Chronicles of Urban Nomads – literary review

The Chronicles of Urban Nomads is a collection of short stories written by various authors selected through a nationwide hunt by Readomania. Sutapa Basu has excelled herself in editing the short story anthology. Her expertise in the field of editing has helped her wear the mantle of editor in an easy and honourable way.

The book is divided into two sections namely Imagine and Musings. Imagine deals with stories that are narrated by abstract objects whereas Musings is stories in regular format written in an imaginative and compelling manner.

Though written by authors of varying age groups and different backgrounds, one common thread that unites all the stories is the strong sense of ethics and Indianness. Almost all stories deal with issues related to the society and reflect the yearnings of the authors. Read on to know more.

Imagine

The Chronicles of Urban Nomads opens with a caressing tale of love woven with silken threads of a Benarasi Sari. To think that Confessions of a Benarasi Sari might interest only the fairer gender would be a sacrilege, for this story deals not only with the mesmerizing beauty of a Sari, but also about the various obstacles one faces in an Indian society. Ayan Pal’s Sari cloaks you through a maze of emotions and Indianness aptly expressed through eloquent words. The strength of Ayan Pal clearly lies in his use of words that slide and glide over pot holes with ease, making one savor the aroma long after the end of a feast.

The Blue Slippers is a contrast from the light – hearted stories floating around these days. This tale digs deep into the darker side of the society and reminds one of the stark realities of life. Kirthi Jayakumar has portrayed the sufferings – frequent in India and elsewhere, effectively through the eyes of a camera. Kirthi’s forte is certainly the pathos expressed subtly, that pains your heart and makes you to pause reading and ponder.

The old man with the long ear lobes dressed in his pyjamas remains firmly etched in your mental vision. So vivid is the depiction of the man by Ashay Abbhi that one can see the character in any old person one chances to look at in the streets.  The mentality of an old man living alone has been described in words that never fail to make the readers understand the emotions necessary to make the story a complete one. Ashay’s The Wait should not be kept waiting.

My Soulmate is a fast moving story that voices the author’s concern for the nation’s youth. Janneker Lawrence Daniel’s strength lies in the creation of powerful and believable characters that remain inside your head. The fickle-mindedness of teenagers is poignantly brought out in the story. The desire to know the identity of the narrator burns you as you read, but the author has skillfully maintained the suspense till the end with his language skills. The initial chase and the racy end to the climax are enough to keep one’s eyes glued to the book.

The Masterpiece by Rounak Nayak is certainly a masterpiece. Rounak’s diary unfolds the story of a couple destined to love each other under different circumstances. The story takes us through the ups and downs of the leading couple. The author excels in giving life to the diary in the shop – the diary that is the narrator. One could almost smell the dust on the diary as it kept waiting for the protagonist to lay his hand on it.

Everyone is involved in a war at all times. One’s heart and mind are always at loggerheads. That is exactly the crux of A Vicious Battle. But, what a battle the reader is to witness when he/she reads this story! The jabs and hooks in the first paragraph alert you as to what to expect further. Aravind Sampath’s definition of love is not lost on the audience as the powerful story dazes you with its speed. Look out for yourself when you read the next work of Aravind. He just might surprise you with a left hook.

Purnima Verma transports you to the battle field and the turmoil faced by the family members of the armed forces. The guns blaze around you and the tanks shell mercilessly, while back home, relatives huddle in front of televisions fearfully for the outcome of war, fearing the worst, but hoping for the best. The love between a soldier and his love is expressed beautifully. An Engagement Ring is not just an engagement ring, but a ring of magical words enthralling the readers.

A Little Nugget of Fear has nothing little about it anywhere. Deepti Menon’s work is brilliant enough to remind us of the magnificence of R. K. Narayan. Does the astrologer tell the truth or is Supriya bound by her mind’s inability to think out of the fearsome atmosphere in which she was brought up? Deepti’s creation is the Indian society brought to you in a platter, with each dish dealing with a different issue so prevalent currently. Her strength is the choice of words.

Bhaswar Mukherjee’s EFIL is a tremendous undertaking for any writer. But he has carried the story effortlessly in all areas. Bhaswar’s knowledge of history and his language skills definitely give an edge to his writings. The reader cannot but resist the urge to talk to an inanimate object, expecting it to reply. The story makes one’s desire to visit the Burj increase manifold.

Musings

The Last Letter is a heart wrenching story that moistens your eyes when you read. The deep love between the father and the child and the pathetic condition in which they are left are enough to melt a heart of stone. Dipankar Mukherjee’s forte is certainly the portrayal of emotions effectively. The words used are apt and show a particular aspect of the Indian society.

The Face on the Canvas by Pradeep Moitra is startlingly new in its approach. The rustic landscape of India, its beauty and the behavior of people living in the hills tumble out through the pen of Pradeep. The dialogues in the story speak of strong Indian values and the compassion and hospitality of Indians. The character of Prabhudayal is quite unique in its creation. Pradeep paints the Indian scenario effectively in this story.

