Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Lightweight, Portable, and Value for Money

A tripod is one of the most important pieces in a cinematographer or photographer’s arsenal and if you’re looking to add one to your kit, chances are you’ve already started finalizing the ones you like. I’m certain brands like Manfrotto rank high on that list, but you really don’t need to spend too much money to get a great tripod. So, as you probably already know, we shoot a bunch of videos, and we started off with a Manfrotto tripod as well, but as the need for more tripods arose, we had the chance to check out this one from Zomei. The Z818 Carbon Fiber tripod ($100.95) was just going to be our alternate tripod, but it has since become one of the most used ones at the office; and now, here’s our review of the Zomei Z818 tripod.
Zomei Z818 Carbon Fiber Tripod Features:

The Zomei Z818 comes with some pretty cool features that make it a rather versatile tripod to carry around.

    Around 2.1kg weight
    Magnesium and Aluminium alloy tube
    2-in-1 functionality to quickly convert into a monopod
    Can go from 22-inches in height to 65-inches in height
    Twist locking mechanism for legs that makes them easy to extend and retract
    Quick release plate with 1/4″ screw that can fit almost every DSLR
    Up to 16kg load support
    Invertible center rod allows for macro photography

Design and Build

In terms of the design and build, the Zomei Z818 carbon fiber tripod doesn’t disappoint. It has a carbon fiber build, which means that it’s sturdy enough for every day use, and it’s light enough that you won’t have any problems carrying it around. Plus, the black one we have looks really cool with its striped legs.

Zomei Tripod Review Image 4

The fittings and locks are all built out of plastic, which is the case for most tripods, and that too is of a pretty good quality. In all our usage of the Zomei tripod, not once have we felt like the tripod’s build might let us down. It’s a pretty well built tripod that’s also sleek and good to look at. The Zomei website claims that the tripod is good enough for harsh conditions, and while we don’t get winters of the type that Zomei shows on its website, the tripod has had no problems bracing the extreme Delhi summers, even on outdoor shoots, so I’m pretty happy with it.

Other than that, the tripod has rubber feet that provide a stable grip. However, unlike the iFootage WildBull T5 tripod I reviewed earlier, the feet here are not that wide. So, while the tripod offers sufficient support for our shooting needs, it’s definitely not as stable as the iFootage tripod. However, in all our usage of the Zomei tripod, this has never been an issue.
Setting Up and Using the Zomei Z818 Carbon Fiber Tripod

Really, the only reason this section even exists here is so I can pile on some praise on this tripod’s extremely easy to use design. I’ve used a bunch of tripods, from brands like Manfrotto, to the iFootage tripod that I reviewed earlier, some cheap ones that are really only fit for very basic photography, but none of the tripods I’ve used are as easy to set up and use as this Zomei carbon fiber tripod.

The credit for a lot of that ease of use goes simply to the fact that it’s extremely light weight. At just slightly under 2.1kg, you can very easily pick this tripod up and place it wherever you want to, which definitely makes setting up a shot easier. However, in addition to that, the tripod comes with twist locks for the extendable legs, which I personally find easier to use than the snap-on locks that I’ve used on the other tripods I’ve had experience with. Honestly, the twist-locks take slightly longer than the usual snap-on locks on most other tripods, but I personally find them easier to use, if not faster.

Zomei Tripod Review Image 3

Also, if you take a look at the center column of the tripod, there’s a hook at the bottom which you can use to suspend a weight from — that adds extra stability for shots where you need it. Since we shoot YouTube videos, and random product shots for our written reviews, we haven’t had to use this; however, from what our video team has told me, this is a pretty handy feature in situations where the tripod might not be as stable as you’d like for whatever reason.
Head Compatibility

The Zomei Z818 comes with an included ball head for mounting your camera on, which is something most other tripods don’t include. The head is decent enough and as Sharun once pointed out to me, since it’s a ball head, it’s easier to level it out.

Zomei Tripod Review Image 1

That said, the tripod comes with a standard 1/4″ screw, which means you can attach any standard tripod head here. We prefer using a Manfrotto Fluid Head for our videos, and that fits perfectly on this tripod.

Basically, if you’re using a tripod head that you prefer for your shoots, you can simply screw it in place on top of the Zomei Z818 carbon fiber and use it just like you’re used to.

Portability is one of the strongest suits of this tripod. Thanks to its carbon fiber build and light weight body, the tripod is quite portable. That said, the tripod has a load capacity of around 16kg, which means that if you’re only using a DSLR and something like the Lilliput Field Monitor (that I also reviewed recently), this is a perfect tripod for your needs.

Zomei Tripod Review Image 5

Along with that, the tripod is pretty small in and of itself — it folds down to just 22-inches in height and is quite easy to just stuff along with your shooting equipment, plus at just 2.1kg, it’s extremely light as I’ve mentioned earlier as well.

Overall, portability is not a problem with the Zomei Z818 tripod and if your use-case mostly involves lugging your equipment around, this is one tripod you can easily carry.
Pros and Cons:

The Zomei Z818 carbon fiber tripod is a pretty solid tripod for portability, build, and overall usability. That said, it does have its set of pros and cons:


    Well built
    Comes with a head
    Priced competitively


    Weight capacity is a bit low at 16kg

Zomei Z818 Carbon Fiber Tripod: A Light, Easy on the Pocket Tripod

Overall, the Zomei Z818 carbon fiber tripod is a lightweight tripod that’s easy on the eyes and comes in at a pretty decent price of around $100. It’s one of the only affordable tripods that I can recommend. That said, if you’re looking for other options from well known brands, and you can go a little over $100, you can check out the Manfrotto Lightweight Element Traveler Tripod ($149.88) which comes with almost the exact same features as this one from Zomei.
Read More »

Nokia 3.1 Plus Review: Lost in Ambition

With a rapidly expanding product portfolio, HMD Global is enjoying a fantastic streak in India this year with over nine Nokia smartphones already out in the market. And with the new Nokia 3.1 Plus it felt as though the company had cooked a perfect recipe for a budget smartphone. But to my surprise, HMD Global decided to launch the Nokia 3.1 Plus at a starting price of Rs. 11,499, which is relatively high when compared with its other phones in its league of budget phones.

