The OnePlus 9 Pro is a nice phone, and one I have no problem recommending to a fan of the brand, but if you really want the best bang for your buck at this price range, the Galaxy S21+ is just a better phone.
OK, so, we started scripting this video as your typical Pocketnow Daily, where I go through a recap of all things Apple, but then I realized I had just too much to say to only report the news. The event ended, and then I was hoping for a “One More Thing,” and it didn’t happen.
Don’t get me wrong, a lot of what was announced was great, then some was expected, and then some was underutilized potential, and some just didn’t happen, so let’s dive in. I’m Jaime Rivera with Pocketnow and let’s dive into our Apple Spring Loaded Event recap..
So let me start with the things we didn’t get.
No AirPods, which have been heavily rumored for this event. Seems Ming-Chi Kuo’s predictions were right in that production won’t begin until the fall.
No iPad mini update, which at this point seems either dead or maybe some silent update that’ll come later. We’re gonna talk more about iPad soon, and why I’m so disappointed.
As for what we did get, historically this was once a Services event, and we got some of that. Apple Card now supports families, so spouses can share credit together, and you can even share your card with children 14 and older with spending limits. I guess Apple has never met my kids.
Now, something I’m a bit disappointed about is Apple Podcasts, but I might just have to wait for it to launch. Right now all we heard was a new design, with recommended content to explore, ways to subscribe and get early access to content, and support for 170 regions. What we didn’t hear was support for video, which I’m hoping I miraculously missed or something. If Apple wants to bank on how popular video has become to this medium and how Spotify is leveraging this, they need to act fast.
Purple iPhone 12
Also, in a very non-Apple fashion, we get a new color for the iPhone 12 being released mid-term. This isn’t new though, we saw it with the white iPhone 4, and with the Product Red editions of iPhone, but a product purple is interesting. By the way, the original code name of the iPhone project was Purple, so it’s funny that we had to wait 13 years to actually get one. Yes, it’s for both the regular 12 and the mini, with pre-orders starting Friday and available on April 30th.
Now, a big deal was made about how Apple’s Find My feature is taking a step further with AirTags. Guys this is not your typical Bluetooth Tracker. If you have an iPhone with a U1 chip, Apple offers something called Precision Finding, which provides visual, audible, and haptic feedback of where your product is, and not just sounds or a half-baked map view. There are added privacy measures to void unwanted detection, and there will be a ton of accessories that help you clamp them to whatever you want. Pre-orders start Friday, and they’re available on April 30th. They start at $30 bucks, but you can get 4 for $100.
Apple TV 4K
A product I thought was going to die into TV apps was the company’s Apple TV, but nope, the 4K variant is getting some much-needed updates. A12 Bionic chip that can now play HDR content at a high refresh rate, meaning if you filmed anything in Dolby Vision on your iPhone 12 Pro, you’ll finally be able to watch it streamed through AirPlay. To ensure color accuracy, there’s now even a Color Balance feature that helps you use your iPhone to calibrate the signal the Apple TV will send to your television. Maybe what took too long to see is this new Siri Remote.
The previous one was terrible. Now, in iPod fashion, you have a click pad that’s touch-enabled and allows circular gestures for job control. There is now a Power and a Mute button for you to control your TV, and the Siri button is now out of the way, as it should be. That starts at $179 for 32 gigs of storage, with more capacity for a couple of extra bucks, with pre-orders beginning April 30th. But then from now on, you’re gonna be hearing a lot of – available in the second half of May, which is not like Apple. Odd we’re not getting confirmed dates.
24-inch iMac M1
But alright, as for the two cool kids in the room, let’s talk about the first, the M1 iMac. This portion of the event started well with those Spectrum colors paying an homage to the original iMac. That whole slim body we’ve dreamed of is here. I mean it was all going well, but those white bezels, like, who can get immersed in content with that? Anyways, it’s powered by the M1 chip, and this is what allows such a slim profile.
There are two fans that don’t make more than 10 decibels of noise at the bottom, with a logic board that’s tiny when compared to the past. This is now a 24-inch 4.5K retina display that supports the P3 color gamut, 500 nits of brightness, True Tone, a reflective coating, you get the picture. I’m honestly more excited for the 1080p camera with computational video and a 3 mic array that allows beamforming so that the rest of the room doesn’t bother your calls. There’s also spatial audio thanks to a crazy set of speakers at the bottom, there’s a magnetic fabric cable behind that has an ethernet port on the power adapter. Like seriously pretty cool.
There’s even a new set of Mac Keyboard accessories with two supporting Touch ID, a new Magic trackpad, and Magic Mouse with new colors to match, though we’re still not sure if they still charge awkwardly through lightning. Even better, this would be the first M1 product with more than one USB C port. There’s actually 4 with two supporting Thunderbolt, though obviously in the worse placement ever at the back.
Cause it wouldn’t be an iMac if that wasn’t weird, but there are a couple of catches you should know. First, the Price starts at $1299, but then color options are limited, you don’t get the ethernet adapter on the power brick, and you lose the two extra USB C ports, and touch ID on the magic keyboard unless you buy separately. To get all the bells and whistles, you have to pick the $1499 or $1699 models. Orders also start on April 30th, with availability in the second half of May. I think even that base model is enough for anyone looking for a powerful creative beast since we’ve proven the M1 has exceeded expectations on Apple’s laptops.
Honestly, I think my biggest problem is with the second product. So to provide some context, ever since the first-generation iPad, we’ve dreamed about Apple making a tablet. Steve Jobs famously made fun of it. But at the time, the dream included OS X. The last thing we wanted was an iPod Touch with a larger canvas, and this is why it was so highly criticized. The only reason it took off was that it was priced way below what people predicted. And listen, I get it, the iPad wasn’t ideal, but its A4 chip laid the foundation that created the M1 chip that now has every chip maker and their mother fighting to catch up to. So of course, you start an event with an M1 chip on an iPad Pro, at the time when macOS Big Sur already runs on it, and I was literally standing on my chair just ecstatic.
Sadly, no, you have all the power of a MacBook Pro on an iPad Pro, that continues to be neutered by an Operating System that’s designed mostly for phones, oh and by the way, with the phone handling widgets better. So yes, we now have 5G support, the Pro cameras have this crazy motion tracking feature that lets you apply chroma effects in real-time, there’s an ultra-wide Face ID camera that can track you for wider Face Time calls.
Guys, we even get Thunderbolt support over USB-C, and yes, crazy improvements in performance when compared to the previous model. The problem is that if you know anything about iPads, that won’t mean much about how apps will run, so then what’s the point? Also, my second problem is that the whole mini LED display with Pro Display XDR claims is only available on the larger model, which is priced so high that at that point, just buy a MacBook Air and save some money.
