Terrific, Tantalising and Turbo: Ferrari GTC4 Lusso T Review

A new Ferrari model always gets everyone’s attention. The GTC4 Lusso T becomes the 6th model in the Ferrari range, though to some it really is more of an engine variant. That is because it is more or less similar to its V12 sibling – the GTC4 Lusso, except that it has a turbo heart and is rear-wheel-drive. And no other Ferrari has really offered you engine variants before right? That is why as far as the company is concerned this is a new model! That is also because Ferrari says the GTC4 Lusso T has its own client list, and so is a very different proposition. It sees a younger 35-40 year old buyer opting for the V8 over the V12, and also one who will drive this as a daily use car – but one that’s up for a weekend getaway too. Ferrari says it is also for its buyers who use a car in high to medium grip conditions and not low-grip conditions. And that is why the V12’s all-wheel-drive has been dropped on the GTC4 Lusso T. The other question in my mind was – is this simply the California T’s engine plonked into the GTC? The answer to that is also a firm no from Ferrari, even though it sort of is the same engine anyway! I shall explain more as you read on.

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Ferrari says the GTC4 Lusso T is targeted at a younger buyer aged 35-40 years old

So is the car different looking than the GTC4 Lusso, is what you may ask next. Well not really! The tailpipes are different, and you can also get the exclusive design on the 20″ wheels. But aside from those two facts there is nothing on the car that will tell you it’s not the V12, and is a V8! That 3.9 litre V8 has an output of 610 horses and 760 Nm of torque. This car can do 0-100 kmph in 3.5 seconds, and has a top speed of 320 kmph. What the V8 also gives a Lusso T buyer is an additional 30 per cent range over the V12. Impressed yet? If not, I recommend getting into a GTC4 Lusso T and hitting the start button. The sound is the first thing that will surprise you. I remember saying this about the 488 GTB as well. The absolutely mesmerising and seductive roar of the turbocharged V8 will be music to any Ferrarista’s ears! And that sound is distinct to the V12’s – giving the Lusso T its own signature.

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The Ferrari GTC4 Lusso is agile, and belies its ample form and weight.
So let us get straight into it shall we? I began my drive on the new Lusso T in Monteriggioni – a quaint medieval village in Italy’s Siena province of Tuscany. The day was bright and so were my spirits as I got on board. The car is agile, and belies its ample form and weight. You get great acceleration with a lot of torque available at low revs. The car comes loaded with all of Ferrari’s new electronics and driver aids like the electronic differential, Side Slip Control 3.0 – and four-wheel steering – the reason the car’s name retains a ‘4’ despite it not being a 4 wheel drive model. Of course there’s also the 4-seater tag that Ferrari had mentioned whilst naming the GTC4 Lusso! The result of that 4-wheel steering is crisper handling and instant response. Of course that part is akin to the V12 car. The GTC4 Lusso T also sports the new Ferrari steering wheel that has all the buttons and switches you need, to enjoy a dynamic drive.

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The GTC4 Lusso T becomes the 6th model in the Ferrari range
As I got stuck into my drive I noticed the car seemed to have slightly less understeer than the V12. It is marginal really but that comes from its slightly increased 46:54 rear weight bias over the V12’s 48:52. The car is also lighter overall and therefore a touch more agile, and very torquey. The peak torque only kicks in at 3000 rpm, but you get no turbo lag. You can hold gears for long, and the car’s rev limiter remains unfazed. In fact I had carried on in 3rd gear at one point for quite some time, and the car hummed along without a care or concern. But this almost clinical performance takes away some of the madness you expect from a powerful GT car. Having experienced some of that in the V12 version, maybe I am making an unfair comparison! The car will take every corner with immaculate precision and great ease. Its steering and traction control are also very forgiving, even on gravelly or twisty roads. Of course I had the Manettino on Sport for the most part, though there is also the additional ‘bumpy road’ mode like on the GTC4 Lusso – for a comfortable ride even on – well – bumpy roads!

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The result of that 4-wheel steering is crisper handling and instant response
Despite everything I have written at the top of this story, I think for me the real question always was – did Ferrari really need to make a turbo, 2-wheel-drive version of the already fantastic GTC4 Lusso. Having driven the car extensively now, I think I understand better why the answer is a resounding yes. The real difference between the two cars is their character. They may look the same but the GTC4 Lusso T has a more sportscar feel, it’s eager and raring to go – and like I said never once flinches or let you know it is a 4.89 metre long car! Well in many ways nor does the V12, but that car has a stately, tourer – yes, GT feel, while the Lusso T is the brat. And that there is this difference in their drive appeal, leaves me feeling a bit more satisfied that I have found a good answer to my doubts.

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The absolutely mesmerising and seductive roar of the turbocharged V8 will be music to any Ferrarista’s ears
That new updated turbocharged engine is the winner of the 2016 International Engine of the Year for the iteration that powers the 488 GTB. It is a high speed motor and Ferrari has worked on improving its mileage figures and reducing CO2 emissions. How it differs from the California T’s engine now: new con-rods and piston rings made with high-resistance copper alloys. The exhaust system has also been redesigned to reduce pressure loss, and that also helps cut lag. There is also a new intercooler and air intake has been redesigned too, to maximise airflow. At engine start, the exhaust valve regulating sound, remains closed – to maintain a moderate note for city/neighbourhood use. In Comfort Mode that valve opens somewhat and starts to give you that distinct sound – yet keeps things moderate. It is only in Sport Mode that it opens completely and sings the full sonata!

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Ferrari has also had to redesign the GTC4 Lusso T’s suspension to achieve the same performance level as the V12 GTC4 Lusso. And it does that rather well. Magnaride adaptive dampers help swallow bumps and any mild surface changes. But the low profile tyres on those 20 inchers will still allow tiny blips to carry through to the seat. But overall the control and handling is simply top drawer stuff.