Yes, it makes me scratch my head every time I think about it. Anyway, you can read my thoughts on Nokia’s odd-ball pricing strategy here, but for now, let’s see if the phone manages to make a decent fist of its pricing.

I have been using the Nokia 3.1 Plus for little over a week now, so let me tell you if it has enough power to stand a chance against the fierce competition from its Chinese rivals.
What’s in The Box

Before I start with my opinion on the phone, let’s take a look at the things that you would get inside the box when you pick up a Nokia 3.1 Plus –

    Nokia 3.1 Plus
    Micro USB to USB-A cable
    5V/2A Charger
    A pair of standard earphones
    Instruction leaflets
    SIM Ejector Tool

Nokia 3.1 Plus box contents
Nokia 3.1 Plus Specifications
Dimensions    156.68 x 76.44 x 8.19 mm
Weight    180 grams
Display    6-inch HD+ IPS LCD
Processor    MediaTek Helio P22
RAM    2/3GB
Storage    16/32GB, expandable up to 400GB
Rear Camera    13MP (f/2.0)+5MP (f/2.4), PDAF, single LED flash
Front Camera    8MP (f/2.2)
Battery    3,500 mAh
OS    Android 8.1 Oreo, under Android One program
Connectivity    Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.1, A-GPS, GLONASS, 3.5mm headphone jack, microUSB port
Sensors    rear-mounted fingerprint, accelerometer, gyroscope, e-compass, proximity, ambient light
Colors    Blue, White, Baltic

Now that you have a good idea about the internals in the Nokia 3.1 Plus, let’s see how it performs in the real world.
Design & Build Quality

The Nokia-branded phones, as we all know, may have wishy-washy performance, but they always score good marks when it comes to the design. Well, I am happy to report that the Nokia 3.1 Plus is no exception. In fact, the best part of Nokia 3.1 Plus is its in-hand feel. The company is using a die-cast metal casing for the phone’s back, which makes it very comfortable to hold.
Nokia 3.1 Plus Back Design

The Nokia 3.1 Plus also hits the sweet spot when it comes to ergonomics. It has nice curved edges, the buttons are reachable, and the fingerprint scanner sits in the right place too. While we are at it, let me tell you that the fingerprint scanner is snappy and accurate as well.

        The Nokia 3.1 Plus feels almost too premium for a budget smartphone!

The silver accents around the dual camera setup and the fingerprint scanner on my Blue color variant here gives it an edge over the competition when it comes to the design. The accents, in my opinion, are not too obnoxious like the ones on the Nokia 7 Plus, and I really like it. It’s just a matter of taste, really.

Coming to the front, I am glad that Nokia has decided to defy the trend by going for a classic look instead of throwing in a notch. It still has a tall 18:9 display, and it looks better than the competition like the Redmi 6 Pro. Some may think that the Nokia 3.1 Plus has a dated look, but I hate notches in general, so I am okay with it.
Nokia 3.1 Plus Front Design

Before I talk more about the display, I’d like to point out that the Nokia 3.1 Plus has a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a dedicated micro SD card slot in addition to two SIM card slots. The bottom firing speakers are also surprisingly good, but you’ll have to make do with a micro USB port.

The Nokia 3.1 Plus has a 6-inch HD+ IPS display with a 2.5D curved glass on top. There’s no Gorilla Glass here, and I am already seeing a lot of scratches on my unit. It’s not a pretty sight considering the fact that I’ve only had it for little over a week.
Nokia 3.1 Plus Display

I know I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again – I like Nokia’s classic no-notch design. The colors look vibrant and the viewing angles are also nice. It also gets decently bright for outdoor visibility and gets considerably dim to be used comfortably in low-light conditions. I personally had no issues with the display, but the lower resolution panel could be a deal breaker for many.

Overall, I’d say the display on the Nokia 3.1 Plus is good, but I can’t say it is right on the money because let’s be real, you can get other phones with better displays for this price.

I did express my concerns about a ghosting effect on texts (when used in night light mode) during my initial impressions, but I’d like to point out that it doesn’t seem to be as prominent as it was. Maybe I’ve gotten used to it with time, but I don’t think you should base your purchase decision based on it.

