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Smartbuy Business Line

G A D G E T S

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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A U T O |

L U X U R Y

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Winds of change Testing the new VW Jetta Page 8

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Reviews Asus Eee Pad Transformer TF101 BlackBerry Bold 9900

Exotic food special


WHAT’S HOT this week

Team Smartbuy Editorial Anushya Mamtora anushya@thehindu.co.in

Archana Achal archana.a@thehindu.co.in

Ketaki Bhojnagarwala ketaki@thehindu.co.in

Mahananda Bohidar mahananda@thehindu.co.in

S.Muralidhar muraliswami@thehindu.co.in

Design Bryan Gaughan aqua@thehindu.co.in

Balakrishnan designkbala@thehindu.co.in

Advertising Contact R.Diwakar ramdiwakar@thehindu.co.in

Web Advertising Contact N.Amarnath amarnath@thehindu.co.in

Bejewelled talktime

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Blue Sapphire Crystal Dior Phone Touch

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Cover photo: S. Muralidhar

Now, take your 3D along LG

The latest luxury phone to be launched by Dior is adorned with 99 Shanghai Blue sapphire crystal pieces to form the Dior cannage pattern. The case is made of supple leather topstitched with caning motif. The phone features a 3.2-inch multi-touch LCD with a resolution of 854x480 pixels, 5-meg autofocus camera with stabiliser and micro SD card slot. Connectivity options include 3G, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Price on request

A520

LG joins the 3D trend and with its 15.6-inch, 3D notebook. The portable packs in an Intel i5 processor and NVIDIA graphics. It comes with 3D technology in the shape of Film Patterned Retarder (FPR), a technology that optimises the separation of images for the left and right eye, which are then filtered through the glasses to give viewers blur-free 3D images. The laptop also boasts a FullHD LED-backlit LCD screen and SRS Wide 3D. To be announced

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Saving the day

Vu Super TV This 3D LED telly from Vu can also connect to the internet and stream a wide variety of movies and shows from Netflix, YouTube and more. The TV features a 100GB hard drive onto which you can download your favourite content, as well as USB 2.0, Pure Prism Panel, True Motion Technology, 3D digital combo filter, 1:1 Pixel mapping, Auto backlight control and touch panel buttons. It is also eco-friendly and energy efficient. Rs 1,49,990 (55-inch)

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Snappy ‘n sharp Razer

Blade

This high-end gaming laptop comes with a 17-inch LED backlit high-def display. The Razer Blade features a fast Intel Core i7 processor and a high performance NVIDIA GeForce® graphics processor. The Razer Switchblade UI offers 10 adaptive tactile keys for easier access of in-game commands, and an LCD capable of two modes: one to display in-game information when a mouse is in use; and another mode that functions as a multi-touch panel. $2,799.99

Instadroid! Android lovers have another reason to rejoice! Instagr.am, the funky photo sharing app for Apple might be on its way to making an Android debut. In an interview with the Guardian last week, Instagr.am CEO Kevin Systrom mentioned that Android was a ‘major priority’ for his team. The application has been downloaded over 8 million times since its debut on the App store, and can be used on any iPhone or iTouch. Instagr.am allows you to take a photo, apply a variety of effects or filters, and then share it on social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, etc. The app has a huge fan following, with users actively posting their photo art not only on these sites, but also on blogs and photo sharing sites like Flickr. With Android nabbing nearly 50 per cent of the phone market share, a dedicated app could boost Instragr.am’s user database by more than a few million!

An Apple in your kitty soon? Careless mistake or publicity stunt? In an uncanny encore of last year’s lost iPhone 4 incident, an employee managed to lose what seems like a prototype of the iPhone 5 last week. The next iPhone is rumoured to feature a dual-core A5 chip, more RAM, an 8-megger camera and a thinner design with a brushed metal back panel. There are also speculations about an ultraaffordable phone from Apple, equipped with 8GB internal memory, which could see the light of day soon. We think at least one of these, if not both, will be unveiled by September. Apple has been mum about the incident, while trying to retrieve a 3G-equipped MacBook prototype which went up for bid on eBay in mid-August.

