Thursday, 30 July 2020

TCL 10 Pro

TCL are certainly more well known for producing TV sets than mobile phones, but since their relationship with BlackBerry went to the wall they decided to branch out on their own, using their own brand. They have produced a few handsets in various configurations - from the budget 10 SE, through the Plex, 10 L, 10 Plus, this 10 Pro and to the 5G-powered 10 5G. If you don't need 5G anytime yet, this 10 Pro is probably the best place to start looking - a mid-ranger trying so very hard to be a flagship.

This is a crowded place in the market with Xiaomi, Motorola and Oppo pitching great value options at even half the price of this one, but also OnePlus amongst others also challenging this £350-400 price-point. So when people are looking for features against price, even when getting a free handset on contract, there's loads of choice. Each device has to have something different to make it stand out. Let's see what TCL brings in terms of USP. (By the way, on release in May 2020 in the UK, they were bundling a 'free' 32" TV with each purchase, but that's expired now!) Before I go on, many thanks go to Gaz Morris for the loan of this phone for PSC to review it.

First Impressions
In the hand, the device feels gorgeous. It's fairly big and compares very much in terms of size and weight with the Motorola One Zoom. (In fact, that's probably not a bad place to start in terms of a comparison with both devices around the same price.) The front and back glass panels curve around the left and right to meet the aluminium frame around the edge reminding me very much of the Nokia 8 Sirocco in design - a near 'sharp' edge resulting. The slim edge opens out to cover the wider base and top. In a stylish strip across the back, near the top, there's a row of six cameras, sensors and flash, with another little window below. There's a TCL logo not too big in the middle of the back, slightly higher than central. The phone feels classy and premium, already seeming to defy the cost.

Tour
On the bottom we have a USB-C socket, speaker and Dual SIM Card/microSD Card tray and on the left, a dedicated Google Assistant button. Press it at any time and start talking to The Big G! On the right, a volume rocker above a power button in the usual array and up top, a 3.5mm audio-out socket and Infrared Blaster window. The buttons all feel sturdy and firm.

In the Box
Thank you TCL for supplying a TPU in the box! Always a lift. You listenin' Sony? The phone, of course, pokey-hole tool for SIM Card Tray, USB-A to USB-C cable and 18W UK Charging plug. All the essentials then, sensible lack of earphones and no need for audio-dongle as this phone has a 3.5mm audio-Out socket. More of that later.

Screen
The 10 Pro is trying so very hard to look and feel like a flagship. As I said, the glass curves around much like a Samsung would (and others) though actually, this, much like the Sirocco, becomes a bit of a problem over time. Not because the content is falling down the waterfall, but the finger-touches with virtually no bezel. I have been making all sorts of mistakes and unintentional touches, made worse by the Android 10 swipe-up gestures having no 'chin' to swipe from. Maybe a different case needed. Apart from that, the AMOLED 6.47" 1080p 19.5:9 screen returning 398ppi looks very classy. Each time I see an AMOLED I am personally reminded of how much richer an experience it is over even the best LCD - at least to look at - with those bright, dense colours and black blacks popping out. At brightest setting it is very bright, even approaching the Nokia 9 PureView's standard. Against the One Zoom's Super AMOLED, I'd say it was a draw - but the Zoom has a flat screen of course, so easier navigation and much fewer mistakes. There's a Selfie-Notch up-front and centre, much like the One Zoom, but this can, on an App by App basis, be switched to include or exclude those top lines of pixels.

NXTVISION
This is a built-in visual enhancement tool which is probably going to be left set to ON by most people, especially as it is the default setting! It's an AI tool which decides for the user how to display contrast, sharpness, saturation and so on depending what's being shown on the screen. You can turn this off and then delve into some basic settings to change how the screen looks, Vivid, Gentle and Standard along with a warm-cold slider. The latter doesn't really seem to do much, so it's probably best left to make the decisions for you as it also ekes out HDR from any video - even if it is SDR. Just leave it on auto! It looks absolutely fine and you get the feeling that nobody would have noticed if NXTVISION had just been added and nothing said!

Always On Display
Where the 10 Pro wins against most devices in this segment is with a 'proper' Always On Display with 9 options for clock/date/battery/notifications arrangements. One of them even gives the user a free-form jotter to just draw what you like - a bit like LG's 'signature' but truly free-form. The One Zoom has Moto's Peek/Approach which also works very well, much reported by me, but there's nothing quite like a true AoD.