Japneet Boyal’s Arranged Marriage takes you through the busy streets of Delhi and showcases the immense love Japneet has for the city. Life in New York is explained well enough for the readers to experience the gay climate when they read the story. The emotions surging through and between the couple are wrought forth without compromising on the language front. Japneet has created a climax that is enjoyable.

Jagadish Nadanalli’s story will have you in splits of laughter and tears. Bachelor and Baby is a sweet tale of the blossom of innocent love between a bachelor and a small girl. The pranks of the children in the apartment, the reprimands of the parents and the innocence of Baby makes one shuffle between mirth and sorrow. Scenes that bring to light unfair treatment meted out to bachelors in India are eye-openers. Jagadish has ended the story in a light vein, making the reader breathe easy.

Rahul Biswas has portrayed one side of the corporate world that is often called evil. Hopes and Promises deals with the temptations one could possibly undergo in an office when thrown into one another’s paths. The dangers of proximity, its consequences and the able methods employed by the characters to come out of it make this story a good read. Rahul’s language skill is certainly desirable and makes this story pleasing to be read.

Shravya Gunipudi’s A Shackled Destiny definitely has the destiny of shackling the readers with its unforgettable characters and storyline. Shravya has sketched the image of a mother in love accurately. The old woman just refuses to get away from your head. The words used to express the love and affection for her son makes one’s eyes misty. Shravya’s strength is her defining characters.

Rendezvous by Shloka Shankar is an ordinary tale made extra-ordinary by her powerful narration. The scene described in the story could have happened in anyone’s life. Yet, the thoughts and ideas expressed by the pair in the story and the issues concerning relationships dealt in the story make this an interesting read. It is the author’s skill that has brought out the story well.

Niranjan Navalgund’s characters play a game of hide, search and find in Hide and Seek. The idea used by the author is novel and the inclusion of poem by one of the characters brings out Niranjan’s interest and skill in poetry. Leaving about clues and hints makes this story to border ever so lightly on the mystery genre.

Mandira by Anupama Jain brings out into the open the traumatizing experience of a small girl, her detachment from family, her studies, her affair as a young doctor, her realization of her action and consequences. Human relationship has been explained without a hitch by Anupama. Her language skills make one understand vividly, the inner turmoil of Mandira, the leading character.

Finding Mia by Roopa Raveendran Menon deals with the conflict inside the head of Mina. Roopa’s characters are depicted in a unique way, making the reader visualize Mia and Mina. The narration of love in the family and the pain in the eyes and behavior of the parents are areas in which the author moves effortlessly. The banyan tree and the mansion give you the creeps. Roopa’s strength is her ability to shift emotions.

The Chronicles of Urban Nomads is a book that is not to be missed. True, there are innumerable anthologies cramming the market. However, COUN stands out for the multitude of emotions, issues, cultures and genres brought in a single book. And that is a treasure worth its weight in gold!

 Rating: 4.5/5

BlackBerry Classic Review: For Those in Love With the Past

 

Looking back at the road BlackBerry has taken over the past few years, we see a lot of bumps, detours and U-turns. The world has changed a lot since the Canadian firm was on top, and we’re now used to six-month refresh cycles and super-slim devices with insanely fast processors, super-crisp screens and phenomenal cameras. BlackBerry doesn’t have the sort of momentum it would need to compete at that level again, but even so, devices such as the Z3 and Passport have made it seem as though there is a competent driver in the seat again.

The BlackBerry Classic, as its name suggests, is a return to the old formula that made BlackBerries successful in the first place. Is it a sign that the company is desperate enough to throw out years of change in order to cling to whichever fans it has left? Do people still want the things that first attracted them to BlackBerry devices? We’re eager to answer those questions and also see if the Classic has anything to tempt new users with.

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Look and feel
First of all, this phone is bulky. Even by BlackBerry standards, it’s heavier, wider and taller than many of its predecessors and you’ll definitely notice the difference between this phone and the popular waifs of today from Apple, Samsung, Sony and others. That’s partially because of the keyboard and “utility belt” including an optical trackpad, but also because the screen is quite a bit bigger than the ones on the much-loved Bold and Curve series devices. BlackBerry clearly had to balance physical size with up-to-date features, and this is the result.

Unlike the Passport that came before it, the Classic doesn’t look very premium. It’s all plastic, including the grey band bordering the front. The rear has an interesting texture which makes it very easy to grip, but again makes the Classic feel more brutish than refined. This is the first device since BlackBerry released its BB10 platform to combine touch controls and the old-school trackpad, and you’ll see it in its traditional spot, front and centre.

The trackpad and its associated buttons were brought back apparently by popular demand, after having been dropped in favour of a touchscreen-only experience with the Q5 and Q10. We’ve pointed out before that BB10’s gesture-based interface is not the easiest to get used to, and it seems that the message has finally gotten through.

The keyboard is laid out flat, without the slight upward curve that many previous devices have had. Thankfully, it has four rows and pretty much the standard BB layout – not the three-row hybrid that BlackBerry created for the Passport. It’s comfortable and easy to get used to.