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The cabin of the Ferrari GTC4 LussoT is similar to its V12 cousin
The cabin is similar to the V12’s, and gives you impeccable leather with stitching all around, nice materials, a big central touchscreen with all the connectivity options your little heart desires. The dash extends with an organic arc around to the passenger side, where besides the car’s name badge you get the LCD touchscreen that lets the passenger feel like a co-pilot! It allows you to manipulate navigation and music, and view the car’s real-time performance, besides what drive mode the Manettino is set to. The rear seats are best for not-so-big adults or your kids of course!

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The GTC4 Lusso T seats 4 people but the rear seats are meant only for kids
The GTC4 Lusso will arrive in India this year, though there is still no official launch date. And as for the Lusso T, it will also follow and should get to us by the third quarter of 2018. So yes it is still some way off. But the good news is that India will get both cars, and that allows Ferrari to appeal in some way at least to the luxury set that is seeking not just exhilaration but also some practicality and go-anywhere flexibility from their ultra-premium sports ride. Frankly for those who don’t really absolutely need the 4WD option, the GTC4 Lusso T is the better car for its sportiness, higher mileage and overall attribute. So wait for it. If you are one of the fortunate few who can afford one.

 

MXGP3 – The Official Motocross Video Game Review

There isn’t much of a Motocross following in India, but that didn’t stop us from trying MXGP3 — The Official Motocross Videogame. Motocross is essentially a bunch of bikes racing on closed, off-road tracks. The dirt tracks feature several hairpin bends and lots of small inclines and slopes. If you’re expecting high-speed motorcycle racing on flat tracks, you need to check out the MotoGP series of games instead.

As much as we wanted to get into Motocross racing, MXGP3 did a very poor job of getting us interested in the sport. There is no tutorial level to help new players out, and no explanations to help you to get interested in it. There is only one screen full of screenshots and text explanations. This made learning harder than it should’ve been. A series of tutorial levels would’ve been really nice. This is a game built for a niche audience, and one that only Motocross fans will enjoy.

This is made clear by the fact that MXGP3 lacks an arcade mode — where motorcycle physics and advanced controls don’t matter much. This is very much a simulation racing game, and that means that there is a steep learning curve for those who want to play.

That said, if you are willing to invest the time required to learn how to properly race a motorcycle in off-road tracks with some nasty turns, MXGP3 can be quite rewarding.

After a while, we had figured out a few basic things. This is definitely not a high-speed racing game. MXGP3 requires intense concentration — much like actual Motocross racing — and there is a very low margin for error. For instance, on one of the tracks we kept crashing at one point where a hairpin bend appears right after a slope, which is at the end of a long straight. We’d be zipping across the straight at around 100kmph and then find ourselves flying off track, resulting in a crash. Even at the lowest difficulty setting, winning races was quite the challenge initially, as one minor mistake would end up costing us a lot of time.

This is exactly why the game rewards you with 50 percent additional credits for a five-lap race, when compared with a three-lap race. Keeping your concentration levels up on twisting tracks is quite the task.

MXGP3 has a lot of tracks and different riders — all official Motocross racers — to choose from. The single-player mode includes a full career, apart from individual races and championships. If you’re a fan of Motocross, there’s a tonne of content here to keep you occupied for hours.

You can also spend time tweaking your motorcycle to suit the track. For instance, you can change the gear ratio to long for tracks with long straights, or make it short for courses with a lot of hairpin bends. Then you can go into more detail, such as tweaking the front and rear suspensions for certain tracks. You can tweak your motorcycle before every race and that’s a great feature because the riding experience changes significantly, and can mean the difference between winning and losing.

MXGP3 - The Official Motocross Video Game Review
While MXGP3 is all gung-ho on realism, the graphics are quite average. The tracks don’t look great and the motorcycle graphics also are a bit dated. On the other hand, there were no noticeable performance issues even with 22 bikes on screen, which is a good thing. There were also a few other elements that made us wonder how realistic the game actually is. A few times we saw the front tire of our bike landing on another rider’s back but he just rode on as if it was a feather and not a heavy motorcycle landing on him. We also saw other bikes’ tyres landing on our rider’s back with no effect. Issues like these were quite surprising to see.

Overall, MXGP3 is a game that will please hardcore Motocross fans who want a simulation racing game. It’s almost hostile towards new players or those who don’t follow Motocross, but if you take the time to learn how to play, then the game does reward you.

Pros

Excellent tracks
Licensed content such as riders
Motorcycle tweaking

Cons

Dated graphics
Not entirely realistic
Lacks tutorial
Doesn’t help new players

Overall rating (out of 10): 6

 

Asphalt Street Storm Racing Review

With the Asphalt franchise, Gameloft owns a name that’s become almost synonymous with mobile racing, with a series that has evolved over the years. But even as it has cornered that market – the latest numbered entry, Asphalt 8: Airborne, claims to have over 300 million downloads – there remained a section that it was yet to own: drag racing.

For the longest time, that has been the domain of NaturalMotion’s CSR Racing, whose original and sequel continue to enjoy immense popularity. Now, after six months of a soft launch, Gameloft’s take on the genre – Asphalt Street Storm Racing – is ready to duke it out. It borrows a lot from its rival, right down to the camera angle and the way it begins. But it’s got one big addition to the racing mechanism that will inevitably divide players.

First, the basics. Asphalt Street Storm Racing is unlike any Asphalt title before it, because it’s only focused on drag racing. Not only are there no power-ups, the steering has gone for a toss too, since you’ll be driving in a straight line only. In its place, you’ve got just three buttons: two at launch, and one during the race. Two of those three are standard for drag racing on mobile; one helps you rev the engine and stay in the perfect launch zone, while the other is used to change gears during the race, ideally used when the needle is in the sweet spot.

