Thursday, November 29, 2018

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It is inspiring to believe a company like Tata have undergone a thorough transformation whose outcome is visible in a product such as the Nexon

Introduction

I finally had a chance to test drive the Tata Nexon top end diesel AMT mini SUV. Yes, the same one that has been making waves before and after its launch. If you know me well, I am a guy who would base reviews on everyday usability of the products that I test, and here it is no exception.
It is really inspiring to see how far Tata Motors have come in terms of being able to design a radically different type of product in their portfolio. Ever since sometime now they have set sights on good designs all the way from the Tiago to the Tigor and to the Hexa. The Nexon is the cream on the cake if I were to genuinely say so. So you do want to hear about what the car has to offer and I am going to take you right into that part of the review.
There have been many reviews written on this car and even videographed for the viewers by now. Yet they all lack in some part of the articulation in its truest sense.

Design elements

More than speaking about the exact nature of the design elements of the car, what I would like to point out here is more that the entire design is a refreshing change in the history of Tata cars. Every element of the design is chosen to make the car look unique within the portfolio. To say more about this I have to start somewhere among all the great bits. What made me fall in love with the car is its day time running lamps. For a car worth a little over 10L price bracket, the DRLs were in the league of cars more than double that price. For me I do not appreciate DRLs by merely looking at them standing in front of the car. What would more matter to me is if the car announces its presence in the rear view mirror of the car I am driving. In that sense, the Nexon makes all the right visual cues in a bold and deterministic manner.

Exterior

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The grille in the front is crafted very well and is very different from the typical tata cars we are used to. All the way from the front, this vehicle is SUV-ish be in looks or the way the pieces are put together. That said, the bumper, the bonnet, wheel arches - everything looks macho. Being in Bengaluru, one would know that for the rainy season where there is no differentiation between what is a road and what isn’t the need of the hour would be a vehicle with sufficient ground clearance to wade clear of that water and tyres to support that kind of driving.
The 16" alloys make and imposing statement about the car and are available in two varieties the meek 195/60 and the more meatier 215/60 which blows competition out of the water. The tyres are safe and secure and would eat up anything thrown at it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But how do we know unless we put that to test, right ? So let us come back to more of those later. The sloping roofline to the back, the stright lines on the doors just make the car look gorgeous. The projector headlamps add to the glory during the night. The unladen ground clearance of 209mm is more than enough to not kiss every part of the road a sedan would otherwise. The laden clearance would obviously be lower, and the suspension should appropriately take care of that even if the car is laden with adults and luggages to the max capacity in real life.
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The ground clearance clearly puts it into SUV category and makes the car look all the more imposing. The plastic handles blend well with the overall scheme and does not make the car look out of place. Single tone and dual tone colours add more options and the colour choices themselves are smashing to say the least. I test drove the etna orange, but personal favourites on the roads are generally the moroccan blue, vermont red and even calgary white. I have never seen a silver so far, but sure have seen the glasgow grey which is also a looker. The red is my favourite though.

Interior

Step into the car and you would expect typical tata fare of the same old boring dashboard with addition of clock and the some dials. But let me tell you again just in case you did not read earlier - Tata has paid a lot of attention and has completely revamped the interior to an extent that you would not believe what you are seeing. The three tone interiors are soothing and are not contrasty like the Kraz edition. The AC vents are normal ones you see on any other car, and there is a harman floating console in the middle. The steering has been carried over from Tiago and Tigor, but for those who only know the indica, this steering is miles apart from the old Indica’s and by a very large margin. I will talk about this more when we cover the drive.
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The seats were not leather, but were cushy by tata standards, and I did feel that the thigh support could have been slightly better. It is not unmanageable but I do feel that over longer distances there can be some discomfort for those with legs longer than rest of their body - like me (the unfortunate bunch). There is a dial with different modes (eco, city and sport) which you can change on the fly and it mainly affects the gear change timings which are crucial for the experience of the said modes. Obviously the eco mode is tuned for mileage and the sport mode for driveability and power.
For safety you do get two airbags, ABS and EBD and a super rigid body structure. Just to drive home the point I have heard of Nexon’s having overturned on accidents on highways and everyone just walked out the door like nothing happened. You can be rest assured that Tata is among some of the companies whose main focus is on safety and reliability of the tensile structure of the body if not necessarily the parts.
The car has a generous amount of bottle and knickknack holders on doors and on the center of the front seats. I like the fact they have sliding doors to open up to the concealed storage areas. It is almost Civic-ish if I should point out. And that’s a good thing. It is like getting 20L premiumness in 10L. The central floating console is from Harman and there are 8 speakers, with Android auto and Apple car play - thereby finishing the exact need for an average user who wants music options. For more seasoned audiophiles an ICE would add more options to the experience.
Some nitty gritties - the door mats were looking a bit flimsy and I am a big fan of 3D or 4D door mats which keep all the dirt within and can be easily cleaned and disposed of. But maybe its just my nitpicking for some thing which is not such a big concern on the Nexon. I did find the rear view mirror a tad bit too small and the rear visibility is actually an issue considering the sloping roofline. It is slightly more claustrophobic at the back as well. The space in the front is good with height adjust and recline options for seats. The rear seat can fit 3 kids and one adult or 3 adults rather comfortably - and I mean realistically so. It is not an Innova, but it is not an Alto either.
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The boot is large and very reasonable for any weekend drive or airport luggage even, and it should not present any problem as far as Nexon is concerned. It is surely not a Duster in terms of boot space, but its not bad either! There is also push button start which is a welcome move.

Engines

Enough about the interiors, can we move to the engine now? The car comes with turbo charged petrols and diesels, one with 1.2, 3 cyl, turbocharged petrol with 110 bhp power and 170Nm torque - and the other 1.5 4 cyl, turbocharged diesel with 110 bhp power and an insane 260Nm torque at 1500 rpm. What this means in simple english is brutal power, extreme driveability due to torque levels whether you are talking about petrol or diesel variants.

Gearbox

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Since I took a drive of the AMT, there are a few things to talk about this version. I was particularly interested to understand how Tata has worked on the AMT gear box, the AMT gear lever and the likes of design elements. The gear level was small and looked awesome. It surely looks and feels like a 20L car here as well. The slotting is perfect and without a fuss.
If I had to nitpick about this a bit I was NOT a big fan of pushing up for manual gear up (in manual mode). I am so used to pulling it down for gear up in my celerio and this kind of feels counter intuitive for me and would also be similarly annoying for many other people. The thing is this for a pull down you activate only your hand, for push up you have to lift your arm from the arm rest. Again not a big grouse. Just a small one :)
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Driving characterisitics

I would like to jot a disclaimer here that I did not try eco mode since I did not have the time or opportunity on the road to check it, but my guess is that since it is going to be tuned for mileage, the power will be reduced and upshifts would be common. Having put that out of the way let us focus on the remaining two modes, the City mode and Sport mode.
When you hear about these modes, the first thing that comes to you mind is that Sport would obviously be more zippy and more enthusiastic to use and the city mode would not be. Well that is the case almost but we need to consider a lot of other parameters such as the traffic on that road, the speed with which you are driving, the throttle inputs, how many potholes on the road, whether it is a linear road or not, and so on. Every person’s test drive experience will be different so I am trying to give you a fair picture of how the car behaves on a general test drive.

City mode

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First off city mode - there is no lag on acceleration from first gear. The gear shifts after sufficient amount of acceleration happens about where you expect it. No much head nod for the passengers if you are reasonably gentle with the throttle. Breeze to drive it and wade through the traffic, no major issues and the car stays put exactly the way you expect it to. The light steering is a boon in city traffic and is easy to maneuver the vehicle. I did find one problem though - the steering is slightly tilted to one side at its normal position and it feels a bit odd. But that maybe just a one off case with this test drive vehicle and may not manifest on other cars. Time will tell.
The car does not downshift as well too soon and holds up being a diesel with enormous amount of torque (260Nm). This is sweet and even if it was a manual it would have felt very good needless to say. The 110bhp of power coupled with 260Nm of torque at as low as 1500 rpm has put the Nexon in a really sweet spot as far as driveability goes. Default rpm for idling is between 700-900 and just putting your foot on the pedal makes this figure jump to almost 1200 rpm which is just pretty shy of the 1500 rpm necessary for the torque to show.

