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A notched up performer in ZenFone5Z by Asus

Asus has brought back its ZenUI for ZenFone5Z, which it had done away with in its ZenFone Max Pro M1 just a couple of months back, but it promised to keep it as clean and as blot free as possible. Still that hardly mattered in all discussions around the launch of the new flagship smartphone by the Taiwanese giant.

In its first impressions Zenfone 5z looks like a good performer. Asus has tried to pump in many things into its body. So as it has positioned itself as competitor to the likes of OnePlus 6 in performance, it has also simultaneously got itself a notched up display to look like Apple iPhone X.  Packed in a aluminium body the phone comes in two colours- meteor silver and midnight blue.

So, a notched display in 6.2 inches screen size is what makes it look smarter and trendy. Got glass on the back and its 165 gm body is 7.7 mm thick. Overall its design has got that premium feel.

So while the notched up display feels great for the gamers, it also gives you the option to hide the notch and let it look like more normal phone.

Good for gaming lovers

Also read: Asus dumps its ZenUI in Zenfone Max Pro M1

Simple setting to hide the notch
Bezel size and the bottom chin also has been reduced quite a lot to give it a bigger display

Asus Zenfone5z comes with Snapdragon 845 processor paired with Adreno 630 GPU for graphics. It is currently the best octa-core processor from Qualcomm, the same one as in OnePlus 6. This chip should take care of its solid performance.

The Qualcomm power

Better still is the 6GB RAM to start with and a 8GB RAM in its top variant. So, it gives wonderful experience of working on many apps simultaneously without a lag in speed or performance, making multitasking more enjoyable. ASUS is also said to have worked closely with Qualcomm to incorporate more AI features in this particular phone to make it stand out among all other phones with the same chip set.

Power packed performer

Also read: Zenfone 4 Selfie – Putting a jigsaw puzzle together

Another feature that ASUS proudly talks about its latest flagship phone is its camera. Zenfone5z comes with a dual rear camera. Main camera has a 12 MP sensor and secondary camera has a 8 MP sensor for 200 percent wider shots (but reduced resolution of course).

Dual rear camera

It also has a 8MP front camera for selfies and video calls. While the rear camera can record 4K videos, front camera has the capability to record 1080p HD videos. Looks good on paper but camera capabilities always have to be tested on hand in regular use.

 Another aspect that ASUS talks a lot about its latest phone is the use of Artificial Intelligence. It has incorporated more user sensing abilities in this phone and one of the areas loaded with this is it its camera sensor.

Bringing more to the camera technology

Phone has better features to put it to more professional use, better portraits and low-light photography. But for all those, who still prefer to let their camera work upon itself, this phone comes with a lot of options even in the auto mode.

Scene detection using artificial intelligence

One of the intelligent features is the automatic scene selection and adjusting the camera sensors accordingly. This sensor is said to be so developed that it can even differentiate between a cat and a dog. While taking a photo, sensor identifies the scene and displays its selection on the screen.

Camera detecting a flower

This feature is indeed helpful for all those who don’t want to go in nitty-gritty of composing a photograph using manual functions. Phone also uses intelligence in sorting your images in the folders section. It segregates the solo and group pictures, selfies, etc, in different folders automatically so as to help you in better search of the images from your stock.

Folder view of the gallery section

Zenfone 5z also gives a wonderful audio experience and is said to be among the only phones which have used two audio apps at a time to give an exhilarating sound. This again is something, which needs to be tested more in normal conditions for a verdict.

Audio capabilities of the ASUS Zenfone5z

ASUS also claims to have brought AI into battery charging. It has got a 3300mAh batter, similar to OnePlus 6. It also supports fast charging which can charge the phone from 5 % to 100 % in just slightly more than an hour. Battery power looks good but still remains to seen how it performs while hard gaming or long photography sessions. For all those who are habitual of night time charging, ASUS claims to have brought AI to increase the battery life which is often victim of overcharging. When plugged in for night charging, it will only charge the phone to 80% and let it be like this whole night before charging it to 100% right before the morning. Asus says, it can double the battery life in this manner.

Intelligent charging!

Unlike its earlier phones, Zenfone5z comes with a Asus headset bundled in the box. Phone retains the 3.5mm headphone jack and also offers a USB Type-C port on the bottom. The phone comes with Type-C to mini USB adaptor to enable it to get charged with other chargers as well. It is handy and relieves your memory of the pressure to remember to carry its Type-C charger everywhere.

Headset

Zenfone5z comes in three variants and two colours. Price of Rs 29,999 makes it the cheapest phone with Snapdragon 845 chip. Even the base variant comes with hybrid slot to increase the storage.

Price

Besides the ICICI bank offer, the phone also comes with a Complete Mobile Protection Plan offered by Flipkart for Rs 499 only.  Phone goes on sale from 9th July (three days from now) exclusively on Flipkart.

Have you used any ASUS smart phone earlier? How has been the experience? Share with us in the comments section below.

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ASUS dumps its ZenUI for Android Oreo in its new Zenfone Max Pro M1

Right from launch of Zenfone 2 series in India, ASUS has always kept somebody as a close competitor in front of its eyes. I am not sure, whether it works as a strategy to give targets to your team or it backfires as a marketing strategy as it always acknowledges the competitor to be the one who has set the benchmark. Whatever the case might be, but ASUS has still not shied of adopting this trick. 

But it has changed one thing since launching of Zenfone 2 almost two and half years ago. That time it went on challenging the king straightaway- iPhone 6S Plus. Might be the target consumer for it that time would have been not the iPhone buyers, but those consumers who always dream of an iPhone but were aware that they are not going to have all the money in the world to buy an iPhone. iPhone or Apple as such continued to be the antagonist even for the Zenfone 3 series.

