Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Carol

The relatively inexperienced director Todd Haynes takes the helm and draws this 2015 adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's novel The Price of Salt, together very ably. Intelligent use of the camerawork and sumptuous 1950's New York sets and costumes are a delight to consume.

I have spoken before of the adapted novels of Highsmith with my thoughts on Strangers on a Train and The Two Faces of January. There's more to come, but the theme of the repression of homosexuality through the middle decades of the twentieth century are again at the forefront through her writing here.

Carol is a woman in her 40's who is married to a very traditional kind of man who values family and an obedient wife first and foremost. He had previously worked through and affair with her that she had with her childhood female friend and thought that it was over - and that she'd come away from it a wiser and better person. Not the case, as the story here starts with them heading very rapidly towards a divorce and the messy issue of custody of their small girl.

This is the point at which Carol, by chance, bumps into much younger Therese who is working as a sales assistant in a department store. Carol is clearly a wealthy woman and Therese a very ordinary, though well educated working girl. They fall for each other over the course of time, a series of meetings and trips, and although Carol understands what's going on, it's all new to the confused Therese who has various menfolk suitors chasing her to make her their wife. The liaison between them, as it builds, is created with much subtlety and passive warmth rather than with lewd bedroom scenes. The emphasis of the filmmakers is about the blossoming feelings and love between them. Society is not designed to manage such behaviour of course, for the time, and further constructed to actively quash any so-called immorality. What follows is a depiction of how the trappings of society use everything at its disposal to ensure that whatever is going on here is stamped out, by fair means or foul.

Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine, Notes on a Scandal) of course is quite excellent as Carol but better still is Rooney Mara (Side Effects, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) playing Therese. There's a real chemistry between the pair of them which, if not captured and directed well, could so easily have been missing. The locked-engaged looks into each others eyes across a room, noted before by me as equally commanding in Damage, create a deep atmosphere of their own and drills into the imagination of the audience. Beautifully shot. Kyle Chandler (Manchester by the Sea, Zero Dark Thirty) supports very convincingly as the tempestuous husband Harge, Sarah Paulson (Ratched, Bird Box) as Abby and Jake Lacy, the long-suffering Richard.

It's another great film from the works of Patricia Highsmith. It's a slow-burner in some ways, but is never dull, always engaging and a visual delight. It's a sad love story at times, but more a statement about an era reflecting hope for the decades to come where prejudices are stamped out. It's a study of two people swept up in emotions trying to make sense of their feelings - and that has been portrayed excellently well. Recommended indeed.

Monday, 30 September 2019

Julieta

Here's another Spanish drama/mystery from writer/director Pedro Almodóvar in 2016, produced ten years after his excellent Volver starring Penelope Cruz. This one is about a woman reflecting on her life, her daughter, and what she might have done differently to avoid the pain of losing those around her who made her life complete.

Sounds a bit dull, doesn't it! Actually, it's not. It's a slow-burner about Julieta played by Emma Suárez as the narrative begins with her in middle-age beginning to write her reflective memoir. Life has been hard on her and at the point of giving up on being able to fix it, she's depressed and wants to record her thoughts with an unspoken suggestion of ending it all. Most of the film then jumps back following her earlier life and depicts the events upon which she reflects.

The young Julieta is played by Adriana Ugarte who meets a fisherman by chance on a train but on that same train fails to respond to an older man reaching out for comfort, unknown to her, who was about to take his life. She thinks he's just an odd old man and leaves him, ensuring guilt that she will carry with her. She and the fisherman forge a life together and have a daughter, Antia. Tragedy follows with the death of the father and Antia disappears from Julieta's life, casting blame on her mother for the event. Julieta spends 12 years trying to find her.

Julieta has a boyfriend, of sorts, by this time - but it's clear that she has no deep feeling for him and sure enough, casts him aside to concentrate on her quest to find Antia. She moves back to the family home in hope that Antia might eventually contact her there. She bumps into Antia's childhood friend who tells her that she had met Antia by chance and that she was together with a man and living with their three children. The hunt is on again with this new information, but still cul-de-sacs at every turn.

We jump back and forward a little, but that's never done confusingly. The two actresses playing the older and younger Julieta makes sure that everyone knows where they are and the number playing Antia as she grows up, keeps the timeline clear. Apart from Darío Grandinetti as the boyfriend who played a leading role in the excellent Wild Tales, I have to admit to not knowing any of the cast but many of them clearly have extensive experience in Spanish cinema and TV. Adriana Ugarte is particularly captivating as the young Julieta, Emma Suárez clearly capable as the older - and the rest of the supporting cast don't seem to put a foot wrong.

The story is based around three books by Alice Munro (Destino, Pronto and Silencio) which I have not read, but those who have done seem to say that Almodóvar has made a fine job of weaving them together and creating this film. He certainly directs capably here with engaging photography, typically Spanish sets, lighting and interiors.

It's an excellent film, not too long at 90 minutes but engaging and well constructed. It's a film about loss, reflection, tragedy, guilt and hope, like many european cinema outings, but this one I think certainly stands out from the crowd having been excellently produced and executed. Recommended.

Tuesday, 24 September 2019

A Humongous Huawei Mate 20 X Review

Is that a Phone in your Pocket?
Guest Reviewer Ivor Biggun, otherwise known as Adrian Brain!

