Amazfit Stratos Review

Amazfit Stratos Review

HIGHLIGHTS

  • The Amazfit Stratos is a swim-proof fitness watch
  • You can track runs, cycle rides, and swims with it
  • It also shows full notifications and works with both Android and iOS

Xiaomi-backed wearables brand Huami’sAmazfit Stratos is a multi-sport GPS watch with some features of smartwatches. It’s swim-proof, can track outdoor runs, shows you notifications from your smartphone, lets you store music, and promises up to five days of battery life. All this comes at a price tag of Rs. 15,999, which is a pretty good price if it all works well. We used the Amazfit Stratosfor a week to find out whether it’s worth considering as a “smart” watch for fitness enthusiasts.

Amazfit Stratos design and comfort

The Amazfit Stratos looks stunning in photos but the actual product isn’t as good-looking. It’s really bulky, with a thick circular dial and large buttons. While we appreciate the large display, it looks a bit like a flat tyre and isn’t a full circle. The Amazfit Stratos is a bit too bulky to be comfortable for everyday use. It uses a silicone strap and we found that it fit securely and didn’t cause any additional discomfort.

The display is perhaps the biggest weakness of the Amazfit Stratos. It’s an always-on display, which is great, but the positives end there. The glass on top is very reflective, and under bright light, it is hard to read what’s on screen. The backlight tended to hurt our eyes in dim rooms because it lights up the entire screen. With the Amazfit Stratos, waking up in the middle of the night to check the time on our wrist was a painful experience every single time. Even though it has some cool watch faces, the display isn’t good enough to show them off.

One big design flaw with the Amazfit Stratos is its charger. The charging cradle snaps on to the bottom of the watch, but it can fit upside down just as easily. If you accidentally get it wrong, you won’t be able to charge the watch because the pins won’t make contact. While the mechanism works just fine, this oversight could be rather annoying in the long run.

amazfit stratos reflective screen hand gadgets 360 Amazfit Stratos

Amazfit Stratos software and ecosystem

The Amazfit Stratos is compatible with iOS and Android, and you’ll need to download the Amazfit Watch app on your smartphone. The app allowed us to choose to sign in with an existing Xiaomi account, and we tried this first because we had created one when reviewing the Xiaomi Mi Band 2. However, it just did not work, so we had to create a new account. The pairing process was smooth and we found the app to be well-designed. It shows data in neat graphs and you can see historical data quite easily too.

Our issue with the app is that it doesn’t do much. It has a setting to change units from Imperial to Metric, but that change didn’t reflect on the watch. We had to do this from the watch’s settings. Similarly, options such as auto-upload data, 12- or 24-hour clocks, do not disturb mode, etc. can only be changed on the watch.

The Amazfit Stratos uses a proprietary operating system, which is quite common in the fitness segment. Companies such as Garmin and TomTom do the same thing. It takes some time to get used to the interface of the Amazfit Stratos, though. It has a touchscreen, and three buttons for you to navigate through the UI. Press the top one to scroll up, and the bottom button to scroll down, and if you want to select an option, you can use the middle button. The app shows a tutorial to take you through other actions, such as long-pressing the top button to go back, etc. but this is not intuitive at all.

We also noticed that the touchscreen only works if you “wake” the watch by pressing one of the buttons. If you try to use the touchscreen after it’s been idle for some time, it remains unresponsive. These are minor annoyances that add up to make the overall experience feel clunky.

amazfit stratos apple watch gadgets 360 Amazfit StratosApple Watch (left) and Amazfit Stratos

 

However, the watch does show notifications and lets you read full messages even from third-party apps. You can’t reply to any notifications as this watch is meant to be a fitness wearable with notifications, and not a proper smartwatch. While we found the notifications useful, people who need more control might not.

Amazfit Stratos performance and battery life

We can live with an average UI if the Amazfit Stratos does its job from a fitness standpoint. To test this, we ran it through some standard tests. The first is to test the step counter by walking 1,000 steps and counting them manually. Then we checked if the Amazfit Stratos recorded them accurately. The results were surprisingly good — the Stratos recorded 1,002 steps when we counted 1,000.

Our second test was to check if the GPS of the watch was accurate. We first drove a car through a route near our office in Mumbai to establish a 1-km distance as our test track. This route took us under a flyover as we wanted to see if the watch can trace the route accurately. We ran the test with the Apple Watch Series 2 on our left hand and the Amazfit Stratos on our right. The Stratos took three minutes to lock on to a signal in an open space on the main road, which was frustrating. Our Apple Watch found a GPS signal instantly (as it uses a paired iPhone’s GPS when). Most running watches take around two minutes to find a GPS signal, and three minutes is a bit too long.

Then, the Stratos recorded the 1km distance as 1.64km. The Apple Watch had no such issues and it showed the route to be exactly 1km long. When we looked at the route recorded by the Amazfit Stratos, it had marked a start point far from where we had actually begun recording the walk, but once we took a U-turn under the flyover, the Stratos corrected itself.

We tried this test a second time, just to check whether the same error was repeated. On this attempt, it took one minute to lock on to a GPS signal at the same spot, which was good to note. The Amazfit Stratos had a much better showing, but it still wasn’t entirely accurate. On the second try it recorded 1.11km on the 1km route, and its starting point was slightly off.

Overall, this kind of inconsistency is worrying, because we’d always be second-guessing whether the Stratos’ tracking is accurate.

amazfit stratos buttons gadgets 360 Amazfit Stratos

 

We also noticed that the Amazfit Stratos doesn’t have a dedicated tracking mode for strength training or gym sessions, or for other activities such as Pilates and yoga, which are found on several other fitness-oriented wearables. Given that, we used the elliptical training mode to track a 90-minute gym session, and found that the heart rate sensor on the Stratos didn’t do a great job. When we looked at our heart rate during the session, the Stratos always showed a value that was either too low or too high based on how we were feeling at that point. A look at the data later confirmed this.

The Apple Watch showed our maximum heart rate during the session as 191 beats per minute, while the Stratos’ data said this was 175bpm. It was a strenous session during which we felt like we’d fully exerted ourself, and our maximum heart rate definitely should’ve been higher. We could also see the heart rate data peaking at different times on the two watches, and felt that the Apple Watch’s data was more accurate.