Also read: ASUS goes premium, in show and in phones as well

Since than ASUS has stuck itself to challenging competitors more from its segment.It was Gionee M5 plus against Zenfone Max, Oppo F1 Selfie expert against Zenfone Selfie and now Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 Pro against Zenfone Max Pro M1 launched today. A pro v/s a pro! It was the global launch for the latest smartphone from the ASUS stable in Delhi. Clearly ASUS is repositioning itself in the under-20K Rs smartphone segment.

This phone is the extension of the Max series of phones meant for heavy power users. Hence ASUS has maximised it with some newest features, few of them are firsts for an ASUS phone, just like it is the Android 8.1 Oreo. ASUS has dumped its trademark ZenUI for this phone.

As for the other features, ZenFone Max Pro packs a massive 5000mAh battery, a 15.2 cms (5.99) FHD+ Full View display and a dual-camera system into an compact metal body. It is powered by the fast and energy-efficient Qualcomm® Snapdragon 636 Mobile Platform, with Adreno 509 graphics for enhanced responsiveness and outstanding gaming performance. The smartphone’s exquisite design features a stylish aluminum-alloy body and 2.5D-curved display glass, and is available in two stunning finishes: Deepsea Black, and Gray. But users will certainly miss the Corning Gorilla Glass protection in this price segment. The hallmark of the ZenFone Max Series is the huge battery capacity, designed for serious travelers and those who need maximum battery endurance. The ZenFone Max Pro (M1) has a high-capacity, high-density 5000mAh battery — the most powerful in the ZenFone Max Series — but here again users will miss the fast charging support, that is almost a norm now elsewhere. 

Also read: Zenfone 4 Selfie: Putting a jigsaw puzzle together

Immersive Display and Audio

The 15.2 cms (5.99) Full View FHD+ (1080 x 2160) display in the ZenFone Max Pro features stunning 450cd/m2 brightness, class leading 1500:1 contrast ratio and an 85% NTSC color gamut to provide users an magnificent visual experience. The ultrawide 18:9 aspect ratio and slim bezels provide a greatly expanded viewing area that makes viewing photos and watching widescreen videos incredibly immersive, and when browsing the web there’s less need for scrolling. Multitasking is also easier, as two apps fit comfortably side-by-side on the screen. 

Max Box

For powerful, immersive high-quality sound, the ZenFone Max Pro (M1) features a five-magnet speaker driven by an NXP smart amplifier that delivers higher volume with lower distortion. Compared to single-magnet speaker performance, the ZenFone Max Pro (M1) delivers 41% louder sound, 14% better low-frequency response and 12% less distortion. When coupled with Max Box, the volume can increase up to 2X louder. This Max Box comes free box packed with every unit of new phone. Interestingly, this Max Box will remind old-timers of the Audio Booster that came with Nokia 7210 Supernova almost a decade back. Actually that Audio Booster from erstwhile Nokia looked more durable and stylish in comparison to this Max Box from ASUS.

Also read: Its now dualfie time with Vision 3

Dual rear cameras

The ZenFone Max Pro (M1) comes with a dual-camera. Main one is a 13MP sensor with a f/2.2 wide-aperture lens. The secondary 5MP rear camera is a dedicated depth-sensing camera for bokeh effect in portraits and close-ups. Through the initial looks, the camera leaves much to be desired. It also has a 8MP front camera. It also has led flash light with both rear and front cameras. All other trademark ASUS beautification features are also there. ZenFone Max Pro (M1) shoots video at up to 4K UHD resolution.

Dual SIM slots and an expandable storage upto 2TB

The 2.5D-curved front edges make the ZenFone Max Pro (M1) comfortable to hold, with significantly less bulk than a standard 6-inch phone. The ZenFone Max Pro (M1) is available in two stunning finishes to match the user’s style: Deepsea Black and Meteor Silver. The ZenFone Max Pro (M1) comes with two SIM slots supporting 4G LTE, and an additional microSD slot to expand storage by up to 2TB. Its convenient triple-slot tray lets users install two SIMs and a microSD card in one easy step.

The ZenFone Max Pro (M1) is easier to use and more convenient than ever, with a new face unlock feature that lets users unlock the phone simply by looking at it — the perfect solution for messy or gloved fingers. In addition, ZenFone Max Pro (M1) sports a rear fingerprint sensor. Although both the features are yet to be tested in actual conditions for their efficiency.

A hands on experience

Special Launch Day Offers and Pricing

ZenFone Max Pro (M1) smartphone is also the first smartphone to be co-marketed and distributed online under the recently announced partnership between ASUS and Flipkart. It goes on sale from 3rd May 2018. Flipkart launches ‘Complete Mobile Protection’, India’s end to end post sale assurance at a special introductory price of just Rs. 49 in partnership with Asus especially with this phone. It offers comprehensive coverage and ultimate convenience to the customer with doorstep pick up and drop service. In addition, there is an extra Rs. 1000 off over regular exchange of models and to spread buying cost a special no cost EMI, upto 12 months on all credit cards and Bajaj Finserv Limited. ASUS ZenFone Max Pro (M1) will be available in two variants namely 3GB / 32GB for Rs.10,999 and the 4GB / 64GB for Rs. 12,999. There will be soon a third variant as well- a 6GB / 64GB with 16MP + 5 MP rear camera and 16 MP front camera. That will be available for 14,999 Rs. But only sometime later.

Also read: ASUS goes MAX with its new Zenfone

Vodafone also has an offer on ZenFone Max Pro M1 for benefits up to Rs.3200. Offers include, Free additional data, Free Red Sheild Device security plan for 2 years and weekly telecom and non-telecom offers for youth customers.

