Monday, 14 September 2020

A Touch of Sin (Tian Zhu Ding)

This is a very interesting film which I picked up recently on Film4, so doing the rounds. It's a film full of social systems observations interspersed with acts of violence between people who, generally, are the poor folk trying to scrape a living together in modern-day China. 
The film is sort of split into four stories.

The first one is about a man who lives in a village and is looking for revenge on the elected officials of the village for corruption and fraud. He has no money but sees them using the funds which were raised by the selling of village resources to buy jet planes and live the life of luxury. We follow him as his anger grows and finally erupts into a plethora of revenge.

In the second, we follow a man who is discontent with the boring life in his village, his boring marriage and nothing ever happening, so he regularly hits the road to try and find excitement and danger. This often ends up in acts of violence towards those who cross him, but also even those who don't! He's happy to commit violence against those who have wealth as a reaction to his poverty and boredom.

The third part is about a woman who is involved with a married man. She wants him to leave his wife and start a new life with him. He's not so sure and there is anxiety between them on the topic which leads to an ultimatum being served by her and a resulting act of violence which comes from a rather unexpected source.

Lastly there's a young man working in a factory who is larking about one day. As a result of this, his co-worker cuts his hand badly and needs two weeks off. His boss says that it is the young man's fault and so he must pay the injured party his wages for the time he can't work. So our character does a bunk, leaves town and heads for new employment elsewhere. He takes a job in a hotel where around him clients are paying for sex with the 'massage girls' who have been recruited in large numbers. He can't stand this for long so takes a job in another factory which ultimately leads to more violence.

It's hard to get to the bottom of what's really being said here by the film's creator Jia Zhangke but I think it's about inequality, social status, unfairness of the system and a dramatisation of what lengths he thinks people might be willing to go to, to fix this. Or at least bring comfort to themselves within a hard poverty-driven environment where nothing is fair and most of it corrupt or immoral.

There's a warning on Film4 ahead of the screening about violence towards animals and sure enough, there are two or three scenes where this is depicted graphically. The incidents looked very much like they were actually filmed as-is, unlike the violence between humans, but maybe (I hope that) I'm wrong and it was just filming techniques. We know how actors act and special effects work, but maybe we're not so sure how much protection animals get in various countries around the world, making these scenes the most harrowing of the film. From what I read, the film seems to have been banned from release in China, probably for a combination of the above.

The photography is excellent throughout with dramatic sweeping long-focus but also deeply intrusive close-ups. And an intelligent mix of the two. This feels very much like a arthouse film beautifully produced. I have to admit to not knowing any of the actors involved, all of whom seem very experienced in the Chinese film scene. None of them put a foot wrong and executed their characters admirably. The stars of the show seem to have been Wu Jiang, Baoqiang Wang and Tao Zhao.

It's compelling viewing that I'm not sure that I would recommend really. There is so much to admire about lots of it, but also much which is disturbing and on the face of it maybe didn't need filming. I'm pleased that I have seen it however, and it will certainly encourage me to seek out more Chinese films.

Sunday, 13 September 2020

Anomalisa (2015)

Having just recently watched I'm Thinking of Ending Things and trying to get my head round what it was all about and understanding what was going on, I thought I'd try another of Charlie Kaufman's challenges! This time it's simpler, but just as interesting and with depth.

This one is from 2015 and a short punchy stop-start animation which has been beautifully filmed with the finest of detail technically throughout. It has a style and creates a mood, not designed to be perfect but purposefully removed from reality, reflecting one of the film's central themes.

Michael Stone is an author, expert in Customer Services and depressed soul reflecting on the futility of existence, regretting previous and current decisions and detesting the boring place in which he finds himself. Think Reggie Perrin without the comedy. The story starts as he arrives to give a speech at a conference in a hotel where many of his followers, fans and supporters have flocked to hear him.

He's on the phone to the family, he's trying to look up old flames, he's trying so very hard to inject something into his mundane life. He's disillusioned, drinking too much and not really interested in anything. Then suddenly, something presents itself and he meets a girl he falls in love with, or so he thinks, who could change his life around. This was the spark of energy he had been waiting for. It's really important that he doesn't blow it and let his mental state leading up to this point get the better of him.

David Thewlis plays the voice of Michael and Jennifer Jason Leigh, the girl, Lisa. Tom Noonan voices many of the other characters and they all do that ably well. The significance of a male voice taking on most of the female characters as well as male becomes apparent later on. Well, you didn't expect it to be straight forward did you! Having said that, this is nowhere near as complex and twisted as I'm Thinking of Ending Things. Compared to that, this is simple!

There are messages through this film about people living in bubbles of isolation as they appear to be living an ordinary life. There is much sadness portrayed in our central character and also an insight into how that misery can infect those around the person. It's about people and how they interact on different levels but also about how easily one in their midst can slip away into a world of their own dissatisfaction.

It's an excellent, well observed film which I thoroughly enjoyed. Uplifting it is not, but there are pockets of fine humour to enjoy as well, thrown in for good measure. Recommended.

Tuesday, 8 September 2020

Detour (2013)

After watching Centigrade recently, I got the flavour of trapped/survival films and was able to track this little Indie down which is similar, at least in theme. This time it's a landslide/mud and not snow and ice and there's only one person in the car instead of two.

Jackson is on his way to a meeting when suddenly there's a deluge of mud which sweeps him, in his car, away off the road and buries both of them! He's got really limited supplies, much like the folks in Centigrade, and starts to realise that if he waits to be rescued, he'll die first.

The tension rises as the mud starts to harden and get heavier on his car. It starts to creak and groan under the strain. He must take smart and measured actions to survive and work out how on earth he is going to get himself out.

It's another short film, but with this one director/writer William Dickerson has not been brave enough to spend the whole time with Jackson, but rather relies on flashbacks, dream sequences, thoughts and memories of the life from which he has been separated. Perhaps it was easier with Centigrade to stay with the couple as there were the two of them. However, I thought Centigrade was stronger for this element, as it was for Locke, Buried and 7500, previously considered.

However, the star of the show Neil Hopkins does a good enough job. The character's a likeable chap and the audience can instantly root for him in his quest and want him to get out and survive. The question is, though, are the filmmakers brave enough to do the dirty on him or provide us with a nice cosy ending. You'll have to work a bit to get hold of this as the DVD is hard to come by. Looks like a US import only, or MusicMagpie is your friend for used.

I'm Thinking of Ending Things

This is now available on NetflixUK as I write. I watched it last night and had been looking forward to it. I think I should have read the book! I was too thick to work out what on earth was going on through most of it but thankfully there were people reviewing on IMDb who were offering analysis aiding understanding.

Surreal and mind-boggling, now understanding what was going on, I realise that I was kind of picking up on some of it, but you really need an open mind and maybe think on another level to get it, cold. At least, for me that was true. Which I didn't, enough, obviously!

