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MacBook Pro (14-inch, 2021) Review: The Mac That Fans Have Been Waiting For

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Apple is no stranger to wiping the slate clean; ditching its own standards and designs even at the height of their popularity because it thinks something better is around the corner. From the original iMac which had no floppy drive and the iPhone 7 ditching the headphone jack, to the 2012 MacBooks with only USB Type-C, Apple’s quest for minimalism has often upset its customers. However, there have been rare occasions when the behemoth has had to accept that it went wrong – the buttonless third-gen iPod shuffle was replaced with its own predecessor, the shallow “butterfly” MacBook keyboard has been consigned to history, and more recently Safari’s drastic beta redesign has been shelved. The company will even soon begin allowing users to repair some of their own hardware problems at home.

Even so, the new 2021 MacBook Pro comes as a surprisingly comprehensive reversal; almost an apology to users of the past few generations. Nearly everything major that changed with the 2016 redesign and annoyed people has been reversed – but there are still a few caveats and one big new compromise that has already caused fresh controversy. Apple has listened to its users but is also still doing many things its own way. Can you live with this new balance, or has Apple just found a different way to alienate actual professionals? Read on to find everything you’ll need to decide that for yourself.

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In profile, the new MacBook Pro looks rather like the pre-2016 models

 

MacBook Pro (14-inch, 2021) price in India and specifications

Don’t expect the new MacBook Pro to come cheap. The previous-gen 13-inch model with an M1 processor is still available for those who want more than a MacBook Air but have budget constraints. The new 14-inch 2021 MacBook Pro price in India starts at Rs. 1,94,900, with an M1 Pro CPU that has eight active CPU cores and 14 GPU cores. For this price you get only a 512GB NVMe SSD, and this variant is the only one that ships with a slower 67W charger.

What you’ll probably want is the M1 Pro configuration with 10 CPU cores and 16 GPU cores active, which is priced at Rs. 2,39,900 in India. This option also has a 1TB SSD and you get the faster 96W charger. There’s a custom configurable option with 10 CPU cores but only 14 GPU cores for Rs. 5,000 less, which seems like an unnecessary variation.

Beyond this, there are options with the M1 Max processor – the same 10 CPU cores, but either 24 or 32 GPU cores, priced Rs. 20,000 and Rs. 40,000 over and above the top-specced M1 Pro. Going from 16GB of RAM to 32GB or 64GB (only possible with the M1 Max) will cost another Rs. 20,000 or Rs. 40,000 respectively. Going from 1TB to 2TB, 4TB or 8TB of SSD capacity will cost Rs. 40,000, Rs. 1,00,000, or Rs. 2,20,000 respectively. Your new 14-inch MacBook Pro could cost as much as Rs. 5,79,900 with all the bells and whistles (not including an extended warranty).

Interestingly the 16-inch model ranges in price from Rs. 2,39,900 to Rs. 5,89,90 so if you’re splashing out on upgrades, there’s very little reason not to go for the bigger screen and better thermal performance that the larger model affords.

Other than these variables, both the 14-inch and 16-inch models have brand new 120Hz mini-LED displays, Touch ID fingerprint sensors, Wi-Fi 6, and Bluetooth 5. Battery capacity is 70Wh and 100Wh for the 14-inch and 16-inch models, and Apple promises up to 11 hours and 14 hours of casual use respectively.

There’s now a 1080p webcam with computational enhancement through the M1 series SoCs. Audio also gets a big upgrade with a new six-speaker system and spatial audio. You don’t get S/PDIF output through the 3.5mm jack anymore but the new MacBook Pros are said to support high-impedance headphones. There are three built-in mics with beamforming.

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The power button has an integrated Touch ID fingerprint sensor

 

MacBook Pro (14-inch, 2021) design and features

The biggest news is that there’s now a 14-inch MacBook Pro – it isn’t physically much larger than the previous 13-inch model, thanks to a taller screen with narrower borders. It’s available in Silver and Space Grey – no festive colours for Pro models, it seems. The brushed metal texture of previous models remains, and the Apple logo on the lid is mirrored but not illuminated. In profile, the new MacBook Pro actually looks a bit retro, with raised feet, flat sides, and almost no curve to the edges of the lid.

The lid can be raised easily and the hinge feels very firm, but one ergonomic issue is the sharp corners of the little lip provided for your thumb. Build quality overall is very good, and there’s no flex at all to the lid.

What many people will appreciate is the return of various ports, most notably MagSafe for charging. This is a new, thinner connector that Apple calls MagSafe 3, and neither chargers nor MacBooks themselves are physically compatible with older models. You can still use Type-C ports to charge the new MacBook Pro, but MagSafe will be quicker (depending on the wattage of your power adapter).

The “thunk” sound as the connector snaps into place is familiar and satisfying – as convenient as universal Type-C charging is, having MagSafe in addition is the best of both worlds. It also fulfils its original purpose of disengaging quickly when the cord is yanked, preventing your expensive laptop from crashing to the floor. Interestingly, Apple’s new MagSafe chargers don’t have tethered cables; instead there’s a USB Type-C connector on the charger, making it more versatile than before. The cable is also now braided, but not colour-coordinated like with the 2021 iMacs. I got a 96W charger with my review unit (not 67W, as listed on the spec sheet for this variant) and it was quite bulky and heavy.

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MagSafe, a fan-favourite Apple feature, returns to the new MacBook Pro lineup

 

You’ll now also find three Thunderbolt 4 ports (one fewer than before) that support charging, DisplayPort video, and USB4; an HDMI 2.0 video output; an SDXC card slot; and a 3.5mm audio jack. It’s almost surprising that Apple retained the 3.5mm jack, having ditched it even on iPads now. Although it’s great to have more ports for flexibility, HDMI 2.1 and SD Express would have been better choices for future-proofing. You’ll also still need dongles or a hub for Ethernet and USB Type-A.

Apple has transplanted its new external Magic Keyboard onto the MacBook Pro, so you get exactly the same layout. This makes sense for consistency. The entire keybed is now black, which makes for a striking look. The touch bar across the top is entirely gone now – sorry, Jonny Ive. Apple never did manage to make this catch on, especially since it was limited only to MacBook Pros and could never have been implemented on Apple’s battery-powered desktop keyboards. It wasn’t a bad idea, but having it in place of physical Fn keys rather than above them was a mistake, and now power users can have their familiar tactile controls back.

The butterfly keyboard disaster is behind us now, and the new 2021 MacBook Pro is quite pleasant to type on. The key action is a bit crisp, but comfortable. The Fn row shortcuts have been rearranged – there’s no backlight level adjustment shortcut anymore which is annoying, and it’s too easy to unintentionally pull up the new emoji picker by tapping the Fn key. The arrow keys are a bit cramped as well. Overall though, typing is comfortable and even pleasant.

Apple has also shipped solid-state trackpads for several years now – there’s no physical clicking mechanism but pushing down generates a force-feedback haptic vibration that feels remarkably lifelike. You can even vary pressure to “force click”, which shows contextual information or triggers actions, such as being able to rename a file in the Finder. It works well, but feels fatiguing after a while since it’s the pad of your finger that absorbs the pressure, not any mechanism. Tap-to-click is disabled by default and so is hold-to-drag (which is now in the accessibility settings) for some reason. MacOS recognises lots of multi-finger gestures which work fluidly and soon become second nature.

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Apple’s default wallpaper masks the notch cleverly

 

MacBook Pro (14-inch, 2021) display and notch

The most controversial feature of the new 2021 MacBook Pro is its display notch. Many laptop manufacturers have tried relocating or dispensing with webcams altogether to make screen borders as narrow as possible, and none of these solutions has really worked. Apple is the first to try a notch that cuts into the top of the panel itself, and maybe this is the best compromise. The question is, though, do we really need the borders around our laptop screens to be this slim?

Nearly every smartphone manufacturer copied Apple’s iPhone X notch when it first came out, and now there isn’t a single one left shipping phones like this – they’ve all moved on to camera holes or much smaller incursions, while even the latest iPhones with their relatively chunky Face ID camera and IR projector array now look a bit dated. It’s surprising that Apple has chosen to bring this look to its laptops even though they don’t support Face ID (iPad Pros with Face ID have so far escaped, but thick borders are necessary on a handheld device).

Even Apple seems to understand that notches are distracting and unattractive – the default macOS wallpaper is strategically dark at the top to help mask the notch. The company has also thought about how to mitigate this. Here’s how it works: First of all, the screen is taller than before. The resolution is now 3024×1964 (or 3456×2234 on the 16-inch model) which is exactly 74 pixels taller than a true 16:10 aspect ratio. That means the screen has actually been extended upwards to fill the space around the webcam; the notch doesn’t encroach on any space there was before.

Apple has moved the macOS menu bar into this space, now splitting it into left and right sections. The screen effectively continues “behind” the notch, and your trackpad cursor will pass through it rather than acting as though there’s an edge, even if you’re dragging something. The screen is large enough that most programs will show their menus on the left, leaving the system status icons on the right. Some heavy programs with very dense menus might spill over, and if you’re a power user with a lot of apps that have their own icons or readouts, you might find that there just isn’t enough lateral room for everything. This is where Apple has not quite gotten everything right – I noticed some odd cursor behaviour in Premiere Pro, jumping from one side of the notch to the other. Videos online show how users have encountered odd bugs with items rendered invisibly behind the notch or failing to wrap around it sensibly. Hopefully these issues will be addressed in future macOS updates.

If the menu bar could be set to opaque black, you might not even notice the notch is there in normal operation – third-party apps can do this but a native option would be useful (reducing transparency in the Accessibility settings doesn’t quite achieve the desired effect, even in Dark mode). On the plus side, app windows can now fill the remaining 16:10 screen area (if you also hide the macOS dock). In full-screen mode, this is exactly how they fit – the areas to the sides of the notch remain black, leaving a rectangle. If you move the cursor up into that space, menu items appear there, and don’t overlap your app window as before.

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The notch is fully visible when you use a light wallpaper (top) as opposed to Apple’s default selection (bottom)

 

Most video these days is widescreen and will play letterboxed anyway when fullscreen, so you don’t have the notch covering anything. Vertical and even 4:3 video plays within the 16:10 space, so you’re effectively letterboxed on three sides, with no visible notch.

For most use cases, this implementation is actually very workable. While it often feels as though space has been wasted, you just have to think of the two “wings” above the bounds of the 16:10 space as bonus areas. Apple could have done a better job of pointing this out, to avoid the perception that this is wasted space. Once I got used to this and understood what was going on, I felt less annoyed. However, the notch is still a constant visual distraction. You can always see the edges when working. Wallpaper with a dark top can help, but an opacity control would have been much better.

It’s also annoying that Apple couldn’t fit its Face ID hardware in, which would have been far better justification for a notch. As of now it’s just a brand differentiator – the rumoured upcoming MacBook refresh might have a light-coloured notch which could be far less easy to live with, going by this experience.

Aside from this, the panel that Apple has used is excellent. The 14-inch MacBook Pro has about the same pixel count as the previous 16-inch model, for an even denser and crisper effect. The panel uses mini-LED backlighting brightness can go up to 1000 nits in everyday use or a massive 1600 nits with HDR content. The full DCI-P3 colour gamut can be reproduced, and there’s a 120Hz maximum refresh rate – though not all software can take advantage of this yet.

Colours are vibrant without being oversaturated, motion is exceptionally smooth, and even tiny text is rendered crisply. Apple’s True Tone feature adjusts white balance automatically to compensate for the ambient light temperature. Videos look great, especially 4K HDR content. Overall, the larger screen is welcome in this segment, and is a pleasure to work on.

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Blender is one of the few applications that really stressed the M1 Pro processor

 

MacBook Pro (14-inch, 2021) usage and performance

This is our first experience with Apple’s M1 Pro SoC, which promises even more power than the M1 from last year’s 13-inch MacBook Pro refresh. Apple is drawing new lines between its Pro laptops and the MacBook Air (or just MacBook, as it might be called). The M1 Pro leverages the same architecture as the M1 and is built on the same 5nm process. Instead of four high-performance and four efficiency cores, there are now six (or eight) of the former and only two of the latter. The GPU core count is also up from seven or eight to 14 or 16. Memory continues to be integrated but you have up to 32GB with the M1 Pro, and it has a faster interconnect. Of course the M1 Max CPU option pushes these figures up even further.

