Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Trumping Competition - Ford Figo Aspire

I have now completed close to 7000 kms run on my Figo Aspire and this post captures my feedback for the car and the brand. Driving Aspire has being total fun over the last five months, I have never relished my driving experience so much before owning this machine.

When I was finalizing my buying decision, I was not placing much emphasis on fuel efficiency figures which Maruti Suzuki and Honda are pushing these days in most of their cars, I was anticipating 17-18 kmpl mileage in city based on my driving style. I have never driven a Ford vehicle before and have read how some brand enthusiasts have critiqued Ford on diluting it's ride and handling DNA to please mass market buyers. The way I look at it is that a company cannot cater to enthusiasts forever and if they do not imbibe features that pull mass market buyers towards their brand it would get difficult to survive in the long run under a scenario where new launches have taken the Indian car market by storm.

Figo Aspire has got the goods in terms of engine power that allows you to drive stress free in the city and does not disappoint on the highways, and I don't think all of us go out so frequently on road trips that we need a muscle car that can run fast and be comfortable being thrown around corners. I am itching to take my Aspire on a long road trip to check how does it fare while driving across different terrain/road conditions. During my 2nd expressway trip up to Lonavla I felt the engine has freed up a notch and does not grunt even while revving up to 3500 RPM mark and I had to literally tame my greed to enjoy high speed driving to keep speed under permissible limits as the car now touches 140kmph mark without much effort.

I also keep finding curious onlookers on the road trying to catch a good enough glimpse of the car at signals and pillion riders on bike who do not miss looking at the front grille for the second time when they pass by my Aspire, more satisfying part is when I receive stares from Maruti Sheep's . Talking about competition both Figo and Figo Aspire have a tough task scaling up numbers after the launch of Baleno which would be like a third homecoming for Maruti Suzuki after long and ongoing success they have enjoyed with Swift and Dzire.

My car has being serviced at 2500 kms schedule with zero charges incurred under first free service, post which suspension, handling, braking and ride quality has improved however the suspension still feels tad stiff while encountering rough potholes. When it comes to after sales service feedback I am satisfied with the overall follow up calls I have being receiving from Ford after purchase and first service, even Talera Ford representatives have being swift in their communication and have attended to my queries and concerns on time.

Sharing some news that strengthen credibility for Ford Figo Aspire as benchmark setting product in it's category:

1) VBox speed test (0-100) run by MotorBeam places Figo Aspire as the fastest Diesel compact sedan, check the video below.

2) Another Drag Race test run by MotorBeam with the closest competitor in terms of engine power and torque - Honda Amaze, clearly left behind!

3) CarDekho and Gaadi.com jointly ran fuel economy test and car performance review conducted by Bunny Punia on Mumbai-Pune-Bangalore highway stretch, Figo Aspire set a new record of covering 994.84km in 20 hours 34 minutes with an overall average fuel economy of 42.02kmpl beating previous best record held by Renault Scala, read more about this here

Details of monthly drive and mileage recorded.
Sep'15 - 1136 km, 18.0kmpl
Oct'15 - 1270 km, 18.5 to 19kmpl
Nov'15 - 913 km, 17.6 to 18kmpl
Dec'15 - 1431 km, 19.3kmpl
Jan'16 - 1309 km, 19.0 to 20kmpl

If you drive with a constant speed on the range of 70-80kmph you can get mileage of 20kmpl easily in the city and close to 26kmpl on highway and I have tested this personally.

This is precisely the kind of balance I was seeking when I decided to upgrade from Beat and did not want to end up compromising on power and performance for the sake of fuel efficiency. There is a driving enthusiast amongst all of us who would not mind stepping on the gas given the right conditions in city/highway and switch back to the pleasure of sedate stress free driving in normal conditions/city traffic, if I had to put it in words it would definitely steal the catchphrase used in an SX4 advertisement - "For the Man in every Gentleman"

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Ford Figo Aspire Review - Compact Sedan Segment just got Shaken and Stirred

I bid my Chevrolet Beat farewell last month, with the 5 year upgrade itch that finally kicked in along with other reasons to look out for a new ride, Ford Figo Aspire won my heart and mind to earn a place in my car parking. I have written this initial review after welcoming my Blue Oval during September 2015 and driving it for close to 1100 Kms with a maiden trip on Mumbai Pune Expressway.

