Thursday, 12 November 2020

Motorola One Action

Yes, a bit late to the party for this device which was released in autumn 2019 but I found out that these were still being sold direct from Lenovo for £80 off and £139 all-in. The Motorola One Octopus has many tentacles, most of which have been through the Salmagundi Filter at some point. At that price though, I couldn't resist! Want to know why?

Yes, you guessed it, AndroidOne! It was another of the (relatively) few devices made by Motorola which were a part of this fabulous scheme which guarantee users two OS and three years of Google Security Updates. I reviewed the Motorola One Vision back around then and was mightily impressed. The AndroidOne devices from the Motorola One Family that have come through my hands have been the Motorola One (revisited in 2020), One Vision, and now I'll see how the one I missed out on stacks up. There was also the non-One-family Moto G8 Pro which ran under AndroidOne which I also reviewed recently. That's the one with the stylus!

The Motorola One Action was aimed at a specific group of people on release. The Vision was for media-consumers, with that 21:9 screen for loads of Netflix watching on the move whereas the One Action they hoped would appeal to those who want to shoot action video. You know, skateboarders and snowboarders and surfer dudes! It has a wide-angle camera supporting this which was the first of the Motorola's to be placed deliberately sideways. If you hold the phone in portrait, it will shoot in landscape still. Motorola have since then ported this idea to various other phones, but this one started the trend. Compared to the Vision's 48MP main shooter and 25MP Selfie, the Action has a dumbed-down 12MP rear and Selfie - the emphasis is all about that wide-angle action-cam. And the price difference reflected this. We'll get to the camera later.

On release, the One Vision was £269 and the Action, £219. The bargain price I got it for now is a good saving, though I'm sure if you hunt around you could do as well elsewhere on this year-old phone, certainly picking one up second hand. It seems like the natural comparison to make here as I've already considered and reviewed the Vision.

The dimensions of the two phones are identical apart from the fatness, the Action being a few millimetres more - presumably for that 'action cam' - but it's also lighter by a few grams, perhaps because of the back being plastic and not like the Vision's glass. They both have plastic frames but only 'water repellent coating' and no IP-rating, which is a surprise for the Action particularly, aimed at outdoor use and adventure. What's possibly more interesting is that it's almost an identical size to the Sony Xperia 5 which, as we know, is also a 21:9 device and which I reviewed during 2020. The Sony is a different £699 flagship beast of course (with pretty much better everything inside and out) and is indeed slightly smaller in all directions than this Moto, but it's very similar in the hand. Makes you think though - £560 cheaper!

Back to the Moto phones and both Vision and Action have pretty much the same box contents, being an included TPU (well done Moto), power brick (though this one is 10W and the Vision's was 15W), papers, pokey-hole key and USB-A to USB-C cable. Touring the phone, there's a 3.5mm audio-out up top, volume & power on the right, speaker, USB-C port and microphone on the bottom, SIM Card Tray on the left, camera island, flash and capacitive fingerprint scanner on the back. All looking very much like the Vision. Only difference is that the back is plastic here and the Vision had glass (and the TPU covers it anyway), though both have the plastic frame. The phone feels solid and sturdy with some weight, not premium, but certainly not cheap'n'plasticy. There's an IPX2 rating for environment, so splash proof basically. You'd think they would have majored on this for the target adventurous folk.

The phones share the exact same 6.3" 21:9 1080p LCD front panel returning 432ppi with that over-sized selfie top-left in portrait. Because it is 21:9 it makes the 6.3" really more like 5.3", so actually feeling much more dinky than the figures suggest. The screen on 100% manual brightness is very good. Perfectly usable outdoors in sunlight, which there was here unusually today! Comparing with the Pixel 3's OLED panel there's really not much in it for brightness, but both of them seem brighter to my eyes than the iPhone SE (2020)'s LCD. The iPhone has a 'warm' cast whereas the Action has a blue one and the Pixel sits somewhere between. Colour can be shifted to 'saturated' in settings to make them 'pop' a bit more, apparent in primary hues more on this LCD. The brightness 'slider' seems to need to be up to about 60% for me for indoors use, which is certainly more than OLED screens and a bit more than the iPhone's. It's a very good screen which few would complain about.

As I fired the device up and got it going for the first time, I'd not realised that of course, it would still be on Android 9 (Pie) and yes, sure enough it was, with July 2019 Android Security Patches! I tried to quickly get Android 10 on-board but this little blighter was going to do all that at it's own pace! Through the months, one-by-one (presumably one security update hanging on changes from the last/next) until it got to November 2019, then along came Android 10. Hurrah! Again, slowly but surely, month-by-month it got as up-to-date as is reasonable for an AndroidOne device just now, October 2020. Wow! This is a 3-4hr long process! When it was all done, I executed a new factory reset for good measure.

This did start me thinking though about how long the phone had been sitting on a shelf, battery inactive. The battery had about 50% charge when I opened it. I checked on the box and the manufacture date was April 2020. So even though all that software was outdated by some months, the battery was only six months or so sitting. When I test the battery, we'll see how it performs against what I got from the Vision, which I got back then new, with little sit-time.

No time like the present as they say, so my first couple of tests on the battery are very good indeed. I've run my 10% screen-on test a couple of times now and have got results much better than the Vision, which was around 1hr 20mins. This Action is more like 1hr 40min. I have run this from 100% to 90% and also 50% to 40% and it remains consistent. I have no idea why the Action should do better than the Vision in this respect - I really was expecting the same result - although I do have thoughts coming along about Android 10.

The 10% screen-on test is not very scientific. The strength is that it's always me doing it and I do the same things during the time with the phone. Screen on, adaptive battery, adaptive brightness, indoors, reading social media, news feeds, scrolling, no video, no sound - just basic reading with the screen on. I mark the percentage shown at the start and finish, allow for variation within fractions of percentage points, then time when the 10% drop occurs. I do this from fully-charged, then repeat the test 50% to 40% and do this a few times during the first week of use as it gets used to my pattern of usage then take an average at the end. Not scientific, but consistent over hundreds of phones over the years.

The good news is that the battery is really very good for a seriously heavy day and beyond. We're talking 36hrs with 6-7hrs SoT between charges if pushed. Again, that feels like it is better than the Vision was - so maybe all these battery improvements are to do with Android 10 - I had sold the Vision on before it got updated. Anyway, the 3,500mAh battery clearly is a winner in this combination and even though the Action comes with a lesser charger in the box than the Vision (10W instead of 15W) this really represents no problem with charging up fairly quickly for real-world use - 5/7 hours of power from 15/20 minutes charge and full from flat in just over 2 hours. No wireless charging of course but I have a Qi Receiver plugged into the USB-C socket, pad under the TPU and wireless charging is working beautifully.

The use of Samsung's Exynos 9609 chipset was a surprise for me for the Vision, but I remember saying that it out-performed the similarly-priced and placed Samsung model of the time and presumed this to be because of all the Samsung software and back-action going on against the clean and stripped-down AndroidOne version of Android there. This seems to be just the same. It's operation is fast across anything I'm using it for, even resource-heavy car-racing games as tested here. Laying gaming aside though, there's not a jitter that I can see for normal everyday use in all other functions. Task-switching is good and fast with nothing dropping out the other end of the 4GB RAM that would worry me over time. Who needs 12GB RAM, eh!

The storage is the same as the Vision, being 128GB which is great when supported by microSD memory cards via the hybrid SIM slot. The SIM slot will either take 2 x SIM Cards or 1 x SIM and microSD. Copying data to the phone was relatively fast though of course nothing like the speed that the Sony Xperia 5ii demonstrated recently for me! But remember the price difference - especially with this special offer. Read/write times for external media is good tested here with the usual microSD Card adapter into the USB-C slot and also my Extreme 2TB SSD. Yes, it is faster on various flagship devices, but are we in such a hurry we can't wait - for the cost-saving? Last test is the HDMI-Out and not surprisingly, there's no support for this.

