Tuesday, 16 October 2018

SAMSUNG GALAXY NOTE 9 - SPEAKERS

I've put this device through its paces against all the devices I have to hand here and none come close to it except for the Marshall London and Razer 1. There's no point in doing further tests as everything else here is leagues behind in quality and mostly volume, too. The London needs to be sidelined really too, as it's sadly unusable as a phone in 2018....

Samsung claim that they have worked real hard on their stereo speaker setup. "These phones are capable of creating stereo sound to produce an immersive audio experience that makes it seem like you're in the scene. Our stereo speakers are tuned by AKG for clear audio and also offer surround sound effects with Dolby Atmos delivering 3-dimensional sound that seems to come from various directions. Instead of mixing by channels, Dolby Atmos places sounds within a three-dimensional audio environment, giving listeners the impression that sounds are coming from everywhere. While leaving the speaker in the bottom of the phone may be better for practical reasons, it created a new problem; the speakers faced in two different directions."
To get round this problem, they used their new partnership with AKG to 'tune the output level of each speaker to account for their placement'.

The Razer 1 then, against the Note 9! I firstly tried them both with no Dolby Atmos employed. The Razer needs Dolby Atmos to make it market-leading, but the Note doesn't. It could be used without and still be excellent. The Razer, flat and dull. The Note 9 for volume was way ahead of the Razer 1, but for quality, based on lower volume, the Razer 1 still raises a close challenge.

Dolby Atmos turned on now on the Razer 1 but not on the Note 9 and the Razer 1 noses ahead. The volume of the Note 9 is still higher than the Razer 1 but the former loses out in quality. With the Razer's Dolby Atmos switched to Dynamic and test YouTube video playing, the Razer beats the Note hands-down on quality and bass. The Note 9 almost sound tinny against it, though yes, still very loud.

Lastly, we turn the Dolby Atmos to the Auto setting on the Note 9 (I tried others and this is the best) and the quality increases markedly - at the slight cost of a bit of volume - but any sniff of tinny sounding output disappears and the quality is almost up there with the Razer - it's a very close thing. But because the Note 9 has the edge on top volume, I have to declare it, with Dolby Atmos employed, the winner here. Just. And subjectively!

As always with assessing audio, a lot depends on how stuff has been encoded and what kinds of files you're listening to. I downloaded my copy of The Prophet's Song by Queen which exploits stereo well to both devices, an .mp3 file, 320kbps, and the Razer reproduces that louder (by 20%), richer (by 20%) and with better stereo effect (by 20%). Not an exact science! Both running through Google Play Music, both with Dolby Atmos switched on. I also listened to other genres of music, other files, and they were closer with some, further apart with others.

I turned to some test Dolby Atmos Video on YouTube and 5.1 across Netflix and there is no question at all that the Razer 1 blows the Note 9 away in this test on volume, stereo effect and quality of sound, richness, bass. Razer seem to have done something special with Surround and it sits ahead. Whilst yes, you can just about detect that something's coming from behind your left ear into frame with the Samsung, it's markedly more distinct and clear with the Razer. Whether that's because the speakers are truely stereo and front-facing, I don't know. But it sounds better and more immersive.

It's very hard to say which is best, because when the phones are used for different purposes, each has strengths and weaknesses against the other. For me, if I had to choose on speaker output alone, I'd go for the Razer 1, laying aside any bias on brand - objectively, for my general use - but the truth is, that we're nit-picking. Anyone with either of these phones would instantly know that they're streets ahead of any average phone out there and if producing great sounds from your pocket computer that's always with you is as important to you as it is to me, without resorting to earphones, neither of them will disappoint. They will blow the user away - when it sinks in that these sounds are coming from a phone!

FRANCESCO TRISTANO: PIANO CIRCLE SONGS

Original composition for a classical musician must be a hard to break into and make a living from, aside from making a fortune! On this 2017 180g Double LP on Black Vinyl with information booklet inside and studio photos, Francesco Tristano has made a good go of it.

I'm a sucker for mellow and laid back piano-only music and he does demonstrates from this album that he can certainly compose and create interesting music. Chilly Gonzales has been roped in to help with some of the tracks and you can certainly hear which ones, with his flamboyant flair!

It's an enjoyable listen - and listen you must, or you won't appreciate the craft, often interspersed with timely waits and anticipation of what's to come and where it's going. Sometimes it feels a bit like funeral music, but never dull. Interesting and experimental, haunting and smooth, I'm pleased I found this and it is an excellent addition to the collection.

Wiki
Francesco Tristano is a Luxembourg classical and experimental pianist and composer, who also plays the clarinet and was born in 1981. He composes both classical and electronic music. Here is a selection of beautiful, newly composed works for solo piano. 'Piano Circle Songs' features award-winning Canadian pianist and songwriter Chilly Gonzales on four of the tracks, of which Gonzales composed 'Tryst' himself for the album.





