Monday, 17 February 2020

Spellbound

Alfred Hitchcock hits the nail on the head once more, in so many ways, not least by drawing out real acting talent from the cast and once again creating tension, suspense and thrills at every turn by clever film-making techniques. Spellbound came along in 1945 during a busy few years leading up to Notorious, The Paradine Case and Rope.

The story in Spellbound revolves around a psychiatric institute and its doctors somewhere in rural America. There's a little posse of them and at the centre, their only female medic. The men around her tease and suggest and propose, but she's really not interested in any of them, rather fascinated by, and married to her work. The head of the institution is part of the chasing droolers but he's also out of a job shortly, to be replaced by incoming Dr Edwardes.

The new boss turns up and the up-to-now cold female medic instantly falls for him! They note how young the very experienced Dr Edwardes is, but he gets away with it - for now! We've all worked out by now that all is not what it seems and even though our leading couple have amazingly fallen madly in love in five minutes flat, there's a puzzle afoot to be solved!

The leading man and woman in the film are a young and thin looking Gregory Peck (Roman Holiday, The Million Pound Note, The Guns of Navarone) and pretty as ever Ingrid Bergman (Casablanca, Notorious, Gaslight). Hitchcock draws the very best out of them, and the whole cast, in a way that other directors of the day just couldn't. Apart from the cultural, behavioural and situational giveaways, the film doesn't feel dated, nor story wooden or unlikely. The pair play off against each other with ease and the audience warms to them in their quest to discover the solution to the puzzle, despite his outrageous sexism!

It turns into a typical Hitchcock thriller, thereon in - the quest to uncover the truth, the authorities chasing the wrong person, injustice served out which needs fixing - culminating in a dash against time at the end reaching a climax of unfolding discovery. I do not believe that I've ever seen this film before, and I didn't see elements of the story coming! So I'll say no more.

Another of the ways in which Hitchcock creates mood, atmosphere and suspense is, as we know, by a very smart understanding of light and shadow. He again uses this to great effect here, infusing each scene with the right amounts of each to ensure that the audience is not only locked in by the thrills and story but also by the ambience created, to which many back in the day were, presumably oblivious. The black and white throughout adds terrifically to this technique and is great fun to observe.

Salvador Dali is in on the act here as well and for fans of his work it's interesting to see how they've hijacked his style and paintings in order to create a dream sequence as our main man tried to uncover what's buried deep in his subconscious about his past. Yet another twist that I didn't see coming rears its head as a result of that psychoanalysis as well. I think I'd better stop there, encourage you to watch it and not risk spoiling your enjoyment!

Yet another cracker from the master of suspense which I thoroughly enjoyed, late to the party as I may be! I've yet to find a duff Hitchcock film in my quest and every time I see another, I realise how far ahead of his time he was, enjoying the experimentation of techniques, storytelling and surprising and thrilling an audience. Yet another one highly recommended.

Saturday, 8 February 2020

Xiaomi Redmi Note 8T

It's confession time. This is the first time I've handled a Redmi phone of any kind. I've handled plenty of Xiaomi models of course and know about MIUI 10/11 but this is the first time looking at Xiaomi's sub-brand. Having scanned the similarities of specifications and price-point, I think I'm likely to put it up here against the Moto G8 Plus, which I reviewed last week.

Xiaomi and Oppo certainly, amongst others, have got really aggressive with pricing as they roll out device after device from China and set up camp in Europe and the rest of the world. Motorola, amongst some others, have responded in turn and consumers are driving prices down so much so that even (some) top flagships are reducing in price and previous mid-tier phones creep toward what was budget territory. And this is where we 'bide for the purposes of these thoughts.

Value for Money
The Moto G8 Plus can be bought just now with £40 off in the UK at CPW, so £199. The Note 8T 64GB/4GB version I have here is £166 at AmazonUK though importing from central Europe might bring that down. This unit has been kindly loaned to us at Phones Show Chat for review by MeWe PSC Group Member Tim Pugh. This is an excellent route for us to be able to review phones, so please do get in touch if you can show the same consideration.

Box Contents
Let's get the in-the-box out of the way first, in time-honoured fashion! There's the phone of course, a pokey-hole tool for the SIM Tray, a very interesting cover/case which feels like TPU but is like a material I've not seen before - feels almost like wine-gums! Very cosy-fitting though, thick and looks protective. There's a UK power plug and a USB-C to USB-A cable. That's it.

Guided Tour
It's a very attractive looking phone, the Moonshadow Grey glass back shimmering when moved against light-sources. The back is laid out very clearly in 'landscape' to no doubt encourage users to hold it the correct way round when using the cameras! There are four camera lenses on an island, top-right with an LED flash beneath. Below that, still in landscape of course, is the circular capacitive fingerprint scanner. This works excellently well in execution, quick and fast, though on setup it only lets you register one - back in through Settings later to add more. Top-left is the word Redmi. On the left and high-up is the SIM Card/microSD Card Tray with pokey-hole for ejection, on the bottom there's the USB-C port, speaker, microphone and 3.5mm audio-out socket. Up the top we have an IR window (do people still use these?) and microphone and down the right-side, volume rocker and power button. The front glass has the word Redmi again in the 'chin' and up-top, centralised Selfie cam.

Glass and Class
The device feels very nearly the same size in all directions as the Moto G8 Plus and this is supported by the spec. list. The Redmi is a tad taller, a tad narrower but about the same thickness. The Redmi feels more premium in the hand, but only really because the back is glass, unlike the Moto which sticks to plastic. With a TPU in place, who cares! But the Redmi is nicely finished even though it, like the Moto, uses plastic around the rim. The Redmi is also a little heavier, 200g as opposed to 188. One of the differences is also that the Redmi have invested in Gorilla Glass (5) and Motorola have not. Time will tell with the Moto the impact of this - and with the Redmi, how many micro-scratches appear over time. There's no screen-protector out of the box, on either. The Moto claims splash-resistance but the Redmi does not.

Similar Panels
The screen on the two devices is very similar. A flat IPS LCD, 6.3", 1080p, 19.5:9 (as the Redmi is slimmer/taller) over 19:9 - and even almost identical c.400ppi. If the Redmi panel wasn't everso slightly cooler, I'd say they were identical. Unlike the Moto, there are deep-controls for the user to adjust the Redmi's colour scheme/temperature (though amusingly someone forgot to change the word 'colour' into UK English between scheme and temperature)! They both have a 'waterdrop' notch, top-centre, which really doesn't get in the way any longer. One up for Redmi over Moto here is that not only can the Notch be globally hidden, it can also be hidden on a per-app basis! The screens get plenty bright for my eyes but the Redmi edges it over the Moto in this respect. For indoor use, the level of brightness I want to use, I can have the % slider lower on the Redmi. They are both usable outdoors in bright daylight.

Combo Cards
The Redmi has a straight-forward Dual SIM + microSD Tray whereas with the Moto, the user has to choose between that second SIM and a microSD. No surprise to discover that neither of these phones support HDMI-Out, but no problems with my 2TB Extreme SSD test on read/write speeds and various microSD Cards up to 512GB.

Firmware and MIUI
The phone arrived with Android 9 on-board, September 2019 Google Security Patch and MIUI 10. This was immediately updated to December 2019 Security and MIUI 11. Android 10 is coming, apparently. Imminent for both of these phones! The MIUI UX is a Marmite one. I have reviewed this before, so will part-quote and edit myself from a previous review here, as much is the same...

...it took me half an hour, literally, to find the setting to swap the navigation buttons around, which are the wrong way round out of the box. The buttons are simple circle/box/triangle, so that's good. However, you can now switch to Full-Screen Gestures, Android-10 style, and that works even over the top of 3rd Party Launchers. Much, much better! The notification area is pure blue and grey buttons on dark (if you choose dark theme), Pixel style. Plenty of options up there for editing what is in the main tray, clearly laid out and accessible.
Homescreen elements can be moved around and arranged as you like, but I can't find a setting anywhere to change the layout and arrangement to have a standard App drawer - it's all done iPhone style with all the apps cascading off into screens right. I can't find any way to add the Assistant Cards to the left of the homescreen - this seems to be reserved for their own 'app vault' pane of shortcuts, notes and calendar events (as long as you use their calendar and not Google's). You can turn this pane off completely if you choose. There's a range of widgets available along with the usual array from your apps.
The home screen experience is not a bad one. I've seen worse, even if there's no app drawer option. The user can, of course, make folders and name them in the usual way. The UI animates slickly and is cute and cartoon'y in many ways, as we've come to expect from toys from the east. There is a face-unlock option which registered my full-bearded face (after asking me to 'show my lips'?! - I pouted, and done!) and works flawlessly with every attempt.
Again, as we've come to expect from such firms, there's an array of apps included which double-up the Google ones and can be used by choice if people want to. Gallery organises photos taken with the phone, but not much else. Their browser seems functional if users want to go that way and it has a reader mode. Calculator is perfectly good enough. Clock has the usual functions - along with a world map, Psion-style(!) - when you add a City, it plots it with a dot! Nice.
There's an app to share files with other users, scanner - which scans documents or barcodes, a handy screen-recorder for showing granny how to turn off notifications - and a voice recorder which seems to do the job. The only offensive pre-installed app I can find is Facebook (apart from AliExpress as this unit was imported and wouldn't be in one sourced from AmazonUK), and the system let me uninstall that quickly and simply (along with the AliExpress one). There is a system Cleaner app, like Google's Files, which is littered with adverts when used, so couldn't work out if it was actually a system app or not! They seem to be monetising their efforts by adding adverts to even their system apps now! There's a Battery & Performance Optimiser tool as well inside Battery Settings, which cleans things up on-the-fly, though I couldn't get it to 100% without turning off GPS, which I want on! There are loads of other ways to use the tool, however, which are functional and reassuring.
Calendar is really well thought out and attractive, with good options. Plenty of apps, then, for those who wish to use them and do things the Redmi way, but not, like Samsung, intrusive - pushing the user into using them at every opportunity, serving up layers of prompts and reminders. The Mi Video app picked up my RIP'd DVDs on memory card as .mp4 files and played them with no problem at all, has an array of options to fiddle with to get the picture aspect right and the Mi Music efficiently plays locally stored music. There are equaliser settings to be adjusted and a smart Mi Sound Enhancer function available but only when headphones are plugged in. Through the speaker, there are no choices. You get what you get, so an alternative Music App is needed for that.

