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It’s true that today, you really don’t need to spend a whole lot of money to get a feature-packed smartphone. Samsung, Xiaomi and Realme have been consistently delivering excellent value options under Rs. 15,000, and we’ve added some of their latest launches to our June refresh of this buying guide.

Realme finally managed to launch its youth-centric Narzo series, which complements its other offerings. Samsung had a new launch too with the Galaxy M21. Some older models that were featured in the April edition of this guide have been replaced by equivalent or better offerings thanks to changes in pricing.

If you have a budget of Rs. 15,000 for getting a new smartphone, we have done the research for you. After reviewing multiple smartphones in this segment, here are the models that are a cut above the rest, in no particular order.

Best phones under 15,000

Phones under Rs. 15,000Gadgets 360 rating (out of 10)Price in India (as recommended)
Redmi Note 98Rs. 11,999
Realme 6i8Rs. 12,999
Poco M2 Pro8Rs. 13,999
Samsung Galaxy M217Rs. 13,999
Realme Narzo 108Rs. 11,999
Redmi Note 9 Pro8Rs. 13,999
Realme 68Rs. 14,999
Redmi Note 87Rs. 11,999
Vivo U208Rs. 11,990

Redmi Note 9

The Redmi Note 9 is the entry-level offering in the Redmi Note 9 series from Xiaomi. It largely shares the same design as the Redmi Note 9 Pro and the Redmi Note 9 Pro Max. The Redmi Note 9 sports a 6.53-inch display with a hole-punch front camera in the top left corner. There is Corning Gorilla Glass 5 to protect the panel from scratches. The display has thick borders but these are acceptable for the price.

Xiaomi has picked the MediaTek Helio G85 SoC to power the Redmi Note 9. It is an octa-core processor with two Cortex-A75 cores and six Cortex-A55 cores. The Redmi Note 9 is available in three variants: 4GB of RAM with 64GB of storage, 4GB of RAM with 128GB of storage, and 6GB of RAM with 128GB of storage. These are priced at Rs. 11,999, Rs, 13,499, and Rs. 14,999 respectively. The Redmi Note 9 houses a 5,020mAh battery and you get a 22.5W charger in the box.

The Redmi Note 9 has an IR emitter on the top which can be used to control appliances. At the back, it has a quad-camera setup consisting of a 48-megapixel primary camera, 8-megapixel ultra-wide-angle camera, 2-megapixel macro camera and 2-megapixel depth sensor. The Redmi Note 9 manages to take good photos in favourable light and the AI is quick to detect scenes. Low-light camera performance was average and the Night mode did not make a huge difference to quality.

 

Realme 6i

The Realme 6i can be best described as a toned-down version of the Realme 6. This smartphone however retains key hardware from the Realme 6 including the MediaTek Helio G90T SoC and 90Hz refresh rate, which isn’t common at this price point. The Realme 6i sports a 6.5-inch display with a hole-punch front camera at the top, and has a side-mounted fingerprint scanner.

The Realme 6i has a plastic body and there are two colour options. The MediaTek Helio G90T is capable of handling day-to-day tasks and gaming quite well. There are two variants of the Realme 6i offering 4GB and 6GB RAM, but the storage remains the same at 64GB. The smartphone packs a 4,300mAh battery and is capable of 30W fast charging but comes with a 20W charger in the box.

Realme has equipped the 6i with a quad-camera setup consisting of a 48-megapixel primary camera, an 8-megapixel ultra-wide-angle camera, a portrait camera, and a 2-megapixel depth sensor. Photos taken with the Realme 6i were good, and the camera reproduced good dynamic range. The wide-angle camera created slight barrel distortion at the edges of frames. Low-light camera performance isn’t as good, and the phone takes a while to capture a shot in Night mode.

