Reviews

Xiaomi Mi 9T Review: An iPhone user’s take

Flagship-like performance for less than half the price

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Three years had passed since I last used an Android phone as my daily driver. It was a Samsung Galaxy Note 5. It performed so well that I got upset the moment it stopped functioning. I had since been using an iPhone — the 6 Plus and the XR. Before the Note 5 I had used the iPhone 3Gs and the iPhone 4S.

I’m no stranger to using non iPhones though. The phones I’ve used has been mostly a mixed bag: Nokia 6070, Motorola SLVR L6, Motorola RAZR V3i, Sony Ericsson F305, and Samsung Wave. So when I was given the chance to use the Xiaomi Mi 9T, I welcomed the experience with open arms.

Unlike the OnePlus 6T which is the more advanced version of the OnePlus 6, do not confuse yourself as the this is not the “Pro” version of the Xiaomi Mi 9, not even the Redmi K20 Pro.

The design is oddly attractive

Unlike most Xiaomi phones, the rear cameras were placed in the middle. I don’t have OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) but I would choose the symmetrical design over anything else.

Although the Carbon Black color does not have any striking effect as the Flame Red or the icy effect of the Glacier Blue, it looks stealthy with those lines that blend well with the design as a whole.

The metal frame blends with the phone’s color when not heavily lit

Both the power button and volume buttons are found at the right side of the phone. I like how they distinguished the power button with a red accent.

The audio jack is something you can’t find on most smartphones nowadays

The top part houses the headphone jack, microphone, and the pop-up camera module. Unlike its Mi 9 and Mi 9 SE siblings, the Mi 9T doesn’t have an IR blaster.

The bottom part shows the speaker grilles, dual nano-SIM card slot, microphone, and (finally) a USB-C port — which other manufacturers refuse to include on their midrange phones 👀.

It may not have any dual speakers but it’s loud enough when you play music, videos, or games.

I like it BIG

Those bezels are thinner than my trust issues combined

Having large hands, I prefer using big phones (owning a Note 5 and 6 Plus made all sense). It’s just surprising how Xiaomi kept the bezels thin enough to accommodate this massive display in such a form factor.

The AMOLED display makes visuals pop-up (pun intended)

I can appreciate music videos (and Yeji) better with this display

One thing I miss about the Galaxy Note 5 is its Super AMOLED display. Xiaomi Mi 9T has a 6.39″ Full HD+ fullscreen display with the same AMOLED technology that showcases deeper blacks and whiter whites in comparison to other phone screens. My iPhone XR with an IPS-LCD display can’t relate to this display superiority.

The HDR display is a nice addition

I was able to enjoy watching El and the Gang with Mi 9T’s Netflix HDR compatibility

Not all phones are created equal — but the Mi 9T boasts HDR compatibility, specifically for Netflix. It may not matter to most people but personally, it made my entertainment experience a lot better.

In-display fingerprint scanners are not perfect but they work fine

With this display tech, it’s expected for this phone to have an in-display fingerprint scanner. Although it’s nowhere near the accuracy of phones with physical fingerprint scanners, it still does the trick.

Ambient display is underappreciated

Ambient displays or the Always-On Display (AOD) is an Android feature I (desperately) want iOS to have. It has kept me updated with my social media updates by just glancing without ever unlocking the phone.

The pop-up camera solves the notch dilemma

Pop-up cameras are not really my cup of tea as I don’t take selfies that much, but I would still choose them over bothersome notches and punch hole displays.

No one can really tell how long it will last because of its motorized parts, but I would keep this feature for the sake of keeping the fullscreen display (not until companies make in-display cameras a thing).

Face Unlock doesn’t make sense

Honestly speaking, the pop-up camera takes a while to appear. The added facial recognition doubles the unlocking time, making this feature senseless. I guess I was just used to the speed, accuracy, and reliability of Apple’s FaceID.

Surprising performance for less than half the price

This Mi 9T is equipped with Snapdragon 730, 6GB RAM and 64GB of onboard storage. I don’t wanna focus on the specifics but in my experience, it performs well as I was able to play graphics-intensive games like SimCity: Build It for several hours.

Some minor issues I noticed are the casual lags while playing, specifically when I simultaneously build and upgrade buildings. Also, games like  Asphalt 9 can’t be downloaded from the Play Store due to compatibility issues with the display. APK files might work although I don’t recommend that as it might ruin the device. Another I noticed is that the phone is prone to accidental touches when in landscape mode. This can be frustrating especially since most games include small elements found at the edge of the screen.

Overall, I would say performance is on par and can keep up with the competition.