But alright, I’m gonna calm down, because I have a little theory when it comes to all this underutilized potential. Either this is the most powerful creative tool that continues to be neutered by its operating system, or Apple has something else up its sleeve. Like, maybe not macOS, but if a Mac can run iPad Apps, what if this the way to get Mac Apps to run on an iPad, and then you choose what form factor you want?
Like, what if this is finally the way to get Final Cut Pro running on an iPad? Cause, unless this happens at Apple’s next event in June, I hate to say this, but you’re fine with an iPad Air or a MacBook Air. There is simply no purpose for this product other than bragging rights of performance you won’t be able to achieve. There’s no such thing as iPad apps that can only run on the Pro models unless you consider Lidar limitations which people barely care about.
Anton D. Nagy contributed to this iPhone 12 vs Pixel 5 comparison.
Apple and Google have a very different approach to their line-ups when compared to competitors. While most companies are deliberate about creating a distinction between what’s affordable and what’s not, Apple and Google are really good about blurring the lines for a reason I think others should consider: brand reputation.
The best way for any company to retain customer loyalty is to not water down the experience you get, regardless of the variant you bought. If you know the Pixel brand is known for photography and timely software updates, you expect it at whatever the price the brand is being utilized. To a certain degree that gives consumers peace of mind knowing that choosing a less expensive iPhone is not really a downgrade if what they lose is features they probably don’t care about, and not quality in the experience.
This is why the Pixel 4a and the iPhone SE are so popular. You can go cheap with the confidence that performance is speedy, software updates are guaranteed, and the camera will be better than most, and I think it was a learning experience for Google. To see the company skip flagships for a year and focus more on the experience is only proof of how Apple’s iPhone XR and 11 experiments worked. Success clearly lies in the midrange, but the 2020 approach for both companies is more than interesting.
On one corner we have the iPhone 12, what Apple will never call its mid-ranger, and also the closest kin to the company’s Pro lineup ever. On the other, we have the Pixel 5, what Google calls its Ultimate 5G phone, and yet another case of mid-ranger denial. Right now there’s a bit more than a benjamin standing in-between their price tags if you read the fine print. The biggest question is, which one is the best investment for you.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, part of your decision is already made based on the ecosystem you’re currently on. If you love elements like FaceTime, iMessage, your HomePod, or your Apple Watch, then you’re pretty much locked into your iPhone. Android on the other hand is a bit less stringent since pretty-much every single Google service works on an iPhone, and that even extends to their speakers and smartwatches. Unless you’ve made hefty purchases on the Google Play store that won’t follow you to Apple’s App Store, switching away from Android is easier.
I’ve always been more of a fan of Android’s versatility, but iOS 14 is making the competition tough, and it’s not just the widgets. I actually wish there were more of those six months later, but at least the apps I care about are now supporting this. For me, it’s things like the smarter App Library, and the smart hand-off that happens between products. Cases like how I still struggle to find a better smartwatch than Apple’s offering, or how much I love my AirPods Pro is proof of how valuable Apple’s Ecosystem is in adding value to any iPhone, cheap or expensive.
If only iOS had smarter services, because Siri is no match for the Google Assistant, and the widgets menu is no match for the Google feed. If Android is your jam, no phone does it better than Google’s own. From snappy performance to getting the latest version of Android on day one to the perks in notifications and home control with Android 11, to all the feature drops that Google is pushing out lately, this Pixel 5 is a true investment. I only wish it would be supported for longer, as Apple has already proven to be the king of this by pushing iOS 14 to its 5-year-old iPhone 6S.
The hardware story is quite different though. Not sure if you noticed but this is the first time I don’t compare the best Pixel to a Pro iPhone. Not launching a flagship is kind of a smart move given our current economy, but if we’re to be fair, Apple’s mid-ranger compares to more modern flagships better than the Pixel. It has the same chip from its Pro models, supports all flavors of 5G, has the same connectivity, wireless charging, and IP rating. By contrast, Google decided to pick a midrange chip to cut the cost. It’s no slouch in things like 5G flavors and other forms of connectivity, and if anything sweetens the pot is offering double the starting storage than the iPhone for less money, and all while not skimping on wireless charging and water resistance.
I wouldn’t say either phone does better at 5G or any other form of wireless connection, but I do prefer the Pixel for endurance. The iPhone 12 is no slouch, but somehow Google can really stretch out its power pack for a tad longer.
I’d even say the Pixel has a better display. They’re both gorgeous OLED panels with vibrant color, contrast, and viewing angles, but the iPhone offers a brighter display at up to 1200nits that’s a hair taller and is protected by a stronger ceramic shield. Still, the Pixel has no notch, offers Always-On options, and has the 90hz refresh rate that Apple is already late to adopt. That said since the Pixel lacks an earpiece that can be convenient for phone calls in noisy environments, the iPhone does a far better job at its dual-firing speakers.
As for the rest of the build, even with Google’s choice for Gorilla Glass 6 at the front, the coated aluminum at the back will do a better job at surviving a fall than Apple’s back glass, which is horribly expensive to repair. I’m a bit more inclined towards the flat finish on the iPhone 12 and its color options, but the Pixel 5 in Sage is also quite the looker. The fingerprint scanner at the back is also more useful during this pandemic than Apple’s Face ID as we continue to wait for iOS 14.5, but I do wish Google didn’t remove the privacy features we had on the Pixel 4, as only the iPhone 12 hides your notifications on the lock screen until your face is detected.
The last claim to fame for these phones is photography, and this is the department where we see the most similarities in our iPhone 12 vs Pixel 5 comparison. Both offer an ultra-wide and a primary camera, and enough software processing to make their specs almost irrelevant. Each company is focusing more on giving you the most practical and automated point and shoot in your pocket, and I think both do a comparable job.
If the Pixel was first at computational photography, the iPhone has caught up almost entirely cause you’ll have a hard time telling them apart during the day. From dynamic range to detail, to even color reproduction, the results are nearly identical at whichever focal length you pick. There were a few cases where I preferred the iPhone for closeups, but very sporadic.
In low light, I think we’ve gotten to the point where other higher-end phones do better than the Pixel. I don’t think the iPhone 12 does better, especially when you switch cameras, but it’s not as if the Pixel is that much better. Obviously the further your subject, the lesser the detail on both.
Selfies and Portraits are the mixed bags where the Pixel does better in most scenarios and is able to capture more than one subject every single time. The iPhone struggles with more than one person, but then provides more natural skin tones in my opinion, even if I do prefer the Pixel’s crop or the lack thereof in portrait mode.
Really the video is where the iPhone just obliterates the Pixel. If you’re a creator looking for a B Camera or home movies are your jam, you should pick the iPhone 12. Even if Stabilization is on-par, the dynamic range and detail that Apple provides are second to none, though remember these are phones, and that only applies with enough light on both cases. Maybe where that’s most evident is in selfie video, where the iPhone has been slaying most Android Phones with 4K at 60fps for a second year in a row, while the Pixel is still stuck at just 1080p, and a very uncomfortable crop for VLOGGING.