THINK DIFFERENTLY they told me! So I did. Rather than automatically ordering the new iPhone, I thought "Which are my favourite phones of all time?".
A few outstanding phones sprang to mind, but one was my Samsung Galaxy Mega 6.3 (because of its 6.3" display, obvs). Back in 2013 when the average screen size was about 4" this was called ludicrous, outlandish and down-right ridiculous, dwarfing the gargantuan 5.7" screen of the contemporaneous Note 3. Sadly, the Mega was underpowered in the RAM & storage department (app2SD was a daily feature of life with it), but it was always a joy and I used it for several years (without a SIM) as a mini-tablet. I eventually replaced it with the Sony Z3 Compact Tablet (basically the Sony Z3 Compact phone, another of my favourites, but pneumatically expanded).

Recalling the Mega experience, I had a scout around for the biggest, current phone I could find. The best of the bunch seemed to be the Huawei Mate 20 X, from early this year. John Lewis are selling them in a bundle with a smart case and S-Pen (sorry, M-Pen) for under a monkey, meaning the dent in the iPhone 11 Pro budget still leaves room for an iPhone 11. Or maybe the ROG 2 phone if it ever hits these shores.

Oh My Word
The scale of this thing is immense. For reference, the iPhone SE screen is smaller than the screen shown through cut out "smart case"! Huawei haven't hampered the phone with under-par specs; a Kirin 980 (same as this year’s P30 Pro flagship), 6Gb RAM chipset, 128Gb storage, triple-camera system phone. With dual SIM (or SIM plus NM card), IR blaster, correctly located rear FP scanner that is virtually instant to unlock, 3.5mm jack and a 5000mAh battery that lasts 2 days with ease this phone will eat whatever you throw at it. HDMI out, Desktop (Dex-like) mode etc. are all present and correct, & you even get a serviceable gel case in the box. The only features missing are Qi charging & an FM Radio, and it's only IP53 resistant, so avoid the temptation to use it as a surf board.

The screen is a lovely 7.2" AMOLED panel, and with no "waterfall" edges you get to see it all without hesitation, deviation or repetition. The teardrop notch is relatively tiny on this massive display & can be forgiven.

The back of the phone has an unusual ridged glass surface. I'm not sure how one YouTube reviewer managed to hold the phone almost vertically without it sliding off his palm, but it's certainly not the usual "bar of soap dunked in melted butter" slipperiness of many modern glass-backed phones. The finish isn't as flashy as some recent Huawei devices, but it's certainly handsome for such a big phone. The on/off button is also attractively ribbed, so you can distinguish it from the volume controls very easily.

But can you carry this behemoth in your pocket?
In average trousers or jeans, the phone is surprisingly pocketable. The hot weather this weekend gave me opportunity for the shorts test too, and it turns out it is possible to carry it around in shorts, though going up some stairs I found my hand going to the phone pocket, just in case it were to pop out.

At under 240g, it’s not heavy for the size (about 10g heavier than an iPhone 11 Pro Max), though you’ll probably want to stick with slim cases. As we approach the autumn and jackets, the size is actually a benefit – less fishing around in inside jacket pockets to pull it out.

Cinemascope
With that 7.2" display video is an absolute joy, web browsing so much nicer and it’s even quite viable to spend a lot of time reading Kindle books (if you tweak the settings to avoid the inevitable eye-strain). The screen still too small for comfortable magazine viewing, at least without a lot of pinch & zooming, so Readly fans will still need a larger device.

Lenses. Lots of them.
The triple camera setup is apparently identical to that on the much-praised Mate 20 Pro. I've not had much time using this, but it seems as exceptionally good as my P30 at the usual snaps. I've yet to investigate video, selfies, portraits and night mode, but I'm not expecting any surprises or sub-par performance. Some sample shots below showing wide, normal and 3x zoom lenses, and a panorama for when wide isn’t wide enough. Note that the Mate 20 X is large, but it’s not as large as the Walkie Talkie building.

Big Music
Audio is great - the speaker setup gets annoyingly loud and is reasonable quality - it's not a ROG or Razer but is still good. Things take a step up with the 3.5mm audio output - extremely good, which is unusual for a Huawei. Apparently, it's a 32bit, 384KHz sample rate DAC. To my ears it's almost as good as my quad-DAC LG V20 on wired cans, and I suspect it will have no problem driving high impedance headphones. Dolby Atmos is present, though curiously cannot be turned off for the speakers (only with headphones).

OS UX
Yes, it's a Huawei, but I've grown to quite like EMUI. It's nowhere as hideous as it used to be, and you can re-theme it with a few taps. Dark mode is present & fairly pervasive. There were loads of sequential updates to apply after booting up, & Huawei have promised Q to arrive for the Mate 20 X as a beta in December, with a full release sometime after that. Currently it's on P, 1st August 2019 security update.

Out of the box the UI deos feel inelegant, but a few tweaks in Settings to reduce font and tile size and it feels like you’ve got acres of useable space to work on.

There’s bloatware of course, but the most offensive stuff like FB can be uninstalled. The Huawei calendar, browser, music & photos duplicate of Google apps continue to irritate, but if you start the Huawei browser in the vicinity of a Huawei laptop it enables handoff & AirDrop like capabilities between the phone and a Huawei laptop which is handy.

Another thing worth a shout is Huawei's phone clone transfer software - it replicated my P30 onto the Mate 20 X sublimely well & also very quickly via an ad hoc WiFi network; scan the displayed bar code on the source phone, choose what you want to transfer and 20 minutes later 50Gb of data, settings and apps has been transferred, even sideloaded apps. The only thing that went AWOL was the BBC Sport app. SMS, screen settings, call logs & even notification icons layout went across without a glitch. Impressive stuff.

