Sunday, 30 December 2018

Bird Box

This Netflix production from 2018 based on Josh Malerman's novel is one of these 'throw the cast into a claustrophobic situation as they fight for survival' outings. However, in this case, it's done pretty well and is an enjoyable watch.

There's an eerie wind/presence lurking around (which, spoiler, never gets explained) which grips most of the population into facing their inner fears so much so that they immediately seek an option for suicide. Reminded me of Michael Crichton's Sphere or The Fog in that respect (and probably many more) where a similar unexplained force plays havoc with people's brains. This has been done slightly differently, however, in that people remain immune if they keep their eyes closed (or at least don't look outside, shuttering their homes). Which makes stumbling through towards survival a bit of a challenge. Those who have been nabbed by the power are generally not much harm to anyone else, however, as they just kill themselves - until about halfway through the film, when that seems to change - with some surviving and trying to get those not yet under the influence, to open their eyes. Hope you're keeping up at the back!

Anyway, in the middle of all this we have a pregnant woman who seeks refuge in the chaos in a house with half a dozen people inside. We spend some time with them working out how they are to go and collect food and keep more people from coming in, bearing in mind that none of them really understand the extent of how the whole thing works at this stage and what measures they can or can't take which will or won't turn them into suicide machines!

The film then skips forward and back over a five year period, filling in the gaps and outcomes as it goes. In the present day, our heroine is on a journey with two children, all three blindfolded, in a boat, making their way down-river to a place they think is a safe place to head for, away from all the madness. As the story unfolds, leaping back and forth, there's some suggested violence but not much gore in reality - and I'm not sure where the 'horror' tag comes from - you won't need to be behind the sofa!

What the film does dole out however, is suspense and claustrophobia, which it does quite well. The viewer is often thrown into the unseeing situation that the characters are in, for example, in a car with blacked-out windows, relying only on a satnav to drive to get to food. The camera stays in the car, the whole time. Some of the presentation is edge of the seat at times, some slow, but usually suspenseful.

Sandra Bullock plays the main lead and does so very well indeed. She's convincing throughout and demonstrates how she can actually act, taken away from money-spinning romcomland! She is supported by Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight, The Predator) who doesn't seem to be too committed to the project and there's a bit-part for John Malkovich, which he laps up and as he often does, makes the audience detest his character from the outset! The main demand on the two kids is not dialogue but to demonstrate fear, which they do admirably.

Trent Reznor is responsible for the soundtrack, which is atmospheric and spooky, supporting proceedings, whilst director of the superb 'The Night Manager' Susanne Bier creates the required visual equivalent throughout. There's some interesting camerawork with long shots overhead here and there and creative indoor sequences, designed to further enhance the suspense.

It's a good enough film, pretty well done, based on a bit of a daft premise, but that's sci-fi, I guess! It's an enjoyable two hours which don't pass slowly. Recommended if you fancy the genre - and if you don't, Sandra Bullock doing some acting might be enough.

Monday, 24 December 2018

Finding Neverland

This 2004 film is supposed to have depicted the life of J M Barrie and the events surrounding his creation of Peter Pan in 1903. As with most 'based on' films, when you dig deeper you find more than meets the eye - and this is no exception. Having said that, this in itself is a wonderful fantasy creation in its own right and is worth a viewing.

The story starts with James, the struggling writer who's under pressure from the owner of a theatre to come up with a play which is going to fill seats. One day, by chance, he stumbles on the Llewelyn-Davies family headed up by the widow Sylvia and her four children who quickly become taken with with the out-to-impress Barrie. You could probably at this point see where this is going even if you didn't know, but there is a twist and turn to come which means that the story ends up not quite as expected.

Things get complicated when we discover that actually James is unhappily married to Mary (Radha Mitchell) and he spends more and more time with Sylvia and her kids. They get even more complicated when Sylvia's mum (Julie Christie) tries to drive a wedge between everyone else's happiness. This is where the story takes off and James starts to explore his own imagination taking the kids along with him through fantasy and adventure, culminating in the creation of the Peter Pan play.

Sylvia is played by Kate Winslet. She's playing this by the numbers much of the time and really doesn't seem very interested in the project, even in the later emotional stages. As usual though, even not trying very hard, she's more than capable and convincing, just not sparkling. The theatre owner is played passively by Dustin Hoffman and although he doesn't have much screen time, what scenes he has, he owns. Johnny Depp plays James beautifully as we see flashes of Capt. Jack Sparrow in amongst the fantasy and playing, along with a Scottish accent! His performance is captivating and he remains one of the most flexible actors of his generation.

There are also small parts for a range of actors popping up here and there. Toby Jones, Paul Whitehouse, Kelly Macdonald to name but three and everyone seems like they were having fun in the making. The four boys performed excellently, particularly the youngest played by Freddie Highmore who had the most demanding role and had to demonstrate the most ability, particularly within some emotional scenes.

The sets are created to perfection, depicting 1903 theatreland London, wealthy homes, country retreats, parks and streets. They are shot interestingly and in keeping with the theme of the film, often sweeping majestically under doors and through windows, reflecting magical flight. Director Marc Forster (Monster's Ball, World War Z, Quantum of Solace) has done a super job pulling it all together and maintaining an atmosphere supportive of the story.

Many of the links and proceedings are not in keeping with what the truth of the situation was, we know. People who would have been around at the time, the widow's husband not yet dead, James basing the whole Peter Pan thing around the death of his brother, not one of Sylvia's kids. You could pick holes with the facts, or you could just enjoy the creation and lose yourself for an hour and a half in a beautifully created fantasy. It's a super film, with a festive feel, which I'd recommend very much for a quiet Sunday afternoon.

Sunday, 23 December 2018

Kill the King (Shangri-La Suite)

I must stop watching films just because Emily Browning is in them! In actual fact, she does seem to end up in a good number of duds! Like this one really.

It's an odd 'road-movie' in which a pair of teens in rehab get together, driven by psychiatric illness and childhood abuse, he, believing he's been told by his dead mother to go and kill Elvis Presley, this all in 1974.

Luke Grimes plays the lead male role and the pair of them don't do a bad job, but it's just a bit of a daft story, with no base in any fact, dreamt up! Elvis is played by Ron Livingston reasonably well and they even roped in the late Burt Reynolds as narrator.

Trying hard to be a Natural Born Killers as they start to bump people off on the road and get themselves famous, it just doesn't work on any level. It's a first film directed by Eddie O'Keefe and an interesting idea - he's not done bad to create something interesting and different at least.

Give it a miss, unless you are driven to see more of scantily-clad Browning here and there!

Roma

Mexican Oscar winning director, writer, actor, producer Alfonso Cuarón has created this quite amazing film in 2018 to add to his long list of achievements, sadly best known by most for one of the Harry Potter films and Gravity.

Leave behind you the money-making activities of blockbusters for a tad however and focus back down to earth on this excellent arthouse-gobbled delight. As with many artistic creations, the storyline here is a simple one and the appreciation is in the detail and beauty, the style of creation. Set in 1970 Mexico City, we follow the story of a maid who, along with her co-workers, are live-in nanny, chauffeur, cook, cleaner and pamperer of a wealthy family, dad in which is a doctor.

Cleo, or Manita (as those outside of the family know her) is played by the completely unknown Yalitza Aparicio who, like her character here, is plucked from an outback Mexican village, in the film world hoping to make her fortune, in the film, to earn a crust to send home money to support the family. She does a magnificent job portraying the maid, giving her all in each and every scene - and what it demands of her. She's the central character in the film and has by far the most of the camera, though the whole cast are impressive and convincing.

The backdrop to the story is civil unrest in Mexico with political upheaval and student rioting in 1970. This is, however, very much the backdrop and it only encroaches on the proceedings of the story once or twice, to remind us it's there. When it does rear its head, it doesn't bog the viewer down with details they don't need to know.

This is the point at which I don't want to give too much away, but the film gives an interesting insight into how the division of classes works, how a 'maid' becomes very much more than an employee when working long-term and close-up with a family and how the ensemble close ranks looking out for each other in times of need. It's a story of love and loss, loyalty and betrayal, sadness and joy, depression and reality. It touches on so many emotions and draws out great feeling. The last quarter of the film is very moving and emotional, so don't give it up thinking things are too slow!

The direction and atmospheric black and white photography are worth watching this film for alone. Long shots, wide shots, elements placed precisely in ordinary settings to create a picture for anyone's wall of any still. Creative and interesting use of focus and angles - and not being afraid to linger and dwell on scenes to enable the audience to digest images and atmosphere. The opening credits are a work of art alone as a stone floor is being cleaned and the artistic creation involved in a simple act of a man parking a car in a narrow alleyway has been milked and made into a mini-masterpiece of its own!

The settings reflect exacting attention to detail and depict a 'villa' type house in a hot climate with stone and marble floors, clinical, cold but stylish, as you'd expect to see in this era and situation. Incidentally, Roma is a sub-district of Mexico City. The street shots and interiors of public transport are interestingly portrayed and again, reflect tremendous attention to detail. You must be getting the impression that I liked this film by now! And you'd be right. It's a joy to watch and take in, but has to be done twice really, unless you can understand the language, so the second time you can focus a little less on the dialogue from subtitles and enjoy the visual feast.

It really is a masterpiece of film making and it's no wonder that the film has been nominated for a list of awards across the globe as long as the reel of film itself! Highly recommended.

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Decorative LED Numbers

Up In lights Decorative LED Wooden Age Numbers. In this case, 60, as mum and dad recently remembered their 60th Wedding.

It's a simple block of wood with LEDs depicting the desired number. There are options for numbers available. It's nice that it's wood and not a lump of plastic, though I guess that makes it a bit more money. 

