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Wednesday, May 11, 2011
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L U X U R Y
BEAT the heat
Team Smartbuy Editorial Anushya Mamtora firstname.lastname@example.org
Ketaki Bhojnagarwala email@example.com
With the mercury on the rise this summer, it’s time for a little R&R with your favourite gizmos. Whether you’re hitting the beach for a vacation or chilling in the comfort of your airconditioned home, these scorching gadgets are sure to keep you occupied
Mahananda Bohidar firstname.lastname@example.org
S. Muralidhar email@example.com
Design Bryan Gaughan
After a tantalising CES 2011 teaser and an international launch about two months ago, the Motorola XOOM Wi-Fi edition is soon to hit Indian shores. The 10.1 inch widescreen HD, Android 3.0 powered tab showcases the innovations of the Honeycomb user experience – including widgets, true multitasking, browsing, notiﬁcations and customisation. It comes with a 1GHz dual-core processor and 1 GB of RAM and also supports Adobe Flash Player 10.2 Beta. The XOOM features the MOTODEV, Motorola’s developer support program to enable worldclass tablet and smartphone experiences. These devices will be able to access more than 1,50,000 applications within the Android Market as well as the rapidly increasing number of applications optimised directly for the Android 3.0 OS. In addition, thousands of Flash-based web applications and sites will become available for the Motorola XOOM. To be announced
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Cover photo courtesy: This material is reproduced from T3 magazine and is the copyright of or licensed to Future Publishing Limited, a Future plc group company, UK 2011. Used under license. All rights reserved
Iconic notebook Acer ICONIA Acer’s ICONIA Dual screen notebook features two 14-inch high-def widescreen LED backlit LCD screens. The notebook is powered by an Intel Core i5 processor, and is based on the Windows 7 operating system. Forming a ring by placing ﬁve ﬁngers in a circular pattern on the bottom display activates the Acer Ring. This offers instant access to your favourite applications and features, and allows you to alter settings or bring up the virtual keyboard. The virtual keyboard features a full-sized QWERTY layout, international language support and touchpad, giving you the same experience of a traditional physical keyboard with the addition of predictive text input for naturalspeed typing while avoiding mistakes. Acer’s Social Jogger app allows you to check updates from your SNS contacts by using the bottom screen to check posts and updates and the top screen to explore and view more content. Gesture Editor lets you set customised gestures to launch speciﬁc applications, open websites, view your desktop or even lock your computer. Rs 69,999
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Time to ﬁnd yours Solmate Fusion Solar Charger Dinakaran Rengachary hose afﬂicted by ‘Murphy’s law’ will be only too familiar with a situation where your phone drains out the last dregs of power right when you need it the most. And chances are, you’ll be somewhere where you can’t ﬁnd an available power source to revive the Brutus. When stuck in a situation like this, consider a charger that doesn’t require electricity to power it and works on some good ol’ sunshine instead. Calling Solmate Fusion just another solar charger doesn’t do justice to its capabilities. Solmate can also charge itself through your laptop or PC’s USB port. The charger not only powers your handset, but juices up your music player and digicam too. On a short trip we took recently, we even managed to charge a Canon Hi8 video camera with the Solmate. Solmate Fusion comes with an inbuilt memory (4GB/8 GB) thus enabling you to use it like an external storage drive if need be. The device houses with a 600 mAh internal Li-ion battery. The company claims that a fully charged Solmate Fusion can supply “about two hours of talktime to a regular mobile phone, or about 13 hours of audio playback time to an Mp3 player”. So you have to keep in mind the fact that that Solmate Fusion cannot be a replacement for your charger. Even a fully-charged Solmate Fusion will not provide your mobile or camera with full charge. However, it rises to the occasion when you are in an emergency. Solmate Fusion’s modern design ﬁts easily into your pocket or wallet. On one side is the USB jack, which when connected to a port starts charging itself and also doubles up as an external hard drive. The other side has a port to
which you can connect your handset or other devices. One drawback that we discovered was that we had to ensure that the solar panels stayed clean. The thinnest layer of dust on the panel can reduce the efﬁciency of Solmate Fusion. You have to protect the solar panel from slight scratches or breaks. Putting it into a case won’t help as the panel must be exposed directly to sunlight to draw power. Solmate Fusion also ﬁnds it difﬁcult to get charged up if the sunlight is not bright enough, like in hill stations. We had to power it from the hotel manager’s computer on a recent trip when the sun was being moody.
