Reviews

Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S Review: Faster, smarter

But is it better?

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Xiaomi is well-known for slaying the entry-level smartphone market with value-packed devices that make other brands shiver. But, every now and then, Xiaomi likes to go all out and treat both itself and fans to something a little more premium.

The Mi Mix 2S is the latest to do so, and it’s certainly a fantastic device inside and out. That extra “S” means this is an update to the Mi Mix 2 we reviewed last year, but there are a couple of features that make Xiaomi’s latest flagship stand out.

Our Creative Director Chay attended the launch in Shanghai last month and provided us with a highly thorough hands-on review of the Mi Mix 2S. It’s a must-read to knowing the background of the Mi Mix series and how this model differs from its predecessor.

The biggest takeaway from our initial impressions is that the Mi Mix 2S is largely the same as last year’s model. Its 5-megapixel selfie camera is still awkwardly placed on the bottom chin; the well-loved ceramic back with metal frame is back; and, of course, there’s no notch on the near-borderless 6-inch Full HD LCD panel.

So, what’s new? Since this is Xiaomi’s best handset to date, it comes with the best specs you can hope for. Our unit, in particular, is an undeniable beast: It owns a high-end Snapdragon 845 processor (same as on the Galaxy S9 and Xperia XZ2), 8GB of memory, 256GB of storage, and a 3400mAh battery with both Quick Charge and wireless charging support (finally). This is the type of configuration that can run a full version of Windows 10 without a hitch!

Lots of numbers, yes, but all you really need to know is that there’s no Android phone more powerful than this at the moment (that can change soon, though). It’s amazing how fast everything transitions in its MIUI 9.5 interface, which is based on Android 8.0 Oreo. You can seamlessly jump from a game as graphics-intensive as Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition to browsing on Chrome and Facebook, and still have enough power and memory left over to quickly snap a shot with the camera.

What helps make the interface so smooth is the new set of navigation gestures integrated into MIUI. You can now swipe from the bottom chin to go to the home screen, hold that gesture to see recent apps, and swipe from the left or right to go back. Not only does this remove the need for the traditional back-home-multitasking setup of Android, it also frees up more space on the Mi Mix 2S’ gorgeous 18:9 screen.

The speed and superb usability of the Mi Mix 2S made moving to other handsets feel like a chore to me. Suddenly, the Galaxy S9’s software felt sluggish in comparison and the Huawei P20’s all-in-one navigation button wasn’t that intuitive anymore. Not that those two flagships are slow by any means; the Mi Mix 2S simply doesn’t falter. Heck, I can open an app I used five days prior and it would be in the exact same state I left it in.

Speaking of days, the Mi Mix 2S can easily last two days of moderate usage without the need for a power bank. While not as outstanding as the original (and much larger) Mi Mix’s endurance, this is still beyond what most smartphones offer today. This is one of those phones I never worry about dying on me at the worst moments. I’d easily pick the Mi Mix 2S for short island getaways with no electric sockets in sight.

Because we’re living in 2018 — and this has been a gripe of Mi Mix users from the very start — there’s a dual-camera setup on the back (both 12 megapixels) that takes much better photos than we’re used to. (Imaging authority DxOMark goes as far as placing the Mi Mix 2S on the same footing as the iPhone X and Mate 10 Pro.)

Each smartphone manufacturer has a different implementation of twin cameras, and this Mi Mix has arguably the most useful one: a standard wide-angle lens with another telephoto shooter for 2X optical zoom. It definitely came in handy when I couldn’t get close enough to my subject. Here are a few cases:

 

 

Photos taken from a phone’s secondary telephoto lens usually come out crappy, but that wasn’t the case with the Mi Mix 2S, even in low-light indoor situations. I was never afraid to use it, and it felt like there was enough image stabilization to keep the shots sharp despite the added zoom.

