Monday, 28 October 2019

LG V50 ThinQ 5G

The LG V50 ThinQ 5G is a gorgeous slice of technology which is beautifully made and feels more than premium in the hand. Forget about the Dual Screen (DS) and near-pointless 5G for now and just enjoy the handset! This unit was supplied by LG but locked to EE, and that's the only official way you can get hold of one in the UK just now, on contract.

It's another glass/aluminium sandwich but it's a real beauty. The glass very subtly curves around the edges, front and back in symmetry, to meet the metal band. On the right is the power button alongside the very broad SIM Card/microSD Card pokey-hole Tray, nothing much up top and volume buttons on the left beside the dedicated Google Assistant button. On the bottom is a 3.5mm audio-out socket, USB-C port and one of the two 'faux' stereo speakers. On the front we have two selfie cameras and the other speaker. On the back, three cameras and an LED flash buried under the Gorilla Glass and just below them, a capacitive fingerprint scanner. Down towards the bottom are the three metal connectors which enable communication with the DS.

Footprint
The phone is IP68 rated (and MIL-STD-810G compliant) which gives protection against dust and 1.5m of water for half an hour. The overall footprint is about the same as my Pixel 2XL in all aspects. The glass is super-smooth and slippery, which means it'll certainly need a TPU at least, not supplied in the box. I wonder if they really think that users will have the DS in place all the time! It's not the lightest of phones at 183g and with that DS in position, it really comes up quite heavy.

Screen
The screen is a gorgeous P-OLED panel which can be cranked up very brightly indeed, ensuring no problems outdoors in sun. The default resolution out of the box is 1080p so users have to know to switch manually if they want the full 1440 or power-saving 720 and this, incidentally, can't be independently controlled for the main screen and DS. Furthermore, the main screen is auto-switched back to 1080p even if you change it, once a session with the DS has been completed. The screen is 6.4" with a ratio of 19.5:9 - all of this producing 538ppi. It really is a lovely bright screen with oodles of options to change the colours via RGB and temperature controls and even 6 user template options and an 'expert' set of tools. You really can have this screen set however you want it to look. There's a substantial notch around the cameras and speaker but this can be hidden in Settings.

AoD
There's also an Always On Display, much like the Samsung version with options to change how it looks, pictures, signature, clocks, notifications, colours - and when it pops up on the screen, a scrolling bunch of controls when swiped left and right. Music controls, power percentage, torch, bluetooth, DND, WiFi, camera and even a shortcut to QuickMemo+ almost emulating the S-Pen Samsung Note functionality. The camera will fire up from here and let you shoot and save, but want to get any further, you need to get past lockscreen security if set. Every phone should have a good quality AoD like LG and Samsung provide - for some of us, it's a big purchase-influencing feature.

Security
The lockscreen security includes all the usual options including LG's Knock-Screen (a variation on pattern) and face unlock, which works very, very well indeed. Very little lag, which I experience with some others, and straight in. Registration is simple and quick (even with my full face beard) with an option to add additional data to heighten that security. By switching this on, you're warned that it might take longer to unlock with a face, but I have found it to be pretty much the same time. The old-fashioned capacitive fingerprint scanner on the back works even more quickly and is a solid option if the phone is in-hand. So much better than under-screen in terms of performance.

Engine Room
The phone comes as standard with 128GB storage, 6GB RAM and a SnapDragon 855 chipset. I have not been able to slow things down, even when using the second screen and flying about the interface. I have found that plenty of apps can be held in RAM without shutting down - much more than the average user would demand. I have tested the storage options in my usual ways and can report that the 128GB is fast enough for read/write, the phone supports USB OTG and read/writes very quickly to my 2TB External SSD. HDMI-Out is working perfectly well hooked up to a TV or monitor. One caveat is that unlike some others, the Qi charging can't be used when HDMI-Out is being employed. Tested here with a pass-through dongle instead, with a power-input and it works perfectly well. The microSD Card slot performs just as well and is a very welcome feature, as always.

