Reviews

Xiaomi Mi A2 Review: Android One refined

It delivers where it should

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Quality products at honest prices — this is Xiaomi’s business philosophy, which is why it made so much sense when the company partnered with Google a year ago to release the Mi A1, an Android One phone. Fast forward to a year later and we now have the Xiaomi Mi A2, a refinement on what was already a solid pure Android device.

Being a midrange device, Xiaomi skipped on a few things with the Mi A2. What the Chinese company did with the phone though is focus on two key things: performance and the cameras. However, before we get into those, let’s first talk about the design.

Basic design

If you’ve seen the Mi 6X and think it looks a lot like the Mi A2, that’s because these phones are essentially one and the same. The only difference is the Mi A2 runs pure Android versus the Mi 6X which runs Android with MIUI on top.

For a phone that has a nearly 6-inch display (5.99 inches), it didn’t feel as hefty as I initially thought it would. There’s also a fingerprint sensor at the back that should be easy for most people to reach.

The Mi A2 also skipped the headphone jack, opting instead for two speakers. The twin speakers are pretty impressive — more than enough to fill a small room with whatever you’re jamming to.

The Xiaomi Mi A2 rests on top of the Mi A1

Xiaomi didn’t completely forget about headphone users who still prefer or can’t get away from a wired experience. Included in the retail box is a USB-C to 3.5mm jack adapter so you can still use whatever old headphones you have lying around.

Just another adapter you’ll probably misplace

The power and volume buttons are on the right side, while on the left you’ll find the dual-SIM card slot. Remember what I said earlier about Xiaomi skipping things? The second SIM card slot isn’t hybrid, which means the storage isn’t expandable.

No hybrid slots here

The variant I reviewed has 4GB of memory and 64GB of storage. There’s also one with 6GB RAM and 128GB internal storage but if you require more space, you’re out of luck.

Pure performance

Enough about its shortcomings, though; let’s talk about the good stuff. Powering the Mi A2 is a Snapdragon 660. It’s an AI-capable chip and its capabilities are more noticeable on the camera. More on that later.

Being an Android One phone, the Mi A2 runs a pure version of Android 8.1 Oreo. This also means your default gallery is Google Photos which gives you unlimited cloud storage. In a way, this can help address the lack of a microSD card slot.

There’s also zero bloatware. That means there are fewer apps slowing your device down and eating up the smaller-than-expected 3010mAh battery.

Yours truly enjoying the pure Android experience

In the little over three weeks that I used the phone, I can say for sure that the battery holds up really well. On occasions when I used it heavily, I would end the day with roughly around 15 to 20 percent left. On more regular days I’m left with 40 to 50 percent. This includes the periodic and mostly mindless browsing on social media, toggling through chat apps, getting lost in the YouTube black hole of videos, and catching an episode or two of a series on Netflix.

What GadgetMatch videos have you seen lately?

Personally, I don’t play a lot of mobile games but for the purpose of this review, I sparingly played Dragon Ball Legends and a little bit of Asphalt Xtreme. It ran both games with zero lag on max graphics settings. However, I never played for an extended amount time. My gaming sessions lasted only around 10 to 20 minutes.

Ever wanted to go Super Saiyan? I have!

If your usage patterns are similar to mine, you’ll enjoy using the Mi A2. It manages  basic smartphone tasks with ease and can probably handle your favorite mobile games with no problems as well.

AI-assisted cameras

Xiaomi talked a great deal about the the cameras on the Mi A2. To be honest, I was skeptical at first, but after taking a few shots around the cities of Toledo and Madrid in Spain, the Mi A2’s cameras completely won me over.

The Snapdragon 660 is also at work on these cameras along with the 20MP + 12MP hardware combo. The 12-megapixel sensor takes clearer daytime photos while the 20-megapixel shooter takes care of your low-light needs.

20MP + 12MP dual cameras assisted by AI

The AI scene detection on the Mi A2 works in the background, automatically selecting the best settings depending on the subject or scene you’re shooting. Take a look at these samples:

I absolutely love taking portraits and the Mi A2 didn’t disappoint. It uses both the camera and AI to give you photos with creamy bokeh.

