Sunday, 31 January 2021

PodHub UK Podcasts for January 2021

 ...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
Saturday 2nd January 2021
Steve and I kick off the new year with another chat about all things mobile phone, where we're going, have come from and what we're using (and lusting after) now!

Tech Addicts
Sunday 3rd January 2021
Gareth and I have another tinker with what tech we can find lurking at the bottom of drawers whilst being attacked by seagulls! A bit of a look back at 2020 and where we can expect innovation to lead in 2021. Gareth learns all about his new Samsung Tab and I once again consider all things styli.

The Phones Show
Wednesday 6th January 2021
Do join Steve once again in his video show as he deep dives into imaging and the new innovations coming along, with a look back in time too.

Whatever Works
Episode 128 - Playing Chicken
Friday 8th January 2021
Aidan and I are back with our fortnightly poke at rubbish stuff and declaring Whatever Works - for us and you good people reading this! More LED solutions, Golden Headphones and even an evaluation of Aidan's two fingered approach to life!

Phones Show Chat
Episode 619 - Plus Size Debates
Saturday 9th January 2021
Steveand I welcome BBC Tech News Reporter/Presenter Zoe Kleinman to join us this week as we chat once again about all things mobile phone. We await news from Samsung about the S21 range, focus on Pixel, more Samsung and declare the Photo of the Month.

Tech Addicts
Sunday 10th January 2021
Gareth and I are back once more for our weekly tinker with tempting tech! This time we put cameras on our wrists, drool over Sony's audio promise, try to work out what Moto are up to these days, avoid politics (almost) and remember the grand days of Sharp IQ! Apologies to those who care, but we broke the 2 hour barrier this time! Please do listen in parts - or at double-speed! ...we just seem to run away with this stuff!

Projector Room
Episode 79 - Year in Review
Wednesday 13th January 2021
Welcome to the most unimaginatively but descriptively titled show of the year! Gareth, Allan and I are back to pick our best films and shows of 2020 whilst giving a mention to some of yours too. Lots of the usual stuff as well of course.

Phones Show Chat
Saturday 16th January 2021
Steve and I are joined this week by Mike Warner who's been dabbling with alternative OS with very interesting results. We also look at a budget but excellent Samsung and declare the Photo of the Year for 2020.

Tech Addicts
Sunday 17th January 2021
Gareth and I are back again for another weekly prod at all things tech. Another marathon show - get a pot of coffee! As you might expect, a lot of sensible CES stuff but also some whacko bits too. Robot waiters, Gaming on a Throne, DeX dangling and even a concept Google Pixel Smartwatch!

Whatever Works
Episode 129 - The Upper Class Hermit
Friday 22nd January 2021
Aidan and I are back again with our fortnightly roundup of trivial trinkets and tinctures to titillate and transform! Whatever works for us and you good people too in our fun show available via the link here or your podcatcher imminently! From isolation cubes to pancake flops, from folding stools to stool analysis - we have it all!

Phones Show Chat
Episode 621 - LiDAR to the Rescue
Saturday 23rd January 2021
Steve and I are back this weekend with guest Steve Nutt as we catch up with him about what Android and iOS are doing for those who use Accessibility features. Loads of useful apps suggested by him and interesting talk about Reality Sound.

Tech Addicts
Sunday 24th January 2021
Gareth and I are back with a show in memory of Coolsmartphone's Leigh Geary who sadly passed away this week.

Chewing Gum for the Ears
Episode 23 - The Noughties
Monday 25th January 2021
Steve and I are back for our our occasional natter about music, heading through the decades - we're up to 2000-2009 now! A whole bunch of albums and memories to chew over, so do join us.

Projector Room
Episode 80 - The Unthinkable Report
Thursday 28th January 2021
Gareth, Allan and I are back again with our fortnightly boom-prod at the world of film, TV and cinema. This time we talk sequels, entertain a Fatman (no, not me) and Allan invites Amy to his Winehouse where we all have a distinct Fear of Rain!

Phones Show Chat
Saturday 30th January 2021
Steve and I welcome Damian Dinning, ex-Nokia imaging supremo for an in-depth chat this week about photography, Nokia and even cars!

Tech Addicts
Sunday 31st January 2021
Gareth Myles and I are back for another delve into all things tech for the weekend again. This week we wonder how Pro a pro has to be to be a Pro, consider the return of Dot Matrix for phones, cry 'Oh Droid' with gaming galore and wonder if Maid Marian would care for a girlie watch hidden in Robin's hood!