 

Poco M2 Pro

The Poco M2 Pro is targeted at the budget segment. It has a premium design and packs in a big 6.67-inch display just like the Poco X2. It had the standard 60Hz refresh rate instead of the higher 120Hz refresh rate that the Poco X2 has. Poco has used Corning Gorilla Glass 5 at the front and back, and has also opted for a P2i coating on the M2 Pro, which makes it splash-resistant to some extent.

This smartphone is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 720G SoC which we’ve also seen in competing models such as the Redmi Note 9 Pro. There are three variants of the Poco M2 Pro; 4GB of RAM with 64GB of storage, 6GB of RAM with 64GB of storage, and 6GB of RAM with 128GB of storage. These three variants are priced at Rs. 13,999, Rs. 14,999 and Rs. 16,999 respectively.

The Poco M2 Pro packs in a 5000mAh battery and was capable of very good battery life when we tested it. The company also provides a 33W charger that gets the phone to 95 percent in an hour. The Poco M2 Pro has a quad-camera setup with a 48-megapixel primary shooter. The phone captures good-looking photos in daylight, but its wide-angle camera captured weaker colours and details. In low light, the main and wide-angle cameras struggled with exposure and details. Night mode wasn’t too effective.

 

Samsung Galaxy M21

We were quite surprised by how similar the new Samsung Galaxy M21 was to the Galaxy M30s. In fact, other than a higher-resolution selfie camera on the new model, both phones are virtually identical. The best past is that Samsung has priced the Galaxy M21 lower than the Galaxy M30s, which makes it a better pick.

Some of the phone’s strong points include its crisp AMOLED display, low weight, very good battery life, and decent app performance. It runs Samsung’s One UI 2.0 interface on top of Android 10. It’s powered by the widely used Exynos 9611 SoC, which is not the most powerful especially when you have more powerful phones based on Qualcomm and MediaTek SoCs in the same segment. Still, for general use and a bit of light gaming, it gets the job done.

The triple rear cameras are decent during the day but they struggle a bit in low light. The 20-megapixel selfie camera is a notable improvement over that of the M30s though, as pictures taken during the day had good detail and low-light shots were usable too.

The Samsung Galaxy M21 received a price hike in June 2020 and it now starts at Rs. 13,999 for 4GB of RAM, 128GB storage variant. The higher-end variant is now priced at Rs. 15,999, which has 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage.

 

Realme Narzo 10

Realme recently launched its much-awaited Narzo series, and the Narzo 10 is a good offering for under Rs. 15,000. Realme is targeting the youth demographic here, focusing on style and gaming performance. The Narzo 10 has the MediaTek Helio G80, which handles games well, and overall app and multitasking performance is solid too. Battery life is also one of this phone’s strong suits.

The main area where the Narzo 10 could have done better is its cameras. Daylight performance was good with all the rear cameras and the single front one, but low-light performance left us wanting more. The camera app could have been a bit more intuitive too, especially for some of its core features. Realme UI looks fresh and interesting, but there’s still a lot of bloatware preinstalled.

There’s just one configuration, with 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. At just Rs. 11,999, the Narzo 10’s little issues can be forgiven as there’s no denying the immense value you get for your money.

 

Redmi Note 9 Pro

The Redmi Note 9 Pro has been a solid recommendation from us in this price segment, ever since it launched. It features a big 6.67-inch display. We found the phone to be bulky and heavy at 209g in weight but it is well designed.

It is powered by the Snapdragon 720G SoC and comes in two variants, one with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, and the other with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. The base variant is available for Rs. 13,999 which is a minor bump up from its launch price of Rs. 12,999 due to the GST hike.

 

Realme 6

The Realme 6 continues to be the only phone under Rs. 15,000 to offer a display with a 90Hz refresh rate, similar to some flagships currently in the market. We found the Realme 6 to be well designed, but the side-mounted fingerprint scanner might not appeal to everyone. The device is slightly on the heavier side, tipping the scales at 191g.