Under-Screen Fingerprint Scanner and Face Unlock
The scanner at first seemed dreadful and I wondered what I was doing wrong! Then it became clear why the clearance was taking longer than it should - TCL have embedded Fingerprint Scanner Actions. So long-press on the scanner and up pops four placeholders for pretty much any App you want to launch - or 'Actions' - like launching the camera, calling a specific Contact, Launch Google Assistant, turn on the Torch, and loads more. Against the One Zoom's FPS, they are probably about the same once you get the knack of it for each device. Learning how long to leave your finger there - and with a half-day of real-world use you do learn and it works fine. On both devices there is a slight delay - neither are the speed of a capacitive option.
Face Unlock can be used in tandem, of course, with the trade for a little less security. It's very quick to set up. It recognises reliably and works by lifting the phone up and double-tapping the screen to wake it up. It's quicker than the FPS, but using both, I'm very happy.

Google Assistant
Great to see the Google Assistant Cards off the left of the Home Screen, though not so good that this is not an option for those who do not want them. But it suits me! There's also that button on the left, much like LG and Nokia have done - straight to the Assistant, even when the screen is off, as I said earlier. This is an excellent feature, though I have to admit that because handling is difficult at times with the curved screen, I have pressed it a couple of times by accident. It can be turned off, but not re-assigned to anything else and is controlled for functionality within Accessibility Settings.

TCL UI
In the same way as OnePlus, TCL have thrown many parts of the kitchen sink at this! It seems to be the way with many device manufacturers these days, to make their offering different and to overlay Android with loads of bells and whistles. The trick, which OnePlus got right, is making it still feel like it is close enough to a Vanilla experience by using screen elements, layout and Settings passively and not aggressively and over-the-top like Oppo or Samsung. The latter often with attempts to copy iOS design (such as, here, the option to remove the App Drawer), delivering a UX which is very different - often with even more bells and whistles, to be fair. TCL have not done this quite as well as OnePlus, but it's not far off.

More UI
System Navigation follows the required Android 10 Gestures which works really well, as always, but for those wanting legacy or other alternatives there is 3-Buttons and Samsung-style 3-Swipes from the bottom of the screen - even going so far as emulating the Hints! And while we're here, they also have Edge Bar which, again, emulates others, enabling a sliver of a touch-pad on the edge of the screen which can be pulled in (from adjustable positions) to reveal a bunch of shortcuts to Apps (but not Settings) - much like Samsung's again - or latterly Sony's. It all works very well, though I'm not sure of the need really. The size of the Grid for the Home Screen can be adjusted between 4x5, 4x6, 5x5 and 5x6, Notification Badges can be set to be on/off on the Apps' icons and a long-press on the Home Screen gives an iOS-Style tick box on each App, enabling multiple selection for group/folder actions.

Bloat
In the same way as many others these day, presumably to keep cost down and get partners to chip in, there is much unnecessary software added which some will use, some will want and most won't know how to remove nor probably care! The ones which can be uninstalled are FaceBook, Office Suite, Microsoft News, booking.com and Moon+ Reader. Then the apps doubling-up Google's Apps - Gallery, Calculator, Clock and Weather. Then the added-value apps/services such as Smart Manager, File Manager, Private Space, File Share, Notes, Switch Phone, Sound Recorder, Screen recorder, Game Mode, Driving Mode, Support Centre, TCL+, Music, Video, Optimise and Compass. Phone and Contacts are left to Google as is Chrome for browsing the net. Themes is available too, which seems to allow only one choice - either 'Round' or 'Classic' - I can't see much difference really, and not a patch on the huge array available for, say Samsung phones. There's an App Cloner, for multiple instances of the same app to run. Much of this feels very Samsung, even down to the ever-present Nag in Settings to open a TCL Account. One positive carry-over from Samsung is the Edge Lighting where the phone can be set to 'glow' around the screen's perimeter when a Notification comes in, which I really like - however, there are no settings for style, colour and size for this like Samsung gives - it is what it is, blue, like it or lump it!

Gestures
Reminding me much of Motorola, there's also a bunch of Gestures available such as Flip to Mute, 3-Finger Screenshot, Split-Screen, Power Button twice for Camera, One-Handed Shrink-Screen Mode and double-tap to wake the screen. They're all copying each others' features of course, though you could think of it as taking the best of all systems and sharing them around!