HAOHAN TEAPOT

This far-too-cute HaoHan 800ml Teapot is made of glass. And thin glass, too! Don't let your ham-fisted spouse wash it up! The main attraction here is that it's dainty, pretty, light and you can see through it! It's almost like an ornament. Perhaps it is!

Although the unit looks incredibly delicate, it can be used as an ordinary teapot, so remove the infuser, put the (very thin) food-grade stainless steel lid back on with your tea-bags dumped inside. Or use it to infuse! Put that steel infuser back down the middle and put some of your lovely teas or fruit teas or even fruit - however you want to make tea, you just can.

The other thing to say is that it can be used on direct heat sources - so gas or electric hobs, stoves, aga cookers or even a campfire (though I can't see it surviving the ruck-sack)! It can be used in the microwave (without the metal bits) and despite the apparent delicacy, it's very sturdy and robust.

The main attraction here though is the novelty, I think. The glass is so thin and it's so light (without tea in it!) that it really does feel like it should be in a glass cabinet! A lovely item and a good idea for adding to that xmas list for those people who, every year, you have no idea what to get for! £12 at AmazonUK (https://goo.gl/QFyRTH)

JULIE LONDON: AROUND MIGNIGHT

As one of the jazz-based 'whisperer' singers of the 1950's and 60's, Julie London (1926-2000) enjoyed a rich career making music and films. This 180g Black Vinyl LP originally released in 1960, now comes along again and is a blend of songs from her catalogue with a theme of nighttime. It's presented here in a simple sleeve with loads of notes about her and her career on the back.

The sound is amazingly laid back and sultry, softly delivered direct from a smoke-filled jazz club cellar or two! The orchestral arrangements are uplifting and big band depict the era, and before. The backing vocals are perfectly delivered, as is the sympathetic piano and brass support. Love it. Recommended for those who like old fashioned delightful songs, tunes and singing.

Wiki
Her 35-year acting career began in film in 1944, and included roles as the female lead in numerous Westerns, co-starring with Rock Hudson in The Fat Man (1951), with Robert Taylor and John Cassavetes in Saddle the Wind (1958), and opposite Robert Mitchum in The Wonderful Country (1959). In the 1950s and 60's she released a total of 32 albums of pop and jazz with her signature song being "Cry Me a River", which she introduced in 1955. London was noted by critics for her husky, smoky voice and languid vocal style. She released her final studio album in 1969, but achieved continuing success playing the female starring role of Nurse Dixie McCall, in the television series Emergency! (1972–79), in which she appeared opposite her real-life husband, Bobby Troup. The show was produced by her ex-husband, Jack Webb.


Monday, 15 October 2018

DAVID BOWIE: LOW

Like Heroes, I was very pleased to snag this 180g Remastered Vinyl LP to replace my aged and knackered original. Presented in original sleeve and inner information leaflet, it's great to have it back. There are some great tracks which I love, apart from the hit single Sound and Vision. Warsawa is my favourite, I think!

Like Heroes, it's full of experimental style and sounds, depicting that Berlin era which is oft' mentioned. It is for those who are open-minded about the nature of music and who are interested in musical development over same-old, same-old. Love it!

Wiki
The 11th studio album by David Bowie, released in January 1977. Recorded following Bowie's move to West Berlin after a period of drug addiction and personal instability, Low became the first of three collaborations with musician Brian Eno and producer Tony Visconti, later termed the "Berlin Trilogy". The album was in fact recorded largely in France, and marked a shift in Bowie's musical style toward an electronic and avant-garde approach that would be further explored on subsequent albums "Heroes" (1977) and Lodger (1979). Though it was initially met with mixed critical reviews, Low has since become widely acclaimed as one of Bowie's best and most influential works.

DAVID BOWIE: HEROES

I was very pleased eventually to replace my very old and worn out Heroes LP with this new remaster on 180g Black Vinyl with lyrics sheet inside. It's a fabulous album, just at the right time for me, in my formative years back then. The whole Berlin thing is fascinating to me and music enlightening.

There's obviously the hit single title track, but so much more for those willing to open their ears! Some of the experimentation with sound and vocals is quite superb and innovative, particularly on Side 2. Recommended for those who are open-minded.

Wiki
Heroes is the 12th studio album by David Bowie, October 1977. This second installment of his Berlin Trilogy recorded with Brian Eno and Tony Visconti, continued the ambient experiments of his previous album Low and featured the contributions of King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp. Of the three albums, it was the only one wholly recorded in Berlin.

CHOCOLAT

This 180g Chocolate OST Coloured Vinyl LP with inner flyer with a couple of images from the film is a very nice addition to the collection. I didn't know it was chocolate vinyl, so that was a nice surprise!

