The Nubia Red Magic 7s Pro is a solid gaming phone but continues to lack in camera performance and software support compared to other Android flagship devices.
Gaming phone sales will likely remain a niche product in the US market.
However, gaming phones continue influencing mainstream smartphones designs by being the first to have features such as higher refresh rates, cooling systems, and specialized gaming modes to optimize performance.
In Q3 2022 less than 15% of US smartphone sales were from 90Hz refresh rate or higher smartphones.
Gaming phones have remained a niche product in the US for years despite carrier efforts to include mobile gaming aspects into their portfolios and services. Back in 2018, AT&T was the first to include a gaming phone, the Razer 2, as part of its product portfolio. Sales were weak, however. According to the US Monthly Sell-Through Tracker, Razer did not reach higher than 1% market share in sales within AT&Ts portfolio during the device’s tenure. Since then, most attempts by carriers to highlight mobile gaming have focused on cloud mobile gaming services like GeForce NOW or the now-defunct Google Stadia. More recently, Verizon has announced a new partnership with Razer and Qualcomm to bring a new handheld called the Razer Edge 5G in early 2023. For the most part, gaming phones have remained on the sidelines, only available in the unlocked market.
Gaming phones’ influence on market
While gaming phone sales have been a fraction of those seen by the latest Apple iPhone or Samsung S series devices, they have a big impact on design choices for more mainstream devices. We continue to see mainstream OEMs putting more gaming features into premium flagships, such as higher screen refresh rates up to 144Hz, gaming-optimized modes and vapor cooling technologies. Smartphones with a refresh rate of 90hz or higher made up less than 15% of total smartphone sales in Q3 2022 and we expect this penetration rate to increase in the future as more OEMs implement this feature on both high and low-end devices. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Elite Gaming portfolio with Variable Rating Sharing Pro and Volumetric Rendering are additional options for OEMs to choose from when launching a new device.
Nubia Red Magic 7s Pro: Latest gaming phone to enter US
The Red Magic 7s Pro came out just three months after the Red Magic 7s made its debut and is one of the more recent gaming phones that have entered the US market. Nubia is a sub-brand of ZTE and Red Magic smartphones are specifically designed for gaming. The brand has been very aggressive with its product launch cycles, having released 16 Red Magic branded devices in the last four years. Having had the opportunity to use the device for a few weeks now, the phone feels refreshing from a feature perspective compared to the more popular flagship options available in the US market.
The cooling fan can be directly enabled on the home screen.
The Red Magic 7s Pro comes with the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 processor and features a dedicated gaming chip called Red Core 1. It has a 5,000mAh dual-cell battery, and a 65W charger for rapid charging. There are two configurations to choose from – 12GB RAM with 256GB storage for $729 and 18GB RAM with 512GB storage for $899.
The smartphone has a high-speed cooling fan that can run up to 20,000RPM and a multi-layer cooling system called ICE 10.0 that is made up of different components to keep the device cool when playing graphics-intensive games. It also comes with a 6.8-inch AMOLED screen with 120Hz refresh rate, 20:9 ratio, 1080*2400 resolution, multi-finger 480Hz up to 960Hz touch sampling rate, and a screen-to-body ratio of 92.7 due to the inclusion of the first under-display camera in a gaming phone. Red Magic promises up to two years of security updates but only one Android version update.
Like previous Red Magic devices, there are two shoulder triggers that mimic controller triggers with 520Hz sampling giving a response rate as fast as 7.4ms. This is very unique to gaming phones and gives them an edge over the average smartphone due to the ability to have more controls while gaming. However, it would have been interesting to include ways to utilize these shoulder triggers more outside of gaming. In the past, we’ve seen Apple utilize the Apple logo on the back of the iPhone as an added button or Pixel devices using Active Edge, a way of squeezing a phone to launch Google Assistant.
While in a game, simply swipe from the top left or right corner to get to the Game Space HUD to enable different gaming modes, configure the shoulder triggers, start a screen recording, or even take notes.
Camera performance needs improvement, a common theme among gaming phones. To optimize screen real-estate, there is an under-display camera with 16MP resolution. It works fine for basic selfies, but images tend to have a lot of background noise and there are issues with lens flare and refraction due to the under-display nature of the camera. At the back, you get a triple camera set-up comprising a 64MP main camera, an 8MP ultrawide camera and a 2MP macro camera. The 64MP main camera stands out for taking solid portrait shots and Red Magic’s software helps with subtle improvements through edge detection and background blur features. Cameras are never a big selling point on gaming phones, but OEMs could possibly optimize their software more to further enhance image quality.
Overall, the key highlights of the device are the very fast and responsive shoulder triggers, the small but mighty cooling fan and the implementation of the UDC to get more screen real estate for an improved immersive experience. These features certainly make the device stand out as a gaming phone rather than just a flagship device. However, the phone does have its drawbacks. The device is bulky and lacks the finesse and design aesthetics found in flagship devices. Lastly, it doesn’t come with other premium features we have come to expect with the latest flagships, like multiple Android version upgrades, wireless charging, and waterproofing. The latter two are admittedly hard to do, when you dedicate space to a whole cooling fan as design trade-offs need to be made for gaming optimized devices.
Will gaming phones grow?
The Red Magic 7s Pro is very impressive, packed with useful gaming features and a welcome change from the regular flagship line-up found in the US. However, the design and form factor clearly focus on hardcore gamers. At a price point of $800 in the unlocked market, it also remains a very expensive device for most US consumers. The US market is primarily carrier driven, which heavily discounts devices through promotions and trade-ins. Gaming phones will need to carve out a spot in carrier portfolios to truly gain traction, but if the past is any indicator, it is not going to be easy.
Branding remains a big hindrance as gaming phones are often backed by known gaming brands like Asus ROG which may be recognized by gamers but not the general public. There are now also flagship alternatives like the OnePlus 10T available that have sought to create a more hybrid phone – optimized for gaming but without the gaming look. This creates additional competition and drives gaming phones further into their niche. If a more recognizable brand gets into gaming, it could broaden market interest and, along with a reasonable price point, open up a more casual gaming market. This could become the perfect excuse for parents to get their children a phone and not have to also purchase a separate gaming device.
* Key Southeast Asia countries include Indonesia Thailand Philippines and Vietnam
The HONOR Magic4 Ultimate has a curved 6.81-inch LTPO screen and a Penta-camera setup at the back.
Under the hood is a Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 SoC, a customized AI ISP, and a standalone security chip, jointly delivering flagship experiences in display, photography, videography, gaming and privacy.
The premium flagship smartphone supports 100W fast-charging and 50W wireless-charging speeds.
Amid the intensifying premium smartphone battle in China, HONOR has successfully upgraded its flagship lineup with the Magic4 Ultimate. Sitting at the top of the Magic4 series, the Magic4 Ultimate, like its predecessor, brings great innovations in hardware and software.
Equipped with 12GB RAM and 512GB storage, it is still priced at ¥7,999 or around $1,230 for the China market. The model’s performance is comprehensively improved with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chipset and a customized AI ISP. I have been using the smartphone for a while and it impressed me in three key areas:
The Magic4 Ultimate strives to present a combination of beauty and advanced technologies. Its exterior consists of a 6.81-inch bezel-less quad-curved screen, a flashy stainless steel middle frame, and a refined nanocrystal ceramic shell that creates a sense of elegance.
The gaming experience, built on the fourth-generation Snapdragon Elite Gaming engine and HONOR’s enhanced GPU Turbo X technology, is smooth and enjoyable.
The last but the most important is the sophisticated and powerful imaging system. The rear penta-camera setup is led by a 50MP, 1/1.14-inch large main camera and performs extremely well in capturing true-to-life images with superb clarity and rich details day and night. I will discuss the three highlights and other features in detail in my review below.
HONOR strengthens its presence in China’s flagship battle with Magic4 Ultimate
In 2021, China’s premium smartphone market recorded significant YoY growth with nearly one out of four smartphones being sold at above $600. This lucrative segment is becoming ever more important, particularly for China-based brands looking to improve their product mix and achieve meaningful earnings against the overall decline in smartphone sales, while enhancing their brand image.
The new round of competition started following the announcement of the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 SoC in December 2021. Soon after the availability of the vivo X80 Pro in late April 2022, major Android brands launched 25 premium models with the flagship SoC inside. To stand out from the crowd, HONOR made great efforts in unleashing the full potential of the system by leveraging its self-developed Turbo X technologies, and also implemented multiple heat dissipation solutions, including the graphene film and VC plate, to maximize the computing power. In addition to the cutting-edge SoC, HONOR empowers the Magic4 Ultimate and other models from the Magic4 series with a brand-new LTPO display and upgraded imaging system. According to Counterpoint’s China Smartphone Weekly Tracker, the monthly sales of the Magic4 series quickly crossed 200,000 units in April, having been among the best-selling Android flagship phones in China since March.
Commenting on the upgrades from the Magic3 Ultimate, Research Analyst Mengmeng Zhang said, “The Magic4 Ultimate undoubtedly has greater computing capabilities, with the Snapdragon 8 Gen1 promising 20% faster CPU, 30% faster GPU and 4x faster AI performance compared to the Snapdragon 888. On top of the industry-leading 5G mobile platform, three standalone processors, represented by the dedicated AI ISP, play an important complementary role and allow users to explore more premium and unique experiences. Besides, the improvements in display, camera, security and battery life also stem from using the advanced LTPO technology, improved camera setup, and more secure fingerprint and faster-charging solutions.”
Magic4 Ultimate vs Magic3 Ultimate
Design: Emphasizes sense of harmony, symmetry, elegance
The Magic4 Ultimate largely inherits design characteristics from its predecessor. The front side of the 163-mm-long body is fully covered by a super-curved nanocrystal glass, which is engineered for more comfortable single-handed use and better protection from damaging drops. The redesigned iconic Eye of Muse is still an eye-catcher but creates greater symmetry and balance with the periscope camera relocated to the center, and the new pattern looks more modern and attractive. The Magic4 Ultimate also blends more streamlined styling into the new nanocrystal ceramic back, on which the runway-like protrusions neatly surround the camera bump.
The Magic4 Ultimate is equipped with a flagship-level, HDR10+ OLED display supporting the best-in-class color accuracy. It has a resolution of 1312×2848 pixels (around 460ppi density) and allows users to view pictures and videos with sharp details. The display also realizes the combination of LTPO-based 1~120Hz adaptive refresh rate and 1920Hz PWM dimming technology, which provides double-edged benefits – better eye protection and power saving by switching the refresh rate to the lowest possible when displaying static content.
On top of these, HONOR, together with Pixelworks, enables premium viewing experiences leveraging technologies such as “Always-on HDR” and MEMC (Motion Estimation and Motion Compensation). Powered by the dedicated display processor, the Magic4 Ultimate supports on-the-fly conversion of SDR videos to HDR quality and intelligent increasing video frame rate to eliminate motion blur, leading to a more vivid and fluid display.
Gaming: Ultra-smooth, realistic experience
The fourth-generation Snapdragon Elite Gaming engine is designed to push the limit of mobile gaming experience. It features more than 50 enhancements, in which technologies such as “Adreno Frame Motion Engine” and “Variable Rate Shading Pro” can effectively alleviate the GPU load, thus improving frame rate, picture clarity and power consumption while gaming.
The powerful engine is well complemented by the latest GPU Turbo X technology. By implementing the mobile gaming-oriented “AI Super Rendering” and fully taking the advantage of multiprocessor synergy, the upgraded GPU Turbo X can highly improve the graphic processing efficiency and also elevate the gaming performance. Consequently, we can play the graphically demanding game titles with less power but without compromising the visual quality.