Have you used any ASUS smartphone? How was the experience? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Which are the World’s most popular cruises!


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The winners of the 8th annual Cruise Critic Cruisers’ Choice Awards – naming the most popular cruise ships of the year, based on consumer reviews shared on Cruise Critic over the past 12 months have been revealed. This year’s list of winners has the wide range of ships awarded as the best of the best, explains Colleen McDaniel, Senior Executive Editor of Cruise Critic.

Also Read: Vagabond at Cruise- Super Star Virgo

Colleen says, “You have two of the largest ships at sea, alongside luxury yachts and small expedition ships that sail to some of the most far-flung destinations across the globe. As different as these ships are, the common thread is the exceptional ratings they received from actual guests. Whether you’re looking for a mega ship or a more intimate vessel, a port-heavy itinerary or laid-back beach escape, this list is a fantastic resource to guide to you to a ship perfectly suited to your needs.”

Large Ship Category

  • Celebrity Cruises was this year’s big winner in the Large Ship Category, winning five awards, including Best Overall, Best Dining, Best Public Rooms and Best Service for Celebrity Equinox, and Best for Value for Celebrity Silhouette. Celebrity Silhouette sails a number of itineraries, including the Caribbean, Mediterranean and Baltic and has been praised for its wide range of dining and entertainment options onboard.
  • Royal Caribbean International received four awards in the Large Ship Category, including Best Cabins, Best Embarkation and Best for Fitness & Recreation for Harmony of the Seas, and Best Entertainment for Allure of the Seas. Allure of the Seas features a number of chart-topping shows including Mamma Mia! and How to Train Your Dragon performed on ice.

Mid-Size Ship Category

  • Oceania Cruises was awarded the most accolades in the Mid-Size Category, snagging five awards for Best Overall, Best Cabins, Best Dining, Best for Fitness & Recreation and Best Public Rooms for its ship, Riviera. This is the fourth consecutive year that the line was awarded in all five categories. Riviera offers Caribbean, Baltic and Mediterranean sailings, and will begin sailing to Cuba in 2019.
  • Celestyal Cruises won two awards in the Mid-Size Category for its Celestyal Crystal – Best Shore Excursions and Best for Value. The ship sailed Cuba year-round, but will be redeployed to sail in the Mediterranean later in 2018.

Also Read: Adventure seekers can now visit Havana on Empress of the Seas

Small-Mid Ship Category

  • Viking Ocean Cruises was the runaway winner in the Small-Mid Category, winning in every category but one – Viking Sea was named Best Overall, Best Cabins, Best for Fitness & Recreation, Best Shore Excursions and Best for Value; Viking Sky was named Best Entertainment and Best Public Rooms; and Viking Star was named Best Dining and Best Service. Viking Sea was also named Best for First-Timers across all size categories.

Small Ship Category

  • Windstar Cruises won four awards in the Small Category – all for different ships in its fleet. Star Pride was named Best Cabins, Wind Spirit named Best for Fitness & Recreation, Wind Star named Best Service and Star Legend, Best Public Rooms. Wind Star and Wind Spirit are both four-masted sailing ships, while Star Pride and Star Legend are luxury yachts.
  • Silversea Cruises won three awards in the Small Category – Best Overall, Best Shore Excursions and Best for Value – for its 100-passenger Silver Galapagos. The ship is all-inclusive and offers year-round Galapagos cruises.

The winners of the 8th annual Cruise Critic Cruisers’ Choice Awards are awarded in four ship size classes, based on passenger capacity (Large: 2,000+ passengers; Mid-Size: 1,200 to 1,999 passengers; Small-Mid Size: 400- 1,199 passengers; Small: Fewer than 400 passengers.) The rankings are calculated using ratings published with user-submitted reviews on Cruise Critic.

First-place winners include:

Best Cruise Overall

  • Celebrity Equinox (Large) – Celebrity Cruises
  • Riviera (Mid-Sized) – Oceania Cruises
  • Viking Sea (Small-Mid) – Viking Ocean Cruises
  • Silver Galapagos (Small) – Silversea Cruises

Best Cruise Ship Cabins

  • Harmony of the Seas (Large) – Royal Caribbean International
  • Riviera (Mid-Sized) – Oceania Cruises
  • Viking Sea (Small-Mid) – Viking Ocean Cruises
  • Star Pride (Small) – Windstar Cruises

Also Read: Uniworld’s S.S. Joie De Vivre sets sail on maiden voyage

Best Cruise Ships for Dining

  • Celebrity Equinox (Large) – Celebrity Cruises
  • Riviera (Mid-Sized) – Oceania Cruises
  • Viking Star (Small-Mid) – Viking Ocean Cruises
  • National Geographic Explorer (Small) – Lindblad Expeditions
Allure of the Seas

Best Cruise Ships for Embarkation

  • Harmony of the Seas (Large) – Royal Caribbean International
  • Amsterdam (Mid-Sized) – Holland America Line
  • Pacific Princess (Small-Mid) – Princess Cruises
  • Celebrity Xpedition (Small) – Celebrity Cruises

Best Cruise Ships for Entertainment

  • Allure of the Seas (Large) – Royal Caribbean International
  • Disney Wonder (Mid-Sized) – Disney Cruise Line
  • Viking Sky (Small-Mid) – Viking Ocean Cruises
  • L’Austral (Small) — Ponant

Also read: Costa Cruise to sail from Mumbai to Maldives and Colombo

Best Cruise Ships for Fitness & Recreation

  • Harmony of the Seas (Large) – Royal Caribbean International
  • Riviera (Mid-Sized) – Oceania Cruises
  • Viking Sea (Small-Mid) – Viking Ocean Cruises
  • Wind Spirit (Small) – Windstar Cruises

