The Best Smartwatch in the market [A comparative analysis]

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Smartwatches are just beginning to receive mainstream attention as the “next best thing”. Emerging wearable technology market has proven to developers and manufacturers that consumers are scaling to make data creation and consumption even more convenient than it actually is. The Pebble still being a small company saw a massive success on Kickstarter and managed to sell 400k watches in 2013, thereby establishing themselves in the market where other players like Samsung and Sony have also jumped into the ring with their own take on smartwatches along with Motorola, LG, while companies like Apple, Google (with Android Wear) and Microsoft are rumoured to be on their way.

Though on seller front every smartwatch manufacturer wants to sell you one to create a new product category and make more money – but the question arises why would a normal person buy one? Now before this question is dealt with further ahead along with providing you with the best option available in the market currently for this genre of wearable technology, let’s begin with an obvious and more basic query – What is a smartwatch?

Well, a smartwatch is a wearable computing device in the form of a computerized wristwatch. Early smartwatches, the first ones, like those in the IBM Watchpad category came into existence back in 2001, had limited functionality and were able to perform elementary calculations and basic data storage and retrieval. Modern devices typically possess enhanced data processing functionality similar to a smartphone or tablet and are able to run mobile apps.

What Pebble managed to do is create an ecosystem for it’s product outside the purview of Google. Since an SDK is also provided, app developers are coming up with more innovative uses for Pebble but by standardizing and enhancing the framework and hardware API platforms in addition to it’s integrated and widely used Play ecosystem and Cloud apps, Google now has the power of transforming the watch industry the way it did for the mass market cell phones.

The real power of most modern smartwatches lies in their accelerometers and sensors, connecting to the smartphones over Bluetooth and NFC for some. The ‘killer apps’ for a smartwatch currently seem to be notifications.

Hence, considering all the above if you’re currently interested in a smartwatch, you’re probably a geek interested in fiddling around with new technology before they become mainstream with a market more mature. Few mentioned below are the best options people might be interested in, they are arranged in order of preference based on very basic parameters like, Price, Battery life, Compatibility, Look/Design, Functions and Ease of use:

Pebble and Pebble Steel: With a price of $150 Pebble took the market by storm by becoming the smartwatch most people had heard of. Pebble steel is the successor to the original Pebble costing $249 and running on PebbleOS, a modified Linux microkernel. With it’s power-saving epaper display it has a battery-life of 5-7 days which is the longest so far in this category. It works with both iPhones and Android phones. Pebble has a customizable clock face with a strong focus on notifications, including social media updates, when paired with smartphones through Bluetooth.

A new available Steel version – available in Brushed Stainless or Black Matte – is less geeky, sleeker and more stylish looking. Basically same internals as original Pebble, adding a more sophisticated steel case and band and an additional leather strap, with a tough Corning Gorilla Glass display, an LED to indicate charging status, unlike it’s predecessor with an acrylic surface attracting scratches.

MetaWatch: It comes with a great range of price from $129 – $199, so that you have that wearable tech on your wrists. There screen described to be a “reflective mirror screen” similar to “epaper display” making it easy to read at daylight. Without any LED to drain off the battery, it supports a long battery life running up to a week on one charge. It works on both iPhone and Android devices with higher versions having Bluetooth Serial Port Profile (SPP).

Its look and design is a bigger attraction being designed by Vertu luxury phone designer Frank Nuovo with “Art of the Glance” design philosophy. It has a sleek black-and-white screen for receiving notifications.

The manufacturers have chosen to focus upon further refining basic functionality of their watches than cramming more half-baked features into the device like the rest of the industry.

Sony Smartwatch 2: Sony’s first take at the emerging smartwatch market though not something evolutionary but a true contender given the current state of smartwatch technology.

Coming at quite a reasonable price of $199, it has a “Transreflective” LCD screen with Android style interface with some Google Play apps adding some nice extra options, though it was noted as being a bit slow and lagging. The battery lasts anywhere between one to four days with heavy use while light users maybe able to stretch it on one charge for a week.

Its only seemingly most prominent drawback lies with it’s compatibility, as it works only with Android devices connecting through Bluetooth and can’t be used with an iPhone.

The ability to use it with any 24mm watch strap  making it fit into normal people’s lives, and not the other way around is it’s most appreciable feature.

Samsung Galaxy Gear: It’s not been the hit accessory Samsung expected it to be, yet Galaxy Gear remains Samsung’s flagship attempt at the smartwatch market.

It comes a bit heavy on the wallet with a cost of $299, has a little large side due to the AMOLED/LCD, which consumes more power giving it a battery life of one day. The hardware is more capable but you pay for it with less battery life. It also doesn’t have a dedicated developer community that Pebble has.

Connecting through NFC and Bluetooth it currently works only with Galaxy smartphones and tablets.

What it has that other brands lack is a 1.9MP camera situated on wrist-strap yet it doesn’t feel cumbersome when worn.