In addition, the ultra-high-speed 5G and Wi-Fi 6 connection, paired with HONOR’s LINK Turbo X technology, provides a lag-free gaming experience.
Photography: Industry-leading performance
The biggest highlight of the Magic4 Ultimate is the versatile world-facing “Eye of Muse” system. Its flagship-grade main camera is powered by the Samsung ISOCELL GN2 and a customized 8P wide-angle lens set. With 50 million 1.4μm-sized pixels and a large aperture of f/1.6, the default camera can take in more light and offers great low-light performance and dynamic range.
To better restore what you see, the Magic4 Ultimate adds another 50MP camera, especially for spectral enhancement, with which it can reproduce more accurate colors, textures and real-light and shadow effects.
Below is a good example of how the Magic4 Ultimate restored the color on the glass and retained the decorative details without overexposing them.
The above image was shot in default mode. The colors of lights, plants and flowers are very close to reality and the dynamic range is well balanced, retaining good details in the indoor areas.
In addition, the rear camera system includes a 3.5x optical zoom periscope camera and a 126-degree ultrawide camera. The two 64MP auxiliary cameras are located close to the main camera, forming a triangular arrangement that is designed to facilitate the implementation of HONOR’s “Ultra Fusion Photography”.
The technology provides an innovative approach for cameras to work together, thus maximizing image quality by fully utilizing the strength of different lens modules. As shown below, in the overlapped zoom range, the process has two steps. First, multiple frames shot by each camera are merged, respectively, and then the resulting images are further aligned and combined into a single photo.
HONOR’s Fusion Photography Technology Fits into Magic4 Ultimate’s Impressive Zoom Range
Benefiting from the enhancement of “Ultra Fusion Photography”, we can capture moments more sharply and clearly than ever. The photo below presents clear details of the leaves in the foreground and the building at the far end.
When working alone, the ultrawide and periscope cameras also show great performance. The former has a 7P lens set supporting a 126° field of view and is among the best choices for grand landscape photography. It also incorporates two pieces of the free-form lens, which significantly improve edge distortion. Below is a photo shot at 15 mm equivalent focus length where the straight lines on the wall look quite natural.
With the support of autofocus, the ultrawide camera can also be used for close-up shots, allowing you to click stunning photos of flowers as shown below.
The periscope design supports up to 100x hybrid zoom capability, making it a perfect fit for long-distance shots. Below is a photo captured at the 7x zoom level. It still retains rich details while minimizing the noise and the words on the poster are quite readable.
The camera system is not only a real success in daylight conditions but its performance in low-light environments is also great, and this is largely due to the adoption of the independent AI ISP. The customized chipset has up to 28.8TOPS computing power and supports the nearly real-time process of a burst of raw images at different exposure settings, leading to a greater night photography experience, including the support of 4K Super Night mode videos.
The image below was captured using night mode, where the pink light falling on the glass ceiling and tree leaves were accurately reproduced with little noise in the sky area. Thanks to the support of OIS optical stabilization for both the wide and telephoto cameras, it is much easier for us to shoot great night photos, no more worrying about unintentionally blurring them with a hand jitter.
The camera system has more to offer. To suppress lens flare and improve the image quality against the sunlight, HONOR applies the super anti-flare coating technology to the lens surface. Besides, the flicker sensor and 8×8 dToF sensing camera are preserved. The latter can effectively help improve the autofocus speed and accuracy, especially in low light. Combining with the large aperture of the main camera, it also brings better bokeh effects like in the picture below which presents a gradually blurring foreground and background.
The Magic4 Ultimate also provides impressive video capabilities. Thanks to the “Dual Chain Computational Photography & Videography” algorithm, we are allowed to capture high-quality photos while recording a 4K video with little compromise. The AI-based “Magic Take” function can automatically identify highlight moments when recording and transform them into short clips or dramatic pictures. Moreover, the Magic4 Ultimate further extends its 4K 60FPS video capability to the Night and Magic-Log mode, and the outputs are relatively smooth even when you are moving.
Moving on to the front side, the dual-camera system sits in a hole-punch cutout on the top left. It consists of a 12MP selfie camera and a 3D depth camera primarily for face unlocking. The former features a 100° field of view to make taking a group selfie much easier. It is enhanced by a number of AI-based features such as portrait beautification, background blurring and anti-distortion, and also supports 4K video shooting.
High security and long battery Life
The Magic4 Ultimate also makes decent improvements in security and battery life. For a safer but more convenient user experience, HONOR not only upgrades the fingerprint solution from optical to more accurate ultrasonic technology but also applies an independent security chip to provide hardware-level protection. All of this, combined with the “Dual TEE Security OS”, makes the Magic4 Ultimate a highly secure flagship model.
Moreover, HONOR introduced a practical feature, “AI Privacy Call”, to address the pain point of sound leakage when making a phone call in crowds. The new feature supports intelligent sound direction control, and can significantly reduce sound leakage while maintaining a clear voice.
To further ease battery anxiety, HONOR increases the fast-charging speed with the support of the 100W wired charging. Tests show the Magic4 Ultimate’s 4,600mAh battery can be charged to 100% within half an hour.
As a top flagship offering, the Magic4 Ultimate is armed with a valuable package of hardware components and features, with the camera system being the biggest bright spot. Although there is space for improvement, such as a smoother preview when switching the lens, its overall performance is rated as the best by DXOMARK. By combining the evolving “HONOR Image Engine” and powerful AI ISP, the Magic series is set to fully harness the power of AI and push the boundaries of mobile photography.
Samsung’s Galaxy S21 5G Series, which was launched early January this year and saw record pre-orders, has now been in the market long enough for some initial thoughts and reviews.
The major point of interest here was that the premium devices were being sold at a lower rate than other flagship devices, a difference of $200 from the previous Galaxy S20 series. The cost savings can be seen in what is (not) provided in the box, but with the improvements in camera specs and processor refresh rate, the S21 is a serious competitor in the smartphone market.
Europe: Pre-orders for the S21 hit a record level in the UK and the series is currently outperforming both the previous S20 and S10 models. The S21 has cracked the top 10 in Germany, although it is still being outsold by the S20 in other markets.
India: The S21+ 5G and S21 Ultra 5G captured the second and third spots respectively in the ultra-premium market segment (>$650) in the India smartphone market. It should be noted though, that the S21 series sold at a higher price than the S20 series in the India market due to the lack of a 5G network.
Saudi Arabia/UAE: S21 series has been available here for approximately three weeks and has already reached the top spot among all the Samsung models in Saudi Arabia while landing within the top five for all smartphone models.
North America Performance and Reviews:
Consumers have been quick to point out the features that have made the updated model worth the change from the previous version. However, some drawbacks have been noted. At the same time, it was expected that all the new features coming at a lower cost would have some drawbacks.
Listed below are some of the things that consumers are excited to have in the latest Samsung series, and a couple from previous models that they miss:
The reaction to the Galaxy S21 series has, in general, been positive with the new features introduced to the Samsung line-up. An important catalyst in the success of this series will be the expansion of 5G networks. At the same time, the S21 series will be a good competitor along with the previous S20 series in the coming year in the global market.
With a starting price of $1,299, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is one of the most advanced smartphones available in the market today. Compared to last year’s Galaxy Note 10+, Samsung has improved the note-taking experience on the new smartphone. There are design refinements, upgraded cameras with 50X zooming capabilities, and a high refresh rate display. The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G is also more tightly integrated with Microsoft productivity and gaming apps. In a nutshell, the smartphone has all the bells and whistles that power users could appreciate. But does it deliver on the promise? We will answer that in our review as we take a deep dive into each aspect of the phone starting this week.
CMF: Mystic Bronze is the new gold standard
The Galaxy Note line has always been the first to embrace Corning’s new Gorilla Glass solutions, and the same continues with the Note 20 Ultra 5G too. It is the first smartphone to feature the new Corning Gorilla Glass Victus both on the front and the back. The company says it is twice as scratch-resistant as the previous generation. It can survive drops of up to two meters, compared to 1.6 meters on the Gorilla Glass 6.
The Galaxy Note 10 with Aura Glow color was one of the sexiest looking phones that changed colors as light reflected from different sides on the back. But having a glossy surface had two major disadvantages – it was slippery and was a big fingerprint magnet. With the Note 20 Ultra 5G, Samsung has opted for a frosted glass finish which takes care of both the issues. It is not slippery and does not attract fingerprints easily.
Further, as we continue to talk about the CMF (Color Material Finish), Samsung deserves a shoutout for the new Mystic Bronze color. It is undoubtedly one of the most striking, elegant and sophisticated looking Galaxy phones yet. The aura of this color is such that people had been asking me about the phone every time I took it out in front of my family and friends. And there is a small gradient effect to it too. When looking from an angle with mild sunlight, at times, it appears like the Rose Gold color.
Samsung has nailed the CMF part in making Mystic Bronze the new gold standard.
Design: Minor tweaks bring some learning curve
Design-wise, you still get a big slab of metal sandwiched between the glass on the front and the back. The edges are curved on the sides, which is something that we have seen since the Galaxy Note 7. There are two major changes that the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G brings on the design front, and it will need some learning curve to get used to, especially if you are a Note 9 or Note 10 user.
To begin with, the volume rocker and power buttons have been moved from the left to the right. This is good news for people who use their phones with the right hand. But for people who use their phones with the left hand, it will need a bit of time to get adjusted to the new layout. I, for once, have been using the Galaxy Note 10+ for a year now, and right after switching to the Note 20 Ultra 5G, the muscle memory of my left-hand thumb always acts whenever I want to control the volume or lock the screen.
Second is a major change, which has happened after 10 generations since the first Galaxy Note was launched. I am talking about the S Pen stylus here. From the first Galaxy Note to the Galaxy Note 10+, it has always been on the right edge, but with the new Note 20 Ultra 5G, the S Pen is now on the left.
What prompted this change in position? I believe it has to do with the big camera sensor and 5G RF antennas that Samsung had to accommodate in the design. Again, there is a small learning curve, but two or three weeks after using the phone, you will likely get used to it.
The Note 20 Ultra changes the placement of S Pen, volume rocker and power button, and it takes time getting used it.
There is one more annoying part of the design which may bother some users. The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G brings a giant triple camera module on the back with a big camera bump. From an engineering point, I get that this was needed to accommodate the periscope-style zoom functionality. But it makes the weight distribution uneven. Even Oppo has offered a periscope-style zoom without needing a big camera bump.
The problem with the bump is that when your phone is placed on a table facing its back, it wobbles. And unlike the previous models, Samsung has not even shipped the smartphone with a cover case, so that becomes an additional purchase for the users.
The big camera bump at the back makes the phone wobble when placed on a flat surface.
Display: One of the best-looking screens on a smartphone
There is no doubt that Samsung is a pioneer of AMOLED screens. With every new iteration of the Galaxy S and Note-series smartphones, the company has improved the touch and display experience. The Note 20 Ultra 5G flaunts a big 6.9-inch WQHD+ Dynamic AMOLED display. The screen has a resolution of 3088×1440 pixels and a refresh rate of 120Hz. It is also HDR10+ certified which makes content viewing on Netflix and Amazon Prime Video a pleasurable experience.
It is also the first Note-series smartphone to come with a variable, high-refresh-rate screen. The motion is incredibly smooth, and it is visible to your eyes when scrolling through menus or webpages. But the way this variable refresh rate works here is different from the other smartphones.
Motion smoothness is easily noticeable when playing games or scrolling through the menus.