Solmate Fusion has a provision for a lanyard, which makes it easier for you to carry it around. It comes with a few standard adapter tips that are compatible with mobile devices of major brands in India. The Solmate Fusion device and other adapter tips are available from Solmate’s website. In a tropical country like ours with its unending summer, Solmate seems like a decent one-time investment that’ll pay off when you need it most. Love: Can charge a variety of devices, always handy Hate: Not capable of charging a device fully Rs 995 (4GB), Rs 1,495 (8GB)
Let the beats rock ASUS Xonar U3 Mahananda Bohidar ovie buffs, hardcore gamers and music lovers all have one thing in common – to get the best audio quality that their system can provide while they sit back and do what they enjoy most. This is usually a difﬁcult feat to achieve with regular laptop speakers or a 2.1 system connected to your PC. The
ASUS Xonar U3 has been designed to solve this dilemma. The USB-style device works as an amp for the headphones you use on your PC or laptop and delivers Dolby Digital Surround Sound through it. The Xonar U3, designed like a USB plug-in device, serves as an audio card once you install it with the CD that comes in the box. The device itself has 3.5 mm jacks for your microphone and headphones. Once you are through with the setup, plug in your headphones in to the Xonar U3 and you are ready to rock. We buffered a couple of songs on YouTube across genres to test the ampliﬁer as well as software used to make the most of the sound card, the Xonar U3 Audio Center. We started out with the hip-hop track ‘Hey Ya!’ by Outkast with the headphones plugged into the Xonar U3. We played around with a couple of settings in the Audio Center. Under the volume dial, you have some quick presets – Music, Movie, Game, Hi-Fi and GX (mostly to be used while gaming). None of these seemed to be boosting up the audio just the way we’d like it so we decided to explore some more. The drop-down menu presents you with a lot of options that you can make use of according to the audio input you have or the kind of media you are listening to. The ‘Main’ controls let you choose the out-
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put you want – Dolby Headphone, Dolby Pro Logic IIx and 7.1 Virtual Speaker Shifter. The Mixer allows you to set the volume levels for your headphones and your mic in case you want to make a voice/video call or just want to record a sound track. ‘Effect’ is where you can tweak the equaliser or use a panel full of audio presets. Most of the presets – Rap, Opera and Jazz - worked quite well with the songs we played from those genres. The sound of the gushing wind and raindrops were reproduced excellently in the prelude to ‘November Rain’ but the bass and the vocals were underwhelming, thus denying the track its sheer ability to impress with the drums and the powerful vocals. We tweaked the userdeﬁnable equaliser settings and ﬁxed on a deeper bass. For a taste of Jazz, we listened to ‘Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off’ by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong and the track sounded chirpy with the Xonar U3 as did the hauntingly beautiful violin-based soundtrack ‘Yumeji’s theme’ from ‘In The Mood For Love’. The Xonar U3 deﬁnitely jazzes up the audio quality by more than a notch. This struck us when we reverted back to plugging in our headphone directly to the laptop. After an hour or so of having tried out the device, listening to music without it made us wonder how we had been doing it for so long! With the price tag it comes with, the Xonar U3 is deﬁnitely a good investment for all you audiophiles who want to make the most of their regular headphones. Love: Overall enhanced sound effects, ease of use Hate: Some unintuitive presets Rs 1,800 (exclusive of taxes)
The good, just got better Mahananda Bohidar he iPad was the ﬁrestarter that spurted the rage of tablets in the consumer electronics market last year. In twelve months, the market has been ﬂooded with tablets with almost every consumer electronics company realising that this category is pretty much going to rule the roost for at least a few years to come. So how well is the trailblazer, Apple Inc., going to outdo itself and its gazillion peers with the newly launched iPad 2? When the covers slid off the iPad last year, its sleek aluminium design drew a lot of ooohs and aaahs from the onlookers. With the iPad 2 too, the ﬁrst thing that strikes you about the new avatar is the svelte form factor. Despite the size being the same, the iPad 2 looks like a pretty young starlet who’s just got rid of all her baby fat – in one word, stunning. Peeling off the pretty pink Smart Cover, we wake up the iPad 2. The 9.7-inch glossy screen looks pretty much the same although the bezel now comes in white too. There’s barely any difference in the display quality, which is still good news, considering the one on the previous iPad was nothing short of gorgeous. The iPad 2 has the usual cluster of in-built apps however, the multi-touch capablities have been put to use in Photo Booth where you can magnify the photo effects . Now with two cameras to choose from, you can quickly switch from one to another by tapping on a single icon. The results, however, fell far short of our expectations . The images captured from the rear camera was extremely grainy even when we shot a couple of portraits indoors, under sufﬁcient light. The inability to give us crisp pictures and great videos is a total downer considering the amazing display capabilities of the iPad 2. The front camera supports FaceTime. We read the Iron Man 2.0 Saga on Marvel Comics and the iPad 2 still makes for an excellent device to be reading
graphic novels and e-books on. GarageBand and iMovie have been remade from scratch just to make the most of the full-sized touch display. In the iPad-version of GarageBand, you have a handful of ‘Smart’ instruments apart from the regular ones. Within each Smart instrument, you have the option of playing different styles, for e.g., Acoustic, Hard Rock, Classic Clean (Smart Guitar), Grand Piano, Electric Piano (Smart Keyboard), Hip Hop Drum Machine, Vintage Kit, Classic Studio Kit etc (Smart Drums). These options (we couldn’t list all of them here) give you endless permutations and combinations to come up with your own track. Smart Drums probably has the best interface of the lot with a four-axis space on which you can drag-and-drop instruments – kick, snares, hi-hats, cymbals, shakers etc – and leave it up to the app to produce beats for you. It can’t get any easier than this! The new iMovie app too makes the most of the iPad 2’s touch interface with its Multi-Touch Precision Editor. You can pinch, drag and touch to edit your video or add audio tracks (support for four) and add a nice ﬁnishing touch with theme-based titles, transitions and soundtracks. Both the iPad-optimised apps (which cost you about $4.99 each) were amazingly intuitive. We tried out the iPad 2 along side its predecessor –some