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Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 : [Exclusive Review]

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Samsung recently pulled the covers off its latest tablet series christened as the Galaxy Tab 3. Now Samsung is offering the Tab 3 in three different versions. They are the Tab 3 7.0 inch with Wi-Fi + 3G aka T-211, Tab 3 8.0 inch Wi-Fi only aka T-310 and Tab 3 8.0 inch with Wi-Fi + 3G aka T-311.

The Tab 3 range of Samsung Tablets replaces the existing Tab 2 series and it can be hoped that they repeat the success story of the Tab and Tab 2 series of tablets.

We have here with us the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 (T-211) today and this is going to be an exclusive hands-on review of the product.

What’s In The Box:

The Tab 3’s box includes the device itself, user manuals (quick start guide, etc.), the data cable and a travel adapter. Surprisingly, Samsung isn’t providing a headset or a pair of ear-phones in the box. Samsung did provide them with the Tab 2 though. What’s worth noting is that this box, just like the boxes of other new products from Samsung is made from entirely recycled materials.

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The unboxed Galaxy Tab 3

Even the user manual and other literature provided in the box is made out of 100% recycled paper. I think that’s a pretty good touch and shows Samsung’s commitment towards environmental conservation.

Form Factor:

Measuring in at 188 x 111.1 x 9.9 mm and weighing in at 304 grams, this 7 inch tablet feels chunky to hold and is well weighted. If you have used a tablet before, then you won’t have any issues getting accustomed to this one as well.

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The Micro SD slot.

Available only in white color (in India) and with a faux metallic strip running all around it, the Tab 3 feels well put together, although I’m not too sure about its long term physical durability because there have been instances of people reporting incidents like the paint peeling off from the edges, that faux metallic strip losing its sheen, etc. on other Samsung devices so maybe this one (Tab 3) could be susceptible to the same.

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Dual speakers and a USB slot.

Up front, you have the secondary camera that sports a rather low resolution of 1.3 Megapixels and the various sensors (proximity and light) located next to it. Lower down, there is one physical button that acts like a multi-function button and two capacitive buttons for accessing the options menu and to return to the previous screen. Again, usual Samsung layout.

On the left side, there are the slots for the Micro-SIM card and Micro-SD card. Since the battery is a non-detachable type, the SIM and Memory Card are both hot swappable. On the right side, there are two physical buttons. One to lock/un-lock or put the phone in sleep mode and the other is a volume rocker.

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The Tab 3.

The back of the tablet is a very plain glossy surface with a 3 Megapixel primary camera located towards the top. A 3.5 mm audio jack is located on the top of the device while the bottom houses the charging cum USB slot and a set of dual speakers.

Display:

The Tab 3 (T-211) has a screen size of 17.8 centimetres (7 inches). While the screen size is good for this segment, its resolution turns out to be an Achilles’ heel for it. With a resolution of 1024×600 pixels on a 7 inch WSVGA LCD screen that can display up to 16 million colours, this is the same configuration as that of the Galaxy Tab 2. The screen turns out to be lack lustre and although it supports HD playback, the display output is marred by the low spec screen resolution.

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The 7 inch screen.

It does get the job done but it just leaves you wanting for more.

Performance and Features:

  •  The Tab 3 ships in with the older version of Android i.e. 4.1 so if you were expecting to have a tablet with Android 4.2 you’ll have to consider buying the 8 inch version of the Tab 3 that costs a good 7.6 grand more than this variant. Anyway, Android 4.1 isn’t that bad either. It comes with Samsung’s familiar Touch Wiz UI system. It has a 1.2 GHz Dual Core Processor along with 1 GB of RAM.
  • The internal storage capacity comes up to 8 GB (on paper) but you get about 5 GB for data, the rest being taken up by the OS and other stuff. You can expand the storage capacity up to 32 GB via Micro-SD card.
  •  As mentioned earlier, this tablet comes equipped with a 1.3 MP secondary camera and a 3 MP primary camera. The cameras do not have LED flash support but they are capable of recording HD videos.
  •  This tablet can be used as a phone as well. Yes, the Tab 3 T-211 supports voice calling feature and I think it is a pretty good feature to have in your tablet for it only adds to the versatility.
  • The in-call audio quality is also quite good.  The Tab 3 doesn’t suffer from any connectivity issues as such; data sharing via Bluetooth and Wi-Fi direct was also done without much hassle. This device doesn’t support NFC.  Connection to Wi-Fi and 3G networks was done easily and the process of download and upload was seamless.
  • As far as gaming and entertainment is concerned, I spent quite a lot of time playing games like Angry Birds, Air Navy Fighters, Jurassic Park Builder, Despicable Me – Minion Rush and others on this tablet and I’m quite satisfied with its gaming capabilities.
  • The video playback is also pretty decent, only being let-down by the poor resolution. The dual speakers deserve a special mention over here for the sound output quality is highly impressive. The audio is loud and clear even by tablet standards and I feel it’s one of the best ones around.
  •  The Tab 3 T-211 is powered by a 4000 mAh battery that has enough juice in it to keep the tablet going on for a good 20 hours (talk time, 3G network). As far as standby is concerned, this tablet can last for days on end with a single charge.

