Reviews

Xiaomi Mi A1 review: Android One is back!

Published

on

As much as I love Xiaomi phones for their generous feature sets and competitive prices, I could never fully get behind MIUI, the brand’s take on how the Android operating system should look and feel.

Don’t get me wrong; MIUI has introduced several functions that were eventually imitated by Google’s stock Android itself, but the incompatibility with certain apps, pickiness when pairing with third-party accessories, and lack of an app drawer (or the option to bring it back) hinder an otherwise complete interface.


That’s why seeing a Xiaomi handset equipped with a pure Android OS got me so excited. Based on Google’s newly resurrected Android One platform, the Mi A1 has it all: a dual-camera setup, affordable price tag, and Pixel-like experience.

It isn’t all perfect as we had learned, however. Read on.

Look at that pure version of Android

Looks great on the 5.5-inch 1080p display

And all-metal back with a couple of plastic antenna bands

It’s slippery and there’s no bundled case to add grip

Here’s a closer look at the Android One branding

Too many logos if you ask me

The camera bump is unsightly and prone to scratches

Also adds wobble when laid flat on a table

Rear-mounted fingerprint sensor is fast as usual

I would’ve preferred it in front like the Mi 6, though

Like other Xiaomi phones, this one has an IR blaster

Can be used to control your TV and other compatible devices

And yes, the newer USB-C port is at the bottom

This is still a rarity on entry-level handsets

How well does it perform?

This is where things get interesting. On top of owning stock Android — which entails having a clutter-free interface, consistent software updates to improve performance, and no bloatware — the Mi A1 uses one of our favorite processors, the Snapdragon 625. Every handset we’ve reviewed with this chipset has done well in our tests, including the ZenFone 4 and Xiaomi’s own Redmi Note 4X.

Combined with the industry standard 4GB of memory and 64GB of expandable storage, you’re pretty much assured a smooth ride with any light app you throw at the Mi A1. Playing with the highest graphics settings on games like NBA 2K17 and Asphalt Xtreme is out of reach without some stutters here and there, but medium settings are doable.

Only a few non-Google apps come pre-installed; otherwise, the Android 7.1.2 Nougat we have here is as clean as it gets. This being part of the Android One program, I wonder why the Mi A1 doesn’t have Oreo already, which has been out for two months now. Although it’s sure to arrive within the year, I hope the rollout will be a little faster once Android P becomes available next year.

Can it take pretty pictures?

I’ll cover the main attraction first: the dual-camera setup. Both sensors at the back are 12 megapixels in resolution, with one offering a regular wide-angle lens and the other being telephoto for zooming in on subjects. You can see how it works with these samples:

 

The implementation is great; activating the 2x optical zoom is quick, and it helps take shots you’d normally miss on a smartphone. But even though both cameras seem equal on paper, the results aren’t as even. Photos from the telephoto lens are darker and sometimes blurrier than those from the wide-angle equivalent — nothing experience-ruining, however.

Both cameras also lack optical image stabilization, meaning they’re prone to shaky hands and producing blurry shots under poor lighting. It’s only when the conditions are just right and you get enough natural daylight that photos turn out as good as the ones we have here.

For more travel photos, check out our Creative Director’s trip to Busan, South Korea with the Mi A1.

Can it last over a day?

While not as large in battery capacity as its sibilings the Mi Max and Redmi Note 4X, the 3080mAh size is more than enough in most instances. During my review, I managed to get exactly a day of use with LTE constantly on and a screen-on time of five hours. That puts the Mi A1 in line with most modern smartphones, but way behind what the two aforementioned Xiaomi handsets pull off on a daily basis.

What sucks is the lack of fast charging, even though there’s a Qualcomm chip inside. It’s an enduring omission on lower-end Xiaomi devices, and makes full charges a total chore. It takes me two and a half hours to bring the Mi A1 to a hundred percent using the included charger. For comparison, smartphones with much larger batteries take less than two hours to top up when fast charging is present.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

The fact alone that the Mi A1 is an Android One device integrated with Xiaomi’s excellent hardware and low pricing makes it a winner. Inside and out, this phone rarely disappoints, making a strong case for being the best handset in its tightly contested class. The nifty dual-camera setup is simply a cherry on top — a well-appreciated one at that.

Drawbacks are few: I’d prefer seeing the fingerprint sensor on the thick bottom bezel in place of the plain capacitive home button; fast charging would’ve also been grand, if not necessary for a more complete package. We can’t have them all, can we?

Our unit, which we acquired through Xiaomi India, retails for INR 14,999, which converts to around US$ 230. This pits the Mi A1 against some excellent options in this price range, but the Xiaomi product stands out for its purest form of Android and generous helping of dual-camera goodness.

Outside of India, you can purchase the Mi A1 at GearBest.com.