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

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 - Tech Addicts

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

Monday, 18 January 2021

Samsung Galaxy A41

You have a Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G there, I hear you cry. Why would you want to dabble with a lesser Samsung offering when the former ticks all the boxes any sane person could hope to have ticked, you follow up! Well, the answer is the one box that isn't ticked. The box that gets harder and harder to tick these days as people in the far east seem to think that everyone uses their phone as their main and often only computing device. Yes, size matters!

The Samsung Galaxy A41 certainly ticks the size box for me. Pictured here on the left alongside the Pixel 3 and iPhone SE (2020). A place where the Pixel 3, 4, 5 all sit comfortably. A place where the Samsung Galaxy S10e sat, missed out in the S20 and now S21 ranges. A place where Nokia used to help out, but not any longer - at least if the user wants a half-decent set of specs. So having established that this size is about right for me, enter the A41. It's a tad narrower and taller than the Pixel 5 but about the same width as the Pixel 3, if still a shade taller again. But it's certainly within range. So, is it good enough, I ask myself. It's a budget phone, pretty much, at £269RRP, challenging the Moto, Realme, Redmi, Nokia place. Congested.

As usual I'll start with the box. It's a small and simple one with some papers, pokey-tool, charger, USB-A to USB-C cable, a pair of basic earphones and no case. I did grab a TPU to put round it but the user might well not. It doesn't feel too slippery in the hand, it just feels thin, light and dinky! It has a plastic frame and plastic back and unspecified grade of glass on the front. On the right there's a power button and volume-rocker which are plastic and feel very much like plastic. There's no wobble much and they don't feel like they're going to break, but that's a sign of the price-point. On the left there's a card tray and unusually this has two nanoSIM Card slots and alongside, a microSD one. Where I have seen this before, up to now, it's been arranged in a long line, not sideways. But it works just fine.

On the top of the phone there's nothing much and the bottom, 3.5mm audio-out socket, USB-C port and a mono speaker. On the back there's a camera island top-left (portrait) which sticks out a millimetre but has a raised edge to protect the lenses from tables. There seems to be three lenses and an LED flash. More on that later. The front is almost all glass, bezels small, enabling good viewing on such a small device. There's a teardrop top-centre for the selfie camera just under the earpiece speaker on the very edge and that's about it. It doesn't feel premium in the hand with those plastics, but then it's not a flagship. At this price it feels like the compromises on build are spot on.

Where this phone differs from many at this price-point is the screen. Samsung have put their own flat Super AMOLED 'Infinity-U' screen in place here where others are wallowing around with LCD, claiming that it's better for battery and long-life etc. I'd go with OLED every time and this is a huge plus-point. It's no cheap old rubbish AMOLED either. It's bright, colourful, sharp and 1080p. The screen can be switched for colours between Vivid and Natural, with slider adjustments for white balance too. It's 6.1" which sounds bigger than it should be but at 20:9 ratio, 431ppi and all pushed out to the edges, it makes for a better and bigger-feeling experience.

There has been a corner cut with the chipset as Samsung have decided to use the Mediatek MT6768 Helio P65 (12nm). I'm not geek-enough to know what that all means but in discussion on Phones Show Chat with Steve Litchfield and Mike Warner it seems that this has been equated with the performance of a SnapDragon 670. The very chipset used in the Pixel 3a which was certainly no slug, though that wasn't in any way bogged down by manufacturers layers on top of the vanilla Android. My appraisal of all this is for real-world use going forward, not technical specs. There's also only 4GB RAM which potentially might hit multi-tasking - and how long the user can expect apps to stay open in the background. In reality, I haven't noticed anything problematic here - neither on my Pixel 3, nor a great deal of phones that I have reviewed with this same so-called limitation of 4GB. As the S21 Ultra arrives with 16GB RAM you have to really wonder why!

If I'm being picky, then yes, it's not as fast as other phones with more powerful hardware but in general daily use it's hard to see. Copying large amounts of files across from a computer, for example, takes more time. Restoring SMS backup files, downloading security updates - yes, other phones whip through that which is nice to see, but actually, are we really in that much of a hurry? This is not the kind of phone that a gamer is going to buy, so no, it's not going to be pulled apart for that kind of high-end graphics-gobbling activity. But for Snooker and Tetris apps? No issues - as there isn't for pretty much any real-world use for most people. Again, compromises spot on.

