Windows RIP: Thankfully It Died With Windows 8

As we approach the end of the free Windows 10 upgrades this month and get used to the anniversary edition, it suddenly hit me the Windows we knew died with Windows 8 — what we got with Windows 10 really isn’t what we’ve come to know as Windows.

Hell, looking at Microsoft’s latest financials, Microsoft really isn’t Microsoft any more, either. Both are so different from what they were just last decade, they are like a brand new product and company.

We’re on the eve of big Windows changes. I’ll explain and then close with my product of the week: a US$360,000 fantasy Jaguar that would make Bill Gates and Jay Leno jealous

Windows: We Knew It Well

I’ve been covering Windows since it was a real product. In fact, Windows 95 was my path to fame, and it was largely responsible for launching my career as an analyst. It was also pretty crappy. That wasn’t entirely Microsoft’s fault — that was when hardware differences went vertical, and Microsoft learned how not to support a product that sold in the tens of millions.

Windows was defined by its releases. Each one was tied to release date and the need to generate revenue — not build and ensure a platform upon which an empire not only could be built but also sustained. It clearly worked as a builder, but with the PC market collapse the “sustain” part was forgotten.

One of the now most ironic videos to watch is Steve Ballmer’s “developer, developer, developer” speech — ironic because it was largely the loss of developers that forced him to step down. The old Steve was right. Unfortunately, it was a new and improved Steve who ran Microsoft, and that didn’t work out so well.

The product was hard to install, hard to update, and buggy, and it stood as one of the biggest barriers to folks buying new PCs. I’m actually kind of surprised the PC market didn’t collapse a decade earlier. I remember going to a meeting at Intel and asking why more Intel employees didn’t have newer PCs, and it was because they didn’t want to go through the pain of upgrading.

Some versions of Windows were so bad they became legendary. Windows Millennium kind of set the bar for horrid, but Windows 2000 wasn’t that much better and both were rushed because of the Y2K bug. Then there was the disaster that was Windows Vista, and finally the train wreck that was Windows 8 — which did, finally, crater the PC market.

Microsoft brought out the Xbox and shifted most gaming efforts to that in an attempt to keep Sony from taking over the segment. It was a bad bet. The Xbox pulled a ton of value from Windows, and because Sony imploded, the PlayStation never became a threat to the PC. So Windows became less valuable over time as the Xbox bled premium buyers away from it.

We stuck with Windows, regardless of the pain, but Windows as we knew it died with Windows 10.

Windows 10

Now I’ve been on Windows 10 since before its release, and it is such a breath of fresh air. Migrations are easy. I typically just have to hit one button on my keyboard to wake it up in the morning, and updates are both free and relatively often — each one bringing a few new surprises, good ones for the most part.

Migrations to new hardware take minutes instead of days, and it currently is running on a whopping 350 million devices. That is pretty impressive for a version of Windows this young. There are 1,500 different products shipping with Windows 10 preloaded, showcasing much more variety than we have ever had before.

Gone are the pains of Windows 95, and ME. Gone are the screw-ups with Vista and Windows 8. Windows 10 is much more like what we’ve come to expect from a smartphone operating system in terms of ease of use and reliability, and yet it still runs on the most powerful systems in market.

In addition, Microsoft has re-energized game playing on the platform. I can speak to this, because I’ve already racked up a whopping 282 hours on Ashes of the Singularity, and I only started playing it last month. I’m kind of surprised my mouse hand still works.

Finally, as Apple backed away from being the design leader in the segment, Microsoft stepped in with the Surface tablets and everyone upped their game. Now companies like Acer, Dell, HP and Lenovo are massively design-forward, and the age of ugly desktop or laptop PCs is over.

However, it isn’t just Windows that has been reborn.

Microsoft’s Rebirth

When I started, and for much of its life, Microsoft was defined by being just a platform-and-tools company with Office (a product that needs a rebirth). Yet if you look at Microsoft’s financials today, it clearly is trending to be the leading company supplying the enterprise cloud with Azure.

I was at a BlackBerry event — where you’d typically not see Microsoft, because it would be a competitor — but Microsoft instead was one of the biggest supporters (just after Samsung, which kind of reflects on the change in BlackBerry, come to think of it). Microsoft currently has the best enterprise cloud solution, in terms of coverage and redundancy.

This is actually big, because for a long time it didn’t really seem like the whole “enterprise focus” thing was working for the company, and it clearly weren’t the first to the cloud platform. However, as with racing, it matters less who has the pole position than who comes in first at the end of the race.

Microsoft historically has been known to be arrogant and nonresponsive to the hardware manufacturers. That honor now belongs to Google, and it isn’t unusual to hear thes OEMs lament that they wish Google were more like Microsoft. This is a story in and of itself, because Google rode in as a white knight to kill the black knight, Microsoft, and somehow the two firms switched positions. Go figure.

Wrapping Up: The King Is Dead, Long Live the King!

