The Micromax Canvas Lapbook series laptops are set to usher in a new era of low-cost computing in India. Though based on dated hardware and slightly more expensive than some of the other competing models, the laptops certainly seem to offer good value. In fact, when I was looking for computers for my client to serve his basic requirements, I took the risk and ordered about six of these.
My client needed to purchase computers that would be useful to perform non-processing intensive tasks such as creating documents, spreadsheets and presentations, browsing the web and emailing. I recommended against opting for Desktop Computers because:
- Desktop computers today are priced the same or more than Laptop computers.
- Desktop computers consume a far higher amount of electrical power; dramatically increasing costs associated with electrical power backup systems and air conditioning systems.
- Desktop computers require a high amount of floor space and tend to crash easily if man-handled even slightly.
- Desktop computers are not portable enough to relocate quickly and do not offer the same amount of reliability as Laptop computers.
So I was permitted to proceed with purchasing twelve laptops instead of desktop computers and six of these machines were for basic office computing tasks.
My primary computing requirements were:
- Ability to run office productivity suite such as Wordprocessing, Spreadsheets, Presentations and Client of Tally Accounting.
- Ability to browse the Internet using Firefox browser and email using Thunderbird client.
In the past, I have used Intel Atom processor-based Netbooks and know that they prove to be sufficient for such tasks. In fact, I own an Asus Eeebook netbook featuring an Intel Atom N270 processor, 1 GB RAM and Windows XP. Though the processor scores a measly 271 in Passmark, I have found the netbook to be capable for most tasks including Youtube video watching. The only time it would overheat and stop working was when I tried to play 720p H.264 videos.
As a side note, my next upgrade was to an Acer 5745 Laptop featuring Core i5-430M CPU (1st generation i5). This CPU has a Passmark score of 2115. It felt only marginally better than the Atom N270 in basic productivity applications.
The most basic Intel Atom processor available in India now is the Intel Atom Z3735F 1.33 GHz with a Passmark score of 908. While it has been superseded by the Intel Atom X5-Z8300 (Passmark: 1197) and X5-Z8500 (Passmark: 1694) series internationally, very few companies have adopted the new processors and the bulk of the Atom Laptops feature the Z3735F processor.
Practically every reputed manufacturer such as Acer, Asus, HP etc. are offering basic Laptops featuring the Intel Atom Z3735F processor. By design, most of these are available as 11″ displays with 2 GB RAM and 32 GB internal storage with expandable storage via Micro SD card. Thanks to Microsoft’s push for universal adoption of Windows 10, all these machines are only available with Windows 10 Home Edition preloaded, which IMHO is a good thing.
These laptops are also available from Indian brands such as iBall, RDP, Swipe, Xolo and Micromax. The prices offered by the Indian brands are substantially lower (by 50% in some cases). I have had bad experiences with iBall products, RDP is a nascent company with its products being unavailable most of the time on e-commerce websites, Swipe and Xolo products were comparatively more expensive. Hence the logical choice was Micromax.
The final Hardware identified was: Micromax Canvas Lapbook 1161, featuring (and missing):
- Intel Atom Z3735F 1.33 GHz CPU with 4 cores, 56 KB L1 Cache, 1 MB L2 Cache, 64-bit capable.
- 2 GB DDR3 RAM with approx 60 MB dedicated towards video memory etc.
- Inbuilt 32 GB SanDisk DS2032 eMMC storage
- MicroSD Card for storage expansion
- 11.6″ IPS LED Display
- Wi-Fi N150
- HDMI (full size) and USB 2.0 Ports (2 nos.)
- No LAN port, No USB 3.0 port, No CD/DVD drive, No VGA port.
Making a decision about software is even more critical than hardware. Incorrect choice of software can result in dramatic loss of productivity. Installing pirated software can land your organisation in hot water with the law. My final decision regarding software to be installed on the Laptops and the reasoning was:
- Legit Operating System: Microsoft Windows 10 Home Edition, 32-bit, Single Language Pack. Having legit Windows OS helps immensely because the target users were most at home with Windows and some of the apps (such as Tally Accounting) are Windows only.
- Even if the laptop had not come with a licensed OS, I would have installed an OS such as LinuxLite instead of installing an unlicensed version of Microsoft OS.
