Gadgets & Gizmos: Invest On The Value-Adds
Eyeing the latest in tech doesn't mean you have to break the bank. Tushar Kanwar tries out some new launches that promise a bang for your buck
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Microsoft Surface Go
The Surface lineup has traditionally been the showcase for Microsoft’s hardware prowess, but the premium hardware always came at a prohibitive cost. The Surface Go changes that — starting at Rs 38,599, the Go strikes a balance between portability/design and affordability and is touted as the Windows alternative to the Apple’s iPad Pro series.
First and foremost, the Go is a regular 10-inch Windows tablet, albeit one with the iconic and now familiar kickstand. Pair the optional but highly recommended magnetic keyboard cover (Rs 8,699) and now you are talking – the Go transforms into a highly usable Windows device, one with large keys and a responsive trackpad that lend themselves well to serious browsing and notetaking… and you could throw in the pricier magnetically-attaching Surface Pen if you need the added drawing capabilities. Humming under the hood is an Intel Pentium Gold Processor 4415Y, which handles daily duties as a basic content creation and consumption device just fine as long as you don’t tax it too much with image editing and higher-end games.
Letting the device down is the dated chunky-looking bezel surrounding the 3:2 ratio PixelSense display and the fact that, although it comes with a card reader and USB-C port for data transfer, the Go uses a proprietary port for charging. Shipping with Windows 10 in its limited-to-Windows-Store ‘S’ mode is a tad restrictive for most folks looking to install their frequently used ‘.exe’ programmes.
Honor View 20
What does it take to stop the OnePlus juggernaut? A (w)hole new display, perhaps. At least that’s the premise behind the Honor View 20, which packs in several firsts including a punch-hole display and a mind-boggling 48MP rear sensor. The 4.5mm selfie-camera hole on the top left corner of the 6.4-inch IPS LCD display allows the View 20 to forgo the notch and achieve a high screen-to-body ratio of 91.8 per cent without being too distracting in day-to-day use. Flip the phone around, and the glossy design with a reflective V-pattern is a big win in the looks department, even if it makes the phone a tad slippery to hold.
Now, Honor hasn’t held back on packing the View 20 to its gills with high-end specs, so you have the same Huawei Kirin 980 chip that is found on the flagship Mate 20 Pro and a capacious 4000mAh battery to boot. Pick from the 6/128GB (Rs 37,999) or the pricier 8/256GB variant and you will see top-notch performance without any hint of lag. The camera is the real star – aside from a bunch of shooting modes (including HiVision which works similar to Google Lens), the camera takes pin-sharp images and reproduces colors accurately, although one should use the full 48MP resolution sparingly, when there is plenty of light (the View 20 defaults to 12MP in lower light to boost sharpness).In all, one walks away impressed by what Honor has done with the View 20 – it is an excellent proposition even when compared to the segment champ, and if Honor continues to refine the software experience, this could be a real winner.
Mi TV 4X Pro 55
Xiaomi took a page out of its own smartphone playbook when launching the Mi TV range last year, and the Mi TVs disrupted a long stagnant market by offering features and performance at an astoundingly competitive price point. And so it is with this year’s Mi LED TV 4X PRO 55, which at Rs 39,999 gets you a 55-inch 4K HDR television with Android TV and built-in Chromecast support. Unlike the flagship 4 Pro model, the design is a tad staid, and the thin gray bezels favour function over form. The positioning of the ports borders on the inaccessible towards the middle of this large 55-inch TV, particularly if you’re wall-mounting the 4X Pro. Fortunately, connectivity options are ample, with 3 HDMI ports, RCA, SPDIF, Ethernet and USB (plus WiFi and Bluetooth) so you are not running short of options.