Engine Room
128GB of storage is becoming more the norm these days and that's great. I've been bangin' on about the leap from 64GB for some years now and 128GB is trickling down now into the mid-range and in some cases, low-end budget. So yes, 128GB UFS 2.1 and microSD Card Slot which takes the second space which could be another SIM Card here in this model, as it is Dual SIM. I have tested my 512GB microSD Card in there and it reads and writes well - not as fast as some devices I've tested, but certainly not the slowest. The 2TB Extreme SSD works fine in the USB-C port as well. Sadly, HDMI-Out was clearly a step too far - the act of purest optimism to even test it! Connectivity seems good and strong with WiFi, Cellular (for voice and data) - and GPS gets a good lock quickly in Google Maps, following me accurately. I was unable to test Google Pay, but other reviewers report it working with no problem. The NFC certainly is working, though annoyingly, the NFC icon can't be removed from the Status Bar except by turning NFC off. The phone is powered by a SnapDragon 675, the same as the One Zoom, and it appears to whizz about the UI without any problem, much like the Moto. I have played a racing game and I see no stalling or juddering, even outside of Gaming Mode. The 675 serves the One Zoom well, too, so I'm not surprised. The drive towards the latest chipset is often not based around ordinary everyday performance I find - and often wonder if it's more about ticking boxes. It's got 6GB RAM over the 4GB of the One Zoom, but to be honest, I can't tell the difference. Multitasking and keeping Apps open really isn't a problem for either. It seems absurd that flagship gaming phones are now hosting 16GB of RAM, double the amount that's in my computer! All this of course, working along under Android 10, the software version that the phone was released with. May 2020 Google Security is present, so we'll see how good TCL are at updating their existing models. They didn't have much of a challenge against the One Zoom here, which looks like getting Android 10 a full year after Google released it, if then!

Power
The 10 Pro is powered by a 4,500mAh battery and the 18W brick in the box is capable of Quick Charge 3.0 which in real terms means that you can charge the phone from flat to 50% in about half an hour. There's no Qi (wireless) charging present here, so it's plug-in to charge (or use a Qi Receiver) but with that size of battery I was expecting not to have to even consider having to do that during the day. So how did it get on with my 10% Reading Test and Average Use (for me) Test which I apply to all my review phones, keeping a level playing field as much as possible.
The result on the 10% test is that I have got about 1 hour 40 minutes from the battery and on the Average Use for me, well into Day 2, but not to the end of it. Performance compares in these respects with, say, the Pixel 2 XL. A long way from the worst, but nowhere near challenging some of the big Motorola models. Nevertheless, more than acceptable and a fair reflection of the size of the battery. There are all sorts of power optimisation controls, as mentioned earlier, which can be employed if a person gets stuck. One annoyance is that there's no way to get a proper battery percentage readout on the Status Bar - only a tiny, weeny figure inside the battery graphic or off.

Sound
Now to my favourite topic - how it sounds. Speakers and headphones. As I often say, if sound is good, the lack of stereo on a pocket computer really isn't a big deal, at least for me. Much more important is the quality and volume of the output.
The unit does indeed have a single mono speaker and I'm going to compare it here with what I consider to be the very good output of the similarly-equipped Motorola One Zoom and not the Asus ROG Phone II or Razer Phone! The result for me is that the One Zoom just has it, by a nose. It's slightly louder and slightly better quality tested across various music types and files. There is no system-wide equaliser on either phone, so users need to seek out an App with the facility if they want to adjust the sound.
I always like to see a Music App included, but in this case, it's really basic and again, no equalisation available.
Sound from a pair of reference headphones plugged into either phone's 3.5mm audio-out socket produces output which is really rather similar. Quality is OK, but even on top volume, really pretty low-end. Some sort of fancy enhanced DAC dongle thingie needed if music-through-headphones for either of these is going to be taken seriously. Bluetooth transforms the experience with both phones. The 10 Pro pairs up quickly and resulting sound is loud and excellent quality. Still no adjustments available of course, unless they are available via the bluetooth gear or its software. But no complaints here.
The supplied Video App works well enough, much like VLC with sliders for brightness and volume, though again, without any equalisation options. Resizing is executed via a button on-screen rather than pinch-to-zoom, but it's nice to have.
Much like my conclusion with the One Zoom, the sound is really very good. It doesn't come close to the market-leaders but it's also a long way from many budget-end phones' sound. It's more than good enough for most people for casual listening, both via speakers or headphones.
Apparently, in some regions you get an FM Radio, but not present here - though interestingly it is present on the One Zoom.