The refresh rate varies from 60Hz to 120Hz depending on the screen resolution you choose. If you want to enjoy the high refresh rate benefits, you will have to scale down to FHD+ resolution and choose the Adaptive option under display settings. It will automatically adjust the refresh rate depending on the content and help save battery life. Though, I think an option of at least 90Hz by default for WQHD+ resolution would have been better. Since I got the Note 20 Ultra 5G, I have been using it at FHD+ resolution, and there is no visible difference in the reduced sharpness.
Otherwise, the panel is gorgeous. It is bright enough to offer great legibility under harsh sunlight. The colors are punchy, blacks are deep and whites are bright. Viewing angles are good too. No matter what content you are viewing on the screen, be it movies or games or simply scrolling through Instagram timeline, the display is a pleasure to look at.
Specifications and BoM Cost: Qualcomm’s Highest Share in a Samsung Flagship
After spending the last one year on the Galaxy Note 10+, while switching between different review devices along, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G feels very snappy and responsive. The smartphone is equipped with top-notch hardware which includes a 7nm+ Qualcomm Snapdragon 865+ SoC, with a maximum clock frequency of 3GHz for the prime core. It is a bit underclocked compared to the Asus ROG Phone 3 that features the same chipset, but a higher clock speed of 3.1GHz for the price core.
However, only the US variant of the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra comes equipped with a Qualcomm chipset. In other regions, like India, the smartphone comes with a Samsung Exynos 990 SoC, which is also made on the 7nm+ process. But the core configuration is different, with two custom prime cores clocked at 2.73GHz, two Cortex A76 cores and four Cortex A55 efficiency cores.
As mentioned above, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra also supports 5G connectivity. In the US, the Qualcomm variant comes with Snapdragon X55 5G modem, whereas other regions get Samsung Modem 5123, both supporting mmWave and Sub-6GHz spectrums, along with SA and NSA networks.
Interestingly, according to Counterpoint’s Components Research Practice Bill of Materials (BoM) cost analysis, Qualcomm’s share in the Samsung flagship is close to 40%. The total BoM cost of the Snapdragon variant is $548.90, whereas the retail price is $1,299. The Exynos variant, on the other hand, sees Samsung share increasing to almost 70%.
Both the global and US variants come with 12GB LPDDR5 RAM and 128GB/256GB/512GB of UFS 3.0 onboard storage to ensure faster read and write speeds. A hybrid microSD card slot is also present for further storage expansion of up to 1TB. As the smartphone supports eSIM functionality, users no longer need to worry about missing out on a second SIM for adding expanded storage.
Performance: Multi-tasking Workhorse
In terms of the RAW spec sheet, Samsung has done enough to ensure the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is a powerhouse. For a few years now, there has been an ongoing debate around the performance of Qualcomm vs Exynos chipsets. On the benchmarks and battery life side, Qualcomm may be a little ahead, but the overall performance is what matters for the user. It has been over a month, and I have been using the Exynos variant.
With 12GB of RAM and Exynos 990, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra just zips along with any app that I throw at it. Multitasking is a breeze, where I constantly keep switching between apps like Microsoft Teams, Twitter, Feedly and WhatsApp through most of the day. The adaptive 120Hz screen refresh rate makes the experience even silky smooth. But it is not just about the hardware, the new One UI 2.5 skin on top of Android 10 and software refinements play a big role in delivering this snappy experience.
The hardware and software combination delivers top-notch performance.
The gaming experience has also been good. You do not get any special gaming mode, but Samsung has included Game Launcher where all your installed games are in one place. It shows you the list of games, the total playtime, and for how long you played it daily. There are some web instant games too that you can play, just that you need the internet to play them. Samsung has also included a game booster and Discord integration. My only problem here is that it would have been better if there was a gaming mode to block notifications and calls while gaming, and other features like 4D vibrations, which would have made the experience even better.
Lastly, the smartphone is armed with a 4,500mAh battery with support for 25W fast charging using USB Power Delivery. Sadly, unlike the competitors, there is no support for faster-charging wattage. But despite all of this, the charging is quick, where you can reach from empty to 40% in about 25 minutes and up to 75% in an hour. Full charging takes about an hour and 25 minutes. There is support for wireless charging and reverse wireless charging to charge the Galaxy Watch or Galaxy Buds devices.
The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G offers an all-day battery life with moderate to heavy use.
Talking about battery life, even with a 120Hz adaptive refresh rate, it sails through the day without any hiccups. My typical usage includes social media, listening to music via Bluetooth, a smartwatch connected throughout, and gaming and binge-watching for an hour each. With all this, I consistently get close to five hours of screen time, which is not great but not bad either considering the sheer power and performance it offers.
Cameras: Brings Improvements over Galaxy S20 Ultra
With the Galaxy S20 Ultra, Samsung introduced a quad-camera set-up with a 108MP primary sensor. Unlike the earlier 12MP sensors, the new camera system did not feature dual-pixel autofocus, which resulted in auto-focusing issues, especially in close-up shots. Samsung has fixed the issue by adding a laser-assisted autofocus system, which not only offers faster focusing but also allows for capturing blur-free photos.
Talking about the set-up, the primary camera is a 108MP sensor with f/1.8 aperture and 1/1.33-inch sensor size, and supports optical image stabilization (OIS). The primary camera also supports up to 8K video recording (24fps) capabilities and ultra slow-motion at 960fps (720p) resolution. I shot some videos while on a drive, and the results were good. The OIS helps in compensating the jerks and getting a table footage, but a Gimbal like system, like on the Vivo X50 Pro, could have been an even better addition.
The S20 Ultra featured a 48MP periscope telephoto lens (f/3.5 aperture) with up to 100x space zoom capabilities. With the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, Samsung went with a lower resolution 12MP periscope telephoto lens (f/3.0) with up to 50x space zoom capabilities. It also supports OIS and 5X optical zoom. The third is a 12MP f/2.2 sensor with an ultra-wide lens with a field of view of 120˚.
Upfront, the smartphone features a 10MP sensor with dual pixel PDAF and support for up to 4K video recording (up to 60fps). Now that the specifications are out of the way, let us talk about the camera performance. Just like the S20 Ultra, even the Note 20 Ultra manages to impress with its photo quality. I shot a bunch of photos in different lighting conditions, and they offered crisp details along with punchy colors. One of the common problems when switching between wide and ultra-wide lenses is the inconsistency in color temperature and sky colors. But that is not the same in this case, which is impressive. Below are some camera samples.
Daylight: Great details, punchy colors
Though the primary camera is of 108MP resolution, it uses a 9×1 nona-binning technique to capture 12MP photos by default. These are about 5MB in size. If you want to click full 108MP resolution photos, you can manually choose the mode from the aspect ratio settings. Do note that these full-res photos are about 28MB in size.
Quality-wise, the camera offered great details and was able to capture the greenery, monsoon clouds and blue sky. The first photo below was captured using an ultra-wide lens, whereas the second one was captured using the main camera. The color consistency here is visible.
Samsung algorithms ensure color consistency even when switching between different lenses.
The next is a close-up photo of a leaf where even the thin strands and pores created by insects look detailed while the background is blurred.
Moving on, portrait photos are detailed too, and we can see some good separation between the background and the foreground. Edge detection of the camera is also good, where the area around the cat’s ears and each hair of mustache are clear too.
Zoom: Powerful and Capable
The 12MP telephoto lens can capture some good zoom shots. For zoom levels up to 4X, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra uses the 108MP main sensor as there are enough details that it can crop and zoom-in. Starting at 5X (manually pinch and zoom in the camera app between 5X and 10X), it switches to the telephoto lens. Above 10X and up to 50X, the smartphone offers digital zoom capabilities.
I would want to highlight that even at 50X, some photos are quite usable. Below are two sets of photos, the first where the focus is on a slide in the park some 80-100 meters away. The photos are shot in ultra-wide, 10X, 20X and 50X zoom levels. These are all handheld shots, and I had to ensure my hands were as steady as possible. It is impressive how the OIS and other algorithms work to offer a blur-free final photo. This is where I liked the Vivo X50 Pro’s Gimbal camera implementation a bit better as you do not have to ensure being too stable. Even the OIS along with periscope zoom system on Oppo Find X2 Pro did a great job in keeping the subject stable when taking zoom shots.
The second set of photos focus on a building about 800 meters away, and the zoom levels remain the same as the above. Clearly, in both cases, photos shot at 50X zoom level are not as sharp as the one at 20X level, but they are somewhat usable and show how capable the compact camera system is. These photos were shot keeping the phone on a railing to get stable shots. For capturing better zoom shots, using a tripod is recommended.
Photos up to 10X hybrid zoom levels offer good details while retaining colors.
This photo of a bird was captured from 15 meters, and even at 10X, the camera has done a good job capturing enough details to identify an Indian Myna.
Low-light: Impressive and sharp results
Low-light photos were impressive, offering good sharpness, color retention, and barely any graininess. The big pixel size helps in capturing more light, whereas the software algorithms fine-tune the image to show the power of computational photography.
Selfies: Excellent quality, indoors and outdoors
Lastly, the front camera on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra has been pretty impressive too, delivering excellent results. In daylight, the camera was able to capture accurate skin tone and background. Even edge detection in the portrait mode works well.
The third photo below was captured indoors in artificial light by placing the camera on a tripod. The camera has done an excellent job of capturing the colors of our skin tones, clothes, couch, and the highlight wall as well.
The front camera does a great job in capturing excellent selfies, irrespective of the lighting conditions.
S Pen: The Magic Wand is More Functional Now
Every year, Samsung brings new improvements to the S Pen stylus to make it even more functional. This year, Samsung has reduced the touch latency to just 9ms, thanks to the higher screen refresh rate. And it is not just about impressive numbers, you can notice the difference while writing on the Note 20 Ultra’s screen. The S Pen just glides over the screen smoothly as the virtual ink flows out of the stylus. The new “Air Actions” features and “Samsung Notes” enhance the experience even further.
With the Galaxy Note 9, Samsung introduced the Bluetooth feature in the S Pen. It allowed you to perform basic tasks like using the S Pen as a remote control for the camera, music and video apps. With the Note 10, Samsung added a gyroscope, unlocking motion gesture feature to zoom in and out in the camera app, increase and decrease media volume, and more.
So now, when you are on any screen or in any app, drawing an upside-down “V” will take you to the home screen, whereas drawing a “V” will open the smart select menu. Drawing zig-zag in the air will open the “Screen Write” menu. Similarly, drawing left and right arrow will take you “back” or open the “recent” menu. Under Settings > Advanced Features > S Pen > Air Actions, you can also change the default app that opens when you long press and hold the S Pen button.
These features may sound gimmicky, but they have been helpful at times. When clicking group selfies, I usually give the phone to the tallest guy in the group to hold so that everyone comes in the frame, and then use the S Pen to click photos. At times, when I am listening to music on a Bluetooth speaker and the phone is on charging on the desk, the S Pen comes in handy to change tracks, change volume and to play/pause music.
Air Actions is an interesting addition that comes in handy at times.
Samsung Notes: More Powerful with New and Interesting Features
Samsung has even updated the Notes app which is much more functional now. Until now, you could just jot down notes, and convert handwriting to text. With the new update, you can now annotate it with audio. For instance, you are in a meeting and jotting down notes. You can now record the audio too as you write. You can then look at your notes and play the audio to listen if you missed out on something. These are minor things that together make the Galaxy Note a powerful note-taking tool.
The other improvement comes in the form of shape detection. When taking notes, you may want to add some shapes like a circle, triangle, or square, and so on. It is a handy feature for those who like jotting down notes and figures the old school way.
Lastly, another new addition to the Samsung Notes app is the ability to convert your notes into different formats. These include PDF, Word, PowerPoint File, Image and Text files. The accuracy is not 100%, but it does the job well. I tried both ways to convert the notes into documents, but converting handwriting to text first, and then converting it into the desired document type offers better results.
