Monday, 24 June 2019

Motorola One Vision

Tempted as I was by the recent Sony 21:9 phones, I couldn't quite bring myself to pull the trigger because of some hardware and software compromises. I have a track record of loving the Sony name but always being disappointed by their phones. Enter Motorola to the rescue!

I've been fussy about device size over recent months and years, rejecting many very capable handsets because they were, well, just not feeling right in my hand. The risk of this going the same way with this was high, given that 21:9 required 'tall' design going on, making it hard to use with one hand and not pocket-friendly. However, I have been surprised. The Vision, after a few days, feels like it might actually be just the right size. Not too narrow to use the keyboard whilst making mistakes, tall enough to make good use of scrolling social media posts/news, wide enough in landscape mode to watch 21:9 content on YouTube, Netflix and anywhere else where it can be grabbed - and yet, not too tall for comfort in front-trousers pockets. So far, so good!

As usual these days with Motorola, there's a clear TPU in the box which is perfectly good and protects the phone from mild knocks and slippage. The back is Gorilla Glass 3, so will slip around in the hand without it. This unit is what they call Sapphire Gradient so as you might expect, a deep blue, shiny, moving to a lighter shade towards the edges. There's a bronze version also available but which seems harder to come by. The back glass curves around the sides to meet the plastic frame around the edge, which doesn't detract from the premium 'feel' of the device. The back also houses a camera 'bump' (almost flattened by the TPU, but not rocking) on the top-left, an LED flash underneath, an android/one logo and 'M' circular capacitive fingerprint scanner in just the right place for index, about 75% of the way up.

Get Connected
On the left is a Hybrid Dual nano-SIM/microSD Card Tray with pokey-hole, which means that (at least on this UK-sourced unit) you can choose between 2 SIM Cards or one SIM Card and a microSD. You can assign data use to only one of the SIM Cards at a time. WiFi and cellular signals seem very strong, a thing I check for now since I found some (even flagship) handsets to be sadly lacking with (apparently) poorly chosen component aerials. On the right is a volume rocker and power button, the latter being knurled for blind ID, on the top is a 3.5mm audio-out socket and on the bottom, USB-C data/charging socket and single mono speaker. Lastly, on the front, a flat sheet of glass - although nobody quite seems to know what kind of glass. Motorola say that it's '2.5D Glass' whereas they're more specific about the rear panel.

Cinema in the Hand
The 21:9 CinemaVision FHD+ display on the front then is an IPS LCD 1080p (x 2520 for the ratio, returning 432ppi). It's no AMOLED, but much like the Moto G7 Plus which I reviewed recently, it's bright and colourful enough for the unit's price-point. There's a lack of really rich saturated Z3 Play colours, but fiddle with the three options in settings and you'll find it pleasing enough. Remember the price! It's certainly bright enough and remains usable out in bright sunshine, which I tested yesterday. There are bezels, all round, 2 or 3mm, with a larger one on the chin. But we're being fussy, I think. I'm OK with bezels - with the TPU in place it ensures no accidental screen taps. We'd also be fussy to complain about seeing the whole screen in grey in a dark room whenever the screen is woken. It's an LCD!

A Big Hole
What is a problem for many it seems, is the size and position of the Selfie camera. It's big and intrusive and sits in the top-left corner, so naturally bottom-left/top-right when viewing media. The hole is big, the surround is big and it gets in the way. It screws with the Notification shade area in portrait, pushing all the content right, ironically shoving the Android Pie clock back into the right corner and shuffles everything else around. It also makes the Notification shade, because of the size of the cut-out, disproportionately fat. There's no getting around it, the whole arrangement looks odd - and what is worse, intrudes into viewing 21:9 content, pretty much the USP of the device in the first place! Motorola One Vision gets impaired-vision!

The W(hole) Fill
Having said all of the above, the human brain is a flexible organ and very quickly, in just a few days here, I've got used to it - and in all honesty, much like people say about notches, don't see it much. Part of the reason for that is that 21:9 content is not hugely available out there and anything less shifts the display right, so that end of the screen is not used. Which is, in itself, a bit odd, as the 16:9 content is nicely curved at the right corners but sharply squared on the left! I wonder at this point if Sony have implemented this outcome more pleasingly.

Real World 6.3 = 5.3!
The Vision has some weight and feels solid and sturdy in the hand, despite the plastic. It's 180g in weight, which is significant. The only place that the phone feels less than premium in fact is the SIM Card Tray. When you take that out, it's horribly plastic-feeling. Part of the weight is the glass of course and the 6.3" diagonal sounds like it's a giant - but don't forget that it's 21:9, so actually it's not a huge screen in a sense at all. I haven't done the maths but, back of a fag packet, if this had been 16:9 it would have been more like 5.3". So it's in many ways, quite dinky. It's very slightly taller than my Nokia 9 PureView but certainly less wide. It's even less wide than my Moto Z3 Play, though somewhat taller. I can very easily touch my thumb and middle finger around the waist. It's about the same thickness as the PureView and significantly fatter than the Z3 Play. So, deceptive, because of that wacky screen ratio!