It’s the third button – labelled “Launch” – that separates Asphalt Street Storm Racing from CSR. It lets you choose when you wish to set off, provided you don’t cross the starting line before the countdown ends. Hit it right and you’ll gain an extra second over your opponent, but get it wrong and you’ll be disqualified instantly. It’s meant to bring another layer of strategy to a decidedly simple game, and help separate the rookies from the veterans.

Unfortunately, the concept doesn’t translate so well in practice. Since drag races are extremely short – less than 15 seconds at the most – it places too much emphasis on getting the launch right, which doesn’t fit with the touch experience on a phone. With a gamepad, you can have your finger resting on the physical buttons or triggers, which naturally allows you to react quicker than your finger hovering mid-air. Gameloft has yet to officially announce gamepad support for Asphalt Street Storm Racing, but it has worked with previous entries in our testing.

As such, online races – available in 1v1 and 4v4 variants – in Asphalt Street Storm Racing tend to be decided entirely by the effectiveness of your launch. And because launching too early hands you an instant loss, it deters you from placing heavy bets on your game, since the line between a perfect start and a disqualification is so thin. The launch-button idea also diminishes the importance of the gear shift, since the first few seconds of any race are much more important.

asphalt storm weather Asphalt Storm

The good thing is that you’re never losing for too long. Turnaround time for new races is half a minute, which means you can sneak in a game or two at any time. That’s great for racing fans on the go, who don’t have to worry about pausing midway should something come up. There’s a caveat though: Asphalt Storm requires you to be always online (unlike CSR), so you can’t get any racing done if cellular data is spotty.

In terms of graphics, Asphalt Street Storm Racing has more detailed backgrounds than CSR, but the cars definitely look better in the latter game. The app’s UI is extremely cluttered, and you’ll have to deal with pop-up ads after every race or so, since it’s a free-to-play title. Of course, that also means the other usual troubles: car upgrades take hours after the first level, and new cars are hard to come by. It’s all set up to incentivise in-app purchases, which even prod you with so-called “discounts” on app launch.

Unless you’re a dedicated Asphalt fan, there’s little to no reason to bother with its drag racing spin-off. All its borrowed ideas are better executed by CSR, and the new ones fail to push the tried-and-tested concept in a satisfying direction.

Pros:

Quick, short races
Free-to-play
Cons:

Launch button is frustrating
Online-only title
Car upgrades take ages
Pop-up ads
Ads for IAPs “discounts”
Rating (out of 10): 5

 

Sony MDR-XB950B1 Extra Bass Wireless Bluetooth Headphones Review

At CES 2017, Sony announced four new pairs of headphones in its Extra Bass line – including the wireless MDR-XB950B1. This NFC-enabled Bluetooth headset promises a bass-led sound, with aptX for clearer wireless audio, and a companion app that lets you choose between different EQ settings to personalise the sound.

At the time, Sony also released the MDR-XB950N1, which is pretty much the same thing, but with one additional feature: active noise cancellation. Unfortunately, we haven’t had a chance to get our hands on those cans yet, but we did get to try out the XB950B1, and used it for just under a week. According to the packaging, this headset is designed to be used with smartphones, and that’s how we used it the most, paired wirelessly.

The headset is bulky, but fairly comfortable, and the first impression it made was that the bass was overpowering everything else – which is something that more than a few cans in the XB family are guilty – or proud, depending on your perspective – of. We used it for a couple of days, finding the sweet spot, and after some time, we’ve formed a detailed impression of it. Read on to know more about whether or not the Sony MDR-XB950B1 is worth your time and money.

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Sony MDR-XB950B1 design and features
As we stated above, this headset is pretty big and bulky. The MDR-XB line has some models that can be folded into a fairly small size, while others can only be laid flat. This one falls into the latter category. The earcups are huge and heavily padded, with a rubbery finish that looks like it could get really sweaty. However, the headset is actually fairly comfortable to wear when in use.

Wearing it around your neck while on the move is hugely uncomfortable though – either put it on, or slip it into your bag, if you know what’s good for you.

The rest of the design is very typical of Sony’s XB family, with the power and bass effect buttons on the left cup (along with the Micro-USB charging port and 3.5mm input), while volume and playback controls are on the right cup. There’s also a mic on the left cup for hands-free calls, if you want.

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The Sony MDR-XB950B1 promises 18 hours of runtime after a 4-hour charge. There’s also an included audio cable that you can use if the battery runs out. Each driver is 40mm in size, and the frequency range is rated at 3Hz to 28,000Hz. Weighing in at 281g, this isn’t the lightest pair of headphones, but as we stated above, it feels comfortable enough. How it sounds is, well, a little more complicated.

Sony MDR-XB950B1 performance
Our first impression was that there’s way too much bass, and the sound isn’t very clear either. If you’re listening to pop tracks that have some amount of bass – think something by Arctic Monkeys, for example – then you’re definitely going to agree. Vocal-led tracks, such as songs by the Beatles, suffered greatly as well. But when we switched to hip-hop, things started to get better. We listened to a few Ludacris songs, and enjoyed the percussion, though other low notes were not very satisfying. Kanye West’s Black Skinhead on the other hand sounded great, which was unexpected.

The MDR-XB950B1 has a very specific sound. After listening to more Kanye and then some electronic music, we started to find a groove that works. We tend to overuse the phrase “it’s not for everyone,” but this is one place where it really applies. You get a ridiculous amount of bass, especially after you press the Bass Effect button, but although that’s important, you really do need to use your smartphone to drive these headphones, as we soon discovered.

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You see, the secret is the companion app, with its equaliser, which gives you a chance to actually make the MDR-XB950B1 sound good. You can set the amount of bass boost, and it’s a control you’ll be playing around with a lot to find the sweet spot for the songs you’re listening to. Surround sound settings can be tweaked as well. If there had been at least a few presets that you could change directly from the headphones it would have made this product a lot more versatile, but this is better than nothing, we guess.