The portrait mode also works in the front-facing camera. Take a look at these selfies:

The video stabilization is another aspect that was surprising. You won’t notice it while you’re shooting but after the phone has finished processing, you’ll see really smooth video. Your pans will look clean even if you don’t use the phone with a gimbal.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

There are absolutely zero gimmicks in the Mi A2 — just straight up everything you need in both software and hardware. You could argue that leaving out the headphone jack and microSD card slot will leave some users wanting, but Xiaomi offered solutions by way of an adapter and Google Photos.

Other than that, the Mi A2 delivers where it promised it would — a smooth performance on a clean, pure Android interface along with AI-assisted cameras that take amazing photos no matter the lighting condition.

For a phone that costs roughly around US$ 315 (Official pricing at launch of variant reviewed is EUR 279), that’s certainly a sweet deal that probably gets even sweeter depending on the region you’re in. It’s a quality product at an honest price.

Laptops

Huawei MateBook D 15 2021 11th Gen review: 4 months after

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Huawei MateBook D 15

The work from home and online class setup had us all adjusting to this new normal. You’ll see a lot of inquiries on Facebook groups about LED ring lights, microphones and midrange laptop recommendations. Huawei’s MateBook D series is among the ones you’ll see that has gotten a lot of popularity for this purpose.

It makes perfect sense, since back when I first reviewed the Huawei MateBook D 15 2021 11th Gen, I had a lot of good things to say about it. After four months under regular use, there are quite a few more that I came to realize about this device that I think you guys might find interesting.

It can get things done

A quick refresher on its specs, the D 15 2021 we have with us has an 11th gen Core i5 with the Intel Iris Xe graphics, 16GB DDR4 RAM and 512GB of SSD storage. 

It’s no question, if you’re just going to use this for online classes or regular zoom meetings, the D 15 probably won’t even break a sweat. However, I consider my power requirements to be somewhat on the heavy side for my photo and video editing needs.

What surprised me was I didn’t find myself having to go back to my main editing workstation and have actually done more work on the D 15 than I expected. It may not be as fast, but it also wasn’t drastically slower.

Plus the fact that this has a more accurate display with its 100 percent sRGB color gamut, the 15.6-inch LED display is perfect for my daily Photoshop use.

Portability also applies at home

Huawei MateBook D 15

Working from home for a long time and looking at the same thing over and over, not having to be able to go to places, had many of us bored and unmotivated. I personally always had that urge to look for another spot just for the change of scenery.

Thankfully, weighing only 1.56kg, it gave me the flexibility for me to place it in different places. I didn’t worry that the surface wouldn’t be able to handle it.

Battery life

The capability to place the D 15 on different places wouldn’t really matter if you’re still stuck near an outlet because you’re constantly required to plug it in. Fortunately, the 42Wh battery of the D 15 keeps us away from the charger for around nine to ten hours before needing to plug it back in.

Huawei addresses issues and gives regular updates

Huawei MateBook D 15

During its time with me, the D 15 had quite a few driver and software updates. Along with one of the updates came a fix for an issue I had with its fingerprint scanner where it frequently had trouble recognizing my fingerprint. While it shouldn’t have had that issue to begin with, the regular updates are an indication that users aren’t abandoned and issues are in fact being addressed on Huawei’s end.

I also learned from Huawei’s website that the MateBook series has a Windows 11 upgrade rollout plan. That’s something nice to look forward to.

Undesirable camera angle

Huawei MateBook D 15

Sadly, not everything is praise worthy on the D 15. The hidden web camera, while innovative, came at the cost of an awful camera angle. Since it is placed on the keyboard, it is also pointed upwards.

Using it, you’ll mostly see an unflattering image of yourself often emphasizing the size of your nostrils.But if you decide that you’d want to use a laptop raiser for a more comfortable viewing angle, the camera won’t be pointed downwards. That’d make it barely usable.