The music of Rachel Portman is largely orchestral and for fans of the film, fits in beautifully in tone, style and theme. (It's a super little film with excellent attention to detail, photography and direction.) It's uplifting, dramatic, subtle and powerful in equal measure. Recommended.

Wiki
Rachel Portman's career in music began with writing music for drama in BBC and Channel 4 films such as Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, Mike Leigh's Four Days in July and Jim Henson's Storyteller series. Since then, Portman has written over 100 scores for film, television and theatre, including The Manchurian Candidate, Oliver Twist, Hart's War, The Legend of Bagger Vance, Beloved, Benny and Joon, Life Is Sweet, Never Let Me Go, Grey Gardens, The Duchess, One Day, The Vow, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, The Lake House, Infamous, Mona Lisa Smile, and The Human Stain. Portman is perhaps best known for her music soundtrack compositions in the movies Chocolat and The Cider House Rules.



Sunday, 14 October 2018

IGENIX IG9901 3 in 1 Portable Air Conditioner

9000BTU, 2000 W
This review is specifically in relation to using this unit in a Static/Mobile Home
Trying to use one of these in a Mobile Home in a heatwave in the UK I guess was always going to be a bit of a tall order. And so it turned out. A dwelling with walls as thin as a fag paper just allows the heat of direct sun straight through. This poor thing is working its socks off and doesn't stand a chance. It might just get things down from 29 degrees to 27, with a trailing wind! The strategy to employ under these circumstances is to just place your body in the flow of the cold air, as near as possible. It's a bit like sitting in front of a fridge with an open door, only better!

I place it in Halfway House however, because it does have a good use. When the sun is not beating down directly and there's cloud cover, but it's still warm and muggy outside, it does very reasonably well. The temperature can be reduced from, say, 26 to 20 and make things much more tolerable. Likewise, when the sun goes down and there's a horribly sticky hot night to endure, the unit will reduce things down along the same lines. It can be set to go down to 15 degrees.

You do have to, of course, seal the room as much as possible to get best results. Piping out the hot air is a challenge. I got a kit for £20 from AmazonUK (https://goo.gl/hHgJyo) which does a reasonable job utilising Velcro and a zipped opening for the exhaust tube. You can't completely seal it - and you do have to watch out for moths finding their way past the defences after dark(!) but it's not too bad. This kit was also suitable to use with a French Window.

You can wheel it around to other locations, but of course you do then have to make new arrangements for piping the hot air out somewhere else. I have been able to keep the concertina'd hose as short as possible by the French Window, but it can be pulled out/shaped to about 6ft. Clearly, the longer it is and the less compressed the bellows of the concertina are, the more heat will escape into the room. There are two drain holes at the back to let out any water that gathers inside. I've had two of these units over the years and never have I had to do that. I think it's supposed to do itself, like a fridge, so they're only for emergency.

The unit has got a dehumidifier function, simple fan and the Air Conditioning. It has a simple timer, so if it's on, you can set it to turn off in a number of hours, or if it's off you can set it to turn on in a number of hours. You can also set it into sleep mode where it reduces the output over six hours in steps then goes off. If you just use the fan/dehumidifier you don't need to vent it of course. The fan is as strong as you might expect from the size of the unit when not in AC mode. Nothing like the power of my Gym Fan (reviewed at https://goo.gl/YT2rxm). You can control the power by High/Med/Low and the direction of the flow by two sets of louvres, which can also be set to oscillate. Seems to work well.

For £40 more you can get an Alexa/Wifi version, which means you can hook it up to your smart devices and use voice commands or control it remotely with an app. This does presume that you have wifi, I guess! Ha! It's quite noisy, I guess, but when you're melting it really doesn't matter! Yes, I have to turn up the TV but it's a good payoff. Personally, I can sleep with it on, even on the High setting, but others might not.

It's not cheap at £320 from AmazonUK (https://goo.gl/nK1gmA) but AC is not cheap, it seems. It does something that nothing else much does. Fans and other cooling aids are a help within limits of temperature, but there comes a point when there's only one solution. You can pay an awful lot more, of course, or have specialist units built into walls, but it's difficult in a mobile home. On balance, even though it was the price of a mid-range mobile phone, I think it was worth it. Even if in the UK it's only needed for a couple of spells in a year. When they come, it's nice to know that I won't melt!

HONOR 10

I know what I’m like with these Chinese imports trying hard to be Apple products, so this time, instead of just getting really annoyed with what comes out of the box, I immediately installed Nova Launcher Prime and uninstalled all the bloat I could - and Force Stopped/Disabled most of the rest. This way, I wasn’t able to write off the Honor 10 before I had even started!

Replicant
The added apps and services (some of which can be uninstalled) are numerous. Mostly games, but also completely unnecessary Honor replications of Google apps and ‘enhancements’ to the Android experience. They are all merely an irritation and one can only reflect on the price of the device whilst ploughing through dealing with it all, resignedly feeling sorry for the average user who wouldn’t have a clue how to, nor why, and be sucked into using Honor apps and services, letting the company have all their data as well as Google.