MIUI 10 felt familiar

I’m aware that there are differences among Android phones when it comes to the User Interface (UI): Samsung’s One UI, Huawei’s EMUI, ASUS’ ZenUI, Oppo’s ColorOS, Vivo’s Funtouch OS, you name them. I was also able to use the Xiaomi Mi A2 before but instead of MIUI, it runs Google’s Android One.

Using the MIUI 10 felt familiar to me though. There are a lot of bells and whistles when it comes to features — but in a good way. UI is ever-responsive and multitasking is a breeze. There were some hiccups especially when I use the iOS-like fullscreen gestures, but it’s still more tolerable than my iPhone 6 Plus’ terrible performance.

Battery life is outstanding

4% left after more than a day of normal usage

The combination of its 4000mAh battery and Snapdragon’s 8nm processor made this phone last for more than a day with normal usage. It’s even ideal for multimedia consumption. The phone was able to keep some 28 percent of spare juice after binge-watching all eight episodes of Stranger Things 3 for more than six hours straight. I watched every episode in 1080p HDR with 75 percent display brightness.

Games are obviously battery hogs, but battery performance is not as terrible as most smartphones out there. It can still last you almost a day after several hours of continuous gameplay. It honestly deserves the “Battery Champ” title among low-midrange smartphones.

Quick charge and USB-C: Two things that work together

It’s 2019, there’s no place for micro USBs anymore. Xiaomi is doing it right with using USB-C as the standard for ports — even for midrangers like the Mi 9T.

Those reversible cables and the existence of 18W Quick Charge make everything less of a hassle. With the charging brick and cable that came out of the box, I was able to observe that it can fill up from one percent to 100 percent in just one hour and 30~45 minutes.

Highlight of the show: triple-treat cameras

Triple cameras are nothing new anymore —  but being able to pack three camera sensors at such an affordable price felt like a smart bargain.

Auto Mode works most of the time

Going into the specifics, it has a 48MP f/1.8 main camera, 8MP f/2.4 telephoto zoom camera, and one of my favorites, 13MP f/2.4 ultra-wide camera.

It even works great under dark lighting conditions

Using Auto Mode under such lighting condition, I was still able to capture great-looking shots.

Night Mode is stunning

What I don’t like about iPhones is the lack of Night Mode. I even downloaded a third-party app just to acquire the same functionality. Well, that feature already comes in this phone — and it’s impressive.

Portrait Mode, HDR, and AI are doing their work properly

But sometimes, I don’t like the camera’s post-processing

A lot of people brag about their #NoFilter shots but everyone should take note that post-processing already takes place once a photo gets captured. Applying the principles of photography, not everything that is vibrant turns out to be the best photograph. The camera software’s post-processing technique in one of my shots was an eyesore.

Selfies look decent enough

If you are a selfie addict, it performs well in great lightning conditions. But according to the judgments of MJ (who’s a selfie expert), he would still prefer the Mi 9 SE over this.

Another minor error I experienced while using it is when it stops working and displays “Can’t connect to camera”. It happened not just ONCE or TWICE, but several times. Even updating MIUI 10 does not fix the issue. I hope Xiaomi would resolve this in the future.

As someone who has used an iPhone for several years, there is always the skepticism about the camera quality of midrange phones. Despite the inconsistencies in software performance, Mi 9T has proven that the quality of the cameras should not be compromised regardless of its price.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

Unlike iPhones, getting this will not cost you your two kidneys. The Xiaomi Mi 9T with the 6GB/64GB configuration retails for PHP 15,490. They are also selling a 6GB/128GB configuration for PHP 17,490.

For people who are looking for a smartphone that performs well in all aspects, this is one of the best picks. If you care about the fullscreen display, faster internals, and bigger battery, it’s no-brainer to choose this over the Mi 9 SE as they both have the same price. If you prefer a smaller form factor, choose the latter.

I also recommend this for people who are looking for newer phones to replace their old-generation iPhones. If you are the type of person who uses a phone regardless of the Operating System (Android vs iOS), this is a great choice.

India

Mi Smart Speaker review: Sounds excellent, speaks smartly

Xiaomi taking on Amazon and Google

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Voice assistants have been around for a long time and we’ve all used them at some point. Every Android phone has Google Assistant and it’s just a tap away. If you’re into the Amazon ecosystem, Alexa is for you. And Apple has Siri.

But when was the last time you actually used these personal assistants actively? Most people always end up asking a generic question about the weather or search for GPS navigation. Even though these assistants barely take up any computing resources, their real-world applications are limited and often found to be a hassle.

In the last few years, all major companies released affordable smart speakers that incorporate these smart assistants. And, it has been a hit. Echo speakers fly off the shelf during the festive season, Nest speakers are consistently improving and bundled along with various offers, and Apple has taken a slightly more premium route, but still has low-cost offerings.

