India

Mi Smart Speaker review: Sounds excellent, speaks smartly

Xiaomi taking on Amazon and Google

Published

on

Voice assistants have been around for a long time and we’ve all used them at some point. Every Android phone has Google Assistant and it’s just a tap away. If you’re into the Amazon ecosystem, Alexa is for you. And Apple has Siri.

But when was the last time you actually used these personal assistants actively? Most people always end up asking a generic question about the weather or search for GPS navigation. Even though these assistants barely take up any computing resources, their real-world applications are limited and often found to be a hassle.

In the last few years, all major companies released affordable smart speakers that incorporate these smart assistants. And, it has been a hit. Echo speakers fly off the shelf during the festive season, Nest speakers are consistently improving and bundled along with various offers, and Apple has taken a slightly more premium route, but still has low-cost offerings.

But, is it worth spending US$ 30 to US$ 60 on a tiny palm-sized speaker that’s basically just a hardware package designed to run the assistant? I’ve used the affordable offerings from Google as well as Amazon and my answer would be no.

The volume is too low for my liking, sound quality goes for a toss, and you’re just left with a speaker that runs Google Assistant or Alexa. The initial euphoria around a voice assistant soon fades. And if you’re looking for a decent speaker that can be used primarily for music, the cost escalates to more than US$ 100.

In a developing country like India, the price difference is considerable and you’re entering the premium segment. Xiaomi found this sweet spot and launched the Mi Smart Speaker in the country. It’s priced at INR 5,999 (US$ 81) officially, but available for INR 2,999 (US$ 40) under various discounts and schemes.

A significantly large speaker for the price

The Mi Smart Speaker is huge when compared to Google Nest Mini or the Echo Dot. Just like its price, it looks like a perfect combination of an entry-level speaker and a high-end one. Xiaomi’s complete portfolio is based on offering value-for-money goods and the brand has dominated key segments with its products like the Mi Band, Mi Box, and Mi TWS.

Following the same strategy, the company has entered a space where it has no competition. And, the pricing is very aggressive in nature. The brand tried to make a mark with Bluetooth speakers, but the market is very saturated and price sensitive. The Mi Smart Speaker is its first smart speaker and has a lot of weightlifting to do.

A premium design without the heavy price tag

At first glance, the speaker instantly reminded me of the Sonos One. While Xiaomi’s offering is more oval, it is built of top-notch materials and barely feels cheap or flimsy. A perforated grille runs around the speaker and sits firmly on the table thanks to the tiny rubber legs on the bottom. No matter where you keep it, it’ll look subtle and aesthetic.

There’s just a small Mi logo on the front while the top has four touch buttons for volume, pause/play, and microphone. As a standalone product, it has a distinctive look that doesn’t look like it’s ripped off. The top edge has a small LED ring that’ll turn blueish-white when Google Assistant is summoned. If you turn off the mic, the lighting shall remain orange.

The rear has a barrel connector and the adapter is provided along. But this is the only thing I didn’t like about the speaker. Xiaomi could’ve provided a USB port, just like all its other products. This might become a challenge because the speaker will take up an additional socket in your house, instead of sharing a USB wire out of a multi-port adapter. Obviously, there’s the option of a splitter but it’ll need more space and look much messier.

Sounds excellent and satisfied everyone’s needs

The Mi Smart Speaker has a 2.5-inch driver that’ll push out 12W of audio output. This isn’t a very big driver and smaller speakers like the Amazon Echo have a 3-inch driver. But I’d recommend skipping the technicalities in favor of the listening experience.

The speaker is sufficiently loud and the vocals are very clear. It isn’t enough for a full-fledged party, but more than enough for regular usage in the living room or bedroom. The high frequencies are very well balanced and the bass is decent. I don’t think the speaker needs any more tuning or improvement.

Lastly, you can connect two Mi Smart Speakers together for a stereo experience and indirectly improve the loudness. Interestingly, buying two Mi Smart Speakers will still be cheaper than getting the Nest Audio or borderline with the Amazon Echo.

And the star of the show, Google Assistant!

The Mi Smart Speaker has two microphones and they do an excellent job in detecting voice commands from a distance. The far-field microphones always detected my voice even when music was playing at maximum volume. And if everyone’s asleep, a low murmur is also detected with ease.

The speaker connects to your phone via the Google Home app and brings in all the software firepower straight from Google. Additionally, Google Home is a combined package that can host your smart appliances, bulbs, and more. So, if you want to see the full power of Google Assistant, just connect a smart bulb and you’ll slowly enter the future like a Black Mirror episode.

I have a Mi Smart LED Bulb and connecting the two was a very straightforward task. Google Home supports a plethora of products and you can buy Google Assistant-enabled bulbs from Xiaomi, Syska, Wipro, and more. Even your Android TV is directly available for Cast.

I’ve used the speaker for almost three weeks now and it’s now responsible for controlling multiple bulbs in the house, stream content on the Sony Bravia TV, and keep a watch out via a security camera. All major third-party services like YouTube and Spotify are supported.

It has Bluetooth compatability, but you’ll have to pair it via the Google Home app. And, a fresh pairing isn’t possible if the speaker is offline. This can be a hassle sometimes in case you don’t have a solid WiFi connection.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

Yes. The Mi Smart Speaker is an excellent product that brings something new, without costing a bomb. A simple device that is primarily a speaker, but can do a lot more than just play music. If you haven’t experienced the comfort of Google Home, the Mi Smart Speaker is an ideal entry-level device that won’t disappoint. Plug along with a few other devices and you’ve created a small network of your own, controllable via voice commands.