A generous availability of ports

Huawei MateBook D 15

Being the boxing fan that I am, the recent Pacquiao fight had me subscribing for a pay-per-view service. The full sized HDMI port on the D 15 was heaven sent. During the fight as I was able to output the fight on our dated TV set. It let us to enjoy the stream on a bigger screen.

The availability of USB ports on both sides also let us to choose where certain devices can be plugged. We didn’t worry about hitting our external drives with our mouse or fitting multiple USB devices side by side.

Multi-Screen Collaboration

I did not find myself using this feature as much. However, having this capability eliminated the need for me to grab a USB cable to transfer files from my phone. A quick tap of my phone and I was ready to transfer photos I recently. It’s great for some quick editing before posting on Instagram. 

Is this still your GadgetMatch?

Huawei MateBook D 15

When I think of the D 15, freedom is the word that comes to mind. It gives so much freedom to work anywhere with its portability and battery life. You get freedom to do what you wish with it with its capable hardware. There’s also freedom from wires with the Multi-Screen Collaboration. And even freedom to plug various devices with its great selection of ports.

It’s a no fuss kind of laptop that just gets things done. Its sheer simplicity is what makes it a great device.

If you’re interested in getting the Huawei MateBook D 15 2021 11th Gen with 16GB RAM and 512GB SSD, you can now get it for PhP 48,999.00.

 

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Reviews

Samsung Galaxy Watch4 Review: Best Android smartwatch yet?

But is it any better than the Apple Watch?

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Samsung launched the Galaxy Watch4 just recently — which is the successor to 2019’s Galaxy Watch Active2.

Now with the power of a BIA (Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis) via its Bio Active Sensor, the Galaxy Watch4 can simply measure your body composition with just your two fingers and wrist.

But is it any better than the Apple Watch?

Watch our Samsung Galaxy Watch4 review now to know more.

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Accessories

Maonocaster Lite AU-AM200-S1: Intuitive and portable podcasting rig

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AU-AM200-S1

I am a fan of quality and affordable gear. Modern manufacturing techniques and advancements in technology gave us a vast selection of gadgets in all shapes and sizes.

With the gaining popularity of live streaming, the demand for good audio interface and microphones is growing. The brand Maono, relatively speaking, is a newcomer that offers affordable audio products.

What we’ve got here is the Maonocaster Lite AU-AM200-S1, which is a portable podcasting gear. This is the very first product I’ve got the chance to try from this brand and I’m liking it so far. This bundle is ideal for someone who is just getting into podcasting or a musician looking for a cheaper alternative.

What’s in the box?

AM200 Podcast Console

At first glance I actually thought it was a miniatured DJ turntable because of the two mini platters, but those are just volume knobs for the mics and music. It is a 3-channel mixer-type audio interface with five outputs. The two inputs are designated for mics and/or instruments and the other input is for music. Three outputs (3.5mm TRRS) for smartphones are available so you can stream simultaneously on different platforms.

A separate main and monitor output is available so you can listen to what your audience hears. Note that all the inputs and outputs are for 3.5mm jacks so if you are planning to plug in an instrument directly using a PL (1/4 inch) cable, you will need a 3.5mm adapter.

Plug and play

You can connect it to a computer with the USB A to C cable that is included. It doesn’t require any drivers, so, just plug it in and it’s good to go. It should be compatible to most DAWs (Digital Audio Workstation) for music recording. There is a 3-band EQ along with a “REC” volume knob which is like a “Send” knob to feed the audio to the devices it’s connected to.

Two crossfaders control the monitor volume and echo level. The “monitor” crossfader controls both the volume level for the (main) output and the monitor (output). I wish they installed separated levers for each one to control them independently.

This is also the case for the mic volume knob, it controls both the levels of mic 1 and mic 2. It would’ve have been handy if there are separate knobs for each but I think they did this design to fit in a compact box.

For outdoor streaming and recording

At the middle portion, you’ll notice along the LED indicator level signal is a battery indicator. Yes, this is also battery powered which makes it suitable for out of home live streaming, if you prefer creating something for your viewers elsewhere. You can easily recharge the batteries with the USB C cable.

