Reviews

Xiaomi Mi Mix 2 Review: A sequel done right

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When making a successor to a company’s flagship device, you either make it radically different or refine the hell out of it. Xiaomi chose the latter when coming up with the Mi Mix 2.

As trendsetting as the original Mi Mix was, there were drawbacks to being the first mainstream “borderless” smartphone to hit the market. The screen ratio was between too tall and too wide; shaving off too much of the top bezel led to an awkward magical earpiece; and there simply wasn’t enough attention given to the cameras.


Xiaomi went as far as calling it a prototype to lower everyone’s expectations of a perfect handset. But now that the Mi Mix 2 exists and it’s surrounded by new-age smartphones, there’s less room for error.

While we were fortunate enough to experience the Mi Mix 2 when it was first unveiled two months ago, our hands-on time with the phone brought up more questions than answers.

This full review builds on our first impressions and looks into both the strengths and weaknesses of the Mi Mix 2 after a more extensive testing period.

Is it easier to use this time?

Although most people agree that the first Mi Mix is a stunning device, there’s no point in owning one if it’s too difficult to wield. Now with a more manageable 6-inch 1080p LCD and narrower 18:9 aspect ratio, the Mi Mix 2 has comparable dimensions to that of the LG V30 and Huawei Mate 10 Pro.

It’s also a lot rounder and easier to grip this time. The back is made of the same slippery ceramic material as before, but Xiaomi once again bundles a protective case in the box. While not as grippy as the leather case of last year’s Mi Mix, it’s a lot slimmer and doesn’t add to the overall bulk.

Because of the reduced surface area, reaching for buttons and the fingerprint scanner at the back isn’t as much of a chore anymore. It simply doesn’t feel like a minituarized tablet now, and those with smaller hands (and pockets) no longer have to do finger gymnastics.

The biggest omission is the 3.5mm audio port, so you’ll again have to reach into the package to pull out the fix: a USB-C dongle. Ugh.

Have the cameras been improved?

My biggest gripe with the original Mi Mix was its sub-par cameras for a smartphone deemed as the brand’s flagship. Both the front and rear shooters often produced blurry outputs, and shots at night were nearly unusable.

As soon as I learned that optical image stabilization was added to the Mi Mix 2, I had some hope for a better turnout — even though Xiaomi peculiarly decided to omit a dual-camera setup despite placing one in the cheaper Mi 6 and Mi A1.

These are what the 12-megapixel rear and 5-megapixel front cameras gave me:

The difference is night and day compared to the predecessor. Noise control is a lot better, and the main camera isn’t as prone to shaky hands. I also find the color vibrance and saturation to be much more pleasant, and selfies are actually worth sharing now.

And yet, the quality isn’t on par with rival smartphones. This has a lot to do with HDR (high dynamic range) processing being excruciatingly slow at times, and there are no special modes or secondary camera to beautify selfies and add background blur — things that other brands have already mastered.

Can its performance keep up with other premium smartphones?

This is a definite yes. With a flagship Snapdragon 835 processor coupled with 6GB of memory and 128GB of storage on our review unit, the Mi Mix 2 is at the very top of the smartphone hierarchy. Performance is as flawless as can be, and not once did I feel like there wasn’t enough power while switching through the heaviest of apps.

Depending on where you decide to purchase this, you can also opt for a cheaper 64GB storage variant or a more generous 256GB storage version — both of which still offer 6GB of memory.

Software-wise, the Android Nougat-powered MIUI 8.5 operating system is still a pleasure to interact with, as long as you’re wiling to go through the early trouble of customizing the interface to your liking after first powering it up. As mentioned in my previous Xiaomi reviews, it takes a lot of patience to go through each setting to get notifications and quick toggles to your liking. But once you do, there’s nothing like it.

Since beginning this review, Xiaomi announced that MIUI 9 will arrive on the Mi Mix 2 and other recently released handsets. We’ll update this space if there are significant improvements or downsides to the new version.

Does it last longer than a day?

To my surprise, lowering the battery capacity (3400mAh from 4400mAh) didn’t significantly reduce battery life. A full charge still gets me more than six hours of screen-on time over a day’s usage. That’s more than what the Galaxy Note 8 and OnePlus 5 gave me.

And the advantage of having a smaller battery is faster charging times. I can easily fill up the total capacity in less than one and a half hours using the bundled fast charger. Getting that much mileage after such a short charge is so satisfying!

What are the drawbacks this time?