All three incarnations of the M1 family share a 16-core “neural engine” for AI and machine learning acceleration. The M1 Pro and M1 Max also introduce a new “media engine” which is a hardware encode/decode block designed to handle HEVC, H.264, and Apple’s own ProRAW and ProRES formats which could come in handy for video production and content creation professionals. In addition, devices powered by the M1 Pro and M1 Max can drive up to two and three external 6K displays, respectively.

In short, Apple’s new hardware tiers are not like what we’re used to seeing from traditional CPU manufacturers and PC brands – there are several capabilities to take into consideration to choose the right variant for your needs. Again, nothing is upgradeable, so you need to make a big decision at the time of purchase.

In everyday use, the new 2021 MacBook Pro is certainly impressive. Everything from launching apps to multitasking is extremely snappy. The laptop wakes quickly from sleep when its lid is raised, but I had trouble with the fingerprint sensor – it wasn’t as quick as what I’m used to with smartphones, and sometimes I needed to reposition my finger to get it right. Face recognition is now common on premium Windows laptops, and this might have been a good time for Apple to bring Face ID to Macs.

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The SD card slot and HDMI video output are welcome, but Apple could have gone with more capable versions of each standard

 

This laptop is overpowered if all you need it for is entertainment, basic productivity, or Web surfing. In everyday use it runs completely silent. Premiere Pro ran flawlessly with a fairly heavy video project loaded up, and I was able to apply effects and render video quickly. The only test that really seemed to challenge the M1 Pro processor was Blender. I noticed the middle of the keyboard getting quite toasty and parts of the metal frame becoming hot after about 15 minutes of continuous rendering with the automated Blender Benchmark Launcher. Still, the fan remained whisper-quiet.

Blender completed the BMW render test scene in 4 minutes, 27 seconds and the Classroom scene in 13 minutes, 47 seconds. Interestingly, the same tests took 4 minutes, 26 seconds and 12 minutes, 38 seconds on battery power – that shows there isn’t much throttling, if any, to conserve power. However, the battery level did drop by 16 percentage points which is quite a lot.

Geekbench 5 managed to score 1,765 in its single-core run and 10,026 in the multi-core run. The OpenCL Compute test result was 34,653 points. Cinebench R23 posted scores of 1,531 and 9,550 in its single-core and multi-core test runs. Compared to the M1 SoC in the 2020 Mac mini and 2021 iMac, we see that single-core scores aren’t all that different but multi-threaded test results are significantly higher. This scales evenly with the increase in CPU cores so you can tell what the higher-end configurations of the M1 Pro and M1 Max will be able to achieve.

The browser-based WebXprt, Basemark Web 3.0 and Jetstream 2 benchmarks put up scores of 337, 1545.46 and 202.162 respectively. Encoding a 1.3GB AVI file to H.265 took 46 seconds.

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The MagSafe connector, two Thunderbolt 4 ports, and a 3.5mm audio socket are on the left

 

The M1 Pro SoC also has significantly more powerful integrated graphics capabilities than the M1, so I tried running Shadow of the Tomb Raider, a relatively demanding game. At 1920×1200, using the High quality preset, the built-in benchmark averaged a surprisingly playable average of 48fps. Once again, this figure stayed constant even on battery power.

Unigine’s Valley benchmark is not Apple Silicon native and ran through the Rosetta compatibility layer. It was unable to run at at 1920×1080, and instead defaulted to 1512×982 (a quarter of the native 3024×1964 due to Retina upscaling). It still produced an impressive average of 72.1 fps, with 4xAA enabled.

The speakers on the new MacBook Pro are impressive. Music sounded rich and full with reasonably good bass, and voices in video were crisp. The maximum volume could have been a bit better, but this is still great for a laptop. The 1080p webcam is quite good as well, but needs adequate light to work.

Coming to battery life, the new 14-inch MacBook Pro was able to get through a full workday without being plugged in, and still had over 20 percent left at the end. Usage was mainly browser-based, with a lot of work on documents and a bit of music and video streaming as well. Heavy tests did drain the battery quickly but there’s no sign of throttling, which will be great for some people. Idle power usage was minimal – closing the lid at night and checking in the next morning, there was virtually no drop in the battery level at all.

The 96W MagSafe charger was able to take my review unit from an empty battery to 52 percent in 30 mins, and to 86 percent in an hour. It took slightly over an hour and a half to charge fully. USB Type-C fast charging is supported as well (only on the 14-inch model). Keep in mind that the base variant of the 14-inch model does not come with the fast MagSafe charger, but the additional Rs. 1,600 to get it is quite reasonable.

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Apple has eliminated the Touch Bar, which never became indispensable

 

Verdict

Apple has embraced change with the new MacBook Pro lineup, even at the cost of admitting it was wrong. It’s just sad that it took so long – many buyers including long-time Mac users were vocal and united in criticising the lack of ports and slots on the previous few generations, plus the fact that the Touch Bar made the keyboard worse. What the company has now remembered is that a premium laptop is not the same as a laptop for pro users.

I was expecting the notch to be a big problem but I found it easy enough to live with, after a while. It’s still distracting and you’ll have to choose wallpapers strategically to mask it, but it isn’t a dealbreaker. If you work with apps full-screen most of the time, it’s a non-issue. Hopefully Apple will bring back an opaque menu bar in macOS

The M1 Pro and M1 Max processors deserve a lot of attention but they aren’t the biggest reasons that people will want to buy or upgrade to either the 14-inch or 16-inch models. The screen is fantastic overall, the speakers are great, the keyboard and trackpad are easy to work with, and the return of useful ports will make people happy. Personally, I don’t miss the Touch Bar one bit.

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Despite its high starting price, the new MacBook Pro will likely appeal to plenty of users looking for an upgrade

 

Things aren’t quite perfect though – you’ll still need some dongles and not all software plays well with the notch yet. The biggest problem remains cost – not only is the entry-level variant priced quite high, but the costs of adding RAM and storage (which you can’t upgrade later) are just completely ludicrous. There is no basis in reality for charging Rs. 60,000 to go from 512GB to 2TB when today’s top-performing 2TB SSDs cost around Rs. 35,000 in retail. It’s also silly that the fast MagSafe charger isn’t just included with the base variant.

Apple’s upcoming replacement for the current MacBook Air should make much more sense for most people who don’t have heavy workloads. It could even replace the holdover 13-inch MacBook Pro for entry-level content creators, considering how good Apple’s next-gen silicone is likely to be. If you’ve been holding on to a pre-2016 model for a while, it’s a good time to upgrade.

If you don’t have any budget constraints and just want the best Mac laptop there is right now, look no further. However, creative pros do have sleek and powerful options on the Windows side of the fence these days, with plenty of compelling features such as touchscreens and stylus support. Microsoft’s Surface lineup is the obvious equivalent, but the Asus ProArt and Acer ConceptD series are contenders, as are many top-end models from Dell, Lenovo, and HP for less artistic power users. 



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Infinix Note 11 Review: Budget Entertainer?

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Infinix has launched its Note 11 series in India comprised of two smartphones, the Note 11 and Note 11S. These two models cater to the sub-Rs. 15,000 segment and boast of capable hardware. In this review I’ll be focusing on the Infinix Note 11, which is the more affordable model of the two. The Infinix Note 11 sports a 6.7-inch AMOLED display, a MediaTek Helio G88 SoC, and a 5,000mAh battery, but does it offer the best value for those on a budget? I put this phone to the test to find out.

Infinix Note 11 price in India

The Infinix Note 11 is priced at Rs. 11,999 in India and is only available with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. It is available in three colour options: Celestial Snow, Glacier Green, and Graphite Black.

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The Infinix Note 11 has a plastic body and frame

 

Infinix Note 11 design

It looks like the Infinix Note 11 was designed using just a ruler, judging by its straight lines. However, this does help it stand out compared to other chunky smartphones in the budget segment. The corners are curved, so they don’t dig into your palm when holding the Note 11. The front is dominated by the big display, which has a dewdrop notch for the selfie camera. It has thin borders at the top and the sides while the chin is thicker.

The plastic frame is flat on all sides. The power and volume buttons are on the right, while the left only has the SIM tray. The top of the frame is blank while the bottom has the 3.5mm headphone jack, USB Type-C port, primary microphone, and speaker.

Just like the frame, the back panel is also made out of plastic. It has a matte finish which resists picking up fingerprints. The camera module houses three sensors, with the primary camera designed to look much bigger than the others. I had a Glacier Green unit for this review.

The Infinix Note 11 measures 7.90mm in thickness and weighs 184.5g. It was comfortable to hold and use. Infinix includes a clear case in the box, along with a 33W fast charger.

Infinix Note 11 specifications

The Infinix Note 11 sports a 6.7-inch AMOLED display with full-HD+ resolution and 20:9 aspect ratio, so it is tall and narrow. There is Corning Gorilla Glass 3 for protection. The Infinix Note 11 is powered by the Mediatek Helio G88 processor, paired with 4GB of RAM. The phone sports 64GB of eMCP storage which is expandable thanks to the dedicated microSD card slot.

The Infinix Note 11 has support for Bluetooth 5, dual-band Wi-Fi, and GPS. It also has stereo speakers. It runs Android 11 with XOS 10 on top. There are customisations to the UI and you get a number of apps preinstalled on the device. I found a few of the stock apps to be spammy, pushing notifications throughout the day. I would recommend uninstalling apps that you won’t use to free up some space on this smartphone, and turning off notifications for the spammy ones. Swiping right from the home screen takes you to Infinix’s Zero Screen which shows recently used apps and a feed of the latest news.

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The Infinix Note 11 has dual speakers

 

You also get features such as XClone, which lets you run two instances of supported apps, and a game mode. Infinix has developed multiple features for social media apps, which it calls Social Turbo. The ‘WhatsApp mode’ only lets the messaging app access data while others are blocked. A voice changer feature to change your voice while on a video or audio call is also available. If you want to see messages that others have deleted after sending, or read messages without sending a read receipt, there is a Peek mode that lets you do just that. The UI also has a Smart Panel which lets you quickly launch your favourite apps and perform certain actions.

Infinix Note 11 performance

The Infinix Note 11’s crisp AMOLED display makes watching videos engaging. It has good viewing angles and it gets bright enough outdoors as well. I couldn’t find a way to tweak the output of the display, but there is an Eye Care toggle which puts the display into Reading mode. The Infinix Note 11 has an Always On display feature but it is disabled by default. The stereo speaker setup is loud enough for a small room.

The Infinix Note 11 was quick to unlock with the side-mounted fingerprint scanner as well as face recognition. I did not notice any slowdowns while using the phone. It could also multitask easily between multiple apps. As for synthetic benchmarks, the Note 11 managed to score 182,757 in AnTuTu. It also scored 371 and 1,336 points respectively in Geekbench 5’s single-core and multi-core tests. In graphics benchmark GFXBench’s Car Chase and T-Rex scenes, the Infinix Note 11 managed 8.2fps and 40fps respectively.

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The Infinix Note 11 has a dewdrop notch at the top of the display

 

Battleground Mobile India (BGMI) defaulted to the HD graphics and High frame rate settings, . The game was playable at these settings without any issues. After playing for about 20 minutes, I noticed that the top half of the phone had become slightly warm. The Note 11 registered a 5 percent drop in battery level. I also noticed similar battery consumption after playing Clash Royale for 25 minutes.

Battery life is good, and the Infinix Note 11 will easily go on for over a day without needing to be plugged in. The phone also managed to keep idle battery drain low during the review period. Our HD video loop test went on for 14 hours and 28 minutes. Infinix has bundled a 33W fast charger, which got the battery level to 46 percent in 30 minutes and 86 percent in an hour. Charging speed tapers off after this point, and the phone took another 20 minutes or so to charge completely.