Office Productivity Suite: Softmaker FreeOffice 2016. The most important tasks (after time-wasting on Youtube) to be performed on these machines is word-processing, spreadsheets and presentations. Softmaker FreeOffice 2016 is completely free to use in commercial environments. While it cannot save documents in DOCX / XLSX / PPTX format, it can read them just fine and save them in DOC / XLS / PPT format. It does not have any limitations, ads or spyware. At only 70 MB, it’s quick to download, install and launch. The applications load on Atom-processor laptops in mere seconds.
- Though Microsoft Office is generally the go-to office package, in my organisation we do not use it because it is too expensive, bloated and packed with enterprise collaboration features which we do not use and will require even more money to become operational.
- We prefer LibreOffice which is completely free and works reasonably well. Apache OpenOffice has far fewer bugs than LibreOffice but it appears that OpenOffice is being abandoned by its developers.
- Kingsoft WPS Office Free is also an excellent alternative but technically speaking, it’s free only for use in a non-commercial environment (such as homes) and may require users to view advertisements every time they want to print a document or export to PDF.
- Anti-virus: Windows Defender. Viruses are likely to be a problem on these Windows machines but I would rather not load a heavy antivirus like Kaspersky which brings my i5 Desktop computers to their knees.
- If necessary, I may deploy Avast Anti-virus to stop malware. I am also trying to figure out a way to install Group Policy Editor in the OS so that I can disable execution of programs from USB drives.
- General utility software: Firefox, Thunderbird, Picasa are my must have. Generally, I also install TeamViewer, Skype, WinRAR, K-Lite Media Codec Pack etc.
We ordered the Micromax Canvas Lapbook 1161 laptops from Flipkart. Flipkart offered the machine at Rs.10,450/- while Amazon was selling the same for 13,500/- (nearly 30% more!). Please do a price comparison using sites like CompareRaja.in, 91mobiles.com, SmartPrix.com etc. before making online purchases.
The machine specs have already been documented earlier. Sufficient to say that the machine’s appearance and performance that belies the price point at which it is available.
- The laptop is entirely built of plastic. The top surfaces (lid, keyboard area) feature a brushed feel while the bottom surfaces (base, display bezel) feature a matt finish. This has resulted in a machine that looks good and offers good grip in the hand. After all, it is intended to be carried around in hand like an oversized executive diary / planner. It weighs about 1.2 KG so carrying it around will be a zero strain effort.Micromax applies a protective plastic film on the top surfaces (which should be peeled off) but does not apply a film to the display.
- The lid contains the glossy LED-backlit IPS LED screen featuring 1366 x 768 pixels resolution display. The 4 screws in the bezel have Micromax stickers on them. Only two of them have rubber pads on them to provide space between the LED display and the keyboard. There are six more rubber pads around the screen as additional protection. It is common to see laptop displays that have been scratched by the keyboard when the display was closed. If detected early, the damages could have been avoided by applying any of the following methods:
- Apply a protective screen on the display.
- Apply a protective layer on the keyboard.
- Create and apply rubber pads on the display bezel to prevent the display from making contact with the keyboard.
- A basic webcam along with microphone is placed in the conventional location. The webcam has a maximum resolution of 640 x 480 pixels (VGA). The camera does not feature auto-focus. The image is barely sharp in the centre and the edges of the frame are quite soft. A gentle blue LED indicator is provided to indicate that the camera is in use. There are holes on either side of the camera. There are two microphones in the machine and I was able to obtain a 48 KHz 16-bit Stereo recording using them.
- A soft power button is placed at the top of the keyboard. It requires a gentle but firm pressure to activate. A blue LED on the left of the power adapter indicates power and battery charging status. A blue LED on the right of the power button indicates machine power state.
- The keyboard features soft square keys that are perfect for touch typing. The keys are of adequate size (approx. 15 mm wide) and spaced widely. The keyboard features all the required function keys.
- The touchpad does not feature any hard buttons but supports clicking on the bottom corners for Left and Right click actions. The touchpad also supports finger swipe actions such as vertical scroll, image zoom etc.
- The left side of the laptop features the Power Adapter port, full-size HDMI port, full-size USB 2.0 port, 3.5mm Headphone port, Micro SD Card reader. The right side of the laptop features a single full-size USB 2.0 port.
- The bottom of the laptop is smooth and sealed with standard screws. There are no vents, grills or ports except the two ports for tiny speakers on left and right edges. The battery is also sealed inside the laptop and cannot be easily swapped out.
