Thursday 28 November 2019

Gold Digger

This 6-part mystery/drama/thriller is currently running on BBC1 on Tuesday nights, but you can skip ahead and watch all 6 episodes if you're impatient, like me, via the BBC iPlayer. I won't give away any plot spoilers.

It's a decent enough little story lifted from the ordinary by the main two leads, Julia Ormond and Ben Barnes. Their performances are both well executed and remain convincing throughout.

Julia is 60 and Benjamin's half her age. They both keep their real first names. How quaint. She has 3 grown-up kids with various problems of their own and Julia has just undergone a divorce. Julia and Benjamin meet by chance and fall in love. Julia is wealthy. Her kids think he's a Gold Digger, so does her ex-husband, who is now together with a new woman. They work together to try to find out about Benjamin and ultimately try to hijack the relationship in order to 'protect' Julia instead of wishing her happiness.

And then all the sub-plots come along - as you might imagine, nothing is quite as it seems and everyone has something up their sleeve!

The series is really about loyalty and truth. Who is Julia going to be loyal to - her family, her feelings, her new lover? Who is Benjamin going to be loyal to? Is he telling the truth about his intentions and background? Or is he indeed a Gold Digger on the make?

It holds together pretty well, though episodes 4 and 5 slow things down before 6 ties things up. Probably could have been done in 4. It's thoughtfully produced and directed, well acted, give or take, by the cast and throws enough questions into the proceedings to ensure the viewer hangs on in there until the end.

It's great to see Julia Ormond again and if you haven't dipped into this one, I think you'll enjoy it dear reader! Unlike some other BBC programmes which have been doing the rounds lately, this one seems to be of better stock. Catch it while you can.


Steve Litchfield mentioned this little film almost exactly a year ago on Projector Room and I just saw it pop up on Film 4 the other day, so gave it a go.

It has to be the lowest budget film ever made! Hire a BMW and Tom Hardy, pay Olivia Colman, our Fleabag friend Andrew Scott and Ruth Wilson for voice-parts, get Hardy to drive down the motorway and film him in the car talking - almost in real-time! It really could easily be a radio production - or even just be broadcast as-is via radio.

Of course, the strength of this film is in the script, story and dialogue between Hardy's character and those various bods on the other end of his carphone. The world is closing in on him as he tries to do the right thing by a woman he has got pregnant at the potential cost to him of losing everything else in his life. The question is, will that happen - or will he smartly piece together the puzzle which he needs to shuffle and sort out to keep everyone happy and find solutions.

There's a big event happening at work the next day. He has to be there. There's this woman giving birth. He has to be there. There's his wife in meltdown at home and son expecting him home to watch football and eat hot dogs. He has to be there.

It's taut and claustrophobic and Hardy very well executes the range of emotions, anxieties and frustration that one might expect to see given the situation.

And that's about it really. Well executed and writer/director Stephen Knight keeps you watching 'til the end.

Wednesday 27 November 2019

Samsung Galaxy S10 (512GB)

Here we go again! Acknowledging that Samsung phones seem to be the only Android devices out there that tick enough boxes! Speakers, speed, storage, AoD, Audio-Out Socket, good enough camera, close enough to Vanilla Android and more... I've been through S9 Plus, Note 9, Note 10, S10e, S8 and one-by-one they get ruled out - but maybe I'm getting to the core reason eventually... size!

The latest shot at finding the perfect phone for me brings me opportunistically to the Samsung Galaxy S10. It's smaller than the S9 Plus and Notes, bigger than the tiny S10e. Perhaps things may have worked out differently if I'd tried the S9 (non Plus) but I always feared the battery horror stories. The S10 is just about the right size in my hand, my pocket and big enough to type efficiently on the keyboard along with getting enough content on the screen to see sensibly.

Box Contents and Ticking
The 'proper' price for an official UK (Exynos) version of this phone with 512GB storage is £999, but shopping around, considering importing or used, buying the (some other regions incl. USA) SnapDragon variant of the device, the thrifty purchaser can bag it for anywhere between about £500 and upwards. Clearly the 128GB version is cheaper, but big storage was certainly one of the boxes I wanted to tick! So, I managed to find a SnapDragon 512GB version in black, second-hand from a trusted friend, imported from Hong Kong, looked after with cotton wool gloves similar to mine! In the box there's a power-plug and USB-A to USB-C cable, a USB-A to USB-C adapter and a plastic case. It looks like there were some earphones in here but, along with the SIM Card Tray pokey-tool they seem to have gone AWOL. Good job I don't need them - and if there were earphones, I'm sure I'd have hated them for being in-ear plugs!

The physical appraisal of the phone for me is about size, the Goldilocks Zone, just right. It's a little wider and taller than the Pixel 3 but not as fat, the 16:9 Nokia 8 Sirocco is a bit wider, less tall and not quite so fat - and against the Moto Z3 Play, it's about the same height, not so wide but a little fatter. It's 157g in weight which also makes it relatively light compared to the device set here. It feels good in the hand and easily passes the finger-thumb test around the waist - even with the case applied. This case is a hard, clear plastic one which is alright, but a little slippery. It's nicely minimalistic with proper cut-outs for all the ports and buttons, but doesn't offer huge protection. Much of the glass is exposed. As usual, I've applied a cheap TPU and it's much grippier and won't fall easily.

The S10 is a glass/aluminium sandwich with GG5 on the back, 6 on the front, both sweeping near-symmetrically to meet the frame. The curve on the edge of the glass is subtle, nothing like the Sirocco, and content on the screen is not in any way impaired. On the left we have the volume-rocker and Bixby button (which can now be assigned to pretty much any App you fancy for short-press) whilst quite high up for some on the right is a lonely power button. I rarely need it, so it hasn't bothered me. Up top there's a SIM Card Tray which offers 2 slots in this model (check regional variation) with the second doubling as a microSD Card cavity. Down at the bottom there's the usual USB-C port, 3.5mm audio-out socket and speaker. On the front we have the other speaker, various sensors and a punch-hole selfie, top-right. Lastly, on the back there's a Samsung logo with the camera-island placed centrally above it, 15% down from the top, housing the rest of the camera gear and heart rate sensor. It sits a tad proud, but cases make it flush. The phone is IP68-rated for dust/water resistant (up to 1.5m for 30 mins).

The front panel is a Dynamic AMOLED 6.1" 1440p one presented in a 19:9 ratio returning 550ppi and ready to make the most of HDR10+ content where it can be found. As you might expect, it's blazingly bright, enabling me to use it at about 25% indoors. When outside, there's no danger of not being able to see what you're doing on manual brightness or adaptive, swinging between c.400nits and 800. There's adjustments available for Vivid or Natural, a Cool/Warm slider and even White Balance RGB controls too - you can set this screen just how you want to see it. I've remained on Vivid (the default) and am happy with the level of saturation of bright colours - it doesn't feel OTT. There seems to be a factory-fitted plastic on the screen which, to be honest, I didn't notice on Day 1! Given my experience with the Note9 and micro-scratches on GG5 (not 6 as here), I'm inclined to leave it in place and see how I get on. I've tested the fingerprint scanner for rogue entries, just in case, and it doesn't let anything other than registered prints through.

The biometrics are up to the usual Samsung standards - face unlock works superbly well regardless of the fact that they've removed the Iris scanner, registers quickly even with full-face beard and never fails - there's even a slinky ring of light emitted around the selfie-cam when it's brought into play! Tested with photos and other people, it seems secure against intruders! The fingerprint scanner is ultrasonic and not optical and appears to work excellently well from various angles, various fingers, even when the screen is off - OK, not quite as fast as capacitive, but not far enough behind for it to be a pain - and I'd trade that, for being on the front aiding desk/table use. One thing to note is that as seems common these days, a swipe-up is needed to get into one's homepages after face-unlock has been executed. Seems a bit daft to me, but at least the fingerprint scanner gets me straight in.