Protected Access
Motorola have added an IP5/2 - a "water-repellent design which creates a barrier to help protect against moderate exposure to water such as accidental spills, splashes or light rain. Not designed to be submerged in water, or exposed to pressurised water, or other liquids; may diminish over time. Not waterproof." Straight from the horse's mouth! The capacitive fingerprint scanner on the back works beautifully well, in registration and execution. Fast and perfect every time. It can also be assigned to swipe-scroll-down the Notification shade.

128GB Standard at Last!
One of the key features which made a huge difference for me was the 128GB UFS on-board. This has become my baseline minimum now, given my demands, and with a microSD Card slot ready for 1TB, my 512GB card worked perfectly. Not only that, but the phone will accept my 2TB SanDisk Extreme SSD into the USB OTG port, sees it, reads and writes to it out of the box. Kudos to Motorola for enabling this, where so many others fail. One more step to catch Samsung et al now, to include HDMI-out which like all Motorola phones, sadly, it does not. But with this feature set, we're talking pocket-computer and real file management on a large scale, not just app-running phone.

No Dragons
Talking of Samsung, Motorola have done a deal with the giant company as the Vision employs one of their chipsets. The Exynos 9609, which those who test these things out, are suggesting is not unlike the SnapDragon 660 in terms of performance and efficiency, and not a stone's throw from the 9610 Samsung used in their Galaxy A50 which I recently reviewed and concluded there that it showed some slight slowdown. I put down to the plethora of Samsung software and UI additions that they added. I can almost certainly confirm that to be the case now as this Vision, with next to no extra software and UI changes from 'stock' (what there is, I'll come to), shows no slowdown in anything I throw at it. The chipset is perfectly good for all but demanding gamers, I contend. The 4GB RAM might be considered to be on the lower side, but don't forget that (amongst others) Google's own Pixel models do perfectly well with this with their similarly clean software. The 4GB RAM is perfectly fine for 98% of users' app switching. I really can't fault it - again, remember the price here!

One Clean One
To the software, then - and the Vision arrived with Android 9 Pie and May 2016 Google Security in place. It's an AndroidOne phone, so, much like the Motorola One which I recently reviewed, very clean and near-Vanilla. The Motorola One, also on AndroidOne, got very quick updates over the months - it seems that Motorola are taking the commitment to AndroidOne seriously and keeping up with others, in a way that they don't seem to do with their non-AndroidOne handsets. A lot of that is about additional software of course, which the Vision (and One) don't have, to make work with updates before release. It's often a payoff of 'clean against features' as well as the depth of resources any phone maker can throw at after-sales support.

Not Quite Always On
One of the annoyances of this equation for me is the lack of the same Active Display which works so fabulously on Moto's non-AndroidOne phones. There's an AoD but it doesn't respond to movement in front of the phone to switch on. It comes on when there's an incoming Notification, very briefly. If you're quick enough, you can then interact with it in the same way as a full Active display but if you miss it, you then have to 'nudge' or lift the phone to wake it. Not a deal-breaker but a little annoying. You can register your face to get the screen turned on by face recognition but in order for this to work, you have to lift it (or nudge and put your face in front of it), press the power button briefly then hold it in front of your face. It works blazingly fast when you do, but by the time you've done all that, lifted it up, your finger is round the back anyway so you might as well use the fingerprint scanner. The face recognition can also be set to keep the screen on whilst you're looking at it, useful if you're reading a long bunch of text, I guess.

It's a Gesture
Some of the Moto Gestures, Actions and Display stuff survive the AndroidOne bridge, such as the chop-chop torch, twist-twist camera, 3-finger screenshot (with downwards continuation), 1-Button Navigation (which remains a joy to use and the best on the market) and more. The additional software which Motorola add, as we've said before, are useful additions rather than bloat and/or third-party money-spinners.

The rest of the software is pretty standard AndroidOne Pie with all you'd expect from the Notification shade, settings, adaptive battery/brightness, Wellbeing, stock-looking launcher and UI with Google Cards with a right-swipe, At a Glance at the top of the home screen and Google Search field at the foot. Because of the height of the screen this works rather well and doesn't make the space between the two feel too cluttered to make use of various widgets. It's just a bog-standard offering of Android Pie in so many, reassuring ways.