Sound
There's a strange 'clear speaker' function in settings. You run it for the pre-set 30 seconds when you think that the speaker is "lightly blocked by dust". If it's "blocked heavily" then run it 2-5 times whilst shaking the phone. That's a new one on me! Presumably it vibrates.
While we're here, let's talk about the mono speaker output. It fires out of the bottom of the phone and actually isn't badly tuned out of the box. The volume isn't very loud and when you start playing with equalisers in 3rd party music apps, it drops away even more. A bit like the Moto Z3 Play, then. The speaker component and supplied player provides a very nice quality sound, but it's just not very loud. Start trying to push it and you lose volume. Needless to say, the Moto's stereo speakers blows the Redmi away here.
The sound coming from the 3.5mm audio-out socket will win no awards either, for the audiophile, but it's perfectly adequate - even pretty good - for the masses. An enhanced DAC dongle thingie of course leaps it into life further.
The Redmi 'only' has Bluetooth 4.2 supporting A2DP and LE, whereas the Moto has Bluetooth 5 and enhanced support to include aptX along with all the Redmi has. I'm no Bluetooth expert to fully understand the differences but can report that with any gear I have here, the phone pairs quickly, holds the connection well even over long distances and sounds great! Again, for most punters, I guess that this (presumably) money-saving point won't make much difference.
There's an FM Radio app thrown in, as there is on the Moto. It's capable of recording, saving files and playing back of course. It needs a pair of headphones in to establish the stations but can then be switched to speaker. It's a draw there, then - though I do think the Moto UI is more attractive!

More on MIUI
The person who's prepared to invest long-term in what Redmi is offering here has a large learning curve, but once learnt, there's plenty of options, apps, and quirky unique additions to the experience - and a lot of it, useful additions. As for me, yes, the experience is utterly transformed and familiarised by the installation of Nova Prime and the Nova Companion App. But let's stick with what's on offer here and here's a few highlights. Quick Ball - a sphere which can be added to the UI pretty much where you like, with 5 assignable executables in a circle around the axle, Samsung style, each one apps or settings. Quick-launch from where it is, options to auto-hide etc. One Handed Mode with a difference - decide how big you want your 'shrunk to corner' screen to be - 3.5", 4" or 4.5". Dual Apps aplenty so run multiple instances of apps in isolation. Or perhaps a step further with Second Space - two phones in one with smart switching options - a bit like Symbian did back in the E71 days with a 'profile' for Business and Personal - so phone-sharing options abound. Hide Apps we've seen elsewhere and also on display here is Lock Apps so each app can be assigned a password to be able to use them. Very useful for parental control, for sure. There's also a Samsung-style Theme/Wallpaper Store of their own for those who wish to tinker, Game Booster to allocate resources and so on. There's tons of stuff to be discovered, some nicked from Samsung (and others) some unique to Xiaomi/Redmi. Certainly a new user would have a month of exploration ahead of them!

Approaching AoD
Sadly, there's no Always on Display, so a win for the Moto here with Peek/Approach but as we know, Always on AMOLED can be added and yes, does work on LCD screens - just keep an eye on battery and don't be annoyed by the always-grey glow in the dark covering the whole screen! On a positive note, Double Tap To Wake is present, Raise To Wake works (very well in conjunction with Face Unlock), Wake the Screen on Notification Arrival can be toggled on, so all is not lost. There is also a switch to (per app) select Quick Reply on Lock Screen. I think OEMs do tend to shy away from a full implementation of AoD when it comes to LCD screens because of battery fears - but it would be nice for user to choose.

Grunt
Under the bonnet, both phones are powered by the SnapDragon 665 and, as usual with the 600-series SD, I see no problem with speed or execution of tasks across the UI. My usual caveat remains though, that I'm no gamer - but everything else I throw at it is just fine. Similarly multi-tasking and app-switching with the 4GB RAM (on this unit). All very speedy. Incidentally, there are three variants available for the Note 8T purchaser - Storage 32GB/3GB RAM, 64GB/4GB or 128GB/4GB - whereas, there's no choice with the Moto - you get 64/4! Moving up to the 128GB version of the Redmi will add a cost, ending up at about £190 or so, but certainly a bit harder to get hold of at time of writing.

Fine Shooting
There's quite a bit of difference when it comes to cameras. The Redmi has a 48MP (quad-bayer 12MP) f/1.8 (normal), 8MP f/2.2 (wide), 2MP f/2.4 (macro), 2MP f/2.4 (depth sensor) and 13MP f/2 Selfie up front. There's no OIS anywhere of course. The fun part of this for me is the Macro and sure enough, you can focus the lens from about 1cm away, shooting half a 20p piece, for example, in focus, filling the frame! The only downside is that the resulting images are 2MP, about 1MB in size and 1600x1200 pixels. Still, fine for artistic leanings, fun applications, social media and family quizzes! The array of options on offer from Redmi are more like approaching the Moto Zoom than the G8 Plus, and so it's a clear win for the Redmi here. Having said that, I've taken quite a few test shots of all sorts of situations and both are more than capable for the vast majority of people. The Redmi can be forced to shoot full-resolution images at 48MP and they look good enough to me, though I'm sure the pixel-peeper would pick fault with noise/sharpening. Auntie Mary on Facebook won't be doing that. The Portrait mode is excellent and allows control of DoF by proper aperture scale readout, which works on the Selfie too with great bokeh. The Night mode does a great job of pulling out any light it can find to render a half-decent shot, though this is no Pixel! The user will be pleased to play with 101 modes and settings, from Pro independence to AI-everything and much between. The Redmi gets the points for sure here, over the G8 Plus.

Connectivity
The connectivity options I could test, including Bluetooth (see above) all seem to be sound and reliable. Phone calls seemed to hold up well, in and out, speaking and receiving. The WiFi connection has been tested here with dometic Routers and MiFi units and again, seems strong. In fact, in a fringe are where the Moto gives up, this Redmi hold on. Just! Mapping via GPS seems to find a lock fast and holds onto it, refreshes in Google Maps are quick to respond and track movement. I'm sorry but I can't test Google Pay with NFC as I can't incur the further wrath of my bank, but I'm assured elsewhere that there's no problem with this - and this was an addition over the previous model brought about for the European release - so it bleedin' well should work!

Power
These two phones have the exact same 4000mAh battery and before today, the Moto G8 Plus was my current champion on my 10% reading test, returning 2 hours and 34 minutes and 72 hours between charges with about 10 hours of SoT! So a lot to live up to. As expected, it didn't get close as that Moto battery really is something special. It scored 1 hour 30 mins on the 10% test and I'm going to have to estimate, to some degree on the 'average use for me' score, as I don't have the phone long enough for long-term tests. Based on my experience, I project that the phone will easily get through to bedtime and towards brunch (or even lunch) on Day 2. But that, if true, is really not at all bad - it's just that we now know that there's better out there! There's an 18W fast charger in the box over the Moto's 15W but frankly, if you can avoid it, it's best to - as fast charging is no good for phone batteries in the long run. However, to get a quick fix sometimes there's no choice. Neither phone has Qi Charging, though my Qi Receiver works well and can be had for a few quid.

Ballpark
The phone is available in Starscape Blue, Moonlight White and Moonshadow Grey at the usual outlets. It's an excellent phone at a stunning price for what's on offer here. I think I was justified putting it up against the G8 Plus as it feels like it's in the same ballpark. There's loads of fun to be had with the cameras, a well good-enough screen, good battery, perfectly fast enough performance, Dual SIM and microSD, a 3.5mm audio-out socket, very nicely built with attractive design and loads of bells and whistles for a user not bothered about investing time getting to know the way that Xiaomi/Redmi organise things and add their own apps and services.