Choosing Figo Aspire against other offerings in the same category was not easy and I had to keep my impulses in check after the first test drive, only went ahead with the decision to purchase this car after the second test drive once I was sure that this machine was suitable to my requirements and it checked almost all the right boxes on my wishlist.

As a first time owner of an oil-burner, I am pretty excited to share my ownership experience and at the same time steering clear of preconceived notions surrounding the Ford brand in India, keeping fingers crossed on the after sales support from dealer and manufacturer.

Also posting car pics on my Flickr Album

Here's a short but quick review on the features of the car:


- Aggressive Aston Martin inspired front grille stance, aesthetic looking swept back headlamps, well crafted curves above and around the front bumper to give it a muscle car look.

- Linear design all along the body without any sharp curves merges into boot which does not look out of proportion, has aptly shaped rear tail lamps. Chrome strip across on the top section of boot does not feel very stylish but looks classy.

- Rear windshield is slanting and appears to be raised, Number plate slot is at the fag low end and of the rear bumper, there is some plastic material cladding both at the front and rear bumper to prevent minor scratches to bottom section of the car in case it scrapes on bad speed breakers or potholes.

- 2491mm wheelbase gives this car an elongated look, Front windshield offers good view of the road while driving, the Front fog lamp frame also could have got chrome treatment to give it a slightly premium look, DRL should have being provided as optional accessory.

- OEM tyres are undersized, to improve handling you can go for a 185/60 R15 upgrade but R15 size would void warranty, alloys provided on this variant look stylish with ford branding in the center.

Overall exterior looks feels fresh and dynamic, does not try to extend the sporty feature from the front across the car giving it a balanced look and a well executed design.

Interior (Features, Space & Comfort)

- Interior is mostly beige in shade providing an airy feel to the cabin with two tone color used on dashboard and there are almost close to 20 usable slots in the front section, central console has good quality piano black finish with winged style button layout for phone/phone book and OEM music unit controls. Light control panel is on the RHS below steering. Steering has only tilt adjustment option, Glove box feels tad small in size but enough to store documents and other light stuff. Sun visors for passenger and co-passenger seat come with vanity mirrors.

- IRVM mirror is wide enough to give you proper view from the rear windshield but it would take time to adjust due to the slanting glass, I got IRVM camera installed additionally. ORVM is electrically adjustable but it is not automatic and again even these mirrors feel small in size for a car in this segment. Passenger seat comfort is excellent and it provides good under thigh support.

- Instrument panel could have been increased in size to provide better view of the odometer and tachometer, fuel gauge could have been integrated with digital information display screen which has multiple modes to access various details like DTE, External ambient temperature, Avg Speed, Mileage etc. Rear seat is equally comfortable for long journey and has good amount of leg space for rear passenger. Seat head restraints are adjustable in height for all seats and seat belt also comes with height adjustment along with same feature for driver seat.

- Rear power window do not go down fully and all power windows come with anti-pinch feature. Stalk for wiper control can be set to three different levels at multiple settings, fitting 3 normal passengers for short trips would not be a problem, I am doubtful if they would have good shoulder level comfort while on long journey's. There is no rear AC vent which is not requires as cabin cools very quickly due to powerful cooling unit, cabin ingress is easy but egress becomes triply due to raised platform near the doors.

- Quality of plastic used for car interior is good but not of an excellent quality to write home about, acceleration pedal could have been more wide and dead pedal is missing. You also get arm support which can be pulled down from the middle section of the rear seat with 2 passengers. Cabin light comes with theater dimming feature and it illuminates the cabin sufficiently in the dark. Steering is very light to hold and has thick contour towards the center to offer better grip around the palms.

You can skip/forward/rewind songs and control volume from mounted audio control on the steering which is illuminated in dark. Controls for power windows are not illuminated.

- Warning lights/indicators/alarm includes Door Ajar, Seat Belt not worn and headlight on alert. overall execution of interiors is done practically without overwhelming presence of gadgets like button start, navigation screen that are nice to have features and for me biggest plus is the seat ergonomics which has taken away the stress of driving petrol hatchback I had earlier in B2B peak hour office traffic in the city.

Engine Performance, Fuel Economy and Gearbox

1.5 TDCi engine grabs all the spotlight for this car and once you power up the engine from neutral to 1st gear the clatter of diesel engine noise quickly fades away, once you shift to 2nd gear the surge of torque starts kicking in from as low as 1300 RPM which prompts you up shift gears quickly and there is virtually no turbo lag felt which makes it easier to drive Figo Aspire sedately even on 4th and 5th gear saving much of your efforts in downshifting while driving in moderate to light traffic conditions.

