Reviews

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.

Reviews

POCO X5 Pro 5G review: Must-have mid-ranger?

Business as usual for POCO

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POCO X5 Pro 5G

Standing out in a crowded mid-range segment has become increasingly difficult in 2023. It isn’t enough to hit home runs; to stand out, you need to hit grand slams. To be a game-changer, a smartphone needs to be a generational talent. 

It’s difficult to be painted as generational, especially because mid-rangers, by nature, face compromises that force manufacturers to skimp on certain parts of a smartphone to keep its price as low as possible. A mid-ranger truly needs to be special, so it can be undeniable rather than undesirable.

The POCO X5 Pro 5G is the Chinese brand’s latest attempt at bringing a game-changing smartphone to the ultra competitive segment. They’re branding the X5 Pro 5G as ‘The secret to win’, a device that will help students and young professionals succeed with whatever challenges they’re facing. 

It’s one thing to make a hefty promise, but it’s another thing to walk the talk. Does the POCO X5 Pro 5G stand and deliver, or is it just another self-proclaimed game-changer exposed as a wannabe flagship killer? 

Design: Puts the MID in midrange

 

Remember when I said that manufacturers tend to skimp on certain parts of a smartphone to keep its price as low as possible? Right out of the box, even without holding the phone, you already know where POCO decided to make its necessary sacrifices. 

Allow me to describe this design with a Gen Z word made popular by Long Island’s very best in professional wrestling: mid. The X5 Pro 5G’s design, is quite frankly, mid. It doesn’t stand out in the mid-range segment, nor, does it even impress for any unique personality quirks. You’d prefer to purchase a unique case for this so you wouldn’t hesitate to bring this out during parties.

Durability: A phone that will last through an Iron Man Match

POCO X5 Pro 5G

First impressions matter, but they aren’t everything. While the X5 Pro 5G isn’t for those looking for love at first sight, its choice of materials will leave you impressed in the long run.

This phone simply works. It clearly isn’t the prettiest phone, but pretty doesn’t always mean substantial. Plastic is still the most practical material for a smartphone, and POCO’s choice of plastics for the X5 Pro 5G hit the mark. It’s so durable, in fact, you could confidently use the phone without a case even when walking around the streets of Metro Manila. 

The X5 Pro 5G’s battery performance enriches its durability. During the review period, I had the opportunity of using the phone not only as my main daily driver, but also as my primary hotspot source during remote work situations. Even for extremely heavy users, this is a phone that can last you through the day. In rare cases when you’ll need to charge in the middle of the day, the X5 Pro 5G comes with a 67W charger out of the box (yes, they still have chargers out of the box! Big W here by POCO). 

Performance: Will have you feeling like a generational talent 

POCO X5 Pro 5G

Most manufacturers hope to position their mid-rangers as bang-for-you-buck devices that can bring flagship-level technology. It’s a hefty promise. Most brands tend to miss the mark, one way or another. 

Coming from a flagship daily driver, I was already expecting a drop in performance when the X5 Pro 5G came in. Right out of the box, to my surprise, it didn’t feel like there was any drop in overall performance. Even a week after, the X5 Pro 5G’s maintained the smoothness it came with from Day 1. POCO did not miss the mark.

The 120 Hz refresh rate certainly helped accentuate that feeling of smoothness, especially when going through daily social media scrolling. But even when testing with a relatively high-intensive game such as DB Legends, the X5 Pro 5G and its Snapdragon 778G processor went through the gauntlet with relative ease. Relative to other mid-range phones, that’s generational. 

Camera: Consistently colorful 

POCO X5 Pro 5G

There’s a common misconception that when you have more cameras, the better shots you’ll get. Having multiple cameras isn’t enough; choosing the right lenses and having software that processes shots properly matters even more. 

I’m happy to say that at the very least, POCO was able to choose the right lenses for its multi-camera setup. Supporting its 108MP wide camera is an 8MP ultra-wide lens and a 2MP macro camera. Other manufacturers have missed the mark by taking out the ultra-wide, but thankfully, POCO did not make that mistake. 

The ultra-wide lens performs relatively well too. The difference in quality between the main lens and the ultra-wide isn’t as drastic as you’d expect. It captures detail very well, and HDR is on point too. 

Users concerned about their social media image don’t have to worry. Its ultra-wide lens is good enough for your much-coveted Gen Z selfies. 

Performance outdoors is definitely better. There’s a noticeable drop in quality when taking indoor shots, but its nothing too criminal. 

Night mode on the X5 Pro 5G was decent too. On this shot of my very good friend’s jersey, it captured the details well, although there’s noticeable grain in the background. 

In terms of processing, the X5 Pro 5G comes out with consistently colorful shots, which is to be expected at this point. It ups the saturation to intense levels, and shadows can be overblown at times. It’s nothing too concerning, just something to consider before posting your photos on the ‘gram.

Is this your GadgetMatch? 

POC X5 Pro 5G

With an SRP of PhP 16,999, the POCO X5 Pro 5G presents itself with an intriguing list of features. At first glance it won’t impress, but its value as a smartphone is all about what’s under the hood. It’s a powerful device that gets the job done. Whether you’re a busy workaholic, a student who’s trying to survive through modern hybrid setups, or a gamer who wants to pick up endless W’s, the POCO X5 Pro 5G is a great choice to have if you’re looking for a weapon that will bring you victory in whatever battles you’ll face. 