To conclude our iPhone 12 vs Pixel 5 comparison, I agree, this is a very tough call. Software is a matter of taste, where I find Apple’s ecosystem to provide more value, along with its longer support in software, but then Google provides a more useful approach to services. The iPhone has more variety in the hardware, but then the Pixel might be more durable and gives you double the storage for less money.
Once you throw the camera into the equation, the Pixel is looking like a better option if you care more about photography, but if video is important to you, it falls really short when compared to the iPhone.
I know, it’s hard to pick, and I’m gonna surprise you by picking the iPhone for the first time ever, and the reason has more to do with commitment. You get more for your money with the Pixel, but for how long? Google has been fumbling around with its Pixel phones since the days of the Nexus a decade ago, while Apple is not playing around. The iPhone has been a driving force for smartphones since its inception. If you’re the kind of person that holds on to a phone for more than a year or wants a good resale value, I think the iPhone is a better pick. Just the simple fact that the chip on this iPhone is on par with Apple’s own MacBooks says a lot about performance in the long run, even if I’d stretch a little extra money for double the storage if I were you.
This is the OnePlus 9 Pro, and by all counts, I think this is the phone the company has wanted to make for years. The product that will establish them more as part of the cool kids, where we see more established players like Samsung and Apple. Companies that have gained enough brand recognition to become status symbols, that have earned customer loyalty for years.
The biggest question is if this is the phone we’ve wanted them to make. This is the company that became famous for flagship killers. Products that defied that establishment with better value at acceptable compromise. There’s even proof that the strategy worked as we saw companies like Google, Apple, and Samsung diversify their lineups in order to launch their own sort of affordable flagships.
Now, in their defense, that flagship killer does exist in the OnePlus 9, which is such a dramatic improvement from before, that it deserves its own separate review. The Pro is more a showcase of everything the company can do, and I think the only way to judge it correctly is to forget the past. I get the impression that OnePlus is so certain of the 9 Pro’s capabilities, that this is the most expensive phone they’ve ever made. This price bracket is tough because we even debate the Apples and Samsungs that created it. That would mean that this phone is better than those, not just for the price, and there’s only one way to find out. This is our OnePlus 9 Pro review, in both video and text format.
OnePlus 9 Pro review video
Even if we’re going clean slate, the OnePlus 9 Pro seems like a blend of many successful ideas from the past. I think Huawei was first at calling any of its phones a Pro, and actually owning that title. Their reputation for cheap phones was so bad in the early days that I wouldn’t even care to review any of them before the Nexus 6P or P10, but then we saw the company drift so dramatically towards quality and capability, that they became a driving force that was hard to be ignored.
I mean, the P40 Pro Plus was my favorite camera on a phone last year. It also demonstrated the importance of co-branding with photography experts like Zeiss on Nokia and Leica on HUAWEI to prove that they’re taking photography seriously. What’s different with OnePlus is that this would be the youngest company to try to do all this, and for Hasselblad, a second chance at getting this right.
Visually, I’m gonna call this my favorite design on a OnePlus phone, ever. No more aggressive camera humps to wobble much on a table, and a far lighter build that feels more balanced in the hand. I’m not sure if it’s the cutout or the co-branding on it, but this phone looks like one of those classic Chevies from the 50s and 60s. I think the morning mist color plays a huge role in that appearance from the top, but the bottom is a mirror that made filming this phone a nightmare.
It does have this cool way of making fingerprints almost blend with the gradient, but I recommend you consider the other matte color options. Still, staples like the three-way mute slider are still here to remind you that this is a OnePlus phone.
From the front, we have the company’s best display on a phone. Dubbed its Fluid Display 2.0, we’re talking OLED with fewer curves, 10-bit color, 1300 nits of brightness, QuadHD+ resolution, and LTPO, so the variable refresh rate can go from 1 to 120hz based on your usage, and we have up to 360hz touch sampling for gaming. Certifications include HDR10+ from the panel and even Dolby Atmos from the speakers for content consumption. Oh, and by the way, this includes Qualcomm’s new Aqstic platform for improved wireless performance.
And since we began talking specs, In typical OnePlus fashion we also have the latest ones, with the amount of RAM and storage directly tied to how much you’re willing to pay. The latest Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, IP68 resistance, Dual flavors of 5G, and even a Dual-Cell battery that enables Warp Charge 65T, meaning crazy fast 65 watt PD from the charger that’s actually included in the box, or 50-watt wireless that’s only possible if you grab the optional stand. Also, that wireless charging is now reversible for accessories.
That said, I have a feeling you won’t need to charge this phone much. Testing any phone’s 5G in New York is rough, and even if Google Fi is still not pushing blazing speeds, they were good given the city’s infrastructure. Phone calls were loud and crisp even on Subway stations, but this would be the first OnePlus phone I test that isn’t dual-SIM. It might just be that the T-Mobile approach now became regional, so just keep it in mind. Regardless, after 10 days of testing, this proved to be an all-day phone every single time, no matter how hard I taxed it.
A lot of it has to do with Oxygen OS on top of Android 11. Even if OnePlus is not as quick as Google at pushing you new versions of Android, they’ve been number 2 for at least two years. It’s fast, aesthetically pleasing, includes the Google Feed on the launcher, the Power Menu in the power button, but then has its own set of perks focused on flexibility.
You can easily switch to Amazon’s assistant, you have Reading Mode which is still one of my favorites, Zen Mode to force you to take a break from your phone every now and then. Maybe my favorite is to use facial recognition to only show me notifications on the lock screen when it detects it’s me, and the fact that the optical fingerprint scanner on the display can also be used to lock specific apps.
But alright, if anything the first part of this review proves that this is very much a OnePlus phone in everything we’re used to, which is great. I’ve always been a big fan of using them and was accustomed to accepting the OK cameras because the price was just too good. Now we have a Hasselblad collaboration, and a retail ticket to match, and if you were to look at the spec sheet, OnePlus is not playing around. The Primary sensor is one of the best Sony makes right now, the Ultra-Wide is also the best on any phone right now, which doubles as a Macro camera, and even if the Telephoto is not designed to honor all the lunar marketing prowess that Hasselblad is known for, it looks pretty good on paper.
The results are.. Well, good depending on your scenario. If you have enough light you’ll get the typical photos you’ll expect from any phone with great color, contrast, and detail. In close-ups or macro shots, you get some really good dynamic range, though it can blow out colors when taxed too hard. The problem is that the slightest gloom will somehow have the camera software favor light over the shutter. This makes it really hard to capture detail unless you have a steady hand, and the darker it gets, the more the color tuning gets in the way of the detail.
And sure, inconsistencies are expected when switching focal lengths since each is a different sensor, but in some cases, even saturation varies. It’s as if the software magnifies the grain and sometimes makes a dark vehicle look cartoony. If you like to take photos of animals you’ll find yourself frustrated. I get the impression that the software wants to push that Hasselblad contrast so much that it forgets that all that is pointless without detail. Just keep in mind that on the phone they’ll mostly look good. My findings are when you pull these shots into a computer and compare them to other flagships.
