A touch of glass
Gadgets get splashes of style to up their premium quotient
It was only a matter of time that the tall 18:9 aspect ratio displays we’ve come to expect from flagship Androids trickled down to more affordable price points, such as the Rs 12,999-onwards Honor 7X. It checks a lot of boxes, but has a few shortcomings that prevent an outright recommendation.
That big curved-edge 5.93-inch display packed into a typical 5.5-inch form factor coupled with a metal build with curved edges means that the 7X has a premium and modern (if a little slippery) feel. The display itself boasts of a full-HD+ resolution, a wide colour gamut and good viewing angles, although brightness levels aren’t the highest around. It’s still a good choice for a device in this segment. Movies and games, in particular, really benefit from the immersive display. The dual-camera setup takes good photos in well-lit situations, but even with the 16MP-2MP combo, it struggles to deliver in portrait mode and low light conditions — I’d encourage you to try the Pro Photo mode to squeeze out the most from this camera.
Performance on the Huawei-made Kirin 659 chip and 4GB memory is middling — the custom EMUI Android skin manages just about fine on the hardware but some heavier games show up occasional lags and patchy frame rates — though both variants let you expand the 32/64GB of storage up to 256GB via the hybrid SIM slot. Battery life will pull you through a long day of moderate use, but heavier users will need to juice it up by sunset.
Price: Rs 12,999/Rs 15,999
It heralds the return of Motorola’s X series of stylish flagships, but the Moto X4 has more than a few modern touches to keep it in the reckoning in the brutally competitive mid-range segment.
With its compact proportions, this is a phone for folks who’re tired of stretching their hands (and their pockets) to use the new breed of phablet-sized smartphones. The X4 forgoes the plastic and rubber construction of yore for an aluminum frame and a glass rear panel, both of which lend it a far more premium feel than the competition. It’s well-equipped to run stock Android 7.1.1 — the Qualcomm Snapdragon 630 chip along with 3/4GB of RAM and 32/64GB of storage are par for the course — and Moto’s subtle software touches are free from the excesses of many of its peers. Battery life (3,000mAh) is adequate for a day’s use, and you get 30-minutes-for-50-per-cent fast charging. Water resistance is a bonus.
The slick rear design is let down a tad by the presence of bezels above and below the display — no bezel-less display on offer here — but the fingerprint sensor doubles as a gesture control to perform the most commonly used Android functions, allowing you to disable the on-screen controls. No Android Oreo and Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistant (present in international variants of the X4) are a bit of a let-down, but both should make their appearance in the coming months. And while I liked the secondary camera’s wide 120-degree field of view, perfect for cityscapes that I like to shoot, the overall camera setup suffered on account of shutter lag and noisy low-light shots.
Price: Rs 20,999/Rs 22,999
ONEPLUS 5T STAR WARS LIMITED EDITION
The OnePlus 5T impressed on debut recently, and its Star Wars Limited Edition variant is a homage to the cult space opera, timed to launch alongside the movie’s release. It may differ only in the slightest ways from the 5T, which means much of what I wrote about the 5T holds good for this Limited Edition variant as well. But if you’re a Star Wars fan, there is no other phone in which the Force is as strong.
Under the hood, this is a OnePlus 5T through and through, which means everything I liked about that phone — the Face Unlock, the six-inch all-screen goodness, all that power on tap — still stays. A bright red alert slider and a custom matte white colour scheme in a sandstone finish a la the original OnePlus One (and directly inspired by the planet Crait from The Last Jedi) — serves to differentiate this one from the original. There’s a custom red-accented Star Wars theme and a bunch of Star Wars wallpapers, but the box also bundles in a Kylo Ren-themed case. Now, this isn’t the most practical case for an otherwise super slickly designed phone (it adds way too much bulk), but it’s pretty cool for when you’re meeting up with other Star Wars nerds, that’s all. Even though it’s linked to one of the biggest movie franchises ever, it’s pricier by the barest of margins than the regular 5T.
Same as the 5T — no Android Oreo, no weather proofing.
Price: Rs 38,999
AMAZON KINDLE OASIS
The Kindle needs no introduction, and as the much loved ‘library in your backpack’ turns 10, Amazon pulled out all the stops to give us a Kindle that we’d all hoped for, albeit at a price only a few will be able to justify spending.