Best Cruise Ships for Public Rooms

  • Celebrity Equinox (Large) – Celebrity Cruises
  • Riviera (Mid-Sized) – Oceania Cruises
  • Viking Sky (Small-Mid) – Viking Ocean Cruises
  • Star Legend (Small) – Windstar Cruises

Best Cruise Ships for Service

  • Celebrity Equinox (Large) – Celebrity Cruises
  • Amsterdam (Mid-Sized) – Holland America Line
  • Viking Star (Small-Mid) – Viking Ocean Cruises
  • Wind Star (Small) – Windstar Cruises

Also read: Dubai gets world’s largest cruise terminal at Mina Rashid

Best Cruise Ships for Shore Excursions

  • Carnival Breeze (Large) – Carnival Cruise Line
  • Celestyal Crystal (Mid-Sized) – Celestyal Cruises
  • Viking Sea (Small-Mid) – Viking Ocean Cruises
  • Silver Galapagos (Small) – Silversea Cruises

Best Cruise Ships for Value

  • Celebrity Silhouette (Large) – Celebrity Cruises
  • Celestyal Crystal (Mid-Sized) – Celestyal Cruises
  • Viking Sea (Small-Mid) – Viking Ocean Cruises
  • Silver Galapagos (Small) – Silversea Cruises

Also Read: Most Eagerly awaited Indian Wedding of the year on Costa Cruise

Best Cruises for Families

  • Carnival Breeze – Carnival Cruise Line
  • Best for First Timers
  • Viking Sea – Viking Ocean Cruises

(Source: cruisecritic.com)

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Lenovo launches limited edition 2-in-1 Glass convertible laptop

Lenovo, one of the world’s leading PC players and No. 1 Tablet brand in India, has announced the launch of the Yoga 920 limited edition Vibes, a 2-in-1 glass convertible laptop. The new and premium Yoga 920 is an illustration of the increasingly natural interface between humans and machines through its stand-apart and premium features. The premium convertible Yoga 920 offers a unique limited edition glass cover design, ‘Vibes’ that represents the dynamism of Yoga through simplicity, style and refinement. The Vibes design was crowdsourced through a contest with some of the world’s most ambitious design trendsetters.

Hero Stand mode Front facing right Sketch Silver Pen without clip

A key feature is a digital pen with 4096 levels of sensitivity, and a feather like touch, capable of capturing creative potential with pen-on-paper sensitivity. The device comes equipped with far-field technology, enabling Cortana, a voice-activated intelligent assistant that recognizes voice commands from up to 4 meters away and in standby mode. A first of a kind feature in Lenovo’s consumer portfolio is the 2x thunderbolt ports –which can offer one of the fastest data transfer capabilities, UHD IPS display – one of the widest and highest resolutions and a colour consistency at all viewing angles of up to 178 degrees.

Rajesh Thadani, Executive Director – Consumer Business and Ecommerce, Lenovo India said, “The YOGA brand has been central to Lenovo’s leadership in the fastest growing PC category of convertibles. Yoga 920 is an ultra-premium convertible that packs the best of features in an unbelievably thin and light metal body. It captures the essence of Lenovo’s effort to give customer-centric products that are different, disruptive and innovative and solve real computing, entertainment and mobility issues, in style.”

Yoga 920 Glass-Vibes

Yoga 920 – premium convertible with style and performance

  • Productivity: High speed connectivity with AC 2*2 Wifi, faster data transfers and Lenovo Bluetooth Active Pen for pen-on-paper precision. The Active Pen with 4,096 levels of pen sensitivity dramatically expands the creative and cross-application potential of the PC.
  • High Performance: With latest 8th Gen Intel® Quad Core U Series processors with integrated graphics and twin Thunderbolt™ USB-C ports
  • Immersive experience: Wide angle 4K touchscreen display with razor-thin borders and  JBL Speakers with integrated Dolby Atmos technology
  • Stylish form factor: Weighing in at just 1.37 kg (3.02 lbs) and an ultra-thin 13.95 mm (0.55 in its case is all-metal unibody in distinctive platinum color. Yoga’s signature watchband hinge offers incredible user flexibility, including typing in laptop mode, presenting in stand mode, browsing in tablet mode, or watching videos in tent mode.
  • Maximum security and assistance: Fingerprint reader and Windows Hello OS
  • Price: Lenovo Yoga 920 limited edition Vibes is available for INR 127,150/- exclusive of all taxes. Hence post taxes, price will be notch higher.

Its now Dualfie time with Vision 3

Smartphone makers are getting as obsessed with selfie features as are the smartphone consumers with their phone selfies. Just a few months back ASUS tried to widen the selfie with a 120 degree FOV (field of view) ’wefie’ and now InFocus mobiles have gone a step further with their Vision 3 smartphone which gives you a ‘Dualfie’, where you can capture in a single shot image from both the from as well as the rear camera. Thus when you are taking a selfie, you can also show what is happening in front of you, i.e. behind the camera! What more, this front camera also gives you 120 degree FOV.

Only catch might be that the rear camera is 13MP and 5MP dual lens and front camera is 8MP, which some people might feel as just OK with current industry trends. But what needs to be considered is that this camera also gives class leading 5.7-inch full vision screen and 18:9 or 82.4% HD High-resolution screen ratio display. When all this comes with just a price tag of 6,999 INR than it is worth a bargain. The phone goes on sale from midnight today i.e. 20th December exclusively on Amazon.