Sleep tracking with the Amazfit Stratos was a bit of a mixed bag. We compared its data against what was recorded on the Apple Watch by the excellent Sleep++ app, and found that it was accurate sometimes but not at other times. One day we’d set an alarm for 5.30am and we woke up but went back to sleep. On that day, the Stratos claims that we woke up around 5.30am, whereas the Apple Watch data suggested that we woke up at 7.40am. The latter is closer to reality. When we managed to sleep uninterrupted at night, the data was fairly accurate.

We like the fact that the battery life of the Amazfit Stratos is around five days. Without using GPS, it lasted almost seven days on a single charge. The moment you start tracking workouts using GPS, the battery starts to drain more quickly. It’s worth mentioning that by default, features that could drain power – such as automatically uploading workout data – are disabled.

Finally, we really missed automatic workout tracking feature on the Amazfit Stratos. We did forgot to manually begin a workout on one occasion, and the Stratos didn’t log it for us. With companies such as Fitbit adding this feature to their products, and Apple announcing it with watchOS 5, it would be nice to see this feature come to the Amazfit Stratos as well. We were unable to go for a swim during the testing period, but we did subject it to a shower multiple times and it continued to work just fine.

amazfit stratos apple watch reflective screen hand gadgets 360 Amazfit Stratos

 

Verdict
The Amazfit Stratos looks great on paper but fails to live up to its promise in many ways. We really like the idea of a fitness-focused wearable that shows notifications and looks like a cool everyday watch, but the Stratos’ implementation of many features leaves a lot to be desired. Its bulk makes it uncomfortable to wear every day, and its decidedly masculine styling means that women aren’t likely to find it appealing.

While we think that it could work as a multi-sport watch under ideal conditions, the Amazfit Stratos’ inconsistent performance means that we hesitate to recommend it over products from established brands such as Garmin, TomTom, and even the Apple Watch, which isn’t strictly direct competition for the product. The pricing — Rs. 15,999 — is great for the features offered, but we still think the TomTom Spark would be a better choice for fitness enthusiasts on a budget. Those who can afford an Apple Watch Series 3 would be better served by it.

Update, 31 August 2018: Following the publication of our review, Amazfit sent us a second unit so we could check whether the first one was buggy. This unit was much better at locking on to GPS signals in multiple areas, but it still struggled at the spot we used for our GPS test. This unit recorded a 1km distance as 1.2km, which isn’t good at all. To be completely certain, we used the replacement unit on a 10km run at the Airtel Hyderabad Marathon 2018. This time, it recorded the distance as 10.2km. A deviation of 200m over 10km is acceptable (the best running watches out there can be up to 100m off over the same distance), but we should note that the course was almost entirely in open areas with only one 100m section where we were under a bridge.

Overall, this kind of inconsistency is worrying. Serious athletes would always be second-guessing whether the Stratos’s reports are accurate. Our repeated tests lead us to the conclusion that the Stratos’s GPS tracking might work well in ideal conditions, but it struggles in crowded localities in big cities.

Based on our new findings, we have changed one of the ‘Cons’ from ‘Inaccurate GPS tracking’ to ‘Inconsistent GPS tracking’ and updated the ‘Tracking accuracy’ score from 2.5 to 3.

Pros

  • Battery life
  • Always on display
  • Notifications
  • Accurate step tracking

Cons

  • Poor display quality
  • Inconsistent GPS tracking
  • Inaccurate sleep tracking
  • Awkward touchscreen UI
  • App doesn’t do much

Ratings (out of 5)

  • Design and comfort: 2.5
  • Tracking accuracy: 3
  • Software and ecosystem: 3
  • Battery life: 4
  • Overall: 2.5

[“Source-gadgets.ndtv”]

Asus ZenBook UX580GE Review

Asus ZenBook UX580GE Review\

HIGHLIGHTS

  • The ZenBook Pro UX580GE’s multi-function ScreenPad replaces a trackpad
  • It also has a professionally calibrated 4K touchscreen
  • There are lots of ports for flexible and convenient connectivity

When Asus first showed off its 2018 ZenBook Pro flagships at Computex earlier this year, it saved the grand reveal of the new ScreenPad feature right for the end. Until you see it light up, it looks exactly like a standard laptop trackpad. The idea of turning a surface that we touch all the time anyway into a multi-function smartphone-like controller seemed to make perfect sense – and it was presented as much more versatile than the Touch Bar on current-gen MacBook Pros.

But then we spent an hour or so with the ZenBook UX580GE and its smaller cousin, the UX480FD, and came away feeling very confused. We couldn’t see how the ScreenPad’s capabilities really fit with the way people use laptops. Now that we’ve had a chance to spend more time with the laptop, do we feel any different? Can Asus convince buyers to spend over Rs. 2,00,000 a laptop? We have all the answers.

Asus ZenBook UX580GE ScreenPad

Before we get to anything else, we’re sure people will want to know all about the ScreenPad, and there’s a lot to say. It seems fairly obvious that Asus wants to compete with the MacBook Pro’s Touch Bar, which is essentially a secondary screen that displays contextually useful controls. While Apple displaced the Fn row, Asus decided that this laptop’s trackpad should pull double duty. It feels logical because of how we’re all used to smartphones and tablets.

There are four modes, which you cycle between using the F6 key’s secondary shortcut. First of all, this should have been more obvious. The trackpad icon is fairly indistinct, and for such a headlining feature, it’s completely lost amongst the usual screen brightness and volume controls. Starting with the most basic, you can choose to disable the ScreenPad entirely, just like many laptops let you turn the whole thing off if you prefer.

Traditional Trackpad mode, as its name suggests, makes the touchscreen behave just like a standard laptop trackpad. In this mode, it’s actually pretty impossible to tell that there’s anything unusual about it. That’s probably why Asus decided to place a gigantic sticker right next to it with an arrow telling you that there are features to discover (though not how to do so).

The next is ScreenPad mode, which is really where the most innovation comes into play. First of all, you can choose any background image, just like your phone’s wallpaper. All you have to do is right-click an image file in Windows Explorer and select Set as ScreenPad backgroud. The position, scale, and size cannot be set, so you’ll end up with awkward cropping unless you use a 16:9 file.