Photos and videos on the Nokia 3.1 Plus are handled by a pair of 13MP+5MP cameras at the back, and an 8MP shooter on the front. The 13MP primary lens has a f/2.0 aperture, whereas the secondary 5MP has a f/2.4 aperture. The cameras are also supported by Phase Detection Auto Focus and a single LED flash. The front-facing camera, on the other hand, has a f/2.2 aperture.
Nokia 3.1 Plus Rear Cameras

So, how’s the camera? Well, I’d say Nokia still needs to work on it. Under good lighting conditions, the photos turned out to be good with a decent amount of detail. I didn’t notice any over-saturation, which is always a good thing. The phone, however, struggles to deliver photos with a good dynamic range and crispness.
Daylight Photos
1 of 5
Nokia 3.1 Plus
Lowlight Photos

While the images turned out to be good in broad daylight, I am afraid I can’t say the same for the images taken in low-lighting conditions. Don’t get me wrong, the camera did manage to light up the scene pretty well, but the images turned out way too soft for my liking.
1 of 5
Nokia 3.1 Plus
Nokia 3.1 Plus
Portrait Photos

To my surprise, the Portrait photos turned out to be decent. The found the edge detection to be on par with some other budget phones. In fact, there were some instances when I got some really nice portrait shots. Even the front camera of the Nokia 3.1 Plus lets you take photos in Bokeh mode, and I found the results to be decent.
1 of 6

I am not a huge fan of the 8MP selfie camera on the Nokia 3.1 Plus. It won’t feed your selfie obsession, but the photos came out alright with a decent amount of detail most of the time, and generally good color balance.
1 of 4

It is worth pointing out that the cameras on the Nokia 3.1 Plus had a hard time locking focus on a subject. There were multiple occasions when I almost missed my shot due to this issue. Besides that, I also found the camera to be annoyingly slow. I don’t know if the issue is exclusive to my unit, but I hope the frustrating shutter lag will be fixed as soon as possible via a software update.

The camera app, on the other hand, is fairly straightforward. There are a ton of different modes to be explored here and the same can be held true for videos as well. You can shoot videos in 1080P with rear camera, but the front camera is limited to 720P recording. The best part, however, is the fact that the app also lets you capture time-lapse and slow-motion videos.

The Nokia 3.1 Plus comes with the prestigious badge of Android One at the back, which means the phone packs in Pure Android experience just like most other Nokia-branded phones. It comes with Android 8.1 Oreo out of the box and you can count on it to receive timely OS and security updates for the next three years.

The stock version of Android is free of any bloatware, and you can expect it to stay that way. However, if you are accustomed to using skinned versions of Android like, say, Xiaomi’s MIUI, then you might find the stock Android to be fairly basic. But hey, at least you won’t have to worry about some annoying ads, right?

If somebody asked me to point out the shortcomings of Nokia 3.1 Plus, then I’ll direct them to this part of my review. The phone is powered by MediaTek’s octa-core Helio P22 processor, which is frankly what I’ve come to expect from most manufacturers when it comes to budget phones. The processor has never left a lasting impression on me, but I was open to surprises while testing the Nokia 3.1 Plus.
Android One badge

The octa-core processor is coupled with up to 3GB RAM and 32GB of internal storage, so I’d say it is on par with most other budget phones out there. Well, I’ve been testing the 3GB RAM variant of the phone, and let me tell you that the performance of Nokia 3.1 Plus is just decent at best.

Anyway, if you are looking for some benchmark results, here, have a look at Nokia 3.1 Plus’ Antutu and 3D Mark results –
Antutu (left), 3D Mark (Right) benchmark results

The Helio P22, even when paired with 3GB of RAM, doesn’t enable smooth performance on this phone. I am not even talking about the performance while gaming or while using resource-intensive tasks. I experienced frame drops and hiccups just while casually browsing through my social media feeds, which was very disappointing, to say the least.

And don’t even get me started on multi-tasking because there have been instances when I found myself waiting multiple seconds for each app to load while jumping from one to the other. The fact that I am getting such a performance while running on a stock version of Android makes it all the more surprising.

Despite the substandard performance, I tried playing some games like PUBG Mobile and Asphalt 9: Legends on the Nokia 3.1 Plus, because why not? Well, after playing these games for about 20 minutes, I came to a conclusion that you can play games on this phone, but it won’t be an enjoyable experience. The games take time to load, plus you’ll have to put up with occasional stutters and frame drops as well.
PUBG Mobile running on low settings

As mentioned earlier in this review, the Nokia 3.1 Plus has dedicated slots for two SIM cards and a micro SD card. The dedicated SD card might come in handy if you buy the 16GB variant. Apart from that, you also get other connectivity options like Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.1, A-GPS, GLONASS, FM Radio, etc.
Nokia 3.1 Plus

    VoLTE on the Nokia 3.1 Plus is enabled out of the box.

Battery Life

The Nokia 3.1 Plus packs a 3,500 mAh battery. During my usage, I was ending my days (with medium usage) with close to 6 hours of screen-on-time (SoT). Of course, you’ll be able to squeeze more than 6 hours of SoT if you go easy on your usage, but I consider myself a moderate-heavy user, so I was pretty impressed with the battery life.
Nokia 3.1 Plus Battery Performance Results

    The Nokia 3.1 Plus offers a good battery life to last you for an entire day.

As for the charging time, the Nokia 3.1 Plus went from 0% to 100% in a little over two hours while using the 5V/2A charger that’s included in the box. It is, however, worth pointing out that the charging times may vary if you keep using the device while plugged in.
Nokia 3.1 Plus: Should You Buy It?

As much as I want to see this gorgeous phone in everyone’s hand, my answer to that question would be a resounding no. Let me explain –

The Nokia 3.1 Plus starts at Rs. 11,499, which as I mentioned earlier, is on the pricier side. Yes, it is one of the best-looking devices at this price point, but let’s face it, looks can be deceptive. You should get a phone with a capable processor that can last, say, 2-3 years without any issues. Frankly, in its current state, it doesn’t look like the Nokia 3.1 Plus will be able to do that.