The Bad
There are some downsides, but these relate to the bundled accessories rather than the phone itself. The M-Pen seems restricted to unlocking directly into the Notes app, which is serviceable, & for making cut-out screenshots and swiping to hop into dual screen mode quickly (rather good). It also doesn't attach into or onto the device itself, and neither the smart case, so it's an item that will certainly get lost.

The Smart Case, also part of the bundle, isn't too smart either - you must close the cover twice to get the AOD to adapt to the hole in the case, and then it turns off after a minute, making it seem a bit pointless. Without the Smart Case, you get the usual Huawei AOD display. It’s not bad as it is, but the next version looks more feature complete.

Conclusion
I have to say, so far, I’m completely smitten with this unusual device. You may need big pockets for the Mate 20 X, but you don’t need deep ones.

Sunday, 22 September 2019

How to Write a Film Review

Recent (constructive) criticism about how I write film reviews encouraged me to do a bit of research online to see if there are 'rules' and how others approach the task, perhaps more methodically. Here's what I found out, though I'm sure there are thousands of other ideas out there.

By the way, my self-appraisal is that actually I do quite a lot of this usually anyway, but could improve. (I do wonder if it's worth all the hassle, however, when few people read it anyway - and others around me just submit a paragraph at most!) Anyway, I post here in case anyone else is interested - and perhaps to encourage discussion and other people's ideas.

Ten Thoughts
1. Is this film part of a franchise? How does it suit the series?
2. Is the plot based on a novel, fantasy, or real-life events?
3. Did the writer manage to create a clear and captivating plot?
4. Is the rhythm of the movie dynamic or smooth? Are there too many needless details?
5. What is the target audience of the film? Is it G-rated, R-rated, or unrated?
6. Do movies on the same theme/topic that are worth mentioning in your review exist?
7. What sorts of shots does the cameraman use in the film? How do these techniques affect the overall impression?
8. Does the movie have an exclusively entertaining character or touch on serious issues?
9. Was the casting successful? Did all actors manage to portray their characters?
10. What is the general atmosphere of the movie? Is it tense/joyful/obscure?

---------------------------------

1. Begin with a catchy introduction.
Your introductory paragraph should include essential information about the movie: title, genre, director’s name, and release date. You can also mention, if appropriate, the awards (the most prestigious ones), the budget and the box office (if they are impressive), and the cast members. In addition to the general information, it is necessary to include your overview into the introduction. A compelling overview is a starting point for the critical part of your review that goes beyond the elementary plot summary and description of the technical elements. The overview may display different aspects such as:

- the connection between the film’s central idea and the current issues or events;
- the similarity between the plot and your personal experience;
- the interrelation between the thematic content of the film and its formal elements.

2. Don’t put your evaluation into cold storage.
If your readers don’t have much time to read the entire review, you can, at least, provide them with your evaluation at the beginning of the text. Don’t reserve your personal opinion for the concluding paragraph. You are not a crime writer: lay your cards on the table in the first or the second paragraph.

3. Compose a brief plot summary.
Describe four or five major events but don’t reveal the ending. Besides, avoid the “spoilers” by all means because your readers will hate you for destroying the suspense. If you still want to mention a significant turn, please, warn the readers about it.

4. Describe an overall impression.
The main purpose of the plot summary is to tell what the film is about. The description should inform the readers not about what you’ve seen but what you’ve felt. Mention the emotions and thoughts awakened by the concrete scenes, the most touching score, and the moments that pulled your heartstrings. Share your cinematic experience in order to make your review less formal and more personal.

5. Determine the purpose of the movie.
Answer the question, “Why was this film created?” Sometimes, you may find the response in the interviews with the members of the shooting team. In other cases, the purpose can be obvious thanks to the plot. If the movie has an entertaining characteristic, don’t try to dig deeper to find some implied sense. Certain films are good because of their simplicity.

6. Add some details about filmmaking.
The analysis of the formal techniques is an indispensable part of any exhaustive film review. Concentrate your attention on one or two elements that you consider to be the most significant for this particular film. Be careful with the specific terminology because your movie review shouldn’t look like a crossword. Here are some aspects that you can describe:
a) Cinematography
This term includes everything that happens with cameras during the shooting. You can describe three main aspects of cinematography if you see them as important for comprehension of the film: camera movement, camera angles, and camera distances.
b) Sound
Although the sound affects the atmosphere of the movie as well as the visual elements, it is often underestimated. However, talented film score composers are highly praised in the filmmaking world. Every sound in the film can be classified as diegetic and non-diegetic. Diegetic sound is like thunder, birdsong, barking, or conversations in the restaurant are the part of the narration. Non-diegetic sound is like off-screen commentaries or film scores that come from outside the universe of the film.
c) Editing
In a nutshell, the goal of editing is to create a smooth connection between all pieces of the film. The editor creates the “world of the story” in order to give the viewer a sense of space. The filmmakers use various methods to compose the integral reality of the film: graphic similarities, eyeline match, establishing shots, etc.
d) Mise-en-scène
This aspect is the most global because it includes literally everything that you see on the screen. Every landscape, actor’s smile, and visual effect is a part of the mise-en-scène.

7. Look for the deep meaning.
A good film is never superficial. There are always key phrases, symbolic things, and repeating elements that are significant for the deeper understanding of the film and, consequently, for your overarching review. Be attentive in order to unlock all secrets of filmmaking!

