Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Unbelievable

This excellent 2019 drama by writer, director, producer Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich) is a wonderful demonstration of the always-improving production quality coming out of the Netflix studios as the company grows in confidence and resources.

It's the true story of the hunt for a serial rapist by authorities in America. It is centred around the first of his victims, Marie, who had also up until then, been a victim of the effects of poorly managed and executed children and foster services since she was three years old. As Marie plucked up the courage and confidence to report the rape she suffered, the local police rapidly talked her out of it, dismissed the case and charged her with wasting police time. She had now become a victim of the police as well.

The series is made up of eight episodes of about 50 minutes and follows Marie's life throughout the events - and for the few years following, while the rapist continued to chalk up more victims. The timeline jumps back and forward across a few years to develop the events around Marie for the viewers whilst also tracking the efforts to catch the man of two female detectives during the later time period.

The delivery is much more drama than thriller, reflecting the fact that this was a serious and true series of events, instead of just a creation for TV. The pacing is handled excellently as information unfolds about the events, more victims come forward and the detectives (and their team) work harder to bring the man to justice. It demonstrates that there are good people involved in the systems trying to care and support people but highlights where systems, regardless of individual good intentions, lets people down who are in need.

The main leads are near faultless in their acting, the young Kaitlyn Dever (Justified, Last Man Standing) as Marie - clearly a super talent and one to watch going forward. A very difficult role which demanded a range of emotions and behaviours, which she pulled off at every turn. Toni Collette (The Sixth Sense, Muriel's Wedding, Little Miss Sunshine) and Merritt Wever (Godless, Signs, Nurse Jackie) play the two detectives very convincingly. There's a real chemistry between them which survives their characters' differences of approach. The supporting cast, which includes Elizabeth Marvel (Fargo), execute their roles similarly well - clearly much care was taken in casting with all sorts of names popping up, big roles and small.

It's a sad and harrowing depiction as emotions run high. Once again, knowing that the story is true makes it more powerful and meaningful as people involved tackle their trauma whilst helping to provide information. Very highly recommended viewing and once again, worth the Netflix subscription going forward. If the quality of the productions contine at this pace I shall have to stop whining about the cost!

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Tefal Easy Soup and Smoothie Maker

We've had two Morphy Richards Soup Makers over the last few years and I've even reviewed and recommended one on the Whatever Works Podcast, but ultimately, they have both broken. Enter Tefal Man!

The symptoms of the aforementioned are the same - after a few months when making soup, they don't blend it properly. Expecting a nice smooth soup and we get a chunky mess sometimes not even hot, with food uncooked. Having looked at long-term reviews at Amazon, there are many people reporting the same experience. So time to leave Morphy Richards behind!

The Tefal Easy Soup Maker is not the cheapest option (currently £80 at AmazonUK) - and maybe that's relevant to the above - but it looks and feels like it's a much better quality product. Just to be clear, we're only interested in making soup, so have not tested it for any other function. The unit has a smaller capacity than the 1.5L and 1.6L of the Morphy Richards units at only 1.2L but actually, for the three of us kicking about that's just right and on reflection, we often had too much soup with the other units previously. So that reduction is actually a benefit!

The body of the unit is made from stainless steel with a lift-off lid which, like the other ones, houses the motor, computer and controls. There's a swivelling handle for easy lifting and a control panel which offers large press-buttons, big text and clear icons. Smooth Soup, Chunky Soup, Compote and Smoothie - with a Start button and Warming indicator. Smooth soup takes 23mins and chunky 25, compote 20 and Smoothie, 4. As always, there are rules about what to put in here - like no raw meat and not frozen stuff, but following the rules (as we always did with the other units) we hope that this one will last longer!

There's a Min/Max mark inside to guide the amount allowed inside and what you put in there is really only limited by how creative you feel like being! Close up the lid, press the button and let it do its stuff. When it's finished you get 3 beeps and the unit (when making soup) automatically switches to Warming mode - keeping your soup warm for 40mins - very handy when catering for a number of people trying to get course timing right. The Morphy Richards units didn't have this. One thing the Morphy Richards units did have was a digital countdown timer, telling you how many minutes left - but to be honest, we rarely needed to refer to that information.

Lastly, there's a 3min Cleaning programme, which the Morphy Richards units did not have - where you can fill the unit with soapy water and press the button - and it cleans it for you! If you'd prefer to do that manually, of course you can - and actually, it's much easier to clean than the Morphy Richards units as the stainless steel interior is rounded (like the inside of a football) at the bottom, whereas the others had 'square corners' at the base which needed 'digging into' to be sure to get stuff out.

The soups we've made have been scrummy and the unit itself is much quieter in operation. The Morphy Richards units were very noisy indeed, so much so that we tended to shut the kitchen door when it was running! The desserts and cold functions we've not tried but according to reviews this also works well, making puddings, baby food, milkshakes - again, I guess the world is your oyster to experiment and create!

Tefal apparently have a 10-year no-quibble repair/replace programme, which gives us confidence going forward. We should have realised that sometimes you get what you pay for and the Morphy Richards units, at less than half the price of this one, perhaps should ring bells. We'll report back in a year's time to see how its going! In the meantime, so far, recommended.

Thursday, 12 September 2019

Motorola One Zoom

Motorola have been pushing their 'One' series of phones now for a while and this is their latest, alongside the One Action and Vision, as they hit the mid-tier big-time, offering more capability for the price than One might expect! Some of the new breed of One phones run under the AndroidOne programme, whilst others adopt a more 'mainstream' Android software.

The One Range
This new Zoom from Motorola has to be compared here with the One Vision, Action and Moto Z3 Play (links go to my reviews). It feels like a bit of a hybrid of the three from which features and specifications have been pinched, merged or extended. The phone can be bought in the UK just now via Amazon, with whom they have done a near-identical deal as they did in the USA with their fork of the Moto Z4. I detest pre-installed software, so my primary job here was to see how much of the pre-installed apps and links to services could be uninstalled or killed. And more importantly, going forward, what impact that has on getting regular updates to Android and Security Updates. The phone can be bought direct from Lenovorola's website, incidentally, and would appear to be a 'clean' version without the Amazon stuff. I was impatient!

Useful Additions or Bloat?
Let's get that out of the way first then. The main thrust of the Amazon tie-in is getting users to switch to Alexa. By default, a double-press of the power button invokes this, but it can be switched to Google Assistant, nothing or Camera (though double-twist for camera would waste the button slightly). Incidentally, changing this away from Alexa doesn't survive a reboot, annoyingly. Alexa app can't be uninstalled, but can be disabled and force-stopped. I've developed an A-List and B-List for these pre-installed apps. The A-List are the apps that I would have installed anyway and use, the B-List, those which I don't want/use and might bug me in time that I can't uninstall them. So, the A-List is Amazon Music, Shopping, IMDb and Audible, the B-List, Alexa and Photos. IMBd can be uninstalled, but the rest need disabling for those they annoy. Nova Prime in place and they can be hidden, largely. If the same principle had been applied by Amazon as it does for Kindle Readers - that it's cheaper to buy with this stuff on - then it's swallowable (given how otherwise 'vanilla' the phone is) - but this is the same price as a 'clean' version from Motorola (on release). As it happens, this doesn't really bother me much as long as the apps don't waste system resources or bug me. I've already had a pop-up prompting me to use Amazon Photos. We shall see!

AndroidOne or Android
The benefits of using an AndroidOne phone is that two major updates of Android are guaranteed, along with three years of Security patches. The Zoom is not sure to get that - the same as the Z3 Play and G7 Plus. The One Vision and Action will qualify. Motorola have not been the fastest firm for pushing out updates, so we'll see what happens with this one. As we head towards Android 10, Project Mainline should be ironing out these inconsistencies and I'm assuming, regardless of the above, that at least Q (10) and R (11) will be pushed out for the Zoom. Watch this space! Out of the box the Zoom was running Android 9 Pie with July 2019 Google Security, which updated straight away to August (unlike the Z3 play). Going forward I guess we enter the usual 3-month pattern with non-AndroidOne devices until the above changes kick in.

Launcher
As usual, the Moto Launcher is clean and very Vanilla following the Pie protocols, but without the Pixel's fixed-screen Glance/Search bars. The Google Cards to the left of Home can be switched on/off and layout made 4x5 or 5x5. Notification shade and App Drawer are Pixel-style, with the added bonus of swipe-up from anywhere for one and swipe-down from anywhere for the other. Google need to adopt this! Apart from the Motorola additions, which I'll come to, the Settings is equally untarnished, though dark mode is yet to make it across. Nova Launcher/Companion App can of course replace all this and fix it up, but it almost feels a bit of a shame to do so when it's all so close to what the average user will be happy to use.

Family's Focus
So, what's the One Zoom's speciality amongst the family? Whilst the Vision has 21:9 for media, the Action, wide-angle action-cam for snowboarders and the like, the Zoom, unsurprisingly, provides a 3x Optical Zoom. Not quite the 5x of the current leaders, but let's not forget that this one is near-half the price of those! I'll come to the cameras later, as there are 4 of them, providing a distinctive 'cluster' in an oblong box on the back, which also houses a light-up Notification Motorola 'M' logo, Razer Phone style.

Substantial
But first things first and the physical. The Zoom and Action are not quite as tall as the Vision, as their 19:9 screens are not 21:9 for cinema! The Zoom and Action actually, are very near the same size all round, save for a shave off the Action's thickness. The Zoom is the wider of the three, heading more towards the dimensions of the Z3 Play, though a tad taller - and fatter of course. Without a Mod on the back, the Z3 Play is super-thin. The Action and Vision have a corner Selfie 'hole' cut out of the front glass whereas with the Zoom, they've gone for a teardrop, central. On first holding the phone, I was surprised at how big it felt. From prior research I really thought it would 'feel' smaller than it does. I couldn't get my finger and thumb around the waist even without the supplied clear TPU in the box, which incidentally is of good quality and saves the user buying another. The phone feels chunky, weighty (at 190g) and substantial. It verges on being a two-handed phone, which is why Moto have supplied a software swipe-for-reducing the screen content this time.

