Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Nokia 8 Sirocco (Revisited)

As I woke today on 14th November and was greeted with my Nokia 8 Sirocco's November 2018 Google Security Update, I thought it might be time to look back at this device. I also note that AmazonUK are currently selling this for £349. Stunning value for a fabulous phone.

I started listing the Pros and Cons and the little Cons list seems very lonely in comparison to the Pros. But maybe I'm biased, so let's be pragmatic. Some people won't like getting used to the LG Blue tint, though I have to say that I honestly don't notice it now.

So here we go...128GB of storage as standard, 6GB RAM and Snapdragon 835 makes it fly, the glass/steel design is gorgeous - beautiful, very bright 5.5" P-OLED 1440p screen, 16:9 'ordinary' ratio for most content out there, Gorilla Glass 5, IP6/7, Always On customisable Display, AndroidOne with included promises (looking good so far), Dual Cameras with Zeiss Optics and 2x Zoom, OZO Audio Recording with 3 mics, 24-bit Headphone output, NFC, rear-mounted lightning-fast Fingerprint Scanner, Qi Charging, Quick Charge 4, 3260mAh Battery which is good after my long-term tests for 30+hrs, 6+hrs SoT at 40% brightness and finally and crucially for me, HDMI-Out (though sadly locked at the set 128GB).

As for the Cons, LG Blue Tint, no SD Card, no 3.5mm and the Mono speaker could be better. As I said before, I'd have liked expandable memory options and a slightly better speaker (though actually this one is perfectly good for most casual uses) but I don't notice the tint and I ain't bothered about 3.5mm now.

All in all, at this amazing price, I think it's a staggering good purchase which I would recommend to anyone not hung up on those couple of things. Above all, it's a perfect hand and pocket-size device which, because it's 16:9, makes for broad and great viewing of all content whilst not getting 'tall' as is now the trend. Go get one while you can - and no, I don't work for Nokia!

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Un Coeur en Hiver (A Heart in Winter)

Unqualified as I am to critique European cinema, I know what I like and enjoy watching. I have visited this 1992 French drama from the pen and directional command of Claude Sautet a number of times and am drawn back time and again to look, see and find more.

As is often the case with European films, the story is simple. There's little action and thrill, often more a study of real life, real people finding their way through real situations. One could almost consider it dull and documentary in content, except for the way it is crafted and beautifully executed on screen.

Stephane is a repairer of stringed instruments in Paris. His business partner, Maxine, is a buyer and seller of the instruments. Camille is an up-and-coming concert violinist who, for most of the duration of the film is engaged in a recording studio, making records. The premise is simple. Camille meets Maxine, they begin a relationship which he's more into than her, she meets Stephane and falls in love with him, Stephane rejects her interest and later, advances. The focus of and interest in the film therein lies with the life of Stephane and trying to understand his motives and actions.

Stephane is a solitary soul, living for his work, not interested in anything much except his workshop and platonic friendship with a girl who works in a bookshop across from their frequented cafe, near the aforementioned recording studio. Nothing is ever said, but the undertones suggest that actually he only has romantic eyes for Maxine and when Maxine announces that he is involved with Camille, Stephane is visibly shaken. As time goes on, the unhappy Camille pays more attention to Stephane and eventually corners him and forces him to be blunt, cold and rejectful. He doesn't want her.

The story then develops mainly between the three of them, the juxtaposition of roles and places in which they find themselves and wedges are driven between them. There are interesting asides going on with Camille living long-term with her mentor and facilitator female friend, who becomes jealous of her attentions - and an interlacing of themes regarding love, familiarity and rejection between Stephane and his ageing parents.

Stephane is played beautifully by Daniel Auteuil (Caché, Jean de Florette, Le placard) who has a list of film credits as long as your arm in Europe and the kind of actor that you will have seen in something. Ironically, he was, in real life married for a time to the beautiful Emmanuelle Béart (Mission: Impossible, Hell, Nelly & Monsieur Arnaud) who plays with equal quality the role of Camille. The third part of the trio, Maxine, is played supportingly by André Dussollier (A Very Long Engagement, [the voice in] Amélie, Colonel Chabert) and also has a grand pedigree in European cinema, forming the bonding gel between the other two, main players.

It's a moving and poignant film, beautifully shot with plenty of interiors in typical European style, smart use of shallow depth of field and passive camerawork, not afraid to allow the action at times to continue out of shot. The violin music is so good as a part of the score that you'd think it was dubbed or that Béart actually is a violinist - apparently not, she learnt for a year for the role! It's a character study of one, two or three people, depending on how you view it, which embraces meaningful silences, long looks, controlled emotion and thoughtful musing. It's almost Woody Allen in so many ways, without the comedy.

The takeaway elements of this film are not on a plate for the viewer, rather thoughtful reflection will enable a grasp of what's going on, what it's about and indeed how much they can digest. There's no easy outcomes, often more questions than answers and a film that looks for the viewer to join the dots. Highly recommended.

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Google Pixel 3

Here it is! The latest and greatest from Google - rolling out the Pixel 3 for a sizable sum of cash. This needs to be put up front really and the following digested in the context of that. The 64GB version is £739 and 128GB, £839. That's a lot of cash in my book. A lot of cash that would buy an awful lot of smartphone elsewhere. But, OK - let's approach it with an open mind and be prepared to have our socks blown off in the usual way, particularly by the special unique features that Pixels bring to the table.

The first thing to be said is that this is the younger brother of the 3XL, as has become the norm for Pixel releases, and I don't have a 3XL here to compare it with, neither have I even held or seen one in the flesh, so to speak! As I have previously reported, I always felt that there was something about the 'mass' of the 2XL which made me keep trying it and giving up - and something about the size, not 'mass' of the 2 which did the opposite. One felt too big, the other, too small. I approach this increased size 'little brother' with optimism.

And the second thing to say is that, having now unpacked it, it looks and seems pretty much as small as the Pixel 2. I can't help thinking that it's just too small still, even though I accept that there's a screen increase which should make it feel bigger. I've been able to copy across by cable in the usual Pixel Perfect way, all the data to get going right away from my Nokia 8 Sirocco - and whilst they are next to each other on my desk, I think that the Sirocco, for me anyway, is what this Pixel is going to be up against during my voyage of discovery.

In The Box
While that's going on, a peek in the box reveals the usual range of accessories including a USB-C to USB-C cable, USB-C to USB-A adapter, a 3.5mm to USB-C dongle, power brick and a pair of earphones that are outer-style, which for once, I might actually use! I can't stand these in-ear ones! The bit that sits on one's outer-ear looks very Apple and half way down the cable is a control nobule, which I'll test in due course.

System Storage
The process took 8 minutes, with 35GB of data coming across, magically turned into 25GB! This is because, whilst the Sirocco was hogging 12GB of it for the System, the Pixel is amazingly only using 1.1GB, though I do accept that this will start to get eaten more as I use it (36 hours later, sure enough, it's 8.7GB). I must admit to being shocked at myself for failing to take into account this factor during my recent deliberations on whether or not I could live with a 64GB phone with no microSD Card slot for expansion (https://goo.gl/ycQ1Wi) the assessment of which has taken an upward turn! As an aside, I did plug in a microSD Card to the supplied adapter, then via a microUSB to USB-A adapter(!) and the phone used the data on the card, no problem, so one could argue that for very occasional use, that could be a workaround.

Inflexible
September security was present when I fired it up and this was update straight away to November (it's now 9th as I write), so not sure what happened to October! The phone already knows my voice, so no need to train it for that, as it does my bank card - though registration with the bank is (reassuringly) still needed. The homescreen layout, pages, folders and widgets didn't make it across, but that might have been a tall order across OS versions and OS flavours (8.1 to 9 and Android to AndroidOne). Talking of the homescreen, the Pixel remains annoyingly inflexible on the first homescreen having screen elements unmovable and unremovable, Google Search Bar at the foot and clock/weather and Notification widget up top. I have a calendar widget that I've used since 1842 which I simply can't put on my homescreen. The screen is too small to see enough of it and shrinking its text makes it unreadable. Maybe the 3XL would be better. This is exactly what Android was supposed not to be!