There's pretty much the same level of Moto extras on this phone as the Vision had, like the Moto Peek (but not Approach, rather lift/nudge to get the interactive dialogue), chop-chop for torch, twist-twist for camera, 3-finger screenshot - you know the form. The only bit missing that matters for me is the Approach really - as there's not even double-tap-to-wake, you do have to move the phone to see the time, date, battery % and Peek notification array. I guess that's not such a big deal for people who have the phone in their pocket - more so on a desk/table or stand.

The security aspects of the Moto suite include the face unlock which is quick to register and seems to work well - lifting the phone up from the table or from a pocket and looking at it gets the user straight in. No mucking about with sub-screens and lock-screens to swipe away - straight in. Great. Others could learn from that. Only thing to be said though is that if you're lifting it up anyway, your finger is round the back so you might as well use your finger to unlock! Which brings us to the rear-mounted capacitive fingerprint scanner. This works really well as you'd expect rather than under-glass arrangements. Only problem being that it has to be lifted up to use of course, so desk-use is out. Nudge and Peek or pattern I guess!

The speaker output is, much like the Vision, punching above its weight. Moto seem to use a better quality component than many out there, even if it is mono and singular. It may not be the loudest, but there's no complaints here about tinny top-ends. The tone is very pleasant and just enough bass so as not to complain. I'm guessing that it is the exact same setup as the Vision as we also have the 'minimalist' Moto Audio tuned by Dolby which is system-wide but is stuck on Smart (auto) for speaker use.

It's not until you plug in headphones to the 3.5mm audio-out socket that the other options open up - Music, Film and Custom - each with their own edit feature with manual adjustment of graphic equaliser sliders. The sound coming through headphones (tested here with AKG K701) is not very loud - I have it on full volume and it's just about fine for me - but it wouldn't have been when I was 16 years old and wanting to blast my ears! So an enhanced dongle would be a good idea for some folk. I personally think that most people would be satisfied though. 

And for those who are not, pairing up with Bluetooth headphones, as we've come to expect now, moves things to another level completely, depending on the quality of the connected equipment of course. Tests here transform the sound which is good enough for 57 year old me and more than good for 16 year old me! Bluetooth 5, pairs up quickly and holds a connection over a good distance - and through various walls as tested here. There's also a recording FM Radio which can be switched to speakers, headphones or Bluetooth output, channel favourites, sleep-timer and even hooks through to the Dolby from inside the app.

Talking of connectivity, I have taken a number of phone calls on the device and connection is solid over cellular, good sound each end as tested and strong signal even when tested here in previously tested dubious areas for dropout on Vodafone. NFC is present so Google Pay is a Go and although I have not been able to test that, others report it working well. Certainly the NFC functionality is working for quick device connections. Similarly the GPS - quick locks on Google Maps and reliable tracking as I move. Wifi connection seems good and strong too tested here on two household routers and two MiFi units. It seems that I rarely complain about any connectivity with phones these days. A few years ago, devices always seemed to have something not so good. I guess they're getting better at their game.

One of the few differences between the phones is the camera, as I have said. The Vision centred around a better 48MP Quad Bayer f1.7 shooter with OIS which actually turned out some half decent shots for the price-point whereas the Action's main camera is a 12MP f1.8 more usual and old-fashioned one. There's no OIS on the phone at all, though there is an electronic stabilisation function in the video camera, which seems to work to some degree. 

Both phones share a 5MP f2.2 depth sensor, but the difference comes with this 16MP f2.2 117-degree wide-angle video camera on the Action, designed for, well, action! It was the first Moto to dedicate a lens to this so that users could hold the phone in portrait (and not have to use two hands to hold it in landscape) but still shoot landscape video. So what you get on the screen is massive bars top and bottom with a slim landscape view of what's going on in front of the lens across the middle. Think YouTube video before you have turned your phone round into landscape and you're not far off. You can shoot this oddly-presented video at 4K@30fps or 60fps@1080p, so no records being broken there - particularly over a year later when even more boundaries are being pushed by other OEMs. There is now a button on-screen to switch the view back to full screen for those who want to shoot in landscape holding the phone in landscape, but by default it's the other way around.

Furthermore, this wide-angle lens can't be used to take photos - only video - which seems a bit odd to have not included. If the hardware is there to support wide-angle, why exclude it from the single-shot camera, I wonder. We've subsequently had this argument for other Moto phones which have adopted the same arrangement since the release of the Action and it is rather bizarre. However, the footage looks decent enough (to the untrained eye here) and I'm sure the adventurous mountaineer or sailor will appreciate the one-handed flexibility for their YouTube footage. 

Apart from that, the camera is very ordinary, shots taken with the main lens look good enough to me - not special, there's no telephoto so any zooming is digital. There's a Manual Mode to play with all the usual settings, which works rather well and the usual array of Moto add-ons in the camera app such as Spot Colour, Cutout, Portrait, Slow Mo, Timelapse, spirit-level, grid and Google Lens baked-in. There's no Night Mode, so you're on your own with that - and low-light shots are far from special. Lastly there's a 12MP f2 Selfie, whereas on the Vision there was a 25MP f2 one - only short-term problem being the big hole which is cut into the screen to accommodate it. It's quite hard to imagine what was behind the decisions about what to put in which, and why, when they share so much common ground.

This is an excellent phone for the money I paid now. Those who are going to be alright with the 21:9 aspect of the screen, being very tall, will get a bargain here. It's very comfortable in the hand, my finger and thumb meet well around the phone's waist, but yes, one-handed use means a stretch up to the top. Great for long scrolling through news and social media posts for those who prioritise that.

The action camera is well designed and looks like great fun for the right crowd, but even laying that aside, this is a very capable smartphone for lots more people than them. The engine room ensures a smooth experience, the screen is very good indeed once you stop seeing the big Selfie Hole and I don't think you can argue with the fabulous AndroidOne implementation of Android and added Moto bolt-ons. This one is coloured Denim Blue, but on release there was also Aqua Teal and Pearl White. It's a well-rounded package, even if you ignore the Action Cam thing and at this price shouldn't be missed! Check if you're too late here!

Friday, 6 November 2020

Sony Xperia 5 vs Sony Xperia 5 II

Autumn 2019 and Sony released their baby Xperia 1 as the Xperia 5. There were some significant differences apart from the size, including access to some camera software and Qi Wireless charging. I was able to grab a 5 eventually second-hand and have it here now to compare with the autumn 2020 update, the Mark 2.

In the meantime, Sony have also updated the Xperia 1 to Xperia 1 II with some other differences, but that's a topic for another day. I was mightily impressed with the Sony Xperia 5 and reviewed it here in my Blog earlier this year. The question now is whether or not it's worth the Xperia 5 owner paying out another £799 (128GB model price in the UK) in order to get the updates. This will, of course, depend on the updates and how impactful they are on the performance of the phone and user-experience.

Before you read on, it might be an idea to check out Steve Litchfield's video review in The Phones Show 410 as he puts it through various tests in more depth than the straight comparison here between old and new.

The differences, then. First off, the new version has 5G over the old's 4G. Depending on what use you might make of that, what coverage you have where you live, what tariff you're on with your carrier and how congested your situation is, will depend on the importance. For me, I reckon for all the above, I can't see needing (or even wanting) anything more than 4G for a good long time to come - certainly during the life-expectancy of the phone (in terms of updates from Sony/Google).

Physically, they are very similar indeed. Virtually the same weight. The new model is 0.2mm less fat, if anyone's going to notice that difference! Quite surprising, however, given the next difference, battery. In the box there's the usual Sony tight-fisted approach to any extras like a simple TPU (to cut into their profits charging £800) and it's just a power-brick and cable. Still, that seems to be the way some manufacturers are going these days, declaring how great they are at saving the planet.