The Realme 6 is powered by the Mediatek Helio G90T which is capable of delivering some serious performance, especially in games. Realme offers three variants: 4GB of RAM with 64GB of storage, 6GB of RAM with 128GB of storage, and 8GB of RAM with 128GB of storage. We found the camera quality to be good in daylight, producing good amounts of detail. The wide-angle camera offers a wider field of view but the dynamic range isn’t great. Low-light camera output quality dips slightly but Night mode improves this.

The Realme 6 got a price hike recently and the base variant is now priced at Rs. 14,999 and is the only one that fits within our budget, following the second price hike. You will have to spend more for the other variants.

 

Redmi Note 8

We saw the Redmi Note 8 retailing at Rs. 11,999, post the GST price hike and that’s recently been raised once again to Rs. 12,499 for the base variant. However, it’s still a good phone with decent all-round performance.

The Redmi Note 8 has a crisp full-HD+ display and is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 665 SoC. The base variant has 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage while the top variant has 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. Both are available in this price range.

Xiaomi offers a quad-camera setup on the Note 8, with the primary one being a 48-megapixel shooter. It also has a wide-angle camera and a macro shooter. We found the camera performance to be good for the price. Low-light photos were noisy and blotchy, and we did have trouble with autofocus in poor lighting conditions.

 

Vivo U20

The U series from Vivo was specially created to compete with online-exclusive offerings from Xiaomi and Realme. The Vivo U20 is powered by the capable Qualcomm Snapdragon 675 SoC, packs in a 5,000mAh battery, and has a triple camera setup at the back. The phone is a little bulky because of its battery. It has a Micro-USB port at the bottom, which is a little disappointing since the Type-C standard is now common in this price segment.

Vivo includes an 18W charger in the box which helps reduce charging time. The performance is good for the price, and this smartphone can play games and multitask easily. We found the cameras to be below average. If you are planning on using this as your primary device for taking photos, you may want to consider the other phones in this price range.

There are two variants of the Vivo U20: 4GB of RAM and 6GB of RAM. Storage remains the same at 64GB for both. A price hike has resulted in the base variant price to go up to Rs. 12,990 while the top variant is priced at Rs. 13,990.

 


Which is the bestselling Vivo smartphone in India? Why has Vivo not been making premium phones? We interviewed Vivo’s director of brand strategy Nipun Marya to find out, and to talk about the company’s strategy in India going forward. We discussed this on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.

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Opera for Android, Desktop Browsers Get Redesigned Sync Capabilities

Opera for android desktop 1600851955578

Opera has launched updated versions of its browsers for Android and desktop. Opera for Android version 60 and Opera for Desktop version 71 come with completely redesigned sync capabilities between them, the company says. The new feature uses a QR code scan to establish a connection between Opera on an Android device and the Opera desktop browser on Windows, macOS, or Linux. The Opera browser for Android also comes with the popular Flow feature as well as Suggested Sites feature on the homepage. In meanwhile, the Opera desktop browser now comes with the Easy Files feature.

Opera for Android 60

With Opera browser for Android, users can navigate to opera.com/connect on their PCs or tablets and scan the QR code displayed there with the QR code reader located in the search bar of the browser. As soon as this is done, the new Sync feature will start synchronising all their passwords, bookmarks, speed dials, typed browsing history and open tabs, as well as the newly-integrated Flow feature across devices.

The new Sync feature of Opera for Android does do not require any login credentials to sync data across devices.
Photo Credit: Opera

Stefan Stjernelund, Product Manager of Opera for Android, says that people don’t sync their phones with their PCs “because they hate the hassle of having to type in their logins and lengthy passwords.” He notes that the QR code scan feature can help users to quickly sync data across devices that do not require any login credentials. “Opera was the first browser to offer sync between mobile and desktop browsers 13 years ago. Today we’re taking a big step forward by making it easier than ever,” added Stjernelund.

