Sleeker & quicker
Our review of MacBook Air, Amazon Kindle Paperwhite, HP Sprocket Plus, Amazon Echo Sub, OnePlus 6T and Huawei Mate20 Pro
- Published 15.12.18, 6:02 PM
- Updated 26.12.18, 12:02 PM
- 6 mins read
Apple MacBook Air (2018)
Price: Rs 1.15 lakh onwards
The MacBook Air had a good run as the default choice for Mac users, but the model was in sore need of a refresh. Ergo, the MacBook Air 2018, which, with new processors, ports and a vastly improved Retina display lives up to the hallowed standards set by its predecessor and is the everyday workhorse for those who must use a Mac. For everyone else, the Windows competition around the Rs 1-lakh mark has increased dramatically over the past few years, so options are aplenty.
It retains the iconic wedge shape of the original, but Apple’s shrunk the new Air to discernably smaller proportions, in the process losing the legacy full-sized ports in favour of two USB-C Thunderbolt 3 ports and a headphone socket. Open it up and you have the gorgeous 13.3-inch Retina display with much thinner black borders. And what a difference the sharper new display makes! This is unquestionably the upgrade Air users had been waiting for all these years! Pick up either the 128 or 256GB variant, and you get 8GB of memory and Intel’s dual-core 8th-generation Core i5 Y-series processor, which, while they’re lower power in performance and energy use than the chips on the MacBook Pros, are plenty good for everyday tasks, falling behind only in graphically or computationally intensive tasks.
Thunderbolt 3 throughputs are good, but the lack of a dedicated SD card reader may be missed by some. As good as the screen upgrade is, it’s a shade less bright than the MacBook Pro’s display, and it lacks the ambient light-sensing True Tone feature. The third-gen butterfly keyboard continues to be divisive due to its shallow key travel but the expansive trackpad is the best in the business, plus you get the snappy Touch ID fingerprint sensor alongside the top row of regular Function keys (no Touch Bar, though). Battery life is a good (but not stellar) 9-10 hours of use, but the small 30W charger is slow to charge the Air. Pricier base price will give upgraders pause.
Amazon Kindle Paperwhite
Price: Rs 12,999 onwards
Ever since its launch in 2012, the Kindle Paperwhite has been my go-to e-reader recommendation but even satisfied Paperwhite owners have been known to eye the pricier Oasis for its waterproofing and Audible integration (courtesy Bluetooth audio). The 2018 update to the Paperwhite adds both these features while refining the overall experience. Even with the bump in pricing, it’s worth a buy.
The look is still functional and utilitarian, although the now flush screen makes it easier to clean — all the better since the bezels and the back attract their fair share of smudges. The screen is identical to the previous generation’s and crisp enough for heavy readers, with an added LED in its front-lit display. The big change is the IPX8 waterproofing so you can use it without fear at the beach or near the pool. And with the newly-added Bluetooth capabilities, you can now pair a set of headphones and spring for an Audible subscription for your monthly audio book fix. More storage as standard is good for the audio books and graphic novels. Battery life is still as good.
Still uses the dated micro-USB port for charging. No adaptive brightness. Small amounts of lag when navigating menus, turning pages.
HP Sprocket Plus
Price: Rs 8,999
An update to the rather endearing Sprocket pocket printer from HP, the Plus produces prints that are 30 per cent larger, up to a more usable 2.3” x 3.4”. For what it claims to do, the Sprocket Plus nails the brief, even if it appeals to a rather niche audience.
The Sprocket Plus retains the pocketability of its predecessor and runs fully wirelessly, connecting over Bluetooth and powering off an internal battery. The easy-to-use companion app lets you pull in your photos from phone storage or social networks, and offers various border/ framing/ filter options, plus an interesting AR feature that prints a hidden watermark to show you additional content when viewing photos through the app. Like the Sprocket, the Plus uses special no-ink thermal paper, and the peel-off adhesive backs let you stick the photos anywhere. The output is nice looking, although you will notice that some colours aren’t quite as deep or as rich as the original and others are a bit washed out.
It’s clearly a party-trick or a novelty purchase, but it would be handier if HP enabled printing from computers as well. Running cost is high — a 20-pack of ZINK paper retails at Rs 799.