Phone was launched in Delhi today by Dr. Luo Zhongsheng, Global CEO for Sharp & InFocus Mobile. With this launch the US company has put some big goals in front of it for the new year. This company has all its phones manufactured by Taiwanese company Foxconn. Production and assembly is placed in the hands of Foxconn while InFocus handles global sales and marketing teams around the world. Company this year also launched some low cost high performing smartphones like Turbo 5 Plus and is now trying to catch up with other competitors like ASUS and Oppo.

Phone is equipped with a powerful 4000mAh non removable battery tempting enough to enjoy videos on a bigger screen. Supported by a full screen Vision 3 also sports single key split screen to work on 2 apps simultaneously. The larger screen makes this feature more viable to use. Front camera also comes loaded with industry standard beauty features and allows up to 7 levels of beauty modifications. The front camera also sports background blur feature to blur out unnecessary background and give more sharpness to the subjects. Another interesting camera feature of the InFocus Vision 3 is that is allows users to click and share photo stories in a grid. Grid photography allows users to take photos creatively, which can be directly shared on social media and with peers.

As for built, phone is powered by MediaTek MTK 6737H quad core 1.3GHz processor and the Android 7.0 Nougat operating system. Vision 3 comes loaded with 2GB RAM + 16GB variant which is expandable up to 64GB memory (through micro SD). Infocus has also introduced its latest UI with new-look icons and design and named it Smile UX. Vision 3 is a dual SIM smartphone that accepts Nano GSM SIMs in both the slots. On connectivity front, options include Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth, USB OYG, FM, 3G and 4G LTE networks.

The smart Fingerprint sensor allows the users to save up to 4 sets of fingerprints and access multiple applications at the touch of a tip. It also has standard gravity sensor, ambient light sensor and proximity sensor. What can be a game changer for InFocus is that it plans to bring face detection ID to Vision 3. This technology was much talked about recently with launch of Apple’s iPhone8 and iPhoneX. If InFocus is able to put it together in its low priced Vision 3, than it can certainly catch a many eyes as it would be first in class and category.

Perfect host for a birding trip


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For many people visiting to a wildlife sanctuary or a national park, what matters most is a good trip to the park, but it certainly helps if you get a comfortable place of stay after a tiring trip to park. Sunbird  hotel at Bharatpur gives many reasons for a pleasant stay.

Outside the rooms said to be two best on the property

Too many plus for a hotel which normally won’t fall into the big brand category. Actually, to my surprise it was few of those hotels which hardly gave any reason to complain or even dissatisfied with. When we checked in, the staff said that we were being given the two best rooms in the property and we couldn’t have disagreed. For a place like Bharatpur, this hotel has one of the best location you can ask for. Property is just five minutes walk from the main gate of Bird sanctuary.

Hotel is located in the area called as Saras circle and most of the hotels in Bharatpur catering to tourists coming to bird sanctuary are in the same area.

Spacious room with an extra bed

We booked two rooms and had asked for extra beds in both the rooms at he time of online booking. To my pleasant surprise, at the time of check-in the extra beds were already in place in both the rooms. My experience so far, even at many five star hotels has been that they will place the extra bed only by late in the evening. But here, they were already in place. It actually helped all of us to immediately stretch ourselves after a long road journey.

A garden right in front of our rooms

Rooms were very spacious, clean and good. Right in front of our rooms was a beautiful garden that constantly gave us a nice cosy feeling of being close to a bird sanctuary. Actually, whenever we stepped out of room, we felt like having a slice of the bird sanctuary. Full marks to design of the hotel in this regard. You might feel like seating outside your room lazily on a chair and enjoy the surroundings or just read a book.

A meeting room in the garden

Actually from outside, you don’t get the feel of the property. You just can’t imagine that it would be so big inside. But once you move inside further from the lobby, you get to see the space. There are four cottages around this garden and four rooms including the two deluxe rooms we stayed in.

One of the cottage around garden

Rooms are neat and clean with wardrobe, study table, a sofa, safe and tea-coffee maker and a 32 inch LCD television, but you hardly feel like switching the TV on in this place.

Another view of the room

Hotel has been aesthetically designed with traditional Rajasthan interiors. Moreover, rooms have photographs or beautiful pencil sketches of various birds found inside the Bharatpur sanctuary. It always gives you a feeling of the place you are in.

Photos and sketches of birds in the rooms

As far as food is concerned, we didn’t have meals here, so can’t say anything about it. But buffet breakfast was part of the tariff, so we had it on all days and was satisfactory. It has to be acknowledged that it is tough for a hotel to manage breakfast when it is so close to a wildlife sanctuary, because most guests will be either having an early breakfast before going to the bird sanctuary or will have a late breakfast after returning from sanctuary. But staff managed it very calmly and kept fulfilling all requirements. But having said that, food is perhaps the only department where they need to improve a bit.

Staff was in general very courteous and forthcoming. Overall stay gave us a relaxed feeling. Surely looking for another visit.

Location: Hotel is located at Saras circle which comes as soon as you enter the Bharatpur city. While coming from Fatehpur Sikri, when you reach Saras circle a road goes straight into the city and another one, the Agra-Jaipur national highway turns left. Hotel Sunbird is just 100 metres away from the circle on this road. Main gate of bird sanctuary is further 200 metres from the hotel.  Fatehpur Sikri is just 20 kms from Bharatpur.

P.S. Bharatpur doesn’t have too many good independent restaurants. Most of talked about restaurants are attached to one or another hotel. We tried to find some independent good food options, but were not satisfied. You need to keep that in mind.

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ZenFone 4 Selfie : Putting a jigsaw puzzle together

Front cameras of your smartphones are again in focus. Just a year after it upgraded its Zenfone Selfie to launch a new set of diamond cut phones, ASUS has come up with a whole series of Zenfone 4 for selfie addicts. Zenfone 4 Selfie series has already been launched by the Taiwanese maker in other countries and now it comes to India. On Thursday, it launched three models in the ZenFone 4 Selfie series- Zenfone 4 Selfie Pro, the top notch one with a price tag of Rs 23,999 and then there are two models of Zenfone 4 Selfie- one with the dual cameras and another with just single camera. Dual camera version comes at a price tag of Rs 14,999 and single camera version for Rs 9,999.