Takes 2xAAA batteries and has a simple on/off switch. No glary flashing effects! Not sure how long the batteries will last - I'm guessing months if left on! Will run out, no doubt, just in time for the next 60th event in your family!

Nice for a birthday or anniversary. Flog it to a neighbour for the next rare event!

It's about 6" high and 9" wide. £11 at AmazonUK (https://goo.gl/sUaMUA)

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Tale of Tales (Il racconto dei racconti)

This is a trio of dark fairy tales, loosely connected as the three are based in adjoining kingdoms. The surviving characters come together in the finale in one of the castles. I won't pretend to know the origins of all this, but I can quote that the stories are based on the Pentamerone stories by the Italian Giambattista Basile. It is an Italian production, but the cast speak in English throughout.

The first is a tale of a barren queen, willing to sacrifice everything for a child. It turns sour when a prophet cum wizard sets down a challenging task for her king to execute in order for her to get pregnant. Nothing lewd, just the stuff of magical kingdoms! Salma Hayek plays the queen beautifully, with menace and darkly driven ambition. The next is a tale of another king, so selfish regarding the hand of his daughter and focus on his pet, that things get out of hand with a murderous ogre in the mountains. Toby Jones is delightful as the feckless king. The third is a story about a lustful king, driven to sleep with an old woman who he has only seen from afar, but mistakes her for a beauty. She plays the game and ends up being transformed into a ravishing beauty, then neglects her sister in the process. The sister takes matters into her own hands with gruesome results. Vincent Cassel plays the king excellently.

Things lean towards horror, but never get there, falling short and turning sometimes to terror and tragedy. The proceedings are dark and often gruesome, but never scary. There is also humour littered throughout and I enjoyed some laugh-out-loud moments through my popcorn! The magical kingdoms a beautifully envisaged and created, sumptuous sets and lovely photography. It's often bizarre and mildly disturbing but the running time of over two hours passes quickly.

Directed by Matteo Garrone, responsible for writing, directing and producing many european films, I look forward to his forthcoming live-action take on Pinocchio! It's engaging and fun, through the darkness and I would thoroughly recommend a viewing. Currently doing the rounds on Film 4 in the UK but I think, also on Netflix. Nod to John Campion for the tip.

Razer Phone 2

I suppose the question current owners will be asking themselves is whether or not this super-brick of a phone is worth the upgrade over the one they have. That's what I'm here to find out with a particular emphasis, now they're both in hand, on the allegedly 'improved' built-in speakers.

There are a few other changes, which I'll come to, but for me, this is the big one - oh, and shaking off, at last, the disproportionately annoying 3UK splash-screen on boot (and lag of updates over the SIM Free variation). The Razer Phone 2 started out a few weeks ago at £779 here in the UK but has currently dropped, direct from them to £699 and from AmazonUK at £695. This places it certainly at the foot of the leading pack of 'flagship' phones, many of which can't boast some of the unique stuff that Razer can, but have other benefits instead for which they can charge even more.

This review should be read in conjunction with my other posts, as much of the details have been previously covered and are similar. Ted's Razer Phone Review - Razer Phone: Six Months On - Sound Test - and in actual fact, pretty much any device that I've reviewed over the last year, as I've compared the sound always against my Razer Phone.

In the Box
The box is significantly smaller than the first one, which I still have here, but on opening, presents the new owner with the same level of Razer black'n'green style and class. There's a similar 'RAZER' etched SIM Card Tray Eject Tool, as we had with the first, braided USB-C to USB-C cable, 24-bit DAC 3.5mm to USB-C audio dongle, a couple of pamphlets, letter from Razer(!) and a Razer branded QuickCharge 4+ charging brick. All very Razer.

Twin Blade Razers
The two phones look almost identical from the front (Project Linda still a thing?!) with one clue as to which it is - the camera has switched position with the Ambient Light Sensor. There's another clue on the side in that the SIM Card Tray has been shifted from the right-side to the left. Wonder why. Other than that, the two sides look near identical. The volume up/down buttons look just as well finished and fingerprint scanner just the same, flush with the right-side - which I know didn't please some, but actually, with a case on and cut-out, it doesn't really matter - your finger finds it straight away. The newer model, on close inspection, is very slightly fatter than the old. There's an extra antenna band on the top and bottom and a microphone location shift at both ends.

Razer Casing
When we turn the phones over, we see the biggest change. The old one's aluminium casing continued round the back so that apart from the screen, the metal enveloped the device, whereas with the new, the aluminium breaks and we have a completely glass back. This one's glossy black but apparently there's a matt one coming too. There's also a shift in the camera's location, instead of being tucked away in the top-left corner, it's now central, more pronounced and bigger - with the LED flash sitting between the two lenses rather than to the left of them. There's a RAZER logo in the same location on both, which I'll come to.

Round the Razer
The glass back makes the device look more classy, in a sense - but less industrial in design. It's a fingerprint magnet in this glossy black. It does, however, allow for Qi Charging, which the old one didn't have - and if you buy the official Razer Wireless Charger or equivalent, it's also fast-wireless. However, bottom line is that this is an even more slippery phone now and you will need a case. (Incidentally, near-identical as it might be, of course there's no way my half-dozen cases for the first one'll fit!) The glass front and back are Gorilla Glass 5 now instead of 3, so more shatter-proof, but less scratch-proof, apparently. We'll see how we do with that. There's not a scratch in sight on my old one, with regular use for 9 months. The body also now has an IP6/7 rating, which means that for those more adventurous than me, it will survive a dunk in clean water up to 3ft for half an hour - and is dust-sealed.

Brighter, but no AMOLED
The front screen is the same 5.72" IGZO 16:9 1440p LCD panel with switchable (but auto-adjusting) 60, 90 or 120Hz UltraMotion (so smooth!) - but they've done something to the lighting to make it much brighter. On paper, it's apparently now capable of 580 nits instead of 380 on the old one - it is allegedly making it 50% brighter. In my real-world tests here, I can tell you that it's certainly significantly brighter and whiter - less blue - but this is no AMOLED brightness. Up against the Nokia 8, which seems to be something of a benchmark still, it's nowhere near as bright - and actually, a little orange/warm. All my tests are on Manual, not Auto-brightness. The colours generally do look a little more punchy, though remaining subtle over Samsung Saturation. Realistic. At each end of the display is, of course, the giant speakers! I'll come to that later, but just to say that the grilles seem to be exactly the same to me, with the same problem that the holes are clearly going to fill with pocket debris and dust.

Razer Blazer
Razer Phone was equipped with a Snapdragon 835 (2.35GHz, Adreno 540) chipset and they've brought Razer Phone 2 up to date with the 845 (2.8GHz, Adreno 630). There's really not much to say about that though as both devices fly, there's no lag anywhere - which is just as well with a Gaming Phone - but certainly not isolated reasons to upgrade from the old. Test conditions might note the upgrade and difference - and serious hardcore gamers, but not me! Likewise, the 8GB RAM is more than most people have on their laptop computer, so great on both generations. I really thought that this time Razer would up the storage, particularly with heavy-gamers in mind and had learnt the lesson first time round that people were not satisfied. But no, 64GB it is again. To be fair, you can use a microSD Card up to 1TB, but however you cut it, that's not going to read/write as fast as in-built storage, nor is it so secure. There is talk of the matt version coming soon having 128GB, but it all seems to be rumour - and to be honest, with a phone like this, it might as well have 64GB as 128GB. If they were going to do a Samsung Galaxy Note 9 and offer a 512GB version, then it would be worth the hike. Oh well. Memory cards it is for a bit longer!

Thumb-Twiddling Time
On firing up the Razer Phone 2, I was presented with a 1 hour wait before I could do anything, due to a System Update. 569.1MB of it. And then another one at 104.8MB! I can't tell you what version of anything it was on before all this, as it wouldn't let me look before insisting I update during setup. The outcome, as expected, was Android Oreo 8.1.0. with October 2018 Google Security. The first generation phone, which, as I said, in all fairness was a 3UK model, did lag behind on updates, eventually updating to Android Oreo 8.1 with July 2018 Google Security, which is where is remains now. There are promises of Pie, but it looks like it will certainly not be in 2018! If you're an update-paranoid/fanatic, you may get frustrated with the update cycles from Razer, we'll see what happens with the new one, especially as nothing has to go through 3UK.

Seriously Cool
Both phones claim to have Vapor Chamber Cooling, which those of us coming for the sound attributes, don't really need to know about, but for gamers, this apparently makes a real world difference to overheating. There's a JerryRig breakdown video on how it works and what it looks like inside at Razer Phone 2 Cooling for those interested. Bottom line is that whatever you do using the phone, it shouldn't get hot - or if it does, the heat will be swilled around to avoid hotspots.

Nova Prime Deal
One of the great things about having Nova Prime as a part of the Razer deal, is that as soon as you have all your apps installed, a Restore of your Nova Settings, layout, preferences and so on can just be grabbed from wherever you backed up to and Fanny's your aunt! Back to where you left off. Armed with Google's SmartLock and Auto-fill, within half an hour or so, Bob's your uncle too! All fired up as if you had never left the old Razer! It's also so clean. And configurable. There's no bloat (not even 3UK's this time for me!) and all you get is a few bolt-ons to enhance the Razer experience for graphics, control and gaming. Smart stuff that enhances, not dross that fills the ROM for a manufacturer's back-hander. This is, of course, part of the cost - and how often we say that we'd so much rather pay an App developer for an ad-free version of their work than have no option, if we want to use it, but to be bugged by promotions. Well, maybe it's the same here. Pay up for clean. Certainly true of Pixel phones.