Photos: S.S. Kumar
apps that we tried out simultaneously, loaded in a jiffy in the iPad 2 almost making it look like the older one was struggling to catch up. Apps on the iPad 2 launch faster, there are barely any lags or stutters, webpages load like they’re on an adrenaline rush and all of this is to be attributed to the proprietary A5 system-on-a-chip. Apple claims that gameplay on the iPad 2 is much faster and smoother owing to a huge boost in the graphics quality (up to nine times better). Well, there was no way to gauge the numbers but graphics rendering on the latest iPad is pretty impressive. We played Dead Space, Dungeon 2 HD and Asphalt 6 and the graphics were rendered really well. The gaming experience has also become slightly more accurate with the inclusion of a gyro-sensor (the older iPad only had an accelerometer). A couple of apps still don’t ﬁt the big screen and give you a slightly pixelated interface on the 2x mode. The iPad 2 supports video-mirroring, which means you can hook it up to a display and stream videos, share photos or project presentations using AirPlay and an Apple Digital AV/VGA Adapter. The battery life on the iPad 2 stayed true to the company’s claim of being close to 10 hours.
Our verdict When it comes to an Apple product it always seems like the sum of parts is always greater than the whole. The iPad 2 might not live up to some of the tech specs of its rivals, but when it comes to the design and interface, the overall experience of having used an iPad still remains quite unmatched. Love: Excellent display, great battery life, simplistic yet attractive design Hate: Poor cameras, still no Flash support Rs 29,500 onwards firstname.lastname@example.org
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Ahead of its curve? Sony Xperia Arc voice calls, SMSes, Facebook updates and Tweets. Although it’s a decent integration of most of your smartphone activity, we would have liked to see some novelty in the interface. The tiny inﬁnity symbol on each tile in Timescape pops up all communication you’ve had with any contact on your list. The virtual full-QWERTY keypad on the Arc was a breeze to type on and turned out to be much less typo-prone than most other virtual keyboards. Gingerbread allows you some easy tricks while typing an SMS or email on the Arc. For example, you have multi-touch key-chording that lets you quickly enter numbers and symbols while holding down the ‘Shift’ button. Longpress a word and it enters a free-selection mode thus letting you copy-paste it or the entire sentence by just expanding the brackets. Android 2.3 also lets you independently monitor and curb activities/apps that might be taking a toll on the battery. The battery life (1500 mAh) of the Arc is not worth writing home about. After powering it up fully, the Arc can easily drop down to half-capacity in half a day with the regular amount of voice calls, SMSes and Web browsing. But, it charges up pretty quickly, with a 0 to 100 per cent charging time being just over 70 minutes. Despite the 1GHz processor that powers the Xperia Arc, we had a couple of freezes while using simple applications. Another issue we faced was with the Wi-Fi on or during gaming, the handset gets uncomfortably warm after about 15-20 minutes of use. The voice relayed during calls was quite clear. We had no dropped calls but the reception wasn’t the best we have experienced while we were on the move.
Mahananda Bohidar tarting with the Xperia X10 last year, Sony Ericsson has been unleashing products that deliver the much-adored Android experience in sassy, sleek handsets – a design trait that every Xperia product since has carried a distinguishable trace of. So what sets the new Xperia Arc apart from its predecessors? …its sheer classiness!
Feature loaded Despite a 4.2-inch display, the Arc manages to feel unusually light in your hand with a graceful, if barely discernible curve at the rear. The handset, big, yet sleek exudes oodles of oomph. Sony Ericsson is clearly targeting an audience that wants to ﬂaunt its best. Yes, it’s a looker, but the Arc isn’t exactly lagging behind in ‘brawn’ either! More than a couple of features it boasts of are well worth the price tag it comes with. The 8.1-meg clicker is easily one of the best ones adorning high-end smartphones available right now. Under bright sunlight, from a moving vehicle, the cityscape at night and portraits shot indoors – under varied conditions, the camera gave us really nice results with excellent colour tones and crisp picture quality. Augmenting the abilities of the powerful camera is a feature that Sony Ericsson has never endowed any of its smartphones with – the Exmor R technology. This CMOS sensor, a feature previously included only in Sony’s Cybershot digicams and Handycams, is a proprietary back-illuminated structure that helps expose photographs correctly under low-light conditions. The Arc has a physical shutter button (you can otherwise shoot a pic by clicking on the live view camera screen), lodged on the bottom corner of the bezel. Sometimes while clicking the shutter (a double-press one) it felt like it’d result in a shake or blur but almost all pictures we took were crisp. We loved the fact that the handset has been designed in a way that almost 95 per cent of the fascia is the TFT multi-touch screen. This indicates a clear emphasis on delivering an improved multimedia and browsing experience. The HD videos - animations, car racing videos and games - we watched on the Arc looked brilliant. We would have loved a small kickstand to prop up the handset and enjoy the videos or a full-length movie considering the display has more than enough potential to make it an enjoyable experience. The ‘Reality Dis-
Our verdict The Xperia Arc is designed to be a headturner and an object of envy. Add to this the latest Android OS (2.3), an extremely ﬂattering camera and a great, almost mini tablet-sized multi-touch display to watch movies, play games or browse the internet on and you have a graceful winner of sorts albeit some compromises in battery life and the occasional screen freeze.
