Wednesday, 11 May 2022

Oppo Find X3 Pro

The Size and the Software, I predict, will be the key points dictating whether or not I could adopt this lovely-looking 5G phone, eventually getting it in-hand a year after release, which was spring 2021. The main reason for my interest was the microscope lens and ring-flash, totally unique in the 'phone world and subsequently dropped by the firm in this year's model, the Find X5 Pro.

Oppo is a part of the Chinese BBK Electronics firm who also own the Vivo, OnePlus, Realme and iQOO brands. Until recently, we in the west didn't routinely see many of these phones but we're beginning to now more widely. Not being on the Oppo loan-circuit for reviewers we at Phones Show Chat often have to 'bide our time this end - and end up having to buy our phones to review. This time, acquired from one of our MeWe Group members. They're a great crowd and if you're not already a member, do come and join us. Links to all our Groups in MeWe and audio Podcasts can be found on my website at tedsalmon.com.

Anyway, on with my thoughts about this phone and as usual, we start with first impressions. It is a large phone which many people on release were comparing with Samsung's S-series 'Ultra' models on that basis, but also as a likely 'closest competitor' for potential purchasers. It's beautifully crafted with that 'moulded' 4-camera cluster taking centre-stage. It has a gentle 'slope' on all sides up to the platform, a millimetre or so from the line of the rear panel. It really does have a classy look and feel to it even if the gloss black version here (which actually looks more like grey - or even just a mirror) is a serious fingerprint magnet! Still, a TPU in place and you'll have to get it out to enjoy it fully anyway!

The back is Gorilla Glass 5, so you really need that TPU on, as it'll drop and break. However, for those brave enough, the glass really is quite 'grippy' and not like a slippery bar of soap when in use - obviously depending on the amount of natural moisture in your skin. The back curves round slightly on all four edges to meet the aluminium frame and the front-side edges do similar, to a lesser degree. The power button is on the right (with a neat green accent) and volume buttons, left. They all feel like they're well made and not 'floppy' in any way.

The top of the phone has nothing much, just a microphone, but down the bottom there's a USB-C port, one of the stereo speakers, another microphone and a Dual-SIM Card Tray (double-sided). The microphone hole is placed right alongside the SIM Card Tray which looks just like a tray-eject hole. I wonder how many people with these units now have knackered microphones!

The front of the phone is all-but flat and has the look and feel of a Samsung phone these days, having moved away from outrageous-looking slopes and edges. Up the top there's the second speaker between the frame and Gorilla Glass 5, doubling up as the phone's earpiece speaker in the usual way these days. The bezels around the front panel are very small, slightly more on the chin than forehead - but there's not much in it - and what there is around the sides is hardly visible.

I did think that the phone could well be too big for my liking, but even though it's a shade taller than my Motorola Edge+ (2020) and a tad wider, it doesn't feel as big somehow. I think it's because it's thinner and lighter at 8.3mm and 193g. The whole package in the hand just seems more manageable. Time will tell how I find it for one-handed use, but it seems deceptive anyway. It almost feels strangely rugged too though, supported by the psychology of knowing that it has IP6/8 certification no doubt. Don't get me wrong, this is glass and not a Nokia XR20 you can play football with - all these observations are just look'n'feel ones.

The front panel is a 1440p 6.7" LPTO AMOLED one with a
 120Hz refresh rate, 20:9 ratio and 525ppi. Like my Motorola Edge+ (2020) it supports one billion colours (because of course, 16 million is just not enough) and 10-bit colour. It's HDR10+ certified and has a 240Hz sampling rate. It's superbly bright and colourful and can apparently reach 1300nits at the peak. The gold standard for me here is the wonderful screen on the Edge+ and this doesn't quite match it, though it ain't far off.

The refresh rate can be switched between 120Hz and 60Hz - then confusingly claims that it's 'dynamic' so even if you choose one or the other it does what it thinks is best anyway! I can't tell the difference - no, really. I'd save battery every time. If you want to tinker with the colours, there's a choice between Vivid (enhanced), Natural (soft) and Pro (cinematic or brilliant). Then there's a warm/cool slider for white balance. There's even a bunch of filter-settings for people who have colour-blindness - and a testing routine for everyone to do if they want to, ending up with a 'personalised' colour setting system-wide. I went through this, then compared the resulting colours with default and there is a difference, though I actually preferred the default - so not sure what use this is really! Maybe more so for people who do have eyesight issues. Then there's an auto-adjustment which will tweak things based on ambient lighting and the Ultra Vision Engine which enhances video and brightens HDR. Finally, there's a switch between 1440p, 1080p and Auto for the user to select. Again, I can't tell the difference, so I put it on Auto and let the AI decide!

There's an under-glass fingerprint scanner which I find to be fast and accurate. It's an optical one, but as optical ones go, it don't get any better! It's way ahead of the Motorola version and Samsung too in my testing. It's supported by a very fast and accurate face-unlock system and the whole security to-get-in seems well thought out with options for a lock-screen pause or not. There are animation options for when the finger is pressed to the glass, as the fingerprint scanner does the business.