The screen is impaired by the selfie-cam top-right of course. As usual, the human eye after a short time adapts and 'doesn't see it' unless looking for trouble! The bigger issue for me is that the battery icons et al are 'pushed' left, which takes more getting used to, making less room for notifications - hampered further by Google insistence that Notification bars are 'built for notches' still and all the 'middle' is wasted. This whole notch thing has been a disaster really!

Really Always On!
One of the fabulous aspects of the Samsung devices is the Always On Display, as we know. This one is exactly the same as the other devices in the family and works in just the same way. Loads of options, Edge Lighting for Notifications with even more choices, manual brightness adjustments and scrolling information from core apps which the user can choose per app on/off. This really should be baked into Android via the Mothership!

Q Pie
The phone arrived to me here with Android 9 Pie installed and November 2019 Google Security during the third week of November. Project Treble really seems to have done the job here and Samsung are better than ever before supporting their devices with prompt updates. Android 10 should be along any minute with the final stages of the Beta programme available as I type for those who jumped. In the meantime, with One UI software running in the background, I've found that the only feature I lust for is the left/right full-side Back gestures - but hang on - Samsung have provided this now for a while via their own installable One Hand Operation Plus app, which works perfectly in replication.

One UI
I have covered One UI time and again whilst reviewing other Samsung devices in the family, so I won't plough through it all again here - search my Blog for "One UI" and you'll find it all. It's the same here and has been thought out really very well. One UI 2.0 is in the pipes for the Android 10 rollout, I understand, so we'll see what that brings. It's almost tempting to use the Samsung Launcher, but I'm personally so at home with Nova Prime that I choose to use it. For one thing, I like my Google Feed page to the left which Nova's Companion App provides. (Warning - this needs side-loading, so be sure to flip Install Unknown Sources for Chrome off when finished.) If you stick with the Samsung Launcher you have the choice of the Bixby panel to the left of Home, or turn it off completely (once you've signed in to get to the settings), and Edge Panels to play with, regardless of chosen launcher. Anyway, as I say, lots of One UI coverage elsewhere here, including the deeper capabilities of the Bixby system for those who wish to dig around.

Bloat or Float?
This might be a question that Samsung have posed to themselves following huge uproar across the globe about how intrusive their bloated software experience feels to the new user - as here, it's really been very toned down. Even though I'm signed into my Samsung account, I have not got hardly any pop-up messages, reminders and plugs to install this, that and the other, use this, that or the other service and so on from previous experiences. A large amount of the Samsung Apps are only installed at setup if you specifically ask, otherwise sit, sensibly, in the Play Store. I have installed one or two, and that's how it should be. There are a few apps pre-installed, but I'll give them a pass on this as they have been selected to be generally enhancing the experience, like Always on and Edge stuff. Exceptions to this include the uninstallable Facebook, LinkedIn, all the Bixby support stuff (but as I say, it can now be largely hidden), Briefing (?), Link to Windows Service, Office Mobile, Dictionary and a few others. We could add to that list support for all sorts of other service-layer apps for the likes of Samsung Pay, Pass, Cloud, Store, Games, Gallery, Themes - and then the superfluous array of doubled-up and unnecessary apps which Google supply like Messenger, Calendar and Email. The point is though that they're more invisible than ever before because the system at last doesn't keep nagging the user to adopt them over the ones which s/he has chosen. This does seem like a significant strategy shift and welcome it is! I'm happy to ignore entries in the App list if I'm not nagged.

Chipset Choices
I have it on good authority that the SnapDragon 855 version of this phone brings better battery life, camera quality and headphone audio which I'll come to later, but for now, yes this is the USA version of the phone rather than the 'global' one. I also note that there's an FM Radio included, missing from the Exynos 9820 version. The speed of the engine is really noticeable when, for example, reading/writing data compared to lesser phones. I can remember waiting to copy my media to internal storage and microSD Cards for much, much longer than this. It races through every task thrown at it at lightning speed. There's 8GB RAM here which ensures again, rapid task-switching and few undesirable closures. Going back to apps used hours before, or even days, ensures immediate resumption. There are of course an array of 'care' tools to 'optimise' memory and RAM as usual in settings to tweak this experience.

Pocket Computer
The big one again for me here is that armed with my 512GB microSD Card, I have 1TB of storage available to me, and with all the media and files I want to carry inside my Pocket Computer it leaves me about 300GB free! I know I'm a niche case and self-confessed Data Hoarder, and I won't go over the pragmatic reasons for that again in relation to my living situation, but rather focus on the decades-long desire to really feel as though the device I have in my pocket really is a Pocket Computer, challenging in many ways, a desktop/laptop PC. Love it! The USB-C works perfectly with data OTG, passes my 2TB Extreme SSD test with flying colours as well as any size microSD Card I throw at it. When I want to watch my media on a bigger screen, armed with a USB-C to HDMI adapter, I can watch it on my telly! No WiFi needed. Good ol' fashioned cables! Well done Samsung. Furthermore, want to play with DeX? It's all present and correct, echoing onto a large screen on-demand. My Pocket Computer becomes a fully-fledged one with connectivity to keyboards, mice and proper productivity. Pass-through Qi charging? No problem - it just works, whilst mirroring or using DeX. This kind of solution has been tried many times by various systems, some half-bake it, some do some of it well, but Samsung just does it all - right!

Socks Blown Off!
I've been blown away by the sound coming from this phone through my usual reference headphones via the 3.5mm audio-out socket. It's quite stunning, quality, volume, bass, the lot. Apparently, as I said above, this sets the SnapDragon version of the phone apart from the Exynos one. The phone can cope with audio files with 32-bit sampling then downsample to push out the sound. Maybe not quite the height of what the LG phones can natively handle though, which have very high bit depth sampling. Hence 'Quad DAC'. There's also the matter of how much 'oomph' is in the amplifiers. This is strictly analogue. Akin to buying a 30W BT speaker rather than a 10W one! So the top-end LGs, for example, have dedicated high power amplifier stages, while the Samsung has an amp, but it's not as special. If you followed all that, you're more like a sound engineer than I'll ever be! Good job we have the likes of Steve Litchfield and Gavin Fabiani-Laymond to keep us straight! The long and short is that it sounds amazing to these ears.

System-Wide Dolby
Sitting above this, system-wide, is Dolby Atmos with basic controls, but controls which do make a difference. You can play with various settings when playing sound through the speakers, which I'll come to, but also even more when headphones are plugged in. Dolby Atmos ('tuned by AKG') offers a choice of Auto, Music, Film and Voice - and can be turned off if preferred. Siting below and usable in tandem are a few pre-set equaliser controls in the usual way, as well a custom setting and equaliser sliders for the user to set. A handful of ways to adjust the sound which is excellent to begin with anyway. There's a sound wizard you can run through which tests your hearing for an array of beeps and sounds in order to deliver the best experience. It's all very encouraging that such care and attention is given to sound in my view, neglected to this degree by most others.