Apart from the new syncing feature, Opera for Android 60 also gets the Flow feature from the Opera Touch browser. This feature allows users to share files, links, YouTube videos, photos, and personal notes with themselves, between their Opera mobile and desktop browsers. So, if you’re searching something on Opera on your Android smartphones, you can quickly share it on the desktop version. According to the brand, Flow is end-to-end encrypted so anything stored will only be known to the user. In Opera for Android, Flow can be accessed from the O-menu.

 

Opera for Android 60 now also comes with Suggested Sites feature that allows for “speed dials” in the browser. According to the brand, the speed dial section is now smarter and more dynamic as it identifies the user’s most frequently visited websites. It displays them just below the traditional speed dial section. “Suggested Sites gives us a quicker way to engage with relevant content without the need to manually add pages to the speed dial or bookmarks,” Stjernelund noted. Users have a choice to easily disable this feature.

Additionally, Opera for Android offers a built-in free unlimited browser VPN, a QR code scanner, a crypto wallet, and a cookie dialog blocker. You can download Opera for Android 60 via Google Play.

Opera for android desktop sync feature intext Opera for Android

Flow feature allows users to share files, links, videos and photos between their Opera mobile and desktop browsers
Photo Credit: Opera

Opera for Desktop 71

The Opera for Desktop version 71 browser comes with the Easy Files feature that offers most recently downloaded files that essentially makes attaching files in the Opera browser easy. It is also claimed to feature a high level of privacy and security. It features a built-in browser VPN, ad blocker, as well as built-in messengers, including WhatsApp, Telegram, Instagram and Facebook.


How are we staying sane during this Coronavirus lockdown? We discussed this on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.

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The best hidden features in iOS 14

ios14 hidden features

Apple’s iOS 14 is full of new features, but some of the best gems are the ones in obscure places. Learn about the best hidden features in iOS 14 and how to use them on your iPhone and iPad.

Image: CNET

When Apple’s iOS 14 was released last week, many users and developers were surprised by the next-day availability. iOS 14 includes big changes that will forever change the way we use our iOS devices: From the widgets on the Home Screen, to the App Library, to the new automations in Shortcuts, iOS is clearly moving at a fast pace and bringing many new headlining features. Read about the best iOS 14 hidden features that many users skip over. 

SEE: Apple iPadOS: A cheat sheet (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Listen for sounds

One accessibility feature that Apple added to iOS 14 was the ability for your iPhone to listen for particular sounds and then alert you whenever it encounters them. This feature is fantastic for hard of hearing or deaf users who need assistance in identifying when the door bell rings, an animal makes a noise, etc.

To enable this feature, perform the following steps: 

  1. Open the Settings app.
  2. Navigate to Accessibility | Sound Recognition.
  3. Select the toggle to ON.
  4. Select Sounds.
  5. Toggle on the sounds that you’d like your device to recognize and alert you to (Figure A).

Figure A

ios14-hidden-features-figure-a.jpg

Your iPhone can recognize multiple sounds on-device and alert you to them. This list of recognizable sounds will grow over time.

As of iOS 14, your phone can do on-device sound recognition of four different categories of sounds: Alarms, Animals, Household, and People. This set of sounds will grow over time based on advances in machine learning and device microphones. You can enable or disable the particular individual sounds you’re concerned with.

Apple notes that, with this feature enabled, your iPhone will continuously listen for sounds using on-device intelligence and notify you when the sounds are recognized. Because of this your battery life may take a slight hit, and this will also utilize on-device storage to process the sounds.

In addition, Apple notes that this shouldn’t be relied upon for emergency situations or navigation.

SEE: How to use widgets on the Home Screen in iOS 14 (TechRepublic)

New color picker

There’s a new color picker that you will encounter in both Apple and third-party apps that brings about a new way on iOS to select colors that we’re excited about. If you’ve spent any time in macOS, you’ve undoubtedly encounter the macOS Digital Color Meter that’s available systemwide. Apple now has a new color picker on iOS 14 that brings a few new ways of selecting colors, and saving them.

