Thursday, 2 April 2020

Nutri-Q 35650 Twin Omelette Maker

We were looking for an omelette maker as we hadn't had one for years and found this one which has turned out to be excellent! It's a bit like a sandwich toaster machine with two 'troughs' in each of two 'plates' which close together, then cook what's inside.

In this case, omelette mixture of eggs, a dash of milk (I'll come back to that), pepper, a dash of olive oil. Turn it on until the green light on top goes out, indicating that it's ready to cook. This took about 3mins. Open up the clamshell by pressing in the button on the bottom to unlock it, pour the mixture into the two 'troughs' close the lid, clicking the lock, let it cook away for about 6-7 minutes. Lift to check and see when it's nicely browned. They say 3-5 minutes but in our experience, that's not long enough.

We cooked a couple of variations with cheese and chopped-up bacon pieces and they came out beautifully. The ceramic marble-flecked 'plates' are totally non-stick and as long as you use plastic utensils, they'll presumably stay that way. The finished omelettes slip out easily on a plastic spatula ready for the plate.

You can either cook two at a time or just one. We learnt the hard way about ignoring the advice to not fill the 'troughs' too high up as on the second attempt, we filled them too much (to use up the mixture) and it spilled out and onto the worktop. No worries though, as the overspill created scrambled eggs for us! We did also wonder if it might have been because we use a dash of milk - next time we'll not add that.

Only problem was the cleaning. If it hadn't spilt over, we'd have been reporting easy wipe-clean with a fairy-liquid and water soaked cloth - but actually, the spill went into some of the housing between top and plates which we had to use something plastic and pointy to clean out. A toothbrush would do it. So care needed - and unlike us, follow the instructions! If you want to cook scrambled eggs, you just leave the lid open and stir as it cooks. Fried eggs? No problem - crack it in there and whip it out when done!

Dare I say that it's a cracking little machine?! And at only £17 from AmazonUK it's a bargain - and the resulting omelettes taste delicious! Recommended!

Tuesday, 31 March 2020

The PodHubUK Podcasts for March 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!


Whatever Works
Episode 102 - Stream Dining!
Sunday 1st March 2020
Aidan, Dave and I are back once more with another show to thrill your weekend with another collection of Whatever Works for us and the Group Members here - from text tricks to treadmills and much between!

Phones Show Chat
Episode 541 - It Just Works...Most of the Time!
Sunday 8th March 2020
Steve and I welcome back Xerxes Hodivala to chat for an hour about all things mobile phone and where we all are on the road to the perfect solution!

The Phones Show
Episode 389 - Samsung Galaxy S20
Thursday 12th March 2020
Join Steve as he puts the latest Galaxy through his usual testing routines and finds out if this is going to better his S9+ or even iPhone!

Phones Show Chat
Episode 542 - Underwhelmed
Saturday 14th March 2020
Steve and I are back this week with our initial thoughts on all things Samsung - the new 20's and the old 10's - along with a whole other bunch of mobile stuff as always.

Whatever Works
Episode 103 - Virtual Venetian Vision!
Sunday 15th March 2020
Aidan, Dave and I are back again for our fortnightly look at Whatever Works for us and the Group Members and to have a dig and a poke at what doesn't! From clever rings to ghostly things - there's something for everyone!

Projector Room
Episode 58 - Korean Cabbie
Wednesday 18th March 2020
Gareth and Allan join me once again for our fortnightly look at what's interesting to us and for the Group Members here in film, cinema and TV. The usual mixed-bag of goodies to tempt you, from Balloons to Black Spots and much more!

The Phones Show
Episode 390 - Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra
Saturday 21st March 2020
Join Steve as he takes a look at the rather large big brother of the S20. Is it the phone to tick every box and blow our socks off? Tune in and find out!

Phones Show Chat
Episode 543 - The Age of Ultra
Saturday 22nd March 2020
Steve and I chat with Zachary Kew-Denniss about the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, some new Nokia phones on the way and a look at our new logo, thanks to Steve Heinrich!

Whatever Works
Episode 104 - Nothing But Plugs!
Friday 27th March 2020
We're back again to help relieve the lockdown boredom as Aidan and I have a look at Whatever Works for us and in the lives of our listeners. We natter for an hour about all sorts of stuff - including ideas to pass the time.

Phones Show Chat
Episode 544 - 10 Days, 6 Phones, One V60
Saturday 28th March 2020
Steve and I welcome back Matt Miller to PSC (and podcasting)! We natter about what he's been up to and enjoy his take on all things mobile phone for an hour.

Phones Show Chat
Episode 545 - The Astro Slide
Tuesday 31st March 2020
The first of our Beat the Blues C-19 Mid-Week Shows! This mid-week Steve Litchfield and I welcome Aidan back to join us as we take a look at the newly announced Astro Slide from Planet Computers. Is the 3rd Generation even better?


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

Friday, 27 March 2020

Moto G8 Power

Here's the brand new Moto G8 Power (8 Power in the USA). A low-price handset with some very positive key features. Motorola will be hoping that their budget-conscious customers will value these features over some missing ones that their friends will have!