Sitting Pretty
Qi Charging, the desire of many these days, after lots of us passed through and out the other side a few years ago with the arrival of USB-C, is present and works very nicely. Some reviewers have said that it's very fussy and will only work in a very small field, but in my testing here it seems to work logically - when the phone is placed on the pad with the large area underneath the Razer logo aligned. So I'm not sure what the fuss is about really. I think people are expecting it to work across the whole back, even though there's an active logo and camera lump in the way! I guess it's handy. I'll have to try and retrain my brain! The battery is the same 4000mAh unit that was in the 1st generation phone and I'm assuming that given the passive use of the logo for Notifications, it won't be much different - that is anything short of excellent - 30+ hrs between charges with 40% brightness and 8+ hrs SoT. Early days. Will report back if there's an issue as I trot along.

OTT LED Notifications
Talking of which, we come to the Razer fan's delight - the multi-coloured, multi-functional RGB Illuminated Chroma Logo! It's not really very exciting and belongs in the same category as camera AR modes to a large degree. The only benefit I can see is for Notifications, which when incoming light up the logo in a colour appropriate for the app in question, so for GMail red, Hangouts green, MeWe blue etc. But if you're to make use of this you need to keep your phone face-down on a desk - so not making use of Qi charging! It's adjustable and colours can be manually selected. You can have it pulse or stay on the whole time and there are other effects to play with. My concern is battery of course, so I have mine now set to Off, except for Notifications. I guess in a dark room or outside, the glow will be a good indicator that something's come in - and it appears to keep flashing until attended to. We should be grateful that there is indeed at least a Notification LED - OTT as it may be!

Dancing Lights
You can, for £99, buy a Chroma Razer Phone 2 Wireless Charger cum nightstand, where you plonk the phone on the unit, at variable angles, and it not only charges but also reflects the settings of the logo in the phone. When set up, you get dancing lights at will, keeping everyone in the room awake! (Though to be fair, there is a Sleep button!) The stand is also Fast Charging, which I guess means that it's not really a bedroom thing - imagine the battery hit charing it Fast every night instead of using the Qi benefit of slow charging when sleeping. I rather think it to be another Razer toy which gamers will have by their huge Razer monitor, dancing lights coming from every device on the desk!

Watch the Birdie
The main cameras on the new phone are much like the old. The main 12MP f1.75 camera does get OIS but the telephoto sister stays as it was, a 12MP f2.6 unit. Again, the front one is the same at 8MP f2 as many of the other changes were implemented earlier in the year to the Razer Phone's camera software and capability - including having added that 2x zoom, 4K video recording and Portrait mode. The front-end does look different as they've tweaked the layout. It's easier to find stuff with bigger buttons and words, but essentially it's much the same as it was. There's a new beauty mode (handy for me!) and Panorama, which work as expected - and the Portrait mode works as well as most, doing a half-decent job of blurring background emulating shallow depth of field. This is not a photographer's phone!

Sounding Better
So, now we come to it! Speakers. I've tested the two devices against each other, armed with what various reviewers have said about their perception - and what Razer have said too. I have tested with the exact same .mp3 320kbps file, same YouTube video, same Music .mp4 file, same .mp4 ripped DVD video, same Netflix 5.1 video, with Dolby Atmos, without, various settings, various genres - same everything. My conclusion is that even though they have clearly had to do something in the device to waterproof the speakers, they have indeed made the output louder and more qualitative. If I had to put figures on it, I'd say that the volume is hiked by between 10-15% and similarly (very subjectively, varying much between files, genres and rips) the 'quality' of the audio, once tweaked by, in this case, me! The deep tones are deeper and mid-tones clearer. Solo piano from a quality recording sounds amazing at full volume, no distortion. Without Dolby Atmos switched on, it's raised above the ordinary - more than the Razer Phone - but boosted with that, there's no competition. Once again, I declare Razer to have the best sounding phone on the planet for now, though to be fair, I've not had the opportunity to test a number of challengers, including the Asus ROG Phone, Black Shark and others now coming out of China. For me though, and within the scope of my experience, Razer Phone 2 (paired with Dolby Atmos) is King and Razer Phone 1, Prince! The question is, whether or not that 10-15% is worth the £695 (less what I can claw back selling the Razer Phone).

For Reference
The rest of the soundscape is pretty much the same, in that you get 24-bit DAC output via the supplied dongle - and with my AKG701 reference headphones it sounds fantastic. To be honest, so does the sound from the first generation model though. This is not what it's about for me! Bluetooth 5 is a hardware update and it all seems to work perfectly whilst testing via various speakers, music machines and headphones. And sounds great!

Wet Dream
I head back to the question at the outset. Is it worth the upgrade for current owners of the first generation Razer Phone. It's a lot of money for a phone amongst hot competition from other manufacturers in this £700 and-up territory, even for the non-upgrader. You've really got to want a great sounding phone or really be into mobile gaming to cough for this at all. There are all sorts of other combinations of bluetooth speakers, headphones, earphones, buds and easy-hook-up to hifi equipment these days. It's also a BIG phone. This is no Pixel 3 or compact Sony. It's big, and makes the most of that with a great sounding output and loads of screen for viewing media - in perfect 16:9. You've got to really want this, to bulge it out of your trousers (ooer!). The camera is decidedly average as well, which will swing many away. You've just got to love the sound on the move! As for the upgrader, who's already sold on mobile sound and/or mobile gaming, if they can afford it, they will. They will still love the smooth 120Hz scrolling screen and the even-better booming sound but will now be turned on, for sure, by the light-show on the back, the Qi charging, the waterproofing and the faster chipset. It's a nerd's wet dream.

Irrational Man
As for me, I knew, as soon as I ordered this that it wasn't going back. £779 felt like a urine-extraction, but £695 felt an awful lot better, and I had half of it already in the pot from other sales. The icing on the cake was the 10-15% for me. It's too much to turn down. If it had been a 'very close' 5% maybe I'd have thought again, but it's not. The other thing selling it to me is that during the last year, every time I turned the Razer Phone on, I was really annoyed by seeing that whacking great '3' staring at me. Just annoying. And always made me feel further away from stock/Vanilla than I wanted to be. Irrational Man!

Thursday, 13 December 2018

Ted's Top 100 Films

How can anyone really pick their Top 100 anything? It's so subjective based on mood at any one time, but still, it's good fun to look through other people's lists.

Even more difficult, once picked, to make it in any sort of order - so my list here really isn't in one! At any given time or day, it would be shuffled. And new ones added. Anyway, here it is - all good fun. Why not post your list somewhere for the community?

  1. The Silence of the Lambs
  2. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
  3. The Shining
  4. Se7en
  5. Reservoir Dogs
  6. The Sound of Music
  7. Bad Santa
  8. A Simple Plan
  9. Fargo
  10. Amadeus
  11. Dial M for Murder
  12. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
  13. Life of Brian
  14. Immortal Beloved
  15. Jaws
  16. Sid and Nancy
  17. Jabberwocky
  18. Manhattan
  19. Love and Death
  20. Misery
  21. Manhunter
  22. Bram Stoker's Dracula
  23. Kill Bill: Vol. 1
  24. Kill Bill: Vol. 2
  25. Leon
  26. Monty Python and the Holy Grail
  27. No Country for Old Men
  28. Pulp Fiction
  29. Red Dragon
  30. Hannibal
  31. Amélie
  32. Oliver! (Musical)
  33. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Musical)
  34. Three Colours: Blue
  35. Three Colours: White
  36. Three Colours: Red
  37. The Double Life of Véronique
  38. Annie Hall
  39. Taxi Driver
  40. The Sixth Sense
  41. Alien
  42. The Thing (Original)
  43. Schindler's List
  44. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
  45. The Piano
  46. Von Ryan's Express
  47. The Great Escape
  48. Where Eagles Dare
  49. The Eagle Has Landed
  50. Truly Madly Deeply
  51. Apocalypse Now
  52. Gladiator
  53. Planet of the Apes (Tim Burton)
  54. Enter the Dragon
  55. The English Patient
  56. Airplane!
  57. Natural Born Killers
  58. Arthur (Original)
  59. Cast Away
  60. Rebecca
  61. Midnight Express
  62. Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles
  63. Mad Max
  64. Cinema Paradiso
  65. Jurassic Park
  66. The Magnificent Seven (Original)
  67. A Fistful of Dollars
  68. The Hateful Eight
  69. Django Unchained
  70. The Bridge on the River Kwai
  71. True Romance
  72. Blazing Saddles
  73. An American Werewolf in London
  74. Rear Window
  75. Batman (Tim Burton)
  76. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
  77. The Shawshank Redemption
  78. Raiders of the Lost Ark
  79. Guest House Paradiso
  80. Inglourious Basterds
  81. Groundhog Day
  82. Good Will Hunting
  83. Downfall
  84. Grease
  85. Cool Hand Luke
  86. The Ninth Gate
  87. Circle of Friends
  88. The Warriors
  89. West Side Story
  90. The Remains of the Day
  91. Kramer vs. Kramer
  92. The Day of the Jackal
  93. The Fly
  94. A Very Long Engagement
  95. The Unbearable Lightness of Being
  96. Smilla's Feeling for/Sense of Snow
  97. Damage
  98. Whatever Works
  99. From Dusk Till Dawn
  100. The Birds

The Impossible

Director of many Spanish films and current latest Jurassic outing J.A. Bayona brings us this 2012 based-on-true story of a British family living in Japan who go on holiday to Thailand just at the wrong time. Two days after they arrive in December 2004, they get caught up in the destruction and chaotic aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

This has all the makings of an American-style 'disaster movie' but it's been thankfully resisted at every turn. The special effects are actually very short-lived and there's no leaping from News Helicopter to Disaster HQ, for example - content not gathered up for thrill-seeking audiences to feast upon across the pond. The story has been told intelligently and, for once, I'll forgive a certain amount of hand-held camera work which actually does add impact to the chaotic drama.

