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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:

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.

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ASUS ZenFone Max (M1) Unboxing and Review

The battery prince

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These days, you’d be hard-pressed to find a smartphone with really poor battery life even if devices are getting smaller and slimmer.

Although every now and then, big-battery devices come along and make our super-slim phones feel inadequate. The latest smartphone to do so is ASUS’ budget smartphone, the ZenFone Max (M1). Is this your GadgetMatch?

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SCUBAPRO Aladin Sport Matrix review: Your first dive computer

Is it time to invest in diving gear?

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When you hang out with a group of hardcore technical divers, you can’t help but feel the need to own every single high-tech dive equipment they use. Everything just seems like a necessity.

So, when it came down to actually diving into gear investment (pun intended) for my upcoming trip to the deep south of Maldives, I had to hold off the urge of blindly purchasing whatever I thought was cool. For a fairly new advanced diver such as myself, I needed something that’s practical and affordable that suited my skills and circumstances. And so, the hunt for the perfect dive computer began. After some research and consultation, I found myself the owner of a new SCUBAPRO Aladin Sport Matrix.

Upfront: Bulky, but adaptable and functional

The Aladin Sport is pretty straight to the point. It’s a puck-style dive computer with a metallic silver faceplate. It has an easy-to-read display and a two-button menu system to navigate and select through its various functions.

The unit comes with an elastomer strap fitting for any type of suit you dive with. But, I’ve personally opted to forgo the strap and replaced this with a bungee strap so it’s easier to put on and take off. Thankfully, the Aladin allows for that as the strap pins are easily removed which means you can have your bungee looped into the four holes without buying any special adaptors.

When it comes down to functionality, research had to be done. All dive computers factor in depth, bottom time, and gas mix to calculate decompression time so it’s important to consider your dive habits and the usual situation you’ll be operating in.

For context, a quick background of my diving habits: I usually yo-yo with an underwater camera on hand but despite this, I’m very frugal in air consumption versus my colleagues. As for the circumstances: I was preparing for dives in the deep south of the Indian Ocean, home to some of the most beautiful marine life visible 30 meters deep — why it was important to have a computer that allowed me a generous amount of time to enjoy.

As I readied for my first dive, the local dive master/instructor, taking note of the watch, approached me and said, “That’s the best one.” And true enough, the Aladin Sport Matrix was very generous at extreme (but allowable) depths. It didn’t require me to have to do a ridiculous amount of safety stops to decompress.

The Aladin Sport is a single gas dive computer that leverages on SCUBAPRO’s adaptive ZHL-8 ADT MB algorithm. This predictive multi-gas algorithm adapts to each diver’s varied conditions, tried-and-tested based on millions of dive hours by divers everywhere. This means you can customize the algorithm based on your age, experience, and physical condition.

With a maximum operating depth of 120 meters (394 feet) and supporting up to three gas mixes, the Aladin Matrix is perfect for when your skills progress to more advanced diving.

Bluetooth Connectivity

My favorite has to be the Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity function. This enables you to log your dive profile data straight to your computer, phone, or tablet. Simply download LogTRAK on Android, iOS, MacOS, or Windows, connect to your watch via Bluetooth, and you’ll get access to a slew of dive information, including total dive time, average depth, temperature, and even calories!

Affordable + Practical

Priced at around PhP 25,000, the Aladin Sport packs a punch in features. It has replaceable batteries, lasts about 300 dives, and is equipped with a backlight. It’s water-activated so it starts calculating as soon as it hits the water.

To be honest, going puck-style wasn’t really the first choice. I hung out with divers equipped with high-end consoles like the Shearwater Perdix and had been wired to think that despite my newness, I’d eventually get to that level anyway. As a recreational diver, though, it wasn’t really advisable to spend more than PhP 30,000 for a reliable computer.

Is the ScubaPro Aladin Sport Matrix your perfect dive buddy?

It’s truly exciting to finally get started with your gear haul as you progress as a diver, but it can get overwhelming. For those looking for a great starter and eyeing further advance in their diving in the near future, this unit may be a great GadgetMatch.

By this point, you should’ve already figured that all divers are different. Some consume gas quicker than others, some are more susceptible to decompression sickness, and as such may need to stick to more conservative dive computers (regardless of experience) for safety. The SCUBAPRO Aladin Sport Matrix covers more than the basics for the best possible price-point and is highly recommended for your first foray to dive tech.

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Fitbit Versa Review: Real arm candy

Is this smartwatch any good?

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Before I get on with this review, let me paint you a more accurate picture of how I use smartwatches plus my short history with Fitbit.

I’m moderately active and I do try to be more fit by gyming and doing high-intensity interval training, but I’m not the most consistent person. On days that things get busy, or when I travel, I mostly forget about my health goals only to remember later on when I start feeling like a sack of potatoes because of all the inactivity.

I usually have a wearable as I’ve found that guilting myself to exercise can be an effective way to get my lazy butt to the gym; I loved my time with the Fitbit Alta HR which was the first fitness tracker I actually stuck with (at least by my standards). For a health tracking beginner (which I was at that point, and probably still am considering I haven’t really been true to my fitness goals), the Fitbit app was a great and easy way to check out my stats.

Now, when the Ionic was unveiled, I was quite excited about the idea of a Fitbit smartwatch, but it just wasn’t quite for me.

This newest release, the Versa, is small, sleek, and cute with its rose gold face. This is the Fitbit wearable I was waiting for.