Looking Around
Bezels around three sides are small but not invisible, providing a good balance between making the most of screen size and not forcing accidental touches and swipes. There's a slightly larger bezel as a chin, but I'm OK with that as it gives my big digits more space to be sure and hit Motorola's superb Long Pill Navigation control. On the right side are a volume rocker and Power button. The power button is knurled and both controls are metal, feeling sturdy and firm in use. The front glass is 'Panda King' 2.5D and back is Gorilla Glass 3, the same as the rest of the family but the 6000-series polished aluminium around the edge is where the the Vision and Action are left behind, being plastic. This is clearly a price-point thing and you can tell, when handling the Vision/Action's sides without a TPU in place - and accessing the SIM Card Tray, that the Zoom and indeed Z3 Play are a cut above on quality. The colour I have here is Cosmic Purple and like a lot phones these days, the back glass, which sweeps nicely round to meet the aluminium surround, kind of shimmers in different lights and has a soft-touch velvet look. Very attractive for those brave enough to use it without the TPU! The Zoom is splash and dust resistant IP5/2, with P2i nano-coating, apparently!

Clustered
Very unusually these days, the single Mono speaker is at the top instead of bottom along with the SIM Card Tray, which will take two SIMs or one and a microSD Card on this variant - your region may vary so do check. On the left of the phone there's no controls and on the bottom, USB-C port and 3.5mm audio-out socket. On the rear is where the fun starts as we look at a huge camera-cluster, with 4 lenses and an LED flash to the side. The island sits proud, but becomes flush with the TPU in place - and has a stylish vertical-line pattern when viewed at certain angles. As mentioned above, there's a Notification Logo which lights up white. The behaviour of this can be assigned in Settings to be always-on when the phone is in use, for Notifications, Wireless emergency alerts and/or when charging. Any or all of these can be toggled as well as sub-controls for bypass when DND is active. It appears to slowly 'pulse' ongoingly until the item is dealt with, when set to Notifications. The colour can't be changed from white, Razer Phone style, but this is not a toy!

Engine Room
The Motorola One Zoom has a Snapdragon 675 under the bonnet whereas the Vision, due to some Samsung deal, had the Exynos 9609. As I said at the time, I had no slow-down with the Vision running that chipset like I did experience with the Samsung Galaxy A50 with the close 9610. Similarly I detect no slowdown with the Zoom here, whatever I throw at it and the good-enough-for-Pixel 4GB of RAM makes switching between apps just fine. I see no excessive shutdown in the background and really don't think (currently) Android Pie needs more, where a clean version of the OS is adopted. The 600-series SnapDragons seem to be very well optimised for performance and battery usage. I've never had any problems at all with the Z3 Play's 636. As we've come to expect with Motorola, the signal pickup and connectivity over Cellular, GPS and WiFi is second to none. I have areas which have proved to be dodgy where I can conduct these tests and it holds on very well above average.

Beefy Battery
The battery inside the Zoom is a 4000mAh unit, more than the 3500mAh of the Vision/Zoom and certainly up on the 3000mAh Z3 Play (onto which battery Mods of course can be added). I've experienced the best return on my 10% test of any phone I've tried for the last couple of years with this cell. Level playing field, same for all devices on test, general use, screen on, reading, scrolling, the odd video, podcast, adaptive brightness/battery - you get the idea - and I have reached 1hr 40mins for the 10% here. Staggeringly good performance - and a real-world (for me) in early test returns 2-days of average usage. There's no Qi charging here but with that kind of performance, it's not a great miss. Always better to have than not of course, but I guess something had to give on price. There's a TurboPower 18W Charger in the box if it's needed for quick fixes.

Screen Differences
One of the key differences between the two pairs is screen tech for these 1080p units across the range. The Vision (6.3") and Action (6.3") have LCD screens whereas the Z3 Play (6") and Zoom (6.4") have flat Max Vision OLED panels (which I'm assuming are Samsung's but couldn't seem to track that data down). This, along with the Android/AndroidOne, seems to make the difference also between the level of support for Motorola's own software supplied for Peek and Approach, which I'll come to later. The colours are gloriously rich, blacks black and screen very bright, just like Motorola's other phones with OLED panels down the line. There's a basic switch in Settings for Colours between Natural, Boosted and Saturated. There's not much difference between the first two, but the Saturated pulls more vibrancy out of reds and greens. However we egg-it-up, LCD screens from the other models in the One range are nothing like the excellent OLED here. The screen is very responsive and swipes perfect. The central notch at the top is small and half of it is lost in the top bezel anyway, making a small semi-circle cut out. It almost looks like it could have been completely placed in the bezel, but no matter, as discussed before, until under-glass selfie-cams are routine, the brain gets used to it quickly.

Fired Up
This is one of the first shots Motorola has had at an under-glass optical fingerprint scanner instead of a capacitive unit in the chin, round the back or on the side. Coming from the Nokia 9 PureView, this scanner is a delight - and actually works properly! It's no capacitive scanner, but it really isn't that far behind. I'd say it's easily as quick as the OnePlus 7 Pro I tested recently and as Optical Scanners go, it's up with the best using the tech. Registration is certainly more fussy than, say, a Pixel, but once done, it works first time, every time, with nanoseconds delay whilst it processes the image. I have no complaints and am happy that it's on the front for desk/table/arm-chair use. There's also Moto's Face Unlock in the mix, which is a little fussy to set up (for us with full beards!) but seems to work fine in tandem with the aforementioned measures. It does need a swipe to execute, which for me, renders it less useful than, for example, Samsung's version.

Moto Goodness
This brings us nicely to the Moto add-ons which include the full-suite found on the Z3 Play instead of the cut-down versions applied to the Vision/Action. As I've said before, the Moto add-ons feel very much like enhancements to Android rather than bloat. We get the Moto Actions (twist for camera, chop-chop for torch, Long Pill Navigation (or 3-button), 3-finger (long) screenshot, various flip-for/pick up options for phone use, option to remap volume keys for media, Lift to unlock and shrink screen for one-handed use) and Moto Display (Peek, Approach, Attentive and DTTW). The approach is the most useful routinely, meaning that you just have to move your hand over the device to wake the screen - and Peek enables a high level of interaction with Notifications and Media. It's a great system and sorely missed by me with the Vision. The screen lights up, along with that 'M' on the back of the phone and lets you get on - or touch the fingerprint scanner target to open up fully. I can't emphasise enough how super the UX is, of the Motorola phones that have the full suite.

HDMI-Out: Woohoo!
Yes, the first Motorola (certainly since before the Z) which works beautifully with HDMI-Out. I don't understand why this feature is not plugged by firms selling phones, but it wasn't documented anywhere I read. (I guess they assume nobody can be bothered with wires much anymore.) Discovered during my normal round of testing for reviews and yes, my eyes lit up! Well done Moto! Not so surprising is the USB-OTG and the Zoom passed my 2TB SSD Extreme Test with ease. Not quite as quick as Samsung flagships, but not far behind. Reads and writes more than fast enough. There's also microSD Card support of course and in keeping with 2019 Moto phones, 128GB built-in storage. Hurrah again! I'm beginning to find it hard to find fault with this phone! Maybe the single Mono Speaker will bring me back down to earth...

Merged Pitch
I've pitched the speaker up against the (loud but not best quality at full volume) Motorola One Vision and the (great quality but not so loud) Z3 Play. Guess what? It comes out as a merge of the two! The volume is louder than the Z3 Play and quality at least equal, if not better - but not as loud as the Vision, but certainly better quality. Bring down the volume of the Vision to match the maximum of the Zoom and the Zoom sounds better, richer and with more body and depth. As always, it depends what you listen to, but my yardstick here is consistent in testing phones against each other. In a nutshell then, it's a better all-round sound than either of the others but yes, the Vision can get louder. Perfectly good for my use and I'm really not bothered about stereo in phones. I have started to use Bluetooth speakers more these days and of course Bluetooth 5 is supplied here, working perfectly with various devices though without aptX support. Can I tell the difference? There. I convinced myself! Incidentally, I reckon that the speaker being up-top rather than down-bottom is better for me, particularly when listening to music and reading (in portrait). In this situation, with speaker at the foot, my hand is always covering it. This way up, it ain't! Certainly better also for any car-cradles.

Personalised Sound
There's a 3.5mm audio-out socket, as I mentioned earlier, but no fancy Quad DAC or higher-level output available, so a super-dongle is needed to boost sound for those feeling they need it. There's a pair of nasty-looking in-ear 'phones in the box which will stay nicely wrapped up as I test with my AKG K701 reference headset and Marshall Major Bluetooth set instead! When Google Play Music is used, the equaliser is routed to the 'Audio Effects' software, so not full Dolby, but actually it's very good and has many options which make a real enhancement to the sound. 3D Stereo, Cinema and Live as pre-sets and a Custom option with Treble, Vocal, Extreme Bass, Bass Punch amongst others and Surround settings for Live, Wide or Ambient. I can't seem to get to these controls via any other Music app, so it must be just locked to GPM - no system-wide audio here, sadly. I'm no audiophile but I think the effects certainly enhance the experience - and for 95% of users with headphones is good enough and loud enough. Plug in my Razer Phone USB-3.5mm DAC Dongle and of course it ups the stakes to a powerful output - but all those equaliser options still work. As you were probably expecting me to say, the Bluetooth performance, even with no aptX, sounds staggeringly good over the Marshall set (once the bass had been killed! No wonder rock musicians are all deaf!) to these ears. There's a recording FM Radio thrown in, much like the other One devices, but not Z-series. Seems to work well - and unusually, doesn't even insist on something being plugged into the 3.5mm to work should you be in a very strong signal area.

