India

Vivo NEX S with a motorized camera launches in India

One of the most unique phones of 2018

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Vivo unveiled the NEX last month globally and has been pushing the device to every possible market. The company has held a considerable amount of market share in India, but that has been limited to the budget and midrange segments. Last month, the company brought the X21 to India which was priced slightly higher than the company’s usual comfort zone.

With the NEX, Vivo plans to take on the high-end segment of the market. While smartphone makers have been quick to adopt the notch, none have been able to truly give an all-display experience.

The NEX has massively increased the benchmarks of an innovative phone. Not only does it house the front camera on a motorized tray that slides up whenever the camera is opened, it also features an industry-leading in-display fingerprint scanner.

The motorized front camera has an 8-megapixel shooter while the rear has a 12- and 5-megapixel dual-camera setup with 4-axis optical image stabilization. Obviously, the phone also has AI enhancements like Scene Recognition, HDR, and Portrait Mode.

It doesn’t feature a notch, hence all the usual sensors and instruments like the proximity sensor and earpiece have been integrated into the display itself. Vivo calls it Screen SoundCasting Technology, which uses vibrations to produce sound.

The device is powered by a Snapdragon 845 chipset and boasts a 4000mAh battery that supports fast charging via USB-C. Like all other phones of Vivo, this one too runs on Android 8.1 Oreo-based FunTouch OS.

Globally, the NEX S is available in two variants: 8GB RAM + 128GB storage and 8GB + 256GB. In India, the company is launching only the first variant and has priced it at INR 44,990 (US$ 650). The phone will be available for purchase starting July 21 via online as well as offline channels.

India

Xiaomi continues to lead India’s smartphone market

realme has clocked maximum growth though

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India is the world’s second-largest smartphone market and a majority of it is concentrated in the entry-level or affordable range. So naturally, it’s a prime market for companies like Xiaomi, realme, Samsung, OPPO, and vivo.

Xiaomi has consistently been India’s top smartphone maker in terms of units shipped since 2018. The streak doesn’t seem to be ending anytime soon as the brand managed to capture 26.1 percent market share in Q3 2020, according to a report by Canalys.

Samsung comes in second with a share of 20.4 percent. Xiaomi and Samsung have recorded an annual growth of 9 percent and 7 percent respectively. vivo comes in third with 17.6 percent share, followed by realme at 17.4 percent. Interestingly, realme scored maximum annual growth at a whopping 23 percent.

In total, 50 million units were shipped in the country, an all-time record high for a single quarter. The country was under a strict lockdown in March and April due to the Coronavirus spread and e-commerce services or stores were fully closed. Hence, shipments during Q2 of 2020 were radically low. In fact, phones were often being sold in the black market amid the restrictions.

Apple is a negligible player if we go by market share because its offerings are premium. However, it also achieved double-digit growth in the quarter and Canalys says it sold more than 800,000 units of the new iPhone SE.

The lockdown was slowly relaxed from May, opening up stores and ramping up e-commerce activity. Most professions have shifted to the work-from-home model and even students are now attending classes via digital mediums.

Smartphones are the backbone of India’s digital economy and their sales were expected to rise. While other industries like tourism and aviation have lost a huge chunk of their value, the technology and electronics industry has remained unhindered.

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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!

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Enterprise

Indian telco Jio and Qualcomm successfully test 5G

Sidelining the Chinese

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In a major breakthrough for the Indian telecom industry, equipment maker Qualcomm and Indian telco Jio have announced a partnership to deploy 5G solution in the country. The two announced their network will be based on indigenous technology, indirectly shunning Chinese contenders like Huawei.

Backed by India’s top conglomerate Reliance, Jio has gained a massive share in one of the world’s most crucail telecom markets. The telco aims to deploy high-speed 5G that can offer speeds up to 1 Gbps.

Jio acquired Radisys in 2018 and the company is expected to play a critical role in developing the company’s 5G solutions. When combined with Qualcomm’s gear, the partnership can scale 5G networks throughout the country without depending on foreign tech stacks. Adding to this, Jio has also said it’s considering options of selling its in-house technology to other carries for a seamless transition.

“This achievement not only supports Jio’s 5G credentials, but also signifies the entry of Jio and India into the Gigabit 5G NR product portfolio,” the two companies said in a statement.

The company is leveraging NR or New Radio technology that is similar to 4G’s LTE. It’s a globally accepted standard and many phone makers have already announced support.

At present, only a few countries are capable of offering 1 Gbps speeds and this includes the US, South Korea, Australia, Germany and Switzerland. 5G is expected to launch in India soon, although these claims are countered by critics for being too optimistic.

India’s mobile telecom industry has only three players left and Jio is considered the mightiest. It raised tens of billions from marquee investors like Facebook, Google, and Qualcomm. However, established players like Vodafone-Idea were on the verge of bankruptcy and Airtel has managed to find solid ground only recently.

Read Also: This Indian telco has raised more than $20 billion during the pandemic

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