Continuing with the screen, it is also supplied with Samsung-style Edge Lighting, but it's much more basic with a slim choice of colours and one pulsing array - so take it or leave it! You can hide the Status Bar under a black band on a per-app basis, but not, it seems, globally. There's also an Always on Display, which is great, but like the Edge Lighting, not a patch on what Samsung offer. There are a few choices, animations, clocks, text-input for message and so on, but nothing like the same rich control from Sammy! The AoD is also not controllable for brightness so sometimes I'm sat in a room with subdued lighting and I can't see it. Move it under a lamp and it brightens up. Algorithms need fixing I guess - as well as possibly the auto-brightness which many phones outside of Pixel and AndroidOne with Android 12 onboard just now seem to be struggling with.

Talking of Android 12, one of the big plus points for this Oppo flagship is the promise by the firm to update it with 3 versions of the OS and 4 years of security. The phone arrived in spring 2021 on Android 11, so it should get Android 14 sometime after autumn 2024 and security to spring 2025. Good show Oppo. Take note Motorola - that's how to treat customers buying one's flagships. As I write in May 2022, the phone has the April 2022 security update and April Play System. So a little behind the leading pack but not too far.

Finding out where to go to check which version you have leads me into the right fiddle of ColorOS Settings again however! The phone has v12 and I await v12.1 as it has some improvements to the PC Connect experience, which I'll come to. For now, it's safe to say that Settings is just a jumbled mess compared to, for example, the Vanilla experience of AndroidOne phones. What makes it worse is that the search engine supplied, is often caught out on simple strings of text to find anything. So the user is up against an illogical folder-structure to begin with, then no quick way to get where they need to be! As always with these complaints, they will be squashed by users, not reviewers, keeping phones and learning where stuff is over time, of course. They are not alone. There are some manufacturers of phones who stick to the baseline (Sony, Motorola, Nokia spring to mind) but many others seem to want to rearrange everything to (presumably) stamp their mark on the way they do it! Confusing for me, but others might argue that this is because there is so much stuff added to the baseline for a much richer experience. The good news for Samsung users is that Oppo have emulated OneUI to some degree here with pull-down headers in Settings, revealing the search engine (for what it is worth) and hints as to what other places you might have been looking for at the foot.

Like others from the far-east, Oppo has added oodles of functionality laid over the top of basic Android - some of which has been ported from OnePlus devices, following their departmental merger. Example being the ability to draw gestures on the 'off' screen to control music play/pause/forward/back and even assign other gestures to apps and functions of the user's choice. I'm not really sure where to start and stop ploughing through all these features of ColorOS12, so I'll try to settle for some highlights.

Before I do that, I will first counter my previous argument about ColorOS not being very Vanilla by pointing out some of the ways that, actually, it is! The Google Feed is off to the left of the main homescreen (good) but for those looking for a choice, it's not removable (bad). Gesture Navigation, although it's Oppo's own (with fancy animations) it works pretty much like Google's own with similar options and methods. The screen timeout is the 'standard' up-to 30mins, unlike many others capping it at 10. The Widgets picker is vertical scroll, though getting there is different and more like iOS as you put the homescreen into suspension and work with 'plus' and 'done' buttons. The App Drawer is vertical-scroll but users also have the choice to 'do an iOS' and splatter everything directly onto homescreens. There are settings to pull-up from anywhere to get the App Drawer and pull-down from anywhere for Notifications area.

While we're here, we can see that there are lots of choices for how you want your homescreens to look including a near-Nova level of Icon control, shape, style and sizing and how you want your homescreens to rotate, with animations aplenty. We also have the status bar with the usual icons and layout, except for a few niggles - like there being no way to have the NFC switched on but not have the icon always displayed (unless you disable all the icons). Like the inability to get the battery percentage outside of the too-small battery icon, ditch the graphic and just have the numbers. Like the whole status bar being disproportionately small and in order to make it bigger, only winding up the screen zoom setting which makes everything else stupidly big. But these are niggles.

The Notification drop-down gives us clock and date with a brightness slider (and auto-switch) then meandering away from Vanilla, round buttons instead of the larger ones introduced with Android 12 by Google. They're great though and in many ways better. You can certainly get more on the screen, with oodles of options as to which ones you want on display on initial pull-down. All sorts of controls, modes and switches - very Samsung. The whole colour-theming thing has made it across with Android 12 and icons and graphics can be influenced if you wish by settings for the display in the same way as a Pixel, with a growing number of options. I noticed that this morning there was an update to the palette.

There's a Smart Sidebar, like Sammy's Edge Panel or Sony's Side Sense and so on which does just what you'd expect really. Same as the others. Assign (pretty much) what you like in there up to 20 shortcuts for those who don't want to use homescreen folders, presumably. I never did get with the advantages of this and always turn it off! I except Moto's version from that however, as it also has the functionality of using as a swipe-up/swipe-down for Notifications area/app drawer when you have something other than homescreens using the panel. Not here though - maybe others have this too.

