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Xiaomi Mi MIX 3 review: Xiaomi got everything right, almost

Has one deal breaker

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When Xiaomi first introduced the original Mi MIX in 2016, it wasn’t like any other smartphone we had seen. All display, all screen. It was supposed to represent the future and, quite literally, pushed the boundaries of phones as we knew them. Not long after, others followed suit, each with a different approach to an edge-to-edge smartphone: big notch, small notch, curved edges, and pop-up cameras.

In its first three attempts, Xiaomi’s approach to the borderless concept involved moving the selfie camera to the lower-right corner of the screen. This meant that the phone’s upper half looked like the future, while its bottom half, not so much. The front camera was both awkward and impractical; it meant not being able to use Instagram Stories or video calls normally.

Four iterations later, Xiaomi fully embraces full borderless and takes bold new steps into the future with the new Mi MIX 3 by hiding the front camera completely. This setup gives the phone a 93.4 percent screen-to-body ratio and brings users closer to Xiaomi’s original vision for the phone — computing on an embellished piece of glass.

Durable design

No matter which way you look at it, there’s no denying that a notch-less, all-display phone is gorgeous. While this solution solves one issue, does it create another? By tucking away the front camera system, you’ll need to slide the display down to use it. It’s similar to what we saw from OPPO earlier this year with the Find X sans the motorized mechanism.

The OPPO Find X and Xiaomi Mi MIX 3

While OPPO’s offering presented durability problems not just with its overall build quality, but also by relying on a single motorized mechanism to support all of its sensors, Xiaomi says its approach is more durable. The Mi MIX 3 employs magnets for that bit of resistance, and snap. It’s pretty satisfying actually and Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun says it can double as a fidget toy replacement — and fidget with it, we did.

Xiaomi says the phone is rated for 300,000 snap cycles. That means if you plan on using the phone for three years, that leaves you with around 274 cycles a day. As of now we can’t really say if this claim is accurate, but the Mi MIX 3’s design does feel solid and durable — no wiggle room for bigger particles to get stuck in between the display and camera.

Not available during our time with the phone were sound effects and app toolbars that bring an expanded feature to the slider mechanism. Xiaomi says these will roll out another time through a software update.

For that peace of mind, Xiaomi bundles a black hard plastic case in the box that works seamlessly with the phone. There’s a cutout at the bottom that allows the display to slide down without obstruction.

Cameras that can compete

Apart from looking good, Xiaomi says they chose the sliding form factor with photography in mind. So it makes sense that the phone comes with pretty good cameras.

In all, there are four: two on each side — a first on a Xiaomi flagship. Its dual 12-megapixel rear cameras are arranged vertically on the phone’s back and not built into the slider. To our delight, Xiaomi kept the 2x telephoto lens as a secondary camera that many brands opt to omit in favor of a rather inadequate depth sensor.

These cameras are highly rated on DxOMark, a subjective but still pretty good measure of smartphone camera performance. The phone is now the third-highest-ranked smartphone camera — tied with the US$ 1,000-Samsung Galaxy Note 9, and one step above the regular Huawei P20.

Compared to last year’s model, photo quality has improved, albeit the difference is only noticeable in the most challenging scenarios like when shooting against the light.

We thought we’d also throw in some comparisons versus the Pixel 3 XL, iPhone XS Max, and Huawei Mate 20 Pro to show how it fares against some of the best smartphone cameras available in the market.

There are new features like 960fps super slow-mo video, video bokeh, as well as night mode, which works similarly to handheld low-light exposure shots on the Huawei P20 and Mate 20 series.

Here’s how it looks against similar shots taken with the Mate 20 Pro’s night mode.

There’s still AI scene detection built in, which you can turn off with a tap. This mode usually boosts color and saturation, although we usually prefer to leave it off since there’s no option to do so after taking the shot the way you can on Honor phones and Huawei’s Nova series.

Here are more photos we took around Beijing.

Underneath the display is the front camera system: a whopping 24MP selfie camera and a secondary 2MP lens to assist with portrait blur, plus a flash for low-light selfies.

There are also some fun portrait mode features available on both the front and rear cameras that you can add after the fact like adjusting background blur, light trails, and studio lighting effects. Our favorite is light trails, which was first teased during the Mi MIX 2S’ launch in spring. You can even save them as videos!

In the Chinese version of the phone, there’s also feature called Magic Mirror which rates your mug on a scale of 1 to 10. There’s clearly something wrong with the software here since since we only got scores below 8. 😂 Rest assured, we didn’t let this affect our self-worth all that much.