Infinix Note 11 cameras

We’ve seen manufacturers dropping camera sensors from smartphones in this segment to keep prices under control, and the Note 11 is no exception. You get a triple camera setup on the Note 11, with a 50-megapixel primary camera, a depth sensor, and an “AI sensor”. The primary camera shoots 12.5-megapixel photos by default, but you can shoot photos at the full 50-megapixel resolution after tapping a quick toggle. For selfies, this phone has a 16-megapixel camera in the dewdrop notch, with an LED flash neatly hidden in the top bezel. The camera app is straightforward and easy to use, you can easily switch between different shooting modes.

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The Note 11 has a triple camera setup

 

Daylight shots taken with the Infinix Note 11 appeared flat and lacked detail. Colours appeared washed-out and objects at a distance weren’t easily recognisable. Photos shot at the full 50-megapixel resolution were 13MB in size but suffered from the same issues as those shot at the pixel-binned resolution, so the lack of detail makes them unsuitable for cropping.

Infinix Note 11 daylight camera sample (tap to see full size)

 

For closeups, the AI was quick to detect what the phone was pointed at. However, the phone occasionally needed more time to lock focus, resulting in blurred shots when I wasn’t patient. It managed decent edge detection and added depth to the background but did not capture the best detail on the subject. Portraits were slightly better, and the phone did let me set the level of blur before taking a shot. It managed to separate the subject and the background well. It could have done with slightly better sharpness, though.

Infinix Note 11 close-up sample (tap to see full size)

Infinix Note 11 portrait sample (tap to see full size)

 

Low-light camera performance was strictly average. Photos shot at night appeared hazy with murky details. The Night Mode does help with a brighter image but the longer shutter blurs moving objects.

Infinix Note 11 low-light sample (tap to see full size)

Infinix Note 11 Night mode sample (tap to see full size) 

 

Selfies shot with the Infinix Note 11 were decent in daylight and the phone also managed to capture good portraits. Low-light selfies were average, but the front flash did help in darker environments.

Infinix Note 11 lowlight selfie portrait (tap to see full-size sample)

 

Video recording tops out at 2K for the primary and the selfie cameras. Footage isn’t stabilised and the Ultra Steady mode only works at up to 1080p. This results in shaky results when shooting in the default mode. There is an Ultra Steady option but this caused a shimmer effect in video clips.

Verdict

Making a budget smartphone isn’t easy, and manufacturers often have to cut corners to get to a competitive price. The Infinix Note 11’s camera performance isn’t as good as what you can expect from some of the competition, and you might need more than one attempt at times to get a shot right.

However, if you are willing to overlook the sub-par camera performance, the Infinix Note 11 does offer good value. The crisp AMOLED display and dual speakers make it engaging to watch videos and play games on. Infinix has also added some useful software features, but the phone also has a few spammy stock apps. Those still looking for alternatives, can take a look at the Moto G31 (Review), which runs stock Android.

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BenQ EW3880R Curved Ultrawide Monitor Review: The All-Purpose Monitor

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A good, productivity-focused monitor will go a long way in improving your efficiency while working, but it isn’t often that we find a monitor that is equally geared for life after work hours. Among the world’s leading names when it comes to monitors is Taiwan-based BenQ, and one of the company’s newest models in India is the EW3880R WQHD+ IPS curved ultra-wide monitor. Apart from the 21:9 aspect ratio that makes it useful for multi-tasking and multi-device connectivity, it also has a built-in front-firing 2.1-channel speaker system.

Priced at Rs. 97,500 in India, the BenQ EW3880R is undoubtedly expensive and meant for a very niche audience. However, it promises a lot for the price, including modern connectivity options, a high-resolution 37.5-inch IPS LED screen, good sound, and more. Is this the best premium monitor you can buy right now in India? Find out in this review.

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The BenQ EW3880R monitor has a 2.1-channel front-firing speaker system

 

BenQ EW3880R Monitor design

While I never expected the BenQ EW3880R monitor to be small and easy to handle, its actual size and proportions came as a surprise to me when setting it up. It’s big, heavy, and quite imposing in its design, with a curved 37.5-inch WQHD+ (3840×1600-pixel) 60Hz IPS LED panel and an aspect ratio of 21:9. Although this ultra-wide aspect ratio seems a bit awkward at first, it suits all kinds of functions, including productivity and entertainment.

While the big screen naturally dominates the front view of the monitor, it’s hard to miss the speaker grille right below. This houses the 2.1-channel speaker system, with two 3W mid- and high-range drivers plus an 8W woofer. There’s also a small button in the bottom-right corner which activates the built-in high dynamic range mode.

The BenQ EW3880R monitor is quite thick, and at its size, the 2300R curvature is prominent and conspicuous. The screen mounts onto an imposing and heavy centre-balanced stand, which allows for plenty of adjustment, including up to 120mm height near the top, up to 15 degrees of tilt, and up to 15 degrees of swivel in either direction.

All of this balances safely on a V-shaped pedestal that takes up a fair amount of space on whatever table you intend to place the monitor on. The size of the stand and the space it takes up also mean that you’ll need plenty of room between the monitor and the wall behind, as well as between yourself and the screen, to be able to properly and safely use it. I had the monitor placed around three feet away, and while the curved screen did help a bit with edge visibility, it felt a bit too large for my workspace.

benq ew3880r monitor review remote BenQ

The remote is small and runs on a single CR2032 battery

 

Included in the box of the BenQ EW3880R monitor are a USB Type-C cable, an HDMI cable, the power cable for the monitor, and a remote. There are also detachable plastic plates that can be fixed onto the back of the monitor to cover the stand-mount attachment and ports, but these need not be used if you want quick and easy access or if the monitor is placed against a wall.

BenQ EW3880R Monitor specifications and features

The 2.1-channel speaker system and large curved screen aside, the BenQ EW3880R monitor has a lot going for it by way of features and specifications. The monitor supports the HDR10 format, and has a peak brightness of 300 nits when using HDR, or 250 nits without it. Additionally, you can run two separate source devices on the monitor simultaneously in split-screen mode.

Video input options on the BenQ EW3880R monitor are impressive, with two HDMI 2.0 ports, one DisplayPort 1.4, and one USB Type-C port. Usefully, there is also a 3.5mm headphone jack for external audio connectivity. The most impressive is USB Type-C connectivity, since this allows for a laptop to send a DisplayPort signal to the monitor and receive up to 60W of power for charging simultaneously. This also feeds the monitor’s two downstream USB 3.0 Type-A ports, so you can connect your PC to additional peripherals and set up a docking station with just a single cable.

The high dynamic range mode works a bit differently from how it would on most televisions. While TVs automatically detect HDR content and switch to HDR picture modes, the BenQ monitor has to have HDR manually activated. This is as simple as pressing the ‘HDRi’ button on the front of the monitor or on the remote, and then cycling through the three presets – Cinema HDR, Game HDR, and standard HDR – all of which are said to be optimised for their specific use cases. There is also a ‘Night Mode’ which is said to adjust the sound to make voices more clear even at low volumes.

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The aspect ratio of the BenQ EW3880R monitor allows for native 21:9 content to play using the entire screen

 

The BenQ EW3880R monitor has its own remote, which can be used to control power, select the source, control the ‘Night’ and HDR modes, adjust the brightness and volume levels, and control a few other basic settings such as the audio mode. The remote works on a CR2032 battery; while the company claims that this is pre-installed in the remote, my unit didn’t have one and I had to open the remote to install one after purchasing it separately.

The remote is small, and made it much more convenient to control basic things such as power and volume after the initial setup. You could also control the monitor without it using physical buttons, but you’ll have to reach around the back to find these.

BenQ EW3880R Monitor performance

Although the BenQ EW3880R monitor is pitched as entertainment-friendly, it’s quite different from other monitors with similar credentials such as the Samsung Smart Monitor M7 which has a 16:9 aspect ratio and its own operating system. The BenQ monitor is considerably larger, has a curved screen, and has a 21:9 aspect ratio, offering a rather different viewing experience.

All of the above points do, however, make the BenQ EW3880R monitor particularly well suited as a large screen to use your laptop or PC with, with the wide aspect ratio making multi-tasking particularly convenient. The most obvious way to do this was to run two apps or programs side-by-side on the same laptop. I was able to comfortably keep an Internet browser and a Word document open simultaneously. It’s just like having two monitors side by side, but without any borders in between.

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The monitor has a 2300R curvature, which is particularly helpful in reducing light reflections and glare

 

I was able to run Windows at the full resolution available and at 60Hz when I connected the Realme Book Slim using the USB Type-C cable included with the monitor. The resolution was properly adjusted for the screen, and Windows also recommended a suitable scaling level to ensure legibility of text and proper app visibility.

I particularly liked the split-screen option, which allowed me to select two inputs and have them share screen space. This worked well when using the Realme Book Slim and a MacBook Air connected using the HDMI port. Both laptops adjusted their output resolutions to the best fit with the available screen space. Split-screen options include a 1:1 split, 2:1 split, or a picture-in-picture box for the secondary input, allowing for plenty of flexibility with how you want two source devices displayed.

Apart from occasional multi-tasking, for which I had both laptops connected in split-screen mode, I often tended to use the BenQ EW3880R monitor as a reference screen for reading and video content, with multiple apps or windows open side-by-side. Colour accuracy and sharpness were impressive, making this a good monitor for my occasional photo editing tasks.

Furthermore, the sharpness of the screen made reading text a pleasure even from a considerable viewing distance and with the text natively magnified by Windows. It was also reasonably bright even without HDR turned on, and the curvature of the IPS panel helped to reduce light reflections, making for a clean and consistent viewing experience regardless of ambient light.

Where the BenQ EW3880R truly performed well was with video and streaming content. The odd aspect ratio and WQHD+ resolution of the screen meant that streaming content from Netflix and Amazon Prime Video was capped at full-HD whether using the native apps for Windows or through a Web browser.

Native 21:9 content, including Red Notice on Netflix, scaled perfectly to the screen and used all its real estate for a proper cinematic viewing experience, and this more than made up for the resolution cap. Sharpness was decent and colours were accurate, making the monitor well suited for occasional post-work entertainment, and even late-night movie watching. HDR improved the picture slightly by way of better brightness and slightly more impactful colours when watching video content, but I preferred to keep it off for everyday work.

Sound quality was decent on the BenQ EW3880R monitor’s front-firing 2.1-channel speaker system. Although it wasn’t very loud, the sound was clear, detailed, and well tuned for short distances. I had to use it at the highest volume level almost all the time to be able to hear clearly, and the ‘Night Mode’ only made a small difference in improving voice clarity at slightly lower volumes. Although nowhere near as good as a proper speaker system or even good headphones, audio performance is good enough for a monitor and has been optimised for the both everyday productivity use and entertainment.

Verdict

With the EW3880R curved ultra-wide monitor, BenQ has a rather interesting product on its hands. This monitor is large, imposing, and well suited for the computer-bound professional, whether working from home or at an office. Visuals on screen are sharp, colours and motion are rendered well, and there are enough modern connectivity options to cater to most source devices and connection scenarios.

The split-screen mode, which lets you use two devices simultaneously, is an excellent way to put the wide aspect ratio to good use. The built-in 2.1-channel speaker system is useful and gives the BenQ EW3880R its entertainment-friendly credentials. This device could be particularly well suited to anyone who might need a single display for both work and post-work use, especially in space-constrained homes.

However, priced at Rs. 97,500 in India, this monitor is perhaps a bit too expensive, even for a curved ultra-wide model. This is a specialist product and is priced at a considerable premium, but is worth the investment if your usage fits in with the connectivity, features, and design on offer.


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HP Envy 14 (EB0021TX) Review: A Balancing Act Done Right

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HP refreshed its Envy line of premium Windows Ultrabooks back in August and the Envy 14, which we have with us today, is one of the fully loaded variants. Available in both 14-inch and 15-inch screen sizes, the new Envy series promises powerful performance in premium and highly portable bodies. The 2021 refresh gets Intel’s 11th gen Core CPUs and a tweaked design, making it a good contender against rivals such as Dell’s XPS series. The pricing of the HP Envy 14 also puts it in Apple’s MacBook Pro (M1) territory.

It’s time to find out if this ultrabook should be on your radar this shopping season.

HP Envy 14 (EB0021TX) design

The industrial design of the HP Envy 14 has grown on me in the time I’ve been testing it. This laptop is only available in a single silver finish, which covers most parts of the body, except for the bezel around the display. The sharp angles throughout the laptop, including on the rubber feet underneath, lend it a distinctive look. The aluminium chassis is sturdy which makes the lid and base feel rugged.