There's a Personalisation area in Settings which groups together (Moto style) various tweaks (which you can get to via other routes too, making it even more confusing), double-tap to wake/lock, lift to wake, various animation controls for navigation, controls for the Recents panel including a snapshot display of icons below the carousel, split-screen options and even a RAM readout at the foot so you know how much of it is being used, then how much you save by closing everything down!

There are battery controls, power saving utilities, clean-up options, useful analysis of power consumption and projection, floating windows to resize and move around p-in-p style, a quick-launch function which gives you a choice of long-press, quick-launch assignable apps via the fingerprint scanner, and even a hide-apps area where a PIN is chosen, app hidden from the drawer, then only appears when the PIN is typed into the phone-pad dialler with a # at each end of it! You get the idea! You'd need a good long time to get stuck into all these features and learn how to use them productively (after you have located them of course)! It's stuffed full of features, loads to play with!

The phone is driven by the SnapDragon 888 5G (5nm) chipset from last year (or was it the year before) so not bang up to date of course, but it's more than capable, remains valid for 2022 and beyond - everything I throw at it flies. The model I have here is the global release with 256GB storage and 12GB RAM but there was also a 512GB version with 16GB and also a 256GB with 8GB in various markets. When I monitor the RAM, I seem to be chugging along using between 5-6GB then if I 'optimise' can get that down to 4-5GB, very similar to the Edge+. It clearly is more than enough and again, hopes going forward for an Oppo DeX-like feature-set to come. I'm glad that the baseline storage is 256GB as there's no microSD Card slot here for expansion.

I'm not much of a gamer, but I did run a couple of car-racing games and it all looks silky smooth to me, not a jutter. There is a Games app from Oppo pre-installed which collects all your installed games into one shortcut location and provides a Gaming Tools side-panel pull-in to control Notifications, performance settings, power, temperature (for which the unit has vapour-chamber cooling) and time spent on session etc. for heavy gamers who want to focus on their important titles!

Talking of pre-installed apps and services, Oppo is far from the worst offender in the mobile phone world (as it should be for flagship-priced phones) but there is still stuff included which some may consider 'bloat'. AliExpress, Tile Master 3D and Facebook which can be refused during setup or uninstalled. Doubled-up Google apps which can't be uninstalled (only force-stopped etc.) are Calculator (very similar to Google's), Clock (visually pleasing), My Files and Photos. Apps which are pre-installed but actually are quite useful are Compass (very pretty), Clone Phone (like Samsung's Switch), Music, the aforementioned optimiser and various other tools called Phone Manager, Recorder for MP3 audio, Video and Weather (The Weather Channel). Then there's the standard Google Apps which Oppo has decided to actually use as default - Phone, Contacts and Calendar.

Then there's this thing called O Relax! This is a bunch of audio tools to play all sorts of soothing sounds as background, like rain or waves on a seashore, or thunder or wind - and 'profiles' can be built up and overlaid on each other, so you can have heavy rain at the beach or a crackling campfire with the sound of bats flapping around. It all sounds pretty trivial and a bit of a novelty but actually, I've used it a few times and it's really quite addictive to have going in the background. There was a really sunny hot day last week and I put on the sounds of rain on a roof which made me feel not so hot of course! Jolly psychology at work, but it's all good fun. So, as usual, some stuff that some would call bloat, others might find useful.

One which I would find useful if I had not bought into PowerAmp is the Music app (though it's pretty bare-bones) and without VLC, the Video one. They both do the job nicely enough for the feature-undemanding. This bring me to sound and speakers. The output from the stereo speakers is 'proper' stereo with the same quality and volume from both ends, from what I can tell. They are not up with the best, however, for volume or quality. Compared with my Edge+ the phone sounds a little less rich and a little less loud. Again, I'm nit-picking though, as the average user would, I'm sure, be very happy with the sound produced - even think it's very good. I'm comparing with the best I have here.

There's an always-on (with speakers) Dolby Atmos with 4 basic switches in the usual way, Music, Movie, Gaming, ‘Smart’. There are no claims for 24/32-bit audio output here. Stereo is balanced well between the speakers from (up to about) 18” away and separation is actually quite good at that distance (testing with YouTube Dolby-test videos), but you are up against the output quality (as above) so OK for casual listening but this is no audiophile’s phone.

