Mi Bluetooth Speaker Basic 2 Review

Xiaomi is known for making affordable products that look and feel good, and the Mi Bluetooth Speaker Basic 2 is no exception. Despite only costing S$29.90, it looks better than most speakers in its price range. Should you get one?

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Design – Clean & Premium

With a metal frame all around the sides and very smooth matte plastic on the front and back, you will have a hard time guessing that this Bluetooth speaker can be yours at just under S$30.

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There are only 3 buttons on the Mi Bluetooth Speaker Basic 2: the power and volume buttons, all located on the top of the speaker. The power button also doubles as a play/pause button.

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On the bottom of the speaker, you will find a pair of rubber strips that do a decent job at providing grip so your speaker doesn’t slide around or off a table. On the back, you will find the Micro USB charging port, as well as an AUX-in port.

The width of the Mi Bluetooth Speaker Basic 2 is only as long as the height of a Redmi 5, so is easily pocketable. Overall, I really like how simple yet classy the device looks. My only complain would be its matte white plastic, which gets dirty really easily.


Pairing & Controls – Easy to Use

You can turn on the Mi Bluetooth Speaker Basic 2 by holding on the power button. The notification LED, hidden behind the speaker grill, will flash red and blue, indicating ready to pair. Now, pair it on your phone like any other Bluetooth speaker.

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Once paired and connected, the notification light will turn solid blue and you will hear a long beep. To disconnect from the current device and play from another device, double tap the power button. To turn the speaker off, hold the power button.

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Alternatively, you can connect the speaker to your music device via a 3.5mm audio cable. It still requires the speaker to be powered on, but this might save your device some battery.

Whether you are using an iOS and some Android devices, the volume buttons on the Basic 2 can control your phone’s volume directly. Ironically, it is unable to control MIUI’s volume slider directly and uses a separate volume setting instead.

Holding the volume down buttons minimizes the volume instantly, while holding the volume up button will bring it up to max gradually. Nice touch. I do wish there was a way to skip or go to previous track using the speaker though.


Sound Quality – Very Good for Its Price

The Mi Bluetooth Speaker Basic 2 is loud enough to fill a large room with music. Despite only having speaker grills on the front, audio is still very audible from the back – just a little less shiok.

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The sound it produces is also pretty good, with great balance and relatively good level of details. Bass is also respectable for a portable speaker. You can find something better if you pay more, but for a S$30 Bluetooth speaker, I am very satisfied.

Compared to the original Mi Bluetooth Speaker from years ago, the Basic 2’s produces sounds that is richer and more natural. Bass is noticeably deeper and vocals sound warmer and clearer.

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Battery Life – Exceeding Expectations

Xiaomi claims that the Mi Bluetooth Speaker Basic 2 is capable of up to 10hrs of battery life. From my testing, under varying volume levels (between 40-100%), I was able to achieve over 12hrs of continuous music playback via Bluetooth. Sweet!

When the battery has about 5-10 minutes of charge remaining, the device will constantly beep to inform you about it. One thing annoying is that it does it even while you are charging and still using it. (Not sure if it is safe to do so though…)

To conserve battery, the Basic 2 will automatically switch off after 10 minutes of inactivity, even if it is connected to your device.


Microphone – There is One Built In?!!!

The Mi Bluetooth Speaker Basic 2 is a great way to listen to phone calls. But wouldn’t it be great if you can talk into the speaker directly? That was what the designers at Xiaomi thought, so they included a microphone in the Basic 2.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to record any audio with it due to the lack of support for Bluetooth microphone recording on Android and iOS. But testing it with my home phone, the microphone on the Mi Bluetooth Speaker Basic 2 is of decent quality.


Conclusion – Worth Every Penny!

Like most of Xiaomi’s device, the Mi Bluetooth Speaker Basic 2 offers excellent build quality and performance at a very affordable pricing. It looks modern, sounds pretty good and has excellent battery life. At under S$30, what more can we ask for?

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OPPO Smartphones – UNCOVERED

Very often, people bash OPPO for selling “overpriced” products, comparing OPPO devices with similarly priced products from brands like Xiaomi and Honor. But is that really the truth, or is there more to it? Who are OPPO’s products for?

These are some of the questions that I hope to address in today’s article. Studying the smartphone industry since 2012, no brand intrigues me more than OPPO. By the end of this article, you will never see OPPO the same way again.


The Facts – The Turning Point

In order to understand how OPPO got to where it is today, we will have to take a look at one very important year: 2014, the year OPPO released their two last high-end devices, the Find 7 and N3.

In the same year, OPPO released the R5, the first phone in OPPO’s very successful R series to receive widespread attention globally. It was well known for two things: being the thinnest smartphone (not for long) and not having a headphone jack.

Also, it had one of the most bad ass commercials.

2014 was also the year OPPO’s subsidiary (stop denying!), OnePlus, released its first smartphone, the OnePlus One. The OnePlus One was in some ways similar to OPPO’s Find 7 in design and specs, but it was a lot more affordable.

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After silently abandoning its Find and N series, OPPO placed its attention on the premium mid-range R series. Despite being a relatively unknown brand in 2014, OPPO made it into the global top 5 list in 2016 and has stayed up there since.