Sport mode

As usual enthusiasts who want sport mode for the adrenalin rush would think this mode will really make you feel like god. On the contrary it isn’t so. All it does is hold a gear for as long as you really push it hard and the engine sometimes sounds harsh until it goes to the next gear. Since this is the first iteration of the Nexon, future tuning could make this mode more enjoyable in the longer run. That said, there is enough grunt in any gear for the car to sail through in sport mode. After using the sport mode and not finding an opportunity inside the crowded road to revv up substantially I had to switch back to city mode which left me at ease. City mode I would say is the default sport mode within the city. The sport mode thus may make sense on the highway to hold to fourth and fifth gears at low and high speeds completing the overall drivability quotient to a decent level.
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Tyres

A word about the tyres. For me tyres make a huge difference in the way a car handles almost as much as the chassis/frame. As I said before, the Nexon top end has 215/60 tyres which are really enough to handle Bangalore’s potholed road surfaces with utmost ease. Rains, water, mud, potholes, bumps - you throw anything at these tyres and they eat it with aplomb. You are safe rest assured with this kind of tyre profile. The occupants had very less notion of how many potholes I was passing over on an internal locality road.

Suspension

Just like the chassis, and tyres one another important aspect about any car’s drivability is the suspension setup. For a car like Nexon I did expect something like duster’s suspension, but unfortunately its not the case. Do not get me wrong, it is not bad, but its not the best either. It sure is not mediocre and does well in isolating road undulations to a large level and like I said before the occupants barely will feel anything at all. It is only if you push the car too much on undulated surfaces some bounce is felt.
The suspension is not a hit or miss, but Tata can work on this to make it more sturdier nevertheless. As such the car handles well on broken roads which is the worst nightmare for any passenger.

Variants

Click the brochure to know more about the variants of nexon and what you will get or not get in each version.
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Niggles

Every car has niggles and they just cannot get away with them due to persisting quality issues. The Nexon being the first of its kind is surely a batch meant for testing on guinea pigs and only future versions will bring about quality on the faulty parts.
A few things I noticed which fall into minor niggles category
  • Doors bit flimsy - European level thud not present
  • Rear visibility is poor but that is by design - there is nothing much that can be done about this
  • AMT could have had lever down for gear up - though counter intuitive for some people
  • Door mats could be of 3D or 4D variety

Conclusion

The pricing of the nexon in Bangalore is pretty competitive to say the Ford Ecosport or the Honda WRV. You can check the pricing of each version below
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The Tata Nexon is a genuine attempt by Tata Motors to bring a car that looks very upmarket to its customers at a value for money price range with substantial exterior and interior design elements and surprisingly low amount of visible niggles. This would mean that the engineering and design of the vehicle was well thought over and brilliantly executed. Pitting it right where the Brezza, Ford and Honda WRV is the Nexon sure has the necessary character and demeanor to march past its rivals with a class leading engine, good ground clearance and visibility, excellent space and a punchy drive. If you are looking for genuine value for money - this is the car to go for while at the same time keeping in mind that there is not much parts reliability information available yet. The safety of this car is well designed and is surely going to keep occupants protected in all situations on the road.
Good luck Tata Motors to set sales charts on fire and the numbers cannot be wrong!
Written with StackEdit.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

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It has been a horrid wait. Honestly Apple's own maps has never launched in India yet. Even in other countries Apple maps never used to show things properly and they had made a fool of themselves royally. The company even fired two of its iOS executives Scott Forstall and John Browett when they refused to acknowledge the poor performance of Apple maps.

Well since those learnings Apple has been steadily trying to improve its maps division specifically for India. We do already know they are adding more and more data points day by day. They also said they are looking at about 5000 employees for their Hyderabad division since 2016.

During all this time, users of Apple iPhones readily and steadily switched back to Google Maps, and have been conveniently using it since sometime now. Of late there are lots of cars that sport either as inbuilt or custom build ICE or in car entertainment units which support Google Play and Apple Car Play like the Sony XAV which I have reviewed earlier on this blog.

With increasingly more and more people linking their iPhones to their car units, it was now important to have navigation on Apple Car Play. With neither Apple introducing their maps nor allowing Google maps app, this was simply not going anywhere in terms of a choice. Until now.

With the release of iOS 12 and Google immediately releasing their own update for Google Maps, all Car Play users can now rejoice to see their favorite navigation app on their car units. I will cover some details of the same in the sections below.

User Interface


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I must say the first time I installed and started using the maps interface on Car Play I was pleasantly surprised at how well Google maps displays on the car unit. It is sort of smaller that I would have liked it and also has a bit of candy-ish looks as compared to say its counterpart of Google maps on Android Auto, but nevertheless it is well implemented.

A simple tap on the screen brings up "Add Destination", or "Exit" or the alerts button depending on whether navigation is not yet started or already going on. The whole thing is so non intrusive. There are six options displayed under destinations

  • Recent searches

  • saved places

  • your home and work

  • it also shows petrol pumps nearby (smartly since you may need it)

  • and you can use a search option if all else fails


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The search option brings up a keyboard with which you can type out few characters of your destination and the list of matching results is shown from where you can choose to start your navigation with one of them.

Rest of the navigation is as usual, it shows you the route from where you can begin to navigate at actual and it will zoom in to street level directions. At any point you can exit the navigation by touching the screen and choosing exit option. You can also move the map and bring it back to center point by choosing recenter option. There is also a settings button with which you can access settings such as avoiding tollways, etc while asking for navigation help.

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I have also tried a few other things with this app on Car play which I wish to share with you. If you unplug the phone the navigation still continues with the phone and if you plug the phone back in, the car play automatically takes you to map app assuming it was the last app open. If you choose to dial out someone or receive a phone call during navigation voice guidance will still remain but the map is out of the screen. You need to bring back maps app during a call if you wish to see the map again.

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The icon to access maps sits vertically on the left bar along with other icons such as music, and phone.

With this inclusion from Google, and allowance from Apple of the google maps app, Apple has finally plugged a missing piece which was necessary for using Apple car play properly - the Navigation aspect. Hopefully when Apple release their own version of maps, in the near future or so, users can get to experience the best of both worlds. Until then, its going to be Google Maps on Apple Car Play for me and I am not one bit disappointed at all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by Srikanth Eswaran

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Friday, October 5, 2018

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Introduction


In my quest for a good pair of earphones, you will have already noticed that I experienced with many of them here and here. During this journey I chanced across a suggestion from a friend on the Focal brand and the fact they were selling their earphones at a discount on Amazon.

Since the offer was too good to resist, I purchased these online.

Unboxing video


Here is a little unboxing I created for you to understand what the packaging of the earphone looks like.

https://photos.app.goo.gl/257Ei2DYDRf54sRn6

 

Strong points


The Focal Spark has these pros going for it

  • Very easy to wear for long hours

  • short cable means lesser tangling unlike the Samsung UFlex

  • Good sound quality - bit of muddy bass, but largely good distributions of highs mids and lows

  • Very good battery standby time - you charge it once and when you don't use it the earphones does not lose battery power too soon - this is in stark contrast to the Uflex earphones from samsung which used to annoy me during the middle of that long walk

  • Charging is quick and gives full charge that does not let you down anywhere

  • You can pair two different phones to this earphone over bluetooth at same time (which could be a boon or a bane)


Weak points


The Focal Spark like any other earphones has few cons that I noticed during my usage which I will like to point out here

  • The wire is a tad bit too short, it needs to be about 20% longer to fit better

  • The earphone is best suited for music but not necessarily phone calls, I did have a feedback that the phone calls were not pretty clear. You can check that here.

  • The earbuds are a bit tight so wearing them for longer hours means it will feel like your ears are blocked. This is exactly where the Airpods do better. They are there and not there at the same time.

  • The bass was not exactly clear and was a bit muddy. Focal has still some way to go to beat Bullets V2 by OnePlus.

  • The asking price of 7000/- is not exactly less, but right now you can bag a pair for close to 3000/- which makes it either a steal or well, unpopular as the case maybe!

  • It comes with micro usb charging which is not so 2018, but this was not such a downer for me, would have still preferred usb-C which is quite the standard these days.


Conclusion


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In conclusion, these are an excellent pair of wireless earbuds for music purposes if not exactly phone calls. The buds have excellent battery life, and are good to hear and use. They are comfortable over long hours of wear and you just need to find an eartip of the size that suits you better. Having said that, for the current price on offer, this is a steal, and you should go for it !

Saturday, September 15, 2018

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Introduction


I was in the market gathering interest in wireless earbuds of all shapes and sizes. Since my previous attempt at buying Leaf ear buds did not go so great as I thought it would, I had to scour the market again for something better. This is when I chanced upon Samsung UFlex with the BYOD pricing which was tempting for me to buy and use since I almost got it at 50-60% of the cost. What it proved to be for me is a detailed story!


As is the case wireless bluetooth earphones come in two different forms, one with the neckband and one without (the true wireless variety). The problem with the former was that there was always a band that was either too big or got caught in between collars, Id cards, or even worse seat belts of the car. The pros included great battery life, and good connectivity. The issue with the latter was the lack of wires meant losing the buds easily, mediocre battery life and constant connectivity drops every now and then with skips and jumps in music playback. The connectivity was first between the buds and then with the phone which made it even worse.