Photo: S.S. Kumar
play’ with Mobile BRAVIA Engine lends to excellent visibility under bright sunlight, just slightly marred by the user’s ﬁngerprints. We wish the shatter-proof cover on top of the scratch-resistant mineral glass display helped keep grease away!
The Arc features the latest Android OS – Gingerbread – that offers a neater user interface. You’ll also ﬁnd the familiar Timescape interface on the Xperia Arc cascading tiles that congregate all communication you have had on your handset –
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Love: Sleek design, excellent camera, great display Hate: Poor battery life, freezes up occasionally Rs 32,000
summer’s colours in a ﬂash
Product photos: S.S. Kumar Test photos: Ketaki Bhojnagarwala
Ketaki Bhojnagarwala oint and shoots have come a long way, developing from basic, compact digicams to feature heavy, professional ones. There is a growing market for photo enthusiasts who want to graduate from their ﬁrst digicams to something that gives better results. However, there are many people who aren’t ready to make the jump to bulky, complicated cameras, and are looking for something in-between. This is where advanced, superzoom digicams like the Nikon Coolpix P500 come in. We step into the sunshine with this beauty to see what we can capture this summer.
Body & Build The Nikon P500 is available in red and black colour options. The red unit we asked for our review was more like a deep crimson, with a shiny ﬁnish that thankfully didn’t leave behind unsightly ﬁngerprints. The USP of this camera is deﬁnitely its 36x zoom lens, one of the longest in the point and shoot category. The Nikkor lens covers a focal range of 22.5mm to 810mm (35mm equivalent). Magniﬁcation ranges from f3.4-5.7, which is about what you get on a standard DSLR 18-55 kit lens. Apart from the regular zoom toggle switch, there’s an alternative side zoom control on the lens body itself, which is intuitive for those used to interchangeable lenses. Controls wise, there is a mode dial, which lets you
switch between Scene, Intelligent Auto, P, S, A, M and dedicated controls for Night Landscape, Night Portrait, Backlighting and Smart Portrait. The camera supports Full HD 1080p recording, with a dedicated button to switch to video mode. The camera comes with a pop-up ﬂash, but no hot-shoe, so you can’t attach an external ﬂash. On top is also a set of stereo speakers, handy when you want to preview your home videos. One of the best parts about this camera is the 3-inch tiltable LCD monitor. Unlike a lot of digicams in the market, there’s also an electronic viewﬁnder. We’re used to optical viewﬁnders in DSLRs, but for those used to point and shoot digicams, this won’t be a turn off. An interesting addition is the dioptre adjustment control, which enables you to get your subject in focus when you’re not on Autofocus mode. The P500 has a nice rubberised grip on the front and back, which is great for shaky hands. Apart from the USB connector on the side, there’s also a Mini HDMI connector, which is a neat feature. The camera weighs around 500 g, which feels nice and ﬁrm in your hands, without weighing you down.
User interface The advantage with any Nikon camera is its intuitive user interface. It’s very similar to the menu on most Nikon DSLRs – easy to navigate with lots of professional functions.
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Most digicam users will look for a nice selection of scene modes to choose from, and the P500 doesn’t disappoint. Within the scene menu, there is an option to choose Scene auto selector, or pick between the 15 available scene modes. There’s an interesting Pet portrait, which on default takes three consecutive shots, but you can change this option on the Continuous shooting mode. There’s also a Panorama mode, with an option for Panorama assist, which forms a ghost image on the monitor to enable you to line up your next shot. The high speed CMOS sensor is used in the continuous shooting mode. The continuous H mode captures images at 8 fps. You can shoot at 1.8 fps which will capture 24 shots. Extreme options include 50 shots at 120 fps and 25 shots at 60 fps. The camera froze a couple of times when we tried the 120 fps mode. There’s also a BSS mode, or best shot selector, which takes up to 10 images, and selects the sharpest and most detailed one to save and display. Multi shot 16 takes 16 images of your subject, and arranges them in a single photo, which is a nice effect. For Macro shots, you can either select the Close-up mode from the available scenes, or if you’re shooting in P, S, A, M modes, select the Macro option from the control pad. Shutter speed varies according to the Continuous shooting mode you choose, and goes from 1/4000 seconds to 8 seconds. Aperture is smallest at f8. ISO ranges from 160 to 3,200. The only feature the camera lacks is the ability to take photos in RAW format, which is something even
lower-priced cams are equipped to do.