Camera Tech
Now for the tricky bit, I thought. Having shared some basic photos with Steve Litchfield and getting his brief take on them, it seems that the approach to the camera by Moto has been largely similar to that on the One Vision, with the added bonus of the other lenses providing 3x optical zoom and a wide-angle option. Steve wasn't impressed with the photos from the Vision in The Phones Show 369 and concluded that it really needs software updates to make it anything close to special. Decent enough, but also filled with artefacts at the pixel level because of the processing. Shame then, should this be the same, given the unit's focus! So yes, there are 4 cameras. The main one is this getting-common 48MP-into-12MP (pixel binning) f1.7 unit with OIS which we've reported on all over the place during the last few months. Nothing special there. The second camera is an 8MP f2.4 one which provides for the 3x optical zoom, the third a 16MP f2.2 offering (117º) wide-angle shooting and lastly a supporting little 5MP f2.2 collecting depth data. Inside the camera app we have various modes and options including Night Vision, Auto Smile, Portrait, Smart Composition, Spirit Level, Spot Color, Cinemagraph, Active Photos, Cutout, Live Filter, Panorama and Timelapse with Hyperlapse, Slow Motion for video shooting. The front-facing Selfie is a 25MP-into-6.25MP f2 unit (or forced 25MP), same as the Vision, which offers almost as many modes and options as the rear-facing cameras, plus Group Selfie.

Real Life Camera
Leaving behind all the tech-spec and claims of the cameras, back in my hands I bring you my thoughts as they appear to me. I love the 3x zoom, especially when used for close-focus, which I remember enjoying very much with the Huawei P30 Pro. That 3x zoom just gets me closer and because it's optical, there's nothing lost. Excellent, if not true Macro, close-ups which I shall really enjoy exploiting. Likewise for getting closer in general use to any subject - much better to have than to not as an option! The wide-angle camera also transforms approaches to photography, opening up yet another avenue of creative opportunity, grabbling broad scenes and interiors of buildings with ease. The collection of options on display here represent to me (always the phone-camera critic comparing to 'proper' cameras) a step forward with a range of lenses doing different jobs, providing excellent flexibility at an affordable price-point. In addition to the hardware, I've enjoyed playing with Moto's software over the years, some unique offerings, some emulated from others, but lots to play with and nicely arranged for ease of use. The Portrait Mode works well as we live in the age-of-bokeh, it seems, and the Night Vision Mode does the trick to pull out otherwise impossible shots - with of course the usual digital paybacks of deteriorated images/noise. Still, better to have than not to have! The 3x optical zoom can be eeked out to produce a 10x Hybrid Zoom making use of the optics and software and again, in real world use I find this great to have as an option even though it's often difficult to keep the phone still enough to use (even with OIS) and image quality is always going to be a compromise for the pixel-peeper. For the rest of us, it's just great for everything we're likely to going to want to use the photos. Go have fun and play!

Verdict
I know I always seem to enthuse about new phones, but this one really does feel a bit like the spiritual successor to the Z-range Mod-enabled range which now looks like coming to an end with a US-only release of the Z4. Apart from the Mods access, it does have many similarities in terms of size, build, materials, feel in the hand, full software suite, improved capabilities/support, AoD-approach-peek and smashing OLED screen. It feels that although part of the One-range, it's really standing apart as a more unique better quality model with more options. The sound from speaker is excellent, the cameras (if not technically perfect yet) great fun, extending options through flexibility, a bigger battery supported by efficient chipset and clean version of Android. Buy the non-Amazon unit and you won't even get their software, though, you might also want to consider how intrusive that is for you if you use Amazon services/apps anyway and are a Prime customer. It's currently £379 in the UK and I'd like to think that (at least the Amazon version) will drop in time. Having said that, it took a long time for the Z3 Play to come down. There's an awful lot of phone here for that price, beautifully made, with features some of which you'd pay double the price for elsewhere. Motorola are certainly pricing the One range aggressively. It's a fabulous phone which I'm really enjoying using and highly recommend. 90% of the features of flagships for half the price seems to be creeping up to 95%.

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

The Piper (Sonnim)

A quite bizarre Korean film written and directed by newcomer Kim Kwang-tae in 2015 is staged as a horror, but really isn't. Loose links to the traditional Pied Piper tale, as the central character is able to use his pipe to attract rats.

The story is set in a village, off any maps, following the Korean war. A widower and his son are walking to Seoul for treatment as the boy has lung disease. They happen upon the village and seek rest and refreshment for the night. The village Chief has an ongoing problem in that rats run riot (later gnawing on human bodies) and they can't get rid of them. Imagine his joy when, for the price of the value of a pig, the man offers a solution to rid the village of the rats for good.

The tale turns dark when the man has kept his end of the bargain and the rats have been removed but the villagers turn nasty as he's fallen for a local widow who's bonding with the son nicely and is threatening to leave the village for a life with them as new wife and mother. The village believe that she, however, is the one who brings luck and protection to the village. They then set out to ensure she stays with them with death, disaster, tragedy and darkness following. Revenge is nigh!

I really wouldn't call it a horror film, more like a dark fable with some nastiness but to be honest, it often verges on the comic! As the tale draws to a close it becomes darker and sad. It's a cracking watch and I really enjoyed it. Some of the acting is a bit dubious but the prize for best performances go to Woo-hee Chun playing the widow and Goo Seung-Hyeon as the boy. The boy plays the part very well indeed, leaping between mischief and victim with ease.

The set for the whole film is in the village, never wavering outside and adds to the claustrophobic nature of the proceedings, a technique often used in horror/terror films of course. There's some gore and special effects towards the end, too, but it's clear at this point that it's all very low-budget. It's all good fun, thrilling and my kind of 'horror' that doesn't purposely try and make you jump out of your skin. Recommended!

Monday, 9 September 2019

Strangers on a Train

There's always something special about an Alfred Hitchcock film which, although now feeling dated in terms of context, retains a certain charm and draw. There's no doubt that he was a well-respected master filmmaker bringing thrills, terror and drama to the cinema-going public during the last century. This is no exception.

Patricia Highsmith (The Two Faces of January, The Talented Mr Ripley, Carol) wrote the novel which depicted the two male leads in the story with an underlying current of homosexuality between them. This aspect of the thriller didn't make it to the film, though if you get hold of the British Director's Cut, there's more footage left in which develops this a little more, particularly on their first meeting on the train.

Laying that aside, the story is a rolling thriller about Bruno, a young man who clearly has a screw loose, wealthy, who hates his father and wants him dead, and Guy, a professional tennis player. Guy's wife is playing the field and he wants to divorce her so he can marry again, but she realises that the more successful he gets, the longer she holds out, the more cash she can get from him.

They meet by apparent chance on the train and the mad dreamer Bruno starts fantasising about switching murders with Guy, the personal life of whom Bruno knows about from the Society press. He wants rid of his father, and Guy, his wife. There is no link between them and Bruno reckons it's a formula for a pair of perfect murders which they'll both get away with, just because they don't know each other and only met that day.

Guy can't believe what he is hearing, but plays along during their lunch on the train in order to get rid of Bruno and off the train. Unfortunately, Guy leaves his cigarette lighter behind which leads to Bruno thinking on his feet and hatching a revised plan to ensnare Guy. Bruno starts making life very difficult for Guy, effectively stalking him, after Bruno has carried out his part of the bargain! The rest of the film turns into a bit of a chase against the clock - Guy tries to mop up the mess whilst Bruno hounds him in order to force Guy into delivering his part of the deal.

There's some comic turns written into the cast too, particularly via Barbara, the young and impressionable little sister of the woman Guy wants to marry and their father a Senator. There are some Hitchcock regulars in the cast including Farley Granger (Rope) playing Guy, Leo G Carroll (Spellbound, North by Northwest) as Sen. Morton and Patricia Hitchcock (Psycho, Suspicion, Stage Fright) depicting Barbara (apparently no relation). It seems that Patricia Hitchcock, at time of writing, is the only surviving member of the main cast. Robert Walker (Bataan, The Clock) who played Bruno sadly died at 32 just after the making of this film.

The performances are sound with Hitchcock drawing so much more from them than other directors could in other films with the actors of the day. There are many films of the era which are tedious to watch because of wooden acting and poor delivery, but you know you're always safe with a film from Hitchcock! He shoots the film in a noir fashion, popular in the day of course, making the very most of darkness, shadows and subdued lighting.

The sets are sometimes dodgy, but we can't blame him for the level of available technology for, for example, special effects of the interior of moving trains! However, there is one scene which defies the earlier age of technology where a fairground roundabout meets with disaster. This is created incredibly convincingly and still today, nearly 70 years on, is an eye-opening edge-of-seat scene. Much of the credit again goes to Hitchcock though who uses camera-angles, music and cuts to add the drama and impact. It's great to look at these films picking out the techniques he uses. Look at the first 5 minutes of the film, where the audience sees nothing but people legs as they prepare for the train journey, depicting the mood of anonymity and everyone involved being 'strangers'. It's a small thing, but that kind of attention to detail is so enjoyable to analyse.

You may have noticed that I love Hitchcock films and always enjoy re-watching. I've not seen this for many years and I thoroughly enjoyed it again. I shall look forward to reading the book to see how it's been changed by the film and considering that homo-erotic sub-text. Don't miss Alfred himself in his usual cameo as he boards the train with his double-bass! Highly recommended viewing.

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

The Woman Next Door (La femme d'à côté)

I continue my investigation into the work of François Truffaut (Jules et Jim, Shoot the Pianist, Close Encounters of the Third Kind [Actor]) with a look at his 1981 offering here, a French relationship-based drama/thriller which offers a shift from the tone of his earlier work.

Bernard, Arlette and their son Thomas live in a quiet French village in the countryside. A tranquil life is depicted, a family lovingly committed to each other. All of a sudden, the empty cottage next to them is taken by Philippe and Mathilde and Bernard's life is turned upside down. Eight years prior, Bernard and Mathilde had been involved in a relationship, which ended amicably. The narrative suggests that neither of them knew this new meeting was to happen and that it was chance. However, it re-sparked the passion which was left behind and they, without telling the spouses, start meeting in secret for you-know-what. So far, it sounds like a bit of a comic farce, but it really isn't. Like many French films of the ilk, it's a tragic story of obsession, lost love, disatisfaction, opportunity, frustration and philosophical reflection - which you won't want to turn off until the final frame as all the above gives way to a thrilling climax.