The cast play their parts excellently, especially the oldest son Lucas, Tom Holland (who seems to be acting in most productions this year, but significantly over the last couple of years as Spider-Man). Young as he may be in this, he embraces the emotions one might expect in this situation convincingly and with style. Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor need no introduction of course and execute their roles near perfectly, as you'd expect.

The drama and angst displayed by all involved draws the viewer in sympathetically, making for a moving experience and my only criticism might be that the last third of the film tends towards turning into a tear-jerker. What saves it from becoming Sunday afternoon Channel 5 slush though is firstly, all the above, but most importantly that it's a true story - and presumably, this is what happened. 'Based-on' is always going to give artistic licence to filmmakers, but from what I read, this has been well researched.

The photography presents interestingly as it often depicts the harrowing scenes without dialogue (and often music) of the victims of the incident, often dead, laying around the streets and hospitals whilst also showing the devastated landscape of a holiday resort, usually vibrant and full of happiness. The storytelling style, much like Cast Away with Tom Hanks, keeps the audience away from the outside world and focuses on the people in the location the whole way through. Recommended.

Sunday, 9 December 2018

The Romanoffs

Matthew Weiner, writer of The Sopranos and Mad Men turns his pen and directorial input to this contemporary anthology series set around the globe featuring eight separate stories about people who believe themselves to be descendants of the Russian royal family.

The Violet Hour
A tale of a racist, lonely, bitter old woman who's used to getting what she wants by any means, including the misuse of wealth. Her nephew treads the fine line between keeping her, and his girlfriend, happy. The girlfriend sees what the aunt is doing to him, he sees the broader picture. When the old woman fires the maid and is sent a resilient new one, she turns out to be a muslim student who by hook or by crook is determined to change the aunt. Twists and turns come along and make for a surprising outcome with dark undertones! Aaron Eckhart plays the nephew and the hugely experienced European actress Marthe Keller plays the old bat, but the very pretty home-help was played by the conversely inexperienced French actress Inès Melab - and pretty much grabbed the headlines with an engaging performance.

The Royal We
A couple are finding their ordinary lives a bit, well, ordinary. She's fed up with his lethargy, he wants a peaceful life. He's getting fed up with the hassle, so generates a situation where they need to spend a weekend apart. They both find grass of a different shade of green during their weekends with the most unexpected of dark outcomes. Corey Stoll plays the male lead beautifully and the get-everywhere girl Kerry Bishé, the female. They are both very convincing as are supporting beauty Janet Montgomery alongside Noah Wyle.

House of Special Purpose
This is a bizarre piece of creative writing in which a Hollywood film star and director go head to head in a battle over what is real and what's a part of the set and film that they're creating for TV over in Europe. There are often no logical answers as to what's going on but maybe I'm just too thick to see them! There's again unexpected turns to keep the viewer on their toes. The spoilt brat film star, played by Christina Hendricks came across from Mad Men with the director but the star of this episode is clearly Isabelle Huppert, who steals every scene.

Expectation
This one is the story of a woman who holds a secret to herself which has been eating away at her for 20 years. Over a single day in New York City, a she challenges herself over it whilst awaiting the impending birth of her first granddaughter. Will the truth out, or will she keep it forever? And is she really the only one who knows? Partly because it's set in Manhattan I guess, it feels very much like a Woody Allen outing, but more also because of the style of character building, revelation of inside information and the complex web that human beings weave by imperfect behaviour and the consequences thereof. Amanda Peet plays the leading role in this one beautifully, ably supported by Jon Tenney and John Slattery.

Bright and High Circle
Another strange one, this, whereby an allegation of inappropriate conduct is being confidentially investigated by the police concerning a wealthy family's piano teacher. The family have to look to themselves to challenge their prejudices and consider their responsibilities to their friends, to whom they have recommended the teacher. It's a story about the chaos which can be created for a person and/or those around them, when an allegation is made. The very experienced House of Cards girl Diane Lane takes the lead, performing beautifully as the woman in the centre of the dilemma, whilst the equally weathered Ron Livingston supports as the husband. The piano teacher is played by Girls actor Andrew Rannells.

Panorama
There's odd, and there's odd! This one's not odd because it's strange but because it doesn't seem to fit - in terms of quality of production and acting. Feels like it was shot on a budget lower than the rest and reflects a 1980's style of soap opera. It's a story about a journalist in Mexico who's trying to expose a clinic claiming that their experimental cancer treatment is a miracle cure. He bumps into an American woman who's there having her son treated and tags along with them, getting to know them and showing them his city. And he falls in love with her. In a day or two! And that's about it really. The two leads are unconvincing and wooden, which is surprising for the accomplished actress Radha Mitchell (Melinda and Melinda, Man on Fire) and there's not really a story to speak of. Very dull and the one, so far, which could easily be missed out!

End of the Line
An American couple pay a Russian agency $50K to adopt a baby. When they get there, all is not quite as it seemed and the events which follow have a challenging effect on their outlook and relationship with each other. It's shot in a European style with visual elements adding significance to the setting and story. The two leads are played very well, especially Kathryn Hahn as the mother, facing some (for her) life changing decisions. One would hope that the picture painted of Russia in the bleak snow and prevailing poverty, giving rise to this kind of human marketplace is not true. A return to form here in the series, though.

The One That Holds Everything
The last episode is a sorry tale of a boy who's mother is taken away from him in a dubious situation in which he suspects his father's mistress. The story unfolds showing the crooked development through life and path which he takes, always blighted by this series of events and very difficult relationship he endures with what appears to be his wicked stepmother. Hugh Skinner plays the central role beautifully and the rest of the cast, mainly Brits, support more than capably. The series ends on a high with this dark and sinister outing.

As for the Romanoff family, this really didn't need to be about them at all. The stories stand alone without any of that theme running through. In some of them, it's virtually ignored - one of the characters maybe revealing most insignificantly that they were from the Russian royal line. It really has somewhere between little and no bearing. But laying that aside, it's generally well produced, with some smart writing throughout. It's witty, dark and engaging and although it's quite a lot of viewing time to plough through all 8, some of which are an hour and half long, I felt at the end as though it had been worth it. So, recommended.

Saturday, 8 December 2018

Pixel 3 ...or Sirocco

Here's an odd one. I’ve got a 25% off Google Play Store voucher. That makes the Pixel 3 128GB £629. Tempting. My biggest concern is battery life on the Pixel. Reviewers who have tested it properly over time report that it’s worse than the Pixel 2, which was bad enough. So I started thinking about it and weighing up the pros ans cons against the Nokia 8 Sirocco again, in hand!

The reasons that I think I've decided against...
1. I don't like the Pixel homescreen elements stuck, resulting in a cramped screen - so we have the resulting madness of using Nova on Vanilla! My sirocco is laid out how I want it, as Android was supposed to be!
2. I don't like lack of Navigation control method - the Pixel has no way to change it. With Pie on the Nokia devices, you still have a choice.
3. I don't like the fact that it looks like an iPhone (and 1001 other clones out there). My Sirocco is unique and stylish like none other.
4. I'm really not bothered about the camera like others. I sometimes think that everyone is forgiving everything else just for that.
5. Great though it is to have (faux) stereo speakers, they distort at top volume - the Razer doesn't. But yes, a point over the Sirocco.
6. There's no HDMI-out. Sirocco does have.
7. Only 4GB RAM - Sirocco has 6GB.
8. I never use Qi charging, even when available. Sirocco has this too, if I did.
9. IP rating - I've never had to rely on this - but Sirocco has it anyway.
10. The difference between SD845 and 835 is not significant enough (for my use) for it to factor in over the Sirocco.
11. There are bugs (latest one screen flashing) on the Pixel (yes, I know, they will sort them), but none on Sirocco. Silky smooth - never a glitch.
12. Latest software? Well AndroidOne is only one step behind. Supposedly!
13. Neither have 3.5mm audio-out.
14. The Sirocco has a preferable 16:9 ratio screen and is better in the hand with wider keyboard.
15. The Sirocco has a brighter AMOLED.
16. They both have 128GB locked-in, no microSD.
17. Sirocco has better performing battery at 30+ hours and 8+ hrs SoT
18. Both have Always-On screens, though Sirocco display is bigger and brighter. Now Listening of the Pixel is the only advantage.

After all that, it's down to the 'unique' features in software of the Pixel that TBH I never use! I can't remember the last time I spoke to my phone. I don't want WellBeing telling me when to do what, not Winding me Down to bedtime. I'll make my own decisions thank you! I've decided against. I think. But I so hate to pass up a serious bargain!

Friday, 7 December 2018

The Sinner (Series 2)

I reviewed Series 1 at https://goo.gl/Lucpzw and concluded that it was a good drama/thriller but it did drag out a bit towards the end. This second series certainly doesn't and is well worth a viewing.

As always, it's helpful to have the context of the first series when watching a sequel, but it's not critical here. The story does stand alone, but with hooks to the previous, not least of which is the central policeman played excellently again by Bill Pullman, as the writers develop his character.

The storyline is one centred around a small boy who is accused of a crime, which he appears to have committed, how the services deal with that, the police investigate and, as you'd expect, nothing is quite as it seems as the story unfolds.

There's a 'commune' involved at the centre of what's happened and a good number of people who have been taken in by its leader, brainwashed and warped by strange ideas, so the theme of religious abuse relevant to the first series is maintained - though this time not so much strictly 'religion' but rather 'cult'.

Jessica Biel played the lead in the first series but seems have become creator and producer of this second outing, not appearing in it herself. The female lead is taken by Carrie Coon, fresh out of Fargo Series 3, in which she was excellent, this time not playing on the side of the law enforcement agency but significant other in the life of the boy. She plays off against Pullman beautifully and the pair would have stolen the limelight but for the child actor playing the accused.