Achilles Heel
Before I get to the meat, I have to mention, as I did in my Huawei Mate 10 Pro review (https://goo.gl/E78gLM), the Huawei/Honor approach to Notifications and how horribly confusing and (near) broken it is. The problem is that H/H lump together the same Notification tone for Email, Calendar and Messages, then rely on individual apps (which are outside the control of the system) to override that. Which some can’t. Google Plus is one. You can’t assign a Notification tone to G+ which is not the default one chosen for all three PIM services. So the option is None, Vibrate only or to accept the same tone assigned to SMS. Same is true of Calendar. GMail can be changed, but the switches are buried very deep in Settings in the app. I guess H/H would argue that it’s up to Devs to write that into their apps. I argue that with Vanilla Android, it’s just much simpler. Don’t lump those three PIM services together - let them fall outside the central settings. Why would they do this! Maybe it’s another Apple emulation - I don't know iOS well enough to say. So I have my SMS tone assigned now in ‘Email, Messages and Calendar’ but switched in GMail and Calendar. The system thinks it’s grouped and global, but it’s not. If people in this Manor are going to struggle to sort this out, what chance a NorMob!

Stop Press: Incoming Notification, which I thought was an SMS, but no - it’s a message from the Files Go app offering to clean up some files it thinks is taking up space. So once assigned a ‘global’ default Notification tone, you have to go through every app and switch them all off. Pathetic Honor - fix it.

Slip Grip
Anyway, now that’s out of the way - I told you I was going to not let it annoy me(!) - we can get back to the device itself and what it’s got going for it. Physically, it’s an attempt at the shape of an iPhone, clearly - which you could say is not a bad thing as it’s sleek, stylish, smooth and nice to hold in the hand. It has a reflective coating on the back, which is really quite pretty (I have the blue one here) but is very slippery. Good job they thought to put in a clear TPU case in the box, which actually is very good, very clear and very grippy.

Splay Away
The Honor 10 is a near-perfect size in my hand for one-handed use, yet still being able to use gBoard across the width of the 18:9 (19:9 with notch) ratio IPS LCD near-6” 1080p screen. When I leave the Notch in place, to be fair, I very quickly ignore it. However, it seems a bit pointless really, when running video in VLC, Huawei Video, Google Photos or YouTube, I can’t get any video to fill right out past the camera into the ‘ears’. I even tried a test 21:9 video, used pinch to ‘splay’ etc. Nothing. Not in Google Play Games either. Even video shot with the device’s own camera doesn’t fill the ‘ears’. In fact, the only time I see it used (apart from a filler colour) is in Google Maps and on the Wallpaper on the lock screen! Which means that it might as well be turned off, which it can easily be done in Settings. In actual fact, it looks perfectly good switched off and you still get lots of screen. (By the way, the Setting for ‘full screen display’ doesn’t seem to either fill the ‘ears’ even when flipped for individual apps.)

Colourful
The screen is bright and vibrant, colourful and has good viewing angles. The Colour (spelt in UK English!) can be shifted by the user into Vibrant, which makes a little bit of difference to punch and temperature is adjustable in infinite steps, should you want to emulate an LG blue-cast, for example! The resolution of the screen can be manually switched from 1080p to 720p to save battery and, for these old eyes, it seems to make little difference! There’s some smart face recognition stuff going on here, too, which I’ll cover now.

Here’s Lookin’ at You
There’s a setting to switch the orientation of the screen into portrait or landscape depending on how it detects your face is looking at it. However, I can’t get that to work - unlike the Face Unlock feature, which works incredibly well. Glasses on or not, all you have to do is lift the phone up to look at it, by the time it’s in front of you it’s unlocked. I remember this from the Mate 10 Pro being just as good. Clearly something they’ve done very well at H/H. However, you can’t get rid of that lockscreen wallpaper as there’s nothing in Settings to turn it off and go straight into homescreens, from what I can find. However, it only requires a swipe-up to get going. It’s a shame that there’s no ‘glance’ screen whatsoever, nor even DTTW, but there is the quick-lift option.

Ultrasonic
The bezels top, left and right are tiny with a more generous ‘chin’ encapsulating an ‘ultrasonic’ fingerprint scanner. This is no ordinary fingerprint scanner though! It’s embedded under the glass and is completely smooth to the touch. It’s ‘pill’ shaped and functions like any other scanner except that, in my testing here, it’s slower and needs a firmer, longer press. Waking the screen from off is much quicker with face unlock.