Along the way, OPPO also introduced the A and F series. Today, the A series covers all of OPPO’s affordable budget phones. Meanwhile, the F series replaces the R series in selected markets, offering lesser specs at a slightly lower price.


The Analysis – More Than Just Coincidence

I would like to split this analysis into two parts: Why OPPO abandoned its high-end Find and N series for the premium mid-range R series and why OnePlus was formed. Through this, we will also uncover who OPPO’s R series is targeted at.

The Problem with High-End Devices

We know little about the fate of OPPO’s high-end Find and N series, but after so many years, many believe that OPPO will not be releasing an update for any of them. Here is a highly possible reason they were discontinued:

To stand a chance in succeeding in the high end smartphone market, one has to come out with the most impressive device, which requires huge spending on innovation. Those that did well were heftily rewarded, but most end up losing money from it.

Yes, it is just like gambling.

Considering how small OPPO was back then, and that Chinese products were often viewed as “cheap” and “low quality” back in 2014 even in China, chances of OPPO beating Samsung and other big players in the high-end market were slim.

One Price, Two Recipes

All successful smartphones in the ¥2000-¥4000 price range fall under two categories: “Flagship killers” that are equipped with specs of >S$1000 phones or premium mid-rangers that will impress you with its quality and craftsmanship.

Flagship killers appeals the most to people who cares about getting the most out of their money, at least on paper. Meanwhile, premium mid-rangers attracts people who want to flaunt their status, as well as those that are less tech savvy.

With the rapidly growing middle-class in China, more people are able to afford costlier devices. To dominate the rising ¥2000-¥4000 smartphone market, you will need to sell both type of products. And that was exactly what OPPO did.

OPPO and the R Series

OPPO was already competing in the premium mid-range segment with its R series, so they got the first part solved. Sort of. They aren’t the only ones making premium mid-range devices though. OPPO needed to stand out from the competition.

Mentioned earlier, premium mid-rangers are all about the quality and craftsmanship. Hence, they are often sold in offline stores, where people can feel the devices before purchasing. The key to selling well is creating a good first impression.

As a result, factors that shape first impressions, like design and build quality, were prioritized over others, including performance. This is why R series phones uses Snapdragon 6xx processors (or its MTK equivalent) instead of Snapdragon 8xx.

You may have noticed that designs of recent OPPO devices are a little inspired by iPhones – copycat? But think about it this way: if OPPO can take Apple’s design and make it look even better, doesn’t it prove that they can design better than Apple?

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Apple got beaten at its own game!

Alright, OPPO is capable of making devices that look and feel really good, even better than some >S$1000 devices. But was it enough to convince people that their product is better than something from a reputable brand like Samsung?

Maybe? But there was too much at stake to take the risk.

Thus, OPPO spent a lot on advertisements, sponsorship and brand ambassador. Their presence could be felt everywhere in China, with an insane number of retail shops displaying their logo and ads at subways, airports and on television.

Just from the image on the left, you can spot 3 OPPO stores.

That changed people’s perception of it from a stereotypical Chinese brand to one that is considered luxurious and highly sought after. This further establishes the R series as premium devices and helped OPPO break into markets outside of China.

The Reason for OnePlus

As you may have guessed, OPPO created OnePlus to compete in the flagship killer segment. But why did they not sell them under the OPPO branding? The answer is quite clear – flagship killer and premium mid-ranger cannot coexist under one roof.

If OnePlus’s devices were released under the OPPO branding and retain their price, it would be competing with a similarly priced R series device. OPPO would have less budget for advertising and out goes OPPO’s “premium” reputation.

On the other hand, if these flagship killers were priced higher, they would lose their appeal and competitors like Xiaomi and Honor will have an edge. Either way, one of them will suffer, so it makes sense to sell them under different brands.

Another reason for OnePlus’s existence is to break into western markets. Unlike OPPO, many people do not view OnePlus as a Chinese brand, which helps them to avoid getting stereotypes like being low quality or infected with spyware.

Perhaps this is why OPPO refused to acknowledge OnePlus as its subsidiary. As a company from China, being able to sell well in western markets, especially in the US, is a real miracle.

Unlike OPPO, OnePlus phones are mainly sold online to reduce cost. OnePlus had two experience stores, one in Beijing and the other in Shanghai, but unfortunately they both closed in 2016.

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The Prediction – What’s Next for OPPO?

With China’s smartphone growth coming to a halt last year, the latest sales figures show that OPPO’s growth also took a hit. Is OPPO’s days of glory over? What is OPPO doing about it? What else can they do? Lets take a look.

India Exclusive Realme

Just recently, OPPO partnered with Amazon India to launch the new Realme brand in India. Their first phone, the Realme 1, has not been announced, but many are saying that it is a re-branded OPPO A3. But the re-branding seems a little redundant.

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Unless… What if Realme is the OnePlus equivalent of budget OPPO phones? What if the Realme 1 is an OPPO A3 with lesser specs but with a much more affordable price?

Return to High-End Smartphones?

Next up, will OPPO ever release a high-end smartphones again? Patents and leaks point to a possible fordable smartphone from OPPO and if OPPO were to release something so cool and bizarre, chances are that it will come with high end specs.