The phone comes with Android 10 out of the box with October 2020 Google Security (which updated to November 2020 during setup) and OneUI 2.5 over Android. I have explored the likely update path and it seems that Android 11 is coming, maybe even 12, and security updates until the end of 2023 at least. Good show Samsung. I shall be keen to see OneUI 3.1 where Samsung are apparently allowing users to choose to have the Google Feed panel to the left of the home screen. This will ensure that I personally don't bother with Nova Prime any longer as OneUI is super-sleek and great to use these days.

In terms of what you get with the Samsung experience, I have been pleased to see that there are some bells and whistles that have made it down from flagshipland. Edge Lighting, for example (missing on some previous A-series phones), Edge Panel, Always on Display, to mention just a few amongst a plethora of neat touches, useful add-ons and enhancements to the Android experience, covered here many times before. I had expected more corners to be cut so as to protect flagship-features for those with more money! There's an optical fingerprint scanner under the glass which works, even if it is a little slower than other models. You do have to hold your finger there for a second or so before it kicks in, though this is supported by a very fast face unlock system and of course the usual pattern/PIN other ways to get in.

I would have paid another tenner for a 128GB version of this phone as it's only got 64GB storage. Maybe plenty enough for many users, but I contend that also not for plenty of others. Fortunately, they haven't skimped on missing out a microSD Card facility (like they have with the S21 range) and this is playing nicely with my 512GB card. Read/write times are not the fastest of course, but it's really alright for the target user who won't notice a thing as the system competently plays music and video from the card. USB OTG works fine though and the phone has no problem working with my SanDisk Extreme 2TB SSD.

There's no sign of DeX or HDMI-Out here and I really wasn't expecting that, though if Samsung want to hook their users into the DeX system, I guess it may be smart to start down-porting that functionality. Gareth Myles and I discussed this very topic on this week's Tech Addicts Podcast.

Sound output from speakers
(particularly) is where many cut costs with cheaper components providing often only one speaker with poor volume and a tinny sound. I try to test sound output against other devices I have handy, previously reviewed and my general experience over the years. I use the same music app with flat equalisation to start. The Pixel 3's stereo forward-facing speakers are significantly better than this Samsung's for volume and tone. Next to each other, the A41 sounds tinny, with focus on the top-end. Adjustment in the equaliser helps the Samsung but at the cost of volume. So maybe that wasn't a fair fight as, after all, the Pixel 3 was a device selling at release, three times the price of the A41. How about the Nokia 9 PureView then, with a single mono speaker. Nokia has it, not so much on volume but certainly on quality. OK, last challenge then, the more similarly-priced-on-release Motorola One. Again, the Moto has it. On volume and tone. It's fair to say though that in isolation, the output is really not bad on the A41. These kinds of tests are always going to show up small degrees of difference these days. The truth is that for most people the output is good enough for placing on a bedside table or kitchen top for casual listening and certainly spoken word stuff. Audiophiles will no doubt shudder but those in between will shrug and grab some headphones or bluetooth speaker. It is a corner cut, but how important that is, is clearly down to the user to decide.

Let's then turn to audio-out via the 3.5mm socket and a decent pair of reference AKG headphones. The output is excellent - actually staggeringly good. Far too loud for my ears at anywhere near top volume and with an excellent tone. Certainly enough bass on flat equalisation for me but flick the Dolby switch and it's even better and with access to sliders to adjust further. Even the bundled earphones are really very usable, even though they are plastic and very basic-looking. There's some bass which would be even better if they were in-ear-canal buds (even though I personally hate those)! It really feels like these's some fancy high-powered DAC thing going on here somewhere, but I don't see it in specs. Maybe it's a feature of that chipset? I'll try to find out, but it certainly punches well above its weight in my view, but then maybe I'm not audiophile-enough to speak on this authoritatively. I report what I hear!

There's a bundled FM Radio app which needs something plugged into the 3.5mm socket as an aerial but can then be switched to speaker if needed. It's a recording radio which saves to either the phone's storage or a microSD card. The reception seems strong enough in my neck of the woods after it scans for stations efficiently enough.