I have completed over 1100 kms of driving on this car after I took delivery on 4th Sep which includes a maiden trip of Mumbai-Pune expressway, mileage I am getting currently is at 18 kpl, Gearbox is easy to operate and it is not very stiff while moving across different gears. I have topped 140 kmph speed on the expressway and at around 3000 RPM on the highway I could feel he engine straining a bit because it is new, nevertheless in the city car accelerates to 80 kmph speed very quickly and overtaking is easy as breeze as you would never feel the engine running out on breath for such short bursts of power as and when needed.

Ride Quality & Handling
Figo Aspire's suspension handles minor bumps and bad roads with ease and there is not much body roll felt for both front and rear passengers. When it comes to nasty speed breakers and deep potholes the suspension would absorb the initial impact but you would surely feel a strong thud on the under body of the car. Overall handling of the car is good however on the highway under steering is experienced around sharp corners due to small OEM tyre size. You would not feel weird wobbling or car body vibrations while driving straight on high speed.

NVH levels inside the cabin is excellent and once you cross speed of over 100 kmph on the highway there is some external ambient noise that seeps inside the cabin but it stays at tolerable level and you do not have to raise your voice to speak or turn the music volume up to negate this disturbance. Steering is very light to operate in the city which is a boon and it gets sufficiently heavy in the centre due to EPAS feature while driving on highway to give you confidence. Turning radius at 4.9m provides good maneuverability.

Final Words

Ford Figo Aspire has taken full advantage as late entrant to compact sedan segment by offering first in class minimum 2 airbags across all variants, providing features like MyDock, Automatic Climate Control, Bluetooth music system with 4 speakers, Follow Me Headlamps etc. it is a no compromise car when it comes to style, power and performance. Diesel engine is the star performer for Ford here and I am very satisfied with the overall pre-sales, delivery and initial ownership.

Areas of improvement
There are some noticeable panel gaps around headlight cluster, boot section and front bumper though not very wide however it is not expected from a car of this category and navigating on USB to access music across folders is very distracting, which makes it better to stick to listening to music via Bluetooth. If you like pushing car around corners and prefer better stability to mileage then swapping of OEM tyres is mandatory.

I have put together my observations in the detailed early impression review on Team-BHP portal, please follow this thread for regular updates.

Ongoing Ownership Update post 

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Windows 10 upgrade - Jump the Queue

Windows 10 has been installed on around 14 million devices within 24 hours and if you had reserved upgrade for your desktop/tablet, it may still take few days or weeks to receive automated notification from Microsoft.

I too had signed up in advance for this update however as soon as the final build was released to consumers, I gave in to the craving of manual installation. Please note that steps listed in this post would need a little advanced knowledge on your part to understand what you are going to do in order to push Windows 10 installation and it would be wise to back up windows files/settings etc. and note down your existing OS, MS office or any other application keys already installed just in case the OS transition process goes awry.

My Windows device is a Asus T100 Tablet/PC hybrid which houses Intel atom 1.33 GHz processor and runs on 2GB RAM, 32 Bit OS.

It would be good if you have reserved your Windows 10 copy in advance, if not try downloading this "Get Windows 10" App from this link  I am not sure if this would still work but you can give it a try.

Step 1
The easiest way to manually upgrade to Windows 10 is downloading Media Creation Tool from Microsoft website as per your OS type version (32 Bit or 64 Bit). It was dud attempt for me as this installer never went beyond Preparing -> "Something Happened" error!

Download this installer here

If the first option of "Upgrade this PC Now" works for you then it should be a cake walk process and if it does not then you can also run installation via a USB (ensure free space of 3GB or more on USB device and delete or copy content from that USB device before you configure it for Windows installation)

Some users have reported that this installer does tend to create issue and the problem is solved if you change your system region and keyboard language settings to US.

None of these options work out for me so on to step 2.

Step 2
This process involves a little bit of tinkering here and there on your system as I did not realize that while I was trying the first step with USB installation option, Windows 10 installation files were also downloaded on C drive (around 6GB in size)

1) Under view option on windows toolbar, keep hidden files option checked and select $Windows.~BT folder for deletion. You may get system permission issue prompt which may not allow you to clean up the entire folder so here are two more options to solve this problem.

a) Download "Take Ownership" registry utility which would allow you take ownership of all files and folders in the above directory to delete it completely b) Run disk clean up utility -> click on clean up system files button and ensure you check Previous Windows Installation(s) option.