The old model has a 3,140mAh battery and the new, 4,000mAh. As I said in my previous review linked to above, I was surprised at and pleased with the performance of the 5 in terms of battery. It lasted longer and performed significantly better than other phones with a similar battery. In fact, based on my reviews over time with plenty of phones, I'd say that it performed much more like other units with a 4,000mAh cell. If that's also true of the update here, maybe the 4,000mAh will behave more like a 5,000mAh unit! The new phone is able to Fast Charge at 21W instead of 18W, so again, incremental change.

Testing the battery has, so far, left me a little disappointed. My 10% SoT which I use with all phones when testing, level playing field, returned me 1 hour 40 minutes on the 5 with that smaller battery and yet only 1 hour 30 mins on this new version. I don't quite understand that. Yes there is a bit more RAM to drive (which I'll come to) and there is 5G (though I am not in a 5G zone, nor do I have a 5G contract) but it seems wrong. GSMArena have tested the 5 to be 96hrs on their unique testing system and 102hrs for the 5 II, but that's not what I'm seeing. I have not had the phone long, to be fair, but I keep re-testing and that's what I get. However, the average use test is fine - both of these phones will have no problem for the person (not caning them shooting video or playing games) getting to the end of a reasonably busy day. It's just that I was expecting more of a leap from the new model.

Next up is the screen refresh rate, being 120Hz over the 5's 60Hz. I have them next to each other here and I'm swiping and scrolling and gaming and movie-watching and I can't see the difference. Still, good for those with better eyes (or brain signals) that can see it. By the way, it's off and at 60Hz by default, so most users will probably not realise it is there anyway! I would rather have a cheaper phone! The OLED panel looks very much the same to me too, wound up to 100% manually, they look exactly the same for colour, brightness (super bright OLED of course) with all the same controls in Settings.

How about the SnapDragon 865 over the elder's 855 then? Same applies, sorry! I don't see any difference in day-to-day use. They both fly in any process that is thrown their way. I'm guessing if I was a big gamer or someone shooting and editing movies I might see the technical difference. And perhaps that's what we have here - a device aimed at professionals doing extraordinary stuff with their gear to produce masterpieces. Not someone taking shots of Dave and his mates down the pub and watching an episode of Breaking Bad now and again. Geekbench scores show a 18% increase overall in performance. Must get my eyes tested and brain checked! Same is true of the RAM - there's an extra 2GB on the new model, making it 8GB, but the 6 of the old model was perfectly good. I have never had any slow-down switching between apps nor concern about apps, services and processes being shut down in the background because the system needed more. It feels like another tick-box.

The front-facing stereo speakers are back unlike with the 5, where one of them was bottom-firing. I didn't have too much of a problem with that but the move back to the front and presumably better components and/or tuning have given the 5 II a boost and improvement over the 5. It's not a huge increment, but it is there. Unlike the 5, when engaging the Dolby it actually sounds like it's improving things rather than making it worse. That's good. The vibration motor for the Dynamic Vibration feels like it is more in-tune with the beat somehow than the older model ever was, but part of that could be to do with the better sound output. The sound output from the speakers is not the best there is on a phone, but it's very good (on both units), a cut above many, many others and yes, slightly improved on this updated model.

The addition of (and return to for Sony) a 3.5mm Audio-Out socket is, for some, a big one - and for the rest of us, a very occasional annoyance to not have it in the 5. Bluetooth is so good here, v5 of the old or 5.1 of the new, that personally I don't see this as a big problem. But if there really are filmmakers and musicians out there creating masterpieces with a phone, OK - they might well appreciate the easy plug-in to external gear while they are going about their business. Do we really think that professional photographers and musicians are likely to use a phone for what they do, beyond Sony promotional material I wonder. Anyway, for us mere mortals, the sound output is excellent from the socket, much the same as the 5 (with an adapter) - far too loud for me and excellent quality with the options to manipulate the sound via Dolby 'til your heart's content!

The camera, much like the above, is very similar to the 5's though the 2x optical zoom has jumped to 3x, there's OIS 
for video shooting and 120fps for fun slow-mo stuff. The same Cinema Pro app is available as for the 5 but the addition here is the Photography Pro app which has made it down from the 1 II. And this is almost worth the money alone for me! I'm not sure about what professionals might do with it (if anything) but this is fabulous fun for a hobbyist photographer to play with settings galore, just like the fun which can be had with a dSLR.

Little things matter - for example, like a camera, a green focus confirmation to use in collusion with the physical two-stage shutter button. I don't know why on earth it has taken so long to make it from camera to phone. Seems a simple addition to me. The cheapest compact camera has it, but not phones. Well done Sony! The whole interface is festooned with dials and buttons and options. A simple-press AEL, EV dial and Mode wheel. I love it! Just like using a proper camera. When they crack the aperture thing on phones and give us AP, it'll be fabulous. Bring it on! Why they can't back-port this app to my 5, I don't know. I guess so they can get another £800 out of people and force them to upgrade. Bad Sony. I really want this app!

There's some bloat thrown in, naughty Sony again - they have plenty of money and don't need to do deals with the likes of FaceBook, LinkedIn, Booking dot com and the biggest and worst one the whacking great big game Call of Duty. Fortunately, they can be Force-Stopped and Disabled, but unfortunately, they can't be uninstalled. Still, get past that and we have the usual clean version of Android that Sony usually serve up - all of it, again, just like the 5. The phone is running Android 10 of course and during my review period it was updated to October 2020 Google Security, the same as my 5. No complaints there - Sony are doing well with that.

It's an excellent phone. Gorgeous in the hand (as long as you're OK with the 21:9 ratio) and feels super-premium. The slightly more rounded edges will be a thing for taste, but for me, I think I prefer the boxy look of the 5. It almost feels like the package ticks every box here. I'd like a bit more out of the battery and Qi Wireless charging has not made it down from Big Brother, sadly. I'd also like a little bit more out of the speakers, personally, but I'm really nit-picking now!

I started out comparing it with the 5, so that's where I'll end. £800 is a lot of money for the person who already has a 5 (like me) and you have to sum up what you get for that with two phones which really are so similar that I wonder why they bothered. I guess it depends how much 5G is of value, how much you're going to use that 3.5mm audio-out socket over the USB-C or Bluetooth options or if you can really see the 120Hz screen refresh difference. Is a 3x zoom more important to you over 2x or more importantly, will you make good use of that Photography Pro app and delightful camera interface resulting. Having concluded that the battery increase is not such a big deal, for me it's about software - and that seems wicked to spend £800 to obtain. One more tick-box might have swung it for me, Qi charging - if it had that, I'd be sorely tempted! Either the 5 or 5 II are highly recommended.

Sunday, 1 November 2020

My Zoe

This was an unexpected delight and film of two halves. The first being a powerful drama about a couple who have separated but still share the care of their little girl. The girl gets sick and ends up in hospital where the couple have to spend time together doing what they can to help her recover.

Sounds a bit dull so far, eh - but actually it's terrifically well produced and acted by the leads. Starring and directed by Julie Delpy (Three Colours: White, Before Sunrise, Sunset, Midnight, Europa Europa, Killing Zoe) as the woman and supported by Richard Armitage (The Hobbit, Hannibal [TV]). The pair of them have to deal with their dislike of the situation and each other but realising that they have to be there for their daughter, Zoe.

The whole range of emotions which you might expect for a pair in this situation are on display and they both play their part in making it convincing. One minute hurling insults at each other, the next demonstrating warmth, then togetherness but ultimate distance and rejection. The film is not so much about him in the end as her and focuses in the second half on the depth of a mother's love and connection with her child and what lengths she'll go to in order to not lose her girl.

It could easily have been a soppy film for the emotional, but it really isn't. The film is set slightly in the future and it turns out that the woman is a doctor with a scientific mind, working in a lab. Early in the film the depth of this is demonstrated as she talks openly with Zoe about The Big Bang and a scientific view of the universe.

