Tuesday 30 October 2018

Moto Z2 Play - Revisited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday 25 October 2018

Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus - One Week On!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday 22 October 2018

Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus - HDMI Media Server!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday 20 October 2018

Samsung Galaxy Note 9 - The S-Pen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday 16 October 2018

Samsung Galaxy Note 9 - The Speakers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Francesco Tristano - Piano Circle Songs

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

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

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

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

HaoHan Teapot

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

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

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

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

Julie London - Around Midnight

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

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

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

Monday 15 October 2018

David Bowie - Low

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

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

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

David Bowie - Heroes

I was very pleased eventually to replace my very old and worn out Heroes LP with this new remaster on 180g Black Vinyl with lyrics sheet inside. It's a fabulous album, just at the right time for me, in my formative years back then. The whole Berlin thing is fascinating to me and music enlightening.

There's obviously the hit single title track, but so much more for those willing to open their ears! Some of the experimentation with sound and vocals is quite superb and innovative, particularly on Side 2. Recommended for those who are open-minded.

Heroes is the 12th studio album by David Bowie, October 1977. This second installment of his Berlin Trilogy recorded with Brian Eno and Tony Visconti, continued the ambient experiments of his previous album Low and featured the contributions of King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp. Of the three albums, it was the only one wholly recorded in Berlin.


This 180g Chocolate OST Coloured Vinyl LP with inner flyer with a couple of images from the film is a very nice addition to the collection. I didn't know it was chocolate vinyl, so that was a nice surprise!

The music of Rachel Portman is largely orchestral and for fans of the film, fits in beautifully in tone, style and theme. (It's a super little film with excellent attention to detail, photography and direction.) It's uplifting, dramatic, subtle and powerful in equal measure. Recommended.

Rachel Portman's career in music began with writing music for drama in BBC and Channel 4 films such as Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, Mike Leigh's Four Days in July and Jim Henson's Storyteller series. Since then, Portman has written over 100 scores for film, television and theatre, including The Manchurian Candidate, Oliver Twist, Hart's War, The Legend of Bagger Vance, Beloved, Benny and Joon, Life Is Sweet, Never Let Me Go, Grey Gardens, The Duchess, One Day, The Vow, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, The Lake House, Infamous, Mona Lisa Smile, and The Human Stain. Portman is perhaps best known for her music soundtrack compositions in the movies Chocolat and The Cider House Rules.

Sunday 14 October 2018

IGENIX IG9901 3 in 1 Portable Air Conditioner

9000BTU, 2000 W
This review is specifically in relation to using this unit in a Static/Mobile Home
Trying to use one of these in a Mobile Home in a heatwave in the UK I guess was always going to be a bit of a tall order. And so it turned out. A dwelling with walls as thin as a fag paper just allows the heat of direct sun straight through. This poor thing is working its socks off and doesn't stand a chance. It might just get things down from 29 degrees to 27, with a trailing wind! The strategy to employ under these circumstances is to just place your body in the flow of the cold air, as near as possible. It's a bit like sitting in front of a fridge with an open door, only better!

I place it in Halfway House however, because it does have a good use. When the sun is not beating down directly and there's cloud cover, but it's still warm and muggy outside, it does very reasonably well. The temperature can be reduced from, say, 26 to 20 and make things much more tolerable. Likewise, when the sun goes down and there's a horribly sticky hot night to endure, the unit will reduce things down along the same lines. It can be set to go down to 15 degrees.

You do have to, of course, seal the room as much as possible to get best results. Piping out the hot air is a challenge. I got a kit for £20 from AmazonUK (https://goo.gl/hHgJyo) which does a reasonable job utilising Velcro and a zipped opening for the exhaust tube. You can't completely seal it - and you do have to watch out for moths finding their way past the defences after dark(!) but it's not too bad. This kit was also suitable to use with a French Window.

You can wheel it around to other locations, but of course you do then have to make new arrangements for piping the hot air out somewhere else. I have been able to keep the concertina'd hose as short as possible by the French Window, but it can be pulled out/shaped to about 6ft. Clearly, the longer it is and the less compressed the bellows of the concertina are, the more heat will escape into the room. There are two drain holes at the back to let out any water that gathers inside. I've had two of these units over the years and never have I had to do that. I think it's supposed to do itself, like a fridge, so they're only for emergency.