This is going to be one of those for-the-price reviews again, I'm afraid! I'll try not to say it too often, but please fill the phrase in for yourself as we proceed and consider what's on offer here. The big selling point is clearly the 'power' in that the unit has a 5,000mAh cell. There are a few phones creeping up into this post-4000mAh territory now, including one or two from Samsung. A couple of years ago, we'd have wow'd by that, but maybe not so much now. However, with Moto's clean approach to phone software perhaps their claim of 'up to 3 days' of life will have some validity. We'll find out here.

Box Contents
In the box, there's a clear TPU (becoming a standard for Moto these days), USB-A to USB-C cable, 3-pin UK Plug with USB-A port, a few papers and pokey-tool - and that's it! The TPU fits snuggly, as you'd expect - and offers perfectly good grip and coverage for most of us who don't go off-road or hang-gliding!

Tour
On the left of the phone we have the pokey-tool hole for ejecting the SIM Card Tray and inside, an option for two SIM Cards or one and a microSD. The tray looks sturdy enough and fits very firmly in place with what appears to be a rubber-seal to keep out the elements. On the right is the volume rocker above a knurled power button, both of which are plastic but look hardy enough. Up top is the 3.5mm audio-out socket and at the bottom, USB-C port and the first of a pair of stereo speakers, this one downwards-firing.

Tour Continued
The plastic back houses the four cameras, very much like others in the G-range, top-right in landscape, with the bigger top camera on its own being the wide-angle and the other three on an island for normal shooting, macro and zoom. Alongside is the LED flash and about 75% of the way up, central, is the capacitive fingerprint scanner with the usual 'M' logo inside. The back has a very faint lined pattern, there's reassuringly no 'give' in it at any point as it curves very slightly round to meet the edging. Edging which feels very much like plastic, but is, apparently 6000-series aluminium.

IPS LCD
The front glass is flat and there's no boast about Gorilla Glass or even Panda King, which Moto have recently been using on some models. So I guess it's a case of taking great care - or even applying some sort of screen protector so the glass doesn't get micro-scratched up. The panel is an IPS LCD "Max Vision Display" at 6.4" in the ratio 19:9. It's 1080p and returns a ppi of 399. It looks bright, colourful and sharp to these old eyes and it is brighter and whiter than the Pixel 3 (which I happen to have at hand). The OLED of the latter survives better, the more the screen is angled away - at which point the Moto's LCD becomes warmer and less bright. Face-on, however, I have no complaints, even out in sunlight. The screen's colour can be switched in settings between Natural, Boosted and Saturated but they don't seem to make a huge difference and the default is set to Saturated. There's a bit of a forehead bezel and a bit more of a chin, but for most of us we'd say that the screen goes out to the edges well enough to consider that it is using the whole front of the phone. I really don't think that a millimetre here and there makes any difference to usability. In fact, one could argue that small bezels are helpful under Android 10 for Gesture controls. The 'corners' are rounded nicely and there's a Selfie hole-punch top-left (portrait) Samsung-style, that really doesn't get in the way.

Big and Heavy
The phone is fairly weighty at all-but 200g, is fairly big in the hand and offers a "water repellent design". I'm guessing this means the usual nano-coating of components, ports and buttons - but nothing IP-rate-able. It's almost exactly the same size as the Motorola One Zoom except a little fatter for that extra 1000mAh of battery.

All Power
To the (almost) USP then and that 5000mAh battery. I've been testing it for about a week now and I'm delighted to report that after initial charging, I only had to do it once again! Firstly though my 10% Reading Test - in which I read/look/use indoors from fully charged (nothing clinical here but a mixture of reading books, looking at news, the odd phone call, the odd video linked to in news, screen on and both display and battery on Adaptive) and see how much time has passed when the battery gets to 10%. The current leader here is the 4000mAh battery of the Moto G8 Plus which clocked up 2 hours and 20 minutes but we have a new record-breaker now at a staggering 3 hours and 10 minutes! It just gets better.

Staying Power
Second, is my average-use-for-me scenario which, as I say, I have now done twice. The first time I was getting a return of 72 hours with 9 hours Screen-On-Time, so yes, 3 days without question, but the second test brought an even better return of just over 80 hours between charges and 15 hours SoT. A fabulous performance all round which will, of course, be less than this if people are caning it watching films, playing music all day, shooting video and the like. In support of my testing methods, the playing field is level across devices and for you, it'll be different of course. By all accounts, a PowerHouse and for some of us, a weekend away might not need thoughts of recharging. The supplied plug is capable of 18W rapid charging and as we'd expect, there's no Wireless Qi Charging on offer. My Qi Receiver plugs in nicely, however, and works a treat for healthy, slow overnight charging. Hopefully, every second or even third night!