The ability to convert handwritten notes to text and then into Word or PDF format makes the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra a unique productivity tool.
Samsung and Microsoft Partnership
The Galaxy Note series has always been positioned to be enterprise-grade and productivity-centric devices. The Note device excels with a powerful combination of a larger optimized display and the S-Pen to enhance the work-related tasks while on the move, right from note-taking to composing multimedia-rich emails. With the Galaxy Note 10 launch last year, Samsung announced a strategic partnership with Microsoft, the leader in productivity tools, cloud and services, to take the “work” experience on the Note devices to the next level.
Samsung complemented the pre-bundling of core Microsoft 365 apps on the Note devices with deeper integration of other Microsoft services such as OneDrive cloud and YourPhone companion app for seamless PC-to-smartphone connectivity, cloud syncing and continuity.
With the Note 20, the integration deepens across multiple fronts:
Email and calendar: Outlook emails and calendar syncs with Samsung calendar and is backed up in the cloud, making it eternally available across devices.
Notes: Samsung Notes syncs into the OneNote app. OneNote feed into the Outlook on the web will be available soon.
Gallery: Samsung Gallery now seamlessly backs up all the photos and videos into the OneDrive Cloud to easily access the collection across devices.
Xbox: A special version of the Xbox Game Pass app in Galaxy Store will allow players to make in-app purchases, like DLC items and skins, potentially bypassing Google Play store’s 30% commission. Further, Samsung is also offering a gaming bundle that includes three months of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate and PowerA’s MOGA XP5-X Plus gamepad accessory optimized for the Microsoft xCloud game-streaming service. This could potentially extend to Samsung TVs for cross-device play continuity over the cloud.
Reminders: Samsung Reminders will be able to sync across Microsoft To Do, Outlook and Teams apps.
YourPhone App: The deeper integration of Galaxy devices with the YourPhone app on a Windows 10 PC is one of the missing pieces of cross-device continuity between a smartphone and PC.
This integration with Windows 10 allows the user to access the Galaxy phone’s notifications and messages, and receive or make calls directly from the PC. The user can also access, edit and share pictures in the phone’s gallery directly from the YourPhone app on the Windows PC.
It also gives you full access for interaction with the applications installed on your phone right within your PC easily with the mouse and keyboard. You can pin the Android apps to the Windows Taskbar or Start menu for quick access.
Further, you can start browsing or copying text on your mobile and continue the browsing or paste the copied clipboard seamlessly on your phone-linked PC applications.
This eliminates the need to unlock, pick up and touch your phone a zillion times while you are working.
The partnership thus allows users to remotely access Microsoft 365 cloud, applications and services on the go to remain productive for work and play with Microsoft’s Xbox offerings. This fills in a big gap for Samsung to differentiate in the crowded Android space and boost the overall value proposition with a highly complementary and meaningful partnership with Microsoft.
Conclusion: The Premium Do-everything Business Phone
Overall, Samsung has done a fantastic job with the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G. It is undoubtedly the ultimate Android flagship of 2020. From the Dynamic AMOLED panel with adaptive 120Hz screen refresh rate to the powerful camera setup with 50x zoom capabilities, powerful hardware and cloud gaming capabilities, the smartphone offers the best premium experience. The enhanced S Pen features, 5G and Microsoft integration sweeten the deal further for casual and business users.
However, there are a few areas where there is room for improvement. For instance, the camera bump could have been a bit thinner. The 4,500mAh battery offers good endurance but it could have been better. Talking about charging speeds, Samsung can bump the current 25W fast-wired charging speeds to 45W, 65W or even more, like its competitors such as Huawei, OPPO and realme.
Also Read: Strategic Reviews and Insights on The Latest Smartphones
This week, OnePlus launched its mid-year refresh model in the OnePlus 8 series, the OnePlus 8T. OnePlus has released “T” models since the OnePlus 3T in 2016. Last year, OnePlus also added a “T Pro” model, but the same has been omitted this year.
OnePlus 8 vs OnePlus 8T
The OnePlus 8T comes with a fast Snapdragon 865 processor, a 6.55” 120Hz AMOLED display, quad rear camera configuration, 12GB LPDDR4ZX RAM and 256GB UFS 3.1 storage, all for $749 in the US. It is also the first non-Pixel device that will ship with Android 11 via OnePlus’ own OxygenOS. The custom OS features updates to its Zen Mode, Dark Mode, a new Always on Display (AOD), and even a partnership with Bitmoji for custom avatars. While there were no headphones in the box, one of the biggest brags is the new Warp Charge 65 charger that comes with the device promising extremely fast charging.
120Hz displays becoming more prominent
The OnePlus 8T’s AMOLED display is very vibrant, extremely smooth and very responsive, thanks to the 120Hz refresh rate display just like its older sibling, the OnePlus 8 Pro. In the US carrier market, there are only five smartphones that come with a 120Hz refresh rate display, and they are all from Samsung. These include the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra and the S20 series of devices (including the recent S20 Fan Edition). In the unlocked segment, there are gaming devices from Razer, Asus ROG and ZTE Nubia (the first 5G 144Hz smartphone), and lastly the OnePlus 8 Pro. While there are other 120Hz devices in the market, the above smartphones are the ones available in the US market.
Gaming smartphones were the first devices that pushed refresh rates higher than the standard 60Hz. However, they did not garner mainstream attention in the US as they did not perform as well as the “normal” flagship devices in the market. Now, OEMs such as Samsung, OnePlus, Google and Motorola are all incorporating higher refresh rate displays into their smartphones as they improve the overall viewing experience for certain apps, games, and even just scrolling through your home screen. However, not all high refresh rate displays are created equal. Software and processing capabilities both play big role in making the viewing experience as smooth as possible while not compromising on battery life or other factors. OnePlus has partnered with Pixelworks to help create the best possible visual performance for its latest devices.
Warp Charge 65: One charger to rule them all
Warp Charge 65 promises up to 58% battery charging in 15 minutes, and 100% charging in under 40 minutes. In comparison, Warp Charge 30, which was released with the OnePlus 8 and OnePlus 8 Pro, reaches 50% in 23 minutes. However, just like the OnePlus 8, the 8T does not include wireless charging, something which was likely done to save on space and price, given the emphasis on the 8.4mm thickness of the device and the sub-$750 price tag. Nevertheless, during the last week of testing the device, the 65W charger delivered blazing fast charging times and even helped in a pinch when my laptop battery was dying. Fast charging smartphones do not need to (and really should not) be plugged in overnight. Instead, these devices can simply be charged in the morning between brushing your teeth and making coffee. OnePlus has developed its own fast charging technology in partnership with Qualcomm. And while it is great that phones are charged at even faster speeds with every iteration, the biggest improvements are really in the charger itself. I am looking forward to having more “universal” chargers that can pull double or even triple charging duty.
OnePlus 8T with AOD enabled, USB-C cord, Warp Charge 65 power adapter, and cyan bumper case
A phone for gamers
OnePlus has always enjoyed a dedicated fanbase and the company actively fosters this community through heavy engagement and interactions. Gamers are a segment of consumers that OnePlus wants to target with its devices. That is why the 8T has a large vapor cooling chamber to help keep the device from heating up too much while playing games. While I couldn’t confirm it during my testing time, OnePlus promises to have Fortnite run at 90 FPS just like on the OnePlus 8 and OnePlus 8 Pro. Playing Fortnite on the OnePlus 8 Pro, the 90 FPS wasn’t consistent and dropped to the 60-70 FPS range at times, but still provided a smoother overall experience. Many other games also cannot run higher than 60 FPS at the moment. Other gaming features include a “Fnatic mode”, which optimizes the gaming performance, and a flat display which helps with visibility compared to the curved displays of the OnePlus 8 and 8 Pro. Curved displays, while aesthetically better looking, tend to have slight color distortions at the edges of the screens. OnePlus has been trying to reach a wider base, especially since it has entered carrier channels. It is hard for smaller OEMs to capture mind share in these carrier channels, and OnePlus hopes to carve out some share through this gaming angle.
Fortnite on the OnePlus 8T at 30 FPS
T-Mobile: Exclusive carrier of OnePlus 8T
T-Mobile is releasing a custom version of the OnePlus 8T, called the OnePlus 8T+ 5G. The device is almost identical to the unlocked version that is selling on the OnePlus website as well as Amazon. The only difference is that the 8T+ has an IP68 rating while the unlocked one doesn’t. T-Mobile is also emphasizing how the device can tap into both the 600 MHz 5G and 2.5 GHz 5G bands. However, both versions of the device support the n41 band. The device costs $749.99, which is just 99 cents more expensive than the unlocked version, despite the added IP68 rating. The 8T will be $150 more expensive than the OnePlus 8 which is also sold at T-Mobile. But it will have a hard time competing against the Samsung S20 FE, which is $50 cheaper at $699.99 and also comes with the same Snapdragon 865 chip and 120Hz refresh rate AMOLED display.
Conclusion: Solid specs but only a minor upgrade from OnePlus 8
Overall, the OnePlus 8T is a solid device that can hold its own compared to other flagship phones sporting a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processor. However, the device only has slight upgrades compared to the OnePlus 8, the main differences being the 120 Hz refresh rate, slightly larger battery, an additional monochrome camera, a wider ultra-wide camera lens, and an upgraded 5MP macro camera. At $50 more than the OnePlus 8, arguably the cost difference is low enough that people will just buy the 8T. However, the biggest feature worth the upgrade is the Warp Charge 65 power adapter. Getting a day’s worth of charge in just 15 minutes is a big boast and OnePlus has executed this brilliantly.
The Vivo TWS Neo offers 88ms low-latency connection.
The TWS earphones support Bluetooth 5.2 and aptX Adaptive codec.
Vivo is promising up to 22.5 hours of total audio playback.
Soon after smartphone brands like Apple and Samsung entered the TWS market, many others are also entering the fast-growing hearables segment. The list of brands includes Oppo, Vivo, Xiaomi and OnePlus. We recently reviewed the Oppo Enco W31 TWS earbuds, which come at below $60, and were impressed with their performance. Today, we are taking a closer look at the Vivo TWS Neo earbuds that were launched alongside the Vivo X50 Pro smartphone and are priced around $80.
For the price, Vivo is offering Bluetooth 5.2 connectivity along with support for Qualcomm’s aptX Adaptive codec. The TWS earbuds also come with AI noise canceling feature to enjoy crystal clear calls and music listening experience when outdoors. While all this sounds good on paper, does it deliver?
Compact and Easy to Carry Case
The earbuds case is small, compact and has a pebble-shaped design. The earbuds magnetically snap inside the case and have the charging contact points at the bottom of the stem. The case has a glossy finish to it, which makes it slippery if your palms are sweaty.
It has a USB Type-C port at the bottom for charging and a small, circular button on the front which indicates the charge status using an LED light. Long-pressing the button for over five seconds puts the TWS earbuds in pairing mode.
Design and Comfort: One Size Does Not Fit All
The Vivo TWS Neo earbuds feature a half in-ear design, something that was made popular by the Apple AirPods. But this design has a major problem – at least for some people like me. The earbuds are made of plastic and have a glossy finish to them. They have stem popping out of the ear, and while it should offer better support to keep the earbuds in place, the reality is the opposite.
The “one-size-fits-all” approach does not work well here. The fact that the half in-ear design does not have silicon tips to attach makes it difficult for everyone to get a comfortable fit. For me, the earbuds would constantly keep slipping out of my ear, even with little movement.