SEE ALSO: 24 Hours in Busan with the Xiaomi Mi A1

[irp posts=”21833" name=”24 Hours in Busan with the Xiaomi Mi A1"]

Reviews

ASUS 6z Review: The camera flips, but is that enough?

ASUS is all set to take on OnePlus

Published

on

Phone makers have always rushed to be the first one to come up with something new, this urge to make a mark has gotten us pretty unique solutions like a sliding camera, triple camera setup, and even a punch-hole camera. This year, the focus has been on getting as many lenses as possible on a phone to deliver the perfect photography experience.

Huawei has made massive strides with its P-series phones, Google has the most impressive single lens camera, and Samsung tries to deliver a perfect experience in all departments. Vivo, OPPO, and OnePlus have been playing around with sliding modules for quite some time. ASUS had a huge gap to fill because the last flagship they launched was the ZenFone 5z, and it’s more than a year old now.


In response, ASUS has come up with a very clever idea of installing a flip camera up top. We’ve seen this implementation previously on an OPPO phone years back, but the idea never really took off. It’s obvious, the Taiwanese maker needs to take on the mighty OnePlus 7, and the flip camera is expected to be their wildcard. Let’s see whether the phone is just limited to fancy shenanigans of a rotating camera, or is this actually a perfect combo and the GadgetMatch you’ve been looking for!

It has a 6.4-inch Full HD+ LCD display

A dedicated Google Assistant button along with the power button and volume rockers are on the right side

The bottom houses the USB-C port and speaker grill

The back has a glass build and houses a fingerprint scanner

And lastly, those are the front as well as the rear camera

Premium design with substantial weight

The design is exceedingly premium and the phone is covered in Gorilla Glass along with an aluminum frame on the sides. The sides have a soft curve and this makes holding it extremely comfortable, in fact, it doesn’t even feel slippery.

The blue branding on the back is eye-catching and quite unique because everyone else either opts for a mirrored or metal engraved logos. The phone does have substantial weight and over an extended period of usage, you may get tired of holding it. This is especially true when you’re gaming for more than an hour.

The display consists of an LCD panel and feels quite outdated. The colors are punchy and the blacks are above average, but the viewing angles feel significantly washed out and the maximum brightness is disappointing. I always ended up keeping the brightness at maximum but outdoor visibility remains poor. This is the prime reason why I miss an OLED display and the OnePlus 7 gets a huge edge.

ASUS ensured the bezels and chins are smaller, but palm detection on the edges is poor. Even while watching Netflix or casually holding the phone, my palm would end up triggering a touch action. This can be fixed via a software update and I hope they release one soon. And obviously, there’s no notch because of the flip camera setup.

For audiophiles, the ASUS 6z still retains a 3.5mm headphone jack and it comes with high fidelity aptX HD codecs. The dual loudspeakers are sufficiently loud and I enjoyed watching videos on it. Sometimes you just want to give your ears some rest from earphones or headphones.

Flagship performance, delivered!

Just like you’d expect, it’s powered by a Snapdragon 855 processor and comes with 6GB RAM in the base variant. Our unit has 6GB RAM and 128GB internal storage, expandable via a microSD card. The specs inspire confidence and actual user experience is just how you’d expect a brand new processor to perform.

For the price, the device is optimized perfectly and can go up against significantly more expensive flagships like the S10 and OnePlus 7 Pro. Gaming tends to heat up the phone, but it’s tolerable. I didn’t notice any major frame drops or stutters even over extended periods of gameplay. There’s also an AI Boost Mode, but I refrained from using it because performance improvement was negligible and it ended up draining the battery faster.

Coming to the power pack, it houses a huge 5000mAh battery that supports 18W fast charging. I was able to clock 6 and a half hours of screen time, sometimes crossing seven when brightness has been dimmed. You’d expect better results out of a big battery like this one, but standby time is underwhelming. When compared to OnePlus’s proprietary fast charging technology, the ASUS 6z is miserably slow to charge thanks to the large battery.

Lastly, ASUS ships the phone with ZenUI 6 and it has a completely new look to it. While it retained the stock Android look, the brand added a few nifty features like a dedicated screen recorder, AI Boost Mode, and even FM Radio. Overall, we’re glad they’ve ditched the old UI and are embracing the look of pure Android. This should also let them roll out updates faster since customization is limited.

Flip camera, the star of the show

To start with, yes, the flip camera module is smoother than I expected and even though it makes a fair bit of noise, this just adds a better “moving” feel to the user experience. You can even use the module for face unlock and the automatic flip gives a very futuristic aura to the phone. To be honest, I never felt the flip motion was slow or time-consuming.

Also, the flip module does feel very solid. I tried to forcefully shut it in and it always slid easily. No opposing force ensures it doesn’t breakdown easily. I often toggled face unlock when the phone was lying flat on a surface and it immediately detected an obstruction, in turn aborting the flip.