I was confused enough by Charlie Kaufman's Being John Malkovich and to a lesser extent Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, I'm now looking to tackle Anomalisa! At least it is interesting and different, not boring spoon-fed mindless film junk we're so often served.

David Thewlis, Jesse Plemons, Jessie Buckley and Toni Collette were excellent throughout, can't take that away from the experience, but yes, just wear a Salvador Dali hat whilst watching and try to think under the skin, where most things might not quite be what they seem!

IMDb: Full of misgivings, a young woman travels with her new boyfriend to his parents' secluded farm. Upon arriving, she comes to question everything she thought she knew about him, and herself. Based on the book by Iain Reid.

Monday, 7 September 2020

Radioactive (2019)

Most of us have some idea about the mark in history made by Marie Curie, radiography and x-rays, but I certainly didn't know much of the detail of her professional and personal life, personality traits and troubles she faced from challenges from the establishment in achieving what she did a century ago until I watched this film.

Based on the book by Lauren Redniss, it tells the story based on fact (the Marie Cure Wiki Page does seem to present similar facts and timeline of events to this film). Born Marie Sklodowska-Curie in Poland to scientific-minded atheist father and a mother who she had to watch die at a young age from TB ensured that she was interested in the understanding of science and not anything with no evidence. This theme is returned to throughout the film, particularly surrounding seance which was popular at the time and some claiming to be 'science'.

Marie moved to Paris where she could avail herself of better scientific opportunities and whilst there met Pierre Curie, another scientist. They married and had two children throughout the course of the film's timeline. The pair worked relentlessly to make their discoveries - and the film depicts the sexist way in which the establishment tried very hard to honour Pierre with the discoveries instead of Marie. We know the history of the Nobel Prize awards and these are reflected appropriately in the film, anxiety demonstrated in keeping with the above.

Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl, Die Another Day, Jack Reacher) plays Marie as mostly the unlikeable, cold, scientific, emotionless woman that she has appeared to have been for real. Tormented by her childhood memories of her mother's death, she found it near-impossible to go to a hospital, making her science and discovery even harder. Pike does all this in her stride, depicting the person admirably. Sam Riley (Control, Maleficent) plays Pierre passively which, again, from the background looks mostly like the man's temperament. They are clearly deeply in love with each other, reflected by both throughout, but mostly when family tragedy strikes.

As for the science, I think I kept up! Understanding at the atomic level distanced me, but to be fair the presentation, though technical in a few pockets, was largely made layman-friendly. The film depicts both sides of the good and bad effects of Curie's discoveries. How it has helped, and still helps, medicine and health for people to this day, but also the timeline leaps back and forward (outside of her lifetime) to also remind the audience of the negative sides and how nations and governments have used the learning for destruction.

Talking of timeline, there are times when this has been compressed and compacted - for example during Marie's two pregnancies - only really focusing on the fact that she refused to go to hospital to give birth - and that because of this one of them was nearly lost. We jump to her deathbed in 1934 now and again, then back to her childhood and spend some time in and amongst the trenches of WWI. But this is done clearly and captions keep viewers clear about where they were.

Iranian director Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis, The Voices) keeps order and ensures that the sets reflect the poverty-stricken and glum darkness of the interiors and streets of Paris from a century ago where filth was abundant and sickness prevalent. The orchestral and solo piano music behind the scenes reflects the mood beautifully, much of it slow and dark, like the sets. Photography has been experimented with as wild vignette techniques have often been employed for flashback scenes. In these dark settings, lighting was key as it was often low and brought out deep shadows, which has been executed with ambience.

Various Brit actors turn up throughout, with varying degrees of screen-time, including Simon Russell Beale, Sian Brooke, Aneurin Barnard and Katherine Parkinson. All the performances are convincing. It was hard to find fault.

I found this to be a deeply moving story at times and an education regarding the background and achievements of this scientifically-minded woman. It has been shot very nicely and the times at which the pace was slow were countered by the compression at others. As I write, it's included in Amazon Prime - and is indeed an Amazon Studios creation. Well worth watching.

Sunday, 6 September 2020

#Alive (#Saraitda)

This little Korean Zombie film from newcomer director Il Cho is a cut above most of the genre. Mainly because actually it's more of a survival tale.

While the whole world outside of an inner-city apartment block complex gets zombiefied, our central character has no alternative but to stay put and hope for help coming. The chances of this dwindle as time goes on, food runs out, water supply gets cut off - though strangely the electricity survives throughout. What is he to do!

I do find Zombie films generally more funny than anything - I think it's the way that they move which is, well, just comic! But fortunately, they play second-fiddle to the survival story, which I now come back to. Eventually, after about 3 weeks, he realises that there's a girl in the flat across the quadrangle, in the same situation as him. Shin-Hye Park plays the very pretty girl who then tries to work out a survival plan with our main character played by Ah-In Yoo.

This is where the action starts as they have to firstly somehow get together, so down their flats, across the quadrangle infested with zombies, and up the other side - then what? Well, the battle begins as they slash their way to a pretty crummy ending, frankly, but we'll forgive that!

Much of the film is about high-tech, drones for practical personal use, social media and how, of course, it will all be instrumental in the survival of the species if zombies took over the planet! It's all good fun and certainly worth a watch if you get the chance!

Après Vous (After You)

A beautifully delivered romantic comedy/farce which the French just seem to do so well. A well-crafted story full of quirky and interesting characters in near-absurd situations as they unravel the ins-and-outs of ordinary life mixed up with disaster, hope, joy and fun wrapped up, of course, in a love-triangle!

Writer/Director Pierre Salvadori, who later penned the fabulous Priceless (Hors de Prix) in 2006, delivers the mix with style and class, bringing out the best from the excellent cast. Daniel Auteuil (Jean de Florette/Manon des Sources, The Widow of Saint-PierreUn Coeur en Hiver) is Antoine who is maître d' at a posh Paris eatery and living with his girlfriend who has designs on a wedding ring. He's late leaving for home one night and cuts through the park, where he stumbles on a stranger Louis trying to hang himself from a tree. José Garcia (Now You See Me, Bastille Day) is Louis who is suffering after a split with the woman who is clearly the love of his life.

Antoine starts to go to ludicrous lengths to get Louis back on his feet, turning his life, pretty much, over to the project! He risks everything for this man, including his own relationship, professional reputation, money and belongings. We're never quite clear why he should make such rash decisions, except, as he says, it's the decent thing to do! He can't seem to say 'no' to anyone. He tries to get Louis' love to think again, but in doing so falls for her himself, and she, him. Enter the love-triangle!

The centre of the love triangle is the flower-girl Blanche, who is played delightfully by the unknown to me but hugely experienced French actress Sandrine Kiberlain. Things go from bad to worse in a Woody Allen type way as the players dance around one absurd situation after the next, chase dreams, u-turn in cul-de-sacs and leave the audience smiling and wincing throughout!