What's Not to Like!
People like me who value the vanilla experience too highly would really need to get stuck in and consider using the device long-term to make sense of it all. MIUI is nice enough - it's not as thick as Oppo's 'Color' which is a good thing, and armed with Nova Prime, much of it can be shuffled off to bed anyway. It's also beaten here by the Moto's stereo speakers and vastly superior sound all-round. Given the choice, it's obvious which way I would jump, but that takes nothing away from this excellent phone, hugely capable, very pretty and available at an amazing price.

Wednesday, 5 February 2020

Fairphone 3

Fairphone say that they care for people and the earth and so want to stop being unFair to both by being Fairer and making changes to the smartphone industry. This, by making components replaceable - and thereby, phones sustainable rather than replaceable. Longer lasting products equals reduction in the waste-mountain.

Fairphone have had two previous shots at this, with Fairphone 1 and 2, which seems a bit ironic in a sense to me, though to be fair, the replacement components remain available for those first two generations. I can't help thinking though that if this vision was sound, it should negate the need for new models. Surely we'd all be updating the first one. Anyway, laying that inconsistency aside, this Fairphone 3 has landed here and I was keen to take a look, following Steve Litchfield's video review of the same in The Phone Show 386.

Box
The phone is presented in a long-box (which I assume is made from recyclable card) and inside is just a lever/screwdriver and a start-guide. (There should be a 'bumper' in the box too, but this was missing from our review unit.) So none of the usual support hardware to get the user going. If you don't have a USB-C cable, you need to get one or pay Fairphone €20 for one. If you don't have a USB-C charger, you need to get one or pay Fairphone €20 for one. If you don't have earphones, you're getting the idea by now - nothing added, eco-friendly, most of us already have them. Earphones from Fairphone incidentally are another €35.

Tour
It's a very 'boxy' shell, has some heft at 189g and is slightly smaller in all dimensions than the Moto G8 Plus, which I reviewed last week. The hard-plastic back is pretty slippery in the hand, so maybe the missing bumper would have assisted with grip. The back is a dark grey and opaque, so the components inside can be seen in relief. Central, but very close to the top is a capacitive fingerprint scanner and in the corner next to it is a cut-out for the camera component to peek through. When the back is snapped closed, there's a very slight raised line around the camera component so it's protected with reason when laying on a desk. On the left, we have a knurled power and up/down volume buttons. All three of these are a little 'shallow' and could do with sticking out from the side a bit more for easier location and execution. Not the end of the world, though. Below these, there's a strangely-placed mono speaker and a cut-out for levering the back off. Up the top there's a 3.5mm audio-out socket, down the bottom an off-centre USB-C port - and the left side is clean. On the front, there's the screen of course which although having sizeable chin (logo) and forehead (phone-speaker, sensors and Selfie-cam) they are at least (all but) symmetrical. The bezel down the sides is slim enough and (presumably) with the bumper in place, accidental screen-touches avoided.

Industrial
The phone feels solid and weighty in the hand, industrial-blocky (like a Razer Phone) but for me, anyway, a very neat size - a tad bigger than the Pixel 4, a tad smaller than the Pixel 4XL. Which is where my mythical Pixel 4L would fit in! It's good for pockets, without feeling too big, for media consumption, not feeling too small and likewise good enough width for standard GBoard pecking.

Could be Better
The screen is a 5.65" LCD unit, 1080p, 18:9 ratio with 427ppi protected with Gorilla Glass 5. The panel is not very bright. I'm finding that for comfortable indoor use I need it on about 75% brightness where others, particularly AMOLED versions, I am able to set it much lower than that. Outside in bright daylight it's really not great, compared to many others, when trying to take photos, for example and still see what you're taking! I would expect, for the price-point here, a better screen.

Half Decade Confidence
The phone is powered under Android 9 and amazingly, has already been offered the January 2020 Google Security Patch. As I write, it is the first week of February, but compared to many others, that's a great effort. In his review, Steve reported that Fairphone are, furthermore, guaranteeing 5 (yes, five) years of updates for those committing to the venture. Even AndroidOne devices only offer 3 years, so this is quite a boast - and kudos to them, ahead of us seeing the fruit of the claim, for their confidence and intention.

Modular
The USP of course, is the modular nature of the phone and so, let's dive in, supplied screwdriver in hand. Clip the back off, take out the battery, SIM and memory cards, then rove around undoing any screws you can see. Eventually, this allows you to lever the screen free from the shell, turn over and you have access to each of the components by removing other screws for each. So yes, it does look like it's as simple as that. A bit of kick doing it, to be honest, too, memories of Mechano, aged 5! But the serious point being that any one of these components (as long as they keep making/supplying them) can replace bits which break, wear out, or even (with a Mod system better than Motorola's) creating updated and new ones as technology moves forward - more RAM, faster chipset, better speaker or camera. The reality of that happening we don't know, but it's a good theoretical system and one which deserves support and investment. The sceptic might question the eco-motivation over something 'different in the crowded marketplace' one, but kudos to someone trying something different.

Tariff
Incidentally, current component prices are as follows from Fairphone - Display €89.95, Battery €29.95, Camera €49.95, Top Module €29.95, Bottom Module €19.95, Speaker Module €19.95, Back Cover €24.95 and Earphones Cable €12.95. A Samsung AMOLED display unit could be interesting, Anker battery (Qi Back) maybe, JBL speaker perhaps or Leica Camera module - and so on. The support for Motorola was not great from 3rd parties. It would be great to see this doing better. For now, the replacement parts and options just feel limited to what comes with the phone in case they go wrong - not greater development options and powerful choices which you'd get for a bare-bones PC for example.

Here and Now
How about the phone as-is, then. How the purchaser would pretty much have to use it just now. The chipset supplied is a SnapDragon 632. We've seen plenty of 600-series SD powered devices and many of them are good on battery and for day-to-day tasks not involving very demanding work, serious gaming or DeX-type work-extension. They do just fine. 4GB RAM has been shown to be plenty for now, though with Google playing with a desktop-extension for Android 11, that might change. A perfect opportunity for Fairphone to produce an 8GB unit, for example. The big one for me would be replacing that 64GB storage for something bigger. Again, why not. There is a microSD Card slot of course, but just imagine that, coupled with 512GB on-board!

Modest Power
The modest chipset, as I say, will no doubt help in the battery department, this supplied with an equally modest (these days) 3000mAh cell. I have come to comment that 4000mAh should really be the standard now, though having said that, Google have sprinkled some magic-dust on the Pixel 4 enabling the modest battery there to be super-powered for intensive driving and longevity with Android 10 and the first Feature Drop. The battery is no fast-charger, though it did charge pretty fast with my Pixel-supplied plug and cable. Officially it's 3.5hrs from dead to full, but with the option of carrying a spare, who needs more! My usual 10% reading test returned almost exactly 2 hours. This is pretty good. More than double that of the Pixel 3 and 20 minutes short of the current leader, Moto G8 Plus. In terms of average use over the day for me, the unit is returning a solid day of use, getting to lunch on Day 2 if you forget to charge overnight. But then you can carry a spare! It really does feel good to be able to keep saying that in 2020!

A Sound Choice
The speaker's biggest problem is where it is! If the phone is in the hand, the speaker outlet invariably is located under a palm (for the right-hander) or finger (for the left-hander), rejiggling one's grip in order to not muffle the sound. If the phone is placed down on a table or in a cradle/stand, it's no problem and the user can enjoy the very reasonable output. There's no fancy system-wide equalisation but armed with my trust Equalizer+Pro app and VLC for Android I can happily adjust the quality of the output to my taste and genre of music/video/film. There's always that slight payoff in volume when doing this but, and again depending on the quality of the file in question, the sound is pretty loud to begin with. I was actually surprised following Steve's demo on The Phones Show, but as always, perception varies so much between tracks and how they've been encoded. I could very happily live with this speaker, coupled with my chosen software. It's a bit more tricky with podcasts, unless your podcatcher has an equaliser, but spoken word tested here is just fine. Tricky again with the likes of YouTube, but there are plenty of apps out there to help with sound. Give me a JBL replacement component and I'll screw it in!

All Round Sound
There's also a 3.5mm audio-out socket which I tested with my usual reference headphones and all is well. There's no award here for quality and volume, but for 95% of people the output is rich and loud enough. Audiophiles look elsewhere but it's perfectly good for the rest. The stereo output is very good, good separation and even surround with Dolby test video on YouTube renders a broad soundstage and all-round effects. Likewise the Bluetooth 5 connectivity in my tests here produces a quick and reliable connection with various devices and excellent sound reproduction.