A lot of people might find this cool enough on its own. Look closely though, and you’ll see a small white bar at the top. Swiping downwards pulls up the ScreenPad’s main toolbar, from where you can launch little widget-like apps. This is where the confusion begins.

asus zenbook ux580 screenpadkey ndtv zenbook

 

These apps include a numeric keypad, a calculator a music player, a calendar, a Windows app launcher, and a Spotify controller. Some of them are poorly conceived, for example the keypad is completely disabled until you hit a Num Lock button, which is totally pointless because there are no secondary functions and no chance of launching the widget accidentally.

The music player can only handle files in your Windows user profile’s Music folder, and has its own volume control rather than being able to adjust the Windows system volume. If you multitask away from this widget with music playing, there is no way to pause it or skip tracks. A simple set of Windows media playback controls – which are strangely missing from the keyboard – would have been infinitely better.

Spotify is not available in India yet, so that app is pointless. The calculator is simple and straightforward. Calendar requires you to use a Microsoft account and you can only see appointments, not create them. Finally, the app launcher makes no sense to us because there’s absolutely no way that swiping to reveal the ScreenPad toolbar, then choosing the launcher, and then tapping the icon you want is quicker than simply tapping the Windows taskbar or a desktop icon.

Whenever you use a ScreenPad app, you lose all trackpad functionality. That means that the numpad is useless if you want to enter data and make selections or change formatting in a document or spreadsheet. Unless you use the touchscreen or an external mouse all the time, ScreenPad apps by nature have to be things that you can use independently, not while interacting with software running on the laptop itself. Most people could do more with their smartphones, and have an easier time. It’s really hard to imagine use cases, which is probably why the selection is so bare.

Asus says that a developer kit is coming soon and that it will work with software makers to support ScreenPad, but there’s a conceptual disconnect that makes these apps awkward. On one occasion during our review, the ScreenPad appeared to hang, and we could neither use it as a trackpad nor switch to any other mode.

asus zenbook ux580 widgets ndtv zenbook

 

Of course, Asus has stuffed yet another idea into its ScreenPad, and that is the ability to use it as a secondary monitor. It is after all a 1920×1080-pixel touchscreen, and in Extension Display mode, Windows automatically recognises it an attached display.

On our review unit, the ZenBook UX580GE didn’t always recognise the position of the secondary monitor relative to the first, and due to the size difference, Windows UI scaling was way off. We could scale up to 175 percent but text was still tiny and unreadable. Software will have to specifically be aware of the ScreenPad in order to make it work for things like toolbars. Once again, we were left struggling to find a purpose for the ScreenPad. Oh, and if you need to pop back into ScreenPad mode in order to use an app, it’s like disconnecting a second monitor – all your apps jump back to the primary display and you lose your window positions and sizes.

But there’s a much, much bigger problem here. The ScreenPad as an extended display continues to be a trackpad for both displays, but it isn’t conceptually a touchscreen anymore. You cannot touch and interact with buttons or windows in the way that you would on a smartphone or tablet – or for that matter, on the ZenBook UX580GE’s own screen! It completely breaks the UI conventions that are now so deeply ingrained in all of us.

Instead, you drag your finger around to control a cursor across both screens, and then position that cursor over elements, and then tap anywhere. You have to separate the trackpad from the display in your mind. It’s absolutely ridiculous and maddening, and even as highly experienced power users, we found ourselves tapping in vain and getting frustrated. We cannot understand how anything so completely unintuitive could ever have been released as a consumer product.

asus zenbook ux580 dualscreen2 ndtv zenbook

 

It sounds like we’re being extremely negative about the ScreenPad, and the fact is that it really seems as though Asus didn’t think this idea through. To be fair, there is one very interesting and well-designed aspect to it, and that’s the integration with Microsoft Office. If you’re in ScreenPad mode, it will automatically change to show a toolbar with relevant shortcuts in Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. You can customise these to some extent, and some of the buttons expand to show even more controls. The idea is sound, and the execution is pretty seamless. The only unfortunate part was that we had to supply our own Microsoft Office license.

There’s another Adobe Reader app that claims to let you sign digital documents with the ScreenPad, but it just never worked for us. Similarly, Asus offers a browser extension that shows YouTube playback controls, but it didn’t work in Edge and only kicked in after we downloaded Chrome.

Asus will offer more apps over time through its (rather spammy) Giftbox app store, and says that developers will soon be able to begin creating their own. We can’t yet say whether this will turn into an ecosystem worth supporting, especially since the ScreenPad is limited to Asus’ current flagship models right now. We’ll be keeping an eye on the situation – but for now, there’s the rest of the ZenBook UX580GE to talk about.

asus zenbook ux580 office ndtv zenbook

 

Asus ZenBook UX580GE design

There aren’t any choices when it comes to the ZenBook UX580GE’s finish, which is a pity. The ‘Deep Dive Blue’ colour isn’t a bad thing, and has become a bit of a trademark for Asus. However, we did not care for the rose gold accents at all. The Asus logos on the lid and below the screen, the printing on the keyboard keycaps, and the shiny chamfered rim of the body are far from subtle or refined. We’re sure that a lot of people will find this too garish for professional environments – and we felt the same way when we reviewed the ZenBook 3 UX390UA last year.

The lid has the same Zen-inspired pattern of concentric circles that we’ve seen many times before, but the keyboard deck has a diagonal brushed finish, which seems incongruous. Smudges and fingerprints can be seen very clearly on both surfaces. We also think that six stickers advertising various features and specifications is a bit excessive.

While still fairly portable, this laptop definitely isn’t too concerned with being thin and light. It’s a bit larger in all dimensions than the current-gen 15-inch MacBook Pro, and very slightly heavier as well. However, the 1.89kg weight is still manageable for those who need to carry this laptop around every day.

One of the tradeoffs for this bulk is the fact that you get a whole lot of useful ports. On the left, there’s a power inlet, HDMI port, and two USB Type-C ports that support Thunderbolt 3. On the right, there are two Type-A USB 3.1 Gen 2 (10Gbps) ports which a lot of users will appreciate, plus a microSD card slot, and a 3.5mm combo audio socket. Of course a full-sized SD card slot would have been much more useful for photo and video professionals who work with cameras a lot.

