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

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Reviews

Realme 2 Pro Review: Recon phone

A data gathering exercise

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The Realme 2 series is the company’s announcement that they’re no longer a sub-brand of OPPO. However, there are still plenty of traces of OPPO in these devices. The Realme 2 Pro is their top offering and for better or worse, it still feels like an OPPO phone.

If you think this looks and feels a lot like the OPPO F9, you can’t be faulted. Save for a few differences, these two phones are practically twins. From the form factor, to the notch, and even the cameras, these phones almost remind me of that famous Spider-Man meme.

The more obvious difference are the colors. The OPPO F9 went with the trendy gradient look while the Realme 2 Pro goes for more solid color options.

The unit we have for review is the more subdued Black Sea, but the phone is also available in Blue Ocean as well as the color I would have loved to have (hello, folks from Realme): Ice Lake.

Another key difference is the chip powering the devices. The OPPO F9 runs on a MediaTek Helio P60 processor while the Realme 2 Pro went with the Snapdragon 660. Further justifying the Pro on its name is the 128GB of storage and 8GB of RAM on our particular review unit.

For reference the Realme 2 Pro also comes in a 4GB and 64GB configuration, as well as a 6GB and 64GB configuration.

The steady

In that regard, the Realme 2 Pro felt about as snappy as you can expect from a phone rocking those internals. I don’t play a lot of mobile games and only really played Dragon Ball Legends in my little over a week with the device, and it handled it with zero problems.

Dragon Ball Legends is probably my favorite mobile game at this point

I have had experience with other phones with comparable specs and tested games like PUBG, and Iron Blade on them. Those phones handled the mentioned games nicely and I expect the same is true with the Realme 2 Pro.

I do consume a lot of media on my phone. Listening to my favorite songs and podcasts was a pleasant experience. The speakers on this phone do not deliver the best sound but they’re good enough and loud enough for solo listening sessions. It does have a headphone jack so that’s a thing you can take advantage of, as well.

CHNDTR is a Filipino band with major anime and Paramore feels

I also watch a lot of YouTube and Netflix (and chill right after), and I don’t have any major complaints. Would love the display to be more visible under bright sunlight, but I don’t really look at my screen a lot in those situations nor do I watch videos under strong light that often.

Colleen Wing on Iron Fist is a goddess. Fight me.

The bad

I was never a fan of ColorOS and that remains true even on technically a non-OPPO phone. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t make the phone slower or anything. I’m just not down with how it looks and feels in general. I appreciate that it incorporates gesture navigation (get with the gestures people, it’s great!) but other than that, I would switch to a different launcher. But that’s me. If you dig it, it’s all good. I won’t judge.

There’s also the nice touch of a quick access feature sitting on the display on the area right next to the power button. Swipe quickly and you get screen capture options as well shortcuts to some apps.

Silver lining for those like me that aren’t ColorOS fans: During the launch, Realme Southeast Asia Managing Director Josef Wang was asked if they’re planning on making their own and he said, “Maybe next year we’ll have our own OS.” A maybe is always better than a flat out no in OS options, life, and love.

The good-ish

Mostly good, to be more precise. I was pleasantly surprised by how the camera performed under favorable lighting conditions. Check out these two portrait shots taken around noon.

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Both images are sharp and you could be fooled into thinking these weren’t taken with a phone.

It doesn’t perform as well under low-light conditions, but it’s about as good as you can expect from a smartphone in this range.

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There’s also some fun stickers you can play with if that’s a thing you’re into.

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Here are a few more samples you can peruse.

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Recon phone

So who would want this phone? Realme said they’re aimed at the youth. I thought that was pretty vague so I asked for an age range. Wang had this puzzled look on his face but eventually said they’re probably looking at people in college or those just entering the workforce.

Will the youth opt for this phone?

During the media interview with the Realme executives, this is the impression I got. The company is still feeling their way through all of this. As Wang noted, they’re still studying the markets which is why as of writing, we’re still waiting on official pricing for other countries in Southeast Asia.

Realme played it safe with the Realme 2 Pro and for good reason. As a budding company who just spun off, they have plenty of ground to cover. They’re hoping the Realme 2 series will sell enough and give them sufficient data to develop a phone that’s more Realme than OPPO.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

As for the phone itself. Objectively it’s pretty solid. It performs pretty much the way you’d expect it to given the specs.

The UI is a big thing for me. I would have enjoyed this phone more if it had a different skin on top of Android 8.1 Oreo but if you’re used to ColorOS or something similar, the Realme 2 Pro is a solid option that will take fantastic photos under proper lighting conditions.