Amazon Echo Sub
Price: Rs 12,999
For all of Alexa’s smarts as a voice assistant, the Echo speakers were broadly criticised for just not sounding that great for music. Even the second generation Echo Plus, which sounds pretty good, didn’t have the deep bass that you need to truly rock a party. Enter the Echo Sub, a companion subwoofer for your Echo devices, one that really changes the game.
Connected over Bluetooth with Echo or Echo Plus speakers — two of them if you want stereo audio — the Echo Sub only has two buttons, one for pairing and the other for power, relinquishing all control to the Echo device to which it is paired (via the Alexa app). Sound performance is impressive, with the Sub adding the low frequencies that add a whole new dimension (and some much-needed room-filling power) to the Echo audio experience without overpowering with the bass. It’s still not playing in the high-end audio category, but the Echo sub has raised the sonic bar on what I had expected of Amazon till very recently.
Pairs only with Echo speakers and not with FireTV video playback, an obvious horizontal integration opportunity for Amazon. So, it’s only for playing music and podcasts right now.
OnePlus 6T McLaren Edition
Price: Rs 50,999
On paper, the McLaren Edition of the OnePlus 6T is a replica of the standard variant, albeit one with some racing flair, two additional gigs of memory and an even faster Warp Charge 30 charging tech. But honestly, this collector’s edition package is one for McLaren racing fans, who should gladly spend the extra penny on what is an excellent homage to its racing heritage. A lesson in how brand collaborations should be done.
The design tweaks are subtle, from the carbon fibre pattern and the McLaren logo on the glass back to the orange tint around the bottom edges, the black-and-orange Android theme and the orange braided charging cable, the latter a nod to the papaya orange colour favoured by McLaren F1 cars. Unsurprisingly, the phone is a monster performance-wise, and the similarly monstrous 10GB of memory is impressive, though massively under-utilised. The new Warp Charge 30 is blisteringly fast, juicing up the phone to 50 per cent of its 3,700mAh battery is just 20 minutes without overheating the phone. Dash Charge was already good on previous OnePlus phones and Warp Charge 30 pushes the envelope that extra bit further.
Significantly pricier than the top-end 6T without really addressing any of the phone’s minor weaknesses.
Huawei Mate20 Pro
Price: Rs 69,990
Huawei’s Mate20 Pro may well be 2018’s last big flagship, but the brand has certainly saved the best for the end. The phone packs in top-notch hardware, an exhaustive list of features including a stellar trio of cameras and looks very much the premium flagship that it is. Easily one of the best phones to come out this year.
With the dual-curved screen, the Mate20 Pro bears more than a passing resemblance to the Samsung S9+, yet Huawei has managed to fit in a larger 6.39-inch display, courtesy a screen notch, and that Twilight colour rear panel is stunning to boot! Authentication is via a reliable in-display fingerprint scanner and a 3D face unlock, both of which work quickly to unlock the phone, and the display that houses these is a vibrant, sharp 1,440p AMOLED panel that’s nothing short of a joy to use. The triple camera setup opts for a much more useful 0.6x wide-angle lens alongside the regular and the telephoto shooter. Images are full of detail with excellent dynamic range and the night mode does an excellent job bringing out the elements in low-light conditions.
Performance-wise, the Mate20 Pro uses the proprietary 7-nanometre Kirin 980 chipset (with 6GB/128GB of memory/storage) that is an absolute beast in everyday use, and the on-device AI features enable auto-scene detection and faster app load times. The Kirin 980 also delivers energy efficiency gains, which takes the 4,200mAh battery all the way past two days of use. Interestingly, the device not only supports wireless charging over the Qi standard, but also wirelessly charges other devices in reverse charging mode!
Perceptible decrease in audio levels with the main loudspeaker located inside the USB-C charging port. Huawei’s EMUI skin, based on Android 9 Pie, is massively improved from the bloated experience of the past, but it’s still a tad complex for the average user. Uses a new smaller Nano Memory card instead of a micro SD card slot. Selfies fall short of expectations.
Tushar Kanwar is a tech columnist and commentator. Follow him on Twitter @2shar. Mail your tech queries to firstname.lastname@example.org