8. Provide the examples.
No review can sound trustworthy without examples. Phrases like “the acting is great” or “the sound is bad” don’t inspire trust. Be more specific! For example, when you talk about the portrayal of a particular character, mention what exactly makes the actor relevant for this role: appearance, manner of speaking, facial expressions, etc.

9. Write a strong conclusion.
Remind your readers about the film elements that impressed you the most. Add some personal recommendations and specify for whom this film will be more interesting and why. Remember that your conclusion is the last chance to convince your readers, so do your best!

10. Edit and proofread your film review.
Read your work two or three times. Correct all the mistakes: word choice, grammar, style, spelling, typos, etc. Errors can spoil even the most professional review!

-----------------------------------

1. Watch the film.
Once is necessary twice is preferable. Taking notes is also a good idea and will help the writing process by making it easy to refer to your in-the-moment thoughts and reactions.

2. Express your opinions and support your criticism.
Professional reviewers do not shy away from telling their readers whether they thought the movie was good bad or indifferent, and in fact readers come to rely on those reviewers whose tastes reflect their own when deciding whether or not to spend their time and money. Professional reviewers also have watched a lot of films and can express why and how they came to their criticism. Be sure to back up your thoughts with specifics–a disappointing performance, a ridiculous plot, beautiful cinematography, difficult material that leaves you thinking, and so on.

3. Consider your audience.
Are you writing for a fan site, a national news outlet, or a Teen Magazine? Knowing who your readers are can help you decide what elements of the film to highlight. You should also adjust your writing style to fit the publication.

4. The actors.
Many casual filmgoers will be inspired to see a film if a favorite actor is in it, so you should probably spend a little space talking about the performances: seasoned actor in a new kind of role, brilliant performance from a rising star, excellence despite a lackluster script, dynamics in an ensemble, and so much more can be said about the actors in any given film.

5. Directors, cinematographers, special effects.
This is where your film geek can really shine. Tell your readers about the highlights or missteps of directors, cinematographers, costume designers and CGI magicians. What worked, what surprised, what fell short of expectations, are all great questions to address in the body of your review.

6. No spoilers!
Give your readers some idea of the plot, but be careful not to include any spoilers. Remember the point of a good review is to get people interested in going to the movie. Don’t get over excited and ruin it for them!

7. Study the professionals.
As with all writing endeavors, the more you read the better you will be. And when you read film reviews that you like (or don’t like), think about why. Use your critical eye to think about why one reviewer has a hundred thousand followers and another two. Be sure also to read the publications where you’d like your writing to appear as a template for your own reviews, and don’t forget to read the submission guidelines!

8. Reread, rewrite and edit.
Edit your work; your opinions will not be taken seriously if you misspell the director’s name or can’t put together a grammatically correct sentence. Take the time to check your spelling and edit your piece for organizational flow.

9. Find your voice.
The best reviewers have a distinct personality that comes across in their writing. This does not happen overnight, so take every opportunity to write as an opportunity to develop your own style and voice that will grab reader’s attention and keep them coming back for more.

Adapted from articles at answershark.com, nyfa.edu and others.

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Unbelievable

This excellent 2019 drama by writer, director, producer Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich) is a wonderful demonstration of the always-improving production quality coming out of the Netflix studios as the company grows in confidence and resources.

It's the true story of the hunt for a serial rapist by authorities in America. It is centred around the first of his victims, Marie, who had also up until then, been a victim of the effects of poorly managed and executed children and foster services since she was three years old. As Marie plucked up the courage and confidence to report the rape she suffered, the local police rapidly talked her out of it, dismissed the case and charged her with wasting police time. She had now become a victim of the police as well.

The series is made up of eight episodes of about 50 minutes and follows Marie's life throughout the events - and for the few years following, while the rapist continued to chalk up more victims. The timeline jumps back and forward across a few years to develop the events around Marie for the viewers whilst also tracking the efforts to catch the man of two female detectives during the later time period.

The delivery is much more drama than thriller, reflecting the fact that this was a serious and true series of events, instead of just a creation for TV. The pacing is handled excellently as information unfolds about the events, more victims come forward and the detectives (and their team) work harder to bring the man to justice. It demonstrates that there are good people involved in the systems trying to care and support people but highlights where systems, regardless of individual good intentions, lets people down who are in need.

The main leads are near faultless in their acting, the young Kaitlyn Dever (Justified, Last Man Standing) as Marie - clearly a super talent and one to watch going forward. A very difficult role which demanded a range of emotions and behaviours, which she pulled off at every turn. Toni Collette (The Sixth Sense, Muriel's Wedding, Little Miss Sunshine) and Merritt Wever (Godless, Signs, Nurse Jackie) play the two detectives very convincingly. There's a real chemistry between them which survives their characters' differences of approach. The supporting cast, which includes Elizabeth Marvel (Fargo), execute their roles similarly well - clearly much care was taken in casting with all sorts of names popping up, big roles and small.

It's a sad and harrowing depiction as emotions run high. Once again, knowing that the story is true makes it more powerful and meaningful as people involved tackle their trauma whilst helping to provide information. Very highly recommended viewing and once again, worth the Netflix subscription going forward. If the quality of the productions contine at this pace I shall have to stop whining about the cost!

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Tefal Easy Soup and Smoothie Maker

We've had two Morphy Richards Soup Makers over the last few years and I've even reviewed and recommended one on the Whatever Works Podcast, but ultimately, they have both broken. Enter Tefal Man!