It’s also worth mentioning that since the front cameras are no longer placed at the bottom of the phone, they now double as a face unlock system. While unlock times are quick and sliding the phone down make us look really cool, we personally prefer using the back-side fingerprint sensor in this case since it was still the more convenient option between the two.

Beauty and a beast

Just like its predecessors, the Mi MIX 3 is a handsome phone. With the right amount of curves and a ceramic finish, it looks good from any angle. Apart from the usual black, it comes in two extra colors — Sapphire Blue and Jade Green, inspired by, well, jade. Because of its ceramic finish, the phones look somewhat similar when viewed in certain angles.

There’s also a special Palace Museum Edition that comes in a different shade of blue, inspired by Chinese ceramics. This variant boasts of a 10GB+256GB configuration.

Sapphire Blue is our favorite color of the three. Its front camera module has the same blue finish as the back, unlike Jade Green, which has black.

The ceramic finish is still a fingerprint magnet, and can be slippery at times. The phone is also taller, narrower, curvier, and less boxy than the MIX 2S. This makes it easier to wrap your palms around, although it could feel too tall sometimes. Unless you have large hands, sliding the display down might be a bit of a struggle.

On the left side, there’s an extra button dedicated currently to Xiaomi’s personal assistant Xiao Ai (literally translated “little love”). For its global versions, Xiaomi says it’s working on Google Assistant functionality, although it would be nice if they also gave users the option to remap it. A dual-4G nano SIM card slot also slides out of the left side, but there’s still no expandable storage.

There’s an earpiece at the very top of the phone, and when you slide the display down, you’ll find a set of speakers underneath. The sound that comes out of it is very faint compared to the main speaker grille found at the bottom, beside the USB-C port. And nope, there is no headphone jack.

Internally, Xiaomi packed what is expected of a 2018 flagship: Qualcomm’s top-of-the-line Snapdragon 845 chipset, up to 10GB of RAM, and 128GB or 256GB storage configurations. This means the Mi MIX 3 can handle virtually anything you throw at it without lag. Yes, PUBG works perfectly fine at the highest settings.

One of the MIX line’s strong suits has always been great battery life, partly due to a higher-than-average battery capacity. To say we’re disappointed to see a measly 3200mAh battery in the MIX 3 is an understatement. During our time with the phone, we barely got through the day with minimal use on a single charge. We had to plug in the phone even before we got around to playing PUBG on it.

Of course, battery capacity isn’t everything. With MIUI’s consistent updates, we’re hopeful the phone can be optimized further to handle basic tasks without sucking too much power. This being a Chinese version with side-loaded apps might also be a factor. On a more positive note, the Mi MIX 3 supports Quick Charge 4+ and is bundled with a Quick Charge 3.0 adapter. Fast charging is always welcome, and should be a standard in any flagship device launched this year.

Like the MIX 2S, the MIX 3 also supports wireless charging. In even better news, there’s a 10W wireless charger included in the box — a really nice touch. Other brands should take note: add free accessories, don’t take them away.

Stunning display

More than anything, this phone is all about its display, all 6.39 inches of it. After all, an all-screen experience is what Xiaomi’s most premium line of phones has always been about. For the first time in the MIX line, the Mi MIX 3 gets an AMOLED display and we can say that it does this borderless design justice.

Everything pops at you, or is it the other way around? The display draws you in. Colors are vibrant, text is crisp, and viewing angles are great.

Although, just like any phone with a taller aspect ratio, videos aren’t designed to fill the entire screen, which defeats the purpose of immersive entertainment. When you’re watching YouTube, for example, you can pinch to fill the screen, but expect some content to be cropped out unless the video was made for the taller aspect ratio.

Netflix also doesn’t fill the entire screen even when zoomed in. There’s a black bar on the right when watching in landscape mode so the phone ends up looking like it has a huge chin that fans love to hate.

Is the Xiaomi Mi MIX 3 your GadgetMatch?

The MIX line is not for everyone, and the Mi MIX 3, with all its bells and whistles, is no exception.

It’s an interesting piece of tech, still with bits and pieces of the future Xiaomi envisioned this phone to represent. The sliding display is a novel idea but we’re curious to see if it will stick or if other manufacturers can find even better solutions to the all-display, no-notch dilemma.

With the headphone jack and expandable storage indefinitely absent in the MIX line, we would have loved to finally see water resistance for added protection instead. The Mi MIX 3 would have been an easy phone to recommend had it offered a bigger battery to match its larger display. Unfortunately, it’s no longer a phone made for heavy users the way its predecessors were.