The unit has got a dehumidifier function, simple fan and the Air Conditioning. It has a simple timer, so if it's on, you can set it to turn off in a number of hours, or if it's off you can set it to turn on in a number of hours. You can also set it into sleep mode where it reduces the output over six hours in steps then goes off. If you just use the fan/dehumidifier you don't need to vent it of course. The fan is as strong as you might expect from the size of the unit when not in AC mode. Nothing like the power of my Gym Fan (reviewed at https://goo.gl/YT2rxm). You can control the power by High/Med/Low and the direction of the flow by two sets of louvres, which can also be set to oscillate. Seems to work well.

For £40 more you can get an Alexa/Wifi version, which means you can hook it up to your smart devices and use voice commands or control it remotely with an app. This does presume that you have wifi, I guess! Ha! It's quite noisy, I guess, but when you're melting it really doesn't matter! Yes, I have to turn up the TV but it's a good payoff. Personally, I can sleep with it on, even on the High setting, but others might not.

It's not cheap at £320 from AmazonUK (https://goo.gl/nK1gmA) but AC is not cheap, it seems. It does something that nothing else much does. Fans and other cooling aids are a help within limits of temperature, but there comes a point when there's only one solution. You can pay an awful lot more, of course, or have specialist units built into walls, but it's difficult in a mobile home. On balance, even though it was the price of a mid-range mobile phone, I think it was worth it. Even if in the UK it's only needed for a couple of spells in a year. When they come, it's nice to know that I won't melt!

Honor 10

I know what I’m like with these Chinese imports trying hard to be Apple products, so this time, instead of just getting really annoyed with what comes out of the box, I immediately installed Nova Launcher Prime and uninstalled all the bloat I could - and Force Stopped/Disabled most of the rest. This way, I wasn’t able to write off the Honor 10 before I had even started!

The added apps and services (some of which can be uninstalled) are numerous. Mostly games, but also completely unnecessary Honor replications of Google apps and ‘enhancements’ to the Android experience. They are all merely an irritation and one can only reflect on the price of the device whilst ploughing through dealing with it all, resignedly feeling sorry for the average user who wouldn’t have a clue how to, nor why, and be sucked into using Honor apps and services, letting the company have all their data as well as Google.

Achilles Heel
Before I get to the meat, I have to mention, as I did in my Huawei Mate 10 Pro review (https://goo.gl/E78gLM), the Huawei/Honor approach to Notifications and how horribly confusing and (near) broken it is. The problem is that H/H lump together the same Notification tone for Email, Calendar and Messages, then rely on individual apps (which are outside the control of the system) to override that. Which some can’t. Google Plus is one. You can’t assign a Notification tone to G+ which is not the default one chosen for all three PIM services. So the option is None, Vibrate only or to accept the same tone assigned to SMS. Same is true of Calendar. GMail can be changed, but the switches are buried very deep in Settings in the app. I guess H/H would argue that it’s up to Devs to write that into their apps. I argue that with Vanilla Android, it’s just much simpler. Don’t lump those three PIM services together - let them fall outside the central settings. Why would they do this! Maybe it’s another Apple emulation - I don't know iOS well enough to say. So I have my SMS tone assigned now in ‘Email, Messages and Calendar’ but switched in GMail and Calendar. The system thinks it’s grouped and global, but it’s not. If people in this Manor are going to struggle to sort this out, what chance a NorMob!

Stop Press: Incoming Notification, which I thought was an SMS, but no - it’s a message from the Files Go app offering to clean up some files it thinks is taking up space. So once assigned a ‘global’ default Notification tone, you have to go through every app and switch them all off. Pathetic Honor - fix it.

Slip Grip
Anyway, now that’s out of the way - I told you I was going to not let it annoy me(!) - we can get back to the device itself and what it’s got going for it. Physically, it’s an attempt at the shape of an iPhone, clearly - which you could say is not a bad thing as it’s sleek, stylish, smooth and nice to hold in the hand. It has a reflective coating on the back, which is really quite pretty (I have the blue one here) but is very slippery. Good job they thought to put in a clear TPU case in the box, which actually is very good, very clear and very grippy.