There isn’t enough space for an Ethernet port, but Asus includes a USB Ethernet adapter in the box. We had a little trouble with this, and the laptop often failed to detect it or decided that it had malfunctioned after a few minutes of use. You don’t get any other accessories – we would have liked a sleeve or at least a microfibre cloth.

asus zenbook ux580 right ndtv zenbook

Asus ZenBook UX580GE specifications and software

Asus has chosen specs befitting of a top-end professional laptop. You have a choice of Intel Core i7-8750H and Core i9-8950HK CPUs, and our review unit was the more premium version with the Core i9. This is a six-core CPU with a 2.9GHz base speed and 4.8GHz maximum turbo speed. It’s important to note that Intel’s sole mobile Core i9 CPU is based on the same mainstream Coffee Lake architecture as other mobile parts, not the high-end Skylake-X architecture that all desktop variants use – in essence you do get higher performance but the Core i9 brand here is really more about marketing.

Both versions of the ZenBook UX580GE have 16GB of RAM, a 1TB PCIe SSD, a GeForce GTX 1050 Ti GPU, and a 71WHr battery. You also get dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 5, a fingerprint reader for Windows Hello authentication, and a standard 720p webcam. The HDMI 1.4 and Thunderbolt 3 ports let you drive up to two external 4K displays – or three at lower resolutions – so including the ScreenPad, that’s five in all.

The star of the show is undoubtedly the ZenBook UX580GE’s own 4K screen, which claims to deliver a professional level of colour accuracy with a gamut that covers 100 percent of the Adobe RGB spectrum. This is the first time we’ve come across a Pantone Validated screen, and if that wasn’t enough, Asus also tells us that it has been calibrated to Delta-E<2, where E=1 is considered indistinguishable to human eyes, and E<4 is considered the minimum for professional work – though a lot depends on the specific version of the standard used and illumination conditions at the time of testing, which Asus hasn’t gone into detail about.

On the software front you get Windows 10 Pro, McAfee LiveSave (which throws up loads of annoying subscription reminders), and WPS Office. There’s a large number of Asus apps included Splendid for choosing screen colour profiles, Battery Health for charging options, a registration app, e-manual, and the aforementioned Giftbox app store.

asus zenbook ux580 left ndtv zenbook

Asus ZenBook UX580GE performance

With all the attention focused on the ScreenPad, it might be easy to forget that the ZenBook UX580GE is a flagship laptop with top-end specs, and it performs just as well as expected. The screen is brilliant, bright and crisp, and is a pleasure to work with – except that it is highly reflective. There are bottom-firing stereo speakers which produce very loud, rich and deep sound in all kinds of music and videos.

The keyboard is well designed and is satisfying to type on. It’s not too loud and the keys travel well, but it does sag slightly in the centre. Typing comfort is slightly affected by the oversized ScreenPad. It’s great at palm rejection but by nature, the screen gets warmer than the surrounding metal, and this can get distracting when typing long documents.

We flew through our usual benchmarks. The ZenBook UX580GE achieved 190 and 1,165 points in CineBench R15’s single- and multi-threaded tests. It also gave us 5,052 points in PCMark 10 Extended. SSD performance is particularly good – CrystalDiskMark reported sequential read and write speeds of 1.4GBps and 2.36GBps, and random speeds of 1.37GBps and 1.66GBps respectively.

We managed to render Blender’s BMW test file in 7 minutes, 36 seconds. POVRay ran its built-in benchmark in 1 minute, 46 seconds. Handbrake transcoded a 1.36GB AVI video file to H.265 in just 59 seconds, and 7zip managed to compress a 3.24GB folder of assorted files in 2 minutes, 42 seconds.

Gaming definitely isn’t the primary purpose of the ZenBook UX580GE, and if that’s what you want, you can save a lot of money by looking elsewhere. Still, it does have a powerful enough CPU and GPU to handle recent games using reasonable settings, whenever you have some spare time.

The synthetic 3DMark Time Spy and Fire Strike Ultra tests gave us 2,420 and 1,754 points respectively. Rise of the Tomb Raider’s built-in benchmark managed a respectable 49.25fps at 1920×1080 using the High preset and FXAA. Far Cry 5 gave us an unplayable average of 14fps at 4K, but a reasonable 46fps average at 1920×1080 using the Normal preset. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is pretty demanding, but we managed a smooth average of 51fps at 1920×1080 using the Medium presets for graphics and post-processing in a manual run-through.

asus zenbook ux580 witcher ndtv zenbook

 

Battery life isn’t one of the biggest strengths of the ZenBook UX580GE. With a 4K screen and relatively slim body, we weren’t expecting miracles. We got about seven hours of continuous usage, which involved basic productivity, Web surfing, and some video streaming with the screen set to 50 percent brightness. The intensive Battery Eater Pro test lasted for a decent 1 hour, 19 minutes.

There are two cooling fans inside the chassis, and most of the time, we were able to hear a very light buzz. Thankfully, the noise didn’t become disturbingly loud at any point, even when running very stressful tests. The keyboard stayed cool, but the ScreenPad and area around it did get fairly warm at times.

Verdict
We applaud Asus for trying something new and different with the ScreenPad feature. However, the company seems to have let its clever ideas run wild, and too many features and modes have been combined into one device. ScreenPad mode needs a lot of work, and all apps need to work like the Office toolbars and YouTube extension. Extension Display mode has very limited usefulness and the implementation is a total trainwreck, breaking the most basic habits that people have when using touchscreens.

Apart from that though, the ZenBook UX580GE is a brilliant high-end laptop. You might come for the ScreenPad, but if you look beyond it, you’ll stay for everything else. It’s powerful but still not too bulky or heavy, and it feels great to use. People who work with photos and videos will love the screen, and there’s enough power and storage on tap for heavy content production work. There are barely any compromises when it comes to specifications, connectivity, or portability. We just wish that there had been a choice of body colours.

Speaking of the price, it’s Rs. 2,09,990 for the Core i9 variant and Rs. 1,79,990 if you step down to the Core i7. This makes both options very competitive with Apple’s 15-inch MacBook Pro, which has weaker specifications. Even so, we’d love to see lower-priced variants without the ScreenPad – Asus could reach a much wider audience without the gimmick.