Contenders in the market


When you go to buy something there are always a few major players amongst the scores of other smaller ones, which are marketing their products more than the others and also manage to sell in large numbers thanks to their brand power. Here it was no different. The models I started considering was Jabra elite 65t, Apple Airpods, Bose SoundSport and Sony. The dark horses in all these were the One plus v2 bullets wireless which is perpetually out of stock (and again with the neckband), and the Focal Spark. There were a few more like Jaybird, Bragi and AKG which also were doing well. The Leaf and UFlex are brands I already owned and hence did not bother to look again.



Factors influencing my next purchase


Some of the things I was looking for after my two earphone purchases went awry were these




  • - true wireless preferably (read as avoid large neckbands)

  • - Good connectivity between buds

  • - Easy pairing

  • - Reasonably good battery life

  • - good distribution of lows, mids and highs in the music

  • - excellent call quality

  • - bass thump was a bonus

  • - very less or zero ear pain on long hours of usage

  • - portability and compatibility

  • - medium price if not too low based on bang for buck


Models I considered


I started considering Apple airpods, Bose Sound Sport, Sony, Samsung IconX, and Focal Spark and was not so interested in the other ones in the market. The thing with Jabra is I did not know where to go to try out a pair. Same with Focal spark, Bragi. For sony there was Croma or Sony world, for Bose there was the bose store and for Apple there was the inviting Apple store as usual.


A friend of mine bought the Focal spark on a very good discount of almost 60% off and that tempted me to get one too. While my product was on the way with a zippy order placed on Amazon, I managed to use his earphones to get a feel of how they would fit and sound. My reference point were the Bullets V2 wired earphones from OnePlus for the fit, feel and sound and I was pleasantly surprised at how close the Focal Spark was to those.



Focal Spark


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The focal spark earphones come with a great fit and finish, the white ones were particularly good and I got them at a discount of almost 60% on Amazon - somehow the brand is not as well known here as much as elsewhere in other countries. Frankly Focal builds some very good earphones and they know their business well. The frequency separation was excellent and never once did my music sound very tinny or the bass muddy. In fact in my entire comparison the bonus of having thumping bonus were delivered only by two of the four earphones I considered. And Focal was on that list. After listening to my friend's earphone, I knew I did not make a mistake with Focal.


Let us get one thing straight at this point of the article.




It is very difficult to find an earphone that satisfies all criteria and even so to say two of the most important - music and calls in one product.



Initially I did believe Focal achieved that, but due to their rather narrow neckband, one had to wear them like a necklace for people to be able to hear audio. I did a small test to find out that wearing it in front did improve audio quality but not wearing it around the neck. In fact in the latter case it was so bad people could not hear me.


[soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/500286675" params="color=#ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&show_teaser=true&visual=true" width="100%" height="300" iframe="true" /]

When it comes to battery Focal provides something like 4-5 hours max on continuous use, and its definitely better than the Samsung UFlex. Charging was quick for me and the connectivity to the iPhone was stable without much fuss. The audio quality is astounding and you really feel your money's worth when you buy this earphone. Especially when you know it sells for 100$ and you are getting it at 30 or 40$.



Leaf Ear


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I already have reviewed the Leaf Earbuds in isolation on this blog earlier and some of my opinions may have been provided due to not having a chance to test other earphones which were available to me at this point. The best part about Leaf is its an Indian Startup who are into the business of making earphones.


The sound quality is decent but a bit muddy. They advertise the earphones are sport earphones with good amount of bass for the price. But in reality for the same price other lesser known manufacturers either give clearer bass or no bass at all. So its in the extremes so to say. The fact that the Leaf mixes up the sound signature specifically with muddy bass means it may not live up to the likes of Focal or Bullets or other better brands.


The price is real low no doubts on that with Leaf, but the fit strains the ear (more of a blocked feeling) after a while since the buds are not really soft compared to other brands. They can switch to better quality silicone for the same. The main button is so hard to press that you would perhaps push the earbud all the way upto your brain if you try that hard ( :-) just kidding - but its messy nonetheless). The other physical buttons are placed a bit uncomfortably and obviously the usage is as irritating as expected.



Bose Sound Sport


bose sound sport

For Bose and Apple there was only one way to find out whether or not your investment is worth it. Wear it in a showroom use it and get to know. One thing I am sure of with Bose is whatever product they sell be it small or big, everything is on display in their showroom. So off I went to check out that nearby. After some basic enquiry the lady at the store did offer me the SoundSport black for testing it against my iPhone. It also comes in Citrous & Orange colours which are good to see.


I had a little trouble wearing it properly but in the end I guess it's a bit of getting used to. The clip is so soft that the earphone stays securely in the ear. The first thing you notice when you wear it is the rather unruly size of the earbud. It's huge. Its not the typical type of earbud that sits cozy in the ear. It's pretty big.


Coming to sound quality when you a buy a Bose you cannot go wrong. The product is well rounded and provides rich sound with well separated lows, mids and highs, and bass. For the phone calls I did a test, I went to the noisy part of the mall, with my wife inside the shop and asked her how much of surrounding noise the earphones picked up. The microphone on the Bose is pretty sensitive and picks up quite some background noise - now do not get me wrong, its not disturbing, but you do know there is that noise around you. Its not isolating it completely and filtering out only the vocals of the person talking.


For the price though, Bose did not offer something great that other earphones at half the price could not offer. At nearly 20k INR this was surely the brand that you were paying for more than the product.



Samsung Gear Icon X


icon x earphones samsung

Samsung have recently introduced their Gear Icon X 2018 true wireless earphones. Since the Samsung store was near by home, I buzzed them and they said I could come and take a look at the product, although they did not have stock to sell - and this worked perfectly for me as I was not in the mood to plonk nearly 13k INR on a product I was not sure of especially after the UFlex fiasco. Of course comparing the two is like comparing Apples (pun intended) and lemons due to the price range and build type.


Anyway I went to the store and as promised was given the Icon X truly wireless buds to try out. These are not as bulky as the Bose, and they managed to fit snugly into the ear. After pairing with the iPhone I started playing some songs to test out the frequency separation - a favourite of mine being Despicable Me from Despicable Me 3. It clearly shows the separation of the bass from the vocals and other instruments.


The overall sound was a bit low, not really loud. There was no bass thump either and it was similar sounding to the lesser priced cousin UFlex. The point here is that its not unclear or muddy, its not loud and does not have thump. That said it does have some touch controls like single and double tap, swipe up and down for volume and so on. But I really got jolted when I tried touching the controls and the earphone went on to ask me to get ready for a workout in the midst of the music being played in a showroom. I went into a frenzy to get it to a stop. I had not configured any buttons as such on my iPhone so am not sure why this happened.




But clearly the implementation of the interpretation of hardware touch within Samsung software is really crazy, and the earphone is too sensitive in the way it interprets these touches.



All I wanted is an earphone that has good music and call quality but this one had so many other things in the mix like workout schedules and so on for which it started issuing many prompts in the middle of what I was trying to do. This is not something I appreciate much, and I feel you would also not like the way this is implemented much. I did not get a chance to test call quality, but I believe it will definitely be good enough in reasonably noisy environments. The UFlex is a testimony to that and I see no reason why the Icon X would not better it in some terms.



Apple Airpods


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After my experience with Bose and for the fact that I own Apple iPhone 8 plus, the only natural choice for me was to go to the Apple store and test out the Airpods. The store did not have a sample piece!!! And they were not sure when they would get one. But the guy at the store did not want to lose a potential customer, so he offered his personal airpods to test out at my end.




With Apple one thing is a given - no matter what product they make, however less advanced it may be compared to Samsung or the likes, it will be 100% easy to use, and I can bet my whole life on it.



Airpods were no exception. Open the case and after the initial manual connection, the Airpods were always recognized by my phone. To be frank I am not a big fan of the shape of the Airpods. I have a wired version of lightning earphones and these earphones cause a lot of ear pain. Apple airpods are no exception though Apple may say it is made for a wide variety of ears - but that list did not include my own ears I guess.


For the wired version I even tried soft covers around the buds, but to no use. Ear still pains and you will need to live with it. Now having thrown that grouse out of my mind, let me come to the positives. Connectivity is a breeze both for the phone to realize the presence of the buds nearby and stay connected without losing the connection. Music does not have the bass that the Focal or the Bose or even the Bullets V2 wired have, but it is not flat, whatever is there is okay to contend with. Music remains clear and very audible at higher volumes effectively isolating the noise outside.


I was not so sure about how the call performance would be. But you need to use the buds to see it for yourself. Absolute clarity on both ends of the call and it never misses a beat. Absolutely stays connected at all times and lasts that way for hours. The airpods promise the most amount of hours and the best connection out of the battery and hardware, and Apple has not gone wrong here.


The intuitive controls are absolutely a delight to use. Add to it the fact that once you plug in the buds (or even a single one) the phone goes into BT mode for audio. Remove the buds and the phone will go back to normal mode. Double tap can be configured on both right and left earbud for Siri or music playback/pause and call answer. With Siri Apple claims you can do anything you want as such with the phone.