Gérard Depardieu (Jean de Florette/Manon des Sources, 1492: Conquest of Paradise, My Father the Hero) plays Bernard convincingly enough, though I felt as though he wasn't trying as hard as the other three. Fanny Ardant (Nathalie, Paris, je t'aime, Elizabeth) steals the show really, not as the raving beauty in the cast but rather because she seems to embrace the role and was trying hard to make Mathilde herself. She pulls this off well. Henri Garcin (The Pink Panther) ably plays the lesser part of Philippe and Michèle Baumgartner as Arlette.

The two main leads draw the viewer into their adulterous world but I didn't think the best was made of the delivery in terms of enabling the audience to adopt any empathy for the cheated-on spouses. More could have been made of the impact of shifts in behaviour towards them both, even if they were kept in-the-dark. The shooting style is simple and very 1980's European with emphasis on artistic delivery, though I didn't think that the photography was executed as well as other work of the era - or indeed Truffaut's earlier work. At times it almost felt like he wasn't that interested in the project much either.

Having said all the above, it held my attention and makes some interesting points about life and love, regret and rejection. There's a sub-story running alongside the main one which smartly emulates a related theme, which had ended in sadness and tragedy. As we find out more about that, we build towards the climax of the main story wondering if the outcomes will be similar, or if Bernard will take heed from his learning about the past and provide a safety-net for those who might be potentially hurt - or worse. Well worth a look if you're a fan of the director or style.

Monday, 26 August 2019

Samsung Galaxy S10e

I'm back again box-ticking! Just can't leave Samsung alone it seems, knowing that of all the Android phones out there they alone are providing hardware that takes (most of) the best features from all the others, scoops them up and blends them together. The usual question now rears its head, however, whether or not I can, this time, live with the Samsung compromises, and enhancements, to the Vanilla Experience.

One of the special reasons that I'm drawn to the S10e is the physical size. I have found most phones these days to be too big - as a phone in my pocket - though of course, great for all sorts of other reasons. The only phone in stock here that comes close to the size of the S10e is the Nokia 8 Sirocco (even the little Pixel phones are bigger). This is the same height as the S10e, pretty much, but wider, to accommodate the 16:9 screen. I'm likely to compare the S10e experience with that, then, as I move along, no doubt focusing on the Samsung vs Vanilla differences, but also the key extras Samsung offer - microSD Card expansion, wide-angle camera (instead of 2x Zoom), stereo speakers and 3.5mm audio-out socket. Here's a handy GSMArena Comparison.

Eastern Promise
The unit I got my hands on here is second-hand incidentally, originally bought from Hong Kong, so has the Snapdragon chipset instead of Exynos and dual SIM. There's much talk about the differences between the two and depending on whose bench-testing you read or whose real-world use results video you watch, it seems to me that the average user really won't notice the difference. If you're a gamer, it seems, or power-user, you'll get more performance and maybe even battery-life from the Snapdragon - but for my use, I fully expect that it wouldn't matter a jot! I don't have the other to compare here, so can only report on what I find with this one.

Phone Sized Phone
This really is a dinky phone. A real phone-sized-phone, pocket-dwelling unit. My problem with small phones has not been so much diminutive content view, but rather effective use of the keyboard. The Sirocco is wider, so I've been fine with the keyboard there, but I do struggle with that on the smaller Pixel phones. I have recently reviewed the Motorola One Vision which is pretty much the same width as the S10e (but taller). During my review period I didn't have any problems with the keyboard, so maybe I'll be alright here. What might help is that the screen certainly fills the front - right out to the edges almost, differently to Pixel.

Weight vs Premium
One of the aspects I recognised immediately was that the Sirocco feels much heavier. It's 177g and the S10e, 150. That's quite a difference, and depending on your view about whether or not heft and weight = premium feel, you might count this a plus or minus. The IP rating for both is about the same, good for 5ft in fresh water for half an hour, and both a Gorilla Glass 5/metal sandwich - S10e aluminium and Sirocco, steel (which no doubt accounts for some of the weight difference). Whatever your view about weight, the S10e feels absolutely premium in the hand, very much like an iPhone-clone from the near past, curved edges and pebble-like. The Sirocco differs here and feels premium in a different, almost industrial way, with sharper edges and 'pointy' construction.

Capacitive
On the right side of the phone there's a pill-shaped capacitive fingerprint sensor which doubles up as a power button. Click in for power or touch to open up the screen and get past the lock (with an option in Settings to assign it to swipe-down the Notifications bar). This is a diversion from the under-screen version in the bigger S10-series of Samsung phones, but it works perfectly well and for me, having got used to the Moto Z3 Play and Razer Phones, more than acceptable. Unlike the Moto, but the same as Razer, clicking-in as power works much more effectively than a separate power button. Capacitive buttons still work more quickly and reliably than under-screen, whichever tech they use, in my experience. Some are saying that the sensor is too high on the side of the device for comfortable use, but I'm not finding that at all - I do have big hands, and can understand the issue for those with small ones. The Sirocco similarly has a capacitive sensor but it's round the back, which means you really have no choice but to pick it up to use it. Supporting the arrangements for opening things up is a staggeringly well executed face-unlock so if you do pick the phone up, and have that enabled, by the time you want to do anything, you're in!

Remapping
On the top of the phone we have the SIM Card Tray which, in this case, is a Dual-SIM version (or single SIM/microSD Card) so if you need that function, check before you buy as other units with other chipsets for other regions, may vary. The tray is plastic, though doesn't feel flimsy like some, but the Sirocco wins here with a premium metal tray (though there was no dual-SIM version of that ever made). On the left is a volume-rocker and Bixby-button, both of which feel solid and premium. The Bixby button can now be remapped to anything you want and I have chosen the Google App. As Samsung One UI doesn't offer the option of right-swipe for my Google Cards pane, as Vanilla (and indeed the Sirocco) does, this is an acceptable replacement - maybe even preferable - with the added bonus of hiding Bixby!

OTG/HDMI/DeX
On the bottom of the phone we have the USB-C port, which works perfectly with OTG and HDMI-Out, invoking Samsung's DeX desktop experience optionally when plugged in. It also passes my 2TB External SSD test with flying colours, speedy read/writing. Next to this is a 3.5mm audio-out socket, which will invoke a 'hurrah' still in some quarters! For me, I don't use it much, but great to have rather than not. I note that in some upcoming Samsung devices, this is something that (even) they are looking at moving away from in favour of universal Bluetooth. I won't weep, but I know some who might! The downwards-firing speaker of the 'stereo' pair is there too and I'll come to sound later.

Shimmer
I have a black unit here and the back glass has a kind-of shimmery-effect, which almost looks blue in some lighting conditions. Towards the top is the two-camera island, which I'll come back to, a Samsung logo and nothing much else. It's very smooth and slippery, but doesn't seem to be a fingerprint magnet. There's no TPU in the box (with this unit) so you'll need to grab one. Or maybe not! It's a gorgeous looking/feeling device and I can imagine many people wanting to show it off as-is. The OCD in me, however, wouldn't allow! What I have noticed, moving to a Samsung from a less-popular manufacturer's model, is the depth and range of accessories and cases available. I guess that stands to reason. Popular.

Flat Glass
The front glass is flat. The screen displays minimal bezels with a slightly larger one on the chin. That's good if you're going to use the supplied Gestures for Navigation. Yes, flat. Unlike the Sirocco's wildly curved screen - and most of Samsung's flagship devices in recent years, including the rest of the 10-range. I think that's a good thing. It may not look so futuristic and gorgeous as the Sirocco's screen, but certainly navigation is simpler and viewing media doesn't lose you content around the edges! There's the other speaker of the pair up the top, doubling as an earpiece for calls, and a Selfie-cam punch-hole cutout top-right (portrait). Controversial it seems, cutting holes into front glass. We dwell in an era where manufacturers are actively seeking alternatives to that and coming up with creative options like pop-ups, swivels and under-glass. We'll see where that goes, but for now, most people, including myself, claim to 'not see it' after a while of use. The Sirocco defies all these problems by having a 16:9 screen, big chin and forehead, where all the sensors are hidden from view. How you feel about that will depend on what you think about screens completely filling the front of your phone.

Dynamic Screen
Staying with the screen, it's lower resolution than the Sirocco's and the rest of the Samsung flagships at 1080p (438ppi) but because it's a smaller phone, it works just fine - at least for my 56 year old eyes! It's amazingly sharp and bright (up to 803 nits in Auto) and colours are vibrant, adjustable and as punchy as you want them to be - and still supports HDR10+ content. We wouldn't expect anything less from a Samsung 'Dynamic' AMOLED screen. They make the best, as we know. It's 5.8" (curved) corner-to-corner with a 19:9 ratio. The insignificance of the lower-resolution screen provides a welcome boost to battery-life, of which I was unduly concerned.

Power Matters
A good place to continue from, then, the battery is a 3100mAh unit. After testing over the course of half-a-week, I'm pleasantly surprised. In my 'continuous reading' test 10% battery was used in just over an hour. I test all devices in the same way and the best ones seem to get me an hour and a half for 10%, but the 'acceptable level' I have established is an hour. Anything less is dismissed. So just over an hour is a good return, not quite as good as the Sirocco at 1hr 20min, but fine. The 'in normal use for me' test, a mixture of all sorts of use through and average day, doing average things, it looks like equalling the Sirocco, returning 24-30hrs between charges, 5-7hrs SoT, adaptive battery and brightness. It's not an exact science and different devices have different demands going on, of course, but as far as I'm concerned, the same conditions are applied to all phones. Like the Sirocco, there's also Qi Charging available (fast 15W, with a switch in software to slow it down) but unlike the Nokia, Samsung provides 9W Wireless PowerShare. This allows you to not only use the power in the Samsung's battery to charge another Qi-enabled device, but also allows you to charge the Samsung at the same time by cable, for those occasions when you only have one cable and two phones to charge! But seriously, like the 3.5mm audio-out socket, better to have than to not have. These are the little additions which give the owner a warm feeling that their outfit are including useful stuff that others don't bother with - and to some degree justify the cost difference. How many times we rue the missing of one feature or another and muse about how little adding that would have cost. Box ticking! There's a fast-charging 15W power brick in the box which can get you about a third charged from flat in about 25 minutes when needed - again slow-switching in Settings.

