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Making Sense Of Madness

Start pulling together a few products for your smart home and it is more than likely you will end up with a bunch of great products that just don’t talk to each other… such is the state of the smart home market these days. Making sense of the madness is Xiaomi, with its new line-up of ‘smarter living’ products for your home

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The first-generation air purifier from Xiaomi, launched back in 2016, did well to upend the hitherto pricey air purifier market with its Wi-Fi connectivity and remote app management capabilities at a sub-Rs 10,000 price point. The Air Purifier 2S inherits the compact white tower design of its predecessor but there’s a circular OLED display this time around to display key data such as the current PM2.5, temperature and humidity levels, a big improvement over the older model which required you to launch the Mi Home app. The setup  process is easy with the replaceable air filter already fitted out of the box — just connect the power cord and detect the air purifier in the app and you are all set to access the purifier even when you are away from your home network. Of course, you can control the Air Purifier 2S with your voice — switch it on/off, change modes —  with Google Assistant and Alexa integration.

In use, the Air Purifier 2S improves on the previous generation by the addition of a high-precision laser air quality sensor, which uses the scattering of laser irradiation to detect particles as small as 0.3 micrometre, gauge the current air quality and start the purifier when the suspended particles cross the permissible limit. In auto mode, the fans spin up as needed, but you can manually dial up the settings and increase the room coverage. That said, it stays whisper quiet in the night mode, even thoughtfully dimming the OLED display brightness when you switch off the lights.

With the filter life, clean air delivery rate and coverage staying unchanged from the previous generation, it can be argued that there isn’t a whole lot new that Xiaomi brought to the table in terms of core design or features. That said, the original was a competent little performer, and the addition of the OLED display and the new laser sensor at a reduced price point will only make the proposition that much more compelling.

Mi Home Security Camera 360° 1080p

A dding an element of security to your smart home is the Mi Home Security Camera 360° 1080p, which, as the name suggests, can rotate 360-degrees (aside from tilting up and down by 45-degrees) and record video at 1080p resolution. The cutesy design is easy on the eye and doesn’t stand out if it is visible on a table top, and you can wall-mount it as well using the included wall bracket. Set up is an easy enough affair if you have the Mi Home app on your phone, although there were a few niggles with the country selection to begin with.

Once it is on, the camera streams the live feed to the phone (and records up to two days’ worth of footage on a microSD card), and you can move and pan the camera around from within the app if you need. There’s a built-in mic for recording audio, plus a call function from within the app to have a two-way conversation if you are using the camera to keep an eye on the kids or a pet. Then there is this nifty monitoring feature that detects motion and alerts you of the activity via the app, plus a night vision mode which uses infrared LEDs to detect motion even when it is pitch dark. Image quality, both in videos and image clips is pretty good and detailed enough to use as evidence later.

And in true Xiaomi style, the camera’s rich feature set comes at a rather affordable point. But here is the thing about home security — folks can get demanding with their requirements and look beyond the budget, so if you need a wider field of view — you can go 360 degrees with this camera but only if you are controlling it with the app, and there’s no auto-rotate function — or continuous cloud backup for that extra peace of mind, this isn’t the solution. Neither is this camera meant for outdoor use. But if you are looking for a good option to keep an eye on the house or a room, Xiaomi’s solution brings an element of simplicity and accessibility to an otherwise complicated and expensive home security segment.  

Mi LED Smart TV 4A PRO 49

X iaomi launched their lineup of Smart TVs earlier this year and even though their PatchWall platform did well to integrate cable and streaming content in one unified interface, it was held back by the lack of app support for many major streaming services. With the launch of the Pro variants, which includes the 49-inch Mi TV 4A Pro that we are looking at today, Xiaomi’s turned a corner and shipped the new TVs with Android TV 8.1 alongside the company’s PatchWall OS.

So, you finally have access to the Google Play Store for the several thousand Android TV apps that are designed keeping the TV form factor in mind… and with the deep Google integration built-in, the Bluetooth remote now supports Google Voice Search, which lets the kids or seniors in the house speak out their Youtube searches instead of having to type them in ! There’s built-in Chromecast functionality as well, so you can save on one external dongle (and an HDMI port) to push content from your phone to the TV. That said, it is early days yet and while it is good to see apps for Plex, VLC and some streaming services, there are no native apps for Netflix or Prime Video, though the latter is expected on the Android TV soon. And no, you can’t cast Netflix via the Chromecast functionality, either, which is a letdown. The PatchWall interface remains a content first experience as before and benefits hugely from the Google Assistant-powered voice search. Oh, and you can also control other Xiaomi smart home devices, which is a neat touch.

While Android TV is a marquee feature on the 4A Pro, the TV checks off a number of other boxes – slim bezels and an overall pleasing design, ample HDMI ports and Bluetooth/Ethernet/Wi-Fi connectivity (no 5GHz wireless though). The panel itself is good for watching 1080p content – movies or gaming – though the HDR performance was a bit underwhelming, with scenes losing some amount of detail and brightness. Audio quality from the two downward firing 10W speakers is decent.

Niggles aside, the 4A Pro is priced rather well for a 50-inch smart Android TV and delivers excellent value for the buck... as long as there are enough stocks for willing buyers!

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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magazine 13 October 2018 gadgets and gizmos

Tushar Kanwar

The author is Technology Columnist and Program Manager in Bengaluru, India

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