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The HP Envy 14’s industrial design is more sophisticated than flashy

 

For a 14-inch laptop, the HP Envy 14 offers a decent selection of physical ports. You get two USB 3 (Gen1) Type-A ports with ‘HP Sleep and Charge’ functionality on both, HDMI 2.0, a Thunderbolt 4 ( Type-C) port, a microSD card slot, a DC charging port, and a headphone jack. You can power and charge the laptop via the Type-C port too, if you don’t have the supplied charger with you. The single hinge for the display offers good torsion and the lid can be pushed back comfortably. Opening the lid when closed can be a little tricky though since the provided groove isn’t deep enough to easily grip it with your thumb or finger.

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The HP Envy 14 offers a good selection of ports for a 14-inch laptop

 

The chiclet keyboard keys are well spaced and comfortable to type on. You get three levels of white backlighting, which illuminates the keys pretty evenly. There’s a fingerprint sensor in place of the right Ctrl key. The palmrest area is spacious and you even get a generously sized glass trackpad in the middle.

The display is a bright 14-inch IPS panel with a full-HD+ resolution and a 16:10 aspect ratio. The design looks modern too, thanks to slim borders on three of its four sides. The perforated vent above the keyboard is for airflow, and the stereo speakers are placed on the bottom of the laptop, one on each side. There’s a much larger vent there too.

HP Envy 14 (EB0021TX) specifications and software

The HP Envy 14 is built around Intel’s Evo platform which is a set of guidelines for features, performance and efficiency. The variant that I’m testing features an Intel Core i7-1165G7 CPU with integrated Intel Iris Xe graphics, 16GB of soldered DDR4 RAM, a 1TB PCIe NVMe SSD, and a discrete Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Ti GPU with Max-Q optimisation. It’s a fully-loaded machine with powerful components across the board. The stereo speakers in the Envy 14 are from Bang & Olufsen. There’s a 720p webcam with a software-based camera disable feature for privacy, which can be toggled with one press of a dedicated button on the keyboard. Wireless connectivity includes Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.

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The 14-inch display is crisp with vivid colours and isn’t reflective

 

HP is still shipping the Envy 14 with Windows 10 out of the box, but you can upgrade to Windows 11 during the initial setup process (though you might want to read the rest of this review before choosing to do so). You get the usual trial programs preinstalled, along with a full license for Microsoft Office Home & Student 2019. There are plenty of apps from HP too for tweaking the sound, display, battery profiles and system tuning. There’s a neat little utility called HP Enhanced Lighting which creates a virtual ring light on the screen to help brighten your face during video calls.

HP Envy 14 (EB0021TX) performance and battery life

As a daily workhorse, the HP Envy 14 chugged along very well in the few weeks I used it. I noticed a software bug on the review unit that HP sent me, which caused it to boot loop when trying to update to the latest firmware. This cropped up on a replacement unit that HP sent as well. Heading into Windows recovery and uninstalling the last feature update fixed this temporarily, and it seems to be linked to a conflict between the HP Support Assistant app and Windows 11. If you have bought an Envy 14 or are planning to buy one, I’d suggest updating the firmware before you switch to Windows 11, to hopefully bypass this bug.

hp envy 14 review keyboard gadgets360 ww

The HP Envy 14 has a comfortable keyboard and a large glass trackpad

 

With casual use, which was mostly Web pages and apps in Chrome in my case, the HP Envy 14 ran cool and quiet. I did occasionally hear fan noise when things were running in the background, like an update in Steam, but overall, this device was comfortable to use on my lap. Despite its compactness, it feels a bit heavy at a little over 1.5kg. However, the comfortable keyboard and bright and sharp display made work and play very enjoyable. The stereo speakers sound rich and detailed too. The built-in webcam is decent if you have good light around, but footage gets very grainy in low light.

The HP Envy 14 performed very well in benchmarks too. It managed strong scores of 5,548 in PCMark 10 and 7,790 in 3DMark Fire Strike. The laptop’s SSD performance in particular was quite impressive too. Sequential read speeds averaged around 2.65GBps, while random write speeds were still a solid 1.75GBps.

The Envy 14 isn’t designed to be a gaming laptop but the dedicated Nvidia GPU will allow you to play games like Fortnite at high settings with smooth framerates. Heavier titles were still playable, such as Remedy’s Control which ran at the ‘High’ quality preset at 1080p, but the frame rate in this game was not the smoothest, with an average of around 26fps. Dropping the quality settings did improve this. I’m happy to note that while charging this laptop or doing anything intensive, it’s only the bottom that gets hot, and the heat isn’t felt much on the keyboard or the palmrest.

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The HP Envy 14 delivers battery life that’s enough to last most work days on a one charge

 

The HP Envy 14 packs in a 4-cell, 63.3WHr battery which HP claims can last for up to 17.5 hours of video playback. I didn’t watch anything for that long a stretch, but with mixed usage which included working on Google Docs in Chrome, Slack, streaming videos, and a few breaks in between, I was generally able to get about 8-9 hours of runtime on a single charge, which I think is very good for a Windows laptop of this size. What I also liked was that I didn’t have to resort to using the battery efficiency profile in Windows 11 in order to achieve this. The Battery Eater Pro score was surprisingly nothing to shout about, as the laptop lasted for just 1 hour, 22 minutes in this resource-heavy test.

Verdict

The HP Envy 14 variant (EB0021TX) that I tested was priced at Rs. 1,24,999 at the time of this review. It’s expensive, sure, but compared to its rivals, the Envy 14 does offer slightly better value. The Dell XPS 13 for instance is also priced the same, but with half the SSD capacity and no discrete GPU. Then there’s the Lenovo Yoga Slim 7i Carbon, another Ultrabook based on Intel’s Evo platform, which costs less than the Envy 14 and has nearly the same specs plus a QHD display, but again, no GPU.

I think the HP Envy 14 strikes a good balance of portability, performance, and battery life, making it a very good Ultrabook to consider. It’s not possible to directly compare it to the MacBook Pro 13 (M1) since both of them run on different software platforms and CPU architectures, but if you’re looking for a Windows-based alternative, the Envy 14 is a strong contender. A few things to keep in mind are that it is a bit heavy and it takes some effort to open the lid. The quality of the webcam is also a bit disappointing.

Overall, the HP Envy 14 should be near the top of your list if you’re looking for a premium Ultrabook that can juggle work and (some) play, while still lasting a full work day on a single charge.


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Huawei Watch Fit Review: Looks Good, But Tracking Falls Short

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Due to various reasons, Huawei and its sub-brand Honor aren’t active in the smartphone space in India anymore. However, that hasn’t held the company back in allied product segments, including wearables and audio products, in which it remains present. Wearables make up a popular and fast-growing segment, particularly in the affordable price range where many of the company’s new launches are. Among the most recent new products from the company is the Huawei Watch Fit.

Priced at Rs. 8,999 in India, the Huawei Watch Fit is marketed as a smartwatch rather than a fitness band, even though the design and features might have you think otherwise. It’s also priced a bit higher than many products with similar features, but there are a couple of key factors that help set it apart. Is this the best fitness-oriented wearable you can buy under Rs. 10,000? Find out in this review.

Huawei Watch Fit design

Smartwatches and fitness trackers offer many of the same functions, but differences come down to physical design and software capabilities.The Huawei Watch Fit has a design that is unique enough to not quite let it fall into either category. The large AMOLED screen and thick casing make it feel like a smartwatch, but the narrow form factor and fitness-centric features offer functionality that’s more in line with what you’d expect from a fitness tracker.

The Huawei Watch Fit has a 1.64-inch AMOLED touch screen with a resolution of 280×456 pixels. That makes for a pixel density of 326ppi, and a screen-to-body ratio of 70 percent. It’s available in three colours in India – black, blue, and pink – and comes with matching detachable rubber straps depending on the colour you pick. The smartwatch has a single button on the right. Charging contact points and the optical sensor for heart rate and blood oxygen measurements are on the bottom.

I found the Huawei Watch Fit to be comfortable to wear, and it was light enough to be unobtrusive even while sleeping. The single button on the watch controls power, opens the app drawer if you’re at the home screen, and jumps to the home screen from anywhere else within the watch’s interface. The device comes with a charging cable which magnetically attaches to charging contact points on the bottom. It stayed in place securely on a flat surface while charging, and wasn’t easily knocked loose.

The Watch Fit weighs 21g without straps, and has various sensors including an accelerometer, gyroscope, capacitive sensor to wake the watch screen with a lift gesture, ambient light sensor, and optical heart rate sensor. There is built-in GPS as well, and the body is 5ATM water resistant. The primary mode of connectivity with your smartphone is Bluetooth, although the version has not been specified.

Huawei Watch Fit software, interface, and app

The Huawei Watch Fit runs its own custom operating system and UI, and links with the companion app over Bluetooth (available for Android and iOS) to synchronise fitness and health data. For this review, I used an Android smartphone with the app installed on it.

The user interface of the Huawei Watch Fit was simple and clean, with touch and tap gestures that allowed me to navigate through the various screens, working in conjunction with the physical button.

huawei watch fit review app Huawei

The Huawei Health app maintains the connection between the Watch Fit and your smartphone, and is available for iOS and Android

The AMOLED screen is put to good use on the Huawei Watch Fit, with most backgrounds being black to make content stand out and conserve battery life. The apps on the smartwatch are fixed and largely cover the basics; there is no way to install any third party apps. Most of the apps on the smartphone I was using the Watch Fit with were supported for notifications, including WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and of course, the Phone and Messages apps.

I quite liked how sharp and premium the Watch Fit’s user interface looked, with everything well optimised for the high-resolution AMOLED screen. Settings and notifications were easy to reach, fitness and health data was just a few swipes away, and it was convenient to start workouts and measure my heart rate and SpO2 level. You can usefully also see weather updates, control music on your paired smartphone, set timers and alarms, page your paired smartphone, and more.

Many of the preinstalled watch faces can be selected directly on the Huawei Watch Fit, but you can also use the Huawei Health app to download and install custom watch faces from the face gallery for free. Many of these felt poorly designed and tacky, but there are some useful, good-looking watch faces to choose from as well. These can provide plenty of information alongside the time, such as steps taken, heart rate, and more.

The Huawei Health app works well and the connection between the smartwatch and the smartphone was stable in my experience. The app syncs and stores health and fitness data within the app for easy reference. You can start workouts directly from the app, configure key device and health monitoring settings, update the watch’s firmware, and more. It’s among the better apps for affordable smartwatches and fitness trackers you can find right now.

huawei watch fit review main Huawei

The 1.64-inch AMOLED screen has a resolution of 280×456 pixels, and makes for a sharp and crisp viewing experience

 

Huawei Watch Fit performance and battery life

Although pitched as a smartwatch, the Huawei Watch Fit looks and feels more like a premium fitness tracker. With a large, sharp AMOLED screen, the hardware to track most key health and fitness parameters, and functional second-screen capabilities, this device is impressive on paper for the price. However, the Huawei Watch Fit didn’t take very accurate measurements when tracking some parameters. On the other hand, smartwatch functionality proved to be more reliable, and I had no trouble with push notifications from apps, caller identification, or music controls.

The Huawei Watch Fit can track an impressive 96 different types of workouts, including common ones such as indoor and outdoor walking and running, cycling, swimming, rowing, and elliptical, to name a few. There are also plenty of niche options including various dance forms, yoga, pilates, strength training, various martial arts, and popular sports such as tennis, cricket, football, and more.

Other categories of activities include watersports, extreme sports such as parkour, and winter sports such as snowboarding. It’s difficult to say how accurate and useful the tracking will be with some of these, but it’s nice to know that the Huawei Watch Fit has some kind of understanding of how you’ll be moving your body during such niche and specialised activities.

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There is just a single button on the side of the Huawei Watch Fit, while most functions are controlled by tap and swipe gestures on the screen

 

For my review, I stuck to tracking the basics of exercise, including indoor and outdoor walks, and stair climbing in my apartment building. In our manual step counting test, the Huawei Watch Fit recorded 1,071 steps when I had manually counted 1,000 – a rather high error margin of around 7 percent. For other tests, I used an Apple Watch Series 5 to compare data, and the differences were similarly wide.