Rugged smartie

Sony Ericsson Xperia active The latest Android to debut from Sony Ericsson is the active, a smartphone that can withstand the tough life. The scratch resistant screen responds to touch even if your hands are wet, and the phone comes with a gear kit and is preloaded with sports apps. The active features a 3-inch screen, Android 2.3 Gingerbread OS, Qualcomm Snapdragon S2 processor, Reality Display with Mobile BRAVIA Engine and 5-meg camera capable of HD video recording. Available in black and gold colour options. Rs 20,000 (approx)

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TABLET review

Asus Eee Pad Transformer TF101 Change is good Mahananda Bohidar nce upon a time, not too long ago, there was a tablet that wasn’t really a tablet. That’s how the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer TF101 would be described in tales of yore. Here, however, I’ll share with you a week of living with a tab that... well, really isn’t one!

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The daily grind Carrying a laptop everyday to work can be a pain especially when a lot of portables don’t stay true to their name. The ASUS Eee Pad Transformer however, fit quite snugly in my sling bag and didn’t give me a strained shoulder at the end of the day. It weighs in at about 680 grams without the additional weight of the optional keyboard dock, which also I always carried along. Eager to check out the responses to an FB event that I posted the previous night, I switch on the tablet. The almost 30-sec boot-up time seems to be the average that one can get on most Honeycomb-powered tablets these days. The iPad 2, I remember, was quicker. At my desk, I try snapping the tablet on to place in the keyboard dock but there’s nothing to indicate that I can now use the keyboard – no triangular Pointer on the screen. Turns out I have to push the tablet down harder till the ‘Unlock’ slider on the dock snaps back automatically to indicate that the device has been properly docked – and this takes a little more effort than I’d like to subject a brand new tablet to. One consolation, however, is the fact the Transformer’s build is anything but delicate. In its brushed brown aluminium bezel enveloped by a patterned matte back panel, the tablet looks and feels quite premium.

Testing the waters The home screen is cluttered with a bunch of apps that seem unwanted, so I quickly ‘long-press’ on and drag them to the right corner of the screen to get rid of them. After

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adding some apps and widgets to the home screen, I’m ready to configure my mails. Once through with that, the nice, bold mail widget, next to the blue clock on the Honeycomb home screen shows my unread mails while two neat rows of games, music and the internet apps are stacked at the bottom of the screen. I decide to try out some of the inbuilt apps, for which there’s a direct launcher on the screen. Browsing through a matrix of apps and flicking through the screens, I spot an eye-

catching UI design touch – if I am on the second page browsing through apps, I can see an outline of the last column of apps from the previous page on my left.

Double games One good thing about the interface is that you don’t have to

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switch one off to use the other. In the dock mode, I can still touch the screen to launch apps or scroll using the virtual scrollbar and not the touchpad. And scrolling reminds me that Honeycomb and OS X Lion are similar in wanting you to move your fingers up along the touchpad to scroll down a webpage. Another similarity is that the screen launches with a long press on the home screen – it shows you a miniversion of the five home screens on the top half of the page and all available widgets, app shortcuts, wallpapers and


Tech specs OS: Android 3.2 Honeycomb CPU: NVIDIA Tegra 2 Display: 10.1-inch LED Backlit screen with IPS (1280 x 800) Memory: 1GB Storage: 16GB /32GB + Unlimited ASUS Web storage Wireless: 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR Camera: 1.2-meg (front), 5-meg (rear) Connections: 2-in-1 Audio Jack, mini HDMI, Micro SD Card Reader, Internal Microphone Sensors: G-Sensor, Light Sensor, Gyroscope, E-compass, GPS Special apps: ASUS launcher, MyLibrary, MyNet, MyCloud, Zinio Magazine, PressReader, ASUS sync Battery: 9.5 hours; 24.4Wh Li-polymer Battery(4) 16 hours with Eee Station

more on the bottom half. This mode is reminiscent of Mission Control in Apple’s aforementioned OS but it differs in functionality as this one helps you quickly choose an app/widget and move it to the desired home screen.

Down to work After some loitering around in the virtual world, I get down to business. The only pre-loaded productivity app is Polaris Office. Skipping the registration process, I go to the main screen of the app and am asked to choose between a document, spreadsheet or presentation when I want to create a new file. I choose a document and get to work. The chiclet keypad initially makes me feel like I have a giant’s fingers. It is neatly spaced out but the small-ish keys take some getting used to. The fact that the keyboard is efficient and feels comfortable is a big help. Also, the virtual keyboard isn’t much of a disappointment because it has the super-efficient SWYPE installed in it. As long as I don’t have to lift a finger to use the wide, virtual keypad, I am not complaining. However, it’s much more comfortable to just use the physical keyboard while working on long documents.

