Lumia 950 XL: Doesn’t leave a mark

  • Lumia 950 XL: Doesn't leave a mark

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Windows-based phones have always failed to secure a place in the ongoing smartphone war. The inability to customise it (unlike Android phones) and poor hardware are some of the various things that have kept buyers at bay. But with the Lumia 950 XL, Microsoft is back with a bang.

Powered by the Windows 10 Mobile operating system, the 950 XL houses a fast processor, a great camera and a high-resolution display. Given the smartphones being launched nowadays, these specs are nothing new but what sets the 950 XL apart is its software and the attempt to integrate Windows-based devices. However, the design is too simplistic and looks like low-end Lumia phones. Considering its Rs 49,250 price tag, the phone in no way looks and feels like a premium one.

The 950 XL houses Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 810 processor with 3 GB of RAM. The phone performs well even during heavy usage. It didn’t buckle under the pressure I put it through by installing heavy games and apps. Of course, the downside is Windows-based operating systems don’t have a large variety available unlike Android smartphones. The phone’s battery backup is also quite decent. Armed with a 3,300 mAh battery, it can last almost a day with moderate usage.

The Continuum is an interesting feature in the phone. With a Microsoft display dock, a mouse and a keyboard, the phone doubles up as a Windows 10 desktop because of this feature.

The 20-megapixel (MP) primary camera is the show-stopper though. The “rich capture” mode is a delight and the output pictures have sharp colours, even in low-light conditions. The secondary 5MP camera is ideal for selfies.

Though, it houses a powerful processor, the 950XL fails when it comes to the app drawer. It is buggy and sometimes a reboot is required just to get something done.

The Lumia 950XL is not a bad phone, but it has a long way to go to leave a mark.



Samsung Gear VR: Reality if you have the right phone

Samsung Gear VR: Reality if you have the right phoneI’ve always wondered what it felt like to be Iron Man. Now, not only was I able to experience his suit boot up, I also got to meet JARVIS and play around with a few of Tony Stark’s toys. I wasn’t dreaming. This was reality, of the virtual kind – also called VR. Yes sir, I did all this sitting on my couch, using Samsung’s Gear VR headset, attached to a Galaxy Note 5.

At the time of writing, the Gear VR supported only four phones from Samsung – the Galaxy S6, S6 edge, S6 edge+ and the Galaxy Note 5.

My first attempt with the Gear VR presented me with blurry images, which I corrected using the focusing ring at the top of the headset. I don’t wear glasses and while the manual says one should use contacts if needed, I think the eye cups are big enough to accommodate medium-sized spectacles. Navigating is fairly easy; one needs to look at a certain item to point the pointer and then tap the select switch on the touchpad.

My first port of call was the videos already on offer – where I got to surf in Tahiti and visit the PGA Tour. There was some pixilation in the second video, but I blame it on the resolution of the screen; here was an instance where a 4K screen on a phone might make sense. Next, I downloaded Netflix in phone, not VR, mode. But I had to log into it in VR mode. I had a torrid time pirouetting my neck to type in my user name and password using the onscreen keyboard. Nothing matches the sheer pleasure of watching in a personal theatre, and the headphones add to the immersive experience. I decided to watch Gravity. But it was not to be; the built-in gyroscope ensured I was looking at the ceiling of the theatre after I lay down.

Samsung Gear VR: Reality if you have the right phone

Next morning, with a fully charged phone, I decided to tackle an important aspect of the VR headset: gaming. I ended up playing Temple Run VR. It was fun playing it, but if one looked back, the monsters looked downright scary!

Samsung recommends a break after every 30 minutes of usage, especially if one feels discomfort. The phone heating up ensured I couldn’t continue for more than 45 minutes. And two hours of tinkering with the Gear VR depleted the Note 5’s fully charged battery down to 20 per cent – as the headset is powered by the phone.