This is just a lot of fun - a good film for a rainy bank holiday afternoon which puts many English-speaking romantic comedies to shame because, well, I say it again, the French just seem to do better than anyone else. It's full of really likeable and charming characters and actors. Nobody puts a foot wrong and the setting is so typically French throughout feeding the Paris middle-class stereotype. The only thing missing is Audrey Tautou! Don't miss it when it comes round!

Saturday, 5 September 2020

Before the Fire & Hour of Lead

Before the Fire (aka The Great Silence)

IMDb: As a global pandemic engulfs Los Angeles, rising TV star Ava Boone is forced to flee the mounting chaos and return to her rural hometown. As she struggles to acclimate to a way of life she left behind long ago, her homecoming attracts a dangerous figure from her past- threatening both her and the family that serves as her only sanctuary.

This was an interesting little film written by and starring Jenna Lyng Adams which takes such a long time to get going. Counting away the first 53 minutes setting the scene and painting the background to the events of the last third in this 90 minute picture was a slow job. And then, suddenly, it comes to life and we're delivered up a feast of thrills, violence and survival behaviour from those involved which is indeed thrilling and chilling.

The lead is very watchable and those around her keep up, each displaying their eventual brand of nastiness. It does indeed turn into a survival tale and the audience ends up rooting for our likeable heroine. The inexperienced Charlie Buhler directs and does so with some interest, though she could have made more of those first 53 minutes! Worth a watch if you get the chance.

Hour of Lead (aka The Vanished)

There's been 1,001 of these films and TV shows made centred around a couple who have their child vanish, so any that come along now have to stand out from the crowd. And this one does.

Husband and wife, 10 year old daughter and family dog like camping. This time, the lakes somewhere in America is the venue in their gigantic Motorhome/RV, to enjoy the fishing and freedom. Pretty much as soon as they arrive there, the couple turn round and the daughter is no longer with them. What has happened to her?

The police roll up and as the couple get more anxious about the situation, they start to behave irrationally and one event leads to another as things get dark and thrilling. I'll say no more as it would spoil things for you. The film is a cut above though and there are interesting turns and surprises along the way.

Peter Facinelli of Twilight fame wrote and directed admirably. Some of the visuals of the lakes and surrounding area have been shot with some artistic leaning. Anne Heche (who I remember showed up everyone around her years ago in Ally McBeal playing a woman with Tourette's syndrome brilliantly) is the woman, and Thomas Jane the man. They both do very well and are convincing, though if you watch closely, their behaviour and mannerisms do paint the picture that all is maybe not quite what it seems. I really enjoyed it. If you can grab it, it's worth a watch.

Underwater Utopia

Following some recent chat on our Projector Room Podcast about underwater thrillers-with-creatures, I grabbed some suggestions from Gareth Myles and lined up a marathon soaking..!

The Rift, 1990

Deepstar Six, 1989

Leviathan, 1989

The Abyss, 1989

Much of it was all good fun but The Abyss stands head and shoulders above the other three here. The first three are, well, very 1980's in terms of acting, cheesy script and delivery. They often feel like TV Movies, an episode of Night Rider (in style and production) or even, for some reason, reminding me of an episode of Land of the Giants! Females on scientific duty with skimpy tops and no underwear, sets that look like something from Dr Who and perfect 80's BIG hairdo's even when wet!

Special mention for Leviathan, the best of the runners-up as the inventiveness of the 'creature' and science is the most interesting, regardless of the above!

All of them have huge nods to Alien and it's not surprising that such a big-budget blockbuster from a decade earlier was so much better, I guess.

All good fun! Catch 'em as they come round.

Thursday, 3 September 2020

Babyteeth (2019)

This Australian film, based on a play by Rita Kalnejais, could easily have been a tear-jerking 'Love Story' special, but the way in which the central role has been grasped by Eliza Scanlen has prevented it from such an outcome and genre. Yes, it is moving and poignant, but remains intelligent and character-driven.

Scanlen (Little Women 2019) plays the lead role, Milla, dying from cancer. Daughter in a complex family of psychiatrist dad and drug-dependent mum. Actually, most of the characters in the film flirt with or embrace drug-taking in some shape or form, either as a reaction to events or life generally. She knows that her days are numbered but she, along with the family, try to make the most of the days remaining for them.

She meets a local junkie and falls for him. And he, her. He's had a chequered past and has been thrown out by his family (presumably for drug-related behaviour). He kind-of lives on the streets until bumping into Milla. His name is Moses and is played by Toby Wallace. These pair become the main leads in the story and they present their parts admirably, especially Scanlen.

The parents don't know how to play it. They have their own problems in the marriage too and verge on flings and liaisons with others around them - her an old flame music teacher and him, a pregnant woman living across the street. As I say, it is character-rich and each one of them brings something interesting to the mix whilst we mostly focus on what's going on with our leading pair.

The emphasis of the story is about how people hang onto life and how the rest of us need to do so if we don't, valuing it highly and making the most of our time. The themes continue, bringing out the importance of family relationships and bonds - and how adjustment and tolerance need to be the flexible tools employed by all in order to make the best for everyone.

Director Shannon Murphy employs a fair amount of hand-held camerawork but unlike with some, this doesn't spoil the film, rather sits comfortably as it is used in appropriate scenes and settings. The film could also have been in danger of being too slow, but it's not, because the story-line and script keeps it on its toes and the audience interested.

The film is very enjoyable because it is that rich tapestry of interesting characters held together very strongly by Scanlen's performance and role. It is moving and thought-provoking but far from gushy and soppy. A very intelligent film which I highly recommend.

Centigrade (2020)

The relatively inexperienced director Brendan Walsh brings us a claustrophobic thriller in the style of Locke, 7500, Phone Booth and Buried with pretty much the whole film being shot inside a single set. In this case, the inside of a car. Supposedly 'based on true events' or 'inspired by a true story' on further digging, it seems that it's barely based on anything true, but still. That's quite common.

A pregnant woman and her husband are in Norway on a book promotion tour. They are travelling one night in freezing rain and decide to do the sensible thing, pull over and wait until the morning before moving on. They wake up in the morning to find themselves snowed/iced into their car, trapped, can't get out.

Vincent Piazza and Genesis Rodriguez are the two players and they do a good job with the material they have. She's really annoying and they move between married-couple bickering to demonstrations of deep love and commitment to each other. I'm glad that it's not really true because the pair make some bizarre decisions in their situation. Anyway, I'll say no more on that!

The film is really slow as the time passes, but maybe that's part of the point for the audience. After about an hour, it's slowed to walking pace and I almost gave up! The last half-hour of this 90 minute film, however, brings us some events and activities which keep our interest en route to the climax.

The camerawork is pretty good in places, making the interior of this car seem much bigger than it really is - and finding interesting long-shots reflecting the anxiety and dwindling resolve of the characters. If you're going to do this, and I would suggest that yes, it is worth it, get a big carton of popcorn and make sure you're wide awake at the outset!