Stereo Speakers
The Stereo speakers are similarly very good indeed. I would say that the sound produced is certainly better than the Note9, S9+ and Note 10 Plus (which I reviewed recently for Phones Show Chat) and on a par with the other market leaders just now (laying aside special cases such as Razer Phone). It's loud and produces good enough bass and mid-range for my kind of listening, capable of filling a small lounge-sized room, defying the physical size of the unit in many ways. The top earpiece speaker does push out less sound than the bottom-firing one but they somehow sound and feel balanced when placed centrally to the head. We've seen and heard this before on other phones of course, put down to the 'tuning' and clever software involved. This is no Bluetooth speaker with booming bass of course, but it ain't half bad and is oodles better than most phones I've tested. The stereo separation is extremely good even at slightly longer distances from the head. Tested with fancy YouTube Dolby Audio Surround tests, as long as the phone is close enough, there's a real sense of immersion. Nothing like with headphones of course which, again, blows one's socks off! Incidentally, unlike many other phones out there, Samsung switches the stereo between speakers regardless of which landscape way you turn it - ensuring that the left channel is always on the left and vice-versa.

Wireless Sound
Bluetooth 5 is on offer for those not wishing to use a cable and it supports aptX. The pairing process is one-tap quick and easy for peripheral devices and sound, though of course dependant on connected equipment quality, is equally amazingly clear and loud - with access to the same range of equaliser controls. All my testing has been done using the Samsung Music App but, as I say, these equaliser controls are system-wide so will work with all apps including YouTube. Hang on, there's more! On this SnapDragon version there's even the aforementioned FM Radio which works very well indeed, auto/manual scan, station memory/favourites, recording function. Once the aerial establishes connection via something plugged into the audio-out socket, you can then switch from headphones output to speaker. Reception is good in my test areas.

Talking of which, reception generally is excellent for phone calls, GPS for Mapping, Bluetooth range, WiFi, even NFC - tested here with Google Pay and hovering over terminals picks up with ease, quickly. Starts to feel like Samsung is the new Motorola when hardware components are so robust. Another connection, of sorts, are the Heart rate and blood oxygen Sensor on the back of the phone next to the cameras which is supposed to work in tandem with the Samsung Health App. Having downloaded and installed that, it all feels a bit like fluff - and interesting that all this has been removed from later models of the Samsung phones. I couldn't get the sensor to read my pulse successfully. It kept telling me that was finger was not placed correctly. It did at one point get to 80% and told me it was 63bpm but didn't finish - that was the closest I got! Good job I don't need it - or care! Samsung Health App uninstalled! All this wellbeing stuff is a bit lost on me to be honest - I'm sure some people make use of it, but it just feels like a gimmick. Maybe Samsung thought so too!

There's a 3,400mAh battery in the S10 here. Having got used to 4,000mAh units these days I was a little concerned. In my 10% reading test we currently have the Google Pixel 3 at the low end floundering on 50 minutes and the Xiaomi Mi A3 leading the pack at 2 hours 6 minutes. The S10 returned just about 1 hour 20 minutes. Far from the best, and worst, somewhere in the middle. On an average day's use for me (yardstick being my normal behaviour applied to all test devices with Adaptive Brightness and Adaptive Battery engaged) we're looking at somewhere in the region of 24 hours between charges and 6 hours Screen On Time. I did get nearer 30 hours one day but with only 4 hours SoT. As always your mileage will vary depending on what you're up to, but it's certainly not as bad as I'd feared - and we do have Qi charging in the wings. Top-ups as we go, desk, car, bedside. There's a 15W fast-charging brick in the box that'll get you a 50% charge from flat in half an hour - and with the right gear, it'll fast Qi charge too at 15W. Also present is the fancy Reverse wireless charging, so you can charge a friend's phone from the back of yours - and even pass that through, so cable up yours and place theirs on yours! Even more boxes ticked.

Snap, Snap...
I'm not going to even try to compete with the glut of in-depth reviews by the Pixel Peeping Brigade when it comes to the camera option on the S10, rather I'll tell you what I find and how I find using it and how the resulting shots look to me! Check out Steve Litchfield's coverage for loads of thoughts about taking photos with phones, including the S10/Note 10 range from Samsung. There are three cameras on the back alongside the heart rate scanner and LED flash. The user switches between the three via on-screen icons. The main camera is a 12MP Dual (not variable) f1.5-f2.4 (which switches based on available light) unit with OIS and a 'normal' field of view, another 12MP f2.4 which has 2x optical capability again with OIS and a 16MP f2.2 wide-angle camera with no OIS. And boy, is it wide! Distortion is the name of the game here, in bucketloads! There is a setting in which you can 'correct' distortions created by this extreme wide-angle though in practice here it seems to also 'narrow' the angle slightly in the process. On the good side, the shooter can do amazing jobs with room interiors and stimulate creative juices for all sorts of wacky stuff. There's no AF but in reality, everything will be in focus working with such wide optics. The 2x optical zoom, though not now market-leading in terms of 5x, still produces a useful extended range and in my testing here, pinch/splay to zoom up additionally to 10x (and anything between) produces very good and usable shots as well. It also has a trick up its sleeve in terms of close-focus. Place something close to the lens and it knows what you're up to and snaps into focus as close as it can then auto-adjusts as you creep closer. I've been able to fill the frame from a few inches away with 13mm across. The main camera produces photos beautifully for me and the rest of the 98% of users who don't have test-benches! Even those who do, seem to report excellent results too, also in low light, making use of dedicated modes and that dual aperture. The Selfie is a 10MP f1.9 unit and also has icons to switch between 'normal' and 'wide'. The results seem excellent to me again and the 'live focus' smartly tracks the face for Portraits and suitably auto-blurs background.

Camera UX
Common throughout the camera software, there's lots of AI going on, lots of decisions about what's needed taken out of the hands of the users if they choose, like that aperture control on the main camera and when Night Mode kicks in and so on. This will be the perfect arrangement of course for the 98% so it is clearly the way to go. There are manual overrides as well, however, some strangely buried deep in menus, some up-front and centre, some only accessible via a switch to Pro Mode. The 'viewfinder' in Pro Mode does its very best to emulate a 'proper' camera with adjustments possible for, amongst others, ISO, Aperture, Focus, Exposure Compensation and even a multi-dot focus grid, switchable to centre-weighted. All great fun to play with and for those taking photos from phones in any way as a serious competitor to 'proper' cameras, tools for creation. For everyone else, there's Scene Optimiser with various 'intelligent' features, Shot Suggestions (where the AI tries to work out what you're shooting and adjusts settings to get you the best shot) that re-ordering option which Samsung does, letting the user choose which 'main' modes appear on the 'main' shooting screen - and so on. Oodles and oodles of stuff to play with for the fiddler, great shots via AI for the rest. And that's where I'll leave it! For those who want more in-depth on the camera and results from pixel-peeping, just search YouTube - there's tons of it out there executed much more ably than my attempt would be, even if I had the extended interest! To me, for now, a phone in a camera is for taking shots from the hip, out and about and not much more. For more, you know what I'm going to say, buy a camera!

As you may have gathered by now, I'm hugely impressed. I'm mostly impressed over previous tries and fails with Samsung that they're actually leaving me alone! Much cleaner UX than ever before and allowing me to use the phone as I want to without nagging. It's just the right size for me, the AMOLED display is the best there is, the speakers approach being the best available on a phone, the build quality is equally reassuring and all the above attention to detail, functionality, facilities (which many others are removing) is, I think literally, second to none. It's a package which ticks so many boxes for me and it seems that at last, with Samsung not bloating things out and enabling the user to stick with Vanilla, I've found my niche. Especially with this 512GB version and microSD Card and all the connectivity options. Have we arrived? Truly a proper Pocket Computer? I would not pay £1000 for it but if you can find one at a reasonable price like I did, I'd highly recommend the Samsung Galaxy S10.