The Samsung Gear VR, at Rs 8,200, takes multimedia and gaming experience to a whole new level but the phone heats up and the battery gets exhausted. It is possibly the best consumer VR headset one can buy in India at this price point, provided one has a compatible Samsung phone.


Allahabad HC grants interim relief to ‘Freedom 251’ makers

Freedom251, Smartphone

Freedom251, Smartphone

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In some respite to India’s cheapest smartphone makers, the Allahabad High Court on Wednesday granted interim relief to Ringing Bells Pvt Ltd — the Noida-based firm that created a global buzz after announcing the launch of the controversial Rs 251 “Freedom 251” smartphone last month.

While hearing the plea, the division bench of Justice B K Narayan and Justice Shashi Kant ordered the UP state government to furnish a status report on an urgent basis by April 5, further directing that no coercive steps be taken till then against the three top accused – Directors Mohit Goel and Dharna Garg and President Ashok Chadha.

A first information report (FIR) was registered last week against Goel and company President Ashok Chaddha under Section 420 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) as well as the Information Technology (IT) Act on a complaint filed by BJP leader Kirit Somaiya.

The court also directed the petitioners to submit their passports to SSP Noida within 24 hours.

According to lawyer Abhishek Vikram representing Ringing Bells, the three petitioners will “fully comply with the orders of the court by submitting their passport and will provide full cooperation to the investigation agency”.

“We have nothing to hide. We are committed to affordable smartphones to people of this country and we shall achieve that. We will stick to fair practices and comply with regulations of our great country,” Mohit Goel, director, Ringing Bells, told IANS.

“We remain committed to cooperate with any government agency that may need to inquire our organisation for any reason or suspicion. We have already done so with authorities/agencies that have so required,” Goel added.

“I do maintain that we will deliver the most affordable quality products to our customers through our range of smartphones including ‘Freedom 251’,” Goel added.

Ringing Bells launched the product last month in the presence of veteran BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi.

It distributed some “prototypes” of the product to the media which turned out to be Adcom handsets. However, the company maintained that the device has been developed “with immense support” from the government.

According to the company, ‘Freedom 251’ will run on Android 5.1 operating system and will sport a 4-inch qHD IPS display, a 3.2-megapixel primary and a 0.3-megapixel front camera.

However, doubts were raised after assessments of the viability of the handset found that such a device cannot be offered for less than Rs.2,300-2,400.

Ringing Bells had received 30,000 orders on the first day.

The rest of the customers for the first 25 lakh handsets were to be selected on first-come-first-served basis as the company received about seven crore registrations before the payment gateway crashed.

Later, the company decided to return the money to the customers who pre-booked the Rs.251 device on the first day of the sale.

The company said it planned to give 25 lakh handsets in the first phase before June 30.


Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016): For the fashion conscious

Samsung Galaxy A5
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The Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016) is definitely a looker. Many would mistake it for an S6, though it’s smaller in size. As with most Samsung phones, the A5 has a metal and glass back which even with rough use didn’t show any scratches. The phone is pretty light at 155g. The way the lock and volumes buttons are placed makes the phone perfect for one-handed usage. The premium design goes with its price tag of Rs 28,500.

The phone has a 5.2-inch Super AMOLED full HD display with vibrant colours. Because of the high contrast offered by the phone, regular usage also becomes a delight.

Under the hood, it houses a 1.6 GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 processor with 2GB of RAM. The performance was nothing out of the ordinary. However, it needs to be said that even while running RAM-heavy games such as the Asphalt series, the phone didn’t slow down. The camera app, which is slow to load in most phones, didn’t make the A5 buckle.

One of the frustrating things about Samsung phones is the plethora of pre-installed apps that they come with. But with the A5, Samsung has toned it down. The phone comes with fewer pre-installed apps compared to others. Though it still has the TouchWiz interface, of which I personally am not a fan.