The other major camera addition is artificial intelligence. Yes, AI terminology has been thrown around way too much during recent product launches, but that’s something we have to accept (at least for 2018). For the Mi Mix 2S, AI detection is an option you can manually turn on inside the camera app. Do so and the software will automatically scan the scene you’re looking at and tune the image to the best of its abilities.

I gave Xiaomi’s AI application a chance. These are samples taken with and without AI:

 

 

Impressive? Not totally. While the AI-enabled photos do look better, it’s nothing more than a slight bump in contrast and saturation — something you can do yourself within the camera app’s manual settings or on Snapseed right after shooting. Chances are you’re going to desaturate the picture and turn up its brightness on Instagram anyway, so I myself found little need to activate AI for any instance.

Unfortunately, the built-in AI can’t do anything to save the inverted selfie camera. Again, it’s the same cumbersome, low-resolution shooter we experienced on the previous Mi Mix. Although the results are acceptable under bright daylight, I couldn’t bring myself to use it at night. See for yourself:

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Another issue with the camera placement is its incompatibility with most apps outside of Xiaomi’s own. The interfaces of Instagram and Skype won’t adjust their orientation when you flip the phone around to bring the front-facing cam up top. This leaves you with no choice but to let the selfie shooter watch you from below and up your nose. This is Chay’s step-by-step struggle:

My recommendation: Skip this phone if you’re crazy about selfies. It simple isn’t worth the effort of flipping the phone every time and risk dropping it on concrete. But if you’re the type who uses the rear cameras 90 percent of the time — like me — there isn’t anything else to complain about. Just look at how well the Mi Mix 2S can shoot when given a chance:

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Is this your GadgetMatch?

The Mi Mix 2S is an incremental update in every sense, and that’s to be expected as the “S” evolution of the lineup. It’s slightly faster, a bit smarter, and has the camera upgrade we’ve been clamoring for since the first Mi Mix came to be two years ago. Yet, there are other features that still haven’t made the cut.

Its audio port continues to be missing in action (and probably won’t come back), waterproofing is still non-existent, and the awkward selfie camera stands as Xiaomi’s sole answer to the near-borderless, anti-notch movement.

Despite all that, this is the phone to beat in terms of pure performance and price. The Mi Mix 2S is one of the most affordable Snapdragon 845-powered phones in the market and its rear cameras have finally caught up with the competition.

At the same time, since this is a minor step in the Mi Mix timeline, the Mi Mix 3 could be only a few months away with an all-new design. If Xiaomi figures out how to bring the front camera to the top without adding a notch in the next generation, they’ll have an absolute winner.

For now, who is the Mi Mix 2S for? Those who want a good-looking Android (in white) with the best hardware, a large battery, and decent set of cameras. The starting price is a reasonable US$ 525 — a rather small price to pay in today’s US$ 1,000 smartphone era.

Lifestyle

Huawei Mate 20 Review: The simpler sibling

No need for the Pro?

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The Huawei Mate 20 is the simpler sibling in the Mate 20 lineup, and honestly… it simply works.

I’m an everyday normal guy, with normal demands from my smartphone. And when you’re like me, and you don’t have a specific thing in mind when choosing a phone, it helps to have a device that is just good in every aspect.

In real-world use, there’s nothing to complain about in terms of performance. It’s got a Kirin 980 processor, and it runs the way any flagship phone with the latest and greatest processor should.

A phone that’ll go perfect with your OOTD

When it comes to our phones, I’ll agree with Isa, our Lifestyle Editor, that they’ve become more than a gadget and are now also an accessory to show off.

This phone looks great! So much so that I’ve caught myself intentionally not putting it in my pocket, just so I can show it off.

And while there might also be many other good-looking options out there, the Mate 20 wins in my book because I can use it without a case and not have to worry about getting fingerprints all over it.

On our Midnight Blue review unit, I’ve loved the special glass texture that barely shows any fingerprints and how it makes the phone easier to grip.