That means that obviously at night, finding detail only becomes more difficult. Some photos are good, some are not. The way light reflections are handled could have a lot to do with it, again, because of that slower shutter being used.
You’ll see what I mean in portrait shots where unless your hand is ultra steady, the detail will be lost. Same story with Selfies where I struggle to find any shot that I can say I like as skin tones are just completely gone over this sort of hue the camera is trying to bring in how it handles light.
In video, sure, you have 8K and I love that the ultra-wide sensor is good enough to assist, pushing a far better crop than Samsung. You also have 4K at 60 and even 120 to get some really smooth cinematic shots. Just make sure you have enough light as that will require more shutter work.
Stabilization is somewhat inconsistent though, with some video working well and some not so well, so just keep that in mind. Really my problem is having selfie video that’s 16 times lower in resolution than what the primary cameras can do, throwing the versatility of what you can do with this phone just out the window if you care about being able to frame yourself in-home movies.
In photos, I feel a software update is needed urgently, and in selfie video, I mean the megapixels are there, and if the OnePlus Nord can do 4K, seriously the flagship should too.
OnePlus 9 Pro review conclusion
To conclude, I think that OnePlus has achieved a lot of what it intended with this launch. If the desire was to prove that it could launch a true flagship that competes against the premium sector, the hardware is all there, and all it needs is a bit more software tuning to become one of the best Android phones you can buy right now.
The only problem is perception, and it has a lot to do with how young the brand is. I asked at least 5 friends that were average consumers to pick between the 9 Pro and the iPhone 12 Pro or the Galaxy S21 Plus, which are almost the same price, and none of them picked the OnePlus. Sadly, if the 9 Pro is not really a better phone, or doesn’t have a halo feature that makes those other phones look bad, once you remove the value proposition from the equation, it’s a hard sell.
For sure, in cases like photography, it has Improved a bit, but not completely. And then if the company chooses to trail behind in things like selfie video at a time when social media is a huge part of our lives, then why should you pay more for the 9 Pro if a regular iPhone 12 can tackle these things for less money? If there was one product that needed that whole Never Settle mentality, it’s this one.
If you’re a OnePlus fan, I have no problem recommending the 9 Pro. It’s definitely the best phone they’ve ever made and we know the company is speedy about software updates to address the shortcomings. Now, if you’re not, you might want to consider what features you care about most before choosing this over any of its flagship competitors.
I don’t even know how to say this politely, so I’ll just start from the beginning. Apple’s AirPods Max is the most frustrating piece of hardware that I’ve ever wanted to almost love… There, I got it off my chest.
Let me explain: I travel a lot, 150,000 miles a year kind of a lot. It’s been the story of my life since I was 3, and for the past 20 years, it’s a sort of requirement I’ve set before taking any job. I’ve always been kind of like that George Clooney character in Up In The Air, where I only buy toiletries in small packages, I spend insane amounts of money on specific kinds of luggage just because they’re easier to drag, and I use Peak Design bags and tripods almost exclusively because of the amount of thought that’s put into making them compact.
Point is, I value ergonomics, practicality, and thoughtfulness before buying any product, and I’m willing to spend more on it. Obviously, with this pandemic, we all had to take a break from travel, but it’s the main reason I felt the only way to finalize the review of these Max correctly, was to wait until I could fly again with them. The sound should be one of the most important reasons for you to buy a pair of headphones, but for anyone willing to spend so much money, it’s not everything.
Thoughtfulness, as a noun, is the consideration for the needs of other people. Let’s be real, Apple hasn’t always been famous for this. Remember the excessive obsession over thin and light at the expense of battery life? Remember the only two USB ports stuck so next to each other that one was pretty much useless on the old MacBooks. Or fine, just one USB-C port for everything on the MacBook? Sure, this is the company that put a thousand songs in your pocket, but it also killed the headphone jack against user feedback.
So, AirPods Max. Let me start with basic a disclaimer. This is not an audiophile review, and I’m sure the Internet is full of them. I even battle with the idea of such an analysis for wireless headphones. At the moment, Bluetooth hasn’t really reached what most would consider as High Fidelity territory, even if Apple disputes it in their marketing. You either choose the convenience of a wireless connection at the expense of quality or the other way around at the expense of money, cause yeah, it can get thousands of dollars more expensive.
That said, for Bluetooth, the AirPods Max is NOT at all affordable. At this price, *any* pair of headphones should sound amazing, and these do but bear with me. Let me begin with the things I like before you get the impression that this is a bashing piece. What we have here is a different approach through computational audio, where the H1 chip detects everything from the music you hear to the fit in your ears in order to balance the EQ dynamically, and I can tell. I actually do appreciate the aluminum design, but for reasons that contradict the purpose.
I seriously think Apple chose the materials more to boost the audio experience than the build quality. See, probably what I like most about these headphones, is that I’ve never heard a broader soundstage from Bluetooth Headphones. I’m talking instrument separation, and crisp bass, if there is such a thing. I’m trying to find a word to describe how I can actually feel it without providing any sort of distortion. The aluminum actually seems to contribute to creating this sort of rumble all around that I can’t say I’ve experienced before.
Now, disclaimer number 2. I have no scientific way to prove this, but I’ve only experienced this soundstage on Apple Music. Yes, I know this is the same exact AAC codec that Spotify uses, which I also download at maximum quality. Thing is, for whatever reason that should seriously be obvious, Instrument separation and audio quality on Spotify is good, but I consider it better on Apple Music.
I say obvious because this is a very Apple thing to do. If you want to take maximum advantage of what these headphones can do, you have to be in their ecosystem. Pair them to one, and then they’re smart enough to switch between the rest of your Apple devices. Spatial Audio capabilities exist depending on the content supporting it, and all you have to do is say Hey Siri to get them to play whatever music you want… on Apple Music, of course. The concept of having this Apple Watch-style digital crown for audio and music playback is a smarter approach to capacitive controls, but I think my favorite feature is the button next to it.
AirPods Max noise cancelation
See, Noise cancelation on these headphones isn’t just great, but different. The biggest problem with most other offerings is the sort of suction they produce, which can make anyone feel uneasy for an extended period of time. By contrast, the choice in hardware and materials help these balance out the feel so well that you’ll notice the noise dissipate without added discomfort.
That said, what I like about these AirPods Max most is their Ambient Mode. Like on AirPods Pro, these headphones can also balance the inner feal and outside noise so well that you can barely tell you’re covering your ears, which is quite convenient in cold New York winters, even if it throws people off because they think you can’t hear them. Match this with a pretty good set of microphones, and yes, I have no problem recommending them for phone calls.
I also appreciate the mesh used in the earcups, which does a far better job at not making your head sweat than the faux leather on other offerings. The fact that they’re easily replaceable guarantees they’ll look good for longer.