Popcorn time The next day happened to be a movie night at my pad

where we watched ‘Nights in Rodanthe’ starring Richard Gere and Diane Lane. The colours on the 10.1-inch screen were nice and bright. The decent viewing angle saved the bunch of my friends from crowding around the netbook or fighting for space to get the right angle and we enjoyed the movie despite the super-glossy screen that reflected our faces along with the movie (at least for as long as the lights were on). The ASUS Eee Pad Transformer comes with ‘3D stereo’ with SRS premium sound. But while the volume on the tablet could be pumped up to fill a room, we’ve heard better when it comes to the sound quality. At times, especially at a slightly higher volume, the music or dialogues sound tinny and unnaturally metallic. Who can say no to a session of snapping when there’s a bunch of girls around? So, we get ready to pose before the 5-meg camera on the Transformer TF101. And in vain! The main 5-megger turned out to be quite a dampener. Most of the pictures we took, despite making sure that the scene was well-lit after an initial couple of grainy snaps, also failed to impress.

Wins for Android Facebook, gaming and Sudoku addicts, among many others, will love the awesome multi-tasking capabilities of the Transformer TF101. If you feel like catching up on Twitter or Facebook or getting a quick game of Angry Birds all you have to do is click one of the three buttons on the left bottom of the screen to open cascading thumbnails of all the apps you have running. One click and you switch from productivity to procrastination! While working on documents on Polaris Office, I noticed that the Honeycomb has a really easy text Copy method where you just double click on a word and you get a slider that you can move to highlight whatever amount of text you want. Powered by the NVIDIA Tegra 2 dual-core processor, the Transformer handled multimedia and graphics easily, freezing on us only once when the battery was really low. The tablet gave us almost 12-13 hours of battery life with an uninterrupted connection to the Wi-Fi network, a

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movie playback, occasional gaming and without having gone into sleep mode even once. However, the tablet only charges through a plug point and not over the USB connection when plugged in to a computer.

Deal-breakers The officially optional keyboard dock that I tested the Transformer TF101 with becomes more or less a necessity if you plan to buy the tablet. You can forget about transferring data from a USB drive to tablet if it’s without the dock as both the USB ports are placed on the keyboard. The same goes for the memory card from your camera and other multimedia devices. The HDMI port though is lodged on one side of the tablet so you can source video on to a high-definition television. I couldn’t find a way to create folders on the home screen on the device. The closest I could come to doing this was creating a folder in the internal storage and then dragging and dropping it on to the home screen. Also, after a couple of days we faced issues while trying to power up the tablet. A long press to reset the system by taking all power off including battery and holding down the power switch for 30 seconds is what Asus recommends to fix the issue.

A final word As the first of its kind to enter the market, ASUS Eee Pad Transformer TF101 is a device that stands out. With its compact size, running on Honeycomb 3.0 and providing long hours of usage, the tablet might be worth a try for those going in for their firsts despite its slight drawbacks. Love: Performs tablet-netbook roles efficiently, long battery life, user-friendly UI Hate: Distractingly glossy screen, standalone tablet doesn’t have enough ports, poor sound quality Rs 32,999

mahananda@thehindu.co.in


SMARTPHONE review

The best Bold so far? BlackBerry Bold 9900

Ketaki Bhojnagarwala iven a choice, most people today opting for a smartphone would choose an Android or an iPhone. BlackBerry, which once ruled the executive’s universe, has now been relegated to third place. The phones aren’t really media friendly, so for those who want to listen to music, watch videos or play games, a full touch phone is the obvious choice. However, RIMs USP continues to be instant messaging and push mail, and in my opinion, it is still Number One in the field of communication. The recently announced Bold 9900 is the latest in BlackBerry’s line-up of high-end smartphones. Equipped with a bunch of new features and the brand new BlackBerry 7 OS, will this phone keep BB fans happy?