Smart'ish Setup
The setup process is incredibly fast and sweet. Not quite Apple yet, but certainly heading the right way. Still stuff to sign into but with Auto-fill and Smart Lock to assist it's far from the painful and half-day process of yesteryear using Android. So, screens all set up, apps all signed in and we're ready to go. I now head towards the broader questions of whether it's worth the money by picking apart some of the stuff you get with a Pixel that you don't with a Nokia.

Flying Tigers
A good starting point would be the Snapdragon 845 (P3) against 835 chipset (N8S). I can't really believe that without heading to testbenches this would make any difference to the average non-gaming user. Both devices fly through any task thrown at them, as they do during multitasking, even though the N8S has 6GB RAM over the P3's 4GB. Insignificant. As is the difference between the Nokia's IP67 and Pixel's 68. Both perfectly good enough. Not that I tested either!

Don't Think, Shoot!
Photography is an area where I know that Google excels via software and for the pixel-peeper, it's clearly going to be streets ahead of the Nokia. However, for the man in the street, the Nokia is perfectly fine for that oft' quoted generalisation here - more than good enough for 90% of people to do 90% of the stuff they're going to do with it. You could argue that there are more bells and whistles, toys to play with on the Nokia than on the Pixel, but you can't argue with results. The camera is a 12.2MP f/1.8 unit, for the record, with OIS, partnered by two Selfie shooters on the front, one 8MP f1.8 and the other 8MP f2.2 wide-angle which can be zoomed with a slider to get everyone into shot down the pub! Littered all over the internet is test after test which clearly shows that Google has become very clever here with excellent photography, especially in low light, even if the Nokia has a 2x zoom, 2 lenses and the Pixel has OIS to differentiate. Being unqualified/uninterested enough to take this further, I'll point you to Steve Litchfield's video appraisal at this point, to see a breakdown and close analysis (https://goo.gl/KB95WT).

Vanilla
The Pixel is running stock Android, as we know, and the Nokia is utilising the AndroidOne experience. We know that this means the Pixel will always be close to the beating heart of what Google are doing, Security Updates first and OS iterations straight from the core. Whatever Nokia and/or Google claim about AndroidOne, the Nokia 8 Sirocco is still on Android Oreo 8.1 with October 2018 Security (yes, of course, it could be much worse) whilst the Pixel is bang up to date. The promises that the AndroidOne experience would be timely and next to Pixel itself, though very good compared to most, isn't quite that. But we're being picky now.

Long Live the King!
Now we come to my favourite topic - sound! The Sirocco has a fairly decent enough bottom-firing mono speaker which sounds fine for most uses. It can feel tinny at the top end sometimes and there's not much bass to speak of, but sitting in the middle there, perfectly good enough for that 90% of folk again. Whereas, the Pixel has (kind of) stereo speakers. Not quite the front-firing 'real' stereo speakers of the Pixel 2, but rather this kind of faux stereo using the chin's front-firing speaker for the lower frequencies and the forehead's front-facing speaker where the earpiece for calls is, obviously at the other end of the unit, for the mid/highs. I've always said that in a device this small it doesn't matter about stereo. It doesn't matter where the sound comes from to a degree, but what's important is the overall sound experience. So how is it?

Testing this against the Sirocco is not really a fair match, the Pixel being streets ahead in overall quality and volume, so I turn to my trust Razer Phone to raise the challenge. May seem a bit unfair the other way, but let's see! Using the same YouTube videos on both devices, firstly with the Razer's Dolby Atmos off, then on. The Pixel 3 has no 'global' sound control - what you get is what you get without using apps' internal controls.

The first test reveals that the Pixel is just as loud as the Razer but slightly less rich and qualitative. The second test reveals that the Pixel remains slightly louder, but that the Razer, Dolby in full flow, blows the Pixel away for quality, richness, bass, depth and enjoyment. As always, all of this depends on what you're listening to and which app it's being served up from, but that's the overview. On listening to music, the same track, same 320kbps .mp3 file, pure piano, nothing else, I did indeed detect some distortion at full volume on the Pixel, but not anything on the Razer.

It's tempting to think better of the Pixel as it's such a more practical device to carry around over the Razer and is so much more capable in many other ways, but I'm trying here to be objective on what my ears hear. Maybe the test is, as I say, unfair. Perhaps a better test would have been against an iPhone X or Samsung Galaxy Note 9, but sadly I don't have them here now. From memory, I would say that the Samsung models that have been here lately were very similarly sounding to the Pixel. Some of these top-end manufacturers seem to, at last, be taking this seriously and nobody could complain about the speaker-sound experience on display here. I'm just nit-picking. But while I'm doing so, the Razer is still King!

HDMI-Out
As my research had suggested, of course HDMI-out doesn't work, so no way to get content stored on the device onto the TV with a cable. Inevitable really as Google want to encourage people to be online, not encourage them off. It's a great shame that this option is disappearing with all other port-served functionality in lieu of wireless everything, assumed connected at all times and being able to afford to stream. Kudos to Samsung, LG et al for keeping this going. Even my Sirocco will do this!

DAC Buddy
As I consider headphone output, I'm beginning to wonder why I started out comparing this Pixel 3 with the Sirocco! I'll get back to it - it's the physical really. As for headphones output, the Pixel comes with a DAC dongle so you can plug in your old 3.5mm headphones and they sound great doing that, but the system takes a step up when (in terms of functionality) you put in the supplied USB-C Buds. The controller in-line although feeling quite old-fashioned now, hooks the user up to the Google Assistant and if you let Google do it, will alert you to notifications and read them out to you. Having said that, I've yet to get it to work! It's supposed to emit a beep when something comes in, then you press the button in-line if you want to hear it. I heard the beep during setup, but never again! Probably a setting somewhere which needs throwing. Incidentally, this Bud set works perfectly on the Sirocco, too, controlling the Assistant and volume up/down pause/skip/play, so that's good.

Panel Peeping
Leaping from pillar to post, I'll now consider the screen. I'm not really interested in benchmarks, rather using my eyes to judge, for my use. It's a bright, but far from the brightest, P-OLED 1080p panel, flat, and 5.5" diagonal. I think it's very very slightly brighter than the Sirocco's screen and Razer's LCD but not as bright as the Moto Z3 Play's. Colours are rich but saturation controlled. Adjusting the minimal controls in Settings doesn't really seem to make much difference. They've done the now common thing of 'rounding' the corners of the panel so that it's in keeping with the curves of the corners of the device itself, for no other purpose. A square-cornered viewing panel is very clearly more logical, but they've gone the way of the pack. The panel doesn't quite get to the top or bottom to leave room for the front-facing speakers, which some consider to make it look unbalanced, with chin and forehead.

Never Off
The always-on screen is a clear bonus over many other phones still in 2018, though the display is not as bright and big as it is on the Sirocco. Neither phone really have very much direct interactivity with the notification items without moving through to the next screen, when locked, unlike Samsung, LG and Moto for example, who enable direct actions (which don't time out or go away if you miss them when they first pop up). What you do get is some colour, but more importantly Now Playing. This is a fabulous toy to have available and to play with, whereby the phone always listens to what's going on around it, detects music playing, then tells you what it is, giving you links to other services if you want to follow them, options to buy or download, history list of what your phone's been listening to, and so forth. It's great fun and very handy, though not really a killer feature for everyone. How it does this, offline, seems like black magic!