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OPPO Find X Lamborghini Edition: Testing a $2,000 phone

Will a luxurious phone make me more luxurious?

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I won’t beat around the bush. This is the OPPO Find X Lamborghini Edition and it’s worth almost US$ 2,000 or US$ 1,980 to be precise.

What’s so special about it? See that seal? It’s an actual Lamborghini. No, really, from the Italian luxury carmaker.

I got my hands on this delightful device and I’ve been using it for a few weeks. So, now that I have my own Lambo, what changed? Did using this expensive AF phone make me a classier person? Will I get more street cred because of my flashy phone? What does holding US$ 2,000 in form of a phone feel like?

Because owning such a luxurious device has made me a more gracious person, I shall walk you through my experiences with the Lambo.

It still looks and feels good 

The OPPO Find X Lamborghini Edition has the same signature bezel-less screen of the regular Find X.

On the back, glaring in gold is the Lamborghini logo. This phone also has a different back design on that smooth glass back; almost elusive striped markings dubbed by OPPO as the black carbon pattern adorns the whole body.

Of course, there’s a special edition Lambo theme because if you’re paying that much for a phone, they better throw in a custom theme!

As cool as it was (especially for car lovers!), though, I opted to change the theme into something brighter during my time with the phone. 😅

I’ve said it about the normal Find X and I’ll say it again about this Lambo phone: It’s a pleasure to hold. The weight, feel, and that wide, crisp screen make everything feel premium.

The only downside is that the normal OPPO Find X and the Lambo phone are similarly great — which is a good thing if you own the normal Find X, but not such a great deal if you paid the US$ 825 difference for the more expensive phone.

Nonetheless, the Lambo phone does give a classier spin to the phone in black and gold. I mean, if you hold it strategically enough, people should take notice of that Lamborghini logo, right?

Touting such an expensive device day and night is not as easy as it looks. Because I’m secretly not rich (sad reacts 😢), I almost had a mini heart attack handling such an expensive thing that’s all glass. Thankfully, the phone came with a phone case that sports the same Lamborghini logo and stripe pattern that onlookers can accidentally ogle so they can realize how much my phone costs.

It didn’t make me more luxurious but it looked the part

As you may have noticed, I busted out classy AF props for shooting this particular device.

I figured this was as good a time as any to amp up the set design — it’s not every day your phone costs more than 18 bottles of Moet.

Sans the bottles of champagne, we did discover that the Lamborghini Find X looks great with classy rich girl outfits complete with pearl ensemble. I felt straight out of Gossip Girl, except even Blair Waldorf didn’t own a Lamborghini phone, did she?

The best fast charge technology that money can buy

The best thing about this phone comes in form of a brightly colored charger cord and Lamborghini-branded power brick. I sh!t you not (excuse my crassness but this tech deserves the profanity), this phone charges from zero to 100 in 35 minutes. Ten minutes of charging gives you 37 percent and thirty minutes of charging amounts to a whopping 92 percent.

Never have I seen such fast charging times. It’s unreal.

Honestly, charging became such an easy thing for me since using this phone. I just plug it in and it’ll completely charge before you can finish saying supercalifragilistic-holy-fudge-this-phone-is-so-expensive-docious!

Real talk though, because I don’t plug this phone in as much as you would other phones (shout-out to iPhone users), think of all the money you can save in terms of broken cords!

There are matching earphones

OPPO also threw in a pair of matching wireless earbuds because someone had to justify paying that much money for this set.

They come in a case stamped with the Lamborghini logo and automatically connect to your phone after initial pairing. They’re a decent pair of earphones that go well with the whole Lambo look except I seem to have misplaced one of the earpieces (which is not my fault because there is a serious design flaw to untethered earphones!) and now there’s a pit in my stomach when I think of how much that tiny thing probably costs. 😢

Different yet exactly the same?

At the end of the day, it’s still the same great phone.

The features that made me love the normal Find X are still the same features I enjoy on this Lambo: the fast face unlock feature, the awesome display, and the pop-up camera design (it never gets old).

Owning a Lambo *surprise* has not fundamentally changed me. I’m still really, really not rich. Most people didn’t even notice the flashy Lambo logo on my phone. Funny enough, people still only notice the pop-up camera and are still very much amazed by it.

But, I did, and still do enjoy using this phone. It’s a top-of-the-line device and it feels that way. I like it to the point that I keep using it despite having only one Lambo earphone now. 😢

Like a true luxury item, the price really doesn’t make sense. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s an awesome, awesome device — if you can afford it.