Wednesday, 2 September 2020

Whatever Works Merchandise

Whatever Works Merch!
Sorry it has taken so long folks, but in order to keep the price as low as possible we have cashed in on a friend of a friend's offer to do this low-run batching. Thanks very much to @Ian Barton for doing the running.

Don't ask why but we've ended up with an odd number of items so I'll update this thread with what's left as we go and it is of course, first come, first served. When looking at the prices and thinking it's a bit steep, just remember that this is a short-run, we don't have the benefit of thousands of numbers as you might on Amazon!

This is how it works
You email me at the usual gmail address - tedsalmon - with your order and delivery address and I'll reply with the bank details to pay into. The first come, first served thing is based on when the cash arrives in the bank.

Good ol' Ian has worked out a system whereby he can send this stuff out via Hermes and his local shop, to keep things safe, so delivery will be a couple of days or so and up to 1Kg is £2.90.

Anyone wanting anything sent out of the UK will have to negotiate with me/Ian.

We can work out postage savings on multiple orders/items on request.

We have...
29 mugs/coaster sets £11 + £2.90 = £13.90
18 Black t-shirts (M/L) £10 + £2.90 = £12.90
2 White t-shirts (M/L) £10 + £2.90 = £12.90
9 Remaining coasters (with no mug) £4 + £2.90 = £6.90

Monday, 31 August 2020

PodHub UK Podcasts for August 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!

Phones Show Chat
Episode 580 - More Than an Ecosystem
Saturday 1st August 2020
Special guest Ben Smith joins Steve and I as we get his current thoughts on iOS, Android, 361 Podcast and loads of other stuff mobile - and beyond!

Phones Show Chat
Episode 581 - New Pixel, New Topic
Tuesday 4th August 2020
Steve and I are back with another interim catchup between weekend shows in which we natter about the newly announced Pixel 4a, Nokia 8.3, CAT S62, Redmi, Realme and even ski off-piste with a PC or two!

Projector Room
Episode 68 - Save Ferris!
Wednesday 5th August 2020
Gareth, Allan and I are back again bringing you the best of Film, Cinema and TV catching our eyes lately. Take a Trip with us, Silencing the Resistance!

Whatever Works
Episode 117 - Rusty Gold Star
Friday 7th August 2020
Aidan and I are back with another scorcher of a show - in Blazing Blighty! A veritable cocktail of interesting snippets and tips as usual, from Avocado to Vinyl - and much between!

Phones Show Chat
Saturday 8th August 2020
Steve and I welcome back TechAltar's Marton Barcza to chat about the stories behind the headlines plus the usual catch-up on what we're up to in the world of mobile phones.

Phones Show Chat
Tuesday 11th August 2020
Steve and I are here again with another midweek dip into the world of mobile phones - and in this case, wandering a little from the path! Loads of the usual news, views and reviews.

The Phones Show
Episode 402 - Surface Duo Thoughts
Thursday 13th August 2020
Steve is here again with another excellent video over on his YouTube Channel, this time with thoughts on what could have been The Big One from Microsoft. So, is it? Or could it have been in another place and time?!

Better Before
Episode 2 - Car Design Scrap!
Friday 14th August 2020
Aidan and I are here with our second full outing and Show 2! This time we welcome Steve as our special guest as we natter for an hour about what is better now and what was Better Before. This time, it's scrap yards, car design, cinemas and even breakfast cereals!

Phones Show Chat
Episode 584 - Duo Ultra
Saturday 15th August 2020
Steve and I are joined by Zachary Kew-Denniss for a natter about all things mobile phone this weekend. Plenty of Samsung Speak and Duo Dialogue in amongst the usual chat.

Projector Room
Episode 69 - The Prestigious Host
Wednesday 19th August 2020
Gareth, Allan and I are back again bringing you the best of Film, Cinema and TV. Join us as we ride Sputnik into the Abyss and track a Villainess who is out on The Town!

Whatever Works
Episode 118 - Afters Before
Friday 21st August 2020
Join Aidan and I as we time-travel our way to you bringing you all sorts of goodies - Whatever Works for us and the Group members here. Hedgehogs, Flies and Bees - we tackle 'em all!

Phones Show Chat
Episode 585 - Nubia and Nord
Saturday 22nd August 2020
Join Steve and I once again as we conjure up some Red Magic for an hour or so with Adrian Brain and chat about all things mobile phone.

Phones Show Chat
Tuesday 26th August 2020
Peep-ho! Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water, we're back midweek with a bite! Do join Steve and I again as we respond to demand for more shows! This time I squelch on my Moto promise to myself, Steve sees clearly through TPU cases and we chat about our perfect phone. Again!

Phones Show Chat
Saturday 29th August 2020
Steve and I welcome back Matt Miller this week as we get his take on the Microsoft Surface Duo - along with all the other usual stuff and Photo of the Month.

The Phones Show
Episode 403 - OnePlus Nord Review
Monday 31st August 2020
Join Steve over on his YouTube Channel as he takes a look at the OnePlus Nord and puts it up against an older, but feature-rich Samsung!


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 - PSC Photos - PSC Classifieds

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

Sunday, 30 August 2020


I didn't realise that I knew about Lars Von Trier until I watched this deeply moving and artistic kind-of Sci-Fi film, when I realised that he had penned the amazing 'Breaking the Waves' and 'Dancer in the Dark' as well as this one. This film is a study of two sisters, two stories entwined into one as a huge blue planet is on a collision course for earth.

The film is split into two, each named after one of the sisters, the viewer only getting told about the planets collision potential into the second. The first is about Justine and we find ourselves at her wedding. A lavish wedding which has cost a fortune to stage, for which her sister Claire's family have paid. Justine is played by Kirsten Dunst and is suffering with some sort of mental health problem on her wedding day.

She is melancholy, down, depressed and acts irrationally throughout the day as things go from bad to worse for her and for most people attending. Charlotte Gainsbourg plays Claire and the two female leads do so convincingly and with much intensity.

Claire is hopeful in the second part of the film that her long-suffering husband, played by Kiefer Sutherland, is right in what he is telling her that in fact the smart scientists are predicting that the blue planet will miss earth, but she is frantic when she looks on the internet and the popular opinion is that the collision is on, for sure. Claire looks out for her sister constantly and makes allowances for her, much to the annoyance of her husband who, it is clear, has, by now, learnt to play ball and not argue with actions of the bond. One by one, all but the two sisters and Claire's son are left in and around the huge family home as they watch blue planet drawing closer and closer, preparing themselves for the collision, if it happens, or to start the party if it doesn't.

The film is beautifully shot in terms of scenery and sets, artistic views of the sky and blue planet - only spoilt for me anyway by the consistent use of handheld camera in the first half of the field as it ducks and dives around the guests at the wedding. Thankfully, in the second part of the film there is much less. As usual, I get the point of why it is done (apart from budget) but I'd still really rather it wasn't! Apart from this, there are some very artistic sequences on offer here throughout the film, but particularly towards the beginning.