The Nano-SIM and microSD card slots are in individual trays on the right, while the volume buttons are on the right with a button between them that triggers the BlackBerry Assistant’s voice functions. The power button is right in the centre of the top, which we found inconvenient. The 3.5mm headset socket is also on top, and the Micro-USB port is on the bottom.

The rear panel is not removable and the battery is not accessible. A slightly protruding strip runs along the upper rear and houses the camera on one end. On the other is a rather overstated “Classic” logo. Overall, this phone doesn’t have the same kind of iconic appeal that previous models have had.

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Specifications
On the inside, BlackBerry has gone with a dual-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm MSM8960 processor, the Snapdragon S4 Plus, which is now several years old. We’ve seen it before in the BlackBerry Z10 and that phone is old enough to make this very disappointing. It’s a far cry from the modern Snapdragon 801 in the Passport.

The screen measures 3.5 inches diagonally and is perfectly square. It has the same 720×720 resolution as the Q5 and Q10, but is a bit larger. It’s crisp and bright enough – definitely a step up from older models but not as sharp as the one on the Passport.

There’s 2GB of RAM and 16GB of built-in storage, though micro-SD cards of up to 128GB are supported. The battery has a 2,515mAh capacity. Wi-Fi b/g/n is supported along with Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, NFC and even FM radio. BlackBerry states that LTE will work on Indian bands. The rear camera has an 8-megapixel sensor while the one on the front is 2 megapixels.

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Software and usability
The Classic ships with BlackBerry OS 10.3.1, which is much the same as the software that shipped with the Passport. The Amazon App Store is preloaded, and so you can download Android apps without any hiccups. BlackBerry World is still there too, and unfortunately you’ll have to go through both separately if you want to check whether a native app is available before downloading an Android version. When installing apps, a security mechanism called BlackBerry Guardian kicks in and will let you know if malware is detected or if apps have known compatibility issues with BB OS.

Common Android apps run well enough, considering the hardware available, but there will be scaling issues thanks to the square screen and compatibility issues with apps that use Google Play services. The Classic displays a message the first time you run an Android app informing you that you can change the scaling to fit the screen.

You can navigate around using the trackpad as well as the touchscreen. In most cases, it’s possible to avoid using the BB10 gestures altogether. Since this phone has physical Call and End buttons, the soft Phone button on all menu screens has been replaced by a Hub button. You can still reach the Hub by scrolling left from the first homescreen too.You’ll notice a blue highlight around controls and text fields when you skim a finger across the trackpad, and there’s even a little cursor that you can move around the screen in the browser. For the most part, direct-selection touchscreen conventions happily coexist with trackpad-cursor conventions and you can safely ignore either if you’re more comfortable with the other.

Running apps are still shown as tiles on the first homescreen, and you can use the Back button to kill them when selected. Up to eight tiles can be open but only four fit on screen. A little icon on the bottom shows you if there are more above or below the ones you can see. Swiping the trackpad first moves the cursor between elements on screen, and clicking the scroll bar on the bottom lets you flick between menu pages.

Typing should come naturally to any legacy BlackBerry user, and there are loads of predefined and configurable shortcuts too. When on any homescreen, you can press and hold keys to launch apps or speed dial contacts. Within the Hub, you can quickly move around and perform actions such as jumping to the top and bottom of your inbox list or a message body by tapping T and B respectively. R opens a reply and F lets you forward a message.

The End button takes you out of any app and back to the first homescreen. We could never quite get the hang of the swipe gestures required on previous BB10 devices, so we quickly became used to using that as a Home button.

Things like the Hub feel a little cramped on the 3.5-inch screen, but the tradeoff is a keyboard that’s actually quite good. However we aren’t sure how many smartphone users are still QWERTY loyalists – there were plenty who claimed they would never get used to touchscreens in the beginning, but are now happily accustomed to iOS or Android. BlackBerry doesn’t just have to be as good as its competitors – it has to be better than them.

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Performance
We found that the BlackBerry platform suffered a little in terms of responsiveness, attributable to the aged processor powering the Classic. It has enough power to for the OS itself to chug along, but that’s about it. Apps take a while to load, and there’s a long, annoying animation as you’re forced back to the first homescreen, a new tile appears, and then zooms to fill the screen.

Audio and video files play well, but you won’t enjoy movies much on the square screen. The Classic comes with a neat headset with flat tangle-resistant cables, a lapel clip, and replaceable fitted rubber ear tips. It sounds good, but is a bit too soft.

Call quality is predictably solid, but what impressed us most of all was this phone’s battery life. Despite having a perfectly ordinary battery, it lasted for a very impressive 14 hours, 54 minutes in our video loop test. This might not be directly comparable to other phones thanks to the non-standard screen aspect ratio, but it’s still a fantastic result.

As with the BlackBerry Passport, the Classic did not run most of our Android-based benchmarks, and even if it did, we wouldn’t count the results as comparable thanks to the software translation required. SunSpider and Mozilla Kraken, which runs in the browser, gave us scores of 1,285.9ms and 29042.1ms respectively, which are both considerably poorer than the Passport managed.

