Tuesday, 11 August 2020

Beelink U57 Mini PC

I've been looking at these Mini PC units for some months or even years now and never quite got to the point where I felt that they were flexible or powerful enough, against price, compared to a laptop or 'proper size' desktop. Until now!

My need is a straight-forward one. Physical security! I move regularly between two locations and one of them can't be secured against break-ins and is (apparently) uninsurable. So, what I needed was a small (relatively) powerful PC which could also be thrown into a bag and carried. Not to be used at the other location, as there is a big and powerful PC there, but just taken with me.

I had been using a Microsoft Surface Go, which was fine, but a bit difficult to carry and protect and sometimes when under heavy-load with podcasting and using multiple DTP software and so on, it did feel a little under-powered. It's absolutely fine for most stuff that people do, but just now and again it felt a little like it needed a bit more oomph!

So, as I say, I had been monitoring these little boxes and felt as though some of them now had developed in lots of ways, enough for me to jump. Enter the Beelink U57 - around £340 on AmazonUK at time of writing.

So, it's a little black box weighing 277g and is about 4" x 4" x 2", littered with ports and buttons and slots! First things first though and it's running Windows 10 Pro powered by the Intel Broadwell Core i5 5257U 3.1Ghz chipset and supplied with Intel HD Graphics 6100M (whatever that means in old money)! There's 8GB DDR3L RAM which can be upgraded to 16GB M.2, a 256GB SSD flash drive which can be upgraded to 1TB and there's even a cleverly-mounted (inside the lid) slot to clip in a spinning 2.5" HDD of up to 2TB in size.

On the front there's a power on/off button, a 3.5mm audio/mic socket, a USB-C socket and two USB-A 3.0 ports. On the left and right sides there are grilles for ventilation and on the left is a microSD Card slot, which is good for 128GB - and sure enough, my 512GB card is not recognised. Round the back, there's an Ethernet port, two USB-A 2.0 ports, two HDMI ports supporting 4K monitors and a proprietary power-in port. Shame it doesn't have some universal powering arrangements. Built-in is WLAN (2.4/5Hz) and Bluetooth 4. There's a mounting bracket included so it can be attached to whatever you like with screws and even two HDMI cables, one short, one long!

I've had this hooked up for about a week now and I have no complaints. Primary purpose achieved as it is very portable. Put it in my bag and I don't know it is there. The unit is hooked up to my 15.6" UCMDA monitor, Logitech K780 Keyboard and Amazon Basics Mouse and I'm away! I have the monitor plugged into one of the HDMI ports and the Keyboard and Mouse into the two USB-A 2.0 ports on the back, leaving the 2 USB-A 3.0 ports on the front, free to use for other stuff.

I have my SoundCore Motion+ Bluetooth Speaker plugged into the 3.5mm socket and that, in turn, powered by a USB-A to USB-C cable so whenever the PC is on, I get instant super quality sound. I have also tested the 3.5mm socket with input as a microphone and that works well.

The box opens up with four screws for very easy-access to replace/upgrade any of the parts by simply slotting stuff in and out. My only complaint really is that there's a fan which cuts in and out depending on what you're doing. I hear that sitting in a quiet room, but with the radio on, I don't. I have tested this with third parties during Skype calls and podcasting activities with USB microphones plugged in and the recordings don't seem to pick up the noise, by your mileage may vary on that depending on the quality of the microphone and ambient noise etc.

The performance is, when under load and pushing the limits, remarkably stable. I have not had any of the slowdown which I experienced now and again under these conditions, as mentioned above, with the Surface Go. It seems to do everything I need it to do and when it doesn't, I'm confident about the upgrade path on a DIY basis. You could argue that you could get a half-decent laptop for £340 but that was not what I was looking for. Windows 10 Pro being bundled was a bonus as I was only really expecting Home in a unit like this.

Beelink appears to be a Chinese firm who seem to specialise in tech-gear, like many others I guess, and from what I can see from online reviews and user-experience, the gear is reliable. As always, I'd personally recommend buying from Amazon to make the most of their after-sales service and avoid the prospect, if you do run into any problems, having to ship back and forth from China. But laying that aside, I'd highly recommend this little box of tricks. So far, so good.

Thursday, 6 August 2020

Xiaomi Redmi Note 9 Pro

Having reviewed a Realme phone recently, I was keen to see what Xiaomi were doing in this space with this Redmi Note 9 Pro. It's pitched around the same price as some of the Motorola models and in some ways, specs seem to reflect that. One of the differences between them for me, however, is the software experience as Redmi layer over MiUI 11 against Moto's pretty clean Vanilla approach.


The first thing to strike me was how big and heavy the phone is, in the hand. It's a weighty 209g and bigger than my Motorola One Zoom, which is a beast. The second thing to strike me was that the front panel is flat! I'm sure that as far as Xiaomi are concerned that's a cost-saving measure, but for me, it's a clear bonus! I am getting a bit fed up with curved glass - lovely as it looks, it's just impractical. Not only because of content 'falling over the edge' but also handling characteristics. It's just difficult to hold, secure and case because consideration has to be given to keeping the edges accessible both for vision and touch. I have been guilty of having loved this on the Nokia 8 Sirocco, but those days are gone. Give me a flat screen!


The back of the phone is certainly not flat, the edges curving away towards the plastic frame and a square camera-island sticking out very proud. The Gorilla Glass 5 back however, is very nice to look at, shiny and reflective, as is the trend. There's a smoked TPU in the box to protect it, so as usual, nobody'll see the back anyway! The TPU has got a flappy-cover for the USB-C port, which I'm not in love with. I get the dust-protection thing (particularly as there is no IP-rating here), but it's just an annoyance every time the phone needs charging. Sony used to do this back in the day. I'm so tempted to cut it off!


Returning to the front, the 6.67" 1080p LCD panel is again Gorilla Glass 5 with an aspect ratio of 20:9 returning 395ppi. There's a big selfie circular hole, up top and centre. It looks disproportionately big, but we'll see what's under there later. There's also a factory-fitted screen protector on the front. Once removed, it's so much nicer to the touch and, I accept that it might be psychology, but it looks brighter and colours pop a bit more! The panel is bright enough for me - I wound it up to 100% and took it outside in bright daylight and could still see it to use, but certainly not a market-leader in this respect - and certainly not a good OLED challenger. The auto-brightness doesn't seem to get it right either, but presumably with training by the user it will fix over time.


There's no Always On Display but by strategic use of settings you can enable double-tap-to-wake (which enables access to the Lock Screen) with clock/date and Notifications and Face Unlock which means that you only have to lift it and look at it and you're in. The other option is the side-mounted capacitive pill-shaped fingerprint scanner/Power Button just below the volume-rocker. Funny how this has come back into vogue these days, having been considered the poor-cousin when Sony started doing this widely (and others have realised that under-glass scanners are really not fit for purpose often yet). The scanner is quick to set up and 100% reliable every time. Again, in collusion with the other entry-options above, they all work together well to minimise frustration.