Sunday 24 November 2019

Phones Show Chat 526

Phones Show Chat
Episode 526 - Maxxing Out The Gigabytes
This week Steve Litchfield and I welcome Chris Kelly back to catch up with where he's at with Mobile Phones.
All the usual furniture of course - and a bonus-length show!
Available via or your podcatcher of choice.
Enjoy 😁

Friday 22 November 2019

Official Secrets

I was looking forward to seeing this one, a slice of history that, for once, I had been alive to understand more the context and complexity regarding. It didn't let me down and I was pleased that Keira Knightley grasped the lead with gusto.

When I see the name Keira Knightley my mind, maybe unfairly, conjures up Pirates of the Caribbean. She's been in many more serious and stretching roles of course, but this seemed to have set the framework for me. So yes, The Imitation Game, Atonement and Pride & Prejudice - but not before have I seen her excel and convincingly lead. She plays Katharine Gun in this true story, as a GCHQ employee who, although having signed the Official Secrets Act to get a job there, felt morally obliged to leak a secret document to the press in order to prevent massive loss of life in Iraq in 2003.

As usual with film adaptations, we're never really quite sure what liberty is taken with the truth but from what I can remember and reports I have seen, it's pretty faithful and in keeping in theme with the excellent Red Joan. In the final scene, much like with Red Joan, they even used footage of the real person around the court in London as things reached a climax. So, yes, a whistleblower was she, but because of the context of what was going on, gained support for her plight in defending her actions and exposing the Blair/Bush activity and the dubious actions of their senior staff.

The whole cast performs excellently, particularly Ralph Fiennes as her lawyer along with many good and strong British actors. Dr Who's Matt Smith plays the journalist chasing the story well and Rhys Ifans doing similar work across the pond.

It's a bit of a slow-burner at times as they key players wait for the wheels of justice to turn and various people await their fate, including Katharine's Turkish husband fighting against unfair deportation. Director Gavin Hood (Eye in the Sky) doesn't let up with the tension however and keeps the audience glued to the screen, slow or not. The sets are nicely arranged and supporting photography and positioning thoughtful enough to make for interesting visuals.

I really enjoyed it and the near-two hours flew by whilst watching. I always like a true story - it adds a certain element to films when executed well, as it has been here. It's also a little-person against the power of the establishment story, when the moral stand of the former is absolutely right, but the procedures, politics and safety concerns for the masses is questionable at best. Recommended very much for those, like me, who pretty much remember all this going on, but also for those who want to see the maturing Keira Knightley doing some real acting.

Thursday 21 November 2019

Projector Room 50

Projector Room
Episode 50 - Korean Kingdom
Gareth Myles and I welcome back Steve Litchfield to the mix for show 50 as Allan Gildea is busy working.
The show is available now via or your podcatcher of choice.
We natter for an hour about all things film, cinema and TV - why not join us as we dig for gold and look for blood in Vienna!

Monday 11 November 2019

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. They present a compelling argument on many levels with their well-pitched and well-priced phones and here's another of them. The Mi A3, following and improving on the line of A1 and A2 encapsulates the AndroidOne programme with resulting purity and hopefully, less iOS copycat style and features.

The first clear advantage of the latest model is the Samsung AMOLED screen over the previous models, which housed LCD panels. This makes a huge difference in many ways, as we know. They went back and forward with microSD Card support, now putting it back and the SD600-series chipset has improved by steps, now settling on 665 from 625 and 660. RAM has stayed at 4GB on this unit but there is a 6GB and 128GB storage model out there for the A3, but this one is 64GB. The (becoming standard) 48MP-to-12MP camera setup is added over previous units with simple 12MP - and the 2x optical zoom of the A1 has been replaced with a wide-angle in the A3, both skipping the A2! Again, they've fiddled about with 3.5mm audio-out sockets, first yes, then no, now yes again - all these changes seem to have been a reaction to current trends with the A2 really missing out on most. Anyway, here we are with the latest, so let's see what it's about.

Attractive Design
It's a very attractive phone firstly, though in the mould of a thousand-and-one others, being a GG5 sandwich with plastic frame. The More Than White version I have here is glossy and looking like Pearl White with a hint of shimmering rainbow colours as its moved, reflecting various light sources. The back curves round the edges to meet the frame, unlike the front panel, which is flat. Feels great in the hand, just the right size (for me) in hand and pocket, whilst giving a big enough screen to be useful for ageing eyes! Feels solid and well made.

The Box and Tour
In the box there's a clear TPU case which, bizarrely, when in place does not protect the camera island on the back. When placed directly onto a surface it touches, asking for dents and scratches. I got a cheap one from Amazon for a fiver and it's much better. Good for them to include one, bad for them not making it properly! The back is set up 'camera' style with an emphasis on landscape with logo and writing that way, alongside the three-lens camera lump and LED flash. It looks classy and reflects a quality way above the price-point. There's a SIM Card Tray on the left side, which is very stiff in use, good and bad, and when opened reveals cavities for either 2 NanoSIM Cards or one and a microSD Card. Strangely, used in the latter formation, the phone considers the primary SIM to be No.2 slot! On the other side, there's a power button and volume rocker which are very clicky, but the plastic doesn't feel particularly premium, unlike the rest of the phone. Up the top we have a 3.5mm audio-out socket and the bottom, a USB-C port and single mono speaker. The bottom is arranged iPhone style from a couple of years ago - and now many others - with a fake grille the other side of the USB-C. On the front, there's a teardrop notch for the Selfie Cam and speaker for calls in a sliver at the top. There's a little bit of chin at the bottom, but really not much.

Amazing Value
Many thanks go to Mike Warner for sending this unit over for review, he having imported it from Europe, though it is the Global version. The only evidence of being non-UK is a euro-plug and UK adapter supplied in the outer box. He was able to source this for an amazing £115 from Europe, though for those who want a formal UK route, AmazonUK are selling at £185 as I write. There's nothing much else in the box - a pokey-hole tool and a USB-A to USB-C cable, 10W charging plug and that TPU. The phone supports 18W QC3, but for that you'll need your own plug.

AndroidOne, No Bloat
The Mi A-series are part of the AndroidOne programme and having played with some Xiaomi phones recently which are not, this really makes a huge difference. In many ways it's like any other AndroidOne phone - that's a good thing! Clean and neat version of Android which ensures that the owner knows exactly where they are, guaranteed two versions of Android going forward, so this, being supplied on Pie will be expecting Android 10 and 11 - and three years of Security Updates from Google, ensuring life expectancy to at least summer 2022. As I switched on, in the first week of November, October 2019 Security was offered and so downloaded and installed. It also ensures a pretty much bloat-free experience, unlike non-AndroidOne. As for Motorola models under the same banner, there are some manufacturer's so-called useful additions. Here, we have preinstalled Mi Community and Mi Store apps (which can both be fully uninstalled) and in Settings there's a menu item called Mi Services, within which there are toggles to be a part of the User Experience Programme and to send Xiaomi Diagnostics. These can both be switched off, but the menu item can't be removed. This phone had been bought via AliExpress and there was also an app of theirs installed, but can easily be uninstalled, leaving no apparent trace.