Stereo
Next up is those stereo speakers and how they perform. The true stereo (not faux) output is very similar (if not exactly the same) as the Moto G8 Plus which I reviewed recently. I wouldn't be surprised if the same components were used as the output is just as excellent. It's decently loud in the same way and with the speakers 'tuned by Dolby' with true system-wide Dolby Equalisation available, the quality, richness, depth and separation can be fine-tuned by the user too. Unusually, all the Dolby options are made available to the speakers and not some reserved just for headphones use. Tested with stereo YouTube videos, there's a real 3D effect as the usual fleet of spacecraft fly overhead and speedboats zoom past from behind the listener. With the phone 18" away from the face the effect remains noticeable and the right way up when the phone is turned over (which can't be said for many so-called stereo setups).

Moto Audio
So Moto Audio...tuned by Dolby gives some basic cover-alls (for those who don't want to dig) of Smart audio (it works out the best for you), Music, Film and Game (each of which can be drilled into for individual tweaking) - then the Custom, which has even more, with a Manual Equaliser setup to adjust frequencies across the range. Alongside that, there's more pre-sets of Brilliant Treble, Bass Boost and Vocal Boost. There's always a payoff with top volume as the user starts to play around with theses settings, but whatever you do with the output it's hard to describe it as anything less than a room-filling sound. There's an FM Radio which records - and doesn't even need anything plugged into the 3.5mm audio-out socket to fire it up. Great stuff. Bluetooth 5 is present and connected very nicely to gear I have here, though unfortunately I don't have any top-notch BT headphones or speakers to hand to push it very much.

Headphones
There are no awards waiting for output via headphones here but the sound is good enough by far for The 95%. It's perfectly loud for my ears even in a noisy environment, deep and bass'y enough, but for the 5% who want their heads blown off (or who can tell the difference) a more powerful DAC dongle can be used. For most people, the inclusion of a 3.5mm audio-out socket will be a very welcome addition. Everything about the sound output is very impressive at this price-point. There, I said it!

Driving Time
The chipset is a SnapDragon 665, so the same as the Xiaomi Mi A3 and Redmi Note 8T for example. Here, of course, there's next to no bloatware - only the few additions which Moto add to enhance the Android experience, which I'll come to, so the 665 is left in peace a lot of the time to get on with serving the user what they ask for (and not attending to 1001 back-end processes which slow down some). This is no powerhouse of course and only coupled with 4GB RAM there is evidence of slight lapses when switching between apps and opening up new ones and processing data when in high demand. There is a setting available for Adaptive Performance now which optimises RAM efficiency and learns the user's behaviour if engaged. Opening up the camera is a bit slow, for example, and running demanding games, but in the real world, the 95% really won't be bothered - it's only us, putting it up against the latest crop of flagships, who are concerned. Mr Average will not even notice for 95% of the time.

In Store
I've been saying for some time now that 128GB of storage should be considered the bare minimum for people's phones now, but again, it's a for-the-price thing here. The 64GB on offer here will, no doubt, be perfectly good enough for most folk - and for those who need more, there's a microSD Card slot. This is playing perfectly with my 512GB microSD Card and my 2TB SSD too via USB-C, on-the-fly. Yes, OK, it takes a while to initiate the SSD, getting it all read, but once there it works beautifully playing films and any other media I throw at it. Just like the G8 Plus there's no HDMI-Out, but I'd have been shocked if there was!

The Big Omission
The thing that I am shocked about, however, is that there's no NFC! I really am astounded that Moto would release a phone in The West with no means to use Google Pay. They must realise that almost everyone now is expecting to head for Tesco and pay for their grub with their phone. To grab that coffee on the way to work. To pay for your bus fare or Metro. What were they thinking, I wonder. Was this a phone they were expecting to just release in The East then turned-tail at the last minute and decided on a World release after all? I think that very sadly for Motorola, this, for many, many people will be a deal-breaker. There are many cheaper phones which have it. Even Moto's phones. It's just that I can't see who might want to buy it without. People under the age of banking and credit? Maybe it will be a second phone for people. A glove-box backup. A wild and odd decision which sadly can't be fixed in software when they realise.

Connectivity
We've got used to Motorola connectivity aerials working very well and this is no exception. The cellular locks and holds onto calls and 4G data very well, as I said earlier the Bluetooth works fine, seems strong and maintains a good grip over distance in my limited available testing, the GPS works quickly and reliably in Maps and the only fly in the ointment for nit-pickers is that 5GHz WiFi support is missing so users have to make do with 2.4GHz. Can't say it matters much to me, but I do know one person at least who wants the whole home network to be on 5 with any 2.4 on the system dragging the network to a slower place. So for some, to be aware.

Android 10
Still, let's get back to it and assume people will live without NFC! Android 10 out of the box. That's great. I highly approve of the new flurry of phones up and running with it as others wallow in Pie awaiting updates - and even new phones being released, outdated. Well done to Moto here. All the lovely 10 additions are present including system-wide Gesture controls and Dark Theme everywhere. It really gives the user the feeling that they're bang up to date with what's going on. Sadly, we're back to the lag-behind with Google Security and this unit is now 4 months behind on December 2019. This is another of Motorola's non-AndroidOne programme phones so it will, no doubt, once settled, enter the general 3-month update cycle. New phones from Moto which are not AndroidOne do tend to take a while to get that first kick.