After a long time, I’ve reviewed a tech product that’s perfect. And, it’s unique. Even if you’re just looking for a generic speaker, this should be your choice. And considering the lighter price, it can be a lovely gift for the Diwali season!

India

Airtel starts 5G trials in India, shows off 1Gbps speed

Commercial availability still a year away, though

Published

on

India is yet to roll out 5G services, but there’s finally some good news. Airtel has kicked off its 5G trial network in Gurugram, Delhi’s neighboring city,  just a little over a month after the government gave its go-ahead to carry out trial runs.

Airtel is testing its 5G network at a speed of over 1Gbps, and the site where the trial is running is operating in the 3500MHz band. According to a report by ET Telecom, Airtel has been allotted the 5G trial spectrum in 3500 MHz, 28 GHz, and 700 MHz.

Rival telcos Jio and VIL (Vodafone-Idea) have been allotted spectrums in the 700 MHz, 3.5 GHz, and 26 GHz bands. State-backed telco MTNL has also received permission to start trials. The runs are being carried out in compliance with the guidelines of the Department of Telecommunications (DoT).

Airtel is currently working with Ericson on the equipment, while other providers include Nokia, Samsung, etc. Jio has announced will be conducting trials using its own indigenous technology. The trails shall go on for six months. Chinese companies like Huawei have long been sidelined.

5G in India

The Indian government is yet to auction the 5G spectrum; hence a commercial roll-out is at least a year away. Earlier in January this year, Airtel claimed that they had become the first telco in India to demonstrate 5G services over a commercial network in Hyderabad. However, these are internal runs.

It noted that in Hyderabad, users were able to download a full-length movie in a matter of seconds on a 5G phone, a demonstration that has underlined the company’s technology capabilities.

The plans to unveil 5G in the country took a backseat due to the Coronavirus pandemic. The industry couldn’t adopt the latest technology quickly as the market was devastated by low tariff wars, pending tax issues, and reducing capex. VIL was barely able to survive bankruptcy, but the debt continues to haunt it.

Continue Reading

India

Nord CE 5G goes official with Snapdragon 750G, 64MP camera

Enough to take on Xiaomi and realme?

Published

on

OnePlus has now transformed into a giant itself and aggressively expanding its Nord-branded offering. Designed for the affordable segment, the Nord CE aims to offer a premium experience while maintaining a pocket-friendly price tag.

The Nord CE follows its predecessor’s design language and the Blue Void color option screams OnePlus. It looks quite similar to the Xiaomi Mi A3 but has an elongated vertical camera array on the rear. The phone will be going up against the Redmi Note 10 Pro Max, Mi 10i 5G, and realme X7.

It sports a 6.4-inch AMOLED display with a 90Hz refresh rate, Full HD+ resolution, and a punch-hole cut-out. The body is made of polycarbonate, and there’s an in-display fingerprint scanner for authentication. Powering the phone is a Snapdragon 750G processor with up to 8GB RAM and 256GB internal storage. Unfortunately, there’s no SD card slot for memory expansion.

On the rear is a triple camera setup consisting of a 64-megapixel primary camera, an 8-megapixel wide-angle lens, and a 2-megapixel macro sensor. For selfies, there is a 16-megapixel shooter located within the cut-out. Further, it comes preloaded with Nightscape, UltraShot HDR, Portrait, Panorama, Pro mode, and Smart Scene recognition. Backing these internals is a 4500mAh battery with 30W fast charging.

The Nord CE 5G costs INR 22,999 (US$ 315) for the 6GB + 128GB option, INR 24,999 (US$ 340) for 8GB + 128GB, and INR 27,999 (US$ 382) for 8GB + 256GB. The phone goes on sale on June 16, and color options include Blue Void, Charcoal Ink, and Silver Ray. OnePlus has also listed an offer on its website where buyers will get INR 500 off on OnePlus Buds Z and INR 500 off on the OnePlus Band. The coupons will be added to the buyer’s account after product delivery.

Continue Reading

India

WhatsApp is suing India’s government over rules that endanger privacy

It’s serious when WhatsApp starts talking about privacy…

Published

on

It’s hard to imagine a Facebook-backed service talk about defending privacy. The company has a nasty reputation for handling users’ data, and it’s often considered a dystopian internet giant. But Facebook-owned WhatsApp is now suing the Indian government over new rules that endanger user privacy.

In February, the Indian government introduced new guidelines to regulate content on social media and streaming platforms. The new rules give greater power to monitor online activity, including encrypted apps like Signal and Telegram.

To be more precise, the government wants apps like WhatsApp to identify the originator of a message. The content of the message can remain encrypted, but the user should be traceable. The new rules supersede the existing law — the IT Act. Hence, it becomes impossible for the government to enforce traceability without a law.

And, even if the rule is modeled within the existing law, it’ll pose a massive challenge for encrypted apps. Giving up traceability potentially compromises all its users. WhatsApp says traceability of texts would force companies to collect and store billions of messages sent each day for the sole purpose of turning them over to law enforcement.

WhatsApp’s petition asks the High Court to declare that one of the new rules is a violation of privacy under the constitution of India since it requires social media sites to identify the “first originator of information” when asked for it.

The instant messaging app has over 400 million users in India. Platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Whatsapp were given three months to comply with these rules. Although it’s suing the government, WhatsApp itself has received a lot of criticism due to its recently updated privacy policy.

“Some governments are seeking to force technology companies to find out who sent a particular message on private messaging services. This concept is called ‘traceability’,” said WhatsApp in an online statement. “WhatsApp is committed to doing all we can to protect the privacy of people’s personal messages, which is why we join others in opposing traceability.”

Continue Reading

Trending