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BEST TECH BRANDS
Team CHIP | 25 January 2011
BEST TECH BRANDS
OUR READERS VOICE THEIR OPINIONS!
By TEAM CHIP
What goes into making a truly great brand? A company can make the best products in the world, but a combination of factors need to fall into place for a brand to truly strike a chord with consumers. Some brands have been around since our grandparents' time, adapting to technology changes as they happen. Others seem to have popped up only yesterday, but have been innovative and creative enough to catch our attention.
The perception of a brand will make or break the company that owns it. CHIP readers, being some of the most knowledgeable and educated out there, have now voiced their opinions en masse! Read on to see which brands walked away with the most prizes, and which companies need to head back to the drawing board!
Dell wins our poll by a wide margin, thanks no doubt to their aggressive pricing, high visibility, and excellent brand image. Dell's range is quite vast, but the potential confusion is offset by the sheer number of customization options on offer. The product portfolio is divided into home/lifestyle, small office and enterprise offerings, and the range of desktops includes stylish compact units, slim cabinets, all-in-ones, professional workstations, and of course the hulking, top-of-the-line Alienware gaming rigs (if Alienware hadn't been acquired by Dell, we wouldn't be seeing these in India at all). Dell's website is also legendary, allowing users to sift through every single model and choose from a variety of customization options to see what they can get in any given budget. The Zino series nettops are priced starting around Rs 12,000 (without monitor), while the more mainstream Inspiron line starts at around Rs 26,000. When tested, these systems usually come out with excellent scores. We're generally pleased with the overall quality and aesthetics of Dell's desktops, which includes keyboards, mice and monitors. Word-of-mouth reports also suggest that customers are happy with Dell's customer service, if not their confusingly worded warranty schemes.
HP, traditionally one of the most widely recognized brands in the market, takes second place. HP has spent heavily on advertising this year, and has moved away from bulky traditional desktops to sleek all-in-ones. The company has been touting their line of touch-capable all-in-ones particularly heavily. They hope to reinvigorate the market by adding a whole new dimension to the experience of using a PC. This depends a lot on software support, so it would be great to see manufacturers releasing more and more programs to take advantage of such features. Of course, it also helps that the machines are beautifully engineered and are consistently good looking! Apart from this, HP has a very strong presence in corporate environments, where their machines are bought by the dozen to be used across large offices. The Compaq subsidiary also enjoys immense brand recall in India, so associating it with affordable machines has paid off for HP.
3 ASSEMBLED PCs
Surprising us all, second place in the Desktops category of the CHIP Readers' Choice Awards goes to assembled PCs--this wasn't even an option in our survey form, but enough people chose "Other" and then typed "assembled" or "build my own" when prompted, to catapult this to second place. While this doesn't count as a brand, we decided that assembled PCs should be recognized in second place since there is so much obvious demand. Of course CHIP readers being extremely discerning about their tech, the results are skewed towards an audience that is far more comfortable with assembling a PC than a general sample of the population might be!
Things have certainly changed over the past few years, with PC assembly losing its sheen in favor of laptops and sleek all-in-ones. It's nearly impossible to find cabinets that look and feel as good as the ones that come with branded systems. Prices have also fallen to the point where there's almost zero profit in the assembly business. But the market is saved by those who simply demand better choices of internal components, and who know exactly what they are looking for. Enthusiasm aside, there's also nothing quite like having a friendly and familiar engineer on call to solve PC problems as they crop up!
Perhaps because there’s no competition from assemblers, Dell’s lead in the laptop segment is even wider than it is for desktops. The gap between Dell and its nearest competitors is actually quite astonishing. This is purely a survey of brand preference, so while there’s no correlation between these numbers and actual sales figures, it’s still extraordinarily good news for the company. Just as with desktops, Dell offers a wide and well defined range of laptops aimed at various target groups: entry-level, style conscious, everyday travelers, home media enthusiasts, and of course gamers. The company seems to have understood that young people want laptops as their primary computers, and its offerings are geared towards fulfilling varied individual tastes. Most consumer models are available in multiple colors, with additional “Artist Edition” patterns available too, while the business-grade models can be had with enterprise-grade security and management features. Prices in the online store start at around Rs 30,000 (not counting netbooks), and Dell’s trademark flood of customization options are available across most models. The company has even dabbled in exotic lifestyle products, with its remarkably thin (though exorbitantly priced) Adamo series.