Connectivity
I've not been able to test the cellular connectivity speed and reliability here as, badly equipped reviewer as I am, I don't have a paid-up EE SIM Card. Sorry! I can report that connectivity apart from that is excellent, however, by WiFi, GPS and Bluetooth. Very solid and good quality. The earpiece speaker I have tested with VoIP calls and it sounds like it is very good quality, strong and loud. I'll try and do better next time with a SIM Card and contract/PAYG for every UK network! There is Dual SIM here for those who need it - at the expense of the microSD expansion.

Software
Android 9 is present with September 2019 Google Security. It seems that LG, like others armed with the benefits of Project Treble, are getting better with updates, though I do wonder how long they'll take to get Android 10 in place. LG UX 8.0 is the launcher/homescreen/front-end present and actually, it's much more Vanilla-feeling than some and certainly more so than their previous versions. Wallpapers and Themes are app-add-ons from LG mainly, Widgets pretty standard, Homescreen options include app-drawer or no-app-drawer, iOS-style, adjustable grid layout, icon shape and Google Feed to the left on/off. There's even a swipe-down on homescreen, again iOS-style, for a search engine. There's a generous seven spaces on the Dock for apps, which is most unusual outside of Nova et al. There's an option of Navigation controls between the three standard ones or Google's (last year) gestures with the two. Colours of buttons can be changed and there's also a setting to auto-hide the controls when not in use if System isn't smart enough to beat LG to it! The launcher and front-end, I think I could live with now, without installing Nova - the point I got to with Samsung's OneUI recently.

Google Assistant
The Google Assistant hardware button on the left gets you with a single-press to the Assistant, awaiting your command or a double-press for your Google App Cards (if phone is unlocked). Generic searches work with the phone locked but personal data is not revealed until unlocking is done. I can't seem to find any way to reassign that button (which suits me fine) but maybe with a SIM Free version of this phone, it's possible. This button is a fabulous addition for me - and it makes me much, much more likely to use the Google Assistant and talk to my phone than other methods used elsewhere to invoke the function.

Bloat
However, all is not quite so peachy when you start to look at the other bloat that LG has doubled-up with Google on (which is strange, given that it's even got a Google Assistant hardware button). Gallery, Contacts, Clock, Calendar, Tasks, Music, Health, Email, Update Centre and File Manager alongside their own acceptable Game Launcher, QuickMemo+, HD Audio Recorder and SmartWorld. What is less forgivable is Facebook and Instagram (which can, thankfully, be fully deleted) and Amazon Assistant (which can only be disabled). At £800+ do they need to further grab at cash from other firms and bug (many) users, I wonder. To be fair, I don't know how much of this is EE and how much is LG, but I do know that this has been typical previously of the latter. More worrying is that apps baked into the ROM have already been assigned open access permissions to suit them, not the user. Settings, by default, are arranged in four tabs, which unless you're going to use the search function - or stick with LG longer-term - is just confusing. Thankfully, they've provided a switch to make it one list. Phew! Inside Settings, there's loads of bells and whistles to play with, OnePlus style, and like the latter, the options mostly feel like useful additions rather than fluff and bloat.

Speakers
The 'faux' stereo speakers which, outside of a very few phones these days, don't offer true stereo, but rather a mix of sounds and frequencies coming from two speakers, are present here. Much like the LG G7 BoomBox experience, the sound does to some degree rely on being placed on a surface to resonate. In my review of the G7 I was very impressed with this and the same thing seems to be present here - with BoomBox mentioned in the Settings too. The phone, when held in the hand, produces a good sound with excellent stereo separation and surround features, even when some way from the head. LG quote DTS:X 3D Sound and this can be toggled in Settings. The difference is marked and can be switched between Wide, Front and Side-to-Side. By doing so, the sound is thrown out in different ways but greater changes can be achieved by using the Equaliser, available for speakers as well as earphones. Default sound at maximum volume is a little tinny, but very loud. Fortunately, customising the output with all these tools can achieve significant improvements and enhancements. Then put the phone on a surface and hear it spring to life. I do find it impressive and would be very happy using this phone for my music and video. There's even some far-east style visualisations for some reason, not only on the screen but also optionally flashing the camera's LED on the back of the phone in sync with the music's peaks! Good grief!