Good display, but speakers need work

Flip the phone over and there’s the huge 6.53-inch screen that’s great for consuming media, but I will say that it was an adjustment having to get used to such a wide phone again.

Now while I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all gotten relatively used to notches by now. It still must be said that the notch on the Mate 20 is tiny (much smaller than the notch on its Pro sibling) and easy to forget about when watching videos in full screen.

One thing I did notice in watching videos is that while the Mate 20 might have stereo speakers (from the earpiece and the bottom firing speaker), the sound comes out uneven and mostly from the speaker at the bottom. It would have been better if the sound were more balanced.

Battery for days… literally

Usually, I start my day at 8am and end at about 9pm. How has the 4000mAh battery capacity been for me? In using the phone for about two weeks, I’ve never ended my day with less than 35 percent left. It’s been such a joy not having to carry around a bulky powerbank with me!

In a day that usually includes social media, using maps for directions, watching YouTube, and Netflix, no longer do I have to tell myself to get off Instagram because I need to preserve battery.

It’s a phone that will last you a full day and then some. When you do end up needing to charge, it juices up quick — boost of about 50 percent in 30 minutes.

Typical Huawei cameras

Now, let’s talk about the cameras. There are three cameras on the back: Its main camera has 12 megapixels, the ultra-wide shooter has 16 megapixels, and the 8-megapixel telephoto camera goes up to 2x optical zoom.

To put it plainly, they’re good. And I can tell you they’re good all day, but I think it’s better if I just show you:

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And of course something that Huawei has been amazing with is nighttime photography:

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Plus, the addition of a wide-angle lens is great for getting more into the frame:

  

All these photos we’re taken with the Master AI setting on and shot completely in automatic mode.

Now, I don’t take a lot of selfies — we leave that to Isa at GadgetMatch — but if that’s your thing, the Mate 20 has a 24-megapixel selfie camera. Also, here’s a selfie of me with Jason Mraz:

Here are more selfie samples (I turned off the beauty mode for these):

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Glad to see you headphone jack!

The regular Huawei Mate 20 doesn’t have the curved screen like the Pro does. It doesn’t have the in-display fingerprint scanner, either. What it does have that the Pro model doesn’t, is a headphone jack. 

True story: When I was traveling around Singapore and my Bluetooth earphones died, it was a lifesaver to be able to plug in regular wired earphones so I could continue listening to music.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

This phone ticks all the boxes I needed it to. Good cameras? Check! Great battery life? Yes, sir! Is it good for watching Netflix? You betcha!

It isn’t as flashy as the Pro model, but the Mate 20 to me is meant for someone who doesn’t need any of the bells or whistles, and just wants a phone that’s going to work when you need it to.

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iPhone XS

Apple iPhone XR review: The iPhone you should upgrade to

A more practical choice

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If you’re reading this article, you’ve probably been holding off from buying a new iPhone — even if Apple announced the pretty amazing iPhone XS and XS Max more than a month ago.

And if so, you’ve probably been waiting for the more affordable iPhone XR. Chances are, you’re not alone. In fact, we have a hunch that even more folks will be inclined to buy this phone even if it comes with some compromises.

Do these adjustments make the iPhone XR any less of an iPhone? Or is it still worth buying?

Paint with all the colors

While the iPhone XR is reminiscent of the plasticky iPhone 5C from many years ago because of its cheaper price tag and colorful options, this phone is in no way a budget phone. It’s still very much premium.

It just doesn’t have all the cutting edge features of the iPhone XS and XS Max. It’s all glass with an aluminum frame, very much like the iPhone 8 from last year. In the hands, it feels solid with the right amount of heft to it.

It’s available in a variety of colors; apart from black and white, there’s Product (RED), blue, yellow, and coral. Our review unit is white but we like yellow and Product (RED) best.

Inferior display?

While roughly the same size, the XR has a slightly smaller display than the iPhone XS Max’s. It’s got an LCD panel versus OLED on the latter. Apple has a fancy name for it: Liquid Retina.