But, is it worth spending US$ 30 to US$ 60 on a tiny palm-sized speaker that’s basically just a hardware package designed to run the assistant? I’ve used the affordable offerings from Google as well as Amazon and my answer would be no.

The volume is too low for my liking, sound quality goes for a toss, and you’re just left with a speaker that runs Google Assistant or Alexa. The initial euphoria around a voice assistant soon fades. And if you’re looking for a decent speaker that can be used primarily for music, the cost escalates to more than US$ 100.

In a developing country like India, the price difference is considerable and you’re entering the premium segment. Xiaomi found this sweet spot and launched the Mi Smart Speaker in the country. It’s priced at INR 5,999 (US$ 81) officially, but available for INR 2,999 (US$ 40) under various discounts and schemes.

A significantly large speaker for the price

The Mi Smart Speaker is huge when compared to Google Nest Mini or the Echo Dot. Just like its price, it looks like a perfect combination of an entry-level speaker and a high-end one. Xiaomi’s complete portfolio is based on offering value-for-money goods and the brand has dominated key segments with its products like the Mi Band, Mi Box, and Mi TWS.

Following the same strategy, the company has entered a space where it has no competition. And, the pricing is very aggressive in nature. The brand tried to make a mark with Bluetooth speakers, but the market is very saturated and price sensitive. The Mi Smart Speaker is its first smart speaker and has a lot of weightlifting to do.

A premium design without the heavy price tag

At first glance, the speaker instantly reminded me of the Sonos One. While Xiaomi’s offering is more oval, it is built of top-notch materials and barely feels cheap or flimsy. A perforated grille runs around the speaker and sits firmly on the table thanks to the tiny rubber legs on the bottom. No matter where you keep it, it’ll look subtle and aesthetic.

There’s just a small Mi logo on the front while the top has four touch buttons for volume, pause/play, and microphone. As a standalone product, it has a distinctive look that doesn’t look like it’s ripped off. The top edge has a small LED ring that’ll turn blueish-white when Google Assistant is summoned. If you turn off the mic, the lighting shall remain orange.

The rear has a barrel connector and the adapter is provided along. But this is the only thing I didn’t like about the speaker. Xiaomi could’ve provided a USB port, just like all its other products. This might become a challenge because the speaker will take up an additional socket in your house, instead of sharing a USB wire out of a multi-port adapter. Obviously, there’s the option of a splitter but it’ll need more space and look much messier.

Sounds excellent and satisfied everyone’s needs

The Mi Smart Speaker has a 2.5-inch driver that’ll push out 12W of audio output. This isn’t a very big driver and smaller speakers like the Amazon Echo have a 3-inch driver. But I’d recommend skipping the technicalities in favor of the listening experience.

The speaker is sufficiently loud and the vocals are very clear. It isn’t enough for a full-fledged party, but more than enough for regular usage in the living room or bedroom. The high frequencies are very well balanced and the bass is decent. I don’t think the speaker needs any more tuning or improvement.

Lastly, you can connect two Mi Smart Speakers together for a stereo experience and indirectly improve the loudness. Interestingly, buying two Mi Smart Speakers will still be cheaper than getting the Nest Audio or borderline with the Amazon Echo.

And the star of the show, Google Assistant!

The Mi Smart Speaker has two microphones and they do an excellent job in detecting voice commands from a distance. The far-field microphones always detected my voice even when music was playing at maximum volume. And if everyone’s asleep, a low murmur is also detected with ease.

The speaker connects to your phone via the Google Home app and brings in all the software firepower straight from Google. Additionally, Google Home is a combined package that can host your smart appliances, bulbs, and more. So, if you want to see the full power of Google Assistant, just connect a smart bulb and you’ll slowly enter the future like a Black Mirror episode.

I have a Mi Smart LED Bulb and connecting the two was a very straightforward task. Google Home supports a plethora of products and you can buy Google Assistant-enabled bulbs from Xiaomi, Syska, Wipro, and more. Even your Android TV is directly available for Cast.

I’ve used the speaker for almost three weeks now and it’s now responsible for controlling multiple bulbs in the house, stream content on the Sony Bravia TV, and keep a watch out via a security camera. All major third-party services like YouTube and Spotify are supported.

It has Bluetooth compatability, but you’ll have to pair it via the Google Home app. And, a fresh pairing isn’t possible if the speaker is offline. This can be a hassle sometimes in case you don’t have a solid WiFi connection.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

Yes. The Mi Smart Speaker is an excellent product that brings something new, without costing a bomb. A simple device that is primarily a speaker, but can do a lot more than just play music. If you haven’t experienced the comfort of Google Home, the Mi Smart Speaker is an ideal entry-level device that won’t disappoint. Plug along with a few other devices and you’ve created a small network of your own, controllable via voice commands.