Audio
The 3.5mm audio-out socket allows us all to plug in whatever sound peripherals we fancy and here I'm testing the 32-bit built-in DAC with my AKG K701 reference headphones. Immediately I can hear the amazingly loud and qualitative output. Furthermore, if you then turn off the DTS:X 3D you get access to the Quad DAC extra settings which change the sound and enhance different frequencies markedly more. There's even a balance control for each earpiece, which is great for my wonky ears! Switch back to DTS:X 3D's side-to-side setting for a real treat in soundstage listening to media which exploits stereo. Bluetooth 5 is present, supporting aptX HD and again, sounds staggeringly good. Not only that, but the pairing process for new BT devices is the simplest, quickest and most straightforward I've ever used. As soon as you hit the BT icon in the system tray it pops up a dialogue inviting you to select or pair - and pairing is then a snap of the fingers away. Done! As with previous LG phones, this is another in the V-series which is an audiophile's delight. I fail to see why I don't have one as my main phone!

Cameras
The camera options on LG phones have always been fun to play with for me, even if results may not be in any way market-leading. You'll need to check The Phones Show 378 for a more in-depth feel about that with Steve Litchfield, while I just play! Firstly, there's 3 cameras on the back - a 12MP f1.5 standard lens with OIS, a secondary 12MP f2.4 2x telephoto, again with OIS and a 16MP f1.9 wide-angle shooter but with no autofocus at all. I guess they reckon most wide-angle shots will have huge depth of field anyway. There's an LED flash on the back for anyone who wants to use it outside of the DISCO(!) and round the front, two Selfie cameras - an 8MP f1.9 standard lens and 5MP f2.2 wide-angle, to get all your snowboarding mates in! When shooting video with the main camera on the back there's 24-bit audio recording available and HDR10 compliancy.

Camera Software
The manual controls are available to use with the main and wide-angle cameras and have the usual plethora of options to tweak and adjust, much like a stand-alone compact camera. There's Triple Shot and Penta Shot which will automatically take a photo with each camera on the back or further to include the two on the front. Not sure what use this is, but seems like fun! There's a range of other stuff which people will muck about with like Story Shot - placing a portrait in front of a separately taken background - just in case you need to fool your boss that you're in the office and not at the beach, no doubt! We've seen Cine Video before which, using all the HDR10 and smart audio, does produce 'surround' sound video akin to Nokia's OZO - and is equally as impressive. There's loads more, as you'd expect, particularly with AI, Night Sky, Night View, Food, Stickers, Slow Motion and so on. Fun, as I say - but many that won't be used beyond testing. Bottom line is that the results I have got from the camera are excellent and as I always say, will more than please 95% of users looking to post to social media. Just to note that the camera lenses on the back are all situated under the back Gorilla Glass. People not trusting that to not get scratched will need to be very careful about casing options.

Power
Another box to tick here is the 4000mAh battery (used away from DS), supported by 10W Qi charging and 18W QC3, providing a 50% charge in just over half an hour. Using the phone away from the DS, the battery is very good indeed - my 10% test returned about 1hr 40mins, which is up amongst the leaders for me, though the playing field was not quite level there - there's no SIM Card in the phone looking for even 4G, let alone 5G. On a daily test, again with no SIM Card, I'm very comfortably getting through a day and a half or more (with my average - as it can be - use). Add the DS, however, and the story is a very different one.

Dual Screen
I now come to the bolt-on Dual Screen and have to admit that I'm struggling to see past the novelty/gimmick factor here. It's true that content can be displayed on the 'other' screen and I guess that's all well and good, apart from the limitations, which I'll come to. If you're watching a film in one window you can have IMDb open in the other for quick reference. Or research something with two instances of Chrome open. Or Chrome in one and some sort of note-taker on the other. But then you'd really need a stylus because actually, the way that the second screen folds and is made, you just can't hold it comfortably in order to execute those actions. Hold it folded out like a book and your thumb is in danger of touching both screens the whole time. The screen will only fold'n'hold at certain angles where it 'locks' (and not very securely). It's either closed, sticking up (laptop-style) at just over 90 degrees, wrapped round the back (in which case it's off) or 'flat'. And flat is not really flat, so that it's actually flat on a desk - the second screen sits 'up and away' so the whole rig 'rocks' left to right on a table. Handling is a bit of a mystery really. Incidentally, Chrome is one of not-that-many apps which allow two instances open at the same time. Mostly I found that on attempting a second opening, the other screen dumps the app in favour of the new command.