There are famous names popping up all over the place at the wedding, all having a bit of fun with their roles in various measures. Alexander Skarsgård, Charlotte Rampling, John Hurt and Stellan Skarsgård to name but a few! It's an interesting and thought-provoking work of which is delivered in a beautifully artistic framework and worth a look when you get the chance. It pops up now and again on Film4 in the UK.

Friday, 28 August 2020

Sony Xperia 1 II

Guest reviewer Sethu Pillai is here to share his thoughts about the latest Sony Xperia on the block, an upgrade to the Xperia 1, imaginatively called the Mk.II by Sony. He tackles the less than trivial task of describing who might actually want to consider buying and using the phone.

Sony’s latest flagship is a stunningly well-crafted piece of technology, promising many unique selling points and ticking many, or maybe even all, boxes on the spec sheet. On the official Sony product page, there are some clear attributes the phone is being sold on...
  • Built for speed
  • Burst mode with 20 frames per second, including AF and AE between the shots (!)
  • Eye Auto focus
  • Colour management pre-sets for videos from their CineAlta cameras
  • 21:9 (Cinema aspect ratio) 6.5" 4K HDR OLED display with a calibrated mode
  • 360 Reality Audio support with hardware decoding
  • Some gaming and other features that get progressively gets less interesting for me
...but digging into the mainstream reviews, this quickly falls apart.

Built for speed
This is just marketing fluff. Various devices can claim to be performing faster overall, especially with updated chipsets now in the wild. No doubt Sony would say that their camera is still the fastest on any phone, and they would be correct, but most reviewers focus on image quality and the camera output to most eyes falls short of the computational magic conjured up by the likes of Pixels and iPhones. The CinemaPro app does offer some interesting profiles, but overall it remains a clunky and difficult experience. The convenience offered by more mainstream apps trumps any quality improvements for video - or maybe it's because I have never used a CineAlta camera before.

4K Screen
A feature likely to remain unique to Sony’s flagship is the 4K screen. But here again, they’ve sacrificed higher refresh rates because the chipset simply cannot handle anything over 60Hz at 4K resolution. It also isn’t the brightest OLED screen you can get. Additionally, it appears Netflix don’t yet provide a 4K stream to mobile phones. Interestingly, even if you play a wide format movie on Netflix, the content by default sits in a rectangle window that does not extend to all corners of the actual screen. You will need to zoom in to go corner to corner.
In fact, I was also not getting a 4K stream from Disney+ or Amazon Prime, although I could not find any official confirmation for this. YouTube provides the option to choose 2160p but the 'stats for nerds' still reveals the viewport only goes up to 2560 instead of the 3840 you expect on this screen. I wonder whether the fact that the height of the screen (in landscape) being only 1644 pixels, instead of 2160 for standard 4K, is creating some unintended scaling from these apps. If so, Sony needs to either sort this with the major content providers or stop trying to sell the benefits of 4K. 
Coming out of the nerdy stats, I sought an unbiased second opinion on the quality of the display. While comparing the same HDR video on YouTube at the highest resolution supported, my wife clearly and consistently preferred the display on her Samsung Galaxy S10, even if the Sony was sharper.

So who would appreciate this phone?

In a sea of flagships with lower or similar price tags (I don’t know many slabs that are more expensive), the Sony Xperia 1 II does not seem to hit the usual 'high notes' that the others are designed to hit. The competition has been very well tuned over many years to appeal to what most flagship buyers are looking for. And for this reason, these devices are compromised.
Now, I'm not saying there are devices without compromises. Every consumer product represents a set of compromises to ensure the product fits a budget, size, design and functionality expected of it. In today’s world, the product management decisions around these compromises are made using data collected from various sources and customer interviews. It is no longer made by an eccentric genius founder with a brilliant idea - or a set of creative individuals trying to serve a niche and getting the backing they need to create their vision. And because the data is telling similar things to all the manufacturers, the choices they make are also similar. Unfortunately, this means that if you fall into a 'wrong niche', some of these compromises will work against you.

Those Compromises
In the smartphone world, this means if you want the latest and greatest chipsets or cameras, you are forced to accept devices which cannot be used with one hand. You have a big, bright and beautiful screen but part of it will be cut out for a camera, regardless of whether you want it or not. You will need an adapter to use your favourite pair of headphones. You will need to handle the device with kid-gloves as there is extraordinarily little bezel to give you a good grip. Depending on the manufacturer, you may also need to live with a curved screen, inconvenient biometrics and other aspects you may have appreciated in a phone from a few years ago, now implemented differently. Surely I cannot be the only one who much prefers the 'unprocessed' look in images (grain, warts and all) that we used to get (and could improve ourselves later) in the 'good old days' before all pictures were touched up and brightened by algorithms. How much these compromises bother you is purely personal and subjective of course, but if you have ever felt disappointed by these trends, there's more...

The Sony Xperia 1 II is a concept phone

For me, buying this device, is buying into an idea. It's a result of loving the idea of a different set of compromises; ones that don’t take away a headphone jack, storage expansion, stereo front facing speakers, a comfortable grip or the LED notification light. To retain these features, you don’t have to compromise on flagship level performance, build quality, Qi charging, Always On Display or waterproofing. But as I said, you are buying into the idea of having all this in one device. You are not buying a device that performs the best in any of these features. In addition to the shortcomings already discussed, the headphone jack output is better than Bluetooth on my Sony XM3 headphones, though to be fair, but not by much. The speakers provide good spatial effects but are not the greatest in loudness or bass. While the 24mm camera is decent, the 16mm and 70mm options are sub-par. The Always On Display is a battery drain. The capacitive fingerprint scanner is not as fast or reliable as the one on my old Nokia 8 Sirocco. I think Sony also missed a trick in not allowing the user to pull down the notification shade with a swipe-down on the fingerprint scanner.

I really like this phone!
I place a lot of value on not having a cut-out or 'notch' in my screen. It is something that I could not get used to, even after using devices that had them for over two years. To me, it represents too much compromise for features that have zero-value to me. I would love to buy a Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra or Samsung Galaxy Fold if this Sony did not exist, but because it does, I could not turn my back on it. And now I have grown to appreciate a different set of virtues than I first expected.

The Good Stuff
I have always preferred to have a device I can use comfortably with one hand. This previously limited me to smaller devices. Because of the unique aspect ratio, I now have a screen almost as tall as the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra (watching a movie would be roughly the same size) but still handle the device with confidence in my hand. Sony’s 'side sense' shortcuts have proved very useful once I got used to how to use them reliably. It is not as powerful as what can be achieved with Samsung’s 'Edge' shortcuts and One Hand Operation+ tool, but I still use it daily to pull down the notification shade with a swipe down gesture, go to one hand mode with a swipe up gesture and quickly jump to another app from the menu launched using double tap.