ASUS has also announced to extend its partnership with e-retailer Flipkart and hence these phones will be available exclusively on Flipkart. To celebrate the Flipkart’s upcoming Big Billion Day, the dual camera version of Zenfone 4 Selfie will be available with an additional discount of Rs 1000 (i.e. for Rs 13,999) on the BBD. These phones will be available from 21st September onwards.

Third major take-away of the day with ASUS was the latest version of ZenUI. Answering all the prayers of its users ASUS has now cleaned up its user interface of all those irritating pre-installed applications. Wow!! So now ZenUI 4.0 comes up with just 13 pre-installed apps, almost a third of what used to be 35 apps in its ZenUI 3.0. Many of those useless apps have been completely wiped out and few others have been clubbed together in single app. This ZenUI 4.0 sits atop Android 7.1.1 Nougat OS which will later be upgraded free to Android O. Another wonderful thing. Actually this was the first launch of ZenUI 4.0 worldwide. Fairly, ASUS is also providing all users with ZenUI 3.0 to upgrade free to first ZenUI 4.0 and then to Android O.

Asus sent a jigsaw puzzle as an invite to today’s event. Clearly, putting together a great smartphone is a real jigsaw puzzle. Has Asus been able to do that really? Will be known only when hands-on reviews are out. But first impressions are quite descent.
Specially Asus Zenfone 4 Selfie Pro has got a premium touch to it with a metallic unibody. This being a high-end phone is best of the lot. Will talk about lot of other features later. Most talked about one is the transit from selfie to wefie when you actually take photos from the front camera of not you alone but of a bigger group and background. That’s when you need a wider front camera. Zenfone 4 Selfie Pro gives you a 120 degree FOV (field of view) second front camera with an aperture of f/2.2. Duopixel main front camera gives you a 24MP quality with 83 degree FOV and aperture of f/1.8.

With a ‘Selfie Master’ app, portrait mode and its beautification technology, this ASUS phone knows where its heart lies. Another highlight of this camera is 4K quality video recording with both its camera- front as well as rear. That is claimed to be first in the segment feature. Dual sim capable phone comes with a 4 GB RAM and 64 GB internal storage. It supports expandable storage upto 2TB through a dedicated micro SD card slot.

Fabulous property, excellent location : Norbu House, Mcleodganj

Best thing about places like McLeodganj is that, distances seem longer in the map than they actually are. Although being a hill station there are some slopes and ascends, but then that’s what you have come here for. It took hardly five minutes of us to reach the Hotel Norbu House in taxi from the McLeodganj bus stand, but if you travel light than you can easily walk down, if indeed you love walking. It has a small place to park vehicles though, and in place like McLeodganj it often seems like a bonus as most hotels in the market area won’t have a parking at all and one would have to use public parking place near bus stand.

Reception area of the Hotel Norbu House reflects Tibetan culture

I had been to Mcleodganj earlier. This time search for a different stay landed us to Hotel Norbu House. Online posts and reviews made me the admirer of the property. And actual visit and subsequent stay did nothing to disappoint in any manner. Its a charming hotel with mix of modernity and tradition. We had reached here quite early because our bus from Delhi has a scheduled early morning arrival. Hotel staff was quite courteous and responsive to allow us an early check-in and our room was ready by the time we had a lemon-honey-ginger tea at the beautiful terrace restaurant. It is said to be one of the most beautiful terrace restaurant in Mcleodganj. Room was spacious and clean.

Terrace area right outside the restaurant can be used as place for dining or just relaxing and reading while enjoying the terrific views

This hotel is actually a family owned property who earlier had a Green Hotel in the main market on Bhagsu Temple road. That Green Hotel was one of the earliest properties in town. Now the Green Hotel is more of budget hotel and Norbu House is a bit niche. I had hear a lot about the owner Mr Wagdu and the way he takes care of each and every guest himself so lovingly.  I wanted to meet him, but he was away those days.

Splendid view of sprawling Kangra valley from the terrace of the Hotel Norbu House
Stars descend in the valley. That’s how the night looks like from the terrace of Hotel Norbu House

One of the prime attraction of hotel is its location, which is quite close to market and on the top of ridge right opposite to Dalai Lama temple. Easily approachable and what stumps you is the view of the valley that it commands. The lobby and the restaurant area through its design and decoration makes you feel that you are in Dalai Lama’s city with glimpse of Tibetan culture and traditions.

Restaurant of the Hotel Norbu House. You can have meals here or outside at the terrace. Buffet breakfast is also served here.

Hotel provides a buffet breakfast and it was quite delicious. Even the meal options were good but a bit on higher side of price range in comparison to options available in the market. So, not a budget hotel but look for some deals online to get best prices as this is one of the top places worth staying in Mcleodganj. You can also enjoy some Tibetan delicacies here.

A conference room that can be multi-purpose hall

Hotel has rooms in different categories- suites, luxury rooms and the executive rooms. It also has a conference room.  Hotel is build along the ridge in six floors. Reception area is actually on the third floor. There is a lift along with the stairs. Lift goes up from the terrace side and is made of glass to let you enjoy the panoramic views of the valley while going up or down.

Bedroom in one of the suites of Hotel Norbu House
Living area in one of the suites of the Hotel Norbu House

Suites and the Luxury rooms on the lower floors have common terrace in from of the rooms with a full valley view and ample sitting and relaxing area. While rooms on the upper floor have balcony attached to the room. Dhauladhar ranges are right behind the hotel and you can also have a glance of snow-peaked mountains from the terrace or balcony.