With a little tweaking, the rest of the frequency sounds… fine. It’s not a sound that will blow you away, but the MDR-XB950B1 will not be a big letdown either. You definitely won’t see it used anywhere as a pair of reference headphones, but if you want a really specific sound for specific kinds of music, then it could be fun to own.

Surround sound is something this headset is pretty good at, by the way. Perhaps thanks to all that extra bass, spatial awareness is really good. The barbershop 3D sound demo was excellent. Isolation is also pretty decent, as expected thanks to the large earcups.

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Overall, we feel that the MDR XB-800 offers a much better tuned sound out of the box, but if you’re willing to play around with the app, the MDR-XB950B1 doesn’t disappoint either.

As for calls, that side of things actually worked really well. We had some doubts about the microphone’s positioning, but it picked up audio clearly. With respect to the Bluetooth range, the headphones worked reliably even at distances of up to 10 feet – the distance you’d get while walking around in your bedroom or living room, for instance. However, there’s one catch – the mic only works in Bluetooth mode, so if your battery is down, you can’t use this as a hands-free headset.

Verdict
The XB family has been around for a while, and the MDR-XB950B1 looks a little dated. It’s also somewhat expensive for what you’re getting – but it’s definitely fun to listen to the right music with. It’s hard to say that this is a great pair of headphones. The audio isn’t perfect, the signature is definitely weird, and you’ll have to spend time tweaking the EQ. However, if you love trying out new headphones and want something that really stands out aurally, then this is certainly an interesting option.

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On the other hand, if you’re investing in your first pair of earphones outside the entry level, then this isn’t the all-rounder you need to buy right now.

Price (MRP): Rs. 13,990

Pros

Comfortable and sturdy
Stands out, aurally
EQ is actually useful
Cons

Requires the EQ a lot
Expensive
Bulky, doesn’t fold
Ratings (Out of 5)

Design: 3
Performance: 3
Value for Money: 2.5
Overall: 3

Sound One SP-6 Review

Sound One, a Hong Kong-based company, recently launched a pair of budget wireless earphones called the SP-6. Although, it isn’t a household name in India YET, the company has been selling budget headphones and speakers for a while now through online channels.

The SP-6 is designed for active use, which would typically include gyming, running, or any sort of sports activity. At Rs. 1,999, they are quite affordable too as far as Bluetooth earphones go but are they really worth it? Let’s find out.

Sound One SP-6 design and features
The packaging of the SP-6 is very interesting as it resembles a hip-flask, it’s just a bit taller and without a nozzle on the top. The compartment that houses the earphone slides out from the top, which also has several different ear tips and a Micro-USB cable for charging.

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You get four sets of ear tips of which three sets are single flange in different sizes while the fourth is a bi-flange ear tip. The earphones are built entirely of plastic and have a sporty look, which seems appealing. However, upon closer inspection we felt that the build quality as well as the fit and finish could’ve been better. The rubberised cable connecting both the earbuds feels durable, however after using it for a few weeks, the cable that connects to the left earphone got a bit loose on our unit.

The earbuds are designed to slip into your ear canal when you wear them and to help it secure it in place; you get an oversized wing tip which slides outwards so you can adjust it according to the shape of your ear. The right earbud has three buttons for controlling your music, along with a Micro-USB port, a microphone, and a multi-coloured LED to assist when pairing the phone.

In terms of specifications, the Sound One SP-6 supports Bluetooth 4.1, a theoretical range of 10 meters and promises up to 6 hours of battery life. According to Sound One, the earbuds are sweat resistant too and are IPX4 rated. However, earphones that can supposedly withstand splashes of water and rain, the rubber cover for the Micro-USB port is extremely flimsy and doesn’t like it would last too long. The company also hasn’t mentioned any details about the size of the drivers or the supported frequency range.

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Sound One SP-6 performance and battery life
At first, It can be tricky to get a comfortable fit with the Sound One SP-6, but once you have the wing tip adjusted to the right level, the fit is pretty snug. They don’t move about even when you run, which is good. We didn’t like the texture of the rubber cable as it tends to stick to the skin on your neck, which in return tugs on the earbuds when you turn your head. The effect is worse when you’re sweating, and it can be very annoying.

To avoid this, Sound One has provided a rubber loop attached to the chord which lets you secure it closer to the back of your head, so it doesn’t dangle on your neck. The media control buttons feel a bit fiddly but the tactile response is decent and it’s easy to reach with your fingers when you’re on the move. The buttons that let you skip or go to the previous track can also be used to adjust the volume if you long press them.

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We tested the SP-6 primarily with a HTC 10, among other devices. The pairing process is pretty straight forward as you hold down the power button till the LED flashes red and blue. The earphones also have a voice prompt that tells you when they are powered on or off, when it’s connected to a device, or when the battery is running low. When streaming audio, we noticed the right side was always a bit louder than the left which made music sound a bit off-balance. At first we figured it was due to an improper seal from the ear tips but after trying all of them, we couldn’t seem to fix it.

Audio quality from the drivers is strictly average with the bass getting boomy even at moderate volumes. This is very noticeable in Zero 7’s Red Blue and Green, where the bass envelopes the finer nuances in the song. In vocal tracks like Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb, instrument separation isn’t very distinct and the overall sound stage is closed off. Mid-range frequencies feel flat and treble is often swallowed up by the other notes. Upbeat tracks like Mr. Blue Sky by Electric Light Orchestra sound a bit better but the frequencies still lack good definition, which makes for a very dull sonic signature.

SoundOne SP 6   ndtv (6) sound one sp-6

We also tested the SP-6 with videos streamed from Amazon Prime Video and YouTube. Audio quality is decent but the lower frequencies often overpower the rest and due to the lack of good instrument separation. Action sequences in movies can sound a bit jarring. We also had a poor experience with phone calls through the headset. The voice of the caller would keep cutting in and out and the person on the other end wasn’t able to hear us clearly all the time. Battery life is decent as we managed to get around 5-6 hours of continuous use.