Happy Snapper
Apart from the 21:9 screen, the Vision has a second major feature-set and that is the very capable camera. I'm going to send this over to Steve Litchfield so that he can do an in-depth analysis, but I'm very impressed so far with the 48/12MP f1.7 main camera with OIS, supported by a 5MP f2.2 depth-sensor partner. There's no zoom, but in my tests the Portrait and Night Vision modes work excellently well, especially in low light. There's an array of other Motorola-added modes to their camera software, some gimmicky, some standard but also some very useful for creative shots within the phone, including a full manual/pro mode. 4K video at 30fps is possible with other modes to play with in the video setup too. I've been comparing shots against the JPEGs produced by the Nokia 9 PureView this week and, yes I know it's subjective but, I think that the shots coming out of the Vision are more pleasing with less aggressive sharpening and smoother edges on close inspection than the Nokia. I think that most users who care to look any closer than what's needed to post snaps of their cat to Facebook, would appreciate the difference.

Shallow Hole
That big ol' hole on the front of the camera houses a 25MP f2 Selfie and I've been very impressed with the Portrait mode in testing here. It produces a lovely shallow depth of field and to some degree when you see the results, you forgive the huge hole. A little! In some ways, the selfie-cam is more fun to play with than the rear camera and capable of seriously high-res images! We'll see how it holds up when Steve gets it in his lab! The issue here, as I said earlier, is how the user feels about this huge hole interrupting their viewing pleasure of cinema-centric content. On the other hand, how cinema-like can a tiny screen in your pocket be - with a single mono speaker.

Excellent Speaker
Which brings us nicely to the sound. The speaker is bottom-firing and the natural way to hold the phone in landscape for me is hole bottom-left, speaker right. But users have the choice of left and hole top-right of course. When using the phone for enjoying just audio it doesn't really matter much that it's bottom-firing (except for pocket/cradle issues) or mono. The speaker produces quite excellent sound in actual fact. During my testing here, I was trying to find a phone I have in stock to compare it with and was expecting it to be one of the Nokia devices - or the Moto Z3 Play, but no - I ended up pitching it against the Pixel 2XL. Praise indeed. It's very loud and apart from those cymbal crashes in the top-end and rock-bass-grunge, competes well above its price-position for quality. It's not quite as rich and enjoyable overall, but it really isn't far off. Solo piano and light jazz sound delightful.

Dolby Audio
The sound can be tweaked by the system-wide (basic) Dolby Audio, which is the same limited version as can be found on the Samsung flagships these days - nothing like the full-blown Razer Phone experience. There's Smart/Music/Film for loudspeaker use and selecting between them makes subtle shifts in the sound of the output, but no real control. It's great to have, rather than not of course - and can be utilised for some recordings with decent effect. In relation to the aforementioned Samsung Galaxy A50 sound output, there's no comparison. The Motorola One Vision produces a much better sound.

Plug in a pair of decent headphones to the 3.5mm audio-out socket and those options suddenly open up to include Custom setting. Tap on the Edit button and up pops a graphic equaliser array with intelligent pre-sets or full manual control. It's still nowhere near the full-blown Dolby version I spoke of, but it certainly adds many more options. With my AKG reference headphones the sound is decently loud and controllable. There's no DAC here of course, so don't expect miracles without adding an adapter but it's a very nice output as it is. There is a pair of nasty-looking earphones in the box, which is good at least for those who want to build up their ear-wax! I can't bring myself to test them!

Bluetooth and Wireless
Bluetooth 5 works well and as expected, but there's no aptX amongst the other supported protocols. It produces an excellent sound tested here and all those equaliser controls remain available to tweak and play. There's also an FM Radio app included which, like other Moto variants, allows recording and once connection established using something plugged into the 3.5mm socket, allows the phone's speaker to be deployed instead of headphones. It's an excellent additional feature which is often missing these days.

Power Matters
Battery power has been reviewed by others less favourably than I am finding. Some negative opinions have been bounced about but in my testing this week I have been achieving, based on my average use when testing phones in general, everyday and dedicated use, between 24-30hrs per charge with 6-8hrs Screen on Time using Adaptive Battery and Adaptive Brightness. I think that's a pretty good return for the 3,500mAh cell. In my continual-reading and general use test I am seeing a 10% depletion of the battery in about 1hr 20mins. I don't know what others are doing with the phone to get poor results. The battery can be charged for 15 minutes with the 15W brick and USB-C cable in the box for 7 hours of power, according to Motorola.

No Brainer
Leaving the best for last, the price. At £270 Motorola have pitched it right in there with lots of competition but with more features and quality components than many, as they did with the G7 Plus, clean Android and useful Moto signature additions. The price will come down very soon to £229 (or even £199) at which point it would be a no-brainer. A fully featured terrific smartphone with 95% of the features of a so-called flagship from various other makers at five times the price. The niggles, I can live with. The attention to detail dealt out by Motorola is reassuring and the 128GB storage as standard is a peach, making this one of the most exciting phones I've reviewed this year. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, 19 June 2019


A gripping story of abuse, social divide reflecting the lengths to which humans can be pushed before cracks show, whilst others might just come out the other end, repaired. Actor, writer, director Paddy Considine (The World's End, Peaky Blinders) brings us a 2011 production worthy of Mike Leigh.