Remove the bud when music is playing and it stops like a charm, put it back and it plays. This is how hardware must be - designed around the user who uses it. Not the other way around. However funny the design of the Airpods are, they sit in the ear tight. And don't fall out - ever - even if you run or exercise.




Instructing Siri to do stuff is so accurate that I could not believe that it worked the way it did.



For the buds being so far away from the mouth, the microphone is astounding. The flip side is the pain - the max you can do is about 30-40 minutes with it, you will have to remove it a bit after that to relax your ear. This is why it works best for reasonably long calls but that not that hours-together-call-with-your-date call.



Ratings in percentages based on my experience


Disclaimer: These are purely my personal opinions after using each of the mentioned products. Your mileages may vary appropriate to what you feel, but my scores are as below.


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[gallery ids="887,886,885,884,883,882,881" size="large"]

Final call - what did I buy?


Its the moment of truth. Can you guess what I bought and what I am likely to live with? Remember its a real world usage thing. And not being with the messy wires thing. And the good battery, music and calls thing.


Though I did initially think the UFlex would be with me for long, I had to let it go due to the horrid neck band which was weighing on my neck and interfering with my other stuff like the ID card, seat belt etc. When the batter goes weaker it sometimes also did drop a few bits of sounds here and there which was annoying even when the phone was nearby. I was so gung-ho about the IconX that I thought I would walk out of the shop wearing a pair of them but the kind of gimmickery it did with the gestures thing, I was a bit shaken. Its seriously sensitive and badly implemented for the price it commands.


The Leaf ear with its muddy bass leaves a lot to be desired. I also saw and heard that the Sony truly wireless needs charging within three hours so it was not in my list at all at least among top contenders. The Bose was out due to the price and the fact that I could answer calls only through the right bud for that price, which I find to be silly on the part of the company that made this. When you ride on brand value, give us the value for money. Having physical buttons on truly wireless earbuds is not the best idea.


The Focal Spark was the closest to the Bullets wired V2 which in my opinion is a fantastic feat even for a 100$ price. The fact I got it at 35-40$ is an icing on the cake for the bass thump, which was a bonus. The neck band could have been 10-20% longer which is something the company can fix in their next iteration and it is quite an annoyance to wear it like a necklace for people to be able to hear you properly. For music the Focal rocks, for calls it sucks. But it stays with me as a faithful companion for some more time.


The Apple Airpods won the competition at least for me. Excellent connectivity, almost zero effort discovery between phone and pods, astounding call quality in the noisiest of environments, and truly wireless nature won this one for me. Of course the stick out design and the ear pain it causes is something I cannot live with or even excuse in lieu of its good qualities, and I am seriously hoping the next version of the Airpods are much better in terms of design. But there is a small edge that the other qualities of this product outweighs its niggles. So I  have come to terms with them.


At the point of writing this article I have not tested the Jabra Elite 65t which has a lot going for it in terms of sound, battery life and so on. Also I could not test the Sony truly wireless earbuds but that is more of a choice due to hearing about the poor battery life. Each of the truly wireless earphones comes with its own charging case which extends the battery life to make it last the whole day by charging when not in use. The semi wireless earphones like Leaf, or Focal have micro usb charging and as such not a case.


If you liked this comparison, let me know what is your take and how you decided to purchase your favourite pair of earphones in the comments section below.


Till the next review - happy gadgeting !

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Saturday, September 8, 2018

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Intro


https://photos.app.goo.gl/ZBxS4siFo8UL6bM29

The craze these days in tech is the set of wireless bluetooth earphones all over the market. They are there in all kinds of price ranges, shapes and sizes ranging from bands, thin over the neck strips, pure wireless without any wires and so on. I being a geek naturally got sucked into this craze as well and after seeing many many reviews on youtube and other blogs, decided to opt for the Samsung U Flex bluetooth wireless earphones.

Pricing


https://photos.app.goo.gl/86rtoKgLMnXtg4sb8

The headset is priced currently at 4999/- on the samsung shop website, but being a corporate BYOD login user I got the product for 3522/-, with no cost emi options as well. Samsung does good on the BYOD side, and it is this kind of ventures that makes a company retain its customers.

Unboxing video


The details of the U Flex are available all over the internet, so I will start with an unboxing video of the headset for you below.

https://youtu.be/ypjEvrWMOzw

 

Since this review is a rather short one, I will focus on the pros and cons of this headset so you know whether it interests you.

The good bits


https://photos.app.goo.gl/f6YZKY4PY5WKVbhX9

  1. Price: The U flex is priced reasonably and its a steal and about 3500 bucks.

  2. Weight: The eaphone is lightweight as such except for the bottom part of the band and you would have guessed it its flexible while packing it so you can pretty much put it into any bag in any manner

  3. Soft buds: I am a big fan of soft buds and this is no different from say the One Plus bullets V2 that I have which by now is the gold standard in a 1000/- bucks earphone price range. The fact there are multiple sizes of these buds only add cheer to the buyer.

  4. Fit: Since there are different sizes of soft buds available, you will eventually find one that fits you well. Once you slightly push the earphone into the ear, almost all outside noise is filtered out keeping the environment inside silent so you can hear that all important conversation or music in peace

  5. Charging time: Charging time is pretty quick and if you are left with zero juice when you wake up - by the time you refresh yourself and get prepared for office it will reach full charge. Pretty neat.


The bad bits


https://photos.app.goo.gl/ccRR6WkkCZtivPsE7

Every product will have its bad bits mainly because someone did not properly consider how the user will use their product. The apple airpods is a case in point where you get ear pain in less than 5 minutes !!

  1. Battery life: its about average, for moderate use, I may get two or three days max. This means few calls in a day, about an hour of music a day. Nothing more than that. If you are much more an active user then it may not cross a day due to heavy usage.

  2. Wires: It is ironic that I have to speak about wires in a wireless bluetooth earphone. But that is what makes it the achiles heel for Samsung. This thing has some bit of wires which end in the earphones themselves that magentically lock, but for most part of the wearing in the day, I have come to be known as a doctor with a stethoscope. Something that shows how casual onlookers look at it. The wires tangle with my seatbelt in the car, they tangle with my office ID card lanyard - it is a mess. Its not something that will make me change the earphones to some other brand, but nevertheless is an annoyance I can live without at times

  3. Audio quality: Now this is totally subjective based on what sound signature you like. I like proper separation between the lows, mids and highs and a bit of thump in the bass. The separation is clear in this earphone, but bass is where it disappoints for users that look for it. It could have been better, keeping bullets v2 wired headphone as a reference point.

  4. Volume: The volume stops at some point to increase. It is not a level that I would personally prefer as my reference was somewhere higher, but that is about it. At the max volume you are left wanting for more. I have not tried using this with a Samsung phone yet, but I am assuming pairing will be much better and the software app will have better controls with which you can adjust the bass in much more precision.

  5. Call quality: You can hear the person on the other end well, the problem is the other way round. The other person cannot hear you so well since the band has the mic which sits under your collar or away from your mouth (the speaking point). So you need to raise your volume a bit while speaking which could be annoying to others around you.

  6. The band: It grows on you, after about a month or two of usage, I really want to take out that earphone and throw it on my desk. It seems heavy, you know its there on your neck and heck sometimes you just answer the call with your phone. Period. There maybe more effective ways of having greater battery life, but the band does not provide for much in that way

  7. Buttons and UX: I have a keen eye for user experience or UX, since I am from that domain. Everything matters to me - placement of buttons, usage in terms of button presses, outcomes of those - all of that. The metal buttons on either side of the band are somewhat merged with the band itself and you really need to grope and find out literally where the button starts and ends since it sits below your chin. The buttons for siri, Ok google, or Samsung's own bixby can be configured though I never reckon to have to use that. All these are useful only when you are away from the phone which was not my use case.

  8. Connectivity: The connection is stable (bluetooth 4.2) although I did have some drops while listening to music at times which was irritating, but for long calls never once did the connection drop. In a rather silent place calls are good and one can go on and on without worrying about annoying drops. Of course the farther you move from the earphone the worse it will get.

  9. Sweat proof worthiness: The earphone handles the sweat part just about okay though I have not tried its water resistance. I did try to jog with the earphone but there is quite some amount of movement in the ear which is audible and not so comfortable - I am not talking about fit, its just the loudness of the phones moving around your neck, you can feel it. These arent the best for heavy exercise

  10. Magnetic latch: The magnets aren't very strong, but also not very weak they secure the earphones in place quite firmly.

  11. Charging: I am putting this under negatives because it still uses micro USB port for charging and not USB type C. This is not a big downside as such but still its 2018!