There are also audio sample pads, buttons for sound effects and pitch shifters.

AU-PM360TR Microphone

AU-AM200-S1

This condenser microphone does not require phantom power. It runs below 5V, through the XLR to 3.5mm cable, unlike the industry standard condenser microphones. With its cardioid polar pattern, it will be more sensitive to sounds being captured in front of it.

Earphones

It comes with a pair of in-ear earbuds with a very long cable, enough to cover the distance for a typical on-desk live streaming. I think that the sound quality would be more appreciated by most modern pop listeners who like a lot of bass. Because it does deliver that low-mid thump.

Tripod

Out of the box, the microphone comes attached to the mini tabletop tripod. The microphone is detachable to the tripod, but if it is used handheld, it will pick-up a lot of hand noise. So, it is better to leave it on the tripod.

Other accessories included are: XLR to 3.5mm cable, two 3.5mm TRRS cables, USB A to USB C cable, and a windscreen cap.

Performance

For podcasting, it is very easy to use. It’s what the AU-AM200-S1 is made for and they did a good job. The microphone delivers a clearer and louder output compared to built-in mics in smartphones/laptops or headsets. You can control the volume of music accompaniment easily with the wheel knob, whenever you want to highlight the music or the voice.

Plus, the sound samples like the applause, laughter, cheering etc., are nice additions for some impromptu segments in your streams. You can also record your own samples by pressing the “loop back” button and assigning to any of the blank buttons available.

Since the microphone does not require a phantom power, the output is weaker compared to classic condenser microphones. The sound quality is good nevertheless.

AU-AM200-S1

For music recording, you can record your instruments with it on your preferred DAW. I connected my guitar to my digital effects processor with a 3.5mm headphones jack going to the mic input of Maono console. I noticed that the 2 mic inputs have high gain levels because my guitar was already clipping with the volume knob on the AM200 console at around 10 o’clock.

Usually, I set the volume on my guitar effects unit on almost full when I am recording with a different audio interface and mixers. But with the Maono AU-AM200-S1, I only had to set the volume of my guitar effects at 50 percent. This is good because it doesn’t have a designated gain knob. Just watch out for clipping- if it happens, you may want to lower the volume from the source.

I recorded a few short audio samples to demonstrate how the Maonocaster Lite AU-AM200-S1 handles recording. Please excuse my singing voice.

Mic only without echo(onboard) – vocal

Mic only with 50% echo(onboard) – vocal

Mic only with 100% echo(onboard) – vocal

Mic only without echo – vocal and guitar

Mic only with post-editing – vocal and guitar

Guitar through a digital effects processor

In a full band mix – Recorded vocals and guitars (both acoustic and electric)

Fully recorded demo

 

There are two functions that I have a few comments on:

AU-AM200-S1

Denoise — This is their “smart noise cancelling” feature that reduces background noise. It does its job as a noise gate, but unfortunately, you cannot adjust the settings (threshold, attack, range, etc.). Depending on how loud the ambient noise is, the mic sometimes gets a stuttering sound when this feature is engaged. If the room is quiet enough, there shouldn’t be any problem.

Music Only — This feature attempts to minimize the vocals in the music that you are playing, but similarly to the denoise, it sometimes affects the mic audio quality. I suggest looking for backing tracks of the songs you want to sing during your live stream beforehand.

Is the AU-AM200-S1 your GadgetMatch?

AU-AM200-S1

The Maonocaster Lite AU-AM200-S1 bundle is a usable and functional piece of gear. I see it as a bring-it-anywhere, all-in-one podcasting kit. It would have been more convenient (for me) if they included ¼ inch inputs for mics and instruments. Although, I guess it would kind of defeat its portable nature because most PL cables are thicker and heavier compared to the 3.5mm cables included in this bundle.

Pricing and Availability

The Maonocaster Lite AU-AM200-S1 retails for $109.00 and is available for purchase in Amazon, Shopee, and Lazada. You can check out their other products at the official Maono website.

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