The second half of the film moves somewhat into what science might be able to do in the very near future as she finds ways to keep her daughter close to her which traditional medicine is struggling to do. I'll say no more there as I wouldn't like to spoil things if you watch it, but for me, the strength of the film is certainly in that first half as the couple deal with their emotions in the hospital. It could easily have ended there providing a complete film in itself.

The film is excellently shot as well, making good use of silence rather than music to add tension and the severe editing seems to add a style which, if left alone, could have probably made the film twice as long. There are smaller roles for Gemma Arterton (Summerland) and Daniel Brühl (The Colony, The Zookeeper's Wife, Alone in Berlin) equally as telling, but in less quantity than the leads. Recommended very much even if only for Delpy and Armitage.

PodHub UK Podcasts for October 2020

...a roundup of our month of podcasting. Links to the team, communities and podcast homes on the net at the foot, so scroll down!

Whatever Works
Episode 121 - Pukka Waffles
Friday 2nd October 2020
Drop everything and join Aidan and I as we bring you a Rainbow-flavoured episode in which we chat again about Whatever Works! Watch out for the underwear for big dudes!

Phones Show Chat
Episode 597 - Ultra Rain
Saturday 3rd October 2020
Steve and I are here again with guarded enthusiasm about current crop of Pixels as we also chat with Ian Bundey about his take on all things mobile phone. Apple Watch is also covered as James Bernard Walsh pops in to assess.

Tech Addicts
Sunday 4th October 2020
Gareth and I delve a little deeper into all things tech! Confused by Chromecast, ATV, GTV? Get your Zen from a Book? Maybe you prefer a big fold? Do join us!

The Phones Show
Episode 406 - Google Pixel 4a
Monday 5th October 2020
Join Steve as he takes a look at the new-to-UK Pixel 4a and tries to clarify where it fits in with the rest of Google's line-up and beyond.

Phones Show Chat
Episode 598 - It's all about the mAh
Tuesday 6th October 2020
Steve and I are back again with a sneaky midweek catchup as we chat for a while about Pixels mostly, with the odd Moto, iPhone and Sammy chucked in for good measure!

Projector Room
Episode 72 - Peckinpower
Wednesday 7th October 2020
Gareth, Allan and I are back again with another fortnightly roundup of what we've been watching in film, cinema and TV. Plenty of stuff to chew over as always and thoughts on what's coming soon.

Better Before
Episode 5 - Street Furniture
Friday 9th October 2020
Aidan and I are here with our 5th outing as we consider what was Better Before, better now or if the best is yet to come! This time we welcome special guest Chris Kelly who brings a swoop of interesting topics for musing.

Phones Show Chat
Saturday 10th October 2020
Steve and I welcome back Steve Heinrich this week as we catch up with his current device line-up and what he's been repairing!

Tech Addicts
Sunday 11th October 2020
Gareth and I delve a little deeper into all things tech! The Big H selling it's son? Is there a decent Android Tablet yet? Fancy a Flying Fiasco? Want to charge your phone in 34 minutes?

Phones Show Chat
Episode 600 - Six Bloody Hundred
Tuesday 13th October 2020
Another milestone as Steve and I are back midweek to celebrate and look back for a while on the last decade of PSC episodes and also some bang up-to-date stuff. Thanks for sticking in there with us folks.

The Phones Show
Episode 407 - Google Pixel 4a 5G
Wednesday 14th October 2020
Join Steve as he rolls out his thoughts on the middle one-of-three Pixel phones just arriving in the UK this autumn. Is this one the sweet spot? The pick of the bunch? Tune in to find out.

Whatever Works
Episode 122 - Glue Ear Fix
Friday 16th October 2020
Aidan and I are here again with a fun-packed look into Whatever Works in our lives and yours too! Drinks at 38,000 feet, clothes made from wood - and even me having a go at singing! 

Phones Show Chat
Episode 601 - Unfolding a Samsung
Saturday 17th October 2020
Steve and I are back again this weekend in the company of Craig Carroll who shares his thoughts about his mobile world and which devices he's been playing with since he was last on the show.

Tech Addicts
Sunday 18th October 2020
Fancy a new Apple device? Perhaps a retro Roberts speaker? Or maybe a longer-lasting Chromebook? Do join us as we also try to unpick what Google are trying to fox us with!

Phones Show Chat
Tuesday 20th October 2020
Back again! Steve Litchfield and I with a catchup midweek as we talk more about the current crop of Pixels, thoughts evolving. We even make time for a bit of Hot-Desking talk!

The Phones Show
Episode 408 - Upgrading the Fairphone 3 to the Fairphone 3+
Wednesday 21st October 2020
Ever wanted to upgrade components in your smartphone? Here's one approach. Do join Steve as he takes the idea apart!

Projector Room
Episode 73 - The Gore of Wellness
Wednesday 21st October 2020
Gareth, Allan and I are back again with a delve into all things film, cinema and TV as we catch up on what we've seen during the last fortnight. Find out about The Secrets We Keep, Alone and with Nora!

Better Before
Episode 6 - Rationing Toys
Friday 23rd October 2020
Aidan and I are back again considering what was Better Before, better now or if the best is yet to come! This time we welcome special guest Ian Barton as he joins us in picking it all apart!

Phones Show Chat
Saturday 24th October 2020
No guest this weekend but still plenty for Steve and I to natter about in this iPhone-arrival week and of course, the best of Android!

Tech Addicts
Sunday 25th October 2020
Want to charge your phone's battery in 19 minutes? Still have a Desire for HTC? How about ditching Windows for Chrome? Or fireballing FaceBook?

Phones Show Chat
Episode 604 - Bonus Chat
Tuesday 27th October 2020
Steve and I are popping up with a short midweek filler as there was so much going on this week with Pixels and iPhones doing the rounds and in new hands. Good stuff.

The Phones Show
Episode 409 - iPhone 12 Review
Tuesday 27th October 2020
Smaller, better, faster! Join Steve as he puts the 12 through the range of tests and shares his observations - and await eagerly to Go Pro!

Whatever Works
Episode 123 - Swiss Play-Doh
Friday 30th October 2020
Aidan and I are back again for our fortnightly round-up of Whatever Works. This time we suppose on Bose, cry over codes and consider a keyboard that wooden be used!

Phones Show Chat
Saturday 31st October 2020
Join Steve and I again as we welcome back Tayo Olasope to see what he's using just now - and how it's working for him. Plenty of Pixel, Samsung and iPhone talk amongst the less usual and Photo of the Month!

The Podcasts
PodHubUK - Phones Show Chat - The Phones Show - Whatever Works - Chewing Gum for the Ears - Projector Room - Tech Addicts - Better Before

The MeWe Community Groups (follow the links to join up)
Phones Show Chat & The Phones Show - Whatever Works - Chewing Gum for the Ears - Projector Room - PSC Photos - PSC Classifieds - Tech Addicts

The Team
Ted Salmon - Steve Litchfield - Aidan Bell - Dave Rich - Gareth Myles - Allan Gildea

Saturday, 31 October 2020

Samsung Galaxy M51

I wonder how many people out there value good battery performance as highly as me when looking at their next phone. How high up the tick-box list is it for others, I wonder. It's very nearly top for me! When I heard about the Samsung Galaxy M51 coming along, reasonably priced, with a 7,000mAh battery, my eyes lit up!

The main reason that I was so bowled over by the Moto Z3 Play for so long was because of the TurboCharge Battery Mod, adding 3,490mAh to the phone's 3,000, giving me a whopping 6,490mAh. I have been drooling over the Moto G8 Power's performance with 5,000mAh giving 3 real-world days between charges. Then there was the 6,000mAh Unihertz Titan. And now, I've swooned at the performance of the 3,885mAh battery in the Pixel 4a 5G - doesn't sound like it's in the same ballpark, but the longevity is staggering.