The symptoms of the aforementioned are the same - after a few months when making soup, they don't blend it properly. Expecting a nice smooth soup and we get a chunky mess sometimes not even hot, with food uncooked. Having looked at long-term reviews at Amazon, there are many people reporting the same experience. So time to leave Morphy Richards behind!

The Tefal Easy Soup Maker is not the cheapest option (currently £80 at AmazonUK) - and maybe that's relevant to the above - but it looks and feels like it's a much better quality product. Just to be clear, we're only interested in making soup, so have not tested it for any other function. The unit has a smaller capacity than the 1.5L and 1.6L of the Morphy Richards units at only 1.2L but actually, for the three of us kicking about that's just right and on reflection, we often had too much soup with the other units previously. So that reduction is actually a benefit!

The body of the unit is made from stainless steel with a lift-off lid which, like the other ones, houses the motor, computer and controls. There's a swivelling handle for easy lifting and a control panel which offers large press-buttons, big text and clear icons. Smooth Soup, Chunky Soup, Compote and Smoothie - with a Start button and Warming indicator. Smooth soup takes 23mins and chunky 25, compote 20 and Smoothie, 4. As always, there are rules about what to put in here - like no raw meat and not frozen stuff, but following the rules (as we always did with the other units) we hope that this one will last longer!

There's a Min/Max mark inside to guide the amount allowed inside and what you put in there is really only limited by how creative you feel like being! Close up the lid, press the button and let it do its stuff. When it's finished you get 3 beeps and the unit (when making soup) automatically switches to Warming mode - keeping your soup warm for 40mins - very handy when catering for a number of people trying to get course timing right. The Morphy Richards units didn't have this. One thing the Morphy Richards units did have was a digital countdown timer, telling you how many minutes left - but to be honest, we rarely needed to refer to that information.

Lastly, there's a 3min Cleaning programme, which the Morphy Richards units did not have - where you can fill the unit with soapy water and press the button - and it cleans it for you! If you'd prefer to do that manually, of course you can - and actually, it's much easier to clean than the Morphy Richards units as the stainless steel interior is rounded (like the inside of a football) at the bottom, whereas the others had 'square corners' at the base which needed 'digging into' to be sure to get stuff out.

The soups we've made have been scrummy and the unit itself is much quieter in operation. The Morphy Richards units were very noisy indeed, so much so that we tended to shut the kitchen door when it was running! The desserts and cold functions we've not tried but according to reviews this also works well, making puddings, baby food, milkshakes - again, I guess the world is your oyster to experiment and create!

Tefal apparently have a 10-year no-quibble repair/replace programme, which gives us confidence going forward. We should have realised that sometimes you get what you pay for and the Morphy Richards units, at less than half the price of this one, perhaps should ring bells. We'll report back in a year's time to see how its going! In the meantime, so far, recommended.

Thursday, 12 September 2019

Motorola One Zoom

Motorola have been pushing their 'One' series of phones now for a while and this is their latest, alongside the One Action and Vision, as they hit the mid-tier big-time, offering more capability for the price than One might expect! Some of the new breed of One phones run under the AndroidOne programme, whilst others adopt a more 'mainstream' Android software.

The One Range
This new Zoom from Motorola has to be compared here with the One Vision, Action and Moto Z3 Play (links go to my reviews). It feels like a bit of a hybrid of the three from which features and specifications have been pinched, merged or extended. The phone can be bought in the UK just now via Amazon, with whom they have done a near-identical deal as they did in the USA with their fork of the Moto Z4. I detest pre-installed software, so my primary job here was to see how much of the pre-installed apps and links to services could be uninstalled or killed. And more importantly, going forward, what impact that has on getting regular updates to Android and Security Updates. The phone can be bought direct from Lenovorola's website, incidentally, and would appear to be a 'clean' version without the Amazon stuff. I was impatient!

Useful Additions or Bloat?
Let's get that out of the way first then. The main thrust of the Amazon tie-in is getting users to switch to Alexa. By default, a double-press of the power button invokes this, but it can be switched to Google Assistant, nothing or Camera (though double-twist for camera would waste the button slightly). Incidentally, changing this away from Alexa doesn't survive a reboot, annoyingly. Alexa app can't be uninstalled, but can be disabled and force-stopped. I've developed an A-List and B-List for these pre-installed apps. The A-List are the apps that I would have installed anyway and use, the B-List, those which I don't want/use and might bug me in time that I can't uninstall them. So, the A-List is Amazon Music, Shopping, IMDb and Audible, the B-List, Alexa and Photos. IMBd can be uninstalled, but the rest need disabling for those they annoy. Nova Prime in place and they can be hidden, largely. If the same principle had been applied by Amazon as it does for Kindle Readers - that it's cheaper to buy with this stuff on - then it's swallowable (given how otherwise 'vanilla' the phone is) - but this is the same price as a 'clean' version from Motorola (on release). As it happens, this doesn't really bother me much as long as the apps don't waste system resources or bug me. I've already had a pop-up prompting me to use Amazon Photos. We shall see!