Results We tested the Nikon P500 under a variety of conditions. On average, most of our photos turned out with excellent colour reproduction. The camera performed well under low light conditions, but we found a lot of grain when we used ISO higher than 400. We took a couple of shots in a restaurant with dim lighting, and the camera used the ambient light to illuminate the photos, without any resulting blur. However, the images tended to be quite soft around the edges and lacked detail. Outdoors, or in bright lighting, results were much better. Even in full zoom, we managed to get clear images. However, there was the problem of fringing around the edges. If you’re shooting on maximum zoom with your subject in the centre of the frame, such as with nature shots, you won’t ﬁnd it to be too much of a problem. The night landscape mode worked really well, giving us well balanced shots. We tried the Night Portrait mode on a rooftop restaurant, which gave us soft but well lit images, and managed to get in the city lights in the background. This mode won’t work with moving subjects though. The Macro mode worked really well, giving us good results even when we zoomed in on the subject. There’s an onscreen indicator which will tell you when you’re too close to your subject. We got some good results with nature shots, with the subject nicely in focus and the background blurred.
From top (clockwise): Macro mode shows subject in detail and blurs the background for effect; Pet portrait mode takes three consecutive shots to capture changes in expression, Portait mode makes good use of ambient light but results appear soft and grainy
Our Verdict The Nikon P500 has average battery life, which will give you about 220 shots on a full charge. If you’re going to do some intense shooting when you’re on a holiday or shoot HD videos, we’d recommend carrying a spare battery. For a camera in this class, the P500 delivers excellent results, but isn’t really convenient for shooting in manual modes. It’s a good learning camera though, so you can start with the presets and then move your way to more manual functions when you’re comfortable with it. Love: mpact build, good photo reproduction Hate: Poor battery life, fringing at telephoto end Rs 23,950 email@example.com
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Gamer’s envy, owner’s pride Photo: S.S. Kumar
The laptop has 4 GB of RAM, which can be upgraded to 12 GB if desired. Sound is powered by Dynaudio, and the laptop also features DTS surround sound.
Ketaki Bhojnagarwala ith PC games becoming increasingly graphics heavy, there has been a growing need amongst hardcore gamers to graduate to computers that are more capable of running a game to its full potential. MSI, a relatively young entrant in the gaming laptop market, aims to bridge the gap with the GX660. We spent a major part of our time glued to its screen this week, and here are our thoughts.
W Look & Feel
The GX660 looks like something out of an alien movie, we kid you not. The glossy black contoured lid has angled edges, and the base has a checkered totem pattern. Open up the lid and you’re greeted by a 15.6-inch Full HD LED Backlit LCD display, with a 16:9 aspect ratio. The GX660 incorporates a full size island-style keyboard, and a dedicated number pad. There are WASD keys for gamers, as well as two sets of conveniently located directional arrow keys. The trackpad is smooth and spacious, with a brushed metal clickpad. The palmrest features the same checkered pattern as the lid. The top corners of the keyboard hold circular speakers. A cool feature is the row of touch sensitive buttons on top of the keyboard. This includes one touch access to
Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Cooler Boost. Interesting keys include Turbo, which allows you to increase the speed of your CPU. The Eco key allows you to change power consumption depending on the task you’re using, while the ‘breathe’ key allows you to personalise LED behaviour in different modes. These buttons, along with various other LED lights located around the laptop glow orange, depending on what program you’re running. The GX660 has a nice selection of ports, mostly everything you need from a full-ﬂedged gaming lappie. The sides hold two USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, 4-in-1 card-reader, headphone and microphone jack and DVD writer. A DDR3 SO-DIMM x 3 slot allows you to easily expand memory. The back holds an HDMI, eSATA, VGA and LAN port. There’s also a 720p HD webcam for video chats.
The inside The MSI GX660 is powered by an Intel Core i7 processor, and is equipped with ATI Radeon HD5870 graphics. One of the best graphics cards for gaming, it’s usually found on laptops that don’t require long battery life. The hard drive has a capacity of 640 GB which is quite generous, although it should be mentioned that a lot of the more expensive notebooks in this category now ship with 1 TB hard drives.
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In order to test the gaming capabilities of this laptop, we played Crysis 2 and StarCraft 2, games so graphics heavy that put even the most powerful PCs to the test. At the laptop’s native screen resolution, there was no frame dropping during gameplay. The Dynaudio speakers complemented the gaming experience, and being ideally located on top of the keyboard, didn’t mufﬂe sound. We ran the Passmark benchmark, and got an overall score of 999.4, and a 3D Graphics Mark score of 1338.7, which is higher than scores by similar laptops in the cateogory. Because of its enhanced gaming capabilities, the laptop is also great for watching videos or listening to music. However, its high-end processor and graphics card means that it is power-hungry and heavy, so it’s not ideal for carting around. The laptop loaded websites quickly, but the trackpad doesn’t support pinch to zoom. Battery life lasted us about 1 hr 10 minutes during gameplay.