Be Gone, Notch
They've pretty much made the device the same size as the 2 by doing the usual 18:9 screen thing, though have steered clear of the Notch Lunacy, unlike on the 3XL. Some days I really like the flat panel, Razer, Moto Z-family, then other days I look at the gorgeous curves around various 'pebble' devices, Sirocco, Samsung 8/9 and the like and think that looks lovely and feels great in the hand. There's no doubt that the flat panel is much more pragmatic and aside from aesthetics and design, there's really no need for curved glass. Down the sides is the Active Edge sensors, so squeeze for Google Assistant rather than long-pressing Home, and this works well for those likely to use the feature. You can adjust the sensitivity of that and/or turn it off and/or enable it whilst the screen is locked and/or set it to silence notifications etc. with the same squeeze.

Yawn!
Speaking of which, the front and back are glass, Gorilla Glass 5, held together by a sweeping aluminium edge. The phone could be an iPhone. It could be a Huawei. It could be an LG. Phone design is becoming more and more boring IMHO and I'm guessing, as stated in PSC472 this week (https://goo.gl/JZHSLv), I weep for the impersonalisation of design and interesting USPs, every phone the same. Compared to the Sirocco, and especially Razer, Moto Z-family, CAT S61, to mention a few, it's just boring! Unlike some others who seem to think that the lower 80% of the back of the phone is 'grippy' I disagree. It might not be shiny and slippery, but there's no way the slightly textured back means that the user wouldn't need at least a TPU case. In actual fact, for those who have this phone in-hand, lay it face down, then run a finger from bottom to top on the back and you'll see that actually, the so-called more grippy 80% is more slippery than the top 20%. Ha!

Faceless
The back also houses the same-looking fingerprint scanner of the previous version, in the same place, works excellently, registration and in use, though why they haven't got onboard with face recognition by now, I don't know. Now that is a 'modern' feature worth having! USB-C port is on the bottom and also SIM Tray (e-SIM ready). This Clearly White model has a bright orange power button on the right, above a volume rocker. All plastic, but very clicky and solid-feeling. The power button brings up the Power Off, Restart and Screenshot options with a long-press, short press kills the screen light and double-press, the camera. The volume rocker brings up a slider on-screen, with handy taps for quick access to Mute/vibrate control and direct route to all the volume sliders. It's well thought out, as is a lot of stuff in the latest iteration of Android, 9. Pie.

Adaptive Android
Android 9, Pie, of course brings all sorts of changes, improvements and benefits to the Pixel owner, which would take an awful lot of time to go through, but some of the highlights for me are certainly the Adaptive Brightness and Battery. The auto-brightness, to be honest, I almost always turn off, but since Pie it's a different proposition. It really does seem to learn from the users' 'corrections' over time, making it a useful tool rather than a pain, getting it wrong. This helps also for battery.

Powerless
The battery, on the face of it, just shy of 3000mAh, is not a powerhouse by any stretch. Adaptive battery, like the brightness, learns the user's patterns of use, app use, what background updating is important and what can wait until you next start using the phone. I have found initially that the delay on notifications can be annoying during the period of learning, but it will learn. A simple example being that I want Google Plus notifications coming in all the time, MeWe the same, Hangouts likewise - but News or IMDb can wait until I next fire it up. So in theory, it learns that based on my usage. Like it learns when I'm most likely to offer it a charger and adjust battery management accordingly.

Personally, I'm not confident about that battery being big enough compared to other devices out there. We're routinely heading up to 4000mAh now and I would certainly have traded dimensions for more, even if only for peace of mind. I haven't had, nor will I have this phone long enough to test this properly, so can only report what others have found - that it does indeed need more and relies on top-ups and fast boosting. I don't see a setting anywhere like you'd get in a Samsung device for example, to exempt certains Apps from that. In Settings for individual apps there's 'background restriction' settings, I thought would do this, but it doesn't seem to. Looks like you're in the hands of Adaptive Battery trusting Auto or you're not. The unit is also the first Pixel to come with Qi charging and that works perfectly, as you'd expect, manually assisting power with top-ups. There's also a fast charger in the box, so options.

Launching Pie
The Homescreen Navigation control is the Pie version of course, and I have gone on record as saying that I don't particularly like this - and that Moto does it better! Unlike other systems, you can't change this. Like it or lump it! Don't get me wrong, it's very functional with the slide-pause-slide for apps (like an Italian footballer taking a penalty) and quick-slide for recents cards, iPhone cloned, flick-right to switch between last two apps, and I'm sure the user would get used to it, but I'd still prefer (at least the option for) the three buttons - or better still the Moto Slider! The Notification Shade drop-down has also been iOS'd with big round buttons, long-press for settings, short-press to change, blue on, grey off. I have to admit that it's attractive and intuitive in use. Much like the new colourful icons in the Settings menu. It doesn't feel like LG/Samsung cartoon-land, but more tasteful and adult.

More than Well
There are all sorts of new entries in the Settings, mostly auto-background stuff and evolution of previous projects. Wellbeing is one of them, keeping track of what you've been up to, telling you off if you're naughty and allegedly looking out for your health and exposure to too much screen-time! There are new gestures, seen in other phones before, but now adopted, like flip to silence, Wind Down, pacing you from being away until it's lights-out by encouraging your reduction in speed by (not so) subtle hints like turning the screen mono and heading to do-not-disturb. You don't have to enable all this of course if you want to give the Big G the Big V!

Big Brother Selling
All this stuff is AI-based and learning from the user. This is the direction Google has been going for years now, keeping data about you and your habits so they can sell it to others and encourage you to spend time online, pretending that they care about your health! Me? Cynical?! You can see it as Big Brother of course, or you can consider it very convenient and useful to make your life easier (nothing to hide, so might as well), like the washing machine once did. Things move on and we get closer to the world being run by robots every day. Thankfully I'll be long gone by then!

Epilogue
Available in Clearly White, Just Black and Not Pink, it's a cute little thing which is very capable indeed. It's a clever bunch of cutting-edge tech which has, once again, learnt from other manufacturers leading the way and added features a year behind them (no doubt the Pixel 4 will have face-recognition and under-glass fingerprint scanners). The speakers sound fabulous, the camera results are clearly market-leading, however they get there, the software is second to none and developments from Google are a joy to be a part of going forward. The Pixel owner really feels that they are part of the development and evolution. So what's not to like? Well, I remain concerned about the battery but will be happy to be proved wrong on that, I do think it's just a bit too small for me (bigger could have meant more battery), I personally would like a 256GB version (or 512GB pretty please!) and then there's the last issue, from where I started, price.

People Have Too Much Money!
The most important factor is price, because some phones are just getting more and more expensive while others are getting cheaper. I say it again - phones that do 90% of what flagships do for a third of the price, or less. Well, maybe 80% in Pixel's case(!), but you get the point. I still get the feeling that these devices are overpriced, not reflecting the cost of making them, R&D included, but what the market will stand. However clever this phone is, it's not worth that much money - and I find it hard to just throw the money away to have the latest and greatest, when others will do almost the same job for so much less. It's an open discussion of course, but certainly driven by how much spare cash people have got. And it seems, going from the general rise of flagship prices, that they have too much. Laying that aside and money no object, it's a great slice of tech and I'd love to have one.

Monday, 5 November 2018

Hannibal (TV)

Much like the Thomas Harris originated story-turned-film, Hannibal the TV Series currently showing on Netflix in the UK, is a mix of gore and dark nastiness delivered almost completely tongue-in-cheek! "Whenever feasible, one should always try to eat the rude."

This reforming of the books and films turns the thing largely on its head, placing Hannibal, yes, in his earlier days - long before the setting in the books and films - as a practicing psychiatrist, going about his dark activities but right under the nose of Will Graham and the FBI, assisting them with trying to catch a serial killer on the loose. There was no indication in the books or films about this kind of relationship between the characters early on, just the cannibal Hannibal preying on the likes of the young Mason Verger et al luring them into his lethal playground of self-amusement!