Splay Away
The Honor 10 is a near-perfect size in my hand for one-handed use, yet still being able to use gBoard across the width of the 18:9 (19:9 with notch) ratio IPS LCD near-6” 1080p screen. When I leave the Notch in place, to be fair, I very quickly ignore it. However, it seems a bit pointless really, when running video in VLC, Huawei Video, Google Photos or YouTube, I can’t get any video to fill right out past the camera into the ‘ears’. I even tried a test 21:9 video, used pinch to ‘splay’ etc. Nothing. Not in Google Play Games either. Even video shot with the device’s own camera doesn’t fill the ‘ears’. In fact, the only time I see it used (apart from a filler colour) is in Google Maps and on the Wallpaper on the lock screen! Which means that it might as well be turned off, which it can easily be done in Settings. In actual fact, it looks perfectly good switched off and you still get lots of screen. (By the way, the Setting for ‘full screen display’ doesn’t seem to either fill the ‘ears’ even when flipped for individual apps.)

The screen is bright and vibrant, colourful and has good viewing angles. The Colour (spelt in UK English!) can be shifted by the user into Vibrant, which makes a little bit of difference to punch and temperature is adjustable in infinite steps, should you want to emulate an LG blue-cast, for example! The resolution of the screen can be manually switched from 1080p to 720p to save battery and, for these old eyes, it seems to make little difference! There’s some smart face recognition stuff going on here, too, which I’ll cover now.

Here’s Lookin’ at You
There’s a setting to switch the orientation of the screen into portrait or landscape depending on how it detects your face is looking at it. However, I can’t get that to work - unlike the Face Unlock feature, which works incredibly well. Glasses on or not, all you have to do is lift the phone up to look at it, by the time it’s in front of you it’s unlocked. I remember this from the Mate 10 Pro being just as good. Clearly something they’ve done very well at H/H. However, you can’t get rid of that lockscreen wallpaper as there’s nothing in Settings to turn it off and go straight into homescreens, from what I can find. However, it only requires a swipe-up to get going. It’s a shame that there’s no ‘glance’ screen whatsoever, nor even DTTW, but there is the quick-lift option.

The bezels top, left and right are tiny with a more generous ‘chin’ encapsulating an ‘ultrasonic’ fingerprint scanner. This is no ordinary fingerprint scanner though! It’s embedded under the glass and is completely smooth to the touch. It’s ‘pill’ shaped and functions like any other scanner except that, in my testing here, it’s slower and needs a firmer, longer press. Waking the screen from off is much quicker with face unlock.

The Navigation controls give the user a number of options, including the swipe-use of the fingerprint scanner, getting the on-screen controls out of the way. Quick-tap for Back, long-press for Home, left-swipe for Recents and up-swipe for Google Assistant. There’s a similar setting available which plonks a ‘tube’ on the screen instead of the buttons, which does the same thing as above, but being on-screen obviously takes space - but is in keeping with Android P navigation control.

There are additionally Settings upon Settings for all sorts of stuff that you wouldn’t get elsewhere, so a tinkerer’s delight. However, H/H have horribly over-complicated access to where you want to be by burying settings - that with a Vanilla implementation of Android would be right in your face. Take Screen On Time since last charge. Tap Settings, Battery, Battery Usage, Hardware, Screen - then eventually you get the figure in hours/mins! That’s just one example - and logical Settings Search executions don’t offer that result. And that’s just one example. It’s littered with layers and layers of stuff like that which the average user would, no doubt, never see. Likewise, deals done with Amazon so that you can point the device at an item and the Amazon Assistant app, which has to be installed, will take you off to buy one! It’s just all so complicated.

Knuckle Down
Whilst we’re here, there’s all sorts of other gesture control items, motion control (which makes Motorola’s few items look like a poor cousin!) of all sorts of settings from 3-finger-swipe for screenshot to split-screen gesture, ‘knuckle drawing’ to launch individual apps by drawing letters and much more. There’s a scheduled power off/on which means you can set the phone, for example, to shut down at 1am and turn back on at 7am, for those who can’t be bothered with DND settings, I guess.

Nag, nag
There’s Wifi+ to switch off as soon as you can, as it’s just complicated. Again, I noted this with the M10P, it switches between wifi and cellular for no apparent reason and is eating data instead of using wifi. It just doesn’t work properly! But who’s going to know where to find that and turn it off! There’s a ‘Log in with Huawei ID’ nag-line at the top of Settings, unless you give your soul to H/H, letting them know all about you.