While we're looking at the front, the battery icon in the Status Bar is very much like the Realme one I recently complained about, but at least here it is a bit bigger and you can get the actual figure outside of the icon. Shame that the icon can't simply be removed leaving the figure. Clock, top-left and the usual array of Notification Icons and Status stuff. Swipe-down for a fairly standard Shortcuts Tray, editable with left/right swiping panels for overspill - with a splattering of available shortcuts, many of which are Mi services. It's a good enough look though and Dark Mode throughout in settings enables standard colours.


Long-press the Home Screen for access to Wallpaper, Widgets and Home Screen Settings which include Transition effects, choosing default, 4x6 or 5x6 layout, default launcher, App Drawer or all Apps on Home Screens, Google Cards to the left of Home on or off (well done), Icon sizing options and so on. Widgets selection is vertically scrolling, unlike Realme and Wallpapers with more options, including a link through to Xiaomi's online content. Google Cards off to the left is completely bog-standard Pixel-style with quick access to Discover and so on. Well done again!


Android 10 is driving all this, out of the box, and the overlay is MiUI 11 with 12 due to drop any minute. Apparently 12 brings some significant changes, so hopefully they don't undo the elements already described which brings a certain level of closeness to Vanilla Android. Google Security is on May 2020 here, so as usual, we'll see how up-to-date the firm keeps that, now already 2/3 months behind.


I now sadly have to turn to the added software, the inclusion of which laying somewhere between for little and no reason. There's a lot of it, bloat, presumably keeping the cost of the device down by deals done with 3rd parties - and pushes left, right and centre, for users to use Mi services and Apps. The pre-installed Apps which can be uninstalled are FaceBook, Netflix, AliExpress, eBay, LinkedIn and Mi Remote. Then we have the Apps doubling up what Google offers anyway - Mi Browser, Gallery, File Manager, App Security Checker and Cleaner, ShareMe (locked-in) file-sharer, Music, Mi Video, Weather, Notes, Mi Mover, Calculator and Clock. Then the list of (arguably) useful additions FM Radio (which you can record and switch to speaker though actually reception is not great), Voice Recorder, Screen Recorder, Barcode Scanner and Compass. Lastly the locked-in stuff that the user is encouraged to sign into and up-for like Themes and worst of all a Download App encouraging users to install apps relating to the likes of Russian brides, Crypto, Betting, AliBaba and Tiktok at time of checking. And adverts throughout. One of the Members of our MeWe Group told me that "there are no adverts or bloat on Xiaomi's Mi phones. It's like the difference between Asda and Waitrose!" So this would seem to be a Redmi thing (at least for now).


Much like Realme, I'm afraid that the Settings dialogues are just a mess (in relation to Vanilla Android) with Settings buried inside buried settings, with no logic to layout - and users will need the 2 years of a cellular contract to find their way around! They are not alone. Samsung have done this as well, re-writing the whole of the Settings area to unpick the simple, place their Settings where they fancy and to make things worse, provide a poor Search facility.


Example is trying to find the setting to change the Navigation buttons, which are by default the non-Google way round and Android 10 default Navigation nowhere is sight. I searched on Navigation. Nothing there. After 10 minutes digging around I found it in Settings>Additional Settings>Full Screen Display>Full Screen Gestures (so users have to abandon the word Navigation and know that use Gestures instead). But - on the Full Screen Display page, the heading is System Navigation - so why didn’t this come up in a Settings search of the word “Navigation”?! Seriously, there is stuff littered around everywhere with little logic often. And a evergreen Mi Account nag in Settings hooking the user into their own Cloud services and other stuff. Why do these firms think that by rearranging the standard Settings as defined by Google, they are helping people rather than confusing, I wonder. Still, as I say, someone baked-in for a contract would no doubt get used to it in time.


Anyway, enough of the complaints about the UX, let's move on to some good stuff! The first one, unlike Realme, is the presence of a microSD Card. Excellent. So 128GB UFS 2.1 on-board Storage as well makes this a peach for data. There is a 64GB version available but this is the one with the bigger capacity and both have 6GB RAM. The phone passes the 512GB microSD Card test and also the 2TB Extreme as well, only falling down when it comes down to HDMI-Out making users rely on Cast arrangements to get content to their TV, for example. There's a SnapDragon 720G powering the phone and this is perfectly adequate for the target user. I've tested it with car-racing games and it deals perfectly well with that. Switching between Apps is fast and the RAM seems to keep things open for reasonable lengths of time in Recents.


There's a single Mono Loudspeaker on offer here which, actually, is pretty good. The quality in terms of tone is pretty decent and volume loud enough for the target user. I find it better balanced than the Realme’s and also the Motorola One Zoom's, which I rate highly. This speaker will not disappoint. I only wish the phone had some equalisation available across the system rather than having to rely on a third-party Music App supplying that. The supplied Music App is half-decent but again, no controls over the speaker, so it's a good job that the default sound is not too bad.


The equalisation options appear when plugging in a pair of headphones into the 3.5mm Audio-Out socket, though the pre-sets are mostly loaded with Mi brand earphones and headphones. No matter though, as there is a generic option and access to equaliser pre-sets and a custom slide-set, so the sound can be adjusted. It's not great though. Unlike the Realme which has 24bit Audio, this is pretty basic and top volume not great, so time to buy a fancy DAC Dongle for those who wish to make use of good output. For the rest of us, it's just fine for casual listening. And then there's Bluetooth 5 which hooks up quickly and easily to various devices tested here and as you would expect, transforms the performance and sound as it relies on the receiving equipment's hardware.


Talking of Connectivity, yes, the Bluetooth is great, FM Radio as I said earlier is not great, GPS seems solid locking onto Google Maps and tracking my movements, phone calls seem good with the person the other end reporting good reception and this end, too, the WiFi attains and maintains a solid signal tested here with a Home Router and MiFi and NFC is present, seems to work fine talking to other devices, but I'm afraid that I can't test Google Pay. I'm assured by other reviewers that this is working with no issue, which is not always a given for phones from the far-east and this price-point. Note that this unit supports Dual SIM and microSD Card, but check before buying as your region may vary.


As usual, I'm going to shuffle you off towards my PSC colleague Steve Litchfield to grab a view on the cameras and camera performance in his review in The Phones Show 401. The cameras on offer are a main 64MP f/1.9 (normal angle), 8MP f/2.2 (wide-angle), 5MP f/2.4 (macro), 2MP f/2.4 (depth) and 16MP f/2.5 Selfie. No OIS anywhere, nor optical Zoom. As usual, I've focused in on the Macro - and the mode works pretty well for close-ups. The Portrait Mode produces some nice blurred backgrounds and low-light shots seem reasonable. Anyway, head over for Steve's take.