Asus ZenBook Pro UX580GE
Price: 
Rs. 2,09,999 (as reviewed)

Pros

  • Excellent 4K screen
  • Relatively compact and portable
  • Great performance
  • Lots of storage and connectivity

Cons

  • ScreenPad is gimmicky
  • Garish body colour
  • Too much preloaded bloatware

Ratings (Out of 5)

  • Design: 4.5
  • Display: 5
  • Performance: 4.5
  • Software: 4
  • Battery life: 3.5
  • Value for Money: 4
  • Overall: 4.5

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Microsoft Surface Laptop Review

Microsoft Surface Laptop Review

HIGHLIGHTS

  • The Surface Laptop has a unique Alcantara fabric layer on its inner deck
  • Performance is good for everyday work, but connectivity is limited
  • The Surface Laptop is available in five different configurations in India

We waited years for Microsoft to launch its Surface tabletsin India, and it’s taken even longer for the Surface Bookand Surface Laptop to arrive. This family of devices is meant to showcase Windows to the best possible extent – they’re all unapologetically premium, but more than that, they’re genuinely fresh and interesting. Microsoft is competing with its own partners by pushing out PC hardware, and is emphasising design and engineering to set itself apart. It’s pretty obvious that Apple’s success integrating hardware and software has influenced this strategy.

Of all the Surface devices, the Surface Laptop is the most conventional. It isn’t a 2-in-1, and it doesn’t have a fancy engineered hinge or kickstand. It’s meant to strike a balance between portability and productivity, and will appeal to those for whom the Surface Pro with its keyboard cover won’t cut it.

Interestingly, Microsoft had students in mind when it first launched this laptop over a year ago in the US. There’s a lot to go through, so let’s get started.

Microsoft Surface Laptop design

Everyone who sees photos of the Surface Laptop will want to know how its fabric deck feels, and honestly, it isn’t easy to describe even though we’ve used it before on the Surface Pro’s Type Cover. Alcantara is a material that’s 68 percent polyester and 32 percent polyurethane, and it’s a bit like suede with a slightly waxy coating. It isn’t perfectly smooth, but it doesn’t have the texture of cloth either. It didn’t fray or come undone even when we scratched it hard, and it’s moulded like plastic around the keyboard tray. The Alcantara extends all the way to the edges of the deck and is pinched down, leaving room for a fingernail to help you lift the lid when it’s closed.

The material is supposed to be resistant to spills and stains, and Microsoft even says it can be cleaned with warm water and mild soap, two things we wouldn’t want anywhere near a laptop. We can’t yet say how well it will hold up to long-term use, especially for people who tend to use their gadgets while eating.

It’s worth pointing out that the fabric has one major downside – it’s permanently stuck on to the metal chassis. The only way to replace or repair anything on the inside of this laptop is to rip the layers apart with a knife, and there’s no putting it back together after that. In fact, when the Surface Laptop first launched in the USA, it famously received a repairability index score of zero from iFixit.

microsoft surface laptop keyboard ndtv surface

 

As for the rest of this laptop, it’s fairly minimalist but still very noticeable. The lid has a simple matte aluminium finish, but with a prominent and highly reflective Windows logo in the centre. Microsoft has said that it isn’t bringing the Burgundy, Cobalt Blue, or Graphite Gold options to India, which is a pity. The lid is pretty thin and it does bend and flex under pressure, but surprisingly there’s no distortion whatsoever on the screen. The hinge is sunken and completely hidden under the fabric layer. It feels firm, and at least on our brand new unit, the lid didn’t fall even if it was left just barely open. Overall, despite its waif-like appearance, the Surface Laptop seems to be built very well.

The lack of connectivity will be a huge concern for many buyers. The Surface Laptop is even more minimalist than the MacBook Air, with only a single USB 3.0 port, a 3.5mm audio socket, and a Mini-DisplayPort for video output. There isn’t even an SD card slot. Many ultraportables are light on ports, but the Surface Laptop isn’t even that thin or light. In this day and age we would have expected USB Type-C and preferred Thunderbolt 3, but most people will be fine with the far more common Type-A standard.

Your only relief comes in the form of Microsoft’s Surface Connect Port, the tab-like slot on the right used by the bundled charger, which also supports Microsoft’s Surface Dock. This accessory will give you four more USB 3.0 ports, two more Mini-DisplayPorts, Gigabit Ethernet and another audio output, but it’s listed for Rs. 17,560 online in India, which is an absurd amount to pay.

The ports are also a little hard to reach thanks to the Surface Laptop’s inward-slanting sides. Slotting the charger into the narrow Surface Connect Port in particular is an extremely fiddly process, and we wound up having to lift the laptop and bend over to see exactly what we were doing each time.

Next to the ports on either side of this laptop are white patches that look a lot like the antenna lines that are now common on smartphones. They stand out quite distinctly, and unfortunately they look like additional ports or slots that have been blanked out.

microsoft surface laptop powerbutton ndtv surface

 

The keyboard has one major quirk, which is the placement of the power button. Microsoft obviously wanted the Delete key to be in the corner above the Backspace key, but we found ourselves still likely to hit the power button by accident. It also isn’t flatter or stiffer than the keys surrounding it, which would have been the obvious precaution to take. The Fn row has been displaced by the paging keys and various shortcuts, but you can swap the keys’ primary and secondary roles by simply tapping the Fn modifier once, which is quite convenient.

The Surface Laptop is only 14.47mm thick at its thickest point, and weighs only 1.25kg. It’s super portable and super convenient to whip out of a sling bag or backpack. The only thing you get in the box with the Surface Laptop is its proprietary 44W charger, and we love its integrated USB port. You might not have enough ports on the laptop itself, but you can at least charge your phone on the go. However, we found the power cable to be a bit too short.

microsoft surface laptop usb ndtv surface

 

Microsoft Surface Laptop specifications and software

Microsoft is selling the Surface Laptop in five different configurations, ranging in price from Rs. 86,999 to Rs. 2,33,999. At the bottom of the stack you get an Intel Core i5-7200U CPU with integrated Intel HD Graphics 620, 8GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD. The top-end variant has a Core i7-7660U processor with Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640, 16GB of RAM, and a 1TB SSD. This is a pretty wide range, and so the Surface Laptop competes with premium thin-and-light models including the MacBook Air as well as luxury laptops and 2-in-1s such as the Lenovo Yoga 920 and Dell XPS 13 9370. It’s worth noting that these 7th Gen Intel Core processors are nearly two years old and significantly weaker than current offerings. It’s also surprising that Microsoft has launched such expensive variants here but not the entry-level ones with Core m3 processors and 4GB of RAM.