The POCO X5 Pro 5G may just be better than you, and you’ll know it. Its design is mid, but everything else, you wouldn’t hesitate to call generational.

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Computers

Apple M2 Mac mini Review

More Affordable, More Powerful

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Apple silently revealed the 2023 M2 Mac mini to the world.

Back in 2005, the Mac mini G4 was the cheapest Mac you can buy for US$ 499.

Almost 18 years after, the Mac mini still is the cheapest Mac at just US$ 599.

That’s still a lot of savings versus buying a US$ 1299 iMac.

The biggest difference? The newest Mac mini runs two of the most powerful chips right now — the M2 and M2 Pro.

But is it actually the right Mac for you?

Watch our Apple M2 Mac mini review now!

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Gaming

Forspoken review: Outspoken with little to speak of

Wait for a sale

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Forspoken

It doesn’t take a lot to create a decent roleplaying game. All you need is a fish-out-of-water character, a vast open map, and a seemingly endless list of objectives. Though it has all three, Forspoken struggles to keep up with its pretenses as a Western roleplaying game.

First, the good

Credit to where it’s due, Forspoken is a fun game for the first few sections. Exploring the incredibly huge map with magical parkour is enjoyable. Eclipsed only by Elden Ring’s Torrent, magic parkour is one of the most innovative ways to quickly traverse large distances, especially after learning more advanced techniques.

Likewise, fighting balanced enemies with limited powers provides enough of a challenge to keep players on their toes in Athia. Neither the player nor the first enemies feel overpowered.

Unfortunately, the game’s novelty quickly evaporates after you figure out that you have to repeat the same motions dozens upon dozens of times. Forspoken’s map is much larger than it ever should have been. Though abundant in number, every point of interest is separated by large distances, some platforming challenges, and a battle sequence. The greater map is empty. Do this over and over, and the game gets stale quick. With adequate rewards, this shouldn’t be a problem, but Forspoken also suffers from a communication issue.

A communication issue

For most roleplaying games, completing an objective on the map usually nets palpable rewards for the player: a significant experience boost, new skills, new gear, or a bag of loot. An open-world game necessitates a lot of exploring. Even if a game is repetitive, earning substantial rewards is satisfying, at least. Forspoken does not have this — not in an easily discernible way, at least.

Treasure chests, which account for most of the points of interest on the map, reward players with a litany of crafting materials. Most of which will go unused because the game doesn’t easily tell players how to use them. After a dozen hours of collecting materials, I had a wealthy cache of each ingredient to make practically anything. Even then, I had little idea where each one went.

The map’s major rewards — new cloaks, new nail arts, and experience — also do little to explain how Frey improves with each completed objective. Clearing out an enemy camp, for example, rewards players with +1 magic. The game does not tell you how much damage that conveys. Certainly, after completing a few of these, Frey feels stronger, but it’s not easy to see how much stronger, especially when most enemies are bullet sponges with absurd health pools anyway.

Plus, these don’t even scratch the surface of objectives wherein the main reward is literally just a lore dump you have to read from a menu.

Forspoken

Difficulty shouldn’t always mean more enemies

Another issue with clearing out Athia’s large map is how Forspoken handles difficulty. Though there are options to adjust difficulty, the game relies on a limited bag of tricks to make it more difficult for players: increasing enemy health and quantity. In moderation, relying on this strategy works. However, Forspoken does this to an obnoxious level.

Prepare to fight five mini-bosses in one encounter for a lore entry. What compounds this issue more is an insane enemy health pool which causes encounters to last a lot longer than they should. One mini-boss encounter took me 15 minutes, even with appropriately leveled gear and the right spells.

Because of the sheer number of enemies, an encounter can stun-lock Frey for an absurd amount of time. The player can hardly prevent this since it relies on chance. Despite offering a wide array of moves, the risk of knockbacks shoehorn players into a slow run-and-gun tactic (which might not even play into an enemy’s weaknesses), instead of using each ability to the max.

On paper, Forspoken’s combat offers a fluid way to take down enemies by seamlessly switching between spells and moving through the battlefield with magic parkour. Unfortunately, an imbalance in enemy strategies bogs the game down in prolonged sequences that often reward players with only middling boosts.

Forspoken

A lack of optimization

For a game released on modern hardware, Forspoken took a while to launch. The game was delayed a few times. Given how delays often work, you’d think that it would release in a fairly optimized state. It’s not.

Though I haven’t hit major game-breaking bugs, there were a number of performance dips throughout the game. Even on performance-focused settings, framerates dropped to a standstill when there were high particle effects on screen. Frey constantly clipped through the terrain and found herself stuck on finnicky edges (which sometimes required reloading from previous saves).

The game is also dragged down by numerous cutscenes. Though not a bug per se, it’s not a great sign of optimization that the game has to pause for a cutscene just to show enemies arriving. For a game featuring fluid movement and combat, Forspoken often takes players out of the action by pausing for unnecessary cutscenes.

Forspoken

Better on sale

Overall, Forspoken is persistently flawed. However, amid the game’s shortcomings, the title still has an exciting combat and movement system. Plus, if you disregard the tedious open world, Forspoken’s linear story, featuring the wide range of abilities, are enjoyable. My interest always bounces back after beating one of the game’s main bosses.

Still, it’s hard to call Forspoken a game worthy of its AAA price tag. It might be better to wait for a discount.

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