Performance, Storage, Connectivity
The clean vanilla feel of Android continues as we observe the bog-standard Pie Navigation two-button approach with nothing in Settings to change that to anything else. Google Feed cards are available to the left of the Homescreen, though can be turned off. The Notification area is pure vanilla Android and Dark Mode is rolling out to various Google Apps in the same way as it is over the current weeks for other AndroidOne devices. Under the bonnet there's a Snapdragon 665 chipset with 4GB RAM. There is a 6GB RAM version out there somewhere but in terms of task-switching this feels perfectly good with a clean version of AndoidOne. To be honest, this is not the fastest chipset out there and now and then I notice a task taking a little longer than I'm used to on flagships, but this is getting picky. It's perfectly good and the vast majority of people wouldn't notice. I won't bang on again about 128GB minimum but instead, firstly remind myself of the price of this phone - and second that there's a microSD Card slot. I've tested that with my 512GB microSD Card and it plays perfectly well. I've also tested my 2TB Extreme SSD (FAT32) in the USB-C port and again, that works perfectly well, reading and writing quickly enough to use for data. I tested it for HDMI-Out, but sadly, no go. The aerials are all very good, WiFi, GPS, BT and Cellular. On test calls in various locations which have challenged in the past, it does well, holds a call, sounds good and loud, no breakup or drops.

The screen is indeed Super AMOLED and 6.1" with a ratio of 19.5:9 but is 'only' 720p. This produces 286ppi which for those ticking boxes will stick in the throat. For me, given that it's AMOLED particularly, I think it doesn't matter. It's amazing enough to even get an AMOLED panel at this price, we shouldn't be quibbling about the resolution when with my 50+ year-old eyes, it looks just fine. I have looked at photos, closed in on text on the screen and it looks perfectly sharp and clean to me. As usual, younger eyes may think differently - so that will save us old fogies cash! As I said, there is a teardrop notch for the camera but it doesn't intrude far, remaining very subtle. The screen goes right up the top apart from that and there's a small chin. I think that aids use of navigation controls with thumb-space. The screen is not particularly bright at 363nits and auto-brightness does tend to end up at 80%+ when checked to see what it's up to, even indoors. The biggest hit is when you manually drop it to, say 50%, which I've done here against my Nokia 8 Sirocco and at 50% the Xiaomi is much more dull than the Nokia. The colours are bright enough though, which is a good thing as there is no way in Settings to control how they look. The default values have clearly been worked out for generic use and they're fine. Heading outside into bright sunshine, which we happen to have here today, it remains usable at 100% but you wouldn't want it any less than that to continue using the phone.

Always On Display
What we don't get here is an Always on Display. It just isn't part of the AndroidOne setup and those which have it (various Nokia phones, for example) have been added by the manufacturer. Xiaomi has not done this - and like Motorola, rely on the phone being woken up to see anything. However! This is an AMOLED, so enter the Always On AMOLED app! This works perfectly and is very highly recommended. There's all sorts of toggles, options and switches inside it to personalise and make it work just how wanted - it even emulates Samsung's Edge Lighting superbly. This completely plugs the gap and transforms the phone in this useful respect. If you choose not to do that, then you're routinely looking at a black screen. If you nudge it or lift it, the under-glass optical fingerprint scanner target pops up but double-tapping the screen doesn't get you further. Press the power button at that stage and you get the (sleeping) AndroidOne lock-screen with a quick flash of Notifications across the screen in cards, which can be viewed in-situ but some sort of unlocking is needed to drill down further to the content.

This brings us to that Fingerprint Scanner and Face Unlock. If you lift the phone with just the fingerprint scanner target on the screen (as described above) the Face Unlock doesn't work. In order to execute the Face Unlock you have to press the power button. However, there are settings inside Always On AMOLED to bypass this and enable Face Unlock as soon as you lift the phone and face it. Why wouldn't you install this app?! The Face Unlock registration is frighteningly fast, even for me with full beard - bit of a worry about security there, some might say. In use, it works as quickly as Moto's, so no complaints. The Fingerprint Scanner registration is simple, quick and straightforward. Once in use, it's amazingly fast and accurate. I might even say that this is the best implementation of an under-glass optical scanner that I have used as yet. Very encouraging and reassuring.

The bottom-firing mono speaker is clear and loud. Far from the best in terms lows or highs but very happy in the middle. It is better than many out there but doesn't challenge the Big Boys in this respect for quality. Certainly bedroom/kitchen-filling volume, if not quite lounge. Most users will be perfectly happy for basic use for music, video and spoken word. There's no system-wide sound equaliser function, so users will have to rely on their apps for that. I have been able to do so and adjust up for some more bass without hitting the volume too badly. There's no stereo of course so best use headphones for watching visual media.
Talking of which, there's none in the box, but there is a 3.5mm audio-out socket. Plugging in my usual reference headphones I can report that the basic output is actually not bad. Much louder than many I have tried and a more active bass response. I was surprised. No sound is possible out of the USB-C port so any enhanced dongles need to be 3.5mm. Most users will be more than happy with the headphone output as-is though.
Bluetooth 5 is here supporting aptX HD, pairing is very quick, easy and reliable and the output sound is quite stunning, depending on receiving equipment of course. Again, very impressive at this price-point. There's even a basic FM Radio app bundled which works very well indeed, either with headphones or plugging something into the 3.5mm audio-out as aerial, then speakers. Seems to lock onto stations well in my neck of the woods and produces an excellent sound. There's no recording function in the app, which I know some folk need. Whether or not the FM Radio is bundled in the UK version of this phone, I don't know. I'm also not quite sure why there's a headphones icon in the Notification area until a reboot even after I've shut off all media apps and disconnected headphones! Probably a bug.

The battery installed is a tad over 4000mAh, which is great for the size of the phone. That's the same as the whacking great big Razer Phone! Using the supplied slow charger it takes well over 2 hours to fill but with a QC3-compatible, more like an hour and a half. There's no wireless charging here on offer but I can confirm that my Qi Receiver works perfectly well overnight (as long as the user doesn't want to spoil the look of the attractive phone's back)! As for performance, I usually do two tests, my 10% reading/general use test and my average-day-for-me test. Not clinical or technical, but I can at least apply a level playing field for all devices I test.
The 10% reading/general use test is up against the currently leading 1hr 46min of the Google Pixel 2XL and... we have a new champion with 2hrs 6mins! Amazing! Driving the lower resolution screen, AndroidOne and economic chipset I guess has enormous benefits in terms of SoT and general usage in the hand. Next up, the average-day-for-me test and it passes with flying colours on my short 2/3 days in use. We're looking at sneaking through to two full days for those who don't push boundaries, so if you're careful, a charge every second night. Otherwise, the exceptional performance is returning me 40+ hours with 7-9hrs SoT in my usual test. Maybe even more if one doesn't have Always On AMOLED running, though again, in my tests here, that doesn't seem to have much impact. It's another box ticked here with excellent returns.

There are three cameras on offer here, although one of them is really just a 2MP f2.4 depth-sensor supporting for Portrait DoF and there's no sign of OIS anywhere. The main normal-angle camera is what is almost becoming the standard 48MP f1.8 Quad Bayer shooter producing 12MP shots and the second, an 8MP f2.2 wide-angle. There's a 32MP f2 Selfie camera round the front which does indeed shoot (what I consider to be) nice sharp photos of one's mug using the full 32MP on the sensor!
The camera app is clearly Xiaomi's own and it has that feel and design language about it. In some ways it's pretty basic (with more emphasis on AI, letting the camera's software decide for the user) for example the 'Picture quality' settings are either High, Standard or Low, not quoting MP or choice of ratio (though this can be done elsewhere). You can assign the Volume buttons as a Shutter release and even change metering mode between average, centre-weighted and spot and force a 48MP full use of the sensor! So mixed messages there I think between appealing to the novice and expert! There's a Straighten function ensuring shots of buildings and the like are taken 'upright'. The Night Mode seems to work really well in testing here for when there's no alternative, the camera forcing the user to stay still while it does its thing. Yes, of course it's not a perfect picture with no noise, but what do you expect in darkness! It's physics!
Portrait Mode has a manual live-slider, making use of that third lens and even reads out the degree as an aperture value. There's filters on-the-fly to apply and even a Pro Mode in which the two main cameras can be adjusted for various shooting parameters. Close focus in Pro gets pretty close but not as close as using the Zoom Slider on 2x magnification. This is digital, but for (approaching) Macro shots it works really well and will focus at about 5" filling about a quarter of the frame with a microSD Card, for example.
Most people will be encouraged to just turn on AI and be done with it. This performs well and makes intelligent decisions about what a person is shooting. As I always say, the camera in most phones will meet the needs of 98% of people not worried about peeping at pixels for purity.