The 14 year old Elisha Henig fulfills that role, though he looks significantly younger, and plays it quite brilliantly. The show is worth watching just for his performance really. He's been well directed of course, but his acting is top notch as he expresses the anxiety, horror and chaos of his situation. The way in which he holds himself, looks to camera, facial control and position are beautifully executed. This TV actor has a cracking career ahead of him for such a young and, relatively, unknown force.

Exclusive to Netflix again, it's out now and well worth watching. It's delivered in 8 x 45 minute chunks and will certainly hold your attention throughout. Recommended.

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Does Size Matter?

Having just returned the OnePlus 6T, I pause to consider what made me do it. What made my brain decide on the fact that this wasn't the phone for me, regardless of the incredibly positive review that I gave it just a day or two ago. My conclusion is size. It doesn't fit with me, somehow.

Regardless of the amazing specs, the completely up to date software, the very positive Nova Launcher experience in collusion with the device, the huge internal storage to meet all my digital hoarding needs, the big battery and the bright screen, it's not keeping my SIM Card. And I think the reason is back to this physical size thing.

Having established that, I took a moment to consider that conclusion based on what devices I do own and have kept - rather than selling or returning - testing the theory against the hard facts. Why have I kept which devices, which device gets my SIM Card most of the time, what is it about the physical size, mass, design and shape that has an impact on, for me, the ongoing usability. So here's the in-hand device summary as at December 2018 and my thoughts on why and why not!

Razer Phone
As you might know, I love it! It doesn't get my SIM Card because it's too big. The sound is fantastic and I love to have it around for playing with - but it's too big for my comfortable use and it only has 64GB storage which means the required use of memory cards. The device is very 'boxy' with sharp corners and pretty heavy too. I thought that I liked 'boxy' but when it comes down to a phone for the pocket, maybe I don't. Battery life is really very good, so no complaints there. Software is lagging behind a bit with 8.1 still, but at least October security recently arrived. The 16:9 screen ratio is great and goes some way to making it usable as my phone, but it's big!

Nokia 8 (128GB)
This is a beautifully sized and shaped phone. Certainly not too big, though I might have given it more time if it didn't have the chin and forehead - the former holding pretty outdated capacitive navigation controls. It's got a fabulous 128GB plus microSD, so storage is really not an issue. Battery life is a concern, though real-world tests seem to defy that. It's nicely sculptured with lovely design, curves and a premium feel. This phone is certainly more likely to get my SIM Card than bigger ones, but is let down by other factors most of the time.

Nokia 7 Plus
This is a lovely phone, which I think I would be using if it weren't, again, just feeling too big for me. It's very nicely made - a real quality feel and super finish. The performance defies the specs and Android One at the helm keeps things clean and up to date. (...well, unless you live in the UK, it seems!) Fabulous battery life, memory expansion option, though only 64GB built-in, and an all-round excellent package. But for me, again, it doesn't get my SIM Card because it's, again, just a bit too big for my liking.

Nokia 8 Sirocco
This is a gorgeous phone, as I've said many times, and ticks so many boxes that it gets my SIM Card a lot of the time. It's a perfect 16:9 5.5" device with, like the 8, a battery which defies the expected performance. But what draws me to it is the overall form factor, size, shape and design. This is a phone-sized-phone, possibly more so than any other I have used in recent times. It has a gorgeous screen, 128GB (though no expansion), Qi charging, waterproofing, HDMI-out and is usually right up to date with Android One and software security, though still waits Pie. The reason it gets a lot of my SIM Card time though is the size. It just feels like it's the size a phone should be, instead of a giant slab, verging on phablet.

Moto Z3 Play
This is an odd one because I really couldn't use it as it is - just the phone. It's a horrible thin nasty shape, too big for its thickness - and this is where we come to mass. It's thin and light and in the hand and just feels nasty - in the pocket, too big and 'tall'. But, and I bet you know what I'm going to say, put a battery pack Mod on the back and somehow, I'm not sure how really, it makes the whole package just 'feel' right. It makes the back 'filled out' and the weight 'just right' for the size of the phone. It should always be used with a battery Mod as far as I'm concerned. The 2220mAh versions are nicely 'rounded' and make things feel perfect, but the 3490mAh TurboPower version, though it sticks out a bit more, has a fabulous grippy back and still makes the whole package perfect in the hand and pocket. And then there's the family of Mods!

Summary
The Pixel 2XL was oddly too big for me, though in terms of size on the face of it, it wasn't much bigger than the Moto Z3 Play. The OnePlus 6T, LG V30, Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus, Note 9, Honor Play, Huawei Mate 10 Pro, the same. And if they're not too big, they're too tall! So why are these devices too big/tall? What am I doing with a phone so that the difference between 'just right' and 'too big' is a slender, almost undefinable area?

Well, firstly, I do actually spend most of my time inputting in front of a Windows laptop or Chromebook. I can't seem to shake off that clear preference, when, yes, I know, the rest of the world is going Mobile. So, regardless of what I say about wanting all my data with me, digital hoarding, I really don't need to. I really don't need to be concerned about battery, never being far from electricity.

So the phone that's best for me really is a device that doesn't weigh me down, doesn't stick out of my pocket and yet gives enough screen space to be able to read reasonably with a decent sized font and layout. Something where I can carry as much data that makes me happy and that is going to last me through the day and beyond bedtime.

I don't know what the answer is, but for now, my SIM Card spends most of its time in the Nokia 8 Sirocco followed closely by the Moto Z3 Play. I've come to accept that the phone I carry with me is going to be no audio-powerhouse as there isn't one (apart from the Moto with a Mod) and have to compromise until my perfect device comes along. But for now, though, size does matter and that's why I couldn't live with the OnePlus 6T and head back for the Moto/Sirocco combo. Nice to have the luxury of a choice.

Ted's Top 100 Albums

Music is probably one of the most subjective and personal areas of preference with which many people associate. Preferences are often not necessarily about the music itself or the style of music itself, but what any given song or album has meant to a person during a period of their life. The tiny bit of the human brain that actually does anything readily associates sound by time and event and allocates to memory the incoming music.

For these reasons, if you asked someone what their best 100 songs were, or best 100 albums, they would take into account factors such as these if they were being honest and not trying to create an image for other people to compartmentalise them! Who on earth would have a family or children's musical in their list, for example? Yet, I have a few in there because they conjure up memories and enjoyment and association with events - and I still love to listen.

Anyway, enough waffle, here's my list! And no, I can't put them in order of preference - simply because, on any given day my preference will be different and the order would need to be shuffled! So alphabetic it is! Why not post your best 100 somewhere?
  1. Abba, Arrival
  2. Tori Amos, Little Earthquakes
  3. Barclay James Harvest, Live Tapes
  4. Carole Bayer Sager, Sometimes Late at Night
  5. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, OST
  6. The Beatles, 1
  7. The Beatles, Abbey Road
  8. Black Sabbath, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath
  9. Blondie, Parallel Lines
  10. David Bowie, Aladdin Sane
  11. David Bowie, Diamond Dogs
  12. David Bowie, Heroes
  13. David Bowie, Hunky Dory
  14. David Bowie, Lodger
  15. David Bowie, Low
  16. David Bowie, The Man Who Sold the World
  17. David Bowie, Scary Monsters and Super Creeps
  18. David Bowie, Space Oddity
  19. David Bowie, Stage
  20. David Bowie, Station to Station
  21. David Bowie, Young Americans
  22. David Bowie, Ziggy Stardust
  23. Sarah Brightman, La Luna
  24. Budgie, If I were Brittania I'd Waive the Rules
  25. Kate Bush, The Kick Inside
  26. Kate Bush, Never Forever
  27. Vanessa Carlton, Be Not Nobody
  28. Toni Childs, House of Hope
  29. Beverley Craven, Love Scenes
  30. Cheap Trick, at Budokan
  31. Chris de Burgh, Spanish Train and Other Stories
  32. Cœur de Pirate, Cœur de Pirate
  33. Miles Davis, Kind Of Blue
  34. Dire Straits, Brothers in Arms
  35. Eagles, Hotel California
  36. ELO, Discovery
  37. ELO, Out of the Blue
  38. ELO, Time
  39. Enya, Shepherd Moons
  40. Enya, Watermark
  41. Fleetwood Mac, Rumours
  42. Peter Gabriel, 3
  43. Garbage, Garbage
  44. Garbage, Version 2.0
  45. The Human League, Dare
  46. Ian Hunter, All American Alien Boy
  47. Ian Hunter, The Artful Dodger
  48. Ian Hunter, Ian Hunter
  49. Ian Hunter, Overnight Angels
  50. Ian Hunter, Strings Attached
  51. Joe Jackson, I'm The Man
  52. Joe Jackson, Night and Day
  53. Elton John, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
  54. Norah Jones, Come Away With Me
  55. Carole King, Tapestry
  56. Led Zeppelin, IV
  57. Little Shop of Horrors, OST
  58. Madness, One Step Beyond
  59. Bob Marley and the Wailers, Uprising
  60. Meat Loaf, Bat out of Hell
  61. Moody Blues, Days of Future Passed
  62. Alanis Morissette, Jagged Little Pill
  63. Mott the Hoople, All the Young Dudes
  64. Mott the Hoople, The Hoople
  65. Mott the Hoople, Mott
  66. The New Seekers, I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing
  67. Alan Parsons Project, Eye in the Sky
  68. Alan Parsons Project, Pyramid
  69. Alan Parsons Project, The Turn of a Friendly Card
  70. Madeleine Peyroux, Careless Love
  71. Oliver!, OST
  72. Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon
  73. Pink Floyd, The Final Cut
  74. Pink Floyd, Meddle
  75. Pink Floyd, The Wall
  76. Pink Floyd, Wish You Were Here
  77. The Police, Outlandos D’Amour
  78. The Police, Regatta De Blanc
  79. Queen, A Day at the Races
  80. Queen, A Night at the Opera
  81. Queen, News of the World
  82. Queen, Queen I
  83. Queen, Queen II
  84. Queen, Queen Live Killers
  85. Queen, Sheer Heart Attack
  86. Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Getaway
  87. Lou Reed, Transformer
  88. Rush, 2112
  89. Regina Spektor, Remember Us to Life
  90. Simon and Garfunkel, Bridge Over Troubled Waters
  91. The Sound of Music, OST
  92. The Specials, The Specials
  93. Steely Dan, Can’t Buy a Thrill
  94. Steely Dan, Gaucho
  95. Steely Dan, Katie Lied
  96. Supertramp, Breakfast in America
  97. Terrorvision, How to Make Friends and Influence People
  98. Rick Wakeman, Piano Portraits
  99. Roger Waters, Amused to Death
  100. Roger Waters, Radio K.A.O.S.