As we approach the end of the free window for upgrading to Windows 10 and the broad market release of the Windows 10 Anniversary Edition, it is amazing how much change there has been since Satya Nadella took over.

With so much focus on corporate boards selecting clueless CEOs — seemingly on purpose — it is great to see a board step up and do it right. Nadella has transformed the company. He not only has fixed Windows so that it bears little resemblance to the product we loved to hate, but also has shifted the focus of the company to the future. Instead of being a bad follower, Microsoft is starting to lead again.

Perhaps boards now will see how critical it is to pick CEOs who know the business, understand the market, actually have a workable vision, and can execute. Maybe, just maybe, turnarounds like we’ve seen from Apple and Microsoft will become more the rule than the exception. We can only hope.

YouTube Gaming

YouTube Gaming on Thursday ramped up its challenge to Amazon-owned Twitch by adding streamed play of mobile games and a new subscription option.

The new application lets people stream from Android-powered gadgets, tapping into cameras to display players’ faces in small frames on screens with game play.

“Every day, games are played while waiting for the bus, riding the subway, or lounging on the couch – but what about live streaming your mobile game-play?” YouTube product manager Barbara Macdonald wrote in a blog post.

“Users can now record and live stream mobile game-play on-the-go directly from Android devices using Mobile Capture on YouTube Gaming.”

It remained to be seen how many people are interested in watching play of casual games that dominate play on smartphones and tablets.

The amount of time spent watching game-related video and live streams of play at YouTube totals more than 144 billion minutes each month, according to the Google-owned service.

YouTube Gaming also improved ways to find and watch videos that might be of interest, or save snippets for later viewing.

Subscriptions
The California-based Internet service said it is testing a feature that lets people “sponsor” YouTube Gaming broadcasters they like through monthly subscriptions of $4 each.

Sponsors are offered benefits such as access to special chat sessions and “badges” that identify them as sponsors in online forums.

Twitch already lets fans subscribe to content creators.

Updated YouTube Gaming applications for Apple and Android powered mobile devices were released on Thursday in Britain and the United States.

The rollout of YouTube Gaming at the end of August marked the public debut of an online venue where video game lovers can find commentary, live play, on-demand snippets and more.

An English-language website at gaming.youtube.com was rolled out in countries where YouTube is available.

The online arena for video game channels incorporates the search smarts of Google, which owns YouTube, to surface fresh or must-see content.

US online retail giant Amazon last year snatched up Twitch and its huge audience for live-streamed gaming.

The acquisition was one of the largest in Amazon’s history – $970 million (roughly Rs. 6,301 crores) in cash for the three-year-old Internet company.

Twitch Interactive streams games being played for non-playing viewers to watch, and hosts gaming events.

It allows viewers to chat with the players and others, lending it some of the qualities of social networking websites, and it also sells advertising to generate income.

The takeover came with a boom in online viewing of real-time video game or computer game play as “e-sports” attract growing crowds as spectator events.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 9.7 LTE

Apple has been king of the hill in the premium tablet segment ever since the original iPad launched back in 2010. We’ve seen some decent attempts from the Android camp over the years, but none have managed to create that “must-have” craze Apple has so successfully been able to achieve. Samsung wishes to change this with its newly launched Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 tablet. This is the successor to the Galaxy Tab S, which the company launched last year.

In India, Samsung has decided to test the waters first by launching only a single model from the new Galaxy Tab S2 series – the Galaxy Tab S2 9.7 LTE. At Rs 39,400, the tablet goes up against the HTC Google Nexus 9 and the Apple iPad Air 2. So, has Samsung made a product compelling enough for you to choose it over the obvious choice? Let’s find out.

Look and Feel
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 gets a much-needed upgrade in the build and aesthetics department. Compared to last year’s model, which was made of plastic, the Galaxy Tab S2 gets a light-weight metal frame with a plastic back. It’s also slimmer than its predecessor. Add all this up and we have a tablet that’s just 5.6mm thick and weighs 389g. This makes it thinner and lighter than the Nexus 9 and the iPad Air 2.

Samsung_Galaxy_Tab_S2_9_7_LTE_back_ndtv.jpg

Samsung has also ditched the 16:9 aspect ratio for 4:3, due to which the screen size has reduced to 9.7 inches from last year’s 10.5 inches. The upside of losing a bit of screen real estate is that the tablet is easier to manage in your hands when you’re watching a movie or reading a book. We found it a bit odd that Samsung doesn’t mention any use of scratch protection for the display on their site or in any of its marketing materials. After a quick chat with a Samsung customer care representative, we can confirm that the tablet does not have any scratch protection for the display.

