SAMSUNG GALAXY A8+
Price: Rs 32,990
Samsung practically wrote the playbook when it came to gorgeous, expansive ‘Infinity’ displays on flagship smartphones, but the rest of its range didn’t seem deserving of the tall-screen form factor. Until now, that is. The mid-range Galaxy A8+ now goes up against the OnePlus 5T and the Honor View 10, but it doesn’t make as compelling a case.
The six-inch, 18.5:9 display sporting A8+ is a bit of a handful, and the stunning glass and metal design is a redeeming design factor. The Super AMOLED display is where Samsung still has the edge — the screen is great for video consumption, although pretty much everything you do benefits from the gorgeous 1,080 x 2,220 pixel display. The brand new Exynos 7885 chip, coupled with 6GB of RAM and 64GB of storage (upgradable to 256GB), makes for a snappy, fluid user experience. You also get some neat Samsung add-ons like Samsung Play, Dual Messenger and split-screen multitasking. And while it’s the first Samsung phone to feature dual front cameras (one 16MP and another 8MP, both with f/1.9 lens), the rear camera is a 16MP single camera shooter. IP68 water and dust resistance is a plus.
Offers fast charging support, but no wireless charging. There’s no optical image stabilisation on any of the cameras, which leaves the results with a fair bit to be desired. Shipping with Android 7.1.1 in 2018 is disappointing, and Bixby is crippled as a feature (no voice assistant, no dedicated key) as compared to the flagship range. Face recognition is a hit-and-miss experience.
HONOR VIEW 10
Price: Rs 29,999
Honor’s flagships have done well to take the fight to OnePlus in the mid-range flagship segment, and the View 10 goes down the same path, and is a strong contender for your wallet with its capable hardware and some special AI tricks up its sleeve.
Huawei’s Honor lineup has turned out a strong range of good-lookers, and the spartan View 10 is no different. Sporting a 5.99-inch 18:9 display with thin bezels on the side, the phone is comfortable to hold although a bit slippery, thanks to the flat metal back. And boy, it is loaded with features — a 1,080 x 2,160 resolution display, Huawei’s top-shelf Kirin 970 chip, 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage (expandable by up to 256GB). The big differentiator — a dedicated Neural Network Processing Unit (NPU) for artificial intelligence (AI) functions, such as the Face Unlock, real-time language translation and new scene-detection modes in the camera, the latter identifying the subjects in the frame and using its algorithms to select the best settings for the scene. The resultant images are good in daylight and low light conditions, although to be fair, there’s no way of discerning how much of that is thanks to a good camera and how much courtesy the NPU. The NPU’s true benefits are yet to be seen, but I can’t wait for bigger, better features to push the envelope over time.
Battery life is decent thanks to the 3,750mAh battery, but the included charger doesn’t fast-charge the View 10. No OIS for video/stills, no water/dust resistance. And even though the EMUI interface is packed with features, it can be overwhelming and not to everyone’s taste.
SMARTRON T.PHONE P
Price: Rs 7,999
Hyderabad-based Smartron has, in the past couple of years, released a bunch of full-featured yet sensibly-priced products, and with the t.phone P, it takes the fight to Xiaomi with a budget big-battery offering.
It ticks off quite a few checkboxes for its enticing Rs 7,999 price point — a Qualcomm Snapdragon 435 processor, a
5.2-inch 720x1,280 pixel display, a premium metal rear panel design (with fingerprint scanner) and a capacious 5,000mAh battery. With the 3GB of memory and 32GB of storage (expandable up to 128GB if you forgo one of the two SIM card slots), the phone is no slouch in everyday use and during gaming. The nearly stock Android Nougat helps matters immensely. Battery life is impressive as well, with the phone lasting nearly two days of moderate use, plus there’s reverse charging, which means this phone can act as power bank to charge other devices.
The Achilles’ Heel for the t.phone P comes as no surprise for this segment — the camera. Photos taken in good light are mildly overexposed and the camera takes its own sweet time to autofocus even in good light. Low-light shots lack detail, and the only redeeming factor is the above-average selfies it turns out.
MOTO X4 2018
Price: Rs 24,999
Moto updated its X range with the stylish X4 late last year, and barely a couple of months later, we have a third variant which packs in 6GB of memory, Android 8.0 preloaded and a bunch of new software features. It’s a solid addition to the lineup, but added storage would have sweetened the deal even more.