So yes, we might be seeing a flagship-grade device from OPPO in the near future. After all, the OPPO today is no longer the OPPO we knew back in 2014. They are now one of the top 5 smartphone manufacturers; they are now recognized worldwide.

Using AI for Greater Convenience

Smartphone manufacturers are integrating artificial intelligence into certain aspects of their phones and OPPO is no exception. Last year’s R11s used AI to make beautify more natural and the new R15 uses it to identify scenes for better photos.

While “Camera Phone” may be OPPO’s tagline, their use of AI do not have to stop there. OPPO’s smartphones are well known for being reliable and easy to use, so why not use AI to further improve the way users interact with their phones?

I have a couple of ideas for that, but I am sure OPPO can come out with better ones so I will not share them here. (@OPPO but if you are interested in what I have in mind, feel free to contact me on Facebook and we will discuss there)


Conclusion – Mind Blown Yet?

What I have discussed above is only touching the surface of what OPPO has done over the past 4-5 years that brought them to where they are today, but I hope it is enough to change the way you think of OPPO and its relationship with OnePlus.

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You may have noticed that I avoided mentioning about Vivo in this article. While many believe that OPPO belongs to BBK, Vivo’s parent company, I do not find the evidence convincing enough yet. But if true, things can get a lot more complicated.

Google Home Mini Review

Half a year after launching the Google Home Mini internationally, Google is finally bringing their mini smart speaker to Singapore. How smart is the Google Home Mini? How does it perform as a speaker? Most importantly, should you get one?


Summary – Think Twice Before Purchasing

Pros:

  • Modern and sleek design
  • Great build quality
  • Works seamlessly with Chromecast
  • Supports wide range of smart home devices

Cons:

  • Cannot understand Chinese, Malay and Tamil
  • Sound quality unimpressive
  • Limited music app support

Pricing – Reason to Join Courts/Challenger Membership!

The Google Home Mini is usually priced at S$79, but with a Courts membership, you can get 30% off online with the code GH30. If you are a Challenger member, you can purchase it from hachi.tech or any Challenger shop for only S$59.

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If Challenger and Courts are able give so much discount, does it mean that Google is purposely overpricing the Google Home Mini in Singapore? Even then, S$79 is pretty reasonable for smart speaker/home assistant if it works well. But does it?


Design – Sleek & Unobtrusive

Despite a lack of experience in building hardware, Google never fails to impress when it comes to the design. The Google Home Mini is shaped like a pebble, with a nice feeling fabric top complemented by matte plastic below.

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There is a Micro USB charging port and a microphone mute switch on the back of the Google Home Mini. As this is only a smart speaker, I will not penalize it for not using USB Type-C, but I wish it had a 3.5mm port for audio input.

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On the bottom of the device you will find a red rubbery grip, which prevents it from sliding off your table. You may not notice it but there is a button below the Google “G” logo; while powered, press and hold it to factory reset the device.

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When powered, you will see 4 LED dots on the top of the Google Home Mini. These dots usually appear white, but will change its colors to illustrate certain statuses. When booting up, they will appear multi-colored, symbolizing Google’s logo.

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You can adjust the Google Home Mini’s volume by tapping on either side of the LED indicator. It wasn’t clearly stated on the box or instruction manual and I only figured it out after visiting the “Tech Specs” page on Google’s online store.

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Image obtained from Google’s online store

Inside the Google Home Mini’s box you will find a one-piece Micro USB wall adapter, but from my testing, you do not have to use it to power the Google Home Mini; a phone charger, or even a power bank, can be used to power it.

 

The Google Home Mini comes in three colors: Chalk (grey), Charcoal (black) and Coral (red). Chalk and Charcoal are both available at Courts and Challenger, but Coral is exclusive to Google Singapore’s online store, found here.


Setting Up – Quick & Simple

Before you can use the Google Home Mini, you will have to download the Google Home app, the same one used to control Google’s Chromecast. Once you have the device powered up, the app should detect it and ask you to set it up.

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Follow the steps. connect it to your WiFi network and in a matter of seconds, the device will be done setting up. It will then ask for your address, default TV and music speaker. Lastly, there will be a tutorial for some basic commands.

After that is done, you are good to go. On the Discover page of the app, you will find suggestions that will help you further set up and customize the Google Home Mini. More suggestions will pop up as you use the Google Home Mini.

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Smart Assistant – Not so Smart After All

The Google Home Mini is equipped with Google Assistant, the same one found on your phone. For a voice assistant, Google Assistant is pretty versatile and does an excellent job at providing accurate and relevant replies to your questions.

To get its attention, say “Hey Google” or “OK Google”.

One thing unique about Google Assistant is the ability to engage in two-way dialogues. For example, you can first ask it “Who is the president of US?”, then “How old is he” and it will tell you Donald Trump’s age. Super convenient!

On top of that, Google Assistant can control your smart home devices, from Chromecast to smart bulbs. In the Google Home app, you can set routines such that a single command via the Google Home Mini will turn on/off all your smart devices.

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Till date, Google Assistant supports close to 200 brands of smart home products, so there is a good chance your smart home devices will work with the Google Home Mini. Sadly, Xiaomi’s super affordable smart home gadgets are not supported.