The not so good
So yes, they sound great, they cancel noise or invite it better than most. So, what’s wrong? Well, I wish that the same amount of thought that was put into their audio experience was ported to the practicality of their design. This is the company that forced every competitor to make smaller cases for their earbuds, and yet somehow failed at it here.
First, they’re large, which is fine while you’re wearing them, it comes with the territory, but the problem is when you don’t. They don’t collapse in any way, which makes carrying them an exercise in frustration. People make fun of the case, I don’t since it barely adds to the footprint. The problem is that it makes you flip the muffs sideways, which only makes them even less compact, which then leads to the problem that if they don’t fit in your bag you’ll do what I do and carry them on the side, which is then more of a problem since they’re not water-resistant nor protected by the case, which means. Figure out how to make them fit, or just don’t take them off, or just don’t travel with the damn things at all.
Second, don’t carry them in this extended position or let alone drop them without the case. As it is, the aluminum finish collides with itself, meaning you’ll end up scratching them quicker than you think, which is more visible on every color except silver.
The third is that if you have a large head as I do, you’re not gonna like to wear them for extended periods of time. They’re heavier than average, and really the light canopy at the top seems to just serve as a way to join them together as the stainless steel bar mechanism is really what’s clamping them to your head. As a result, that continuous force you’re receiving can make wearing anything else on your face uncomfortable, whether it’s eyeglasses depending on how thick they are, but I even feel this way about face masks. And then you’d think the solution for that is to take them off and carry them around your neck every now and then, but since the stems aren’t long, the force of that clamping mechanism on your neck is also uncomfortable. I know! It’s like if your head doesn’t get a break unless you fully take them off, and we already know carrying them is a nightmare.
Last but not least, there’s Lightning. Like, what year is this? This is a cable that Apple has been phasing out. I charge my Mac and iPad with USB-C and my iPhone and AirPods Pro through MagSafe. Now I have to carry an extra cable because there’s also the problem that there’s no way to turn these off without the case. The 20 hours of battery life is quite accurate if you keep in mind that at least a little power is constantly drained by them, meaning a week-long trip might require you to charge them once or twice. But then my other problem is the need for Apple’s expensive lightning to headphone jack cable if I’m editing a video. Sadly even with all the advancements on these Max, you will jump into the eventual latency issues on Final Cut Pro that every other headphone brings unless you use a wire. So yeah, two cables to carry, and a carrying case that can’t fit them.
AirPods Max: conclusion
To conclude, I think you know where I’m going with this review. Apple’s AirPods Max are the best sounding pair of Bluetooth headphones that I’ve ever used, so long as I’m using Apple Music, or if I’m listening to Spatial Audio from content that supports it, only on an iPhone or iPad, so long as I’m not having to carry them anywhere.
This makes, and doesn’t make sense. At this price, we want amazing audio without compromise in basics like how to carry them around. This only reminds me of how much I hated the first AirPods, but for opposite reasons. Those were great for calls, and carrying them was effortless, but the fit was so bad that it made the audio quality forgettable. We needed AirPods Pro to fix the fit problem in order for the entire experience of using them to be worth the money.
Same problem here. The AirPods Max is clearly a fantastic idea that suffers from the curse of a first-generation product. Unless your bag has enough space, I struggle to recommend them for a frequent traveler, or who wants them for the daily commute on the train. The weight and lack of an IP rating also mean they’re not for fitness. Really I’d call these more a good pair of headphones for the couch, which kind of defeats the purpose of their wireless connection or longevity.
If you’re looking for amazing sound quality from a pair of Bluetooth headphones and the price is not a problem, then sure, buy the AirPods Max. But know what you’re in for. If your plan is to use these to replace all the convenience of say, a pair of Bose QC35s, or 700s, the Sony Mark Fours, or the Jabra Elite 85H which are my favorite, you might want to wait for generation 2. All of them sound great, cost a lot less, and can collapse into something smaller when you’re done. You know, logical things can only be achieved when thoughtful design considers that audio is just part of the experience.
For the longest time, the OPPO Find lineup has been more about Finding innovation than restraint. The Find 7 wowed many of us with its specs and QuadHD display for the time. The Find X was… Well, crazy. It took the design and motorized cameras more seriously than any other, and then the Find X2 Pro didn’t just go Periscopic but also taught the new kids how to do it in a compact body. There’s never been anything conventional about them, so of course, it creates this sort of expectation of another vanguard phone for 2021.
Well, this is the Find X3 Pro, what OPPO dubs as the Billion Color phone, and what I’m gonna call one of the sleekest, best-looking phones of the year so far, but not necessarily what I’d call a successor to what made the brand popular. So yeah, it’s not crazy, there’s no wow factor, but if refinement was the intent, there’s a lot of that here. This is our OPPO Find X3 Pro review.
You know, I saw the leaks, and sure, I also thought it looked a lot like an iPhone, but I think that’s a huge oversimplification. See, usually, smartphones in this category are large and chunky just to fit all their hardware, but this is probably the thinnest and lightest flagship I’ve tried yet.
To provide some context, it’s just 193 grams, making it around 35 to 36 grams lighter than the 12 Pro Max and S21 Ultra respectively. It’s also just 8.2mm thick, leaving the Ultra trailing behind at 8.9, though the 7.4mm on iPhone is hard to catch up with. I don’t usually make a big deal about these things, but because the body is narrower than average, somehow the weight distribution makes this phone feel almost hollow and effortless to use.
Now, it does seem like if 2021 is the year of the contour camera, but this is a very different approach. There’s a whole scientific explanation into how it takes 40 hours and more than 100 processes to create this kind of a curve, and I like it. It’s more cohesive and helps prevent lint from being stuck in the corners. If anything I’d say the curves make the hump look larger than it is because it doesn’t really protrude much. It is elegant, I’ll give you that, but that’s so long as you can keep it clean. I might recommend you try the Blue option cause this Gloss Black color doesn’t do so well in that department. Also, I don’t have a specific rating for the back, but I do know the front is Gorilla Glass 5.
Now the whole claim for the Billion Colors starts with this display. Last year’s Find X2 Pro was my favorite display on a phone, edging out every competitor in contrast ratio, and the legacy continues. This is a stunning 6.7-inch Quad HD OLED capable of 10-bit color, 100% of the DCI-P3 color gamut, HDR10+, 1,300 nits of brightness, and the same 5 million to 1 contrast ratio from last year. Colors, brightness, and viewing angles are seriously fantastic, and because it’s LTPO, you also have a variable refresh rate between 5 and 120hz at more power efficiency, and 240hz touch sampling. Match this with tiny and symmetrical bezels allowing for 92.7% of screen to body ratio, and a good pair of dual firing speakers, and yeah, content consumption is great. There’s also a very fast but not as reliable face to unlock through the punch hole, and an optical fingerprint scanner at the very bottom of the display to unlock it easier while wearing a mask.