AndroidOne or Android
The benefits of using an AndroidOne phone is that two major updates of Android are guaranteed, along with three years of Security patches. The Zoom is not sure to get that - the same as the Z3 Play and G7 Plus. The One Vision and Action will qualify. Motorola have not been the fastest firm for pushing out updates, so we'll see what happens with this one. As we head towards Android 10, Project Mainline should be ironing out these inconsistencies and I'm assuming, regardless of the above, that at least Q (10) and R (11) will be pushed out for the Zoom. Watch this space! Out of the box the Zoom was running Android 9 Pie with July 2019 Google Security, which updated straight away to August (unlike the Z3 play). Going forward I guess we enter the usual 3-month pattern with non-AndroidOne devices until the above changes kick in.

Launcher
As usual, the Moto Launcher is clean and very Vanilla following the Pie protocols, but without the Pixel's fixed-screen Glance/Search bars. The Google Cards to the left of Home can be switched on/off and layout made 4x5 or 5x5. Notification shade and App Drawer are Pixel-style, with the added bonus of swipe-up from anywhere for one and swipe-down from anywhere for the other. Google need to adopt this! Apart from the Motorola additions, which I'll come to, the Settings is equally untarnished, though dark mode is yet to make it across. Nova Launcher/Companion App can of course replace all this and fix it up, but it almost feels a bit of a shame to do so when it's all so close to what the average user will be happy to use.

Family's Focus
So, what's the One Zoom's speciality amongst the family? Whilst the Vision has 21:9 for media, the Action, wide-angle action-cam for snowboarders and the like, the Zoom, unsurprisingly, provides a 3x Optical Zoom. Not quite the 5x of the current leaders, but let's not forget that this one is near-half the price of those! I'll come to the cameras later, as there are 4 of them, providing a distinctive 'cluster' in an oblong box on the back, which also houses a light-up Notification Motorola 'M' logo, Razer Phone style.

Substantial
But first things first and the physical. The Zoom and Action are not quite as tall as the Vision, as their 19:9 screens are not 21:9 for cinema! The Zoom and Action actually, are very near the same size all round, save for a shave off the Action's thickness. The Zoom is the wider of the three, heading more towards the dimensions of the Z3 Play, though a tad taller - and fatter of course. Without a Mod on the back, the Z3 Play is super-thin. The Action and Vision have a corner Selfie 'hole' cut out of the front glass whereas with the Zoom, they've gone for a teardrop, central. On first holding the phone, I was surprised at how big it felt. From prior research I really thought it would 'feel' smaller than it does. I couldn't get my finger and thumb around the waist even without the supplied clear TPU in the box, which incidentally is of good quality and saves the user buying another. The phone feels chunky, weighty (at 190g) and substantial. It verges on being a two-handed phone, which is why Moto have supplied a software swipe-for-reducing the screen content this time.

Looking Around
Bezels around three sides are small but not invisible, providing a good balance between making the most of screen size and not forcing accidental touches and swipes. There's a slightly larger bezel as a chin, but I'm OK with that as it gives my big digits more space to be sure and hit Motorola's superb Long Pill Navigation control. On the right side are a volume rocker and Power button. The power button is knurled and both controls are metal, feeling sturdy and firm in use. The front glass is 'Panda King' 2.5D and back is Gorilla Glass 3, the same as the rest of the family but the 6000-series polished aluminium around the edge is where the the Vision and Action are left behind, being plastic. This is clearly a price-point thing and you can tell, when handling the Vision/Action's sides without a TPU in place - and accessing the SIM Card Tray, that the Zoom and indeed Z3 Play are a cut above on quality. The colour I have here is Cosmic Purple and like a lot phones these days, the back glass, which sweeps nicely round to meet the aluminium surround, kind of shimmers in different lights and has a soft-touch velvet look. Very attractive for those brave enough to use it without the TPU! The Zoom is splash and dust resistant IP5/2, with P2i nano-coating, apparently!

Clustered
Very unusually these days, the single Mono speaker is at the top instead of bottom along with the SIM Card Tray, which will take two SIMs or one and a microSD Card on this variant - your region may vary so do check. On the left of the phone there's no controls and on the bottom, USB-C port and 3.5mm audio-out socket. On the rear is where the fun starts as we look at a huge camera-cluster, with 4 lenses and an LED flash to the side. The island sits proud, but becomes flush with the TPU in place - and has a stylish vertical-line pattern when viewed at certain angles. As mentioned above, there's a Notification Logo which lights up white. The behaviour of this can be assigned in Settings to be always-on when the phone is in use, for Notifications, Wireless emergency alerts and/or when charging. Any or all of these can be toggled as well as sub-controls for bypass when DND is active. It appears to slowly 'pulse' ongoingly until the item is dealt with, when set to Notifications. The colour can't be changed from white, Razer Phone style, but this is not a toy!

Engine Room
The Motorola One Zoom has a Snapdragon 675 under the bonnet whereas the Vision, due to some Samsung deal, had the Exynos 9609. As I said at the time, I had no slow-down with the Vision running that chipset like I did experience with the Samsung Galaxy A50 with the close 9610. Similarly I detect no slowdown with the Zoom here, whatever I throw at it and the good-enough-for-Pixel 4GB of RAM makes switching between apps just fine. I see no excessive shutdown in the background and really don't think (currently) Android Pie needs more, where a clean version of the OS is adopted. The 600-series SnapDragons seem to be very well optimised for performance and battery usage. I've never had any problems at all with the Z3 Play's 636. As we've come to expect with Motorola, the signal pickup and connectivity over Cellular, GPS and WiFi is second to none. I have areas which have proved to be dodgy where I can conduct these tests and it holds on very well above average.