Here are my thoughts on this device.

Look and feel

In the looks department, this wearable is a definite departure from the previously released Ionic. I can tell you now that the one deal-breaker I had with that watch is how it looks. Surely, I couldn’t be expected to wear that clunky thing 24/7?

The Versa is looking good

The Fitbit Versa, on the other hand, is something I could get on board with, in fact, it hasn’t left my wrist in the last weeks I’ve had it. It’s light, sleek, and it comes in rose gold! It matches everything I own, which is a definite plus for me.

I own a lot of stuff in pink and purple 😅

My unit is the special edition Versa that came with a cute purple woven straps and basic black silicone straps, both of which I’ve loved so far. I do get a little jealous of the pink silicone strap that the standard edition Versa came with, though replacement straps are also available in a number of styles and colors.

Matches most of my #OOTDs

There are three different face options: Rose gold if you’re a fan of color, like me, and black or gray, if you’re looking for a more neutral look.

Special edition Versas pictured above are equipped with Fitbit Pay

I’m honestly feeling pretty confident with this Fitbit look. Most outfits can and will match the Versa aesthetic.

Navigation and OS

There are three buttons for navigation and you can also navigate via gestures or tapping around on the touchscreen. Swipe down for phone notifications, up for the day’s fitness statistics, and left to get to the menu. Both buttons on the right act as customizable shortcut buttons and the left button acts as a home or back button.

Although the screen is bright and colors are punchy, there’s still a tiny lag when you wake the screen and its raise to wake function isn’t as sensitive as I’d like. When you get past this, however, navigating through menus is a breeze. 

It still works the same way: The watch connects to the Fitbit app on your phone and the app allows you to better customize settings on your device. It also gives you a better and more detailed breakdown of the info you have.

Like I mentioned earlier, the Fitbit app is my first ever fitness tracking app. I personally love it for its ease and simplicity. On this app, all health info gathered is presented in a way that’s understandable, even for a beginner. It runs on both Android and iOS so there are definitely #noexcuses for slacking off.

What can it do?

Like other Fitbit wearables, the Versa will track everything you do — from number of steps, to active minutes or exercise, calories burned, sleep, and even your continuous heartbeat. You can input your food, water, and caffeine intake on the app so you can keep tabs on that, too. You can also set and customize daily goals in the app to make sure you’re reminded of your fitness aspirations and get moving.

My usual workout view

For those who aren’t so versed in what workouts and exercises, the Versa has a built-in coach that gives you quick, timed exercises you can start with. Yes, the watch will literally show you what to do and time you as you go through the workout.

Waiting for the Versa to vibrate!

You can also set up exercise shortcuts for 7 activities you’d want to track. I love that interval training is one of them. I used to need my phone and a separate app that timed my home HIIT exercise, but now, I only need the Versa. It guides me through my workout with mild vibrations everytime a set is done and automatically records everything when I’m done.

Now, on good days, I get my butt up and work on my serotonin levels. But, let’s be real: I’m not made to be pumped up about working out on all days. Some days (note: most of them), I still have to force myself. This is where Fitbit Labs comes in. The “Fitbit Research initiative” creates fun apps and watch faces that will help you get moving. A favorite of mine are these pet faces — yes, these virtual pets get sad and hungry when you don’t feed it food that you earn from steps or moving.

It’s like a Tamagotchi you feed with steps

Amazingly, the promise of 4-day battery life holds true. Despite all these functions, my watch has consistently lasted me 4 days, or even more when notification alerts are turned off. 

Fitbit OS 2.0: What’s new?

This month, Fitbit 2.0 rolled out. A quick update will give you the new Fitbit OS but be warned: The process takes time and it can get glitchy. It took me a few tries and the realization that connecting my Versa directly to the WiFi is the best way to go about updating.

Two most notable new features are quick replies and female health tracking. I’ve been particularly excited about the latter as I’ve long wanted an all-around health app that integrates my menstrual cycle. Unfortunately, this feature is only available on iPhones as of now. Fitbit says Android support is coming soon, hopefully.

Quick replies, on the other hand, allow you to reply to messages straight from your Versa. These replies, however, are limited to pre-set messages that you can customize per app. This feature is only available on Android devices as Apple doesn’t allow that level of customization (boo). Cool as this feature may be, it still has to be pointed out that other smartwatches have allowed for custom replies for a while now. Thing is, I never really ever reply using my smartwatch — because why would I even bother struggling with that tiny screen, I just get on my phone — so this didn’t really bother me.

Is the Fitbit Versa for you?

I’ve always said that wearables, especially ones you use for fitness tracking, need to be on you at all times to be able to do its job well. This has always proved to be a struggle for me as I’ve only seen a handful that look nice enough to wear every day with my different outfit moods. The Versa seems designed to overcome this personal daily wear struggle: It’s cute enough, it’s light, and it packs enough battery power. These are the same reasons why this thing is on my wrist, still.

Worth it to note though, that there are still a number of things that can be improved on this device: A higher level of customization, more compatible apps, fewer screen lags, and an easier update process.

The thing is, despite all these flaws, the Fitbit Versa ticks most of my tiny boxes. I’m not the most exacting when it comes to smartwatch functions and I just need my basics covered when it comes to fitness tracking. All things considered, I enjoy wearing this thing a lot. If your priorities are the same as mine, the Versa is worth checking out.

SEE ALSO: Fitbit Versa hands-on: A better smartwatch attempt?

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