Swipe
The Navigation controls give the user a number of options, including the swipe-use of the fingerprint scanner, getting the on-screen controls out of the way. Quick-tap for Back, long-press for Home, left-swipe for Recents and up-swipe for Google Assistant. There’s a similar setting available which plonks a ‘tube’ on the screen instead of the buttons, which does the same thing as above, but being on-screen obviously takes space - but is in keeping with Android P navigation control.

Complicated
There are additionally Settings upon Settings for all sorts of stuff that you wouldn’t get elsewhere, so a tinkerer’s delight. However, H/H have horribly over-complicated access to where you want to be by burying settings - that with a Vanilla implementation of Android would be right in your face. Take Screen On Time since last charge. Tap Settings, Battery, Battery Usage, Hardware, Screen - then eventually you get the figure in hours/mins! That’s just one example - and logical Settings Search executions don’t offer that result. And that’s just one example. It’s littered with layers and layers of stuff like that which the average user would, no doubt, never see. Likewise, deals done with Amazon so that you can point the device at an item and the Amazon Assistant app, which has to be installed, will take you off to buy one! It’s just all so complicated.

Knuckle Down
Whilst we’re here, there’s all sorts of other gesture control items, motion control (which makes Motorola’s few items look like a poor cousin!) of all sorts of settings from 3-finger-swipe for screenshot to split-screen gesture, ‘knuckle drawing’ to launch individual apps by drawing letters and much more. There’s a scheduled power off/on which means you can set the phone, for example, to shut down at 1am and turn back on at 7am, for those who can’t be bothered with DND settings, I guess.

Nag, nag
There’s Wifi+ to switch off as soon as you can, as it’s just complicated. Again, I noted this with the M10P, it switches between wifi and cellular for no apparent reason and is eating data instead of using wifi. It just doesn’t work properly! But who’s going to know where to find that and turn it off! There’s a ‘Log in with Huawei ID’ nag-line at the top of Settings, unless you give your soul to H/H, letting them know all about you.

Playground
The list goes on and on - and I’ve not even touched on power and memory management - you can imagine! It really does feel like the whole thing has been a playground for a team of developers and that they’ve just over-complicated the device to such a degree that nobody is going to use this stuff. Few people will be so committed to the brand, like one might be to Apple, for example, to stick with it for years and learn as you spend a long time getting to know functions and locations - finding out what’s where - even if you had the interest. If you’re going to make an iPhone clone, it has to be accessible, simple to use and straight-forward. And this isn’t! And this is with Nova employed, too! Imagine the length of this piece if I was also navigating Honor’s Launcher! (More of that in the previously mentioned review - it’s similar.)

Red Card to Additional Storage
Let’s get back to the hardware and report that the device is running with a top-notch Kirin 970 chipset and an ample 4GB RAM. A lot of the above, and Launcher intricacies are down to EMUI 8.1 which it seems they’ve badged to be in keeping with Android 8.1 Oreo, also on board. June 2018 Google Security Update is present and in terms of function and speed across the UI/switching it seems absolutely fine, fast and clean. There’s 128GB of built-in storage and (unlike the Honor View 10) no additional microSD Card slot. But, actually, I think that’s enough for 98% of users these days. I have a slot in my Nokia 8 and 128GB - and never use a card.

LCD Crown
The phone is made from glass back/front with an aluminium frame and is roughly the same size as the Nokia 8 but a little less wide, with that 18:9 thing going on. Set to full brightness, the two devices seem very close - which is praise indeed as up to now the 8 seemed to hold the LCD crown. There’s no protection rating from the elements. Physically, Honor have created a very nice device, iPhone clone or not, which is pleasing to use.

In Charge
The 3400mAh battery is fast charging, capable of a 50% charge in 24 minutes. I charged it today when there was 30% left and checked it an hour later to find it was 100% using a QC4+ charger which came with my Razer Phone. There’s no Qi charging. The device has a USB-C charging/data port which seems to work well and quickly as I was copying over my music/video from a Windows 10 computer. There’s also an infrared port. Do people actually use those?! The battery seems to hold up very well for a day or a bit more of my general usage, so nothing like the bigger units, but certainly no slouch.

AI Snapper
As usual, I’m going to point you at The Phones Show with +Steve Litchfield for an appraisal (https://goo.gl/JnWHNG) of the camera capability as he covers it closely. I would say that I have found the camera to be more than adequate, lots of settings to play with, the Portrait Mode seems to be no worse than others. The close-focus is very good and EIS for low-light is facilitative. There’s an Aperture Mode which lets you choose wide settings, much like a ‘real’ camera using Aperture Priority Mode, which is super. There’s no OIS but with the clever software thing going on, it offsets that to some degree (though not to anything like the extent of the Huawei P20 Pro). There are 2 cameras to enable some of that shenanigans including 2x ‘hybrid’ zoom, so not really optical, but it seems to work fine for my uses. The AI Camera, emblazoned across the back, recognises scenes and adjusts the camera’s settings to get the best shot. I’ll point you back to my M10P review, above, where I covered all this AI stuff more fully - and Steve’s video. Cameras are 16MP f1.8 and 24MP f1.8 Mono. I really like the Mono thing. Very artistic! The Selfie Cam is a 24MP f2 unit. I can find nothing to complain about with the camera, like I can with the software shambles, and it seems to serve perfectly well.