One of the days, I was having tea with some biscuits and watching a video on the phone with the earbuds plugged in. A few bites of the biscuits, and the jaw movement pushed the earbuds to fall out. On another day, I sneezed a couple of times, and both earbuds fell out. Despite all this, I dared to go on a walk wearing the Vivo TWS Neo. But within 100 meters of walking, one of them fell out, with the other almost on the verge.
This half in-ear design is not meant for my ears. My sister had no such issues. Even after jumping and skipping a few times, the earbuds did not fall off her ears. For my type of ears, the ones with in-ear canal type TWS earphones work well.
How comfortably the earbuds fit in your ears differs from person to person.
Gesture Controls: Not Too Intuitive with a Loose Fit
Vivo has included gesture control features where you can adjust the volume by swiping up or down on the stem of either of the earbuds. This can be changed via the Vivo earphones app on Android smartphones. But if you have a Vivo X50-series smartphone, you can find the settings under Bluetooth.
For me, as the fit was loose, the earbuds would always come out whenever I used to swipe to adjust the volume. You can also configure the single tap and double-tap gestures to play/pause and skip tracks. There is also an earphone detection mode which will automatically pause music when you remove the earbuds and start the playback as soon as you put them back in your ears. Also, as it does not use a master/slave type of connection, you can also use a single earbud to listen to music or take calls.
If the fit in your ears is loose, the gesture controls are not too intuitive.
Performance: Sounds the Best Only on Vivo Phones
During my review period, I connected the earbuds with the Vivo X50 Pro first for a couple of weeks. Then I switched between the Galaxy Note 10+ and Asus ZenBook laptop. While they are compatible with multiple devices, the one thing I noticed is that the earbuds work the best with the Vivo smartphone. You also get advanced Sound Effect options such as Clear Voice, Mega Bass and Clear High Pitch.
To get the best audio experience, the fit of the earbuds plays an important role. The half open-ear design also means no passive noise isolation, and so, you will not be able to enjoy the proper audio experience. When connected to the Vivo phone, the audio sounded much better as you get aptX Adaptive Audio codec by default. On the Samsung phone, it did not latch on to the aptX codec, even after enabling it in Developer Options.
Talking about performance, focus tracks included Miracle Love by DJ Project. I was streaming the track in high-quality on Spotify. Vocals and mids sounded crisp, but the bass was weak. I played the same track on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G (AAC codec), and while the output was a bit louder, the audio sounded a bit boomy. However, the bass seemed a little balanced here. For the rest of the tracks, I used the Vivo X50 Pro only.
Moving on, Memories of Love by Synkro offered wide soundstaging, slightly punchy bass and crisp highs. Overall audio experience was good here. Time by Pink Floyd sounded good and I could easily distinguish between the different instruments that were playing in the background. However, that punch in bass was missing, and that could be because the earbuds do not offer proper passive noise isolation.
Audio on the TWS Neo sounds better when used with a Vivo smartphone.
Call Quality: Good For Calls, Not for Discord
I tested the call quality in two different ways. While on voice calls, the person could hear me clearly and I could too. But I cannot say the same when using Discord while playing PUBG Mobile. The recipient always complained about low audio. I tried both on Vivo and Samsung phones, but the issue continued, and I think it could be something related to Discord. But I play daily, and this does not happen when using other TWS headphones.
Battery Life: Can Go Days Without Charging
Vivo claims that the TWS Neo can offer a total battery life of 22.5 hours. Individually, the buds can offer up to 4.5 hours. During my testing, I was constantly getting four hours of battery life here. The carry case added three full charges. On average, I was using the earbuds for about two-and-a-half hours a day, and I was easily able to go for one full week without charging. You can check the battery level of individual earbuds in the app. Sadly, it does not show the battery level of the case.
Average of two hours of usage on full charge makes the earbuds battery last for about a week.
Conclusion: Good Attempt, With Room For Improvement
For Vivo’s first attempt, the TWS Neo fares well. It offers good audio experience on Vivo flagship phones, but the experience on other smartphones could have been better. As I mentioned in my review, the half in-ear design may not fit everyone’s ears, so that should be your consideration before buying one. On the design front, Vivo could go for in-ear canal ones for its next earbuds.
Stable connectivity with Bluetooth 5.2 support and aptX codec on compatible smartphones works in its favor. Battery life is also good for its segment. Similar to its competition, adding wireless charging on the case along with a fast-charging feature could be a good addition for the successor. Vivo could take some hints from competitors such as the OPPO Enco W31, OnePlus Buds and the Mi True Wireless Earphones to make the next earbuds better.
Also Read: Strategic Reviews and Insights on The Latest Smartphones
The TWS earbuds offer an IP57 rating for water and dust resistance.
Jabra is promising over 28 hours of overall battery life.
Sound+ app lets you customize audio and other features.
The True Wireless Stereo (TWS) headphones are all the rage these days. Right from top audio companies and smartphone makers, manufacturers are releasing TWS hearables at an ever-increasing rate. Jabra is one of the popular names in the audio industry, and the company’s Elite 65t and Elite Active 65t TWS earbuds were very well received and set a high bar for the latest Jabra Elite Active 75t to surpass. Priced around $250, the Elite Active 75t offers better durability and water resistance to cater to sports enthusiasts. But just how good are they? Our review finds out.
Design: Attractive, Dust- and Water-resistant
A lot of TWS earbuds available today are sweatproof, meaning you can wear them when working out. But they are not waterproof. The Jabra Elite Active 75t is specially designed for athletes and sports enthusiasts, and so it comes with an IP57 rating. This rating makes it sweat-, dust- and water-resistant. So, whether there are light showers or heavy rain, you can wear these earbuds and go out without any fear.
Design-wise, the Elite Active 75t looks similar to the Elite Active 65t, but with a smaller form factor. Both these models are made of plastic and do not have any stem as most TWS earbuds. Jabra had sent me the Navy Blue color variant and it looks and feels good.
The charging case is compact and easy to keep in your pocket. It is made of plastic and has a rubberized finish to it which helps in keeping smudges away. The case has a magnetic lid, and magnetic connectors inside to keep the earbuds locked in. On the backside of the case, you get a USB Type-C charging port and an LED indicator.
Sleek design, comfortable fit and IP57 rating make the Active 75t stand out in the segment.
Comfort, Controls and Features
The earbuds are lightweight and snugly fit into the ears. This allows for comfort and passive noise isolation as well. Jabra has also bundled three silicon tips (small, medium and large), allowing you to choose one based on your comfort and needs. During my usage, I was wearing the earbuds for over three hours at a stretch daily and did not feel any fatigue.
Each earbud has a circular button to control music playback and other features. These buttons have Jabra branding on them and an LED light indicator to show battery, pairing and connection status. The buttons produce a nice click when you press them. You can press and hold a button on the left earbud to decrease volume, whereas doing the same on the right earbud increases the volume.
You can also single press, double press and triple press the buttons to play/pause tracks, skip or reverse tracks, or summon the voice assistant. These clicks can also be used to accept or reject incoming calls or put an ongoing call on hold. All these settings can be configured using the Sound+ app, which is available on both Android and iOS platforms.
The Elite Active 75t has a lot of customizable button controls, but they can also get too confusing initially.
However, these many press-button control options can also prove to be complicated. I would often press the wrong button to skip tracks or to summon the voice assistant, simply because I forgot the combination.
The Sound+ app also has other settings, including a bunch of equalizer options to customize your listening experience. Secondly, there is a “hear through” mode that lets you be aware of the surrounding noise, which can come in handy when commuting or running outdoors. It enables you to listen to vehicles passing by, metro announcements, or takeaway orders at a restaurant. I found it to be quite useful. The app also lets you adjust how much of the surrounding noise you can hear.
Lastly, the app also has an option called “Soundscapes” that lets you mask the noise around you. For instance, you can activate waterfall, ventilation fan, ocean wave, storm or rain sounds among others. It is something that you can also use to bring down the anxiety levels.
Soundscapes is a great addition, not something you will get with other TWS earbuds.
Performance: Will Leave You Impressed
A good pair of TWS headphones will let you enjoy your music-listening and binge-watching experience, among other features. And the Jabra Elite Active 75t does exactly that. Throughout the review period of a month, I had been using the earbuds to connect with the Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ and an Asus Zenbook laptop. But most of the time, it was connected to the smartphone only. I listened to different genres of music, streaming high-quality audio across Spotify and Apple Music apps.
Talking about audio quality, David Guetta’s Dangerous offered crisp highs and punchy bass, while the mids were perfectly balanced. Moving to deep house music, Dissensions – Wood Remix by Ben Bohmer offered raw thumping bass without overpowering the highs and mids. Even the reverb effects were pretty neat.
Moving on to some calm and relaxing music, Angels in the Sky by Oliver Shanti sounded peaceful. The instruments were audible, and so were the waves splashing in the background. Lastly, the Temple of Silence by Deuter offered a wide soundstage and crisp vocals, while not overpowering the background instruments.
Thumping bass with balanced audio will surely appeal to a lot of listeners.
Connectivity-wise, there was no issue either. Bluetooth 5.0 ensures a stable connection. I was able to enjoy uninterrupted music even when I was about 15 to 20 feet away. The earbuds support both SBC and AAC audio codecs. Sadly, there is no aptX connectivity.
Call quality was also good and the recipient could hear me properly. I play PUBG Mobile daily with my nephews and we chat on Discord when gaming. During one session, there was a carpenter working at my place, with a bit of cutting and hammering noise creating disturbance. But the mics were able to minimize the noise so that the recipient could hear me well.
Good Battery Life on the Earbuds, and Some More with the Case
Jabra says the earbuds can offer up to seven-and-a-half hours of battery life on a single charge. During my usage, I got close to seven hours and 10 minutes of usage, which is not bad. The charging case offers up to three additional charges, which means you can roughly get 26 to 27 hours of total listening time. Jabra also offers fast charging, where 15 minutes of charging gives you up to 50 minutes of listening time. A full charge takes about two hours and 30 minutes, both for the case and earbuds. You can check the battery percentage of the earbuds and the case in the Sound+ app.
The Elite Active 75t offers above-average battery life. Fast charging is a bonus.
Conclusion: Impressive Design, Good Sound and Above Average Battery Life
A successor to the Elite Active 65t, the Jabra Elite Active 75t does a great job of refining quality and performance. The TWS earbuds offer a comfortable fit while offering excellent noise isolation. Competitors such as the Apple AirPods Pro and Sony WF-1000XM3 also offer Active Noise Cancellation features, but the Elite Active 75t does a good job with passive noise cancellation.
The TWS earbuds offer crisp and detailed audio along with punchy and powerful bass. The hear-through mode is a good addition and so is the Soundscapes mode. With good battery life and clear voice quality on calls, the Elite Active 75t offers a complete package for TWS buyers. The IP57 rating is an added advantage for water and dust resistance.
However, there are a couple of areas the TWS earbuds miss out on. They have sensors for wear detection to automatically pause playback when you remove them from your ears. You can just use one earbud to listen to music or talk on the calls. But sadly, the Elite Active 75t uses a master and slave type of connection, which means you can only use the right earbud for mono-listening. It would have been better if Jabra allowed using either of the earbuds.
Secondly, gesture control on earbuds for controlling a few features, such as swipe up and down for increasing or decreasing volume, could have been better. There were times when I wanted to increase the volume, but as I pressed and held the button on the right earbud for a few seconds, it turned off instead of increasing the volume. These are minor refinements that would make the product even better.
Also Read: Strategic Reviews and Insights on The Latest Smartphones
The OnePlus Nord sports a 6.44-inch FHD+ display with 90Hz refresh rate.
It is powered by a Snapdragon 765G SoC with up to 12GB RAM, 256GB storage.