Though the camera app isn’t slow to load, the quality of pictures isn’t that great. It has a 13-megapixel (MP) primary and a 5MP secondary camera which give mediocre results. And, god forbid, if you have to take a picture in low-light conditions, the outputs are beyond bad. So, it’s natural for photography connoisseurs to stay away from this phone.

What impressed me was its battery back up. At 2,900 mAh, the battery isn’t that large but on a full charge, it manages to hold its own for almost a day. I tested its mettle by playing RAM-heavy games for almost four hours straight coupled with five hours of internet usage, yet the battery didn’t die on me.

On a whole, the A5 (2016) is not a head turner but for people who don’t give two hoots about extraordinary performance, this phone is certainly the one to go for.


Apple unveils smaller iPhone SE, starting at $399

Apple, iPhone SE, Greg JoswiakApple Inc on Monday unveiled a smaller, cheaper iPhone aimed at new buyers, especially in emerging markets and possibly China, the world’s biggest buyer of smartphones, as the technology company looks to reverse a decline in worldwide sales of its most important product.

The new device, called the iPhone SE, has a 4-inch (10-cm) screen and starts at a price of $399. It represents Apple’s second bid for the crowded mid-tier market after an unsuccessful foray three years ago.

That is well below the starting price tag of $649 for the current top iPhone model without a contract, which is beyond the reach of many. The new phone, with Apple’s vaunted A9 chip, doubles the speed of Apple’s previous attempt at an entry-level phone, the 5s, launched in 2013. It also runs Apple Pay and comes in the wildly popular rose gold color.

Shares of Apple were down about half a percent at $105.41 in early afternoon trade.

The more compact phone design comes after its expanded the size of the screens in its high-end iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus phones in 2014 to as large as 5.5 inches. That was broadly seen as an attempt to match rival Samsung Electronics with its large-screen Galaxy phones.

Before the launch at Apple’s leafy Cupertino, California headquarters, Chief Executive Tim Cook defended the company’s refusal to comply with a U.S. court order to unlock an iPhone belonging to one of the shooters in a December attack in San Bernardino, California.

Apple has a responsibility to protect customers’ data and privacy, Cook said, adding that Apple “will not shrink from that responsibility.” His statement was greeted by applause from the audience.

The tech company’s dispute with the U.S. government has become a lightning rod for a broader debate on data privacy in the United States. The company is set to square off against the U.S. government at a court hearing on Tuesday, likely the first round in a long legal fight to avoid being forced to decrypt the iPhone.


Lenovo launches Vibe K5 Plus at Rs 8,499

Director-Smartphone Lenovo India, Sudhin Mathur with models at the launch of K5 Plus Smartphones   Photo courtesy: PTI

Director-Smartphone Lenovo India, Sudhin Mathur with models at the launch of K5 Plus Smartphones. (Photo: PTI)
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Lenovo on Monday unveiled the Vibe K5 Plus, asmartphone offering best-in-class personal entertainment in a device with a full HD display, stereo speakers and more, the company said in a statement.

The smartphone comes with features to support all your personal entertainment needs. The K5 Plus has a stylish metal body available in three appealing colours – Champagne gold, Platinum silver, and graphite grey.

The K5 Plus has a 5-inch display, Dolby Atmos over headphones, 2GB of RAM and a Qualcomm 64-Bit Snapdragon 616 Octacore chipset (4x 1.7GHz Cortex-A53 + 4x 1.2GHz Cortex-A53 + Adreno 405). It comes with 16GB internal storage storage with microSD support up to 128GB.

Sudhin Mathur, director,Smartphones, Lenovo India, said: “Lenovo has always strived to push the boundaries of innovation and bring the best technology through its devices to every category of consumers. With the K5 Plus, we want consumers to ‘Knock out’ their existing smartphones and upgrade to a better performing phone.”

On the imaging front, there is a 13 megapixel OmniVision OV13850 sensor with f2.2 aperture 5 element lens on the back and a 5 megapixel sensor with f2.8 aperture on the front.