Listen to Histen
The single bottom-firing mono loudspeaker seems alright. It’s a typical mid-price device speaker which will win no awards but which is perfectly usable in a quiet’ish room for most uses. No good for using in a car with a window open, nor at a party or BBQ. Personal use only. It’s not tinny, but it has no richness or great volume either. Very middle-of-the-road and average. The bigger problem is with the options to tweak the sound. Firstly, H/H have stripped out the equaliser from Google Play Music, so there’s no way to even try to change the speaker’s sound. There’s a Huawei Music app, in which access to any equalisation is only available via the Histen sub-app and then only using headphones. Again, no control for any sound from the speaker. The only way I found to adjust the sound from the speaker was by using VLC at least for my downloaded media, which has an equaliser. Not that it helped much!

3D DAC!
Some will be pleased to hear that the 10 has a 3.5mm audio-out socket and an in-built 32-bit DAC which I have tested with my usual AKG headphones and indeed it does sound fabulous! You can then get to Histen and start playing with the sound, including 3D surround options and tweaks for some specific headsets. The resulting sound is immersive and enjoyable.

Vanilla Please!
The Honor 10 is up against some tough competition in this £300-£400 price bracket. Offerings from pretty much all of the manufacturers, each with pros and cons to be considered. Some of them, like this, littered with software infusion and bloatware, some clean and pure Android. Some with useful additions, many with none but solid core performance. The 10 does hold its head up in the company there but for me, it’s completely spoilt by the EMUI layers upon layers of settings upon settings, complicating and confusing users for limited benefit. Physically it is a nice device and the screen is pure, bright and clear. Just a shame really that they’ve not made a Vanilla version, maybe with AndroidOne. Now that would be a peach!

LEGEND

There have been other films, dramas and documentaries over the years depicting the life and times of the Kray twins. We seem fascinated by the intimidating, illegal, gangland rule of fear which east-end London endured with people like this post-war and heading through to the 1960’s.

The story of Reggie and Ronnie Kray seems to lead that pack and here it is depicted in a 2015 drama starring Tom Hardy (Peaky Blinders, Child 44, Dunkirk) in the leading roles. Yes, he plays both of the twins, so camera and visual trickery was used for the scenes of course where they’re both present. Most challenging when they are fighting each other on a couple of occasions! Hardy plays the roles brilliantly, depicting the often level-headed and soft, though frustrated and ruthless when needed Reggie with sympathy - then switching rapidly to show the frightening irrational, psychotic and unpredictable sides of Ronnie, with great ease. Hardy is of course an accomplished actor and must have seen this as a real challenge professionally, which he certainly pulled off.

Emily Browning plays the supporting role of Frances very convincingly. A wayward, torn soul trapped into a world she didn’t plan to be a part of, high ideals at the outset of doing something more interesting with her life than to fall into the expected role of London wife and mother. It all falls apart for her as she slowly gets sucked into the world of gangsters and her feet under the table at the Kray household. Apart from being very pretty (much more so than Frances Shea was, incidentally), I think Browning has developed as an actor over time from the childhood days of Lemony Snicket through the eroticism of Sleeping Beauty, the musical talent of God Help the Girl and the likes of this demanding role. She depicts the emotion and angst of suffering the wretched world of a victim here beautifully, through to the sad end.

Much of the film is about the twins though and the notorious gangland activity in which they were involved. But it’s not just about that - it’s also a social commentary of London in the 1960’s and how families behaved towards each other. It depicts the early lives of the twins growing up during WWII diving for cover in the London Tube Train tunnels to avoid bombing, playing in the street and the early bonding of the family. The loyalty and family-first values of Londoners, closely knit and bonded is a clearly expressed theme throughout.

There is a fair bit of violence and exposure to the nasty side of the way in which people can behave towards each other when their territory, family, friendships, businesses or pride is threatened. The film is also about the irrationality of Ronnie and his nasty manipulation of events when he feels threatened by Reggie’s attention being drawn away from him and towards the love and devotion of Frances.

I’m sure that there are liberties taken with the story to make it more interesting for film, though hopefully not at the expense of too many known facts. The truth is that often little is known about what was said to whom about what behind closed doors, records are not made and interviews with those living are subject to their memories - and any agenda they may have had. But laying that aside, it makes for a good thriller, depiction of the times and observation of the capabilities of human behaviour, with the results of mental health problems thrown into the mix.

