Best budget laptop
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. The game changer, of course, has been Chinese player Xiaomi, whose Mi TVs entered India in February and have sold over a million units so far. Mi TVs disrupted the market with their pricing and specs, winning over India’s value-for-money consumers. 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.
Best overall phone
In its young life so far, OnePlus’ smartphone for the year has evolved into a product that is easy to recommend, being good at doing so many things. And so, the OnePlus 6T is our pick of the year for the phone that won’t let you down. Blazing fast performance results from its top notch specs and their optimisation with the newest version of Android and OxygenOS. Plenty of space, plenty of RAM and plenty of battery life make it a functional and reliable companion through each day. With sound ergonomics and beautifully cool styling, the 6T consolidates OnePlus’ position in the Indian market where it’s considered the top ‘premium’ phone this year. Although it has crept up the price ladder lately, OnePlus’ smartphone is thought by many to be a great phone at any price. The camera has improved enormously over previous versions — enough to be compared with the almost-twice-as-expensive flagships. The company has also done a great job of marketing the phone, building a community of fans, and shaping its overall strategy.
Best top-tier phone
With companies giving their all to their respective flagship phones, it’s a tough call to choose just one above the rest and the exercise is at best artificial. The iPhone XS and Max could take the top spot because of their smooth and impeccable performance, ever-reliable camera and unbeatable build. But changes over the previous generation aren’t dramatic enough when faced with the fact that several Android phones have come up with innovations, like an in-display fingerprint sensor comes immediately to mind. The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 could top the lot because it’s such a complete phone with a stylus you can use or not use and so much built into just that tiny slip-in accessory. It has looks, ergonomics, no notch, a fantastic screen, and a superb camera. But with its launch seeming a little distant in the past right now, other Android phones have come up with more interesting innovations. We select the Huawei Mate 20 Pro because it has packed in so much new technology into a beautiful looking gadget. In-display fingerprint sensor, interesting triple camera set, extremely fast and smooth performance with the new 7nm chip, use of AI and astounding battery life make this phone a power user’s choice from the topmost segment.
The Apple Watch is expensive and needs an expensive iPhone to work, but there’s no denying that the gadget has an impact on all other wearables. This year the Apple Watch redesigned to allow much more screen space but more than that, it featured an ability to do a quick ECG right from the wrist and detect if the wearer has fallen down and needs help. The ECG isn’t yet available for India, but what Apple is trying to do shows the way for others. Miniaturised semi-medical devices may have their own dangers but at the same time, the Apple Watch has been known to alert many users to the presence of heart irregularities, getting them to go to a hospital in time.
Fitness bands and wearables
We have already picked the Apple Watch 4 as the best smartwatch, but its pretty much in a place, league, and price of its own. However, the wearable space has a lot of options in the budget and mid-range segment too, with the Xiaomi Mi Band 3 being a stand-out performer. It can show you messages and notifications on a better display, comes with great battery life like its predecessor, has workouts and activities — all for a princely sum of ₹1,999. Among the smartwatches and the more heavy-duty performers, Samsung rebranded its Gear line-up to Samsung Galaxy Watch, which is right up there with the Fitbits and the likes, but costs less. Also, a shoutout to the Garmin Forerunner Music 645, which is expensive, but suits the serious fitness freaks well.
Affordable gaming smartphones
When PC gaming expert Razer makes a gaming phone, people are bound to take notice and even use it as a benchmark for comparison. This year, the recently-released Razer 2 gaming phone brought with it heavy-duty specs like the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor, 8 GB of RAM, and carried over the 120Hz refresh-rate screen along with the long-lasting 4,000 mAh battery. However, here in India, we love a bang for the buck and for those who may not be able to shell out close to a lakh rupees, Nubia and Honor introduced gaming phones on a budget. Both, the Honor Play and the Nubia Red Magic gaming phones are powered by processors that are one generation older, but perform just fine. Both phones also have dedicated gaming features and modes that allow users to block calls and messages. In the looks department, while the Honor Play looks like any other contemporary smartphone, the Nubia Red Magic catches the eye with its LED strip on the back and some sharp diamond-cut lines. And the best part? These two phones are priced between ₹20,000 and ₹30,000.
Smartphone special mention
While many smartphone-makers pushed the boundaries on innovation to offer us all something new, Vivo stood out with its Vivo Nex, a smartphone that comes as close to being called future-ready as any. It gave us the in-display fingerprint sensor before OnePlus did, had a pop-up selfie camera that remained hidden when not in use, and made the phone’s screen its loudpeaker. Yes, you can pretty much answer the phone even upside-down because the sound emanates from the phone itself and not a single earpiece as such. It also got flagship specs and a huge 5,000 mAh battery. Given all these snazzy new features, the Vivo Nex gets a special mention from us.
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.