Our Verdict The GX660 is a laptop that’s built to optimise your gaming experience. From a drool worthy screen to excellent graphics to a surround sound system, this lappie has everything a gamer needs. Priced lower than other laptops in its category, this could be a tempting buy for budding gamers. Love: Good 3D graphics performance, Dynaudio speakers Hate: Laptop heats up during gameplay Rs 90,000
Subtlety on four luxurious wheels Jason H. Harper tealth wealth. What else to call the phenomenon of deceptively simple $15,000 Hermes Birkin bags, or customers requesting Tiffany purchases in plain brown shopping bags rather than the iconic blue ones? British carmaker Bentley has been practicing the art of expensive subtlety since well before the recession, launching the Continental GT in 2003 for $150,000. No ﬂashy Ferrari this: The big-boned coupe doesn’t say Bentley anywhere on the outside - aﬁcionados will recognise the double-winged ‘B’ badge, while others could mistake it for a $30,000, ﬁrst-generation Chrysler 300. The Chrysler had a similar upright grill, but isn’t available with Bentley options like a $7,000 stereo system or a $550 removable hard case for storing keys. Bentley has followed up the base GT with ever more expensive ‘Speed’ and ‘Supersports’ versions, not bothering to brand them either. Pay an extra $17,000 to $77,000 without obvious bragging rights. Even modern classics must be remade, and so the Louboutin- heeled get an all-new 2012 model which looks amazingly like the old. Starting at $189,900, it takes a practiced eye, or a Bentley dealer, to tell the difference. The Continental has always left me cold. Cramped
inside considering the sizable girth, it’s a heavyweight. I also prefer a bit more pizazz for my hundreds of thousands.
bulky. With lots of horsepower, they were better suited to hard blasts of acceleration than high-speed cornering.
No Bull Botox Yet several days of driving the 2012 model left me liking everything more. In most every way, the Bentley is better. The exterior has been gently re-sculpted with a little nip, a little tuck. It’s as if sagging lines were crisped by metal- ﬁrming Botox. Without an older model alongside for comparison, I couldn’t tell the exact differences, yet slight wrongs were righted. My $211,640 test car came in ‘Thunder’ - an interesting gray - with 21-inch wheels. The interior was camel-coloured, with walnut veneers covering most surfaces that weren’t stitched leather. A hide-covered ledge juts out beyond the dash, framing the driver and cascading to the centre console. There’s a new navigation and infotainment system, but we’ll come back to that. Bentley’s interiors have always been a major selling point, but this one was superlative. It still isn’t as expansive inside as you might hope, but it is a luxurious perch. It drives better as well. It’s hard to truly call the Continental a sports car. Even the Speed versions felt heavy and
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But last year Bentley released the 620-hp Supersports, which drives like the devil is chasing it. The suspension and all-wheel-drive system was tweaked just so: Now, it blasts around curves. That ﬁnesse has ﬁltered down. Because now when you slap the GT’s accelerator, the engine makes a delicious roar and the car stands on its tippy toes. Take a challenging line on a curving road and this GT will set to it, following that ﬁrst command of the wheel rather than hedging its bets by asking you to seesaw the wheel to account for clumsy weight. As before, the suspension can be dialled from normal to sport, going from lily-pad soft to moderately hard, though it never approaches spine-rattling. It’s a grand touring car, after all. So, more sports car, less bull in the china closet. Drivers should still remember to brake early into corners - there’s no help for the 5,100-plus pounds. But the brakes are superb and the whole car feels more self-aware. The steering is ﬁrm and likes a slow hand.
Lost in Jersey The car is all-wheel-drive and power comes from a large 6.0-litre W-12. This one delivers 567 horses and an impressive 516 pound-feet of torque. A 4.0-litre V-8 will also become available and should help with sorry gas mileage. Even the ridiculous behind-the-wheel paddles, which I’ve previously compared to Dumbo’s ears for their odd placement and shape, have diminished in size. I’m guessing the average Bentley driver ignored them anyhow. Which brings us to the navigation system - a pain point for any person who’s ever driven a modern Bentley. They are owned by the Volkswagen Group, so I’ve always wondered why they didn’t simply source one from
Audi, just as once electronically-challenged Lamborghini has done? To give you an example: Not so long ago, the navigation in a $308,870, ﬂashy red Continental Supersports convertible led us straight to the dodgiest neighbourhood in New Jersey it could ﬁnd, ostensibly on the way to Pennsylvania - then kind of shrugged and gave up. The new GT has an 8-inch touch screen that uses Google Maps and has a 30-gigabyte hard drive. While it still isn’t better than your average Honda system, I’ll wager it can ﬁnd the state of Pennsylvania. Leave it to Bentley to do a redesign this subtle. To be conﬁdent that the new car is exactly what customers were already looking for: More of the same, only better.