The phone has a stonkingly great 5020mAh battery! Excellent! On my 10% reading test I get to about 1 hour and 45 minutes, which is pretty good, but not Moto G8 Power good! The latter still holds the record on that, being over 3 hours. Neither does it match up on the average use for me test, but it ain't half bad! Well into Day 2 and to the end of it with medium/light use. It is a very good battery which is near impossible to kill in one day! There's a 30W charger in the box for pretty fast charging but of course, there's no Qi Wireless charging at this price-point.


Available in Tropical Green, Glacier White or Interstellar Gray, this phone is a real contender in the space in which it's being pitched - and at the price-point. Currently about £250 (64GB) or £270 (128GB) in the UK, there's loads to love. Comparing with this month's reviewers' fave, the OnePlus Nord, yes, it doesn't measure up in some key areas, does better in others, but then the Nord is also over £100 more - so probably not a fair challenge. Up against various Motorola models would be a better pitch, particularly the G8 Plus, which has different pros and cons. Check the specs!


The Xiaomi Redmi Note 9 Pro offers a lot, but also has gaps. It's an attractive device, though big, with a bright-enough screen. A well-good-enough chipset and quantity of RAM, 128GB storage and microSD, a capacitive fingerprint scanner that works really well, a good-enough-for-most speaker and sound output - and a 3.5mm audio-out facility, a very big battery and Android 10. It could be better - with MiUI 12 changes coming, a distinct reduction in bloat and streamlining of the Settings but I'm sure that Xiaomi and their die-hard fans would argue with that! What nobody can argue with is the value-for-money on show here. It's an excellent device for the price - yes, you could feature-swap with similarly-priced competitors, but the whole package is an attractive one.

Wednesday, 5 August 2020

The Survivalist

The Survivalist is a Stephen Fingleton creation starring Martin McCann, Mia Goth and Olwen Fouéré which appears to be set in Ireland (certainly filmed there, apparently) and is set in some future time where humans have to live off the land and keep away from trouble to stay alive.

McCann plays a young man who does just this, off-grid (if there is one) in a wood/forest in a wooden cabin, minding his own business, growing enough in the soil to feed himself with various traps set up around his territory to deter interference from outsiders or even to do away with them if need be. Starvation seems to be the real killer as we discover when a teenage girl and her mother turn up on the scrounge. They don't have anything attractive enough to trade except for the bedroom favours of the daughter. And so the contract is done.

It's a lonely existence in which nobody trusts anyone and the interesting suspense which this film brings out is within that very issue. As the three of them watch their backs, look for opportunities to get the upper hand, or at least not be disadvantaged by the others and stress runs high. We think that trust between the mother and daughter is a given, but as the story develops, maybe this is not so - especially as it turns out that she is not well.

Then there are gangs of 'baddies' who appear to be roving the countryside looking for opportunities to steal and kill anything or anyone who gets in their way, again presumably to fend off their own starvation. There are tense scenes around that as our three main characters try to keep out of their way and survive themselves.

You can't help thinking that a bond develops between our main characters, but just when we think it's all getting nice and cosy events unfurl which shake things back towards the direction of mistrust and isolation. Everyone for themselves.

The film is an earthy low-budget affair with pockets of violence, nudity and strange eroticism. It's very slow in places but never anything less than thrilling and suspenseful. The whole concept of what's going on is a strange mix between the 1970's TV show Survivors, Mad Max, Waterworld or even Jane Campion's 1993 telling of The Piano, in terms of claustrophobia and setting. There's often minutes-on-end of no speaking as the audience consumes the anxiety through the silence, listening for danger - from within or out.

Nothing is ever said about how they got there, what went on in the world to dictate this social situation except for a strange graphic during the opening titles about demise of population and the rise of oil production - so make your own mind up! It's a gripping watch and recommended here. The photography is taut and the three main leads perform their parts very well, often having to deal with some of the surviving life-problems which whatever this world is, have not gone away. Doing the rounds on Film4 in the UK just now.

Saturday, 1 August 2020

The PodHubUK Podcasts for July 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!

Phones Show Chat
Episode 572 - SE, Betas and The Fold
Saturday 4th July 2020
Steve and I welcome back Tim Evans to chat for an hour about all things mobile phone including his considered take on the iOS 14 changes.

Phones Show Chat
Episode 573 - Where is Ted and What Have You Done with Him?
Tuesday 7th July 2020
In this week's mid-week natter Steve and I talk more closely about the iPhone SE (2020), iOS14 and how a two-year-old flagship is as good as anything new and expensive!

Projector Room
Episode 66 - Black Water Beneath
Wednesday 8th July 2020
The Gentlemen are back again for a fortnightly delve into all things film, cinema and TV. Why not join Gareth, Allan Gildea and I as we take comments from the group here and add our own thoughts. A RocknRolla of a show with no fallout from impossible missions!

Phones Show Chat
Episode 574 - Desperately Seeking QWERTY
Friday 9th July 2020
Steve and I are back again with more mobile phone fun, this time with Mike Robins who's been testing out keyboards on phones. I'm all tied up with iOS14 still and Steve, back on Pixel!

Whatever Works
Episode 115 - The Tea Party
Friday 10th July 2020
Aidan and I have a virtual Tea Party across two countries(!) to test a very special blend of tea with some very special guests! Loads of other stuff as usual of course as we discover Whatever Works for us and in the lives of the members here.

The Phones Show
Episode 400 - Retrospective and Well Wishers
Monday 13th July 2020
Join Steve over on his YouTube Channel as he is joined by a small band of supporters and looks back at 14 years of The Phones Show. Do you remember how the first one looked? He demonstrates! Here's to the next milestone!

Phones Show Chat
Episode 575 - Single Take iPhone
Tuesday 14th July 2020
Steve and I are back with another midweek filler and catchup. We chat lots about iOS and iPhones, with a promise to do much more Android again on this weekend's show!

Better Before
Episode 1 - Watches and Comics!
We're here! Aidan and I bring you the first podcast-proper as we natter about all sorts of stuff from Watches to Children's TV trying to decide if it was better before.

Phones Show Chat
Episode 576 - Zooming with Your Feet
Saturday 18th July 2020
Steve and I welcome back Chris Kelly to natter lots about photos from phones, bolt-on gear and loads of other stuff.

Phones Show Chat
Episode 577 - Roving the Smartphone Landscape
Tuesday 21st July 2020
Steve and I are back again and this time we apply an X-Ray to Xiaomi to understand their product line, appreciate the Nokia 9 PureView again and consider the 2020 Smartphone options (for some)!