Under the Bonnet
This unit has 128GB Storage (my new minimum) and 6GB RAM, the same as the Sirocco. Unlike the latter, however, the Samsung continues to support microSD Cards. I have got used to living without this now (as long as I have 128GB onboard and USB-OTG) but, again, better to have than not have. Transferrable content is a great bonus for ease of moving media between devices. As for the chipset, the SnapDragon 855 flies through every task! Nothing seems to slow it down, darting between apps and services with loads of stuff keeping running in the background (unless you tell the system not to in order to save battery). I'm not a gamer (and wouldn't know where to start) so you'll need to look elsewhere for an appraisal of how this phone performs (particularly against the Exynos version) from those who know about gaming and do it!

Always On
Android 9 is present out of the box and this unit is updated to July 2019 Google Security. I have heard it said that the SnapDragon version doesn't get these updates as quickly from Samsung as the Exynos version, but we'll see. We're almost at the end of August now, so potentially we're almost two months behind, for what it matters. What Samsung are good at, is updating their own software of course and that's where I'll head next, starting with the superb Always On Display. This is market-leading as far as I'm concerned. The options, colours and functionality are not equalled. LG come close to emulating it, but others lag behind, either by the aforementioned aspects or by not being truly 'always on'. Samsung have done it right, even down to interactive controls via the AoD itself, for example, changing the brightness, independently of any other brightness controls, by providing a slider after double-tap. Kudos. They also include the Edge Screen options, even on this flat screen, which are a joy to use for notifications.

System Apps?
Samsung have started not pre-installing many of their apps, including Samsung Music and Video. This move is great, and during setup you get the choice to say yes/no to installing those. The net effect is more choice for people in the know, but for Joe Bloggs who has no idea about such matters, they might bemoan the loss of various apps and services that they're used to seeing as a part of the system. No prizes for guessing which camp (you and) I pitch up in! There are still some irritations. Two of which are no-choice 'system apps' of Facebook and LinkedIn! System apps? Really? You can't uninstall them, only disable - and when updates to the apps come along, if you have auto-update enabled in the Play Store, they just update and become enabled again so you have to go and disable again. If you don't have auto-updates switched on then they sit forever at the top of the Updates list reminding you what a nonconformist you have become. I guess it's only 2 apps and you can get the UI to 'hide' them, but it's disproportionately annoying here! Why do Samsung just assume that everyone buying their phones also use Facebook, I wonder. If we're going on popularity, why not Twitter or WhatsApp! I guess it's a monetised deal. Like Samsung need money!

One UI UX
I'm not going to pick apart the oodles of bells, whistles and options in Samsung's One UI again (particularly if you choose to exploit Bixby) as I have done it before. Here's links to my previous reviews and musings. Samsung Galaxy Note9, Samsung Galaxy A50. Bottom line is that One UI is the best looking, most-Vanilla and pleasant front-end UI that Samsung has created so far. The system-wide dark theme drills down into corners that most others get nowhere near, the adjustments for one-handed use (not needed here with such a small device of course) are well thought out and the homescreen settings and options much more useful. There's a plethora of options in Settings, little things that many others don't think about or implement, often later being adopted by Google for base-Android. It seems that Samsung have great ideas which they're not afraid to throw in the pot - and make sure that they work well! The downside of this of course is that for the casual user of phones, moving between manufacturers' devices each time they get a new phone, it can be confusing and present a huge learning-curve. Samsung helps with that by supplying suggestions and Search in Settings, but it might be better for people, much like Apple users, to get into Samsung - and stay there!

It's a Gesture
One of the excellently implemented aspects of One UI is the Gestures. You can switch Home and Recents if you like, have three buttons if you like, or use the full-gesture option which enables sweep-ups from the bottom of the screen, Back/Recents on the sides and Home, centre. You can choose to see the 'hints' at the foot of the screen (thin bars taking up a few pixels) or turn them off. Now, I've been playing with the Android Q (10) Beta builds during the summer and enjoying the new navigation controls which are going to be baked-in to the forthcoming version. Swipes in from the left and right of the screen, particularly on a one-handed device, is a real boon and has been baked into recent Huawei devices as an option. It'll come along as part of Android 10 (when Samsung get round to updating) but in the meantime, I've uncovered a Samsung App called One Hand Operation+ which does exactly the same thing - and much more! Trust Samsung to have got it sorted ahead of the game!

Sound One
The S10e, unlike the Sirocco, has a 3.5mm audio-out socket which of course means simple plugging in of, not only headphones and earphones, but also a wired connection to other equipment like speakers. This is the primary use for me, so I don't have to fiddle around with bluetooth. Having said that, once hooked up, the Bluetooth 5 works flawlessly with aptX, producing a great sound. In the box there's a pair of (nasty-looking) AKG-branded ear-plugs which, according to those who could bring themselves to put them in their ears, sound excellent - so I'll take their word for it! Built in to the phone is a 32-bit DAC and the sound through my AKG K701 reference headphones is loud and meaty. There's Dolby Atmos built-in too. Like some (but not all) other Samsung devices, it's on by default but can be turned off. Adjust between Auto, Voice, Music and Film. Differences can be detected and there's also a Custom setting available for headphones and speakers (to work on top of whatever Dolby Atmos setting is applied). Nice to see some more control available for sound, particularly, unlike many, as it includes speakers.

Sound Two
Talking of Speakers, I selected what seemed to be the closest likely contenders here to pitch the output against - the Google Pixel 2XL (with similarly faux stereo) and Razer Phone 2 (with 'proper' stereo). The volume of the S10e holds up very well, right with both of them and only lags behind the Pixel slightly in richness and quality but, as we might expect, by a margin with the Razer. Maybe that was unfair - indeed, pitching the Razer against any other phone! The Samsung produces a fabulous sound for my piano and jazz and is only tiny degrees behind bigger devices in the S-series range (presumably because of space inside the tiny body for assistance). It packs a great punch for volume and quality, very comparable to the Pixel. Only a true audiophile would complain - speakers on phones are getting better. I'm so pleased. The stereo is not particularly wide or effective, as you might expect with such a tiny body - the speakers are too close to each other! It really might as well be Mono (which can be switched to in Settings) as by the time the phone is far enough from the head for reasonable listening/viewing, it's all lost. But yes, shut your eyes, put the phone in front of your nose and it works perfectly! By the way, there's also an FM Radio included in the SnapDragon model which works perfectly well, records and plays through speakers with something plugged into the 3.5mm audio-out socket. Sadly, it seems, missing from the Exynos version altogether.

Flagship Cameras
I'm going to point you to Steve Litchfield to get a feel for the camera's capability, as usual, in his coverage over the months of all of Samsung's flagship cameras, starting with Phones Show 365 in which he declared the S10e top of the picks for May 2019 in his Top 5. Steve has done loads of tests of the Samsung hardware both for The Phones Show and over at All About Windows Phones. Go fish around and dig in! Here are the basics, though. The S10e has got two rear cameras, an (auto) variable aperture 12MP f1.5-f2.4 main unit with OIS supported by a 16MP f2.2 unit for wide-angle shots which also acts as a depth data module. The bigger brothers in the range have telephoto lenses too, but something had to give here on physical size! The Selfie snapper is a 10MP f1.9 unit and there's tons of fun and functional stuff to play with in the camera app for both front and back cameras, as you'd expect! You can shoot in RAW if you fancy and there's 'Pro' options aplenty, though I wasn't too impressed with minimum focus - nowhere near 'proper' Macro. Low light shooting is handled beautifully well by the auto-options. I have experienced excellent results with the cameras, perfectly good for almost all non-pro, non-nit-pick uses - and a beautiful screen on which to view them.

Verdict
Just because the Galaxy S10e is smaller than the brothers in Samsung's family, don't mistake it for anything less than a flagship. It is! An area previously near-dominated by Sony, so it's great to see someone else doing it. Particularly someone who's going to tick even more boxes! I maintain that it was a fair comparison to make with the cleaner, more vanilla Sirocco - and was fully expecting to pass over this Samsung as I have many before it, on the grounds of software. I'm not sure what it is particularly about this tiny phone which has made me shift, but shift I have. I can see a growing admiration for this phone and what Samsung are doing already and I'm only in week one. Yes, the microSD Card expansion is important for many, take your pick between the S10e's wide-angle camera or Sirocco's 2x Zoom, but the big difference for me is sound. The much bigger sound of the Samsung wins me over, whether stereo or not - it's streets ahead of the Nokia's output - and I have to admit that the 3.5mm audio-out socket is useful.

Pure Enough
However, Dame Vanilla is a comely mistress and I wonder how long it'll be before I'm hankering after a cleaner, purer experience again, close to the beating heart of what Google are doing with the Pixel range. With Android 10 (proper release) due to drop any minute, the draw of the Pixel might just be too much! In the meantime, this is as close as I have ever got to adopting a Samsung and taking it seriously. It's a beautiful little phone with amazing capability and very highly recommended even, I imagine, the Exynos version. It just ticks every box apart from one - the software - and that's so incredibly close now for this reviewer to think again. It's a delight to use and great value for the six hundred-odd quid, or even better if you're brave enough to have a SnapDragon one imported.

Monday, 19 August 2019

Red Joan

Everyone seems to be up in arms about this story being untruthfully based on the life of Melita Norwood, who worked during WWII under the Official Secrets Act but was giving away nuclear development secrets to the Soviet Union. Actually, author of the Novel of the same name Jennie Rooney was very clear about it being a fictitious account, weaved around, loosely, the person in question.

