Saturday, 16 September 2023

Is Life Too Complicated Already?

Sometimes I think that the simpler life is better, really. Sometimes! I make the case here in terms of Samsung phones and tablets, device/services infrastructure - the bells’n’whistles of which we often talk. My point is that sometimes it just feels overwhelming - that the (even above-average) user probably doesn’t ever really understand all the ways in which it all works, which services are useful, which are undiscovered and even hardware elements which users don’t really know how to use (or at least make the most of).

I have the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra, S23, Z Flip4, Galaxy Watch and Tab S8 here - and I get the impression when in use that I’m using the devices to much less potential than I could be if I really buried myself into the Samsung Way. Now, I get the argument about not worrying about it - just use what you want to use and leave the rest for someone else - but that feels somehow disingenuous and that I should be using all the bells’n’whistles if I’m going to use a Samsung device or three. And annoying that all that background stuff is chugging away needlessly.

Then I return to the relative simplicity of Motorola, Sony, Pixel, Nokia and I think that the point is that I feel in control of the device/services. Not out of control or depth. I know how everything works. I know what everything does. I know where to find everything. I may not have mastered everything, but at least I know what it is! There are exceptions, of course - for example, for me, the Sony is a bit of a one-trick-pony (in audio) as I don’t make any use of all that photographic, cinemagraphic, videographic, audio creation stuff, so most of it is a bit wasted on me. Are the great-sounding speakers enough to justify using (or even having) the (dinky, but tall) device, I wonder. Or take Pixels as another partial exception as it gets more and more layers of services over the top, many of which I don’t use (or know how to) or are locked into USA-only.

The simplest life would seem to be living with a Nokia (and bear in mind that I have no idea about Apple and their devices or how they might fit into this blurb) real bare-bones, back to basics, hardly anything to complicate anyone. Learn how to use what it has in 30 minutes and don’t worry about what others are doing. What it does, it does simply and well. Or using a Chromebook rather than a Windows computer. What it does, it does well. Which brings me to probably what I find to be the middle-ground in the phone world, being Motorola.

Time and again I find myself back in the arms of Lenovorola, liking very much what they do with Android - there’s a fine balance of good features added by the firm, but not a million and one with layers and layers of complication. What’s added is genuinely useful but doesn’t bombard the user’s brain! If users want to add some of that stuff which comes as ‘standard’ with Samsung, there’s usually an App which’ll do it. If it takes a user 30 minutes to work out how to fully use a Nokia, then maybe it’s an hour for a Moto phone!

People reading this will know me well enough to know that next week I’ll be arguing back the other way, in favour of the rich options of Samsung(!) but for now, it feels like Moto is the best balance. Free of the niggling feeling that I really should be making good use of the plethora of features of the Samsung Way, when actually, I rarely need them - it’s very much the toy/fun element - and we come back to that little word ‘need’.

What’s nice about the Android world is the enormity of choice, of course. Especially in terms of hardware. So many handsets out there, many with their own take, like it or loathe it, on Android, many with super top-end features, many with budget-conscious low-end, many in the middle, a price-point for everyone, hardware gaming features, fabulous cameras on some, great speakers on some, ‘old fashioned’ features not being removed on some, too. Blazingly fast charging on some, wireless charging on others, folding, flipping and even rolling on the way! Not sure where I’m going with this thought meander, so I’ll stop!

One last thing… for anyone who doesn’t know me well enough to at this point suggest I get an iPhone, there’s a small guillotine waiting...

Tuesday, 12 September 2023

Past Lives (2023)

Director/Producer/Writer Celine Song's debut film is a real peach and promises positive things to come from her. It stars Greta Lee and Teo Yoo as Nora Moon and Hae Sung, two deeply connected childhood sweethearts, who are separated after Nora's family emigrated from South Korea to the USA.

Twelve years later, they seek each other out online and chat on Skype. The chemistry is immediately apparent but neither can change their respective situations - and conclude that it would be less frustrating for them both if they ceased their late-night video chats and concentrated on their own lives, careers and ambitions. She's a fledgling writer and he, training to be an engineer.

Another twelve years pass by, she is now married and he’s dissatisfied with any relationship he's in, knowing that he wants to be with her. He makes contact. He's going to get on a plane and travel to New York to see her. She is completely honest with her husband about Hae Sung, their past and what has happened.

The rest of the film is about the visit, the anxiety leading up to the reuniting, the impact of that on both their lives, the awkwardness because he can't speak hardly any English and Nora's husband, no Korean - and the latter's natural concern and paranoia surrounding the visit, half-expecting Nora to want out of what they have so as to be with him. Reminded me of the similar dilemma facing real people's lives towards the end of Cast Away (2000).

There's a love story at the heart of this engaging drama. The writing is smart and clever, the two leads carry it off beautifully and we get a good amount of sight-seeing in both Korea and New York via nicely crafted cinematography. In fact, the photography is worthy of note as the director is not afraid to linger - longer and longer - on the faces and expressions depicting the dilemma, often in silence between the three characters, creating a set of intensely moving scenes. It's not cheap tear-jerking stuff though - rather measured and intelligent.