The module houses a primary 48-megapixel IMX586 sensor and a secondary 13-megapixel wide-angle camera. For a 2019 phone, the setup is common, but it gets interesting because the same setup also doubles up as your front camera.

In a nutshell, the output of the camera as a rear sensor is disappointing, but as a front camera, it produces a lot of better pictures. The flip camera can swing 180 degrees and you can also manually control the flip angle of the module. This gives you a few very interesting features like automatic panorama and object tracking. Manually setting the angle of the camera won’t come very handy, but it indeed is a cool feature to have.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The camera takes above average pictures, meaning it isn’t anything groundbreaking, but there are no actual faults to point out. It’s an iPhone-like camera, it’ll get the job done perfectly, but don’t expect it to be a kick-ass contestant against other flagships.

The dynamic range is quite good, but the pictures often feel too sharp. Saturation is perfect and low-light images are surprisingly good. Using the night mode, you can capture excellent pictures, but you’ll have to ensure the phone isn’t shaky because the software is bad at stabilization.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As far as selfies go, the primary sensor is super fast at focusing and portrait mode detects edges quite well. The wide angle lens is a cherry on top for all-inclusive group selfies and landscape portraits.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

The ASUS 6z starts at INR 31,999 for 6GB RAM and 64GB internal storage, this is roughly US$ 467. The nearest competitor is OnePlus 7 and it costs just INR 1,000 more. If you want a phone with something new, like the flip camera, and prefer a headphone jack, wide-angle lens, expandable storage, and a loud speaker, this phone is made for you.

You may be losing out on OnePlus’s highly famed software and consistent updates, but both the devices have an equal number of pros and cons. The Pixel 3A may be an alternative outside of India, but otherwise, the 6z is light-years ahead. I don’t see any major flaws in the phone and it gives OnePlus some much-needed competition in the segment they’ve been ruling for quite some time.

Continue Reading

Gaming

A non-Potterhead’s verdict on Harry Potter: Wizards Unite

Use your phone, Harry!

Published

on

More than a week has passed since the global release of the mobile game Harry Potter: Wizards Unite and we’re ready to give our thoughts. As the title states, I’m not into the franchise that much although I’m a big Pokémon Go player. It basically has the same gameplay as they’re under the same developers — Niantic, Inc.

That being said, I won’t be diving too much on the lore and will instead focus more on gameplay and its overall experience.


For those unfamiliar, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite is a location-based AR game that requires you to go out of the house in order to get more experience points, unlock special items, and advance in the game. The same goes for Pokémon Go and the game before that, Ingress. While PoGo, in the real world, has PokéStops that give out PokéBalls, HP:WU has Inns that you get Spell Energy from. This is then required so you can cast spells and return Foundables to their rightful place and time (the game’s version of catching different Pokémon in the wild).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

ALSO READ: A beginner’s guide to Harry Potter: Wizards Unite

During the first day of release and being curious as to how the game works, I went out and tried to “catch” as much Foundables as I can and just like PoGo, it gets you in the momentum of just wanting to go around and get as much as you can. I initially noticed the wider array of different “species” you can come across with on HP:WU as compared to when PoGo first launched. I remember all I did back then was to catch Pidgey and Rattata because that was pretty much everything that was available. This was also the main reason why most players quit back then.

You get to choose your house, profession, and design your wand

Back to Wizards Unite, the similarities it has with PoGo made it easy for me to get a grasp of its general gameplay even though I have no idea who most of the characters are. The idea is to basically level up by grinding for experience points in the most efficient way. This means planning where to go and making sure the place is populated by in-game stops and spawns — usually parks and shopping malls are good choices.

Comparison of HP:WU’s UI vs PoGo in the same area

While it parallels Niantic’s other games in many levels, Wizards Unite brings its own charm through its visuals. The environment of HP:WU is simply more immersive than PoGo‘s and even the encounters have more detail in them. It could get distracting at times since there are more elements in HP:WU, but is overall nicer to look at.

A unique aspect from the company’s games is that unlike other multiplayer games where you meet your friends online, you actually play with them in real life and this is also the case for Wizards Unite. These games basically build a community that helps each other accomplish in-game tasks that are usually challenging to accomplish alone. What HP:WU did better, though, is to go for a more immersive gameplay by making you trace different patterns on your screen as if waving your wand as compared to the tapping mechanics of PoGo.

Overall, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite could be a more enjoyable game for some players who are not big fans of the Pokémon franchise. I personally enjoy it enough to switch between HP:WU and PoGo whenever I play out. It will keep you walking around drawing on your screen and pretending to wave your make-believe wand.

It’s a game that’s far more complete than Pokémon Go at launch, that’s for sure. Although, it’s still far from reaching its full potential since there are things that could still be added to the game like a dueling system, for example.

If you want to try the game and get some cardio while casting spells, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite is available on Google Play and the App Store.

 

Continue Reading

Reviews

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

A pocketable flagship-like phone

Published

on

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

Continue Reading

Trending