Projector Room
Episode 67 - Ebbing Springs
Wednesday 22nd July 2020
Gareth, Allan and I are back again with another slice of what we've all been watching in the last fortnight in film, cinema and TV. This time with our new section to look out for Private Screening!

Whatever Works
Episode 116 - Orange Triangles
Friday 24th June 2020
Aidan and I are back with another riot of a show to share with you! This time we're playing with aircraft of various kinds, squeezing fruit and showing dust who's the master!

Phones Show Chat
Episode 578 - Beyond Huawei and Honor
Saturday 25th July 2020
Steve and I welcome James Pearce back this weekend as we get his thoughts on what it was like to work for the tech giant for the last few years. Plus all the usual features of course.

Chewing Gum for the Ears
Episode 21 - The Naughty Nineties!
Monday 27th July 2020
This time Steve and I catch up with what were listening to back in the 1990's, when Earthquakes, Moons and Rays of Light made us sit up and listen.

Phones Show Chat
Tuesday 28th July 2020
Steve and I are back again with another mid-week outing as we catch up on our latest musings on all things mobile phone. We Float the Note for those Bored with the Nord!

The Phones Show
Episode 401 - Xiaomi Redmi Note 9 Pro Review
Friday 30th July 2020
Join Steve over at his YouTube Channel as he brings us his thoughts on a cracker from Xiaomi for £249.


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

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

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

Thursday, 30 July 2020

TCL 10 Pro

TCL are certainly more well known for producing TV sets than mobile phones, but since their relationship with BlackBerry went to the wall they decided to branch out on their own, using their own brand. They have produced a few handsets in various configurations - from the budget 10 SE, through the Plex, 10 L, 10 Plus, this 10 Pro and to the 5G-powered 10 5G. If you don't need 5G anytime yet, this 10 Pro is probably the best place to start looking - a mid-ranger trying so very hard to be a flagship.

This is a crowded place in the market with Xiaomi, Motorola and Oppo pitching great value options at even half the price of this one, but also OnePlus amongst others also challenging this £350-400 price-point. So when people are looking for features against price, even when getting a free handset on contract, there's loads of choice. Each device has to have something different to make it stand out. Let's see what TCL brings in terms of USP. (By the way, on release in May 2020 in the UK, they were bundling a 'free' 32" TV with each purchase, but that's expired now!) Before I go on, many thanks go to Gaz Morris for the loan of this phone for PSC to review it.

First Impressions
In the hand, the device feels gorgeous. It's fairly big and compares very much in terms of size and weight with the Motorola One Zoom. (In fact, that's probably not a bad place to start in terms of a comparison with both devices around the same price.) The front and back glass panels curve around the left and right to meet the aluminium frame around the edge reminding me very much of the Nokia 8 Sirocco in design - a near 'sharp' edge resulting. The slim edge opens out to cover the wider base and top. In a stylish strip across the back, near the top, there's a row of six cameras, sensors and flash, with another little window below. There's a TCL logo not too big in the middle of the back, slightly higher than central. The phone feels classy and premium, already seeming to defy the cost.

Tour
On the bottom we have a USB-C socket, speaker and Dual SIM Card/microSD Card tray and on the left, a dedicated Google Assistant button. Press it at any time and start talking to The Big G! On the right, a volume rocker above a power button in the usual array and up top, a 3.5mm audio-out socket and Infrared Blaster window. The buttons all feel sturdy and firm.

In the Box
Thank you TCL for supplying a TPU in the box! Always a lift. You listenin' Sony? The phone, of course, pokey-hole tool for SIM Card Tray, USB-A to USB-C cable and 18W UK Charging plug. All the essentials then, sensible lack of earphones and no need for audio-dongle as this phone has a 3.5mm audio-Out socket. More of that later.

Screen
The 10 Pro is trying so very hard to look and feel like a flagship. As I said, the glass curves around much like a Samsung would (and others) though actually, this, much like the Sirocco, becomes a bit of a problem over time. Not because the content is falling down the waterfall, but the finger-touches with virtually no bezel. I have been making all sorts of mistakes and unintentional touches, made worse by the Android 10 swipe-up gestures having no 'chin' to swipe from. Maybe a different case needed. Apart from that, the AMOLED 6.47" 1080p 19.5:9 screen returning 398ppi looks very classy. Each time I see an AMOLED I am personally reminded of how much richer an experience it is over even the best LCD - at least to look at - with those bright, dense colours and black blacks popping out. At brightest setting it is very bright, even approaching the Nokia 9 PureView's standard. Against the One Zoom's Super AMOLED, I'd say it was a draw - but the Zoom has a flat screen of course, so easier navigation and much fewer mistakes. There's a Selfie-Notch up-front and centre, much like the One Zoom, but this can, on an App by App basis, be switched to include or exclude those top lines of pixels.

NXTVISION
This is a built-in visual enhancement tool which is probably going to be left set to ON by most people, especially as it is the default setting! It's an AI tool which decides for the user how to display contrast, sharpness, saturation and so on depending what's being shown on the screen. You can turn this off and then delve into some basic settings to change how the screen looks, Vivid, Gentle and Standard along with a warm-cold slider. The latter doesn't really seem to do much, so it's probably best left to make the decisions for you as it also ekes out HDR from any video - even if it is SDR. Just leave it on auto! It looks absolutely fine and you get the feeling that nobody would have noticed if NXTVISION had just been added and nothing said!

Always On Display
Where the 10 Pro wins against most devices in this segment is with a 'proper' Always On Display with 9 options for clock/date/battery/notifications arrangements. One of them even gives the user a free-form jotter to just draw what you like - a bit like LG's 'signature' but truly free-form. The One Zoom has Moto's Peek/Approach which also works very well, much reported by me, but there's nothing quite like a true AoD.

Under-Screen Fingerprint Scanner and Face Unlock
The scanner at first seemed dreadful and I wondered what I was doing wrong! Then it became clear why the clearance was taking longer than it should - TCL have embedded Fingerprint Scanner Actions. So long-press on the scanner and up pops four placeholders for pretty much any App you want to launch - or 'Actions' - like launching the camera, calling a specific Contact, Launch Google Assistant, turn on the Torch, and loads more. Against the One Zoom's FPS, they are probably about the same once you get the knack of it for each device. Learning how long to leave your finger there - and with a half-day of real-world use you do learn and it works fine. On both devices there is a slight delay - neither are the speed of a capacitive option.
Face Unlock can be used in tandem, of course, with the trade for a little less security. It's very quick to set up. It recognises reliably and works by lifting the phone up and double-tapping the screen to wake it up. It's quicker than the FPS, but using both, I'm very happy.