Internals are also that of your typical high-end flagship, with the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 888, 12 gigs of RAM, 256 gigs of non-expandable storage, Dual-SIM 5G that supports all flavors, the latest Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, a large 4,500 mAh battery, VOOC rapid charging up to 65 watts and yes it comes in the box. Finally, some wireless charging up to 30 watts if you have AirVOOC which is optional, it’s reversible up to 10 watts, and yeah, IP68 water and dust resistance are in tow.
Software and Experience
This is Color OS 11.2 running on top of Android 11, which sure is not stock Android, but not really far from it. The UI elements are still mostly OPPO, but the more you use it, the more you realize just how much Google-ified it is. You have the Google feed to the left of the launcher, there’s an option to call on the Google Assistant from the power button, and you can also set an app tray if that’s your jam. Other features are actually welcomed, like using your fingerprint to unlock your Private Safe or specific apps, in addition to calling on shortcuts with a gesture. A side menu for quick shortcuts, and other enhancements like Game Space and OPPO Relax 2.0.
Really all you care about is that the UI doesn’t bog down the experience, and that’s the case here. Apps launch fast, animations are minor so it all feels smooth, and as a result, I feel battery life is pretty good. After a week of testing on Google Fi, I’ve been able to end my days with enough of a charge left, no overheating, though even with all the 5G antennas included, I can’t say I ever got 5G to work. Fi is still finicky about the phones it supports with it, even leaving iPhones off the list, so I’ll attribute that to my problem.
Now let’s talk cameras for a bit, cause that’s another reason for the Billion Color tagline. OPPO and Sony co-engineered a new 50-megapixel IMX766 sensor that’s capable of 10-bit color, but this is actually the first phone to include two of them. One for the primary camera, and the other for the ultra-wide. This makes a lot of sense cause if you think about it, in a mirror-less camera you can change lenses to provide different focal lengths, but image quality is never affected cause the sensor doesn’t. I wish that were the case with the telephoto, which took a step back from being periscopic. I’ll let the results do the talking, and we’ll discuss that fourth camera in a bit.
At first, I thought they just looked great because the display made them look good, but once you pull them into a computer, the results remain consistent. As expected daylight photos are great, but OPPO is playing with a bit more contrast in its color science, creating this sort of Leica grain that I’m really liking. It makes colors like red look bolder and more elegant. It plays in its favor mostly when switching focal lengths since you’re losing aperture on the other cameras, so the grain sort of compensates for the loss in detail in the shadows. Having the same sensor in the Ultra-wide leads to color consistency, and even if there’s one less element on the lens, there is nearly no distortion on the sides. And sure, we lost the periscopic zoom lens, but I’d say photos even up to 5X hybrid are really good, though I do suggest you stay away from 20X digital.
In low light, I’d say this phone performs better than most. These would be the only ultra-wide photos I’d recommend at night, providing results that are almost on-par with the Primary. Obviously the darker it gets the harder it is given the differences in aperture, but I’m very impressed overall. It’s not until you jump to the telephoto that things start falling apart, but it’s the story with every other phone.
Oddly, I’m a fan of selfies, but not of selfie portraits. Somehow the latter needs some serious tuning as all dynamic range is blown off, something every other competing phone solved generations ago.
And sadly, it’s the same way I feel about the video. I mean, the back camera can go up to 4K at 60 providing some decent results with good stabilization and colors, but I’m gonna apologize right now for the selfie video footage. No stabilization, pretty regular dynamic range, and it’s still stuck at 1080p, which again is something that competitors addressed ages ago.
As for camera number 4, well this is a Microlens that allows up to 60x magnification and even records Full HD video of, well, the weave that makes up my mouse pad. It uses a circular ring light to help you get really close to your subject, but aside from learning that my hankies were not really 100% cotton, this is more of a gimmick given the low resolution of the results.
OPPO Find X3 Pro review conclusion
To conclude our OPPO Find X3 Pro review, I think the best way to summarize the OPPO Find X3 Pro is by calling it the most mature flagship in this lineup. I mean sure the wow factor is gone, but I think it was done on purpose. During our briefing, we asked why features like the periscopic lens were taken away, and the engineers claimed that users didn’t use it as much as the primary or the ultra-wide. It kind of makes sense for the complexity to be removed if it’s an extra value that’s under-utilized.
Because of its great design, superb display, a great set of cameras,
and excellent battery life,
the OPPO Find X3 Pro is our choice for a great overall flagship smartphone.
Maybe the reason why I disagree with that approach is that I feel the industry needs phones like the ones this lineup used to stand for. Not all features will stick around for an extra year or two, but the only way to live in the future is through experimentation. If it wasn’t for those motorized cameras or periscopic lenses, I don’t think other manufacturers would’ve adopted the technology. It’s proof that OPPO was actually delivering on useful ideas and not the usual gimmicks we get from other manufacturers.
Regardless, if I were to judge the Find X3 Pro as a flagship, it’s a great phone. From the look and feel of the hardware to the experience with the software, it’s a joy to use. If photography is your thing, it’s one of the best phones on my list, even if I wish all my needs for video were addressed. Sure, I was expecting a bit more than just another flagship with this phone, but that doesn’t deter me from the fact that I have no problem recommending it.
This is the Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2, a very interesting sequel to one of the most opulent products of 2020. I mean, it was hard not to award the first Galaxy Chromebook as best of CES for its sleek design, powerful internals, S Pen support, and a 4K OLED display, but it wasn’t perfect. It obviously didn’t come cheap, and battery life was sort of a problem, which made the choice for ChromeOS be kind of a deal-breaker. It’s always been this topic of debate if buying an expensive Chromebook is worth the money, and the reason why I drifted more to the Galaxy Book Flex, which was almost the same machine, but running Windows.
To use an analogy, an Expensive Chromebook is like trying to sell a variant of the MacBook Pro running iPadOS, but at the same price as one running macOS. And fine, before you cringe, I agree that ChromeOS is superior to what Apple launches in its tablets, but have you ever wondered just how much more superior? I mean guys, even Google decided to tone this approach down. It’s been almost four years since the Pixelbook. Three years since the Pixel Slate disaster and the PixelBook Go from two years ago became far less expensive.
I seriously don’t blame Samsung for switching its approach for 2021, all while keeping some of the elements that made generation one so hot. This is our Galaxy Chromebook 2 review.
Galaxy Chromebook 2 review video
The ChromeOS debate
Alright, so why the whole *But runs ChromeOS,* or the analogy I used earlier? I think the best way to understand why the Chromebook 2 is NOT better than the first, starts with understanding who a Chromebook is really for. Since Google is a web company, and our lives have pretty much evolved to be always connected, it makes a lot of sense for the needs of many to be centered on just a few things that can all be done on the browser. That allows for a more nimble operating system that does not carry any baggage, which in turn allows lower specs and a more affordable price tag.