Photography
This is the point at which I usually hand over to Steve Litchfield but as he's trying to have a summer break, I'll plough on this time alone! The phone is supplied with the (becoming) usual Quad Bayer 64MP (down to 16MP) f/1.8 (with a normal viewpoint), a 16MP f/2.4 wide-angle lens, a 5MP f/2.2 macro shooter and a 2MP f/2.4 for depth data. The Selfie is a 24MP f2 unit and there's no sign of any OIS anywhere at all, so it's EIS all the way. The camera app layout is neat and clean, emulating others out there largely, with a button to change the zoom from 1x (presumably suggesting to users that any kind of digital zoom is worth having) to 2x and then a 10x slider. As expected, results from that are pretty shoddy but sticking to 1x or at a push 2x, they will be acceptable for most uses for most people. There's another button to engage the wide-angle lens and a third to give you a screen divided into three, showing the normal view, wide-angle view and low-light video! Not sure what that's about, but OK, you can see which one you might want to use then tap it to engage it.
All sorts of AI features are available via settings, all of which can thankfully be turned off and a Pro Mode within which most aspects of exposure setting can be adjusted. There's a Super Night mode, which ekes out as much light as it can find in the dark, at the expense, of course, of fuzzy noise. The Portrait mode does a reasonable job of blurring the background with an 'aperture slider' thrown in to decide on degrees thereof. The most impressive and fun aspect for me is the Super Macro which enables focus with the 5MP lens at unfeasibly close quarters. The photos won't stand up to pixel-peeping of course, but for most people, again, it's perfectly good enough for sharing and great fun.
The main camera seems to produce perfectly good photos in good light, as we've come to expect in 2020 from anything but the cheapest budget phone. We don't have the benefit of pixel-peeping here this time, but I go back to my old position - these photos are all very well good enough for social media or sharing with family and so forth. The colours look a little muted by default, but some would argue in which case, more natural. I would suggest that the AI I mentioned above is turned off and you go it alone as I found that the camera app sometimes confused itself as to what it was looking at or supposed to be doing. So much for automation!
Comparing the One Zoom to this, we do have proper OIS throughout the Moto's cameras, we also have an optical 3x Zoom lens, which works really well, there's no macro lens but there is a wide-angle to match as well. The Moto seems better equipped to me on several points and I do like the One Zoom's camera's software and layout in preference. But each to their own.
There are plenty of YouTube and written reviews online about the camera's performance, so please do go and seek that out if you're interested enough. People buying this phone won't be, I'd wager. What they will be interested in is the cost, which I'll come to, and that it takes photos good enough for sharing and looking at on phone screens. And this phone does. No doubt.

Verdict
So, the question is, is it worth it against others in this price bracket. So far, I've stuck with Motorola in comparison and Android, but consideration really does have to be given to the iPhone SE (2020) if people want to use iOS or are prepared to consider swapping. It ticks so many boxes, and pretty much in the same price bracket, needs consideration. Alright, so the 128GB version is £70 more, but the 64GB one is the same price as this TCL 10 Pro. Wireless charging, stereo speakers, environment proofing, super-fast chipset, OIS in the camera and capacitive fingerprint scanner are added to the mix. On the other hand, an LCD display, no microSD, no 3.5mm audio-out, no Always On Display and a significantly smaller battery.
But let's assume that iOS is out. Compared with the Motorola One Zoom, I think it's a close match. I like the Moto's flat screen over the curved, I like the TCL's 'proper' Always On Display, I like the fact that the TCL has actually got Android 10 (come on Moto!), but there's no doubt that the Moto's camera arrangement is more flexible.
Then we need to add into the mix the forthcoming (alleged) Pixel 4a, which reliable leaks suggest will be pitched again around the same price-point. We know how clean the Pixel software will be, instant Security Updates as they roll out, no waiting around for the next OS update, excellent camera - and even access to the Beta Programme for those of us who can't wait! There are numerous options coming out of China from Xiaomi and Oppo amongst others, all bringing slight differences, some better, some with missing features, some even cheaper than this £350-400 place of the mid-range, often nearer budget territory.
All of this makes for a very difficult decision facing people. So many phones, lots of good features. At his point I don't know which I would jump at - but what I can say is that it's getting harder and harder to make a duff decision, whatever you choose. Available on AmazonUK of course.

Sunday, 19 July 2020

Corded Handheld Stick Vacuum (oneday)

Living half one's life in a Static Caravan, motorhome, caravan or mobile home throws up small problems which are often not so clear in a house where there's plenty of room. Fixtures and fittings are often packed in with little room between them for access. I recently got back to my Static after lockdown and it was a dust-bucket!

My previously reviewed Gtech AirRam MK2 is excellent for general use - and battery-driven, but it has no tools or attachments for nooks and crannies! Enter the fifty quid 'oneday' stick cleaner! I guess any old stick cleaner will do, I remember Steve Litchfield importing a Bitzwolf model and thought it was great, but this was cheaper and readily available in the UK via Amazon.

It's light at 1.5Kg and handheld with a transparent casing so you can see what it is up to whilst in use, spinning around! Apparently it has 15kPa (whatever that means in old money) with HEPA filtration (absorbing allergens) and energy class A+ (I really must do more reading)!