The irony is that for a large part of the proceedings, it's actually Will Graham who ends up in the cage and Hannibal outside, with Will trying to convince everyone around him that Hannibal has framed him into being incarcerated and that the respected FBI helping hand is actually the monster. Speaking of the cage, the show makers have had great fun with the sets - building on the sinister interiors for fun by introducing what, at times, comes across more like a medieval torture house!

It's gory and bloody throughout with the killer creating scenarios in keeping with a Francis Bacon painting - and indeed straight out of the books and films - but never really scary or how I would describe Horror, though Netflix seem to want to categorise it that way! This is a not a new show, out there between 2013-2015, it's just that I only just got round to seeing it. It's typical American TV packaging with 39 episodes across three series, each about 40/45 minutes.

The English actor Hugh Dancy takes one of the two leads as Will Graham and is annoyingly irritating as he camps up the role, half of the time floating off into some fantasy world, peppered with apparent mental illness as he executes his 'gift' of analysing a crime scene, much like he did in, particularly, Manhunter. In that film, and indeed the books, he had presented as in-control however, not lost and out of control. The way that his role here was written is odd and not in keeping with Harris' original vision. But then, as I say, everyone here seems to be having a laugh with the genre and material anyway. There are laugh-out-loud moments as it sometimes dips into the ludicrous!

The Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen takes the other lead and although he brings his own look and feel to the role of Hannibal, it's not quite Anthony Hopkins (even when he was taking it seriously!) or even Brian Cox. He's not very convincing, sinister or dark enough. There's no magic ingredient seen when you look into his eyes - unlike the others - he just looks like an ordinary nice bloke. Some of that might be down to the quality of photography and direction, I guess, which in turn, might be down to the fact that a range of 12 people took the task across the 39 shows! At least he has a foreign accent, like the original Hannibal might well have had, coming from Lithuania!

Laurence Fishburne plays Jack Crawford and, like Will's adjustments, is depicted as being far too ordinarily human and involved, compared to the original stories. At every crime scene, involved directly with Hannibal and mixed up far too closely in the action. It was interesting to see the development of the storyline concerning his wife and his difficult homelife, which is not really covered very much in the original stories. There's also a confused Clarice Starling character in the mix who Hannibal seems to like but not nearly enough, as he did Clarice. I won't give too much away in case you want to live through the twists yourself!

Nods, left right and centre to, particularly, the films, the last two of which were certainly enveloped with mirth. Lines used in the films/books reeled out again, often by the character who didn't actually originally say them! Catchphrases galore, gender-switching of some roles, like Freddie Lounds (Lara Jean Chorostecki) the Journo now being a female character - and Dr Alan Bloom now the female Alana Bloom, embellishment of quirks and character traits very strongly in the already-comic Dr Frederick Chilton (Raúl Esparza). To top all the fun off, we even have British comedian Eddie Izzard popping up in a confusing cross-role in which he appears to be part-Hannibal, part Multiple Miggs, part Paul Krendler, part new doctor-in-chains thrown/written in because he fancied being a part of it, maybe!

Don't get me wrong, it's all good fun. It's off at a tangent from the original books and films - and people like me who knew the books and films inside-out are treated to all sorts of nods and references to them throughout this. It's a mad mix of dark and nasty but also comic and humour. It's great entertainment for those willing to lay aside the expectation that it will continue in the vein of the originals or expect it to follow the same 'rules'. It's not a remake of any of it, it's an artistic extension and often very different production. Recommended for those approaching it in the right frame of mind!

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Is there More to Life than Pie?

This last week, I had got to the point where I realised that no mobile phone available in the Android world had what I wanted - so I considered Apple!

Those who know me, know that the times I've considered iPhones and other Apple products in the past has always ended in failure. The longest lasting Apple product I owned was an iMac. I loved the hardware so much that I tried and tried and tried to make it work for me, but I just couldn't get my head round the Apple Way after such a long run with Windows.

Then there's the iPod Classic sitting in my drawer! Still going. The battery never seems to need topping up! I switch it on every six months to check and all my Music, Music Videos, TV Shows and Films I bought from the Apple Store back in the day are still on there for me to listen to and watch (on the tiny screen, and with headphones of course)! But I digress - the main point here was the boredom attained by mobile phones generally - and the possibility that I have to consider that, stood out as long as I have against manufacturers' skins and forked versions of Android, they are more interesting than Vanilla! As might be iOS.

I have recently reviewed and considered a range of phones including the latest from Huawei, Samsung, Google, LG, Motorola, Sony, Nokia, Asus, Honor and BlackBerry and rejected most of them, ultimately, because they are not Vanilla - or not near enough to Vanilla for my liking. But actually, it could be argued that, well, at least they have made an attempt at having a personality of their own. Of that list, the devices that run clean versions of Android, or as near to, I put my SIM Card back into them to use as my daily device, fire up the phone get it all updated from when it was last used with Play Store Updates of Apps and any OS/Security Updates, then shrug. Right. What's next, I say.

It makes me stop and think. After all the negative things I've said about the range of devices which are not Vanilla enough for me, I have to think also that they hold my attention longer because they are different and have functions and quirks and, yes, I guess, a personality of their own. Much as I dislike pre-installed bloat, much as I don't get why Settings have to be rearranged, much as I reel at manufacturer's own versions of basic PIM apps already supplied by Google, I have to admit that they are to some degree interesting, different and offer an option. Which is what Android was always about.

Which brings me back to Apple and iPhone, or indeed any device really that yes, may not be a Pixel, pure and simple, with fast-as-lightning updates going forward, but at least doesn't make me shrug and lose interest in using the device very quickly. Now, to be fair, I did get to the same point when I have tried iPhone sometimes, too. But the exposure has been very brief. But maybe it should be in the list of stuff to try and longer-term, more interesting. Maybe this is all poppycock - and the real reason that it's boring is not because of Vanilla or personality, but lack of engaging apps and services. The bubble burst with social media? A jaded view having been let down by Google Plus?

Perhaps this is not about hardware at all but software and services - and having been involved over the last decade in the rise and fall of many, perhaps this whole issue is about the plateau which phones find themselves sitting on. Most things are settled, innovation is less strident and the journey has slowed down. In amongst that, however, the boredom question remains - and should make us strive for phones that are different in some way and not a bog-standard Google or Nokia.

Is there more to life than Pie?

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Huawei Mate 20 Pro

It seems unbelievable to me that this phone is £900 to buy. I can only assume that this is so in order to make up the company's losses having given so many away to tech reviewers! In my view it's an absurd price for what you get - in short, a forked implementation of Android with apparent sub-par components, bloated out by the company with dreadful so-called features that nobody needs, pretty on the outside - and just yet another iPhone clone. All the following of course, is my view only based on my observations and findings.

There are so many of these devices out there in Reviewland that I really don't think there's much point in my going over the base specs and the usual tour of the device, so I'll launch straight in with my observations. This is not a review of the phone I'm presenting here, but more like my thoughts on how on earth I could live with it!

Pay Attention!
So let's start with the out of the box experience. You do get the chance to refuse to install a bunch of third party apps, though if the user is excitedly clicking through without paying attention, many of them are ticked by default and will then install. As it is, even for those paying attention, there's still loads that they can't do much about. Some can be uninstalled, some force-stopped, some disabled. This is just yet another shocking cludge of apps and services that the uninitiated and unknowledgeable will be 'defaulted' into.