Now, let’s be honest, the reason why Chromebooks are more popular in schools and with the average consumer is NOT that they’re better than a Windows PC or a MacBook. It’s because they’re dramatically cheaper. For as much as Google tried to go premium, the software just didn’t match the hardware as it does on competing operating systems.
That’s exactly the best way to describe what the Galaxy Chromebook 2 is all about. The price and the offering now adapt more to reality, but it solves another major pain point in the process… I mean, I know Chromebooks are cheap, but if we’re honest, most of them are also ugly or really skimp down on essentials that some might be willing to pay a bit more for, which is the niche I feel this laptop tries to fill.
Unless you compare it to its predecessor, the Chromebook 2 is probably one of the most premium-feeling and looking Chromebooks on the market today. In this price range, the sexy Fiesta Red in this chassis is a lot more eye-catchy than say, a Pixel Book Go. It borrows from my favorite laptop design from last year, which was actually its predecessor, but it’s not exactly the same body. It is the same Aluminum finish, but this one is slightly thicker and heavier. Still, it keeps one of my favorite design elements, which is to have back-lit keyboard lowered a bit more to provide just enough palm rest, but not too much, and also in offering a fairly large trackpad, along with a decent amount of with USB-C on each side, and even microSD expansion up to 2 terabytes.
You might need to actually use that more often than you think, though. If this is going to be your only computer, specs won’t drive you crazy. The more affordable model starts at an Intel Celeron with 4 gigs of RAM and 64 gigs of storage, which I’m hoping is somehow better than how those numbers made the Pixel Slate cough with anything. My review is based on the Core i3 with double the storage and RAM numbers, which might be a better investment in the long run. Other standard specs include Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 4.
Now, aside from the outer shell, another thing that separates this Chromebook is the display. Samsung’s QLED technology makes a return on this 13.3-inch panel, with a lot of punch in color and contrast. I do wish it went above 1080p, but you and I know that anything with that has an extra digit in the price. Push the hinge further and another reason this is better than the Pixelbook Go, is that the panel is touch-sensitive, so you can set it as a tent to consume content or even a tablet if that’s your jam. Doing this automatically switches the software to gesture-based, which is welcomed. Sadly there’s no S Pen included in the box, but pretty much any USI Stylus works with it, though I wouldn’t recommend you cheap out too much on that, as the experience will vary. Samsung makes a lot of high claims for the speakers, which are beyond Ok to almost what I’d call good, but nothing amazing given the placement.
The not so good
But alright, after typing half this script on it with the things I like, let me switch over to the things that aren’t necessarily bad. Or as I like to say, where I’m mixed.
The first is the keyboard. It is a joy to type on. Probably the best one Samsung has ever put on a laptop, but make sure you watch Michael Fisher’s review. His unit actually got replaced due to keyboard repetitions. I can’t say my computer has the same aggressive problems that his unit has, but yeah, it’s happened a couple of times, and mostly on Android apps.
And yes, that actually leads me to the second reason why I’m mixed. I think ChromeOS has matured a lot from the last time I used it. I love the ability to switch to more than one desktop for multi-tasking, plus the tablet gestures, and let’s be real, Chrome as a browser is pretty powerful and convenient. If you can live with Chrome alone, you’ll be fine, but my problem continues to stand on the shoulders of Android Apps. The UI elements and the navigation is not always consistent, the size of text or the presentation of features is not consistent, and I think they do affect essentials like battery life. I mean it does charge pretty fast with the bundled 45-watt charger, but the battery drop depends on what you do, so don’t expect the 13 hours promised.
Michael had a better experience with his unit, but I couldn’t get past 5 to 6 hours of use, which I think might have to do with how much I use Android apps for Slack, Microsoft OneNote, and others… I think it’s probably the reason why the fans on my unit kick in pretty often, but that actually leads me to my other problem. Guys, this is the same version of Microsoft Excel and Word on your Android Phone, so don’t be fooled to think it competes with a Windows machine, or heck, even the version on iPadOS. And see, this is my biggest problem, that if you want the full PC experience, you depend on a browser version of the service to exist because, in everything else, you’re using a phone’s app, with phone limitations.
Last but not least, I’m not gonna call this a problem, but I was already pretty excited with how Samsung has evolved its ecosystem to talk to each other, like how the Galaxy Book Flex can charge your devices on the trackpad, or support features like Samsung Notes to sync with your phone. As it stands, since Samsung’s Galaxy Store is not available on this computer, you’re limited to Samsung Smart Things on Google Play and that’s it. It almost feels like a step back when compared to everything Samsung offers to its Windows computers.
Galaxy Chromebook 2 review conclusion
To conclude, what can I say? The Samsung Galaxy Chromebook is probably the best Chromebook you can buy for its price range. It’s got an amazing build, a really good display, and I do have to say that even with the basic specs, this Core i3 performs really well. We recommend the Galaxy Chromebook 2 as the Best Value.
My problem with this computer is really ChromeOS, and it might have to do with the fact that I’m biased towards getting a more powerful operating system for this kind of money, cause yeah at this price, you can find some fairly decent Windows machines that’ll be able to do more. Heck, even last year’s Galaxy Chromebook is available with better everything for $100 bucks more than the high-end variant that I just reviewed of version 2.
If you’re on the market for a Chromebook, meaning you know your usage fits into the mold, then sure, the Galaxy Chromebook 2 is a pretty neat little package. It’s what I’d call a more logical high-end Chromebook if there is such a thing.
So, you navigate to the store, see the new Galaxy, and think, “yeah this is the one I really want”. But if we’re honest, last year’s phone is almost the same phone, so why pay more, right?
Well, this is one of those rare cases where it’s not that simple. Right now if you want to buy last year’s Galaxy Note20 Ultra, the price has actually *dropped* to match the new S21 Ultra. I know! It makes no common sense, but it’s been the usual trend where the Note has always been more expensive than the S because of the added features. I even read a few of your comments in my review stating that this new Ultra wasn’t a worthy upgrade when compared to last year’s Note. A statement I’ve historically agreed on for at least five years, given how much Samsung blurred the lines between both lineups.
So, instead of going back to its roots, what happens when Samsung decides to blend them even more than before, but this time, without the price gap? This is Galaxy S21 Ultra vs Galaxy Note20 Ultra.
If we’re honest, this is the first time this comparison has ever been worth considering, which is the reason I’ve never done one before. It’s always been hard to objectively compare the Note to anything because the added capabilities simply made it a better phone. It’s not until now that the Galaxy S gets a piece of that pie that this video makes sense, but let me just start by saying this might be the first comparison the Note will ever lose.