HP is second in line, though there’s quite a gulf between the top two scorers. The company has had a long history in India, and especially after its acquisition of Compaq, is uniquely positioned to offer a wide range of laptops across multiple price bands for both home and office users. Compaq suffices for the entry level, while HP’s Pavilions are the mainstay as desktop replacements for multimedia-heavy users, and the ProBook line is geared at professionals. The recently launched Envy line brings a new, sleek design and premium finish to the lineup, while the more budget-minded G series beefs up the lower end. HP was also one of the first companies to experiment with glossy plastics, patterns, and colors, fully living up to their slogan “the computer is personal again”. We'd love HP to take a page from Dell's book and offered as much customization.
Sony earns the third spot for laptops. The company has been a major force ever since its Vaio line brought a touch of style to an otherwise staid market, pushing laptops out of the businessman’s domain and into the hands of home users. Sony’s current lineup is quite well defined, with the E series aimed at young people, the F series for desktop-replacement multimedia enthusiasts, the S series for stylish professionals, and the superlight Z series for the ultimate business traveler. The latest E-series models are anything but sober, available in shockingly bright colors with geometric patterns on the lid. Sony’s promotions this year got a lot more aggressive with a series of TV and outdoor ads, plus the introduction of Bollywood star Kareena Kapoor as a brand ambassador.
One hot product is all it took Dell to ace this category too. Clearly users in awe of Dell’s reputation in the desktop and notebook segments have carried over their vote of confidence to the netbook segment. This completes Dell’s hat trick of first-place spots, and confirms leadership across the personal computing space, at least in terms of mindshare. However, it is interesting to note the extremely thin margin of victory over second-placed HP. With Acer, Sony, Lenovo and Asus all in a close bunch behind HP, we expect to see some serious competition for Dell in this category.
For this year however, to the victor go the spoils. And Dell has won largely on the back of a single product offering—the Inspiron Mini 10 (a few variants are avialable). Our reviewers rated it pretty highly on a number of features, most notably its build quality and weight. We found this to be one of the best built netbooks and yet it tipped the scales at a meager 1.14 kilos. Another feature that rocked us about Dell’s offering was the keyboard. Almost full sized and with excellent tactile feedback, we found it to be the best in class. Here’s the best part: if the miniscule screen doesn’t suffice, use the HDMI port to connect your HDTV. Connectivity is offered via Bluetooth, 10/100 Ethernet and Wi-Fi b/g but Wi-Fi n would have been better. In a market crowded with nearly identical offerings, this one still manages to stand out.
Overall, this is clearly the product that most first-time netbook users would go for. The five color options targeted at the youth market were another plus contributing to Dell’s leadership.
While Dell walked away with the top slot in all three personal computing categories, HP managed to make it to second place in all of them too. To its credit, HP is only five percentage points behind in the netbook category, so it can certainly do better if it continues its aggressive positioning and differentiation. HP introduced close to 25 SKUs under its HP Mini branding this year. We found HP netbooks to be of a high quality in our tests, and were especially impressed with the overall build quality, looks, screen, chiclet keyboard style, and long battery life. While performance was average for the category, the products did score well on battery life—a very important selection criterion.
Like most other manufacturers, HP has taken the netbook philosophy beyond the hardware design and bundled its Instant On OS, which bypasses Windows and allows users to directly do basic tasks like playing music, chatting, browsing etc. HP is bundling its HP cloud online storage drive with several models, thus consumers have an online storage space of 1TB for life.
HP has also taken note of the potential of this product in education by launching the child-friendly HP Mini 100e Education Edition. The rugged clamshell design is also aggressively priced to make it easily available to a wider student population. If prices go down a little bit, there could be huge potential.
The Taiwanese computer major beat out its Japanese rival Sony by the thinnest of margins to make it to the third place in this category. Acer too focused on aggressively building out market share in this new category with a consistent launch calendar through the year.
