India

Mi Smart Speaker review: Sounds excellent, speaks smartly

Xiaomi taking on Amazon and Google

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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!

Enterprise

Apple is preparing to open its first stores in India

Based on new job listings

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For one of the largest smartphone markets in the world, India is one of the rarer countries where Apple does not outright dominate. Undoubtedly, the company is trying to change that. Ongoing job listings in India are suggesting that Apple is ready to open its first brick-and-mortar store in the country.

First reported by Financial Times, Apple has posted job openings in India for several retail roles including for the iconic Genius Bar. Another clue even indicates that some spots have already been filled ahead of time. A few employees in the country have reportedly posted about their new jobs on LinkedIn.

Unfortunately, none of the job listings show how many stores are planned and where they will be. Narrowing things down by a bit, a few of the confirmed employees are from Mumbai and New Delhi. The report also does not indicate when the stores will open. However, since a few have already been hired, a grand opening might be coming soon.

Apple has a lot to gain by strengthening its foothold in India. The country is an important stronghold for smartphone companies. However, the company might find things harder as time goes by. The country recently dictated that brands must switch to USB-C if they want to sell their devices in India. All over the world, Apple remains the last stalwart against adopting the more universal standard.

SEE ALSO: Google throws more RCS-flavored shade at Apple

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India

India to enforce USB-C on all phones by 2024

Smartphones and wearables affected

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Last year, the European Union made a lot of waves by announcing the impending enforcement of USB-C across all devices sold in the region. Other countries, such as Brazil, joined in by pondering its own version of the same policy. Then, as 2022 wound to a definitive close, India, skipping a more deliberative phase, has announced a sweeping enforcement of USB-C coming in 2025.

In approximately two years’ time, most devices sold within India must use USB-C ports (via Business Standard). More specifically, Indian lawmakers have included smartphones and wearables as part of the new policy. Like policies in other countries, India’s policy revolves around the drive to reduce e-waste from devices.

Naturally, as is the case in other countries, Apple is the brand most affected by the ruling. While most Android-based smartphones already use USB-C across the board, Apple’s device still rely on the proprietary Lightning cable, severing a significant chunk of the populating from the more universal standard.

The country is nothing to shrug off, either. India is one of the largest smartphone markets in the world. Though Android is much more prevalent than Apple, India’s new policy is certainly a significant speed bump for the iPhone maker.

Though Apple has publicly protested against the new policies, the company has also confirmed that it will comply with the new rules. While it has a slightly lengthier timeframe in India, the brand has to comply in the European Union by the end of 2024.

SEE ALSO: Apple will limit faster USB-C to iPhone 15 Pro duo

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India

India might force Apple to adopt USB-C soon

Exploratory talks have started

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It’s the world versus Apple. After years and years of proprietary hardware, Apple is finally facing a deluge of pressure to abandon the Lightning cable. The entire European Union have already decided to force device markers, particularly Apple, to adopt the universal standard, USB-C. Now, another country is joining in: India.

As reported by Mint, the Indian government has started holding exploratory talks with manufacturers to discuss the possibility of a common charging standard. While the talks aren’t decisive yet, it’s the first step towards legislation moving in favor of a standard.

Though the wording remains vague, a lot of pressure is on Apple. The iPhone maker is still one of the biggest opponents against adopting USB-C worldwide. Amid the company’s growing gallery of USB-C devices, the Lightning cable is still alive and well. A lot of other manufacturers have already moved on to the standard for its their ports.

Soon, the company might not have a choice. If a decisive law is passed, India will join the European Union and Brazil in potentially forcing Apple into the standard. It’s not an insignificant ally for the pro-USB-C camp, either. India is one of the biggest smartphone markets in the world.

Apple is unlikely to launch a USB-C iPhone series this year. The company is already expected to launch the next series in a few weeks’ time. If such a phone is coming, it might debut as soon as next year.

SEE ALSO: Another country wants to force Apple to go USB-C

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