We also learn a lot about their respective cultures and how Nora has adapted to life in the West, whilst the visiting childhood sweetheart is clearly like a fish out of water. There are parallels drawn between her freedom in the West against, even in South Korea, the expectation, for example, that Hae Sung undertakes National Service - and cultural differences in terms of family/societal expectations and the value of people, family, possessions, wealth and career. It's a beautifully executed film and well worth a watch.

Friday, 1 September 2023

PodHubUK Podcasts for the Month of August 2023

...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 190 - Watch Your Back!
Wednesday 4th August
Aidan and I are back once more tick-tocking around, tinkering with tinctures of tosh! Lots of fun as always and plenty of stuff that works - and doesn't. Do clock us for a slightly shorter show - we'll have your back. Now available from all the usual places.

Tech Addicts Podcast
Tab, Flip and Fold Samsung Unpacked
Sunday 6th August
Gareth and I chat about the announcements from Samsung's Unpacked event. The Galaxy Tab S9, Flip5, Fold5, Watch6 alongside rumours of a S9FE and Galaxy Ring. Also the Lume Pad 2, Wizman Retro Powerbank, Oppo and Nokia, OnePlus Open, Arc Browser, CoolerMaster Motion 1, Threads and loads more. Available in the usual places, so do join us!

Phones Sho
w Chat
Episode 761 - Vibrate the Time
Sunday 6th August
Steve and I welcome back Steve Nutt this week as we catch up with the devices he's using and what Malcolm Bryant has developed with WearOS with Steve in liaison. We have an audio drop-in from him to explain more. Loads of Samsung natter, Moto Folding in the mix - we even turn a Duo into a Pixel! Available in all the usual places, so do tune in!

or Room
Episode 144 - Hidden Happiness
Wednesday 9th August
Allan, Gareth and I bring you another couple of hours of natter about film, cinema and TV! This time we treat ourselves to the work of Bill Nighy, lose ourselves in a Lost City on a Mission to Mars, admire a Blue Jasmine being held Ransom for a Hidden Strike. Loads more, as always, so do join us!

Phones Show Chat
Episode 762 - Smartwatch Health Benefits
Saturday 12th August
JB Walsh is back to join Steve and I with a professorial deep-dive update on all things health and how our tech gadgets can keep us living longer. We make time for other stuff too, my latest thoughts on the Moto Razr, how Samsung drags me further in and what's coming with the next iPhone. All available via the usual outlets, so enjoy!

Whatever Works
Episode 191 - The Naughty Desk!
Wednesday 16th August
Aidan, Thomas the Tank Engine, Percy and I are back again with another fun-packed pilfering of your valuable time as we mainline our thoughts and keep track of Whatever Works and what doesn't! Available in all the usual places, so do leap in. But don't become a Jumper! 🚂 😱

Phones Sho
w Chat
Episode 763 - The Long Lived Ultra
Saturday 19th August
Marek Pawlowski joins Steve and I again this week as we catch up with what gear he's using and how he goes about creating many of those on-the-water images. Plenty more, of course with resurged interest in the Moto Edge 30 Neo, Pixel/ChromeOS combo. and even a Windy app! All available in the usual places, so enjoy 🤓

Tech Addicts Podcast
Gareth and Ted Pissing All Over Stuff!
Sunday 20th August
Yes, it's Gareth and I back again... and not being nice to things! AI listening to you typing passwords, Samsung folding Tablets, China app regulations, Dell monitors that cause pain, AR Headset cash-ins, ugly OnePlus designs and tiny game controllers all get pissed on. Elsewhere Xiaomi Redmi Pad SE and MIX Fold3, Urbanista Malibu, Netflix game streaming, OneXFly and Sony Tablets, don't! It's all a bit of a gamble if things are on the Naughty List or not 😂 Do join us, now available in the usual places!

or Room
Episode 145 - No Country for Otto
Wednesday 23rd August
Allan, Gareth and I are back again with our fortnightly roundup of all things film, cinema and TV. This time we focus on the performances of Steve Guttenberg (not Gutterberg as I have mis-typed in the show notes!), get hung up with Otto and Ove, chill a while with the Coens on No Country for Old Men - then get in a sticky mess with Spider-Man's leading lady 😜

Phones Sho
w Chat
Episode 764 - Mac OS and Android do mix
Saturday 26th August
In this week's show we welcome back Kurt Kaufman who gives us a deep-dive on how he uses the Samsung S23, GoodLock, Routines+ and before that Tasker and Automate. Steve talks about media-viewing on folding phones vs monoblock and I focus on Xperia, ThinkPhone and Pixel. All available in the usual places, so do join us!

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

Sunday, 27 August 2023

The Android Vanilla Club

I do realise that this title for my unofficial, informal group of Android devices doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny as all OEMs (even Google with Pixels) go their own way to some degree these days. I think that the closest we get to AOSP is probably with the Nokia devices now (and maybe FairPhone) - but I won’t let this bunch of technicalities put me off my stride! Pretty much everyone includes their own Camera app/software, so we’ll give that a pass. So here’s my list of devices (in roughly ‘distance away’ order) that I consider to be ‘vanilla’ enough to at least retain the feel of the AndroidOne Programme in 2023…

Very, very clean and as Google intended, back a few years ago. Depending on the model, they do add some stuff (like the Red Button on the XR20) but otherwise the experience is as close as it gets.