Just like its predecessors though, selfies are still not a priority for this phone despite the dual-camera upgrade in front. Unless you genuinely enjoy sliding half the phone down just to reveal the front cameras, taking selfies is still an inconvenience compared to a few quick taps on other phones. If you have small hands and are clumsy, we’d even go as far as saying this is more inconvenient than the previous generations’ awkwardly placed cameras; you will end up dropping this phone at some point sliding the mechanism down trying to take a selfie.

But at a starting price of CNY 3,299 (US$ 475), the Mi MIX 3 is easily a top contender in the best bang-for-your-buck race. It’s not perfect, but it’s closer to perfection than most smartphones in this price point. Aside from impressive cameras, the beautiful notch-less display, and overall performance, we recommend this phone for its novelty and for users who hate Thanos-like chins on smartphones.

Otherwise, the MIX 2S launched in March is a great choice and is still one of the most beautiful and capable smartphones this year. You’ll get the same performance, dual cameras, wireless and fast charging, and a much better battery life. It’s likely to get a discount, too, as soon as the MIX 3 starts rolling out to more markets outside China. Xiaomi says most of the new camera features on the MIX 3 will also come to the Mi MIX 2S.

If you live in Europe, it’s also best to wait as Xiaomi promises that 5G versions of the Mi MIX 3 will launch in the region some time in early 2019.

India

POCO M2 Pro review: A Redmi Note 9 Pro without ads

What’s the difference?

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With a new strategy in place, POCO announced the POCO X2 in the first quarter, and now, it’s back with another offering — the POCO M2 Pro. It’s an affordable offering that’s found a comfortable spot in India’s INR sub-15,000 price bracket. But, there’s a twist.

POCO made its debut with the POCO F1. It was a legendary phone because it did the unexpected — flagship-grade performance at an affordable price. Since then, POCO as a brand has been synonymous to aggressive pricing and top-notch specifications. However, the POCO F1 was launched in 2018 and a lot has changed since then.

For starters, POCO was a dormant brand throughout 2019 and made a comeback at the beginning of 2020. We expected a successor of its infamous first phone, but everything was going to change. POCO is now an independent brand that takes autonomous business and marketing decisions. To make it clear, Mi, Redmi, and POCO are three different teams right now.

If you look closer, the POCO M2 Pro is nothing but a rebranded Redmi Note 9 Pro. Furthermore, the 4GB+64GB entry-level option of both phones has the same price of INR 13,999 (US$ 186). So, what’s different about POCO’s offering? Why should this phone be your GadgetMatch?

A proven design that fits everyone

The Redmi Note 9 Pro series has a very ergonomic design that looks premium as well as sturdy. The quad-camera setup has a significantly larger bump but it gets covered perfectly with the in-box case. The rear sports Gorilla Glass 5 and underneath it is a diagonally-lined pattern. While the phone looks stunning, using it without a case isn’t recommended since it’s prone to smudges and micro scratches.

The rear is the only thing that physically differentiates the phone from Redmi Note 9 Pro. The USB port, volume rockers, fingerprint scanner, and speaker grille are from the same Redmi mold.

I don’t mind rebranded phones as long as they’re not yet available in the same market. If POCO wants to be taken seriously as an independent brand, it needs to stand on its own and bring out original offerings. Realme has done a much better job of publicly distancing itself from OPPO, even though it leverages the same supply chain.

A perfect display

It sports a 6.67-inch Full HD+ display with a tiny punch-hole cut-out that houses the front camera. Unlike the competing Realme 6, it doesn’t have a 90Hz panel and runs at 60Hz. However, considering the price, I wouldn’t consider this to be a con. There are barely any games that can leverage higher refresh rates and the phone is meant to be an all-rounder.

The screen has sufficient brightness and can be seen easily under direct sunlight. The colors look slightly over-saturated but it can be adjusted according to your preference. Being an LCD panel, it does a pretty good job of creating deeper blacks.

POCO Performance

The brand is known for its performance-centric phones and the legacy continues here with a Snapdragon 720G chipset. Any task you throw at it will be done without a glitch. My unit has 6GB RAM and it never slowed down or struggled to handle multiple apps at once. Being a power user, I often use Outlook, Twitter, Gmail, Microsoft Word, and WhatsApp in close proximity. Safe to say, it didn’t feel like I needed a better or more powerful chipset.