Settings
You have access to various settings for the second screen - including a switch to allocate any app or service you like to launch when it's fired up, independent (or auto/matching) brightness, different wallpaper and homescreen options. The auto-start-app option would be great for a student, set to QuickMemo+ or OneNote - if there was a pen! Of course you can use your finger or a capacitive stylus, but this whole experience would be so better with a Samsung-style S-Pen. Notes taken can be saved in the usual way to various places of course, but it's just fiddly to use - and actually holding the device, as I say, is horribly awkward while you're doing it.

Laptop
OK then, how about using it in laptop mode? Well, yes, that works in some ways. You can get the 'main' screen to display the on-screen keyboard, emulating the form of a Nokia E90, Gemini/Cosmo or a small YogaBook, but you'd have to take a great deal of time getting used to typing on that relatively small QWERTY on a smooth glass surface. I guess over time you would - as long as the payoff (of being able to use the screen for other things) is worth the cost. You can certainly get note-taking apps onto the second screen to enable this functionality.

Landscape
The other thing to note is that many apps are not designed to run under Android in landscape, so often present a kludge - if they work at all and switch from portrait. To be fair, most of the Google apps switch around once signed in - but many often present content down the middle of the screen in a central column, not making use of the width. Some, like Google Drive intelligently switch the main screen into the keyboard when needed with content on the other. Others won't let you get past the 'setup' screen and dialogues in portrait but switch when up and running.

Spread Out
It's a shame in a sense that the two screens don't work together more so that content can move between them efficiently even though there would be a big gap in the middle. Apps can be 'thrown' from one to the other by a three-finger slide across the screen but it's a bit clunky in practice. Maps comes to mind as an app which would benefit from sharing its 'total view' across both screens or perhaps a large spreadsheet, giving the user more data and information via a more productive overview.

Gaming
Now, I'm not much of a gamer - in fact, I'm nothing of a gamer! I tried to install a few games and run them but couldn't find any that run with the LG Game Pad on the main screen in action. The pad comes up and it looks lovely, but you'll have to look elsewhere in gamingland out there to watch proper gamers using this. Apparently the number of games that work with it are limited and who knows whether more developers will buy into this and code their games to work. There's also a recurring issue here that some of the games I installed and got running on the second screen in landscape actually presented themselves upside-down and I couldn't see a way to even get them up the right way! But to be fair, for those with more patience and an understanding of gaming, I'm sure they'll do better. I have certainly seen videos of enthusiasts making it work with their big-loading and online games. As for the QWERTY above, I'm not sure if game controls on a flat-glass screen is going to be anything like the experience and physical presence of a proper hand-held PlayStation-like controller.

Second Viewfinder
In camera mode, when the 'zoom' buttons are long-pressed, this gives a preview of the image of the three lenses on the second screen and you can tap each to switch the camera's settings to use any of them. This works in landscape and portrait but for me, it just looks a bit odd to be holding the whole device up as a camera, big and wide, almost like taking a photo with a tablet - and we know what most people think about folk doing that!

Creative
I suppose you could argue that with the ability to display one app on one screen and one on the other, the world is your oyster in terms of creative use and different users will find thousands of combinations which might suit their way of working or playing. It's great to see a phone manufacturer doing something different, so don't get me wrong and think that I'm overly negative about the device. It's just that for me, it's heavy, clunky and without a dedicated stylus and supporting software to make that smart, it all feels like a bit of a gimmick. Going back to the battery, which, at 4000mAh sounds like it should be more than adequate - as soon as you put that second screen in place it drinks large gulps of that juice and it's not long before you're looking for power. This can be plugged in of course whilst you're using the device.

