High on cool

If budget is no problem, these snazzy new gadgets make for useful Xmas gifts 

By Tushar Kanwar
  • Published 10.12.17
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Amazon Echo Dot, Echo, Echo Plus

Amazon’s lineup of AI-powered smart speakers come in three sizes — the diminutive Echo Dot, the mid-range Echo and the top-of-the-line Echo Plus. All three feature seven far-field microphones, which let you command the Alexa voice assistant (and its many skills) from way across the room simply by saying “Alexa…”

Alexa took its time getting to India, and Amazon has done a decent job at understanding Indian accents and local song and artiste names. All three can play music via Amazon Prime Music, Saavn and TuneIn services, and while the Echo and Echo Plus offer a pleasant listening experience — both have 2.5-inch woofers paired with a 0.6-inch/0.8-inch tweeters — the Dot is best connected to a bigger speaker via Bluetooth or auxiliary. You can ask Alexa to set alarms, have it read a Kindle book, ask it to spell a difficult word or even place an order on Amazon, but it’s through its Skills that Alexa connects to third-party services like Uber, Zomato, Jet Airways to hail you a ride, order a pizza or book a flight! All three Echos are currently available at a 30 per cent discount on their retail prices, and include a one-year free Prime membership. So if you’re looking to dip your feet into smart home tech, now’s a great time!

While both the Echo and Echo Plus deliver Dolby-tuned 360-degree sound, they’re clearly smart speakers first and don’t sound as good as dedicated speakers in the same price range. The Echo Plus can act as a smart home hub for products like Philips Hue lights and some smart plugs, but there’s no support for the competing Z-Wave standard, which limits your options.

Price: Rs 4,499, Rs 9,999, Rs 14,999

Rating: 9/10

Samsung The Frame

Switched off, big TVs are big rectangular slabs of glass and metal that dominate the decor of your living room (never in a good way). Samsung’s ‘The Frame’ TV is the answer — a TV that looks like a large painting/photo frame. With the thick matte black border (you can snap on white, beige wood or walnut frames to suit your style), a flush wall mount and a nearly invisible cable, Samsung has nailed the ‘piece of art’ look for the TV.

Hit the power button a second time and instead of the screen going black, it enters Art Mode and displays a painting or artwork from its library (you can purchase more). Walking into the home and seeing The Frame display a classic painting, it almost feels unfair to call this a TV — maybe, “big picture frame which also plays my favourite shows and movies”? Looks aside, this is a full-featured 4K TV, with picture quality rivalling Samsung’s brilliant QLED TVs, albeit a shade less bright. Sure, OLED TVs will probably appeal more to TV spec nerds, but this is a TV for a different audience, for whom the choice of TV — to match their tastefully done up living room — is limited. Sound quality via the 40W speakers is impressive.

Pricey.

Price: Rs 2,74,900 (55-inch), Rs 3,99,900 (65-inch)

Rating: 8/10

OnePlus 5T

Launching just five months after the debut of the popular OnePlus 5, the 5T is OnePlus catching up with the 2017 flagship du-jour all-screen-minimal-bezel trend that the 5 had missed out on.

The 5T retains everything that the 5 got right — the same top-shelf hardware (Snapdragon 835 with 6/8GB of RAM and the slick software experience that is Oxygen OS. Even the form factor is pretty much the same, but in place of the 5.5-inch screen, you get a large 6.01-inch display in the tall 18:9 aspect ratio that’s all the rage these days. The narrowed bezels give the 5T a modern look, and the bright, immersive display benefits movies and gaming the most. The fingerprint sensor has been moved to the rear panel, and you now get a new homegrown Face Unlock feature — both are super snappy ways to unlock the phone. The 5T also sees big improvements in low-light photos, although this comes at the expense of optical zoom capabilities on the second rear camera.

For all that the 5T gets right, shipping without the latest Android 8.0 version this late in 2017 is disappointing. No wireless charging or weather-proofing either. 

Price: Rs 32,999 (6GB), Rs 37,999 (8GB)

Rating: 8/10

Apple iMac 2017

The iconic all-in-one from Apple gets a 2017 refresh — updated internals and faster connectivity — while staying true to the winning formula of best of breed design and some brilliant engineering decisions.

The design, which tapers to a 5mm edge, has an incredibly small footprint on a desk, but Apple still manages to pack in an Intel 7th generation Kaby Lake Core i5 processor, a 1TB hybrid Fusion Drive and dedicated Radeon Pro 560 graphics on the top-end model with no compromise on connectivity or ports. But it’s that 4K screen that continues to amaze well past the first few days — it’s significantly brighter than previous generations, pin sharp and thanks to 10-bit dithering (tech that’s borrowed from high-end TVs), is capable of reproducing even more colours with exceedingly high levels of detail. Edit photos, watch high-res videos, all in stunning detail, which makes it even tougher to go back to regular 1,080p displays.

Audio quality via the built-in stereo speakers was average, and on models with hard drives, you really wish Apple had switched to SSDs across the range. The 21.5-inch display feels a bit cramped, but there’s the bigger 27-inch with the superior 5K display if you have the budget.

Price: Rs 90,200 onwards

Rating: 8/10

Tushar Kanwar is a tech columnist and commentator. Follow him on Twitter @2shar. Mail your tech queries to t2onsunday@abp.in