Output via bluetooth as we all expect now is on another level and armed with 5.0 this is no exception, pumping out fabulous sound to connected equipment. Bluetooth is quick to pair and seems to have a reliable hold and decent enough range (depending of course on connected equipment). Connectivity is generally good as GPS demonstrates a fast lock for mapping and NFC is present as we'd expect for Pay options and connection to other gear. I've taken and made a number of phone calls during my test period here and cellular connectivity using VodafoneUK seems reliable, no breakup and data transfer appears to be good via the same and also with a couple of routers for WiFi and also my MiFi. No problems here, except that under current restrictions I can't test Google Pay - but I have every confidence in that being perfect.

Samsung have got better at giving users the choice of whether or not they want to use their apps and services in recent times allowing boxes to be unticked at startup (and I started this up as a fresh install, no copy or transfer, only signed into my Google account). Sadly, this unit is not so good in that respect as a number of apps are installed at the outset. Some can be
uninstalled, some disabled/force-stopped/hidden. Here's the list...
Can Uninstall: Spotify, Smart Things, Voice Recorder, Samsung Internet, Samsung Health, Galaxy Wearable Office, LinkedIn, Microsoft Outlook, Samsung Pay, Calculator, Samsung Notes and Global Goals.
Can't Uninstall: FaceBook, My Files, Microsoft OneDrive, Netflix, Samsung Gallery, Clock, Contacts, Calendar, Game Launcher, Phone, Messages and Camera.
It's quite a list really. Especially as Google have got so good at making their core apps available in the Play Store, which means user can choose. I'd like to have seen that big list at setup which is missing, I guess because of the target audience expecting things to just be simple and get going quick.

On the positive side (for me), I've not seen the word Bixby anywhere from turning the phone on first to now! Bixby Vision is there in the Apps List but I think that's because it's in the Camera. To the left of the home screen there's no sign of Bixby any longer, rather the Samsung Daily (which can be turned off by long-pressing the home screen, swiping right and throwing a switch). In fact, I can't see much of Bixby anywhere. Looks like they've made that totally optional, which is great for many of us. Not so cool for those who want to use Routines or whatever. I guess that if I signed into a Samsung Account and Galaxy Store I could download all this stuff but I really wanted to keep away from all that and use the phone as Vanilla as possible. Themes, Icons and Wallpapers are all here for those who want to get involved in those options - or hang it all and just use Nova! There is of course a whole bunch of stuff that Samsung does well for those who want to use it, but the good thing here seems to be that it is optional, even if that apps list needs some attention to sort out. As I said before, the usual array of bells and whistles and many well thought-out options in Settings.

The battery in this unit is 3,500mAh
and I have done some testing with this in the first few days that I have had the phone in the usual way for me. My 10% Reading Test returns a very respectable 1 hour 45 minutes over a few runs - and average use for me over time is looking like being something like 30 - 36 hours between charges with around 5-7 hours of screen on time. I am, most days, getting to lights-out with 50% left, again, for my average use. Fair to note that it has indeed been just a few days so if things change over time I shall update and report back. Against other devices I have to hand, this is better than many, not as good as some (especially those powerhouses from Moto with huge batteries and LCD screens) but perfectly respectable and a good return. There's no wireless charging here but my Qi Receiver works perfectly on the stand and under the TPU it barely makes the phone rock, unlike some others. The brick in the box is capable of 'fast' charging at 15W (though this is quickly becoming not so 'fast' in 2021) so about 90 minutes for a full charge and 45 minutes to 50% or so. Every night on the Qi Charger and I don't even have to think about this!

The cameras on this phone seem to offer fairly basic functionality as a group. There's the popularly-used 48MP f2 Sony Quad-Bayer main shooter for a 'normal' viewpoint and 48-down-to-12MP results unless you force the camera into a full-res 48MP. There's a wide-angle 8MP f2.2 unit to support along with another 5MP f2.4 for depth. Could be more exciting - but it is a budget phone, so we didn't expect a 108MP periscope with 8K video shooting now, did we! There is also a 25MP f2.2 Selfie camera in the mix and I guess you know what I'm going to say - yes, that this bunch of cameras/lenses is really all that 95% of users will ever need from a phone in order to post to social media and share with family, all looking on small screens too. The results look great to me. If you want more of an analysis I suggest a peep at Steve's video review which will be up in the coming weeks on his YouTube Channel.