The Flavour of Bloat
Facebook, eBay, booking.com, SwiftKey, Microsoft Translator, but to name a few. Then there's all the Huawei ones - half of which mimic the Google ones and can't be got rid of. Calculator, App Gallery, App Assistant, Huawei Backup, Compass, Email, Files, Health, HiCare, HiVision, Mirror, Notepad, PhoneClone, Recorder, SmartRemote, Support, Themes, Tips, Weather, the list feels like it is endless. And bringing what? The kind of apps and services that are just not needed. Doing deals with third parties in order to reduce the cost of the device, I get to keep cost to the buyer down, making it more attractive on price. But this phone is £900! How does that sit? Is it just greed? Incidentally, if you want reviews of all those Huawei apps mentioned above, you'll need to look elsewhere.

Setting or App?
Furthermore, there are installed apps which don't need to be an app at all! Like Software Update, for example. Why is this an app? Surely the user can go to Settings and find the route to Software Updates - if indeed any of the apparent target audience will actually give two hoots about software updates! Talking of which, right at the top of the Settings page is a fixed reminder that you need to open a Huawei account, which doesn't go away unless you give in and open one!

Speak Up!
I really thought that the Samsung Galaxy S9+ I acquired recently was bottom of the pile for 'likely to see my SIM Card' status. This slips underneath! I'll continue with the speakers arrangement, which is something of a joke, I feel, given the price. The sound coming out is in my view tinny and low in volume, the Dolby is on by default (and can't be switched off, for using speakers) and does nothing at all to make the poor speakers and arrangement any good at all. It's a weak sounding device at best and to top it all, one of the speakers is inside the charging port which gets (partially) BLOCKED if you plug in a charger!

Calm Down!
Alright - the first thing that hits you when you hold the phone is how tall it is. It's an odd ratio of 19:5.9 with a 6.39" screen. It sounds much bigger than it is because it's so tall. That 'big' screen, corner-to-corner, is really not that big at all. Held against my Moto Z3 Play, it's only just a bit taller but it's significantly narrower, when you take into account that the 'curves' round the left and right are included. This trend of curving the screen round the edges is really becoming boring. I know I banged on about the Nokia 8 Sirocco having this feature and how nice it was, but Nokia seemed to have done it much better on a 16:9 screen. Here, along with the aforementioned Samsung, it just looks daft, particularly when consuming media and the top and bottom of your picture disappear round the edge. Flat screen please. Stop this nonsense. It's impractical...

Not Another Notch!
...as is the stupid Notch! At least Samsung didn't do that! I know, yes, I can hide it, but watch those Notifications slide down from the top with their square edges if you do! Again - badly implemented and designed. The Always On screen is present and although it has no options to change the look, like Samsung/LG does, it does the job and has a scheduler, gives the user a digital clock, date, time, battery but the only Notifications that make it to the off-screen are Missed Calls and SMS! If you use Huawei's Music Player, what is playing is also echoed on the Off-Screen but there's no controls - and it doesn't work with any other player that I've tried - including Google Play Music. Bizarre. Anyway, the sound is so horrible and tinny, you won't miss it much as you won't be playing music.

Nova Prime
So, how could I improve things with my favourite Launcher? Pretty well, as it turns out. Nova Prime has been such a consistent help to me trying to Pixelise and Nexusise phones over the years and this presents little challenge for it. (Except for Reverse Charging - See Power, below.) You lose the swipe-right for Google Assistant Cards, unless you APK a bolt-on, but a simple Google App shortcut on the Homescreen gets you there in a tap. It's plain sailing from there making the phone look just how you want it to with Homescreens and App Drawer just like most people expect it to be. Nova lets you 'hide' the bloat apps (as does Samsung, incidentally) though that seems beyond the M20P as they really want you to set it up like an iPhone with all the apps splayed out across multiple Homescreens. So you get all the pureness of Nova and get rid of at least some of the cludge of Huawei and EMUI.

Slippery Pebble
Yes, that's what it feels like in the hand. Everything rounded, glass and aluminium. It's smooth and though some colours apparently have a 'lined' more grippy back, you really couldn't use this with no case. Which it doesn't come with. Apparently. (At least for European folk, Huawei couldn't spare a couple of quid out of the 900 for a cheap TPU). The aforementioned USB-C port is on the bottom, next to a cludge of a SIM Card Tray. Cludge because Huawei have unilaterally introduced a new standard of Memory Card! Unbelievable! So microSD cards now as cheap as chips, are replaced by their new standard, the NanoSD. None available yet - and no doubt when they do become available they will have hiked up prices for the foreseeable. That just seems daft to me. I can not believe that the shaving off of 4/5mm inside the device needed a whole new industry build of different cards. Absurd! I hope it falls flat on its face.

Around and About
On the side is a volume rocker and red power button and up the top, well nothing much apart from an IR window. Certainly not a 3.5mm audio-out socket, which has not made the cut. There's a dongle in the box to take you from your old headphones into the USB-C port which, to be fair, gets you 32-bit output. The body is IP6/8 protected for dust and water (30 minutes in the drink down to 2 metres) and screen a really bright AMOLED one with a variable 1440p resolution. It's a good screen with 538ppi packed in, so there's no complaints here. Viewing angles are very good and there's no real 'LG' cast of any shade that I can see...

Brain Control Hand!
...and on the screen comes the biggest talking point of the device, probably. An under-screen fingerprint scanner. This seems to work really well though does require a certain amount of pressure and time. I don't think it's unreasonable and given that the other biometrics of face recognition are so good, it's not often needed. You do have to hit the right spot on the screen which, until you pick it up, is not indicated, but it's no big problem. Brain will control hand in good time! This is a breakthrough feature, works well and maybe goes a little way to justifying some of the ludicrous cost of the phone.

Eat My Hat!
Out of the box the device is running Android 9.0 (Pie) with October 2018 Google Security Update having arrived. That's good, though as stated above, I have no confidence going forward, with this level of bloat and segregated services to support that Huawei will keep up with any updates. If I'm wrong, in six months time I'll eat my hat! Much of the above-described is a result of Huawei's EMUI skin on top of Android, which is apparently Version 9. Not that it is of any significance to anyone. It just means that they have confused everyone by moving stuff around and not having settings in logical places, messed with power and efficiency settings, memory control and so on, for no real reason except, from what I can see, to put their 'mark' on their product so that current users know that it is theirs and to dupe switchers from iOS that it's 'just like an iPhone'. Shameless and sad.

980, 6, 8, 128, 256
The new Kirin 980 chipset flies through any task and multitasking assisted by the 6GB or 8GB RAM depending on market - much like the 256GB or 128GB versions of storage. Armed with 256GB of storage I would just about have said, sure, I don't need a dumb NanoSD, but with 128GB I might well. I have a specific use-case for plenty of storage and yes, I'll accept that this is odd and most would be OK with 128GB. A bit of a worry has been that this unit keeps failing to log onto either of my Mifi units unless a reboot is executed, told to forget the network and password put in again. Not sure what that's about but doesn't happen with a landline router.

HDMI-Out
There are two Modes which appear when you plug your phone into a TV. Phone Mode and Desktop Mode. The latter creates a connected PC-like screen on the TV which allows negotiation around the phone and access to online media, for example, and anything else, using the phone's screen as a touchpad. Much like the DeX thing from Samsung you can then feel like you have an extension of the phone to use on a big screen etc. Personally I don't see the use of this, but I guess some road warriors might. More useful to me is the Phone Mode within which the phone's screen is echoed onto the TV and any stored media can be played back. The picture, in my tests is pretty low-res. but I may be able to persevere with that adjusting things - and it might also be the fault of the quality of the downloads or my TV, I guess. Unlike other manufacturers' models apart from Samsung it seems, the Qi charging continues to work when it is playing, doesn't seem to get hot even though whatever is being played also plays on the phone's screen at the same time. This is all very well, but it doesn't help me much until there's a 400GB NanoSD Card at the same price as a normal one. Not that I'll have this phone by then!

