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:

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:

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.

Accessories

MagSafe Battery Pack Review: Is it worth It?

$100 for a powerbank?

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Apple brought a different kind of MagSafe to the iPhone 12 series last year. And with our in-depth MagSafe explainer, Michael Josh re-envisioned a powerbank with MagSafe.

Fast forward this July 2021, Apple unveiled the real deal. But is it worth the $100 asking price?

Watch our iPhone MagSafe Battery Pack Review now!

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Huawei Mate X2 Review: The Better Foldable?

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Huawei introduced a different kind of foldable approach with the Mate X way back in 2019. But this year, they’re as similar as what you get with Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold2 and Xiaomi’s Mi Mix Fold.

While the Galaxy Z Fold2 showed various improvements over the uncanny Galaxy Fold, Huawei’s Mate X2 offers better outer display ratio, more robust durable hinge mechanism, and an almost crease-less display.

But which one is better? Head over to our Huawei Mate X2 review now!

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Huawei MatePad 2021 review: Midrange tablet contender

A multimedia champ

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In the age of advanced technology, there is still space for budget and mid-range devices. This is where the Huawei MatePad 2021 comes in. A simple but capable tablet that can keep up with your daily needs.

Here I am, using the device for some time now and I can actually say, man, this is good! At first, I was doubtful about the capabilities of the MatePad given that it does not have Google services. But to my surprise, this device can stand on its own and deliver great performance when you need it to. But of course, it has its own setbacks.

Design

The new MatePad is a simple but clean design. The weight of the device is so light, it’s not a hassle to hold around all day. I advise you to place a case over that tablet. Its weight can definitely fool you and it has an occasional slipping from time to time. The device is easy to hold in landscape orientation, it feels good on the hands too.

Unfortunately, when you hold it in a portrait orientation, it suddenly feels too slim, but bearable. Its curved corners help with the grip and the screen follows that curved corners too, giving it a modern look. Its midnight grey colorway is definitely a great color, but I hope they add more colors to their lineup.

Camera

The single shooter camera at the back is nothing special. I understand how a number of tablets do not really prioritize it. The quality of the rear camera is acceptable given that there’s good lighting in your area.

The front-facing camera is not good at all. However, given its price and the fact that it’s a tablet, you shouldn’t expect much from it anyway.

Display

I love the screen size. It has curved corners and is well optimized with the apps. The IPS display is 2000×1000. Great quality, but there are better screens out there. For a mid-range device, the display is highly acceptable.

Having a 10.4-inch screen, multitasking is a breeze. With this, you can use two apps and still have a sizeable screen for content. eBook mode is like the ultra power saving mode on Samsung galaxy phones. Your screen will turn black and white which not only saves you from eye strain, it also saves the battery of the device  — which is amazing!

Audio

The Histen 6.0 3D stereo provided with the MatePad is superb for its price. The quad-speaker setup of this device surely gives it a huge boost and is rare in the mid-range market.

Music streaming was such an amazing experience, it gave me all smiles while testing it out. Even at maximum volume, the audio wasn’t bad at all, the clarity of the music and the instruments still sound superb and this is a huge plus to the device.

Multimedia goodness

The MatePad was pretty good when it came to multimedia consumption, you can download Netflix, HBO Go, and Spotify, just to name a few! The apps were perfectly optimized and the display surely keeps the experience enjoyable. Watching Netflix, HBO Go and YouTube content was fun. I have not experienced any issue regarding the apps itself as it fits perfectly to the size of the display.

Downloading apps can be a new experience when using a Huawei Device. They have their own Huawei AppGallery that may or may not offer you all of the apps you want. For downloading the apps like Netflix, HBO Go and many more, you will be redirected to an APK site. Once in the APK site there will be a download link for you to click and wait for the app to be downloaded. After the process, you’ll find your app ready to set up and use on a daily.

We also have to mention that the MatePad is supported by the M-Pencil. This means you can have more than one mode of entertainment for your device. Take down notes or draw the MatePad is surely lucky to have a stylus fitted for its capabilities.

Gaming

Gaming in this device is, what can I say? — AMAZING! Great graphics and playing games in the highest settings is no problem for this tablet. Personally, playing games like Mobile Legends is perfect for tablets. Playing PUBG Mobile on this device was quite an experience.

Don’t worry about your device when it comes to gaming, it’s a piece of cake for this one! A little bit of advice, Huawei encourages you to turn off Bluetooth when playing games, the reason is unknown but they’re preventing lag given the notification.

Battery Life

The MatePad holds a 7,250mAh battery, making it a long-lasting device. I played five games in Mobile Legends and the device still stands at 100 percent battery life! You can watch season one of Brooklyn Nine-nine and still have a few more left in the tank. believe me, I’ve tried it myself.

Problems

The MatePad surely is a surprising and powerful device, but it seems that this tablet is being held back at some point.

The device lags when using its gestures, from closing apps to left and right swipes, the tablet finds itself lagging and buggy. One huge problem that they need to fix is the App Gallery, now, don’t get me wrong, it works.

The thing is, when you download apps, it takes you to another site and then you download the APK file. YouTube app is nowhere to be found and it’s kind of a bummer. Users will be stuck with a website version turned to an app. The YouTube “app”  is buggy and is a pain to use.

Limited apps are available, and lets face it the apps there are not the ones we use on a daily. There are a few apps loaded but not installed and it’s not a pretty sight. It looks like uninstalled bloatware craving for your attention. My advice to anyone who’s going to buy this is that pick some of the provided apps and then remove the remaining apps.

Downloading apps can be a pain too if you’re not familiar with the current Huawei System.

Should you buy the Huawei MatePad?

My answer is a yes, even though they lack Google support and it has a few laggy moments. The MatePad is surely a bang-for-your-buck device. Whatever your current tablet can do, the MatePad can do it too, maybe even better.

The MatePad 2021 retails for PhP 18,990 / SG$ 498

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