I tested it out with my Samsung SmartThings Outlet. Once I got it properly connected and set up in the Google Home app, it works really well. With the command “Turn on/off bedroom outlet”, I can stop charging my laptop that is plugged into the outlet.

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One reason the Home Mini took so long to come is that Google tried to localize it. They made Singapore English a supported language, added news from Channel News Asia and included a few Singapore jokes, some of which are really bad.

But that does not make up for the fact that of the four commonly spoken languages in Singapore, the Home Mini only recognizes English. Mixing in a couple of Mandarin, Malay or Tamil words into an English sentence does not work.

This greatly restricts what you are able to do with the Google Home Mini. At the moment, you can only request the Home Mini to play songs and videos with English titles – completely useless for a person like me, whose music playlist is 99% Chinese.

Google partnered with some local companies to bring their services to their voice assistant, but there are only a handful of them at the moment and not all of them work very well. Listen to the audio below, you will get what I mean.


Wireless Speaker – Quality So So Only

As a wireless speaker, the Google Home Mini is alright for S$59 (still acceptable for S$79), but not great. It gets pretty loud and is quite well balanced, but the bass isn’t deep and the overall sound quality is just average. Not very immersive.

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Playing music off your phone onto the Google Home Mini is a little different from regular wireless speakers. It uses WiFi instead of Bluetooth, so you connect your phone to it in the Google Home app by turning on “Cast screen / audio”.

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For me, the biggest advantage of using WiFi over Bluetooth is the stability; on good WiFi, you will not experience abrupt interruptions/disconnection you often get with Bluetooth speakers.

However, if your WiFi isn’t stable, your audio will get cut off a lot more frequently and you might even get disconnected from the Google Home Mini completely.

You can command the Google Home Mini to stream music using Google Assistant, but it supports only a couple of music streaming services, including Spotify. Apple Music subscribers are out of luck. If only there was YouTube Music in Singapore…

Alternatively, you can listen to radio on Google Home Mini by giving the command “tune in to _____FM”.

If you are planning to get the Google Home Mini as a speaker, this might be the biggest deal breaker: It doesn’t have a battery, which means it has to be plugged in to the wall at all times. The Google Home Mini is not a portable speaker.


Conclusion – Not What I Expected From Google

In its current state, the Google Home Mini just isn’t very good as a smart speaker in Singapore. Google’s attempt to make it more localized feels half-hearted and not very well thought out, limiting what you can do with the device.

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Until Google add support for the other official languages of Singapore and also more music streaming services (or better, bring YouTube Music to Singapore), I will not recommend the Google Home Mini to anyone living in Singapore.

A Visit to Mi Store @ Bedok Mall

In October 2016, Xiaomi opened their first store in Singapore, Mi Home @ Suntec City. Since then, many more Xiaomi stores popped up around Singapore, including the new Bedok Mall authorized Mi Store, which officially opened today.

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Couldn’t make it to the grand opening of the Mi Store today? No need to worry. In this article, we will be taking a quick look around the Bedok Mall Mi Store and take a look at some of the new products that can be found at there.

The Mi Store is located in Basement 1 of Bedok mall, in front of Hot Tomato Express. (Speaking of Hot Tomato Express, influencers and Mi Fan Club members were given a treat there. The chicken wings were juicy and tender. Yummy!)

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If you were at the Bedok Mall this morning, you may have notice the super long queue outside of Mi Store. Why is everyone queuing? To celebrate its grand opening, Mi Store Bedok Mall has some amazing deals for customers, including S$99 phones.

At 11:30AM, the celebration commenced with cutting of ribbons and lion dance performance. After the first customer (who queued outside since 8AM) made her purchase, the Mi Store opened its doors to everyone else waiting outside.

Time to explore the new Mi Store! Xiaomi’s most popular products are here: Mi and Redmi smartphones, Mi power banks, Mi Headphones, as well as the Mi Band 2.

There are also products that were previously unavailable in Singapore, like Mi Notebook Pro, Mi Laser Projector and Mi Induction Rice Cooker. Note that some of these are export sets, so do ask Mi Store about warranty before purchasing.

The Bedok Mi Store also sells some pretty bizarre stuff you would never expect from Xiaomi, like towels, sunglasses and umbrella. There is also a Lego Mindstorms-like robot, which looks super cool and is very affordable at only S$129.

But perhaps the most exciting product in the Mi Store is the one hidden at a corner, behind a pillar, sitting in large cardboard boxes: the 43″ Mi TV. There were no display sets of the TV in the store and even the price tag was nowhere to be seen…

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While the things here are costlier than they are in China (due to shipping, rental, etc…), I really appreciate the fact that Xiaomi is bringing more and more products into Singapore.

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Congrats to Mi Singapore and Era International Network on the opening of the new Mi Store at Bedok Mall!

TP-Link Neffos N1 Review

What would you expect from a smartphone in 2018: An 18:9 Display? Dual cameras on the rear? Minimal bezels? USB Type-C? TP-Link’s affordable Neffos N1 has two of them, but they are probably not the two that you are expecting.

With a 16:9 display and large chins above and below the display, is the Neffos N1 one big outdated flop or is there more to this device? Most importantly, is it worth your money? Without further ado, here is my review of the Neffos N1.