Moto Additions
The one that always saddens me most if missing is Moto Approach. They have proved that Approach is possible with LCD screens via the G7/8 Plus models, but like the AndroidOne phones (such as One Vision and One Action) they have chosen to not make it available. Why on earth? However, all is not lost. Instead of waving a hand over the screen to wake up Peek, a tap on the screen will do it here. From thereon in it's the same as any other Peek with Notification icon being swipe-able for quick-peek or opening up for full viewing. It's just that proximity sensor action for Peek which they seem to have saved pennies on. Much of the rest of the suite is present (chop-chop for Torch, 3-finger screenshot, twist-twist for camera and so on) with some additions like Gametime settings to keep interruptions at bay and brightness high, a 'What's new in Android 10' section leading the migrating user through the changes and double-press Power for Google Assistant. But it's really otherwise a clean version of Android with stock-like Home Pages and Google Assistant access and Cards to the left as we've come to expect. Wherever Google Services and Apps are supplied, Moto uses them. No doubling up of anything, no bloat, no deals with FaceBook, LinkedIn or Amazon. Clean as a whistle. You get as close to Vanilla as is possible. Well done Moto.

Security
The fingerprint scanner on the back of the phone is a tad small for my liking but it works perfectly and can be set to swipe-down for the Notification Shade. The setup is straight-forward, quick and opening up the phone it's first time, every time. At least it's not an under-glass mess-up like many others and the user, even though they might have to pick the phone up, knows where they are without hopeful successive stabs at the screen. There's no Face Unlock option but there is Attentive in settings which means that if you have it set up and you're looking at the screen, the screen will stay on and not time out/off.

Photography
The G8 Power is equipped with what should look like a great array of camera options. A 16MP f/1.7 main camera, a 2MP f/2.2 macro lens with 2cm focus distance, an 8MP f/2.2 wide-angle snapper and lastly, an 8MP f/2.2 telephoto with 2x optical zoom. There's a 16MP f2 Selfie round the front in support which offers a quad-pixel binning setup to grab 4MP shots, unless you specifically set it to 16MP to make use of the full sensor, unimpaired. There's no OIS to be seen anywhere, but regardless, this camera setup produces fine, fun shots in good light and for those not pixel-peeping. At this price, it can be given a pass on that level, I think!

Camera App
The App is laid out in a similar way to others in the range with a tap-button to move between wide, normal and zoom, a grid icon to launch all the modes including that so-called Macro, Spot Colour, Cutout, Portrait and so on. Some more useful than others but nothing much new from what we've seen before. Auto-everything with AI, Smile Capture which fires when everyone is smiling, Manual mode (with control over everything except focus, bizarrely), RAW option, Portrait mode (which works surprisingly well), Google Lens is built-in, all sorts of video options including electronic stabilisation and so on and so on. Tons of stuff to play with but the best fun for me has been the Macro Mode where photos can be taken pretty close-up. Yes, of limited use for most people, but great fun. And that's what photography on this phone is, I think. Probably out-performed by an awful lot of other phones out there, but I'm guessing that people buying/using this phone at this price won't care about that stuff - they'll happy-snap for memories and social media 'til their heart's content!

Verdict
The phone is £219 in the UK on launch (in Smoke Black or Capri Blue) which will no doubt mean it will end up being £189 or less in time. If the user can live without NFC/Google Pay then it's actually a bit of a bargain. With eyes fixed on the giant battery performance, super stereo speakers, system-wide Dolby, fun camera and a near-Vanilla Android experience bang up to date with version 10, the user could do an awful lot worse. It's a popularly big phone so might suit people with less than perfect eyesight and the Moto additions make the whole package a tidy one for the money. Yes, there's stuff missing and maybe some would veer towards the Moto G8 Plus to plug those gaps, but for others who don't care and love the mega-powerful cell, it'll be a good choice.

Thursday, 19 March 2020

Trois Couleurs Trilogy

Three Krzysztof Kieslowski films from the 1990's interweaving beautifully to pull off a delightful arthouse treasure, considered here by guest reviewer Ahmed Bebars.

Three Colours: Blue

Blue, the first of the trilogy, takes place in Paris. It stars Juliette Binoche (who can be seen as Hanna in "The English Patient") as Julie, the wife of prominent composer Patrice de Courcy. She finds herself having to deal with an unwanted liberty when an automobile accident claims the lives of her husband and her daughter Anna. Her initial reaction while recovering in the hospital is to kill herself, swallowing a handful of painkillers stolen from the medicine lock-up in the hospital, but she cannot. From that point on, she is devoted to carrying out a 'spiritual suicide', in which she dissociates herself from the memory of her past-- she sells all the furniture and the family home, moves into a small flat in Paris, and destroys her late husband's last musical composition, a piece for the festival of European Unity. Along the way, she befriends Lucille, a prostitute/stripper that lives downstairs from her; falls in love with Olivier, her late husband's aide; and helps Sandrine, the mistress of her late husband who is carrying his child.