If we were to nitpick, it’s got a lower resolution and bigger bezels. It’s actually those bezels that bug us a bit. The iPhone XR also doesn’t have 3D Touch, a feature that debuted on the iPhone 6S.

The lower-resolution display is what throws off most folks and has got many tech journalists talking. While we would have loved more pixel density on this device, most users won’t be able to tell the difference. It’s not the deal breaker that some are making it out to be.

Not to sound like an Apple apologist, but iPhones have always been known for really good displays and this still holds true. There’s a lot going on under the hood to make sure you get a good experience even if on paper it doesn’t seem to be. It’s not about the pixel resolution, but the quality of those pixels. Even the tech needed to pull off these rounded corners deserves props.

The display is sufficiently bright with good colors, both indoors and outside under the sun. It’s got the same True Tone technology as on the XS, meaning it will shift its color to adjust to the lighting conditions in your room. So in darker rooms, the display will turn warmer so it isn’t too harsh on the eyes.

In case you’re wondering, there’s an option to watch 1080p videos on YouTube. Netflix looks fine, as well.

Great cameras

Instead of two rear cameras, the iPhone XR only has one, so you’re not getting the telephoto lens that’s on the XS and XS Max. What you’re getting instead is the same 12MP wide-angle camera. This means the same great photos we raved about when we reviewed the iPhone XS last month.

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You’re also getting the same Smart HDR feature that lets you shoot against the light and still come up with photos like they were taken with multiple light sources, as well as the same low-light performance.

Even with a single rear camera, you’re getting portrait mode. Instead of relying on a secondary lens to measure depth, the iPhone XR relies solely on software to separate the subject from the background.

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Cutouts are pretty much the same; it’s just the quality of the bokeh that’s different because the iPhone XR is not able to get the same depth information provided by an extra lens.

Now that there isn’t a zoom lens, portraits are not zoomed in by default, which was one of our peeves with portrait mode on the iPhone. Our subjects also end up sharper and less soft on the XR, which we actually like better.

Speaking of portraits, you only get three of the five portrait lighting features on the rear camera; you’re missing Stage Light and Stage Light Mono. You still get depth control, which lets you adjust the amount of blur after taking a shot — one of our favorite new features that debuted on the iPhone XS. You can pick from f/1.4, the creamiest blur, to f/16, no background blur.

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Here are more sample photos taken with the iPhone XR. Swipe to view the rest.

The front camera is exactly the same as the iPhone XS and XS Max’s so selfies are going to be top notch, no pun intended. In case you’re not familiar, housed in the infamous notch is Apple’s TrueDepth Camera, a selfie camera, depth sensor, and fancy tech like a dot projector and IR illuminator that measure the contours of your face. Take a look at some samples taken with the selfie camera of the iPhone XR:

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With the TrueDepth Camera you can also do Animoji, Memoji, and more importantly, Face ID — your primary way of unlocking the device. Once set up, you just lift your phone and swipe up to unlock. There is no fingerprint sensor anymore, so if you’re upgrading from an older iPhone, you will have to get used to this kind of unlock. You might look for the fingerprint sensor at first, but less than a year into it, we don’t miss it as much as we thought we would.

Now that you don’t have a home button anymore, you’ll also need to get used to new gestures — swipe up to go home, swipe up and hold for multitasking, swipe down from the right side for the Control Center, and swipe down from the left for notifications.

Speaking of swiping, the iPhone XR also has a haptic engine which gives you subtle buzzes when you do things like swipe up or long press to delete an app. It’s a tiny feature that makes a difference that’s hard to describe; it feels less like you’re interacting with just a sheet of glass.

Battery and performance

While Apple doesn’t include this in their official spec sheet, the iPhone XR has a slightly smaller battery than the iPhone XS Max’s, but it has the longest claimed battery life on an iPhone to date. The iPhone XR lasts about a day of normal use, around six hours of screen-on time.