We’re reviewing the variant priced at Rs. 1,14,999, which has the Core i5, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of storage. Considering that the RAM and SSD are soldered to the motherboard and there’s no access to them anyway, you’re going to want to account for future needs right from the start. Upgrades are simply not possible.

The touchscreen measures 13.5 inches diagonally but has a unique old-school 3:2 aspect ratio. Microsoft chose this squarish shape for its Surface tablets, and it makes sense when trying to use a device in portrait or landscape. While the look is consistent here, it isn’t necessarily useful. You might think of it as extra vertical space or reduced width. It isn’t the best choice if you watch a lot of videos or need to work on two documents side by side, but it works well for general productivity.

The resolution is completely non-standard at 2256×1504, and makes for a density of 201ppi. Windows 10 scales to 150 percent by default and we found this to be comfortable and crisp. This might not be a 2-in-1, but the touchscreen can still come in handy. We didn’t wind up using touch a lot, but it’s always nice to have. The Surface Pen is supported, but won’t be particularly comfortable to use.

One thing that we don’t often see even on premium laptops is an ambient light sensor, which means that brightness adjusts itself automatically. Above the screen is also a 720p webcam and the sensors needed to support Windows Hello face recognition. Stereo speakers are embedded beneath the keyboard. Microsoft isn’t publishing an exact battery capacity, but iFixit has discovered that it’s a 45.2Whr unit. It’s rated for 14.5 hours of video playback which is impressive on paper, but we’ll see shortly how well it really performs.

Our review unit was running Windows 10 Pro. The Surface Laptop was initially meant to ship running Windows 10 S, a reduced-functionality version of Windows. Somewhat like Windows RT, Windows 10 S made Edge and Bing the default Web browser and search engine respectively, without any ability to change them. Users could also only install apps from the Windows Store rather than just downloading anything they like. This was meant to usher users into an iOS-like walled garden, but due to massive backlash, this edition of Windows has been discontinued. Instead, the Surface Laptop ships with Windows 10 in “S Mode”, which behaves the same. This mode can be disabled at no cost – as long as you find an option that’s buried within the Microsoft Store app. With no clear direction, this might confuse a lot of buyers who just want to download Google Chrome or any other common software.

microsoft surface laptop left ndtv surface

 

Microsoft Surface Laptop performance

The Surface Laptop is very easy to carry around and just pop open anywhere you want to get work done. Its keyboard is the right size and has decent key travel, but felt a little too mushy for our liking, and also flexed in the middle. Still, we were able to type quickly and accurately within no time. The white backlighting is also subtle and useful, and there are three brightness levels to choose from. Although the trackpad is large and smooth, the mechanism is stiff and shallow. It also seemed to decide that we were right-clicking more often than we actually wanted to.

We got used to the 3:2 screen without even realising it. It’s great for reading Web pages and working on Word documents. There are of course thick black bands when watching most video content, and this can be quite distracting because of how reflective the glass is. The biggest problem we faced was with games – some titles simply aren’t designed to scale to non-standard aspect ratios.

The screen is bright and vibrant, and pretty much every video file and stream we tried to watch looked great. We had a problem with video stuttering when we first unpacked the Surface Laptop, which turned out to be due to a missing driver. A quick trip to Windows Update sorted that out in a few minutes.

General performance was pretty much faultless. We had no trouble at all with multiple heavy sites open in browser tabs, with other programs running in the background. Our usual benchmarks gave us decent results for a mainstream laptop. PCMark 10 put up a score of 2,969, Cinebench R15 managed 124 and 334 points in its single- and multi-core tests, and POVRay ran its standard benchmark in 6 minutes, 56 seconds.

Graphics tests and games did not do as well, thanks to the basic integrated graphics capabilities of the Intel CPU. Unigine Valley gave us just 16.6fps on average, at 1920×1080 and using the Medium preset – but it ran stretched to fill up the whole screen. We tried the touch-friendly Age of Empires: Castle Siege from the Microsoft Store, and it ran perfectly well.

We ran Rise of the Tomb Raider’s built-in benchmark at 1920×1080 and it stretched itself to fill the screen. We got just 8.16fps at 1920×1080 using the Low preset, and scaling down all the way to 1024×768 gave us just 15.78fps, which was not only unplayable but looked awful. Doom has an aspect ratio control, but the only resolution available at 3:2 was the native 2256×1504 which is way too high for this GPU to handle. The game did run letterboxed 1280×720, but we only got 15-25fps in real-world gameplay, meaning that modern 3D games are completely out of the question.

While the Surface laptop was practically silent even under heavy load, the keyboard deck did get quite warm. The wrist rest area was fine, but the keyboard itself became quite toasty, especially in the upper middle.

Finally, we come to battery life. The Surface Laptop’s 14.5-hour claim seems to be accurate. We started our day with a full battery. With casual Web surfing and typing plus a bit of video streaming with the screen brightness adjusted automatically, we were only down to about 85 percent in two hours, and we were able to get through a full 8-hour workday before running out of power. The Battery Eater Pro stress test ran for 2 hours, 27 minutes with the screen brightness set manually at 50 percent, which isn’t bad at all for a thin and light laptop.

microsoft surface laptop rear ndtv surface

 

Verdict
Microsoft has designed a very good-looking laptop. It delivers solid performance for everyday tasks, as well as great battery life, while still being slim and light. It feels extremely premium and will definitely grab eyeballs. However, the focus seems to have been a bit too narrow. The looks come at the cost of common usability issues such as only having a single USB port and not being able to upgrade or replace any parts. We think this laptop would be best suited for frequent travellers who care more about work than entertainment.

The most polarising thing about the Surface Laptop is its Alcantara fabric surface. Throughout our review period, we kept evaluating how we felt about the texture and finish, and we have to say that we weren’t exactly bowled over. If you type for a long time, you might not like the texture against your wrists. We wouldn’t miss it at all if it was gone, and we definitely wouldn’t pay extra for it.