While walking in a covered area, the Huawei Watch Fit recorded around 75 more steps per 1,000 than the Apple Watch. The distance calculation reflected an even wider difference of 1.14km on the Huawei device for 1km on the Apple Watch. It should be noted that the Watch Fit does allow for manual calibration of distance for indoor walks, in order to improve tracking accuracy over time.

The Huawei Watch Fit has a GPS sensor, which is activated for any outdoor distance-based workouts and activities such as walks and runs. I expected this to result in better accuracy, but there was still a considerable difference in distance recordings – the Huawei device recorded a distance of 1.18km when the Apple Watch recorded 1km, for a distance that Google Maps estimated to be just a little under 1km.

On the whole, the Huawei Watch Fit’s fitness tracking is a lot less accurate than what I’ve experienced with more affordable devices with similar features, such as the Realme Watch 2 Pro.

I also found SpO2 readings to be quite inaccurate when compared to those of a decent pulse oximeter; the Huawei Watch Fit provided readings of 96-97 percent blood oxygen saturation, while the pulse oximeter showed readings of 98-99 percent.

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The bottom of the Huawei Watch Fit has the optical sensor for heart rate and SpO2 measurements

 

Heart rate readings on the Huawei Watch Fit were accurate, matching what I could see on both the pulse oximeter and the Apple Watch. Sleep tracking was also reasonably accurate on the Huawei device, and the data is a fair bit more detailed than what you can get from an Apple Watch.

Battery life on the Huawei Watch Fit is very good, with the device running for around nine days on a single charge with regular use. It’s possible to get a bit more out of the battery by turning off regular heart-rate monitoring and only allowing limited use of GPS tracking, for example. However, battery life is decent even if your usage tends to draw more power. Charging is convenient and quick with the included cable.

Verdict

The Huawei Watch Fit has a lot going for it, including good design and hardware, a very good screen, sophisticated and thoughtful software, and an app that keeps everything running smoothly. However, it falls short in one major department: fitness tracking. The error margins for step and distance tracking were too high, and blood oxygen saturation tracking seemed completely arbitrary in our tests. While heart-rate and sleep tracking were decent in my experience, this isn’t quite enough to establish the fitness credentials of this device.

As a smartwatch, the Huawei Watch Fit is reasonably good, so it might be worth considering for its design and ease of use. However, as a fitness tracker, the Watch Fit falls short, even when compared to more affordable competition, including the Realme Watch 2 Pro. Options such as the Mi Watch Revolve Active might also be worth considering at around this price.


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Hawkeye Episode 6 Recap: MCU’s Most Pointless Series Bids Adieu

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Hawkeye episode 6 — out now on Disney+ and Disney+ Hotstar — put a neat albeit predictable bow on a humdrum Marvel series, the smallest of the lot we’ve gotten so far. The Tom Hiddleston-led Loki was seismic due to its multiverse angle. The Elizabeth Olsen-starrer WandaVision was innovative and brilliant at times. And The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, with Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan, dealt with some big ideas even though it failed to deliver. The only debate I’ll have about Hawkeye, now that it’s done, is which was Marvel’s most forgettable series in 2021. The contest is between the last two, if that wasn’t already clear and obvious. Farewell Hawkeye, you will not be missed.

Given where the Hawkeye series finale left us, it’s unclear where the new Hawkeye Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld) goes from here. Hawkeye episode 6 gave us nothing to suggest her future (though it does seem like the end for Jeremy Renner’s Clint Barton/ Hawkeye). Sure, there was a post-credits scene in Hawkeye episode 6 but it was entirely useless. An extended song and dance sequence from Rogers: The Musical? Honestly, this seems like discarded B-roll footage (it has none of the main cast) that Marvel figured they could put at the end as like “happy holidays” material.

Hawkeye Episode 5 Recap: Dinner with Enemies, Old Suit, and a New Villain

Aside from introducing Kate to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Hawkeye‘s only other major purpose was to lead into the Echo spin-off series starring Alaqua Cox’s Maya Lopez. Hawkeye episode 6 set her up for a brighter future albeit with red in her ledger, as Maya ended the episode with a clean slate by killing the ones who were controlling her.

You could argue that it transitioned Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh) into her next MCU chapter too, having made peace with Clint and her sister Natasha Romanoff/ Black Widow’s (Scarlett Johansson) death. I had imagined her conflict with Clint to be the most stupid subplot given how easily it could be resolved, but Pugh is fun to have around, I must admit. And oh, lastly, Hawkeye episode 6 confirmed an intriguing backstory for Clint’s wife Laura Barton (Linda Cardellini): she was Agent 19 at SHIELD in a past life.

Hawkeye Episode 4 Recap: A Watch, Wife Barton, and an Assassin

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Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk in Hawkeye episode 6
Photo Credit: Disney/Marvel Studios

Hawkeye episode 6 — titled “So This Is Christmas?”, directed by Rhys Thomas, and written by Jonathan Igla and Elisa Climent — opens with the proper return of Wilson Fisk/ Kingpin (Vincent D’Onofrio) who was merely glimpsed in a CCTV image last week on Hawkeye episode 5. Kate’s mother Eleanor Bishop (Vera Farmiga) is in his office to see him. She tells the audience (Fisk already knows) that she was orchestrating everything: Armand III’s death and Jack taking the fall for Sloan. She’s paid the debt her husband owed tenfold. Now, Eleanor wants out. Fisk warns her that what she is starting won’t end well, but she refuses and leaves.

Kate gets the video of their conversation from Yelena, just as she got the incriminating photo on Hawkeye episode 5. Maybe Fisk should do something about having perfectly-placed cameras in his office — and if he really wants them, then have better intranet security. Anyway, Kate is worried what will happen to her mother whom she has always thought of as completely innocent. Kate wants Clint to leave as this is her mess. But Clint finally says in Hawkeye episode 6 what he has been avoiding all season: Kate is his partner. Hence, he’s not going anywhere until this is done.

Hawkeye Episode 3 Recap: For Echo and Ronin, It’s All About Family

Back to Fisk in Hawkeye episode 6 who is getting a visit from Maya — with Kazi (Fra Fee) also present, serving as interpreter sometimes. She tells Fisk that she’s done chasing ghosts. Fisk thinks it’s quite the turnaround though he doesn’t grill her. Maya asks for a couple of days off to clear her head and leaves. Fisk is not happy with what’s happening in his city. The Ronin is roaming around, an Avenger has taken interest in their business, Eleanor quit on him, and now Maya is turning on them. Fisk asks Kazi to teach the city a lesson.

Elsewhere in Hawkeye episode 6, Clint and Kate are travelling in the metro. Clint says they need a ton of gear to prepare for the big party tonight. He then reveals he’s going to make more trick arrows — and Kate is naturally taken aback. As they make more trick arrows, Clint gives her some lessons on the superhero business: the job is inconvenient, you’ve to make tough decisions, blah blah the standard stuff. In return, Kate finally gives him the whole spiel about how inspired she was by him. She saw him jumping off rooftops and fighting aliens with stick and a string — and she knew being a hero isn’t just for those who can fly or shoot lasers, it’s for anyone who can bear the cost.

Hawkeye Episode 2 Recap: Jeremy Renner Goes LARPing

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Hailee Steinfeld as Kate Bishop in Hawkeye episode 6
Photo Credit: Disney/Marvel Studios

Hawkeye episode 6 then arrives at the Bishop Christmas party. Everyone involved in the series is gathering. The Tracksuit Mafia is here to teach Eleanor a lesson. Clint and Kate are there to protect Eleanor. To help with that, they have embedded LARPers as the butlers and servers. Yelena is there to kill Clint. And obviously, Eleanor and Jack Duquesne (Tony Dalton) are there.

As Eleanor arrives, Kate confronts her mother with the incriminating video. Eleanor tells her daughter that she has everything under control. Sure, you do. Outside, Kazi starts shooting at Hawkeye — this leads to an evacuation of the party. As Clint makes his way to a different part of the building, Yelena follows him. Kate soon catches up with her in an attempt to stop her from reaching Clint. They get into some jokey fights in the elevator, where Hawkeye episode 6 reveals that Kate is wearing her new purple suit underneath her Christmas party attire.

Yelena finally gets rid of Kate, jumps out the window, and down to the ground floor. Kate somewhat foolishly follows her but lands safely. To her dismay in Hawkeye episode 6, she’s met by the incoming Tracksuits. She deals with a few — including the guy whom she gave girlfriend advice to and is now pointing a gun at her — before Jack shows up to help with his sword. Meanwhile inside, Clint is confronted by Kazi. They get into a proper fist fight, and just as Clint is done with Kazi, the Tracksuits arrive to kill him. Hawkeye jumps out the window only to end up in a big Christmas tree.

Hawkeye Episode 1 Recap: Kate Bishop Joins the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Hawkeye episode 6 takes us to Maya for a second who is shown to be packing a bag. So, I guess she is taking off? Or planning to join the Christmas party?

Back where the action is, the helpful LARPers get in their costume finally, tired of no one listening to their directions. And suddenly everyone starts listening to their directions. Okay, funny.

Meanwhile in Hawkeye episode 6, Kate is trying to get Clint out of the tree even though he’s happy just hanging out with an owl he met and tells her to not do anything stupid. Predictably, she does something stupid as the giant tree falls on the ice rink — but thankfully, Clint lands and falls out safe. As a lot more Tracksuits arrive, Kate slides in and affords them a bit of smokescreen with her archery skills. Clint then takes away the Tracksuits’ guns by using another trick arrow. He then reveals to Kate (and the audience) that he has worn the purple costume too.

Hawkeye Review: Is Marvel’s Breezy Christmas Series Too Light-Weight?

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Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton in Hawkeye episode 6
Photo Credit: Disney/Marvel Studios

Post that, ‘tis the season for trick arrows on Hawkeye episode 6, as Clint and Kate indulge in all sorts of cool stuff. Eventually, a few of the remaining Tracksuits try to run them over with one of their vans — but just in time Kate uses one of the Pym (Ant-Man) arrows that makes the vehicle super tiny and harmless. As Kate wonders what happens to the people inside, the owl from before swoops, picks up the van, and flies away. Okay then.

With all the minions out of the way on Hawkeye episode 6, it’s time for the return of the mid-tier boss: Kazi. Hawkeye fires an arrow at him but Kazi catches in. He’s about to snipe him in response — but Yelena grabs and takes out Hawkeye, and Maya comes in and gives Kazi something else to think about. Clint tells Yelena that she wouldn’t believe him even if he told her the truth: that her sister Natasha sacrificed herself to save the world. Yelena thinks he’s lying (predictable) and the fight goes on.

Hawkeye episode 6 brings us back to the AWOL Eleanor who is trying to escape but is confronted by Fisk. Kate also arrives in time to deal with him but he easily brushes away her arrows and throws her to the ground. Then somehow magically, Eleanor gets in the driving seat and rams Fisk into the store. Where did she come from? That makes no sense. Is Fisk gone? Because that was one short role then lol.

All You Need to Know About Hawkeye on Disney+ Hotstar

Elsewhere, Maya and Kazi’s fight ends with Kazi stabbed and in Maya’s arms. Back to Fisk who is fine (um okay) and now duking it out with Kate again. She’s clearly no match for him. He takes all her arrows and easily snaps them in half. But Kate finally deals with Fisk by using the flick trick Clint taught her. That activates a bunch of broken arrow heads that are lying under Fisk’s feet. Cue a big explosion and Fisk lying on the ground. Is he actually gone now? Or is that another fake out by Hawkeye episode 6? Outside, Kate confronts her mother with all the things she did. Eleanor says she did it all to protect Kate — but she lets the police take her anyway.

Meanwhile, Yelena is busy punching Clint in Hawkeye episode 6, who keeps repeating the truth even though she won’t believe him. Finally, Yelena demands why Nat would sacrifice herself for Clint: why do you deserve it? Clint says he doesn’t and that he tried to stop her. Yelena says that he should’ve fought harder then, as she beats him up more. Yelena is about to put a bullet in Clint when he starts whistling the tune Nat used to whistle with Yelena. You know, the one from Black Widow. Yelena wonders how he knew, and Clint says Nat talked about her all the time. Yelena starts crying, and says she could’ve stopped her. She made her choice, Clint says, nothing could’ve stopped her. As they both express their love for Nat, Yelena helps Clint get up and walks away.