Samsung have dabbled with 6,000mAh batteries in the M31 range but, like the M51 here, it always felt like they were struggling to get these devices out of the east and into western markets - so I never saw one. This M51 is now being sold by Samsung themselves at least in the UK direct, even if nobody else is doing so outside of India. The other issue for me here is that when testing Samsung devices in the past, I have often felt that for whatever reason (I suspect all the background processes going on) batteries have not performed as well as others do, given the same capacity. So, gauntlet thrown down!

First though, to the usual furniture of my review process - and not forgetting that on the face of it, this is a cracking phone - regardless of battery. The box, then! What's in it? A TPU-shaped box with no TPU in it, just some papers and a pokey-hole tool! Mean! A USB-C to USB-C cable, a "Super Fast Charging" (it says it, on it) 25W power brick, a pair of nasty-looking in-ear-canal wired earphones (I'd rather have had a TPU) and that's it. Smaller box that you'd expect for this size of phone, no doubt they will claim eco-friendly.

As you might expect with not only this giant battery but also the general trend for phones to get bigger (particularly when designed for eastern markets), this phone is large! Though actually to be fair, it's not as big as I had feared it might be. It's not that much bigger than my Nokia 9 PureView - about the same width, a centimetre taller, but certainly significantly fatter. It's 163.9 x 76.3 x 9.5mm and 213g in weight. It's even closer to the size of the Motorola One Zoom, similarly slightly bigger in all directions. But there's something about it in the hand which doesn't make it feel that giant. I can get my finger and thumb around it and some tasks I can actually execute one-handed (before any software tricks). It's very slippery, so a TPU is advised which, sadly, makes it feel significantly bigger.

The back panel is made of plastic and this one here is a shiny shimmering black, dominated by a large oblong camera island top-left which all the trend now. On the right side of the plastic frame is the (very slim but solid-feeling) volume-rocker and beneath that, the capacitive fingerprint scanner with power-button (press-in for click) incorporated. Up-top is just a microphone and on the right, Dual nanoSIM Card Tray with a third slot for microSD. On the bottom there's the USB-C port, central, single mono speaker to the right and 3.5mm audio-out socket to the left. The plastics used feel pretty solid and good enough, for those brave enough to use the phone naked - though be careful as there's also no IP-rating!

The power is the natural starting point then and yes, that 7,000mAh battery inside. I've done my usual tests and the screen-on-reading test was a little disappointing compared to other devices - it returns just over two hours and I was expecting more, given that the 5,000mAh battery of the Moto G8 Power returns 3 hours 10 minutes and the recent new champion, Google Pixel 5 with just over 4,000mAh, 3 hours 20 minutes! So there's something about the screen-drain or background processes I'm guessing here (which I'll come to) as the average daily use test is quite staggering. In my tests, I go through the day, using the phone medium-to-heavy, and get to the end of it with 75% left or more! This makes this a 4 day phone for battery, or at very least 3 even hammering it! As always, your mileage will vary - if you run films and loud music all day then of course, it'll be different. The battery can be charged with the supplied plug from flat to full in under two hours.

Samsung claim up to 34 hours watching video and 182 hours of audio playback time (screen off) which is just over a week! I haven't done any of these extreme tests but I don't doubt them. In my usage over the last weeks, it has been the best performing battery I've ever used on a phone (apart from that 10% test) so going away for a weekend camping without a powerbank is a reality! And there's more - there's no Qi Wireless charging, but there is Reverse Charging by cable, which means that you can pass-through power to another phone or device for when your friends' phones give up! So even if you don't want to use this as your main phone, it's a great backup and powerbank! Wow.

Samsung's Super AMOLED Plus 6.7" 1080p front panel is flat. That's great. We've all had enough of curved screens now. Time to look back and admire the jewellery, but move on. The Gorilla Glass 3 protected screen looks super-bright to me (even before winding it up to 100% manually) and colours, the usual Samsung Saturated but as you'd expect, this can be toned down in settings, warm, cool, vivid, natural and full white-balance controls. Make the screen look how you like. It's great outdoors even in sunshine - no visibility issues here - even before employing the 'high brightness mode' turning it up to 11 on the slider! It's a 20:9 ratio panel which returns 393ppi. It doesn't feel too tall in the hand with the subtle difference from, for example, Sony's 21:9. There's a punch-hole selfie cam at the top of the screen, centralised. Bezels are minimal making this giant 6.7" screen feel like it shouldn't really fit into the chassis. The punch-hole is smartly 'hidden' most of the time, only rearing its head really when viewing media splayed out to fill the whole panel. It's fine. Really. Trust your brain to hide it for you! Viewing angles are also excellent as you turn the phone around.

Driving the phone is a SnapDragon 730G chipset, so no Exynos here. It's a mid-range economic solution which seems to get good press. A good number of recent phones from Realme, Oppo and Xiaomi have been equipped with this and I've not had any complaints on testing. Apparently it has an additional 15% graphics boost over Snapdragon 730 and impressive battery improvements when employed - like it needed that here! Like most smartphones in the mid-range these days, it appears to fly through whatever tasks are presented and even though from previous testing (for my use) I can't see any difference much between SnapDragon and Exynos, it feels somehow more satisfactory to have the former! Supporting the multi-tasking, keeping apps open and running in the background is 6GB RAM. I realise that there's mad hikes in RAM these days, doubling that in some devices (some not even flagships) but as we know, 4GB is really enough for Android - so 6GB comfy! I see no apps closing down without reason as long as you don't let Samsung software do its thing optimising stuff. Again, those kind of battery saving measures are just not needed here.

It's great to see 128GB Storage included here at this price-point and not 64GB which is often (still in 2020) pushed out as a cost-saving measure. This allows enough space for plenty of media to be included if the user wants to use it that way, or space to shoot loads of video and so on. On top of that, Samsung stick with microSD support, which is great. Well done indeed as I can pack my 512GB microSD full of films and TV shows with a screen big enough to watch them comfortably and a battery to support a series binge-watch! My usual test for USB OTG demonstrates fast and effective read/writes to/from my 2TB Extreme SSD and the only thing missing in this department is HDMI-Out, so no DeX or cabling up to TV or monitors. Something had to give for the price, though it's notable that the similarly-priced Motorola One Zoom offers this functionality.

Talking of the One Zoom, I'm going to compare the audio output of this Samsung with the Motorola as from previous experience I think it might be a close match. They both have a single mono speaker, Samsung firing out the bottom, Moto top. They both have a 3.5mm audio-out socket. Starting with the speaker then, there's not a huge difference in the pair but the Moto edges it on volume and certainly, out of the box, quality. There are some basic controls for each phone (Dolby & Moto Audio Tuned by Dolby) in terms of system-wide adjustment for speaker output but the breadth of these is similar for both. Not a great deal. But the Samsung edges out the Moto as it has a custom manual set of sliders where the Moto is all pre-sets. Both phones' speakers are good room-filling sounds and punch well above their weight for what you'd expect from a single mono speaker. If I had to choose at this point, it would be the Moto. Just.

Plug in a set of headphones and again, there's the ultimate system-wide lack of a true manual custom control for the sound with the Moto as the Samsung moves ahead with fancy equalisation options in excess of the Moto, making the sound output more flexible for the listener. Similarly, whilst the Moto wins the basic speaker test the Samsung clearly wins the headphone test with louder and better quality output. It sounds as though it has a fancy enhanced DAC onboard to me but I can't believe it has or Samsung would be listing the spec and other listings would reference it. It somehow sounds great though, very loud and excellent quality - more so than the Moto. The Moto grabs some points back with the excellent spatial 3D Stereo with headphones but it doesn't quite reach the height of the Samsung. But it's quite close in reality - to all but the audiophile.