That brings us to the matter of pricing, which could also severely restrict the appeal of this laptop. You can do better in terms of portability or performance, or even get a more flexible 2-in-1 for Rs. 1,14,999. In fact, the Lenovo Yoga 730 at exactly the same price has a better processor, double the storage, and two Thunderbolt 3 ports (but an inferior full-HD screen) and still weighs just 1.12kg. You could also consider the Dell XPS 13 9370 and HP Spectre x360 which come in at comparable prices.

The most affordable variant with Intel Iris Plus graphics comes in at Rs. 1,44,999 which puts it right up against the much more appealing Lenovo Yoga 920. It’s also very hard to imagine paying Rs. 2,33,999 just to get 1TB of storage space – for that kind of money you could buy the much more impressive Microsoft Surface Book 2. With that said, there’s a lot to like about the overall package, if you can afford the price.

Microsoft Surface Laptop
Price: 
Rs. 1,14,999 (as reviewed)

Pros

  • Bright, sharp screen
  • Very light and thin
  • Good performance for everyday tasks

Cons

  • Only one USB 3.0 port
  • Gets a bit warm with heavy use
  • Impossible to upgrade or repair
  • Expensive

Ratings (out of 5)

  • Design: 4
  • Display: 4
  • Performance: 3.5
  • Software: 4
  • Battery life: 4.5
  • Value for Money: 3
  • Overall: 4

[“Source-gadgets.ndtv”]

Xiaomi Mi A2 Review

Xiaomi Mi A2 Review

Xiaomi Mi A2 price in India is Rs. 16,999 but is it worth buying? Read on and decide

HIGHLIGHTS

  • The Mi A2 has a 5.9-inch full-HD+ display with Corning Gorilla Glass 5
  • It is powered by the Snapdragon 660 processor and has 4GB of RAM
  • The Mi A2 supports Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 4+

Xiaomi has launched the Mi A2 as its second Android One phone in India. Google originally started the Android One programme to deliver the stock Android experience on entry-level handsets in developing markets. However, there were no new products in India after the initial launches from Karbonn, Micromax and Spice. Google later revived Android One in 2017 to offer users smartphones running stock Android without any manufacturer customisations. The first of these in India was the Xiaomi Mi A1 (Review) which launched last year.

More manufacturers have enrolled into the program since then, but very few devices have made it to India. Nokia, an HMD Global brand, was the first to announce that its entire Android lineup would adopt Android One and all the smartphones that it announced at MWC 2018 have now launched in India. The new Mi A2 promises better hardware while still running bone-stock Android. So should the Xiaomi Mi A2 be the first choice for an Android purist on a budget? We put it to the test.

 

Xiaomi Mi A2 design

The Mi A2 is a well-designed smartphone. It has a metal unibody that gives it a premium feel in the hand. The first change you will notice compared to the Mi A1 is that it has a big 5.99-inch display with an 18:9 aspect ratio, which makes the phone tall and narrow. The sides are curved which makes it comfortable in the hand. Our Black review unit had a matte finish which resisted fingerprints to some extent. This phone is quite slippery and we would recommend that you put the case supplied in the box to use.

The power and volume buttons are on the right and offer good feedback when pressed. We found that the power button is well placed, but the volume buttons are a little too high for our liking. Xiaomi has positioned the selfie camera, earpiece, selfie light and a notification light above the display while the space below it is blank. For those curious, this smartphone has a single-colour notification LED.

The USB Type-C port at the bottom has speaker grilles on either side but only the right one houses a loudspeaker. An IR emitter that can be used to control IR-based appliance is at the top along with the secondary microphone. There is no 3.5mm headphone jack so you get a USB Type-C dongle in the box. Xiaomi claims that it has used a high-quality amplifier to improve audio output from the speaker and headphones.

Xiaomi Mi A2 Back Panel Xiaomi Mi A2 Review

 

Xiaomi has opted for a dual camera setup at the back, which is now positioned vertically compared to the horizontal setup on the Mi A1. There’s a 12-megapixel primary camera, a 20-megapixel secondary sensor, and an LED flash. This camera module protrudes quite a bit causing the Mi A2 to rock when placed on a flat surface. The fingerprint scanner is next to the camera module, at the natural resting position of either index finger. Xiaomi has opted for a 3000mAh battery to power the Mi A2.

Xiaomi Mi A2 specifications, software, and features

The Chinese smartphone maker has chosen the Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 processor to power the Mi A2. It has eight Kryo 260 CPU cores and an Adreno 512 GPU. The A2 has 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage. Sadly storage isn’t expandable unlike the Mi A1, and you will need to make do with the storage you get. This is a dual-SIM smartphone and has two Nano-SIM slots. There is support for 4Gand VoLTE on both SIMs.

The 5.99-inch display sports a full-HD+ resolution, has a pixel density of 403ppi, and uses Corning Gorilla Glass 5 for protection. Viewing angles are decent but the display does not get very bright. You don’t get the option to tweak the output. The Ambient Display feature wakes the phone when you get a notification.

At 3000mAh, the battery capacity is lower than what most other smartphones in this segment offer. The Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 (Review) for example packs in a bigger 4000mAh battery. The Mi A2 supports Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 4+ but you only get a standard 10W charger in the box. Connectivity options on the Mi A2 include Bluetooth 5.0, dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11ac, GPS, A-GPS, GLONASS, and Beidou.

Xiaomi Mi A2 SIM Port Xiaomi Mi A2 Review

 

Xiaomi has focused on the cameras of the Mi A2. The 12-megapixel primary rear camera has 1.25-micron pixels and an f/1.75 aperture. The secondary 20-megapixel camera uses 4-in-1 pixel binning with bigger 2-micron pixels and an f/1.75 aperture. Unlike the Mi A1 which had zoom lens for 2X optical zoom with the secondary camera, the one on the Mi A2 should help in low light instead.

The Xiaomi Mi A2 runs stock Android 8.1 Oreo, and Xiaomi has added its Feedback, File Manager, and Mi Drop apps on top. While the Feedback app cannot be disabled or uninstalled, you can go ahead and uninstall the other two. The camera app has also been customised by Xiaomi and is different from the default Android app – more on that in a bit. Of course, this phone also has gets Google apps preinstalled. When we started reviewing the phone it was running the June security patch but we got a software update during the course of the review bringing us up to date with the August security patch.