I have resisted saying "for the price" too often here, but I wanted to more! This phone with AndroidOne onboard is absolutely fine for such a huge percentage of people. You have to look and ask yourself why on earth anyone would pay £1000+ for a flagship phone when one of these can be bought for one-tenth of that price. And ask yourself what's missing. You could argue about IP ratings and Qi Charging and S-Pens and optical zoom and a few other bits - but you can get TEN of these for one Note 10+ and Co. There's nothing wrong with this Xiaomi phone and it performs more like a upper mid-range phone than a £115 budget one. Even if you take the mainstream UK price of £185, you can still buy five of them for the price of a Note 10+ et al with enough left over to buy a slap-up meal for four at Mrs Miggins Pie Shop! Armed with this beauty, you'll want for very little more and save a shed-load of cash! Xiaomi are getting aggressive and taking over The West! Available now in Kind of Gray, Not Just Blue and this, More than White. Do yourself a favour.

I neglected to investigate NFC properly in the above. I assumed that because the Google Pay app loaded and as I was presented with a picture of my Debit Card in the usual way, I assumed also that I could use the phone for payments. Turns out that's not the case and there's no NFC functionality on the phone, which takes payments out of the equation. It's impossible for me to hook my bank up with every phone I review, so had not done that, but should have checked that the phone had the capability. Depending on how important that is to you, and again, considering the price of this phone, this will obviously affect any buying decision.

Sunday 10 November 2019

Phones Show Chat 524

Phones Show Chat
Episode 524 - Google-ifying the iPhone
Steve Litchfield and I are back this week with another show available via or your podcatcher of choice.
We chat about lots of mobile phones stuff, Android, iOS, even Windows 10 (kind of), take your feedback and have an audio drop-in from Mark Hilton.

Friday 8 November 2019

Projector Room 49

Projector Room
Episode 49 - Parasite Mindhunter
The latest show is now available via or your podcatcher of choice.
Gareth Myles and Allan Gildea join me as we natter for an hour or so about what we've been watching on the TV, in film and at the cinema.
From Sweet Beans to Dark Shadows and much between.

Sunday 3 November 2019

Google Pixel 4 - Initial Thoughts

Here's the brand new Pixel 4 (the little one) and I shall start my initial thoughts from where I did last year with the Pixel 3 and 3a, on pricing. Looks like it got better with the 64GB version of the 4 being £669 and 128GB, £769, £70 less all-round. This makes the pricing certainly more attractive than the 3, but maybe not in the context of the 3a. I hope to discover here whether or not the additional features are worth the hike.

The natural thing here is to compare the new 4 with the 4XL, but that's a little pointless as apart from the physical size, screen resolution and battery, there's no difference. This brings the choice largely down to physical size in the hand and age of eyes! I'll come back to battery as it seems this is the fly in the ointment for many out there during these first weeks of release. There's also the issue of this Google PR unit, grateful as I am for the opportunity, only having 64GB of storage, which I've constantly kicked against in lieu of at least 128GB. I did, however, go through a convincing myself stage, so I shall re-adopt my principles!

Pixel Comparison
I'm more keen to compare these differences with the Pixel 3, 3a, maybe even the 2 - and what the 4 brings to the table which is better or worse. (My thoughts on the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3a from last year.) On sizing, I have been using my Pixel 2XL now as my main phone for a couple of months, since the Android 10 Beta came along, and although loving the clean experience I still find the device just a tad too big for me - but sadly, finding the 2's screen just too small. In terms of Google's handsets, the Nexus 5X was just the perfect size for me but since then they've gone too far one way, and the other. Still, at least it's not as tiny as the Samsung Galaxy S10e which I recently reviewed, or the likes of the iPhone SE. I've now compared the Pixel 4 with Pixel 3 in-hand and can confirm that the 4 is the tiniest tad bigger in each dimension, but is certainly fatter and 10% heavier. The Pixel 3a stands out here as taller, but with less visible screen than the 4 - and the 3 has the smallest screen-space of the three. So, if you want more to grab onto then the 3a is the one, more screen, the 4 and more dinky and less fat, the 3. The point is that these 'little' Pixel phones are truly pocketable and easily facilitate one-handed use, unlike their bigger brothers.

The Pixel 4 is beautifully constructed, like the 3 and 2 before it, and feels very much like an Apple phone in many ways. The version supplied by Google PR here is the Oh So Orange one, which means that the back is a pastel shade of orange with a power button to match. There are Clearly White and Just Black for those who prefer 128GB, as the orange is only being made (much like the 3a series) in 64GB. Both sides are Gorilla Glass 5, though the back looks like it's matt plastic. It's got a beautiful finish in this orange with only a 'G' down below and the Huawei-style camera square-island top-left. The island sticks out but usually with a good quality case, it becomes protected. PSC has been supplied with an Olixar Sentinel case by MobileFun, who have a good range of options available on their website for all sorts of phones including the Pixel 4. This one also comes with a glass screen protector, so protection all-round for those inevitable drops! The phone is the same IP68 dust/water resistant as the Pixel 3, so up to 1.5m for 30 mins in clean water.

Around the Phone
Around the rim, we have the aluminium band, making the phone pebble-like in the hand and the glass front and back just slightly 'dip' at the edges to meet it and retain continuity. On the right, we have the aforementioned power button and underneath, volume rocker. I think they're metal, but even if they're not, they're firm to the touch, solid and not in any way floppy like some. On the left, we have the SIM Card Tray which takes a Nano SIM of course, with support in the phone for eSIM as well. On the bottom there's the USB-C port flanked by two symmetrical holes, one a speaker and the other a microphone inlet. Styled for symmetry and design, not practicality. Active Edge remains a feature, where a squeeze gets you the Google Assistant, even if the screen is off (optionally) and also to silence alarms, timers and calls. I've covered all this before. I very rarely use Google Assistant at all and to be honest, forget about this feature mostly - which is odd as during my recent review of the LG V50, which has a dedicated side-button for the same, I was using it a lot.

Soli Radar and Friends
On the front, we have the new array of sensors up-top, which it's almost impossible to make out through the black glass, beyond a camera lens and speaker. We know from the diagram which has been doing the rounds that there's a Soli Radar Chip in there though, Face Unlock IR camera x 2, Ambient Light and Proximity Sensor, Face Unlock Dot Projector and a Face Unlock Flood Illuminator! No wonder there was no room for a notch! Most of this works together to ensure that Google's Motion Sense works as it should and that users can interact with their phone in many ways without touching it. First voice and now gestures. Brain-power-control is next! In Google's own words, "small motions around the phone, combine unique software algorithms with the advanced hardware sensor to recognise gestures and detect when you’re nearby. As you reach for Pixel 4, Soli proactively turns on the face unlock sensors, recognising that you may want to unlock your phone. If the face unlock sensors and algorithms recognise you, the phone will open as you pick it up, all in one motion. Better yet, face unlock works in almost any orientation - even if you’re holding it upside down.”