You still get a gorgeous Super AMOLED screen, but with a slight dip in resolution, which is now 1536×2048 pixels. In the real world, this doesn’t affect picture quality as text is sharp and colours are vibrant. Sunlight legibility is also very good. The tablet has sizeable side bezels which let you comfortably grip it without accidentally touching the screen. There’s a 2.1-megapixel camera near the Samsung logo up top, and the fingerprint-scanner-cum-home-button flanked by two capacitive buttons on the bottom. The chamfered edges add to the premium look of the tablet.

The headphones socket and Micro-USB port are placed on the bottom. We also have grilles for the stereo speakers here. Around the back, we have the 8-megapixel primary shooter and two nubs for attaching optional accessories such as the Book Cover Keyboard. The Nano-SIM and microSD card slots take their place on the right of the tablet, along with the power and volume buttons.

 

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 9.7 scores high points in the build and aesthetics department. The metal frame is a welcome addition and it doesn’t hurt one bit that the device is now thinner and lighter than before. It’s also more comfortable to hold thanks to the more practical screen aspect ratio.

Specifications and Software
Samsung has refreshed some of the internal components to keep this tablet up to speed. Powering the new Galaxy Tab S2 9.7 is an octa-core Exynos 5433 SoC and 3GB of RAM. Compared to the Exynos 5420 which powered its predecessor, the new SoC is based on the newer ARM-v8 instruction set and features four Cortex-A57 cores running at 1.9GHz as well as four Cortex-A53 cores running at 1.3GHz. This SoC is also built on the smaller 20nm (compared to 28nm) fabrication process, which should improve battery life and reduce heat. You also get LTE support for Indian bands, Wi-Fi b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.1, GPS, GLONASS, TV-out (MHL), USB OTG, and expandable storage via a microSD card (up to 128GB).

 

The tablet runs Android Lollipop 5.0.2 with Samsung’s TouchWiz skin. It’s business as usual in terms of preloaded apps and features which we’ve already seen in depth in our Samsung Galaxy S6 review. If you use an Airtel SIM, Samsung will treat you to 2GB of 4G data free for two months. You get the typical Samsung apps such as SideSync, Smart Manager, S Planner and the Galaxy App store. Samsung also preloads the Microsoft Office Suite, Skype and OneDrive. You get 100GB of free OneDrive storage space for two years. You can use the split-screen mode to multitask between two apps. Most of the stock apps and some third-party apps can be used this way.

Performance
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 9.7 LTE delivers very good performance for multitasking and handles any app you throw at it well. The interface feels smooth and we didn’t encounter any noticeable stutter in the animations. The tablet can also be used for making voice calls, which is a nice feature if you ever find yourself in an emergency situation and don’t have your phone with you. There’s no earpiece (thankfully) so you’ll have to either use the loudspeaker or a headset with the tablet. The stereo speakers do a good job as audio during calls is clear and distinct.

The updated SoC posts good numbers in benchmarks. We got a score of 44,893 points in AnTuTu and 29fps in GFX Bench. The SoC is still not as powerful as the Exynos 7420 which powers Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S lineup. The placement of the stereo speakers means that they get covered up and muffled when holding the tablet horizontally. We wish Samsung had placed them on two opposite sides for better aural separation.

 

During our test period, the tablet never overheated. It only ever got slightly warm around the centre, but this was not too noticeable.

This tablet is also well suited for voracious readers. The low weight and slim body make it very comfortable for reading eBooks for long durations. We didn’t feel much fatigue in our wrists even when using it single-handed for extended periods. The ‘Reading’ mode in the display sub-menu makes the colour tone warmer, so it’s easier on your eyes.

The cameras fitted on the tablet do a good job of capturing detail in photos. If you zoom in to the sample picture, you’ll see the licence plate on the white car is quite legible. The camera app gets a ‘Pro’ mode like we saw in the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+. However, there’s no option to save as RAW and you don’t get controls for aperture and shutter speed. Video recording maxes out at QHD (2560×1440) for the rear camera and Full HD for the front.

Due to the smaller screen and to keep the thickness to a minimum, Samsung has had to go with a smaller battery with a capacity of 5870mAh (compared to 7900mAh in its predecessor). We managed to get 11 hours and 44 minutes in our video loop test, which is good but we expected more. With regular use, which included watching a couple of movies and lots of web surfing, we easily went more than a day before having to charge it. This was with an active 4G SIM. If you use the tablet less frequently, you can easily go multiple days between charges.

Verdict
After spending close to a week with the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 9.7, one thing’s certain – this tablet is an excellent choice for those who want to travel light. Samsung has reduced the weight and size of the new tablet without compromising on build or rigidity, which is commendable. The 4:3 aspect ratio makes it comfortable to hold when reading or watching videos. At Rs 39,400 it’s also cheaper than a similarly specced Google Nexus 9 or Apple iPad Air 2. Samsung has the edge over the other two when it comes to expandable storage and the ability to make voice calls.