The camera takes 1:1 photos by default which fills up the screen nicely but doesn’t work all that well anywhere else. We found that the camera took way too long to lock focus – moving objects weren’t captured well. Tapping the screen rather than letting the Classic autofocus turned out better in most situations.

Photos looked oversaturated on the Classic’s screen but were more accurate when reviewed on a PC monitor. Quality wasn’t all that great – we noticed quite a lot of compression which made objects seem artificial. Low-light results were highly unpredictable in terms of noise and sharpness, and objects at even a slight distance were not captured clearly. Videos are recorded at 720p by default and are a little shaky, with predictably low detail levels even in bright daylight.

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Verdict
Maybe the Classic could have been a serious contender a few years ago, but like most things BlackBerry has done since its decline began, it’s just too little too late. The Classic could have helped the company maintain its momentum, but it won’t bring back users who have already moved on. Sure it has a physical keyboard, but people seem fine with Swype or Swiftkey if not iOS and Android’s stock offerings. Sure it handles email and messaging like a pro, but that isn’t worth the other tradeoffs. Sure it has world-class security features for ultra-rigid organisations, but it isn’t the only game in town anymore.

The BlackBerry Classic could still be a secondary work-only phone for a lot of people. Considering its official price tag of Rs. 31,990, it will appeal only to die-hard BlackBerry loyalists. The Samsung Galaxy S5, for instance, is available online for slightly less and comes across as a device that most people would be happier to own.

Further dampening its appeal, everything about this phone, from its looks to its capabilities, screams mid-range. Think of it more as a spiritual successor to the Curve series than the Bold series. BlackBerry clearly wants to reserve the big guns for devices it considers more modern. Maybe the Classic could be a stepping stone for legacy users who buy it for the hardware but eventually get comfortable enough with BB10 to move on to a Passport or other future device.

 

iPhone 6 Review: The Most Appealing iPhone Ever

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]pple finally gave the iPhone a much-needed rethink, and the result is a product that is more like its competition than ever before, but also stands out just as well, if not better, in a seriously overcrowded market. The big talking point is its screen size – months of leaks told us nearly everything we needed to know long before the actual launch happened – but there’s also plenty more to explore. As always, Apple has managed to deliver more power, better aesthetics, improved cameras, and all-new software.

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The iPhone 6 shares a lot with its larger sibling, the iPhone 6 Plus. They’re obviously designed to look similar, butApple has also made sure they’re very similar to use. The iPhone 6 is still just as much of a premium device as ever; not a lower-end version of a new flagship. A lot of what we’ve said in that exhaustive review of the 6 Plus will apply to the iPhone 6 as well.

Apple’s unique position lets it control and tightly integrate the hardware and software experiences of its products. We see all of this and more in this year’s new iPhones.

Look and feel
Gone are the flat edges and sharp angles of the iPhone 5s. The iPhone 6 feels smooth and slick, with a lovely dark glass front that looks like a pool of ink. The glass is raised above its rim and is curved at the edges so that it meets the metal in a smooth curve. It seems as though the glass could shatter very easily if this phone is dropped and lands on a corner, which is just one of many reasons to invest in a case of some sort.

Another good reason is that the rear of the iPhone 6 is one of the least attractive designs we’ve ever seen coming out of Apple. The plastic antenna lines intersecting the metal body are just too prominent. There’s a bunch of regulatory text and logos which we wish could have been less prominent, and then of course there’s the infamous camera bulge. The little nubbin really does stick out prominently, and we couldn’t help fidgeting with it when holding the iPhone 6 in our hands.

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The top is blank, because the power button has now been moved to the upper right side, just above the Nano-SIM card tray. This will be disconcerting for long-time iPhone users. The move was probably not necessary, given this phone’s still-manageable size, but it keeps things consistent with the design of the iPhone 6 Plus. The ringer mute switch and volume buttons are on the left edge per usual, and the Lightning port and headset socket are on the bottom. We cannot overstate the quality of Apple’s fabrication and machining processes; all the buttons have just the right feel, and even the charger’s Lightning connector slips into its port with a satisfying thunk.

This is a very satisfying phone to hold and to use. We didn’t think Apple needed to make its iPhones any slimmer, but we really like the iPhone 6 when we hold it in our hands. The weight and balance are also just right, so we’re glad Apple finally embraced the idea of producing a bigger phone.

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Specifications
The iPhone 6 uses Apple’s new A8 processor, designed in-house but based on the industry-standard ARM architecture. There’s a separate co-processor called the M8 for sensor input, which helps save battery life by allowing the A8 to go to sleep while physical activity is constantly detected and processed in the background.

The screen is of course larger than those on the iPhone 5 generation models but still a lot smaller than the one on the iPhone 6 Plus. The resolution isn’t a huge bump up from that of the iPhone 5 series, and the pixel density is exactly the same. We liked the crisp, bright display on the 6 Plus, and while the one on the iPhone 6 is just as good in terms of quality, it doesn’t feel very exciting. Competitors have long surpassed Apple in terms of resolution, and the difference between some of the current Android flagships and the iPhone 6 is definitely noticeable, if ultimately unimportant.

