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!

Monday, 3 February 2020

Takeshi Kitano: Hana-Bi and Dolls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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...