Conclusion


https://photos.app.goo.gl/xHLomH7BHLSr6Bzb7

Many people have reviewed this gadget, and I am only bringing you the points that you need to know specifically before investing on this earphone. As such the product is unique since it flexes saving space for packaging. It has reasonably good audio, though not loud and thumpy in terms of bass (for the reference I listen to despecable me to decide).

The price is in the correct range and being Samsung you get BYOD and Emi discounts and options. I am hating that sort of heavy-ish neckband although the heaviness is only a feeling more than reality. The tangling wires are definitely irritating and battery life is about okay for my kind of use. There is always room for improvement for this design. The good bits outweigh the bad ones and you would generally NOT be disappointed with this purchase.

If you have it and have used it extensively leave me notes what you feel about it in the comments below. I have also reviewed the Leaf ear phones which I will update shortly based on real world usage, if you want a comparison of some sort.

My next purchase is the Focal Spark Wireless BT which is on the way! Look forward to another review of that one as well on this blog.

 

Posted by Srikanth Eswaran

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Friday, August 24, 2018

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A bit about the town and its famous sweet





If you have any knowledge of the place Tirunelveli, then you would also have knowledge of the fact that it is famous for a sweet originating from there, the Tirunelveli Halwa. Tirunelveli is 700 km from Chennai and if you are an avid driver, then this route is for you. A mere 85km and a one hour drive from Kanyakumari, this town boasts of the famous Tirunelveli Halwa sweet from the Iruttukadai (dark shop).





Made with Tamiraibharani water, and a secret formula, people queue up for the only 2-3 hours of time for which the shop remains open during the evening hours to gobble up all the Halwa made there. The sweet made from wheat, ghee and sugar laced with nuts is a treat to the taste buds though I must warn you that this is the most fattiest combination of ghee and sugar and is almost on the lines of Gulab Jamoon.





So what makes the Tirunelveli halwa so great in taste?





A few pointers






  • It is made with Karupatti or palm jaggery (I have not used that in my preparation)

  • It is made with Thamiraibharani river water (which has a high concentration of copper content)

  • It is served warm on a non sticky base

  • The ghee used is specific to the town in which it is made thereby making it more tasty

  • It slides off the spoon right into your mouth - one of the qualities not found in other halwa preparations





Shall we make the halwa at your home?





From a long time, I wanted to take on the challenge of getting the Tirunelveli Halwa correct in terms of proportion, sweetness, taste and the preparation in general. While some people use flour, some people do not. I tried to understand what makes the sweet preparation so arduous a task. The key elements about making this preparation is not to lose focus, understand a few things properly, time the whole process and go by gut feel as compared to just reading theory. The last element of gut feel is very important as what you see in front of your eyes is more important than what is written in the book. You need to really trust your instincts more than follow a process. So I will share with you here the exact steps to get it right, and if you did secure a win - leave me a comment about your experience in the comments section below.





Recipe and cooking steps for Thirunelveli Halwa





Ingridients





Following are the ingridients for this dish






  • Broken wheat - 1 cup (I used Double horse brand)

  • Sugar - 3 cups (split into 2 1/2 and 1/2 cups)

  • 4 cups of water for wheat

  • 1 cup and 1 tbsp water for sugar (for 2 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup sugar respectively)

  • Cashew nuts to taste - slightly warmed up in ghee

  • Pure Ghee (I used GRB ghee from TamilNadu since the dish itself is from that state)





Utensils





Normally I do not discuss utensils, but sometimes it is a matter of anxiety to many people who are not familiar with cooking. It is always better to use something that makes you comfortable. For this recipe, thankfully you need a minimal amount of utensils. They are shown below - 






https://photos.app.goo.gl/1hV6QJyaB9NbXtUH7




  • a deep cooking vessel, non-stick preferably for the final dish,
  • a smaller vessel to caramelise 1/2 cup of sugar
  • two tall glasses with handles preferably
  • measuring spoons and cups - the standard ones available in all shops





https://photos.app.goo.gl/wm7Yom3qtNrHj4Vt8




  • fine sieve for filtering
  • few teaspoons for normal use
  • wooden spatula for mixing and stirring





https://photos.app.goo.gl/SJknWvtFysQR1zwB7




Recipe





All you have to do now is follow the steps below exactly as specified:





  1. Take one cup of broken wheat (or samba godhumai) and immerse into sufficient water in the non stick vessel
  2. Keep it soaked for exactly 8 hours - its best if you leave it at 11pm in the night so by about 7am in the morning its ready to be used
  3. In the morning start compressing the wheat with your hands to bring out the wheat milk within - once you are sure the milk has come out, put it through the sieve and filter the milk into the glass shown above
  4. Add water again to the wheat and compress it again to bring out the milk again to fill up the second glass. You can stop this exercise when you find that no more milk comes out or it has turned watery. Remember to send it through the sieve to the glass (filter it)
  5. Leave the two glasses as is for anywhere between 2-3 hours to allow the white wheat milk to settle down to the bottom of the glass. Once done and you see that the water is clear at the top, empty the water out keeping the white sediments still in the glass and top up both the glasses with 4 cups of water in total (2+2) and leave it for a while more. This step is important to remove the raw smell of wheat from the preparation
  6. Roast some cashew nuts in ghee mildly and keep them aside for later
  7. Put 1/2 cup in the smaller vessel and 2 1/2 cups sugar in the bigger vessel
  8. For the 1/2 cup sugar add 1 tbsp water, for the 2 1/2 cup sugar add one cup water
  9. We need to heat the smaller vessel until the sugar caramelises. The indication for this will be that the sugar will start to heat and bubble up, the moment you see pale yellow colour reduce the heat, stir it and check if it is turning brown. Sometimes you need to even take it off the stove to check the colour. For me it took something like five minutes to see the pale yellow colour darkening by the minute. So when you find it good enough, switch off the heat. Remember, if you heat it too much the sugar will come out burnt and the whole 1/2 cup of sugary liquid is a waste and will have to be redone.
  10. The reason for doing step 9, is to get natural colouring for the halwa which is one of its strong points. 
  11. In parallel, start heating the 2 1/2 cup sugar + 1 cup water - keep the heat to a minimum to start with stirring the vessel with spatula often. Once the liquid sugar attains a reasonable heat, pour the 1/2 cup caramelized sugar liquid into the bigger bowl. Tip: Pour some fresh water in the smaller container and heat it up again so that the sugar syrup does not harden and stick to the sides of the vessel, its a pain to clean
  12. You need to now stir the bigger vessel until the sugar syrup starts to thicken. "Siru Kambi padam" is the terminology used to determine if the time is ripe for next step. What it means is you need to stir until the syrup becomes like a string when you expand it between your fingers. Tip: this is a hot preparation so this is pretty much not possible - trust your instincts on when you feel the syrup has become stringy enough, do not overheat at any point in time
  13. Basically when the sugar syrup thickens to a decent level and you can still stir it, add the wheat milk left over in the glasses to the vessel. From this point on it is a do-observe-repeat cycle.
  14. At this point if you smell the concoction, it will not smell like a halwa preparation - there would be a raw smell around it, but you need to trust yourself here a lot and continue stirring. 
  15. The whole stirring process will take 1.5 hours from here - it is extremely arduous but well worth it. 
  16. We need to add ghee to this mixture now. Many people have a disagreement on how much ghee to add. Some say you need to add so much ghee that it starts bubbling out after a while when the mixture thickens. Some also say you must add ghee every ten minutes once. But I did it differently.
  17. Keep adding 1 tbsp ghee every 5-7 minutes until you see that the ghee is being absorbed. Typically 7-8 tbsp of ghee will easily be absorbed. After this it is upto you if you wish to add more ghee. There is nothing wrong with it as it will come out after a while by itself. Tip: Never stop stirring the mixture since if it solidifies you can put an end to your experiment.
  18. At some point the whole mixture starts to thicken, but you still cannot lift it in bulk using the spatula. Ensure to stir it thoroughly - bring the portions of the bottom to the top and vice versa - swirl!
  19. As we further do it, the mixture begins to exhibit more and more strings and sugary glass like structure, keep stirring more and more while adding 1 tbsp ghee every 5 minutes or so.
  20. When mixture begins to become really solid to the extent that you can now lift it with the spatula in much larger chunks than earlier it is time to add cashew nuts.
  21. Around this time the ghee starts to bubble out of the halwa and the whole mixture has reduced from 3/4th of the vessel to 1/3rd of the vessel. 
  22. After a total of 1.5 hours since the start the halwa is made, the raw smell is gone and the smell of tirunelveli halwa is all over the air. 
  23. Leave the mixture to settle down a bit, switch off the heat, take some rest from all the stirring.
  24. Serve the halwa either in cups, or on plantain leaves. The halwa melts in your mouth!