Summary – An Underrated Budget Device

Pros:

  • Excellent build quality
  • Glass screen protector included
  • Volume slider for easy muting
  • Wide-angle selfie camera
  • USB Type-C
  • Fast charging
  • Beautiful themes
  • Minimal bloatware & duplicate apps
  • Affordable price tag

Cons:

  • Ugly top and bottom chin
  • Back too slippery, easy to drop
  • Stutters and heats up while playing heavy games
  • Selfie camera poor focus

Pricing & Variants – Only Black and 64GB…

Only available in black, with 64GB of storage and 4GB RAM.

In Singapore, the Neffos N1 is priced at S$368 and is only available in one color and storage configuration: Black with 64GB ROM and 4GB RAM. 64GB is the most storage you will find on a device this price in Singapore, so no complains.

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Design – Slippery

Huge top and bottom chin. Not the most original design, but still looks really good and build quality is excellent. Slippery back, so get a case.

On the front of the Neffos N1 sits a 5.5″ 16:9 display, surrounded by relatively small side bezels but thick top and bottom chin. With bezels are getting smaller and smaller on phones, it is a little disappointing to see such thick chins on the Neffos N1.

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The Neffos N1’s button layout is similar to that of the OnePlus 5. The power button is located on the right, with a hybrid SIM tray above it. On the opposite side, we have the volume buttons, as well as the life-saving textured mute switch.

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Imagine sitting in a lecture room when suddenly, you remembered that you did not mute your phone. Instead of waking the display to turn on silent mode, which may make you look disrespectful, you can use the switch to mute the device.

On the top is a microphone and below, we have a 3.5mm audio jack (yay!), USB Type-C port (another yay!) and a speaker grill.

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Moving to the rear, you may find this design a little familiar… That’s right, the Neffos N1 looks a lot like the Huawei P10, but that isn’t a bad thing. It is bold and sleek, and the rear cameras do not protrude. I would love to see a white or red N1.

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Build quality is superb, comparable to some devices that cost twice as much. The metal is cool to the touch under air-con, though it heats up quite a bit under the sun as well. With a decent heft to it, this device feels really premium in the hand.

It is a little slippery though, so you are likely to drop it if you do not use a case. Speaking of cases, the N1 doe not come with one. Considering how rare Neffos devices are in Singapore*, you may have difficulties finding a shop that sells one.

*Sorry TP-Link, but that is the truth. 😔


Display – Good Enough, Nothing More

Still 16:9, but not a bad display.

Unlike most phones coming out in 2018, the Neffos N1 still uses a 16:9 display. While 18:9 provides more display area in apps like Facebook and Chrome, there are some apps that are still screen-optimized only for 16:9, so I shall not complain.

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This 5.5″ FHD IPS LCD display offers great viewing angles, is plenty bright and pretty sharp at 403ppi, but it is a little on the cool side and blacks are not very deep.


Performance – Benchmarks Actual Usage

Excels in benchmarks but struggle in actual usage.

Beneath the hood of the Neffos N1 is a MediaTek Helio P25 processor, with 4GB RAM. In AnTuTu and GeekBench 4, the N1’s score was similar to that of the Snapdragon 625 powered Redmi 5 Plus. Can we expect similar performance in real life?

Unfortunately, this is an example of how benchmarks do not always reflect the true performance of a device. Scrolling through the UI was smooth, but play some heavy games like PUBG Mobile (at low graphics), the amount of stutter is unbearable.

The device also heated up quite a bit while playing PUBG Mobile, with most of the heat concentrated at the top.


Rear Camera – 2x the Camera, 2x the Fun!

RGB + monochrome sensors, capable of great photos even at night. Bokeh is not perfect but fun.

The Neffos N1 has dual cameras on its rear: a 12MP RGB on the left, and a 12MP monochrome on the right. Neffos wasn’t specific about the other specs: we only know that at least one of them have f/2.0 aperture and at least one have 1.25µm pixel size.

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Neffos N1’s camera app has quite a bit of features for a budget phone. On the viewfinder screen, there is a HDR, beautify and bokeh mode toggle. Swipe left, you will see a list of modes, including a “PRO” manual mode. Swipe right for filters.

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Photos taken with the Neffos N1’s rear camera looks great under bright conditions, but that is to be expected from most phones today. The bokeh mode is really fun to use, but its edge detection isn’t perfect, often blurring out parts of the subject.

But where it really shines is at night. Zoom in on the red flower photo below and you can still see the water droplets on the petals. Also, colors stay very vibrant at night, though there is a little bit of a blue tint in all RGB images.

You might be wondering: turning a RGB photo monochrome versus taking a photo with the monochrome sensor, what is the difference? I took the same photo using the mono filter and the monochrome mode and here is what I got:

Both photos are taken under low lighting. As you can see, the image taken with the monochrome sensor is a lot brighter, with more details and less noise. So much nicer!

There is a long exposure “traffic flow” mode, but you can forget about taking photos with this mode. The cameras on the Neffos N1 are just not good enough under low light to be able to produce decent looking long exposure shots.

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HDR on the Neffos N1 does a great job at increasing dynamic range. It does increase the saturation a little, but not to the extent where it looks artificial, like many other phones do.