Like last year’s premium Kindle Oasis, the 2017 update retains a similar asymmetric shape — thicker at one end and 3.4mm-thin on the other — which gives it an easy-to-grip book-like form factor that sits perfectly balanced in your hand. The bigger spine has afforded the Oasis a bigger six-week battery, which does away with the need for an add-on battery-toting case as was the case with last year’s model. Premium finish aside, the new Oasis gets the top-shelf treatment, by way of more storage and a larger seven-inch E Ink panel, the biggest on any Kindle right now, and the extra screen real estate allows you more words on each page and gives a much better graphic novel experience. The screen itself is the best you’ll find on an ebook reader today, and the combination of 12 LEDs and adaptive lighting makes the Oasis very easy to read for longer durations, whether it’s in bright sunlight or in a dark room.
For a device as premium as this, one cannot but wish that Amazon bundled in a water-proof fabric case to give the Oasis the added protection it deserves. The new design is slightly bigger and bulkier, but it’s finally water-resistant, which is a much-needed bit of beach/pool-proofing that the Kindle sorely needed.
Price: Rs 21,999/Rs28,999
Truly wireless earphones are only recently coming of age, and Sony’s WF-1000X holds great promise, with good sound quality, integrated noise cancellation and a handy charging case that keeps them juiced up and always ready for use.
Typically, truly wireless earphones can’t match up to wired over-the-ear headphones or earphones when it comes to bass response and clear highs, but it isn’t so with the Sony WF-1000X. These diminutive earphones deliver punchy bass and rather detailed sound across the frequency range, and you have the option to play around with the equaliser settings to suit your aural preferences in the companion app. The addition of noise cancellation, a rarity in this segment, truly sets them apart — not only do you hear less ambient noise, but you can also keep the volume levels lower (and stay aware of your environs) without having to drown out the noise with your music. Connectivity between the earbuds is strong, and I only ever had them momentarily disconnect the one time in my two weeks of use. Fit and comfort is a personal preference, but I liked these since they sat more securely in my ears than, say, the AirPods. The charging case, while fairly long, is thin and portable, and gives you two charges, or about seven additional hours of use.
Battery life is middle-of-the-road, a little over three hours with or without noise cancellation, though if you want to use these only to drown out the outside world (and not listen to any music alongside), you’ll get a lot closer to seven hours of use. They lack some of the more sophisticated sound adjustment capabilities of other Sony headphones launched alongside, but they’re damn good at what they do and earn a solid recco.
Price: Rs 14,990
XIAOMI REDMI 5A
As with most Xiaomi phones, the Redmi 4A earned an easy recommendation for folks on a tight budget, and its successor — the 5A, Xiaomi’s desh ka smartphone — still delivers excellent value for a first-time smartphone purchase.
At its introductory pricing of Rs 4,999 for the lower-end model, you get a lot of phone for the price, even though the looks don’t really differentiate this from the sea of sameness in this price segment (including its predecessor). The Qualcomm Snapdragon 425 chip, a bright and sharp five-inch 720p display, a choice between 2GB memory/16GB storage and 3GB/32GB, a 13MP rear/5MP front camera, and a dedicated microSD card slot alongside the dual SIMs round out a pretty formidable set of specifications which performed well on a day-to-day basis and only really struggled when switching between heavy apps, particularly on the 2GB memory unit I tested. To be fair, the 5A specs are not terribly different from the outgoing 4A, but keeping things fresh is the new version 9 of Xiaomi’s custom MIUI skin, which is based on Android 7.1.2 and brings along with it a bunch of handy features such as Dual Apps (running two instances of an app) and App Lock (lock apps with a PIN). The 3,000mAh battery will last a day of moderate use, and there’s even an infrared emitter for controlling your TVs, set-top boxes and the like.
The cameras are mediocre, and photos have middling levels of detail and dull colours, though the camera is quick to focus in most conditions.
Price: Rs 4,999/Rs 6,999
Tushar Kanwar is a tech columnist and commentator. Follow him onTwitter @2shar. Mail your tech queries to firstname.lastname@example.org