We have come to expect bluetooth these days to be staggeringly good and sure enough, tested here with my Huawei FreeBuds 3 both phones sound stunning. No wonder everyone's going bluetooth instead of 3.5mm! In addition to all this, the Samsung has a hearing test with beeps to test the user's hearing and adjusts the output afterwards to suit the particular hearing profile of the user. All clever stuff. Lastly on audio, there's a recording FM Radio (in this UK version) which looks fabulous, locks onto stations well and can be switched to play through the speaker once signal secured via something plugged into the 3.5mm socket.

Speaking of clever software, the M51 comes armed with Android 10 and Samsung's One UI 2.1 overlay. Whether the user likes or dislikes this overlay, nobody can deny that it is exhaustive, smart and some distance from Vanilla Android! As much as I love Android as Google designed it via the use of Pixels, you can't help but be impressed with the depth of features and software supplied here, ensuring that the Samsung user in time won't want to leave the walled-garden! I'm not going to trail through all the One UI and Samsung enhancements here again. To read up on the evolution of changes have a read of this at Wikipedia. A special mention for Always on Display however, as it's so good and exhaustive in terms of choices and layout. Yes, there's loads of them and more from themes and developers out there. Many free, many paid. It's a shame that Edge Lighting isn't a part of this setup which I'm guessing they removed as the panel is flat, not curved. But then that's also true of the Galaxy S10e. Odd. It can't be money - it's their own software and would, presumably have cost nothing to add. Maybe it'll come in an update. In the meantime there's loads of 3rd Party solutions including the recommended NiceLock which adds that and oodles more!

As I write, we slip into November 2020 and the Google Security patches on the phone are present up to August 2020 - so not bang up-to-date certainly but Samsung do have a growing reputation (and claim) that they will keep their newer devices up to date with security and OS. Security to prevent others getting into your phone include the aforementioned side-mounted capacitive fingerprint scanner. This is great working as the main power button when clicked in and FPS when touched and not clicked. Registration is simple and fast and it works first time, every time. So much better than under-screen efforts and into the bargain, can be accessed when the phone is flat on the table/desk. There's also face-unlock which, again, works excellently well when you look at the phone (though you do still have to slide-up to get past the splash-screen).

The array of cameras on that island on the back include the following (deep breath) a 64MP f1.8 main Sony Quad Bayer shooter, 12MP f2.2 wide-angle, 5MP f2.4 macro, 5MP f2.4 depth lens (and a 32MP f2 selfie round the front). There's no optical zoom, nor OIS anywhere in all this lot. The user can manually pinch-to-zoom for digital up to 10x but results are a bit ropey as you'd imagine. Shots are more than usable for most people at 2x zoom or even 3 but it's just a bit of a shame that they didn't include this optically and maybe even drop one of the others. Having said that, the 5MP Macro lens gets the shooter in pretty close and to some degree that might be more useful for some, though not the masses. The Night Mode is pretty dreadful in my tests here - appears to behave in the same way as the Pixel, but the resulting image is terrible. With the Pixel we get a really quite usable shot, with this, nothing. Black cat in a coal cellar at night. The reality is that for most people using this phone for most social media uses and video of their mates for YouTube, it's absolutely fine. It's just the pixel-peepers who won't be interested as there is so much better out there, even for very similar money.

As we dance around all these other specs, it's only one which matters here over any other phone in a similar price or spec band - yes, that battery. It's quite simply the strongest battery in a phone that I've had in my hand and used (from a mainstream manufacturer) which has a trick up the sleeve of reverse-cable charging. It's almost worth having in the glove-box as a back-up phone in case it is also needed to top up your regular phone (or any other device, come to that). But that sells it a bit short, too. For the £329 it costs in the UK, it's also very capable in many other ways.

This is no flagship, with key elements missing from that experience, so no IP-rating, no Qi Charging, no DeX support, no stereo speakers to mention a few, but what it has, it exploits well (and supports with that battery) and many, many people will be very pleased to use this as their primary phone. With Samsung's ongoing commitment to support and updates, it's a compelling option - especially for those who are not going to be too annoyed having to move away from Vanilla Android and into the waiting arms of Samsung. They won't regret this.

Thursday, 29 October 2020

Fairphone 3(+) 2020 Revisit

Fairphone offer a unique take on the smartphone in terms of it being the only example which is truly modular, the only smartphone that I can think of with a replaceable battery in 2020 and certainly the only one which seems to genuinely care about the planet and doing their bit for people and an eco-friendly approach to the earth.

I reviewed the Fairphone 3 back in February and now the company have released an updated Fairphone 3, dubbed 3+. It's essentially the same phone but with, out of the box, some updated modules. Some may argue that this has gone against the ethos of upgrading the phone you have for five years, to release a new one, but the changes are few to be fair - and not unfair!

So why the upgrade? What's new? What's different? Just to be clear, the phone we have here is the 3 and not the 3+ so the very same one I reviewed, but we do have extra modules. You can see Steve Litchfield's original review in Phones Show 386 and his recent update in Phones Show 408.  According to Fairphone "it comes with two new camera modules and audio improvements to boost technical performance, enhance the user experience, and improve sustainability. The new camera modules are also sold separately. This way, you can upgrade your Fairphone 3 by replacing the modules." It would appear that only thing which can't be upped for users of the 3 is the audio improvement - but perhaps that will come.

The camera module is a 48MP Sony Quad Bayer unit that we've seen so much of from other manufacturers of smartphones in the last couple of years over the old 12MP unit. As they say, this module can be bought for the 3 and slotted in. Fairphone sent us this module so we can see the differences and users can buy this for £55. The Selfie camera has also been upped from the 8MP to 16MP and again, this is modular and users can buy one for £33. The loudness of the new speaker on the + version has increased in dB from 94 to 96, so I wonder how significant an improvement that is anyway.

While we're pricing stuff up, let's run through a summary of spare parts and what they'll cost the user in autumn 2020. A Back Cover is £21.95, Display £81.95, Battery £27, 48MP Camera £54.95, 16MP Selfie £32.95 and Speaker £17.95. So the Fairphone 3 user can replace broken bits or upgrade the units where improved ones are available armed with the supplied screwdriver/lever and a modicum of common sense. This is not rocket science - more like Meccano!

To summarise the specs, the phone is powered by a 3,000mAh (replaceable of course) battery, SnapDragon 632 chipset and 4GB RAM. It arrived with Android 9 but this has been updated to Android 10 and as I report in October 2020, it even has October 2020 Google Security Patches. Remember that Fairphone guarantee FIVE years of updates here, keeping their phone bang up to date close to a Pixel. There's the mono speaker and 3.5mm audio-out socket with USB-C port for charging and data. There's 64GB of internal storage with microSD Card support and support for two nanoSIM Cards. The Gorilla Glass 5 protected front panel is an LCD, 5.65", 1080p with a ratio of 18:9 returning 427ppi. Round the back is a capacitive fingerprint scanner which works really well. Do check my previous review linked to above for a further breakdown of the hardware and my thoughts specifically on each aspect.

As a short follow-up review I'll just punch a few headliners out here in that my screen-on 10% test returned me exactly 2 hours, so pretty good for a 3,000mAh battery, the speaker has very reasonable output - I was surprised to recall how good it was even though the modular design of the phone seems to have forced it into the bottom left-hand corner on the side, which, for the right-hander places it always in the palm of the left hand. Still, when it's on a desk it's fine and resonates well. It’s good’n’loud and quality (even before equalisation via a music/video app) is actually pretty good. There’s a bit of bass and nice tone. There is a good earpiece speaker though and as Steve mentioned in his video, it's fingers crossed that that might be utilised in software to create stereo!

The Fairphone 3 is bigger than I remember from first time round - probably spent too long with small Pixels now! It’s very slippery, too. There is a case they sell for it for £35 but it looks just as slippery, not a TPU. I’d forgotten how wild the vibration motor was! It really is powerful and loud, so much so that I doubt anyone has it on! I’d forgotten how high-up the fingerprint scanner is (to get out of the way of the battery). 