A very close second, though by definition, the hardware has to meander off in order to make it ‘modular’. But beyond that, the software experience is very close to AndroidOne/AOSP.

Probably a close-ish third, though we do now start to get ‘padding’ - in a Nokia Red Button kind of way, here with the whole Glyph thing. The UI in software is also fairly heavily skinned with their so-called NothingOS, but look beyond that and it doesn’t stray too far and does indeed somehow retain the look and feel. It’s also kind-of British!

Depending on the model, Moto tends to leave much of the Vanilla intact. There’s a very consistent bunch of stuff they do add, which somehow doesn’t feel like it gets in the way of the feel of the pure experience. MyUI adds functions which are generally useful and helpful rather than toys or bloat. Like Ready For, the Peek Display, three-finger screenshot, chop-chop for torch and twist-twist for camera.

Sony Xperia
A little further away, Sony tinkers with the experience more - but usually with, like Moto, very useful functions and ability. We know the oft’ quoted list of the camera, video and music apps, 3.5mm audio-out socket, microSD Card support and HDMI-Out, but there’s also the fact that FaceBook and LinkedIn continue to be stuck in ROM, AlbumArt on the AoD is great (at least for now), LED Notification Light (at least for now), some of the ways in which Settings are offered - and little things like using Samsung’s 10 minute screen time-out maximum rather than the ‘standard’ 30 minutes. So yes, Xperia phones do retain the look/feel to a large degree - but we are meandering further away now.

Google’s Pixels
Surprisingly far down my list is, yes, what Google offers. It is ‘clean’ in the sense that it’s what the original developers of Android are currently doing, but there are loads of bells and whistles, Pixel-only exclusive functions, apps and services which move it away. There’s also the whole UI which has ‘stuck in place’ elements (like Search and At A Glance) which is really not in keeping with the original idea of Android, forcing the discontent to install 3rd party launchers. But most Pixel users (other than me) consider all this to pale into insignificance as they focus on the camera and AI-driven photographic capabilities, clearly Google’s main USP.

The Prices
The big question then is what price are users prepared to pay (in terms of distance from Vanilla) in order to get the cool bells and whistles offered by other manufacturers. Edge Panels and Galaxy Stores, GoodLocks, super-zoom lenses, Ready For and DeX, price (as in money this time) with BBK Group and other far-east challengers cutting price and corners (in some cases) to get stuff out there into people’s hands. For the open-minded user willing to compromise, embrace, enjoy and make the most of these embellishments (and much more), well, perhaps they consider the view at the destination worth the bus-fare. The obvious contender, in this case, seems to be Samsung - for those willing to dwell in their world and make the most of the amazing functions and capabilities.

Now, there probably are some outliers which I have not got in my list (after all this was only a lazy Sunday afternoon thought experiment) - like maybe ZenPhones and OnePlus (though that get’s more ColorOS by the minute rather than Cyanogen). I wonder what you think.

Thursday, 3 August 2023

Space Q45 SoundCore by Anker Headphones

I have fancied a pair of these since they were released about a year or so ago but always shied away as I already have a Sony XM4 unit and didn't really see the need for both. I'm very pleased, therefore, to now get a loan pair so that I can share my thoughts.

Just to be clear, I'm no audiophile or sound engineer so my observations here are based on my (pretty much) layman's experience - though I have been using headphones of all sorts, shapes and forms for most of my (teen/adult) life - so over 50 years!

The value proposition can't be ignored here and as usual China's Anker's daughter firm SoundCore have knocked it out of the park with regards to features and value. The Sony XM4 unit on release were nearly £400 and these, £150. As we will discover, the Q45s are not as 'smart' as the XM4s but they still have loads of features which generally defy the price-point.

In the box we have a 3.5mm to 3.5mm cable for listening the old-fashioned way, a USB-C to USB-A cable for charging, instructions booklet (for which one might need a magnifying glass) and the headphones themselves. I think there is a carry-case in the original retail unit, but it's not available here. The earcups fold on aluminium hinges 'both ways' so 'back/flat' for turning and placing on shoulder-blades for a break and 'up/in' on themselves for 'as small as possible' storage/transport - much like the Sony ones. There's a subtly-coloured SoundCore logo on the outside of each cup.

The headband is mostly hard plastic with a 'soft' area to line up with the top of the head, between the two side-sliding sizing controls. They seem comfortable in use, even for long-term, much like the XM4s. The actual cushions are very similar in terms of comfort, though the Sony's ear 'shape' is more elongated. The Q45's cushions/cups are more 'round' but certainly not circular - those with very big ears might be better with Sony but I have reasonably big ears and they seem comfortable in both. The two headsets feel about the same weight in the hand (and on the head) and are equally well built/made.

They have a distinctive look, which are not as 'sleek' looking as the XM4s but it's a style symbolic of the brand now with futuristic, yes, spacey, look/feel. There's a secondary circular 'island' on the outside of each earcup with access to buttons and ports. I rather like the styling. On the left 'ring' there's the power/bluetooth/multipoint button, USB-C port and ANC selector. On the right, there's a volume/next/previous track rocker, 3.5mm audio-out port and play/pause button. They all feel firm, solid and like they will last the lifetime of the headphones/battery. These are in black, but you can get them in blue and white too.