Motion Sense
I suppose Motion Sense then is one of the headline features here, making use of the Radar. It's clear that if this is to be pursued, development is needed beyond the very few functions it has right now. To be fair, it seems to do what it's supposed to and I have not have any problems skipping tracks in Google Play Music and YouTube Music, but not in any of my favourite 3rd party Music apps. Apparently Amazon Music, Deezer and Spotify amongst some others do work. In the settings you're able to switch the direction of the swipe - seems strange to me that the default position is right-for-back, the far-east way, which Google always held out against with navigation! Where this is live and available you get a subtly blue-wavy line at the top of the screen. A teething problem for Google seems to be that it's too sensitive, so if, for example, you reach out the the phone to swipe down the notification pane to look at what's coming in whilst listening to music, it often picks up that hand motion reaching in and interprets it as a swipe, so changes the music track forward/back. Work to do and it's very tempting to turn Motion Sense off for now! As long as you use the Google-supplied Calendar and Clock apps, you can snooze alarms and silence incoming calls with the same gesture and it'll detect your presence as you approach the phone and fire up the lock-screen (though that's a bit pointless if the AoD is engaged). It certainly doesn't work anything like Moto Approach. Then there's all the current hoo-har about Face Unlock working with eyes closed, which they're going to fix soon, and the fact that there's no support for banking transactions and Google Pay without unlocking the phone in some other way. With no fingerprint scanner, you're down to code, PIN or pattern! My 2015 Marshall London can do that! Much development needed and future support in the months ahead.

Face Unlock
Yes, Face Unlock has replaced the capacitive fingerprint scanner and is the only means of biometric authentication. It's a copycat move following Apple of course, but unlike the latter who have done it right, here it feels like there are gaping holes, with no interim solution on offer (see above, regarding banking). To be fair, the basis of Face Unlock and Approach seem to work most of the time. However, it doesn't seem smart enough to open up the home screen when it 'sees me' from flat on a desk, rather the pesky lock screen looking for confirmation. If the phone is in-hand it does much better, in fact near-100% of the time, bypassing the lock screen and getting down to business. I thought that the radar would ensure that the phone didn't need to be moved or tapped to open things up, but clearly I'm wrong and 'flat on a desk' doesn't work. Motorola still have that sewn up! I've now perched it in a stand, looking at me and it still doesn't wake up. It seems to me that you have to, in some way, physically move the phone to wake it up before all this fancy radar stuff kicks in - which is not supposed to be the idea. Tapping the screen does it, but still not from my desk, only cradle. I'll keep testing, but at the moment it seems to be that smart is almost dumb!

Smooth Display
The screen is the same P-OLED panel as before, 1080p, very slightly bigger and longer, filling more of the front and is 19:9 instead of the 3's 18:9 because of that. It returns pretty much the same ppi at 444. I'm finding the screen just as bright on manual 100% as the 2XL, though it is 'warmer' and not so 'blue' as the latter. I've checked it outside in bright daylight and I have no problem using the phone. Maybe in blazing African sun this would be different, but I can't emulate that in November in the UK! Natural or Boosted colours can be set in Display Settings, or if you are happy with Google automating it, use Adaptive and throw the switch for Ambient EQ ("a new visual experience that dynamically adjusts the colour temperature and brightness of your display to create a non-intrusive smart display experience"). I've allowed all that and Auto-Brightness and am happy with the system learning from my usage and manual adjustments.
I've been using Razer Phones for the last two years now and for my eyes, I can't tell when 120Hz is on or off, so I have no chance with the Pixel 4's 60/90Hz Smooth Display over the 3's 60Hz. This is pretty much automatically controlled by the system by default - kicking in the higher screen refresh-rate when needed and when the screen is bright enough for appreciation or needed for use, like, presumably in gaming, for example. You can switch it in Developer Settings to always be on 90Hz but it seems a bit pointless to risk more battery use if, at least for my eyes, I can't tell the difference! Still - maybe younger eyes will devour and delight.

Always on Display
The Always on Display is pretty much just like it was before. The clock numbers are bigger and brighter than they are on the 2XL, but not by much. I can't seem to control the brightness of this (Samsung-style) in any way on any Pixel - it's supposedly tied to the screen brightness and ambient conditions - but as I say, it's better now than it was and nothing new to report in terms of content. Now Playing is such a great feature to have and it's almost worth switching to Pixel just for that! Love it!

In The Box
Accessories in the box include a USB-C to USB-C cable, USB-C to USB-A adapter, no 3.5mm to USB-C dongle, 18W 2A power brick for fast charging, pokey-tool for SIM Tray and no earphones! The usual boring Google white box with no frills, though it is reported that some are being delivered in a fun cereal box!

Under the Bonnet
Android 10 is onboard out of the box of course - and the peachy thing about Pixel, as we know, is that we'll be first with everything that Google are up to! Those of us who've been playing with the Beta releases don't really get any surprises - it's all been evolved along the path and the most interesting aspect for me is the gesture control with full-side swipes from either side for Back. Particularly on a one-handed dinky device like this, holding the phone in either hand and using the thumb anywhere down the side is a fabulous feature. There's loads more for those coming to 10 cold, but we've reported on that on Phones Show Chat as we've gone along over the months so I won't go over it all again here.
The SnapDragon chipset has been raised from 845 to 855, but comparing that with the Pixel 3, I don't see much difference in real world use. Everything is blazingly fast across the UI and the increase of RAM from 4 to 6GB likewise, I don't see any difference. Test-bench pushing will no doubt highlight the technical differences but I see nothing I'm using being shut down - or it inconveniencing me in any way on the 3 or 4, with 4GB or 6! I sometimes think that hardware is updated for marketing purposes, not real world benefit.
A quick word on software, Live Captions and Recorder functionality is present, utilising Google's new Pixel Neural Core which helps AI to perform real-time stuff like transcription in these apps, all executed on-device and not in the cloud. It's great fun to watch in action of course and although it's currently leaning accuracy towards American-English, it'll roll out as time passes in other flavours. It provides live captions for viewers watching videos, for example and the Recorder's transcription is great for anyone needing to turn spoken word into text. I have tested this a fair bit and, although not perfect, it's by far good enough to be useful for cut/paste into where the text is needed. Students in lectures comes to mind or nearer to home, podcast scripts! As always, Google tinkering with ideas and letting us in on them as they evolve. This makes some feel like they're guinea pigs, whilst the rest of us just enjoy the thrill and ride!

Storage options are poor. They remain at 64GB or 128GB and no microSD expansion. I was really hoping for a big-capacity unit but clearly Google are continuing to drive the 'cloud' agenda and convincing everyone that it's really OK to be near-completely dependent on having a connection of some kind to access one's data and media wherever they are - and swallowing the subsequent cost. I disagree! However, I'm happy that the next best thing works in the shape of USB OTG and my tests with FAT32-formatted microSD Cards and even my 2TB Extreme SSD. I can easily plug in for accessing stored media and data.
There seems to be a story developing around HDMI-Out in that the hardware can support this feature and although it doesn't work now - I've tested - it will, if Google throw a switch server-side for software. Why they're not doing it is not clear, except that they're working on a DeX-style desktop experience and maybe will only switch it on when that's ready - denying for now people like me wanting to plug my phone into the TV or monitor for a bigger picture. Watch that space!
I'm getting used to living with 64GB here, as supplied for the review unit. It just requires a shift in mentality and, for me, carrying data on cards/drives. Many people of course will have data plans and 'inclusive' wifi at home and work and most places they go, so will just jump on the cloud an not think about it. I guess I'm just old fashioned wanting a pocket-computer with my stuff on it and not depend on another company's service to get to it!