Hard to Describe
Despite not being very bright, there is a certain 'quality' to the screen that is hard to describe. It is a similar feeling I get when looking at a properly calibrated monitor against a typical bright and saturated display. I was able to adjust the white balance such that prints I made on my printer closely matched how the photo would appear on the phone's display. Images appear natural and more detailed compared to the Samsung Galaxy S10. I love watching wide-screen content on the phone. The tall display also means you have a decent view of your documents/emails while typing. It was a similar feel to using the BlackBerry KeyOne. There is also an advantage, with this screen ratio, splitting it and running two apps, top and bottom windows resized to the desired split.

Intuitive and Natural
Finally, the camera. I use a couple of Sony cameras with a similar interfaces to what's on offer here and for me, the way you shoot pictures with the CameraPro app is an intuitive and natural experience - if I want to tweak settings myself. Yes, you can do the same thing with many other phones, including the use of RAW options, but this is the first time I have enjoyed staying in a 'Pro' mode all the time. I wish there was more to play around with, though. Aperture is fixed so users should try to keep ISO as low as possible for best results. Thankfully, the OIS seems to do a good job and I have got decently stable pictures up to 1/10 second, handheld. The shutter button feels very nice and I also love being able to capture my kids at 20fps as they run and jump around. Some really good potential with this.

Who can I recommend this to?

No one I know! How much money are you willing to spend on a product that is such a tease, luring you in with so many promises but ultimately ending up being a 'jack of all trades, master of none'? This is a purely personal choice, not too dissimilar to buying a BlackBerry or Huawei device today. To be honest, most people are probably better served elsewhere. I will likely jump to another device with more interesting aspects in the hardware department when it comes along. It could be a folding device that has an under-screen camera or even the promised new BlackBerry if it happens, but until then, I will enjoy driving this 'classic car' with a modern engine. I may not be zipping down the road but everything is laid out the way I like it.

If you'd like to buy one of these phones, please use this link Sony Xperia 1 II for AmazonUK as it will cost you no more and they bung me a few quid. Thanks. Ted.

Thursday, 27 August 2020

Moto G Pro (Moto G Stylus)

I have been trying to work out why I am drawn to this device as I really don't have much use for the Stylus beyond a play-thing and am continually frustrated by Motorola squelching on promises to keep their existing devices up to date with major OS and Google Security releases. But then I remembered my humble 'Motorola One' sitting here, bang up to date, well over a year after launch - and the reason? The AndroidOne Programme. Just like this Moto G Pro.

I can decide how to justify this to myself, as we always do, but that one factor, to me, is a big one! I do have confidence going forward that this mid-range sub-£300 phone from Moto will be supported properly with two OS updates (up to Android 12) and three years of Google Security (to summer 2023). Released in summer 2020, this model is known as the Moto G Stylus in the USA, but over the pond does not come as an AndroidOne device. All very odd and much, much less attractive as a result.

The phone is pretty much the same size as the Motorola One Zoom (wallowing on Pie) and Moto G8 Plus here in almost all dimensions. Spookily similar, but a tad fatter (presumably for the stylus) at 9.2mm. It's a chunky phone and weighty too in the hand or pocket at 192g, but then the other two are no lightweights. The difference between the three, in terms of RRP, is about £70 for the One Zoom and in some respects this is reflected, for example with the One Zoom sporting a glass back over the G Pro's plastic and an AMOLED screen over LCD. TPU (in the box, for all) and you'd never know about a plastic back anyway! There's a "TurboPower" 15W charger in the box (not in the USA) with a pokey-tool for the Dual SIM/microSD Card Tray and a USB-C to USB-A cable. Moto offer the same 'water-repellent coating' but no formal IP-rating.

The biggest difference for me is that the One Zoom has that AMOLED screen and the G Pro and G8 Plus, LCD. They are all 1080p but I have often argued that there's nothing quite like OLED and it stands true here too with those deep blacks and punchy colours. How much of a deal-breaker that is for me depends on how the Peek/Approach has been implemented, which I'll come to, least well on the Motorola One, great on the One Zoom and good enough on the Moto G8 Plus.

This phone is the (only available) Mystic Indigo colour and the plastic back is made to look very much like glass, if you do take off the TPU, as is the trend these days with shimmering finish as it catches the light. It's nice enough and the sides slide round in broad curves to meet the same aluminium frame that the One Zoom has, but not the G8 Plus (plastic). In the middle of the back, quite high up, there's a capacitive fingerprint scanner with Moto 'M' inside and to the left-top (portrait) the camera cluster and LED flash.

The knurled power button and volume rocker on the right appear to be plastic but in use seem solid and sturdy enough. On the left is that SIM/microSD Card Tray and down the bottom, 3.5mm audio-out, USB-C port and one of the pair of stereo speakers. Tucked away in the bottom right corner is the Stylus which pulls out with a fingernail, no fancy spring-loaded mechanisms here, but it feels firm enough when held in place and pulls out easily enough. Stop biting your fingernails, boy!

certainly is a deal-clincher here for me. As soon as I turned on the phone it updated right up to the current month with Google Security and it arrived of course with Android 10 installed, so all that Gesture navigation support and dark theme stuff everywhere including inside all the Google Services. A warm, fuzzy feeling! This, along with Nokia, is the closest we get really to Pixel. The AndroidOne programme has been a star and it seems that Google have forced OEMs to comply with the ideals developed and presented by the scheme at the outset. Great stuff. Al
most makes me want to forgive Motorola for all the other phones languishing outdated. The Motorola One had Android 10 pushed to it about 3 months or so after Google released it, so I'd trust that this G Pro will get Android 11 in 2021Q1.

Supplied here is a 6.4" IPS LCD flat 1080p panel which returns 399ppi. I say again, it's no OLED, but the LCD screens are raising the game and are indeed getting better all the time, like with the G8 Plus. Changing the Colour in Settings to Boosted makes a difference, for a change, and brings things out a little more making colours a bit more saturated. The brightness is absolutely fine indoors and going outside today in the overcast north of Wales using the camera, there was no problem seeing the screen clearly. How that would manage in bright Johannesburg sunshine, I can't tell you!

The screen being flat works excellently well (no pesky waterfalls here) and the supplied TPU is so well-fitting that Android 10 Gesture navigation swipes never miss. Watching video content on the screen is a delight, indoors or out and the small punch-hole Selfie, top-left, disappears from consciousness quickly. With the brightness wound up high (the display peaks at 421 nits and in auto 642 nits according to GSMArena) and stereo sound blasting from the speakers (which I'll come to later) it's a real immersive experience. Being picky, it's not quite OLED with the colour saturation and deep blacks, but unless the average consumer puts it next to a screen of that ilk, they're going to be completely satisfied with what's on offer here.