2) Next step is go to - C: > Windows > Software Distribution > Download folder and delete everything inside this folder.

Both the above steps would remove all files left from previous unsuccessful installation attempt.

3) To prepare your machine for another round of update try this - Run Command Prompt utility in Administrator mode and then search for 'cmd' from Start menu/screen. Right-click on it and select 'Run as Administrator' from the context menu, Type the following command and press enter: wuauclt.exe/updatenow.

4) Wait for sometime to see the download process begin from the Windows Update screen section under control panel, it displays download size of around 2092 MB but it took around close to 2.5 hours on my 8MBPS broadband connection considering the tremendous traffic that must be hitting Microsoft servers during this period it was reasonable.

I encountered error after entire download process got completed which was more frustrating, so last attempt at going after registry tweak on Step 3.

Step 3
I had to follow clean up activities listed under step 2 to begin a new download process and this time I found a registry hack from Windows Central forum (cautious with this one, do not proceed if you don't feel confident)

Go to Run -> Type regedit command and follow steps from screenshot below, restart your PC/laptop/Tablet and once you go to control panel -> Windows Updates, I noticed that Windows 10 download had started again and in another 2 hours time finally my upgrade went through successfully.

Once the set up process started it required minimum intervention on my part and only when it comes to a screen where it prompts you to use express settings to proceed with installation ensure you choose to customize it by reading these options carefully because there are hell lot of privacy related settings which can to be tweaked to you preference.

All my apps, settings, programs, folders were left untouched and no issues with display or sound drivers. This could be the least troublesome Windows installation one may experience. I personally liked the metro interface which I started missing immediately however I know I would get used to the good old start menu option. Boot process is much faster than Windows 8/8.1 and there was no lag or difference in performance on my hybrid laptop/tablet device.

I am now eager to try out the Xbox one streaming experience, drivers for wireless xbox one controller are available to download, I would have to test it with some micro-usb cables to see if it works as publicized.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Mesmerizing Munnar

Just when simmering summer heat started peaking in Pune this April, I was counting down days to my Munnar trip, as I could not plan a getaway last year on the occasion of my 10th wedding anniversary this vacation was overdue from quite some time. I had made up my mind to have a good break with my family this year and I am happy I choose Munnar as my destination for this trip.

TripAdvisor community proved helpful in planning this tour for booking my hotel stay, I was trying to avoid a drive down to Mumbai airport for travelling to Kochi and luckily I got a good deal on SpiceJet direct flight from Pune so all arrangements went well.

We landed on time at Kochi airport and our ride had arrived to drive us to Chinnakanal at Siena Village Resort, approx 119 Kms away from the airport. We had quick lunch at airport cafeteria and our journey began through streets of Kochi and as we left the city behind it took us almost 3 hrs 30 mins to reach Munnar town.

Kochi city or Munnar town has close to non existent political hoardings on road which I am accustomed to witnessing almost in all Indian tourist places I have visited and to top this I was amazed by the condition of the road, I wish Maharashtra government takes up such state highway road upgrade project, it would surely boost tourism prospect which is lacking in spite of having abundant tourist spots.

I must admit that this was the most exhilarating hill station trip I have ever experienced in my life. This uphill ride goes through a long series of narrow single lane road bends, best part is that this entire stretch of NH8 I hardly spotted any pothole or bumps. I was spellbound by the beauty of this place. Understood and felt for real as to why Kerala is called as God's own country as we passed through dense forest areas, hilly terrain graced by tea plantations, huge silver oak and nilgiri trees, witnessing nature in it's true grandeur is like a fresh breathe of air for your soul.

If you are travelling with adult or kids having motion sickness issue I would advise taking frequent breaks on the journey and be ready to put your belly to puke test. My kid had thrown up many number of times & thankfully our driver Mr. Saji he has experience ferrying passengers for quite some years in Munnar so he keeps a small bucket handy in his vehicle for passengers with motion sickness problem. Road condition is rarely bumpy or uncomfortable but route after Thalakode area has multiple and frequent turns.

Once we reached Munnar town we decided not to stop as our hotel was another 22 Kms away and finally we reached the resort at around 6 PM and we were received at hotel reception with a welcome drink and after checking in we headed to our duplex cottage style room which was very spacious and well maintained. Day 1 journey was spent travelling and savoring the long and scenic drive, we relaxed for rest of the evening to call it a day.