Physical
The case itself is made of plastic and glass, the screen, which is slightly smaller in height than the main screen, providing no symmetry, is also a P-OLED one and there's a cutout at the top so that the top speaker's sound can escape and the telephone can be used with the case closed. However, it would also appear to be the case that when a phone call is incoming the user has no option but to open the case up to answer, before closing again to speak. The buttons on the left of the phone (for volume) become all-but inaccessible when the DS case is fully open, rendering you forced to use on-screen controls. There's a giant hole on the back which allows the cameras to see out, the flash to fire, access to the fingerprint scanner and the LED Notification light (in the shape of "5G")!

Summary
Forget about the Dual Screen, is what I say - or at least, only attach it when needed. Forget about the 5G which nobody needs (anytime soon) and let's have a V50 stand-alone for £549 instead of the £800+ which this whole outfit is going to cost apparently when available SIM Free. The phone is more than capable, up to date, the closest to Vanilla Android that it's ever been from LG and with amazing sound options. I would certainly buy one of these at that price, but you can keep your DS/5G! It does however, enthuse me about the Microsoft Surface Duo next year - for me, so far, the most attractive dual/fold/wrap-screened option currently on any radar. This LG V50 though, highly recommended - with reservations.

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Sweet Bean

This is a Japanese film, beautifully and artistically presented, telling, in many ways, a simple story about three people and a pancake shop! There is some focus on the food involved, but this is far from a 'foodie' film and spends much more time on peripheral events and interesting characters' interactions.

The more I see of films from the far-east, the more I like them. They often reflect an artistic quality akin to european cinema, with a focus on cinematography, lighting, atmosphere and simple framing. This film is no exception and for those who'd rather consume it for the art, the outing would be not far from complete. Director Naomi Kawase (Still the Water) does a splendid job of bringing us multiple viewing indulgences.

However, the storyline is also important and reflects three generations of people centred around a dorayaki (sweet bean pancake) shop. The young girl Wakana, played by Kyara Uchida is trying to work out what she wants from life - to continue with school or take the more pragmatic route and seek a job. We see her angst as she struggles with her options. Masatoshi Nagase plays SentarĂ´, the chef at the food outlet who is more middle-aged and as the story unfolds, we find out, has a murky past - for which he has to work hard in order to repay the owner of the shop. He too is trying to make sense of life. Tokue is the woman in her 70's played by Kirin Kiki (Shoplifters) who also has a big secret up her sleeve, cutting through the sweet-old-lady mask to some degree. Initially though, she seeks a job making her special recipe bean sauce to give her something to feel worthy about - but also as a gift, to turn around the flailing fortunes of SentarĂ´ who has had to buy-in commercial sauce, which is not favoured by many of his customers.

Have said all the above, there are no surprises here really. It's all very sedate and in many ways emotional, as the three of them become intertwined with each other in a short space of time. They start helping each other to empathise with each others' life-view and situations with the backdrop of the pancake house. Simple lives reflected in simple things with ordinary folk, but beautifully presented. There's Japanese culture to be lapped up for the audience, who can learn heaps about the far-east, standards and values alien to our own. Respect for elders, manners, politeness - to mention three.

The lovely photography is often silently observed but now and then there's some original music, which is a mix of haunting solo piano then orchestral support. The performances of the three leads are outstanding and the whole film fuses those together with the artistic mastery noted above. There's many different takeaways for viewers here. As I said above, there's all the artwork to enjoy, the emotion of the characters as things develop for some or maybe just a compact, accessible and sweet story for others. It's a simple but excellent film and highly recommended as a follow-up (for me) to the superb Shoplifters.

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Canvas Travel Bag

I have been looking for a holdall or some sort of stuff-carrying solution for a while. I even considered a shopping trolly at one stage! These type of holdalls are wildly varied in priced at Amazon UK but there's a good pick.

I decided to try this one as it was on a near-half-price sale, though actually I think it's probably worth the normal £20 price after using it. It's a big holdall/bag which you typically see on the likes of Breaking Bad or Fargo being stuffed full of cash! It's about 2ft wide, 18" high and about a foot fat. Perfect size for me on a daily basis lugging stuff around with me, but also I could see, a weekend-away bag and good for flights.