Hawkeye Available on Disney+ Hotstar in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, English

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Alaqua Cox as Maya Lopez in Hawkeye episode 6
Photo Credit: Disney/Marvel Studios

Indeed, Hawkeye episode 6 did another Kingpin fake-out. As the police step into the store, he’s nowhere to be found. Fisk, having somehow survived again, is leaving via a back alley. But he is found by Maya and you know what is about to happen. She’s figured out that Fisk had her father killed (as Clint told her on Hawkeye episode 5) and that Kazi was involved in the setup. Maya pulls a gun on Fisk who tries to save himself by claiming they are family — but she shoots him point blank.

Kate and Clint share another moment by the ambulance in Hawkeye episode 6. First, he toys with her about how she performed but then gives her a sincere compliment too. Yay, more bonding. As the camera pans away from the scene, Clint tells her that they have to walk the dog.

Cut to Christmas Day and Clint arriving back home with presents. But he’s not alone, Kate and Pizza Dog are with him. Clint and his wife Laura hug — it’s the first time they have been ogether on screen in Hawkeye, that’s nice. Clint then gives Laura the watch that was so important. As she flips it around, we see the SHIELD logo and the number 19 embossed underneath. I’m guessing that means Laura was onec Agent 19. You have to take better care of your stuff, Clint tells her. It’s like Clint is inviting the comeback, as Laura tells him that he’s one to talk. She means the Ronin costume, if you didn’t get it.

Speaking of, Clint takes Kate in the back to burn the Ronin suit on a barbecue grill. As they walk back to the house, Kate runs possible aliases for herself: Lady Hawk, Hawk Eve, Hawk Shot. But Clint turns them all down. He says he has an idea, just as the Hawkeye title card jumps in. You get his idea, right?

Hawkeye episode 6 is now streaming on Disney+ and Disney+ Hotstar. This was the series finale.


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DJI Action 2 Review: The Competition is Getting Hotter

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The DJI Osmo Action was the company’s debut attempt at taking on GoPro in the action camera space, and now it is reimagining GoPro’s long gone but not forgotten Hero Session camera. The DJI Action 2 is about half the size of a GoPro Hero 10 Black and still manages to offer nearly the same amount of features, but what truly sets it apart is its magnetic locking system which opens up a lot more innovative avenues for mounting onto objects. On paper, the DJI Action 2 seems like a worthy opponent to the Hero 10 Black, but is it really? Time to find out.

DJI Action 2 design

The DJI Action 2 is comprised of two units — the camera itself and a charging unit. The base variant, also known as the Power Combo, includes the two units along with accessories such as a lanyard mount, dual-prong mount (to attach to GoPro accessories), and a USB Type-C cable. The bundled mounts attach magnetically to the Action 2. The second variant, called the Dual-Screen Combo (which is what DJI sent me for this review) includes an additional display on the charging unit and an extra ball-joint sticky mount in the box.

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The DJI Action 2 is tiny and built extremely well

 

The DJI Action 2 camera unit is a tiny and cube-shaped, weighing just 56g. It has an aluminium alloy housing, which gives it a premium look and feel. It’s dust proof and water proof up to 10m, and that can be extended up to 60m with an optional casing. Along the sides, you’ll find the single microphone, power/shutter button, and contact pins for magnetically attaching to the charging unit. The front is dominated by the camera lens along with a single status LED in one corner.

The back of the DJI Action 2 has a 1.76-inch OLED touchscreen, which is responsive and is quite visible outdoors. The charging unit is roughly the same size as the camera module and has three additional microphones, a USB Type-C port, a microSD card slot, a power/shutter button, a status LED, and in the Dual-Screen variant, an additional 1.76-inch OLED screen. This module isn’t dust- or waterproof, which means you’ll need to be careful about how and where you use it. The USB port and microSD slot are left exposed without any sort of protection, which I’m not a big fan of.

dji action 2 review bundle gadgets360 ww

You get a high-quality set of accessories with the DJI Action 2

 

The screen on the charging unit faces the opposite direction of the camera’s display when attached, so you can use it as a viewfinder when vlogging. You can choose to use only one of the screens at a time to save battery power. The magnetic force between modules is very strong, and firmly holds both the units together. For added security, clamps on either side of the charging unit help lock the camera in position. Similar clamps can be found on the bundled accessories. You can attach the camera unit to the mounts on its own or along with the charging unit, if needed.

In terms of design, the DJI Action 2 is very innovative as it packs a lot of tech into a very tiny footprint. The magnetic mounting system reminds me a lot of Insta360’s Go 2 action camera. The build quality of the Action 2 and the bundled accessories is top-notch.

DJI Action 2 features

The DJI Action 2 features a 1/1.7-inch fixed-focus 12-megapixel CMOS sensor. The ultra-wide-angle lens has a 155-degree field of view and a f/2.8 aperture. One of the highlight features of this action camera is 4K video recording at 120fps, albeit for only five minutes per clip under ideal temperatures. Other combinations include 2.7K at up to 120fps and 1080p at up to 240fps. Unlike GoPro cameras, the DJI Action 2 has 32GB of fixed storage and you can expand this if needed using a microSD card in the charging unit.

dji action 2 review attached dualscreen unit gadgets360 ww

The Dual-Screen charging unit helps power the camera as well as expand storage

 

You can control the camera remotely using the DJI Mimo smartphone app. It’s functional and lets you do things such as update the camera’s firmware, remotely check the frame, switch shooting modes, and offload footage from the built-in storage. It even has a basic editor for trimming clips and adding text and other effects to your videos before you share them. It’s not as polished as GoPro’s Quick app, but it gets the job done.

DJI Action 2 (Dual-Screen) performance

The DJI Action 2 is an absolute joy to use mainly because of its size and how easy it is to mount onto things. The magnetic base of the camera and charging unit allow you to stick them to any metal surface, which can be handy at times when you don’t have the right mount with you. The supplied mounts make it very easy to quickly attach and detach the camera when needed.

Using the Action 2 without the charging module has its advantages, since it has a smaller footprint and it doesn’t heat up as much. However, even when you’re using the camera itself for activities such as swimming, you’ll want to have the charging unit nearby to top up the battery. Other than that, the charging unit is also very useful for offloading content from the camera to a microSD card, in case you don’t have your phone or a laptop with you.

dji action 2 review app gadgets360 ww

The DJI Mimo app is not great but gets the job done

 

The user interface of the DJI Action 2 is snappy and the touch response of both displays is very good. The aspect ratio of the video automatically switches based on how you hold or mount the camera. You can swipe left or right on the viewfinder to switch between shooting modes. All the basic ones are present, such as timelapse, slow-motion, photo, and video. Quick Clip mode lets you shoot 10s, 15s or 30s video clips.

While basic functionality such as digital zoom is supported, and it’s easy to change the field of view, frame rates, and stabilisation settings, there are a couple of features that I found missing. For instance, the Photo mode doesn’t let you take burst shots and there isn’t any kind of Night mode. For video, the HorizonSteady feature can only be used at 1080p or 2.7K at 30fps, but not at higher resolutions.

The DJI Action 2 captures good photos and videos during the day. Still shots have a decent amount of detail and the Standard (Dewarp) field of view option corrects most of the ultra-wide lens’s inherent barrel distortion. Videos are stabilised well and pack in good detail and colours. Low-light performance is a bit weak – there’s visible noise and detail and colours aren’t the best. In comparison, the GoPro Hero 10 manages to deliver slightly better results.

dji action 2 review 4K 120 limit gadgets360 ww

Shooting at higher framerates requires cooler ambient temperatures, else the Action 2 will overheat

There are a couple of things that I noticed while testing the DJI Action 2. If you need good audio from your recordings, then you should use the camera with the charging unit to take advantage of its additional microphones. My unit also kept showing a ‘slow memory card’ warning with my Lexar 32GB UHS-II Speed class 3 card, which I found odd since I’ve previously used the same one in GoPros to record 5K footage with no problem. DJI has published a list of recommended cards on its website, so it’s probably best to stick to those to avoid compatibility issues.

Perhaps my biggest concern with the DJI Action 2 camera was heat. If you’re shooting at 2.7K or above and at a frame rate higher than 60fps, you’ll need to ensure that the ambient temperature is cool enough, or the camera will overheat and stop recording. The menu system even mentions a 25 degree recommended temperature when you select a framerate higher than 60fps. I didn’t have such luck unfortunately, being based in Mumbai, India, which meant that even in the relatively mild winter, the Action 2 would overheat very easily and randomly stop recording. I had this problem even after changing the high-temperature auto-shut off threshold setting from Standard to High. It’s not just me either; you’ll find many such complaints on the Internet.

DJI Action 2 camera sample (tap to see full size)

DJI Action 2 camera sample (tap to see full size)

 

In theory, 4K 120fps clips should be limited to four minutes, but the camera would overheat after around two minutes and stop recording. You can keep shooting stills but not video, till the body cools down a bit. When tested next to a GoPro Hero 10 Black indoors under a fan, with both recording at 4K 60fps, the DJI Action 2 stopped recording in under five minutes, whereas the GoPro went on to record for nearly 30 minutes before it finally overheated and stopped. If you’re going to be using the Action 2 in a static position, you need to ensure that your surroundings are cold enough, or you’ll have to record at a lower resolution.

I noticed that even a 4K 30fps continuous run can be challenging for the Action 2 when it was in a static position. However, I was able to shoot for much longer at the same settings while riding a bike, with air flowing non-stop over the camera body, which helped dissipate some heat – that is, until I had to stop at a traffic signal. The charging unit tends to amplify this issue, as it charges the camera while recording is in progress, which makes the temperature rise even quicker. The Action 2 can even get very uncomfortable to even hold after a few minutes of shooting with the base attached.

Considering its size, the battery life of the DJI Action 2 is not too bad. The internal storage of the camera will let you record about 25 minutes of 4K 60fps footage, and you’ll probably run out of storage space before the battery dies. You can get more continuous runtime if you record straight to a large and fast enough microSD card (up to 256GB is supported). Longer recordings are split into multiple files of varying sizes, although it’s unclear why DJI does this. The charging unit is fairly quick at topping up the camera’s battery and is good for a full top-up, and then some.

dji action 2 review attached limit gadgets360 ww

The DJI Action 2 is a hot little action camera, in every sense of the word

 

Verdict

The DJI Action 2 is available in India priced starting at Rs. 31,490 for the Power Combo and at Rs. 39,990 for the Dual-Screen Combo. It’s a bit more affordable than a GoPro Hero 10 Black, but is still a bit pricey for what it offers. The biggest strengths of the Action 2 are its size and versatility. The magnetic attachments make it very easy to mount and dismount this camera without a fuss. Other positives include responsive displays, in-built storage, and good video quality as well as stabilisation during the day.

A couple of areas in which the Action 2 can do better are the low-light stills and video, which aren’t the best. However, the biggest concern is the overheating issue, which sadly, makes this quite an unreliable action camera. Shooting at lower resolutions and framerates helps mitigate this, but then that defeats the purpose of paying such a premium, and will leave many buyers unsatisfied.

If climate and weather conditions are favourable where you plan to use it, the DJI Action 2 might serve you well. For everyone else, the GoPro Hero 10 Black is simply the more reliable choice.


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Nokia XR20 Review: A Premium Rugged Smartphone for Those Who Need It

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It’s not every day that I come across a smartphone that can do something extraordinary. Most premium smartphones these days look attractive and have an array of cameras at the back, but the buck pretty much stops there. So, when HMD Global launched The Nokia XR20 in India I was quite interested, mainly because I’m a dad to a 2-year-old who loves to torture test smartphones. It also looks and feels a bit different. So, when I received the review unit I had two big questions: Is the Nokia XR20’s tough and rugged exterior worth its premium price, and would it remain intact if I handed it over to my toddler? Read on to see how I found the answers.