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There’s 1GB of RAM which seems stingy compared to Android devices today, though we didn’t find this to be much of a problem on the iPhone 6 Plus when we reviewed it. The fact that storage is not expandable is a constant frustration for us – iPhones are already expensive and it just hurts to have to pay a ridiculous amount over and above the starting price just to have enough space to actually use these devices to their full potential.

The relatively new high-speed Wi-Fi ac standard is supported, as is Bluetooth 4.0. LTE is supported on the Indian 2300MHz band and NFC is new to this iPhone generation, but only works with Apple Pay which isn’t available outside the USA yet.

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Software

A large part of the iPhone 6’s appeal lies in iOS – more specifically, iOS 8. Not all features work as well on older iPhones, so software alone is not a strong enough reason to upgrade from a device that’s less than three years old.

iOS 8 has lots of new features, big and small. Little things such as much-improved photo editing tools, Notification Centre widgets, tweaks in Safari and voice messages over iMessage all contribute to making the iPhone 6 a pleasure to use. App extensionsare usually subtle, but this feature represents one of the best new things about iOS, and developers will surely take better advantage of it over time. Custom keyboardswill be a game-changer for Apple, and some truly innovative apps have sprung up letting you do all kinds of things with messages. Improvements to mail handling and iTunes content management area also much appreciated.

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One of the most visible new iOS 8 features is the Health app. This is a little unintuitive to use – you can see an activity dashboard and entries for dozens of trackable metrics, but things only really take off when you download additional apps that use the Healthkit framework and populate all that information. The combination of Healthkit and the M8 coprocessor allow for some very detailed and impressive information gathering. There’s still a lot that could be improved. It’s very un-Apple to have so many things to track – things such as Molybdenum, Peripheral Perfusion Index and Selenium are not within the consciousness of the average user, but there are still ways to track all of them so it seems pointless to present them all right at the beginning.

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The Reachability shortcut, ie double-tapping the Home button to make the screen’s contents slide down towards your fingers, is pretty handy but you have to develop a habit of using it or you might forget it’s there. It’s going to take a long time for apps to be updated with the correct screen resolution and scaling factor, but those that have been optimised look great.

iPhone owners who also use a Mac and/or an iPad might also want to try out the new Continuity features. Some have limited appeal, such as being able to make voice calls from a Mac through an iPhone, whereas the ability to begin composing an email on one device and then just continue from anywhere on another could really improve the way people work.

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Camera
The rear camera is still 8 megapixels, but the lens and sensor have been improved to allow for better low-light shots and colour accuracy. Videos can now be taken with continuous autofocus and improved stabilisation. 120fps slow-motion, which was introduced with the iPhone 5s now coexists with 240fps slow-motion, and there’s a new time-lapse mode in iOS 8 that older phones can also use.

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Apple’s camera app is mostly barebones – there are no fancy special effects or multi-page menus of options. The new capabilities of the iPhone 6 and iOS 8 are thus easy to discover, but it’s beginning to feel as though Apple can’t decide whether to offer more options or keep its interface minimalist.

4K video recording is missing, and the iPhone 6 falls behind its competitors in this regard. Even if you don’t plan on shooting all your videos at such a high resolution, it’s nice to have the option to do so. The cap on storage space would also make it very difficult to store 4K videos.

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We were very happy with the iPhone 6’s camera. Images taken during the day were crisp with accurate colours and superb levels of detail. Closeups were brilliant, and even distant objects were captured very well. Low-light performance was also admirable – the iPhone 6 works very well indoors as well as outdoors, even with minimal artificial or ambient lighting. We were constantly surprised by how well shots came out – there was noticeable noise but details were still well defined when seen at reduced size on a screen. Photos came out looking as though they had been taken in far better light.

Performance
Once again, we’re reminded that numbers and acronyms on a specifications sheet can’t always be used to judge a device. The dual-core Apple A8 processor and its integrated graphics capabilities are more than capable of holding their own against quad- and octa-core products from leading competitors.

We had no problems with the iPhone 6, whether we were playing heavy games, recording high-speed video, multitasking, or just relaxing while browsing the Web. The phone is super-responsive, and unique features such as Apple’s Touch ID sensor just make the whole experience of using an iPhone butter-smooth. There are of course things that aren’t as flexible or functional as they are in Android, but overall, the iOS platform is a joy to use.

Benchmark scores were very, very good. Largely due to the fact that the powerful A8 processor doesn’t have to push itself to drive a very high-res screen, we managed to achieve some superb scores in graphics-intensive benchmarks. GFXBench produced a record high of 50.1fps, while 3DMark Ice Storm was maxed out in the regular and Extreme modes, but posted a score of 17,302 in the Unlimited mode. HD videos also played without a hitch.