Waking up to chirping of birds in the morning and witnessing a thin layer of mist floating above the valley in front of our room terrace was serene, I took some snaps from the verandah and my kid was delighted to explore resort play area as we proceeded to have our breakfast, after returning we got ready to venture out for sightseeing.

We decided to visit a nearby tea factory first which is owned by Goenka group and they have a small educational tour on tea processing where a guide explains all major steps of how tea transforms from a leaf to powder, it was quite an informative session and the aroma of tea all around gets fixated in your senses. This factory has a sales outlet too allowing you to taste demo samples of different grade and quality of tea available, they do not process flavored and CTC quality tea at this plant so you can buy authentic organic quality tea from this factory.

After completing Tea Factory tour our next destination was Rose garden which had a huge variety of flowers spread across a well curated terrace landscape, this place has no guides with just flowers and plants well labelled for tourists to enhance their floriculture knowledge.

We decided to visit Mattupetty dam next which has boat rides. This dam had enough water around this time of the year and we strolled around dam area taking some pics, our boating plan was put off as the speed boat drivers were riding it dhoom style and the larger slow boat required 20 people for which you have to stay near docking area and let a big group assemble to share charges. My kid was in no mood to allow us to go boating so we departed from there back to Munnar town to have lunch and retire back to hotel for enjoying a relaxed evening.

Day 2 sightseeing began with a drive to a spice farm ahead of Munnar town, a local guide at this place gave us extensive and detailed information on how spices are grown and how to identify different variety of spices available in the market. we also learned about ayurvedic benefits of different medicinal plants grown at this farm. It was time for some spice shopping from their store, our next halt was a elephant ride attraction, it was growing very dark and windy outside and my kid was initially excited to ride an elephant but he got fidgety after looking at the elephant size, after failed attempts at pursuing me and my wife decided to ride elephant for him as he wanted to see our snaps but not ride along with us!

Just as we started our elephant ride, it started raining very heavily and the mahout handed us a big umbrella tucked on the side of saddle, my kid sat out with our driver happily watching him take our pics as we took a small round on a narrow forest trail with huge trees around, we returned back early as the elephant was getting scared due to thunder and lightning and it is never wise to force any animal in such conditions as they can run berserk due to fear in such weather.

We returned back to our hotel on day 2 early as it continued to rain and our driver was worried that there could be road block problem on our way back due to mud sliding or tree falling across road during stormy rains. Thankfully we reached without any issues so it was an evening well spent enjoying light drizzle while sipping tea and feasting on pakora's on the terrace verandah as the clouds cleared up a little late in the evening.

I woke up to a rainy and gloomy morning on our last day of touring hoping for rains to go away as we had planned to visit a tea plantation spot nearby. Rain gods granted our wish and the sunshine was out again which allowed us to move out and take some good pics at a tea plantation photo point which is nestled in a low lying valley with a backdrop of rocky mountains engulfed with clouds that descend quite low to offer scenic view, after having lunch at Munnar town we indulged in some local shopping for a while and later visited the annual flower show at Hydel blossom park which has great collection of a large variety of flowers luckily it was not a repeat of rose garden collection and from here we concluded our sightseeing schedule, reached back at the hotel just in time for a hot cuppa of tea.

Our stay at The Siena Village resort was like an icing on the cake, I chose this property for our stay because it has good open area and I read TripAdvisor reviews notifying that it was a kid friendly place. Hotel management and housekeeping staff were extremely courteous and prompt in their service and complimentary Wi-Fi service at the hotel also offers good browsing speed. I was impressed by their overall maintenance of the property, along with clean and hygienic rooms that offer lovely view outside.

We returned back to Pune after a splendid 4 day excursion, you can also combine backwaters with Munnar if you plan to visit Kerala for more than 3 nights. More pics from my trip here

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Turning over a new leaf

Home is where the heart is and for first 22 years of my life, Mumbai was my home filled with experience of childhood memories, school & college days. I believe that the soul of the place we spend most of our lives eventually blends with us or one can say we blend with it and it becomes a part of our personality as we grow up. The experience I have penned in my current post is kind of a tale of two cities and how satisfying it feels when you are not just chasing dreams but also start to create a future you always wanted.