It is a slow-paced film, in the typical French atmospheric style-- a textured piece of cinema. It is an excellent example of what is described in "Film Art" by Bordwell and Thompson: "every component functions as part of the overall pattern that is perceived... subject matter and abstract ideas all enter in to the total system of the artwork." Given its name, "Blue", you cannot help but look for that colour in the film's carefully-sculpted scenes. Of course, the trick that Kieslowski has pulled on you is that he is forcing you to pay attention to what is happening on the screen. And because your awareness has been heightened by this trick, you begin to notice the clever tapestry of form and function in this film.

Visually, Kieslowski uses many techniques to convey the sense of loss and the internal conflict in which Julie finds herself. There are many shots from a first-person perspective; extremely tight close-ups of mundane events, such as a sugar cube slowly absorbing coffee, which convey the mind-set of catastrophic loss, where the significance of even minor events is heightened by the introspective mind. Julie is in a trance-like state, trying to shut out the world around her... so that she can break free of the pain she feels.

Blue light, representing her past, creeps in around her at several points throughout the film, accompanied by her husband's music... but she fights it. Another example would be the scene where the old woman who attempts to put a bottle in a recycling bin is virtually ignored by Julie as she is in one of her introspective trances. As you watch the other two films in the trilogy, this event recurs and you will notice how the different characters react to the old woman and reflect on the themes of the films.

The most noticeable visual technique would be the odd fade-out/fade-ins that occur four times in the film. At each of the four points, Julie is in transition, deciding whether or not to push back the memories of her life before the accident, or to acknowledge them-- jumping between a painful reality and an emotionally devoid trance-like state. The first instance occurs when she is recuperating in the hospital, and the blue light is all around her. A reporter then shows up, who wants to interview her about her late husband. Julie turns down the reporter's request, denying the existence of the past.

The second instance occurs when she meets a boy that found a necklace at the crash site. The boy offers to tell Julie about the moments just after the crash, but Julie does not want him to tell her. The third instance occurs when she is making the realisation that her goal of liberty from the past is a hollow one-- she feels remorse having let a cat kill some baby mice that were infesting her apartment-- a necessary act.

The final instance of the fade-out/fade-in would be when Julie decides to meet her late-husband's mistress. At this point, Julie is well on her way to embracing the past and to continue the legacies which she has so far ignored.

In the end, Julie re-establishes the connections with her past, and like the continent upon which she resides, shifts from a state of liberty into a state of union. She gives the family home and name to Sandrine's unborn child and she completes the composition for the celebration of European Unity, she allows herself to love and be loved by Olivier.

Being the first part of a trilogy, Kieslowski attempts to inject intertextuality into films to show linkage between them. The old woman and the recycling bin is one such attempt. For those of you into cinematic Easter eggs, pay particular attention to the scene where Julie is at the courthouse, looking for Sandrine. She looks around and walks into a courtroom where a trial is in session. The audience is briefly given a glimpse of a divorce trial before a court officer kicks Julie out. Of course, this divorce trial is the opening sequence of the second film, "White". Dominique (Julie Delpy) is seen sitting with her lawyer, and Karol Karol's (Zbigniew Zamachowski) voice is heard arguing with the judge about 'equality'. The significance of this odd scene is revealed in "White", where Julie walks in on the trial in the background.

In conclusion, Kieslowski has done a masterful job combining the disparate elements of film-making together to emphasize his thesis-- cinematography, music, lighting, and dialogue. It is a film that can be viewed again and again and interpreted as many ways. Truly representative of 'film as literature'. "Blue" also serves as an excellent showcase for Juliette Binoche and is a good primer for the rest of the trilogy.


Three Colours: White

White is a very important component to the trilogy. Now it's certainly the weakest of the three, but it is still a great film that works extremely well, giving the audience context and a greater understanding of what Kieslowski was trying to say with the trilogy.

Towards the beginning of the film, we are shown that Blue takes place during Karol's court hearing. This is extremely important because we understand that these films are taking place at the same time and in the same universe. This also helps to set up the ending of Red, in which we are shown the possible conclusion of White as well.

In my opinion this is Kieslowski's most personal film. It takes place shortly after the collapse of the USSR and Poland joining the European Union. Kieslowski was heavily influenced by these events and it really shows in the film. However you don't need to be Polish to enjoy this movie, it's a great transitional piece for Blue and Red and it does exactly what Kieslowski intended.

I personally think that White is looked down upon a little because it is a good film in a trilogy with two other masterpieces in it. It doesn't have the stylistic elements of Blue or the stirring performances and striking cinematography of Red but this is Kieslowski and he knows how to make an emotionally resonant film whilst trying to send a message to his audience.

His concept of equality is wonderfully studied through an allegory of a broken relationship but the photography and performances are just not as strong as they are in the other films. I really adore Julie Delpy but she doesn't have much room to shine in this film and whilst Zamachowski plays his part well, the character isn't as engaging or iconic as the lead roles in Red and Blue.