The battery is 2750mAh and is user removable. The phone runs on Android 5.1 and has support for Lenovo’s TheaterMax, which splits the screen content into two to give a more immersive experience when viewing through the optional ANT VR headset

Apple iPhone SE unveiled; India likely to see May roll-out

Apple, iPhone SE,

Apple on Monday announced its iPhone SE, a 4-inch (10-cm) smartphone that it claims is the most powerful and cheapest, priced at $399 (approximately Rs 30,000) and could potentially hit the Indian market by May. This represents Apple’s second bid for the crowded mid-tier market after an unsuccessful foray three years ago.

The new phone, with Apple’s vaunted A9 chip, doubles the speed of Apple’s previous attempt at an entry-level phone, the 5S, launched in 2013. It also runs Apple Pay and comes in the wildly popular rose gold colour.

Shares of Apple were down about half a per cent at $105.41 in early Monday afternoon trade.

Apple in India continues to see higher sales of the older generation iPhone 5S, first launched in September 2013, and the new device could potentially bring more users for the first time onto the Apple ecosystem.

Apple CEO Tim Cook said that the 4-inch smartphone has brought in more first-time users in countries such as China. Apple would launch the phone in a few countries, including China, by March-end and the phone would likely to be launched with 100 other countries in May.

While maintaining that Apple has over one billion devices across the world, Cook said the company has built a recycling robot Liam that would use parts of iPhones to build products such as solar panels.

“We built the iPhone for you, our customers. And we know that it is a deeply personal device,” Cook said at Apple’s leafy Cupertino, California headquarters. “For many of us, the iPhone is an extension of ourselves.”

Cook, in his opening remarks at the Apple Special Event, defended the company’s focus on privacy.

He reiterated that it is bad to create “back doors” even if it is for the government, adding that Apple “will not shrink from that responsibility.”

“A month ago we asked Americans across the country to join in a conversation. We get to decide as a nation how much power the government should have over our data and over our privacy,” Cook said.

Cook’s remarks were the latest in a battle with the US government over efforts to compel Apple to help the FBI break into the iPhone of one of the attackers in last year’s deadly shooting rampage in San Bernardino, California. (Article continues below infographic)

Made with


The tech company’s dispute with the US government has become a lightning rod for a broader debate on data privacy. The company is set to square off against the US government at a court hearing on Tuesday, likely the first round in a long legal fight to avoid being forced to decrypt the iPhone.

Apple says that this would be the last product announcement at the Cupertino headquarters, as it plans to shift to a new campus next year.

Apple dropped the price of its smart watch by around $50 and launched a new iPad Pro 9.7-inch aimed at users of Windows PC, which the company claimed was developed before the common use of internet.

Apple iPhone SE
Price: From $399
Display: 4-inch Retina display, 1,136x640p at 326 ppi
Processor: 64-bit A9 processor
Operating system: iOS 9.3
Weight: 113 g
Storage: 16/64 GB
Camera: 12MP iSight/1.2MP
Additional features: Fingerprint sensor, WiFi AC
Apple also introduced a 9.7-inch iPad Pro, cut the price of the Watch by $50 to start from $299 and introduced a new version of its mobile operating system, iOS 9.3. It also unveiled a robot to recycle iPhones, called the Liam


iPhone SE may not make Apple’s India bite bigger

iPhone SE may not make Apple's India bite biggerApple’s plan to target buyers in emerging markets with its smaller and cheaper iPhone SE could backfire in India as the country’s mobile-first population, whose primary computing device is a smartphone, has already shifted to larger screen phones or phablets.

With similar specifications to its outgoing flagship iPhone 6s Plus and a price tag of Rs 39,000, the iPhone SE costs approximately Rs 5,000 more and Rs 2,000 less than the base variants of the iPhone 6 and 6s, respectively, on popular e-commerce websites. The device is slated for launch in India on April 8.