Verdict
The Sound One SP-6 might be inexpensive but this comes at the cost of audio quality and the build. The funky design looks good and they fit snugly in your ears, but the fit and finish of the plastics is quite average. We also didn’t like the volume imbalance between the two earbuds, which gets really annoying. Audio quality is below average too with the bass often overpowering the other frequencies and overall dull sonic signature.

We feel it’s ok to give this one a miss and put in a bit more money for something like the Brainwavs Blu-200.

Price (MRP): Rs. 1,999

Pros

Sporty design
Decent battery life

Cons

Questionable fit and finish
Dull sonic signature with boomy bass
Audio level imbalance across earbuds
Flimsy protective cover for USB port

Ratings (Out of 5)

Design: 3
Performance: 2.5
Value for money: 2.5
Overall: 2.5

 

Fiio EX1 (2nd Gen) Review

Fiio, best known for its high-resolution media players and portable headphone amplifiers, recently launched the second generation of its premium EX1 earphones. The successor to the EX1 promises improved audio quality and better craftsmanship.

At Rs. 4,299, this pair is a bit on the expensive side for earphones with dynamic drivers. However, let’s see if the new EX1 manages to win us over.

Fiio EX1 (2nd Gen) design and features
The EX1 (2nd Gen) ships with fairly good packaging. You get six pairs of silicone ear tips (we only had one pair with our review unit), a clip, a carry case, a quick start guide, and a warranty card. The carry case is a bit too shallow, which means you need to take extra care when putting the headphones in and taking them out.

The enclosures are made from both stainless steel and aluminium alloy which makes them light, but they should still be able to withstand the wear and tear of daily use better than most plastic enclosures. The glossy finish makes the Fiio EX1 (2nd Gen) look really good and there are blue and pink rings around the left and right earbuds respectively, which makes it easy to identify which is which. There are also clear markers for the left and right earbuds printed on the inside.

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The Fiio EX1 (2nd Gen) features a tilted in-ear design, which makes it a lot easier to wear these earphones. You get a 1.2m polyurethane cable, which is durable and doesn’t tangle too easily. However, it’s sometimes tough to get it to uncurl after being rolled up for a long time. The cable terminates into a gold-plated L-type 3.5mm headphone jack. There’s a cable tie attached to the bottom of the cable, which is handy for wrapping it up when you don’t have the case with you.

The cable has an in-line control pod with the microphone and media controls. The pod itself is built well but the buttons are fiddly and feel cheap. There aren’t any proper markings on the buttons to help you identify them.

One of the reasons for the high price of the Fiio EX1 (2nd Gen), we think, is the material used for the driver’s diaphragm, which is titanium. This material is light and can vibrate efficiently, which should result in overall better audio performance.

In terms of specifications, the Fiio EX1 (2nd Gen) has a frequency range of 20Hz – 40kHz, and impedance of 13Ohms. The drivers are 13mm each, and the whole unit weighs 18 grams.

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Fiio EX1 (2nd Gen) performance
The tilted design of the earphones makes them incredibly comfortable to wear with nearly no fatigue after an hour of continuous listening. They’re also incredibly light so you’ll barely feel them in your ears. The cable is long enough for most use cases and we didn’t face any issues with durability during our two weeks of testing. We also found the microphone to be very good for phone calls.

The media buttons don’t have a very reassuring feel to them and volume control isn’t supported for iOS devices. Other than that, they functioned well across Android devices.

Straight out of the box, the earphones sound great with a nice wide soundstage and balanced tone. Our unit wasn’t sealed and may have passed through other hands, so your out-of-the-box experience might vary. The EX1 (2nd Gen) is also ‘Hi-Res Audio’ certified and it shows, as it reproduces FLAC files very well. We tested it on an HTC 10, a OnePlus 3T, and an iPad and it performed equally well in all the devices. The earphones do leak sound a bit but not too much.

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The EX1 (2nd Gen) excels with upper- and mid-range frequencies. Vocals sound detailed and crisp which is evident in tracks like Anywhere by Passenger. The high notes can sound a bit shrill at times but we didn’t find this to be the case across all tracks. The low impedance also allowed us to easily drive these earphones with our test smartphones without having to raise the volume very high. These earphones do well with bass-heavy songs too, without getting boomy. In tracks like Believer by Imagine Dragons, the tight bass is handled surprisingly well without any distortion even at high volumes. Acoustic separation is also very good.

Verdict
The Fiio EX1 (2nd Gen) is a very good pair of earphones, and even though it costs a slight premium at Rs. 4,299, you won’t be disappointed. A similar amount could also fetch you a pair of balanced armature earphones like the Brainwavz B100, which sound a bit cleaner due to the low emphasis on bass response. If you want that extra oomph in the low end, the EX1 (2nd Gen) fills that role nicely. These earphones have excellent build quality (barring the buttons on the remote), look great, and have a nice balanced sonic signature.

Price (MRP): Rs. 4,299

Pros

Excellent build quality and design
Detailed mid-range, punchy bass
Very comfortable to wear
Good bundle
Cons

Volume controls don’t work in iOS
Flimsy buttons on the in-line remote
Ratings (Out of 5)

Design: 4.5
Performance: 4
Value for money: 4
Overall: 4

Saregama Carvaan Review: Retro Music in a Modern Package

The Carvaan is a new Bluetooth speaker released by the famous Indian music label Saregama. As you would expect from such as source, the Carvaan isn’t just a simple speaker. It’s got a number of interesting features built-in, most notable of which is that it comes with 5,000 classic Hindi songs, which you can listen to anytime you want to, without any Internet connection. The other thing that really stands out is the design of the speaker, which looks like a classic portable radio. While B&O’s A2 is a modern and refined take on the concept, Saregama went with a chunky and boxy design for the Carvaan, which is decidedly retro.

