Reviews

Xiaomi Redmi 5A Review: Best smartphone below $100?

Missing only a couple of features

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When it comes to gadgets, a common piece of advice is to spend more for a better package. That’s the case for most brands, but Xiaomi has different plans.

If you’re not yet familiar with Xiaomi’s Redmi series, you’re missing out. This line of smartphones always offers incredible bang for one’s buck without skimping on the features most consumers need.

The other great thing about Redmi handsets is the price range; you can purchase one anywhere from US$ 70 to US$ 300, and they’re guaranteed to perform well. For this review, we’re looking at a phone at the bottom of that barrel.

For INR 4,999 in India or PhP 4,590 in the Philippines, you can get yourself a Redmi 5A and call it a day. It’s priced like an affordable feature phone but has all the features of a typical smartphone — well, almost all.

Let’s take closer look at the Redmi 5A.

Does it look and feel good?

It’s as generic as it gets for an entry-level phone with a 5-inch display. There are thick bezels on the top and bottom to accommodate the earpiece, selfie camera, and the navigation buttons. The back has a single camera with an LED flash, as well as a rear-facing loudspeaker.

Go to the very top, and you’ll find an audio port and IR blaster for controlling other compatible devices. Beneath all this is the micro-USB port for charging (but not of the fast kind). To the right we have all the buttons: a volume rocker and power button.

Nothing special for sure, but it’s when you open up the card trays on the left side that you’ll appreciate the phone. It can house two SIM cards and one microSD card for storage expansion. This instantly makes the Redmi 5A an excellent choice for those who must have two mobile networks at once without sacrificing the extra storage.

All these are encased in a plastic body that doesn’t feel slippery, yet doesn’t feel that safe from accidental drops either. There’s some flexing when putting too much pressure on it, so sitting while it’s in your back pocket isn’t a smart move.

 

The only major omission is a fingerprint sensor. Without it, your choices for unlocking the phone are traditional means: inputting a secret code or pattern. Don’t worry — it’s still as quick as before fingerprint scanning became a thing.

Is it enough for multimedia and gaming?

Generic design aside, what you’re really after here is the internals. This is something Xiaomi nails each time with the Redmi line, and the Redmi 5A is no exception.

It comes equipped with a Snapdragon 425 processor, which is a pleasant surprise for a phone this affordable. You see, a phone easily gets judged at first glance by how well its chipset performs, and most — if not all — devices at this price point settle for unreliable, laggy chips. That’s not an issue here.

This is a decent lower-midrange Qualcomm SoC (system on a chip) that can handle everyday tasks with ease. It’s only when you overload the measly 2GB of memory that the phone begins to slow down. I noticed this while downloading multiple apps and surfing the web or watching videos at once. The phone’s system also regularly closes apps in the background to make room for newly opened ones, so jumping from one app to another is often delayed.

Speaking of overloading, the integrated storage has the same issue. With only 16GB of storage and 10.5GB of it being usable from a fresh start, it’ll get filled up fast. After setting up the phone, I was left with a little under 3GB, and I didn’t even start taking photos or videos yet. Fortunately, the triple-card slot enables microSD expansion without hesitation.

Once you get past all that and have a ready phone, the experience is so-so. Although the screen’s size feels just right at five inches, the resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels translates to somewhat dull visuals. The good news is that the panel gets bright when you max it out, and reading text under direct sunlight is doable.

Your gaming experience highly depends on the titles themselves. Games like Castle Crush and Asphalt Xtreme ran just fine with minimal stutters, but I had trouble running Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition even on the lowest graphics settings. What I appreciated, however, was that the speaker is placed at the back so I didn’t cover it accidentally while playing in the horizontal orientation.

How well does its cameras perform?

With a single 13-megapixel f/2.2 main camera and 5-megapixel f/2 selfie shooter, you can’t expect much from the Redmi 5A. This has been the case for the majority of Redmi phones, actually.

Here are some samples:

Poor lighting is the worst enemy of its cameras. Even a slight dip in the amount of daylight is enough to make the photos mushy from foreground to background. There’s an optional HDR mode you could turn on to improve the quality a bit, but you must keep both your hands and subject really steady, or else it’s a blur-fest.