To keep things ticking is a 4,115mAh battery with 30W Warp Charging.
Chinese smartphone company OnePlus makes some of the most value-for-money smartphones with a self-proclaimed tagline “Flagship Killer”. The smartphones offer the right balance between performance and features, and cost significantly less than the Apple iPhones, Samsung Galaxies and Huawei smartphones. In fact, over the years, OnePlus smartphones have matured from “flagship killers to flagships”. In India, OnePlus leads the premium segment, followed by Samsung and Apple. But, in this whole process, a gap got left behind, that too in the segment where OnePlus started its journey. The latest OnePlus Nord is the company’s attempt at “going back to its roots” and competing in the hotly contested mid-premium segment.
With prices starting at around $400, the OnePlus Nord does bring a set of tradeoffs. There is no wireless charging, no IPXX rating, no stereo speakers, and no flagship chipset. But the OnePlus Nord does come with 5G connectivity. It also brings all the OnePlus goodness such as clean and customizable OxygenOS UI and Warp Charging technology. From the 90Hz screen refresh rate to 48MP quad rear cameras with OIS and dual front cameras, there is a lot to like about the Nord. OnePlus is also promising two years of Android OS upgrades and three years of security updates.
But what makes the OnePlus Nord special in its segment? Well, after using the smartphone for over two weeks, I can say that a lot is working in its favor. But before I get to the design and performance part, let me first talk about why OnePlus “Nord” exists.
What does Nord mean?
When I first heard the product name, I had two thoughts in my mind. It either had to do something with the Nordic countries or something with the Nord VPN. Maybe a phone with a built-in VPN for better privacy. But ahead of the launch, OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei revealed the reason behind the product naming.
“Nord name comes from the concept of true north. We each have this inner compass that guides us. This product line reminds us to always search for our true north, and we hope it will keep reminding you of yours,” Carl Pei tweeted. So, can the Nord guide OnePlus to success? Let’s find out.
Design: Realme X50 Pro Lite in the Making
It is no secret that OnePlus and Realme share parts of the supply chain, design, and the manufacturing line with Oppo. Despite the various prototypes that OnePlus experimented with the Nord, it finally went with a design that closely resembles the Realme X50 Pro and Realme X3 SuperZoom. I do not have much to complain, except that nothing is refreshing considering the new product line and the company’s ambitions.
The Nord features a front and back glass design protected with Corning Gorilla Glass 5. But unlike other OnePlus smartphones that feature a metal frame, the Nord comes with a hard plastic frame with a shiny metal finish. It does not bother much to me as it makes the phone a little lighter to hold compared to other 5G phones, like the Realme X50 Pro. The front is dominated by a 6.44-inch screen, but more on that later. It also comes with a dual hole-punch selfie camera cutout on the top left. There are rounded corners on all four sides, with very thin bezels. Despite having a taller screen, the Nord feels compact and comfortable to hold.
The placement of buttons is also good enough for easy accessibility, and they offer good tactile feedback too. The volume rocker is on the left, whereas the power/sleep button is on the right. Just above the power button is the alert slider to quickly switch between volume profiles (ring, vibrate and silence).
Along the back is a vertical, pill-shaped quad-camera module and LED flash on the top left. The rest of the back is clean with the OnePlus logo in the center and branding at the bottom. OnePlus sent me the Blue Marble color unit for review, and it looks refreshing. There is also a Grey Onyx color.
The Blue Marble color gives the OnePlus Nord a distinct look and feel.
Display: 90Hz Screen Refresh Rate and More
The display runs at Full HD+ resolution, 1080×2400 pixels, and a tall 20:9 aspect ratio. The screen has a refresh rate of 90Hz, and it supports HDR10+ as well. It offers good viewing angles, vibrant color reproduction, and legibility is no issue either. The high refresh rate makes animations, web scrolling and UI navigation quite smooth.
OnePlus lets you choose between Vivid, Natural and Advanced screen profiles depending on your needs. There is also a “Reading Mode” which turns the screen into a greyscale mode. If you are reading e-books or a long article on some site, activating the reading mode will ensure less strain on your eyes.
Software: OxygenOS with Promised Software Updates and Upgrades
The Android OS is used by hundreds of OEMs, but only a handful of them offer timely software updates. Besides Nokia HMD, OnePlus is also known to offer timely OS upgrades and monthly security patches to its smartphones. The Nord runs on Android 10 with a July security patch. And despite offering a lot of customization options, the OxygenOS 10.5 also offers close to stock Android experience with just a couple of pre-installed apps.
The UI feels super smooth, thanks to the hardware and software optimization. A lot of credit also goes to the 90Hz screen refresh rate which makes the whole experience better. The interface is smooth, and scrolling through web pages is fluid too. Another thing I like about OxygenOS is how easy it is to customize different aspects, right from accent color to the tone, system icons and fonts among others.
Then there are some interesting additions in the form of Game Space, which optimizes the CPU, GPU and RAM for a lag-free performance. There is also a Fnatic mode that supercharges the smartphone with network enhancements while activating the DND mode for a distraction-free gaming experience.
Another thing I like is the Zen Mode. In the current COVID-19 times, we spend more time on our phones, and it is important to get some digital detox. The Zen Mode does exactly that – it locks you out of your smartphone for 20-60 minutes, depending on what you choose. Once activated, you will only be able to make and receive emergency calls, and all apps except the camera will be temporarily locked.
The OxygenOS skin offers the best of near-stock Android experience with a dash of customization.
Performance: So Much More For Less
The Nord is the first OnePlus smartphone that does not sport a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800-series chipset. It draws its power from a 7nm Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G SoC, which is paired with up to 12GB of LPDDR4X RAM and up to 256GB UFS 2.1 storage. Coming to performance, the OnePlus Nord may not be the fastest, but it does show what the 765G SoC is capable of. It can be comparable to the Snapdragon 845 SoC, but with a 7nm process node, the 765G is a bit more efficient too. We have already seen how smoothly the chipset performs in our Vivo X50 Pro review, and the experience is the same on the Nord too.
Right from daily tasks like surfing the internet to social media or multitasking, the Nord handles things well. The gaming experience on the smartphone is also smooth. I had no issues running games such as PUBG Mobile, Alto’s Odessey and Hill Climb 2 among others. One of the things I like here is how well optimized the battery management and thermals are on the smartphone.
The Snapdragon 765G SoC offers a good mix of performance and efficiency, along with 5G connectivity.
I played PUBG Mobile at a stretch for two hours with graphics at HD and frame rate at high. Even with this usage, the phone barely got warm, and the battery drain was just 36%. This was with the standard gaming mode. However, occasional frame lags were noticeable. OnePlus has also included the Fnatic mode, which supercharges the phone in terms of allocating more resources for gaming. It also blocks unwanted calls and other notifications for a distraction-free gaming experience. The Fnatic mode did make things smoother.
Cameras: Surprisingly Good, Especially Low-Light
Though the Nord is not a flagship smartphone, OnePlus is offering a flagship camera experience. It comes with a quad-camera set-up at the back and dual cameras on the front. The Nord is also one of the first smartphones in its segment to come with optical image stabilization (OIS) to let you capture blur-free photos and smooth videos. The primary camera is a Sony IMX586 sensor (f/1.8), which is also present on OnePlus 8. It is a 48MP sensor that captures 4×1 binned shots in 12MP resolution by default. But there is also an option to capture full-res photos that take three times more space than standard 12MP shots.
In terms of quality, photos captured from the primary camera offer good details. As it is monsoon, I did not get to test the camera to see how it performs in harsh sunlight. But with the cloudy weather and all, the camera was able to capture the greenery pretty well. Though there is no telephoto lens, the Nord does let you capture 2X digital zoom shots, and they look good. It uses the 48MP sensor to capture full-res images and the crop. Below are some camera samples.
The primary camera performs well in low-light conditions. But to get better shots, you will need to use the nightscape mode. From the photos I captured, the nightscape mode photos are sharper, brighter and look vibrant too. Though the photos look a little oversaturated, I like how OnePlus has fine-tuned the algorithms. The overall quality looks sharp and better.
“The primary camera offers good overall performance in daylight and low light.”
The other three cameras include an 8MP sensor, an ultra-wide lens, a 5MP depth sensor and a 2MP macro lens. Photos shot from the ultra-wide lens are decent in daylight, but they suffer in dim lighting conditions. The depth sensor works well in adding background defocus to your photos. Edge detection is good too, and there are no complaints there.
Portrait mode photos offer a shallow depth of field, though having an option to adjust the blur intensity would have been better.
Lastly, while most OEMs use the ultra-wide camera for capturing macro photos, OnePlus has added a dedicated 2MP macro lens. But as it is a low-resolution sensor, the photos are not that sharp and vibrant. The photo quality is just passable.
Smooth Videos, But Not The Best
Now, having OIS makes recording smooth videos easier, even with 4K 60fps. Though it does not match the smoothness offered by a gimbal, the video quality is decent for handheld videos. But for better footage, 1080p at 30fps works well.
OnePlus has also included a super stable mode that uses a combination of OIS and EIS (electronic image stabilization). Though videos are slightly smoother, they are not sharp and a lot of graininess is visible too.
Good Selfies and Videos From Front Cameras
Upfront, the Nord comes with two cameras in a hole-punch set-up. The primary camera is a 32MP sensor, and it is paired with an 8MP ultra-wide sensor. Selfies look good, but the AI is a little aggressive in making the skin tone a little brighter. But it does work well in hiding the dark spots and blemishes to an extent.
The ultra-wide-angle camera is also good in retaining quality even with the drop in resolution. Below are some sample shots.
One of the interesting things about the front camera is that you can also record 4K 60fps videos. One small caveat is that you can only use the main camera for video recording, not the ultra-wide one. But that is not a problem as such, and the video recording and audio quality is surprisingly good.
4K 60fps videos from the front camera are good enough for vlogging newbies.
Battery: One Full Day, and Some More
Talking about the battery life, the OnePlus Nord is equipped with a 4,115mAh unit. It also supports 30W fast charging tech which the company claims goes from 0 to 70% in just 30 minutes. In my test, the battery rose from 2% to 64% in just about 32 minutes. Full charging took about one hour and eight minutes, which is not bad at all.
The battery life on OnePlus Nord is pretty solid.
With a mixed usage that includes heavy gaming for two hours, social media, and web surfing, the Nord easily lasts a day with about 28% battery to spare at night. Without gaming, the Nord with me lasted for a day and a half over the weekend. In terms of screen time, I constantly got around six-and-a-half hours of usage, and sometimes some more.
Conclusion: Good Things Come in Small, Affordable Package
Apple reworked its iPhone strategy to capture the lower-tier market with a value-for-money proposition with the iPhone SE. OnePlus is trying to create the same magic in the Android world. The OnePlus Nord has all the required ammunition in its arsenal to succeed. Available in the emerging markets like India, and other markets such as Spain, France and the UK, it will largely miss the North American market. But given the markets OnePlus is targeting, the Nord has better chances to emerge as a winner.
That said, the Nord is not perfect. The cameras could have been a bit better. Instead of going for a quad-rear camera set-up, OnePlus should have gone with a triple camera set-up like the OnePlus 8, while using the ultra-wide sensor as a macro lens. Having an IPXX rating for splash resistance could have been welcome. OnePlus should also work towards fine-tuning the video camera algorithms, especially with the super stable mode. A stereo speaker set-up would have been a better addition as well for a better multimedia experience. But beyond these, there is nothing much to complain at this price point.
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The Vivo X50 Pro comes with a unique camera gimbal stabilization mechanism.
Under the hood is a Snapdragon 765G 5G SoC with 8GB RAM and 256GB storage.