Here’s what you can do instead – You can pick up a Redmi 6 Pro for as low as Rs. 10,999 and get a better performance. Heck, you can even buy a Nokia 5.1 Plus for Rs. 10,999 and get a better stock Android experience.
Nokia 3.1 Plus Pros & Cons

    Great build quality
    Good battery life
    Stock Android experience


    Sluggish performance
    Average cameras

SEE ALSO: Nokia 3.1 Plus vs Redmi 6 Pro: New Kid Meets the Budget King
Nokia 3.1 Plus: Lost in Ambition

Honestly, I feel like HMD Global’s ambitious plan to disrupt the offline market with the Nokia 3.1 Plus (which explains why it’s expensive) seems like a missed opportunity to me. With its current price tag, the Nokia 3.1 Plus seems like it is in a weird spot.

The Achilles’ heel of the Nokia 3.1 Plus is its middling performance, and the Helio P22 processor seems to be the bottleneck here. It just isn’t fully up to the task, and it’s crippling the phone against the competition with superior specs across the board.

That being said, a widespread online availability option (Flipkart or Amazon) with a sensible pricing of, say, under Rs. 10,000 would have made the Nokia 3.1 Plus a promising offering from the Finnish manufacturer.
Read More »

A Fierceful End to Lara’s Crusade

Unlike movies, only a handful of video game characters manage to pierce through a franchise’s shortcomings to become a character that people love to play as. Well, Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft, for me personally, is high up on the list of such games. Thanks to her charming personality and determination to explore mindless quests for retribution, Lara has managed to stick around for over two decades now, and even today, she’s seen preying on enemies and exploring ruins.

In Shadow of the Tomb Raider (Rs. 2,990 on PS4; Rs. 3,770 on Xbox One), Lara is on the last leg of her journey to find the missing piece of the puzzle that she’s been wanting to solve by putting herself in some of the most ridiculous life-threatening situations. And after playing this latest entry, I can say that Lara’s reboot story has found a fitting ending. But is it a fun one to play? Well, let’s find out.

Note: We had the PlayStation 4 version for review and all screenshots were captured on a PlayStation 4 Pro (Rs. 39,990) in 4K.
Lara exploring one of the hubs

Shadow of the Tomb Raider picks up where the previous title left. Both Lara and her close friend Jonah are seen traveling through Mexico and South America to stop Trinity from acquiring an artifact and, you know, save the world. Yes, it sounds just like any other Tomb Raider game we’ve played before, but game directors Daniel Chayer-Bisson have narrated the story in an interesting way.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s story comes full circle

The story revolves around the consequences of Lara’s actions. To stop Trinity from acquiring the Mayan dagger, she snatches it herself early in the game causing the Maya apocalypse. Unfortunately, Lara gets captured by Dominguez (the leader of Trinity and primary villain) who takes the dagger and reveals his evil plan to unite it with the ‘Box’ and remake the world.

So, you spend the rest of the game trying to stop Dominguez while meeting new characters in the process. However, the uncertain apocalyptic event set off by Lara, in my opinion, is an interesting narrative element as it develops a sense of maturity, making her realize that every action has a consequence. This brings out the best of Lara’s character. I am not going to spoil the fun by revealing too much (also because there are too many things to mention), but you’ll be pleased with the character building.
The game brings out the best of Lara’s character

    Lara goes from being a survivor to a BADASS Silent Killer.

The story of Shadow of the Tomb Raider, just like the first two Tomb Raider games in the modern trilogy, takes some time to kick in. But once it does, you’ll see Lara mature as a character. She’ll start learning new skills to evolve as a “Silent Killer.” Instead of blowing up an enemy base or raging on enemies with an assault rifle, Lara turns into a mud-covered jungle warrior. You’ll find yourself lurking in the shadows sending poisonous arrows, which I found to be more pleasing and rewarding at the same time.

Yes, the Shadow of the Tomb Raider has a well-executed narrative, but sadly, I never found myself on the edge of my seat wanting to know what’s next in store for me. And that’s because Eidos Montreal seems to have put more emphasis on exploration, an aspect of the game which can be both positive and negative depending on how you like to play. So, let’s talk a bit more about exploration, and some other aspects that make Shadow of the Tomb Raider a compelling title.
Lara & Jonah exploring the Maya ruins

Shadow of the Tomb Raider, just like its predecessors, rests on some important pillars – exploration, puzzles, and combat. Having spent more than 20 hours in the game, I am happy to report that the game scores good marks on all three aspects, at least in my books.
The game offers an extensive difficulty selection

First off, I’d like to point out that the game lets you choose how difficult you want each aspect to be. Yes, Eidos Montreal has included the ability to modify the difficulty level of combat, exploration, and puzzle solving independently of each other. This, in my opinion, is one of the best things to happen to the game and I wish I could get this level of customization on all AAA titles.

I personally wanted to go easy on the puzzles, so I set it to easy, whereas I bumped up the combat difficulty to hard to face challenging encounters. You can also set the ‘exploration’ option to hard and play as the ultimate “Tomb Raider”. But that, along with the lack of a Heads-Up-Display (HUD), will force you to bring out the best explorer in you.
Lara buying items from a merchant
Raiding the Tombs Like a Pro

Speaking of exploring, it is hard not to address the introduction of ‘Hubs’ in the game. Hubs are essentially unique locations where you can interact with the local inhabitants (in their local language with the immersive mode). Exploring a hub makes Shadow of the Tomb Raider feel like an open-world game, which, I believe, is where the franchise is headed in the future.