Connexion
Connectivity options seem sound too. I don't usually mention GPS and NFC these days as I assume they are standards, but with the influx of Chinese OEM phones and now, component-based units, who knows what's included or not! GPS connects well via Google Maps getting a lock on my position swiftly and with style! I can't test Google Pay via NFC with every phone I review as it rings bells at my bank and gets me into trouble, so I can only report that the dialogue invites me to use the software, looks for me to add my card and other people have said that it works. Cellular and WiFi seem strong enough, locking onto various networks tested here, with voice calls pretty strong and reliably held. In the old fashioned way, the two Nano SIM Card Slots are under the battery along with the microSD Card. This means of course, just like the old days, no hot-swapping! The battery has to be taken out and the cards slide in sideways underneath. My usual connectivity to data tests are done at this point and no surprises to discover that HDMI-Out doesn't work, but on a positive note the 2TB Extreme SSD test passes. It takes its time to process but once there reads/writes perfectly adequately and similarly microSD Cards of various sizes up to 512GB.

Snappy
You will have noted by now, no doubt, that Steve has declared that the camera module, 12MP f1.8 with HDR and 8MP f2 Selfie are far from special, but it's worth looking at the test shots in the show to see what an amazing difference was created by the installation and use of the GCam Port effectively grabbing Google's clever software to make huge improvements over the camera's hardware. Works a treat and it should certainly be a must-do install for all users of, not only this phone, but many others. Clever stuff! I'll leave you to check out his other comments and observations regarding the camera over there.

Design Compromise
The Rear Fingerprint Scanner works really quickly and the registration process is fast and not annoying. The only issue really is that, maybe unavoidably like the speaker position, it's so high up on the back. Now, to be fair, there's got to be room for the battery there which takes up quite a lot of the back, so if the scanner is going to be on the back, where else can it go! Down the left-side (looking on the back) there's all sorts of other components (and we'd soon moan if it was over there anyway)! The place it should be is slap-bang in the middle of the battery, which really can't be moved. Perhaps on the side of the device instead, like Sony used to and Samsung have now tried to, Razer Phone and a few others. Wherever it goes it's going to be in the way of something else. There has to be a price for this modular design, and it seems that the speaker and fingerprint scanner are the payoff. Until Face Unlock (Google/Apple style) is widespread and cheap to implement, this is probably all they could do. When you start to consider these angles, you begin to realise why there was more than one generation of Fairphone - because stuff gets invented!

Software
There's a really clean version of Android on this phone. There is absolutely nothing added to the stock experience. Pure vanilla! There's no added apps or bloat or really any software that isn't needed by the system and/or supplied by GMS. Much of the UI is Dark Themed and the usual switches are present for that. Google Assistant Cards are off to the left of Home if you want them to be and there are not even little added touches like swipe-up from anywhere for App Tray or swipe-down from anywhere for Notifications Panel. Speaking of which, this is again totally stock as you'd expect to see. All this, even cleaner than Moto! There's no added touches like double-tap-to-wake or Always On Display (though Always on AMOLED works perfectly to fill the gap for these features, yes - even with an LCD). The vibration motor is a very odd one, as Steve said. Very 2007 Nokia style, which feels like it's also got a speaker attached! Can be shut off.

Summary
The bottom line is that I could very easily live with this phone as my main device. It's just the right size, has reassuring weight and build, the additional 'play' factor for the Lego fan - or maybe more seriously those who really think that this effort could have a small impact on the planet and people living here. It's a valiant attempt to offer an eco-friendly option for people to think about as they are casually happy to ditch their old phone for another, to 'upgrade'. If Fairphone can develop the idea and provide not only a range of replacement parts, as listed above, but also better parts so that the user can really focus on what they want from their phone, then it could make a difference in a small way. For me, for example, I'd want a fabulous speaker but wouldn't be so bothered about a camera. So I could buy a super-speaker component but stick with the supplied camera. For the next person, they might not be bothered by sound but really want the best camera. And so on. They're only going to achieve this truly modular approach through the kind of development that stunted the potential growth of the Moto Mod system. And lastly, I wonder who is actually going to pay £400 to buy into the system. It's not an outrageous price, but for similar spec'd phones at the outset, laying aside modularity, you can get more, cheaper. I'd buy in, if there were more readily available parts. Gauntlet thrown down!

Monday, 3 February 2020

Takeshi Kitano: Hana-Bi and Dolls

I'm not quite sure how I stumbled into all-round super-star Japanese actor, writer, director Takeshi Kitano, but I did! I took a gamble on watching one of the films he directed, liked it very much, so picked out another. Many more to go, but these two seem to be a good starting point.

In reverse chronological order, Dolls is a film from 2002 which deals in a very artistic manner with a trio of stories about people driven to irrational ends for undying love. Kitano leads Miho Kanno, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Tatsuya Mihashi, Chieko Matsubara, Kyoko Fukada and Haruna Yamaguchi through their paces portraying the central characters.

A girl promises to wait every saturday on a park bench for her young lover, lunch prepared, until he returns to her, as he promised, once he had broken free of his low-paid job and found success enough to offer her a rewarding life with him. And she waits.
Family honour is at stake for rich-boy and an arranged marriage, when he loves another. The circumstantially jilted girl has a breakdown and he goes to rescue her from her isolation, mental illness and rash choices. What follows is a surreal and symbolic journey for the pair, tethered by a red rope. Miho Kanno steals the show in this story as the suffering girlfriend, though she barely says a word throughout.
A fan is so devoted to his pop-star idol that when she is disfigured in a car crash, he goes to extraordinary lengths to empathise with her in order to find a way to be close.

The film starts with a puppet theatre show which goes on for a good few minutes and reflects some of the forthcoming trilogy in terms of content and effect on the characters depicted. It's like a short 'trailer' by traditional artistes in Japanese theatre, beautifully executed and mesmerizing to watch. Equally amazing throughout is the attention to detail in cinematography brought out by the director's leanings towards painting and creating beautiful pictures in every scene for the viewers' delight. Themes such as the four seasons are intermingled with the three stories, laying down an artistic backdrop to the collection.

It's a beautifully created film, poignant, sad and emotional. I guess some will say that it is art for art's sake but when something is created so interestingly, then mingled with a tale of such symbolism of the destructive qualities of love, loss, obsession, heartbreak and hope, supported by an excellent haunting and moody soundtrack, you have to sit up and consume what's on offer. I'm sure that there's loads more here that I'm missing, perhaps because of not understanding Japanese culture enough, but there's still enough here for the ill-informed audience to be swept away with this gorgeous creation.

Hana-Bi is a film made five years earlier in 1997 which was a very different story, a crime drama almost, mixing in money-lending Mob nasties, but with a very similar attention to detail artistically. Kitano himself plays Mishi the cop, who's wife is dying of leukemia. He leaves his job as a cop so that he can spend more time with her in her last days. In amongst this, the mob are chasing him to reclaim a debt so Nishi takes matters into his own hands to clear the debt, get them off his back and get back to his wife.

Unfortunately, the plan goes awry as it seems the mob get greedy and induce a chain of events which involve plenty of violence. We see our hero dealing with his enemies in gruesome and bloody ways. The violence is, however, most often filmed suggestively rather than graphically, many incidents are shot just off-camera so the viewer is left to make up their own vision of how the scene might have been played out. Whether this is a style, or in order to keep certification more open, I don't know. But as an artistic style it's actually quite interesting.

Whilst all this is going on, one of his cop buddies gets shot and ends up in a wheelchair. Nishi feels in-part responsible so tries also to spend lots of time with him, as he reflects on his boredom, need to fill his time and the adoption of new hobbies. Nishi actually doesn't have many lines, much like his wife in fact (and also Kanno in Dolls), dialogue scooped up mainly from those around them. Maybe a feel of Spaghetti Western, silent-but-violent Clint Eastwood, for example. Man in the middle, cornered rat, fighting everyone - but the audience spending half the time wondering what they're thinking as they're not saying it.

The crossover here though for me (and again I'm sure I may have missed many points too) is the artistic nature of what's on show. As the cop in the wheelchair gets better in creating his paintings, focus on those is central to many scenes zooming from dot-paintings out so the viewer can consume the overall scene eventually. Again, the cinematography is beautifully thought out, each shot a masterpiece of visual stimuli, supported by some lovely solo piano music. It almost feels as thought the story really doesn't matter. This is arthouse.

The five years between the two have shown a development in style and presentation for me. Dolls took the artistic flair of Hana-Bi and cooked it up into something more meaty and visually delightful. Where Hana-Bi feels at times more like a Tarantino outing, what comes between those scenes of outrage becomes the makings of the greater artistic substance of Dolls. Both films are great fun to watch and consume. Once again, I've learnt lots about Japanese culture and the people who live there and am rapidly coming to the conclusion that there's more to artistic cinema than Paris and Warsaw. I shall look forward to digging out some more work of Takeshi Kitano.

Friday, 31 January 2020

PodHubUK Podcasts for January 2020

...a roundup of our month of podcasting. Links to the team, communities and podcast homes on the net at the foot, so scroll down!