Back in the real world, the suction seems to be very good and the not-too-loud motor is rated at 400W, well good enough for the task, part of which I guess is down to it being corded and not battery-driven. 400W sounds like it's a bit of a low-power thing, but in use it really doesn't seem so - particularly for my 'secondary' nooks and crannies use. The fact that it is not battery-driven does rule it out when really off-grid, I guess, if touring for example, but will remain very useful for cleaning up when home again.

The cord that comes with it is 30 feet long, which means that I can plug it in at the middle of the Static and it reaches both ends with ease. Supplied are an extension tube x 2, square brush, floor brush, mattress brush and crevice brush. So tools for every corner and more, well thought out.

There's also a base where all the stuff fits tidily for putting away - except for the long cable which doesn't fit anywhere! If you use the velcro strap which is on it, you can wrap it all up, but it certainly doesn't fit in the base in any way.

The two extension pipes fit together to double the reach and save people's backs bending over! The crevice tool is great for getting into patio-door or sliding shower-doors' runners and also the floor brush for the lino in the kitchen. Best thing though is just the pipe, for getting under radiators, along edges and round the back of the loo, as I say, especially when space is designed to be tight to pack stuff in.

All the components easily come apart and can be washed in soapy water, dried and put back together for next use. So far, so good. Well priced and my dust-bucket, after whizzing around with The Ram and following up with this, is dust free! Well, for a while! No wonder I was waking up with blocked sinuses! Recommended after initial use.

Monday, 6 July 2020

Realme X3 SuperZoom: Initial Thoughts

Realme is a sub-brand of Oppo in the way that Redmi is for Xiaomi and Honor is for Huawei and so on. The Realme devices seem to want to take on the high-end of the mid-range or the low-end of flagships and appeal to a younger crowd. Very often this represents good value for money and a growing feature-list to keep up with other manufacturers doing similar things in this tight marketplace. Let's see how they did with the X3 SuperZoom.

I offer my thoughts here in support of Steve Litchfield's video review over on his YouTube Channel as, to be honest, I'm finding much the same in terms of pros and cons. In the hand, it feels very nice indeed, reflective of that upper-mid-tier bracket and doesn't disappoint. I approve of the design language which places the elements on the back in landscape orientation, encouraging users to think of it as a camera first - and indeed shoot video the right way round!

In the shiny yellow box we have a 'smoked' TPU (well done Realme) which is actually a good, sturdy one, a pokey-hole SIM Card Tray ejector tool, USB-A to USB-C cable, 3-pin UK Fast-charging 30W power unit and a few papers. All simple and clean, though no earphones.

It's a shame that the frame is plastic, particularly at this price-point, but I guess that they will argue that it makes an already-heavy (202g) device a bit lighter - though aluminium wouldn't add much really. The unrated back glass has the usual now 'shimmering' look, in this case Glacier Blue (but there's also an Arctic White version available), quad-camera island top-right as you look in landscape and a Realme branding top-left. The camera island sticks out about a millimetre but when the TPU is in place, becomes flush. There's no IP-Rating on offer here either, so presumably not even splash-proof. User beware.

On the right side, slightly higher than middle, is a 'long-pill' capacitive fingerprint scanner/power button in the same style as Sony have been doing lately. It works really well, first time, every time. Registration is quick and easy and it can easily be touched for opening the phone up without the firm push needed to execute the power button itself. Nice job. On the other side, pretty much opposite, are two volume control buttons, firm and clicky, separate so not a rocker. On the top, there's nothing but a microphone hole and down the bottom, SIM Card Tray for, in this case, a single NanoSIM, USB-C charging/data port centre, another microphone and a single mono speaker.

The front houses the big Gorilla Glass 5 toughened screen, a 6.6" 1080p IPS LCD panel which is 20:9 in ratio, so the usual 'tall' these days. It's reasonably bright-enough in most situations but as usual with all but the best LCDs, take it outside in bright sunshine, which I just did, tested on automatic brightness and manual, and it's close to unusable. It seems that for those kinds of extremes there's nothing like an OLED - or at least a very good high quality LCD. The screen returns 399ppi but to its credit, does offer a 120Hz refresh-rate like a good gaming phone. You can switch back to 60Hz manually (though there's no 90) or allow the phone to decide in Auto. Presumably it knows when you're gaming. Anyway, as usual, I can't tell the difference!