Terrace on the upper floor along with balconies for rooms
Common terrace for another floor in front of set of rooms
Terrace in the front of the suites and luxury rooms

There is also a nunnery inside the hotel complex. This hotel is also favourite among those who come here either for meditation or some spiritual time. Hotel provides a free wifi facility. Rooms have all type of amenities and facilities. Hotel might not look impressive from outside (although there is hardly any face of the hotel that you can see), but it is as comfortable as it can be, once you enter. Certainly worth a try, if your budget permits.

Mcleodganj

Mcleodganj is best know as the headquarters of the Dalai Lama’s Tibetan government in exile. There is Dalai Lama temple here and also his residence. Although he travels so much around the world that his being in Mcleodganj is treated as a big occasion. Dalai Lama temple is on walking distance from Hotel Norbu House. Mcleodganj is also know for Bhagsu falls and Bhagsunag temple. Mcleodganj is also base for many trekking expeditions in the Dhauladhar ranges of Himalayas including the very famous weekend trek to Triund.

Please Read: Triund in the shadow of the Indrahar Pass

How to Reach:

Mcleodganj is eight kilometres further ahead of Dharamshala. Dharamshala-Mcleodganj are well connected by road to nearest railheads- Kangra (for narrow gauge on Pathankot-Jogindernagar line) and Pathankot (for broad gauge on Delhi-Jammu line).  Kangra is 20 kms and Pathankot is 90 kms from Dharamshala. Dharamshala has an airport at Gaggal, which is 12 kms from the city. Major cities in North like Delhi, Chandigarh, Amritsar or Shimla have overnight luxury bus services to Dharamshala-Mcleoadganj.

Entrance to the Hotel Norbu House

How willing are you to have a phone for live streaming!

 

Honestly enough, I never tried live streaming myself on any social media platform. Never found any occasion to do so, or if there was an occasion, it never came to my mind. Although, before Facebook or Instagram, I had opportunity to go live for my YouTube channel. I would have loved to do that given the number of subscribers, but still I didn’t. That makes me really wonder, whether people go live on social media platforms that often! I have indeed seen a few facebookers going live, but not in big numbers. Having said that, I still find it a cool idea to have a smartphone dedicated to live streaming. ASUS has been leader in many technological innovations and now it claims that its Zenfone Live is the first phone to have live beautification technology.

So, the idea of phone depends on how willing are you to go live streaming. But then, will you go for a phone for just live streaming on social media platforms? It can be an added advantage but can it be the main driving force for your decision to buy a phone?

Zenfone Live comes in three exciting colours- Navy Black, Rose Pink, and Shimmer Gold.

Given that one needs to live stream itself quite often- what would be the requirements! A good connectivity which doesn’t breaks the streaming or freezes it, good microphones that can relate the sound as desired and of course a good camera that captures you beautifully. All these three things are also necessities of modern smartphones. But for this phone ASUS has specifically worked upon last function the most. In this regard, ASUS has sensed that a live streaming most means broadcasting oneself and one hindrance to that is the apprehension about how one would look on the camera. That’s the reason for ASUS to work upon the live beautification technology which can control the way you look on live streaming. That means that you can control the fairness or sharpness of your features.

Still not reviewing the phone as yet to get a unit for the full review. Just discussing here the features of the phone.  ASUS claims that ZenFone Live’s front-facing camera is made for snapping sharper, clearer selfies. The sensor has extra-large, 1.4μm pixels that improve sensitivity to light by up to 200 percent compared to smartphones with standard smaller pixels. ZenFone Live also has a soft-light LED flash that illuminates true skin tones, and it’s equipped with a wide-angle lens with an 82° field of view — so users are able to frame, capture details in wide angle and broadcast it to the world.

ZenFone Live also has a 13MP rear camera with f/2.0-aperture, five-prism rear lens, and benefits from ASUS PixelMaster’s industry-leading low-light technology to increase light sensitivity by up to 400 percent. It also enhances noise reduction and boosts color contrast by up to 400 percent. It supports up to 12 different camera modes, including real-time Beautification, Low Light and Super Resolution modes, to captures beautiful, high-resolution photos.

To ensure that the user’s voice is always heard, ZenFone Live has a pair of highly sensitive MEMS microphones that are expertly tuned and precisely positioned to reduce noise. This careful arrangement means that speech pickup is crystal clear, so users are able enjoy live-streamed social-media fun in total clarity — whether the backdrop is a busy street, a noisy bar, or the hustle and bustle of a shopping mall.

ZenFone Live features a powerful speaker with a five-magnet design and metal voice coil to produce loud and clear audio with supreme quality in every scenario. This speaker is powered by a smart amplifier that increases audio resolution and loudness while ensuring that the speaker is not damaged.

ZenFone Live also features DTS Headphone:X™, a revolutionary surround-sound technology that synthesizes a full 7.1-channel virtual surround-sound experience, making all content sound better over headphones. With this unique combination, ZenFone Live produces delivers audio that’s up to 67 percent louder than the previous generation, while also extending low-frequency reproduction by up to 17 percent and reducing distortion by up to 15 percent.

BeautyLive app introduces the world to real-time beautification, allowing users to create and maintain the perfect look when going live on their favorite social-networking sites.

BeautyLive combines smart software algorithms and hardware acceleration to automatically smooth skin and remove blemishes, and it integrates seamlessly with Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. The result is the ability to craft and broadcast instant glamor that keeps the user looking as beautiful as they want to be throughout every live-streaming session. The BeautyLive feature works with both front and rear camera.