The list goes on and on - and I’ve not even touched on power and memory management - you can imagine! It really does feel like the whole thing has been a playground for a team of developers and that they’ve just over-complicated the device to such a degree that nobody is going to use this stuff. Few people will be so committed to the brand, like one might be to Apple, for example, to stick with it for years and learn as you spend a long time getting to know functions and locations - finding out what’s where - even if you had the interest. If you’re going to make an iPhone clone, it has to be accessible, simple to use and straight-forward. And this isn’t! And this is with Nova employed, too! Imagine the length of this piece if I was also navigating Honor’s Launcher! (More of that in the previously mentioned review - it’s similar.)

Red Card to Additional Storage
Let’s get back to the hardware and report that the device is running with a top-notch Kirin 970 chipset and an ample 4GB RAM. A lot of the above, and Launcher intricacies are down to EMUI 8.1 which it seems they’ve badged to be in keeping with Android 8.1 Oreo, also on board. June 2018 Google Security Update is present and in terms of function and speed across the UI/switching it seems absolutely fine, fast and clean. There’s 128GB of built-in storage and (unlike the Honor View 10) no additional microSD Card slot. But, actually, I think that’s enough for 98% of users these days. I have a slot in my Nokia 8 and 128GB - and never use a card.

LCD Crown
The phone is made from glass back/front with an aluminium frame and is roughly the same size as the Nokia 8 but a little less wide, with that 18:9 thing going on. Set to full brightness, the two devices seem very close - which is praise indeed as up to now the 8 seemed to hold the LCD crown. There’s no protection rating from the elements. Physically, Honor have created a very nice device, iPhone clone or not, which is pleasing to use.

In Charge
The 3400mAh battery is fast charging, capable of a 50% charge in 24 minutes. I charged it today when there was 30% left and checked it an hour later to find it was 100% using a QC4+ charger which came with my Razer Phone. There’s no Qi charging. The device has a USB-C charging/data port which seems to work well and quickly as I was copying over my music/video from a Windows 10 computer. There’s also an infrared port. Do people actually use those?! The battery seems to hold up very well for a day or a bit more of my general usage, so nothing like the bigger units, but certainly no slouch.

AI Snapper
As usual, I’m going to point you at The Phones Show with +Steve Litchfield for an appraisal (https://goo.gl/JnWHNG) of the camera capability as he covers it closely. I would say that I have found the camera to be more than adequate, lots of settings to play with, the Portrait Mode seems to be no worse than others. The close-focus is very good and EIS for low-light is facilitative. There’s an Aperture Mode which lets you choose wide settings, much like a ‘real’ camera using Aperture Priority Mode, which is super. There’s no OIS but with the clever software thing going on, it offsets that to some degree (though not to anything like the extent of the Huawei P20 Pro). There are 2 cameras to enable some of that shenanigans including 2x ‘hybrid’ zoom, so not really optical, but it seems to work fine for my uses. The AI Camera, emblazoned across the back, recognises scenes and adjusts the camera’s settings to get the best shot. I’ll point you back to my M10P review, above, where I covered all this AI stuff more fully - and Steve’s video. Cameras are 16MP f1.8 and 24MP f1.8 Mono. I really like the Mono thing. Very artistic! The Selfie Cam is a 24MP f2 unit. I can find nothing to complain about with the camera, like I can with the software shambles, and it seems to serve perfectly well.

Listen to Histen
The single bottom-firing mono loudspeaker seems alright. It’s a typical mid-price device speaker which will win no awards but which is perfectly usable in a quiet’ish room for most uses. No good for using in a car with a window open, nor at a party or BBQ. Personal use only. It’s not tinny, but it has no richness or great volume either. Very middle-of-the-road and average. The bigger problem is with the options to tweak the sound. Firstly, H/H have stripped out the equaliser from Google Play Music, so there’s no way to even try to change the speaker’s sound. There’s a Huawei Music app, in which access to any equalisation is only available via the Histen sub-app and then only using headphones. Again, no control for any sound from the speaker. The only way I found to adjust the sound from the speaker was by using VLC at least for my downloaded media, which has an equaliser. Not that it helped much!

Some will be pleased to hear that the 10 has a 3.5mm audio-out socket and an in-built 32-bit DAC which I have tested with my usual AKG headphones and indeed it does sound fabulous! You can then get to Histen and start playing with the sound, including 3D surround options and tweaks for some specific headsets. The resulting sound is immersive and enjoyable.