A lot of the design cues that have separated these lineups remain since the Note has always been boxier than the S, almost to mimic the feel of a notepad. It was first to adopt a matte back that the S21 now borrows, which helps both of these phones look crazy elegant in the hand. Seriously there is no way you’ll go unnoticed if you carry either. The glass is not completely free of smudges, but it does a better job than most, and each carries the same Gorilla Glass Victus protecting both panels. The footprint of each is then more of a mixed bag where the Note is 2 millimeters wider, but then the S21 is a hair taller and thicker, plus around 20 grams heavier. If I were to pick, I’d say I prefer the looks of the contour design on the S21 given how the camera hump protrudes less and is designed to blend, while on the Note it’s as if the massive stove is a necessary evil.
The main difference for the weight difference is that we have a larger battery on the S21, though you might not notice much of a difference in weight distribution. That said, the S21 has a newer processor with more modern architecture, though other essentials like RAM and the starting storage are relatively the same, but then the Note swings back with an option to expand it. They both offer the same dual flavors of 5G, though the S21 has a newer Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Standard. And then other specs like reverse wireless charging speeds and water-resistance are pretty much comparable.
Their displays are another spot where the S21 Ultra is superior. Technically they share the same Dynamic AMOLED 2X Technology at the same Quad HD+ resolution and variable refresh rate up to 120hz, but only the S21 Ultra can handle those peak speeds at maximum resolution. It also offers a slightly brighter panel that’s less curved if you look at it from the sides, but then the Note has a tiny bit smaller bezels, allowing for almost a 92% screen to body ratio vs 90%. I know, not that much of a difference, which is the same way I feel about speaker performance. If content consumption is your thing, both phones sound just as well.
This is about that moment where I tell you that the reason why the Note wins is because of the WACOM digitizer, but nope. Even here Samsung has finally helped the S21 own its Ultra title. Point is, if you’ve ever wanted a more modern Galaxy Note earlier in the year to take advantage of the latest chip, the S21 Ultra should be your phone. Just keep in mind that as opposed to the Note, the S Pen on the S21 is optional. Now, no worries, pretty much any old S Pen or some third-party accessories will work fine. My only advice is that you don’t buy Samsung’s silicone case with S Pen. It’s too expensive, the quality is just not worth the money, and this particular Pen which has a taller form factor is sold separately. Spigen’s new Liquid Air Pen Edition is a third of the cost of Samsung’s case, is made of far better materials, fits the phone better, and even if you add the cost of the S Pen, you’re still saving money.
The software is also not that much different. Unless you care about the Bluetooth Air Gestures or remote shutter from the S Pen, which I don’t. Having the S21 Ultra is exactly the same as the Note20 Ultra. Same Air Command when the phone senses proximity, same Smart Select, Screen Write and other tricks exclusive to the S Pen, same screen off memos, and my favorite reason to even care, which is the integration with the Microsoft Office Suite. To simply be able to highlight and doddle on OneNote is enough for me to use the S Pen every single day.
In everything else, the experience is nearly the same. Yes, I did see the announcement of OneUI 3.1 for last year’s phones, and I did wait a bit before doing this video, but it only helps me prove a point. Unless you pick the latest phone, waiting longer for updates is kind of normal in the Samsung world. Regardless, version 3.1 has probably been my favorite ever given its blend of Samsung and Google services. I’m seriously hoping this update on the Note also allows for the Google Feed on the left of the launcher, even if Samsung Free’s TV channels can be cool every now and then. Still, I don’t think any company does phablet software better than Samsung, with the edge menus for quick shortcuts, or app pairs for your favorite multi-tasking combos. As much as people complain about this not being stock Android, I still feel that if what you want is a Galaxy Note or the Note’s functionality, Google’s approach is not better than Samsung’s.
And guys, having both devices set to 120Hz makes the UI feel faster and more fluid, and even with heavy use on Verizon’s 5G network, I’d say you’ll end the day just fine on both, and still have battery power to spare. I can’t say the S21 Ultra has dramatically better battery life, but it does last a bit longer, and this is even with the screen set to maximum resolution and refresh rate.
So far the Galaxy S21 Ultra has won almost everything. Really the last thing left to compare is the cameras, and I’m gonna make this easy for you. Yes, the S has a newer primary sensor, a new dual ISP on the chip, a better selfie camera, and more additional cameras, which allows for a smarter dual approach to the telephoto. It definitely is the better camera phone in numbers and specs, but I think the results should do the talking.
During the day, the only difference you’ll see is that the S21 Ultra is slightly warmer, but the difference is so negligible you really have to nitpick even up to the ultra-wide. I seriously see very little difference unless you do close-ups where the crispy bokeh is shared, but then the S21 Ultra has a faster shutter for things like moving flowers. Now, switch to the Telephotos, and I’ll drift more to the S21. I find 3X optical more useful for street photography than the 5X on the Note, and I prefer the detail on the 10X optical over any sort of digital crop from the Note.
I also feel that the software and the new ISP on the chip allow for things that just obliterate the Note, like in trying to take photos of the moon. It’s clear that the S21 Ultra is not playing around for complicated scenarios, even if the 100X on it is as useless as the 50X on the Note20 Ultra.
And since we started, at night the results are nearly the same as well, though an opposite story in white balance with the S21 being cooler than the Note20, even if I wouldn’t recommend either for anything other than photos taken from the primary. There is a night mode for the rest of the sensors, but only the ultra-wide is optical, while the telephotos are all just digital crops. So yeah, not worth it.
In standard portraits, you’ll have a hard time telling either apart, but once you jump into selfies, I’ll give them to the S21. I notice far more detail in the skin tones, even if the dynamic range and separation from subjects on both are pretty awesome.
When comparing 4K videos, the results are nearly identical depending on how much of a critical eye you have. I’m the guy that will notice that there is less moiré coming out of the S21 in the tougher situations, but everything else from the stabilization to the minor grain in the shadows is the same. Switch to selfie video, and you might think the results are exactly the same as well, but I’m also the guy that notices a slightly better depth of field coming from the S21 Ultra.
Overall the pattern is evident, everything is almost the same, with the S21 Ultra being only slightly better in most things, but then the king in telephoto performance.
To conclude, I think the day has finally come. This is the first time that a Samsung Galaxy Note loses a comparison. If anyone had any doubts that Samsung is planning to either kill the Note lineup or evolve it into a different form factor, the strategy behind the S21 Ultra is proof.
I think I don’t need to even state the obvious, the S21 Ultra has a more refined design, better internals, newer software, a better camera system, and the S Pen is optional in case you don’t care about it. Once you consider the fact that they are both now priced exactly the same, but that Samsung offers better trade-in deals for the S21, and it’s as if the Note20 Ultra was shot down by its own sibling just months later.
Unless you’re nostalgic and want to grab what could probably be the last Galaxy Note, there is simply no reason to consider it over the Galaxy S21 Ultra. For the last five years, I’ve always been the guy that reviews the new S and then goes back to the Note, but in 2021, the only device that would pull me away from the S21 Ultra is a foldable Galaxy Note… Dear Samsung, it’s about time the Note returned to its vanguard status.