It also supports wireless charging, and you have the option to plop down some cash for a fast charger that can get your from 0 to 50 percent in 30 minutes.

Everything else about the iPhone XR is as good as its more expensive brothers. It runs on the same A12 Bionic chip. It’s speedy and powerful and can handle whatever tasks you throw at it. Games like Fortnite run smooth. Augmented Reality games like AR Robot do, too.

It’s also water and dust resistant. Albeit as always, water damage is not covered by warranty so don’t go swimming with your iPhone. Just know that you’re protected in case of rain or spills.

Is the iPhone XR your GadgetMatch?

If you’re in the market for a new iPhone and have been holding off, the iPhone XR is a strong candidate. Starting at just under US$ 750, it’s actually an easy one to recommend to anyone looking to upgrade. Its main differences are its LCD display and a single rear camera — none of which are deal breakers.

In fact, unless you’ve had an iPhone with a zoom lens, you won’t know what you’re missing. While we love our zoom lens, we have many friends that couldn’t care less about not having one. Everything else is part of the same great premium iPhone experience.

Are there better Android smartphones for the same price? Maybe, but better and best are subjective. If you are an iOS user, we’re thrilled that there are now options as good as this at a more affordable price point. And for that, we give it the GadgetMatch Seal of Approval.

If you have the money to spend or can get a good deal via your carrier, by all means get the iPhone XS or XS Max instead.

If you’re really penny pinching, it’s worth mentioning that the iPhone 8 Plus starts at US$ 699. You get a higher-resolution display — just not edge-to-edge. You won’t get Face ID, but you get a zoom lens with last year’s camera tech. You’d also have last year’s A11 Bionic chip, which is still plenty capable.

For everyone else, the iPhone XR is a phone we wholeheartedly recommend. We won’t be surprised if it ends up the most popular iPhone of the year even.

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Laptops

Lenovo IdeaPad 530S, 330S, 330: Which is right for you?

There’s a GadgetMatch for all

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Lenovo has a fairly rich selection of IdeaPad laptops, from large powerhouses to more compact travel companions. The naming scheme can get confusing, however, and each model has its own strengths and weaknesses.

For this review, we’re looking at three of Lenovo’s newest models: the IdeaPad 530S, 330S, and 330. To get more diverse opinions, we employed three different users: content creator Dan, visual producer MJ, and editor Marvin, respectively.

Which IdeaPad is your GadgetMatch? Let’s see what our three subjects have to say.

Lenovo IdeaPad 530S — Dan

The IdeaPad 530S is well-specced and has the best build among the bunch. The laptop’s body has a polished aluminum finish, and I’m loving Lenovo’s new approach to design. The lid of the laptop is understated with just the Lenovo logo on the side.

That’s not the only premium aspect of the laptop’s design. It also has an IPS display that measures 14 inches diagonally with a Full HD resolution and a 16:9 aspect ratio. Nothing sounds fancy about the screen’s specs, but it’s got thin bezels. It’s not as edge-to-edge as Dell’s XPS, but at least Lenovo placed the webcam where it should be. Although, this laptop’s webcam quality isn’t that great either.

I used the IdeaPad 530S primarily for writing and working on the go. So, I appreciated the laptop’s smaller dimensions compared to other 14-inch laptops in the market. It’s portable enough to fit inside most backpacks, plus it doesn’t take up so much space on a coffee table. The typing experience is generally okay, but I find the key travel a bit shorter than my old IdeaPad notebook. The trackpad, on the other hand, works great.

The configuration I have has an 8th-generation Intel Core i5 processor paired with 4GB of memory and 256GB of SSD storage. It even has NVIDIA GeForce MX150 dedicated graphics. This specs combination is more than enough for everyday tasks and light gaming. The notebook’s memory should be upgraded to at least 8GB, though, to avoid hiccups.

Another good aspect of midrange notebooks is the selection of ports. The I/O on the IdeaPad 530S includes an HDMI port, two USB-A, USB-C, audio jack, and an SD card reader.