Beefy Battery
The battery inside the Zoom is a 4000mAh unit, more than the 3500mAh of the Vision/Zoom and certainly up on the 3000mAh Z3 Play (onto which battery Mods of course can be added). I've experienced the best return on my 10% test of any phone I've tried for the last couple of years with this cell. Level playing field, same for all devices on test, general use, screen on, reading, scrolling, the odd video, podcast, adaptive brightness/battery - you get the idea - and I have reached 1hr 40mins for the 10% here. Staggeringly good performance - and a real-world (for me) in early test returns 2-days of average usage. There's no Qi charging here but with that kind of performance, it's not a great miss. Always better to have than not of course, but I guess something had to give on price. There's a TurboPower 18W Charger in the box if it's needed for quick fixes.

Screen Differences
One of the key differences between the two pairs is screen tech for these 1080p units across the range. The Vision (6.3") and Action (6.3") have LCD screens whereas the Z3 Play (6") and Zoom (6.4") have flat Max Vision OLED panels (which I'm assuming are Samsung's but couldn't seem to track that data down). This, along with the Android/AndroidOne, seems to make the difference also between the level of support for Motorola's own software supplied for Peek and Approach, which I'll come to later. The colours are gloriously rich, blacks black and screen very bright, just like Motorola's other phones with OLED panels down the line. There's a basic switch in Settings for Colours between Natural, Boosted and Saturated. There's not much difference between the first two, but the Saturated pulls more vibrancy out of reds and greens. However we egg-it-up, LCD screens from the other models in the One range are nothing like the excellent OLED here. The screen is very responsive and swipes perfect. The central notch at the top is small and half of it is lost in the top bezel anyway, making a small semi-circle cut out. It almost looks like it could have been completely placed in the bezel, but no matter, as discussed before, until under-glass selfie-cams are routine, the brain gets used to it quickly.

Fired Up
This is one of the first shots Motorola has had at an under-glass optical fingerprint scanner instead of a capacitive unit in the chin, round the back or on the side. Coming from the Nokia 9 PureView, this scanner is a delight - and actually works properly! It's no capacitive scanner, but it really isn't that far behind. I'd say it's easily as quick as the OnePlus 7 Pro I tested recently and as Optical Scanners go, it's up with the best using the tech. Registration is certainly more fussy than, say, a Pixel, but once done, it works first time, every time, with nanoseconds delay whilst it processes the image. I have no complaints and am happy that it's on the front for desk/table/arm-chair use. There's also Moto's Face Unlock in the mix, which is a little fussy to set up (for us with full beards!) but seems to work fine in tandem with the aforementioned measures. It does need a swipe to execute, which for me, renders it less useful than, for example, Samsung's version.

Moto Goodness
This brings us nicely to the Moto add-ons which include the full-suite found on the Z3 Play instead of the cut-down versions applied to the Vision/Action. As I've said before, the Moto add-ons feel very much like enhancements to Android rather than bloat. We get the Moto Actions (twist for camera, chop-chop for torch, Long Pill Navigation (or 3-button), 3-finger (long) screenshot, various flip-for/pick up options for phone use, option to remap volume keys for media, Lift to unlock and shrink screen for one-handed use) and Moto Display (Peek, Approach, Attentive and DTTW). The approach is the most useful routinely, meaning that you just have to move your hand over the device to wake the screen - and Peek enables a high level of interaction with Notifications and Media. It's a great system and sorely missed by me with the Vision. The screen lights up, along with that 'M' on the back of the phone and lets you get on - or touch the fingerprint scanner target to open up fully. I can't emphasise enough how super the UX is, of the Motorola phones that have the full suite.

HDMI-Out: Woohoo!
Yes, the first Motorola (certainly since before the Z) which works beautifully with HDMI-Out. I don't understand why this feature is not plugged by firms selling phones, but it wasn't documented anywhere I read. (I guess they assume nobody can be bothered with wires much anymore.) Discovered during my normal round of testing for reviews and yes, my eyes lit up! Well done Moto! Not so surprising is the USB-OTG and the Zoom passed my 2TB SSD Extreme Test with ease. Not quite as quick as Samsung flagships, but not far behind. Reads and writes more than fast enough. There's also microSD Card support of course and in keeping with 2019 Moto phones, 128GB built-in storage. Hurrah again! I'm beginning to find it hard to find fault with this phone! Maybe the single Mono Speaker will bring me back down to earth...

Merged Pitch
I've pitched the speaker up against the (loud but not best quality at full volume) Motorola One Vision and the (great quality but not so loud) Z3 Play. Guess what? It comes out as a merge of the two! The volume is louder than the Z3 Play and quality at least equal, if not better - but not as loud as the Vision, but certainly better quality. Bring down the volume of the Vision to match the maximum of the Zoom and the Zoom sounds better, richer and with more body and depth. As always, it depends what you listen to, but my yardstick here is consistent in testing phones against each other. In a nutshell then, it's a better all-round sound than either of the others but yes, the Vision can get louder. Perfectly good for my use and I'm really not bothered about stereo in phones. I have started to use Bluetooth speakers more these days and of course Bluetooth 5 is supplied here, working perfectly with various devices though without aptX support. Can I tell the difference? There. I convinced myself! Incidentally, I reckon that the speaker being up-top rather than down-bottom is better for me, particularly when listening to music and reading (in portrait). In this situation, with speaker at the foot, my hand is always covering it. This way up, it ain't! Certainly better also for any car-cradles.