We’ll show how to do this in Notes, but the feature is also available in other apps. In Notes, select the drawing tool, then select the color picker icon. When you do this, the new color picker will appear (Figure B). 

Figure B

ios14-hidden-features-figure-b.jpg

The new iOS 14 color picker brings the same tools from macOS to iOS for picking colors.

The first section you’ll encounter is a standard color grid which shows a few hues to let you quickly pick a color. The next tab is the Spectrum, which lets you get more fine-grained control over every color available to pick on the device and it’s opacity. The last tab is Sliders, which we’re very excited about. This view lets you pick or enter RGB values, or a hex value to set the color—a feature that hasn’t been available on iOS except in speciality apps before.

SEE: iOS 14 App Library: How to use it on your iPhone (TechRepublic)

Lastly, you’ll notice the custom palette organizer at the bottom of the color picker. In this section, you can save your favorite colors by tapping the + button, or tap and hold on any of them to delete them. You can save up to 10 colors in this section for easily switching between apps, or projects.

Hide the Hidden Photos album

The Hidden photo album has been available in the Photos app for years, but it has been far from hidden on iOS devices. Rather, it was a folder called Hidden that just stored photos you didn’t want visible in your main Photo library. Now you can also hide this folder so that the hidden photos are truly hidden.

To do this, perform these steps:

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Navigate to Photos.
  3. Scroll near the bottom, and disable the toggle for Hidden Album.

With this option deselected, the Hidden album will no longer appear in the Albums tab of Photos. To show it again, re-enable the toggle. 

Dictation shortcut

On iPadOS 14, there’s a new way to assign a keyboard shortcut for text dictation. This lets you easily still use dictation even when an external keyboard is attached without the need to use the on-screen controls for dictation.

To enable this feature, perform these steps:

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Navigate to General | Keyboard | Dictation Shortcut.
  3. Select an available Shortcut (Figure C).

Figure C

ios14-hidden-features-figure-c.jpg

Selecting a dictation shortcut will let you easily double-tap the selected button on a hardware keyboard to start the dictation process without needing to use the on-screen controls.

The available shortcuts are either Control or Command. Select one or the other, then activate by quickly double-pressing the selected shortcut when your cursor is in a text field.

Hide Home Screens

Apple introduced the App Library for iPhone, and it allows a lot of customization and cleanup for iOS Home Screens for the first time in the history of the iPhone. You can still have multiple Home Screens in iOS 14, but sometimes you may want to disable messy Home Screens or Home Screens of apps that you don’t access frequently.

To disable a Home Screen on your iPhone:

  1. Tap and hold on the Home Screen to enter jiggle mode.
  2. Tap the dots denoting page numbers. 
  3. Tap the checkmark under the Home Screen to remove it, tap again to add it back (Figure D).

Figure D 

ios14-hidden-features-figure-d.jpg

Hiding Home Screens allows users to clean up their icons and hide pages of apps that aren’t always needed.

Select Done when finished and your changes will be saved. Any hidden pages will be skipped over when swiping left or right between Home Screens.

Back tap gesture

If you have an iPhone 8 or newer, then we saved the best feature for last in this tip lineup. That’s because the back tap feature is one of those hidden gems that will change your digital life once you’ve implemented it.

SEE: Apple releases iOS 14 without this privacy feature: What iPhone users and developers need to know (TechRepublic)

With this feature, you can assign a double- or triple-tap gesture to the back of your iPhone. When you tap the back of the device with your finger twice or three times, it can perform an action that you assign. Yes, you read that right, you can perform an action by just tapping the back of your iPhone with your finger, and it even works with a case.

To set up this feature:

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Navigate to Accessibility | Touch | Back Tap.
  3. Select Double Tap or Triple Tap to set up actions for one or both.
  4. Select an action (Figure E).