Vanilla Please!
The Honor 10 is up against some tough competition in this £300-£400 price bracket. Offerings from pretty much all of the manufacturers, each with pros and cons to be considered. Some of them, like this, littered with software infusion and bloatware, some clean and pure Android. Some with useful additions, many with none but solid core performance. The 10 does hold its head up in the company there but for me, it’s completely spoilt by the EMUI layers upon layers of settings upon settings, complicating and confusing users for limited benefit. Physically it is a nice device and the screen is pure, bright and clear. Just a shame really that they’ve not made a Vanilla version, maybe with AndroidOne. Now that would be a peach!


There have been other films, dramas and documentaries over the years depicting the life and times of the Kray twins. We seem fascinated by the intimidating, illegal, gangland rule of fear which east-end London endured with people like this post-war and heading through to the 1960’s.

The story of Reggie and Ronnie Kray seems to lead that pack and here it is depicted in a 2015 drama starring Tom Hardy (Peaky Blinders, Child 44, Dunkirk) in the leading roles. Yes, he plays both of the twins, so camera and visual trickery was used for the scenes of course where they’re both present. Most challenging when they are fighting each other on a couple of occasions! Hardy plays the roles brilliantly, depicting the often level-headed and soft, though frustrated and ruthless when needed Reggie with sympathy - then switching rapidly to show the frightening irrational, psychotic and unpredictable sides of Ronnie, with great ease. Hardy is of course an accomplished actor and must have seen this as a real challenge professionally, which he certainly pulled off.

Emily Browning plays the supporting role of Frances very convincingly. A wayward, torn soul trapped into a world she didn’t plan to be a part of, high ideals at the outset of doing something more interesting with her life than to fall into the expected role of London wife and mother. It all falls apart for her as she slowly gets sucked into the world of gangsters and her feet under the table at the Kray household. Apart from being very pretty (much more so than Frances Shea was, incidentally), I think Browning has developed as an actor over time from the childhood days of Lemony Snicket through the eroticism of Sleeping Beauty, the musical talent of God Help the Girl and the likes of this demanding role. She depicts the emotion and angst of suffering the wretched world of a victim here beautifully, through to the sad end.

Much of the film is about the twins though and the notorious gangland activity in which they were involved. But it’s not just about that - it’s also a social commentary of London in the 1960’s and how families behaved towards each other. It depicts the early lives of the twins growing up during WWII diving for cover in the London Tube Train tunnels to avoid bombing, playing in the street and the early bonding of the family. The loyalty and family-first values of Londoners, closely knit and bonded is a clearly expressed theme throughout.

There is a fair bit of violence and exposure to the nasty side of the way in which people can behave towards each other when their territory, family, friendships, businesses or pride is threatened. The film is also about the irrationality of Ronnie and his nasty manipulation of events when he feels threatened by Reggie’s attention being drawn away from him and towards the love and devotion of Frances.

I’m sure that there are liberties taken with the story to make it more interesting for film, though hopefully not at the expense of too many known facts. The truth is that often little is known about what was said to whom about what behind closed doors, records are not made and interviews with those living are subject to their memories - and any agenda they may have had. But laying that aside, it makes for a good thriller, depiction of the times and observation of the capabilities of human behaviour, with the results of mental health problems thrown into the mix.

There are other great performances around the two leads. Another dastardly performance by David Thewlis (Fargo, The Theory of Everything, Harry Potter), a gripping one by Christopher Eccleston (Fortitude, Dr Who, Shallow Grave), and an emotional one by Tara Fitzgerald (Brassed Off, Game of Thrones, Sirens). The sets are finely shot in and around the action, offering a wonderfully atmospheric feeling of being in 1960’s London for the viewer. The direction by writer/director Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential, Man on Fire, The Taking of Pelham 123) is tight, (as it would have to be keeping the brothers being played by the same actor smooth and believable) and production spot on.

The two fine leads carry this film though and make it hugely enjoyable and worth sticking with. I’m really not much of a fan of gangster films, but I was glued to this throughout. I recently watched The Krays, another film trying to tell the story starring the Kemp brothers, but, even though it had qualities and a charm of its own, it’s not a patch on this. If you’re going to see one, make this it!

Abigail (2024)

A bunch of lowly hoods are brought together in the typical nobody-knows-each-other style, not supposedly sharing anything about themselves, ...