Projector Room
Episode 53 - Fallen Nightingale
Wednesday 1st January 2020
Gareth and I bring you a catch-up show on New Year's Day as we natter for 90 minutes about all things film, cinema and TV held over from December (as we made way for our year-end show of our Top 5 picks). Plenty of new stuff here too!

Phones Show Chat
Episode 532 - The Big PSC/TTUK Crossover Show
Sunday 5th January 2020
This week Steve Litchfield and I chat with Kev Wright as we think about using tech gadgets for better health.

Whatever Works
Episode 99 - Dusty Sand Embers!
Saturday 11th January 2020
Aidan Bell and I are back with another thrilling peek into Whatever Works for us and the lives of the WW MeWe Group Members. This time we try out adult pushchairs, play with sand and balance our Zen!

Phones Show Chat
Episode 533 - The 5G QWERTY Show
Sunday 12th January 2020
Join Steve Litchfield and I as we chat with Michael Warner about all things mobile phones, including an interesting MasterClass on 5G from Mike and Photo of the Year for 2019.

The Phones Show
Episode 385 - The NexDock 2 Lapdock!
Tuesday 14th January 2020
Join Steve Litchfield over on his YouTube channel to lap up the reasons why he's so thrilled with his dock! We'll no doubt be nattering on PSC about in the coming weeks as he discovers more hooks into our mobile phones.

Projector Room
Episode 54 - Hollywood Gems
Wednesday 15th January 2020
I am joined by Gareth and Allan for this latest Uncut Gem of a show. We natter once again about what we've been watching in film, cinema and TV with the pick of your choices too.

Phones Show Chat
Episode 534 - Completely RAW Banter!
Sunday 19th January 2020
Steve Litchfield and I bring you one of those popular two-headers as we natter for an hour about all things mobile phone, what we've been using this week and consider the question of RAW vs JPG.

Phones Show Chat
Episode 535 - China Ahoy!
Friday 24th January 2020
Steve Litchfield and I welcome Qi Zhu from China to enlighten us about how things are in the phone world out there compared to inside our usual bubbles! Plus much more phone-related natter of course.

Projector Room
Episode 55 - Joker Jones
Wednesday 29th January 2020
Another thrilling show in which Gareth, Steve and I discuss all things film, cinema and TV for an hour. A fortnight in which another celebrated Python now pushes up the daisies and the serious topic of mental illness is aired via the medium of film.


The Podcasts
PodHubUK - Phones Show Chat - The Phones Show - Whatever Works - Chewing Gum for the Ears - Projector Room

The MeWe Community Groups (follow the links to join up)
Phones Show Chat & The Phones Show - Whatever Works - Chewing Gum for the Ears - Projector Room

The Team
Ted Salmon - Steve Litchfield - Aidan Bell - David Rich - Gareth Myles - Allan Gildea

Moto G8 Plus

The Moto G8 Plus has arrived for review and I shall be delighted to give it the treatment as I have it for the next week or so. It's tempting to compare it here and now with the Moto G7 Plus, but I think I'll leave that to Steve Litchfield who will have this after me and will have both to hand. I'm more keen to put it up against the Motorola One Zoom, as I have one here in-hand and compare directly.

The main complaint I've had for a long time about IPS LCD screens pushed out by Moto is that they don't do the 'Peek/Approach' thing as well as for the AMOLED-screened devices as for AMOLED. Which devices get the full-blown Moto Peek/Approach version and which don't is also variable based on whether or not they are a part of the AndroidOne programme. This is not. It's standard Android. I think I'm right in saying that this is the first LCD-screened phone from Moto which does have the full Approach/Peek thing available to the user, AndroidOne or not. It was a long time coming, but they got there - and this makes a big difference to me - and a good reason why I feel able to compare it with the One Zoom. First things first though, and the box.

In the Box
In the box we get a basic but perfectly adequate TPU case, USB-C to USB-A cable, fast-charging plug, a pokey-hole SIM Card/microSD Tray tool - and that's about it! The phone is available in blue or red and here, I have the blue one.

First Impressions
The phone is almost exactly the same size in all directions as the One Zoom but with the use of plastics around the device it doesn't quite feel as premium as the Zoom. It's not far off though! Plastics are being made to look very much like glass these days - and there's a clear argument for preference for some, based on weight and durability against trauma. The back of the phone has a 'shimmering' blue 'graduated' look, shifting with reflected light. It's attractive and seems like one of the ways manufacturers are interpreting and generating 'premium' look/feel.

On the Button
The back curves around pleasantly to meet the plastic surround, the right-side of which houses a volume rocker and knurled power button. These are clearly also plastic, but don't feel wobbly or 'cheap', rather like they'll stay the course! The volume rocker is arguably a little high up on the side for some users' hands, but the power button, just right. On the left-side, there's the SIM Card/microSD Card Tray which, in this case, has provision for 2xSIM or 1xSIM and microSD. Other variations are available in some markets. The Tray is made well - better in fact than the Zoom's. Up-top we have the 3.5mm audio-out socket and microphone, on the bottom another microphone, USB-C socket for data/charging and one of the two stereo speakers, so downward-firing. On the back, amongst all that sea of shimmering blue, we have a strangely undersized circular capacitive fingerprint scanner with a Moto 'M' logo filling it - and then a collection of cameras and lenses and flash, top-left viewed in portrait, travelling vertically, which I'll come to later.

No Protection
The front is an unspecified version of flat glass, assuming that it's not protected by Gorilla or any other system, user beware and, although I don't usually advocate such measures, maybe a protector of some sort might be in order. The Zoom is ahead here with GG3/PandaKing at least. All these whiskers are clearly shaved to hit a price-point. There's no IP-rating for either at this price point however, so take care! They do claim 'splash resistance' so presumably there's some component nano-coating going on inside.

Bezels
There's a bit of a 'chin' but really not much. For me, that's a good amount, to get a navigating thumb past the TPU and onto the controls. The top of the panel has a selfie-cam droplet in the middle, which really isn't an issue. As we've said before, brain learns quickly to ignore it when viewing media. Apart from that, the 'forehead' is smaller than the 'chin' and sits below the other one of the pair of stereo speakers. This also doubles up as the main earpiece for taking phone calls. Lastly, ambient and proximity sensors for Peek/Approach.

Balancing Act
The phone feels good in the hand, strangely 'better balanced' than the Zoom. It must be the weight of that huge camera-island on the back of the Zoom which throws the similarly totalled weight the 'wrong' way when clutched. Somehow, the G8 Plus is much more comfortable for extended use and certainly better for one-handed. It still maybe a tad big for some users, I could see, but not the modern young users who seem to think 'bigger is better' for consuming media and where, in many cases their phone replaces a computer! It might be a good balance for many between a giant phone, impossible to carry in the summer, and one too small on which to enjoy that media.

No Perfectly Dark 10
The G8 Plus arrived with Android 9 and September '19 Google Security. This was immediately updated to November '19, thus matching what's on the Zoom - and presumably entering the usual Motorola non-AndroidOne 2/3 monthly cycle of updates. One of the advantages of being part of the AndroidOne programme is that these do tend to slide out quicker, but really not by much it seems - in Moto's case. If the user throws the switch in Display Settings to Dark Device Theme - and in Developer Options to Night Mode Always On, pretty much the whole UI is rendered dark, save for a quirk here and there awaiting Google's switch - like GMail and Settings.

Glorious Stereo?
It maybe not be too much of a level playing field to compare the sound output from the camera-centric Zoom's mono speaker with the sound-centric G8 Plus' stereo setup, but here goes anyway! No doubt we'll get more mileage from this when Steve has the G8 Plus alongside the G7 Plus. What's a little annoying about the Zoom is that not only is there no Dolby of any description, but also the baked-in version of audio control is only accessible via Google Play Music. And then, you get some basic controls which don't really do an awful lot to the sound. Furthermore, getting to the controls whilst music is playing means backing out through layers and layers to find the menu, then in again! Consequently, I've long since switched to another Music Player with it's own controls.

Baked-In, System-Wide
On the other hand, the Dolby Audio on the G8 Plus is indeed baked-in, system wide, with access-toggle and Settings for any application, via Settings or Notification Shade. When you get there, it's a half-decent set of controls as well, which can be adjusted beyond the basic Smart/Music/Film, enabling the user to drill-down into Music/Film and access a further bunch of equalisation options - and a sound virtualiser - which really do make a difference to output. This is no Razer Phone full Atmos, but next-best thing. Very often these kind of controls are only usable with headphones, but not here - speakers too. Plugging in a set of headphones to the 3.5mm audio-out socket enables a further option called Manual, within which access is opened to equalisation sliders and a few other auto settings. The sound really can be manipulated very pleasingly. There's no extra amplification going on here or fancy enhanced DAC stuff, but actually for these ears anyway, it really isn't needed. Yes, a dongle could be added to blow your head off but I think that most users will be perfectly happy with the quality and volume they get out of the box. Not that there are any earphones in the box! Bring your own!