Although Xiaomi managed to insert a real earpiece instead of high-tech vibration tech this time, there was nothing done about the awkwardly placed front-facing camera. It’s still on the bottom chin, meaning you have to rotate the phone to avoid blocking it with your palm, and anything except the built-in camera app won’t adjust the interface for you.

Apple and Essential got around this limitation by creating unsightly notches at the top of their phones. Xiaomi decided to stick to their signature style and choose aesthetics over intuitiveness. Which implementation is ultimately better depends on user preference and how much of a selfie taker you are. Rotating the unit multiple times in a day can admittedly get cumbersome.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

The Mi Mix 2 doesn’t feel as groundbreaking as its predecessor, but that’s only because there are so many of these so-called borderless phones in the market now. But refinement is key in creating a sequel, and this product has a near-perfect mix of features and design choices.

The clearest edge, however, is the Mi Mix 2’s fair price tag. It’s noticeably more affordable compared to its closest competition, making this the most physically attractive phone in its range.

It retails for CNY 3,299 (US$ 505) for the 64GB storage version, CNY 3,599 (US$ 555) for 128GB of storage, and CNY 3,999 (US$ 615) for the largest 256GB configuration in China.

The 128GB storage variant also retails for INR 35,999 (US$ 550) in India, HK$ 4,299 (US$ 550) in Hong Kong, and NT$ 16,599 (US$ 550) in Taiwan.

SEE ALSO: Purported images of a Xiaomi Mix Mix 2s show up online

[irp posts=”23808" name=”Purported images of a Xiaomi Mix Mix 2s show up online”]

Laptops

ASUS VivoBook X412F Review: A great midrange option for work and school

For those who need a fresh start

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Not everyone can afford a premium device. Even if the specifications entice you to buy that nice laptop, the ultimate decision point is in its price and value to you. Parents and young professionals starting a new job would know.

ASUS regularly comes up with great midrange selections for students and young professionals. That seems to be what the ASUS VivoBook X412F is: an all-around midrange device for productivity and day-to-day tasks. But if you’re currently a student or working full-time, should you consider this device?


Here’s a rundown of the device’s specifications:

It has a 14” HD anti-glare display

It’s powered by an Intel Core i3 processor and an NVIDIA MX230 graphics card

It comes with both a USB Type-A and Type-C port

Has a fingerprint reader on the touchpad

It gets the job done for its intended purpose

The model I used came with an Intel Core i3 processor, which won’t deliver great performance on paper. But after using it for a while, I can say that it really isn’t the case. It kept up with the numerous tasks I threw at it, whether it was writing documents or watching videos. Do take note that this device only comes with 4GB of RAM, so obviously you won’t be able to do a lot more.

It also helped that it comes with a 256GB solid state drive installed. Using SSDs provide a significant boost in loading times, which allowed me to get more tasks done. I would still prefer to have the more powerful Intel Core i5 option installed to maximize performance.

You can play games on it, just don’t push it

The VivoBook X412F comes with an entry level NVIDIA MX230 graphics card. Upon reading this, my initial thought was that gaming was possible — and it was. The catch is, well any game that doesn’t require so much graphical power will run smoothly. Games like CS:GO, Minecraft, and Rocket League do reach a hard 50 to 55 frame per second cap.

But like any other non-gaming laptop, using this strictly for gaming is highly discouraged. This device was not exactly designed to be a gaming machine, even if you get the units with more powerful processors on it. Plus, you will definitely feel the heat on your keyboard when you play for too long. So, I’m not saying that you can’t use it to play games; don’t use it just to play games.

It lasts relatively long, as long as you’re using it properly

Upon initial testing, I did get around five to six hours on one full charge. It’s long enough for you to just browse the internet, watch a few videos or movies, and type down reports. Doing some form of photo or video editing decreases that number by just a bit. It took two to three hours to fully charge the device from zero.

Battery life when playing games on it is just what you expect it to be. I got close to two hours and 30 minutes before having to plug the charger. Again, you can play games on this device but it’s not meant for strictly just gameplay. 

The webcam is surprisingly decent

One of the key critiques I’ve had over most laptops centers around their webcams. Most built-in HD webcams, when used for the first time, are not as “high-definition” as promoted. Images and videos either look blurry or grainy, which won’t help during conference calls.

With the VivoBook X412F, the webcam is decent at best — which is all you could really hope for. Under good lighting conditions, image quality on this 720p webcam feels more “high-definition” than most. I observed relatively less grain than most other laptops I’ve tried, which is great for video calls at least.