There are other great performances around the two leads. Another dastardly performance by David Thewlis (Fargo, The Theory of Everything, Harry Potter), a gripping one by Christopher Eccleston (Fortitude, Dr Who, Shallow Grave), and an emotional one by Tara Fitzgerald (Brassed Off, Game of Thrones, Sirens). The sets are finely shot in and around the action, offering a wonderfully atmospheric feeling of being in 1960’s London for the viewer. The direction by writer/director Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential, Man on Fire, The Taking of Pelham 123) is tight, (as it would have to be keeping the brothers being played by the same actor smooth and believable) and production spot on.

The two fine leads carry this film though and make it hugely enjoyable and worth sticking with. I’m really not much of a fan of gangster films, but I was glued to this throughout. I recently watched The Krays, another film trying to tell the story starring the Kemp brothers, but, even though it had qualities and a charm of its own, it’s not a patch on this. If you’re going to see one, make this it!

HIDDEN

This BBC Wales/S4C production is very much a Welsh project, though aired on the BBC, and is available via the iPlayer in the UK (for now). One of the base criteria for actor selection was apparently that they had to be able to speak Welsh as in some of the (rural) scenes the dialogue is indeed delivered in Welsh with English subtitles. It’s not the majority of the on-screen time by a long shot, so don’t let that put you off. In actual fact, having done it this way adds much authenticity to it. How often we complain about inappropriate badly executed accents/dubbing etc!
What’s not good about that is that the pool of actors from which the players can be picked is reduced when that becomes a criteria - and in some cases, that shows. Some of the actors in some of the minor roles are not very convincing and it certainly feels like they’re making up the numbers, not there by talent, but because they can natter the lingo.

Laying all that aside, it’s a cracking production, a very enjoyable edge-of-the-seat thriller, very well executed, interesting dark and sinister storyline and observation of how people can behave when subject to complications of jaded socialisation and mental health problems.

We know pretty much from the beginning who the offender is, who, because of the above, snatches women, locks them up in his cellar and tries to ‘own’ them forcing them to be a part of his life and form a relationship with him. A plot not dissimilar from The Collector from 1965 (which I reviewed at https://goo.gl/8PwWqC) some decades earlier.

What complicates the plot here is that our anti-hero lives in a remote farmhouse with his daughter and mother, who’s roles in the process unfold as we are served up more information during the 8 one-hour episodes. I probably shouldn’t say much more about the plot here for fear of spoiling things for the potential viewer, but in some ways it does become a formulaic crime thriller with DI chasing baddie etc.

What I found most interesting about this production, however, was the direction and cinematography. It almost felt as if there were guest directors picking up individual episodes as some of them were highly stylised and atmospheric, focusing on just a part of the story, feeling differently presented. One episode (much like the Breaking Bad episode when the whole show was taken up with the two main characters trying to catch a fly) was set entirely in the farmhouse and focused on the activity there alone - with very interesting and excellent photography backed up by a moody and engaging soundtrack. The music and photography throughout were high points, which to a large degree made up for some of the not so good acting.

Having said that, the main players do a fine job. Rhodri Meilir (Dr Who, My Family, Hinterland) plays Dylan and is creepy enough to make the viewer shudder, but clinical, removed and cold enough to make them realise that he’s functioning on some other planet. The victim who the show focuses on mostly is Megan, delivered by Gwyneth Keyworth (Black Mirror, Hinterland, Game of Thrones) and very well too. She is convincing and demonstrates the range of emotions to get the anxiety, frustration, fear and horror of her situation across to the audience. Sian Reese-Williams (Hinterland, Emmerdale) plays DI Cadi John and is, also, very accomplished in her role, delivering convincingly.

Sometimes the proceedings are slow and focus with unnecessarily extension on the home life of the copper (as it did, for instance, in Happy Valley) and you get to the point on a few occasions where you really don’t care about her home life and troubles. But that seems to be a common theme in this genre - to make sure the copper is a broken soul too. At least on this occasion, her father used to be a copper and was to some degree tied up in the historic aspects of the story. But the pace was generally alright, with this caveat.

This is a very well made TV show and I would completely recommend it. It’s no blockbuster, but it’s a very accomplished piece of drama which I looked forward to sitting down to each week, wondering where on earth it was going next. The time flies whilst watching mostly, and being artistically rich keeps interest from all sorts of angles. See if you can track it down.

LUVAN 2 LITRE STAINLESS STEEL THERMOS/COFFEE POT

Double Walled Vacuum Flask
I was thinking about the number of times that in a routine day I boil the kettle. I drink a lot of coffee. So I was trying to work out how long it would take me in saved electricity to match the £20 outlay on this large thermos!


Before my brain exploded on that, I bought it anyway and now I can fill it up from the kettle in the morning and it becomes my hot water supply for the duration, until lunchtime.