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Design and build The Bold 9900 has the best design on any BlackBerry I’ve seen so far. It’s much broader, with a screen size of 2.8inches, which means a more spaced-out keyboard layout as well. Although BlackBerry calls the 9900 its thinnest smartphone yet, I found that it was merely the brushed stainless steel frame (which I must admit I loved), that

gives this impression. The battery cover protrudes a bit, so it does end up being quite bulky in your pocket. The back panel has a rubberised edge, and the battery cover has a chequered plastic finish with a 3D hologram effect. Physical controls include a lock switch, dedicated camera key and volume toggle switch. There’s a micro USB charging slot and 3.5mm jack for connectivity options. The screen on the Bold 9900 was impressive, to say the least. Although 2.8-inches can’t compare to some of the larger screens we’ve seen on some smartphones, it’s still larger than what we’ve seen on any Bold smartphone so far. One of the new features of BlackBerry 7 OS is Liquid Graphics which claims to offer faster response time and more fluid animations. The Bold 9900’s screen has a resolution of 640x480 pixels, and it’s also touch sensitive. It’s definitely more responsive than the Torch, but it wasn’t the smoothest when it came to scrolling. Higher pixel density means the screen is quite bright, and videos, photos and text looked sharper and brighter on it. Since the Bold 9900 also features the signature BlackBerry trackpad, I found that I was barely using the touch screen at all.

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The four standard BlackBerry control buttons are LED backlit and don’t require any of the hard pressing that users of the Curve series might have issues with. The keyboard was the best I’ve seen on any BlackBerry so far. It’s just that tad bit more spaced out, and I happily typed out long emails and IMs without feeling cramped. A few weeks ago, I mentioned that the Nokia E6 had a better keyboard than BlackBerry, but after using the Bold 9900, I’ve switched loyalties.

User interface There aren’t many visible differences between BlackBerry 6 OS and 7 OS. You still have the same Quick Access bar on top with your time, date and network settings. There’s a notification bar below that for all your alerts. At the bottom of the screen is the menu, where you can navigate up and down to see all your apps, or swipe from side to side to view different categories like Media, Favourites, Downloads, etc. The search function on the phone is great, because it lets you not only check the entire content of the phone, but also search Google, Facebook, Maps and a bunch of other apps. While this feature was present in 6 OS, the little micro-


Key features of BlackBerry 7 OS ● Liquid graphics for a better touch

experience ● HTML5 support in the browser ● Augmented Reality apps ● NFC (Near Field Communications)

lets you tap and connect ● 720p HD video recording ● Voice activated universal search

Photos: R. Ravindran

phone icon which lets you do a voice search is a new addition. Other interesting new additions to 7 OS are HTML5 support, 720p HD video recording, NFC and augmented reality apps. Some augmented reality apps even let you see which of your BBM contacts are nearby by using your camera and GPS!

Media The Bold 9900 features a unified inbox which integrates all your messages, including your Facebook and Twitter private messages, in one place. Personally, I wished that BlackBerry would allow me to have separate inboxes, one for work and one for personal emails. It was a bit distracting to fish out official emails from a party invite on Facebook. I found quite a bit of difference in the browser, which was faster and loaded pages quickly. The screen supports pinch to zoom and scrolling (using the trackpad) is lightning fast, which made browsing a real pleasure. Despite the screen being so bright, it’s not the ideal size for watching videos. It was fine to check out random videos on YouTube, but even though I loaded a couple of

movies onto the phone, I couldn’t sit through more than 10 minutes of any of them because it started to strain my eyes a bit. The square-ish profile and smaller size of the screen also means that in widescreen (16:9) mode videos become really narrow. The camera is a 5-meg with LED flash, and as I mentioned earlier, is capable of Full HD recording. There are a bunch of Scene modes you can choose from too. Don’t be surprised at the lack of a front facing camera though, BlackBerry is yet to support video calling. Like a lot of phones nowadays, the Bold 9900 offers 8GB of internal storage. If you want to be a media hog though, you can expand this by an additional 32GB via micro SD.

Performance Running a 1.2 GHz processor, the Bold 9900 is definitely snappier than its predecessors. I didn’t face the slightest hint of a lag when opening any app or even multi-tasking. Navigating and scrolling just felt a whole lot more fluid, and the phone didn’t freeze even once. Call quality on the phone was one of the best I’ve heard so far, and I was able to hear callers clearly in noisy, trafficky situations. I didn’t have any complaints from

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callers on the other side, neither did I face a problem with dropped calls, as is the case with many smartphones. The proximity sensor worked to perfection and I had none of those annoying problems with the touch screen getting activated when I was on a call. Battery life was better than an Android for sure, with the phone running for about a day and a half on a full charge.