Headphones
needed to get more control, then. No 3.5mm audio-out here but testing with a not DAC-enhanced dongle and Bluetooth. AKG K702 reference studio headphones first with Nokia 8 Sirocco 3.5mm dongle in use for the cabled test. Full volume is not too loud for me, which is not a good sign! Sound options open up into Environment Profile (Indoor, On-the-Go, Commute and Flight) or Scenario-specific Profile (Smart, Movie, Gaming or Music as above). Or you can turn Dolby off. Depending on what Profile you’re in, there seems little difference really. Then underneath you get to go Custom with an equaliser. Again, adjustments are minimal. Best profile seems to be the Environment>Flight one for bass/volume. Using my AKG K702 headphones with Razer 2 3.5mm dongle all the same as above except that it’s much louder and has more bass, as one might expect with the enhanced DAC in the dongle. Sony's WH-1000XM4 and v5.2 Bluetooth is next and as expected, the whole thing shifts up a big gear on volume, quality, bass - the lot. Too loud for me at full! All the same controls and options available as above. (BTW, the Google Assistant works perfectly with the Sony and this phone, unlike some phones.)

The phone has a 4,500mAh battery inside which I have found to be very reliable and up there with many of the leaders. On a flat reading test I continued for 2 hours and 15 minutes before 10% of the charge was used and on an average day for me I have been recording 14-16hrs between charges with 4-6hrs Screen on Time with still half the juice left in the tank. As always, it depends on how you're using your phone as to how long it will last and shooting 4K video half the day is not going to be the same as someone not doing that! All in all, at a push, I felt as though I could just about squeeze two days out of it between charges.

This brings us to the whole charging issue and SuperVOOC Oppo charging. If you use the 65W charger that comes in the box and the supplied matching cable, you can indeed get blazingly fast charging. I sat and watched it flying up for half an hour from completely flat to full (and 40% in 10mins). Very impressive - and opinion is still divided as to whether or not that's particularly good for the battery. I usually, for the record, trickle-charge overnight. If you don't use the Oppo-supplied gear, it seems to default right back down to 10W, though I have has some middle-ground results using a 100W charger and better quality cable. So your mileage may vary.

Supporting this speedy performance is wireless Qi Charging built-in which works perfectly well on various chargers here and with the right supporting gear, it'll do that at 30W (so 100% from flat in 80mins) - if not, 10W. There's reverse wireless charging which works to top-up other devices on the back at 10W as well.

I was delighted to find that the USB-C socket, armed with an HDMI adapter can send out data to my TV and a connected monitor, as well as having a 'PC Connect' application for Windows PCs which appears to be a work-in-progress. HDMI-Out means that the user can download media from whatever source they like and cable it out to a TV without relying on screen-shares or mirroring options, which often end up with latency issues. Cable is still the robust method in this house! It's no DeX or Ready For, however. You get a basic output which echoes what's on the screen and you can't turn the screen off while you're doing it. You can, however, charge it simultaneously whether by a forked, powered HDMI-USB-C adapter or by plonking it on a Qi Charger. Works perfectly well.

The Windows-based PC Connect software is, again, no DeX or Ready For. It's a basic screen-echo again so you can see your phone's screen in portrait on your computer and interact with it and apps with mouse and keyboard using the PC's speakers/sound. If you have auto-rotate on, then turn the phone round you can get film/video into landscape but the only resize of window option is full-screen, no dynamic. Seems like a bit of a half-way between Samsung/Motorola's solutions and the basic Sony/Nokia output. It feels like it is very much a project in process and, as I mentioned earlier, I read that with ColorOS12.1 there are some improvements coming. I shall be keen to see them.

Testing connectivity here I am unable to do so for 5G - as we don't have any! The 4G cellular connection seems solid with good signal pickup, strong connection and maintenance using VodafoneUK. I hear the other party well on phone calls, and they, me. Data is similar when used - it seems to hang onto that well and provides a stream as dictated by the operator and the same for various WiFi/MiFi routers I have been able to test with. NFC is working fine with connection to other equipment, GPS locks onto locations well and Bluetooth seems reliable and fairly long-reaching. I really don't have any complaints about connectivity. Seems to do a good, steady and reliable job.

As I said at the outset, I was interested in the USP on the camera array here, the microscope with ring-flash. And what fun it has been! After a while, yes, of course, it's become a bit of a novelty wearing thin, but for the occasional tinker now and again with one eye on artistic elements, it's a great tool to have in the box. You can set it to 30x or 60x magnification and when in use, the ring-flash comes on automatically. The light (which is not really a flash at all) stays on and evenly illuminates the subject focused in on, with white light. And gets close! Human hairs are fun to look at and weaves of fibres. If you can catch them, small insects and living things even more so, but yes, you need a steady hand (or some kind of tripod). There are pop-up warnings on the screen which tell you to 'rock' the phone a bit to achieve focus but because the depth of field is so amazingly shallow, it's a tricky job. The shooter is only a 3MP f3 unit so don't expect miracles in terms of image quality - think of it as good fun and you'll have it!