Having got that out of the way, it's an excellent yarn which starts with the arrest of Joan, in her 80's, in England - and the rest of the film is shot in flashback, depicting the events of the story with occasional returns to the police interview room where she's being grilled. Joan is played as the old woman by Judi Dench (Notes on a Scandal, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children). She doesn't have much screen time, but what she has, as you might expect, she injects class.

As we flashback to her early life as an employee of the British development team, her role is taken over by Sophie Cookson (Kingsman) who does a splendidly stiff-upper-lip job portraying a well educated and privileged young lady, out of Cambridge University, back in the era when 'nice' people were frightfully well spoken! She makes for compelling viewing as she pretty much rules the roost throughout. One to watch. Whilst Joan was at Cambridge before WWII, she hooked up with a couple of communists, Leo and Sonya, who were, at the time, trying to stand up against the upcoming fascism infiltrating world politics. She didn't really go along with what they stood for but had fallen for Leo and wanted to please him with her non-resistance. Leo is played by Tom Hughes (Victoria) very convincingly, leaping in and out of Joan's life teasing her with shades of long-term commitment.

Sonya is played by Tereza Srbova (St. Trinian's) reminding me very much of Kristin Scott-Thomas straight out of The English Patient. Again, very confident, tall and in-control female of the day. As her role and actions unfold, we learn much about her behaviour and position in relation to Leo. The story plays out much more as a love-centred one between the main players amidst a backdrop of the aforementioned difficulties. Joan stumbles into 'spy' behaviour based on her unhappiness about having been instrumental in helping to develop bomb technology, when she sees what happens in Hiroshima. She believes that by leaking the details of development, the Soviets will be able to create an equal threat to the world, so all parties will neutralise the risk to more human catastrophe because of fear of counter-attacks of equal measure.

There's a few surprises along the way as the story develops, which has been held together by director Trevor Nunn (Lady Jane) very ably. The photography is interestingly executed taking in the atmospheric sets which depict the time and era perfectly. Those little tearooms, straight out of Dad's Army, dark interiors with low lighting, perfect costumes for the day and outside, vehicles that you would expect to see on roads with people milling amongst buildings also suitably reflective. It's an excellent little film and story, one of those great British films about WWII antics such as The Imitation Game in which you can expect to see some super home-grown talent in all departments. Recommended.

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Aspectek - Fly and Insect Killer

At last, I had a chance to try this thing out with some pesky trespassers this week! My test samples were moths and flies. For some reason, during the two blasts of heatwave we've endured this summer, I was not inundated as I thought I would be. Until now!

Anyway, here it is! It's a 20W UV light wielding unit which you'd typically see on a kitchen wall. It's pretty bright, so you certainly wouldn't want it in a bedroom. In the kitchen then, all other lights off, two flies and a moth roaming around, within 10 minutes it had zapped all three! And blimey! What a noise! Another reason you'd not want it in the bedroom! When an imposter meets its fate, you really hear it - with a loud bang, enough to wake the dead! Well, unless you'd been zapped of course!

Two bulbs emit ultraviolet rays and the grilles (apparently) serve up a 2,800 volt shock! (Doesn't sound very likely, does it!) Dead insects are caught in an easy-remove tray. It comes with a chain if you want to hang it, but I have a place it stands happily on its base. There's obviously a protective grille around the zapping elements. It's about a foot or so wide, 9 inches or so high and about 3 inches fat. Wherever it comes from they supply a UK plug and a cable about 5ft long. Apparently you can get replacement bulbs from the same supplier - so we'll see how long they last!

I'm not convinced that it would be much use in daylight hours or outside, but that's not what I want it for - I'm looking for the last hour before bedtime.

Seems to do the job. Not cheap at £35, but I've had cheaper ones before and they're nowhere near as powerful and effective as this one. Recommended. https://tinyurl.com/yyhn9ao5

Monday, 12 August 2019

Jean de Florette/Manon des Sources

Two films in one from French director, producer and actor Claude Berri (The Two of Us, Hunting and Gathering) and two halves of a story well told by all involved. It's dramatic, tragic, funny and sad in equal measure. It's a story of revenge, but also one of old fashioned goodies vs baddies without necessarily a formulaic evolution into comeuppance!

The two films are set in the same village and surrounding countryside in rural France shortly after WWI and involve the reliance by everyone on water, the supply thereof, coming down from springs and hills supplying various properties. An old man played by Yves Montand (The Wages of Fear, Let's Make Love, Kelly's Heroes) and his not-so-bright nephew, depicted by Daniel Auteuil (Caché, Un Coeur en HiverThe Widow of Saint-Pierre), are eyeing up a property to exploit in order to set up a money-making business. Just at the wrong time (though partly by their interference), the owner drops dead and leaves it all to his relative, a hunchbacked tax-collector from the city, embodied by Gérard Depardieu (La Vie en Rose, The Man in the Iron Mask, 1492: Conquest of Paradise). The tax-collector decides to make a life in the countryside and breed rabbits, accompanied by his wife and small daughter, Manon!

The two mischievous voyeurs hatch a plan to cut off his water supply without him knowing, destroy his efforts and force him to return to the city. But the hunchback is made of stronger stuff and holds out for much longer than they think he might. When one plan fails, there's another up his sleeve! Eventually there's tragedy and here ends the first half of the story. (It's hard to write a review about a two-parter without giving away plotlines in the second, from the first!)

The second half moves some years later on, when there's no tax-collector or wife around but the daughter has grown into a young lady who makes a living as a goatherd but lives a reclusive life having stayed put after the fist film. She is played by the gorgeous 23-year old (at the time) Emmanuelle Béart (L'EnferUn Coeur en Hiver, Mission: Impossible) and certainly in one scene, reveals much of herself! She's not quite sure what went on back in the day, but overhears conversations which confirm to her that the tragedy from the first film was cooked up by the two scoundrels. So she's now out for revenge - and what better way to exact it than to use control of the water supply! Not realising what's going on, the not-so-bright nephew falls in love with her and seeks to marry.

The story then opens up with reveals about the past, twists and turns as we find out more about who's who and what's what. It's delivered gently, there are no outrageous shocks, but there are certainly interesting turns which the viewer needs to keep an eye open for in order to patch things together before they're revealed. There are moral dilemmas throughout but the goodie/baddie question gives way to the tragic elements and whether or not justice will be served, regardless of wrongdoing.

It plays out much like a Greek Tragedy, elements in both films, but don't let that spoil things for you by knowing - there's so much to enjoy here. The first film is generally more comic with the two 'baddies' playing off against each other like a double-act, whereas the second film moves more into a dramatic unfolding of events, a love story, revelation of the truth from the past - from the first film and beyond. There is much bad feeling between most of the characters as events become darker and further removed from the frivolous tone of some of the first film.

The films are a joy to consume, generally. The actors play their parts beautifully and with real conviction dealing with the tragic events which come along. Depardieu plays a big character who puts a cheerful face on everything, not letting his physical appearance get in the way, Auteuil becomes the 'village idiot' with convincing appeal, Montand offers up a huge range of emotional flexibility and Béart, though her lines are few, uses her facial expression and big eyes with great impact. She isn't just here as the sex-symbol and has much to offer as she darts about the hillsides hatching her revenge.

There's loads going on in these two films for the audience to milk and enjoy. It's much more than a simple country tale - there's deep enjoyment to be gained by immersing oneself into the story. The photography is superb and atmosphere created markedly well with the hot baking summers of rural France - where people rely completely on water to farm their land and have to be flexible when it's not there. On the face of it, it might sound a bit of a dull tale, but I would recommend getting stuck into it - you will be rewarded with satisfactory outcomes and rich character depiction. Highly recommended.

The Other Man

This 2008 film is a smarter-than-average thriller-cum-mystery about a woman who was married to a man very happily for 25 years, then suddenly after a philosophical discussion one evening with her husband, she's gone! Don't switch off though and assign this to a missing-person-chase, as it's much more intelligent than that.

Peter is an Irishman living in Cambridge and married to Lisa, both successful business people. Lisa often visits Milan on business. It's clear that husband and wife love each other dearly and their grown-up daughter Abigail makes up the nuclear family. When Lisa has gone, Peter is distraught and tries to find out more about her life by following clues in her laptop, photos and written notes about her life. He finds out that she had a secret lover in Milan for the last 10 years, Ralph, who she also seemed to love dearly, too. But more significantly, she seems to have purposely left these clues for him to find.

Peter heads off to Milan to try and track down Ralph and kill him! When he gets there, however, he decides to play a game of cat-and-mouse, finding out more about him and his love for his wife by pretending to befriend him. They spend much time exploring that and both their stories come out as they spend long afternoons playing chess and drinking coffee. Over time, his quest to kill the man gives way to an understanding of how it seems that one woman can indeed could have had a deep and meaningful love for two men in her life. There are some twists and turns to come, keep your eyes open for clues as to what's going on as you head towards the last third of the film.

Director Richard Eyre (Notes on a Scandal, The Children Act, Iris) pulls off another interesting film, making the most of the story (which he helped to pen) and actors involved. This 'missing person' thing is common territory for Liam Neeson (The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Schindler's List, Husbands and Wives), but actually he excels in this one, slightly off the beaten track for him. He plays the main lead with command as you'd expect. Antonio Banderas (The 33Frida, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger) plays The Other Man and does so with style and class, though he is overshadowed by the other two, especially Laura Linney (Ozark, Kinsey, Lorenzo’s Oil) who steals the show for me. She has less screen time, but what she has, she makes the very most of, is the most convincing of the cast and applies the glue holding things together.

It's a thinking person's missing-person yarn, done very well here, excellently portrayed by all involved, within lovely Italian and English settings. Dark and atmospheric interiors add to the overall feel of the locations and Eyre pulls the whole production together very nicely. Very good film which I recommend.

Sunday, 11 August 2019

From the Land of the Moon (Mal de pierres)

Nicole Garcia is a French actress-cum-director and writer and has been instrumental here in creating this 2016 film based on a short story by Italian writer Milena Agus. The setting has been switched to France (from Italy) and story tweaked for the big screen.

