Just when we had thought low-priced laptops have given way to super-performing tablets and mighty smartphones, 2018 has offered laptop aficionados — and makers of those gadgets — some good news as the year saw a spike in laptop sales, especially in the budget segment (below ₹40,000). As expected, the who’s-who of computing made their presence felt in the ring, with HP, Lenovo, Acer, Asus, Dell and even an unassuming Micromax introducing many models targeting the budget segments. HP’s low-end models didn’t look impressive for poor design and soft power. Lenovo scored on design and hardware but left users wanting more on the performance side. So did Dell, which still struggles on customer support in India. Both Acer and Asus came up with superior products this year, offering quality laptops at affordable prices. Acer’s Swift series and Asus Vivobooks, whose prices overlap into the mid-range segments, found a lot of takers in 2018. It’s been a tight race, and we pick the Asus Vivobook series as the best budget laptop for 2018 for its innovative design, great hardware and sustainable performance.
Best budget phone
Phones under ₹15,000 have got really good this year and although many companies have come up with really good offerings, one company has ruled the roost so far in this segment — Xiaomi, of course. With their solid, sturdy and affordable Redmi phones, Xiaomi has all but mopped up the market over the past year. The Redmi Note 5 Pro has sold by the million and is still being bought as we speak, making for a practical option for those who want a reliable phone for everyday use. The phone ages well and gives great service even after the next generation is out.
Best budget smart TV
Smart TVs have had a very bright year in India in 2018.Mi even forced its counterparts to have a solid re-look at their strategies for India. Mi’s success has emboldened many players, small and big, to invest deep and wide into the affordable TV segment. Even though veterans such as Sony, Panasonic, Samsung, Philips, TCL and LG are now offering more affordable TVs with better specs, and small players such as CloudWalker, Skyworth and many others have introduced TVs that are smart, easy-to-use and cost-effective, Mi rules the game in the low-cost segment. We pick Mi LED Smart TV 4A as the Best Budget TV of 2018 (sub-₹30,000 segment) for its affordable pricing, quality specs, and elegant design.
Best camera phone
Nearly every company upped its camera game this year. At one time, a good camera was the sole domain of the most expensive flagships, but you don’t really get outright bad cameras anymore. The value-for-money Poco F1 did great with its camera set-up. At the other end of the spectrum, so did the Huawei Mate 20 Pro. Others, such as Samsung, added other offerings apart from the excellent camera on their flagships S9+ and Note 9, with the triple- and quad-camera phones A7 and A9. And there’s always the latest iPhone for better and better photography over its predecessor. The iPhone XS and Max would be the choice of many who create realistic and consistent results. Although several phones could be picked — with good justification — as the camera phone of the year, we select the Google Pixel 3 for showing the way forward with very impressive use of software and AI instead of piling on the hardware where it fits with difficulty. A photo from the Pixel 3 is inevitably sharp and clear with vibrant colours. The icing on the cake is the startling Night Sight feature, which captures, in near total darkness, what even the human eye can’t see.
Almost universally chosen by reviewers all over the world, the Sony WH-1000XM3 over-ear headphones already had great predecessors. But for 2018, Sony refined this product to the point where the noise cancellation rivals that from Bose and the sound quality exceeds it. Deep, rich and satisfying sound meets adjustable noise cancelling in a set of headphones that have improved comfort. Many innovative features set these headphones apart. They have sensitive touch controls so that the user can control pause-play, volume, skipping tracks, etc, with just a light set of taps on the ear-cup. On top of that, if a user is worried about missing expected sounds from around, a hand cupped near the ear-cup will bring in voices and other things that are important. As if this weren’t enough, the WH-1000XM3 is Bluetooth-enabled as well as wired and has excellent battery life of up to 30 hours. These headphones are not inexpensive at ₹28,690, but they are innovative and excellent.
Gadget of the year
Amazon’s Echo speakers and the Alexa personal assistant have been in India for just over a year now. We pick them as the best of the year because Amazon has done a good job of ‘Indianising’ Alexa and brought in affordable options like the Echo Dot, encouraging customers to try out smart speakers. The Echo speakers are not a luxury product found merely in affluent homes but are more widespread than that. Users in India are going well beyond asking Alexa for jokes and Bollywood songs and are experimenting with smart lights. More and more products — including other speakers — are coming with Alexa integration. For products that are not directly able to talk to Alexa, there are smart plugs and extension strips to enable basic control. Where a few years ago one couldn’t imagine India getting into smart homes anytime soon, now Alexa has become the route through which this is very much happening. Amazon has several variants of the Echo speaker in India including the Dot, Echo, Echo Plus, Echo Spot and Echo Sub.