After a long time, I’ve reviewed a tech product that’s perfect. And, it’s unique. Even if you’re just looking for a generic speaker, this should be your choice. And considering the lighter price, it can be a lovely gift for the Diwali season!

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Apple iPad Air (2020) Unboxing and Review

An iPad Killer!?

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It’s been a month ever since Apple announced the 4th-generation iPad Air 2020.

Its biggest change can be seen from its full-screen Liquid Retina display and flat edges. But there’s more than meets the eye. In fact, it’s power-packed with the latest A14 Bionic Chip and supports Apple Pencil 2 out of the box.

It may not be a direct competitor of the iPad 8th-Generation, but do you still think the newest iPad Air is a better option over its pricier sibling, the 2020 iPad Pro?

Head over to this link to watch our quick unboxing and in-depth review of the Apple iPad Air 2020.

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realme 7i: It’s okay to just be okay

As steady as it gets

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There are too many smartphones in the market right now. It feels like nearly every month, we’re greeted by at least two new releases. In this sea of devices, it’s certainly hard to stand out. To be completely honest, the realme 7i doesn’t stick out at all. But that’s fine, especially if it ticks all the boxes you need.

The gradient design on its back is nothing we haven’t seen before. It’s simple and easy on the eyes.

Our feline friend seems to be quite fond of it.

Anyway. Port Placements. The bottom features the 3.5mm audio jack, USB-C port, and speaker grilles.

The left side is home to the SIM tray.

While on the right you’ll find the power button and the volume rockers 🤘🏽

Over at the back is the fingerprint sensor. 

And of course, the quad-camera setup. 

You know what, let’s jump straight to some camera samples because that’s probably the most fun thing about this phone.

Better main sensor 

Here’s the setup your getting with the realme 7i: 64MP wide + 8MP ultra-wide + 2MP monochrome + 2MP depth sensor

Pretty standard, right? The 64MP is actually a nice touch and a jump from the 48MP found on the realme 6i.

It retains a fair amount of detail even when you zoom in 5x. 

Here’s a sample of the main cam without zooming. 

Our feline friend looks great lounging around on the wooden floor. Meanwhile, right behind him (it? her? I’m not really sure.) you’ll see a glass door that retains both the reflection as well as gives you peak at what’s inside.

You can also take nice sky shots. 

But the thing people will likely play around the most are the fun filters.

REALLY, REALLY fun filters

You might have already seen some CyberPunk filter samples but we’re gonna throw more your way.

Took these during day-time. Evidently, this would have been better at night.

But CyberPunk isn’t the only filter. I went downstairs and was immediately transported to the world of Ghost of Tsushima. 

Neat, right? That’s the Flamingo filter. Again, realme says these were meant to be filters but I love how these turned out even in day time.

Here’s what that photo looks like without a filter.

In addition to CyberPunk and Flamingo, there’s also Modern Gold that also gives a completely different feel.

Here are a few more samples with the filters side-by-side.



These were just really fun to shoot. I’m not sure how long that novelty will feel but these are really nice to have.

Sure, there are photo editing apps that help you manually apply these filters. But the instantaneous feeling of snapping a photo and having them applied right away is an underrated level of convenience and fun.

Elsewhere, the realme 7i is just okay

The 6.5” FHD+ display is nice for Netflix sessions. The display size in relation to its weight and overall footprint is pretty standard for most phones. It strikes a balance between a good grip and enough screen real estate for consuming media.

You’ll feel the 90Hz screen refresh rate kick-in when you’re steadily browsing social media.

The realme UI being really close to stock Android also helps in that overall smooth experience.

If you casually play mobile games, the screen refresh rate helps with that too. Played League of Legends: Wild Rift briefly on this thing. The Snapdragon 662 SoC plus 8GB RAM is more than enough to run most mobile games.

These games are actually made to play well no matter your phone so you should have no trouble playing on these. It’s not mind blowing or anything, but that’s okay.

The 5000mAh battery plus 18W fast charging is also decent enough for lasting you a day and quickly topping up should you find the need to.

Is this your GadgetMatch? 

There’s really not much to say about the realme 7i. It looks good, has a smooth display, performs just about as expected for its set of specs, and has a capable camera with fun built-in features. As far as ticking boxes for needs go, this phone has it.

This phone retails for PhP 11,990 (US$ 247). Is the pricing fair? For what you’re getting, for sure it is. Is it the best at this price point? That’s a conversation for another article.

The realme 7i is steady and consistent. In a world that feels like it’s constantly and rapidly changing, perhaps steady is exactly what we need.

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