The basic controls are fairly obvious, pairing up in the usual kind of way, so next job is to install the SoundCore App on your phone (Android, iOS) and tinker with all the fine controls. The ANC can be engaged and customised on a slider-of-effect from 1-5, ambient sound can also be switched to 'transparency mode' (so off, I guess!) or there's a middle ground dubbed 'normal'. On day of testing it's quite windy outside. Transparency mode lets me hear everything around me quite clearly (depending on the volume level of course), set to 'Normal' most of that 'specific' noise around me (like trains and seagulls making a right old racket!) are hugely reduced but I can still hear the low hum of the wind and set to Noise Cancellation (on slider 5) all that wind goes away and it's pretty silent.

Silent shouldn't be a variable term really, but the XM4s do make it even 'more silent'. That's a market-leading high bar, however, and that very small difference is why they are so well thought of, reviewed and cost so much more. But don't get me wrong, the Q45s are still very, very impressive in terms of NC. Just, as one might expect, not quite the same class as the (arguably) world-leaders. Is that slight difference worth £200 more (RRP)? That's for the user to decide. I'd say categorically no! You can also switch between the ANC/Normal/Transparency modes by using the button on the left cup which rotates between them with each press. There's a (whacking great big) Widget (for Android) if people want to take up half a home screen with it!

More controls in the app relate to equalisation, all sorts of pre-sets which (for a change with this kind of software) actually are very effective and make for a great range of options and changes to listening. There's a HearID Sound function which, like Samsung's tool, leads you through a quite detailed 'hearing test' then offers you a listening experience based on that, should you wish to use it instead of any other equalisation options. Bluetooth v5.3 is included here (multipoint works between two devices, switched by a double-press on the power button or automatically when detected) and LDAC, SBC and AAC for use with supporting devices.

Based on the above, the sound output is of good quality indeed. Setting the most bass available via the controls is not as bass-heavy as the XM4s but for me, I don't have the Sony unit set to anything like the most bass, anyway! Those days are gone and the Q45 sound suits me more as an overall profile and set of options. Others, who blast their ears with brain-crunching bass (watch out for that later in life), might well prefer the Sony sound. The stereo reproduction is nothing short of excellent (testing here with YouTube Music and Motorola Razr 40 Ultra), soundstage wide, separation delightful and no distortion even at top volume and BassUp selected in the app. As always with these tests involving multiple devices you never know quite which is to get the most credit, but the resulting sound in my ears is quite excellent.

The 3.5mm audio seems to work very nicely too, hooked up and tested here with various devices including my Windows PC and Sony Xperia 5 Mk.IV. Using the headset with a cable completely disconnects the bluetooth-paired device, seemingly switching off the headset too - when going back to bluetooth the headset seems to need powering on again.

Officially, the battery life can stretch to 65 hours of use - but that's with ANC off. For most people using ANC, that's 50 hours (45 with LDAC in use and 37 with ANC and LDAC) which compared with many out there (including the XM4s) is a great performance in longevity. The 3.5mm cable route can be used even if the battery is depleted, as indicated above. Quick Charging ensures that if you're stuck, the firm claims you can get 4 hours of (presumably medium volume) use with a five-minute power-up! Normal charging time for the depleted batter would seem to be about an hour and a half or so.

The Google Assistant feels a bit absent with the Q45s, but she's there! It's just not very obvious. The play/pause button on the right needs to be double-pressed to invoke her, but unlike with the Sony offering, she then doesn't say anything! So you just go ahead in the silence and say what you need to say, hoping it's the right time and she's listening! If you're listening to music it stops of course, so that's the time to talk, but if using the headphones just for ANC it's not that clear. Anyway, once engaged it's as expected and works fine.

Taking and ending calls is a breeze as that play/pause button doubles (trebles) up as an answer/end button. Tested here on a phone call and the range away from the phone seems very good (60 feet plus), call quality fine - hearing the other person and them hearing me. The cherry on the cake would have been Sony's automatic pausing of audio when taking the headphones off, but, again, something has to give with cost.

Depending on whether or not you want to use swipes and gestures or hardware buttons will dictate which of these systems you'll prefer (and how much cash you have). The Sony is all swipes (across the outside of the face of the earcup) to control volume, tracks, stop/start and as previously mentioned, the Q45 is physical buttons. Both systems work well enough but there is no denying that the Sony feels more advanced and modern, especially with the Assistant integration - but, again, I point to price. The Q45s may not be quite as polished in some of these ways, but for those on a budget, they're incredibly capable and sound fabulous.

Tuesday, 1 August 2023

PodHubUK Podcasts for the Month of July 2023

...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 Sho
w Chat
Episode 755 - Everything Else
Sunday 1st July
Steve and I scoop up all the stuff we had to talk about including the ThinkPhone, Zenfone, Pixels, Sonys and iPhones

Phones Show Chat
Episode 756 - A Pixel Fold Special
Sunday 2nd July
Welcome to this last weekend's Part 2, er, kind of! It's morphed into an enticing chat about Garry Clark and his first-hand experience with the new Pixel Fold, a few days in. PSC can add to the 101 other views/reviews out there now!