It's the story of the troubled Gabrielle in 1950's rural France and covers her life from teenager to older woman as she negotiates love, insanity and her place in the world. She seems to have a screw-loose generally and since being rejected for love by her teacher earlier in life, starts to behave eccentrically, like a drama-queen. Her family are at a loss to know what to do with her, so pretty-much arrange a marriage for her. She makes it clear to her new husband that she is not interested and that he must be nuts to go along with the plan when she knows that there's a loveless/sexless life ahead for them both. For reasons of his own, he still complies.

Gabrielle feels horribly constrained by society's expectations of place, position and behaviour and just wants to live life her own way, or not at all. My thoughts at this point went to the plight of T. S. Eliot's wife Vivienne Haigh-Wood Eliot as depicted in the excellent film Tom & Viv as we discover that at least a part of Gabrielle's problems are explained by the undiagnosed kidney-stones from which she suffers. This does eventually come out and off she goes to a clinic in Switzerland for treatment. The treatment now seems archaic and puts me in mind of Alan Parker's 1994 film The Road to Wellville with Kellogg's health-farm!

She meets a recovering soldier at the clinic and falls madly in love with him. They spend much time together and she imagines a passionate and love-filled future ahead of them together. He's not doing too well though and it's not clear how long he'll be around to enjoy it, even if she was able to get him to run off with her. He then abruptly disappears one day and she returns to her husband. She announces that she's pregnant and tells her long-suffering husband that it's not his and is the result of a passionate affair at the clinic. She writes to the soldier every day for years. He never replies. She settles into a traditional life of wife/mother and I'll say no more in terms of plot as this is where some reveals and flashbacks make the viewer realise that maybe all is not quite as it seemed, nor how it is now.

The visual impact of the film is significant. Photography of interiors and colourful landscapes are well thought out and executed in the way it seems only European cinema can do. It is, at times, a work of art in this respect and as is often the case, many frames from the film could make a fine picture for the wall. The sets are very typical rural France as you'd expect in the hot summer in the villages, much wooden furniture and bare upholstery, dark rooms with small windows, shuttered to control heat - think 'Allo 'Allo! Excellent atmosphere created by the use of silhouette, lighting and shadow.

The two leads play their parts very convincingly, though maybe it would have been an idea to not have to age the very experienced Marion Cotillard (La Vie en Rose, Contagion, Midnight in Paris) through quite so many years and use a younger actress for the teen! The less world-famous Alex Brendemühl plays the husband with style and captures the quiet and passive man nicely. The film is a thoughtful one which could so easily have meandered off into Lady Chatterley territory, but it holds itself back, applying a smart edge. A moving drama but also, as it turns out, a bit of a mystery with some twists, turns and reveals along the way. Recommended.

Sunday, 4 August 2019

Siumir Sisal Soap Bag with Drawstring

I hate using liquid soap so have always stuck with old-fashioned bars. However, I've also always been annoyed that when bars get too small to continue using, what's remaining is wasted.

Enter the Soap Saver Pouch! Chuck all your old bits in it, draw the string closed and rub between hands for quick foaming and use for the soap. If you like it, you can even just put new bars in.

It has a slightly 'rough' texture on the outside (but no worse than a sponge, I don't think) and I understand some use for exfoliation of skin and the like. I don't think, once foaming, it's too rough to use on the skin and works really well.

You can also then hang the bag so that soap is not swimming about in a watery dish deteriorating before next use. The soap and foam dry out in the air and excess fluid drips away.

At 2 for £3.50 it's as #cheap_as_chips and in the long term saves loads of cash buying soap. Recommended for old-fashioned types like me!
https://tinyurl.com/y4ko6ck3

Friday, 2 August 2019

OnePlus 7 Pro

Recent dabblings with fabulous value budget phones is set aside here as we head straight back into flagship territory and a look at the highest spec'd phone I ever handled! Many thanks to Jon Trimmer for the review loan. So does the OnePlus 7 Pro with 256GB Storage and 12GB RAM live up to the hype and justify digging deeper for more, I wondered.

The Samsung Galaxy Note9 with 512GB Storage was to date the best specified phone I've ever reviewed and with which I tried to live! I reviewed this in multiple parts last year as I tackled speakers, the S-Pen and finally the whole experience. I also enjoyed my time with and reviewed the OnePlus 6T which had 256GB Storage (and remains my most popular blog post). We've talked a lot on PSC about not having to pay £1000 for a phone when a £200 model will do 95% of the same jobs, but this unit is slightly different in that, if you don't want the mega-specs on display here, the phone can be bought (as I review) in a 128GB/6GB RAM version for £649, rather than the £799 on show here. You can also buy the non-Pro version for even less, but that's a very different phone indeed - more of a 6T update than this, which is treading new ground for OnePlus.

The Big Tour
Physically the phone is gorgeous in the hand. It looks and feels to me very much like a Galaxy phone - and maybe that's what they were after. The glass front and back curve around the edges to meet the aluminium surround - and the shimmering Nebula Blue back colour is a delight. Shame that there's no way it could be used without a case to protect! Fortunately OnePlus have not been tight-fisted and included a very good clear TPU in the case. It's very good quality and could easily be priced at £10-£15 out there if buying. I can just about meet my thumb and finger around the phone's waist but not with the case on. This is a big phone! On the right are the power button and knurled 'alert slider', on the left, volume rocker, bottom speaker, SIM Card Tray and USB-C port and up-top, the pop-up selfie camera. On the back there's various logos, an LED flash and triple-camera island arranged vertically and centrally. In the hand, naked, it feels amazingly premium and, as I say, very big! In comparison to the already-big Pixel 2XL, it's about the same width and thickness but a little taller. It's also heavy - you know you're carrying it with the weight up in the Razer Phone department, at over 200g. OnePlus don't seem to be claiming any official waterproof rating, but it seems like that's to save money on the certification, bizarrely, claiming that the phone is bucket-of-water-dunk safe, but not offering guarantees!

Fluid
As I fire it up, it's clear that the 'fluid' AMOLED screen is just as gorgeous as any Samsung phone's screen, bright, vibrant colours, sharp and Gorilla Glass 5 (better get a protector). It's a giant 6.67" screen that defies the size of its frame by filling itself right out to the edges providing almost no bezel at all - no wonder they supplied a TPU for people to have somewhere to hold! This is quite a size when you think that it's only just shy of a 7" tablet, though I do accept that the shape/ratio is different of course. The ratio is 19.5:9 which accounts for the tall but disproportionately (for the size) narrow body. The screen has 1440 x 3120 pixels making 516ppi. What 'fluid' actually means is a bit of a mystery and maybe just marketing hype, the claim being it makes the most dynamic use of all hardware and software resources to keep things 'fluid' including HDR10+ content support and a 90Hz refresh rate...

Refreshing Change
Another first for OnePlus is having introduced a screen which has a 90Hz refresh rate. I've been using a Razer Phone here with a 120Hz refresh rate for a long time now and as reported elsewhere, I can't tell the difference! Gamers with much younger eyes than mine will no doubt disagree and those who say 'once experienced, no way back' - well, I just don't get it. But each to their own. Clearly OnePlus are having a go at attracting Gamers and keeping up with Asus/Razer with their offerings in this department. Fortunately for the likes of me, you can switch it back to the 'normal' 60Hz and save some battery into the bargain! OnePlus do say that when 90Hz is engaged, it is switched to and from dynamically, so not always engaged, depending on what you're doing. The resolution of the 1440p screen can also be switched to 1080p for, again, those who can't tell the difference and to save even more battery. There is an Auto setting which, again, adjusts depending on application.

Let Me In!
The Optical under-screen fingerprint scanner of the 6T started off in a very flaky manner. My Nokia 9 PureView is still pretty much a nightmare in that respect. The ultrasonic versions seem to just work better, but are more expensive to implement at this stage under the glass. So here we have the latest attempt by OnePlus to stick with Optical and actually, the tech seems to have evolved very nicely. It works very well indeed, I would give it 98% of the time. It's very close to perfect, even upside down and the target is nicely low-down on the screen where your thumb would naturally be placed. Maybe Nokia could borrow some of the tech! This is backed up by Face Unlock, which was really fussy to register. It got there in the end but clearly doesn't like full-face beards, nor glasses. When it eventually got with the programme, it gives options to either make you swipe the screen to invoke the face unlock, or to bypass that - however, both of these methods are only available once the power button is pressed on the side, not just the screen being on via double-tap or lifting, which means you might as well really just use your finger. The pop-up Selfie camera (which I'll come to later) slides up each time you want to unlock using this method, quickly up and very quickly down again.

Bolt-On Power
I've mentioned the battery a couple of times now and this unit does come provided with a 4000mAh unit, OnePlus' biggest yet - over the 3700 of the 6T. I'm finding that the battery is getting me fine through a day plus a bit, for my average use. There are concerns out there in reviewland about the extra demands of the screen tech and size on power, some reporting poor results - however, that's not what I'm finding. The truth about that will only come, I guess from those who can use the phone longer-term and not via a short review period. Sadly, OnePlus have opted not to include Qi Charging in this unit, which is a great shame. At this price point I would have thought this should have been a given and suspect very strongly that there will be a 7 ProT along any minute to fix that! Fortunately, I have tested the phone with a USB-C Qi Charging Receiver and it works perfectly (unlike some phones) so Qi can be bolted on! Don't forget also that there's Warp Charging with the brick in the box for a quick fix. This is what used to be called Dash by OnePlus and the 30W (5V/6A) charging claims to get you 50% from flat in 20 minutes, 60% in 35 minutes and so on. We've come to be more cautious these days than routinely using such fast chargers, fearing for the long-term performance of our batteries, but it's certainly useful when needed.