With 11 SKUs in the space, Acer emerged as the big-brand price warrior. Our reviewers found the form-factor, looks, performance, weight and battery life to be in the mid-range of the netbook category, but where Acer scored big was in offering all of this at an extremely competitive price. They clearly created genuine value for money products. Acer’s mindshare among users is all the more impressive as it managed to pip Sony (remember Kareena and the huge ad spend) as well as category inventor Asus to the third spot. We expect Acer to continue to up its game and push HP and Dell as the difference is not that big among the top five.
Presently riding high on its long legacy, Nokia caters to the masses with a range of variety phones for all budget groups. Nokia’s strategy has been to offer dozens of models which differ in features, quality and pricing so there’s something for everyone, often at the cost of confusing buyers. The new, top notch N8 flaunts one of the best cameras yet seen on a phone, but still doesn’t cost the earth. The new C-series has a variety of models designed for easy social networking. However Nokia has lost ground both at the top end, where its N-series models lag behind iPhone and Android offerings, as well as the low end, where Chinese phones are cheap enough to sway buyers regardless of brand image. The company has lost out by responding slowly to the massive appeal of dual-SIM handsets.
Nokia has stuck by its ageing Symbian OS, but even the new Symbian "3 leaves much to be desired. Next year’s high-end models will be based on MeeGo, a new OS developed jointly with Intel. With its own software to develop, Nokia isn’t jumping on the Andoid bandwagon anytime soon, which will at least offer some amount of choice in the market going forward.
Nokia’s consistency has earned them the top spot, but it needs to respond quicker to changes in consumers’ requirements, or risk losing its reputation as well as market share.
In second place, Samsung offers affordable phones which are similar to Nokia’s in terms of build and styling, but with software that’s less familiar and polished. The budget-minded Guru series serve people’s basic needs, offering popular features such as loudspeakers and MP3 playback at rock-bottom prices. Samsung was also the first mainstream brand to react to current trends and offer dual-SIM phones, which are a huge hit. The Corby series of fun, affordable touchscreen-based phones has also been a massive hit this year. Stressing on multimedia features and social networking, a vibrant ad campaign helped make these phones popular with young and old alike.
Samsung’s own BADA OS debuted with features similar to Android and iOS, though that hasn’t stopped the company from going ahead with a slew of Android phones at various price points. Models from HTC, Sony Ericsson and Samsung are competing fiercely, now joined by late entrants LG, Videocon, Spice and others. At the high end, Samsung has pioneered AMOLED displays which offer crisper images and longer battery life—the Galaxy S is a masterpiece of engineering.
Apple is the best example of the difference between brand perception and actual adoption. With the introduction of the iPhone, Apple managed to change the way mobile phones themselves are perceived and used. Even today, its touch input system and overall polish are unmatched by others. In India, the iPhone is sold at a shocking premium even without carrier subsidies, but its desirability is unquestionable. Even though the iPhone 4 is long overdue for an official launch in India, people are more than willing to buy locked phones from abroad. The resale value of an iPhone is expectedly high, and there’s still high demand for first-generation models which can now be found at relatively affordable prices.
With close to one-third of the respondents vouching for Sony, it’s very clear that people prefer models by well-known brands than settling for something just because it’s very affordable. There was a very close tussle between Sony and Canon but the former wins hands down in terms of absolute figures. Sony has a high brand recall due to frequent advertising in television and print media. Remember the Cyber-shot TV commercials starring Sony’s brand ambassador Deepika Padukone? Key features such as 270 degrees sweep panorama and 10x optical zoomhave been highlighted which would spark interestin many potential buyers.Sony also has a strong presence in camera retail outlets and large format retail stores such as Croma where buyers can go and get a feel of the cameras prior to buying.What most people look for in a digital camera are style and features and Cyber-shot cameras offer just that. Most mainstream and even ultra-compact models feature wide angle lenses and720p video recording capability. The DSC-H55 is meant for those who want a mega-zoom lens in a compact form factor and the DSC-HX1 offers digital SLR styling with 20x zoom lens and 1080p video recording. Cyber-shot T series hasstylish ultra compacts and W series has mainstream models with wide angle lenses.So you can clearly seethe segmentation of modelsbased on the user’s application.
