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Xiaomi’s Mi Box 4K can make any dumb TV smart

The price is even more surprising

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India has relaxed lockdown restrictions amid the Coronavirus pandemic and brands are back in action. Xiaomi held an online launch today and announced three key products, the Mi Box 4K is one of them.

While it does sound like Apple TV or the Nvidia Shield, it’s intended market is to replace HDMI thumb drives like Fire Stick or the Google Chromecast. It’s no surprise that the two are quite dated now and Xiaomi wants to make this Mi Box 4K’s strongpoint.

The aim is simple, turn any dumb TV with an HDMI port into a smart TV. It is essentially a CPU that runs Android TV and displays the output on your current TV. Yup, we’re going back in time and taking inspiration from the legendary desktop setup.

It runs on Android TV OS 9.0 and brings support for over 5,000 apps such as Netflix, Prime Video, Disney+ Hotstar, and most other platforms or services. It has a quad-core 2.0Ghz CPU and a Mali-450 GPU that can scale up the resolution based on your TV’s capabilities.

Additionally, it supports 4K output, HDR10, and Dolby Audio DTS 2.0 for a top-notch experience. It also gets 8GB internal storage, a USB 2.0 port, and Bluetooth.

Since it’s running Android TV, there’s also room for Google Assistant and the Mi Remote has been optimized to leverage it with the press of a single button. It also has dedicated buttons to launch Netflix and Prime Video.

All of this comes with a price tag of just INR 3,499 (US$ 45). It will be available for purchase from May 11 via Mi.com, Flipkart, Mi Home, and Mi Studio.

India

Redmi 9 Prime launches with quad-cameras and Helio G80

Realme should be worried

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After a brief sabbatical, Xiaomi is back with its blitzkrieg strategy. The company has gradually announced the Redmi 9 series in India, covering every possible price segment. Going after the affordable segment, it has now launched the Redmi 9 Prime and it’ll go up against the Realme 5i and Narzo 10A.

At first glance, the design of the phone looks identical to the POCO X2. However, it has substantial changes including a water-drop notch, rounded edges, and a rear-mounted fingerprint scanner. The back has a gradient color with a ripple texture that adds to the premium feel.

On the front is a 6.5-inch Full HD+ display with Gorilla Glass 3 protection and TÜV Rheinland low blue light certification. Powering the phone is a MediaTek Helio G80 processor with 4GB RAM. Storage is expandable via a microSD card.

The rear sports a quad-camera setup consisting of a 13-megapixel primary sensor, an 8-megapixel wide-angle lens, a 5-megapixel macro sensor, and a 2-megapixel depth sensor. For selfies, an 8-megapixel camera is located on the front.

Backing these internals is a 5020mAh battery that supports 18W fast charging. Although, the in-box charger is rated for 10W only. In line with all other Redmi phones, it ships with MIUI 11 out-of-the-box and supports face unlock.

The Redmi 9 Prime has two configurations available. The 4GB+64GB option costs INR 9,999 and the 4GB+128GB variant costs INR 11,999. The phone shall be available from August 17 via Amazon, Mi.com, Mi Stores, and other offline partners. Color options include Space Blue, Mint Green, Matte Black, and Sunrise Flare.

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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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Samsung Galaxy M31s launches with quad-cameras and 6000mAh battery

Will this be another hot-seller?

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After six months, Samsung has announced a new successor of the Galaxy M31, dubbed Galaxy M31s. The midrange phone has gained considerable traction in India’s offline space and demand for affordable phones is on the rise. The phone shall be going up against the Redmi Note 9 Pro Max and Realme 6 Pro.

It sports a 6.5-inch Full HD+ AMOLED display with a punch-hole cut-out that Samsung likes to call Infinity-O. Protecting the display is Gorilla Glass 3. Under the hood, the phone houses an octa-core Exynos 9611 SoC with up to 8GB RAM and 128GB internal storage.

On the rear is a quad-camera setup consisting of a 64-megapixel primary sensor, a 12-megapixel wide-angle lens, a 5-megapixel macro shooter, and a 5-megapixel depth sensor. For selfies, a 32-megapixel camera is located on the front. The phone can further support 4K video recording, slow-mo videos, AR Doodle, and AR Emoji.

Backing these internals is a massive 6000mAh battery that supports 25W fast charging. The phone has expandable storage via microSD card, a fingerprint scanner on the side and One UI installed out-of-the-box.

The Samsung Galaxy M31s costs INR 19,499 for the 6GB+128GB option and INR 21,499 for the 8GB+128GB variant. It will be available in Mirage Black and Mirage Blue color options from August 6 via Amazon and Samsung Shop.

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