Nokia XR20 price in India

The Nokia XR20 is priced at Rs. 46,999 in India. It is available in a single configuration with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. There are two finishes to choose from – Ultra Blue and Granite. I reviewed an Ultra Blue unit.

Nokia XR20 design

HMD Global pitches this phone in its advertising materials as “designed for the long run”. Technically speaking, which phone isn’t? Still you get a better idea of its purpose once you hold this tank of smartphone. It’s a lot larger than I expected it to be, measuring 171.64mm (H) x 81.5mm (W). It’s also quite thick at 10.64mm but surprisingly, not as heavy as I expected. Despite having that extra rugged exterior, the Nokia XR20 weighs only as much as an iPhone 13 Pro Max (about 240g). While this is heavy by ordinary smartphone standards, it isn’t bad for a rugged device. My personal Google Pixel 4a feels like a mini smartphone next to it, and this also means that the XR20 is not ideal for one-handed operation.

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The Nokia XR20 (left) alongside the Google Pixel 4a (right)

 

In terms of cosmetic design, the Nokia XR20 looks the part and appears as though it could take quite a beating. While most rugged smartphones look chunky at best, with pseudo-military styling, HMD Global has made this phone look unique and modern.

The exterior is made up of a polymer composite and aluminium. The interior as per Nokia, has an aluminium frame. The display is protected by Corning’s Gorilla Glass Victus, which is the company’s toughest current material for smartphones. The polymer composite is easy to grip, but more importantly, is also quite tough. I placed the device on all kinds of surfaces that I would normally place a smartphone on, and it didn’t get a single scratch.

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The Nokia XR20’s body is made up of a polymer composite and aluminium

 

Since this is a rugged phone with an IP68 rating, I took things up a notch. I took it with me when having a quick shower and even placed a call under running water. As expected, the call was a bit too soft, because the receiver was flooded with water. Also, the display didn’t respond well to touch input whenever there was running water on it.

With the XR20’s rugged exterior, I felt confident that the phone was indestructible, which should give buyers some peace of mind. I even dropped the phone several times from about 1.8m (5.9 feet), and I only managed to get a tiny dent on the ring around the camera module. Indeed, using this phone to its fullest potential requires a lot of unlearning of what we have gotten used to, pampering our smartphones with bumper cases and scratch guards.

The Nokia XR20 should be capable of handling whatever my life as a regular consumer would expose it to, including the hands of my two-year-old toddler. So, if you are a parent and have gone through several broken screens or phones, this might be an interesting option for you.

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The Nokia XR20 has an Emergency key (red) which can be programmed to open apps or perform preset functions

 

There’s a Google assistant key on the left, a power button with an embedded fingerprint reader on the right, and a volume rocker just above it. There’s a fourth special, red key, which Nokia calls the Emergency key, and it is fully programmable. I set it to change the phone’s sound profile with a short press and pull up the calculator with a long press. These actions can be assigned to a variety of functions, and you can even use this button to open an app of your choice.

The Google Assistant key felt abnormally soft and spongy. I often ended up activating the voice assistant unintentionally when I picked up the smartphone because this button is located a bit too low on the left side. Thankfully, I could deactivate the function in the Settings.

The Nokia XR20 features a 6.67-inch full-HD+ LCD panel. It has a noticeably thick bezel on all four sides and the added protection from the phone’s body makes it appear even thicker. There are stereo speakers, and a 3.5mm headphone jack is at the bottom.

Nokia XR20 specifications and software

The Nokia XR20 has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 480 processor. HMD Global has used it in a lot of smartphones in the past year, but most of them never made it to India, and the XR20 is the first to make it here. The phone is available in a single configuration with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. It also offers external storage (up to 512GB) thanks to a hybrid slot in the dual-SIM tray.

The Nokia XR20 supports several 5G bands and offers dual 5G standby. Communication standards include Wi-Fi ac/ax, Bluetooth 5.1, NFC, and the usual satellite navigation systems.

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The Nokia XR20 features a stereo speaker setup, so the earpiece doubles up as the second speaker

 

The phone has a 4630mAh battery and comes with an 18W charger in the box. Since this is a premium smartphone, it also supports 15W wireless charging, which works with any Qi-compatible wireless charger.

This rugged smartphone comes running Android 11 out of the box. It’s a part of the Android One programme, and HMD Global is promising three years of software updates. The software is almost stock in appearance with minor Nokia customisations. There’s a custom camera app with Pro photo and Cinema video modes. You can adjust the colour temperature of the display using the white balance setting in the Settings app. While most of the preinstalled apps were Google’s defaults, I did find the Netflix and Spotify apps after setting up the phone. These can be uninstalled if not needed.

Nokia XR20 performance and battery life

The Nokia XR20’s display gets bright enough to tackle direct sunlight, so outdoor visibility was not a problem. Viewing angles were also quite good. While the default colour temperature was a bit too cool (or bluish) the phone lets you change it to a warmer tone if needed. Unlike most smartphones in and even below this price segment these days, the Nokia XR20 does not have a high-refresh rate panel, but given the smooth and near stock Android software, I did not miss this.

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The Nokia XR20 has a full-HD+ LCD display with a standard 60Hz refresh rate

 

The large 6.67-inch full-HD+ LCD panel is good for watching movies and playing games on. HMD Global claims that it works well with gloves and wet hands. I tested this and I must say that the display recognised swipes and taps a lot more accurately with some water droplets splashed over it when compared to an iPhone 12 Pro Max which was unusable in such a scenario. The Nokia XR20 has stereo speakers which sound loud and clear while playing games and watching movies. There’s also a 3.5mm headphone jack which lets you plug in a pair of earphones and use the FM Radio app.

As expected, its benchmark test scores were closer to those of the budget Motorola Moto G51 than the more closely priced Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G and this is mainly down to Nokia’s choice to go with the Snapdragon 480 SoC. The Nokia XR20 scored 3,12,057 points in AnTuTu along with 510 and 1,674 in Geekbench’s single and multi-core tests. The phone scored 59fps and 14fps in GFXBench’s T-Rex and Car Chase benchmarks respectively, and managed 3,413 and 2,403 points in 3DMark’s Sling Shot and Sling Shot Extreme benchmarks.

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Nokia XR20 has an IP68 rating for dust and water resistance and is also MIL-STD-810 certified

 

The Nokia XR20 performs more like a budget smartphone and less like a premium device, but that does not mean that there’s lag or stuttering. In fact the software experience was quite smooth. However, gaming performance was well below average. I tried out Call of Duty: Mobile and Asphalt 9: Legends. Call of Duty: Mobile was set to the High graphics and frame rate by default. The game was playable at these settings, but there were several instances of lag and some stuttering. Lowering the graphics to Medium did not seem to help. Asphalt 9: Legends on the other hand ran smoothly with the graphics set to Default. Most other smartphones in this price segment can handle most high-end games at high settings.

The phone managed 11 hours and 42 minutes in our HD video loop battery test, which is well below average for a smartphone in this price segment. However, its 4,630mAh battery easily lasted a day and half with casual use, which did include a bit of gaming, taking some photos, messaging, browsing through social media apps, and video streaming. Charging was quite slow in comparison with similarly priced smartphones. The bundled 18W charger managed to take the Nokia XR20 from a dead battery to a full charge in 2 hours and 30 minutes.

Nokia XR20 cameras

The Nokia XR20 features a dual rear camera setup which includes a 48-megapixel primary camera and a 13-megapixel ultra-wide-angle camera. Selfie duties are handled by an 8-megapixel sensor. The camera interface is typically Nokia, but this phone also has a manual mode called Pro, and a Cinema mode which lets you shoot videos in the H-Log format with high dynamic range. This footage will need to be processed before it will be usable.

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Despite several drops from 1.8m, I only managed to get a tiny dent on the ring around the XR20’s camera module

 

Photos taken with the primary camera in daylight came out with good detail and dynamic range. Colours were a bit saturated and sharpness was on the higher side. The overall results were only satisfactory, and this was mainly due to the luminance noise I noticed in most of the photos that I took in daylight. I was also far from impressed with the quality of images captured by the ultra-wide-angle camera. They lacked sharpness and also had some random blurred patches and plenty of ghosting, making them unusable to me.

Nokia XR20 daylight camera samples. Top to bottom: Close-up, primary camera, ultra-wide-angle camera (tap to see full size)

 

The Portrait mode on the primary camera delivered mixed results. Photos of people came out sharp and clear with decent edge detection, but this was not the case with objects. More importantly, taking a Portrait photo of an object can be a bit annoying as plenty of adjustment is needed before the camera approves your frame and allows you to hit the shutter button. There were several instances when the camera instructed me to move very far away from small objects and the results weren’t worth it after all the trouble.

There’s no macro mode like on most smartphones in this price segment, but close-ups came out sharp and clear with average detail. Selfies looked surprisingly clear and sharp with good contrast, but edge detection was below average when using the Portrait mode.

Nokia XR20 selfie camera samples. Top: daylight Portrait selfie, bottom: low-light Portrait selfie (tap to see full size)

 

After sunset, noise levels crept up and the phone’s noise reduction algorithms made everything look very murky. I’ve seen better low-light photo performance from far more affordable devices. Switching to Night mode clears up the murkiness and brings out some detail with more contrast, but images ended up with a very noticeable watercolour-like effect and flat textures. If your subject or scene is flooded with light, the results will be slightly better, but still just satisfactory at best.

Nokia XR20 low-light camera samples. Top: Auto mode, bottom: Night mode (tap to see full size)

 

The quality of video recordings in daylight was strictly average, with low detail. The camera also struggles to focus quickly when panning. While stabilisation was decent when recording 1080p video at 30fps, 60fps video came out quite shaky and lacked any sort of stabilisation whatsoever. Results from the ultra-wide-angle camera were also below average. I got better video quality and stabilisation when using the front-facing camera. Low-light video was very weak in detail. On the bright side, Nokia’s OZO audio recording tech did impress me, and sounded quite immersive.

Verdict

Priced at Rs. 46,999 in India, the Nokia XR20 has plenty of competition in the premium segment that offers much better performance and quality, as well as better features, such as the Realme GT (Review) (from Rs. 37,999) and the OnePlus 9R (Review) (from Rs. 39,999). There are even some well-rounded premium smartphones from Samsung such as the Galaxy S20 FE 5G (Review) (from Rs. 39,999), which have an IP68 rating and wireless charging. Spend a bit more, and you could also delve into the iOS side of things with the Apple iPhone 11 (Review) (from Rs. 49,900).

The Nokia XR20 will appeal to a very niche set of buyers. You could slap a tough case onto any of the above-mentioned premium smartphones, but that won’t give you the peace of mind that the XR20 can. In short, there’s nothing like it, if you are specifically looking for a rugged smartphone that can take on much more than what most regular consumers can throw at it.

Whether you should buy one, all depends on how much you usually torture your smartphone, how clumsy you are on a daily basis, and whether you are willing to live with its inconsistent camera performance. The other use case is clearly for adventurous users who might find themselves outdoors for long stretches, those working at construction sites or other dusty and humid environments, those into adventure sports, and even new parents. Many people will like the fact that the Nokia XR20 could be more reliable and dependable than a regular premium smartphone.

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Minnal Murali Review: Tovino Thomas’ Superhero Movie Is Super Mediocre

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Minnal Murali — streaming Friday on Netflix — is a rare superhero effort from India. While the Marvel Cinematic Universe has pushed itself deeper into local consciousness, from Avengers: Endgame becoming one of the highest-grossing movies in India to most titles offering dubs in four or five Indian languages, the country’s many film industries have more or less ignored the ever-increasing domination of costumed vigilantes in today’s pop culture environment. Set aside a fringe effort and a false advertisement, Minnal Murali marks the first superhero venture for the Malayalam film industry. It’s (surprisingly) a first for Netflix in India too, even as the streamer literally grabs onto any superhero properties internationally. That shows the dearth of ideas.

Unfortunately, Minnal Murali tries to pack in too much, and fails to do justice to most of it. The Netflix movie — directed by Basil Joseph (Godha), and written by Arun Anirudhan (Padayottam) and feature debutant Justin Mathew — is designed as a superhero (and supervillain) origin story on the surface. But along the way, Minnal Murali crams in subplots about half a dozen other characters, which offer muted commentary on xenophobia, casteism, and religious strife. Most of these nonsensically drag on for what feels like an eternity. At 158 minutes, Minnal Murali is overlong by a mile.