Our Verdict The Bold 9900 is undoubtedly the best Bold smartphone to be launched by BlackBerry so far. 7 OS brings in a whole range of new features which BlackBerry badly needed considering the leaps and bounds by which Android is advancing. Since BlackBerry doesn’t allow any older devices to be upgraded to the new operating system, the Bold 9900 is a tantalising option both for existing BlackBerry users and for new ones too. Love: Clear screen, excellent keyboard Hate: Quite pricey for an upgrade Rs 32,490 ketaki@thehindu.co.in


AUTO focus

Built to win? S. Muralidhar here are benefits to be had by following a kind of unified design philosophy. Cars from the brand bear a comforting resemblance, a signature that is immediately identifiable as its own. And importantly, if its premium models’ lines are carried down to the more affordable cars, there can be a positive impact on sales. Unfortunately though, buyers of premium sedans may not embrace the concept if the car’s design closely resembles a smaller-sized, less expensive sibling. It is a tough line to walk for designers - to retain the DNA of the brand in every model in its portfolio and at the same time give each one of them a unique identity. Volkswagen’s designers must be faced with an even more challenging situation, with 13 brands under the group’s umbrella. Avoiding resemblances between brands and between the models within a brand would probably get even more complex. So much so that you would think that there is bound to be the occasional repeat stroke from the designer’s pen. Is the new VW Jetta a case in point?

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Design The new Jetta’s design is a bit more curious because it seems to share lines with cars from both ends of VW’s stables. While it seems to look like a smaller sized Passat when viewed from a distance, step closer and at the front there are lines that seem to have been borrowed from the Polo and Vento too. At the rear there seems to be a bit of

Audi influence. The new Jetta has transformed and moved away from its rounded edges, and though the previous generation also bore resemblances to both the Golf hatch and the Passat, it also had more individualism. Yet, the new sixth generation Jetta is a classic VW design. Simple, straight, elegant lines that manage to make the sedan look wider, but smaller than it actually is, on the outside. The new design also still gives it striking looks, only it can get a bit confusing when the new Jetta is amongst other VW cars. Despite what the resemblances in exterior design might seem to indicate, the sixth gen Jetta has been built on a completely independent platform. The new model is 4,644mm long, about 90mm longer overall than the predecessor and has a wheelbase of 2,633mm, which is about 58mm longer now. It is also 1,453mm in height and 1,778mm wide. The weight of the car is marginally up by about 25 kgs. Leveraging the longer wheelbase, VW engineers are said to have managed to push back the rear seat and get almost three inches of extra kneeroom and legroom for rear passengers. The new chassis is also evidently more rigid and dynamic, improving on the Jetta’s already strong image of it being driver-oriented. The new Jetta’s design is also more coupe-like now with the incline and sweep of the windshield and the A-pillar. The new design headlamps now incorporate daytime running lights as standard, and there is also an LED package that is an optional addition. The dual reflector headlights are sectioned by a masking blade into a larger area with the

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low and high beam lights and the narrow lower section houses the daytime lights. Aerodynamic door mirrors with integrated turn indicator lights, prominent wheel arches and the VW trademark ‘tornado’ line are all eye-catching features when the new Jetta is viewed from the side. The rear is again a classic VW design. Stubby short boot, wraparound tail-lamps, twin exhaust pipes peeping out of an oversized rear bumper and thickset C-pillars are what you get at the rear. Despite the thick looking C-pillar, rear visibility is not affected thanks to a large rear glass and the cabin itself is well lit and airy due to the fairly large green house. A new design ‘Navarra’ 16-inch alloy wheels are standard fitment and they are shod with 205/55 R16 tyres.

Interiors The interior has Volkswagen design written all over it. Elegant, simple and ergonomic, the cabin is focused on practical luxury. A two-tone – dark grey on top and beige below – interior theme has been chosen and the layout is clean and familiar. I test drove the Highline trim variant which came with wood inserts, chrome bits and leatherette seat upholstery (not real leather). Real leather wraps for the steering wheel, gear knob and hand brake are standard in all three variants. The interior fit and finish quality is typically VW. There is a lot of the German-feel to the cabin (except the beige of course), soft plastic on the dash, perfectly matching edges and certain solidity to every part. Choice of music system


Photos: S. Muralidhar

? You betcha! and accessories available vary with the trim level. The top-end variant gets aux-in slots and the touch screen unit on the dash which is also used in some of the other VW group models. Of course, there is no navigation option in the India-spec model. Controls and knobs are all easy to access and the increase in space available is obvious at the rear, even with the front seats pushed all the way back. The only complaint amongst a few buyers could be the rather tall central driveline tunnel that may make it uncomfortable for the passenger in the middle, if three adults were to be sitting at the rear. The seats themselves are perfectly shaped and bolstered at all the right places. Electrically adjustable lumbar support and 12-way power adjustment is available only for the driver’s seat and only in the Highline variant.