The built-in camera app is decent and offers enough options to keep shooting simple yet feature-filled. For selfie lovers, a smart beautification mode is available to remove blemishes and produce smoother skin.

Can it last more than a day?

Digging a little deeper, it’s nice to know that Xiaomi was able to fit a large 3000mAh battery into this phone. That’s something you’d find inside larger, higher-end phones like the Samsung Galaxy S9.

But capacity isn’t everything; the way the phone utilizes the battery is what matters most. In this case, the Redmi 5A easily lasts over a day of moderate usage with enough juice to spare for breakfast the next morning. I can get as many as five hours of screen time on a single charge.

Lots of credit can be given to the efficiency of MIUI 9.2, which is the user interface this gadget comes with out of the box. Despite being based on the aging Android 7.1 Nougat version, it offers a lot of customization for notifications and app settings that help optimize the system to keep it snappy and efficient.

Sadly, charging this thing takes a while. Having been spoiled by the 1.5 hour full charges of other phones, waiting for the Redmi 5A to fully load up in 2.5 hours feels like an eternity. This is the price you pay for a large battery with no fast-charging tech.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

The Redmi 5A proves that sub-US$ 100 phones don’t have to suck. It’s such a decent overall performer that I sometimes forget how affordable it really is. Reliability is top-notch, and I appreciate the no-compromise approach to the triple-card tray and capable Snapdragon chipset.

If you can deal with slow charging and live without the fingerprint sensor, it doesn’t get much better than this for the price you pay. It’s a fantastic option for first-time smartphone users like young kids or those needing a spare, easy-to-use handset.

But, hold on. If you’re willing to shell out more cash, it may be wiser to go for a Redmi 5 or Redmi 5 Plus instead, depending on your region. They don’t cost that much more and offer extra features, such as a larger screen, better cameras, and fingerprint sensor.

Gaming

Final Fantasy VII Remake review: A fresh experience of a timeless tale

Nostalgic and new at the same time

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Easily one of the most hyped and anticipated video games over the last five years, Final Fantasy VII Remake has arrived and it is everything I hoped it would be.

It manages to preserve the spirit of the original game while modernizing it in every way imaginable. It feels so close to the Final Fantasy games I grew up playing — those being VII, VIII, IX, and X — while also definitely being a game for 2020. Nostalgic and new at the same time.

Before we proceed, some important declarations: GadgetMatch received an official copy of the game specifically for the purpose of this review. This article will have no spoilers — just a general overview and assessment of the Final Fantasy VII Remake experience.

The devil is in the details

One of the more obvious differences is how the game looks. In 1997, Final Fantasy VII, was a visual breakthrough. It was the first time for a Final Fantasy game of this scale to switch from 2D to 3D.

Being preceded by games like God of War, Horizon Zero Dawn, and Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End just to name a few, the Remake won’t have the same kind of video game graphics impact. But make no mistake, it serves up a visual experience that is utterly breathtaking.

LADIES’ MAN. Cloud is pretty popular with the ladies. A true visual 😉

It starts with the little things. The way the game treats light when you go indoors or outdoors is reminiscent of how your eyes would behave when doing the same. It takes a second before your eyes fully adjust to your surroundings. And this treatment of light is consistent throughout the game.

The cinematography is also a masterclass in visual storytelling. There’s a sequence during the beginning of the game where Cloud Strife and Tifa Lockhart (two of the main characters) were interacting and the way they were positioned in relation to each other and to the environment tells you a lot about the current standing of their relationship.

SOCIAL DISTANCING? Cloud and Tifa meet again after 5 years

It’s a classic show-don’t-tell technique and it works wonders. It’s also pretty consistent throughout the game. The shots used for each scene were carefully and meticulously thought out. It adds not only to the cinematic flair, but also to the emotion of the game.

Midgar feels alive 

This level of attention to detail is present all over Midgar — the place where most of the game will take place. The way the camera zooms in and out of the city during certain scenes gives you a good grasp of the life and status of Midgar and its people.

The class divide between those living in the upper levels versus those relegated to the slums is very evident in one of the earlier missions. Not just with how the levels are designed, but also with the dialogue of the NPCs (non-playable characters).