Google Assistant
Great to see the Google Assistant Cards off the left of the Home Screen, though not so good that this is not an option for those who do not want them. But it suits me! There's also that button on the left, much like LG and Nokia have done - straight to the Assistant, even when the screen is off, as I said earlier. This is an excellent feature, though I have to admit that because handling is difficult at times with the curved screen, I have pressed it a couple of times by accident. It can be turned off, but not re-assigned to anything else and is controlled for functionality within Accessibility Settings.

TCL UI
In the same way as OnePlus, TCL have thrown many parts of the kitchen sink at this! It seems to be the way with many device manufacturers these days, to make their offering different and to overlay Android with loads of bells and whistles. The trick, which OnePlus got right, is making it still feel like it is close enough to a Vanilla experience by using screen elements, layout and Settings passively and not aggressively and over-the-top like Oppo or Samsung. The latter often with attempts to copy iOS design (such as, here, the option to remove the App Drawer), delivering a UX which is very different - often with even more bells and whistles, to be fair. TCL have not done this quite as well as OnePlus, but it's not far off.

More UI
System Navigation follows the required Android 10 Gestures which works really well, as always, but for those wanting legacy or other alternatives there is 3-Buttons and Samsung-style 3-Swipes from the bottom of the screen - even going so far as emulating the Hints! And while we're here, they also have Edge Bar which, again, emulates others, enabling a sliver of a touch-pad on the edge of the screen which can be pulled in (from adjustable positions) to reveal a bunch of shortcuts to Apps (but not Settings) - much like Samsung's again - or latterly Sony's. It all works very well, though I'm not sure of the need really. The size of the Grid for the Home Screen can be adjusted between 4x5, 4x6, 5x5 and 5x6, Notification Badges can be set to be on/off on the Apps' icons and a long-press on the Home Screen gives an iOS-Style tick box on each App, enabling multiple selection for group/folder actions.

Bloat
In the same way as many others these day, presumably to keep cost down and get partners to chip in, there is much unnecessary software added which some will use, some will want and most won't know how to remove nor probably care! The ones which can be uninstalled are FaceBook, Office Suite, Microsoft News, booking.com and Moon+ Reader. Then the apps doubling-up Google's Apps - Gallery, Calculator, Clock and Weather. Then the added-value apps/services such as Smart Manager, File Manager, Private Space, File Share, Notes, Switch Phone, Sound Recorder, Screen recorder, Game Mode, Driving Mode, Support Centre, TCL+, Music, Video, Optimise and Compass. Phone and Contacts are left to Google as is Chrome for browsing the net. Themes is available too, which seems to allow only one choice - either 'Round' or 'Classic' - I can't see much difference really, and not a patch on the huge array available for, say Samsung phones. There's an App Cloner, for multiple instances of the same app to run. Much of this feels very Samsung, even down to the ever-present Nag in Settings to open a TCL Account. One positive carry-over from Samsung is the Edge Lighting where the phone can be set to 'glow' around the screen's perimeter when a Notification comes in, which I really like - however, there are no settings for style, colour and size for this like Samsung gives - it is what it is, blue, like it or lump it!

Gestures
Reminding me much of Motorola, there's also a bunch of Gestures available such as Flip to Mute, 3-Finger Screenshot, Split-Screen, Power Button twice for Camera, One-Handed Shrink-Screen Mode and double-tap to wake the screen. They're all copying each others' features of course, though you could think of it as taking the best of all systems and sharing them around!

Engine Room
128GB of storage is becoming more the norm these days and that's great. I've been bangin' on about the leap from 64GB for some years now and 128GB is trickling down now into the mid-range and in some cases, low-end budget. So yes, 128GB UFS 2.1 and microSD Card Slot which takes the second space which could be another SIM Card here in this model, as it is Dual SIM. I have tested my 512GB microSD Card in there and it reads and writes well - not as fast as some devices I've tested, but certainly not the slowest. The 2TB Extreme SSD works fine in the USB-C port as well. Sadly, HDMI-Out was clearly a step too far - the act of purest optimism to even test it! Connectivity seems good and strong with WiFi, Cellular (for voice and data) - and GPS gets a good lock quickly in Google Maps, following me accurately. I was unable to test Google Pay, but other reviewers report it working with no problem. The NFC certainly is working, though annoyingly, the NFC icon can't be removed from the Status Bar except by turning NFC off. The phone is powered by a SnapDragon 675, the same as the One Zoom, and it appears to whizz about the UI without any problem, much like the Moto. I have played a racing game and I see no stalling or juddering, even outside of Gaming Mode. The 675 serves the One Zoom well, too, so I'm not surprised. The drive towards the latest chipset is often not based around ordinary everyday performance I find - and often wonder if it's more about ticking boxes. It's got 6GB RAM over the 4GB of the One Zoom, but to be honest, I can't tell the difference. Multitasking and keeping Apps open really isn't a problem for either. It seems absurd that flagship gaming phones are now hosting 16GB of RAM, double the amount that's in my computer! All this of course, working along under Android 10, the software version that the phone was released with. May 2020 Google Security is present, so we'll see how good TCL are at updating their existing models. They didn't have much of a challenge against the One Zoom here, which looks like getting Android 10 a full year after Google released it, if then!

Power
The 10 Pro is powered by a 4,500mAh battery and the 18W brick in the box is capable of Quick Charge 3.0 which in real terms means that you can charge the phone from flat to 50% in about half an hour. There's no Qi (wireless) charging present here, so it's plug-in to charge (or use a Qi Receiver) but with that size of battery I was expecting not to have to even consider having to do that during the day. So how did it get on with my 10% Reading Test and Average Use (for me) Test which I apply to all my review phones, keeping a level playing field as much as possible.
The result on the 10% test is that I have got about 1 hour 40 minutes from the battery and on the Average Use for me, well into Day 2, but not to the end of it. Performance compares in these respects with, say, the Pixel 2 XL. A long way from the worst, but nowhere near challenging some of the big Motorola models. Nevertheless, more than acceptable and a fair reflection of the size of the battery. There are all sorts of power optimisation controls, as mentioned earlier, which can be employed if a person gets stuck. One annoyance is that there's no way to get a proper battery percentage readout on the Status Bar - only a tiny, weeny figure inside the battery graphic or off.