Other features worth considering before you buy

The VivoBook X412F comes with a fingerprint reader on the touchpad. Setting up Windows Hello was pretty fast, but I found the sensor to be pretty sensitive after. Even if I had already cleaned my fingers and wiped out the sweat, the sensor sometimes won’t read it.

It also comes with a chiclet keyboard without the number pad on the right side. Key travel, for me was decent and took just a short while to get used to. Sadly, it wasn’t backlit which I would have liked — especially for working late at night. 

Finally, you get what you can with its display. It’s only a 14-inch HD display, which doesn’t leave you much room for proper viewing angles and color accuracy. The one good quality it has, in my opinion, is that it’s an anti-glare screen. I used the device outdoors several times, and even at 70 percent brightness I could still see the contents of my screen.

Is the ASUS VivoBook X412F your GadgetMatch?

The ASUS VivoBook X412F is one device that truly caters to those who want an affordable yet premium experience. It comes in a package that promises great productivity and portability, and lasts a long time. It’s a total fit for students and young professionals looking for their first school or work laptop. Of course, that’s only the case as long as it is used for its intended purpose.

With a device like this, you can only do so much. While tasks such as photo, video editing, and gaming are possible, it proves to do more harm than good. If you really want to get the most value out of this laptop, I suggest you use it mostly for its intended purpose.At PhP 32,995 (US$ 629) for the 256GB + 4GB RAM unit, the ASUS VivoBook X412F is a great productivity device for work and school. That is, if you will use it for work or school-related activities.

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Philippines

Nokia 8.1 review: What took you so long?

Solid but feels dated

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There’s a Filipino song called “Bakit ngayon ka lang?”. Loosely translated, it means “what took you so long?”. The song talks about a missed romantic opportunity — of someone else coming along while you’re already committed to another. That’s almost exactly how I feel about the Nokia 8.1.

The phone — known in other markets as the Nokia 7X — was first announced in December 2018. A full seven months later, it arrived in the Philippines. And a lot has happened in those seven months.


Performance on par with midrangers today

Before I proceed, let’s get some of the specs talk out of the way. The device is powered by the Snapdragon 710 SoC along with 6GB of RAM with 128GB of internal storage which is expandable via a microSD card. That’s not bad. At all. It’s even near-flagship territory… in 2018.

One thing about the Nokia 8.1 though that will never feel dated is its OS. The phone is part of Google’s Android One program which means this is running Stock Android. If you like it vanilla — like a lot of purists do — then this is one of the phones that offer that clean experience. Right now it’s still on Android P, but if you’re feeling adventurous, you can side load Android Q beta as it is a partner device for Android’s developer preview.

Google cards are quite useful

The chip together with vanilla Android makes for a smooth and snappy experience. Most of the time I’m either just browsing or working on my phone and doing so on the Nokia 8.1 one was a very pleasant experience.

I have said this countless times but in case you’re new here, I don’t really play mobile games. The only time I ever really do so is when I have to test phones. On the Nokia 8.1 I only played Honkai Impact 3, which is a pretty graphics heavy game. The phone had zero trouble running the game and it looked especially stunning on the phone’s 6.18-inch PureDisplay screen (which we’ll get to shortly).

This means the phone will likely have zero problems running some of the most played games today like PUBG and Mobile Legends: Bang Bang. If you play these games with this phone and don’t get that Chicken Dinner or that MVP, then you only have yourself to blame.

A display sent from the heavens

The PureDisplay screen technology is really pulling its own weight. When Nokia said this phone offers a higher contrast ratio and sharper output, it felt like it was even underselling it. The screen is vibrant and the colors and images look sharp all without looking too saturated.

It doesn’t have any of that crazy 90hz or 120hz display that we’ll find on 2019 flagships, but dare I say, the Nokia 8.1 probably has the best display in its price point.

I hid that notch eventually

I’ve often found myself happily watching on this phone while slowly being sucked into the YouTube rabbit hole. Speaking of watching videos on this display, I opted to turn the notch off altogether. The notch still looks like the one present on the iPhone X which came out in 2017. It’s 2019 and personally, I’d rather have a full bezel than be bothered looking at that kind of a notch.

Watching vertical FanCams is great on this thing

That said audio on this thing is far from perfect but it’s passable. The sound it produces isn’t as full as I hope to hear from phones when in speaker mode, but you can remedy all that by plugging in headphones because our good friend jack is still present on this device. Listening on wireless earbuds also offer a nice experience.

The build screams premium

One of the first things I noticed about the Nokia 8.1 is its build. The body is built with 6000-series aluminum with an all-glass back. And it feels pretty darn expensive. So much so that I was wondering why it didn’t come with any case in the packaging.