Proud of your Neffos N1? You can add the Neffos N1 watermark to all your photos. (Enable it in the settings of the camera app)

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Moving on to video recording, the Neffos N1 is capable of shooting up to 4K at 26.69fps. The video looks sharp with great colors and focusing doesn’t seem to be an issue. (Sorry for the portrait video. The device did not detect the orientation correctly)

N1 recorded the video in portrait. To avoid quality lost, I uploaded the video to Google Drive. Download to view it here.

Taking 720p slow motion videos require ample lighting, but under artificial lighting it still looks acceptable, despite losing focus sometimes. After taking a slow mo video, you have the flexibility of choosing which parts of the video to slow down.


Front Camera – Wide Angle Wefies!

Wide angle! Has difficulties with focus, but photo quality is acceptable when you consider its price.

With a 86° wide angle 8MP front-facing camera, you are going to have a lot of fun taking selfies and wefies with Neffos N1. It does have some issues focusing though, so pictures do not turn out very sharp. But for Instagram, the quality is good enough.

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Under artificial lighting, the focusing problem gets worst and colors do not look too pleasing (accidentally deleted the photo). As for low light photos, you can expect a lot of noise, but it is still alright considering the price of the device.

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Audio – Does Not Disappoint

Better than expected.

The single bottom-firing speaker on the Neffos N1 is pretty good for an under S$400 device. At max volume, it is similar in loudness as the Redmi 5 and the audio sounds richer.

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Comparing the headphone jack audio of the Neffos N1 to the Redmi 5 (using my JBL Synchos S300i), the N1 had less emphasis on trebles, producing sound that is more detailed and colorful, with a better balance. Not bad.


Battery Life – Fast Charging Makes Up for Small Battery

Lasts the whole day on moderate usage. Fast charging is quite fast as long as you do not charge to full.

Powering the Neffos N1 is a 3260mAh battery. With such a small battery, how is the endurance of the Neffos N1? How fast can the Neffos N1 charge with the included fast charging wall adapter?

As I only had 2 full days to test the Neffos N1 (before going back to camp), my battery test for the Neffos N1 will be less thorough than usual. In this moderate to heavy usage test, the N1 drained from 100% to 5% in 11h, with a screen-on time of 4h 36min.

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  • Total duration: 11h
  • Screen-on time: 4h 36min
  • PUBG Mobile: 3h 25min
  • Music: 20min
  • Some photography
  • SIM card always inserted

Considering the size of the battery, the results of the test is not unexpected. With light to moderate usage though, the Neffos N1 should get you through an entire day on a single charge.

The Neffos N1 supports fast charging, but how fast is it? Using the wall adapter and Type-C cable that came in the box, the N1 went from 3% to 46% in the first 30 minutes. After an hour, the phone was at 85%. Not too shabby.

To get the Neffos N1 to 100%, you need approximately 1h 50min. But even with an hour’s worth of charging, the 80% juice should be enough to get you through the entire day.


WiFi – Is It the Fastest? Not Really

Not as impressive as TP-Link claimed on their website.

Neffos claims that the N1 is tuned by the world’s No.1 WiFi lab, so the N1 should get better WiFi speeds than the competition right? That depends on which device you are comparing it to.

For this test, I compared the WiFi speeds of the Neffos N1 to my iPhone SE, Redmi Note 4, Redmi 5 and Lenovo A7000. The N1’s speed was much faster than the Redmi 5 and A7000, but was nowhere near as fast as the iPhone SE and Redmi Note 4.

Note that the Redmi Note 4 I have is running Lineage OS.


Software – Clean, Sleek & Easy to Use

Other than lack of app drawer, very close to stock, with minimal unnecessary apps. Easy to learn.

Neffos N1 runs NFUI 7.0 on top of Android 7.1.1 out of the box. If you are a fan of stock Android, you will love NFUI. While it may not have an app drawer, it is very close to stock Android in many aspects, including the layout of the UI.

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One thing I love about NFUI is the lack of duplicate apps: Google’s Chrome, Play Music, Photos and Calendar are the only pre-installed browser, music, gallery and calendar apps on the N1. Bloatware is also minimal or can be uninstalled.

Another thing that makes NFUI one of my favorite Android skin till date is the theme engine. While you do not get to download more themes, the 7 included ones are among the best looking themes I have ever seen. Sweet!

NFUI comes with some really nifty features and they all work really well, like split screen and screen-off gestures. While NFUI may not be as feature-packed as some Android skins like MIUI and EMUI, all of the features it has are pretty well refined.

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Overall, I can confidently say that NFUI 7.0 is one of the friendliest and easiest to learn Android skin I have ever used.


Conclusion – More Than Meets the Eye

Do not let the 16:9 display mislead you. With a respectable dual camera setup on the rear, superb build quality and a fantastic UI, the Neffos N1 is an excellent device for its price. I do wish Neffos had gone with a Snapdragon processor though.

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TP-Link Neffos N1 Unboxing

You may know TP-Link for their network products, but did you know they make phones too? Today, we will be unboxing their latest mid-range smartphone, the Neffos N1, which you can purchase from TP-Link’s authorized distributors for S$368.

Huge thanks to TP-Link Singapore for loaning me this Neffos N1 review unit. All opinions below are of my own.


