“The Micromax Canvas Nitro manages to stand out of the crowd thanks to a couple of nifty software tweaks”
Thanks to the proliferation of smartphones offering loaded specs at affordable costs in the Indian market, the landscape has undergone a sea change compared to what it was just a few months ago. Smartphones from the likes of Motorola, Xiaomi and ASUS have defied the usual perception of value for money, encroaching upon what used to be the turf of domestic vendors. Not that the latter are taking the incursion lightly – despite the going getting extremely tough, each fresh assault is met with strong countermeasures. While those may or may not be enough in the long run, the key beneficiaries of the tussle are potential buyers, who now have a wide range of capable, yet affordable devices to choose from.
One of the latest in this league is the Micromax Canvas Nitro (first impressions) – a dual-SIM smartphone that sticks to the basic premise of a segment we refer to as the budget performance category. It’s not really a budget device in the true sense, but offers loaded specs for its price. We’re going to throw it into our review pit and see how it shapes up.
Apparently, style wasn’t at the top of the agenda when the Canvas Nitro was designed. Looking rather plain Jane, its only design highlight is the rear panel which is fashioned out of plastic but is clad in a matte, leathery finish. The front is quite boring in comparison, sporting the screen with black bezels around it, along with the earpierce, sensors, front shooter and notification LED on top. Below the screen are three backlit capacitive keys that offer the usual functions of menu, home and back. Long pressing the menu key brings up the recent apps, while the same action on the home key launches Google Now.
The placement of ports and controls is standard, with the 3.5mm audio socket on top, micro-USB port at the bottom, volume rocker on the left, and power key on the right.
Coming to the rear, our review unit was in Mystic Blue, but there’s a Pristine White option available too. The dark blue shade looks good at close quarters, though as we mentioned earlier, it’s still not going to win any awards for looks. The leathery finish doesn’t feel as premium as the one on devices like the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, but aids in grip and keeps smudges at bay. On top is the lens for the primary camera flanked by the LED flash, an embossed Micromax logo below, and the phone speaker at the bottom.
The real panel is designed like a shell, and hugs the sides of the main unit. Prying it open reveals the removable battery, a pair of micro-SIM slots and a microSD card slot.
The Nitro’s window to the world is its 5-inch display that offers a resolution of 1,280 x 720 pixels (~294ppi) – reasonably good specs, but not really mind-boggling in any way. 720p screens of this size are now a staple in this price bracket, and this device doesn’t hold any surprises in this regard either, pleasant or otherwise. That said, the Canvas Nitro’s screen is fairly capable and displays crisp, vibrant colours. Touch responsiveness and viewing angles are good, though sunlight legibility isn’t one of its strongest points.
Software-wise, the Canvas Nitro runs Android KitKat, and that’s not a differentiating factor anymore, since that’s what we’d expect from any recent device running Google’s mobile platform. Micromax has chosen to go with a near-stock implementation, especially as far as the user interface is concerned.
So there are no heavy skins to bog down performance, or any flashy icons to hurt the eyes – everything is as close to stock as can be. But that doesn’t mean that there are no software tweaks. In fact, the brand has included a few nifty tricks that help the Nitro stand out from the crowd.
The first of these is called Smart Alerts, and at first glance, looks quite similar to the Active Display on the Moto X (review). While Motorola’s implementation is able to detect motion and can light up the display when you pick up the Moto X from a table or remove it from your pocket, Micromax’s offering isn’t as powerful. Micromax has completely changed the lockscreen, and when you press the power key from standby, all you see is a plain digital clock. A swipe upwards unlocks the device. The Smart Alert feature is all about notifications though, and when you get a new notification, say from Gmail, the screen lights up and you get a coloured band in the middle of the screen, displaying the clock and a Gmail icon. Tapping on the icon takes you straight to the corresponding event. In case of multiple notifications, multiple icons line up on the coloured band, which takes on the colour of the icon of the last app that generated that notification. So the band is red for Gmail, blue for missed calls, and green for other apps like Messages, WhatsApp and Hangouts. This only works for a few apps like the ones mentioned, but is a handy addition allowing you to jump directly to the app or message thread.
Then there’s QuickLook, Micromax’s answer to HTC’s BlinkFeed and Samsung’s Magazine UX. QuickLook gets place of pride as a dedicated home screen on the leftmost side, and presents news and social feeds from Facebook and Twitter in a tile-based layout. You can’t choose specific sources, but you can mark topics of interest such as sports and technology, and it dutifully displays relevant articles. Tapping on a tile displays the full article in a readable format, and you can also share it with other relevant apps straight from here.