At first I was really hesitant to bring this around due to the lack of a case, but over time, my hands have grown accustomed to the glass finish. And I feel blessed every single time I touch it. There’s something about the build in finish that just screams premium.

The fingerprint sensor is at the back. And it feels like a blessing every time I touch this thing

It’s not fragile at all though. Being the clumsy oaf that I am, I may have accidentally dropped this phone twice already. The phone sustained zero scratches and zero damages. This is one tough cookie.

Pretty darn good cameras

I have to come clean and say I never really had too many chances to take photos during the testing phase. I’ve mostly just been at my desk or in a conference room which aren’t really ideal for taking photos.

The second lens acts as a depth sensor

So for samples I just took some quick shots around my place using the ZEISS-powered 12- and 13-megapixel dual-cameras. Hopefully I find some time to get a life outside of work for the next review. If you know a girl looking for a date, feel free to hit me up. I don’t bite… unless? Anyway, check out the samples below.

Quick note, features like Pro mode and Bokeh are also present on the 20MP front-facing camera.

Is the Nokia 8.1 your GadgetMatch?

And so, here we are. I’ve had nothing but mostly nice things to say about the Nokia 8.1. For a phone that was launched in late 2018, it can still square up with several midrangers in 2019. But the price, therein lies the rub.

At PhP 19,999, it’s not crazy expensive. It’s just that for a few thousand pesos less, there are actually better options. It’s hard to justify this purchase when  phones like the Realme 3 Pro and Xiaomi Mi 9T exist — both of which came within the seven months that the Nokia 8.1 was nowhere to be found on the archipelago.

Calling the folks at Nokia to bring their phones to the Philippines faster next time

Sure, those don’t have the build that the Nokia 8.1 has but the Realme 3 Pro offers much of the same performance for a more affordable price. And the Xiaomi Mi 9T actually feels like a 2019 phone with its triple-camera setup and a pop-up camera that makes way for an actual full screen display.

If you’re a Nokia stan — and I know there’s a lot of you out there — I can’t fault you for wanting this device. I get it. It’s pretty nice. But it’s really just a little too late. Timing is everything. Both in love and in smartphone releases.

*plays “Bakit ngayon ka lang?

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Accessories

Traveling with the Moment Lens

Is the Moment lens a worthy travel buddy?

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Phone photos become our very own souvenirs whenever we travel. More than something we upload on social media, they’re pleasant memories we can flip through when we’re back to the reality and routine of our lives. As such, it pays to have beautiful shots of the landscapes and sights we visit.

Earlier in July, I went to Hokkaido, Japan. To help me achieve said beautiful shots, I had with me a Google Pixel 3 and an 18mm wide-angle lens from Moment. It was my first time using a Moment lens. If you’re not familiar with Moment, they make special phone cases that can be pimped up with lenses that help elevate the photos you take.


Is the Moment lens a worthy travel buddy? Yes and no.

It’s great for taking landscape shots

Any tourist attraction can be turned into desktop wallpaper with the wide lens.

You also get to see the bigger picture. There’s a certain splendor added to a façade when you capture it from a wider angle.

It’s handy for when there’s limited space

In one of the farms we went to, there was a veranda where we wanted to take photos. It was great for portraits but not for capturing my outfit. There was not much space for the person taking the photo to move back to, so we got help from the wide-angle lens to capture a wider perspective and a full body shot.

It’s a hassle 

While it’s easy to plug the lens onto the case, the extra step of looking for the lens inside the bag is a hassle, and ironically, takes you away from the moment you’re trying to capture. Imagine getting a stranger to take a group photo of you and your friends at a restaurant — everyone would be waiting for you to find the lens in your purse and attach it to the phone — it ruins the moment a little bit.

I can also do without the extra weight and the extra space it takes up in my tiny bag. A less rugged-looking case would also be nice.

The Moment lens does offer wonderful improvements to my vacation shots. If you’re particular about how artfully angled your shots are, you’ll find that a wide-angle lens is a great addition to your arsenal. However, if you’re like me who is content with what your camera phone has to offer, you may find the lens unnecessary. With the Google Pixel 3 and a little post-processing, I was actually able to get nice shots even without the Moment lens.

“Ironically, the Moment lens takes you away from the moment you’re trying to capture.”

Traveling means you have limited time to spend in a place. Make the most out of it with a device that has all the camera features you need. In 2019 there are already plenty of phones with built-in wide angle and telephoto features, from different price points that you might want to consider instead.

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