Canon needs no introduction. They have been into cameras and lenses for decades and we’ve seen fine models by them year after year. Although superior in performance, most of their digital cameras look simple which might have been the reason why CHIP readers chose Sony. Canon’s best-looking cameras are from the IXUS series which are being advertised frequently on TV. These are compact models encased in metal shells available in multiple colors. The PowerShot A series offer very good value to those who are looking for a digital camera on a tight budget.
Cameras from the SX series feature megazoom lenses in a compact form factor and are fun to use with plenty of modes to play with. Canon also has something for the niche audience—the PowerShot D10 which can shoot underwater and the new G12 which offers features that would interest amateur photographers. Apart from digital cameras, Canon is renowned for their digital SLR cameras and wide variety of lenses.If you’re a serious photographer you can start off with the EOS 1000D or consider the EOS 550D which can also shoot HD videos. Canon’s website clearly explains the application of each of the digital camera segments plus you can also sign up for a free workshopin your city on exploring the functions of your Canon camera and digital photography fundamentals.
Nikon too is a pioneer in cameras and lenses and has a high brand recall. They have good digital camera portfolio with three broad segments—Life series for price conscious buyers, Style series for those who prefer style and form, and Performance series for enthusiasts. What we really like is the design of the cameras. Even the most entry-level Coolpix L21 which is priced at Rs 4,990 looks very sleek and bundles a 4 GB card, pouch and rechargeable batteries with a charger. The one that we found most interesting is the Coolpix S1000pj which features a built-in projector which can project a 40 inch screen—a very innovative way to share photos with friends and family. Not to mention Nikon has a slew of digital SLR cameras and lenses to choose from. Priced at Rs 32,950 the Nikon D3100 is a very good starting point for budding photographers.
Sony has been one of the largest and best ranking manufacturers of video cameras in the Indian market ever since this category came into existence. Sony has come a long way in providing feature-rich products and complete customer satisfaction with their Handycam range of video cameras. The cameras have a rugged build quality, good ergonomics, simple operation and are very portable. Sony Handycams are also time-tested by various consumers, both novice and enthusiast, and are also known in producing good quality videos.
Presently, Sony has two types of Handycam variants available in their fleet of camcorders—HDD based and flash based. The HDD based models cost between Rs 24,000 (60 GB SD version) and Rs 60,000 (240 GB Full HD version) and vary in features such as storage size, optical zoom, video resolution, weight and such. The flash storage based models are priced between Rs 15,000 (SD) and Rs 30,000 (Full HD version) and these have similar features to the above-mentioned models.
Handycam accessories are also available for better video capture quality such as video lights, lenses and filters, microphones, tripods and compatible external storage drives. If you take a look at their website, you can also find older DV- and DVD-based Handycams stil being sold, but these will soon be obsolete. This is a great time to upgrade older tape-based camcorders, so happy customers might buy a second Sony.
Manufacturer of some of the best selling digital still cameras, Canon is also recognized in the personal and professional video camera category. Their models are all pretty slim, light and highly portable because, surprisingly, Canon has kept away from the HDD storage medium. They rely on the flash drive (SD card) models which in a way benefit the budget minded and weight conscious customers.
Camcorders from Canon are available in two types, SD and HD, where only two models are presently available in SD—the FS305and FS36 Legria series priced at Rs 15,000 and Rs 21,000 respectively. The two cameras have identical features except that the latter has 8 GB of built-in storage. The HD cameras are priced between Rs 33,000 and Rs 87,000 and differ equally in various specifications such as built-in storage capacity, optical zoom, audio recording quality and a many more such areas. Canon has a vast network of sales and service outlets (over 100 centers all over India) which keep their customers assured if anything goes wrong with their product.
Even so, Panasonic needs to gain more visibility in the Indian consumer video camera market, and has made a strong beginning by engaging Ranbir Kapoor and Katrina Kaif as brand ambassadors.
Their product offerings are limited to just a few models at present, but Panasonic could score big if it manages to promote 3D to home, student and hobbyist consumers effectively enough.
