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Dark Knight Rises

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Micromax has finally let go of the Samsung-style design and gone the iPhone way, and I, for one, am happy. Of course, reactions to design are purely subjective and one person’s poison is another man’s meat, but apart from the styling, the Canvas Knight A350 has a whole new premium feel. It’s gone the glass slab way and you can feel its weight and solidity when you hold it.

Micromax has a hefty 22 per cent market share in India and is second to Samsung, whose heels its always biting by offering far cheaper options for those who can’t afford the latter’s Rs 40,000-plus handsets. But these always looked very Samsung-like and design isn’t Samsung’s most-admired asset. With the Canvas Knight, Micromax has taken the design factor up many notches. Even the packaging is carefully and cleanly done with lots of protective layers.

The Knight is a unibody, and you can’t open the glassy back to get to the battery or a non-existent microSD card. Personally, I like being able to access the battery, not because it’s all that likely I’ll replace it with another but because it’s sometimes useful to take it out and put it back in when a phone misbehaves, as my review unit did initially. A reset fixed all the problems.

After its design, the most noteworthy thing about the Knight is that it’s running on a true octa-core 2 GHz processor from Microtek. All cylinders are firing at the same time. The smartphone is fast enough, but doesn’t necessarily feel fluid all the time. It also gets warm and heats up altogether if it’s made to do some heavy work. It has 2 GB RAM and 32 GB internal storage. Because it will be more popular among the young and restless, it could have done with a bit more battery than the 2,350 mAh it has. You can push it through most of the day if you’re not a heavy user, but if you’re gaming and watching videos, keep a portable charger handy (which, in any case, I think no smartphone user should be without).

The 5-inch 1080 x 1920 LCD screen has a pretty high pixel density of 441. So, yes, text is sharp and colours good. Though, though the glass is a bit reflective, it’s fine in the sunlight. Overall, the screen is a pretty good experience. Browsing is super-quick, though videos took a while to get going on my rather compromised Net connection. Sound is nice and crystal clear.

The Knight has a 16 MP primary camera and does fine in daylight outdoors, but has the usual problems of noise and mushiness indoors. To counter that would take a large lens. The secondary camera is 8 MP.
For some reason, the Kinight isn’t running on the latest Android 4.4.2 but on 4.2.2. It’s a dual-sim and costs Rs 19,999.

Don't ignore the Gionee E7 just because it's Chinese. The phone has  much to boast of

Watch out for  Gionee, one of the Chinese companies slowly but surely spreading its dragon wings outside of its home ground. Gionee’s ELife series of smartphones negates the idea that made-in-China is cheap, cheesy and copied. Instead, the ELife phones have stood out for their design, quality and specs. Now, its flagship E7 is available in India, and the new, slim ELife S5.5 has just been launched.

Design-wise, the E7’s most prominent feature, on the outside, is a very glossy curved back. The flip cover, which comes with it, also curves and glosses but, be warned, it picks up fingerprints easily and needs frequent wiping. Honestly, I’m not too delighted with the glossiness or the peculiar curve but, well, to each his own. Moreover, the curve doesn’t add to the ergonomics in any way. It’s a broad phone and definitely in the large category.

The 5.5-inch screen on the E7 is clear, with sharp colours and good viewing from all angles. But the differentiators are the phone’s camera and the Amigo, Gionee’s customised layer on top of Android.

With the ‘special’ 16 MP camera, the lens sticks out a bit on the back, and that’s a problem because it touches the surface on which it’s placed. But it does take sharp pictures and has an elegant app to take them with. There are sliders and dials to make adjustments and HDR and Panorama modes; not many scene modes, but it does have a set of very useable filters. Video is great, but lacks the critical optical image stabilisation. Both photographs and video come out pretty well in low light — and that’s saying a lot. The front camera is 8 MP. 

Amigo is Gionee’s interface and adds a lot of touches to the phone, including homescreen behaviours, and has stylised icons so that they’re neither attractive nor easily recognisable.  The problem I have is that the interface takes the fun out of Android which, after all, is popular for its customisability. All that Amigo also means that the E7 will probably be stuck with Android 4.2.

The E7 is, however, a really fast and smooth performer. The smartphone handles navigation, animations, gaming, browsing and video easily, without getting too hot. There are a few too many pre-loaded things though.
So Far, So Same

The Samsung Galaxy Grand 2 is more of the same offering that previous phones have had
Samsung has so many variants of its smartphones that figuring out one from the other can be quite a challenge. Recently, a new series, Galaxy Neo, has also been thrown into the mix along with the Minis and Quatros, and more.

The Grand 2 is the second version of the Grand, which was, when it launched last year, a less expensive option for those who wanted a big phone with a not-so-big price. Plus, it was at that time when it became amply clear that local and Chinese companies would offer large phones at reasonable prices, specifically, Micromax. The Grand was the size of the Note series but without the stylus and specs.

The Galaxy Grand 2 is a refreshed version of the Grand, with a specs bump and a few tweaks in design. Straight off, it looks 100 per cent Samsung. At a quick glance, the only other thing you can mistake it for is a Samsung imitation — of which there are many. The back of the phone maintains the faux leather material that, maybe, has replaced the glossy objectionable plastic of days gone by. For many, that “pleather” look is not much better, though I don’t particularly mind it, especially since it goes into a case and is quickly forgotten. The one crib I have about the Grand 2’s build is that it’s not ergonomically crafted. The edges stick out a bit, adding a touch of discomfort to a phone that is, after all, too large for your fingers to wrap around.

The Grand 2 is about the size of the Note 2 at 5.25 inches of screen. The TFT display is 1280 x 720 with 280 ppi resolution and looks good enough. If you get rid of some of the garish default wallpapers and use their coffee cup image, things begin to look quite classy.

So far, so same! But now we have a 1.2 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 Cortex A7 quad-core processor with 1.5 GB RAM and 8 GB internal storage, with SD card slot and space expandable to 64 GB. It works smoothly and allowed me to navigate, browse and play Temple Run without much lag. The battery is a 2,600 mAh.

The 8MP camera is the same, but with the newer camera app now found on Samsung phones. It’s a pretty good camera as far as 8 MP shooters go. All in all, it’s a smartphone I’d describe as middling.
The cost online is around Rs 21,000.

Dell Venue Pro 8
You’d expect to switch on this little 8-inch Dell tablet and find an Android interface. But, no! The Venue 8 Pro is running Windows 8.1, and is a device to consider if you’re buying it for office work. 
The Venue Pro is a smidge heavy for its size, but it has a solid feel, which is good, plus its textured plastic back gives you a lot of grip. If you’re going to read a lot, holding it in one hand is tiring. You can, of course, pair it with a small keyboard.

The 1280 x 800 IPS display is good and bright, with good viewing when tilted. Windows 8.1 swipes along on it just fine. Specs include a 1.8 GHz quad-core Intel Atom processor, 2 GB RAM, 32 GB memory and a microSD slot. There’s an HDMI out. I don’t expect much from tablet cameras, and the 5 MP and 1.3 MP cameras support that point of view — just adequate for quick, practical captures. The 4,830 mAh battery is built for work. Before buying this small workhorse of a tablet, plan how you will input data.  

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 05-05-2014)

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