Personalised Sound
There's a 3.5mm audio-out socket, as I mentioned earlier, but no fancy Quad DAC or higher-level output available, so a super-dongle is needed to boost sound for those feeling they need it. There's a pair of nasty-looking in-ear 'phones in the box which will stay nicely wrapped up as I test with my AKG K701 reference headset and Marshall Major Bluetooth set instead! When Google Play Music is used, the equaliser is routed to the 'Audio Effects' software, so not full Dolby, but actually it's very good and has many options which make a real enhancement to the sound. 3D Stereo, Cinema and Live as pre-sets and a Custom option with Treble, Vocal, Extreme Bass, Bass Punch amongst others and Surround settings for Live, Wide or Ambient. I can't seem to get to these controls via any other Music app, so it must be just locked to GPM - no system-wide audio here, sadly. I'm no audiophile but I think the effects certainly enhance the experience - and for 95% of users with headphones is good enough and loud enough. Plug in my Razer Phone USB-3.5mm DAC Dongle and of course it ups the stakes to a powerful output - but all those equaliser options still work. As you were probably expecting me to say, the Bluetooth performance, even with no aptX, sounds staggeringly good over the Marshall set (once the bass had been killed! No wonder rock musicians are all deaf!) to these ears. There's a recording FM Radio thrown in, much like the other One devices, but not Z-series. Seems to work well - and unusually, doesn't even insist on something being plugged into the 3.5mm to work should you be in a very strong signal area.

Camera Tech
Now for the tricky bit, I thought. Having shared some basic photos with Steve Litchfield and getting his brief take on them, it seems that the approach to the camera by Moto has been largely similar to that on the One Vision, with the added bonus of the other lenses providing 3x optical zoom and a wide-angle option. Steve wasn't impressed with the photos from the Vision in The Phones Show 369 and concluded that it really needs software updates to make it anything close to special. Decent enough, but also filled with artefacts at the pixel level because of the processing. Shame then, should this be the same, given the unit's focus! So yes, there are 4 cameras. The main one is this getting-common 48MP-into-12MP (pixel binning) f1.7 unit with OIS which we've reported on all over the place during the last few months. Nothing special there. The second camera is an 8MP f2.4 one which provides for the 3x optical zoom, the third a 16MP f2.2 offering (117º) wide-angle shooting and lastly a supporting little 5MP f2.2 collecting depth data. Inside the camera app we have various modes and options including Night Vision, Auto Smile, Portrait, Smart Composition, Spirit Level, Spot Color, Cinemagraph, Active Photos, Cutout, Live Filter, Panorama and Timelapse with Hyperlapse, Slow Motion for video shooting. The front-facing Selfie is a 25MP-into-6.25MP f2 unit (or forced 25MP), same as the Vision, which offers almost as many modes and options as the rear-facing cameras, plus Group Selfie.

Real Life Camera
Leaving behind all the tech-spec and claims of the cameras, back in my hands I bring you my thoughts as they appear to me. I love the 3x zoom, especially when used for close-focus, which I remember enjoying very much with the Huawei P30 Pro. That 3x zoom just gets me closer and because it's optical, there's nothing lost. Excellent, if not true Macro, close-ups which I shall really enjoy exploiting. Likewise for getting closer in general use to any subject - much better to have than to not as an option! The wide-angle camera also transforms approaches to photography, opening up yet another avenue of creative opportunity, grabbling broad scenes and interiors of buildings with ease. The collection of options on display here represent to me (always the phone-camera critic comparing to 'proper' cameras) a step forward with a range of lenses doing different jobs, providing excellent flexibility at an affordable price-point. In addition to the hardware, I've enjoyed playing with Moto's software over the years, some unique offerings, some emulated from others, but lots to play with and nicely arranged for ease of use. The Portrait Mode works well as we live in the age-of-bokeh, it seems, and the Night Vision Mode does the trick to pull out otherwise impossible shots - with of course the usual digital paybacks of deteriorated images/noise. Still, better to have than not to have! The 3x optical zoom can be eeked out to produce a 10x Hybrid Zoom making use of the optics and software and again, in real world use I find this great to have as an option even though it's often difficult to keep the phone still enough to use (even with OIS) and image quality is always going to be a compromise for the pixel-peeper. For the rest of us, it's just great for everything we're likely to going to want to use the photos. Go have fun and play!

Verdict
I know I always seem to enthuse about new phones, but this one really does feel a bit like the spiritual successor to the Z-range Mod-enabled range which now looks like coming to an end with a US-only release of the Z4. Apart from the Mods access, it does have many similarities in terms of size, build, materials, feel in the hand, full software suite, improved capabilities/support, AoD-approach-peek and smashing OLED screen. It feels that although part of the One-range, it's really standing apart as a more unique better quality model with more options. The sound from speaker is excellent, the cameras (if not technically perfect yet) great fun, extending options through flexibility, a bigger battery supported by efficient chipset and clean version of Android. Buy the non-Amazon unit and you won't even get their software, though, you might also want to consider how intrusive that is for you if you use Amazon services/apps anyway and are a Prime customer. It's currently £379 in the UK and I'd like to think that (at least the Amazon version) will drop in time. Having said that, it took a long time for the Z3 Play to come down. There's an awful lot of phone here for that price, beautifully made, with features some of which you'd pay double the price for elsewhere. Motorola are certainly pricing the One range aggressively. It's a fabulous phone which I'm really enjoying using and highly recommend. 90% of the features of flagships for half the price seems to be creeping up to 95%.

Carol

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