Onto to the hike! We were told it would take about four to five hours to complete the route. Naturally, we took longer than that. To completely track everything you need to go to workouts and choose outdoor walk.

The Honor Band 5 supports other workouts too like outdoor and indoor running, outdoor and indoor cycling, free training, and much more.

The trek had several stops — some were for resting, others were for the accompanying ranger to tell us more about the reserve. At each stop, I would check on the watch to see how many steps I’ve taken so far. Especially since the trail varies from straight and narrow paths to ones that require climbing.

The trek involved climbing down nets like this

Having the heart rate monitor up, I also made a conscious effort to check on my breathing. I’ve never really had strong lungs. Even when I still used to play basketball regularly when I was a lot younger, I was quick to run out of breath.

When I saw my heart rate going up so much higher than usual, I made it a point to stop for a while and take a few deep breaths to gather myself. The SpO2 Monitor2 also came in handy here. It detects your level of oxygen at different altitudes and thankfully mine stayed in the normal range for much of the trek.

There were too many of these nets. Not apparent in photo is the fear and dread I felt climbing down

Additionally, the colored amoled display on the Honor Band 5 made it easy to check on my numbers. This is also through even when it started to rain. I could still see the numbers clearly despite the watch being drenched.

The Honor Band 5 is water resistant for up to 50m. So not only can it survive the rain, it’s also made to accompany you during your swimming sessions.

Taking a closer look at the numbers

After the hike, you’ll need to stop the tracking so you get your entire workout summary. It took us nearly eight hours to complete the trek and the rest of my numbers are pretty interesting.

The Masungi Georeserve took our collective breaths in more ways than one

I took a total of 11,611 steps on an average cadence of 24 steps per minute with an average speed of 1.78km/h and an average heart rate of 129 bpm. If you thought that was confusing, it only means I’m about as out of shape as I expected myself to be.

You can check your data against what is supposed to be the average for a healthy human being. With this you can start working towards that goal. The idea is to gradually reach a state of being healthy and tracking your numbers will help you do that.

Other features and final thoughts

The Honor Band 5 also has a few other nifty features like Find Your Phone. Say you forgot where you last put your phone, the fitness band can ring it for you.

There’s also TruSleep tech that I didn’t get to try as much on this device but I did on the Honor Watch Magic so watch out for that article as well.

Just me trying to look triumphant midway through the hike

The Honor Band 5 promises up to 14 days of battery life. I had it on for a few more days post the trek and didn’t really charge it up until the 10th or 11th day. Which is still pretty darn good.

At PhP 1,699 (US$ 33), the Honor Band 5 lives up to its billing as your personal fitness tracker. The colored AMOLED display is great and the tracking is where you’d expect it to be. It’s also comfortable enough that you won’t mind having it on while you workout.

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Vivo V17 Pro Unboxing and Review

Overpriced and gimmicky?

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Vivo’s newest smartphone has cool camera features, including the world’s first dual pop-up selfie camera.

But is that enough for you to want to upgrade, or is the Vivo V17 Pro overpriced with a lot of gimmicks?

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