While we're here talking about the screen, let's cover that do-or-die on the Approach/Peek AoD issue. As with the Motorola One, running AndroidOne flavour, the Approach is not present. So you can't wave your hand over the screen and make it show you clock, date and notifications like you can with Moto's AMOLED screened devices (and LCD's with no AndroidOne). I think that's the logic and formula, but am happy to be proved wrong. The One Zoom (AMOLED, no AndroidOne) works perfectly in this respect, like the Z3 Play (AMOLED, no AndroidOne) and also the G8 Plus (LCD, no AndroidOne) but not Motorola One (LCD, AndroidOne). Certainly seems to be the case here with a number of test Moto devices and those which I have reviewed in the past. But all is not lost as the user can double-tap the screen for the same result. I guess you could argue that if you're waving, you might as well tap!

When you double-tap, the screen shows the information for a few seconds and if, during those seconds, you press and hold a notification it behaves in the same way as the other more alert Moto devices. While you're holding, you get a summary at the top at which to Peek. If you no longer need it, drag it down to the bottom and let go over the word Dismiss and it considers it dealt with. Want to read it, you can drag the icon up to the summary and depending on your screen security measures, open up the app and launch into it to read.

Most of us have some sort of screen-lock of course, so you then need to unlock. However, again, all is not lost as if you set up Face Unlock and you have the phone 'up and looking at you', the Face Unlock will bypass the security. Lift to wake is also possible and notifications actually coming in briefly light up the screen too. Nudge to wake also works. Lots of options but yes, stops short of the full-blown Approach. After all of that, if you have the phone in your hand anyway, the capacitive fingerprint scanner on the back falls right under your finger to get you in. It's super-fast to set up and works 100% of the time, just like on the G8 Plus but not like the (slightly) slower under-glass on the One Zoom. Needless to say, you get all the other Moto Actions add-ons like chop-chop for torch, three-finger screen-shot, twist-twist for camera, swipe to shrink, flip for DND, pick up to silence, attentive display - the usual array present and correct.

As good as the mono speaker in the One Zoom is, it feels at this point that I should really be comparing the G Pro with the G8 Plus, with similar stereo speaker output. The bottom line surprised me. I thought that they would be very close in terms of volume and quality but the G Pro is capable of louder output and certainly better quality, even before any tinkering is done with the Dolby settings on either. The G Pro is a little bit fatter which I guess might give the sound more space to move around - or perhaps in the eight months of time passing between their releases Motorola have been working on a better sound with Dolby or indeed using new components. Don't get me wrong, neither are at (or anywhere near) Razer, Marshall or ROG Phone levels, but there is certainly a difference for the better. I can't imagine any user will be thinking that they need more, even for listening to music out and about.

Like the G8 Plus, there are controls in the equaliser/Dolby system-wide to adjust the sound, though the G Pro's options have been expanded slightly with a Game and Custom setting available (for speaker use as well as headphone) over the G8 Plus' and the common-to-both Smart (Auto), Music and Film. There is a difference with the title of the Dolby implementation being "Dolby Audio" on the G8 Plus and "Moto Audio tuned by Dolby" in the G Pro, whatever that means! Net result though is that the latter is better. The stereo output is 'proper' stereo like the G8 Plus and not faux, which is very popular these days, though rotating the phone does not auto-detect and swap the left and right channels. The G8 Plus gets the top mark here for making that switch automatically. The One Zoom is left way behind the others here with no system-wide controls, Dolby or stereo, though it does have a strong mono speaker, noted above.

Headphones output via the 3.5mm audio-out socket is not the high quality you would expect from another higher-priced audio-centric phone but for most people it is well loud enough and of good enough quality. Again, the system-wide equalisation can make meaningful changes. Plug in a high-powered DAC adapter and of course this can be transformed and moved to another league. Bluetooth 5 is of course available (across all these devices) and in my tests here it hooks up quickly and easily (they all seem to these days) and the sound output is much, much better than wired (without a fancy DAC adapter), depending on the quality of the connected gear of course.

The G Pro and G8 Plus share the same SnapDragon 665 chipset and execute tasks as well as each other. There's very little slowdown anywhere moving between tasks, pages of text and pictures and rolling videos in the likes of Twitter and YouTube, which scroll beautifully smoothly and the same 4GB RAM doesn't seem to have a problem jumping between running tasks any more problematically than the One Zoom with the 6GB.

I guess gamers might pick fault with the fluidity of the experience with the mid-range chipset, though I have tried a car-racing game here and I really couldn't see anything wrong with the experience. Maybe PUBG or the like would be more of a challenge, but for casual gaming, there really isn't any problem. The Gaming sound profile is available for selection in the Dolby settings, but I don't really hear much difference. Missing from the G8 Plus but present here is a Moto Gametime section of the Moto App which enables the user to block interruptions, disable adaptive brightness and switch to that Dolby profile automatically. Finally, there's also a Game Management dialogue which detects any games you have installed and lets you launch them from there.

All of these phones have a microSD Card slot which I have tested with my 512GB Samsung Card fully-loaded and they cope admirably with fast enough read-writes. The G8 Plus is left behind here by the other two as it has only 64GB whilst the others have 128GB Storage. The One Zoom steps ahead of the other two though with the full implementation of HDMI-Out, meaning you can cable-up to a monitor or TV and quickly and easily watch or play any content held on the phone or card without having to rely on any network, wifi, casting or anything else. That's a big plus in my book still and a shame that it has not been included. USB OTG seems to work with pretty much anything I plug into it including my 2TB Extreme SSD, but that's also true of all the devices here. In fact, that's getting to be so standard maybe I'll stop reporting it in reviews (until devices start coming with no ports at all, when it will once again become a selling point, like 3.5mm Audio-Out sockets are now)!

We come to the USP of this device, the Stylus. It's about 3" long with a plastic top 25% and what appears to be metal 75% to the end where there is some sort of nib for writing. As I said earlier, it pushes into its home which is a hole, bottom right next to the bottom-firing speaker, and needs to be pulled out with a fingernail. There is a Stylus item in Settings to define behaviour but by default when you pull it out, it launches Moto Note (even when the phone is locked), lets you make a note and then it auto-saves to Moto Note. There is also a Share icon, top-right which enables saving to whatever apps you have installed. I tried with Google Keep and it works a treat.

The stylus is 'dumb' so there are no fancy buttons and deep-integrated actions and/or bluetooth stuff going on like you would get with a Samsung Note device. It's just a scribbling tool which interacts with the phone based on how you set it up. If the screen is already on and you remove the pen, you get a little floating icon pop up which can be moved around. Tap it and there are four slots to assign in Settings the functions and/or apps you want to use them for - the dialogue will search the device and you can select pretty much anything. By default there's a screenshot/edit button, shortcut to Moto Notes and one to Google Keep.