With the double whammy of Xiaomi’s own Patchwall UI and Android TV 8.1, you get a whole bunch of customisation options to see the content you want, but it takes some setting up and getting used to. The Play Store has a variety of apps to install, but Prime Video and Netflix are conspicuous in their absence. The panel itself is a HDR10 3840x216-pixel variant capable of 10-bit colour, which pushes out impressive images and visuals (for its price point) while watching most regular TV and streaming content, even when it’s being upscaled to 4K. The HDR performance is a bit underwhelming, with relatively low brightness levels limiting the experience. The two 10W speakers, while improved from the 4 Pro, are just average and adding a soundbar, even Xiaomi’s own soundbar, will push out better sound. Get this if you want a large, smart panel without breaking the bank – demanding video enthusiasts will have to shell out the big bucks.
Buying a soundbar used to take a decent-sized bite out of your TV budget, but with slimmer panels increasingly packing in anemic audio, a soundbar is becoming more of a necessity. The Mi Soundbar arrives in true Xiaomi fashion – it looks slick, punches above its weight for audio quality and design and is truly affordable – a no-brainer for this segment, really.
With its clean, minimalist lines and premium plastic chassis, the Mi Soundbar looks elegant and suits most decors, though some may have preferred a darker color variant. Connectivity options are ample — one auxiliary port, one line-in, one S/PDIF (with a thoughtfully bundled cable) and one optical port, plus there’s Bluetooth connectivity if you are fine with pairing only one device at a time. What it lacks is a remote, which means you will have to change the volume manually whenever needed.
No presets or equaliser settings either, so there’s no option but to like the audio tuning Xiaomi delivers out of the box, which favours the bass and highs than the mid frequencies. It is not the most balanced audio you can find, but unless you are a big fan of classical music, you will find the audio to your liking. The eight-speaker setup gets reasonably loud and offers enough bass to not make us miss a separate sub-woofer.
Samsung Galaxy M20
Until recently, it was difficult to recommend a budget Samsung unless you were buying purely based on the brand. The online-only Galaxy M series, the M20 in particular, is set to change that with a features and specs yet unseen on a Samsung at this price point. You get a 6.3-inch full-HD+ teardrop notched display, a mid-range Exynos 7904 chip and 3/32GB or 4/64GB variants (with storage expansion), dual 13MP/5MP rear cameras and an 8MP selfie shooter, face unlock and a fingerprint scanner… and a massive 5000mAh battery!
Now, while the design is generic, what shines through is the excellent display Samsung has employed. With its vibrant colours and excellent contrast ratio, plus support for the Widevine L1 standard—a rarity in phones under Rs 20,000, so you will be able to stream high-resolution content from Netflix and Prime Video – this is a big reason to pick up the M20. Performance levels on the 7904 are in the same neighborhood as Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 636 chip, which means the M20 multitasks well between apps and games and unlocks via facial recognition snappily as well. The cameras offer good details on daytime shots but take a hit in low-light, but the wide-angle shooter allows you a different perspective while shooting landscapes/cityscapes, which is a bonus. The only mis-step is Samsung’s approach to showing ads on the lock screen, which can be turned off in the settings. In all, a credible offering that takes the fight to the competition.
Amazfit, from the Xiaomi-backed wearables company Huami, has been turning out some impressive products in the Stratos and the Cor, and the latest Verge focuses on offering premium features at a price that is nice. To start with, the Verge has this gorgeous, sharp 1.3-inch circular AMOLED screen (360 x 360 pixels) which packs in rich colours and deep blacks not unlike some of the pricier competition. Owing to its all-plastic design, the Verge is light on the wrist, which evokes mixed reactions – sure, it’s comfortable to wear over extended durations, but it feels a little too light, almost in toy watch territory, which is not good for something that costs nearly twelve grand. The Verge also uses a proprietary charging cradle so there’s one more thing to pack for longer journeys – it lasts about four days on average use.
Which brings us to usability. The Verge runs a proprietary Amazfit OS which is based on Android, but you can't install your own apps on it or sync data with third-party apps like Apple Health or Google Fit. Apps are basic, and cover core functions like workout tracking, but you’re limited to using one app at a time, so you can’t say start a secondary timer while logging a workout. In my tests, the distance tracking was a little off (it under-records your steps) while the heart rate tracking was on point.
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