I was pretty happy to be labelled a Mumbaikar for the rest of my life, growing up in in a suburban area like Mulund which has overwhelming Gujarati – Kutchi population. I was a part of a culturally cosmopolitan, prospering & vibrant community, however I gradually realized that there was an so called upmarket, posh and sophisticated western zone of Mumbai when I used to visit my Aunt at Kandivali, these localities were known to be better than the central areas of the city as it is home to the famous film city, international and domestic airport and to trump them both South Mumbai or so called (SoBo – South Bombay) area of the city that is always bustling with business activity which is home to big corporate offices, ritzy hotels, government offices and trading community.

Summer vacations in school and college gave me a chance to explore Mumbai in its different forms while I used to accompany my father at work in areas like Matunga, Sion, Dadar, Parel, Dharavi, Chembur, Sewri, Cotton Green and I also used to visit my uncle’s office at Masjid Bunder a lot and from there I used go on a foot trail in Fort and Churchgate area which became my favorite spots for electronics and book shopping.

I used to wonder how my father and uncle could remember exactly which train to catch from what platform and at what time to avoid crowded coaches. They taught me how to board and alight from a train slowing down at the platform before getting blocked by a swarm of passengers waiting to enter into the door just at the same time you plan to get down and when I began travelling by train I learnt this was a routine I would gradually have to fit in to and be ready to compete for whatever dreams I have for my future.

Once I completed my graduation I began my job hunt and started appearing for interviews and among one such interviews I happened to visit Navi Mumbai which took me by surprise from the moment I set my foot at Vashi station which was the swankiest of all railway stations back in year 2002. I was actually wondering if such place could exist in reality and this was not the end of it. The same new extension of Mumbai city where I got my first Job and this was the place where I met my life partner. I entered a phase where my dreams took flight and I realized I had started falling in love with her the more I came close to her. I grew up in a joint family and my grandfather and grandmother were like equal parents to me and coming from a conservative Brahmin family, love marriage was out of question for me. I knew my parents would not disapprove my wish to marry a girl from another caste however I was not prepared mentally to take that risk and ruin my friendship to go with what my heart wanted.

At times I felt my feeling for my then friend was just a crush and it would probably fade away after this feeling of love has run its course and I would eventually return to my senses, however this was not some false alarm I was pretending it would go away and she also sensed something was wrong with my behavior and one day I had taken a day off in office and she came online for a chat asking me if I had something on my mind that I could share with her and like an idiot I tried cooking up a story to have developed feeling for another colleague, suddenly she confronted me out of the blue during our conversation asking me if that colleague I was referring to was her.

I was stunned and I can still remember that cursor blinking on the chat window of my computer awaiting my response in a “Yes” or a “No”, I typed “Yes” and the chat session went blank and my heart sunk in fear that I may have probably lost a friend and she may never talk to me again for harboring one sided feelings for her when she treated me like a good friend. We did not speak to each other in office for few days and I had already started receding into an emotional shell trying to get over with what had happened and we were avoiding eye contact and each other literally.

We resumed our phone conversations somehow trying to reconcile and talk each other out with some practical gyaan, we knew we came from different backgrounds and we had different upbringings and then it was also our culture and caste and etc. etc. Strangely we could not see each other suffer this silent ordeal and awkwardness that prevailed whenever we were together in our friend group. We were trying to get back to our normal lives but fate had other plans for us it seems.

One evening she called me while I was in cafeteria for dinner working late in office, I still remember the song from Saathiya movie “Chupke Se” playing in the background on the radio, during our normal chatter she asked if we could give this relationship a chance and see where it goes. I felt like a jolt of lighting hit my senses and I was at loss of words wondering all these days we have been talking to each other to put things behind us and move on with our lives and here I felt like I was pulled from a near death situation back to life and it was her confidence in me that got me all worked up to decide that I had to let my feelings for her take control of my mind for a change and stop ignoring what my heart wanted.

From this stage we both persuaded our parents and relatives to get our so called love marriage approved to a love cum arranged marriage, this was the first bold step I remembered I took in my life and after we got married we continued working and we began home hunting. Mumbai is surely a city that never sleeps but finding a home sweet home which guarantees you that sound sleep was a task. We were looking at our options in fringe locations around Mumbai’s municipal limits and in due course I got a job offer from Pune and I decided to give it a try.