The 2012 Bentley Continental GT at a Glance Engine: 6.0-litre, twin-turbo W-12 with 567 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque. Transmission: ZF 6-speed automatic. Speed: 0 to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds. Gas mileage per gallon: 12 city; 19 highway. Best features: Better looking, better driving. Worst features: Interior still feels small for size of the car. Miserable mpg. Target buyer: Luxury lover who prefers to cruise under the radar. Price as tested: $211,640. (The author writes about autos for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
MELANGE luxury redeﬁned
Blue can be sizzling too. Don on these oversized frames from D & G and do some sun shading in style. If blue is not your colour, then smoked metallic red and green is delish too. Available: Select eyewear outlets and lifestyle stores Price: Rs 15,700
Flip for these limited edition ﬂip-ﬂops from Calvin Klein Swimwear on a lazy beach day. Ideal to pair with those cool summer shorts. Available: Calvin Klein Jeans exclusive brand stores Price: Rs 999 onwards
Lucky number 8! Kiehl’s eight summer essentials to beat the heat has a neat range of sun blocks, repair concentrates, serums, mist, toners, lotions and anti-perspirant creams. Available: Kiehl’s, Ambience Mall, New Delhi Price: Rs 1,200 to Rs 2,600
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Hit the blue beaches in style by slipping into Gucci’s Selva Swim Jersey Saddlery Degrade print. This gathered bandeaux one piece is a head-turner all the way! Available: Gucci stores Price: On request
LUXURY a la carte
Fluffed, shaken or stirred…? The A-luxury horsehair top mattress on a Swedish frame bed is wrapped in exotic linen, an inviting bath is drawn up with fragrant salts and the aroma of gourmet chocolate ﬁlls the room. Luxury hotels are leaving no pillow unturned when it comes to wooing the weary traveller, says ANUSHYA MAMTORA
ITC Royal Gardenia, Bengaluru
nglish novelist and poet Charlotte Bronte once said “A rufﬂed mind makes a restless pillow”. The quote often comes to mind nowadays when we are invited to review a new luxury hotel property. The big brands in the business are taking the experience of indulgence to a new high and they have been using the head rest to get to their guests’ hearts. Our last few experiences have been truly ﬂattering; especially those that are created for guests at twilight. A dining menu for those hors d’oeuvres you can nibble on as you soak in the bathtub. A spa menu with some signature treatments you can book the next day. A beverage menu with a delectable cognac list. And the pillow menu! Yes, you read that right, a printed menu with an exhaustive list of pillows you can choose from. The hospitality industry is always bursting with fresh and creative ideas to give that extra helping of luxury, which when added can take the experience up a few notches. And it needn’t always be a complimentary airport transfer in a stretch limousine or the choicest bottle of
Photos: Anushya Mamtora
champagne on-the-house. It can be something as simple as offering a choice of pillows! This latest addition to the thoughtful conveniences that luxury hotels churn out to pamper their guests with, is the recipe for a perfect good night’s sleep. And what better way than to give them a whole platter of exclusive pillows to choose from!
those who prefer ﬁrm support; contoured ones for cradling your head and neck in alignment with your spine (especially for those with orthopaedic conditions) and slim pillows for those who like it slender. A mandatory option on all pillow menus is non-allergic pillows with hypoallergenic properties, which is ideal for those who can’t handle strong smells, dust, mould or other allergens.
A modest choice
For the tired guest
Slim, ﬂuffy, soft, ﬁrm, contoured, straight… every individual has a special pillow that lulls them to sleep. Most hotels have a simple menu on offer. It targets guests who are the ‘inseparable-from-my-pillow’ kinds and helps them choose the exact one that they have at home. This ﬁts in perfectly with the hotel’s aim to break the ostentatious façade and ‘impersonal’ character which sometimes gets tagged to its image. With a pillow choice, they are truly promoting a ‘home away from home’ experience. Some popular options include duck or goose down pillows that are super soft; comfortable, hard pillows for
The guests for most luxury properties are corporate honchos on meetings, businessmen striking deals, globetrotting ambassadors and statesmen, in short those with hectic schedules. While they don’t get to enjoy the services of the hotel during the day, it’s small gestures like these that help score brownie points with them. Hence some super luxury properties usually offer a special range of pillows that not only target the neck, back and spine for relief while sleeping but are also ﬁlled with exotic materials for that bit of added comfort. Some examples for the
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tired, jet-lagged traveller include the exclusive neck pillow to support the part that supports the Head of State (literally) and relieves stress and stiffness. The other option is a life-size body pillow for full body comfort.