There's not much to say about it really except that it feels fairly sturdy even if the 'top' and lid are clearly plastic. The lid has a two-axis pivot so that it can be taken out of the way for filling but just opened a little for pouring. The lid 'stopper' seems to seal sturdily and well.

The hot water retention is pretty good (not tried the cold yet) and certainly lasts all day staying hot enough to make a drink. As the day gets longer it does of course drop off, but I left some in from lunchtime then overnight one day and in the morning it was still hot enough for washing up water. They claim 24 hours!

There doesn't appear to be any jaded-taste thing even after some hours. Don't know if the FDA approved 18/10 food-grade steel thing helps, but worth noting, I guess! I suppose you could make the coffee first and put it in if you were picnicking etc. Maybe that's what you're supposed to do, given that it's called a Coffee Pot!

Dishwasher safe, no glass involved, so no chance of breaking, light and portable (when empty, obviously!), it seems that the trick is the gap between the walls acting as insulation. I'm sure many of you physics bods can explain that more fully, but for me, it seems to work well, keep the water hot enough for drinks and saves electricity not repeatedly boiling the kettle.

I'm sure that there are many other options out there of similar function (and probably cheaper), but I focused on this one partly because it was a nice big 2L matching a family-sized kettle and it reviewed quite well at Amazon. Recommended.

WHATEVER WORKS

This 2009 comedy written and directed by Woody Allen stands out for me as one of his more engaging and character-rich films with more one-liners than you can shake a stick at, an intricate plot meandering all over the place with crazy situations and outcomes! You might get the feeling that I like it!

The ageing Woody wisely decided to replace the role he’d historically reserve for himself, placing a substitute in place do ‘be him’. He did this is various films, including Celebrity (Kenneth Branagh), Irrational Man (Joaquin Phoenix), Midnight in Paris (Owen Wilson) and so on. In this case, he secured the services of the very funny and deadpan Larry David. In the UK, we haven’t really had much exposure to David - his writing and acting reserved mainly for American audiences in shows like Sienfeld (which I have still never seen an episode of!), Saturday Night Live (ditto) and Curb Your Enthusiasm (which I have seen, but only since Whatever Works).

He’s a very funny man and has those same miserable, neurotic, cynical, sceptical, nihilistic and pessimistic attributes in his role that Woody himself has made a career out of portraying! David has been very well picked to fill the shoes and delivers beautifully, as if he was the man himself.

The story is about Boris, the middle-aged hypochondriacal misery with suicidal tendencies, broken marriage in his wake, trying to make it through to his funeral without too much pain in a run-down bachelor-pad in Manhattan. He hangs out with a handful of acquaintances at local cafe spots and street corners ruminating on the meaningless of life and existence!

One ordinary night as he heads for home, he stumbles upon a young woman who’s run away from her home in Mississippi, and is desperate for somewhere to stay and get off the street. Unlikely as it seems, Boris takes her in - initially for a cup of tea, but she ends up staying of course. Melody is played very well by Evan Rachel Wood (True Blood, Westworld, Thirteen), making her own acting mark as the naive, uneducated, heavily-accented southerner presenting with charm and a humour of her own. She’s a cute little character who the audience immediately warms to and don't want to see exploited by the likes of the miserable git!

However, the longer she stays with him, the more he influences her and she starts to see the world through his eyes. Events unfold and develop as various characters are introduced from her past and their present and Allen gets the chance again to exercise social commentary through humour and bizarre situations in the usual storytelling way, which at times verges on pantomime! It’s all great fun though and if you’re an Allen fan you’ll love this outing.

Allen ensures that David uses the ‘fourth wall’ technique that he himself is a master of, taking it even further in this case - even engaging the other characters in the story with the unseen cinema audience, the other side of the camera. It’s very cleverly done and on a trivial level allows for narration of the story, but on another, a very funny opportunity for glances and quips to us, the exclusive audience ‘on set’ in the same way as Miranda Hart does in Miranda, the BBC Comedy. When it’s done well, it’s fabulous to watch - all about timing, gesture and facial expression.

As always, the direction, sets and atmosphere is executed beautifully, from open spaces to small apartments, art galleries and street scenes. The photography is very interesting, as I’ve said before, enveloping a European style of film-making by delivery and production. He’s good at that and has made a study of European cinema to develop the craft.

It’s a great film, full of rich characters, funny dialogue, ludicrous situations and off-the-wall conclusions. The supporting cast are all very capable including some Allen regulars like Patricia Clarkson (Vicky Cristina Barcelona) and Michael McKean (Curb Your Enthusiasm), injecting their own personality on various roles in the story. Well worth checking out if you get the chance - and for the fan, a must! For more of Larry David in a similar role, go get Curb Your Enthusiasm!

SAMSUNG GALAXY NOTE 9 - SPEAKERS

I've put this device through its paces against all the devices I have to hand here and none come close to it except for the Marshall L...