The unique look and concept behind the speaker really caught our eye, and we’ve spent the best part of last seven days using a Carvaan to see how it measures up beyond the striking design. Read on to know whether this speaker is worth your money.

carvaan colours carvaan

Saregama Carvaan design and features
As mentioned earlier, the highlight of this speaker is definitely its design. In terms of specifications, it’s a fairly straightforward. The 1.5kg stereo speaker has an audio wattage of 6W – that’s 3W to each individual driver, though they’re pretty close to each other because of the design, so don’t expect wide stereo separation.

The Carvaan supports USB playback, Bluetooth, FM Radio, and there’s a Saregama mode which lets you play the stored collection. Saregama is one of the most famous music labels in India, and on its website states that it is the custodian of over half the music recorded in India, with a history that stretches back to 1901. The Radio Geetmala commentary by Ameen Sayani included in the device goes back to 1952.

The look of the Carvaan, as described above, is modelled after a classic portable radio. The plastic finish looks like something that was made in the 70s or 80s in India – there’s a couple of large metal buttons on the front fact that let you switch between the stored content modes; and there’s a huge and shiny tuning knob like a real radio would have. A black band runs just under this knob, where a real radio would have the frequency details. In the case of the Carvaan, this space is used for a simple LCD display. There’s a metal and plastic handle that can be turned out of sight, and on the left, you have four buttons, for the different sources – Saregama, USB, FM, and Bluetooth.

carvaan front carvaan

On the right, you have a plastic vertical volume dial, and below that a 3.5mm port you can connect your headphones, if you want. On top there’s a big power button, and a small battery indicator light. The lower half of the front face has a simple grille, covering the two speakers, and the back is mostly plain, apart from a USB port (for playing music), Micro-USB (for charging), and a tiny Reset button to reset the device.

Using the Carvaan
Switch on the Carvaan the first time, and it starts off in Saregama mode, on Geetmala. You can use the tuning knob to move forward across the years, from 1952 to 1979. The forward and back buttons under the tuning knob let you move forward between the different tracks on the record.

You can also press the Moods button to switch between different genres using the tuning knob, and the Artistes button lets you do that for different singers. It’s worth noting that the organisation of tracks is a little confusing – for instance, turning the knob moves you from Asha Bhosle to Mohammed Rafi, and if you keep turning the dial you get get Jagjit Singh and then SD Burman. The songs themselves are also not seemingly organised, but it’s a minor quibble.

You’ll use the same knob to move across tracks on a USB drive, and to tune the FM radio. Using the FM radio is actually a lot of fun. You simply turn the knob to tune through the various frequencies – it’s not an analog knob like a real old radio would have, but you still get to experience some of the same feeling, of physically tuning the radio. Many people reading this might never have experienced that, but it was a fun bit of nostalgia for us when testing the Carvaan.

carvaan knob close carvaan

Bluetooth mode goes into pairing right away and is pretty easy to set up and use for anyone who has ever used such a portable speaker. In Bluetooth mode, you can only use the volume dial.

Performance and battery life
There are a couple of different ways to measure the performance of the Saregama Carvaan. First, there’s the question of how good a Bluetooth speaker it is. On that front, it’s definitely bulky and heavy, and the battery life – for something this size – leaves a lot to be desired.

The audio quality itself is fairly decent. It works best with the stored music, delivering the classic tones of the old tracks and the radio commentary cleanly and loudly. The speaker is loud enough to carry to the park for a picnic, for instance, and it’s very mid-centric, making it good for tracks led by vocals.

Audio playback quality is good overall, but it’s more in line with a speaker of around half the price, such as the Xiaomi Mi Bluetooth speaker, although the Carvaan is louder than the Mi speaker. Overall though, you’re not buying this simply if you want a Bluetooth speaker – there are cheaper options that sound as good. Of course, those options don’t include a built-in display, or 5,000 tracks and an FM player, so it works out to be quite reasonable.

FM works easily as well, and with the simple tuning knob, even people who aren’t comfortable with technology, will be able to go from listening to retro music to listening to the latest hits with ease.

One issue is that there’s no Aux-in, so if you want to listen to music from your phone on the big speaker, then you have to use Bluetooth.

carvaan top view carvaan

The Carvaan, which charges via a standard Micro-USB charger (included in the box), lasts over 4 hours of playback at full volume, while it lasts for around 6 hours at a more comfortable level.

Verdict
If you’re interested in the Carvaan, it’s not because of how good a Bluetooth speaker it is, though it’s better than we expected it to perform. No, what you’re actually looking at is a nostalgia filled gadget that looks beautiful if you grew up in the 80s, or even earlier. The tuning knob is an example of that – there are so many simpler ways of handling navigation that could have been implemented, but the fact is that this is a machine that’s designed to evoke the past instead, and it works wonderfully in that regard. The first thought we had on seeing this was that it’s so pretty, and it’s the sort of thing where you’ll be putting in an order for one for your parents, after you’ve started using it.

One quibble, as we mentioned earlier, is that browsing for content using the Carvaan is a flawed experience. Another issue is the battery life – five hours is pretty good for a Bluetooth speaker, but given the size of the Carvaan, we’re a little surprised that the battery capacity is so limited. It’s still possible to toss this in the car, take it with you for a picnic in the park, and keep it running the whole time, but you’ll want to make sure you charged it up before heading out.

The Carvaan really isn’t for power users who want to tweak all aspects of their gadgets; it’s a fairly simple device that’s best used for listening to Radio Geetmala or tuning that radio knob.