More importantly, they have little substance to offer. The two-and-half hours of Minnal Murali aren’t thankfully all about moving the plot forward — but its character-driven scenes are so lacklustre that I found myself craving more story. Most of its flashbacks are chock full of melodrama and people crying over their sad pasts, which gets unbearable very quickly. In the present, Minnal Murali is just too talky. It doesn’t trust its audience. A character will summarise a scene that just occurred. A song or a voiceover (via a flashback) will dictate a character’s feelings or mindset. And when it’s incapable of writing scenes, Minnal Murali will just end up pivoting to a montage.

When it does let loose and get away from the drama, Minnal Murali fares comparatively better. For the most part, the Netflix film is all forced goofiness and terrible sad jokes (“Spider-Man got his powers from a spider bite. Did Batman get his powers from a cricket bat?”).

All You Need to Know About Minnal Murali

But at times, it can be genuinely fun. In one musical sequence, the kids joyously react to Minnal Murali beating up policemen (while a kid enjoys himself by snatching coconuts out of the hands of every cop). The camera — lensed by Sameera Thahir (Bangalore Days) — reflects the joy and energy, in what feels like a very comic-book movie moment. The over-the-top tone works in another moment too, where the lighting goes full dramatic and pushes Minnal Murali into fantastical territory. And there are a couple of sincere and awe-inducing shots that actually work, even though you’ve seen variations of them a hundred times in other superhero movies.

Set in the 1990s in the tiny Kerala village of Kurukkanmoola, Minnal Murali is primarily the journey of two outsiders in the community. The protagonist is Jaison (Tovino Thomas, from Mayaanadhi), a tailor by family profession and a loser by choice. Though he possesses zero knowledge of the world outside, Jaison has set his heart on migrating to America, as he can’t foresee a promising future where he has spent all his life. Plus, his love interest from college Bincy (Sneha Babu, from Ganagandharvan) has moved on from him and gotten engaged — on the advice of her policeman brother Saajan (Baiju Santhosh, from Pidikittapulli) who has an axe to grind with Jaison and walks around like he owns the village. He is the village sheriff.

On the other hand, we’ve the tea shop help Shibu (Guru Somasundaram, from 2016’s Joker) as the antagonist. Ignored and mistreated by everyone in the village, Shibu finds solace in stalking his forever-crush Usha (Shelly Kishore) who has recently left her husband she once eloped with. She never noticed Shibu during their school days and she still doesn’t. But while Jaison harbours dreams of a better future, a life like that is out of Shibu’s grasp. Still, they do have things in common — in their outsider status and how they are both pining for a woman who doesn’t want them or knows they exist. So when they are both struck by lightning on the same night, it feels like Minnal Murali is saying that it was their fate. It’s poetic in a manner of speaking.

Minnal Murali, Don’t Look Up, Cobra Kai, and More on Netflix India in December

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Baiju Santhosh as Saajan (right) in Minnal Murali
Photo Credit: Netflix

And shockingly, neither of them dies. Instead, they are granted a variety of superpowers. This seems like a pointed message, though it’s never convincingly portrayed by Minnal Murali. (It doesn’t help those certain scenes and revelations are not in the order they ought to have been.)

Yes, it’s a superhero movie — but the fact that lightning doesn’t kill Jaison or Shibu suggests divine intervention. Clearly, a higher power meant to give these two mediocre men a second chance at life. Like improve and do better, guys. (Maybe don’t be a creep, for one.) And though the path they start off on is not quite different, circumstances and their choices drive them apart. They are essentially two sides of the same coin. While Jaison realises he has more to give (with help from his superhero-loving nephew), Shibu is consumed by his desire for Usha (he thinks he loves her but all he really wants is for Usha to be his).

Minnal Murali would’ve been better off channelling itself more in this direction — but it has all manners of half-baked subplots that add little, kill narrative momentum, and never get you invested in them.

Saajan is among those, with the character hellbent on rubbing Jaison’s nose in the dirt before a partial redemption towards the end. Saajan’s deputy and Jaison’s brother-in-law Pothan (Aju Varghese, from Adi Kapyare Kootamani) is abusive to his wife and lords over Jaison. Usha returns to her domineering brother Daasan (Harisree Asokan, from Ilayaraja) who decides what’s best for her. And then there’s martial arts instructor “Bruce Lee” Biji (newcomer Femina George) whose boyfriend quit on her because she hurt his fragile male ego once.

All these supporting characters — Biji is fit to be a sidekick, but that’s left for a potential sequel — are given considerable time on Minnal Murali, but they are never really fleshed out. Worse, the Netflix movie’s forced goofiness and the line delivery is grating. Just talk like adults and not like actors who know they are in a comedy movie.

From Minnal Murali to The Matrix Resurrections, What to Watch in December

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Femina George as Biji in Minnal Murali
Photo Credit: Harikrishnan P/Netflix

In the hands of a more astute director and with a leaner script that trimmed the fat, Minnal Murali could actually be a decent superhero movie for it had the building blocks. Adrift and clueless, Jaison the hero finds purpose in life after getting superpowers. But the Netflix film takes too long to get there, and the path isn’t rewarding in itself. Shibu the villain could easily have been a guy who’s just trying to do the right thing: provide for a woman who is suffering. But the way he is characterised and how Usha’s ambivalence towards him is portrayed, that case is never made. If we don’t feel for Shibu, he’s not an anti-hero in our eyes.

Instead, Minnal Murali is overambitious to a fault and underconfident in how it spoon-feeds at times. Still, it’s promising, for India could definitely do with some local superheroes. (The Thor and Spider-Man franchises have shown that it’s worth another swing with new blood.) That said, while Indians are going ga-ga over American superheroes — Spider-Man: No Way Home has gotten off to a tremendous start at the box office — they have previously shown little interest in domestic fare. Vikramaditya Motwane’s 2018 effort, Bhavesh Joshi Superhero, failed commercially (and nearly ended the career of its star Harsh Varrdhan Kapoor). On top of that, Netflix India has never made a sequel to any of its movies. It will take something completely unexpected for a Minnal Murali 2 to happen.

Minnal Murali is out Friday, December 24 at 1:30pm IST on Netflix worldwide. In India, Minnal Murali is available in Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Hindi, and English.


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Apple Music Voice Plan: How Does It Work?

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Apple Music is among the most popular audio streaming services in the world, and continues to improve over time. It isn’t even just limited to Apple devices; you can use Apple Music even on Android smartphones, computers, smart speakers from Amazon or Google, and any Web browser. Furthermore, the addition of high-resolution audio streaming without an increase in prices has made this one of the most well-equipped and value-for-money audio streaming services in India, particularly if you have at least one Apple gadget to use it with.

With the new iOS 15.2 update, Apple is now rolling out support for the Apple Music Voice Plan, which is now the most affordable tier available on the service. Priced at Rs. 49 per month in India, the Apple Music Voice Plan offers access to the streaming service’s full catalogue of over 90 million tracks on supported devices, but with one caveat: you need to use voice commands to Siri to request tracks or playlists. I’ve had a chance to try it out, and here’s how the new Apple Music Voice Plan works.

Apple Music Voice Plan: price, free trial details

Announced globally in October 2021, the Apple Music Voice Plan is priced at Rs. 49 per month in India. This plan offers access to individual tracks and curated playlists. You get uninterrupted streaming without ads, the ability to skip tracks, and more.

Interestingly, you can even try the service for free before subscribing; there is a seven-day free trial that you can activate with only a voice command, without the need to input payment details. You can also get a three-month free trial which will automatically begin billing you after that time, using any payment method linked to your Apple account. The most important point to note is that the only way to access most content with the Voice Plan is through voice commands to Siri on a compatible device.

Apple Music Voice Plan: compatible devices

The Apple Music Voice Plan works with voice commands to Siri, Apple’s voice assistant for its smartphones and other devices. That said, to be able to subscribe to the Voice Plan or even use the free trial, you need to be on iOS 15.2, iPadOS 15.2, watchOS 8.3, tvOS 15.2, macOS 12.1, or software version 15.2 for the HomePod and HomePod mini smart speakers.

Naturally, you will also need a device that has the Siri voice assistant built in, and connectivity to the Internet. I tried using voice commands to fetch tracks and playlists on a number of devices, including an Apple HomePod mini, Apple iPhone 13, and a CarPlay-compatible system with the same iPhone connected. It also works on Apple Watch, AirPods earphones and headphones, Mac computers, and Apple TV streaming devices.

Apple Music Voice Plan: how does it work?

I activated the 7-day trial of the Apple Music Voice Plan on the HomePod mini with a simple voice command: “Hey Siri, start my Apple Music Voice trial”. The iPhone linked to the same Apple account as the HomePod mini showed that I was successfully subscribed to the free trial, and I was able to play tracks and playlists on both the smart speaker and smartphone.

For subscribers of the Voice Plan, the Apple Music app on any device will display basic recommendations and limited listening history through the ‘Listen Now’ tab. Some of these tracks and playlists are playable without voice commands, but this list is limited. This is the only part of the experience that doesn’t rely on voice and searching for specific tracks isn’t possible through the app.

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The Apple HomePod mini is priced at Rs. 9,900 in India

 

The Search tab shows plenty of recommendations and suggestions, neatly categorised by genre, mood, and other criteria. However, I could only play these tracks or playlists with a voice command to Siri. The catalogue is extensive, but the experience largely depends on you telling Apple’s voice assistant how to proceed.

I was able to fetch just about any track or curated playlist with a voice command. Playing a track is simple and worked well for me on the HomePod mini and iPhone 13 mini. I was able to play most tracks with simple voice commands, and Siri is well suited to the Indian accent and usage preferences. When I requested a single track, Apple Music automatically cued up a playlist of recommendations based on it to continue playing after it ended.

I was also able to ask for various playlists by genre, era, and artiste. This included somewhat complicated requests such as ‘play upbeat 1980s music’ or ‘play Hindi music featuring Shah Rukh Khan’, with Siri generally managing to generate a decent playlist based on the request.

With the language set to English (India), Siri is also able to take requests in some regional languages, but works best when speaking English. It’s worth pointing out that Apple Music features such as track downloads, lossless audio streaming, and Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos are not supported on the Voice Plan for now. You also cannot create custom playlists or add tracks to your library, unless you’ve purchased them through iTunes.

Siri and Apple Music are well-suited to work with voice commands on supported devices, which will be the key to the functioning of the Voice Plan. However, being able to use only voice commands to fetch tracks has its drawbacks. Often, I wasn’t able to play specific remixes or versions of a track, or a remix or cover version was played when I wanted the original.

The longer the name of the track or artiste, the longer the command, and this often led to slip-ups by Siri, and the wrong track playing. This would easily be fixable by manually searching for a track by text, but that isn’t an option here.

Final thoughts

Apple Music is arguably the best streaming service in India right now, thanks to wide availability, access to high-resolution and Dolby Atmos tracks, and a huge library that covers a wide range of genres and artistes. If you’re in India, it’s even better value, with prices considerably lower than the equivalents in most global markets. If you already have Apple devices such as an iPhone or HomePod mini, an Apple Music subscription is a no-brainer.

The Voice Plan, despite its limitations for how you can access music, is a good addition to the existing options, offering users an affordable way to get started with premium music streaming. It might make sense for buyers purchasing more affordable iPhone or iPad models, but then again, the individual plan at Rs. 99 per month (or Rs. 999 per year) is not much more expensive and offers considerably more functionality.

Additionally, an Apple One or Apple Music Family Plan offers better value for money, particularly in India. If you qualify for the Student Plan, which is also priced at Rs. 49 per month, you’ll get all the same features as the more expensive Individual Plan.

That said, the Apple Music Voice Plan could be particularly useful if you have a HomePod mini or AirPods earphones, which are built to work seamlessly with the Siri voice assistant. It might be worth starting off with, before eventually transitioning to the Rs. 99 per month Individual Plan or the Rs. 149 per month Family Plan. It could even be used in the long term if you tend to do most of your listening on a smart speaker such as the HomePod mini.


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