I also enjoyed the bits of humour in this movie, and I liked the revenge plot line throughout the film. It's definitely the least visually striking of the three, but it still has some absolutely beautiful moments, like when Karol and Mikolaj skate around on the frozen lake. I enjoyed the fact that, after how dark Blue was, White served as sort of an emotional palate cleanser.


Three Colours: Red

The final installment of Kieslowski's master trilogy does not disappoint. We follow Valentine, a fashion model with a few bits of baggage. She sets a chain of events in motion as she tries to return a dog she ran over with her car, this being the third value of ''fraternity''.

The first 40 minutes of the film are somewhat puzzling as there seems to be a few unexplained events, characters and sub-plots blended with massive red symbolism. There's barely a scene in the film in which an inanimate red object is not thrust in the viewer's face. But what comes after is just mesmerising. Kieslowski manages to rope you into a beautiful story, essentially about love but one that almost borders on the sc-fi genre at times, and climaxes in a wholly satisfying last scene that neatly and brilliantly ties in the whole trilogy. The message seems to be that love and belief will conquer all, and again as we see the 7 characters at the end, the theme of fraternity and togetherness is on show. There are strong hints of religion and fate. Recurring themes like broken glass, communication, and windows will probably make more sense with repeat viewings.

My takeaway was how fragile human interactions are and that small choices to engage a little more, or a little less, will have an enormous impact on people. If Valentine were like most people, she'd be nice enough to have given the dog medical treatment and returned to its owner, but instead she also probed into the life of this odd, bitter, lonely man (the judge). Yet when she wanted to do something about the drug-dealer family next door to him, she stopped short when realising their daughter would overhear, choosing to abstain from digging deeper into their lives.

The subtext to the story's double-lives and supernatural elements is murkier (to me, at least). I think regret is at the heart of it, or at least that was the motivation for the characters' actions. In the case of the judge, it's pretty obvious he regrets his past abuse of power and feels the need to atone for it. He's bitter and lonely; and does nothing to prevent Valentine exposing his eavesdropping and silently accepts the abuse hurled at him from the neighbourhood. Valentine seems like she preemptively regrets events that have not happened yet or that she doesn't know about. For example, she senses that at some point her boyfriend will cheat on her. She hates that there are people who enable her drug-addict brother, although we don't know enough about that story to say what she might have done about it.

In the end, there are two things that meaningfully changed but at vastly different costs. The judge is able to leave his house and reconnect with the world because a nice woman showed him some kindness and made the effort to connect with him. And Valentine breaks out of a relationship cycle that was doomed to repeat that of the judge and the young-doppelganger judge, but it took hundreds dying on a ferry to do it.

Red is visually stunning and the best of the three in terms of cinematography, in my opinion. Blue is more subtle in its use of colour but some of the shots here are just so vividly red, and in contrast with the brown and grey city, they make for some stunning scenes.

I have trouble splitting Red and Blue in terms of ranking. They are both fantastic. White is probably one for the Kieslowski purists. If I had to, I'd go: 1-Red 2-Blue 3-White

But that's probably because Red is fresher in my mind. Juliette Binoche's performance in Blue is one of the greatest performances I think I've ever seen on screen. And let's not forget Irene Jacob's portrayal of Valentine, which was fantastic.

Overall, it's probably not a stretch to claim that Red is one of the greatest European films ever made, and that the 'Colors' trilogy is one of the greatest ever trilogies.

Friday, 13 March 2020

Logitech K780 Wireless and Bluetooth Keyboard

Logitech make some lovely keyboards. I type on one of them now - the K380, which I use remotely as it's smaller - and which I've covered on Whatever Works before. I also covered the K480 which had a phone/tablet stand built-in but not this latest addition, the K780.

The Logitech K780 is a bigger keyboard, more suited to a permanent position as it improves on the lighter, more portable versions in a number of ways. First impression is the weighty bulk, substantial heft of the unit. The rubber feet ensure that it ain't going to move once in place unless you're in an earthquake zone! The scissor-keys are beautifully designed, round, like the rest of the 'K' Logitech family, slightly 'reverse-domed' or concave which match the end of fingers! A fiendish idea, eh! And, they're all-but silent in use - no clacking like a 1945 typewriter! This, being the big-brother of the family also has amazingly good spacing between the keys and also a dedicated number pad off to the right, missing in so many more dinky keyboards of course.

There are no 'risers' at the back, so the angle presented is the one you get, to ensure that anything placed in the solid rubber tray is not in danger of tipping forward. Fortunately, the angle has been well thought out and is just right - for me, anyway. The keyboard part of the structure is black and is stylishly attached to the grey/white lower portion which sweeps underneath and back, to form that rubber tray. Underneath, central, and to the back is the slide-open door for the two AAA batteries (which Logitech claim will last 2 years) and the Unifying USB-A plug to put into your device that the keyboard is serving, should you not want to use Bluetooth.