While interacting with the local inhabitants, you unlock various side-quests as well. I am not a huge fan of side-quests in this game as they turned out to be rather weak. Yes, the side-quests introduce an RPG flavor, but I couldn’t see myself going through the pain of completing them, as they are very inconsistent at keeping you engaged. I found other aspects like the ability to interact with the locals to be a bit questionable as well, but they might come in handy if you choose to play the game in its immersive mode.
Lara exploring one of the hubs in the game
Jump Lara, Jump!

Lara has also learned a couple of new moves in addition to the ones that are carried over from the previous titles. These include both combat moves as well as the moves that let you traverse the vast landscape in style. Lara can now hang freely from a wall/ rock or use a rope to swing around an obstacle. Don’t worry, though, the game does a great job of teaching you everything, so you won’t find yourself stuck in the learning phase for a long time.
The game teaches you new control mechanics

Lara’s skill set, on the other hand, is now split into three sections as well. You have seeker skills, warrior skills, and scavenger skills. Acquiring new seeker skills will enhance Lara’s exploration skills. Warrior skills, as the name suggests, will make Lara good at combat, whereas learning new scavenging skills will make Lara good at resource management. You are free to upgrade your character as you see fit, as there’s no right or wrong way to play the game, really.

    “There’s no right or wrong way to play the game, really!”

I also like how you can acquire different costumes for Lara. You can literally play as Lara Croft from Tomb Raider 2 or even Angel of Darkness. It’s obviously not for everyone, but hey, it’s nice to have a touch of nostalgia, right?
You can even play as Lara from the Angel of Darkness

Lastly, just like every other Tomb Raider game, you’ll be thrown into a situation where solving a puzzle is the only way to progress. As is the case with every new sequel, the puzzles keep getting better. I personally found the “Trial of the Eagle” and “Oil” to be the most time consuming and somewhat complicated (and frustrating) puzzles in the game.
Visuals & Sound Effects

Visually, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is arguably one of the best looking games in the franchise. In fact, it is high up on my list of best-looking AAA titles released this year so far. Props to Eidos Montreal for delivering fantastically detailed graphics. The animation and environment design, in particular, are truly impressive. I won’t say the character animations match the level of something like, say, Uncharted 4, but there are plenty of details to be seen in almost everything around you.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s cutscenes look phenomenal

    “Cinematic cutscenes are all rendered in real time using the game’s engine”

On the PlayStation 4 Pro and the Xbox One X, the game offers two different modes – High Resolution (HDR, 4K, 30 FPS) and High Framerate (HDR, 1080p, 60 FPS). I chose to play the game in the High-Resolution mode on my PlayStation 4 Pro, and needless to say, I was blown away by how incredibly detailed the game really is. I did experience occasional frame drops while exploring places like “The Hidden City” but I decided to continue experiencing this gorgeous game in high resolution because of the crispness.
Graphics setting in PS4 Pro

The underwater sequences in Shadow of the Tomb Raider are probably one of the best that I’ve seen in any games. Also, the cinematic cutscenes, which look incredibly detailed, are all rendered in real time using the game’s engine. There were moments when I couldn’t tell the difference between cinematic cutscenes and actual gameplay, but I guess that’s a happy problem to have.

The developers of Shadow of the Tomb Raider have also paid great attention to the smallest details when it comes to the in-game audio experience. You can literally hear anything and everything from rustling leaves, crumbling rocks, etc. Thanks to the support for Dolby Atmos, you can hear even the smallest of noises like people talking in a distance if you are paying close attention.
The Hidden City looks incredible!

    “Non-playable characters (NPCs) can speak in their native language”

Before I drop my final words on the game, I’d like to appreciate the developers for allowing the NPCs in the game to speak in their native language. It is, however, ruined by the fact that Lara can only talk to them in English. I hate to call it a half-baked feature, but I’d like to see some development in this space if/ when the next game arrives.
Lara Croft having a chat with Jonah & his love interest Abby
Shadow of the Tomb Raider: Pros & Cons

    Gorgeous and detailed visuals
    Tight gameplay
    A fitting end to the origin story


    New abilities are questionable
    Weak side-missions

Lara Croft grappling from a wall overlooking the moon
Shadow of the Tomb Raider: End of the Origin Story

Shadow of the Tomb Raider follows the franchise’s arc to find a fitting finish. It builds on the foundations laid by the previous two titles in the reboot trilogy and delivers a heartfelt and action-packed gameplay.

As a longtime series fan, I started playing the game expecting it to be the best one in the franchise, and I wasn’t disappointed. From new control mechanics to Lara’s emotional journey through the jungle, Shadow of the Tomb Raider makes up for a truly memorable experience. Lara does get pretty dark in this game, but I can’t wait for her to get out of the shadows and embark on her next journey.

Overall, I absolutely enjoyed Shadow of the Tomb Raider, and if you are into adventure titles or if you’ve played the previous two titles in the reboot trilogy, then I encourage you to take this journey. I am sure you’ll dig this one.
Read More »

Energy Music Box 1+ Bluetooth Speaker Review: Bass That Sings Its Own Praise

We’ve come really far not only in terms of technology but also prices associated with Google’s smartphones – from the Nexus series to the Pixel lineup. This year’s Pixel 3 XL certainly qualifies for your attention if you’re looking for a high-end smartphone in terms of specifications and price. But with the plethora of phones offering the same specifications for less than half of the price of the Pixel 3, you are also right to question what Google’s flagship smartphones offers that others don’t.

The Pixel 3 duo uses Snapdragon 845 at its heart and Google has underclocked the CPU for some reason. Curiously enough, brands like OnePlus and Poco have polarized the market by launching much more affordable devices with the same supercharged processor, without underclocking it.