Price (MRP): Rs. 5,990

Pros

Great looking
Easy to use
Fairly loud
Huge collection of built-in tracks
Cons

Average speaker, best suited for vocal-led tracks
Finding specific tracks is very hard
Battery life could be better
Ratings (Out of 5)

Design: 4
Performance: 3
Value for Money: 4
Overall: 4

2017 Skoda Octavia Facelift Review

Ever since the first ever Skoda Octavia was launched in India way back in 2002, it garnered a cult following among the Indian car enthusiasts. It was a true driver’s car with good cabin space and loads of practicality to boot. Globally, Skoda has sold over 5 million units of the Octavia. India got the current 3rd generation model in 2013 and it is now in the middle of its lifecycle. So it was time for the customary facelift and a bunch of new features to come our way.

2017 skoda octavia facelift headlamp

So what’s new? Quite a bit, actually! But we will begin with the exterior. The face is completely re-done with a new split-headlamp cluster that Skoda likes to call QuadraLED headlights. And that’s because the split is into four compartments. The low and high-beam have been separated. You also get LED daytime running lights and fog lamps on the bumper, which is all-new as well. For that premium feel, there is a chrome strip running across the bumper too. The grille on the 2017 Octavia is now done in a glossy black finish while the hood has a few new creases which weren’t there earlier. The front fenders get new lines too, and are more sculpted now, making the car look a tad more muscular. At the rear, the tail lamps are LED units as well and the rear bumper is also revised.

2017 skoda octavia facelift action

The 2017 Octavia facelift also gets ParkPilot. Activate the system and the car will manoeuvre itself into or out of a parking spot. But do keep in mind that it is you, who has to apply the brakes as and when necessary. There are proximity sensors all over and there is a reverse parking camera as well, which makes life easier.

2017 skoda octavia facelift connectivity

Step inside the cabin and there are changes for the better. The most noticeable one is the brand-new 9-inch infotainment touchscreen, with capacitive touch. The interface is smooth and the resolution (800×480) is better than the previous Octavia’s. It is smartphone friendly and you can choose from Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink to pair your smartphone with it. Skoda has also introduced an app of its own, which is the ‘Boss Connect’. In case you are someone who likes to be driven around, you can simply download the app and control the infotainment system from the rear seat.

2017 skoda octavia facelift dashboard

That’s not all, Skoda is now offering ambient lighting with 10 colours. You can also increase/decrease the brightness of the lamps in the footwell and on the doors. Some other creature comforts include a panoramic sunroof and there are two USB ports for rear passengers right below the rear AC vent. The new Octavia feels plusher from the inside, thanks to the soft-touch plastics and the beige-black two-tone colour scheme. The cabin retains its roominess and is a comfortable place to be in.

No mechanical changes, though the car’s rear track has increased by 20 mm on the 2.0-litre TDI and by 30 mm on the 1.8-litre TSI variant. The reason for this is the TDI uses a tweaked compound crank axle while the TSI gets a new multi-link axle. The increased track provides better handling according to the company.

2017 skoda octavia facelift rear

The engines remain unchanged. Skoda is continuing with the three engines that have been available on the Octy – the 1.4-litre TSI, the 1.8-litre TSI and the 2.0-litre TDI. We drove the diesel variant and are pleased to report that the engine remains the powerhouse it was. There is that familiar diesel clatter when you start the car but the motor remains as punchy and torquey as ever. The 6-speed DSG always was a lovely gearbox and still is. The power and torque output remain the same at 140.8 bhp and 320 Nm. The claimed mileage is 19.3 kmpl.

As far as safety is concerned, the top trim of the Octavia gets 8 airbags while the base trim gets 4 airbags, which are the dual airbags upfront and at the sides. ABS, EBD and traction control are standard.

2017 skoda octavia facelift front

So the Skoda Octavia still remains a good value proposition in its segment – even though the segment itself may not be too hot these days. The new features and design elements are a step-up and add to the overall desirability quotient of the car. Prices will also be tweaked though the variant stack up should remain the same too. The car launches in mid-July which is when Skoda India will announce prices too.

 

Honda Cliq Scooter: First Ride Review

Honda Cliq – the newest and least expensive scooter from Honda Motorcycle and Scooter India. The automatic scooter segment in India is dominated by Honda Motorcycle and Scooter India (HMSI). In fact, the Honda Activa is not just the largest selling scooter in India, but is now also the largest selling two-wheeler, inching out mass market 100-110 cc commuter motorcycles which have a strong customer base in rural markets. The Activa’s strength and sales volumes is largely confined to towns and cities, and now Honda wants to extend that success to the rural markets as well, so enter the Honda Cliq. The Honda Cliq has been launched at an attractive price of ₹ 42,499 (ex-showroom Delhi) and it sits between the Honda Activa and the Honda Navi.

honda cliq
The Honda Cliq’s design is unique – some may warm up to it, others may find it quirky

Design and Features

The Honda Cliq has an all-plastic body, so it’s lighter than the Activa, at 102 kg. The design certainly is different, with the side panels reminding you of the Navi, but it’s the front apron which has been completely redesigned, and it looks neat, with a headlight mounted on the middle of the apron like the Dio. Matte finish parts are incorporated across the body and some carbon fibre-like patterns are incorporated around the speedometer and the tail section. Overall, it’s a neat design, and should appeal to customers who want a slightly trendier and less expensive version of the Activa.

honda cliq
Small unique design bits like the faux carbon fibre finish on the speedometer

Honda also offers optional extras like a footboard-mounted lockable storage space as well as a small goods carrier at the rear. The footboard space is decent, but will be tight if you’re thinking of carrying a grocery bag or two. Underseat storage is 14 litres, adequate to carry a few things, and to store a small half-face helmet, but not quite enough to accommodate a full-face helmet. Like the Activa, the fuel filler cap is also under the seat, so refuelling, which will be more frequent due to the small 3.5 litre fuel tank, will require the rider to get down and flip the seat up.