In the meantime, I’m unsure of how to live my life if I have to go back to charging my phone for more than 35 minutes. Let me leave you now as I sip on not Moet to ponder on my dilemma.

Images by MJ Jucutan

SEE ALSO: OPPO Find X review: All about style, selfies, and that poppin’ camera

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Samsung Galaxy A7 hands-on review: Beyond the cameras

Just another camera-centric phone?

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A few years ago, megapixels were all the rage when it came to smartphone photography. Producing larger photos somehow equated to better quality — and more aggressive marketing — from those little shooters on older phones.

Fortunately, that craze ended, but we’re now facing a new race to see who can stuff the most number of cameras on a single handset.

Even though dual-camera setups became the standard a couple of years ago, brands like Huawei and LG have been pushing for more. Naturally, competitors including Samsung saw the need to catch up, and even exceed in some cases.

The Galaxy A7 of 2018 is a direct answer to the trending need for at least three cameras on a phone’s rear. In this case, one camera is for regular shots, another is for wide-angle photos, and a third helps power the Live Focus function.

We already had time to experience this unique setup in India, but we now want to answer another question: Is there more to the Galaxy A7 than just its cameras?

The short answer is yes. Not only does the Galaxy A7 have Samsung’s signature AMOLED display and a mostly glass body, it does so at a reasonable price of INR 23,990 in India and PhP 17,990 in the Philippines — both of which convert to about US$ 330.

Samsung’s entry-level Galaxy J series often hovered around this price, so for a Galaxy A phone to hit this point with more premium features is a good deal. (It may also be a sign of Samsung gradually letting go of the Galaxy J lineup.)

Despite the relatively large bezels for a 2018 phone, the 6-inch 1080p AMOLED is both well-sized and a pleasure to look at. As usual, Samsung tends to oversaturate colors, but I appreciate the inclusion of Always On Display (AOD), which keeps the panel partially active to show me the time and my notifications throughout the day.

It’s tough on the battery, though, and I recommend turning this feature off when not needed. The 3300mAh battery capacity is lacking for a phone this size; with AOD on, I only get four hours of screen-on time in a single day. Leaving it off gives me an additional hour, but the phone still doesn’t get over a day’s worth of usage.

Using Samsung’s standard Adaptive Fast Charging adapter, it takes less than two hours to get to full from zero percent. That makes up for the mediocre battery life, although I wish the Galaxy A7 came with a USB-C port instead of the aging micro-USB.

What’s new, however, is the interface. Although it’s stuck on Android 8.0 Oreo, Samsung baked Experience 9.0 into the operating system, so it has the newest gestures and I found that jumping from one function to another is pleasantly smooth.

It helps that Samsung’s own Exynos 7885 chipset is handling all the heavy-duty tasks. While it isn’t the best for gaming — titles like Life is Strange and Asphalt 9: Legends don’t run that smoothly unless graphics settings are lowered — switching through apps while multitasking is seamless, and I can’t remember a time when hiccups bothered me.

I was surprised to find only 4GB of memory inside, but it turned out being enough for my usage case. There were only a few instances wherein I wished my background apps wouldn’t close so soon. What’s better is the integrated storage, which comes in at 64GB with additional room for a microSD card up to 512GB.

Other reasons to consider this phone? There’s a 3.5mm audio port if that matters to you, and the front-facing LED flash is pretty helpful when lighting is terrible during your selfie shoots.

Another thing that’s useful to me but may be annoying to others is the placement of the fingerprint scanner. It’s on the side-mounted power button, which I consider to be an optimized spot no matter how the phone is held or laid on a tablet. Left-handed people might not feel the same way.

Finally, despite the glass body, the phone seems to be a little flimsy. It’s not something I’m confident putting inside my back pocket. Get a case as soon as you buy one, or simply don’t drop or bend it.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

It’s easy to recommend the Galaxy A7 for what it is, but there are so many great phones in the sub-US$ 400 segment that it’s difficult to ignore them. Offerings from Honor, Xiaomi, and even Pocophone make the final purchasing decision a tough one.

The Galaxy A7 is primarily for long-time Samsung users looking for something different. Its triple-camera setup is certainly unique in this part of the smartphone market, and the side-mounted fingerprint scanner is a refreshing sight.

At the same time, a lot of Samsung’s familiar features are here, including the AMOLED display and the lack of a notch. It’s certainly the most non-Samsung, Samsung phone you can buy today — until you see the more outrageous Galaxy A9, that is.

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