There seems to be a problem just now with the early Android 10 adoption which we really hope they will fix in next month's update along with November 2020 Google Security patches. When Gesture Navigation in selected (over three-buttons) the home-screen elements are screwed by the overlaying of the Google Search Widget on top of (slightly) the Dock app shortcuts. The App Drawer Search Field at the top underlays the Notification tray at the top (which is in relief). Look on a Pixel and that sits lower, under any content. Play Store downloads were taking forever to complete, reboots didn't fix for me, though Steve didn't find this happening. Work needs doing, anyway. I have also had a couple of completely random reboots when I've not even been touching the phone! But kudos for getting the update out anyway so that users can enjoy Dark settings and GMail, for example.

It’s a kind of simplified version of Vanilla in some ways - for example, there’s no way to change the shape of home-screen icons (that whole ‘style’ Pixel thing is missing and they don’t have their own like, for example, Moto do). There's absolutely no Always on Display or even double-tap-to-wake so users need to resort to Always on AMOLED (or similar) though there is Notification LED up-top. Great. Not many left now doing that.

As for modularity - I absolutely love it! I might well be tempted to buy one of these with a couple of spare batteries so that I could see what happens in the long-term with the promises of updates etc. It's currently up for £425 with 2-4 weeks delivery. Anyway, these are my updated thoughts and it's been a pleasure to revisit this all-but unique offering in the phone world.

Google Pixel 5 vs Google Pixel 3

Some might say that the specs of the Pixel 5 actually represent a downgrade from the two-year old Pixel 3. With the 5, Google have presented users with a more affordable option, but not by a wide margin. The Pixel 3 (128GB) on release was £769 and this Pixel 5, £599. I was keen to see how it compared both physically and in terms of performance.

I've been using the 3 for quite some time as my main phone now and have compared it recently with the Pixel 4a and then the 4a 5G. This time its a straight shoot-out between two phones with similar places in the range separated by time - and an economic shift in emphasis. The question is, would I now fork out six hundred quid of my own cash when I have a Pixel 3 anyway.

A similar theme may emerge here as I, once again, raise the question of battery and how poor it is on the 3. The 4a did significantly better. The 4a 5G did amazingly better. How's the 5 going to shape up? The speakers are always my second port of call and I was a tad underwhelmed by the sound of the 4a and 4a 5G compared to the Pixel 3. So again, exploring to do.

The Pixel 4 was last year's model and had a different emphasis again. It was certainly a flagship, in the way it could be argued that the 5 is not. Google were testing out FaceID options, Soli sensors and trying to keep up with Apple, in a sense, whilst pushing boundaries into new tech (on a phone) themselves. This year, they've dropped a lot of that apparently in response to the economic Covid-19 climate and responding to what people are looking to buy.

Enter the Pixel 5. A less-than flagship chipset. Back to a capacitive fingerprint scanner. No fancy radar stuff and FaceID shenanigans. And a strange (so-called) stereo speaker arrangement. It almost feels like a step backwards but to be fair they have retained the premium design and feel of the Pixel 4 (and 3), IP-rating, pushed the OLED panel to a 90Hz refresh-rate, thrown in 2 more GB RAM, whacked the battery capacity up, added reverse Qi charging, made 128GB storage standard and dropped the price from £769 to £599 here in the UK. So it's an odd year with pros and cons, which makes me wonder what on earth the direction might be in 2021!

The phone has premium-feel aluminium and is slightly grippy (still needs a TPU for me though) with lovely curves in the metal round to the screen. It's slightly less tall than Pixel 3, fatter, but pretty much the same width. The Pixel 3 had a glass back of course where here we're back to metal. I found the buttons on the 4a 5G had a little 'play' but here, they are as solid and firm as the Pixel 3's and 'clicky' like the 4a's. I really don’t like the shiny-chrome power button and much prefer the colour-coordinated Pixel 3’s design, but that's a personal taste thing - and I have a TPU anyway! Regular readers will know that I thought I had found my mythical 'Pixel L' in the 4a 5G but actually, on reflection, I think I'm more comfortable here with this size. Being that tad wider than the Pixel 3 gives a little more space to breathe and the screen goes right out to the edges (pretty much) making it 'feel' bigger and (dare I say again) just right! The IP6/8 environmental protection is common to both devices, incidentally.

I'm not a fan of the huge square camera island on the back, preferring the slimline arrangement of lenses others employ encouraging the use of the device in landscape. This design feels just like a shameless iPhone copy. The fingerprint scanner sits to the right and below it and is in just the right place for the index finger. Capacitive fingerprint scanners seem to be coming back a bit these days and I approve. With smart Always on Displays and double-tap to look at notification content, the need to pick the phone up from the desk/table is reduced anyway. It's lightning fast to register and also in use - another advantage over some other terrible systems.

The Pixel 3 to Pixel 5 copy took 16 minutes with a USB-C to USB-C cable and each time I do this, more and more is in place, Smart Lock does a lot of the work alongside Auto-Fill. The Restore process is getting really very smart, even down to home-screen layout and within 30-60 minutes, left to it's own devices, it's not far away from the 'put one down, pick the other up' dream! Still not quite Apple standard but not far off. It will really arrive when it, for example, downloads my Audible books and Kindle reads.

The 5’s screen, protected by GG6 (over GG5 of the Pixel 3) is a 6" 1080p OLED panel over the 3's 5.5" returning a very similar 432ppi. Not only is it bigger but it goes out to the edges and is a slightly different ratio of 19.5:9 from the 3's 18:9. This ends up making the chassis wider, as I said above, but not so tall. The 5's panel is slightly brighter than the 3's (manual 100%) and the 3 has a slight warm cast alongside the 5, but there's really not much in it. Again, colours are very slightly richer on the 5. All this can, of course, be tweaked in settings anyway to please the viewer.

What is different is the 5's new 90Hz refresh rate. The 5 automatically controls this when it detects content that will make the most of it. I can't tell the difference anyway, so it's all lost on me! For the purist, there is a toggle in Developer Options to force the 90Hz on the whole time. All very silly in my book, but fair enough for those who can tell! There's the very same Always on Display on both phones which ticks pretty much all the boxes for me - and I'll trade in Motorola's Peek for Now Playing any day!

Let's get straight to sound! The speakers' output is a key feature for me. Many criticise my insistence of this and tell me to get a Bluetooth speaker which is much better than any phone - or use headphones - but this is me, and I choose to want a decent sound coming from my phone! Which is why I reeled in shock when I first heard them! My first impression was that this is a disaster! It didn't sound anything like as good as the Pixel 3, nor even 4a/4a 5G. Oh dear. The tone/quality wasn't as good, though to be fair, the volume wasn't far off.

One of the issues here is that the Pixel 3 has front-firing (true) stereo speakers. When you're in front of the phone, the sound fires into your face and stereo can be enjoyed when watching a film, for example. I have watched films on a small phone screen, though I know others will laugh! The right speaker of the Pixel 5 fires out of the bottom of the phone, carries all the lower-tones, and the left appears to be somewhere under the glass between the middle of the phone and the top-edge pushing out the top-end tones. If you put your ear on the phone to try and locate it, it's difficult to pin-down. The resulting mashup is not as pleasing as the Pixel 3 output, there's no two ways around it (pun intended).

As a result, if you place the 5 in front of you, the stereo effect/soundstage is all-but non-existent. I have used media which exploits stereo sound. With the Pixel 3, it dances around in front of me as it should - but the 5 pretty much pushes it out in the middle somewhere and all stereo effect is lost. And I have tried right in front of my face - same result. So, the question is really about how important that stereo separation is for the user and how much they might forgive that if the overall sound output is acceptable still.