- The supplied battery is a 44,260 mAh battery. Worryingly, the battery reported 6% wear (full-charge capacity 41,670 mAh) within 3 days of using it on a power adapter. The rate of battery discharge when idle was about 1,900 mW, thus predicting an 11-hour battery life in idle mode. When faced with a AIDA64 System Stability test (maximum load on CPU, GPU, Memory and Disk), the rate of battery discharge increased to 7,400 mW, thus predicting a battery life of about 5 hours in active mode.
- To test battery performance, I used BatteryMon – a free utility from PassMark.
Power Consumption: The Laptop uses only about 24 Watts of power. The supplied 12 Volt 2 Ampere DC power adapter is the size of a mobile phone charger. The jack is similar to a mini barrel jack. The power adapter should be easy to replace and cable problems easy to resolve.
- Manufacturers like Lenovo and Dell are unnecessary complicating power jacks with custom designed ports. While custom power jacks in Apple products are acceptable due to innovations such as mag-safe jacks, Lenovo and Dell are introducing power jack designs bereft of any such user-oriented features.
- Start-up Time: Machine boot up time is very good. It started up from a cold boot in 38 seconds. Restoration from Hibernate State was only 16 seconds. Waking up from Sleep State requires only about 5 seconds.
- To test time taken for cold boot start, I create a batch file with a “pause” statement. I added a shortcut to it to the “C:\Users\Username\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Startup” folder and I shut down the machine. I timed the time taken from the moment I pressed the power button to the time this batch file executed and presented a window on the Desktop manually using my Android phone.
- I also used “netplwiz.msc” to automate Windows login so that boot would not be interrupted for data entry.
- Display Performance: Micromax claims that this laptop features an IPS display and their claims are true. The 11.6″ display features gorgeous balanced colours, nearly 170-degree horizontal visibility, and good maximum brightness. At about 50% brightness, the display was perfect for working on documents, browsing the web etc.
- Keyboard Performance: For a compact keyboard, it worked quite well. There were hardly any missed strokes when I typed out an entire document. The keyboard does not flex much and is comfortable to use. The arrow keys are a little small and I felt that they could have been increased in size by reducing the size of the Right Shift key.
- Touchpad Performance: The Elan Touchpad is a delight to use. It’s way better than the keyboards that Asus machines offer. The touchpads on Asus suffer from tracking issues, palm sensitivity issues and buttons that go bad within a year. The touchpad on the Micromax Lapbook offered smooth tracking that started and stopped without any inertia. The palm sensitivity check was good. The button clicks were soft and firm.
Microphone Performance: The microphone sensitivity is very good. Even at 0 dB gain, it was able to capture kitchen noises 30 feet away. I did have to normalise the audio to hear them clearly. Applying a +24dB gain (max gain is +36dB), I was able to capture the sound of me gently snapping fingers sitting 3 feet away from the laptop. It should be possible to have Skype calls using this laptop with clear audio.
- System Stability: When in AIDA64 System Stability Test, the CPU temperature rose from 50-degree celsius to about 80-degree celsius and stabilised. The machine continued to work normally at this temperature without even CPU throttling.
- Application Start: Applications start fast. For example, Mozilla Firefox started in 5.6 seconds, VLC Media Player started in 0.3 seconds, WPS Writer started in 1.35 seconds. This is a seriously fast start for good productivity.
- Multimedia Performance: For an Atom processor based machine, the laptop performs exceedingly well in multimedia tests. Video decoding performance was very good. Audio output through the built-in speakers was sufficient. For the tests I used MPC-HC (bundled with http://filehippo.com/download_klite_codec_pack/K-Lite Media Codec Pack) that was configured to use LAV Splitter-Audio-Video decoder using Intel QuickSync Hardware Acceleration. The video playback was directed to a Dell 21″ Full-HD monitor connected to the HDMI port on the laptop as an extended display monitor.
- Decoding 352p XVID video was non-accelerated, did not drop even a single frame, average CPU usage was 18%.
- Decoding 480p H.264 video was accelerated, did not drop even a single frame, average CPU usage was 17%.
- Decoding 720p H.264 video was accelerated, did not drop even a single frame, average CPU usage was 30%.
- Decoding 1080p H.264 video was accelerated, rarely dropped any frame, average CPU usage was 50%.
- Decoding 720p H.265 video was non-accelerated, dropped a few frames in fast motion scenes and complex detail scenes, average CPU usage was 60%.