After I got selected during my interview at Pune, It was decision time again to choose which city I was going to create a future not just for me but also my wife, I was weighed down with memories and attachment which was not easy to shake off and I thought if I do not like Pune city, I would surely be back to Mumbai as soon as possible, We started searching for a rented accommodation closer to my office and when we moved  to Pune in December 2005, this city had just started warming up to IT and ITES industry and it is totally opposite to Mumbai city which made me homesick for few days. Nagar road at Yerwada was considered to be an outskirts area and only famous for the Yerwada Jail and Aga Khan Palace, you would lose feel of the city towards the exit of Bund garden back then.

It was not easy adapting to Pune city initially and I started missing urban convenience of Mumbai and most importantly street food, getting around in the city was another issue to get groceries, household supplies etc. our weekend outings were limited to M.G Road at camp. After a year or two we started liking Pune city which started with its climate, it was not overcrowded and humid like Mumbai and biggest relief was freedom from daily train commuting. We started pondering if it was time we stopped staying on rent, after a brief search for new projects I ended up getting a good deal for an upcoming under construction property within the same society we were staying on rent. I was still dicey and thinking if it was too early or risky going for our own home in a new city with just 2 years into our jobs.

Geographically Pune city has land to expand and spread it limits which was good in a way that there was no lack of good housing projects and if you could not buy a house in one locality there is always an upcoming area where you would be able to spot the home of your choice and budget.There were minor hiccups in taking possession of our flat however we eventually settled into our new home. I realized I was looking up to my goals just like this emerging city was fuelling dreams and desires of many new settlers like me. Our home gave us a sense of personal space and it was like a blank canvas for us to paint it with a new found hope.

I remember days I have spent at my home while at leisure photographing sky in different shades, enjoying monsoon and soaking up to the sunlight in the pleasant winter mornings of Pune. I set the occasional traveler inside me free to explore beaches and other tourist spots around the city. Our child was born here and watching him grow in this home and treasuring moments of celebration and happiness has added to memoirs of our transition from a couple to parents.

I do not regret my decision buying a home early in our marriage and my #StartANewLife moment began with this new leaf that turned over for good.

This new campaign from housing.com is my inspiration for this post, an interesting mix of moving frames with a blend of ideas and creativity carrying a zing of peppy and youthful spirit, Go ahead #LookUp to raise a toast to new beginnings.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Battle of Android Flagships Revived

Android mobile phones have evolved on features, specs and pricing over the last year and one must admit that this platform has enabled adoption of smartphones amongst masses due to availability of huge variety of phones at multiple price points. When it comes to Flagship phone category, this section has witnessed the biggest upsurge in India over the last 2 years, earlier we had Samsung leading this pack followed by HTC, Motorola, Sony and LG. Indian companies like Micromax, Lava and Karbonn had started getting a stronghold on budget Android smartphone market.

Android flagship phones had begun to get saturated in terms of features and pricing was going beyond Rs 50,000 in some cases which did not always justify the product offering, Samsung started milking Galaxy line up in worst possible way by churning out phone after phone using the same body mold and design across their Note Phablet, Galaxy ‘S’ flagship, Grand series and others to follow, even with criticism mounting on sluggish Touch Wiz UI and bloatware they showed no signs of bringing in change when it was needed the most.

After using Galaxy S4 I realized that Samsung was no longer a company that was listening to customers as if its sole target was to target Apple in sales and revenue numbers and in that madness they started overpricing their phones packaged like some premium plastic device, fact was that MRP of so called premium Samsung phones used to drop by 10-15% in retail market within 3-4 months of launch.

Another weak area for Samsung was keeping up with latest Android OS releases where they faltered regularly by delaying timely update to flagship phone owners and prioritizing new Android OS to be first offered on the next Galaxy ‘S’ upgrade. By the time you decide to sell off your 1 or 1.5 years old phone you would hardly get 60-50% of the original value on second hand sale.

Post 2013 vendors like Gionee, Oppo, Xiaomi, Asus, One Plus, Lenovo, Panasonic etc. started redefining the midrange Android segment as their mobile phones had impressive build and hardware specs, few came with good battery backup though most of these phones were average on screen quality yet their major USP was pricing strategy. As more Indian consumers embraced online shopping trends like flash sale and invite based sale started making headlines. This new generation of consumers were not worried about the after-sales network or the brand itself as e-commerce brands with deep pockets were in the process of overturning smartphone sales model in India.

Samsung is still leading in smartphone sales as per this report and its latest offering – Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge faces a tough competition in Motorola Turbo, Xiaomi MI4, One plus One and another phone in waiting Asus Zenfone 2. When you pitch these Samsung phones against other midrange phone offerings you would actually start valuing your money for what you get.