To be fair, the overall sound is going to be perfectly good for 98% of people, but not for nit-pickers! The sound is still very good compared to many other phones - I tested it here today with another phone I was reviewing (which I thought had very good output) and was then shocked to listen to the Pixel 5 afterwards and realised that actually it was oodles better still! So yes, test-bench stuff is always going to be very subjective as most people don't do this kind of testing in the real world - and most people will no doubt think it sounds great.

There's no 3.5mm audio-out socket on either phone so it's down to USB-C headphones/earphones, an adapter for your existing - or bluetooth for both phones. Using a simple USB-C to 3.5mm dongle here the sound is reproduced excellently with as much volume as I'd want and very good quality. As you'd expect, using an enhanced adapter (I have the Razer Phone 2's here) it ramps everything up to 11 with a wonderful sound. Bluetooth pairing is simple and quick with a reliable connection and the sound is comparable with the Razer dongle combination above, though not quite - and also it depends very much on the supporting listening equipment of course and here I'm using Huawei FreeBuds 3. Not much to choose between the two phones on any of this - all works excellently well.

I chose the Pixel 3 with 128GB over the 64GB version but now the latest crop of Pixels are fitted with 128GB as standard, which is great! If they had a microSD card slot too, I'd be even happier but Google want to keep things controlled and simple with storage going forward. Both phones support UFS2.1 and the read/write times are the same for each. Plug in any microSD Card into a USB-C adapter and similar results are to be had - speedy read/writes - and both pass my 2TB Extreme SSD test in the same fashion. No HDMI-Out on either which is a shame, though with only 128GB storage, carrying large amounts of media for sending to TVs and monitors is limited anyway.

There is a difference in chipsets in use between the two phones. The older 'flagship' level Pixel 3 had (pretty much) the best of the day on release, being a SnapDragon 845, but now Google's choice is the 765G. I really wanted to see some difference between the two phones to prove the point that it had been skimped on to get the cost down, but I really can't. There's no noticeable difference in operational speed that I can see. If you read what test-bench geeks have said about it they report (up to) a 20% operational advantage of the 845 (in certain tasks) but I can't see it! I've put the two through their paces next to each other and in some cases the Pixel 5 is faster! Same is true the other way round for RAM. The Pixel 5 has been upped from 4GB to 8GB over the older phone but I see no noticeable difference in task-switching or number of apps open, in terms of everyday use. I do sometimes wonder about test-benching and the usefulness of the data over real-world use and experience.

Both phones have the same single nanoSIM Card slot and facility for an e-SIM for those who want it. Connectivity is good on both phones except for one difference, that being voice calls which I did have some problems with using the Pixel 3 in fringe areas. No such evidence with the Pixel 5 which holds a signal excellently well with no complaints either end, given the same zone. This was an isolated complaint, however, as all other connectivity with the 3 was fine - NFC, GPS, Cellular data and WiFi via broadband and the Pixel 5 appears to do just as well. There's 5G on the Pixel 5 but not on the 3 which I am unable to test as I have no coverage in my area! Speeds can certainly be impressive but as discussed on the PSC podcast recently, it seems that the real practical advantage over 4G is when there's loads of people gathered in the same location using all the bandwidth.

Both phones have Wireless Qi Charging and that's great. Working reliably, not with location fuss, straight on and done. The difference however is in the battery capacity and Google have, at last in 2020 woken up! The Pixel 3 has a diabolical battery which is drained ludicrously fast when the screen is on. I have written about this so much that I won't bore you again but the 2,915mAh unit in the older is now replaced by the 4,080mAh in the newer. With the efficiencies of the mid-range chipset I was hoping for a huge turnaround in UX. Sure enough, I'm delighted! The Pixel 5 screen-on test returns 2 hours 20 minutes for 10% of the battery use over 45 minutes (yes, really) of the Pixel 3.

Strangely, the all-day test on the Pixel 3 was never too bad - it was always about that screen-on. However, the Pixel 5 is much better in that respect too. A genuine two days between charges is possible with middling to heavy use, more for light. I don't find that the Always on Display on either model has any impact whatsoever in my tests - well, maybe a few percent. (I'm continuing to test this though as, as an aside, the battery in the 4a 5G which is slightly smaller gets a better performance and the only reason we can come up with is that the 4a 5G has less RAM to drive - or maybe the OLED panel is a different one grabbing more power on the 5.)

There's an 18W charging brick with both phones which does a decent enough job without knackering the battery with high-power charging speeds getting popular these days. You can roughly speaking half charge the phone in about half an hour or so and fully charge it in about an hour and half. Lastly, the Pixel 5 does have reverse wireless charging (Battery Share) which seems to work perfectly and charges other devices from it's own battery, though at a slow 5W rate by putting the phone back-to-back with the other device.

As you would expect, the software experience is pretty much exactly the same on both phones as Google lives up to the promise of keeping the Pixel line up to date for 3 years. The Pixel 3 feels just as 'new' as the 5 in that respect. Both on Android 11 and both with monthly Google Security Updates first out of the gate. I've commented on the Android system often enough not to repeat it again here, just to reiterate that this is the pure Android experience, just as Google wanted and designed it to be used. Others meander away with bells and whistles on top, bloating and floating with so-called enhancements and extra features, but for those who want in on the ground floor, and close to the beating heart of Google, this is the only option. Google have various unique features of their own as a part of the experience, such as Now Playing and Recorder, but the purist will see this as a part of the package, not add-ons. Some will say it's boring and lifeless, others like me just love it!

There's a couple of differences in the camera department besides the simple software-driven excellent results available on both of these phones. The 12.2MP main shooter is present in both but the Pixel 5 adds a 16MP wide-angle over the 3's offering. Last year (with the 4) they dabbled with 2x optical zoom, this year, it's wider. Which you prefer is a matter of taste and can be argued either way. It would be nice to have both, but not this time. Wide-angle cameras are great of course for landscapes and interior shots where you are backed into a corner to try and get as much into the shot as possible, but 2x optical also gives a different advantage and saves zooming-with-your-feet! In actual fact, the software is so clever now that digital zooming by pinching the screen still returns excellent shots for all but the picky nit-picker, certainly up to 2 or 3x zoom. The Night Sight/Astrophotography mode is also simple, clever and cool - but hold still! The Selfie camera in the corner of the screen really doesn’t matter on a phone this size. If it were a 6.9” media-centric 21:9 cinema-phone then yes, maybe, like the Xperia 1ii with a forehead still, but I’m happy with the more-screen payoff. As always, check out Steve Litchfield's coverage of all things Pixel 5 against the other 2020 Pixels including more in-depth on the camera in The Phones Show 406 and The Phones Show 407.

The big question for me is, for a third time in this round of 2020 Pixels, would I pay up my own hard-earned on one of them. I change my tune after each one that comes through my hands! I was convinced that the 4a was too small, then that the 4a 5G was 'just the right size' and now, after going back to the Pixel 3 between-times, I'm convinced that the Pixel 5 is the one for me! The Qi Charging and much, much better battery performance has me sold but the speaker performance clearly isn't as good as the front-firing 'proper' stereo of the Pixel 3 - and in that respect, the 4a 5G would serve me better. There's the 3.5mm audio-out issue, missing from the 5 which could be gained with the 4a and 4a 5G. Too many choices!

To answer my original question, if I was going to spend somewhere between £350 and £600 on a new Pixel, my brain tells me that it just has to be the 4a - but my heart goes with the 5. I'm currently ruling out the 4a 5G on the basis of size, but the 5 feels just perfect in my hand, slightly wider than the 3 and Goldilocks comes to mind. It's also made from aluminium which, however much we want to argue it, is so much more 'premium' than even the best plastic! I have been fortunate to have been able to sample all three this year and hopefully at least some of my observations might help somebody out there decide which they think might suit them.

Motorola One Action

Yes, a bit late to the party for this device which was released in autumn 2019 but I found out that these were still being sold direct from ...