Images to guide you





Initial heating of 2 1/2 cups of sugar into a stringy syrup






https://photos.app.goo.gl/tkMMJ9nViX2BxLqq9




When the syrup reaches 1/2 the vessel with stirring - as you can see I already added the cashews - it didn't matter






https://photos.app.goo.gl/y2UQ2QgH9rAafZYD9




Here you can see that after a while more of adding ghee and stirring well, the glass like look is showing up on the surface






https://photos.app.goo.gl/h3Qkq3FRrynJ4sQy6




The finished product at 1/3 rd of initial quantity. 






https://photos.app.goo.gl/K4RpsfkPduWvEbHo8




To conclude





Nothing is hard to learn. Even the most difficult recipe to achieve can be accurately got with focus on what you are doing, when you are doing which step and a keen eye for actuals rather than theory.

Look in front of you on how the product is shaping up and if you feel something is wrong set it right quickly - you are dealing with products melting under heat and you have one chance to get it right.

The good news though is - IT'S EASY!!





If you liked this post try it at home and share me your comments on how you vowed people around you!


Posted by Srikanth Eswaran

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Sunday, August 5, 2018

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As the driver took us into Dhanushkodi town, we could see the effects of mother nature that had wrecked the town so badly. If you have already not read about the Pamban Bridge experience, click here to see a stunning 4K video of the famous bridge.

The Ram Sethu or the bridge made by Rama and his monkey friends and the story of how the floating stones were used to build it is also explained in another post.

https://photos.app.goo.gl/6nu6CnL3ge7vJQUk9

Commutation details


We hired a 4x4 Jeep - don't get ideas about the famous Jeep brand of cars and the iconic Wrangler type of vehicles here - this was a modified Mahindra jeep which was a barebones 4x4 - something that could get you out of the muck if you were stuck while traveling on the sands. At about some distance into Dhanushkodi you are stopped by the government checkpost beyond which you need a 4x4 to navigate the sands and reach the beach. Although the governement has lately constructed a road till the tip of the ocean now, we decided to enjoy driving in the sands.

We arranged for a vehicle back in Rameswaram and the driver brought us all the way into Dhanushkodi. It was a slow, painful vehicle and with no proper comfortable seating and about 2000-3000 rupees of rental I would NOT recommend this mode at all for others who wish to travel. Instead hire a Pajero or a fortuner 4x4 and you are into the game your way!

https://photos.app.goo.gl/rGuZnmKoNC4GimBL6

Must see attractions


Dhanushkodi has a few main ruins you need to see to understand the town's past. Having ravaged by a cyclone way back in 1964, the town lost most of what it had - the railway lines, churches and entire villages left stranded without food or water for nearly 3 days. Today's metro man was tasked with rebuilding the Pamban Bridge within 6 months a task he took 1.5 months to complete. A shame that a person like E.Sreedharan was consulted for Kerala and Delhi metro but ignored by Bangalore metro officials. Today if you travel to Dhanushkodi, you can see the dilapidated railway lines along the roadside, a video of which you can see here.

https://youtu.be/_L6IuZg6upU

Credits : *L*Board (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC5BpHPBITHxd3pYdECu2z9Q)




https://photos.app.goo.gl/NATPo7HGJ1x6quFD9

When you reach the town, you can see the St.Antony's church in complete ruins. This is now more of a photo opp place, but looking closer you can understand the destruction brought about by 250km/h winds of the cyclone of 1964. Also nearby the church one can notice the remnants of the Dhanushkodi Railway station. Not much of it is left, but these ruins take us into a past of 50 years and transports you into a time when the disaster struck. There are also the ruins of the post office and you can find one or two schools that rehabilitate villagers today.

https://photos.app.goo.gl/pVWBd63m7V7CJBXd9

Other things to do there


As you go a bit further, you can see shops that sell the famous Nannari Sherbet drink (The herb 'Sarasaparilla', better known as 'Nannari' is a wonder herb which would come in handy during summer, with its cooling medicinal property of protecting one from common summer ailments.The syrup made from this herb root is called nannari syrup). This is a must drink and you can help yourself there to beat the summer heat. Carrying lots of water is highly recommended as temperatures can go up too much during day times. We had been there during mid April when the heat had not caught up much and it was about 29-32 degrees with a real feel of a much hotter location.

https://photos.app.goo.gl/JhoZC7rRYVEEq1Ks8

On your way back you can find villagers digging pits in the sand from where they derive clear and clean water which is tasty and drink worthy. We happened to stop by with a villager who was kind enough to let us taste some of the water and it was a start contrast to the salty seas nearby. This is a must stop if you have the time just to understand the technique villagers use.

https://photos.app.goo.gl/KPWUNjWzgAwJYSbu5

https://photos.app.goo.gl/rCLSxqS3S85sP3Kf9

Posted by Srikanth Eswaran

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Saturday, July 28, 2018

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The story of mobile data in Bengaluru


First things first, let's put aside some details and facts about what made me to do this test as such. I usually have at least two sim cards, sometimes four just to get an exact view of who provides good service and where in the city.

The where part is very important as one has to understand that you will not get great data speeds or great call quality everywhere in the city you live. There are a lot of factors that become the reason for this behaviour including distance from cell tower, inability to provide more cell towers or signal amplifiers due to low numbers of users in the area, etc.

Players in the comparison


So I had one sim from each provider - Reliance Jio, Airtel, Idea 4G and Vodafone. Good enough to compare LTE data or 4G data as some claim - whatever be the minor differences.

By some of the conversation and information on quora - Theoretically LTE is expected to support a speed of around 100Mbps for users in motion and around 1Gbps for stationary users. The most recent report on LTE speeds on networks worldwide shows that the Vodafone ES network in Spain was the fastest offering speeds of around 25.2Mbps on average.

4G is a replacement for 3G, and LTE is a type of 4G which is superior to normal 4G. In any case the typical speeds of 4G are about 10x that of 3G speeds.

Geographical constraints


I had two locations to measure my LTE speeds, home and office. For this blog post, the readings you will see are for the home part. My home is located next to an army area, where there are no mobile towers nearby. So the expectation is that speeds would be low in general for data. The office was a different scenario.

One location was outside the rooms, in public areas like the cafe, and the other was where I currently sit, inside the building. Again the expectation was that the former case will yield better results while the latter will yield much worse speeds due to building layouts and the likes.

Means to compare speeds


There are lots of apps available these days to help compare mobile data speeds, and each one have their own servers they use, and their own means they use to compare the speed. The popular app is speed test by Ookla which many people use for a lot of time now.

I wanted to use a mobile site which would not necessitate me to download and install apps of any kind. For this I chose FAST which is owned by Netflix. They also offer to compare with SpeedTest at the bottom of the results pages in case you so desire. Due to ease of use, it was FAST for me.

Hardware used


I have used Samsung S8, Apple iPhone 7+, and Apple iPhone SE for the measurements - all pretty decent equipment when it come to hardware. Best selling top notch phones to be precise.

Comparison test and results - who do you think is the best?


Screen Shot 2018-07-28 at 6.59.33 PM.png

By the order of the results we see that Reliance offered 1.4 Mbps, Vodafone 3.4 Mbps, Airtel 430 Kbps, and Idea 6.2 Mbps. Some explanations and comments here while trying to understand these results.

  • Reliance though on VoLTE, was pretty pathetic at 1.4 Mbps. I can go on to say I have got upto 50+ Mbps (twice of average mentioned above) at best, and once inside the office at few hundreds of Kbps at the worst. But at a location such as home without much hindrances to the signal, the data speeds achieved is nothing short of terrible. You can see that my signals showed 4/4 bars. They confirmed to me that due to low density of people using the tower at my area, they CANNOT upgrade the infrastructure.

  • Vodafone have been my staple for a long time now (few years) - I particularly like their billing policies, bill details and communication. Their call quality is not particularly clear (as in HD voice) and their data was nearing between 15-20 Mbps at locations which had great signal. The signal I must mention is NOT LTE, but only 4G. At my home I had 3/4 bars of signal but still slow and terrible speeds of only 3.4 Mbps. They confirmed to me that due to low density of people using the tower at my area, they CANNOT upgrade the infrastructure.

  • Our favourite Airtel next - I think of the lot I tested - the most horrible was Airtel averaging a little over 430 Kbps. Absolutely disastrous. 2/4 signal bars only worsens the prospects of having any decent speeds and the results are not surprising. The signal here was 4G, NOT LTE again.

  • Now the dark horse among the participants - Idea LTE. I had heard a lot about Idea, but never really got a chance to try them out. And surprisingly hold your breath - I got a 6.2 Mbps at the same location with just 2/5 bars. Impressive. But both at home and office, their call quality was circumspect and you cannot have data but not good calls as the whole purpose of having a phone is lost if that is the case. But I understand Idea is merging with Vodafone shortly - so I already know the end result of that marriage.