There’s a stark contrast between how people from the upper level reacted to the bombing of the first Mako reactor to how the people in the slums reacted. People in the upper levels mostly support the authoritarian Shinra — the city’s ruling organization. They also happen to be direct benefactors of Shinra’s exploits.

Meanwhile, the people in the slums are a mixed bag — some are indifferent, only caring about how they will get through the next day. Some are rightfully afraid of how they will be affected by the ensuing conflict.

By the way, for the uninitiated, the story basically kicks-off with a radical group called Avalanche carrying out the first of a series of bombing missions. The group believes Shinra is syphonying off the planet’s life through the Mako reactors. Mako is the planet’s lifestream. If it runs out, the planet will most likely wither away.

Action-RPG combat with turn-based feel is extremely satisfying

One of the biggest points of discussion is how the Remake will handle combat. The original game — in true JRPG fashion — was turn-based. That was 23 years ago, and outside of Persona 5, the turn-based style hasn’t really attracted plenty of gamers.

What Final Fantasy VII Remake did is fuse that turn-base feel to the more popular Action-RPG type. Something that a lot of gamers today prefer. I wouldn’t say it’s perfect, but it’s pretty darn close.

Here’s how it works: When you go into battle, you have direct control over moving around as well as the character’s physical attacks. Dealing physical damage raises your ATB meter. Your ATB meter then gives you access to using Abilities, Spells, Items, and whenever they become available — Summons and Limit Breaks.

When you trigger the use of your ATB meter the game goes into this slo-mo mode. It sort of reminds me of “bullet time” from Max Payne or that brief slo-mo in Marvel’s Spider-Man that gives you enough time to plan your next move. Except in Final Fantasy VII Remake, that slo-mo is longer, giving you ample time to issue commands for every character in your party.

The whole combat system might also remind you of Kingdom Hearts III, but unlike that game, there’s no way you can just charge in and button mash to win fights. Each enemy has to be dealt with differently and you’ll have to be very careful and tactical in your approach to win battles.

A great way to jump into Final Fantasy

Another thing that Final Fantasy VII Remake masterfully does is not overwhelm you with all the Final Fantasy things you need to know. It slowly introduces you to the story and the franchise’s concepts throughout the game.

VR MISSIONS. New summon materia can be acquired through this method

The Final Fantasy franchise is full of lore. While each game is a stand alone story, some items, summons, skills, and magic are consistent across all the games.

If you have zero knowledge going in, you’ll feel right at home. The franchise’s lore is carefully integrated into the main story. If you’re a Final Fantasy veteran, the introduction of these concepts flow well enough that they’re not at all boring.

It perfectly walks the tightrope of keeping franchise fans happy without alienating any potential newcomers.

A fantastic remake

It was the Final Fantasy franchise that first had me dreaming what it would be like when in-game graphics would finally match cutscenes. Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children — the computer-animated film that served as the follow-up to FF7’s story — sparked that dream further.

Final Fantasy VII Remake made that dream come true. The way it transitions from free-roaming to battle to cutscene is seamless. It literally feels like you’re playing a computer-animated film.

While we’ve seen this play out in other games, just the fact that it’s an iconic game with iconic characters given new life by modern technology makes it extra special. Playing it made me feel like a kid again. It’s exactly the jolt that my jaded adult version needed more than anything.

There’s a lot more to this game that can be discussed. So much more can be dissected. Everything from how each character is treated, how the story almost feels like a reflection of society today, the intricacies of its battle system, and many more. I’m excited to have these conversations with fellow gamers.

If you came here looking to find out if you should pick this game up, the answer is a resounding YES. If you pre-ordered (and have already preloaded) the game, let this be a primer for what you’re about to step into — a game that’s carefully crafted to give you a fresh experience of a timeless tale.

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Reviews

Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro Unboxing and Review: Death of the Flagship Killer

Is this too pricey for a Xiaomi?

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Supposed to have launched globally last February, the Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro is rolling out across the globe in spurts, first in China and then in Europe later this month. Is it still the flagship smartphone you can get for less?

In our Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro Unboxing and Review we talk about Xiaomi’s new strategy. And answer some of your questions including – can it compete with other Android faves like the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra and the Huawei P40 Pro.

Watch the video.

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Reviews

adidas SL20 review: Feel like running as fast as The Flash

adidas’ best running shoe so far!