Whatever Works
Episode 188 - Mr Pink's Red Hot Tip!
Wednesday 5th July
Aidan and I are back once more with our fortnightly roundup of Whatever Works from us and you! Plenty of time-wasting clap-trap as usual including a blind dog who walks from Lands End to John O'Groats every day, a chicken farmer who is branching out into nuclear physics and we hear from a man from Pisa who intends to move the Eiffel Tower 10 feet to the right. All good fun, so join us for one of your valuable hours!

Phones Show Chat
Episode 757 - Living in the Future
Saturday 8th July
Steve and I welcome back the ever popular Ben Wood to join us this week for a chat as we Defy Honor and Sony, Magically Thinking Folds! Loads of stuff as always - including the declaration of the Photo of the Month winner for June - and great reports from various tech events Ben has been/will be attending. Do join us for an hour or so.

Tech Addicts Podcast
The Close Knit Community of Threads
Sunday 9th July
Gareth and I are back again with our fortnightly tech tinctures. This time it's Pixel Fold prices, Meta's Twitter Clone Threads, eye wear with TCL NXTWEAR S, Razer streaming earphones, Netflix prices, the AI Camera on the Honor Pad X8 Pro, Samsung Galaxy Unpacked, OnePlus Open, Nord 3, Red Magic 8S Pro and fear for Plex. Why not tune in and enjoy!

Projector Room
Episode 142 - Severance of Destiny
Wednesday 12th July
Gareth, Allan and I are back again with this fortnight's roundup of all things film, cinema and TV. This time we get all claustrophobic with Charles Bronson, consider an Impossible Mission, get Sick of Blood & Gold in a Silo and even inject some Indy! Available in all the usual places, so do join us as we natter for an hour or two!

Phones Show Chat
Episode 758 - Google Bash Special!
Saturday 15th July
Nirave Ghondia is the guest this week as Steve and I chat with him, twisting and turning as he opens up about foldables - and not just from the main players! There's the Gold Standard of Samsung of course, but also plenty more from the likes of Moto, Honor, Oppo and even <ahem> Google. Available in all the usual places, so do join us for an hour.

Whatever Works
Episode 189 - Turbo Toothpaste!
Wednesday 19th July
Aidan and I 
are back again - he, ringing one (Bell!), as we have a right old natter for an hour about this, that and t'other! Lots of Whatever Works stuff from you, and a bunch of crap too! Available in all the usual places, so do feel free to have a listen. Unless you have something better to do. Like watching paint dry.

Phones Show Chat
Episode 759 - Watch, Health Computer or Phone?
Saturday 22nd July
Steve and I are back this weekend with Tom Stuart. We chat about what devices he's using, meander into Smartwatches, look forward to the Sony 5 Mk.V and celebrate the arrival of Motorola updates! Plenty more as always, so do join us!

Tech Addicts Podcast
Pixel Leaks and Tab S9 Prices
Sunday 23rd July
Gareth and I, here again with our fortnightly roundup of stuff that's caught our eye in tech. Plenty to tinker with including hands-free driving, new Samsung hardware this week, trains blazing through Italy, Sony's Project Q, a glut of Google glimpses and much more. Do join us for an hour or three!

Projector Room
Episode 143 - Quicksand Hijack
Wednesday 26th July
We're back again folks with another roundup of all things film, cinema and TV. Gareth, Allan and I bring you thoughts and reviews of what we've been watching, interspersed with yours! Cary Grant gets scrutiny in Themed Treats, we focus in on the currently-running Hijack, lose our way in some Quicksand and end up Dead to Me! We round things up with some dubious retro French filth, sorry, arthouse, as we turn to our Willie Wonka!

Phones Show Chat
Episode 760 - Listener Feedback and Contributions
Saturday 29th July
This week we mop up a bunch of stuff which has been lurking around, taking the opportunity with no interesting guest to thrill you. Loads of Samsung/Watch talk, Moto's resurgence, Sony leaks and PureView testing alongside the Pixel Camera on Fairphone. It's all here, so do dig in for an hour. With stalwart Steve.

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

Sunday, 30 July 2023

Samsung Galaxy Watch

This is a running commentary piece as I invite you to join me as I set up my first SmartWatch, work out what it does, how to do it and what I initially conclude about the whole concept. I have recently been playing with Samsung phones, for which I endure a love/hate relationship and have done for years. Loving the oodles of bells and whistles that the Samsung World offers users of their gear, but hating the way that it's not the same clean, AOSP-based experience which others get close to, such as Sony, Motorola, Fairphone, Nokia and (to some degree still) Pixel.

So the best place to start (maybe) is with a Galaxy Watch. I have an S23, S22 Ultra and Z Flip4 here to test it with, so thought I'd get stuck in. Before I do, however, I do also acknowledge that there are other, simpler smartwatches out there which might, given what I have said about love/hate, ultimately suit me better as I switch between devices ad infinitum!