It all feels very well made, solid, heavy, firm and substantial. The rubber tray at the back is good for a tablet in landscape plus a phone, or even three devices maybe in portrait - as there are, like the rest of the family, provision for 3 fast-switch buttons. These work faultlessly as tested here, on-the-fly dancing between various devices - even between Bluetooth and USB wireless (2.4GHz). Just press the assigned button and as if by magic you're typing on the other device. I have my laptop connected via USB and tablet and phone via Bluetooth.

There's also software to download called Logitech Options (prompted at first use) which runs in the background on the Windows PC (and Mac, apparently) and offers further control over the shortcuts and keys, various functions and default assignation for various control-based keys to suit the user, and a backup of settings to Logitech's Cloud if you fancy using it! Incidentally, various control-keys on the keyboard itself are 'split' for multi-OS use. It also flags up on-screen when the battery is low, though I'll have to wait 2 years to see that!

There's an on/off button slider-switch on the side, but things seem to power-down nicely without that used - then power-up after a tap of any key (though actually, there does seem to be a slight delay there as once or twice I've been typing away and after a few seconds it seems to 'buffer' and catch up with me - so maybe not instantaneous - though this only happens after 'sleep' and not switching between devices). If you want to get invested in the Logitech system you can also use various peripherals (like a mouse) to use the same Unifying dongle thingie - as well as buying the dongle separately, but I haven't fully investigated the breadth and implications of this wider system.

It's a super keyboard. I've been nothing but impressed with this range over the years - and this more 'static' addition sets up my 'office' desk nicely. The usefulness of the dedicated number-pad can't be overstated for some of us who work with numbers and spreadsheets, accounts and figures. As you may have gathered by now, this is not a keyboard for the Road Warrior, but for home use, I highly recommend it. I picked it up for £49 at AmazonUK but note that the price seems to fluctuate between retailers and time, so shop around!

Tuesday, 3 March 2020

Bamboo Desk Storage Organiser

Smart little desktop shelving unit this for about £20, though I got it half price, so look out for bargains at AmazonUK. I got it in to save the bother of putting some shelves above the desk.

It's self-assembly and made of two parts, so the right-hand part 'sits' on top of the left and consequently can be adjusted for any space you might have. It works round a right-angle corner, for example (though access is more limited) and you can pull the left and right apart to make it as big as you like, until the left drops off the right, of course!

The pack comes with a diabolically incapable screwdriver - absolutely useless, so don't even try it! Get your own out. From thereon in it's just a case of doing the usual, follow the diagrams - and Fanny's your aunt!

Seems sturdy enough with handy holes and platforms. Recommended 😁

1home 'Adjustable Curve' Laptop Riser

Here's another addition to my home desktop which has made a huge difference to comfort, looking at my laptop screen at eye-level rather than chest-level. They do say it's much better for posture, regardless of my motivation merely for comfort!

It came in 5 pieces. The 'platter' which has a grid of holes in it to disperse heat, the two 'curves' which attach to the underside of the platter by supplied hand-tightening fat-headed bolt thingies, then the two 'feet' which you slide the 'curves' into. It's much simpler than I'm making it sound!

The last job is to then adjust the 'curves' in the 'feet' allowing for any angle/height up to flat and beyond. The adjustment is very stiff to move, which is a good thing as it won't move from the position you set it. At the front of the platter there's a 1cm ledge which the laptop sits snugly against, held by gravity.

It all works really well and there's also a natural 'cavity' underneath to put what you fancy - I've got my Hub in there with cable going round the side to the laptop's USB-C port.

It's £17 at AmazonUK and well worth it. It's made very well and does an excellent job.

A Taxi Driver

We continue to enjoy rich and entertaining film creations from the far east, regardless of what buffoonery is said in Washing DC! This is another South Korean peach from 2017, come to light here as it stars Song Kang-ho who played dad in Parasite. A Taxi Driver is a moving and eye-opening film which you must see.

Song Kang-ho (or Kang-ho Song if you'd rather) plays the titular Taxi Driver based in Seoul during the Gwangju Uprising as the people of Gwangju took up arms against the soldiers deployed as a part of the martial law imposed. The troops started shooting and killing university students who were staging demonstrations against the coup in 1980. Follow the link above to find out more. The story builds around the backdrop described above and seems to have a fair amount based in fact, but has certainly been fictionalised to a degree for the purposes of this drama. The two key characters certainly did exist.

Back in Seoul, our taxi driver Kim is finding it hard to scrape a living to support his small daughter after his wife had died of cancer. He happens upon a job of a lifetime to earn some real money transporting a German journalist from Seoul to the chaos in Gwangju, the best part of 200 miles away. The journalist Jürgen Hinzpeter can't speak a word of Korean, nor Kim, much English. The German is played ably by Thomas Kretschmann (Dragged Across Concrete, The Windermere Children) but without much personality or enthusiasm. Maybe that's what the real bloke was like!