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About a month ago Adidas released a new running shoe called the Adidas SL20 — this shoe was part of the recent Adidas “Faster Than” campaign where they talked about how being “fast” is not something that’s only reserved for elite runners, and that speed isn’t always just about distance and time.

Instead, Adidas emphasises that “fast” is more of a personal feeling, which everyone can experience, even if you don’t think of yourself as a “fast” runner. They backed this up with a series of videos from all types of people, who run just because they enjoy it.

I have been really intrigued about this shoe because I saw a bunch of people post about it in the Adidas Runners Kuala Lumpur group. As you might already know Adidas has their own Runners group in major cities around the world and they can be super useful to keep you motivated — like right now in Malaysia we’re under a lockdown because of the current pandemic.

All runs are on pause but the Adidas Runners KL group has been posting live workout at home sessions which is pretty good and definitely motivates you to stay in shape and workout even from home.

Starting with a bit of a history lesson, the SL20 is a spiritual successor to the ol’ Adidas SL72 that dropped way back in 1972. This was a shoe that was designed to be used in the German Olympics at the time, and was worn by a bunch of athletes back then.

SL stands for “Super Light” and it lives up to its name. With the SL20, Adidas designed a lightweight running shoe that is meant to cater to all types of runners, and all speeds, made just for anyone who wants to feel fast. It weighs just about 238 grams, making it one of the lightest running shoes around. Though it is slightly heavier than the Adios 5.

You realize this from the second you slip these on. The SL20 is a shoe that just makes you feel fast, and you really feel like running when you’re wearing them which is a really good thing for a running shoe.

This is my first pair of really lightweight running shoes. If you’ve never worn a pair of lightweight running shoes before, this will feel like a whole new dimension. That being said, I should mention that these are meant more for short, fast runs rather than long-distance ones.

Design and Construction

When you first pick up the SL20 it’s very clear that the choice of materials was meant to make sure the shoe is as light as possible. There’s a new Light Strike midsole which is much lighter than Boost. But it also has the torsion system, a heel counter, and Continental just like what you’d find on the much more expensive Adidas Ultraboost, which is sweet.

You can see we got the awesome Black-White-and-Orange colorway which is the main marketing colorway for the SL20.

The shoe also comes in a cool black-white-and-gold colorway, along with a more formal all-black colorway as well in case you want something a little more low-key.

Starting with the upper, the SL20 is made of an engineered mesh material which feels extremely thin and a major contributor to the whole lightweight nature of this shoe.

The material seems tough enough but as with any shoe with a thin, breathable upper you’ll want to make sure you wear thicker socks or keep a close watch on your toenails, so you don’t end up accidentally poking through it.

Similarly, the tongue also has no padding, being just a thin piece of lightweight fabric. The laces are also pretty soft and there are two extra eyelets up top in case you want an even more snug fit.

One small detail that I really liked was the SL20 branding on the lace tips that is color matched to the three stripes on the shoe.

I also noticed that the lacing is also slightly asymmetrical with a bias towards the medial side which helps with that lockdown feeling, and medial support.

Moving on to the heel area, the SL20 has an integrated heel counter which means that unlike the external heel counter which you’d see on the Ultraboost 20, this one is all internal. The heel counter is made of a hard material which allows you to easily slip your foot into the shoe, but also does a great job at locking your heel into place.

Coming to the midsole, as mentioned earlier, it’s made out of a new material called “Lightstrike ” which is significantly lighter than Boost, which most of y’all have probably heard about. But I’ll talk about the midsole later on.

Underneath that, you have the Continental stretchweb outsole with the red torsion propulsion system integrated into the sole. This gives the shoe more structure and control.

Then there’s the heel, which is more stiff and supportive but I’ll talk about the entire midsole and outsole later on. And for those of you who aren’t as familiar with Adidas sneakers, yes it’s that Continental, the tire maker.

All in all it’s a great looking shoe, with a lot of visual attention to detail in its design.

Quite snug, go up at least half a size

In terms of fit,  the SL20 is supposed to fit true-to-size but it’s a bit of a narrow shoe with a rigid toe-box. Since I have wide feet, Adidas sent me a size up which fits pretty well. I’d definitely advise trying these on in a store if you could, because the engineered mesh upper here is not a very stretchable fabric.