Stereo Speakers and Sound
Stereo speakers are retained, but they (apparently) remain 'faux' stereo with split frequencies and directions. The 'right' speaker is bottom-facing and I'd expect, as I did with the Samsung Galaxy S10e, that this would disfigure and disrupt the sound. I'd be wrong! The sound is very well balanced from the two speakers and unusually, it also feels like the lower frequencies are actually being favoured by the top speaker/call speaker. This is usually arranged the other way, as we know, firing bass from the bottom, bigger aperture. I'd almost be convinced that this is not 'faux' stereo at all as it's so very close to proper stereo - and if the listener is that unsure if it is or is not, then Google have done a great job building this unit. The stereo separation is marked, as long as the phone is held about 12" in front of the head - well, this is a small phone - what did you expect?! It doesn't feel like the bottom speaker is downward-facing, so again, they've done a good job balancing the sound for general usage. The speakers don't switch round the stereo channels like some, so 'bottom' is always right and 'top', left. More importantly though is that the sound is fabulous. I really thought that my 2XL would blow it away, based on previous little Pixels, but no - this is better, louder, richer, more defined and when placed on a table resonates the sound quite superbly for medium-sized room coverage. I'm impressed! My Razer Phone 2 is off having a new screen fitted just now so I can't compare directly, but my gut feeling is that it's not far away and certainly challenges the latest from Samsung, even without any Dolby shenanigans.
There's no return of the 3.5mm audio-out socket yet, after the inclusion with the Pixel 3a's, so I've tested my reference 'phones with a simple dongle and the output is pretty ordinary. A very flat sound with no personality and decidedly low volume. An enhanced-DAC dongle is highly recommended for those wanting to wire-in headphones. The sound pushed out via Bluetooth 5 however, supporting aptX HD, is excellent, high quality, loud and rich. Maybe they were right, after all, pushing consumers that way!

As usual, I'm going to point you at Steve Litchfield's developing coverage of the cameras at The Phones Show 379 and for some zoom comparisons, his AAWP Imaging Showdown (these for 4XL, but 4 is equipped with the same). Unlike much of the current competition, Google have not provided a wide-angle option but have added a 2x optical zoom which, as you can see from Steve's tests, works excellently well beyond 2x, producing hybrid optical/digital results up to 5x (and in my tests, beyond - to 8x). It's all getting very clever, as for speakers, and results year-by-year continue to challenge stand-alone cameras even taking into account their much smaller size. Computational software coupled with what can be physically fitted into small phones in terms of optics get better and better. We're not far away from crossover as phones challenge even mid-range compact cameras.
We have a 12.2MP f/1.7 main camera with dual pixel PDAF and OIS, supported by the 16MP f/2.4 2x optical zoom, again with OIS with Super-Res Zoom. Many have complained about the lack of a wide-screen option when others are adding it now - and I have to agree that it's a great addition to the kit-bag. Maybe that'll come with Pixel 5 - I can see it now, the all-new Pixel 5G with 5 cameras and 5G (you saw it here first)! There's lots of automation going on with the Pixel - whereas the LG V50 boasted geek-dream manual knobs and dials for every eventuality - Google want the photographer to place their photo-taking experience in their hands. And generally get excellent results. People have been playing with astrophotography, for example and auto-detecting night modes and so forth. It's clear that Google are having fun pushing the AI boundaries, though be sure to invest in a tripod if you want to join them!
Automation in Portrait mode works well and night mode pulls out details previously that could only be hoped for, by use of multi-shots and computation - leaving the software to work out what you're up to, what your subject is - and giving you the best result. There is now a quick-share swipe-up from the last-taken-shot icon and up to 3 venues can be assigned to that. Tapping the screen in shooting mode gets you a highlights/shadow control (sliders) so you can indeed apply some manual adjustment. Double-tapping the screen gets you the zoom slider and depending on what you set on that will depend on which of the cameras the system uses and how much optical/digital is applied. As I say, I've tried 8x zoom using this hybrid system and am getting better results than the 2XL with the supplied 10x.
Lastly, on the front there's an 8MP f/2 Selfie but with TOF 3D but no AF. On the Pixel 3 however, there were two 8MP Selfie cameras, an f/1.8 'normal' view twinned with an f/2.2 'wide-angle', again with no AF. There was no optical zoom on the rear camera, the only camera on the back being the much-praised 12.2MP f/1.8 with OIS. To be fair, I never had any complaints about the shots produced by the 3 or 2XL but (in some ways) the 4 pushes things forward for zooming.
There's loads more to say about the camera setup, but I'll leave it to Steve as he uncovers the potential and capacity of Google's system. Stay tuned to The Phones Show and Phones Show Chat in the coming weeks and months.

This is the big one which everyone is moaning about out there, so I'm here to contentiously report that the 2,800mAh battery on this unit is surprisingly good! I've been doing my usual testing scheme but this time I've tested it both with Motion Sense on and off. Some have been believing that the fancy sensor array at the front driving all the clever stuff, including the Soli Radar have been hitting the battery needlessly (for the benefit gained in functionality). My tests show that firstly, Motion Sense being on or off makes little, if any difference. Bear in mind that I'm not on a test-bench here, just my real-world testing which is applied across all devices at which I look.
The 10% Reading Test returns me 1 hour and 20 minutes. This sits right in the middle of the poorest results from smaller units and big leaders, including the Pixel 2XL which scored 1 hour 46 minutes. So, far from the worst but far from the best - however, not the dreadful that some are recording. Real World use for my usual pattern across an average day, again, gets me somewhere in the middle, regardless of Motion Sense on or off. A full charge is giving me about 20-24hrs and 5-7hrs SoT. Usual conditions apply, adaptive brightness and battery engaged.
For the small size of the device and the AI stuff going on in the background, I really don't think that's anything to complain about. Yes, of course, you can do better from a bigger device (look at the Pixel 2XL, above) but for a dinky pocket-phone with technically a very small powered battery, it's performing well. Don't forget that there's also Qi Charging here, so with chargers dotted around the place (which I have not been used during testing, obviously) it's going to get topped up through the day anyway - so it's almost always fully charged when heading out and about. Needless to say, if you cane it in any way with shooting video or streaming Netflix you're going to kill it, but that's true of pretty much every device out there. Carry a PowerBank! Or the Fast Charging plug/cable. I often wonder if reviewers are very unfair reporting battery performance and not reflecting real-world, but constant relentless use during testing.

Interim Verdict
These have been initial thoughts as it really feels like I still need my SIM Card in another device to use as my daily main phone - particularly for payments, which seems like we've gone back five years! There are always missing and evolving features that we'll complain about of course. Tech develops, new angles are tried out, decisions made, sometimes reversed! It's all good fun, but the best thing about a Pixel is being close to the beating heart of Google, for me. The fastest updates and new features. Can't beat it!
It's a terrific little bundle of tech with much work for Google to do in the coming months. We know that they are likely to do so and bring new features and tweak the ability of those present. It's just about big enough for me with the increased screen-space over previous little Pixels, but I'd still maybe just like a tad more! The camera tech is, by any standards in mobile phones, excellent and the vast majority of users won't be able to complain about their results. The speakers are amazingly good for the size, and so on. Evolution of components giving us better and better performance.
As for price, well yes, it's not cheap. It is cheaper than last year's offering but still a sizeable chunk of cash for those not getting a contract upgrade. The good news there is that the Pixel 3 will soon be available cheaper and, you could argue, is perfectly good enough for a couple more years. I can't recommend this phone for anyone to use as their only and main phone just now, but I will soon! We'll keep updating our views as we go through the months ahead so it really is a case of watch this space.

Abigail (2024)

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