Power
The battery in this unit is 4200mAh. I'm really not sure where they've put that as although it's tall, it's really not very fat or wide, so kudos to them for that. At this level of power, I could really relax as I head out for the day. Not only that, but you get a super-fast charger in the box (40W) which will get you 70% charged in half an hour and you have fast 15W Qi Charging as well. As if that wasn't enough, the next USP of the phone is Reverse-Charging. Out on a day out with a friend, their phone is nearly out of juice, no power socket in the cow field, place the two Qi-capable phones back-to-back and transfer some of the charge from one to the other. This is a great new feature - and one that I think will take off and all the other manufacturers will be rushing to emulate on their shiny new models. HOWEVER - beware! If you have Nova Launcher installed and in use on the Huawei, Reverse Charging doesn't work! It just keeps trying to transfer apps.

Snap, No Grin
The other selling point of the Mate 20 Pro seems to be the camera arrangements, providing for a triple-lens mega-pixel sensor setup and 5x zoom. The quality of the camera results seems to be a bit in doubt at the moment amongst the tech reviewers, some wow'ing and others shrugging! There's a 40MP f/1.8 main camera lens, a 20 MP f/2.2 wide-angle one and an 8MP f/2.4 telephoto with 5x Optical Zoom and OIS, all boasting Leica Optics. The Selfie on the front is is a 24 MP f/2 unit with a standard field of view. I have to admit that I'm pretty impressed with the camera options, range of settings and modes available, which head into useful, mostly, rather than cartoon/toy, but then I'm not pixel-peeping. To my mind, the cameras do what they should do, provide photos for casual sharing online and allow for various in-vogue effects. Maybe also for making small photos to print. The target for cameras in phones still, without pretending to replace an SLR. From what I understand from the pixel-peepers, we're still, I'm not at all surprised to hear, an awful long way from that - clever software replacing fine large glass optics ain't here!

Not a Fan
You might have gathered by now that I'm not a fan! The overriding annoyance of the device is, yet again, that they're just copying others. They have no identity or personality of their own which makes it across and past the irritations present. The market-leading feature of FPS in the screen should have done it, but doesn't. Having to deal with the bloat and inflexibility of the system is just awful as an experience, unless, which is what they hope no doubt, users just knuckle under, sign up with the company, sell their soul (and data) to them and do things their way. But beyond that, even the basics are done badly in my view, like the sound output and Always-On screen options or rather lack of.

No Style or Personality
I wish anyone paying £900 for this all the very best at getting past all this. I'm bemused and sit here, once again, wondering where on earth the AndroidOne version is, which would, at least, address a good number of the inherent problems. It's a copycat boring slab with uninspired design, in the Samsung mould. Nokia have proved that it can be done well, cleanly and with style and personality. Never have I been so pleased to get back to my Sirocco! I find it hard to believe that reviewers out there are not being positive about this device for any reason other than ensuring they get given the next model from this company staged to take over The West alongside Xiaomi.

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Moto Z2 Play - Revisited

With my (beloved) Moto Z3 Play out of action while someone on this planet finds me a replacement SIM Card Tray (sigh) I've reverted to using the Moto Z2 Play and thought I'd take a moment to revisit the reasons why, when I first 'upgraded', the newer experience was 'better' and if that's still so.

The blog post I made (https://goo.gl/ZWRAHu) when I executed the change was split down into 11 points, so I'll just quickly review where I'm at with them...

1. The Audio-Out Socket being 3.5mm on the Z2 Play I haven't used since I switched back, so conclude, as I did at the change, that this omission is meaningless for me personally. I haven't even, beyond testing, used the Z3 Play's USB-C Audio-Out either.

2. No Dolby Audio I thought was going to be a bad thing, but actually, I think that the built-in speaker in both of these units is good enough for casual use anyway - and when the JBL SoundBoost is clacked on the back, there are loads of audio-control options via the device and also the dedicated JBL App. So yes, better to have than not, but no real issue.

3. The 18:9 6.1" Screen on the newer model is certainly better than the old - but only simply because, with the units being the same physical size, you get more screen on the front! Who'd want less screen (for the same size device) than more?! There's no stupid 'notch' (well done again Moto) and just the right amount of chin and forehead for gripping/resting thumb etc. Going back to the 16:9 on the older model is no deal-breaker, just feels like a bit of wasted space - though that does bring us to the next point...

4. The side-mounted fingerprint scanner was my biggest challenge switching to the Z3 Play, I said back then. I thought Moto had got it right with the unique FPS chin placement with long-press for screen-off and touch for on - particularly useful on the table/desk - and yes, less so with the side-mounted. Agreed, taking the device out of the pocket is fine, the Z3 Play's FPS is right under the thumb and ready to go, but not so on the test. It's manageable - but not as good. Still, that extra screen had to come from somewhere for those who were crying out for it. The 'always on' arrangements also help that situation - waving a hand over the screen of both brings up battery, clock, day, date and quick-access to any Notifications including slide to delete. So I get away with it. Going back to the Z2 Play makes me realise that I would probably prefer it on the front, somehow.

5. Snapdragon Chipset increment - don't notice a thing. They both work perfectly fast enough and the benefits of the 636 over the 626, if mostly power efficiency, are lost on me as I always have a battery on the back (unless using another Mod.) and notice no difference.

6. Android 8.1 on the newer model does give a nice squishy feeling inside shallow people like me, but actually, the 8.0.0. on the older model makes very little difference indeed. In actual fact, as I write, the Z2 Play has October Google Security Update whilst the Z3 Play 'only' has September! So the rollout of updates is a bit hit and miss, though it's great to see phone makers at last taking it seriously. So that's no deal-breaker.

7. The navigation slider is genius and worth the upgrade money to the newer phone alone! As I was saying, it's better than anyone else's implementation including various options on various devices including Google's own Pixel. The difference is that the swipe-left is Back. With other variations, the swipe-left for Back seems to be gone in lieu of either on-screen buttons, often right up the top, full-screen swipes or context based appearance of a Back button 'when needed'. Of course, if you don't like it (and I defy anyone to not!) you can switch back to the usual 3 buttons. I do wish though that the long-press was screen-off and the extra-long press was for the Assistant. That could have been done, but wasn't. The Z2 Play fails here as the Home button (capacitive) when swipe-gestures are switched on, gets confused and is difficult to use. A huge point here for the Z3 Play - and would now be a deal-breaker!

8. I've made use of the camera, but most here will know that I'm not a big user so anything will do within reason! The camera of the old would have done me fine instead of the few extra bells, whistles and speed of the new.

9. Glass instead of metal being on the back is totally insignificant for me, as I said before. I use Mods!

10. The supplied Battery Mod with the Z3 Play has hardly been used. Waste of money in the box. Should have given me a cash discount - as I said before. It is in the kit bag, but so also are the other four that I already had!

11. Fat/thin device, 1mm or less, don't notice!

So the long and the sort of it is that yes, there are a couple of fabulous benefits with the Z3 Play but actually, whether a person would consider it worth upgrading for is questionable. If a user experiences that navigation slider control, they might be convinced. I was. And it's probably the only reason why I'd find it difficult to go back. When you've used it for a while, you really don't want any other navigation arrangement. IMHO :-)

Thursday, 25 October 2018

Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus - One Week On!

I've been trying really hard this week to like (or even love) the Samsung Galaxy S9+ since I bought it from Steve Litchfield and feel that at last I'm getting somewhere - by the power of the open Android system and options. But it's taken a lot of learning, messing about, downloading, turning things off, uninstalling things, saying NO to Samsung regularly, disabling things, force-stopping things and not letting Samsung treat me like an OAP with no idea what they're doing!

It’s been very difficult forcing myself, but it is the first time that I've persevered, mainly for the same reason as Steve Litchfield did - the market-leading array of hardware features and flexibility on offer. Here, I offer my thoughts - no, not a review, as that's been done a thousand times - but the things that stand out for me, what I've found difficult and how I've negotiated the transition from pure vanilla - and what compromises that I just have to accept along the way and to now live with.

