Manufacturers skip big changes and stick to tinkering in some of these just-launched gadgets
Redmi Note 5
Price: Rs 9,999/Rs 11,999
For a phone that’s designated to fill the large shoes of the popular Redmi Note 4, the Redmi Note 5 takes the basic winning formula and updates it to keep up with the times. It’s still tremendous value for money, but Xiaomi seems to have played it safe with this iteration.
This is the first Xiaomi smartphone, along with its Pro variant, to sport the du jour tall 18:9 display, and the full-HD+ resolution screen dominates the front of the device, giving a fresh spin to an otherwise familiar look. While the power under the hood hasn’t changed from last year’s model, you now get 3GB/32GB for the base variant, and the 4/64 variant is aggressively priced. Performance of the Snapdragon 625 is lag-free, and the 625 remains a sensible, tried-and-tested (if a bit boring) choice for this segment. Xiaomi has shown its software optimisation chops by making the 4,000mAh battery outlast the one in the Note 4 despite the Note 5 packing in a bigger screen. The rear camera turns out significantly better images (richer in detail and with accurate colours) than its predecessor, both in good light and low light, and is quick to focus.
The infrared emitter is now a Xiaomi hallmark, but the micro-USB port feels a bit dated. Quick charging is supported, but a quick charger isn’t included. The camera protrusion on the rear causes the phone to rock on a flat surface. Selfies are average at best.
Samsung Gear Sport
Price: Rs 22,990
I’m quite a fan of the rotating bezel navigation on Samsung’s Gear wearables, but the bulky design wasn’t for everyone. The Gear Sport fixes this chief complaint and adds in some features while losing others, but with the unveiling of the next generation of Gears right around the corner at the Mobile World Congress, it may be too little, too late.
The Gear Sport’s circular display coupled with the always-on, low-power mode gives it the look and feel of a regular wristwatch, and the rotating bezel is, in my opinion, still the best way to navigate a smartwatch. Samsung has, like other brands, realised that fitness tracking is key to the wearables market right now, and the Gear Sport aces that front, with automatic tracking for more than a dozen activities including running, walking, cycling, yoga, training on various gym equipment and the new addition — swimming — courtesy its new-found (waterproofed) love for the pool! Smartwatch capabilities are pretty ace too — iOS/Android notification support, music playback and voice assistant support (no Bixby, but the older S Voice assistant instead), but your results will be noticeably better with a Samsung smartphone.
Samsung’s choice of sticking with its own Tizen OS is both a boon and a bane. While the rotating bezel feels really intuitive, the lack of apps is no surprise, even when compared to Android Wear. Battery life is middle of the road and its GPS-based tracking is erratic as well. Included rubber strap is oddly thin.
Moto Z2 Force
Price: Rs 34,999
Moto’s made the most convincing argument for modularity with its Moto Mods accessories and with the Z2 Force it gives Mods the flagship companion they deserve. Without a doubt, the Z2 Force is a capable smartphone and ticks most of the boxes you’d expect at this price. Its extra durability is a big plus.
The design is familiar, which is to be expected since Moto Mod compatibility constrains how much Moto can tinker with the general design, but it’s significantly slimmer and lighter than previous Z series phones. But now it’s far tougher, and how! There’s 7,000 series aluminium on the rear, and the sharp, bright QuadHD Super AMOLED display is shatter-proof, which means it won’t shatter or crack when dropped, even on hard flooring (trust me, I tried!). The flagship internals — Snapdragon 835 + 6GB of RAM — coupled with an almost stock build of Android Oreo make the whole experience snappy, and Moto’s handy software add-ons are, as always, a masterclass in restraint. The seemingly tiny 2,730mAh battery lasts a day of use (colour me surprised!) and the bundled TurboPower Mod boosts the battery to 6,220mAh, or about two full days of use. Camera results are impressive, even in low/artificial light.
It’s 2018, so the Z2 Force feels dated in this age of size-zero bezels, thanks to the thick borders above and below the screen. It lacks a headphone jack which featured in the slimmer Z2 Play. And while it may be shatter-proof,
the display scratches easily.
Honor 9 Lite
Price: Rs 10,999/Rs 14,999
Dual cameras aren’t passe, if the Honor 9 Lite is anything to go by. With dual shooters with 13-megapixel +
2-megapixel sensors both front and rear, the Honor 9 Lite brings the goods in the budget segment but faces stiff competition from the new Redmi Note 5 duo.
It’s a slick design, reminiscent of some of the Honor’s flagships from the past, but with all that glass front and rear, it’s far too slippery for comfort. The 5.65-inch Full-HD+ display sports the newer 18:9 aspect ratio and is adequately bright, even outdoors. In terms of specs, the Honor 9 Lite punches above its weight with the mid-range Kirin 659 processor with 3/32GB and 4/64GB variants. The two-camera setup on the front and rear calculates depth and applies a pleasing soft blur effect, and there’s even the variable aperture feature which allows you to shift the focal point of your photos after they have been shot. While the selfies are good, the rear camera throws up dull colours and noise ever so often. It allows handy gesture control and has a rear fingerprint sensor as well.
The 9 Lite ships with Android 8 Oreo, though it’s all but hidden under the feature-heavy EMUI 8 skin, which tends to lag occasionally. Battery life is average.
Tushar Kanwar is a tech columnist and commentator. Follow him on Twitter @2shar. Mail your tech queries to firstname.lastname@example.org