Globally, the iPhone SE will replace Apple’s ageing iPhone 5s model, which currently retails at around Rs 18,500 in India. Despite selling older models in the country with hefty price cuts, the trend in the past two quarters has seen a shift towards Apple’s larger iPhone 6 and 6s models.

“If you see, the older phone models, even though Apple is pushing them at lower price points, are selling less. The sales mix of Apple phones in the last two quarters (second half of 2015) in India is made up by 75-80 per cent of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6s,” said N Shah, research director at Counterpoint Research.

“A 4-inch phone is a disappointing thing at  Rs 39,000 in India. The addressable market is very small. It would have made sense if the device size was 4.7-5 inch,” he added.

The shares of devices with screens smaller than 4-inch and 4-4.5 inch in India in December 2015 were seven per cent and 10 per cent, respectively, a big drop from 15 per cent and 26 per cent in the same month in the previous year. On the other hand, devices with screen sizes of 5.5-6 inch cornered 15 per cent of the market share, up from just four per cent.

iPhone SE may not make Apple's India bite bigger

“Only 10 per cent of the total smartphones sold at the end of 2015 were 4-inch screen size, which has shrunk from almost one-fourth of the market a year ago. In just one year, the consumer preference has completely shifted towards phablets,” said Shah.

Apple claims it sold about 30 million 4-inch iPhones in the past year, which would roughly contribute to 15 per cent of the company’s overall iPhone sales. While the company is offering incentives such as the latest processor, Apple Pay, a great camera and the latest software with the iPhone SE over the 5s and 4s, the small screen size might still remain a deterrent to sales.

“India is a mobile-first country. There is a clear trend towards consumers needing a bigger screen size. Not many people own a laptop or tablet, meaning the phone is the primary device, not a second or third device,” adds Shah.

Apple has been increasing its focus on India, witnessing 76 per cent growth in iPhone sales in the country during the October-December quarter, while globally sales growth slowed to just 0.4 per cent.

Another move in this direction is Apple’s application with the government of India to sell certified pre-owned phones in the country.

Other analysts believe that the iPhone SE will allow Apple to increase its market share in India, which currently stands at around two per cent in terms of sales and 10 per cent in terms of revenue.

“Users will be able to buy a phone with latest features, which is very different from buying an older version at a lower price. I think this will appeal to people who couldn’t afford their flagship phone,” said Anshul Gupta, research director at Gartner.

Smartphone penetration in India, the second largest mobile market after China, is less than 15 per cent, and is dominated by Google’s Android operating system. Nine out of 10 smartphones sold in India is an Android phone with Chinese and local phone makers such as Xiaomi and Micromax offering more powerful smartphones at lower prices than Apple’s iPhone.


Redmi Note 3: An all-rounder with a small price tag

Redmi Note 3: An all-rounder with a small price tag
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Despite its low price (Rs 11,999), the Redmi Note 3 has managed to up the ante with its appearance and the hardware it houses under the hood.

With a 5.5-inch full HD display with a resolution of 1,080 x 1,920 p, the phone looks splendid in Xiaomi’s first all-metal body. The display is great with vibrant colours. Many people said the phone could rival the iPhone in appearance.

It runs Android 5.0.2 Lollipop. The device houses a 2Ghz MediaTek Helio X10 chipset with 3 GB of RAM. I downloaded Asphalt 8: Airborne, a very RAM-heavy game. Needless to say, I was impressed with how smooth an experience the phone provided me with. The phone didn’t heat up nor did it slow down in the process. A problem I’ve faced with many devices is that a lot of apps, especially the camera app, are slow to load. But with the Redmi Note 3, I faced no such issue even though I had a lot of apps open.

The device comes with a rear-facing speaker. Usually, the sound is affected by such placement so I decided to test it out. I started with Ed Sheeran’s Photograph. The sound quality was decent. Next, I took it up several notches and decided to play Led Zepellin’s Moby Dick and Metallica’s Fade to Black. When I cranked up the volume, I could hear some distortion in the playback. Of course, I wasn’t expecting a stellar audio performance at such a low price.