I don’t play a lot of games except for reviewing and PUBG is my first preference. The overall experience is smooth and hassle-free. Even at higher settings, the phone gets a little warm but there no visible frame drops. Although, the weight of the phone does get annoying after a while. Similarly, a heavy game like World of Tanks also gets through without any turbulence.

The phone ships with MIUI out-of-the-box and since the Redmi Note 9 Pro series also ships with the same chipset, software updates should drop-in seamlessly.

Powering the phone is a 5000mAh battery and I clocked a little more than seven hours of screen time on a full charge. It has support for 33W fast charging and takes around one hour and twenty-five minutes to fully charge.

Quad-cameras that’ll get anything done

The rear houses a quad-camera setup consisting of a 48-megapixel sensor, an 8-megapixel wide-angle lens, a 5-megapixel macro lens, and a 2-megapixel sensor. We’ve seen this camera setup on a plethora of Xiaomi phones and it’s safe to assume the output is top-notch. Thanks to Xiaomi’s reach, the AI-assisted changes are accurate as well as satisfactory.

I mean to say, the algorithm knows where to work and how to produce pleasing pictures. Sometimes you may notice over-saturation in landscape pictures, but AI-mode can be switched off with a quick tap. The dynamic range is near-perfect while the overall tone is on the warmer side.

While daytime pictures are excellent, the primary sensor struggles in the dark. Shots can often be grainy or blurry if you’re not careful about being steady.

For the pros out there, a manual mode is available to tinker with the finer details. Portrait mode works flawlessly and works on better than expected on dogs too!

The display cut-out houses a 16-megapixel selfie camera and it’s flawless. Details are retained accurately and the focus is ultra-fast. This sensor also is tuned on the warmer side and comes with an optional beauty mode.

On the video side, it supports recording at up to 4K 30fps. Obviously, there’s no optical image stabilization. But, the electronic rendering is good enough and gets the job done.

No ads in MIUI

Yes, the phone runs on MIUI 11. No, it doesn’t have any ads.

This is the only visible change I can see between the POCO M2 Pro and Redmi Note 9 Pro. MIUI has a lot of customization and functionality, minus the learning curve. The phone is perfect for everyone can be used without any deep technical knowledge. Software support is stable and while there were a few bugs, the overall experience remained unhindered.

The most frequent complaint about MIUI is the ads. This phone won’t spam your notification area and this can be a relief for many. There are a few pre-installed apps, but they can be easily disabled. In a nutshell, the POCO M2 Pro offers a better user experience while retaining top-notch hardware. Lastly, instead of MIUI launcher, this phone has POCO launcher.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

I’d recommend this phone without any buts. The display is immersive, performance is best-in-class, the cameras do a decent job, and the battery can easily last you a day. With MIUI, the uniform Xiaomi experience is brought back without its biggest con. Design is a personal preference and I’ve found both, the POCO M2 Pro, as well as the Redmi Note 9 Pro, be impressive.

For the consumers, this is a win-win situation. But, for the brand, it’s a mixed bag. POCO intended to move out of Xiaomi’s camp but hasn’t been able to do that efficiently this year. To become a truly independent brand, it’ll have to stop depending on the parent so much and create its own identity. Right now, the original POCO F1 fans are disappointed along with the current followers who expected a fresh offering.

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Google Pixel 4a Unboxing & Review: Unbelievably Good?

A direct contender of the iPhone SE and OnePlus Nord

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Google’s ‘a'(ffordable) line-up may be long overdue because of the pandemic — but after several months of waiting, we finally have one on our hands.

Cheaper than last year’s US$ 399 Pixel 3a, the US$ 349 Pixel 4a might just be the most affordable flagship killer contender you can get over the 2020 iPhone SE and the OnePlus Nord.

But can the mid-tier specifications and less-fancy phone features justify its affordable price tag? Head over to our in-depth Pixel 4a review here.

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Nike Air Max 2090 review: Incredibly comfortable everyday sneakers

Really cool, too 😎

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The 2090 is the latest in Nike’s Air Max line. It’s supposed to be related to the Air Max 90 — but more futuristic — hence the name Air Max 2090. In fact, you’ll actually see that Nike maintained many key aspects of the Air Max 90 in this shoe as we go along.

The Air Max 90 of course first dropped in 1990, exactly 30 years ago. The new Air Max 2090 retails at US$ 150, which is higher than what we usually pay for, but Nike is positioning this as a premium lifestyle sneaker.

Even though the Air Max series is historically meant as a running shoe, and Nike is kind of loosely pitching this as a performance shoe, the Air Max 2090 is still a lifestyle shoe.