Engine and performance VW has chosen to launch the new Jetta with only a diesel engine, at least for now. The two-litre engine is shared with other VW group models, but finally, the Jetta also gets a DSG automatic gearbox, in addition to the manual option. The 1,968cc, 16-valve, 4-cylinder turbodiesel engine featuring a current generation common rail injection system is one of the quietest you’ll come by. Refined and offering a lot of low-end torque, this engine is a good choice for buyers in the segment. In terms of in-cabin refinement, the engine and packaging is so good that you

can barely figure out that it is a diesel. There is no clatter, even during idling and there is just a tolerably low gruffy engine noise during hard acceleration. Unlike the Passat’s engine characteristics, in the Jetta, the engine produces a lower 140PS of peak power that is delivered at a similar 4,200 rpm. Peak torque of 320 Nm, also lower than the Passat’s, but more than adequate, is also delivered within the 1,750 rpm to 2,500 rpm band. The engine’s characteristics feel ideal for the Jetta and it is well matched with both the six-speed manual and the six-speed DSG automatic gearbox. During the test drive I felt that there was a bit of lag discernable in the DSG gearbox Highline variant, though that was mostly in the fully automatic Drive mode. The programming must be tuned towards quick upshifts to preserve fuel efficiency. In sport mode, the gearbox tended to stay in gear in a wider rpm range and there was no urgency to shift up. Of course, depending on the demand (like when you are overtaking) and/or the amount of fun you want to have with the car, you can choose to flip the steering-mounted paddle shifters, which are now available with the DSG (only in Highline variant), to downshift and accelerate quickly. The manual gearbox is also a slick shifting unit and with the loads of low-end torque, you can stay in within the first three gear slots for most road conditions. I felt that turbo lag was much less evident in the manual. In the handling department too the new Jetta scores high marks. The dynamic chassis tuning makes sure that the car is confident and composed in most situations. At

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tight corners and quick overtakes there is very little body roll or loss of traction. A reason for that is also the availability of ESP as standard. Drivers looking for an even more engaging drive might be a little irked by the fact there is no option of turning off ESP. Suspension tuning is spot on and the new Jetta manages to soak up most of what the road conditions can throw at it. Potholes and rough patches are only heard inside the cabin as the Jetta passes over them; very little effect is felt on the seat squab. McPherson front suspension with coil springs and telescoping shock absorbers have been the choice for the India-spec variants.

Bottomline In the US, one of Jetta’s key markets, VW has managed to drop prices and some of that must have been possible due to parts sharing. For the India-spec Jetta, VW has managed to hold prices or marginally lower it too depending on the trim. The good part of the new package being offered is the amount of equipment that you’ll get even in the base ‘Trendline’ variant, including six airbags and a lot of other safety features as standard. The new Jetta is being offered with three variants – Trendline, Comfortline and Highline, with the DSG gearbox available as an option in the Highline variant only. Prices start from Rs 14 lakh to about Rs 17.5 lakh (exshowroom). Buy the new Jetta for its solid engineering, elegant interiors and trademark VW style inside-out. muraliswami@thehindu.co.in


MELANGE luxury redefined

Mysterious mint Fell the magnetic pull of Code Sport, the new fragrance for men from Giorgio Armani. Three varieties of mint, Sicilian mandarin, vetiver and ginger come together to form a scent that’s both attractive and seductive. Available at lifestyle stores across India. Rs 4,500 (75ml) and Rs 5,200 (125ml)

Wild wrists Explore your exotic side with the new wrist cuffs from Fendi. These wide, brass cuffs feature stingray leather details with gemstones like onyx and yellow jasper and push-lock clasps. Available at its store in Emporio Mall, New Delhi. Rs 57,270 approximately

All business! Stay trendy at office and on trips with Delsey’s new Corporate Collection range of bags . Made with premium fabrics in a sleek and elegant design, these bags can add the finishing touch to your business attire. Available at select stores in New Delhi. Rs 1,600 to Rs 12,000

Avian attraction

Perfect peach

Steuben celebrates the pretty Atlantic puffin with the crystal Puffin Rock piece. Based on the design of James Houston, their legendary designer, the piece is beautifully crafted with the detailing of waves and sparkling puffins. Available at Emporio Mall and The Right Address Boutique, New Delhi. Price on request