The film, up to now, has been a near comic affair with our main player bouncing off the characters around him humorously and with much laughter and fun. The scrapes he gets into getting the job in the first place, liaising with other taxi drivers and muddling through life with his daughter - it feels like it's shaping up into a light comedy. But then the journey starts.

The government troops have blockaded Gwangju, so by the time they get there, they have had to face many run-ins with the forces as they try to find a way into the city via country lanes, keeping their wits about them. When they get there, the film takes a sudden turn for the not-so comic as the viewer is offered many harrowing scenes on the streets as the troops open fire on the protesting students first then the people of the city rising up to support the students. Our central pair hook up with some local taxi drivers there as they try to battle their way through and the story becomes very much about a race to get the footage of the massacre filmed by the journalist back to Seoul and on a flight to Japan, so that he can expose the truth of what was happening in South Korea into the world's news feeds. This was 1980, don't forget, so long before live-feeds and satellite hook-ups. The footage was physically in reels in his bag. He had to get them out.

This is the point at which we start to see the quality acting, as Song demonstrates courage in amongst the angst he feels, fighting to do the right thing by the people being abused, but also protecting his daughter and not leaving her a penniless orphan. He handles that moral dilemma excellently and the tension builds up as we head towards the climax and outcome. In the post-credits there's a poignant interview with one of the real people involved in the incident and film, which makes the whole outing moving and real.

The shooting and direction is executed beautifully as we enjoy the Korean countryside, the chaos on the streets, chases through the lower-class inner-city housing complexes and juxtaposition of taxis and cars in various scenes. The director Hun Jang is relatively unknown, so no Bong Joon Ho, but does a good job pulling things together. The cast all do well and once again, there's much to be learnt about the culture and customs of the South Korean people. It's such a rich experience, educational - at least in part, very different from Parasite in so many ways, but equally as engaging and enjoyable to watch on many levels. Currently doing the rounds on Film4 so catch it when you can as the DVD is pretty hard to source. Recommended.

Friday, 28 February 2020

The PodHubUK Podcasts for February 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 536 - Who Needs a Laptop?
Sunday 2nd February 2020
Steve and I welcome Mark Finlay for the first time onto PSC to natter for an hour about all things mobile phone - and in this case, what you might attach them to!

Whatever Works
Episode 100 - The Birthday Bash!
Sunday 2nd February 2020
Joining Aidan, Dave and I to celebrate our hundredth show are regular contributors Chris Kelly and Ian Barton. Knees-up! We look back across the 100 shows and pick out a few highlights as well as new and interesting stuff going forward. Thanks to well-wishers. Here's to another 100, eh! Hic!

The Phones Show
Episode 386 - Fairphone 3 Review
Monday 3rd February 2020
Join Steve over at his YouTube Channel as he takes apart - and reassembles - the next generation of the waste-reducing, eco-friendly Fairphone. Screwdrivers at the ready!

Phones Show Chat
Episode 537 - Moto-Fair
Sunday 10th February 2020
Steve and I bring you our thoughts on a whole bunch of stuff from the wonderful world of mobile phones! New from Motorola, Fairphone and Redmi - and loads more!

The Phones Show
Episode 387 - Moto G8 Plus Review
Monday 11th February 2020
Steve's thoughts on the excellent-sounding G8 Plus. We'll no doubt be chatting about this more, when Android 10 arrives, on PSC.

Projector Room
Episode 56 - Redrum Returns
Thursday 13th February 2020
We're back again with our fortnightly thoughts on what we, and the members of the Group here, have been watching in film, cinema and TV. This time Gareth and I major on the interesting sequel to The Shining, Doctor Sleep, whilst Allan is loaded with Good Omens!

Phones Show Chat
Episode 538 - Modular for Years
Sunday 16th February 2020
Steve and I welcome back Marek Pawlowski and we find out what he's been up to in the world of mobile phones.

Whatever Works
Episode 101 - Happy Walkie Talkie!
Sunday 16th February 2020
I'm joined again by Aidan and Dave as we natter for an hour about Whatever Works for us - and for the Group Members here. A delicious buffet of treats await you! The big question is, will Room 101 go into Room 101 on WW101?!

Phones Show Chat
Episode 539 - iOS Means Productivity
Sunday 23rd February 2020
Steve and I welcome back Nick Ballard to tell us how he uses Apple extensively for phones and much else.

The Phones Show
Episode 388 - Smartphone Screen Repairability
Sunday 23rd February 2020
Got a cracked screen on your lovely phone? What would you do? Get it repaired? Ignore it? Join Steve as he compares the options - and pricing - of getting it fixed.

Projector Room
Episode 57 - The Kitano Dolls
Thursday 27th February 2020
Gareth and Allan join me this time as we natter for an hour about all things film, cinema and TV. As usual, a wide variety of content, hopefully something for all tastes.

Phones Show Chat
Episode 540 - Ted's Perfect Phone, 2020 Edition!
Friday 28th February 2020
Just Steve and I this week with a shorter show in which I continue to look for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow while Steve keeps things down to earth doing DIY fixes to modular phones!


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

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!

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