Sound
Now to my favourite topic - how it sounds. Speakers and headphones. As I often say, if sound is good, the lack of stereo on a pocket computer really isn't a big deal, at least for me. Much more important is the quality and volume of the output.
The unit does indeed have a single mono speaker and I'm going to compare it here with what I consider to be the very good output of the similarly-equipped Motorola One Zoom and not the Asus ROG Phone II or Razer Phone! The result for me is that the One Zoom just has it, by a nose. It's slightly louder and slightly better quality tested across various music types and files. There is no system-wide equaliser on either phone, so users need to seek out an App with the facility if they want to adjust the sound.
I always like to see a Music App included, but in this case, it's really basic and again, no equalisation available.
Sound from a pair of reference headphones plugged into either phone's 3.5mm audio-out socket produces output which is really rather similar. Quality is OK, but even on top volume, really pretty low-end. Some sort of fancy enhanced DAC dongle thingie needed if music-through-headphones for either of these is going to be taken seriously. Bluetooth transforms the experience with both phones. The 10 Pro pairs up quickly and resulting sound is loud and excellent quality. Still no adjustments available of course, unless they are available via the bluetooth gear or its software. But no complaints here.
The supplied Video App works well enough, much like VLC with sliders for brightness and volume, though again, without any equalisation options. Resizing is executed via a button on-screen rather than pinch-to-zoom, but it's nice to have.
Much like my conclusion with the One Zoom, the sound is really very good. It doesn't come close to the market-leaders but it's also a long way from many budget-end phones' sound. It's more than good enough for most people for casual listening, both via speakers or headphones.
Apparently, in some regions you get an FM Radio, but not present here - though interestingly it is present on the One Zoom.

Photography
This is the point at which I usually hand over to Steve Litchfield but as he's trying to have a summer break, I'll plough on this time alone! The phone is supplied with the (becoming) usual Quad Bayer 64MP (down to 16MP) f/1.8 (with a normal viewpoint), a 16MP f/2.4 wide-angle lens, a 5MP f/2.2 macro shooter and a 2MP f/2.4 for depth data. The Selfie is a 24MP f2 unit and there's no sign of any OIS anywhere at all, so it's EIS all the way. The camera app layout is neat and clean, emulating others out there largely, with a button to change the zoom from 1x (presumably suggesting to users that any kind of digital zoom is worth having) to 2x and then a 10x slider. As expected, results from that are pretty shoddy but sticking to 1x or at a push 2x, they will be acceptable for most uses for most people. There's another button to engage the wide-angle lens and a third to give you a screen divided into three, showing the normal view, wide-angle view and low-light video! Not sure what that's about, but OK, you can see which one you might want to use then tap it to engage it.
All sorts of AI features are available via settings, all of which can thankfully be turned off and a Pro Mode within which most aspects of exposure setting can be adjusted. There's a Super Night mode, which ekes out as much light as it can find in the dark, at the expense, of course, of fuzzy noise. The Portrait mode does a reasonable job of blurring the background with an 'aperture slider' thrown in to decide on degrees thereof. The most impressive and fun aspect for me is the Super Macro which enables focus with the 5MP lens at unfeasibly close quarters. The photos won't stand up to pixel-peeping of course, but for most people, again, it's perfectly good enough for sharing and great fun.
The main camera seems to produce perfectly good photos in good light, as we've come to expect in 2020 from anything but the cheapest budget phone. We don't have the benefit of pixel-peeping here this time, but I go back to my old position - these photos are all very well good enough for social media or sharing with family and so forth. The colours look a little muted by default, but some would argue in which case, more natural. I would suggest that the AI I mentioned above is turned off and you go it alone as I found that the camera app sometimes confused itself as to what it was looking at or supposed to be doing. So much for automation!
Comparing the One Zoom to this, we do have proper OIS throughout the Moto's cameras, we also have an optical 3x Zoom lens, which works really well, there's no macro lens but there is a wide-angle to match as well. The Moto seems better equipped to me on several points and I do like the One Zoom's camera's software and layout in preference. But each to their own.
There are plenty of YouTube and written reviews online about the camera's performance, so please do go and seek that out if you're interested enough. People buying this phone won't be, I'd wager. What they will be interested in is the cost, which I'll come to, and that it takes photos good enough for sharing and looking at on phone screens. And this phone does. No doubt.

Verdict
So, the question is, is it worth it against others in this price bracket. So far, I've stuck with Motorola in comparison and Android, but consideration really does have to be given to the iPhone SE (2020) if people want to use iOS or are prepared to consider swapping. It ticks so many boxes, and pretty much in the same price bracket, needs consideration. Alright, so the 128GB version is £70 more, but the 64GB one is the same price as this TCL 10 Pro. Wireless charging, stereo speakers, environment proofing, super-fast chipset, OIS in the camera and capacitive fingerprint scanner are added to the mix. On the other hand, an LCD display, no microSD, no 3.5mm audio-out, no Always On Display and a significantly smaller battery.
But let's assume that iOS is out. Compared with the Motorola One Zoom, I think it's a close match. I like the Moto's flat screen over the curved, I like the TCL's 'proper' Always On Display, I like the fact that the TCL has actually got Android 10 (come on Moto!), but there's no doubt that the Moto's camera arrangement is more flexible.
Then we need to add into the mix the forthcoming (alleged) Pixel 4a, which reliable leaks suggest will be pitched again around the same price-point. We know how clean the Pixel software will be, instant Security Updates as they roll out, no waiting around for the next OS update, excellent camera - and even access to the Beta Programme for those of us who can't wait! There are numerous options coming out of China from Xiaomi and Oppo amongst others, all bringing slight differences, some better, some with missing features, some even cheaper than this £350-400 place of the mid-range, often nearer budget territory.
All of this makes for a very difficult decision facing people. So many phones, lots of good features. At his point I don't know which I would jump at - but what I can say is that it's getting harder and harder to make a duff decision, whatever you choose.

Sunday, 19 July 2020

Corded Handheld Stick Vacuum (oneday)

Living half one's life in a Static Caravan, motorhome, caravan or mobile home throws up small problems which are often not so clear in a house where there's plenty of room. Fixtures and fittings are often packed in with little room between them for access. I recently got back to my Static after lockdown and it was a dust-bucket!

My previously reviewed Gtech AirRam MK2 is excellent for general use - and battery-driven, but it has no tools or attachments for nooks and crannies! Enter the fifty quid 'oneday' stick cleaner! I guess any old stick cleaner will do, I remember Steve Litchfield importing a Bitzwolf model and thought it was great, but this was cheaper and readily available in the UK via Amazon.

It's light at 1.5Kg and handheld with a transparent casing so you can see what it is up to whilst in use, spinning around! Apparently it has 15kPa (whatever that means in old money) with HEPA filtration (absorbing allergens) and energy class A+ (I really must do more reading)!

Back in the real world, the suction seems to be very good and the not-too-loud motor is rated at 400W, well good enough for the task, part of which I guess is down to it being corded and not battery-driven. 400W sounds like it's a bit of a low-power thing, but in use it really doesn't seem so - particularly for my 'secondary' nooks and crannies use. The fact that it is not battery-driven does rule it out when really off-grid, I guess, if touring for example, but will remain very useful for cleaning up when home again.

The cord that comes with it is 30 feet long, which means that I can plug it in at the middle of the Static and it reaches both ends with ease. Supplied are an extension tube x 2, square brush, floor brush, mattress brush and crevice brush. So tools for every corner and more, well thought out.