Other than that, we have a pair of 50MP main cameras, one f1.8 with OIS and the other, f2.2 wide-angle without, though it does a pretty good close-focus job. The third is a 13MP f2.4 which is also a 2x optical (and 5x Hybrid) zoom and fourth, that microscope. Round the front is a 32MP f2.4 Selfie Camera. The Oppo Camera App offers all sorts of modes and functions as you'd expect, from text scanner to dual-view video, from time-lapse to panoramic and much more. Making the most of darkness it seems to do a reasonable job though I've not had to hold a phone still for that long before to get it - so long that it ends up blurry. With a tripod it'll be fine. Portrait seems to do a decent job with levels of blur too - but I'm going to hand over to those nice people at GSMArena now for their deep-dive into the photography capabilities of this phone as they can test it more clinically than I - and conclude that it has outstanding photo and video quality. Do support them by clicking through.

I conclude that this is a smashing phone and as is so often the case, a year-old flagship makes perfect financial sense, is often still perfectly functional, helps the environment and makes for a very sensible choice. The Oppo Find X3 Pro has a super screen, it's beautifully built, it's fast and capable with great connectivity and is not too blighted by a medium-sized skin over base Android with plenty of smart bells and whistles for the long-term user to get to know and love.

There are great charging options, more than adequate battery and what seems like a more than capable camera setup with that unique-to-phone microscope option for plenty of fun. The speakers are full stereo and even though not up there with the leaders, are not far off pleasing all-but the very picky with sound via Bluetooth excellent, depending on connected equipment.

This year's replacement does away with that microscope camera so if you want one of these, grab it while you can - in the sure knowledge that Oppo have promised to update the phone for three OS versions and four years of security. A sound investment until 2025, even for second-hand buying, now. I started my thoughts here with the software and the size. As I said above, the size is surprisingly manageable and as for the software, of course, if this was my primary phone I could get used to it and find my way around the settings in time. Highly recommended for those prepared to do some stuff the Oppo way!

Sunday, 1 May 2022

PodHub UK Podcasts for the Month of April 2022

...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
Friday 1st April
Aidan and I are here once again to consider Whatever Works for you and us! All sorts of goodies on show including a man who can't reach his feet, many others who can't use roundabouts, a woman who can't collect parcels and another one who can't decide if an electric saucepan is better than a microwave or not! Why not tune into the lampoonery!

Phones Show Chat
Episode 689 - Fussy, Us?
Saturday 2nd April
Steve and I, on a catch-up special this weekend to clear the backlog of stuff we shuffle aside when we have interesting guests on the show. Plenty to chew over as I edge back closer to Samsung, Steve to iPhone, but both stumble in the middle on the Duo!

Tech Addicts Podcast
Sunday 3rd April
Gareth and I are back scooting around the world of tech for a couple of hours finding Easter Eggs! Tablets, Monitors, Folding stuff, Isolated Development, law enforcement, nudity, violence and Gaming Galore! What more could you want to sanitise your Sunday?!

Projector Room
Episode 109 - Bombardment Bubble
Wednesday 6th April
Gareth, Allan and I are back again with our regular fortnightly roundup of what we've been watching in film, cinema and TV. This time we head for north Europe lingering in Copenhagen for The Bombardment and Ukraine for location-based media. We do a couple of comparisons of remakes heading into Nightmare Alley and look forward to some great stuff coming soon. Do join us!

Phones Show Chat
Episode 690 - Beach Wonkiness
Saturday 9th April
Steve and I welcome back Mike Warner this week as we take a fresh look at what's happening (particularly) in the Xiaomi world and offer some good picks. Loads of other stuff as well of course including the excellent POTM winner for March - a great work of art. So do join us for an hour (and a bit!).

Tech Addicts Podcast
Sunday 10th April
Gareth and I return this weekend with another ton of tech tripe! This week we flex the Plex, fidget with Widgets, turn PowerToys into power tools and then Point and Click to Play with Stores and Read Anywhere! And much more clap-trap!

Whatever Works
Episode 160 - Show Me a Xiaomi!
Thursday 14th April
Aidan and I are back this fortnight a tad early as we have a virtual chat down the pub about Whatever Works for us and you! Plenty to natter about in our Houseparty shower(!) with everything from lawn mowers and toothbrushes to POP Keys and Plex while we negotiate foreign roundabouts! Do join us for an hour for some fun!

Phones Show Chat
Saturday 16th April
This week Steve and I welcome Scott Brady from the USofA to chat about his Phone Path, what he's using now and thoughts for the future. Lots of interesting stuff covered including his own POTW, Steve charging his old phones and me - I Find Macro!

Tech Addicts Podcast
Sunday 17th April
Gareth Myles and I wonder if we'll see the 6a in the west or perhaps be retro-Shocked by Casio instead! More on the OnePlus 10R/Ace as well as the return of 7" phones and a nod and a wink from Google at Home! There's also the dwindle of the Kindle as we Return to Monkey Island once more!

Projector Room
Episode 110 - Deep Water Saul
Wednesday 20th April
Gareth, Allan and I are back for our fortnightly roundup of all things film, cinema and TV. This time, we go Beyond Evil with The Hunter, take a Nightride in Mexico and see a Lamb in Deep Water.

Phones Show Chat
Episode 692 - Smartphone Deluge
Saturday 23rd April
Steve and I are back again this weekend with guest Gavin Fabiani-Laymond as we find out what gear he's been testing and using, the usual stuff too and our thoughts on all things mobile phone.