So if you have wide feet like I do, you might want to go up half a size or even up a full size. In case you were wondering, the heel-to-toe drop here is the usual 10mm with a stack height of 29/19.

The light in Lightstrike is truly light

Coming to performance, as I have mentioned — the SL20 feels incredibly light, and you feel it immediately as you start running with them. The engineered mesh upper is weirdly lightweight as if it’s not even there, and the new Lightstrike foam has a good amount of energy return as well.

The Lightstrike foam itself is pretty interesting. It was originally designed for use in basketball shoes, with the thought being that the foam would have enough cushioning, lightweight, but still be very responsive with some court-feel especially with the kind of lateral movement you see in basketball.

It was first introduced in 2018 in the signature sneakers of former NBA MVP James Harden, before also moving on to the Adizero series of running shoes.

With this purpose in mind, Lightstrike is slightly harder than Boost cushioning, sacrificing some of that soft comfort for better energy return instead. This cushioning, along with the lightweight upper, is the reason why you want to go faster in these shoes.

I found myself running slightly faster with these on, and I’m not even sure why. Maybe it was just a psychological feeling of wearing such lightweight shoes, or maybe it’s the overall package of the SL20.

The Torsion system allows for a nice, springy toe-off, and also helps with the energy transition from heel to toe, allowing your foot to go back into its normal state during each strike, and the heel counter keeps your feet firmly locked in.

The slightly harder midsole does mean these are best suited for short distance runs. You could still wear them for long distance or marathon running, but the Lightstrike foam midsole is not as soft a cushion as one would like for a long distance running shoe.

For sprints and everyday jogs, the SL20 is freaking fantastic. But for long distance runs, you might want to check out the Ultraboost 20 or even the ASICS GEL-Nimbus 22 instead.

These shoes really are a lot of fun to run in because they’re just so darn lightweight, with great energy return, that push-off sensation really is amazing so maybe some of y’all might actually like them for long distance runs as well.

Coming to the SL20 outsole, it’s worth noting that you can also feel any stones or pebbles under your foot with these so they really aren’t meant for off-road or cross country runs either — just a road or street runner.

The Continental stretchweb outsole is a great addition, just like what we’ve experienced on Ultraboost for a while now. These are some of the grippiest rubber outsoles around and this means running on even wet roads is not an issue.

I wouldn’t recommend testing these out on icy streets. I’m always paranoid about falling where ice is involved because I’ve only lived in tropical weather countries, but apart from that, the outsole has no issues gripping and keeping traction even on the rainiest of days.

Overall the Adidas SL20 falls more in the stable end of the spectrum, compared to many other lightweight running shoes. While I still think of it as a neutral running shoe, it has a pretty reasonable amount of stability.

Is this your SneakerMatch?

The Adidas SL20 is just a fantastic running shoe designed for runners who want to run fast. It doesn’t matter what your definition of fast is, because this pair will honestly just make you feel fast when you’re running with them.

If you’re looking for a pair of lightweight running shoes, this is pretty much one of the best options out there right now.

The only real alternative comes from Adidas itself — the Adidas Adizero Boston 8 and the Adidas Adizero Adios 5 — both of which look very similar now to the SL20.

All three belong to the lightweight running shoe category, and they weigh almost the same but the primary difference is their uppers and midsoles, and how they feel when running. Both the Boston and Adios have slightly more premium upper construction, and both have Boost in the midsole, which also means they cost a lot more than the SL20.

The Adios feels more like a racing shoe and offers the least in terms of comfort, whereas the Boston is more of an all-round running shoe. It’s firmer and harder than the SL20 but also softer and more comfortable than the Adios.

Out of all three, I think the SL20 is the most comfortable, though of course not as comfortable as the heavier SolarBoost or Ultraboost sneakers.

Bif you’re looking for a lightweight running shoe to get you started with running or just to be your first lightweight running shoe, I think the SL20 is for you. Even if you are a trained runner who wants a secondary pair of “fast” shoes — these are definitely for you.

The Adidas SL20 is just for anyone who wants to feel fast, without shifting too far away from a comfortable daily running shoe, but still wanting a pair of lightweight running shoes.

Definitely recommended.

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