Peter Mullan (Ozark, Top of the Lake, The Magdalene Sisters) is Joseph, a Scottish man living in a poverty-stricken dole-driven inner city lower-class estate surrounded by others in much the same situation. He leaps from disaster to crisis on a daily basis in a lager-fuelled violent excuse for an existence, heading for self-destruction.

Drawn by the smile of Hannah, the religious middle-class woman who runs the local charity shop, he starts by deflecting the anger he feels at how the world has treated him and his feelings of worthlessness onto her, as she, hiding behind what she thinks is a shield of religion, soaks it up for a time. Olivia Colman (The Favourite, Broad Church, Fleabag) plays Hannah who, as it turns out, has a bunch of problems of her own behind that shield, much of which lies behind her abuse from husband James, played by Eddie Marsan (The World's End, Still Life, The Professor and the Madman).

What starts out as a sad story about people stuck in settings they'd rather not be a part of turns into a dark thriller with turns unexpected which drive the story away from a reflection of the mundane lives involved. As Hannah and Joseph spend more time together, their stories unfold and we discover more about both of their worlds, present and past.

The two leads, as you would expect, perform impeccably. They are both more than convincing in their roles and draw the viewer into their world, in order to appreciate what it's like and how it might feel to be trapped, powerless, in situations often not of their own making. The makeup and costume adds to the atmosphere and sets reflect that dour urban neglect often present. The cast around the pair bring interesting characters, most of which having a similar set of their own problems brought about by a life of challenge and unfairness. There is a theme amongst all this about social divide and class, but it's not the driving force of the film.

It's an earthy drama about people, poverty and abuse which draws out much emotion in the audience and certainly is not much fun for the characters or viewer. There are points of hope and optimism for those who look for them - within a sea of sadness and misery. A gritty film which you'll be pleased you watched.

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Rotek USB Otoscope

An Otoscope is medical contraption which is used to look into ears, as we know. Usually the quack will whip it out, turn on a light inside, change the nozzle which goes in your ear after it's been washed (hopefully) and inspect the outer ear and surface of the ear drum.

This gadget takes that a step further and sticks a camera into a thin shaft so that the image can be viewed on a computer screen, live as a video feed. Once the software is running, a photo can also be taken or video recorded. Some folk have been able to send recorded footage or photos to medics to save time for everyone when analysing issues.

First thing to say is that I have a good number of phones here - this unit is (allegedly) Android-only, though you can get other models for iPhone I understand - but I can't get any of them to work with it. You download an App and install, then run the software, but it always returns an error and won't hook up. The instructions say that you have to have a phone which supports USB OTG (no problem here) but also UVC (USB Video Class) which I've never heard of, so maybe someone can advise there. Anyway, no worries, as it works fine - and probably more usefully - on my Windows 10 laptop with an .exe file which is downloaded from the Rotek website.

The unit is about 6" long and has a 5.5mm end with the array of LED lights and central lens for the camera. It fits in my ear fine and I can see very clearly my ear drum and the canal. This unit is fixed focus and seems to focus at about 1" distance from the target. It focuses fine with the 720p HD class camera. You can get higher resolution units, but this is fine for inspection. And it doesn't end there of course. You can use this for looking at your teeth, up your nose - or any other bodily orifice you fancy! Or indeed, there might be a good case for using it to inspect blockages in drains or any other round-the-house DIY thing which you can't get to see easily. There's a cord which goes from the end of it to a USB connector which is one of these 3-in-1 units, microUSB, USB-C or USB-A. In-line in the cord is a rotary wheel to control the brightness of the LED lights at the end, which can be very bright.

It comes with a carry-case and some very dodgy-looking 'ear wax removal' tools and sticky-end things, which I think are best left to professionals, frankly. They could very easily be poked into the ear drum creating damage, a trip to A&E and surgery! I'm surprised that they allow those to be included, but then if people are stupid enough they could stick a cocktail stick in their ear and push a hole in an ear drum. So yes, I think this is a great inspection tool, not treatment device!

The software is easy to use on the computer and has loads of different options for recording and snapping photos. The screen is clear and the target can be seen very well. As an inspection tool, I highly recommend this over a manual unit which only one person can see at a time and has no recording potential. But the best, and amazing thing is the price. AmazonUK are selling this for £16! The kind of kit that a few decades ago might have cost huge amounts of money - and were only seen on Mission: Impossible!

Sunday, 16 June 2019

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

Original Title: Toki o kakeru shôjo
Continuing my quest for good quality Animation (as opposed to mass-produced Disney junk) I stumbled on this one and was disappointed, overall.
The style is that Japanese one, and I get that, but I think the style suffers in the way it depicts human beings - which is a shame. The animation otherwise is top-notch - lovely back/foreground visuals and near 3D-feel and attention to detail as the viewing angle from the camera makes the most of depth and focus in many scenes. It's all clever stuff and if only the people were afforded the same attention instead of blindly following the style, I think it would be much more pleasing.
Apart from that, the storyline had the real makings of an interesting time-travel one, but it has been hijacked and turned into a teen angst tale centred around kids at school, without a rich backdrop or intelligence to lift it beyond.
It's quite a long film for an animation but lacks the class and grip of others I have seen during my quest, particularly those from Studio Ghibli.