I read some articles indicating that Samsung has had a change of heart now and it would probably allow users to uninstall pre-loaded apps if they wish too, which is not the case (read here) and they are bragging on all metal body for S6 and S6 edge with a side screen for notifications, surprisingly there is low focus on software gimmicks this time.

Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge have a 5.1 inch Super AMOLED QHD display which would definitely look stunning however a screen resolution of 2,560 x 1,440 pixels with a pixel density of 577 pixels per inch how do you justify this with a battery backup lesser than 2800mAh as offered on Galaxy S5? Galaxy S6 has 2550mAh capacity battery and Galaxy S6 Edge has 2600mAh capacity battery.

Both phones come with an Exynos 7420 SoC processor built on 14-nanometer architecture featuring an octa-core 64-bit (4 x 2.1GHz cores and 4 x 1.5GHz cores) along with a Mali-T760 GPU coupled with 3GB of RAM, some part of improved processing capability may save battery life however Android Lollipop OS is not exactly battery friendly. I am not sure if Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge would have Android 5.1 out of the box and a lot depends on how TouchWiz UI interacts with the Lollipop OS during regular usage.

Initial benchmark scores predict a lag free and smooth Android experience which cannot be matched by any other Android phone today, however the actual performance would again depend on your day to day usage and how much multi-tasking power you need.

Battery and Storage Expansion Slot
In a bid to make their phones slimmer and adopt a ‘unibody’ design, Samsung has done away with removable battery feature and killed the storage expansion slot, this was something that worked for them as a major differentiators against competition and it remains to be seen how market would react to this change after sales numbers start trickling in.

Midrange Phone Competition

Motorola Turbo which was recently launched in India is a rugged beast for a flagship device and the only exception to the Midrange phone category as this phone is priced just above Rs 40,000. In spite of underwhelming looks and phone design it offers high durability and performance. Xiaomi MI4 and One Plus One are still going strong in terms of a steady consumer demand, Xiaomi has decided to move away from flash sale and marking an entry in offline retail market while One plus One would be available for open sale on Amazon shifting from its invite only strategy.
MI4 and One Plus One offer impressive specs with good display resolution and pixel density, 3G RAM, 2.5 GHz quad core Snapdragon 801 processor matched with equally good image processing capabilities. Xiaomi has a very good 8MP front facing camera too. One Plus One comes with CyanogenMod Android OS that offers advanced users enough flexibility to tweak handset operating system to their needs.

I am particularly looking forward to Asus Zenfone 2 and bid my Nexus 5 goodbye, I always wanted a high end Android smartphone with dual sim capability to do away with carrying two phones (personal & office), Asus Zenfone 2 has dual sim capability that supports 4G connectivity on both sim’s and 64-bit quad core Intel Atom processor bundled with 4GB RAM would be apt upgrade for my usage.
I have had hands on experience of ZEN UI on Zenfone 5 which provides a seamless integration with Android OS offering best of stock OS experience and enough customization features to organize stuff on your phone that do not require you to install an additional launcher. The most important factor is better price to specification ratio as even the Nexus range from Google has started going beyond Rs 40,000 price point to shed the tag of economically priced phone.

Smartphone manufacturers are struggling to keep their stock moving in a very competitive market and until the next big leap in mobile technology takes place (fold able, virtual screen based phones) supported by stable demand for wearables, Midrange segment would continue to pressurize margins of big players in mobile manufacturing business.

I have moved on from being a Smartphone consumer who used to get excited by a flagship phone announcement from a certain brand touted to be that sexy eye catcher phone or the next best device that would be stuffed with the latest CPU, high end RAM, bumped up on resolution and pixels etc. etc. It is more about practical use and innovation in UI that appeals to me and I surely want a phone which offers value for money with decent quality also offering a good resale value until my next upgrade.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Experiencing Incredible India

Traveling to India? It may make you think twice and for female travelers it can be a cause of greater concern with a recent documentary on India's daughter causing enough controversy and raising fresh apprehension for tourists visiting our country.

Traveling to any part of the globe is never risk free and Indian subcontinent is no exception to this, however when you travel across different states there is more to discover and most of the times it comes as a surprise to tourist's.

It is always safe to travel with a local guide who knows the cultural and lingual landscape of the place & here is an interesting travelogue of a tourist couple to ease your doubt's to enjoy this diverse destination and have a safe journey.