The first hurdle for me is having a watch on my wrist at all. I used to love wearing watches when I was a kid back in the 60's/70's as I viewed them as a (relatively) cheap way to get some interesting tech to play with (and stopped me unscrewing transistor radios to see how they worked)! Remember those red-display LED watches? The Casio calculator watches? I loved them - alongside my film cameras. Stuff to fiddle with! Since about the time that I got into Psion Organisers, I ditched the watch, so my wrist has been free of restrictions for now about half my life, 30 years.

I did struggle with it at first, but a watch strap which arrived with my loan Galaxy Watch4 made the transition and re-introduction to the tethering surprisingly tolerable. I amazed myself at how quickly I got used to it and how comfortable it is. The silicone strap which comes in the box, incidentally, is nasty and intolerable to my skin (as I understand it to be for many, many people). These straps are also too short for me. I'm a big bloke with big everything(!) including wrists - and they simply don't go round it. The cheap and cheerful strap from Amazon in question is elasticated, made from some cloth material and is just excellent. Recommended. Many thanks, incidentally, to Tim Evans of our Phones Show Chat Podcast supporting MeWe Group for the loan of watch/strap for testing.

Please remember that this is a running commentary of my thoughts and findings as I launch into this. It's not a review and my thoughts and recordings of findings may, because of this, be disjointed. I say here what I find, in the order I find it!

First things first, then, and install Samsung's 'Wear' app on the phone. Turn the watch on and let them start talking to each other. You can sign into your Samsung account (if you want to and are not already) to get various backup/restore functions and some other 'joined up' data-sharing stuff. But you don't have to. It nags me to buy an eSIM contract from my cellular provider (EE) a couple of times, but eventually stops and lets me use it just via the phone. If you want to, you can use the watch away from the phone and this is how you'd do it. Essentially, another SIM contract. I didn't want to as I couldn't see that I'd likely be separated from my phone at any point (and certainly don't want the financial burden of another contract)!

I initially connected the watch to the Galaxy S23. As an aside, I was able to use DeX on my PC to open the app and make it easier to set-up, using big screen, keyboard and mouse. From watch, to phone to computer! Here, I was able to learn about how the UI works, what services I can add, which functions to choose, which I have no interest in - and to get things going. It is clear that Samsung want users to have their own software installed, which is obvious I guess, as that's how users will get the most from the watch/phone combination.

I tried to install various Google apps and use them instead of Samsung's and some play ball, some don't. Some pre-installed apps of Samsung's can be uninstalled, some disabled, some only force-stopped. The following is a list of my findings detailing which you can do what with!

The Apps that you can’t uninstall (but bold ones in my list here can be Disabled, the rest only Force-stopped) - Accessibility, Alarm, Bixby, Calendar, Compass, Samsung Contacts, Customisation Service, Find my Mobile, Find my Phone, Gallery, Health Platform, Google Maps, Media Controller, Google Messages, Outlook, Samsung Global Goals, Buds Controller, Calculator, Samsung music, Voice recorder, Samsung Messages, Samsung Phone, Google Play Store, Recent Apps, Reminder, Samsung Health, Samsung Health Monitor, Samsung Keyboard, Samsung Pay, Samsung Text-to-speech engine, Settings, Stopwatch, Timer, Samsung Weather and World Clock.

You can't install Google's Phone app but when making or receiving calls it uses the Samsung Phone app on the watch. However, I was using the Google Phone App on the phone and it all seemed to work fine, apps talking to apps while humans talk to humans! On my test calls, both parties could hear each other well and the distance away from the phone seemed like a good range. You can install Google's Contacts App but Samsung's own one sits there on the watch anyway. Some of the time I wasn't 100% sure which of these apps the watch was actually using but the handshaking all seems to work fine, whatever it's up to!

The 'puck' charger in the box has a concave magnetic disk at one end and a USB-C plug on the other. This can be plugged into any outlet to charge and the watch 'sits' on the 'puck' to do so 'wirelessly'. You can also plug the USB-C end into a phone (at least, you can with a Galaxy phone - not tested others) and draw power to charge the watch from there. In my tests here it seemed to take about 90 minutes to charge from a mains charger, but as it seems to last through the day (with a normal pattern of 'companion-device' activity) most people will just charge overnight and start afresh in the morning. Those who don't want to do sleep-tracking, that is! For those folk, you'd better enjoy a long shower and leisurely breakfast while it catches up! Worth noting also that you can charge it with a Galaxy phone's Reverse Wireless charging if you don't have the 'puck' with you. In general use with me, even with tinkering around and testing, it’s no problem lasting a day. The series-5 is tempting me now though as it has an even bigger battery! And better glass for less scratching etc. on the front.

There was a system update waiting, so I allowed it to continue. This can be controlled by the app on the phone, though I'm still not quite sure which device does what in the loop/stages. I'm assuming that the phone downloads the update via wifi and then transfers the update file to the watch by bluetooth (as that part of the process seems to take a long time). It works itself out though, turns the watch off and on a couple of times, then all done. It's slow, but works fine.