Sunday, 9 June 2019

Nokia 9 PureView

Nokia phones seem to draw me in more than almost any these days. The attraction is of course, nostalgia, but also the clean version of Android, almost always AndroidOne software now, but each device having a certain class or USP of its own. This is why whenever a new device rolls out of HMD, I find myself disproportionately enthused!

The Nokia 9 PureView was not immediately on my radar, however, as the USP here was photography and I (still) think that hoping to get the flexibility and quality of even a £100 compact camera out of a 'flat' phone is too tall of an order. The compromise, up to now, has not been worth enthusiasm. However, with software development treading where optics can't - and in some cases folding imagery via mirrors and tunnels - maybe there's light at the end of it! Nokia/HMD are pushing boundaries and the 9 PureView is certainly worth a look, particularly as it's been a Limited Edition release and who knows when it might no longer be available - or indeed what existing units in mint condition might become worth! It's time to take the plunge and buy a phone to keep - for a change!

It's tempting to compare the 9 with the 8 Sirocco in terms of bare-bones as it shares the same 6GB RAM, 128GB (non-expandable) storage, P-OLED screen, QHD(+) resolution, GG5, the exact same Always on Display, Android One software, Zeiss optics, single loudspeaker, no 3.5mm audio-out socket but 24-bit audio and OZO recording in 4K Video, Qi charging of almost the same size battery - in fact one of few differences is the Snapdragon chipset which the 9 updates to 845 from 835. I get the impression that they're from the same stable! But there are also differences of course, not least of which is the physical size.

Long, not Dumpy
The Nokia 9 is physically very different to the 8S as it has been made with the now becoming-standard 'long' screen rather than the 8S's 16:9 'dumpy' one - and flat! Pros and cons for both of course, but the width of both is about the same. This clearly means that for the same width, the 9, as I said, is taller. The significance of this for me is that the typing experience on the on-screen keyboard is no worse! The wide 16:9 8S screen makes typing a pleasure, and the 9 retains that. Important stuff! Compared to some other devices I have to hand then, it's a tad smaller in height and width than the Pixel 2XL but certainly less fat, almost exactly the same in all directions as my Moto Z3 Play - so much so that I wonder if my Mods might fit(!) - obviously smaller all-round than the Razer Phone 2 and very similarly-sized to the Nokia 8 (non-Sirocco).

Around and About
The front is a flat piece of glass with substantial sized bezels, chin and forehead. Hurrah! At the top there's a range of sensors, ear-piece speaker and Nokia logo - and at the bottom, nothing! The design language is sympathetic to many recent Nokia devices, including the 6 and 7 Plus, with that chamfered edge of metal around the edge front and back, visually moulding the glass to the 6000-series aluminium circumference. On the right edge are the volume rocker and power buttons, similarly fashioned, solid and clicky. On the bottom is the USB-C data/power port and single mono speaker, on the left there's nothing and on the top, a SIM Card tray with pokey-hole eject. You can get a Dual-SIM model, but this one is single. On the back, which is another sheet of GG5, is another Nokia logo, androidone logo and the array of lenses, which we'll come to, potentially making this a very special phone. The back is a fingerprint magnet, very slippery and reflective. There's one colour available and it's this Midnight Blue. It's attractive in a conservative kind of way. But yes - a TPU is an absolute must (and there ain't one in the box). You will drop it - and it will break!

When this phone first hit the shelves in February/March this year, there was much hoo-har about the quality of the in-screen optical fingerprint reader. People were reporting that it was near impossible to register prints and even when they did, it wouldn't recognise them - and another whole host of problems. I didn't see a unit which behaved this way - behind the cutting edge as I am - so can only report on what I find now. The April 2019 Google Security Update was apparently bundled with a whole host of improvements, not only to the camera but also the fingerprint scanner. When I fired up this device, the first thing it did before letting me in to see anything, was to apply that update. So that's where I'm coming from.

Fingerprint Scanner
The registration process is slow and fussy. When the screen is at rest and off, you're not only presented with the AoD but also a target for your fingerprint. Presumably in time, this optical system will disappear and everyone will adopt the much better, faster and more secure ultrasonic version. In the meantime, and having tested this over a number of days, I've turned it off! It's horribly unreliable with time and time again failure to recognise fingerprints. I've tried removing and re-registering to no avail. There are a couple things that those with more patience than I can try. Firstly, it seems to work better when fingers are not dry. So 'moist with sweat' fingers have a much higher success rate. (I'm sure somebody will prove that this is not physically possible, but it seems very much like that in my tests.) Secondly, keeping fingerprints upright, bottom to top, works much better both on registration and in use and lastly, it always works better straight after rebooting the device (which might point to processor/RAM). If you try to use it side-on, it struggles to register and won't often recognise. Which is a shame because the natural position for using it is thumb coming in at 45 degrees. It's not right and is much worse than any other system I've tried. They need to fix this somehow - and they can, as it's software.