There are some controls for the way the screen looks including a slider for temperature from cool to warm and screen colour mode for switching between Gentle and Vivid. That does make a bit of difference, mainly saturating deep colours. Then there's OSIE Vision Effect. "Object and Semantic Images and Eye-tracking! An Artificial Intelligence that will track eye movement with precision. This will make you have a great experience when using apps. Not all apps are supported by OSIE and this may affect the consumption of power." Right. This is off by default and I don't really know how to test it, with what apps. I turned it on and nothing seemed different really. More investigation needed. But, again, this is no OLED, so the colours are not so rich and vibrant and blacks not the deep blacks which we know can be achieved.

The bezels around the screen are very small except for the bottom, which is a bit bigger. I support this as there's somewhere to swipe from. In the top-left there's another long-pill cutout for two, yes, two Selfie Cams which I'll come to later. Usual thing applies - it feels in the way for a while but the brain gets used to it and in the end, watching media, pales into insignificance. You can, on an app-by-app basis choose whether or not to 'hide' the cameras by finishing the screen content below the line of the Notification Bar. Talking of which, the icons in the Notification Bar are ludicrously tiny and in order to increase the size of them (the only way I found) was to make the Display Size Large (rather than Small or Default, but that still is nowhere near large enough. The percentage remaining readout in the battery is near unreadable to me. Maybe younger eyes won't care.

The device arrives with Android 10 on-board (with now June 2020 Google Security) so instant access to dark everything including Settings, GMail and the Google Apps. On top of that, they have their own Dark mode in Settings so that tries hard to ensure everything that might not be dark, becomes so. There's a Vanilla Android feel to some of the UI, a little spoilt (but not too much) by the infiltration of Realme UI. This goes its own way, trying to emulate iOS in many ways when Stock doesn't. The Settings are so incredibly confusing coming from a Stock experience and for those not prepared to use the Search feature, they're really in for a long learning curve to get up to speed - and then once learned, hopefully stay with Realme so they don't have to use any other system and have to unlearn it all! But Realme are not alone here. Exceptions which come to mind are Motorola, Nokia, OnePlus who do a much cleaner job and keep things much more 'standard'.

Having said all the above, Realme have at least included the Google Assistant Cards off to the left of Home, which many others don't (looking at you Samsung)! There's an archaic method of Widget selection from a horizontally-scrolling picker across the bottom of the screen and again, iOS-style mutli-pickers of apps on the home screens after a long-press for group actions, like folder selections and so forth. Thankfully there's an App drawer available which makes the 'feel' much more like Stock and I was able to lay out my home screens how I liked, with widgets and sizing perfectly acceptable. Some others miss on this and (for me) enforce a Nova Prime installation but here, I didn't feel the need. So yes, more Vanilla than ever before with Oppo/Realme, but could do better!

There's no Always on Display whatsoever, only an option to briefly wake the screen when notifications come in. There's not even a double-tap-to-wake, only sleep! Bizarre. There is lift-to-wake and the face recognition is excellent. Quick to register and 100% reliable - much like the fingerprint scanner. For those who are not bothered about an AoD, they won't care and maybe most will conclude that they tend to take their phone out of their pocket mostly to use anyway. (I get the feeling that as soon as Apple do AoD, it will be everywhere!)

What can be said for the system is that when the Settings are delved into, there's an awful lot of options to tweak, well thought out in many cases. Small touches which others miss out on, they've included. Swipe down from anywhere on the Home Screen for the Notification Bar, Up from anywhere for App Drawer, display data usage in the Bar, Search Bar at the bottom, by choice (looking at you Pixel), choice of Icon styles, long-press the Power button for Google Assistant, choice of Gestures of buttons for Navigation, App cloner, split-screen control for multiple apps - it's all there and oodles more, for those who get stuck in and hang around long enough to learn it all going forward for, say, a two year operator contract.

The unit we have here is powered by a SnapDragon 855+ chipset, has 256GB of UFS 3.0 storage and 12GB RAM. As you can imagine, it flies. This seems to be where they have spent the money and justified the high price, along with the periscope camera, which I'll come to. There is a variation on this for a bit less money, namely 128GB and 8GB RAM. I would have traded in the 256GB for a microSD Card slot, sadly missing, like it seems with most Oppo/Realme phones. The USB OTG works fine, tested here with my usual plug-in 2TB SSD and various microSD Cards/adapter, but sadly there's no HDMI-Out working.

There's only a single mono speaker, as I said earlier, bottom-firing. The speaker is pretty loud and quality is good enough, there's even Dolby, system-wide, though when in speaker mode, this can't be turned off - only switched between the four available profiles: Music, Gaming, Movie or Smart Auto. I can't really tell much difference between them to be honest, but yes, small shifts in sound. The average user won't complain about the output from this speaker, only when they realise that it's covered up by their fingers!