There’s support for a specific set of gestures too. The gestures settings are accessible via the menu button below the display, and let you map a predefined set of actions to two-finger gestures such as pinch in, pinch out, and two-finger swipes in four directions. The available actions include controlling music playback, adjusting volume, and opening apps such as the dialler, music player and messages. You can’t define gestures or actions of your own, so the choice is limited to what’s available. In our short review period, we didn’t use it extensively since remembering the gestures and their associated actions was a bit of a problem, but the feature could be handy over long-term usage for sure.
There are other tweaks and features too, including a ‘pause on look away’ feature that pauses video playback if you remove your gaze from the screen. A handy camera widget that lets you shoot stills, videos and selfies is also there. The widget even includes a ‘frontback’ option that combines two images shot in succession with the rear and the front cameras into one picture.
As far as preloaded apps are concerned, Micromax has thrown in quite a few – covering Getit, Clean Master, FoneClay, Hike, and Kingsoft Office. A whole suit of Micromax’s own apps is also included, including M! Doodle and miUnlock, with the latter enabling blow-to-unlock and shake-to-unlock features. A bunch of trial games hog precious space as well.
The Nitro’s 13-meg primary shooter rocks a Largan lens, f/2.4 aperture and a Sony IMX135 CMOS sensor… and these are noteworthy features, at least on paper. The camera app is stock, offering modes like beauty shot, smile shot, auto scene detection, panorama, burst and HDR, and you also get control over various other settings such as ISO, white balance, exposure etc.
A bunch of colour filters and scene presets are built in, and there’s support for voice capture (by uttering the words ‘capture’ or ‘cheese’), and gestures (by making a ‘V’ using your fingers) as well. Some of these options are hidden inside menus though, so you’ll need to figure out where they are before you can use them effectively.
In terms of pure image quality though, those impressive credentials fall flat, since we didn’t find the Canvas Nitro’s primary snapper amazing. It’s not really a wimp, and churns out reasonably good shots as long as the lighting is good, though the colours look slightly dull. The close-ups looks good, but HDR isn’t really its strong point. Its low light imaging prowess is no great shakes either, since images turn out riddled with noise.
You can check out more details regarding the imaging capabilities in the camera review, but in any case, here are a few more image samples shot using its primary snapper. Click on the thumbnails to view them in full resolution.
When it comes to number-crunching abilities, the Canvas Nitro doesn’t disappoint. It has its fairly loaded specs to thank for that. A MediaTek octa-core chip clocked at 1.7GHz provides the horsepower, utilising two gigs of RAM to make sure things remain smooth even with multiple apps in the background. Suffice to say that routine, productivity-related tasks get open roads to reach their destinations… with intensive games also offering reasonably smooth rides.
Out of the 8GB internal storage, a little over 5GB is available to use, and you can add more via the microSD card slot. There’s no support for USB OTG, which is a bit of a bummer in this day and age. Otherwise too, the connectivity options available are nothing out of the ordinary, covering the usual suspects like dual-SIM connectivity, 3G (only on the first SIM slot), Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, A-GPS, Wi-Fi hotspot and cast screen. You won’t find anything fancy like NFC or dual-band Wi-Fi.
The 2,500mAh battery holds enough juice to keep the show running for a full day comfortably, even more if your usage is frugal. However, like most smartphones, the Nitro’s battery drains faster when connected to 3G data. Your mileage may also vary if you indulge in media viewing and intensive gaming for prolonged periods. In our video loop playback test, the Canvas Nitro lasted a very respectable nine hours, and that also gives us a good indication of its battery life.
The Micromax Canvas Nitro, as you can probably make out by now, can be a capable daily driver. It may not look like a million bucks, or entice shutterbugs with its camera prowess… but it manages to do well for itself in most other areas. It performs smoothly, and the battery life is good as well. The included software features aren’t really powerful enough to tilt a potential buyer’s decision in its favour, but are handy goodies to have. The biggest problem with the Canvas Nitro, in our opinion, is that it fails to excite and doesn’t really stand out as a highly desirable device.
Comparing it with one of its closest rivals, the second-gen Moto G (review), the Canvas Nitro offers better specs, at least on paper. Specs such as its octa-core processor, 2GB of RAM, and 13MP shooter do seem much better that the Moto G’s quad-core chip, a gig of RAM and 8-megapixel primary camera. With the possible exception of the battery life however, the Micromax Canvas Nitro doesn’t really offer significant performance advantages over Moto’s offering, especially when it comes to day-to-day usage. Moreover, Motorola’s promise of timely platform updates also makes it a very compelling choice in our eyes.
Therefore, the two are quite close in terms of capabilities, and when push comes to shove, it’d probably boil down to personal choice. The likes of the ASUS Zenfone 5 (review) and the Karbonn Titanium Octane Plus (review) remain solid bets too, but if you go with the Micromax Canvas Nitro as your daily driver, you can rest assured that this workhorse won’t let you down.
Photos and video by Pratik Vyas
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