Real Stereo
The big difference for some here is of course that the G8 Plus has two speakers and unlike many, many others, including notable expensive flagships, this unit retains 'real' and not 'faux' stereo, just like the Razer Phone, for example. No software fixes for different frequencies. This is the real thing (if you forgive the fact that one speaker points at right-angles to the other)! I'm finding that it does indeed work well, the closer to the face the better, which kind of excludes we folk who can't focus that closely, even with glasses! My usual test track which exploits stereo beautifully picks out the channels as it should. Turn it over (in landscape) and the 'left' switches to the left, turn over again and 'left' switches to what was the 'right'! On the fly, it 'gyro-dynamically' knows which way the phone is up - particularly useful for video - but many phones only work one-way-round. Kudos Moto! Pull back to 18" from the face and the stereo effect is lessened of course - and so on, until there's little point! Might as well, at that stage, have a mono speaker! Put on a pair of headphones, however, cue up a Dolby Stereo test YouTube video, and it sounds fantastic - as you'd expect. Stereo is great and even some half-decent 'surround' effects.

Bluetooth
There's a recording FM Radio on both phones which appears to work well and can be switched to loudspeakers or earphones. Bluetooth 5 is also present including the adoption of aptX, missing from the lineup of the Zoom. As you may expect, the output over Bluetooth is excellent, depending as always on the quality of the the receiving equipment. Tested here with various speakers and headphones and it performs perfectly well for the vast majority of people likely to buy this phone.

Against the Pixel!
One last test, then, which I thought was really going to be a bit unfair - up against the three and a half times the price Pixel 4, which, on review, I held aloft as a phone which creates a super sound in quality and volume only beaten by the Razer. I'm staggered to report that the sound from this Moto G8 Plus (whilst employing Dolby) is louder and better quality than the Pixel 4. I'm amazed as I really thought this year's Google offering was the new benchmark (outside of gaming phones). Now, to be clear, if the Dolby is turned off, the pendulum swings back the other way in favour of the Pixel quite markedly, but that was also rue of the Razer. So a combination of good quality hardware components and smart software make this the winner in my book! The phone has clearly been pitched as a sound-centric one following in the path of the G7 Plus. The options are good, the sound is good, equalisation via the built-in Dolby tools can make a real difference and it's an all-round pleasing experience. Why they can't roll in all the good bits of all their phones to make one flagship superphone, I don't know. But now I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's press on.

LCD vs AMOLED
I'm actually very pleasantly surprised by the LTPS IPS LCD 6.3" 1080p 19:9 screen which is, give or take, pretty much the same size as the Zoom's. Even the 400ppi is near identical. Putting the two together, set to 100% manually, looking straight-on, there's not much difference in brightness. There is a different 'cast' on each, the AMOLED being very slightly more blue. Viewing angles makes a bigger difference however, and as the angle of the eye increases, phones become more angled, the AMOLED is the winner, maintaining a brighter panel at more extreme angles. However, both remain more than usable, as I nit-pick. Heading into the bright sunshine (which we seem to unusually have some of today in North Wales) and switching to Adaptive Brightness, both screens are more than usable under those conditions. If I had to pick, the AMOLED is a tad brighter, so a Zoom win.

Saturated
Changing the colour pre-sets doesn't do anything to change to above, but I can report that with both set to Saturated, the AMOLED wins again with more punchy colours, cleaner shadow rendering and sharper edges. They come a bit closer if set to 'natural' but I can't imagine anyone choosing that, especially when out of the box it's Saturated by default! Again, nit-picking, because the user without a test-bench and comparison units in front of them would be more than happy. It's a good panel and interesting to see how well LCD has evolved.

Storage Matters
I'm delighted to see that Motorola continue with microSD Card support and it has no trouble reading and writing to my 512GB card here. It's a bit slower accessing my 2TB SanDisk SSD but it gets there. One of the things which really shows between the screens is that when watching a film, which I do a lot of, the picture on the Zoom's AMOLED is so much better, brighter, cleaner, deeper darks and so on. All the things that we know about the screens seem to come together in this scenario - and resulted in me being very pleased to get back to the Zoom for that function. I now stumble into another difference between the two - and a surprising one given the media-centric nature of the G8 Plus - HDMI-Out fails to work, so no cabling up to the TV. Again, this can only be a cost-cutting exercise as it works perfectly well on the Zoom. Shame. Another example of the budget-targeting is that there's only 64GB of built-in storage, unlike the 128GB of the Zoom - and unusually, there doesn't seem to be a 128GB version floating out there which we often see, particularly for the South American market. 64GB is not enough for me, personally, but pragmatically, we can boost it with a card and further, those who, unlike me, are not serial SIM-Card swappers/phone reviewers, will be OK with the arrangement. I'm disproportionately happier knowing I have the 128GB and microSD!

Under the Bonnet
The chipset employed here is the Snapdragon 665, compared to the 675 of the Zoom. Laying aside that read/write time in my extreme storage test above, there really isn't much difference to be seen here. Most of what people are likely to do across the UI rolls very quickly and not many will be upset. I'm not much of a gamer, but I have tested one or two and I don't see any slow-down as I go. Maybe over time this might be an issue for some, but also looking at YouTubers testing this phone being satisfied with all-but serious gaming. For most people reading this I doubt it would be significant. Both phones have 4GB RAM and again, I see no slow-down app-switching though, again, maybe over time this could change as the reboot gets further away over weeks and months. I have had the Zoom here for weeks into months and, yes, it's not been a day-in, day-out main phone, but in testing I have seen no issues. The 600-series SnapDragon, I've said for a long time, is more than adequate along with 4GB RAM for the vast majority of users.

Peek/Approach
One area in which the G8 Plus wins is with the rear-mounted capacitive fingerprint scanner over the Zoom's optical under-glass variant. The only caveat there is that if the phone is laying on a table, you have to get your finger round there somehow, so pick the phone up. Fortunately, as I said at the earlier, Moto have included the full Peek/Approach service and that does make a huge difference to flat-phone working.

For those who are new to this, I'll explain again. You just have to wave your hand over the sensor on the front of the phone and the lock-screen comes up with clock, day, date and battery % remaining. Underneath are shortcut icons to any notifications waiting. Rest your finger on any of them and a summary pops up in place of the clock. You can then slide your finger to various on-screen buttons to dismiss, play (if apt.), or all the way up to read. At this point, previously, you'd have to open the phone up somehow if you want more than just the item's 'headline'. However, the only plus point of the under-glass fingerprint reader on the Zoom here is that you can 'slide' the item 'onto' the fingerprint scanner and it authenticates and opens it right up.

...that's the bit missing from the G8 Plus, as at that point, you need to put in PIN, Pattern or lift the phone to get round the back to the fingerprint scanner. Both phones are supported by Face Unlock and that is another way in. In fact, that works slightly better on the G8 Plus, as the Zoom then requires a swipe-up on the screen iPhone-style. It's all swings and roundabouts, but I'm very pleased to see Peek/Approach make an appearance here - as I am to see the rest of the suite of options in Actions. Chop-Chop Torch, Twist-Twist Camera, One Button Nav (The Long Pill), Three-Finger Screenshot, Auto-Scrolling Long Screenshot, and so on... The full suite. Great!

Clean Launcher & No Bloat
The standard Motorola Launcher negates the need for a 3rd-party solution. Widgets all size perfectly and adaptably, Google Assistant Cards are off to the left if you like, layout grid choices, Icon Shape choices, Notification Dot choice, swipe-up from anywhere for the (correctly vertically scrolling) App Tray, swipe-down from anywhere for the Notification Tray with completely standard Pie layout...on and on we go and further kudos to Moto for sticking so closely to Vanilla Android - as it is supposed to be - by design! Furthemore, no a sniff of any bloat, added apps - no social media pre-installs - very refreshing. What you get is from Google and Motorola. End of.

Photography
As usual I'm going to leave the testing of the camera to Steve, but it does seem to be an odd little mix of features compared to the Zoom. The Zoom is clearly more capable and this, more of a bolt-on for a media-centric phone. Apart from the Zoom button and AR Stickers as a (kids) Mode, the camera interfaces look identical. The Zoom can be properly switched between 1x (normal), 3x (telephoto) and 0.5x (wide-angle). The G8 Plus presents with a 'normal' camera angle, the same Quad-Bayer Sony 48MP f1.7 unit which everyone is using, then a 16MP f2.2 wide-angle which seems to only be available for use in video shooting, not photos. (The reason for this seems to be an attempt by Motorola to stop people shooting stupid videos in 'portrait' orientation, as when the user tries to do that, the camera swings round and forces it round the correct way! That'll show 'em! Though that still doesn't explain why it couldn't also be used for snaps - perhaps software will fix that in time.) These are supported by a 5MP f2.2 depth sensor, for portraits (via a 5-stage button array rather than slider) and the like. The very same 25MP f/2 Selfie seems to have also been employed performing just the same tasks. It will be interesting for Steve to get this on the test bench to see if anyone has yet made enough use of supporting software to maximise the potential of the 48/12MP camera arrangement. I'm guessing not!