Design and construction

What I have is the launch colorway, pure platinum, but the Air Max 2090 also comes in a whole bunch of colors including a really cool ice Blue colorway, volt green and blue, and fuchsia purple and yellow.

If you want something really low-key there are all-white and all-black versions as well. If you want something more similar to the OG Air Max 90 colorways, there is a Duck Camo Air Max 2090.

Starting with the upper, it’s mostly covered by translucent mesh. The mesh is pretty lightweight and somewhat see-through. I actually really like this because it means whatever socks you wear under this shoe will slightly change the look of the shoe, which is pretty cool.

This textile liner goes right up against your feet, and generally feels okay but doesn’t really have as much stretch as Nike’s flyknit uppers.

Towards the toe box area there’s an additional layer of protection to prevent your toenails from poking through the mesh, and it has a slightly glossy finish to distinguish itself.

You’ll see a similar kind of fused overlay near the lacing area, surrounding the eyelets, to strengthen the durability of the upper. It’s also accented with a neat cyan blue stitching that I really like.

The lacing and eyelets are in a loop style mechanism where the black, flat laces intertwine through them.

Underneath the laces, there’s black mesh tongue, which has a strange rubberized ring inside a diagonal cutout, the Nike swoosh, and the lowercase air logo which are cut off halfway. This is a weird design element and I’m not really sure what it’s supposed to do, but it looks cool — kind of.

Coming to the inside of the shoe, there’s a black sock-liner and you’ll notice it’s a one piece, internal bootie construction, and the tongue is attached.

The insoles are the usual Air Max insoles, which are in black, and with 2090 printed on top towards the heel and the Nike swoosh in cyan.

Moving on to the mid-panel, there’s a black Nike swoosh outline that is embedded within the outer layer. Like the Air Max 90, the swoosh here is slightly cut off at the bottom, which is accented with this red stitching.

The red stitching is on the mud-guard, which is another element borrowed from the original Air Max 90, but this time around it’s a white synthetic plastic material which runs across both sides of the shoe. Towards the back of this area, there’s an air logo in lowercase and cut off halfway.

The back of the shoe has a ton of padding on the heel. The foam padding definitely adds to the comfort of this shoe, but it’s also rigid enough to give support to the back of your heel, and help with a secure heel lock.

On the outside of the heel area, there’s another mesh-like finish, this time in black, covered with a rubberized heel-tab bumper with grooves that protrude out, which is another element reminiscent of the Air Max 90. You’ll also notice the air and swoosh logos within.

Above that, you have this bright red pull-tab rope loop, which is in the same color as the accent on the mudguard.

Coming to the midsole, it’s pretty chunky with a white colored foam on the forefoot, and a thick air unit towards the heel. It feels like the React foam but Nike has not mentioned it anywhere so there’s no way to be sure if they are similar.

The Air window on the back is 200 percent bigger than the standard Air Unit used before on the Air Max 90, and it’s housed within this silver-colored TPU shell that has the same ridge pattern as the heel-tab on the back of the shoe.

Coming to the outsole, it’s made of a grey rubber with grooves on the forefoot that are similar to the waffle outsole on the Air Max 90. This groove pattern was meant to give you better flexibility with the shoe, and they seem to allow just that.

Towards the very top of the toe area, there’s another hint of cyan, with the Nike Air Max logo towards the center of the outsole, and the Nike swoosh towards the heel area.

Fit and Comfort

Coming to fit, the Nike Air Max 2090 seems to fit true-to-size. I’ll give you the usual disclaimer that if you’re like me and you have wide feet, you might want to go up half a size since these do run a little narrow and the upper isn’t very stretchy, but they’re also long so you end up with more space in the toe box area.

In terms of comfort, these were actually surprisingly really comfortable to wear. They’re a lot more comfortable than the OG Air Max 90, or even the newer Air Max 270s.

The combination of that huge Air Unit and the secret foam Nike is using here makes for a shoe that has great, soft cushioning. This shoe is actually incredibly comfortable to wear and I think these would actually make great everyday wear sneakers.

Is this your SneakerMatch?

Nike has made a lot of Air Max shoes over the years but I really do feel like this is the best Air Max we’ve seen in years.

Not only is it one of the most comfortable Air Max shoes, it’s also a really cool-looking shoe. I love how they made all these tiny little callbacks to the OG Air Max 90.

Nike has been killing it with their sneaker releases lately and I think this is just another great shoe in the collection.

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