Burberry Body is the sensuous new fragrance for women from the house of Burberry. Floral notes of iris and rose mingle with fruity peach to create a mesmerising scent, contained in a jewel-like bottle. Available at select stores worldwide. Price on request

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EXOTIC picks

Healthy herbs, secret spices Who said gourmet food is limited to a five-star fine dining experience? With easy access to exclusive ingredients, whipping up a flavourful feast is just a passionate cook away. ARCHANA ACHAL lists out some exotic ingredients that can sit pretty on your kitchen mantle and change the way you cook

Photos: Bloomberg

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minerals, watercress is known to have medicinal properties too. It is truly the herb for the health-conscious.

or the new-age cook, stocking up on fresh gourmet ingredients is as important as flashing your smashing new cutlery or kitchen aid. And with speciality food outlets sprouting up across the country, you needn’t track down distant aunts to fetch you exotic ingredients from foreign locations. Whether you are an expert or still finding your way around crafting gourmet food, here are some exclusive herbs and spices that will do wonders to your dish.

Lively lemon: Lemongrass A favourite ingredient in south-Asian cuisine, lemongrass is growing in popularity the world-over. This herb has green leaves with a pale, scallion-like base. It is best used fresh as it imparts a lemony flavour and zesty, citrus fragrance. Lemongrass stalks are pounded lightly to release the fragrant oils and then added to soups and curries. It definitely adds the “yum” factor to the muchloved Thai tom yum soup. One can also use the soft, inner stem to make a quirky apple salad with stir-fried squid.

Pretty in purple: Purple Basil Most of us are familiar with green basil, the variety that is commonly seen in pesto sauces or sitting pretty atop salads, but a less commonly used version is purple basil. Purple basil is distinguished from the other varieties by its dark purple leaves, which may be ruffled at the edges. The flavour imparted by this herb is stronger than that of green basil, so it is better to use it prudently. The leaves can be pan-fried pressed into a slice of haloumi cheese, or even crushed and added to lemonade for a delicious summer drink.

An old favourite: Parsley Parsley, a bright green and fresh-tasting herb, native to the Mediterranean and used since the Middle Ages is sidelined very often to a single sprig placed at the edge of the plate as a garnish. There is a lot more to parsley than just its pretty colour. Fresh flat-leaf parsley, when part of a bouquet garni, is used to flavour stocks and stews like the Italian Cioppino. Why not twist plain pesto by making one with chilli-lime cashews, parsley and cilantro? Baked brie with parsley and almonds is an interesting textural dish as well.

Peppery pick: Watercress Watercress is a lush, green herb that grows in aquatic areas. Watercress belongs to the radish family and hence has a peppery tang as well as a pungent flavour. It imparts a great twist to plain salads - try a watercress, mango and duck salad. It can be paired with goat’s cheese and avocado as well. Bursting with vitamins and

Alaskan halibut with tarragon and breadcrumb salsa

Delicate delight: Tarragon Tarragon, a herb found across the globe is distinct both

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September 7, 2011


Watercress

in its taste and appearance. The fine leaves are silverygreen with the taste of liquorice, aniseed and sometimes mild vanilla. Tarragon is one of the few herbs whose potency decreases when dried and is therefore best used fresh. It also forms the basis of French cuisine, along with parsley, chives and chervil. Tarragon is used in many sauces, especially the Béarnaise, and in fish preparations.

Starry surprise: Star Anise The fruit of a small evergreen tree grown mostly in China, star anise is as flavourful as it is beautiful. The star-shaped spice is dried and powdered at times, or used whole along with the seeds. It is a staple in South-East Asian cuisine and is used mainly to flavour meats and poultry, like in tea-smoked duck breast. In India, it is added to biryani and pork dishes. Star Anise lends a pungent, aniseed flavour that can be quite overpowering. Add a piece to your Christmas punch or go truly whacky with star anise and

balsamic vinegar cookies.

Peppy powder: Paprika Paprika is the spice obtained from the grinding down of certain dried capsicum varieties. It is milder than chilli powder but has its own pungency and intensity. Paprika is found in most European homes in various forms, mild and sweet, semi-spicy or really hot! It is used to flavour cheeses, sausages and chicken dishes. It is also sprinkled over curries and stews to add depth in taste. Add a dash to your hummus dip or couscous to spice it up. You can even go Istanbul-chic with a Turkish Lamacun pizza made with flatbread, lamb, paprika and bell peppers.