There's also a base where all the stuff fits tidily for putting away - except for the long cable which doesn't fit anywhere! If you use the velcro strap which is on it, you can wrap it all up, but it certainly doesn't fit in the base in any way.

The two extension pipes fit together to double the reach and save people's backs bending over! The crevice tool is great for getting into patio-door or sliding shower-doors' runners and also the floor brush for the lino in the kitchen. Best thing though is just the pipe, for getting under radiators, along edges and round the back of the loo, as I say, especially when space is designed to be tight to pack stuff in.

All the components easily come apart and can be washed in soapy water, dried and put back together for next use. So far, so good. Well priced and my dust-bucket, after whizzing around with The Ram and following up with this, is dust free! Well, for a while! No wonder I was waking up with blocked sinuses! Recommended after initial use.

Monday, 6 July 2020

Realme X3 SuperZoom: Initial Thoughts

Realme is a sub-brand of Oppo in the way that Redmi is for Xiaomi and Honor is for Huawei and so on. The Realme devices seem to want to take on the high-end of the mid-range or the low-end of flagships and appeal to a younger crowd. Very often this represents good value for money and a growing feature-list to keep up with other manufacturers doing similar things in this tight marketplace. Let's see how they did with the X3 SuperZoom.

I offer my thoughts here in support of Steve Litchfield's video review over on his YouTube Channel as, to be honest, I'm finding much the same in terms of pros and cons. In the hand, it feels very nice indeed, reflective of that upper-mid-tier bracket and doesn't disappoint. I approve of the design language which places the elements on the back in landscape orientation, encouraging users to think of it as a camera first - and indeed shoot video the right way round!

In the shiny yellow box we have a 'smoked' TPU (well done Realme) which is actually a good, sturdy one, a pokey-hole SIM Card Tray ejector tool, USB-A to USB-C cable, 3-pin UK Fast-charging 30W power unit and a few papers. All simple and clean, though no earphones.

It's a shame that the frame is plastic, particularly at this price-point, but I guess that they will argue that it makes an already-heavy (202g) device a bit lighter - though aluminium wouldn't add much really. The unrated back glass has the usual now 'shimmering' look, in this case Glacier Blue (but there's also an Arctic White version available), quad-camera island top-right as you look in landscape and a Realme branding top-left. The camera island sticks out about a millimetre but when the TPU is in place, becomes flush. There's no IP-Rating on offer here either, so presumably not even splash-proof. User beware.

On the right side, slightly higher than middle, is a 'long-pill' capacitive fingerprint scanner/power button in the same style as Sony have been doing lately. It works really well, first time, every time. Registration is quick and easy and it can easily be touched for opening the phone up without the firm push needed to execute the power button itself. Nice job. On the other side, pretty much opposite, are two volume control buttons, firm and clicky, separate so not a rocker. On the top, there's nothing but a microphone hole and down the bottom, SIM Card Tray for, in this case, a single NanoSIM, USB-C charging/data port centre, another microphone and a single mono speaker.

The front houses the big Gorilla Glass 5 toughened screen, a 6.6" 1080p IPS LCD panel which is 20:9 in ratio, so the usual 'tall' these days. It's reasonably bright-enough in most situations but as usual with all but the best LCDs, take it outside in bright sunshine, which I just did, tested on automatic brightness and manual, and it's close to unusable. It seems that for those kinds of extremes there's nothing like an OLED - or at least a very good high quality LCD. The screen returns 399ppi but to its credit, does offer a 120Hz refresh-rate like a good gaming phone. You can switch back to 60Hz manually (though there's no 90) or allow the phone to decide in Auto. Presumably it knows when you're gaming. Anyway, as usual, I can't tell the difference!

There are some controls for the way the screen looks including a slider for temperature from cool to warm and screen colour mode for switching between Gentle and Vivid. That does make a bit of difference, mainly saturating deep colours. Then there's OSIE Vision Effect. "Object and Semantic Images and Eye-tracking! An Artificial Intelligence that will track eye movement with precision. This will make you have a great experience when using apps. Not all apps are supported by OSIE and this may affect the consumption of power." Right. This is off by default and I don't really know how to test it, with what apps. I turned it on and nothing seemed different really. More investigation needed. But, again, this is no OLED, so the colours are not so rich and vibrant and blacks not the deep blacks which we know can be achieved.

The bezels around the screen are very small except for the bottom, which is a bit bigger. I support this as there's somewhere to swipe from. In the top-left there's another long-pill cutout for two, yes, two Selfie Cams which I'll come to later. Usual thing applies - it feels in the way for a while but the brain gets used to it and in the end, watching media, pales into insignificance. You can, on an app-by-app basis choose whether or not to 'hide' the cameras by finishing the screen content below the line of the Notification Bar. Talking of which, the icons in the Notification Bar are ludicrously tiny and in order to increase the size of them (the only way I found) was to make the Display Size Large (rather than Small or Default, but that still is nowhere near large enough. The percentage remaining readout in the battery is near unreadable to me. Maybe younger eyes won't care.

The device arrives with Android 10 on-board (with now June 2020 Google Security) so instant access to dark everything including Settings, GMail and the Google Apps. On top of that, they have their own Dark mode in Settings so that tries hard to ensure everything that might not be dark, becomes so. There's a Vanilla Android feel to some of the UI, a little spoilt (but not too much) by the infiltration of Realme UI. This goes its own way, trying to emulate iOS in many ways when Stock doesn't. The Settings are so incredibly confusing coming from a Stock experience and for those not prepared to use the Search feature, they're really in for a long learning curve to get up to speed - and then once learned, hopefully stay with Realme so they don't have to use any other system and have to unlearn it all! But Realme are not alone here. Exceptions which come to mind are Motorola, Nokia, OnePlus who do a much cleaner job and keep things much more 'standard'.

Having said all the above, Realme have at least included the Google Assistant Cards off to the left of Home, which many others don't (looking at you Samsung)! There's an archaic method of Widget selection from a horizontally-scrolling picker across the bottom of the screen and again, iOS-style mutli-pickers of apps on the home screens after a long-press for group actions, like folder selections and so forth. Thankfully there's an App drawer available which makes the 'feel' much more like Stock and I was able to lay out my home screens how I liked, with widgets and sizing perfectly acceptable. Some others miss on this and (for me) enforce a Nova Prime installation but here, I didn't feel the need. So yes, more Vanilla than ever before with Oppo/Realme, but could do better!

There's no Always on Display whatsoever, only an option to briefly wake the screen when notifications come in. There's not even a double-tap-to-wake, only sleep! Bizarre. There is lift-to-wake and the face recognition is excellent. Quick to register and 100% reliable - much like the fingerprint scanner. For those who are not bothered about an AoD, they won't care and maybe most will conclude that they tend to take their phone out of their pocket mostly to use anyway. (I get the feeling that as soon as Apple do AoD, it will be everywhere!)