Unboxing – Out of Battery?!!!

The Neffos N1’s packaging is easily identifiable, with an image of the N1 printed at the front of the box. Shaking off the cover, which requires breaking 2 seals on the sides, we are greeted with the phone, sitting right on top of the box.

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Let’s put the phone aside first. There are 2 boxes of accessories. Inside the box with the SIM removal tool is a tempered glass screen protector, as well as some paperwork.

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In the second box you will find a pair of earphones (with 3.5mm connector) , a wall adapter with fast charging, as well as a USB Type-C cable. Finally we get Type-C on a budget phone!

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I do wish that a clear case was included with the N1 though. Considering how uncommon Neffos devices are in Singapore, getting a case for the N1 would be a challenge.

Back to the phone. After peeling off the sticker on the front and rear, I powered on the phone, only to get a message that the phone would be turning off in a couple of seconds. Oops! What is going on? Then I look at the battery indicator. 1%…

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That says 2 things about the Neffos N1: (1) Not even TP-Link opened the box to charge the device, so you can be very sure that the phone is completely new. (2) This device probably sat in the warehouse for a really long time.


First Impression – An Unusual 2018 Budget Phone

Display

Most phones in 2018 come with an 18:9 display, but the Neffos N1 isn’t one of them. 16:9 is not a big deal; the thing that bothers me are the top and bottom chins. With so many phones going almost bezeless, the thick chins make the N1 feel dated.

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Design

Right below the display are the back-lit navigation buttons. The left and right buttons are not fixed: you can assign either one to be the “Back” button and the other will be the “Recent” button.

Turning to the rear, we see a familiar design. Where have we seen this before? *Cough* Huawei P9 *Cough* While not the most original, the design of the Neffos N1 looks really sleek and the build quality is comparable to some over S$600 devices.

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Power button is located on the right, with the SIM tray above it. On the left we have the volume buttons and a mute switch. Having used the iPhone SE as my daily driver for 2 years, I can attest that mute switch is not just for show. It is really useful!

Front & Rear Cameras

Neffos N1 is equipped with dual 12MP cameras on the rear: one RGB and the other monochrome, similar to Huawei’s implementation. Below is a sample shot taken with the Neffos N1 with HDR on. More photos in my full review.

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The 8MP front camera of the Neffos N1 has 86° wide angle, much wider than what you get on a typical selfie camera. Sweet! Images taken with it do not seem to be very sharp, but look alright if you do not zoom in. Beautify is a little weak.

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Others

Out of the box, Neffos N1 runs NFUI 7.0 on top of Android 7.1.1 Nougat. Although it doesn’t have an app drawer, NFUI is a lot closer to stock Android than heavily modified Android skins, like MIUI and EMUI or even ColorOS.

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Bloatware is minimal and instead of building its own gallery, music and calendar app, TP-Link made Google Photos, Play Music and Calendar the default apps, basically reducing the number of duplicate apps on the Neffos N1. Sweet!

The fingerprint scanner on the rear is quite fast, but there is a little bit of delay before the screen lights up, making it feel slower. The SIM tray contains one slot for a nano SIM and a hybrid slot that accepts either a nano SIM or Micro SD card.


Conclusion

At S$368, the Neffos N1 competes with devices like the Redmi 5 Plus (64/4GB) and Honor 7x. It doesn’t have the beautiful 18:9 aspect ratio on the other 2 devices, but it tries to make up for it in other ways, build quality for example.

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I will be testing out the Neffos N1 more thoroughly in the next 2 days, before I return it back to TP-Link. There are a few areas I am really keen to test in my full review of the N1, most notably the rear camera, charging speed and WiFi performance.

Stay tuned for my full review!

Samsung Connect Home WiFi Mesh Review

Suffering from slow WiFi? One likely reason for this is that you are too far from your wireless router. There are many solutions to solve range issue like this, but a popular one that you may have heard of recently is WiFi mesh.

In this article, we will be taking a look at the Samsung Connect Home, a WiFi mesh that doubles as a smart home hub. How does it perform? What else can it do? Should you get one? Without further ado, let’s begin with the review.


Setup – Quick & Easy

The Samsung Connect Home can be purchased at S$198 per piece, but to use it as a WiFi mesh, you will need at least 2 of them. Factoring the cost of a few smart home accessories that work with it, expect to spend over S$500.

In each box you will find the device itself, a power adapter, an Ethernet cable, as well as some paperwork. Before you can begin setting it up, download the Samsung SmartThings app from the Play Store or App Store and login or create an account.

Once done, start by setting up the main hub first. Power it with the power adapter and connect the Ethernet port labeled “IN” to your router with the included Ethernet cable.

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In the app, you should receive a prompt telling you that it has detected a device. If you do not receive it, you can add the device manually by tapping on “Add device” and then selecting your Samsung Connect Home’s name from the list.

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The app will now connect and setup the device, which takes just a few seconds. At the 70% mark, you will be asked to name the network and set the password. Tap on next and after another few seconds, the setup will be complete.

On a previous version of the app, I kept getting an error at 29% for over an hour. Only after repeating numerous times and calling the customer hotline did it set up successfully, miraculously.

Now, you can move on to the second Connect Home device.