It's made of thick canvas of some sort, is fairly light, though there's no mention of any sort of waterproofing. I guess it could be sprayed with a guard or wax-treated if that's important. It has studs on the bottom and sturdy-looking rivets holding the canvas to the faux leather straps and big handles. It has a solid-looking zip across the main compartment and D-Rings at each end to hold the (very long) shoulder strap, for those who need it. It can be removed. The base section is also made of that same faux leather and looks like it's well stitched - as is all the stitching around the bag.

The bag has one main section but on the inner sides there's all sorts of pouches and zipped pockets for organising stuff as you like within the cotton-looking soft lining. There's even external zipped pockets for more stuff. The accommodation has been well thought out to make the most use of the size of the bag and panels but retaining potential use as one-big-space.

Available from Amazon UK in Grey, Coffee or Black. I've only just got this, so will report back if it doesn't last - but it really looks as though it will take some abuse over time. The only complaint I have is that the sides are in no way 'solid' - so you put the bag on the floor the sides just flop downwards taking up any empty space in the bag. Of course if the bag is full, it stays in shape (as they clearly have done for the modeling photo here) - but I guess you can't have everything. It's light and flexible instead of a rigid suitcase! Looking very nice and so far, recommended.

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Carol

The relatively inexperienced director Todd Haynes takes the helm and draws this 2015 adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's novel The Price of Salt, together very ably. Intelligent use of the camerawork and sumptuous 1950's New York sets and costumes are a delight to consume.

I have spoken before of the adapted novels of Highsmith with my thoughts on Strangers on a Train and The Two Faces of January. There's more to come, but the theme of the repression of homosexuality through the middle decades of the twentieth century are again at the forefront through her writing here.

Carol is a woman in her 40's who is married to a very traditional kind of man who values family and an obedient wife first and foremost. He had previously worked through and affair with her that she had with her childhood female friend and thought that it was over - and that she'd come away from it a wiser and better person. Not the case, as the story here starts with them heading very rapidly towards a divorce and the messy issue of custody of their small girl.

This is the point at which Carol, by chance, bumps into much younger Therese who is working as a sales assistant in a department store. Carol is clearly a wealthy woman and Therese a very ordinary, though well educated working girl. They fall for each other over the course of time, a series of meetings and trips, and although Carol understands what's going on, it's all new to the confused Therese who has various menfolk suitors chasing her to make her their wife. The liaison between them, as it builds, is created with much subtlety and passive warmth rather than with lewd bedroom scenes. The emphasis of the filmmakers is about the blossoming feelings and love between them. Society is not designed to manage such behaviour of course, for the time, and further constructed to actively quash any so-called immorality. What follows is a depiction of how the trappings of society use everything at its disposal to ensure that whatever is going on here is stamped out, by fair means or foul.

Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine, Notes on a Scandal) of course is quite excellent as Carol but better still is Rooney Mara (Side Effects, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) playing Therese. There's a real chemistry between the pair of them which, if not captured and directed well, could so easily have been missing. The locked-engaged looks into each others eyes across a room, noted before by me as equally commanding in Damage, create a deep atmosphere of their own and drills into the imagination of the audience. Beautifully shot. Kyle Chandler (Manchester by the Sea, Zero Dark Thirty) supports very convincingly as the tempestuous husband Harge, Sarah Paulson (Ratched, Bird Box) as Abby and Jake Lacy, the long-suffering Richard.

It's another great film from the works of Patricia Highsmith. It's a slow-burner in some ways, but is never dull, always engaging and a visual delight. It's a sad love story at times, but more a statement about an era reflecting hope for the decades to come where prejudices are stamped out. It's a study of two people swept up in emotions trying to make sense of their feelings - and that has been portrayed excellently well. Recommended indeed.

Xiaomi Mi A3

One of the big Chinese firms currently swooping into and scooping up the mobile phone world is Xiaomi, as most folk reading this will know...