The route in, is assisted, however by face recognition. A quick tap on the screen and the face recognition works for me, with full face beard, perfectly every time. From all angles and most lighting. Some have said the payoff here has been security but it's not possible to use this for purchase security, which I reckon is a good thing. The point is, that if you don't want to struggle with a fingerprint scanner that's rubbish (at this point), you have another good option. Or if you're really paranoid, turn it all off and use a password/code/pattern in the traditional way! It's a real shame that this feature has been brought to phones too early for its own good - a capacitive scanner on the back - or better still, on that empty chin, would have been a much better option.

Always On
As I said earlier, the AoD is the exact same version as the Sirocco's and gives four choices for clock and display content, settings to time-out (or never), always-on when on charge (so a handy night-light-clock) and it's equally bright, big and white on this AMOLED screen. Take note, Google and adopt for Pixel! [I note that in Android Q Beta 4 changes are being made to the size/clarity of the AoD.] It's so nice to have a true AoD though this one doesn't seem to wake up very well after switching off having been in a pocket. I'm continuing to test that but at the moment, it seems that every time I get it out of my pocket, I have to press the power button to wake it up.

Bright and Sharp
Heading back to the screen, it's a bright and sharp and gorgeous 1440 x 2880 (538ppi) in 18:9 ratio. It's all-but 6" and is a P-OLED protected by GG5, like the N8. Watching video on the device is a real treat as the brightness and colours pop out. Wind up the brightness manually and it is incredibly bright. Delightful.

Clean Sweep
The phone arrived with Android 9 (Pie) in place and quickly updated to that aforementioned April Security with the improvements that I wasn't able to appreciate on a before and after. The AndroidOne software ensures a near-Vanilla clean software experience with additional useful features like the Nokia AoD, Camera, Lightroom (optional at startup), My Phone (Nokia's Support and Maintenance package) and that's it. Hurrah! I don't think we need to go over all the aspects of Android Pie again, but it's all here and works very nicely. I've not even installed Nova Prime!

Flight OTG
As I said before, under the bonnet there's a Snapdragon 845 chipset, which no doubt everyone will say is 'very last year' but seems to do the job well. There are some things related to camera which could be done faster, which I'll come to, but I really don't think that a SD855 would fix that, and 6GB RAM which keeps everything around the UI flying nice and quickly. The 128GB storage could be more (or a microSD Card slot could have been added) but I would have been delighted if it had been doubled to 256GB. For those pushing the camera to limits, that will certainly be a restrictor and necessitate the use of flash SSD plugged in OTG. Thankfully that OTG seems to work well and I've been able to read/write media to cards. The device is not a heavy one at 172g but it is IP6/7 rated for dust and water.

Lend me your Ear
We now come to my favourite topic, sound output - the single mono speaker and lack of 3.5mm audio-out socket. The speaker is bottom-firing and if left unobstructed produces a decent enough sound. It's louder and better quality than the Sirocco's with a tad more bass and certainly more volume. Perfectly good for the vast majority of people - and equaliser available in software (not system-wide) of the user's choice. I've been using Equaliser + Pro again and it enables the speaker to pack a decent punch after tweaking. The lack of an earphone jack will impact different people in different ways of course, those who want to use legacy gear will weep, whilst the vast majority won't give a stuff and get on with the Bluetooth 5 and aptX. In the box there's a revolting looking intrusive ear-canal attacking pair of earphones(!) with in-line control (which works with both media and Google Assistant) but they work OK and sound fine with the 24-bit thing once the supplied USB-C to 3.5mm adapter from the box is employed! What's notable however, is that when I plug in my decent reference AKG headphones, I can hardly hear anything! Tried again with the dongle which came with the Sirocco - same result. Tried with the Razer Phone 2's super-power DAC dongle and suddenly it all came to life! Volume and power and rich sound. The dongles supplied in the box of these devices are clearly doing nothing and a DAC-enabled solution is needed to get any decent volume and quality. But then, to be fair, this is not a music-centric phone!

USP Hit or Miss?
No, it's a photography-centric phone of course and this is where I turn to the camera(s). The basics of what's being done here is that an array of 5 cameras are working together to supposedly create super-snaps! 5 x 12MP f1.8 Zeiss Optics units, two of which have RGB sensors and the other two, mono. There's nothing special about these cameras, lenses, sensors - it's in the combination, ToF and software that the magic is supposed to happen. (Time-of-flight is supposed to resolve distance between the camera and the subject for each point of the image, by measuring the round trip time of an artificial light signal provided by a laser or a LED. Wiki.) The array of lenses on the back are distinctive and interesting-looking, already having attracted comment and questions!