For the second device, you only need to power it with the power adapter. Tap on “ADD ANOTHER WI-FI HUB” and the app will search for the second Samsung Connect Home before setting it up. This takes slightly more than a minute.


Design – Sleek & Modern

The housing of the Connect Home is made out of white matte plastic, with rubber grooves on the bottom to prevent sliding. It has a modern vibe, with a clean design and is relatively small and compact. Blends in with any home easily.

There is a green notification light on the front and on the back, you will find the DC jack, as well as two Ethernet ports, one labeled “IN” and the other labeled “OUT”. There is also a reset button on the back, which you can press with a SIM removal pin.

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Overall, I like how simple and unobtrusive the device looks. But one thing I would have like to seen is a hole for a on the bottom of the device, so that we can hang it on a wall.


Performance – Avoid Walls at All Cost!

Your placement of the Samsung Connect Home has to be very strategic. This thing hates walls. One layer of wall in between will still give you pretty good WiFi speeds, but anything more and speeds plunges drastically. Hmm…

Distance is not a problem, at least not with the 8m separation between the Samsung Connect Homes in my current setup. How does the Samsung Connect Home perform? Very well actually, as long as there are no walls between the hubs of course.

Testing the Samsung Connect Home on speedtest.net and speedtest.com.sg results in an error, so I conducted this test with the internet speed test widget on google.

Map

Test 1:

I checked if there was a difference between my router’s WiFi speed and Samsung Connect Home’s WiFi speed when I am right next to the router. Upload and download speeds were similar, as expected. Latency was not far off.

Test 2:

Next, I carried out the same test but beside the second Samsung Connect Home this time. The router’s WiFi speed dropped immensely, but the speed of the Connect Home’s WiFi network was still very good, at over 100 Mbps for download.

Test 3:

Going deeper into the room where the second Samsung Connect Home is located (refer to “3” in the diagram on top), my router’s WiFi was close to unusable, with speeds under 1 Mbps.

Connecting the second Connect Home’s Ethernet “OUT” port to my laptop, I got speeds that were close to what I got sitting next to my router! Latency is higher, but the fact that we are able to get similar speeds from such a distance is incredible.

Test 4:

I had my laptop on my desk, positioned near the second Samsung Connect Home, but with walls blocking. At this spot, I was getting an average of 30 Mbps for download and upload – usable but not great. Samsung Connect Home really hate walls.

From the 4 tests above, we can see that the Samsung Connect Home does a great job in an ideal condition. But when there are walls between the Connect Homes or between the Connect Home and your device, performance really takes a hit.


Smart Home Accessories

The Samsung Connect Home can act as a hub for Samsung’s SmartThings products as well as some third party products. But for this review, I only have two Samsung SmartThings accessories: the motion sensor and the outlet.

To set up the motion detector, remove the “Remove When Connecting” tab and place it at where you want it to detect motion. According to the user manual, it must be within 4.5m of your Connect Home. Then, add it as a new device in the app.

The motion detector comes with a back plate that allows you to mount it firmly in place to a wall, using screws included in the box. There is a slight delay of about 2s, but it works alright, detecting movements up to about 1m away.

Next, the SmartThings Outlet. There are buttons on the sides, which you can press to toggle on/off. The app had difficulties adding the outlet as a new device, and only managed to do so after I left it alone for a few minutes. Frustrating.

You can on/off the outlet from the app and view the amount of power drawn. That is about all there is to this device. The plug is a very tight – I had difficulties removing my iPhone wall adapter from it and had to use a test pen to pry it off.


App – Great for Beginners and Advanced Users

Anyone can use the SmartThings app to setup the Samsung Connect Home. As long as you follow the steps above, and you are good to go. No need to do anything else for it to work.

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But if you want more control over your Samsung Connect Home, you also get the option to do so on the SmartThings app. You can check which devices are connected to your network and the amount of data being uploaded and downloaded.

You can give certain device higher bandwidth priority, or restrict their usage time from the app. If your kids spend too much time playing games on their phones instead of studying, you can restrict WiFi on their devices during study time.

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If you have guests coming over but do not want them to be on the same network as you, you can create a guest network. You do not have to add a password for the guest network.

Moving on to the SmartThings Hub aspect of the app.

Other than checking the status of the SmartThings devices, you can make them work together with the app. Using the 2 devices I have, I can set it such that a light turns on whenever motion is detected and automatically turn off after 10 minutes.

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If you have more devices that are supported by the SmartThings Hub, you can come up with more ways to automate your home electronics and turn your house into a smart home. Cool!


Conclusion – Worth It?

As this is the first WiFi mesh device I am dealing with, I am not able to tell you how it compares to others. But from my experience with it thus far, I am very satisfied with its performance.

You will want to position the Samsung Connect Homes in a way where they are not obstructed by any wall. Speeds plunges significantly when there are walls in the way and that is my biggest issue with the Samsung Connect Home.

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Setting up the Samsung Connect Home with the SmartThings app was a pain in the ass a month ago, but thankfully, it became super fast and easy after an app update.

As for the SmartThings hub aspect of the device, I am a little skeptical about it. While it works alright and has a sizable ecosystem, many of the supported devices are a little costly. There are much more affordable ways to make your home smart.