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AnTuTu for iOS gave us a phenomenal score of 49,319 points which is practically the same as the 49,353 points the iPhone 6 Plus managed. The test still detects a resolution of 640×1136 though, which explains the similar scores and means they aren’t representative of either device at its native resolution.

Battery life was pretty good, but we were hoping for spectacular. Our video loop test ran for 7 hours, 40 minutes. This is a clear point in favour of the much larger iPhone 6 Plus. Call quality was superb, but we do with Apple could work on better speakers for its iPhones – the single mono speaker on the bottom isn’t very loud or rich, and competitors do much better.

Verdict
As we stated in our review of the iPhone 6 Plus, Apple’s two new devices are very similar in terms of the experience they deliver, with only the screen size setting them apart. Thus, users can choose the screen size (and physical size) that suits them better, without feeling as though they’ve compromised by picking a lesser device either way. In the Android world, larger phones tend to hog all the best features, and “mini” versions are almost always cut down.

That said, the iPhone 6’s relatively smaller body means that the battery is smaller, and the camera has to make do without optical image stabilisation. On the other hand, each iPhone 6 model comes in at Rs. 9,000 less expensive than the equivalent iPhone 6 Plus. We think most people would be better off with a 64GB iPhone 6 than a 16GB iPhone 6 Plus at the same price.

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Specifications shouldn’t fool you into thinking this phone is any less powerful than an Android flagship. If you’ve been waiting for a reason to ditch an old phone and jump onto the Apple bandwagon, the iPhone 6 is one of the best reasons to do so. If you’re thinking of upgrading from an iPhone 4S or earlier, you’ll absolutely love what the iPhone 6 has to offer. Naturally, the difference won’t be as stark for iPhone 5 or 5s owners running iOS 8, and they can easily stick with their current phones for another year or so unless they really feel like splurging.

If you aren’t sure whether you want to choose Android or an iPhone, there are quite a few options to choose from. This generation’s flagships, the Sony Xperia Z3, Samsung Galaxy S5, HTC One (M8) and LG G3 are all larger but most of them are quite a bit less expensive and also offer value in the form of features such as expandable storage and 4K video recording.

One final note: when reviewing new flagship phones, we usually consider whether their own predecessors offer good value, considering how prices tend to fall. Amazingly, the iPhone 5s (16GB) is still officially sold for Rs. 53,500 which is the same price as the iPhone 6! If you can find a 5s in retail for less than Rs. 40,000 today, it’s still a great deal. An official 5s price cut is long overdue, at which point the 32GB model will be cheaper than the 16GB iPhone 6 – this will be a very tempting option indeed.

Courtesy: NDTV

BlackBerry Z3 Review: Sticking to What It Does Best

There’s no denying the fact that BlackBerry (the company formerly known as Research In Motion) has serious problems. Five years ago, everyone from students to housewives to businessmen was willing to pay a lot of money to own a BlackBerry. Three years ago, Android and the iPhone began to make QWERTY phones feel seriously clunky and old-fashioned. Two years ago, we were hoping that the new BlackBerry 10 platform and devices based on it would reinvigorate the company, but ridiculous pricing and questionable decisions at every level destroyed any chance of that happening.

Ever since the launch of the Z10 a year and a half ago, we’ve been waiting for lower-priced models that might offer better value for money and wouldn’t be completely overshadowed by Android. As it stands, there are very few BlackBerry loyalists left, and the majority of those who have moved on to Android or iOS are not going to give the company another chance without a lot of very good reasons. Let’s find out if the new BlackBerry Z3 delivers. (Check out the BlackBerry CLASSIC review here)

Look and feel
BlackBerry really does know how to build beautiful phones. The Z3 is ridiculously good looking and its construction quality is impeccable. As of now, it’s only available in black but we wouldn’t be surprised to see a white edition in the future. The front is all smooth glass, and there really isn’t much bezel space around the screen itself. The rear is made of a texturised soft-touch plastic with the classic BB logo in the centre. For better or worse, the battery is non-removable.

The camera and flash are in the top-left corner of the rear, much like they are on the older Z10. A plastic flap on the phone’s right edge covers the SIM and microSD card slots, while the power button is placed towards the top of the left edge with the volume controls and voice command shortcut button below it. The Micro-USB port is on the bottom and 3.5mm headset port is on the top. The Z3 doesn’t have a mini-HDMI port, which sets it apart from its higher-end siblings.

The Z3 feels good in the hand even if it is just a bit too heavy. It’s slim, slick, and very well put-together. In fact it could put several high-end phones to shame in this regard.

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Features, specifications and software
There’s good news and bad news – while the Z3 is brand new and undoubtedly good-looking, it’s built with mostly utilitarian components. The processor is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 with integrated Adreno 305 graphics, but there’s a generous 1.5GB of RAM to keep things humming along. The screen is a bit of a letdown at 540×960 pixels despite its large size. There’s Wi-Fi b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0 along with A-GPS, FM radio, an accelerometer and a proximity sensor. There’s only 8GB of internal storage space, but microSD cards of up to 32GB are supported (and 64GB cards might work unofficially).