If you are an Android purist, you will like the software experience on the Mi A2. It has an app drawer, and you need to swipe up to see all your installed apps. You also get Google Feed by swiping right from the homescreen and summon the Google Assistant by long-pressing the home button. We found that the phone lacks an app to let you use the IR emitter, which means that you cannot start controlling appliances right out of the box. You can download the Mi Remote app from the Play Store, but Xiaomi told Gadgets 360 that it will be rolling out an update after which the app will be preinstalled. The only gesture the Mi A2 supports is that double-clicking the power button will immediately launch the camera app.

Xiaomi Mi A2 performance and battery life

We have used the Nokia 7 Plus (Review), which has the same processor as the Xiaomi Mi A2, and was also running stock Android. The Xiaomi Mi A2 offers similar performance and we found no lag or stutter when flipping through the phone’s UI and multitasking. With 4GB of RAM, you should be able to multitask easily without the phone automatically killing apps in the background. The fingerprint scanner is quite fast and was quick to unlock the phone.

The Xiaomi Mi A2 scored 1,33,467 in AnTuTu, and 1,645 and 4,840 in Geekbench 4’s single-core and multi-core tests respectively. These scores are slightly lower on average than those of the Nokia 7 Plus, which managed 1,37,573, 1,590 and 5,780 respectively. The Mi A2 also got 24,850 in 3DMark Slingshot Unlimited and 14fps in GFXBench Manhattan 3.1.

Xiaomi Mi A2 Port Xiaomi Mi A2 Review

 

We played games such as PUBG, Clash Royale, and Asphalt 9. PUBG ran at medium settings by default and we did not have any issues with performance. We played the game for 25 minutes, surviving an entire round, and found that the phone did get warm to the touch without getting uncomfortably hot. Asphalt 9 ran at the default settings without any hiccups either.

In our HD video loop test, the smartphone ran for 8 hours and 13 minutes, which is below average. We have seen the Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 Pro (Review) and the Redmi Note 5 last for close to 16 hours thanks to their bigger batteries. With our usage comprising of active WhatsApp and Gmail accounts, an hour worth of games, some time with Instagram, and making a few calls, the battery saver mode kicked in after 7 and 30 minutes. If your usage is similar, you will need to keep the charger handy. The supplied charger takes close to 2 hours to charge the Mi A2 completely but so should invest in a Qualcomm Quick Charge certified charger to speed that up.

Xiaomi Mi A2 cameras

Xiaomi has worked on its camera app and it is different from the stock Android camera. You get Short Video, Portrait, Square, Panorama, and a Manual mode, apart from the usual Photo and Video modes. The Manual mode lets you set white balance, focus, shutter speed and ISO, and also lets you choose between the ‘regular’ and ‘low light’ lenses. Xiaomi claims that it has tweaked the Portrait mode such that it uses the 12-megapixel camera in favourable light conditions but switches to the 20-megapixel camera in low light, but we found that this did not actually happen. While one lens is in use, the other acts as a depth sensor.

The Mi A2 is fairly quick to meter light and lock focus. Photos taken with the Mi A2 outdoors have a good amount of detail and colours are quite accurate. Zoom into an image and you can still see details without much loss. We noticed that the camera app also switched HDR on automatically when the scene required it, bringing out more details from the shadows and delivering slightly sharper results. Autofocusing is quick when taking macros and we found that the Mi A2 could focus on relatively small objects. Macros were sharp and the phone managed good separation between the subject and the background.

In low light, the Mi A2 bumps the ISO up and lowers the shutter speed to help the primary camera capture more light, instead of switching to the secondary one. Xiaomi should have taken advantage of the better sensor for low-light shots by switching automatically, but you can do this yourself in Manual mode. These photos also have decent amounts of detail but we noticed aggressive noise reduction being applied in darker areas, leading to a watercolour effect when zooming in.

Tap to see full-sized Xiaomi Mi A2 camera samples

 

Selfies are detailed and we got sharp results when shooting indoors. The selfie fill light comes in handy when shooting in low-lit conditions. HDR is available for the selfie camera and kicks in automatically when required. You can also select the level of beautification you need, and an Advanced mode which lets you tweak different beautification parameters.

Video recording on the Xiaomi Mi A2 maxes out at 4K for the primary camera and 1080p for the selfie camera. You also get the option to shoot in 1080p at 60fps rather than 30fps with the rear camera, but we found that it had difficulty locking focus at the higher frame rate. Video stabilisation is available for the rear camera, and helps you capture steady footage.


Xiaomi Mi A2 in pictures

 

Verdict
The Xiaomi Mi A1 (Review) was an obvious choice for anyone looking for stock Android on a budget. Things however have changed, with HMD Global bringing in Nokia handsets that run pure stock Android as well. Xiaomi will have to compete on pricing, and that’s exactly what it has done with this launch.

The Xiaomi Mi A2 gets the cameras right and is amongst the best camera phones at this price point. Also, the powerful Snapdragon 660 processor has so far been restricted to more expensive phones, making this phone a tempting option for someone looking for a performer on a budget.

Xiaomi has priced the Mi A2 at Rs. 16,999 which is quite aggressive for the hardware it offers. However, there are a few chinks in the Mi A2’s armour. Its battery capacity is below average, resulting in relatively poor battery life. Xiaomi has also ditched the 3.5mm headphone jack and there’s no microSD card slot, which are both things that buyers look for. If you can’t do without stock Android and want good cameras without paying too much, then the Mi A2 should check all your boxes. If you’re okay with MIUI, the Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 Pro (Review) is still a good alternative at a slightly lower price. You might also want to keep an eye on the upcoming Honor Play.


Is Xiaomi Mi A2 the best Android One smartphone in India? We discussed this on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.

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Xiaomi Mi A2

Xiaomi Mi A2

  • REVIEW
  • KEY SPECS
  • NEWS
  • Design
  • Display
  • Software
  • Performance
  • Battery Life
  • Camera
  • Value for Money
  • Good
  • Excellent value-for-money
  • Good camera performance
  • Bad
  • Below-average battery life
  • Non-expandable storage
Also See
  • Oppo F3 Plus (Gold, 64GB, 4GB RAM) –
    Rs.16,449
  • Sony Xperia XA1 (Pink, 32GB)
    *Includes Rs. 1,799 cashback
    Rs.16,191*

[“Source-gadgets.ndtv”]