Monday, 3 December 2018

Godless

This Netflix western is quirky and different, but enjoyable. A mix of action, drama, guns-for-boys macho western stuff with a dark side, vicious and gory in places.

The basic story is that we're presented with a town full of women because all the husbands were killed in a mining accident. A company comes in to try and buy the mine from the women, whilst Mr Nasty (and his gang of bandits) is hell-bent on punishing anyone who harbours a lad who he'd taken under his wing years ago, but who had fled because Mr Nasty was so nasty!

Jeff Daniels is passively scary, though odd that he seemed invincible, pretty much! Lots of flashbacks which was at times confusing, though helpful that he lost an arm halfway through to timestamp scenes! The actors around him did very well and most were convincing. The cast was drawn from a range of actors with various track records and success elsewhere. Noteworthy leads were Brits Downton Abbey girl Michelle Dockery and '71's Jack O'Connell.

The Eastwood-style showdown outcome siege and cliche of the 'draw' was gloriously predictable! There's some dubious PC stuff going on like lesbianism, type-cast American Indians and African Americans, which the viewer can make up their own minds about. The sets, scenery and photography is lovely and well executed. Some of the visuals were well thought out and use of landscape and focus embellished atmosphere and tension.

Worth a watch. It's a good enough yarn which has been pretty well put together. It's slow at times, but that reflects a lot of the pace of stuff of the era, I guess! Seven episodes in the series of various lengths.

Sunday, 2 December 2018

OnePlus 6T (256GB)

One of the questions here is for OnePlus 6 owners potentially upgrading to the 6T. And another is for those without, but seeking fabulous value for money in a world gone mad with thousand-pound phones. I don't have a 6 so that rules me out of one of the questions - but for those who have, it's likely to be a dilemma. Or maybe not! Read on...

The OnePlus 6T is staggeringly attractive as a proposition. Not only because of the cost, aligned with storage options and specs, but because it genuinely does have unique functions which some might prefer over the offerings of so-called flagships for loads more cash. At time of writing, we're talking about a 256GB 8GB RAM version for £579 in the UK whereas a similar (in many ways) Samsung offering in their lineup is £1,029, so we're talking getting on for half the price. But yes, there's stuff missing...

Hyperstore
The huge attraction for me - and only reason really that I'm considering this (now that I no longer need HDMI-out in a phone) is the 256GB storage. Yes, I know, my situation is fairly unusual in that I don't have ready access to a broadband router and have to pay for cellular, but even so - am I the only one who actually, regardless of that, gains enjoyment from freedom from connectivity and wanting to carry a large library of media without having to trust a potentially flaky microSD Card? I know I'm not! So yes, no microSD Card slot, but at this size, who needs it! There's also USB-OTG for those even more magpie-like than me! Incidentally, there's a dual Nano-SIM tray as standard, which is good for those who insist on having that facility.

Sizing
Anyway, back to the device itself and first impressions out of the box. It's a big glass-aluminium sandwich device. Very slightly smaller in each direction than the Nokia 7 Plus, slightly bigger than the OnePlus 6 and pretty much the same size as a Pixel 2XL (which I found to seem strangely bigger than it was). There's not much to choose between these classes of device though - there seems to be a footprint that many manufacturers are aligning sizing to - and it then becomes a case how they've used that mass to differentiate their offering. It's substantial in weight, too, at 185g not far short of the Razer Phone! It feels premium in the hand and although I can just about meet my finger and thumb around the edges, it's certainly not a comfortable phone to use in one hand. However, some software tweaks, which I'll come to, have tried to address that.

Optic AMOLED
For the OnePlus 6T, the size is certainly very much about getting the screen to cover as much of the front as possible over the others I mention above. The 6.41 inch Optic AMOLED 1080p tall-ratio panel is what fills that front. Bigger than the OnePlus 6, which was size enough, and the Optic bit is apparently a Super AMOLED Samsung-sourced screen to which they've added their tweaks. It makes it even more colourful, vibrant and bright (apparently) and into the bargain saves battery power. Not sure about the real-world benefit of all that, but we'll see! The screen is indeed very bright, much like a Samsung phone would be and placed up against the Nokia 8 for reference, it's not quite as bright, but not far off.

All in the Mind
There must be some psychology at work here because, maybe the shape of the device, the design, the curves - it just doesn't seem/feel as big as any of the devices listed above - even though technically it's about the same. I shrug my shoulders. It's beautifully made with cold metal and glass, the buttons feel firm and solid and it has a real premium feel. The Alert Slider is present on the right-side at the top, for which the positions can be assigned for actions in Settings. This is a great feature which will, no doubt at all, be disappearing sometime soon - along with any other physical buttons and switches - but for now, kudos to them for keeping it going. In the box there's a 'smoked' TPU case. Which is good for protection, but actually it's very slippery. I got another. There's also one of those nasty screen protectors in place from the factory, which can be ripped off (with all speed) and leave the owner musing about why they bother with Gorilla Glass. But that's another topic which seems to divide opinion!

Powerhouse
The OnePlus 6T comes armed with a Snapdragon 845 chipset, 8GB RAM and 256GB storage (in this case) though there are variations on the storage and RAM available, 128GB and 8/6GB down the line. Those who've been hangin' around this Manor for some years might know that the last time I even held a OnePlus device, it was the OnePlus X and I was very much in love with the hardware but horribly let down by the company (along with all the other X owners) over software updates. Promises of OS updates and Security Updates, that just never came, then eventually they wrote it off and made the devices all but useless. Well, it seems that the modern OnePlus company are specifically applying themselves to ensuring purchasers of their devices are not in that situation again and so far, so good. Updates are coming and promises kept. The 6T comes with Android Pie 9.0 out of the box and September 2018 Google Security Update, and as I write on 30th November, now updated also to November. So we'll see how long December takes to arrive.

Breathing Easy
OxygenOS, the child of Cyanogen, kind of, is the very thin layer applied over Vanilla Android and the additional software and tweaks they add, so far, seem to be genuine enhancements to the experience - in a Motorola type way - keeping things clean and more straight-forward, presumably, for them to update. The OnePlus Switch App, which can be downloaded on your old device (iOS too) and invoked in the 6T pulls across all the data and apps from the old to new and seems to work really well over Wifi, though it doesn't reallocate screen-layout and folders etc. The App looks very pretty and reminiscent of Google's own tool in action, using a cable. One small problem is that you can't get it going until you get through the setup procedure - and by then you've signed into your Google account and decided if you want to restore from the cloud, another device or not - which brings this software in too late! But it can be invoked afterwards without any apparent doubling up of data and over this home broadband connection it seems to run at about 1GB per minute.

Biometrics
I suppose we'd better get the elephant out of the way first - the under-glass fingerprint scanner which seems to have got some bad press as not working very well. The setup procedure is cumbersome, long-winded and fussy. Once it's done, it seems to work OK. It sometimes misses if I don't place my finger firmly on the target and I quite often have to do it twice. But it gets there. Fortunately, there's also Face Unlock which works really well. By the time the phone is lifted from sleeping or double-tapped to wake up the screen, lifted in front of the face for action, it's unlocked. There's also the pattern/pin/code if you really get stuck, but the combination of the methods seems to work fine.

Not Always On
Sadly, there's no always-on screen. There's an ambient screen setting where clocks and info can be chosen but the screen does turn off - and you have to move it, lift or double-tap it to see the information, except for when a Notification is incoming, when it can be set to light up too. Moving it works quite well, but I'd rather have it always on - and with this big battery and AMOLED screen, I can't see why that can't be so. Maybe they'll add it later. So, if you nudge the phone you get to see clock, day, date, battery state, unread Notification icons (though not active) and any on-screen message you have set it to show via Settings. Oh yes, and there's no Notification LED either!

Early Learning Centre
Speaking of which, neither does the ambient screen give access to music playing controls, though you can assign a series of Gestures to control music, and other stuff. Draw a > and it skips forward a track, < for back, drag two fingers down to Pause, then again Play. Actually, when you Pause it in this way, it does seem to then display the track name that is paused for a few seconds. When you dive into Settings and Quick Gestures, you can also assign the drawing of an O, V, S, M and W to pretty much whatever you like, so very customisable - and they always seem to work for me, first time, every time.

Homescreen
Now we're faced with the OxygenOS Homescreen setup, which is pretty basic but does allow for some customisation. Swipe-right and you get 'Shelf' which is an adjustable collection of widgets, really. Nothing that you can't put on your homescreen by just adding widgets in the usual way - the only difference is that it's got its own special area/page. I can't help feeling that this has been put in to make Apple migrators feel at home. Fortunately, long-pressing the Homescreen gives the user Settings in which you can turn the whole page off.