The main attraction is of course the BlackBerry 10 OS. The Z3 comes with version 10.2.1 which is considerably improved over the version that originally shipped with the Z10. The phone might be physically similar to pretty much every other touchscreen smartphone out there, but the BlackBerry OS takes quite a bit of time and effort to get used to, even for users of older non-touch BlackBerrys.

For starters, there are no buttons of any sort to help you move through the OS; you have to remember to use gestures instead. This is problematic because things aren’t always laid out as you might expect them to be, making navigation unpredictable at times. For example, there’s no universal “back” or “home” gesture, and getting in or out of the Hub (described later on) isn’t the same as launching and quitting apps. Moreover, you have to move your thumb quite a lot over the large screen which takes longer and requires more effort than a simple button press would have.

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The Z3’s lock screen is pretty plain. There is of course a large clock, plus assorted status indicators. You’ll see a list of notification icons down the left, and tapping on any of them will bring up details of your missed calls, messages, emails or social network alerts – you can choose not to display these details in the security settings. There’s also a pull-down shade which takes you into bedside mode. This dims the screen and displays a large illuminated clock on which you can easily drag dots indicating the times each of your alarms will ring.

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On unlocking the screen, you’ll see four large thumbnails representing your most recently used apps. A swipe to the right will bring up the BlackBerry Hub, and swipes to the left will take you through as many pages of app icons as you have. The thumbnail page isn’t like conventional app switchers – it shows only four apps – and so its utility is rather limited. You can never be sure that an app you want is going to be there – in fact it gets in the way when you need to get to the app shortcuts.

This is also when we really miss having a home screen or at least a tray that frequently used apps can be pinned to. Of course you can rearrange app icons in the grid any way you like, but the grid itself is always at least one level away from whatever you’re doing. You have to go through the recent apps screen to reach it. Android lets you pin shortcuts and widgets to home screens and even iOS has at least a dock that stays constant on all menu pages.
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Exiting any app (with a swipe upwards from below the edge of the screen to above its middle point) brings you back to the page of recent apps. While performing the gesture, you’ll notice a column of notification icons just like the ones on the lock screen. It’s a great way to constantly be aware of things you might have missed. Incidentally, swiping down from the top of the screen brings up a set of quick shortcuts, but there are no notifications here. This is something every other platform has standardised on, so not finding them here is a little disorienting at first. The settings aren’t consistent – sometimes you’ll see the system-wide panel, sometimes you’ll see app-specific controls, and sometimes you’ll get nothing at all – which means you can’t always quickly get to things like the screen brightness or Bluetooth.

You can get to the BlackBerry Hub by swiping to the right from the screen of thumbnails or by swiping up and then right from within any app (except if you’re in landscape mode, in which the swipe-up motion is awkward and the swipe-up-and-right gesture doesn’t work at all). The Hub is truly unique amongst all smartphone platforms, but like everything else, it takes a while to get used to.

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This is where all your email, messages, app notifications and even missed call alerts can be found. You can add your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Evernote and calendar accounts as well. There is no separate email app; the hub is baked into the foundations of the phone’s OS itself. For some reason, though, there’s still a shortcut icon for Text Messaging in the launcher which leads you to the Hub. You just have to remember that you can’t exit the Hub like it’s a regular app; you can only swipe to the left.

BBM is still a major part of the BlackBerry ecosystem and there are more features for BlackBerry 10 users than there are for iPhone and Android users. It’s also integrated into the Hub as a first-class citizen, whereas some other app alerts are just lumped under Notifications. BBM has several strong features compared to today’s dominant messaging apps, especially in allowing you to control who can message you. Even so, none of this is enough to drive anyone to choose a BlackBerry phone over the competition. BBM just isn’t the powerful draw it once was.

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BlackBerry is also very proud of the keyboard it has developed for all-touch BlackBerry 10 devices. We found that in regular usage it was just a bit too large for comfortable typing. Either the company hasn’t scaled it appropriately for this screen and resolution, or it’s just too spaced out. Each row is separated by a thick bar reminiscent of the ones on the old BlackBerry Bold phones, which is just unnecessary. One very nice touch is that special characters are arranged exactly as they would be on a desktop keyboard.

The two major keyboard features are the Hinglish dictionary and the swipe-to-autocomplete gesture. Hinglish is pretty neat, since it mixes in transliterated Hindi words and suggests them in context as you type. You can scatter Hindi words into English sentences or just type as usual. If you’ve ever felt that your natural style was hampered by English autocorrect, you’ll love this. Swiping to complete becomes natural fairly quickly.

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The Z3 comes with a number of useful apps: FourSquare, Evernote, DocsToGo, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Adobe Reader, YouTube and DropBox. Most of the built-in apps are quite polished – the Calculator, for instance, has a built-in unit convertor and even a tip calculator.

The BlackBerry World app is a bit of a pain to nagivate, and searching for anything will throw up app, music and game titles as results. Many common apps can be found natively for BB 10, but the appeal is that a huge number of Android apps will work as well. You can use third-party app stores such as Amazon or SildeMe, or find installable APK files anywhere on the Internet (if you’re sure the source is safe). Installing is as simple as tapping the file name in the browser’s Downloads list or in the File Manager app.