All the good things I said about the late 2017 Moto X4 hold true for this one as well — compact one-handed proportions, premium aluminium/glass construction, an able Snapdragon 630 chip, the front fingerprint sensor that does UI navigation duties as well, and water resistance — even though the phone does lack the du jour 18:9 tall display. More RAM means more apps can stay in memory and resume faster. On the software front, you now get Android Oreo out of the box, which brings with it notification dots and form/password autofill features, among others. Moto’s Moto Voice “show me” commands are a welcome addition to Google Assistant, and work more naturally than saying a keyword and waiting for the phone to respond.
The phone’s secondary camera’s wide field of view works well for landscapes and city shots, but the overall experience is still marred by shutter lag and noisy low-light shots.
Price: Rs 26,900
With the glut of WiFi devices these days, good old ISP routers just don’t cut it, more so if you have a largish or odd-sized house. What you need is a home WiFi system like the Netgear Orbi (RBK50), which consists of a base router and a satellite, each of which is a fully-fledged tri-band router capable of covering around 2,000sq ft. The difference in coverage and performance is tangible, if you can stomach the initial outlay.
Setting up the extended Orbi network is exceedingly intuitive and takes no more than 10 minutes, either via the browser or a simple Orbi app for your smartphone. The design, while it doesn’t exactly disappear into the background, is practical, and Netgear uses the extra space to include six internal antennas and multiple Ethernet/USB ports for added range and versatility. Performance over large 3,500-4,000sq ft areas is exceptional — Netgear uses an additional 5GHz band solely dedicated for communication between the router and the satellite — an approach which frees up the regular bands to offer greater speeds to each connected device.
The boost in performance and range comes at a steep price.
Price: Rs 22,990
Smartwatches have been an ‘Apple Watch or nothing’ show for a while now and Fitbit, the king of fitness trackers, is finally stepping into the ring to take on the might of Cupertino with its first smartwatch, the Ionic. On paper, the Ionic has it all — apps, watch faces, payment support and Fitbit’s legendary fitness tracking — but in use, it delivers far more as a fitness companion and stops just short of fulfilling its smartwatch ambitions.
With the Ionic, Fitbit has nailed the space-age aesthetic, but it comes down to taste, whether you prefer the look over say a more modern-looking Samsung Gear Sport or the Apple Watch. Coming from Fitbit, the fitness features are where the Ionic shines — from the usual step, activity and continuous heart-rate tracking, to exercise modes to track swimming, running, biking, weight training, among others — automatically tracking exercise if you’re active for over 10 minutes. Built-in GPS and an SpO2 sensor (for estimating blood oxygen levels) are a big plus, as is its ability to play music over Bluetooth headphones.
While the 1.42-inch rectangular screen is bright enough for outdoor use, the screen is surrounded by thick bezels all around, and I’d have preferred a bigger screen in a watch this size. The ability to run apps is a first for Fitbit, but the app selection is fairly small. Like the Apple Watch, the payment/wallet feature doesn’t work yet in India. Straps are interchangeable, but the choice is limited to the bands Fitbit has on offer. Battery life is stellar at four or five days of use, but the included cable/connector is fidgety.
Bose QC35 II
Price: Rs 29,363
The Bose QC35 has been the gold standard for wireless noise cancelling headphones, scoring high on comfort and simplicity of use even as strong contenders from Sony and Sennheiser offered a richer feature set. With the QC35 II, Bose has really tweaked the winning formula, retaining much of what owners loved about the original while adding in some “smarts”.
It’s retained the now-familiar design of the QuietComfort series, which means the QC35 II is comfortable to wear and carry around, yet has that understated (almost business-like) elegance about it. The QC35 II’s party trick is a new Action button, which lets you call up Google Assistant to perform tasks through voice commands. It’s good for music playback and reading out your notifications, but voice assistants are somewhat limited, and so after a few days of use, the novelty of having Assistant on a pair of headphones wore off. Instead, map the button to alter noise cancellation levels (high, low or off) — a far more useful feature that Bose has introduced with this generation. Sound quality is crisp and clean, and while others can stake claim to better, punchier sound from a pair of wireless headphones, Bose’s noise cancellation is still the one to beat.
Bose still doesn’t support any high-quality streaming formats such as aptX or LDAC, which is a bit of a shame. Aside from the variable noise cancellation, it isn’t really much of an upgrade from the first gen.