Tech Addicts Podcast
Sunday 24th April
Gareth and I are back again this weekend with our usual exciting trail through whatever junk we can find online to do with tech that tickles our fancy! Rumours galore of Sony, Pixel Watch, Galaxy Fold4 and even a mad Microsoft Duo Slim fan-render! To round things off we have games, ambient computing and nudity!

Whatever Works
Friday 29th April
Aidan and I are back to plague you once again with a mad hour of fun, discovering Whatever Works in life - and what doesn't! A very close-up fibrous and LED-lit view with pet-feeders, pods and great graters. As you Lift your mouse you'll blend your hand and gargle with something nasty! This and oodles more!

Phones Show Chat
Saturday 30th April
Steve and I are here again with another roundup of all things mobile phone and this week we welcome back Ben Smith to find out what he's up to, what he's using and where the 361 Pod has gone! Meanwhile, I almost forgive Motorola and Steve continues to dance to the cross-platform tune!

Monday, 18 April 2022

Deep Water (2022)

This Amazon project was on my radar for two reasons. I'm guessing you can work out the first - the adorable Ana de Armas in action in an erotic thriller(!) but also that this is an adaptation of another of Patricia Highsmith's novels, which I've spoken about before and always seem to come up trumps.

I previously admired her work here in my blog in the shape of the excellent Carol (2015) starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, the Hitchcock delight Strangers on a Train (1951) and the 2014 thriller The Two Faces of January. Fabulous storytelling made into generally excellent films - and this is no exception.

There's a rich couple who live in a posh house with their daughter, living a privileged existence but within a strange marriage setup. They love each other deeply but Miranda, the wife, is hot-blooded and passionate, wanting to live life to the full whilst Vic, the husband, is very traditional and conservative in expectation. Miranda takes lovers and although deeply stressed and jealous, Vic goes along with her behaviour because he so deeply loves her (and knows she does, him) and has no intention of any talk of divorce. The arrangements work for her and he is able to tolerate things.

The two or three men we know about in the confines of our story presented in this film have mysteriously disappeared one by one, or in one case drowned in front of a gathered group. There are parties after parties going on - Vic and Miranda have a rich and full social life with an extended group of friends. Suspicions are raised regarding the men leaving the scene but although Vic teases about having bumped them off, few take him seriously and certainly Miranda doesn't entertain it as she knows that he has no passion in him to consider the option.

Ana de Armas is excellent (and we see plenty of her) in the lead but Ben Affleck plays Vic charmingly. He's cool, calm and collected and gives off an air of self-control and measured response, always apparently doing the right thing to keep things afloat. I really didn't think he'd be the right person for the role, but he does indeed pull it off! The daughter Trixie is played by Grace Jenkins and is cute, engaging and perfect for the cheeky role.

The story becomes complex in the hands of Highsmith with regular injections of humour and shock. I really enjoyed it and shall refrain from giving anything more of the plot away here so that you can tune in and see how it evolves. It's steamy and erotic in places, cold and calculated in some, whilst warm and engaging elsewhere.

The film has got mixed reviews out there so depending where you see those you might be swayed either way. Good idea to watch it for yourself and make up your own mind. I give a thumbs-up here as I found it thoroughly entertaining and the time flew.

Nightride (2021)

Nightride is a real-time one-shot thriller as we join an intimate portrait of a man trying to do one last drug-dealing job in Northern Ireland before he goes straight, planning a less stressful life with his Ukrainian lady. It's a white-knuckle ride in the night. A nightride!

Some will have seen the Tom Hardy film Locke a couple of years back where a very similar approach had been taken in terms of shooting a (relatively) low-budget thriller using dialogue, intrigue, suspense and the threads of a strong storyline to snag the viewer. Here, director Stephen Fingleton (The Survivalist) shoots the whole film in one take, start to finish. Thoughts of Sam Mendes' 1917 come to mind with similar ambition but here, we're dealing with a much more dangerous potential outcome in the criminal underbelly of people on the wrong side of the tracks.

Moe Dunford (Dublin Murders, Vikings) plays Budge, the lead character, up against the clock in near real-time as he races around Belfast pulling together the activities of his team, watching out for the authorities, dealing with a tail, problem-solving on-the-fly when things go wrong and people let him down as he tries so hard to get the drugs from the seller to the buyer, collecting cash and moving it all around.

It does turn into a thrilling ride as the camera for a lot of the time is attached to the bonnet of his car and the audience lives the stresses and anxiety that he goes through, one minute thinking about giving up with nothing going right for him (and accepting that he's for the 'whack') and the next, with a new opportunity and path opening up to get him out of the mess he's in.

The nastiness of these criminals is on display throughout with human life secondary to the business of making money and saving face. There's an unseen but ruthless-sounding Mr Big character called Joe (voiced by Stephen Rea) who we hear via phone calls. He's willing to unleash his Rottweiler Troy to do his dirty-work at the drop of a hat if anyone crosses him or threatens his objectives. Budge is living on the edge and relying on his instinct and good decisions to save his skin.