If I lift up my arm sharply, the screen goes on, otherwise it seems to be off. I did read somewhere that it knows if you're looking at it and it stays on, but that doesn't seem to be the case for me as, after a few seconds, it goes off again. The time-out period can be set, but there's probably an even deeper-buried setting which I have not found yet which controls the stay-on-if-looking bit. You can set the watch screen to be always-on (if you want to charge it back up multiple times a day).

The heart rate monitor seems to be pretty accurate. I know very well how to take my heart rate reading manually, so have been able to check this. You can set it to check every 10 minutes, manually or constantly, depending on how you get on with battery. I'm not really in this project for the health stuff, but it does seem to do stuff that (even) the Apple Watch doesn't (as I understand it) like measuring Blood Pressure (although I read that the initial set-up needs to be calibrated by the use of 'proper' BP monitoring apparatus). Then there's all the exercise stuff which, again, I'm really not interested in and one reason why I think ultimately, a simpler smartwatch which is more about notifications and communication might end up being my preferred route. But each to their own and as I understand it from 'proper' reviews, the fitness stuff is smart and clever, with extensive useful data for those who want to launch into a life full of monitoring their fitness, body health, sleeping patterns and so forth. Check out reviews on YouTube for oodles of stuff about that.

I didn't try using the watch to pay for stuff, but ignoring Samsung Pay, I installed Google Wallet on the watch, using Play Store on the watch and others report that yes, you can then use it on a till at Tesco like you can a phone. For me, I'll just use my phone. Which will be in my pocket anyway! I guess that if I buy a ‘mobile plan’ from EE I could do this with the phone left at home. The watch let me add my Debit Card but only after contacting my bank, like it would for a new phone - so the bank is considering the watch a separate device from the phone it seems.

I’m really not sure that I understand what all this is doing, with particular regard to Play Stores and Apps, between ‘linked’ phone and on-watch. I decided that gBoard was a bit pointless on the watch with tiny, weeny QWERTY keyboard, so went to uninstall it from (what I thought was) the 'Watch' area on the phone but it then uninstalled it on the phone as well as the watch! So that all seems a bit lost on me. I do get the impression that I'm just misunderstanding though and more time with this would no doubt open my eyes as to what's what.

Incidentally, I switched phones to the S22 Ultra in the middle of all the above and it seemed to get very confused. First thing to say is that every time you switch phones you have to factory reset the watch, which is really annoying as I didn’t realise (I thought it was only Pixel Watch that did this) and set up banking on the watch first time. So then I had to do all the banking again - and my bank complains when I get to 9 registrations and I have to call them. (I thought this was one of the advantages Samsung had, not to do this reset. I know it won’t impact most people with one phone, but still.) I also know that there’s a Samsung ‘backup/restore’ function, but that doesn’t cover banking apps. Then, when I get to the second phone, it tells me that a bunch of (in my case Google) apps are installed already, but actually they are not and I have to go to each one and reinstall. So why is it telling me that they are already installed? The system does seem to get very confused when switching between phones. I guess they don’t want people to.

I am finding lots of buried settings as usual with Samsung, for example, under Advanced Features>Custom Keys - to change the long-press on the Home Button to be Google Assistant (instead of Bixby) after it has been installed of course. What is able to use the watch’s own speaker is a bit hit and miss, too. So for example, Samsung Music can, YouTube Music can’t, Pocket Casts can’t, Amazon Music can’t - those which can’t simply route the output to the phone (or connected bluetooth device, headphones, speaker or whatever).

There’s no sign of the Galaxy Store (that I can see) and (unlike Samsung usually) it’s routing all the watch stuff through Google’s Play Store - even the watch faces. I’m guessing this must be something to do with them having adopted WearOS and trying to get into bed with Google more? Talking of Watch Faces, there's thousands of them, many free! They have opened this up to anyone to develop (and charge if they like) in the Play Store. An unfathomable amount of choice which you could spend weeks negotiating!

I really quite like the notifications - a quick chirp (or vibrate or silent), glance down at the wrist, see what it is, take action or ignore and move on. I have the screen-off set to the maximum of 1 minute, so not enough time to get glasses, but I can usually work out what it says. There is a font option in settings to make it all bigger, but of course if you do this, there’s less on the screen without scrolling. Notification sounds and vibration patterns can be adjusted from a bunch of choices, too, which is great that users are not just stuck with one.

I’m trying to work out whether having this wrist-based notification facility encourages me to then have a dinky phone linked (S23, Flip4) tucked away in the pocket, accessed less - or that it gives me permission to have a BIG phone linked (S22U), so that it, too, can be tucked away, but when it’s out and in use, one has all the advantages of a big screen, S-Pen, more power etc. I guess part of that depends on size of pocket and if one wants one-handed use!

So laying aside all the biometrics, fitness and exercise, the benefits for me seem to be firstly the fun-factor - it’s another gadget to tinker with and explore - and a very useful echo for Notifications and telling the time! I have got used to using it quickly - and setting up efficiently - with Tiles etc. It will also save getting the phone out to control Home devices (SmartThings), control music playback on the phone, a remote control for the TV, quick check on the weather, appointments - certainly time and date.