This stark price difference is intriguing – even if we consider the amazing camera, and it prompts us to compare the performance of the Pixel 3 XL with the likes of OnePlus 6 and Poco F1.

But, let us first start by talking about how the Pixel 3 XL holds up when compelled to put up with demanding tasks, especially with that underclocked processor and 4GB of RAM which feels short-handed.
Pixel 3 XL: Performance and Gaming

Beneath that elegant personality, the industrious processor takes care of all the hard work. As we saw in our full review, the Pixel 3 XL scores impressively on benchmarks although initially, I had concerns about the 4GB RAM. Despite those concerns, the smartphone has held up superbly in AnTuTu and Geekbench scores.
1 of 2

Comparing it with the direct competitors which come with almost equally compelling hardware specifications, including the iPhone XS, Galaxy Note 9, Huawei P20 Pro, and OnePlus 6 (8GB), these are the results we have obtained from the mentioned benchmarking apps:
1 of 2

Out of these, the OnePlus 6 is the only device with a Snapdragon 845. As you can see, the Pixel 3 XL scores better than the entire bunch of Android devices in AnTuTu but when it comes to Geekbench, the Google flagship can be seen lurking lower on the run, with bad scores when compared to other phones.

The only observable lag I noticed is while relaunching heavy apps from Recents menu after leaving it unattended for a short time, and that is perhaps because of the 4GB RAM, which might be a bit too meager for large games.


Given the high-grade hardware, the Pixel 3 XL performs admirably well. The Adreno 630 GPU aboard the Snapdragon 845 lets you play PUBG at Ultra graphics settings with no observable lag. The smooth gameplay without any noticeable heating issues on the Pixel 3 XL has allowed me to earn chicken dinners without stutters. While Asphalt 9 is not supported yet, I played Asphalt 8 without any hassle.

Fortnite for Android arrived well in time, too, while I was reviewing the Pixel 3 XL and its performance has not been at par with other games. The graphics have been terrible, the gameplay uneven and inconsistent, while there have been innumerable frame drops as well as instances of lag. Since we’ve seen a similar performance on many other devices, the issues do not seem to be device-dependent. It would help if you lower the settings to Medium for this game.

Overall, the Pixel 3 XL feels capable when tackling even the most power-hungry games and demanding tasks, and does not seem to heat up unusually either.

While these results are more-or-less predictable, I am curious to see how the device fares against other devices powered by Snapdragon 845 with more RAM. So, I decided to run a more elaborate benchmark and find out if the underclocked chipset and lower-than-expected RAM make any difference to the experience.
Pixel 3 XL vs OnePlus 6 vs Poco F1: Same Processor But Different Optimization

Before we compare different devices housing the same Snapdragon 845 chipset, it is vital to take a look at the different configurations put to test. For this comparison, we’re using Pixel 3 XL, OnePlus 6, and Poco F1 – all of which are in different price segments. This will give us a fair idea about whether companies take the extra pain of fine-tuning the performance of the hardware.

It is also noteworthy that despite the same Kryo 385 CPU cores, all three smartphones have different clock speeds. Take a look:

    Pixel 3 XL – 4 x 2.5GHz & 4 x 1.6GHz; 4GB RAM; Android Pie
    OnePlus 6 – 4 x 2.8GHz & 4 x 1.7GHz; 8GB RAM; Oxygen OS based on Android Pie
    Poco F1 – 4 x 2.8GHz & 4 x 1.8GHz; 6GB RAM; MIUI 9 based on Android Oreo

After running multiple instances of PassMark, the following are the scores obtained by the three devices. I’ll explain the logic behind the different tests parts of the benchmark at the end of this article. For your information, the higher the numbers per test, the better the performance – except in the case of “Memory Latency” for which the lowest value relates to the best performance.
    Poco F1 6GB    OnePlus 6    Pixel 3 XL
System     14666    15909    16631
CPU Test     225685    245050    226626
   Integer Math    2849    2875    2852
   Floating Point Math    4411    4447    4707
   Find Prime Numbers    1.68    1.86    2.2
   Random String Sorting    4.16    4.81    5.35
   Data Encryption    400    480    507
   Data Compression    4307    5663    4925
   Single Thread       839    1096    822
Disk tests    66979    75079    72553
2D Graphics test    9069    13203    10585
3D Graphics test    4257    4212    5061
Memory tests     12149    12316    12016
   Database Operation    101    105    91.1
   Memory Read Cached    1021    1356    968
   Memory Read Uncached    1023    1363    993
   Memory Write    961    1053    899
   Memory Latency    96.1    95.7    95.8
   Memory Threaded    6030    6562    6810
Legends at bottom1           

Note: See our explainer below to know what each of these tests mean

Clearly, the OnePlus 6 is miles better than the other two, despite the identical specs. Although the underclocked Snapdragon 845 on the Pixel 3 XL holds up well against the competition – in fact, better in certain arithmetic tests too – the RAM is a bottleneck. The lower RAM leads to an evident drop in memory-related scores, where the Pixel 3 XL finished last.

Surprisingly, the Pixel 3 XL takes the lead in terms of 3D Graphics test, and games look amazing on that gorgeous display on the Pixel 3 XL. Perhaps, Google seems to have prioritized graphics performance over faster processing speeds.
OnePlus 6 Outpaces Poco F1 and Pixel 3 XL

Taking a close look at the RAM specifications used in the three devices, we know all of them have the same LPDDR4X tech, with the same frequency i.e 1,866 MHz. The difference in performance is due to the varying levels of optimization from the three manufacturers, and the memory management kernels they use.