It's real edge-of-the-seat stuff as the viewer get onside with Budge, willing him to win out regardless of the criminal activity he's involved in, a bit like getting onside with Walt White doing very wrong things in a world of other people doing very wrong things in Breaking Bad. Watching the events play out really is a thrill-ride and it's a film very well made. The single-take experiment actually comes off because the material and execution is so well done. As I write, it's available on Netflix in the UK.

Friday, 1 April 2022

Zero Fucks Given (Rien à foutre)

It seems that titles of films are becoming looser as time goes on and here's an example! It's a 2021 French film which borders on a documentary really and almost the whole 2 hours is shot with hand-held camera.

It's the story of an air stewardess who's a young plucky thing trying to negotiate the start of her career following the death of her mother. It gives an insight (who knows how accurately) of the lack of glamour for people in that position heading off to see all parts of Europe in their working life (with a fictitious airline company, but low-budget, like EasyJet or similar).

Adèle Exarchopoulos (most famously baring all - and a bit more - in Blue is the Warmest Colour) stars in the leading role - and is in pretty much every frame of the film. She does a very good job portraying the lifestyle of a young girl in that position. She shows how the character relieves the pressures of the job socially when she can, tries hard to do what is expected of her when at work and highlights some of the (apparent) unfairness of the hiring, retention and firing of staff in the industry.

We get an insight into how hard it is for someone in that position to deal appropriately with difficult customers, apply compassion when needed to help people out, even when the pressures from above come down heavily at the merest sniff of someone humanely bending the rules.

It also highlights the industry pecking-order for people in her position trying to make a successful career and how the goal seems to be to head for the money of Dubai and work for some of the more glamourous middle-east airlines instead of budget ones she has had to settle for in Europe. Again, no idea if this is the case or not.

I don't know the directors, Julie Lecoustre and Emmanuel Marre, who seem relatively unknown, nor any of the other actors - it looks like the budget was spent on the star's salary. There's lots of French with subtitles but also plenty of English without, as you'd imagine.

There's not much drama here, though about 75% of the way through she does head off back to the family home and we get an insight in the mother's death and the impact that has had on her sister and father. It's also a tale of hope as through all the difficulties she encounters, there is a light at the end of the tunnel for her.

If you want to see this you'll have to take out a 7 day free trial at the moment with MUBI (an Amazon Prime Video bolt-on) but I'm sure it'll be more widely available soon. Not exactly gripping viewing, but interesting docu-drama with some good insights.

PodHub UK Podcasts for the Month of March 2022

...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 157 - Illuminated Goose Throw!
Friday 4th March
Aidan and I - back again with another fortnightly roundup of all things that Work and Don't! Toasters on special, wellies to throw at the odd goose, backpacks, Bic biros and Betteries(!) all round.

Phones Show Chat
Episode 683 - Death to Bloat
Saturday 5th March
Steve and I welcome back Malcolm Bryant for a masterclass in coding and programming with a special leaning towards smartwatches. We learn lots, as always, when he's on the show - and still have time for plenty of the usual catch-up stuff, gear we're using and issues of the day.

Phones Show Chat
Episode 684 - Two Blokes, Six Phones
Wednesday 9th March
Steve and I are here with a mid-week special catch-up incorporating audio grabbed from Steve's pub-meet with Jeremy Harpham last week. All good fun as we mop up some loose ends.

Phones Show Chat
Saturday 12th March
Plenty to chew over as always, as Steve and I welcome back Ben Wood to find out what he discovered in the booths of Barcelona. Some very interesting stuff indeed, so why not join us for an hour.

Tech Addicts Podcast
Sunday 13th March
We're back! And itching to get back down to tons of tech! Gareth and I tinker with tapes, consider Chrome, feel sorry for Sammy, go flashing (files with tabs) and offer TLC to TCL!

Whatever Works
Episode 158 - Let's Go Fly a Kite!
Friday 18th March
Episode 158 - Let's Go Fly a Kite!
Aidan and I are back with another hour of fun and frolics, with a tincture of Tromma trauma! Loads of stuff to mull over, once we got past Skype's meddling! As Hazel plays pirates we go on the trail of booze-in-food, food-in-booze and get down and 'board' with the Boogie!

Phones Show Chat
Saturday 19th March
Steve and I are back again this weekend with more phones natter and after a long break, we welcome back Mike Saxon from the USA. We catch up with what he's using, his views on connectivity, the stuff of today, yesterday and tomorrow!