No Fraud Checks
I'm failing you all now as a reviewer by not testing Google Pay on this phone as I keep getting in trouble with my bank for registering too many phones - and it raises flags for fraud etc. So Sorry, but I just can't keep doing it. I have a great deal of confidence that it works though, as others have reported and the spec. sheet and Settings indicate NFC present etc. Certainly my other Motorola phones across the months, when I've set them up with all my 'real' data, work perfectly with payments and seem to connect well at Tesco!

All Power
One of the highlights of the Zoom was certainly the battery, being a 4000mAh unit - and sadly a failing of the G7 Plus, which was stuck back on 3000. Great to see that Moto have upped this for the next generation G and brought it into line with the Zoom equalling the 4000mAh. Like the Zoom, the there's an 18W TurboPower plug supplied for when users can't charge overnight. Full charge takes about 2 hours and about a third in 30mins. So, I was expecting the G8 Plus to match the excellent performance of the Zoom on my 10% reading test (the Zoom scored 1hr 40min). And we have a new champion - again! Record keeps getting broken! The record holder here at the moment is the Xiaomi Mi A3 at 2hrs 6mins, but this beats it at 2hrs 20mins! I've only had this now for a coupe of days but can see already that based on my experience and the time elapsed so far, what I've been doing with it, this will be a real 2-day phone for my average use. Batteries are getting better. And about time too!

Verdict
I love this phone! So many things are just-right. Goldilocks, nearly. It's incredibly well priced just now in the UK at just under £200, the 'balance' of the phone in the hand is near-perfect, the rear-mounted capacitive fingerprint scanner coupled with Face Unlock and Moto Peek/Approach is an absolute winner, the (real) stereo speakers sound splendid supported by the system-wide Dolby software, the battery is beyond best in class, the Virtual Vanilla Android could only be improved by the arrival of Android 10 (coming soon), the speed around the UI is perfectly good for most of us - as are the LCD's brightness and colours. The photography tools are an odd little collection but perfectly functional for the most of us again (prior to Steve ripping it to shreds!) and to top it all, everyone gets a case! Now... what I'd change! I'd like to see a 128GB version, though the microSD presence offsets that a tad, I'd like to see at least Panda King glass on the front, HDMI-Out wouldn't go amiss, and of course - always Qi Charging (though that's missing on the £379 Zoom, too). Once again we say, this is a mid-ranger with a budget-price. It would be churlish to complain really, given the wealth of features-per-pound in this package, particularly in terms of sound output.
Once again, Moto hit the nail on the head in my opinion. Thoroughly recommended.

Tuesday, 21 January 2020

Rope

Continuing with my not-forgotten James Stewart-Alfred Hitchcock collaboration, I returned to the film which brought them together for the first time. A story about two well-to-do college boys who, for kicks, decide to murder one of their classmates then stage a party around the corpse using his body inside a trunk as the serving table!

The two pals are Brandon and Philip, played by John Dall (Spartacus) and Farley Granger (Strangers on a Train) respectively. Dall had mainly been a stage actor and maybe that's why he was cast here as Hitchcock staged this 'film' really as a play, taken from the work of Patrick Hamilton in 1948. Reading the back-story it seems that the idea was to shoot the film in one take, one room, one location - just as it would be presented on the stage.

Sadly for Hitchcock, technical problems prevented that dream, but he did the next best thing with minimal cuts, the final edit being made up from eight continuous takes with smart panning/zooming employed to cover up the joins. The film works really well, regardless of his quashed opportunity as he applies his usual keen eye to detail, including lighting the exterior as night falls, sweeping between the rooms and often focusing on out-of-eyeline detail whilst conversation continues elsewhere. At least he got to present the whole story in real time.

Brandon is much more in control of himself at the outset than Philip, who gets more and more anxious about what he has been led to be a part of by his overt and confident classmate. As the story unfolds it becomes more obvious that Philip is getting more and more drunk in order to deal with his anxiety and this, Brandon sees, is a big risk to the plan/game going undetected.

Various people turn up to the drinks-and-nibbles party, including Brandon's ex-girlfriend who is also the current girlfriend of the guy in the trunk, and to make a tidy set, another ex-boyfriend who fulfilled the role between the others! Getting complicated now, another of the guests is the father of the chap who's been murdered, Cedric Hardwicke (Suspicion) and another, one of their old school teachers Rupert, James Stewart (The Man Who Knew Too Much, Rear Window, Vertigo). Rupert is the smart cookie who seems to be seeing through Brandon's game and heads towards piecing things together, working out what's gone on. Philip, by this time isn't helping Brandon's cause as he continues to fall apart!

It's purposefully claustrophobic as the tension builds amongst the sharp script, snappy and direct. Suspense is what Hichcock does best of course and even though the audience knows at the outset all about the body, he does a grand job switching the unknown into the taut race to see if they get away with it or if Rupert snags them! The film/play is set in New York, but the original was supposed to based in London.

The rest of the cast support ably though Dick Hogan had one of the shortest roles in a film ever! Edith Evanson (Marnie) is very funny as the housemaid and Constance Collier (An Ideal Husband) almost as much, as the toffee-nosed guest! Douglas Dick is largely forgettable as Kenneth the ex-boyfriend of Janet, who was played with spunk by Joan Chandler. Yes, of course, it all looks a bit wooden, stuffy and frightfully upper-class, but somehow, as I've said before, Stewart rises above that and stands good in the test of time.

There's loads more depth to the film than I'm going to spell out here but for those interested to read the background, do visit the Wikipedia Page which delves into homosexual subtext and how the actors had to dance around the set to keep the takes as long as possible. An interesting read for those keen to understand more from the mind of the maestro director! It's a short film/play but well worth a look, if not for the storyline particularly, then certainly for the tension, the technical experimentation by Hitchcock and the performance of Stewart. Recommended - along with further reading.

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Una

This 2016 film is based on a play by David Harrower called Blackbird and makes for pretty uncomfortable viewing in terms of subject matter, lifted to admiration by the performances of the three main leads and wonderful cinematography. Directed by Benedict Andrews, who up to now has mainly directed theatre pieces, we can see very clearly how this tight-knit story was indeed a play.

Some fifteen years ago, then aged 13, Una had a relationship for 3 months with her friend's dad next door. Clearly he was older than her and she, under the age of consent. She fell for him, loved him and couldn't control herself. He, however of course, should have done, following the rules society has set down in most of the civilised world. Ray, later Peter, was ultimately hauled in for his crime and served a difficult 4 years in prison paying society back for his deeds.

Peter, who has now changed his name and identity is remarried to a wife who knows the whole truth about his background. We join the story as he is tracked down by Una in her late 20's and most of the film is a dialogue between the two at his place of work as they find corners of a bleak warehouse to talk about what happened and their feelings surrounding the events. Much of this is littered with flashbacks as the viewer is welcomed into the head of the 13 year old Una. It is clear that older Una is emotionally scarred from the experience and has been unable to get past her feelings of love for the Ray/Peter.

The play/film is full of the glaring moral questions about whether or not Ray was a paedophile or whether it was true love which was acted upon inappropriately. There are clues scattered across the film as to what was in Ray's mind, which come out as we progress through to Peter and his current thinking. It's really a moral maze for the viewer to make up their own mind about, yes, because of the illegality and moral stance by society, but also as they try to understand what was in the heads of the pair of these characters back in the day.

The dialogue leads them both through the baggage they carry as they unpick the past and pick at the sores left behind. Peter is trying to protect his new life, at risk here of exposure and ruin, as Una grapples with her own emotion and stability. It's often harrowing, sad, emotional and angry as the leads play out the parts. Rooney Mara (Carol, Side Effects, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and Ruby Stokes (most famous for stage work, notably Annie) are quite superb as the young and old Una. Mara portrays the older Una with convincing damage and emotion and Stokes, the younger, with innocence peppered with confusion and teenage angst - but also a maturity which could make some viewers start to question their own moral stance.

Australian Ben Mendelsohn (Girls, Rogue One) plays Ray/Peter behind a veil much of the time, ensuring that the audience works hard to see into his mind and work out his motives. To try to understand about him. Perhaps a monster, a victim, mentally ill. Maybe uncontrollably weak and human driven by love and urges which he should have known better than to explore. Tara Fitzgerald pops up once or twice as Una's mum, but she really didn't have much to do.

The clinical setting of the warehouse was used to great effect and impact by the cameras providing some visually interesting and often white, barren featureless views, maybe reflective of the cold and sterile approach which should have been adopted at the outset by Ray. It's an unsettling film and makes the viewer engage intellectually with what's going on, for which is gets top marks. It's full of dilemma and questions which need to be sorted out. The question is, what will happen with the pair of them when they meet after all this time. Will Una come to terms with her past? Will Peter be re-exposed as Ray to those who don't know? I'm making it sound like a thriller now, but it's really not. It is, however, highly recommended viewing.