honda cliq engine
109 cc engine shared with the Honda Activa 4G

Engine and Performance

The Honda Cliq is based on the same platform as the Activa, so the same 109 cc single-cylinder engine has been carried over, which makes 8 bhp at 7,000 rpm and 8.94 Nm at 5500 rpm. It’s a tried and tested mill, so performance is along expected lines, which is smooth and acceleration is brisk, if not completely exciting. The Cliq uses the same hydraulic type suspension as the Activa, so the ride quality is also similar. It’s 6 kg lighter than the Activa, and that makes the Cliq feel lighter and agile, traits which are welcome.

honda cliq offers cbs
The Honda Cliq gets block pattern tyres and combi-brake system

The wheels are also the same 10-inch steel wheels, but Honda has introduced tyres with block pattern which offer better grip, particularly if you ride it on sandy patches and go off tarmac, as we found out during our brief first ride. Out on the highway, the Cliq’s performance is also along similar lines, but the light weight makes it waver a little when we encountered strong cross winds. That isn’t much to worry about though, and overall, it’s easy to ride, convenient and should appeal to prospective scooter buyers. Brakes are conventional drum brakes, and the Cliq is built to cost, so no alloy wheels or disc brakes are offered, even as an option. But the combi-brake system is offered, which essentially activates both brakes with a single lever, and is quite effective.

honda cliq
Honda Cliq targeted primarily at rural markets

Price and Market Positioning

The Honda Cliq is priced at ₹ 42,499 (ex-showroom Delhi), with the Deluxe variant scooter priced at ₹ 42,999 (ex-showroom Delhi) for some extra graphics. Head to head, the Cliq has no real competitor in the scooter space, and as mentioned earlier, it’s targeted more towards the rural market, typically the bastion of 100-110 cc workhorse commuter motorcycles. Sure, it’s priced right, and will also offer a less expensive option to the Activa which is priced almost ₹ 8,000 more.

The strategy makes sense – extend an already very successful product with a lower price tag to get in the quintessential commuter motorcycle buyer to the convenient automatic scooter segment. The problem is that 100-110 cc motorcycles boast of far better fuel efficiency, and with limited range, the Cliq will make visits to the fuel station more frequent. Will it work though? Yes, it has all the qualities to make for a successful scooter, but if it will succeed in getting the volumes from the 100-110 cc motorcycle segment is something that remains to be seen.

 

2017 Kawasaki Ninja 650 Review

You could be fooled into believing it’s an all-new motorcycle, the new Kawasaki Ninja 650. It now gets styling inspired by its bigger supersport sibling, the ZX-10R, and that itself is a very good thing indeed; the 2017 Ninja 650 looks much, much, better than the earlier model. And yes, it looks like a proper sportbike now, with a completely redesigned front fairing and fuel tank. Overall fit and finish on the bike is excellent; the new five-spoke wheels are lighter, the underbelly exhaust is shorter, helping centralize the mass. The handlebars aren’t clip-ons but designed to look like clip-ons; clearly underlining the sport touring creds of the Ninja 650.

2017 kawasaki ninja 650
2017 Kawasaki Ninja 650 gets styling inspired from ZX-10R

The face has been completely redesigned, with a new adjustable windshield and new headlights. There’s a new LED taillight, and the instrument panel has been revised too, and gets a part-analogue, part-digital treatment with easy read outs for almost everything you need. And then, there’s a new pressed-steel gull-arm swingarm; opinion is divided, and we’re not sure it really complements the overall look. But in all, the new Ninja 650 certainly looks premium, more stylish and more in line with the “Kawasaki Ninja” name.

2017 kawasaki ninja 650
2016 Kawasaki Ninja 650 gets sportier, sleeker design

Thumb the starter and there’s no drama; give it a fistful of revs and there’s no roar; no intake whine, no deep exhaust note. But slot it into gear and open the throttle, and the commuter-ish motor seems to wake up. The parallel-twin does have some buzz in higher revs, but speeds build quickly through the gears. Acceleration is rapid, and the rev limiter lights up much before there’s any protest from the parallel-twin engine. There’s no music from the exhaust, but the Ninja 650 is no slouch either; triple digit speeds and beyond arrive quickly even before you realise you’re going that fast.

2016 kawasaki ninja 650
New Ninja 650 is 19 kg lighter than the 2016 model

A new trellis frame, new swingarm and lighter wheels make the Ninja 650 shed weight – almost 19 kg over the earlier model! The new steering geometry with a sharper rake and shorter trail, makes the bike more precise and more willing to turn. Yes, the new Ninja 650 is a good handler, and unless you’re pushing the bike to its limits, or to the Dunlop tyres’ limits, to be more specific, handling is quite predictable and the bike is willing to turn in with enthusiasm. Part of that credit also goes to the stiffly sprung suspension; the 41 mm KYB fork at the front is non-adjustable, but the rear shock is adjustable for preload. Brakes, now with standard ABS, are excellent, and offer sure and certain stopping power.

2017 kawasaki ninja 650
2017 Kawasaki Ninja 650 is eager to turn, and more precise

The 649 cc parallel-twin engine may have been carried forward from the previous model, but it’s got new components – there are lighter aluminium cylinders, new injectors, smaller throttle bodies, new camshafts, a revised airbox and exhaust, and the engine has been retuned. On paper, it makes less power than the outgoing model with 67 bhp, but the 65.7 Nm of torque comes in lower in the revs. All in all, it has better acceleration, and more midrange power, and it’s more agile, more fun and more versatile.

2017 kawasaki ninja 650
New Kawasaki Ninja 650 is a versatile commuter and tourer

The Ninja 650 may be a middleweight, but it feels like a small bike, and it doesn’t have the intake roar or exhaust note associated with a high-performance motorcycle. It feels at ease handling traffic, and is equally comfortable on the highway, if you’re in the mood for occasional long distance touring. If you’re looking to upgrade from a smaller bike, or you’re new to motorcycling, at ₹ 5.69 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi), the Kawasaki Ninja 650 could well be all the bike you need.