Comments in conclusion



  • Most operators suffer similar LTE speeds

  • Higher signal bars does not mean great LTE speeds

  • 4G or LTE is not seeming to make that much of difference

  • Many providers are giving less than 3G speeds charging people for 4G - but this is very much dependent on mobile tower strength and density of users, among other things distance as well

  • You need to find out whether there are areas where the peak LTE speeds are available and test your phone there to understand what is the maximum capacity the mobile providers would go up to.

  • Using different speed measurement apps may alter your results to some extent, so use one that has a consistent way of measurement

  • Buy a SIM from a provider who offers you good speeds both at home, and office besides the on the way to work in general - this is where you will spend a lot of time during your life.

  • You need to also check the speeds while traveling between cities - what is good in one city maybe bad elsewhere and vice versa and if you are the constantly traveling kind of person this is another parameter to check

  • Complaining to the operator may or may not resolve the issue especially if they have to boost the mobile tower reception in your area - this is a huge cost and it is not justified to the operator unless there is a return on investment for him. This will also take a lot of time typically couple of years or more to become better based on development needs in the area - how many people more are asking for connections etc.

  • Building constraints such as pillars or thick walls can obstruct speeds to some extent as well. This point is a bit understated but its effects are adverse to a great degree.


So who is the winner finally in the speed test? I will not go by just the results shown here as I have conducted tests elsewhere in the city as well. I have not only used fast.com but also tried downloading mail attachments, or bigger files from same source on different connections. The idea of having good speed is generally to make the access to files, movies, and songs seamless to the extent the user does not feel the slow speeds.

And in this regard the order or mobile operators that do reasonably well are

  • Reliance Jio LTE

  • Idea LTE

  • Vodafone 4G

  • Airtel 4G


A lot can vary depending on where this test is done, ie., either in a village or a smaller town, or a place which has not so much of great connectivity. All these tests were done in Bangalore in a decent locality where all providers have their presence.
Do you feel your mileage is different ? - It would be great to hear your viewpoint, let me know in the comments below.

Posted by Srikanth Eswaran

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Sunday, July 22, 2018

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In my last post I discussed about the Kodai Resort Hotel and the benefits it offers being in the middle of Kodai. If you are interested to know more about that click the link. During my stay in Kodaikanal as part of my Madurai-Rameswaram-Kodai trip, I also got a chance to view the most important tourist attractions in and around Kodai. We had a Toyota Innova which I had hired from Madurai, which we continued to use around Kodai. If you rather wish to read about the Kodai International Hotel, click here.

The majestic Kodaikanal Lake


As you would expect, the Kodai town and the lake itself was created by the British folks during the 19th century. The Kodai lake is a star shaped man made catchment area which holds all the rainfall the area receives. Its outflow of excess water forms the silver cascade waterfall 8km downstream.

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The lake has lots of eateries around it, and offers activities like cycling, walking, jogging, etc. You could just sit by the lake and have a hot cup of tea with a samosa or sandwich just enjoying the panoramic views of the lake. Or even better if you want to be in the thick of the action, you can get into a boat and enjoy the real water level view of the lake and its amazing surroundings (you would be surprised how many trees dot the lake boundary) which look surreal while the boating activity is in progress.

During summers the lake offers rather cool environs, but during winters the lake can get pretty cold downwards of 8 deg C. So clothe yourself appropriately. I already warned you. A boating sessions lasts nearly half hour and you can pay and get more if that is what you love to do. Trust me the boat ride is well worth it and it will leave you with memories to cherish.

Coaker's Walk


The coaker's walk is a mountain edge walking track very near to the Kodai Resort Hotel and about a half to one km walk from the lake itself. While entering the walk, it seems like a normal park, but as you start walking you get to see some stunning views of the valley beyond. Whatever the weather, you cannot miss this walk.

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There are lots of people offering toys, hot corn, tea or coffee, cut mangoes, cucumbers and the likes. You also get warm winter clothing if you want to buy some there, so also hats, scarfs and so on. Think of it as an experience and splurge a bit, you will not be disappointed. This is not very long, but whatever bit it offers is still unique to the surroundings. You also have a telescope point at the end of the walk which gives you stunning views of the surroundings at a pittance of a cost.

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The walk starts at club road and ends at St.Mary's road. It is about 1km and useful to go through when you just want a stroll and nothing else.

Kodaikanal Pine Forests


The Kodai Pine forests sport shola, pine and eucalyptus trees and provide a thicket of woods that are unique for the tourists. You can walk through the pine forests and it presents some great photo ops for budding photographers.

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Guna Caves


What was once a beautiful walk to some really deep caves of mesmerising beauty have now been relegated to behind the iron bars view of the distant caves. After the movie Guna was shot there in 1992 the caves became famous which brought along with the fame, dirty tracks and youngsters losing their lives there. Due to this the government now has banned people from reaching upto the caves. The only view you can get is from a tower which is the last point of access to see the caves below.

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If you want to check out some photos of these caves in details, look here. This place is also called devil's kitchen.  The good part of areas around Kodai is that the access fee is very reasonable enabling many tourists to enjoy the good parts without burning a hole in your pockets.

Moir Point


This is yet another view point from which the beautiful valleys surrounding Kodai are visible.

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Pillar rocks


Further on, we come to a location from where the Pillar rocks (mountainous peaks) are visible. This place is a good photo op location with an astounding backdrop and if you are lucky with misty mountains behind you. Many tourists stop here to grab a good view of the mountainous peaks beyond and that all important selfie as a memento to frame and keep.

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Upper lake view


Towards the beginning of all the attractions around Kodai, you can make a brief stop over at the upper lake view, which gives a panoramic view of the Kodai lake in the background although very far away. The real extent of the greenery surrounding the place is visible from this point and its good to get a pic or two with your family from here for cherishing the memories later.

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Parks


The Bryant park and the Chettiar park are must see parks in Kodaikanal. However these could be a bit steep for elders to down all the way and come back up again to the entrances. Please ensure your car is waiting for you on the other side downhill to save yourself some trouble to come up all over again. Since these are hilly regions, most parks tend to start off somewhere uphill and move downhill with the road going around them.

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Other attractions


The Bear Shola falls, Silver Cascade falls, solar observatory, the many parks, and temples around, including the Palani viewpoint provide ample opportunities for a day out if you are not bored of the ones mentioned above already. Its impossible to fit all of this one one single post, and I will write again sometime when I visit the rest of these attractions.

Posted by Srikanth Eswaran

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Sunday, July 15, 2018

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Introduction


If you live in South India, and the talk about hill stations crops up, the first thing that comes to the mind are places like Ooty and Kodaikanal. I have already written about Ooty and the stay in Destiny Farm Stay and you can click here to read that article. In this article I bring you a review of the Kodai Resort Hotel and discuss whether the hotel is worth staying in to go aroung sight seeing in Kodaikanal easily. If you wish to read about the Kodai International instead, click here.

Kodaikanal is roughly 450+ kms from Bangalore and the journey by drive can take anywhere between 8 to 10 hours. If you drive at night, add a few more hours to that since you will be traveling slow. If you have kids this number will substantially go up further. One of the other ways to get there is to take a train from Bangalore to Kodai Road Junction station and further take a private cab to reach Kodaikanal. The distance from Kodai Road is 80km and will take about two to three hours to complete.

Location


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The Kodai Resort Hotel is bang in the middle of Kodaikanal and walkable distance to the famous Kodaikanal Lake nearby. It is also very near to the stalls, shopping and other restaurants that make it an attractive location. Given the most costliest hotel around is Carlton Kodai, this hotel we are talking about it just a stone's throw from there.

Further Coaker's walk is just a walk away from the Kodai Resort and for most needs you do not need a car. Everything is literally a walk away. Why this matters is that, either you can stay far away and come to the lake and its surroundings to just shop around, or stay nearby the lake and avoid transportation costs for every journey. So in terms of location this hotel ticks all boxes

In terms the terrain this resort is constructed on a slope and you enter the resort at the top and the rooms go down all the way below. In terms of accessibility for elders this resort could prove to be a pain, but due to its age and the way it is constructed one cannot expect comforts. So for elders this resort is a no-no unless you are willing to take upto fifty steps each time you want to get in or out of the resort. Further if you are the elderly, make sure to ask for a room near the entrance as it will save you some effort and pain.

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The resort itself is nestled in such a way that it offers beautiful views of the mountains around the place from every room terrace. In fact the terrace is the single reason why you should stay in this resort. Each terrace is to some extent blocked from the view of another terrace so privacy is there to some extent. The terrace is a great place to sit down and sip a cup of hot tea or coffee looking at the landscapes and having personal but important conversations for which you never found time earlier due to your hectic schedules.

Rooms


The room we got was almost like a semi house with a hall and a bedroom inside. There is an attached toilet as well. The windows to the room are placed rather high and open into the terrace. In fact the way to the terrace is also from the windows which sounds a bit unique to the place. The rooms were warm and has basic stuff like some cookies and water for you.