I usually get around six to seven hours of battery life with this one, depending on what I’m working on. A full charge using the included 65W charging brick takes about two hours and a half. Not the best battery life and charging time around, but they’re not that bad either.

The IdeaPad 530S is an easy choice for those looking for a well-balanced notebook that doesn’t cost much. Just be sure to upgrade the memory immediately to avoid any lag.

Lenovo IdeaPad 330S — MJ

As an artist, the most important thing for me when looking for a laptop is its style and how it handles multimedia work. So when the Lenovo IdeaPad 330S arrived, I was a bit excited.

The IdeaPad 330S comes in platinum gray and a smooth, polished aluminum cover that made me feel like I’m using a premium laptop. It has a responsive touchpad and soft keyboard so I didn’t have to rely on a mouse to get work done. It also has thinner bezels, and therefore, a bigger screen to enjoy.

The IdeaPad 330S has a 15.6-inch FHD IPS panel, which means it has better color accuracy and wider viewing angles, perfect for all my multimedia work. It also has built-in Dolby Audio, which provides clear sound while watching videos online.

Speaking of portability, this laptop weighs 2.6kg — a bit heavy for a tiny build like mine. Its bigger size means it needs a backpack that can carry a 15-inch laptop. Since I used to own a 15-inch laptop back in college, a laptop this big is no problem. What I’m more concerned about is getting my work done.

Because I handle lots of creative tasks, my laptop consumed battery faster than with more average users. Surprisingly, the IdeaPad 330S didn’t disappoint, lasting at least four to five hours with constant use of Adobe Photoshop and other creative software.

The only thing I didn’t like about this laptop was its ridiculously slow load times. It’s packed with Intel’s 8th-generation Core i7-8550U, but runs on 4GB of memory and 2TB of HDD storage. Boot up was slow, and I could count up to eight seconds before my browser loaded. Most of the time, it couldn’t handle multiple tabs at once and the browser ended up not responding.

The IdeaPad 330S could’ve become a complete powerhouse if not for the sluggish user experience. It has the premium look that everyone wants, and its screen and audio are made specifically for entertainment. This laptop is ideal for those who need it for leisure and entertainment, because that is where it’s great at.

Lenovo IdeaPad 330 — Marvin

This model is clearly the least attractive of the three with its all-plastic body and unsightly bezels. And even though the port selection is mostly complete — two USB-A, USB-C, HDMI, SD card reader, Ethernet — the body’s thickness (22.9mm) and heft (2.2kg) mean I need a larger backpack to carry it in.

On paper, the specs are alright: Intel’s 8th-generation Core i5-8300H, 4GB of RAM, 1TB HDD storage, and dedicated GeForce GTX 1050 graphics chip. While the CPU and GPU combo can handle demanding tasks, the low amount of memory and slow hard disk mean startup can be slow for both the machine and apps.

I’d say the best part of this laptop is its keyboard, which is vital for any full-time editor. Like most Lenovo notebooks, the keys are well-spaced and have a bottom curve to make them easier to hit. It also has evenly distributed backlighting and a decent trackpad to complement it. I just wish the power button wasn’t placed so close to the keyboard itself, resulting in accidental presses.

The worst aspect has to be the display quality. Even though the screen is 15.6 inches in size and 1080p in resolution, its TN panel offers poor color reproduction and even worse viewing angles. This isn’t the type of laptop I’d use for watching online shows or presenting to a group of people surrounding the display.

On the brighter side, the speakers can get loud, albeit with a little distortion while at max power. I also found the battery life above-average with over six hours of balanced usage on a single charge, and the unit reaches a hundred percent quickly using the bundled charger.

The IdeaPad 330 is definitely the weakest of the three notebooks reviewed here, and is best suited for those who want less flare and more traditional features, such as the older ports, top-mounted webcam, and reliable battery life.

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