Figure E

ios14-hidden-features-figure-e.jpg

Myriad shortcuts are available to the back tap feature. You can even launch an app through a Shortcuts workflow.

There are many system, accessibility, scroll, and even app shortcuts available–you can even create your own Shortcut workflows and assign them to a double- or triple-tap gesture. The possibilities are limitless when it comes to assigning actions for this feature. 

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NIST Scientists Get Soft on 3D Printing

Gel Neuron R2 2 cropped 600x450 1

New method could jump-start creation of tiny medical devices for the body.

NIST Scientists Get Soft on 3D Printing

Illustration of a prospective biocompatible interface shows that hydrogels (green tubing), which can be generated by an electron or X-ray beam 3D printing process, act as artificial synapses or junctions, connecting neurons (brown) to electrodes (yellow). Image credit: A. Strelcov/NIST

Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have developed a new method of 3D-printing gels and other soft materials. Published in a new paper, it has the potential to create complex structures with nanometer-scale precision. Because many gels are compatible with living cells, the new method could jump-start the production of soft tiny medical devices such as drug delivery systems or flexible electrodes that can be inserted into the human body.

A standard 3D printer makes solid structures by creating sheets of material — typically plastic or rubber — and building them up layer by layer, like a lasagna, until the entire object is created.

Using a 3D printer to fabricate an object made of gel is a “bit more of a delicate cooking process,” said NIST researcher Andrei Kolmakov. In the standard method, the 3D printer chamber is filled with a soup of long-chain polymers — long groups of molecules bonded together — dissolved in water. Then “spices” are added — special molecules that are sensitive to light. When light from the 3D printer activates those special molecules, they stitch together the chains of polymers so that they form a fluffy weblike structure. This scaffolding, still surrounded by liquid water, is the gel.

Typically, modern 3D gel printers have used ultraviolet or visible laser light to initiate formation of the gel scaffolding. However, Kolmakov and his colleagues have focused their attention on a different 3D-printing technique to fabricate gels, using beams of electrons or X-rays. Because these types of radiation have a higher energy, or shorter wavelength, than ultraviolet and visible light, these beams can be more tightly focused and therefore produce gels with finer structural detail. Such detail is exactly what is needed for tissue engineering and many other medical and biological applications. Electrons and X-rays offer a second advantage: They do not require a special set of molecules to initiate the formation of gels.

But at present, the sources of this tightly focused, short-wavelength radiation — scanning electron microscopes and X-ray microscopes — can only operate in a vacuum. That’s a problem because in a vacuum the liquid in each chamber evaporates instead of forming a gel.

Kolmakov and his colleagues at NIST and at the Elettra Sincrotrone Trieste in Italy, solved the issue and demonstrated 3D gel printing in liquids by placing an ultrathin barrier — a thin sheet of silicon nitride — between the vacuum and the liquid chamber. The thin sheet protects the liquid from evaporating (as it would ordinarily do in vacuum) but allows X-rays and electrons to penetrate into the liquid. The method enabled the team to use the 3D-printing approach to create gels with structures as small as 100 nanometers (nm) — about 1,000 times thinner than a human hair. By refining their method, the researchers expect to imprint structures on the gels as small as 50 nm, the size of a small virus.

Some future structures made with this approach could include flexible injectable electrodes to monitor brain activity, biosensors for virus detection, soft micro-robots, and structures that can emulate and interact with living cells and provide a medium for their growth.

“We’re bringing new tools — electron beams and X-rays operating in liquids — into 3D printing of soft materials,” said Kolmakov. He and his collaborators described their work in an article posted online Sept. 16 in ACS Nano.

Reference:

T. Gupta, et al. “Electron and X-ray Focus Beam Induced Crosslinking in Liquids: Toward Rapid Continuous 3D Nanoprinting of Soft Materials.“. ACS Nano (2020)

Source: NIST




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