RAW Depth
Each camera takes a separate image when the shutter is fired, the images are then combined and processed. JPEG is the standard but RAW is available for those who want to go nuts on detail and post-processing - and produces DNG files. The Adobe Lightroom software will allow on-device tweaking of lots of parameters of the taken shot, though have to then be converted back to JPEG to be shared anywhere sensible via the phone. There's a Depth Map setting which can be turned on and off - if on, 1200 levels of depth are recording with every shot. Processing takes about 5-10 seconds after each one, then the resulting image can be opened in Google Photos (on the phone) and the point of focus and level of 'blur' can be adjusted and 'new' photo saved.

Eating Storage
This works excellently (and is great fun) but we understood that it is also supposed to work in Google Photos Editor in Chrome and it doesn't seem to do so - that final Depth Slider is missing from the array of options. Perhaps this will be fixed by Google/HMD. One thing to be aware of is that the phone creates an image roughly 5x the size if Depth Map is on, which might be an issue for those with auto-upload over cellular connection operative. I have enjoyed playing with and impressed by the results of the 10-second 'bulb' setting for low-light photos, but of course you do need to somehow keep the phone still for the duration. I've also been impressed with one thing I never assess during reviews these days - the LED flash, which though no Xenon, works much, much more effectively than most phones I've tried recently - with half-decent power/coverage and balanced light/colours.

Eating Data
Shooting in RAW of course records all sensor's data in the images which provides for much more flexibility in Lightroom and other image-manipulation solutions over the good-enough-for-most compressed-to-save-space JPEG equivalent. This is all real 'pro' stuff (or at least 'nerd') for those who really think they have a use for photos beyond what 98% of people do! But fine, it's a hobby! I see the difference when testing it here and zooming in - though again, users should be aware of the much bigger c.30MB file sizes - not only for sharing around and backing up, but also the hit on the 128GB on the phone - and no expanded memory. And don't forget processing time - don't be in a hurry!

There's loads to play with for someone interested in pushing the boundaries of photos from phones and playing with images as a hobby or profession (if they are stuck somewhere without their proper gear, I guess), though we do await software improvements and tweaks. Other phone hardware still seems to do a better job, despite this phone's supposed 'expertise'. The inclusion of a free (light) version of Lightroom is helpful for playing around, even if some of the higher-end features will cost the user not a one-off payment, but £4.39 per month to use! Steps back. Depends how keen the user is to play about with images on-the-go, I guess.

It's OZO Cool
Apart from the above, the camera interface is very similar to the Sirocco's with Nokia's style and design - with a pretty much similar feature-set. Time lapse, slow-mo, Pro, Mono, Panorama, Square - the usual stuff. There's a button which zooms you in to 1x, 2x and 5x but it's not optical - and there's no OIS - the software and smart combination of lenses and sensors is supposed to negate the need, I think! But it doesn't help for video - which only uses one camera and electronic stabilisation (which is kind of better than nothing)! Incidentally, the OZO sound recording is present, like with other Nokia phones, and works superbly well when shooting 4K video. Mind that storage though! There's a 20MP Selfie camera on the front with which you can use the Bokeh Mode, which does a decent enough job, but there's obviously no Depth Map thing going on, with the 5 cameras facing the other way!

Shaking Power
One thing to note is that the vibration motor in the phone is one of the strongest I've used for years! It makes a right old racket if left on a table, almost negating the need for ringtones! The AoD, like with the Sirocco, doesn't seem to hit the battery too hard and has a little more capacity at 3320mAh. In my tests over a week or so I'm doing well with it - no trouble at all getting through a day - in fact most times, it can be eek'd-out to a day and a half or so - as always, depending on what you're doing with it! Start mashing RAW photos on a day out and uploading 4K video, watching films and blasting music and it'll be a different story, as with any phone. Power management is helped here by the QC3 brick in the box and Qi Wireless charging for sipping as you go.

Hovering Around, Waiting Development
Some phones seem to really struggle with Android Pay terminals, in my experience - some even needing their case taking off to work at all - but this works amazingly well. Two, three, four inches hovering over the receptor and it picks up and works. If you want one of these units (and trust that Nokia will continue to develop the potential going forward) you'd better not hang about as it was a limited release. Who knows when it might just not be available (and we'll be onto the next thing)! The phone, as I said, is AndroidOne, so there is some commitment in that regard at least for 2 OS Updates and 'regular' security Updates (though this is feeling a little forgotten already, still on April).