Exclusive options Then of course is the move to ultimate indulgence which the best in the industry are experts at. The materials get plusher, the ﬁllings get exotic and the options become mind boggling. While, cotton, wool, down and feather are common natural materials when it comes to pillow ﬁllings, special materials like horse-hair coming straight out of the tail or mane of horses, spelt or particular wheat husks, buckwheat and ﬂax seeds are exceptional others. There are also aromatherapy pillows with jasmine and lavender being the most sought after fragrance choices, anti-snores ones with speciﬁc contours and even ones for those who are hooked on to nicotine! firstname.lastname@example.org
The Leela Palace Kempinski, New Delhi
Exotic options, as we ﬂip through
Glancing through pillow menus of some luxury properties, here are some interesting ones that caught our eye: Smoker Pillow “Imprima”: This pillow from The Leela Palace Kempinski’s menu, is creatively designed for smokers and offers sleep therapy. It is created with an anti-smell treatment and is both ﬁre resistant and hypoallergenic and is ﬁlled with silicone coated ﬁbre balls. Meditation pillow: An eye-catching component of Taj Coromandel’s pillow menu is the Meditation pillow. The pillow is made with a special blend of aromatic Himalayan herbal plants used by Buddhist practioners for centuries and is said to support puriﬁcation, mental awareness and relaxation. NASA Pillow: Offered by Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong, the pillow is made from a technology breakthrough material developed for NASA astronauts experiencing high G-force during space travel. The pillow uses natural body heat to activate the adjustment of the foam to the body shape whereby this pressure is then absorbed by memory foam. Memory foam helps people who suffer back and neck pain, and also reduces the risk of developing pressure sores.
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BEVERAGES and more
Southern twist to delectable malts Whisky appreciation sessions have plenty of takeaways, apart from innumerable sips of the beverage and relearning the lesson of drinking responsibly! They also teach one to experiment, develop ﬁner appreciation skills and encourage interesting food pairing. At a recently held whisky appreciation event sponsored by American Express and anchored by whisky expert Sandeep Arora in Sheraton Park and Towers, Chennai the spirits were hand-picked and teamed with some delicious traditional South Indian cuisine. The inspiration behind the event was the amazing variety of scotch whiskies that can be paired effectively with Indian food. Being served ﬁrst along with some ﬁnger-licking good ﬁnger-food from Dakshin, was a deep gold 17 Year-old Ballantine’s whisky. This was followed by an 18 YO Chivas Regal, the 18 YO Glenlivet single malt scotch whisky, 21 YO Royal Salute
and 10 YO Aberlour. An important point that Sandeep makes about the age of the scotch whisky being served is that the number of years mentioned on the bottle and packaging is usually the minimum time that the whisky has spent in the oak cask. Even in blended scotch whiskies, it is not an average, but the minimum number of years that the whisky has been matured. And incidentally, whisky does not continue to mature after it has been bottled. Further, just as is the case with wine, whisky appreciation also involves the entire process of swirling, nosing, appreciating the legs of the drink and ultimately discovering the complex notes and tastes of the whisky. Sandeep Arora is a qualiﬁed whisky brand ambassador and Director of Spiritual Luxury Living Pvt. Ltd, South Asia’s premiere International Luxury Spirits and Whisky Management Company.
New whisky launched Aspri Spirits is introducing Scotland Whisky brand BenRiach in the Indian market. The brand has some interesting offerings like its ‘Classic Speyside’ style with eight core expressions, Peated BenRiach, Wood Finishes, Peated/ Wood Finishes, Special Editions like Horizones (12YO triple distilled) and Solstice (15YO peated/ tawny port ﬁnish).
An exclusive indulgence Pouring some cognac from an exquisite looking bottle, has its own high. And Remy Martin has hit the right note with its new Louis XIII Rare Cask. The decanter in black crystal, crafted by French crystal house Baccarat, is presented in a ‘coffret’ forged metal. The neck is decked in palladium and is secured by a metal clasp. Mirrors and internal lighting display the lustre of the black crystal and the ‘coffret’ is embellished with a quatrefoil design inspired by the royal ﬂeur-de-lys of France. The notes are unusual too with a bouquet of wild mushrooms, full, spicy tones and gingerbread, wax, nuts and fresh mint. Available at The Library Bar, The Leela Palace Kempinski, New Delhi. Rs 1.25 lakh for a peg
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Rafa’s Berry Smash
The Membrillo Ingredients: - 25 ml Glenmorangie Lasanta - 5 Dried Apricots (Finely chopped) - 1 Barspoon Membrillo – Quince jelly - 1 Cinnamon stick Procedure: Blaze in a brandy balloon until the quince is dissolved and ﬁne strain into an old fashioned glass to serve. Stir and garnish with a stick of cinnamon.
Ingredients: 6 Fresh Strawberries 4 Fresh blueberries 1 heaped spoon of caster sugar 50 ml of pomegranate juice 4 Fresh raspberries 10 ml of fresh lemon juice 50 ml of cranberry juice Ice cubes & crushed ice Procedure: Slice the strawberries in to ¼ and then place all the fruit, sugar and lemon juice into the glass section of a Boston glass. Muddle the ingredients, two presses is plenty, don’t overdo it. Add the cranberry juice, pomegranate juice and 6 – 8 large ice cubes to the Boston glass and shake hard for seven seconds. Pour the shaken drink into a tall glass and top it off with crushed ice.
The Hennessy Berry Ingredients: - 1 ½ parts of Hennessy VS - 3 ½ parts of Cranberry juice Procedure: Pour Hennessy into highball, ﬁll with ice cubes, top with cranberry juice. Garnish with a lime wedge
Ingredients: - 2.5 cl Cointreau - 5 cl Vodka - Splash of cranberry juice - Juice of half lime Procedure: Mix in a shaker with ice and garnish with a twist of orange inside the glass