The tablet does have its share of shortcomings. The placement of the stereo speakers could have been better as your hand tends to block one of them when you hold it horizontally. We would have liked a bigger battery too but we’re guessing that would have compromised the tablet’s weight and thickness. It’s also disappointing that you don’t get any form of scratch protection for the display. Finally, Samsung’s Android updates won’t be as timely as Apple’s iOS updates or Google’s releases for Nexus devices

Reliance 4G Smartphones

Reliance Industries today said it has already pumped in close to Rs. 93,000 crore into its telecom venture under the ‘Reliance Jio‘ brand and will start selling its 4G handsets under the Lyf brand from Diwali.

“We’ve substantially completed our network expansion now having already completed 2.5 lakh route kilometers. We are on course to begin distribution of the handsets under the Lyf brand name from Diwali.

“We have already tied up with 1,200 primary distributors for this,” Reliance Jio president for devices Sunil Dutt told reporters here this evening.

When asked about how much the company has spent out of its Rs 1 trillion capital into the telecom venture, Reliance Group deputy CFO V Srikanth said it has almost completed the capex by spending close to Rs. 93,000 crore so far.

But, he ruled out any fresh capital infusion into the telecom venture saying the company is well-capitalised now.

Anshuman Thakur, head of business strategy development at Reliance Jio said, the company has tied up with five OEMs for handsets and the company will begin by offering 4G services through its own Lyf brand smartphones that will allow customers to make Internet-based calls.

He also said going forward the company will start manufacturing the handsets locally and the work is on in this regard.

The second leg of the roll-out will have MiFi handsets, Thakur added.

“Though we wanted to have the first batch of handsets to be locally made, things could not progress as planned. But our commitment to local manufacturing is not negotiable,” Dutt said.

“Reliance Retail will soon launch its own brand of 4G LTE smartphones under the brand Lyf. The brand built on the premise of unmatched user experience will offer high-performance handsets that deliver a true 4G experience comparable to the best in the world,” Thakur said.

The company is likely to offer Lyf handsets with dual SIM facility and is expected to be available in the market from November.

On telecom mast sharing plans, Thakur said the company has already notified the DoT about its tie-up with Rcom in seven circles under which it will share Rcom towers in the 850 MHz band.

“We have tied up with Rcom for seven circles for the 850 MHz band spectrum, which takes care of about 35 per cent of the market. We are also in discussions with other operators for tower/spectrum sharing as well as spectrum trading, provided there is consensus on pricing,” Thakur said.

The 4G smartphones will enable customers to make Internet-based calls like voice over LTE (VoLTE), voice over Wi-Fi (VoWi-FI), high definition voice and high definition quality video calling on Jio network.

The company holds the highest amount of liberalised spectrum among telecom operators which can be used for deploying any technology for mobile services. It has a total of 751.1 MHz spectrum across 800 MHz, 1800 MHz and 2300 MHz bands.

“Jio plans to provide seamless 4G services using LTE in 800 MHz, 1800 MHz and 2300 MHz bands through an integrated ecosystem,” the company said, adding it has substantially completed its network rollout across the country and the network is currently being tested and optimised.

There are 10,000 testers doing quality testing across the country now. As we move closer to launch, we will add more testers, Thakur added.

Reliance chairman Mukesh Ambani in June had told the shareholders that the company would launch the much-awaited telecom services by December, offering high-speed data, digital commerce, media and payment services for about Rs. 300-500 per month, wherein it will sell smartphones at affordable rates of Rs. 4,000-5,000 apiece as well as high-end ones.

iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus Launched in India to an Enthusiastic Response

The iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus launched in India on Friday with eager customers queuing up at midnight outside Apple retailers across cities like Mumbai and Delhi to be amongst the first to get their hands on Apple’s newest smartphones.

“Thanks to all our customers in India who queued at midnight for the new iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus!” Apple CEO Tim Cook tweeted. Pre-bookings have been open for the last few days, though there are no official numbers on how many people have pre-ordered the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus in India.

The iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus come with new 3D touch, which is a pressure sensitive screen that lets you perform different actions dependent on the amount of pressure you put. For example, you can hard press to preview content, while tap normally to go view it as usual.

(Also see:  iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus: Top 10 New Features)

The iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus come with a new 12-megapixel rear camera that also supports 4K video recording. Apple claims improved colour accuracy, quicker autofocus, and enhanced lowlight performance. Front camera has been bumped up to 5-megapixels. Apple is introducing technology where the display will light up to act as flash for the front camera.

The iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus also feature new ‘live photos’ that let you capture audio to go with your ‘photos’, including frames just before and after the moment you capture. They also come with a new Touch ID fingerprint scanner that’s twice as fast.

The iPhone 6s starts at Rs. 62,000 for the 16GB variant, while the iPhone 6s Plus starts at Rs. 72,000 for the same storage capacity. The 64GB and 128GB variants of the iPhone 6s are priced at Rs. 72,000 and Rs. 82,000 respectively, while the iPhone 6s Plus costs Rs. 82,000 and Rs. 92,000 for the same storage capacities.