The Japanese company was not the first off the block with 3D. Nor did it garner bragging rights by introducing LED TVs (in fact Sony pretty much did not do anything that would add to its luster of being a tech leader). Sure it had a 3D TV and yes most of its premium launches came with LED backlighting, but that was not the main story. What it did to however is continue to launch a series of excellent quality products that were clearly priced above the mass movers that Samsung and LG targeted.
Premium pricing, quality products and an absolutely classy marketing strategy focused more on design ensured Sony remained the darling of the pack. Its almost legendary reputation among TV buyers surely helped it pip (relative newcomer) Samsung to the top slot. However, the gap is narrow; just three percentage points separate the venerable leader from a hungry and aggressive competitor. Surely, Sony will have to up its presence on both the technology front, as well as marketing to ensure its win this year continues next year as well.
On the product front, Sony bet big on its “Monolithic Design”. Reviewers loved the look and generally raved about the product quality too. Sony describes its concept as something that “combines aesthetic appeal and minimalist style to create a design statement in its own right. Monolithic Design uses beautiful surfaces, high-quality materials and a minimalistic, functional style to transform the living space. Everything is geared towards a unique experience—performance when everything is switched on, and beautiful design that complements the living room when it’s turned off.” Basically your either watch TV or watch the TV.
“Next is what” on the Samsung TV front is a question that could keep the best tech watchers guessing for a long time. The Korean company continued to push against the barriers of tech with innovations on every front.
Samsung captured popular imagination with an aggressive campaign for its 3D TV. In fact the first 3D TV to enter our lab was from Samsung. The Korean company also dominated mindspace in the move towards LED TVs. If there was one thing Samsung could have done better, it would be to communicate the fact that LED is just a backlighting technology for LCD TVs, not a replacement for LCD itself. Samsung’s product of the year for us was the Series 9000 that it launched in August. Arguably the world’s thinnest TV at 7.98 mm thin, the 9000 also had every feature a TV addict could image, from a touchscreen remote control, 3D technology, built in Wi-Fi and automatic conversion of 2D to 3D content. Reviewers generally raved about the picture quality as well. All this in an absolutely delightful package too!
Samsung’s Korean neighbor did nearly everything big brother did, but not enough to get near the mind share that Samsung enjoys. LG ended percent behind Samsung on consumer preference, and the company has its task cut out in 2011. The good news, however, is that in gaining third it bested Panasonic, once an iconic TV brand, by some margin.
On the product front, LG too went big with both 3D and LED TVs. The company also gained considerable traction through aggressive pricing. Its ultra-thin bezels, just 1.5 mm at the side and 2.5 mm top and bottom, too gained praise.
Who doesn’t know iPod! The name “iPod” is so popular that it is used synonymously for any MP3 playerby those who aren’t well-versed with brand names and models.We’ve seen people asking for an iPod at stores, not because they want to buy one but because they’re simply looking for an MP3 player.
Apple has models to suit all kinds of budgets and needs. You want a simple music player? Pick the Shuffle. Want something more stylish with a higher capacity? Go in for the new iPod Nano. Then there’s the iPod Classic for those who want to carry their entire music library with them. And lastly the iPod Touch which is basically an iPhone without a phone. The latest generation iPod Touch uses the stunning Retina display which is the best we’ve seen so far in a portable media player. Watching videos and photos on it is an awesome experience. Plus you get access to thousands of apps and games that can be downloaded to the device from the App Store. The most striking feature of all iPods is the brilliant design, fluid user interface and extreme ease of use right from uploading content to the player using iTunes to playing media. iPods undergo update every year and the newer models are available on shelves at the price of older ones—a very intelligent strategy to keep the show going on year after year, although we do feel upgrade pangs a little too often for our liking!
Sony has been a reputed brand for personal audio devices right since the good old Walkman days. Even though MP3 players and personal media players have advanced by leaps and bounds, Sony has kept abreast with the pace. The current product portfolio of Sony features the most basic MP3 player to sleek looking portable media players which are priced very competitively. The entry-level NWZ-B152F priced at Rs 2,890 is as small as your index finger and offers 2 GB of storage space.At that price point it gives the iPod Shuffle and many other players a run for their money. The high-end Walkman NWZ-A844 is just 7.2 mm in thickness and packs a color OLED display, 8 GB of storage space and support for MPEG4 video playback.The most unique offering by Sony this year was the Walkman NWZ-W252 which sports a wearable and water resistant design. So, no need to worry if you’re sweating during workouts while wearing the player.