Nokia 9 PureView with Android 10

The Nokia 9 PureView was given the review treatment back in June 2019 here and aside from the lousy optical fingerprint scanner under the glass I was reporting many good things about the HMD-produced Nokia flagship with wacko camera arrangements! I'm back here now in 2020 as, good as their promise, they dropped the Android 10 update for those who wanted it installed.

As a reminder, the specs of the phone are pretty good. It's an Android One device made from a glass/aluminium sandwich, IP67 rated with a bright 6" 1440p 18:9 P-OLED screen producing 538ppi and an always-on display option. It's powered by the SnapDragon 845 chipset with 6GB RAM and houses 128GB of storage, though there's no microSD option. The USB-C for data/charging is HDMI-Out compliant and USB-OTG works well. The battery is 3320mAh and QC3 is offered with an 18W brick along with fast 10W Qi wireless charging. The single mono speaker is very good but there's no 3.5mm audio-out, so dongles at the ready. When you get there, however, 24-bit audio is produced and it sounds great, wired or Bluetooth, supporting v5, LE and aptX. The phone is all about that camera though - or bunch of Zeiss cameras - a ring of 5x 12MP f1.8 shooters, 2 mono, 3 colour, a TOF 3D and OZO audio recording for good measure! Last but not least is the 20MP selfie, round front. There's Adobe Lightroom chucked in, RAW option and a special Depth Map mode which records 1200 levels of depth, in all good time, images from which can be focused to great effect after the event.

That's about the bones of it. It always felt a bit like an experiment, but good to their word, the company have pushed out the updates and seem to still have a commitment to the project. At least for now. There was talk of a 9.1, then 9.2 with improved specs and fixes for what couldn't be done in software, but there's nothing actually on the table for us to see just yet. So in the meantime, we have the Android 10 update. Much is good but some not quite so well!

The clean version of Android is still a joy for me to return to as I meander away from the path now and again reviewing other Android phones. It does enable me to understand the Apple fan's point of view about nestling inside the walled-garden, knowing what's what and getting what's promised, when! Everything as it should be, as designed by those creating the system. So we have Android 10 and November 2019 Google Security. We're hoping that a December 2019 or January 2020 update might also roll in some fixes for some of the following.

The Gestures approach to Navigation works beautifully, pretty much just like on a Pixel. Whole-side swiping for Back on both sides and one Moto-style 'long-pill' whenever you're away from the homescreen at the foot. Legacy Navigation can be selected if you prefer, 2 or 3 button. The Dark Theme gets the user dark pretty much everywhere that the Pixel can with odd exceptions, like Google Rewards and bizarrely, the Google App itself!

In terms of security, the optical under-glass fingerprint scanner remains the worse implementation I have used. It's not fit for purpose - just doesn't work without constant moistening of fingers, rejiggling position, getting the digit upright on the scanner, top of phone to bottom. My average attempt time is just like it was before which makes it clear to me that this problem can't be fixed in software and won't go away. Most people, like me I think are now simply turning it off so as not to get annoyed using an otherwise very capable phone. Fortunately, the face-scanning for unlock works pretty well. I even think that since this update it works a tad faster. It doesn't compare with the likes of Samsung's, but it's just fine in use. A look, a pause, you're in. It's the method I use the most along with my pattern/code when it's dark. This is no Pixel 4 Soli!

The battery testing demonstrates around the same kind of performance as before, over a number of days and mixed use. My 10% reading test is returning about an hour and a half, which is more than acceptable, and average day for me can return 22-26hrs between charges with 5-7hrs SoT, Adaptive battery and Brightness engaged. Some have been complaining about battery since Android 10 but I can't see a difference really. The camera looks like it's been untouched by this update and one complaint from Keith Bartlett is about the volume in the Maps Navigation which, when directions are being read out, reduces the volume to a level it shouldn't reflect. I can't seem to replicate that here - but then I'm not a big Maps user.

Immediately after the update I did experience some problems with USB-OTG in that the phone was crashing when I plugged in my 2TB SanDisk Extreme SSD, but I tested it again during the last few days and it seems to be fine now. Similarly, the reading of microSD Cards in the slot via adapter seemed very slow, but again, now fine. Whether something was fixed by Google during that time, I don't know. There have been no further updates from HMD, so maybe that one will remain a mystery.

There are some very broadly-reported problems with the Glance Screen. It's certainly working fine but there are rogue icons often. Notification icons when they shouldn't be there. Particularly persistent is the Voicemail one, which everyone seems to be getting randomly, sent via the phone/Carrier, presumably. Nobody seems to know. I often also get the 'download' icon, suggesting that something has finished downloading when it hasn't. Myself and others have tested the four Glance options available, Legacy x2 and Stylish x2, and it doesn't seem to matter which. So certainly something needs fixing there.

So that's my latest observations. It remains a great phone to use but it would be good to get that Glance thing sorted out. Generally, most else looks good. Everything being Dark Themed makes a huge difference to enabling the user feel like Nokia are with the programme, especially inside GMail. I shall keep prodding and poking but if anyone else has questions of observations, I'm sure that the handful of owners here will be pleased to feed back. Thanks Keith Bartlett and Lawrence Wills.

Thursday, 2 January 2020

Joker

I eventually got round to watching Joker and the critical central performance of Joaquin Phoenix which all the fuss is about, particularly comparing it with Heath Ledger's Joker in The Dark Knight. Joker seems to divide opinion hugely. Another Marmite film which people either seem to love or hate with middle-ground less populated.

As comic book films go, this really doesn't comply in any way, shape or form to much that has gone before. Like daft Batman films with special-effects driven superheroes flying around intending to be taken seriously by the comic-followers, very hurt if it's not presented as near real-life as possible so they can escape into fantasy-land for a couple of hours! I'll exclude Tim Burton's Batman from this assault on the genre as it was very much staged as a dark comedy, all tongue-in-cheek.

So no, this film is nothing like anything that has gone before. The story is a dark thriller, based in Gotham City but references to Batman are few and far between. Frankly, the film could have just been made without them at all, spoiling the purity in some ways (though I guess that'll provide hooks into sequels). It's a character study of a man abused in his childhood, mentally ill, desperately sad and at odds with the world in which he lives. A man who is trying to find a light at the end of any tunnel, whilst rugs are pulled out from under him. Medication keeping him relatively on track taken away, he starts to descend into madness and behave irrationally, forming the Joker character. Arthur Fleck is his name and he's trying really hard to earn a crust as a street-clown and entertainer against the efforts of most people around him. He sees himself as a stand-up comic and when he gets fired, starts to pursue that dream.

There are comically-charged interludes with Robert De Niro hatching one of them beautifully as the TV talk-show host and the over-sized detectives at one point trying to keep up with the super-fit fleeing Joker, but this is mostly about the dark side of Joker's life. This can be viewed in isolation almost, as I suggested earlier, as the photography focuses in, with shallow depth on Phoenix most of the time, infiltrating his inner self and reflecting his rapidly-deteriorating world-view.

Phoenix plays Joker physically well also, as he twists and turns his body, leaping and dancing madly around the sets. Sets which are darkly lit with colours reflecting a depressing and dour world. He contorts his face and head, shoulders and arms to sinister effect and the fact that he's so boney-thin adds to the glum darkness of his situation.

Gotham City descends into unpoliceable chaos reflecting Joker's descent into uncontrolled behaviour as we head through the middle of the film. There are plot inconsistencies and some stages of the story where the viewer is not really sure what's real and what's in his head, but it has been fused with the tangible in order to keep everyone generally on track.

There are some other great performances around Phoenix, such as Zazie Beetz as the single-mum neighbour and Glenn Fleshler as a work colleague to name a couple. But this film is very much a one-man show. There is violence beyond the THWAK! POW! of the comic book which is sometimes disturbing and graphic. There are reflective poignant scenes as we peep into the head of our anti-hero and by the time we come to the end, we're really not sure who we're siding with - the man abused by society or those who have made him this way.

At the end of the day it is, of course, just a story - and a fantasy one at that. In comparing the film with what has gone before, yes, this is a new take. On comparing the performance of Phoenix and the character he has created with his body, I have seen none better. Ledger was far too together with himself and clear-thinking, not dark and sinister in the way Joker is presented here - and Jack Nicholson was the comic turn laughing his way through another!

I really enjoyed Joker. I thought it was a staggeringly good film. It has been produced flawlessly, directed and shot with style. The soundtrack is great fun and fits in perfectly with the growing madness of our character. I see that Joker 2 is in the pipes, so it'll be interesting to see what they do with that. I fear that we've now had the character-building insight film and we'll not get another. That would be sad. I just hope that it doesn't stray into comic-book-land but lets us spend at least one more film studying this man in isolation. Highly recommended viewing.

Spellbound

Alfred Hitchcock hits the nail on the head once more, in so many ways, not least by drawing out real acting talent from the cast and once ...