Gadget Ogling: Smarter Smartphone Gaming, Modular Watches, and Vampiric Charging Cables

Welcome, one and all, to another edition of Gadget Dreams and Nightmares, the column that somehow musters the energy to scour the latest in gadget announcements for those that deserve our praise or scorn, while still full of turkey from this week’s Canadian Thanksgiving.

In our post-poultry bliss, we look at a smartphone with a focus on encryption, a modular smartwatch, a game controller for mobile devices, and a cable to power your own device with someone else’s.

These are not reviews. The ratings are related only to how much I wish to try each item and give no indication as to how likely I am to buy them in the day-after-Thanksgiving sales that Canada doesn’t get anyway.

Steady as You Game

I don’t enjoy playing complex games on a smartphone. Using the screen as both input and output device makes matters complicated, so I tend to steer clear of any game that requires more than single taps or simple swipes.

There are a number of game controllers around for smartphones, however, and the Satechi Wireless Gamepad (pictured above) is one of the latest. The Bluetooth device is compatible with iOS, Android and Windows phones, and it keeps the device steady while you play in a spring holder.

It looks akin to many console controllers, particularly XBox. I’d love to try one out, though I have concerns over how many mobile game developers provide support for third-party controllers.

It’s a little bulky as well, so I can’t exactly imagine myself carting this around to play games on public transport.

Rating: 3 out of 5 Double Jumps

Phone Protection

We’ve seen some security-oriented smartphones before — from BlackBerry to Blackphone — but with BlackBerry straining for market share and Blackphone not exactly a household name, there’s a space in the market for another company to wade in.

Archos is making a play with the GranitePhone. It runs a version of Android underneath Sikur’s encrypted GraniteOS. It’s not quite clear at this point how much of the typical Android service you’ll be able to use, though GraniteOS provides encryption on functions including calls, messages, and cloud storage.

archos-sikur-granitephone

The hardware specifications are mid-range for a 2015 smartphone: Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 processor, 2GB of RAM, 16GB internal storage, a 5-inch, 1080p-resolution screen, and 10-megapixel back and 8-megapixel front cameras.

Details unfortunately are sparse at the moment as to how the encryption works and how the device functions. There’s possibly a market for the GranitePhone among those in search of a high-security smartphone, but at US$850, I expect that market will be somewhat niche.

I’m intrigued enough to try it, though — as long as it can run Netflix, that is.

Rating: 3 out of 5 Encrypted Selfies

Transformable Timepiece

Longtime readers of this column may recall my enthusiasm for modular smartphone systems like Phonebloks and Google’s Project Ara. Modular design is a fascinating concept, and I’m somewhat excited to see a company bringing it to smartwatches.

The base model of Blocks is available to anyone willing to pledge $195 to its crowdfunding campaign. Features include fitness and sleep trackers, calendar, text messages, notifications, and voice memos. For an extra $55 or more, you can soup up the smartwatch with modules that add essentially act as links in the strap.

The existing modules include those for extra battery, heart rate, GPS, near-field communications for contactless payments and data transfer, and one that measures altitude, pressure and temperature. There are myriad planned modules, including ones for SIM cards, LED, programmable buttons, air quality, camera, gestures, flash memory and body temperature. The open platform means we could see third-party modules that go much further out of the box.

It really seems like this is a smartwatch that can completely replace a smartphone for those who tend not to browse too much, or lwho ook less at their screen in general. It’s not quite there yet, but the potential of Blocks is exciting, and I think many people will derive more value from this than a one-size-fits-all smartwatch from larger manufacturers.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Links to the Future

Jolt of Life

If you’re in a bind and your smartphone is low on power, LifeCable allows you to connect to another device and draw power from it. Since it has both Lightning and micro USB connectors, there’s a broad range of gadgets from which you can draw energy — but let’s face it, it’s probably going to be someone else’s smartphone.

It’s a clever idea, but it raises all sorts of moral questions. What if you and your friend both have a battery in need of a boost? How do you decide who gets priority? Are you really going to be that person at a party who leeches electricity from everyone else?

The regular retail price for LifeCable is $35, which is enough to buy two or three budget portable battery packs. Those offer far more flexibility than a LifeCable, which is essentially useless if there’s no one else around to offer a top up from their battery. For those reasons, especially, I’d much rather pick up a portable battery pack than one of these.

Intex Aqua Ace Review: Specifications Aren’t Everything

Just a short while after reviewing the Intex Aqua Trend (Review | Pictures), we have another model from the same company in our hands for review. The Aqua Trend underwhelmed us, especially considering how many strong alternatives are available at or even below the same price. Intex is well known for selling low-cost but somewhat flimsy products, especially PC peripherals. However, a lot of companies have managed to drive prices down in the smartphone industry without compromising on features or materials, and so Intex’s classic formula might not do it any good here.

