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.

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.

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 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!

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


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...

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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