OnePlus has done a great job in making Oxygen OS more performance-oriented. Poco, on the other hand, might suffer poorer scores due to either heavily-skinned MIUI which is based on Android Oreo, and since it’s a brand new UI, there is still some optimization left to be done on this phone.

Meanwhile, OnePlus is already preparing for their next launch, which is scheduled for next week. Even without seeing the smartphone, I feel confident that it’ll be a stunner in terms of performance, considering the similar specs.

Evidently, the real battle is between OnePlus 6 and the Pixel 3 XL and the additional expenditure on the latter only makes sense if you want stunning performance from the cameras or the brilliant display. Besides that, there are some issues with the build quality of the Pixel 3 XL that made me question its ‘premium’ tag.
PassMark Tests

Here is what the different tests in the PassMark score mean:

    CPU Test
        Integer Math – This test determines how fast any device can perform arithmetic functions (add, subtract, multiply, and divide) with integers and is measured in MOps/s.
        Floating Point Math – The test measures the rate at which a device can do perform mathematical operations on floating point numbers i.e. fractions or numbers with decimal points. The results of this test are also measured in MOps/s.
        Find Prime Number – The test runs an applet which identifies numbers that are not divisible by any other number but themselves and calculates the rate at which a device can run this test – and find prime numbers per unit time.
        Random String Sorting – In this test, a device’s speed of sorting 500,000 different combinations of words and numbers with 25 characters each is tested, and the result is measured in million strings per second.
        Data Encryption – The test uses common encryption techniques like AES, Salso20, Two Fish etc. to encrypt data and then calculates the time taken by a device to find the unique key to decrypt the data. This is measured in MB/s.
        Data Compression – This test is used to calculate the megabytes (KB) of data which can be compressed per second without any loss of data using advanced encoding techniques.
        Single Thread – This test determines the performance of the CPU in the case of tasks that use a single core at once and measured in MOps/s.
    Memory Tests
        Database Operation – The test uses standard C++ container templates to verify how well the RAM can preserve these heavy database templates, and measures this in KOps/s.
        Reach Cached – Determines the rate at which a small block of memory cache is read.
        Read Uncached – Determines the rate, in MB/s, at which a 256MB block of the memory is read.
        Memory Write – This test judges the MB/s rate at which information is written to the memory.
        Memory Latency – This test determines the time in nanoseconds (ns) to transfer one byte of information from the RAM to the CPU. The lesser this value, the better.
        Memory Threaded – Just like the Read Uncached test, this one determines the time used for reading multiple blocks of memory at the same time. The information is displayed in MB/s. For most of us, music is an integral part of weal and woe. The ways in which music impacts different people are virtually countless but without smearing our sense of tallying, we can feel thankful for music that arouses not just the mind but also the heart – or amygdala (based on how you see life). Now that we’re talking about feelings associated with music, the Energy Music Box 1+ from Spain’s Energy Sistem plays a significant role by hitting you with a strong and tingling bass, even without a dedicated sub-woofer. Curious much?

Energy Music Box 1+, quite surprisingly for the well-suited price (Rs 1,599), features a big speaker on the front to take care of the sound while a “passive membrane” on the rear side tenders sufficient bass for good mornings, lazy afternoons, and party nights.

Irrespective of your choice of genre, bass is imperative to a great musical buffet – unless you dwell in the dark abyss of depressive suicidal black metal. So, we’re going to take a look at how the membrane-rattling bass on an affordable Bluetooth speaker can add a new dimension to your experience of listening to music.

Let’s start by peeking inside the box of the Energy Music Box 1+ and we’ll take a look at its performance later.
Box Contents

The Energy Music Box 1+ comes neatly packed in a box made of thin cardboard with essentials. Here’s what you’ll find inside:

    Energy Music Box 1+ Bluetooth speaker
    Micro USB cable for charging
    3.5mm AUX cable
    Manuals and Energy Sistem stickers

The inclusion of a lanyard band and stickers make the average packaging more interesting. The encounter with stickers, especially, strikes the child in me but I won’t let that dictate my actual opinions about the performance of the Bluetooth speaker.

But first, let’s see how the Energy Music Box 1+ is when it comes to specification on paper.
Speakers    40mm Mono + Rear Passive Radiator for Bass
Output    5W
Frequency Response    100 Hz ~ 18 KHz
Signal to Noise (SNR) Ratio    >90dB
Bluetooth    v4.1
Battery    800mAh Li-Polymer
Battery Backup    20 Hours
Wired Connection    3.5mm
FM Radio Frequency     87.5 MHz ~ 108 MHz
Charging Port    Micro USB
MRP    Rs 1,999
Current Price    Rs 1,599 (Amazon/Flipkart)

An older version of Bluetooth and lack of support for AptX could make the Energy Music Box a little less appealing but we’ll take a look at how these factors actually impact the playback.
Design & Build

We have the sky-colored version here at the office and on the very first glance, it reminded me of a soap bar. The smooth matte-ish texture affirms the feeling but despite that, the Energy Music Box 1+ feels solidly built. There is a big 40mm driver on the front, veiled by a grille of a slightly darker shade of sky blue.

Turning the speaker around, there’s a vibrating diaphragm to be found, which at first feels like a subwoofer. But in fact, this a passive membrane radiator meant to add a strong flavor of bass in your musical appetizer, and definitely boosts your appetite for more bass-heavy music from the Energy Music Box 1+.