Launcher
First things first, I can't stand the Samsung Homescreen/Launcher thing, so my paid-up Nova Prime is placed squarely centre, backup restored, making it look like a Pixel. One glaring exception, as Samsung won't let the casual user change Navigation Buttons, was to go back to the Samsung Launcher, sign up for Samsung Themes, Download and Apply the 'Pixelize' Theme, then change the Launcher back to Nova. Voila - the Pixel-style Navigation Buttons are present!

Bixby
Next job, get rid of Bixby, disable the button and turn it all off. From what I can see, you can't do all this unless you sign up for a Samsung Account because you can't get to the Bixby Settings until you do. You can then swipe-right, get to the Settings and turn everything off. Then, using the Samsung Launcher again, long-press the homescreen until the 'pages' minimise, then swipe-right and throw the switch to turn off the 'left of homescreen' Bixby Page. All done. Bixby button = furniture. Go back to Nova Launcher. Phew!

HDMI-Out
I've been trying hard for months into years now to get a reliable HDMI-Out thing going so that I can play a huge amount of video content stored on my phone, out and on to my TV, without broadband or any kind of connection to the internet. I've tried all sorts of devices in order to achieve this. Some go some way towards this, some connect well, some don't (even when they are supposed to), some don't do it at all, some will let you do it but won't let you charge at the same time (even with a dongle), some don't have expandable storage - and so on. The fight has been a long one! The outcome is that Samsung, by a margin, come closest. HDMI-Out for stored media, charging allowed whilst playing, microSD Card storage and no connection to the internet needed. If it hadn’t been for this core demand on my part, I would certainly have given up. It has driven me to keep at it! The only problem now with this setup is that phone can't be used for anything else whilst playing - but I guess that's not Samsung's fault, rather physics!

Speakers
The speakers produce good quality sound which is very loud, rich and bassy (as much as a phone can be) certainly lounge-filling output. As far as I'm concerned, the Razer Phone still holds the crown (overall) with the Dolby Atmos employed - but turn that off, and the Samsung snatches it back! Samsung's output here is very good even with the Dolby turned off, but when that is turned on, it notches the quality up, maybe at the cost slightly of top volume. 'Auto' setting seems to gain the best results for most music, film and spoken word in my tests. The stereo separation and 5.1 surround produced by Razer's true stereo speakers is not matched here on the Samsung. It's very good and spatial effect is good, but not as good. The sound is fired out of the Samsung from the ear-speaker one end and the bottom of the device from the other, like many manufacturers are doing. It's not the same, however you egg it up, but very few people would be dissatisfied with the output here.

Other Audio
Unlike the Razer, Samsung have retained the 3.5mm audio-out socket, so headphones can be plugged in, without any dongle, 32-bit audio built-in. A decent set of headphones sound phenomenal (to my ears) as one might expect. The Razer needs a dongle to get this out, firstly as it has no 3.5mm socket but also because the clever stuff is in the supplied dongle. Samsung's 'Adapt Sound' is a process that they (optionally) lead you through - a series of beeps, like a hearing test at hospital, asking when and if you can hear what - then offers a sound profile designed for the user's hearing. We've seen this before with the likes initially of HTC - and I'm not sure if I can the difference! Personally, I really very rarely use headphones so it matters not one whit, but from my younger days I can understand the joys of a great personalised sound experience. Probably why my ears are knackered now!

Screen
The Super AMOLED screen is gorgeous here. I have it set to 1080p instead of 1440, which is perfectly good for my eyes, and I'd make the case for saying anyone's! It's bright and vibrant, colours pop - even before the user plays with preferred settings. No complaints there, except maybe for the hit on battery. Talking of which, the Always On screen is a peach to use and echoes plenty of notifications, battery status, clock, day, date, what's playing - long-press the clock for on-the-fly changes and alterations to the brightness of that display. Double-tap on each item to see what is going on, depending on what you've set. Fabulous stuff. Bettered only I think by LG.

Power
The battery is 3500mAh. At best I'd say it is mediocre, but to some degree it's saved by Qi pads being littered around the place. To get to bedtime, for me anyway, is a struggle with my average use through the day. Of course, everyone's mileage will vary depending on how they use the phone. Some lighter users will have no problem, but heavy users will be frustrated when they have to charge by teatime.

Settings Abortion
Samsung have completely screwed Settings, all moved around, I don’t know where anything is, usually my target is buried under layers and layers - most times I just have to go to the Search function to find anything. I think this is actually the most annoying part of the whole experience - that Samsung tries to automate everything and give the user little input or control. I want to know what’s going on and have control myself. Some things can be turned off to stop it but some can’t. “Do not show again” options in Notifications seem to often be ignored after a phone boot. Constantly picking at the user. Pick, nag, pick! Every time you lift up the phone it's suggesting something or asking you if you want to do this or that. Annoying. LEAVE ME ALONE! How about 'Download Booster' mixing 4G and Wifi? Samsung Cloud prompts and Samsung Account everywhere you turn - pop up reminders not going away a week later, Keyboard control in Language and Input, inside “General Management” why? Battery control inside “Device Maintenance” why? Why does stuff have to be buried? Software Update nowhere near Software information - two completely different branches on the Menu structure. About Phone is where some other Battery information lives! Yes - the most confusing part of this phone is not what it does but how these Settings Menus are structured. Stupid!

Software
Talking of software, this phone is stuck on Android 8.0.0. - not even 8.1 - though September 2018 Security is present, so not too far behind for that. I know that Samsung have an awful lot more to ensure works than most other more Vanilla manufacturers - so, yes, another good reason not to festoon it with stuff that nobody wants in the first place - and that will cause delays in updates! Yeah, I know, updates are not really that important - and manufacturers are getting better at this - but Samsung seem to dwell within a reputation that reflects slower than most updates to the main OS. Android 9 Pie is promised 'soon' - but that's what everyone says! We want deeds, not words!

Biometrics
The controls of biometics, from registration to execution are quite superb. Quick and easy registration of Iris, Face and Fingerprint, then flawless recognition always without fail every time, using a combination of any of the three to get you in and working as quick as a flash. Beautifully done.

Samsung Apps
Much like the Sony counterpart, the Samsung Video Player app is excellent and well worth using over other offerings, especially Google's cludge. The Samsung Music app not really needed. It's basic and does nothing more than Google Play Music. There's an array of pointless doubling-up of Apps supplied by Google - Clock, Calendar, Email, Contacts, Gallery, Messages, My Files, Phone - all of which could just not exist - and bring nothing to the party except disintegration from the smooth running of Google's core PIM functionality. During Setup you can now opt out of most of the other Samsung gunge, which is a step forward, though having to leap past warnings aplenty that the phone won’t work best unless you agree to allow it etc. Then the phone keeps reminding you every few days about what you’re missing out on. Annoying! I do understand that some people will want to use the Samsung stuff like Health and Note taking apps etc. but if you've got this far reading, you'll know that I certainly am not interested and the more that apps can be placed in the Play Store and not pre-installed, like Facebook and LinkedIn are here too, for example, the closer we'll get to a pure Android experience and into the bargain, get faster updates!

Thoughts
Anyway, these are a few scattered thoughts from my first week of use taking Samsung seriously and trying hard to make it work, unlike previous attempts, if I'm honest. My SIM Card is still in the phone, which is a record! On balance, the benefits outweighing the drawbacks. For now.

Monday, 22 October 2018

Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus - HDMI Media Server!

Well, I tried. Again! Samsung's Android interference is just too much for me. I shouldn't keep doing this, but I do. I never seem to learn, hate it and drive myself back to the clean purity of Pixel - or at least near-vanilla of the likes of Nokia, Motorola, Razer et al.