The output via headphones improves the listening experience even more (as it usually does) by the inclusion of 24-bit/192kHz audio and having the Dolby Stereo open up properly for better adjustments. What's not good is that there's no 3.5mm audio-out socket nor a USB-C to 3.5mm adapter in the box. However, laying that aside, let's dwell on the sound now that I've armed myself with a dumb-adapter and pair of reference headphones. The sound is really quite excellent as you might expect with that hardware, rich, loud and full. The Dolby options include a manual graphic equaliser and intelligent equaliser settings for each of the previously-mentioned pre-sets. No complaints here. Fabulous sound. Actually, I do have one complaint! It's great that they supply a Music and Video App but although the music continues to play whilst you tweak the Dolby, the Video doesn't - so you can only hear the adjustments by going and changing it in silence. So yes, not on-the-fly makes it harder to hear the changes. Tested here also with Huawei FreeBuds 3 for Bluetooth 5 and the pairing process is quick and easy with resulting sound also excellent. Loud and rich with the same open access to the Dolby settings to adjust.

Talking of additional software and apps, again the experience is better than it has been and also some others. I consider the Music and Video apps to be a bonus, not bloat, and other than that - yes, we have the usual doubling-up of Google apps like Calculator, Clock, File Manager and Photos, in addition to a few of their own, being Clone Phone, Compass, One Tap Lock Screen, Phone Manager, Recorder, Weather along with the Music and Video. Not too bad, but could be better. Some of these can be uninstalled, some not, some force-closed and disabled. When the count is this low, I don't even think the Vanilla Mad Geek would be bothered.

The phone is powered by a decent-sized 4200mAh battery which, if charged with the 30W cord supplied can be charged from flat to full in about an hour. There's no wireless charging here, which is a big miss at this price, I think. Tested here with phone calls, WiFi, Cellular Data and GPS, the aerials seem to good all round and strong enough. Not as good as some on the WiFi, but very well good enough. NFC is also present, which is not always a given with these phones from the far-east (even Motorola these days), so kudos for that, enabling Google Pay of course.

As usual, I'm going to point to Steve's much more informed appraisal of the phone's camera capabilities - see link, above, but on the way, I do have some thoughts of my own. The main USP here, as the name suggests, is the SuperZoom. 5x Optical, offering a reasonable 10x hybrid and up to 60x when pushed. I have tested that here and it's really not very impressive against proper cameras with zoom lenses, as you might expect from a periscope lens arrangement, but working in the 5x to 10x range, it's really very acceptable and for my uses (and many more I suspect), very good. When you get to 60x zoom, you really need a tripod to make anything like a usable photo and if you're carrying a tripod, you might as well just carry a cheap zoom compact!

I love the Ultra Macro mode which allows focusing very, very closely indeed. It is tied to a 2MP f2.4 camera on the back, but even so, great fun for a close-up view on life! There's a 64MP f1.8 normal lens which cuts down the 64MP to 16MP by default, but there is a setting to make full use of the 64MP producing big photos. The 8MP f3.4 camera is used for the 5x optical imaging and this also has OIS. As I say, stick to 5x and excellent results are possible. There's also an 8MP f2.3 wide-angle camera to make up the foursome. Round the front, there's two Selfie cameras. One 8MP f2.2 wide-angle and one 32MP f2.5 normal. Steve got some very useful background blur by using these appropriately - again, see his video review.

It's a great fun camera setup with lots of bells, whistles and toys to play around with in the Camera App as supplied. Many people will enjoy using these very much - and I wouldn't knock it. Yes, if we pixel-peep we're going to find that the photos don't match a dSLR with expensive optics, but that's going to be true of any phone ever made. You can't defy physics! So what's left, for me, is making it fun. Fun for those sharing photos and video around with their friends, on social media and looking at them on screens. Let's face it, the vast majority these days! I've said it before and I'll say it again, if you want more than that, get a camera.

So those are my initial thoughts. The phone is too expensive in relation to the features which are missing. If this phone were £300 instead of £500, I would be enthusiastic. But like Steve, for this money I would expect a whole list of stuff more. Always on Display, aluminium build, IP-rating, OLED screen (or at least a better LCD), Stereo Speakers, wireless charging, a 3.5mm audio-out socket and with no microSD, at least HDMI-Out. Perhaps not so much cash spent on the SuperZoom which, actually, beyond 5x is really not that special anyway.