Audiophiles swear by the audio quality of MP3 and portable media players by Cowon. It was surprising to see Philips a notch higher by a difference of just 1 percent. Cowon has some really good portable media players, but it might be possible that people aren’t aware of the brand due to lack of publicity. On the other hand, Philips is such a reputed consumer electronics brand, that anyone would be able to recall it. Philips India’s website lists four MP3 players and four portable media players, all of which are good bang for the buck. Priced at Rs 1,999, the most entry-level GoGear MP3 player offers 2 GB of storage space for songs, FM radio, voice recorder and 10 hours of playback time. Being tiny, it’s a good companion while on the move or working out. The top-end GoGear Muse priced at Rs 9,400 features 3.2-inch display and supports FLAC, APE, Ogg and MPEG4 and WMV playback. It sports 8 GB of storage space which can be extended by up to 32 GB via a microSD card. With presence in even small music stores, MP3 players by Philips havevery good visibility.
Intel, still high from its long running and wildly successful Core 2 line, released its Core 2010 series family for desktops and notebooks. These cemented its leads in raw performance as well as innovation. Intel successfully solidified its transition to a 32nm manufacturing process, improving yields and profitability. At the beginning of the year, a new product strategy took over—segmenting the market into “good”, “better” and “best” categories, ie the Core i3, i5 and i7. Intel indicated that the Pentium name would live on, but that Celeron would slowly fade away. That hasn’t yet come to pass.
The company also solidified its CPU-integrated graphics architecture, effectively shutting out competing chipset vendor Nvidia. Efforts to court the enthusiast and overclocker market resulted in the launch of the K series CPUs, which have unlocked multipliers.
Apart from its mainstream lineup, Intel’s line of Atom CPUs has also been fleshed out, with dual-core models finally making their way to the netbook form factor. While slightly more powerful than their counterparts from last year, Atoms are still a far cry from their Core-series counterparts. That isn’t about to change anytime soon, however we are already seeing Atom processors in all kinds of devices, specifically embedded devices for TVs, cars, medical equipment, etc.
AMD, on the other hand, started off the year stating that nothing spectacular would happen; we’d have to wait till 2011 to really see things take off. AMD hasn’t been content to slink into the background though; aggressive price cuts have kept its chief competitor on its toes, and periodic refreshes have seen faster and faster Phenom chips nipping at the heels of the Intel midrange. AMD has brought out a number of mid-range 6-core parts which have been received with a fair amount of interest. The company has also simplified its product labels and logos, organizing everything around the “Vision” moniker which will illustrate relative performance and capabilities through a simple tiered structure.
AMD’s moment will come with the first of its Fusion products, which will be targeted at desktops and portables under US$ 500. We do hope to see AMD resurge on the mainstream and gaming fronts too—all competition is good competition.
One of the world’s largest manufacturers of storage solutions, Seagate made its debut in 1978 with a 5 MB hard drive (ST-506), and has been increasing capacities and speeds at a breakneck pace since then. Seagate caters to both notebook and desktop computers with 2.5-inch and 3.5-inch hard drives. Momentus and Barracuda are the two sub-brands, for notebooks and desktops respectively. The various models include options that consume less power, offer high capacity, or use extra-large caches. The Momentus XT Hybrid drive combines the best features of hard drives and solid-state drives, with spinning platters for large-scale storage in addition to 4 GB of flash memory for high-performance tasks such as loading the operating system.
2 Western Digital
Western Digital is the second largest manufacturer of computer hard drives after Seagate, and caters to the computer industry by manufacturing drives for desktops, notebooks, portable devices and enterprise servers and workstations. Consumer drives are available in three variants—the WD Caviar Blue line offers a blend of performance and reliability, WD Caviar Green drives are aimed at eco-friendly environments, and WD Caviar Black models serve the high end with high performance and reliability demands. WD’s unique high-speed VelociRaptor drives are expensive, but well regarded as the performance leaders in their category. WD sees itself as a holistic storage company, and is now also dipping its toes into the consumer SSD market, with its SiliconEdge offerings.