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There is also a TV which is mostly useless and I wish the hotels really focussed on bringing about good DTH connections with many channels as they could. Everything is about price and personally for me watching TV on a resort stay is taboo. We go to the resort to do other things like walks, treks, conversations, good food and other activities. TV falls very low in that priority order. But all guests are not like me and would like to spend their evening catching up with TV programs.

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The hotel has a lawn all the way down where the room ends where people can meet and the kids can play with each other. The lawn also has some kids play area with few slides, swings, etc. It also houses an Emu which is a huge bird. The gardens around the laws and stairways are a sight to behold and they really add charm to the place.

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Restaurant


The hotel sports a restaurant near the entrance which has a good spread of food items for breakfast. Lunch and dinner are not covered though you can order a-la-carte items. Each day's stay covers breakfast for all and the restaurant was a nice place to have a morning refresh over that piping hot cup of coffee. The weather in Kodaikanal is pleasant and it varies between cool and cold during non summer months. During summers the temperatures can reach to around 30 deg C which is NOT the best time to visit the place.

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For food there are other good hotels nearby such as Astoria Veg and you can bring food from there if you do not want to use the restaurant.

Dinner, dance and music, star gazing and great sunrise moments


There is also a dance floor during the late evenings which has music playing for you to participate and dance if you wish to. Typically this goes on for an hour or two every night and if you are tired after the morning's journeys around, you can relax and hit the dance floor. It is in the club area and slightly away and high placed compared to the rooms below. The sound can be heard in the rooms a bit and nothing much can be done about it.

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Given the rooms sport huge terraces, its a fantastic opportunity for both star gazing at night and some great sunrises in the morning. It is so picture perfect that I can say I have never seen such beautiful sunrises from a hill station for quite sometime now. We always see good sunrises from beaches, but this is another great experience altogether.

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Other notable things about the resort


The resort also stocks a club and a library which has good books for kids. If your kid is of the type they want to read books then nothing better than here. The same place also sports TT tables for a game or two. There is also a small shop that sells among other things toys, spices, chocolates and other small gifts. Nothing that you will not get anywhere nearby though so it is really upto you if you want to purchase something from here.

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The major attractions include Coaker's walk and the stunning Kodai lake nearby which are both walkable to the resort. I will speak about these in a different blog post.

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Pricing


The resort is reasonably priced with deals ranging between Rs.2000 upto Rs.7000/- during the monsoon months (prices will vary for peak times and based on season and based on the configuration on the rooms you choose). It falls under the reasonable category for what it has to offer in terms of location, food, and room types and is worth considering if you do not want to waste time in going around Kodai.

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Conclusion


If you liked the review of the Kodai Resort hotel and are considering to stay there, please do share in the comments below whether you liked the place and the great walks nearby, and the morning coffee with sunrise.

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The Kodai Resort hotel is not very modern, yet is placed exactly in the middle of all attractions, and is priced at a quarter of other bigger star hotels, offers reasonable food and a good environment with unique rooms and terraces. The fact that is walkable to the places nearby is surely a reason you must consider this resort for your next holiday.

The people were warm and hospitable and I also did not see many reasons to complain on the service offered. The elevation makes it a bit impossible for asthmatic patients or elders to climb up and down, but barring that one negative point which is not really in the control of the management if you are able to walk around this resort offers value for money on everything.

Posted by Srikanth Eswaran

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Friday, July 13, 2018

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Introduction

After years of struggling with Bangalore’s weather, I tried to understand why my kid was getting sick with asthmatic symptoms over and over again. It struck me there’s something about the air quality that creates this problem other than the pollen in the air.
Looking at Bangalore go from bad to worse it was only an eventuality that I had to really think of investing into an air purifier for my bedroom. Over the years the technology for air purifiers has only become better and better and with standard HEPA filters and air filters being used in air conditioners and the like, the same also started being used for air purifiers. With cities like Delhi almost have an air purifier for every home the concept is still catching up for Bangalore which is taking some time to reach the level of dust pollution that is seen in Delhi.
There are a lot of companies working on air purifiers such as Sharp, Philips etc. A quick search on Amazon shows a host of companies offering air purifiers. I also understood that when the air becomes dry within the room or the atmosphere we are in, it starts to cause an irritation in people’s throats which further cause a lot of cough and runny nose symptoms. couple this with the usual asthmatic symptoms and the whole situation turns nasty with an allergic cough that lasts for over a week or two in small kids.
So now I not only needed a solution to purifying the air at home, I also needed a solution which helps me to humidify the air within the room.

Two in one

Given my need, I wanted a unit which had both the air purifying function and humidification function in a single unit. After having seen a lot of reviews on YouTube and checking out some products on Amazon, I came across an advertisement regarding the sharp KC-F30E model.
For once I did not want to make an online purchase and I wanted to just pay up the cost and have the air purifier on the hand immediately. For this reason, I picked up the contact number for the customer care for Sharp, and make a call to them to understand the models they have and the payment options to secure one of these models.
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Purchase experience

Sharp could not answer my call when I called them but they promptly return the call and assigned an executive from Bangalore city to deal with my case. The executive was in constant touch with me in spite of my busy schedules and I asked him if there was a no-cost EMI option to purchase this product.
Due to my busy schedules the executive was kind enough to meet me at a time of my choice and place of my choice and he brought in the purifier unit to my office along with the payment machine. The device cost me 23500 rupees and I paid the whole thing by a credit card with no cost EMI option for 1 year which cost me around close to 2000 rupees every month.

Device statistics

The device itself is around 5kgs in weight and is as big a personal computer desktop tower or slightly more. The whole unit fits into the boot of my car and I could get it home easily. ,The device itself is constructed in a simple manner with easy access to the filters, the water bay and the controls on the front panel of the device. The device runs on a 5A socket and it’s very easy to use.

Unboxing video

Below is the video I made for the unboxing of the device which you can see to understand what the device looks like in reality.

Controls

The device has a few easy to use buttons on the front console. There is a button to switch between the display of humidification level and temperature in the room. There is a timer button which can help you set the humidification / air purification function to last between 1 hour & 8 hours after which the unit will switch off automatically.
The mode button helps you to switch between the modes auto/ night-time /slow and fast. The Haze button helps to operate the unit at Max high fan speed for 10 minutes followed by 50 minutes operation at high fan speed, and then alternates between low and high level for 20 minutes each.
Then there is the power button for switching the unit off or on, and it also remembers what state the unit was in in the event of a power cut. Further to this using this buttons by the means of a long keypress we could switch the modes between humidifier and purifier, and using either or both, and so on.
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Filters

The unit has a back panel which can be easily removed which gives access to two filters one being the HEPA filter and the other being the deodorizing filter. These can be separately removed and vacuumed or soap cleaned whenever needed.
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Besides this, there is a humidifying filter which resides within a filter frame, which sits further in humidifying tray that holds the water needed for humidification. This tray is easily accessible and we can fill it with water up to the specified level and plug it back into the unit very easily.
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General notes on operation

As a consumer, I understood how to use this device. I went about trying to use it with the water filled into the humidifying tray. The unit is pretty noisy at higher fan speeds but upon setting it to automatic it settled down to a very quiet operation which is barely audible.
If you are expecting the unit to cool the room just like an air conditioner you are mistaken and you will not be able to achieve that with this unit. However, the dampness in the room is clearly felt after a while because of this unit doing its humidifying function.
The lighting on the unit is good and it shows different colours based on what it possesses the dust quality within the room (Green / Orange). The device claims to remove dust particles upto 0.3 microns which would mean coverage on most categories of dust commonly found in homes.

Tangible benefits

I am yet to understand what the exact tangible benefits of using this unit are and my metric of measurement would be how healthy my son would be if this unit is in operation every night in the room that he sleeps in.
If his levels of asthma are under control and he does not get into an allergic cough situation because of using this unit then I would believe that this unit is functional to the extent that I expected it to be.
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Conclusion

For the given price the humidifier and air purifier unit combined in one is a worthwhile investment for now as it doesn’t break your bank. it is a bit bulky but it is also quite during operation and the only need is to find the space for it within your room.
The tangible benefits of this unit would be understood only over long term use but for heavily polluted cities it is almost becoming necessary to have an air purifier as of today.
With constant industrialisation and construction activities going on around the city and the temperatures within the city heating up it is only important that dry cities need the function of humidification as well within the homes that we live in. The sharp purifier and humidifier unit exactly aims to achieve this need.
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If you liked the review, please spare few moments to let me know your thoughts down below in the comments.
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About Me
Srikanth Eswaran
Bengloor Huduga

Srikanth is a blogger, reader, photographer, butter dosa eater, an urban car racer & an apple fanboy. He loves music, playing table tennis and traveling. Most times he would like to be solitary to introspect on what life has thrown to him and the bigger purpose of life.