However, if this were £300, it would be a much easier sell. The audio-out through the speaker is very good and even better when headphones are hooked up, the design is pleasing and closeness to Vanilla Android much more impressive than before. The software is up to date, the Android 10 experience is pleasing, absence of bloat impressive, blazingly fast SnapDragon performance, oodles of RAM and even a screen refreshing at 120Hz. The battery is good and strong with fast charging available. Oh dear. I want to like this phone very much, but there's just too much missing for the price. Sorry Realme, a miss - try again. Available on AmazonUK of course.

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

The PodHubUK Podcasts for June 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 563 - Strapping on the Fan
Tuesday 2nd June 2020
Steve and I are back with a short'n'sweet mid-week'r as we natter about further discovery regarding the ROG Phone II, iPhone Reframing and another Pixel Feature-Drop.

Phones Show Chat
Episode 564 - Massively Multiple Mobile Man
Saturday 6th June 2020
Steve and I welcome Dan Carter back after a long absence from PSC and he runs through his current review devices. Plus all the usual stuff of the show.

Phones Show Chat
Episode 565 - Xiaomi Impresses, Moto Confuses
Tuesday 9th June 2020
Steve and I are back with another Midweek Special with loads of stuff to chew over in the wonderful world of mobile! I roundup my Asus ROGII review (for now) and Steve considers the X-Factor!

Projector Room
Episode 64 - The Elephant and the Pigeon
Wednesday 10th June 2020
More film, TV and cinema natter from the gang for an hour or so in our fortnightly roundup. I'm joined as always by the Dynamic Duo Gareth and Allan as we field your comments and chat about what we've been watching. From Dubious Dolls to Dali's Dreams. Dude!

Whatever Works
Episode 113 - Take Two Twerps
Friday 12th June 2020
Yes, that's Aidan Bell and I 🙃 Regardless, we're back with another thrilling episode this week in which we consider Whatever Works for us and you! Join us as we get all humid and frothy!

Phones Show Chat
Episode 566 - Just Some Gadget Guy
Saturday 13th June 2020
Steve and I are back again with more mobile phone natter and this time we're joined by Juan Carlos Bagnell of somegadgetguy fame! We talk a lot about imaging and particularly interestingly, in relation to Sony.

The Phones Show
Episode 397 - Xiaomi POCO F2 Pro
Monday 15th June 2020
Join Steve over in his YouTube Channel as he takes a close look at this Xiaomi 'flagship at a bargain price' to see how it stacks up.

Phones Show Chat
Episode 567 - Downsizing. Or Maybe Not
Tuesday 16th June 2020
Steve and I are back with another midweek catch-up. In an X-Rated world we consider more Xiaomi, a tincture of Xperia, but draw the line at Xylophone!

Phones Show Chat
Episode 568 - Mobile Tech from 1990 Onwards
Saturday 20th June 2020
Steve and I are back again with another delve into all things mobile phone. Axon, Armor and Asus steel us for the tuff stuff! Steve also chats with Dave Shevett about his path through mobile tech.

The Phones Show
Episode 398 - Realme X3 SuperZoom Review
Wednesday 24th June 2020
It's got 5x periscope optics and 120Hz screen, all for less than £500. In this review @Steve Litchfield talks about some of the caveats and compromises.

Projector Room
Episode 65 - Primal Peninsula
Wednesday 24th June 2020
The full gang are back this time so why not join Gareth, Allan, Steve and I as we natter for an hour about what we've been watching lately and take some comments from you good folk, too.

Phones Show Chat
Episode 569 - SuperZoom
Tuesday 23rd June 2020
Steve and I are back with another PSC catchup show as I consider a phone-supporting monitor and Steve, the latest from Realme and Apple. Plus a bunch of other stuff as usual.

Phones Show Chat
Episode 570 - Advanced Audio, Good Vibrations
Saturday 27th June 2020
Steve and I are back again with another show packed with mobile phone chatter including the PSC Photo of the Month. This time we welcome back Steve Nutt to get his take on audio goodness.

Whatever Works
Episode 114 - Trucker Tuck
Saturday 27th June 2020
Why not join Aidan and I for an hour as we consider Whatever Works in our lives and take your items too. From cool Ice and Fans to hot Tea and Coffee, something for everyone, so bring your own Custard Creams!

The Phones Show
Episode 399 - Sony Xperia 1 mk II Review
Monday 29th June 2020
Join Steve over on his YouTube channel as he considers the latest and greatest phone from Sony. An ambitious all-singing, all-dancing smartphone that falls flat in just a couple of areas.

Phones Show Chat
Episode 571 - £200 vs £1000
Tuesday 30th June 2020
Steve and I are back with another mid-week'er to chat about all things mobile phone for a while. Interest in gaming drops as does Realme's SuperZoom!



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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

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