Put the stylus back in the hole and the floating icon disappears. The included tools let you change colours of your scribbles, thickness, style of pen and background of page. You can scroll-downwards to make your Note 'longer', undo changes and use the erase tool. And that's about it really. It's clearly designed not to be a work-based productivity tool but a quick-note/scribble tool for lists, or notes-to-self for later, or shopping lists. There's no image embedding, snipping stuff (apart from screenshots), magnifying or zooming that you'd expect from the posh Samsung one but you can use it in any other app you fancy (which accepts drawing) as a dumb-pen, like Google Keep for example. It's fun and useful to have, yes, of limited use, but certainly handy for the odd jotting down of something to remember when you're out and about. I like it!

All of these Moto devices have got a Sony Quad-Bayer camera setup in some shape or form. Each of them have features the others don't so if photography with a phone is important to you, these differences might have an impact. (Here's the best I can do with a photo today in the rain!) First off, the One Zoom is the only one here with an optical zoom, being 3x - and again the only one with OIS is the main two cameras. Apart from that, they all have a 48MP f1.7 main shooter and G Pro/G8 Plus have Laser AF. The G8 Plus lacks a wide-angle camera for photos whereas the G Pro gets that in video-shooting but the One Zoom does get proper wide-angle photos. The G Pro follows a couple of other Moto models recently in placing that big wide-angle video-only lens at the top, not available for photos, and when the user fires the video camera up it forces the user to hold the phone in portrait whilst it produces landscape footage. I still find this arrangement an odd one, presumably as an attempt to stop people shooting portrait-video. The only one with a Macro lens is the G Pro - though it is a lowly 2MP f2.2 unit. The video camera capability looks to be pretty much universal and the G Pro's Selfie drops to 16MP compared to the other two's 25MP.

Enough of the tech-twaddle though and to me with real-world use and the G Pro. I guess you know what I'm going to say - yes, perfectly good enough for most people for most uses - if you want more, get a camera! Right, that's got that out of the way! Seriously though, that 3x optical zoom has been genuinely useful on the One Zoom and OIS assisting in low light makes a difference to results. Digital zooming is a bit hit and miss at the best of times and a steady hand is needed for those wanting to use their phone's camera for anything other than social media and fun down the pub!

Here's a shot taken with the 2MP Macro lens. Not great for anything artistic much, but nice and close - useful for reading instructions on minuscule leaflets! The colours seems to have been replicated true to life as they have been with the main lens and wide-angle to my eyes. There's the usual array of Moto additions in the camera, most of which we've seen before, including a full Manual mode for tweaking most settings, Google Lens built-in for smart stuff, Spot Colour and Cutout, Cinemagraph to make fun GIF or MP4 files and Night Vision which is quite smart as you watch it take lots of shots as you hold still, think it's a noisy pixelated mess then magically it is made into a usable image, Google Camera AI style!

Portrait mode on the rear camera will only play-ball if it detects a face, which is a bit rubbish but the natural 'bokeh' using the main camera isn't bad anyway for portrait-style shots. When it does detect a face you can use the 'slider' to adjust the DoF, including inside the Selfie dialogue - which all works very well. The usual HDR and Active Photos options are all present. I'm really not a pixel-peeper but the test photos I have taken with the G Pro on a very rainy North Wales day look perfectly good enough to me for most uses but won't push any boundaries. I would have loved the 3x zoom and wide-angle (in photos) of the One Zoom, but it's not really that important to me. Maybe it is for you.

These three Moto phones all have the same 4,000mAh battery inside so we'd expect similar results from the tests which I employ. Maybe not! First up is my 10% Reading Test. My previous reviews and testing resulted in Moto G8 Plus returning 2 hours 2o minutes, the Motorola One Zoom 1 hour 40 minutes and this G Pro, now tested three times, 2 hours 30 minutes. The G phones are in a similar ball-park and the reason I can only assume that the One Zoom is behind is because of the AMOLED screen on this particular test which requires it to be on throughout. There is also a slightly more powerful chipset involved, which may not be so efficient, but my inkling is that it is that screen. One of the G devices is an AndroidOne device, the other not, so it would seem that this can be ruled out. The Zoom has more RAM. Could that be relevant, I wonder.

Anyway, the G Pro is only really beaten by the G8 Power with the 5,000mAh battery which is my current leader at 3 hours 10 minutes. Still, two and a half hours is pretty good - and puts the 50 minutes of my Pixel 3 to shame! The other test being the average-use-for-me test - in other words, how often do I have to charge it. Much of the time of course, the screen being off, the results are closer - presumably because the One Zoom is not driving that AMOLED screen. We're looking at not having to worry about charging every night and I might just get to the end of Day 2 with average (for me) use. For the G8 Power, you can add another day! But two full days is pretty good, especially when there's no Qi Wireless Charging on any of these phones so placing them on a pad through the day is not an option without a Qi Receiver plugged into the USB-C port. The 15W power-brick supplied in the box seems to get 50% from dead in about an hour and 100% in two.

Connectivity by GPS is quick to lock and track me on Google Maps and various weather apps tested here, WiFi locks on well and holds a good strong signal where some others fail in my test locations and cellular, similarly is perfectly good having fielded a few calls and monitored location, signal and voice quality/lock both ends. Data via cellular is also looking fine and strong on VodafoneUK. NFC is working but again, apologies, that I can't test that with Google Pay without my bank getting sniffy with every phone I have in for review. I'm assured that it works by other reviewers here in the UK.

As usual these days, lots of options for buyers. A heavily populated £200-300 price-range within which phone manufacturers are competing for your hard-earned aggressively. I maintain that for me a clean version of Android, as close to the Vanilla/Pixel experience as possible gets more Brownie Points than other fancy features that some phone-makers might include. Even more so if timely updates are all-but guaranteed under the AndroidOne Programme. If for no other reason, this can be enough to consider those which comply - a few Moto devices, including this one, and many Nokia handsets, leading the way in numbers.

I like Motorola devices and always have. It feels like they are solid, well made with good components mostly. It's true that I have been frustrated by their lack of updates during this difficult 2020 year, but not for AndroidOne devices. The stereo speakers here are excellent, loud and good quality. The battery is great and camera more than good enough for me. The AoD is also good enough and chipset fast enough around the UI for ordinary users not expecting to keep up with huge games.

The stylus is great fun and a useful addition to the tools for quick note-taking as longs as users don't expect a Samsung experience. Good storage and expandable for more, a nice flat screen which, for an LCD is bright and colourful with the power payoff of not being an OLED being useful too. It's a great all-round package which I like very much. There are corners cut of course to hit this price-point (which will, no doubt, come down in time) so we can quibble about Qi Charging and HDMI-Out and IP-rating, but these are just the kind of additions which push the price up. Highly recommended, the Moto G Pro.

The current prices of these phones at AmazonUK are as follows. If you're thinking of buying one, please click on these links as AmazonUK bung me a few quid for the referral and it costs you no more. Thanks in advance.

A Touch of Sin (Tian Zhu Ding)

This is a very interesting film which I picked up recently on Film4, so doing the rounds. It's a film full of social systems observation...