Far-eastern staple: Galangal Galangal is a ginger-like spice, used widely in SouthEastern cooking for its added therapeutic properties. It resembles ginger in its looks but is slightly peppery in its

flavour. Galangal, with its pine-like aroma, is added to seafood dishes to play down the fishy smell. Hot and sour shrimp soup and prawn fritters are uplifted by galangal. It is best used fresh in curry pastes and clear soups, like in a chicken and bamboo shoot curry.

Sichuanese heat: Sichuan peppercorns Sichuan peppercorns are a unique spice used in Asian cuisine, from China to Nepal and Tibet. The name is a misnomer as it is not a type of peppercorn but just the dried fruit of rue trees. Only the husk is used in dishes and the effect is a tingling sensation, bordering on numbness. Lightly toasted along with sea salt, it is used as a condiment in fried squid and pork dishes. It is also used to flavour momos and stir-fried tofu. Try the wonderfully weird mocha mousse with Sichuan peppercorns or Lo Bok radish with peanut oil, rice vinegar and Thai chillies as a new-age coleslaw. archana.a@thehindu.co.in

Pasta with mussels, scallops and parsley


GOURMET encounters

Spawning a taste for caviar Michael Swamy uxury doesn’t get any smaller! Once the food of royalty, caviar is now a dish that has become synonymous with luxury. But what is it about the exotic caviar that puts it right up the gourmet charts? Let’s take a look. Caviar consists of the non-fertilised eggs of three species of sturgeon fish in the Caspian Sea, which have been salted and allowed to mature. The word is derived from the Italian term ‘caviale’, which is in turn a derivative of the Turkish word ‘havyar’. Mentioned as early as 1432 in the French Renaissance writer Rabelais’ “Gargantua and Pantagruel”, caviar is described as the choice hors d’oeuvre. Caviar was introduced to France in the 1920s following the exile of Russian princes. Charles Ritz then formally launched caviar as a luxury item by placing it permanently on the menu of his hotel.

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Varieties of caviar The types of caviar available are as follows:

Beluga: The largest of the sturgeon species, the eggs are light to dark grey in colour with large granules and delicate skin. Osetra: The rarest of the sturgeon species whose eggs are dark brown to golden in colour with large granules and delicate skin. This is sometimes referred to as Royal Caviar. Sevruga: The eggs of this species are smaller with a fine dark grey colour. Roe from salmon is cheaper; prized for its decorative qualities and flavour, these large red eggs are a delicacy and not as expensive as caviar. The Golden Whitefish caviar has a delicate flavour and is used primarily as a garnish for many gourmet dishes. American caviar, though cheaper and obtained from the Atlantic sturgeon, is slowly making inroads into the luxury market. The term for top quality caviar is malossol which means "little salt" in Russian, as caviar is salted to keep it fresh. Malossol treatment allows the flavour of the eggs to stimulate the palate while retaining the freshness of the eggs for up to

three months. Some of the best caviar comes from the Caspian Sea near Iran and Russia. The seed-like black eggs may look tiny but are packed with flavour. Simply sieved, the roe is raw but nowadays, can also be pasteurised.

A little goes a long way When faced with the prospect of buying caviar, one must decide on the amount of caviar needed. A serving of caviar is only 4 tsp per person, which is about 14 gm. This may seem too miniscule a portion but at social gatherings it is considered bad taste to consume more than an ounce. The fragile texture of caviar calls for gently spooning it out of the jar. Single grains are often lifted with the tip of the knife. Caviar can even be gently strained with cold water using a tiny strainer but must then be consumed almost immediately. The drawback to using metal implements is that the roe imbibes a slight metallic flavour. Instead, one can use spoons

Photos: Bloomberg

made of bone or mother of pearl to measure out caviar. The art of lifting caviar out of the jar is to hold the spoon vertically and carefully.

Savouring caviar As far as the taste of caviar goes, some may find it extremely salty. Therefore, the best way to eat this dish is with bland food like blinis, which are small, Russian-style pancakes with a dash of sour cream. When served in glass bowls placed over ice to preserve it longer, one can spread caviar over buttered toast. One can also squeeze some lemon juice over the top. Caviar is extremely perishable and must therefore be refrigerated until it is consumed. Some of the beverages that go well with caviar are ice cold shots of vodka or bubbly champagne. So the next time you have a bit of caviar, enjoy the flavour and always keep the proportion in mind. (The author is a Cordon Bleu chef and food stylist)


Photo: S. Muralidhar

Smartbuiy issue dated September 7, 2011  

Smartbuiy issue dated September 7, 2011