Settings Galore
That same Menu provides for another bunch of stuff, useful stuff, this Vanilla lover will admit! Swipe-down from anywhere on the screen to get the Notification shade instead of having to reach up to the top, double-tap anywhere on the homescreen to lock the device, change grid size and icon size on Homescreen, notification dots on homescreen icons and even access to changing the Icon set by changing installed (or supplied by OnePlus) packs. I did try to install a 3rd party pack, but it seems that some (maybe the free ones) don't seem to work often. Perhaps a paid one would be better - in fact one PSC Community Member did confirm that this is the case and successfully changed their icons into Pixel-style ones. The Notification Panel is almost pure Android Pie as far as I can see with all those blue-on-grey iOS-style big round buttons, editable with all the quick-switches you'd expect to see. When Notifications come in, they're just the same interactive type that you'd see anywhere with Pie and it all works very well, just as you'd expect.

Teardrop Explodes (well, it can!)
Staying at the top of the screen, there's what's been called a 'teardrop' notch. Whatever your view on Notches at the top of phones, this is a very small one, a rounded version of the Essential Phone implementation, sat in the middle. It's tiny - and it doesn't really matter. You can draw a line under it if it annoys you in Settings and so the screen ends just before it and the icons then appear above it as if it's not there. To be honest, I've been going full-screen on YouTube content, stretching it out, and the consciousness of its presence dwindles as you engage with the media. Storm in a teacup. Unless it's Pixel 3XL sized of course! You can also choose a few aspects of what appears and doesn't appear in the Status bar via Settings again, tweaking the look of the battery and clock information and even removing icons if you don't want to see them. I removed the NFC one, for example. I know it's always on for Google Pay, so I don't need to see it there all the time. Again, useful additions to Vanilla, not bloat and fluff.

More Choices
The Navigation bar elements can be changed between 'traditional' Back/Home/Recents, Pixel-style Pie implementation with Pill and context-sensitive Back on the left or get rid of them altogether, maximising screen space and using gestures to control all actions. Choosing which one you use may indeed present something of a learning curve, but at least there's a choice, unlike the current Pixel experience.

Launcher
I've covered a fair bit above about how the OxygenOS Launcher and Homescreen looks, behaves and for what the user has options, but I have ultimately decided to install Nova Prime. There's nothing wrong with the Oxygen experience and most users would be very happy with it. I just happen to like Nova and have my Homescreen layout and folders saved as I want them, ready to download. At the end of the day, Nova is more flexible and powerful, with more options and for the few quid it costs, it should be on everyone's list. Little things like the inevitable doubling-up of apps for no reason by OnePlus - Calendar, Calculator and Clock - yes, they are installed, but Nova lets me hide them from the App Drawer whereas Oxygen does not. I don't want to look at them, but as I say, most people wouldn't be bothered. We'll come back to Settings and options later, but for now a sound break!

Speaker
Yes, singular. It fires out of the bottom of the device, as do most these days, but the question is about the overall quality and volume. First thing to say is that OnePlus have stripped out the equaliser function from Google Play Music and assume people will us their central control. Trouble with their central control is that it doesn't control the speaker output, only headphones. Grrrr. So it's a case of installing a third party Music App which does have an equaliser that OnePlus can't strip out! There's no supplied Music App from OnePlus - which would be OK if they'd left Google Play Music alone! Anyway, fortunately, the default sound coming out of the single speaker is certainly very loud indeed, like Razer Phone loud, with a quality which is really isn't at all bad. As usual, it depends what you're listening to, but I really had thought that this was going to be one of the sacrifice points when I ordered the phone. But no! It's actually very good and loud - not quite party music loud, but certainly lounge-sized room filling and no evidence of horrible-tinny even at maximum volume. According to XDA, "The Swedish audio outfit Dirac [whom OnePlus have partnered with here] specialises in sound optimizations. Their Power Sound technology aims to give small speakers a more full-sized audio experience. Music sounds more natural even at high volumes. Bass is tighter and more powerful. Sound quality, in general, is improved for vocal, music, and video." I have no complaints really. It's not Razer, but it's perfectly good and amongst the best of the following bunch.

Solitaire
I suppose I had better continue to say that there's no 3.5mm audio-out socket (can I stop soon?) which seems to be the main topic of users feeling let down, particularly after the company lampooned Apple for having done it. Anyway, as you might know, I don't really care. There's a dongle in the box with a passive DAC inside, which I'm happy to slip into my wallet. I have to admit to being confused about dongles and DAC and output and what dongle you use for what and whether or not the phone itself has DAC, so I'll just report what my ears hear in testing! OnePlus released a new set of USB-C (revolting, claustrophobic in-ear) buds (bullets) with the 6T, but none in the box - they want another £16. According to XDA again, Dirac "also worked with OnePlus on the Bullet earphones to improve the embedded speaker." Anyway, back to my ears and armed with a bunch of dongles from Moto, Razer, Sony, OnePlus, Nokia, these are my findings. The bottom line is that they all sound pretty much the same - really good quality, rich and loud - except the Razer dongle, which lifts it to a different level of bass, richness, depth and volume. The Audio Controls then become available via the central Settings Sound Menu and the output can be tweaked, some of which really does make a difference. So I guess that armed with a decent dongle with an active DAC inside it's much more boosted and powerful. However, I'm fairly sure that most people will be very happy with the great sound even without that.

Camera
I found the camera to be surprisingly basic when I fired it up. Then I discovered the pull-up menu! There is a 2x zoom facility and a Portrait mode, which appears to work as well as any, Google lens installed (and actually seems to work better than most I've tried) and a Night mode which encourages the user to hold the device still for a dark scene, seems to take a series of them, processes the shots in software then presents the best result it can. You can certainly get a decent shot from it in dark conditions from my testing so better to have than not, even if there are image quality payoffs. It also seems to create a massive file/files, so watch out with auto-backup to Google Photos over cellular! The slo-mo 720p video at 480fps is good fun to play with, the close focus is pretty good at about 2 inches, there's a horizon leveler built-in, smile detection and a range of useful options without resorting to Japanese teen culture Sony daftness! The main camera is a 16MP f1.7 unit with OIS alongside a secondary 20MP f1.7 one and the selfie is a 16MP f2. It's a nice simple camera compared to many and the results are certainly good enough for the purposes the vast majority of users will want for them.

Battery Life
The battery has been increased from the OnePlus 6's 3300mAh to 3700mAh. Now, I never had a 6, so I can't speak from personal experience, but others I have read seemed to be saying that it wasn't great. I've been pounding this OnePlus 6T for the last 48 hours and my general, short-term impression is that yes, there's generally no danger of anyone not making it through to bedtime unless they are just watching video all day! The normal user would get well into Day 2 before hunting a charger. And the charger in the box is a Fast Charger (used to be Dash) and provides 20W which in practice means 50% charge in half an hour and a full one in an hour. Smashing! Kind of makes up for the lack of Qi charging.

More Settings
OK, now back to the plethora of settings - deep breath! Starting with Reading Mode, which you can turn on to turn the display mono, for reading. Or you can assign it to come on automatically with only certain apps - like Kindle, I guess. You can assign a Dark Theme (and accents) across the UI, Light or Colourful - which seems to be just the Light Theme with coloured icons for items in Settings. This Theme doesn't make it out to apps of course, but with Google hot on the trail of doing this themselves, a true dark themed device can't be fair away, assisting battery with the AMOLED screen. Talking of which, there is, of course, here under Pie, the Adaptive brightness which is supposed to learn from your manual corrections to what it thinks the level should be, over time. There are a couple of options to use for the system font, along with the usual sizing adjustments for both font and display. Similar to Adaptive Brightness there's Adaptive Battery which learns from your usage pattern, guesses when you're likely to charge it, works out how to hold back power etc. Again, a time investment is needed here if the user is to benefit fully from these adaptive functions. There are 'utilities' such as a Gaming Mode which allows the user to tell the phone exactly how to behave whilst the person is gaming, whether to be interrupted with calls, override auto-brightness, blocking notifications and so on. There's a quick-launch addition to the on-screen fingerprint scanner allowing the user to long-press the scanner and a bunch of assignable apps pop up for quick-access. Scheduled power of/on, which I personally love and have set to turn off at 1am and back on at 8am as I can't be bothered with DND! This list goes on and on - and, as I said at the outset, it doesn't feel like it's completely taken over the device, like it does in a Samsung, Huawei, Honor or LG - it feels like it's additional and part of the package, not meandering off from Vanilla but enhancing it productively.

Oodles to Love
There's loads to love here for those who are going to cash in on the very competitive price in terms of raw hardware and turn a blind eye to the handful of items that have been ditched to make it so. There will be those to whom those super-premium features are worth paying £400 more for, but the rest of us will be pragmatic about that and live without Qi, live without a 3.5mm audio-out socket, live without an IP rating, less than perfect camera results etc. whilst making the best use of and enjoying the massive (here) storage capacity, good battery, blazingly fast operation, fast charging, excellent screen and up-to-date biometrics. Yes, there's compromise here, but you can't get away from the value for money argument and what you get for the price being a cracking proposition. Available in Thunder Purple, Mirror Black, Midnight Black, it's highly recommended here.

Monday, 26 November 2018

Xiaomi Mi Note 3

This is the first time I've had a Xiaomi phone (or any device, come to think of it) in my hand - and like all good buses, they come along in two's! Thanks to Mike Warner for sending these over for me to to have a look.

The Mi Mix is a giant device, very nice indeed, and Mike has imported this then reflashed it so that it's now running LineageOS. Another first for me. I'm so impressed with that, that I am sending over another of my devices to him and I'm going to ask him to put it on that. When it comes back, I'll be keen to review LineageOS (from a user's point of view). But for now, it's the Mi Note 3, centre stage.