Tech Addicts Podcast
Sunday 20th March
'ere we are then, gents and ladies with another roundup of tech twaddle for the end of the weekend. Gareth and I dive into a pool full of Pros, Phones, Play, PCs, Prisms and Piwigo. And that's just the 'P's. Tons of tech as usual. Enjoy. Or you will be punished! X-X-X

Phones Show Chat
Episode 687 - Ultimate and Off-Grid
Tuesday 22nd March
Steve and I back with another sneaky mid-weeker! We catch up with stuff we don't have time for usually. While Steve prepares for when the balloon goes up, I take a look at the March Feature Drop, we round-up the whole Duo thing for a while and get back to Samsung!

Projector Room
Wednesday 23rd March
Gareth, Allan and I are back again with another look at all things film, cinema and TV. This time we head down-under for some treats, use a Meat Grinder Against the Ice, enjoy 13 Minutes of ranting and look forward to spooks in the cellar!

Phones Show Chat
Saturday 26th March
We're back in our regular weekend slot again as Steve and I welcome Keith Bartlett for the first time on PSC (and 2 out of 3 of us on cellular)! We find out how he's getting on using the Nokia XR20 as his main phone after the 9 PureView, Steve's all Duo'd up for a second round and I'm lingering somewhere between Sony and Sammy still!

Tech Addicts Podcast
Sunday 27th March
Gareth and I back again with more tech titbits. Solar space adventures this week as Netflix Steams on. Fire drones and GIFs galore as Android Pads protrude - and we even delete the last 15 minutes of the fluid, dynamic evidence!

Sunday, 27 March 2022

Nightmare Alley (2021)

This is a gorgeous film, shot in the dark colour tones favoured by 
Guillermo del Toro as used in so many other of his films. This one is a story based on a book by William Lindsay Gresham and previously made into a film in 1947 of the same name starring Tyrone Power, which I'm yet to track down. Word is that it's not as full and rich as this one.

I have appreciated previously the work of Guillermo del Toro as I have blogged about The Shape of Water and Cronos, though Pan's Labyrinth and The Devil's Backbone spring to mind too. It's all so stylish and Nightmare Alley doesn't disappoint. I'm looking forward very much to his forthcoming take on the (dark, not fluffy) Pinocchio story.

This story is set in the late 1930's and concerns a 'carny' (travelling entertainment show) in the USA within which various acts are conning the public out of their money in lieu of entertainment and thrills. In the opening scene of the film, we see Stan burning a body in a house, which we come back to later. He appears to be a drifter and then rolls up looking for casual work, which he gets. He starts to learn from the artists and focuses in, as do we, on a 'psychic' sideshow where Zeena and Pete are scamming people. He's good at this and quickly comes up with his own ideas looking to make money himself.

Zeena is played by Toni Collette (Stowaway, I'm Thinking of Ending Things, Unbelievable) and Pete, David Strathairn (Nomadland). I could have seen the late John Hurt playing that role very nicely, but laying that aside, both are excellent. Head of the carnival is a fairly underused Willem Dafoe (Tom & Viv), but he grabs the attention admirably during his short stay.

Stan hooks up with Molly, the electric woman (don't ask), who seems to be in a relationship of sorts with Bruno, the 'strongest man on earth'! Ron Perlman (Cronos) does a great, if limited turn as Bruno, clearly having fun. Molly is played by Rooney Mara (Una, Carol) and does an excellent job, torn between supporting the incoming Stan to help her escape the 'carny' and not being so sure, as she gets more deeply involved with him. Stan is played by Bradley Cooper (A Star is Born, Licorice Pizza) and again, pretty convincing and well cast in the lead.

Anyway, cutting a long story short, Stan and Molly escape the setup and go independent putting on their show, learnt from Zeena and Pete, to the masses at more classy and up-market events and venues. At one of these, Lilith, a psychiatrist played by Cate Blanchett, sees through the scam and challenges Stan with a test in front of a live audience, which he passes. Then they fall for each other but Stan has grander plans to make even more money from her contacts and inside information about her rich patients, one being a seriously wealthy chap who is looking to connect with a dead relative. Blanchett is sumptuous in her role and, as you might expect, steals the show during her scenes with her amazing acting talent.

It's all getting very complicated now - and this film goes on for two and a half hours as the plot unfolds and story meanders back and forth. There's a sense in which it's a film of two halves - one at the carny and one after that, but as we approach the finale, loose ends are tied up and the cyclical nature of the tale puts the threads together nicely with three or four real surprises along the way. Say no more!

The setting is fabulous. Lilith's office is pure Art Deco with style and class. The whole film is shot dark with (presumably) a nod to the original and leanings towards Noir. Deep shadows, wide-brimmed hats, wild makeup colours, all very 1930/40s. The long running time passed quickly though it did feel as though towards the end it was rather hurried to reach outcomes. Even though it was a long film, it could have done with another 20 minutes. Perhaps there'll be a Director's Cut.

Very highly recommended, a great cast, beautifully shot, great sets, super story and some nice twists and turns. What's not to like! Available as I write on Disney+ but also to buy/stream from other outlets.

Oppo Find X3 Pro

The Size and the Software, I predict, will be the key points dictating whether or not I could adopt this lovely-looking 5G phone, eventually...