To be fair, I probably knew this when I bought the phone. What was driving me on was not the very good speakers (though not in the same class as the Razer), not the 128GB of built-in Storage, not the Qi Charging, not the 3.5mm Audio-Out Socket, but the faultless HDMI-Out which Samsung seem to do better than anyone else out there. Bar none.

I live my digital life off of Cellular Data. When I want to watch stuff on TV, I have to use terrestrial or pay to stream data across Vodafone or cook up some system whereby I can poach Wifi when I'm in it, save data to a device and then plug it in to my TV to watch it. I love watching films. By careful selection and waiting for bargains, my Google Play Movies collection is now up to 200, plus various TV Show series. At any time, I might fancy watching any of that - and I really want to watch it on my TV.

I've tried using the Projector Mod on my Moto Z-series phones, but it really isn't very good. It's very dull and needs pitch black to make it usable. Then there's the phaff of setting up a screen or white wall etc. So I soon got fed up with that solution. No, back to other phones.

The Nokia 8 Sirocco will output to HDMI with no problem, but it only has 128GB of storage and no microSD Card slot. The Razer Phone is supposed to output to HDMI but try as I might, I can't get it to work properly. It just freezes up. Into the bargain, the Nokia 8 Sirocco won't allow for charging on a Qi pad whilst anything is plugged into the USB-C socket. It suspends it. As it does, we've found out this weekend, with the LG V30.

So, you see - it seems that the Samsung phones are the only ones which tick all the boxes. The Galaxy S9+ has 128GB of Storage, microSD Card expansion, it allows charging on a Qi pad whilst it's playing and will hold all the data I want. It has become my entertainment centre in my pocket with a 400GB microSD Card I have 528GB. My Google Play Movies stuff takes about 400GB of that leaving me 128GB to play with for downloading Netflix/Amazon Prime Video/BBC iPlayer stuff as it comes along. I'm also able to download Pocket Casts video podcasts for offline viewing.

It's an expensive solution but I can't see a cheaper one for my particular use case - well, it could have been an S8, I guess - but strangely not an S7 - or a Samsung Tablet - and there's also future-proofing to consider. I have stripped all the software off the phone except the ones I can't take off and the ones needed for Media (obviously) and run the device in Airplane Mode all the time except for when I'm out poaching Wifi. It's clearly a waste of a great phone in many people's eyes, but I hate it as a phone anyway, so nothing lost, and it's doing a job - and if I do want to use it out and about, has decent enough speakers to watch stuff on the screen.

If the Razer starts playing ball and doing what it is supposed to I'll maybe think again, flog this and use that. But for the meantime, this is my solution!

Saturday, 20 October 2018

Samsung Galaxy Note 9 - The S-Pen

Apart from speakers, the other special aspect of the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 worthy of mention is of course its main USP - the stylus. Or S-Pen. The shortcut verdict is that it's incredibly clever, fun and addictive but you've got to really have a business use for the productivity features, an eye for artwork in drawing and colouring or merely a fascination for all things tech and gadget.

The S-Pen sits in a hole in the bottom of the phone and has a spring-loaded mechanism to get it in and out. It's flush with the body of the device and some need a fingernail to execute the action, especially if the phone is in a case with close-fitting apertures. The pen is supplied in different colours for different phone colours but this one is black for black.

It's about 3" long, is very slim with two facing flat sides and two facing rounded and has a button part way down one of the flat sides. The pen has power but charges itself whenever it is put back into the phone and charges up really quickly - minutes - from the phone's battery. You can check the state of the pen's charge in the S-Pen Settings.

The first thing you're likely to notice when you pull out the pen is what looks like a blackboard when the phone is off, ready for you to scribble a quick note. When done, this is saved to Samsung Notes on the phone and if you have set up a Samsung Account and given it permission, to their cloud too.

When you fire up the screen, you'll see a semi-circle of buttons around what they call a Floating Icon employing what they call Air Command. Hold the pen close to it and you'll see a little dot which moves as you move the pen. The semi-circle of buttons can be assigned to pretty much whatever App you like and is installed, but it makes sense to assign them to Apps which you're likely to use with the pen. Then it's a question of tap-to-launch!

If you don't want to see the Floating Icon cluster, you can drag it off to the top of the screen and bin it. You can also move it around the screen and place it where you like it to use. Want it back? Float the pen over the screen and tap its button once. It comes back! If you don't want to see it and prefer to launch apps the old fashioned way, you can switch it off altogether in S-Pen Settings. You can also assign in the settings the action you want to execute when you take the pen out. Create a Note (as described above) is the default but you can also assign it to launch the Floating Icon or get it to do nothing.

The button on the pen can be assigned to various actions assignable in each supported app. For example, in Media Playing apps you can assign it to Play/Pause with a quick press and Skip a track with a long one. In camera, you can use it to fire the shutter with a quick press, switch cameras from front to back with the other. You can launch Google Assistant with it, as another example, which means that you can interact with it from across the room. How about using it in Chrome Browser? Set the short click to scroll down and long to scroll up. Works brilliantly well. Or short to go Back and long to go Forward. If you put the pen down and the screen times out, you can press the button again to wake the screen. There's even a setting in there to alert you if the phone moves too far away from the pen. All clever stuff and great fun to play with, or indeed be productive with.

Talking of which, there are of course various supported Samsung Apps supplied which make the most of the pen input including, as I said, the Samsung Notes one. Scribble away on the screen in a Note, insert images, text, paint and draw using a range of pens and brushes - and save the note as a Samsung Note file, PDF, Image or Text. You can then Share it with whatever service you have on the phone in the usual way. Better than the old days when I tried this when there was no hookup at all with anything outside of Samsung's apps and services.

Talking of painting, there is an App called Colouring where, you guessed it, you get a range of drawings which you get to colour-in. Lots of brush and pen sizes to play with, zoom in and out to make it easier to hit areas, use the fill function if you can't be bothered to colour etc.

The Translate function on the fly is amazing to use. Set the language you want to translate to, head for any text on the screen, hover the pen over the word and up pops a window with the translation with a direct hookup to Google Translate if you want it. It works brilliantly fast and amazingly helpfully for all sorts of social situations and business applications.

Can't see the screen elements clearly enough? Launch Magnify - a virtual magnifying glass which floats a square following the pen's nib over the screen to show things bigger. Or how about Smart Select when you can Cut a lump of the screen, capturing text, animations, images, whatever really, then use the Capture Text to get the text out to share or just share an Image in the usual way across the other services you can access via installed apps. Or create a little video of you drawing something - a Message via Live Messages - then sending it to a friend and allow them to watch it unfold just as you drew it, GIF style.

There are lots of bells and whistles with this pen, lots of fun to be had and I wouldn't knock it. Laying aside the cost of the device, this is gadget-heaven for those so inclined and I could see myself using it routinely if I had one. Not only to do all of the above, and more not covered here, but also just for everyday use getting around the UI, poking the screen keeping fat fingers out of the way and entering text via the handwriting recognition window available whenever you use a text field. This works incredibly well - even when I was purposely trying to fox it!

It's a fabulous piece of kit and system for those could afford to buy a Samsung Galaxy Note 9 (and live with all the other trappings of using a Samsung phone) which might make the difference for someone toying with the question of Note vs. S9+. There's not really much difference in price, at least RRP, and if I was buying one brand new, I know which I'd choose.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Samsung Galaxy Note 9 - The Speakers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Francesco Tristano - Piano Circle Songs

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

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

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

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





HaoHan Teapot

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

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

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

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

Julie London - Around Midnight

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

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

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


Monday, 15 October 2018

David Bowie - Low

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

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

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

Nokia 8 Sirocco (Revisited)

As I woke today on 14th November and was greeted with my Nokia 8 Sirocco's November 2018 Google Security Update, I thought it might be...