 

 

ZenFone Live’s brilliant 5 inch IPS HD display shines brightly through strong glass that is precision-milled at the edges to create a gentle, 2.5D curve. The natural, ergonomic feel of the glass flows around to the back, for comfort that matches the fine style. ZenFone Live also has an impressive 75 percent screen-to-body ratio, for more screen and less bulk.

The ZenFone Live features a premium build quality with sandblasted metallic finish that feels as great as it looks.

To enable all these features in a decent phone apparatus Zenfone Live has got Qualcomm® Snapdragon™  Quad-Core Processor with Adreno 305 GPU. On storage front it has 2GB RAM, 16GB ROM (MicroSD support up to 128GB SDXC) and 100GB of Google Drive space for 2 years. AT 2650 mAh, the battery might be a bit turn-off, but than there has to be some compromise.

It has got multiple connectivity options- Dual SIM Dual standby (2G/3G/4G); Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Wi-Fi-Direct, Miracast, hotspot, Bluetooth V 4.0; LTE Cat. 4 and GPS/AGPS/GLONASS.

Like it or hate it, but ASUS’ standard ZenUI app is there to boost up many performances. Phone comes with Android 6.0 with ZenUI 3.0. And, all this comes for mere 9,999 INR for the starting model!

So! Wanna Go Live!! I will certainly like to go live next time I am travelling, but still not sure whether I would need the BeautyLive App!!

 

A Den of wilderness

Indian Bloggers

Its vacation time and also plan some quick trips. Besides regular beach and hill station trips, national parks, especially the tiger reserves are the most preferred ones. For two reasons precisely- it is time to go to tiger reserves before they close for yearly four month monsoon vacation period. Secondly, in this sweltering heat, chances of wildlife sightings around water bodies is more likely.

(Read: Some wild moments in Sariska!)

Outside the main gate of the Tiger reserve, which is very close to Tiger Den

Had done quite a few posts about Sariska Tiger Reserve and places around it of lately. Now it is time to look at places of stay.So here is the review of the place, where we stayed- RTDC’s Tiger Den, located at the Sariska Gate of the Tiger Reserve. I have stayed in these government tourism properties at various places across North and had mixed experiences.

(Also read: Birding in a Tiger reserve)

RTDC hotel Tiger Den at Sariska Tiger Reserve

There can be no denying to the fact that when you are visiting a jungle, you will certainly like to stay at a place closest to the jungle, which can give you real feel of it. Tiger Den is definitely one such place near Sariska Tiger Reserve and National Park. Obviously, when you are there for a jungle trip, least you should expect is any luxury. Tiger Den is a property of Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation (RTDC). Hence, it has all the pros of a government property and it also has all the cons of a government property. But despite all the cons, I will still always love to stay here, whenever I visit Sariska. Ever since, I went to Sariska for the first time, may be roughly thirty years back, I had dreamt of staying in Sariska Palace, but this time I felt that apart from luxury, Tiger Den is better in all other respects.

Way to reception and lobby area

Biggest positive is the distance. This RTDC hotel is just about 100 metres before the entry gate to the tiger reserve. In this respect, this is the closest place to stay near Tiger Reserve. As with all government properties, they have the best locations and are the most spacious. Hence, being close to jungle means that its wild around and you feel like staying inside the jungle. Peacocks and monkeys are around everywhere to give you some wild company. But this also means that you are discouraged to walk out of the hotel on foot, once its dark outside.

(Want to go around Sariska? Read: Khajuraho of Aravalis: Neelkanth)

Main gate of the hotel complex coming from the jungle

This hotel is also close to the booking office for the safaris inside the park. SO, when you are staying here, you have an added advantage of reaching booking office in less time and thus get early in the queue if you don’t have an online booking. Its helpful mostly for spot booking for early morning safaris, when you need to be as early as 4.30 or 5 in the morning at the queue for a 6 am safari. Being close means, you don’t have to take whole your group to booking office, as just one early riser can go and stand in queue, by the time others get ready.

Hotel has two wings and two floors. Only the front wing has two floors. Back wing has only rooms on ground floor. These rooms have beautiful, big, lush green lawn in their front. Nice place to relax and for young ones to enjoy. These rooms also have balconies.

(Enjoy forts? Read: Kankawari: A fort and a history in deep jungle!)

Biggest con of this property is the general apathy towards maintenance of the property, which is common to perhaps all government tourist properties, barring few exceptions. If at all they give some effort to maintenance, these government run tourist rest houses can give a run for money to all private players. But since that’s not going to happen anyway, so better to keep prepared. Its not messy, but furnitures, beds, cupboards etc seem to have not been refurbished for ages. They need to bring in some professionalism, but honestly speaking it seems very unlikely having heard all the inside stories from the department and within the government.

Divine protection

Food is normally buffet here, with no menu of choice, but it is still good and tasty. I would have preferred some local dishes in the food. But there are non-veg items as well as sweet dishes included in the meal. Best thing is that buffet breakfast and buffet dinner are included in room tariff. That makes it a bit easier to manage daily routines. Otherwise, there are very-very limited options of eating out anywhere nearby. As for day time, you will normally be out visiting nearby places, where you can get food. If in any case, you are still in the hotel during day time, you can order food, for a charge ofcourse. Besides, you can get tea, and other snacks, pakodas etc at any time of the day.

(Looking for some thrill around Sariska? Read: Haunted fort of Bhangarh: Nothing spooky about it!)

Royal settings!

Staff here has been generally helpful and courteous. Two winter nights, when we were here, they arranged separate campfire for us. They were also accommodating in our choice of room, though unfortunately they had limited options in their inventory. Despite that, it was a nice stay overall.

Its so beautiful around, especially in spring time

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