Today, we have a slightly more premium model, the Intex Aqua Ace, in for review. Priced at Rs. 12,999, this phone will find itself going up against some very polished, premium products. We’re hoping Intex can impress us and show that it’s able to compete in a market very different to the one it has thrived in so far.

intex_aqua_ace_left_ndtv.jpgLook and feel
Immediately upon opening its box, we’re struck by how derivative the design of the Intex Aqua Ace is. The metallic rim running around the sides is highly reminiscent of Sony’s product lineup (with hints of Apple thrown in) and has been used by multiple manufacturers over the years. Picking it up for the first time, we were struck by how light this phone felt – it’s all plastic, including the rim. While some phones manage to feel reassuring even though they’re light, this one feels quite insubstantial.

Our white and gold review unit looks okay, but it won’t turn heads. The front is quite plain, except for the earpiece and black patches where the front camera and sensors are. The screen has narrow borders on the sides, and the area below it is blank because of the use of on-screen buttons. The rear is quite minimalist; thankfully devoid of garish branding.

intex_aqua_ace_upperfront_ndtv.jpgThe Micro-USB port for data and charging is up on top, next to the standard 3.5mm audio socket. There appear to be two speaker grilles on the bottom, though only one of them is actually a speaker – the other is only for symmetry. The power and volume buttons are on the right, placed slightly lower than we’d have liked. Also on the right is a tray for a microSD card. Mirroring it on the left is another tray which can hold two Micro-SIM cards. At least you don’t have to sacrifice one SIM for additional storage, or vice versa.

The front and back are apparently made of Gorilla Glass 3, and we found that the Aqua Ace, much like some of Sony’s models, slid around way too easily when lying flat on a table. We were disappointed to see that the plastic rim around the edges started picking up scuffs and scratches within a day of perfectly ordinary usage.

intex_aqua_ace_rearcover_ndtv.jpgWe’d recommend using the bundled snap-on flip cover if it had been a little more attractive. Interestingly, the flip cover has a huge transparent panel which lets you use the touchscreen through it. It’s not very smooth, but good enough for picking up calls or quickly checking notifications. It also stays shut with a magnet, and the phone can turn the screen on or off automatically when you flip it open or closed.

Specifications
Intex has gone with a relatively modern quad-core, 1.3GHz MediaTek MT6735 processor. One of the phone’s most loudly touted features is that it comes with 3GB of RAM, which is not common at this price level. There’s also 16GB of storage (of which just over 10GB is user accessible), and thankfully microSD card support goes all the way up to 128GB. There’s no USB-OTG support – an odd omission.

intex_aqua_ace_right_ndtv.jpgWhile 3GB of RAM might be impressive on paper, we’re disappointed to see the tradeoffs. Intex has for some reason chosen a 720×1280-pixel Amoled panel, which is now quite unimpressive for a 5-inch screen at this price level. The screen is grainy and dull, with reasonable viewing angles but poor sunlight visibility. You can immediately feel that this screen is below par.

LTE is supported on Band 40 for use on current Indian networks. Everything else is fairly standard: there’s Wi-Fi b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0 and even FM radio. The rear camera has a 13-megapixel sensor and the one in front has a 5-megapixel sensor. The battery is of course sealed in, and its relatively low capacity of 2300mAh has us a little wary.

intex_aqua_ace_slots_ndtv.jpgThe Aqua Ace comes with Android 5.1 with minimal cosmetic customisation, mostly for the worse. The default icon set is quite ugly. There’s also a custom keyboard which we found troublesome to use, and we disabled it almost immediately. There’s an option to hide any app of your choosing, but not with a password or PIN – you just have to hope no one discovers the feature themselves.

There are a few preloaded apps including Auto Call Record, which is pretty self-explanatory; Information, a listing of some of the phone’s specifications; Intex Service, which helps you locate a service centre; and one called Tethering & Portable Hotspot which is nothing but a shortcut to that page in the Settings app. Otherwise, there’s only the usual Google apps.

intex_aqua_ace_cover_ndtv.jpgPerformance
As already stated, the Intex Aqua Ace’s screen did not impress us much. It’s good enough for most purposes but we’ve seen a lot better at this price level. We had an issue with the phone heating up, even when nothing particularly stressful was going on. It actually became a little uncomfortable to hold at times. Another odd finding was that the phone didn’t seem to be able to pick up 4G service in places that other phones have consistently worked fine. The SAR rating of 1.070W/kg is a little higher than average.

We were surprised to detect slight stutter in our 720p video files which otherwise play perfectly on pretty much every phone these days. At least one 1080p test video had abnormal artefacts and could not play without tearing. The inbuilt speaker delivered muddy, distorted sound even at low volume levels. The bundled headset is absolutely dreadful for music but okay for voice calls.

Benchmark tests were pretty good all around. We scored 13,683 overall in Quadrant and 28,397 in AnTuTu. Graphics tests were also reasonably good, with 3,211 points in 3DMark Ice Storm Extreme and 15fps in GFXbench, though the latter is easily explained by the low-res screen.