What would be interesting, given that I really don’t need to use all the fancy biometrics, is to see what kind of functionality one would get with, say, a Sony or Moto phone. Trouble is, that to test that, I’d have to (yet again) factory reset it! “Advanced health and fitness tracking features, including ECG and blood pressure monitoring, tracking your heart rate and blood pressure on demand are exclusive to Samsung phones. Also remote camera control and AR Emoji watch faces. But you'll still be able to receive notifications, track your workouts and sleep, and more.”

Using with a Non-Galaxy Phone involves the following, which I did... Watch factory reset. Motorola Edge 30 Ultra on. I did not sign into my Samsung account, just skipped it. Skipped offer for eSIM again. Skipped offer to install their suggested apps. Had to install the Wear app on the Moto in order to make it do anything, even pair up, so now have the UI as-if it’s a Galaxy on the phone. I was able to use the same ‘Digital Dashboard’ Watch Face. The Health monitor (for BP and ECG) seem to work. The Heart Rate monitor seems to work.

My first observation is that it’s much faster doing stuff around the UI, like installing apps, for example - is all that Samsung bloat slowing it down horribly when using a Samsung phone? Checking everything through Knox? I can’t really see anything on the Moto that I want and is missing, which goes to show that it works fine (for me at least) with any Android phone with the only tedious caveat being that it has to be set up from scratch each time.

I tried all this again using the Samsung Cloud and a backup I made from the previously used watch. The restore, though it seemed to go through the procedure, did not restore the apps that I had installed, like YouTube Music for example amongst a list of others, and I had to go through to the Play Store on the watch and install them all again. Maybe this is a Galaxy-only feature - so I tried again with a Galaxy phone but the same thing happened. All those apps that should have been a part of the backup were simply not restored and I had to start again - even though, as I say, the restore process seemed to go through the paces.

You can invert the watch display for use on the other arm, to make the buttons on the ‘outside’ nearest to hand. There is a setting to control gestures (Quick Launch) - one of which is to double-dip a clenched fist to launch whatever app you like. If you set it to Torch, you can also tap it to get an SOS sequence when lit.

The physically rotating bezel from the 4 Classic (not this standard one) has gone in the 5-series (but has now returned with the 6 Pro after much complaint, it seems). The way that those without do navigation, is by swipes on the screen and a ‘virtual’ bezel around the circumference - so part of the OLED - which works OK but I can see how a physical bezel would be better for moving between menus and reducing screen-swiping which makes one clean it often.

The Super AMOLED screen is bright, colourful and sharp enough for my eyes! 1.4” and 450x450 pixels. I thought I preferred the oblong shape of the Apple watch but now, on reflection, I’m not so sure. This feels more like a real watch, being round. IP6/8 is present and MIL-grade aluminium build. There’s only 16GB storage here - but then I guess the question is, apart from apps, what is one likely to want to store on a watch? Or maybe I’m missing the point? You can download music to it, but if you have your phone handy anyway, might as well use that and control it from the watch? Perhaps greater impact on those who use it away from the phone with an eSIM.

The Samsung Camera app is really an echo for the phone’s camera app so you can see on the watch screen what the phone is seeing, fire the shutter, timer (or instant), start video recording and (with nimble-enough fingers on the watch screen) zoom in and out by pinch/splay. There is a very slight delay between the two, but nothing unusable - it’s not for panning at F1 meets!

Here’s a scenario I’m been complaining about for aeons - lovely Sony headphones on head, YouTube Music playing a playlist of stuff (I do this a lot to let it introduce me to stuff I don’t know), the only way to check to see what the unknown track is - look at the phone (which could be in another room, if busy with chores). Now, a quick look at the wrist will tell me (if using the Media Playback app) what's playing. Also full control for skipping etc. (which I know you can do with the controls on the Sony headphones, but this is arguably quicker/easier). It seems happy to pair with the phone and headphones at the same time - due to the multi-connect of the Sony headphones, perhaps - or maybe that's Samsung's doing too.

It's been great playing with the watch and seeing what it can do. I've been very surprised at how comfortable it has been on my arm (with that strap) but I think that you need to have a reason for wanting the burden/lump on your arm at all times (and thinking about something else to charge every bleedin’ day) - or more likely for me, it becomes an interesting tech-toy.

I’m sure others will say how incredibly productive it is for them in terms of notifications and not having to get their phone out for quick-checking (and probably 101 other reasons), but even back in the day when I was working, I really don’t see that it would have helped me much. I really don’t need (or want) the exercise and health stuff (interesting as it is to see in passing), but can’t deny that it would be useful to have in the drawer, set up with a phone, for bouts of illness. It would have been really useful, for example, when I had Covid, though having said that, an £8 pulse/BP monitor thingie from Amazon did all I ended up needing.

The whole thing feels a bit like a toy to me, yes. Great fun to play with but as with most toys, the novelty wears off - and for me at least, comfortable as Tim’s strap made the experience beyond what I had feared, I’m done with it. After all this Samsung stuff, it's been a great ride but is a relief to get back to Moto, Sony, Nokia, Pixel, Fairphone - and the simpler life! Maybe what I need to do is explore a non-Samsung Galaxy SmartWatch so as to get the stuff I want to use but not feel hemmed-in by stuff I don't. Funnily enough, the exact same place I end up at with Galaxy Phones!

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