Above the diaphragm, there are input jacks for power input, MicroSD cards up to 128GB, and a standard AUX input. The controls for music playback lie on the top of the speaker. From left to right, there are dedicated buttons for power, mode selection and pairing, volume down, play/pause, and volume up. Unlike other speakers, the volume buttons don’t let you forward or rewind tracks. Moreover, the mode button lets you shift between Bluetooth and FM Radio modes upon single press but if you hold it for long, you can enter pairing mode.

There’s a multi-colored LED indicator on the top which stays lit in Blue color as long you’re connected and pulses when the speaker is accepting pair requests. It turns green when you switch to the FM mode. Near the power button, lies a hole that houses a microphone to record voice or attend calls.

Lastly, when it comes to the durability, I can say that the speaker is built to bear gentle drops and even after dropping it from a height of four-ish feet, I did not experience any distortion or hissing, and the body didn’t have any signs of cracking or chipping off.

    Bluetooth Playback

The Energy Music Box 1+ is an interesting speaker, thanks to its large-sized 5W driver and the vibrating diaphragm at the back for the extra bass. The diaphragm is certainly striking because when the speaker is first turned on, it plays a quick arpeggio followed by a heartbeat that can be felt while your finger is still keeping the power button pressed. This leaves a tasteful first impression, compelling you to try the speaker for more.

Since “Music” is in the name, I decided to jump straight into testing the tonal qualities of the speaker. Listening to it, I’ve come to be very impressed by the range of sounds it can throw at me while the separate arrangement for bass that always enhances the lower frequencies played by the mono driver.

One can very clearly hear melodies played on the bass guitar or the thumps of drum beats. Since this is a passive membrane, the quality of the bass might not match up to that of a dedicated sub-woofer, but it’s honestly surprising and delighting on a speaker of this form and size, and not to forget – this price.

If you listen to music with chunky bass lines or more emphasis on the groove, the Energy Music Box 1+ should easily live up to expectations.

The dominant sound of the speaker, in itself, is very versatile and the speaker feels capable of nearly all kinds of music, and, it is reasonably loud for its size, which makes it suitable for get-togethers and house parties. The 40mm driver caters to a wide range of sounds and should treat you equally well in cases of both – electronic and analog instruments.

The only times it chokes is when there are a number of instruments layered over each other. Otherwise, there’s no scope for complain. Moreover, the speaker is also great at delivering dialogues when you’re watching movies, sitcoms, or videos. In most cases, the background scores don’t muffle the dialogues.

Some of the tracks used by me in the music test include:

    Lost For Words by Pink Floyd
    Society by Eddie Vedder
    Stressed Out by Twenty One Pilots
    Umran Langiyaan (Coke Studio) by Ali Sethi & Nabeel Shaukat
    Bitch Lasagna by PewDiePie

    FM Radio

During my testing of the Energy Music Box 1+, I was unable to use the FM Radio feature at all. There was no reception and white noises kept ringing for every channel I sought. This is because the speaker does not have any visible antenna or metal area to catch signals. I even tried to get reception by shoving a 3.5mm connector into the AUX jack but that did not make any improvement either.


Energy Music Box 1+ has a pretty decent quality when it comes to audio recorded using the inbuilt mic. The amount of ambient noise is lesser than most other speakers in the range and there’s no distortion. The overall texture of the clip is rich and balanced.

With support for Bluetooth 4.1, the Energy Music Box 1+ is capable of connecting to most smartphones or other appliances such as smart TVs. There’s no Bluetooth 5.0 or AptX support but that is easily forgivable looking at the price. There is unhindered playback from up to a range of 30 feet and even if you do manage to exit the coverage area, the speaker connects automatically when you move back within range.

As per Energy Sistem, the speaker supports the standard FM frequency i.e. between 87.5 and 108MHz but as I mentioned, we weren’t able to test the feature. Lastly, the USB cable cannot be used for playback and is only useful for charging.

Solidly built and sounding well, the Energy Music Box 1+ has proved to be a compelling option so far and the battery is also in line with its performance. The 800mAh battery on the speaker easily lasted six to seven hours during my usage at full volume and this is more than what Energy Sistem claims it to last for.

In terms of recharging, the speaker takes somewhere around two hours to go from having low battery to full charge. Thanks to HFP protocol support, you can view the battery level on your Android and iOS devices which always comes in handy.
Energy Music Box 1+ Bluetooth Speaker: Pros & Cons

So far, my experience with the Energy Music Box 1+ has been delightful, with that bass pad enriching the overall playback quality. Let’s take a look at the pros and the cons of this speaker to make it easier for you to make a decision about buying it.

    Durable Build
    Loud and versatile sound
    Clearly discernible extra bass
    Noise-less recording
    Reliable battery
    Value for money


    Sketchy FM Mode
    Clunky sound playing melodies with many instruments

SEE ALSO: Energy Sistem Music Box 5 Review: High on Clarity, Low on Bass
Energy Music Box 1+ Bluetooth Speaker: It’s All About That Bass

While the Energy Music Box 1+ is usually capable of great sound, the passive membrane improves the overall sound quality and cooks up a zesty platter full of bass, although falling slightly short of gourmet quality. Energy Sistem could work on the clarity a bit more but you still get a more than decent playback for this price.

    The membrane-rattling bass on an affordable Bluetooth speaker can add a new dimension to your musical experience.

Some other options in the price range that I’ve tried and can vouch for include the JBL GO (Rs 1,799), which has slightly richer sound, and the Logitech X50 (1,799), which seems to be a tad bit louder. But on both of these options, you’ll miss the added bass profile which the Energy Music Box 1+ offers.
Read More »