Bling
The first thing the eyes are bombarded with on opening the box is the bling! It's like a shimmering mirror and sea of oscillating blues on the back! One could argue that it's tacky, when another would declare beauty! It's very shiny and bright though, so until a case is applied, it won't be missed! The second reaction is iPhone. Yes, it's another Chinese manufacturer making their phone look like an iPhone. I muse on this sometimes and usually conclude that it's meeting the need of the masses who can't afford an iPhone but want to be seen by their peers (at school?) to be a part of that iPhone set. Apart from the argument that the design is good and well thought out, which could be true. My standpoint is that it just makes the world a less interesting place when all phones look the same. Anyway, I won't bore you again with that one!

Flattening
Now then, it's another glass/aluminium sandwich, of medium weight, fits in the hand nicely with glass curving with subtlety around the back but more slightly on the front, ensuring that the screen is flat. I'm swinging back from curvier to flat these days, I must admit. The curved edges of various phones including the Samsung devices and my beloved Nokia 8 Sirocco are very pretty to look at and make for glorious jewellery, but the flat panel is much better pragmatically.

Tour
While we're here, the front panel is a 5.5" 1080p IPS LCD with a 16:9 ratio and protected by Gorilla Glass 4. The device feels like it should have a 2:1 panel really, because there's a Chin and Forehead, unusually these days. No attempt has been made to pull the screen out top and bottom, nor make the device any smaller in those directions. It almost feels like the Chin and Forehead have been made a feature! But it's OK with me. It actually has a Nokia 8 feel about it with the capacitive cluster in the chin, providing for a Moto-style 'pebble' fingerprint scanner cum Home button and one 'dot' each side for Recents and Back (which you can thankfully switch in Settings). Up the top is a selfie and speaker, on the bottom another speaker and USB-C port. Right side has volume rocker and power, left, Dual SIM Card Tray and on the glossy back, on the left, there's two flush camera lens holes and a twin-LED flash.

Screen
The LCD panel is bright enough without being amazing. Next to the Nokia 8 it looks decidedly dull, but that's a bit of an unfair match! Outside in an overcast UK day today it is perfectly usable - though how it would cope with bright sunshine I can't tell. Basic Settings can be adjusted (warm, standard, cool) along with Contrast controls - but they're all a bit basic and don't really seem to make much difference to me. But having said that, the colours on the screen are bright and pleasant enough without being anywhere near Samsung Saturated or Sony Black! The average user would be very happy with the screen.

I've Got a Little Behind!
The Note 3 is currently running MIUI 9 with Android 7.1.1. and May 2018 Google Security, which feels like a disappointment, though I do remember Mike saying something about MIUI 10 and Oreo so, given that he's a ROM tinkerer, maybe an off-the-shelf unit would be different. Maybe he could comment.

Under the Bonnet
The phone is driven by the Snapdragon 660, which we know from the likes of the Nokia 7 Plus and represents a good trade-off between performance and power efficiency. It seems to trot along quite nicely, multi-tasking adequately with the 6GB RAM and ordinary users won't be waiting around. The 64GB Storage and no microSD Card slot, however, in my view, is a loss - though it seems that I'm alone in this respect - as everyone is being driven to not having any data on their device rather permanently linked up to the cloud and paying (in one way or another) for data transfer on-the-fly. The more time goes on, the more old fashioned I get to feel! (I am aware that there is a version of this unit out there with 128GB, which, for me, makes a huge difference - even without a memory card.)

Faux Functions
I was surprised to find that stereo speakers are present - well, that becoming-popular 'faux' stereo which pushes high-end sounds out of the earpiece and the rest from the bottom (main) speaker actually. The overall sound experience is a bit weak and tinny at top volume. Drop it down a bit and things improve but this is not a ghettoblaster, by any stretch of the imagination! It's perfectly functional and, in actual fact, the stereo effect is much more impressive than the overall sound output. This 'faux' stereo thing does, somehow, much as it sticks in the throat to admit, seem to work. On the face of it unbalanced and, well, just not right - but you can't argue with results and at this tiny pocket-sized computer level, it exceeds expectation. So, OK for most non-party room-filling uses.

Dangle Dongle
There is no 3.5mm audio-out socket present, they, like most others, going with USB-C. The output via headphones is 24-bit and I tried it with what dongles I had present and it sounded amazingly good - but then I'm no audiophile and I always seem to say that, whatever phone I try! I will say that it sounded even more meaty and loud with the dongle that came with my Razer Phone over others, so what that says about dongles, phones, built-in DAC, DAC-in-dongle and compatibility, I'll leave for you to decide with your friendly sound engineer! Bluetooth 5 is present with A2DP and LE, but no aptX.

Audio Control
There are Music and Video Apps supplied by Xiaomi and they seem to work well. Like Huawei and Honor devices, there is no global sound controls, no Dolby, no control of equalisation of sound outside of specific apps - and then many of them are locked to headphone use only. A person could get used to a system-wide audio control like Dolby Atmos, running in the background, applying its settings to anything that is being played through speakers or headphones at all times - then feel very short-changed to discover that their next device has no such control, bringing less enjoyment. Shame.

Straighten Up
The main camera is a 12MP f1.8 unit with a 'usual' field of view with OIS, and the second, 12MP f2.6 2x Optical zoom with AF. There's a simpler 16MP selfie camera round the front. The camera interface is again very iOS, but laying that aside it's very functional and clear (point taken!) and has a few extras like vignetting effects, beautify, detection of groups in selfies and a 'straighten' mode which I've never seen before! Like a compass, I guess. Point the camera at something where straight lines are present and it adjusts the frame of the picture about the be taken to make sure it's 'square'. If you point it at something with no straight lines, it just disappears. That's useful! Close focus is really not bad at about 2 inches and then there's that 2x optical zoom. You can also shoot 4K video at 30fps. Results are excellent as far as I'm concerned, for a tiny camera in a tiny pocket device, until you get to low-light - then the budget nature of the hardware shows its face. But for most people, most of the time, for most purposes, it'll be just fine.

Day and a Bit
The phone has a 3500mAh battery, which, for the size of the device is really big and though I don't have time to test that thoroughly, early indications suggest that it's perfectly good to get most people doing most average things to bedtime and beyond. Scouring commentary around the internet it seems that most users are agreeing with that appraisal. It's equipped with Quick Charge 3 which means, in this case, and hour and a half from flat and 50% in half an hour.

Finger on Chin
The fingerprint scanner on the front chin works well, setup is quick and simple and execution fast - first time, every time. There is of course no other fancy unlocking stuff at this price-point like Iris or Face recognition but there is lift-to-wake and DTTW, wake for Notifications and even wake with volume buttons! More importantly - and not to be taken for granted with devices out of China, NFC is present, which means Google Pay will work, along with the other NFC benefits. As Xiaomi establish a foothold in the West, this is certainly something that they're not going to leave out in future. And finally, an IR port for controlling your TV and other devices in the old fashioned way!

MIUI
Saving the best(?) until last, we turn to MIUI. Big gulp. No prizes for guessing how much I like this thick, all-encompassing, plastered overlay on top of Vanilla Android. Yes, I know, I've made mention of the boring nature of Vanilla sometimes and that devices need to have USPs and something, well, just different in terms of design or functionality to make them different from the boring pack - well I might have to eat my words! This device already clones an iPhone physically and the UI is littered with all sorts of design items that is also blatantly trying to copy iOS. As I was saying earlier, I'm not sure of the motivation, but if one of the factors is trying to get current iOS users across to Xiaomi/Android, then I can see what they're up to. In many places it looks just like iOS, the Settings pages, icons, colours, switches/toggles, Notification colours, buttons, paths and routes to get to central controls - it's all there, plain as the eye can see.

Uniform Compliance
As you will guess, I just find this annoying and difficult to imagine why anyone would choose it over much cleaner setups and 'traditional' use of Settings and placement of controls etc. Having said that, it is also clear that Vanilla is going all iOS too with design element in Pie, so I'm not sure what the future holds for miserable gits like me hankering after the old ways. It is clear that the baseline UI of Pie has been made to look all Apple. Apple Pie, eh. At least the default icon set here is not childish LG/Samsung like it could been and there's not much 'bloat' in evidence, though I'm not sure how much of that might have been down to Mike and ROMs etc. Security, optimisation, management of running tasks and app control is all present as has become expected with most devices developed in China and the East, rather than just trusting Google and Android to sort it all out. It feels like there's so much here that's just not needed and that, in itself, becomes the bloat.

Prime Cuts
Armed with Nova Prime Launcher of course things can (at least) look different - and they do. Many a device I have had in to review and not got very far because I just can't stand having to try and negotiate what on earth they have done with Android - and Nova saves the day. It provides some continuity across devices in a way that Google Now Launcher used to do. It makes it usable and workable, though at the end of the day, underneath that Nova skin, the user still has to know where to go to find stuff and look at some of the UI, some unchangeable beyond even Nova Themes.

Most will be Fine
Don't get me wrong, there's a lot of device here for the money and I'm sure that someone coming into it for 2 years on a contract, only device, would get used to how it works and where things are (if they care) and would be just fine. If they are coming from iOS they'll be right at home in Settings/UI and there are lots of bells and whistles to play with in terms of individual tweaks and functions, many of which I've not had time to cover here.

Lineage Love
I love so much what Mike has done with the other device however, the older Mi Max, that I would love to see this Mi Note 3 running under a LineageOS. I can't wait to get my device back from him so that I can play with that and review it, with nightly updates, just like Cyanogen back in the day! This phone could feel so much better with that onboard. But leaving that aside, there's a lot to like about the Note 3, if only one can get used to (or hide much of) the MIUI.

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