Intex_Aqua Ace_camsample_day_ndtv.jpgIntex_Aqua Ace_camsample_indoors_ndtv.jpgIntex_Aqua Ace_camsample_night_ndtv.jpg(Click to see full size)

The cameras turned out to be major disappointments as well. Shots taken in daylight had a high risk of coming out poorly focused. Details were lost and there was a generally artificial quality to the way everything looked. Even extreme close-ups couldn’t make up for the camera’s shortcomings. Shots taken indoors were far worse, and we soon gave up on trying to take any decent photos at night. The flash was overpowering enough to ruin shots.

On the other hand, we had a very pleasant surprise when our video loop battery test kept going for 10 hours, 14 minutes. We had been expecting much less considering the relatively low battery capacity.

intex_aqua_ace_box_ndtv.jpgVerdict
Intex is trying to push this phone with the angle that 3GB of RAM is path-breaking at this price range, but to be honest, it doesn’t make any difference. We’d much rather have had a better display and build quality. We had our doubts about how long this phone could possible run, but battery life turned out to be a pleasant surprise.

All things considered, it seems that Intex has still not managed to perfect its formula. There are better phones to be had at this price point and even below it, such as the slightly larger Lenovo K3 Note (Review | Pictures), the Xiaomi Mi 4i (Review), and the Motorola Moto G (Gen 3) (Review).

Download the Gadgets 360 app for Android and iOS to stay up to date with the latest tech news, product reviews, and exclusive deals on the popular mobiles.

Where Does Apple Pay Stand On Its First Birthday?

While the “year of Apple Pay,” as Apple CEO Tim Cook dubbed 2015, still has a ways to go, the product’s first anniversary is rapidly approaching. And, considering Android Pay’s recent unveiling, it seems that its competitors are, as well. So, as we prepare to celebrate, the question is: How are things going?

The Good News: Building A Lead And Sticking To The Plan

More Competition Is Good News. Some might consider events like Google Wallet completing its transformation to Android Pay and Samsung throwing its hat into the mobile payments ring to be bad news for the months’-old Apple Pay. But it’s actually great news.

More major players placing bets on the wallet’s extinction will turn up the heat on merchants to add payment terminals that support the technology and expedite consumer education. With the necessary infrastructure in place, Apple can simply rely on the popularity of its phones to do the rest. How are Blackberry and the Microsoft Zune doing, by the way?

New iPhone Sales Cycle. Last October, when Apple Pay was released, only about 12 percent of iPhone users had models compatible with the service. That figure has increased to roughly 47 percent, and is expected to continue spiking thanks to the September 25 release of the iPhone 6s and the company’s newly unveiled upgrade incentives that promise to maximize 6-series penetration. More people possessing the ability to use Apple Pay obviously is good news.

Laying The Foundation For Micro-Merchant Adoption Growth. Commerce has become increasingly populist in recent years, as the ubiquity of intuitive technology and a recession-fueled entrepreneurship bubble have combined to create a new breed of single-person, smartphone-based businesses.

Apple’s recently announced partnership with PayAnywhere to create a mobile card reader that supports contactless payments reflects the company’s recognition of this important trend, and infuses a dose of competition into the space. Square also is expected to release an Apple Pay-compatible reader shortly after Apple’s version. Having more of these readers on the streets, no matter who makes them, will reduce barriers to Apple Pay adoption.

More major players placing bets on the wallet’s extinction will turn up the heat on merchants to add payment terminals that support the technology.

More Card Issuers Participating. In recent months, Apple has announced a steady stream of new banks and credit unions that will support Apple Pay: 59 in May, 12 in June, 35 in July and 64 in August. Now, Apple Pay has more than 400 financial institution partners overall. Some — including Wells Fargo, Bank of America and Capital One — are even doing the product’s advertising for it. None of that is bad news.

“Strong” Initial Adoption. The extent to which customers have taken to Apple Pay depends on who you ask. If it’s Ed McLaughlin, chief emerging payments officer at MasterCard, he’ll tell you that, “We are seeing strong uptake. But these technologies will take time to grow.” Considering that MasterCard accounts for 23 percent of the credit card market’s purchase volume and 30 percent when it comes to debit cards, this is an opinion that merits attention.

The Bad News: For Many, The Jury Is Still Out

Users Can’t Keep It Up. As everyday consumers have joined early adopters in enjoying Apple Pay access, usage rates have declined. The share of iPhone 6 users who say they use Apple Pay “every chance I get” has fallen from 48 percent in March to 33 percent in June, according to surveys by InfoScout and PYMNTS.com. What’s more, the percentage of people who say they “rarely consider” using Apple Pay increased from 17 percent to 23 percent over that same time period.

Some may ascribe this to the natural rhythms of a product launch, but a continuation of this brief trend would undoubtedly lead to more fervent calls for alarm.