Flawless
The 7 Pro is powered by a Snapdragon 855, so top of the pile for now and here, with the absurd 12GB RAM, the speed around the UI is, as you might expect, flawless. It makes you realise how slow other phones are, even though they felt perfectly good at the time! One example of that is USB-OTG. With other phones, when I plug in my Samsung Extreme 2TB SSD, it chugs away reading the content - in some cases for minutes - before being available for use. Here, plug it in and within 10 seconds it's all been read and raring to go. Amazing difference. But for most people, for most uses, of course they probably won't notice. Nice to have that poke under the bonnet when needed. HDMI-Out also works perfectly, with an adapter and cable, whatever you're doing on the phone is echoed on the TV/Monitor and with my TV, the sound also makes it through to the set instead of staying with the phone.The SIM Card Tray is a Dual and they've placed a space on each side of it for the two cards. Neat.

Robust Storage
Talking of Storage, the fast UFS 3.0 256GB here is not complemented by microSD expansion, but with OTG working perfectly and that amount onboard, even I am acknowledging that this really is more than good enough for the vast majority of people. Something else that, as it turns out, Apple got right. I have to admit that the Storage being built-in must be more robust, less complicated and system-set so that everything works together out of the factory - instead of hoping that microSD Cards will play ball (as the tech around those change too). I'm very pleased to see the survival of the Alert Slider, assuming as I was that sometime soon it'll be gone with the 3.5mm and shutter release and so on. Genuinely useful for sleeping/meetings and anywhere else where instant DND is needed without fiddling around in menus.

Speaker Sounds
My favourite topic of course and I'm very impressed! Firstly there are two speakers, one at each end (downwards firing at base and front-firing at top) which do produce a stereo sound. I've tested it with all my normal methods and media and it's easily as good as the top-end Samsung devices, I might even say better - somewhere between them and Razer. The only negative thing I'd say following that appraisal is that it's a little bit tinny just for top-end frequencies at full volume, but this can be fixed nicely by using a dedicated Music app rather than Google Play Music or relying on the limited Dolby Atmos options of Dynamic, Film or Music. These don't make huge changes and are always-on, so you have to choose one of them. The stereo separation is not as good as some but certainly works, even though, unlike Razer, these are not true stereo speakers (depending on how you choose to define stereo). The left stereo channel stays on your left when the phone is turned upside down, which is rarer than you might think! The Equaliser setting has been stripped out of Google Play Music so you have to head for Settings and Sound to get to Dolby. There's not even a button in the drop-down Notifications Settings array.

Headphones
There's also no 3.5mm audio-out socket which means that the user needs to rely on a USB-C to 3.5mm converter, but that's becoming pretty common these days anyway. There's not even an adapter in the box, so you're on your own finding a solution if you're not happy with bluetooth. Bluetooth does support aptX HD but it's clear that OnePlus are not prioritising sound here with no Quad DAC built-in, for example, which needs to be grabbed via an adapter too. I'm again surprised at this price-point that this isn't just a part of what's going on - a nod to the future of bluetooth dependence. Talking of which, the aptX sound over bluetooth via my Marshall Major II headset is fabulous as-is. There are some additional controls in Dolby Atmos which pop up with headphone use (by bluetooth or wired) which build on the Dynamic/Film/Music/None with a 'Style preference' providing further Balance/Warm/Nuanced/None. Switching between them makes little difference except, to my ears, the amount of bass. It's certainly loud though, but not so much when wired with a basic dongle/adapter. Switching to my AKG K701 reference headphones the sound is good, but nothing like it is via bluetooth. Plug in my Razer Phone dongle with all its power and the sound is transformed, as you might expect. Shame OnePlus didn't do like LG and, again, at this price-point, provide decent sound for wired output.

Tanked Up Android
The phone is supplied with Android 9 Pie and as I had it in my care, on 1st August, security updated to June 2019. Not far behind the cutting edge with an improving track record which OnePlus fans are pleased to be able to enjoy. OnePlus has, as usual, tanked up Android with their OxygenOS, now up at version 9.5.9. Again, OnePlus seem to pay close attention to timely updates and are forever pushing through tweaks and improvements to their software running the show. It bodes well for the future and confidence going forward. The phone feels so much more vanilla than others out there, particularly Samsung, and if only they'd left the Launcher as stock, I'd have not felt the need to even consider Nova. Unfortunately, they've stripped out the right-swipe vanilla Google App and replaced it with their own mess, called Shelf. A bit like HTC's Blink. So claustrophobic and limited with widgets and very few selected services like Parking Location, Memo, a Toolbox of limited shortcuts, recent apps, recent contacts, a control-panel dashboard, a travel-card replacement and a 'nanny state' Zen Mode which, when executed, locks down your phone so you can't use it for 20 minutes! Designed to make you take a break, but it'll still let you use the camera! Anyway, all of this, plus near infinite amounts more, are available via the right-swipe Google App cards and services, which they've stripped out for no purpose at all, that I can see. It doesn't sit with their usual approach to keeping things clean. Anyway, there is it. This alone invokes the need to add Nova with the Companion App - or at least to turn off the Shelf and keep a Google App shortcut on the desktop.

Oxygen
Enough negativity, though because Oxygen is generally fabulous to use. Full of useful features and additions to baseline Android. The Pie design language survives through to the Notification Panel with round buttons, greyed out when not in use, swipe-away Notification cards, full editing options for the first panel with left-swipes for more. Pull down Notification Panel from anywhere on the screen, pull up for App Drawer from anywhere on the screen. Options galore for Navigation at the foot, from full-gesture control with swipes from bottom, swipe-pause, swipe from left-bottom, swipe from right-bottom - the gesture controls work well and the only thing missing, now present in Q Beta is the 'back' swipes from right and left of screen. If you'd rather, you can have the standard Pie navigation or even legacy three-button, so choices all round. There are some limited layout options for the desktop but also access to Icon Packs via the Play Store. Long press the home screen for a bunch of other controls and options for look and feel of the general environment before heading into Settings proper!

Tinkering
Apart from all the standard Pie additions to settings, adaptive stuff et al, Reading Mode turns off colours (per-app if you want), there are loads of ways to adjust how the screen colours look including a manual slider, a video-enhancer function (though I can't see any difference in use), controls for the 'ambient display' - meaning AoD of course. There's a few choices for clock/date and content layout for the AoD but not as many as Samsung's, and switches for DTTW, nudge/pickup phone to wake - once again, at this price-point, I expect a proper AoD. One that stays on! If Samsung and others can do it, then so should OnePlus be able to. I hope this is switchable in software and enough OnePlus users hound the company to add it. Theme can be switched to 'dark' which survives across all settings and some apps, but not all - and you can even change the accent colour for your system dialogues' headings etc.

...and there's more...
Then there's the Motorola-style 3-finger screenshot option and a whole range of assignable gestures from the off-screen, like music controls with a > or opening camera with an O or torch with a V, or any other apps or functions you want to allocate to O, V, S, M and W. Neat idea and pleased that they're sticking with it. Supporting the 90Hz refresh rate screen there's also a Gaming Mode which can be switched on to enhance game-play in a whole bunch of ways including various aspects of DND controls and even a 'fnatic' Mode which, when selected, pretty much shuts down most other functions and apps on the phone in order to allocate absolute maximum hard/software resources to game-play. You can even auto-switch this on, when certain apps/games are launched! They seem to be making some effort in trying to attract Gamers here and challenging, as I say, other phone makers treading that path. Parallel Apps is still present, allowing double-installation and sign-in of various services as is the Locker, to hide those apps and services users don't want anyone to know they're using! Scheduled power on/off I think is a great function - I don't think it hurts to schedule a reboot a couple of times a week and this can be assigned to whatever time you like, so a good idea for 3am routinely. I'd like to see what Samsung have done here, also allowing a choice of days. Maybe it'll come in an update. Other additional apps are kept to a minimum and I really wouldn't call them bloat. A video screen recorder, voice recorder, weather, file manager, calculator and clock. Users can choose whether to use these or ignore them in lieu of the Google standard apps.

Photography
In my usual way, I'm going to invite you to join Steve Litchfield in The Phones Show 370 for a much more useful analysis of the camera setup on the phone as he puts it through its paces, testing functions and performance. There's a triple camera setup here with a 48MP/12MP pixel-binning f1.6 unit in the lead with OIS allowing for 2x lossless zoom, supported by a 3x hybrid-zoom in the 8MP f2.4 secondary camera, again with OIS and a 16MP f2.2 wide-angle shooter bringing up the rear! (Using UltraShot you can now shoot JPG images using the full 48MP of the sensor incidentally). There's a 16MP pop-up Selfie camera which pops out of the top of the camera, as I said earlier, on demand and ensures that there's no need to for cut-outs or notches on the screen. It's a solution - and OnePlus claim to have tested the robustness of the component exhaustively. I guess the average user will still be concerned about longevity. My favourite function is close-up shots with the secondary camera at 3x zoom. This combination gets me really close to subjects and heads towards feeling like real Macro, remaining sharp enough for me at minimum distance. I've had great fun with that, much more than any other functionality! Second favourite is the wide-angle, which I always wow about - and it's as excellent here as other phones' cameras which employ similar. Makes me want to go out (and stay in) and actually use it, like I would a proper camera. The camera app is fun to use and is full of modes and manual overrides galore, including optional AI, JPG/RAW and spirit level. Low light performance is very good and most of the bells and whistles make it through to the 16MP Selfie, which actually produces 16MP shots unlike some phones I've tested lately! Anyway, I'll leave you with Steve there.

Near Perfect
This is a terrific smartphone and feels like a true flagship. It's as fast as lightning, is stuffed with the best hardware, has enough interesting stuff going on to make it less boring than a Nexus/Pixel. At the same time, there's enough 'vanilla' retained so as not to make the user feel as though they're off on some tangent from Android which would have to be learnt afresh (and probably hated). If only they would update the software to include an AoD - and had, at the outset, added Qi Charging, this could have been my perfect phone. It's not cheap for this model packed with the highest specs, but when you use it it somehow feels like it's worth the extra cash. I've never used a phone which works quite as fast and, as OnePlus might say, fluidly. Highly recommended if you can afford it. Thanks again to Jon Trimmer for the loan.

Unbelievable

This excellent 2019 drama by writer, director, producer Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich) is a wonderful demonstration of the always-improv...