Retailing at a price point of Rs. 16600, the deal on the Tab 3 T-211 seems to be quite tempting. While you still might find some examples of the Tab 2 being sold and probably at a lower price than this, those will be the final units of the Tab 2 that vendors might be trying to clear out since it has been replaced by the Tab 3. So I wouldn’t suggest you to strike such deals, however lucrative they might seem to be.

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Good enough to be a phablet?

The Tab 2 was indeed a good product but now it’s gone and even though the Galaxy Tab 3 T-211 might not be fundamentally different from it or far superior, it is undoubtedly better than it in every possible way. There are subtle changes here and there to make sure that the device is updated, its inherent strengths have been retained and most importantly the price has been kept under check. At the moment this is possibly the best tablet under the Rs 20k mark.

Here are some sample images taken from the Tab 3 to ascertain the picture quality (click to enlarge).

All images, copyright : ShikharTechLabs.

Note: Prices mentioned here are as per Flipkart.

Micromax Canvas 4 – First Look [Review]

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Micromax – a brand name synonymous for providing staggering value for money proposition on its products has just showcased its latest offering in the highly competitive smart phone market – the Micromax A210 Canvas 4. Cashing in on the wave created by its predecessors (Canvas, Canvas 2, Canvas 2 HD and the likes) Micromax is expecting the Canvas 4 to emulate a similar success story.

Form Factor

 The Canvas 4 has a brushed aluminium frame that is 8.99 mm thick and just like phones from the stables of smart phone biggies like Apple and HTC, the aluminium frame also houses the antenna; thereby enhancing connectivity and in-call voice quality. Owing to this aluminium finish, I’m pretty sure that users will find this phone to be quite robust and sturdy. Although some may not necessarily like the extra few grams this kind of a finish adds to the overall weight of the phone. The five inch screen ensures that this phone is definitely southwards of a normal phablet territory.

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The Canvas 4 is sleek and sturdy.

The Canvas 4 has the three capacitive touch keys up front. Those being keys for Menu, Home and Back navigational functions.  A single piece removable cover holds fort at the back and there are the usual screen lock cum power on/off and volume rocker buttons located on either side of the phone. A 3.5 mm headphone jack is located at the top of the phone and a micro-USB cum charging port is at the bottom.

Display

 The latest Micromax has a five inch IPS display panel that has a resolution of 720×1280 pixels. This has turned out to be one of the biggest disappointments with respect to the Canvas 4 as everyone was expecting it to come with a full HD 1080p display. It seems as if this has been a glaring oversight on the part of the company. In spite of this, the colors look vibrant and the display quality is sharp. Another point worth considering is that the touch on the display is said to be more responsive than that of the Canvas 2 HD and previous phones in the Canvas series.

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The Canvas 4 has a 5 inch IPS display panel.

Performance and Features

 The Canvas 4 sports the latest version of the Android OS (Android 4.2.1) with some of Micromax’s in-house modifications to the UI. It has a 1.2 GHz Quad Core processor and a 1 GB RAM. It also has a 16 GB on-board memory that is expandable up to 32 GB via Micro SD card. On the surface, these specs seem quite satisfactory for everyday routine duties and initial use suggests that there is hardly any lag in operation. We will have to wait and see how this phone fares over long term use.

As far as equipping the phone with features is concerned, it appears as if Micromax has left no stone unturned. The Canvas 4 comes loaded to the gills with everything you would expect of a phone in this segment. In fact, Micromax has thrown in some very attractive features that do make a strong case for the Canvas 4. Its primary camera is a 13 megapixel unit that has a Sony sensor and an LED flash to support it while the front camera is 5 megapixel.

It also features some smart features like the all new blow to unlock, multi dimensional sweep panorama mode, pop-up video player, a look away feature that pauses a video being played as soon as the user looks away, a feature to preview the next video without pausing the current one being played, a multi window, answer or dial as soon as the phone is brought close to the user’s ear and a flip to make an incoming call silent.

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A 13 megapixel beast powers the Canvas 4.

Apart from this, the phone comes pre-loaded with apps such as MusicHub, Kingsoft Office Suite, Hike Messaging, Opera Mini, M1 Live, Spuul (to watch movies), Fone Clay (to download themes). It is also bundled with Micromax’s own security software called M! Security. This app offers anti-virus, anti-theft, phone tracking and back-up solutions.

As of now, the phone is available in two colours – Pristine White and Smoky Grey and retailing at a price of Rs. 17,999/- in India. Micromax is also offering a free flip cover worth Rs. 2999/-.

Specs for the geeks

Here are detailed specs for the Micromax Canvas 4.

Micromax Canvas 4

Micromax Canvas 4 – Specifications – Source : Micromax

If you ask me the all new Micromax Canvas 4 does make a very strong case for itself. That said, given the prevailing conditions in the market, the cut-throat competition and the highly price conscious consumer, we will only have to wait and watch whether the Canvas 4 takes the fight straight up to the competition and becomes Nothing like anything or ends up being a damp squib.