Big-Name Merchant Hold-Outs. There’s an interesting competitive dynamic emerging in the mobile payments space. While most of Apple Pay’s competitors are welcome, because they bring infrastructure that Apple Pay can leverage, CurrentC is a problematic exception. Why? Because it’s backed by the likes of Walmart, Best Buy, CVS and Lowe’s — retail titans that are exercising their power to throw a wrench into Apple Pay adoption for millions of iPhone users by not accepting it in their stores. Simply having to think about whether or not you can use your phone as payment at a given store keeps physical wallets in the game. 

Little European Penetration: The European Central Bank Credit caps debit and credit card interchange fees — payments made by card issuers to card networks for facilitating electronic purchases — at roughly 0.5 percent. When you consider that Apple Pay charges 0.15 percent of each transaction, it’s clear why there are concerns among the traditional parties as to whether they will get their fill.

To be fair, Apple Pay has been embraced in many respects across the pond. In the U.K., for example, you can use the service to pay for public transportation. But something has to give in the interchange fee battle before Apple Pay can truly take off on the continent.

If we do away with our wallets in favor of our phones, our ability to pay for things is still at the mercy of the battery.

The Fundamental Problem Still Remains: The absolute biggest roadblock facing Apple Pay and its mobile payment brethren has yet to be overcome. If we do away with our wallets in favor of our phones, our ability to pay for things is still at the mercy of the battery. And, considering how often most of us find ourselves out and about without a charge, especially when unforeseen events come into play, this is still a far too risky gamble to make. As long as people need physical credit cards, debit cards, etc., as backup, Apple Pay’s ultimate vision cannot be realized.

The Competitive Landscape: How Major Mobile Wallets Compare

Apple Pay may be the biggest trailblazer in the space, but it certainly doesn’t have a mobile payments monopoly. So, to truly understand the product’s position in the market, one must consider it within the context of its competitors. The table below compares the most promising mobile wallets based on factors essential to consumer adoption and long-term success.

  Apple Pay Android Pay CurrentC Samsung Pay
Compatible Phones iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 6s and 6s Plus

 

 

Devices with Android 4.4 or higher All iOS and Android devices Galaxy S6, S6 Edge, S6 Edge Plus and Note 5
Point-of-Sale Usability Simple: hover phone over payment terminal and verify with either fingerprint or passcode Simple: hover phone over payment terminal and enter PIN, password or pattern (fingerprint verification available on new devices) Involved:  unlock phone, open app, log in to app and either scan a bar code or tap the phone on a BLE beacon Simple: unlock phone, hover over contactless payment terminal or hold against magnetic stripe reader and verify with fingerprint
Merchant Acceptance 1+ million U.S. locations 1+ million U.S. locations 110,000 U.S. locations (currently available only in Columbus test market) Nearly anywhere that accepts plastic
Bank Participation High: 400+ credit and debit card issuers Moderate: 11 major credit and debit card issuers Low: nearly all checking accounts as well as store cards and gift cards from affiliated retailers Low: only 4 major general-purpose credit card issuers (Bank of America, Citi, American Express and U.S. Bank) and store cards issued by Synchrony Financial
User Privacy High: users are anonymous to merchants and Apple does not store card numbers or personally identifying transaction data Moderate: users are anonymous to merchants but Google stores card information in the cloud Low : CurrentC’s privacy policy enables it to collect personally identifying information about users and their transactions; information collected by CurrentC is not sold High: users are anonymous to merchants and Samsung does not store card numbers or personally identifying transaction data
Security High: card information is replaced with a unique Device Identification Number, which is stored in a secure element on the device and transmitted along with a one-time transaction code via NFC to complete purchases; full card numbers are never stored on Apple’s servers Moderate: card information is tokenized for transactions and transmitted via NFC but uses Host Card Emulation for encryption and storage in the cloud Moderate:  No payment information is stored in the app or on the device; account information is tokenized and stored in the cloud; transactions are completed in the cloud using a dynamic QR code, rather than passing account information through the POS High: card information is encrypted, stored in a trusted execution environment on the device, tokenized for each transaction and transmitted via either NFC or MST 

 

Note: The information in this table was reviewed by Apple, CurrentC and Samsung. Google did not respond within the timeframe provided.Services may be compatible with devices other than phones, such as tablets and smart watches, but we focused on phones because they will be the primary mode of use.

Conclusion

Apple Pay has a few notable weaknesses, but they are ultimately overshadowed by its many significant strengths. And while it might not end up dominating the market to quite the same extent as iPhones do, it’s certainly clear that Apple Pay is here to stay.

Mobile payment technology appears to be a tide capable of lifting at least a few of the best-positioned boats, after all. In-store mobile payments are expected to post a 1,000 percent year-over-year increase in 2015, according to Deloitte, with Juniper Research projecting a 100 percent increase for mobile payments overall from 2015 through 2016.