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The voice search and command feature isn’t as capable of deciphering plainly spoken instructions as Siri or Google are, and will often search for exactly what you say. It’s possible to tell the Z3 to compose a message, set alarms, get directions, and read your email out to you. The Z3 didn’t do very well at filtering out noise to decipher commands (and of course had trouble with Indian names), but it’s pretty versatile overall.

Annoyingly, you can’t plug the Z3 into a PC and access its internal storage space. A microSD card will show up as a removable drive if you’re using one, but the only way to get media onto or off the phone itself is to use BlackBerry’s included desktop software (or use the File Manager app to manually copy files to the microSD card or share them via email, BBM, etc).

Camera
The Z3 is a budget phone and it shouldn’t be surprising that its camera isn’t anything to get excited about. Still, shots are decent enough when the lighting is good, and you can post them to social networks without any problem. At full size, it’s obvious that the camera struggles with details and that there’s a lot of compression going on. We noticed that the camera had trouble focusing in low light, but the flash is surprisingly powerful. Video is again not spectacular, and the front camera is entirely forgettable.

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The camera app is a bit too simplistic. You can’t really compose shots or do anything but wait and hope that the camera focuses on what you want it to, since tapping anywhere on the screen takes a photo – presumably, the decision not to have a tappable button on screen was made more for aesthetics than usability. You can choose between a normal shooting mode, image stabilisation mode, burst, and HDR. There are also hardly any options – you can turn the flash on and off, choose between three image aspect ratios (but not sizes), and use one of only four scene modes (action, whiteboard, night and beach/snow). There is no manual control whatsoever, not even exposure, ISO or white balance.

Performance
Day-to-day usage was marked by occasional jitters, and there were sometimes momentary pauses on black screens while transitioning from one task to another. Despite looking and feeling like a high-end phone, the Z3 definitely does not deliver a premium experience. The gestures also frankly add a delay to getting things done, especially since they don’t always work. Gestures might give BB 10 devices a clean look, but there’s nothing as quick and simple as hitting a Home button.

Not all our Android benchmarks are available for the BlackBerry 10 platform. The browser-based tests, SunSpider and Mozilla Kraken, indicated performance on par with that of entry-level smartphones such as the Nokia Lumia 630. Quadrant scores were equally disappointing, although it should be noted that we ran the Android APK in the absence of a native BB 10 version.

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The built-in speaker is pretty loud and works well for voice, but music is just too thin and tinny. Predictably, 1080p videos were jittery but 720p versions of the same clips seemed to play much better. We did notice that the phone got a bit warm when playing HD content. This is also when the low screen resolution really becomes apparent.

The battery test result was massively disappointing – the Z3 lasted only 4 hours and 55 minutes in our video loop test. For a phone that claims over 15 hours of talktime, this is not a good sign. With ordinary usage, consisting of sporadic calls, messages, Web browsing and a bit of gaming, we noticed that the Z3 lasted comfortably through a full day and night.

Verdict
The BlackBerry Z3 is priced just slightly lower than the now-ancient Z10 , but thanks to rapid improvements in both hardware and design it’s quite a bit better than its predecessor in some ways. Awkwardly for the company, it’s also very competitive with the more recent Z30  which costs around twice as much. In terms of value for money, this is the best all-touch BlackBerry available right now.

But it’s unclear who exactly would be interested in buying this phone – surely not the legions of former BB fans who have defected to Android and iOS over the past year or two, and surely not those still sticking with older BlackBerrys because of their keyboards.

It’s too expensive to be most people’s first smartphone, so that rules out another potential audience – BlackBerry has missed out on a potentially crucial market there, at least till the inevitable price cuts hit.

Could it be anyone’s second phone? One dedicated to work, alongside an iPhone or Samsung Galaxy for personal use and entertainment? Perhaps. The Z3 is fantastic for hardcore email and messaging – as long as you don’t demand a physical keyboard. Notifications are top-notch and there are loads of useful shortcuts everywhere. The ability to prioritise, stay aware of and respond to communications is quite unmatched on other platforms. Those who have switched and miss having that kind of power might be tempted to give the Z3 a try.

There’s an even bigger question: will this be the device that finally saves BlackBerry? Of the few phones launched in the past two years, this one stands the best chance. All the company has to do is actually launch it outside of core developing markets, which for some reason is currently not the plan.

We wish BlackBerry had hit this price point right from the beginnings of the all-touch BB 10 platform. It will be really interesting to see how the upcoming Classic and Passport devices with keyboards turn out, in terms of pricing and usability.

In that context, the BlackBerry Z3 is a solid phone. Comparing specifications and capabilities, it doesn’t look good next to Android-based phones in its price range. On the other hand, if you value build quality, deal with hundreds of emails per day and don’t have any use for multimedia features, it comes out on top. This phone delivers on the classic BlackBerry promise, finally updated for our century, for those few who still want that.