The software in the camera app is clear with an on-screen button in Photo to switch between normal and wide-angle alongside a 'scene optimiser' shortcut to save digging into menus. The usual options for blurring backgrounds are present through 'live focus' or Portrait Mode and there's a Pro Mode where the user can fiddle with some of the settings (though not so many as some). There's a quick flick to switch to centre-weighted metering, spot or matrix which feels very 'Sony' and even 'proper camera' though there's no sign of any kind of Night Mode here, presumably reserved for more powerful/clever hard/software. As you'd expect with Samsung, you can deep-dive into further settings for all sorts of AI stuff, video shooting changes, watermark and gridlines. You know the drill, all very common these days. I realise that I have low expectations from cameras in phones but to me the result look excellent (for the aforementioned purposes) though not for creating billboard adverts! Close-focus is not great but results generally are colourful, bright and perfectly good-for-purpose.

This is a cracking little phone. I love the size, so rare these days. I would like more, of course - give me an S20e or S21e - but as this is what we have in this size then I welcome it with open arms. It's really well priced now that it has been out a good few months at round £200 in the UK, it has a fabulous screen, great battery, fun camera and that chipset really is good enough for the target user - and beyond. You can get it in black, red, blue or silver - what's not to like! Highly recommended for non-heavy-gamers who want a pocketable phone still, with a fabulous screen, some key Samsung goodies and are not that concerned about flagship performance, high-end features but with an eye on their bank balance. A return to sanity in a sea of massive phones! Put it on your shortlist.

Wednesday, 6 January 2021

The Wolf of Snow Hollow

It wasn't until I was 20 minutes into this that I realised that it was supposed to be comic! Penny dropped! Sure enough IMDb classifies it as comedy/horror/thriller!


It feels almost like a teen slasher-flick half the time with nods to the humour-base of Fargo, maybe a land-based Jaws and visuals from The Silence of the Lambs! A right old mix-up.

Amongst the funnies and cringeworthy character of son of ex-police chief trying to lead like his dad did, the audience has to try and work out, with the police, whether there's some sort of massive wolf on the loose or in fact, a human serial killer as pretty girl after another is attacked, killed and dismembered in the snow! Some of that is graphic and a bit gory, but never very far from humorous too. The music is often playful in the background, adding to the 'light' tone amongst the mayhem.

It's all good fun anyway, nice and short and a good late night one with a beer or two. I'm sure that the late, great Robert Forster could have had a better swan-song than this, but it was nice to see him one more time even if only for short bursts, filming when he was 78.

Give it a look with your tongue in cheek. Now streaming in various places.

Monday, 4 January 2021

The Secrets We Keep

A film set in 1950’s small-town USA where a Romanian Nazi camp survivor has made herself a new life with American husband and now with small a boy. She spots someone in the neighbourhood who she is sure was a Nazi and had abused her during the war and killed her sister. She is so convinced, that she kidnaps, terrorises, interrogates and abuses him in order to get him to ‘tell the truth’ about who he is and was back then.

He denies everything and has a backstory which places him in Zurich during the war and he claims to be Swiss. But he could have made all that up and planned for this day by having a backstory. She is completely convinced of his guilt. Her husband gets dragged into the scene, wanting to support her but wavers, because she has actually never been truthful with him about her past.

So the terror and anxiety continue, the complete focus of the film, keeping the audience on the edge of their seat throughout. Was it him? Wasn’t it him? Has she been so screwed-up by her ordeals in the past that she just will see anything in her quest for justice and revenge? We get stuck into the action pretty quickly. Within 15 minutes of the film starting, she’s grabbed him and tied him up in the cellar.

Noomi Rapace plays a stunning part in this powerful drama with a phenomenally Oscar-worthy performance, depicting the terror from her past and anxiety of the present whilst battling with her nightmares and thirst for truth. Scene after scene she depicts this traumatic rollercoaster of emotion with everything she has.

Chris Messina (husband) and Joel Kinnaman (captive) support her with equally convincing performances as relatively unknown director Yuval Adler brings the very best out of the small cast. Rapace and Kinnaman also starred together in Child 44 which I reviewed in 2019. It’s a claustrophobic and intense thriller, beautifully acted with very interesting cinematography making use of thoughtful lighting and camera angles. The music is haunting throughout reminding me very much of the dungeon scenes in Silence of the Lambs.

There’s no suggestion that I can find that this is a true story, so I guess it’s not! A cracking film though written by the director and Ryan Covington and my best for 2020. Available via streaming services across Europe.

Little Fish (2020)

I'm not sure if we needed another pandemic/virus film, but we got one here with the thought-provoking Little Fish which takes a slightly...