What can be said for the system is that when the Settings are delved into, there's an awful lot of options to tweak, well thought out in many cases. Small touches which others miss out on, they've included. Swipe down from anywhere on the Home Screen for the Notification Bar, Up from anywhere for App Drawer, display data usage in the Bar, Search Bar at the bottom, by choice (looking at you Pixel), choice of Icon styles, long-press the Power button for Google Assistant, choice of Gestures of buttons for Navigation, App cloner, split-screen control for multiple apps - it's all there and oodles more, for those who get stuck in and hang around long enough to learn it all going forward for, say, a two year operator contract.

The unit we have here is powered by a SnapDragon 855+ chipset, has 256GB of UFS 3.0 storage and 12GB RAM. As you can imagine, it flies. This seems to be where they have spent the money and justified the high price, along with the periscope camera, which I'll come to. There is a variation on this for a bit less money, namely 128GB and 8GB RAM. I would have traded in the 256GB for a microSD Card slot, sadly missing, like it seems with most Oppo/Realme phones. The USB OTG works fine, tested here with my usual plug-in 2TB SSD and various microSD Cards/adapter, but sadly there's no HDMI-Out working.

There's only a single mono speaker, as I said earlier, bottom-firing. The speaker is pretty loud and quality is good enough, there's even Dolby, system-wide, though when in speaker mode, this can't be turned off - only switched between the four available profiles: Music, Gaming, Movie or Smart Auto. I can't really tell much difference between them to be honest, but yes, small shifts in sound. The average user won't complain about the output from this speaker, only when they realise that it's covered up by their fingers!

The output via headphones improves the listening experience even more (as it usually does) by the inclusion of 24-bit/192kHz audio and having the Dolby Stereo open up properly for better adjustments. What's not good is that there's no 3.5mm audio-out socket nor a USB-C to 3.5mm adapter in the box. However, laying that aside, let's dwell on the sound now that I've armed myself with a dumb-adapter and pair of reference headphones. The sound is really quite excellent as you might expect with that hardware, rich, loud and full. The Dolby options include a manual graphic equaliser and intelligent equaliser settings for each of the previously-mentioned pre-sets. No complaints here. Fabulous sound. Actually, I do have one complaint! It's great that they supply a Music and Video App but although the music continues to play whilst you tweak the Dolby, the Video doesn't - so you can only hear the adjustments by going and changing it in silence. So yes, not on-the-fly makes it harder to hear the changes. Tested here also with Huawei FreeBuds 3 for Bluetooth 5 and the pairing process is quick and easy with resulting sound also excellent. Loud and rich with the same open access to the Dolby settings to adjust.

Talking of additional software and apps, again the experience is better than it has been and also some others. I consider the Music and Video apps to be a bonus, not bloat, and other than that - yes, we have the usual doubling-up of Google apps like Calculator, Clock, File Manager and Photos, in addition to a few of their own, being Clone Phone, Compass, One Tap Lock Screen, Phone Manager, Recorder, Weather along with the Music and Video. Not too bad, but could be better. Some of these can be uninstalled, some not, some force-closed and disabled. When the count is this low, I don't even think the Vanilla Mad Geek would be bothered.

The phone is powered by a decent-sized 4200mAh battery which, if charged with the 30W cord supplied can be charged from flat to full in about an hour. There's no wireless charging here, which is a big miss at this price, I think. Tested here with phone calls, WiFi, Cellular Data and GPS, the aerials seem to good all round and strong enough. Not as good as some on the WiFi, but very well good enough. NFC is also present, which is not always a given with these phones from the far-east (even Motorola these days), so kudos for that, enabling Google Pay of course.

As usual, I'm going to point to Steve's much more informed appraisal of the phone's camera capabilities - see link, above, but on the way, I do have some thoughts of my own. The main USP here, as the name suggests, is the SuperZoom. 5x Optical, offering a reasonable 10x hybrid and up to 60x when pushed. I have tested that here and it's really not very impressive against proper cameras with zoom lenses, as you might expect from a periscope lens arrangement, but working in the 5x to 10x range, it's really very acceptable and for my uses (and many more I suspect), very good. When you get to 60x zoom, you really need a tripod to make anything like a usable photo and if you're carrying a tripod, you might as well just carry a cheap zoom compact!

I love the Ultra Macro mode which allows focusing very, very closely indeed. It is tied to a 2MP f2.4 camera on the back, but even so, great fun for a close-up view on life! There's a 64MP f1.8 normal lens which cuts down the 64MP to 16MP by default, but there is a setting to make full use of the 64MP producing big photos. The 8MP f3.4 camera is used for the 5x optical imaging and this also has OIS. As I say, stick to 5x and excellent results are possible. There's also an 8MP f2.3 wide-angle camera to make up the foursome. Round the front, there's two Selfie cameras. One 8MP f2.2 wide-angle and one 32MP f2.5 normal. Steve got some very useful background blur by using these appropriately - again, see his video review.

It's a great fun camera setup with lots of bells, whistles and toys to play around with in the Camera App as supplied. Many people will enjoy using these very much - and I wouldn't knock it. Yes, if we pixel-peep we're going to find that the photos don't match a dSLR with expensive optics, but that's going to be true of any phone ever made. You can't defy physics! So what's left, for me, is making it fun. Fun for those sharing photos and video around with their friends, on social media and looking at them on screens. Let's face it, the vast majority these days! I've said it before and I'll say it again, if you want more than that, get a camera.

So those are my initial thoughts. The phone is too expensive in relation to the features which are missing. If this phone were £300 instead of £500, I would be enthusiastic. But like Steve, for this money I would expect a whole list of stuff more. Always on Display, aluminium build, IP-rating, OLED screen (or at least a better LCD), Stereo Speakers, wireless charging, a 3.5mm audio-out socket and with no microSD, at least HDMI-Out. Perhaps not so much cash spent on the SuperZoom which, actually, beyond 5x is really not that special anyway.

However, if this were £300, it would be a much easier sell. The audio-out through the speaker is very good and even better when headphones are hooked up, the design is pleasing and closeness to Vanilla Android much more impressive than before. The software is up to date, the Android 10 experience is pleasing, absence of bloat impressive, blazingly fast SnapDragon performance, oodles of RAM and even a screen refreshing at 120Hz. The battery is good and strong with fast charging available. Oh dear. I want to like this phone very much, but there's just too much missing for the price. Sorry Realme, a miss - try again.

Beelink U57 Mini PC

I've been looking at these Mini PC units for some months or even years now and never quite got to the point where I felt that they were ...