- Decoding 1080p H.265 video was non-accelerated, dropped frames significantly to the point of being unwatchable, CPU usage varied between 75% – 100%.
- Crapware: Micromax Phones and Tablets come pre-loaded with tons of crapware that are impossible to remove without rooting the devices. Though the laptops came with zero crapware, it remains to be how soon before Micromax goes the Dell / HP way and loads so much crap that the laptops performance is reduced.
Microphone Performance: The microphones work well but there are some issues.
- The microphones generate hissing noise. When amplified, this noise is easily audible.
- The Left-side microphone is wired to the right audio channel and vice-versa.
- The microphones are omnidirectional and the audio recordings sound ambient. Don’t expect it to give the performance of a dedicated voice-recording microphone which removes the hollow sound of a room, removes background audio and brings only the voice to the forefront.
- Indicators: The machine does not have LED indicators for Caps Lock, disk activity indicator etc.
- Windows 10 Bug: Occasionally, Windows 10 does not seem to remember the last brightness setting of the display and sets the display to full brightness upon restore from hibernation. This is probably more of a Windows issue than hardware.
Windows 10 Issue: Windows 10 gets bloated quickly. The default installation of the OS was approximately 8 GB in size but it bloated to 10 GB within a week due to updates etc. The 32 GB eMMC storage (29 GB actual disk space) had only 11 GB remaining after basic software installation.Windows 10 insisted on applying a critical update which requires 16 GB of available disk space. Since the available disk space is only 11 GB, not only does this update fail to install, it also continuously prompts for the update at every boot. What kind of OS update requires 16 GB available disk space? If Microsoft designed Windows 10 to work well on low resource machines like this, why on earth did they imagine that users would have 16 GB free disk space when running from a 29 GB eMMC disk?
- I will be adding 32 GB Class 10 Micro SD memory cards to all the laptops to make space available for user documents etc. I am dreading the day when Windows will stop working because all the required updates have not been applied.
- USB Ports: The laptop is missing the conventional Ethernet port to connect to wired networks. I am not lamenting its absence as much as I am cursing the absence of a USB 3.0 port. In any machine produced today, USB 3.0 ports are almost mandatory. Micromax’s own Pentium Quad Core laptops feature two USB 3.0 ports!
- Webcam: The included VGA Webcam is total crap and suitable for basic Skype calls only. It fails to resolve almost any detail and cannot be used for video calls with a lot of participants; none of the participants will be visible clearly. Use a cheap external USB webcam instead.
- Windows 10 Bug: I faced major issues with Power configuration in Windows 10. Basically, the laptop would refuse to wake-up from sleep if Windows was configured to go-to-sleep after a certain amount of time-out (for ex: 30 minutes) and also go-to-sleep if Lid was closed. After 30 minutes, opening the screen would not wake up the laptop. Pressing any number of keys or touchpad movement and clicks would not wake up the laptop. Pressing the power button would wake the blue LED indicating laptop power-on but the laptop would still play dead. I had no option but to do a long press (15 seconds) of the power button to perform a hard power-off and then power it back up again; losing any unsaved work and corrupting files in the process. To rectify this problem, the workaround I am using is to:
- Enable Display power-off if idle for 3 minutes.
- Disable Sleep timer.
- Hibernate on Lid close.
- Power off if the power button is pressed.
- Windows 10 Misconfiguration: The way Windows 10 is installed and configured on this laptop, Hibernation function was not available in the power management settings. A little investigation using “powercfg” revealed that it was due to misconfiguration of the hibernation file size. To rectify this error, I applied the following fix in a Command Prompt window with Administrator privileges:
- Disabled hibernation using “powercfg -h off” command.
- Set hibernation file size to 100% using “powercfg -h -size 100”
- Enabling hibernation using “powercfg -h on” command.
- Restarting the machine using “shutdown -r -t 60” command. Be sure to save your work and close all windows before this command.
- I wish that the laptop had an additional USB port. A USB 3.0 port would have been icing on the cake.
Micromax is a nascent brand in the field of computers. It will be a few months before the quality of their products and after-sales support will become evident. Though they have a fairly large number of service centres, good track record of reliability in mobile phones and tablets, and easily available spares such as batteries; it remains to be seen if they can replicate the same for computers.
At the price point that Micromax is offering their products, it is very good value for money and sure to shake up the market erstwhile controlled by MNC brands.