Another feature placed at the rear is the fingerprint scanner. It is placed in a way that makes it easier to register one’s fingerprint and unlock the screen with a single touch. Setting up one’s fingerprint is easy and takes less than a second.

A weak point of the phone is its 13-megapixel (MP) primary camera. In good lighting, the camera performs adequately but as soon as you try to click a picture in low-light conditions, the resultant images are grainy and unclear. The 5MP secondary camera is nothing special and clicks average selfies.

The Redmi Note 3 has a huge 4,000 mAh non-removable battery. This did make the phone a bit chunky but then again, you win some and lose some. The phone, on a full charge, lasted for more than two days. Of course, using RAM-heavy games or Instagram or browsing the internet does deplete the battery a bit, but not considerably.

Redmi Note 3
OS: Android 5.0.2
Processor: 2Ghz MediaTek
Battery: 4,000 mAh
Price: Rs 11,999
Asus ZenFone 2 (ZE550ML)
OS: Android 5.0.2
Processor: 1.8 GHz quad-core
Battery: 3,000 mAh
Price: Rs 13,999 (on Flipkart)

The low price tag makes it a great buy for those who are looking for a performance-centric phone but don’t want it to pinch their pocket too much. Apart from the camera and a few kinks here and there, the Redmi Note 3 is an all-rounder and a must-buy.


iPhone SE: China, India key challenge for Apple

Apple, iPhone SE, Greg Joswiak

Apple Vice President Greg Joswiak introduces the iPhone SE during an event at the Apple headquarters in Cupertino
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Apple Inc’s new iPhone SE has first-rate features and a relatively low price tag, but its prospects in key markets like China and India may be limited by its diminutive size.

At the product launch in Cupertino, California on Monday, Apple vice president of iPhone Product Marketing Greg Joswiak singled out China as a target market, saying four-inch displays like that on the iPhone SE were still popular with first-time smartphone buyers.

Chinese buyers tend to start off with a phone with a 4-inch screen, just like the iPhone SE, he argued.

China, Apple’s second-biggest market, and India, one of the fastest-growing major markets in the world, are both seen as key for Apple, which expects overall iPhone sales to contract.

The iPhone SE is seen as particularly important for India, where Anshul Gupta, research director at Gartner, expects the smartphones market to double to 200 million units in the next two years.

But in India and China, smartphones are often the main connection to the digital world, and a big screen is highly valued, analysts said.

“(In India) the majority of the low-end, $100 phones have a five-inch display. The key reason being smartphone users are becoming more mature are preferring bigger screen size as many of them don’t own a tablet or laptop,” said Neil Shah, research director at Counterpoint Technology Market Research based in Mumbai.

Only 10 percent of smartphones sold in India at the end of December had a four-inch screen, according to Counterpoint, and Apple accounted for only two percent of overall smartphone shipments in India last year.

And with nearly 70 percent of smartphones selling for less than $150 in India, the iPhone SE’s roughly $400 price tag may still be out of reach for most buyers there.

In China, analysts warned the iPhone SE could mirror the disappointing outcome of Apple’s iPhone 5C, which was launched as an affordable gadget three years ago. It was also less technologically advanced than the top phone at the time.

“The 5C was awful, no one wanted it. Everyone knew that if you bought it you had no money,” said Shanghai-based Shaun Rein, founder of China Market Research Group.

“Just going cheap doesn’t mean it’ll do well,” he said.

Apple’s second attempt to enter the mid-tier smartphone market, crowded with Android devices by rivals like Samsung Electronics and Huawei, is seen as an improvement on the 5C strategy.

The iPhone SE is up to date with the latest processor, fingerprint scanner and Apple Pay, and at $399 it costs nearly 40 percent less than the iPhone 6S’s $649 opening price.