The phone has a dual-curved screen with a 90Hz refresh rate.
Smartphone photography has come a long way over the last decade. And while most smartphones can capture great still photos, they are not that good when it comes to videos. Despite having electronic and optical image stabilization features, you may still need a gimbal to capture smooth, cinematic footage. The recently launched Vivo X50 Pro tries to address the issue with the world’s first and unique camera gimbal stabilization. With quad rear cameras, Vivo also wants to offer a complete smartphone camera experience in a small package. But does it succeed? Well, I have been putting the smartphone through its paces for the past couple of weeks, and here is what I think.
Vivo tested the waters with V19 in the premium segment, and has seen some success. With the X50 Pro, Vivo has entered the ultra-premium segment (around $600). The smartphone features a curved screen with high refresh rate, sub-6GHz 5G connectivity, a fast-charging battery, and much more. Priced around $670, it will compete with the likes of OnePlus 8, Xiaomi Mi 10, Oppo Find X2. Each of these smartphones has different positioning and unique selling points. All competition devices come with the flagship Snapdragon 865 SoC, and feature 5G connectivity as well. OnePlus 8 also has a special UW (Ultra Wideband) variant for Verizon in the US which offers mmWave connectivity. But in most markets, the company is selling the Sub-6GHz variant.
The OnePlus smartphone offers a 90Hz screen refresh rate, premium design and triple rear cameras at the back. The company has worked with Pixelworks to offer better viewing experience in the form of HDR10+ support, better color preproduction and more. The Mi 10’s USP is the 108MP primary camera developed with Samsung. It also features a too of the line hardware, and comes with 30W wired, 30W wireless and 10W wireless reverse charging support.
The Oppo Find X2 offers a 120Hz screen refresh rate, Snapdragon 865 SoC with 5G and 65W fast charging. Unlike the competition smartphones that feature a glass back, the Oppo smartphone comes with a ceramic back. Besides, the smartphone also offers a versatile triple camera setup at the back.
Lastly, the Android ultra-premium segment cannot be complete without a Samsung smartphone. The South Korean smartphone giant has the flagship Galaxy S20 which comes with a Snapdragon 865 or Exynos 990 SoC, which is region dependent. The smartphone also comes with 5G connectivity in markets where the next-gen connectivity, and in markets like India, you get 4G LTE model. It features wireless charging, 120Hz screen refresh rate and more.
Now, coming back to the Vivo X50 Pro, there is a lot to talk about, right from the design to the display, performance, and cameras. But with photography being the highlight, I will start with that.
Vivo X50 Pro Cameras: A Setup with Multiple Possibilities
Smooth and Stabilized Videos With a Catch
The X50 Pro comes with a quad-camera system at the back. The primary camera has a custom Sony IMX598 with f/1.6 aperture and a gimbal camera mechanism. Vivo says, “It uses double-ball suspension mount and mechanical movement to achieve flexible 3D stabilization and can cover angles 300% larger than traditional OIS.” It compensates for the jerks when you are moving to deliver smooth and fluid footage. While that is mostly beneficial when recording videos, the gimbal also comes handy when clicking still photos, especially the handheld long exposure night shots.
Talking about the quality, the video footage I recorded was smooth. But it worked well at FHD and HD resolutions with 30fps. As it is mechanical stabilization, it should even work when you are recording 4K videos at 60fps. But the footage was not as smooth as you would get with Full HD or HD resolution. Vivo has also included an ultra-steady mode which uses software-based processing algorithms to deliver even smoother footage, and it worked well. The audio quality is also good and clear. There is an Art Portrait mode for videos that has two features — one that adds bokeh effects to your videos, and the other that keeps subject in color and the background in black-and-white. These are fun modes to try.
Video stabilization with the ultra-steady mode is much better than typical OIS.
But there are two small problems that I would like to highlight here. When you have the phone attached to the gimbal, panning along the X-axis is smooth as the motor makes the gimbal move along your movement. But the same is not easily possible with the Vivo X50 Pro, and jerks and jitteriness are visible while panning and with movements if they too sudden. Secondly, the auto-white balance goes for a toss most times, something that Vivo needs to fine tune. Below is a sample footage.
Still Photography: Worth A Shot
Wide, Ultra-Wide and Periscope
The 48MP primary camera sensor uses a 4×1 pixel binning technique to click 12MP default photos. These are about 4MB in size. There is also a separate option to click full 48MP photos, and they are about 10-12MB in size. Talking about the quality, the camera performs surprisingly well. In daylight, it captures great details and the dynamic range is good too. The AI makes the colors look vibrant, but a bit of purple fringing is noticeable, especially if you look at the clouds in the sample shots. This is likely because the AI is going a little aggressive, but that should not be a big deal-breaker.
The primary lens is paired with an 8MP (f/2.2) super-wide-angle lens with 120-degrees FoV, and an 8MP (f/3.4) periscope telephoto lens (135mm). The setup lets you click photos from 0.6x to 60x zoom levels. Photos captured from the ultra-wide lens look good, which is unlike most smartphones where ultra-wide photos show a big drop in quality compared to the primary sensor. Moving on, the 8MP telephoto lens lets you capture photos with 2X and 5X optical zoom, 10X, and going up to 60X digital zoom. Photos with 2X, 5X and 10X zoom look sharp and detailed. While the camera does support 60x digital zoom, I would not recommend that as details are completely lost, even when clicked from a tripod. Below are some camera samples from the three lenses.
Zoom shots up to 10x hybrid zoom offer good details.
Super Night Mode Captures Bright Photos in Low Light
Vivo has also included a Super Night mode that captures a burst of photos at different exposure levels and combines to offer bright photos even in very dim light. I clicked a few sample shots and was impressed with the quality. Though they have less noise, at times, the colors look a bit oversaturated and unnatural. A few tweaks and optimizations to the algorithms could likely improve the quality.
Vivo has also included four different styles for the night mode, which highlights specific colors in the scene. For instance, Black and Gold give prominence to the blacks and lights in the photo. Similarly, with the Green and Orange mode, these colors get more prominence. There are Blue Ice and Cyberpunk color options too. These are some filters that you would find on apps like Instagram or in photo editing tools like Adobe Photoshop Express. They add a nice touch and feel to your photos before you share on social networks.
The night mode also lets you capture the moon. While it has been cloudy in Mumbai, my colleague who is based out of Jammu was able to capture a moon shot, and it looks good.
Low-light photos are good but can be better with software optimizations.
Portrait Mode: Better than a DSLR?
The first-ever smartphone with a dual-camera system (HTC One M8) introduced a depth sensor to add DSLR-like bokeh effects to your photos. And since then, portrait mode has been available on single-camera setups (using AI) and on smartphones with multiple camera setups. The X50 Pro comes with a dedicated 13MP (f/2.46) portrait lens (50mm equivalent). Vivo has also included Bokeh 2.0 mode, which lets you adjust the aperture between f/0.95 and f/16 for background blur. But is the quality better than a DSLR?
I shot two photos, one on the X50 Pro and the other on an entry-level DSLR (Canon EOS 700D), with a prime lens. Of course, the DSLR wins in getting the skin tones right, whereas the X50 Pro (with AI on) smoothens the skin and makes the tone brighter. But the overall quality is not that bad, and the edge detection is good too. There is still sometime before we could completely replace our DSLRs with smartphones, but we are getting closer.
The portrait mode works well to keep the subject in focus while keeping the background blur.
Macros offer Good Details
The 8MP super-wide-angle lens also doubles as a macro camera to let you capture close-up shots. And I like the details it captures. In the two-sample shots, I clicked photos of a fly, where you can see good details of its eyes, wings, and even the hair. In the second picture, I tried to capture a moth, and yet again, the details are quite sharp and clear.
Macro shots are detailed and vibrant.
Selfies are Good, But Can Improve
The smartphone also features a 32MP (f/2.45) front camera in a punch hole setup. It clicks photos in full resolution and the quality is good. It is just that by default, the AI goes aggressive with skin tone softening and smoothening. But not many complaints there as people like to share such photos on social media.
I wish Vivo had given one-click toggle to turn the AI on and off. Right now, you need to manually reduce the level of buffing, skin tone, whitening, and more. There are portrait mode and art portrait effects, like the video mode, and they work well. Below are some sample shots.
Gorgeous Design and Sleek Profile
Smartphone makers are increasingly focusing on the design and build aspect. As glass backs are fingerprint magnets and turn out to be slippery, smartphone makers are trying out different things. I have said this before, and would like to say again, that the frosted glass back looks classy. Even the colors used are refreshing. Vivo had sent me the Alpha Grey color variant.
Design-wise, you get a metal frame sandwiched between front and back glass. What is interesting here is despite being a 5G-ready smartphone, its overall profile is sleek and slim. The glass is curved on the edges, both at the front and back, offering a good grip.
The Vivo X50 Pro offers a luxurious look and feel and is probably one of the slimmest 5G phones.
Performance: It is not the Hardware, But the Software That Matters
The Vivo X50 Pro is a flagship smartphone, and with that tag, expectations rise too. For some, the design and camera feature stand out, but they are disappointed with not having a flagship tier chipset. But I have mentioned this in my Vivo V19 review, and I will say here too. It is not just about having the flagship hardware, but OEMs must optimize the software for a smooth performance. And I think Vivo has cracked that well.
The X50 Pro comes with a 7nm Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G octa-core SoC, paired with 8GB (LPDDR4x) of RAM and 256GB (UFS 2.1) storage. On the software front, you get Android 10 with July 2020 Android Security Patch FuntouchOS custom skin on top. With the specifications out of the way, let us talk about performance. I have been using it for about three weeks now, and so far, the experience has been good.
During my usage, I tried to push it through the limits – right from clicking multiple photos and recording videos, to connecting with friends on social media and even gaming for long hours. And I must say, the smartphone runs smoothly. The 7m process node for the SoC offers the right mix of power and efficiency, paired with an optimized OS. The custom skin is vastly improved over the previous iterations as well.
Even gaming performance was smooth with PUBG Mobile offering added features like 4D vibrations and optimized graphics. Other games like Marvel’s Contest of Champions and Asphalt 9: Legends run smoothly too. Even after continuously gaming for an hour and a half, the smartphone remains very cool, and the battery drain is just about 22% during the same length of time.
Gaming performance on the Vivo X50 Pro is super smooth. Thermal management is great too.
Vibrant Display, Good Battery Life
Another interesting thing about the X50 Pro is its display. You get a 6.56-inch FHD+ Super AMOLED (Samsung panel) with dual-edge curves. The screen has a refresh rate of 90Hz and a touch response rate of 180Hz. High refresh rate makes system navigation and scrolling a smooth experience.
The screen is also HDR10+ compliant, which gives better display viewing experience when watching content from video-streaming services.
The screen offers good viewing angles, with punchy color reproduction. Sunlight legibility is also good, and I had no issues viewing the screen content under sunlight. It can hit a peak brightness of 1300 nits, but I never had to stretch that far, considering the weather has been cloudy for the past few weeks.
Binge-watching content on the X50 Pro was a pleasure.
Coming to battery life, the smartphone is armed with a 4,315mAh battery, with support for 33W fast-charging. The battery charges from empty to 40% in 15 minutes and close to 60% in 30 minutes. Full charging takes about 75 minutes. However, the software is well optimized for efficiency. During my usage, I constantly got around six hours of screen time. And even with heavy usage, I would get a minimum of four hours and thirty minutes of screen time. With typical usage, the phone easily offers an all-day battery — my testing included one hour of gaming, two hours of maps navigation and clicking some photos. After all this usage, I still had a 22% battery left by the end of the day.
