Friday, 31 January 2020

PodHubUK Podcasts for January 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Moto G8 Plus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 21 January 2020

Rope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Una

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nokia 9 PureView with Android 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 2 January 2020

Joker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

PodHub UK Podcasts for December 2019

...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 98 - The Santa Suppression!
Saturday 28th December 2019
Aidan Bell and I are back again for our last fortnightly delve this year into Whatever Works for us and in the lives of the community members. We say adios to you-know-who and suck humbugs! Available via the link above or your podcatcher of choice. Enjoy.

Phones Show Chat
Episode 531 - The Christmas Postbag!
Friday 27th December 2019
Steve Litchfield and I scoop up 'letters' from the members and add our thoughts too. In this last show of the year and (depending on how you define it) the decade, we both wish you all a Happy New Year and thank you for tuning in during 2019. Looking forward to 2020 with loads more. Enjoy.

Phones Show Chat
Episode 530 - A Bluetooth Christmas
Sunday 22nd December 2019
Steve Litchfield and I welcome back Steve Nutt in our penultimate show of the year. We continue to unwrap bluetooth amongst all the other festive goodies! Thank you for your continued support for PSC throughout the last decade! Enjoy.

Projector Room
Episode 52 - Tops and Flops
Wednesday 18th December 2019
The whole PR team are together for this end of year/decade favourite picks show as we chat for an hour or so about all that's good (and bad) in film, cinema and TV. Available via the link above or your podcatcher of choice. Enjoy.

The Phones Show
Episode 383 - Xiaomi Note 10, Top 5 Phones for Christmas
Monday 16th December 2019
Head over to Steve Litchfield's YouTube Channel via the link above to check out the latest show in which he takes a look at the amazingly priced Xiaomi Note 10 and selects his end-of-year Top 5 phones. Enjoy.

Phones Show Chat
Episode 529 - Perfectly Synced
Sunday 15th December 2019
This week Steve Litchfield and I are back with Seasonal Whisky Reflections as a two-header show, available via the link above or your podcatcher of choice. We cast the Light on Latency and await the Feature Drop! Enjoy.

Whatever Works
Episode 97 - The Alcoholic Boxer!
Saturday 14th December 2019
Why not escape present-wrapping this weekend and join Aidan Bell and I as we bring you an hour's worth of natter about Whatever Works for us and the Group Members here. Available via the link above or your podcatcher of choice. Oral irrigation, portable lavs and much more! Enjoy.

Phones Show Chat
Episode 528 - ABP: Another Brilliant Podcast!
Saturday 7th December 2019
This week Steve Litchfield and I welcome long-time collaborator but first-time guest Malcolm Bryant as he talks about his path through the early days of creating EPOC freeware and now bang up-to-date apps for Android. Available via the link above or your podcatcher of choice. Don't miss it!

The Phones Show
Episode 382 - What Changed?
Friday 6th December 2019
Head over to Steve Litchfield's YouTube Channel via the link above to check out the latest show in which he poses this question and considers how Apple/iOS hardware and software have evolved against Pixel and others. He seems like he's sorted - for now! Enjoy.

Projector Room
Episode 51 - The Long Irishman
Thursday 5th December 2019
Gareth Myles and Allan Gildea join me as we chat for an hour or so about what we've been watching during the last fortnight. We focus on The Irishman but have plenty to say about much else, too. Available via the link above or your podcatcher of choice. Enjoy.

Chewing Gum for the Ears
Episode 19 - Bjorn Again Miley!
Monday 2nd December 2019
As threatened(!) Steve Litchfield and I are back with a sideways swipe at what we've been up to in terms of music for the last two years since we went AWOL! Not quite sure where we go from here, but we'll be sure to take your feedback into account. Available via the link above or your podcatcher of choice. Enjoy!

Phones Show Chat
Episode 527 - Cosmologically Cosmopolitan!
Sunday 1st December 2019
Steve Litchfield and I are joined this week by Aidan Bell who has, at last, got his hands on the Planet Computers' Cosmo and he leads us through initial impressions. Loads of other content as usual including Photo of the Month. Available now via the link above or your podcatcher of choice. Enjoy.


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

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

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

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...