Further Viewing and Reading
Those who want to pull the results apart and deeply analyse the performance of the output of images from this phone, which should be its USP, should take a look at Steve Litchfield's (very, overall fair at the time but negative) Phones Show 361 and see that improvements all round are needed by Nokia for people looking under the surface (though the 100% fingerprint scanner failure rate then is really not true now - it's up to about 50%!). For the rest, who want to tinker with tech and see what's going on, they might want to consider even buying! It's not cheap, but it's also not expensive! Half way between budget and flagship at around £500 (or I see $400 in the USA). I was hoping that the price would drop, but no - not in the UK, even to the USA level. I shall be very interested to see where Nokia take this and how much development comes along, so I'm happy to keep it in stock.

Resuscitate the Duck!
There's lots of negative commentary out there about this phone, but I have hope for the underdog. People like to jump on a project that appears to be a dead duck, but I really like the phone - for more reasons than its USP. Sucker for Nokia? Yes, this is most likely the case, I admit! If this were a phone made by any other company with the development yet to come and these gaps in performance, I'd have laughed at it, not given it a second look, least of all considered buying it!

Friday, 7 June 2019

Stan & Ollie

Saturday Morning Pictures was my earliest memory of the appreciation of Laurel and Hardy. In those days of course, it was just the build-up to The Lone Ranger, but appreciate it we did. Their work was an institution and regular doses on TV ensured an ongoing love. Delighted always going forward then was I, to see anything related - and I'd been waiting for quite some time to get my teeth into this film.

The added bonus for me was to see Steve Coogan in a straight role as Stan Laurel. I've always appreciated his work and flexibility - adapting to so many characters in the world of TV and film - and he didn't disappoint. He embraced the role of Laurel, had clearly learnt to ape many of not only his on-stage behaviours and quirks, but also in more private scenes where he didn't drop the similarities for a second. It was an excellent portrayal.

I know this film has been met with criticism and praise in equal measure, but I certainly come down on the latter side. It depicts the later days of the duo's career. We see a snippets of them at work in the 1930's but most of the action is later on, in the 1950's when they were older, not so healthy and on the wind-down to retirement. The action is centred around Britain, during their tour where they were fairly badly managed by money-grabbers around them, in whom they had placed their trust. There is conflict between them as Stan is portrayed as the one chasing the fair deals, not to be done-over with Ollie more passive and more interested in his craft and living for the moment.

It's a sad story in many ways - a side of the pair which is not always well known. It focuses somewhat on that conflict, but also on the passion for their art and ultimate love for - and appreciation for each other. It's also a delightful story of success as they bring such joy and happiness to so many people, evident in some of the scenes when they mix with the British public. The poor management and short memories of many contribute to some of the difficult times in small theatres around the country where they often played to very small audiences, however.

Playing Ollie opposite Coogan was John C Reilly (Tale of Tales, Holmes & Watson, The Lobster) and he too was an excellent choice. His face heavily made up for different ages and sizes of Hardy, you never forgot who he was, as he played Ollie with command and sympathy. Supporting the pair were the wives fulfilled by Shirley Henderson (Tale of Tales, Happy Valley, Okja) and Nina Arianda (Midnight in Paris, Crisis in Six Scenes, Billions), both of whom brought something to the film, the latter offering a very funny performance in some parts which she was clearly enjoying.

The 1950's sets of old Britain are quite superb in every detail. No expense has been spared and the atmosphere can be sipped in, in almost every scene. From telephone boxes to seaside pavilions, from buses, hotels, restaurants and clothes to food. It's beautifully laid out in a delightful backdrop to the story. The photography is executed beautifully with thought and consideration, focus tricks and lighting adding to the overall feel.

I appreciate that some people coming to a story about one of the greatest comedy duo's the film world ever saw were expecting more of a performance, more fun, reenacted sketches and scenes, but this film is not about that. The comic scenes that are shown, are done very well - but this is a story about the other side of the heyday - the reality about what it was like for the pair when the fame and higher profile had gone - as Stan writes new material relentlessly for their stage act. A poignant scene reflects this in which Stan is stood outside a theatre looking at a poster of Abbott and Costello. Their day had come and gone and it was time to move over for someone else to entertain. I thought it was presented, acted, directed, shot and produced near-faultlessly. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Perfect Porridge

I've always loved Porridge! There's a million ways to enjoy it of course, but here's my method...

-1 measure of Porridge Oats.
-1 measure of milk.
-1 measure of water.
-Bring to the boil, stirring throughout.
-Remove from heat, cover and leave for 5 minutes.
-Serve, sprinkled with brown sugar (naughty!)

Obviously there are variations on this and I have, for some time now, used these instant microwave packs, but there's nothing quite like making it on the stove.
I remember when I lived in Scotland they used to make it with all water, no milk and salt - which I didn't like at all!
Honey, syrup, fruit - pretty much anything can be added to taste of course.
Good healthy high-fibre grub!
What's your method or variation?

Motorola One Vision

Tempted as I was by the recent Sony 21:9 phones, I couldn't quite bring myself to pull the trigger because of some hardware and so...