Conclusion: An All-Rounder Smartphone for the Photography and Videography Enthusiast in You
Half of the year 2020 is already over and having tested multiple devices in these seven months, I am surprised how good smartphones have become. It is good to see that the smartphone makers are focusing on different aspects of user needs with their portfolio. The Vivo X50 Pro offers a refreshing design and good camera experience along with smooth overall performance. It also comes with reliable battery life. Support for 5G also makes it future proof in countries like India. In regions like China and Europe, where 5G is already present, it makes a good value proposition.
As an overall package, it is easily the most refined smartphone Vivo has shipped so far. Though I have not tried the X50 Pro Plus, the X50 Pro has a lot to offer to photography enthusiasts. It will also likely appeal to the vloggers who shoot most of their video footage on the phone. So, whether you are a travel or food vlogger/blogger, you would not get any better still and video camera experience at this price point.
That said, the camera is still not as great as an iPhone or Pixel or Samsung Galaxy S/Note. Vivo needs to fine-tune the algorithms to improve quality. Also, while the gimbal stabilization is steady, it just comes close to using an actual gimbal, but not better yet. But it does well for a first attempt, and what Vivo has managed to achieve here is commendable.
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Samsung is all set to launch the Galaxy Note 20 and Galaxy Note 20 Ultra smartphones, along with a smartwatch and TWS earphones on August 5. There is a lot of excitement as to what improvements the new smartphones will bring over last year’s Galaxy Note 10-series, especially with Galaxy Note 10+ being my daily driver. But, as we still have a little over a week for the launch, let us take a step back and look at how well does the Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ holds up after nearly a year.
When you get a new smartphone right out-of-the-box, almost everything runs fast and smooth. The battery also performs well, but as the smartphone starts aging, the performance starts to degrade. This is true in the case of most entry-level and affordable phones as they lack powerful hardware that can scale with extensive data storage, usage, and components aging. But with a flagship smartphone with top-of-the-line hardware, one would naturally expect optimal performance in the long run, as well as consumers, are now holding on to their devices even longer.
So, how do you gauge a smartphone’s long-term performance? Well, we believe, there are three key indicators – fluidity in day-to-day usage, battery life, and software support. Here is our “long-term” review of the Galaxy Note 10+ launched exactly 11 months ago.
Performance: Still as Smooth as Butter?
Let us begin with the elephant in the room. Under the hood, the Galaxy Note 10+ is powered by a 7nm EUV based Exynos 9825 SoC. It has an octa-core CPU with two high-performance custom M4 (Mongoose) cores (2.73GHz), in addition to the two Cortex-A75 high-performance cores (2.4GHz), and four Cortex-A55 based efficiency cores (1.9GHz). The SoC further integrates an ARM Mali-G76 MP12 GPU and a Neural Processing Unit (NPU) for on-device AI. As for memory, the device we have been using sports 12GB of LPDDR 4x RAM, and a high-speed UFS 3.0 256GB UFS interface-based NAND Flash storage. It also integrates an LTE-A Pro Cat 20 modem and dual-SIM capability.
Note-series has been my primary device since the Note 8, and have switched to Note 9, and then Note 10+. Around the time of Note 8, the performance would get sluggish after about six months of usage. Note 9 had some improvements where the performance was more refined. But the Note 10+ feels powerful and smooth as butter, even after nearly using it for a year.
My typical usage has social media apps running in the background, with me switching between them at regular intervals. I also have a stock market terminal (Zerodha Kite) app running in the background on trading days. And mostly, I am also listening to music or podcasts while working alongside always connected Galaxy Watch and the Galaxy Buds via Bluetooth.
Even after nearly a year, the Note 10+ is as fluid as day one.
Though, there are certain factors here that ensure optimal performance. The chipset with the 7nm process node ensures powerful performance as well as efficiency. Secondly, having more than enough RAM just makes it easy for the smartphone to handle the stress from multitasking to advanced gaming applications such as PUBG Mobile. At any given point, even with a few apps open in the background, there is around 3GB-4GB of free RAM. This is one of the reasons for the smooth performance. The good part is the One UI skin intelligently optimizes things based on your usage and offers optimal performance. I will talk more about it in the software part. I have more than 300 apps installed, along with other data, which consumes close to 120GB space.
Timely Software Upgrade with the Latest Security Patches
When the Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ was launched in August 2019, it was shipped with Android 9 Pie with One UI skin on top. Google officially released the Android 10 update in September 2019, and in December 2019, Samsung rolled out the update to the Note 10 smartphones. The rollout time has come down, compared to three years ago where it would take almost a year. And some credit can be given to Google for bringing Project Treble to address the fragmentation issue.
Samsung has also been consistent in rolling out monthly security patches, at least to the flagship smartphones. My Galaxy Note 10+ is already running the July 2020 security patch, which is a good thing. It also gives peace of mind where critical vulnerabilities will be fixed. Now, Google has already released the Android 11 Developer Beta with the final version expected in August end or early September. It will be interesting to see if the software upgrades this time will be even faster.
A Battery that Still Sails Through a Workday
The Galaxy Note 10+ is armed with a 4,300mAh battery with support for up to 45W fast charging. Though, the in-box charger comes with 25W capacity. It takes close to 70-75 minutes to fully charge the smartphone battery. In terms of battery life, I have consistently got a full day worth juice, with some charge still left at the end of the day. But this will vary based on individual usage.
In my case, the Bluetooth is on all the time, as my Galaxy Watch is always connected to it. Also, I listen to music, binge watch, and talk to friends on Discord while gaming, all of which averages out to three hours. This is the time when the TWS earbuds are connected. Besides, I am highly active on WhatsApp and Twitter, and apps like Feedly scrolling through news and more. With all this usage, the battery can go a full day without any hiccups, giving a screen time of close to five hours.
One interesting bit I found in the One UI 2 custom skin is the ability to detect apps that I have not used in a long time and disable them. So even though I have like over 300 apps on the phone, the most used ones do not hog unnecessary battery in the background. You can manually add apps to the “Sleeping List” from the Device Care menu. I think this is a nifty addition for battery optimization. For instance, I have MyJio, Licious, and Swarm apps in sleep mode. I only need Swarm when I go to places so I can check-in. In the case of Licious, I just need it when ordering food, whereas MyJio, I only need to when recharging my phone number. Putting them to sleep means the apps will not wake up until I open it, and so the unwanted notifications will also stay away.
Battery optimizations in One UI offers perfect balance between powerful performance and efficiency.
S Pen: Mightier than the Sword?
Now, while the above parts that I talked about are key indicators to gauge the long-term performance, let me shift focus to other important stuff. Starting with the S Pen, which is the heart and USP of the Note-series. It has been a good addition, and more functional than the earlier iterations.
While I do not use the gyro features to zoom in and out in the camera app, or play/pause music, as my smartwatch does that, the S Pen itself is a handy tool in different situations. Let me explain that in detail. Recently, I had visited a furniture shop and was looking for a TV cabinet unit. The shop owner did show me different readymade patterns, but I had something else in mind and asked him for a couple of days to get back.
I went back to the drawing board (Samsung Notes app) and just started sketching how I want it to be. The moment I was done I just had to share the image with him in the form of an image file. If this was some other phone, maybe I would have scribbled it on a paper using a pen/pencil, clicked a photo, and sent it to him. These little things add a great value proposition to the Note-series.
S Pen has vastly improved over the years, from being a stylus to a unique, functional addition.
Cameras: Consistent and Reliable Performer
The cameras on the Galaxy Note 10+ may not have higher megapixel count like most other flagships today, or even Samsung’s own Galaxy S20 Ultra with 108MP sensor. But there is something that they are still good at – being consistent and reliable. Before the pandemic hit, I have traveled to different places for holidays and was able to capture some memorable moments – be it in daylight or lowlight.
I like the option of having versatility in terms of shooting modes with four different camera sensors – where there is a wide, ultra-wide, and 2X telephoto option, along with a depth sensor. The front camera sensor with auto-focus helps get clearer selfies even in challenging lighting. Below are some photos I clicked over this past year from the Galaxy Note 10+.
The quad cameras on the Note 10+ clicks great photos irrespective of the lighting conditions.
DeX: Another Interesting Addition
While not a lot of people give importance to the DeX Mode feature, I think it does deserve a shoutout. There is a lot of research and development that goes into creating such features. It transforms your phone into a PC (sort of). All you need is a monitor or a TV and use a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse. Samsung also rolled out a DeX app for Windows and macOS that lets you run Android apps under the PC environment.
But I found this feature useful when I was on a trip and sitting inside a hotel room, looking to watch a couple of episodes from the OTT platform on a bigger screen. Of course, it needed me to carry Type-C to HDMI dongle, which is always in my bag. So, it was just about hooking up the same to the hotel’s TV using HDMI cable.
Even without a mouse and keyboard, you can browse the internet, view your Word, PDF, and Excel files and photos on a big screen. Well, you can even play music on your favorite apps and get louder audio using TV speakers. As you can see in the above image, I am taking a final look at the content I wrote (Word app), I’m also browsing on Chrome, listening to music on Spotify, and taking a closer look at a chart on the stock market app.
DeX is a powerful feature baked into the One UI with improved usability.
Sturdy Build and Premium Design
One of the things that I admire about the Galaxy Note 10+ is the design, and that back with Aura Glow color option. Even after one year, I simply cannot stop flaunting the phone in front of my friends. I also like how the weight is equally distributed, and it is even lighter than the Galaxy Note 9. The overall build quality is good too, and even though I do not use the phone with a case or cover, it has held up the wear and tear quite well.
Samsung Pay has been a Lifesaver
I have mentioned this in my previous reviews of the Galaxy S & Note series as well. Samsung Pay with MST technology has been a lifesaver for me on several occasions. Just a week ago, I took my bike out to fill petrol and check the air pressure in the types. And I generally pay via mobile wallets, so I was not carrying cash or cards. Out of luck, the mobile wallet payment was not working, and by the time the guy could tell that to me, petrol was already filled. But luckily, the MST technology was of a big help here and I could make payment using my debit card, without physically having it. This is one of the unique features that Samsung flagship phones have, and I think more companies should also adopt this.
Samsung Pay is an excellent addition that makes peer-to-peer money transfer and utility bill payments simpler.
Some Areas of Improvement
The entire Galaxy Note series has always billed as a powerful productivity tool. And with AI & Machine Learning that all tech giants are working on, you could have expected Samsung’s Bixby to give a tough fight to Apple’s Siri and Google’s Assistant. The initial version of Bixby was pretty good, and had big potential, with a lot of voice commands that not a lot of other AI assistants supported.
Sadly, Bixby 2.0 is a disappointing upgrade that took away the key voice features. And it does not even have on-device processing for simple commands. I mean, at least things like increase/decrease volume, turn Wi-Fi or Bluetooth On/Off, and so on should at least work without connecting to the internet, like in the case of Google Assistant.
Even the assistant screen on the home screen (swiping left to right) could have been better. I’ve replaced that with Microsoft Launcher and that works better than One UI launcher. In fact, given Samsung and Microsoft partnership, if you are invested in the Microsoft ecosystem of apps – Office 365, Outlook, and more, I would suggest switching to Microsoft Launcher.
Conclusion: The Galaxy Note 10+ is Still A Powerful Option Today
As I mentioned above, the Galaxy Note 20 series is set to launch soon. And like me, I hope many others will be excited and looking forward to the new phone. But those on a tighter budget may find it reasonable to go for last year’s Galaxy Note 10-series when it gets a price cut. It is still a beast of the phone with sheer-power that can handle all your needs, be it gaming, productivity, or photography.
Also Read: Strategic Reviews and Insights on The Latest Smartphones
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